The One He Feared by Taure
The One He Feared by Taure
http://www.patronuscharm.net/s/588/1/

Post-HBP. As Harry is preparing to leave Privet Drive for the last time, he receives a mysterious package. Now Harry, armed with the memories of Albus Dumbledore, must take charge of his destiny. No bashing, mostly canon compliant.

Published on November 12, 2013
Updated on November 17, 2013
Action/Adventure / Independent
Rated PG-13
Work in Progress
34,907 words
3 chapters
Post-HBP

Generated: September 20, 2017 at 1:13 PM The One He Feared at PatronusCharm.Net
Chapter 1: Memories

A.N. A new fic! With this one I’m going to be trying to emulate canon tone as close as possible, including characterisation, voice, magic, and worldbuilding. That said, I will be shooting for a slightly more “teen” tone, to reflect the age of my audience and characters. Those of you who have read my other words may find some parts of this familiar: that's because I sometimes reuse parts of my world building (in this case, the historical figure Brandon Swann, who was first mentioned in Alexandra Potter).

Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling. It should also be noted that the story “In Light of Silver Memories” by Taliath has influenced this story.

The One He Feared

By Taure

Chapter One: Memories

“Well Hedwig, that’s it,” said Harry, closing the lid of his trunk. “All ready to leave.”


He sat on the corner of his bed and sighed. Privet Drive had never felt more like a prison. In the world beyond, a war was raging, hidden just out of sight. And Harry was stuck at Privet Drive, protected. Every day people disappeared; every day Voldemort came closer to taking over the Ministry of Magic.


Dumbledore’s death had signalled a change in the war: Voldemort was becoming bolder. Terror tactics had been abandoned as he made his grab for power -- control was the aim now, not fear. The Prophet didn’t report it, but according to the Order parts of Kent were already under Voldemort’s iron grip.


And it was down to Harry to stop him. The locket, the snake, the cup. And something else, some unknown item. Just how he was supposed to find them was beyond him. How had Dumbledore done it, all those times he disappeared from the school? How would Harry even begin to find the horcruxes?


Fire flashed; Harry jumped off the trunk, his wand flying.


Protego!” A strong shield snapped into place before he’d even finished the incantation -- but it wasn’t necessary. His visitor was no Death Eater.


“Fawkes?” Harry said, lowering his wand. He hadn’t seen Dumbledore’s phoenix since the funeral. It looked so strange, perched on the end of Harry’s bed -- Privet Drive had never seen anything so magical. “What’re you doing here?”


Fawkes trilled softly, and Harry stepped forward to stroke him, before noticing he was carrying something - a wand. He couldn’t remember having seen it before - thin and unadorned, it was made of a lightly coloured wood. “Whose is that, Fawkes?” Harry asked, gently taking the wand from Fawkes’ grasp with his free hand.


As soon as he took hold of the wand, Fawkes reared up and dug his claws deep into Harry’s arm. “Ow!” Harry cried, shocked by sudden pain. Blood welled up and he tried to shake Fawkes off, but the bird had a strong grip. “What the hell!” He raised his wand - he didn’t want to hurt Fawkes, but he had to defend himself.


Before he could do anything, Fawkes exploded in ball of white fire, cool to the touch. Harry froze, and stared at the pile of soot on his bed. No baby phoenix was to be found - only ashes.


“Fawkes?” Harry said, feeling a sudden, alien, sense of massive loss. Numb, he looked at the wand Fawkes had left him. 12 inches, cherry with a dragon heartstring core, he knew it was an uncommonly powerful wand.


Wait, he thought. How did I know that? But of course he knew. It was his wand. Not as powerful as the Elder Wand, mind you, but a fine fit. Harry shook his head, trying to sort his muddled thoughts. It was like he’d been drugged. What was the Elder Wand? How did he know the cherry wand?


He knew what he had to do. He dropped his holly wand on the bed and held the cherry one aloft.


Ego sum!


A white hot light, a burning sensation, and then darkness.


* * *


Memories passed before Harry’s inner eye faster than the speed of thought. Images, sounds, smells. Conversations. Books. Places, people, objects. Thoughts half formed, suspicions never confirmed. Plans, and plans within plans. Theories and conjectures. And, above all, knowledge. Knowledge beyond anything Harry could have imagined.


Incantations and recipes were the least part of it. There were principles and maxims, formulae and geometries and models. Arithmancy, numerology, mathematics. Techniques, shortcuts, and the hard earned instincts of long experience. Transfiguration, Charms, Potions... they were just the surface. Suddenly he understood Occlumency, Legilimency, and a dozen other “mencies” he’d never heard of. Somniamancy, cryptomancy, transmogrification. Deeper knowledge still was possible: alchemy and enchantments, the magic of the soul, the magic of life itself. Old magics long discarded for more powerful wands.


That wasn’t all. He knew other things too: botany and chemistry, astronomy and mechanics, politics and literature. He could speak eight languages. He knew the systems of the body - could heal them, if need be - and understood the nature of time. The great composers were familiar friends, the great philosophers well worn tomes.


And then there were the Dark Arts. He could write an encyclopedia of jinxes and hexes, could recognise their casting before the first syllable of their incantations had left the mouth of the caster. Terrible curses littered his mind, some of them of his own design. But all that was barely anything. He knew black curses the likes of which were rarely seen in the modern world, curses that couldn’t be cured, curses that were passed down to your children and their children’s children. Dark ceremonies and rituals. How to control the four Fiends. Inferi and resurrection, Dementors and ghosts. Exorcisms and invocations, the summoning of evil spirits. Horcruxes. Ten pin bowling.


He was Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.


* * *


He was four, visiting his mother in the new St. Mungo’s hospital, seeing his sister Ariana for the first time. He vowed in that moment to always protect her.


He was ten, watching the man from the Ministry arrest his father from the top of the stairs. The Muggle boys deserved what they’d got -- they’d hurt Ariana. She was different, now. Her magic was weird. Mother said that she couldn’t go to Hogwarts.


He was eleven, sailing across the lake towards Hogwarts. He was in love the moment he saw it: he had never seen such a magical place.


Later that year he was sitting in class, watching his classmates. He couldn’t understand how they found it so difficult. In that moment he realised he was meant for something more.


He was thirteen, smirking as he demonstrated a spell of his own creation to his friends. They watched on with awe. When Aberforth asked for the incantation, he refused.


He was fifteen, holding a copy of Transfiguration Today. On page three was an article about elemental conjuration. He knew it was wrong. He wrote a reply immediately; a month later he could claim his first publication.


He was sixteen, sailing through his OWLs. He could have passed them with ease at thirteen.


He was seventeen, hanging from his wrists in the dungeons. He vowed vengeance and found an old curse of misfortune. Later that year Professor Whittleworth retired after his wife miscarried and his daughter was killed in a freak Hippogriff attack. Albus didn’t eat for a week. No one ever knew the truth.


He was eighteen, impressing all of his NEWT examiners. They all foretold a great future ahead of him. He planned a world tour -- his mother’s death stopped that.


It was 1900. He met Gellert Grindelwald for the first time.


* * *


The bell rang.


“Aberforth!” called Albus, not even looking up from his book. “Door!” He may have postponed his world tour, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t study for it. He was surrounded by books and parchments on Egyptian Hieroglyphics. He didn’t have time to be answering doors.


The bell rang a second time.


“Aberforth!” he repeated, louder this time, but there was no reply. He shut his book with a slam and strode out of his bedroom, hurrying to the door. The sooner he got rid of whoever it was, the sooner he could get back to his books. He opened the door with more force than was necessary, but paused when he saw who was beyond.


It wasn’t old Mrs Bagshot, nor any of the Potter spawn. It was a young man, about his own age, frightfully handsome. He was tall, like Albus, but much more powerfully built, with broad shoulders and strong hands. His blond hair was neatly cut, and he had startling blue eyes.


“Can I help you?” said Albus.


“Perhaps,” said the stranger. He had an accent - something Germanic - and spoke with a cocky smirk, his keen eyes piercing Albus’. His legilimency was subtle, elegant. Had Albus not been as brilliant as he was, he wouldn’t have caught it. But catch it he did, and, feeling no need to hide, he ejected the boy from his mind. The stranger’s smirk grew into a smile. He didn’t seem too worried about being caught. “Now that is interesting,” he said, and he held out his hand. “I’m Gellert. Gellert Grindelwald.”


“Albus Dumbledore,” Albus replied, taking Gellert’s offered hand. “Is it customary, in your country, to greet strangers with legilimency?” He kept his tone free of any accusation, but the implication was there.


“It’s customary for me to do so,” said Gellert, moving to lean against the doorframe. “And why not? The ignorant deserve it for their lack of curiosity.”


A thrill went through Albus - how many times had he thought such things? But of course, it was not a popular sentiment. He raised an eyebrow. “A rather Darwinian perspective,” he said.


“Isn’t it?” said Gellert. “I find it a great test of character. Take you, for example. I’ve never met someone who caught me so quickly.”


Now it was Albus’ turn to smirk. “I may well show you many things you’ve never seen before.”


“Oh, I’m sure you will,” said Gellert, “but for now I’d like you to show me some eggs.”


That brought Albus up short. “Eggs?” he said, frowning.


“You do sell them, don’t you?” said Gellert. “Aunt Bathilda sent me out to get some.”


“Oh,” said Albus. He hadn’t known Mrs Bagshot had foreign relatives. “Yes, I suppose we do. Aberforth normally... but never mind. Will you come in?”


* * *


Another week passed before he met Gellert again. As before, the doorbell rang. As before, Albus was studying in his room. This time, though, he wasted no time. He jumped up from his desk and ran downstairs still holding a quill.


“Gellert,” he said when he opened the door, half surprised. He hadn’t expected it to actually be him.


“Albus,” replied Gellert, his eyes shifting to the quill. “Did I interrupt something?”


“Nothing I can’t put aside,” said Albus, silently banishing the quill back to his room. “May I offer you a cup of tea?”


“You Brits and your tea,” muttered Gellert, but he stepped into the house anyway. “Aunt Bathilda has been trying to convert me. I doubt that you’ll succeed where she has failed, but you’re welcome to try.”


“The kitchen’s this way,” said Albus, leading the way. It suddenly occurred to him that the place was a mess: dust covered every surface, and the sink was full of plates and cups.


“I remember,” said Gellert, following him into the kitchen. He looked around, before turning to Albus. “No house elf?”


Albus’ cheeks tinged pink, but he tried to brush it off. “Just me,” he said, and he flicked his wand, vanishing the dust and charming the plates to start cleaning themselves. Another flick lit the burner; the metal kettle grew little legs and waddled towards the fire, setting itself over the flames like a chicken on an egg.


“So what was it that I interrupted?” asked Gellert, sitting down at the kitchen table as Albus busied himself with the business of finding the teapot.


“Oh, just a little project I’ve been working on,” said Albus, spooning tea into the pot. “I doubt you’d be interested.”


“Humour me.”


“I’ve recently developed something of an interest in Ancient Egyptian magic,” said Albus, “the original records of which, of course, are all-”


“-in ancient Egyptian,” said Gellert. “So you’re learning the language, correct?”


“That’s right,” said Albus.


“Most people would just use a translation,” said Gellert, “I can recommend a few, if you like.”


“Most people-” began Albus, before changing direction “-you’ve studied Egyptian?”


“I have something of an interest in curses,” said Gellert, entirely casually. Albus paused for only a moment - Gellert seemed to hold no fear of expressing his interest in taboo topics.


“Not something you hear every day,” he said, joining Gellert at the table and pouring the tea.


“That’s because most people don’t understand curses,” said Gellert, and his eyes seemed to light up with passion. “A curse - a real curse, that is, not those silly things the kids at Durmstrang thought were curses - a real curse is beautiful. You won’t find a more complex magic. Do you have any idea how much is involved in, say, the lycanthropy curse?”


“I may have an idea,” said Albus, remembering a number of books he found in the Restricted Section on transmissible curses. Gellert cocked his head.


“Maybe you do,” he said, taking a sip of his tea. “The effect of the lunar cycle on the curse?”


Albus scoffed. That was easy. “The full moon strengthens Dark magic,” he said, “giving the curse just enough strength to overcome a wizard’s natural defences. When the moon passes, the curse weakens again.” His turn: “The role of the teeth in transmission.”


“Primitive magical foci,” said Gellert, “the wolf uses them instinctively to cast the curse. Arithmetical stability.”


Trickier. “Stable,” said Albus, “prime, in fact - three.” Gellert opened his mouth as if to object, but Albus anticipated him. “Unless it’s the full moon, when the curse turns unstable, with a value of twelve.”


Gellert smiled, shaking his head. “I hadn’t thought Hogwarts taught this material,” he said. “One more: the incantation to the curse.”


“Trick question - there’s no such thing,” said Albus, waving his hand dismissively. Gellert made a sound of vague agreement. Albus frowned. “Is there?”


“No record exists of an incantation,” said Gellert, but his eyes said something else.


“You can’t have derived it,” said Albus, “that would be...”


“Brilliant?”


The front door slammed shut - Aberforth.


“Who’s that?” said Gellert, turning towards the sound.


“Just my brother,” said Albus. “Never mind him - he’s a dreadful bore. Would you like to-”


“I’d like to meet him,” said Gellert. He stood up and Albus felt a sting of annoyance.


“Albus?” shouted Aberforth, “where are you?”


“Kitchen!” called Albus, and Aberforth entered - with Ariana. She was a pretty girl, if rather pale, but he and Aberforth couldn’t look after her as their mother had. They didn’t know how to do her hair properly, or all the other things witches did.


“And who’s this?” said Gellert, smiling towards Ariana. She looked through him, not even registering his presence.


“Ariana, my sister,” said Albus, moving to take Ariana’s hand in his own. “Ana, we have a new friend. This is Gellert.” Ariana swayed a moment, before her eyes settled on Gellert. “Say hello, Ana.”


“Three brothers cross a bridge,” she sang, her eyes following things unseen. “Which one are you?”


Gellert stepped forward, his eyes intent. “What was that?”


“I’m sorry, she must be having one of her bad days,” said Albus. He looked accusingly at Aberforth. “Where did you take her?”


“Don’t blame this on me,” Aberforth said, “she was fine up ‘til now.”


“I’m sure,” said Albus, and he kneeled down to look Ariana in the eyes. “Come back to us, Ana. Hic nobiscum es.” Her eyes focused.


“Al?” she said, the episode passing. Aberforth held up his hands as if to say ‘not my fault’. “The stars spoke to me. They sang pretty songs. Three brothers met death...”


“That’s the Tale of the Three Brothers, Ana,” said Albus. “I read it to you last week. Remember?”


Ariana giggled, and kissed Albus on the cheek. Suddenly she was a normal girl. “What’s for tea, brother?”


“As if he knows,” said Aberforth, resting a hand on Ariana’s shoulder. “I can’t remember the last time he cooked.”


Albus stood, bristling. “As you know, Aberforth, my studies-”


My studies,” imitated Aberforth. “Well, some of us have to live in the real world. Come on Ana, let’s get you ready for tea.”


They left, heading back into the house proper. Gellert watched them go, strangely quiet. He seemed to be thinking something over. “What’s wrong with her?” he said.


“Tangled magic,” said Albus, returning to the kitchen table. It burned him still, what had happened to her. She should have been at Hogwarts, now. “Her vital system’s all blocked up.”


“Resulting in spontaneous discharges?” asked Gellert, but it wasn’t really a question. “Wouldn’t Hepzibah’s Cleansing...?”


“Only if it were a curse,” said Albus. “She did it to herself.”


“A traumatic event, then?”


Albus nodded grimly. “A group of Muggle boys attacked her when she was six. They saw her doing magic and… well. Muggles are Muggles.”


“I’m sorry,” said Gellert. He sighed and shook his head. “It’s just one more of the many evils created by the Statute of Secrecy.”


“I’m sure you’re doing this deliberately,” said Albus, leaning back in his seat. Gellert seemed determined to shock and provoke. “But go on. Convince me: what’s the problem with the Statute?”


* * *


The next day Albus and Gellert took a long walk. It was the height of summer and the day was perfect: sunny, warm, but with a gentle breeze.


“I’ve been thinking about what you said yesterday,” said Albus as they crossed the ford by the edge of the woods. “About the statute and utilitarian ethics.”


“You have a counter argument?” asked Gellert. His tone was curious, not confrontational.


“Not as such,” he said, absentmindedly drying the trim of his cloak. “I could present many counter-intuitive utilitarian judgements, but I suspect you would be immune to them, given that the commitment to the greater good isn’t supposed to explain our intuitive moral judgements, but replace them.”


“That’s it exactly,” said Gellert, excited. “And why shouldn’t we develop a calculus of morality? Why should morality be forever subject to whim and intuition? And if we develop that calculus, with the greater good for all as supreme... well, we must thereafter abide by its dictates.”


“And if we make a mistake when devising the code?” said Albus, pausing to pick up a large stick. It twisted and mutated under his grasp, forming itself into a fine walking staff, polished and engraved in Celtic fashion.


“Details,” said Gellert, waving away the objection. “In the final analysis, one would of course provide a method of amendment, if any of the particulars prove to be false. But always justification must be towards the greater good. Welfare, Albus. Happiness, and the avoidance of suffering. That is the ultimate good, not following silly laws made by men and Muggle gods.”


“A great amount of evil could be justified so,” said Albus. Gellert opened his mouth, but Albus interrupted. “I know the objection already, Gellert. It’s only evil by one’s intuitive judgements. Within the utilitarian system it’s justified. But still... intuitions are not so easily done away with.”


“I understand your reticence,” said Gellert. “I, too, once struggled with this problem. At its core is  a lack of long term thinking. We wizards are not naturally disposed to think in the long term - we think in days, months, years, not eons - hold on.”


Albus waited while Gellert jogged away from the path to find a stick of his own. A moment later he returned with a staff like Albus’, unmarked but for a single symbol at the top.


“Where was I?” Gellert said, and they resumed walking. “Oh yes. A thought experiment. Imagine that you could create a great empire of peace, ruled by the wise, where all prospered and sought the good. An empire that would last a thousand years. And imagine that this empire could only be forged through a great war, more terrible than anything the world has ever seen. What is the good?”


“The good is surely to seek to create such a place without the use of violence,” said Albus, knowing where he was going. Gellert snorted.


“And if violence was the only way? What then?”


“Then... I suppose the war could be considered just,” said Albus, reluctantly. It went against all common sense, but Gellert’s argument compelled him.


“And here’s the good part: the intuition that such a war is evil is perfectly rational,” said Gellert, “but only in the short term. During the war, certainly suffering outweighs good, and the war is evil. But from the thousand year perspective... well, surely a thousand years of peace and prosperity are worth five or ten years of extreme suffering.”


“You make a convincing argument,” said Albus, still thinking it over. It was true that it didn’t sound so evil when one focused on the years of happiness. But it wasn’t perfect. “Thought experiments are dangerous things, though,” he said, the counter unfolding before him. “They often possess arbitrary or unrealistic limitations. Your stipulation that war is the only way to create peace, for example. That is far from a trivial thesis.”


“True. But on that point I make no philosophical argument,” said Gellert. “Rather, I would argue from history. The Pax Romana, the Pax Britannica... historically speaking, great periods of peace follow domination, not democracy.”


“And yet we speak of the future, not the past,” said Albus. “We can always strive to achieve peace without war.”


Gellert laughed. “You’re more optimistic than I.”


They passed out of the woods into a large field of grass. A small hillock lay at its centre and at the top was a single tall tree.


“There it is,” said Albus, pointing to the tree. “Godric’s mound.”


“Shall we?” said Gellert, and they apparated silently to the tree. Though the hill wasn’t very high, it was enough to provide a striking view of the forest and the village on the other side. To Albus’ surprise, Gellert knelt down and started undoing his laces.


“What are you doing?” he said with a laugh.


“This is a hallowed place,” said Gellert, pulling off his boots and socks. “A great man is buried here. I honour him.”


Stunned, Albus watched as Gellert stood once more, his toes digging into the soft soil. He looked down at his own boots. Why not? He kneeled and removed them, and his socks too. Despite the summer sun the ground was cool to the touch.


Gellert walked to the tree and placed his hand upon its trunk. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. “Would that I will one day be buried as this,” he said. “History is built by great men, Albus. Gryffindor was one of them.” He turned and looked Albus in the eye. “You and I -- we will be counted among their number.”


“For our egos if nothing else,” said Albus, cracking a smile. “Come now, Gellert. I’m sure we will do great things. But this?”


“The time for false modesty has passed, friend,” said Gellert, “it’s time you open your eyes to who we are.” He stepped forward, and suddenly his wand was in his hand.


“Gellert...” warned Albus, but Gellert didn’t listen. He walked to the edge of the bluff, and raised his wand. Faint tendrils of smoke began to swirl around it. He wouldn’t... Gellert turned to look at Albus.


“Stop me, if you can,” he said, and he jabbed his wand towards the sky. “Terror Infernus!


For a moment the world was still, as if holding its breath, then suddenly red-orange fire blossomed in a ring around the hill, unfolding out of the air like it had been just waiting to burst free. It roared and swirled, blasting Albus’ face with dry heat, raging around Gellert, his eyes glowing in the reflected light of the fire. Out of the fire figures sprang, before diving back in: lions and snakes, gryffins and manticores, and other shapes besides, long extinct creatures no book mentioned. All of them danced to Gellert’s will.


“Come on, Albus!” he called, having to shout over the roar of flames. “Stop me!”


He took his wand from within his robes, his mind racing over different possibilities. Disrupt Gellert’s casting? Too dangerous with Fiendfyre. Wrest control of the fire from him? No guarantee of success. There was only one thing for it:


Terror Tempesta!


The conjuration exploded out of him, a shockwave of water swirling with silver lights, expanding rapidly to smash into Gellert’s fire, meeting it with a hiss. The strain of holding it was immediate, taxing. The water wanted to be free. It wanted to lay waste to all it met. Above all it wanted to turn back on the one who had conjured it and consume him.


Albus didn’t let it. He clamped down on his thoughts, refusing to let them drift or be distracted. He twirled his wand through eighth, fourteenth, twenty-first, binding the spirits of the water to his will. He pushed with his mind, and with his wand, and the water went where he desired, flowing through the air with no concern for gravity. It leaped and bounded, chasing down the fires of Gellert’s spell in the forms of serpents and krakens, mermen and nymphs, all of them glowing with an inner light. Where the two met they annihilated, exploding to form more steam.


Through it all Gellert laughed. Time to end it, Albus thought.


Animo draconis!” he thought, swinging his wand like a lasso, gathering all the water of his spell. It rushed together, slamming into a single huge sphere, before mutating into the figure of a great dragon.


The dragon roared. Gellert stopped laughing.


“Had enough, Gellert?” called Albus, his wand pointing at his dragon. He held the leash -- it would wait until commanded.


Gellert yanked his wand; all the fire rushed back into it with the sound of a deep breath. Albus followed suit: with a flick of his wand the dragon dissipated, dissolving into nothing.


The world fell silent. Steam still drifted around them, and the air smelt of ozone. Miraculously -- or perhaps magically -- the tree was unmarked.


“Do you see, Albus?” said Gellert, walking back towards him. “You are meant for greatness.”


* * *


Albus returned home in the clouds. Never before had he felt so alive. His future stretched out before him, full of possibilities. The things Gellert spoke of... Albus knew they weren’t merely hypothetical. A powerful wizard could change the world. Two working together would be unstoppable.


He entered the house to find Aberforth waiting for him. The entrance hall was a mess: the table was smashed in two; the chairs looked like they’d been banished into the walls. One of the paintings was ripped, and the other seemed to have disappeared entirely.


“Back, are you?” said Aberforth


“What happened here?” said Albus.


“What do you think?” said Aberforth. “Ariana had an episode and you weren’t here to help.”


Albus swallowed. The last time she’d had an accident mother had died. “Is she well?” he said, looking in the direction of her bedroom.


Aberforth glared at him. “She is now,” he said, “no thanks to you. I’m fine by the way. Thanks for asking.”


“Of course you’re fine,” said Albus, taking out his wand to clean up the mess. A casual flick and the room began to right itself, furniture reassembling itself, smashed glass reforming. He sat in one of the armchairs, indicating for Aberforth to take the other. He didn’t. “You’re seventeen, almost a qualified wizard.”


Aberforth ran his hands through his hair in frustration. “You know that I -- I’m not like you, okay? There, I said it: you’re better at magic than me. Happy?”


“Believe me, I gain no satisfaction from your poor performance,” said Albus, “if you just studied a bit harder, maybe I wouldn’t have to do all --”


“Oh, don’t even start on your responsibilities,” said Aberforth, giving Albus a scathing look. “You cast a spell here and there and think it counts as contributing. Well, it doesn’t. I dress her, wash her, play with her, take her on walks. I feed her. You do nothing.”


“I seem to recall repairing this room a moment ago,” said Albus, raising an eyebrow. “How long would that have taken you, without me?”


“That’s exactly what I mean!” said Aberforth. “You might be able to magic away a broken table, but that’s not what Ana needs. She needs her brother, Albus. Are you part of this family or not?”


“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Albus. “I would do anything for this family. Perhaps you remember my abandoning my travels in order to return home?”


“Fat lot of good that did. You might as well have gone, and good riddance!”


Albus hesitated, surprised by his vehemence. When had Aberforth developed such a grudge? “You’re being irrational,” he said after a while. “May I offer you a calming charm?”


“No you may not,” said Aberforth, clenching his fists. He took several deep breaths, apparently calming himself. “This is all beside the point. There’s something else we need to talk about.”


“Oh?”


“Money is becoming a problem,” said Aberforth, and Albus stiffened. He didn’t like where this was going. “I know we don’t need much, but we still need to buy food, and pay for the Floo. The coolbox is acting up and we need to get an artificer to look at it. Ana needs new clothes, and she’s almost out of her medicine.”


“I see,” said Albus. That was a problem. “Your proposed solution?”


Aberforth sighed, and took the seat opposite him. “You need to get a job, as soon as possible.”


A job. No doubt as some paper pusher in the Ministry, writing memos on the best way to write memos, toiling under some lazy excuse for a wizard. Wasting his talent. Oh, he was sure he could succeed in time. But it was such a chore. People like him didn’t work their way up from the bottom. People like him led.


“A job,” Albus repeated. “Is that strictly necessary?


“Unless you have some other way of getting money...”


“I can enchant the coolbox,” said Albus. “We don’t need an artificer.”


Aberforth shook his head. “Even if you can tear yourself away from your books for long enough to do it, it’s just one problem off a long list. Face it, Albus, we need a regular income.”


“Very well,” said Albus, standing up. He felt empty - the fire Gellert had lit within him all but extinguished. “I shall search the Prophet for listings.”


* * *


A week passed with no sign of Gellert. Every day Albus checked the papers for jobs; every day he found nothing. Or at least, nothing appropriate for his qualifications. Eventually, tired of his fruitless search, he decided to seek Gellert out.


Mrs Bagshot’s house was on the other side of town - the richer side. He walked there, in case Gellert was out and about, but he arrived without running into anyone. Preparing himself for a potentially tiresome conversation with Mrs Bagshot, he knocked on the door.


He waited for some time, but no one answered.


“Hello?” he called, peering into the windows. He knocked again. “Gellert, are you there?”


The tap-tap of footsteps came from behind the door, and it opened to reveal Gellert. He had dark bags under his eyes, his robes were in disarray and his hair, normally so tidy, was a mess. It looked like he hadn’t slept for days.


“Albus,” he said, greeting him with a distracted nod, before turning and walking back into the house.


Albus raised an eyebrow. Something was amiss. He entered the house, closing the door quietly behind him, and followed Gellert’s retreat. Books and scrolls were strewn everywhere, most of them left open as if abandoned mid-read. Scraps of parchment covered in messy scrawl were scattered amid them; Albus paused to take a look at one, written in German.


… scroll BH145, dated 986, mentions Godric Gryffindor carrying “a wand moste potent, carved in peculiar fashion, adorned as if with berries”, with which he bested the goblin Hring of the Glott clan, winning from him the famous sword of Gryffindor. The wand was AT HOGWARTS. Is it still there? Or maybe buried in the Hollow?


He frowned. What was Gellert studying?


“Gellert?” he called, having lost his friend.


“In here,” came the reply, and he followed the voice to Madam Bagshot’s library. If the rest of the house was messy, the library seemed to have taken a blasting curse. Gellert had raided the shelves, spreading priceless historical records over every available surface. It looked like he hadn’t moved for several days: though it was midday the curtains were closed and candles lit. Gellert had already returned to his studies, pouring over a small leather-bound book.


“Where’s your aunt?” asked Albus, browsing some of the books Gellert had taken down. Many didn’t have titles, but some were recognisably rare tomes. The Collected Writings of Rowena Ravenclaw, Volume III was splayed across the back of a chair, a biography of the Dark wizard Loxias was on the desk next to it.


“London,” replied Gellert, but he said no more. He didn’t even look up. Albus glanced over another parchment.


Octavius Malfoy’s diary is a reliable source. The 15th volume (1044-1046) mentions how his friend Salazar Slytherin, after fleeing Hogwarts, becomes obsessed with a wand that he is convinced will grant him revenge on Godric. He even shows the wand to Octavius, who describes it perfectly. He also describes how Salazar is unable to use it for even the simplest spells. Salazar never defeated Godric - he stole the wand. So theft alone is INSUFFICIENT to gain mastery of the wand! But who took the wand from Salazar? Octavius himself, or another?


Albus looked speculatively over the books, suddenly seeing the connections. Gellert was trying to trace a particular wand through history. But why?


Gellert jumped up, brandishing his book. “That’s it!” he said, and he thrust the book towards Albus. “Look!”


“What am I reading?” said Albus, taking the book. It was handwritten, and not carefully - it looked like more of a diary than a published work.


“Diary of Brandon Swann,” said Gellert, and Albus looked at it in a new light. It had to be worth thousands of Galleons. Swann was generally considered the founder of the Ministry of Magic. “I thought he had it, but he didn’t. See?” He indicated a passage near the bottom of the page.


We divined the royalists to be outside Nottingham and engaged them there. I estimate their numbers were at least 75, and hundreds more Muggles besides. The Muggles broke and fled when they saw our powers; those few who stayed were quickly slaughtered. The battle was in our favour from the start: the training I had devised was effective, and we were able to use appartation to outmanoeuvre them. Many of the enemy were still attempting to duel in the traditional manner and were cut down from behind.


But we were not completely successful. I faced Alexander Hornwood myself, finding him in the centre of the field, and we engaged in a mighty struggle. Never before have I been so stretched, nor come so close to defeat. His every spell was like a hammer blow, as I have heard mine own sometimes described by others. And yet Hornwood was never a famed duellist - indeed, I attended Hogwarts with him myself, and never thought much of his skill. Through some sorcery or alchemy he has increased his strength beyond that of a normal wizard. And it occurs to me now that his wand was of a like I have never seen before, marked with strange runes and carved with polyps in the wood. If he had possessed such a wand at Hogwarts I would have surely remembered it. Could this wand be the source of his power? It is a childish folly, but I cannot but wonder if it is one of the Five. If it is, then the Warlock’s Council has even more to answer for.


Nonetheless I prevailed through my superior skill and our family magics; Hornwood fled the field and I was not of a mind to pursue him, electing instead to see to our victory and the taking of Nottingham. Rumour has reached me from Dover that Hornwood was spotted there. I suspect he has fled to France.


“Do you see, Albus?” said Gellert, a light in his eyes, “the wand left Britain in 1646 - it’s in Europe!”


“I’m afraid I’m not following,” said Albus, placing the book down. “I feel like I’m missing the start of the story.”


Gellert frowned. “The Elder Wand, obviously,” he said, apparently surprised that Albus hadn’t realised.


Albus laughed. It the kind of laugh that starts deep in the belly and pushes up, only it was suddenly cut off when he saw the stony glare Gellert was sending him. “You’re serious?”


“Does this look like a joke?” said Gellert, gesturing towards all the books. “You saw it yourself. It’s all there, if you’re willing to look. The evidence is undeniable.”


“Come now, Gellert,” said Albus, still somewhat surprised. Gellert was clearly intelligent. “I admit, you’ve found something interesting. A single powerful wand passed down through the ages, wielded by both Gryffindor and Hornwood. But the Elder wand? I’ve seen nothing to connect it to that tale.”


“You haven’t seen the things I’ve seen,” said Gellert. “I know I’m right, Albus. The Deathly Hallows are real.”


Albus tried to reason with him. “If they are, then you will know that the Deathly Hallows are a curse,” he said. He was familiar with the tale. “All but the cloak lead their owners to disaster. Are you so keen to meet Death?”


“Of course all the part about Death is nonsense,” said Gellert, “but there is truth behind the tale. Here, I’ll show you.”


He rummaged through the papers and picked up a huge scroll, unfurling it so it covered the table. The top of the scroll read:


The House of Peverell


“They’re not so hard to find, really,” said Gellert, pointing to a group of names about half way down the family tree. “Three brothers, two of whom died early, renowned for their magical abilities, and who lived during the eighth century - I’m surprised no one has found the link before.”


“You think the Peverell brothers made the Deathly Hallows?” said Albus, leaning in closer. It was circumstantial evidence at best, but at least it meant Gellert wasn’t insane. Death indeed.


“I’m almost certain,” said Gellert. “I had Aunt Bathilda introduce me to the Potters down the road. They claim descent from the Peverells, did you know?”


“I didn’t,” said Albus, looking to the bottom of the tree. And there it was: Esther Peverell, the only daughter of Ezekiel Peverell, had married one Hamish Potter.


“They allowed me a look in their library when I said I was doing research on the Peverells,” said Gellert, “all their wills are there. And every one mentions an unnamed heirloom, a cloak of vague description but definitely magical in some way. It’s the Cloak of Invisibility, I’m sure of it.”


“Perhaps,” said Albus, still quite unconvinced.


“There’s more evidence besides,” said Gellert, and he passed Albus a parchment. “A haunted house that I’m sure was once Cadmus Peverell’s, who wielded the Resurrection stone. The Warlock’s Council made it unplottable in the 15th century after a series of Inferi raised themselves spontaneously there.” Another parchment. “The unexplained disappearance of Edmund Potter during the Welsh Green crisis of 1779.” Another parchment. “Mention after mention of a powerful wand of unique description passing through British wizardry, the first reports beginning with the death of Antioch Peverell, right here in Godric’s Hollow.”


Albus was impressed. While each individual piece of evidence was weak, together they painted quite a clear picture.


“It’s so hard to believe,” he said quietly, looking through the parchment in his hands. It had been a long time since he had been so challenged in his world view. But then the possibilities began to occur to him. The Elder Wand... if it was anywhere near as powerful as said, imagine what he could do with it! And the Resurrection Stone - if it really could raise the dead, it was a miracle of magic, breaking every rule of wizardry known to modern scholars. “Do you think we can find them?”


Gellert grinned. “Together, I know we can.”


* * *


Albus and Gellert continued meeting for the next month, talking much of the Hallows and more besides. Often their conversations would take place in the secluded dark of Madam Bagshot’s library, but occasionally they would go for a walk in the woods, breathing in the fresh country air. But soon even those woods grew small. For Albus in particular the familiar paths of the woods offered little stimulation. He had trodden them since he was a boy.


And so, at the end of July, they apparated to the beach at Brighton for a day out. The day was overcast and the wind off the sea brisk, but Albus didn’t mind. He quite enjoyed the stiff breeze as they walked down the promenade. It felt like it was blowing away all the cobwebs of Godric’s Hollow, freshening his mind.


“You must visit me in Berlin,” said Gellert as they passed a man selling ice cream. He had no customers. “We have a real summer there, not this drab, grey affair.”


“Perhaps,” said Albus, liking the idea of Berlin rather more than the heat, “though high temperatures have never agreed with me. I might prefer the winter.”


Gellert laughed. “Believe me - you wouldn’t,” he said, “it’s quite freezing.”


They turned onto the pier. It was the largest in Britain, both long and wide, filled with cafes and restaurants. Despite the day it was crowded with Muggles: mostly courting gentleman and ladies walking arm in arm, but families too, kids running around and making noise. Thanks to a small Charm they all ignored the two wizards and their strange robes.


“And Durmstrang?” said Albus, curious about his friend’s old school. “I understand that it’s quite cold there. Is it in Berlin too?”


“No, not Berlin,” said Gellert, quite casually. Normally Durmstrang students were rather prickly about school secrets. “It’s further north, near Königsberg.”


“Königsberg!” said Albus, surprised. It made a kind of sense, though - Durmstrang had been founded when Königsberg was still the capital of Prussia. It was a city famed for its learning - and no wonder, with a magical academy within its limits. “I should have liked to visit - with all the secrecy, it carries a certain air of mystery absent at Hogwarts.”


“You would be disappointed,” said Gellert, a hint of bitterness in his voice. “As was I. The only true secret of Durmstrang is its extraordinary dullness. Now Hogwarts, that’s a real school. None of the hand-holding you find at Durmstrang. None of the... limits.”


“I think you may be idealising Hogwarts somewhat,” said Albus.


“- And you, Durmstrang,” said Gellert.


“True.” Albus conceded the point with a slow nod. “But when it comes to Dark magic, you would have found Hogwarts quite stifling.”


“And yet you managed,” said Gellert. “How was that?”


Albus laughed. “Ingenuity, years of work, and the trust of the staff,” he said. “It’s true, the Restricted Section there has quite the selection of Dark magic - if you can get the permission to study it.”


Gellert smirked. “My downfall,” he admitted, “I’ve never had the talent for accommodating the feelings of the incompetent. I was not popular with the Masters of Durmstrang.”


“Truly?” said Albus, surprised. Gellert possessed all the qualities teachers loved - intelligence, curiosity, charisma. “Students like us are every teacher’s dream. They should have loved you.”


“Perhaps you should tell that to the High Master,” said Gellert. “I’m sure he will rescind my expulsion forthwith.”


Albus was stunned. Gellert had been expelled? The pieces fell into place: his presence at Godric’s Hollow, his bitterness towards Durmstrang, his reticence in talking about his past, focusing always on the future. And the anger bubbling within Gellert, which Albus had sensed just once or twice - that was explained too. For a man as powerful - as promising - as Gellert to be humiliated so by an inferior wizard - Albus could only imagine how much it would sting. How much the need for vengeance would tempt him, eroding all control.


It had happened to him, once. When you held so much power it was easy to give in to that temptation.


They arrived at the end of the pier and Albus realised they had been walking in silence for several minutes. They stopped there, at the end, and rested on the barrier, looking down into the sea. Eventually, Gellert spoke. “Does it change your opinion of me?”


“No,” Albus replied, and it was the truth. Gellert was an amazing man. If Durmstrang expelled him, it displayed a grave inadequacy within the school. But still, Albus wanted to know. “What exactly did they expel you for?”


Gellert spread his hands. “No single thing, really. The staff and I had disagreed on what material was appropriate for study on many occasions. And then we had a final disagreement.”


“A violent one?” said Albus, hearing the implication.


“The High Master drew his wand on me,” said Gellert, and a smile crept across his face. “He regretted it.”


Whatever Gellert had done, Albus was sure it had been justified.


“I severed his wand arm.”


… If perhaps overzealous in execution.


“And so you came to Godric’s Hollow, taking refuge at your Aunt’s,” said Albus, connecting the dots.


“My father sent me away,” said Gellert, his tone light.  “Said he wouldn’t have a ‘Dark wizard’ under his roof. And who offered to take me in but my batty Aunt Bathilda, who just so happened to live in the hometown of the Peverells?”


So Gellert had confunded Madam Bagshot. It certainly explained the free rein she gave him. “A stroke of luck, to be sure,” said Albus, “without her library, we would be blind in our search for the Hallows.”


“Indeed,” said Gellert. He was staring out to see, his eyes lingering on the distant horizon. “And yet we’ve reached the end of that road, I fear. The trail has gone colder than the English summer.”


Albus chuckled. “Perhaps we could look again in the Potter’s collection. They might...”


“I doubt it,” said Gellert. “The wand went to France, we know that. From there, who knows? You British are an insular lot. I fear no library here will have the information we seek.” He turned to Albus, and took his hand. “We need to go to France.”


Gellert’s suggestion was not a surprise to Albus. It had occurred to him many times over the last month. France! He longed for it: the knowledge waiting to be discovered, the people they could meet - could make connections with. The culture, the art, the food. It sounded so glamorous compared to England. And from France, where then? Rome, perhaps, or Athens, or Gellert’s own Berlin?


Together, he and Gellert would take Europe by storm.


Reality hit. “I cannot,” said Albus, his thoughts turning back to Ariana and Aberforth. He had a responsibility to them. He still had to find a job - a project he had neglected somewhat since Gellert had told him about the Hallows.


Gellert sighed, and took his hand from Albus’. “Why not?”


“You know why,” said Albus, “my obligation to my family... Aberforth shall return to Hogwarts soon, and I must care for Ariana. I am trying to find a job.”


“A job!” said Gellert, clearly aghast. “A job?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Albus, what is this madness?”


“Dreams are well and good,” he replied, “but eventually one must live in the world. And in the world, one needs money - especially if you have a sick sister.”


“I don’t believe it,” said Gellert. “You would abandon our quest for - for what? Writing papers on wand standardisation?”


“It need only be for a few years,” said Albus. “Until Aberforth is out of Hogwarts and possessing a secure job himself. After that-”


“Listen to yourself!” said Gellert, seizing Albus by his shoulders. “Did Caesar wait to cross the Rubicon? Did Alexander delay his conquest? No! We must do this now, while we still possess the foolishness of youth. Now is the time, Albus. Greatness calls.”


“The are many forms of greatness,” said Albus. “I’ve been thinking. If I must focus myself upon gold, I might as well do it well. If you and I went into business together, we could-”


“I have no interest in gold,” said Gellert, his voice low, bitter. There was the anger Albus sensed. “How can I persuade you from this insanity?”


“Present me with a realistic alternative.”


Gellert fell silent and for a while they just stood there, looking out on the sea. Albus wondered what he was thinking.


“What would you do, if you had the Hallows?” said Gellert.


“Study them,” said Albus, “try to understand them. Perhaps even replicate them.”


“But not use them?” said Gellert.


“For what?”


Gellert shook his head with a smile. “Only you would ask that. To cure your sister, for a start. To wield influence. To change the world.”


And there it was. Albus was not stupid - he was, in fact, rather uncommonly intelligent. He had been expecting this conversation. “And how, Gellert, would you change the world?”


“Do you not remember, Albus? A great empire of peace, where all - wizard and Muggle alike - prospered and sought the good of all. Together, with the Hallows, we could make such a place. We could rule.”


“I believe I said realistic,” Albus joked, but he wasn’t laughing.


“Oh, but it is real, Albus,” said Gellert. “It’s too real, isn’t it? That’s why you shy from the idea - you know that we’re capable of it, and it scares you.”


“It takes more than magical skill and a powerful wand to do what you’re suggesting,” said Albus. “No two wizards could take Europe by force, no matter how powerful. You’re speaking of tearing down the Statute of Secrecy. The whole world would oppose us.”


“Not the whole world,” said Gellert. “There are always those who would follow great men. We could persuade them, Albus. And if they cannot be persuaded, we will make them. For the greater good.”


He could see it, now. Together, they would make their way through Europe, searching for the Hallows while making friends and allies. A series of coups to unite Europe under one banner. Small resistance would form; it would be crushed, and the rest of the world would follow. The building of a new world, ruled by the wise and talented, not the incompetent and the corrupt. “For the greater good,” repeated Albus, speaking under his breath.


And for your family.”


* * *


Plans were made, itineraries debated, and by mid-August Albus and Gellert were almost ready to set out. Only one problem remained: Ariana. As Albus returned home, groceries floating besides him, he thought about her -- about how soon Aberforth would have to return to Hogwarts. Could someone else in the village look after her? Surely impossible. They wouldn’t -- couldn’t -- understand her condition. They’d send her to St. Mungo’s.


Only one solution presented itself to Albus: they would have to take Ariana with them. It wasn’t ideal, but Albus couldn’t think of any other way. He would just have to convince Gellert.


“I’m back!” he called, closing the door behind him. He banished the groceries off to the kitchen and listened for his brother’s voice. “Ariana? Where are you?”


No-one answered. Albus frowned, and tried again. Louder, this time: “Ariana?” He was met with silence. Perhaps she was playing hide and seek. He started searching the house: the kitchen first, and then upstairs. Aberforth’s messy room was empty, as was Ariana’s own. Her bed was made and the potion on her bedside table was empty. That was good -- her magic wasn’t going to explode, at least.


He was about to leave when he heard the sound of a girl giggling. It was coming from the open window. And sure enough, there she was, running around the back garden with Gellert. Albus smiled. Maybe convincing Gellert wouldn’t be so hard after all. He took a moment to watch from above, knowing they hadn’t spotted him. Gellert was lazily waving his wand, conjuring butterflies for Ana to chase with abandon. But as soon as her hands were about to clap around one, Gellert would laugh and the butterfly would divide with a pop, and suddenly there were two butterflies.


By the number of butterflies in the garden, they’d been playing the game for a while. Grinning, Albus rushed downstairs to join them, entering the garden by the kitchen door. By the time he reached them the butterflies were gone and Ana was sitting cross-legged on the grass opposite Gellert. Neither of them were talking, or moving: they were just staring at each other.


“What’re you doing?” said Albus, sitting down next to them.


“Playing,” Ana replied in her sing-song voice. She didn’t break eye contact.


Albus raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What game is that?”


Ana laughed. “A staring contest, silly! I’m winning.”


“Don’t count your chickens, Ana,” said Gellert, “I’ve got a few minutes in me left.”


“I don’t need to count them,” said Ana, frowning. “We’ve got eight.”


Albus laughed. “It’s a figure of speech, Ana,” he explained, placing his hand on her knee. “It means don’t make assumptions.”


“Oh,” Ana said, and with that they fell into a comfortable silence. As the minutes stretched on, Albus coughed lightly, trying to indicate to Gellert that he should concede. When Gellert ignored him, his eyes intent upon Ana’s, a suspicion began to grow in Albus’ mind.


He wouldn’t. Albus looked at Ana. He’d never seen her sit still for so long. She wasn’t even fidgeting. She had a distant look to her, like she was somewhere else. Yet her eyes remained locked to Gellert’s. He would.


Anger bubbled within Albus and he moved to cover Ana’s eyes with his hand, blocking the connection.


“Hey!” said Ana, pushing his hand away, “I was winning!”


Albus turned to glare at Gellert, who was looking at him stony-faced. “No, Ana,” he said, wondering how on earth he had so misjudged Gellert. “You weren’t.”


“Come now, Albus,” said Gellert, standing up. Albus moved to follow. They were facing each other, with Ana still sitting on the ground between them. “It wasn’t harming her.”


“You had no right,” said Albus, almost trembling, “rifling through her mind like that. You can’t just--”


“Have you forgotten our first meeting so quickly?” asked Gellert. He didn’t look worried by Albus’ anger. “You had less of a problem with it then.”


“Against me!” said Albus, pointing violently at his own chest, “not my sister.”


Gellert raised his hands, palms outwards, like he was trying to calm a horse. “She knows something,” he said, “I just wanted to know what. I promise I didn’t hurt her -- she’s a sweet girl.”


Albus snorted in disbelief. “How could she possibly--”


“That’s what I wanted to find out!” said Gellert. “She’s made several comments about the Hallows, Albus. We need her.”


Albus put his fingers to his forehead and looked to the sky, trying to calm himself. “She’s a sick child,” he explained, trying to get Gellert to see reason. To apologise. “She’s not some kind of seer. It’s just her imagination.”


A door slammed. “What’s going on out here?” Aberforth called, striding across the grass. “What’s he doing here?”


Albus looked Gellert in the eyes. “He was just leaving,” he said, his voice level.

“Not yet I’m not,” said Gellert, and he turned to Aberforth. “Stay out of this.”


Aberforth bristled. “This is my house.” He pulled his wand from his robes, and pointed it at Gellert. “Get out.”


Gellert sent a sideways look at Albus, laughter in his eyes.


“Don’t,” Albus said, pleading. He prepared to draw. “Don’t do this.”


It happened in less than a second: all in one movement, Gellert’s wand appeared in his hand, faster than the eye could follow, and silver light flashed -- only to break upon a blue-white shield in front of Aberforth.


Albus lowered his wand. “I believe my brother told you to leave,” he said. “Please do so peacefully.”


“Put your wand away, Albus,” growled Gellert. “You’re making a mistake.”


Albus sighed, and prepared to cast another shield. “I won’t let you hurt my brother.”


Gellert’s wand twitched -- Protego! -- and another silver light smashed into Albus’ shield with the sound of shattering glass. The deep wump-wump-wump of three more spells followed, rocketing from Gellert’s wand with the rhythm of strobe lights, but they too broke on Albus’ rock solid shield.


Ariana was crying.


Stupefy!” called Abe, thinking Gellert distracted, but he had barely finished the incantation before Gellert countered it with a thought, the nimbus of red light fizzling out around Abe’s wand.


Albus raised his hand towards Abe. “Don’t antagonise him,” he said. “We just want him to--”


With a flash of red light, Gellert’s spell smacked into Albus’ stomach like a hard kick. Winded and shocked by the sudden pain, Albus collapsed to his hands and knees, struggling to breathe properly. Through the corner of his eye he saw Gellert turn back on Abe, crimson light forming around his wand.


“Stop!” he gasped, struggling to point his wavering wand at Gellert.


“Abe!” cried Ariana, and she appeared out of nowhere.


Two spells flew, blue and red, each travelling too fast to follow.


Ariana crumpled to the ground without a sound.


“NO!” Abe ran forward, not caring about the wand still trained upon him. He rushed to Ariana’s side and kneeled down next to her. “Wake up, Ana,” he said, shaking her shoulders, “please wake up! Reenervate!


She didn’t stir. Albus clambered to his feet.


“Leave,” he said, his wand pointing straight at Gellert’s heart. “Leave now.”


“Albus…” Gellert began, but he stopped when he saw Albus’ wand. Tiny motes of green light stirred around it. He disapparated.


* * *


After Ariana’s death, Albus couldn’t leave Britain fast enough. By October he had sold the house and fled to Italy, leaving all the money to Aberforth.


For more than ten years he wandered across Europe, burying himself in study, finding jobs here and there to suit his needs. He translated ancient texts in a library in Rome, drafted policy for the French Department of Education, offered his services as a tutor in Konigsberg and a cursebreaker in Egypt. He even spent six months training as a Healer in Paris, but quickly grew bored. The work offered no challenge for him.


Word reached him occasionally of Gellert Grindelwald, the bright young philosopher making his way around Europe. He debated in cafes, spoke with politicians, and founded institutions, all the while preaching the unification of Europe and interference in the Muggle world. Albus almost ran into him once in the French Ministry. He left his Ministry job the next day.


In all his time travelling, Albus never stopped working on various projects and publishing his most interesting findings. He studied wandlore in Italy, the home of wand crafting. By the time he left in 1902 he had made his first functioning wand. In Konigsberg he investigated all kinds of secrecy and protective charms, trying to locate the hidden Durmstrang. It only took him a year to find it, but the spells were too strong for him to gain access. In 1904 he moved to Berlin to practice his duelling. He ended up spending two years honing his skills against the best in Europe after losing his first match. In Egypt he learned more than he knew he wanted about all manner of Dark spells and curses, but it was alchemy that led him to stay four years.


When Nicolas Flamel read about his findings, he immediately offered Albus the chance to work together. Albus jumped at the opportunity and, under Nicolas’ guidance, he discovered the twelve uses of dragon’s blood. But the outbreak of war in 1914 drew that relationship to an early and abrupt end.


Now internationally renowned for his knowledge of magic, Albus returned to Britain at the request of the Minister for Magic. He was given charge of the defensive spells protecting British borders and set about updating them to repel German attack. He spent two years in the Department of Mysteries completing the task. When it was done he left for Hogwarts, where he became the Transfiguration Master.


Gellert Grindelwald shot to prominence with the end of the war in 1918. It was he who had brokered a peace between Germany and France, and it was he who spearheaded the creation of the International Confederation of Wizards. Albus grew troubled, but didn’t leave Hogwarts.


For the next eighteen years Albus continued to teach, quite happy to lead a quiet life within the castle’s walls. He spent his days studying and passing on that knowledge. And if he saw Gellert’s face in the paper, he always spoke of peace and prosperity. But in 1936 the Chancellor of Magical Germany stood aside, claiming that Gellert Grindelwald should lead in his place. He continued to speak of peace, but Albus could see his intent..


War broke out in Europe once more, just after a disturbing boy called Tom Riddle started his first year at Hogwarts. The French Ministry fell to Gellert in a single day. One by one the governments of Europe capitulated, and Gellert’s influence spread. But by 1945, the international wizarding community had rallied, and planning began to retake Europe.


It was in April that Albus came face to face with Gellert once more.


Berlin was in ruins. Gunfire and explosions echoed throughout the city as the Muggles destroyed themselves, but Albus wasn’t there to help the Muggles. He had been given one mission alone: to stop Gellert Grindelwald at all costs. Even as he strolled down the bombed-out street, broken glass crunching beneath his boots, hundreds of wizards were apparating all over Berlin, subduing Grindelwald’s lieutenants in a secret war the Muggles would never see. But Grindelwald was nowhere to be found.


So Albus let himself be seen. He wore colourful robes and walked casually, whistling with a spring in his step. He passed a destroyed tank and took a moment to marvel at how far the Muggles had come in his sixty-three years alone.


He knew Gellert would find him.


“Hello, Albus.”


The years had treated Gellert well. He was as tall and broad-shouldered as ever, but now the lines of his face added authority to the strength of his body. He was dressed simply, but well, his dark blue robes cut in a military, high collared style. He looked healthy and hale, and showed no sign that his kingdom was falling apart around him.


“Good afternoon, Gellert,” said Albus, speaking as if he had met an acquaintance while walking a dog. “I dare say you’ve made quite the mess.”


Gellert looked around him, as if only just noticing the destruction surrounding them. “This?” he said, waving his arm, “a minor setback. Streets can be cleaned, armies rebuilt. So long as the leader remains.”

Albus shook his head. “It’s over, Gellert. Surely you must see it? Even should you escape today, there are no more armies for you to raise. The whole world has arrayed itself against you.”


A moment of silence passed between them. “It doesn’t have to be that way, Albus,” said Gellert. “Join me. We both know that you are the only one who can match me. Together, we could set this right.”


Albus had to laugh. Did Gellert really believe him still to be that nineteen year old boy? “What you suggest is madness. I could never join you.”


“You would have, once,” said Gellert. “You almost did.”


“I was young, and foolish, and in love,” said Albus with a sigh. “I am no longer that boy.”


“Nor am I, Albus. Much has changed since that summer.” Moving slowly, as if to show no trickery, Gellert plucked his wand from the air and held it aloft. It was long, and thin, marked with strange runes and carved with elderberries down its length. “I wield the Elder Wand! You should never have doubted me, Albus, for now I am undefeatable!”


Albus drew his own wand. It had never failed him. “The very fact that you possess it proves that the wand does not grant invulnerability,” he said. “If we should duel, I will prevail, Gellert. Throw down your wand.”


Gellert grinned, and Albus knew in that moment that there would be no peaceful surrender. For all his talk of joining forces, Gellert wanted this. He wanted to test his strength. A smile tugged at Albus’ own lips. “Now, at long last,” he said, taking a deep, elegant, bow, “we shall truly find out which of us is stronger.”


Gellert bowed in return. “So we shall,” he said, and he raised his wand. “But that is not the secret you fear.”


The duel was as spectacular as it was deadly. They traded spells of truly awesome power, summoning firestorms and shadows, smashing through whole streets with curses of devastation and conjured guardians. And, even more powerful, spells less noticeable than a whisper: aethereal bindings and blood magic, legilimency and occlumency. It was a showcase of all that magic had to offer… yet neither wizard seemed keen to end it. Neither went for the killing blow, more interested in testing their powers, pushing each other to even greater heights of magical skill.


Their defences were as mighty as their curses. Shield charms so expertly cast they were almost solid, powerful counter-curses undoing spells before they could form, and transfigurations of every kind. Albus transformed a tank into a giant mechanical man; Gellert transfigured an Egyptian curse mid-flight into vital force, impacting him harmlessly.


The Elder Wand was powerful, but truly it was wasted in the hands of a wizard like Gellert. His spells were already cast so powerfully, so close to perfection, that the Elder Wand had little to add. And Albus always had been a shade more skillful. Slowly but surely, he gained the upper hand.


It ended with a banishing charm. Gellert took a split-second too long to cancel one of Albus’ spells and he took the opening. Gellert was blasted back, slamming into a concrete wall. His wand fell from his hand.


Albus advanced upon him, wand pointed at his heart. “Tell me,” he said, his voice commanding. “Was it my spell, or yours? Which one of us killed Ariana?”


Gellert chuckled, and shook his head. “You’ll never know,” he said, and Albus stunned him. His hand shaking, he took up the Elder Wand.


He was Albus Dumbledore, master of the Elder Wand.


He was Harry Potter.



A.N. At the end of each chapter I’ll be noting any changes I have made from canon, except for those related to the central plot. In this chapter we have one, which is the date of the creation of the ICW.

Chapter 2: The Flight of the Phoenix

The One He Feared

By Taure

Chapter Two: The Flight of the Phoenix

Harry woke to find himself on the floor, a pounding headache blossoming behind his eyes. Groaning, he sat up and wiped the dust from his mouth.


“Well, Hedwig,” he said, closing his eyes and rubbing his forehead. “That was unexpected.”


Aside from the pain, it was a most unsettling sensation. He could remember the death of his sister -- no, Dumbledore’s sister -- as clearly as he could Sirius falling through the veil. He’d taken the OWL exams twice. He had duelled both Gellert Grindelwald and Lord Voldemort.


Lord Voldemort. For the first time in his life, Harry thought the name without feeling fear. Wariness, certainly. Disappointment. Anger. But not fear. It was liberating. Dumbledore’s last memory of Tom Riddle was that of a seventh year. Talented and disturbing, yes, but ultimately just a boy. He had turned out even worse than Harry -- Dumbledore -- had feared.


The cherry wand lay on the floor, next to a pile of ashes. No baby phoenix lay within them. Harry knew in that moment what had happened. The spell -- and Harry truly had no idea what spell it was -- clearly had two parts: his old wand, carrying the imprint of Dumbledore’s touch, and Fawkes, imbued with the power of rebirth. Fawkes had sacrificed his eternal life so that Albus Dumbledore could be born again within Harry.


A tear made its way down Harry’s face. “Thank you, my old friend,” he whispered, feeling a great, alien sense of loss. Never again would Fawkes nip at his fingers as a baby, never again would he experience the noble bird’s foul mood as he approached burning. “No greater gift has ever been given.”


Harry picked up the wand, smiling as he remembered receiving it from Ollivander. Not Garrick, of course. Garrick’s father had served Albus his wand. Dumbledore must have put aside the cherry wand after defeating Gellert. There was no other explanation for why the memories stopped in 1945, the moment Dumbledore had taken up the Elder Wand of legend.


He rolled the wand between his fingers, considering what he knew of Dumbledore after his defeat of Gellert. It was strange to think thus, like he was trying to put together a puzzle with many missing pieces. Harry was forced to realise he had barely known Dumbledore. He had never even thought to ask after his family or his past.


Many of Dumbledore’s decisions seemed impenetrable, even to himself. Why had he not killed Voldemort in 1959, when he had entered Hogwarts for a job interview? And why had Dumbledore not taken the Ministry for himself when it had become clear, in the 70s, that Voldemort was seizing control? Could Gellert’s shadow have haunted him for so long?


Harry now desperately regretted his own inattention to history. If he was to win this war, he needed more information. Voldemort should never have been able to penetrate the Ministry with such ease, nor evade capture for so long: the Ministry was home to many mighty wizards. Perhaps not as skillful as Dumbledore, but three or four of their best, working together, should have been able to track and kill Voldemort.


He was missing something. The Ministry of Magic was a shadow of its former self, and Harry needed to know why.


“BOY!”


Harry jumped at Vernon’s voice, suddenly remembering what day it was. This was not the time for reminiscing. He quickly pocketed Dumbledore’s wand before picking his own from the floor. A familiar warmth grew in his fingertips when he touched it, and Harry hummed to himself. That was good. He was still Harry Potter, not Albus Dumbledore. The holly wand recognised him as its master.


He vanished his trunk without a second thought, then froze. The Trace! He had yet to turn seventeen. “Bother,” he said, before pointing his wand at his solar plexus. Extricta, he thought, yanking his wand away from himself. A scroll popped into existence in mid-air and fell to his feet. On it was written every spell that had ever been cast in his presence. Another flick of his wand turned it to ash. The Ministry wouldn’t be sending him any more owls, but that wouldn’t stop them investigating his shield charm. He would just have to hope the Ministry was not as compromised as feared.


“ARE YOU COMING OR NOT?”


First things first.


Harry strolled downstairs, sliding his wand out of space -- an undetectable pocket charm. He grinned at the advanced magic, which allowed him to pluck his wand from thin air with but a thought. The Dursleys were in the living room, all packed up for an extended trip. Several suitcases sat next to the sofa, and a large rucksack rested on Dudley’s knees. When he entered, Vernon stopped pacing and turned on him.


“You took your bloody time!” he said, waving a half-eaten chocolate bar menacingly.


“My apologies, Vernon,” said Harry, smiling at the man disarmingly. “May I sit?”


“Now, I -- what?” Vernon seemed so surprised by Harry’s polite request that it completely derailed his train of thought. “Yes, yes, sit down. I’ve been meaning to have a word with you, boy.”


“You’ve changed your mind,” said Harry, leaning back into the cushion and steepling his fingers.


Vernon shared a look with Petunia, who gave him an encouraging nod. “As a matter of fact, I have!” Vernon declared. “Claptrap, the lot of it. Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing, boy. You want the house!”


“Naturally,” said Harry. Vernon had been vacillating on the matter for weeks. It would be better to play along -- he’d change his mind soon enough.


Vernon narrowed his eyes, as if Harry was saying something very suspicious. “Well, you’re not going to get it,” he said, “we’re staying.”


“That is, of course, your right,” replied Harry. “I will be quite happy to cast whatever defensive charms you consider necessary. I imagine, given the danger to you all, that you’ll want the best.”


“What nonsense is this?” Vernon spluttered, his face going red at the word “charm”. Suddenly, his eyes widened. “Oho! You’re not getting me that easily, boy,” he said, waving a finger at Harry. “You’re trying to get the lot of us killed! Well, you can’t trick me. We’re going!”


“Excellent,” Harry said, just as the doorbell rang. He stood up. “That will be them.”


“Harry Potter!” said Dedalus when Harry opened the door. The short man was wearing the same purple bowler hat he always did when in the Muggle world. He shook Harry’s hand enthusiastically. “Simply a pleasure to see you again.”


“And you, Dedalus,” said Harry, before turning to the dark-haired Hestia. He had never met her before, but Harry knew she was well-respected within the Order. As an Obliviator, she could navigate the Muggle world with much greater ease than most wizards. Harry shook her hand too. “Good evening, Ms. Jones.”


He shut the door and led them down the hall. “They’re just through here,” he said. “And do please ignore Vernon. His bark is worse than his bite.”


Dedalus seemed not to hear his warning, for when they entered the living room he practically exploded. “Good day to you, Muggles!” he cried, beaming up at the waiting Dursleys. Vernon’s eye twitched. Dedalus was speaking to them slowly and loudly, as if to small children. “I see you’re all packed -- very good!”


Vernon looked at Harry. “You’re sure we can’t have that Kingsley bloke?” Ever since Kingsley had turned up at Number Four in a Jaguar, wearing a crisp suit, Vernon had mistakenly identified the formidable wizard as a kindred spirit.


Harry shook his head. “He is otherwise occupied, I’m afraid.”


Dedalus removed his hat, revealing his bald head, and gave Vernon a solemn look. “I assure you, Mr Dungly, that you’re in capable hands.”


Vernon snorted, his great moustache quivering, before hoisting a case. “Well then, let’s get on with it.”


“No need for that!” said Dedalus, and before Vernon could protest the short man whipped the case away before tottering out the door. Vernon stared at his now-empty hands in shock.


“Now see here!” he cried and he went storming after Dedalus.


Hestia smiled at Petunia and Dudley. “If you’ll allow me…?” Without waiting for an answer, she opened her handbag and the rest of their luggage sprung up, floated through the air and passed right into Hestia’s tiny bag, shrinking as it approached. Dudley gaped, staring at the bag in shock.  “Right then, I think we’re ready,” said Hestia. She turned to Harry. “We’ll drive for ten minutes before apparating away -- the Ministry’s put up anti-kidnapping charms and god knows what else. You’re to wait here for the others.”


Harry nodded, joining the dots. If the Ministry was redirecting apparition, he wouldn’t be able to apparate out with Mad-Eye as planned. “New plan, I take it?”


“The others will explain,” said Hestia, before turning back to the Dursleys. “Now, we really must be going.”


They left with more commotion than necessary, only Dudley sparing Harry a second glance. Hestia looked like she was about to say something before seeing Harry shake his head. There now existed a kind of Entente Cordiale between him the Dursleys, and Harry saw no gain in disturbing it.


When the door closed Harry was left alone. He fetched Hedwig, shut securely in her cage, before wandering the place he had called home for sixteen years. He was glad to be leaving, but a strange sense of nostalgia filled him as he looked out the kitchen window into the rapidly darkening garden. How many hours had he spent tending those flowers?


An OWL flew in through the open window and dropped a letter.


Dear Mr Potter


It has come to the attention of the Ministry of Magic that a shield charm was cast within Number 4, Privet Drive at thirteen minutes past eight this evening. As you are not yet of age, this constitutes a breach of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery 1875. Furthermore, given that Number 4, Privet Drive is listed by the Ministry of Magic as a non-magical (Muggle) residence, your actions may represent a serious offence under section 13 of the International Statute of Secrecy.


As this is not your first offence, representatives from the Ministry of Magic will be arriving forthwith to investigate. You are not to leave your place of residence, and upon the arrival of Ministry personnel you are instructed to surrender your wand.


Happy holidays!


Mafalda Hopkirk

Improper Use of Magic Office


Harry chuckled and set the letter on the kitchen table. A quick Confundus would have whomever the Ministry sent trotting back to Mafalda. What interested him was that the Ministry didn’t come running the moment they noticed him casting a shield. After all, the only reason to cast a shield was to protect oneself, and Harry was a hunted man.


The Improper Use of Magic Office was almost certainly compromised, then. The only alternative was complete incompetency. Harry snorted and resolved to keep an open mind. Ministry incompetency was not outside of his experience.


The sudden roar of an engine coming from somewhere overhead cut off his thoughts. His wand appeared in his hand and he peered at the sky though the kitchen window. The air in the garden rippled, and Harry stepped back, preparing to defend himself against the disillusioned wizards. It proved unnecessary: Mad-Eye Moody stepped out of the darkness, his electric-blue eye whizzing, seeing into every inch of the house, no doubt searching for intruders. Behind him the others appeared: there was Ron, dismounting a Cleansweep 5, taller than ever, and Hermione scrambling from the back of a thestral.


Harry grinned and stepped out the back door to greet them. Even after all the changes within him, he didn’t need to fake his enthusiasm. “Ron, Hermione!” he said, giving Hermione a quick hug before Ron slapped him on the back. “It’s good to see you.”


“You too, Harry,” said Hermione, untying a scarf from around her neck.


“Alrigh’, Harry?” said Hagrid, materialising from behind them. His huge form sat astride a gleaming silver motorbike with sidecar attached. That must have been the sound Harry heard.


Fred and George were there too, getting off their own broomsticks, as were Bill and Fleur, the former currently helping the latter down from a thestral. Harry couldn’t help but let his eyes linger on the stunning French witch a moment longer than necessary. Fascinating, he thought, turning to greet Mr Weasley and Kingsley with hand shakes. It appeared that he was still heterosexual.


“Kingsley, shouldn’t you be protecting someone important?” Harry said with a laugh in his voice. Kingsley’s pearly white teeth stood out against his dark skin.


“I am,” he replied, and Harry inclined his head to acknowledge the compliment.


Tonks and Lupin were the last to land, both of them on brooms. “Hey Harry!” said Tonks, waving her left hand. Something sparkled on her ring finger. “Guess what?”


Harry grinned. “My congratulations,” he said. “I suppose you had the ceremony--”


“Cut the chatter,” growled Mad-Eye, and he held the kitchen door open. His eye was now fixed to the sky. “We can talk once we’re undercover.”


Harry followed Moody’s gaze. He couldn’t see anything, nor feel any signs of concealing magic. Nonetheless, it didn’t hurt to be cautious.  “Very well,” said Harry, stepping forward.


He had no memories of Mad-Eye from Dumbledore -- the ex-Auror must have arrived at Hogwarts sometime after 1945. The same held true for the others, all of them much too young for that. Still, as Dumbledore he was well-used to giving commands, not following them. He would have to work hard to gain the Order’s trust if he wished to guide them as Dumbledore had. He had the Order’s love. He was quite sure each one of them would die for him -- and he for them, with the possible exception of Mundungus -- but they didn’t respect him.


He led them into the kitchen. “Welcome to Number Four, Privet Drive,” he called. “The living room is a bit small, so we’ll have to use the kitchen,” he explained. “Alas, I cannot offer you refreshments. The Dursleys emptied the fridge before leaving.”


They took their time to settle, chattering happily as they found room for everyone. There were only four chairs at the table, so many were forced to lean against the wall or perch themselves on Petunia’s just-cleaned counters. Harry stayed standing, as did Mad-Eye. Just as they quietened down, Mundungus Fletcher slinked in the door, looking like he would bolt at any moment.


“Right,” said Mad-Eye, surveying the group. “As you’ve probably guessed, Potter, there’s been a change in plan. Pius Thicknesse has turned, and he’s making our lives very difficult.”


The Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, working for Voldemort? It seemed the Ministry was going to fall even faster than Harry anticipated. It explained a lot, though.


“I expect he’s the reason you didn’t all apparate,” said Harry.


“That’s right. In the name of protecting you from You-Know-Who, a team set up new protections over this entire area last week. We can’t apparate in or out, and the Floo’s been disconnected.”


“I see,” said Harry, his mind racing. “Voldemort will almost certainly be monitoring the area,” he said. “Flying will be dangerous.”


Moody gave him a look of something approximating approval. “That’s what these are for,” he said, pulling a pair of bags from inside his robes. “We’re going to--”


“Harry, what’s this?” said Hermione, who was sitting at the table. She had the letter from Mafalda Hopkirk in her hands. “This… this was sent less than fifteen minutes ago!”


Moody hobbled to the table with remarkable speed and snatched the letter from Hermione’s hand. His eyes -- both of them -- scanned it rapidly.


“It’s of no great concern,” said Harry, and Hermione frowned at him. “It’s just the Ministry.”


“Haven’t you been listening, Potter? The Ministry can’t be trusted!” spat Moody, flinging the letter back to the table. “This changes everything! We have to move quickly, before they get here.”


“What’s going on?” said Ron, hopping off a counter to look at the letter. “Blimey, Harry, underage magic again? You can’t keep your hands off your wand, can you?”


Tonks snorted and earned a glare from Mad-Eye. “No time for this,” he said, and he started pulling glasses from one of the bags. “We have to--”


“Hang on, Alastor,” said Hermione. Harry raised an eyebrow at her familiarity. “Are you okay, Harry? It says here you used a shield charm.”


Every head turned to Harry. If there was ever a moment to confess his inheritance, it was now. But he held back. They didn’t need to know. Nothing had to change between them. “A minor accident,” he said, brushing off their concern. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Moody’s hand had moved to the inside of his robes. He repressed a sigh: if Moody chose to hex him, he would have to allow it, lest their suspicions increase even further.


Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. “Ask me something,” he said to Hermione, not taking his eyes off Moody, “something only I would know.”


Hermione tapped her nails on the table as she considered. “All right,” she said, “how many you-know-whats does Voldemort have?”


Harry met her eyes before glancing around the room. He was fairly sure he could trust them all, but he leaned down to speak into Hermione’s ear anyway. “Seven,” he whispered. He stood upright once more and turned to Moody.


“It’s him,” said Hermione, a hint of surprise in her voice. Harry frowned. Had he been so obviously different? It was hard to tell: he was aware that he was speaking differently, but he couldn’t exactly identify how. It just felt like the natural way to speak.


“Fine,” said Moody, and his hand emerged from his robes sans wand. “The plan is as follows: we--”


“Oi, wait a minute,” said Tonks, and she was looking between Harry and Hermione. “I wanna know what a you-know-what is.”


“Pygmy Puffskeins,” said Ron, completely deadpan. “You-Know-Who loves ’em. Got the whole collection, he has, except that little black one with the green eyes. That’s why--”


Mad-Eye slammed his fist down on the table, rattling the glasses. “Enough! We don’t have time for this, not with Ministry wizards on the way.” He started pouring a viscous black fluid into the six glasses. Polyjuice. “We’ll fly out in disguise, splitting ourselves into seven groups, each headed for a different safe house. We rendezvous at The Burrow by Floo.”


“Disguised as me, I take it?” said Harry, eyeing the glasses. He didn’t much fancy six of the others wandering around in his body. Not to mention the danger they would be putting themselves in. “It seems excessively dangerous.”


“I told you he wouldn’t like it,” Hermione said to Moody, before turning in her seat to Harry. “We know the risks, Harry. We’re all adults. We all want to do this.”


“I don’t!” called Mundungus, who had stayed quiet until now.


“Shut up, Dung,” said Bill, giving Harry a grin. The scars on his face stretched with the motion.


“That wasn’t quite what I meant, Hermi -- ow!” Without warning, Moody had yanked a tuft of hairs from his head, which he began stirring into the polyjuice. The potion turned a deep, shimmering gold. “I meant it was more dangerous than necessary. I have a better plan.”


Moody didn’t pause, but his eye did swivel to Harry. “Let’s hear it, then.”


“The Ministry are already on their way, so the Trace is now irrelevant,” said Harry, holding up a finger to stop Mad-Eye from interrupting. “That means we can use as much magic as we like.” Mad-Eye grunted. Though he said nothing, he did stop making the polyjuice. “Now, the ideal mode of transport would be apparition,” Harry continued, looking around from face to face. They seemed to be following. “It’s not exposed like flying, and there’s no chance of being ambushed mid-way.”


Hermione frowned. “But Harry, the Ministry--”


“--cast a suite of protection charms on the property, I know,” said Harry, before looking to Bill. Their eyes met. “But do we not have a professional curse breaker in our midst?”


Silence.


“Hold your horses, Harry,” said Bill, running a hand through his long hair. “Taking down Ministry spells is a big job. I’m not sure if I could do it on my own, even with a couple of days.”


Fleur raised a perfectly crafted eyebrow. “Alone?” she said, “I will ‘elp.”


“Good,” said Harry, nodding to Fleur. “I will also assist.”


“Er... Harry?” said Ron, “what do you know about curse breaking?”


Probably more than Bill. “I read a book about it, once,” he said, knowing the answer was flippant but not having the time to indulge them. He turned back to Bill. “You have iron filings?”


Bill looked at Mad-Eye, the question in his eyes. There was a pregnant pause as Mad-Eye stared at Harry, thinking. At last, he said: “The polyjuice stays as plan B.” That was all Harry needed.


He jerked his head towards the corridor. “The mid-point should be this way,” he called, and Bill shared a glance with Fleur before following him from the kitchen. As they left, Kingsley started organising the others, his deep, soothing voice naturally suited to command.


“Tonks, Lupin, I want you upstairs,” he said. “Keep an eye out on the sky. Hermione, you’re with me. We’ll cover the street out front. Twins, lay down some--” Harry closed the door and turned to Bill and Fleur.


“Shall we?”


Bill grimaced. “Listen, Harry, I’m not so sure about this. I talk it up, but curse breaking really isn’t a seat of your robes kind of thing. It needs planning, preparation, equipment…”


They could do without. “Don’t worry,” Harry said. He waved his wand and his trunk reappeared. Luckily the potions kit was near the top. “I’ll guide you through it.”


Bill shook his head, sharing another look with Fleur. “That’s what I’m worried about.”


Fleur’s musical laugh rang out. “Life iz never boring around you, ‘Arry,” she said, and she touched her fiance on the cheek. “Let us see what Mister Potter can do, non?”


Harry finished rummaging for ingredients. “Thank you for your vote of confidence, Fleur,” he said, his arms full of herbs, tinctures and animal parts. “Do you know how to make the Draught of Notre Dame?”


“Make? Yes,” said Fleur, and Harry started handing her ingredients. “But use it? No.”


“I don’t, either,” said Bill, “it takes years of practice to even begin understanding the draught, Harry.”


“I’ll use it,” said Harry. He dumped the last of the ingredients into Fleur’s arms and vanished his trunk once more. “You can use the kitchen to brew.”


She took a breath as if to ask a question but paused, then exhaled in resignation. Shaking her head with a smile, she said “good luck,” and returned to the kitchen, pushing the door open with her foot.


“Now, where are those iron filings?” said Harry, drawing his wand. He flicked it and the door to the cupboard under the stairs swung open, revealing umbrellas, a vacuum cleaner and a wide variety of cleaning supplies. Harry briefly wondered what they’d done with his old bed.


Bill seemed to have decided to swallow his questions, because he opened his satchel and, after rummaging elbow deep, pulled out a small glass jar filled with shards of metal. “This is the mid-point?” he asked, kneeling down to place the jar on the floor inside the cupboard. He unscrewed the lid.


“Almost certainly,” said Harry, and he started drawing the tip of his wand in circles around the jar, like he was stirring a cauldron. Hesitantly at first, the filings floated upwards in a glittering cloud, swirling with the movement of his wand. As it rose, the cloud took shape, undulating and splitting into rivers of metal, the streams floating through the air as they followed currents of magical power. Before long they formed themselves into a complex geometrical pattern, shifting with every second.


Bill sighed. “Well, that’s that,” he said, his eyes following iron as it twisted in the air. “There’s no way we’re bringing that down in time.”


His assessment was apt: the spell was a masterpiece, far more powerful than anything the Ministry should have been able to cast without Harry noticing their presence in the house. ”This doesn’t make sense,” he muttered, mesmerised by the elegant geometry. It was dynamical, three dimensional, and multi-layered… and then the spell shifted again, and Harry got a brief glimpse of something very familiar: a heptagonal helix. “This isn’t it!” he said, lowering his wand. The filings fell to the floor.


“What do you mean?” said Bill, who was leaning down to clear up the mess.


Harry would know that spell-structure anywhere. “Dumbledore cast this spell, not the Ministry,” he said.


Bill cocked his head before waving his wand, conjuring an onion in his free hand. Harry recognised the spell: Oggbert’s Onion, its layers represented the layers of enchantments in an area. Another wave of Bill’s wand split the onion in half. Unlike a natural onion, this one only had two rings, with an unusual growth running through both.


Bill made a noise of surprise. “You’re right,” he said, giving the onion a sniff. Sometimes you could learn something from the smell. “Dumbledore’s spell is much older. It’s hard to tell, but I’d say the Ministry ones are less than a month old.”


Harry nodded. “We’ll just have to find the Ministry spells some other way.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.


“What--?”


Harry held up a hand for silence. As he exhaled, he felt it. The powerful sense of Dumbledore’s magic filled the house. It hung on every surface, in the air -- even on Harry. Feelings came to him then as recollections, like long-forgotten memories triggered by a smell. It felt like a firm hand on the shoulder. It sounded like the ocean. It tasted like chocolate. It was comforting, warming, and useless.


Harry concentrated and took a step, trying to feel any changes. He ran his hands along the wall, through the air and -- there! Something clean, something antiseptic, like skin scrubbed pink. Ministry magic. And something else, too… an uncomfortable feeling, an awkward silence. He moved towards it, and opened his eyes. His hands rested on the front door.


“I believe there’s an ideal Uninvitation Charm on the front door,” he said, turning to Bill.


The oldest Weasley’s mouth was hanging open. “That was…” Bill laughed disbelievingly. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”


“I have,” said Harry, “Dumbledore showed me, just before he died.” A look of realisation dawned on Bill’s face, his eyebrows rising and his whole head tilting back, as if finally solving some great mystery. “If the Ministry used ideal charms, then it shouldn’t be too hard to find the anti-disapparition spells.”


“The windows,” said Bill.


“Or the back door,” added Harry. “There is, I believe, an effective test.”


Bill grinned. “Alright, everyone!” he shouted, cupping his hands around his mouth. “We have to blow out the windows!”


Shouts of “reducto!” rang out and the glow of red light came from every room of the house, but the sound of smashing glass was suspiciously absent. Harry frowned and walked into the living room. The silhouettes of Hermione and Kingsley were standing outside in the dark, one of them prodding the glass of the window with their wand.


“Try again!” he called, and Hermione raised her wand. Red light flashed, only to be absorbed harmlessly into the glass. It seemed that the Ministry wasn’t completely incompetent. Harry opened the window and poked his head outside. “Hermione, Kingsley, you might like to stand back,” he said, before returning to the centre of the room. He took aim. Profligo!


A huge boom like a cannon echoed through the house as the Battering Ram of Rome shot from Harry’s wand. Quicker than could be seen, the spell smashed against the glass, shattering it into a thousand tiny pieces. A trail of smoke was left in its wake.


Harry grinned at Hermione’s wide eyes. “Harry, what on earth was that?” she said as she approached the empty window.


“Oh, just a little…” He trailed off when the shards of glass, which had fallen to the ground outside the window, began to levitate. “... oh, fiddlesticks.” Within moments, the glass had returned to the window frame and repaired itself. There was no sign that the window had ever been broken.


“There must be a second charm,” said Bill from behind him, and Harry hummed his agreement.


“Let’s see how Fleur’s doing, shall we?”


They entered the kitchen to find Fleur stirring a saucepan on the stove, Mad-Eye standing over her shoulder. “Fleur?” said Harry, the question clear.


“Almost done, ‘Arry,” she said, and she pulled down a mug from an overhead cupboard. It read World’s Greatest Dad. “Zis Muggle stove is simply terrible. It is a good thing the potion is so simple.”


“Potter, Weasley... you’ve got five more minutes,” said Mad-Eye, rounding on them. “That’s how much time we have before the Ministry arrives. We need to be gone before then.”


“Duly noted,” said Harry, and Fleur passed him the mug. A watery lilac-coloured potion sat within. “Bottoms up!” He gulped the still-hot potion down, closing his eyes as it took effect.


The Draught of Notre Dame was a rather special potion which allowed you to hear magic. Though easy enough to brew, it was frightfully tricky to use. Curse breakers spent decades learning how to delineate and interpret the sounds it produced, for every time you took the potion was different. There was no standard sound to a shield charm, no “violin of transfiguration”. The sounds you heard were deeply personal, and could be affected by anything from your location to the alignment of the planets.


The moment the potion hit Harry’s stomach it was like an orchestra had started to tune right next to his ear. Most wizards would never pass this stage, unable to distinguish individual sounds in the cacophony. Harry focused, pushing back his rapidly-returning headache, and listened.


“There’s a harp,” he said, turning his face one way and then another, his eyes still closed. “It’s peaceful, but strong.” A moment of clarity brought a smile to his face. “It’s my mother’s magic.” Wishing he could linger upon it longer, he pushed the harp away. The deep, rumbling crash of a breaking wave was next in strength. That was surely Dumbledore’s magic. That, too, he ignored. The ringing of a telephone came upon him next, and Harry’s eyes snapped open to rest on the kitchen phone, hanging on the wall. He shook his head. “Just an alarm charm,” he muttered, and he moved to the corridor. There was too much noise in the kitchen.


Underneath the roar of waves he could hear the faint beat of a single drum, almost like a heartbeat. He turned in a circle, trying to locate it. “It’s coming from the cupboard,” he said. Bill stepped forward and opened the door again, allowing Harry to scan its contents. His eyes landed on the fuse box and the drum became a bit clearer. He moved closer and put his ear to it: the deep, steady beat of a drum came from within.


“What’s that?” asked Bill, who was looking over his shoulder. “Some kind of ekelecticity box?”


“Something like that,” he said, putting the pieces together. “It’s the anchor for a Prop Charm, strengthening the other spells.”


Bill made an “ahhh” of understanding. “So we just need to overwhelm that, then pull the rug on the windows?”


“It’s likely protected from simple bombardment,” said Harry, “I think we should take a less direct route. The power lines.”


“The what?”


Harry tapped the fuse box. “All the power entering the house passes through here,” he explained. While wizards didn’t understand electricity, they all understood power. “That’s why it makes such a good anchor for a strengthening charm. But should we interrupt the electricity, the anchor will stop working.” He turned back to face Bill and stepped out of the cupboard. “Outside you will find some black cables hanging between the house and a wooden pole. Please cut them.”


“It’s that simple?” said Bill, raising his eyebrows.


Almost certainly not. “One can only hope,” he said. Bill took out his wand and opened the door. He nodded to Hermione and Kingsley before looking up, searching through the dark for the cables.


“Does it matter what spell I use?” he called.


“Any severing spell will do,” Harry replied, taking a few steps closer to the door to better see.


The moment Bill raised his wand there was a loud crackling sound, and a wave of static rolled outwards, sticking Harry’s hair up in all directions. “Bill!” cried Hermione, running over, but she was too late. Bill convulsed violently, then collapsed.


Hermione reached him and knelt down, waving his wand over him rapidly.


“Is he well?” asked Harry through the door.


Hermione let out a breath. “Just stunned,” she said. “We should get him inside.”


“Very well,” said Harry, moving back into the house. “I leave him in your capable hands.” He paused in the hall, thinking. Somewhere in the house a Conspiracy Charm was preventing any tampering with the Prop Charm. It was a clever setup, for the Prop Charm almost certainly strengthened the Conspiracy Charm in return.


He focused once more on the sounds of the magic around him, barely registering Fleur running past to help Hermione. The harp, the waves, the drum… there had to be something else. He reached the stairs, and started walking up. He heard the sound of a doorbell ringing, but it didn’t fit a Conspiracy Charm. Probably some other spell. He reached the landing and looked around him. His bedroom was to the right, Dudley’s further down the hall. Vernon and Petunia were on the left, and the bathroom right at the end.


He heard it when he looked at the bathroom. The tiniest sound, almost human. He stepped closer, and again. He could definitely hear it now; the sound of a person sniggering was coming from the keyhole on the bathroom door. “Found you.”


A doorbell rang again, but Harry ignored it. He had to figure out how to remove the Conspiracy Charm. He couldn’t simply overwhelm it with a powerful spell -- the Prop Charm prevented it -- which meant he had to unravel it. Paradoxing, the art of tricking a spell to attack itself, would work best. But how to get a Conspiracy Charm to involve itself in a conspiracy?


The doorbell rang three times, and Harry suddenly realised it wasn’t the potion: someone really was at the door. The Ministry had arrived.


“Time’s up!” roared Moody, just before the door blasted open with the sound of splintering wood.


“Aurors!” came a man’s voice, and Harry rushed to the top of the stairs to see three burly men in scarlet robes striding in, their wands pointing at Moody. “You are all under arrest! Surrender your wands and come peacefully!”


Harry met Moody’s blue eye. He held up two fingers: two minutes. With a grimace, Moody turned back to the Aurors. “You think that’s how you break down a door?” he shouted, advancing on them. “Time to give you a lesson in Auror-craft! Confringo!


Harry didn’t wait to watch the explosion. He ducked and ran back to the bathroom, racking his brains while shouts and the crack-clang of spells rang below. He put his ear to the keyhole and listened. It was almost childlike, the way it sounded like it was trying to repress its laughter. That meant it couldn’t be too smart -- its definition of “conspiracy” was likely extremely loose.


The house shook as a powerful spell impacted Dumbledore’s protections. “Death Eaters!” someone shouted -- Ron, Harry thought, his heart speeding up -- and three more booming spells followed. Dudley’s TV fell off its stand. They were attacking from outside the house. “They’re in the air!”


Cave inimicum! Harry tapped the brass lock with his wand and it shimmered out of sight. The sniggering became a squeal, then went silent with a puff of smoke. “That’s it!” Harry cried, just as he heard a great crashing sound.


Harry walked downstairs and surveyed the damage. The entire lower level of the house was gutted, debris everywhere, and spells of all varieties were flying in through the windows, smashing them repeatedly as they repaired themselves again and again. The Order was taking cover wherever they could: behind broken down walls, or using an overturned table as a shield. The three Aurors were lying unconscious on the floor.


“Harry, watch out!” Hermione shouted, but Harry was well ahead of her: a twitch of his wand and the spell was hurtling back the way it came. A satisfying crack and scream announced that it had found its target. He made his way to the door. “No!”


There was no way Hermione could reach him in time. Harry stepped out onto the lawn to find six dark figures arrayed around the house, with maybe a dozen more on brooms above, swooping down to cast spells through the lower windows.


“It’s him!” shouted one of those on the ground, and an almost-solid blue-white shield formed around Harry just in time to reflect a dozen spells.


Obstringo! A jet of silver light sprung from Harry’s wand, rushing towards the Death Eater. It bounced off of him, leaving him stunned, before rocketing towards the next closest foe. It deflected off his shield with a clang, but it still wasn’t done: dividing into two, the spell was now chasing down two more Death Eaters.


Sectumsempra! The crack of a whip announced the cutting of the electricity lines. Lights went off all down the street.


“Get the windows!” Harry shouted, when suddenly his scar exploded in pain. He staggered; a pale-skinned figure descended in an arc, coming directly for Harry. He was flying without a broom, his lower body shrouded by a trail of black smoke.


Distantly, through the pain, Harry heard Hermione screaming his name. Occlumency did nothing for it -- the pain was coming from within. With a dawning horror, Harry realised what it was. There was only one thing it could be… only one way he could be harbouring the enemy within his own being. He was a horcrux.


He barely moved in time to save his own life. Voldemort’s fiendfyre rushed towards him in the form of a giant snake, its fiery maw about to close around his body -- Harry whipped his wand like a lasso and the serpent reared, repelled as Harry fought to seize control.


Avada --”


Glass smashed.


“NOW!” shouted Moody.


--Kedavra!


Green light rushed towards Harry, but he was already gone.


* * *


A series of cracks announced their arrival outside The Burrow. They appeared in the small overgrown lane that led to the house, the Weasleys’ spells preventing direct apparition.


Wands were pointed the moment they landed: Mad-Eye at Kingsley, Kingsley at Mad-Eye in return; Remus and Mr Weasley too were poised to strike, though neither seemed to be able to decide who was most deserving of their attention. Even Ron and Hermione had their wands up, the pair of them standing almost back to back. Harry alone remained relaxed.


“The last thing Dumbledore said to us,” said Kingsley, his wand not wavering.


Moody’s eye flicked towards Harry. “Trust Potter --”


“-- he’s our best hope,” completed Kingsley, and they moved at once, not lowering their wands but pointing them instead at the rest of the group.


“We’ve been betrayed,” growled Moody, glaring in every direction. “The Death Eaters were expecting us.”


“Only those in this group knew the plan,” said Kingsley, his deep voice betraying none of the anger Moody showed. The implication was clear, though. A traitor was in their midst.


The bickering began immediately: identity challenges were thrown left and right, accusations were made, and through it all wands remained pointed.


“What was ze potion we made last week?”


“...hey, Hermione, what’s my favourite food?”


“-- our conversation last night--”


“...oh, I don’t know, Ron. All of them?”


“--maybe you let it out accidentally--”


“...yeah, you’re right, trick question...”


“--don’t be ridiculous, it wasn’t Dora--”


“Enough.” He didn’t shout, but everyone heard him. He spoke with a kind of gentle firmness that demanded obedience. “We cannot afford to fight among ourselves,” said Harry, looking to each of them in turn. “I think it clear, now, that we are all who we say we are. I would trust each and every one of you with my life. Now lower your wands.”


Most of them did so, but not Mad-Eye, nor Lupin, who was looking at Harry with an expression almost like pity. No doubt he was remembering Harry’s parents, betrayed by one they had trusted so closely.


“Lower your wand, Remus,” said Harry, quite gently, making a calming motion with his hand.. “Even if one of us leaked the plan -- quite by accident, I’m sure -- there is nothing to be gained now in recriminations.”


“You talk like he did,” said Mad-Eye, his lip curling. “Dumbledore.”


“Good,” said Harry, tucking his wand into the back of his jeans. The others still thought he had the Trace; he couldn’t raise the alarm by using the undetectable pocket. “At least one of us is speaking sense.”


Moody snorted, but put his own wand away. “It wasn’t a compliment, boy. Albus trusted people too. We all know how that ended.”


Harry clenched his jaw. He still couldn’t understand it: how could Dumbledore have been so utterly wrong about Snape? “Very well,” he conceded. Trying to persuade Mad-Eye to trust people would be quite futile. “Investigate the leak, if you wish. But for now, shall we get inside?”


A murmur of agreement saw them heading up the lane to the gate.


Harry caught up to Bill, who was limping along next to Fleur. “How’re you feeling?” He was moving under his own power, but he hadn’t apparated himself -- Fleur had been forced to bring him by side-along.


Bill tried to laugh, but it came out as a cough. “A bit useless,” he said, grimacing as Fleur looked at him with concern. “That was some sweet curse breaking, Harry.”


“I told you, did I not?” said Fleur, raising her chin in a mockery of the haughtiness she occasionally displayed. “You cannot underestimate ‘Arry Potter. He is a Tri-Wizard champion.”


The others seemed to agree. “You always were good at defence,” said Remus, looking back with a smile. “But even I was impressed today, Harry. Taking on all those Death Eaters all at once… it was the kind of thing only Dumbledore did.”


“That spell,” said Kingsley. “The stunning charm. I’ve only seen it once before -- when Dumbledore escaped from Hogwarts. What was it?”


“There’s a reason you only saw Dumbledore use it,” said Harry, drifting over to Ron and Hermione, who were listening with keen interest. “He invented it. He called it the pinball stunning charm, after the Muggle game.”


Kingsley raised an eyebrow. “And he taught it to you?”


Harry inclined his head. “We spent quite a bit of time together last year,” he said, telling the truth. Kingsley drew his own conclusion. Ron and Hermione did too: they shared a look as if Harry has just confirmed some deeply held suspicion.


It was amazing, Harry thought, that his sudden increase in magical skill surprised none of them. The fame of the Boy Who Lived was hard at work: even those close to him were proving vulnerable to the myth of Harry Potter.


“You’ll have to teach it to me sometime,” Kingsley said, then looked at his watch. “But right now I need to be going. I’m due at Downing Street any moment.” He jogged to Mad-Eye, who was striding so quickly he had left the rest of them behind. After conferring for a moment or two, Kingsley disapparated.


“Always said yeh could do it, Harry,” said Hagrid, clapping him on the back. Harry stumbled, but managed to stay standing. “Jus’ wait till everyone finds out yeh did it again -- right on top of yeh, he was, and yeh just --” Hagrid mimed a wand motion with his umbrella “--fought him off like it was easy!”


“Speaking of,” said George, “did anyone else notice a certain something about our favourite Dark wizard?”


“Just a little strange, it was,” said Fred.


“A mite unusual,” agreed George.


“He can fly without a broom,” said Hermione, her eyes lighting up. “I wonder how--”


“--here we go,” grinned Ron.


It was a good question. Harry suspected some form of self-transfiguration, judging from the appearance of the spell, but it was impossible to tell from a single look alone. If only he’d had a pensieve, he could have revisited the memory to study the ability -- a really most impressive feat of magic. Tom Riddle always had been an excellent student. If it was indeed a form of transfiguration, it was a discovery on a par with the animagus transformation.


Harry couldn’t help but feel jealous. The ability to fly unaided, while of limited use, was nonetheless one of the great unsolved problems of modern magic. That Voldemort should have solved it before him…


Harry stopped suddenly. Flight.


“Where’s Hedwig?” he said, looking first at Hermione. She bit her lip.


“I’m so sorry, Harry,” she said, throwing her arms around him.


For the second time in one day, Harry had lost a companion. He accepted Hermione’s comfort, but only briefly, releasing her before the hug continued too long. He couldn’t help but feel guilty. Hedwig’s death could have been easily avoided, had he thought to release her. He had been too busy, and she’d been left behind.


And then he realised: Hedwig wasn’t the only thing they had left behind. “Please tell me Mad-Eye has the polyjuice.”


The silence that met his question was answer enough. Hermione was covering her mouth in shock. “I didn’t think--”


“None of us did,” said Mr Weasley, his face anguished. “We were all in such a hurry to get out.”


And now Voldemort had access to six doses of essence of Potter.


“Maybe they were destroyed,” said Ron, “with all those spells flying around and all.”


“We’ll just have to wait and see,” said Harry. He did not share Ron’s optimism.


They arrived at the gate to find Mad-Eye waiting for them. He cursed when they told him about the polyjuice, thumping his fist down on the weathered wood of the gate. “Alright, we’ll do damage control in the morning,” he said, barely containing his anger. Harry could tell he blamed himself. Shocked, he found himself wondering how he could use Moody’s guilt.


He hadn’t just inherited spells from Dumbledore.


They dispersed after crossing the property line. Mr Weasley went with Moody to check the spells on the house, but most everyone made straight for the kitchen, eager to sample Mrs Weasley’s cooking.


Harry held back, his scar prickling curiously. Frowning, he closed his eyes and focused on the feeling; his vision blurred and suddenly he was somewhere else, looking down at an old man in rags, cowering on a cold stone floor.


“No! Please… please, I didn’t know…” begged the old man.


“You lied to Lord Voldemort, Ollivander!” Harry cried, his voice cold and cruel. “The boy dispelled my magic far too easily!”


“I swear, please, I swear,” said Ollivander, tears streaking down his face. “A different wand should have worked…”


“Lies!”


His anger peaked; he raised his pale wand and Ollivander writhed --


“Harry?”


He opened his eyes. Ron and Hermione were standing in front of him, looking at him worriedly. Everyone else was gone -- into the house, Harry supposed.


“Are you okay?” said Hermione. “Is it your scar?”


Harry started pacing. He always thought better in motion. “Voldemort’s got Ollivander,” he said, more to himself than to the others. “He’s looking for a way to circumvent the brother wand effect. He has surmised that I survived tonight because he was using a different wand.”


“But Harry… these visions… I thought they’d stopped?”


“They cannot be stopped,” said Harry, a bit too sharply. He stopped pacing. “My apologies, I didn’t mean to snap. But you must understand, the connection between Voldemort and myself…” He briefly considered telling them that he was a horcrux, before dismissing it. “...it is beyond occlumency.”


There was no need to burden them now. Until he was the last horcrux his status was of secondary importance. Besides, there was no need to tell them until he knew what was to be done about it.


Ron spoke up. “Didn’t Dumbledore say--”


“Dumbledore was wrong,” interrupted Harry. “He thought occlumency could block the connection… if that were true, I would now be blissfully unaware of Voldemort’s actions.”


Hermione frowned. “Harry, are you saying you’ve mastered occlumency?”


Harry grinned. “We did more than just talk about Tom Riddle, you know. He showed me some of his memories, too.”


They shared a look, just like earlier. For one insane second Harry thought his half-truth had been exposed. “We reckoned it must be something like that,” said Ron, matching Harry’s grin. Some great weight seemed to have been lifted from him, “There was no way Dumbledore would have left you with nothing.”


Harry resisted the urge to laugh. He didn’t yet know Dumbledore’s exact plan, but it was definitely more than nothing. But for now, it was time to celebrate his freedom. He stepped between them and put an arm around each of their shoulders, truly happy to be with his friends once more.


“Come on, I’m starving.”


Chapter 3: The Burrow

A.N. Sorry about the waiting time on this chapter. I got a bit busy IRL, and the chapter turned out 4000 words longer than chapter two. I expect the next chapter to be somewhat shorter – maybe around the 7000 word mark. This chapter is the first time we’re going to notice the teen rating of the fic. Enjoy!

The One He Feared

By Taure

Chapter Three: The Burrow

It became clear to Harry, soon after arriving, that The Burrow had inherited Grimmauld Place’s role as the primary headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. The house was a buzzing hive of Order activity: members came and went at every hour, continuing to work their regular jobs on top of whatever Mad-Eye had them doing for the Order.


Bill and Fleur’s upcoming wedding kept them busy too. Everyone soon learnt to fear Mrs Weasley, who would inevitably recruit anyone foolish enough to dally into a seemingly endless supply of chores, each and every one of them apparently crucial. Despite this, Harry never heard a single word of complaint. Such a happy occasion made for a welcome distraction from the war and everyone contributed cheerfully.


Between the wedding and the Order, Harry found his free time under siege, barely leaving him a moment alone to think. And so, even as he helped polish cutlery and scour Muggle papers for hints of attacks, he was planning. It was immediately obvious to him that his original plan had been painfully naïve.


“You’ve changed your mind?” said Ron, almost spilling his tea in surprise. Mrs Weasley glanced sharply in their direction, her eyes narrowed, and Harry gave her a polite smile before busying himself with spreading a generous quantity of jam across his toast. The two of them were sitting at the breakfast table, the morning after Harry’s arrival, waiting for Hermione to appear.


Harry sipped his tea until Mrs Weasley turned back to chopping potatoes. “The general plan is unchanged,” he murmured, making sure to make a lot of noise pouring some orange juice as he spoke. “But there’s no purpose in simply roaming the countryside, hoping to stumble across something. We need a secure base to work from.”


“You don’t think Grimmauld Place is safe enough?” Ron whispered, taking another croissant.


Molly turned the tap on to rinse some carrots, apparently completely unconcerned by their conversation. The water was loud enough to cover their voices; Harry began to suspect Mrs Weasley was snooping with a supersensory charm.


“The Order vacated Grimmauld Place for a reason,” Harry replied while keeping his eyes on Molly. “And security isn’t our only concern. We need more information.”


“Too right,” said Ron over a mouthful of bread, “the trail’s gone colder than Pansy Parkinson’s--”


“Ahem!” coughed Mrs Weasley, clearing her throat as she hit the colander against the sink several times.


Harry hid his smile: theory confirmed. “Ideally, we’d be able to access Dumbledore’s own notes, if he kept any, but to do that we’d have to...” Hermione emerged from the bottom of the stairs, already dressed in jeans and a simple white top. Harry and Ron were still in their pyjamas.  “Morning, Hermione.”


To Harry’s great surprise, Ron leapt up to pull out a seat. Hermione gave him a baffled look, her eyebrows scrunching together, but took the offered chair. “Good morning,” she said, surveying the table and pouring some orange juice. “Did you sleep well?”


“Not bad,” said Ron, “Harry was just saying--”


“Later,” Harry interrupted, just as Mad-Eye Moody came in the kitchen door.


“Morning, Molly,” he said, giving her a nod before turning to Harry, Ron and Hermione. “Good, you’re up,” he said, stepping over to the table. He picked up a piece of toast and sniffed it suspiciously before taking a bite. “We doubled back to Privet Drive after midnight: no sign of the Polyjuice.”


Harry sighed, thinking of all the potential headaches it could cause. “Not unexpected,” he said. “We’ll need to inform--”


“Already on it,” said Mad-Eye, and he pulled a roll of parchment from his robes. He shoved it at Harry, who unrolled it to find a complex list of passcodes and secret challenges. “From now on, you’re going to confirm your ID every time you meet an Order member, you understand?” Harry nodded and Moody took the chair opposite. “There’s a snowball’s chance in hell I’m leaving that parchment lying around, so we’re going to practice them now till you can remember them all.”


It was an annoyance, but not unreasonable.


"All right Potter, let's try this out," said Moody, taking another bite of his toast. "It's the night before the full moon. I say: ‘Did you see the Puddlemere game last night?’ What’s your reply?"


Harry scanned the parchment before peering at Moody over the top of his glasses. The grizzled Auror showed no sign of duplicity. "No," Harry read from the paper, containing his amusement, "I was polishing my wand all night."


Ron sniggered.


“Good,” continued Mad-Eye, still completely straight faced. “Another. The second Sunday of the month. I say: ‘How about Fleur, eh?’ Your reply?”


Once more Harry found the answer. His eyes met Moody’s; he might have imagined it, but he was sure the man’s lips twitched. Harry sighed, before reading the reply. “I prefer wizards, myself.”


As Ron burst out laughing, Harry couldn’t help but feel it was going to be a long morning.


Moody insisted on drilling him for an hour. As he did, Harry realised that his strategy was quite clever: not only were the code phrases unlikely to be guessed, they were also highly memorable. It didn’t take long for Harry to memorise the lot; even Moody seemed impressed by how quickly he caught on. He left Harry with a nod of approval, leading Harry to wonder if his mockery was some kind of twisted sign of respect.


Now alone, Harry searched for Ron and Hermione -- they needed to have a proper conversation about the horcruxes, away from the others -- but Molly spotted him wandering the house. Soon enough he was laying the dining room table for lunch. Harry had to bury his irritation: Molly’s attempts to keep them separated were becoming painfully transparent.


“She’s in denial, I think,” Ginny told him as they lifted the tablecloth, the white fabric matching her summer dress. With great difficulty, Harry avoided staring at her tanned legs. “She won’t let herself believe that you’re going, so she’s doing everything to stop it.”


“I surmised as much,” said Harry. They flattened the cloth with their hands and fetched the cutlery. “Ironically, it may be entirely unnecessary on her part.”


A moment of silence passed between them; Harry looked up to find Ginny focused upon perfectly aligning a knife and fork. “Unnecessary?” she said at last, her voice unnaturally breezy. “Does that mean...?”


Harry could have kicked himself. He hadn’t meant to play with her feelings, nor give her false hope. “I’ve yet to discuss it with the others,” he said, “but yes: I may be returning to Hogwarts after all.”


Ginny was on him in a flash: she ran to him with a happy laugh, enveloping him in a tight hug. She was much shorter than he was; Harry rested his cheek against the top of her head, cradling her in his arms. He could smell her shampoo, the flowery scent triggering memories of long afternoons spent alone by the lake. She was so beautiful. And, he thought with stomach-churning guilt, so very young.


Dumbledore’s memories had come with an insidious cost.


She looked up at him, and Harry felt his heart skip a beat. She was too close. “Then…” she began, her voice low, “we can… I mean, the only reason we broke up was that you were leaving…”


Harry licked his lips, his thoughts turbulent. He badly wanted to say yes, to lean in and kiss her. He was not even seventeen, less than a year older than her. There was nothing wrong with it. It was natural. And yet… how many sixteen-year-old girls could he remember teaching? He had decades upon decades of memories screaming at him to step back, to think of Ginny as nothing more than a young woman to be taught and guided. And so he did her a great disservice: he lied.


“That wasn’t the only reason,” he said, and the moment Ginny’s face fell he regretted it. He could have told her, she would have understood… but something held him back, some primal instinct to keep his own council. Ginny turned her back, no doubt to hide her face. An unpleasant feeling lodged itself deep in Harry’s throat, and he let out a long, shaky breath, trying to calm himself. “Ginny…” he began, but she cut him off with an upraised hand.


She turned back to face him and, though her eyes were dry -- one of the great things about Ginny was that she rarely cried -- an unmistakable wobble had entered her voice. “Was I… did you want more?”


“No!” said Harry, and he wanted nothing more than to hug her, to comfort her. But such affection would be a form of cruelty. He wished he could take back his words… he couldn’t tell her the truth, but he could at least tell her a fiction that resembled it. “Neither can live while the other survives,” he said, looking into her wide eyes. “That’s what the prophecy says. Until Voldemort is dead, I can’t have a normal life… he’ll always seek me out, Ginny, and I him. Maybe after…”


By the time the war was over, perhaps he would have resolved his feelings -- one way or another. Or maybe he would be dead.


Finally, the tears came. She blinked them back but they came anyway, falling gently down her freckled face. “You’re not giving me much to go on here,” she said, her eyes imploring, “I can’t wait for you, Harry.”


“I know,” he said, and he wiped away a tear with his thumb. She leaned into his touch, closing her eyes. “And I wouldn’t ask you to. But maybe one day, after the war, we’ll both--”


“Don’t,” whispered Ginny. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.” She sighed, rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand and gave him a weak smile. “Let’s not tell the others, okay?”


She really was a most remarkable young woman.


As the days unfolded, Harry would catch glimpses of concealed sadness behind her eyes, but he was apparently the only one. Though their conversation clearly weighed on her, Ginny managed to treat him normally, showing no sign of discomfort in his presence: she laughed at his jokes, taunted him when they played Quidditch and even continued to seek out his company.


Occasionally, when Molly was otherwise distracted, Harry found himself with free time. He treasured these moments of relative quiet, heading into the orchard to think. Chief in his thoughts was the horcrux. Despite the quite logical reasons to focus on the other horcruxes first, Harry’s thoughts inevitably turned to his predicament whenever he was left alone. Everything he knew about horcruxes told him one thing: the only way to destroy one was to destroy the physical vessel. He had to die.


Harry was generally opposed to that plan. Unfortunately he could think of no alternatives: he briefly entertained the idea of being killed and resuscitated, but he doubted such a “sacrifice” would be sufficient. The intent to be resuscitated would interfere with the magic. Nor did he think he could simply obliviate himself of the intent. The magic of the soul ran deep and couldn’t be tricked by technicalities. The only way to destroy the horcrux within him was to die and for that death to take him beyond the possibility of conventional resuscitation.


It was yet another reason to return to Hogwarts. Dumbledore must have realised that Harry was a horcrux -- perhaps the man’s office, or his portrait, could reveal his plan for Harry.


Horcruxes, however, were not the only occupant of Harry’s thoughts. With Dumbledore’s knowledge swimming in his mind, he was coming to new realisations at every hour of the day, reinterpreting all of his prior experiences.


He had quickly realised that his invisibility cloak possessed remarkable properties. He barely dared to hope, but late nights spent studying the cloak under the cover of darkness all spoke to one undeniable truth: Harry possessed one of the Deathly Hallows. It was, admittedly, the least interesting of the three, but it thrilled him nonetheless: quite by coincidence, he was closer than ever to their unification. The prophecy spoke of an unknown power… could it be the Hallows?


What free time remained to him he spent flipping through every book he could find around the house, desperately trying to complete his knowledge of the late twentieth century. Unfortunately the Weasleys were not historically inclined -- nothing he found could answer the questions that were nagging him.


It wasn’t until the third night of his stay that he managed to broach the topic.


“... of course, we were only just out of Hogwarts,” said Remus, taking a sip of his beer. The five of them -- Harry and Remus, plus Hermione, Kingsley and Arthur -- were relaxing outside in the twilight, a fully laid table before them. It was one of those perfect summer evenings: the air was starting to cool, crickets were chirping, and the smell of barbecued meat was wafting across from the grill. “We thought we were invincible. We were young, talented and unattached -- except for James, of course, who’d just proposed to Lily.”


Ron came out of the back door levitating a vast array of salads. Moving carefully, he brought them over to the table and took the seat opposite Hermione. Harry noticed Kingsley eyeing the food and they shared a look -- Molly would surely kill them if they were to start before everyone had arrived.


“It was our first mission for the Order,” Remus continued, smiling slightly at the memory. He pushed the jug of beer towards Ron, who poured himself a pint. Condensation formed on the glass; Harry sipped at his own, relishing the cool, slightly bitter taste. “It all seemed terribly exciting to us. We were so young, yet to be faced with mortality. Dumbledore’s instructions came by phoenix: he wanted us to set up protections around the house of the Head of Magical Transportation. I admit, we didn’t take it too seriously -- even then, in ‘78, it seemed insane that You-Know-Who could ever take over the Floo.”


Kingsley snorted. “When was it, again? ‘79?”


Mr Weasley nodded. “I remember it well. Complete chaos. The Minister himself went into the Floo one day and never came out. At first we thought it was a freak accident… right up until the same happened to old Denny Duncan. The Minister and the Chief Warlock, days within each other… after that, it was clear who was responsible.”


“Well, in ‘78 it was a distant concern,” said Remus, putting the story back on track. “But Dumbledore, being Dumbledore, foresaw the need to protect the Floo. So we went in the middle of the night--” Kingsley chuckled “--yes, we hadn’t quite grasped the idea of stealth back then. Anyway, we did the mission, placing various charms all over the property… and of course, James and Sirius just had to add a few extras.”


Arthur gasped in realisation. “That was you!” he said, leaning back in his chair and laughing.


“What?” said Ron, leaning forward. “What did they do?”


Remus took another sip. “First you should know that Matilda Primrose -- the woman we were protecting -- had recently been promoted from the Improper Use of Magic Office. Secondly, our Order mission wasn’t, in fact, our first encounter with Ms Primrose: we’d met her the summer two years before, when she had arrested the lot of us.”


“And so you decided to take revenge,” Harry concluded.


Remus inclined his head. “Nothing harmful, mind you,” he said when he saw Hermione’s disapproving expression. “Nothing that would interfere with the mission. Just a bit of fun.”


Arthur took over. “Mad Matilda, we called her,” he said, still chuckling. “The exorcists must have visited her house twenty times.”


“Personalised profanity charms,” laughed Remus, “Sirius always was a dab-hand with them.” Harry’s lips twitched, remembering the way the Marauder’s Map had mocked Snape.


“And the hats?” asked Arthur.


“I’d forgotten those!” said Remus. “James put a paranoia charm on her mirror. What was it she wore, that one press conference?”


“A live skunk, I believe,” said Arthur, sending Remus into laughter once more.


“What happened to her, in the end?” asked Hermione.


The laughter stopped. “She was killed,” said Kingsley, sneaking a carrot stick from one of the platters. “She’d been under the Imperius for months, it turned out. The Hitwizards tried to bring her in, but the curse compelled her to take her own life.”


The conversation died as quickly as Mad Matilda had. Harry took the opening.


“You mentioned the Hitwizards,” he said, glancing at Kingsley, “but I haven’t read anything about them in the paper. Who are they?”


In Dumbledore’s day the Hitwizards had been the closest thing to an army the Ministry possessed. They weren’t as skilled as the Aurors, but what they lacked in ability they made up with numbers. An Auror worked alone to track and capture a Dark wizard; the Hitwizards trained in groups to overwhelm the enemy with sheer force. Their absence from the conflict was most mysterious.


“The Hitwizards used to be a part of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement,” said Kingsley. “They trained in just two spells: the shield charm and a blasting curse.”


“Like soldiers?” said Hermione.


“Exactly,” said Kingsley. “The Aurors’ job was to find the enemy, the Hitwizards would then bring them down.”


“But now?” asked Harry, hiding his eagerness by fiddling with his napkin.


“Cornelius Fudge saw fit to disband the Hitwizards in the late eighties,” said Arthur with a grimace. “An unnecessary expense, he called them.”


“An idiot if ever there was one,” spat Kingsley. “The Aurors now perform the Hitwizards’ duties, but there aren’t nearly enough of us.”


Harry leaned back, his curiosity somewhat satisfied. It explained a lot… the Ministry’s defensive stance, the lack of successful Death Eater captures. With the Aurors spread so thin it was remarkable the Ministry hadn’t fallen already. But it didn’t explain everything.


“There’s something I still don’t understand,” Harry began slowly, not wanting to step on any toes. The others looked at him expectantly, so he went on. “The First War, from what I’ve heard, lasted for well over a decade--”


“From 1962 to 1981,” Hermione added. “According to most books, at least.”


“Almost two decades, then,” said Harry. “And yet this time, Voldemort’s followers have infiltrated the Ministry with ease.”


Remus ran a hand through his greying hair. “That’s a complex issue,” he said. “One thing you should realise -- especially you, Hermione -- is that the history books have been written with hindsight. At the time, in the sixties and even well into the seventies, people had no idea what was happening. Certainly they wouldn’t have said they were at war.”


“It began slowly,” said Arthur. “I was still at Hogwarts back then. Sometimes there’d be an article in the paper about a death, or a disappearance, but none of them seemed connected.”


“Except that they were all powerful witches and wizards -- some of them could have even given Dumbledore a fair run for his money,” added Remus. “And not just in Britain, either... all over the world, people were disappearing.”


The puzzle began to fit together. “Voldemort was eliminating rivals,” Harry said with dawning horror. Tom Riddle had systematically wiped out every witch and wizard on Earth capable of challenging him in a duel. This was the man Harry had to kill.


“We know that now,” replied Remus, “but at the time no one had ever heard the name ‘Voldemort’. By the seventies people were beginning to connect the deaths, but no one had any idea who it was.”


“No one except Dumbledore,” added Kingsley.


“That’s right,” said Remus. “Dumbledore formed the Order of the Phoenix to try to protect potential targets, and to gather evidence of Voldemort’s activities. But that was all a secret. As far as most people knew, You-Know-Who, as the papers started to call him, was simply a particularly dangerous serial killer. Life went on as it always had.”


“That all changed in ‘77,” said Kingsley, “when You-Know-Who revealed himself.”


None of them seemed to want to continue. “It was a massacre,” said Hermione, almost whispering. “The International Confederation of Warlocks was meeting in London… Voldemort blew it up.”


“After that the war truly began,” said Remus. “But it was too late. The Ministry suddenly realised that all its most powerful warlocks had already been killed. It was all we could do to hold on. You-Know-Who’s victory seemed certain… until Halloween, 1981.”


All eyes turned to Harry. He didn’t look down. Now, more than ever, he understood what he was to these people -- even to Hermione, who had grown up in the Muggle world. He would not fail them.


* * *


That night, after everyone had either left or gone to bed, Harry, Ron and Hermione finally had the opportunity to plan.


“Not as big as it used to be, is it?” Ron whispered as they crept through the corridor, hidden under Harry’s invisibility cloak. If anyone had happened across them, they would have encountered four bare, disembodied feet padding down the hall.


They knocked as loudly as they dared on Ginny’s bedroom door -- she and Hermione were sharing, as usual -- and so were surprised when the door swung open immediately. It was Harry’s first sight of Ginny’s room. The curtains were closed and the lamps lit, casting the room in a warm yellow glow. Smaller than Ron’s, its walls were dominated by posters of the Holyhead Harpies and family photos. A mattress lay on the floor, squeezed between the bed and the desk -- Hermione’s bed.


Ron poked his head out of the cloak. “Hey,” he whispered to Hermione, who was standing in the doorway, “can we come in?”


“What are you doing here?” Hermione hissed, pulling them inside and shutting the door. The girls, though wide awake, were dressed for bed: Hermione in baggy pyjama bottoms and a tank top, Ginny in nothing more than a t-shirt and knickers. “I was about to come to you!”


Ron had other concerns. “Ginny!” he said, “you’re naked!”


She looked at him witheringly. “This is my bedroom,” she said, returning to sit on her bed. “If you didn’t want to see…” She trailed off and gave Harry a dangerous look, the kind that told him he’d been caught staring and was welcome to stare some more. He averted his eyes to Hermione, confident that she was safe to look at, only to notice the tips of her breasts poking at the fabric of her top.


He was most definitely a teenager once more.


Harry cleared his throat. “Since we’re here, we might as well stay,” he said, resisting the temptation to conjure some squishy chairs. He was still supposed to be under the Trace.


Hermione glanced at Ginny. “Are you sure? Shouldn’t we…?”


Ginny, now painting her toe nails, rolled her eyes. “Feel free to cast that privacy spell you think I don’t know about.”


Hermione went to fetch her wand; Harry motioned for her to wait. “That actually brings us quite neatly to our first order of business,” he said, navigating his way through discarded clothes to find a perch on the edge of Ginny’s bed. “It’s something that’s been weighing on me recently… if the worst should happen and we die, all our secrets will die with us.”


“We’re not going to die!” said Ron, too loudly. Hermione waved her wand and Harry felt a silencing spell settle around the room.


“Thanks, Hermione,” he said, before addressing Ron. “Don’t think that I’ve given into despair. I merely wish to be absolutely sure that Voldemort will die.”


Ginny gasped and almost dropped her varnish. “It’s true, then? That’s what you’re up to?”


Harry raised his eyebrow at Hermione, seeking an answer. “It makes sense to have some redundancy,” she said, settling down on her mattress. Harry noticed that she had remarkably few belongings with her. A mokeskin bag lay next to her pillow -- a material highly receptive to extension charms. Impressive. “But Harry, remember the Death Eaters at Privet Drive. Can we trust the Order?”


“Oh, I certainly wasn’t thinking about broadcasting it to all and sundry,” said Harry, “Just Mad-Eye and Kingsley. If we can’t trust them we’ve already lost.”


“And Ginny?” asked Ron, still leaning against to the door.


Were his emotions clouding his judgement? He didn’t believe so. Ginny had proven her loyalty many times. She could keep a secret, and already had personal experience with horcruxes. “She deserves to know, if that’s what she wants,” said Harry. “Are we in agreement?”


Ron and Hermione nodded; Harry looked over his shoulder to Ginny. “Yes,” he said, finally answering her question. “Our task, given to us by Dumbledore, is to kill Voldemort. But first we must make him mortal once more.”


Ginny went white. “He’s immortal?” she whispered. “How?”


Harry shuffled back onto the bed, getting comfortable. “Now that,” he began, “is a curious tale. It all began with--”


“Voldemort split his soul and hid the parts in objects called horcruxes,” interrupted Hermione. “He can’t die until they’re destroyed.”


Harry cleared his throat. “Yes, I suppose that’s the long and short of it.”


“Just trying to move things along a bit,” Hermione replied, giving him a sheepish look.


“Tom Riddle’s diary was one such horcrux,” said Harry, filling in the details, “destroyed by basilisk venom five years ago. Dumbledore also destroyed one -- a ring. Our knowledge of the others is limited… a locket that belonged to Salazar Slytherin, stolen by a mysterious RAB. A cup that belonged to Helga Hufflepuff. Nagini the snake, most likely. And one other, to bring the total to six.”


He didn’t tell them about himself. He presumed that Voldemort somehow made him a horcrux unintentionally, and thus his status did affect the count.


“We don’t have any idea what that last one is,” said Ron, who had moved to sit with Hermione on her mattress.


“But it’s probably an object that belonged to one of the Founders,” added Hermione. She paused. “Have we missed anything?”


“No,” said Harry, slightly disbelieving. It was no wonder they thought he’d covered other material in Dumbledore’s lessons.


Ginny nodded, taking in the information with remarkable stoicism. She was still painting her nails. “And you guys are planning to go looking for them?”


“That was the plan,” said Hermione, the sound of accusation in her voice. “I’ve been preparing for months, you know. I even confunded my parents and sent them to Australia!”


“Your preparations were not in vain, Hermione,” said Harry, trying to placate her. “From what everyone says, the Ministry will fall in a matter of months, after which Hogwarts will be closed to us. That is why we must go now, while we still can.”


A moment of silence followed Harry’s grim prediction.


“Do you really think it’ll be over so soon?” said Hermione, her voice trembling slightly. “You think he’s going to win?”


Ron glared at Harry and passed Hermione a hanky, producing it apparently from nowhere.


“The fall of the Ministry does not mean the end of the war,” Harry said gently. Hermione sniffed. “If we can kill Voldemort before he fully establishes his regime, the Death Eaters will be unable to hold the Ministry without him. And so, once again, we return to the horcruxes. Destroying them is paramount.”


Hermione sighed. “Well, I have good and bad news on that front,” she said, fishing around inside her mokeskin bag. Holding it gingerly, like one might a dead animal, she pulled out a tattered old tome bound in black leather. “This book describes how to make a horcrux.”


Harry recognised it immediately: Secrets of the Darkest Art. She opened it to a marked page filled with incantations, geometrical diagrams and illustrations of gruesome rituals. It was also written in Ancient Greek. “And, I assume, how to destroy them,” Harry said, gesturing for the book. It had been many years since he had read it. Hermione cocked her head -- no doubt wondering how he planned to read Greek -- but passed it anyway.


“Not explicitly,” said Hermione. “I don’t think the author ever conceived of a person wanting their horcrux destroyed. It’s the kind of thing you’d only make if…” She shuddered. “Well, let’s just say you wouldn’t do it if you had any second thoughts.”


“So we know how to make them, but not destroy them?” said Ron. He frowned. “What good is that?”


Hermione huffed. “I said not explicitly. But once you know how a horcrux works, the way to destroy them is obvious, really. You have to destroy the vessel.”


Ron looked relieved. “Well, that’s easy! A good Reductor--”


“If only,” said Hermione, and she took the book back from Harry. A moment later she found what she was looking for: a page filled with concentric circles of Greek writing. “This page describes how to make the horcrux almost invulnerable to harm. You could hit it with a blasting curse again and again and it wouldn’t leave a dent. You need really powerful magic to destroy one.”


“Like basilisk venom,” said Ginny, who had been following closely.


Hermione’s eyes lit up. “Of course! If we go back to Hogwarts, we can get our hands on a basilisk fang easily!”


It was something that had already occurred to Harry. He would prefer to avoid, if at all possible, demonstrating his new-found skill in the Dark Arts to his friends. “Destruction is the easy part, then,” he said. “Finding them, however… I confess, I have no real idea how Dumbledore went about locating them. This RAB is our only lead. I’d like to ask McGonagall for access to Dumbledore’s office, to see if he left anything behind.”


Hermione looked skeptical. “Like notes?”


“Perhaps nothing so obvious,” Harry said. It was highly unlikely that Dumbledore would have put his greatest secrets on paper. “I’m not certain what I expect to find. Perhaps I’ll know it when I see it.”


“Hang on,” said Ron, “doesn’t Hogwarts keep a record of all its old students?


“Yes,” said Hermione. “Why?”


Harry made the connection. It was a long shot, but it would at least narrow the field. “Past students with the initials RAB,” he said. “It’s a good idea -- if we can convince McGonagall to give us access to the records.”


“It’s a start, at least,” said Hermione, “we haven’t got much else to go on, do we?” She bit her lip. “Harry, didn’t Dumbledore say anything else about the horcruxes?”


“Seems a bit strange, mate,” added Ron. “Sending us off like this without much information.”


“We didn’t really cover how he was finding them,” said Harry, unable to tell them the truth. Dumbledore had left them with something far more useful than a few clues. “We focused more on Tom Riddle’s history.”


“And curse breaking?” asked Hermione an eyebrow raised. “Duelling? How to read Ancient Greek?” She sighed and looked down at her lap. “Don’t think we’re stupid, Harry. It’s obvious you’re hiding something.”


“You’re even speaking differently,” said Ginny, leaning forward. “The Order might not notice, but we’d have to be deaf not to.”


A hundred different excuses flew through Harry’s mind. He’d spent last year using a time-turner, being taught by Dumbledore in secret. He’d been hiding his true skill with magic all along. The ghost of Merlin had come to him in a dream. But, in the end, he couldn’t lie to his friends.


“You’re right,” he said, looking each of them in the eyes. “I am hiding something. More than one thing, in fact.” He paused. He couldn’t lie, but he couldn’t tell them the truth either. How would they treat him, if they thought of him as Dumbledore? With reverence? Respect? Fear? He didn’t want that. He wanted to keep his friends. “It’s not that I don’t trust you,” he said, urging them to believe him. “But rather that I don’t wish for things to change between us.”


Hermione gave him a sad smile. “Change is inevitable, Harry,” she said. She rested a hand on his knee. “Did you think we’d stay the same forever, the three of us?”


Harry took her hand and gave it a squeeze. “Maybe you’re right,” he said, “but this isn’t quite like us leaving Hogwarts, or having families.”


He felt Ginny’s arms wrap around him from behind. He leaned back into her and closed his eyes. She was warm. “Whatever it is, we’ll still be your friends,” she said.


Their loyalty was without compare. He was about to test it even further. “What matters is this,” he said, his voice now resolved. “I am still Harry Potter. You are, each of you, the greatest of friends, and I love you more than I can describe. One day I will tell you my secret… but not today. Is that something you can live with?”


Hermione, apparently, didn’t even need to think. “It is,” she said, and she stood up to give him a tear-filled hug. Harry looked at Ron over her shoulder; he jerked his head in reluctant acceptance.


He almost missed it when Hermione whispered in his ear.


For now.


* * *


Once their plans were made, Harry began to feel restless. Waiting for the start of term seemed completely foolish: who knew when Voldemort might strike? They needed to start now. But Ron was resolute.


“We can’t go before the wedding,” he said the next day. He gave a gnome a vicious kick, sending it flying. Mrs Weasley had the three of them de-gnoming the garden under the not-so-watchful eye of Tonks, who had decided to use the opportunity to sunbathe. “Everyone’s been looking forward to it for months!”


“Besides, we’ve yet to hear back from McGonagall,” added Hermione, who still apologised to every gnome she banished. “Not to mention your birthday, Harry.”


Said birthday had been causing him more trouble than it was worth.


“We’ll invite Remus and Tonks, of course,” said Mrs Weasley while working her way through folding a small mountain of laundry. “I’m afraid we can’t really have anyone from school, though…”


“Really, it’s fine,” insisted Harry, who was pairing up socks. “I’d prefer something small, actually. Low-key.”


But Mrs Weasley was not to be stopped. “Nonsense, dear,” she said, “your seventeenth is an important occasion. Now, what do you think about Alastor? I know he’s not exactly friendly, but…”


“Mad-Eye doesn’t quite strike me as a party person,” said Harry, “can you imagine him in a party hat?”


Mrs Weasley giggled. “No, I suppose not,” she said. “So, about the cake…”


They were all obsessed. And so, when the 31st finally arrived, it was no surprise to be woken by Ron at an early hour.


“Oi, wake up!” he said, poking Harry’s ribs with his foot. Harry groaned and rubbed the sleep from his eyes; when he opened them he looked up to see Ron sitting on the edge of his bed, a clumsily-wrapped present in his lap. “Go on, then!” he said as Harry found his glasses. “It’s tradition to use a spell.”


Not even the memories of a 63-year-old man could prevent the thrill that came with knowing he was now an adult, able to use magic whenever he liked. He grinned and took his wand from beneath his pillow.


“How do you feel about a bit of redecorating?” he asked, flicking his wand twice. The walls jumped back like they were on springs, doubling the room in size; Ron almost fell from his bed when the furniture followed, leaving a large space in the centre of the room. A moment later Harry shot upwards with a bump, suddenly sitting not on a camp bed but a comfortable single.


Ron gaped. “How did you…?”


Harry tapped his nose. “Do you think breakfast’s ready?” he said as he hopped out of bed. The covers -- now a full set of sheets -- wriggled and tucked themselves in, leaving the bed pristinely made. “I’m famished.”


“Here, have this first,” said Ron, holding out the present while continuing to look around the room. The present was rectangular and quite solid feeling. Harry cocked his head curiously and shook it a little. No interior parts. Ron fidgeted impatiently. “Well, open it then!”


Harry ran his finger under the folds, breaking the invisible spellotape without tearing the paper. A book lay within: Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches. Harry raised an eyebrow. “We’ll keep this one from the girls, shall we?”


Ron laughed. “S’why I had you open it up here,” he said, fishing out his slippers from under the bed. “It’s pure gold though. Fred and George gave me a copy -- wish I’d had it last year…”


They made their way down to the kitchen, where more presents were arranged on the table in a small pile.


“Morning, all!” Harry said, taking a seat at the table next to Ginny. Almost everyone staying at the Burrow was up already, apparently having arranged to have breakfast together.


Cries of “Happy birthday!” came from all round the table, some of them getting up to greet him. Bill shook his hand; Fleur gave him a kiss on each cheek.


“Done your spell, yet?” said George, shaking one of Harry’s presents experimentally.


Fred waved a spoon at him warningly. “You should know, Harry,” he said, “the engorgement charm isn’t suitable for--”


“Thank you, Fred!” cried Mrs Weasley, delivering Harry a plate piled high with sausage, bacon, eggs and toast. “And put that down, George!” She pointed to a small box at the top of the pile. “That one’s from us, dear. Arthur had to go to work, but he’ll be back later.”


He opened the box to find an elegant pocket watch inside. Made of gold, it had no numbers nor hands. Instead a series of small metal discs moved under the glass, following the movements of the planets.


“It’s a wizard’s astrolabe,” explained Mrs Weasley. “It’s traditional, you know, to give a wizard one on his seventeenth… it’s not new, of course. It was my brother Fabian’s.”


“Thank you, Mrs Weasley,” he said, standing up to give her a warm hug. Harry remembered well the story of Fabian and Gideon. For Molly to give him something that had once been theirs was deeply touching. “It’s perfect.”


Hermione nudged a box his way. “This one’s mine,” she said. It was quite small, not much larger than a big matchbox. He opened it to find a presentation box holding a row of red sticks -- sealing wax -- and a large signet ring. A letter set. An image flashed in Harry’s mind of Hedwig, locked in her cage, her wings flapping in panic as spells flew around her.


“It’s charmed to destroy the letter if it’s intercepted,” Hermione explained, watching Harry’s face nervously. No doubt she was thinking of Hedwig too; Harry smiled at her to let her know it was okay. She had probably bought the present months ago.


“And what’s this?” he said, picking up the ring. A large ‘P’ dominated the bezel, with lions rampant either side -- Hermione must have transfigured the design herself. He returned the ring to the box and gave Hermione a huge hug. “Thank you.”


Other boxes contained an enchanted razor from Bill and Fleur and a huge box of Wheezes from Fred and George. Just as they were finishing up, an owl landed on the window-sill and hooted loudly.


“It’s addressed to you, Harry,” said Mrs Weasley after untying the letter. She passed him the envelope -- not thick enough to be a birthday card -- and he opened it with a knife. A silver badge fell out; Harry knew who it was from immediately.


“It’s McGonagall,” he said, unfolding the parchment. Ron and Hermione scrambled to read over his shoulder.


Dear Mr Potter,


It pleased me greatly to read of your plans to return to Hogwarts for your seventh and final year. The importance of a magical education cannot be underestimated, especially when we face so much uncertainty. Furthermore, in these trying times, I am confident that your familiar presence in the castle will give reassurance to all those who doubt Hogwarts’ safety.


With regards to your unconventional requests, I believe I may be of some assistance. It gives me great pleasure to enclose the Head Boy’s badge, which, as you know, was once worn by your father. The badge comes with certain privileges which I believe you shall find useful: freedom from curfew and free access to the Restricted Section of Hogwarts’ Library. Make no mistake, however: the position of Head Boy is one of responsibility. I expect you to fulfill these responsibilities to the best of your ability.


As Head Boy you are also welcome to visit me in my office at any time, where you will perhaps be able to converse with the portraits of Headteachers past. My office also has access to the Floo Network; should you feel it necessary to leave the castle on urgent business this Floo will be open to yourself, Miss Granger (whom I shall be naming Head Girl) and Mr Weasley, on the proviso that this privilege is not abused.


One of your requests, however, I am unable to grant. The castle is currently undergoing significant work in order to strengthen security and for this reason I cannot allow you to return before September 1st. The security measures being enacted are strictly confidential and there can be no question of their integrity.


Best Wishes,

Minerva McGonagall

Acting Headmistress

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry


P.S. Happy Birthday.


Finished, Harry passed the letter to Hermione to examine in fine detail. “She gave us more than I thought she would,” he said, noticing Mrs Weasley watching them closely. “What do you think?”


Hermione’s eyes were still glued to the letter. Slowly, a huge grin grew on her face. “I’m Head Girl!”


“Well, I guess that settles it,” said Ron. “We’re going back to Hogwarts.”


It took quite some time to calm Mrs Weasley down after Ron’s announcement. She was so distracted that she served Harry another full breakfast, just as he finished his first massive portion; Ron was quite happy to help him with the second. Bill was finally forced to lead her away, shaking his head, when she started to make a cake with the leftover bacon.


“Wow,” said George, looking at the strange mixture of bacon, flour and sugar. “You know, I think Mum might be on to something, here…”


Hermione made a sound of disgust. “I can only imagine what my parents would say,” she said, “I still haven’t told them about Hogwarts serving sweets with dinner.”


“And what’s wrong with that?” said Ron defensively, Harry’s plate now in front of him.


The conversation quickly became heated. As the merits of bacon cake were discussed in great detail, no one but Harry seemed to notice Ginny slip away from the table. She paused at the bottom of the stairs and gave Harry a long look before heading up.


“... it’s just weird to have sweet before savory, that’s all!” said Hermione.


“Excuse me,” said Harry, standing up, but nobody was paying him any attention.


“We can always do an experiment,” suggested George, who had joined his brother by the cake mix. “Mum’s already started, it can’t be too hard to finish…”


Harry found the door to Ginny’s bedroom open. It looked bigger in the daylight, with Hermione’s mattress vanished and the window wide open, letting in a pleasant breeze. Ginny stood in front of the window with her back to the door, wearing shorts and a strappy top.


“I couldn’t decide what to get you for your birthday,” she said softly. “Everything seemed so silly, given… well, you know.”


“You don’t need to give me anything,” Harry said, “really, it’s--”


“No,” she interrupted, turning now to face him. “I want to. Close the door, Harry.”


All the conflict of their previous conversation returned to him -- he knew well enough what a closed door meant. But he closed it nonetheless, flicking his wand to swing it shut. Ginny let out a little snort of laughter.


“You were meant to turn around,” she said, “but oh well.” She grasped the hem of her top and lifted it over her head, stripping unceremoniously in front of him. All the willpower in the world couldn’t stop Harry from looking, a thrill rushing through him as his heart quickened. Her small, perky breasts were covered by a plain black bra, enough skin left bare for Harry to notice the way her freckles faded into enticingly white skin near the material’s edge. His eyes flicked downward; her stomach was flat and toned, clearly showing the curve of her hips. She fiddled with a bra strap. “Like what you see?”


Harry’s mouth opened and shut several times, coherent thought briefly escaping him. Some rapidly diminishing part of him told him to look away; it was quickly silenced.


“I’ll take that as a yes,” she said with a cheeky grin, and she took a step towards him.


Harry found his tongue. “You said you couldn’t wait for me.”


Ginny took another step. “I did,” she said, her voice lower than normal. “Does this look like waiting to you?”


And then she was kissing him, and he was kissing back. Her lips were soft and her kisses gentle, long and lingering -- she was in no hurry. Harry relaxed into it, his mind going blank, his hands finding their way to her waist as Ginny’s own slipped beneath his t-shirt, running over his back. The kiss deepened and Harry’s hands grew more urgent, squeezing and gripping at her taut, smooth skin: one drifted up to press at the centre of her back, bringing her closer, the other slipped lower to cup her bum. Ginny moaned into his mouth and started tugging at his top.


They broke apart, breathing heavily as she ripped his t-shirt over his head: the motion was so rough that it sent his glasses askew. She straightened them with a giggle and then they were kissing again, now skin to skin; Harry could feel her breasts pressing against him and he reached for the clasp of her bra, already beyond the point of no-return --


Someone knocked on the door. “Harry, are you in there?” came Hermione’s voice. They jumped from each other like they’d been burnt, diving for their discarded clothes.


“Just a moment!” called Ginny. She straightened out her top and ran her fingers through her hair before nodding to Harry, who opened the door.


“Hermione,” he said, his voice coming out strangely high-pitched. He cleared his throat.


Hermione looked between Harry and Ginny and blushed. “I’m sorry,” she said, and her apology appeared genuine, “but Remus and Tonks just arrived, Harry. You should come and say hello.”


Harry glanced at Ginny, the past few minutes suddenly catching up with him as rationality returned. Shame and guilt filled him, but they weren’t alone: the frustration of being interrupted and the hunger for more still surged through his veins.


“Go on,” said Ginny, who was looking very pleased with herself, “it’s your birthday, after all.”


After taking a brief detour to get changed, Harry returned with Hermione to the kitchen. The twins were still there, whispering and gesturing wildly by the cooker, but everyone else had disappeared, leaving Remus and Tonks sitting at the table alone.


“Remus!” Harry called, stepping forward to embrace him. They hugged, Remus slapping Harry on the back a few times.


“Happy birthday, Harry,” said Tonks as they pulled apart, and she kissed him on the cheek before passing him a present.


“Thanks,” said Harry, setting the present on the kitchen table to open later. “Can I offer you a drink?”


“A cuppa would hit the spot,” said Tonks, sitting back down. “It’s been a long morning.”


“Oh?” said Harry. He squeezed between the twins and tapped the kettle with his wand, refilling it, before setting it over a flame.


“Long night, more like,” said Remus, who was now investigating Harry’s small pile of presents. He picked up Hermione’s and looked at the ring. “This is nice work,” he said, examining the design. He looked at Hermione. “Your own, I take it?”


Harry fished four mugs from the cupboard. “Tea, Hermione?”


“Please,” she said, before nodding to Remus. “I couldn’t find any Potter heraldry,” she said, “so I just… well, made it up.”


“Oh, the Potters were never noble, as such,” said Remus, placing the ring back in the box. “Just rich and well-connected.”


Harry returned to the table with the tea, sliding a mug to each person. There was a moment of silence as they all blew on the hot liquid, the steam of his own misting Harry’s glasses. “You were saying something, I believe, about a long night?”


Remus nodded, looking grim. “Tracking Fenrir Greyback,” he said. “We’re hoping he’ll lead us to someone more important, but…”


“No luck so far,” said Tonks. “You-Know-Who seems to keep him at a distance.”


“I still say we take him out,” said Remus, and Harry’s eyebrows rose. Assassination, so far as he knew, was not a traditional activity of the Order of the Phoenix. “The full moon’s approaching, who knows how many more he’ll bite.”


“And then where we would be?” said Tonks, her voice carrying all the signs of a well-rehearsed argument. “We have few enough leads as it is.”


“I’m just saying,” said Remus, getting agitated, “we can--”


“So Harry,” Hermione interrupted, speaking loudly. “What were you doing all alone with Ginny?”


Though about as subtle as a niffler in a Gringotts’ vault, Hermione’s attempt to steer the conversation was a huge success: both Tonks and Remus stopped mid-sentence and swiveled to face Harry, the glint of curiosity in their eyes.


“Yes, Harry,” said Fred, who had apparently been listening. “What exactly were you doing with our sister?”


“Not besmirching her virtue, I hope,” said George, coming to rest his hands on the back of Harry’s chair. Harry’s cheeks tinged pink and he glared daggers at Hermione, who at least had the grace to look vaguely apologetic.


Tonks cackled -- apparently it ran in the Black family. “Getting a special birthday present, Harry?” she asked, grinning widely.


“Now, now,” said Remus, his own mirth barely hidden. “I’m sure they were just talking.”


“About what?” said Hermione, “the colour of Ginny’s underwear?”


“All right,” said Harry, trying to calm them, “I think that’s--”


“Ginny!” cried Fred, just as she emerged from the stairs. He waved a doughy spoon in the air like a wand. “What’ve you been doing to poor Harry?”


George laid a protective hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Not been besmirching his virtue, have you?”


Remus snorted; Harry had to resist the urge to obliviate everyone, instead sending Ginny a look that he hoped said “help me!”


Ginny smirked. “Only a little,” she said, sending Tonks off laughing again. “And he wasn’t complaining much.” Harry began to feel ganged up on.


“Only a little?” said George, looking shocked. “Don’t tell me you left him hanging?”


“How many times have we told you?” added Fred, who was clearly enjoying himself. “Once you Wingardium--


“--you better leviosa,” completed George.


This proved too much for Remus, who almost choked on his tea as he burst out laughing. Hermione, too, was almost crying at Ginny’s face, which was now a bright red. She laid a pitying hand on Harry’s arm. “Oh, Harry, I’m sorry,” she said through her giggles. “If I’d known…”


Taking the ribbing gracefully was the only option. “You’re quite forgiven,” he said with mock seriousness, patting Hermione’s hand. “Just don’t do it again.”


Mrs Weasley’s return put an end to their long breakfast. As it was his birthday, Harry alone was spared being put to work. Indeed, when he had tried to help, Mrs Weasley had firmly directed him to a deckchair, passed him a butterbeer, and told him to relax. And so, sipping his cool, sweet beverage, he watched as the others transformed the garden.


While Ginny helped her mother set up the buffet table, Remus and Tonks were set to the difficult task of repairing the temperamental gramophone. Meanwhile, Hermione was in charge of decorations: she walked around the edge of the garden, conjuring up a mass of colourful streamers and ribbons, waving her wand to drape them between the trees. Ron didn’t seem to have any task in particular, instead taking it upon himself to stand around tasting the food, frequently coming over to chat to Harry until Mrs Weasley shouted at him.


Finally, everything was ready: Hagrid and Kingsley had arrived, as had Dedalus Diggle, and Mrs Weasley had brought forth a giant cake in the shape of a golden snitch, which enjoyed pride of place on the table.


“Coming through!” called Fred, holding open the kitchen door for George, who walked out bearing another cake. It was bright orange and had sunk in the centre, but the twins looked very happy with their work, strutting up to the table and placing it next to Mrs Weasley’s much more impressive creation.


“Ladies and gentlemen,” said George, bowing to them several times, “I present to you: bacon cake!”


“Now, Hermione, I think you’re up first,” said Fred, cutting out a generous slice. He passed it to Hermione, who looked at it dubiously: it was soggy in the middle and filled with lardons.


Picking a bit that looked less undercooked, Hermione took a bite. Her eyes widened in surprise. “Oh my god,” she said, covering her mouth with her hand to speak, “it’s--”


A silver light shot to the centre of the group, hovering in the air before forming the shape of a small weasel.


“Arriving with Scrimgeour.”


Remus and Tonks moved immediately: they were barely over the hedge when the distinct crack of apparition sounded twice and Mr Weasley walked up the drive, Rufus Scrimgeour in tow. The Minister for Magic had aged noticeably since Harry had seen him last, his beard now messy and flecked with grey, but he was as tall as ever and still moved with a predatory prowl.


“My apologies for gate-crashing,” he said, looking over those gathered. His gaze lingered on Kingsley.


“Minister Scrimgeour,” said Harry, stepping forward and offering his hand. Scrimgeour looked surprised, but pleasantly so: he took Harry’s hand in a strong grip and gave it several firm shakes. “Is there something I can do for you?”


“In fact there is,” said Scrimgeour, his eyes now flicking between Harry and Hagrid. “I require a private word with you, Mr Potter, as well as Mr Ronald Weasley and Miss Hermione Granger.”


“Us?” said Ron, sounding surprised, “what could you possibly want with--”


A look from Hermione shut him up.


“Shall we proceed to the sitting room, then?” said Harry, “with your permission, of course, Mr Weasley.”


Mr and Mrs Weasley shared a concerned look. “Yes, yes, of course,” said Mr Weasley, “it’s just--”


“Your presence will not be necessary, Arthur,” said Scrimgeour, and he turned back to Harry. “Lead the way, Mr Potter.”


They entered the house in silence, but Harry’s mind was racing. Why had Scrimgeour come? To seek Harry’s support once more? To spy on the Order? To interrogate them for information? The possibilities were endless.


The sitting room was probably the least-used room of The Burrow, especially in the summer. It was small and messy, but cosy, with several flowery armchairs and little tables covered in books and magazines. Scrimgeour took Mr Weasley’s normal seat opposite the sofa, where he indicated that Harry, Ron and Hermione should sit.


“Now then,” said Scrimgeour, steepling his fingers, “I think it best if we do this one by one. You two--” he gestured at Ron and Hermione “--wait outside while I talk with Mr Potter.”


Ron and Hermione got up to move, Harry motioned for them to stop. The Minister’s intent was clear: divide and conquer. “I have nothing to say that my friends can’t hear,” said Harry, waving them to sit back down, and Scrimgeour narrowed his eyes.


“Very well,” he said at last, and he reached into his pocket to remove a scroll. “As I’m sure you know, I have come today regarding the will of Albus Dumbledore.”


Harry hid his surprise -- he had thought that he’d already received Dumbledore’s bequest -- but Ron and Hermione were less subtle. Scrimgeour smiled in satisfaction. “This comes to you as a surprise, I see,” he said. He turned his gaze on Ron. “Tell me, Mr Weasley, were you and Professor Dumbledore close?”


“Never spoke to the man in my life,” said Ron, and for the second time that day Harry had to resist obliviating someone.


Scrimgeour closed in, leaning forward in the chair like a cat stalking a mouse. “Then why, Mr Weasley, do you think he left you something? Albus Dumbledore made remarkably few personal bequests, leaving most of his belongings to Hogwarts and his gold to his brother.” His eyes flicked between the three of them. “So why you?”


“Minister, I fail to see how this is relevant,” said Harry, speaking before Hermione could. “Albus Dumbledore’s reasons were his own and, forgive me, it is not the Ministry’s role to question them. In fact, it has now been over a month since Dumbledore died -- under what authority have you delayed the reading of the will?”


“It is well within the Ministry’s authority to seize magical artifacts that are potentially dangerous,” said Scrimgeour, “in this case--”


“Come now, Minister,” said Harry, “we both know the Heirloom Act explicitly denies the Ministry such powers.”


Silence met Harry’s proclamation: Hermione looked surprised, Scrimgeour almost gleeful.


“You need to brush up on your magical law, Mr Potter,” he said, “the Heirloom Act was repealed in ‘86 -- by Dumbledore himself, no less. So you see, I do possess such powers.”


Harry could have kicked himself: his knowledge of the law was painfully outdated. Scrimgeour had him at a disadvantage. Thankfully, he had Hermione.


“But only for thirty-one days,” she said, before smiling. “That time’s up, so you might as well give us what’s ours, Minister.”


Scrimgeour gave Hermione a long stare before unfurling the scroll. “‘Herein is recorded the last will and testament of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore’... let’s see… ah, yes, Mr Potter. ‘To Mr Harry Potter I leave the snitch he caught in his first Quidditch game, to help remind him of who he is.’” He flicked his wand and a shiny golden ball appeared in his left hand, which he held out to Harry.


Harry knew what Scrimgeour must have been thinking -- what Hermione, by her expression, was also thinking. Both seemed to have forgotten how he made his first catch. He took the snitch without hesitation, smiling at its touch. To help remind him of who he is. A statement only Harry truly understood, and yet he felt almost certain that there was more to the snitch than Dumbledore was letting on.


Scrimgeour looked disappointed when nothing happened -- he slumped back in his seat and sighed. “‘To Miss Hermione Granger,’” he continued, “‘I leave my pensieve, in the hope that it will help bring clarity to memories past.’” He flicked his wand again, this time conjuring a large, shallow stone bowl, which floated over to Hermione. She took it reverently, with a tear in her eye.


It was a fine gift. It would have taken Harry a year to make a new one.


“That is an extremely valuable object,” said Scrimgeour, eyeing the pensieve. “Dumbledore invented it himself, telling the secret of their construction to very few. Why is it, do you think, that he gave this item to you?”


“To look at memories, I imagine,” said Harry, raising an eyebrow. Scrimgeour’s curiosity made little sense to him. Why was the Minister for Magic performing such a mundane task? What was his interest?


Ron snorted; Scrimgeour looked at him sharply. “Unfortunately, Mr Weasley, I cannot allow Dumbledore’s bequest to you.”


“That’s illegal,” said Hermione, looking up from the pensieve. “The thirty-one days are up; you have to give it to him.”


Scrimgeour’s eye twitched. “If you would let me finish, Miss Granger, I shall explain: the item left to Mr Weasley in fact did not belong to Albus Dumbledore, and as such he had no right to pass it on.”


Harry leaned forward. “This item being…?”


“The sword of Godric Gryffindor,” said Scrimgeour, and Hermione gasped. “Now, given Mr Weasley’s confessed lack of relationship with Dumbledore, I can only assume that you, Mr Potter, are the intended recipient. Why did Dumbledore want you to have the sword? Does it possess secret properties, known only to yourself? Did Dumbledore believe, as many do, that you are destined to kill You-Know-Who, perhaps using the sword of Gryffindor?”


Harry judged his answer carefully, taking a moment to reply. “Yes.”


Ron and Hermione spun to stare at him; Scrimgeour’s eyes widened. “You claim to be this Chosen One?”


Harry inclined his head. “There is a prophecy,” he said, “I will not divulge its exact contents, for Voldemort still knows only half of it. But that half is clear: I am the only one who can -- or, rather, will -- vanquish Voldemort.”


“If that is true,” said Scrimgeour, sounding sceptical, “then you should be working with the Ministry. Come with me, now, to London. Let us give you training, Potter, and protection. The Aurors--”


“The Aurors are compromised,” said Harry.


Scrimgeour bristled. “Absurd,” he said, “the Aurors are under my personal command.”


“Three of those Aurors collaborated with a Death Eater attack five days past -- an attack designed to kill me. How often have you been testing for the Imperius curse?”


“I’m asking the questions here,” snapped Scrimgeour, his temper now beginning to flair.


Harry shook his head. “I think it’s time for you to answer my questions, Minister. Why haven’t you raised the Sound? Why are the Hitwizards still in retirement? You should be gathering all your forces to assault Malfoy Manor, yet here you are, acting as a glorified delivery owl! Why haven’t you--”


“Enough!” said Scrimgeour, jumping to his feet and brandishing his wand. “You forget your place! Chosen One you may be, but I am the Minister for Magic!”


Harry stayed sitting -- Scrimgeour was no threat to him. “Fudge, too, was fond of reminding people of his position. It is time for you to earn that respect, Rufus. Take these measures and--”


“And the Wizengamot will throw me out of office before the day is up!” said Scrimgeour, punctuating his point with a pointed finger. “The Sound… preposterous. And as for Malfoy Manor, it’s completely unplottable. Finding it would be impossible.”


“Not quite impossible,” said Harry, “there is one way.”


Scrimgeour narrowed his eyes. “I don’t know how you know about the Hall, Potter, but clearly you don’t understand what you’re asking. The Wizengamot would intervene if I so much as walked through the door.”


Harry, in fact, knew exactly what he was asking: he had helped design it. “The Wizengamot may well throw you out of office,” he said, “but better to be thrown out for doing the right thing than to stay because you do nothing. It is time, Minister, to choose between what is right and what is easy.”


Scrimgeour grimaced. “It seems you remain, even now, Dumbledore’s man.”


Harry smirked. “You have no idea.”


Scrimgeour stared at him, the moment dragging out, before nodding once. He swept from the room without another word.


“Harry… what just happened?” said Hermione, flinching at the loud crack of Scrimgeour’s disapparition.


Harry smiled. “Oh, just trying to buy us some more time,” he said, now turning his attention back to the snitch still in his hands. “So, who wants to see what Dumbledore hid inside?”


Hermione frowned, looking at the snitch in Harry’s hands. “But you’ve already touched it,” she said, “the flesh memory didn’t do anything.”


“We’ll see,” said Harry, before raising the snitch and placing upon it a light kiss. The metal shimmered, revealing a hidden symbol: a bisected circle within a triangle. A moment later, it was gone.


“What’s that?” said Ron.


“A rune?” suggested Hermione, and Harry could almost hear the whirring of her brain. “I don’t recognise it immediately…”


“It’s not a rune,” said Harry distractedly. He was deep in thought: Dumbledore’s intentions remained as mysterious as ever. “It’s the symbol of the Deathly Hallows.”


* * *


“They’re coming down the drive!”


Harry ignored Mrs Weasley’s voice and stirred thrice, anti-clockwise. The potion turned a pale blue. Perfect. Timing it just right, he added three drops eagle’s blood, one second between each drop. The potion turned even paler.


“Where’s Harry?” Mrs Weasley shouted, “Hermione--”


“I’ll find him,” Hermione replied, her voice drifting up the stairs. “I think he’s in his room.”


The sound of footsteps followed, Hermione clearly taking the stairs at a run. She burst through the bedroom door a few seconds later, immediately taking in the fire burning on the wooden floor, the cauldron above it, and Harry kneeling to the side, stirring the potion casually.


“What’re you doing?” said Hermione, frowning. “You must have heard Mrs Weasley.”


Harry looked between the cauldron and Hermione. “It would appear that I’m making a potion.”


Hermione gave him a withering look. “You know what I meant,” she said, “we’re all supposed to be outside waiting for the Delacours.”


“I’ll be there momentarily,” said Harry. He was almost done: he added the shredded fern and dispelled the fire. The potion took on a slightly green tinge, the leaves dissolving instantly. He looked up to find Hermione gone. Shrugging, he decanted the potion and cleared up, placing the three vials on the window-sill to cool.


Harry descended the stairs just in time to open the front door for the Delacours.


“Come in, come in!” said Mrs Weasley, beaming at Harry. The Delacours froze when they saw him.


“Mister Potter,” said Mrs Delacour, kissing him on each cheek. She was blonde, tall and beautiful -- clearly Fleur’s mother. “An honour to meet you.”


Mr Delacour -- shorter and rather more aged than his wife -- bounced forward to shake his hand. “We saw you at ze tournament, of course,” he said, “when you saved our leetle daughter, Gabrielle.”


At the sound of her name, Gabrielle gave Harry an adoring look from behind her sister, battering her eyelashes at him wildly. Harry coughed, sharing an amused look with Ginny. “Bonjour, Gabrielle,” he said, before stepping back to allow everyone through.


Gabrielle blushed deeply and started babbling to her sister in rapid French, quite unaware that Harry understood every word. She shut up quickly, however, when Mad-Eye came in through the Floo.


“Oh, Alastor!” said Mrs Weasley, glancing nervously between her guests and the ex-Auror. “We weren’t expecting you for another hour.”


“Precisely,” said Mad-Eye, spinning suddenly to point his wand at Harry. “What’s on your Christmas list?”


Harry sighed. “Madam Lovelock’s Sleek and Shine,” he said, daring Ron to laugh with a glare.


Moody grimaced -- probably the closest thing to a smile his face could manage -- and pocketed his wand. “Need a word with you, Potter. In private.”


They retreated to the kitchen, where Mad-Eye cast half a dozen privacy spells, before pulling out a chair. “Sit,” he said. Harry raised an eyebrow, but did as he was told. There was no need to antagonise the man. Not after the previous night.


Moody had not reacted well to the revelation of Voldemort’s immortality. Neither, for that matter, had Kingsley.


“Well, Potter, I’m sure you know what this is about,” said Moody, taking a seat himself and resting his wooden leg up on an adjacent chair.


“I can guess,” said Harry. “The horcruxes.”


The mere mention of the word sent Moody’s eye crazy, jerking quickly between the windows and doors. “That’s right,” he said. “Now, I’ve no idea what Dumbledore’s plan was. I don’t care much, neither. The old man was clearly off his rocker if he thought three teenagers could handle this. We need--”


“No,” said Harry, firmly. Anger bubbled; he suppressed it, keeping his face completely blank. “The task is mine, not the Order’s. Your job is to focus on the fight.”


“This is the fight!” Moody snarled, punching the kitchen table with his finger. “The Ministry’s a lost cause, too bloody useless to even put up a fight. Voldemort’s the key.”


“I am quite aware of our situation,” said Harry, still completely still. “Unfortunately, the Order simply cannot be trusted with information this important. Should Voldemort realise we’re after the horcruxes, everything is lost.”


Moody grunted and fell silent, thinking. Harry seized his apparent advantage. “There are ways the Order can contribute, without knowing the secret,” he said, “induct me into the Order -- Ron and Hermione too. We can work together on this.”


“Never had kids in the Order,” Moody muttered, mostly to himself. “But why not? If you want to die for something, who am I to say no?” He stood up abruptly. “All right, Potter, you’re in. We’re having a full meeting in an hour to hear what the frogs have to say. We’ll induct you then.”


“Very well,” said Harry, standing as well. Suddenly, the fire burst to life and Minerva McGonagall stepped through. Harry lowered his wand, noticing Moody doing the same.


“Professor McGonagall,” said Harry, just stopping himself from using her first name. Minerva McGonagall was one of the few members of the Order whom Harry knew from Dumbledore’s memories, having attended Hogwarts in the twenties.


“Good afternoon, Mr Potter,” she said, taking off her wide-brimmed hat and placing it on the table. “I trust you’re well?”


“Quite well, thank you,” said Harry. “How’re things progressing at Hogwarts?”


Minerva’s lips thinned.  “Slowly,” she said. “I was loath to leave the castle, even for this meeting. Are you--” she stopped mid-sentence, cocking her head like a cat “--what’s that sound?”


Harry frowned. Everything seemed normal to him. But then he heard it: a low hum, almost like that of an electric fence, was building in the air. His eyes widened. “He didn’t.”


And then it came, bursting into life from all directions, a sound which had once haunted the dreams of millions. A sound that rang in Harry’s memories: the unmistakable, ascending wail of an air-raid siren.


Minerva paled, her wand appearing in her hand in a moment, and Moody flung the kitchen door open, his magical eye fixed to the sky. The others were still in the hall beyond: most of them looked confused, but Hermione was almost as pale as Minerva, and the Delacours looked positively furious.


“Well, what’re you waiting for?” shouted Moody, the siren unceasing outside the house. “Wands out, you useless lumps of dragon dung! We’re under attack!”


“Wait!” Harry called, holding up his hand. “That’s not necessary, Moody. I highly doubt the Germans have spontaneously decided to invade.”


“What is it?” said Hermione, her voice shaking. “It’s like an air-raid siren.”


“It’s the Sound,” said Minerva, stepping into the hall. Her wand was still in her hand. “Many years have passed since I heard it.”


Hermione’s eyes flicked to Harry -- no doubt she was remembering his conversation with Scrimgeour. “But what does it do?” she said. “I mean, wizards don’t use bombs, do they?”


A booming voice, rolling like thunder from the sky, answered the question.


THIS IS THE SOUND,” it said, sounding very much like Scrimgeour, “ALL MODES OF MAGICAL TRANSPORT ARE HEREBY SUSPENDED.”


The voice died, as did the siren, but the low, electric hum persisted. It seemed Scrimgeour intended to leave the Sound permanently raised.


Hermione gaped, and Harry couldn’t help but grin at her expression. He doubted she’d ever experienced magic at this level. “It seems,” he said, breaking the sudden silence, “Scrimgeour has done something right.”


No-one replied. It was Mrs Weasley who found her voice first.


“But what about the wedding?”



A.N. Canon deviations in this chapter which are unrelated to the central plot divergence: Hermione’s birthday present to Harry (a sneakoscope is kinda lame) and the date of the wedding (in canon, it was the day after Harry’s birthday).

This chapter marks the last that will be following canon moderately closely, and is mostly a set-up chapter. Hopefully it’s still entertaining despite that.