Disclaimer: All characters and recognizable story elements belong to J. K. Rowling.

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oOoOoOoOo

The summer was coming to an end.

There was only about a week left until the start of September. And Corvus' little garden at Grimmauld Place increasingly reflected this fact. Yes, there were still warm days. Like today. But it was the tail end of the season, and despite the warmth of the morning sun bearing down on him, there was definitely a tang in the air. A tang which spoke of autumn coming. Of green leaves changing to yellow and red, orange and brown. Of the bright colours of summer fading to the fallow shades of fall. It also carried the slightest hint of decay, of bare, turned earth and crumbled, rotting leaves.

Of course it was not autumn just yet. Nevertheless the taste of it already swung in the air, bitter-sweet. A reminder that time was running out. Soon he would go back to Hogwarts. Back for his first time. And there was still so much left to do beforehand.

He felt somewhat morbid as those thoughts ran through his mind while he stood waiting for the others to join him outside. Apparently this morning's training session wouldn't involve anything athletic, so seeing as it was a perfectly nice day, Remus had suggested they might work outside. Corvus certainly was all in favour of that. His little bit of greenery right in the middle of London had come a long way from the overgrown mess it had been at the start of summer. It needed more work here and there, but it had become rather a pleasant place through his efforts.

Obviously this work would never end, because such was the very nature of gardening. Nothing was ever finished where growing things were concerned.

Which was a nuisance and a blessing, all in one. As he slowly began walking along the narrow gravel-covered path around the tiny central lawn, his eyes fell on the seedlings he had planted so long ago. All of three weeks long ago, on that warm summer-evening after his birthday-party. It felt much longer than a mere three weeks, though. Because like those seedlings, he had grown and evolved a fair bit since then. They had turned from fragile little plantings which had nearly been washed away by the next rain, into the beginnings of sturdy, low bushes. Like him, they had quite a way to go yet until they reached their full growth … but with the careful tending increasingly provided by Winky alone, given his full days, they surely would.

And so would he, under the careful tending provided by his family and teachers. That group now included Alastor Moody, who had just stepped out into the garden, followed by a smiling Remus. Well, that meant at least one of them was smiling. The old Auror had a scowl etched onto his face instead, as his eyes locked with Corvus'. He gave the other wizard his best charming smile in return, and a raised eyebrow. The scowl only got worse. Right. So something was clearly bugging the man.

"Oh, come on Mad-eye! Don't be such a grump," Dora pronounced briskly a moment later as she brushed closely past Remus, who was blocking most of the door-way.

Corvus noticed with some amusement that Remus didn't seem to mind being brushed up against, even though his cousin once again looked like Harry. He also saw Moody's frown deepen as he glowered at Dora, who apparently was the reason for his ire. Or maybe it was both of them, or rather his irritation with having both the real Harry, so to speak, and an imitation one in the same place. At least the old Auror's eyes, both the false and the real, kept flickering between them as Corvus moved back towards the door to stand beside the Metamorphmagus.

"You know we have to practise this! And you have to learn not to call him," his cousin continued heatedly, pointing a finger at Corvus. "Potter anymore!"

"The day a young chit like you gets to tell me how to do my job ..." Moody growled angrily at her.

"Happens to be the day when you keep messing up!" Dora interrupted him, sounding angry herself. "Though I don't understand why, you had no problem at the Ministry."

"It's the bloody house, all right?" the wizard snarled back, tossing his head in irritation. "Makes me think of the Blacks, and her, and so I need to remind myself he's really Potter, and then you show up looking like him ..."

"But I am," Corvus was the one to interrupt Moody's diatribe this time. "I am a Black. I am not Harry Potter, not really. And no matter what any of us think of it, I am her son … and no thanks to you for spoiling a perfectly nice morning by reminding me of the fact," he added, now feeling a bit grumpy himself.

The old bastard suddenly gave a shaky laugh, which he turned into an embarrassed cough. "Well," he said, sounding apologetic. "At least the way you glare is one hundred percent your father, laddie."

Corvus scrunched his eyes shut, rubbing at his eyelids, and shook his head. "I know, I know, it's the eyes, and I have to watch it so I don't frown or glare," he recited in a monotone which was nevertheless full of sarcasm. "And never stand next to him if I can help it, and always smile instead, which is creepy by the way, and ..."

"And you have astonishing powers of memorisation," Dora told him brightly, tugging on the one lock of his curls which always seemed to want to trail down towards the front instead of down his back.

"So?"

"So we are really here today to see if we can't get you to demonstrate yet more astonishing powers ..."

"Such as?" he asked suspiciously.

"Well, Black," Moody grumbled, looking rather uncomfortable. "They tell me you've figured out how to do silent casting? In like no time at all? And you've learned how to apparate, and you went from being a disaster at Occlumency to fairly competent … all within the last three weeks?"

"Erm … I guess so?" Corvus admitted, feeling oddly reluctant about it.

"All that goes to show you've clearly been under-performing up to now, lad! You obviously thrive on being challenged more, I say."

"And therefore we would like to see if you can get somewhere with the next step up," Remus continued mildly, finally stepping down from the doorway and putting an arm around the young wizard in order to steer him over to a grouping of chairs set up in the shade.

"Which is?"

"Wand-less magic, of course," Moody declared as if it was the most natural thing in the world, snagging a chair for himself and sitting down opposite of Corvus.

"But ..."

"No buts! You won't know unless you try, lad, and if you can do it, the sooner you get started, the better! Because wand-less means you have to power your spells without a focus … "

"Which makes it even harder than silent casting. So what Mad-eye is trying to say is that in order to actually be able to do anything worthwhile with it, you will need to practise a lot," Dora broke in, taking the seat to the left of her cousin while Remus settled down on the last remaining chair on his right.

Corvus gazed from one expectant face to the other. "You really think I can do this?" he asked, feeling quite conflicted.

Because on the one hand … it was yet another thing they were expecting him to do. But on the other hand … their obvious belief he could do it, was a big compliment in a way.

"You will indeed not know until you try … and keep failing, despite giving it your best. However, nobody here expects instant results, or miracles for that matter, so don't worry," Remus began with an easy smile, sounding calm and confident. "Now as Alastor said, you have to draw the power out without using that bit of wood as a conduit," he continued, gesturing towards Corvus' arm where he kept his wand. "Which means the first step is to directly connect with your magic core. Become more aware of it, you might say. Something I am sure you will be able to do, otherwise you wouldn't have been able to learn both Occlumency and Apparition."

"Well, I suppose you may be right about that part," Corvus allowed, considering the way he felt like he was tugging on his magic to make him bypass space. "But then how do you actually get the magic to do something specific? Apparition I kind of understand, because for that all you need to do is give it a direction. However for other stuff … I mean, it's obvious I have to envision the result … but that can't be all, can it?"

"It is definitely the key component, cub. However, most people who can do this say they also imagine doing the wand movement in their head … if that makes sense?"

"Hmm. Actually yes," he said thoughtfully. "If I imagine the wand leaving a trail of light … then I could do that in my mind and superimpose it on what I want to happen."

"Whatever works for you, laddie," Moody agreed gruffly. "It's pretty much the same for how you get the power out. Some of the Aurors I've trained in this said they almost have to wrench at their core, while others told me they kind of … tease it out. Some let it flow, and others force it. It all depends on your personality, I reckon. Or how you envision your connection to your core, and the magic itself."

"I suppose I would be more one of the 'let it flow' kind of people then," Corvus speculated after considering this for a few moments. "Because if I try to picture my magic, it seems to be mostly something … fluid. And I can imagine letting that fill a … form, or a mould … which is usually created by the wand-work and incantation? I mean, you can't really drag or force a fluid. Or clouds, or even flames. But you can guide them. "

"That sounds perfectly reasonable," Remus told him with an approving smile. "Now you only have to try it."

"And actually succeed," he pointed out with a sigh. "Can all of you do it?"

"Mad-eye's quite good at it," Dora replied with a sideways glance at her old trainer. "I can only do some minor stuff. But well, it takes most people ages to learn, though I'd like to believe I'm rather inventive with what little I can do so far … Remus?"

The werewolf gave a nod, still smiling at Corvus. "I dare say I'm also fairly decent. However, I had a lot of both time and incentive to learn. If you travel a lot amongst muggles, being able to do stuff without having to wave a wand about … well, it is much less conspicuous."

"Oh. Well, that is good to know. I thought it was, like rarer, or something."

"Actually it is fairly uncommon. You shouldn't forget Alastor is a highly decorated Auror, Dora has been subjected to his training, and as for me … I suppose I am not exactly a slouch in the magic department, either. As regards the teachers, including your own father, whom you might have seen use it … well, you generally don't get to teach long-term at Hogwarts without being pretty accomplished, you know?" Remus pointed out.

"And here I was trying to scrape up a reason to feel more confident ..."

"Laddie, if we take into account producing a full Patronus at thirteen, being able to shake off the Imperius at fourteen, learning Apparition at sixteen in a couple of hours, becoming fairly good at Occlumency at the same age, and topping this of with mastering silent spell-casting in like a day," Moody expanded on his earlier list of arguments while spearing Corvus with his good eye. "And then add all the stuff you've done since you came to school … really, what's not to feel confident about?"

"Uhm," he said uncertainly, fighting the impulse to duck his head. Because he didn't particularly want to explain how he'd grown up being told he was no good, and would never amount to anything. Of course that had been freaky little Harry Potter, who was no longer quite real, but some things lingered. Snape was certainly right that he'd been damaged by the Dursleys … if only in the resulting utter lack of self-confidence.

"Cub, just try it," Remus urged, putting his left hand on Corvus' knee, while fishing in a pocket for something with the other.

Something which turned out to be a tiny white owl-feather. The teacher then took the younger wizard's unresisting hand and deposited the flimsy, nearly weightless thing on his palm. It tickled a bit, and moved slightly when Corvus drew a deep breath.

"I … oh very well, I will try, and not think of my doubts, and ..."

"Keep trying," Dora finished, reaching out to pat her cousin on his shoulder. "We all have a lot of confidence in you, even if you don't. So what you will do now is join us in an exercise to focus on your magic core, and then give it a go. All right?"

He met her earnest gaze, feeling hesitant despite their reassurances. On the other hand … if he turned the hand holding the feather over, he would see a line of runes. Confidence. Certainty. Success. Maybe they would also help him in making the magic flow … and letting this tiny contribution of Hedwig float.

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oOoOoOoOo

Of course he didn't succeed. But as the others did not appear discouraged by his failure, and in fact praised his ability to stay focused and not give in to frustration … he supposed he might eventually get there. Especially since he found connecting to the power itself seemed to come easy to him. All he needed to do was let himself sink partially into trance, and remember what he did when apparating. However, getting that power to actually do anything was another cauldron entirely.

He had experimented with seeing a glowing trail of wand-movement, or simply concentrating on visualising the result. Or a combination of both. The same with saying the incantation aloud, or only thinking it. He'd even tried simply wanting it to happen.

Unfortunately, the only thing which had eventually stirred the tiny feather was a sudden gust of wind, which had torn it from his open palm and tossed it about carelessly, as if to mock him. The wind had also brought clouds, of the ugly, dark grey variety usually pregnant with rain. Which arrived in due course, starting off with a light drizzle which rapidly turned into fat drops hammering down on the roofs around them.

Needless to say, they beat a hasty retreat as soon as it started, while Winky snatched up their chairs and took them into the house.

Corvus then got to work off some of his frustration as they started a series of short duels, with him and Remus against the two Aurors. Not that this exercise wasn't frustrating, too, as it showed him quite clearly he had a long way to go to match the others. However, they all had years of training on him, and a wealth of sheer experience. Which fortunately, they were all perfectly willing to share with him whenever they took a break. Mind, he could have done without some of the more gruesome examples which Moody tended to bring up.

Eventually the topic of discussion returned to wand-less casting.

"What you want to do, Black, is go for weak spots," Moody told Corvus as he settled himself more comfortably, shifting his false leg with a wince. "Wand-less is always gonna be weaker, compared to normal casting. But hit the right spot ..."

"I've always liked a nice bludgeoning hex to the crown-jewels," Dora suggested with a wicked grin, as she watched the three males automatically cross their legs and look discomfited. "That works on females as well, by the way," she continued. "Hurts like hell if you get hit on the bone there."

"Oh? It doesn't exactly take somebody out, though," Corvus commented dubiously.

"Us magic folk can survive a lot, cousin dear, but we are every bit as vulnerable to the distraction of sharp pain as the muggles. There are some things you just can't ignore, no matter what. And with no wand or incantation to alert them … your opponent can't shield against it."

"Which is of course one main reason for you trying to learn this," Remus took up, giving the grinning Dora next to him a decidedly queasy glance. "Such … impolite," he continued, after clearing his throat. "Attacks aside, what other weak points of the body can you think of?"

"Hmm. The eyes?"

"Very good, lad. Shoot a bright light in their eyes, and they are blinded," Moody approved with a nod, his false eye spinning oddly. "Which definitely puts a crimp in most people's casting style."

"You know, if they are standing still in front of you, because they believe you are disarmed and stuff ..."

"Yes?"

"Why simply use light? If you could do a stinging hex … well, it would be just like getting something in your eye, no? After all that hurts like hell, and probably blinds them a lot longer."

"Not a bad idea at all, Black, not bad at all. Course, if you really want to harm them, don't stop at a stinging hex. A cutting curse, and they'll have to get some serious work done before they can see again … if they ever do," Moody took the idea further, apparently not bothered by the reminder of his own false eye.

Corvus winced at the thought of doing that to anybody, until he remembered Voldemort's red eyes mocking him. The idea of slashing right through those was admittedly rather appealing. He'd definitely have to remember all these suggestions, though, in case he actually ever managed to do this.

"Stinging hexes are probably pretty good all round, aren't they?" he asked after a moment of contemplation. "You could also make someone drop something that way. I mean, usually the problem is you can't aim them accurately enough in a duel … but against a stationary target ..."

"Aye, lad. That's one thing which makes up a bit for it being weaker in power … you can aim better. And as Lupin mentioned earlier, it's damn useful when dealing with muggles. If you can manage even a weak confundus, or a cheering charm, you can do a lot with that. They're also often a superstitious lot, so a party trick or two can sometimes get you out of a tight spot."

"What do you mean with party trick?" Corvus asked, raising an eyebrow in curiosity.

"Pretty much anything that you do simply to impress people," Dora threw in with a laugh. "I'm sure that's why your father often puts the potion recipes on his blackboard without a wand. As long as you manage to build the illusion that you can do a lot more than you actually can … you have a big psychological advantage."

"So like what specifically …?"

"Mostly summoning stuff, or levitating things. You can also use that as a distraction … hit somebody in the back with something, and they are very likely to turn around," Remus explained. "Or even a weak incendio works wonders if you use it on something highly flammable."

Yes, like for example Snape's robes while his father was casting a counter-curse ...

"Indeed, Black. Constant vigilance! Because everything can be a potential weapon, or at least a crucial moment of distraction!"

"And of course, if you can summon your wand back to you, it can be a real life-saver," Dora concluded.

"Great, so more practise with summoning charms," Corvus complained with a groan. "As if I didn't get enough of that for the tournament."

"Then you should have an easier time with it, since you're already really familiar with the spell," his cousin countered mercilessly. "It's a very versatile one, too, and a good one to train your strength with. That and levitation, obviously."

Corvus nodded obediently. He could always get himself more of Hedwig's feathers to practise with.

"You'll also have to try harder not to show any sign you're doing something," Moody continued after a moment. "The best attack is the one your opponent doesn't see coming at all. Even better if they never notice it's you who is attacking. As long as they don't realise you can do magic without your wand, you have an advantage. Wand-less casting is limited, and will always be limited … but if you are even a bit inventive with what you can manage … it can make all the difference."

"Plus you can use it to mess with people's heads," Remus threw in, and the eager gleam in his eyes reminded Corvus uncomfortably of the times when Sirius had been telling him stories of the Marauder's pranks.

Sirius.

It hardly hurt anymore to think about his dead godfather. Mostly it was just a twinge of guilt. Some regret that a wasted life had ended too soon, and partly through his fault. Before the man could finally get around to growing up properly. Because he couldn't help remember who had oh so frequently been the target of those pranks.

Snape.

His father.

He shuddered at the thought that he used to laugh when Sirius had told him what they'd done to Snivellus. Of course that had been at a time when he'd still hated the teacher for his bad treatment of Harry. But that was no real excuse. Not when Harry had known intimately what it felt like to be the target of bullying himself. And how much mere words could hurt. Like freak. Or Snivellus. It was a truly horrible thing to call someone. To turn someone's very name into such an insult. So aimed at someone's dignity and very identity.

Harry really should have objected even then, at least about that.

But he had fallen into the trap of camaraderie, of wanting to belong and be accepted. Which reminded him disturbingly of his father's explanation of why the man had joined the Death Eaters. Thinking about this also made him realise all over again how slim the divide between pranking and bullying really was, and that it was not so very much further until it turned into torture. Certainly that scene he'd witnessed in Snape's pensieved memories had been awfully close to torture. And worse, that most of the others there had cheered and laughed and certainly not intervened.

To find yourself in such a situation, disarmed, helpless, with every hand turned against you … it made his stomach clench painfully to imagine himself in the same position. Though actually, he didn't have to imagine it. Because that was almost exactly what Voldemort's resurrection party had been like for Harry. He'd just been too utterly terrified for his life to take much note of the Death Eaters cheering and taunting him for being so helpless. But now when he thought about it, the similarity between the two situations was rather frightening.

To know that it had been his foster-father and godfather, and to a lesser degree also Remus, who'd done stuff like that to his real father only made it worse. And as a result, the idea of pranking people, or even just messing with their heads, had never held less appeal for Corvus. Well, unless they started it maybe. Or perhaps to avoid some other, far worse escalation of a conflict. But certainly not for laughs, never that, though he supposed there were after all good reasons to mess with people's heads. Of course this begged the question of good for whom.

Really, when had his world turned into so many shades of grey?

In any case, wand-less magic would also make for a good defence against bullies and pranks. Or torture. And being helpless because you had lost your wand, no matter whether it was evil Dark Lords or your own classmates who'd taken it.

He resolved to try harder.

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oOoOoOoOo

They held another round of practise after a quick lunch. This time Moody insisted Corvus should pick out a small number of spells that would serve under most circumstances and practise them until they became an automatic response. Or as the ex-Auror pointed out, versatility and a huge spell-repertoire was wonderful when you had sufficient time to figure out what to do. However, when you really needed to respond now, having instinctive reactions was worth the effort of repeating something until you could do it in your sleep. And do it not only fast, but also accurately and powerfully.

Corvus was privately convinced he would indeed likely end up dreaming of casting stupefies that night. But Moody had a good point. Just a very repetitive one.

However, the drill was undeniably effective. Which was why a sudden popping sound to his right nearly ended with little Winky taking a stunner straight to the head, as he whirled to face the sound and cast without thinking. Fortunately, he had been aiming too high, so the spell hit the wall behind her instead.

He stared breathlessly at the wide-eyed, white-faced little elf-girl, who was swaying on the spot, one hand raised as if to ward him off, while the other was clenched tightly around something which trailed a long chain of silver links.

"Master?" she mumbled uncertainly, gazing up at him with an utterly terrified expression.

"Oh, Winky, I am so sorry," Corvus told her remorsefully, trying to get his own shocked reaction under control. Her sudden appearance had startled him badly. Which would no doubt earn him a lecture from Moody. "You surprised me," he added for good measure, seeing as the elf only continued to stare at him, blinking slowly. Her hand loosened slightly, which caused the chain to slide further towards the floor with a soft klinking sound.

"Winky? What's the matter?" he asked when she merely continued to stand there as if frozen. "I didn't actually hit you, did I?"

"Master … no … not hit ..."

The little elf seemed to unfreeze all of a sudden, and instead began to shake and quiver all over. She brought both of her hands to her chest, still clutching whatever the chain was attached to closely in her fist.

"Of course I will not hit you. I would never hit you deliberately," he tried to reassure her, crouching down in front of her and reaching out to pat one pillow-case clad shoulder awkwardly.

Unfortunately, his efforts to calm her only led to her shaking even worse, and she started crying and wailing, before actually throwing herself at him and holding onto him with surprising strength. Corvus shared a discomfited look with the adults, who seemed just as baffled by this unexpected display of elven distress. In the end there was nothing for it but to let it run its course, until she eventually calmed down enough to let go of her master again. She then hunched in on herself, trembling and quite obviously still in shock.

"Winky has found … has found ..." she hiccuped, and finally opened her little fist which had been clenched tightly around some object all the time. Something metallic spilled out of it, landing on the floor with a soft thunk. It lay there, far too small to be the cause for such upset. Emeralds glinted at them, set in a curvaceous letter on the lid of an old fashioned locket.

So small. Surely far too small to radiate the concentrated malice he felt assaulting him as soon as he began to study it.

"Winky? Where did you find this?" he asked slowly, his hand automatically going to his hidden scar, which had started to ache slightly in a disgustingly familiar manner.

"In the old pantry behind the kitchen, Master Black, sir. Where the old house-elf lived," she explained in a faint, tremulous voice.

"Old house-elf? You mean Kreacher?" Remus asked, kneeling down next to her and extending a cautious hand towards the locket.

"Yes, sir. Bad, nasty old house-elf," Winky said, reaching out as if to intercept him from touching it, but the teacher only let his palm hover over the piece of jewellery. He began to frown as he withdrew his hand after a few moments, looking entirely disquieted.

"What is it?" Moody demanded gruffly, eyeing the group around the locket with a frown of his own.

"I have no idea, but there is something very dark about this thing," Remus explained, casually using the wand in his other hand to levitate it up from the floor onto one of the old, rickety tables. Getting to his feet again, he began to cast a series of detection spells on the locket, some of which Corvus recognised from when they'd gone furniture hunting. Continuing to press one hand absently against his scar, he dragged a chair over to the table and sat down to observe. He watched as the werewolf got increasingly frustrated as all his spells appeared to come up negative for curses. So did Moody's, who joined in on the casting after a few moments.

Yet the feeling of … evil, for want of a better word, emanating from the locket did not diminish. In fact, the longer Corvus sat there staring at it, the more agitated and unsettled he felt. As well as irritable and wanting to lash out at the others. He tried to calm himself, but if anything this seemed to bring him all the more in tune with whatever was so negative about the thing. He also didn't realise he had started to scratch at the scar until Remus' hand on his shoulder suddenly brought him back to himself.

"What?" he snapped tensely, oddly perturbed by the expression of concern on the other wizard's face.

"Something is wrong with you, Cub," Remus stated blandly. "And it started once Winky let go of this thing. It appears to be getting steadily worse, too. Can you tell me at all what it is, please?"

"I … something … I don't know," Corvus muttered irritably, finally letting his hand sink. He absently noted he must have scratched his scar bloody. At least there was blood on his fingers. He looked at them with a strange, distracted fascination. Everything seemed so … intense, and at the same time oddly distant. It felt as if his head was packed with cotton-wool, too. He gave a token protest as he was firmly pulled up from the chair and steered from the room.

Which was good. Distance from that thing was good. Really good. He could feel the agitation get less and less the further he was moved from the room. In fact, it only took about a dozen steps for the strange feelings to be almost gone, though they left a bad taste in his mouth behind. Because what in hell had that been?

"Ugh. What was that thing?" he exclaimed, shaking his head to clear the last cobwebs and taking a few deep, cleansing breathes of air.

"Better?" Remus asked, conjuring a handkerchief and carefully dabbing at the blood on Corvus' brow.

"Yeah," he replied, accepting another piece of cloth from the teacher and using it to clean the red stains from his hand. "I think so. But seriously, what can that be?"

"I have no idea. There doesn't appear to be any curse on it, but it is undeniably very dark. I've sent for your father, and Alastor has gone to fetch Albus. And Dora took Winky to the kitchen … the little one was most distressed at seeing you so … "

"Kind of losing it? Yeah, no idea what caused that. I mean, with my scar acting up I'd suspect Voldemort, but …"

"It might be something which used to belong to him, maybe? Something which has been tainted by his magic," Remus speculated thoughtfully. "Otherwise I really can't explain why your scar should be hurting ..."

"His scar has been hurting?" a familiar deep, smooth voice suddenly asked. Corvus looked up in surprise, feeling unexpectedly happy to see the displeased face of his father.

"Yes, just now, Severus. Cub, why don't you go and have a sit-down for a few minutes. You still look all faint. I'll go show your father that ... thing and fill him in meanwhile."

"As long as you don't conveniently forget about me afterwards," he said, giving Snape a faint, reassuring smile since the man was peering at him with evident concern. "I'd very much like to know what is going on."

"I promise you will learn of anything important, Corvus. Why don't you see if Winky can make us some tea meanwhile? I am sure she could do with a distraction, too. And have some chocolate, Cub. That will help with the shock."

Corvus gave a shaky laugh. "Why is it always chocolate with you? All right, I'll be a good boy and see to Winky. But I'm fine … now, Padre," he added wryly. "At least I think so."

"Most reassuring that, coming from you," Snape drawled sarcastically, though his expression had lightened somewhat.

"He is merely as bad as you are, Severus," the werewolf commented lightly, his mouth twisting into an amused grin. "You are always fine, too. Anyway, come along and I will show you what caused today's upset ..."

"Don't say that like there is one every day," Corvus complained over his shoulder as he turned to make his way down to the kitchen.

"Well. Maybe just most days."

"Yes, yes. Very funny!"

.

oOoOoOoOo

"So that's what we know of this thing," Remus finished his recounting of how the elf-girl had shown up with the locket, and the subsequent strange reaction Corvus had displayed to it.

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache in the making. "Most concerning," he agreed, having just finished casting his own detection spells on the locket. "Especially since its appearance matches the description we have of one worn by Salazar Slytherin himself. Have you tried opening it yet?"

"Well, no. We were going to wait for Albus with that," the wolf explained quickly, at seeing Severus frown impatiently. "I guess we should also question Kreacher what he knows about it."

"Indeed."

"Do you want Corvus present when we try to open it, though?"

"Want? Not really. But nevertheless I believe he should be there. If only so he does not try to find out about it behind our backs … and because if this thing does belong to either Slytherin or the Dark Lord, we may well need him to open it."

"Parseltongue?"

"It is certainly a possibility, wouldn't you agree?"

"Hmm. Quite," the wolf assented, tilting his head sideways in a listening pose. "I think I heard the floo. Why don't you see if you can shield this a bit and then take it to the sitting room, while I go pick up Dora and Corvus from the kitchen?"

"All right. I will see what I can do."

A couple of minutes later saw them all assembled in the sitting room, with a cheery blaze going in the fire-place to combat the moist chill left by the earlier rain. The locket had been banished to one end of the room, warded to the best of Severus' ability. Albus had then added his own touches, after examining it minutely. He couldn't help notice that the old man's behaviour seemed unexpectedly skittish. Severus also did not like the way the headmaster kept glancing at Corvus, who had taken the farthest possible position across the room from the locket. His son appeared rather skittish and unsettled as well, but given his earlier reaction that at least was understandable. Albus, on the other hand … wasn't.

"So what do you want to do first? Try to open it, or question the elf about it?" Moody asked bluntly. Severus was secretly glad the old curmudgeon was present. Albus would find it much harder to hide anything under the ex-Auror's discerning eyes. Because the headmaster did know something, he was increasingly sure of that.

"I think we should start with the elf," Albus decided after a few moments of deliberation. "Since we have no idea what will happen if we open it. He might tell us something so we know what to expect."

"Very well. Black, you will have to call the wretched creature," Mad-eye barked, making little urging notions with his hands. It seemed the man was most eager to get to the bottom of this mystery. Or else simply impatient.

"All right," Corvus agreed, though his expression was one of distaste. Which was odd, given how well he got on with the other elves. Until Severus remembered it had been Kreacher's lies which had led his son to believe Sirius Black had been taken by the Dark Lord. In that context, the dislike made perfect sense. "Kreacher!"

None of them gave any outward reaction to the crack which heralded the arrival of the old house-elf, still dressed in a dirty tea-towel. Clearly the elves at Hogwarts had not managed to get him to clean himself up, either.

"Master called," the elf muttered sullenly, keeping his eyes fixed firmly on the floor.

"Look at me," the boy said grimly, getting up and taking a stance before the miserable being.

Who seemed most unwilling to follow the command, but follow it he did. Slowly. And then he gave a visible double-take. "Master?" he croaked, his eyes suddenly wide and uncomprehending.

"Do you know who I am, Kreacher?"

"No, Master. But Master is being a Black, Kreacher knows that much," he mumbled, and there was something oddly hopeful in his voice.

"I am Corvus Black, the son of Bellatrix Black," Corvus declared stiffly, and once more obvious distaste ghosted across his features. Severus was proud to see his son's expression smooth over again immediately, into a mask of perfect indifference. "I am also the new Lord Black. Therefore you will follow my command, Kreacher, to the letter."

"Kreacher will do what Mistress Bellatrix' son commands," the elf crowed, sounding quite happy all of a sudden. Which of course was entirely the wrong response to give to his son.

"Never call me that! My mother has betrayed the family. She has brought nothing but sorrow and shame to it. For she is a kin-slayer, who cares about neither laws nor oaths. I would cast her out of the family if I could," the young man spoke harshly, glaring down at the old elf. "And I command you to never follow her orders again! Nor will you answer her summons if she should call for you."

"Yes … yes, Master Black," Kreacher stuttered, back to cowering in wide-eyed shock.

"The same goes for Narcissa and Draco Malfoy. Walburga Black's portrait, as well," Corvus added after a moment of thought, casting a look at them which clearly asked if he had forgotten anybody. "In fact, for now you will not communicate with anybody without my express permission. You answer to my orders only, am I clear?"

"Kreacher has understood, Master Black. Kreacher will do as Master says."

"Good. Now ..." the boy drew a deep breath, raising his hand to point towards the locket residing on a sideboard across the room. "Can you tell us anything about this locket? Winky said she found it with your things."

"Master Regulus' locket …" the elf gasped at seeing the thing, and he appeared abruptly ... broken. "They have found old Master's locket. Kreacher must … must ..." he descended into unintelligible muttering, starting to wrench at his ears in agitation.

"Stop that!" Corvus ordered him urgently. "You will not hurt yourself. But you will tell us about the locket, Kreacher. You must tell us. It is clearly not a nice thing … so what did Regulus want you to do with it? Where did he get it from?"

"Master Regulus, he ..." there were suddenly, unexpectedly tears in the miserable creature's eyes. "He took it from the Dark Lord. Good Master Regulus died for the locket. Sent Kreacher away with it, Master Regulus did. Ordered him to destroy it, but Kreacher could not. Could not. It was too strong. Too evil. And good Master Regulus was lost because he wanted Kreacher to do this. Kreacher could not save him," he continued in a sorrowful wail. "Could not destroy it, either! Kreacher has failed!"

"Kreacher?" the boy asked, clearly bewildered by the sudden change in the elf, who appeared to be caught in a bout of abject misery. His voice then turned soft and gentle, like he usually talked to little Winky. "Calm down. And then you will tell us the whole story. About what Regulus Black did, and everything you know about this locket. Perhaps we can help you fulfil his wish and destroy it."

"New Master Black would do that?" the elf croaked, raising his tear-stained face to look at Corvus hopefully.

"Yes," his son agreed gravely. "I can tell it is a bad thing. But first we need to know everything. Will you tell us, please?"

And the old elf told his harrowing tale, which did nothing to diminish their bad feelings, even though it painted an unexpected new picture of Regulus Black, traitor to the Dark Lord.

.

oOoOoOoOo

"I do not believe we should try to open the locket right this moment, since at present we lack the means to destroy it," Dumbledore stated sombrely after they had heard the elf's most astonishing story. "However, Kreacher has managed to confirm my suspicion of what this locket is ..."

"And will you tell us your suspicion, too?" Moody interrupted him impatiently.

"I really shouldn't, Alastor, this is most sensitive information," the headmaster protested.

"That won't work, Albus, not this time," Mad-eye burst out, rising to his feet in agitation. "Inferi! If You-know-who went to such lengths to hide this thing, surely this is too big for one man's shoulders, even if those shoulders are yours! What if something should happen to you, would you leave us all in the dark? Simply because you like keeping your little secrets? Or fricking huge secrets in this case, I'm willing to bet."

"This is truly not something any of you should know about," Albus continued, although he clearly realised he would not get far with that argument, seeing as it utterly lacked any reason or explanation. And the old man knew it. Just as he must be aware his usual tricks of obfuscation would not work against so many of them, all of them unwilling to be left in the dark.

But he also obviously did not like it.

"So? All it needs is one slip-up on your part, or someone betraying you, and poof, we not only lose you, but your knowledge as well! You can't keep this to yourself, if it's that important. You aren't immortal, Albus! Nor do you always know what is best, or recognise the signs when something is wrong. Stop deluding yourself," Moody told the old man harshly.

"Need I remind you the Dark Lord wants you dead very much indeed, headmaster?" Severus threw in quietly, staring calmly back into the blue eyes when they came to regard him. "You know perfectly well everybody here can be trusted, and would rather die than let important information fall into the wrong hands. If you so desire, we will take any oath you deem necessary to shield whatever knowledge you have relevant to this," he indicated the locket with a flick of his fingers. "In times like these, keeping secrets may be important … but also incredibly, foolishly risky. Do you really wish to take that risk?" he challenged, refusing to back down from the old wizard's stare.

"Additionally you surely realise half-knowledge is the most dangerous kind of them all, and all of us here have learned enough to piece together some conclusion on our own. A conclusion which may turn out to be the very truth you seek to hide, or else something quite erroneous. And you should also realise what terrible results that may produce," he concluded, folding his hands primly while his eyes flicked minutely towards his son.

Dumbledore had the grace to look guilty. Because if the old man had only told the boy what they were guarding in the Department of Mysteries, and the real reason why he had to learn Occlumency, that day might have had a different outcome.

"Any oath, Albus," Severus simply repeated. "Do not forget you need us to trust you, too."

The old man folded at that.

"I will require such an oath," he warned with a heavy sigh, looking every single one of his many years. "And while you may want to know about the locket now … I can assure you that you will wish afterwards you hadn't."

"That may well be," he replied evenly, concentrating on upholding his calm front. "However, it does not change the necessity for you to share your knowledge."

"Very well. I am, however, still not convinced it is advisable for our two youngsters to hear this ..."

"Do I have to repeat my earlier arguments, Albus? Since Corvus reacted so very strongly to the locket, I am convinced he needs to know this," Severus pointed out, and he had to admit the almost hero-worship which flashed over his son's face gave him a lovely warm feeling inside.

The reaction was understandable, however, given how much the boy had suffered from being frequently left in the dark. Viewing his son's memories while creating the Fidelius had certainly made Severus well aware of that fact. It was far too late to shield Corvus by leaving him ignorant. It was far better to arm him with knowledge, no matter how horrifying it might be.

"As for Miss Tonks … you already trust her with Corvus' secrets. It is also her chosen profession to deal with horrible, dark facts. Trust, Albus. That is what it comes down to. Do you trust us? Do you trust in our integrity, our dedication and our capability?"

"I still believe it inadvisable, yet you spin a good argument, Severus. Like always. In truth, I had a close escape this very summer, in dealing with another one of these things," the old man admitted reluctantly, averting his eyes. "It sits ill with me, but … you may well be right. Because if I cannot trust in the lot of you, I dare say I may not trust anybody."

"Too damn right!" Moody growled. "As for Tonks here, I wouldn't have picked her for a protégé if I didn't think she had what it takes."

"Why thank you, Mad-eye," the witch in question threw in, preening under the compliment. "Besides I knew I was in for serious stuff when I agreed to this, headmaster. And I believe I can be damn useful, too … or how many other Metamorphmagi do you know?"

"Quite right, Nymphadora," Dumbledore agreed, smiling slightly at her displeased glare. "As for Corvus, I must admit I was highly impressed with how you handled yourself so far, dear boy. In a way I dare say I even owe you this, since withholding the Prophecy from you helped bring about such irreparable harm to you. Most especially since this," he gestured towards the locket. "Is linked to the Prophecy in a way, you see."

"Ehm, how?"

"It is the reason, or rather one more of the reasons I should say, why Voldemort did not truly die," Albus declared solemnly, all trace of a twinkle gone from his eyes. "Why in fact, at present he cannot truly die. This, my friends and fellow conspirators, is one of Tom Riddle's Horcruxes."

.

oOoOoOoOo

Towards the evening, Corvus found himself still reeling from the exposition on Horcruxes Dumbledore had given them, since none of them had any great knowledge of these vile … things, if they had any at all. After all, why would any sensible, normal person want to know of something so foul and abhorrent? To tear your soul in pieces and force those into objects, leaving behind parts of yourself … it was simply too horrible to contemplate. And to do this not only once, but at the very least three times … it was no wonder Voldemort had turned into such an inhuman monster.

He refused to think about the implication for now, how it made Voldemort virtually immortal. Unless they managed to find all the pieces, and destroy them. Eventually he would have to, but … not now. Not today.

But what a day. He had already thought it extraordinary when they had wanted him to learn wand-less casting. However, that had easily been overshadowed by Winky showing up with the horrible locket, and even further so by Kreacher's harrowing story. The elf's tale about a watery cave full of Inferi, and a terrible potion, and how Regulus had been dragged under the water by the undead, had been terrifying and saddening in equal parts.

They had learned the truth about how Sirius' brother had met his sorry end, while trying to do what was right. Of course, it would have been better if he'd given the information to Dumbledore instead, but Corvus could understand why he might not have considered that an option. Trust was not something one learned in a family like the Blacks, much less serving someone like Voldemort. And Dumbledore had never given the Slytherins much reason to believe he cared about them. He still didn't, in all honesty.

That was something else which needed changing. However, Corvus would soon be in an excellent position to hopefully do something about it.

One of many things which needed doing. Really just a minor thing, compared to the rest. Because Dumbledore was convinced there were likely more of those abominations out there. Which definitely was the crowning glory of the day. However, he'd managed not to freak out and instead had participated in the planning part, which came after they had all digested the fact of Voldemort having multiple Horcruxes anchoring him to life.

Admittedly those plans largely put Corvus on the sideline, while still keeping him somewhat involved. Which, in all honesty, he was okay with. The adults were far better trained, as well as experienced and capable than him. He was hardly in the same category as even Moody or his father, much less someone like the headmaster.

So Dumbledore would team up with Mad-eye to go on the hunt for further information in the outside world, using both their considerable contacts and resources. Remus meanwhile had been detailed to go through the Black library, which might conceivably offer some help on a different front. Apparently, the family had always had a great interest in soul and spirit magics. So there might be something useful there. Snape, of course, had to go back to his teaching duties, which would take up most of his time. But his sideline of spying would allow him to subtly fish for information amongst the Death Eaters. After all, it was entirely possible one of them had hidden another Horcrux for their master.

As for Corvus himself … well, he had to establish his new identity at Hogwarts, with the help of Dora. And there would be more training. As well as hopefully interfering a bit with the recruiting base Voldemort had going in Slytherin. And yet more training. Not to forget simply taking classes, and doing homework. For some reason his father had also given him a thoughtful look and decided he ought to step up the Occlumency training. And well, if he got any ideas or insights, he could always pass them along to the others.

He really didn't have to do everything himself, because unlike Harry he had several adults to work with.

Together with Dora and his father they'd also planned a discreet search of the school itself. For starters, there was the Chamber of Secrets, which had never been properly investigated. Riddle might have hidden something in the Slytherin quarters as well, or at least left some clues there. It was certainly worth looking into. So altogether, they were splitting up the tasks in an entirely reasonable manner. Which meant he felt included, and yet would not be thrown into harms way, as somehow had always happened in the past. Of course, it might happen anyway, but …

He had this highly protective parent now.

However, that was not the only silver lining to the situation. Because when Snape had argued with the headmaster for Corvus' inclusion, he'd felt a sudden fierce admiration for the man, which had settled into a warm glow whenever he thought about it. It was simply because right there was someone willing to fight for him. Someone who worried about him, and clearly cared, but would not smother him and treat him like a little kid either, like Mrs. Weasley would have. If the situation had allowed it, he'd probably have gone up to his father and hugged him and thanked him profusely.

All in all, it was likely better he hadn't, though. He was pretty sure he would have made Snape very uncomfortable doing that in front of the others. And it would have made Corvus look like a little kid, which was exactly what he wanted to avoid.

Another positive consequence had, amazingly, been Kreacher. Once they swore to him they would take care of the locket and destroy it, the elf had become a different person almost instantly. It seemed simply shifting the burden of responsibility from his frail shoulders was enough for Kreacher. Well, he was still old, and possibly not entirely there in the head, but the difference otherwise! It was astonishing. The elf at least had no problem in tearfully hugging Corvus' legs while thanking him profusely. He also swore to be a good elf from now on, and clean himself up, and clean everything else, too!

He worried a bit how dear little Winky would deal with both the company and the competition, but it was a big house to clean. And come September, he might take one of them along to Hogwarts. As a guard, and a spy, and well, there was plenty of work there during the term to keep another elf busy.

As for the actual destruction of the Horcrux … that topic had sparked quite a heated debate. Moody had argued for its immediate disposal, but in the end Dumbledore had prevailed. They would hold onto the locket for the time being, allowing them time to study it. Maybe they could even find a way to link it to any other surviving Horcruxes, and thereby locate them. Corvus himself appeared to be almost a sort of detector for them, now that he knew what had caused his peculiar reaction, but for that he needed to be rather close to an unshielded one.

Which frankly, he wasn't really eager to do.

Aside from the opportunity to study it further, there was also the worry that Voldemort might be able to sense the destruction. He seemed not to have noticed the first two, but they didn't want to risk it. So instead, it was to be hidden in a secret, strongly warded vault within the headmaster's tower. Accessible only through Dumbledore's quarters, and well away from the the student population, it would allow them access while making it unlikely Voldemort could ever get it back.

Learning about this vault made Corvus wonder about the absurd 'security' for the Philosopher's stone, though. The more he thought about it, the more it looked like a trap instead. With the stone as bait. And possibly, Harry as well. He gave Dumbledore a hard look at the thought, until he considered the headmaster had most likely not been aware of how far Voldemort's possession of Quirrell had gone. He'd surely assumed he was simply dealing with a normal wizard collaborating with the Dark Lord. Not that … monstrosity.

Still, it once again confirmed the fact Dumbledore didn't know everything, and made mistakes just like everybody else. Mistakes which were sometimes made even worse thanks to his complicated plans. But real life simply wasn't a chess game, where the rules made for predictable moves. You could never plan for everything real, thinking people might come up with. Unlike with chess, there were few limits to what was possible. Most of all when the enemy was a wizard who wasn't entirely sane, and quite without scruples. Or when there was interference from some kids who didn't behave logical either. Especially when they were working with incomplete or false information.

After all, they had thought it was Snape who was after the stone. Not Voldemort himself, possessing a different teacher. It was sheer, blind luck Harry had survived that night. In particular because Lily's protection shouldn't even have worked. Even though her sacrifice was perfectly genuine, the supposed blood connection through Petunia which was meant to keep it alive simply wasn't. But apparently the mere belief that it existed had been enough somehow. However, he certainly couldn't count on it for the future anymore.

But anyway, that was all in the past. Thankfully, due to the way they had found this Horcrux, Dumbledore had caved and let them in on the secret. Which meant that instead of the old wizard working on this all by himself, besides his many other duties, there were now several people involved with searching for more of the abominations.

If there were more in the first place, which they couldn't be sure of. Or as Moody put it: 'They might well be chasing snitches that had long been caught'. However, they had to assume there were more, and search as best as they could. Meanwhile the Order would shift its priority into attempting to weaken Voldemort and his forces, so they might eventually take the fight to the monster.

For as Snape pointed out coldly, why not dispose of the Dark Lord anyway? Of course, while he still had Horcruxes he could potentially return, but it would nevertheless mean he would be gone for now. Which meant he would be unable to interfere or gather more support. Nor could he keep them from finding his remaining soul-anchors while he was disembodied. Not to forget there was a chance they might find a way to bind his spirit, even if they never found them all. Dumbledore had looked somewhat crestfallen at that proposal, and admitted to once again getting caught up in thinking too complicated.

Sometimes it really wasn't about choosing between right and easy, but instead between the perfect, and possibly unachievable solution, and a flawed, yet actually manageable one.

.

oOoOoOoOo

"It does explain why the Dark Lord seems so … damaged. I had put it down to his former disembodied state, but this makes far more sense in explaining his decline. He has rent his soul far too often now," Severus stated glumly, pausing in his restless pacing before the headmaster's desk.

It was a stark reminder just how evil the Dark Lord really was. How far he was willing to go in his quest for power, dominance and immortality. And that he held nothing sacred. Not even the sanctity of his own soul.

"Yes, indeed. It also explains why the brilliance of Tom Riddle and his ability to manipulate people through sheer force of charm and personality has diminished so much over time. Every time he created one of them, he lost a bit more of himself. Something which I am not sure he even realises himself … or else it simply does not matter to him anymore," Dumbledore agreed gravely. "In a way it is sad … to see such potential go to waste."

Severus snorted. "I am afraid my sympathy in this case is solely with his victims. He might have wasted his own potential, but he sure as hell destroyed even more in other people!"

The headmaster looked old and weary as he nodded in agreement. "Of course, Severus, of course. And even as a child, he was … twisted. Perhaps if he had grown up happily … but I digress. What really matters is that he indeed created several Horcruxes … and that he cannot fully die until they all have been found and destroyed."

"I know. We discussed this in quite sufficient detail earlier. In fact, I do not see the point in going over this yet again," he said, feeling rather irritated.

"Well, I fear there is something else about this I need to discuss with you ..."

"There is? Spit it out then, old man. I have little patience left tonight!"

"Indulge me, I beg you, my friend. This is not easy for me to talk about. For one, I dislike having to disclose a fear I have nurtured close to my breast for far too long … and for the other … you will not like this."

"And yet you actually intend to tell me?"

"Yes. If anyone should know of this … it would be you."

"Because I am your spy?"

"No. Because you are the father of the Boy-who-lived," Dumbledore explained, with a wry twist to his mouth.

"What does Corvus have to do with this?" Severus spat, stressing his son's name.

Because today, of all days, he did not want to be reminded of the reason for the boy's fame. Or of whatever linked him to the Dark Lord. Besides, he had plenty of shocks and life-shattering revelations already. Like the one about poor Regulus. If only his friend had confided in him … together they would surely have survived that cave of traps. As for the Horcruxes … if he had never learned of the existence of something so foul and unnatural, it would have been far preferable.

"Have you forgotten the Prophecy, Severus?"

"So? Do not dare to tell me that because Corvus is … possibly … fated to be the Dark Lord's ultimate downfall, you somehow expected him to deal with this all by himself? Perhaps with just his two old side-kicks for help, like in the past?" he asked sarcastically, glaring at the old man. Frankly he wouldn't put it past the headmaster to come up with an asinine plan just like that.

"No … well, I fear he will have to be involved closely at times," Dumbledore admitted with an uneasy gesture of his hand. "But that is not all. You see, I have been harbouring a horrible suspicion for a while now … which has been all but confirmed today."

"Stop prevaricating then and tell me," Severus snapped impatiently, giving the other wizard a hard look.

"I am talking about the unfortunately strong likelihood your son is a Horcrux as well."

"No!"

But this horrified outburst was only met with a downcast look and a sorrowful expression on the headmaster's face.

"You cannot truly believe this, Albus!"

"There are too many indications to ignore anymore, my friend. I fear there is little chance left I am wrong."

Of course there were plenty of indications. From the mysteriously acquired Parseltongue, to a hurting curse-scar, which was likely not only a scar at all, to a connection between them which appeared all but unblockable … and then there was that accursed Prophecy. Add the strong reaction the boy had displayed to the Horcrux today, and he could indeed see where Albus was coming from. Severus lowered his head in defeat, hiding his distress behind a curtain of dark hair.

"That is what the Prophecy really is about, isn't it? Why he cannot escape … even if he ran away, with that left to anchor him, the Dark Lord cannot be fully defeated … and would surely continue to haunt Corvus' life."

"Yes," the headmaster simply agreed, and the sorrow in his voice matched the one burrowing painfully in Severus' chest.

.

oOoOoOoOo

AN: As far as I am concerned, the Horcrux should still be at Grimmauld Place at this point, as it was 'rescued' from Mrs. Weasley's cleaning frenzy by Kreacher. However, since Remus and Corvus started living there soon after the start of the holidays, Mundungus Fletcher never got any opportunity to liberate it. One of the main reasons I included Winky in this story was for her to discover it while cleaning up the place. And well, she is cute. Plus she totally deserved a nice new master like Corvus.

If you wonder why Dumbledore would share his suspicion about Horcrux Corvus with Severus without being forced to … well, he needs to prepare the man to eventually accept the possibility his son might have to die. Which Snape would never agree to, unless he had first exhaustively looked for alternatives. So to give him that time, and maybe even find one, Dumbledore decides to tell him now. After all, the Horcrux-cat is out of the bag for good anyway. And I dare say the headmaster would prefer another solution which didn't involve Corvus dying as well. However, this solution will most definitely not be the Goblins Deus ex machina which is quite popular in fan-fiction, so please do not suggest it.

Anyway look, new chapter! Horribly long chapter, too. It was a real monster to proof-read. But admit it, none of you saw this one coming! Everybody was probably expecting the meeting with the Greengrass family next. However, this chapter is one I had planned at this point from the start, as it sets in motion the 'proper' plot of getting rid of Voldemort and his Horcruxes. So far, most of the story has been about Harry slowly transforming into Corvus, and dealing with various people while wrestling with the change. Which will of course continue, but increasingly less so as Corvus settles into his new role.

Since this note is already quite long, just a quick recommendation or two: One is 'Dead Man Walking' by cywscross, where a not-dead-after-all Regulus Black turns Harry rather more Slytherin on the sly. The other is 'Behind Doors and Masks' by dragonwriter24cmf, which features an interesting mentor relationship between Neville and headmaster Snape during that horrible seventh year.

And finally, as always, many thanks for your reviews. It is heartening to see people agree with what I am doing, and liking it, and paying attention to all the details, and even complimenting me *blushes and looks awkward*. Unfortunately it didn't help with my updating speed, but … don't give up hope, I might get better! Admittedly this time I was also delayed by starting to post another story about Minerva and Severus, which you might want to check out if you like resorting stories. *end of shameless self-advertising