Chapter 60

Lucius Malfoy was not pleased. It seemed that that was becoming his constant state of mind these days, and he didn't have to ponder long to know why. Sirius Black, Arya Potter, Dumbledore and the rest of the muggle loving scum had become more and more of a nuisance over the last few years. Arthur Weasley was driving a new Muggle Protection act through the ministry, and Lucius found his own influence was decreasing at an alarming rate. Black had a seat on the Wizengamot and his political prowess was becoming formidable; a few years ago Weasley's bill could have been laughed aside, but now… Amelia Bones had offered a merger, partnering the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office more closely with the Department of Magical Law enforcement. Weasley had been promoted, and now led a team within the department.

Lucius could almost smell Black's involvement. Raids on old wizarding families known for keeping their lines pure had increased dramatically, and they always seemed to know who to strike. Lucius had not been raided yet, his name perhaps still demanded some respect at the ministry. Or perhaps they were simply biding their time to strike at a crucial moment. The Goyle's had been hit last week, however, and his close association with that family was known. There was a very good chance of the bill passing before the summer was out.

He sipped his glass of fire whiskey and idly flipped the blank pages of the small book in his lap.

Something had to be done. But what? He was losing the ear of the Minister, he no longer had a place as school governor. All his families fortune seemed to mean little when Black could match him galleon for galleon.

A Daily Prophet lay on the arm of his chair, a few weeks old, displaying an interview with Arya Potter. The large black and white photograph showed the young girl sitting up in a hospital bed, her unnerving eyes staring determinedly out at him. He had once thought to ally with her, but their families were placed opposite each other; he couldn't see how he could ever maneuver them together. If he ever wanted to, which didn't seem likely.

The interview had been an effective political move. People were alarmed enough to be eager to crack down on any who were even slightly affiliated with the dark arts. Those who had remained neutral were now more inclined to line up behind Dumbledore and Black, at once scared and hopeful – The Dark Lord had made an attempt at returning to power but had been beaten once more by the Girl Who Lived. What once might have been attributed to a freak occurrence was now a trend.

When the Dark Lord had entrusted Lucius with the old blank diary, Lucius had been perplexed. He had ventured so far as to question his master about it and had been told that it was an invaluable magical artifact, that if placed into the hands of a Hogwarts student would cause muggleborns and enemies of Dark Lord to be killed or driven from the school. He had been instructed to keep it secret and safe until he was told to place it at the school – it had seemed as if this was his master's plan for undermining Dumbledore and conquering Hogwarts from a distance.

Not long after he'd been given the diary, the Dark Lord had met his end at the Potter's cottage in Godric's Hollow. Since that day the little inconspicuous book had lain the chamber under Lucius's drawing room, gathering dust and all but forgotten among his collection of dark artifacts and magical heirlooms. It was protected by the magic of his house elf, he doubted whether the ministry would even be able breach its protection if they did dare to raid his manor.

Lucius drained his cup and snapped the book closed. Perhaps it was time to test the powers of the little book. Maybe nothing would happen. Or maybe Dumbledore and the little girl would meet a sticky end and put a stop to his struggles.

A shadow passed across the room and Lucius looked up to see his wife standing in the doorway. She was beautiful in a sleek silk dressing gown, cradling a glass of mead in one hand and leaning on the door-frame. She was never so casual in public. It was a privilege to see her comfortable and relaxed in her own home. She had been especially happy since the end of term; she disliked being away from Draco for the duration of the school year. He knew she'd have liked more children but they'd had trouble conceiving. It had taken years and many losses before Draco's birth, perhaps that was why she spoiled him so. Why they both did.

The boy had disappointed Lucius at school. He'd performed decently in his end of year tests, but his grades were nothing Lucius could boast of. Potter had turned out to be a prodigy, so Lucius couldn't fault Draco entirely for failing to best her, but the muggleborn Granger girl had outscored him in every subject as well. Draco whined of favoritism and made excuses when pressed, but Lucius would hear none of it. Narcissa's influence calmed and gentled him, her joy at having Draco home again would not be darkened by talk of grades and performance.

Lucius put aside the book and his empty cup, and she walked over to him, draping herself comfortably across his lap. She smelled nice as she always did, and for a moment Lucius let himself forget his schemes and troubles.

"So," she said "tell me what it is you are planning."

Lucius opened his eyes and sighed, placing the book into her hand as he began to explain.

Dobby the house elf began his chores behind them, large ears pricked to attention and bright green eyes unblinking as he ran his dust rag along the mantle.

Ginny POV

Arya had dark circles under her eyes that hadn't entirely faded since the last time Ginny had seen her, but her smile was as wide and bright as she remembered, and her hug was warm and tight. Too tight in fact; Ginny squealed as Arya lifted her a few inches off the ground, laughing at her shorter friends' vehement protests.

"Hah! You're even shorter than I remember!" Arya crowed as she set her down again, deftly avoiding getting boxed on the ear.

"It's not my fault you went and grew by half a head while you were gone! Some of us don't drink skela-grow with our morning pumpkin juice, you know."

Arya's grin widened, and just like that, Ginny's fears vanished.

Her friend had changed in the time they'd been apart, that much was clear to Ginny as the summer wore on. She had more friends, for one, a fact that Ginny tried valiantly not to be jealous over; she failed, but kept that feeling to herself, grinning and nodding along to Arya's stories of her Hogwarts adventures.

The two girls spent many of the long summer days together at the Burrow, but it was at night that Ginny observed more worrying changes in her friend. They stayed up late in Ginny's room with the cool summer air blowing in through the window, reading or talking for hours on end, as only dear friends can. Arya was not unaffected by the events at the end of term- she was reluctant to sleep, and her disturbed murmurs and sudden awakenings belayed nightmares that plagued her relentlessly. They were not, she had confessed, always her own; Quirrel had left scattered memories behind as he'd died and they mixed with her own as she slept, creating a confused and frightening dreamscape.

Arya claimed it was getting better as she sorted and organized the sudden foreign memories that had been deposited in her mind. In the meantime, Ginny learned to sleep lighter, waking when her friends' movements became erratic and gently waking Arya before her nightmares brought her to a sudden, sweat-soaked alertness.

Though Mrs. Weasley did her best to shield her children from the things she considered them too young to have to deal with, one did not grow up as the youngest of seven children without developing some measure of sleuthing abilities. Ginny shamelessly eavesdropped on her parents, and what she failed to find out on her own, Arya filled her in on; Sirius was much more open with Arya than Molly was with her brood.

Mr. Weasley's promotion was only a fraction of the movement taking place at the ministry. Dumbledore had been reluctant to go public with the incident at the end of the year, but in the end it had been Arya's decision; as a result, those who had been disinclined to enact change at the ministry were spurred to throw their lot in with one side or another. Those who had been unenthusiastic to side with muggleborns and werewolves were biting their tongues and burying their distaste under the looming threat of He-Who-Must-Not-be-Named seeking to regain power.

Fudge, she'd heard her dad say, was a bumbling idiot who likely didn't believe the threat was legitimate, but he was apparently an idiot with a vested interest in keeping his job. Some of the old families who had come under suspicion after the last war found themselves again the recipients of hushed whispers and sidelong glances. With the help of some one named 'Kreacher', her father's new team had enacted raids on several pureblood mansions, and arrests had been made. Seats in the Wizengamot had been lost as the scandal hit the papers, and Sirius now had the majority of votes on his side. Despite continued resistance from within (Ginny had heard the name 'Umbridge' spoken in tones of disgust) new measures were being passed for the protection on non-human magical peoples, muggles, and muggleborns.

Among all the talk Ginny gleamed in her eavesdropping attempts, the whispered mentions of the Order of the Phoenix set her mind racing and her pulse pounding in her ears. Not much was known about the secret organization that had fought Voldemort from the shadows, but Ginny knew the name of two former members – Gideon and Fabian Prewet. Two uncles she'd never met, dead before she was born. The Order had been re-formed, it appeared, and her parents were members.

Ginny swallowed her excitement and worry, and crept quietly back to her room, deftly dodging the creaky floorboards.

Sirius POV

Number 12 Grimauld Place had been transformed from the derelict home of his childhood into the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. Although he had done much to clear away the dangerous artifacts that had cluttered the place; it had taken a concerted effort between himself, Kreacher, Alastor, and Molly Weasley to truly make the house habitable again. They had worked tirelessly; a virtual tornado of cleanliness and defensive fighting. Sirius had dubbed it the First Battle of the New War, and Molly had not been amused. In the end they had been victorious, the old giant house of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black cleansed of its dubious history.

It shone with fresh paint and light from the newly cleaned windows. Every single item that had been deemed safe had been removed from the premise to a secondary location, and Sirius was planning a grand auction. Everything dangerous had been willingly turned over to the ministry in an example that he hoped would inspire others to do the same- rather than risking raids they could instead hand over dangerous artifacts and come away with a thank you instead of an arrest warrant. A few families had tentatively come forward with some minor illicit items, as if testing the waters, and Sirius had hope that more would come forward soon.

The old fashioned, uncomfortable, and highly expensive furnishings had been replaced with modern, comfortable, and functional alternatives. Most of the bedrooms had been converted into studies, and the Order was actively recruiting. Seeing Arya as she'd lain there, covered in blood next to Quirrel's bloody corpse had lit a slightly manic fire in Sirius. He'd been diligently working against Voldemorts return since his release from Azkaban, but he had grown complacent over the years. That was done with now; if Voldemort ever came back in a corporeal form, he was going to find a strong resistance already in place.

The hunt for more horcruxes seemed to be at something of a standstill, though Dumbledore had recently enlisted Arya's help in some maneuver with Slughorn. It was mostly pointless to recruit fighters at the moment, as there was nothing substantial to fight against – the war, as it was, was being fought on a political level. Instead they were recruiting healers, herbalists, cooks, crafters and other non-combatants. The old Order had been a fighting force, but this time it would be more. If they'd had a system in place to hide people James and Lily might never have met the end that they had. To this end Sirius had moved a substantial amount of his fortune into the muggle banking system, and acquired a real estate business; with the aid of magic to smooth the way with the muggles, he had begun to buy and sell muggle properties. Buying derelict old buildings and using magic to fix them up and re-sell them turned an astounding profit, and several of the properties he retained ownership of. As this was all muggle business, the ministry had no interest, and thus no record of it.

Remus' network of werewolves had grown over the years, and many were recruited into the Order. Faced with discrimination still in wizarding society at large, they were more than happy to settle and maintain Sirius' properties for a very reasonable cost. If the need arose, these would become the safe houses of the order, complete with gardens and livestock (and very werewolf proof basements). The arrangement wasn't without fault; for instance, his pack of werewolf recruits knew very little about homesteading. He'd hired Molly, as the best domestic witch he'd ever met, to spend her weekends teaching them. The sight of the stern, homely women attempting to teach a dozen scarred and slightly feral individuals the arts of horticulture had sent him into peals of laughter.

Balancing the renewal of the Order, his seat on the Wizengamot, his job as governor of Hogwarts, and his life with Arya kept him exceptionally busy. Before he knew it, the start of term was nearing and a trip to Diagon Alley was arranged with the Weasleys.