Disclaimer: Could someone who was first in his class at his high school and had connections with the rich and powerful in the area maintain his anonymity as a terrorist ringleader in his own small hometown? Honestly, I have no idea, but JK Rowling thinks so, and it's her story.
A/N: Thank you all for reading this story. The response was greater that I'd ever imagined. But sadly, this is the end. Yes, I know I didn't defeat Voldemort, but like Sirius says, things are looking up, and they'll get there sooner or later. I've already resolved the rest of the main points, and Harry can have a normal life, now. I think that's a pretty good ending in itself.
"Have I done something wrong, Amelia?" the fat wizard said ingratiatingly.
"Not at all, Professor Slughorn," Amelia replied. "This isn't about any of your activities. I called you in because we believe you may have important information about the illegal activities of one of your former students."
Horace Slughorn paled a little. "I've had a lot of students over the years," he said. "They've done a lot of important things, good and bad. I don't have any control over what they do when they leave school."
He was getting defensive fast. That wasn't a good sign. "I'm not suggesting you overlooked any illegal activities, Professor," she said, "although I am wondering if you might have looked the other way regarding some…suspicious activities of one particular student while he was still in school."
Slughorn had a bad feeling about where this was going. He absently pulled on his collar and asked, "Er…which student would that be?"
"One of your Slytherins by the name of Tom Riddle."
"I…I'm afraid I don't remember a Tom Riddle. Very common name, you see. And I'm sure he never amounted to much, or I'd have heard of him since."
"Not if he was using a nom de guerre, Professor. Surely, you remember him. He was Head Boy, Class of 1945."
"Nope, can't say that I do."
Amelia sighed. "Albus warned me you'd do this," she muttered.
He voice jumped a few pitches: "You—you've talked to Albus."
"Of course. He's the one who suggested I speak to you. Now, we both know that the Tom Riddle I'm talking about is You-Know-Who, so maybe you could drop the act?"
Slughorn paled further and nibbled his fingernails. After hemming and hawing for a minute, he said, "Amelia, I swear I had no idea what that boy would become."
She raised an eyebrow. "No idea at all?"
"Well, I…I did think he had an unhealthy fixation on dark magic, but that wasn't so uncommon in Slytherin, especially for a student as bright as he was. Did I look the other way, let the occasional indiscretion slide here and there? I'm sorry to say he wasn't the only one. And he seemed like he'd go so far—that he had so much potential—I didn't want to believe ill of him."
"I see. And did you encourage him in his research at all? His studies into dark magic?"
Bugger me, she knows, Slughorn thought. "T-t-tips here and there," he stammered. "I may have pointed him to a reference book or two—on a purely theoretical basis, of course. I was quite free with passes to the Restricted Section, but that's common enough. Plenty of students read into dark magic without becoming dark lords, right?"
And there she had him, Amelia thought. "Not certain kinds of dark magic, Professor Slughorn," she said. "Not certain books that Dumbledore removed from the library after Riddle graduated—"
"Why does all this matter?" he snapped.
"Because You-Know-Who is still out there. If you've guessed half of what Dumbledore has, you know that to be true. We want to stop him—for good this time. Dumbledore and I and a few others are trying to stop his return before he has a chance to make a move and make sure he can never come back again. But to do that, we need information. Dumbledore's guessed a lot, but it's not enough. We need to know anything you know about Tom Riddle's research into horcruxes."
Slughorn was silent for a long time. He was definitely nervous. After a while, he said, "You can't make me tell you—not without a subpoena to court, at least." And to make this a court matter would draw the Minister's ire, he added mentally.
"No, but I can leak all the dirt I have on you to Rita Skeeter," Amelia said.
His face flashed white, shifted to green, and then back to a very pale and angry countenance. "You drive a hard bargain, Amelia," he said. "It was his sixth year. I never suspected—I thought he was a charming young man, maybe troubled, but not dangerous—likely to go on to do great things. Oh, I'd heard the rumours—vicious ones. No one had heard from him over the summer, and there were whispers of dark deeds and rituals performed, but I didn't believe them. Tom Riddle would never do anything that. And yes, I knew that nickname his friends called him, but I thought it was a joke—a passing teenage fancy. Plenty of children imagine mad dreams of world domination and never carry them out. And the fact that he used an anagram of his name—you may find this hard to believe, but I found it funny at the time. 'Who does that?' I thought.
"Then, one night, after a Slug Club meeting, Riddle came up to me and asked me about horcruxes. I was circumspect in my answer, please understand. I didn't tell him anything he couldn't have got from the books he must have been reading."
"Just a moment," Amelia interrupted. "His sixth year? This was the autumn of 1944?"
"Why, yes, I supposed it was."
"According to Dumbledore's notes, he…Riddle had already made at least one horcrux at that point."
"He had? Why, I never would have guessed. He…he seemed to have had a scare when then the school nearly closed, but he didn't behave that differently around me."
"It seems he was a fine actor. Did he say anything else, Professor?"
"Well…yes. He asked me if it might be possible to make more than one horcrux, to render one's soul even 'safer'. Of course, I told him it was madness. I supposed it would be possible, but I said in no uncertain terms that it would be a horror that should not even be contemplated."
"Did he say how many horcruxes he intended to make?" Amelia said eagerly. This might be it.
Slughorn trembled as he remembered: "If he was truly revealing his plans? Six. Six horcruxes for a seven-part soul. He thought it would be more stable. I refused to speculate on principle. That's all I know, Amelia, I swear it. I ended the conversation there and then, and I never let him as close after that. I couldn't lie to myself any more about the darkness that was in him."
"Well, fortunately, that was precisely what I needed. Thank you, Professor Slughorn. You've been a great help."
He sighed heavily. "Well, that's a relief. You will tell me, won't you? You'll tell me when you've got them all?"
"Of course. I'll keep you informed."
Draco Malfoy was subdued as he and his mother entered St. Mungo's, where the head of the Black Family was spending most of his time. His father was soon to be shipped off to Azkaban and his own life had just been turned upside down. He was barely starting to get used to the idea of being the son of a single mother. That wasn't supposed to happen to elite purebloods.
He wasn't sure what to expect from the man who had spent nearly twelve years in Azkaban himself. When they saw him, he was thin, pale, and sickly, but cleaned up and well-dressed—clearly on the road to recovery. He looked at the pair of them with disdain, but he spoke to them more politely than Draco expected, given his reputation.
"I'm surprised you came to see me, Narcissa," Sirius said. "I don't think we've met on good terms since I ran away from home."
"I wish it were under better circumstances, Sirius," she replied, "but I needed to see the head of the family."
"Oh? The head of the family?" he said with a condescending smirk. "Why? To beg me not to disown you after what Lucius did?"
"Actually, I've filed for divorce from Lucius."
Sirius's jaw dropped. "Wh-wh-what? Why?"
"Because Lucius did even worse than you know. In the execution of his ill-advised plan, he lost a priceless artifact of the Dark Lord's and botched one of his key plans. I still believe he will return one day, and as you can see, I have a son to think of. So I left."
Sirius regarded the two of them carefully. Draco noticed his eyes had widened with surprise when his mother mentioned the Dark Lord's artifact, but he didn't react when she said the Dark Lord would come back. He wondered how much Sirius knew.
"So old Lucy finally went too far, did he?" Sirius said, revelling in his position of power. "You had to get out while the getting was good?"
"Not to mention the fact that he'll be going to Azkaban soon," she said, "or that he put Draco in such danger from the basilisk. I had ample reasons. The point is, I'll be Narcissa Black again, assuming you'll let me stay in the family. Otherwise, I'll have to resurrect the defunct Rosier line."
Sirius raised an eyebrow. Narcissa had impressed upon Draco that, despite being a blood traitor, Sirius was raised as a Black and was as sharp as they came. He would know that reviving the Rosier line would be difficult, but doable and thus would show she still had some control. He would also know that talking about the family line meant it was about inheritance, since she could keep the Black name if it was just for herself, but not for Draco. So it was no surprise that he made the logical leap: "You want me to make Draco a Black."
"I think that would be best for him, yes," she said.
"I see…And Draco, what do you think?"
Draco blinked in surprise. He hadn't expected to be asked that, at least not so quickly. He struggled to respond calmly: "I…I know the Malfoy name is mud right now. And the Black name still holds some credibility. I…I would be proud to hold it."
"Uh huh. You realise that would make Draco the heir presumptive, since he would be the only one living who could carry on the family name?" he asked Narcissa.
"Do you anticipate having difficulty rectifying your inheritance issues?" she asked him.
Sirius scowled: "The Healers say I may need their help for…fertility reasons, but long term, probably not. But anyway, he'd only be heir to the family name and property held in trust by the family, which wasn't much last time I checked. I can still will the rest to Harry. Speaking of which, my godson's descriptions have not instilled me with confidence in Draco."
Draco scowled. Of course, Potter would screw everything up. It was infuriating to think of him holding such influence in the House of Black. Even if Draco hadn't made it so personal these past two years, it would be no good having yet another political opponent aligned with the head of the family. But he was smart enough to hold his tongue about all that. Mother had told him he needed to clean up his act, and he was going to do it.
"I have spoken to Draco about his behaviour at school, and I will be expecting better of him in the future," she said.
"Yes," Draco said, swallowing his pride, "I…I apologise for my personal insults and harassment of your…godson and his friends. I…was over the line."
Sirius gave him a long look and turned back to his mother: "But that goes for you, too, Cissy. If you keep spouting the same things your husband did, we're going to have a problem."
"I recognise now the flaw in Lucius's position," she answered without missing a beat. "I have already made overtures to the House of Greengrass to begin to moderate our position. We're not going to bow to your politics, and I don't think you expect us to, but we won't hold fast to Lucius's, either."
Sirius rested his chin on his hand and surveyed them both thoughtfully. "So the Queen of Slytherin has been dethroned, has she?" he said with a grin. "I never thought I'd see the day…Alright, Cissy, you can stay in the family, but I'm keeping an eye on you. As for Draco…he'll have to earn it. If he can be civil with Harry in the future and prove he really has cleaned up his act, I can make the arrangements. You have any problems with that?"
Narcissa sighed with relief and shook her head no. Draco scowled inwardly at having to deal civilly with Potter, who clearly didn't know the meaning of the word 'nobility', but he didn't have much choice, and he accepted the deal.
"Great. You know, I'm surprised you're getting a divorce this easily," Sirius said.
"Well, Madam Bones is helping me in exchange for my testimony, but I was lucky my father insisted on a contract that was fairly equitable."
"Blacks bow to no one," Sirius smirked as he said the old, unofficial motto. "It would have to have been equitable. Bah, who likes marriage contracts, anyway? You know, I never realised how antiquated they were until Andi ran off with Ted, and Lily started hanging with us. You know what? New rule: no arranged marriages in the Black Family."
"What?! But you can't!" Draco gasped before he caught himself.
Sirius looked at him in genuine confusion. "They're outdated, and half the time, they make people miserable. Why shouldn't I?"
"But—but my arrangement with Pansy—"
"Oh, dear," Narcissa sighed. "Pansy Parkinson. Draco's intended. Lucius and her father made the arrangement when they reached the standard age of six."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Oh, one of those," he groaned. "And you want to stick with her? Is she at least good looking?"
"Sirius!" Narcissa gasped.
But Draco hesitated and then fished a small picture of Pansy out of his robes and handed it to him. Sirius took one look at it and said, "You could do better."
"Calm down. Calm down. You obviously like her if you're already carrying a picture of her. I'm just saying, though—"
Draco fumed and ground out, "Are you going to let me keep her or not."
"Lesson one of romance, Draco: she's not anyone's to 'keep'. I may not like you, but I'd be delinquent in my duty as a ladies' man if I didn't give you good romance advice, so here it is: if you really want Pansy, then win her over the old-fashioned way. And don't worry about anyone else standing in your way. If her father doesn't like it, I'll have a talk with him. He won't be a problem." He showed a wicked grin that reminded Draco that he was, indeed, a member of the House of Black.
"Thank you, Sirius," Narcissa said. "We appreciate your support. And call me if you want me to hook you up with a date, too."
He grimaced slightly and said, "I'll keep that in mind."
Days passed. The Aurors cleared most of Hogwarts castle and the grounds of dark magic bit by bit with the exceptions of the Room of Requirement and the Chamber of Secrets itself. The Acromantula colony in the Forbidden Forest was placed under close watch, but Amelia decided it could wait until they had more time to deal with it. The Ministry finally resumed normal operations, much to the Minister's relief, but there was still much to be done.
When Harry next entered the Ministry building for the trials of Lucius Malfoy and Peter Pettigrew, the frantic, chaotic activity he had seen previously had died down. The place seemed to be running smoothly now, except for the rumoured trouble in the Department of Mysteries. Harry had to testify at Malfoy's trial, as did everyone else who had witnessed his plot in action, including his own wife. Draco, Harry noticed, was subdued and not ranting and raving or even sneering as he would have done at school. Sirius had explained the change that had happened in his family, and Harry firmly agreed that it was an improvement.
Even as things were, Lucius had talked the charges against him down on the grounds that he didn't know what the diary would do or that it was deadly. It was the thinnest of defences, but he still had enough friends that it nearly worked…until Narcissa opened up about the corruption, bribery, and his activities during the war. He received a life sentence and a public disavowal from Fudge.
Pettigrew's trial was more straightforward, and Sirius's testimony and what little physical evidence was available was enough to convict him. Harry was dismayed, though, when it turned out he didn't get a life sentence. Sirius had, but that was from an overzealous Ministry that never actually gave him a trial, so it wasn't a fair comparison. It turned out that for all his crimes, Pettigrew had never actually committed murder, and his crime also didn't meet some technical requirement for treason. They nailed him on twelve counts of manslaughter and one of conspiracy and gave him seventy-five years, but he could theoretically live long enough to get out.
Though probably not.
Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia were charged in the muggle court system. Madam Bones escorted Harry to the magistrate in Little Whinging one day to give a deposition. He was surprised again to learn that most of what they had done to him was actually borderline behaviour. Since he wasn't medically underweight, was fully clothed, had no scars from beatings (though he remembered Uncle Vernon suggesting they should have done it), and was even fully vaccinated (to his own astonishment), he could admit he was better off than too many abused children the magistrate must have seen. Still, the cupboard under the stairs, the cat flap on the door, and their general ill-treatment of him were clearly actionable. Dudley's morbid obesity and bullying behaviour weren't, but they helped establish a pattern. In the end, they didn't receive very much jail time, but they did lose custody of Dudley, and worse, their reputations.
Meanwhile, with his blinding terror quota for the year filled, Harry found himself relaxing at the Weasleys' house for the month while Sirius recovered. With the promise of a godfather to go home to, it was the greatest month of his life, despite the unfinished business he had hanging over his head. He spent his time flying, lounging around the orchard, learning to swim from Ron's older brothers (Fred and George were so grateful that they didn't try to drown him once), and, at Mrs. Weasley's insistence, working on his summer homework. Ginny did her level best to talk to him, but she still tended to freeze up around him.
Once a week, both Harry and Ginny would see a Mind Healer for counselling. Harry had a lot of baggage from the Dursleys and from his first year, but the Mind Healer said he was surprisingly well-adjusted, almost as if he were magically protected from the worst effects. Ginny's trauma was shorter, but deeper, and it took her time to confront and work through all of it. They also had one group session to help disabuse her of her Harry Potter fantasies and try to become more comfortable around Harry as a friend. He thought she was making good progress.
It was weeks later, shortly before Sirius was to be released from St. Mungo's for final time, that Dumbledore came to collect Harry to reopen the Chamber of Secrets. He escorted Harry to the castle after a lengthy lecture to be careful from Mrs. Weasley, but, of course, there was probably no danger from the Chamber anymore.
"I have some good news, Harry," Dumbledore told him as they walked to the castle. "I have spoken to your friend, Remus, and I believe I can convince him to take the position of Defence Professor next year."
"Really, sir?" Harry said eagerly. If Remus could keep on his upbeat side, that would be great fun.
"He seemed receptive. He made a condition that we remove the curse on the position first, but Mr. Croaker informs me that he has found what he believes is the curse in the wards, and he also believes he can lift it before school begins in the autumn.
"That would be great, Professor. I'll tell him I hope he does it."
They joined with Amelia Bones, Head Auror Scrimgeour, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Gawain Robards in Myrtle's bathroom—four of the Ministry's best people, though Madam Bones quickly explained that Mad-Eye Moody was staying away due to the risk to his magical eye. She handed Harry a pair of wraparound clouded glasses. "I'm sure it'll be a pain trying to see down there," she said, "but they should protect you from dying until we're sure the area is clear of basilisks. Now, Harry, we're going to need as exact a description of the Chamber as you can give us to plan this tactically."
Harry nodded and began describing the Chamber of Secrets, from the long pipe they had to slide down to the caved-in corridor with the snake-skin to the second door, which was the entrance to the Chamber itself and the statues and the basilisk carcass inside.
"Very good, Mr. Potter," Bones said when he was done. "Open the entrance, then."
Harry had to lift up his clouded glasses to see the snake carving, but he managed to pull off the Parseltongue password, and the sinks opened. However, the Aurors didn't slide down. They had brought long, thin, magical ropes that they used to rappel down the pipe. Bones sent Dumbledore and the three Aurors down first to ensure the area was safe, with Harry in the middle and herself bringing up the rear. They reached the bottom and soon the Chamber door, which Harry also opened, and the Aurors streamed inside.
The basilisk corpse was there, right where he'd left it. He was worried it would stink badly after all these weeks, but it was actually pretty well-preserved. Dumbledore and the Aurors spread out and scanned the Chamber to ensure it was truly empty. Madam Bones, however, pulled Harry back so that he couldn't see. He was only there in can they needed a Parselmouth for something else.
They waited a long time before Dumbledore emerged from the Chamber with a cheerful expression and his clouded glasses gone. "Well, Amelia," he said, "you may rest assured that there is no other basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets. Hogwarts is completely clear of weapons of mass destruction."
Bones sighed with relief. "That's good to hear, Albus. I know I'll be glad to put this nightmare behind us. It looks like you'll be able to reopen in September after all. We still need to clear out the Acromantula colony, but I'll give the Aurors a holiday rotation now and take care of that in August."
"Excellent. Now, I will need Mr. Potter to help us with some items in the Chamber."
"Why?" she asked suspiciously.
"While we conclusively ruled out the presence of another basilisk, we found that the Chamber contains several caches of dark artifacts and tomes presumably intended to aid the Heir of Slytherin in his work, which must be unlocked with Parseltongue, so I need Mr. Potter to help remove them."
"Alright, then. Go ahead, Mr. Potter."
Harry reentered the Chamber and, at Dumbledore's direction, opened all of the Parseltongue-sealed secret compartments for the Aurors to clear it out. He was just glad to know that no other giant snakes would jump out at him from now on—or any other kind of monster, for that matter. Maybe he could actually have a normal year next year…he hoped.
"Dammit, Albus! Where's that sword?"
"Amelia? I've been keeping the Sword of Gryffindor in my office here. What's wrong?"
Dumbledore stepped out of his Chief Warlock's office to see an alarming sight. Amelia Bones was rushing through the Ministry carrying a withered human arm that was emitting a faint wisp of vapour in a pair of fire tongs whilst telling everyone in her path, "Out of the way! Out of the way! Seriously dark magic coming through! Dumbledore, quick, get the sword!"
He retrieved it in a moment and reappeared at the door. "Did you find one of the items—" he began.
"Talk later!" she cut him off. "Quick, destroy the ring before something else happens!"
Dumbledore looked down and saw a gold ring on the withered hand with a large black stone. He could feel the dark magic flowing off it, so he didn't risk waiting around to get a closer look. He swung the sword down with a mighty CRACK! There was a small explosion that disintegrated the hand, and the ring fell to the floor, seemingly inert. Amelia threw the fire tongs in the floo and cast an Incendio powerful enough to melt them, just in case.
"It seems you have quite the tale to tell," Albus said.
"You think?" Amelia grumbled.
"Whose hand was it?" he asked after a minute."
"Shacklebolt's. He alive, but he's in St. Mungo's, and he'll be on permanent desk duty when he gets out. He was one of my best men, too."
"Quite a shame, Amelia. Do you know what happened?"
"Apparently, the ring had a strong compulsion on it and whatever that curse was. They said he put the bloody thing on before he knew what was happening. They had to cut his arm off to save him."
Dumbledore bent down, checked the ring for residual magic, and picked it up to examine it. He gasped when he saw the symbol on the stone.
Amelia didn't seem to notice. "All I know," she said, "is the next horcrux we go after, we're taking a lot of reinforcements."
"Albus, you know that sea cave you tipped us off to? We're going to need your help with that one."
"Why is that, Amelia? I thought you sent reinforcements."
"We did, but You-Know-Who left an army of Inferi down there. The team barely got out alive. One of them—Proudfoot got his leg chewed off. He says he's retiring—starting now. You're the only one who's fought that many of those things and lived."
Albus sighed: "Very well. I will join you at once."
"All that work, and someone else beat us to it. Do you have any idea who R.A.B. is?" Amelia demanded.
"Most likely, I believe it is Regulus Arcturus Black," Albus said, "a Death Eater who vanished in 1979 and was rumoured to have been killed by Voldemort for desertion."
"Any clue where he might have left the real one?"
"Well, that is a difficult problem. If Voldemort intercepted him before Regulus destroyed it, he could have re-hidden it anywhere. If Regulus destroyed it successfully, it will be difficult to find evidence of such. However, if he was unable to destroy it, but hid it before he was killed, it may be in the Black Family manor or another place known to him. I will ask Sirius to look for any clues he can find."
"—and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the House of Black."
"Padfoot, the building's still standing," Remus reminded him.
"Fine, if you want to tell the boring version," said Sirius. The pair stood before Albus, Amelia, and Croaker covered with dirt and scrapes, but at least not missing any limbs. "We did leave the place in worse shape than we found it, though."
"The house did kind of attack us," Remus admitted. "The point is, it turns out his house elf was still alive—"
"Fortunately, you mean, because he led us right to the horcrux."
"Yeah. It was sitting on display in the drawing room for the past fourteen years, and no one ever noticed," Sirius said. "Only my family…"
"We very much appreciate your help, Sirius, Remus," Dumbledore said. "This is one more piece of Voldemort's soul that Mr. Croaker can use to solve Harry's problem and finish our task."
"Well, I say good riddance to it," Sirius replied. "Now, if you'll excuse us, I think I have some doxy bites."
The sun shone bright and clear on Platform Nine and Three Quarters on the first of September. After a summer of chaos, all of magical Britain was relieved to have things finally back to normal, and even better was that Hogwarts was now certified to be as safe as possible (well, except for hexes traded in the halls and Quidditch injuries).
"Well, Pup, ready for a great new year?" Sirius said as he saw his godson off.
"Yeah, mostly…" Harry said. "Is it bad that this is the first time I'm kind of sad to be leaving for school?"
"Nah, with the childhood you had, I'm not surprised, but I'll be here when you get back. You need to go enjoy your time at Hogwarts. No monsters this year, no evil wizards—well, besides Snivellus. And you've got some great friends there. So all you need to worry about is getting good grades, pranking the Slytherins, and finding yourself a girlfriend."
"What? Boyfriend, then?"
His godfather ruffled his hair. "Come on, I remember what it's like to be thirteen."
"I think you still are thirteen," Harry said.
"Exactly. The point is, we've solved most of your problems, so it's time for you to enjoy your life."
"Voldemort's still out there, though, and he's still connected to me."
Sirius sighed: "Yes, but he can't hurt you with Dumbledore on the case. You're going to be alright, Pup. We've got everything in hand."
"I still wish those two Aurors didn't have to get hurt," Harry said.
"I know, but compared with the damage Voldemort did during the war, I still can't believe we got off so easy. They made their sacrifices by their choice, and they were willing to sacrifice a lot more, so there's no one to blame but Voldemort. And now, we've got two horcruxes in hand, so I'm sure between the Unspeakables and Dumbledore, they'll figure out how to get that soul piece out of your scar, and you'll be shot of him."
"But that's not all, is it?" Harry said. "Hufflepuff's cup is still out there."
"Yes, but we'll find it," Sirius said with such conviction that Harry was filled with hope in spite of himself. "Sooner or later, we'll find it."