Disclaimer: Standard stuff (I don't own anything, I won't be making profit, any resemblance to previously published content is purely coincidental, JK Rowling is the coolest, etc.). If I make any legal errors regarding copyrighted material, inform me and I will correct them immediately.

If Looks Could Kill

Amid the hustle and bustle, while Molly, Fred, George, Ginny, Hermione, and Ron crowded around the hospital bed, Harry hung back. He was reluctant to intrude on the family moment, particularly since he still imagined his fangs sinking into Arthur's vulnerable flesh every time he looked at the man for more than a few seconds at a time. Arthur—normally a strong, vigorous man—appeared diminished and abnormally still, despite the smile he was forcing to his face for his family's benefit.

Merry fucking Christmas, Harry thought bitterly, his eyes darkening in anger. Fucking Voldemort and his fucking snake. At least it wasn't a basilisk; Arthur would have been dead before he hit the ground.

...Wait. Why the hell wasn't Voldemort's snake a basilisk? Riddle knew how exactly powerful they were, and it wasn't particularly difficult to make one. Plus, his beloved Salazar Slytherin had a pet basilisk; that fact alone should have Riddle foaming at the mouth to make as many of the damn things as he could find toads and eggs. There was no good reason why any Parselmouth worth his wand shouldn't have a pet basilisk. Well, other than that pesky Ban on Experimental Breeding, but it wasn't like a Dark Lord really cared about breaking the law. Hell, Harry broke the law all the time—Sirius Black came to mind, for example—and even if he didn't, the Ministry was still obviously out to get him. Hell, by that logic...

Holy shit, Harry thought. Am I seriously considering this?

Harry looked again at Arthur Weasley—one of the kindest men he had ever met—lying abed with dim eyes and a strained grin, having escaped death by a matter of inches and seconds.

Fuck yeah, I'm doing this.

As much as Harry wanted to begin immediately (before he lost his nerve), he knew that he had to wait until he returned to Hogwarts. The risk of discovery was simply too high at Sirius's house, especially with it doubling as the headquarters for Dumbledore's vigilante organization. Alastor Moody alone could and would blow the whole thing in an instant if he entered the building. Plus, there was no secure, secret place at Number 12.

No, Harry would wait until he got back to Hogwarts. Only Hogwarts had a ready-made basilisk nursery: the Chamber of Secrets. It was ideal; only Harry could enter (as he was the only Parselmouth in residence at Hogwarts), and there was virtually no chance that he would be detected. Only Moaning Myrtle spent any time in that loo (when she wasn't perving on bathing students), and it was highly doubtful that she would turn Harry in. If all else failed, he could have one of his basilisks (Harry figured that if he was going to break the law, he might as well go all-in and breed himself an army) petrify her, as Nearly Headless Nick had been petrified in his second year by Slytherin's basilisk.

The real question was, how would he get the raw material for his breeding program? He would need fertilized chicken eggs, and toads to sit on them. The former would be tough to come by at Hogwarts (there weren't any chicken farms around, to Harry's knowledge), and though the latter would be relatively simple, it would be difficult to procure toads discreetly. Harry's first thought was to ask Dobby; however, Dobby ultimately answered to Dumbledore, who would take a dim view of Harry's plan. If only there was a house-elf that would answer only to him...

"Hey, Sirius!" Harry called into the study, where his godfather was busy trying to cheer the Weasleys up by irritating Remus.

"Yeah, Harry?" Sirius called back, turning to face his godson and allowing the plates he had been juggling (badly) to shatter on the floor.

Harry grinned, his eyes already alight with the promise of mischief. Sirius instantly knew that whatever Harry was about to ask for was something that he shouldn't be asking for, and therefore as a Marauder, he was honor-bound to grant it.

"I need a favor..."


An instant later, Kreacher's arrival was heralded by a soft pop, and the scowling house-elf stared up at Harry.

"What does the worthless master's filthy half-blooded beggar of a godson want?" Kreacher snarled, eying Harry balefully.

Harry snorted. Once Harry had hit Sirius with as James-like and mischievous a smirk as he could muster, Sirius had immediately agreed to Harry's request, and had ordered Kreacher to obey any and all orders from Harry.

Harry had promptly provided Kreacher with a set of standing orders that he could not violate unless Harry explicitly ordered him to do so. Specifically, Kreacher was never to tell (or communicate in any way) anyone what Harry did or what Kreacher did under Harry's orders, nor by inaction allow those activities to be discovered, Kreacher was to appear immediately when called, and Kreacher was to carry out all assigned tasks immediately. Knowing how Dobby had found wiggle-room in the orders given to him by the Malfoys, Harry was always careful to make his orders complete and specific, closing off any loopholes that the obviously-belligerent house-elf could exploit against him.

Harry grinned at the hateful little creature. He found Kreacher's blatant disrespect quite funny (and ironically, somewhat Marauder-esque), and had not gone out of his way to curtail it, though he had given Kreacher a standing order to poke himself in the eye anytime he used the word "mudblood"—watching the little bastard wrestle with that dilemma during every conversation was a surefire way to brighten Harry's day.

"Kreacher, I have a task for you, so listen up," Harry began. "In the performance of this job, you will not allow anyone or anything to know what you are doing, you will be invisible, you will be silent, and you will leave no evidence that you carried out this task. The task is as follows: capture twenty-four toads, and deliver those toads—living and undamaged—in a suitable terrarium to this spot within the next hour. When you return, I will confirm the condition and number of toads, and you will be punished severely if you fail or if you are late. Understood?"

Kreacher spent a few seconds thinking, obviously trying to find a loophole that he could use to inconvenience Harry; however, the order had been specific enough that he had no choice but to grudgingly agree, and pop away to carry out Harry's directive. Harry was suddenly left alone (except for the bones and discarded skin of Slytherin's basilisk) in the Chamber of Secrets.

Exactly an hour later—clearly out of spite, Kreacher took the maximum amount of time possible—the house-elf returned with a large terrarium filled with toads. After Harry counted the toads and determined that they were in good condition, he sent Kreacher off (with a similarly-specific order) to procure and deliver two dozen fertilized chicken eggs.

"Well, that was easy," Harry commented aloud. Really, it seemed like it should be much harder to get the raw materials for creating one of the most dangerous magical creatures in the world. Really, it made Slytherin's basilisk seem much less impressive. "Time to break the Ban on Experimental Breeding; I don't know who would be more proud, Sirius or Hagrid."

Controlling the toads had been easy; a simple compulsion charm had forced each toad to sit on its assigned egg, while Kreacher stopped by several times per day to feed each toad a large insect. Several days into his breeding program, Harry was well on his way to having a small army of basilisks.

Hiding his activities, however, proved to be more difficult. Between Umbridge, the DA, and his friends, Harry barely had any time to himself, and he frequently had to come up with on-the-spot lies to explain any absences longer than a few minutes. Eventually, he was forced to strike a low blow.

"Goddammit, Hermione!" Harry snapped in frustration after she demanded, yet again, to know where he had been (out of concern, of course). Practically the entire DA was listening, but that was a good thing; if it became well-known, he would have a ready-made excuse to find time alone, and his basilisk plan was more important than a little shame. "I grew up in a fucking cupboard under the stairs, remember? I never got used to being around people all time, and here at school I can't go two seconds without someone staring at me, and to top it all off, you lot all guilt-tripped me into teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts! Sometimes I just need to be alone, alright? If you have a problem with that, then blame Dumbledore, because he's the daft twat who left me on the Dursleys' fucking doorstep!"

Part of Harry felt vaguely guilty for the looks of shock, shame, and pity etched on everyone's faces; however, a larger part felt a strange satisfaction. Honestly, it was the truth, and it just so happened that it was finally more convenient to say it than to bottle it up; Harry had always been uncomfortable around large groups of people, especially in magical settings, where he was constantly in the spotlight.

It worked like a charm. From that point on, no student said a word about any time Harry spent away from prying eyes; apparently, that juicy piece of gossip about Harry's miserable childhood even made its way to the professors, who as a group (with the obvious exception of Umbridge) seemed to turn a blind eye to his tendency to be out of pocket. He began to spend more time in the Chamber, studying and doing his homework while he waited for the eggs to hatch. There was one person, however, who kept Harry on his toes.

"Legilimens!" Snape cried as soon as Harry entered his office. Every "lesson" was a battle of wills, in which Harry sacrificed the privacy of his most shameful and private memories in order to keep his basilisk breeding plan a secret. As a result, Snape saw—hell, experienced—every lost "game" of Harry Hunting (i.e. beating), every lonely birthday and Christmas, every sunburned summer of never-ending chores, every cold and hungry night, every multi-day, no-food cupboard exile...and at the end of each lesson, Harry would slink out of the office in tears and pain, while he inwardly crowed about keeping his true purpose hidden behind a veil of shame.

As much as Snape obviously enjoyed making Harry revisit the more miserable moments of his childhood at first, by late February—Harry had been sentenced to two lessons per week, starting the first night back from holiday—it had become increasingly clear to the man that those were the only kind of memories that Harry actually had. As a result, he and Snape entered a cautious sort of truce, in which Snape would still berate Harry in class and take points for virtually no reason, but would be generally neutral and professional in his private occlumency lessons. This was a major coup for Harry, and it had only come at the cost of Snape knowing how shitty Harry's life was (which wasn't altogether a bad thing, since it felt kind of good to throw Snape's assumptions about Harry's "pampered life" in his face).

After the DA was exposed and Dumbledore was sacked in early April, Umbridge—tired of Harry being given "special treatment" by the other professors, who allowed him to "sneak around like a thief in the night"—assigned Harry a standing detention every night of the week, necessarily ending Harry's occlumency lessons with Snape. By this point, however, Snape had grudgingly determined that Harry had sufficient occlumency skill to protect his mind against remote attacks from Voldemort.

That night, however, Kreacher woke Harry around midnight, rudely taking him out of an extremely pleasant dream (since Harry's lessons with Snape finally seemed to be paying off) involving all three of the Gryffindor Chasers in a steamy locker room. After swallowing his rage at being disturbed during the best dream ever, Harry realized what must be happening, and jumped out of bed. He had previously ordered the house-elf to check on the eggs every hour, and alert him, day or night, if they showed any sign of hatching. Harry had laid several simple breeding charms—taught during Care of Magical Creatures by Professor Grubbly-Plank, of all people—over the eggs, to ensure that they would all hatch together; that way, Kreacher would only have to alert Harry once. Finally, Harry's plans were coming to fruition.

Before he had started his basilisk breeding project in earnest, he had spent hours combing through the Black family library, and later, the Hogwarts library, for any information related to basilisks. He hadn't found much that he didn't already know, but he did learn two incredibly important facts.

First was that basilisks, like many other reptiles, had nicitating membranes in their eyes. Unlike those of mundane reptiles, though, the nicitating membranes—the default setting for which was "closed"—of a basilisk filtered out the lethal effect of a basilisk's gaze. That explained how Salazar Slytherin and Tom Riddle had spent time with the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets without being killed accidentally. In fact, basilisks don't gain the fine muscle control necessary to open that membrane until they had lived through an entire lunar cycle, from full moon to full moon, so Harry would have at least a month to compel and dominate the wills of the young, impressionable snakes, without having to worry about being instantly killed by an errant glance. As it turned out, the snakes began hatching one night before the full moon, which was pretty much ideal timing, since they would be ready for action in the fastest possible timeframe, and there was no reason to expect that Harry would have any difficulty taming the basilisks.

Harry expected to tame the basilisks very easily because of the second incredibly important fact that he had learned while plundering the library. Apparently, once bred, basilisks were bound in a manner very similar to house-elves to the will of their creator, so long as that creator could issue commands in Parseltongue. This was why Slytherin's basilisk had taken orders from Tom Riddle , but had been unwilling to listen to Harry; it had recognized Tom as Slytherin's heir, and thus its new master. Harry's basilisks would answer only to him (and any Parselmouth children that he may one day have).

Therefore, it was without fear—though with no small degree of nervous excitement—that Harry watched the first egg hatch. There was a soft cracking sound (unlike true snake eggs, which were soft, the chicken eggs maintained their hard exterior during the basilisk gestation), and suddenly the surprised toad tumbled off the egg, which was no longer able to support the toad's weight as it collapsed. A second later, the toad let out a croak of fear and tried to leap away—since its egg had hatched, Harry's compulsion spell loop to stay in place had ceased to affect the toad—but had barely tensed its leg muscles before the acid-green, arrowhead-shaped snout of Harry's first basilisk closed around the toad's flank. The toad immediately ceased struggling as the relatively tiny dose of venom burned its way through the toad's cardiovascular and nervous systems; within seconds, the toad was dead, and the small basilisk—less than a foot long, and only about half an inch in diameter—began swallowing its "parent" whole.

Silence reigned, punctuated by the occasional glurp from the baby basilisk as it struggled to consume the toad. Suddenly, more soft cracks echoed through the chamber.

Holy shit, Harry thought, astounded at how well things were coming together. I can't believe this is actually going to work.

For the first time, Harry left Hogwarts for Easter holidays, and he was not exactly pleased to do so; raising his basilisks (which, for the sake of simplicity, he had named Alpha through Omega, after the Greek alphabet) was a surprisingly enjoyable way to pass the time. He left his two dozen basilisks in the Chamber of Secrets, and had commanded them not to leave, not to kill each other, and not to kill Kreacher when he popped in (twice per day) to feed them with mice and rats.

The basilisks were growing much more rapidly than mundane snakes; Harry somewhat suspected that Slytherin's basilisk had reached its massive size during Slytherin's own lifetime, and then hibernated for nearly a thousand years, as there was no way it would have been able to hunt sufficiently-large prey on its own down in the Chamber. Harry had originally planned to dose them with Skele-Gro (having gotten the idea from Malfoy's cruel jokes at Hagrid's expense the previous year), but their growth, as measured and recorded daily by Kreacher, was fast enough that he decided that the potions would be unnecessary. By the time Harry returned to Hogwarts, the snakes were each about five feet long and several inches wide; they were not as large as Nagini, but they were stronger, faster, and possessed much more potent venom. Plus, they were much more numerous, and would be gaining the ability to kill with a glance in about a fortnight, and Harry expected that they would at least double in size by the time O.W.L.s rolled around.

The return to his charges was not the only reason Harry was glad to be back at Hogwarts. The holiday had been extremely uncomfortable; he had been ordered (though not in so many words) by the unlikely duo of Sirius Black and Molly Weasley to present himself at Number 12 Grimmauld Place to explain and clarify the rumors of his mistreatment at the hands of the Dursley family. Simply being at the Order's headquarters had been a trial in and of itself; every interaction with every person there had been strained and awkward, like everyone was afraid that Harry would suddenly break down and cry. Apparently, everyone forgot that he had been functioning just fine, and didn't realize that their sudden knowledge of his past circumstances did not require a change in his present treatment. Remus Lupin was the worst; while Molly wrung her hands and Sirius cursed the Dursley's names, Lupin wallowed in bitter self-loathing for never checking on Harry. Privately, Harry kind of agreed that the man should feel guilty, but he was uninterested in engaging in any of the bitter recriminations that were flying around the house. He was amused (and somewhat vindictively satisfied), however, to hear many variations of "When I get my hands on Dumbledore...!" from virtually every Order member that passed through the house.

Yes, despite the ongoing Umbridge-related difficulties at Hogwarts, Harry was glad to be back. He got to see his friends, he could work on his basilisk project, and he had quickly tired of being at Number 12. Even without the excuse of Harry's inexplicable connection to Voldemort (which Snape had grudgingly acknowledged had been effectively negated by Harry's occlumency skills), the Order members had remained stalwart in their refusal to provide Harry with any meaningful details regarding the state of the conflict with Voldemort's forces. As a result, Harry was forced to conclude that they simply did not trust him, which offended him greatly, considering the fact that he had arguably contributed more than all the rest of them combined, having fought Voldemort more than any of them, and having provided the Order with the names of every Death Eater at Voldemort's resurrection (against whom the Order had still not lifted a finger). At least with Umbridge, Harry knew where he stood.

If there was one thing Harry had gained from his time among the Order during the Easter holiday, it was that the Order's methods were worthless. Harry's last lingering doubts about his plan to unleash his basilisks against Voldemort and the Death Eaters, were wiped away.

The month of May was, in a word, unpleasant. On the first Monday after Harry returned from Easter hols, he had his career advice meeting with Professor McGonagall. While still generally stern, she had been much more accommodating toward Harry since the details of his incarceration at Privet Drive had reached her ears, and she went above and beyond the call of duty in her shouting match with Umbridge when Harry had said with a straight face that he wanted to be the Minister of Magic. Though this proved extremely entertaining, the fallout was probably not worth the momentary satisfaction, as Umbridge's Inquisitorial Squad was subsequently tasked to irritate Harry as much as they could, dogging his steps, taking points for no reason, and simply cursing him in the hallways. It probably didn't help that every time Harry looked at the great pink toad, he remembered how gleefully each of his basilisks had devoured their respective toads; feeding Umbridge to his snakes became a recurring fantasy for Harry, and he could barely keep himself from laughing (or, more accurately, "ominously cackling") every time he saw her stupid, simpering face. It must have shown, since Umbridge became increasingly vindictive in each successive encounter.

The one major success of the month was that Harry's basilisks gained the ability to control their killing gaze about a week after Harry returned to Hogwarts. In fact, by the end of the month, they were quite capable of killing large animals (Harry tasked Kreacher with providing increasingly-large prey animals, up to the size of deer) from across the Chamber of Secrets. By the time Hagrid introduced Harry and Hermione to his half-brother Grawp at the end of the month, the basilisks had become truly massive. Each snake was nearly fifteen feet in length, over a foot wide, and had jaws large enough to snap off a man's leg. Their fangs were as long as daggers, and their venom glands held enough volume to deliver scores of individual lethal doses.

By this point, Harry had spent enough time with his basilisks that he could tell them apart; they were actually quite distinct, having scales with a wide variety of colors (from pale green to nearly black) and patterns (stripes, diamonds, spots, color gradients, and—for the males—scarlet head crests). He was beginning to understand Hagrid's enthusiasm for dangerous creatures, as there was something particularly exciting about handling and caring for the basilisks, which the likes of nifflers and flobberworms simply could not match. Harry was even becoming inexplicably fond of their somewhat vain, lazy, and often abrasive personalities, to the point that he periodically had to remind himself not to get too attached because they had been bred specifically for war, and it was virtually guaranteed that at least some of them would be killed in action.

Maybe there's a way I can prevent that...

With O.W.L.s rapidly approaching, Harry's classmates—particularly (and predictably) Hermione—pretty much lost their minds. Harry, however, had a vastly reduced study load; having assumed that there was already pretty much no way that he could pass the Divination and History of Magic O.W.L.s, he simply decided not to study for them, focusing instead on the more practical courses. This decision gave him time to learn the other major component of his overall—and newly-revised—battle plan: the creation and use of Portkeys.

Harry, having grown somewhat emotionally attached to his basilisks, had decided that a surprise assault would be the deployment option that offered the highest chances of both success and survival for his reptilian soldiers. Portkeys seemed to be the ideal method, especially since they could be voice-activated, and there was no reason why the activation phrase couldn't be in Parseltongue. Harry envisioned affixing a Portkey to each basilisk, triggering them all simultaneously, and then having the basilisks state the return password once their mission was complete, or if they were wounded in action. Portkeys were not terribly difficult magic, and were in fact much less magically demanding than something like a Patronus (after all, the average adult wizard could charm a Portkey more easily and more precisely than he could apparate) but like apparation, Portkey creation required a license from the Ministry of Magic. Of course, Harry was planning to use a Portkey to launch an attack—using two dozen illegally-bred basilisks, no less—that would kill dozens of people, so he had long-since ceased to be concerned with the letter (or even the spirit) of the law.

Soon after deciding to learn how to make Portkeys, Harry learned—much to his amusement—that O.W.L. examiners were authorized to provide Portkey licenses, and would in fact grant a significant amount of extra credit to any O.W.L. student who could demonstrate proper Portkey creation, as it was, like apparation, considered a N.E.W.T.-level skill.

This did not intimidate Harry, who understood that he had already proven himself capable of magic—like the Patronus Charm—that few adult wizards could match. Bolstered by a healthy amount of self-confidence and spurred on by necessity, Harry became proficient in the creation and use of Portkeys in relatively short order. The basilisks were not particularly fond of that method of travel, but Harry nevertheless drilled them extensively on their use. All that remained was knowing the time and place of a Death Eater gathering. It would be months, though, before Harry received that vital intelligence.

The first day of O.W.L. exams was dominated by Charms, with the written portion in the morning and the practical in the afternoon. Harry went out of his way to demonstrate his knowledge of both the Patronus Charm and Portkey creation. Professor Tofty (an ancient, bald man wearing overlarge pince-nez) had been blown away, and before Harry could even ask, Tofty produced a form, shoved it toward Harry for a signature, stamped it with a bright red "APPROVED," and then waved his wand carelessly. The form disappeared, presumably having been sent directly to someone's inbox at the Ministry of Magic. Harry thanked Tofty, who clapped him on the shoulder with a withered, liver-spotted hand, winked, and congratulated him on his new Portkey license. As Harry walked away, he could hear Tofty loudly complimenting Flitwick on Harry's performance, calling it "the best Charms O.W.L. he had seen in years." Apparently, Harry's demonstration of advanced spellcasting had rather made up for his relatively lackluster showing with Color-Change and Growth Charms. Well, that's one O, at least.

Transfiguration, the next day, did not go quite as smoothly, but Harry felt confident that he had at least made a passing grade. Herbology took place on Wednesday; yet again, he made a few minor errors, but felt that he had performed reasonably well.

Tofty examined him on Defense Against the Dark Arts; once again, the man was mightily impressed by Harry's spellcasting, and had him demonstrate his Patronus Charm once again (as it was primarily used for defense, it was yet again worth extra credit) for the examiners who had missed it on Monday. Tofty's enthusiasm left Harry feeling quite confident that he had just scored another O.

Potions—under the watchful eye of Madam Marchbanks—went much more smoothly than most of Harry's previous Potions tests had gone; Harry chalked that up to the lack of Snape looming over his shoulder, swooping down like a vengeful bat, and otherwise trying to startle him into making mistakes. Later, Harry very carefully avoided seeming too knowledgeable about basilisks during the Care of Magical Creatures exam; after all, it wouldn't do to have people associating him with the method he planned to use to kill dozens of people, many of whom were close personal friends of the Minister of Magic.

On Wednesday morning, the Astronomy theory exam went fairly well; however, the following Divination exam went so poorly that Harry felt he might as well have not shown up at all. He was tempted to "see" the demise of a number of prominent witches and wizards in his crystal ball, but decided that he would rather fail the exam (as he had always assumed he would) than potentially tip off his targets.

Harry's temper was tried dearly that evening, when Hagrid and Professor McGonagall were assaulted by Umbridge and her cronies. He seriously entertained the possibility of introducing the toad to his pet basilisks, but the simple fact was that if Umbridge came up missing or dead, Harry would be the obvious prime suspect. At that point, he would be three drops of Veritaserum away from a one-way trip to Azkaban, where he would inevitably stay for the rest of his life (at least under the current Minister). Harry was forced to swallow his rage, vowing to himself that once the opportunity presented itself, he would ensure that Umbridge paid for her cruelty and crimes; as far as he was concerned, she was as much Voldemort's follower as the likes of Bellatrix Lestrange or Lucius Malfoy, and he fully intended for her to suffer their fate. As Harry closed his eyes with vengeance burning in his veins, he had no idea that he would miss his last chance the very next day.

Harry's next and final O.W.L. exam—History of Magic—took place the next afternoon. He noticed that he was having difficulty focusing on the questions, and he couldn't seem to reach the answers to even those precious few questions whose answers he actually knew. As the exam wore on, Harry became all too keenly aware of a terrible throbbing in his skull. The migraine—the likes of which he had not felt since the last time Snape had used legilimency on him—was so painful that it threatened to knock him off his chair.

Realizing that Voldemort must be finally trying to break through his occlumency barriers, Harry focused all of his energy on keeping his mind secure. Finally, though, the combination of exhaustion, heat, Voldemort's mental assault, and the pain of his headache overcame his resistance...

...The Department of Mysteries, a small voice echoed vaguely in the back of his mind...

...A cool, dark corridor...a circular room with many doors...row number ninety-seven...

…A high, cold voice...a long, pale wand...a scream of terrible pain...

"SIRIUS!" Harry cried, bolting upright from his position on the floor. How he had gotten there, how long he had laid there...none of it mattered right now.

"Kreacher!" Harry screamed, staggering away from the hospital wing and shouldering his way between Ron and Hermione, who—for some reason—were trying to get him to lay down. "Kreacher, goddammit, come here within five seconds!"

"Harry!" Hermione gasped. "What are you—"

Kreacher appeared, interrupting Hermione's exclamation with a louder-then-normal pop.

"Stupid disgust—"

"Shut up," Harry snapped, ignoring Ron's confused sputtering and Hermione's instant indignation, and Kreacher's mouth clicked closed and his voice cut off with a strangled gurk. "Kreacher, I command you to tell me, immediately, where Sirius Black is at this very moment."

"Kreacher does not know," the house-elf said smugly.

Harry was not fooled, immediately realizing that in his panic, he had worded his question poorly, and had left an obvious loophole: Kreacher literally could not know the answer to his question, because he was here, not directly observing Sirius Black, wherever that may be. Kreacher was either obfuscating out of spite (entirely possible), or he was part of whatever plot had landed Sirius at Voldemort's mercy. Either way, Harry lacked the patience to engage in a battle of wits with the treacherous little beast.

"Fuck this," Harry said after a moment's pause. "Kreacher, return to and stay at Number 12 Grimmauld Place; do not speak or otherwise communicate to anyone unless someone addresses you, in which case tell them only that Harry Potter says that Kreacher is not to be trusted." Hermione and Ron, still utterly confused, seemingly took this declaration (and Kreacher's clearly-infuriated departure) as an invitation to contribute to the discussion, and immediately began demanding to know what was going on. Harry was not interested in explaining himself, knowing that Hermione would doubt (rightfully so) the veracity of the vision, and Ron would waste time defending Hermione when the inevitable argument began. "Guys, I need you to trust me when I say that I have information that you don't, that there is no time to explain what is happening, and that if you don't just do as I say, then Voldemort will strike a major blow and people we care about will die."

Ron and Hermione, obviously incapable of extending this trust, immediately began arguing to be told the details. For a brief moment, Harry missed the instant compliance of his basilisks. Goddammit!

"Goddammit!" Apparently he hadn't just thought it; nevertheless, it—or perhaps his furious glare—shut his friends up. "I need to get to Headquarters. Ron, Hermione, there is no time to waste arguing. I need you to distract Umbridge and her Junior Death Eater Squad; they cannot have a moment's peace to wonder where I am. Use the DA if you have to. Do you bloody understand?"

Ron and Hermione nodded and drew their wands; almost on cue, their jaws set and their eyes hardened as they suddenly switched into action mode. There's the Gryffindors I know and love! Hermione withdrew her DA coin and changed the writing; Harry felt his coin heat up in his pocket, but didn't bother looking at it, choosing to trust that she and Ron would be able to work something up without his further input. Ron and Hermione sprinted to the main stairway, presumably headed to the Room of Requirement. While Harry didn't really need a diversion, it would give Ron and Hermione something to do, and more importantly keep them out of his way. Harry drew his own wand and sprinted in the opposite direction, intending to get to the Chamber of Secrets.

Unfortunately, Harry's communication mirror was in his trunk in Gryffindor Tower, so he had to get to Number 12 Grimmauld Place in person, and that meant using a Portkey. However, in the wake of the third task of the Triwizard Tournament, anti-Portkey spells had joined the anti-apparation spells that covered the Hogwarts grounds. Fortunately, those spells did not penetrate to the depth of the Chamber of Secrets, making it the closest point from which Harry could use an outgoing Portkey.

As Harry approached the second floor girl's loo, he heard a muffled explosion, which sounded like it had come from the other side of the castle. Harry grinned, imagining Umbridge and her Malfoy-led student flunkies trying to contain whatever mischief the DA had undoubtedly unleashed, and felt a rush of affection for his friends.

Savage grin still in place, Harry slammed through the loo door, already hissing at the tap. Without breaking his stride, Harry hurled himself into the still-opening portal, ordering it to close as he slid down the slide.

Moments later, Harry appeared in the kitchen of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, staggering and dizzy from the method of transport, but he managed (just barely) to keep his feet. He tossed aside the rock that had served as his Portkey, and began screaming as loud as he could.

"SIRIUS!" Harry cried out, praying that Voldemort was trying to trick him. "SIRIUS! BLOODY FUCKING ANYONE!"

Despairing, Harry ran through the house, screaming Sirius's name and ignoring the portrait of Sirius's mum, which had apparently decided that making noise was the cool new thing to do. He was just about to give up and Portkey back to Hogwarts when Padfoot thundered down the stairs, with his tongue lolling out and his eyes wide with panic from Harry's desperate calls. He was covered in what appeared to be hippogriff feathers—was he in the attic wrestling with Buckbeak?!—which remained embedded in Sirius's hair when he turned back into a human.

"Harry!" Sirius exclaimed, drawing his wand and looking around for whatever had gotten Harry so worked up. "What's wrong? What are you doing here?"

"Thank God!" Harry cried, collapsing against Sirius in relief. "I thought...Kreacher...I'm so glad you're here!"

"Harry, what's going on?" Sirius urged, pocketing his wand to support his godson with both hands.

"No time," Harry insisted, shaking his head. "Contact Dumbledore, get him here as soon as you can. It's an emergency, and it has to do with the Department of Mysteries."

Sirius earned Harry's instant gratitude when he complied immediately, rather than asking any additional questions. He drew his wand and cast his Patronus, which unsurprisingly took the form of a large silver dog. The dog nodded once at Sirius, then appeared to leap through the wall, presumably going off to alert Dumbledore.

"I didn't know that a Patronus could carry a message," Harry remarked, impressed. He'd really have to learn that one; there were probably more useful spells, but Harry couldn't think of any off the top of his head, especially if he could make his Patronus relay messages in Parseltongue. "Did you tell him to come here?"

"Yes," Sirius replied, pushing Harry into an armchair. Somehow, the two wizards had made their way into the living room without Harry noticing. "Now, tell me what's going on."

"One last thing, first," Harry responded, eyeballing Sirius's wand, which had found its way onto an end-table a few feet away when Sirius had flopped onto the couch. I can probably do it. He'll be mad, but I can't have him going off and getting himself killed.

"Incarcerous!" Harry intoned, pointing his wand at Sirius. Sirius's eyes went wide in shock at the apparent betrayal, but he was too close to dodge the spell, and his wand wasn't even in his hand to cast a shield. Harry's conjured roped wrapped Sirius tightly, pinning his arms to his sides and tying his legs together.

"Harry, what—"

"Petrificus totalus," Harry interrupted, and Sirius went rigid as the Full Body-Bind took effect. "Sorry, Sirius, but I can't have you go running off half-cocked. This is just to keep you here, where you're safe. I'll free you once Dumbledore sorts things out, and not a bloody moment before that."

"May I ask what things require sorting, Mister Potter?"

Harry spun, his wand already up and blazing with barely-restrained spellfire. When he saw who had spoken, though, his wand arm dropped to his side and his shoulders slumped in relief. Before him stood Albus Dumbledore, wearing a characteristically eye-watering chartreuse robe covered in what appeared to be dancing maroon radishes.

"Mister Dumbledore," Harry sighed tiredly, nevertheless grinning at his own cheek. The stress was taking its toll, and he was already exhausted from his ultimately failed attempt to prevent Voldemort from breaking through his mental defenses. That said, he wasn't going to miss the rare opportunity to parley on an even level with Albus Dumbledore. "Hogwarts isn't what it was, I'm afraid."

"Oh?" Dumbledore asked, raising his eyebrows in mock surprise. "How so?"

"You see, just now I was in my History of Magic O.W.L. exam," Harry replied casually. "Imagine my surprise when my exam was rudely interrupted. The new Headmistress can't even guarantee a peaceful testing environment. Very unprofessional, in my opinion."

"Is that so?" Dumbledore said, still choosing to ignore the fact that Sirius remained bound on the floor. "I imagine that this interruption gave you reason to doubt your godfather's safety?"

"Indeed," Harry confirmed. "Kreacher was most unhelpful, and with Professor McGonagall incapacitated, there were no Order members at Hogwarts that I could trust. It seemed most prudent to verify his status for myself."

"Professor Snape has my complete confidence and trust, Mister Potter," Dumbledore countered, sounding almost disappointed that Harry had not gone to the Potions professor.

Like hell I'd go to that pillock.

"Unfortunately, Mister Dumbledore, Snape will never gain my confidence or trust," Harry replied, uninterested in reigniting the age-old argument over Snape. "Anyway, we digress."

"Understood," Dumbledore sighed, before his eyes sharpened. No more dicking around, I guess. "Why, precisely, did you have Mister Black summon me?"

"Well, that interruption I mentioned," Harry said casually, enjoying the chance to turn Dumbledore's indirect, winding discourse back on the man; it was equally obvious that Dumbledore was not appreciating having his own bullshit aimed in his direction when he was trying to get a straight answer. Annoying as all hell, isn't it, old man? "It was actually caused by a former pupil of yours. Awful fellow, that Tom Riddle. Gave me quite a headache, too. Very inconsiderate, especially since he was trying to convince me to stop by the Ministry to pick up a bauble for him."

"Harry, I need details. Please, tell me—"

"Mister Dumbledore," Harry interrupted, not bothering to hide how happy he was to be able to throw this in Dumbledore's face, and rather enjoying the way Dumbledore's twinkling eyes dimmed a little bit. "I would love to be of more help. Unfortunately, since I have not been entrusted with any information—even after Snape, in whom you have such high confidence and trust, certified my skill at occlumency—about the state of the conflict with Voldemort and his forces, I lack any context for what I saw during my History of Magic exam. So, what I am going to do now is sit right here, and keep my godfather from being involved in anything that can get him killed or sent back to prison."

"Harry, Sirius is a member of the Order of the Phoenix," Dumbledore protested, moving past the search for information to the search for redshirts for his inevitable assault on the Ministry. "He would want to help. You can trust me to keep him safe."

"I don't care," Harry snapped, not interested in negotiating. "Your idea of keeping people safe is Dark Lord bait, basilisks, dragons, and murder-mazes. Sirius is all I've got, and that trumps your bloody Order. If you want to go to the Department of Mysteries, be my guest, but Sirius stays here, where I can keep him safe. That is the price of the warning that I have delivered...at no small risk to my continued academic career and freedom, I might add."

"Harry, you must—"

"No, whatever you were about to say, I must not," Harry said firmly, letting out his frustration with Dumbledore's methods and finding it quite cathartic. "You are not my headmaster, and you have made it very clear that I am not needed in your vigilante organization, despite the fairly large pile of evidence to the contrary. Anyway, right now, you're just a private wizard trying to convince me to risk my godfather's life. I just did you a huge favor. Use the information or don't; I don't care. But don't think you can order me around. Maybe if you get Hogwarts back, but not bloody well until then."

"Very well," Dumbledore said. His face looked older, more worn, and his eyes were no longer twinkling at all. "I shall make my way to the Ministry of Magic, then."

"Good luck, Mister Dumbledore," Harry said. Dumbledore nodded, and tossed some Floo powder into the fireplace, and disappeared in a flash of green flames.

The Daily Prophet's headlines the next morning said it all, though Harry was already fully aware of what had happened the night before, having been kept up-to-date by numerous Order members moving in and out of Sirius's house throughout the night. The short version was that Voldemort was now out in the open, Fudge's days in office were numbered, Delores Umbridge was missing, and Albus Dumbledore was once again in charge of pretty much everything in wizarding Britain. The long version was somewhat more complex.

Apparently, Ron and Hermione had gathered the entire DA, which had set off every single Wheeze they could find (apparently, Fred and George had entrusted Lee Jordan with a fairly large cache of fireworks, which had mysteriously found its way to...well, everywhere), and Umbridge had run herself ragged trying to catch the culprits. Unfortunately for her, she eventually cornered Hermione and Ron, who had spun a tale that had led Umbridge down to the Forbidden Forest to find "Dumbledore's Secret Weapon." She had managed to escape Grawp's clutches, but had run directly into a herd of centaurs, and had, quite predictably, managed to offend and infuriate the normally sedate creatures into a frothing rage within moments. That was the last that anyone had seen of her. Harry was fairly annoyed that he would be unable to take his own revenge on the toad, but realized that it was probably for the best.

Meanwhile, Dumbledore had gathered most of the Order and stormed the Ministry, where they encountered about a dozen Death Eaters and Voldemort. Their running battle began in the Hall of Prophecy (which was essentially destroyed), and raged through the entire Department of Mysteries before the first wave of Aurors arrived. At that point, the Death Eaters and Voldemort fell back to the Atrium, where Voldemort held off Dumbledore while his followers escaped. The Minister, the remainder of the DMLE, and about a dozen reporters arrived just in time to watch Lucius Malfoy murder Auror John Dawlish with a Killing Curse, before Voldemort grabbed Bellatrix Lestrange and Lucius Malfoy and apparated them out of the building.

Miraculously, Dawlish was the only one of the "good guys" (though his penchant for following Umbridge's orders left that slightly in doubt) who had been killed, though several Aurors and Order members had been wounded. All of the Death Eaters except Augustus Rookwood (who had been mortally wounded by a stray dark severing curse, courtesy of Antonin Dolohov) had escaped, though it had been made clear that several "upstanding purebloods" had been among the Death Eaters. The other major casualty, therefore, was Fudge's political career, which had died a spectacular death in the green flash of Lucius Malfoy's Avada Kedavra. Almost overnight, Harry and Dumbledore were heroes again.

Among the Order of the Phoenix, though, Harry's stock was somewhat diminished. The tale of his disrespect toward Dumbledore and his imprisonment of Sirius somehow seemed to outweigh the fact that if it hadn't been for Harry's intervention, Voldemort would have completed his objective with nobody the wiser, and the Ministry would still be denying his return. Sirius had initially been furious with Harry, who had spent virtually all evening standing over Sirius's prone body with his wand drawn, preventing any Order members from freeing Sirius to join the battle; however, he had quickly cooled down when he accepted Harry's reasons for doing it. Nevertheless, Harry found himself the target of a merciless prank campaign, but he was okay with that as long as it meant that Sirius was still around.

Harry returned to Hogwarts via Floo to Professor McGonagall's office during breakfast, and he entered the Great Hall during the height of the uproar over the newspapers. The Great Hall fell absolutely silent as Harry walked to the Gryffindor table, where Hermione and Ron had faithfully saved him a seat. He casually greeted his friends, and helped himself to a veritable mountain of toast, bacon, and scrambled eggs, pointedly ignoring the incredulous stares and dropped jaws of every student and professor.

"Bloody hell, mate," Ron commented dryly, nodding toward Harry's virtually overflowing plate. "A little hungry this morning?"

Harry chewed thoughtfully, nodding slightly as he swallowed. "Had a bit of a busy night, mate," Harry replied, before savoring another forkful of salty, greasy breakfast food.

"Fair 'nuff, mate," Ron said with a shrug, turning back to his own food. "Try the kippers, they're especially good today."

Jaws dropped a little lower.

"Honestly, you two," Hermione huffed, rolling her eyes. "Would it kill you to put a vegetable on your plate?"

The three basked in the collective shock and disbelief of their classmates and teachers for lasted about ten seconds, before breaking into great gales of laughter. And just like that, Hogwarts was home again.

The remainder of term was spent in relative relaxation for the fifth-years. The O.W.L.s functioned as their end-of-term exams, so they were done with their classes; though their professors suggested getting a jump start on their summer homework, even the most industrious students (including Hermione) were far too burned out from the exams to even consider doing homework.

The DA met every other evening, in the light of the "official" return of Voldemort; aside from that, Harry mostly split his time between the basilisks and his closest friends. Two nights before the Leaving Feast, however, Professor McGonagall directed Harry to the headmaster's office. No explanation was given—but then, when had Albus Dumbledore ever felt the need to explain himself?—although Harry assumed that Dumbledore would be giving him his usual marching orders for the summer.

He was initially surprised, therefore, when Dumbledore instead presented him with the contents of the prophecy that Voldemort had been looking for in the Department of Mysteries, along with the admission that his evasion of Harry for the last year had been ill-considered. Dumbledore apparently understood that Harry no longer trusted his judgment (or him in general), and intended to work on regaining that trust. Immediately thereafter, of course, Harry was informed (in a voice that Dumbledore apparently believed brooked no argument) that Harry would be returning to Number 4 Privet Drive, where he would stay for a few weeks, before being allowed to go to the Burrow. Apparently, Dumbledore's desire to regain Harry's trust did not extend to acting on the confirmed rumor that the Dursleys mistreated Harry, or even the clearly absurd notion of giving Harry any choice in what his own summer plans would be, regardless of the fact that Harry had easy access to his godfather and the most secure house in the country.

In any case, Harry had no intention of abandoning his basilisks for the entire summer; for one thing, he was far too fond of them to simply stay away, and from a tactical standpoint, he needed to be able to deploy them at a moment's notice. In preparation, he created dozens of two-way Portkeys down in the Chamber. Since a spell was only cast in the creation of a Portkey, and not in its use, this would allow Harry to move around without alerting the ever-watchful Ministry.

The day after Harry returned to Number 4, the Daily Prophet's headlines spurred a change to Harry's battle plan.

According to the Daily Prophet, Voldemort and his forces had kicked off the summer with several high-profile murders, including Order member Emmeline Vance, who was brutally tortured—vivisected, really—and Portkeyed into the Ministry Atrium, just in time to gasp out one final breath from her ruined lungs. Perhaps even more worryingly, Voldemort detonated the Brockdale Bridge, killing scores of defenseless muggles; the act itself was horrible, and to compound matters, it strained the Ministry's capacity to clean up and maintain the Statute of Secrecy. As a result of this spate of insurgent activity, Rufus Scrimgeour, who had replaced Fudge as Minister (as Fudge had been ousted the very next day after the battle at the Department of Mysteries) authorized substantial bounties, plus one half of the liquid value of all legally seized assets, for the capture or justifiable killing of marked Death Eaters, and a truly massive bounty for the capture or killing of the Dark Lord Voldemort.

This announcement provided a significant incentive to make it clear to the public that he was responsible for the deaths of Voldemort and his followers. After all, Harry's parents had left him some money, but not enough to live forever. Anyway, Harry saw no reason why he should not be compensated for doing the DMLE's job, so he intended to collect whatever bounties he could.

That said, as much as Harry wanted to kill Voldemort and the Death Eaters in one fell swoop, Harry also wanted to capture Peter Pettigrew alive, in order to clear Sirius's name. Thankfully, the events of Harry's second year at Hogwarts provided a perfect method to capture—rather than kill—virtually any target. Basically, all Harry needed to do was provide his basilisk strike force with some method of partially filtering (via refraction or reflection) their otherwise lethal gaze, and he could deliver the captured Death Eaters to the Ministry and collect the bounties.

Thus, on Harry's first Portkey trip back to the Chamber of Secrets, he found himself transfiguring two dozen monocles and affixing one over each basilisk's right eye via a sticking charm. The result was a strict increase in tactical flexibility; since the basilisks could open or close each eye's nicitating membrane independently, filtering one eye would give each basilisk the option to either capture (by only opening the membrane of the right eye) or kill (by only opening the membrane of the left eye). The secondary benefit of this plan was that he would be able to capture Peter Pettigrew and clear Sirius's name, while the tertiary benefit was that no innocent bystanders would be killed.

Harry could just petrify everyone, sort the targets in the Chamber, allow his basilisks to kill any marked Death Eaters (except Pettigrew), deliver the corpses and still-alive Pettigrew to the DMLE, and let the Ministry sort it all out while he collected his cash. A true win-win situation.

This slight change in the plan did not really require much extra training for the basilisks, but Harry nevertheless drilled them for several hours on switching between petrifying and killing their targets on that first visit, and dedicated at least an hour to the topic for the next few subsequent visits.

Meanwhile, Harry sent a message to Scrimgeour, requesting a meeting. He pointed out that it was critical that they spoke in person as soon as possible, establishing his own importance by not-so-subtly alluding to the events in the Hall of Prophecy. Scrimgeour's response was virtually immediate (in fact, it arrived via house-elf, before Hedwig even got back), and it contained a standing invitation to his office at any hour, day or night; he had provided a standing order to the security officers at the Ministry that if Harry should arrive at the Ministry, then the Minister was to be summoned immediately. At Harry's next trip to Hogwarts, he simply donned his father's cloak of invisibility, walked through the halls to Professor McGonagall's office, and used her fireplace to Floo to the Ministry Atrium.

The silence was thunderous, punctuated by the conspicuous ticking of a wall clock, as two wizards—one young and pale with messy black hair, one old and scarred with a graying tawny leonine mane—stared each other down. Finally, the older wizard sighed; as much as he hated to lose a contest like this, he was a busy man. Hell, poor Weasley was probably pissing himself over paperwork outside the office, not to mention a million other actual concerns.

"Mister Potter," Rufus Scrimgeour finally rumbled, conceding that, as galling as it was, he did in fact, need Potter more than Potter needed him. "I am glad that you agreed to meet me at my office. It will do wonders for morale to see you in and around the Ministry. In fact, I already contacted Headmaster Dumbledore about meeting with you, but he informed me that you were neither interested nor available."

Wonders for morale, and for your bloody approval ratings. Not that Harry gave a shit; if there was one thing that the last year had taught him, it was that he did not care at all about the Ministry or anyone who worked there. He had once wanted to be an Auror, but that ambition was long dead and buried. Now he just wanted to survive the war, and preferably get a decent cut of the massive wealth redistribution that was sure to follow (after all, the Hat had wanted him in Slytherin for a reason). As for Dumbledore, Harry was entirely unsurprised that the old man had once again interfered "in Harry's best interest."

"I'm glad to help, Minister," Harry deadpanned, not interested in bullshitting the man; both wizards knew Harry wasn't there to boost morale, and both knew that Scrimgeour didn't care about morale anyway. "I'm sure you're busy, so I will get to the point, sir. I know you're aware of the events in the Department of Mysteries. I'll save you the speculation, and confirm the rumors: there was a prophecy made in 1980 that named me as the only person capable of defeating Voldemort for good. If you need independent verification, ask Dumbledore; you'll know it's true by how hard he'll try to deflect your questions. And, speaking of Dumbledore, you should know that he never deigned to inform me of your request, and that he does not speak for me."

The Minister sighed, having suspected as much, and having no intention of bothering to deal with the Headmaster/Chief Warlock/Supreme Mugwump; talking to Dumbledore was like talking to a brick wall with a superiority complex...though it was nice to hear that Potter took issue to being handled by the old goat. Meanwhile, he fully expected Potter to demand something ridiculous, like being trained by the Aurors, or inducted into the Unspeakables—after all, Potter was just a kid, and all that "Chosen One" bullshit had to have gone to his head.

"The prophecy also happens to state that I will have a power that Voldemort does not," Harry continued. "Dumbledore, in his infinite wisdom, believes that this power is 'love,' because Dumbledore is insane, senile, or both. Thankfully, the power in question is somewhat more...realistic."

"Well, that's good to hear," Scrimgeour replied sarcastically. "So you think you're going to kill the most skilled and dangerous Dark Lord in history in a duel?"

"Hell no," Harry snorted. "I wouldn't go wand-to-wand with that psychopath again for all the gold in Gringotts. I'm going to capture or kill him in an ambush, and turn him in for the bounty and half of all of his gold. Same with all of his followers."

"Then why, exactly, did you feel the need to meet with me?" Scrimgeour asked, impatience and frustration barely restrained by the need to keep the Potter brat a friend of his administration. "By all means, go ahead and bring the bastards in, then...if you think you actually can."

"There's the rub, Minister," Harry said casually, leaning back in his chair. "The methods I will need to use are...well, some might consider them contrary to several laws currently on the books. Given my somewhat rocky history with the Ministry of Magic, you can understand why I will therefore take no action whatsoever until I have blanket immunity from prosecution, in writing, for any and all actions I take up to and including the capture and disposition, including killing, of Tom Riddle—also known as Voldemort—and any and all of his marked Death Eaters."

Silence reigned once more.

"Some people would call it immoral to barter your own responsibility against peoples' lives like that," Scrimgeour responded tightly. Who the hell did Potter think he was, to dictate the terms of his own prophecy-bound duty? "Some people would call it treason, in fact, especially when you're going to be making yourself above the law."

"Some people would also call it entirely prudent, especially considering how the government—this very office, in fact—and its media mouthpiece have spent the last year slandering me, torturing me with a blood quill, and trying to murder me with a pair of Dementors...all in direct defiance of its own laws," Harry snapped. "I hate Voldemort enough to fight against him, but not enough to risk my life or freedom for a community that treats me like a delusional criminal, and sure as shit not enough to do so for free. As far as I am concerned, magical Britain and Voldemort deserve each other. I gave you my terms, and they are not negotiable. If you won't meet them, then with all due respect, Minister, fuck you, and fuck magical Britain. Fight your own damn Dark Lord."

With that, Harry got up and turned to leave. He fully expected Scrimgeour to cave—however proud the man may be, he must be reasonable enough to realize that Harry's proposal was obviously the lesser of two sins—but Harry was also fully prepared to abandon the fight if he wasn't protected from the legal consequences of his actions. Two dozen flagrant violations of the Ban on Experimental Breeding—not to mention all the murders—would likely see him in Azkaban for the rest of his life, and the satisfaction of taking down Voldemort would simply not be worth the risk.

"Where are you going?" Scrimgeour practically cried out, eyes wide in surprise. He had clearly misjudged the situation—Potter apparently had more balls than any fifteen-year-old should, and actually seemed willing to stay out of the war entirely unless his demands were met. And if Potter was telling the truth about the blood quill and Dementors (and knowing Delores Umbridge and Cornelius Fudge, Scrimgeour suspected that he was) then Scrimgeour couldn't even blame the kid.

"Well," Harry said, turning back to face the Minister; his hand had stopped an inch shy of the doorknob. "It's clear that you're not willing to bend on this, despite how simple and painless it would be for you, so I'm leaving...both this office and magical Britain. I've heard that Australia is nice. No Dark Lords there, and even if there was, I doubt he'd give a second thought to me."

"Fine, goddammit!" Scrimgeour spat. When it came down to it, pretty much anything would be worth taking down You-Know-Who; in this case, the end really would justify the means, whatever they were. Scrimgeour sure as hell wouldn't ask, and he didn't want to know. "Weasley!" Scrimgeour hollered. "Get in here, and bring a notary stamp!"

Harry and Scrimgeour spent nearly an hour haggling over the precise language of Ministerial Decree No. 1996-695A, Harry's "get-out-of-jail-free card." For Harry, the best part—aside from guaranteeing Harry's freedom from prosecution for anything illegal he had ever done or would do, up to and including the capture and delivery of Voldemort or his body, in the event that Harry killed him—was the sickened look on Percy Weasley's face as he faithfully transcribed and notarized the terms of the Decree. The ponce had been so smug about helping Fudge and Umbridge do their best to ruin Harry's life, and now here he was having to sign off on a document that effectively put Harry above the law.

Now all Harry needed was information...the place and time of the next Death Eater gathering. Luckily for him, he knew exactly where to find a Death Eater, and he had the perfect agent to keep track of him.

Kreacher spent the next several days invisibly and undetectably spying on Severus Snape. Harry had made his orders to the house-elf absolutely ironclad and airtight—there were no loopholes and there was zero wiggle room. Finally, Harry's orders paid off: a week after Harry returned to Privet Drive, Kreacher popped into Harry's bedroom and shook him awake.

"This had better be good," Harry snarled, as a glance at his alarm clock told him that it was just about 3:00 AM. "Report, now."

"Kreacher has seen the Potions Spy grab his arm in pain, then leave Hogwarts," Kreacher bit out, trying and failing to overcome Harry's new—and extensive—standing order on etiquette. "Kreacher followed him to the edge of the grounds, and then to Malfoy Manor in Wiltshire. Kreacher saw many other wizards in black cloaks arrive as well."

"Good," Harry replied, entirely unsurprised that the Malfoys were hosting Voldemort, while simultaneously scarcely believing that it was finally time. He handed a sheet of parchment and a quill to Kreacher. "Draw an accurate map of the manor and grounds in its current condition and configuration. Note any and all protections you know of or suspect."

Kreacher silently complied, and mere minutes later, Harry held a schematic that would impress most architects. Most importantly, it provided enough detail for Harry to target Portkeys to the area, and highlighted the rooms where the Death Eaters had gathered. Harry smiled grimly and grabbed a Portkey that would take him to Hogwarts before issuing one final set of orders.

"Kreacher, return to Malfoy Manor; do not allow yourself to be detected, do not communicate with anyone, and leave no evidence of your presence. Observe the Manor, and report back to me at Hogwarts, in the Chamber of Secrets, in ten minutes with the Death Eaters' exact numbers and locations. Go now."

Kreacher struggled briefly to find a way to rebel against Harry's orders, then scowled and disappeared with a pop when he failed. Harry gathered his invisibility cloak and the Marauder's Map, then activated a Portkey back to the Chamber of Secrets.

Harry ignored the nigh-overwhelming urge to give a Patton-esque motivational monologue to his army, and instead charmed two dozen rocks as two-way Portkeys, then stuck one to each basilisk with a sticking charm. Each Portkey would take its basilisk to Malfoy Manor; the basilisks could return at will by hissing "nest" in Parseltongue. This effort only took a few minutes, and Kreacher conveniently returned as Harry was describing the army's target (an enlargement charm on the map that Kreacher had provided allowed Harry to show the basilisks the target area), bringing news that the Death Eaters and Voldemort were congregated in the ballroom, which had plenty of space. Notably, the Manor—like Hogwarts—blocked apparation, but allowed Portkeys (apparently, the Dark Mark functioned as a Portkey); therefore, Harry saw no reason why the basilisks couldn't simply Portkey directly into the ballroom and begin their attack.

This required some fine-tuning of the Portkeys that Harry had already provided for the basilisks, but it was simple enough spellwork for someone who had obsessively and incessantly practiced Portkey creation for a few months. Finally, there was nothing else to do but to launch the attack, as delaying would only give the Death Eaters an opportunity to escape.

"Attack!" Harry hissed, and in the blink of an eye, his army of twenty-foot-long basilisks disappeared.

Draco Malfoy looked down proudly at the Dark Mark that now adorned his left arm. He had spent his entire life preparing for this night, and finally his devotion had been awarded. Honestly, it hadn't been that difficult to earn the mark; after all, killing a family of muggles wasn't like killing actual people. Really, the filthy animals couldn't even do magic; killing them was practically giving them a favor.

It was obvious to him that he was well on his way to standing at the Dark Lord's side, above even his father. Beside him, his friends and classmates—all of whom were below him in rank, of course, but there was always a place for the less worthy beneath him—admired their own Dark Marks. In one night, the Death Eaters had nearly tripled in number, as most of the of-age (or nearly-of-age) children of previously marked Death Eaters joined the ranks, along with purebloods (and a few half-bloods whose usefulness outweighed their inferior blood status) who were new to the cause.

Everything was falling into place; soon, the mudbloods and blood-traitors of the Ministry and Dumbledore's Order of the Phoenix would fall before the might of—

Five minutes later, Omega's tongue flicked out, tasting and smelling the presence of a house-elf, similar to the Master's filthy slave creature. She knew that, despite how puny the house-elves were, they had powerful magic, and she was therefore unwilling to allow the sniveling creature to taint the otherwise-perfect victory. There it is...

Almost lazily, Omega made eye contact with the house-elf, which instantly stiffened and fell to the floor. The elf was too dangerous to leave alive, since it might steal the targets away from the basilisks, so Omega simply swallowed the house-elf in one quick bite.

"Clear," Omega hissed, loudly enough to be heard throughout the large house. She was answered in kind by the rest of her brothers and sisters—who had spread out to search the house for any stragglers, as per their Master's orders—and slithered her way back to their entry point. Within a few minutes, all two dozen of the basilisks (all of whom were entirely unscathed, as none of the Death Eaters had even had enough time to cast a spell) were back in the ballroom. Each huge snake coiled around two or more of their petrified targets, and then a chorus of "Nest!" rang out. An instant later, every snake and human disappeared.

Harry paced anxiously in the Chamber of Secrets for nearly thirty minutes, constantly debating the merits of staying put versus Portkeying to Malfoy Manor. He had considered sending Kreacher as an observer, but there was simply too high of a risk that the treacherous little fiend would find some way to betray him, and at this stage, Harry was unwilling to leave anything to chance.

Suddenly, two dozen basilisks appeared in the Chamber. They immediately uncoiled, releasing their prisoners.

"Alpha!" Harry hissed loudly, drawing the attention of a pale green male basilisk with a scarlet crest. "Did you retrieve all the prisoners? Report!"

"Yes, Master," Alpha hissed back, sounding quite pleased to be speaking for the entire army. "The pale snake-man was captured as well, and Omega ate a house-elf. I ate a small snake, but I am still hungry."

Harry gasped in relief, and ordered the basilisks to stand guard over the prisoners as he systematically cast a stupefy, expelliarmus, and incarcerous at each prisoner, beginning with Voldemort; there was no fucking way that he would risk any of the prisoners escaping and depriving Harry of his perfect victory. Then he began lining up glass memory vials—charmed unbreakable, of course—next to each high-level target. He was not a master Legilimens, by any means, but petrified targets could not muster any resistance. Harry figured that he would start with Voldemort himself; it couldn't hurt to find out how exactly Tom had managed to keep his soul floating around after his body was destroyed the first time around.

But first, he was going to have a celebratory butterbeer and have Kreacher procure an elk for each basilisk, as a reward for a job goddamn well done.

The next morning, Rufus Scrimgeour took a note off of a snowy owl, which immediately stole the sausage link right off his fork and flew out the window.

"Cheeky bugger," the Minister of Magic muttered, opening the note and bringing his mug of coffee up to his mouth. Seconds later, the mug shattered on the floor, having dropped from Scrimgeour's hand as he stared at the note in shock. He read the note again, in its entirety. How is this possible? It's been less than a week!

"That cheeky bugger!" Scrimgeour whispered incredulously, no longer referring to the owl, but instead its owner. He looked at his wall clock, which noted the time as 7:00 AM.

"Weasley!" Scrimgeour bellowed. "Get a photographer here! Potter is going to be here in fifteen minutes, and he's bringing in a captured Death Eater!"

When Harry Portkeyed to the Ministry Atrium, he was greeted by a photographer, the Minister of Magic, and a squad of Aurors led by Kingsley Shacklebolt, who immediately took custody of Wormtail's petrified body.

"This is Peter Pettigrew," Harry declared loudly, looking pointedly at Scrimgeour. "A marked Death Eater, and the man who betrayed my parents, framed my godfather, murdered Cedric Diggory, and resurrected Voldemort just over a year ago. I expect that he will be tried immediately and questioned under Veritaserum in order to clear Sirius Black's name. As Black was unjustly and illegally confined to Azkaban for over a decade, and was then forced to endure life as a fugitive, it is only fair that the Ministry ensure that he is compensated...heavily."

"Very well, Mister Potter," Shacklebolt agreed in his deep, rumbling voice as he cuffed Pettigrew's hands together and searched him for a wand. "Is there a reason why Pettigrew's arms and legs appear to be broken...in four or five places each?"

"Well, I could say that it was because he put up a fight," Harry said, a vicious grin appearing on his face (a picture of this moment, taken by Rita Skeeter's photographer, would become the defining image of the incident), "but that would be a lie, because Pettigrew is a coward and a weakling. His limbs are in their current condition because he is an illegal rat animagus, and I didn't want to risk him accidentally escaping."

Shacklebolt and Scrimgeour winced at the implication that the DMLE had been penetrated by Voldemort's forces, but both knew enough that they didn't bother to refute it.

"I agree, Peter Pettigrew is a flight risk," Scrimgeour said, having had an idea. He stepped closer to Harry, clapping a hand on the boy's shoulder as he spoke. "Therefore, his trial will begin immediately. Weasley, send out a notice to the home of each Wizengamot member. Shacklebolt, get Croaker and his lads to wake this fool up, and take him directly to Courtroom Ten."

"I hope you know what you're doing, boy," the Minister murmured to Harry during the subsequent hubbub. "This had better not bite me in the ass. And how the hell do we wake him up?"

"Mandrake Draught, sir." Harry responded quietly as the Aurors and reporters scurried off to the courtroom. This was going far better than he had planned; in fact, Sirius might even be cleared before Dumbledore could interfere, and Harry might never have to go back to Privet Drive again. "If justice is served today, then you won't need more of it; the rest of the Death Eaters and Voldemort will be delivered DOA. If not...well, I'm sure that the DMLE, with all its resources, can come up with a way to capture or kill Voldemort and his followers. Oh, and I'd appreciate it if the bounty was deposited directly into my Gringotts account."

Scrimgeour was a savvy politician, and it was clear that Potter wasn't really requesting that outcome; rather, he was demanding it. It was even possible that Potter had captured more of Voldemort's followers—or even Voldemort himself, though that was highly unlikely—and was using this Black-Pettigrew issue (which he clearly cared about, given that Black was the boy's godfather) as a way to test the Ministry on its response to the Death Eaters. With Potter's continued participation in the war at stake, Scrimgeour could not allow events to unfold except as Potter had demanded.

The bulk of the trial went extremely quickly, once Croaker rustled up a dose of Mandrake Draught that had been left over from the events of Harry's second year at Hogwarts. The majority of the wealthy purebloods that might have shielded Pettigrew (as an act of solidarity with a fellow Death Eater) by arguing in favor of the tried and true Imperius-defense were already lying in the Chamber, petrified and awaiting delivery to the Ministry. Though Dumbledore made it in time to attend the trial and cast his vote, he did nothing but give Harry strange looks...until sentencing, that is.

Many Wizengamot members—Dumbledore included—were calling for Pettigrew to be thrown into Azkaban. However, all noise ceased when Harry stood and walked to the courtroom floor.

"Azkaban is not an option," Harry began bluntly. A few Wizengamot members made to argue, but Harry simply glared at them until the room fell into a tense silence. Other than that, nobody stopped him, so it either wasn't against the rules for him to speak, or nobody cared about the rules because he was Harry Potter. "Voldemort has already proven that he is able to free his followers from that prison with impunity. The Dementor guards have already abandoned their posts, and serve Voldemort. Anyway, Azkaban should not be used for Death Eaters. Remember the crimes that each Death Eater has committed! Murder, rape, arson, robbery...the list is as long as the criminal code; if it's a law, they've broken it. For any and all of these crimes, a criminal can be sentenced to imprisonment or even the Dementor's Kiss. But a marked Death Eater is guilty of even higher crimes: espionage, sedition, and treason. Can anyone argue that fact? They are not just terrorists, they are traitors to their country and their fellow witches and wizards. They are not redeemable! There is one sentence for these crimes, the world over: death!"

"We must not do this!" Dumbledore shouted, quieting the immediate uproar of support for Harry's impromptu speech. His eyes blazed, and he practically radiated power and authority. "I agree that Azkaban is no longer an option, but—"

"But what?" Harry challenged, shocking everyone present but Scrimgeour. Given the widespread perception (which Dumbledore had not-so-subtly reinforced over the years) that Harry Potter's morals closely aligned with his own, the Wizengamot was even more shocked what followed. "If we kill them, we're down at their level? Grow up. Imprison the Death Eaters anywhere, and they'll be free in a week, and what will you tell the families of their next victims? That you didn't want to make the necessary hard choice, because killing traitors outright is somehow morally worse than sending them to a prison where they're tortured into insanity? Stop allowing one old man to dictate morality to you like you're a bunch of schoolchildren, and make the choice for yourselves. The Death Eaters have always been either imprisoned or released with pardons—all with Dumbledore at the head of the Wizengamot, preaching mercy—and you've seen how well that worked out. Continuing that same course is choosing to make no choice, to do nothing. The good people of magical Britain need to stand up and take some responsibility now, because there comes a point where continuing to do nothing means they're not good people anymore."

Five minutes later, Peter Pettigrew was thrown unceremoniously through the Veil of Death in the Department of Mysteries. Riding the tide of the moral high ground, Harry called for and received an immediate in absentia trial for Sirius Black; after all, Fudge's "Kiss on Sight" order was still technically in force, and the Wizengamot could hardly expect Sirius to trust them enough to come in for a trial in person. Sirius's trial lasted about a minute; in light of Peter Pettigrew's testimony, Sirius was unanimously proclaimed innocent of all charges, and was directed via owl post and WWN broadcast to make contact with the Minister of Magic to negotiate compensation.

Harry was extremely pleased with how events had unfolded; in one fell swoop, he had cleared Sirius's name and freed himself from Privet Drive forever. Getting revenge on Pettigrew was a nice bonus, too. He couldn't stick around to enjoy his victory, however; having noticed that Dumbledore was striding angrily toward him from across the courtroom, Harry decided that discretion was the better part of valor.

"Tomorrow morning, same time, same place," Harry muttered to Scrimgeour as he made his escape to the elevator. "The rest of the Death Eaters, all dead on arrival."

Scrimgeour's eyes—wide with surprise, excitement, and vindictive pleasure—were the last thing Harry saw before the elevator doors closed, as he ascended to the Atrium to Portkey away.

Harry did not return to Privet Drive after the chaos at the Ministry. Unsurprisingly, Fawkes was still able to find him—appearing in the Chamber with a whoosh of flame—to deliver a veritable stack of missives from Dumbledore, Harry's friends, and an extremely excited and grateful Sirius Black.

Dumbledore's note, as expected, contained—phrased as wise suggestions that any reasonable person would surely follow, of course—an admonishment against acting alone, condemnation for going against his order to remain with the Dursleys, and instructions to get back in line. Harry, of course, ignored this letter entirely.

Fred and George Weasley sent a short note congratulating Harry on a successful prank; Harry penned a short response telling them to "Just wait until tomorrow."

Hermione and Ron sent a joint message begging for details—which Harry of course had no intention of providing—and congratulating him on his efficient capture and use of Peter Pettigrew, along with a heartwarming pledge to help him out ("You need someone to watch your back, mate!"). Harry wrote back that there would be no further risk, as long as the Ministry cooperated tomorrow.

Similarly, Fawkes had also carried a plea from Molly and Arthur Weasley to be careful, noting that it shouldn't be his sole responsibility to clean up their society's mess; they also, as expected, begged him to come stay at the Burrow, where it was safe and he could at least get a good meal ("You're too thin, dear!"). Harry responded that he would be as safe as possible, and his current hideout was well-stocked with food (a lie, but he could always count on nicking food from the kitchens).

Sirius and Remus congratulated him on his success with Wormtail, told him to keep up the good work and come to Grimmauld Place when he was done; as far as they were concerned, Sirius was his rightful guardian, and now he could take Harry in officially. Harry was so excited by this prospect that his penmanship—already pretty bad—was almost illegible in his acceptance of Sirius's offer.

"Go on, Fawkes," Harry said, tying the stack of responses to the phoenix's outstretched leg. "And feel free to peck Dumbledore for me."

After that, Harry spent the rest of the night continuing his legilimency examinations of the captured Death Eaters, including Snape, which finally revealed that Snape was effectively a triple agent; ultimately, Snape was loyal only to himself, and planned to side with the winner of the war. He made sure to get several copies of the memories that proved this fact (along with several that showed Snape committing murder after murder without any remorse), to throw in Dumbledore's face when the old man inevitably confronted Harry about killing the spy.

He also took the time to plunder the minds of Draco Malfoy and the other Junior Death Eaters, gathering proof that each had committed at least one murder to earn the Dark Mark. According to Voldemort's memories, earning the Dark Mark required each prospective Death Eater to commit a murder, because the Dark Mark was actually a modified form of the horcrux ritual. Riddle had investigated the horcrux ritual while still at Hogwarts, but had only made one horcrux—the diary—before he concluded that modifying the ritual to sacrifice a small portion of each follower's magic would be a safer way to anchor his soul to the mortal plane, as opposed to committing the murders himself to split his own soul into fragments.

The bottom line was that Voldemort had managed to keep his soul tethered to each Dark Mark, which meant that he would never truly die until every marked Death Eater was dead. Harry knew that he might need to reveal that fact in order to justify his wholesale slaughter of the Death Eaters (or, at least, the ones who were not yet of-age), but it would be best to keep it quiet until then, to try to cut down on copycats. In any case, Harry had scoured Voldemort's vulnerable mind, and had accounted for every Death Eater as being dead or one of his prisoners (and soon to be dead). Finally, Harry ordered the basilisks to kill every Death Eater; within minutes, the basilisks had made eye contact with every Death Eater, and Voldemort was mortal for the first time since the 1940's.

Neville Longbottom got out of bed and opened his window, allowing Hedwig—who had been tapping loudly on the glass with her beak—to flutter inside.

"What's going on, Hedwig?" Neville asked. It was no secret that Harry often conversed with his owl (who admittedly seemed far more intelligent than any owl had any right to be) as though she was a person, and Neville figured he should extend the bird the same courtesy. The owl apparently appreciated the gesture, responding with a soft "hoo-oot," before offering the envelope tied to her left leg. Neville opened it, saw that it contained a brief note and a photograph, and decided to read the note first.


Consider the enclosed photograph an early birthday present.


Neville looked at Hedwig for clarification. Hedwig, being an owl, could only hoot softly, rub her head on Neville's hand, and fly back out the window.

Confused, Neville shuffled the photograph over the note...and gasped in shock, then laughed aloud.

"GRAN! Get in here, now!"

Neville turned his attention back to the photograph, immediately planning to frame it. Lying unnaturally still in the flickering light of an out-of-frame fireplace were the unmistakably-dead bodies of Bellatrix, Rabastan, and Rodolphus Lestrange.

"Thank you, Harry," he whispered.

The next morning, at precisely 7:15 AM, Harry appeared in the Ministry Atrium. Behind him, stacked like cord wood, were the corpses of nearly seventy Death Eaters. Each Death Eater had his or her face and Dark Mark fully exposed, leaving the waiting Aurors, Wizengamot members, and reporters flabbergasted at all of the familiar and unsuspected faces, and even more so at all the desperately feared ones.

Scrimgeour snapped his jaw closed after a moment of staring at Harry's savage, triumphant grin, and was the first to react, though he was unable to take the incredulous look off of his face.

"Well done, Mister Potter," he breathed, his eyes fixated on the corpses of the Lestrange Trio. "Your bounties will be deposited directly to your Gringotts account. I think it's clear to everyone here that you have earned it."

"Thank you, Minister," Harry said pleasantly, as though he wasn't standing in front of scores of corpses. "I think we should probably retire to your office. Chief Warlock, perhaps you should come with us, to represent the Wizengamot."

Dumbledore—who had been gazing furiously at Harry since the corpses of Severus Snape and the Junior Death Eaters had caught his eye—jerked his head in acknowledgment. Amelia Bones, the Director of the DMLE, followed along at Scrimgeour's nod. Together, Harry, Dumbledore, Scrimgeour, and Bones waded through the crowd and made their way to the Minister's office in tense silence.

"Explain yourself!" Dumbledore roared, eyes cold, as soon as the door closed behind them. "Several of those bodies were of Hogwarts students! And you knew full well that Severus Snape was a member of the Order of the Phoenix, and my spy in Voldemort's ranks!"

"I, too, would like to hear a reasonable justification for the homicides you have effectively confessed to, Mister Potter," Bones said curtly, her wand drawn cautiously. She was giving Harry a very wary look through her monocle, which was entirely reasonable, since she believed (entirely accurately, to be fair) that he had straight-up murdered nearly seventy people. "Why should we not prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law?"

"Well, there are four very good reasons why you shouldn't prosecute me," Harry began. "First, every single one of those corpses was a marked Death Eater—that alone is justification for killing them, rather than capturing them. Second, every Death Eater has to die, for reasons I will explain fully in a few moments. Third, you literally cannot prosecute me. I have blanket immunity for any and all actions I take up to and including the delivery of Voldemort's corpse, in accordance with Ministerial Decree No. 1996-695A. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly...well, as Dumbledore well knows, I am critical for the defeat of Voldemort, and if any legal action is taken against me—hell, if I see a single negative word anywhere near my name in the press—then you can all go fuck yourselves, and I'll happily read about Voldemort conquering Britain in the papers from Australia."

Dumbledore and Bones stared at Harry in shock. Scrimgeour, who had already been on the receiving end of this particular speech (and whose mood had been buoyed significantly by the pile of dead Death Eaters), was finding the humor in it for the first time.

"Clearly, I have underestimated you, Mister Potter," Dumbledore said, massaging his temples. "How did you...never mind, I believe that I do not want to know. Please, expound on why every Death Eater needed to die."

"Certainly," Harry agreed. "Are you all familiar with the horcrux ritual?"

Scrimgeour and Bones nodded grimly, and Dumbledore stiffened, staring at Harry's forehead.

"Come now, Professor, it's rude to stare," Harry said, amused by his transparency. "And don't worry, I have already ruled out the possibility that I am a horcrux; horcrux creation is a very complicated and specific ritual, and it was not performed before Voldemort attacked my family. My scar and its connection to Voldemort is simply the result of his Killing Curse having an unforeseen reaction with the sacrificial blood magic my mother invoked to protect my life. In fact, Voldemort only made one horcrux, which I destroyed three years ago."

"How do you know this?" Dumbledore breathed. The great secret, revealed and discounted in practically the same breath. How, then, would Voldemort be defeated?

"Alas, the first thing you ask me, I cannot tell you. Not today. Not now. You will know, one day…put it from your mind for now, Albus," Harry replied gleefully in a mockingly-grave tone. Scrimgeour and Bones did not understand the significance of the words, but Dumbledore looked like someone had slapped him with a fish, so they assumed—quite correctly—that Harry was throwing Dumbledore's typical cryptic pseudo-wisdom right back at him. "When you are older…I know you hate to hear this…when you are ready, you will know."

"Very well, Mister Potter," Dumbledore sighed. "Yes, I recognize that I have made drastic mistakes regarding my handling of you and this conflict. Please move on."

"Fine, fine, take away my fun," Harry groused, before getting back to business. "Anyway, Voldemort decided to stop making horcruxes after his first one, since he was afraid that splitting his soul multiple times might start to impact his magical ability. Still, in his mind, there was no such thing as too much immortality, so he came up with another plan. Namely, to outsource his horcrux creation...via the Dark Mark."

Scrimgeour gasped. "You don't mean to say—"

"...That the reason each Death Eater had to earn the Dark Mark with a murder was so that Voldemort could tie the magic they used to his soul with a modified form of the horcrux ritual, thus keeping his soul on the mortal plane as long as even one Death Eater remained alive?" Harry interrupted, somehow managing to get that all out in one breath. "Short answer: yeah, pretty much."

Dumbledore slumped into one of the chairs that sat opposite of the Minister's desk. "So Severus always had to die," he murmured.

"Yeah, a bit ironic, isn't it?" Harry sneered. "Considering how you were probably planning to sacrifice me, thinking that I was a horcrux. Don't be too sad, though; despite your constant and incredibly naive reassurances, Snape was never truly loyal to you; maybe sometime I'll show you some memories in a pensieve to prove it."

Dumbledore closed his eyes and sighed, certain that he would not be taking Harry up on that offer.

"Somehow, I doubt that makes him feel any better," Bones said. She, like many others, had always believed that Severus Snape should have been sent to Azkaban after his capture following Voldemort's first fall, and had always resented Dumbledore's interference in the case...even more so when she received reports from her niece about Snape's cruelty at Hogwarts. She certainly would not be mourning Severus Snape, or any of the Death Eaters; in fact, she was already entirely satisfied by Potter's explanation. "Though I should point out, Albus, that—on many occasions over the years, in fact—I bloody well told you so."

"Anyway, I don't see what your problem is with me killing the Death Eaters who weren't of-age," Harry continued. "Seeing as how you were willing to put my life in danger year after year, starting with leaving a toddler on someone's doorstep in the middle of the night in November. In any case, I think we've firmly established that they all signed their own death warrants when they murdered someone to get their Dark Marks."

Dumbledore winced as both the Minister of Magic and the Director of the DMLE turned sharply to glare at him. He was certain that they would be having words with him at some point in the near future, and it would likely have significant impact on his standing in the Wizengamot. Though both Amelia and Rufus were ostensibly on the side of Light, neither was a friend or ally of his, and both resented—perhaps rightfully so—the way his multiple positions gave him a wide political power base that he could use to push his own agendas.

"I agree, Mister Potter," Scrimgeour said. "There is no moral difference between our entire society pushing you—an underage wizard fresh from his O.W.L.s—to fight for them, and your killing of your counterparts who have taken the Dark Mark. The only functional difference is that you won and they lost. Albus, Amelia, it would be hypocritical of us to condemn Mister Potter for taking the necessary action, when it was our society's inaction that forced him to do so."

At that, Dumbledore stood, preparing to leave. Apparently, there was a limit to how much humble pie Dumbledore could eat in one sitting. Before he opened the door, he turned back for one last comment.

"Mister Potter, regarding Voldemort," Dumbledore said seriously. "Whatever your plan for him is...good luck. I hope you understand that everything I have done, I have done to attempt to defeat him."

With that, Dumbledore departed, and Amelia stood to leave as well. However, Harry motioned for her to sit back down.

"Director, you might as well stay; I'll only need a few more moments of your time, then I'm sure you'll have arrangements to make with the Minister," Harry said in explanation, causing Scrimgeour and Bones to lean forward in acute interest. "Tomorrow morning, I will arrive in the Ministry Atrium at 7:15 AM again. I will bring with me the corpse of Tom Riddle, also known as Lord Voldemort."

"Do you mean..." Bones whispered. "Is it already done?"

"Nearly," Harry replied. "I have him in my custody, petrified and bound so thoroughly that he cannot possibly escape...and even if he does, he will be killed immediately by the guards I left. I will execute him with the Killing Curse as soon as I leave here."

"Were you keeping the Dark Lord in reserve, in case we acted against you for killing the Death Eaters?" Scrimgeour asked, already knowing the answer. Inwardly, he was highly impressed by Potter's maneuvering, to say nothing of how pleased he was to hear that Voldemort was as good as dead. He made a mental note to make sure he never got in Potter's way.

"Yes," Harry said bluntly. "There was a contingency in place, in case I failed to return by midnight tonight, to dose Voldemort with Mandrake Draught and release him to start killing again. I could not risk the Ministry turning against me."

This, of course, was not entirely true; Harry would never let Voldemort go, and he would never trust Kreacher to be anywhere near Mandrake Draught for fear of some "accident" resulting in Voldemort's "inadvertent" release. However, he had been prepared to use Voldemort as a bargaining chip, in case the Ministry turned on him, and he was perfectly happy to maintain the perception that the Ministry should not fuck with him.

"In any case," Harry continued, all business. "The reporters will inevitably want to know how I killed Voldemort and the Death Eaters. I will tell them that the method is classified, and must remain so; I want you both to go on record and certify that I explained my method to your satisfaction, and that it shall remain classified for use against future Dark Lords. Nice and vague, and maybe it'll be a bit of a deterrent to would-be Dark Lords."

"Basically, you just don't want to be known for using the Killing Curse," Bones surmised, as Harry nodded. "Understandable. I agree, especially since it likely will function as a sort of deterrent; people will think that if there exists some secret magic which could defeat the most terrible Dark Lord in memory, then it could be used again."

Scrimgeour nodded his assent, and there was little else to be said. Harry strode from the room, made his way to the Atrium, and Portkeyed back to the Chamber of Secrets.

...he will have power the Dark Lord knows not...

Well, that was easy enough to arrange.

"Obliviate!" Harry cried, casting the Memory Charm point-blank at Voldemort's forehead. Harry thought back to Lockhart, and how that treatment was not enough. Instead, he concentrated on removing everything...every memory, every thought, every feeling. Silver-white light—the precise color of memory strands—flared between the tip of Harry's wand and Voldemort's snake-like visage, before fading away, leaving only a bright spot in Harry's vision and Voldemort's vacant, petrified eyes.

Just to confirm, Harry attempted to use legilimency again on Voldemort...only to find that there was nothing remaining in his mind. The Memory Charm had been successful. The Dark Lord literally knew nothing; virtually any power would satisfy the terms of the prophecy. Only one, though, felt right, felt complete.

"Let's take this full-circle, Tom," Harry said gravely, standing over his supine enemy. He kept his wand—holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches, nice and supple—pointed directly at Voldemort's forehead, over his right eye...where Harry had his scar. "Back to how it all began."

"Avada Kedavra."

A blinding green flash lit the Chamber of Secrets.



"Come on, Harry, get up!"

"Blurgh," Harry mumbled.

"Harry, come on, everyone is waiting for you!"

Groaning, Harry dragged himself upright.

"Happy birthday!" Sirius cried out in delight, grinning broadly. "Up and at 'em, Harry!"

I'm sixteen.

Not too long ago, he had been certain he would never survive this long. Of course, a few weeks ago, he had killed Voldemort, so the world was pretty much his oyster.

Though it would have been nice to keep sleeping.

Harry sent a disgruntled glare at Sirius.

If looks could kill...

Sirius was pleasantly surprised when the formerly-tired birthday boy broke out into laughter.

"What's so funny?"

Author's Note

I've hit writer's block regarding The Dementor and the Mind Game, primarily because I keep being distracted from writing. I figured I'd put out another one-shot, which should get me back into a writing frame of mind.

This one has been on my mind for a while; it always seemed strange to me that Tom Riddle—desperate as he was to forge links between himself and Salazar Slytherin—would not have bred an army of basilisks. He could have had a basilisk guarding each horcrux, or even turn a basilisk into a horcrux; it'd be better than Nagini—who seems to be just a big snake—since basilisks are resistant to most magic and appear to be biologically immortal (that is, they don't die of old age).

The "incredibly important facts" about basilisks are not canon, but there needed to be an explanation for how Slytherin and Riddle managed to survive for longer than about a second near a basilisk.

Honestly, I originally wanted to do this in 8,000 words, and it looked like it would be possible, since I cranked out the first 5,000 like a machine (admittedly, I was pretty buzzed at the time). Then, I started thinking about other things—like Harry trying to get something out of capturing or killing the Death Eaters and Voldemort—and things spiraled a bit out of control.