Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns Harry Potter.
A/N: If you're just joining us, this story is a sequel to The Accidental Animagus, which covers Years 1-4 at Hogwarts, and I've also published a companion piece titled The World of the Accidental Animagus, which showcases magic from around the world and introduces some secondary characters who will play a role in this story. This story will cover the duration of the wizarding war, which should be roughly Years 5-7.
The story so far: Harry is a cat-animagus and was adopted by the Grangers at age five. Harry and Hermione are self-taught wandless magic users. Sirius was freed from Azkaban in first year, and he and Harry are both active members of the Wizengamot. Fenrir Greyback was captured in third year. Four of Voldemort's horcruxes have been destroyed: the locket, diary, ring, and Harry's scar. Voldemort allied with a powerful dark witch from Mexico to resurrect him, which is getting the ICW involved in the war.
Pairings are Harry/Luna and Hermione/Neville.
Prime John Minister John Major entered his office on Monday, the twenty-sixth of June and was surprised to find his secretary had cleared his schedule for the morning. When he demanded to know why, she told him he had an emergency meeting with the Queen at nine o'clock, but to her own concern, she was unable to tell him what it was about. He dutifully rushed to Buckingham Palace only to find that Her Majesty didn't know what it was about either—only that Maxwell Barnett, the Royal Court Magician, had contacted her and said he needed to speak with both of them urgently.
Major was most concerned by that, but Mr. Barnett had always been a good sort, and Her Majesty trusted him implicitly, so he waited. However, they were both surprised when, promptly at nine o'clock, not one, but four wizards entered her office. That had certainly never happened before.
He recognised Mr. Barnett at once, as well of Minister for Magic Cornelius Fudge, much to his surprise. He thought those two wizards wouldn't be caught in the same room together given the difference in their attitudes towards non-magicals. The other two he didn't know. One was a woman with short, grey hair and a monocle, and the other was a man of similar age with an exotic look about him and oddly-coloured eyes. All of them looked very grave. They bowed to the Queen, although Fudge and the woman had the clueless look of foreigners who didn't know much about the etiquette.
"Good morning, Mr. Barnett," the Queen said. "Am I to take it from this extraordinary meeting that a matter of great concern has arisen?"
"Good morning, Your Majesty, Prime Minister, and I'm afraid it has," Barnett said. "Allow me to introduce Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic of Great Britain and Ireland, Amelia Bones, our Director of Magical Law Enforcement, and Edward Grayson, Ambassador-at-Large for Australia, who is lending his expertise in this matter."
Australia, then. Major had never met a foreign wizard, though he knew many had been in the country for their World Cup. They exchanged the usual greetings, and to Major's surprise, the Queen seemed to recognise the Ambassador.
"Ambassador Grayson," she said, "I believe we met once at the close of the Second World War."
"We did, Your Majesty," he replied, "and I've been pleased to spend a year in the United Kingdom again, though I wish it were under better circumstances."
"I see. And what circumstances have arisen that have led you to call this meeting? I was expecting to hear only a report on the conclusion of your Tetrawizard Tournament."
Fudge looked a little surprised that she knew about that, but he answered, "It's the conclusion of the Tournament that we need to talk to you about…Your Majesty. The—the third task was…"
"Was sabotaged, Your Majesty," Amelia Bones said. She seemed to pick up the thread faster. "I've compiled a preliminary report for you, of course. The two winning champions—the British champions—were kidnapped. I'm afraid Cedric Diggory was murdered, and Harry Potter made a narrow escape, returned to Hogwarts, and shouted to an audience of about five hundred that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had returned."
Both the Queen and Major tensed at that pronouncement. "The evil wizard you were fighting fifteen years ago?" Major said. "Isn't he the one you said Harry Potter defeated before?"
"Defeated, yes, but not killed, although we thought he had," Fudge said.
"Which I had informed you that Albus Dumbledore has been saying for some time," Barnett reminded them. "And for the record, Mr. Potter has testified that You-Know-Who's defeat on Halloween of 1981 was his mother's doing."
"Yes, but that's really beside the point," Fudge said. "He's back, and we need to prepare." He said this with an air of someone who was still trying to convince himself, and both of the muggles noticed.
"Do you have any proof of Lord Potter's claims, Mr. Fudge?" the Queen asked shrewdly.
Amelia Bones answered, "Besides his own testimony, only indirect, ma'am, but what we've been able to confirm is even worse."
"Worse?" Major said.
"Ambassador?" she said.
Grayson produced a small box and opened it, revealing a stone knife with a white handle. "This is a reproduction of the murder weapon that killed Mr. Diggory," he said. He handed it over for them to inspect closer. "The design is Aztec, but the construction is modern, as it was in the original. The handle is made from the finger bone of a dragon. Lord Potter's description of the murderer was very clear. It was a witch named Meztli Ocelotl, better known as La Pantera. She is as feared in Mexico as Lord Voldemort is here, and she is probably the world's most brilliant expert on sacrificial rituals. It would have been well within her means to return Voldemort to life."
Major looked up from the knife. "You said he wasn't dead."
"With magic, it's not always one or the other. The point is that the knife confirms Lord Potter's testimony that she was present, and thus, his claim that Voldemort is back should be considered trustworthy, too."
Barnett spoke up, "Ma'am, I can also confirm, since he's given me permission, that when I taught Lord Potter Occlumency, I saw in his mind that he faced You-Know-Who twice before Saturday night in various guises. He would not be likely to make such a mistake."
"Very well. What is being done in response?" the Queen asked.
"Well, ma'am, er…Dumbledore made a few suggestions…" Fudge said. "Bringing werewolves back into the fold of magical society, for example. Of course, we were already doing that, and without Greyback, You-Know-Who's recruitment there is stymied…But I'm not sure his other suggestions are politically tenable."
"Why not, Mr. Fudge."
"Ma'am, he suggested removing the dementors from Azkaban! Seems to think they're a security liability—"
"They are in my experience," Grayson cut in.
"Many of us disagree. And even if I did agree, what would we do with them? If they got loose, it would be even worse."
"There's an ICW reservation in northern Siberia," Grayson said calmly. "Britain isn't the first nation to deal with this problem, Mr. Fudge."
"Thank you for your advice, Ambassador," Fudge said sarcastically. "I don't suppose you have any suggestions about the giants, too?"
"Only that it couldn't hurt to talk with them."
"That's easy for you to say. You never had any in Australia. Around here, people have only one opinion about giants: they want them to stay in Russia, far away from us—"
"Mr. Fudge!" the Queen broke them up. "What is being done here?"
Fudge took a deep breath. "Amelia?" he said.
Bones flipped through some parchments. "Dumbledore informed me months ago that this was a possibility, ma'am," she said. "I mobilised what I could then, and I'm able to do much more now. Of course, Dumbledore's doing his own thing."
"And what is he doing?" the Queen asked.
"He calls it the Order of the Phoenix. It's an off-the-books intelligence-gathering organisation, or at least, that's what it's supposed to be. I understand they did quite a bit of fighting in the last war. I'll to speaking with him about it soon. I think he's under the impression that I don't know about it. I wouldn't normally stand for such vigilantism at all, except it's a legal grey area because he's the Chief Warlock. Anyway, that's a minor issue. My department is increasing security around our public spaces and critical infrastructure, and I'm trying to vet my own people better without causing too much disruption. Unfortunately, we're short-staffed. Recruitment's been down for the past decade."
"Why? Is there anything you can do about that?" Major asked.
"We have. We identified a choke point in…in what I believe you would call our educational pipeline for Aurors. We resolved it several years ago, which has increased our recruitment. Unfortunately, the people who benefited from the change are all fresh-faced recruits and trainees with only a year of experience under their belts. We're also investigating two possible jailbreaks and another kidnapping that we believe are related to the incident on Saturday, which is eating up additional resources."
"How's that, Ms. Bones?" Major asked.
"I didn't mention it before, Prime Minister, but the person who sabotaged the task on Saturday is believed to have been a man we thought died in prison many years ago. We're investigating that and a similar incident from last year to see if he actually escaped. Whoever it was, we know that he kidnapped and impersonated one of our other department heads to pull it off. Fortunately, we found Mr. Monroe alive yesterday, but he doesn't remember anything since September. We don't know if he'll recover enough to testify."
"Most unfortunate," Major said. "If there's any assistance we can render, please ask us. Now, what can we do on our side? Oh, and I should probably warn you at this point that I'm currently facing leadership elections within my party. I'm quite confident I'll win, but there's a small chance you'll have to take this up again with John Redwood come the fourth of July."
The wizards frowned. "That could complicate things," Bones said, making a note of it. "We weren't aware of anything like that going on. When is the next general election?"
"Unless things go very badly, the spring of 1997."
"I see. Well, I'm afraid there's very little organised action you can take in the muggle world, Prime Minister—certainly whilst maintaining the Statute of Secrecy, but we can of course go over our strategic assessment now."
"Indeed," the Queen agreed, "although before you leave, I would like a report on the third task and on how Lord Potter is doing."
Harry Potter, also known as Ratsbane, lay sunning himself on the living room floor. As he was now, he appeared to be an adolescent black cat with white feet, bright green eyes, and a strange white mark on his head in the shape of a lightning bolt. Harry had been spending a lot of his time in cat form this week. This was partially to deal with the stress of what had happened in the last few days, but not all. It was partially because he didn't want to pay any attention to the newspapers. The sensationalism around him revealing himself as an animagus and (rather more importantly) that Voldemort was back got annoying very quickly. But mostly, it was to keep Rowena company.
Rowena, formerly Hypatia, had once belonged to Harry's birth parents—the same cat he had nearly run over with his toy broomstick on his first birthday. She had survived the explosion of the Potters' cottage and wandered in Godric's Hollow for six years until Harry found her again. Needless to say, she liked him much more after he'd grown up some.
But now, Rowena was seventeen years old—eighty-four in cat years. She was arthritic, going deaf, had lost a couple of teeth, and, which was finally too much for her, Harry could smell that her kidneys were failing.
Harry's adoptive parents, Daniel and Emma Granger, had offered to get her treatment, but Harry could smell that she had a lot of other problems under the surface and probably wouldn't last out the summer anyway. It would be kinder to just let her go, he said. So he had been spending a lot of his time keeping vigil by her side, lying beside her in the sun. Crookshanks stayed nearby too, though not as close.
Harry nuzzled Rowena's neck, and she meowed softly. A true cat's thoughts and 'speech' were pretty simple, but he could tell she liked having him by her side now. He only half-listened to the human voices around him.
"I really don't think this is healthy for him."
"He's grieving in his own way, Emma."
"I'm not so sure. You know being in cat form suppresses his emotions. I don't like seeing him spend all his time like that."
"I know, but Sirius says he just needs time."
"Sirius was in Azkaban for ten years, Dan. It's not the same. Look, I can't imagine what it was like for Harry, seeing his parents and Cedric in that in-between place. I would've thought it would be some amount of closure—not that he doesn't still need time, but he's dealing with it worse than I would have expected."
"It's not just because of Cedric, though," Hermione spoke up. "He's doing this for Rowena, too."
"What do you mean?" Emma said.
"Well, it's just like we'd keep vigil over a person on their deathbed. For Harry, it's the same with Rowena. She was his parents' cat, after all. It only seems strange to us because he's doing it in cat form, where most humans would just wait till they had to put her to sleep and take her to the vet."
"We know Harry cares a lot about cats, Hermione," she replied. "It's still strange."
"Not to me, Mum. I know we've all known Harry for years, but you didn't see him cry over Mrs. Norris when she was petrified in second year—and most of our classmates would rather give her a swift kick. He really sees cats as people. I mean, intellectually, he knows they're not the same, but I think all the time he spent as a kitten when he was little imprinted on him a lot."
Emma sighed and looked down at her son. "He's never really done things normally, has he?"
"No, not even close," Dan said.
"I can sympathise, really. But still, he's been like that since we got home. I don't want him neglecting himself either."
Hermione frowned. She could tell that was a concern. Even if her brother wasn't deliberately using his cat form for escapism, he was still repressing his emotions with it. It would cause him trouble later.
"We'll have to keep an eye on him," Dan said. He lowered his voice to a whisper, though he knew Harry's keen hearing might still pick it up. "If he keeps it up after Rowena passes…"
"I didn't think she was that poorly," Emma objected. "Does he really think she's that close…?"
None of them could answer that. "Hmm…" Hermione mused. "Give me a few minutes." She closed her eyes and concentrated, and she immediately shifted to the form of an unusually shaggy Eurasian river otter, which went by the name of Fisher. She cautiously approached the cats in the living room. Unlike them, she found it uncomfortably warm in the sun, but she concentrated on the smells. She could tell at once that something was off, but she went through the motions of making conversation anyway.
"Sire and Dam are scared for you, Death-to-Rats," she said. The language barrier was not that great between their species, but the language itself was pretty limited.
"I am fine, Fish-Catcher," he replied.
"You say you are fine all the time."
"I want to be with—" He meowed something untranslatable, which was Rowena's Feline name. True cats being simple creatures, the closest rendition was probably Old-Cat-Friend. "I will deal with human things when it is done."
"You need to be human to eat and sleep," Hermione said sternly. "It is bad for you if you don't."
"I will be," he promised.
Hermione left him and returned to her parents, shifting back to human. "Rowena's worse than we thought she was," she said anxiously. "I couldn't smell it as well as he could, but I could still tell. Animals can smell sickness and…and death."
"Is Harry okay?" Emma asked.
"It's all very simple to Ratsbane. He wants to watch over Rowena, and that's what he's going to do. I don't think he's trying to escape, Mum, and honestly…I think Rowena only has a couple more days. It can't hurt too much to let him, can it?"
"No, I suppose not. Poor dear. I know he was on really good terms with Cedric, and now this."
"I'm hoping he'll be a bit more prepared for this," Hermione said softly. "He's known Rowena wasn't doing well for over a year."
"It'll still be hard though. It always is, and especially for Harry…" I just hope we can pick him back up when it's over.
Rowena died three days later, and Harry, though in mourning, seemed to improve now that he we less preoccupied. He spent more time as a human, though he still spent quite a bit of time as a cat to keep Crookshanks company. Sirius came over when he heard the news to comfort him. He knew that going through two deaths near to him in as many weeks had to be difficult, no matter what the circumstances.
"It's always hard, Cub," he told him. "Doesn't matter who it is. We've all lost plenty of people. I never had a pet myself, but I had friends who did…anyway, we're all here for you, whatever you need."
Harry didn't say much of anything for a while, the idea still forming in his mind, but when he was ready, he said the words that Hermione and Sirius had already half expected: "I want to bury her with my parents."
Dan and Emma were sceptical. "Can you actually do that?" Emma asked.
"I'm Harry Potter," he said. "Who's going to question it?"
Emma gave him a stern look, but they both knew he was right.
The next day, the Grangers found themselves at another funeral, albeit the first they had ever attended for an animal. Rowena was placed in a large shoe-box and lovingly carried to the church graveyard in Godric's Hollow. It was a small affair. Only Sirius, Remus, and Dora stood there with them by James's and Lily's graves, though they watched warily for any threats. The only other person there, since she lived nearby, was Bathilda Bagshot.
They didn't dig a proper grave. Instead, Harry and Hermione wandlessly opened a crevasse in the earth beside the Potters' gravestone, about three feet deep and just wide enough for the shoe-box. They said a few words (Harry had the most, of course), and they laid Rowena in the ground and covered her over, and Sirius laid down a small grave marker that he had carved as a fitting tribute. It read:
And their beloved cat,
HYPATIA ROWENA POTTER
No doubt, the press would have a field day when they saw the new marker, but for now, it was just for them.
"Harry…" Hermione said on the drive home. She was wary in case he began to withdraw unhealthily, now. "Someday down the line—probably after the war's over, honestly—I'm going to buy you a kitten. You've been through so much, I feel like you need something young and playful in your life."
"Thanks, Hermione," he muttered, barely acknowledging her.
She sighed and sat silently for a while. Grieving though he was (and it was hard on her, too!), his mood seemed to swing back and forth rather than where she'd much rather see him make a steady recovery. They were nearly home when she thought of something else that might cheer him up.
"Say, Harry?" she said.
"I know it's soon, so I understand if you want to put it off some, but we still owe Neville and Luna a date at the cinema. They wanted to see a film this summer, remember? And maybe we could introduce them to Paul and Tiffany, too."
Paul and Tiffany had been Harry's and Hermione's two closest friends from muggle school since they were very small, and though they struggled to keep in touch with them after they started at Hogwarts, both of them had expressed interest in meeting any future boyfriends and girlfriends last summer. As it happened, Harry and Hermione both now had one.
Hermione wasn't sure how her brother would react to her suggestion, but his expression softened a little as he thought about it. "Yeah, that could be fun," he said halfheartedly. "Maybe we could do it in a couple weeks or so—before things get too crazy."
Unfortunately, crazy was exactly how they were expecting things to get with Voldemort being back. "That sounds good, Harry," she agreed. "We should write them soon and arrange it, then."
"Yeah…Although I'm not sure what'll happen if you put Luna in the same room as a couple of muggles."
"She lives in a muggle village, Harry. She can't be that bad."
"We'll see," Harry said. Harry had got together with Luna Lovegood at the Yule Ball last year, and, granted, he thought she was brilliant and…adorable was probably the word that best described her, but she did tend to believe in the oddest things, even by wizard standards. She took after her father in that, who was a conspiracy theorist and a tabloid journalist. And even if she restrained herself about magic, she also had a tendency to spout off uncomfortable truths with no warning.
It was an adventure.
"You know, Mione," he added, "we should probably visit Sensei John before too long."
"Yes, good idea," she agreed. Sensei John had been their karate instructor all through primary school and had taught them skills that had served them well indirectly by helping them learn duelling, Quidditch, and Occlumency. Suddenly, Hermione sat up straight. "Harry, I've just thought of something?"
"Shouldn't it be 'John-sensei'?"
"…Well, I guess 'traditional' is a relative term."
The next person to visit the Grangers, however, was not a muggle friend, but turned out to be Albus Dumbledore. They could tell he was girding himself for war, for his manner was more subdued than usual, even though he seemed happy today. The robes were the biggest giveaway. He'd foregone his usual bright colours for a more subdued silver, lending a very different atmosphere to the meeting.
"Good morning, Grangers," he said as he stepped through the Floo. "Thanks you for speaking with me on short notice."
"Well, you are kind of running this war effort," Dan said. "We aren't likely to refuse."
"I appreciate the vote of confidence, Mr. Granger. I've asked Sirius and Remus to come as well. You should all hear this. While I do have other business to discuss, there is good news today."
"There is?" Harry said?
"Indeed, Harry. And I must say, it is a welcome change."
Sure enough, Sirius and Remus Apparated to Crawley a few minutes later, and the family quickly assembled in the living room to hear what Dumbledore had to say.
"Alright, Albus," Sirius said, "good news, you say? We could definitely use some."
"Indeed." The old wizard sat in the overstuffed chair and told them, "We have had a most fortuitous stroke of luck. You will be pleased to hear that last night, Professor Grayson and I located and destroyed another of Voldemort's horcruxes."
Harry gasped. That was the best news he'd heard in months.
"I had no idea you were close," Emma breathed. "Which one was it?"
"Amazingly, the one I had not identified and had nearly despaired of finding. It was the Lost Diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw. Alas, it's a shame to destroy an object of such historical importance, but there was no choice."
"The Lost Diadem of Ravenclaw?" Hermione gasped. "You found it? Where was it?"
"Incredible as it may seem, Hermione, Voldemort had hidden it inside Hogwarts. Specifically, in the vanishing room that your father, Harry, told you about in Limbo."
Everyone turned to stare at Harry. When Voldemort had returned, he had managed to hit Harry with the Killing Curse a second time. Harry had survived only because the curse dislodged a fragment of Voldemort's soul bound to his scar—a horcrux. But when it happened, Harry also met his birth parents in some Place between life and death, where they told him a few useful things—like about that vanishing room, apparently.
Sirius cracked up laughing. "Oh, Merlin, James has got to be loving this," he said. "He didn't know about there was a horcrux there, did he, Cub?"
"I'm pretty sure he would've mentioned it," Harry said.
"Well, then, best accidental prank ever. Beating Voldemort from beyond the grave. Not gonna be able to top that."
"So it was just sitting in there, Professor?" Harry asked. "My dad said that room was mainly a storage room."
"Mainly, yes, but that is far from its primary function. Its formal name is the Room of Requirement, as I learnt by requesting it to produce the records of its own creation. It was designed by Rowena Ravenclaw as an auxiliary space for the school for any use that was needed, which the castle could not already provide, such as a formal ballroom or guest quarters for foreign dignitaries. It takes whatever form the user requires, hence the name. It can replicate any Conjurable object in the castle and store a seemingly unlimited amount of goods and deliver them up on demand."
"My God, it can do all that?" Hermione said. "And no one knew about it?"
"It was not meant to be a secret. It saw some use by all four of the Founders in their day. When I asked for records of its use, it produced a jumble of scattered journal entries and other documents from that time period. However, the written record ends a mere century after the founding of the school, after the change of power when the Wizards' Council was formed. Since then, with few exceptions, only the elves remembered it, and they used it only for storage."
"Yes, but about the horcrux, Albus?" Remus got them back on track.
"Yes, when I realised what the Room of Requirement was, I requested Professor Grayson and some of the other staff to assist me in a thorough search. The number of valuable artifacts that have been lost within Hogwarts over the centuries is quite substantial. Truthfully, I expected the project to take all summer, at least. The storage room aspect of the Room is larger than the Great Hall, with most of the space filled by antique furniture. However, Professor Grayson and I were able to scan for dangerous magic very quickly. Imagine my surprise to find there was a horcrux within the walls of my own school."
"But how could it have got there?" Emma said with concern.
"When he was in school?" Harry suggested.
"No, rather when he visited on the pretence of requesting the Defence Professorship in 1957," Dumbledore replied. "I suspect that Voldemort wished to hide it somewhere he considered like a home to him. I spoke to the Grey Lady afterwards. Not many people know this, but she is actually—"
"Helena Ravenclaw," Hermione said, to his surprise. "Bathilda Bagshot told us."
"Of course. She said that the then-Tom Riddle spoke to her flatteringly when he was a student and eventually convinced her to divulge where she had hidden the diadem centuries earlier. I had no idea she had known where it was. I don't think anyone suspected she could have known. Voldemort found it, corrupted it, and returned it to the castle during his one visit after he graduated, I suspect believing, not unreasonably, that no other wizard knew about the Room, and of course ignoring the elves."
"So that's five horcruxes destroyed," Remus reasoned. "That only leaves Hufflepuff's Cup and Voldemort's pet snake."
"And Voldemort himself, naturally."
"Any leads on where the Cup is?" asked Dan.
"Alas, no, but I will continue searching."
"If it's in Riddle Manor or a Gringotts vault or something, we may be out of luck," Remus said. "We might just have to kill Voldemort again to get access to it."
"It is possible, though it would be preferable if that were not necessary. We can only hope for the best."
With that matter resolved as far as they could at the moment, Hermione made a suggestion: "Professor, now that we know about the Room of Requirement, could we put it back to its intended use? If it can be larger than the Great Hall, it could be a ballroom large enough for all the students."
"Or a swimming pool that more than just the prefects can use," Harry chimed in.
Dumbledore chuckled. "Alas, while the idea is appealing, it will have to wait for the duration. If Voldemort were to learn we know about it, he would suspect we are hunting his horcruxes. Until we find all of them, or in the unfortunate event that he finds out anyway, any use we put it to will have to be secret."
"Too bad. That would have been good to have," Hermione said.
"Sadly, yes. But I had something else to discuss with you. Now that Voldemort has returned, it is time for the Order of the Phoenix to have an official headquarters and safe-house again. Only Sirius and Remus are full members here, but all of you will need to know where it is. Our Headquarters is hidden under a Fidelius Charm."
That twigged Harry's sixth sense at once. "Wait a minute, Professor," he said, "doesn't the Fidelius Charm have known weaknesses? Interferes with other wards? Single point of failure?" That was what had happened to his birth parents, after all.
"Indeed, which is why we are not using it for as a primary safe-house," Dumbledore said. "After the unfortunate events of 1981, I was forced to rethink our strategies. Headquarters will be used only as a meeting place and a short-term safe-house, if needed. So long as we keep control of the Floo Network, strong wards that give time to escape are a better protection than the Fidelius Charm. Also, I myself am the Secret Keeper, so there is much less risk of infiltration."
"We did that with Headquarters during the first war," Sirius said, and he frowned and thought for a minute. "Since I can't seem to remember where we met back then, Albus, am I right in thinking you're using the same place?"
"You would be correct. Please listen carefully, all of you," Dumbledore cleared his throat. "The Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix is located at Number One Morgan Circle in Mould-on-the-Wold."
Sirius and Remus nodded in sudden recognition, but it meant nothing to the Grangers. Hermione, however, tilted her head in thought. "Mould-on-the-Wold?" she asked. "Isn't that…"
"Yes, Hermione. My childhood home, though few people know that. You learnt it from Professor Bagshot, I assume?"
"I reacquired and refurbished the house in the last war when we needed a safe place to meet not associated with any of the Order members. To be honest, it was a good deal nicer than my family home in Godric's Hollow. My father was unable to provide for us at the time we moved—but that is past. The residence in Mould-on-the-Wold is quite sufficient for our needs. Unfortunately, you will not be able to access it directly from here, but you will be able to go by Floo through Hogwarts."
"We know how to get there," Remus said. "We've done it enough times."
"So are you expecting us to do anything for the Order at all?" Dan asked.
"No more than you are already doing, Mr. Granger," Dumbledore replied, "staying vigilant and ensuring that your escape routes remain open. However, there are some Order operations you should know about. I have assigned a rotation of Order members to you as bodyguards. I will try to ensure that Sirius, Remus, or Miss Tonks accompany you as much as possible rather than others, but you will need a guard for all of your social outings."
Harry and Hermione frowned at the news.
"Is there a problem?" Dumbledore asked.
"Only that we were thinking about a group date with a couple of our muggle friends in a couple weeks," Hermione said.
"Dora can probably chaperon without causing too much trouble," Sirius offered. "I doubt you want a man with grey hair tagging along."
"I guess that's okay," Harry said. "We can always blame Mum and Dad for being paranoid."
"Excuse me!" Emma said, but Harry just grinned at his parents.
"That's what you get for having a couple of cheeky teenagers, Emma," Sirius said with an even bigger grin. "Anything else, Albus?"
"Yes, one other thing. I believe Voldemort will not want to take too much action before he can learn the full content of the prophecy. He will want to eliminate the greatest threat to him before he overextends himself." And since Harry was the one who was prophesied to be able to defeat Voldemort, he was the greatest threat. "Therefore, I am placing a guard rotation to keep watch outside the Department of Mysteries to try to slow him down if he tries to acquire it."
Truthfully, that seemed rather odd to the Grangers. The only records of the prophecy were in the Department of Mysteries in the Ministry of Magic and in Dumbledore's office at Hogwarts. Both were very well protected already. "Is that really necessary, Dumbledore?" Dan asked.
"If I am notified if and when Voldemort makes an attempt on the Ministry, I would be able to intercept him."
"It sounds like you have limited resources, though. Could we do something else? Remove the prophecy record from the Ministry, maybe?"
Dumbledore considered this. "We would need Harry to do it in person," he said. "That would require a lot of paperwork and would be almost impossible to hide from Voldemort's spies…but I will consider it. It may be a better alternative, in the end."
Far to the north in a heavily-warded manor house in Yorkshire, Lord Voldemort held council with his ally, La Pantera, the Dark Lady of Veracruz. La Pantera was a self-styled Aztec priestess and one of the few witches in the world who could count herself Voldemort's equal in power and cruelty. She had designed and performed the ritual brought him back to life. And now, she was analysing the damage he had done to his soul.
"I still don't see how you're still sane, Voldemort," La Pantera said as she waved his wand over him. She was also the only person who could call him "Voldemort" to his face and live. "If you'd asked me, I would've thought making a horcrux by accident wasn't even possible."
"Is it important, Lady Pantera?" Voldemort hissed impatiently. "I am still sane, and my method of multiple horcruxes has paid off."
"Not as well as you think. You've made your soul unstable."
"What do you mean?"
"Normally, a calloused soul is pretty resilient against dark magic. But because you made an unbalanced number of horcruxes, it's left cracks. It's like a cracked foundation. No matter how strong the stone is, moisture can still get in and damage it. And with as much as you sling around Unforgivable Curses, you're at risk of degrading your soul over time in this condition."
That did disturb Voldemort. Over the centuries, Dark Wizards had learnt that mistakes in making horcruxes could degrade the soul, causing them to slowly lose their sense of self, becoming insane, animalistic, or slipping into a coma. He had never made a mistake when he'd been able to complete the ritual, but this news was troubling. "Can you do anything for it?" he asked.
La Pantera thought for a minute. "Probably," she said, "but it'll take time. I'll need to design a new ritual to either seal the cracks or patch them over. That will be a lot more speculative than the last ritual, so it might take a while—and I expect you to continue paying my fee. In the meantime, lay off the Unforgivables. Use your new fire powers and more neutral spells where you would have used Torture and Killing Curses before. That should keep most of the stress off your soul until I find a solution."
As a bonus, La Pantera's ritual had given Voldemort immunity to fire and a powerful affinity for the element. Voldemort considered her advice and deemed it acceptable. His followers would not suspect anything was amiss if he switched to using his fire affinity for a while.
"At least the horcrux explains how a Gryffindor like Potter managed to become a Parselmouth," he mused, changing the subject. "That's one more power he no longer has…" He paused, the word power echoing in his head. Things began to fall into place. "The prophecy. Of course. I wonder…"
"What prophecy?" La Pantera said, growing alert at once. "You never mentioned a prophecy."
"I did not consider it important for you to know until now…But perhaps your advice may be useful. In the spring of 1980, one of my Death Eaters informed me that a Seer met Dumbledore and gave him a prophecy: 'The one with the power to destroy the Dark Lord approaches…born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…' There was more, but my servant did not hear it. I searched carefully before determining that the prophecy most likely applied to the infant Harry Potter, which is why I pursued him."
"Pendejo. Classic trap. Self-fulfilling prophecy. You went after the chico, made him a horcrux, gave him a protection of love, and created your own worst enemy. And you didn't think this was important to mention?"
"I thought that it was my own business."
"Prophecies can through off the whole calculation! I don't suppose you ever found out what the rest of it was?"
"I did not. I had thought I would need to hear the rest of the prophecy to be assured of destroying Potter, but it's obvious now. The horcrux that he possessed was 'the power to destroy the Dark Lord'. If he had discovered the connection between us and used it against me, he could have found my other horcruxes. Now that it is gone, that threat is ended."
"You're a fool, Voldemort. You never trust to a single interpretation of a prophecy. They're far too tricky. Double if you don't actually know what they say."
"Then what would you recommend?"
"You're sure it's about Potter?"
"Potter and the Longbottom boy were the only two who fit the description."
"The only ones in Britain, you mean, but probable. But the power—the power could be anything: the horcrux, love, arcane magic, followers. Even if you kill them both, it could be a legacy of some kind. A martyr to rally around can be more dangerous than a lone hero. But you shouldn't waste your time on it, either. It's too vague to act on directly. You'll do best to build up your forces and act strategically. If you get an opportunity to learn the rest of the prophecy, take it, but remember that no prophecy will make you invincible."
Voldemort considered this for a while. As much as the woman galled him, he could understand the logic. "Very well, Lady Pantera," he said. "See to your next ritual, and I will see to returning my loyal followers and allies to my side."