Who Will Fill a Coward's Grave

Chapter 13 - Order Being Restored

It was a much more cordial Percy who greeted his father at the Ministry that morning. Percy also understood his father required immediate access to the Minister. On entering, Arthur couldn't quite hide his surprise that the odious Umbridge witch was sitting there waiting on him too.

Seeing this confusion, Cornelius quickly offered an explanation. "Madam Umbridge, in her role as Senior Undersecretary, had overall responsibility for the dementors. I thought her presence could be useful here."

This news actually had Arthur pleased to see Umbridge, not something he could ever recall thinking before. "She may be the exact person I need to speak with. I'll give you the details first, then we'll have time for those questions. Voldemort and a large group of Death Eaters portkeyed onto Azkaban Island late last night. That is a fact, some of the rest of what I have to tell you is pure supposition. It would seem the Dark Lord then convinced the dementors to join his cause, they promptly turned on all the staff in Azkaban. That couldn't have been pretty, every single member was kissed. While this was happening, it would appear Voldemort was attacked…"

This had Cornelius and Dolores on their feet, both demanding answers.

After letting them blow off some steam, Arthur calmly continued his story from where he left it.

"When the dementors flocked down from the prison to join Voldemort, they witnessed his Death Eaters having to carry an unconscious Dark Lord as they portkeyed away. We now have an Azkaban still full of prisoners but with no one to care for them. There is also still quite a contingent of dementors there, and those are two problems needing immediate attention. As to who attacked Voldemort, and we found a large amount of blood to corroborate this attack actually took place, I have a pretty good idea. Since having to head to Azkaban at first light though I simply haven't had time to confirm what happened."

Cornelius had been sitting awaiting the bad news breaking, and wondering if he should resign before getting pushed. Here though was news that could possibly save him from all of that. "Dolores, since this used to be part of your remit, I'm putting you in charge of Azkaban until we can get a new governor appointed. We need to get the other shift of guards out there as soon as possible, then begin looking toward what happens in the future."

While not exactly happy at hearing those orders, Dolores thought it was at least a step up from the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office. She somewhat reluctantly nodded her agreement. Arthur was just happy to see the problem land on someone else's desk, and was now ready to answer the questions that were sure to be coming his way.

The Minister didn't hang about. "Arthur, can you at least tell us your suspicions of last night?"

"I think it was Harry Potter who attacked the Dark Lord…"

This again resulted in a barrage of questions, most of which Arthur wasn't going to answer. "I need to talk to Harry or Sirius before I say any more, and can't emphasise enough that this information doesn't leave this office until we get that confirmation. If what I suspect actually happened, Harry and Sirius are the last two people we want to be upsetting over this."

Getting both to agree to that, Arthur then told them what Harry had planned. "We all saw the memory of Harry's blood being forcibly taken to be part of the ritual that restored Voldemort to a body. Sirius and Harry were working with Gringotts on a ritual that would see Harry calling his blood back. If they were successful, I'm sure they will soon want that news made public. Until then though, we have two very powerful people, and Gringotts, that the Ministry don't really want to be upsetting by releasing nothing but half-truths and rumours."

With both quickly agreeing that was a reasonable request, since they still didn't have any sort of confirmation yet, Arthur then began asking his questions.

"There is at least some dementors still at Azkaban. They are claiming a rogue element amongst them attacked the guards and were then chased off the island by the majority of the remaining dementors. I need numbers, and need them urgently. I need to know exactly how many dementors, if any, left that island because the only place they could go is the British mainland." When Arthur saw Dolores' features form a scowl, he knew this wasn't going to be good news. He just had no idea how bad the news could be.

"One of the first things I asked for after becoming Undersecretary was the total number of these creatures based on Azkaban, no one could tell me. They live in a chamber deep inside Azkaban, a chamber no wizard could possibly approach. Since they proport to have no concept of numbers, we don't have access to their 'hive' and there is no known way of differentiating between individual dementors - we basically have no method of counting them."

It wasn't just Arthur who was shocked at hearing that, Cornelius was livid too. "We have an army of dark creatures that were all set to join the Dark Lord, yet we have no idea of the size of that army? If that isn't bad enough, we currently have no means of destroying these creatures. A patronus holds a few of them in check at best…"

"Potter's patronus sent every dementor we had based at Hogwarts scurrying into the Forbidden Forest, that was last summer…" It was only after she'd said it that Dolores realised how sensitive this information was.

"And why wasn't I told about this?"

"Cornelius, that information was restricted to a few unspeakables and me. They were hoping to study Potter's patronus, hoping they could discover why it was such a potent force against dementors, but Dumbledore blocked them at every turn. He wouldn't even give them access to the boy during the summer holidays. As you said, we have no effective defence against dementors. It's only knowing there are far more of us, and we allow them to feed on the prisoners' emotions, that's keep them penned in on Azkaban. Their apparent acceptance of the Dark Lord's offer to serve him tells you just how fragile that relationship with the Ministry is. When someone makes them a better offer, they will quickly turn against us."

Arthur got it at once. "We can't kick them out of Azkaban, no matter how many of them there are, because we need to try and keep them contained."

With Cornelius nodding in agreement at Arthur's assessment, Dolores then imparted the really bad news. "The unspeakables call their chamber a hive because they claim the dementors have a hive mind. What one dementor knows, the rest do too. This means that, were we to experiment on a means to kill them, attempting any method on one dementor would see the rest know of it. If that attempt wasn't successful, they would most likely attack. They are intelligent enough to target the people trying to kill them, before they actually succeed in developing a method that would see their downfall."

The Head of the D.M.L.E. and the Minister could see the bind they were all in. Why would you want to make an enemy of a species where you had no method of killing them, nor any real idea of their actual numbers. Like Pandora's Box, once opened there was no way to contain what came out.

"Dolores, after getting Azkaban running again, I want you to concentrate solely on this problem. Arthur, do you think we could have some of Harry's time? The meeting could be whenever and wherever he wants it to be. By all means tell him why we want the meeting. I understand he's had trouble with dementors before…"

Hearing Dolores chuckle was a sound that sent a shiver down Arthur's spine, and certainly not in any good way.

"If we can discover a method of ending the dementor problem, the one thing we won't have to worry about is public opinion. Normally trying to wipe out a species would cause a furore in at least some section of our society, not here. There is no love nor sympathy for the dementors anywhere, they really are true horrors."

-oOoOo-

After completing his scans, there were a few anxious faces waiting to hear what Severus made of them. "The Dark Lord is a bit stronger than when I last checked. Until we know what happened though, I really am flying blind here."

"It's been two days, Severus. He hasn't moved a muscle…"

Fixing the speaker with one of his patented glares, the sarcasm was dripping off each word Severus spoke. "I am well aware of that, Wormtail. Do you have any further information that might help me make a more detailed diagnosis? I didn't think so. My scans aren't showing any areas of trauma, or a condition I could treat. Until I know what happened, nutrient potions are all I'm prepared to administer. Anything else might do more harm than good."

Corbin Yaxley had entered the room and he threw today's edition of the Prophet at Severus. "I think you'll find the answers you're looking for in there. It claims Potter completed a ritual to take back his blood that Wormtail here used when resurrecting the Dark Lord. That's not something you do without a lot of preparation, which makes me wonder how our spy inside Dumbledore's Order never heard a word about this?"

A quick scan of the article was all Severus needed to confirm the information written was accurate, and gave him a ready answer for the angry Yaxley. With five other Death Eaters in the room too, all looking for someone to blame, Severus had to be convincing. "It says right here that the ritual was planned between Black and Gringotts. Wormtail will confirm Black wouldn't piss on me if I was on fire, and no one learns secrets from the goblins. This ritual had nothing to do with the Order, Black would have made sure Dumbledore couldn't interfere with anything he had planned for his godson."

A nodding Peter quickly confirmed that Black and Snape had been bitter enemies since their early days at Hogwarts. "What does this do to your treatment of him?"

"A ritual now explains why our Lord lost all that blood. It was only the fact I had so much blood replenishing potion with me that saved his life. I wonder if he suspected something, since it was the Dark Lord himself who requested me to bring so many healing potions to Azkaban."

Yaxley wasn't buying into Severus' glib answer, though would wait until the Master recovered to confront Snape. "Will this help you see our Master recover quicker?"

Severus spelled it out for them. "Losing all that blood would have killed anyone else. You have to have a certain percentage of your own blood in you for the blood replenishing potion to react with. Our Lord's body is one constructed from using a ritual. That same body has now been attacked using another ritual. Even if I had specific details of both rituals, which I don't, I would still be working mostly on guesswork. Our lord is slowly getting stronger, that is the best I can offer. I am quite prepared to stand back and let anyone who has a better idea, or more knowledge, take over his treatment. I will even brew any potions they request."

This silenced all those in the room, since no one wanted to assume that responsibility, but Severus could see he was going to have a problem with Corbin in the not too distant future.

-oOoOo-

The four adults sat in the shade provided by the porch, sipping iced tea and watching the seven teens as they frolicked on the private beach. The sound of laughter and shrieks of delight were exactly what the adults were hoping to hear. The issue of the Prophet giving details on how Harry had attacked Voldemort by using a ritual was lying discarded on the table. Once it had been established they had reported the information they were given factually, none of those who had been inside Gringotts the night Harry underwent his ritual needed to read about it.

It was Emma who raised the issue of the elephant no one else wanted to talk about. While the pachyderm might not be currently in the room, its spectre was hovering around everything they did. "What does all this mean for our children? Will they be able to return to Hogwarts? I wouldn't want them missing out on times like this if they don't need to, times where they can just be with their friends. I also don't want them not returning to Hogwarts so they can stay with me…"

Sirius could easily see what was bothering Emma, she didn't want Hermione and Harry making decisions based on what they thought was best for her. "Emma, I think our two are finished with Hogwarts. They're enjoying their training and, depending on what happens with Voldemort, we can switch some of that training to more exam based studies. They could sit their O.W.L.'s in Defence, Charms, Transfiguration and Potions by Christmas. Hermione could probably add Runes and Arithmacy to that list too."

Hearing they could possibly still sit their exams, and earlier than expected too, calmed some of Emma's anxieties. There was still the biggie that needed answered however. "What about their friends though? Seeing them out there with the Weasleys and Susan is fantastic, and exactly what we all needed. We can't deprive any of them of that."

It was Remus who tried to answer that one, his year teaching in Hogwarts giving him an insider view to the problem. "You see those two out there, having fun with some of their best friends, and understandably don't want them to lose that. We could probably add another couple of names in there too, good friends who would treat Harry and Hermione the same way as the Weasleys and Susan do. The vast majority of those who attend Hogwarts however don't treat those two like the rest of the students, and that was before this summer. Harry killed a Hogwarts student at the start of the holidays. We here all know why he did it, and certainly would never hold it against him. That unfortunately won't be true inside the castle. Harry's also just defeated Voldemort again, and gotten betrothed to Hermione. Those two just don't do normal, and that can lead to friction with students who don't know them."

While nodding in agreement with Remus, Amelia certainly understood Emma's concerns. "I intend to sit down with Susan and ask her what she wants to do. Unless things change dramatically with the Dark Lord situation, I suspect she might want to return to Hogwarts. We all know Molly's position on this, she never really wanted her boys involved in the training. I suspect the Weasleys will be returning to Hogwarts too. I think we need an outing in the magical community, just to give Emma some idea of what Harry - Hermione now too - face in our society. With the Phoenix Force alerted beforehand, we should be able to spend a few hours in Diagon Alley."

That had Sirius laughing. "She's already had a small taste from when we visited Gringotts, though it will be much worse now. Beating Voldemort for the second time, when no one else has been able to land a spell on the Dark Lord, will see Harry's star rise even higher. Those two sitting outside Fortescue's eating ice cream would start a riot. Emma, while there are people who hate my godson, there are many more who idolise him. The news that he's betrothed to Hermione will have witches' hearts breaking all over the country. The owners of the vast majority of those hearts will never even have met Harry, never mind spoken to him. I think you would call him a celebrity…"

"I certainly wouldn't call him a celebrity, but I know what you mean."

The two tables next to them filling with jugs of fruit juice and snacks was their first indication the teenagers were heading up from the beach to take some lunch. The tables were soon occupied under gender lines, with the three girls sitting closest to the adults. It was rather predictably Hermione who noticed the mood had dropped.

"What's the matter. This is a rather gloomy mood for such a beautiful day."

"Sorry love, that would be me. I didn't mean to cast a cloud over such a sunny day, I was just wondering if the news in today's paper had changed anything for you lot."

The youngest person there was first to answer. "It won't make a bit of difference to me. Mum still won't let me take part in their training and, as soon as Dumbledore was made Headmaster again, I was always being sent back to Hogwarts."

While Hermione put her arm around Ginny in sympathy, Susan gave her opinion. "It hasn't changed anything for me either. I'm loving training over the summer but it was always my intention to return to Hogwarts. This news actually helps with that."

"We're learning more with our training than we would at Hogwarts…"

"But the chances of mum letting us leave are practically nil."

While agreeing with his twin brothers, Ron had another reason - apart from fancying Susan - to return to Hogwarts. "I sit my O.W.L.'s this year. The chances of mum letting me continue with training instead of going back to Hogwarts are a lot less than nil."

Giving his now customary shrug of his shoulders, Harry gave his opinion on the subject. "Hermione and I always intended to sit our exams, and this system of learning suits us much better."

Nodding her head in agreement, Hermione had another reason for not returning to the castle. "It's great to study in an environment where all you have to worry about is Sirius or Remus trying to prank you. Pansy or any of her posse looking for revenge over Draco, or mouthing off about my dad, would see a war unleashed inside the castle. It would be a short, sharp, shock - because I'm done fooling around. They come looking for trouble then I'd soon give it to them."

"We would give it to them, Hermione. That ring on your finger means they would be taking on both of us…"

This actually started Ginny giggling. "As if Hermione actually needed a ring on her finger to tell Hogwarts that. The entire school knows that if they mess with any of you three, they get to face the other two too."

Seeing Ron's face fall at hearing that, Hermione got in next. "That will still be the case. We can easily sneak into Hogwarts if we're needed."

Perking right up, Ron began a mock apology to Emma. "I'm really sorry Mrs Granger, Harry and I have totally corrupted your daughter. She went from a young girl who thought getting expelled was worse than dying to a young woman who thinks rules are simply there to be broken."

Hermione was trying to glare at Ron but the sight of Harry buckled over with laughter had her scowl turning into a smile.

A grinning Sirius was also addressing Emma. "Do you believe me now?"

Receiving a raised eyebrow from her daughter was enough for Emma to confess. "I wondered if you and Harry weren't returning to school because you didn't want to leave me alone."

A glance from Hermione to Harry was enough for him to know he would be the best one to deal with this. Indicating the newspaper lying on the table, Harry proceeded to put the events described there into context.

"Emma, all that's done - apart from getting that disgusting horcrux out of me - is bought us some time. Until Voldemort regains consciousness, we won't know if there are any lasting effects from the ritual. Until we find and destroy his anchors, he's still immortal. Until then, we need to train. There's a job still needing to be done, and that job will only finish when this is all over. If we can pull that off, no one will give a shit about what Hermione or I scored on our N.E.W.T.'s." Turning to their friends, Harry tried to reassure them to. "Guys, we'll still be taking days off. If those days just happen to correspond to a Hogsmead weekend, the chances of us meeting up would be very high."

This not only settled Emma's concerns but gave their friends a big boost. Meeting up a couple of times before getting together at Christmas might not seem much but it was more than they had expected. The holiday atmosphere returned with a vengeance and lunch was soon full of laughter.

-oOoOo-

Yaxley marched into the Ministry of Magic as if he owned the place. He was a great believer in the old adage that if you looked like you belonged, then no one would question why you were there. The increased security was instantly obvious, though his excuse of needing to visit the Floo Network Authority to report a problem saw him quickly waved through.

Corbin was silently congratulating himself, while mentally deriding the morons who worked for the Ministry, when he suddenly couldn't remember why he was here in the first place. Seeing the lift doors opening, he stepped forward into nothingness.

His screams rang out around the Ministry Atrium, but not for long. The sickening crunch as his body reached the bottom of the lift shaft abruptly ended those screams, and the Death Eater Corbin Yaxley.

News of the accident was soon all over the Ministry. It would be hard to miss since all lift use within the building was suspended until a cause could be established. Cornelius and Dolores found Arthur standing supervising the aurors who were investigating how the impossible had just happened.

"Surely this will not be swept under the carpet as an accident? These events need to be investigated, all of them." While Umbridge mouthed the words, Arthur could easily see they came directly from Fudge. Using her as a buffer to put forward his more odoriferous orders was a tactic those who worked inside the Ministry of Magic were well aware of.

Having his answer already prepared, Arthur played them at their own game. "Our initial findings here show Magic was used to open the lift doors. Whether it was done deliberately, accidentally, or some prank that went very badly wrong, only further investigation might shed some light onto that. Since my department is so understaffed, it was my intention to appoint someone from outside my department to try and get us the answers we need. Retired Master Auror Alastor Moody has a well-earned reputation for getting to the bottom of crimes. He also has an intimate knowledge of auror and Ministry procedures. He will of course have the full backing and resources he needs to pursue his investigation. I trust this is an acceptable solution?"

Having practically demanded Arthur take action, neither Cornelius nor Dolores could find fault with his offered solution. Neither knew the iron will Arthur was having to employ to stop himself bursting into laughter. News of today's accident might actually push Harry off the front page of the prophet, just in time for him returning from holiday too.

When the Death Eaters read of the latest 'accident' to befall one of their diminishing brethren, and just who was now in charge of investigating said 'accidents', they would be screaming for their house elves to pack their trunks and fleeing the country.

Seeing one suggestion gain instant approval, Arthur then tried to push for more. "Moody is a vastly experienced resource that we really couldn't afford to overlook in our hour of need. There is another such resource I would like to employ. Our unprecedented levels of auror recruitment are putting an immense strain on our training program. I would like to appoint Amelia Bones to head that program. Doing so would guarantee top quality aurors to replenish our ranks, and those aurors would be delivered on time too."

A flabbergasted Dolores was about to pour scorn all over that idea before Cornelius spoke up. "I have to agree Amelia Bones could be a valuable resource, she also has years of experience with the Auror Academy. After being D.M.L.E. Head though, do you honestly think she would take that job?"

"Amelia would use her last breath to fight the Death Eaters. She also knows training the next generation of aurors is a very effective way of taking that fight directly to them. I think I can coax her on board with this."

Dolores was dying to say something but couldn't. She was the main reason the auror department was undermanned and had taken a demotion herself. She was sure Weasley wouldn't hesitate to throw both of those facts in her face if she decried Bones in any way. At least the Academy would keep Bones out of the Ministry building, that was the only positive she could gleam from this. That, and as Weasley said, Bones would soon have those auror numbers back up.

With a Dark Lord lurking in the wings, and Dolores implicated in the death of his most rabid followers, a full strength auror department might see her sleep better at night.

-oOoOo-

There was an Order meeting in Grimmauld Place the night after the group had returned from holiday. Aurthur's retelling of that encounter with Fudge and Umbridge had most of the members laughing out loud, with even McGonagall struggling to keep her strict demeanour in place.

Albus couldn't believe how upbeat the meeting was becoming, or the actual Order members' positive moods. His mind drifted back to the last conflict, and how any laughter at an Order meeting would be rare and usually forced. The tension of that time was generated by everyone knowing they were losing, and not seeing any way to reverse that outcome.

The difference this time Albus had at first attributed to people having hope. That initial hope had grown though, now sprinkled with a large dose of belief to the point where they appeared to be winning. Albus had certainly opposed the tactics being used to wage this fight, still did on occasion. No one however could dispute those tactics were actually having a massive effect - both on the Death Eaters and Order members.

Known Death Eaters were now keeping a very low profile. A few had already left the country, with the remaining majority at the very least considering doing the same. When Severus reported a possible threat to his position, that threat was removed within days. There was also no possibility of Severus' involvement in that removal ever being traced back to him. He certainly supplied the necessary information but the man now in charge of the investigation had carried out the deed. With Arthur heading the D.M.L.E., Kingsley commanding the Phoenix Force and Amelia being invited to run the Auror Academy too, Albus was struggling to comprehend the turnaround in their fortunes.

It wasn't too hard to figure out the pivotal figures in this astonishing turn of fortunes, the tanned young couple sitting to the left of the room had been approached and congratulated by every member who had turned up tonight. Congratulations were offered for a successful attack on Voldemort, and also their betrothal. If Voldemort was defeated, Albus wondered how many would realise the death of a muggle man would ultimately have lead to the Dark Lord's downfall.

The death of Daniel Granger had been the trigger that set Harry off on this course, a course that had the almost total backing of the Order. Apart from Albus, only Molly had spoken out against this course of action. Molly's motives were also crystal clear to everyone present, she simply didn't want teenagers fighting this war.

As Severus imparted the information that the Dark Lord was still unconscious, and likely to stay that way for a few weeks yet, the meeting took on an atmosphere that was almost celebratory.

Albus wasn't celebrating yet, he knew they still had to find the rest of the Dark Lord's horcruxes. While this summer had heralded the destruction of a tainted locket, ring, cup and the one imbedded in Harry, not forgetting the diary that had been dealt with two years ago, the job wasn't finished yet.

Until those remaining horcruxes were dealt with, Albus would hold off on any celebrations. He had some news though that he was saving for the inner circle of the Order, a meeting that would take place when almost everyone else left.

So as to not draw too much attention, Arthur left with the rest of his family. All knew Bill would be filling him in later on everything that was said here tonight. Hermione was snuggling into Harry, with Susan too struggling to keep her eyes open through tiredness. Their holiday had been brilliant, but also exhausting. With their training starting again tomorrow, they hoped this would be a short meeting.

Severus had something to add on the condition of Voldemort. "I don't understand how Potter here cursing the Dark Lord during the ritual could manifest itself physically outside the specified blood recall but it did. The Dark Lord was bleeding from his forehead too, though that has since healed. Whether that same spell damaged his mind, only time will tell. All signs of trauma have disappeared from any scans. Then again, he's not exactly human. He might awake in an incredibly foul mood and murder whoever is nearest, or he might wake up thinking he's Madam Primpernelle."

This had Susan and Hermione almost choking with laughter. It took a moment for Hermione to gather herself before she could explain Madam Primpernelle ran a beauty shop in Diagon Alley, adding that she only knew this because Lavender and Parvati always had the latest catalogue from her shop. She certainly wasn't going to mention buying sleekeazy from that very catalogue.

Harry was having a chuckle too, more at Snape actually possessing a sense of humour than the joke.

It was then Albus' turn to impart his news. "I finally tracked down an old colleague yesterday. The news of Harry's exploits against the dark were enough leverage for me to persuade him out of retirement. Your mother was one of his all-time favourite students, Harry. Of course he had closely followed the life of her son. Horace Slughorn will be returning to Hogwarts and teaching potions from September."

"Sorry, Albus, but I thought I was the castle's Potions Master?"

With a sigh, Albus had to release a few painful home truths. "Severus, after what happened to Alastor, no one would touch the defence job with a quidditch hoop. I figured I would have a much easier task of replacing our Potions Professor, leaving you free to take over Defence."

While Severus actually smiled after hearing that, something about the way Dumbledore had mentioned his mother troubled Harry.

"Did you tell this person I wouldn't be attending Hogwarts?"

This was too much for the Marauders, neither could contain their laughter. With Severus' grin getting wider than anyone there had ever seen it before, Harry reckoned the answer to his question was no. He just didn't know why some people found that so funny.

"Oh I can just see old Sluggy thinking he would add my godson to his Slug Club."

"Remember how James hated the very idea of it, until Lily got invited..."

"Yeah, then he never missed one." Getting his laughter under control, Sirius then tried to explain their laughter to the rest of them. "Some people collect Chocolate Frog Cards, Sluggy collected people. A favour here, a good word there, Sluggy could certainly help you along. You would then owe him though, then it would be your turn to be asked to supply the favour. He has a network of people who can help you achieve whatever you want. I'll bet his eyes would have been glowing at the mere thought of adding Harry to his Slug Club. He's gonna be mightily pissed though after discovering he's been played."

Albus was unrepentant. "Getting Horace out of retirement was only a secondary goal. Another one of Horace's favourites was a former Slytherin Head Boy by the name of Tom Riddle."

No one was laughing now, the meeting had just gotten serious again.

"I have been convinced for many years Horace had information on Voldemort's horcruxes, information he denied having. Horace is terrified a returned Tom will come looking for him. Tom of course knows exactly what information Horace possesses. Harry defeating the Dark Lord again was a pretty big carrot to dangle in front of Horace, that and he always wants to be on the winning side. He finally surrendered that information. A seventeen year old Tom Riddle asked Horace if it was possible to split your soul into seven pieces."

"Does that mean there is still another three of these to find?"

"Two, mum. Voldemort would have to retain a piece of soul in his body. That leaves two still to be discovered and destroyed."

"Quite right, Miss Granger. We now at least know how many we are looking for. I have been looking through memories concerning Tom that I have collected over the years, trying to deduce what he may have used and where it may be hidden."

The slight silence that followed was soon broken by Moody. "Okay, Albus, you've had your moment. Now tell us what you know or suspect."

"To true, old friend. I suspect he would have hidden one inside Hogwarts. Tom was and is obsessed with the castle, even applying for the defence teaching post. I searched the Chamber of Secrets thoroughly however, and found no trace. Again I am at a loss of how to continue..."

Stifling a yawn, Hermione offered a suggestion. "Have you asked the castle's house elves? There was one here in Grimmauld and only Kreacher knew of it. House elves miss nothing that goes on in their home, and the castle's elves consider Hogwarts their home."

Looking at the girl as if really seeing Hermione for the first time, Albus admitted the thought never crossed his mind. Severus though was having thoughts of a different kind.

"I was about to ask if it was possible to make a living host a horcrux, then I remembered we have a former horcrux sitting amongst us. The only thing on the planet I have ever seen the Dark Lord show any concern for is his familiar, Nagini. The snake is very clever, deadly and obeys its master's every whim. I thought at first this might just be an uncommonly strong familiar bond but now I am wondering."

Trying to preempt where this could go, Albus got his thoughts in first. "While we have no proof this snake is a horcrux, and have yet to find the other one, I wouldn't want Severus doing anything that puts his position inside Voldemort's circle at risk. If we discover one inside Hogwarts and destroy it, then going after the snake may become a viable option."

With his star having waned so low, Albus was actually surprised to see his suggestion universally accepted amongst this company. Amelia actually summed it up best when she said they shouldn't close off their pipeline to Voldemort unless certain the snake was a horcrux.

Agreeing, Severus would now work on a way of somehow trying to scan the snake at the same time as assessing her master's condition. With that, they all called it a night.

-oOoOo-

Freshly showered after a hard morning's training session, Hermione couldn't find Harry in the house. Remembering the advice she offered Dumbledore last night, she called for Dobby. Talking with the elf saw Hermione heading outside where she found Harry sitting beside her father's grave.

"Sorry Hermione, I had some things going through my head and needed to talk them out. Just speaking those things out loud allows me to get a better handle on them. I learned that from your dad, which is why you found me here."

Taking one of his hands in hers, a rather confused Hermione asked if he couldn't talk those things out with her.

"Since they concern you, I needed to get my head straight first. I know you had your heart set on becoming Head Girl from the moment you walked into Hogwarts. What we are proposing to do will take away the chance of that ever happening..."

Harry was forced to stop talking as Hermione kissed him. "If I was an eleven year old me, who thought getting expelled was worse than dying, you would be right. Ever since I was twelve though, and spent a certain Halloween in a bathroom, there's been another title that I began to hankered for far more. This ring on my finger means that dream will one day come true. Trust me when I say becoming Hermione Potter means a great deal more to me than a Head Girl badge, or any other title I can think of."

It was Harry who now kissed Hermione. "That was what I had hoped you would say. Thank you for choosing me..."

"Straight back at you love..."

They were then interrupted by Dobby, Arthur Weasley had arrived and asked to talk with them. The couple soon found themselves talking with the Head of the D.M.L.E., and not their friends' father.

"I didn't mention this last night because this is not strictly Order business, and Albus has blocked all previous approaches. The Ministry is desperately searching for a means to curtail the threat of a dementor uprising. Since Harry's patronus appears to be the most effective weapon we've discovered so far, some unspeakables would like the opportunity to study it. That meeting can be set up anywhere and anytime you want, with anyone you wish to be there welcome too. The dementors are a problem that face all of us. We lost an entire compliment of guards on Azkaban but the situation could have easily become so much worse. We need a solution to the problem before someone else makes them a better offer, and they turn on us again."

As someone with over a decade's personal experience of these vile creatures, Sirius certainly wanted to help Arthur with this. His first job though was to protect his godson. "Arthur, we may have a problem. Since getting that horcrux out of Harry his magic has changed. This morning was his first day really using magic since the ritual and his spells were tearing our practice dummies to shreds. He hasn't even tried his patronus yet."

Looking around the room, it was clear to see the general consensus was there was no time like the present. Taking out his wand, Harry thoughts turned to Hermione one day becoming a Potter as he cast the charm.

"My Magic feels cleaner, more focused. I don't think I'm putting more into the spells but they do feel different."

The glowing stag that pranced around the room wasn't simply corporal, Arthur felt that if he had a carrot then Prongs would have been able to munch on it. His wide smile wasn't just down to the wonderful feelings being emitted by this astonishing patronus. "Oh I think the unspeakables will certainly want to have a look at that."