Daring, Nerve and Chivalry
A/N: Wow! I appreciate all the feedback you guys gave on the First Task! This chapter has a lot less action, but it's definitely not filler. The second half of Chapter Eight sets the tone for the rest of the Harry v Bella arc that is Fourth Year. Enjoy!
Emrys Akayuki: Thank you for pointing out your confusion. I have since gone back and edited Chapter Seven to make things more clear.
BrotherCaptainSheperd: Another one on the Hermione hate train. This story is now officially Harry/Fleur, no need to worry.
ObsessedWithHPFanFic: Sorry about the cliffhanger, but that was really the perfect place to end the chapter.
Elvander72: Lyra is a complicated character. She got caught up in the moment and made a bad decision (for her). She's scrambling to attempt to salvage something, anything at this point. However, she's going to unknowingly suffer another setback very soon.
PinaySmith: Well, your need is now sated. I hope you enjoy the chapter, and I'm glad you're enjoying my Harry and Fleur.
GoldenJackal: I really appreciate you going out of your way to review. It means a lot. I'm trying to tell the best story that I can, while keeping a believable power progression throughout.
Celtic-Moon-Wolf: Sword Harry is rare, but can turn out really well if done right. I think the trick is making sure you don't give him too much powers outside of the sword; If he can slay armies with a single spell, what use does he have for a sword?
Thanks to everyone else who reviewed!
"Welcome back to Chatting With Champions! I'm your host, James Longstaff along with Traci Sparks, and boy do we have a program for you tonight! Traci?" Harry Potter watched the procession irritably from his seat on the comfy couch just off stage. He'd barely been conscious for an hour before being rushed to see Ellie and her stylist team for this ridiculous farce. At least Fleur was here; according to Madame Pomfrey, the blonde witch had been by his bedside for the past three days.
"That's right, James. Tonight we're finally going to get the chance to speak with Harry Potter and Fleur Delacour regarding their epic journey through the First Task!" Traci was a somewhat attractive woman in her late twenties with bottle blonde hair. Though, in Harry's opinion, her makeup was caked on way too thick and her voice was breathy and high-pitched. Harry knew he was being unfair, but he really didn't give a damn.
"But first, we have some expert opinions on their harrowing journey through the caves. Our first guest tonight is a woman who is widely regarded as a leading expert on Magical Creatures, authoring such books as Into the Deeps: Magical Creatures of the Underground, Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank!" An elderly witch with short gray hair and a pointed chin shook James's hand amicably before seating herself in the chair opposite her hosts.
"Now, Madame Grubbly-Plank, what can you tell us of the last creature that Harry and Fleur faced off against?" Traci asked in her high-pitched squeal while an image of the creature in question appeared on the mirror behind her. "Lyra and Cedric didn't have the misfortune of running into it."
"The bugbear is a ferocious beast, very territorial, and highly resistant to most magic, though it shares the kobold's weakness to fire. It can sense magic with a sort of sixth sense," Grubbly-Plank replied professionally and succinctly. "When Mister Potter started to channel his magic to break the wards around the door, the bugbear sensed it and came to enjoy what it thought was an easy meal. I'm told that the bugbear was brought in as a sort of 'punishment' for trying to take the faster, easier route of overpowering the door's runes." Fleur shot Harry a glare, and he wisely mouthed his apology.
"So Fleur and Harry were right to go after the beast as they did," Longstaff stated, nodding along. Harry wondered if anyone else could tell that the man wasn't remotely interested in bugbears.
"Yes. Miss Delacour's highly proficient use of fire conjuration likely saved their lives, though I wouldn't bet against Mister Potter's firebrand."
Traci smiled brightly. "They seemed to work well together, didn't they?"
"Mister Potter and Miss Delacour showed admirable teamwork, in my opinion." Harry couldn't stifle his chuckle. The Ministry couldn't have found a less personable expert if they'd tried. Fleur smacked his chest, silently chastising him. He quirked a brow in defiance and the blonde witch narrowed her eyes in warning. Forcing a look of innocence on his face that fooled nobody, he turned his attention back to the interview.
Grubbly-Plank knew her stuff, describing the bugbear's strengths, abilities and weaknesses. His loyalty to Hagrid would never let him admit it aloud, but he secretly thought that she would probably be a much better Care of Magical Creatures teacher than his large friend. Longstaff and Sparks nodded along with Grubbly-Plank's explanations, their false smiles plastered upon their faces.
"Thank you, Madame," the host stood, shaking the older woman's hand. "That was very enlightening. Our next guest is the Senior Enchanter for the Tri-Wizard Tournament, Gilder Grandfellow!" An ancient looking man tottered onto the stage, shaking hands with both of the hosts before taking his seat. "Now, Master Grandfellow, what can you tell us about the enchantment on the boat? Did it fail?"
Harry's brow raised. There was an enchantment on the boat? He looked at Fleur, who just shrugged. "No, not at all," Grandfellow said slowly. Every word fell from his lips like molasses. "The enchantment anchoring the boat at the far end of the lake did not fail."
"Then how did Harry drag it across the lake?" Traci asked. "When Cedric tried to do the same thing, the raft wouldn't budge. Lyra had to come break the enchantment before he could pull the boat across the water." An image of Cedric futilely pulling on the thick chain appeared behind them. The boy called to Lyra over his shoulder, grabbing his torch and fending off the kobolds as best he could while the raven-haired witch started working on the chain. The sight of her made Harry's blood boil. He still couldn't believe her dirty, nearly lethal tactics.
"Well, the enchantment wasn't designed to make the boat immovable, just to anchor it at the far side of the lake. As Mister Diggory showed, the two charms should have been interchangeable. Even Mister Potter's prodigious physical strength shouldn't have been enough to do more than nudge it in his direction." Fleur shot him a questioning glance, and it was Harry's turn to shrug.
"So what happened?" James asked, leaning forward.
"It appears that his emotions were running particularly high, and he believed that his strength would be sufficient to pull the boat across the water. His strong will, combined with his strength of arms, was enough to... stretch... the enchantment as it were."
"I'm afraid I don't understand."
Grandfellow sighed. "Imagine the enchantment as a stiff, magical rubber cord, connecting the boat and the chain to the opposite side of the lake. Miss Noir used her wand to sever that cord so Mister Diggory could haul the boat across and escape to the other side." The hosts nodded. "Now, Mister Potter pulled on the cord with all his considerable physical strength, and like rubber, it very slightly stretched, though it must have been a massive task to move it at all. Now, if you've ever stretched a rubber cord, you'll know that the further you stretch it, the harder it becomes to stretch it further."
"Mister Potter threw all his might against the cord, and it stretched, which is an admirable feat of strength by itself. However, he should have only been able to pull the the cord a very small distance without it snapping back."
"But it didn't snap back," Traci said, a vapid smile on her face.
"It did, actually. However, I assume Mister Potter was unaware of the enchantment. He likely thought the boat was merely heavy. His prodigious strength, which had served him so well up to that point, is likely what caused this misconception. If he'd been unable to move the chain at all with just his physical strength, like Mister Diggory, he'd have likely seen the enchantment for what it was, and enlisted Miss Delacour's help with removing it. However, since he'd been able to move it, even just a bit, with his arms alone, he believed with all his heart that he could pull it all the way across."
"This belief, when fueled by his emotions, focused his intent so narrowly that he performed what amounts to either accidental or wandless magic, depending on your point of view. It weakened the rubber cord just enough that his physical strength was enough to move the boat. That's why the 'rubber cord' pulled the raft back across the water whenever Mister Potter let go of the chain."
"However, as we saw, this was a mistake. It took Mister Potter considerably longer to drag the boat across than Mister Diggory's and Miss Noir's effort's combined."
"Interesting," Longstaff replied. "Thank you very much for your time, Master Grandfellow." The old man nodded, shuffling off the stage. "Now, the moment you have all been waiting for!"
"That's right!" Traci smiled. "It's time for us to greet Fleur Delacour and Harry Potter!"
Harry sighed, recognizing his cue. At least he was dressed this time; Ellie had insisted that he wear the leather armor Godric had provided him for the First Task, though he had no idea why. They had dressed Fleur in a beautiful red and amber gown that certainly covered more skin than her Tomb Raider outfit. Her silver hair was down, slightly curled, falling in waves over one shoulder. She was elegant and beautiful, looking like a proper lady.
The chair that the other guests had used had disappeared, replaced by a fractionally wider love seat. The only way for him to find any degree of comfort was to drape one arm along the back of the furniture, and Fleur was practically forced to sit in his lap. He was under no illusions that all of this was unintentional. The Ministry was many things, but subtle wasn't one of them.
"Harry Potter! The Boy-Who-Lived! It is such an honor," James Longstaff said. Harry reluctantly shook his hand. "And Miss Delacour! Welcome back to the land of the living! We appreciate you two crawling off your deathbeds to talk with us this evening!"
"You're welcome," Harry said without enthusiasm. "It's slightly better than the alternative." Fleur placed a hand on Harry's thigh, her cerulean eyes shooting him the briefest of warning glances before returning to Traci and James.
"We are very 'appy to speak with you," Fleur said brightly, a false smile adorning her face. If Harry hadn't seen her real smiles, he doubt he'd have been able to tell the difference. "We seem to 'ave missed our earlier appointment, yes?"
"Only by about a week!" Longstaff laughed. "So, how do you feel you did in the First Task?"
"I believe we did very well," Fleur replied, her false happiness driving Harry up a wall. "We made a few mistakes, like with ze boat and ze door zat cost us ze victory."
"Well, that and the attempted murder," Harry replied dryly. "That might have had something to do with it." Fleur's grip on his leg intensified, her manicured nails digging into his leather armor.
"So you believe that Miss Noir did indeed try to kill you?" Traci asked. "The Judges have claimed that it was an accident. They ruled that she cast a school level charm to hit the wall near you, but missed her mark and accidentally severed the rope."
Harry looked at her in disbelief. "Her Severing Charm 'accidentally' severed the rope? People are actually buying that?"
"Her testimony was provided under Veritaserum," Longstaff offered. "She has been completely cleared of any wrong doing."
"I am sure zat Miss Noir had no intention of 'arming us. As ze Judges 'ave said, she was merely trying distract 'Arry. It was an attempt to slow his ascent so zat she and Cedric could catch up. An unfortunate and perhaps misjudged decision, but understandable." Fleur silenced Harry's unspoken protests by digging her nails into his leg again. "Cedric and Lyra fought well and deserved ze victory. It is a mark of Cedric's good character zat 'e immediately climbed down to ensure our safety. Without 'is timely intervention and stabilizing 'Ealing Charms, 'Arry would 'ave died despite my attempts to slow our fall."
"You were not in mortal danger as well? You fell just as far as Harry, Miss Delacour," Traci Sparks said, obviously changing the tone of the conversation.
"I 'ave 'Arry to thank for zat," Fleur replied. "'E shielded me with 'is body. I only suffered a few broken bones and magical exhaustion." She looked at her teammate, smiling. Unlike the grins she'd given the show hosts, this one made her cerulean eyes sparkle. "'E is very brave, a true chevalier, even zough 'e does not 'ave a horse."
"Awww," Traci cooed, her hand fluttering to her chest.
"Speaking of, the world is dying to know more about your sword, Harry," James said, his eyes gleaming. Harry stifled a chuckle. They'd finally reached a topic the talk show host was actually interested in. "Would you care to tell us more about it?"
"No," he said simply.
Both of the hosts seemed taken off guard, though Traci Sparks tried to salvage the situation. "Surely there's something you can tell us."
"No, there's not."
"What 'Arry is trying to say is zat it is a deeply personal matter zat he would prefer to keep private," Fleur supplied.
"Fascinating," Longstaff replied through gritted teeth, his false smile never leaving his face. "There are rumors that you two are a couple? The Lady of Flames and Her Fiery Knight was the byline in the Daily Prophet. Would you like to comment?"
Fleur's nails dug into his leg even deeper. If she clutched his leg harder, they might have actually pierced the leather. "What 'Arry means is zat we are good friends 'o 'ave not talked about ze possibility of becoming romantically involved. It would be unwise to speculate in public without discussing it first amongst ourselves."
"Is there any chance that you'll attend the Yule Ball as a couple?" Traci asked, obviously enjoying the byplay. "I'm sure all the girls at Hogwarts will want to know if the school's most eligible bachelor is off the market."
"Zere is always a chance, Miss Sparks."
"Well, that's all the time we have!" James said, turning to the camera. "We'd like to thank all our guests for their insights. Next time on Chatting with Champions, we'll be speaking with Jerry Varnum about the latest odds on all our Tri-Wizard Champions! Good night!" After a few seconds pause, James Longstaff stalked off the stage. "Where's my damn Firewhiskey?"
"Wow," Traci said, watching her co-host practically assault a technician. "I haven't seen him that worked up after a show since that Umbridge woman. You've got a real talent for pissing people off."
"It's a gift," Harry replied as Fleur slid off his lap. He straightened, stretching out the kinks that came with having half his skeletal structure repaired or rebuilt. "Don't ask about private matters if you don't want me to be private about them." The woman shrugged and walked away.
Fleur rounded on him. "You are impossible! I cannot take you anywhere!" Her scolding was somewhat hindered by the wide grin on her face. "'Ave you never learned of tact?"
"I've been too busy fighting Dark Lords and saving Ladies of Flame," Harry joked. "Honestly, I don't know why you put up with me. I thought you didn't like people who were rude and uncouth."
"You are cute enough to get away with it," Fleur teased, brushing her hair out of her face. "Zough it is a very close thing. Still, you should try to make an effort with ze reporters. Public opinion can go a very long way."
"As long as I have you around to tell people 'what Harry is trying to say,' I think I'll be fine." He started to lead them towards the door of their private room at the Hogshead, but Fleur grabbed his arm.
"'Arry, I want to thank you." She was looking up at him earnestly, her blue eyes filled with emotion. "You were willing to sacrifice your life for mine. I will not forget."
"Don't make me out to be some kind of brave hero, Fleur. I was only reacting on instinct."
"And zat is what makes it all ze more 'eroic. I'd kiss you on ze cheek, but you are too tall," she sulked. "Ze 'eight difference, as exciting as it is, is frustrating."
Harry grinned, kneeling down to her level so she could playfully plant a sloppy kiss on his cheek. Rubbing his cheek with the back of his sleeve in disgust, he started to pull away, but Fleur's delicate hands held him softly in place. She leaned forward again, pressing her lips gently against the corner of his mouth. "I mean it, Arry. Thank you."
"Well, I figured you landing on me was better than me landing on you," he said, giving her a wry grin.
She frowned, her delicate eyebrows furrowing. "Must you turn everything into a joke?"
"Sorry. It's kind of become a habit lately," Harry said, rubbing the back of his head. They left the Hogshead and started their short trek back to Hogwarts. Hogsmeade was pretty charming in the evening, he decided, especially with such a beautiful young woman on his arm. Realizing that she was still waiting patiently for him to say something, he tried to find the right words.
"Honestly, Fleur, I'm just glad that you're alright," he finally said as they passed Honeydukes. "Everyone keeps talking about my sword, but you were the main reason why we made it as far as we did. You're the one who held off the kobolds while my dumb-ass self decided to pull a supposedly immovable chain. You're the one who defeated the bugbear. Hell, I'd have never thought to crawl through the kobold holes in the first place." He looked down, suddenly very interested in his boots. "I'm just sorry that you did all those things and I wasn't able to pick up the slack when it mattered."
"Non!" Fleur said sharply. "Do not place ze blame at your own feet. Lyra cheated and tried to kill us. If she 'adn't, zen we would 'ave won. Do not forget, you were ze one who saved me from ze kobolds when I 'ad panicked, and you were ze one who defied all odds and pulled zat chain. You stood toe-to-toe with a powerful magical creature with nothing but a sword and came away unscathed. You were ze one who carried me when I could not carry myself."
"So you don't buy the whole 'My Severing Charm accidentally Severed their rope?" Harry asked.
Fleur scoffed. "Of course not. As I said in ze cave, she is a very accomplished young witch who should be able to aim her wand at a target less zan a hundred feet away. Besides, Veritaserum can be resisted. Zere is a reason why it is unusable in courts."
"But not, apparently, at Tri-Wizard Tournament disciplinary hearings," Harry snarled. "I can't believe she was only fined two points for 'unsportsmanlike conduct' and 'negligent endangerment.' What a farce."
"You're not mad at Cedric, too, are you?" Fleur asked.
"Of course not. You saw as well as I did that he tried to stop her. Then he climbed down and saved my life," Harry replied. "I owe him one, and I mean to pay it back at the first opportunity." They had arrived at the Beauxbatons carriage. Harry stood awkwardly, unsure if he was supposed to kiss her, but she solved his dilemma by planting another soft kiss on his cheek.
"Bonne nuit." she murmured. With a small wave and a brilliant smile, she disappeared through the carriage doors. Harry turned, strolling towards the castle in a good mood, though he cast a dark look at the Durmstrang ship as he passed by the lake.
Professor McGonagall was waiting just inside the front doors to greet him. "Mister Potter, the Headmaster wishes to see you in his office. He also wishes to inform you that he has a fondness of Tootsie Rolls."
Harry had been expecting Dumbledore to want to see him, but not quite so soon. Doubtless, the Headmaster wanted to discuss Lily and his sudden, unforeseen skill with a sword. Thanking the Deputy Headmistress, the young man hastened to the Third Floor. He carefully considered what he wanted to tell Dumbledore when the inevitable questions arose. He eventually decided that he'd be mostly honest; Albus was trustworthy. The old Professor may play his cards close to his vest, but he'd always had the Greater Good in mind.
Before his incident with the Goblet of Fire and his training with Godric, Harry may have been offended at being little more than a chess piece in the battle between Voldemort and Dumbledore. Now he understood that the Dark Lord's defeat was more important than any individual person, even himself. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but it was true all the same. Like the Lady of the Lake had told him: Good leaders may have to sacrifice their men, even when they don't want to.
"Tootsie Rolls," Harry said to the gargoyle guarding the Headmaster's Office, carefully making his way up the steps beyond. To his surprise, Dumbledore was nowhere to be seen. Frowning, he sat in the quite squeaky and uncomfortable chair before the Headmaster's desk and waited. And waited.
After about ten minutes, he started getting bored. He stood, walking around the office and examining the Headmaster's many trinkets. Without knowing what they did, however, they were unable to hold his attention for long. Finally, he noticed Lyra's picture sitting on the Headmaster's desk, along with several newspaper clippings, both new and old, and a remarkably large book.
He knew he shouldn't pry, but he found himself curious. Was the Headmaster looking deeper into Lyra? Had he discovered something about the young woman that would explain her unprovoked attack? Against his better judgment, he began to shift through the papers on the Headmaster's desk. He felt guilty, but he had to know. If Lyra was truly interested in killing him or Fleur, he needed to be prepared.
He started with the picture of the young woman sitting on the desk. She was smiling at the camera, and Harry recognized it as one of the pictures she'd had taken at the Weighing of the Wands Ceremony. Directly beneath her picture was another one from what seemed to be an ancient newspaper, though after looking at it, he decided that it had to be newer than he'd first suspected.
Lyra's face was on this picture, too, though she appeared to be angry. She was flanked on either side by two large men who looked far too old to be Durmstrang students. He could see the same manic glint in her eye that she'd had at the end of the First Task. Frowning, Harry read the headline. Lestranges Attack Longbottom Manor!
Harry's mind processed the information, taking several minutes to do so. The caption beneath the picture clearly labeled them as Bellatrix, Rodolphus and Rabastan Lestrange, but the woman was almost definitely Lyra. Her hair was less cared for and she looked slightly older, but he'd spent enough time with the raven-haired witch to recognize the angles of her face. Perhaps Lyra was Bellatrix's daughter? Had she been the one to break her mother out of Azkaban?
He knew he was missing something. He turned his attention to the large book lying directly next to the newspaper articles. It was already opened about halfway through. "What the hell is a Reincarnation Ritual?" he muttered. The book would have been a very difficult read, written as it was in a very old English, but someone, presumably Dumbledore, had crossed out all of the difficult, unused language and replaced it with something that Harry could understand, though he wished that he couldn't. The ritual was extremely abhorrent, making him want to retch. Finally, he realized that Bellatrix only had a few close relatives left. He dropped the book, letting it fall heavily to the desk.
"Sirius!" Harry cried, a dark cold fear spreading throughout his chest. That bitch had used Sirius to make herself young again! That's why he hadn't received any replies to his letters! A dull rage built inside of him. Bellatrix Lestrange was Lyra Noir. She had murdered one of the only people he cared about to shave thirty years off her miserable life. She was Voldemort's spy in Hogwarts, and had probably been the one to enter him into the Tri-Wizard Tournament.
Dumbledore sat anxiously in his office as he adjusted the articles on his desk one last time. Harry's interview regarding the First Task had just ended, and the boy, no, young man would be returning to the castle soon. Everything was in perfect position. With Lyra Noir's picture to draw young Harry's attention, he knew the boy would be unable to resist peeking at his 'research.' He'd arranged the rest so one piece of evidence would lead logically to the next, finally culminating in the Reincarnation Ritual that would reveal Bellatrix's secret. The text had been difficult to obtain; he'd had to break into Grimmauld Place and search through its cursed library. He'd expected Sirius to be there, but it seemed that his former student had found somewhere else to hole up.
The Headmaster allowed himself to feel a bit of pride at his plan. He'd spent hours upon hours going over the memory of his conversation with the Dark Witch in his Pensieve, particularly the Unbreakable Vows he'd taken.
Do you, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Vow to not reveal my secret? You will not speak of it, allude to it, imply it, or even write it down unless they already know?
He'd watched it again and again, looking for loopholes, and he was finally certain that he'd found one. After all, he wouldn't be revealing her secret. He was just leaving some articles and books upon his desk; the fact that the papers happened to logically lead to her secret was irrelevant. He was not speaking of, alluding to, implying, or writing down anything regarding Bellatrix's new identity.
He was also certain that Harry would be unable to resist the temptation of learning more about the young woman who'd almost killed him. After all, the young man had a penchant for sniffing out mysteries. Harry had many virtues, but minding his own business was not one of them.
Dumbledore had also noted that Bellatrix had said 'secret,' as in only one. Everything else they'd discussed that evening would not be Bound by the Unbreakable Vow, though such a discussion would be pointless without the knowledge that Lyra Noir had once been Bellatrix Black. Once Harry had that knowledge, they would be able to discuss the topic relatively freely.
Do you Vow to never intentionally disrupt my plans and activities with Harry James Potter? That you will never intentionally turn him against me?
The second Vow he'd taken had been ridiculously easy to circumvent. Bellatrix Black, now Lyra Noir, may be a powerful, skilled witch, but one could hardly accuse her of being devious. She'd refused to tell the Headmaster any of her plans. Therefore, there would be no way for him to intentionally disrupt them. That part of the Vow was toothless. As long as he didn't intrude on her 'activities' with Harry, then he would be in no danger of breaking his Vow. He could even tell the young man that Bellatrix sought to use him without endangering himself. For all he knew, Harry learning her identity was part of her master scheme. It was unlikely, to be sure, but still inside the realm of possibility.
The final portion was also simple to avoid. After all, he'd promised to never intentionally turn Harry against Lyra Noir, and he fully intended to keep that Vow. Bellatrix Black, on the other hand, was a completely different story. It was hardly his fault that knowledge about Bellatrix and her plans would also alter Harry's opinion of Lyra Noir.
Smiling to himself, Dumbledore heard Harry give the password to the gargoyle at the foot of his office. After double checking the papers on his desk one last time, he hurried into his private rooms and closed the door.
He waited patiently as the young man trooped up the steps and listened as Harry sat in the squeaky, lumpy chair he'd intentionally conjured. He stood just behind the door as the Champion fidgeted in the chair for nearly ten minutes before finally exploring the office. Harry's footsteps carried him around the room, pausing at several points. Finally, he heard his student's footsteps make their way to his desk. Dumbledore waited with baited breath. If he'd been wrong, if he'd misjudged the loophole, he'd be dying at any moment. Doubt crept its way into his chest, but the old man fought it down. Finally, he heard the heavy tome land solidly on his desk. "Sirius!" Harry's voice cried out, filled with pain and grief. Apparently, the young man had made the same wrong assumption he had. However, Albus would be able to correct this particular error of judgment.
"I still can't believe that Sirius helped her do something so vile," Harry said, sitting on the new, more comfortable chair the Headmaster had provided. "Why didn't he contact me? Warn me about her?"
"I suspect that he is both ashamed of his actions and Bound more tightly in Unbreakable Vows than I am," the Headmaster replied. "I am surprised that you are taking all of this so calmly, Harry. I expected you to be more angry with me."
"I understand why you did it," Harry said simply. "Sacrificing one person to save a thousand has to be difficult, especially if you care about that person. I'm sure you've beaten yourself up over the whole thing enough."
The Headmaster nodded gravely. "I spent a great deal of time trying to find a loophole in the Vows."
"So what do we do now?"
"I can take no action against her, nor advise anyone to do so. She has already made it clear that her incarceration or death would 'disrupt her plans for you.' My hands are tied. If I act against her or advise someone to incarcerate her, I will die. Instead, I will leave the matter in your capable hands."
"I have faith in you, Harry," Dumbledore said, and Harry felt his chest swell with pride. "I trust that you will be able to handle the situation admirably, ensuring that Bellatrix does not harm you or any of the students or staff." The Headmaster paused. "However, I believe that she may be in possession of another of Voldemort's Horcruxes. After my conversation with her, I decided to look into his family, then traveled to his mother's ancestral home. The site was disturbed, and the Horcrux, if it was ever there, was nowhere to be found."
"And if she gets sent back to Azkaban or winds up dead..."
"Then the Horcrux may be lost to us forever. For now, I advise you to play her game. Wait for her to tip her hand, then after you secure the Horcrux, do what you deem best."
Harry nodded. "I won't let you down, sir."
"I know you won't. You have never done so in the past, and I have no reason to believe that you'll start now. If I may give you one more piece of advice?" Harry nodded. "Confide in Professor Snape. He knew Bellatrix very well. He will be able to help you get into her head and understand her, as well as being a powerful ally when the time comes." Harry grimaced. He could think of at least a dozen people he'd rather tell than the Potions professor. "Trust me, Harry. Professor Snape should be the first person you bring into this."
"I will," Harry promised, though he loathed the thought of spending any amount of time with Snape. "Is that all, Professor?"
"Actually, there is one more topic I'd like to discuss. I notice that you've joined the Knightly Order of the Phoenix?"
Harry was stunned. He hadn't expected the Headmaster to know so much about the origin of his sword. "How did you know?"
"I'd like to think I'm knowledgeable on many subjects," Dumbledore replied. "Gryffindor's ancient Order sparked my imagination as a young man. During the last war against Voldemort, I led a group of the same name to oppose him and his followers, though we didn't use any fiery swords. I must say that I am surprised that you have managed to join their ranks. May I inquire how you've managed this remarkable feat?"
After a moment's hesitation, Harry told him everything. After all, the Headmaster was treating him as an equal; he should do the same. He spoke about finding the room, learning from Godric Gryffindor and meeting the Lady of the Lake. He didn't expect Dumbledore to react so strongly to his description of his encounter with the Lady, but the old professor had stood, knocking aside his chair.
"You say that she destroyed this 'darkness not of your creation?' Are you sure?" Dumbledore asked. "This is very important, Harry."
"I felt her magic break it into a million pieces. My scar was burning, though. I could hardly think."
The Headmaster righted his chair, sinking into it before stroking his beard. "I believe that you may have been in inadvertent Horcrux for the Dark Lord, if what you're telling me is true. I had suspected after you showed the ability to speak Paseltongue... but I wasn't sure."
"But it's gone now?"
"If what you say is true, then the fragment of Voldemort's soul, if that was indeed what it was, is gone." Dumbledore smiled, his eyes twinkling. "You have no idea of the burden you have just lifted from my shoulders, Harry. I have been contemplating the possibility for more than a year, researching ways to safely remove a Horcrux from a living being."
Harry felt a pang of sympathy for the old man. "You carry too much of the weight, sir. Everyone expects you to solve their problems. Stop the Dark Lord, help run the country, run the school... I can't imagine."
The Headmaster chuckled. "I appreciate your concern, my boy, but you should be more worried about yourself. I have little doubt that you'll be filling my shoes someday."
"No offense, but I'd rather not. I don't really see myself as a teacher or politician, to be honest."
"I would have said the same, at your age." Dumbledore replied, his eyes twinkling. "You are powerful, intelligent and competent. As you age, you will find yourself and others loading more and more responsibilities upon your shoulders. It is the curse that comes with your many gifts. Hopefully, you will find someone to pass these responsibilities on to before you reach my age."
"Who did you find?"
"You," the Headmaster said simply. "I know that you spend much of your time in the Hall of Gryffindor, Harry, but I was hoping that you would consent to spending one evening a week in my company."
"Doing what?" Harry asked, getting more excited. Special lessons with the Second Coming of Merlin? He'd more than willingly make time for them.
"It will be up to you to lead the fight against the Darkness after I am gone," Dumbledore said. "I would like to make sure that you're ready to carry such a burden."
"What are you going to teach me?" Harry asked. "Magic?"
"No," Dumbledore replied. "Godric Gryffindor is a more than able teacher in the art of combat and dueling. I'm going to teach you something that is much more difficult to master: Politics."