Harry's eyes shot open as he heard his alarm going off. He groaned and cast a wandless time charm. The room he woke up in was pitch black, only his charm providing any sort of light. He pushed himself into a sitting position and looked around. The warm body dozing beside him was obviously Fleur. Silvery-blonde hair and he knew she'd been the one that had passed out beside him.

He'd only had a short nap, trying to regain some energy and strength to carry on with his plans. But, this entire day had been planned and timed out. Thankfully, kidnapping the inmates had been rather simple. Stun them through the bars, unlock the door, stun them again for good measure, and then drop a portkey on them.

They had gone cell by cell and cleared out the whole place. Then, after they had finished that task, Harry had created another minotaur and had it join Cuddles in demolishing the fortress. Without wards in place, it was an old stone fortress that was susceptible to physical damage.

And, after that had been done, they'd torched the place with Fiendfyre. This step had always been planned. The Ministry would come to investigate and the residual magic left by the demonic fire would be the only thing detectable. Their investigation on magic use would be over before it began. There'd be no trace leading to who'd pulled this off.

They had to complete just one more step before they'd be able to leave. After they'd arrived back at the staging point, their new base of operation, the place that had formerly been known as Malfoy Manor, they'd showered, gotten cleaned up, and had passed out on the bed shortly thereafter. The only thing Harry had accomplished prior to that had been a quick debriefing with Ivan Pavlov.

Now, it was time to get up, though Fleur would be staying behind. Her part in today's events had been completed.

Harry gently ran his fingers through her hair, mentally thanking whatever deity had seen fit to place her in his life. What other young woman would volunteer to help him exterminate dementors and capture criminals?

Harry shook his head, got up, and dressed in the clothes that had been laid out for him. Though he made sure to put his chest armour back on. Things shouldn't go poorly but if they did, having a dragonhide vest underneath his clothes could be a big help.

He quickly finished dressing and made his way to where he figured he'd find Ivan. It only took a minute to do so as he was in the foyer coordinating everything, a short walk from the bedroom he'd slept in.

"Off to go meet with Horace now,?" Ivan asked as he looked through papers on the desk, noting Harry's arrival.

"Yeah, only an hour until shift change now, I need to get going," Harry replied, rubbing the back of his head. He didn't feel fully alert but another pepper-up would take care of that before the meeting.

"You'll want to take a look at this before you go," Ivan said, offering him the piece of paper he had searched for and then picked up off the desk.

Harry nodded and took hold of the paper. It was a transcript of the interrogation of Bellatrix Lestrange.

"Third question is what you'll want to see," his deep voice directed.

Harry's eyes skipped down to the third question. It asked about Horcruxes…the interrogator questioned if they were aware of any…

Harry's eyes looked over the answer and his jaw slowly lowered.

"This is for real?" Harry asked, his eyebrows shooting up, trying to join his hairline.

"Helga Hufflepuff's Cup, at Gringotts," Ivan said, confirming what Harry had read. "We have her vault key, her wand, and she'll sign over her vault. You'll have access to it by the end of the week." The ominous declaration reconfirmed his belief that his association with the family had been necessary.

Harry's lips curved into a large grin. This was exactly why this move had been made. Removing the worst of the worst of Riddle's forces, pumping them for any information they might know, no matter how old or irrelevant it might be, and then disposing of them.

With an assassination and a preemptive strike against an unprepared target, he'd crushed Riddle's ability to pick up right where he'd let off.

"Right, well, I need to get going. I'll be back tonight," Harry said, reaffirming the schedule.

Ivan looked up from his reports, his eyebrows pushed inward slightly. "Wars are won on and off the field of battle," he said, his deep voice rumbling out the words. "You've achieved a victory on the field, but it is just as crucial that you secure another off it."

Harry's eyes beheld the man's gaze as he had spoken. With a slow deliberate motion, he lowered his chin and then brought it up. "I will."

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

"Horace, welcome, welcome," Harry heard Dumbledore's voice as he came through the floo, a few seconds after Slughorn.

As Harry stepped into the Headmaster's Office, he saw Dumbledore's head turn to him. "And Harry as well, welcome, welcome." He looked back at Horace, conjuring a second chair for Harry to sit in. "Please, take a seat. Although I hadn't been told you were coming," he lifted his eyebrow at Horace before turning back to Harry, "it is good to see you, Harry."

Horace sat down in the farthest chair and Harry took the one closer to the floo. "Horace had said this was to discuss some cooperation but I gather there is more to talk about, Harry?"

It didn't surprise him in the least that Albus was able to figure out there was an alternative agenda, nor that he was addressing the one less politically astute. "There is more to it," Harry admitted. "But it'd be best to cover that after."

"Oho, let's get right to it, shall we?" Horace said, rubbing his hands together. "Well, Albus, as I'm sure you're aware, we've been working with the ministry and setting up our own political bloc."

"Yes, protecting confidential information from being discussed," Dumbledore said, nodding his head. "Not demanding loyalty but protecting information. A sensible first step."

Nobody would ever willingly sign a loyalty contract to the Ministry of Magic. They had too strong a history of abuses for it to be feasible. Instead, they'd pushed for the tactic of trying to limit what information could be gotten from those sympathetic to Voldemort, knowingly or unknowingly.

"Yes, well, all of this is for a purpose," Horace said, his hands gripping the arms of the chair. "Riddle is coming back and we're trying to prepare for it."

If Dumbledore was surprised, he didn't show it. His eyes moved over to Harry and then back to Horace. "I suppose Harry filled you in on the events of his Hogwarts years?"

"Tom's still alive, without a body," Horace said in acknowledgement. "A diary of his possessing a student and opening the Chamber of Secrets." The way Horace brought it up made it clear there was more going on than just what his words had said.

Harry had to have been watching Dumbledore closely or he would've missed the minute slumping of his shoulder. "You have me there, old friend," he replied with a sigh. "I suppose you know what it was, before Harry stabbed it with the fang of a basilisk?"

Harry watched as Dumbledore stood up from his chair and made his way over to a plain-looking cabinet. He opened the door and withdrew a blackened, ruined book with a large hole stabbed through it.

Dumbledore moved in front of his chair, straightened his bones, and then sat back down, placing the destroyed diary on the desk between them.

"So you've known what it was, all along?" Harry asked; it was one of the things that had bothered him about the man. He had a wealth of information and seemed to take limited actions.

"No," Dumbledore responded, his voice calm and soothing as his blue eyes focused on Harry. "I knew he'd lived on past your parents' murder but not how, not until you gave your tale and presented me with this," he said, gesturing at the book between them all.

"But then you've known for just shy of two years, Albus," Horace pointed out, shifting forward in his seat, eyeing the book carefully.

"And how long have you known Tom was aware of Horcruxes, old friend?" Dumbledore said, riposting the previous comment.

Slughorn tore his attention away from the book and brought his chin up. "I ran from my guilt long enough," Horace said, his lips tight even as they moved. "And since meeting young Harry here, I have done what I can to make sure we never lose someone like LIly to that monster ever again."

Harry brought his hand up to rub his jaw. If Dumbledore had been hoping to play on Horace's guilt or drive a wedge between them, the gambit was doomed from the start. And the comment suggested that the Headmaster was less than omnipotent when it came to Horcruxes.

"Horace has my complete faith," Harry said, interjecting into the conversation. "And you've known for close to two years now. What progress have you made on his Horcruxes?" Harry didn't mind slipping in that they knew there was more than one, it was the obvious conclusion.

The man withdrew his wand from within his robes and cast some non-verbal spells. Harry could feel the protectiveness and quietness of the magic.

"Little and less," he said after a moment's hesitation. "Though, I did begin to piece together facts and a timeline that may lead to a great deal."

Harry frowned, it was uncanny how the man could speak a couple of sentences and not say anything of substance.

"There is one piece of information that I sought and had made no headway on," Dumbledore said, turning to focus on Harry, his eyes twinkling. "It is quite fortuitous that young Harry here will be able to tell us how many rituals he would have done. I have suspected three over seven but that was mere guesswork on my part."

Harry opened his mouth to answer but Horace answered first. "Seven," he said, horror lacing his voice. "He aimed for seven."

Dumbledore bowed his head. "It is as I feared then," he said, his tone grave, as he furrowed his eyebrows and closed his eyes for a moment.

"Do you have a lead on any others?" Harry asked, after giving Dumbledore a chance to take in the news.

"Perhaps, but I'd like to hear more about your rituals first," his blue eyes piercing, seeing more than just what was physically in front of him. "Your magic is...balanced."

Harry nodded; what a relief completing the final ritual had been. "Seven sets of seven."

"Impressive," Dumbledore said, his words carrying a weight of authority. "I had thought you lost and had tried to keep you from the same follies Voldemort fell into. Forgive me, my boy, for my harsh words. I let the mistakes of my past affect how I saw you."

When he'd started talking, Harry had done his best to remain impassive. Whether the words were genuine or not, he could not tell. Either way, the path to them working closely was tentative, at best. "While I didn't appreciate the threat, I certainly understood it."

Harry sighed and looked to Horace. He knew the man would want him to reconcile, but a dominant part of Harry wanted him to sweat it out a little. To delay long enough to impart some of the discomfort he'd felt having being threatened.

"I can understand your concerns,'' Harry said, not voicing that he had the same ones. "But you wouldn't have ever had to worry about that."

Dumbledore's eyes widened but he schooled his features and remained quiet.

Harry dug into his pocket and withdrew the parchment he'd written earlier. He reached forward and passed it to Dumbledore, "Recognize that?"

He took the documents and his eyes roved over their contents, squinting as they did so. The longer he took the deeper his frown became. "No, I don't believe I do," he said, after a time.

Harry nodded. "It's safe to try, but just for a short period of time."

Dumbledore looked down at the parchment again and then back up at Harry. "I'm not inclined to try unknown spells."

"It was said to be the final ritual, the final test, the test Tom Riddle failed," Harry said, knowing full well he'd have the Headmaster's full interest. "What was it the Sorting Hat said? Don't forget my decision to choose Gryffindor over Slytherin. Don't lose myself. That it might be the heart of a Gryffindor that finally does it…"

The Headmaster leaned forward now, his eyes looking over his spectacles. "There was a curious change this week. A release of magic occurred, within Hogwarts. A portion of the castle became available to me, no longer hidden."

Harry felt a smile creep onto his face. "The Chamber of Secrets is no more," he said, leaning back in his chair. "It fulfilled its purpose and is no more."

Dumbledore sat back, his hand coming to stroke his beard near his chin. "The Headmasters have long known the Chamber exits but there was some sort of magic protecting it. A Fiedlius Charm was suspected."

Harry shook his head, "No. In truth, I don't know what it was. Just that Salazar Slytherin left a part of himself behind until a worthy heir was found."

"You?"

"Me," Harry confirmed with pride.

"You passed where Tom failed?" Dumbledore asked, his eyes narrowing.

"Failed and was lucky to survive," Harry said, scowling. "It was pure luck that he did, damning himself in the process." Harry shook his head as he looked down at his lap. Even that young, the man was already a horrendous monster.

"Damning himself and luck?" Dumbledore said, repeating Harry's words with a slight downturn of the corners of his lips, not as much asking Harry but more himself.

"Tom has always been exceedingly bright. It is not that I doubt you, Harry," he said, raising his hand. "It's that Tom had a malicious cunning to him from a young age. He knew how to trap others and avoid becoming so himself."

"True," Horace said, shifting in his seat. "Though he had a blind spot when it came to obtaining power."

The Headmaster lifted up the parchment with the spell for the ritual on it, "Care to explain this, how you became the heir, and why the Chamber of Secrets is no longer secret?"

Harry looked to Horace, he was letting him lead the action. A subtle nod was given before Harry began to explain. "The Chamber of Secrets was still controlled by Salazar Slytherin. It was a place to house his familiar and a hidden place for his potential heirs to seek out and learn from."

"Potential heirs?" Dumbledore asked, steepling his fingers.

"Yes, potential," Harry confirmed. "I'm not sure what you know of his life but he made mistakes. One of them was in how he raised his son." Harry rubbed his nose before continuing, "He had a training regimen set up and a path to follow. He left a memoir of lessons to pass down that he learned in his life."

"Hogwarts Headmaster's leave a portrait and journal behind," Dumbledore said. "I'm aware of the general outline of his life. Particularly that he sequestered himself away in the Chamber of Secrets and was not seen again."

Harry nodded, "He spent his final time working on building himself a legacy, one that would last beyond his life. A way to train heirs and test them, to see if they are worthy."

"And the test?"

Harry sat back and told him of his experience with the ritual and then elaborated onto what he suspected. Dumbledore was a brilliant wizard and may deduce things Harry and his advisors could not.

"I doubt it bound the soul to an object," Harry said, his eyebrows knitting together. "It felt more like detachment than a binding."

Dumbledore looked at the parchment again, "The ancient Egyptians were famous for their attempts to avoid death. Binding their souls was attempted...without success. Necromancers have tried to reanimate the dead by implanting another's soul into a soulless body. But, none have had success. Only Herpo's, the Foul, Horcrux has had a semblance of success."

Harry considered his words. That lined up for what he thought the ritual might be but he wasn't certain. While he didn't fully trust Dumbledore, he did believe the man did not mean him harm and was wholly against Riddle. If he could've avoided the man, it might have been his favoured solution but Dumbledore was Albus Dumbledore for a reason.

"Salazar had claimed it was the perfection of a Horcrux. Either I do it or I'd never complete my final ritual set."

The Headmaster leaned forward, his blue eyes peering through his half-moon spectacles, a keen sheen to them. "Yet your magic is balanced and I can sense no wrongness in your soul."

Harry didn't miss the reemergence of his wand. Any sort of response he might come up with was covered by Horace.

"And faced with an impossible choice, Harry did neither!" Horace stood up and placed his hands on the desk. "Put your wand away, Albus," Horace uncharacteristically snarled. "We came here of our own volition to seek to work together. Not so you can paint your past failures onto Harry!"

Dumbledore closed his eyes for a moment, and then lowered his head. He let out a breath and swallowed before stowing his wand on the desk in front of them.

Horace reached behind himself and then, using his grip on the armrests, lowered himself back down. "Harry isn't you, he's not Gellert, and he's definitely not Tom," Horace said, his voice soft, gentle. He rubbed his forehead as he looked down for a moment.

"We're not here to guilt you. Merlin knows I've a lot to atone for, telling Riddle about Horcruxes." Slughorn's head had hung low as he admitted that but now he brought his eyes back up and they were ablaze with determination.

"Riddle aimed to create seven Horcruxes," his eyes flicked to the journal on the desk, "and that is one destroyed."

Albus was seated back, almost slumped back in his chair, but the backing was too tall and straight to allow for it. "And now you wish for my aid in finding and destroying the rest of the Horcruxes, now that Harry has proven he will not fall, as Tom did?"

Harry almost rolled his eyes. "I'd have sooner killed myself than become like him," Harry said, his voice harder than steel. "I made the choice to risk that, by not doing what Riddle did."

"And just what did Riddle do?" Albus asked, gesturing to the parchment with the spell on it again. "I don't know what this does but you do?"

Harry nodded and then flicked his eyes over to Horace. After receiving another approval to continue, he explained. "This is soul magic. Whatever it does, removes your soul from your body. I believe Riddle already had a fractured soul and when he completed the ritual, he created his first Horcrux, his diary."

It was clear, to Harry, that his words had a profound effect on the Headmaster. He sat there, stroking his beard, deep in thought. Whether he was working with the revelations of what had just been revealed or something else, Harry didn't know.

"Where Riddle and I differ is that I completed the final ritual, the one that balanced the seventh set and tied them all together," Harry said, watching the headmaster carefully. "Tom survived whatever that spell was and did a 49th ritual but it wasn't a seventh ritual of the seventh set. It was the first one of a new set of seven.

"I know I was the first because the Chamber of Secrets is no more. It produced an heir he considered worthy, after all this time, and is now a part of the castle."

Horace patted him on the arm, "Harry cannot take up the name. It is a magical legacy, not a named one," Horace said, explaining something that Harry had informed him of. "But we are here, Albus, to speak on Horcruxes. With two year's time, you must know more."

Harry glanced at Horace, he kept his face impassive but he appreciated the man coming to help box Dumbledore into a corner.

"Alas, what I know is little more than rumours," Dumbledore responded. "But you've answered the question of how many."

Harry was getting annoyed and he could tell Horace was too. Slughorn didn't look over but he poked Harry's arm. Having recognized the signal, Harry rummaged in his pocket and pulled out the requested item. He leaned forward and dropped it on the desk before sitting back and turning to look at Horace.

"This is a replica of Salazar Slytherin's locket. The real one was a former Horcrux. Now it's gone, dead, destroyed."

The Headmaster brought his hand up to adjust his glasses as he leaned forward, over the desk, and scrutinized the locket. His hand plucked his wand from the desk and he used it to investigate the locket.

"Where did you find such a thing?" Dumbledore asked with wonderment, his eyes not coming off the replica locket. The locket twirled in the air in front of him. "There are pictures of what it looked like. The original is destroyed?"

"Of course, Albus, of course," Horace said, though he played his part well, faking a moroseness that the locket was destroyed. "Basilisk venom, and If you want that story, Albus, you'll come clean with what you suspect," Horace said, brooking no room for negotiation.

Dumbledore looked at each of them and then stood up, without saying a word. He walked over to a cabinet and it opened up into a bowl. He placed the tip of his wand into it and brought some silvery fluid-like strands up to his forehead. After completing the action a few more times he closed the cabinet and came to sit back down.

"Tom, from a young age, liked to collect trophies. Since discovering the diary, I have sought to piece together what items he might have used," Dumbledore said, his eyes sharp and with a weariness that he wasn't sure he'd seen before.

"His diary was just the first. The second, I believe he sought out from his ancestry, the Gaunts."

"Marvolo and his brood?" Slughorn's eyes squinting in thought as he asked.

"Marvolo, Morfin, and Merope, the last of the once-proud family," Dumbledore replied, nodding his head.

Horace turned to Harry, "They were once numerous. A family of parseltongues that bred cousin to cousin, aunt to nephew, niece to uncle and brother to sister," he said, his nose wrinkling in putrid disgust. "All to keep their line pure, the so-called descendants of Slytherin."

"The last two didn't attend Hogwarts. Morfin was half-mad, even as a child, and Merope a squib," Dumbledore paused and brought his hand to his temple as he sighed. "Morfin died in Azkaban, though I am discreetly following up a lead to confirm what I suspect may have happened. Bob Odgen was the arresting member of the Ministry and I hope to question him."

"What is it that you suspect?" Harry pressed, knowing that the man's guesses were almost enough to be taken as fact.

"I suspect, Harry, that Morfin Gaunt did not murder Tom Riddle Sr. That a teenaged Voldemort murdered his father and created another Horcrux with the sole heirloom the Gaunts still possessed."

"Marvolo's ring," Horace said, nodding as he stared blankly at Dumbledore. "The man would flaunt it."

"Indeed."

Harry digested the words and almost felt out of place. While he had come a long way in understanding his place in the magical world, there was still so much of their culture that he was oblivious to. Watching them go back and forth made him appreciate how lucky he was to have such skilled men around helping him.

"That's three then. Diary, locket, and a ring," Harry said, hoping to keep things focused.

"Yes, and beyond that, I thought of an item for each founder. Slytherin's locket, Hufflepuff's cup, and Ravenclaw's diadem. I'd suggest Gryffindor's sword but Tom would never have had access to it."

"But that is only five...do you have ideas for the others?"

The Headmaster looked at Harry, who had asked the question. "I do, though I have no real reason to consider his familiar, other than his personal connection to it."

Harry looked to Horace and he saw the man rubbing his chin in thought. Horace knew that they were aware of the cup and its whereabouts. Though neither of them would be able to confess that to Dumbledore, not now, not ever. And, on top of that, the diadem had been found and cleansed.

"His snake may be possible…the diadem has been lost for ages but the cup was lost after the murder of Hepzibah Smith," Horace said, quirking his chin in thought. "I wouldn't put it past either of them to be beyond Tom's grasp. He was frightfully charismatic and could ferret out information like few others."

"Well, Regulus wasn't a fan, at least, not at the end," Harry said. "He might have won him early but Regulus saw through it and stole the locket from a cave."

"A cave? Was it by the seaside?" Dumbledore asked, his blue eyes radiating intense curiosity.

Harry shrugged. "Kreacher would have to take you. I've never been. But I can have Kreacher take you."

"I'll hold you too that," Dumbledore said as he relaxed back into his chair. "It is one of the places I planned to investigate as a Horcrux hideaway."

"Do you have anywhere else in mind?" Harry asked, wanting to pry as much information out of the man as possible. "A follower had the diary, the locket was in a cave and we don't know of any other locations?"

"Perhaps here, at Hogwarts?" Horace mused aloud and Harry had to suppress the will to smirk.

"I'd considered that but with the Chamber of Secrets in mind. Did you find anything, Harry?"

"There was nothing," Harry replied, shaking his head.

"You're sure?" Dumbledore queried, once again peering down at him over his glasses.

"Horcruxes have souls. You can detect them," Harry said, suppressing the urge to roll his eyes. He was capable and had done more to destroy Horcruxes and Riddle's powerbase than the venerated man sitting across from him.

Harry caught Horace's eye and he saw the slight dip of his head. "Besides, there was one horcrux that has already been found and destroyed here," Harry said and then paused for effect. Sometimes it was nice to be the one withholding information.

"The diadem was found. A house elf pointing out a room that neither staff nor students use. Locating a soul fragment wasn't too difficult," Harry said. Though he wanted to praise Daphne for having found it, his advisors didn't believe it wise to let Dumbledore know how widespread the information had been revealed, vow or no vow.

"I wouldn't have considered that. Yet, it is often the simplest of things that lead to the greatest discoveries," he said, smiling at Harry, his eyes twinkling with merriment. "What made you think to ask?"

Harry shrugged, "Dobby was the one who noticed there was a hidden area in the Chamber of Secrets. It only made sense to try again."

"Ingenius," Dumbledore chuckled softly. "A marvelous idea and one that should have been thought of… I'll have to have a discussion with the Hogwarts elves."

The smile on the headmaster's face fell as he shifted in his seat. "But, aside from Hogwarts, I believe there is one at the former Gaunt residence. There were some particularly nasty protections that reek of Tom's doing."

Horace clapped his hands together, "Excellent, excellent. Three down and the location of a fourth. A fifth location to investigate as well," he said jovially, his face shining with delight. "I trust we'll keep each other appraised of any developments?"

"Of course, I'll speak with the elves here and the portraits as well. Perhaps a ghost may have insight as well," he said, musing aloud.

If there was a time to sigh, it was now. There was one more Horcrux that they were now aware of and Harry had no doubt that Dumbledore suspected it. Thankfully, with the spell in front of them, there might be a way to remove it. Patrice and Apolline were leading that up and Harry could trust them with that delicate situation.

He had hoped Dumbledore might be more forthcoming but it appeared he really wasn't.

Horace had talked with him before, as to whether they should divulge that they believed the black speck on his scar that Natalia had seen was a Horcrux.

Harry stared at Slughorn and waited to see if he was given the signal to go ahead and bring it up or not. When Harry saw the minute nod of Horace's head, he knew it was about to get interesting.

Harry stood and withdrew his wand. He shut his eyes and prepared himself for what he was about to do.

"When Harry tried the spell out, knowing full well he had to channel it through immense agony, something peculiar was noted," Horace said, his voice deceptively soft. Harry knew he was baiting a trap and they'd learn if Dumbledore was aware of the Horcrux in his scar.

"I was hoping you could take a look, Albus. Perhaps you could tell us what it is." He locked eyes with Harry and nodded.

Harry, closing his eyes once more, took in a deep breath and then exhaled it. He opened his eyes and looked at Dumbledore. "I'll only hold it for a couple seconds. Watch around my scar." As he said the final word, Harry didn't need to be a legilimens to know what the man had realized. His shoulders slumped and the pinching of his nose was a dead giveaway.

"Do I need to subject myself to this or can you just admit you know what my scar really is, professor?" The grip he had on his wand slackened as he knew it wasn't necessary to go through with it anymore.

Dumbledore didn't quiver away or try to deny it. He looked Harry in the eye, guilt pooling behind his blue eyes, and he admitted it. "I feared it was a Horcrux but I was never certain."

"How long? How long have you feared it was the case?" Harry asked, almost spitting the words, his hands balling into fists at his sides.

"There was always something unnatural about it," he said, not looking away. "But only after the diary did my thoughts turn to that possibility. For there was one more oddity about the night of Tom's downfall that I have kept from seeing the light of day."

Harry froze, he already knew about Sirius and Pettigrew. If this was a betrayal or a mistake on the Headmaster's part that led to his parents' death, he wasn't sure he could keep himself from lashing out at the man.

"Voldemort never brought his familiar with him on raids. It was always left behind, protected," Dumbledore said, his voice no louder than a whisper. "Yet, on that night, I found incontrovertible evidence that Nagini had been there, in the house, in your room, Harry."

Harry felt his heart thumping in his chest and he listened with rapt attention.

"Why would he have brought her?" Slughorn asked, though Harry wondered if he meant to speak them aloud. His jaw was slightly lowered and he'd lost a little colour.

"I believe the triumph over the Potters that night was to be a feat marked by the making of another Horcrux, a living Horcrux."

Another Horcrux. The words echoed in his mind. His death was supposed to be used to fuel an abomination of magic.

He felt sick to his stomach. The grotesque bastard had tried to use him like that?

Anger. Rage. Hate. If he hadn't already planned to kill the bastard for murdering his parents then he'd have found the will, many times over.

Even still, he could feel righteous fury bubbling under his surface. This wouldn't stand. When the confrontation came, he'd end the disgrace, the false heir.

Horace's arm clasped his shoulder. Harry let out a breath, trying to send all his frustration with it. Now wasn't the time to get upset.

"You believe he intends to make his familiar a Horcrux?"

"I do. And when he comes back, when, not if, I expect it will be one of the first things he does."

Harry sat back down. That was interesting. It was possible that he hadn't completed the Horcrux ritual set then.

Harry's plan was already to just kill him if he got the chance. It would be easier to track down Horcruxes with Voldemort in wraith form, than with him being an active enemy combatant to contend with.

Harry was just about to bring the conversation back to the Horcrux in his head, unleashing some of the outrage he had built up over Dumbledore not telling him when McGonagall was seen, seen not heard, entering the office.

Dumbledore gave them both a stern look, obviously noting the end of the sensitive information on Horcruxes being bandied about, and he waved his wand, dispelling some of the privacy spells he had put up.

"Albus! Open your floo, Amelia has been trying to reach you for the past half-hour!" The woman looked uncharacteristically frantic, her hair somewhat dishevelled and it appeared as though she had run to his office, given the rosy colour of her cheeks and the laboured breathing.

"I was in a meeting, what could be so important that you had to use your authority as Deputy Headmistress to bypass the protections on the office?" Dumbledore raised his eyebrow, radiating a sense of calm and control, that no matter the situation he was capable of handling it, with ease.

"Azkaban...it…" she shook her head and clamped a hand over her mouth in concern. "Just open the floo, Albus!"

Dumbledore nodded and then turned to the fireplace and waved his hand. Harry felt a wave of openness pass over him and a head popped through almost immediately. The head disappeared almost as quickly, before Harry could make out who it was.

Two seconds later, Stacey Parent strode through the fireplace, her posture rigid, and Harry could see how stressed she was.

"Have you told him?" she said, ignoring Horace and Harry's presence and looked right to McGonagall.

"No," the words were barely loud enough to hear but she also shook her head vigorously.

Head Auror Parent walked up to the desk, gave a significant look at Harry and Horace, then turned to Dumbledore, her jaw set. "Azkaban was raided. The prison destroyed, the guards missing, and no sign of any inmates."

Dumbledore shot a piercing gaze at Harry before his eyes darted to Stacey. "Any signs as to who did this or how it was pulled off?"

Parent gave a tight nod, her hands still balled into fists. "You-Know-Who's mark was found over the island and it's clear to see the place was torched with fiendfyre."

Harry sat back in his chair, his hand covering the lower part of his face. He felt a bit pale and he knew his breathing was fast and shallow, his heart rate up.

"The guards were missing? The aurors or the dementors?" Dumbledore asked, his voice heavy and Harry he could almost see a weight settle on his shoulders.

"There are no signs of the dementors and the aurors who were supposed to be stationed there," Parent said, her teeth grinding together after speaking.

Harry glanced at Horace and the man was playing this off perfectly. His doe-like eyes were wide and he looked truly horrified with the revelations.

Harry had lost track of the conversation as he was too concerned with playing his part to perfection. But, as he was looking away from the desk, staring vacantly into the fire, he was the first to see another auror step through the floo.

"Stacey, Stacey," the dark purple haired auror called out. "Stacey!"

The Head Auror turned, her head jerking back as her eyes widened, seeing who had addressed her. "What is it, Tonks?"

"Two more attacks, both with the dark mark," Tonks said, her voice shaky and the colour of her hair lightening and darkening as she spoke.

"T-two more?" Stacey said, recoiling, leaning back against the desk.

"Yeah," Tonks glanced around, noting how many other occupants were in the room.

"Well," Parent said, pushing herself back up on her feet, standing tall, and crossing her arms over her chest. "Details, auror, I need details. What do we know?"

"C-can I brief you here or?" she gestured at everyone else in the room.

Stacey's eyes darted to each person before she focused back on the auror under her command. "Amelia won't mind. If these are the opening salvos of the war, we'll need Potter's and Dumbledore's wands to combat You-Know-Who."

Tonks gave a slow deliberate nod, the spiky purple hair wilting as she took in the words, her eyes glazing over.

"Auror," Parent barked, getting her attention.

"Right, sorry," Tonks said, a fire awakening within her, burning behind her eyes. "The Nott residence was attacked. Nott Senior is dead along with what looks to be a Lestrange brother."

There was no need to feign surprise. That wasn't something that had been discussed, planned, and okayed on his part. He turned his chin and saw Horace was just as surprised looking but the look in his eye was not feigned.

Horace didn't know either. Ivan must have acted without his knowledge too.

"A Lestrange brother attacking the Nott residence?" Parent asked, the disbelief palpable in her voice.

"There was a dark mark over the home and a message painted in blood on the wall. It said: 'Death to the disloyal'.

"Death to the disloyal?" Horace asked; the corner of his eyes crinkled and his head quirked to the side.

Tonks must not have heard it as she continued his report. But Harry had seen Dumbledore and McGonagall had, each of their attention having been drawn by the comment.

"The other Lestrange brother was amongst those that led a raid on Yaxley's home."

Harry couldn't help the gasp that escaped his mouth. His jaw lowered as he couldn't believe what he'd just heard.

"Two homes, during the day?" McGonagall said, horror lacing her tone. "Merlin help us."

"Casualties, auror?" Stacey Parent asked, snapping everyone back to Tonks.

"I'm sorry ma'am, I was called in and upon arriving I was told to tell you what I have," Tonks said, shifting her weight from her left foot to her right, her posture upright and rigid. "Scrimgeour told me to report to you and attach myself to you until you send me home."

Stacey took in the words impassively and rubbed the temples of her forehead with her hands for a moment. "Death Eaters broken out, Azkaban torched, and multiple raids...this must have been coordinated in advance." She huffed out a breath and then seemed to come to a decision.

"Tonks, you're with me. Scrimgeour will have gone to Yaxley's, we'll head to Nott's and then Azkaban again," she said in a commanding tone as she waited for Tonks to acknowledge her words. She took two steps away from the desk and then turned to address Dumbledore. "If you can take a look at Azkaban and see what you think, that would be helpful. We've no leads. Just missing people, dementors, a destroyed fortress blackened by fiendfyre."

"I will, my dear, I will," Dumbledore said, his voice calm and reassuring. "I'll pay a visit to Amelia after as well. I fear we have much to speak about."

Harry had been sitting here, trying to make sense of it all. They had planned to cause division between the Death Eaters. Framing the raid on Azkaban as Riddle's doing had been the plan for the first step.

This though, raiding two homes of Death Eaters who hadn't been convicted. This hadn't been decided upon. They were supposed to go over the intelligence and then decide upon a plan of action, together.

Harry watched as the two women left. He turned and saw McGonagall was seated, though the conjured chair wasn't quite the same as the one she usually preferred.

His frustration must have shown as Dumbledore picked up on it. "There is little we can do at the moment, Harry," he said, leaning back in his chair. "And I fear this is only the beginning. Raids were a regular occurrence and it will only be a matter of time until they target the general public."

Harry took in a deep breath, working to control himself, and let out a breath, trying to push out his frustrations.

"You'll need to be ready, Harry, my boy," Dumbledore said, his face strained. "Tom will come for you. I'm an obstacle he knows he can work around. You, though, are the symbol of his defeat, his weakness."

"Tom despised weakness, always trying to laud his power, make people fear him," Horace added, his words soft and weighty.

"We'll have to be careful and work quickly, with Voldemort being active now," Dumbledore said, stroking his beard. Harry could almost see the man thinking behind his blue eyes. "I assume the spell you gave me is how you hope to remove the issue?"

With McGonagall in the room, Harry understood that he was talking about an issue that couldn't be allowed to become known.

"I have the Delacours looking into it; it is something that will need to be dealt with," Harry said, feeling apprehension as he spoke of the Horcrux in his scar.

"I had been pursuing my own avenue to deal with it…but yours is far more promising," he said, a small smile tugging on his lips.

Dumbledore stood up and clapped his hands together, calling for Fawkes. "Alas, our meeting is at an end. Now, more than ever, we need to band together and stand against the coming darkness."

He turned to McGonagall, "Inform the staff, this will break in the Prophet shortly. We'll need to ensure Hogwarts policies and procedures are prepared, again."

The Deputy Headmistress bowed her head and Harry could see the gravity of the situation settle on her, shock having worn off.

"Horace, Harry, we'll have to pause our conversations here." A twinkle came to his eyes, "As Alastor says, constant vigilance. It will be needed now. I'll be in touch." With Fawkes having flown over to his master, Dumbledore grabbed a hold of the tail feathers and they disappeared in a flash of fire.

With the meeting over, Harry and Horace made their way to the floor, there was much to do and more to discuss.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

The day has ended and I could not be more proud of you, my heir.

I challenged you to be more, to be worthy, to become my heir and I can tell you that you have succeeded.

For it is not power that makes a man, it is not ambition, nor wits alone.

Character. Character is what makes a man great, greater than I.

As I sit here and write the final pages of my memoir, I can rest in peace. For you have passed a test I myself failed in my youth. I was blind in my pursuit of power and failed to understand the cost of tampering with your soul.

Your soul is who you are, a manifestation that is beyond the comprehension of man. Spirit, mind, body, and magic all blended into a single being. No matter the spell, the ritual, the runic creation, magic can never best nature, for magic is nature.

Splitting your soul, binding your soul, or any other sort of deplorable act all must be paid with a cost too terrible to bear. For myself, it was my empathy. My ability to feel, to love, to share my feelings with others. An inability to understand a fundamental part of human nature.

For it is empathy that is the basis of love. It is empathy that is the basis of human interaction. Without empathy, you are a shell of yourself. People don't have intrinsic value, they are not worth more than the cattle you raise, only fit for slaughter.

Empathy, my heir, is the foundation of a happy, fulfilling life. Without love, what is the point of marriage? Without love, without empathy, how can you raise a son, a daughter?

I told you I was a failure of a man and it took me many years to realize what I had lost. No manner of rituals could undo what I myself had wrought. And so, at the end of my days, I know death, I have tasted it. At a cost that was too high to bear. It is only with Godric's, Rowena's, and Helga's assistance that I am around to write this. For the pursuit of power is pure folly.

But you, my heir, are more than I, greater than I.

You were challenged to either risk having a short life or to complete a ritual. And you choose neither.

When I encouraged it and tried to bait you into doing a ritual that would have ruined you, you refused.

I can only guess as to why you have done so. But, either way, you have avoided tampering with your soul. And, if you have not yet figured out what the ritual does, allow me to educate you. It is a ritual that was the basis for the development of the Killing Curse. The spell you channel pulls your soul from your body. If you were successful in casting it, you'd have committed suicide.

I would never allow a spawn of mine to take all of what I have given them and then allow them to tamper with their soul. It was the final temptation, the forbidden fruit that you should have known better than to try and pluck.

It is not a ritual one can do by accident. It takes immense will to endure a mere second of it. It was said that it was a way to regain respect, regain lost honour.

As your soul detaches from your body, you feel less, you sense less, you become less.

How could you understand magic, the very building blocks it is built upon, and fail to recognize that what was going on in that ritual was wrong?

But why would I tell you that, my heir? You who have already resisted the temptation and become a greater man than I. For it is not always in the actions of others that you find greatness, sometimes it is their restraint that shows their character.

As I sit here and write these words, know that I couldn't be any more proud of you, my heir.

I have taught you all that I know, I have gifted you with everything I view as wise to do.

The final ritual is in the book. One that will balance your magic. Have no fear, my library is yours for the taking and I can finally rest in peace.

Live well; love well. Live a full life and rise to your full potential. Eclipse my legacy.

Stay true to yourself.

You are better than I.

You are more than I.

You are worthy.

You are my true heir.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

Well, cliffy is done. Been rather frequent updates here, 4 chapters posted Sept 29-Oct18. Gonna relax a little here now so don't be expecting an update within a few days. I knew the plan for the chapter sequence and had debated waiting to post 49/50 on the same day, and even 47-50. But, as you all know, I went for just posting it when it was done.

Thanks to Nauze & Triage for the beta work, as always!

Thanks for reading, reviewing, follows & favs! If you'd like to join the discord follow the link in my profile.