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Shoutouts: Shout out to HonorverseFan and x102reddragon for beta'ing this chapter. Check these guys' work out. Also, thanks to Sam Gabriel for taking the time to both read my fic and give me tons of feedback on it to make it better.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. I'm just writing a story for people to enjoy.
The Shadow of Death
Chapter 4: The Fallacy of Fortune
Tragedy at Travers Manor, Crouch Jr Suspected
Barnabas Cuffe, Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Prophet
Once again, loyal Prophet readers, I come to you with ill tidings. This past fortnight has been one which cast a shadow not seen or felt since You-Know-Who was still at large. This marks the first time in our long, vaunted history that Azkaban has been unable to hold a witch or wizard within its ancient walls. Unfortunately, the wizard who now roams freely is none other than the late Bartemius Crouch Jr, convicted Death Eater and son of the late Bartemius Crouch Sr, former Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and later of the Department of International Magical Cooperation.
Yes, readers, you read the words correctly. Bartemius Crouch Jr, the man who was sentenced to life in Azkaban by his own father, and thought to have died there, for participating in the torture of Frank and Alice Longbottom is once again at large. This was confirmed late last night in an emergency press conference by the Head of the DMLE, Madam Amelia Bones. Crouch Jr was identified three days ago participating in a muggle raid in Highnam with four unknown accomplices. These raids have become increasingly common as of late, but Crouch Jr's involvement was not known until the incident at Highnam, leaving thirty muggles grievously wounded or dead and two Aurors injured. The two Aurors, whose names have not been released, are currently recovering from their injuries in St Mungos.
You will recall Miss Skeeter's articles from the past fortnight reporting on three attacks against upstanding members of our society. I am of course referencing Theodus and Brea Greengrass, Walden Macnair, and, most recently, Acton Travers. Each of the victims was found under the Dark Mark, something not seen since the darkest days of the First Blood War. The Ministry, at the time of the incidents, gave no official statement as to who they believed to be behind the attacks but had informed us at the Daily Prophet that Lady Bones was personally leading the investigation into the four deaths.
Last night Minister Fudge had this to say:
"Witches and Wizards of Britain. I speak to you, my heart laden with sorrow over the deaths of four upstanding members of our society. However, know that Madam Bones' investigation has paid off. Bartemius Crouch Jr has been sighted and we believe that he, along with four other unknown individuals, are attacking not only muggles but those members of our great nation who he believes betrayed You-Know-Who. We are unsure how Crouch escaped Azkaban but fear not! We, your Ministry, only have your best interests at heart. We will ensure that the defences at Azkaban are fortified and that Crouch is brought to justice swiftly!"
You will notice Minister Fudge made no mention of Headmaster Dumbledore's claims of You-Know-Who's return or that he is the one perpetrating these attacks. The former Chief Warlock has been oddly silent on the matter. We here at the Daily Prophet do not stand by his fearmongering and hope that Madam Umbridge's placement at Hogwarts this year will see both a much-needed improvement of our education system and an end to the Headmaster's obviously deepening senility. Our Minister and the DMLE have the right of it.
Madam Bones has urged the magical population of Britain to keep their safety at the forefront of their minds. Bartemius Crouch Jr is a dangerous individual, his years at Azkaban likely doing no favours for his sanity. Madam Bones advises that if you encounter Crouch Jr, you should immediately flee the scene and contact the Aurors. Crouch Jr is armed and extremely dangerous.
For more on the Ministry's investigation see pg 3
For more on Bartemius Crouch Jr see pg 7
For information on Madam Umbridge's appointment at Hogwarts see pg 13
Useless, as usual.
The paper disappeared into a waste bin as he continued walking through the winding maze of streets branching away from Grimmauld Place, uncaring at the trouble that could arise should a muggle find the discarded paper. It was not his problem.
Harry wondered, not for the first time, why he continued to read the drivel the Daily Prophet fed to its loyal fanbase. It was always the same rhetoric from the Ministry, not that he expected anything less from Minister Fudge. The man's intelligence report had been rather lacklustre. It had consisted of little more than pages upon pages of bribery and inept policies. Harry's thoughts constantly shifted between the pages' contents and the streets' occupants.
Muggles passed by him as he walked the streets of London, the midday sun beating down on his uncovered head. The walkway was claustrophobic, his eyes constantly searching for threats as of yet unseen. Harry had been in crowds before, but he had never done so while his face was still visible. He had always been hidden in some form or fashion. Now, he was only doing so at his master's behest, who claimed he needed to become accustomed to doing as such before entering Hogwarts.
Inane as the order was, the old wizard posed a valid point. Harry, upon his first time exiting Grimmauld Place uncovered, had quickly come to realize the suffocating atmosphere that came with being surrounded by other humans. Personal contact had been a blessed rarity in Grimmauld Place, given that he had locked himself away in his study. That first venture into the muggle world had been a week prior and five days before his most recent mission.
A tensed hand twitched over the handle of the Elder Wand, hidden in an invisible wand holster he had stolen from Black. A crowd of muggles brushed by his shoulders, uncaring at the everyday action that shook him from his thoughts. He, however, wanted nothing more than to draw The Wand and force the pressing bodies away from his person. It was overwhelming, all-consuming.
"You have mastered your hold over the weaklings." The Wand's treacherous voice crept through his mind like venom through veins, unheard by those who pressed into him. "You have but to draw me to master the world. I would make you great, better than any before. None would match your power. Follow my call, young master."
Harry jerked his hand away from the concealed artefact, his eyes snapping to and fro in an attempt to find an escape from the pressing tide that surrounded him on all sides. Fortune, it seemed, smiled on him as his green eyes, lined with an abnormal amount of tension, found purchase on a small park nestled in the middle of the city. It was beckoning haven, a respite from the crushing thrall of London.
The Elder Wand, though muted, called to him in the recesses of his mind as he strode toward the lone spot of green hidden among concrete. Though it was as useful as Dumbledore had promised, Harry hated using it. Its sinister whispers took root in his mind every time he had touched it. The voice, timeless beyond fathoming, called to him in a way nothing ever had before, each time entrancing him temporarily.
His mind would switch gears at times, heeding the voice's call and making him believe that he wanted nothing more than to be free of his masters, from his fate. It was concerning that The Wand would speak to him in such a way when it had not done so for a man who had wielded it for decades. However, its value was far too great to simply rid himself of it. Harry made a mental note to study it, and the cloak, further in the future as he had more pressing matters to consider for the moment.
Shaking his head to clear it of the unimportant musings, Harry made his way to a lone bench overlooking a playground in the park. Children, happily playing on a ramshackle jungle gym, were being chased by harried parents whose primary concern was their charges' safety. Green eyes glazed over, absently taking in the mundane details of everyday muggle life, as he considered the happenings of the past two weeks.
The recent development with Crouch had borne some fruit, thankfully. It was, however, unfortunate that his personal spy, Severus, had been unable to ascertain the man's given mission. Crouch, though a rather unstable individual, was undeniably an extremely intelligent and crafty wizard. His ability to capture and pose as the famed Veteran Auror Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody was proof enough of his prowess. The methods by which he had done so were still unknown to the members of the Order.
Happenstance, for once, had worked in his favour, though. His false flag operations had worked perfectly, as unintended as it had been. Harry had only hoped that casting the Dark Mark above his victims' homes would turn the Ministry's attention away from a new, unknown player and perhaps force them into taking some type of action. Barty Crouch Jr being exposed had only worked in his favour, though he did know there would be consequences for his actions.
Harry was not so foolish as to believe that Voldemort would not strike back at him. Four Death Eaters had been killed in as little as two weeks, though only three by his own hand. The last two victims had been slightly more prepared than the first pair, though that had been expected. Macnair and Travers were well known for being brutes, but they remembered well the enemies they had made during the first war.
Memories of the three missions brought Harry more than a little consternation. He had expected to gain more insight on Voldemort's inner workings, but the man played his cards with a vexing finesse. Rarely did the Dark Lord ever give his followers information en masse. Rather, he preferred to give his instructions to one person in his inner circle who would then lead the given mission. The fact that Voldemort's inner circle were well-hidden prevented them from accidentally letting information slip to the wrong ears.
Breaking into Macnair and Travers's manors had still been simple affairs, their outer defences weaker than even the Greengrass'. At the very least, it had been commendable that the men had protections within their house, meagre as they had been.
However, it had readily become apparent that the men had little to offer when he had broken through their paltry mental shields. Subduing them to continue his study of the Dark Mark had at least yielded some results, but he had yet to fully decipher all its mysteries. Voldemort, while somewhat crude in his methods, was a veritable prodigy of the Dark Arts. Many supposed dark lords had fallen to Harry's magic, but Riddle stood in a class of his own in terms of knowledge.
Newfound knowledge did little to placate the agitation that roiled in his mind, though. Many of the images he had seen in Theodus Greengrass' mind had been repeated in Harry's latest two targets. Unbidden, the images of the Death Eaters' lives flitted before his mind's eye, one of the few drawbacks of his form of legilimency. The memories assaulted his every sense as if he were the one to have lived the recollections. Their emotions, many foreign to him, intermingled with his own annoyance.
A formal dinner with his father. Hatred
Being sorted into Slytherin. Calm Elation.
Marrying Brea Parkinson. Grudging acceptance.
Taking his Dark Mark after graduating Hogwarts. Excitement borne of promised change.
Muggle raids. So much death and suffering. Power, all-encompassing and addictive.
Daphne being born, entering the world with a piercing wail. The best moment of her life. Indescribable.
Details of his business. Droll and monotonous, yet important to his Lord and family.
Yet, there had been a common recollection in each of their minds. Something important, just beyond Harry's grasp or understanding. As titillating as it was vexing.
It should have been easy.
Yet, it was anything but.
A piece of paper blurred beyond comprehension.
A large, white manor. Resplendent, but just beyond his ability to identify. He could almost name it. It was there in his mind, on the tip of his tongue, but it would not come to him no matter his efforts.
Memories blended with thoughts; emotions surged despite his attempts to suppress them.
The manor was blurred to the point of being unrecognizable. None of the men had been able to give him the name of the manor before he had killed them. If they had, the war would have been over within the week. Travers and Macnair had done little for him beyond confirming the errant thought that had passed through his mind when the image of the manor had first been pulled from Theodus' mind.
Bowing to a tall, pale man seated on a throne-like chair. A large snake wrapped around his shoulders, his face blurred beyond comprehension. Despite the lack of clarity, Harry knew the identity of the man. How could he not?
Voldemort's refuge was hidden beneath the Fidelius Charm.
There were weaknesses to that ancient piece of magic, but they were few and difficult to exploit. The fact that the Order's Headquarters was safe within the well-known ancestral home of the Blacks, a family renowned for its zealous support of Riddle, was proof enough that the charm was nigh unbreachable. Success would more or less be decided by the good will of fortune.
Harry snorted derisively. A fallacy.
None but the secret keeper could give him the manor's location and Harry doubted Voldemort would be willing to do so.
No, his hope rested upon luck, a hope that one of the inner circle had been enough of a dullard to have kept the secret in written form without destroying it. Further, that dullard would have to keep the secret on their person and leave the protection of wherever their master was staying.
Such a useless thing, luck.
As useless as the name his birth parents had given him.
An errant thought that had flitted through his mind on several occasions as of late, but one that could be easily exploited.
"But what of your own weakness?" The Elder Wand's whispered question rang unbidden through his mind. It was the first time it had questioned him so directly…so pointedly. "You were so sure…so strong before you learned of your own name. You deny it even now, but the day you met Dumbledore it became a chip in your armour."
The temperature around him dropped at the words, teasing vernacular that should not have affected him. Yet, The Wand's points had overcome his defences as easily as a lion overcomes a gazelle.
Hoarfrost spread across the sun kissed bench Harry sat upon, unheeding of the summer's heat. As if in protest at the sudden change in temperature, the previously warm wood of the bench began to groan its woes from underneath the thin layer of ice. It was not a new thought. The concept of a name, an identity, had at one time been nothing more than a concept, a novelty that was of no interest to him.
Now, though? He had a name, an identity, and knew he had been given one from the time he had first entered the world as a squalling babe. It was something so common, a concept Harry had never cared to understand. Despite his attempts to withdraw into his previous life, Harry's name vexed him. It mocked him and he could do nothing to stop it.
What did a name change?
Eyelids narrowed in annoyance, causing the edges of his eyes to crinkle. Harry's hard, angry glare was directed at the jungle gym covered in happy, laughing children, a complete antithesis to his current mental state. All of them, with names of their own, unburdened and filled with a life he had never known. His glare turning into a sneer of derision, Harry turned his head to stare at a cluster of trees to his left.
Jealousy was an emotion he abhorred, but it was not what he felt at that moment. No, he was angry at their ability to so easily accept who they were, what they were, simply because their parents had told them it was so. But not him. Harry had an identity thrust upon him late in his life, along with all the expectations that came with it. Simply put, it was something the young wizard had never wanted.
And it was such a seemingly simple, unnecessary thing that caused the raven-haired teenager so much conflict.
Pale hands ran through dark, coarse hair in an attempt to comfort their owner, an action that Harry had no need of in the past decade. It was of little use, his mind continuing to defy its master's wishes.
Several dozens of lives had been snuffed out at his hands, and he had never genuinely cared to ponder his actions. The targets had been an assignment. Nothing more, nothing less. They had been less than human, their worth only going as far as his previous master determined. To him, they, like him, had no identity and no worth beyond their next action.
Dumbledore had determined that every human life was unique and worth consideration.
Harry scoffed, his mind rife with self-loathing over his own weakness. The hoarfrost covering the bench thickened, finally beginning its descent down the legs of the poorly built outdoor furniture.
Now, the once nameless assassin had a name, an identity all his own. No matter how Harry denied it, there was little he could do to prevent the knowledge of his past from affecting him. His mind, unbidden, obsessed over his identity during his waking hours, something that had bled over to his latest victims. Such matters were helped little by the fact that his perusal of their memories had engrained them within his own mind. Harry could recall their thoughts and emotions, their sense of self, as easily as he could his own.
"Fuck." Murmured words passed unheard through the once thick, humid air. The chill caused by Harry's anger had thinned the atmosphere around him, though he chose to ignore the discomfort it brought him. Harry ran his hands through his hair once more, his gaze settling on the concrete walkway in front of his seated form. Rough hands clenched the raven locks harshly when the gesture failed to bring him comfort.
Images, unwanted and haunting, slammed into his mind with the grace of a rampaging hippogriff. Lives not the assassin's own passed by his mind's eye, reminding Harry of those who he had ended. Stories with a macabre end, their finale forever ingrained into the witness' minds.
Fists tightened to the point of pain as names were associated with the faces.
Theodus Greengrass III
Simple words. Insignificant, yet so profound. Their lives, meaningful to them, cut down mercilessly and without second thought at the time. Names erased, identities destroyed in one fell swoop, just the same as could happen to him.
The four monikers repeated in Harry's mind, unheard by any others, created an endless cacophony of clamor that he was powerless to stop. The din within the teenager's own mind drowned out all other noise and was soon joined by another, once meaningless name. One that, funnily enough, he had heard before he was aware it was his own.
Harry James Potter
Ragged breathing caused small puffs of vapour to escape blued lips into the cold air surrounding Harry. Sweat-drenched black hair swung wildly, slapping against smooth temples as the young wizard tried to force the clamouring racket from his head. Their names, their lives, evoked emotion in him that he could not identify only served to further confuse and infuriate him.
"No," Harry whispered. "Stop. Shut up. I did nothing wrong. They were nothing. I am nothing."
It was unacceptable.
"SHUT UP!" The hoarse yell echoed across the grassy field, children and their parents stopping their activities to stare at what they assumed to be an unhinged individual.
"You alright, mate?"
Green eyes widened when the teenager realized he had yelled the last command. Harry schooled his face into an expressionless mien, fists loosening and falling to his side, as he looked up at the person who had addressed him. An unremarkable, but young, face framed expressive blue eyes filled with concern and not a small amount of pity.
The look made a fire burn deep in his stomach, but Harry forced a pleasant, blinding smile on his face that did not quite reach his eyes. The older man recoiled as if he had been slapped.
"Perfectly fine, sir." The British accent escaping his mouth still sounded strange and foreign to Harry's ears, but he ignored it in favor of exiting the park before the man could question him about the frost covering the bench. "My apologies. I was thinking about my upcoming term for uni. If you will excuse me."
Harry stood, leaving the man open-mouthed, before quickly making his escape from the park. The din in the young man's head, which had quieted when he yelled, returned. Mercifully, it was not quite as loud as it had been previously. Gritting his teeth against the noise in his head, Harry rejoined the throng still flowing through the streets of London in search of a quiet, out of the way alley to apparate from.
Bustling crowds and brushing, jostling bodies hardly captured the reclusive assassin's attention as it had previously, his mind focused on its quest to escape the constant thrum that filled it. The Elder Wand's incessant utterings did nothing to relieve the pressure that was slowly building in his head.
Finally, after several long minutes of walking, Harry found an alley to quietly disappear from. The young wizard walked deep into the shadowed lane, his blank eyes searching for hidden threats purely from habit. The din had increased in volume as he had walked, his jaw tightening slightly with every rise in its intensity. Leaning tiredly against a brick wall at the end of the alley, Harry closed his eyes against the furor in his head. The entirety of his focus was devoted to ending the turmoil and centering himself once more.
They were nothing.
Vermin, branded like cattle and deserving of the death he had given them.
Harry James Potter was a fallacy, someone who had died long ago in Siberia.
He had no name.
He was nothing.
The mantra repeated in his mind for a few minutes, growing louder at each instance, and eventually overtook the disorder that had taken root in his head. Magic, which had been threatening to spill from the assassin violently, now calmed from its rushing torrent into a gently flowing stream. The voices, the memories that had clamoured for his attention, slowly receded to the recesses of his mind.
They had been nothing but vermin, allowing themselves to be branded like livestock in their reverence of a madman who thought himself to be above magic, above Death. Death Eaters, despite having a laughable moniker, served a man who had perverted his own magic in his quest for eternal life, his very existence threatening the balance of the world. By Harry's own beliefs, which had been deeply ingrained in him, those who willingly followed Voldemort deserved nothing less than what had been delivered to them.
So why was he so conflicted?
Harry pushed the question down, instead focusing on what he knew, that which was familiar…safe. Pulling his drab, grey cloak from the moleskin pouch hidden beneath Black's worn t-shirt, he let the rough material flow over his hands as he studied it.
There was nothing remarkable about the cloak, other than the magic imbued in it. But it was one of the few possessions, one item among a small number of constants, that had been with him his entire life. With it he could disappear in a crowd and be one with the shadows, unseen and unheard.
That had been his identity, for lack of a better term, for so, so long. Harry had been just another nameless, faceless wizard, an outstanding power certainly, but still just one among many. Now, something that the assassin had once been ambivalent to, was a source of comfort. It was his escape when the world, and his own mind, pressed in on him from all angles.
Scratchy wool slid over his exposed skin as he donned the grey cloak, his fragmented emotions and thoughts disappearing with all traces of Harry James Potter. The emotions, the memories which were not his own, slowly dissipated into nothingness as the hem of the robe made contact with the ground.
Eyes, hidden beneath the grey cowl once more, scanned the alleyway for potential witnesses before the assassin disappeared with nary a sound.
The arrogance of the Black Family astounded the shrouded figure standing in the middle of the road in front of Grimmauld Place. His unmoving form looked up at the once opulent manor as the magic and wards of the home pushed the muggle homes bracketing it to the side. It was a decidedly impressive and complex series of wards and enchantments, but the way in which the house was hidden in the midst of muggle homes proclaimed their sense of superiority for all to witness.
And where had their pure blood and wealth led them by the end of it all?
Dead and nearly destitute after supporting Voldemort's war, their funds later used to buy the Dark Lord's greatest enemy. The great line of Black would end with a drunk, foolish wizard who, by his own hand, was too weak to properly cast a Lumos.
So ends the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, likely with the sole surviving member between the legs of a hapless muggle woman.
Toujours Pur, indeed.
Harry sneered as he made his way to the entrance of the home. Extending his hand, he felt the magic of the doleful manor, ancient and powerful, sending a deep-rooted tingle to travel the length of his arm and down his spine. Strong, but steadily weakening due to lack of servicing over the years. The wards would only keep for a few years now, at most. The amount of work required to conduct proper repairs would be monumental and most time consuming, something he could not afford to give. Consequently, the Black vaults at Gringotts had nearly been emptied when Dumbledore had bought him.
The Order would require a new base of operations should the war drag on.
The Weasleys, at least, would rejoice at being able to leave the decrepit manor. Thoughts of the family forced an unpleasant frown to mar Harry's shrouded features. The Weasleys, though well-meaning, were thoroughly annoying to his sensibilities. The twins, in particular, annoyed the young wizard the most as the rest of the family at least had the decency to give him a wide berth anytime he exited the study.
Not Fred and George, or Forge and Gred as they preferred to be called. Never them. The two ginger twins from hell had made it their life's ambition to prank him, banal attempts at levity during dark times. Their latest effort had seen them strung upside down in front of Walburga Black's raving portrait for a few hours.
Though they grated on his nerves, Harry found there was little he could do to visit his retribution upon them. Dumbledore, of course, had forbidden him from harming them.
Pushing the faded door of the manor open, Harry took a moment to consider the dreary entrance hall. The walls were covered with faded, peeling wallpaper that had at one point been lovely to gaze upon. Dark, wood flooring was covered in a thick layer of dust, multiple sets of tracks left their imprints on its surface, merely compacting the grime rather than clearing it. The troll foot umbrella stand and severed house elf heads mounted on the wall acted as a grim reminder of the type of family that had once inhabited these halls.
A once proud family who had at one time tempered the world around them with their magic, brought low by generation after generation of inbreeding. Their minds and magic were, for the most part, fractured by the end. It truly was a shame.
Sirius Black was blessedly absent from the dreary entryway. Usually, he would have been waiting for Harry to return to once again try his hand at befriending the younger wizard, more often than not in a drunken state. Harry, to his master's continued chagrin, had rebuffed the annoying man's every attempt without second thought. Black's absence meant it was likely he was at a pub, the only place he frequented besides either Grimmauld Place or a muggle woman's bed.
An explosion, muted by walls and floors, echoed into the lower levels of Grimmauld Place. Walburga Black's mad ravings began anew at the disturbance, her shrill voice alerting the home's inhabitants to her interrupted slumber. Nymphadora Tonks' angry response could easily be heard, soon joined by others, in what quickly became a mad symphony of incoherent ramblings.
The Weasley twins were busy, it seemed. Harry counted it as a small blessing that they were holed up in their room, busy creating a new monstrosity they would likely deem fit to release upon the world at some future date. Walking into the sitting room, the young assassin was confident that his venture toward his study would not be interrupted by yet another of the twins' harebrained schemes.
Completely at odds with the hectic surroundings, which had become more common as of late, Harry found his master seated on an old, worn couch in the centre of the room. His countenance was peaceful as he hummed a light tune into the dust-filled room. How the aged man could find such peace of mind amidst the pandemonium pressing in on them was likely something Harry would never understand.
The thrum of silencing wards weaving their magics around the pair was enough to tell Harry that his master had noticed his presence. The noise filling Grimmauld Place diminished to a quiet thrum, Harry's tense posture relaxing as a result.
"Ah, Harry." Dumbledore's tone, though light, was betrayed by the tightness of the skin surrounding his blue eyes. "Please join me. There are items which I feel I must discuss with you before you and I attend an Order meeting."
Odd. His master had never required the young wizard's presence at any of the previous meetings.
Noiselessly, Harry traversed the shabby furniture to take his place in a recliner across from the older man.
"Firstly," the Headmaster began, distaste entering into his tone, "while I would normally not include you in such meetings, some of the more…righteous members of the Order have requested they have a chance to finally meet with you in a more formal setting."
"They seek to confront me regarding my recent actions." Harry smirked at their predictability. Honestly, he had been expecting such an inquisition after his actions at Greengrass Manor had been made public in the Daily Prophet two weeks prior. "Though, they only do so under the protection of their leader, but they have had the opportunity to do so previously. Pathetic."
Harry's final word was spat with not a little distaste. Order members were always in the manor, scurrying to and fro between their missions. Those he had come across had given him a wide berth and said nary a word to him. Now, Harry saw them for what they truly were, spineless thralls hiding behind the coattails of their master, only seeking confrontation when they were assured of his protection. They gilded themselves in the laurels of a righteous cause but were too weak-minded to do what was necessary to win.
"While the members of my Order can sometimes be a tad outspoken in their opinions, I believe it would not be wise to discount them as you do." The ancient Headmaster's blue eyes hardened, a subtle reminder of the hierarchy within Grimmauld Place. Such action from Dumbledore had become more common of late. "Severus reported your actions, and their consequences, at our last meeting. Sending a message to Tom is a course of action I agreed to, Harry, but this…You go too far, my boy."
Pearly teeth ground together, unseen from underneath Harry's cowl. What had happened to them being partners, equals?
"Professor Snape has told me much the same, Headmaster, minus his own grievances." Harry's tone was hard, unyielding, his temper stayed by the barest of threads. "Voldemort has begun to become unhinged, as was our plan. Though you, and those of your Order, find my methods barbaric, they, by your own admission, will be the ones that will see the greatest chance at victory. Will innocents die as a result? Yes, but that was always to be the case, regardless of my actions."
Coarse, white hair shifted as Dumbledore shook his head, his eyes downcast in readily apparent sorrow. "Yes, but at what cost, Harry? You never told me what it was you were doing, only the intelligence you gathered. To hear such stories from another was a shock."
"You bought me to do what you could not, Headmaster!" Harry's pale hand slammed down onto the arm of the recliner with a dull thud, dust pluming in the air in a thick cloud. Agitation flowed through the assassin freely, forcing him to take a deep, tickling breath in through his nose to calm his frayed nerves. "You are a powerful wizard, Headmaster, but you are far too kind to fight a war again. I kept that information from you, not out of disrespect, but to protect your sensibilities. Allow me to fight the fights you cannot. My actions have been to send Voldemort and his followers a message. When this war is over, we can look back and take stock of our actions, but if we allow this to come between us now then we have already lost."
A most hypocritical statement, coming from one who was at odds with his own actions just minutes prior. But it was necessary, that much Harry knew as a matter of fact. The once nameless boy watched as grudging acceptance replaced pity and grief in the older man's eyes. Pragmatic as he was, Dumbledore could not deny cold logic for long, despite his tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve.
"You are, of course, correct, Harry." Wrinkled skin dipped in a grave nod, but they both knew the argument was not yet concluded. It had merely been shelved to be perused further at a later date. "Forgive an old man his feeble heart. I find that I am unable to be as callous as I was in my youth. I shall endeavour to have Severus not report such on your actions in the future, if only to allow for a tenuous peace amongst the Order. Now, let us venture into more lighthearted topics before the meeting."
It was odd that such a simple statement could set the younger of the two so on edge. Especially so, considering that Harry had felt much more at ease in the midst of their previous dissent. Harry knew what the next topic of discussion was to be, and it was not one he had been anticipating. Nevertheless, he gestured for his master to continue.
"Term begins in less than three days' time, my boy, as you well know." A small, yet forced, smile broke out across the ancient wizard's face, making him appear much younger than he had before. "We have already discussed your role and identity within Hogwarts, but we have not broached your behaviour while within her walls."
"Must we discuss this, Headmaster?" Harry had no wish to have this discussion. It truly was one he could do without. "I plan to interact with the students as little as possible. There are many items of greater import than fickle teenagers' dreams of grandeur."
A weathered chuckle met Harry's ears, making clear to him that he would not worm his way out of this debate.
"I will not order you to interact with them more than you feel is necessary, Harry." The warm chuckling slowly died down to give way to calm amusement. "However, I would be most appreciative if you took the time to develop interpersonal relationships with those your own age. I will not dictate how you do so as I believe this is a skill you must develop yourself, but I will not allow you to grievously injure another student, even in self-defence. Learn who you are, Harry, and you may come to see the reason I fight in this war and the wars preceding it."
The boy's grey cowl moved to take in the sight of Snape entering the wards. Gratitude like none he had felt before filtered through his system at the sight of the older man's billowing, black robes.
Harry nodded to his master, though not in acceptance of the man's request. Rather, it was borne from a deep-rooted need to end the uncomfortable conversation as quickly as was possible.
"Headmaster, the Order is assembled and awaits the beginning of the meeting," Severus mumbled, throwing a cautious yet distrusting glare at the young assassin.
The potions master, too, took issue with Harry's actions whilst on mission.
Without a further word, two of the three stood to make their exit to the dining room. The small chamber, little more than an anteroom connected to the kitchen and sitting room, was bursting with people of varying ages and builds. Most stood in a contemplative silence while others spoke to companions in hushed voices, unwilling to be overheard by the wrong ears. Harry considered the thought that they were speaking of him and found that he could not care less.
Let the sheep talk. They were unfit to be shepherds, wary as they were of the yokes of leadership or decisive action.
Unbothered by the whispers, Harry made to stand beside his master, who sat in a chair at the head of the table.
"Welcome, friends." Dumbledore opened his arms in a friendly gesture of welcome, his theatrics accepted by most of the members of the Order. "My apologies for my absence of late, but I find that preparing for the upcoming term has become a more daunting task in my rather advanced age. Kingsley, what news from the Ministry?"
The addressed man stepped forward from his chosen spot at the back of the room. Kingsley Shacklebolt was a large, dark-skinned man who wore his scarlet Auror cloak over a set of purple robes. The cut of the robes was unique, something Harry had never seen before during any of his ventures. His stature, unlike many in the Order, spoke of quiet competence. Were Harry anything other than what he was, he knew Shacklebolt would have been a man to be wary of.
"Very little has changed since our last meeting, Headmaster," Kingsley began, his smooth British accent tinged with a hint of indecipherable African origins. It seemed the Auror's ancestors had emigrated to Britain recently. "You are aware of the budget cuts plaguing our office. Amelia was forced to lay off one quarter of the Auror office and nearly as many Hit Wizards. We are ill-prepared to face You-Know-Who as we currently stand."
Dumbledore thanked the man, who nodded in return before taking his previous position against the rearmost wall.
"Nymphadora, your efforts in the Department of Mysteries?"
A young woman with pink hair and a heart-shaped face stepped forward eagerly only to stumble over the hem of her Auror robes. How a woman as clumsy as she had ever made it through the Auror program was a mystery to the young assassin. He had read of the metamorph who despised her first name with a passion edging on zealous hatred, but he had little imagined that the skilled woman he had read of would be capable of tripping over clothing she wore every day.
"Wotcher, Headmaster!" Her cheery, confident voice did little to improve Harry's initial assessment of her. The young woman turned eerie, pink eyes to him in obvious nervousness. "Erm, grey guy."
"Your report, Auror Tonks," Shacklebolt sighed, raising a large hand to pinch the bridge of his nose in a manner that bespoke his familiarity with the woman's mannerisms.
"Erm, right." Tonks scratched the back of her head, the impossible blush on her pale cheeks matching the shifting tone of her hair. An awkward shrug emphasized her next words. "Well, there's nothing new to report, innit? Seen Yaxley and that creepy snake a few times whilst I was trying to make my way past the door room. Can't seem to make hide nor tail of a way past them doors. Any ideas, grey guy, you're an Unspeakable, aren't ya?"
All eyes turned to the figure standing stock still beside Dumbledore, waiting for him to respond. Even Harry's master was interested in his reply if the older man's bemused smile was anything to go by.
"Have you tried knocking?" Harry's tone was mocking, though the British inflection that stumbled from his lips in an awkward manner lessened the effect. He had not intended the question to be humourous. Nevertheless, the rebuttal caused a smattering of chuckles throughout the cramped room.
"Should've expected no less from your kind, Unspeakable." Tonks' frustrated blush extended beneath her robes, making the young assassin wonder if it was due to her abilities. "Can't trust your lot as far as you can throw 'em."
The enmity in her tone interested the younger boy. Harry had not known of the tension between the Auror Office and the Department of Mysteries. Perhaps, that tidbit would be of use in his future plans.
Sharp whispers broke Harry from his reverie, the light atmosphere turned on its head. The Order, it seemed, was not keen on his lack of aide. Thankfully, his master pacified the members with nothing more than a raised hand and a few words.
"My companion, prickly as he may be, is unable to answer questions directly relating to his office." The old wizard's misdirection was delivered expertly, though there was a grain of truth to it. Neither of them could tell the assembled mass precious little of Harry's previous life, bound by oaths as they were. "He has offered me his assistance and I expect you to treat him with the respect he is due. Thank you, Nymphadora. Your report was most illuminating."
Pink hair attempted to disappear behind its owner's much larger partner. Tonks was left bristling at the use of her first name but made no move to correct the Headmaster. She likely knew that it would be of no use as the older man was far too set in his ways to make such a drastic change.
Perhaps his master only did so to keep her off balance? Harry would have done so, too, if he were so inclined, but only for his own amusement.
"Severus," Dumbledore called. "Your news regarding Lord Voldemort?"
An unseen sneer painted itself on the youngest wizard's lips when the majority of the adults in the room flinched at the Headmaster's casual use of the anagram. It was beyond childish, foolish even, to fear a name. There were many things in the world more deserving of their fear than a wizard with delusions of grandeur.
Snape stepped from a darkened corner of the room, his robes billowing dramatically in an unseen breeze. The ridiculousness of the scene made it difficult for Harry to keep from rolling his eyes. The potions master likely thought it intimidating, but the young assassin knew the man better than the assembled mass. Though talented, the black-haired man was little more than a self-serving braggart who only acted in his own interests. A person manipulated easily enough if one knew how to do so.
"The Dark Lord has been quiet of late, absent most days," Severus delivered with his normal, smooth voice. Black eyes glittered as they shifted to take in the assassin at Dumbledore's side. A deep sneer accompanied his next words, "As you know, he was most upset by the deaths of four of his followers. It is my belief that he is currently planning his retaliation. I suggest you leash your dog, Headmaster, before he causes irrepairable damage."
A pale hand twitched, Harry's need to grasp the Elder Wand overwhelming.
"You forget your place, Severus Snape." Harry's hissed words ran over the Order members' skin like oil. Their hands went toward their wands at the danger in his voice, though the assassin ignored them. They were unimportant. "If you take issue with my actions you are free to walk away from our agreement."
Dumbledore sprang to his feet when the potions master drew his own wand, his mouth open to put an end to the posturing, when a pale hand on the old wizard's shoulder silenced him. Conflict warred in his blue eyes, feeling the need to protect both his charges. However, the beneficent wizard knew this conflict would have occurred eventually. It likely was better that it happened here rather than a deserted corridor.
"I agreed to give you information," Snape replied, his wand held at his side. "And you gave your word the finger would not point back to me. Your actions have given the Dark Lord reason to doubt my word, though he does not show it."
"I fail to see how your incompetence is my problem, Death Eater." The young assassin clad in grey began a slow march around the table to stand in front of the taller potions master.
Snape's black eyes snapped to Dumbledore, the older man doing nothing to stop the confrontation. Tension filled the room, the other occupants following their leader's decision to not step between the two intimidating men.
"Do not look to the Headmaster for assistance when you choose to initiate a confrontation with me, Snape." The quiet words beat against the potions master's skin in a warm staccato, the assassin's tone tinged with soft fury. "The Headmaster and I are equals in this relationship, and I am no dog to be leashed. If you take issue with me, Severus, I suggest you address me directly."
Recovering from his shock at his lack of aide, Snape's mien returned to its normal stoicism. The professor raised his wand, its warm tip resting gently against the chest of Harry's grey robes. Severus' black eyes betrayed their owner's anger, which threatened to spill over at any moment.
"Loyalties aside, they were my friends, Unspeakable." Voice hard as stone, Snape pushed the crackling wand tip against the younger wizard's chest, its owner struggling to restrain the magic begging to be released. "What you did to Theodus, to Brea… You slaughtered the Greengrasses like animals. They did not deserve their fate. No human deserves that."
Memories, not yet completely suppressed by his will, plunged mercilessly to the front of Harry's mind.
Blue eyes pleading for mercy where none would be found, their final farewell so full of love and regret.
Clouded brown orbs staring at something unseen beyond the physical realm, drool leaking from its owner's mouth to wet a perfectly manicured beard.
Harry pushed down on the memories with ruthless determination.
They were nothing.
Vermin, branded like cattle and deserving of the death he had given them.
He was nothing.
"And you expected me to do what exactly, Death Eater?" Harry pushed the wand from his chest with a scornful sneer, noting the scorch mark that marred the grey cloak. "Spare them? Your friends were rapists, murderers. They lost their lives the moment they allowed Voldemort to brand them. You, though? You knew what I was from the moment we met. If you cannot stomach our arrangement then, as I said before, you are free to leave at any time."
A heavy silence followed the statement, the older of the two staring at Harry emotionlessly as the assassin walked back to stand beside the Headmaster.
"But be warned, Severus." The voice was low, dangerous, and crept over the room in an icy crawl. "If you choose to follow the Dark Lord willingly, I will ensure you meet the same fate as your friends."
"I believe that is enough," Dumbledore began, his voice sharp with displeasure. "We have ventured-"
Whatever the old wizard was to say they would never know, as he was interrupted by a harried Fawkes appearing in a bright flash of orange flame. The ancient bird had seen better days, its once vibrant plumage covered in dirt and sticking out at odd angles. Fawkes let out a distressed warble as it dropped a wrinkled piece of parchment in a confused Dumbledore's lap before disappearing in another flash of fire.
Unfolding the note, Dumbledore read its contents in a hurry, panic rising to take place of his previous befuddlement. His blue eyes snapped to Harry's hidden features.
Something was terribly wrong.
"My apologies," the wizened Headmaster called to the room as he rose to his feet, "but I must call this meeting to an end. Unspeakable, I must ask that you come with me. We have urgent matters to attend to."
Harry walked out of the room with the Headmaster, reading the parchment when the older man handed it to him. Unseen, the young wizard's brow rose in interest.
Urgent matters, indeed.