Disclaimer: I am not JK Rowling, and I don't own Harry Potter, a fact for which I am partly grateful, for some unfathomable reason. This is an AU piece of fan fiction, which you already know, otherwise you wouldn't be reading chapter 17 of it. So, anything you recognise from the books, comes from the books. If you recognise elements similar to other fics, it's pure coincidence, and totally unintentional.

Whatever you don't recognise from elsewhere is mine, however rubbish it may be.

Dedications: To my friend Brina, who is a fellow Potter fan, who hasn't ever laid eyes on this fic, and who is presently in the hospital. Our thoughts are with you, so get well soon or else. To Shayde, who's been worried sick too, and is actually reading this sorry attempt at literature.

As per usual, dedicated to Japonica, for setting dear old Padfoot to slobber on my copy of HBP. It looks much better now, some bits have almost been erased, go Padfoot! To Sinfonica, for one of the best thought-out reviews ever, and to EsScaper, because she adores Sirius too.


Chapter 17 – Journey to London

Harry had been right, Kingsley mused, sinking into the first available chair in the kitchen of the Dursley household. The Aurors had found nothing. None of the things they had set out to find, at any rate.

They had found hundreds of hungry Dementors, a town's worth of soulless people, a handful of angry, rather vindictive trolls, and, once they spotted the Dark Mark hovering around in the distance, the very people they had set out to find turned into the living dead and after their blood.

Kingsley Shacklebolt was by no means a mindless optimist, nor was he one to give up on anything easily. He had a knack for analysing the toughest scenes from different aspects at once, and always found something of use out of the worst situations, which was why he was given the worst, most wearisome, and seemingly hopeless cases to begin with. If Kingsley couldn't solve it, nobody could, was the word in the Department.

It had not been a good assignment, from whichever angle he looked at it. Three Aurors had ended up in St. Mungo's, and two of them would take a long time to recover. None of the targets of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had been left alive, either. Not a single one. They had even seen a dog Inferius, for crying out loud.

He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had even turned his own fallen followers into the living dead.

A team of the best Hit Wizards the Ministry could offer was already on its way to contain the Inferi situation, under orders to retrieve the bodies so the corresponding burials could take place.

History was repeating itself.

An entire family annihilated.

Just like years before.

Silence reigned in the kitchen after Kingsley took his seat; all Order members present were still digesting the report he had given them, no doubt. Molly, as bleary-eyed and pale as the rest of them, handed Shacklebolt a cup of strong tea, which he gratefully accepted.

None had had a wink of sleep in the past two nights, and they were exhausted beyond coherent thought. The perkiest of all were, surprisingly, the Weasley twins, who seemed able to shake off their sleepiness at the slightest hint of action. At the moment, however, both wore identical scowls on their faces.

Vernon Dursley had, to say it in their own words, "gone totally round the bend" that morning. He'd stormed, in a frenzy of rage, out of the sitting room, where he had spent most of the night huddled with his family, and barged into Harry's room, pinning him to the wall and babbling nonsense at him. The twins had of course, been on him in a blink and wrestled the beefy man away from young Potter, who was too weak to react.

Healer Tonks said it was due to the extreme magical drain he had suffered, and Kingsley added one more item to the Order's ever-growing list of troubles.

Since that incident, the Weasley twins had guarded the Dursleys personally, and Harry was to be moved out from the muggle household as soon as possible. Which was what caused them most trouble at the moment: Healer Tonks had told them, in no uncertain terms, that if they moved Harry by any means whatsoever, he might not survive the trip. Thus it was that they were stuck waiting at four, Privet Drive, for an all-clear that hadn't come all day. It was evening already, and Healer Tonks still wasn't giving them the slightest hint of when they could take Harry to a safer location.

Then there had been the matter of where to take Harry, of course. The safety wards and spells at Hogwarts were being set again and reinforced, and the school was in no condition to withstand a Death Eater attack. Wouldn't be, for at least one month; Molly and Arthur had, of course, immediately suggested the Burrow, but it would need to be turned into a fortress for Harry to visit safely, and doing this required time they did not have.

In the past, the Order Headquarters had been the obvious choice, but now Sirius was gone another matter came into light: who was to receive the House of Black in inheritance. Sirius had left Harry all of his possessions, naturally, and technically Headquarters ought to be as safe as ever... except they could not be certain of it yet. As Dumbledore had put it, "some of the oldest families restrict their houses to be inherited solely by those of the family's blood, and in this case, the house could now belong to Bellatrix Lestrange, Narcissa or Draco Malfoy, or, in the best of cases, Andromeda or Nymphadora Tonks..."

It was all less than encouraging, even to the most optimistic of people, and Kingsley did not begrudge the twins their scowls.

The Dursleys had taken refuge in the master bedroom, where Dumbledore instructed they should be left alone, despite Mad-Eye's protests they should be at least petrified – the twins had offered turning them into hot pink slugs, matching evil grins in place – but Dumbledore had specifically forbidden them to do so; muggles should not be treated in such a way, he argued, and was reluctantly obeyed.

It was the old Headmaster they were waiting for at the moment. Dumbledore had left in a hurry, to find an item that would tell them, beyond doubt, if Harry was to take possession of number twelve, Grimmauld Place or not: the signet ring of the House of Black.

Healer Tonks had frowned upon hearing this news.

"The ring can only be touched by those of the Black bloodline," she said, shaking her head. "According to the tales, only the rightful heir of the House can wear it. It was made with ancient, powerful magic—there has to be another way to prove whether the Potter kid can go to your headquarters or not."

However, there seemed to be nothing else, and Dumbledore had left to retrieve the ring.

He arrived, seemingly out of breath, in a swish of robes, holding a silvery something with a pair of sugar thongs.

"I have it here," he said to the Order. "I fear Healer Tonks was right—anyone not belonging to the Black bloodline touching this ring will be burned rather badly." He strode to the kitchen table and placed the ring on it, raising a red-raw thumb and forefinger. "I recommend against handling it," he added quite unnecessarily; only Healer Tonks, who was summoned to the kitchen as soon as Dumbledore arrived, approached it.

She picked it up, not without a shudder, and examined it. It was a masterpiece of Goblin jewellery, two large diamonds embedded on the soft, woven white gold representing the status of the family as the second oldest, an emerald placed between the diamonds. The most exquisite part to look at, however, were the crest and family motto engraved in the central emerald, shimmering silver on the green background.

"I have to say," she declared matter-of-factly, "whatever rubbish they believed in, the Blacks certainly had good taste." She placed the ring on the tabletop again, and took a hold of Dumbledore's scorched hand next, gracing him with a sideways smirk.

"I daresay the legend so far is true, then. Tsk, tsk, Headmaster, you ought to know better than this."


Harry opened his eyes slowly. Someone had been tapping his shoulder gently and calling his name.

"Had a nice nap?" Healer Tonks asked from her chair by his bedside. Harry shrugged in response, tried to sit up. Healer Tonks helped him sit, placing some pillows against the wall so he could lean on them comfortably, and began looking him over.

He certainly did not feel very rested, he decided upon trying to answer to the Healer's usual questions. Most of all, however, he was parched.

"Harry, there is something you need to do before you go back to sleep," she said while helping him down a few mouthfuls of water. "Dumbledore wants you to try a ring," she explained, but the way she said the headmaster's name wasn't lost on her patient, who half-rolled his eyes and nodded in defeat.

"Er...?" Harry prompted when no more information was forthcoming, surprising himself yet again with his articulation skills.

"Oh, yes. This is a ring that belonged to... well, it was... it was Sirius'." She paused, and Harry didn't miss the sudden contrition of her bearing.

"What with it?" Harry asked, frowning. Why would anyone want him to try anything of Sirius' now of all times?

"Dumbledore seems to think it will tell us if you're the current owner of Sirius' house," Healer Tonks explained, her tone suggesting she was less than happy with anything to do with that place, which Harry privately agreed with.

"That is correct, Harry," came Dumbledore's voice from behind her. His hand was covered in the same purple paste Madam Pomfrey had used on Cedric back in Harry's fourth year... Harry gave himself a shake and looked away from the headmaster's hand. The last thing he needed now were thoughts of long dead people piling themselves upon his already confused brain.

"It is not safe for you to stay here," Dumbledore went on gently, sitting down beside Healer Tonks. Harry thought he was becoming better every day at stating the obvious. "You shall spend the rest of your holidays at a place where we can guarantee your security."

"Will I go to Hogwarts, then?" Harry asked hopefully. The last place where he wanted to be ever again was number twelve, Grimmauld Place, although he knew the answer to that question even before he asked. Healer Tonks had mentioned something about that ring thing of Sirius', and Harry doubted that it would be a ticket to school one month early.

Predictably, Dumbledore shook his head.

"Hogwarts is being readied for your arrival in September, it won't be safe for you to go there until then," he explained. "No, Harry, at the moment the only safe place we can house you at is Headquarters, which is the reason why I need you to try on this ring." He looked at Healer Tonks, who, to Harry's surprise, took out the said object and held it out for Harry to see.

"Only the heir to the House of Black can wear it," Dumbledore explained further. "However, Harry, I shall only ask you to touch it first... there is... a risk of getting burnt if it is not meant for you."

Harry, who was reaching out to take the ring already, withdrew his hand at once.

"How is that thing supposed to help, Professor?" he asked, not at all keen to touch the ring anymore.

It was Healer Tonks who replied to his question.

"Sirius left you the house, Harry, but the old families have their ways of deciding who gets the ancient heirlooms," she said, the derisive tone in her voice suggesting what she thought of such a system.

"Usually, the properties and more valuable things are passed on from the head of the House to his heir, based on blood heritage. If such ancient magic is in place, the house would go to Narcissa's son, Draco, being as he is the last... living male with Black blood in his line. In that case, you would clearly not be safe there."

Harry glared at the ring. The mere idea of none other than Malfoy the Amazing Bouncing Ferret getting Sirius' house, no matter how horrible the place was, was enough to make him want to risk putting that ring on. He let the new information sink in for a few moments, then reached out for the object still resting on Healer Tonks' outstretched palm.

"Let's see then," he muttered, touching it gingerly. A jolt of magic coursed through him, making his entire arm prickle coldly, but there was no burn. Heartened by this, he took the ring and slipped it on his finger for a few moments, before taking it off again.

Dumbledore and Healer Tonks let out identical sighs of relief.

"Well, that shows legend was wrong in this one aspect, eh?" she commented, gesturing for Harry to keep the ring when he attempted to return it. "It's yours, lad. As is the Black town house."

Harry looked down at the ring, the fierce vindictiveness that had taken hold of him for a moment gone, replaced by the sort of emptiness he had been fighting to acknowledge for so long. He was glad Malfoy wasn't getting squat of Sirius' belongings, but he still didn't want any of them all the same.

What he wanted was, quite simply, Sirius back.

He glanced over at the foot of his bed, but there was no sign of a black dog, no wizard sitting there playing with a pair of spheres to entertain himself, no mocking comments at Dumbledore or Healer Tonks... nothing.

He sighed, feeling bereft.

Just then, an owl fluttered in through Harry's bedroom window and landed on Dumbledore's hat, dropping a copper-coloured scroll in his lap. Dumbledore opened it, scanned it for a few seconds. His eyes widened, and Harry saw him stop reading and start over before standing hurriedly – the owl gave an indignant hoot and fluttered on top of Hedwig's cage – and stuffing the letter in his pocket.

"Tell me when we can move him, Healer Tonks," Dumbledore said, already making his way out of Harry's room. "I shall request the necessary arrangements to be made at once. I hope you feel better soon, Harry." And with these words, he strode out of the room and out of sight.

Harry sighed, looking at the owl which was already helping itself to owl treats and water Harry had left there for his own Hedwig, who still hadn't shown so much as a feather. He yawned, trying to scrounge up some degree of concern for Hedwig's whereabouts, or even bring himself to wonder what Dumbledore's mysterious letter was all about, but his eyes felt like lead again. He didn't even listen to Healer Tonks' comments as he sank back against his pillows.

"Right, so you still need to take these here..." Healer Tonks said as if nothing had happened at all, reaching for several vials and a glass, "before you go back to sleep, Potter, do make a bit of an effort."


He ran all the way back to Ruin Hill as if the hounds of hell were hot on his heels, stumbling, falling, raffling himself up and running some more, paying no attention to the scratches and bruises he got from not sticking to the main pathway through the thicket.

He could still feel Gramps' cold, dead grip on him, the smell of smoke and death that rose from his simple incineration spell lingering in his nostrils. It made him wish he'd never cast it; he ran all the faster for it, the stitch in his side be damned.

Connor didn't stop until the door to the hidden basement was in sight, heart pumping madly in his chest, his breath ragged and wheezy. He all but threw himself at the door, fumbling with his wand as he clumsily cast the unlocking spell right-handed. His left was held pressed against his chest, every bone crushed, out of place, probably broken. Gramps had done that... and, in retrospect, his jump out of the second floor window certainly had not helped matters along.

Once inside, he slammed the door shut, let the bundle he'd been carrying fall to the floor, and rattled off every locking spell he had ever heard of and then some he made up on the spot—he doubted "bloodyclosealready" would be considered a spell at all in any magical circle—before he slid shakily to the floor. His legs simply refused to carry him a moment longer. It took a long time for him to control his breathing, or indeed stare at anything that wasn't the door.

At length he snapped out of it, half dragged himself to his brother's side, who was sleeping almost the way he had left him, dropping the bundle he had been carrying on the floor.

He knew he needed to light a fire, it was getting colder by the hour... fire would keep them away. Had they followed him all the way up here? He'd been too busy getting away from the Inferi to be careful about the amount of noise he made. Could Inferi follow tracks? Would the Lestrange woman be with them? He shuddered at the thought.

Connor knelt by the circular fireplace, and pointed his wand shakily at the pile of wood in the grate, trying to catch his breath even now.

He never got the fire going. A wave of dizziness overcame him, and the world started spinning around him. His body had finally had enough, and moments later, he sank to the floor, unconscious.


Everything was quiet at number four, Privet Drive. The freaks had had quite a ruckus going on earlier, but now they were all either gone god-knew-where or asleep.

Vernon Dursley held still in his pacing for a few moments, listening hard. All day, he and his loving family had been confined to their bedroom, hiding from the freaks who had taken complete control of the house. His house, he reminded himself. Those freaks would do good in remembering that as well. And he'd give them an unmistakable reminder, oh yes.

No freaks were welcome here, a simple fact those weirdoes seemed to have overlooked completely. For years.

He would let them know, in no uncertain terms, yes he would... Vernon Dursley's eyes narrowed. He glanced at his watch, where the luminous dial told him it was close to midnight. If there was a time to strike, it was now. He held back a laugh; he would rid his family of that dangerous little belch of nature once and for all, in the so-called "witching hour" to boot.

He had received the leading monstrosity in his room earlier that evening, that crackpot who taught the boy those tricks in that freak school of his. Well, "received" was a way of putting it. The old codger had strolled into his room as if the place belonged to him, and very kindly let the Dursleys know they were moving the boy elsewhere, as soon as he was in a state fit to travel. The head hoodlum had mentioned something of some sort of "flu network", as if Vernon cared a jot about how they planned on getting the boy out of the house. Trust those monsters to spread disease while transporting themselves.

But no, the worst part had been the "request", if one could call it that, for the Dursleys to welcome the boy home for the next summer holidays. Petunia had nodded numbly, and the bearded old coot had smiled benevolently and left, but he did not hold her as she sobbed onto Vernon's shoulder for hours.

That did it. Vernon Dursley was by no means a girly man, but he could absolutely not endure his wife's tears, his son's terror of leaving the room to so much as use the loo, or anyone, anyone taking over the run of his house, his life, his future, as if they were mere props in a theatre play.

All because of that thrice damned, misbegotten boy.

"Preparations to move him," Vernon mocked in a low grunt, "If you ask me, all the preparations needed are a cage and a set of padlocks." If everything went according to his plan, however, all the boy would need was a wooden box... placed six feet underground.

Vernon sent a last glance to his sleeping wife and son. Dudley was snoring softly, and Petunia still sniffled at times. She had cried herself to sleep, and nothing he or Dudders had done had improved her mood. What could, if Dud had told them everything that had happened while he was with that misbegotten freak of nature?

"Everything will be all right, my dear," he murmured, kissing her on the cheek. He was beyond fear now, past thinking of his own well-being in the face of the danger he had housed for almost fifteen years under his roof.

Desperate times called for desperate measures, and Vernon Dursley was the most desperate man alive on earth, he was certain of it.

He let himself out of his bedroom as quietly as possible – well, that creak of his door could hardly be helped, now could it? The boy hadn't been doing his chores lately – and stole along the corridor to the boy's room.

He paused on the landing, listening hard. Yes, those identical redheaded hooligans were asleep, he could hear their breathing coming from the sitting room; the head freak and the creepy-eyed monster had left, along with most of their followers, confident that they had the Dursleys under their thumbs.

Vernon smirked. Let them sleep. Here was one Dursley they would never control. He knew the truth behind them, and he would end their sway over his family.

He resisted the urge to give a loud cackle and turned the doorknob – only to find it was stuck.

Trust that good-for-naught to destroy everything he touches.

He rattled the knob a bit, and the door opened to reveal the boy's bed in full sight, which was quite a bit larger than he remembered. He did not deserve the bed, the ungrateful waste of space.

In three strides he was standing next to the boy. His hands shot out, closing themselves around his neck. With a snarl, he hoisted him out of bed and pinned him against the wall again. Nobody would stop him this time around, no sir!


In his bedroom, Harry woke up abruptly. He had had an awful dream, of which he remembered only parts; he had been in a burnt-down wreck of a house, looking for something... and ended up being chased by zombies, of all things. He rubbed his aching left wrist, which he remembered dimly had been grabbed by one of them, noticing his heart was hammering wildly in his chest. He felt as if he had really been in that place, even his legs were cramping up. This type of nightmare was quite unlike the usual kind of dreams he had, which made it all the more mind-boggling.

It seemed so real... but it was ultimately a dream, he told himself, opening his eyes and wiping some sweat from his face. Maybe he was just having a fever, he couldn't have been in two places at once. In an attempt to distract himself from the memories of the dream, he stared out the window.

Outside, he noticed, it was quite dark again. Had he slept all day?

Inwardly he shrugged. What difference did it make anyway if he was awake or not? He closed his eyes, with the intention to return to sleep, heaved a sigh.

There was something rattling at his door. Next thing he knew, he was face to face with Uncle Vernon, fighting for a breath of air.

"You misbegotten freak!" Vernon hissed, his face so close to Harry's his moustache tickled his cheek. His ham-like hands closed themselves tighter around Harry's neck, convulsively, as if even his fingers were itching to do him in. "You have endangered my family long enough!"

Harry gasped for breath, trying to fight his uncle, to no avail. His fat, flabby face came in and out of focus, his words came now louder, now as if from afar. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't move, couldn't do anything other than try and push him away, but he was as weak as a herring.

Much trampling reached his ears, confused shouting followed by the multicoloured beams of spells thrown at Vernon. The hands slackened their grip, air filled Harry's lungs at last. He looked around, saw each spell rebound as if against an invisible shield.

"Watch it, Fred, they're bouncing back!" George warned, sending a yellow beam at Vernon all the same.

Harry tried to pry himself free from his uncle's hold; the only way to get rid of the shield was if he cancelled all physical contact. He pushed again, harder, willing him to let go with all his might— uncle Vernon had lost it.

He was laughing, a manic, crazed sound the likes of which Harry would never have believed him able to produce.

"You're as good as dead, you abnormal piece of filth!"

"VERNON! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Aunt Petunia's shriek made Vernon turn for a moment. He grinned at her.

"They can't touch me! I am invincible! Look Petunia, those freaks can't hurt us anymore!" he announced, dancing in celebration. "You—" he turned to Harry again, grabbing him by the shoulders in a vicelike grip. "You used my son as bait! You'll see what it is to be bait, boy—I'll take you fishing!" he cackled in glee. "You can be part of the tackle!"

Harry's eyes widened.

It's official. He's lost it for good.

"He's gone bonkers, mate," George confirmed from somewhere to his left. All around, the din grew into pandemonium.

Petunia was shrieking on the doorway, laughing or crying, nobody could tell. Whether she was shouting at her husband or at the wizards around was lost on everyone; Fred and George kept shooting spells at Vernon, in the hopes to find a weak spot in the shield; the spells kept rebounding, hitting the furniture, the windows, the ceiling. Flowers sprouted around the light bulb in the ceiling and soon were growing, covering the walls and window, Hedwig's cage grew fangs and legs and tried to eat aunt Petunia's slippers, the bed kept bucking and bleating loudly, and the alarm clock started singing Christmas carols; Healer Tonks was pummelling away at uncle Vernon's back, shouting at him to let go of Harry; Harry was trying to pry himself free of uncle Vernon's grip, and uncle Vernon kept laughing and shouting that nobody could hurt him, and he'd be rid of all these freaks once and for all.

Amidst the confusion, stood one Dudley Dursley, his piggy little eyes taking it all in.

A spell or other ricocheted off uncle Vernon's bald pate, and he laughed again, louder than before. Harry saw it hit the light bulb, and suddenly thousands of spots of light were flying every which way, raining upon them all like bright, multicoloured water drops.

Dudley blinked, following the path of the light drops, a strange, indescribable expression in his face.

"I'll kill you, you hear?" Vernon cackled, spraying Harry with spittle. For all his laughing, his grip hadn't slackened one jot, Harry noted.

"You won't put my family in danger ever again, no sir!" In his madness however, he seemed to have forgotten to carry on strangling his nephew, who did the only thing he could: he let himself fall as if he were dead weight.

Vernon stumbled, but did not release his grip on Harry. Neither was prepared for what followed.

Completely unnoticed in the confusion – which in itself was a miracle, as Harry put it afterwards – Dudley grabbed his father's shoulder, whirled him around... and punched him in the face.

Vernon fell backwards, dragging Harry with him, his laugh dying in his throat and replaced by a loud grunt. Dudley reached out, grabbed Harry by the collar of his pyjamas and peeled him off his father, letting him fall on the bed even as Vernon backed away from him.

"They've turned you against me!" he cried, pointing an accusatory finger at his son. "Oh, Dudders, what did they do to you?"

"You've gone mental," Dudley told him, grabbing him by the front of his shirt and hauling him to his feet. "Leave Harry alone."

Healer Tonks was already at Harry's side, and the Weasley twins were approaching Vernon, wands raised and identical murderous looks on their faces.

"We should have turned him into a slug when we had the chance," Fred muttered to George under his breath.

"Hot pink or purple?" George asked, smirking at Fred.

"Petunia! Did you see that?" Vernon turned to his wife next, who was busy trying to retrieve her left slipper from Hedwig's murderous cage, letting forth a string of insults to leave anyone stunned. "They've done something to him! He... he hit me, Petunia!"

"WILL EVERYBODY STOP!" an imperious voice shouted from the doorway, making the floor shake.

The world stood still. The flowery jungle taking over the room stopped growing, the bed gave a last hop and stood still, and the clock's shrill rendition of "Winter Wonderland" ended in the middle of the second verse; Hedwig's cage returned a half-chewed slipper to a shaking aunt Petunia, and the rain of light drops ceased to fall.

Everyone else stopped in their tracks. All eyes turned to the speaker.

Dumbledore had returned.

"I think an explanation is in order," he told the room at large in a booming voice that held a warning for anyone who dared contradict him.

Vernon started to gibber. Petunia slid to the floor, whimpering as she straightened her slipper. Dudley blinked a few times, as if only just realising what he had done, and let go of his father's shirt. Fred and George exchanged a look, crossed their arms, and leaned against the wall with expressions that said quite plainly how much they wished having turned Vernon into a slug before the Headmaster arrived.

Harry sat up on his bed, rubbing his throat.

"What happened here?" Dumbledore inquired, fixing Vernon with a piercing stare.

"I refuse to have that... that... that absolute monstrosity of nature in my house any longer!" Vernon shouted, pointing at Harry. "I don't want him here, ever again!"

"Vernon!" Petunia gasped, seemingly torn between applauding her husband and cowering in fright.

"We have discussed the matter already, Mr. Dursley," Dumbledore said calmly. "Harry needs to return once more to keep the blood protection active. This will not just keep him safe, but also yourself and your family. Surely you understand that?"

"Yes, we do," Dudley threw in, at the same time uncle Vernon snapped an angry: "I don't care, he is not welcome here!"

"Wh—what did you say, Dudders?" Vernon said, aghast. "What did those freaks do to you?"

Dudley didn't answer at once. His face was scrunched up in a grimace, and he kept staring at Dumbledore's feet. Afterwards, Harry clarified to the baffled Weasleys that his cousin always looked that way when he was thinking hard.

"He..." here Dudley jabbed a thumb in Harry's direction, "he can come back next year," he grunted at Dumbledore, much to the general amazement.

Dumbledore opened his mouth to speak, the corners of his mouth quirking upwards, but was cut off before he even began.

"You can conduct your little explanations outside, Dumbledore," Healer Tonks said firmly. "Everyone, out!" she added imperiously, pointing at the door. "Yes, that means you too," she told the cage, which followed Petunia out, snapping at her heels as everyone filed out of the room.

"Thanks, Dud," Harry said as his cousin was passing on his way out. Dudley stopped.

"I still think you're a freak," he said nastily. "This doesn't mean anything."

"And I still think you'd be able to revert world hunger, if we sent you to Africa..." Harry replied, smirking. "I bet they'd love a barbecue down there, eh, Popkin?"

Fred and George had to haul Dudley bodily out of the room.


Hundreds of miles to the north, two figures were stirring. Well, one was at least.

Connor woke up with a jolt, gasping for air.

A fat, tiny-eyed, and very angry giant beetroot with a large, bushy moustache had been throttling him... and spraying him with spit as it rattled off nonsensical accusations at him, claimed it was invincible, and called him a freak.

One hand went to his throat, which still felt as if someone were squeezing it for all they were worth, but there was nothing there. He lay there, panting, blinking in the near-complete darkness, unable to tell just where he was for a few moments. Everything was fuzzy, muddled and mixed up, the silence around him oppressing, accentuating the cold prevalent around him.

He gave his head a shake to clear it and groaned, realising a split second too late it wasn't exactly the best thing to do. Even if the bleeding had stopped, his head still seemed to consider the slightest movement to be its cue to start pounding.

He rolled onto his back with some difficulty, and concentrated on controlling his breathing while he tried to piece the images together as they seeped back to him in disconnected flashes. As he lay there on the stone floor, trying to remember just where he was and how he had gotten there, he heard a muffled groan coming from somewhere beyond his line of sight.

Raising his aching head a little, he looked around, finding himself in the hidden basement room, lying on the very spot by the fireplace he'd passed out on earlier. He could just make out a shape huddled on one of the sofas, if he strained his vision enough...

Chris.

Everything fell into place again in the space of a breath, the puzzle revealed before his mind's eye, completely assembled. It was by no means a comfort, but did wonders to wake him up.

Shivering, he made himself sit up, which was harder than he'd anticipated, and not just because every single part of his body was stubbornly against it and seemingly ready for mutiny. His left hand was swollen like a Bludger and his fingers wouldn't move, no matter how much he strained them. It was freezing cold; he hadn't even been able to get a fire going before he blacked out.

Now the mindless, frenzied panic that had taken hold of him earlier was gone, all it left in its wake was a sense of urgency and dread, which he ignored for the moment. His every fibre was bent on getting his limbs to move and obey to his commands.

He fumbled clumsily for his wand, even though he had deep misgivings against using any sort of magic. What if that Lestrange woman was out there with a bunch of Inferi and somehow caught wind of what he was doing?

Connor swallowed dryly. Lestrange had indeed been close to catching them, and even if she was out there, he had to risk it.

He knew how to start a fire the muggle way, of course. Grams had taken them both camping for years, and being muggle-born, she had impressed the importance of knowing how to get along without magic on both her grandsons. It was her who gave them the computer, the telly, the video games. Balance, she used to say, was the secret to a harmonious relation with the non-magical world.

It had been Grams, conversely, who had taken them to almost every single major magical event there was... the Quidditch World Cup had been the last. She had loved to fly, and they had staged many a game on days off. Connor still missed her sorely; after she had had that accident, everything changed, starting with his Gramps. Then again, the whole matter with Voldemort snatching away the Potter kid that summer and regaining his body hadn't helped matters any more than a muggle bombing right at Gramps' doorstep would have done. He had become nothing short of a hermit, a paranoid one to boot, and he had dragged them both along with him.

Connor snorted, his fingers finally getting hold of his wand. His mind seemed intent on wandering into corners he usually avoided like the plague. What was it to him if Grams and Gramps were gone? They wouldn't get him out of this fix, only he could do that. And he'd better concentrate, if he wanted to make it out at all.

All it took was a muttered incineration spell, and a fire roared to life in the grate.

Turning his back on the only source of light in the room, he went to check on Chris, who was still out cold the sofa. A touch to his forehead and a glance gave him all the information he needed, and none of it was encouraging. Chris was running a fever, his lips were dry and he was as pale as a sheet, shivering in the cold. His bandages needed replacing, too.

So he set to work, emptying the bundle he had brought from home and using up nearly all its contents as he lowered the fever, changed the dressings on Chris' chest, and finally gently shook his brother awake.

Some time later, Chris was half-dozing, and in a terrible mood whenever Connor woke him up to try and eat something, drink something, or simply to check how he was doing.

"Come on mate, you need to perk up a bit," Connor prodded for the hundredth time. "We can't make the trip unless you wake up properly."

Chris responded with some barely intelligible muttering, ending with something that sounded suspiciously like, "sod off."

Hardly encouraging, that.

Connor continued prodding, until Chris cracked an eye open and graced him with a glare that told volumes. So did his first words upon looking him over for a second.

"Con, you do look like that cat we found playing dinner for the crows..."

"Oh, pack it in. As if you looked much better," Connor said, grinning anyway. Having the other finally awake was the best news he'd had in... had it really been days already?

It was very early in the morning, and he was tired as could possibly be, but Chris was finally a little more awake, and he knew he wouldn't be able to carry his brother all the way where they had to go.

"How are we getting there then?" Chris grumbled, wrapped in a marginally less torn cloak than he'd had before. It still had bits of wood and leaves sticking to it, souvenirs from Connor's trip back.

"The... the Floo network is our best shot, I think," said Connor, stoking the fire and pretending not to be terrified of the prospect of having to return to Gramps' office to use his fireplace.

That one still had been standing, last he checked.

Best not think about that.

"Where?" Chris squeezed out with a roll of his eyes. The fact that he was barely awake enough to speak did by no means imply his brain had stopped working.

"Here, if... if it's connected, which I think it might be. I got some Floo Powder from home," Connor answered, gesturing at the fireplace. "Otherwise, there's the grate in Gramps' office..." he cleared his throat. "But it's not really safe there, so..." he trailed off, mentally berating himself for the blatant understatement.

"Have you tried it out yet?" came the impatient question. Connor gulped and shook his head. "What are you waiting for, then? Proper planetary alignment?"

To Connor's surprise, Chris' tone, though strained, lacked any annoyance. He snorted.

"If Mars sextiles Jupiter, we have a better chance for the Floo to work, everyone knows that."

"I hope it works," Chris mumbled, watching his brother's every move. "I don't want to go back home either."

Connor nodded at him once, took out the satchel, threw a fistful of Floo Powder into the flames, and prayed to whatever deity was on call tonight that it would work.

The flames died, leaving a smouldering heap of red-hot, sputtering and crackling coals—then, just as they were both staring hopelessly at the fire, flames shot out, man-high, pleasantly warm... and bright green.

They grinned at each other.

"We're lucky sods," Chris declared, his mood considerably improved. "Who'd have thought there's been a Floo point here all this time?"

"Aye... who'd have thought?" Connor said after a moment's hesitation. He didn't really think they'd been lucky. They should have known of this place ages ago... Why did Gramps keep it from them? He was distracted, however, when the other spoke up again.

"So whereabouts are we off to? You think that this place, hidden as it's supposed to be, is plugged into the Floo network?"

Good question.

"Haven't the faintest. Gramps didn't mention anything about it, did he? I was thinking of the Cauldron, and... er, walking from there," Connor replied, getting ready to leave. "Can't be too far," he added bracingly, upon seeing the other's grimace.

Hoisting his brother up and holding him upright, Connor stepped closer to the flames. He just hoped Chris would survive the Floo trip. It had never been his favourite way of transportation, and for the first time, he wondered just how hard it was to make a portkey. Apparition would be handy too, come to think of it, if only they knew how.

"Tuck your elbows in, mind," Chris admonished in a wheezing voice. "We don't want you falling out of some random grate again, do we?"

Connor replied with a grunt. "That was years ago, give it a rest."

"That's true, little brother," Chris gave him a sideways smirk and straightened up a little. "But I had to make sure you hadn't forgotten..."

"You know how much I hate you calling me that."

"That's why I do..." came the flippant reply. If anyone who was half dead could be flippant at all, that was Chris.

"Shut your gob, or I'll join in with the name-calling," Connor growled, adjusting the other's arm over his shoulders.

Chris gave an unmistakable snort. Connor smirked. Two could play this game.

"Don't say I didn't warn you, Red-Boot J—"

Chris poked him in the ribs and made a face at him. Connor growled something unintelligible, and moments later they stepped into the flames.

"The Leaky Cauldron," Connor said clearly, checking that their elbows were pressed as close to their bodies as possible. The last thing he saw before the basement room vanished from sight, was the other's smirk.


Harry was less than happy with his current fate. He had been moved to twelve, Grimmauld Place, which was bad enough to be going on with in his humble opinion, but the Order had, once more, gone and outdone itself.

He had been settled in none other than Sirius' old bedroom, no explanations given, except for the promise that Dumbledore would explain everything when he returned from wherever he had gone off to, which was completely insufficient, Harry thought. He had sat on the bed for a while, fingering the signet ring of the House of Black, hating its every line, every stone set in the white gold. When he grew tired of staring at his newly acquired piece of jewellery, he settled for glowering at the walls, which were bare save for the blank frame he remembered from his previous stay at Headquarters. Phineas was nowhere in sight, thankfully. His sniggering was enough to drive anyone up the wall, and Harry was well on his way to being in a dreadful mood.

He sighed, flopping back onto the bed and staring at the canopy. He'd even avoided this room when Sirius had lived here... Why in the name of all that was holy he had been stuck in the last place he'd ever want to be in, was beyond him.

His eyes trailed to the window to his left, which brought no comfort either. Outside it was pitch black, and no sounds could be heard at all. While earlier he had been sleepy and roughly as strong as a smoked kipper, the incident with uncle Vernon had done an amazing job at waking him up. Not that he felt up to much movement at the moment.

On the whole, however, he felt infinitely better, just quite sore, and rather hungry. Fed up as he was, and determined not to spend any more time in this haunted old room than he absolutely had to, Harry rose from bed and threw on a bathrobe that had been placed on a nearby chair. Letting the signet ring fall into his bathrobe pocket next to his wand, he stood a little unsteadily.

He'd go to the kitchen and have something to eat, he resolved, and to judge by the rumbling of his stomach, it couldn't have agreed more with his chosen course of action.

The way to the kitchen from his fourth storey room was long... and positively slow going. Harry had to lean heavily on the banisters and railings, and take many rests along the way. He reached the bottom of the kitchen stairs, sweating as if he'd run all the way from Hagrid's hut to the Gryffindor Common room, and stopped to catch his breath for a bit before entering the kitchen, the door to which was slightly ajar.

It was, perhaps, a good thing to happen.

From where he stood, he could hear familiar voices talking. One of them, which he recognised as belonging to Mrs. Weasley, sounded choked as she spoke.

"Oh darling, I'm so s-s-sorry," she was saying. "I-I never thought... I never thought he'd go after Rob..."

Frowning, Harry inched closer and peered through the gap. He'd never heard of a Rob, but apparently something had happened to him. He saw Mr. and Mrs. Weasley kneeling side by side in front of the fireplace, much like Sirius and Professor Lupin had once done. Bill was crouching next to them, as if ready to jump into the fire himself.

"What happened, mum?" Harry knew that one voice as well. It was Charlie, most likely talking through the fire. By the tone he was using, he hadn't expected this news at all. Harry's eyes were fixed on Bill, however. He hadn't seen him except for a few minutes after he and the twins returned from looking for him, and he looked older than ever. His face was ashen, drawn as he stared into the fire with an intensity Harry had never seen on any Weasley before.

Harry did not move, ignoring the increasingly loud voice in his head telling him, with equally increasing harshness, to return to Sirius' old bedroom. The last thing he needed was to be caught eavesdropping to what was clearly a conversation of the most private sort.

He heard Bill's account of what had happened in Inverarray and after, when the Order had found McAlpin's house. Voldemort had left none alive, and amongst the victims, the Order had identified Rob, who, it transpired, had been a close friend of Charlie's.

"He's... he's dead?" Charlie whispered, so low Harry almost did not catch any of the words. He sounded gob smacked.

Bill hung his head.

"There... is a team of Hit Wizards at the McAlpin estate now, Charlie. Rob... everyone there... they were... he was turned into an Inferius. They're trying to contain them, and they will... try to send his body to the family once they have... cancelled the spells." His words were met with complete silence.

"Scrimgeour assured me he would let us know when the funeral can be arranged," he finished, sticking an arm into the flames, probably to place a hand on Charlie's shoulder.

Inferius?

Harry had never heard the term before. Whatever it was, it could be anything but good, if it was linked even remotely to Voldemort. Harry felt a cold chill running down his spine, and suppressed a shudder. Deciding it would be appropriate to return to Sirius' room, he took a careful step back. The Weasleys were talking to Charlie still, they wouldn't notice...

"... Ron and Ginny?"

Harry froze for a split second, then returned to his previous spot, listening hard. He hadn't heard of his friends for what felt like ages.

"I'll tell them Harry is back," Charlie was saying gruffly. "They've been having kittens over him... Do you think he'll make a full recovery?"

"I hope so," came Healer Tonks' voice from somewhere at the back of the kitchen, accompanied by the chink of china placed upon the table. "With some luck, he'll be as right as ever in a few days."

"That will cheer them up," Charlie replied. "They have been impossible, begging me to let them go home every minute of the day. Hermione will also appreciate the news," he added, a little more lightly. "Harry's owl reached her without a letter, and she has been fire calling every day..." Harry's heart leapt. Hedwig was all right, and so were his friends. The half-smile that was creeping onto his face disappeared at Charlie's next words, though.

"At least I can give them a bit of... of good news, eh?"

Harry had heard enough. He backed off again, climbing the stairs to the entrance hall as quietly as he had come, partly glad for hearing of his friends and Hedwig at last, but mostly feeling more miserable than ever. There he was, angry because he was stuck in Sirius' old room, while everyone had been handling things the best they could. His friends, as everyone else, had been worried about him, in addition to the losses he could have prevented... if only he had read the signs correctly.

Immersed as he was in his own thoughts, he forgot all about the bottom step from the entrance hall... the loud screech following the slight creak of the wood jolted him back to reality.

"MUUUUUDBLOOOODS! TRAITORS! SCUM!" went the portrait of Mrs. Black, the ancient, moth-eaten curtains billowing up as if moved by a strong wind, to reveal her yellowish, sickly face as she pointed accusatorily at Harry, who stopped dead in his tracks.

"YOU HAVE NO RIGHT! YOU ARE NOT WORTHY! YOU LITTLE BAS—"

"Shut up!" Harry snapped, glaring at the portrait. "Just... shut up!"

To his complete surprise, Mrs. Black obeyed. She was still glaring daggers at him, to be sure, and pulling a face that suggested she'd been given a glass of vinegar to drink, but ultimately silent. Not believing his eyes (or ears), Harry approached the portrait.

"What are you doing up?" came a stern voice behind him. Healer Tonks and the Weasleys had come up, to check what had caused the racket, and for one, the Healer did not sound too pleased.

"I... wanted something to eat," Harry said lamely, "I... stumbled and the portrait went off and..." He trailed off as he saw Healer Tonks' expression. She looked roughly as angry as the portrait.

"You are in no condition to be hopping around the house, Potter," she snapped, flicking her wand at him. Instantly, Harry found himself floating on a stretcher, a few feet aboveground. "If you need anything you use the bell I left you, now let's get you back to bed where you belong."

"But I..." Harry started to protest, to no avail. He hadn't been hopping, had he?

Healer Tonks would have none of his explanations. She levitated him all the way back to Sirius' room, berating him all the while the trip lasted. Once in the room, she tucked him in, muttering about how irresponsible he had been, as if walking down a few sets of stairs were as dangerous as poking an Erumpent in the eye. She, like Madam Pomfrey, turned a deaf ear to his protests, and left in an impressive huff.

Mrs. Weasley arrived shortly after, bearing a tray with soup and tea for him, but she was sniffling continually and said nothing to him except a rather constipated, "Good night, Harry dear."

Feeling rather put out by the childlike treatment he had just received, Harry grudgingly ate his soup, drifting off shortly after to dreams of dragon riders, burning houses and zombies.


The alarm had gone off loudly, filling the empty tavern with sparks of every colour imaginable.

For a split second, both boys did not move. Who'd have thought there'd be a Floo alarm on the fireplace? Connor raffled himself up, casting a quick obliteration charm to erase their footprints as he tried to spot the way out amidst the sparks.

It was like trying to walk right through a set of fireworks.

Chris actually chuckled at their awful luck, allowing Connor to drag him out at a sprint, which thankfully was short-lived; Neither had the energy to go very far.

They both watched from the shelter of a nearby alleyway ("Your favourite hiding spots, eh?" Chris had commented before Connor covered his mouth with a hand), as a team of Aurors in bright red robes apparated across the street, even as nearly every light in the Leaky Cauldron went on and a babble of confused, scared-sounding voices carried from within. One of the leading Aurors, a tall, bald man with an earring, started giving instructions in a loud voice, amidst the gunshot sounds of even more Aurors apparating, and both boys retreated further into the shadows.

"Death Eaters! It's them!" someone shouted from inside, and the Aurors filed into the Leaky Cauldron, wands raised and ready to strike. Connor let out a breath.

"That," Chris muttered, looking meaningfully at Connor, "was effin' close."

"Yeah..."

"D'you think there are really Death Eaters in there?"

"No idea." Connor did pointedly not want to find out. He slung the other's arm over his shoulder, wand in hand. "For all we know, those Aurors could be. C'mon, let's get cracking."

"How about we take a taxi?" Chris suggested with a groan.

"Have you seen what muggles charge for a taxi, especially at this time of night?"

"Aye, dreadful rates. 'Tis nothing short of highway robbery."

"Not to mention the risk of getting mugged."

"All right then," Chris conceded at last with a wan smile. "You're right. Muggers are ruthless... and oh, so dangerous... especially muggle ones..."

Finding their way across the deserted London streets was not at all easy, as Connor soon found out. They hid whenever they heard the slightest noise, be it the fluttering of a bird or a passing car, setting off again as soon as Connor had established it was safe; Chris was tiring fast, and of little help whatsoever.

Connor's watch chimed four o'clock in the morning as they passed a public garden Connor thought to be the Meat Market, and he sank down on the sidewalk, wondering just where they had to go from here. Dawn was already breaking, and they were utterly lost, not to mention exhausted.

Chris was leaning on him, breathing heavily, the front of his robes wet with fresh blood. Connor checked him over, heart sinking.

Merlin's balls, not now...

"Oy..." Chris wheezed, "is this the Meat Market?"

"I think so, yeah..." Connor replied, ripping his shirt to shreds and pressing it against the other's chest.

"They used to burn witches here, dinney?"

"Yeah, probably..." Connor tried to pull the other to his feet. He needed a Healer, and fast.

"'Tis a his...torical... site, y'know..."

"Uh-huh. Can you stand?"

"Look," Chris said, looking at a plaque on the wall behind them, "they killed Will—"

"Come on, we need to get away from here—" He heaved once more, hauling the other to unsteady feet. "You'll get to go sight-seeing some other time, I promise," he muttered with a roll of his eyes.

It's the lack of blood, he told himself. The sodding lack of blood.

"But it's... where they... they quartered William Wallace..." the other whined, gasping as he was set into motion again. "We need to pay our respects, you know... Ssssir..." he trailed off in a slur.

Connor walked as fast as he could, thinking hard. If he used magic here, it would be nothing short of a beacon that would draw other wizards to where they were... if he didn't, things would not look well at all for Chris. What he needed... was a secluded spot where they could rest for a bit, unseen.

"Here, I think nobody will look for us over there, c'mon..." Connor had spotted an old-looking building that had an open gate. From a long-past visit in what now seemed another lifetime, he remembered the City of London was all but made of these little courtyards, and this one seemed perfect for a hiding place. A plaque at the entrance told him there was a church there, and that all but guaranteed an absolute lack of people.

He coaxed the other's limbs to move, and after what seemed ages, made it across the gateway, into a path that passed between two raised gardens. He barely had time to let out a relieved breath before the sight he beheld made him freeze again.

They were standing amidst a cold, silvery mass that was moving towards them.


He had been dragging someone along dark streets and rows, hiding in shadows whenever he heard the telltale sounds of people approaching. That someone kept stumbling, and he had to stop several times to stop the bleeding in his chest. Harry had made a break for it, all but carrying the other boy through the streets of London, and hid in the courtyard of the darkest church he had ever laid eyes on, which was surrounded by raised gardens filled to the brim with ghosts. He'd tried to get directions from them, but that leper bloke's ghost had been less than friendly.

It had been an awful dream, really.

Harry then decided he'd slept enough, thank you very much. But staying in Sirius' old bedroom was also more than he could stand.

So he ventured out once more. This time around, the trip downstairs did not take quite as long as the first, and he decided to take a breather in the entrance hall. From the kitchen voices rose, slightly muffled due to the closed door.

Don't these people ever sleep? Harry wondered in annoyance, his chance for a cup of tea gone and done with. His stomach protested in unison with his thoughts, but his sense of self-preservation won out.

"There was more than one," Hestia was saying, "they floo'd in from an unidentified grate and disappeared into muggle London." She sighed. "We have secured all magical households in case they are aiming to attack, but... but why would Death Eaters use the Leaky Cauldron grates to go to muggle London, of all places?"

"It would indeed make more sense if they had been headed for Diagon Alley," a raspy voice agreed, and Harry involuntarily took a step back. Mad-Eye was there, and he wasn't keen on being told off by the grizzled ex-Auror any more than he wanted to face Healer Tonks again tonight. So he settled for reading in the sitting room, which was located to the left from the entrance hall. Shooting a warning glare at the portrait of Sirius' mum, he crossed to the nearest armchair and opened his book.

Afterwards he could not tell how long he had been reading, but the next thing he knew was that someone had reached the front door. The old hag on the wall went off almost immediately afterwards, screeching and shrieking for all it was worth, as if confirming Harry's thoughts.

"Sons of filth, besmirching the house of my fathers, begone from this place—"

Harry groaned, distracted from the diagrams showing the casting of a window darkening spell, which he supposed was what the Order had used in Mrs. Figg's house back when the Death Eaters had attacked him in Wisteria Walk.

"Now what?" he asked aloud, shutting his book with a snap, which, just like his words, was drowned in the din Mrs. Black was making. Again.

He swung his feet from the armrest of the armchair he had been using, and stood up with some difficulty, tossing the book aside as he stepped out into the entrance hall.

"—Misbegotten fiends of lesser blood, you are not welcome here—"

"Yeah, yeah, I heard you, you stupid old hag," Harry muttered, adjusting his bathrobe as he went. He hadn't heard the door, but it was all probably lost in the screeching anyway.

Of course, he wasn't allowed to go anywhere near the door. Someone else would get it; he just wanted for that horrid portrait to shut up once and for all.

"I told you already to shut it," he said loudly, glaring at the portrait. "Nobody here gives a damn for your screeching, so eff up already."

"Stains of dishonour! Half-breeds!" she screeched, if possible, even louder than before, her yellowish face contorted in an ugly grimace, lolling her tongue at Harry and drooling from her widely open mouth. It made Harry's head pound.

"Cut it out!" he shouted, sticking his hand in his pocket to draw his wand... but his fingers brushed against something else.

He held the signet ring of the House of Black aloft, turned it so the portrait could see it clearly. Mrs. Black's eyes went wide as saucers.

"NOOOO! My house, my heirlooms, gone to the mudblood's son! YOU-HAVE-NO-RIGHT!" This was the absolute opposite of what Harry had expected.

"Shut up!" he shouted, and to his utmost surprise... the portrait complied again. Harry dropped the ring back in his pocket, taking a relieved breath.

Behind him, someone gave a laugh.

Bill and Tonks had come upstairs, to get the door, no doubt. Harry nodded at them, rubbing his eyes tiredly.

"How did you do that, Harry?" Bill asked, grinning slightly. Harry just shrugged.

"What got her off this time?" Tonks wanted to know, smirking at Mrs. Black and pulling a face at her.

"There's someone at the door," Harry replied, closing the curtains over the portrait.

"We didn't hear anything," Tonks said with a frown, approaching the door at once.

"Harry, go to bed. It's almost five in the morning," Bill instructed, pulling him back and towards the stairs.

"There's someone at the door," Harry insisted.

"There's been nothing to suggest that," Tonks argued, peering through the peep hole, her wand raised and at the ready. "Go to bed, Harry."

"We'll check if there's someone out, but you shouldn't even be here, Harry. Go to bed."

Harry hesitated for a moment, but in the end he acknowledged defeat and turned to go back upstairs.

There was a faint knock on the door. At once, Bill stepped in front of Harry while Tonks went to the door. She exchanged a look with Bill and opened the door wide, aiming her wand right between the newcomers' eyes. Harry peered around Bill's elbow... and stared.

It hadn't been a dream.

At the doorstep were two boys, roughly his age or younger. Both had windswept, matted black hair, pale, dirty faces and the one who was speaking had eyes so pale they seemed to glow ghostly silver in the light of the corridor lamps inside. He seemed not at all bothered by the fact three wands were pointed straight at him, if he had noticed at all. He was holding the second one, who seemed unconscious, pressing something against his chest.

"Please," he said urgently in a strained voice that struck Harry as entirely too familiar; he had heard it before, coming from his own mouth.

"Please... I can't stop the bleeding."


TBC.

A/N: Right, another chapter done. Reviews are much appreciated, especially if you've made it this far.

I hope to finish chapter 18 a couple of weeks from now, where some things will be explained, some other points will be raised, we'll see old Marv again, as well as Rasmus whom you all miss, I'm sure, Harry and the McAlpin twins meet at last, and there will be some blood and gore as a side dish, I believe.

DND