Disclaimer: Nothing you recognize is mine. This story contains elements from JKR as well as many other sources too numerous to list. No profit is being made and no harm is intended.

And So It Begins

Harry sat silently in his seat on the Hogwarts Express, waiting for Ron and Hermione to finish their prefect duties. Ginny and Neville were in the compartment ahead of him, and the look on Ginny's face when he'd walked past had twisted his insides.

Better to hurt a little now. It'd just be worse later.

The click of the compartment's door latch startled him out of his reverie. Hermione and Ron stepped inside; Ron had to duck his head to avoid a collision with the top of the door frame.

"Harry," Hermione began hesitantly. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah. I wish I had time to ask Dumbledore more questions. And I hate the thought of endangering--"

"Don't even think you're going to leave us behind while you sneak away," Ron interrupted, dropping in the seat across from Harry.

Hermione nodded. "We're coming with you, Harry. Three heads are better than one."

Ron snorted. "I don't know about that 'three heads' thing. Don't you remember Fluffy?"

Harry smiled wryly, recalling the enormous three-headed dog of Hagrid's. In their first year at school, Fluffy had guarded the Sorcerer's Stone. In the end, Harry had stopped Voldemort from procuring the Stone, though he couldn't have done it without a lot of assistance from Ron and Hermione.

The witch came by with the trolley, making Harry realize he was hungry. He reached into his pocket and handed over enough coins for Cauldron Cakes, Chocolate Frogs, pumpkin juice and pumpkin pasties for the three of them, with plenty to tuck away in his trunk for later. "Gotta keep our strength up," he said grimly. "We've a lot of work ahead of us."

Ron and Hermione shared a quick, relieved glance, and helped themselves to snacks.

Munching a pasty, Harry mentally reviewed the prophecy that made Voldemort attempt to kill him as a baby. "The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…and either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives… The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies..."

"What 'power' am I supposed to have?" he wondered. "It can't just be the ability to love. What is so special about NOT being heartless and cruel? I'm missing something, some important clue. Why is it my puzzles are always missing several key pieces?"

"So what do we do first?" Ron queried, interrupting Harry's dark thoughts.

"What? Oh, erm, well... I reckon the first stop is the Dursleys'. Dumbledore wanted me to go there one last time. I've been wondering… I think Aunt Petunia knows more than she ever let on. She knew about Dementors and Azkaban back when Dudley and I were attacked two years ago. She might know more about my mum and dad. Like, where did they live? I mean, I know somewhere in Godric's Hollow, but how do I find the house? Is the Fidelius Charm still in effect? Where are they buried? Of course Aunt Petunia would never tell me voluntarily…"

"But now that we're of age, we can do magic outside of school." Ron grinned wickedly. "We could help you there, Harry."

"Actually," Harry said with no small amount of bitterness, "Since the Ministry has no reliable way of detecting underage magic, if I am with you, I can do magic too. Not that it matters if I'm expelled, since I don't plan on going back to Hogwarts, but I'm not taking any chances on them snapping my wand."

"So how do we go about it?" Hermione asked.

"Too bad the twins haven't invented 'Spill the Beans' beans yet," Ron mused, scratching his long nose thoughtfully.

Harry briefly considered plying the Dursleys with select beverages, but he knew Uncle Vernon tended to get mean after a few brandies, and Aunt Petunia didn't drink. Unfortunately, Veritaserum would take too long to brew.

"I wonder if I could learn Legilimancy," Harry mused. His jaw tightened as he recalled Professor Snape's recent sneering jibes. "Occlumency too."

If he had been able to close his mind properly, Snape would not have been able to block his curses and escape that horrible night.

A fresh wave of anger broke over Harry, as the memory of Snape blasting Dumbledore over the edge of the Astronomy tower flashed in his mind.

"I wonder if Professor Lupin could teach us," Hermione said. "Or Professor Moody. There must be someone in the Order who can do it. I have been reading about it, but I need to practice."

"Speaking of reading, did you find any more R.A.B.s in the library?" Ron asked, snagging another Chocolate Frog from the pile.

"Whoever it was, he must have been a Death Eater," Harry said. "He called Voldemort 'the Dark Lord,' and only Death Eaters use that name. I doubt there's a roster of Death Eaters anywhere, though."

"Maybe not, but I know where to find the next best thing," Hermione said.


"That tapestry at Headquarters. It showed generations of Dark wizards!"

The Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, formerly the Black family manse, housed--among other things--an extensive family tree of pure-blood wizards and witches. Blood traitors who sympathized with or worse, married, Muggles or Muggleborns had been blasted off.

Knowing how much his godfather, Sirius Black, had detested living at number twelve, Grimmauld Place in London, Harry was not keen to return there, even though Sirius had willed the house to him. He grimaced. "Yeah, that's another place we'll have to go."

"Ah, but the Dursleys' first," Ron said thoughtfully. "Must be about time for Dudley to grow a new tail. Or maybe he would look better as a baboon...?"

Harry grinned. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon might well deserve a good hex or two as well. "We can't all just drop in on them straight off the train, though," he said. "You have to go home with your families for a few days at least. Hermione, any thoughts on how to keep your parents safe? Wards or emergency Portkeys or anything? I hate the thought of them being targets. I wonder if McGonagall has thought to warn the Muggleborn families, especially ones who haven't started school yet. I know the Ministry has ways of detecting magic, and we've got to assume Death Eaters do too."

Harry scowled. "Why does the Ministry waste so much time and energy prosecuting underage magic when there are Death Eaters out there performing illegal curses? I had a warning in my hand within minutes of Dobby's hover charm, and an expulsion threat when I had to fight off the Dementors. They knew about the time I blew up Aunt Marge too. I can't understand why they don't watch for illegal curses and send Aurors. They know Death Eaters are the only ones using Unforgiveables. Somebody needs to revamp their whole bloody system…"

Ron broke into Harry's rant. "Hermione, maybe you could give your parents Portkeys they could wear, like a charm or ring that would be activated somehow."

Hermione's eyes sparkled. "That's a great idea, Ron. And Harry, I've been thinking. Dumbledore said Riddle underestimates things, right? He underestimates youth, love, and things that are common. He hates all things Muggle, and disregards anything to do with them as inferior."

Harry and Ron waited, knowing Hermione's train of thought was always long freight rather than express. She took a breath and continued, "Well, I think we should check into Muggle technology to help us. Muggles have devised ways of living--and dying--quite well without magic. We could use, or even possibly adapt things Muggles use."

Harry nodded. "Yeah, that's a good idea."

"So we meet at the Dursleys' next week, say, Monday?" Ron queried. "After your uncle leaves for work?"

Tentative plans made, Harry and Ron started a game of chess to pass the time, while Hermione browsed through one of her huge books. She glanced up at the boys from time to time as the chess pieces engaged in loud and vigorous battles. Finally, she set her book aside.

"Harry, do you have any kind of strategy planned?"

Harry sighed regretfully as his knight was taken. "I don't know. I've been trying to come up with something. There's just so much to do, I don't know where to begin. Even if we can find all the Horcruxes and destroy them, how do I find Voldemort? And what am I going to do when I find him? Our wands won't work against each other because they were both made from Fawkes' tail feathers. I don't know if I can do the Killing Curse. When I tried to use an Unforgiveable Curse on Bellatrix at the Ministry, she said I had to enjoy causing pain for it to work and righteous anger wouldn't do it."

"No doubt Snape enjoys causing pain; it was no problem for him to use Avada Kedavra on Dumbledore," Ron snarled.

Hermione squeezed Ron's hand. "I've been wondering about that, too," she said hesitantly. "Why did that curse throw Dumbledore over the tower? Avada Kedavra just separates the soul from the body. Propulsion isn't part of the spell, so the victim just falls where he or she is standing."

Ron pulled away from her, incredulous. "What's to wonder about? Snape is just extra evil. Maybe he did a non-verbal throwing spell for good measure."

"Just listen." Hermione held her hands up as if to ward off their anger. "Suppose it's all part of a plan. Maybe Dumbledore made Snape kill him. Maybe that's what Hagrid heard them arguing about in the woods."

"You're defending Snape?"

"No, no! I just can't believe Dumbledore would let something like this happen. He was too powerful to let any bunch of mediocre wizards defeat him, even without a wand... And he always trusted Snape…" Hermione trailed off, wringing her hands.

"You weren't there, you didn't see it happen," Harry snapped. "Dumbledore was pleading, sliding down against the wall because he was so weak from that Horcrux potion. I couldn't do a thing. Dumbledore put me in a Freezing Charm under the Invisibility Cloak," Harry said miserably. "Why? Why couldn't he let me help him?"

Hermione hesitated, then asked, "What if he didn't want you to help? You said he offered Malfoy and his mother a chance to pretend to be dead, to hide them from Voldemort. What if he faked his death so he could be more effective; so Voldemort would think he was out of the picture?"

"Dumbledore would never run and hide from that evil git," Ron said, bristling.

"No, he wouldn't hide, but… Oh, I don't know, I just can't believe he can be gone," Hermione said sadly. "I keep looking for a loophole…"

"You watch too many soaps on the telly," Harry snapped. "Dumbledore is gone. He's not coming back and we just have to muddle on without him. Besides, even if Snape didn't really use Avada Kedavra and just used Levicorpus to drop Dumbledore off the tower, the fall killed him."

"Not necessarily," Hermione said. "Remember Neville said his uncle dropped him out a window when he was a kid? He just bounced. Wizards can't be killed by common things like gravity. But it might have been enough to satisfy the terms of the Unbreakable Vow Snape made with Narcissa."

Ron rolled his eyes, looking back to Hermione. "So whose body did we bury then?"

Harry lost track of their conversation as it dissolved into bickering. His gaze wandered to the ceiling and his fingers slid to a tiny ring on a thin chain around his neck. Ginny had given it to him by the lake. He replayed the scene, watching her slipping it off her slim finger, Transfiguring a strand of her hair into a chain. She placed it around his neck, her lips meeting his.

Later, when he tried to give it back, she refused. "No Harry, you keep it. I'll always be here for you." The ring tingled in his fingers and he had a sudden impression that there was magic in it. Ever since his excursion with Dumbledore, he felt a sensitivity to traces of magic. Perhaps he'd always had it, and it had just taken Dumbledore pointing it out for him to realize it.

His musings were interrupted by the train whistle, signaling they were nearly at their destination.

"I did it!" Hermione gasped. "I saw into Ron's mind!"

Ron looked suddenly alarmed and his ears glowed red.

"It worked! I saw the Burrow, and Ron's mum, and good feelings, like comfort, and I think I could even smell food cooking!"

"Brilliant!" said Harry, grinning. Noticing Ron shaking his head as if clearing water from his ears, he asked, "Are you alright Ron? I never liked Snape's practice sessions on my brain, they gave me a nasty headache."

Hermione gasped. "I'm so sorry, Ron! I didn't think I'd be able to do it the first try like that, are you alright?"

Ron rubbed his temples. "Just warn me before you do that again, there's stuff in there you shouldn't see, you know. You can't just go bustin' in on a bloke's private thoughts."

"I didn't see thoughts," Hermione said. "Just memories and emotions. And they flew so fast I couldn't make sense of it, really."

They all jumped as their compartment door opened with a snap. "Prefects are to come to the front of the train to prepare for departure," announced Ernie Macmillan.

Hermione leaped to her feet and headed for the door. Ron rose somewhat unsteadily, reaching for the handrail. "Back in a bit," he said to Harry on his way out.

Harry sat alone once again, wondering if there was any way to break into Voldemort's mind as Hermione had just done to Ron. It would be so easy if he could just get in and sift through Voldemort's mind to find the locations of the Horcruxes.

With a hiss of frustration, he unloaded his trunk and took Hedwig down from the overhead storage compartment. He was unloading Ron and Hermione's things when he heard the door clasp snap open. He whirled, wand ready.

Harry wasn't entirely surprised to see Ginny slip into the compartment and shut the door. He glanced over her head to scan the corridor behind her warily.

"Hi," he said finally.

"Harry, I've been thinking," she began. "I'm afraid my answer is an emphatic 'no' to your breaking up with me."

"Ginny, you know why--"

"No," she insisted in an imperious voice that sounded a bit like her mum's. "I know, you said you would feel awful if it was my funeral and it was your fault, but how do you think I would feel if it was your funeral, because I hadn't been there to help you?"

She blocked the door and Harry reclaimed his seat. "I cannot just sit at home, waiting for bad news. People aren't any safer in their homes! There are Death Eaters attacking everywhere. We're safer together than apart. At least we can watch out for each other."

Harry's eyes were imploring. "Ginny, you're not even of age! I can't drag you into this. You have a family that loves you, they'll keep you safe."

Ginny scowled. "Are you daft? My family will be one of the first targets! You know Dad has always been recognized as one of Dumbledore's staunchest supporters. Our whole family is considered blood traitors."

Harry dropped his head in his hands. "Ginny, let's talk about this later, please? I just need to think awhile…"

Ginny glared at him steadily, then played her trump card. "Harry, I know you're leaving on some noble quest. If you try to leave me behind, I will come out looking for you. All alone. Death Eaters will be on my trail…"

He flinched, then stood to pace, running his hands through his hair. "Your parents would be devastated. Ginny, I can't do that to them. Listen, I have to be at the Dursleys' for a few weeks. We can think about this later, when I come to the Burrow for Bill and Fleur's wedding."

"We can," Ginny said, her arms crossed and her jaw set. "But there's nothing to talk about. Do you really think you can leave me behind? I have six older brothers who still haven't a clue how I got all my blackmail material against them, or how I stole their brooms. Unlike Tonks, stealth and tracking are my specialty. I'm serious, Harry, you are not leaving me behind."

Harry groaned, his breath coming out in a huff.

Ginny stepped closer and her arms found their way around his neck as she rested her head on his chest.

"We will talk about this later," Harry said, hesitating only a moment before returning her embrace. "I need you to be safe. We'll find the best way for all of us to come through this alive, okay?"

"Yes," she whispered fiercely. Harry tucked her head under his chin, his fingers absently trailing through her long hair.

"Much as I'd like to sit here and hold you forever, we probably ought to get off the train before it goes wherever it goes for the summer," Harry murmured, glancing at his watch.

"That wouldn't be so bad," Ginny grinned, relief returning the glint of mischief in her eyes. "But heaven forbid I miss the wedding! Mum would go spare."

"Hm," Harry answered noncommittally, already reaching to unload Ron's and Hermione's luggage. "Have you got your things?" he asked. When she shook her head, he offered to help.

"Thanks," Ron gasped as he jogged down the corridor toward them. He and Harry got the trunks loaded on trolleys and proceeded to the platform.

They waited for their turn and slipped through the barrier, unnoticed at the back of the throng. Hermione soon spotted her mum and rushed to give her a hug.

Arthur and Molly Weasley embraced their two youngest children, then Molly reached to give Harry a hug as well.

Harry spotted Uncle Vernon talking animatedly on his satellite phone off to the side. Checking his wand in his jacket pocket, Harry pushed his trolley a few steps towards his uncle before pausing to turn back. He wished he could tell Ginny goodbye in a more private place. He glanced at Ron, whose gaze was fixed on Hermione.

After greeting their parents, the girls hugged the boys and each other. If their parents noticed a few extra whispers, they pretended not to notice. Hermione turned to Harry, pulling something from her jacket pocket.

"Here," she said, stuffing the small package into his hands. "It's a communication watch. I tried revamping the D.A. Galleons, but I thought these might work better. The instructions are inside. Ron and Ginny have them too."

"Thanks! You're a genius, Hermione," Harry said. He only had eyes for Ginny, though, and stuffed the package in his pocket absentmindedly.

Uncle Vernon "ahem-ed" loudly, reminding Harry he didn't have all day. With a quick wave and a sigh, Harry turned to accompany him.

Arthur looked worried. "What if Dursley is a Death Eater in disguise? Harry didn't ask a security question."

Ron glared at Vernon's retreating back. "I think Harry might prefer dealing with a Death Eater."