Chapter 1: A Tangled Ball of Threads.
HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY
Acting Headmistress: Minerva McGonagall
Dear Ms. Granger,
We regret to inform you that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry will not be commencing classes as usual due to unavoidable circumstances. Everything possible is being done to rectify the situation.
We regret the any inconvenience this may cause.
"That was the most boring meeting I've ever attended," Ron complained loudly, throwing himself onto the bed and closing his eyes.
"How would you know?" Ginny said irritably. "You fell asleep before it was half over."
"I did not!" Ron protested.
"I've got drool marks on my shoulder to prove it," Hermione said impatiently.
"Yes, but…" Ron complained weakly. "It was boring. They staged it just for our benefit, didn't they? Talking about food storage and transportation."
"It was boring," Ginny said finally. "And it sounded forced. Did you see Lupin talking as if he'd memorized something from a book?"
"It was forced, all right," Hermione added thoughtfully. "But not for i our /i benefit."
"How many times have we been invited to an Order meeting? Everyone always telling us we're not of age," Ron snapped angrily. "And, with Lavender Brown attending it as well."
"I think we were allowed to sit through it because Lavender came as well," Hermione said. "Don't you see? It wasn't exactly as if Scrimgeour could send Percy to attend the Order meetings, so he sent someone we all know. Someone Harry knows very well."
"But Harry doesn't like Lavender!" Ron protested. "He can't stand that giggling …slut." He looked at Hermione to see if this met her approval, as he had, at one time, been very close to Lavender.
"Maybe not, but I bet she told the Minister that she was a close friend of Harry's…now that he's broken up with Ginny. Perhaps told everyone he had crush on her sometime back. Plus, we don't know when school will be starting," she added, touching the parchment she kept with her at all times, as a reminder of what to expect. "We all have to survive somehow, whether we finish school or not, with a war threatening to erupt."
"What does she mean, 'Acting Headmistress'?" Ron asked, knowing from Hermione's expression she was thinking of school again.
"It means that the Board of Governors and the Ministry are not going to let her run the school," she explained. "Dumbledore became so powerful they couldn't control him. This time they're planning on having someone they can control. There was a rumour that…" she swallowed, looking slightly sick at the thought.
"What?" Ron asked with a feeling of dread.
"That Umbridge is to be on the school board," Hermione finished in a rush. "If she takes the place of Lucius Malfoy …"
"There might not be anything worth returning to," Ginny finished.
"I do miss it," Ron said, sounding surprised. "No more Quidditch, sneaking out at night… and the Great Hall. I used to think Harry was the only person who didn't look forward to holidays, but now I think I understand."
"I was going to be Head Girl," Hermione moaned, and no one argued with her, though it had never been confirmed.
"If there's someone who will miss school more than we do, it's going to be Harry," Ginny said in a sad voice.
Two weeks of digging in the backyard to fulfill his uncle's new obsession found Harry sunburnt, sweaty and irritable. He rested his hands on the waistband on a frayed pair of jeans that were rolled up since they were too long, and looked at his handiwork He rested his hands on the shovel he had been using and looked down intently. The hole in the ground looked deep, though he knew it would not be deep enough to satisfy his relatives.
'I'm digging a grave so they can bury me after they kill me in my sleep,' Harry thought, looking at the fish pond. After one week in the blistering sun, he had discovered more muscles than he had thought possible. The only good thing was it kept him from thinking about what had happened. It also kept him away from the telly and more importantly, the news.
The crack of someone Apparating outside the Anti-Apparition wards startled him so much that he dropped the shovel, reached for his wand and turned around towards the sound so quickly that it made him dizzy. A few seconds later, the oddly rumpled figures of Mad-Eye Moody and Arthur Weasley came into view. Harry just stared.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, half excited, half worried.
"What's with the hole in the ground?" Arthur asked in a strange manner.
"The boy's getting ready for an attack," Moody answered for him, flicking his wand at Arthur. Weasley now stood dressed in a flowered summer dress, spaghetti strapped and very short. "Going to dig a tunnel to China, are we?"
Harry gaped at the two men in surprise. Then he lifted his wand again. "Who are you?"
"Us," said Arthur, completely oblivious to the fact he wore a dress. He pointed his wand at Moody. Suddenly, Mad-Eye Moody stood in the Dursley's backyard wearing a tutu.
"Always be prepared to startle your enemies, boy," Moody said as if it was the most ordinary thing. Harry closed his eyes. A half-dressed Moody was not something to fantasize about. With luck, he wouldn't be scarred for life by the sight of the wooden leg and the hideous scars visible through the stripes of blue and orange clothing.
"Oh, I can't do this anymore," Arthur said, and suddenly both the men were on the ground, laughing their heads off. "The look on your face is priceless, Harry, I wish I had a camera."
"What?" Harry managed.
"Give us a minute," Moody said as he plucked out his false eye and pocketed it, just as his skin started to bubble. Harry was familiar with the use of Polyjuice. Due to the antics of the two men, he didn't think them dangerous, so he waited. When the final transformation was over, Fred and George Weasley stood up laughing, despite the pain of changing back. Harry couldn't help but laugh at their actions.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, laughing since the twins were still wearing the clothes they had being dressed in previously.
"Long story," said one of the twins. "We have a letter for you from your friends, and we thought we'd deliver it in person on our way to the shop."
"But why are you…" He pointed at them.
"Dressed like color-blind Muggles?"
"No, the Polyjuice…"
"Dad and Mad-Eye have gone on a mission to find some founder's artifact," George replied. "When you read the letter, you'll understand… we have Order meetings and, well, their absence would have been more noticeable than ours, so we thought, why not?"
"Fake…er… fake eye," said Fred, changing back to his original attire, "can't see through clothes." He took out a piece of rolled together parchment. "Got to go, mate, before we are missed at the shop."
Harry didn't even notice it, as he was too distracted by the information George had casually divulged. Mad-Eye and Arthur were gone off on a Horcrux hunt. It was a shame he couldn't go, but the wards around the house still protected him until he came of age. He hadn't even had a disturbing dream so far. He absentmindedly reached for the letter wishing he was with his friends, instead of digging to China. When he looked up, the twins were gone. He dropped down, cross legged, onto a pile of soft soil, and started to read the letter.
You won't believe what happened. We got to attend our first Order meeting today. It was held in the kitchen and nearly everyone came. There were loads of people there.
'Either Ron doesn't know about the missing people or he's keeping quiet because of security,' Harry thought as he read on.
Ginny, Hermione and I got to attend as well, but Ginny was really mad about something. I think she and Hermione had an argument over it, coz afterwards, they were standing in a corner muttering at each other. When I went near them, they simply shut up and wouldn't tell me anything.
(He could imagine his friend rolling his eyes and saying 'girls'.
Not to worry, I think only you can read this letter, since Hermione cast a spell on it to show its message only to the recipient. Anyway the meeting was a total waste. They talked about food storage and stuff. I fell asleep and don't remember much. (Don't tell anyone about it.) Oh, Lavender came for the meeting as well, but that's later.
She just showed up with Tonks and said she was working for the Ministry, and everyone smiled and said, 'Yes, dear'. She asked about you, and when Ginny walked in later, asked if you two had broken up. I don't think Ginny was really pleased, t she said something about you being busy.
Anyway, since you were mad at us the last time we didn't write, I thought I'd keep you informed.
Hermione wants to write a bit, so I'll let her have the parchment now. (Yes, she's here as well.) The girls aren't getting on well at all. I wish you were here, mate.
P.S. Bill's wedding has been postponed coz he's not getting any better. Mum is all for keeping him at home, but Dad's thinking of transferring him to St.Mungo's.
The untidy handwriting was followed by the careful script of Harry's other best friend, who also happened to be Ron's girlfriend.
I can see that Ron's clueless as to what is going on. I should perhaps start at the beginning and say the Order is cooperating with the Ministry now. We don't have much choice in the matter. Apparently, Dumbledore's death unraveled a spell that kept people from talking and the news had somehow gotten to Scrimgeour. We don't have any other choice but to pretend to get along with them.
The only good thing is that Scrimgeour is not going to waltz into Order meetings. Instead, he's sending Lavender Brown as his representative. Perhaps he thought that as a Gryffindor and former schoolmate, we'll be more likely to open up to her. The meeting she attended was staged for her benefit. I think they are trying to convince the Ministry that the Order is a bunch of outcasts who are all talk. I spoke to Professor McGonagall the other day, and she said there weren't enough students to open the school. Just as well. With war coming, I don't think it'll be safe to keep a large number of children together in the same place.
And no, Ginny and I are not fighting. We had a bit of a disagreement over some issues. She sends her love by the way, but is too busy to write. I'm sure she'll fill you in on things the next time.
Stay with your aunt, it's only going to be for a little while and we'll keep you informed as much as possible. I have to stop now. I hear Professor Lupin running. That means someone's Apparated outside the wards… yes, even the Burrow has a few protective wards up now…must go see who it is. Could be Charlie.
Your scar hasn't hurt, has it?
Take care and don't do anything stupid.
He never had been a stranger to pain. It was something he was intimately familiar with, so familiar that he barely felt all the broken bones rubbing together as he crawled towards the room where his savior was. Perhaps it was the potion, he thought. He could still taste it at the back of his throat. It was a bitter, nauseating taste, which made him want to throw up, but he did not, in case it brought up more blood.
With each painful hand dragged forward... i Clutch, push with one good leg, don't move the knee too much, /i he reviewed the plan his father had come up with.
"…it has to look real…"
"…a life for a life, one for you and one for your mother. It isn't too much to ask, is it?"
"…no, Father," But it was, and he was going to come up with a little amendment of his own. His father was wrong; Potter was too noble and self-sacrificing to fall for the plan. But it was also his downfall, his loyalty to his friends, his willingness to sacrifice for the good of others. There was no way to get to Potter. He was too well protected, by wards left by the former headmaster, by friends and family. Unlike him, Potter was surrounded by a group of people who would rather die than let any harm come to him. The most important of these were the Weasleys and Granger.
Granger was Muggle-born and did not have the right connections. He didn't know where she lived and quite frankly did not care if she lived in a little hole in the ground. The Weasleys were a different matter. No matter what he had said in the past about their unimportance, he was not stupid. They were very important in the Wizarding world…their word was still good in the Ministry and they were all loyal to Potter to the end.
And Potter was in a relationship with the youngest Weasley, if he was remembering correctly. So he chose Ron Weasley. When he thought back, he realized there really was no other alternative. It was easier to solve a problem by starting with the hardest part and work towards the easiest. That way, the worst was over quickly.
A few more steps and he would be there. He could feel the blood dripping from various cuts leaving a trail behind, one that would be very difficult to get off the expensive carpet. It was going to be a long day.
Finally, the door was in sight, closed but with a glimmer of light escaping from under it. He lifted his hand slowly, noting that three of his fingers were at an odd angle, and then knocked thrice, taking care not to jar his body too much. After all, too much pain would cause him to black out. He did not want to bleed to death just steps away from his destination.
The door opened suddenly, and a shadow fell over him. The man at the doorway stood, seeing no one at eye level and finally looked down and saw the bundle of blood and torn scraps of clothing lying at his feet.
"Draco!" Snape said in shock, stooping down like a giant bat just as he lost consciousness.
Narcissa Malfoy looked up from her cup of tea and then kept it carefully on the table in front of her as her husband sat down in an armchair next to the table. Only someone watching very closely would have noticed that the cup had clattered with the saucer or the drop of tea that spilled over the edge. She looked up slowly, letting her face arrange itself into a presentable mask. "I heard the screaming," she said softly. "Did you kill him?"
"And lose a valuable asset?" Lucius said softly, regarding her thoughtfully. "I never throw away something unless there is a replacement." He tipped his head to the side and regarded her rather coldly. "Too bad you couldn't provide me with another heir when I asked you to."
"He was all I could …" Narcissa paused and picked up her tea cup, at a loss of anything to do.
Lucius stood up and walked to the table until he was standing behind her. It took the blonde female a lot of effort not to cringe when he stood exactly behind her and reached for the pot of tea. "I have other uses for him now. He will lead me to the person most wanted by our side of the war."
"You are just letting him go," she said, and then realization dawned on to her like a wave of horror. "You put a Tracking Charm on him."
"Yes," he said simply, taking the cup of tea from over her shoulder. Again, she did not flinch as his hand brushed her back slightly. Her tea cup shook and her knuckles whitened, as the grip on the cup tightened.
"But when they find out, they'll kill him," she said shakily, making no move to cover her emotions.
"They will find what they want to find," Lucius said softly. "A Tracking Spell concealed on him, but not that well. What they won't find is something even you, my dear, will not be able to detect. Only a true Malfoy will be able to find it, if they look hard enough."
"You didn't!" she said, coming to her feet so fast the cup of tea toppled over and shattered. Tea, light brown in color, soaked into the white carpet, leaving a stain that looked a lot like dried blood. "How could you? He is your son!"
"Which is exactly why I did it," Lucius said, waving his wand, so the repaired teacup floated up and rested on the table. "He agreed to it."
"Did he?" Narcissa asked in a low, dangerous voice, her hand closing over the memory of a wand she did not posses anymore.
"He loved every minute of it," Lucius snarled cruelly. "Just like you did."
"Liar!" Her slap did not reach his face. She dropped her hand, shocked that Lucius' wand was already coming up. She stood back in resignation and waited for the inevitable.
The crack of Apparition brought two individuals running to its location. "Snape," Remus said, lowering his wand and looking at the bloodied figure draped across his arms. "Who is that?"
"Draco," Snape said impatiently. "He specifically asked to be brought here. I was going to take him to Hogwarts, but he did not want to go. Actually, this was the only location I could think of. Is there anyone here who knows healing spells?"
"Hermione," Tonks said, also putting her wand away. "She's been looking up some medical texts, and Molly ought to know how to fix a broken bone or two after putting up with Fred and George."
"We'd better hurry then," Remus said, stepping forward and holding out his hands for the burden. Despite his slight stature, he was a werewolf and much stronger than his appearance led people to believe. "Tonks, send a message to Molly." With that, he started to move toward The Burrow from the Apparition point. Tonks raised her wand and cast her Patronus, which looked stronger than it had in a while, a white wolf with a smiling face.
"Nymphadora, wait," Snape said, as Tonks made to follow. "What are you doing here?"
"Bill," Tonks replied in a tight voice laced with disgust. She did not like the Potion master anymore than she did in her school days. "He's not getting any better, and Remus dropped in since…"
"…he's the resident werewolf expert," Snape said sarcastically. "That does not explain why you have to tag along with him." He made it sound as if she were a flea that had accidentally gotten tangled in his fur.
"Molly invited me," she answered defensively. She cursed herself for sounding like a scared little girl.
"And any news of Potter?"
"He's at his blood relatives' house," Tonks replied. "We've got people looking after him, though he doesn't know it."
"Does he know I did not betray the Order?"
"Why the sudden concern?" Tonks finally managed to find her footing and shoot back.
"It would be advisable if the Hope of the Light Side concentrated on his duty to kill the Dark Lord and not get mixed up in petty ideas of revenge," Snape answered smoothly, adjusting his robe and taking out his wand. He ignored Tonks' agitation at his actions and her wand, which had been raised in response, and started to remove the blood from his robes.
"He was told," the pink haired Auror said carefully, "that you were under a blood debt and Dumbledore ordered you to kill him if it came to it, and that you still work for us."
"And how is he taking it?" There was real emotion in his voice now.
"It's only been nine days since the funeral," Tonks said, throwing a look over her shoulder. "I have to be going, before they send a search party out. Why don't you come with us? Molly's been baking…"
"I have to go before I'm missed," Snape said, giving himself a once over. "Remember, no matter what, Draco is a Malfoy and cannot be trusted." Always a man to have the last word, Snape smiled at Tonks' apparent uneasiness and Disapparated, leaving her standing alone, the sounds of The Burrow reaching her ears indistinctly.