I am not J.K. Rowling, and I do not own Harry Potter (although I do own a copy of all the books and movies), and am certainly not making any money off of this. I'm writing this purely because I enjoy it, and I hope you do, too.

By the way, I've decided to make this story Deathly Hallows compliant (as far as Horcrux locations, although I'm not sure if the actual Deathly Hallows will come into play in this story or not), so you will begin to find spoilers from this chapter on.

A Sirius Matter

Chapter 37 – Summer Studies

"Hello, everyone. It's good to see so many of you returning to test for a green belt," greeted Mr. Tucker. "I'll call on you alphabetically. After we've finished that, anyone who passes is welcome to test for the blue belt as well."

Among the dozen students wearing a white karate outfit with a purple belt were Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, and Harry Potter. They had thought long and hard about whether they should try returning in disguise or not, and came to the conclusion that it would arouse too much suspicion for them to show up with different hair and eye colors going by different names. They'd be recognized anyway by the people they'd seen every day the previous summer.

Hermione had pointed out that the last place any Death Eater would look for Harry Potter was at a muggle karate school, and Neville had made sure to ask his grandmother not to tell anyone that they were there. One added security measure was that Sirius Black was in the room under Harry's Invisibility cloak. He was wearing a portkey necklace that went between Black Manor and a secluded spot near the school.

Harry, who'd decided to not wear his glasses during these lessons, told the few fellow students who'd asked that he was wearing contact lenses, which was the truth. In fact, he and Hermione had actually had their prescriptions updated earlier that very day. He anxiously waited for Hermione's turn, since she would be the first (alphabetically) of them to test. If she passed, then that would mean that they had been following the books properly. He was fairly certain that they were, but he did want confirmation.

"Granger, Hermione," called Mr. Tucker. She nervously walked up and began the evaluation while Harry watched with his fingers crossed. He couldn't help but admire how gracefully his girlfriend moved as she demonstrated her mastery of every technique in the green belt handbook. Finally, the instructor said, "Excellent. I can see that you've been working very hard this year."

With her ears turning pink, Hermione answered. "Yes, I have. Thank you, sir," as he handed her the new belt, which she pocketed. Harry saw his godfather's faded image wink at him.

Neville was a bit more nervous when his turn came, but all the work he'd put into it showed when the testing began, and he was given the green belt as well. When Harry's turn came, he also received it. All but one of the returning students got the green belt, but only two of them (besides Harry, Hermione and Neville) stayed to attempt the blue belt test.

That one was much more difficult, but all five of the students that took the test did pass. Neville almost fainted when Mr. Tucker gave him the blue belt. Harry and Hermione had told him that he was just as good as them, but he somehow didn't believe it. All three of them would be able to attend the brown belt classes, but already knew that they wouldn't be able to earn that belt until next summer at the earliest. However, all three felt that they would benefit from a few months' instruction by a master before going back on their own at Hogwarts. Mr. Tucker would demonstrate everything they'd have to be able to do in order to earn the brown belt.

"They all did GREAT!" announced Sirius when the quartet arrived in the living room of his house. The Grangers, Dumbledore, Mrs. Longbottom, Lupin, Ginny and Ron were there, ready for a small celebration. "They all got both the green and blue belts." They would've invited a few more people who'd been told the house's location, except that they didn't want to inform anyone else of those three's muggle fighting abilities. They figured that the fewer who knew, the better.

"Congratulations, all of you," announced the headmaster. "Fine achievement."

Adam Granger hugged his daughter while Marissa hugged Harry. "Good job!" she said proudly. After the others (including Neville's grandma) finished congratulating the three of them, a cake was brought out that had a moving picture that depicted the last few seconds of the tournament from 'The Karate Kid.' Hermione joked that it should've been a scene from the movie, 'The Next Karate Kid' that had come out the previous year. Harry whispered to her that it should've been a scene from a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

After the Longbottoms and Weasleys had left, Dumbledore asked, "Harry, would it be all right if I spoke with you alone?"

"Certainly, sir. We can talk in my bedroom."

Harry led him to a room with light brown carpet and light green walls. The queen-size four-poster bed had a dark green blanket over it, with matching bed curtains. There was a wooden desk with a matching chair in there as well.

"What can I do for you, Professor?" asked Harry politely, once he'd closed the door.

"I can see that you've taken your role in the prophecy very seriously, and have worked diligently to prepare. I firmly believe you could pass your Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L. today if you wanted to, possibly even your N.E.W.T."

Harry's ears turned pink. "Thank you, sir. Hermione's done all the training with me, and would do better on those tests."

"Indeed, she does deserve as much credit as you, possibly more, because she doesn't have a prophecy hanging over her head. My point, though, is that I feel that I should have a hand in your training. Before you can defeat Riddle, there are a few things you must understand, such as why he didn't die when his killing curse at you backfired."

Harry grinned. He truly loved having one-up on the Headmaster. "If this is about the Horcruxes, I already know about them, though I don't know how many are left. I would like to help destroy them, sir."

Dumbledore did his best to not appear shocked, but Potter could tell he was. "Is there anything I've told Mr. Black about that he hasn't repeated to you?"

Although Lupin had actually been the first one to tell Harry about Horcruxes, he saw no reason to get the werewolf in trouble. He grinned. "Not that I'm aware of. He feels that I have the right to know what I'm up against."

"I see," the aged man acquiesced. "May I assume that Miss Granger is aware of the Horcruxes as well?"

"Yes, sir."

"I must admit that I, myself, am not certain how many Horcruxes Tom has made. I have a theory, but I wouldn't stake the life of every member of the human race on that theory."

"What is your theory?" asked Harry, curiously.

The headmaster sighed. "I would rather wait until I can confirm my suspicion. I've spent the last year attempting to set an appointment to speak to Tom Riddle's former head of House, whom I believe may have some insight into this matter, but he has continually, what is the expression, brushed me off. I believe it would be prudent to arrive at his location unannounced, perhaps tonight. I believe that you, as well as your godfather, could be most useful during that conversation. I believe that you still sometimes struggle with your temper?" asked Dumbledore with a twinkle in his eye.

Although Harry had wanted to include Hermione as well, Dumbledore insisted that, although she was more than qualified, an extra person would've gotten in the way of that night's endeavor. That seemed to placate her when she was informed of their plans. And so it was that Sirius, Harry and Dumbledore appeared a block away from an old mansion with three small pops.

"It'll be interesting to see old Slughorn again," commented Sirius happily.

"Indeed," agreed Dumbledore. "This way."

They soon came upon the large gate to what appeared to be a mansion. The headmaster pointed his wand at it, and it swung open. He continued walking in front of his two companions up the sidewalk until they came to the porch, where Dumbledore stopped.

The door had been blasted off of its hinges and into the house. "Wands at the ready," Albus said calmly as he stepped inside.

The sight that greeted them was not a pleasant one. The room was in shambles. A few end tables were lying on their sides, their contents on the floor. The couch was upside-down. Harry glanced at the large television, to see that its screen was broken. Several small holes were on the blood-stained white walls, as though many spells had hit them.

"Do you think the Death Eaters got him?" asked Harry, clearly worried.

"It certainly appears that way," answered Dumbledore as he approached the television.

Sirius sighed. He was clearly upset. "If only we'd gotten here sooner. He was a good bloke."

"Indeed," said Albus, just as he did a very strange thing. He pointed his wand at the tele and performed a spell. It suddenly morphed into a rather bulky old man.

Sirius' face lit up. "Professor Slughorn!" he declared happily while Harry tried to process what he'd seen.

Horace Slughorn didn't pay much attention to Black. Instead, he was looking at Dumbledore. "How did you know it was me?"

"Alas, Horace. I'm afraid that your knowledge of muggle devices is lacking. There was no power button on you, nor was there circuitry inside you. You simply appeared to be a box with a broken window. It most likely would have fooled a Death Eater, though." Harry inwardly chastised himself for not noticing that. He was certain that Hermione would've.

"So, what brings you here, Albus? I recognize Mr. Black, naturally, but who is…Oho! Is this Harry Potter?" He gazed at the Boy-Who-Lived's scar in fascination.

"Yes indeed, Horace. This is Mr. Potter."

"I am pleased to meet you," greeted Slughorn, offering his hand to Harry, who shook it.

"I'm also pleased to see you, again, Sirius. I never believed that rubbish about you betraying Lily and James."

Sirius shook his former teacher's hand with a grin, but Harry could see that his godfather didn't believe that. "It's good to see you, too, Professor."

Albus then spoke. "Before we get into the purpose of our meeting you tonight, might I use the loo?"

"Of course. Go down that hallway. It's the second door on your left."

"Thank you. The topic we'd like to discuss is Tom Riddle's Horcruxes. I'll be right back."

Horace looked like he was going to pass out. "I don't know anything about that," he declared.

Sirius walked up to Slughorn. "Please, sir. All we need to know is how many he made."

He glared at Padfoot. "If you think I helped him…"

"Oh, no. It's just that, like so many other students, you were his favorite teacher. I'm sure that you knew him better than anybody else. He might have let something slip."

Nervously, Horace answered, "I'm afraid not. I…"

"If you know anything at all," yelled Harry angrily as he finally faced him, "you had better tell us!"

"I d-don't!" he replied shakily.

"Calm down, Harry," said Sirius nervously before turning back to Slughorn. "He's been getting more irritable every day since Riddle came back. I'm afraid that he's ready to lose it. For some reason, he seems to blame you…"

"You've known all along that he would be back and NEVER told anyone!" Harry shouted as some of the discarded furniture began to shake with apparently accidental magic. Horace eyed Harry with apprehension.

"Harry," begged Sirius, looking even more nervous than before. "Perhaps you should wait outside. Y-you remember what happened last time…"

"That was an accident!" barked Harry as he glared angrily at the former Potions teacher. "We need an answer!"

Looking at Sirius while sweat began to pour down Slughorn's face. "Wh-what happened last time?"

Padfoot closed his eyes solemnly for a moment. "We, we don't like to talk about it. It's just that Harry's a powerful wizard. I mean, you can imagine with what he did while he was just a baby. Anyway, er, sometimes he, temporarily, loses control of his magic, and…"

"Do you WANT Voldemort to live forever!" Harry shouted as he pointed his wand at Horace.

"Harry!" shouted Sirius, trying to get between the angry youth and the now terrified old man. "Professor, please just tell us before…"

"You have vital information and are holding it back! That makes you as bad as a Death Eater!" The tip of Harry's wand was glowing.

"Six!" answered Slughorn, with tears falling from his eyes. "He wanted to make six of them, splitting his soul into seven pieces."

"Thank you, Horace," called Dumbledore's voice cheerfully from the hallway. "You've been most cooperative."

Slughorn turned to see Harry grinning. "You, you tricked me."

"Into helping tremendously in the war effort," explained Dumbledore. "You'll…"

At that moment, several footsteps were heard from the porch.

"It looks like someone beat us," said a voice.

"No, there'd be a Dark Mark. Let's go in."

A cloaked figure with a mask that resembled a skull stepped into the room. Sirius immediately shot a stunner at him, and the battle began. The Death Eater put up a shield in time, and the red spell ricocheted into the wall. Another enemy stepped inside.

Harry pointed his wand at this one and sent a silent reducto at his wand hand. Unfortunately, the woman moved and shouted, "Avada Kedavra," sending a green light at Harry, who summoned an end table from the floor to intercept it, although some of the wood splinters from it shot into his arm when the piece of furniture burst. Another masked figure entered and Harry managed to disarm him.

Dumbledore sent a golden arc of light at all their attackers that turned into a wall. A red phoenix suddenly appeared. "I believe," said Albus calmly, "That there are both apparition and portkey wards set up in this area. I don't know how many of his followers Tom has sent. I therefore believe that it would be prudent to allow Fawkes to give us a lift. Everyone, grab a tail feather." They all complied, and in a moment, all of them were safely at Black Manor, Slughorn included.

Harry was quite surprised to be immediately pulled into a rib-cracking hug by his girlfriend.

"I, I thought you were in bed," he managed to say.

"I couldn't sleep. I had a…Harry! Your arm is bleeding! What happened?"

"That was not the most pleasant conversation I've ever had," complained Slughorn grumpily. You've lost me my vacation home."

"I'm afraid you can't go back there," said Dumbledore. "I believe that by now they've torched the house."

"What I'd like to know is how they found us!" stated Sirius.

"They?" asked Hermione in a worried tone. "You mean Death Eaters, don't you?"

"I believe that, using the Ministry building's resources, they must have put a taboo on Riddle's made up name," suggested Dumbledore.

Harry replied, "You mean Volde…"

"Exactly. Now there actually is a reason to fear speaking that anagram. When you mentioned that name, it alerted the Death Eaters, who sent a group to investigate."

"So now we can't say the name?" asked Harry as Hermione was using her wand to remove his splinters and heal his cuts.

"Precisely. The wards on this house may prevent them from detecting it here, but I wouldn't wish to test that theory. I'd suggest referring to him as Riddle from now on."

"So, what am I going to do?" asked Slughorn.

"I can move you to a safe house," offered Dumbledore, "as it is my fault that you are in jeopardy. Or, you may go."

He looked contemplative for a few moments. "No offense, but I believe that I'd rather not be hanging around people directly defying You-Know-Who, so I'll leave."

"Very well," said Albus. "Thank you for your help."

"Fine. Just don't spread it around that I told you."

"Of course." Slughorn then walked out the door.

Harry then commented, "I don't like the idea that we left that fight."

"What do you propose we should have done, Harry?" asked Albus. "Stay in that house until they managed to set it on fire?" He looked kindly at his student. "There was no reason to fight that battle – nothing that we needed to protect besides ourselves was there. Besides, if you'd have continued, you would have ended up giving away your formidable abilities. I believe that you wanted them to be a secret for now."

Since they now had a number of Horcruxes to look for, they felt that they at least had a set goal. Since the diary, locket, and ring had been dealt with, they had three more to obtain. Dumbledore showed Harry, Hermione, Sirius and Remus a memory that led them to believe that Hufflepuff's cup would be one of the Horcruxes as well. He also wondered aloud if Voldemort's pet snake, Nagini, might have been turned into a Horcrux. He had no idea what artifact of Gryffindor's or Ravenclaw's that Riddle could've gotten a hold of to turn into a Horcrux.

"But where are they?" asked Harry. "We can debate what they are until we're blue in the face, and it won't help us one bit! We need to know where to look!"

Sirius agreed, "He does have a point. Where haven't we looked?"

Albus sighed. "His orphanage is no longer standing. I even checked Ollivander's, where he got his wand. I sent another Order member to Albania last year to see if he had one hidden where he spent his exile."

"Who was that?" asked Lupin.

"I'd rather not say, but you can be assured that he was exceptionally vigilant."

"What about Hogwarts?" asked Harry.

"I've searched the castle, but of course, even I don't claim to know every secret it holds."

"Maybe he's left one in the Chamber of Secrets," suggested Harry.

"That is certainly a possibility, and worth investigating, but I don't believe he had sufficient time to take a trip into the Chamber the last time he was inside the castle."

"He trusted Malfoy with one," Hermione mentioned pensively. "Couldn't he have trusted another Death Eater with one?"

"Perhaps," Albus agreed, "But the question is, which one. And where would he or she keep it?"

"At Gringotts," answered Sirius. Everyone looked at him. "At least, that's where I would. Those top security vaults there are impossible to breach. One of my ancestors tried once." He closed his eyes for a moment. "Last mistake he ever made. As much as my parents wanted us to join Riddle, they both told us never to try to rob Gringotts – not even for him. A Cruciatus curse is mild compared to what the goblins will do to you. They have the right to deal with thieves in whatever way they see fit."

Dumbledore looked thoughtful. "I wonder if Minister Vehosia would be able to persuade the goblins to allow us to search the vaults of known Death Eaters. They know that Riddle will destroy them if he wins the war."

"Professor," asked Hermione, "I'm curious. How do you destroy a Horcrux?"

"The most efficient method was both available to Harry when he was faced with the diary."

"Most efficient?" asked Harry. "The basilisk venom…" his eyes lit up with understanding. "which is now part of the sword of Gryffindor."

"Precisely," he agreed.

Soon, the routine from the previous summer was back, except that Ron, Luna (Ron asked if she could join) and Neville were participating in the duels. Those three also continued studying the subjects that Harry, Hermione and Ginny started the previous year.

Those three had gotten very close to achieving their Animagus forms toward the end of the school year, and were working diligently at that. However, there were hardly any other subjects for them to study. They still meditated to keep their magical potential as high as it could be and practiced their wandless magic, but weren't learning anything new in those subjects, and didn't take their regular study time for them. They were still studying an advanced charms book and practicing defensive flying once per week. Dumbledore had agreed to tutor them in extremely advanced defense once per week, but that still left them with extra days and nothing to fill their time slot. Once they mastered their Animagus transformations, they'd have another day with nothing to study (not counting their homework, which they did at night).

While Harry and Ginny seemed relieved about this, Hermione seemed unhappy. "Maybe we should sneak into Knockturn Alley to find books to study," she suggested early in the summer.

"I know that we considered that possibility before," said Harry, "but honestly, I think we know everything we need to fight Death Eaters and Riddle himself. We just need to keep practicing to do better. We're still not good at dueling wandlessly. I think we should concentrate on doing spell after spell without a wand every other day during our study time. I want it to become second nature."

The first defense lesson with Dumbledore started with him individually dueling each of them ten minutes at Black Manor. Each of those duels ended as a standoff because of the short time period. The headmaster had only wanted to evaluate their skill level, and didn't need to duel longer than that to do so.

"Congratulations," he said after the duels, earning confused expressions. "All of you are fighting at auror level, and could certainly defeat any Death Eater in a fair fight."

"A fair fight?" Harry repeated, sarcastically.

"You are quite correct that the Death Eaters do not fight fairly, and I believe that none of them have the courage to do that. As a rule, Death Eaters arrive in packs." He looked each one of them in the eye. "All three of you are much more powerful than anyone would expect, and I can teach you techniques so that each of you can engage five people at once, and together, you could handle twenty-five."

"How?" asked Hermione, curious as ever.

"You have learned wandless magic to a capacity that ninety-five percent of our population never even dreams of, but I've got to take you one step further. Only one spell can be cast through a wand at a time, but without the wand, simultaneous casting of multiple spells is possible."

Hermione gasped. Ginny whispered, "Two spells at once?" Harry just stared at Albus.

"Yes, two spells at once. At least, to start with. You'll begin by trying to cast the same spell, in this case, a stunner, out of both hands at the same time." He then conjured six practice dummies for them to aim at (two for each).

When Dumbledore left, all three of them were exhausted, and none had achieved their goal. They'd cast spells a second apart, but not at the same time. He told them that it usually does take a few weeks to get the hang of it, and told them to keep practicing. They added that to the list of what they needed to do.

A few days later, during their Animagus session, three excited animals could be found in the dueling room. A lion with big emerald eyes, a wild black mane and lightning-shaped scar on his forehead was walking next to a dark brown cat with brown eyes. A red robin was flying around the room above them. They had finally achieved their transformations.

End chapter