A/N: Chapter title originates from a Coldplay song (a b-side from the Speed of Sound single), from back when they were good.
Thanks to Voice of the Nephilim, Le Rob, ZanyMuggle, BennyS, and CheddarTrek for their invaluable assistance.
Again, I apologise for taking so long to update. But here's a 31,597 word chapter for you to enjoy!
Chapter 20: Proof
"Remember the three D's. Deliberation, Divination, Determination. Without these firmly in mind, you will not succeed!"
The Apparition instructor Twycross' voice carried through the open doors into the Entrance Hall where Harry stood monitoring the proceedings, leaning against the far wall. The Great Hall had been temporarily transformed to accommodate Apparition lessons each Saturday over the past twelve weeks. The house tables were pushed back against the walls, the benches floating above the crowd of sixth and seventh year students.
Today was the twelfth week of the program; the Apparition exam. A few unlucky of-age sixth year students had not succeeded convincingly, or at all, during the past eleven weeks and were either avoiding their peers or watching from outside the Great Hall near Harry, chattering away.
Those participating in the exam were experiencing varying levels of success. Harry could see Hermione concentrating furiously as she Apparated across the Great Hall to her target hoop again and again. He knew she'd pass her test flawlessly and had told her so over the past few weeks, but nevertheless she'd turned up to each lesson and worked more meticulously than anyone, earning Twycross's favour.
Before her, Susan had passed her test easily. Hannah, too, succeeded. She had become intensely focused during the DA and these lessons, sometimes scarily so.
It's not you she blames anymore, Harry. It's herself she blames.
Susan's words still bothered him.
That kind of guilt was unhealthy. He should know. But what could he do about it? He dealt with Cedric and Sirius mostly on his own. Besides, Susan was there for her. As Susan had said, they were each other's family now. If anyone could help Hannah, it was her and certainly not him.
After several minutes of Apparition, the test was over. It had differed immensely from his own, taken months ago at the French Ministry. Where Harry had been led to a magically enlarged room complete with natural vegetation to act as blockage for line-of-sight, this test was simpler. It was confined to the Great Hall, and obscuring charms cast by the instructor were used to emulate Apparation to places out of line-of-sight.
Soon enough, Hermione approached him, beaming. In her hand was a piece of parchment he figured was her copy of her Apparition licence.
"What did I tell you?" he replied, pushing all morbid thoughts of Hannah away. Hermione hugged him tightly. When she pulled back, a wry expression graced her features.
"Yes, well, there's always some doubt." She quickly began studying her licence. Behind her, Harry could see Daphne taking her turn. He smiled at her look of irritation at Twycross as the instructor once again reiterated his spiel about successful Apparition.
All the DA members except Luna, Su and Neville were old enough to take their test. Neville had a four month wait ahead of him as Harry would've had Sirius not willed his emancipation. Su was a month too young.
Hermione's voice drew Harry back into conversation. "How did it go?"
He shook his head sadly. "No luck either. I read and reread all of your notes, but I can't find anything that could help us narrow down whom the Parselmouth is."
"I'm sorry, Harry."
Harry tore his eyes away from Daphne beginning her test to look at his long-time friend. "Don't be. It's not your fault. There hasn't been enough study on Parselmouths in general, let alone on a means of detection." For a moment, the two shared eye contact. "Thanks for trying as hard as you did."
That earned him a genuine smile. The pair turned back to watch as Daphne successfully passed.
"Harry..." began Hermione. Harry faced her, noting her troubled expression.
"With you away at you-know-where for the break, I've decided to spend mine with my parents."
Following their conversation the previous week, Harry had owled Lupin with the request to spend his break at Grimmuald Place. The day before he had received a positive response, under the condition that Lupin be his minder and went with him wherever Harry may go outside of the Order's safehouse. Initially, he was miffed that he required a minder. But with what Harry hoped to accomplish, he figured Lupin's assistance would prove more beneficial than a nuisance.
Meanwhile, Hermione had owled Dumbledore himself, whom was still absent from the castle more often than not, to demand someone monitor her parents house following Malfoy's threat. Dumbledore had apologised that he could not spare anyone at the time, but had ensured the Order would reinforce the protections around their home and place of work to the best of their ability.
"I so rarely see them during the school year and with what's happened, what you told me Malfoy threatened, and what we're about to begin..." Hermione trailed off, words failing her momentarily. "I want to see them before we leave. I want to ensure their safety."
Harry's expression turned pained. "That sounds like a good idea. I don't want to have what happened to Hannah's parents happen to yours."
"You had no control over their death."
"I know." He did. He understood it. But it still weighed on his mind every so often. "Have you got any idea what you can do?"
"I've done some research..." That was an understatement. Ever since Dumbledore's mixed response, Hermione had once again begun a furious research campaign, this time to protect her parents. Harry had rarely seen her so motivated.
"I have a few ideas," she continued. "There are certain spells and protections I can do. I'm not sure what the Order has done, or how any of my ideas will hold up if my parents are deliberately targeted, but what I've got in mind should help them... "
He caught Daphne's eye as she left the Great Hall, Apparition license in hand. She nodded her usual acknowledgement of his presence but continued past without pause. Harry watched her walk out the front doors of the castle, where an owl swooped to her arm. Curious, he watched her untie a letter and then step out of view.
"We should suggest the same to the others," said Harry, forcing himself back into the conversation. "Tell them all to spend time with their families."
"That sounds like a good idea," said Hermione. "We can speak with everyone about it when we meet tomorrow."
The pair fell into silence, watching as a couple students failed their Apparition license, and a few more passed, Ernie among them.
Then, out of the blue, Harry asked, "Am I doing the wrong thing by not telling Hannah about Malfoy?"
Hermione looked uncertain. "I don't know. I think it's wrong to keep the truth from her."
Good old Hermione. Her values were stalwart, and they were something he shared, albeit perhaps not as strictly. He wanted Hannah's help, and while he didn't want to deceive her, how could he tell her that her parents death were ordered as revenge for something he had done?
But if Harry were honest, all else aside, a small, selfish part of him didn't want to tell Hannah because she might blame him again.
"However, I am afraid what she might do if she learns Malfoy is responsible," continued Hermione. Harry didn't miss the conflicted expression on her face. "If she attacks him, we won't be there to protect her."
Hermione glanced his way for a moment, but soon returned her eyes to the Great Hall as Padma stepped forward to begin her test.
If Hannah found out, what would she do? Internalise it? Or would she lash out like she'd verbally done at Harry, or even perhaps physically or magically this time? Harry didn't know her well enough to make a true guess, but he could sort of appreciate her perspective if she did want to attack him, or Malfoy. He understood that anger, after all. It was likely the same he felt over Sirius toward Bellatrix. He still wanted to take her down, alone, with nobody else in harm's way.
But for Hannah, the consequences of a violent response would be dire. Malfoy wasn't a known, wanted Death Eater. It would be viewed as unprovoked from the outside. Not to mention Malfoy would not let an attack on him go without, from his perspective, due penance. That didn't even take into consideration expulsion, criminal charges...
Nor did it take into account a matter of trust between Harry and her, a matter that would become of critical importance in a fortnight. Would she trust him enough to follow...?
Harry shook his head hard, trying to eradicate some of the darker outcomes he'd dreamt up. He knew he was swimming in far too many if's and maybe's.
A final crack of Apparition rang out in the Great Hall. Harry and Hermione watched a nervous Padma be examined by Twycross for any evidence of Splinching. None to be found, he gestured for her to a nearby table where she signed her license, Twycross followed suit, as well as another witness from the Ministry.
"We should tell her," began Harry, coming to a decision, "But maybe not until she's had more time, or after we've dealt with Malfoy ourselves."
"You will tell her, right?" asked Hermione tentatively.
Harry considered how he really felt. "Yeah, I will. She deserves to know, and I have no right to keep it from her. Certainly not after all I've said about others keeping things from me. But I won't tell her now; after she's had more time. If she attacks Malfoy..."
"That would be bad," agreed Hermione. She crossed her arms and looked down at her feet, deep in thought. "Okay, Harry. If you'll tell her, I'll follow your lead on this."
"You'll tell me if you think I'm doing the wrong thing, won't you?"
Hermione shook her head. "I will. I don't like this. I understand it, but I don't like it. Just tell her soon, okay?"
"I will, Hermione." He let out a deep breath. "And, for reference, neither do I."
An uneasy silence ensued. Conflicted, Harry continued to debate internally on what he should do. God, he wanted to tell Hannah, to be straightforwardly honest. But he feared her reaction. Her accusations had hurt him, far more than he'd figured they would, or should.
"That's all of us," said Hermione, filling the void left by Harry's silence. "Only Luna, Su and Neville can't Apparate or legally cast magic outside of Hogwarts."
If dealing with Hannah wasn't enough, here was another issue to somehow be dealt with. With three of their party unable to Apparate or cast magic without drawing significant Ministry attention, they would find themselves enduring great difficulty in keeping a low profile.
"There has to be a way for the three of them to use magic," said Harry for the tenth time that week.
"I've tried, but there's so little information on how exactly the Ministry tracks underage magic." Hermione frowned. The Hogwarts Library had let her down twice now in recent times. "This might be the only secret the Ministry seems to be able to keep."
Harry was about to respond when Padma caught his eye, approaching them. She looked about as pleased as Hermione had.
"Congratulations!" said Harry.
Padma smiled brilliantly at him. "Thank you."
Hermione and Padma shared a similar exchange.
"Did I interrupt something?" asked Padma, looking between the two. "What was with the glum looks a moment ago?"
Hermione shook her head. Harry said, "Nothing new. Hannah. Problems with leaving Hogwarts."
"Ah," replied Padma, and some her happiness fled her face. Harry began to feel lousy for ruining what should be a proud moment for the pair of women by his side.
"It's Parvati's turn," observed Hermione. Padma turned to watch her sister take the test.
The women quickly engaged in a discussion about the test and the finer points of the process of Apparition, which Harry drifted in and out of. His mind was elsewhere. There were so many issues to iron out for all this to work, and that was before they left and began searching for Horcruxes.
With Dumbledore out of the castle so often, there had been no opportunity to further inquire to Horcrux hiding locations. Honestly, Harry wasn't convinced Hermione's idea of outright asking would work without something else having to change. What that needed to be, he didn't know. But whatever it was, it needed to happen sooner rather than later.
Parvati soon emerged from the Great Hall to a once again cheerful Padma. The sisters shared an embrace. Harry kept watch out of the corner of his eye, though he had to admit to himself that he might've been seeing things after their reconciliation in the Room of Requirement. Parvati appeared genuine, and she was even a little less frosty towards him than she had been beforehand. That may have only extend to giving him the time of day and nothing more, however it was progress.
Harry's thoughts quickly circled back to the dilemma about Hannah. His frown caught the eye of Hermione, who gave him a look. Harry rolled his eyes. He knew that look, that one that told him to stop over-thinking things.
He stopped leaning against the wall and addressed the three women with him. Padma and Parvati looked in his direction as he did.
"Come on," he said, "Let's go and celebrate."
As the final days ticked down toward the Easter break, Harry grew increasingly restless.
Hannah's parents dying had drastically altered his perspective on the events of the last term. He had been idle, if he were completely honest. Yes, he'd been learning, mastering magic, but that drive that been within him at the start of the year had vanished underneath a layer of comfort, of routine.
Now, however, that drive was back, and Harry was struggling to contain the desire to do something. As insensitive it may have sounded if he voiced his thoughts aloud, the tragedy visited upon Hannah was a wakeup call. He couldn't remain idle any longer.
When he mentioned how restless he was to Hermione, she was concerned.
"I think I understand how you must be feeling, Harry, but you can't let this cloud your judgment."
There may have been some merit to her concern. He could recognise this well enough to rein in his drive as best he could. He knew he needed to be patient a little longer.
The days passed slowly, and finally Thursday night arrived, the final DA meeting of the term. The group assembled in the Room of Requirement as always. Spread out over the enormous space they had to work with, they duelled in various manners – one on one, two on one, two on two.
Harry was watching the others work, watching them try to master all that they had learned over the past six and a half months. If any of his duels since this group had formed had taught him anything, what he had learned here was all well and good here, but out in the field it may not be second nature. However, with practice all that McGonagall and Flitwick had taught him was reaching that point. That's what they needed. After all, duels could be over in seconds. They needed every edge.
Just from watching each of them, Harry could see the improvement. Each of them was faster, making better spell choices, becoming more confident in their abilities. While they still lacked experience in the real world, he felt they were as prepared as they realistically could be.
"Alright everyone, that's enough," Harry called out and within moments the duels came to halt. All of them were tired and weary from exerting themselves. They utilised the powers of the room to create themselves places to sit.
Once they were all seated, Harry stood before them, trying to formulate in his mind what he wanted to say.
"Good work everyone," he began. "Really, good work. We've really come a long way since we started this. It's hard to believe when you think about it. We barely –"
"–Stop being sappy, Potter," cut in Daphne.
"Oh shush, Daphne," said Susan, giving her a glare. She then gestured at Harry. "We know you're grateful, too. You wouldn't have improved half as much this year without Harry."
"We are, you know," said Padma with a smile. "Grateful."
"Damn right we are," added Neville for good measure.
"Oh Merlin..." muttered Daphne, shaking her head in disgust.
"Thank you, you guys. I'll skip to the point for Daphne's sake."
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Here we go.
"The Easter break begins the day after tomorrow." Harry said calmly. "When we return on Sunday week, I believe we won't be here any longer than a week more."
"A week?" repeated Ernie, surprised. A week wasn't a long time in the scheme of things.
"There will be a few more things to take care of here at Hogwarts before we leave, providing all goes well over the break, and those shouldn't even take that long." Harry examined the other members, his friends... soon to be comrades, even. "What I'm saying is that when you return, there won't be much time left. I believe that if you have any affairs to sort out before we leave do them soon. Once we walk out the Entrance Hall, once we walk out the gates of Hogwarts, I don't imagine we will return for a long time."
For a moment, he let that sink in.
"If you need to take care of your family, do it during the next week. For any friends at Hogwarts that you are leaving behind, try and think of something to say, a reason for why you will be leaving. Tell them something nice, that they matter to you, whatever you can think of. We probably won't see them for a long time either."
Susan cast her eyes downward, Ernie as well. No doubt the hardest part for some, something Harry had been too afraid to ask, was the effect his group had on the friendships outside of those present. The sacrifices some were making for this effort didn't pass unnoticed. Harry hoped that his, and the others, companionship could make up for it.
"We've been coming toward this for awhile now, and we're almost there, "continued Harry determinedly. "Once I've found somewhere for us to stay and done everything I can to ensure it's protected, we'll move on Malfoy. Once we've stopped what plan Voldemort gave him, I think we have accomplished all we can here. Then, we will leave and pursue his Horcruxes."
For the final time, Harry examined each of the faces of those before him, searching intently for insights into their thoughts. Now that the moment was almost here, would any falter? Would Hannah, following her loss? Susan would stay if that were so. Ernie? He was still an unknown. Even now, he looked ill. But he'd turned up without fail to every meeting of both incarnations of the DA.
Daphne stood up, disturbing the aftermath of Harry's announcement. "If that's all, Potter, I will be off. The next meeting will be on the Sunday night, correct?"
"Eight pm," confirmed Harry.
She nodded and stepped off toward the exit. The door shut with a click behind her.
"Nothing ever seems to faze her," remarked Padma. "I'm a tiny bit envious of that."
Harry didn't respond. He had seen her fazed by events once before, in the Hospital Wing after she had been attacked by her housemates. The promise she'd asked from him had been kept: nobody knew of their conversation about her family, or how badly she had been hurt, even somewhat shaken by the event.
"Two weeks left."
Everyone turned to Ernie. His expression was pained.
"Are you alright?" asked Susan. She sat closest to him, on his right.
He steadfastly looked at the floor around Harry's feet. "Yes, fine, thank you. Two weeks left, correct? Very well. I shall be off, too. Goodnight all."
His movements stiff, Ernie rose from his seat and walked off out of the Room. For several moments, nobody spoke, perhaps all considering whether Ernie would follow through or not.
"Oh shoot," said Hermione suddenly. She reached into her robes and pulled out some folded pieces of parchment. "I forgot to give these to them both."
"What are they?" asked Padma, gladly moving on to another topic.
"Here, take one, pass it along."
Padma did so, and soon everyone had one except Harry. He suspected he knew what this was already though.
"Protections?" questioned Neville. "I recognise a few that we have at my gran's."
"These are some of the best of the best protections available according to what I have researched," elaborated Hermione. "I think it is wise for us to learn them. Some of us can use them on our houses, to protect our families, especially if you are anything like my situation and have little of it."
Padma by this time had read and folded up her parchment once more. She was contemplative for a moment, and then spared a glance in the direction of Hannah. Harry and Hermione weren't the only ones to notice or make the connection. The research came a little too late for her.
Feeling the atmosphere changing for the worse, Hermione continued, "Otherwise, knowing these for the future may be valuable."
"Our house is protected by three Umgubular Slashkilters," said Luna loudly, drawing everyone's attention. "After Daddy learned that one was protecting Minister Fudge, he went on a trip and found three and convinced them to protect us in exchange for a lifetime's supply of pond scum. It acts as an intoxicant to them, you know. But thank you for the thought, Hermione."
"Uh, Luna..." began Hermione, but then thought twice and just said, "You're welcome."
Harry, used to this by now, brushed it off and stood up, addressing the group once more. "Okay everyone, that's all for today. Enjoy your breaks, and we'll meet up again on the other side. Goodnight."
The meeting dismissed, the group parted ways. However, Padma approached Harry instead of leaving.
"Can I have a word?"
"Of course," replied Harry. He turned to Hermione, who as always waited with him until everyone had left. "I'll catch up with you in the common room, okay?"
Hermione nodded in response, giving the pair of them an inscrutable look. She came to some conclusion quickly enough and left them alone.
Once the door had closed for the last time, Padma sighed deeply, turned and sat exhaustedly back in her chair. Harry followed her and sat across from her, leaning forward.
"I received a reply from Father the other night." Padma revealed after a moments' silence.
Harry started to say something, but stopped himself. If Mr. Patil had allowed his daughters' to remain at Hogwarts for another semester Padma wouldn't be acting like this, would she?
Licking his lips, he asked the obvious question, "What did he say?"
Padma shook her head. "Father wants to talk to us in person about this. He and she are moving well before the next term ends. He wants us to be moving all together."
Harry didn't say anything. This time, however, Padma noticed the hesitation.
"Everything will be fine, Harry."
He raised his eyebrows. "You'll forgive me for being a little sceptical given the evidence in front of my eyes."
"We will be back." Padma leaned forward, quite close to him, met his gaze, and repeated herself. "We will be back. I believe that Parvati and I united can convince him. He is a good man, a nice man, and we are safe here at Hogwarts, or at least as safe as anywhere in the United Kingdom. But I hate what I will have to do to accomplish that."
"What do you mean?"
Padma's expression turned sour. "I've never really lied to Father about anything. If there were a way to tell him everything, I would. But for him to accept me coming back and going with you? A foolish thought."
Once upon a time, Mrs. Weasley would have been the person in Harry's life that he'd have to lie to like Padma's father. However, the events of the previous two semesters had removed her from that surrogate role forever. But thinking back, asking her something like this, he could agree that there was no way he would be allowed. No loving parent would allow their child to walk into danger let alone the way they would be.
"I've struggled to decide what I can say," continued Padma. "What scares me a little is that I believe our cause is righteous enough to lie to Father. I've never been able to justify myself like that."
Unsure again, as he often was, Harry placed a hand on her knee and gently squeezed it, trying to convey his sympathies and support. He didn't really understand how difficult this was for her, but he understood enough. She was going against her morals for him.
Padma smiled briefly at him and placed her hand on his, squeezing back. "Sorry that I keep placing this on you. I spoken with Su about this a lot, but I felt you should know where I stood before we leave."
"It's okay," said Harry immediately. A little embarrassed, he added, "I like that you trust me enough to tell me everything you do."
Her smile became more genuine. Nearly a minute passed before the moment dissolved on its own. Padma let Harry's hand go, and he took it back, the pair dropping their gazes in the process.
Harry took a moment to collect his thoughts, pushing aside ones on how nice her smile was to deal with another time. "When this is all over, Padma, I'll speak to your father and apologise to him. You are lying for my sake."
Padma laughed. "That isn't necessary. I'm sure every child lies to their parents on a regular basis. I'm likely the abnormal one here." She closed her eyes, and opened them slowly, meeting his gaze once more. "But thank you for the thought."
The pair shared a smile.
"We should probably go, it's getting quite late."
"Just think, Harry," began Padma as she stood. Her tone was light and expression suddenly full of mischief. "When we're out of Hogwarts, we can stay up as late as we want. No supervision, nothing. This is going to be interesting."
Harry laughed, not entirely certain what she was thinking. But that was okay. He had to admit, it was kind of exciting thinking of things in that light. No supervision. They could do whatever they wanted.
"But for now, we still have class in the morning, so let's go," he said, standing.
"Killjoy," said Padma. She reached out and hugged Harry tightly.
"Two weeks," she whispered in his ear.
"Two weeks," repeated Harry solemnly.
Hogsmeade Station for most of the year was empty of people. But come the beginning and end of every semester at Hogwarts, the tiny station would become a hub of raucous teenagers.
The only difference this year was the amount of parents picking up students from Hogsmeade Station. Rather than waiting until Kings Cross, many parents opted to pick up their children directly out of the school.
"The trip back to London might be quiet this year," called back Neville, ducking passed the seventh parent waiting for their child since entering the station. "There have always been two or three students who would prefer to avoid the train ride for holidays, but this must be unprecedented."
"Sorry I won't be with you guys," shouted Harry, trying to keep up with Neville amidst the swarm of students. "I should've suggested Lupin meet me at Kings Cross."
"It's alright, Harry," replied Hermione, barely loud enough for Harry to hear. She had a hand grasped firmly on the back of his shirt so they wouldn't get separated, but the noise was drowning her voice out. "Neville and I will be fine. We'll find the others soon enough. You concentrate on finding us somewhere to stay."
Harry chuckled a little at the thought. House hunting? How ludicrous did that sound?
But that wasn't all Harry hoped to accomplish with his time at Grimmauld Place.
The idea of proving himself to Dumbledore – and really, to himself – that he was ready to tackle the challenges ahead had taken hold over the past fortnight. If there was some way to achieve that, it would be at the heart of the Order.
"Oof," exclaimed Harry a moment later, having collided with someone. He stumbled back into Hermione, who let out a noise of surprise. "Sorry," he said automatically.
"Not your fault," said Hermione, "but you are on my toe."
Harry stepped forward and apologised again. Taking a quick look around, he noted that whoever had collided with him had chosen not to stop. Shrugging it off, Harry took a step forward after Neville who hadn't noticed he'd lost his friends.
"I swear it wasn't this busy at Christmas," remarked Harry.
"Think about it," replied Hermione, once again keeping him literally within arm's reach. "Every month Voldemort seems to be making a new attack. Fear of him is growing as more time passes without the Ministry making progress against him. You've seen parents taking their children home after each new attack. How many are we at now? Twenty-three? Every parent is working under the idea that their children will be home safe for the holidays."
"Then there are the rumours in the Prophet about how there won't be as many Aurors stationed on the train as there were for the Christmas holidays." Hermione paused for a moment. "I think they're being spread too thin on potential targets. With less Aurors guarding the Express, parents are going to be less willing to risk it, even if the train ride is tradition."
Through the crowd, Harry spotted Neville in the distance looking back in their direction. Now with a target, Harry pushed through a bit more quickly, and almost stepped on something lying on the ground in the process.
Something long, thin, and moving.
Startled, Harry stopped in his tracks causing another collision with Hermione. He struggled not to step on the... whatever it was. A snake?
"Harry," began Hermione a tad impatiently. "Why did you stop?"
But Harry wasn't listening. There was something in the background, drowning out the clamour of hundreds of students in the station. It was faint, but he could definitely hear it – hissing.
"Harry," said Hermione again.
He reached back and put his hand up, the signal to stop. The hissing was faint, very faint, but it was definitely saying something, something he couldn't quite catch.
Harry tentatively stepped closer to the snake, trying to make clear what was being said. However, when he bent down to get even closer, the hissing grew quieter. Confused, he stood up again, and the hissing once again grew louder, as incomprehensible as ever.
But if it isn't coming from the snake...?
The snake, if it was a snake, slithered out of sight through a group of students. None of them seemed to notice it. No exclamations of surprise or fear.
Harry tore his eyes away from the path of the snake to take in the crowd around him. He searched the faces, trying to see who was there, trying to narrow down who it could be. For if the snake wasn't the source of the hissing, Harry considered, then the second Parselmouth must be nearby.
There were some familiar faces – Dean, Demelza, Anthony Goldstein standing next to his parents, that girl he'd run into, Megan Jones, a Hufflepuff named Kevin something – and many younger year students he'd barely looked at. But there were dozens of people within twenty metres of him. Far too many possibilities.
A few moments passed and then the hissing too was gone. Like a light being switched on, the full noise of those around him returned.
"Harry?" Hermione was calling him, her tone concerned.
"Did you see that?" he asked, turning to face her. "Hear that?"
"See or hear what?" A look of complete puzzlement crossed her face.
Harry took a deep breath and rubbed his head, a headache forming. Okay, Hermione didn't see the snake or hear the hissing, but that didn't mean anything. Neither she nor Ron had heard the Basilisk when he had clearly heard it travelling through the pipes in their second year.
What did that mean? Was there just a snake slithering around the station and his ability to speak Parseltongue was reacting to it? Somehow, Harry didn't think so. Something else was in play here. No, it had to have been the second Parselmouth. But with so people around, how could he figure out who it was?
"I'll tell you later," said Harry, realising how fruitless it would be to pursue this any further amidst the hundreds of people around. "Let's catch up to Neville."
Hermione gave him a concerned look, but followed him when he took off.
Even so, Harry had to wonder what the Parselmouth was playing at. What was their game?
"There you are," said Neville, relieved, once they'd reunited. He clapped Harry on the shoulder. "I looked back and you suddenly weren't there."
"Not to worry, we're here. Let's find you both somewhere to put your belongings. I've still got another few minutes before Lupin said he'd meet me."
Neville and Hermione stepped over to one of middle carriages and climbed aboard. As Harry followed suit, he turned to look back over the crowd.
Whoever the second Parselmouth was, they were likely a student. If so, that student was out there in that crowd. Somehow, someway, he'd find out who it was and what their reason for destroying all trace of the Basilisk was. If he were right, then also why all the chervil had been stolen from the greenhouses.
Putting those thoughts on the backburner, he followed his friends inside. He found them in the second compartment down sitting with Luna, who was once again deeply ensconced within a copy of her fathers' paper.
"Good morning, Harry," she replied without looking up.
"I hope you guys enjoy the trip," said Harry as he watched Hermione re-enlarge her trunk and remove a rather large tome without a title on the front. "It's strange to not be joining you."
"We'll make the most of it," said Neville, taking a seat next to Luna, across from Hermione. "After all, we'll only have the trip back in a weeks' time. No more Hogwarts Express."
"Oh, I hadn't thought of that," said a familiar voice from behind Harry. He stepped aside from the doorway and Padma stepped into the compartment. "That's a bit of a sad notion."
A quick round of greetings followed her arrival.
"Alright, I should go," said Harry after checking his watch. "Be safe. I'll see you in a bit over a week."
"Take care, Harry," said Padma, who gave him a quick hug.
Hermione watched for a moment, then stood up and did the same, squeezing tightly. "Be careful, Harry," she whispered.
"I will," he replied, letting her go.
"Harry," said Neville, rising to shake his hand, "best of luck out there. Owl us if you need anything."
"I will," he repeated. He turned to Luna. "See you."
Luna didn't give a response. In fact, the only thing she did was turn a page. A little disappointed, he turned to leave. It was then Luna spoke up.
What she said sent a shiver down his spine.
"I wouldn't trust everything you see."
He turned around to look at her, but she still seemed completely absorbed in The Quibbler. Glancing at the other three he saw them share confused looks.
Luna didn't just spout only what sounded like nonsense. Harry knew that, having spent a fair amount of time with her. Sometimes what she said was incredibly insightful. Did she know what he may have seen and heard?
"Oh, Harry, you're still here." Luna blinked at him, her expression of surprise. "Isn't Mr. Lupin going to be waiting? Go on. Shoo!"
Did she not realise what she said? Or was this deliberate?
Either way, Harry was left with more questions than he wanted out of this farewell. All the issues he had plagued his thoughts as he exited the train and made his way back towards Hogwarts. The meeting spot was to be just outside the station, away from the enormous crowd.
Before his jumbled thoughts could get anywhere constructive, he spotted Lupin waiting patiently at the junction of the road leading to Hogwarts and around the lake to Hogsmeade. At first glance, he appeared to be much the same. But as Harry grew closer, he noticed the finer points.
Lupin's face looked less weary than in recent times, the lines of his face not absent but less pronounced. He was still pale and maybe a little peaky, but he wore a smile. His robes were not the shabbier, second-hand ones he frequently wore, but in fact fairly new and of a higher quality. His shoes were worn, but shiny. They were little things. However, clearly some of the money he had been given from Sirius had been used.
"Professor, you're looking well."
"Thank you, Harry. You are too."
Harry stepped forward to stand by his side, and he noticed how similar their heights were. He had really grown in the last three years.
"How are we getting to London?"
Lupin turned and the two started walking down towards Hogsmeade. The road from the station was dirt, wide enough to accommodate multiple thestrals and their carriages side by side. Trees towered over the road, causing large patches of shadows, giving it the feel of an old-fashioned country lane.
"Albus informed me you are now in possession of an Apparition Licence?"
"Congratulations, Harry," said Lupin with complete sincerity. "Apparition Licences are considered by many as a sort of rite of passage. Your parents would be proud of you achieving yours before you seventeenth birthday."
Harry wasn't certain, but he could've sworn there was a bit of pride in his voice.
"Thank you," he replied. "Does that mean...?"
"Indeed it does," said Lupin. "It is quite a walk to the designated Apparition zone. However, I felt we could use this time to quickly reacquaint ourselves with each other."
Harry nodded in agreement. But his thoughts focused on something Lupin had mentioned that he hadn't had the chance to discuss with anyone outside his group.
"What do you think about the Anti-Apparition zone over Hogsmeade?"
Lupin took a moment to respond. "The Ministry believes it will limit the potential that Voldemort will strike the village."
"Is that the case?"
"Yes and no," replied Lupin after a beat. "It has caused a great level of inconvenience to people who live in the area and commute, but the Apparition zone is guarded well by Aurors. With the barrier extending well passed the outskirts of the village, any attack will be significantly hampered."
Harry sensed a 'but' coming.
Lupin sighed. "But if Voldemort truly wants to attack the village, the number of Aurors stationed there won't be anywhere near enough."
There it was – the unbridled truth of the matter. If Voldemort wanted to attack somewhere bad enough, he could.
That statement hung in the air for a long minute. Harry and Lupin continued their steady pace along the path, now beginning to near the other side of the lake.
"What about London?" Harry asked. "What's happening there?"
Lupin sighed a second time. "Most of London has been spared of any sort of threat so far. However, the fog the Dementors create is spreading bit by bit over the southern suburbs. Their breeding area is growing, and we have indeed seen larger numbers of them at sights of attacks. But..."
More Dementors is the last thing we need, thought Harry.
"But there haven't been many instances of Kiss victims in the area," continued Lupin. "In fact, the only noticeable change the Order has noticed is an increase in automobile crashes."
"What are the Dementors doing if they aren't attacking anyone except during Death Eater attacks?" asked Harry.
"We have no idea," admitted Lupin.
Harry was quiet for a moment, absorbing that piece of information.
"What's Scrimgeour doing from the Ministry end?"
"The Minister believes that by defending high-value targets, he will protect the most people." Lupin grimaced. "He inherited a bad situation from Cornelius Fudge and I don't envy him."
"But that's not working, is it?" asked Harry, thinking about the half a dozen articles on Death Eater attacks in the Prophet over the last six months. "Voldemort isn't attacking Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, the Ministry, or anything like that. He's attacking Auror outposts, not civilian targets. These attacks are more..." He struggled to find the right word.
"...calculated," finished Lupin. He turned and surveyed Harry for a moment. "Yes, he's targeting particular locations. Many Order members agree with you. From what we've been able to piece together, Voldemort is paving the way for something bigger. These attacks on the Aurors may, from our speculation, have twofold purpose. The first is to thin out the Auror ranks, which is being accomplished quite successfully. The second is to train new recruits in the preferred style of assault." Lupin sighed. "But if we're honest, Voldemort's plan is still a complete unknown to us."
That was troubling. The Order spent a great deal of effort to gather information to combat Voldemort, and if they knew nothing then they really were going to be unprepared when the storm finally hit.
The path crested and offered a picturesque view of the only full wizarding town in the UK. The village looked so serene, completely dissociated from the turmoil that was brewing in the nation.
Lupin slowed to a halt. Harry stopped a few steps after and turned to face him, curious.
"You can tell I have been very candid with you, Harry," said Lupin.
Indeed he had. Harry had not expected information or answers as readily as he had received them.
"Now you are recognised as of age, I believe you have every right to know everything within the Order that is available to every member and I aim to do that for you. I hope you can show me the same courtesy in return." A beat, and then, "Why did you ask to stay at Grimmauld Place these holidays?"
Here it was, the moment where Harry had to decide to trust Lupin or not. Truthfully, it had come a lot quicker than expected. But Lupin had clearly considered this day extensively enough to risk giving away information the Order have previously kept secret from him to try and earn his trust.
Did that make him trustworthy? No, not in itself it didn't. But when had Lupin shown himself untrustworthy?
That was enough. Hermione seemed to believe in him, and if Harry was honest, he did too.
Or perhaps he just wanted to.
Nevertheless, he made the decision.
"I need your help, Professor."
"It's Remus, Harry, or at least call me by my last name," interrupted Lupin. "It's been years now since I have taught you anything."
"Lupin, in that case, I need your help, but I need you to keep it quiet from everyone else for now." Harry stared down the only link to his parents he still had. "I know this is asking a lot on faith, but I need to know if you can do this before I tell you."
Lupin went through a number of facial expressions as he considered his response. For several seconds Harry thought he would decline. But then...
"I will trust you."
Harry breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank you. I promise to try not to force you to keep too many secrets."
"Some promises are difficult to keep, Harry," said Lupin softly. "It is sometimes best not to make those."
A little confused at what that was meant to mean, Harry turned away to face the town again. Rows of houses of all sorts of shapes and sizes spread before him, lining the busy streets and walkways. Smoke rose from chimneys on the rooftops of almost every building. It really was a lovely sight, especially when covered in snow. He was going to miss it when he left Hogwarts.
Several sets of voices drifted toward the pair. Other students and their families must've been catching up.
"I will tell you when we arrive," said Harry without turning back. "This may take a bit of time to explain."
The only aesthetic difference inside Grimmauld Place from Harry's last visit at Christmas over a year prior was the abundance of dust. Molly Weasley mustn't have spent much time in the ancient house over the last few months. Harry couldn't imagine her letting the place grow so dusty if she'd spent much time here.
Everything else seemed to be the same. The troll leg umbrella stand still sat by the door, currently housing two umbrellas. A curtain still covered the portrait of Mrs. Black, who was thankfully asleep and stayed as such as Harry and Lupin moved upstairs to the bedrooms. As he passed it, the library was still empty and unused. The bedrooms were barren and not entirely welcoming.
Really, there was little different except for the quiet. There had always been something happening at Grimmauld Place, whether it was the Weasley twins up to mischief or Order members coming and going at odd hours. But for the time being, however, the house was silent except for the sounds he and his companion made. The house simply felt empty and lifeless. Harry could understand how hellish this must've been for Sirius even without horrible memories of a childhood within the walls to haunt his thoughts.
Lupin showed Harry to the bedroom he stayed in before his fifth year. Back then, Harry reflected briefly as he entered the room, Ron had been staying with him. But that was a different time.
Harry removed his trunk from his pocket, placed it on one of the beds and tapped it once with his wand, cancelling the Shrinking Charm. Instantly, the trunk resized and the old bed groaned under the strain. With a few quick waves, his clothes jumped to life, floating across the room to find appropriate homes in the wardrobe.
That done, Harry turned around to see an impressed Lupin watching him.
"Silent casting is not an easy feat, and certainly not with such ease for someone your age." Lupin contemplated for a moment. "You have learned more than I expected."
Harry smiled, but it didn't last. "I've been working harder than ever this year." He paused for a moment. Then, "That leads into what we need to discuss. If we are alone in the house, then let's sit downstairs. I recommend you make yourself some tea before we start. You may need it."
Still patient, Lupin acquiesced and led the way to the kitchen, another room largely unchanged. However, here more than anywhere else, Harry felt the absence of Sirius Black. Harry had spent more hours with his godfather in the dining room than any other place in the world. Sighing, he took a seat and waited while Lupin prepared himself some tea.
He and Hermione had discussed at length how much to tell Lupin. There was no question that Lupin didn't need to know everything. But what did he need to know? What did he deserve to know?
Lupin emerged from the kitchen a few minutes later, carrying a teapot with the Black family emblem on it and two cups. Only a few items with the family emblem survived both the original purge and Mundungus's thefts. This was one of them.
"No thanks," said Harry in response to Lupin's offer of a cuppa. Lupin poured himself one, blew on it for a moment and started sipping.
Once he returned the cup to the table, he met Harry's eyes. "Alright, Harry. Talk to me."
Harry did. He told him what happened over the summer, how he gradually got over his guilt and resolved to do more, how the idea of the DA came, how it was put into practice, and finally that he felt it was time to leave Hogwarts.
"– Listen, Lupin, I understand you're going to disagree with me on this, but hear me out," interrupted Harry, raising his hand up. "I've spent more hours thinking about this than anything else over the last seven months. Sitting in classes at Hogwarts isn't helping anymore. Without meaning to sound arrogant, I'm well ahead of everyone I know. Professors McGonagall and Flitwick have taught me well. From their own mouths I've learnt as much as I'm going to at Hogwarts outside of deep research. I can handle myself now. Believe me on that."
"Even so, going off on your own with a bunch of teenagers is not something I can simply agree to and support." Lupin started to pour himself more tea, only to find he'd already drunk it all. Putting down the teapot, he leaned forward on the table and said in a low voice, "It's dangerous and foolish. You are putting yourself in harm's way for what reason exactly?"
"To defeat Voldemort," replied Harry. "He's targeted me my whole life. He isn't going to stop while I am alive, and I'm not going to wait for him to come find me."
Lupin narrowed his eyes. "So you'll walk into his hands instead?"
"This isn't some kind of suicide mission." Harry frowned. "Yes, Voldemort killed my parents, and yes, he's responsible for Cedric and Sirius, too. That doesn't mean I want to die either."
"Then keep yourself safe."
"Nobody is safe as long as he is out there."
Lupin didn't say anything.
"I'll say this once," continued Harry in a tone far colder than he'd used thus far. "Voldemort is a danger to me and everyone I care about. He's powerful, almost as powerful as Dumbledore is and he can be frightening when he's pushed."
He took a breath, and when he next spoke he was resolute, "However – and this is crucial – I am not willing to let Voldemort destroy anything and everything he chooses to when I know in my heart that I can make a difference. So I'm going to do what I can to stop him in my own way. I won't sit back and waste my time in classes when I know I can do something to help stop this."
"–There are no buts. I'm asking for your assistance, not your blessing. I made my decision on this a long time ago," cut in Harry, not letting Lupin a word in edgewise. "You can't change my mind. I will do this with or without your help."
"How, Harry?" asked Lupin, and this time his voice took on a more exasperated note. "How can you make a difference by putting yourself at risk? Not to mention these other kids you're taking with you."
Harry frowned at his friends being brought into this. It was a legitimate question from Lupin's perspective, he knew, and his own doubts and fears wondered in this territory often. However...
"I've warned my friends a number of times on what they may and will face," replied Harry. "Almost all are of age now. They can and will make their own decisions."
"You will forgive me for thinking they underestimate the reality."
Harry traded a long look with Lupin. Harry knew he meant well, and that convincing him was never going to be an easy task, but what would it take? How could he say that he understood what was ahead of him and why he thought he could make a difference without mentioning the prophecy?
"My memories of the graveyard and the Department of Mysteries gave them as good an introduction as I could."
That seemed to surprise Lupin. "You showed them your memories?"
"I did, and I don't regret it." Harry sat back in his chair. "They needed to know."
Lupin frowned. "If you needed to show memories, then that means there are people in this group of yours outside of the six of you who went to the Ministry last year."
Harry shook his head. "I'm sorry, I trust you to keep what I've said to yourself, but who exactly is involved is not really relevant to whether or not you'll help me."
The debate dropped off for a long minute as both sides contemplated what else they could say to sway the other. Lupin stood up and made his way to the kitchen, the teapot hand. The whine of a boiling kettle soon followed.
Not two minutes later, Lupin returned and poured himself another cup of tea. After a few sips, Lupin met Harry's eyes again.
"Two things," he began. "Firstly, why must you pursue this with teenagers and not the Order?"
Harry turned away. "I don't trust the Order to have my best interests at heart, or allow me the freedom to accomplish what I want."
Lupin stared. "Why in the name of Merlin do you think that?"
"They follow Dumbledore's word to the letter," said Harry. "Don't misunderstand me. What the Order is doing is important and I praise them for it. There are good people in there. But when it comes down to it they'll listen and obey anything Dumbledore asks of them even if that means betraying me or interfering with what I need to accomplish. Not to mention how vital secrecy is."
A stunned silence followed.
Lupin gathered himself and opened his mouth to speak, but Harry waved his hand in a dismissal. "That topic is over. What was the second thing?"
"Let's say for a minute I accept what you are doing. You still haven't told me what you want from me."
Harry leaned forward, taking this as a sign that Lupin was closer to a yes than a no. "What I want from you, for now at least, is to help me find somewhere for me and my group to stay. I haven't the foggiest how to buy a house and I could use help on that."
Sceptical, Lupin said, "That doesn't sound like enough to risk me telling Albus and the Order everything."
"Indeed," agreed Harry. "After I leave Hogwarts, there may be a lot of things I need help with. I doubt I could even imagine most of them, but having someone in the Order, someone who could communicate between us, would be helpful."
Lupin asked the obvious question, "Why would you need a go-between?"
Harry sighed. "I doubt Dumbledore will be overly pleased by what I am doing. However, I'm not foolish enough to believe that I won't need his or the Order's help along the way."
"Meeting with me would be the neutral ground," concluded Lupin.
"Basically, yes." Harry shifted in his seat. "Honestly, I want to know that if it comes down to it, if I need you, I can count on you to not have any ulterior motives when helping me. You won't try to convince me to return to Hogwarts, and you won't lead Dumbledore or any of the Order to my doorstep with the same intention."
At that, Lupin went deep into thought, leaving Harry wishing for insight into the mind of his remaining family friend. The tea gradually disappeared again. Harry briefly wondered how the man didn't need the bathroom yet.
"I'm sorry, I need more time to consider this," said Lupin at last. "I want to help you, I do. But I can't in good conscience agree to let you put yourself and other students in such danger."
Harry's heart sank a little. While he hadn't really expected Lupin to immediately agree and to begin house hunting together by lunchtime, he was disappointed.
"I understand," said Harry. He did, really he did. But he didn't like it.
There was a lot of that going on lately.
"I will keep my promise," continued Lupin. "I won't tell a soul."
With that, Lupin rose and returned to the kitchen, leaving Harry alone to contemplate what next.
Order members began trickling in around lunchtime. There were a few familiar faces, such as Dedalus Diggle (who was frighteningly enthusiastic to see Harry and spent much of his meal talking Harry's ear off), but the majority were new to him. As soon as he could, Harry left the Order members to themselves and ventured to the topmost floor to visit a place he felt he had to.
Sirius's bedroom was in much the same state as the rest of the house: unused and unclean. A queen sized bed with an intricately carved headboard took up a large portion of the room, though there was plenty of room to move around it. A clean and empty fireplace sat directly across from the bed. A large, wooden desk covered in papers, quills, ink vials and other detritus sat in front of a tall window on the far wall. Long, grey curtains pulled across the window, allowing through only a thin angle of light. A wooden chair with a tall back sat before the desk. To the side was a half-full bookshelf, the titles mostly faded except for a few Muggle novels, of all things. Next to it was a wooden wardrobe. Finally, a pair of nightstands with old-fashioned oil lamps was on either side of the large bed. The musty smell of a long unused room pervaded the space.
Harry stood in the doorway taking in all the details, including the personalised nameplate on the inside of the door. This was where Sirius had lived a large amount of his childhood until he'd run away. But it didn't feel personal, much like his room at the Dursley's. This wasn't a happy place for Sirius.
As he stepped into the room, a floorboard creaked under Harry's feet. Slower now, he crossed to the window, taking a look outside. Harry raised an eyebrow at the charmed window showing a magnificent aerial view of the Thames and central London. Perhaps it had been a favourite sight of Sirius' while on his motorbike.
Turning back, Harry shifted his attention to the desk. During a quick examination of the contents, nothing immediately grabbed his attention. He sat down and began opening some of the drawers. More seemingly meaningless papers littered the top drawer, but the second proved more interesting. Inside were letters, old ones. The top one was from a women Harry gathered Sirius had dated at Hogwarts. There were no dates, but the letter spoke of times that Harry knew to have happened years ago, and a few other, more personal events. Moving through the contents, Harry finally came across something he was truly interested in: a letter from his father. Beneath it, there were quite a few more of them.
He removed the letters from the drawer and sat down with them on the bed. With some trepidation, he began to read.
Through almost four dozen letters, Harry began to get an idea of how close Sirius and his father had actually been. Sure, he'd been told by Lupin and others that they'd been inseparable, but reading these words his father wrote showed him exactly how close they had been. There were reminiscences of pranks from during their school year, gossip about girls (except for a period of a few months in their fourth year, and the odd agreement that a few other witches had been particularly attractive recently, almost all James ever spoke of on this subject was Lily, something which warmed Harry's heart to read), and even simple notes that must've been passed in class that Sirius had kept.
Other letters, darker ones, littered the collection. From what Harry gathered, Sirius had been owling James about events in his household, how he'd hated it there. James offered on more than one occasion a place to stay in his home, but at the time Sirius hadn't taken up the offer. Nevertheless, there had been a sense of true friendship in these words, complete trust and an unashamed genuine care for each other.
Abruptly, the letters ceased after their fourth year, and Harry found himself disappointed there weren't more. He'd never had anything that his father had written, and the story these letters and notes painted had enraptured him. But despite a careful search of the remaining drawers in the desk (except for one that refused to open, despite throwing all the unlocking spells he knew at it) he turned up no more correspondence with his father.
However, in another drawer were several aged wizarding photographs. The first two were from James and Lily's wedding that Harry had seen in his first Christmas present from Hagrid, but then the next four were new to him. The first was of James in his Quidditch robes. He was young, maybe only twelve or thirteen, but his smile was confident and already showing many signs of the handsome man he would become. The next was of the Marauders together in the Shrieking Shack. Lupin looked pale and sweaty, but nevertheless happy. Harry guessed the photo had been taken around the time of a transformation. James and Sirius had their arms over each other's shoulders, grinning like idiots. Wormtail was in the picture too, a step to the side of James and Sirius. At this age he was already somewhat tubby and quite pale, but by the way his father, Lupin and Sirius were treating him this was a time when they had trusted each other completely. A time before Voldemort.
The next photo was of a girl Harry didn't know. She was maybe fifteen or sixteen, with long black hair and brown eyes. She was smiling at the photographer, a look of pure happiness on her face. Behind her was a familiar sight – it was the view from the Astronomy Tower, though Harry had rarely seen it during the daytime. Confused at the presence of this particular photo, he turned it over to find to a quick note: Sarah, June 1974.
A girlfriend? Harry wondered.
Putting that one aside, he looked upon the final photo and sucked in his breath at what he saw.
It was Harry. James, Lily, Sirius and Lupin were there as well, but it was of him as a baby riding a toy broomstick. James and Sirius were watching excitedly, cheering and laughing at the glee on the toddlers face as he zoomed in circles half a meter off the ground. Lily stood a bit behind them, her face cycling between disapproving, resigned acceptance, and joy. Lupin stood beside his mother, looking between them all with a real smile he'd rarely seen on the man.
Harry stared at the photo a long time, unsure of how exactly it made him felt. It wasn't that often anymore that he let himself wonder what life would be like if his parents were alive, but there were times.
A creak nearby signified that Harry wasn't alone anymore.
Lupin sat down beside him on the bed and leant forward, elbows on knees.
"I was beginning to wonder if you had left the house."
Harry shook his head, still eyeing the photo. "The conditions were that I only leave Grimmauld if you were with me."
Lupin smiled. "I expect your father would have already ignored that condition and run off to do whatever he wished. With the attitude to rules you sometimes have, I admit to being a little surprised you haven't."
Harry shook his head a second time. "I will if I have to. But it hasn't come to that yet."
A moment passed before Lupin replied. "I suspect I have little chance of stopping you."
It was clear to Harry that the meaning behind that was multilayered.
"You really don't."
Lupin sighed and sat up straighter. "I thought as much."
For several moments the pair sat in silence. Finally, Harry turned to face his companion only to see Lupin watching the photographs with a pained expression.
"Did you know about these?" asked Harry, gesturing to the photos and letters.
"Do you know what happened to the rest of their letters? These only seem to go up to the end of your fourth year."
Lupin grimaced. "I suspect that Sirius left these behind when he ran away to live with James. He sealed off this room as he left. Nobody entered here again until Sirius returned a little over eighteen months ago. Not even Kreacher could enter. His parents were not fond of him as you know and they would have destroyed all his possessions and repurposed the room if they could've."
"My guess," continued Lupin after taking a deep breath," is that the rest of their correspondence is at the house Sirius bought after moving out of your father's house. To pre-empt your next question, Harry, I believe that house was sold many years ago by the Ministry. That particular property wasn't protected like the majority of the Black family assets. I doubt if the correspondence had been there it would still exist. The owner would likely have found and disposed of it all."
Harry let his disappointment show. Lupin placed a consoling hand on his shoulder.
"If you are interested, perhaps I could tell you some stories of your parents and Sirius."
"That would be nice," admitted Harry. He really did like the sound of that. Hagrid was the only other to tell him stories of his parents in any detail, but he hadn't known them that well. Lupin would undoubtedly have many more tales to tell.
He stood up and gathered the letters and photos. As he picked up the photos he once again laid eyes on the photo of Sarah. Harry picked up the photo and offered it to Lupin.
"Who is she?"
Lupin reached out and took the photo. For a moment he was silent. Then he whispered to himself, "My word, he still had it?" After a beat, he looked up to see Harry's inquisitive look. "Ah, Harry, this is Sarah Warner. She was a Ravenclaw a year above us."
"Why does he have a photo of her?"
Lupin smiled fondly. "You see, Sirius had an on and off thing for her over the course of several years. He, err, well, dated, though I use that term loosely, a dozen or so others in the meantime, but they always fell through for one reason or other and Sirius would chase after her again. I didn't see this when I was in here a few weeks ago..."
Harry let the man reminisce for a few minutes.
However, he eventually asked, "Did he love her?"
"Nobody but Sirius knows that, I'm afraid." Lupin handed the photo back with a sad expression. "I often spotted him with this photo in our dorm when he thought nobody was around, but he never shared what happened with her in any detail."
Harry took one last look at the photo and returned it to where he'd found it. Sirius had an unrequited love had he? It wasn't a new realisation, but there was plenty he hadn't known about his godfather. Perhaps if he'd ever spoken to him about his relationships, Sirius might've spoken of this.
He watched Lupin cycle through a number of facial expressions, wondering if he'd ever had a special someone in his life. There didn't appear to be now, nor had he ever mentioned anyone.
This train of thought led down a path to some difficult questions, ones he wasn't certain he wanted to ask. But with all this honesty that had characterised their day, Harry decided to go for it.
He sat down beside Lupin, whom was still staring out the window, and spoke a question he'd long wanted to ask.
"The truth is that I don't really know you. You were a friend of my parents, but aside from that connection I know very little about you. Why didn't you ever visit me? Check in to see if I was alright?"
Lupin didn't react to the question at first. But as the seconds passed, he seemed to deflate. When he spoke, his voice was soft, barely audible even in the silence.
"Harry, you must understand that you reminded me of everything I had lost. You still do. Every time I thought of you I felt guilt, unimaginable guilt that I didn't see the betrayal coming, that I hadn't been there to help. And if I'm perfectly honest a little bit of anger."
At Harry's startled expression, Lupin stood up and rubbed at his head, clearly pained.
"Your parents suspected me for several very long, very painful weeks before their death," he elaborated. He walked over to the empty fireplace and leant on the shelf above it, facing away from Harry. "The Order had a spy. We all knew it. I hadn't done anything different; I hadn't acted out of the ordinary. I was suspected just because I was a werewolf, and it seemed the rest of my kind was in with You-Know-Who."
"That distrust, Harry... It was the worst thing that I'd experienced in my life, worse than Greyback turning me into a monster, worse than anything I had ever felt until I heard your parents had died. James, Sirius and I had been friends since our first year at Hogwarts, and Lily soon afterward. For them to think I had betrayed them... It shattered the trust between us. I stopped visiting, stopped talking to them. I could feel their uncertainty and hesitance whenever we were together. It was too much for me to bear on top of everything else."
"I had been struggling for months to find any employment." Lupin sighed. "A werewolf struggles day to day for any work, even the dangerous jobs that few take on. Nobody trusted werewolves in those days, even the few who had before You-Know-Who's rise. These days are little different, Harry. Most people still don't trust me. Members of the Order are distrustful despite Albus vouching for me. Before he asked me to teach, I hadn't had any work in almost a year. It should come as no surprise why so many of my kind were taken by You-Know-Who and his promises of better lives."
"When I heard where you were placed outside of the wizarding world I was shocked. I thought it would be best for you to grow up where you would belonged, among those who could properly protect you. But I couldn't bring myself to come and take you away." Lupin ran a hand through his thinning hair. "If I had known how your relatives would treat you, I would have taken you and brought you to someone I knew would keep you safe."
"All these years," whispered Harry, "but not even once?"
"Not even once," confirmed Lupin, crossing his arms. "I'm not proud of my cowardice, Harry, nor do I truly feel I have an adequate reason. But I don't know if I entirely regret my choice either." He turned around and faced Harry directly. "Please don't misunderstand me. It's not that I haven't cared about you or wondered how you were or what kind of person you'd become. However, I have spent much of the past decade in deep depression, sometimes barely scraping together enough money to live on. If you had ever thought at some point that I could've given you a home, I can assure you that couldn't have happened. Not with my condition."
Harry wasn't sure how he felt about that. Now he was a few years into the wizarding world, he supposed he could see how unlikely any of the people in power – namely the Ministry – would have let him be cared for by a dark creature.
The guilt on the other hand was something else entirely. Harry wasn't unfamiliar with guilt, but this was a new spin on it. He didn't know where to begin trying to sort through his thoughts. Instead, he decided to trust his gut. Besides, there was little use in wallowing about it all now, right?
"What's done is done," said Harry. "I don't know exactly what happened fifteen years ago, but now is the time if you want to become part of my life. How about we start anew?"
He stood up and approached Lupin whom had adopted a confused expression. Harry put his arm forward in offer of a handshake. Slowly, Lupin unfurled his crossed arms and grasped Harry's. They shook hands.
"Tell me about you, Sirius and my parents."
For the next few hours, time passed quickly as Lupin related a number of stories from his childhood. There were plenty of laughs from Harry at a number of anecdotes about his parents. Upon request, Lupin described some of the less wonderful aspects about them. Consequently, Harry began to get a better, fuller picture of his parents in his mind's eye. No longer were they the perfect pair he'd often been presented with from a number of those that knew them, but they were closer to real people than they'd ever been to him.
"We should probably head down for dinner now," said Lupin into a silence that developed in the wake of so many stories. "But before we do, I have to say that I will help you."
Harry, having lain down on the bed at some point, sat up scarcely believing he'd heard correctly. Truthfully, all thoughts of acquiring Lupin's help had been discarded as he'd learnt more about his parents. But it all came rushing back now.
"Are you sure?"
"Not remotely." Lupin smiled wryly. "I believe you when you say I have no hope of convincing you otherwise, so I will try to help you. I think I want to trust you know what you're doing. Until you give me reason to the contrary, I will."
"Thank you," was all Harry could think to say. Lupin once again placed an arm on Harry's shoulder, this time squeezing tightly.
"Just promise me not to take unnecessary risks. You will be playing with fire. I don't want to lose you as well."
"I know," said Harry. "I promise. Remus."
"Excellent." Remus smiled brilliantly, one akin to the photo Harry had seen earlier, and gave him a slap on the back. "Now, I know I'm rather thirsty after all that talking. Would you care for some tea?"
That night Harry lay in bed sorting out what he'd learned in the past eighteen hours. It seemed hard to believe that he'd been with Hermione and Neville at Hogsmeade Station that morning. Similarly, the confusing events with the snake on the platform, and Luna's odd warning, felt distant, as if it had been days ago. After pondering the subject for ten minutes, Harry felt no closer to any conclusions. He pushed the subject aside for when he'd return to Hogwarts.
It had been too late in the evening when Remus – for Harry felt comfortable enough now to call him that – and Harry had emerged from Sirius's bedroom to begin looking for places for the DA to stay. But with what Harry had achieved that day, namely Remus's support, he was okay with that.
During dinner the only familiar face to Harry was that of Kingsley Shacklebolt. The tall, black Auror stopped by only to drop off a message for Dumbledore that Remus took in his stead. After a few questions, Remus revealed that for the past fortnight he'd been the person stationed at Grimmauld Place to keep an eye on it and receive and deliver messages to their rightful person if the intended recipient were not available. However, he was tight-lipped on the specifics of his other jobs.
"It's not that I don't want to tell you, but there's a point where I cannot tell you things." At Harry's raised eyebrow, Remus added, "Many other Order members aren't privileged to the specifics of my missions either, only the results. That applies for everyone else, too, as a measure against spies and loose lips. I doubt you'd be guilty of either in anybody's eyes, but there is an order of things. You aren't being excluded without due cause."
Harry lay awake for some time despite his exhaustion, his mind active. When sleep finally claimed him, he didn't dream.
All too soon Harry woke. He opened his eyes to the sight of a blurry but familiar splash of bubblegum pink above his head.
"Wotcher, Harry," greeted Tonks in a tone far too enthusiastic for his liking.
"Mornin' Tonks," he said through a yawn. "What time is it?"
"Just after six," she replied after checking her watch.
Harry groaned, and then yawned again. "Why are you so chipper at this hour?"
"The life of an Auror," said Tonks with a wide grin. "You get used to odd sleeping hours and being instantly alert pretty quickly. I've been up since half-four. Just passing through and heard from Remus that you're here for the week."
Harry tried to sit up and failed. Only then did he realise that Tonks was on his bed, her knees either side of him and her hands trapping his sheets to the bed. He was effectively stuck.
Somewhat more alert now, he asked, "Err, why are you sitting like that?"
"Oh this," began Tonks in a faux-innocent tone. "I wanted to wake you up in an interesting way."
Is she... is she flirting with me? Harry asked himself. He struggled to free a hand from beneath his sheets. Ugh, it's too early for this.
Tonks seemed to sense his thoughts as she chose that moment to release him. Harry rolled over and buried his head in his pillow.
"Alright, up you get. Remus told me you have a busy day ahead." She punctuated the order with a smack on his arse.
Harry didn't make a surprised squeak. Men didn't squeak.
Scowling at Tonks as she retreated from his room, laughing all the way, Harry got out of bed and headed for the shower. He grumbled to himself about revenge until the beautiful feeling of warm water hit his face. Then he began to focus on the day ahead.
Over the course of the morning, after visiting a realtor (an experience in of itself), Remus showed Harry five houses in the inner city area. Remus had chosen to focus on the inner city as it would be easiest for him to blend into a crowd of Muggles. Harry agreed, unable to think of any solid counterarguments. All Harry knew to look for was something large enough to accommodate his group. Remus explained that few houses were large enough for ten people to live comfortably, but if they found somewhere large enough then Expansion Charms could do the rest of the work.
Each house varied significantly: from single stories to three, from already furnished to completely bare, from several hundred thousand to over a million pounds. Harry didn't have any idea what he was looking for, though he knew money wasn't a big issue. However, as he stood in each of the houses looking around at the rooms, trying to picture what he was after, his imagination never quite got running. Remus was always positive, giving him time to decide and not swaying his mind one way or another.
"If we budget our time right, I believe we have three days to find something suitable," said Remus after Harry tried to describe how the first two places didn't work for him. "You'll feel something when you find the right place."
Soon enough the lunch hour rolled around. The pair sat down in an inner city cafe, something Remus explained he'd taken a liking to do at least once per week.
The place was charming in its own right. Images covered the walls of cities from around the world (or so Remus explained when Harry asked). The floors were polished wood. The tables and chairs matched the decor suitably. Perhaps three dozen other patrons joined them, their incomprehensible conversations merging into a healthy din.
Harry took in the surroundings with great interest. The Dursley's only took him out to a restaurant once when Mrs. Figg had been unable to babysit Harry when he was six. All he remembered was that his Uncle had ordered him a few pieces of bread while the others had eaten a three course meal. It wasn't a terribly good memory.
The smell of fish from a neighbouring table enticed Harry enough to order it when the waiter had come to take their order. After the man departed, Harry noted once again the clothing Lupin wore. This time he wore a dark button-up shirt and jeans, both new.
"I've noticed you're wearing newer clothes."
Remus put down the glass of water he'd been sipping. "Indeed. You remember the will reading and the stipulation that Sirius added to my share? It took a long time but I went out and bought myself enough to fill a wardrobe. The last time I had a full wardrobe was when I was about twelve. It's a nice change, I'll admit."
Harry wondered what happened at that time to no longer have a full wardrobe. Not that he'd had one until Fleur had taken him shopping. Had it something to do with his parents? He'd never considered Remus's parents before. Where were they, if they were even amongst the living?
Instead, he simply said, "You look better for it."
Remus smiled. "Yes, I've heard that from Tonks, too. Sirius wanted me to take care of myself more and I have tried."
Memories of the will reading resurfaced.
Harry furrowed his brow as he recalled a particular moment. "Didn't Sirius also leave you a letter? What was in that?"
Remus's expression didn't change, but Harry felt the atmosphere around his companion shift.
"It's okay," said Harry, regretting asking the personal question. "Forget I asked."
Remus opened his mouth to say something, but at that moment their meals arrived. After thanking their waiter, Lupin immediately began to eat. Harry took the hint and dropped the subject, tucking into his fish and chips.
The afternoon passed in much the same way as the morning. The pair visited another six houses in the inner city. Two seemed to fit what Harry sought, but Remus said they could look at several others still on their list the following day and make a decision then.
That night Tonks visited again. Upon learning Harry had offered to cook dinner (Remus confessed he usually bought take away due to his abysmal skills in the kitchen) she decided to stay for the meal. For the first time, Harry tried out some of the charms to assist his cooking as he'd seen Molly Weasley do a hundred times. After a few incidents of overexcited knives continuing to chop almost every piece of food in sight into little bits, Harry got the hang of it and soon dinner was served.
"This looks brilliant, Harry," said Tonks in awe. Harry shrugged off the compliment as he turned to pass a dish to Remus. "Where'd you learn to cook?"
"Dursleys," muttered Harry. He set out a dish for himself and took a seat at the head of the table, Tonks and Remus on either side.
No further comment was made, and the three began to eat. Remus and Tonks quickly began a conversation over events in the Ministry. Harry was content to listen, though the pair mostly spoke of matters unrelated to the war and he learned little. He did, however, notice that Tonks's eyes continually lingered on Remus.
After dinner, Remus showed Tonks out while Harry cast the charms to clean and dry the dishes. Just as Harry was done, Remus returned to the kitchen alone.
"We should start getting ready for bed," began Lupin, seeing that the remnants of dinner were taken care of. "We'll have another early morning ahead of us."
Harry agreed, already feeling the effects of a late night and early morning. He trudged upstairs and set about readying for bed.
As he lay in bed an hour later, he wondered about the members of the DA. How was Hannah coping being in her home for the first time since her parents were murdered? How was Susan coping with helping Hannah? How was Padma (and by extension Parvati) coping with convincing her father to stay in Britain, even for one more semester? How was Hermione coping with trying to keep her parents safe? How was everyone coping with the fact that in a short amount of time they'd be leaving Hogwarts?
Harry abruptly rolled over to his side, trying to dislodge his thoughts from the path they were taking. Wondering wasn't going to help. Seems he had to keep telling himself that lately. All that it was serving to accomplish was giving him a headache, a sharp pain somewhere behind his forehead.
The night passed agonisingly slowly. It was very late that finally he fell asleep.
What felt like minutes later he was awoken by noises from somewhere in the rest of the house. Groaning, he tried to fall back asleep but it was useless. Restful sleep had eluded him for the night.
The noises, voices in fact, grew louder, or perhaps more people were now involved. Then the screeching of Mrs. Black joined the throng of voices, the words 'mudblood', 'filth' and 'traitors' clearly making their way upstairs to Harry's room. Harry opened his eyes, revealing a blurred vision of the peeling paint on the ceiling of his bedroom, and sighed. He knew he had to get up and find out what was going on.
It took three minutes for Harry to stumble downstairs, but that had been too long. The door to the kitchen was already firmly shut and there were no noises from the other side. Mrs. Black, thankfully, had long since been silenced.
An Order meeting, Harry mused.
Harry leant against the wall in the hallway and closed his eyes. Had there been another series of Death Eater attacks? Something serious had to have happened to warrant a half four in the morning assembly.
Knowing the Order meeting would be some time before concluding, Harry made his way upstairs to one of the sitting rooms he had cleaned out two summers ago and slumped into a seat. Leaning his head on his hand, he stared out the opening curtains on the far side of the room and into the dawning day.
Harry abruptly awoke two hours later, having begun dozing almost immediately. He removed his glasses and rubbed at his itchy eyes. The sun had risen far enough to cast rays of sunshine into the room. Harry stood and walked over to the window, briefly parting the curtains for a look onto the street. Remnants of fog could still be seen over the neighbourhood. Still exhausted, Harry decided he needed a coffee, now, to make it through the day so he stood and ventured downstairs a second time to see if the Order meeting had finished.
It hadn't. However, a copy of the days Daily Prophet lay on the floor near the doorway that Harry hadn't noticed earlier. He picked it up and unfolded it. His heart sank as he read began to read the front page story.
Sunderland, Middlesborough, Ipswich, Reading and Liverpool were the targets of another series of Death Eater attacks on Auror outposts. Eight Aurors were dead. Sixteen injured receiving care at St. Mungo's. Five dead Death Eaters with another two injured and receiving treatment. Unconfirmed reports indicate another two were captured alive and well and were taken in for interrogation by the DMLE. At the time of printing, the families of the deceased had not been notified. The article reported that the evening edition would name names.
Harry grimaced as he realised his assumption had been correct. Another few families were damaged or destroyed because of this madman. What was the damn point of it all? What was Voldemort after?
Remus's words came back to him.
But if we're honest, Voldemort's plan is still a complete unknown to us.
Once again Harry had to wonder. All of these attacks on the Aurors had to be building towards something, but what?
Harry quickly perused the rest of the paper, searching for anything else suspicious, anything to provide a clue to the ultimate agenda. The editorial and reader letters segments were demanding further action from the Minister and questioned his ability to provide the results that were so desperately needed. Harry noted that and wondered whether Scrimgeour had begun vetting the Ministry as he'd suggested at Christmas. Somehow, he doubted it.
Nothing, however, seemed to leap out to him as a clue, and he tossed the paper aside in frustration. Quickly, Harry reined it back in. He knew the Order was working as hard as they could to learn what Voldemort was after. For the briefest moment Harry wished he could still see inside Voldemort's mind and learn something, anything that could help. While he nor Dumbledore nor Hermione knew for certain why the connection seemed to have shut, it was for the best.
Harry took a seat on the stairs, wary of the portrait of Mrs. Black just above him, and settled in to wait for the meeting to finish. He had nothing else to do while Remus was no doubt in there. Inconveniently, he couldn't really make himself any breakfast either.
He entertained the thought of unlocking the door and venturing in to acquire some breakfast regardless. Had he roused himself a little sooner, perhaps he could have walked in on the meeting and made his claim to be there? After all, he was the damn Chosen One. There had to be a point where he would be allowed to know everything that was happening in the war he was expected to win.
Frankly, he thought as he ran a hand through his dishevelled hair, that time has come and passed.
Suddenly, Harry stopped moving, a thought occurring to him.
Hermione's idea that Harry needed to prove to Dumbledore that he was ready for all the knowledge pertaining to the Horcruxes had a solid basis. They both had agreed on that. What if that proof could be from joining and participating in the Order?
It wasn't a surety of any sort, he knew that, but Harry took the idea and ran with it.
He was viewed as an adult in the wizarding world now thanks to his emancipation, so that reason against his exclusion was out the window now. He knew about the prophecy and the Horcruxes, so he had knowledge other Order members didn't. There was no way Harry was going to sit idly by for another entire year at Hogwarts after this one before sallying forth to take on Voldemort. All the extra lessons he'd taken, that Dumbledore himself had permitted, had to be for this very reason. Even if Dumbledore expected Harry to return to the Dursley's one last time, there would be an entire month between the protections around his house falling and the start of the new term. Voldemort would surely seek him out during that time with everything he had. It made sense for Harry to become involved sooner rather than later.
Before he could pursue that line of thought any further, the door to the kitchen opened. Harry half stood and turned to see Snape emerging first, his robes billowing around him as he strode purposefully down the hallway to the front door. Harry and Snape locked eyes for a long moment, the tension between them almost palpable. Then Snape passed Harry, reached the door and with a crack was gone.
Harry turned back to see many familiar faces from the previous few days. A few nodded politely as they passed, but none stopped to talk. Finally, Tonks and Remus appeared, closely followed by Dumbledore himself.
"Sir," began Harry almost immediately.
"Ah, Harry," said Dumbledore brightly, as if they'd run into each other on the street. "I'm very sorry but I have further urgent business to attend to. I'm afraid your questions will have to wait until a later time."
Without anything further, Dumbledore was out the door and had Apparated away.
Somewhat irritated at the instant snub, Harry rounded on the two remaining Order members. He drank in their appearance, noting the dark circles under their eyes. Whatever his complaints about little sleep, it had probably been worse for them last night. Still, he wasn't going to take it easy on them.
"I want to know what's going on."
Tonks and Remus glanced at each other.
"Come," said Remus, and turned to re-enter the kitchen. Tonks followed suit.
Remus had the kettle already boiling when Harry had entered the room. The kitchen had been temporarily enlarged to fit the nearly two dozen people present at this particular meeting. Tonks was beginning the reversal process. Harry fixed himself a coffee and took a seat at the long dining table. While he blew the heat away from his beverage, Remus took a seat opposite.
"I read the Prophet. There's been another series of attacks."
Tonks finished dismantling the Expansion Charms on the room, and the sight of the walls closing in momentarily disorientated Harry. She took the seat beside Remus.
Remus sipped some of his tea. "The Order doesn't know much yet. The attacks began sometime around eleven p.m. and the last around half two. All the dead and captured Death Eaters are low tier, but we believe Rodolphus Lestrange and Macnair were leading two of the attacks. The captured are being interrogated by Kingsley as we speak. But we don't expect them to know much. They're new recruits."
Harry absorbed this information. He noticed Tonks shooting Remus glances every other moment.
"What did Snape have to say for himself?" asked Harry.
"Severus indicated that Voldemort has been extremely secretive lately," said Remus. He leant forward on his elbows, his face looking weary. "Furthermore, Severus has been busy with a project that he cannot discuss."
Harry struggled for a moment not to ask 'cannot or will not?'
The remainder of the meeting, Remus said, was mostly speculation, plans for the coming few days, and a brief update on everyone's situation. There were a few promising leads for information, but nothing concrete yet.
An hour later, Remus and Harry resumed their house hunting with a far more subdued atmosphere. Once again, time passed quickly. By lunch, they had visited all available houses in the inner city that Remus had found fitting their requirements.
Harry suggested over another cafe lunch that they look a little further out of the city. Remus obliged the request, and within an hour they were visiting some of the suburbs on the south bank of the Thames.
Finally, at the last place the pair decided to visit for the day, Harry found it.
It was a recently renovated, mostly furnished four storied house. It was situated a few hundred metres west of a huge community grassland and, according to the information package the realtor provided Remus, three miles south of the Thames in an 'up and coming young people hotspot'. Harry could tell it wouldn't be cheap, but something felt right about it.
"I want this one," he said confidently.
The pair stood in one of the supposed normal bedrooms on the top floor. In itself, it was as large as his Aunt's and Uncle's bedroom. Given the size of the house and everything it had to fit, Harry thought that impressive. Harry turned to Remus, wanting his thoughts.
Remus gave a smile and began a second run through the house with greater purpose. When they reached the ground floor again, Remus took one final look around and turned to Harry.
"I think this can work," he said with a smile. "It will need a fair amount of work to make the Expansion Charms suitable and furnish the added rooms. Are you certain? This is an enormous decision to make."
Harry stood still and closed his eyes, trying to take in everything about this place. Something about it felt right. He couldn't explain it, but he could picture it. He could picture Hermione curled up on a sofa chair with a book in front of the fireplace in the living room to his left. He could picture Padma on a couch in the other living room, chatting quietly and comfortably with Su. He could picture Luna in the small but well maintained back garden, eyes closed sitting in the grass in a living picture of serenity. Neville and himself, he could see, in the dining room discussing their next move. Others, too, he could picture in the house.
He opened his eyes.
"Yeah, I am."
Remus breathed a sigh of relief. Harry did too. It had been a tiring day. He checked his watch and noted it was almost six. They both knew it was too late in the day to make any more progress.
However, their search was over.
The next morning, the first stop was Gringotts.
Gringotts, apparently, was the quickest (not cheapest, however) way to sort out all the documents on both the wizarding and Muggle sides. Nevertheless, it was almost an hour after it was his turn in line that everything was signed, sealed, and ready to go.
Thankfully, the Goblin who served him – whose name Harry never caught – looked the other way when Harry filled out the forms under an alias. Indeed, he'd been unfailingly polite, though he'd watched him with unnerving intensity. He supposed he was receiving special treatment as a result of the expectations the Goblins had for him – defeating Voldemort and improving their lot in life.
Harry travelled down to this vault to store the important documents on Remus's recommendation. Upon his entrance he immediately noticed the significant increase in gold he'd received from Sirius, even after the rather large sum of money for the house had been removed.
How could I ever spend this? Harry wondered, gazing at the dozens if not hundreds of piles of galleons. But I'm glad I have it. How would I have been able to support this otherwise?
Minutes later, Harry met a patiently waiting Remus near the entrance.
"Thanks for all your help with this," said Harry. "I would've been lost on how to do this without you."
"Don't mention it," replied Remus. The two stepped out into Diagon Alley once more. The sun shone in their eyes for a moment until they descended the steps, the shops then blocking the morning sun.
Harry scanned the shops as they walked, noting the relative quietness of business once again. Given it was the Easter holidays, Harry had expected the alley to be packed with people. The Death Eater attacks must have taken more of a toll on the morale of the public than he'd realised.
One particular shopfront caught Harry's eye.
"Listen, could you do me one more favour and wait for me in about half an hour at the Leaky Cauldron? There's something I need to take care of."
Remus stopped and looked in the direction Harry was. After a moment's consideration, he said, "Alright. I trust you not to abuse this. Come straight to the Leaky Cauldron the moment you are done."
Harry readily agreed. The two split ways and Harry entered the shop that had caught his attention.
Weasley Wizard Wheezes was as colourful and vibrant as ever. The shelves were stacked with now dozens of products, many new to Harry, but plenty of those he were familiar with. As he stepped into the store, a chime sounded off, and there was movement near the back of the store.
"Hi, welcome to... Oh, Harry, hi."
Verity, the sole sales assistant the Weasley twins had hired, looked surprised to see him. But her demeanour was instantly friendly.
"How are you? Are you here to see the bosses?"
"Hi, Verity," said Harry. "I'm well, thank you. Yeah, I am. Could you tell them I'm here to see them?"
Strangely, a devious smile crossed her face.
"I have a better idea. Come, we're gonna surprise them."
Harry raised an eyebrow, but followed her to the back of the store where a plain wooden door separated the main floor from what Harry assumed was the stockroom.
"They're in there," said Verity with that same smile on her face. She then added, "Go ahead. No need to knock."
Confused, Harry obeyed and opened the door, not sure what to expect. He immediately heard the familiar voices of the twins.
"...with the demand, surely we could consider asking him," one of the twins was saying.
"I know, brother of mine, but he likely won't be too fond of the idea."
"Ah, that Harry is a fickle guy. If we pitch this just right, we can get his approval."
"And what exactly are you making that would need my approval?" asked Harry in a wry tone, stepping into the room and seeing the twins sitting at a table, their backs to him.
The twins simultaneously jumped to their feet. A quick wave of their wands and whatever it was the pair were working on was banished somewhere out of Harry's eyesight.
"Blimey, Harry!" exclaimed George. Harry wasn't sure how he knew it was George, but he did. "You almost scared the pants off me."
"Shame, too," commiserated Fred, checking out the pants still on his brother's legs, "I wanted to see if that were possible. That could make for an interesting clothing line."
George, recovering quickly, turned to his twin and nodded solemnly. "Tragic. Perhaps we should devote some time to this after..." He paused, and turned back to Harry. "Hang on a tick; aren't you supposed to be at Hogwarts?"
"And wasn't Verity supposed to stop people from coming back here?"
Verity chose that moment to pop her head around the corner. She looked all too pleased with herself.
"Consider that part one of your comeuppance." She grinned widely at the redheads before disappearing back into the store.
"Comeuppance?" asked Harry, turning back to the twins. They shared a dark look.
"Suffice it to say, dear Harry, that we, err... made an error in judgment."
"Indeed," added Fred. "It involved some Firewhiskey, Vanishing spells, and... well, I've probably said too much."
Amused, Harry smiled to himself. At least these two hadn't changed. God, he hoped these two had no involvement in or knowledge of what Ron and Ginny had been up to.
"What brings you to our establishment, partner of ours?"
"I'm staying in London for Easter and was on my way back from Gringotts," explained Harry. "I figured I'd drop in and see how you two are. I haven't heard from you since the summer. How's business these days?"
The twins exchanged inscrutable looks.
"Business is well," said George is a strange tone. "Sales are a bit slow in store during semester, but our mail order business has really taken off over the last few months."
"That's great to hear."
An awkward silence ensued.
Harry looked between the twins, who once again shared a strange look. He couldn't shake the feeling something wasn't entirely right.
Feeling somewhat confrontational, he asked, "What's wrong?"
The twins avoided his eyes as he tried to meet them.
"Guys, seriously, what's wrong?"
"Look, we had no idea what our younger siblings were up to, we swear," said George quickly. He met Harry's eye for a moment.
"We only found out when we asked our parents why you weren't staying at the Burrow for Christmas," continued Fred at the same clip. Nervous didn't quite cover it.
"Mum was acting strange when we asked about you. Like she didn't know who you were."
"So we went to Dad and cornered him for answers. You know that we consider you a brother, mate. It was strange that you weren't going to stay at the Burrow or the family at Grimmauld at least. Dad told us about the entire affair."
"I swear," began George, holding his hand to his heart. "We had no knowledge of what they were doing."
"It's the truth," said Fred solemnly. "We got into a dreadful fight with Ron and Ginny when we confronted them at Christmas. They said Mum put Ginny up to it." The twins shook their heads. "The fight reminds me of the one when Prefect Percy left. I never wanted to see that happen again."
George nodded sadly. "We haven't spoken with Ron or Ginny since, or been home. We still see Dad every so often for a bite, but..."
The pair let it be at that.
Harry thought about what he'd been told. The twins sounded genuine, and if he were honest, he believed them. But something they'd said had caught his attention.
"Hang on, what did you mean your mother acted like she didn't know who I was? She still sent me a jumper and pies at Christmas."
Fred and George exchanged another look. Fred spoke first this time. "We don't rightly know."
"It was the strangest thing." George got a faraway look in his eyes, as he thought back to the day. "She was cooking at the time, perfectly normal, when we came in and mentioned you."
"The second we said your name, she stopped what she was doing and just stood there for a few seconds. Then, she told us that we weren't expecting any guests for the holidays."
"When we asked why..."
Fred grimaced. "She told us that only family was invited for Christmas."
"We considered you family, and thought Mum did too. So we tracked down Dad, but he was tight lipped when we demanded answers."
"All he said was that '...measures had been taken to ensure there would be no reoccurrence', whatever that means."
Harry could guess. Whatever Dumbledore had meant when he said he'd taken care of Molly, this had to be it. What exactly had the Headmaster done? Did Arthur know?
"I'm sorry guys," said Harry.
George shook his head, took a step forward and slapped a hand on Harry's shoulder. "It's not your fault, buddy. You were a victim in this, and I'm sorry to say that my family did such a thing to you."
"You've been nothing but good to us." Fred agreed, replicating his twins' gesture. "Heck, you've saved some of our lives. This is a piss poor way to repay you."
Harry looked at the twins, really taking in their appearance, their expressions. He couldn't express how glad he was that these two were on the level.
"Don't worry, I believe you."
The twins let out near simultaneous breaths. Their relief was obvious.
"Thanks, Harry." Fred smiled. "Couldn't tell you how terrified we were when you came in unannounced like that. Didn't have a clue what you would say if you thought we were somehow party to that mess."
"Don't worry about it," repeated Harry. "I'd rather not dwell on it anymore."
Fred and George exchanged one more look.
Sensing the need for a subject change, Harry started moving around the backroom, which he finally took in fully. The place was a hodgepodge of extra shelf stock, paperwork, materials and half-formed ideas. The twins were really putting their creativity to use.
"You guys have done a great job here."
He turned to face the twins, who were standing a little straighter and wore identical grins.
"We have been told we have a certain flair for the art of the prank," said Fred with far too much pride in his tone. He took an excessively dramatic bow.
"Don't tell her we said so, but McGonagall came in during Christmas," added George conspiratorially. "She wouldn't say it exactly, but we could tell she was impressed and approved."
Harry laughed. That sounded about right. McGonagall wouldn't say it, not ever, but after spending so much time with her over the past few months he knew she enjoyed some of innocent mischief students got up to a tad more than she let on. Sometimes students went overboard, and that's when she'd be harsh in her punishments.
Quickly, the twins returned to their natural selves. Harry stuck around for another ten minutes, enjoying examining the new products and the pure light heartedness of the shop. That ended when Harry's half an hour was up. He bade farewell to the twins and Verity, and left the shop in much higher spirits.
But the question of what exactly happened to Mrs. Weasley lingered in the back of his mind.
By the time Harry and Remus returned to the house it was mid-morning. The pair began discussing how best to furnish the place and where to position the Enlargement Charms. By dusk, the enlargements were done and a solid list of what they would need to buy over the next two days had been drawn up.
Watching Remus work the Enlargement Charms was an interesting experience. They had to be positioned in specific locations and tied to certain objects to be permanent. Remus, apparently, wasn't too shabby on his Charms work either.
Too exhausted to offer to cook, Harry suggested they check out the restaurants in the area. A fifteen minute walk brought the pair to street filled with restaurants. Remus suggested a quiet looking Italian place.
A wonderful, expensive meal later they returned to Grimmauld Place to find half a dozen rowdy guests in the kitchen. Harry begged off dealing with them, claiming tiredness, and went to his bedroom to prepare for bed.
To settle down he picked a copy of his Charms textbook as something to read. After he'd read no more than two pages, there was a knock at his door.
"Come in," he called, figuring it was Remus or Tonks. It wasn't.
The door creaked open to reveal Arthur Weasley. Harry sat stunned for a second before sitting up and closing his book, setting it aside.
"Ah, hello, Mr. Weasley," said Harry, somewhat in shock. He hadn't seen Arthur since the previous summer, before what happened with Ron and Ginny. Was that what this was about?
The twins he'd had time to prepare for. This was a surprise.
Arthur stepped into the room and closed the door. Harry took in his appearance. The patriarch's hairline had receded a little further since the previous summer. Otherwise, he appeared much the same man. However, Harry sensed weariness akin to his own. Harry wondered if Arthur had slept well recently.
"Harry, it's good to see you." Mr. Weasley crossed the room to the free bed. "May I?"
Harry nodded. His shock had worn off. Now he was on guard.
"Forgive me for intruding, but I was hoping we could discuss something important." Arthur took a seat on the edge of the bed. He looked nervous.
"Go ahead, sir."
"Foremost, I'd like to apologise for the pain my children caused you and Hermione." Arthur sighed and seemed to age another few years. "There is no excuse for their actions, despite how I wish otherwise. I'm very sorry, Harry."
"You don't need to apologise, sir," said Harry calmly. "You didn't know."
At least Harry hoped that was the case.
"No, Harry. My first knowledge of this was upon receiving the letter from Minerva."
Harry carefully searched the older man's features in an attempt to discern his honesty.
"I believe you."
"Thank you," said Arthur. "Nevertheless, Molly, Ginevra and Ronald are my family and my responsibility. Again, I'm sorry. I can only hope a relationship with my family hasn't been irreparably damaged."
Harry looked away. "I don't know. I don't know if I can ever be friends with Ron or Ginny again. Mrs. Weasley..." he trailed off, unsure of even what he wanted to say on the subject of the matriarch.
Arthur watched Harry for a moment, pondering. Harry turned back to face him once more.
"Son, there is something I wish for you to know," said Arthur hesitantly. "It's about Molly. I don't expect this to change your mind, but for you to understand my request I have to explain the full story."
What request? Harry wondered. What full story?
"Thank you." Arthur leant forward onto his knees. He took deep breaths, building up his courage to speak.
"As I'm sure you're aware, Molly had two siblings, brothers," began Arthur. "Gideon and Fabian were older, but Molly was always the one watching out for them. They were almost inseparable. Even after we married, Gideon and Fabian were over every other night. Around the time William was born, You-Know-Who had built the foundations of his Death Eaters. He'd become more and more influential. The next decade was a dark and dangerous time, Harry, even worse than the days we live in now. But we continue toward those days once more."
Arthur ran a hand through his thinning hair. "When we learned that Gideon and Fabian had joined the Order, Molly insisted on keeping a close eye on them. I, too, was concerned, but more for Molly. She's always been overprotective. So we became unofficial members of the Order. Sometimes we attended meetings. Our family kept growing and eventually neither Molly nor myself could justify involving ourselves any further. But Molly continued to watch over her brothers. We'd still have them over for dinner, and she'd still show up suddenly in their homes for visits. She fretted and fussed and cared in a way only family could. And then they died."
Arthur sighed once more. Harry observed the man, wondering what the point of this history lesson was. He'd heard of the Prewett brothers when he first arrived at Grimmauld Place but knew little. What did they have to do with the vis diligo spell?
"Molly took their deaths hard. She..." Arthur faltered for a moment. He reached into his pants pocket and retrieved a handkerchief which he used to wipe at his eyes. Harry turned his gaze away in a poor attempt at offering privacy. "She had just given birth to our little Ginevra at the time. The birth took an enormous toll on her and hadn't recovered yet."
Arthur put the handkerchief aside and met Harry's eyes again. He then said, voice low and emotional, "When she heard the news, Molly had a breakdown. The Healers at St. Mungo's who treated her said they were concerned about the risk she posed to herself. The stress... They recommended Molly take Calming Draughts whenever she had extreme emotions until she'd recovered. It's rare that Healers are left with this option. As with all potions, overuse can have serious side effects. We went through many, many doses the following weeks until it finally seemed she'd accepted their deaths and begun to move on."
Harry felt a little sympathy for Molly. But a larger part of him remained sceptical. What was the point of this story?
"Molly threw herself into raising our children with the same fervour she had when she was trying to keep her brothers safe. I... I don't think she was ever quite the same again after her breakdown and the deluge of potions she consumed. Potions, Harry, often affect the mind. Overuse..." Arthur shook his head.
"She was still a wonderful wife and parent," said Arthur fervently, as if that was an important fact to remember. "But in the months and years since her breakdown, she wasn't ever the same. There were many instances, too many to name, that made me believe that, many of which I have only now noticed through hindsight."
Arthur didn't speak for a time. When he did, his voice was quiet.
"One night as we were enjoying a quiet drink after the children were put to bed, Molly brought up her use of the vis diligo spell on me in our sixth year of Hogwarts to attract my attention. She remembered the time fondly. She wistfully said to me that it would be wonderful for our daughter to find someone like she had. I agreed. I thought nothing of it at the time, but now it is one of many memories I wonder..."
"Weren't you upset when you found out what the spell did to you?" asked Harry sceptically. Having been silent for much of Arthur's story, Harry found he couldn't let this slide without comment. How this man could not be unsettled by the use of the spell on him was beyond him.
Arthur shook his head once more. "From what I understand, my daughter used the spell several times more than was meant to causing your extreme situation. Molly used the spell to lead me to her, yes, but she removed it after our first date. She told me a few weeks later. I was upset and felt betrayed. However, by then I genuinely cared for Molly. I moved past it. We became happy together."
Harry remained sceptical, both on Arthur's thoughts on the spell and his objectivity. Perhaps his experience had blinded him to more innocent uses of love potions and the sort, but presently Harry despised them.
"Our daughter, our Ginevra, was a miracle for us. After six wonderful sons, we were finally gifted a daughter to cherish. Molly wanted the best for her, and so did I. We wanted her to grow up strong and intelligent, ready and able to tackle the world. We wanted her to become someone who could make what she wanted hers. When you saved her from the Chamber of Secrets, Molly thought it was destiny. She'd told your story dozens of times to little Ginevra as she grew and for you to then you save her from death? I believe that she convinced Ginevra of it too. Destiny. Her life could become a modern fairy tale."
"I ignored many of the signs," admitted Arthur. "In retrospect, I can see more of the deterioration. The stress of the war, losing her beloved brothers, her breakdown and maybe an overconsumption of potions... Molly isn't quite the same person as she used to be and it has grown worse as the years have passed, though perhaps quicker than I realised given what transpired. Perhaps I was in denial that something was actually, truly wrong."
Arthur stood and stepped closer to Harry, laying a hand on his shoulder and meeting eyes. "I love my wife, Harry, more than may ever know. I hope you can understand where I am coming from when I ask what I am about to."
"I don't know what you want from me, Mr. Weasley," said Harry. "I'm sorry about your wife. However, I can't forgive her or Ron or Ginny because she may be... I don't know, damaged. What Ginny did to me, and Ron to Hermione, and Mrs. Weasley fully endorsed, had real and dangerous consequences. That spell is illegal for a reason, it undermines free will. All involved should've known better, especially Ginny."
"I'm sorry, Harry," said Arthur yet again. He let Harry go and turned away, staring at nothing in particular. Harry wondered what, if anything, the man would do now that Harry had dashed the man's hope for forgiveness for his wife and youngest children.
It was several moments before Arthur said, "I apologise again. Perhaps I'm only telling you this in effort to assuage my own guilt for not recognising something was wrong and stopping it."
All of the emotions Harry felt made forming a response tricky. He felt sympathy toward Arthur. How couldn't he? But his ire at what happened to him was far stronger.
"I don't understand the wizarding world sometimes," said Harry. He leaned back onto his bed and stared at the peeling ceiling. "How can love potions and the sort ever be legal? How can someone justify using them to themselves? They rob someone of their free will, their right to make choices."
Arthur didn't reply. Harry sat up to stare at the man, usually so vibrant and enthusiastic, now silent and distant. All of this caused, perhaps, because of the loss of two brothers more than a decade ago if this tale was truthful.
After a time, Harry's thoughts meandered back to his meeting with the twins earlier in the day and the question that had been left burning in his mind.
Here was the chance to acquire an answer. Arthur didn't appear ready to ask what he wanted to, so Harry licked his lips and asked the question that had bothered him for weeks. "What did Dumbledore do?"
Arthur was silent still for several long moments. Then, he spoke.
"Albus visited The Burrow the day after the events at Hogwarts. He explained everything. We were afraid, Molly and I. Albus said he would keep Ginevra away from prosecution, but there would be a price."
"Oaths," said Arthur simply. "Oaths that Molly, Ronald or Ginevra would never in any way communicate about or use the spell in question again, and that neither would never in any way work to harm or impair yourself or Hermione. We agreed, given our other option wasn't an option to us."
Oaths, Harry mused. They were effective if the punishment for breaking them was severe enough. Harry hoped that was indeed the case.
For the other point, Harry presumed the other option was Azkaban. The spell was, after all, punishable with jail time.
"Albus said knowledge of the spell should die off. He's purged the library at Hogwarts of references to it and is working toward the same at the Ministry. This is perhaps for the best."
Arthur sighed regretfully. "Molly and I have discussed what our relationship with you should be in the future. Molly believed it would be best if you didn't come to The Burrow given the situation. It's my hope that one day we can reconcile and feel at home with us once more. I insisted we send our usual package as a message. I hope that wasn't wrong of me. Again, I'm so sorry."
"Harry, having said all of this I ask one more thing of you." Arthur wiped at his eyes which were beginning to tear once more. "You have always been a wonderful young man that I am proud to have been part of my family. I know some of us have wronged you, but please don't take any further action against my Molly, Ronald or my daughter. I will make certain you aren't hurt by us anymore. I give you my word as a husband and a father."
Once again, Harry was stunned. Here was this man he'd almost considered a father figure, begging him for compassion. While he wasn't going to forgive any of those responsible anytime soon, he had no intention of pursuing any further punishment.
"I won't, Mr. Weasley," said Harry sombrely.
Harry let Arthur have a moment to compose himself.
"Thank you for telling me all of this."
"Thank you for listening. I wouldn't have blamed you if you hadn't wanted to."
Neither was certain how to proceed, so Arthur begged leave to return to his family. Harry let him go.
The door once more closed, Harry sat on his bed trying to process the revelations of the past hour. Molly unhinged? And Dumbledore preventing a repeat performance with oaths to not impair or harm him?
Harry spent another sleepless night deep in thought.
The following day was hectic to say the least. Harry kept the conversation with Arthur to himself, instead losing himself in the work ahead of him. Searching for suitable furniture took up almost all of their day even with the significant advantage of magic. Remus, to Harry's mixed opinion, was guilty of a Confundus Charm or three. The Muggle serving them at the first store was dumbfounded when Remus had said there was no need for a delivery service. Harry realised the problem immediately. Remus had the solution.
By early evening their extensive purchases – the price of which caused Harry to thank God he was wealthy, even if it barely made a dent in the remainder of his fortune – were deposited shrunken in the living rooms. The next step was to start placing them in the unfurnished rooms, but Harry noticed Remus looking unusually weary. The lines in his face were once more extremely pronounced.
Concerned, and somewhat exhausted himself given his lack of sleep lately, Harry recommended they leave the rest of the work for their remaining days. After depositing his coat in his wardrobe back at Grimmuald Place, Harry ventured after Remus to the man's bedroom, set out very similarly to his own though with a queen bed instead of two singles, and brought the subject up.
"Is everything alright? You're not looking terribly well."
Remus grimaced and looked out his window. The view was mostly of the countless houses spreading out over the inner suburbs of London. But Remus was looking toward the sky.
"Tomorrow night is a full moon," he said softly.
Harry instantly looked out the window toward the sky, where he saw the moon partially obscured by cloud. A few seconds passed and the clouds continued their trek across the sky to reveal an almost full moon.
The moon meant almost nothing to Harry. How would it feel to live a life constantly ruled by it? He couldn't even fathom it.
"The timing is abysmal," continued Remus, drawing his gaze from the sky. He began rummaging through his wardrobe and began to change from his fitted shirt to something more casual. "I fear I may not be much use for tomorrow or the day after."
"That's fine, "came an almost immediate response. "I just need you to be present when we leave the house. I can handle all the heavy lifting now."
Remus laughed a small laugh. "Indeed. You have impressed me with the ease you use your magic the past few days. I've no doubt you could have handled all we've accomplished from the outset."
The magic, probably, thought Harry, but he knew he'd have been at a loss to tackle the Muggle side of things.
"Alright," said Remus with a gesture toward his door. "I develop quite the appetite this time of the month. Let me get changed and let's eat."
Harry let the man be and began to walk back downstairs. He hadn't even made it to the stairs before encountering Tonks. She was still dressed in her Auror uniform. However, today she sported a blonde pixie cut that was quite flattering. At least Harry found it to be.
"Tonks," said Harry warmly. "You're back early, aren't you?
"Wotcher, Harry. I got myself an early mark for extenuating circumstances," she replied dismissively, only to adopt an easy grin as she examined his outfit. "Never mind that though. I like this style you've got now. Between yourself and Remus, these new clothes I'm seeing are looking smashing on you two lately. Remus is... Well, it's a wonder you don't have any woman after you."
Two images appeared in his mind's eye. One was an image of Padma, her face close to his, the sensation of her hand grasping his as they smiled at each other, and another of Hermione, tired, but smiling radiantly as she stroked his cheek while sitting close to him on his bed in his dorm.
Both images suffused his being with warmth like few others. Padma had been wonderful since he'd sought her out in her hideaway at Hogwarts. Hermione… she was Hermione.
Both images were ones he'd been ignoring. There were feelings, some he understood and others that he didn't, complicated ones, associated with those images, especially regarding Hermione.
Not wanting to read any further into those thoughts, or the emotions welling within him, with Tonks grinning cheekily at him, he ignored them and her comment.
"Well if you have the time," began Harry as he moved passed Tonks toward the staircase. "You should join us for dinner. I'm sure Remus will enjoy your company..."
Harry trailed off as he approached the stairs and missed the look that crossed Tonks face. The sound of many voices had caught his attention. Once at the top of the stairs, he saw a bunch of people, Order members, some he knew, and others who were new, were entering the house and making their way to the dining room.
"What's going on?"
Tonks crossed to next to Harry.
"Bloody hell, it's that time already?" Tonks said exasperatedly after seeing the parade of people. "Could've sworn I had another hour. 'Scuse me, gotta run. There's an Order meeting."
It took less than three seconds for the implications to sink in.
Having automatically stepped aside to let Tonks pass by, he started following her downstairs.
"I'm coming, too."
Tonks stopped on the bottom stair and faced him. Her expression was apologetic.
"Sorry, Harry," whispered Tonks, mindful of the portrait of Mrs. Black nearby. Harry was amazed she hadn't woken up already. "You know the deal; Order members only in there."
Not dissuaded in the least, Harry stated, "Then it's time I join."
Tonks hesitated. "It isn't that I don't believe you are ready..."
"This is different than when I first arrived here," continued Harry in the face of Tonks reluctance. "A lot has changed. I've been learning all year for this. I'm ready now."
Tonks' hair changed from pink to blue to green and back again. Her conflict was evident.
She was saved from a response by Remus's arrival behind Harry. He'd changed into a more wizardly outfit complete with his robes.
"Evening, Tonks," he said.
"Remus, help me with him."
Harry turned to Remus. "I'm joining the Order meeting."
The amount of expressions Remus cycled through rivalled Tonks's hair colour changes.
"Let me save you the trouble of, Remus," began Harry. "I'm accepted as of age in the wizarding world, so I can't be denied due to age. I'm in the thick of this war regardless of whether I'm in that room or not. But being in there, knowing as much as I can, I'll have a better shot and keeping myself and my friends safe."
The subtle emphasis was there; his friends that Remus knew Harry would be taking out of Hogwarts, not just Hermione and Ron.
"Harry, I wish you had discussed this with me earlier," chided Remus. For some reason, it worked; Harry felt a smidge of guilt. He supposed he was being a bit pushy. "However, I will support your joining the Order."
"Remus," hissed Tonks, surprised at his caving. Harry grinned in spite of himself.
Remus looked her dead in the eye and said, "Tonks, remember what we discussed after the Hogwarts Express was attacked? It's time."
Harry looked between the two, noting the significant look Remus was giving. After several moments Tonks's expression melted a bit.
"Alright," she said. "Come on then."
The decision made, Harry followed Tonks and Lupin downstairs into the kitchen.
The room was crowded with upwards of two dozen people, most standing in small groups chatting amongst themselves. A few were already seated at the magically enlarged table, munching on some snacks someone had set out. Expansion Charms on the room were in effect to accommodate them all. A familiar thick cloud of smoke and rank odour stemmed from the other side of the room, but Harry couldn't discern its origin.
At first nobody noticed his arrival. Then someone unfamiliar called out, "Potter?"
The room hushed almost instantly and the occupants sought out Harry and scrutinised him.
Remus stepped forward. He spoke in a calm, precise tone. "Harry is here to join the Order of the Phoenix."
The room was dead silent. Then, "Aye, about darn time if ya ask me."
Harry followed the familiar voice to the back of the room. Mad-Eye Moody stepped forward from behind Hestia Jones with a loud clunk of his wooden leg. "Good to see ya, lad."
"You too, sir," acknowledged a somewhat confused but appreciative Harry.
"Dumbledore tells me ya been keeping busy," continued Moody, ignoring the somewhat bewildered and displeased people around him. "That'd be a matter 'o time before ya got to this point. Glad to have ya on board."
"It's good to be here."
Murmuring voices arose at the exchange. Harry looked around at the people in the room, noting those present and those noticeably unhappy at his presence.
"Ignore 'em, lad," said Moody with a dismissive gesture. "Far too many get their knickers in a twist about anything new."
Harry grinned at the old Auror. Movement caught his eye and he saw Mundungus Fletcher stash his magical pipe, the source of the smoke and odour, and attempt to surreptitiously move to the far end of the room out of sight.
"Hold on," an unfamiliar voice said. "Just hold on a tick here. Since when do we introduce Order members without voting? I don't care if it's Harry-bloody-Potter. The rest us were voted on and he should be too!"
"And isn't 'e a bit young?" added another.
Harry crossed his arms at the blatant show of opposition. He wasn't sure what their problem was. But whatever the reason, Harry stood up straighter and readied to defend himself.
He was pre-empted by Tonks.
"Settle down, Adams." Tonks scowled at the first person who'd spoken. "Nobody is saying he isn't getting a vote. As for you, Burke, Potter's recognised as an adult and has been for months."
"That's enough everyone," said Remus as he stepped forward in an effort to be peacekeeper. "We will discuss this further when the meeting begins."
"Most of us are 'ere," countered Burke, his accent clearly marking him as Irish. He was pale and thin, but there was something in his eyes. Harry could tell this wasn't a weak-willed wizard. "I say let us debate this!"
Any further discussion was dispelled by the arrival of Dumbledore. The Headmaster wore perhaps the most normal pair of robes Harry had ever seen him wear: maroon. Snape entered the kitchen a few steps behind. The latter looked in a foul mood, his expression dark and, as per usual, exuded a sense of menace.
Almost instantly after sweeping into the room, Snape met Harry's eyes and he scowled.
"Social time has passed, Potter," said Snape scornfully. "It's time for the grownups to talk. Leave us."
"Actually, I intend to stay," replied Harry offhandedly. Snape froze in his progress to the dining table. His eyes bored into Harry's.
"Don't be absurd." Snape stepped forward, removed his cloak and draped it over a chair near the head of the table, not once taking his eyes off Harry. "You and your enormously inflated head have no place in this room."
Harry bristled. It had been some time since their previous encounter but Snape clearly hadn't lost a step when trying to get under his skin.
"I have as much reason to be in the Order as you do," said Harry. "I have been at the centre of every major event surrounding Voldemort since his downfall."
Snape sneered. "All that reveals is your mindless obsession to be the centre of attention, even at the cost of those around you. It's a shame that your precious Godfather isn't here to defend you."
"That's more than enough, Snape," cut in Moody. "Don't ya forget you're guilty of far more than this'n 'ere may be. I wouldn't be the one ta throw stones if I were you."
Tonks, Remus, Moody and a few others, including a previously unnoticed and quiet Arthur Weasley, all stood clearly in opposition to Snape. Harry, however, was infuriated. Every fibre in him wanted to retaliate. But that was exactly what Snape was after, to prove that Harry was nothing more than an arrogant, foolhardy and hot-headed child.
A few deep breaths calmed him considerably.
Sensing he wasn't going to garner the response he'd sought, Snape turned to Dumbledore.
"Did you know of this?" questioned Snape. The Headmaster made no reaction except to smile benignly.
Snape turned away, clearly disgusted. His chair sharply flew out from the table. Snape plonked himself down without any semblance of grace.
The rest of the Order began to take their seats. Harry took a seat at the far end of the table from Snape next to Remus. Tonks sat on the other side of Remus.
"I bring this session to order," said Dumbledore, and all voices ceased immediately. All attention was now focused on the Headmaster. This, Harry noted, was where Dumbledore was in his element. The respect and authority he commanded, his charisma, was something to revere. All disagreements with the man aside, Harry couldn't help admiring that kind of presence.
"First, we will address the membership of Harry Potter." Dumbledore watched the crowd through his half-moon spectacles, judging the reactions. "It is my belief that Mr. Potter can only be an asset to the actions and cause of the Order of the Phoenix. He has shown himself to be an exemplary student and sound of character. I fully endorse his application."
Harry was a little gobsmacked at the complete support he was receiving from the Headmaster.
"Is there anyone who will second and third the application?"
Tonks and Remus immediately responded with an "I!"
"Excellent. The members present this evening total twenty-eight excluding myself and Mr. Potter," continued Dumbledore after making a quick headcount. "As is custom, a majority vote rules. An even split will be decided by the current head of the Order: myself. This is acceptable?"
Mumbles of agreement filled with the room. None took issue with the format of the vote.
"Those in favour raise your hand."
Harry rapidly attempted to count the amount of hands in the air. He could've been wrong but there were definitely more than fourteen.
Dumbledore nodded. "Those against please raise your hand now."
Noticeably fewer raised their hands. Harry breathed a sigh of relief. Remus turned to him and placed his hand on Harry's shoulder in support.
"The vote stands at seventeen for, eight against and three abstained from voting," announced Dumbledore. He once more examined the people around him, finally settling on Harry, who met his eyes. "Congratulations, Mr. Potter. You are now officially a member of the Order of the Phoenix."
There were a few polite claps from around the room, which Harry accepted politely.
"Thank you, sir."
"We will discuss at a later date how to work around your current circumstances to participate in the Order," continued Dumbledore. "For now, we must move this meeting along."
"As we met only two days prior, we will keep this session brief and focus on new information that has been brought to us," said Dumbledore. "Let us begin with the report from the Auror interrogation of the captured Death Eaters from the other nights attack. Nymphadora?"
Dumbledore sat down and Tonks stood. Her hair morphed into a black, army style cut. All eyes turned to her except Harry's, who looked through the gathered people, noting Kingsley absence. This must've been why Tonks was let out early.
Harry focused on Tonks as she started talking. It was a rare sight to see her so serious.
"Two Death Eaters were captured unharmed and were questioned within twelve hours," stated Tonks. "Their names were Joseph Walsh and James Young, both nineteen and apparently childhood friends. From Veritaserum questioning, we've learned these two encountered a similar format as the previous recruits the Auror Department has captured and questioned: a meeting in an underground pub, this time the Squalid Squalor in Manchester. The pub is a known hangout of shady characters. Their attack on the Sunderland outpost was their test. Depending on their performance, they were told by their contact – no names were exchanged –they would pass the first round and move on to the second. They would be accepted as Death Eaters upon reaching requirements they weren't told. Neither Walsh nor Young are aware of any other targets, nor who the Death Eater was that led their assault.
"However, once I left with the other Aurors, Kingsley asked a few additional questions. Young overheard a conversation between the lead Death Eater on their assault and another man whom he doesn't know. The word 'Norwich' was used several times."
A few Order members began conversing with others upon this revelation. Harry leant closer to Remus, seeking answers.
"This is the second reference to Norwich in the last few days," said Remus softly. Harry nodded and leant back, absorbing that piece of information.
"Quiet please," said Dumbledore. The Order quieted within moments. Dumbledore addressed Tonks, "Is there more?"
Tonks nodded. "The Auror Department now has a plant in the Squalid Squalor. However, with past experiences we don't expect any luck there. The prisoners said they were Portkeyed to a staging area in a warehouse prior to their assault, where they Apparated in. The recruits were never outside of the building the staging area was in so we have no leads as to the location. Lastly, the interrogation of the two injured prisoners is happening as we speak. Hopefully Kingsley will have more information for us soon."
"Thank you." Dumbledore turned to his left and looked at Snape, then back to the Order. "Severus informs me he has information to report. Severus, if you please."
Snape stood brusquely and all eyes were drawn to him. He too commanded attention at his whim. However, Harry found Snape lacked the charisma of a leader that Dumbledore had in spades.
"The Dark Lord was pleased with the casualties in this round of attacks," drawled Snape. He sounded bored, as if this were naught but a tiresome chore. "He has expressed keen interest in a rapid follow up, with a suggested time frame of the next seventy-two hours as of two hours ago. I was called out of the meeting to check on my project early into the discussion for potential targets. However, prior my exit I overheard the first two suggestions: Cambridge and Norwich."
The Order once more broke into discussion between neighbours. It didn't take a genius to figure out what was being said.
Norwich mentioned for the third time in a few days? That was more than a coincidence.
Dumbledore rose from his seat. The Order once more quieted down within moments once again.
"Thank you," said Dumbledore again. "I believe the information brought to us today warrants a discussion on a course of action. Three mentions of a city in the past several days. The obvious conclusion to draw is that Norwich will be one of the targets in the next series of attacks. Does anyone have a different conclusion to draw?"
The Order collectively looked around the room, searching to see if anyone had. After an age, Moody spoke.
"Aye, it certainly seems as if we have a likely target. However, we can't ignore the possibility that this is a red herring."
Dumbledore nodded. "Anyone else have another conclusion?"
"No? Then we shall address the possibility of a trap."
"Can Snape confirm this for us?" asked Adams. "Him being our informant and all."
Snape looked the picture of disgust. "I cannot confirm with any certainty that Norwich is a target or that it will be targeted in the imminent attacks. You know this as well as I, Adams."
"We have three different sources all mentioning the same city," Hestia Jones said, deftly shutting down the argument before it began. "If this is a plan by You-Know-Who to lure out a mole in his organisation, it is well timed and executed. The Order has not been in the position to intercept an attack in months, and I don't think many would disagree with me when I say we are desperate for a victory."
"I agree," said Tonks. "This may be a trap, and we should proceed with utmost caution in case it is. But we are now in the position to be able to stop a likely attack. We may have finally caught a break. Can we really let this chance pass us by on the chance that it is a trap without any evidence to support that?"
"The girl has a point," said an unknown man. "We've fallen well behind He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named over the last few months. Right now we're flying blind as to his plans. Trap or not, we have to take the chance."
The discussion went back and forth for several more minutes, but Harry heard less and less as it went on. Instead, he was considering what he was hearing for himself.
The Order was struggling, more so than Harry ever thought they were. Even though Remus had confessed to the Order not knowing Voldemort's plans, to the extent that was being intimated here was grim news indeed.
But what really drew Harry's attention was the timeframe. Seventy-two hours. Given it was Thursday, Harry would be at Grimmauld Place for another seventy-two hours. If a plan to defend Norwich was on the cards, Harry knew he had to be involved for his own reasons and to participate in the war.
Harry was drawn back into the conversation by the sound of Dumbledore's voice.
"I believe we have reached a consensus," said Dumbledore. He reached into a pocket in his robes and withdrew some sort of sweet. He removed the wrapping and popped it in his mouth. "We will attempt to intervene with the primary objective the safety of the Aurors stationed in Norwich. The secondary aim will be to capture and secure the Death Eater in command."
Dumbledore turned to Tonks. "Where is the Auror outpost in Norwich?"
"A few miles east of the city in semi-forested parkland," replied Tonks. "Muggles refer to it as Whittingham Country Park. I'm not certain how many Aurors are stationed during the night. Six months ago there were six minimum at all times. Now there could be as few as three."
Dumbledore thanked Tonks and she retook her seat. The Headmaster turned to the other side of the table. "Severus, is there any chance in your opinion that Tom will strike tonight?"
Snape mulled this over for a moment. "Unlikely. The Dark Lord rarely acts without careful consideration. I believe if Norwich is to be attacked, it will be tomorrow evening or Saturday. A rapid strike will be riskier. He is pleased at his successes, but hasn't become complacent."
"In that case, will you, Hestia, and you, Emmanuel, scout out the area tonight?" asked Dumbledore. Jones readily agreed. Emmanuel, a darker-skinned, late-thirties man with a muss of black hair, agreed too. "Good. Borrow Alastor's cloaks. Be very cautious. Tom may also have scouts in the area."
"After we have intelligence on the site, we will devise positioning and action. Until then, we will assume we require the usual Anti-Apparition and Anti-Portkey fields extending beyond the width of the standard Auror outpost setup."
Moody chimed in. "Standard teams of four. Cover all avenues of approach and keep movement to a minimum until the enemy is in sight. Don't underestimate our opponents because they are new recruits. Capture if possible. Kill only if necessary."
The Order broke out into conversation again, though this time there was more purpose to it. A few people stood up and moved around to talk to other people. Harry noted that there was a vibrant energy in the room coupled with a sense of purpose that had been lacking at the beginning of the meeting.
Harry, however, drew his focus back to Dumbledore. Gathering his courage, he prepared to make perhaps his boldest ever move.
The Order's conversations died one by one as they began to notice Harry standing, hands on the table, staring at Dumbledore. The Headmaster returned his gaze firmly. It took almost a minute for the room to fall silent.
"Sir, I wish to take part."
There was a weighty pause, perhaps ten seconds long, before the first voice was heard.
"You can't be serious!"
Well, it wasn't dramatic, but it encapsulated the speakers' point fairly effectively.
Other voices added their opinions, generally in the negative. Harry ignored them, and focused entirely on the one man whose opinion mattered most. Dumbledore seemed blissfully unaware of the cacophony of words around him.
Eventually, the room fell quiet once more as people noticed the apparent futility of their complaints. Some who had risen retook their seats, again watching the pair at opposite ends of the table.
"You believe you are ready, Harry?"
The gaze leveled at Harry was powerful and unflinching, the tone of voice resonant, conveying a sense of deeper meaning. Harry returned it, his conviction growing by the minute. This was the chance he'd been after to prove himself, to prove to Dumbledore and to himself that he was ready for the outside world, to tackle the Horcrux hunt.
Dumbledore moved for the first time in several minutes, adjusting his half-moon glasses. Behind them, his eyes, Harry noticed, were soft and concerned.
"You know I'm ready, sir," continued Harry earnestly. "I've been working all year toward this."
An age seemed to pass before Dumbledore once more spoke. "Very well."
"Albus, really, he's been in the Order for all of five minutes!"
"Oh shut it, Adams." Tonks snapped in response, her hair changing from her typical pink to a fiery red. "Harry's faced more than you have, and is a better duelist than you'll ever be."
The same one that had spoken against Harry earlier scoffed. Harry took in the sight of the man properly having now firmly labelled him under 'opposition' in his head. The man was early or mid-thirties, clean-shaven and owned an entirely bland set of facial features. Plain brown eyes, brushed up light brown hair, and a slightly too large nose.
"I'm afraid I must also disagree with Nymphadora's unbiased opinion." Snape said silkily. Tonks gave the man a dirty look. "Potter is young and headstrong, and overestimates his capabilities. Even if he has managed to improve drastically in the last few months, a fact I find extremely unlikely, he is untrained outside of the classroom and has a tendency to charge in without any semblance of a plan. He is a liability and will cause unnecessary additional risk to any and every Order activity he is involved in."
More damned murmurs of agreement filled the room.
Remus stood, and all eyes turned to him.
"Albus, if I may?" Remus received a cordial nod in return from Dumbledore. "I have observed Harry over the last few days. He has grown considerably in the past year, as a person and as a wizard. In the past few days, I have witnessed him perform magic that many ten years his senior still struggle to accomplish and he performed them with ease. He is more capable than any of us give him credit for."
For a moment, Remus faced Harry, examined his determined expression and sighed. "Truthfully, if I could persuade him out of this course of action, I wouldn't stop until I had. I owe it to James and Lily to watch out for him. However, he is firm in his convictions. He has proven himself to me to be completely resolute in involving himself in the fight against Voldemort."
"Be that as it may, Lupin," wheezed Doge, "The boy is still unexperienced and unprepared for the tasks the Order demands."
"What better situation to allow him to gain that experience?" countered Lupin. "Let's be truthful here, this mission isn't the most sensitive we've undertaken. We have no reason to believe this as anything other than another series of new recruit attacks. These lower key missions are how we induct new field members; it has been since the Order was founded. Harry is no different."
"With all due respect, Remus, that isn't true," Adams scowled. "If he's as all important as he seems to be, then it's crucial he remains safe."
"If he's important as he seems to be, then it is imperative that he acquires experience in the field! What better way than participating in this mission!" Remus countered, tapping the table with a finger to punctuate his point. He turned his gaze to the rest of the Order. "Harry will be surrounded by experienced members of the Order. He won't be any more at risk than previous inductees. He isn't even as green as most of the younger ones."
The sounds of a chair scraping along the floor drew everyone's attention to Arthur Weasley.
"June last year, my son and daughter were part of Harry's group that broke into the Department of Mysteries," said Arthur, his voice calm and composed. The Order was silent, listening intently. "I remember my astonishment that both my children were alive when the Order arrived. From what I'm told, these six children held out for nearly twenty minutes on their own against some of the fiercest Death Eaters. I don't presume to believe that these Death Eaters were attempting to kill our children. However, these six children managed to hold out for that long before a dozen adult and far more experienced wizards could round them up."
Arthur let that sink in for a moment. He then said, "Harry taught other students, even older students, for several months in Defence last year. My older sons, Fred and George, were members too and they swear that Harry was the best teacher they'd ever had. This is all before the extra study given to him this year." He paused once more, taking a deep breath. "I am compelled to agree with Remus. It is time Harry becomes involved in the Order."
Harry had to wonder at Arthur's motives. It wasn't that Harry wasn't grateful for the vote of confidence, but he wasn't sure why it was being given. Was there a play here or was Arthur simply acting on his beliefs?
"Nobody here is dismissing the efforts of Potter on that occasion, Arthur," another unfamiliar voice said. Harry whirled around to face the owner, an early-thirties woman with medium length black hair and brown eyes. She had prominent cheekbones and a sharp, pointed chin. "But these attacks on Auror outposts have only had one objective as far as we can tell: to kill. Can you say without question that those in Potter's group will be able to rely upon him if our attempts to capture fail and we are forced into a kill or be killed scenario?"
Harry didn't sense any antagonism toward him from this woman. Perhaps she simply was concerned he may be unable to function in kill or be killed scenarios.
Truthfully, he wasn't sure he could.
"If Harry is expected to stand up to Voldemort, he needs to gain experience. He cannot do this if we keep him forever sheltered," countered Remus again.
A moment of pause followed. Harry again focused intently on the Headmaster. Dumbledore was impassive as ever, offering little in the way of hints toward his thoughts.
Then, Dumbledore calmly said, "Valid points have been raised on both sides. However, the Order as a whole is divided on the subject. Therefore, I cannot in good conscience allow Harry to be a part of the main group."
Tonks swore under her breath and was a second from interrupting when Remus laid a hand on her shoulder. He shook his head, his expression neutral. Harry, too, waited with what may have been bated breath.
A few pleased looks were plastered on some of the Order members Harry did not know. Curiously, Snape's lip was curling, perhaps one of the few obvious emotions, scowling aside, he ever displayed: a sign of displeasure.
His heart skipped a beat. It couldn't be…
"However," continued Dumbledore, drawing all attention back towards him. He continued to meet Harry's eye, and for a second Harry could've sworn there was a half-smile there. "I believe Harry is ready to begin an introduction to the Order's activities. He will assist in maintaining the perimeter around the site, and ensure Mr. Weasley is undisturbed while erecting and maintaining our Anti-Apparition and Anti-Portkey fields if engagement occurs."
The Order once again descended into argument; however, Harry had no ear for it. Instead, he nodded to the Headmaster who offered one in return. Something unspoken had passed in their exchange, something more than what appeared on the surface.
You believe you are you ready, Harry? Ready to face Voldemort and hunt his Horcruxes? Ready to face the truest evil Tom created?
"Is something wrong? You've been very quiet today."
Harry took a bite out of his sandwich as he stared out across the field of grass he and Remus sat in. Dozens of people were scattered around eating their own lunches or tossing or kicking a ball to each other. The sun had just reached its zenith and beat down on them, just warm enough to be uncomfortable.
Beside him sat Remus watching him concernedly as he had for much of the morning. It had made for a strange morning since Harry had been doing much the same to him given tonight was the night of the full moon.
"Has something happened since last night?" continued Remus. "I thought you would be happy with how the meeting turned out." He set aside his unfinished lunch – some Thai thing Harry had never heard of – and Harry quickly got the impression Remus was going to push this.
Harry swallowed his bite and licked his lips, formulating in his mind how much to disclose.
"I am happy that Dumbledore allowed me into the Order and the mission," said Harry carefully. "However, it's who I'm partnered with that concerns me."
"Bill? Do you and Bill Weasley not get along?"
"I suspect we won't."
Bill Weasley. God, this could be a potential disaster.
It hadn't hit him until Harry lay in bed reviewing the Order meeting. A Weasley who knew runes? It had to be Bill.
And Bill knew. He knew. Fleur said she'd told him. She'd said Bill didn't trust him. Not that Harry could blame him. But what kind of reaction could you have to seeing the person who your fiancée cheated on with?
Nothing good, Harry mused.
"Will this be a problem?"
Harry's face was grim when he said, "No, it won't. I won't let it."
The Order, the mission, was more important than any issues between Bill and himself. Harry hoped Bill felt the same way.
"If you need to talk about it further, I'm here," offered Remus.
"I appreciate that," replied Harry. He doubted he'd take up the offer.
Seeing Harry wasn't in a sharing mood, Remus reclaimed his lunch and demolished the remainder while they watched a friendly football game developed between a group of friends and a few strangers. Harry felt a minor pang of loss. Quidditch would be something he'd miss when he left Hogwarts in a little over a week's time.
A considerable time passed in companionable silence. Upon completing his lunch, Remus looked at Harry once more and said, "Tomorrow we should start casting protections. I believe it will consume most of the day, if not more given my condition following a transformation."
"Just tell me exactly what to do. I'm sure I can handle it."
"I'm sure you can."
Remus shifted on the grass beside Harry.
"Whatever happens this evening, be careful. Don't underestimate any Death Eater. I think it was a fair point brought up last night. You don't have much experience in the chaos of a real battle. Just be careful, Harry, and stay on your guard at all times."
Harry turned away from the match as one side scored and a series of cheers followed from the scorer's teammates. Remus was watching the match, too, a troubled look on his face. Harry turned back and saw the two sides were shaking hands and grabbing their things. Lunch was over.
"I know," said Harry as he gathered his rubbish. "I'll be careful."
The afternoon quickly passed while finishing furnishing the house, and all too soon it was time to return to Grimmauld for an early dinner. A handful of Order members were already gathered in the kitchen preparing for the dusk meeting.
The dining room quickly began to fill up around half five with people and an aura of nervous energy. Dumbledore arrived shortly before six with Hestia Jones and Emmanuel Gray in tow. Bill Weasley entered behind them, but remained standing near the entrance.
"Hestia, if you may?" said Dumbledore, gesturing to the table.
Hestia stepped forward and made some complex motions with her wand. Suddenly, an overhead map appeared of an area Harry presumed to be Whittingham Country Park. A long dark rectangle was central to the image, with greens of various shades scattered across large portions of the rest. A narrow path spanned the length, a short distance from a wide waterway.
"Hestia and Emmanuel have reported no sign of Death Eater scouts," announced Dumbledore. "The Auror outpost is here," he pointed to the rectangle, "in a grassy field with only scattered trees within one hundred metres on three sides, and the River Yare on the other, to the north. Due to the limited cover, I recommend we adjust to groups of three. We cannot risk tipping off the enemy with too many numbers. One group will hide under our Invisibility Cloak's on the edge of the Auror alarm fields and two other groups in the trees on the east and western sides."
Dumbledore turned to Harry. "Misters Weasley, Potter and White will hide in this group of trees on the south side near the highway. I anticipate an attack would enter from either the east or the west, but remain on your guard at all times."
A few more specifics were spouted by Dumbledore, Hestia and Emmanuel on the site itself and the likely avenues of attack. And then it was time.
"Alright wizards and witches," said Moody gruffly. "You know ya groups. Get your Portkeys ready."
Harry approached Bill, whom had been quiet throughout the meeting. The red-haired man looked up at Harry with an inscrutable expression, almost tangible tension in the air.
A third person joined them. He appeared to be in his late-twenties or early-thirties, with short black hair and a skewed nose, as if it had been broken and not repaired properly. He sized up Harry and Bill and gave a wry grin, completely ignoring or not reading the atmosphere.
"Exciting times, eh mates? Let's make some magic happen."
Harry and Bill looked at each other with raised eyebrows.
All things considered, this was going to be an interesting night.
Harry was bored.
It was nearing midnight. Four hours of kneeling, crouching and sitting just inside a treeline was passed grating and was now exasperating.
The half-hour walk from the Portkey drop zone to their position was the highlight of the night so far, with little communication between the threesome beyond the occasional call for water or fruit from their supplies. At times Harry felt someone's eyes on him. He suspected Bill more than White, whom appeared more reliable than his first impression had indicated. He'd been thorough and professional in securing their site and keeping quiet.
All said, Harry maintained his focus as much as possible on the wide area surrounding the brick single floor building that housed the Norwich Aurors. Harry assumed the inside was magically enhanced, as magical structures generally were. The only signs of life from the building had been a changing of the guard at eight, shortly after their arrival.
Shifting on his knees, Harry sighed audibly. His dark jeans were covered in dirt from the not entirely dry ground some metres into the treeline on the southern side of the park. The late nights, lack of sleep, and the waiting was wearing him down. He wasn't about to fall asleep on the job, but he was definitely feeling the hour.
At least his surroundings had been interesting to look at for the first hour. Wide open space covered the distance between Harry and the Auror building, covered in lush green grass. The northern side, however, was a recreational area, with playing equipment, picnic tables, and a waterfront appeared to have been recently done up. Lights were scattered throughout the area, but were distant enough from the Auror building to leave it largely darkened. A path Harry recognised from the overhead image separated the two.
"Chin up, Harry," whispered White from his position leaning against an old oak tree a few metres away. "We've got another couple hours before the window closes."
Harry nodded and resumed his search of the park. Mist was starting to roll in, the night cool but not enough yet for warming charms over his woollen jumper. The sounds of cars from the highway could sometimes be heard when the wind blew.
Ten minutes later, it was White who sighed. "Cover for me, mates. Need a bathroom break."
Without a word, he disappeared quietly into the trees in the direction of the highway. Harry glanced at Bill and saw the latter was watching him.
"I'm surprised you're here," said Bill. His voice was calm and quiet, barely heard from a distance of ten metres let alone to anyone else listening.
"What do you mean?"
Bill reached up and flicked his fang earring. "I mean, you have your own group separate from the Order. I seem to recall you specifically telling me that you didn't trust the Order or want anything to do with us. Why are you here now?"
Harry turned back to the field and resumed his watch. "None of your business."
"Maybe. Maybe not. There is something that's my business that I want to ask you. I hope you'll offer me the courtesy I feel you owe me and be honest. What is Fleur to you?"
Harry turned to face him.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
Bill's eyes narrowed, but his voice remained quiet and calm. "It's a simple question: what is Fleur to you?"
"Are you kidding me? You've waited this long to start in on this? We both have responsibilities to be carrying on with right now! This can wait."
Bill leaned forward, his expression grim.
"I'm ready to cast the fields the moment I have the signal. Now, for the third and final time: what is Fleur to you?"
Harry glared at Bill first in disbelief, then irritation.
"Fleur told me she told you," Harry bit out. "It just sort of happened. What's there to say beyond it happened but it shouldn't have?" He shrugged and turned away.
Bill said nothing for a moment. His eventual response was noticeably emotional.
"Don't make light of this, Harry. I love this woman. And yes, we've discussed this more times than I care to recall. But I want to hear it from you. What were you thinking? Why did you do it? Was it fun for you? What are your intentions toward her?"
Harry whirled around back to Bill. "God, what do you want me to say?" he hissed. "'I love her and intend to steal her from you'? To this day I don't understand what happened. I was hit by the Cruciatus, and she took it upon herself to care for me while I recovered. I didn't ask for any of it, but I'm not going to deny that kissing her wasn't the most amazing experience of my life."
Complete silence followed. After a pause, Harry took a few deep breaths, already thinking he'd been too honest.
Once calmer, he made eye contact and added, "But she's with you, Bill. I know it was wrong. I knew it was wrong, but I let it happen anyway. Now though? I won't interfere with someone when they're in a relationship. The last thing I want is for you two to break up over what happened with me."
Harry held Bill's gaze until he was forced to blink, and turned back to field once more.
For a full minute the only sounds were those of nocturnal animals and the wind in the trees. Near-silent footfalls broke it.
White emerged to greet the pointy ends of two wands. He looked between the two wizards and sighed.
"Settle, mates. It's me. And keep it quiet you two. I could hear the sound of your voices from fifty metres. I don't know what's so important you had to wait until I left, but stuff it on the backburner."
Harry and Bill withdrew their wands and returned to their respective duties. White looked between the two and shook his head, returning to his spot by the old oak.
The waiting continued.
Another hour passed. Now cold, with visible breath, Harry grumbled to himself about wasted sleep time.
It was twenty-past one in the morning when Harry officially figured the night was a bust.
Seconds later a distant sound, unlike any he'd heard all night, disrupted the silence of the dead of night. Harry perked up from his seated position against a towering birch, instantly alert. He took a dozen steps to the last tree before the open field and scanned the parkland from one side to the other.
There. He spotted movement to the west amidst the trees some two hundred metres away from the outpost. Quickly, he tapped his glasses with his wand. His vision significantly improved in range and clarity.
The supersensory charm was a neat little spell when used in short bursts. Flitwick had taught it to him several months prior. Quite simply, it allowed for the heightening of one or more senses. The Professor had emphasised its numerous drawbacks, however, as they could be severe if the charm used too often or for too long or simply in inappropriate situations.
But Harry didn't need it for long. It only took moments to spot someone standing in the tree line where the path leading from one end of the field to the other disappeared toward the township of Norwich. The figure's features were shrouded in the darkness, but the black cloak was enough for Harry to peg him as a likely Death Eater.
"We may have a Death Eater."
Harry didn't take his eyes off of the figure, but heard the shuffling and movement from behind him as the other two became attentive.
"Can you be certain?" was Bill's reply.
White appeared at Harry's side, looking in the same direction. As they watched, the shadowy figure stepped out of the trees and through the light stemming from the lampposts periodically placed along the path, revealing without a doubt the man's affiliation.
Harry tapped a finger to his glasses. "Supersensory Charm. There's one person, black cloak, looking around – no, hang on." The distant crack of Apparition went off again as the figure disappeared. "He's gone."
"Remain alert," said White. "That was a scout."
Increasingly impressed with White, Harry stayed prepared for when the man returned. No doubt with friends.
This time, the wait wasn't long. Less than a minute later, considerably more cracks of Apparition filled the night.
For Bill's benefit, Harry related what he saw. "Now there are three, four – okay, there are four, but I swear I heard more sounds of Apparition. This is definitely it."
"I heard those, too. I'll need twenty seconds to get these up and running once the signal comes," said Bill, quickly returning to his runes, something Harry hadn't made much sense of despite his reading in the subject. "Let me know the moment you see it."
Meanwhile, the four Death Eaters had been on the move, rapidly closing the distance to where Harry estimated the Auror alarm fields extended to. The one in front, the original figure, was striding with purpose. His companions were less confident and disciplined, often twisting their heads and walking at different paces. Despite Harry's increased vision, however, the masks and robes left little identifying features to note.
"There, to the east," whispered White, "Between the swings and the pathway."
Harry turned to see what White was looking at it and spotted them almost immediately. Another four Death Eaters were rapidly approaching the other side of the Auror outpost.
The two groups were now only one hundred metres from the Auror building. Harry gripped his wand tighter. Surely they'd crossed the alarm fields that Dumbledore had mentioned were present.
The one in front on the western group, the leader Harry assumed, stopped about fifty metres from the building. The other three Death Eaters, all varying degrees shorter than the first, spread out beside him. The tall one must've said something to his compatriots as all their wands rose.
"That's the signal," said White loudly, the need for silence over. Harry too saw the green sparks from the waterfront. He cast the counter-charm on his eyes and blinked a few times to recover from the abrupt change back.
At that moment a dark red robed Auror stepped out from the blind side of the building. He spotted the Death Eaters. He let out a shout before he was bombarded with curses. A hasty shield and some quick reflexes seemed to save him temporarily, but the Auror was in trouble.
Another series of cracks filled the air, some distant but several much closer.
"Done!" called Bill.
A strange sensation passed over Harry's skin as the runes were activated. However, it was mostly forgotten as his body surged with adrenaline. Harry searched amidst the treeline to their east, in the direction he'd heard more sounds of Apparition.
He felt more than heard White move closer.
"Did you –?"
"Quiet," whispered White. "Disillusion yourselves. I'll check it out."
Harry obeyed. He tapped his head and felt the cold, dripping sensation down his back associated with a successful casting. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bill doing the same.
"If I'm not back in ninety seconds, assume I've been spotted and warn the rest there are more."
The shimmer of someone under the spell passed through his vision for a moment, but was quickly lost in the trees and darkness. There had been no sounds of footfalls this time.
A scream of agony filled the air from the field. Harry turned back to the fight taking place and frantically searched for the source, fearing an Order member was injured. In the interim, two more Aurors had appeared, but one was down. The others were trying to shield him and themselves from an attack seemingly from both sides. The west Order group (even from this distance, Harry could make out Kingsley towering form) was engaging the first Death Eater group and splitting their attention. The outpost blocked off the remainder of the battle. The sounds, however, indicate there was more fighting taking place than Harry could see.
Harry tore his eyes from the spectacle. It had been at least forty-five seconds since White left. His grip on his wand tightened. Maybe it was nerves, but he couldn't shake the feeling this was taking too long.
With a flick of his wand, Harry's footfalls became silent, too. Slowly, eyes still canvasing for signs of life, he moved toward where he'd last spotted Bill.
All Harry really understood about the quick and dirty setup Bill was using was that the fields were temperamental and fundamentally less reliable than a set fixed to a location. Essentially, the setup required constant monitoring in case of a failure, so Bill wouldn't be far.
Harry stopped about five metres from the setup and listened for any further signs of life beyond his own. His heart pounded as the adrenaline flowed. Every second passed agonisingly slowly as Harry waited for White to return.
A nearby shout was quickly followed by a scream. The scream was cut off almost immediately.
Harry cursed. He recognised the voice. White was down. He reached into his expanded back pocket. Magic was handy for keeping his Invisibility Cloak on him at all times.
"Bill," whispered Harry harshly, trying to spot the disillusioned man as he gathered the Cloak around himself.
"That was White, wasn't it?" His voice was close. Meters, likely, but Harry couldn't see the shimmer.
"Yes. I have my Invisibility Cloak on me. Here." Harry tossed it in the direction he thought he'd heard Bill's voice come from. It was snatched out of the air almost immediately.
"Good." Harry turned back to where he'd heard White scream. He knew what he had to do. "Send a Patronus to the Order and let them know what's happened. I'm going to try and circle around and rescue White."
If he's alive.
Without waiting for a response, Harry quickly crouch-ran passed where Bill was and deeper into the trees. His plan was fairly simple: circle around and try to spot the White and enemy before they spotted him.
It took less than thirty seconds for Harry to locate them. Another group of four Death Eaters – black robes, masks – were walking toward the edge of the trees. One was lagging behind, and fell to the ground. Even from his distance Harry could see an arm obviously broken judging from the exposed bone. The others stopped and the cry of pain.
"Bleedin' Aurors," one cussed in a thick Scottish accent. He was the biggest of the bunch. His robes did little to hide his bulk. He was looking toward the still ongoing battle. "Knew there'd be actives, but how come there's one out here? I thought this place was meant to be a secret. And how'd this one find us so quick?"
"That one wasn't no Auror," replied another. This one was average height. His hood wasn't on but there was little to identify beyond the brown hair.
Harry ducked passed a few more trees, trying to improve his angle on his foes.
"Shut it you lot," snapped another. This time, it was a woman's voice. "Yaxley wanted us here after Cambridge so we're here. Now we're going to lose out there if we don't help." The woman turned and looked at her companion now trying to stand. "Get up you useless twat. It's not your wand arm."
"I'd like to see you say that after you've taken a Blasting Curse to the arm," he spat. The voice was the young sounding of the lot, maybe a few years older than Harry. "This bloody hurts." He managed to stand on his own, barely, and let out a deep breath. "I think I'm good."
"Smashing," the woman replied sarcastically. Harry figured her the leader. "Now let's move already in case this one had friends. "
Harry had never seen someone Apparate while under Anti-Apparition fields before. For the briefest millisecond, the woman disappeared, only to reappear, stumbling and clutching her head.
"Damnit, someone's set up Anti-Apparition fields."
"I don't like this," said the injured one.
"Nobody cares. We'll run it. The Dark Lord won't be pleased if we fail here tonight. You, watch behind us."
The four took off out into the field. Brown Hair took to watching their back.
Harry searched his surroundings quickly but couldn't see White anywhere. He cast the same spell Hermione had thought to use on the Hogwarts Express to reveal Bellatrix's group, but to no success. White was further in the treeline or simply out of Harry's vision.
His attention quickly returned to the Death Eaters, whom were already nearing halfway across the field. The fighting from this angle was shielded from view by the outpost itself. But the intention was clear; they were going to flank the Order. If Bill's message hadn't gotten through yet – or even if it had, there were far more Death Eaters here than they'd expected and the Order was still preoccupied judging by the shouts and flashes of spellfire – no-one would be expecting another group.
Harry swore. His priority had changed: stop the Death Eaters.
There was a lot of ground to cover to catch up. He ran, quickly reaching full speed, risking that he might be spotted. But it didn't matter. Brown Hair had given up watching behind and was jogging along with his companions.
Despite all the exercise Harry had had over the last several months and the speed he'd developed, the Death Eaters had too big a lead. They were going to get passed the outpost and be able to attack the Aurors and the Order before he'd catch up. So, it was time to slow them down.
Concentrating intensely on the outcome he sought, Harry made a sweeping gesture with his wand. The ground beneath him shifted. An earthy scent of turned soil filled his senses. A bulge swelled forth in the earth before him and rocketed forward, rapidly closing the distance between Harry and his targets.
The injured man was jogging gingerly, cradling his arm. The deformation passed beneath him and his left foot struck the edge of the bulge. His ankle rolled and he fell on his already broken arm. His scream of pain drowned out the sounds of fighting.
Brown Hair turned to see what happened, his face red with exertion and frustration. He was the only one to miss the boulder rise from the ground in front of him. The woman managed to stop herself from colliding with the sudden obstruction. The enormous Scotsman managed to turn sideways and connected shoulder first. Brown Hair didn't see it, connected and went down.
Harry didn't stop to enjoy his success. Having been tracking their reactions to know where to strike, he cast of a pair of Blasting Hexes at the woman and the Scotsman as they searched for the source of their predicament. He followed with a swish and jab in the direction of their fallen comrades.
The woman managed to deflect the spell directed at her. The Scotsman dodged to the side barely, supporting his heavily bruised if not dislocated shoulder. The boulder took a direct hit and broke apart, pieces falling back in and around the hole the boulder had left.
The woman cursed and then began throwing literal ones back at Harry, whom had narrowed their gap to a dozen meters. With ease, Harry parried and dodged the curses and threw a few back before shielding as debris from his shattered boulder was banished in his direction by the Scotsman. The shield held, but the dust clouded his vision for a moment.
The moment of distraction allowed the pair to check on their fallen allies only to find the formerly well-manicured and maintained grass now growing and pinning them on the ground. The injured one never stood a chance, having fallen on his broken arm; Brown Hair was struggling with the persistent lawn, his wand just out of reach. The animated grass held a tight grip on both his wrists, one of his legs and was snaking across his chest with rapid alacrity.
That moment was all the time Harry gave them to counter his charm. With two short wand thrusts he conjured two nets of Acromantula silk, a personal favourite of the spells Flitwick had taught him. The silk shined in the light from the street lamps, oddly beautiful when dissociated from the menacing creatures themselves.
The Scotsman cast a cutting curse at his net, expecting to sever it and render it useless. Harry grinned in remembrance at the first time he encountered it, working under the same logic.
With a twist of his wand, the silk shimmered just before the cutting curse connected. The spell failed, the silk reinforced to withstand most attempts to cut it. The net connected, and the Scotsman acted like anybody who'd walked into a spider web: he panicked and struggled to free himself.
Harry saw out of the corner of his eye with grim satisfaction as the net tightened with his struggles until he tripped over and landed face first.
The woman, meanwhile, had managed to conjure a wooden dummy to act as a shield. It worked. The net connected and the woman start threw a slew of curses and hexes at Harry. He parried them with ease, his tens of hours of practice with Flitwick truly paying dividends.
Suddenly, the entire field was lit up as if the sun were at its zenith, though no warmth followed. Harry shielded his eyes and himself, instinctively turning side on and crouching on the balls of his feet to present a smaller target and be ready to dodge or dive. When no spells came and his eyes adjusted a few seconds later, Harry rapidly scanned the area for the last of his opponents.
There she was about thirty meters away, fleeing from Harry in the direction she'd been heading. As Harry saw her, she reached the edge of the brick building that was the Auror's Norwich outpost. He banished the wand of the fallen Scotsman and knew from experience that he was out of the fight. Then, he took off after the woman.
Harry watched as she used her palm to push herself along the wall, clearly struggling to put distance between the two of them. With a swift thought a metal link chain exploded from the end of his wand. The chain hit the earth with a weighty thud a dozen strides behind her and twisted and turned after its target.
The woman started at the sounded and sidestepped away, searching for the source of the sound. With a panicked shout, she banished the chain off into the distance. Instantly she was forced to focus all her efforts on a shield as she was bombarded with a series of rudimentary spells sent to pin her down.
With a flourish of his wand, Harry sent his most powerful Concussive Curse, designed simply to blow people off their feet. The spell struck her weakened shield, shattered it, and connected solidly, knocking the woman into the air and onto her back a good ten meters from her original point.
Harry sent a set off a stunning spell and summoned her wand. The woman was too busy coughing and spluttering as she struggled to regain air in her stomach to roll aside.
His four were down. Casting a shield to protect himself, Harry quickly surveyed the area for any further signs of danger.
First thing he noticed was the source of the artificial light someone had cast over the area, revealing the spacious parkland for over a hundred metres in any direction. Hovering in the air near above him was a ball of light in the shape of a sun.
The second thing he noticed was near the shoreline a duel was still taking place, but quickly wrapped up as Order members managed to take down the last of their opponents. Harry turned further and saw many bodies on the ground, one of which he knew for certain was an Order member. One man, a face Harry recognised from the meeting earlier, groaned and began sitting up as he watched.
Thankful to see him relatively unharmed, he turned further to see if any further threats were visible only to notice a surprising number of people around the Auror outpost entrance. Last he'd seen it, Harry had counted only three red robed Aurors. Now there were at least a dozen, with more exiting the building, gazing around at the aftermath. Harry only moved on when one of the new arrivals made eye contact.
He noticed Tonks and the black haired lady who'd spoken against his ability to duel in kill or be killed situations moving in his direction.
Tonks looked at the woman Harry had captured just off to his side and then into the field toward the other three, who were now stationary, entirely stuck in their trappings.
"Cor, Harry," said Tonks with a giant grin. "You did well!"
"Solid work," said the woman.
"White's down somewhere in the woods, injured if not worse" said Harry. "I couldn't find him but saw these four trying to flank you."
"We got Bill's Patronus. We'll find him," assured Tonks. The two of them set about securing his prisoners.
Harry looked between the two and then once more at his surroundings. The Anti-Apparition fields had held and the Death Eaters were all captured or dead, mostly the former. The Aurors were assisting. For the time being they were seemingly accepting that they'd been saved and didn't care by whom.
Adrenaline still pumping, his breathing a little rushed, his face flush in his success, Harry almost laughed.
All the doubts, all the fears that he wasn't ready, that he wasn't able to handle a fight with Death Eaters, that the DA weren't ready either, were quashed. Part of him realised that these were low-level thugs. But the duel had been so convincingly one –sided.
To cap it off, Tonks, an excellent duellist, and a sceptical Order member had praised his ability.
A moment later, Tonks reappeared at his side.
"Time to go, Harry," said Tonks, a long rope in her hand. "We ought to keep Scrimgeour's eyes off you. Grab on."
Harry saw other Order members grouping together and disappearing in swirls of light. He stepped forward, grabbed the rope and felt the now-familiar yank behind his navel.
His last thought as he disappeared was a joyful one.
"We can do this."
A/N: And now you know part of why I needed Harry to have plenty of money – to afford a large enough house and provide food, etc. There are a few other reasons that'll become clearer as the story progresses, but this was the most immediate and primary one.
Originally, the house Harry was going to buy was to be haunted by a ghost that would ultimately allow Harry a connection to the ghost society of Wizarding Britain which would lead him to a Horcrux. That subplot was scrapped fairly early on after I realised just how wordy this entire story was becoming. I replaced it with something much better anyway.
Whenever I write Fred and George, this is what they'll be like. Twinspeak is one of those aspects of fanon that absolutely must die. I believe they're almost supernaturally on the same page with each other, but saying three or four words each in a sentence is aggravating and mind-bogglingly unamusing after the ten thousandth time. Hell, it was after the fifth time I encountered it.
As for the action scene, hopefully from this one onwards you'll see that Harry has learned a ton and will be competent, albeit not yet ruthless. He isn't in the mentality to kill at this stage and while reviews complaining about it are hilariously entertaining, Harry simply isn't there right now.
The next chapter should be far shorter and will end Easter. One more chapter will follow after that to end our time at Hogwarts and basically the second third of the fic.