"A New Order"

Chapter Eighteen – "Well Met"

By 'the_scribbler'

the_scribbler (at) shadowgard (d*t) com

Pursuant to the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, 17 U.S.C. §§ 512, 120 1–1 205, this work is copyrighted 2007 with all rights expressly reserved by its author unless explicitly granted. No portion may be reproduced in any fashion, or hosted on any website, without the express written and notarized permission of the author.

Disclaimer: I do not own rights to any of the Harry Potter characters. All characters are creations of Joanne K Rowling, © 2003, to whom I am deeply indebted. The Harry Potter series is property of Joanne K. Rowling, and Arthur A. Levine Books, Inc., a division of Scholastic Press, Inc., © 2003. I make no money from any of this. WHATEVER IS LEFT IS MINE.

Twilight and all characters associated with it are creations and property of Stephanie Meyer. All rights are owned by her and by Little, Brown and Co., and the publisher, Hachette Book Group, USA; copyright 2005.

CONTENT Disclaimer: This story may contain sexually graphic and explicit material and as such, it is not suitable for minors. If you are a minor, please leave now, as it is illegal for you to be here. If it is illegal for you to read or view sexually explicit material in the community you view such material, please leave now. This story and characters are purely fictional and any resemblance to events or persons (living or dead) is purely coincidental. If you are offended by sexually explicit stories, please read no further. These stories are just that, stories, and do not promote or condone the activities described herein

Note One: I have inserted a quote, on pg. 25, from the movie Patton and want to acknowledge that it is exclusive property of 20th Century Fox, Inc., and is reproduced here under theFair Use Doctrine. The movie was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and was based on a script by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North, who based their screenplay on the biography Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago and Omar Bradley's memoir A Soldier's Story.

Note Two: Canon? What canon? This story is an amalgam of several different story lines (of mine) and does not adhere to any one particular AU. THIS IS A HARRY/HERMIONE/OTHER SHIP. IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT, DISEMBARK!

Note Three: This chapter is 13,282 words in 26 pages.

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And now…..chapter 18!

Two of the three officers had their weapons out and it was clear by his expression which one had fired the fatal shot.

Overcome by the suddenness of the violence, Aberforth fell to his knees by his brother, weeping bitter tears and with a shaking hand, drew his brother's eyes closed for what he thought was the last time. Kingsley Shacklebolt, standing only a meter away, felt both rage at what had just happened and profound sadness at its senselessness. The thirty or so others just stood, dumbfounded. No one noticed that the body still had breath…

Finally Elphias Dodge came and knelt beside Aberforth, whose tears continued to flow. In a cracking voice just loud enough to be heard, he said "Let us remember this: I shall miss his friendship more than I can say, but my loss is as nothing compared to the Wizarding world's. That he was the most inspiring and the best loved of all Hogwarts headmasters cannot be in question."

Eloquent and heart-felt as his speech had been, it was also completely unnecessary, for the moment he finished, there was a high, lamenting cry as Fawkes, Dumbledore's phoenix, appeared in the middle of the room and landed on Albus' body. Immediately a stream of tears began to flow from the bird, onto the ghastly wound. No one present had ever seen the effect of phoenix-tears before and the entire room looked on as the wound closed in upon itself and the skin mended in such a way as to completely erase not just the wound, but the hard hand of time itself.

A minute passed and then the old man's eyes suddenly opened. He looked up and the very first thing that he saw was the face of his brother, crying. "Aberforth? Why are you weeping?" he said, in a voice that spoke of love and the affection that only two brothers can feel.

"I….I….I thought I had lost you". He could barely get the words out. All of the enmity that he had felt for his brother seemed to have melted away; replaced by the shock and sadness of thinking that he was the last Dumbledore left. His hands were shaking and it was as though his entire world had just changed for the better.

"What just happened?" Albus asked him, perplexed at the wondrous looks he was now seeing on the faces above him. He didn't see, though he might have been astonished if he had; the God-given surcease easing the look of horror that the officer who had shot him had worn. He might have also wondered why the man was being steadied by his two fellows. The rest of the room didn't wonder why, but it was clear that some of those present were planning nights of intensive drinking, to calm frayed nerves and unbelieving eyes. It was obvious that Elphias Dodge was among them.

"You…you died, Albus" he said, in a tone that seemed not to believe what he had just witnessed.

A wane smile crossed the older brother's face. "I think that the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

The older Dumbledore struggled for a moment to sit up and was helped by several of those around him. He looked up at them all and for a moment didn't know what to do. Then he realized that the back of his head was wet and he reached up to touch it. He looked at his hand and was shocked to see the horrifyingly crimson blood.

Aberforth saw the look on his brother's face and said quietly, "You tried to pull a wand on me and you were shot."

The word "shot" bestirred something in his brother's mind. Albus turned to look at the people around and stopped when he saw the three Muggle military officers. Aberforth nodded. "They're here to protect me and to make sure that I was able to deliver a message – which I was about to do – when things got out of hand. Thank Merlin that Fawkes loves you so."

Albus looked at his phoenix, and Fawkes returned the stare; clicking his bill in what seemed like a satisfied sound. Across the room, it was clear that the three military officers had been struck dumb by what they had just witnessed and would venture nothing further.

The only person more startled by what had happened than Elphias Dodge was Kingsley Shacklebolt. Seeing his former mentor shot, killed, and then resurrected disturbed him greatly. But for the presence, love, and devotion of a mythical bird, Albus would have stayed dead and the Light would have lost a powerful, but sometimes misguided warrior in a single, tragic moment.

Finally Aberforth stood, pulling his brother up to his feet as well. He, Aberforth, hadn't forgotten his brother's misguided feeling about 'the greater good', but for the moment, was very much willing to let the matter slide. It had become very clear to him where his priorities lay.

Standing closer to his brother than he previously had done, Aberforth lifted his voice somewhat and spoke once again to the assembled crowd – the thirty-five or so who constituted the pro-tem leadership of the various departments of the Ministry for Magic. John Robards listened intently, though he knew much of what Aberforth planned to say. He had taken over the DMLE – which was a key department in the Ministry – which left Tiberius Ogden as the person best suited to be president pro-tem of the Wizengamot (just as soon as it was re-constituted). Others had drifted back into their old jobs and were quietly cleaning house, as best they could. The list of the known dead – the five hundred who were killed under Riddle's banner at Hogwarts – were being compared to lists of former workers at the Ministry and it wasn't a pretty picture, Aberforth knew.

"And so, we have a great deal to do still. Riddle is out there, somewhere, along with Bellatrix Lestrange. Like a wounded animal, he is extremely dangerous! Any of you who might be unlucky enough to encounter him….well, let us say that it's been nice knowing you. You will not survive such an encounter unless you can somehow get away before he knows who you are." It was a callous thing to say, but it was more or less the truth and everyone knew it. "We have to wait until Harry Potter decides to return to these shores and deal with the dark lord once and for all. When that might be, no one knows. However, that doesn't leave us without hope! I have sent an emissary to him – someone whom I believe knows where he is or at least knows someone who is probably in contact with him."

That last tidbit perked up the ears of the three military officers who were standing by. It had been guessed by Directorate F of MI-5 & ¾ that Harry Potter's whereabouts were in fact known to someone associated with those who had stayed in England to fight Tom Riddle, a/k/a "Lord Voldemort". Both the PM and his Defense Secretary, Michael Portillo, had known since the previous August that finding Harry Potter and convincing him to return to England was critical. They had, as a result of that realization, ordered MI-6 as well as MI-5 & ¾ to direct every possible resource towards that goal. They, in turn, had passed on the 'request' to Her Majesty's military. The brass who took the order then tasked the military's intelligence officers – which just happened to include most all of those who worked for 22nd Regiment's Special Projects Team. It also perked up Albus' ears, for he too had sent someone in search of a person likely to be close to Harry Potter: his former assistant, Minerva McGonagall. He didn't dwell, however, on the fact that his effort had come to nothing – because he knew something that no one else in the room knew: that Fawkes had refused to go in search of Harry and that meant that Harry was either dead (something he thought to be unlikely in the extreme) or that Fawkes believed him safe.

"Are you alright, Albus?" a voice said from across the room; immediately changing the focus of the room's collective attention.

Albus looked at the woman who had asked. It was Nicolette Dodge - Elphias Dodge's sister. Though she was a short-ish, plain-faced woman of indeterminate age, Nicolette had the ability to capture people's attention – not just because her body was remarkably lean and attractive (something she used to her very best advantage possible), but because she had an unusually strong, rich, resonate voice that could cut through the kind of noise that often filled meeting rooms and other gathering places. It didn't hurt that her voice lacked any trace of the Geordie-accent that infected the rest of her Newcastle family.

Albus looked at her and smiled. Nicolette had been an exceptionally fine Head-Girl in her time (she was, in fact, Hogwarts class of 1969), with her strong voice and highly organized mind, and she had always ranked first or second academically. Albus thought that it was therefore a crying shame that she strongly preferred her own gender for intimate relations. "I'm alright, Lady Dodge. At least, no worse for wear. No doubt I have Fawkes to thank once more for my life. Though I am sure I have told you before, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."

She looked at him with a look of fondness that she otherwise reserved for her own grandparents "I'm glad you're still here, Albus."

For once, Albus Dumbledore didn't know to reply to that. Something in him was stirring that suddenly felt very much like shame. It was the same kind of shame and sadness that he felt when his only sister, Ariana, was killed during a duel between himself, Aberforth, and Gellert Grindelwald. It was the same shame that he had felt every time he stood in front of the Mirror of Erised and saw himself, redeemed, in the eyes of his family. It was the one truth that he had withheld from Harry, beyond the reality of what had lay behind the awful scar that had marred Harry's forehead. Though was he truly believed that death was 'the next great adventure', he loathed the thought of death more now than he ever had before. He felt completely unready to die. He wasn't redeemed. Not be a long stretch – and he didn't want to die until he felt he could face his sister and his parents and answer for what had happened all those years ago. Turning to his brother, he said softly, "Aberforth, I have much to ask your forgiveness for and much to do to redeem myself in your eyes. I am leaving now, but you can find me at the Shrieking Shack when you are ready."

Aberforth nodded silently, before clasping his brother on the arm. "I am glad that you are returned to us. I… well… take care of yourself."

"And you also, brother" Albus said, and then disappeared.

The rest of the meeting, from an emotional point of view, was an enormous let-down – even if it was very productive, from an organization perspective. The three military officers finally relaxed enough to be seated and their disposition induced others around them to do the same, which in turn helped to settle out the residual tension in the room. Eventually, conversations turned to talk of numbers – specifically about the number of 'pure-blood' families left in the country and whether it was as high as some had thought. Thoughts along those lines turned into a call for maps of the country, as the magicals understood them (maps that would have shocked the Muggles, because they demonstrated just how much bigger England was than the Muggles thought it to be). Then someone had the bright idea to start marking the maps with small flags, to show where the concentrations of magical people were highest. Other maps – similar maps, but at considerably higher resolution – were made in order show were the 'pure-blood' families were thought to have concentrated themselves. The number of known families was, as it became apparent, much lower than earlier estimates had once believed. Everyone left in the room – all huddled around the tables. That was, except for the Muggle military officers. They were seated, but stunned and asleep, in one corner of the room. It had been very quickly agreed that the demographics of the country's magical population, as well as the country's true geography, were not things that the Muggle governments needed to know and a promise was made by each person present never to release said information to the Muggles, except by direct command of the Queen herself.

One thing that became obvious to everyone was that the country's magical population had plenty of unused room. There were magically concealed valleys up and down the country, as well as a large number of uninhabited, magically hidden islands into which the magicals of the country could spread. That meant that birthrates could be significantly increased among the magicals with no foreseeable problems – which was an incredible and unexpected blessing for them all. If things with the Muggles turned bad, as some assembled thought they could, despite what the Muggle government had done to rid them of most of Riddle's supporters, then all of the new-found room could become quite useful indeed. It gave all those who had witnessed the Headmaster being shot something to seriously consider.

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Saturday morning, January 27, 1996 – American side of the magical border between the Federated Magical States of America and the Fédération Magique du Quebec

It took three days of travel to get to where they were going – which really amounted to five minutes of travel – three minutes at one stint and two at another – and then rest-time in between. It hadn't mattered much to Ron where they were going, so long as he was with Jeanette, but it did seem to matter to his master a very great deal. Why, exactly, Ron wasn't sure – though he was fairly certain that it had to do with the senders of the three patroni that his master had received since they had left the Vineyard.

Now they found themselves staring at the magical border between the Federated Magical States of America – a country with internal borders that looked quite different indeed from the Muggle boundaries that they crossed or paralleled. The border, for what it was worth, was at an 'unmanned' check-point in West Alburg, Vermont, where Line Road and Bay Road meet. Except for a sign saying "REPORT IMMEDIATELY TO U.S CUSTOMS AND IMMIGRATION", there wasn't anything to denote that this was the point where two major countries met. The large, grassy field across from where the sign was posted appeared barren to all Muggles – even in photos. It wasn't, though, and that is where magicals went to be processed for entry into magical Quebec.

Inside the small-ish, square-ish, white building that occupied said 'vacant field', Ron Weasley stood patiently in queue – it was hard to do anything else when his master was around – and observed. He had never dealt with passports or immigration documents of any kind and probably had never given even so much as a moment's thought to their existence when he was in school.

Jeanette, for her part, had been taught about such things and had always had with her, wherever she went, a full sent of papers – both magical and Muggle. She also had an abundant supply of local currency, on the grounds that you never knew when it might come in handy. This was particularly true for someone who was nominally half-human and needed to pass herself off as fully human. As a result, she could, she was quite confident, pass over the border without difficulty or challenge.

Robert stood behind them both, hands at his side, but alert and focused. His eyes, shadowed though they were under heavier-than-usual eyebrows, missed nothing. He saw the magical guards, he saw the panic-button that the Québécois immigration officer had near him and he saw other nervous-looking people, close to ten in all, standing in line. It was all enough to him nervous as well. It was as though they were expecting a problem, instead of simply being prepared for one and the difference in the two was quite enough to set him on edge. Leaning forward he said quietly, "Look sharp. I don't like this set-up."

Of course, with Jeanette's special kind of hearing, Robert could have been several miles away and she still might have picked up on it. That he said it almost right in her ear was enough to make her almost jump back. Instead, she turned and glared at him. Baring her razor-sharp fangs just a bit, she hissed "Relax. We've got this."

Robert looked at her with something approaching incredulity before he realized that her wand was out, but hidden by her sleeve, so that none of the officials around them could see it. Ron, too, had his wand out, cupped similarly, so that he was ready to act if necessary. That his apprentice had readied himself surprised him somewhat. In the early months of their relationship, Ron had been singularly difficult – really almost impossible to teach for the very fact that he never anticipated what was going to be asked of him next. That he had: (1) Awareness of a possible problem and (2) prepared himself was something new. However, the probable reason for it was, literally, right in front of him. The realization came with a mirthless snort – which was one way that Robert expressed either his bemusement or irritation. Jeanette was almost certainly one of the two or three most beautiful girls Robert had ever seen and without a doubt the most beautiful girl Ron had ever seen – and she was very clearly in love with his apprentice. Robert knew from experience that love could make someone do amazing, unexpected, or wonderful things. It certainly had done so for him on many occasions when he was a younger man. That he had lost the one true love of his life to Tom Riddle's first rise to power was simply a sadness he'd never be able to remedy.

Finally, Ron and Jeanette were standing before the customs/immigration inspector and they dutifully handed him their passports. Ron's was the genuine article – courtesy of one of the low-level functionaries who had stayed behind with Dumbledore et al. to guard and continue the Ministry's essential functions. It was one of the things that Dumbledore had done right: Completing the evacuation from the Ministry of Magic of all the tools that related to actual governance, which included things like the magical tools necessary to make passports, etc.

Jeanette's documents…. had a much more dubious provenance, since Peter and Charlotte were most assuredly not her biological parents. The documents were, however, of high quality (since they were made in France, by a well-bribed official at the Ministère du Magique) and had passed inspection when she had presented them at the magical border of Iceland – which had served as their Portkey 'half-way' point. She had used the name Jeanette Marie Molineux since she had been aware enough to choose for herself and it was a name she liked. Molineux was also the surname Peter and Charlotte had chosen for themselves, as it had seemed nondescript enough to prevent anyone from digging into their backgrounds too much. Neither Peter nor Charlotte remembered the surnames of the human families into which they had been born and it probably wouldn't have helped matters if they could have remembered their family names, as both were more than two hundred years old. That Ron seemed to like it was just another reason to keep it.

Just at the point when Jeanette thought that she might have to go for the man's throat in order to stave off any more questions, the officious man pushed the small pile of papers back at her, after stamping them, and said "Enjoy your time here, Ms. Molineux." Grateful and not just a little relieved, Jeanette thanked the man in her sweetest, softest voice and stepped aside; taking Ron's hand back into hers as she did so.

Robert was the swiftest of the three of them in getting his papers approved and stamped, since his already carried the imprimatur of the French Ministry as well as the Ministry for Magic in New Zealand and therefore could be traced. Once outside, the three walked a good ways north (or 'up') Bay road, which put them safely inside the Provence of Quebec, to a stand of oak-trees that was sufficiently dense enough to provide cover for the mystic light that would be generated by their final Portkey. Consequently, not one of them saw the officious, almost priggish customs officer step out the side door of the building and suddenly shift form so that in his place stood a 5'7, slim, extremely pretty, pink-haired girl, before she winked away.

This time the Portkey was a simple, white, empty envelope, in the center of which was embossed the letter 'P' in fancy script. It had been passed to Robert very quietly along with his documents – so quietly and so skillfully in fact that he hadn't even noticed that it had happened until they were outside.

"You sure about this one, Master?" Ron asked hesitantly. Robert lifted his eyes and looked at his apprentice; mildly surprised that he had ventured to say anything.

"Yes. Are you not?"

Ron shook his head and then pointed to the envelope. "That's too obvious. No one I know would have actually signed a Portkey." "Last Portkey that I used was a manky old boot. Lots of mud, but no signature." Ron thought to Jeanette as a side-bar.

Robert considered Ron's voiced statement and then pointed his wand at the envelope. "Incantamentumrevelare!" A bright beam of blue-ish light jumped from the tip of his wand; hitting the envelope right in the middle. For a moment nothing happened and Robert worried that he had mis-cast the charm. The next moment though, the magical signature of the Portkey maker shimmered into existence and hung, suspended in mid-air above the envelope itself. The magic used to make the Portkey was exactly as Robert expected it to be – but the magical signature of the caster was something altogether different. This time, it was Robert's turn to be surprised and Ron's to gloat. The magical signature was Ginny's.

Ron knew the moment that the three of them landed that something was either very much amiss or that they were expected, but not necessarily welcome. The room was large, dimly-lit, made entirely of very large Granite blocks, and bisected by a row of very, very formidable-looking floor-to-ceiling bars that were spaced close enough together to keep the three of them well-contained.

Jeanette wondered for a moment what kind of a situation Ron's mentor had led them into and she shuddered to think of the things that might be done to the three of them if they were now in the hands of those who lost little love on creatures like her. She tried bending the thick metal bars in front of her and was frustrated to discover that even with her superhuman strength, she stood no chance of removing them. Then she looked at the rocks into which the bars had been sunk and a happy little smile ambled onto her face. It would take some work, but she knew she could deal with the rock. Ron grinned when he saw her smile. He knew that she had figured a way out.

Ten minutes had passed and a very large portion of one wall was gone; revealing the base of the metal bars that confined them. Ron was grinning even more broadly at his fiancée while his master watched her with a boggled expression. He hadn't realized just how strong Jeanette was or conversely, how soft Granite was in comparison to her. Just at the moment when Jeanette was about to declare victory, she heard voices coming near and she had to abandon her efforts in favor of moving into position to defend Ron.

Less than thirty seconds later, three tall-ish ladies entered the fortified, underground room. They were all slim, toned, well-dressed, and beautiful. The oldest appeared to be in her early thirties while the other two seemed to be several years younger. The moment the rock debris in the holding cell was seen, all three immediately went for their wands and it was clear that they weren't there for a social call. The oldest seemed to be in charge. She faced them and said "Hands behind your heads, interlaced. One false move and you're worm-chow, understood?" Her voice made it clear that they meant what they said. Jeanette, Ron, and Robert nodded and then complied. Their wands were taken and the three women escorted them out of their cell and towards whatever awaited them.

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21 Rue Jacques Ferron, Trois-Rivières, Québec – ten minutes later.

Bethany could not believe that she had been sent to do guard-duty – but she did what was asked of her and did it without complaint, since Harry had said that it was very important that the three people being brought into the house not suspect anything until the situation was already resolved. That was the reason that Septima, Bethany, and Nymphadora Tonks had been put together as a team – because each of them was unknown to the three people who would be arriving by Portkey – and therefore unlikely to tip off the three 'guests'.

Once the group had made it to the magical portal that led from Neville's home to Harry's, there was silence among the six. Ron, Jeanette, and Robert knew better than to talk openly amongst themselves when they didn't know anything about the situation into which they were about to walk, lest they give away something crucial and the three guards refused to speak for the same reason. Ron kept up a silent, one-sided but gently humorous commentary as he and Jeanette walked. Jeanette desperately wanted to answer the comments that he was thinking to her with soft touches and the occasional squeeze of his hand, but she was acutely aware of the nervous twitch of their guards and the fact that they were probably inclined to shoot first and ask questions later.

Robert, left alone in the silence, watched everything that was going on as he walked along and wondered where Remus and perhaps Arthur as well would have found three obviously strong and well-trained women to do their bidding. He had no idea that two of the three women were Remus' lovers/future wives and that the other was a former teacher at Hogwarts and attached to Harry Potter's godfather, Sirius Black.

It was a cold three-minute walk along the corridor that connected the two houses; even through they were miles apart. Magic could do a very great deal, but it could never fully dissipate the chill of a winter storm or the unrelenting heat of the mid-day sun. Some things were just too much, even for magic to abate. Finally the group emerged into the warmth of a well-cared-for home. The extra-wide ante-room had hooks on each wall for jackets and there were benches upon which to sit while removing winter boots. A four-foot high, one-foot wide, open rack made of White Pine was in one corner and on shelves set at 8" intervals were pairs of fabulous-looking, fur-lined slippers. The three guards took turns shedding boots and cloaks and donning slippers before they turned and indicated that Ron, Jeanette, and Robert were free to do the same. It seemed an inordinately decent thing to do for three people who were – at least for the moment – prisoners. Ron's expression while watching Jeanette change out of her boots and heavy, fur-lined travelling cloak told Jeanette everything she needed to know about his thoughts on the matter – thoughts that she very much shared.

"You never told me why you wear that cloak, love. Not like you really need it" Ron thought to her, before his eyes flicked to it. Of course she didn't. No vampire or half-vampire did, but it was one of those things that went along with the whole 'blending in with the locals' bit that was part of her daily existence. She nodded at him to let him know that she understood him and then mouthed 'I'll tell you later' to him. A single nod of Ron's head acknowledged her message and then he directed his attention to their surroundings, to see if he could pick up anything else about where they might be.

After Robert had put on slippers that could fit his enormous (size 14) feet, the three guards led them out, still at wand-point, into another hallway, and towards a very large great-room. There were expectant voices coming from the room and Ron began to grow more hopeful that one of them just might be his sister.

It is hard to hide the presence of someone who is 6'6". He/she usually towers over everyone else in a room and becomes the center of attention, whether such attention is welcome or not. That is, of course, unless it is a meeting of the National Basketball Association's (NBA) Player's Union. Then someone who is 6'6" is one of the shorter people in the room. Being tall was just one of those facts of life to which Robert McGonagall had grown accustomed and he normally didn't even think about it. However, it did have a side-benefit: the ability to see over everyone else's head and survey a crowd quickly – an invaluable asset to an Auror… especially one working a protective detail, as he had done in his 'growing up' years.

The moment that Robert entered the room, all conversation ceased and the three became the instant focus of attention. It took a moment, but there were faces all around that he knew he recognized. Then he saw six heads of intense red hair and six pairs of bright blue eyes staring back at him…along with five very goofy grins and one 'more dignified' expression of love. Ron's face cracked into the largest smile that Jeanette had seen on him since their mutual declarations of love. One smile, in particular, was as bright as a noon-time sun. It was his sister, Ginny.

A signal from someone and the three guards tapped them on the shoulders to let them know that they could be at ease – even if their wands weren't being returned to them (yet). The moment that Ron was able to relax, a red-headed missile crossed the room in a flash and wrapped her arms tightly around him. Jeanette, of course, knew exactly who the girl was and, for the moment, kept out of the way. There would be time enough to be introduced properly she knew.

Robert saw faces he knew, too. Surrounded by his children, Arthur Weasley smiled back at him. What he wasn't prepared for was the near-scream as Minerva McGonagall separated herself from the man and woman with whom she had been keeping close company and all but threw herself across the room to get to him. Fortunately, Robert was ready for it and caught his only sibling up in his arms and hugged her as though he might never let her go.

With one arm, Ron reached out and pulled his fiancée to him, so that he could introduce her to the red-headed girl who had made of herself a limpet on him. One arm still holding her tight, Ron kissed his sister on the forehead before he kissed away some of the happy tears that were flowing down her cheeks. "I have someone for you to meet, Ginny"

It took a moment for her to even realize that he was speaking to her, but the fog finally lifted enough for her look up at him, which was no longer quite the problem it used to be for her, and she smiled at him. "Who's this?"

"This, Ginny, is my fiancée, Jeanette."

There was silence from her for a half-tick and then a very, very loud !SQUEE! that attracted the attention from most all of the other females in the room… at least those who weren't engrossed in the Robert/Minerva happy hug-fest.

The ice fully broken, the room more or less coalesced in the center, around the three arrivals. The Weasley brothers (eventually) took turns passing Ron around for hugs and questions while the girls took turns peppering Jeanette with questions, to which she responded in English and in Parisian French. Eventually she had to signal everyone to stop for a moment, so that she could make their announcement only once. Ron stopped as well – he had been hugging his father for the second or third time – and then stepped back so that he could take Jeanette into his arms again. This time, however, she stood with her back to him and his arms wrapped protectively around the front of her.

On the outside of the scrum, Harry Potter stood with four of his five – he wasn't about to deny Ginny the chance to welcome her brother home – and watched the proceedings. He still had issues with Ron, but they had receded a great deal since the prior June and he no longer wanted to kill him on sight, the way that he had wanted to, not so many months ago.

A voice behind him said quietly in his left ear, "Harry, you might want to keep a close eye on that girl. When we took them from Remus' holding pen, most all of the rock inside the cage, along one of the walls, had been torn away – bare-handed."

It took about five seconds for Harry to process what he had just been told and his reaction was all but automatic. The stunner didn't require a wand – Harry had long since learned what a stunner felt like and could do it both wandlessly and with awesome power. The sun-bright blue bolt crossed the room and slammed into Jeanette before anyone else even understood what was happening. Jeanette collapsed into Ron's arms without a word. Ginny, smart girl that she was, had felt Harry's panic and had stepped away just in time.

Instantly the room was cast into chaos and there was shouting from every corner – except the two where Neville and his girls stood and the one where Harry stood. "Everyone stand still. Ron – please don't move." Harry's voice brooked no argument. Robert, who had been lost in Minerva's hug, whipped around and watched the action; unable to do anything but stare.

Hands free to cast again, Harry and his wives moved in close. Once Harry was standing above Jeanette's supine body, he reached down and rolled her over. It didn't take him long to check the one consistent feature that he was sure she'd have. Peeling back her lips – which was no easy thing – Harry saw the thing for which he was looking. He looked up and right at Ron. His face was controlled, but angry. "Were you planning on telling us that you had brought a vampire into our midst?"

Ron stared at Harry – speechless with rage at the attack on his girl. His hands trembled with anger and the overwhelming need to strike back. He looked down at his beautiful wife-to-be and saw how peaceful she looked. His love for her welled up and he knew that he'd happily die to protect her. Ron had never done wandless magic in any kind of high fashion before, but he knew what he wanted to do: he wanted to punish Harry Potter for hurting his girl. "Reducto" he yelled; his hands coming up to aim the curse at his former best-friend. Fortunately, in his haste, he fired high and the curse cleared Harry's head by several inches.

Robert shook his head in disgust as he watched his apprentice get cut down by multiple, high-powered stunners that blew him sideways, off his feet, and slammed him into the wall behind him; knocking him unconscious. Fred and George immediately went to their brother's aid, though they thought him incredibly foolish. Minerva rounded on her brother. "Aye don't know what you're playing at Robert, and aye donna' want to try to and guess why you thought bringing her here was a good idea, but since you did, it's your responsibility." Her highlands bur was stronger than he had heard in years and it was clear that his long-lost sister was very, very angry.

"Is this your brother?" Harry asked, as he crossed over to where the two last McGonagalls stood. Around him stood his girls and it was clear that not one of them was very happy.

"Aye, Harry."

Harry looked up and his hard eyes met the man's gaze. "You better have a very good explanation, sir, or we're going to have a problem."

Robert looked at the young man and then had to blink twice. The overlapping Fidelius spells protecting Harry and all those around him were still in force and they would make him soon forget everything he was seeing "Harry Potter?"

Harry nodded. There was a forced cough to his side. "That's Harold James, Lord Potter-Gryffindor to you." Hermione sighed. Since her restoration to freedom, Ginny had become a very forceful, plain-spoken defender of Harry – even if her mouth could occasionally stir up trouble.

Robert, however, smiled at her. "And you would be Miss Ginny Weasley? The writer of letters that made my apprentice cry?"

Ginny blushed… and then said, "Actually, Ginevra Molly Potter, the Lady Evans".

"Enough, Ginny. This isn't politics. It's our safety at stake" Harry gently rebuked her.

Robert studied her for a moment. "Well met, lass. You did yourself proud in sending those letters to Ron. They kept him working better than anything I could do to motivate him." Ginny could tell that the man was serious in his praise and so she flushed and mumbled her thanks.

"Someone want to tell him the secrets before all this becomes moot?" Harry said, sotto voce to those around him.

Remus, Sirius, and all those others who kept the secrets which protected all of them lined up in front of Robert and, one at a time, told him the secret he or she protected. Once everyone was done – ten people in all – Robert stared at them, completely goggled at the enormity of what he had been told.

For more than fifteen minutes, Robert peppered them all with questions – Arthur most especially and answered theirs, as best he could. It would have gone on longer, but Jeanette stirred and her first instinct was to find Ron and get the hell away. However, she was cornered by several people holding wands and she knew she couldn't beat all of them. Moreover, she could neither hear nor see Ron and that meant he was either dead or unconscious and she'd have to get to him, revive him, and figure a way out of wherever they were. That was a lot of ifs to overcome.

Sirius stepped forward and looked at her; his wand held carefully, but casually, in his left hand. "We know what you are, Ms. Molineux. Robert told us what he knew and what he has seen of your relationship with Ron and your eating habits. Because of what he's told us, you are welcome here – but we must have an oath of peace from you that you will not harm those who are here or anyone who is associated with us."

She looked around and saw all the faces watching her. There wasn't threat in their eyes, but many of them were watchful and alert. Across from her, Ron was moved to a sitting-up position with the help of his brothers and was given an ice-pack to hold against his head by the resident Potter healer, Bethany. She had been less than 100% charitable about giving aid to the lanky redhead, since it was the young man's own stupidity that had given him the head-bump, but she had done what was necessary to in order to stay within her binding magical oath as a healer, and it seemed to be enough.

Jeanette looked at the tall, handsome, black-haired man. "Alors rendez-moi ma baguette" (Give me my wand, then.)

Sirius took the wand from Septima, who had been holding it, and then handed it to Jeanette, handle-first, as one might do when properly passing a knife.

She took it and held it up. "Moi, Jeanette Marie Molineux, jure sur ma vie et ma magie de ne jamais blesser aucun d'entre vous ni aucun de vos amis. Qu'il en soit ainsi" (I, Jeanette Marie Molineux, swear on my life and my magic that I will cause no harm to any assembled here or any they call friend. So I say, So Mote it Be.). A wide, deep-blue swirl of magic curled around her as her oath took hold and then dissipated in a small shower of sparks. Remus, Sirius, and Minerva watched the display approvingly, as did Harry and his wives. They all knew that it was one thing to be told that another person was trustworthy. It was quite another to see a magical oath being made that significantly reinforced one's ability to believe in said trustworthiness.

After a moment, Harry stepped forward and looked at the girl. He held out his hand to her. "Bonjour, je suis Harry. Désolé pour le sort" (Hi. I'm Harry. Sorry about the stunner…..)

She looked at him and for a moment, Harry worried that she was going to be mad at him. Then she smiled broadly and said, "C'était toi? Bigre. Personne n'en avait était capable jusqu'à present! " (That was you? Wow. No one's ever been able to do that before.)

Harry scratched the side of his head and then looked at her quizzically. Hermione nudged him mentally. "I think she means that no one's ever stunned a vampire before. I don't remember ever reading about it…" She tried to go on with the thought, but then Harry sent her the mental image of their second-year DADA professor, Gilderoy Lockhart, along with a memory of his claimed exploits – which had involved him defeating a full vampire with stunner and an overpowered tanning charm - and she broke up laughing. Harry's other wives sniggered as well, once Harry silently shared the joke with them. Jeanette could see that something was going on between him and the girls around him, but was completely mystified by the fact that she couldn't hear their thoughts. She closed her eyes for a moment and tried to listen for thoughts not her own and heard many fewer voices than there were people in the room.

There were a couple of 'normals' present, which she found curious, and there were a few whose thoughts were not as loud as she would have expected. Those she attributed to some sort of mental training – probably Occlumency. Then she looked about; her eyes flicking past the young man who had stunned her, and her nose itched. She sniffed. And sniffed again. This time her mind caught up with the strong scent and she recognized it for what it was: Werewolf. She blinked and the man around whom the scent was strongest looked at her. Their eyes met and he did something she wasn't expecting: He smiled. "Etes-vous réellement une demi-vampire?" (Are you really a half-vampire?) He asked. His voice was gentle and… there wasn't really any other word for it… furry. It was also cultured and he had perfect diction – in the same way that the greatest of the British Shakespearian actors did. She nodded. "Loup-Garou?" (Werewolf?)

He smiled a sort of sad, lop-sided smile at the expression on her face and then nodded. "Oui, j'ai été mordu étant enfant" (Yes. I was bitten when I was a young boy.)

"Et vous n'avez pas réalisé que j'étais une vampire?" (You couldn't tell I'm a vampire?)

He shook his head. "Il y avait quelque chose dans l'air et je savais que l'un d'entre vous n'était pas complètement humain, mais je n'en ai été sur qu'en m'approchant. Maintenant ? Wow, je n'ai jamais rien senti comme toi. Pas ce à quoi je me serais attendu. C'est plutôt agréable" (There was something in the air and I knew one of you wasn't completely human, but I wasn't sure until I got closer. Now? …. wow. I've never smelled anything like you. Not what I was expecting. Nice, actually.")

Jeanette blushed, smiled a sort of abashed grin, and rubbed her nose with the palm of one hand. " J'aimerais pouvoir en dire autant !" (Wish I could say the same!)

Remus laughed. He couldn't help it. It amazed him that a young girl of very, very improbable ancestry could have such a sense of humor and be so relaxed – especially after being Portkeyed straight into a holding cell; frog-marched for quite a long distance down a magical tunnel and under a riverbed, and then subjected to what those who had dueled with Harry called a 'Harry-special'. Remus was about to say something more to the young woman when he felt Harry's magic brush against him just so. It was Harry's invisible way of asking him to step aside. He did so deftly, without making it look like Harry was forcing him aside.

Jeanette watched him walk to the other side of the room and Harry watched her eyes follow along. "Il va revenir. Il nous accorde un instant, pour que je puisse te parler" (He'll be back. He's giving us a moment so that I can talk to you)

Jeanette nodded once and Harry continued, but this time in perfect French – which he and his wives had all been mastering since their arrival in Quebec. "Dans quelques minutes, un certain nombre de personnes vont partager les secrets qu'elles gardent. Ton serment t'aidera à les protéger. Une fois que vous connaitrez les secrets, toi, Ron, mes épouses et moi, nous pourrons parler. Je suis sur que puisque vous êtes ensemble, Ron t'a tout raconté à mon sujet – tout au moins tout ce qu'il a appris tant que nous étions amis. Certaines choses ont changé et vous devez les connaître. Je vais te demander de rester ici pour que tous les détenteurs des secrets puissent te les révéler, d'accord? " ("In a moment, a number of people here are going to share secrets that they are protecting. Your oath will help you to protect them as well. Once you know the secrets, you, Ron, my wives, and I can have a talk. I'm sure, since you and Ron are together, that he's told you all about me – or at least about the stuff that he knew when we were still mates. Some things have changed and you need to know. I'm going to ask you to stay right here for a moment and those who need to tell you their secrets are going to do so. Alright?")

She really didn't have another choice, so she stood where she was and waited. After the fifteen or so queued up and told her the secrets that the protected, Jeanette realized just what a situation she had fallen into. It wasn't just that there was magical civil war going on. She had known that for some time. What Harry and his supporters were facing was far, far more than that. They were fighting an existential threat.

By the time she was being guided out of the house's great-room and towards the front sun room, Ron had recovered sufficiently to walk next to her. He seemed remarkably at peace and she was curious about that, given the way that he had forcibly met the wall in the great-room with his head. She could tell that the sun was almost directly overhead and that somehow, more than three hours had slipped away since she, Ron, and Ron's master had been standing in line at the border.

"A droite!" (Go right) a girl said behind her. Taking Ron's hand in hers, she did as directed and within a couple of steps found herself in a large, window-lined room. The room was warmer than expected and the seats which were arranged about were wide and welcoming.

Nearest the glass wall that separated inside from out were two extremely oversized love-seats. Ron and Jeanette were directed towards the one that was nearer the stone fireplace that dominated the center of the room while Harry, Hermione, and the other wives piled, with practiced ease, into the other.

Ron had been slow to notice that each of the girls with Harry were dressed alike: an overlong, button-down (man's) cotton oxford dress shirt, which was loosely belted, a pair of thigh-high leg-warmers (all in muted colors that matched the shirt each girl wore), and a pair of high-cut, fur-lined house-slippers that could have been mistaken for short boots. Jeanette, however, had noticed immediately and wasn't sure how to feel about it. It was pretty clear that the girl's outfit of choice was designed to make access as easy as possible for Harry and her extremely heightened sense of smell told her that Harry took advantage of that access – often. The outfits also spoke volumes about the way the girls felt about themselves. They were confident, exuded sex, and radiated enormous magical power: a heady combination for any young man to have about him.

Jeanette wondered whether Ron was being deliberately obtuse or if he was still in pain from his earlier encounter with a wall. She leaned close and whispered in his ear after he had sat down awkwardly. "Ca va?" (You alright?)

Ron's answer came back in French, though he usually thought 'at' her in the Queen's English "Mal au crane. Je vois encore des étoiles" (Head hurts. I'm still seeing spots.)

It made Jeanette angry that Ron hadn't been helped more, but she also understood that trying to kill one's host might tend to make his supporters angry. Drawing her wand very carefully, she whispered a conjuring spell and then made some ice. Her conjuring had created a small cotton towel, which she then wrapped around the ice. He took it gratefully and placed it on the large bump that had formed on the back of his head.

Harry and Hermione watched her efforts and quietly approved of what she had done. It showed them that Jeanette was perfect for Ron: clever, compassionate, and thoughtful – but also strong, beautiful, and seemingly undaunted by some of his rougher edges.

Finally Hermione took the lead in the conversation, because she knew that Harry did not have all the time in the world to sit around and hash things out with the young man they used to call 'friend'. She addressed her comments to Jeanette though, as Ron really didn't look like he was up to talking very much. She spoke to Ron in French, since that was the language that he seemed to prefer. "Ron, Ginny nous a dit tout ce qu'elle savait sur là où tu étais, ce que tu y as fait, ce qui n'est pas grand-chose, et nous savons par ton Maître que tu étais quelque part à te former. Ton père nous a dit la même chose, mais sans donner de raison" ("Ron, Ginny has told us as much as she could about where you've been and what you've been doing, which is to say not very much, and we know from your master that you've been away, training. Your father told us the same thing, though he didn't say why.") Hermione didn't say that she, Harry, and her sister-wives were well aware, thank you very much, about why Ron had been sold off into an apprenticeship and that they all thought that it made a great deal of sense. Ron had been lazy and hard to motivate when they had all been together at Hogwarts and Robert had seemed to Arthur as his last resort for getting Ron to become the kind of son of whom he could be proud.

For reasons unknown, he didn't seem to have any interest at all in becoming the best, most powerful wizard that he could be. No one knew why that had been so, given how much of a stellar, truly magical history the Weasley family had. "Tout ce que nous savons avec certitude, c'est que ton Maître a du revenir ici pour parler à ton père, à Remus, Sirius et Minerva. Harry et moi aimerions bien être rapidement mis au courant de ce qui s'est passé vraiment. En attendant, cependant…" ("All we really know is that your master had to return here in order to talk to your father, Remus, Sirius, and Minerva. Harry and I expect that we'll be told soon enough about what's really going on. In the meantime, however…"), Hermione hesitated for a moment while she, Harry, and her sister-wives silently considered how she should phrase what she knew she had to say. Jeanette watched her expectantly; fascinated by the fact that she could hear either Harry or Hermione's thoughts and could barely hear the thoughts of three of the four girls. The one beside Hermione whom she couldn't hear Jeanette was sure was Veela – and therefore immune to her magic, both as a witch and as a vampire.

Finally Hermione relented and said, "Ron, avec Harry et mes coépouses, j'ai besoin de savoir si je peux te faire confiance. Nous avons vu que tu protègeras à tout prix ta compagne – pas que tu sois incapable de le faire toute seule, Jeanette ! Mais nous devons savoir. Nous ne pouvons pas partager nos secrets ni vous laisser libres sinon. » ("Ron, Harry, my sister-wives, and I have to know whether we can trust you. We've seen that you'll protect your lady-love here – not that you're incapable of defending yourself, Jeanette! But we have to know. We can't tell you our secrets and we're not willing to have you running loose if we can't.")

The Ron that they had once known seemed to be gone – that much was clear. Ginny, Li-Qui, Fleur, Hannah, and Hermione had all known Ron during the Tri-Wizard Tournament and each was sure that that Ron would never have been able to cast anything wandlessly, never mind a high-powered Reducto curse. Also, the Ron that they had all known had been almost deathly afraid of even speaking to girls, whereas this one had an incredibly beautiful, half-vampire witch all to himself.

It was a good thing that Jeanette had done in conjuring the improvised ice-pack, because it was clear that it had had the intended affect. After a moment, Ron sat up a little straighter and said, "Comment ça? Qu'est-ce que tu veux dire, tes co-épouses? De quoi tu parles? Vous n'êtes pas mariés!" ("What? What do you mean, your sister-wives? What are you talking about? You're not married!") Hermione saw a glazed look in his eyes and diagnosed the problem immediately. "He's being blocked by the overlapping Fidelii, Harry. Either we tell him the core secrets or we boot him. Since I don't see that we can do that without repercussions…."

"I know, love. I know. It's just that with the way he treated you before we left Hogwarts… I just don't want to go through that again." Harry opened his thoughts up to his other wives. "Fleur? Ginny? Li-Qui? Hannah? What do think? Do we trust him with our secrets?"

"My brother's a prat, love, but…. "

"I know Gin. You miss him. For your sake, I'd take him back. The question is: Can your father control him? Can his master?"

Li-Qui leaned close to Hermione and let her thoughts swirl into the mix. "It's not whether Robert can control him, Harry. It's whether or not Ron can control himself for his fiancée's sake. If she wants him to cool it, I think he will."

Hannah snuggled close, put her hand on Harry's chest, and then thought to them all: "If you want him to control himself, you have to show him that it's worth it, Harry. Show him that thing you do – the one you taught us all – and he'll comply."

Acquiescing to the collective, Harry looked at Ron. It was not the easiest thing to do since Hermione was on Harry's lap and her silky hair blocked a bit of Harry's line-of-sight, but he managed. "Ron, je vois que Jeanette ne porte pas de bague de fiançailles, mais je suis certain qu'elle aimerait bien, alors, je vais prendre le risque, au nom du bon vieux temps, de te montrer quelque chose qui vous intéressera surement. Si, une fois que je te l'aurai montré, tu es toujours d'accord, nous accepterons votre serment de secret et de paix et nous révèlerons nos autres secrets, d'accord ?" ("Ron, I see that Jeanette is not currently wearing a ring from you, though I'm pretty sure she'd like to be, so I'm going to go out on a limb and for old time's sake,( for the sake of the time that we were friends) show you something that you will probably want to learn. If, after I show it to you, you tell me that you do, then we'll take your oath of secrecy and peace, and we'll tell you our other secrets. Alright?")

"Tu penses que je peux, mon amour ? ") ("Should I, love?") Ron thought to Jeanette.

She leaned close to him and quietly whispered her agreement that he should. Ron looked at Harry and then at his sister Ginny, before he said, "Ouais. Je vais le faire" ("Yea. I'll give you my oath.")

"Bien. Alors, sois attentif" ("Good then. So…pay attention"). Then he said in unaccented English, "This isn't a parlor-trick." He didn't bother to turn his head or look at his wives, but they all heard his thought. "Ready?"

Each extended her hand in turn; palm upward. Harry went last. At a signal that Ron could not have heard, each produced a spinning, pulsing globe of brilliant blue-white light. Seemingly of their one volition, the globes moved towards each other and, once they were at the exact center-point between the two overstuffed chairs, fused into one much larger globe.

"Ca, Ron, faute d'une meilleure description, c'est la fusion de nos magies. Nous pouvons lui faire faire ce que nous voulons. Je pense que la meilleure chose à te montrer aujourd'hui est qu'il n'y a aucune limite à la magie – quoi que ton Maître ait pu te dire. Maintenant, laisse-moi te montrer quelque chose" ("That Ron, for lack of a better description, is our combined magic. We can make it do whatever we want it to do. I thought that the best thing to do today is to show you that there are no limits to magic – despite what your master might have told you. Now let me show you something.")

Pulling out a Gringotts-minted, solid-gold Galleon a little heavier and larger than a 19th century Spanish Ocho-Escudos piece, also known colloquially as a "Spanish doubloon" out of his pocket, Harry held it up and made it float towards the spinning globe of magic. Then Harry reached a hand out and from the fireplace came several large, black hunks of charcoal. Grinning, Harry made the globe of magic expand to encompass both the coal and the gold galleon. There was a sudden, extremely bright pulse of light. Left behind, floating in mid-air, was the most exquisite diamond ring that Ron had ever seen. Though he couldn't tell from looking at it with the naked eye, it was obvious that the diamond was perfect. It just happened to be the exact duplicate of a ring that Harry knew well: a 3ct. internally flawless white, oval-cut diamond, set into a 22 ct. gold band, with six tines to hold it in place. "Ca, Ron, c'est ce que tu peux apprendre à accomplir, toi aussi" ("That, Ron, is what you can learn to do too.") Harry gave it a mental push towards his former friend as Hermione sucked the pulsing, radiant ball of magic back into herself – causing her to glow all over for a moment. "Passe-le à son doigt, Ron. Enfin, si vous êtes d'accord, Mademoiselle Molineux" ("Put it on her finger, Ron." and then, more softly, "That is, if you want it, Ms. Molineux"). Jeanette looked with goggled eyes at the breathtakingly beautiful ring. She had never been much of a jewelry-wearer, since it was impossible to pierce or 'decorate' her skin in any way, which eliminated both earrings and tattoos. However, she very much wanted to wear some symbol or token of Ron's love. She met Ron's eyes and saw both love and hope in them. ""Je t'aime, Jeanette" (" I love you, Jeanette")

She felt herself blushing – something that had not happened to her but once before – and held out her left hand. Fortunately, Ron knew what to do and, after kissing her ring-finger softly, slid the ring onto her hand. There was a small round of applause from Harry and his wives for the simple gallantry of the act, which caused Ron to take a turn blushing.

After that, it wasn't difficult to get Ron to give his oath. The more difficult parts of the conversation came after he was told the ten secrets that those present, along with several others, protected. The thought of his younger sister being involved – at the age of 14 in such a marital arrangement – bothered him a fair bit. In the end, the argument over it was reduced to whether or not Ginny was going to be able to 'be her own person' and not be held back in anything that she wanted to do. Jeanette finally convinced Ron that it wasn't a good idea for him to make Ginny demonstrate the firmly-beyond-NEWT ability to summon minor demons simply for the purpose of convincing him that Ginny wasn't being held back at all, even if she was forever bound to Harry.

Harry, for his part, thought it odd that Ron didn't say anything at all about his and Hermione's relationship – since that had been the original reason for the sundering of their friendship – but he was smart enough to know that leaving well enough alone was sometimes a very good strategy. He'd ask both Hermione and Ginny about it afterwards to see what they thought and he knew that if there was something that he had missed, it was more likely than not that they didn't and would tell him about whatever it was that had slipped his notice.

By the time the conversation had concluded to everyone's satisfaction, more than two hours had passed and it was well past lunch-time. Harry, Hermione, and Ginny were unable to suppress giggles at the sound of Ron's rumbling stomach as he stood and there was a passing moment when the relaxed, happy friendship that they had all once enjoyed reasserted itself and there were grins all around.

As the group started out of the sun-room, Jeanette paused for a moment and reached her hand out to Hermione. "Je peux te parler une seconde?" "Have a second to talk?"

At the same time, in a corner of the house's great-room, a furious discussion was going on between Arthur Weasley, Robert and Minerva McGonagall, Jake and Miranda Granger, and Harry's god-fathers, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. "Dora" Tonks was also present, but didn't have a voice in the conversation because of Sirius' position as Head-of-Family. Bethany sat on Remus' other side, listening to the conversation intently. Septima was also there, along with the most recent addition to the inner circle, Gwenog Jones, of Holyhead Harpies fame and older sister to Megan Jones.

The argument, if the situation could be described that way, had centered on whether or not Harry had the right to determine whether or not anyone from the main group – which was loosely defined as those who had been, in some way, associated with Hogwarts, could return to England without Harry's say-so.

"I'm not itching to return, laddy, but there's a fight on and I've made certain promises." Robert said in his fierce Scottish brogue.

Sirius looked at the big man and said, with almost the same level of passion, "I know that, Robert, but for me and mine – and that includes all those who owe allegiance to House Black – we're not returning until Harry and I agree that it's the right thing to do. If I know my Godson, he'll say the same for those who are sworn to House Potter or House Gryffindor – which includes, by the way, House Gryffindor and House Longbottom."

Everyone in the room knew that where House Potter and House Longbottom went, everyone else would follow – except, perhaps, for those who were associated with the Windermere families. Those included House Greengrass, House Parkinson, and the thirty or so lesser Noble houses that had, over the years, been aligned with them. House Davis (though not officially a Noble House) was the most prominent of the lesser houses, because of the enormous wealth it controlled as a result of its long-standing commercial relationships it had with the Muggle world.

Windermere families – mostly shop-keepers, middlemen, magical tradesmen, and those who generally worked in the background to keep magical society functioning - had always marched to their own beat and did whatever was necessary to protect their own. That had, unfortunately, meant having some relationships with Death Eaters and those others who supported the pure-blood agenda from time to time in order to prevent what might have become wholesale slaughter of the Families by the same-said Death Eaters. Those associations had fixed, in the minds of those who supported the Light, a certain reputation for the Windermeres, justified or not.

However, it hadn't been hard at all for the Windermere families to see which way the wind had begun to blow when Harry, et al. had decided to leave England the previous June. The moment the exodus had begun, the realization had set in that things were probably going to ugly fast and that those who had an interest in remaining among the living needed to leave.

More than six months had passed since then and every single family that considered itself part of the 'Windermere way' had watched, with growing horror, what was happening back in England.

Because of Harry's leadership and his unstinting generosity, every single Windermere had gotten out of the UK – and not just alive, but with every portable asset intact. As a result, there was an assumed collective debt owed to House Potter.

It was quietly assumed that Harry would eventually turn to the Windermere families for their support or, at the very least, their solid neutrality and that that they would quickly fall in line and cooperate. That he hadn't yet done so was thought by the leadership of the Families, though the consensus agreement was unknown to Harry and his supporters, to be a wise and strategic calculation that allowed the Windermeres even more time to grow their business and personal assets and make what preparations they thought necessary before the mass return to England began.

In reality, Harry had gone through his four years at Hogwarts knowing nothing about the Windermere families, other than the fact that Tracy Davis, Daphne Greengrass, and Pansy Parkinson had always seemed to have their own clique at Hogwarts and had generally been left alone by the rest of the Slytherins and that their families were part of the reason why that was the case. It had been Neville who had schooled him in the politics of the Windermere families; taught him about how they protected their own and what they were thought to value most, and about the caste system, such as it was, in magical England. Li-Qui had also taught him a great deal about the way the Ancient and Noble families had run things in England and how difficult it had been for her family, which was ancient even before England was a unified country, to cope with the bigoted politics.

Harry's biggest revelation, really, was the fact that Dumbledore seem to have completely misunderstood the Windermere families and had been completely wrong about what those families might have thought about Harry's relationship with Hermione. Of course, that had led Harry, his wives, along with Neville and his wives, and their adult friends/supporters – during the months since the evacuation to Canada - to spend a great deal of time in conversation about Dumbledore and his many wrong, ill-informed, or otherwise manipulative decisions. Examining all of the ways that Albus Dumbledore had twisted the truth, manipulated people, withheld information, and otherwise tried to force people to do his will made for excellent motivation when it came to magical training – at least insofar as Harry, Neville, and their assorted wives were concerned.

Sitting back against the edge of the sofa, Robert McGonagall realized that he was in a bind - because as the head of Clan McGonagall, he was bound by a debt of honor to support Clan MacMillan, which was in turn sworn to defend House Gryffindor. It was a situation, the type of which revealed the problems that were associated with magic and the long-term liabilities which came with magical oaths. He and Minerva could do as they pleased – including returning to England on their own – if Harry could be kept from issuing a magically binding edict. As the head of House Black, there was no way that Sirius wasn't aware of that reality and it meant that Robert had to tread carefully. When Arthur returned to England, Robert knew he'd have to follow and given her general protectiveness, it probably meant that Minerva would return as well, if only to make sure that her brother stayed safe. It also meant that he'd either have to truncate Ron's apprenticeship or take him along. Taking him along back to England meant having Ron's betrothed in tow as well. Robert ground his teeth in frustration. It was all very complicated.

It was Remus who spoke next. "The bottom line is that all of the kids both want and need to stay here until the semester is finished. Theoretically, that puts our return sometime in June, at the earliest, which gives us about five more months of training – ten if we use time-turners and start doubling up weeks. I'd like to think that by the time June arrives, the kids will all be ready for whatever's coming – but part of me is still very pessimistic. There is no way that Harry can learn fast enough to offset the fifty-plus years that Riddle has on him and we just can't put enough bodies into the fight to assure a win, even given the fact that all of the known Death Eaters are dead. We don't know whether Riddle was recruiting on the Continent or if he's been able to call up Inferii like he did the last time or even whether he was successful in bringing giants over to his side."

Minerva knew that Remus was right and she knew, too, that Robert realized as well. There were, for the moment, just too many unknowns. Each of the adults present had heard Filius Flitwick's analysis of the tactical situation in magical England. They all thought that they knew what they were facing. Each of the adults assumed that it would be Albus Dumbledore who had to be beaten first so that Harry didn't have to deal with a war on two fronts. Each of them believed that irrespective of the fact that Harry had beaten Dumbledore one-on-one the previous June, the circumstances that had given Harry the victory then were not likely to be repeated and that meant an ugly, knock-down, drag-out, winner-take-all fight against the most powerful wizard alive before going after the most evil dark lord in more than a century.

"Why can't you just shoot the son-of-a-bitch in the head from a couple of hundred yards out and be done with it?" Jake asked angrily from where he and Miranda sat.

Heads turned and stared at him, as if he were from Mars or something. "What?" he asked the group. "Haven't any of you heard of a sniper-rifle before?" Jake was still nursing a serious grudge over what Dumbledore had attempted to do to his daughter the previous June and thought it an eminently practical solution to an otherwise intractable problem.

Slowly, as if measuring his words, Remus answered him. "No, it's not that exactly. It's just….. well, you have to understand. There are certain things that no wizard would ever do. Handling a Muggle firearm is one of them."

Jake looked at him as if he were four kinds of stupid. "Who the fuck said you have to do it? Give me the money to buy the right rifle – like a long-barrel Browning .50 caliber - and I'll deal with the SOB with one bullet. I won't even charge you for the privilege. 300 yards and he'll never even hear it coming." In any other circumstance, Miranda would have slapped him for his crude language, but somehow, it seemed to succinctly express the entirely justifiable frustration that Jake was feeling.

Finally "Tonks" could contain herself no longer. "That would work, you know. Albus would never hear the bullet coming and it would save Harry from a fight that he might or might not win."

In any other context, the young ex-Auror might have gotten herself slapped down and hard by the head-of-house, but Sirius wasn't anything like his father Orion Black or his grandfather, Arcturus. Either of them would have punished her severely for presuming to speak before being spoken to at such a meeting. As it was, it made Jake Granger smile. He appreciated her acknowledgement and support.

"Aye lass, it might" Robert said, "But where would we get such a weapon and just how would we get Dumbledore to set himself up nice and pretty for us?"

"All I need is a clear line of sight and he's dead, Robert. And don't you worry about where we'd get the weapon. I still have a few connections. All I would need is the money and about two days and we're in business."

"I don't like it. Seems too much like murder to me."

Sirius looked at Arthur; surprised at the man's words. "And throwing Harry in against Dumbledore is a better idea?" Though he didn't mean it, his words stung the older man.

"I didn't say that! Of course I'm not advocating that! I'd never do such a thing to Harry. I am not Molly." The room went quiet for a moment. It was the first time that Arthur had spoken of deceased wife's mis-deeds in a public forum and it caught everyone by surprise.

"Then what are you saying, Arthur? Surely you're not suggesting that someone else takes on the Headmaster? If Riddle was afraid of him, what chance does anyone else have against him?"

"Not any one of us, Sirius. All of us. Together. It's the only way."

"No. Harry would never tolerate the loss of even a single person here. Jake is right. The easiest and least dangerous way of dealing with the Headmaster is to do what he suggested. Lure the old man into a situation that we control and then pick him off from a distance."

"It's murder, Remus."

"NO IT'S NOT, Arthur. Look, there's a Muggle saying: You don't win wars by dying for your country. You win wars by letting the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country. We have a war to win and from where I sit, Dumbledore is the poor, dumb bastard who needs to die. He's as much of a thorn in our side as Riddle now. Besides, one on one or even three-on-one, we can't beat him magically. He knows way too much and has too much experience for any of us to be successful against him. Tonks' idea is the only one I've heard so far that has a good chance of working. Even if the first shot doesn't kill him, it will wound him badly enough that he can be dispatched by one of us – and it will be a mercy-killing at that point."

"Damn straight. You ever seen what a .50 cal. can do to someone? It's nasty."

The vindictive grin on his face and the way Jake spoke made Minerva wonder if she hadn't been entirely wrong when she had spoken to Miranda about Muggle-magical relations. Certainly the tone in Jake's voice was enough to make her wonder if she had underestimated just how blood-thirsty Muggles could be.

Arthur didn't like it – not one bit – but he comforted himself with the thought that he would not be involved in the killing, one way or the other, and so wasn't responsible for what happened. He had no obligation to try to stop it from happening, certainly, and given what Albus had done to him and his family, he wasn't going to regret Albus' passing. However, it didn't mean that he wanted to be directly involved either. It was one thing to duel with someone – where the winner was the one who was still breathing. It was quite another to kill from a great distance without warning. He thought that the difference was what separated magical from Muggle. He had no idea how wrong he was.

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Early morning, Sunday, January 28, 1996 - American side of the magical border between the Federated Magical States of America and the Fédération Magique du Quebec

Albus Dumbledore had never seen this part of America before and captivated him. Though the weather was very cold, the day had started without a breeze and the cloudless, clear blue sky filled him with a curious sense of anticipation. It was obvious from the virgin snow that blanketed the ground in every direction that he was the only one awake. He thought, though he wasn't sure, that he was the only living soul within a distance of several miles in any direction. It was a very satisfactory thought. Albus Dumbledore was intensely private and really didn't like anyone knowing of his comings and goings. More, he had an almost perverse need to keep secrets and to hide knowledge away from those he felt couldn't handle it – which really meant just about everyone else. The more arcane the knowledge, the less he wanted to share it. If he had been evaluated by a kindergarten teacher, the report might very well have read, "Does not play well with others" or "Needs extensive remedial work regarding sharing and cooperation".

Somewhere, not too far off in the distance, a timber-wolf howled. It wasn't a baleful, plaintive sound, but the sound of a creature happily at home in the winter forest. The snow whispered beneath his feet as he made his way up the road; past the customs and immigration building that served as the southern-most sentry point for magical Quebec. He didn't know why he was being drawn in this direction, but north was the direction that his point me spell kept indicating. North was the direction in which lay the sack of gold galleons that he had bespelled before giving them to the bounty-hunter, Merced and so north was where he needed to go.

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February 19, 2012

OK, folks. I've spent the better part of six weeks getting these two chapters together and I've not put in a lick's worth of work on VC: Rebirth, like I said I was going to. All I can promise is that it's next on the agenda and that I apologize to those of you who have been so extraordinarily patient with me about it.

As usual, I would ask you to please leave a review. Reader-reviews are the life-blood of this kind of writing and I need/want them no less than the next person. Plus, it gives me a sense of what's working and what isn't.

Regards,

the_scribbler