Chapter 43 – Breakthrough
It was a curious fact that though sleep the night after the action in the Ministry was sparse, none of the three involved felt like they had just spent most of the previous night travelling to a far off location and subsequently engaged in a running battle against not only the dark lord's minions, but the dark wizard himself. Privately Hermione thought it was because they were all still keyed up from their experience. But whatever the reason, she felt like she had been able to sleep a full night rather than the few hours she had managed before rising, due, ironically enough, to the complete inability to sleep further. Of course, it was likely that this energy would dissipate during the day, and she would pay for it later, but for now, she was grateful.
Upon awaking, Hermione quickly went through her normal morning routine before she made her way down the stairs to meet up with her friends. Though she supposed that was not quite true any longer. What was Harry now? Boyfriend perhaps? And Fleur—was she now just her closest female friend, or was she something more? Sisters in all but blood? It seemed somewhat pretentious, but also appropriate. Maybe it bore some consideration at a later date. For now she merely wished to see Fleur and Harry and assure herself that they were both well.
In the common room, she discovered that Harry had not yet appeared, though Fleur sat on a sofa staring into the hearth, in which a cheery blaze was roaring. The common room was also dotted with other Gryffindors, speaking with one another, laughing, studying, or preparing for the day's classes. Most appeared to be paying no particular notice to her though she did note that the Weasley twins—who were their only immediate friends present—did give her a glance and nodded a greeting. She also saw that they were watching Fleur intently, thought they were attempting to affect a nonchalance in their manner. Since their friends had suspected something for some time now, it was hardly surprising.
Doing her best to appear as though nothing was out of the ordinary, Hermione approached the sofa on which Fleur sat and flopped down. Fleur, though appearing startled at the sudden intrusion, shot her a look of commiseration.
"How did you sleep?" she asked.
"Well, for what was left of the night," Hermione replied. "Until, of course, my eyes opened and wouldn't close again. You?"
A shrug was Fleur's reply which Hermione took for agreement. They sat in silence, each lost in their thoughts.
"How long do you think we have before everyone finds out?" Fleur finally asked, breaking the comfortable silence which had arisen between them.
"I would hope we'd have today at least," Harry said as he approached and sat down on Fleur's other side. "It's only been a couple of hours."
They all agreed that Harry was likely correct and after a few moments of companionable silence they rose and began making their way down to the Great Hall for some breakfast, as all three felt themselves to be rather famished. They could not have imagined the hornet's nest they were walking into.
As it was still early, there were still relatively few students there and most of those were seventh years immersed in their seemingly endless studying for NEWTs which were rapidly approaching. The trio sat down at the Gryffindor table, quietly conversing while they ate a leisurely breakfast. As the time wore on they were joined by their friends and their private conversation came to a halt, which was likely for the best in any case; they had only been dwelling on the events of the previous evening, after all. All in all, it appeared to be nothing more than a typical Sunday morning.
All that changed when the owl post arrived.
At first nothing appeared amiss, as the owls entering the Great Hall was an every day occurrence. The morning mail was delivered to those to whom it was addressed and then, as the family owls were winging on their way to begin the return journey, or to the owlery as the case may be, post owls carrying the Daily Prophet arrived en masse, carrying their cargo to the student population.
Having learned, especially through the debacle of the tournament the previous year, the Wizarding press was not to be trusted to tell the truth, Hermione generally ignored the paper which was dropped in her vicinity, in favor of finishing the last bits of her breakfast, and concentrating on her conversation with Ginny who sat beside her. A gasp from her side drew her attention. She turned and saw Harry staring at the open newspaper. Hermione could only echo his reaction when she saw the headline.
Boy-Who-Lived Defies Returned Dark Lord!
What followed was a lurid retelling of the events of the previous evening, or at least those which occurred in the Ministry atrium. The entire first page was devoted to the story, and though there was speculation and outright innuendo, the facts from the event were largely accurate, from the confrontation between Voldemort and Dumbledore, to the Minister's death at the hands of the Dark Lord, to Voldemort's flight once it became obvious that he had been discovered. The most chilling of all, was the picture accompanying the leading story. In it, Voldemort could be seen with a murderous glare, then recoiling in sudden consternation before fleeing through the Floo as dozens of spells impacted the wall behind him. It was perhaps a small blessing that the Minister's death had occurred before the press had arrived as, given what Hermione knew about the Prophet, she thought the picture would have shown the man's death by Voldemort's wand. He had been a corrupt, ineffectual fool, but no one deserved to have so ignominious an end emblazoned on the front page of the national newspaper for all to see.
But that was not all. The stories went on for several pages and there was not much which was left out. The fight in the Department of Mysteries, the intervention, and Dumbledore's duel with Voldemort were all covered in great detail. In fact, somehow some of the events in the Time Room had also been betrayed to the Prophet, as there was a description of the events which had taken place there. It included Harry's discussion with Malfoy, Bellatrix's threats and a description of the battle. The fact that the three had held their own against the much more experienced Death Eaters and that it had been Hermione who had put Lucius Malfoy out of the battle were also front and center in the account. Though she was not certain, Hermione almost suspected the hand of Rita Skeeter and her illegal animagus form for the account, though the woman's name did not appear anywhere in the paper.
Perhaps most significantly was the speculation concerning the prophecy. The exact text had not been betrayed of course, but now that its existence had been discovered, speculation ran rampant as to its contents. The one thing which was agreed upon was that as it concerned Harry and the Dark Lord had been interested in obtaining it for himself, that it probably foretold some impediment to the Dark Lord's plans in which Harry was instrumental. One of the Prophet's writers had coined the title "The Chosen One" in reference to Harry, making the case that Harry, as he had already defeated the Dark Lord once and had continued to defy him, was destined to end the menace he posed once and for all. Hermione was offended for Harry—how dare these people who had alternately slandered and reviled him drop such a heavy burden on his shoulders!
Hermione looked aside at Harry and Fleur noting their matching stunned expressions. They had known that the story would get out—it could hardly be contained—but the true extent had not been one that any of them had envisioned. Hermione glanced back at the paper with contempt, but also a certain level of grudging respect; the writers and printers at the Prophet must have worked feverishly to produce it in the few hours since it had all happened.
All about them the murmurs began, as students read the accounts and looked at them with speculation, awe, or, in some cases, outright hostility. Of course most of the latter originated from the Slytherin table, the chief of which was the ever-present nemesis and resident bigot Draco Malfoy. The look he gave Hermione was so poisonous that it caused her to shiver slightly in disgust. He would bear careful watching the future.
"I think you might have some explaining to do," Ron hissed from where he sat across the table.
"Pipe down, Ron," one of the twins stepped in.
"We should talk about this somewhere else," agreed the other.
"Let's go then," said Neville.
Sighing, Harry agreed and rose to leave the Hall, albeit reluctantly. It appeared like their friends were going to have an accounting and nothing would keep them from it.
An incensed Draco Malfoy watched the assorted blood traitors and Mudbloods, Potter's general cadre of lesser beings, as they rose from their respective tables and made their way from the Great Hall. He also noted with some disgust the fact that both Davis (who he truly could not care less about, other than the fact that the misguided hat had seen fit to place the girl in Slytherin) and Greengrass (who most certainly did concern him) were among his entourage. That was a situation which would need to be dealt with. Davis was just a Halfblood and as such, could go hang herself for all he cared, but regardless of her family's politics, Greengrass was at the very least a proper Pureblood. It was high time that she began to act like one. For a moment he was tempted to follow them and wreak bloody vengeance upon the lot of them for this indignity, but he forced himself to stop and consider the situation.
The previous night's events had obviously been the culmination of the instructions he and his friends had received in the past several days. But somehow it had all gone horribly wrong. It was Potter again, along with that meddling old fool Dumbledore.
Even more than that, the fact that a Mudblood—no better than an animal!—had raised her wand—a tool she should not even possess!—against his father! Lucius Malfoy was a Pureblood of long standing and pedigree! How dare she? The mere thought of it filled him with a rage which almost caused him to lose his carefully cultivated control. All those who supported Potter must be made to pay the price for their temerity!
But now was not the time. Draco and the rest of Slytherin—at least the right thinking part of the house—were the Dark Lord's eyes and ears in the school. Hopefully at some point they would also serve as his sword of vengeance. But as much as he would revel in causing Granger's screams to echo through the halls of Hogwarts, he would exercise patience and restraint for the time being so that he did not provoke the old Muggle lover. Their day would surely come, but it would come in the time of the Dark Lord's choosing and in the manner he deemed best.
In the meantime, he would wait and watch, knowing that the Dark Lord was not sitting idly by. The Dark Lord would undoubtedly need information as to what was happening in the school, and Draco meant to provide it. Then he would be rewarded when the Dark Lord's ultimate victory was achieved as it assuredly must.
"Draco!" someone hissed by his side.
Draco turned and noted that Nott was watching him with a burning intensity. As his father had also been at the Ministry the previous evening, he had as much reason to be infuriated as Draco himself, though of course the Notts did not inhabit the social heights of the Malfoys, nor were they as old and respected. Crabbe and Goyle were also sitting by with grim expressions on their faces, as their fathers had also been part of the strike force. They had not an ounce of intelligence between them and were not truly useful for anything more than additional muscle. Nott, however, would be a valuable ally.
"What are we going to do about this… this…" He gestured wildly at the offending piece of newsprint which sat upon the table.
"Nothing," Draco replied shortly.
Nott's eyes narrowed and he nodded shortly after a moment. "Wait for the Dark Lord's instructions?"
"Exactly," Draco replied with a short nod. "I'm sure the Dark Lord has something in mind for Potter and his merry band of misfits. We need to be ready to dispense his justice when the time comes."
"Very well," Nott replied. "But eventually they will pay."
"For more than just this."
Draco turned to look at his other friends. Crabbe and Goyle appeared determined, Bulstrode in agreement, though somewhat disinterested, while Pansy simply looked on with her usual level of disdain for those who were not her equal. The girl was fanatical in her loyalty, though it was extremely unfortunate that she was so plain. It would not do to have a future leader of society such as himself associated so closely with one who was below him.
Contemplatively, Draco turned his gaze toward the doors. Potter and his crew had already left the hallway, but he was not really thinking of the Gryffindor golden boy, though two of his so-called friends featured rather prominently in Draco's thoughts. Greengrass was, he reflected, a truly impressive specimen of feminine attractions, and an overall impressive Pureblood. Of course he had known this for quite some time, but as she matured, it became even clearer to him that the girl was exceptional.
There was her unfortunate tendency to run with Potter these days, but Draco figured that with the proper guidance and instruction, she would make him a proper wife. Yes, it was decided—he would have her for a wife. She was his match in every way and would be a truly striking adornment on his arm. Their children would be stupendous—the next leaders of Pureblood society.
And as for Parkinson, well, he knew that she had her heart set on him, though there was certainly nothing arranged between them. But she was simply not up to his standards. She could marry Crabbe or Goyle—it truly did not matter which one. He could make it a sort of reward for one of them for their years of service and support—a sort of a contest between them which would only help improve their loyalty and inspire them to please him. Draco smiled to himself as he arranged it all in his head.
And as for the other one…
The thought of Granger and her actions of the previous night still filled him with rage, though he had a better control over it now. Whatever happened, Draco knew that she must pay for her actions. She had been a thorn in his side for far too long; it was nearly time to pluck that thorn and consign it to the fire where it belonged.
Following their departure from the Great Hall, Fleur followed their friends along with Harry and Hermione, noting that the faces around them all held expressions of annoyance and displeasure. Fleur could empathize, especially for Ron who had been neck deep in Harry's adventures until she herself had shown up on the scene this year. Fleur was not blind—she was well aware that Ron sometimes struggled with his more limited time in the company of his best friend and she had tried to allow them their time and not get in the way.
However, she was not to willing to—nor did she think she should—give way to those of his previous acquaintance. To be fair to Ron, she did not truly think that he wanted her to defer to him. It was simply an adjustment for them all. They would all, however, simply need to get used to the fact that Harry was at the center of the struggle against Voldemort and as such, so were she and Hermione to an extent due to their relationships with him. There would undoubtedly be times when Harry would not be able to share all he knew. They would all need to learn to accept that fact.
The unused classroom where they were to have their conversation was reached quickly and they all filed in and found seats in the various chairs which were to be found around the room. As it was the room which Fleur had often used to train Harry and Hermione in Occlumency it was at least clean. As Fleur took her seat next to Harry, she turned to look over the room's occupants, reflecting on their connection to Harry and their general personalities and what they meant to Harry.
Ron, of course, was Harry's oldest friend and though she had not always had the best opinion of him—particularly during his almost shouted invitation to the Yule Ball during the tournament—he had grown into himself, becoming more solid and dependable. His sister was still afflicted by her infatuation for Harry, but she had also improved and matured, becoming more relaxed and more confident. And the twins, ever irrepressible, but ever dependable—there were few who would be fiercer supporters once they gave their allegiance.
Then there was Neville, the solid and quiet Gryffindor, as true a friend could be, lacking in confidence, perhaps, but quickly gaining experience and assurance with the closer relationships he had been able to forge this year. And little Luna, perhaps the oddest of the group, yet behind her spacey persona, Fleur knew there existed a keen intellect and a highly independent character. The two of them would perhaps have seemed to most observers to be a rather unlikely couple, but in truth they seemed rather well suited—Neville with his quiet solidity was balanced nicely by Luna's somewhat spacey personality, not to mention her intelligence. Then there was the Hufflepuff addition to their group, Susan who was the epitome of loyalty and good sense like her house suggested, but was also competent and level-headed, a truly calming influence on them all.
And finally, perhaps the most surprising members of their clique, the Slytherins. Tracey was blunt and forthright, but always willing to lend a helping hand or a willing ear. And Daphne was perhaps the most devious Slytherin that she knew personally, ambitious and cunning, yet personable and very knowledgeable.
Of course, Fleur suspected that Daphne had more in mind than purely friendship when it came to Harry. Fleur knew that Daphne, though perhaps she would not choose an arranged marriage for herself, would agree to become a second wife if she thought it would help her and her family's situation. It was a devious trait, in keeping with her Slytherin nature, but also somewhat Hufflepuff-ish as well. Fleur was not certain what to think of that prospect. She had already agreed not to stand in the way of Harry's happiness, but accepting Hermione as a second wife and accepting Daphne were two completely different things—he did not have the shared history and feelings with the Slytherin girl that he had with Hermione after all. Fleur was not certain how she would react to the suggestion that she open her arms to Daphne should the occasion arise. Still, the girl was pleasant and fun to be around, so Fleur felt that she could accept her if it would make Harry happy, and if she felt Harry harbored the appropriate feelings for her. Not that she thought that Harry was seriously considering her. At least not yet.
Perhaps it was unsurprising that Ron was the first spokesman of the gathering of their somewhat disgruntled friends, given his longstanding friendship with Harry.
"Harry," he began much more calmly than Fleur would have expected only a few short months before, "it seems like you had a bit of a busy night last night."
Tracey snorted in response to Ron's statement. "Seems to be a bit of an understatement, don't you think?" the girl stated, brandishing the offending newspaper which had them all in a tizzy. "I would have hoped that you would have at least let us know that you planned to go toe to toe with bloody You-Know-Who himself!"
"Maybe we should all calm down a little," one of the twins said.
"I'm sure Harry and his lovely ladies have a reasonable explanation for this," added the other.
Harry sighed and glanced at both Hermione and herself, raising an eyebrow in silent question. Fleur smiled and nodded, knowing that their friends would not be happy with anything other than a full disclosure of what had been happening, though there were some things which could not be divulged.
"I will tell you what I can," said Harry after a slight hesitation.
Ron bristled at the implication that Harry would not divulge all, but he was quickly cut off by the voice of a certain ethereal blond Ravenclaw.
"I'm sure Harry would tell us everything if he could," Luna said. "There must be things that he needs to keep secret." She turned to Harry and smiled at him. "We would love to hear whatever you can tell us, Harry."
Usually Luna almost appeared to be inhabiting some other dimension than the rest of them and Fleur suspected that she possessed at least a hint of the talent of premonition, if not a full blown gift of prophecy. This time, however, she was focused and intent as she spoke, something Fleur—much less the rest of them—was certainly not used to. So incongruous was her behavior that more than one of the friends looked at her with a modicum of surprise and attention. Luna behaving in a serious manner was oddly compelling.
"Thank you, Luna," Harry said with a smile for the quirky Ravenclaw. "There are some things that I can't tell you, but we'll tell you what we can." He stopped and a stern expression came over his countenance. "But you can't tell anyone—it has to remain a complete secret."
When their friends all murmured their assent, some with rolled eyes—the secrecy comment was a little obvious—Harry launched into the telling of the story. He told them everything he could, from learning of the prophecy—though he only described it in general terms and not in detail—to the fear that Voldemort was trying to get his hands on it, to the plan to lure Voldemort into the Ministry so that he could be discovered, and finally, to the events of the previous night. He stuck to the facts and did not venture into other territory, meaning that he did not discuss horcruxes, nor did he say anything about his connection with the Dark Lord.
When he had completed his tale, he fell silent and sat back, watching carefully as the others digested what he had told them. Fleur noticed the slight hesitation in his manner as he looked at them and instinctually understood that he was protecting himself from rejection, much like he had acted after he had told Hermione and herself of the horcrux. It was, perhaps, a ghost of a self-preservation instinct still remaining from his time with his relatives, or the incidents in his earlier Hogwarts years where he had been looked on with suspicion and distrust. He might not have bothered, Fleur mused. This group of friends they had assembled was not fickle, nor were they faint of heart; Fleur had no doubt they would stand with Harry no matter what happened.
"That's some story, Harry," Ron commented after a moment's silence. "Even crazier than some of the other things which have happened since you got here. That takes some doing."
"Crazy or not, I'm more interested in this prophecy," Daphne commented. "I assume you would not even have mentioned it if the press had not gotten their hands on it."
"Would you?" Harry asked somewhat snidely. "I'm already routinely reviled and praised—why would I want something for them to heap even more unwanted attention on me?
"Not to mention the fact that the Prophet has already latched onto it, calling me 'The Chosen One'." Harry snorted with disgust. "Chosen to save a bunch of people who won't even get off their arses long enough to save themselves!"
"Now that Fudge is gone, hopefully we will get a Minister who will fight back," Neville suggested.
Harry waved him off. "I know that I'm generalizing a bit, Neville. But you have to admit that a lot of people are like sheep. They bleat and follow the loudest voice, run around in a frenzy when the wolf gets close, and run and hide instead of fighting back. And that doesn't even consider the fact that they want to dump their salvation on a fifteen year old and try to wash their hands of the matter entirely."
Though it was a rather stark indictment on the Wizarding world in general, Fleur found that she was not really able dispute it. Harry had been a part of this world for almost five years and this had essentially been his experience. It was what it was.
"You'll get no argument from me," Daphne chimed in yet again, "but I want to go back to this prophecy. I noticed that you did not tell us the actual text of it."
"And I'm not going to," Harry replied firmly. "Only a few people know what it actually says, and we'd like to keep that number to a bare minimum. The more people who know the secret, the harder it is to keep."
"Then You-Know-Who doesn't know it all?"
Harry shook his head and launched into the tale of the prophecy's history and the Death Eater who had shared what he had heard with Voldemort. Once he was finished, Daphne wore an openly skeptical expression on her face.
"Is the part he's missing really that important?"
"Dumbledore thinks it is," Hermione replied. "He thinks Voldemort would act differently if he knew it and he wants to keep the advantage we currently have."
"And if Voldemort knew the whole prophecy, he likely wouldn't have attacked me in the first place," Harry added.
Daphne appeared pensive. "And this prophecy states that you can defeat him?"
"Essentially," Harry agreed. "It doesn't say how or even that I will. It only says that I can and that it's either him or me."
"I can understand why you want to keep it a secret," Ginny blurted.
The friends fell silent and a series of looks passed between them. By this time they all knew Harry quite well and were aware of his aversion for being the center of attention. The revelation concerning the prophecy was not a welcome one for her betrothed, but she knew that he would handle it with the same poise and determination with which he handled everything which was placed in his path.
"So what's going to happen now?" one of the twins asked.
"Nothing," Harry said firmly. "I'm still just Harry and even though most now know there's a prophecy, I don't want anything to change. Especially amongst us."
"And you know that it won't," Ron said firmly, looking every inch the firm supporter he had grown into. "But things will change in the school. You know that they will."
Harry sighed. "You're right. But I hope I can count on all of your support. I don't want to be treated any different."
"You know we will always stand with you, Harry," said the other twin. "But I think George and I are more interested in what will happen to the Death Eaters."
"With Fudge gone, maybe the Ministry will actually do something about them," Harry snarked. "To be honest, I imagine they will be convicted and sent back to Azkaban. You know what happened the last time Voldemort had supporters in prison."
No one said anything—there was not truly much to say. Everyone was well aware of what had happened only a few short months before, and no one doubted that Voldemort was capable of doing the same thing all over again. Perhaps the Death Eaters could be held in another, secret, location, but Fleur was not conversant enough with Britain, or with the laws of the country, to determine what the Ministry's likely response would be. If someone with even a little more sense than Fudge were elected, hopefully they would see the danger of just shipping them off to Azkaban again and trying to forget about them.
"Did anyone notice Malfoy's reaction to today's paper?" Neville spoke into the silence.
"He's likely mad that daddy finally got caught," Fred jibed.
"Must suck to know that daddy's a jailbird," said George.
"We're going to have to watch him carefully," said Fleur. "Who knows what he's capable of?"
"I'll take him apart piece by piece if he touches any one of you," Harry growled.
"I'll help," Ron agreed. "I figure we owe the git for all the rubbish he's pulled over the years."
"For now I think watching him is enough," Hermione interjected. "You can't convict him for things he hasn't done."
"I don't need to see Malfoy actually do anything," Harry said in response. "I always know when he's plotting something—if he's awake, he's scheming. The fact that he sucks at scheming doesn't change the fact that he's doing it."
Again the group fell silent and after a few moments, they began discussing the events of the previous night in a more general manner. Fleur largely stayed out of the conversation, focusing instead on Harry, who was himself less than vocal. The previous night had definitely affected him, though it had been his own plan. He was a complex person, she knew, filled with equal parts bashful avoidance of attention, and a determination to do what was right—what Hermione called his "saving people thing." Of course it went without saying that his determination was what brought him so much more attention than he would ever have had to deal with had he not been cursed with that particular trait.
Fleur would not have him any other way. Without it, who knows what would have happened in the first four years of his schooling? Voldemort might well have returned on that night in his first year, and if he had, there was every possibility that Harry would already have fallen to a newly reconstituted dark lord.
Feeling the pain of such a thought, Fleur shifted a little closer to her betrothed, noting with some satisfaction that he mirrored her actions and caught her hand in his own. She relished the physical contact and watched as he used his thumb to stroke tiny circles absently on the back of her hand. She was so lucky he was who he was and not some arrogant idiot in the mold of Malfoy.
The discussion continued for some time before beginning to peter out, and introspection came over the group of friends. Harry, watching his friends closely, apparently decided that it was time to separate. He cleared his throat, and everyone turned expectantly to him.
"Thanks for your support," he said. Fleur could tell that he was a little emotional by the quaver in his voice. "I think I need to digest some of the things that happened last night, and I need to have a talk with Fleur and Hermione. Could you all excuse us?"
Ron peered back at Harry suspiciously. "More secrets, Harry?"
"Not that I haven't already admitted to. This is a private matter between us."
Seemingly ashamed at his words, Ron stood and approached Harry and put a hand on his shoulder. "Fair enough, mate." Then Ron was silent for a moment, obviously trying to find the words he wished to say. "We trust you, Harry. It's just… It's difficult to be left out, you know?"
"Don't feel left out, Ron," Harry replied, slapping his friend on the shoulder. "You're still my best mate. It's just… I have some responsibilities, you know? I'm still the same Harry. I just… I can't allow anything to happen to Fleur and Hermione, and sometimes keeping them safe involves keeping secrets."
Fleur's heart nearly melted right then and there at Harry's gentle words, not to mention the heart-stopping tender glance he directed at both her and Hermione. It spoke to his regard for them both and the almost infinite amount of love he was capable of holding in his heart.
"But trust me," Harry continued, looking all around the room, "I'm pretty sure that you all will be included in some pretty heavy action before this is all finished. I'll include you all in everything that I can."
"You had better keep Hermione and Fleur safe," replied Ron with a playful growl "Or you'll have the rest of us coming after you."
"Too right, brother of mine," said George, while his twin chimed in with a heartfelt, "Amen!"
"Boys!" Daphne interrupted with a huff. She turned to Harry and said, "We will leave you to have your discussion. But before we go, I think we should have a little talk."
Harry appeared confused. "About what, Daphne?"
"About this tendency of yours to take everything on your own shoulders and to leave others out of the loop." Daphne stopped and seemed to consider her words for a moment or two before she continued, looking up into his eyes, her customary determination evident in her manner. "We're all friends here, Harry, and by now I think that you understand that we are with you until the end, no matter what happens."
A general murmur of agreement met her declaration and Harry appeared like he was almost ready to tear up.
"We're with you, but we want to be more with you, if you take my meaning. You may have to keep secrets at times, Harry Potter, but we would appreciate it if you would at least inform us of what's going on in the future."
"You want me to put you in danger?" has asked, appearing to be slightly perplexed.
"We want you to consider us friends," said Susan Bones, who up until that point had remained largely silent. "We want you to let us help you and share the burden you carry."
Harry smiled at her, apparently pleased at the sentiments expressed, and happy that his friends cared so much. "In this together?"
"Definitely," said Tracey.
"All right everyone," Harry replied somewhat tremulously, his eyes suspiciously misty with suppressed emotion. He regarded the group and said with a sort of gruff playfulness, "You've had your say, all of you. Now I'd appreciate a few minutes alone with Hermione and Fleur."
"Are you sure a few minutes will do?" Fred jibed with a waggle of his eyebrows.
"If it only takes a few minutes, you're some kind of fast worker!" agreed George with a false expression of astonishment.
"You must instruct us, oh great master," they then said in unison while falling to their knees and genuflecting in the classic "We're not worthy" pose.
"All right you two," Harry growled. "That's enough of that."
The rest of the room was in stitches at the twins' antics, and soon Harry was forced to join in with the rest of the laughter. It took several moments for their friends to leave the room, as the laughter and jokes at Harry's expense were far from over. At length, however, they were finally left alone.
Harry turned to Fleur and Hermione and he held out a hand to each of them, and neither was of a mind to refuse the invitation. They sat on an old sofa which was situated to one side of the classroom, Harry in the middle and flanked by the two girls who both still clutched one of his hands.
"I wanted to talk about what happened last night," Harry began in a hesitant manner, almost as though he expected that they would not wish to discuss it.
"By all means," Fleur said immediately. "You said you had something you wanted to say to us?"
Harry paused for a moment before he visibly worked up his courage and looked up. It was somewhat awkward for him being in the middle as he was addressing both of them, but he gamely pressed on, making sure that they both felt like they were part of the conversation.
"I wanted to thank you for your help last night," he began in a quiet tone of voice. "You were both amazing and I appreciate your willingness to stand with me.
"On the other hand, I was very surprised to see you there and I had wanted to keep you safe." He paused again for a moment and Fleur, noticing that Hermione appeared as though she was about to burst for wanting to make her opinion known, sent the other girl a quelling look over Harry's head. Hermione complied, though not willingly, unless Fleur missed her guess.
"I understand your desire to protect me and be with me and I'm grateful for it. But I think we need to have some ground rules. I can't always be wondering if you will show up when I least expect it and when we agreed that I would be doing something on my own.
"And this is not the first time you have both ignored my wishes," Harry continued, deep in thought. "Even though I didn't want to have anything to do with leading the club, you both pushed and pushed until I gave in."
"Harry," Hermione began, looking like she could not restrain herself any longer, "I would point out that in this instance you told us what your plan was and informed us we would not be involved. And with the club you refused to even hear us state our opinions."
"I know what you are saying," Fleur said, "but you must also admit that you have at times been a little heavy-handed in telling us what you wanted us to do. I don't think either Hermione or I want a relationship like that where you don't listen to us and leave us out of something without our consent."
Harry colored a little at their comments and Fleur let go of his hand and put her arm around his shoulders. "Harry, like you, we are both thrilled with how well you take care of us and how you want to keep us safe. But neither Hermione nor I are the type to sit at home and wait for the man of the house to return from a hard day of fighting dark wizards. We want to be involved. We want to protect you like you protect us."
"I suppose that's fair," Harry said with a crooked smile. "But you have to understand that there may be times when I may be doing something you cannot be involved in. When that happens, I need to know that I won't have to worry about you following me and distracting me when I need to be focused."
"I think we both understand that," said Hermione, though she made a bit of a face as she spoke. "We don't really like it, but there's really no choice in the matter, now is there?"
"I'm glad you see it that way," was Harry's simple reply.
The trio spent a considerable length of time in that classroom that day, throughout the morning and into the afternoon, as none of them felt equal to facing the stares and whispers of the rest of the student body. They even summoned Dobby and had him deliver them a simple lunch when they became hungry, just so that they could avoid it for a little longer.
Of course, not all their time was spent in conversation. More than a few kisses were exchanged, leaving Harry breathless, Fleur thought in satisfaction, as she and Hermione would sometimes take their turns, leaving Harry little time to recover in between. His reaction to them was all the Fleur would ever have hoped it would be. The connection which had been taking hold these long months was strengthening and deepening, in part due to their complementary personalities, but also in part due to shared experiences, such as that of the previous night. That day, Fleur felt the first true and recognizable stirrings of love enter her heart.
After leaving their room, Remus and Tonks were escorted to another room within the hotel at which they were staying, and they were prepared to move to whatever location this order maintained for whatever activities in which they were engaged.
"This room is warded," the spokesman said when Remus raised an eyebrow at him. "We suspected that you would need to go before the council and prepared this room in advance. You may already suspect, but the order is a secret one, its existence known only to a few. We take vows to reinforce this.
"But we're also careful to avoid any attention. Our Ministry can detect portkeys, but if the room is warded in advance, they will not know from where it originated, or where it is going to."
By now Remus was staring at the man with some curiosity. "Your Ministry actually keeps track of things like that?"
"No, not normally. But they could. Absolute secrecy is required, and we do what we do to maintain it, even if it may not be necessary."
Within moments the portkeys were brought in and Remus felt the tug of the device behind his navel and he was whisked off to some new location. When the journey ended he found himself in a small room, walls bare and devoid of any sort of furniture or other distinguishing features. It was clearly designated as a receiving area, where their arrival was apparently expected, as they were greeted by a man and a woman, who asked them to step to the side so the others could arrive. It was only a moment later before their guide materialized in the room, accompanied by several of his companions from the hotel.
"This way, if you please," he said, gesturing toward the single door.
As they walked through the hallways, Remus looked about with interest though there was truly not much to be seen. The walls were austere and largely free of any adornment, and the occasional door they passed was equally uninformative. Whether this was by design or due to some other factor, Remus could not be certain, though he suspected the former. Little in the way of adornment could suggest that secrecy was more important to these people than loud proclamations of who and what they were, which fit in with the little they had been told.
They were finally led in to a large, circular room. The room was as stark as the rest of the place they had thus far seen, though it was furnished with thirteen chairs situated on the far side of the room in a semicircle pointing toward the door. In each of these thirteen chairs sat person, some older and some younger. While fully half of them were Arabic, among their numbers were those from all different ethnicities.
They were marched into the center of the room to the center of the semicircle where they stood facing the elders of this mysterious society, who watched them with some curiosity. Their attention was drawn to the man in the center. He had long white hair and a trimmed white beard, and reminded Remus of Dumbledore, though neither his robes nor his beard were as flamboyant as the English wizard's were wont to be. He eyed them with a keen and appraising stare, making Remus feel as though all his secrets were now exposed to this man's scrutiny—another trait he apparently shared with the Headmaster.
"What do we have here?" the man finally asked in accented English. "A werewolf and a young metamorph from England."
Feeling slightly nonplussed at the fact that the man knew this much about them—though perhaps, given the events of the morning, Remus thought he should be beyond surprise by now—he inclined his head. "Yes, sir. We are searching for—"
"We are already aware of what you are searching for," the man interrupted. "We noted your arrival and have known of your search since Qareeb reported it. Your actions since then have resulted in our decision to bring you in before us. The real question is why you are searching for horcruxes."
"You know Qareeb?" Remus asked incredulously.
"He was once the leader of this society," the man replied with a wave of his hand.
Remus and Tonks exchanged a look. It appeared like there was more happening here than they had imagined.
"And just what is this society you are referring to?" Remus asked cautiously.
An Asian sitting on far left responded in heavily accented English, "Most simply call it 'The Society.' Our proper name is 'The Eye of the Pharaoh'."
"You won't find any reference to us anywhere," the elderly man continued. "We guard our secrecy most assiduously, for reasons which will become apparent.
"But the material point is that you are here, looking for forbidden knowledge, and not only that, but you are also from England, which is known to be experiencing difficulties with a reconstituted dark lord. There are only a handful of ways for one to cheat death by magical means, and as a horcrux is one of them, you must admit it appears quite suspicious.
"We are not affiliated with the dark lord," Remus stated.
"So you say," a woman about halfway down the right side said in a German accent. "You will tell us your story, and then we will judge what aid we can give you, if any."
"But we will warn you now," a black man closest to them on the right said with a hard glare, "if you are searching for knowledge and are in league with your dark lord, it will not go well with you. The best you can expect is to be Obliviated and left to your own devices. The worst is death."
"It's a little late for that, don't you think?" Tonks muttered.
"Now, now," the elderly man who was clearly the leader said, raising his hand. "Let us not descend into threats when we do not even possess the full reasons of why they are here.
"Why don't you tell us your story?" he continued with an encouraging smile.
Knowing that he had no other choice, Remus began telling the tale, detailing the reason why they were in Egypt and what they hoped to accomplish. And though there were things that he might prefer to keep secret, there was really no point in doing so. It was true that he did not know yet if he could trust these people, but he could sense instinctively that they were not associated with the likes of Voldemort. Besides, it seemed as though they had information which was desperately needed, and Remus was not about to pass up the opportunity to finally find something, anything.
When Remus had finished his recitation, he watched the elders as they absorbed the story he had just told them. He was happy to note that there was nothing he could detect in the way of skepticism, only speculation and concern.
"It is well that you have told us the truth." He smiled faintly at them. "What you perhaps had not realized was that this room has been overlaid with runes and enchantments which tell us when a person is speaking the truth.
"It is fortunate that we brought you here then," he continued. "The situation in England is even more disturbing than we had originally thought."
"You've referred to that already," Remus replied with a frown. "Just how aware of what is happening there are you?"
"We have agents in every land and we are always seeking knowledge and wizards who abuse it," was the reply. "As for England, you may not know this, but this Lord Voldemort was revealed as having returned a few days ago. Apparently this Harry Potter of whom you speak was instrumental in his unmasking."
"But if you have knowledge, why do you hoard it? Wouldn't it make more sense to share it and counter the threat?"
"We do share it when necessary," the man stated. "We have been discussing what should be done and who to approach. Likely it would have been your Chief Warlock—in fact, we have deliberated inviting Albus Dumbledore to join our society for many years. But as he has always seemed to be immersed in the business of your country, his school, and the ICW, we refrained."
Remus was confused, but he instinctually understood that he could find out about this at some other time. Right now they needed to focus on obtaining the assistance of these people.
"Are you able to help us?" he asked
"We are," the German woman responded. "However, you must understand that this is not a simple undertaking, nor can the information be given freely and without safeguards."
"Perhaps we should tell you what we represent," the elderly man said. "Then you may determine whether you want our help. If not, we will Obliviate you and send you on your way. If you do wish our help, then you will need to swear oaths and you may seek further for what you require."
Remus inclined his head in agreement of those terms. The elderly man sat back in his chair and indicated to a middle aged Caucasian who sat by his side. "Perhaps you should explain, Samuel," he said. "It would be much easier as English is your native language."
The indicated man was short and balding, and wore the most ridiculous handlebar mustache that Remus had ever seen, twirling up upon itself several times and coming to a sharp point at the end. He appeared the epitome of the stereotypical cartoonish arch-villain which Remus had sometimes seen in Muggle literature. The man smiled at them kindly, however, and immediately put them at ease.
"Of course, Mohammed," he replied with joviality, his accent the twang of the American south. "First, what do you both know of the Great Library of Alexandria?"
"Only that it was destroyed in antiquity," Tonks said.
Remus himself was somewhat surprised. They had joked of how it would be easier if the library was available to them—could it truly still exist?
"Indeed it was," Samuel confirmed. "Though there is some disagreement by historians as to how it was destroyed. We of the society, however, have passed the true history down through the generations."
He stopped for a moment and his expression became introspective. "The Royal Library of Alexandria was an ancient storehouse of knowledge, which was well ahead of its time in the history of the world. Scrolls, numbering in the tens of thousands, were gathered from all areas of the known world, and were studied by scholars, both Egyptian and from many other lands. The library, however, also contained a magical section, which was already, by that time, an old repository of knowledge, both beneficial and the opposite. Egypt was, as you by now are aware, the birthplace of soul magic, and wizards of the time had delved deep into this knowledge. Of course, though soul magic is widely considered today to be somewhat useless and eccentric, the wizards of the time were able to divine uses. Unfortunately, most of these uses were hardly beneficial. It was for this reason that the magical library was kept a careful secret and the task of gathering and archiving, as well as removing from circulation that knowledge which was used for evil purposes had already been under way for centuries, by the time in question.
"You are undoubtedly aware of the first incident which happened during Gaius Julius Caesar's invasion in 48 BC. This did in fact result in the destruction of the library by fire—the other incidents through the centuries which historians believe might have resulted in the destruction of the library actually destroyed other buildings and some remaining works. It was Caesar who brought about the first great damage.
"You must understand that at the time, wards did not exist and charms was not even an acknowledged branch of magic. However, with the use of runes, the ancients were able to accomplish much the same as warders will today, namely, the hiding of the repository, and all manner of protections, including protection from fire, floods, and the like.
"When Caesar fired his own ships, a sudden squall fanned the flames and spread the fire to the docks and the nearby buildings. The library of antiquity was situated near the palace complex which was itself some distance from the docks. However, the resulting firestorm spread through the city and was only contained after much damage was done. Some whispered at the time that there was a magical component to the fire which consumed all in its path. However, none of the great magical scholars of the time were able to detect any truth to that story, and it was determined to have little substance.
"The library, however, was partially destroyed. But the magical section was left largely untouched, with only a few scrolls being damaged, and that by water and the efforts to fight the fire. Once the fire had been suppressed, our forebears discussed what was to happen to the accumulated knowledge, as it was now deemed at risk. Over the course of the next several centuries the library was moved a number of times, before it was finally brought to its current location. The society which was founded to protect its secrets became even more insular and protective, to the point where the oaths and protective magics which now govern us were implemented. The entire complex is now warded by a modified Fidelius; you can be brought here without suffering the effects of disorientation which generally happens with a traditional Fidelius, but that protection can be removed at any time by the secret keeper. You may think that modification a drawback, but as the only people who can Portkey here are brought in by our agents, it helps to be able to allow someone to come in without telling them the secret, as only those who join the society are given the secret. Also, the death of the secret keeper does not render everyone else a secret keeper—instead, that function reverts to the next in seniority, the next after him, and so on. And that does not even mention the other protections which have been added over the years, some of which are quite vicious. We protect our privacy and the knowledge we archive."
When the man fell silent, Remus considered what he had learned with some surprise. It was a history directly out of a story book, or one of the Muggle mystery novels, which he had read a time or two during his exile in the Muggle world, and something Remus never could have considered being the truth. It simply seemed to be too fantastical to be true.
But he was not about to overlook the very good fortune they had had to be noticed by these people. For now, however, a little more information was required.
"I assure you that we would be willing to swear any oaths you deem necessary to be able to discover all we can. But just to be certain—you do have information on horcruxes specifically, correct?"
Samuel appeared to be amused by the question. "Horcruxes were the initial reason for the library's existence."
At Remus's blank look, Samuel chuckled and continued. "I won't go into any great detail—you can discover this in the records—but the horcrux is an Egyptian spell from antiquity. The library repository was created initially to house records of the wizards of the time, and also to safeguard information about horcruxes, knowledge which had already caused great hardship and trouble. Since that time we have gathered many other forms of knowledge, some beneficial, and some equally dark. Our goal is to remove all dark magics from the world, yet to preserve them in case they are ever needed to combat evil."
"If it's so dark, wouldn't it be better to simply destroy it?" Tonks asked.
This time it was Mohammed who answered. "If we did that, then where would you be now?"
A moment's thought later, Tonks inclined her head.
"It would be better if such knowledge had never been discovered in the first place. Mankind, however, has an insatiable curiosity and at times, and equally insatiable need to do evil. As that is the way of the world, we have no choice but to collect it, and to remove what we can from the world, saving it for any possible future need.
"And we have been successful," he continued. "Your journey through Egypt should be proof enough—I doubt you could find a manuscript anywhere in Egypt which has more than a vague description on the subject. And with the exception of your Lord Voldemort, I doubt a horcrux has been created in more than three hundred years, and much, much longer in Egypt. The fact that your dark lord has created one at all is troubling, as we had thought we had long eradicated any knowledge of how to make one."
Remus frowned. "It's possible that he came across some information which allowed him to reconstruct the ritual himself. But I must admit that I'm confused. We spoke with a curse breaker who told us that his colleagues had come across horcruxes in other parts of the world."
"Yes, that is true," Samuel agreed. "But those horcruxes would have been created centuries ago. It is true that we have not been as successful in other parts of the world as we have been here, as the society is more concentrated in Egypt than in any other place in the world. But even so, I doubt there are many records left anywhere else which would contain instructions on horcrux creation. The society has not found such a document in hundreds of years anywhere in the world."
Remus glanced at Tonks, who appeared to have an expression of wonder permanently etched upon her face. And it was an amazing thing, that they had gone from a distinct hopelessness, to what he hoped would be success in the space of a few hours. They still had to swear the oaths and discover the knowledge, but that was, he hoped, a mere formality.
"Please tell us what we must do then," said Remus, looking back at the elders. "Then anything you can share with us will help in the struggle with the dark lord."
"You will swear the oaths," Mohammed replied, "but you will need to search for yourself, though we can assign a member of the library's staff to assist you. You must understand that the information you seek is… distasteful. Creating a horcrux requires a person to commit terrible acts. Though we know this, we do not study the specifics—we merely preserve the knowledge in case it is required.
"I will inform you of one thing that is known," Mohammed continued. "While the specifics are unknown to me, I can tell you that there is no known way to remove a horcrux. You will find the knowledge necessary to identify a horcrux, but the only way to deal with one is to destroy it."
Feeling his spirits plummeting, Remus nodded in acceptance, hopeful that the man might be wrong. Mohammed had admitted himself that he had not studied horcruxes, after all, and there might be works in the collection which would refute his statement. At least he hoped there was, or this journey could end up being for nothing.
"Very well. Let's get these oaths out of the way so that we can begin."