Disclaimer: My house belongs to the bank, my work belongs to my boss and my money is always confiscated by my wife. And Harry Potter belongs to JK Rowling. Damn...

Cold Blood

By DerLaCroix

Chapter 25: No sparkles

Viktor looked over from his conversation with Maria when the cheering started. "Did I miss something?"

"Only Hermione's first wandless spell," Sirius replied with a grin. "Another prokletnik, perhaps?" he teased.

"And another reason to apply for the corps," Viktor replied, shaking his head mirthfully. "Anyway, Maria just mentioned your mirror calling a lot all morning, so you might want to check."

"Oh well, that must be mum," Sirius sighed, reaching for his wand. "If he's shouting so much, it's probably important."

A few moments later, the mirror flew into his hands. Instead of waiting for another shout, he choose to open the connection from his end. "Mister Moony, are you around?"

It took only a few seconds for Remus to appear in the mirror. "Finally! We need to rework these things, adding a bell or something, I'm going hoarse at this rate," he greeted.

"Nonsense. No one has ever heard of a were-horse. No amount of shouting would turn you into such a thing," Sirius replied evenly. Remus stared at him for a moment before rubbing his temples.

"And now I've got a migraine, as well. Thanks. Remind me to wring your neck once you are back, would you?"

"Will do. Now, I have heard you wanted to tell us something, apart from your daily ailments?" Sirius replied, pouring some wine for Sophie and him, before settling with his glass in hand.

Remus huffed, and shook his head in resignation. "Actually, it's more than one thing, since Tonks joined me here with some more news," he replied, while Tonks shouldered herself into the frame, waving.

"Hello Tonks, we met Charlie and gave him your best," Hermione spoke, waving back.

"Considering his awkward escape after you did, she already did, herself," Sophie added. "Poor boy was all but sinking into the ground when they mentioned your name."

"That's just him, I mean we never made it to second hoop when dating. Actually, he barely caught the Quaffles, he was just too shy around women for us to work out," Tonks defended herself. "I steamrolled him pretty hard, come to think about it. Maybe that's why he went and joined the dragon keepers - few women, and those who are look like men, anyway," she thought out aloud, making Sirius spit out his drink in a veritable fountain.

"Sounds familiar," Harry replied with a smirk. "You always had a habit to torment shy boys, right?"

"Not much tormenting - he walked in on me after Quidditch practice while I was in the shower. We sort of slipped into dating after that. Sweet guy, never asked me to change shape for him when we actually fooled around. Come to think of it, that's pretty damning - most guys were after me as the ultimate male fantasy," Tonks replied thoughtfully.

"Ok, that's enough of your dating history, we do have some other topics to discuss," Remus interrupted, quite cranky.

"Right, let's do it in chronology - what is your headline, Moony," Sirius proposed.

"It's all over the news - last night, the Wizengamot has finally found a compromise, after days of discussion. There has been a lot of news from Bulgaria, and the British press got it mostly right, Harry being a half-dragon and stuff, but nothing about the deal you told me about. How's the status on that, by the way?"

Sirius furrowed his brow before he replied. "Nothing distinctive, yet, but we just were told that we will have a meeting this evening about that topic. If Harry agrees, Sophie most definitely will. The offer to allow her trying to cure lycantrophy, alone, has her bouncing in her seat!"

Remus was smiling softly when he heard that. "She's a great girl. Tell her thank you from me."

"She's listening in, anyway. So, what is the big news?"

"To sum it up, after finding that the Potter by-laws would allow for it, and that you amended the ones for Black family, the Minister wanted to pass laws that non-humans cannot inherit, but that didn't fly too well with the Wizengamot. Apart from that they in general do not like it when the government meddles in whom they can leave their money – Bones successfully argued that all it needs to destroy a blood line was to infect someone with lycantrophy, or vampirism, which is both easily done. And since there is some deatheaterism on the rise, who knows..." Remus replied.

"People switched to voting against so fast that the Minister had to pick up her notes from the floor due to the resulting breeze. The compromise, spearheaded by Malfoy family, was that the family by-laws on inheritance should be frozen in their current state, to prevent future abuse," he concluded.

"The Malfoys, now who would have thought that," Sirius replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "But too late - these particular horses have left the barn, and it's burnt down, to boot. The laws were complicated, but I managed to tweak them - as long as you're capable of casting magic, you are good. I knew the Malfoys' heads would explode when they check with the goblins. Murdering me doesn't help them, anymore."

Sophie stared at him in shock when he said that. "You think somebody would have murdered you?"

Sirius shrugged. "Yes. Most probably in my sleep, if I know my relatives, but a dagger or spell in the back was always an option, as well. But because him inheriting would mean that everything gets integrated in the Potter estate, they'd have to kill Harry first, so I'm pretty safe as long as he's alive. Now, anything else?" he said evenly, smiling at his flabbergasted fiancée. Harry pondered for a moment whether he should be angry about this, but then decided that the Malfoys already had enough reasons to want him dead, anyway, so it didn't really matter.

Remus hemmed and hawed a bit before he finally replied. "Harry's got declared a dark creature. It's the worst they could do to him under the circumstances. Harry has about two weeks to register his address, once he returns to Britain. Dumbledore has already stated that Harry still has a place at Hogwarts, though."

"As if he'd want to let me out of his reach," Harry huffed from the side. "So, I'm legally a monster, now?" he moped.

"Seems so. Well, congratulations are in order, Lord Potter," Sirius replied happily.

"Have you gone daft or do you know something we don't? I'm never quite sure with you," Sophie cut in.

Sirius chuckled at her, softly. "Knowing how wizards think, I've foreseen most of this fallout - the day we went to Diagon Alley, I also asked the Goblins another question. Their answer was that magical creatures usually are considered adult once they are sexually mature, so if his particular state were to become official Harry would come to age immediately, the wills triggering on declaration," he told them.

"That's... I'm... You..., you told them?" Harry sputtered.

"Yes. They love to keep a secret from wizards, and they were more than willing to provide service. For a fee and the promise of a meeting once the situation manifests. To sign some documents. Which you would need to, anyway, when you turn 17," Sirius explained with barely a shrug.

"You mean, I'm an adult, now?"

"You and Hermione, both," Sirius replied with his trademark grin. "As soon as it comes out that she changed, too,"he added as additional condition, before putting on a wide grin. "That marriage will come quite sooner than you thought, eh, pup?"

"Marriage?" Tonks gasped, perking up with a wide grin. "You finally twisted his arm, girl? Good job!"

"It won't," both teens concerned replied in unison.

"Being Muggles at heart, we both considered eighteen the age in question, when Harry proposed," Hermione pointed out, much to the delight of her parents. Tonks booed from her side of the mirror.

"True. The fact that some legal fiction makes me an adult doesn't change that," Harry agreed, much to Hermione's delight.

"Then you better be prepared to fend off lots of proposals, Harry, because half-human or not, you are now one of the most eligible bachelors in jolly old Britain. You could, of course, make your engagement public, but..." Sirius informed Harry, ending with a nod in the Grangers' general direction.

"They Grangers would probably get attacked," Harry finished the unspoken portion. "To be frank, I don't think that's a risk I'm willing to take, for now. The Death Eaters would have a field day if they knew. I'd rather burn letters by the ton."

"Good call, but you would be a terrible Frank. Harry suits you better," Sirius replied jovially.

Viktor, who just sat there listening to one revelation after the other, gobsmacked, just couldn't keep from complaining, this time. "Good lord, this man just can't you stay serious for any span of time!"

"I assure you, he is very much himself, right now," Sophie replied, fuelling his confusion.

"He... what?"

"He most certainly IS Sirius, right now," Sophie emphasized.

Viktor took a moment to comprehend. Then he simply groaned and rose from his chair. "I need something stronger than wine to survive this lunch," he said as he headed out of the room.

"Well, you kind of stole the thunder from my other announcements. But that's Tonks' story to tell," Remus replied with a suspiciously sombre mien.

"There was a under-age magic warning for you late last evening, Hermione," she began, silencing Hermione's outburst with a wave. "I knew you weren't even in the country, so I you got cleared, immediately. Also, after a few facts from one certain Auror about who you are and whom you associate with, a team went and checked your house, including yours, truly."

"To cut things short, when we showed up, there was nobody around, but there seems to have been an arson attempt. The wall was scorched on multiple places, definitely a magical started fire, but for some reason, the fire just went out," she explained, looking suitably sorry when Margret and Sophie gasped at the revelation.

"Seems the commercial did hold up to reality, for once. Rock wool isolation really doesn't burn," Henry replied in an attempt at dry humour as he hugged his wife.

"Did you just say rock wool? What in Merlin's name is that? Does it grow on rocks?" Sirius asked, not trusting his ears.

"It's an insulation material, they melt rock and sand and make thick felt pads out of it, somehow. You stick them to the outside of your house and inside of the roof. Pretty much the best to make your house stay warm without much heating, and since it's made of rock, it's also fire retardant," Henry briefly explained the concept, before he addressed Tonks, again.

"Arson, eh?"

"Yes. There was no dark mark, though. Maybe because the fire didn't stay lit. Probably confused the hell out of them. They tried multiple times, and never even got the idea to break and enter to try from inside."

"That's a good thing, no?" Henry asked.

"Indeed. They will probably try again, though. I'd advise you against returning unless there are at least some wards erected - the house has become a target. I'm sorry, but it just isn't safe, anymore."

"Don't worry, I'll arrange something," Sirius offered.

"Fine, but we won't accept your money," Henry replied. "No, this is not up to discussion," he spoke as Sirius tried to object. "It's our house, and we will cover our expenses. We do have a nest egg to fall back upon, so we should be covered."

"Dad, you are being unreasonable," Hermione interrupted.

"Why? Because I'm insisting to pay my dues?" Henry snapped. "I always did and always will!"

"No, dad," Hermione sighed. "Because you think about returning. The house is already gone. There will be another attack. It would be sensible to get everything we have out of it, sell it, and move somewhere else."

"But it's our home!" Margret protested.

Sirius took it upon him to state the obvious. "Is it worth dying over?" he asked, nodding as she stared at him in shock. "Yes, dying. These people wanted to kill you. Burn you in your sleep to send a message. They now know you weren't at home, but once they know you are, they will try again. Is the house worth losing one of your family? No? I thought so. You can always start your lives over again, somewhere else, but you can't be brought back to life."

"Why not move here?" Victor spoke up. "I mean, Miss Sophie will probably stay here to do some research, anyway, and as far as I can tell, Harry and your daughter will, too, I guess. They could always transfer to Durmstrang or employ tutors if they want to finish school, and they already have full acceptance and a job offer from the Ministry. So why not move here? Most of your friends and family will end up here, anyway, it seem."

"Oh, that would be great!" Sophie exclaimed, clapping her hands. "Sirius said he would organize a regular portkey travel so we could stay in touch, but that would be even better!"

"But all we own, everything we have, it's in Britain! That's what we are, we can't just give that up!" Margret protested emotionally.

"True. And even if we did, we'd lose a lot. Market isn't too good, currently, and it would take long to sell it," Henry agreed. "Which isn't quite an issue, I guess, as I just couldn't sell the house to someone who'd get killed because of it," he rationalized. "And I guess we'd have to sell our practice, too, right? Well, that would sell well," he sighed.

"Then keep the house, secure it. Just sell the practice. Between that and your nest egg? How far do you think it would stretch here in Bulgaria? After selling everything, you probably could buy a nice house and never have to work a day of your life, again!" he argued hotly. "And if you want to return after that war is over, you would still have most of your money left."

"And there will always be a demand for dentists, no matter where you go," Sophie added.

"That plan makes a lot of sense," Remus agreed. "I mean, who knows how long this almost civil war here in Britain will last - you could be forced to move constantly for years. Leaving the country, at least for a while, would be a sensible move."

"So we should just hide and twiddle our thumbs?" Henry growled. "I'm too young to sit a hole in my pants!"

"Then take some time off, expand your horizon travelling, or maybe go professional on skeet shooting?" Remus offered.

"Why not build a new practice, here? There is always demand for good doctors, especially in the capital," Viktor offered his perspective. "The Ministry could easily provide all needed documentation to make the transition happen."

"But we don't even speak the language," Henry protested.

Sophie snorted with laughter when he said that. "Are you trying to say you managed medical school, but don't think you can learn another language? Is that the only argument you have left?" she asked, shaking her head in mirth at him, almost giggling as he started to blush.

"I'm British - I'm used to the fact that the whole world tries to learn my language," he grumbled. "I guess we could put everything in storage. No need to have it burn down with the house when they try next, don't you think, honey?" he asked his wife, who frowned, but nodded.

"I could swing by and get everything packed for you. Is there a particular storage company you'd prefer? Or should I pick something nearby?" Remus offered. "I did work as a packer, once, so I know what to look for. I could shrink the not so obvious things to save space, and put preserving charms on everything, just in case."

Henry was almost speechless. "That would be great, but I insist to pay for your time! I won't let you clear out our entire house for the good of your health, alone," he replied when he had caught himself.

"If you insist. But it won't be much - with packing charms, I'd guess it'd take a couple hours, half a day, tops," Remus replied.

Henry was shaking his head in wonder. "Magic is always amazing. Still, I do insist."

"Fine. I'll start right away - no time like the present. I'll be in touch tomorrow morning for an update on your business dinner," Remus replied. A wave of hands later, he and Tonks vanished from the mirror.

Margret had tears in her eyes. "It's for the best, I guess. We'll be together, and that's the most important thing," she said, hugging her husband, with Hermione quickly joining.

"Perfect! Harry's an adult, Hermione is an adult, and Henry and Margret have finally grown up, as well. Now that this is settled, can we move on to the meal Maria has prepared? I'm staving after this morning's hike!" Sophie exclaimed happily.

The Grangers stared at their friend, collectively, before Margret's accusing glare found Sirius. "You've made her even worse!"

"Thank you! I thought you hadn't noticed. I strive for perfection, every day," Sirius replied, doing a curtsy to round off his performance.


Finally, the evening had come. Viktor had excused himself for his dog and pony event, about an hour ago, and the people left to wait for the Ministry's representatives were slowly getting antsy from waiting. Henry was tipping his left leg in time with the speed of a woodpecker with a serious amphetamine drug problem, and Margret periodically stopped that by means of death glare.

Not that she was any better off - it's a normal and annoying element of human nature to get restless when an important meeting was about to occur soon. And if Hermione's nervous pacing was an indicator, dragons suffered the same affliction.

Harry had worn the stoic mask best, but even he let loose of a long-held breath when the fire finally flared and turned green to announce an arrival.

Much to their surprise, the visiting group wasn't actually one, but just some solitary person. And instead of some person they knew, a gaunt man with slick black hair stepped out of the fire.

Harry didn't exactly know why, but he could literally feel his hackles rise as soon as he was in the same room with that man - and it had nothing to do with the fact that the man had left the fire gracefully, just as if he were strolling in from the patio, while Harry usually landed flat on his face.

The way the man quickly taxed all people present, his gaze only briefly lingering on his wings, was disconcerting. But the smell was the most confusing. He smelled strange, a kind of sickly sweet smell that Harry couldn't quite work with. It seemed familiar, but out of place. He could see that Hermione's nose was also twitching as she took in the strange smell.

His confusion lasted just as long as Hermione's. Until the man spoke.

"Pleased to meet you, allow me to introduce myself. Pavel Sibielak," the man spoke in a perfect Oxford English, extending his hand. After exposing some quite noticeable fangs while speaking.

"You're a vampire," Hermione blurted, bluntly stating the obvious, before having an epiphany. "Oh! You are the colleague with long experience!"

"Quite. Fifty four decades, give or take," the man replied with a grin that exposed his canines even more than his speech did, his hand still hovering between them. "And you, Miss Granger, have gone through the change, as well, it seems. As I doubt this would have escaped Master Sekely, I believe it happened after their visit, right?"

"The night after," Hermione replied proudly, her whole posture screaming defiance as she stared back, unblinking. "Is this a problem for you?"

"Not at all," their guest replied, his hand still extended and not met. "In fact, it is reassuring that the transfer seems to be working flawlessly, as it seems. And it extends the deadline we have to operate under."

"Sophie Alistair, pleased to meet you," Sophie was the first to extend her hand to meet the one still offered, trying to defuse the tense atmosphere, and initiating the round of introductions. A minute later, they moved into the living room. Well, all but their guest, who stopped at the door.

"I'd loathe to impose on you, but would you be so kind as to close the drapes? Roasting alive would impair my ability to talk," he spoke up, elegantly pointing out one of the many windows the dying sunlight was still streaming in at this late hour, each painting a bright streak across the room right in front of him.

"Of course," Harry replied, walking off to take care of the problem. Sophie chuckled softly as he went so far as to spread his wings slightly to block the sun while he was still pulling curtains closed.

"Please don't get me wrong, but you speak our language extremely well," she engaged in small talk to pass the time.

"I travelled a lot, sampling cultures," the man replied with a smug smile. "And picked up a couple of languages over time."

"Can I offer you something? Some refreshment?" Sophie blurted, trying to change the topic in reflex when she got his double entendre.

"While there are some of my favourite vintages present, I must pass," Sibielak replied in an amused tone of voice. "Maybe later?" He offered after Sophie had to swallow a sudden lump in her throat, continuing seamlessly as if he had just paused to watch her reaction.

"I hope this is better," Harry interrupted as he returned after covering all windows, saving Sophie from further embarrassment.

Mister Sibielak smiled softly as he stepped into the room. "Thank you, Mister Potter. That should suffice," he said as he approached a seat and sunk gracefully into it.

"So, you are a huntsman?" Hermione started the inquiry.

Their guest shook his head, softly. "No, I'm only working for the ministry, in the archives, to be precise. After all, I still remember most things that are written in the books down there."

"So you are the head librarian?" Harry joked. "No? Why not, if you are the expert on everything, aren't you?" he asked after their guest shook his head.

"No, that's currently potion master Sula's job. I do not seek a leading position. For one, I would probably keep it for a very long time, and I prefer research over administration, and second, I would hate to step down and suddenly have someone over me whom I prior ruled over. Makes things complicated," Sibielak answered.

"Also, it is a guilty pleasure to always cast a shadow over the current leader," he added with a smug grin.

"I guess," Harry replied. "So, what is the topic of this meeting? Are we discussing the offer your ministry made?"

"Ah, a man of direct words. How refreshing," Sibielak replied with a chuckle. "In fact, this is one of the topics I came here for, the other is our analysis result, regarding your scar."

"So you know what is wrong with it?" Hermione exclaimed instantly.

Sibielak frowned deeply, but hesitated to answer. "Yes, we are quite sure of the nature of the problem," he replied carefully.

"So you encountered such a scar before?" Harry asked.

"To be honest, this is not the first time I encounter a similar scenario. I don't really know how to put it into a less disturbing way, so I'll be frank. You, Mister Potter, are possessed."

"Possessed?" it echoed from four different mouths. Only Harry was the exception, huffing in a defeated manner. Hermione did scoot marginally closer to him, offering comfort. Still she didn't dare to hug him in their guest's presence.

"So we need an old and a young priest, before he starts to projectile vomit and stuff?" Sophie quipped, always the first to make fun of a situation.

"Great movie," Sibielak replied. "But since this isn't a demonic possession, we can leave the church out of this, I believe."

"You watch TV?" Sophie asked incredulously.

"Of course I do. Quite refreshing to see the daylight again, after so many centuries. And teaches you a lot about humans these day," was the reply, accompanied by a disarming smile. "It would make awkward conversation if I didn't know about current events, celebrities and culture. Medieval garbs of the sixteenth century isn't a topic to pick up girls at the bar, right?"

"Quite. I'd still like to steer the topic back to the topic of my son being possessed, allegedly, which I find hard to believe," Sirius deftly interrupted the flirting, glaring at Sophie.

Siebielak didn't flinch the slightest as he seamlessly returned to the prior topic. "It's not actually a possession in the usual sense, you are right. Are you familiar with the term 'Horcrux'?" he asked, not really waiting for their declines to continue.

"Such a thing was not uncommon, in older times. Many a warlock safeguarded against an untimely death by safeguarding a piece of their essence within an artefact. As long as this object remains unharmed, the wizard is immortal, for he is anchored to this plane."

Hermione tried to object, but Sibielak went on as if he hadn't noticed. "You would reckon that it does not really make any sense to use a mortal vessel for this purpose. After all, if the vessel dies, your anchor is lost, along with the part of your essence you put inside. There was an interesting shamanistic ritual in northern America where two people would share their blood and become immortal as long as one of them is still alive, but the exact workings of that were lost during the purges by the settlers," Sibielak told them with a sorrowful shake of his head.

"Anyway, once someone has achieved the soul split, the remaining part of the soul is unstable. Maybe once you evicted part of it, the rest just isn't quite anchored to your body, anymore. There were a couple of accidental attachments of the remaining soul piece to occur if the warlock's body got destroyed by Huntsmen. Having read up on your personal history, I assume this has occurred in your case, as well."

"So Voldemort has safeguarded half his soul, so he can't die?" Hermione voiced what all others were thinking at this moment. "And the other half is now in Harry's head?"

"That is what the evidence points to. But there is a small problem. Usually, such an attachment would be substantial, as it is about half the warlock's essence that is set free. In your case, Mister Potter, it is significantly smaller than we would expect."

"Smaller?" Margret inquired. "As in - 'There was less than half a soul left in Voldemort at that time?' - smaller?"

Sibielak nodded in reply, saying nothing.

"So what happened? Did he loose some of his soul, somewhere?" Harry asked? "Some magic ritual to get more power?"

"I doubt that," Sibielak replied solemnly. "At least I don't know any ritual that would result in such loss, and you will be hard pressed to find someone knowing more than I do. One of the more outrageous, but nonetheless most compelling theories in our department is that he might have split his essence between more than one vessel, hedging his bets, so to speak."

Harry laughed a dry raspy laugh, while hitting his armrest with his fist. "Sounds like something that bastard would do..." he spoke, while the others were still trying to get to grips with that information.

"You mean," Hermione tried to voice her concerns, as Harry fell limply back into his seat, rubbing his face tiredly with both hands, ranting under his breath. "That he might have created more than one of these soul anchors, and can't be killed until all of them are destroyed?" she said with a shaky voice.

"Any way we can be sure if this is true? I mean is there a test for this Horxcrux? All you have given us is a series of assumptions," Margret asked. She certainly wouldn't agree to a theory like that without at lest a semblance of proof.

"There are a couple of spells curse breakers would use in such an occasion, but they aren't truly applicable, here. But if he was truly possessed, according to accounts of such occurrences, the fragment would certainly have tried to take either control of his body, or given him visions, or troubled with him in some way," the man provided.

Perceptive as his kind was, he didn't miss Hermione's pulse quickening as she snapped around to stare at Harry in despair. Harry dropping his head and starting to chuckle in a huffy voice was the final hint.

"Oh well, there is my answer, I guess. Is it the possession or the visions?"

"Headaches and itches and such things, usually when he's upset or angry, I think," Harry replied. "My rotten luck, I guess. Well, that's how it is," he said, sullen. "I'm carrying a bit of that bastard around in my head. It's harsh to know that I need to die to kill him for good."

"That would be one logical conclusion. We might be able to tell more when we conduct a thorough analysis, after the removal," Sibielak answered, a satisfied smile on his face as he reclined further into the cushions of his seat, while both adult Grangers almost jumped up to berate Harry's fatalism.

"This is... wait... removal?" Hermione stopped mid-rant. Everyone else stared just as gob-smacked as she did when they also remembered that bit of information.

"Of course – or do you want to keep this atrocity in there?" was the mocking reply by their vampiric visitor.

"We weren't aware of that possibility," Hermione replied in Harry's stead. "It was always assumed that this scar was a thing not to be touched, nor could it be helped with."

"Do you think we would leave our Huntsmen riddled with such a burden? Especially if it keeps the true danger alive? No, that is as unthinkable an option as killing them to get rid of that stain. I won't lie, the procedure won't be trivial. We will need to excise the area quite extensively, maybe even remove a bit of the skull, depending on how deep it is located," the man admitted.

"Or the brain?" Sophie asked in a challenging way. "Isn't it so?"

"You are not going to cut into my brain!" Harry felt it necessary to state his preference.

"I cannot rule it out, but I doubt it would be necessary. We do not know if we have to until we start. Even if we have to, there are potions that would repair most of the damage. It could result in a bit of memory loss, though," the man replied honestly, even though it was clear that he wasn't stating a fact, but an opinion. "Your decision. But if you keep it, you will keep him."

"You are saying that I'm keeping that bastard alive, and the only way to get rid of him is to lob a piece of my head off? Maybe butcher a bit of my brain?" Harry said with a dry laugh that made Hermione cringe. "Either that or he will be around for as long as I live, immortal, hunting me?"

"Harry, I," Sirius said, but Harry cut him off before he could voice his mind.

"I really appreciate that offer, but that's too much of a risk - what if I lose an important memory, if I change because of this?" Harry replied warily. "What if I forget that I love you?" he suddenly told Hermione.

"Can't you just store those memories, the most important ones? Like you did with Remus, these bottles," Sophie tried to help.

"These won't be enough – I'd need a warehouse of them to hold the memories I'd like to preserve," Harry replied in a display of cheesy teenage love, lost in Hermione's eyes.

Their vampiric guest coughed in order to gain attention. "I could offer you the use of a pensieve and some experts in memory magic. They do owe me some favours. The should be able to create a copy of almost all of your life's memories," he proposed.

Sophie was less impressed. "Can they? Really?" she asked sarcastically.

"Their usual job is to erase all traces of events or even a person of people's memories after something bad happens, to protect the secret," Sibielak told her. "It would take some time, but they should be able to gather all information from Mister Potter's mind, store it in the pensieve and transfer it back after the procedure. For them, it's probably child's play, as they don't need to change anything. Since most information would be identical, it would fill any eventual gaps, restoring anything lost. Is that satisfactory, in case that there is an actual need to cut that deep?" he asked, causing all eyes to lock onto Harry.

"I guess so. I mean, I'm thankful and all - you are offering to help me, and I certainly don't want this thing in my head, anymore, now that I know about it," Harry mused, looking up thankfully when Hermione grabbed his hand and squeezed it in support.

"As I said, I doubt it would be necessary to dig that deep. The possession is within that scar, and it doesn't seem to run that deep. Anyway, you need to be in perfect shape for this procedure, so it's not an immediate question. Also, we need to remove quite a bit of tissue, and I must warn you, it might leave a scar," Huntsman Sibielak said with a smirk, managing to get a laugh out of Harry and the others with that unexpected joke.

"Any further questions?" Sibielak asked once the laughter had died down.

"Why did they send you?" Harry asked, his sudden cold tone causing a ripple of unease to spread across what had become an almost relaxed situation.

"I beg your pardon?" Was the reply, given in a completely even tone.

"There is an intent behind that, right?" Hermione joined him.

Sibielak gave them an amused smile. "You think?" he asked lightly. Still, there was a slight challenge lingering in his even words.

"They could have sent anyone to send this message, but they sent you, a Vampire," she stated, defiantly.

"A keen observation."

"Sending a non-human, alone, is to re-enforce the image of the Bulgarian Ministry not caring about that issue, right?"

"It could be seen that way," Sibielak allowed, still smiling.

"Especially since our ministry declared me a half-human dark creature this morning," Harry added, darkly. He still was reeling under that news, it pained him that what should be his own people were rejecting him.

"Oh, did they?" Sibielak asked, his voice overly innocent, smiling wide.

"And Viktor has a surprise dinner with some rich sponsor, tonight, " Hermione added.

"What a remarkable coincidence," Sibielak replied, still wearing that smile. "And the point you are trying to make, is?"

"I don't like being manipulated," Harry stated flatly.

"Then you don't like being alive?" was the reply, the tone definitely mocking, this time.

"Huh?" Harry stammered, taken aback.

Sibielak leaned back, leisurely, as he started to explain his statement. "In my experience, and I think I do have plenty of it, everyone is manipulating everyone in some way. All the time. Even if you ask someone to hand you the salt, you are manipulating him to do something, using social pressure, called manners, to do it instead of getting it, yourself. Interaction is always manipulation of a kind, you can't escape that. But you do retain the choice to be manipulated, and the right to manipulate, yourself."

"That's quite a harsh viewpoint," Margret commented.

"Reality supports my observations," was the dry reply.

"They didn't send you," Hermione stated, to the surprise of everyone. "You made them send you, and you made all the arrangements, right?" She accused her guest

"Good! What a keen mind you have, Miss!" Sibielak replied, happily. "But not quite - I only made them think it's a good idea to send me," he explained, as if she were his student. "If I tried to make them do something, they would probably see through it, and resist. That's human nature. But if you feed them with true facts, in the right order, an idea will form in their mind. Now if that happens to suit me, as well...," he said, letting what he just said sink in.

"Why?" Harry asked, his rigid pose and angry face a sharp contrast to their guest reclining gracefully in is seat, as if he were on a dinner party.

"Curiosity," Sibielak answered, waving his hand leisurely. "I wanted to know the person who can change my world, for the better or worse. Make myself a picture if I should allow it."

Harry seemed to relax slightly at this comment. "So I passed?" he asked, sweetly, but the smile did not quite reach his eyes. A glance at Hermione, who was hiding her agitation less well was enough for Sirius to surreptitiously palm his wand.

"You're still alive, aren't you?" was the flippant reply, punctuated by an almost boyish smile that looked terribly out of place on the man's face.

Harry was forced to raise a brow in surprise. He had expected a different answer. "That's direct," he stated.

"I prefer the term honest."

"You think you could have won? You might be strong and fast, but so am I. And that's not even counting my friends."

"Maybe. Maybe not. I am quite sure I am quicker than you are, Mister Potter. Comes with the age, for my kind. But I wouldn't have gone for you, first. That would have been stupid," Sibielak chided Harry with a playful tone in his voice.

"I would have gone after everyone else, first. My first action would have been evading the spell from your father's wand he already had snuck into his hand. Your mate's father would have been my first target - that pencil in your hand is a good idea, but you wouldn't be able to use it," Sibielak spoke, winking at Henry when he mentioned him.

"I assume that at this time, Mister Black would have turned into his alternate form, wary to use a wand in such a crowded room. I, personally, think that being an animagus is a great boon. The ability to pose as a different species is something I would value highly, alas, only few of my kind can transform," he spoke to Sirius, recognizing him with a slight nod.

"Miss Granger would be charging at me in rage due to the loss of a parent, hampering Mister Black, and I'd have used the confusion to pick off our lovely soon to be Lady Black, as much as I'd have regretted doing so," he continued, managing to have this sound like a compliment.

"You three would have been mad from grief by now, either attacking blindly, caring for your fallen, or trying to save Misses Granger. Either would expose you to my attacks," he lectured, as if talking to a classroom, oblivious to the fact he was just telling them how he would have killed all of them.

"And if I had had a good plan, myself?" Harry replied threateningly, leaning a bit forward.

Sibielak chuckled as he gracefully pulled a wand out of his sleeve, confusing most people present with that action. "Wizards do retain most of their magic after turning," he told them, smiling softly as he shrugged his shoulders. "But people tend to forget that, and I'm not too keen on reminding them of that fact all the time."

With a swish of his wand, the curtains flew open, giving way to the sight of black. It took Harry a few moments to realize that the sun had already set, and it was simply too bright in this room for him to see anything in the darkness outside. Harry shuddered at the realization that if it had come to blows, he would have wasted precious time on this, on a foe who could cast spells, too.

"You didn't have a plan, you had the plan I made you come up with," Sibielak said, rising very slowly from his seat. "It was a pleasure meeting all of you. We probably won't meet again, so I wish you all the best for your future. Feel free to contact the Ministry about the offer whenever you like. My office will contact you in a day or two, once everything is prepared for the removal. I'd love to stay and talk a bit longer, but I do have another dinner appointment, I'm afraid. It was a pleasure meeting you, have a good night," he bade his farewells, and left without a further word, leaving a thoughtful party of six behind.

"So we just met the king of Bulgaria?" Sophie spoke up after what seemed like ages of silence.

"What? King? He's no king," Henry protested.

"He's the grey eminence behind everything. Ministers and officials come and go – he stays," Sophie defended her statement. "Sounds like a king to me..."

"Shouldn't we do something? Tell somebody?" Margret asked, warily, looking pale as a ghost.

"Our word against his? You might notice that there are no witnesses? Viktor's conveniently away, and he has access to people very proficient with memory magic. Won't help – he is hundred steps ahead of all such attempts, I'm sure. It doesn't matter. Harry gave the right answers. You can tell how he suddenly became supportive. I think he's actually our friend," Hermione replied, not sharing her assessment that this status was most certainly depending on their cooperation with his general plans. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she felt a pang of guilt for understanding, and agreeing with his motives.

"A friend? He just sat there telling us how he had planned to kill us all!" Margret protested quite vehemently. Being threatened like that had shaken her up more than she was willing to admit.

"Only if necessary to protect his realm. I'd have done the same in his position," Harry voiced, mirroring Hermione's feelings. Still, he seemed deep in thought about the this that were said.

Hermione was far ahead of Harry in this analysis. "And he didn't just tell us about it. I doubt anything he says is just words. He was giving lessons," she informed the others of her conclusion.

"What lesson? Not to defy him, for he will kill everyone you love? Great!" Margret spat.

"Yes, mum. That was one of them. The other was how to defeat Voldemort," Harry replied.

"And he gave you a present," Sirius chimed in, the frown of concentration in his face slowly transforming into a rakish smile. "You're going to like this!" he exclaimed, slapping his thigh in excitement.



A heartfelt thank you to Alix for her beta work.

More time, more words, more water down the river. Or on my meadows, after we had a full week of torrential downpour. My horses are slowly mutating to a maritime variety.