Edited 12/28/2012.
Unbeta'd at this time.

Last chapter the werewolves managed to kill the second boar that attacked them while Kiran managed to heal Trystan, but passed out as a result. The Order of the Phoenix discovered the Dursleys fled to Canada and Harry was not taken with them while Snape reported Voldemort's intentions to kill the new Lord Black. Dumbledore is spinning new plans that cannot be good for anyone and intent on finding his missing chess piece.


Piercing the Veil
Warring Minds, Book 1
By Moirae Ma'at


Chapter 11: Numbers and Symbols

The Weasley family tumbled out of the fireplace at Number 12 Grimmauld Place, the twins fugitively dropping a few Crawling Chroniclers and Spider Scouts around the area before darting off to the dining room to plant more spies. They were going to find out what all the recent fuss was about one way or another. The two redheads were pretty sure it was about Harry, but it was hard to know for sure when no one would tell them and Harry hadn't contacted them as promised.

Molly immediately headed for the kitchen to unpack the snacks she'd made for the Order meeting as Arthur slumped at the table in the dining room. The change over at the Ministry had been crazy enough without searching for Harry; it didn't help that the new Minister evidently believed Arthur could talk Harry into supporting the Ministry and seemed determined to persuade Arthur into doing so.

Ron slouched in a chair near the fireplace to wait for Hermione to appear. Ginny was at Luna's while they were holed up in Grimmauld for the Order meeting and it was highly likely they'd be forced to spend the night in the shadowed house. He was not looking forward to it, but his Mum needed to clean something other than the Burrow before she went crazy worrying for Harry.

"Wotcher!" Tonks greeted as she stumbled through the front door and tripped over the umbrella stand as usual. "I think this thing is cursed."

"Don't think anyone besides Kreacher would care if you managed to set it on fire," Ron replied absently as he stood. The green tints in the fire meant Hermione would be coming though from the Leaky Cauldron soon and he needed to finish the password to allow her entrance. The Black Grimm; the phoenix needs not fly –

" – as long as its soul cries," the redhead finished when he finally spotted Hermione's rotating form in the fireplace. It was a pretty stupid password in his opinion.

"Thank you, Ron, I was starting to get –" Hermione said as she moved out of the fireplace before being forced to duck as a flaming object traveled through the space her head has been occupying. She pulled her wand on the person responsible for the projectile only to find a teal-haired Tonks.

"Nice reflexes," the Auror commented with a smile. Not up to Auror standard, but it wasn't a bad starting point. Harry had done a good job with his little defense group this past year; she'd have to suggest recruiting a few of the little buggers for the Aurors when they finally graduated.

"Is there a reason you just tried to decapitate me?" Hermione asked as she kept her wand centered on Tonks.

"Yeah, sorry 'bout that," Tonks added with a shrug. "Got annoyed with the damn umbrella stand."

"That is no reason to set in on fire and throw it at people," Hermione sniffed primly as Ron managed to avoid her gaze.

"At least it's gone now," the redhead said cheerfully as he grabbed one of Hermione's bags before groaning at the weight. "What'd you put in this thing? A library?"

"I can cast a featherweight charm on it," Tonks volunteered with unnatural enthusiasm as she brandished her wand in Ron's direction.

"I cast one before I left Hogwarts," Hermione explained as she adjusted her second book bag to avoid aggravating the slash across her torso. "Professor Flitwick advised that I avoid casting more than one for fear of destabilizing the space expansion charms."

"Have you tried Runes?" the Auror asked as she twirled her wand casually.

"The bags are already littered with them," Hermione responded as she pointed out a few arrays. "I don't want to risk damaging the current functions of the bag. Our teachers have yet to cover interdisciplinary reactions and the few books Hogwarts has outside of the restricted section are not very informative on the subject."

"Experiment," Moody grunted from a corner, giving his version of a smile when three wands were pointed in his direction before he finished speaking. "Should have noticed when I came in."

"You're rather good at being unseen, sir," Hermione said as she slid her wand back into its wrist sheath. "Experimentation is best left to the experts," Hermoine glanced to where she could see the twins plotting in the next room, "or those not entirely sane."

"The only way to have a spell the enemy doesn't know is to invent it yourself," Moody lectured, glancing at Tonks to make sure the Auror was paying attention. "If they know it, they can block it, and that makes it useless."

"It takes time to develop a proper spell," Tonks returned as she eyed the ex-Auror. "Time I don't have."

"Derivations and combinations work just almost as well as new spells," Moody said as he shifted to face the entrance to the dining room and the hall doorway.

"You said it!" the twins chorused as joined the conversation in the drawing room.

"Inventing something new – "
" – is pretty difficult."

"Why do you think it takes so long for a new spell to become public knowledge?" Doge contributed as he followed Mundungus Fletcher through the drawing room and into the dining room to keep an eye on the slippery man. Letting him near the fine china that was House Black's default serving platters without supervision could only bring trouble.

"I hadn't really considered it," Hermione admitted thoughtfully as she eyed the bag Ron held. "This requires research. We'll be upstairs."

"You're leaving already?" Dedalus Diggle asked disappointedly as he held the door to Grimmauld open for Hestia. "But we just arrived!"

"I'm sure they can spare a few minutes," Hestia told her companion assuredly and earned a beaming smile in return.

"Actually, we can't," Hermione responded as she eyed the way Tonks was frowning at the woman. "It was nice to see you again."

The bushy-haired girl grabbed Ron's arm and began to drag the redhead in the direction of the stairs. "Have a good meeting."

"It appears we have some visitors," Dumbledore said with a twinkling smile as he sailed through the room and into the dining room. Severus and Minerva followed in his wake as the group in the drawing room, including the Ron, Hermione, and the twins, migrated towards into the dining room.

"The birds, you imbeciles," Snape sneered when no one appeared to understand what the Headmaster meant despite facing the window at which the birds were insistently pecking.

"Now, now, Severus, there's no need to be rude," the Headmaster scolded as he settled into his usual seat at the head of the table.

"They were absorbed in their conversation," Dumbledore continued, waving away Severus' scowl as Molly bustled over to open the window.

Two small, fluffy owls darted into the room, one flying directly towards Ron and Hermione and the other towards the twins.

The first owl was caught for a few seconds in a spell from Molly's wand that checked the small animals for dangerous objects before being released. The small bird settled on the back of a chair near Hermione and allowed her to remove the black package addressed to her. She reached for the bundle addressed to Ron, but the owl hopped away from her towards the redhead. Ron frowned and removed his own package as Hermione investigated the black protective silk embossed with the House Black coat of arms.

The other owl landed near the twins and held out a leg to the two redheads, who gleefully used their wands to check for pranks before snatching a black bundle of their own. The owl flitted over to Tonks and allowed the metamorphagus to remove her own package after a few judicious spells.

"Do you think they're waiting for a reply?" Hestia mused when the owl that had dropped off packages for Ron and Hermione settled on the windowsill instead of leaving.

The small bundle of flying fluff moved from Tonks to Moody and endured a series of invasive spells before the retired Auror used a charm to remove the packaged addressed to him from the owl's leg.

The owl had two black bundles left when it stopped near Albus, but only allowed the Headmaster to remove one. The small bird fluttered over towards its companion and hovered there for a moment.

"Evidently not," Tonks said as she watched both owls dart out the still-open window before turning her attention to her own package with a frown.

"Busy little birds," Doge commented as he settled into a chair next to Albus.

"They had a bundle addressed to Ginny," Ron volunteered as he watched Hermione examine the decoratively embossed silk. He'd open his after she did.

While Hermione was occupied examining the black silk, the twins had already removed the silk and opened the letter they found inside.

Molly appropriated the scrap of black fabric and began to discuss embossing charms with Hestia, Hermione carefully listening in the background. The coat of arms had been rather clear, but the motto had been much harder to spot and with a little research she should be able to figure out how to emboss protective runes on her robes. Voldemort had appeared at the Ministry and Susan's aunt had been attacked this summer; she'd need all the protection she could get.

The twins read their letter twice before looking at each other and displaying maniacal grins.

"Care to share?" Snape drawled snidely as he sat down at what could be considered the foot of the table. It wasn't the face the Marauders made when they planned a prank, but the two Weasleys only made that face when they found an 'entertaining' idea. Those ideas never turned out well for anyone else.

"Do read it to us, Fred, George," Molly encouraged as she glared at the Potions Master. Such a vile man.

The twins cleared their throats and read the letter in unison.

"Messrs. Fred and George Weasley,

"The Ancient and Noble House of Black conveys its gratitude for the purveyance of your products to the aptly-named Ministry Six for the aid they rendered on the night of the previous Lord Black's death. House Black asks that you solemnly accept these gifts in the spirit in which they are offered and swears that the bands will offer you no harm, only protection against those who seek to do you ill.

"May you prosper as you manage your lives according to the will of the Fates,

"Kiran Keir Wilhelm, Lord Black."

"Bands?" Moody questioned with a scowl.

"This Kiran fellow – "
" – sent us –"
" – two really shiny – "
" – gold bands – "
" – with strange – "
" – writing on them."

"See?" the twins said in unison as each held up a gold armband in one hand and somehow managed to make their letter disappear.

"What'd you – "
" – get Ron?"

"Same type of gold band, a new chess set –" Ron suddenly stopped talking as he stared down at the shrunken gifts accompanying his letter in shock.

"And a Nimbus 2003 with keeper's gear," the red-headed teen breathed out reverently as he reached out a finger to touch the miniaturized broom. "A Nimbus 2003!"

"Lucky – "
" – sod!"

"And what does your letter say?" Mrs. Weasley asked with a scolding tone. Her children really needed to get their priorities straight; it wasn't as if the twins would have any use for brooms since they'd refused to return to Hogwarts.

Ron had to tear his attention away from the broom before he could respond, but a sharp nudge from Hermione had the teen picking up his letter.

"Messr. Ron Weasley,

"The Ancient and Noble House of Black conveys its gratitude for the aid you rendered on the night of the previous Lord Black's death. House Black asks that you solemnly accept these gifts in the spirit in which they are offered and swears that they will offer you no harm.

"May you prosper as you manage your life according to the will of the Fates,

"Kiran Keir Wilhelm, Lord Black."

"Hermione, if you would?" Dumbledore asked with a grandfatherly smile.

"Different greeting, same body of text," the bushy-haired witch replied absently as she opened the attached packages. "And the complete fifteen volume series of Nite Nife's Defense Against the Darkness! Oh, and the rather rare series the Runes teacher suggested as advanced supplementary reading for next year. I'm sure they'll be able to help me on my NEWTs!"

"That's wonderful dear," Molly said as she patted Hermoine's shoulder and wondered why none of her children beside Percy seemed to take their wizarding tests seriously. It made a mother nervous.


"Don't call me that!" the metamorphagus hissed at Dumbledore before clearing her throat and reading her letter.

"Auror Tonks,

"The Ancient and Noble House of Black conveys its gratitude for the aid you rendered on the night of the previous Lord Black's death. House Black asks that you solemnly accept these gifts in the spirit in which they are offered and swears that the chainmail will offer you no harm.

"May you prosper as you manage your life according to the will of the Fates,

"Kiran Keir Wilhelm, Lord Black."

"No gold band?" Mrs. Weasley asked carefully.

"No gold band," Tonks confirmed as she tried on her new chainmail. "Chainmail fits real nice though. Have to remember to send a proper thank you note."

"You'll be sending thank you notes as well," Molly said as she leveled a strict look at her children. "Especially you, Ron. I won't have our Family as thought of as rude."


"Same thing as Tonks: letter, chainmail, no gold band," the grizened Auror replied as he cast spell after spell at the metal gift.

Severus picked up the gold band Hermione had set aside so she could start reading her new books and had to stop himself from letting the gold band fall to the table when he spotted the Black crest embossed on the metal.

"The bands offer the protection of House Black," the dour man said with a sneer and dropped Hermoine's gold band onto her open book. "Useless."

The teen witch picked up the band and traced the crest of House Black with one finger before going on to examine the various protection runes engraved on the rest of the band. She recognized maybe half of them and some of the arrays were quite simply beyond her current level of comprehension. She could see that they were meant to be beneficial to the wearer and not harmful, but some of the runes looked odd to her eyes, as if something had been tweaked but she didn't know what.

Dumbledore subtly flipped open his letter and scanned it before tucking it away in his robes. "Quite generous of the boy. Now I believe we have Order business to discuss," the Headmaster continued as he looked to the children.

"Out you go," Molly said motherly as she herded her children and Hermione out of the room.

The Weasley twins flicked a glance at each other before protesting in unison. "We're old enough!"

"Not until you reach your majority," Molly scolded and pushed Ron out of the room. The twins danced out of their mother's grip as she grabbed for them, but missed Tonks sneaking up on them so she could use a spell to force the twins out of the room.

"We're out – " Fred exclaimed as he held onto the door frame by his fingernails.

" – of Hogwarts!" George continued as he held onto the other side of the entryway.

"That's – "
" – good enough!" the twins exclaimed as Tonks cast another spell and they went flying backwards.

"Not yet," the Auror said with a wink as she shut the door.

The twins pouted at the door for a moment from their positions on the floor but quickly turned, Fred grabbing Hermione's arm before she ensorcelled herself in the library and George stopping Ron from heading into the kitchen for a snack. "You're gonna wanna see this."

"New invention?" Ron asked as he followed the twins up the stairs.

"We have one of those too – "
" – but this is about the letters," Fred finished as he flattened their letter on the table and both twins rested their wands on the text. "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

The two redheads grinned as text rearranged itself, new words flowing to life across the parchment.


Messr. Mooney and Padfoot's Cub are Proud to Present an Invitation to Join the Marauders to the Next Generation of Purveyors of Aids to Magical Mischief-Makers.

Your Pranks are Delightful Pieces of Mischief and You have Our Compliments. An Opportunity Awaits You at Gringotts after August Fifth. Ask for Wilhelm's Offer.

May the Marauder Manual Assist You in Your Quest to Aid Future Generations of Pranksters.

Go Forth and Experiment.

PS – Prankster to Prankster, wear the bands.


"I didn't know Sirius had a kid," Ron commented blankly as he looked at Hermione.

"The last time I looked at the Black Tapestry, he didn't," the brunette replied with a frown. "Given the House's obsession with blood lines – and if their motto is Toujours Pur what is the Weasley Family motto? – I find it hard to believe someone not related to the direct family line could ever become Lord Black."

"Venari Solus Non," Ron answered absently as he watched the twins puzzle over the letter.

Hermione took a moment to translate the Latin. "Never Hunt Alone?"

"No Weasley has ever been an only child – "
" – or went to war without the aid of the Family," the twins added as they carefully re-read the letter for a fourth time.

"Then the Malfoy Family motto?" Hermione asked curiously as she made a mental note to look into the heraldry of the Wizarding World.

"Technically House Malfoy – "
" – like the Blacks are House Black – "
" – but call Malfoy that to his face – "
" – and watch him turn purple – "
" – and go off on a rant – "
" – about his House's superiority – "
" – because most old pureblood lines – "
" – are simply Families – "
" – as only Houses – "
" – have Wizengamot Seats."

"The motto?" Hermione prodded. She really needed to understand the politics between all of the Houses and Families before she accidentally stumbled across something dangerous. She'd make notes for Harry because Merlin only knew he needed to know all of this before accepting his place as Lord Potter.

"Sanctimonia Vincet Semper – "
" – Purity Always Conquers."
"Which, you know – "
" – really vibes – "
" – with that inbreeding thing – "
" – they've got going on."
"But never mind that – "
" – you know who – "
" – the Marauders are?" the twins finished in unison.

"Professor Lupin is Mooney," Hermione responded as she touched her wand to her letter and repeated the twins' words. "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

The twins ignored her frown as they crowed about being taught by a Marauder, although Ron pulled his wand out of pocket in response to the expression.

"Harry's father was Prongs," Ron added as he repeated Hermione's actions with his own letter, nodding when the letter stayed the same.

"Then if Padfoot was Sirius Black – "
" – who was Wormtail?"

"A traitor," Ron growled as he handed his letter and armband to Hermione.

"Peter Pettigrew," the bushy-haired girl added as she summoned a book from her trunk. "The man who really betrayed the Potters and faked his death to send Sirius to Azkaban."

"Okay, he's off – "
" – the Christmas list for sure," the twins responded as they watched Hermione investigate the runes on the arm bands.

"So yea – "
" – or nay?"

"She'll be a good couple of hours," Ron explained when Hermione didn't answer. "She's in research mode now and she's not going to stop until she gets an answer."

The twins returned to determining how to gain access to the Marauder Manual from the letter because the notebook hadn't been with the armbands while Ron carefully unshrunk his new broom and began to look it over.

The redhead barely looked up a few hours later when he heard the Order meeting end and purposely ignored the way the twins ever-so-casually strolled through the dining room into the kitchen. He didn't want to know what they were up to this time and doubted it would be anything good. His mother received maybe a tenth of his attention and a "thank you" when she ushered the twins back into the upstairs lounge and set a plate of snacks at his elbow; otherwise Ron devoted the majority of his attention to examining his new broom and left a smidgeon to keep track of Hermione's progress. Trying to figure out what the twins were whispering about in the corner would not be good for his health.

Ron frowned when he no longer heard pages turning and raised his head from his new broom. "Problem?"

"The bands are meant to help," Hermione admitted carefully. "All of the runes I can identify are intended to protect the bearer from curses and other malicious spells, but the problem is that they're a rather eclectic mix of Runic languages."

The brunette ran a finger along a pinwheel-like shape on one of the bands. "This is the Elder Futhark Aegishjalmar, for protection and irresistibility in battle. Vegvisir, the Runic compass to help us find our way. Lásabrjótur, the lockbreaker to free us from our bindings. Hagalaz to remove unwanted influences. Gibo Auja and Fylfot for good luck. Raiðo for threads of fate blessed by the Norns. Gapaldur and Ginfaxi for success and courage in combat. Hraethigaldur and Ottastafur to put fear into the enemy."

"Sounds – "
" – good to us."

"And then there's these." Hermoine pointed out a few runes interspersed with the rest on the band. "Anglo-Saxon Futhorc. Freyja's Aett: Ken for inspiration and Wynn for wisdom. The Aett of Heimdall, guardian against trouble: Nyd for defense, Eolh and Sighel for protection. And for Tyr, the King's Aett: Tir for victory and protection, Doerg for blessed life."

"Sounds pretty beneficial," Ron commented as he ran a hand over the faint silvery scars on his arms.

"But the combination of Aett in this manner simply isn't done! Not by any decent Rune Master at least and much less in combination with Elder Futhark and Ogham! The Runes tend to counteract each other and cause rather explosive effects – "

"Does it look like they're going to hurt us?" Ron cut in before the other member of the Golden Trio started a full-blown rant.

"No," Hermione said slowly. "They don't look like they're harmful, but it's possible that a more dangerous combination could be hidden within the Rune combinations or any of the bindrunes – "

"Is there a high chance – "
" – they'll be able – "
" – to cause the wearer harm?"
"Because if not – "
" – we'll take the protection – "
" – over a mere possibility."

"The likelihood is very low," Hermione admitted with a frown that deepened as she watched the twins immediately slip the bands onto their arms. "Why did you just put on a band that could possibly kill you?"

"The protection of House Black – "
" – is nothing to scoff at, Hermione."
"Malfoy wouldn't dare insult you – "
" – if you wore that armband – "
" – because he'd be going up – "
" – against Lord Black if he did – "
" – and the blond ponce – "
" – isn't quite that stupid."

Ron nodded at the logic and grabbed his band from Hermione's hand to slip it onto his arm. "The new Lord Black can't be that bad if he and Remus sent the twins a prank book. He didn't have to send us gifts."

"I'd prefer to run a few tests on it…"

"Just put it on," the youngest brother said with a frown. "If you really want someone to run tests on it, then I'm sure the professors'll oblige you – "

"But no telling – "
" – if you'll get it back."

"Took them a forever to check Harry's Firebolt in third year." Ron's frown deepened. "You'd be better off doing it yourself."

"Headmaster Dumbledore certainly knows more about runes that I do." Hermione straightened her pile of books primly. "His research into the uses of dragon blood would have required it."

The bushy-haired girl picked up the armband again and turned it over in her hands. "Are you sure about this?"

"Moony recommended it!" the twins chorused with unrepentant grins. That was all the proof they needed.

Hermione nodded and took a deep breath before slipping the band onto her bicep. She released her breath when nothing happened.

"Think Ginny got one?" Ron mused idly. "If we got bands for helping Harry at the Department of Mysteries, then Ginny, Neville, and Luna likely got them as well."

"I'll send them a letter." Hermione pulled out her quill and three fresh sheets of parchment. "I'll need to borrow Pigwidgeon later."

"Ginny's spending the night at Luna's," Ron added as he finished off the snacks his mother had placed at his elbow earlier.

Hermione sniffed as she sharpened her quill. "It's only polite to send separate letters."

The twins traded a look as they fiddled with something on their table.

"Before you do – "
" – you might want – "
" – to take a look – "
" – at what we found."

Hermione set her writing utensils to the side and walked towards the twins, grabbing Ron's arm as she passed him so the redhead would follow her. "Your new invention?" the bushy-haired girl asked politely as she pulled up a chair.

"Yes," the twins chorused as they each tapped a bug sitting on their hands to produce a recording of the Order meeting, complete with sound.


"Please focus," Dumbledore scolded gently as everyone settled into their seats. The twins could be amusing, but they were really too distracting. "Who would like to begin?"

"Igor Karkaroff's body was found in a shack up north," Moody reported bluntly, "along with some suspicious traces of Dark Magic."

"Isn't all Dark Magic suspicious?" Hestia commented as she crossed her legs. No one who used it could be considered neutral even in the loosest of terms and people could forget about something good coming from it all together.

"The traces imply use of certain rituals," Moody continued, "rituals outlawed centuries ago by even the most ardent Dark Magic practitioners."

"What kind of traces?" Dumbledore questioned with a suppressed frown. The man's death had to be recent and Tom enjoyed killing his failed followers too much to allow others the pleasure, but he always used their deaths to advance his darker magics. If the foolish boy had created yet another horcrux, then his timeline for the war needed to be expanded again, but considering the number of Tom's horcruxes, there might be additive disruption; he would have to think about this later.

"Dark Magic," the ex-Auror replied.

"Of course," Hestia sniffed. "What else?"

"Necromancy," Moody said with oddly gleeful satisfaction. Wizards who participated in rituals like that weren't worthy of the name Necromancer despite their twisted attempts, but they made for good prey and better warnings. The stupid ones eventually tried something beyond their ability and got themselves killed one way or another; it was the smarter ones that caused problems. They never went further than the basics of the Forbidden Arts if they didn't have the Talent or the Gift, but managed perversely innovative combinations of the different Arts that were nothing less than horrifying.

Hestia stifled a horrified gasp as Molly grabbed her husband's arm for support and Minerva's lips tightened in displeasure. Diggle fell off his chair at the news, but Moody's gaze vacillated between Snape's odd contemplation and Dumbledore's barely muffled horror. The two wizards knew something they weren't planning on sharing with the group and he would bet it was going to cause problems.

Severus was aware that the Dark Lord did more than just dabble in Necromancy and the odds that the Dark Lord hadn't caused the ritual traces present at Karkaroff's death were so minimal as to be nonexistent. His research into the Dark Mark had shown traces of Necromancy and any Death Eater worth their mark knew their Lord's delight in torture and death was not simply a personal preference, but a means to an end. Necromancers who were neither Talented nor Gifted needed the death energy produced from torture and death to boost their mediocre efforts and Necromancy was not a Talent the Dark Lord possessed despite his fascination with Death Magic.

Tonks kept a wary eye on Mundungus to make sure the man didn't make off with anything belonging to the House of Black while everyone was in shock. The Blacks had participated in much worse than Necromancy over the years and had virtually made an art form out of creating spells to imitate the effects of demons, Necromancers, Gifted Blood Magic users, and insane Dark Lords and Ladies.

"Rumor has it that Dementors have been seen across Britain attacking wizards and Muggles alike," Doge said as he looked at the Ministry employees around the table. Talking about Necromancy in mixed company was rather inappropriate.

"I can confirm that," Tonks piped up cheerfully. Anything to stop thinking about the sordid history of House Black and the spells she wasn't supposed to know.

"Oh, and Kingsley told me to tell you that Harry Potter isn't on the Registry," Tonks reported brightly, her hair a shimmering waterfall of blue. "He's no longer a magical citizen of Britain."

"I'm sure it is just a temporary name change." Dumbledore soothed as a ball of dread formed in his stomach. Britain favored him, but the other countries tended to resent his power.

"But temporary name changes don't appear on the Registry," Tonks objected with an artfully contrived frown of confusion. "Only death, citizenship, disownment, adoption or a legal name change can affect the Registry."

"I'm surprised you know that much," Snape sneered from his chair.

Tonks turned to face him, eyes sharp and cold as Narcissa Malfoy at her haughty best. "My mother was raised in House Black and no child of that House will ever be found lacking in conduct or knowledge of pureblood traditions." Tonks' hair lengthened and straightened into a smooth fall of chocolate silk. "Just because I chose not to act as a lady, does not mean I cannot."

"Your mother is disinherited," Snape bit out sharply. "As are you."

"At least they acknowledged me one way or the other." Tonks gave him a cold smile as her hair lengthened even further and turned an icy blue. "And maybe this new Lord Black will see fit to change that. After all, Toujours Pur doesn't only refer to blood."

"See if you can determine what names are new to the Registry," Albus interrupted, "and if anyone has changed citizenship recently."

It was a good thing he'd brought his lemon drops with him to the meeting, Dumbledore thought as he popped a candy into his mouth; he was going to need every last one of them if it continued in this vein.

"I'm not allowed to view the Registry yet," Tonks reminded absently as she admired her hair. She'd never used that particular shade of blue before.

"Then how did Shacklebolt get in?" Snape snapped at the Auror. She was almost as intolerable as her aunt.

"He's a Senior Auror," Tonks admitted with a shrug as she dropped her hair. "I'm not."

"Well, do your best," Dumbledore encouraged with a grandfatherly smile. "Does anyone else have something to report?"

Albus swept his gaze around the table before nodding. "Then I think it's time we discuss our search for Harry. Molly, if you would be willing to start?"

"Of course." Molly smiled at the Headmaster. "No one I talked to saw Harry, but they did see a boy with startling green eyes accompanied by Remus Lupin shopping in the Alley."

"Same here," Tonks confirmed as she debated moving the tray of tea cakes closer to her chair.

"Henrietta," Molly continued,"was happy to tell me she sold a general household cleaning kit in addition to a collection of odd knick-knacks to a polite young man with rather stunning eyes. She was also rather impressed with the embroidered Celtic patterns on the edge of his robe and recognized it as Madam Malkin's work.

"I stopped by Madam Malkins shortly after and we struck up a conversation about her Celtic embroidery patterns – which really are quite lovely – particularly the one Henrietta had seen on the boy. She commented that the dark blue and black complimented his hair and brought out the color of his eyes, and the extra effort was worth it considering the young man's purchase. She wouldn't say any more on the subject, except to confirm that the boy had been accompanied by Remus Lupin.

"Her apprentice, on the other hand, was able to describe the kid that came in with Lupin as a lanky 173 cm male with mesmerizing eyes who had ordered a whole new wardrobe for the two of them," Molly concluded. All it had taken was a tip or two on the girl's embroidery charms and the apprentice had been happy to talk to the Weasley matriarch.

"Too tall for Potter," Moody commented as he cast an unobtrusive spell at the tea in front of him. Could never be too careful.

"I also stopped by the Leaky Cauldron* before I left and Tom hasn't seen Remus in two or three months," Molly said with a frown. "He hadn't seen Harry or this new child either."

"Then how did they get in the alley?" Hestia asked with her own frown as she refreshed her tea.

"Can answer tha' one for ya," Mundungus said as he leaned forward. "They came in usin' one o' the Knockturn entrances sumtime in the evenin' the day 'ogwarts got out. Lupin 'ad a kid followin' behind 'im, but nobody got a look at the kid. He 'ad a 'is eyes down the 'ole way an' the light was gettin' low."

"The two of them got a room at Hollyhock Fields Inn," Hestia put in diffidently. "Holly was rather upset when Lupin blocked her from touching the child and then refused to let her lay eyes on the boy!"

"Rather protective of the man," Arthur commented as he took a drink. "Like a mother griffin and her cubs."

"A wolf and his cub," Snape sneered and subtly changed the flavor of his tea. He had never favored the tea the Weasley matriarch insisted on using. Gryffindors had no taste for proper tea.

"He certainly herded the boy upstairs like a wolf according to Holly," Hestia gossiped as she picked up a delicate tea cake. Molly's baking was never less than superb for all that she was too poor to have a house elf to help her in the kitchen. "And they left early the next day. Lupin picked up a breakfast-to-go for two."

"Not much that's open early in Diagon Alley other than Gringotts," Tonks observed absently as she poured herself another cup of tea. Wasn't quite the same as the one they served in Hufflepuff or the office, but close enough it wouldn't distract her.

"I wouldn't know." Hestia looked down her nose at Tonks. "I take care of my business at reasonable hours."

"Predictability gets you killed," Moody scolded as his magical eye spun in its socket. Something about this room wasn't right.

"Well," Hestia sniffed, "Remus came back late that night and he had a different child with him. They went straight to their rooms and left the next morning, so all Holly could confirm was that the second kid was taller and had dark hair and absolutely stunning eyes."

"They didn't bring back any bags?" Minerva questioned with a frown.

"The kid carried a satchel and Remus had new robes that could only be from Madam Malkin's*," Hestia reported with pursed lips.

"There was a pretty big purchase over at Tremaine's Trunks and Frenzy's Furniture by the same duo," Tonks added. "An amber-eyed man and a kid with stunning green eyes purchased trunks, furniture, and tents."

"That would explain the satchel." Minerva settled back into her chair with a new cup of tea.

Moody finally located several monitoring and recording charms around the room and relaxed. The Weasley twins' magical signatures virtually saturated the charms and if those two were inventive enough to find a way past the wards Albus always cast before Order meetings, then they deserved to know what the Order discussed. And Potter could use all the help he could get his hands on to deal with Voldemort.

"Where else did they stop?"

"The Apothecary*," the metamorphagus responded as she snagged one of the last sweets.

"Did Remus buy Wolfsbane?" Molly asked with a worried frown. The poor man suffered enough without having to worry about becoming a murderous werewolf on the full moon. "Or at least the ingredients for Wolfsbane?"

"I quiver in horror to think of the mess he'd make of the Wolfsbane potion," Snape said silkily from the foot of the table. "He might just go mad."

"Remus did quite decent in Potions at school," Minerva stiffly reminded the Slytherin Head of House.

"He couldn't make it two years ago," Severus said flatly, "and I doubt he's improved since then."

"He didn't buy the potion or the ingredients," Tonks contributed, "but we haven't heard of any rogue werewolves either and the full moon was at the beginning of the month so there's certainly been time to report them despite the changing of the guard at the Ministry. It doesn't help there's a blue moon at the end of the month."

"Remus would never leave Harry unprotected on his birthday!" Molly shrieked at the Auror. "Especially not this birthday!"

"He's due his first Inheritance, isn't he?" Tonks commented in the tone people used when faced with an inevitable tragedy. "He'll be sixteen the night after the blue moon."

"Of course," Dumbledore deflected, "he was born as the seventh month dies and it's been sixteen years since his birth, but there's no reason to suspect he'll start to receive his Inheritance at such a young age."

"James, Lily, and Sirius all had a power boost on their sixteenth birthday," Minerva contradicted with a pensive frown. "I doubt Harry will have anything less."

"I doubt he'll have anything at all," Snape drawled from the foot of the table. "That or the spoiled brat won't live through it."

"He doesn't have wards, does he?" Tonks asked in the sort of tone that begged to be proven wrong. "Please tell me he'll have wards."

"Inheritance Chambers aren't easy to come by," Moody confirmed.

"And the new kid?" Tonks continued. "This Kiran who claims to be Lord Black and looks like he's Harry's age; will Remus be able to raise wards for his Inheritance?"

"What makes you think he'll get one?" Hestia questioned.

"If he just became Lord Black, there's no way he won't," Tonks said as her hair turned a shimmering grey and fell down her back in luscious curls.

"Well," Hestia sniffed, "Molly, how is William? You must be so pleased to have him home for the summer."

"Yes, but he brought his… girlfriend with him," Molly confided angrily. "Personally, I don't much like her, the French floozy. She can't cook, she can't clean, and she can't brew."

"So," Tonks asked in a clear bid to change the subject before the Weasley matriarch could build a full head of steam, "the Apothecary* sold three complete sets of ingredients to some kid with black hair and the cauldron shop* managed to sell enough equipment to set up a potion-making enterprise."

"Well, at least the more common potions," the metamorphagus amended with a shrug at Moody's suspicious glare.

"I doubt the child is talented enough for that," Snape sneered.

"It's the liquids the kid ordered that have me nervous," Tonks continued blithely. "That many types of blood, venom, saliva, and sap can't mean anything good."

"What do you think he's up to?" Molly asked as she moved towards the kitchen to refill the sweets.

"Seems like he's just experimenting to me," Tonks shrugged again as she turned her hair back to her preferred bright pink. "Flourish and Blott's* said the kid bought enough books to start his own library. Potions, transfiguration, charms, arithmancy, DADA, herbology, and basically the entire rune section."

"Ambitious," Dumbledore muttered to himself before speaking louder. "The child didn't ask for any particular books?"

"Not according to the clerk who was there at the time. Remus and the boy simply went from section to section picking out what they wanted," Tonks said as she kept her hair bubblegum pink through force of will. No need to tell the Headmaster that the duo had bought several of the larger compendiums.

"Must have his own collection," Moody grunted. Smart boy, only buying common books; if people didn't know what had been bought, then they couldn't defend against it.

"House Black certainly has quite the collection," Snape sneered. The most vicious pranks came from the mutt and he certainly wasn't smart enough to create the spells the Marauders had used. He had to have found them somewhere and Hogwarts' library certainly hadn't supplied those spells.

"It's a pity we can't access the real library here in Grimmauld," Dumbledore said with a put-upon sigh. The Blacks had collected a variety of books over the years and it was his right as Leader of the Light to examine any tools that might aid them in defeating Voldemort, whether they were books, relics, or rituals. The problem was the wards on the library were tied into the wards on the entire building and breaking them would destroy both Grimmauld and the library. The building wouldn't be much of a loss, but the library was irreplaceable. Then again, with this new Lord Black fellow dead by Tom's hand, Harry could be tricked into giving him permission easily enough once he was found and that would solve that problem nicely.

"It's a private library for a reason," Tonks said sharply as she glared at the Headmaster. "Those books belong to House Black."

"I'm sure Harry will let us look for whatever we need," Dumbledore dismissed magnanimously.

"He's not dead yet," Tonks muttered with a frown. Her letter to the new Lord Black was going to be monstrous.

"Malfoy's brat could inherit," Moody added, playing devil's advocate with relish. The blond brat getting his hands on the Black Lordship could cause them no end of trouble and Dumbledore wasn't even considering the possibility.

"The incredible bouncing ferret," Tonks giggled under her breath as her hair went super-short and Malfoy blonde before Moody's look of admonishment made her straighten and return her hair to its usual bright pink.

"The clerk from Wrigley's Writing is pretty sure the kid said something about homework from a school called Cuh-vair-er-ill and stocked up on enough parchment and ink to write his own book and annotate it," Tonks reported with a wry grin. Her Lord Black certainly seemed to be well-prepared.

"I'm quite sure there is no school named Cuhvairerill in the world," Dumbledore said firmly. "The clerk must have misheard the name."

"Better hope this kid isn't going to K'ver," Moody gave a rough laugh. "He gets out of there alive and there's no way Voldemort's taking him down without an army."

"He has an army," Hestia replied tartly. "They're called the Death Eaters."

"They're not an army," the ex-Auror contradicted, "they're a bunch of zealots."

"Which is worse in the long run," Tonks said with her own frown. It was possible to disband an army, but zealots never really gave up. Bellatrix was a prime example of that.

"Because you have to kill them to get rid of them," Minerva added with a tight frown. She would go to war for her beliefs, but indiscriminate killing had never been a characteristic of Clan McGonagall. Then again, neither was Albus' odd belief in second, third, and even fourth chances. A wizard declared their loyalty once, maybe twice if they were lucky to encounter the mercy of enemies whose philosophy matched their own; people who changed their loyalty with the tide were not to be trusted.

"Now, now, violence is not the answer," Dumbledore interjected with a grandfatherly smile. His Order really was too willing to be violent at the least provocation.

"Why an army?" Diggle asked Moody curiously as he bounced in his seat.

"Because there are only four things that can kill a K'ver graduate: an army, an assassin, another K'ver graduate, or their own experiments."

"Their own experiments?" Dedalus asked with another bounce.

"They're not infallible, just damn powerful," the ex-Auror growled out. He shouldn't have to explain this.

"So why doesn't everyone go there?" Hestia asked as she poured a new cup of tea.

"Because three-quarters of the kids that go in don't ever come out," Moody replied as he settled back into his chair. The Order really was too insular if they didn't know about K'ver and the graduation rate for the school.

"No doubt Black's spawn will be one of them," Snape muttered vindictively from his end of the table.

"They kill their own students?" Molly asked, reaching for Arthur's hand in horror.

"No, the other students take care of that for them," Tonks replied blandly. Considering the spats people got into at Hogwarts while she was there, if her fellow students'd had higher power levels or more offensive spells in addition to an environment where magic wasn't prohibited and the teachers didn't care, well, half of her year would have been dead as well. Add in experimentation on the part of students and there went another quarter of the class; even Hogwarts had a history of student deaths due to experimentation when they'd taught riskier subjects before Dumbledore became Headmaster.

"Survival of the fittest!" the ex-Auror barked on the heels of Tonks' words.

"How horrible," Hestia breathed out, eyes wide. She had gone to Hogwarts just like everyone else and it had served her quite well, thank you. "Why would people even think about going there?"

"They teach Necromancy," Moody deadpanned as his magic eye rolled around the room observing everyone's reaction to the word. Almost as bad as Voldemort's name.

"Then they're all Dark," Molly said decisively as she gripped Arthur's hand.

"Some of the best Potion Masters the world has to offer come from K'ver," Snape drawled.

"And the potions they invent?" the red-headed mother of seven prodded.

"Are not to be attempted by amateurs," Snape sneered as he looked down his nose at Molly. "The ingredients are volatile even before they're added to the potion."

"Like thestral breath?"

"Try Pomegranate Infusco and the scales of a Russian Blue," Snape derided.

"So they use rare ingredients like they grow on trees?"

"How'd they get 'em?" Mundungus prodded. Those items sold for a pretty penny.

"They teach the Lost Arts," Snape replied in the tone he reserved for talking to the most dunderheaded students in his Potions class.

The majority of the Order looked at him in confusion from their seats.

"They teach Summoning and Necromancy," Severus explained slowly before pinching the bridge of his nose to help mitigate the headache caused by dealing with uninformed idiots. "I highly doubt someone couldn't be convinced to travel to Hades' Realm and get a few fruit or summon a Russian Blue from the reserves."

"Wish we could do that," Tonks muttered to herself. Would make life a hell of a lot easier.

"Did you have something to add, Nymphadora?" Dumbledore asked with smile that came across as patronizing. The girl wasn't following his lead as she should and it was time for her to behave properly.

"Don't call me that! And the Corps like dragonhide," Tonks said in a louder tone, coupling her reply with a casual shrug. "Moreover, Shoemaucer reported a sale of battle boots last month to non-Aurors," the metamorphagus added as she eyed Mundungus. Better not tell the whole truth.

"Why would he do that?" Hestia questioned from across the table.

"The Minister's new retroactive decree." Tonks shrugged and reached for another sweet. He'd reported it last month, before Rufus became Minister, but there was no need to disclose Auror informants. Shoemaucer's granddaughter was in the force, so he warned them about large sales. In return the entire Auror department bought their boots from the man and everyone was pleased with the arrangement.

"Duke also reported someone," Tonks continued, "that just so happens to look like the kid, was gearing for war last month. Flexible light armor, battle armor, and under armor made from the best materials Duking and Dueling Armor has to offer. It's what gave Madam Bones the idea to get her niece a good set of under armor and a few pieces of proper battle armor."

"I'm just grateful they were out of the house when You-Know-Who attacked," Molly reached for her tea to take a calming sip. "We're thinking of upgrading our wards."

"I would suggest contacting the Wilhelm boy," Snape's oily voice broke in, "but I doubt he'll be around long enough to honor any commitments."

"Know something special, Snape?" Tonks prodded as she eyed the Potions Master. They might need to find a way to hide the kid if he was on Voldemort's kill list as anything more than Lord Black.

"The first thing the Dark Lord did when he left Hogwarts was post a bounty for the head of every member of the Wilhelm line." Snape pursed his lips. "The last one was claimed earlier this year."

"That seems a little harsh. Did they offend him so horribly?" Hestia asked as she considered taking another tea cake.

"Wilhelms are good with wards," Moody contributed with a strange, gleeful smile. "Learned some of my best tricks from that bunch."

"The Wilhelm line has been designing wards for over 500 years and their ancestors have tinkered with wards since before the turn of the century," the Headmaster added with a solemn smile.

"Do you think they contributed to Hogwarts?" Diggle piped in from beside Hestia, his purple top hat slipping to the side in his excitement.

"Rowena Ravenclaw designed Hogwarts' wards with little outside aid," Albus' eyes twinkled as he smiled, "but Marriella Wilhelm was in Slytherin despite her obsession with Runes."

"So she and Sirius had a thing?" Tonks asked curiously. Sirius pretty much hated all Slytherins with or without reason, but despite his reputation as a rake and a prankster there had been no rumors of illegitimate heirs before this Kiran Wilhelm claimed to be Lord Black. She was rather thankful the Malfoy spawn hadn't gotten the title; Merlin only knew what the spoiled brat would have done with it.

Snape sneered at the Auror in response and Tonks took that as a yes.

"Regulus died in 1979," Tonks mused aloud. "Walburga would have pressured Sirius for a proper heir despite blasting him from the family tapestry."

"The mutt was disowned."

"Sirius was never removed from the line of succession," the Auror smirked. "He inherited Number 12 Grimmauld, didn't he?"

"William is spending the summer at the Borrow this year," Molly interjected before Snape could verbalize what promised to be a scathing retort from the sneer on his face, "and plans to upgrade the wards as soon as possible."

"What are you going to use for anchors?"

"Dobby, the poor dear, found the location of our old wardstones earlier this summer," Molly replied as she poured herself a new cup of tea. "Of course that was before the depression took hold."

"He had a connection to Harry?" Minerva pursed her lips in order to disguise her amusement at the idea. James and Sirius had tried to smuggle a personal house elf into Hogwarts every week like it was part of some demented Marauder to-do list – prank Snape, smuggle in personal elf, prank Slytherins, get Lily to date James, prank Snape, work on personal project, repeat – and Harry had managed to have a personal elf at Hogwarts completely by accident.

Dumbledore hid his own frown. House elves didn't get depressed unless they were unbonded and Dobby was supposed to work for Hogwarts. He'd bind the elf and then send him after this Kiran fellow; convincing the elf to hinder the new Lord Black shouldn't be hard at all once he was bound to Hogwarts.

"Evidently," the Weasley matriarch responded. "The poor little dear has taken to filching butterbeer and getting soused as often as possible. Not to mention, no one's seen Hedwig in days and the lovely owl usually spends several days at the Borrow to avoid Harry's relatives."

"He gets tired of dealing with her, so he sends her away?" Snape snorted. "How like Potter."

Molly pursed her lips and looked down the table at the professor. "Harry's not like that at all. Hedwig simply has trouble finding food in that horridly stifling neighborhood and refuses to leave Harry alone for the time it would take to go hunting properly."

"You haven't seen her at all?"

"Not even a feather," the redhead confirmed. "And we've been combing the property for weeks to prep for the new wards."

"Do you plan to add any additional wardstones?"

Molly pursed her lips again. "Maybe."

"Well, it turns out Jameson's Jewels finally sold that cracked, fist-sized white diamond and the three flawed black diamonds," Doge announced. "What the buyer will use 'em for is anyone's idea. White diamonds only work as the center for larger or mutli-layered links wards and broken diamonds won't do anyone any good."

"Can't someone fix it?"

"Only if they're the one who's going to be using it and they've got the patience to spend weeks slowly transfiguring it back to normal. Considering some kid with green eyes bought the entire group in addition to all the stones for a rune carver's kit and some nice gems, he might actually have the patience for it. No one has any idea what the kid is going to do with that peridot, though," Doge finished with a confused shake of his head. Peridots weren't that common to begin with and barely anyone used the stones.

"Maybe he was born in August?" Hestia suggested cautiously.

"What, he's going to stick it on his mantel and use it as a conversation starter?" Tonks replied with a snort of disbelief as her hair flashed peridot for a moment before returning to her usual pink.

"Pretty sure Mercer's Materials had the same kid buy a little piece of everything in the store," Doge continued, blatantly ignoring the scornful looks Tonks and Hestia sent each other. Men did not involve themselves in ladies' disputes. "Nobody could confirm it, but the restock order was rather large the day after."

"Where's the kid getting the money for this?" Moody frowned.

"Rumor 'as it the kid's got a Gringotts Card," Mundungus said as he tried to avoid the suspicious glare Tonks sent his way. He hadn't even taken anything yet!

"The Black Vault," Tonks suggested with a raised eyebrow and one-shouldered shrug. "If he's Lord Black, there's no way he doesn't have access."

"But exactly how much money is the kid spending?" Molly asked worriedly. "A budget is an important part of shopping."

"It's not like the Black Vault has a limit," Tonks said frankly. "I'd bet he barely put in dent in his bank statement despite the rampant spending."

"More importantly, did they spend time in Knockturn Alley?" Dumbledore asked in an attempt to redirect the conversation. The boy's intentions could not be deduced from his actions so far, although he seemed to lean more towards their goals than Voldemort's at the moment.

"I can't believe Remus would take a child into Knockturn," Molly supported staunchly.

"There's no hint that they even approached Knockturn Alley," Tonks said flatly, "but Lenel admitted to having seen the boy and claimed he'd make a 'right proper little lord in a few years, picking out what he did,' and then refused to say any more on the subject."

"Ollivander never should have let his boy marry a Lovegood," Doge complained.

"The boy was about to die and everyone knows she promised to bear Ollivander a male heir for his line," Hestia dismissed as she picked up a scone. "Pity the mother died and it took the girl such a long time to start. It's been fifty years since her father died and she's just now getting around to producing the male heir her mother promised Ollivander."

"Everyone has the right to continue their line," Dumbledore stated firmly. It was a pity he could no longer have a blood heir, but he had enough time left to find a properly moldable child and adopt them into his Family. Potter's child would have the power, but would be unlikely to obey unless he reproduced with a properly compliant witch. Albus pushed the thought away firmly; he had more important things to think about at the moment.

"Rumor in the alleys has it tha' the boy's to be 'prenticed to the old man," Mundungus put in as he eyed the fine bone china Molly had borrowed from the Grimmauld cabinet for her sweets. He knew just the person who would be interested in buying it.

"Wonder how that'll go," Tonks said as she turned her hair the color of sunset flames and absently began to braid it. "Lovegoods are good people, but that crazy quirk means they've never been steady people. Aurors still have horror stories about Lovegood-Verdot and the messes he got into."

Molly immediately stood up and left the table in search of firewhiskey. She'd seen some earlier in one of the kitchen cabinets and now all she had to do was find it again.

"I went to school with the boy," Minerva confessed as she filled the bottom of her cup with tea. She filled the remaining three-quarters with liquid from a small metal flask she fished from her robes and took a bracing sip before continuing. "He was worse than Harry when it came to bad luck. Every week he'd stumble across something so stupidly crazy that everyone was sure he'd end up dead. Our entire graduating class decided Hogwarts itself was the only reason that boy graduated alive and relatively in one piece."

"Thank Merlin that one died without reproducing," Hestia shivered as she eyed her tea and wished for alcohol. "He courted Walburga Black."

"Lovegood blood could have only improved the mutt," Snape sneered from his chair, but the majority of the table ignored him. Lovegood-Verdot was the center of so many crazy stories that it was impossible for people to ignore the exploits of the poor boy.

"Sirius with any of the Talents or Gifts bestowed by the Lovegood Family Magics would have been a disaster," Minerva agreed as she offered Hestia the flask. "Anyone with a combination of the Gifts of House Black and the Gifts of the Lovegood Family would have created a disaster large enough to flatten Hogwarts in their first year."

"First month," Tonks challenged as she leaned across the table and grabbed the flask from Hestia before the witch was finished pouring the liquor into her tea. She was not talking about the Gifts or Talents bestowed by the Magics of House of Black or Lovegood-Verdot's stupidity in courting a daughter of the House of Black sober. Being a metamorphagus or an animagus was a Talent; true shape-shifting was a Gift.

"First week," Moody said as he took the flask from Tonks and poured it into an empty teacup. The retired Auror added his own choice of liquor from a silver flask before tossing the mixture back.

"Hard to believe a young man could destroy Hogwarts and all of its history," Dedalus Diggle ventured, always willing to believe the best of people until proven otherwise.

"You never met the boy," Doge said as he took out his own flask. Once was all it took to convince you Lovegood-Verdot had problems.

"'e visited Knockturn jus' the once and they still 'aven't rebuil' the bloody store," Mundungus commiserated. He hadn't been alive at the time, but every resident of Knockturn knew why Flannery's Fricassee had burned to the ground after Lovegood-Verdot visited.

The idiot had tripped over a tile, tried to catch his balance on the door to the kitchen and fell into the kitchen where he saw the cook carving meat from the still-bleeding thigh of a vampire. Lovegood-Verdot had then managed to cast a curse on the area instead of the stunner he intended to use and when the cook threw his knife at the Auror, it knocked a pot off the stove and the stupid boy somehow managed to create a fiendfyre that gorged itself on the mess before burning the two-story building to the ground.

Molly slammed a full bottle of Ogden's Finest Firewhiskey in front of Alastor before setting a second between Hestia and Minerva and keeping the third for her and Arthur to share.

Mundungus Fletcher eyed the firewhiskey before silently cursing the fact Molly had placed the bottles too far away for him to reach. Lovegood-Verdot had barely escaped with his life and the Alleys had been absurdly lucky Dumbledore was passing through Diagon Alley on his way to Gringotts. The Transfiguration professor had managed to contain the fire before it spread to the neighboring shops, but the cursed flame had burned the very air itself after burning the damp soil down to the bedrock. Nothing had been built on the lot since.

"Still, he was just a child," Diggle tried as he eyed the liquor liberally being added to tea around the table.

"The Forbidden Forest 80 years ago," Moody returned as he took a swig from his flask, a quick swish of his wand dissipating the build of flames in his throat before they appeared. Mixing firewhiskey and distilled firewine always produced that effect.

"First week," Minerva, Doge, and Tonks agreed with a shiver.

"I never did figure out why he had such bad luck," Minerva confessed as she poured more firewhiskey into her tea. She preferred Scotch, but firewhiskey could be transfigured easily enough into her poison of choice.

"It's all in the breeding," Tonks stated as she tossed back what looked to be a teacup full of pure firewhiskey and turned as red as her hair. "His father fell in love with and married a French girl – "

"No good, French floozies," Molly muttered into her teacup with a fiery hiccup.

" – with the wrong type of Family Magics," Tonks continued. "The Black Magics would have reduced the effect of the Lovegood Family Magics on his kid.

"If he lived that long," the metamorphagus muttered to herself before taking another teacup-sized shot. Walburga would have killed him on their first chaperoned date and gotten away with it.

"The Ollivander Family Magics have never failed to pass their Gifts to each successive generation and the Lovegood Family Magics should make gathering wand components infinitely simpler for the young man," Dumbledore interrupted with a subtle frown. At least Harry stumbled upon trouble most of the time rather than creating it. "Now, did he visit any other shops in Diagon Alley?"

"The Magical Menagerie* had a large ruckus when the kid walked in," Tonks reported. "All the snakes began to hiss and a couple of the rarer pets in the back were out of sorts for days afterwards; the store had to close for three days. The owner was quite upset and considered placing a restraining order against the kid."

"The man should be thankful it wasn't Lovegood-Verdot," Minerva said with another sip of her drink. The boy had gotten kicked out of Care of Magical Creatures more times than she could count for what could only be pure stupidity and that was in spite of the Lovegood Family Magics.

"The owner's family has had a 'do not enter order' against the Lovegoods for the past century at minimum," Tonks reported. "In addition to any known Beast Speakers."

"That include Potter?" Snape asked snidely from the end of the table.

"Not until he causes a ruckus," the auror responded with a saccharine smile.

"Special treatment for the pampered little prince," the Potions Master sneered. "Why am I not surprised."

"All Beast Speakers are required to schedule an appointment if they require something from the shop," Tonks volunteered as she poured more firewhiskey into her cup and stared at it in contemplation.

"And how would you know that?" Hestia asked archly from over her teacup.

"Pareseltongue is one of the rarer Talents known to appear in the House of Black," Tonks admitted with a tight smile as she tossed back another shot of firewhiskey and used her wand to vanish the heat accumulating in her cheeks. It conflicted with her hair. "Anyone in the right circles knows that."

"What, Death Eater circles?" Hestia responded with an innocent blink of her eyes.

"Pureblood circles," the metamorphagus sneered. Everyone knew Walburga once hoped for a daughter or granddaughter with the Talent. Merlin only knows if she intended to offer the girl as a consort to Voldemort or not. "Love isn't the only reason people marry, even if it is the only one that should count."

"You'd know," Hestia said snidely, "considering your mother was disowned for falling in love and eloping with a muggleborn."

Tonk's hair and eyes went a cold, hard black. "Take that back."


"The rest is a mish-mash of drunken ramblings and straight-up accusations," Fred said with a strained smile as the twins shut down the visual playback before Hestia could respond.

"They stopped making sense less than five minutes in," George added with a grin of his own as he turned off the audio recording. It had some good blackmail material, but nothing that would really interest Hermione or Ron. And Tonks got pretty vicious seven minutes in; it certainly made it clear she'd been raised House Black even if her mother had been blasted off the family tapestry.

"I'm sure Harry's fine," Hermione said in a carefully modulated voice as she reached into her bag to pull out the DA parchment, "and I can prove it."

The bushy-haired girl smoothed the parchment on the table only to freeze when she spotted the dark black of Harry's name. "His name shouldn't be that dark."

Ron pulled the parchment over to rest in front of him and frowned. "It wasn't that dark when he first signed."

Hermione pulled the parchment towards her and cast a spell on it. "Everything's as it should be." She looked up to see the twins exchanging glances. "Explain. Now."

George and Fred traded frowns.

"There are very – "
" – few reasons why – "
" – a name would turn – "
" – black like that."

Hermione set her chin. "Marietta's name didn't change when she reported the DA."

"You studied how to link – "
" – detection charms, jinxes, – "
" – and secrecy spells – "
" – to make that, right?"

Hermione nodded and the twins continued.

"Those charms rely – "
" – on a person's magical aura – "
" – or a component of their aura – "
" – like the Dark Mark – "
" – to identify a person."
"It's how owls deliver mail – "

Hermione gave a little sigh of satisfaction as a question she had been wondering about since she was first introduced to the Wizarding world was finally answered. The owls probably navigated using the Earth's magnetic fields like most birds and used people's magical auras as homing beacons in order to ensure the mail was delivered to the appropriate person no matter where that person was in the world.

" – and how the Map operates."
"Extensive wards – "
" – or a significant change – "
" – to your magical aura – "
" – can void the majority of – "
" – detection charms, jinxes, – "
" – and secrecy spells."

Hermione nodded in response; the theory was sound, but it made her a little nervous for Harry since it was the change to his name that had started the conversation.

"So can death," Fred said frankly.

Both Ron and Hermione froze at those words, the redhead letting out a strangled groan as he leaned back in his chair.

"If Harry's – "
" – not Harry anymore – "
" – according to your secrecy spell – "
" – then he might have pulled – "
" – the best prank of all – "
" – and become someone else."
"Highly doubt he's dead – "
" – especially when the masked idiots – "
" – haven't dumped his – "
" – body in public place."

"It'd be quite the move," Ron muttered absently from his shocked stupor.

"Who knew Ronniekins was so good at politics?" the twins cooed at their younger brother before continuing in a more serious vein.

"And when we tried – "
" – to add Harry's arm – "
" – to the Prewett Clock a – "
" – few days ago – "
" – you know – "
" – when we let one of the experiments – "
" – lose in the living room – "
" – it wouldn't take."

"You let that thing lose?! Do you know how much trouble it caused?!" Ron exploded in anger before the twin's last sentence sunk in and the redhead went deathly still. "What do you mean it didn't take?"

"Mum prepped the hand at Christmas – "
" – and when she came home – "
" – worried about Harry – "
" – we decided – "
" – to put it on the clock – "
" – so she'd relax."

The twins paused for a moment with unhappy frowns before speaking in unison. "It vibrated between 'traveling' and 'lost' before going black and falling off."

"What does that mean?" Hermione asked shakily as Ron froze in horror.

"The clock hands turn black and fall off when someone dies," Fred explained as George moved to deal with Ron. "It's how Mum knew her brothers were dead during the war before Moody told Dumbledore. All the hands were on 'mortal peril' during the war, but Gideon and Fabian's silver went dark and fell off the clock when they died fighting five Death Eaters. Dolohov went to Azkaban for it."

"What does that mean for Harry?!" Hermione repeated as she pushed herself out of her chair and slammed her hands down on the table.

The twins looked at each other and grimaced. "Harry Potter no longer exists."


Author's Note: Happy holidays to everyone and my apologies for the late holiday update. I'll be sending PMs to my reviewers (or at least trying) over the rest of break, but it seemed like it would be better to post the chapter before sending review replies. Thanks for all your comments!

Here's to hoping the next chapter comes out soon, although I don't think waiting three months for over a thirty page chapter is completely horrible, even if it has to be more than a little exasperating. This chapter will be beta'd when Jueru comes back from vacation and that version will be posted with the next chapter, which will be back to focusing on the werewolves and Kiran.

Note: Shops with an * beside them do not belong to me and were invented by JK Rowling.