Inevitably, Dumbledore called another Order meeting the next day. Harry brought the Horcruxes, hoping that the meeting would end with him destroying them, but kept them inside his robe. Harry had expected to see a calmer group, with Voldemort defeated and few Death Eater attacks in the aftermath, but the members seated in Dumbledore's office when he and Sirius arrived looked distinctly uneasy. It wasn't until Harry saw Severus Snape sitting in the Headmaster's shadow that he understood why.
Sirius saw him a heartbeat after Harry did, and reached for his wand, but Harry laid a hand on his shoulder, and he paused. "Headmaster," Sirius said, instead of flinging hexes, "why is there a Death Eater at our meeting?"
Dumbledore remained impassive. Snape, however, shrank further behind Dumbledore. Harry took a closer look at the future Potions Master, and was appalled at what he saw. Snape had the same disorienting youthfulness as everybody else Harry was meeting, but he didn't have the healthy glow of twenty-year-old James Potter. He was almost emaciated, and his skin was crisscrossed with the smooth white lines of magically healed wounds. His dark eyes were sunken and lifeless, and he cowered behind Dumbledore.
"Mr. Snape has news that will concern us all," Dumbledore finally replied. Sirius did not look satisfied, and he might have responded in anger, but Frank and Alice Longbottom came through the door next.
"Severus Snape, drop your wand! You are under arrest!" Frank shouted, wand out. Alice took four quick steps to the side and covered Snape from his flank.
Snape did not move, but Dumbledore raised a hand placatingly. "Aurors Longbottom, your vigilance is a credit to your profession, but it is misplaced at the moment. Severus Snape is not a Death Eater, and he has come with important information about the last days of the Dark Lord."
Frank and Alice kept their wands raised. "We have reason to believe that he took the Dark Mark and participated in the Death Eater uprising," Frank said, eyes locked on the quailing Snape. "We are obligated to arrest him on site."
"I commend your dedication to your duty, but I urge you to hear what he has to say," Dumbledore replied. He had not moved for his wand, but the situation was clearly a standoff.
Until Alice muttered "Petrificus Totalus." Snape stiffened slightly as the spell hit, but Frank and Alice relaxed and lowered their wands.
"Headmaster, what is the meaning of this?" Frank demanded. Harry noticed that, while Frank turned to address Dumbledore, Alice kept her eyes glued to Snape. "The Order is not in the business of interfering with Aurors carrying out their legitimate duties."
Dumbledore looked pained. "As I said, he has important information that only the Order is in a position to act upon. I had thought that learning of this would be your greatest concern."
"And what happens after we hear what he has to say?" Sirius interrupted. "Do you turn him loose?"
Dumbledore began to respond, but Frank was shaking his head. "No side deals, Headmaster. If Snape deserves his freedom, it's up to the Wizengamot to decide."
"But surely it serves no greater good to have a reformed man go to prison," Dumbledore objected. "Your zeal-"
"It serves no 'greater good' to have you make that decision by yourself," Frank snapped. "And if you think I'm being overzealous, consider that I could have dropped him with a Killing Curse on sight, and been well within the law. Right now, you're aiding and abetting a suspected insurgent. At the end of this meeting, either I take Snape into custody, I take Snape and yourself into custody, or you get to explain to the Minister of Magic why you killed her son."
Dumbledore sighed. "Severus?" he asked.
Snape nodded, and a ripple of shock went around the room when they realized that Dumbledore had silently freed him from Alice's spell. "It doesn't matter what happens to me anymore," he said in a voice so cracked and soft that Harry found himself leaning forward just to make it out. "If somebody can defeat the Dark Lord, that's enough."
"Then please," Dumbledore said, gesturing around the table, "let us begin. Severus Snape has been working for the Order as an informant in Voldemort's camp for some time now. He has vital information to share with us. Severus, if you would?"
Harry glanced around the room, thankful that Lily was home with little Harry. He noted that everybody present was aware of Voldemort's Horcruxes. He also noted that Alice was sitting just out of Snape's sight line, and her wand was still trained on him.
Snape leaned forward slightly, and gave a dry cough. "The murder of Minister Bagnold was planned and carried out much more quickly than a normal Death Eater operation," he said. "Just days before it, the Dark Lord became very agitated. He demanded that his top lieutenants make plans to kill Bagnold and Chief Warlock Smith, and decided on Bagnold because she was an easier target." He paused, and slowly pulled a long, thin box out of his robes. "Nobody but the Dark Lord was present at her death. But I believe that he performed some kind of ritual beforehand, and I believe that it was related to this wand." He opened the box.
Frank peered at it. "I'd need verification, but that matches the description of Minister Bagnold's wand," he said.
"I haven't dared to use it," Snape said, and Harry nearly choked. "The Dark Lord's obsession with death is well known. I can't be sure, but I believe that this ritual was meant to protect him from death, though it seems to have failed."
Frank and Harry exchanged a long look, and Harry gave a slight nod. Frank stood. "Snape, I'll testify that you've done a great service to those working for the defeat of the Dark Lord. But I can't, in good conscience, let you walk free. Will you come to the Ministry with me?"
Dumbledore looked appealingly at Frank, but Snape ignored him. "I will," he said, and opened his robe to allow Frank to take his wand. They went through the Floo together.
Once he was gone, Harry looked at the wand Snape had left behind. "Albus, is there any way to verify that this thing is a Horcrux?" he asked.
Dumbledore passed his wand over the late Minister's, mumbling a long incantation. The eerie green glow seemed to satisfy him, and he nodded. "This wand contains a piece of a human soul," he said.
Harry sat back. "I don't understand," he said. "Voldemort's plan was to kill young Harry Potter on Halloween to make his final Horcrux. It's what he's been meaning to do all along. So why the sudden change? Why abandon his plans and go after the Minister?"
Sirius shrugged. "He did lose his spy in the Potter camp when Peter was arrested," he offered.
Harry shook his head. "True, but why not just go after the Potters right away? They're not in hiding yet. Or the Longbottoms, for that matter. Why change targets?"
James looked a little shaky at that idea, but he spoke up. "Could this have anything to do with your Fidelius charm?"
Harry stared at him for a moment, thunderstruck. "Of course!" he finally said. "Voldemort created a Horcrux because he didn't know he had any! We hid the knowledge from him with the Fidelius." Harry snorted. "Can you imagine the panic he must have felt, when he suddenly realized he had no idea where his soul was? Of course he took the quickest opportunity to make another."
Dumbledore looked sharply at him. "That 'opportunity' cost the Minister of Magic her life."
Harry sobered for a moment. "It's true, and I certainly didn't intend for that to happen," he said. "I don't know how we could have foreseen it, though, and I don't know if she would have survived the war anyways."
"Do you think he made any more?" Sirius asked into the following silence.
Harry grimaced. "I doubt it, but it will be hard to prove. There weren't any other high-profile attacks, were there?" Heads shook. "The only possibility is one of his inner circle, then. Let's make sure they're all accounted for before we destroy his spirit. But in the meantime, we've got one more Horcrux to destroy."
"That is our primary remaining topic for the evening," Dumbledore responded. "My knowledge on the topic is limited, but it seems there are distressingly few reliable methods to destroy a Horcrux."
Harry smiled widely. "Oh, I can think of some. Fiendfyre seems to do the trick. Basilisk venom is an old standby. We could even try the Veil. And I've always wanted to try Muggle methods - a blast furnace, or maybe a nuclear weapon."
Dumbledore closed his eyes for a moment. "Disregarding your last suggestion, I see few practical possibilities. Fiendfyre is the Darkest of magic, and I cannot countenance its use."
"It's only Fiendfyre," Harry began to object, but Sirius caught his eye and shook his head slightly. Harry sighed. "Stealing a nuke would probably mean Obliviating too many Muggles," he said.
Dumbledore twitched a lip. "I have recently been informed of a source of basilisk venom," he said, "but it seems prudent to establish some safeguards before marching off to acquire it."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Is there an Unspeakable in the Order that I don't know about?" he asked.
"I fear there is not," Dumbledore replied.
"So no access to the Department of Mysteries, and therefore no Veil. All right, the basilisk it is. Does anybody have a rooster?" Harry asked.
To Harry's frustration, the Order agreed that at least some advance planning was needed before assaulting a basilisk in its den, and he went back to Sirius' flat with one more Horcrux than he had left with. His irritation that evening, however, was nothing compared to what he felt when he saw the next morning's Daily Prophet. "Potter Heir to Destroy Last Vestige of Dark Lord," the front page said.
"Sirius!" he screamed. "Did you know anything about this?"
Sirius appeared, scanned the headline, and pounded the table. "We'd better go see James," he said, and the two of them Apparated to Godric's Hollow without eating breakfast.
They found an outraged James and Lily; James in particular was barely coherent, so it was left to Lily to explain. "He hinted at something after the meeting last night, but nothing like this," she fumed. "And of course we never gave him permission to involve Harry at all. What are we going to do about this?"
"What exactly does he have in mind?" Harry asked.
She shook her head. "We have no idea. The article just says that Voldemort's spirit has been trapped on this plane, and there's a prophecy that says that Harry is the one who will destroy him."
"Why is he so fixated on this prophecy?" Harry mused. "It doesn't make sense- it doesn't refer to Harry explicitly, and there's nothing that's happened here to make him think that it should be Harry over Neville."
"The prophecy is also the only thing that keeps him in the limelight," Lily noted. "If there's no prophecy, then we destroy the last parts of Voldemort, and the story's over. He's barely a footnote. But if it's his brilliant interpretation of the prophecy that destroys Voldemort, then he gets all the credit. Certainly nobody's going to believe a one-year-old has some special power to defeat evil wizards."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Don't be too sure about that," he grumbled. "But I'm not sure I see what you mean. You think he's a glory hound?"
Lily nodded. "That's the only thing that makes sense. He got used to being revered after Grindelwald, and now he's afraid of being forgotten in his old age."
"He must be the most inept glory hound in history," Harry said. "Think about it. Has he ever gotten any good press, for anything, in your whole life? He could cure Dragon Pox, and the headline would be 'Dumbledore decimates St. Mungo's budget.'"
Before Lily could answer, a head poked through the Floo. "Potters? Are you at home?" asked the voice of Albus Dumbledore.
Lily strode over to the fireplace. "Headmaster, you've got a lot of explaining to do," she shouted. "How dare you involve our son in this without even consulting us?"
"I apologize, Lily," Dumbledore replied. He actually seemed a little contrite to Harry. "I was thinking that it would be simpler to ask for forgiveness, rather than permission. I should not have involved young Harry without that permission."
"You're going to be asking for forgiveness from a lot more people, Albus. I'm not letting Harry anywhere near you, and you can just forget whatever you've got planned," Lily said, still shouting.
"Perhaps I could explain the specifics before you make up your mind?" Dumbledore offered.
Lily looked at James, then at Harry. When neither of them gave any indication, she turned back to Dumbledore. "Talk fast," she said.
"I continue to believe that the prophecy I heard refers to Harry, and that it spells out the only method of defeating the Dark Lord," he said. "With that in mind, I believe the safest way for Voldemort to perish at Harry's hand is for Harry to throw the piece of amber housing his spirit through the Veil of Death. I would like for him to perform this act as soon as possible, that we may be freed from the shadow of evil."
Lily did not look convinced. "First of all, Headmaster, when was the last time you spent any time with a toddler? He can't even get his fork to his mouth half the time. How is he going to get a piece of amber through the Veil? Second, that thing is incredibly dangerous, and as long as it's up to me, he's not going anywhere near it. That goes for the Veil as well- he could just wander on through, you know. And finally, your interpretation of the prophecy is ridiculous."
"Lily, I beg of you, indulge me in this. Whatever safeguards you require, I will provide. You and James will be present, of course. A sticking charm should keep Harry from wandering off. A banishing charm should ensure that the amber goes in the right direction. We cannot ignore the prophecy, or it will surely come back to haunt us."
"Let me discuss this with my husband," she said tersely. Dumbledore obligingly withdrew his head from the Floo.
"He's lost it," Sirius said as soon as he disappeared.
"He has," Harry said, "but we might have to go along with it." He waited for the cries of disbelief to die down, and explained, "Look, obviously I'm not going to let little Harry touch the amber. But his plan gets us into the Chamber of Death. Without that, we've got no choice but to go after the basilisk, which is not only dangerous, but expensive, if we're going to outfit the hunting party right. Besides, it's in Hogwarts, so Dumbledore can make it difficult. If we pretend to go along with his plan, I can crash the party and finish off Voldemort before Dumbledore knows what's happening. Harry will be completely safe, although that sticking charm might not be a bad idea."
"I don't like it at all," James said. "Are you sure there are no other ways?"
"None that I know of. A Killing Curse might do it, but I'm reluctant to cross that line," Harry said.
James and Lily exchanged a long look, long enough that Harry looked away in embarrassment. Finally Lily spoke. "We'll do it, as long as you promise that your highest priority will be protecting Harry from harm."
"I won't let anything happen to him," he said. "Now let's make some plans."
In the end, it was just the five of them who went to the Ministry that night. Frank and Alice offered, but James was concerned about the appearance of nepotism. Remus' lycanthropy was too much of a potential distraction, and they couldn't be sure about anybody else in the Order's loyalties. They were met at the entry to the Department of Mysteries by Dumbledore, Madam Bones, Madam Longbottom, a pair of Hit Wizards, and two men Harry didn't recognize. Sirius nudged him. "Walter Smethwyk from the Wireless, and Elliott Comstock from the Prophet," he muttered.
Harry groaned internally and stepped forward. "I suppose you're all wondering why I've brought you here this evening," he began, but Madam Longbottom was not amused.
"I'd like the Headmaster to make his explanations first. While I understand that this is a topic of great public interest," she said, glaring at the two reporters, "I don't like to learn about matters of Ministry security from the morning paper."
Dumbledore nodded. "I do apologize for my indiscreet approach. As I explained to the Potters earlier, I believe this to be the only way to be sure the Dark Lord is gone for good. With that in mind, I felt it necessary to dissuade some of my more excitable friends from trying something rash."
"Be that as it may," Madam Longbottom replied, steamrolling over Harry's attempt to respond, "the Ministry does not conduct business in the press. Really, Albus, you know my door is open to you, and Amelia's as well. What possible reason could you have for going to the paper?"
Dumbledore coughed politely. "Circumstances have left the remnants of the Dark Lord in the hands of those I believe less than reliable. I admit to using the press to attempt to embarrass them into bringing those remnants to the Ministry. While the tactics may be regrettable, the results speak for themselves."
Harry had to say something now. "I can only assume you're talking about me, but I have no idea why you think I'm unreliable. You brought me here against my will, and in return I killed Voldemort for you, just like I said I would. I didn't get so much as a new broomstick out of the deal. It's true, we disagree about strategy, but I haven't done anything to cause you not to trust me." Harry sighed. "We fought together so well on the battlefield. I don't understand why it's so difficult everywhere else."
The Wireless reporter stepped in. "Could you confirm your identity for us, sir?"
"I'm Lex Luthor. I cast the spell that destroyed Voldemort's body, but I couldn't have done it without Dumbledore, and Moody and a few dozen other Aurors. I didn't grow up around here, but I believe I'm a distant relative of Potter," Harry said, sticking to his story.
"Mr. Luthor, nobody doubts your brilliance in a fight," Dumbledore said. "But your wisdom with matters of prophecy is another matter."
Harry lost his patience. "All right. Does everybody want to know what he's so fixated on? Let's go to the Hall of Prophecies." And he strode off, giving the rest of them little choice but to follow.
If anybody was suspicious of Harry's familiarity with the Department of Mysteries, they were too busy gawking at the sights to say so. He led them through the Time Room, into the vast, gloomy Hall. He pushed down the memories of his first, horrible visit as best he could, but by the time they got to row ninety-seven, his palms were sweaty.
"Up here," he said, pointing with his wand, "is the prophecy that Dumbledore is relying on. You're all familiar with the way these orbs work?" Everybody stared at him, and he smiled wryly. "I guess not everybody goes on school trips to the Department of Mysteries. These orbs are enchanted so that only a person mentioned in a prophecy can remove it. So if I were to try to grab this prophecy here," he said, reaching for one on a lower shelf at random, "the enchantment would prevent me from taking it." And to demonstrate, he pulled on the orb, which remained fixed in place."
Nobody else seemed to have the power of speech, but he exchanged a look with James, and got a tight nod from him. "Now, this prophecy here talks about a Dark Lord, and one who can vanquish him," he continued, indicating the orb with the familiar string of initials. His own were not yet on it. "Dumbledore was lucky enough to hear it, and now he thinks the war against Voldemort depends on it. Sirius, I don't think this prophecy refers to you, but would you give it a try?"
Sirius put both hands around the orb without hesitating, but couldn't remove it.
"Now, James, I don't think this prophecy refers to your son, but would you let him try?"
Lily speared him with a look, but walked over to the shelf with little Harry in her arms. It turned out to be trickier than Harry had expected to convince a toddler to pick up a glass ball, but eventually Lily coaxed him to reach for it. When it wouldn't come free in his hand, he began to howl.
"Dumbledore believes that this prophecy holds the key to defeating Voldemort, and that it refers to Harry Potter here," Harry said, raising his voice to be heard over the distraught toddler. "Clearly he's wrong about the second part. But I think he's wrong about the first part too."
And before anybody could do anything, he cast two quick spells. The first was a silencing charm. The second conjured half a brick, a yard above the orb. As soon as it winked into existence, it dropped, shattering the prophecy sphere beneath it. A wisp of smoke appeared, but the silencing charm prevented anyone from hearing the prophecy. Dumbledore pulled his wand out and attempted to cancel Harry's charm, but he was quick enough to block the spell, and the wisp of smoke faded away, leaving just a few shards of glass on the shelf.
The hall was silent, except for the sniffles of little Harry. The reporters stood with their notepads open, quills dangling from their slack fingers. The Hit Wizards looked back and forth between Harry and Amelia Bones, waiting for her to order his arrest, but she was as thunderstruck as everybody else.
Finally the Minister of Magic recovered her poise, and gave a dry laugh. "Albus, I see why you were concerned with his methods, but you seem to be in the wrong here."
Dumbledore's jaw worked for a moment, but all he got out was, "Augusta...I..."
"No, Albus. You bet everything on young Mr. Potter, and you were wrong." She turned to Harry. "Mr. Luthor, do you have a better solution to propose?"
Harry took a deep breath. "Follow me," he said, and led them towards the Chamber of Death. When he reached the door, Amelia Bones grabbed his elbow. "Mr. Luthor, I think I see what you're proposing, but I'm afraid I must insist on secrecy oaths before we enter this room."
Each of them in turn gave the oath she specified, until they reached Lily. "I don't think I need to go in there with my son," she said.
"That seems wise," Harry said.
"Will you be all right outside?" James asked her quietly. "I'd like to see the end of Voldemort for myself." At her nod, he followed the rest of the group into the Chamber.
Once inside, Harry swallowed hard, and fought the urge to take his own advice and cast a sticking charm on his shoes, or on Sirius'. "Without going into too much detail, I have some magical devices that Voldemort believed would secure his immortality. They might even work. But I have them, and now I'm going to throw them through the Veil of Death." And without removing them from Amy's bags, he tossed Voldemort's Horcruxes through the Veil, one by one, leaving just the piece of amber. The bags simply vanished without a sound, the archway standing unchanged by their passage.
Harry didn't even pause to explain what he was going to do next. It was up to him now, as it had been so many times before. He hefted the piece of amber in his hand, and then lobbed it gently through the Veil after the Horcruxes.
When it crossed through the arch, it disappeared like the bags before it, but a black mist remained behind. As Harry watched in horror, it formed into a vaguely human shape, and began to drift away from the veil. He snapped up a shield charm from pure instinct, seeing Dumbledore do the same an instant later, but he doubted that it would be effective.
Voldemort's spirit coalesced and moved towards him for an agonizing moment. It felt like an eternity to Harry, who held his shield in place and tried desperately to think of a spell that might help in this situation. But before the wraith had covered six feet, it stopped, and then, as if pulled by a great force, disappeared through the Veil.
Madam Longbottom looked at him. "Was that...?" she asked.
"Voldemort's spirit," Harry confirmed. "It was anchored to those devices, and they must have pulled it through the Veil."
"Once again, our nation owes you its gratitude. These gentlemen," she said, eying the reporters sharply, "may omit some details, but every citizen will know that you have saved us once again." The reporters nodded, and one of them turned a calculating eye towards Dumbledore. The Minister raised her head, turned, and led the group out of the Chamber.
Harry and Sirius sat in the flat, jittery with elation. Harry hadn't even realized how anxious the continued existence of the Horcruxes had made him, and now that they were gone, he felt free. At least, he did until Sirius described the day as "a complete and total victory."
"There's so much left to do, though," he objected. "Dumbledore is still the Headmaster of Hogwarts, and holds a lot of influence in the Ministry. Getting him out of power is nearly as important as keeping Tom out, as far as I'm concerned."
"I don't think you have to worry about that," Sirius said. "He's through. With what those reporters saw, plus Bones and Longbottom, he'll be a punch line by tomorrow. Everybody already thinks he's off his rocker, and now they'll know it for sure. They'll never make him Chief Warlock, and I'll bet this is his last year as Headmaster, too."
"I hope you're right," Harry said. "There's so much more, though. The Death Eater trials haven't really started yet. I'm not sure it's safe for Muggleborns to walk the streets, even now. We haven't dealt with the Goblins, the House Elves, and have you decided what you're going to do about Draco?"
"We just destroyed Voldemort, once and for all," Sirius said in frustration. "Can we at least enjoy the moment?"
"All right," Harry relented. "But then it's back to work tomorrow. Do you think Madam Longbottom would meet with me? I hate this political stuff, but she at least seems willing to listen."
"I think so," Sirius said, deadpan.
"We should do that soon," Harry said. "But there's one more thing I want to do first."
Harry and Amy sat entwined on the sofa in her flat. What had started as little more than an exploratory snog had quickly turned heated, and both of their robes now lay in heaps halfway across the room. Amy brought her hands between them, and Harry pulled back for a moment, but she began unbuttoning his shirt, pressing kisses into his neck and newly exposed chest as she went.
Harry twisted out of his shirt, abandoning it on the couch behind him, then sat up straight. He looked at Amy, his heart filled with equal measures of lust and anxiety. It must have showed on his face, because she stopped what she was doing and held his gaze.
They sat there for a long moment, but just as the awkwardness was threatening to become unbearable, Aelf sailed through the open window and landed on Harry's shoulder. Harry snorted and Amy giggled, and the tension was broken. He leaned into her and slipped an arm around her shoulder, but addressed the owl. "Aelf, you have terrible timing," he began.
And then the rug was pulled out from underneath him, and he felt the tug in his gut. "Amy," he said, but he was gone before he could say anything else.
Author's note: Thanks, everybody, for reading. I enjoyed writing this, and I have a couple of ideas for new stories (though neither will be a sequel to this one). Thanks especially to Heart of Spellz, beta reader par excellence.