The chill of the country air had Severus pulling his cloak tighter around him as he hurried down the pitted driveway to the back entrance of Riddle's house. He was almost certain that Crouch would be present in the lab if only to gloat at the chaos he had evoked at Hogwarts the day before.

The tradesman's entrance yielded to Severus easily and he darted through the dusty shelves to the lab door. He quickly made his way inside and checked the time. He gave a relieved sigh and began to divest himself of his outer clothing, carefully hanging it up and pulling on a potions robe he had left specifically for his work there.

A few moments later and he had recovered the potion from its stasis and set out adding the next key ingredient to it – the skin – until it was all dissolved. He let it bubble up, forming a thin membrane on the top of the liquid which morphed and twisted into an almost handsome face before sinking down again. He carefully covered the cauldron, casting a ward around it that would prevent any harm coming to it. He levitated it back to its dark cupboard and locked it away again.

The silence as he caught his breath made him suddenly aware of his solitude. Crouch had not shown up.

Severus frowned but decided not to dwell on the matter. The potion would need to steep another four days before he could add the next ingredient. He began to clean down the surface he'd used, taking care to meticulously set the sparkling instruments back into their places with a wave of his wand.

He was pulling on his cloak to leave when the inner door of the lab began to open.

Severus grimaced. It had been too much to hope for that Crouch had chosen to stay away.

It wasn't Crouch who entered though.

Severus's dark eyes widened and he immediately fell to the ground and prostrated himself, lowering his head almost to the floor and keeping his eyes on the hard tile. "My Lord."

"Rise, Severus."

The voice sent a shudder down his spine; it brought back too many memories. He swallowed his panic, strengthened his occlumency shield and slowly got to his feet.

Pettigrew was situating the…husk of what had once been a child on a cushion on top of a deep chair.

Severus took note of the Dark Lord's condition. He was already in need a new vessel, Severus mused, dispassionately ticking off the waxy grey skin mottled with dark lesions, the few remaining tufts of hair that gleamed white and fragile like spun sugar. The wraith would definitely need to move onto a new body by solstice.

The Dark Lord was dressed in a child's robe; black and velvet. He held his wand in a chubby hand and his red eyes raked over Severus with cold admiration. "A boy no longer, Severus, you have grown into fine man."

Severus bowed his head. "My Lord."

"Leave us," the Dark Lord waved Pettigrew away, "Severus and I have much to catch up on. Nagini will tell you when to fetch me."

Pettigrew nodded smartly and made a hasty departure.

Severus heard the hiss of a snake behind him but refused to look. If the Dark Lord chose to have his familiar attack him, Severus would be dead before he could raise his wand.

"Severus, attend me." The Dark Lord pointed his wand and a small footstool appeared by the chair.

Severus gathered his robe and sank to sit gracefully on the stool. It forced him into a position of looking up to the Dark Lord and he knew that was the point. "I had not expected to see you before the ritual, my Lord."

The Dark Lord smiled; a frightening expression on the young child's face. "Bartemius's recent actions have meant that my plans required a change of venue. While Bartemius is convinced the vanishing cabinet will not be accessible until the solstice eve, I would rather not stay in the same place as its counterpart just in case."

Severus kept silent. It was good to get confirmation of the cabinet's presence in Hogwarts; better to know that there was a plan to make use of it and when.

"You always did have very good self-control, Severus. You never leap before you look; never speak when you can be silent." The Dark Lord cooed. "How I wish more of my followers had your attributes."

Severus bowed his head in supplication. He knew his younger self would have been delighted at the praise; bowled over to be held in such high regard. His younger self had been an idiot.

"Bartemius is currently residing in the basement cell. He will be released tomorrow and sent abroad to assist dear devoted Dennis." The Dark Lord continued. "I fear Bartemius can sometimes get above his station; I blame his parents. He was meant to remain at Hogwarts."

There was enough disgruntlement in the tone that Severus spared a thought of pity for Crouch. He had no doubt that the Dark Lord had punished Crouch for his initiative.

"No matter." The Dark Lord murmured. "You are still there, after all."

"I am your obedient servant." Severus confirmed in a quiet voice.

"Bartemius informs me that he has set all in motion for Potter to be portkeyed to the site of the ritual at the end of the tournament as planned." The Dark Lord said. "However, I will need your eyes to ensure that there are no further deviations."

"As you wish, my Lord." Severus confirmed. He kept his mind battened down and resisted the temptation to think what it meant for the plans to defeat the Dark Lord.

"I would apologise for Bartemius's attempt to injure you but you seem in remarkable health." The Dark Lord commented.

Severus didn't raise his head. "The Headmaster protected me with a powerful shield. He took the brunt of the explosion himself."

"His condition?" asked the Dark Lord casually as though the answer was of no importance to him.

Severus knew better. "He remains in the infirmary, my Lord. The Healer is concerned that he has overstretched himself; a wizard of his advanced years does not recover as quickly as others."

"Hmmm." The Dark Lord said. "Perhaps Bartemius was not completely misguided in his actions then."

Severus said nothing again and waited.

"I assume Albus is aware of your habit of keeping potions at various stages to ensure they were not required to be restarted from scratch?" The Dark Lord's question came out in a quiet silky tone that masked its angry undertone.

"He is aware, my Lord." Severus confirmed. "However I was able to convince him that Bartemius was successful in delaying the inevitable finishing of the potion."

"So his attempt was not in vain?" The Dark Lord queried.

Severus fought to keep the distaste for helping Crouch from his tone. "I will not be able to complete a potion to revive the Summers woman between now and the solstice."

Because it was already completed and hopefully the woman was already revived and providing them with useful information.

"Excellent." The Dark Lord said. "You have done well, Severus. You will take your place at my side when I rise."

"My Lord." Severus bowed low despite the awkward position.

"You may leave now, Severus. I do not wish to delay your return to Hogwarts further and we will have plenty of opportunity to speak when you attend the potion in the coming days."

"My Lord." Severus rose, bent to kiss the knuckles of the small outstretched hand and quickly made his way out, trying not to throw up or give into the urge to wipe his lips of the putrid taste of rotting flesh.

He hurried out of the house and through to the outside where he took a deep breath.

Pettigrew wandered into view, his hands in his pockets, ambling around the corner of the house as though he was simply taking a stroll. Pettigrew, Severus reminded himself, was the wizard responsible for betraying Lily. Severus might have whispered the prophecy in the ears of the Dark Lord and unwittingly made her a target but the fat balding rat in front of him had been responsible for leading the Dark Lord to Lily's door; who was complicit in her death. The urge to simply release his wand and hex the little bastard filled him…

The rat stopped at the sight of Severus. "Snape."

"Pettigrew." Severus said evenly, masking the signs of his inner fury. At least the anger had burned away his remaining physical discomfort at being close to the corpse possessed with the Dark Lord's wraith. "I should congratulate you; nobody would ever suspect that you would be the one to bring about the resurrection of the Dark Lord."

"You never did rate me, did you?" Pettigrew said. "You hated James, loathed Sirius, and feared poor old Remus. But me? I was never worth your attention." His eyes glittered with a smug superiority. "Nobody pays any attention to me except, of course, for our Master."

"All the better for your spying I suppose." Severus replied tersely. "Although that is now out of the question given your status as the Most Wanted Wizard in Britain."

"All that will change when our Master regains his rightful place in the world." Pettigrew replied breezily, but his beady eyes had hardened.

Severus so badly wanted to hex the balding fat arse his fingers were beginning to twitch; he reined himself and just in time as a dark shape slithered through the entrance behind him and up to Pettigrew.

Severus remained still; he had no wish to incur the attention of the snake.

Pettigrew froze as Nagini hissed at him. "I must attend our Master." He hurried past Severus and the snake followed as though herding him.

The door banged shut and Severus waited a moment more before continuing on his way. He had much to report.

o-O-o

Harry adjusted his omniculars and watched the broom riders zoom for the finish line. "C'mon, c'mon." He muttered under his breath.

"A galleon says Baxter has it." Sirius said cheerfully beside him.

"Rampert's going to get it." Harry countered confidently. The blonde witch had been winning races all day. The final was a relay with the three teams competing. Rampert had the last leg of the race and was already gaining ground on Baxter.

Sirius gave a soft harrumph. "She's got good form."

The broom racers rounded the corner and hit the back straight.

"Woah! Look at them go!" Sirius exclaimed.

Harry's lips twitched at Sirius's excitement. It felt good to see his father simply enjoying life.

The last couple of days had been exhausting; between Crouch's assault on Hogwarts, Harry's lion time, and the news from Remus and Snape, it felt like they'd barely had time to breathe. Sirius had hustled them out of the school that morning, determined to continue with his plan for them to spend the day together at the races. It had been a good day and a great idea.

Sirius slung an arm around Harry's shoulders and hugged him as Rampert crossed the finish line just ahead of Baxter. "I guess I owe you a galleon."

"She's very good." Harry commented, dodging Sirius's attempt to muss his hair.

"Want to meet her?" Sirius asked. "If we drop the disguises, I'm sure I can sweet talk us into the players' changing rooms."

Harry shook his head. "I'd rather stay anonymous."

Their disguises were simple glamours, turning their distinctive hair colourings into a more non-descript brown; their eyes into the same. Average every-day wizarding robes in equally dull colours had them fading into the background, but at the same time looking like the average wizard and his son. It had been great to simply be part of the crowd for a day, Harry considered, and when Sirius didn't try to argue for losing the glamours, Harry figured Sirius was probably of the same mind.

The stadium was beginning to empty and they fell in, following the crowd as everyone made their way to the exits.

They soon found themselves on a sunny Cardiff street. Sirius tugged Harry in the direction of an Apparation point, and a few moments later they reappeared in a small Blackpool shop, hidden away near to the pier. A quick wave of Sirius's wand restored their own looks, and another had their clothing changed to be completely muggle; jeans, a light sweater and a comfortable denim jacket for Harry; jeans, a shirt and a blazer for Sirius.

They bought fish and chips from a nearby shop and wandered down to the end of the pier to eat them. Harry chose an old worn bench with a good view of the sea. Seagulls swirled above them, crying out harshly into the still blue sky, hopeful of leftovers and scraps from the visiting humans below.

Harry took a deep breath; the scent of brine, old wood and warm sand washed over him and left behind a feeling of peace.

"Alright, Harry?" Sirius asked quietly.

"Just...happy to be here." Harry replied. "It's been nice to get away; have a day to us, you know?" It really had been a crazy week.

"I know." Sirius said softly. He nudged Harry's shoulder with his and the two of them settled for leaning against each other. After a long moment, Sirius, his voice slightly rough around the edges, began a story about the Marauders, Lily, and a day at the beach just after they finished school.

Harry settled in and listened to his father, pushing all thoughts of Voldemort and the battles to come to the back of his mind.

The story was a tale of fun; of a warm sunny day and a packed beach; of a black dog playing fetch with a stick in the waves; of sandwiches with added sand; of laughter and love. Harry could picture them; four young men just finished with school, ducking each other in the sea; his mother and father holding hands, stealing kisses, and cuddling as the day turned colder; the bonfire as it grew dark; the cider bottle passed from hand to hand. A day of escape together before the war had started in earnest for them.

And every word Sirius spoke was filled with warm affection; love for the brothers he'd chosen, even for Peter although the words seemed tinged with pain and sadness; love for the girl who'd become the sister of his heart; for the family they'd been that day before they'd disappeared into jobs and the war; before betrayals and loss.

Harry thought of Ron and Neville; of Hermione; of the Weasleys; even of Malfoy, Nott and Zabini; of everyone who stood beside him in the alliance. He thought of how alone he'd been when he'd left them after Christmas, grief-stricken at losing Sirius. He thought of Sirius, of Padfoot, of how he'd changed Harry's life so completely, changed the world for Harry, and filled it with family; filled it with so much love and hope

Love surged up within him for Padfoot. He wished he could take away the weight of worry from Sirius's shoulders; to remove the shadow from their lives that hung over them. He wanted to give Sirius a world where they could spend their own day at the beach without a care; burying Remus in sand with a pregnant Dora watching on, and playing in the waves and…

And Harry suddenly just knew his power; the power Tom knew not.

Harry huddled closer into Sirius; the knowledge creating a warm fuzzy ache in his heart.

They stayed on the pier talking of Harry's parents and watching the sunset, only returning to Hogwarts in time for Harry to head to bed.

The graveyard seemed warmer, friendlier somehow. There was still a chill in the air but it never seemed to reach Harry.

The graves of his parents were before him and he stooped to trace his fingers over the quote Sirius had chosen; Where there is love there is life.

"The one you call father chose well."

Harry turned to greet his ancestor. Antioch Peverell stood behind him; feet planted apart, hands behind his back. He looked like a soldier; the General and Lord he had been in life. The leader of the brothers; the eldest. His long hair was tied back and he was dressed in battle robes, a sword in a scabbard hung by his side, and there was a dagger strapped to one thigh; his empty wand holster to another.

"Antioch." Harry greeted him with a small polite nod.

Antioch regarded him evenly. "You wished to speak to me, nephew?"

Had he wanted to speak to Antioch? He'd vaguely thought about how it would be nice to speak to someone who knew what it was like to lead people they loved into battle before he'd drifted off to sleep. He guessed the stone had brought him Antioch.

"I guess." Harry said, straightening. "In four weeks I'll face my enemy. The people I love…"

"They'll fight by your side." Antioch's stern expression softened. "It is not easy."

"How did you deal with it?" Harry asked.

"Poorly." Antioch said baldly. He shifted weight under Harry's stare. "I loved my brothers. We argued before the battle because I wanted them to stay out of the fight." He shook his head. "We made so many mistakes."

"Would you have used the Hallows by yourself?" Harry asked, curious.

Antioch shook his head. "I didn't see how the stone could help, and I wanted them to use the cloak to stay hidden."

"So you argued." Harry murmured.

"We went to battle angry with each other." Antioch sighed heavily. "I don't know if it would have made a difference if we'd been in concert. After…I was grateful for the stone; for the chance to assure Iggy that we loved him."

There was a tone of reprimand in his voice and Harry felt a prickle of irritation.

"Yes, I yelled at him." Harry said tersely. "His actions and choices impacted my whole life. He had no right to decide that it would be OK to sacrifice me."

"He did the best he could under the circumstances."

Harry understood Antioch's defensiveness; Ignotus was his brother after all. He took a deep breath. "And I kind of understand that too."

Antioch acknowledged that with a faint nod of his head, but there was a very familiar stubborn gleam in his eyes.

"Do you have any advice for me?" Harry asked changing the subject.

Antioch tilted his head. "You have discovered your power?"

Harry nodded slowly. "I think so." He glanced down at the gravestone and back up to Antioch. "It's Sirius. Well, not just Sirius but Remus and Hermione and…everyone. It's the people who love me and who I love; the people who'd change the world for me, who I'd change the world for. They're my power."

"You think your enemy has no-one?" Antioch questioned.

Harry shook his head. "He has followers and servants. He doesn't have family or friends." He paused. "Tom Riddle will never want to change the world for someone else and people don't want to change the world for him. They follow because they're scared and because they think he has the power to give them what they want."

He was right about his power; he could feel it deep down in his soul.

"I'm Death's Champion and he sent a Grim to protect me. That's the story. But what if it was more than that? What if he knew that the Grim…that Sirius was the key to my finding my power?" Harry continued.

Antioch frowned.

"Morgana Le Fey once said to me that I had spirit to arm myself with and heart to spur me; the reason I want to fight is for them; to make the world safe for them. They're…they're my spirit and my heart." Harry said passionately. "And my shield. My mother and father gave their lives to protect me; Sirius would lay down his for me and so would Remus; as I would lay down my life for them. The likes of Pettigrew and Riddle; they'd never lay down theirs for another soul; they'll never know what this feels like." He tapped his chest with his fist.

Antioch reached across the space between them and placed his hand over Harry's heart. "It is a horrible, terrible need, is it not? This want to do everything you can to make someone else happy…this…love for someone else that makes them more important than anything else…that you would tear down a world and build it again for them." He sighed sadly. "My brothers and I took so much for granted."

Harry nodded, choking back emotion. "This is the power Tom knows not."

"And this is why you are Death's Champion." Antioch said softly.

Harry blinked at his ancestor. "I'm right?"

"Love is a great and powerful thing." Antioch said. "It can defeat all enemies including Death itself." He smiled sadly. "For where there is love…"

"There is life." Harry completed.

The graveyard was silent.

A faint wind swept through and sent the leaves swirling; the grass rustling. Antioch's cloak billowed out around him for a long moment.

"You asked for my advice; you have power he knows not and power to vanquish him; they may not be the same. Remember that all magic including the Hallows, it is but a tool; one that demands a price." Antioch said. "Use your advantages wisely, learn from the mistakes of the past, yours and ours, and remember your greatest power is also your greatest weakness."

Harry nodded and turned away…the graveyard faded into darkness.

o-O-o

Sirius woke up with a start, his heart beating fast. He stared up at the ceiling, uncertain what had roused him. He shoved the covers back and slid out of bed, picking up his wand. He wandered out into the shadowed landing and frowned at the sight of Harry's bedroom door, wide open.

He really hoped Harry hadn't decided to break the rules again and sneak out of their rooms. They'd had such a brilliant day, it would be a shame to end it with punishment and discipline.

Sirius summoned the map silently and quickly pinpointed that his son was still in their quarters. A sigh of relief escaped him. He sent the map back to his room and padded down the stairs to the study.

He found Harry, still dressed in pyjamas, sat perched on the arm of a chair staring at the blackboard with Sirius's original plan. Dobby had obviously been alerted to his master's need because there was a fire crackling away in the study hearth and Harry held a mug of hot chocolate. Hedwig gave Sirius a reproachful look as though questioning why he hadn't appeared the moment Harry had gotten up; he felt suitably chastised. Maybe he should look at putting some kind of charm on Harry's room; Lily had created some kind of an alert when Harry was a baby…

"Harry?" Sirius prompted gently.

Harry wrenched his gaze away from the blackboard and flushed at the sight of Sirius. "Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

Sirius nudged him along the arm and sat down on the end. "You didn't. I woke up and realised you were out of bed." He glanced back at the plan. "What's up?"

"I had a dream and talked to Antioch." Harry said matter-of-factly as though talking to a long dead ancestor was something he did every day which come to think of it…

Sirius yanked his thoughts back to the present. "Antioch?"

"He led the battle against the Seven and…and he led people he loved into war." Harry nudged his glasses up his nose. "I guess I was thinking it would be good to talk to him and so he, uh, kind of appeared in my dream."

Sirius shivered and tried to shake the uneasiness he had with Harry's ability to talk with the dead in dreams. He wondered briefly if Harry had always had the ability or whether it came with being the Master of the Deathly Hallows.

"What did he say?" asked Sirius, focusing on the immediate question.

"Take advantage of our advantages. Remember magic has a price." Harry recited, setting aside his mug on the nearby table. "And something about my power also being my greatest weakness."

"Power?" Sirius said with a frown.

"Power." Harry took a deep breath and turned to him. He held his gaze with a Gryffindor courage that reminded Sirius sharply of James and Lily. "My…family. They're my power. You, Remus and everyone." He fidgeted a little with the edge of his pyjama top. "I worked it out when we were at the pier."

"Well." Sirius had no idea what to say to his son.

"Death gave me you. He gave me everything I needed." Harry said – and it sounded again like he was repeating words he had once heard.

Sirius felt his throat close up on a rush of emotion.

"You changed the world for me." Harry gestured at the blackboard. "You've given me everything."

"Harry…"

"And you don't even know how much I…"

Harry turned and Sirius opened his arms; his son hugged him and he hugged his son back, so fiercely.

"I love you, Padfoot." Harry whispered.

Sirius couldn't speak for a moment and he tightened his hold. "I love you too, Pronglet."

They held each other for a long time.

Hedwig hooted.

Sirius glanced at the clock and hummed, smoothing a hand over Harry's back once more and dropping a kiss on the top of his head. "It's late."

"I think…I think I have a plan." Harry said.

Sirius looked again at the clock and sighed. He gestured at the blackboard and it spun around and offered up a clean empty version. He conjured up a piece of chalk and shifted back to offer it to his son.

Harry grasped it with a shy grin.

"Go ahead." Sirius smiled at him. "Let's see your plan, Pronglet."

o-O-o

Harry stifled another yawn and straightened the strap on his shoulder bag. He'd told Sirius he was fine for classes despite the fact that both of them had been almost falling asleep in their porridge at breakfast.

Bill sent him a concerned glance and Harry shrugged it away with a sheepish smile. Physical weariness aside, he felt energised after the late night – or was that early morning? – planning session he and Sirius had done. Sirius was arranging a meeting with the War Council and the alliance and Harry would do the same with the alliance kids in school.

It was all coming together.

The loud hustle and bustle of the main staircase ended Harry's inner peace and he sighed heavily, catching another concerned glance from Bill. He shrugged off the silent question and smiled at the sight of Hermione waiting for him in the corridor outside the DADA classroom, Daphne at her side.

Bill grinned as Harry greeted Hermione with a kiss and slipped a hand into Hermione's waiting palm. The eldest Weasley sketched a salute goodbye.

Daphne frowned. "I take it Lord Black isn't easing up on security just because Crouch did a runner?"

Harry shook his head and smiled. "Constant Vigilance."

Neville and Ron walked up and greeted them all cheerfully.

"Has Sirius said you can come to the dorm now?" asked Ron eagerly.

"Next weekend." Harry said.

"You should have come as a lion." Ron argued.

"You did look awesome." Lavender piped up as she and Parvati joined them.

"Yes," Draco said dryly, "because it's all fun and games until someone gets eaten." He nodded a hello to Harry who was laughing. Theo, beside him, did the same.

"Hey," Harry said, changing the subject, "meeting after classes in the Room for everyone."

Neville nodded solemnly. "We'll get the word passed."

The morning passed quickly; a blur of classes and normality that rubbed under Harry's skin like a pebble in his shoe rubbing the underside of his foot.

He sat down for lunch feeling restless. He couldn't shake the feeling he was losing time.

Neville nudged him. "You alright?"

Harry paused, causing Hermione and Neville to exchange a brief look of concern over the top of his head. "Yeah, just…I feel like I need to be doing something more than sit in class, you know?"

Neville nodded. "We've got the meeting later. Everyone's coming."

"Well!" Ron sat down opposite them with a thump. He immediately reached for a large slab of pork pie. "How were the races? You never said this morning and the wireless reception was appalling."

Harry stopped Hermione from chastising their friend and smiled back at Ron, grateful for the distraction.

The discussion about the broom racing took them to the end of lunch. The afternoon dragged but as the final class finished Harry led the way to the Room, grateful that the day was over.

The Room opened up to its usual formation for task planning and Harry quickly made his way to the small stage. He waited impatiently as everyone filed in.

Hermione, the Weasleys, and Neville took up a position on the stage to his left; Draco, Theo and Christopher Wenlock stood to the right. The rest of the alliance gathered in front of the stage, settling into their usual groups of friendship. Natalie Warren stood arm in arm with Viktor Krum; Fleur and Cedric hovered protectively by Sue and Hannah. Connor Sapworthy nodded a greeting at Harry before settling in beside the Inglebees. Jeremy, Blaise, Daphne and Tracey took positions close to the stage, near to Draco and Theo.

"Thank you all for coming." Harry began. He paused and took a breath, letting his nerves steady. "In just under four weeks on the eve of the solstice, I and the other Champions will face the third task of the Tournament."

Viktor, Fleur and Cedric all gave a small nod of acknowledgement.

"We've all been preparing for it. I wish my fellow Champions well, and I know my own performance in the maze will be thanks to the efforts of everyone who has helped me this year."

He waited another moment gathering his thoughts.

"When the heirs of the Potter alliance first met I told them that if we stood together, we could defeat Voldemort." Harry looked around the assembly and caught Connor Sapworthy's beaming smile of pride. It brought a small smile to his own lips. "On the solstice eve, we're going to do just that."

A murmur broke out and rippled through the crowd before Harry raised a hand and caught their attention again.

"You know Voldemort is still out there; you know he and his followers entered me into this tournament. It's almost certain that at the end of the task, something will be used as a portkey to deliver me into the hands of Voldemort's most faithful, so they can use me in a ritual which will restore Voldemort's wraith to a body."

There were a few horrified glances exchanged, but they were mostly looks of confirmation rather than shock.

Cedric cleared his throat. "You think the task will be sabotaged again to make sure that happens?"

Harry nodded. "It's likely."

Viktor lifted his chin. "Forewarned is forearmed."

Harry nodded again. "Which brings me onto the reason why I've asked you to come today." He could see the realisation begin to dawn on Hermione's face; the way Theo turned contemplative, and knew that they knew.

"You can't be serious!" Hermione blurted out, horrified.

Everyone looked at her surprised at her outburst.

Hermione swallowed hard under the attention of so many but caught Harry's reproachful gaze defiantly. "You can't just let him kidnap you!"

"Don't be daft, Hermione!" Ron said. "He's not just going to let You-Know-Who grab him!" His friend turned to Harry and went pale under his freckles as he read the truth in Harry's eyes. "Blimey! Hermione's right?"

"She's right…"

A babble of noise broke out as people began to protest and complain; shout their opinions and decry the idea…

A sharp whistle broke through the chatter and silenced everyone.

Neville glared everyone into submission. "I'm sure Harry has more to say."

"Thanks, Neville." Harry said. He avoided looking at his girlfriend and turned back to the grouping in front of him. "Every effort is being made to finish this before the task but the likelihood is that it won't, can't be finished. And Viktor said it best; forewarned is forearmed."

"You have a plan to ambush him just like Lupin ambushed Greyback at the wedding." Theo said, derailing any other commentary.

Harry turned to nod at the Slytherin. "We do."

Hermione stepped forward, capturing his attention. "I don't agree with this." She said clearly. "You shouldn't have to face him at all."

Harry bit his lip, considering what he could and couldn't say. He reached out a hand and she took it, confusion in her brown eyes even though he could see she was waiting for him to explain. Harry glanced back at Neville who knew and the other boy inclined his head in recognition of what Harry would reveal.

"There was a prophecy." Harry said. He looked at Hermione, partly to plead with her for understanding and partly to hide from the reactions of the rest of the room. "Months before I was born, there was a prophecy made that said a baby born at the end of the seventh month would have the power to defeat the Dark Lord."

"Bloody hell." Ron muttered.

"Someone overheard and told Voldemort." Harry continued. "It was why he came after my family back then; it's why he's after me now."

"It might not be you." Hermione began to argue.

But Harry shook his head. "Dumbledore…my Dad…everyone's checked the wording." He repressed the urge to look at Neville. "It might have been someone else back then, but…" he raised a finger and traced his scar, "'and the Dark Lord shall mark him as an equal…'"

Hermione's eyes glistened with tears.

"It's me." Harry said simply.

Hermione squeezed his hand tightly.

"What do you need from us, Harry?" Neville asked, taking a step forward himself, confident and stalwart.

Harry gave him a grateful smile. "Someone gave me some great advice; we need to use every advantage we have and we need to learn from the mistakes of the past." He paused, scanning the faces of his friends. "But most importantly, we need to do this together. I might have to face him…"

"But you won't do it alone." Neville completed.

"No," Hermione agreed, "not alone."

"You've got me, mate." Ron said, moving to stand beside Neville.

"And me, Cousin." Draco took a step forward.

Theo and Wenlock both moved together; the rest of the Weasleys matched them…and there was a cacophony of sound as the room voiced the same; cheers and whistles and pandemonium reigned for a long moment.

Neville called for order again. He turned with a smile to Harry. "Some of us here have sworn fealty to you, Lord Potter; some of us are simply friends. But we're all with you."

Harry nodded sharply; emotion clawing at the back of his throat, tightening his chest till he could hardly breathe.

"Thank you," he said finding his voice, appreciative beyond words at their support; honoured by their trust and faith in him. "I swear this: come solstice, Tom Riddle will be gone and we're going to defeat him together."

Cheers erupted again.

Hermione was the one who whistled sharply for order. "Right," she said sternly, "if we're doing this…" her eyes met Harry's with warm understanding, "if we're doing this, we're doing this right." She nodded at him. "Let's go over the plan."

o-O-o

His son looked like he needed a good night's sleep; something he hadn't gotten the night before due to his little chat with Antioch. It had also been a long day. Harry had insisted on going ahead with his classes – something Sirius was quite proud about – and then he'd held a meeting with the students in the alliance, whether they were formally sworn like Neville or simply a friend like Luna. He'd insisted on meeting the adult side of the alliance after dinner.

Sirius knew it made sense; Harry couldn't brief the kids and wait a whole day to brief their parents. It wasn't good protocol. In many respects, most of the adults would have probably preferred for the briefing of their children not to have happened at all. Sirius shrugged that thought off; if someone complained, he and Harry would deal with it.

They'd chosen the Black Estate for the meeting. The wards were second to none and there was a large meeting room on the second floor which was purpose built for hosting large gatherings. Sirius had spent his own day ensuring the delivery of the invitations which included a special one-time only portkey to the estate.

Sirius and Harry had simply flooed in. Remus met them both with a manly hug before being usurped by a bubbly Dora.

"The alliance have all arrived." Remus confirmed. "The family are waiting in the drawing room."

Sirius put a hand on Harry's shoulder and they made their way to see the family first.

Lucius stood by the mantelpiece, a crystal glass of whiskey in his hand. He tossed it back and set it on the mantel as Sirius and Harry greeted Narcissa, the Tonks' and the Grangers.

"I suppose there is a reason for this summons." Lucius drawled.

"Yes," Sirius said sharply, "and you'll find out in a moment when we join the rest of the alliance." He gestured for them to follow him. He noticed Narcissa sent her husband a glacial chiding look before she took Lucius's arm. The Malfoys fell in behind the Tonks', the Grangers assumed the next position with Remus and Dora last. Sirius and Harry led the family from the drawing room to the meeting room.

It was a stunning space; a beautiful high ceiling patterned in intricate coving that told the story of Arthur; a pale sky blue covered the walls; a polished oak floor softened with woven rugs embroidered with the Black crest. The room had been arranged with small tables, set with linen tablecloths and a lit candle; the ceiling's chandelier was lit up with tiny fairy lights. Their guests were enjoying after dinner cocktails and a selection of sweet and savoury petits four.

The room was noisy with excited chatter but the alliance quickly settled down as the Black family entered, Sirius and Harry remaining at the front. The rest took the waiting empty table next to the one where the War Council sat. Just behind them, Bill and Caro sat with the Weasleys and Augusta Longbottom, and to the side Minnie had taken a seat with Severus and Alastor.

Sirius moved forward to a position where they could be seen and heard by everyone.

"Thank you all for coming." Sirius said, drawing everyone's attention. He and Harry wore matching battle robes and he could see the atmosphere turn to a tense seriousness as the assembly appreciated fully that this wasn't just a social gathering. "Harry?"

Sirius stepped back and to the side, as Harry took pole position. Sirius was close enough to emphasise that he was still providing Harry with protection and support, but far enough away that the truth that this was Harry's show was made without a word being spoken.

Harry gave Sirius a nod of acknowledgement and straightened. It was as though his tiredness sloughed away, leaving behind a young man, a young mage.

"Everyone in this room knows that Voldemort remains a threat to the peace of our world." Harry began confidently. "Everyone also knows that before I was born I was prophesised to defeat him." He gazed around the room, letting the truth of it settle in their minds. "The moment of our final battle has been years in the making and it will take place on the eve of the solstice."

It didn't escape his notice that the Headmaster was trying to catch his eye but Harry avoided Dumbledore's gaze knowing he was about to be much more open about events than the Headmaster probably would want anyone to be.

"Voldemort seeks a new body. There is a ritual he's been preparing for all year which will give him what he wants." Harry said. "He needs an enemy's blood for the ritual and I'm sure it's not a surprise to anyone that he's chosen mine."

"Bastard." Griselda Marchbanks said succinctly.

Sirius sent her an appreciative look for lightening the tension.

"The ritual…it was the reason he had me entered into the tournament. He intends to kidnap me at the end of the third task." Harry paused and Sirius could see that the dawning realisation of what next on the faces of Augusta and Daniel Greengrass. "We intend to let him."

"An ambush." Daniel said, his voice carrying over the small outbreak of murmurs that had followed Harry's announcement. "You intend to turn the tables on him."

Richard Bones started smiling. "Of course, he thinks he has you but in fact you're trapping him!"

"Yes," Harry agreed, "that's the plan." He looked around again. "It's time to finish it."

"Is it necessary for you to be involved?" Augusta asked. "I know all of us here have been working to ensure that you wouldn't have to face him again."

Harry smiled at her and looked to Sirius silently for him to answer.

Sirius stepped forward. "I think you all know my feelings about Harry facing Voldemort. I told you all when we first began discussions in the Summer that I refused to believe or consider that this fight was Harry's and Harry's alone. Why should my fourteen year old son have to fight a Dark Lord? The idea was…is still preposterous to me."

There were nods around the room, of agreement; of acknowledgement.

"So I haven't changed my mind," Sirius assured them, "but…" he sighed heavily, "I can admit that events since…the knowledge we've gained since those early days has taught me that I didn't give enough weight to the obsession that Voldemort has for my son; an obsession which was seeded with a prophecy and which Voldemort has nurtured and fed with his anger and fear every day since the All Hallows Eve when he went to kill Harry and ended up a wraith instead."

He swallowed to shake the lump in his throat at the idea of that. Harry shifted closer to him as though to comfort him with his presence.

"I haven't altered my opinion; I don't want my son anywhere near Voldemort. I can tell you that we're working on making any reason for Harry to face him obsolete. Suffice to say, it's not straightforward nor without risk of spooking Voldemort entirely."

Sirius gazed around the room, for everyone to meet his gaze and know he was serious and believed every word he said.

"The truth is that the probability of us finding and corralling Voldemort before the solstice is remote. He's under a Fidelius." Sirius held up his hand for quiet as there was an outbreak of mutters.

Bertie got to his feet, radiating quiet power. "The charm means that magic will not allow anyone who does not know the secret to breech it. We know the general location but cannot step foot onto the property; cannot even see what's there. We are even repelled against entry or notice. As soon as we turn our attention to something else, the secret begins to dull in our minds and memories until if it was not a constant focus we would forget altogether. The magic is arcane and it would be foolish of us to believe that this is the only protection Voldemort has in place. We know he is a building an army; we know he has access to at least one Dementor that escaped the forest at Yule." The Head of DOM regarded the crowd with a heavy frown. "An assault would be fraught with danger and as Lord Black has indicated, the possibility of an assault simply resulting in forcing Voldemort to run and hide somewhere else…is high."

"You could thwart the kidnap attempt though." Molly countered shakily. She was pale under her freckles and Sirius knew she was genuinely concerned for Harry's safety.

"It would be my preference." Sirius admitted. "But even I have to concede that the night before the solstice presents us with an opportunity like no other."

Alastor nodded his agreement.

Amelia rose to her feet. "We will know exactly where and when we can find the wizard known as Tom Riddle who calls himself Voldemort. He is raising an army and he'll find an army waiting for him." She lifted her chin. "I don't want to use a fourteen year old to find him. I don't want to place Lord Potter in harm's way. If we can get to him without Lord Potter ending up anywhere near him, we should take advantage of that."

"You just don't think he'll make it that easy for you." Her brother called out softly, just loud enough for his voice to carry.

"I don't." Amelia agreed. She glanced over at Harry. "Lord Black is not the only one who underestimated the strength of Voldemort's obsession with Lord Potter. Riddle will do everything he can to get what he wants on the eve of the solstice and while we will work to – how did you put it, Molly? – thwart him? – the truth is that we may fail."

Alastor snorted. "The truth is that he's a clever bastard. Voldemort has had years to plan this out. He's not going to let the chance to get a new body and kill the kid who destroyed the old one get away from him." He shifted, rising to his feet to regard the room with a hard stare. "Tactically, taking him down when we know where he is makes sense. But do I believe we're going to be able to do it without involving Lord Potter?" He sighed and looked over at Harry. "I think we're going to need him."

"We also need to consider that there is more at work here than simply the tactical decisions of mortals," Bertie said, "there is a prophecy and Fate seems determined in ensuring it is realised."

"You can't tell me that you believe in something as flimsy as a prophecy, Sirius!" Griselda remarked.

"I don't." Sirius confirmed.

Before he could say anything else, Albus stood and gained the attention of everyone in the room. "Whether one gives weight to the prophecy or not, the other truth is that Tom believes in it and will not stand for Harry's existence." He glanced around. "I know of Lord Black's preference in this matter and I know he will fight to the last to prevent his son from falling into Tom's hands. But we have to acknowledge that there is more at stake here than the fate of one boy. If Tom regains his body, we will all be at risk. We must use this opportunity for it may not come again."

"I cannot believe you can stand there and be so blasé about endangering a child!" Andy leaped to her feet.

Narcissa placed a hand on her sister's arm but her eyes glinted coldly at the Headmaster. "I would caution you to be careful; the House of Black now stands in the stead of Lily of the House of Potter. No mother would see her child sacrificed." Her gaze met Sirius's. "And no father."

Sirius held his hand and silenced the room before the babble that erupted could take over.

"Enough." Sirius said loudly, silencing the outbreak of babble before it could grow in any volume. "My cousin speaks truly: I will not sacrifice my son. Frankly, if I could wrap him in cotton wool and hide him away from all this, I would." He darted a look at Harry who smiled back at him. "That actually was my plan A."

A tentative ripple of reluctant chuckles broke the tension in the room. There were nods from the parents in the room.

"Please be seated." Sirius said formally to those standing.

Bertie and the others resumed their seats.

Sirius placed his hands behind his back. "The truth is that Voldemort is coming for my son. We know this time when and where he'll strike. If I can prevent Harry from having to face him…that would be preferable and I will make every effort to find a way to take Voldemort down without Harry being there; I will make every effort to thwart his attempt to kidnap Harry. Harry and I are agreed on this and we hope for the best outcome."

He paused and took a deep breath.

"But Harry has to compete in the tournament; that's a fact. Voldemort has a plan to kidnap him and there will be an opportunity; that's a fact. We know when; we know where he intends to do this ritual; that's also fact. We know taking him down before then will be difficult and likely will not succeed; another fact. And as much as no-one wants to admit it, taking him down on the solstice eve is a duty we have to the wider wizarding world for all of our safety, whether Harry is part of it or not; fact."

Sirius could see that everyone was beginning to understand the reality in a way that they had only ever skirted around before.

"So, if we hope for the best, we should plan for the worst." Sirius turned to Harry. "My son has this plan."

Harry nodded his thanks. "I can't tell you how grateful I am for your friendship and for your efforts to keep me safe. I thank you for your concern," he nodded at Augusta, "and for your defence of me," he turned towards Andy and Narcissa, "and I think everyone in this room knows my father will be doing everything he can so I don't have to face Tom Riddle again."

There were nods and murmurs of agreement and Sirius felt some of his tension ease at the visible sign that the alliance knew he was sincere in his efforts.

Harry cleared his throat. "But we do need to plan for the worst and I need your help once again. I know that you've worked long hours to build a world in support of my agenda; a world that isn't friendly to Voldemort. We have the majority now both politically and financially. Our efforts in the Wizengamot have been successful and we have to continue to build upon this next month. We can't let him win any ground right now."

"Hear, hear." Tiberius said loudly.

There was a chorus of agreements and Harry had to gesture for quiet.

"So we own the political ground and Voldemort has some finances but we've made it difficult for him." Harry continued. "But he successfully got me into this tournament and I have no choice magically but to compete. He knows that. We know his agent has placed a trap for me but not what the trap is. So, on the night of the third task, we have to prepare for the possibility that I'll be captured and we've called you here not only to brief you but to seek your support and help in ensuring his defeat."

He held the attention of the room.

"Because I can promise you; if Tom Riddle and I meet on the eve of the solstice, I will take the opportunity to end this." Harry declared bluntly. "The House of Potter will go to war, and I will defeat him."

"Do you honestly believe you can?" asked Albert, leaning forward as though eager to hear the answer.

"I know I can." Harry said simply. "I once told your heirs that as long as we stood together we could defeat him. I believed it then and I believe it now." His eyes flickered to Sirius, to their family, and back to the alliance. "I know I can defeat him because even if I'm on my own when I face him on the battlefield, I'm never truly alone. I carry each and every one of the people I love, who love me, with me; spirit, heart and shield."

There was total silence for a long moment.

Sirius could hear his own pounding heartbeat; he held his breath…

Magic stirred.

Augusta stood up and looked around the room. "Do I speak for the Houses?"

Daniel started to smile and gave a nod as he exchanged knowing and accepting looks with those around him. "You do."

The others called out their acceptance. Minnie and Alastor got to their feet. Amelia, Bertie, Cornelius and Albus exchanged a long look and they also stood. Bill and Caro got to their feet. Andy stood; Narcissa followed. The Grangers got to their feet at the same time as Remus.

Magic stirred.

Augusta stepped away from the table and walked to join Sirius and Harry; she paused just in front of them.

Sirius fought to keep his expression calm and collected as the rest of the Heads of the Houses in the alliance stood and drew their wands, clasping them in a fist and placing that fist against their heart. Arthur glanced once at Molly and followed.

Sirius shivered as the forms of the House totems shimmered into view.

Magic stirred.

Augusta held out a hand to Sirius imperiously and stared at him forcefully. He grasped her hand with one of his, and with his free hand drew his wand and fisted it over his heart.

Augusta sank to one knee, her gaze locked with Harry's.

Harry's eyes went wide.

"I, Augusta Beatrice Longbottom, Regent of the House of Longbottom, speak for all those who have sworn or will swear oath today with the House of Potter." Augusta declared in a strong voice. "We swear fealty to the House of Potter, our magic is your magic; our wands are your wands; our lives are yours to command in battle and in peacetime. We stand together with you."

Sirius felt the magic of the oath settle into his skin; into his bones; his spirit. Harry looked to him and Sirius nodded.

Harry drew his own wand. "I, Harry James Potter, Head of the House of Potter, Heir of the House of Black accept your oath of fealty. I offer to you the protection and sanctuary of the House of Potter, my wand and my magic in your defence, to lead you with fairness and honour." Gold and silver tendrils of magic swirled around him. "We stand together. So have I sworn; so mote it be."

"So mote it be." Everyone said in response.

The totems roared and disappeared in a rush of magic.

Sirius helped Augusta to her feet, dropping a kiss on her knuckles before he released her hand. He looked around the room, at the vibrant hum of satisfaction, of pride that shone from every face. He placed a hand on Harry's shoulder and Harry turned to him with a soft knowing smile.

This was the power.

Harry wasn't wrong.

Sirius smiled back at his son.

They were going to so utterly crush Tom Riddle into dust.