That Halloween (cont.)

"Petunia Evans?" Snape blinked bleary eyes. Though his partying had been far more sober than Sirius Black's, he had been up past one o'clock patrolling the grounds and policing the Slytherin common room. "Whatever are you interested in Petunia for?"

It took a few minutes for McGonagall to convince the sleepy Snape that she was serious about finding a pair of muggles that he hadn't thought about for… well at least months. Things were easier for Snape now, though. For the last week he'd actually been able to sleep soundly, for a burden that he'd carried for two years was lifted from his shoulders with the news that the Fidelius Charm had been performed. Whatever else was going on in the wizarding world, there were three people who were safe. He couldn't say this to McGonagall because he wasn't supposed to know about the Fidelius Charm.

This news about Petunia, however, was disturbing. "Kidnap the Dursleys? Why would he kidnap the Dursleys?"

They were playing a game of cat and mouse, and McGonagall was the cat. She had a pretty good idea that this young man had been one of the first to know something was wrong, but she wasn't about to share this suspicion with him. "Something happened last night. Albus doesn't know what, but he wants to be careful. I know there was a time when Lily Evans was a friend of yours, and he's worried about her family. That's all you need to know. Do you know where they live or not?"

"Surrey," said Snape. "A place called Little Whinging. I'm not sure about the address."

"I never heard of it," McGonagall sighed. "Probably nothing but muggles. How do I find this Whinging place?"

Snape, who was wrapped in a gray dressing gown, left the door and went to a corner of his chilly little office where he opened a drawer and pulled out a sheaf of accordion-folded sheets of paper. Shuffling through them, he extracted one and beckoned to McGonagall, who came over to his desk. "What's that?" she asked.

"A map," said Snape.

"I'm not a fool, youngster. What does it do?"

"It doesn't do anything. It's a map, a muggle map. It happens to be a map of the area around Heathrow airport. Little Whinging is near there." After glancing at the map, he remembered the street, for there had been a time in the last two years when he'd been worried enough himself to check out details like this. "Privet Drive. Number four. It should be near the corner of these two streets."

McGonagall thanked him and took the map to begin a series of apparations that would lead her to the London suburb of Little Whinging, near Heathrow airport. Just to be safe, she changed into her animagus shape, that of a tabby cat with strange markings around its eyes.

Thus it was that Vernon Dursley, leaving his house at eight-thirty that morning to rectify the problem about the shipment of drills, happened to spot a cat at the corner of the street, a cat that shocked him dreadfully, for it was alternately staring at the signpost and studying a map…

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One person who had not been able to sleep all night was Bellatrix Lestrange. Because of her nocturnal frettings, her husband Rodolphus had not been able to sleep either.

"Honestly, Bella, leave it be! If anything had really happened, we'd have been called. He could even call us in the middle of a duel." Rodolphus lay sprawled on the sofa where he'd thrown himself as soon as they'd returned from the Malfoys' party. He'd hoped to get some rest, even if he wouldn't be allowed to sleep.

Bella stood by the window, watching the sun rise. "Something's happened. It wouldn't have flared like that if something hadn't happened."

"But it's quiet now. It's been quiet all night. Give it a rest, Bella. He'll tell us when he decides we need to know."

Shaking her head, Bella stared at her arm. "It isn't just that it's quiet. It's like it's gone to sleep. That's never happened before. I want to know what it means."

"It means, Bella love, that he's planned something he doesn't want you to know about. That's why he gave you that thing yesterday to give to Malfoy. He was planning to… do something and wanted it safe while he… did it."

"Do what?" Bella demanded. "What would he do that would cause this?" She waved her left arm with its skull and snake tattoo in his face.

"Maybe he's taken a little trip. Maybe he's on the continent checking something or meeting someone. Maybe he doesn't agree that you need to know his every move. Bella, prying too much could get us into trouble."

Bella sighed. "You don't understand, Dolph. I know something bad has happened. Don't ask me how I know because I don't understand it, but something bad has happened. Get up! We're going in to headquarters. Maybe we'll find a clue there."

Reluctantly, Rodolphus dragged himself off the sofa and followed his wife out the door.

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Back at the Ministry of Magic, Dumbledore left the conference room with its politics, its police atmosphere, and its sense of controlled mission to find a place where he could simply sit and think. It was still very early in the day. Even on a weekday, the employees of the Ministry would not yet be arriving, and as today was Sunday, almost none were expected. That would change, of course, should Minister Bagnold be given a reason to summon them, but for now it was still a normal Sunday. Dumbledore found a quiet spot in the Atrium and settled on a marble bench.

Alastor Moody's suggestion worried Dumbledore, and that worry grew the more he thought about it. Tom Riddle had left England once before, left it for ten years, and returned to start eleven long years of gradually recruiting followers, amassing power, and eventually embarking on a reign of terror. Where he had gone during those ten years that enabled him to rise so far so fast was still a mystery, but when he had returned, he had been altered, re-formed, a wielder of immense power. Was it possible he had now revisited whatever source of strength he drew from overseas? Would he come back even stronger than he already was?

Is it possible, Dumbledore thought, that I have been too caught up in my own small role in this great drama? Have I merely imagined that his focus is on me when the reality is that it is elsewhere? He has destroyed many in the Order of the Phoenix, but he has also destroyed many outside the Order. What evidence do I have that he even cares about the Longbottoms or the Potters?

That thought brought to his mind the image of a narrow, sallow face with black eyes and aquiline nose. I would have sworn the boy was sincere, I believe even now that he is sincere, but is his information correct?

Voldemort had heard of Trelawney's prophecy two years earlier and had done nothing. When the following July faded and died, and two little boys were born, Voldemort did nothing. Those two little boys were well over a year old now, and yet Voldemort did nothing, and the only one who even hinted that Voldemort planned otherwise was Severus. But what if Severus was wrong? Worse, what if Severus's information had been planted precisely for the purpose of distracting Dumbledore from noticing other plans?

It was beginning to look more and more as if Voldemort had, indeed, gone overseas, and Dumbledore now intended to follow him. He had a reasonable idea where to start looking. Twenty-one years earlier, Tom Riddle had left England and had returned with followers such as Antonin Dolohov and Igor Karkaroff. One of Europe's two greatest wand makers was from eastern Europe. Durmstrang Academy was presumed to be there as well, and Nurmengard Prison, which housed the one wizard whose dark power and notoriety matched that of Voldemort.

Everything in Britain that is within my care is secure, Dumbledore thought. Hagrid will have passed on my request to Minerva who, as she is not a member of the Order, will not draw Death Eater attention to the Dursleys. The Potters are safe. I shall send Hagrid to keep an extra eye on Alice while Frank is busy at the Ministry. For the rest, the Order will stay out of the present confusion and allow the Ministry to work.

Dumbledore rose, took out his wand, and said calmly, "Expecto Patronum!" A moment later a silvery phoenix was heading north with instructions for Hagrid. Dumbledore then returned to the conference room to advise the Minister for Magic that he would be gone for some hours, perhaps even days, following up certain leads as to the whereabouts of Voldemort. He promised to keep her advised of his movements.

That done, Dumbledore left the Ministry, found a deserted spot in a London alley, and disapparated.

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Headquarters was silent. Bella and Rodolphus didn't bother looking into any of the offices, but instead went directly to the interview chamber. Even from the ramp, they could see that the door was ajar and that a light gleamed from inside.

"He's here!" Bella cried joyfully, and rushed forward past Rodolphus into the room. The light was focused in a tight circle at one side of which stood a tall chair. The chair was empty. The Dark Lord was not there.

Bella stood stunned for a moment, not wanting to believe that her suddenly risen hope could be as suddenly dashed. She turned at the sound of her husband entering the chamber.

"If he isn't here," said Rodolphus, "who turned on the light?" He raised his voice. "Who's here?"

A small sound from the corner by the door made both Bella and Rodolphus turn. It was Bella who lit a Lumos spell, which revealed a thin, pale young man, little more than a boy, with straw-colored hair and freckles. He was hunched down in the corner and looked as if he may have been crying. "Barty?" said Bella. "Barty, what are you doing here?"

"He called me," said Barty miserably. "Last evening. I felt it. I couldn't get away from my father until midnight, and I was too late. He called me, and I didn't come. Now he's gone."

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"It's not your fault, Barty," Bella soothed the frightened boy gently. "It happened to all of us, not just you, and none of us understands it any more than you do. That's why Dolph and I are here. Come on, now. On your feet and help us look."

The Lumos spell led them to the door in the rear of the chamber, the door of the Dark Lord's inner room. Bella's wand was providing the light, so Rodolphus cautiously drew his own, but Barty was faster. Having neither the training nor the experience of the other two, Barty took things at face value. He reached forward, turned the knob, and opened the door.

Bella stared at Rodolphus in horror. "Why isn't it sealed?" she demanded. "It's supposed to be sealed!"

"Calm down," Rodolphus admonished. "Have you ever tried to go in there before?" When she shook her head, he pointed out, "Then how do you know it was sealed? Don't go making this harder, Bella. We have enough to worry about already."

They entered on tiptoe, as if expecting the Dark Lord to accost them and accuse them of spying on him. The room was stark and monastic, with a folding screen and narrow bed in one corner, a writing desk in another, and some shelves with a few sheets of parchment on them next to the desk. Rodolphus went at once to the shelves and shuffled through the parchment. "What do you make of this?" he asked, handing the sheets to Bella.

The parchment was covered with haphazard scrawls, as if the Dark Lord had been using it as an extension of his thoughts. The number seven figured prominently, as did Halloween and its symbols, and two names – Longbottom and Potter. And everywhere the names were written, beside 'Longbottom' there appeared a tiny number 2, and beside Potter an equally tiny 1.

Memory stirred in Bella. "He was interested in them before… just last year. When both cows were pregnant – do you remember?"

"Yes… I do. Would this be from last year, or do you think it's more recent?"

Bella studied the papers. "This year," she said firmly, directing Rodolphus's attention to the corner of one sheet with an imperious finger. She was pointing to a small drawing of the Dark Mark, and across the forehead of the skull, in neat lettering, was the year 1981. "Maybe even last night."

Replacing the parchment reverently on its shelf, Bella ushered her husband and Barty Crouch out into the interview chamber. "We have a lead," she told them, "and we're going to follow it."

"And if following it angers him?" Rodolphus warned.

"Then I will take all the blame onto myself," said Bella. "But we are going to look for him. Barty… Longbottom's an auror. Can you check with people at the Ministry and find out if anything unusual happened to him last night – to him or to his family? Dolph, you get hold of Rabs and Rookwood. Rookwood can ask at the Ministry, too, and go to the Longbottom home to see what's happening there. You and Rabs check out the Potters. They have a house in the Cotswolds. I'll stay here and see if I can find anything else."

She was like a general, plotting her strategy and dispatching her captains. From that moment there was no question who was in charge. Rodolphus and Barty left on their assignments at once, while Bella began a methodical search of headquarters.

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The news that came back in half an hour was inconclusive. Nothing had happened to the Longbottom family the previous evening, and Barty brought word that Frank was at the Ministry with the other aurors, apparently unaware that he might be in any particular danger.

"But Dumbledore's sent that oaf Hagrid to be with his wife and that crazy old mother of his," Rookwood reported. "Looks like Dumbledore's a step ahead of you already."

"Think of it as evidence that we're on the right track," Bella snapped at him. "What about the Potters?"

"We drew a blank," Rabastan Lestrange admitted. "The house is empty, and it doesn't look like anyone's been there since they went into hiding a year ago. Nobody knows where they are. And all this time I thought Potter had just lost his nerve. Maybe he knew something we didn't."

"Nobody knows?" Bella knit her brows in thought. "Somebody must know. They belong to a pretty extensive social set. I can't imagine him enduring the exclusive company of a mudblood and baby for a year. Start asking. Try not to be too obvious. And start with my gentle cousin. If anyone knows where Potter is, it will be Sirius."

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Rabastan never found Sirius, old Mr. Black before he died having fortified his house with every known protection, but by mid morning owls were going out all over Britain with queries as to the whereabouts of James and Lily Potter.

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Bella had told her troops not to be obvious, but under the circumstances it was hard to keep people quiet. Everyone that the Lestranges, Crouch, and Rookwood contacted wanted to join the search, promising to be circumspect. 'Circumspect' was producing an ever-widening circle of owls, like a pebble dropped into still water, and by noon it was the subject of street corner discussion in London.

"It's very hush-hush, but from what my Aunt Clothilda says, You-Know-Who's people are trying to locate the Potters."

"The Potters? Wasn't that the old couple that passed away…?"

"Wealthy family. Gloucestershire, I think. There was an heir, a son…"

"James. That was his name. Got married right out of school. The Prophet reported the wedding. Quite lavish as I recall…"

"Wasn't the wife a… you know?"

"I remember. Quite a bit of talk about that. Some sort of flower name – Hyacinth or Daffodil…"

"And they didn't waste any time. Didn't The Prophet report they had a son less than a year later?"

"The Potters, that's right, that's what I heard…"

"…yes, their son, Harry…"

The little gathering of witches and wizards was so engrossed in their gossip that they didn't notice the rather stout, florid muggle with the large mustache who stopped so suddenly that he nearly dropped the little bakery sack he was carrying. He stared at them in horror, then hurried across the road into the office building on the other side, the one with the sign 'Grunnings Drills.'

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In his little hideaway, Peter Pettigrew had grown more and more nervous as the morning passed. He, too, had felt the suddenly flare and subsiding the evening before of the mark on his arm and had not known how to account for it. Now he waited, more anxious with every passing hour, for the summons from the Dark Lord telling him that all had been accomplished. The summons did not come. By noon, tormented now by mounting hunger as well as worry, he ventured out to find something to eat. Like Vernon Dursley, he heard the conversations on the street corners, the ones about the Potters, but unlike Dursley, he understood their portent. Something had happened to the Potters, and that was good. Something had also, however, happened to the Dark Lord, and that could be very, very bad. Peter scurried back to his hiding place, food forgotten.

It took Peter an hour to get his courage up, and then he apparated to the outskirts of Godric's Hollow, to the woods on the road going out of the village. As he peered through the trees, the first thing he saw was the house, its upper corner blasted away as if by a massive explosion. The second thing he saw was people passing on the road, as oblivious to the destruction next to them as if it didn't exist. He retreated back into the trees and sat on a rock to ponder his next actions.

Clearly the Fidelius Charm still worked. An explosion that powerful would have had every resident of the village outside the house in a matter of minutes if they had been able to see, to locate, the source of the blast. That meant that if Peter could get into the house unseen, he would remain unseen. The house was a place of safety.

On the other hand, Peter dreaded what he might find in that house. That James and Lily might be dead, and the baby, too, didn't upset him when contemplated from a purely intellectual point of view. He just didn't want to have to deal with bodies, especially if there had been an explosion and the bodies were conceivably no longer intact. Peter Pettigrew was not fond of blood, not at all, and that gave him pause.

Still, he had to find out what had happened to the Dark Lord, to the only one who could now protect him. There was no escaping the fact that the house had been attacked, whatever else may have happened there, and that the only person who could have attacked it was the Secret Keeper – either him, or a person the Secret Keeper had sent – and no one would come to that conclusion faster than Sirius Black.

Glancing around as if Sirius might already be apparating in, Peter reminded himself that inside the house he was safe. If James and Lily were dead, the only ones who could get into the house were Peter, the Dark Lord, and whoever Lily had given the note to. At least Peter knew that person wasn't Sirius because he and Sirius had an arrangement to meet that very evening so that Peter could give him the secret. Maybe Lily hadn't given the note to anyone.

Hunching his shoulders against the cold, Peter moved again to the fringe of the woods. There he waited until the narrow road was empty of watchers, and then scuttled around the edges of trees and walls into the door of the ruined cottage.

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Far north of both Bella and Pettigrew, Severus Snape was also fretting, though his anxiety was on a considerable lesser scale than that of either of the other two. He had watched the unprecedented avalanche of owls and had consulted with his students. The change in the mark was widespread, but not necessarily an indication of anything momentous. Lack of information was, if anything, an indication that nothing had changed. The Dark Lord tended to be secretive.

For the rest, Dumbledore had everything well in hand. Lily was the safest person in Britain as long as she stayed at home. The Fidelius Charm was as strong as its Secret Keeper, and Dumbledore was the strongest Secret Keeper Snape could imagine. Lily was smart; she would be prudent. If she had left her home and something had happened, Snape would have heard of it by now. Silence was the surest guarantee that all was well.

The only thing that might have drawn Lily out was word that her last remaining kin were in danger, but McGonagall, on guard at Privet Drive, had that in charge. The other prophecy boy was in Hagrid's keeping, and Hagrid had told Snape as he left for Lancashire that Dumbledore thought the Dark Lord had gone overseas. It seemed as good an explanation as any to Snape.

Things would have been better if it had been a weekday so that his mind was kept busy by lessons. As it was, Snape was forced to possess his soul in patience and wait for word from others.

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Nurmengard drew a blank. Grindelwald, by all accounts, remained unvisited and uncontacted in his tower cell. Dumbledore was not really surprised or disappointed, though it meant his task would now take much longer. How do you find one solitary wizard on an entire continent?

Sending word to Durmstrang and receiving the reply that they, too, remained outside Voldemort's scope, Dumbledore began his long, methodical search. It helped that he had the clue of eastern names – how frustrating it would have been to start at Gibraltar and hunt all the way to Arkhangelsk. As an aid, he also knew Tom Riddle's magic 'fingerprint.' That wand, in that hand, carved an unmistakable signature.

Nevertheless, he had hundreds of miles to cover, from the great pine forests of Russia to the leafy deciduous woods of the Balkans. Dumbledore sighed. He had a long road ahead of him.

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The first thing that met Peter Pettigrew's eyes as he burst through the unlocked door of the Potter cottage was the crumpled body of James Potter. It made him pause, for they had been dorm mates for seven years and fellow members of the Order of the Phoenix for three, yet Peter was able to conjure images of James's taunting and stifle any feelings of sadness that might have risen in him. This was what he had planned. This was what he wanted. This was the way to a secure and powerful future. So Peter told himself as he turned from the body and made his way upstairs.

The house was cold. Wind blew through the shattered roof above Peter's head, making him shiver. It wasn't hard finding the rest. The bedroom door had not only been blown off its hinges, the frame and the wall around it had been blasted through as well.

Lily lay on her side, her face covered by the great mass of dark red hair. Peter looked over at the crib smashed against the far wall. Harry was there, as still and cold as his parents. That was good. The Dark Lord had been successful here. Peter had been successful. Peter ventured into the room, looking around but not touching. The only remaining puzzle was the explosion. The Dark Lord was clearly long gone…

His shoes crunched on the rubble, and Peter looked down. It was one of those moments when your body realizes what is happening before your brain does. Even as he struggled to recognize the thing he was looking at, Peter felt the blood drain from his face, from his head, leaving him dizzy and breathing hoarsely. Then he bent down.

It was a wand. It was the Dark Lord's wand. What was it doing here?

Peter's breath shallowed as it came faster. Trembling now, he glanced around and upwards. There was no doubt. The spot where he now stood was the center of the blast that had crashed through wall and roof and turned the neat bedroom into chaos. The planks under his feet were charred. The remnants of the rafters above were charred. A pillar of flame had stood here, blazing itself out in seconds and then succumbing to the cold and rain through the broken roof, and the wand had dropped here, just here, because there was no longer a hand to hold it.

He, Peter Pettigrew, had led the Dark Lord to his doom. He was now the target of every vengeance-filled Death Eater in Britain. Frozen to the spot, Peter stared around him for the exit that wasn't there. He closed his eyes. Think! Who knew? The Dark Lord had told no one. That left Sirius. Sirius knew. Bending down again, Peter picked up the only evidence that Voldemort had been there – the wand – and went downstairs to plan what to do.

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After several hours, McGonagall grew tired of her vigil. The muggle neighborhood with its rows of identical homes was boring. The Dursleys were less boring, but for the wrong reasons. McGonagall had great difficulty accepting that the thin blonde woman with the pinched nostrils was in any way related to Lily Evans, and even greater difficulty accepting that the plump pink pig she referred to as her precious Dudums was totally human.

Around two o'clock, the whole area appearing just as calm and quiet as it had when she arrived, McGonagall apparated to a little place she knew in Chelsea where the small wizarding community there tended to hang out. It was as she enjoyed a glass of elf-made wine and a slice of quiche that she heard the rumor that You-Know-Who was inquiring about the Potters and where they lived. This alarmed her, causing her to commit the horrendously tacky action of asking that her food be wrapped to take away, and she left to once again take up her post, relieved to find that nothing had happened during her brief dereliction of duty.

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Peter Pettigrew was, meanwhile, doing some hard thinking. The Dark Lord was gone, but that didn't mean that Peter was safe. The biggest problem was that little piece of paper that he'd given Lily with the location of the cottage on it. He'd searched the entire house without finding it. If she'd never given it to anyone, then no one would ever be able to go into the cottage to discover what was there, not at least during Peter's lifetime. If, however – as now seemed likely – she had given it to someone, then it was only a matter of time, probably a short time, before the deaths were discovered.

As soon as that happened, Sirius Black would tell everyone he could that Peter had been the Secret Keeper and therefore responsible for the murder of the Potters. At the same time, the Death Eaters would learn that Peter had somehow been responsible for the death of the Dark Lord. Peter, standing a few hours ago on the edge of greatness, now teetered precariously on the brink of destruction.

Of prime importance was the elimination of Sirius. Of equal importance was the disappearance of Peter himself under circumstances that would guarantee that no one would ever come looking for him. Slowly, painfully, in that ghastly house with his dead around him, Peter Pettigrew devised his plan.

The disappearance was not so hard if he could just screw his courage to the sticking place. It was the Dark Lord who gave him the idea. Voldemort had gone like a torch in the aftermath of that explosion, leaving only his wand as a sign. Peter could do the same, creating explosion and fire to cover his exit as long as he, too, left a token of his demise. It couldn't be his wand. He needed his wand. Desperate need invokes desperate measures. Peter knew what he had to do if he could only bring himself to do it.

Then, he had to accuse Black of the deed. To do that, it had to become public that the Potters were dead. Fortunately, from things the Dark Lord had mentioned, the Death Eaters believed that Dumbledore's Order had been responsible for the death of Regulus Black. Peter knew this wasn't true, but he'd never disabused them of the notion. He was glad he hadn't because the Death Eaters would be satisfied that Sirius had a motive for killing James, and wouldn't question it. Just as no one would ever question that Sirius had been the Secret Keeper, regardless of what Sirius would say.

The last problem was where to hide. It had to be somewhere where Peter could still get information about the progress of the case and the story that ended up being officially circulated. This part of his plan, in fact, cost Peter more time and thought than the other as Peter racked his brains for an idea. He knew as much about the wizarding families of Britain as anyone – Peter was naturally nosy – and reviewed them one by one until he lit on the perfect solution.

Gideon and Fabian Prewett had talked incessantly about their family. They had an older sister named Molly who'd married a functionary of the Ministry of Magic. The two of them had been amazingly prolific, and now were the proud, if poor, parents of no less than seven children, the oldest of whom would, if Peter's memory served, be entering Hogwarts the following year. It was a made-to-order situation. In the Weasley family – Arthur Weasley was the name of the Ministry chap – Peter would be in an excellent position to glean information about both the Ministry and Hogwarts. And what boy could resist a superbly intelligent pet rat to show off to his dorm mates?

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Old Bathilda Bagshot was hobbling down the road leading out of the village at about four o'clock that afternoon when a short, plump man, colorless in every respect, darted out of nowhere into her path. 'Out of nowhere' meant a lot to Bathilda, and she called after him, "Here! You! Have you been visiting James and Lily?"

Peter turned, scarcely crediting his good fortune in finding, so soon, a way to remain out of the center of things until his plans ripened. Without going any closer to the half-blind old woman, he cried, "Merlin help us! They're dead! They've been murdered! Let Dumbledore know at once!"

Then he disapparated, leaving Bathilda staring in horror at the empty spot in the road.

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No one ever discovered how the rumor that You-Know-Who was dead got started. The closest anyone came to that knowledge was that it erupted full-blown on the streets of London and spread like wildfire through the southeast at a little before five o'clock that evening, causing some wizards so to forget themselves that they were seen congratulating, and in one instance even hugging, unsuspecting muggles, to the great consternation of their less volatile comrades.

The rumor reached the Ministry at a quarter past five, at which point Millicent Bagnold's secretary personally made floo contact with the editorial staff of the Prophet to warn them that the rumor had, as yet, no official confirmation and was most likely not true, but promising to notify the newspaper as soon as the Minister received any information that could be confirmed.

Those on duty at the Ministry were reminded of their responsibilities regarding rumor control, and Ministry personnel not on duty were contacted and ordered to make no comment. It was thus that the news remained confined to the southeast for some time, reaching neither Lancashire, where Hagrid remained with Alice Longbottom, nor Scotland, where the staff of Hogwarts continued to wait for news.

No owls had, as yet, reached any of the students of Hogwarts with the rumors, since no parents opposed to You-No-Who wanted to raise their children's hopes only to have to dash them again, while no supporter wanted to be accused of having helped spread the rumor should it turn out not to be true.

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Bathilda Bagshot had no success whatsoever getting hold of Albus Dumbledore for the very good reason that he was not in Britain, though she did not know that. Frustrated and frightened, and not having herself heard the other rumor yet, she took it upon herself to contact the Ministry and speak to the Minister directly.

"I'm very sorry, ma'am," the long-suffering personal secretary told her for the fourth time, "but I have to direct you to Rumor Control. There's a tremendous amount of unverified information traveling about, and you've obviously…"

"Now you listen to me, young man," Bathilda snapped, and even through the green of the floo connection he could sense that she was reddening with anger, "you tell Millicent to get here at once. There's a young couple been murdered here…"

"Did you witness this murder?"

"No. Of course not!"

"Have you seen any bodies? Has anyone with you seen any bodies?"

"The man who ran out of the house and told me…"

"May I speak with him?"

"He didn't stay around. He told me to contact Dumbledore, but I can't…"

"I'm sure Professor Dumbledore is just as busy as…"

Bathilda's voice became stern. "Did you attend Hogwarts, you impudent rascal? Then you know me! I'm Bathilda Bagshot, and I wrote your History of Magic text. Now get me someone I can talk to!"

The one she got was Alastor Moody, who was supposed to be relaxing over a hasty supper. He was one of the few who knew about the Fidelius Charm, though like Snape he believed Dumbledore to be the Secret Keeper. "I assure you, ma'am," he told the furious Bathilda as the secretary looked on, "James and Lily are quite safe. We have a bit of a situation going on here…"

"Can you contact Albus Dumbledore?"

"Yes, ma'am. I can do that."

"Will you tell him what I told you? Do that, please." Bathilda was old, and she was tiring.

"I will, ma'am," Moody promised, and Bathilda finally closed the connection.

"Crazy old lady," said the secretary as Moody went out the door. "Thanks for your help. I owe you one."

"We get all kinds, don't we?" Moody replied. "And I'll remember the offer." Once free of the secretary, though, he hurried up to the street. He couldn't leave the Ministry, and in any case he was powerless since he didn't have the secret, but he could keep his promise to Bathilda and let Albus know of this new and disturbing rumor. From a nearby alley he sent a large, lumbering patronus speeding eastward, that being the direction in which the patronus knew it would locate Dumbledore.

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Sirius Black woke that afternoon at four, turned over, grunted, and went back to sleep. When he woke the second time, it was six o'clock. He rose to wash, dress and grab a bite to eat. It was after seven before he set out to visit Peter Pettigrew.

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The roar of the motorcycle cut off sharply as Sirius landed in front of the shabby little house that Peter Pettigrew called home. There was no light in Peter's window, which disturbed Sirius. "Peter!" he called, dismounting and striding to the door, a worried frown on his face. "Peter, you old rat! Sorry I'm late. Hey, Peter! We agreed on today, remember?"

The door opened a crack to reveal the puffy face of Peter's landlady. "He's not here," she said. "He left yesterday to visit friends, and he hasn't come back."

This alarmed Sirius more than he cared to admit, certainly not to this woman. "Are you sure he didn't say where he was going?" he pressed.

"I told you. Visiting friends. I'm sure if he wants to get in touch with you, he'll do it. Now you'd best be leaving."

Sirius returned to his motorcycle and stood for a moment in doubt and hesitation. He needed advice, but wasn't sure who to turn to. He mounted the bike again, but a moment later ran it behind a hedge from which he sent, or tried to send, a patronus to James. The misty white hound refused to budge. Is that because of the Fidelius Charm? Sirius wondered.

Apparation was the fastest way to Godric's Hollow, but that would mean leaving the motorcycle behind, and Sirius was reluctant to do that. He conjured another patronus and this time directed it to Dumbledore. He was surprised, and a little worried, when it headed east rather than north.

Once more astride the bike, Sirius rose into the air, pointed it west toward Wales, and sped forward at a speed somewhat faster than a broom could travel.

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Dumbledore's patronus was directed to Hagrid, who by this time had returned to Hogwarts. Inquiring of the other teachers, Hagrid learned first that McGonagall had not yet come back to the school. He was on his way down to his hut when the silver phoenix met him and delivered its message. It was rather lengthy for a patronus, but quite clear.

I have received a message that something tragic has happened to James and Lily in Godric's Hollow. Go at once and give what assistance you can. Contact me as soon as you have solid information, and I shall send further instructions. I am in Bulgaria, but am returning at once. And Hagrid, do not mention any of this to the others. Especially not to Severus.

Hagrid ran into the hut and grabbed the pink umbrella that he'd left there before he went up the hill to the castle. The umbrella contained his old wand, broken by the Ministry when he was expelled from Hogwarts in his third year and repaired by the house-elves when he returned to the school as gamekeeper. Hagrid did not use it often, but was safe when he did because the elves had shielded its magic from Ministry detection. Today he was using it quite a bit.

Umbrella wand in hand, Hagrid stepped into the edge of the Forbidden Forest. From there he apparated to almost the same spot Pettigrew had gone to earlier, just inside the woods on the outskirts of the village of Godric's Hollow. His eyes, sharper in the dark than any normal wizard's would have been, saw at once what had happened.

"Lily!" Hagrid bellowed as he thundered toward the front door. "Lily! James! Where are ya! Say something!"

That James would never say anything again was immediately obvious as soon as Hagrid entered the house. He lit a Lumos spell and looked quickly around. Only one body lay on the floor. "Lily!" Hagrid shouted.

He was answered by a wail from above. "Hagar!" little Harry screamed. "Hagar!"

The sound dissolved into wordless howling as Hagrid lunged up the stairs and into the debris-littered bedroom. Hagrid noted Lily's body lying on the floor, but she, poor woman, would have to wait. The living child was what was important. Lifting Harry from his crib, Hagrid held him close as the toddler buried his face in Hagrid's jacket and howled louder.

As soon as he could, Hagrid inspected Harry for injuries and was deeply concerned by the lightning shaped gash on the boy's forehead. He wasn't sure how it had gotten there, but he understood that he, not knowing the extent of the damage, could not apparate with the child. The risk of further grave injury was too great. As he was pondering what to do, Hagrid heard, to his great relief, the sound of Sirius Black's motorcycle approaching from the east.

Hagrid ran down the stairs and out into the road as the motorcycle touched down. It was only as he faced Sirius that he realized tears were running down his own face. "Sirius, did Dumbledore give ya the secret?" he cried as Harry continued to wail. "Lily n' James – I got t' take care o' Harry here, but somebody's got t' take care o' their bodies…"

"Bodies!" gasped Sirius, though he wasn't as surprised, Hagrid was to reflect later, as he might have been. "They're dead?"

Hagrid waved behind him, toward the house only he could see. "There's the whole corner o' the upper story gone," he told Sirius. "Blowed away. The roof blowed off. James, he's lying in the front hall, n' Lily's upstairs…"

Staring at the spot as if he could picture the destruction, Sirius, too, began to weep in a desperate, bitter way. He reached toward Hagrid. "Give him to me. I have to take care of him." He took Harry in his arms. "I should have taken care of him. I'm his godfather." Then, "Fool!" he said through clenched teeth. "I'm a fool!"

"Ya hadn't ought t' blame yerself like that," said Hagrid, trying to comfort him. "There weren't nothing no one could do. There weren't no one knew this were going t' happen."

Sirius looked at Harry's face and saw the cut. He became suddenly icy cold and handed the boy back to Hagrid. "Take the motorcycle," he said. "Take it. I can use my wand."

"I ain't sure 's I know how t' work it," Hagrid protested. "I wouldn't want to damage it. I know how much ya…"

"Take the motorcycle, you big oaf. You can't apparate with Harry like that. The bike's the best way."

"I'll get it back t' ya soon 's I can," Hagrid promised.

"Take your time. I won't be needing it for a long while."

"Where're ya going?"

"I have business to attend to." Sirius strode toward the trees, where he could disapparate without the percussion affecting Harry. "And by the way," he said as a parting shot to Hagrid, "you'd better change his nappies first." Then he was gone.

Sirius was right about the nappies. Hagrid shot a patronus off to Dumbledore letting him know how things stood, then took Harry back into the house to change him and get him a bottle of milk, then wrap him warmly in soft blankets. Harry was now whimpering rather than crying, and the milk and warmth calmed him down.

By this time, Dumbledore's patronus was responding. Am in Austria. Take the boy to his Aunt Petunia's house and wait for me there.

Hagrid did one more thing before leaving. He dispatched a patronus to Professor McGonagall. He'd never communicated with her by patronus before, but he reasoned that of all people, a transfiguration instructor and animagus ought to understand what a patronus was. The message was short. If y're still there, wait. Dumbledore's coming.

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Up and down Britain now, not just in the southeast, witches and wizards were beginning to realize that the rumor was true, that You-Know-Who was gone. Nobody knew exactly how, and certainly nobody had seen his body, but there was that feel in the air that something powerful had changed, and for the better.

Some of the changes were more concrete. Wizards attacked in the past and hit by memory spells suddenly had their memory returned. Several who'd performed and confessed to horrible deeds woke to the knowledge that they'd been under Imperius spells. Families where these miracles happened were realizing their experience was not unique. People 'known' to be Death Eaters were quietly leaving Britain, and those that stayed seemed more reticent to show themselves, where the day before they had been arrogant and demanding.

The previous night there had been parties and celebrations in honor of Halloween. The decorations had not yet been taken down, and were being used again, this time to celebrate a liberation, an end to strife and fighting.

It was Bathilda Bagshot who spread the news that liberation had come with a cost, that James and Lily Potter were believed dead at the hands of You-Know-Who. Hearing this rumor at his first stop after leaving Godric's Hollow, Sirius Black augmented it with the information that the Potter's baby son Harry had also been attacked, but had survived, and that the spell had somehow managed to destroy the house – and presumably the attacker – where the attack had taken place. Owl and floo and apparation spread that tale far more quickly than Hagrid could travel, for he went slowly, not wishing the wind of his passage to chill or harm the child he carried. By the time little Harry fell asleep over Bristol, all wizarding Britain 'knew' that his survival had brought about the defeat of the one the Death Eaters called Lord.

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Dumbledore crossed the Channel well before midnight but waited for a while before making the final jump. He was old, and had been up for thirty-seven of the last forty-two hours. The pressure of apparating was taking its toll. When he did finally arrive at Privet Drive – a feat long practice allowed him to accomplish without the plosive pop made by lesser wizards – he was not really surprised to find Professor McGonagall expecting him. He confirmed both her hopes and her fears as the two waited for Hagrid to arrive with his precious bundle, the child already being referred to around the country as 'The Boy Who Lived.'

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Hagrid went off, after delivering Harry, to try to return Sirius's motorcycle. When he found that to be impossible, he left it in the care of Remus Lupin, who for obvious reasons was not celebrating. Remus inquired after Sirius, was alarmed by what he heard, and set out in search of the friend who was not dead. Hagrid apparated to Hogwarts to find things in a mild uproar.

The students, luckily, were all asleep in their dormitories. Dumbledore had flooed the Ministry from Germany, and the message had been passed to Hogwarts, not to allow any owls to bring messages until mail call the following morning. Dumbledore wanted the full staff on hand when the school erupted.

The weekend staff, on the other hand, was awake and eager for news, of which they'd received little all day. It fell to Dumbledore to gather them in the staff room and break it to them, both the good and the bad. They were nine. Dumbledore, McGonagall, Flitwick, Sprout, Snape, Trelawney, Pomfrey, Pince, and Filch. The first news, of the defeat of Voldemort, was greeted with general joy. The second news, of the deaths of James and Lily, was more ambiguous.

Sprout and Trelawney had never known the Potters. Their sadness was a general sort of thing, tempered with sympathy for the sorrow of their colleagues. Filch and Pince recalled James as a troublemaker. Their reaction was similar – a kind of general sadness, but nothing personal. Flitwick and Pomfrey were saddened as they would be for the deaths of any two, personable, young people whom they had not seen for a few years, and Dumbledore and McGonagall had known the news for some hours and already dealt with the first shock.

Professor Snape went white as a sheet and looked for a moment as if he might faint. Dumbledore had expected this and was positioned next to him. As the realization sank in, he put an arm around Snape's shoulders, an arm that was instantly and instinctively shaken off.

"Severus…" said Dumbledore softly.

"I'm fine," Snape replied, a little too abruptly, and a little too loudly. "If you'll excuse me, I need some air."

They let him go, Dumbledore taking the precaution of not allowing the door to the staff room to shut. "That's a very strange young man," Trelawney remarked. "From the moment I first saw him, I did not entirely trust…" She stepped back as Dumbledore swept past her out of the room. Turning to McGonagall, Trelawney started to say, "My word," but McGonagall had followed Dumbledore.

Snape had not gone outside, nor had he made for his rooms in the dungeons. Instead he'd turned left out of the staff room and headed up the staircase. Dumbledore now rushed to catch him because he knew what was at the top of the stairs.

In any uphill race, young legs will usually outdistance old ones, even if the old ones are longer. All the way up, Dumbledore did not see Snape ahead of him, yet he knew where the younger man was going. At the seventh floor, he went directly to the Astronomy tower stairs and began the last climb.

It was dark on the tower, the moon having long since set. Stars glittered in a cold, clear sky, and at the far edge of the platform a darker shadow blocked the space between the merlons of the battlement.

"Go away," Snape said softly from the high perch where he knelt. "I have nothing to say to you."

"I think you do," replied Dumbledore. "I believe you may be bursting with things you wish to say to me. I am giving you the opportunity to say them."

"I believed you," Snape responded, and Dumbledore winced at the desolate tone of his voice. "I trusted you. I don't care that you betrayed me, but you also betrayed her."

"Severus…"

"I hate you."

"Severus…"

"I wish I was dead. I wish I'd died a long time ago and never seen…"

Behind Dumbledore, McGonagall appeared on the stair, and he waved her back. He took a tentative step forward.

"Don't come near me!" Snape hissed. Dumbledore stopped, and Snape did not move.

"I betrayed no one," said Dumbledore calmly, "unless you call being too trusting myself a form of betrayal. I suppose it is. A guardian must not take risks."

"What are you talking about. You kept their Secret. Only you…"

"Alas, I was not the Secret Keeper." The silence was heavy. Dumbledore knew Snape waited and listened in the darkness. "James came to me two weeks ago and said he wanted Sirius to be their Secret Keeper. I had my misgivings, but saw no just cause to object. Hagrid received the Secret via a note. I myself cannot see or enter the house because I do not have it."

"Sirius Black was the Secret Keeper?" Snape's voice was thick with hatred. "Then he must have realized that Potter killed Reggie."

Dumbledore opened his mouth to object, but restrained himself. There were moments when the truth could cause more harm than an honestly believed falsehood. Instead he accepted this unforeseen rationale. There was even the possibility that Sirius had believed it, too. It would explain much. "Sirius is still at large. The Ministry is unaware, as yet, of his guilt."

The bait was taken. The kneeling figure slid from its dangerous position and stood on the platform. "I'll kill him myself," Snape said. "I'll kill him with my bare hands if necessary."

"Come," said Dumbledore, and held out his arm to usher Snape downstairs. McGonagall had already taken her cue and vanished from the staircase. Dumbledore and Snape descended to the ground floor and entered the staff room where McGonagall had rejoined the others some minutes earlier.

Snape raised his head proudly and glared at McGonagall. "Tell her," he demanded of Dumbledore. "Tell what kind of man her precious prankster is."

It was at that moment that Hagrid arrived to stand with the others while Dumbledore admitted his culpability in the selection of Sirius Black as Secret Keeper. "I was with him!" Hagrid shouted as it dawned on him what this meant. "He even wanted t' take Harry!"

"You've got to tell the Ministry, Albus," McGonagall cautioned. "He's a fugitive and dangerous. They've got to apprehend him."

Nobody could sleep after that, not even the exhausted Dumbledore. As Monday dawned and the rest of the teachers arrived, Dumbledore recounted the events of the night to the assembled staff. When all were ready, about fifteen minutes later than usual, the heads of houses went to their charges, who were getting restless at being shut in, and led them down to the Great Hall. There the announcement of the destruction of You-Know-Who, aka Lord Voldemort was made to the whole school which, as expected, erupted.

A holiday from classes was declared, though extra diligence had to be taken to keep certain students away from certain other students, whose parents had been on opposite sides in the recently terminated hostilities.

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That afternoon, another drama played out, this time in full view of many witnesses. The first actor to appear was Peter Pettigrew, though nobody remembered this afterwards. Peter had Sirius on his tail and wanted to choose his own ground.

Sirius arrived soon after, wand already drawn. It was then that Peter, hiding behind a fence, stepped forward as if he had followed Sirius, stepped into his preselected spot right above a major sewage pipe…

Muggle witnesses, before their memories were altered, reported the accusations made by Peter as he confronted Sirius. Then there was the explosion and people running, screaming and dodging the shower of blood and debris from Sirius's spell, while Sirius stood unscathed in the middle of the mayhem, laughing like a crazy man…

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On Tuesday, Dumbledore went with Hagrid to Godric's Hollow where they were met by a delegation from the Ministry of Magic. The Minister herself was there, as were Crouch, Fudge, and a group from the Department of Mysteries who were predictably not introduced. Dumbledore seemed to understand why they were there, and Hagrid was wise enough not to ask.

One of the Unspeakables was permitted to explain what was happening to the Potter cottage. "The Fidelius Charm is, as you know, a spell intended to protect and conceal a particular place. It shields persons while they are in that place, but not when they are outside. There are spells to render an individual invisible without mechanical assistance, such as an invisibility cloak, but these spells can only be cast by the strongest of wizards, and then only on themselves." He did not look at Dumbledore as he said this. "What we are looking at now is a spell that is beginning to disintegrate because the integrity of the place it protects has been compromised."

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The one stipulation of the Potters' wills that was not honored was that their good friend Sirius Black, already Harry's godfather, be made his guardian. Under the circumstances, that was considered inappropriate, and he was placed instead in the custody of his mother's sister – this at the suggestion and behest of Albus Dumbledore himself.

An examination of James and Lily's corpses indicated that they had been killed by the Avada Kedavra spell, and the scar on Harry's forehead was considered to have been caused by the same spell, which somehow ricocheted off him and struck first Lord Voldemort and then the house itself, breaking through the protective magical shield around it. That, in any case, was the explanation of the Department of Mysteries, after a thorough investigation into the condition of the house, for the Fidelius Charm's gradual disintegration despite the fact that its Secret Keeper was alive and incarcerated in Azkaban. They concealed the cottage with other spells to render it visible only to magical folk, and designated it a monument to the destruction of Voldemort and the sacrifice of the Potters.

Peter Pettigrew's heroic though futile attempt to bring Sirius Black to justice was honored by the posthumous awarding of the Order of Merlin, First Class, presented to his mother at a special ceremony just before the Potters' funeral.

Almost at once, the Ministry began rounding up Death Eaters. It was not as easy as it sounded, for many would not surrender, and well into the following year there was a battle that cost Alastor Moody one of his eyes. Others did give up more readily, many claiming to have been Imperiused, or to have held only minor positions. A very large number of them were willing to give evidence against their erstwhile colleagues in exchange for a lighter sentence, and thus it was discovered that the Ministry itself had been infiltrated.

Three of the most notorious Death Eaters managed to evade capture for some time, and might have escaped entirely had it not been for their passionate insistence that Voldemort was not dead. Rabastan and Rodolphus Lestrange, and Rodolphus's wife Bella, were only apprehended after they surfaced to attack the family of auror Frank Longbottom, torturing Frank and Alice to the extent that both had to be hospitalized in St. Mungo's long-term residents' ward. Witnesses said that Bella had incessantly demanded that Frank tell her Voldemort's whereabouts, though why she thought Frank would have that information was unknown. Many people pointed out that before she married, she had been Bellatrix Black, and that there was obviously a mental as well as a physical resemblance to her cousin Sirius.

The greatest scandal of the year was that the Lestranges had been joined and assisted by Bartemius Crouch Jr, who went with them to Azkaban, thus demolishing for all time any hopes that Barty Sr might have had of advancement within the Ministry. Mr. Crouch was quickly and discreetly transferred from Law Enforcement to International Magical Cooperation, a well-known dead end for aspiring climbers.

One of the highest level cases was that of the greatly respected patrician Lucius Malfoy, who came forward of his own volition to admit that he had been coerced into becoming a Death Eater, and that because of his connections to the Black family, whose almost psychopathic cruelty had now been demonstrated, he had feared for the lives of his beloved wife and son. He insisted that he had avoided participating in attacks on other wizards, and had never truly accepted the Death Eaters' muggle-hating philosophy.

At the other end of the spectrum was the little half-blood nobody who, because of his muggle half, ought never to have been a Death Eater at all, and who everyone agreed had done nothing more than mix potions. To the astonishment of the aurors, the recently hired Professor Snape became the subject of a secret session of the Wizengamot where he was effectively shielded from any retaliation by none other than Albus Dumbledore himself, who maintained that the unprepossessing young man had been a spy.

And so ended, with both a bang and a whimper, the eleven-year-long reign of terror of the man who called himself 'Lord Voldemort.'

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As November edged toward December, and frost appeared on the ponds and streams of southwest England, William Arthur Weasley, the eldest son of Arthur and Molly, turned eleven. He would be starting school at Hogwarts in just over nine months. What he was most interested in at this moment, however – going in to dinner having just said goodbye to the guests at his modest birthday party – was something he held in his hands. "Look, mother," he said, showing it to her.

"Get that horrible rat out of my kitchen!" she shrieked

Bill defended his find. "I don't think he's an ordinary rat. He was sitting on the gate, and when he saw me, he stood up on his hind legs and looked at me. And he didn't run away – he let me pick him up. Let me keep him, please. It's cold outside; he'll starve if I put him back. And he's had a hard life. Look, he's missing a toe on his front paw…"

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Here ends the story.