And she squeaks in under the wire and posts a few days before the New Year!

In all seriousness, guys and gals, happy New Year! I hope you all have a pleasant holiday. Now, I need to go inspect my head for dents…This was not an easy one to write. Some (a lot of) head bashing and two hand-written drafts later here it is. (And we all got lucky and the puppy stayed off the keyboard this time… I still need to go back and delete the series of ; where he tried to type mid-posting a few chapters back.)

Silence fell between us. Ice clinked against the glass as Thomas toyed with it, rocking it back and forth. Nerves? I wondered. The glass stilled.

"I watched the memories," he said. Tone even and face blank, nothing betrayed his true feelings.

"And?" I prompted after a long pause.

"It changes nothing."

"She let you kill her."

Sparks flew off his fingertips as Thomas sliced his hand through the air. "She is dead!" He clenched his jaw and took a deep breath, visibly calming himself. "Your mother is dead," he said gently. "I killed her. Knowing why she didn't fight back doesn't change what happened. I made just as many decisions that day as she did."

"But if you'd known…"

He laughed – a hollow laugh that echoed in the room like a ghost. "What if is the dominion of children and fools. I do not concern myself with what if, Harry, only what is."

"But she –"

"Stop." He closed his eyes and exhaled – a deep, shuddering breath as if he was purging himself of his thoughts. "Harry, I did not know we were related until you sent me the codicil. To be frank, I stopped looking for wizarding relatives when I was sixteen and hadn't even considered the idea that there might be others out there since." His words lisped as parseltongue slipped into his speech. "I enjoy having wizarding kin – well, you at least. That said, there were other factors in play that day."

I squared my shoulders. "Such as?"

Instead of answering, Thomas flicked his fingers towards a file cabinet. The latch clicked. The drawer rumbled as it slid open, sounding almost like one of Hagrid's growling creatures. A two-inch thick file flew out, sailed across the room, and landed in Thomas's outstretched hand.

Silverware rattled when he dropped it on the table. With one finger, he turned it towards me, displaying the blood red label written in Lolly's perfect cursive. OTP Finances: Potter, it read. A chill swept through me.

For a moment, I was trapped in Barty's sitting room with Sirius sitting across from me, the chess board between us, as I accused my father of doing something stupid. Judging by the thickness, it was either multiple something stupids or James believed he was being principled. I imagined Dumbledore encouraged the latter.

Of course, this was Thomas. While he wasn't making excuses or claiming he didn't do it, he was the other side's leader. Perhaps, he dummied up the file after I sent the memories down – another way to keep me cooperative. Still, I couldn't see how admitting he killed my mother and couldn't say he'd have changed his mind benefitted him.

Papers rustled as Thomas flipped the file open. "Intelligence is a funny thing. As much as I'd like to claim that everything in here is one hundred percent fact and verified by three independent sources, most of this is hearsay and rumors. The withdrawal records purchased from Gringotts are accurate, but the goblins do not track gold after it leaves a vault. They just record how much comes in and how much goes out."

Mouth suddenly dry, I reached for my raspberry lemonade and took a sip. "And they sell that?" I said.

"To anyone with the gold." He leaned back in his chair and drummed his fingers on the table. "The goblins are no wizard's friend and every wizard's enemy."

"Ralmuth isn't."

"Individually, Ralmuth isn't. The Goblin Nation, on the other hand," he shrugged. "They profit from our conflicts."

"You make them sound like arms dealers."

"That too."

Paper rustled as he flipped through the file. His finger trailed down the pages. I glimpsed long sheets of handwritten tallies like a wizarding version of the spreadsheets Vernon left scattered around the living room. He hummed under his breath and spun the file around. A long finger tapped the page, drawing my attention to the withdrawal column.

1,319,699 galleons, 9 sickles, 3 knuts

My heart pounded in my chest as dozens of passing comments from Snape, Ron, and Barty suddenly made sense. I always assumed a modest inheritance from my grandparents bought my parents' cottage and put away enough money to live off for a few years. My mum later withdrew some of it and placed it in trust for me. It was a simple story, an upper-middle-class Privet Drive tale.

Except my father was wealthier than I could imagine.

My gaze roamed to the date. 28 October 1981. Less than a week before Thomas killed them.

I swallowed hard. "He financed the Order," I whispered to myself.

"At one point, yes." I looked at him sharply. He held up a hand, forestalling my questions. "Starting in February 1979, James Potter donated 15,000 galleons per month to the Order of the Phoenix. The gold was transferred directly to a vault owned by Albus Dumbledore, making it easily verified. This withdrawal…" he hesitated. "I don't know where this gold went. When I went to Godric's Hollow that day, all I knew was that a week after James Potter withdrew over a million galleons jobberknoll feathers and erumpet fluid disappeared from the black markets. The Order bought up the entire supply. I thought, and my analysts agreed, that Potter gold was financing mass veritaserum and bomb production."

"Dumbledore wouldn't use bombs."

"I note you didn't say veritaserum. As for the bombs, Dumbledore likes to keep his hands clean. The same doesn't apply to the Order. On the 30th, Pettigrew reported a plot spearheaded by James Potter and Sirius Black to smuggle an erumpet fluid bomb into Malfoy Manor and blow it sky high. Draco Malfoy is a few months older than you. He was a toddler and as innocent you were. He and his mother would have been home."

Bile rose in my throat and denials rose to my lips. I closed my eyes, swallowed hard, and shoved my feelings aside. Rational, I told myself. Be rational, lest I lose my only chance to get real answers from Thomas.

I wouldn't delude myself. If I reacted with anything other than cold, hard logic, Thomas would never discuss this again nor would Lolly intercede on my behalf. Would the Sirius who insisted Dumbledore's prophecy was absolute truth hesitate over mailing a bomb? I couldn't say. My father…When I asked Sirius if my father tried to kill me, all he said was that he didn't see the beginning of the fight. He never explicitly denied it.

"My mum wasn't involved," I said.

"Bombing's a muggle idea," he replied. "Additionally, as much as the bomb plot concerned me, the other ways the Order could use a million galleons concerned me more. I needed the Potter galleons out of Order hands."

"But the divorce –"

"Was unknown until you sent me the papers. Even with it, you were the Potter heir. Had James died and you lived, you would have inherited everything. At the time, I believed your mother would have total control of the estate until you came of age. I had no reason to think she didn't support James's donations nor did I have any reason to believe they wouldn't continue. Had she died, I believed your custody would default to Sirius Black, who did support the donations and donated extensively himself. He was also part of the bomb plot. Any way I looked at it, your custody went to an Order member, who would have continued funneling that million galleons to the Order. The only way to stop the flow of funds was to kill James and Lily Potter." He paused. "And you."

"If they were as entrenched in their beliefs as you think, they'd have just left it all to the Order."

"First rule of magical pureblood society, Harry. Purebloods are like the Hapsburgs. They're all related. The last time a pureblood line ended the court battle over who inherited lasted nine years. All I needed was six months."

"And if the Order already had the funds?" I challenged.

"Undue influence." His lips twisted into a sardonic smile. "Ironically, I would have had a better case as your guardian than using some random pureblood James Potter may or may not have met. Do remember that I didn't need to stop the transaction. I needed to buy enough time that it no longer mattered."

I rolled his words around in my mind, twisting them into different scenarios like the Rubix cubes Dudley smashed when he couldn't solve them. Don't know. Everything Thomas said boiled down to previous actions and things he suspected but couldn't confirm – Thomas's "don't knows". So if he killed my family to a withdrawal, what really happened to the money? "If my father really withdrew over a million galleons, where did it go?"

Thomas shrugged. "I don't know. Since that night, Lolly has monitored every known order account so has Lucius Malfoy. She even hired a forensic accountant. Every deposit traces back to an employer, family member, or a matching withdrawal. There are no traces of James Potter's gold."

Heart pounding in my chest, I asked the one question I'd asked friends, teachers, and even Professor Dumbledore dozens of times and never got a straight answer. "Why did I survive? Professor Dumbledore said my mother's love protected me, but if love could block a killing curse," I trailed off.

"Dumbledore's not wrong. I don't know if she acted out of love or desperation. Perhaps, she truly was suicidal and believed her actions gave her death greater meaning. Did you know you have runes on your feet?"

I blinked. "Those aren't runes. I cut my foot on a piece of glass years ago."

"Then why did they register on Alex's scans as inactive runes? After he brought them to my attention, I did some research but my findings were inconclusive. Then you gave me the memories. There is only one new moon ritual associated with those runes and the one on your forehead – Clytemnestra's Curse."

"If it has a name, why didn't Dumbledore tell me?"

"I doubt he knows. New moon rituals are powerful magic – dangerous, highly illegal, and once you've recovered there are no physical signs you ever performed one. Your runes, in particular, match nineteen known protection rituals. Clytemnestra's Curse wasn't even on my list until I heard about the new moon."

"What does the curse do? What did she do?"

A book slid across the table. My breath caught. In all my hours trolling through the Hogwarts Library and later perusing Thomas's shelves, I had never encountered a book such as this. Bare-breasted women danced around a fire – all cast in solid gold. Pearls crowned their heads and emeralds covered the ground at their feet like grass. It was a king's ransom in precious gems and gold. After glancing at Thomas for permission, I reached for it hesitantly. My fingertips slid off the preservation spells as if they were shield charms.


"When," he corrected. "According to the dating charms, the parchment dates to 389 AD. It's a book a women's magic I found in the catacombs of Rome. Not very useful, I admit. Childbirth, child rearing, and obscure rituals that can only be cast by women. I don't know how Lily Potter came by it. I suspect she either translated the runes herself or somehow acquired a more modern variant because that one uses Phonecian. The latin's archaic, but you should understand it well enough."

"And you'll just let me read a book that costs more than your house?"

Thomas snorted. "Between the maker's protections and mine, that book would probably survive fiendfyre. Still, no food or drink while you're reading. If you have questions about the translation work, ask Barty. Lolly has my notes on the runic translations. If you want them, ask her."

Sensing his dismissal, I gathered the book in my arms and slipped out of the office. Dozens of new questions chased each other in my head, mingling with the old ones until I didn't know which avenue to explore first. Perhaps, the book was the key. Maybe if I found out what the curse was then I could investigate whether my mother knew about it. If she did, did she actually use it and why? Who could I ask? The few female friends I knew about were dead. Sirius's memories were compromised by the dementors. Pettigrew probably didn't know any more than he'd sent. Snape, Barty was pretty sure she cut all ties with him before she left Hogwarts.

As I trudged up the stairs, Lolly popped onto the landing. She stood there with a notebook clutched in one hand and a sympathetic smile on her face. When I neared, she reached up and squeezed my hand.

"When you need help with that," she gestured to the book, "call me. No late nights, mind you." Her eyes glazed over before she nodded to herself. "When you're ready to visit her grave, tell me and I'll make the arrangements."

I swallowed hard. "I don't want Thomas."

She patted my hand. "Not him," she agreed. "I'll find someone trustworthy and competent. Even if I have to pop across the pond and hire Leeds to accompany you, I'll find someone."

You can find me on Twitter (see profile) where I tweet about my book addiction and try to tweet shame my puppy Dex, aka The Draft Stealing Niffler. I also lurk on Wattpad, link on my twitter account.

First Apprentice (original serial on Wattpad)

The last time someone arranged my life, Jon died. I ripped his soul from his body and served him up to the Ancient Gate like a trussed pig. Everyone agreed it was an instinctive kill, as if that excuses my actions. It doesn't.

Afterward, when I scrubbed my hands raw and woke begging for forgiveness, Grandfather made a promise. No surprises. If it involves me, he tells me - simple and infinitely safer for all involved. He lied.