Author's Notes: once again, a bit of a slower chapter, but one that covers a lot of ground and sets things up going forward, and I think that it touches on some ideas you don't see enough in fanfic.
Also, if anyone is interested, I write on other topics outside of fanfiction, namely music, TV, and film - if anything, when I'm not writing this story, I'm working on that. You can check it out from the link on my profile page.
But as always, read, review, bitch, criticize, and enjoy!
Chapter 5: Bullets & Bombshells
He had been alone for about three hours. The room they had locked him in was dilapidated, but functional. There wasn't any furniture in the room, and the wallpaper was peeling. The single window in the room was filthy and streaked by grime, a murky film obscuring overcast skies. There weren't any doors into the room – one could only Apparate to get inside. It wasn't a pleasant room, but outside of the appearance, it was comfortable enough.
At least at first. He started pacing ten minutes in, the floorboards creaking slightly beneath his nervous steps. He had sat down on the floors and waited for about a half hour, running over what he would say in his mind, the words he would need to say to salvage his choice.
All of his misgivings had come back in the next twenty minutes – and the fear had come back too. He could see their livid faces – on both sides – and he felt the slick clamminess of sweaty fear. Maybe he had missed something, maybe he had made a mistake, maybe he hadn't quite figured out every answer, maybe he had misjudged everything…
At about an hour in, he had tried to Disapparate, and it had felt like he had gotten hit over the head with a saucepan. He had tried to cast a Reductor Curse on the wall, but it had just fizzled away into a surrounding enchantment. He had even tried to transform and find any crack in the walls to scurry out, but the instant he had tried it felt like needles were drilling into every inch of skin on his body.
He could acutely hear the ticking of his grubby watch when he had sat on the floor and begun to wait. The fear was still there, but now it was complimented by the tediousness of the situation. There was nothing to do in the room, and he couldn't even transform to gain the simple comfort of a simpler mind. For all of its dilapidation, the room was just a bland, dreary room, nothing all that special or interesting or different…
He wasn't sure of the exact moment he had fallen asleep. He hadn't dreamed anything – or at least, he didn't think he had. The only fragments of a dream he had remembered was that he had been sitting in a bland, decaying room with no doors and a single window…
He shivered as he drew himself into a sitting position, putting a few fingers to his mouth and scratching the dirt underneath his nails free with his teeth. Why were they taking so long? He had come to them, he had thought they would have brought someone in by now –
He paused. His eyes had caught a hint of colour – of velvet robes of deep purple, and glossy black boots – no, it wasn't a hint, he could see them –
Peter Pettigrew looked up, and for the first time in over fifteen years, he stared into the blue eyes of Albus Dumbledore.
There was no sparkle or glint of mischief in those eyes now. But to Peter's surprise, he didn't see fury there either. Or sadness. Or much of… anything. Dumbledore was simply staring at him, blinking slowly, eyeing every inch of the man he had once taught.
Pettigrew drew up his tattered robes and he slowly got to his feet. For a second, all of his carefully rehearsed speeches went out of his mind – he wasn't sure what to say, what he could say –
Dumbledore did not respond. He didn't nod, he didn't say a word. His eyes were still fixed on Pettigrew, though. There was a hardness there – stony, stoic, implacable.
"L-Look, Professor, it's good to see you," Pettigrew said, swallowing hard, trying to push back the creeping fingers of terror. "I – I… it's been a while."
The old wizard still didn't respond, and the fingers of terror brushed against Pettigrew's heart. He coughed as he tried to force back the whispered stories that some of the other Death Eaters had told in mutters. How the old wizard had only grown more powerful as the years had passed… more ruthless. How he might mask it behind kind, cheerful words or a benign smile, but that there was something, some power beneath that façade that had the capacity to utterly obliterate whatever dared oppose it.
There were no cheerful words. There was no benign smile. There was… there was nothing. Dumbledore simply stared at him – there was no emotion, no feeling, no sound.
It terrified Pettigrew to his core.
"Pr-Professor sir, I s-swear – th-the Dark Lord has powers – he made me, he, he would have killed me!" He felt his knees hit the dusty floor, and he had no recollection of allowing them to buckle. "I – I had no choice, I couldn't just – he would have f-found another to bring him b-back –"
Dumbledore blinked, but still didn't say a word. But Pettigrew thought he saw a flicker of motion – the Headmaster's eyebrows seemed to narrow slightly. A narrowing that suggested suspicion… or contempt.
The cold fingers of terror had a firm grip on Pettigrew's heart now, and he felt his mouth racing, pleading for some vestige of clemency –
"I – I only came back because I thought th-there was a chance – w-with Sirius and Remus out of the country, th-that I could – Professor, you have to believe me, you know I would have never – you know I wouldn't – I couldn't, I didn't know that he would have gone, I didn't know he was going after Lily and James –"
"You are not the first Death Eater to tell me that."
Pettigrew's heart nearly stopped pounding wildly in his chest as Dumbledore's soft words cut off his babbling in mid-sentence. Soft words – filled with icy disappointment and absolute contempt.
"I did not believe it then," Dumbledore continued quietly, keeping his gaze fixed on Pettigrew, "and I do not believe it now."
"S-Sir, I would – I, I would never – James was my friend –"
"He was," Dumbledore replied emotionlessly. "So was Lily. So was Sirius. How many, Peter? I suspect you are far more aware than I."
No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't stop the trembling – or the numbness that was slowly spreading in the silver fingertips of his right hand, a numbness that filled him with a new type of fear. What was it? Where did it come from? Was it the Dark Lord's pitiless retribution for his treason –
"S-Sir, I came back, I came back b-because I, I want to –" He coughed. "I – I couldn't, not – the D-Dark Lord, he's doing something – it's crazy, he's changed, what he has planned…"
"And you know these plans, Peter?" Dumbledore asked, and this time, Pettigrew could hear the note of bitter disappointment tinged with certainty in his voice – a note that made him feel worse than the filth he had eaten from when he had lived as a rat in the sewer. "You plan to bargain for… what, exactly, Peter? You could have disappeared into the muck, and I sincerely doubt even Lord Voldemort could have found you."
He was wrong about that – and Dumbledore didn't seem to know, and that was terrifying unto itself. It had taken Pettigrew months to attempt to flee, and every tingle in his silver hand told him the Dark Lord's retribution was coming. He'd heard the high cold voice in his mind before he'd ever see the spell – if he even saw that.
But in the back of his mind, he knew that he had had the courage to run, once he had seen even the tiny fraction of the labyrinthine plan to which he had been allowed to see. That had to mean something –
"You had a reason for coming here, Peter," Dumbledore said, interrupting Pettigrew's thoughts. "I would like to know that reason now."
"The D-Dark Lord," Pettigrew stammered, "he – he's not – something happened to him after the fight at – at the Ministry, h-he's… he's different now."
Dumbledore paused. "Continue."
"He's got plans – big plans, and I don't know half – no, a tenth of it – but he, he's delegated most of it – Rookwood, Bellatrix, Yaxley, Goyle –"
"Goyle, you say?" There was definite interest in Dumbledore's voice, and Pettigrew felt a quiver of hope. Maybe there was something –
But the quiver of hope vanished a second later, as Dumbledore's calm, cold expression returned. "Continue, Peter."
"He – he sent Dolohov on a secret mission, he's been gone for months – b-but I… I saw something bigger. I, I overheard – He – he's searching for some… for some –"
His silver hand bucked, and Pettigrew felt a jolt of pain surge through his arm. The numbness had reached his palm – yet somehow, his fingers were flexing threateningly.
"What is he searching for?"
"I don't – I don't know what it is," Pettigrew cried desperately, "but he's obsessed with it – he, he says R-Rookwood got the first piece from the Department, the Department of Mysteries, and he's going to find the second –"
Another jolt shook him, and he let out a strangled cry as he collapsed on the ground. Knives of crystalized agony, surging up through the nerves of the stump, the silver digits clenching into a fist...
But he had to say it. It was just one word, he could get out one word, that'd be enough, and then maybe Dumbledore would help him –
"What is Lord Voldemort seeking?"
The voice sounded very far away against the backdrop of pain, but Pettigrew knew this answer. A meaningless word, but it meant something – to someone. Maybe it would help.
His arm snapped up, and he felt the silver hand plunge its silver fingers through skin and muscle, clenching gore as it tore away at his throat.
But before he passed out, he knew the word had come, blood-soaked from bloodless lips.
They had chosen to hide inside the old shed.
It was full of their Dad's 'projects' – half-finished ideas, dissembled Muggle gadgets, broken fragments of technology.
"The perfect hiding spot," Fred Weasley murmured, shoving the overlarge door shut behind him into the doorframe – the damp wood swollen with moisture – that was too small for the door. "Considering Dad's new job, he's not going to be working in here."
"If we got our own place, it'd be easier –"
"Yeah, but I want to keep an eye on Mum and Dad," Fred replied darkly, rubbing away some of the grease on one of the windows. "Dad's gonna be working with some bad people, and that means we should keep an eye out in case they double-cross him."
George let out an unsteady breath as he set down the trunk. "And that's more a matter of 'when' than 'if'," he finished.
They had once specialized in making people laugh. They had been great at it. Hell, Harry had given them a sack full of a thousand Galleons so they could make a store to provide all sorts of things so they could keep doing it.
But then the Ministry attack had happened. The first one – the one with the goblin explosives that had taken out multiple floors. The one that had been followed by a goblin bombing during Cornelius Fudge's speech on the brand new bank.
The one that had gotten Charlie killed.
"Bill's out, he's doing something for Dumbledore," George began uneasily, ticking off the names on his fingers. "Percy's a prat and he'd never go for it. And I hope I speak for the two of us that I don't want to get Ginny involved in this."
"That," George continued with a sigh, "leaves Ron."
"He's closer to Harry," Fred said bracingly, "and you'd bet Harry would be willing to help if we told him."
"Still set on the surprise?"
Fred smiled slightly. "Well, obviously."
"And Ron…" George shrugged. "Well, he gets it."
The smile was gone. "Yeah, that's true."
"Still a bit of a prat, though," George said, with a weak grin. "He – well, he couldn't hurt."
"And we're not going show him everything, of course," Fred said fairly. "He can – well, I dunno, maybe keep an eye on Greengrass or something. We'll find something – he's not totally useless."
Fred cocked an eyebrow. "Beg your pardon?"
"He is good at chess. Something of that should carry over somehow."
Fred's smile faded as he tugged the worn, dog-eared journal from his bag. The pages were yellowed by age, dirt, and potion spills – and nearly black from page upon page of diagrams and ideas his twin and he had collected over the years.
George fished the key to his trunk out of his jeans pocket and shoved it in the lock, giving it an expert twist. The lock clicked, and he tugged the lid open.
Multiple collapsible cauldrons of a dozen different metals. Carefully sorted potions ingredients in labelled boxes, and row upon row of completed potions tightly fastened into wire racks.
And at the very bottom, a heap of glassy stones in a box nailed shut. They seemed as innocuous as pebbles on a riverbed.
Fred and George knew better. Every one of those stones had potential for something far more potent – and far more dangerous.
"Yeah," Fred murmured, "I think we're playing on a much bigger game board now."
It was always unnerving returning to his regular body after being inside his simulacrum – particularly when he opened his eyes to see the shabby second bedroom of Number 4, Privet Drive.
Harry sighed with impatience as he rolled to the edge of the bed, stretching out his legs. It was maddening that he had to return here – particularly after all of the chaos of the last year – but even he had to admit it was a safe place to stash his body when he wasn't using it. Quiet, impregnable against Voldemort, he couldn't complain.
And it's not like the Dursleys give a damn whether I leave my room or not, Harry thought as he pulled a fresh t-shirt from his trunk and tugged it over his head. Hell, they probably don't even –
Harry felt a rush of real surprise as he grabbed his trainers. Why on earth was Uncle Vernon yelling now? He hadn't left his room since he had gotten home from the Hogwarts Express, why did he –
Harry sighed with exasperation and pushed open his door. He hurried down the stairs, completely ignoring Dudley's strange look as he stepped into the kitchen. Even despite the fact that Harry could smell freshly cooked pancakes and bacon in the air, the kitchen still looked unnaturally clean.
Vernon Dursley was standing at the table, his fleshy palms firmly planted upon it, and he stared at Harry with beady, unblinking eyes, an expression of fury on his purplish face.
Harry leaned against the doorframe. "You rang?"
The sarcasm had come naturally – although Harry suspected increased amount of time around Tonks hadn't helped matters – and it only caused Uncle Vernon to swell like a discoloured balloon.
"I received," he said tersely, barely controlled his rage, "mail. It's addressed to you."
Harry frowned. That was strange – why could they have just sent an owl or –
"Boy, why is mail addressed to you coming into my letterbox?"
Harry tried to restrain his grin at the sight – a muscle was pulsing in Uncle Vernon's temple, and Harry couldn't help but feel less intimidated than ever before. After what I saw last year, Uncle Vernon's got nothing on Alastor Moody – or Dmitri Kemester.
"Well," Harry began slowly, "it might be because – just thinking out loud – I live here."
It was the wrong answer.
"I WILL NOT TOLERATE YOUR POST GOING THROUGH MY HOUSE IN ANY WAY BESIDES THAT BLASTED BIRD! HOW DARE YOU IMPLICATE US BY ASSOCIATION IN YOUR WILD HOOLIGANRY –"
"Yes, because this is what I want whenever I get a letter," Harry interrupted, rolling his eyes. "Can I see it?"
Uncle Vernon looked as if he would burst a blood vessel, but he shoved a piece of paper across the table. "I couldn't make heads nor tails of the nonsense."
"I didn't give you permission to open my mail," Harry said sharply.
"IT COMES TO MY HOUSE THROUGH MY POST," Uncle Vernon roared, "WHEN THAT BLASTED PSYCHOPATH WHO BLEW UP YOUR WORTHLESS PARENTS COULD TRACK YOU HERE, AND YOU THINK –"
"More than you," Harry said with growing annoyance, picking up the paper. "No Death Eater is going to try and track me through the Muggle post. Trust me, if Lord Voldemort knew where I was, he'd come here himself."
And without another word, he stepped out of the room.
A few steps and a door later, he was walking towards the park near Magnolia Crescent. His wand was tucked carefully into his jeans pocket, ready at a second's notice in case someone did try something.
The park was deserted, and Harry sat on one of the swings. He unfolded the letter and began to read with growing confusion.
The vanished name has been inked, and the vial has been broken. Fear more than conflicted silent nights, for soon there will be blood on every door – and this time, it won't keep the angel and the horseman out.
The map has been burned, but the treasures remain. If you want them – and you do – climb to the top of a haunted castle, and take twenty steps backwards off the edge. It'll get you halfway there.
Postscript: burn this.
"Reading something interesting?"
Harry started, and Tonks chuckled as she leaned against another swing, her hair flickering from magenta to pink. "Good, I can still surprise you."
"It was sent by Muggle post to the Dursleys," Harry said with a frown, "and I can't make head or tails of it."
"That's why we have Dumbledore," Tonks said with a smile, tapping Harry on the shoulder. "He's really good at riddles."
"Can the Death Eaters use Muggle post to track me there?"
Tonks frowned. "If they could, they wouldn't be able to attack magically –"
"That might not stop them."
"Good point," Tonks conceded. "Okay, let's get back to Dumbledore – maybe he can help."
"I removed the silver hand." Dumbledore drummed his fingers on the table. "But he still passed out, and I suspect he will likely go into shock. Madam Pomfrey will work to stabilize him, but until then, I will not be able to help."
"Did he give us anything of use?" Dedalus asked eagerly.
"At this point, not much at all," Dumbledore said with frustration. "The few leads he provided were vague at best. Still, his presence is a boon – if we can clear Sirius of the murder charges, it will open up a few doors."
"Could also make Parkinson's life difficult," Mad-Eye Moody added, a twisted smirk on his scarred face. "If we play it right, returning Sirius and Pettigrew to the public spotlight would add a complication for which Scrimgeour's better prepared. Might give Kingsley a bit of a break, too."
Kingsley took a deep breath – after the death of the last investigator, the Sirius Black case had been reassigned to him, and even though he knew the case was effectively a sham, it'd be nice to close it for good. "True enough, Alastor. Now –"
The door banged open, and Moody's wand was drawn in an instant –
"Marcellus," Mundungus breathed, his eyes damp as he clutched at the side of his chest. "Dumbledore, 'e's – 'e's dead."
Dumbledore closed his eyes as Moody slowly lowered his wand.
"Same as Gunther," Mundungus whispered, slumping against the wall. "Bullet right in the head. Same bloke too, who shot 'em."
"Wait a moment," Kingsley asked sharply. "You're talking about Giles Gunther, the smuggler? He's dead?"
Dumbledore shot Moody – who was adjusting his grip on his wand – a warning look, but Kingsley didn't miss it. "Albus, is there something you're not telling me?"
The Headmaster took a deep breath. "Giles Gunther was killed two nights ago, killed by a Muggle bullet. Marcellus Fletcher reported it to Rufus Scrimgeour, who received testimony in exchange for immunity. And now it appears that Marcellus Fletcher's plans for immunity led to his demise in the same way." The Headmaster shook his head. "A terrible tragedy."
"And why wasn't I told about this?" Kingsley demanded.
"Because the description of the primary suspect," Moody growled, his mismatched eyes fixed on Kingsley, "matched yours."
"But you know I have an alibi –"
He paused, and he felt his stomach tense. It couldn't be, it just couldn't –
But in his gut, he doubted there was any other answer.
And at this point, I shouldn't even be surprised.
He pulled his cloak off of the back of his chair. "I'll be back tomorrow, if not sooner."
"Where are you going?" Dumbledore asked inquistively. "Kingsley, do you know the suspect?"
"I thought I did," Kingsley snapped, "but we haven't talked in a long time, so something might have fallen between the cracks?"
"Cut the bullshit, Kingsley," Moody barked. "Two people are dead, who is it?"
Kingsley shut his eyes as his hand rested on the doorknob. "His name," he said through gritted teeth, gritted against the disappointment and anger and shame, "is Keith Shacklebolt. He's a Squib – and he's my brother."
"Did you tell him?"
"He got the message, if that's what you're referring to."
"Is he aware of the danger? Does he understand –"
"How could he understand if even I don't fully grasp whatever the fuck you're doing here?"
"There's a reason for that."
"Oh, I'm sure."
"This isn't a game, Traveller. This is a matter greater than life and death. Are you willing to risk everything that has been built –"
"Then do your job, and there won't be problems."
"Can I ask you something?"
"What gives you the right? Huh? What gives you the goddamned right to do this – to do any of it? To what authority are you beholden to that you have to do this? The only real power you have here is through me."
Silence, and then –
"Ah. So that's how it is."
"I cannot help but notice," Dumbledore said, carefully folding the letter, "that you did not burn this."
"Figured it'd be better I show it to you, so you get everything first-hand," Harry conceded, dropping into a chair opposite Dumbledore. "And Tonks already checked it for Tracking Charms or anything of the like – and besides, it was originally sent, and sent properly, by Muggle Post. It's reasonable to assume the Death Eaters wouldn't do that. And now that we're here, at Headquarters…"
"It is indeed apt to surmise that the enchantments upon Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place would remain intact," Dumbledore said firmly, glancing up over the bridge of his glasses at Harry, "particularly since we reclaimed it – and even if Lord Voldemort might be able to identify the street, he knows nothing else."
"Any ideas, Professor?" Tonks asked heavily as Dumbledore spread the parchment flat on the table. "I couldn't make heads nor tails of it – it seems pretty oblique. Some sort of code?"
"Perhaps, but I doubt it," Dumbledore murmured, his brow furrowing with thought. "Symbolism is oft a superior mask to a common encryption, only deciphered by those with wit and extensive knowledge." The old man grinned. "Fortunately, between the three of us, I feel we have something of an advantage in this area."
"You know, this reads like a prophecy," Harry said with a frown. "All this weird language, the weird feeling that's there's a double meaning with each word –"
"Wait – 'vanished name has been inked'," Tonks said abruptly, tapping on the parchment, her hair shortening and turning white. "That could imply that someone's signed something as someone else, someone who's been dead for a long time."
"You are talking about the Vuneren name," Dumbledore replied sharply.
"But you were 'Nymphadora Vuneren' before," Harry argued, "so why are we getting this now?"
"Because she was not Nymphadora Vuneren," Dumbledore said thoughtfully. "Not technically, at least. She may have claimed the identity, but by actually creating Desdame & Vuneren and certifying any magical business contracts in that name, the Vuneren 'name' may indeed have been inked."
"And that's significant?"
"Let us keep reading, and find out." Dumbledore tapped on the next few words. "A broken vial – intentionally broken or accidental, and what might have been inside of it? That might require some additional work to crack. The next line, however, may be more pertinent. 'Fear more than conflicted silent nights'. I wonder…"
Harry fought to keep his face as expressionless as possible. That line made sense to him – and even though he couldn't sense the presence lurking somewhere in his mind, he knew it was there, in some form –
"I believe it is another reference to the Vuneren family."
Harry started. "Sorry?"
"The key words here, I believe, are 'silent nights', a reference to a religious Yuletide carol," Dumbledore began calmly, tapping his finger on the paper. "The next references are simple, and yet provide concrete proof that Lord Voldemort did not send this letter. You see, both are from the Muggle Bible, the first from the Book of Exodus, the second from the Revelations of St. John."
Tonks fidgeted slightly. "Okay, but if I remember correctly from the History of Magic classes in which I was totally awake, I don't recall witches and wizards having the best of relationships with the Church, so how is this related to the Vuneren family?"
"And you would be correct," Dumbledore agreed, "and here is where we reach a famously contentious area of history and politics regarding pureblood families, and one of the biggest reasons that the Vuneren family was commonly ostracized, despite their wealth and magical power. You see, as a family, the Vunerens were devoutly religious."
Harry frowned. "How does that – no, wait, I don't remember anything showing up like that when I saw them in that memory –"
"They kept their faith concealed, and for very good reason," Dumbledore said, his voice surprisingly sad and bitter. "Religion is often a trying and frustrating topic in the magical community, vehemently shouted down if one dares to raise the topic. The old pagan faiths are often viewed as hedge magic, only fit for hermits, simpletons and magical creatures. And given the centuries of persecution, one can easily understand the magical community's reluctance to associate with any Judeo-Christian faith."
"So, what exactly did the Vuneren family believe in?" Harry asked with growing confusion. "Did they follow old pagan rites, or were they with the Church?"
Dumbledore closed his eyes. "At this point, Harry, I can only speculate. Due to the antagonism the Vuneren family had when their children briefly attended Hogwarts, the family had been home-schooling their children for well over a century. It did not help matters when the old Vuneren patriarch and I had a disagreement during the years of my conflict with Grindelwald, and despite my many entreaties, no contact was ever re-established." He sighed, and Harry could see the disappointment in his eyes. "To this day, I do not know how Nathan Cassane managed to convince them to support him in the early days of the war. What I do know is that Lord Voldemort, reportedly on the behest of Lucius Malfoy, personally destroyed the Vuneren family, leaving none alive."
Harry glanced over at Tonks. Her hair had gone long and white-blonde – exactly like the Vunerens he had seen in the memory of the Yule party Cassane had given them…
"The next reference," Dumbledore said suddenly, breaking the moment of silence as he tapped the parchment, "seems obscure. 'The map has burned, yet the treasures remain'… ideas, Harry?"
"Uh…" He felt as if Dumbledore had put him on the spot, and he began wracking his brain. It's not like I found any treasures, even in the Potter Vaults, and it's not like I used any maps… wait a minute…
"There was a map," he said, taking a deep breath. "If we're talking about the Vunerens here – well, Cassane was the only who connected to them, and he had a big bloody map on his wall. Don't know how it would have caught fire –"
"But it does suggest that there are treasures of some sort in Cassane's manor that we need to get a hold of," Tonks added decisively. "Certainly before the goblins nick everything –"
"A good plan, but I do not think it is precisely what this 'Traveller' was referring to." Dumbledore folded his hands and leaned back slightly in his chair. "If we were just to go to Cassane's manor and claim whatever is there, why mention this 'haunted castle'? It's a fresh riddle in and of itself."
"Well, the haunted castle's probably Hogwarts," Tonks said reasonably. "I mean, given what happened there last year –"
"No, it's not Hogwarts," Harry said softly. "Not this time. Besides, after we went down into that weird chamber, I hardly ever saw any ghosts at Hogwarts."
He didn't know how he just seemed to know – outside of a horrible feeling in his gut telling him he knew exactly where that knowledge seemed to spring – but his tone must have been off. Tonks gave him a curious, almost concerned look. I need to deflect this –
"But there's other haunted castles in Britain, right, Professor?"
Dumbledore's eyes brightened. "Several, as a matter of fact, but I feel we might be able to narrow our search significantly. You see, despite the fact I never did set foot in the Vuneren Estate, I do know where it is rumoured to be. The Vuneren patriarch liked some of the trappings of aristocracy –"
"Strange that he chose to live in Scotland then," Tonks muttered, repressing a grin.
"– And one of the wealthiest areas of Great Britain is a subdivision of the city of Edinburgh called Blackhall," Dumbledore continued, drawing his wand with one smooth motion. A second later, a map had appeared in his hand and he spread it across the table. He pointed down at the north-west segment of the city. "My suspicions always were that the Vuneren estate was just further north-west."
"You go much further north-west, you end up in the water," Harry pointed out. "But still… and Edinburgh has a haunted castle?"
"One of the most haunted in the country," Dumbledore confirmed with a firm nod. "Once you are finished with Cassane, the castle should be your next target. I strongly advise you bring the Ectoplasmic tools Cassane gave you – the spirits that lurk within Castle Edinburgh have a reputation for being dark spirits indeed. I will speak with Bode regarding a repository for any ghosts you send him through the Projector –"
"Well, you might want to speak to Bode regarding other things."
"Oh, good morning Miss Vance," Dumbledore said with a smile, looking up from the map to the distinctly dishevelled witch. Even though her hair was tangled and her robes were filthy, she still carried herself with an air of distinct dignity. "Any news?"
"Yeah, we're going to need everyone we've got," Emmeline Vance said hurriedly, raking her hand desperately through her hair. "I got a tip – apparently, Voldemort and a bunch of Death Eaters are moving into Liverpool –"
Dumbledore's smile faded instantly. "Gunther's vessel."
"Yeah." Emmeline shook her head helplessly. "My guess is Voldemort thinks he can find it before we can or before it runs aground or before it hits another ship that can't see it because of the Invisibility Charms. Albus, I caught a glimpse of one of the groups on the coast, a bunch of werewolves and… Merlin, Albus, even if we get everyone, we're going to be outnumbered in a bad way. Can Bode fight worth a damn?"
"We can't risk Bode, his information is invaluable," Dumbldore replied briskly, Vanishing the map with a wave of his wand. "Do we know how close –"
"By the time we get people together, he'll already be there," Emmeline said tersely. "And then it'll only be a matter of time."
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Harry exclaimed, getting up, his wand already in his hand. "We can't just let him –"
"Hang on a second," Emmeline protested, pointing at Harry, "we can't risk him –"
"We're doing neither," Dumbledore replied firmly. "Emmeline, inform the rest of the Order I will be joining the fight personally. Under no circumstance are they to directly engage with Lord Voldemort's forces before I get there, it's far too dangerous and I will not have anyone taking foolish risks with their own lives."
"What about Kingsley?"
"Send him a message via Patronus, but do not assume he will be able to join us," Dumbledore instructed after a second of thought. "I wager he may be battling far more difficult demons of his own."
"Got it," and Emmeline Vance Disapparated without another word.
Harry looked askance at Dumbledore. "You're not going to let me –"
"Not in that body, no," Dumbledore replied enigmatically, his eyes twinkling.
Harry understood immediately. "Okay, second simulacrum then?"
"Precisely. You and Tonks will be with me, both for your protection and mine. And it is always a good thing to learn in the heat of the moment, Harry, and I personally would dearly love to see whatever strange amplifications your second simulacrum possesses on something of a grander scale."
Harry's eyes went wide, and he felt his heart pounding with both anticipation and fear. "You're – you're going to teach me –"
"You won't be able to cast everything I might choose to utilize," Dumbledore continued calmly, "but I suspect there might be a spell or two you could come to grasp quickly enough. A good learning experience, I think. Interested?"
"Yeah, absolutely!" Harry took a deep breath and began to focus on the tarnished silver cord on the edge of his vision. "Come on, Tonks."
"Professor," Tonks began quickly, "you know I'm fully capable –"
"At this point, you have been named in a letter that we must assume carries the weight of a prophecy," Dumbledore said, cutting off Tonks' protestations instantly. "That letter suggests greater stakes than just a treasure that the Vuneren family may have hidden."
"How did you –"
"Blood on doors," Dumbledore said gravely, "and an angel and a horseman. Do you know what they symbolize, Harry?"
Harry felt a chill, and the word leapt to his lips before he could shiver. "Death?"
"Yes," Dumbledore replied, a grim note in his voice. "We faced it last year, and I suspect that before the day and night is out, we may face it again."