A.N. Sorry for the unofficial hiatus, but here's the next chapter. Unfortunately, I doubt I'll get another chapter out until after November is done, because I'm using NaNoWriMo to work on my original novel.

Thanks to DaniPotterLovesGod for betaing! Have fun reading.

I do not own Harry Potter.


The day of Halloween passed in relative peace; the morning Prophet didn't report anything new about Voldemort, no trolls breached the castle walls, and the students went about their classes and homework like any other day. For once, Harry thought, maybe they'd get a perfectly normal Halloween celebration.

"Are we going to go down to the feast now?" Ron asked. They were sitting in the common room, playing chess and, in Hermione's case, reading. Most of the other students were leaving already, and Ron's stomach apparently couldn't wait any longer.

"I just need to put the chess set away. You two can head down; I'll catch up."

"Are you sure you don't want us to wait for you? I mean, what if the Slytherins try something again?" Ron asked quietly.

"I'll be fine. Don't worry, go ahead. Save me a spot if I haven't caught up to you by the time you get to the hall."

They nodded and headed out of the nearly-empty common room while Harry packed up his Parseltongue chess set. He was beginning to get better at the game, with his chess pieces' help. He had held out a little longer against Ron this time. Soon maybe he'd even be able to beat Ron.

"Soon" as in "ten years," Harry thought with an eye roll.

He trekked up the stairs to his dorm and carefully put his chess set in his trunk. He had it wrapped in one of the huge sweaters that he had been given by the Dursleys after Dudley had splashed mud all over it and Harry hadn't been able to wash the stain out, despite Aunt Petunia's shrill demands for him to fix it up for her Diddy-Dums. It looked disgusting, but it was clean enough to keep Harry's things safe.

There was a firm rap at one of the windows. Harry jumped, and looked around the dorm. A plain brown owl was patiently waiting by the window nearest Harry, starting straight at him.

Harry let the bird in, thinking that it was probably a delayed letter for one of his dorm-mates. But the owl landed on the bedside table nearest Harry and held its leg out to him.

Frowning in confusion, Harry cautiously untied the letter and broke the seal on the envelope while absent-mindedly letting the owl out the window.

But the page was blank.

Harry frowned at it. Why would anyone send a blank piece of paper?

Then he felt a prick on his finger and drew it back from the parchment, startled. A tiny bead of blood was welling up from a small cut on his finger tip. He hissed in annoyance and wiped the blood off on the parchment, then threw the useless paper on his bed and went to the bathroom to clean the small wound. The parchment had been carried by an owl – who knew what kind of germs it might have had on it? And with his luck a small paper cut could be his undoing. He could die from a magically enhanced infection or something, all because of a paper cut.

Harry returned to the dorm room after rinsing off his finger to throw the parchment out. He needed to hurry; Ron and Hermione would be wondering where he was.

But the parchment wasn't blank anymore.

It was now covered in dignified script – not too curly and not too sharp. Whoever had written it had obviously spent a lot of time perfecting their handwriting.

And the smear of Harry's blood was gone.

Now interested, Harry picked up the letter. This time there was no prick on his finger, so he began to read.

"Potter,

"We can and wish to help you, yet nothing more can be said in a letter. Meet us in the Shrieking Shack this Friday evening – in three days. Come alone; tell no one of this, not even your friends, and burn this note."

Harry stared at the piece of parchment, his mind churning. His brain was screaming "trap!" but he couldn't deny it; he was extremely curious about what these people could possibly want with him. They said they could help him, presumably with the war against Voldemort. How? Was it worth Harry risking his own safety?

Harry sent a tendril of his magic through his fingers into the note, letting the magic set the paper on fire. The words slowly disappeared as the parchment blackened and began disintegrating.

After extinguishing the flames with a bit more magic, Harry let the breeze outside of the window blow the ash from his palm. Who were these people, he wondered? Why were they contacting him now?

Still deep in thought, Harry made his way down to the Great Hall. The halls were quiet, but Harry could faintly hear the buzz of the feast as he neared his destination. He was suddenly struck with the strangeness of it; outside, a war was being fought. Families were living in fear that their names would be the next on the list of deaths that the Prophet reported regularly. Shop-owners were closing down their stores because customers were too scared to leave home in order to go shopping. Ministry workers went about their jobs in fear that their colleagues were working under the Imperius Curse, secretly spying on them for Voldemort.

Mysterious notes were being sent back and forth about plans for the war.

And yet, inside the safety of the Hogwarts walls, everyone seemed blissfully unconcerned with Voldemort. They went to their classes; they laughed with their friends at mealtimes; they blew their homework off with games of Exploding Snap or Wizard's Chess. To them, life went on as normal.

Harry suddenly felt alone. Outside, a war was being waged. He was supposed to be taking part in it, supposed to be knocking out Voldemort's horcruxes and ultimately fighting Voldemort himself. What was he doing here then, where homework and Quidditch took priority over ending Voldemort's death games?

After he dealt with the horcrux in the Room of Hidden Things – how, he knew not – he'd have to leave and hunt down the remaining horcruxes. He didn't have the excuse that he needed to build up his magical skill anymore; he had never been more powerful than he currently was. There was no reason to stay, beyond destroying Ravenclaw's diadem.

He reached the doors of the Great Hall, and shoved his plans from his mind. Right now, he was at Hogwarts, his home. He had a few weeks left, at least, until the diadem was destroyed. There was no reason not to enjoy them.

Harry didn't tell his friends about the note. He had considered it, of course, but had ultimately decided to keep it a secret until at least he had made up his mind about what he was going to do. If he decided to meet with these people – whoever they were – he didn't want to drag Hermione, Ron, and Ginny into it. He had done that before, at the Department of Mysteries. He wasn't going to let his mistakes hurt his friends again.

Hermione noticed that he was deep in thought about something, though, and questioned him on it at the feast. Harry made up an excuse on the spot, saying he was thinking about planning another date with Ginny, which earned a small smile from his girlfriend. He wasn't sure whether Hermione bought it or not though.

She was very difficult to fool. That might be a problem, seeing as at that moment he made up his mind.

Two days later, after making no further progress on how to solve the horcrux problem, Harry went to the Headmistress's office after dinner to fill McGonagall in on the horcrux they had found.

Her reaction was as expected: she was horrified.

"How could this have gone unnoticed? Surely Dumbledore…"

"The horcrux is hidden in the Room of Requirement, and only a specific form of the Room. Unless someone was deliberately looking for the horcrux, like we were, then it was unlikely they would have found it."

"I suppose. I myself do not know where the Room of Requirement is, and I suspect neither did Dumbledore."

Harry nodded. That was what he had thought.

"We need a way of destroying these things. I was hoping that you would know where I could get some Basilisk venom."

"I regret I do not. I believe the last basilisk killed was in Argentina – you probably would have best luck finding venom there," McGonagall said.

Harry sighed. Argentina? How in the world was he going to get there?

"Thanks. I guess that's the best information we could possibly get."

"I'm sorry I cannot be of more help. Severus…" Her face darkened. "Snape would have known."

Harry glowered, but didn't comment. He didn't like the fact that Snape, the murderer, had been brought into the conversation, but he had to agree with McGonagall. As much as he hated to admit it, Snape would have known where to get Basilisk venom. It was a potions ingredient, after all, and if there was one thing Snape was good at it was potions.

And betrayal, Harry thought, his scowl deepening.

"Was there anything else?" McGonagall asked, breaking Harry out of his sour brooding.

"No, that was all," Harry replied, thinking of the mystery note.

"Alright. If you need anything else, Mr. Potter, don't hesitate to come to me."

"I will, thank you."

"Harry, tell these two to let me come along to destroy the horcrux," Ginny said when Harry met up with his friends in the common room.

"You can't, Ginny!" Ron protested, sounding exasperated. Hermione, too, frowned.

"Why?" Ginny asked.

"Because…well, because you can't!"

"Ginny, that thing nearly possessed me," Hermione murmured. "I could've hurt Ron or Harry; I don't think you want to risk going through that again."

Ginny looked struck, shocked by the mention of her own possession by Riddle's diary and the idea that it could happen a second time.

"So how'd it go?" Ron asked, changing the subject quickly.

"She said the best place she could think of was Argentina." Harry scowled, letting Ginny's despondent expression slide for now.

They were silent.

"We're not going to solve this tonight. We've got tests in the morning, so I'm going to study for an hour. We can think about this tomorrow." Hermione said, pulling out her text books. Harry, Ron, and Ginny glanced at each other.

"I'm going up to the dorm. It's already late." Harry signed, standing and gathering up his things.

"Err…Harry?" Ginny said. Harry turned to her and raised an eyebrow, inviting her to continue. "Do you think we could, you know…do something tomorrow evening?" She blushed, and yet looked up at him hopefully.

"I'm sorry. I've got…studying to do. Sort of backed up with work, you know?"

Ginny's face drooped for a moment, but then she smiled brightly.

"Oh…all…alright then. Maybe Sunday night? I promised Luna I'd study with her on Saturday."

Harry hesitated, trying to remember if he had anything scheduled for Sunday evening. "Yeah, sure. Meet at the lake at four?"

"Okay. Sounds good," Ginny smiled warmly. "Looking forward to it."

Harry smiled back, waved goodnight, and then headed up to the dorm. He was already thinking about the note again, and who it was that would meet him the next evening.

Wandmakers Prime Targets of You-Know-Who?

By Rita Skeeter

Yesterday evening Bulgarian wandmaker Anton* Gregorivitch was found deceased in his small apartment over his shop in home. Bulgarian aurors report that there were traces of dark curses still in the house when they arrived, including the torture curse and the killing curse. Although Gregorivitch's body was free of visible spell damage, medi-wizards say that there is slight nerve damage typical of the cruciatus. The dark mark over the wandmaker's house made it clear that Gregorovitch's death was the work of You-Know-Who. Aurors have concluded that Gregorovitch was tortured and then killed by death eaters, but for what purpose? Is this attack linked to the targeting of Garrick Olivander? If so, why is You-Know-Who targeting these craftsmen? Is the murder in Bulgaria a sign that You-Know-Who intends to take on the entirety of Europe, or maybe even farther? Is anywhere safe?

For more information on Gregorovitch, see pg. 3.

For more information of the kidnapping of Garrick Olivander, see page 5.

"This isn't good." Hermione commented as she finished reading the article during breakfast.

"No joking." Ron said.

"This is serious Ronald! Why would Voldemort go after not only Ollivander, but Gregorovitch too?"

"Maybe Ollivander couldn't give him what he wanted so he went to Gregorovitch instead." Harry suggested.

"Maybe." Hermione shrugged noncommittally.

"We have to figure out how to destroy the horcruxes." Ron said quietly.

Harry nodded. "I have a feeling that we're running out of time. Voldemort is becoming more and more active – he's obviously got a plan. If we don't hurry Voldemort won't die when the time comes. He will still be ready to come back again."

At four o'clock that night Harry detached from Ron and Hermione with the excuse that he hadn't gotten a good night's sleep the previous night, and needed to take a nap. Thankfully they seemed to accept the excuse readily enough.

He pulled his invisibility cloak from his trunk and draped it over his shoulders, then cast a silencing spell on himself to keep his footsteps from being heard. He gripped the silver whistle around his neck, hoping he wouldn't need it but reassured by its presence. Ready, he turned to the door of the dorm.

He paused. What if Hermione sent Ron up to check on him? Or get him for dinner? Ron would see Harry's empty bed and panic, probably.

Harry frowned. He couldn't very well lock the door of the dorm. Too suspicious, and McGonagall would be called to unlock it again anyway. Maybe if Harry just closed the curtains around his bed? But if Ron did come up to get him for dinner, he would surely open the curtains and see that Harry was missing.

So what could Harry do?

An illusion? It was possible, though the only illusions Harry had ever heard of being done and maintained successfully were illusions cast by the likes of Dumbledore, Nicholas Flamel, and Merlin. They obviously weren't something that just any wizard could perform.

But he could try, couldn't he?

Harry focused on his magic and pushed it out of his palm, imagining it forming a picture of a sleeping Harry on top of his bed. He kept the flow of magic running – he was reasonably certain that something like what he was trying to do would require a lot of magic.

His magic came out of his hand in miniscule multi-colored sparks – colors that matched Harry's hair and skin and even his T-shirt. Harry grinned. His idea was working.

The sparks swirled and then coalesced on his bed, creating an image of Harry sleeping under his quilt, his hair slightly mussed.

Harry stopped the flow of magic from his palm and grinned, satisfied. The illusion had a slight bright green tinge to it – as all Harry's wandless magic did, it seemed – but it wasn't noticeable unless you looked closely.

It would do.

Harry closed the curtains around his bed, made sure his invisibility cloak was safely covering him up, and then turned on his heal, prepared to meet the mystery note-senders.

Harry exited the tunnel in the basement of Honeyduke's and checked his surroundings. He hadn't wanted to take the passage that led directly into the Shrieking Shack – he didn't want to walk straight into what could possibly be an ambush – so he had opted to take the passage that led into the Honeyduke's cellar.

There were the faint sounds of someone walking above, but that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

He made his way up the stairs to the main floor and opened the door a crack, peering out into the candy store. No one seemed to be in the actual shop, so he squeezed out from the door and tiptoed to the front door. He looked around as he went, noticing that the shelves were not as fully stocked as they had once been, and the once shiny, polished floor was now scuffed and dull. The display window had a crack in it too, which hadn't been repaired. The absence of Hogwarts students during Hogsmeade weekends was obviously affecting the sweet shop.

Harry exited the shop just as the backroom door in the store opened to let the owner of Honeydukes through. The man never noticed the front door softly clicking closed.

Fifteen minutes later Harry was at the fence around the Shrieking Shack. The building looked as derelict and lifeless as ever. No lights shone through the shattered windows, no footprints were in the muddy path that led up to the front door. If anyone was inside they were making a lot of effort to make sure no one could tell they were there.

Harry carefully made his own way to the door of the shack, using his magic to erase any footprints he left behind him. He knew that his power levels were a little depleted – quite a lot depleted, actually – from the illusion he had cast earlier, but he still had enough to cast a few dozen simple offensive spells and maybe even a shield before his power levels would become critically low.

He cast a silencing spell on the door and stepped over the two low creaky stairs leading up to it as he entered. He couldn't be too careful – if someone was planning to attack him he didn't want the door giving him away.

The house was quiet. Too quiet, in Harry's opinion. He paused, hoping to hear something, but all he could hear was the faint rattle of a window as the breeze pushed against it.

He walked lightly down the hall, through the living room, and into the dim kitchen. Nothing pointed towards any human presence.

Except…

A piece of parchment lay on the table. It was coated with a fine layer of dust, just like everything else, but it had been evident that whoever was here – if anyone had been or was here – went to great measures to ensure that they couldn't be discovered. What if the parchment was a note, left for him?

Harry started for it, intending to pick it up and turn it over to search for clues, but then paused. Lifting the parchment would reveal his presence. For all he knew there were death eaters under the disillusionment charm standing near the table, waiting for the parchment to be lifted and signify that their target was present.

Harry cast a wandless detection spell, knowing it would leave enough power only to cast a few stunners should the spell indeed reveal someone. But he needed to know if he was in danger.

He sighed in relief when the spell showed that the room – and the rest of the house – was empty.

Harry finally approached the kitchen table and lifted the parchment. It was blank on both sides, but then Harry felt a prick on his finger. Smirking, he smeared the blood on the parchment and watched as the blood disappeared.

The same perfect script that had been on the original note appeared in perfect straight lines. Harry frowned at its neatness, but then began to read the brief note.

"Unexpected circumstances caused us to be unable to meet with you this evening. Meet with us in two days, in the same place. If you are smart you will erase any sign that you were here, as we have done."

That was it. Harry turned the parchment over, hoping that there might be more; a clue as to who "they" were, what the "circumstances" were…anything. He brought his face close to the parchment, scrutinizing it. The parchment grew warm under his breath and wrinkled in his grip, but nothing more appeared.

The note burst into flames and disintegrated in his hands, without even burning him.

Exasperated and disappointed, Harry threw the ashes down onto the table and turned to leave. Then he remembered the note's scathing advice to cover his tracks, and held out a hand to banish the remains of the note.

And as he did, he noticed a mess of dark lines on his palm.

"You may find the passage to the Whomping Willow helpful."

Again the note was in that infuriatingly neat script, except tinier to fit on Harry's palm.

Harry growled. This person was leading him on wild goose chases! Still, if he wanted any chance at figuring out what they were up to, he should listen to the note. Not immediately, though. He'd wait for a few minutes, to let his magic build up again. Then he'd be able to cast a detection spell on the passageway in order to avoid an ambush.

Again, Harry wondered just who it was that was writing these notes. Probably a pureblood, judging from the neatly written script obviously written with a quill. That, or an extreme Ravenclaw.

Ten minutes later Harry's magical levels were about a third full, high enough that Harry felt he would be able to cast his detection spell and a few offensive curses should he run into trouble. His plan if death eaters were waiting for him was to turn the other way and get out of the shack before they even realized he'd been there. If they did detect him? He would knock down the first few with stunners while running and using whatever cover he could to get out of the shack and back to Hogsmeade.

It wasn't the safest plan, but Harry was banking on not being detected.

He slowly opened the passage that led to the Whomping Willow and cast his detection spell. The passage came up clear.

He breathed a quiet sigh of relief and entered the passage, closing the door quietly behind him. It was pitch black, so he cast a wandless lumos and began his long walk back to the Hogwarts grounds.

Then he stopped. Light was glinting off of something ahead, lodged in the packed earthen wall. He stepped closer curiously. It looked like a vial filled with….

Memories.

Was this why the note had directed him to the passageway under the Whomping Willow? Had the note-writer wanted him to find this? He couldn't think of another explanation for a vial of memories to be lodged in the wall of a secret passage.

Harry wheedled the vial from the wall, twisting it this way and that to work it loose. He didn't have to worry about the memories spilling, thank goodness; the vial was corked securely.

He finally managed to pull it free, and after a brief inspection, put it in the pocket of his robes. He'd have to ask to use the pensieve in McGonagall's office the next day.

What were they of, he wondered, and to whom did they belong?

Now a bit more excited about his evening's productivity that when he'd left the shack, Harry made his way through the tunnel quickly. He couldn't wait until he could get to the pensieve.


*I couldn't find Gregorovitch's first name, so I just named him Anton. If anyone knows for a fact (and can confirm it in an article, interview, etc.) what his first name actually is, please let me know in a review.