AN: Sorry. I'm guessing you can work out what the problem was? That's right, computer troubles. This chapter is entirely unbetad at the moment
Disclaimer: I own nothing but my ideas and interpretation.
Harry trudged into Professor Dumbledore's office feeling absolutely exhausted. He was followed by a concerned looking Remus and a frustrated Bill Weasley. They were all soaked to the bone from the sea spray despite the charms on their cloaks and robes, which certainly wasn't helping matters. Harry had the sneaking suspicion he was going to need a pepper-up potion to avoid catching a cold.
"Well that was a waste of time," said Bill, sagging into an armchair as Dumbledore began handing out the hot cups of tea sitting on a tray on his desk.
"I don't believe that's the case at all," replied the professor as he passed the sugar over the table to Harry. "We know that cave does not currently contain a horcrux thanks to Harry but we do know that the defences are still up, which implies that Voldemort does not. That in and of itself is useful information."
Bill's snort told everyone in the room what he thought of that, but at this point no-one else seemed inclined to say anything further. Harry couldn't blame Bill for his bad mood really. He'd had to pull a lot of strings at Gringotts to get the free time. No horcrux at the end of it certainly smarted.
Personally Harry wasn't feeling too crash hot at the moment himself. In fact he hurt like hell. He glanced up at Professor Dumbledore who thankfully picked up on what he was thinking and stood. "I believe I'd better take Harry here down to see Madam Pomphrey. He's been through more than the rest of us and I wouldn't want him taking ill."
Remus stood to offer but Dumbledore brushed him off. "Rest Remus. I hardly think Harry wants you under the weather as well. Come on, we'll take a short cut."
Harry heard mutterings from Remus about knowing his own short cuts but they were already out the door, down the stairs and past the gargoyle before anyone could react. Albus smiled at Harry ruefully. "Poppy is not going to be pleased with us, I'm afraid. Lucky for you that I'm the responsible adult here. Most of her anger for you not coming to her directly will be aimed at me."
Harry smirked a little at that before a thought popped into his head. "How come you're fine?" he asked. "You're a lot-"
"Older than the others?" finished the Professor for him, smiling. "One of the greatest benefits of plenty practise is the ability to radiate heat when required. Actually I came across the talent quite by accident. It might have contributed to my curtains catching fire."
"Didn't you ever notice those burn marks in Gryffindor Tower?"
Harry shook his head, smiling. "I still don't believe you. You know everything that goes on in this school. Someone else could have done that."
"Is it so hard to imagine I too was young once?" Albus raised his eyebrow at Harry's expression before giving it up as a bad job. "I suppose it might be," he said, snorting in amusement. "I am after all very old."
Harry gave a non-committal noise, which elicited another snort. They walked on in silence for a while longer before a thought popped into his head. "So Professor, what do you do when you're not horcrux hunting or running the school?"
"A great many things. Research, politics, a number of other things." Dumbledore was being deliberately vague, Harry could tell, but he didn't comment on it. "At the moment I've been working on slipping a number of changes through the Wizengamot while no-ones looking. All small things which add up to bigger things and are extremely hard to reverse."
"Such as?" Harry knew Dumbledore was redirecting him onto topics he was willing to talk about, but was intrigued in spite of himself.
"Well, we've managed to effectively remove most of the restrictions on werewolves for example," stated Albus, entirely conversationally. "It's all been woven through so many other acts and legal documents that no-one could remove it without having to rewrite every last one."
"Is no longer prohibited from seeing you officially," said Albus, his eyes twinkling. "No-one could harm him legally for it any-more at any rate. We've also been making massive headway with the vampires thanks to your boarder Sanguini."
"I didn't know that," said Harry, surprised. "Then again I don't know much about Sanguini. I rarely ever even see him."
"Poor man spends most of his time caring for Alison," said Dumbledore sadly. "Won't let himself accept that her mind is gone."
Harry felt a little sick. "I- I'm sorry to hear that sir."
"So am I. Sanguini's cut himself off from anything personal. He doesn't take kindly to people trying to draw him out." The old man sighed before gesturing them onwards, through a corridor that Harry had never seen before. "Here we are Harry. I release you into the care of Madam Pomfrey. Good luck."
Harry looked around in surprise to find himself at the door of the Hospital Wing which wasn't possible. There had still been a few floors between them. He turned back to Dumbledore to see the hem of the old man's robes swishing around the corner.
"Cheeky bastard always did like doing that," came an unfamiliar voice from behind him, making him jump. Harry turned around and found himself looking at a face like a mass of ground beef. It took him a moment before he even noticed the eyes were mismatched; one dark, the other an alarming shade of blue. There was just so many scars . It even looked like a chunk of his nose was missing.
The man surveyed him critically for a moment before opening his gash of a mouth "You should be more careful, it won't do to be easily snuck up on. Constant Vigilance and all that."
"Who the hell are you?" The words slipped out of Harry's mouth without him thinking about manners. The man was just so alarming.
"I'm your new defence professor," said the man, grinning evilly at the look of trepidation on Harry's face. "Is that really so alarming, boy?"
"Yes actually." Harry was a little amazed at himself. The filter between his brain and mouth seemed to have stopped working and he didn't like it. He probed his mental defences, such as they were and found nothing, no hole, no foreign presence. Huh. Maybe he was just disarmed by the man having a face like broken leather. Harry looked a little closer without thinking. Had someone tried to give the man a glasgow grin at some point?
"Mr Potter!" Harry snapped out of the daze at the sound of Madam Pomfrey's voice. He should have just walked straight in. Now she was- "Why didn't you come to me immediately? And why are you just standing there? Get in and find a bed before you fall down!"
Yes, she was definitely going to take it out of his hide. And Dumbledore had disappeared, leaving him as the one to take the full force of her anger. Damn. "Yes Madam Pomfrey," he said, moving towards the nearest bed as fast as he could. He heard a snigger from the door and the sound of someone clumping away. "Madam Pomfrey, who is that man?"
"The new Defence Professor?" the mediwitch asked as she hustled over to a cabinet and started retrieving vials of potions she was going to force him to drink. "He's Alastor Moody, an ex-auror." She gave an angry sniff as she walked over and placed the vials on his bedside table.. "He'd better not traumatise anyone or there'll be hell to pay."
Harry wanted to ask what she had meant but suddenly found that he was having potions poured down his throat and had to try not to gag. "I can drink my own potions Madam Pomfrey," he sputtered as she reached for the next potion.
The woman gave him a hard look but walked off, leaving him alone. Harry knocked down the other vials as quickly as possible and lay back, feeling himself becoming drowsy. Those potions must have been designed to only interact after he'd taken all of them. It had been a long day and there hadn't been much success but Harry couldn't let that get to him. He just needed to rest. Sleep would be good. Plus Madam Pomfrey would probably cool off by the time he was awake. That'd be nice.
"Come on Nymphadora, sit down here," said her mum dragging out a chair at the kitchen table and forcefully placing Tonks into it. She suppressed a grin as she watched her mum began flitting around the kitchen. She'd been practically frogmarched through the house from the front door.
It was good to be home after so many weeks. She had her own apartment of course, but somehow the fact that she basically only used it for sleeping had hampered its ability to become home at all. It was a little sad. Sometimes Tonks wished she could just stay with her parents and apparate into work, but that would raise unpleasant problems if an enemy ever came for her at 'home'. She didn't want Mum and Dad in any more danger than they already were.
Part of her wanted to bring up the name thing again, but she knew that would never sink in. Plus a larger part of Tonks was busy enjoying being doted on and the sudden appearance of so much food in front of her was just heaven.
"So how has work been treating you?" asked Mum when she finally sat down across from her. "I haven't seen you in weeks. I think they work you too hard, you know."
Tonks did know, she was always saying it, but chose not to mention it. "Good mum, real good. We've just had our work cut out processing everyone caught in that raid. Half of them have been selling their contacts out. It helps that they're all trying to stay out of jail for drawing on aurors."
"I'm not happy about you taking that sort of risk Nymphadora," said Mum, giving her a pointed look and pushing a plate of sandwiches across the table to her. "I heard you burst through the door just so they all would draw on you."
Tonks felt like squirming, so quickly grabbed a sandwich to cover her nervousness. "Where's Dad?" she asked, wincing at how ham-fisted that redirection sounded.
"You did, didn't you?" Mum said slowly, her face switching rapidly from concerned to livid.
"I had plenty of backup," replied Tonks nervously. "We'd timed it perfectly. Honestly, operations like that are safer than regular work. Everyone's prepared. I mean, you're in far more danger from being unprepared when a regular person attacks you than a-"
Tonks felt like shrinking into her chair but realised shehadto stand herground on this. "I knew what I was getting into when I signed onto become an auror. We needed those charges if we want to have any chance of finding out about Death Eater activity. They've always had close ties with the underworld. We might not have got exactly who we were after but it was important."
Tonks watched her mum sigh and deflate slightly. "I know, I know. I'm sorry but it's just that your my only child Nymphadora. I couldn't stand to lose you."
Tonks watched as her mum picked up a sandwich from a plate and began idly picking at it. "You know when married your father I was hoping for lots of children. I thought maybe him being muggleborn might help." She looked up at her, smiling affectionately. "Not that I'm ungrateful for you of course. You're strong and confident and wonderful, even if you did inherit my balance. I just hoped you'd have grow up with brothers and sisters, that's all."
"I'll be careful Mum, you know that," replied Tonks. a little alarmed at how serious the conversation had gotten. "I promise I won't do anything needlessly dangerous or stupid. You know that, right?"
"I know," said Mum, smiling slightly.
They sat in silence for a moment, watching one another. Tonks supposed that neither of them had really expected a catch-up lunch to go so serious so quickly. It probably showed how stressed everyone was really, underneath all the normality. "So," Tonks began, hoping to feel her way back onto more comfortable territory. "What are we going to do during my first afternoon off in weeks?"
"You want me to bring you the skeleton of the Dark Lord's father?" Bellatrix sounded overjoyed, probably expecting it to be a dangerous assignment.
Quirrell seriously doubted that, but he wasn't about to tell her. In facta large amount of the reason he'd selected her for this was to get her out from underneath his feet, not to say he didn't actually need it done.
"Indeed. The ritual we intend to use will work best if we have the bones of a close relative. The more you can recover the better. It is a shame there is no flesh left really," he mused, drifting back to his notes.
"In fact, it would be sensible to locate Merope Gaunt's grave as well." A twinge of something ran through him from deep within his subconscious. "No, wait. Locate her but do not disturb her grave." That would feel wrong somehow, even if Quirrell didn't exactly understand why.
"At once my lord." Bellatix sounded almost reverential, which was very unsettling. He must be sounding more like her master than ever if he was having this effect on her.
"Leave as soon as possible," he commanded, after attempting to shrug off the odd feeling. "And send your brother-in-law in will you?" He sat back in his chair as she left and sighed. Rita was right; something was definitely wrong with him and he was certain it had to do with Voldemort. At least they finally had a ritual which could remove him. They even had a plan to prevent Voldemort from ever harming them. All they needed now was the components.
Quirrell looked up the thin man standing in the doorway and felt his mask quickly slipping back into place. "Ah, Rabastan, do come in."
He watched as the nervous man walked over to stand in front of his desk and smiled slightly. Rabastan was a little more interesting than the other fanatics following Voldemort's cause. He seemed more reserved, less hateful and somehow slightly more intelligent. Quirrell sometimes wondered whether he would have been a Death Eater at all if his family hadn't thrown their lot in behind Voldemort.
"Anything you need sir?" Rabastan asked, pointedly looking at his feet.
"I have need of a certain pair of unicorn foals," said Quirrell, leaning back and steepling his fingers. "You remember the twins mentioned in that article in last week's Looking Glass? A male and female, a very unusual birth."
"What do you need them for sir?" asked Rabastan, a hint of trepidation creeping into his voice.
"Why the ritual of course. Their birth was quite a blessing for us. Without them we would have been forced to find other, less efficient components." He frowned as he saw a flicker of disgust cross Rabastan's face. That was worrying, but could not be helped.
"They will be heavily guarded," said Rabastan carefully. "The Black Forest will be swarming with rangers on the look of for poachers like us."
"Indeed," said Quirrell. "That is why I selected you for this mission. Some of the new recruits will mount a diversionary raid into the forest, which should allow you to slip past and capture the foals."
"Capture?" Rabastan's voice raised in alarm and a hint of anger. "And how exactly am I meant to smuggle two unconscious foals out of the Black Forest while it's swarming with Rangers and Aurors too, once they hear of this diversionary raid?"
"I shall leave such details to you," said Quirrell easily. "Take as many men as you think you will require. Include some as cannon fodder if you wish. I trust your judgement in the matter."
Rabastan carefully schooled his face, removing the trace of anger that had flashed across it for a moment. "Yes sir," he said in a flat voice, dipping his head in a sort of half bow. "When shall I start?"
"Spend the rest of today preparing your troops, then leave in the morning. Poachers usually operate at night. We shall be catching them unawares."
"Very well sir."
Quirrell watched the man leave with a hint of concern. Rabastan might be a risk, but he needed those foals. If all went well, he and Rita would soon be rid of Voldemort for good.
If all went well.