As he plopped the next round of beers on a wooden table in his favourite muggle pub, Sirius acknowledged wryly, if only to himself that he was stalling for time. Carefree moments of bonding with his three oldest friends came rare and far between in the last couple of decades or so. Remus, once their voice of reason, mischievous yet kind, had become a stoic warrior, James, after years of turbulence and adventure finally was settling down with a good witch and a child on the way. Sirius was the only one still unable to move past his marauder persona into fully fledged adulthood. His post-Hogwarts foray in the Aurorship was brought to an abrupt halt due to his constitutional inability to receive and follow orders. Fortunately he didn't need a steady day job to support himself. Having found himself the head of the Black family at twenty five, he had taken the mantel with gusto, reinstating his favourite cousin to the family ranks (and releasing belatedly her marriage portion). He'd even got himself a seat in Wizengamot but had embarrassingly little to show for his legislative efforts. His attempts to curb the more questionable of the Auror practices had been met with indifference verging on derision, and as for his werewolves' rights proposals, they'd provoked a shitstorm that led to even stricter regulations.
Moony might have never blamed him for the mess, but Sirius had certainly seen less of him ever since. When was the last time we frolicked under a fool moon, Sirius thought wistfully pushing the drinks to the other two. Too bloody long, that's for sure.
"OK, that's the last, or we'll be late," Remus said.
"Don't be such a killjoy, Rem", James admonished. "Don't you see, Sirius is in his brooding mode."
"You can brood all you like at the meeting," Remus shrugged.
"Any ideas why we are so suddenly summoned?"
"No. I only know it's not a full meeting. The Snapes are coming," he grimaced, "And Moody. And us."
"Hmm. Interesting grouping."
"Yeah. Snivellus likes coming over about as much as I like having him."
James frowned at the nickname, and Sirius had to make a conscious effort not to bristle. Ever since Evans had married the git, James refused to utter a single word to his disparagement. Why should the redhead's apparent lack of taste cast a shadow of their entire Hogwarts experience? Snivelly-baiting used to be a large part of their identity as marauders back then. A large part of what made them what they were. Friends, brothers, happy.
"I was wondering if you'd be up to spending the next full moon at the Manor, Rem?" Sirius said carefully. The werewolf had steadfastly refused offers of roof, board and employment – or charity – as he saw it, but he could be sometimes lured to spend a few days in the comfort of his friends' dwellings, should a suitable challenge be on the offer. "I've found one of my ancestors' journals and hoped to pick your brains to decipher it".
"I think Dumbledore has an assignment for me," Remus sipped his beer thoughtfully, "but perhaps it could wait until after the full moon."
"If it was one of your ancestors, you probably should start with de-cursing, rather than deciphering," James observed.
"Hey, he was likely your ancestor as well!"
"Feel free to use my curse-breaking expertise."
"Perhaps you could join us this full moon? Sort of like a belated stag-party," Sirius smirked. James young wife was adamant when it came to stag-parties. As far as she was concerned, it was a barbaric tradition, and one she'd flat-out forbade her then fiancé to follow.
"Not, if you put it like that," James smirked in return, and Sirius's heart constricted. It was pathetic, he knew, at the age of forty to seek in this seasoned adventurer with salt and pepper once unruly mane, now ruthlessly cut to near buzz, the flashes of the boy he befriended at Hogwarts. His best friend had survived what he once himself had deemed unsurvivable – the love of his life final rejection – and had reinvented himself in his new fascinating adult life. He even seemed to have found a new – and gorgeous – woman to love and spend the rest of his life with. Everyone seemed to have moved on, everyone, but Sirius. He did not desired his best friend with the same hopeless intensity he had twenty years ago, hadn't drunk himself into stupor to dull the jealous rage over the exquisite part-Veela, as he had long ago over the plucky redhead. He was past that adolescent drama, truly happy for James… It's just that he seemed to be unable to move on with his own life for some reason. None of his casual romantic liaisons seemed to matter to him even half as much as his friendships, even when all communication with James had been through infrequent owls. Merlin, he'd lived for those owls! His happiest moment in years was when James had told him about Fleur's pregnancy and asked Sirius to be the kid's godfather. He'd nearly wept then. It meant that he would have a permanent place in James's life. That James wanted him in his life. He'd vowed to himself then and there to overlook Fleur's less endearing qualities and to never give her a reason to resent him. And so far he'd stuck to his vow. Speaking of which, he probably shouldn't risk her wrath by inviting James to the night-time larking about with a werewolf…
"You are in an especially brooding humour today, Padfood," James observed. "Men trouble? Women?"
"Neither. Just wonder what Dumbledore has got up his sleeve."
"Let's go and find out," James said rising from the bench.
Sirius looked about him with distaste. Truth to be told, for all his past rebelliousness he rather liked being lord of the manor. He still hated his childhood home though. He would have sold it, if it weren't for its convenience as the Order headquarters.
They usually met in the library. Sirius had moved all the portraits to the manor to ensure confidentiality. The house was probably best protected in Britain, he mused, since to all the wards and safeguards that generations of usually paranoid Blacks had put on it, Dumbledore had insisted to add the Fidelius Charm. Protected by the soul of the most powerful wizard on earth they were. Surely a comfortable thought. Even his own elves were denied an access to the building! He'd have to pick up some muggle snacks to play host. Thank Merlin, the cellars were still full to the brink with the best fire-whiskey and wine.
As Sirius arranged an impressive array of bottles on the side-board, he heard an odd whooshing sound. Whirling around he saw an intruder that appeared right in the middle of the room. Intruder?! Impossible. He was young and looked like James. Like a ghost of the James from their wild carefree marauder past. For one frozen moment all four men stood still, Sirius holding a bottle of the Ogden's Finest, Remus looking up from some fusty tome, and James frozen in the act of unwrapping some muggle delicacy. Then the boy's? young man's? eyes widened, as though it was him, not Sirius seeing a ghost, and he whispered "Sirius," in a voice full of unidentifiable emotions. Before any of them could react, the intruder's eyes shifted towards the other two, and his expression changed from wonder to fury. With a movement so fast, Sirius could barely register it; James's look-alike whipped out his wand and disarmed his doppelganger.
That had the effect of rousing the other two out of their stupor, but the boy seemed to have no trouble blocking their volley of curses. James recklessly tried to tackle the intruder without a wand, but was thrown nearly five feet by an expert Impediata, even as the boy blocked Sirius's stunner, and sidestepped Remus's body-bind.
"Send a Patronus," James called desperately. "They'll be here any moment now!"
The boy's emerald eyes narrowed at this, and he intensified the attacks sending, Sirius noted, non-verbal curses with James's wand as well, as with his own. Sirius had to admit that the level of skill and power behind the spells were unnerving. And to add insult to injury James's wand seemed to work just fine for the boy. As Sirius tried to signal Remus to cover him so that he could send a Patronus, the intruder used the slight diversion to finally hit the werewolf with a stunner. Confused and enraged past reason Sirius swiftly retaliated by aiming one of nastier curses in his repertoire at the boy. Only to watch helplessly as it glanced off the intruder's formidable shield and careened right at Lily Snape as she entered the library, her husband holding the door for her courteously.
Three desperate "No!" rang in the Black library, on of them, Sirius was stunned to realise belonged to the intruder. Before anyone could do anything, James's look-alike who was closest to Lily thrown himself bodily between the redhead and Sirius's curse. Next moment he was a helpless heap on the library floor, his paralysed body convulsing in what Sirius knew must have been extremely painful tremors.
Next few minutes ranked among the most uncomfortable in Sirius's life. Which was saying something. Dumbledore arriving with Moody in tow mere seconds after the fray listened to their jumbled reports and after a few moments of deliberation left again promising to come back presently. None of them knew what to think of that. The whole episode shouldn't have been possible, not with Dumbledore as their keeper. Sirius couldn't remember the last time when he was this unnerved. Perhaps soon after Lily's marriage, when James announced that he'd accepted the offer from Gringott's and would be leaving for Mexico? Sirius's universe had lost its anchor that day. Still he could see his friend's rationale. This though… It was just incomprehensible.
"Sirius," Lily called out. "Stop hurting him. Whoever he might be, we are not Death Eaters."
"Fine," he muttered a counter-curse, even as Remus cast Incarcerus. The boy did not utter a sound, his face an impassive mask, his emerald eyes hooded. Emerald eyes? Sirius looked sideways at James. His friend looked as stunned as he felt. That boy, the intruder, he was an image of James and had Lily's eyes. Sirius glanced at Snape. The git must have seen it too, since he looked like he was going to be sick. Suddenly the Slytherin's face contorted with fury. He whipped out his wand and cast a series of spells that should have exposed a glamour or any other disguise.
"Look at me", he snarled nearly jamming his wand into the boy's eye. "legilimens!"
But the intruder squeezed his eyes shut, and judging by his expertly blanked expression drew up his mental shields as well.
"Butt out," he muttered, "I am not fifteen anymore."
Before anyone could react, Dumbledore re-entered the scene holding a couple of silver instruments Sirius had seen in his office as a boy.
"Good day," the Headmaster said cheerfully, "I see that you are conscious again. Would you mind introducing yourself?"
"You mean you don't know whose house you've invaded?" the boy countered.
"I don't remember selling you my house, so answer the question," Sirius put in.
"Seems like we can't agree on the basics," the intruder observed noncommittally. "Not much point in observing niceties then."
"Oh, I disagree," Dumbledore said lightly. "Good manners are never amiss, I find."
"You are currently holding me prisoner under my own roof," the boy observed. "Surely, it counts a breach of propriety."
"It would be, if it were your roof," Sirius snarled.
The boy looked thoughtfully around the room.
"Fine," he said, "let's play it by your rules. My name is Harry Potter," he looked expectantly at Dumbledore. "Satisfied?"
"What do you think you are playing at?!" James demanded furiously. "Are you supposed to be my by-blow or a long-lost cousin?"
"I am no one's by-blow!" the boy looked equally furious. "My parents," he added with an odd inflection, "were married."
"Good, good," Dumbledore interjected before James could fire back an angry retort. "There is simple test that could establish your credentials.
"Yeah? What does it involve?" the boy inquired suspiciously. "I'd point out that you are the obvious impostors here, but since you hold me at disadvantage…"
Dumbledore ignored the insinuation.
"This," he held out an unprepossessing silver mirror is one of my old friend's inventions. He called it the 'Stammspiegel'. If you smear a drop of your blood on it, it'll show you what your parents looked like."
The boy's expression hardened into a mask once again.
"If you want my blood you'll have to take it by force," he sneered. "I won't make it easy for you."
Dumbledore glanced at him with something akin to approval.
"I don't mind doing things the hard way," Moody interjected impatiently. He swiftly whipped out his wand, and a fraction of a second later there was a gush on 'Harry's' cheek, his blood welling and trickling down at his muggle t-shirt.
"Alistair," Dumbledore called out admonitory. "We don't need quite so much," he commented apologetically as he smeared some of the blood on the mirror and closed the wound.
Immediately there flickered some images. Sirius was too far to see what they were, but he saw that Harry went pale and James, who had come closer to watch looked positively green.
"What is it?" Snape snapped.
Wordlessly James passed the mirror to Lily.
"Well, it must be malfunctioning," she said confidently. "I would have remembered having a child… right out of Hogwarts, by the look of him. Heck, quite a few other people would have remembered!"
Snape seemed to have gathered his wits.
"This is an utter impossibility, Dumbledore," he said coldly.
"'Impossible' is such a strong word, Severus," the headmaster said calmly. "Your wife obviously did not give birth to this young man. But another Lily Evans in another world did. Or, Lily Potter, I should probably say."
The silence following this statement was deafening.
"So you are saying what, that I somehow got sucked into the Star Track universe?" 'Harry' asked derisively.
"Not sure what you mean by the 'Star Track', my boy, Dumbledore shrugged, but you certainly seemed to have stepped into a world that is not your own."
"One where Lily Evans is married to Severus Snape?" Harry asked without inflection.
"Huh. That's as good explanation, as any I suppose." The boy said into the stunned silence in the library. "Can I have my wand back, please?"
"Hmm," Dumbledore looked unconvinced by his sudden complacence. "Are you satisfied with my explanation then?"
"Satisfied with an explanation you've purloined from some muggle sci-fi? Not bloody likely," 'Harry' sneered.
"In that case I have to reluctantly postpone returning your wand. I am told you are a formidable dueller."
"Not as formidable as you, if you are indeed Albus Dumbledore," the boy pointed out with a smirk.
"That's kind of you to say so," the headmaster chuckled. "But I'd rather not put it to the test. My reflexes aren't what they used to be, alas. Since you seem to know us all, or shall I say, our counterparts, perhaps you could think of something that would confirm to you our identity?"
"What, like asking you what flavour of jam you prefer?"
"It's raspberry," the headmaster supplied helpfully.
"Isn't it just," 'Harry' snorted. "What does the second instrument do?" he asked after a pause.
"Nicolas Flamel brought it from India and gave it to me some seventy years ago. It can purportedly register magical disturbances when the passages between different worlds are created. He himself was rather sceptical about both the instrument itself and the possibility of such passages. However, as you can see, the antennae are entwined now. I have never witnessed the phenomenon in the decades of monitoring the device."
'Harry' stared at the fragile silver wires with expression of some intense concentration.
"Fine," he said eventually. "Dumbledore I knew had a phoenix." He looked at the headmaster expectantly.
For a moment it seemed that the old man was going to ignore the request. Than suddenly there was a blaze of fire, and a splendid red and gold phoenix appeared in the library momentarily making the habitually glum looking room cheerfully and brightly lit.
"Fawkes!..." there was some unidentifiable emotion in the boy's voice, and he leaned forward seemingly wanting to reach out, but still constrained by the ropes from Remus's hex. The phoenix swooped at him and plopped right at his lap, giving out a soul-rendingly beautiful note. Suddenly two large tears were sliding from the boy's and the bird's eyes each, mingling as they dropped on his lap. They hissed, boiled, and then flames erupted engulfing them both. Lily cried out, Dumbledore jumped on his feet, but the fire was out almost at once. And then it was revealed, that 'Harry' was free from his restraints.
"Well," he said in a somewhat unsteady voice, "it seems that Fawkes vouched for both of us."
"So it does." Sirius fancied that the unflappable warlock seemed for once quite unnerved himself. "It appears, today is one for miracles," he murmured.
Without his stoic mask Harry looked younger and somehow lost.
"Do you have an idea how I come to be here, Professor?" he implored absently petting Fawkes, who, Sirius noted, had yet to leave the boy.
"I am afraid, I don't know, Harry," Dumbledore said. He was watching Fawkes frowningly. "Until today I was by no means certain that such things were possible."
"Oh," Harry ran his hand through his hair in a thoroughly James-like gesture. "Do you think you could, er, look into it?"
"Of course, I shall," Dumbledore assured.
"Thank you." Harry bit his lip worriedly and sneaked a look at Sirius for some reason.
"I, er, suppose there is Leaky Cauldron in your world as well? I could bunk there for the time being. When, I mean, if you find something—"
"Don't be ridiculous," James seemingly regained his wits. "You can't stay there. It's too exposed, and we don't even know who'd summoned you here, and why. If the death eaters are involved, you'd be an easy target."
Right. Easy. Sirius scoffed mentally. The kid nearly routed the three of them, which was saying quite a bit.
"Wait," Harry interrupted his musing. "Death Eaters? Are you saying that Voldemort is alive here?"
"Are you saying he snuffed it in your world?" Sirius countered marvelling that one so young was even willing to say the bastard's name aloud.
"Yes," was the curt answer. Then after a pause, "Headmaster, I happen to know quite a bit about my Voldemort's downfall. Some of what I know might be of use to you, I believe. I understand that you not really know me, and have no reason to trust me, so I'm prepared to take an Unbreakable Vow. In exchange you yourself vow to help me to get back home."
"That's too risky," Lily said frowningly.
"And borderline illegal," Moody grumbled.
"What's that, some Auror-speak?" Harry retorted. "Things either legal or not, aren't they?"
"Indeed, they are," Dumbledore stroked his beard pensively. "Very well, I accept." Immediately Fawkes let out another thrilling note and flew to sit on his wizard's shoulder.
"Well, Fawkes's approval clinches the matter," Dumbledore smiled to Lily reassuringly. Beside her Snape seemed to assume blank mask expression that was initially Harry's speciality.
"Well," Dumbledore announced, "there is no time like present. Harry, if you would…" he handed the boy his wand.
"Thank you," Harry stood up and after a moment's hesitation kneeled before the headmaster. "Perhaps Auror Moody will be our bonder?" He carefully avoided looking at the rest of the group.
Dumbledore kneeled in front of the boy. Sirius felt goosebumps down his neck as James's would be child faced the most powerful wizard as an equal.
"What's you middle name?" Dumbledore inquired.
"James," Harry looked right at the headmaster.
"Do you, Harry James Potter, swear to disclose truthfully to me any information that might in your estimation help the Order of the Phoenix to defeat and kill Lord Voldemort?"
"I swear." Two serpentine bonds erupted from both of their wands and were immediately entwined by Moody.
"Do you, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore," Harry intoned, "swear to help me to return to my world and to make the relevant research a priority as much as your other duties allow?"
"I swear", the serpentine bonds erupted and were entwined once again.
"A very temperate wording, Harry," Dumbledore stood up with somewhat astonishing agility.
"You'd be no use to me dead," Harry shrugged.
"Indeed. Well, my first duty concern Lord Voldemort. Shall we?"
"Before we start, I have a question of my own."
"You are in no position to make terms, boy," Moody grumbled.
"My vow only binds me to the headmaster," Harry countered, "I don't remember making any vows to anyone else."
"What do you wish to know?" Dumbledore asked.
"Are you still friends with Pettigrew?" For the first time Harry tuned directly to James.
"Pettigrew's dead," James answered curtly.
"Are you sure?" Harry frowned, "Did you see the body?"
"Quite sure," Remus put in, "I killed him myself."
Harry looked momentarily stunned then nodded.
"Ok then. Do you mind, if had some of these?" he nodded at the snacks on trays. "Duelling's hard work," he smirked.
Soon they were mooching on muggle pastries and sipped Ogden's finest while listening to a chilling tale of a madman who dabbled into the magic that no one has ever dabbled into to quite such degree.
Having grown up a Black, Sirius was no stranger to Dark magic, but the idea of splitting one's soul, much less repeatedly, was beyond his comprehension.
"And you know were those Horcruxes are, Mr. Potter," Snape asked still wearing the blank expression.
"I know where they were in my world. But even if they mostly the same here, some of them would be hidden differently," the boy said somewhat cryptically. He then rang out what seemed to a list of magical antiquities: a ring, a cup, a diadem, and a locket. To which he added somewhat incongruously a muggle diary and a snake.
"Why would he use a snake?" Lily frowned. "What's the point of creating a Horcrux with a limited lifespan?"
"He'd already had objects that would function solely as his soul anchors. With the diary and the snake he pushed the magical diaries even further. He could use the snake while possessing her, using the soul connection. And the diary had a memory of his teen-aged self embedded in it and possessed its own agency," Harry explained.
Lily shivered. "And you know where to look for these objects?"
"In my world he placed the heaviest safe-guards on the locket. "I could try to guide you to the cave where it was," Harry hesitated, "but it's a tricky proposition. The safeguards are very strong and elaborate. The diadem should be the easiest, if it's the same. He'd hidden it in Hogwarts… when he came to a job interview," Harry looked at Dumbledore inquiringly.
"I am afraid I refused his application without an interview," Dumbledore sighed. "It seemed like the wisest option back then.
"Oh," Harry looked dashed, then frowned. "It might still be in Albania…It's where Helena Ravenclaw hid it," he explained seeing Dumbledore's raised eyebrow. "He wheedle the secret out of her when he was still a student. And he seemed to have fled to Albania after his first downfall."
"First downfall?" Moody asked sharply.
"Um, yes. There was a prophesy he stupidly tried to forestall and it backfired… I don't suppose it applies in your world?.." He glanced at Dumbledore for elucidation.
"I have never heard of such Prophesy," the headmaster said. "Of course, it doesn't mean that it hadn't been made," he looked at Harry expectantly.
"It was made to you in my world," the boy said curtly, "so it doesn't apply here."
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow, but let it pass.
"What of the others," he asked.
"Well, the diary and the cup were given to Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange respectively—"
"So Bella married Lestrange in your world?" Sirius interrupted.
"Yes. Is she married here?"
"No. She was betrothed to Rodolphus, but got landed in Azkaban before the nuptials."
"And she is still there?" Harry asked somewhat incredulously.
"It is impossible to break out of there, you know."
Harry looked at him strangely. "More impossible than travel between the worlds or less, in your estimation," he snorted. "In my world Voldemort got his henchmen out of the fortress".
"Well, he didn't seem to bother here."
Harry looked at him thoughtfully. "You are the head of the Black family, right? Is your brother alive?"
"No, he was a Death Eater, and was killed in a skirmish," Moody supplied.
"Mmm. Anyway, as the head of the family, can you get an access to her vault? Legally, I mean. In my world the cup was in the Lestranges' vault."
"So how'd you guys get your hands on it?"
"We broke into Gringott's," Harry smirked.
"Get out!" James snorted. "It's even more impossible than breaking out of Azkaban."
"I'd be lying dead, if I lied, wouldn't I?" Harry pointed out. "We had help from one of the goblins. Except the bastard went back on his bargain as soon as we got the cup. Well, maybe from his point of view he fulfilled it to the letter, but he still screwed with us… Anyway, it's neither here, nor there…"
James listened enraptured.
"I so would like to hear that tale," he said.
"Perhaps, some other time," Dumbledore intervened. He glanced at Remus who was taking notes. "We'll have to look at the legal precedent. Technically Wizengamot has no authority over Gringott's…"
"Who will inherit, if Bellatrix died?" Harry asked.
"Are you suggesting that I should kill my cousin to get to her vault?" Sirius asked bluntly.
"I could cheerfully kill the Bellatrix I knew," Harry shrugged. "But what I mean is that her most likely legatee is Narcissa. If she inherits, you guys would be in an even worse shape… I bet there are no legal pretexts to get to the Malfoy vault…"
"Hmm… Narcissa and Lucius are estranged…"
"They are?..." Harry seemed almost comically thrown by that. "What about Draco?"
"He is a good little Death Eater, I suppose," Sirius shrugged.
"Not that we've been able to catch him at it," Moody grumbled.
"Ok, moving on. I have no clue where he kept the diary. In my world he foolishly tried to use it for his own ends. He didn't really know what it was, you see, and it was at the time when Voldemort was temporary out of commission… He paid for that when his master returned… I assume he still plays faithful keeper since Lord Voldemort has never been vanquished.
"So we'll need the Malfoy vault anyway," Sirius concluded.
"I dunno… He wasn't that keen to keep dark artefacts in his vault for some reason…" Harry flashed a mischievous reminiscent grin, and Sirius's heart mad a flip-flop. He looked so like James just then…and yet, he wasn't. Others, he saw, were watching Harry in fascination. Suddenly Harry seemed to have a thought that made him instantly sober.
"Do you know, if the Malfoys have an elf named Dobby?" he asked Sirius with odd urgency.
"Haven't the foggiest," he shrugged. "Why?"
"Just…he might help. And I might help him…He was a friend," Harry explained to his bewildered audience. "He helped me numerous times, though on occasion a tad misguidedly," the reminiscent grin made reappearance. "I tricked Lucius in freeing him. He saved my life at the expense of his own. I'd really like to help him here if I could. He hates the Malfoys, you see. Well, in my world he did. He wanted to be free, to get paid for his work. He was special…"
"Sounds like a weirdo," Moody commented. "Still, he can't betray his masters…"
"You'd be surprised what elves can do when they put their energy to it," Harry said grimly. "Where is Kreacher, by the way?" he asked Sirius.
"At the manor. Dumbledore here insisted that there would be no elves at the headquarters."
"Manor?" Harry looked momentarily confused, and then shrugged. "Well, that's good, he can be dangerous."
"If you say so."
"Oh, I do," Harry assured him grimly. "In my world he found a way to betray my godfather."
There was another of those eloquent silences as they digested that last bit of information.
"Anyway," Harry pursued. "The ring. In my world it was the first of Voldemort's Horcruxes. He was still a student when he visited his muggle family, killed them off, and framed his wizarding uncle for their murder. He then took his uncle's ring and made it in a Horcrux. He later hid it somewhere in his ancestral hovel. I don't know where exactly," Harry said apologetically as they listened in stunned silence. "It was one that Dumbledore in my world found and destroyed all by himself. He also got fatally injured in the process, so I suggest you take someone with you, Sir," he added.
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows.
"So that that someone would get cursed instead?"
"You are probably the most vulnerable to that particular curse," Harry said cryptically.
Dumbledore frowned then looked at the boy intently. Suddenly he was physically pushed back with a force of non-verbal Protego. Once again Harry managed to draw his wand ahead of everyone else. Immediately they were all on their feet pointing at the boy.
"It's all right," Dumbledore came back to the table and sat placidly. "Very effective, my boy, if unsubtle."
"I don't deal in subtlety," Harry retorted furiously. "I am already sworn to tell you the truth; you have no business, to break into my head like this!"
"My apologies," Dumbledore said calmly. "However you only say what you believe to be the truth, Harry. I find it hard to accept that I may be more susceptible to some cursed heirloom that anyone else in this room. Forgive my arrogance."
"That depends on an heirloom, Professor. This one came to the Gaunt family through the Peverells," Harry said with an odd emphasis.
"I see," Dumbledore leaned back suddenly looking a hundred years older. "It seems I was indeed guilty of arrogance. I would be most grateful, if you accompany me to the Lord Voldemort's 'ancestral hovel'."
"Sure," Harry nodded.
"Wait a moment," James called out. "It's not even his fight, why should he stick his neck out? I spent decades de-cursing magical objects; if anyone should go it should be me."
A tedious argument ensured, and the decision reached was that Dumbledore would go with both Potters and Sirius. Sirius's inclusion had an effect of finally rousing Snape out of his funk long enough to fling a few sarcastic comments about the arrangement.
"What about the snake?" Lily asked (probably to forestall Sirius's retaliation).
"Voldemort mostly keeps it close. When he doesn't sends it for an assignment, that is."
"So we need to focus on the artefacts first?"
"That's what we did."
"Are you an Order member then?"
"Mm-hm… I was mostly underage during the war. The final battle was a couple of months before my eighteenth's birthday."
"Then why does it seem that you've been in the thick of it?"
"I dunno about your Voldemort, but ours wasn't that bothered about things like age limit," Harry shrugged. "I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Repeatedly."
Lily shook her head.
"If you say so."
Harry said nothing.
"I am still curious about the Prophesy," Moody said.
"And I still say it doesn't apply."
Dumbledore silenced Moody with a look.
"Let's formulate the immediate plans," he said.