lundi 11 février 2008

chapter 4

point forward, we keep this information amongst ourselves. Are we
clear?" he asked, staring hard at Hermione.

They all nodded and looked at him expectantly. He noticed that Ron
still looked disgruntled, while Ginny appeared triumphant, and Hermione
merely looked satisfied, as if her plan had come together in the end.
Harry had to bite back a smile. They really were the best friends he
could have ever wanted.

Taking a deep breath, he said, "So, we need to go after the Horcruxes
before I can face Voldemort. The problem is, I really have no idea
where to begin. Professor Dumbledore showed me all those memories from
Riddle’s past, and he thought the clues were hidden in them."

"Why do you have to be the one to face Voldemort?" Ginny asked, her
eyes wide. It was as if now that she’d finally been accepted into their
confidence, the reality was frightening her.

Harry glanced sharply at Hermione

"I told her about the Horcruxes because I needed some help with the
research materials, and I thought you could use some moral support. I
didn’t tell her about the prophecy. I thought you should do that,"
Hermione said, giving Harry a weak smile.

"The Chosen One," Ginny whispered, a distinct catch in her voice. "It’s
true then?"

Harry nodded and watched as her lower lip trembled slightly. His gut
twisting, he waited while she steeled her resolve. "Are you okay?

Ginny gave him a watery smile. "Shouldn’t I be asking that of you?"

He took her hand in his and rubbed it reassuringly. "I’ve had awhile to
take it all in. Believe me, I didn’t handle it well at all when I first

"I’m scared for you, but I know you can do this. You’re a powerful
wizard, Harry. You can beat him, and you will survive," Ginny said

Harry swallowed painfully. This is it. "That’s what we need to talk
about. I wasn’t alone in Godric’s Hollow yesterday. Someone followed

Ron’s head whipped up, and Hermione gasped, "Who?"

"Wormtail," Harry replied grimly, the name leaving a sour taste in his

"Wormtail? What did the little rat want?" Ron snarled. "I’m surprised
you let him live."

"Ron," Hermione hissed reproachfully.

Harry ignored her. "He’s jealous of Snape. He thinks Snape has stolen
his thunder or something. He wanted me to eliminate Snape for him."

"You’ve got to be kidding me!" Ron said, his eyes nearly popping out of
their sockets.
"I’m dead serious," Harry said, barely moving. His jaw was beginning to
ache from clenching it so hard. "He said he knows a lot more about
what’s going on in Voldemort’s inner circle than even Voldemort is

"I find that hard to believe," Hermione said, frowning. "Doesn’t
Voldemort use Legilimency on his Death Eaters?"

"Yeah, but no one ever considers Scabbers to be a real threat, do
they?" Ron asked.

Harry took a deep breath. "He knows about the Horcruxes," he said

"Bloody hell," Ron swore.

"What?" Hermione shrieked simultaneously. "Did he say that? Did he
actually say Horcrux?"

Ginny crossed her arms across her chest and pursed her lips. "The
circle of people who know this secret is getting bigger and bigger.
Perhaps that will be what leads to his downfall."

Harry’s hands began to shake, and he clenched them to hide it from the
others. "He…he told me about the Seventh Horcrux. The one he doesn’t
think I’ll be able to destroy."

"The Seventh Horcrux. Well, that’s him, isn’t it?" Ron asked,

"Technically, the bit that’s still in him is the last that has to be
destroyed, but it’s the bit that all the others were created from, so
it’s actually the first. The seventh is the last one he created," Harry
replied, his voice sounding strained even to his own ears.

"So, that’s Nagini, right?" Hermione asked, studying him carefully.

"No," Harry said, his throat dry. "Dumbledore was wrong….or merely
misleading. Nagini was never a Horcrux. All his Horcruxes were created
before he lost his powers."

"How is that possible though?" Hermione demanded. "I thought you said
he was planning on making the Seventh Horcrux with your murder."

"He was," Harry said, nodding stoically.

"Well then how…Oh!" Hermione exclaimed, clamping a hand over her mouth.

"What?" Ron asked, lost.

"Oh no, Harry. This can’t be true," Hermione cried, tears springing to

"What are you on about?" Ron demanded, frustrated.
"How did this happen? He must be mistaken. He’s just trying to scare
you," Hermione said shrilly, clutching Harry’s arm and growing more
hysterical by the minute.

Ginny put her arm around Hermione’s shoulder and said fearfully, "I
think you’d better explain, Harry."

And so he did. He told them all about his confrontation the previous
day and how Wormtail had explained to him how Voldemort’s own over-
confidence and excitement had created the Horcrux from Lily’s death,
and how the soul fragment had ended up inside Harry.

The others listened in horror, their faces mirroring his dismay. Harry
cleared his throat. "So, the way I see it, we have to figure out a way
to destroy both Voldemort and the Seventh Horcrux at the same time."

"No!" they all shouted at once, their shock giving way to fierce

"Don’t be stupid," Harry snarled without mercy. "Don’t you think I
haven’t been thinking about this? There is no other way. Voldemort has
to be destroyed, and if I have to sacrifice myself to do it,
well…that’s just what I’m going to do."

Hermione wiped the tears from her eyes, biting her lip in thought. "No,
Harry. There has to be another way. It can’t end like this. Professor
Dumbledore never would have given you hope that you could survive if it
weren’t possible," she said fiercely. "Riddle’s diary was still a diary
after you sank the fang into it. And the ring! Dumbledore was still
wearing it as a ring after he removed the bit of Voldemort’s soul."

"Yeah, but with a big crack down the middle. I don’t want to live the
rest of my life like the Longbottoms, Hermione. I’d rather die," Harry
said vehemently.

Ginny whimpered slightly from where she was seated on the couch. Harry
reached out and took her hand. He could feel her trembling even though
she tried to hide it.

"But, the diary wasn’t damaged," Hermione insisted. "Professor
Dumbledore hurt his hand horribly destroying that ring, but you didn’t
hurt yourself destroying the diary, and the diary remained intact. Only
the soul fragment was gone. There has to be a way."

Ron stared at Hermione hopefully, nodding his head. His Adam’s apple
bobbed convulsively.

"Maybe," Harry replied, refusing to allow the seed of hope to blossom
too fully. "But we can’t trust that. We’ll have to explore both options
— a way to destroy both remaining bits of soul, and a possible way to
survive." He still couldn’t bring himself to say out loud that he was
the Horcrux.

"I won’t lose you now," Ginny said quietly but firmly.
Harry knelt down in front of her and took her face in his hands,
lowering his voice so only she could hear him. "I can’t make any
promises to you, Ginny. Merlin knows I wish I could, but if there was
ever something worth fighting for, it’s what you’ve shown me my life
can be. I do want that, Ginny. I want you," Harry said, leaning over
and kissing her softly. He could taste the salt from her tears and
hated himself for making her cry.

"We’ll do this together," she whispered. "We’ll find a way."

Harry wrapped his arms around her and hugged her fiercely. He decided
then and there that he would live and be happy with Ginny while he
could. It was exactly what his parents had done. His one greatest
regret about losing Sirius was that they’d never had enough time simply
to be together. He’d give Ginny the gift of time; it was all he has to

As he embraced Ginny, his eyes fell on the tapestry hanging on the wall
and it sparked a memory.

"Oh, I ran into Malfoy this morning," he said, sitting next to Ginny
and putting his arm around her shoulders. Both Ron and Hermione’s heads
shot up from their discussion in the corner.

"You did?" Hermione asked blankly.

"What did the wanker have to say?" Ron asked darkly.

"He was sputtering about owning this house. You should have seen his
face when I told him that I actually did. He said Regulus should have
inherited it, not Sirius," Harry replied, reliving the memory of
Malfoy’s shocked expression.

"Regulus?" Hermione asked, frowning.

"Sirius’s brother," Harry replied, forgetting that none of the others
had heard that story when Sirius told him.

"Regulus Black?" Hermione asked, her brow knitting.

"Yeah, his name is still on that tapestry over there," Harry said
pointing. Hermione jumped up and nearly sprinted to the tapestry.
"Sirius showed it to me the summer we stayed here. His mum burnt his
name off it, but she kept Regulus’s because he upheld the family’s
honor by becoming a Death Eater."

"Sounds like Mrs. Black," Ron replied. "Mad as a Hatter, that one."

"Regulus Alphard Black," Hermione squealed, waving her hands in the
air. "Harry! R.A.B. — his initials are R.A.B."

Harry stared at her, blinking stupidly. There was no way it could be
that simple. Things in his life didn’t just work out that way.

"You can’t be serious," Ron said, voicing Harry’s thoughts.
They all moved toward the tapestry where Hermione was repeatedly
jabbing Regulus’s name with her finger.

Harry’s mind raced, trying to recall any bit of information about
Regulus Black that he might have gained. "He did become a Death Eater
then panicked when he realized exactly what he’d got into, and he tried
to run. Remus said he only lasted a couple days before they caught

"Maybe he panicked because he learned Voldemort was making Horcruxes.
Dumbledore did stress how much of a taboo they are. Maybe he actually
tried to do the right thing by destroying one," Hermione said

"So, where’s the locket, then?" Ron asked.

Ginny knitted her brows together thoughtfully. "Do you think it could
be right here in Grimmauld Place? What happened to all that stuff we
cleared out of here during my fourth year?"

"Didn’t it all get thrown away?" Hermione asked, horrified.

"Actually, I think some of it is stored up in the attic," Ginny
replied, her eyes widening as if she’d finally remembered a piece of
the puzzle she’d been seeking.

Harry turned and bolted from the room, Ron and the girls following
right at his heels. Mrs. Weasley’s sharp voice stopped them in the

"What are you lot up to? What has you all in such a hurry?" she
demanded suspiciously.

"Harry made a derogatory remark about the Cannons, and Ron took
offense," Ginny lied smoothly.

"Honestly, Ron, you and that ridiculous orange team. Leave Harry alone
and stop running in the house," Mrs. Weasley scolded as she headed back
towards the kitchen.

Harry arched his eyebrow at Ginny, impressed. She shrugged and quickly
moved towards the attic. The others followed, walking quickly but
taking care not to run.

The attic was cluttered with boxes piled from floor to ceiling in rows
and rows from the door all the way to the far back corner of the room.

Harry groaned when he saw it.

"Bloody hell," Ron moaned, looking around hopelessly. "Hermione, this
looks like something you would have organized."

Hermione sighed. "It’s daunting, I know, but the fact it’s organized
might prove helpful. Things have most likely been stored according to
which room they were found. Once we find the right room, it should
narrow our search considerably."
Harry thought Hermione sounded almost gleeful at the prospect. He
caught Ron’s eye, and they both grimaced.

"How are we supposed to know which room we want though?" Ron asked.

Pulling the fake Horcrux from his pocket, Harry showed it to the
others. "We’re looking for an amulet very similar to this one."

"I think I remember something like this when we cleaned one of the
rooms," Ginny said, taking the locket from Harry. "I remember that it
wouldn’t open, but I don’t recall which room we found it in."

"Well, that does help," Hermione said eagerly. "We cleared a bunch of
rooms on the second floor landing together, so we’ll begin our search

They spent the next several hours going through box after box but not
finding what they wanted. Harry was growing frustrated and weary when
Ginny’s shout distracted him.

"Did you find it?" Ron asked eagerly.

"Well no, not the amulet," Ginny said, "but look at this."

Hermione grabbed an old painting out of her hand. The frame was
scratched and scuffed, and it looked incredibly old.

"Sweet Merlin," Hermione said, breathing heavily.

"What is it?" Harry asked curiously.

"Is it what I think it is?" Ginny asked.

Harry glanced over Ginny’s shoulder to see the painting Hermione was
holding. It depicted two couples standing in what Harry thought was the
great hall at Hogwarts. They were clad in exquisite dress robes, one of
the men standing slightly apart from the other three.

"It’s the founders of Hogwarts," Hermione said, awestruck. "Look,
Harry, Godric Gryffindor is wearing the sword you used against the

Harry looked closely and realized she was right. He looked carefully at
the other founders, recognizing Helga Hufflepuff from a painting he’d
seen at Hogwarts. The other woman, a stern looking witch wearing a
glittering tiara, reminded him of Professor McGonagall. He assumed this
was Rowena Ravenclaw. The fourth person — the one standing slightly
apart and scowling — was Salazar Slytherin.

"How did this end up packed away up here?" Hermione asked, breathing
heavily. "This is a priceless piece of history. Harry, you have to show
this to Professor McGonagall."

"I bet it’s worth a fortune, mate," Ron said.

"I’ll give it to her when she arrives for the Order meeting this
evening. They want to talk to me about yesterday, and what I was doing
with Professor Dumbledore. I’m going to have to put them off, and
they’re not going to like it. Maybe this can be a kind of peace
offering," Harry said, smiling weakly.

"Harry! Call Kreacher. Maybe he can help us," Hermione said suddenly.

Harry’s eyes widened. "Kreacher!" he bellowed.

There was an immediate crack and the dirty, disheveled house elf
appeared, scowling at all of them. He was wearing a filthy tea towel
with the Hogwarts logo emblazoned upon it.

"The halfblood whelp summons him, and poor old Kreacher must answer.
Oh, if his mistress only knew what Kreacher has been reduced to," the
elf muttered under his breath, woefully shaking his head from side to

Hermione knelt down in front of him. "We’re terribly sorry to have
disturbed you, Kreacher. We’re in need of your help," she said kindly.

"The mudblood dares to speak to Kreacher directly. Kreacher won’t
answer her," the house elf said.

"That’s enough, Kreacher," Harry said angrily. "I won’t have you using
that foul word. Do you understand me?"

"It’s all right, Harry. He doesn’t know what he’s saying," Hermione

"Don’t be fooled by him, Hermione," Ron said, staring at Kreacher
menacingly. "He knows exactly what he’s saying. We want to know about
Regulus Black."

"Master Regulus was a great and honorable wizard. He never once broke
his poor mother’s heart. He died in service to the Dark Lord," Kreacher
said reverently.

"He died because his friends murdered him," Harry said flatly. "Look,
we’re not here to listen to you spout off about how great it is to
serve the Dark Lord. I want to know if Regulus ever had something that
looks like this," he said, holding out the fake Horcrux for Kreacher to
see. "I want you to tell me what happened to it."

Kreacher twisted his lips together and grunted, obviously trying not to
answer. Finally he could resist no more. "It was here, on a shelf in
the drawing room. That horrid halfblood thief who has stolen many of my
mistress’s fine things took it."

"Mundungus!" Ron exclaimed.

"Of course. Remember, Harry? We saw him in Hogsmeade with a trunk full
of your things from this house," Hermione said.

"Where does Mundungus live, though?" Ron asked.

"I bet Fred and George will know," Ginny said.
"That’s our next step then. We have to find out where Dung lived before
he was arrested and then search his place," Harry said. "I’m assuming
the Ministry is still holding him?"

"Yeah, Dad mentioned something about it recently. Let me talk to Fred
and George; I bet they’ll know where he lived. I think they’ll tell
me," Ginny said.

"Why would they tell you and not me?" Ron asked, frowning.

"They like me better," Ginny said simply.

Harry smirked at Ron’s disgruntled expression. He felt better now that
they were finally making some progress. A clear objective always calmed
and focused him. Two Horcruxes had been destroyed, and they had a good
lead on another. He knew what the final two pieces were, so only two
left to find. He was doing better than yesterday.

Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were determined to find a way for him to
survive. He didn’t think they’d succeed, but the fact they were so
focused on it warmed his heart. He could do this. He could eliminate
Voldemort so his friends and the people he loved, at least, had the
chance for a better life.
Chapter Eight

An Uneasy Alliance

Due to a number of unforeseen interruptions, the Order meeting
scheduled for that evening never actually happened. Harry squirmed in
his chair, poking at the remains of his supper with his fork and
dreading all the questions the Order members were sure to ask. He knew
that some of them, Remus and Moody, for instance, would accept what he
had to do. Others like Mrs. Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt certainly
would demand more information than he could give.

He was startled out of his musings by the arrival of Mr. Weasley and
Professor McGonagall, who entered the room wearing grim expressions.
The kitchen at Grimmauld Place, which only moments before had been
filled with pleasant chatter and the raucous laughter of the twins,
became oddly still. This ragtag group of survivors had been through too
much recently not to feel anxious over the prospect of more bad news.

"What is it, Arthur?" Mrs. Weasley asked fearfully, jumping up from her
chair and pushing Mr. Weasley towards it.

Harry suddenly realized how tired and old Mr. Weasley appeared. His
eyes were red-rimmed with dark circles beneath them, and white hairs
were visible on each temple. Harry turned his gaze to Professor
McGonagall, to whom Hagrid had given his chair. She, too, appeared to
have aged rapidly since Professor Dumbledore’s death only a month ago.

Harry’s throat grew tight. This war was killing them all. Voldemort was
killing them all, and he had to be stopped.

"What happened?" he asked, his voice sounding stronger than he felt. He
rapidly scanned the room, trying to determine if anyone was missing.
The expressions on both Mr. Weasley’s and Professor McGonagall’s faces
made him worry that there had been another death.

He felt a small hand creep into his own beneath the table and turned to
see Ginny watching her father with fearful eyes. He threaded his
fingers with hers and squeezed reassuringly.

"I’ve just come from a meeting with the Board of Governors," Professor
McGonagall said. "They’ve made their decision."

"Scrimgeour called in all the department heads to hear the results,"
said Mr. Weasley wearily.

"They’re not reopening Hogwarts, are they?" Harry asked numbly,
uncertain if he should feel shocked or enraged.

"No, they are not. They’ve decided that they cannot guarantee the
safety of incoming students. The Aurors are simply stretched too thin
as it is," Professor McGonagall replied, an uncharacteristic waver in
her voice.

"How can they do that?" Hermione cried, scandalized. "Where are
students going to go for their education?"

"The governors feel that not enough students would have returned,
anyway. It’s no secret that You-Know-Who has a great interest in
Hogwarts. Most believe he only stayed away because of Dumbledore, and
that there is nothing to stop him now. Parents won’t send their
children directly into his path," Mr. Weasley said, sharing a pointed
look with a numb-looking Mrs. Weasley.

"Dumbledore would ‘ave wanted it ter remain open," Hagrid said, pulling
a handkerchief the size of blanket from his pocket.

"I realize that, Hagrid, but the Board would not be swayed," Professor
McGonagall answered briskly.

"Did Rufus Scrimgeour push for it to be closed?" Harry asked. He
wouldn’t put it past the man to keep Hogwarts closed in retaliation for
Harry’s refusal to aid the Ministry. He’d think Harry would be far more
vulnerable and in need of assistance outside Hogwarts walls.

"No. This decision came from the Governors," Professor McGonagall
replied, sighing.

"He’s not an evil man, Harry; he’s just not going about this the way
we’d like," Tonks said. "He does want to bring an end to this war; he
just wants to be the one to get the credit for doing it. He won’t stand
in our way, but he will try and find out what we’re doing. He’s used to
being in charge, and he doesn’t like feeling like an outsider."

"Scrimgeour’s become as obsessed with the politics of being Minister as
Fudge was. He’s not doing enough because he fears the public’s
reaction," Bill said angrily. He’d become somewhat embittered toward
the Ministry since Greyback’s attack.
As several arguments over the pros and cons about having Scrimgeour as
Minister broke out around the table, Remus leaned over to speak quietly
with Harry.

"All right, Harry?"

"I’m fine, Remus. Thanks for coming after me yesterday," Harry replied,
staring intently at a dark spot of wood on the table in front of him.

"I’d easily do it again, Harry, but I’d prefer it if I didn’t have to,"
Remus replied. "I sincerely hope you won’t be running off without
telling anyone again."

Harry didn’t respond but continued to stare at the table, lightly
tracing the spot with his finger.

"Harry," Remus said, waiting for a response.

"I can’t make you that promise, Remus," Harry whispered.

On his other side, Ginny was doing a poor job of feigning disinterest,
and he was certain she was hanging on every word they said. Ron and
Hermione also appeared to be watching him closely. He wondered why Mrs.
Weasley hadn’t insisted all of them clear out when the others had
arrived. He supposed she would if the topic turned to anything she
deemed inappropriate for their young ears.

"Harry, you need to inform the Order about what you’re going to do. I
know you well enough to see you’re planning something. We can help
you," Remus said, a pleading quality in his voice.

"I can’t. Remus, you told me once that it all came down to whether or
not we trusted Dumbledore’s judgement. At the time you said you did. Is
that still true?" Harry asked, turning to face him for the first time.

"I- I do, but Dumbledore is gone, Harry," Remus said quietly, his voice

"And he left me a job to do. He wanted me to do it, and to keep quiet
about it. I’m going to honor that request," Harry said vehemently.

Remus hung his head, his shoulders slumping. "Very well, Harry. I won’t
do anything to stand in your way. However, if there is anything I can
do to help, please don’t hesitate to ask."

Harry nodded. "There is something you can do. The Weasleys have to stay
here; they can’t go back home. You have to make certain they stay here.
Wormtail said he’s been at the Burrow, and that he was assigned there
to keep an eye on them. Voldemort knows about their connection to me.
It’s not safe for them to return."

Remus’s face darkened. "Understood. I don’t think Molly will be happy
about it, but Arthur will see reason. Peter’s not going to destroy
another family."
He wanted to tell Remus about what Wormtail had said about Ginny, but
not while she was eavesdropping. It was yet another reason he wanted to
keep her close to him. It was the only way he could ensure her safety.

"Anything else?" Remus asked.

"Yeah, there is," Harry said thoughtfully. "When I went to the
Quidditch World Cup with the Weasleys, we stayed in magical tents.
There were some that were small enough to look like Muggle pop tents,
so they could be transported easily. Do you think you could locate one
for me? You can take the funds from my account at Gringotts."

"Consider it done," Remus said.

"There is one other thing I’d like to discuss," Professor McGonagall
said, standing up and raising her voice above the chatter. The room
quieted and turned towards her once again.

"Please go ahead, Minerva," said Mrs. Weasley.

"I visited the Hog’s Head earlier today and spoke with Aberforth
Dumbledore," she said, her voice quavering slightly.

Harry’s head shot up, an image of the tall barkeep from the Hog’s Head
pub rising in his mind. He was Professor Dumbledore’s eccentric
brother? Harry sat slack-jawed, wondering how he’d never made the
connection — the similarity between the two appeared so obvious now. An
inexplicable swell of sadness arose in Harry’s chest at this
revelation. There was so much about Professor Dumbledore he’d never
known, and now he never would.

"Did he have anything unusual to report?" Moody growled.

Harry’s eyebrows rose to his hairline. Of course! That was how
Dumbledore always knew what was happening in Hogsmeade. His brother
would have kept him abreast of anything unusual. Harry smiled sadly,
feeling great fondness for his cagey former headmaster.

"He’s finished putting Albus’s affairs in order. He said that Albus
left specific instructions on where some of his belongings were to go.
I’ve brought several items with me to deliver to some of you,"
Professor McGonagall said stiffly, waving her wand. Several plain brown
boxes appeared around her.

Harry’s insides went cold. These were Dumbledore’s things, his prized

"Harry," Professor McGonagall said, sounding distinctly gentler that
she had a moment earlier. "This one is for you. Aberforth was
particularly adamant that you receive it posthaste."

Harry nodded numbly and took the package without comment. He rested it
in his lap, refusing to meet anyone’s eyes. Hagrid began blowing his
nose into his huge handkerchief, and Mrs. Weasley dabbed at her eyes.
Harry’s heart hammered inside his chest, and he found the air in the
room had become stifling.
"Hagrid," Professor McGonagall said, but she didn’t get any further as
Hagrid dissolved into wracking sobs, mumbling about what a great man
Dumbledore had been. Hermione jumped from her chair and began patting
him on the back consolingly. In the confusion, Harry quietly took his
package and slipped from his chair, escaping from the room unnoticed.


Harry sat cross-legged on his bed with his chin in his hands, staring
at the box Professor McGonagall had given him. The package remained
sealed, unremarkable really, with its plain brown wrapping, but Harry
knew that opening it would be a last goodbye. Professor Dumbledore was
really gone; he wasn’t coming back. He knew that not opening the
package wouldn’t change anything, but to Harry, it would somehow make
it final.

He’d been sitting in the same spot for over an hour and wasn’t certain
if everyone was still meeting downstairs. He’d wanted to open whatever
it was Dumbledore left him privately, in case it contained anything to
do with Voldemort or the Horcruxes. He also didn’t trust his own
emotions and didn’t want a crowd to witness yet another breakdown. He
knew he should get on with it before anyone came up to check on him,
but he couldn’t seem to force himself to do it.

His door creaked open slightly, and Ron poked his head inside. "All
right, mate?" he asked tentatively.

"Yeah," Harry said. "I’m fine. You can come in."

Ron pushed open the door and entered the room followed closely by
Hermione and Ginny.

"Harry!" Hermione said, frowning slightly. "Why did you leave without
saying anything? I hadn’t even noticed you had gone."

Harry merely shrugged.

"What did he leave you?" asked Ron, nodding toward the package.

"Dunno," Harry replied, shrugging his shoulders again.

"You haven’t even looked?" Hermione cried, aghast. "It could be
something important, Harry, something we could use."

"I know," he said quietly.

Hermione apparently realized the reason for his hesitancy because her
face softened, and she gazed at Harry with something that looked like
pity. He averted his eyes, and she backed off and sat beside Ron on his

"Everyone’s gone now; they never really had a proper meeting. I can’t
believe Hogwarts won’t be opening at all," she said tremulously.

Harry started when the edge of his bed dipped slightly. He looked up to
see Ginny sitting on the end, watching him closely. Her expression was
neutral, and he was grateful for it.

"So, did Professor McGonagall finish delivering everything?" Harry
asked in what he hoped was a casual voice.

"Not everything," Ron replied darkly.

His curiosity piqued, Harry looked towards Ron and raised his eyebrow.

"Dumbledore left something for Snape," Ron said, spitting the name.

Harry clenched his fists tightly. "Not surprising; he always did trust
the git."

"It is rather startling, though," Hermione said, looking troubled.

"Why’s that?" Harry asked through gritted teeth.

Ginny took his hand and gently unclenched his fist, revealing several
crescent shapes drops of blood where his nails had dug into his skin.
She wiped the blood away and clasped his hand within her own warm one.
His stomach settled slightly.

"Well….now, I know you don’t want to hear this, but just listen to me,"
Hermione said nervously. "Professor Dumbledore adamantly trusted
Professor Snape. He insisted that he was on our side-"

"Until he killed him," Harry shouted, unable to contain his fury.

"I know that, Harry," Hermione said. "Still, I kept hoping there was
some other explanation, that maybe they had planned it this way for
some reason."

"You think Dumbledore planned for Snape to do him in?" Ron asked

"I don’t know," Hermione cried, exasperated. "I just can’t help
wondering if there is something we’re missing. But now, if Dumbledore
left Snape something…maybe he didn’t know. I’d like to know what he
left him. It might answer some questions."

"There is no question," Harry said flatly. "Snape killed him.
Dumbledore left him something because he trusted him; he thought he was
his friend. Snape’s no different from Wormtail."

"You can’t honestly still think Snape is working for our side,
Hermione," Ron said.

"No. I suppose not," Hermione said, deflating, "but I just wish I knew
for certain."

"There’s nothing to know," Harry said angrily, feeling more agitated by
the moment. "He’s a murderer, Hermione. He killed Dumbledore, and he
can never be forgiven for that."

"I spoke with Fred and George," Ginny said suddenly. "I asked them if
they knew where Mundungus lived."
"Did they?" Ron asked.

"No, but when I told them Harry needed to know, they said they’d do
some checking. They said Dung never seemed to stay in any one place too
long," Ginny replied.

"Great," Harry said, that hopeless feeling threatening to overtake him

"Don’t worry, Harry. Leave it to Fred and George. If anyone can find
his last address, they can," Ginny said bracingly.

"It’s something, I suppose," Harry said. "I asked Remus to see if he
could find us a magical tent to use while we’re travelling. We can use
Headquarters as our base, but I reckon we’ll have to be on foot a lot.
Dumbledore was away a lot last year, and we know that’s what he was

"That’s a very good idea, Harry. When do you think we’ll go?" Hermione

"Not until after my birthday," Harry said. "I don’t want any Ministry
entanglements about underage magic, and it’ll give us a little time to
get everything in order. We need to decide where we should go first.
Ron and I also have to take our test to get our licenses to Apparate."

Ron shifted uneasily, and Hermione gave him an encouraging smile.

"Why don’t you open that box," Ginny said gently. "Maybe it will give
us an idea."

Harry glanced at the ordinary-looking box and sighed heavily. Nothing
left for it. "Yeah…okay," he said, pulling at the tape. Once he’d moved
past his initial hesitation, he found his curiosity overwhelmed him,
and he hurried to find what was inside.

He unwrapped the last of the packaging and lifted an incredibly old,
stone basin from the box, placing it on his desk reverently. Several
wrapped items were stored inside.

"What is that?" Ron asked, peering at it closely.

"It’s Dumbledore’s Pensieve," Harry said quietly, removing the items

"Harry, these are really rare," Hermione said, curiously examining the
runes along the edge of the Pensieve.

"And expensive," said Ron.

"This is how he showed you the memories of Tom?" Ginny asked, running
her finger along the rim. "Are those the memories?"

Harry nodded, unwrapping the last of sealed phials. "Yeah. These are
the memories he showed me in our lessons. He felt understanding
Riddle’s past was the key to finding the Horcruxes."
"But wouldn’t Dumbledore’s memories have died with him?" Ron asked.

"No. A lot of these memories belonged to other people, all of whom are
long dead. One of them was even a house-elf," Harry said, as he
unwrapped the final two items.

He turned quickly when Ginny gasped.

"Is that…?" she asked, her voice wavering.

Harry held the diary that had once wreaked havoc upon a young Ginny’s
life. He looked deeply into her troubled eyes, willing some of his
strength to her. Having just dealt with confronting some of the horrors
of his own past, he knew exactly what she was feeling.

"Yeah, it is. I don’t know how Dumbledore got it. I gave it back to
Lucius Malfoy with the sock that freed Dobby. Maybe Malfoy dropped it,
or Dobby had it. I dunno, maybe Dumbledore somehow got it back from
Malfoy Manor," Harry replied, watching Ginny closely.

Ginny reached a shaky hand toward the tattered book with the fang hole
through the cover. Harry solemnly handed it to her, knowing she needed
to confront her demons.

"No, Ginny, don’t," Ron said, making a grab for the diary.

Harry grasped Ron’s hand and held him back. "Let her do it, Ron. She
needs this," he said, his eyes remaining fixed on Ginny.

Her eyes were dark and haunted, but remained free of tears. She
silently flipped several of the pages before looking back at Harry.
"Just a book," she said shakily.

Harry nodded. "That’s all that’s left now; just a book. You beat him,

"No, you beat him," Ginny said with a small, humorless laugh. "I was

"You did beat him; you survived. You were never supposed to have done
that. You fought him for a year alone, and you survived. Never sell
yourself short for that, Ginny," Harry replied vehemently.

Ginny’s eyes filled with the tears she’d held off for so long, but she
forcibly blinked them away. Harry leaned over and gently kissed her
forehead. She leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder.

"What’s in the last package?" Hermione asked quietly.

Still keeping an eye on Ginny, Harry opened it. It contained Marvolo
Gaunt’s black stone ring. "It’s the other Horcrux. The one Dumbledore
destroyed," Harry said.

"Ooh, can I take a look at it?" Hermione asked.

Harry handed it to her. "There’s something else in this box," he said,
pulling out one of Dumbledore’s delicate silver instruments.

"What does it do?" Ron asked.

"No idea," Harry replied, studying the instrument closely. It consisted
of several, fragile silver cylinders with a tube at the top.

"Are there any instructions?" Hermione asked.

"No," Harry replied curtly, struggling with a memory on the edge of his
consciousness. "I’ve seen this one before though," he said, distracted.

"Well, of course you have. Dumbledore’s office was chock full of them,
and you were in there often enough," Ron said.

"When were you in Dumbledore’s office?" Hermione demanded.

"Last Christmas. The night Harry had that dream about Dad getting
attacked by the snake," Ron replied.

"That’s it!" Harry exclaimed, snapping his fingers.

"That’s what?" Ginny asked.

"That’s where I’ve seen this thing. It was that night, the night I had
that vision, or whatever it was. Dumbledore did something with this
instrument. It had green smoke coming out of it," Harry said excitedly.
"The smoke turned into a snake."

"I don’t remember that," Ron said, frowning.

"Well, you had other things on your mind, didn’t you?" Harry asked.

"But, isn’t there a note or anything telling you how it works?"
Hermione asked, blowing a stray piece of hair off her face.

Harry looked inside the box again, but it was empty. "No. There’s

"I can try asking Professor McGonagall," Hermione said. "She might know
how it works."

"That’s a good idea," Harry said, nodding absently. "I still need to
show her the portrait of the Founders."

"I think she’ll tell you that it’s safer here for the moment, since
Hogwarts isn’t reopening. I don’t think she has much trust in the
Ministry right now," Hermione said.

"Can’t say as I blame her," Harry replied.

"So, if Hogwarts isn’t reopening, at least I don’t have to tell my mum
that I’m not going back," Ron said.

"You’ll have to tell her you’re leaving though, Ron. She’s still not
going to be happy about it," Hermione said.
"I don’t think we should tell her," Ginny said. "She’ll never agree to
it, and she’ll more than likely try to stop us. We should just slip
away the first time. You said we were going to use Headquarters as a
base, didn’t you, Harry?"

"Yeah, I said that to Lupin," Harry replied, grinning. "How did you
hear that, Ginny?"

Ginny smiled. "I’m the youngest of seven, Harry. If I hadn’t learned to
eavesdrop, I’d never know anything."

Harry grinned. "That was how I managed with the Dursleys, too. I reckon
we can go through these memories in the Pensieve until it’s time to

"Where do we go first?" Ron asked.

"I think the best place to start is the same place he did, at the
orphanage," Harry replied.

"It was a Muggle orphanage, right?" Hermione asked.

"Yeah," Harry said, nodding.

"Can I borrow Hedwig?" Hermione asked. "I’ll send a note to my mum
asking her to get us the names of any orphanages that were running in
London fifty years ago."

"How would she know that?" Ron asked, dumbfounded.

"She can just use the internet," Hermione replied, shrugging.

Ron’s bewildered expression never changed. "The what?"

"Oh, that’s a computer, right?" Ginny asked, grinning widely. Her
enthusiasm reminded Harry of Mr. Weasley.

Hermione’s cheek twitched as she tried to contain her laughter. "Yes,
it involves a computer. Don’t worry about it; she can do this. She’ll
be happy I asked her for some help."

Harry looked up and met her eyes questioningly.

Hermione shrugged. "She just feels a bit disconnected from my life now.
How could she not? There’s nothing to be done for it, Harry, but she’ll
like being asked for her assistance."

Harry sighed, feeling badly that Hermione’s family was drifting apart.
"Okay, then. It’s a start. You three need to practice your shield
spells while we’re here, as well."

"Harry, we covered shields in fifth year in the DA," Ron said

"If we run into any resistance, or if Voldemort figures out what we’re
doing, it’s you three they’ll go after. Voldemort wants me alive,"
Harry said firmly.

"Yeah, so he can do you in himself," Ron said darkly.

"Wormtail said that after he figured out I…when he…he ordered the Death
Eaters not to kill me," Harry said, stumbling on the words. "That’s why
he never came after me all last year. He wants to capture me and keep
me somewhere under his control."

The others gasped in horror.

"We won’t let that happen, Harry," Ginny said, shuddering. She moved
closer to Harry and wrapped her arm around his waist, as if anchoring

"Voldemort still doesn’t know the whole prophecy. As long as Snape
didn’t know, that is. Dumbledore told me the only two people who knew
the exact wording were him and me. So, if Snape didn’t know, that means
Voldemort still doesn’t know that he has to be the one to kill me in
order to come to full power," Harry replied.

"But Snape does know that Dumbledore was looking for the Horcruxes,
right?" Hermione asked suddenly.

"Yeah. Dumbledore said that Snape was the one who saved him the night
he hurt his hand," Harry said, wondering where Hermione was heading.

"Then if Snape really has turned-"

"He has."

"If Snape really has turned," Hermione said, ignoring Harry’s
interruptions, "he’s told Voldemort what Dumbledore was doing.
Voldemort isn’t stupid. He’s going to believe that Professor Dumbledore
passed that information to someone else, and that person will try to do
the same. He’ll be guarding the other Horcruxes."

"Maybe," Harry said, nodding. "Not necessarily, though. Voldemort never
would have told anyone else if he were secretly doing something to
bring down an enemy. The Death Eaters are his minions, not his friends;
Dumbledore stressed that over and over last year. He would never share
that kind of information, so he’d never consider the idea that anyone
else would."

"Do you think that’s something Malfoy might know?" Ginny asked.

"It’s possible, but he’s not likely to tell me," Harry said, imagining
the sneer on Malfoy’s face if he were to question him.

"You could get Moody to ask him," Hermione said.

"Hermione, we’re not telling anyone else," Harry said through gritted
teeth. He ran his hand through his mussed hair in frustration.

"I still think someone in the Order ought to know what we’re doing, but
I understand how you feel about this," Hermione said, frowning
slightly. "Still, I think Moody would help. I doubt Malfoy would know
about the Horcruxes, so you could just ask if he’d suddenly ordered any
of them to guard anything without reason."

Harry frowned, mulling it over. Hermione had a tendency to always want
to run to someone in authority, and she could never admit that the
authorities might be wrong. Still, her idea could work, except…

"Moody’s too suspicious; he’d never leave it at that."

"He trusted Dumbledore, and I think he trusts you," Ginny said.

"All right. I’ll ask Moody if I can talk to Malfoy. That’s just the
thought I want in my head as I try to go to sleep," Harry said

Ginny ruffled his hair affectionately. "Aww, it’s not easy to be the

Harry scowled, making Ginny giggle.

The girls bade them goodnight and returned to their own room. It took
Harry a long time to fall asleep, and when he did his dreams were
marred with visions of werewolves, locked boxes and green smoke.


Harry’s heart pounded as he paced inside a small room off the main
hallway in Grimmauld Place. Amazingly, Moody had agreed very easily to
Harry’s request to question Malfoy. Harry’s expression must have shown
his surprise, because the old Auror began to chuckle.

"I figured you were working with Dumbledore on something, and I reckon
you’re going to carry on with it. If Dumbledore didn’t think it was
something I needed to know, that’s good enough for me. Constant
vigilance, Potter. The less people who know what you’re up to, the less
chance there is for a leak," he said. "I gave my word to Dumbledore
that I’d see this through. If that means helping you with whatever it
is you’re doing, that’s just what I’m going to do."

Turning, he stomped out of the room to fetch Malfoy, his wooden leg
thumping on the floor with each step.

Harry moved to the back of the room and took a seat in a darkened
corner, hoping for the chance to observe Malfoy’s interaction with
Moody before he was alerted to Harry’s presence. He was doubtful that
Malfoy would cooperate, but if he had any information that could aid
him in any way, Harry was determined to get it.

Hearing voices in the hallway, he ducked into the shadows and waited.

"Just because I am forced to survive in these less-than-stellar
accommodations does not give you the right to barge into my room
uninvited, Mr. Moody. Decent wizarding manners dictate the necessity of
sending an owl to arrange an appointment. Despite your lack of
breeding, I expect you to uphold these common niceties," Malfoy sneered
as he entered the room, sat down on a stiff-backed chair and placed his
feet on the matching footstool.

Moody followed closely behind wearing an amused expression. He sat in a
chair opposite Malfoy and leaned towards him so that their noses were
nearly touching. "Listen here, Darren, and listen good-"

"It’s Draco," Malfoy spat, affronted.

Moody continued as if there hadn’t been an interruption. "You’re not
here as a houseguest, you’re here because if you were anywhere else,
you’d be dead already."

"And without the information I can provide, you lot won’t be long
behind me," Malfoy replied, although he had paled slightly.

Harry took a moment to take a good look at Malfoy’s appearance. He’d
lost the dark circles beneath his eyes, and his skin no longer had an
ashen pallor, but he still appeared pale and drawn. He spoke with all
the haughtiness and bravado Harry had come to expect, but there was an
air of brittleness beneath it that hadn’t been there in the past.

"We’ve been through all of this already and agreed to come to an
arrangement that could be mutually beneficial," Moody said, sounding
weary, as if he’d been over this same conversation many times already.

"That doesn’t mean you can barge into my chambers-"

"I knocked on your door, David," Moody said dryly. "I have a few
questions that need answering."

"It’s Draco," Malfoy said through gritted teeth, "and when my mother
hears about this, she won’t be pleased."

Moody nodded his head towards the door. "By all means, if you need your
mummy present, go and fetch her."

Malfoy puffed out his chest indignantly. "I won’t be treated as a
common house-elf, and I’m perfectly capable of handling my own

"And I won’t be treated as your nanny. Grow up, Dudley," Moody growled,
his magical eye looking directly at Harry’s hiding spot and winking.

Harry nearly choked trying to hold back his laughter.

"It’s Draco," Malfoy spat, clenching his teeth. "What is it you need to
know? I don’t have all morning."

"Sorry to interrupt your busy social schedule," Harry said, moving into
the light and taking the chair next to Moody. He imitated Malfoy by
placing his feet on the footstool and crossing his hands on his chest.
"I hadn’t realized how fascinating the portraits were up on your wing.
I assume that’s who’s keeping you busy since none of the living
inhabitants in the house will actually speak to you. I’ll have to visit
when I’m in need of stimulating conversation."
Malfoy’s expression rapidly turned from stunned to angry. "Potter," he
sneered, glaring down his nose at Harry. "What are you doing here? I’m
not staying if he’s in the room."

"He’s the one who has a few questions for you, and since it’s his
house, he gets to decide where he goes," Moody replied indifferently.

"I have nothing to say to you," Malfoy said obstinately, looking away
from Harry.

"All right," Harry replied, shrugging his shoulders. "I believe you
know how to find the front door. Be sure to take all your belongings as
there are plenty of people waiting to use your room. Moody, would you
mind asking Narcissa Malfoy to join me? I’ll see if she’s any more
cooperative then her son. We’ll offer her the same deal."

"Stay away from my mother, Potter," Malfoy snarled, two bright pink
spots appearing on his pale cheeks.

Harry gazed at him coldly. "If you won’t cooperate, Malfoy, then I need
to find someone who will."

Malfoy clenched his fists tightly, a myriad of expressions crossing his
face. "What is it you want to know? I would have thought the precious
Chosen One would have better things to do. If you want me out of here
so badly, why don’t you follow your destiny so the rest of us can all
get on with our lives?" he sneered.

"That’s enough," Moody growled, pulling out his wand and pointing it at

"It’s all right, Moody," Harry said calmly. He knew Malfoy had the
tendency to boast when he was angry; Harry was counting on that habit
now. "That’s exactly what I’m going to do, Malfoy, with or without your
help. I don’t care what happens to you anymore than you care what
happens to me. But I think we both have other people living in this
house that we do care about. Do you think you can control your childish
outbursts for a few moments, or should I go ask your mother?"

Malfoy paled yet again at the reference to his mother. Still, his anger
won out, and he sneered, "He’s going to cut you into little pieces and
feed you to his snake."

Harry forced himself to keep his voice steady. "Perhaps, but if I can’t
take him with me, your life isn’t worth dragon dung."

Malfoy’s anger appeared to swell, and for a moment, Harry was certain
he would draw his wand and hex him. After a moment, however, he seemed
to deflate and sank wearily back into his chair. "What do you need to
know?" he asked tonelessly.

"I want to know if Voldemort," Harry ignored Malfoy’s hiss when he said
the name, "has shown any particular care in guarding certain places
recently — meaning in the past year. He would have asked for these
places to be under surveillance, but he wouldn’t have given any reason
why. Does this sound at all familiar?"
Malfoy’s eyes showed a spark of recognition although he tried to cover
it. "Why is it important?" he asked.

Harry shrugged indifferently. "It might not be, but call me curious."

Some of Malfoy’s haughty bravado returned as he said dismissively, "I
don’t think it could possibly be significant."

"What’s not significant?" Harry asked, his eyes narrowing, the hair on
his arms suddenly standing on end.

"Whatever is being guarded isn’t important, or he would have other,
more important people guarding it. People that matter," Malfoy replied.

"Like you?" Harry asked, rolling his eyes.

Malfoy flushed. "He gave me the greatest task of all, and I fulfilled
it," he said pompously.

Reminded of Malfoy’s role in Dumbledore’s death, Harry felt his skin
burn with indignation. "You didn’t; Snape did. In the end, you couldn’t
do it. You’re not a killer, Malfoy. Someday you might even be proud of

"What do you know about it?" Malfoy asked, his eyes widening with

"I know plenty. I know you were lowering your wand when Snape and the
others burst through that door. Professor Dumbledore offered you a
chance, and you were going to take it," Harry said, shuddering as he

Malfoy narrowed his eyes shrewdly. "How do you-"

"Let’s get back on track here, boys. What do you know about whatever is
being guarded, Draco?" Moody asked, using the correct name for the
first time.

"I don’t know what or where it is, but he assigned Pettigrew, Crabbe,
Goyle and Simmons each to do something and report directly to him. None
of them is the brightest or most loyal of followers, so whatever it is
can’t be very significant," Malfoy replied, shrugging.

Harry’s mind was racing. Wormtail was watching the Burrow, which of
course meant watching him. That would leave the cup and the unknown
Horcrux. So, what could the fourth person be watching? Assigning Death
Eaters who weren’t particularly smart was exactly Voldemort’s style.
They wouldn’t question why or look any deeper into what they were
doing, and if the other Death Eaters had attitudes like Malfoy’s, they
wouldn’t believe whatever was being done was significant.

Wormtail was Wormtail, and if Crabbe and Goyle were anything like their
offspring, they wouldn’t be very bright. He didn’t know anything about
Simmons, but imagined he would fall into the same category. Why four of
them, though?
Of course! The locket. If Voldemort never knew that RAB had gone to the
cave and stolen it, he wouldn’t have been aware that Harry and
Dumbledore made it there, either. Dumbledore had said Lucius Malfoy
told his master about the diary, and Harry imagined that Snape would
have told Voldemort about the ring, but no one knew about the locket.
He’d still have someone watching the cave. Their orders would be to
report anything suspicious or any visitors immediately so Voldemort
could descend upon the place himself.

This was a start. If they could find these people, they’d know they
were in the right place.

"Does that mean anything to you, Potter?" Moody asked, watching Harry

"It might," Harry said absently. "Who really knows what Voldemort is

Malfoy dropped his head in his hands, rubbing his forehead wearily.
"Look, Potter, I don’t know if this Chosen One business is true or just
more of your hype, and I don’t really care. The Malfoy name is as old
and respected as any pureblood wizarding family today, and we are being
hunted like animals. Neither my mother nor I deserve to live this way.
If you’re going to try and end this madness, I’ll do what I can to help
you. It doesn’t mean we’re friends, and it doesn’t mean I’ll want
anything to do with you once this is all over. If you’re still around,
that is."

"Fair enough," Harry said, nodding. "I’m certain I won’t want anything
to do with you once it’s all over, either."

Turning his back on Malfoy and nodding slightly at Moody, Harry strode
from the room with his head held high. He had a place to start.


Far from London, in a dark stone manor-house set apart from all others,
the Dark Lord had summoned his minions. He sat behind a massive oak
desk in a high-backed chair resembling a throne. His serpentine
features studied the masked, robed figures standing before him, their
heads bowed in submission. His long, thin fingers stroked his wand
almost lovingly as his fierce red eyes bored into the group.

"Which of you can tell me where Potter and the blood traitor clan have
gone?" Voldemort hissed softly. His voice was calm, yet still it caused
a shudder to pass through most of the Death Eaters.

"Might I suggest," a smooth, oily voice volunteered from the back of
the room, "that they’ve taken shelter inside the headquarters of the
Order of the Phoenix? As I’ve reported, the entire Weasley family is in
it, and Potter is prone to protect them."

"Yes, Severus," Voldemort said, his eyes briefly flashing with an eerie
red glow. "You’ve been quite helpful in supplying me with the names of
those in this Order, but you haven’t been able to tell me where their
headquarters is located."
Snape bowed even lower to the ground. "My humble apologies, Master, but
you are aware of how the Fidelius Charm works. Without the Secret
Keeper, the location cannot be revealed."

Voldemort’s irritation showed as he tightly wrapped his emaciated
fingers around his wand. "And who would that Secret Keeper be?" he

"As you know, after killing Albus Dumbledore, I am no longer privy to
the happenings in the Order," Snape said silkily.

"Yes, we all know you were the one to kill Dumbledore, Snape,"
Bellatrix Lestrange sneered, unable to maintain her silence any longer.
"You appear overly fond of reminding us. What he asked was who their
new Secret Keeper is."

"Thank you, Bella," Voldemort hissed dangerously. "While I appreciate
your loyalty, I do not appreciate your speaking out of turn."

Bellatrix’s eyes widened behind her mask, as she had finally realized
she’d overstepped her bounds. "Of course, Master," she said, bowing her
head. "My apologies."

"Do not let it happen again, Bella," he said calmly. As she took a step
backwards to take her place in the line of Death Eaters, he raised his
wand and hissed, "Crucio."

Bellatrix dropped to the floor, screaming and writhing in agony. The
other Death Eaters kept their gazes focused straight ahead, never
moving. After an inordinate amount of time, Voldemort lifted the curse
and turned to address Snape once again, leaving Bellatrix whimpering on
the ground. No one moved to assist her.

"You know these people better than the rest of us, Severus. Whom do you
suggest they would have chosen as their Secret Keeper?" he asked.

Snape moved his finger across his chin slowly, deliberating. "My
instincts would say either Minerva McGonagall or Alastor Moody, but
there is always the enigma of Potter to consider," he said, his upper
lip curling.

"What does Potter have to do with it?" Voldemort asked.

"If the brat has any say in the matter, he is most likely the Secret
Keeper himself. He’s exceedingly arrogant, and his opinion of himself
is exceptionally high. His foolish Gryffindor streak wouldn’t allow
anyone else to be at risk, therefore, he’d take on the role himself,"
Snape replied, grimacing as if he had an unpleasant taste in his mouth.

Voldemort shook his head dismissively. "The Order would never allow a
sixteen-year-old boy to be Secret Keeper."

"Ordinarily, I would agree with you, however all rules tend to be bent
to Potter’s whim. Dumbledore himself entrusted the boy with far too
much information," Snape said, clenching his fists.
"Dumbledore was a fool, and his fondness for the boy was one of his
greatest weaknesses. I don’t want any of you to concern yourself with
Potter. Leave him to me. I have very specific plans for the boy. He
needs to learn what it means to defy me, but he is by no means a threat
to our plans," Voldemort said.

Snape looked as if he would argue, but lowered his head and backed
away. "Yes, Master."

"Have any of you incompetent fools learned how it was that the blood
traitors managed to repel the Dementors from the wedding reception?"
Voldemort asked in a low voice.

"Potter and the eldest Weasley, the one I marked as one of my den,
managed to strengthen the wards, my Lord," Fenrir Greyback said.

"I see," Voldemort hissed. "I expect, Fenrir, that you will want to be
the one to see that this Weasley is punished?"

"Yes, my Lord. I’ve marked him, and I am certain he is now feeling the
frustration over how the Ministry regards our kind. He’ll be ripe to
turn to our side once I make him a full werewolf," Greyback said,
grinning maniacally.

"Excellent. What of our missing Malfoys? Have they been apprehended?"
Voldemort asked.

The Death Eaters shifted uncomfortably, but no one spoke.

"I asked a question, and I expect an answer," Voldemort said without
raising his voice. Still, the threat in his tone was unmistakable.

"No, my Lord. They appear to have vanished," said a woman’s voice.

"How is this possible?" Voldemort asked.

Again, he was met with silence.

"Answer me," he bellowed, green sparks flashing from his wand.

"They could not have done it without aid," Bellatrix replied, still
huddled on the floor. She gasped in pain as she rose on her knees. "My
sister doesn’t have any contacts who would aid her against you, my
Lord. An acquaintance of Draco’s must be offering them sanctuary."

Snape’s face remained impassive.

"I want them found and brought before me, along with whomever it was
who facilitated their escape. Whichever of you finds them will, of
course, earn my favor and a small measure of my gratitude," Voldemort

"What about Wormtail?’ Bellatrix asked. "He’s not here. Perhaps he
allowed my sister to escape."
"Wormtail lacks the courage to do anything so bold. I am aware of his
location, as I am aware of each of your assignments. Never forget that,
Bella," he said menacingly.

"Yes, Master," Bellatrix said, wincing.

"You all have your orders; don’t disappoint me again. I will be far
less gracious the next time we meet if you again have nothing to report
but utter failure," he said, his cold, snakelike gaze raking over all
of them. "Severus, please remain behind. I have something I need to

"Yes, my Lord," Snape said, bowing stiffly.

The remaining Death Eaters Disapparated as quickly as they could, eager
both to do their master’s bidding and to be away from his wrath.

"It has been over a month since Albus Dumbledore’s death, Severus, and
there has not been a single sign of movement towards any of my
Horcruxes. I believe you were mistaken that Dumbledore would have made
someone else aware of what he was doing," Voldemort said, his voice a
low hiss.

Snape bowed his head and moved slowly toward the desk. "Of course you
may be right, Master. However, I feel I knew the Headmaster very well
after rendering my services to him for so very long. He always had
contingency plans."

"Yet you’ve said that you’d lost some of his trust towards the end. You
said you thought he was keeping something from you," Voldemort replied,
his scarlet eyes narrowing into slits.

"Yes," Snape said, shifting uncomfortably. "He didn’t feel I was doing
enough to learn what the Malfoy boy was planning. I was unable to
reveal what I knew and without Draco’s cooperation, the stories I
fabricated were proven false. As you know, Dumbledore always believed
everyone could be saved. He’d hoped that I could offer the boy the
chance to reform."

"Yes. His compassion was one of his greatest faults. He could never
understand that there are those of us who never wanted to be saved,"
Voldemort said, a hideous smile twisting his face.

Snape grimaced as if swallowing something slimy and unpleasant. "He
also refused to reveal what he was discussing with Potter on their many
evenings together."

Voldemort waved his hand carelessly. "You said you’d ensured that
Potter was unable to learn Occlumency the previous year. Perhaps
Dumbledore attempted to teach the boy himself and caught on to your

Snape bristled, an ugly sneer crossing his sallow features. "The boy is
incapable of using the simplest of techniques. Saying he was unable to
learn was not far from the truth."
"Still, Dumbledore was fond of the boy," Voldemort said, apparently
amused by Snape’s naked hatred of Harry.

"Yes," Snape replied through gritted teeth. "He was so fond of him that
he often allowed the boy to interfere in matters that should have been
left to those more capable. I fear that Potter might actually be the
one Dumbledore confided in about the Horcruxes. The boy’s ego is
certainly large enough that he would believe it was something he could

"Ridiculous. Dumbledore always had a weakness for his favorites, but he
would never share the information that could destroy me with a sixteen-
year-old boy. Be careful, Severus, your jealousy is showing," Voldemort
said, amused.

Snape cocked his head slightly. "If I may respectfully point out, my
Lord, you assigned a sixteen-year-old a similar task."

Voldemort’s smile faded and his eyes narrowed again. "I assigned the
Malfoy boy his job as a punishment to his father. I knew he’d be unable
to complete his task, and I was right. It was you, Severus, who
destroyed my enemy. I never expected the Malfoy boy to survive.
Dumbledore was far too noble to ever willingly place anyone he
considered a child in such danger. His love for the Potter boy would
never have allowed it."

Snape scowled. "My Lord-"

"Enough! I do not want to hear any more of this, Severus. I have plans
for Harry Potter. I believe the prophecy referred to him as a threat
because he is a Horcrux, not because he is anything special on his own.
Once I realized what had happened, it became clear to me. I can handle
Harry Potter. He is no longer a threat to me. My plans to dismantle the
Ministry can now begin. There is no one who can stop me," Voldemort
said, his eyes glowing.

"Yes, Master," Snape replied, an uneasy frown upon his face. It was no
secret that Snape believed that Harry’s reputation was highly
overrated, but he also had to know that it wasn’t wise to underestimate
the boy. He had a nasty habit of being in the right place at the right

Chapter Nine

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Harry awoke early on the morning of his birthday after a night
mercifully unmarred by dreams. Lying in bed and luxuriating in the feel
of the warm sunlight streaming though a crack in the curtains, he
breathed deeply.

He was finally of age, finally a man.

The Dursleys briefly crossed his mind. The magic his mother invoked by
giving her life for his would have ended at midnight. He wondered idly
what that would mean for the Dursleys, if anything. He knew the Order
was still keeping an eye on Privet Drive, and he also knew the Dursleys
would never accept an offer to go into hiding. As far as they were
concerned, they were done with him and his world. For their sake, Harry
hoped that was true.

He suspected that before they had departed, Ron and Hermione had done
something to let the Dursleys know they were unhappy with the treatment
Harry had received through the years. He purposefully hadn’t asked
them, however. If he didn’t know what they’d done, there was no way he
could feel guilty about it. Besides, it wasn’t as if the Dursleys
didn’t deserve a bit of torment, anyway.

Shaking his head, he tried to steer his thoughts away from his
relatives. He never had to go back, and that felt good. He had a busy
day ahead, and tomorrow…tomorrow his adventure would begin. Remus had
supplied him with a magical tent, and it was now tucked away inside his
rucksack. The four teens had packed lightly, uncertain how long they
would be gone and not wanting to have to lug heavy bags with them.

He and Ron had an appointment at the Ministry at nine o’clock to take
their Apparation tests. Mr. Weasley had agreed to accompany them to the
testing center on his way to work. Harry was looking forward to it,
although slightly apprehensive that Rufus Scrimgeour would try to take
advantage of his appearance at the Ministry.

Harry glanced over at Ron’s bed and was surprised to find it empty. It
was a rare occasion that Ron was up before Harry. He knew that Ron was
feeling extremely nervous about the test, and he hoped that his friend
wouldn’t let his nerves unhinge him. They had to be able to Apparate
once they began their quest. Harry was nervous about the fact that
Ginny would have to SideAlong for another year before she was of age,
although she’d hinted at the fact that she already knew how to do it.

His door opened with a creak, startling him, and he squinted his
unfocused eyes at the blur of red streaking towards him.

"Good morning, Harry! Happy Birthday," Ginny squealed, kissing him
soundly as she sat on the edge of his bed.

Harry grinned widely, feeling inexplicably giddy all of a sudden.
"Thanks, Ginny. I’d have turned seventeen sooner if I’d known I’d get a
greeting like that," he said, smiling cheekily.

Ginny grinned and gently ran her hand along the side of his face.
"Mum’s making an enormous birthday breakfast, so I hope you’re hungry."

"I am," he said, turning to kiss her hand. "I hope this test goes all
right for both of us. I’ll be happy when it’s done and over with. Where
is Ron? Have you seen him?"

"He’s in the kitchen. Mum’s trying to coax him to eat something, but he
looks really nervous. When will the prat ever learn that he only mucks
it up because he convinces himself that he’s going to do so?" she asked
in exasperation.

"I know," Harry said, grimacing. "He’s not a prat though; he’s just
"He’s a prat," Ginny said firmly. "Everything is all set to go
tomorrow. I hope Mum won’t be too upset."

"I know," Harry replied worriedly. He really didn’t want to hurt Mrs.
Weasley, but he also knew that she’d never allow them to leave without
knowing where they were going. Even if they’d come up with a plausible
excuse, she’d most likely resist the idea of their leaving the safety
of headquarters.

Hermione’s mum had found the name and address of the orphanage fairly
quickly. Luckily, it was still open and hadn’t been torn down or
converted into anything else. Its location wasn’t all that far from the
Leaky Cauldron, although they’d decided it was safer to avoid the pub
and travel as Muggles.

They planned to sneak out of Grimmauld Place at dawn, before the rest
of the household had arisen. He was certain that they’d have to deal
with the fallout upon their return, but he hoped by then to have one
more Horcrux recovered. It would put him on firmer ground while holding
off the Order.

"Hopefully, this little battle of wills she’s been having with Narcissa
Malfoy will keep her occupied so she won’t fret too much," Ginny said,
biting her lip.

Narcissa Malfoy had yet to make an appearance since they’d all arrived
at Grimmauld Place. She’d remained sequestered in her rooms, requesting
that meals be sent up to her. Mrs. Weasley had prepared the trays
nicely enough, but she’d refused to deliver them to her, forcing
Narcissa to either get them herself or have someone else do it. Mrs.
Malfoy had also refused to return any of the trays to the kitchen after
using them, and Mrs. Weasley was determined not to collect the growing
pile that stood in the hallway. She wanted Mrs. Malfoy to return and
clean them herself.

"I’ll be sorry to miss that row when it happens," Harry said, grinning.

"Yeah. I’ve noticed Fred and George have been hanging around a lot
recently. I think they’re just hoping to be here when everything
blows," Ginny replied.

"I hope your mum and dad won’t be too angry with me when they realize
we’ve left," Harry said. "They’ve done a lot for me." Although he
didn’t say it, the idea of the Weasleys’ disapproval troubled him
greatly. They meant a lot to him.

"Don’t fret now, Harry. We’ll deal with things as they come, together.
Actually, I think Dad might suspect we’re up to something. He’s not as
unaware of what’s happening around him as he sometimes appears," Ginny
said, smiling fondly. "He’ll help with Mum. He’s not having as hard a
time admitting we’ve all grown up as she is."

Harry wondered if that were true for Ginny as well as her brothers.
Somehow, he suspected that Mr. Weasley might have a much harder time
accepting the idea that his little girl had grown up enough to run off
with a boy in order to face an insane Dark wizard and a bunch of Death
Eaters than the fact that one of his sons had done it.

When Harry remained silent, she reached out and gently caressed the
side of his face. He leaned his head into her palm, relishing the

"How are you doing?" she asked, her expression grave. He knew at once
exactly what she meant.

None of them had discussed the Seventh Horcrux with him since his
startling revelation. It was as if the subject had become taboo, and
they all tiptoed around it carefully while discussing anything to do
with the search. On several occasions, he’d discovered Ginny, Ron and
Hermione with their heads huddled together and whispering frantically,
although they always broke apart when he’d entered the room.

He suspected they’d spent a lot of time discussing him and seeking a
possible escape from his situation. The fact none of them had
approached him didn’t bode well, and Harry didn’t have the heart to
ask. He was only holding it all together by moving forward and keeping
his eye on the prize.

One Horcrux at a time had become his mantra.

"I’m okay," he whispered, shrugging. "Have to be, don’t I?"

"Not with me," she whispered gently. "I promised myself to be the one
to prop you back up if you falter. You might be determined to save the
wizarding world, but I’m determined to save you."

A lump rose in Harry’s throat as he wrapped his arms around her and
held her close. Speaking into her shoulder he said, "That might not be
possible, Ginny."

Ginny’s grip tightened around him. "It is possible. Anything’s possible
if you’ve got enough nerve. I’ve told you that before, don’t you

"Yeah, I remember," Harry said, smiling. "You came to my rescue then,

"That’s me, Ginny Weasley: hero rescuer," she said, still clutching him
tightly. He could feel rather than see her grin.

"I’m no hero," he said gruffly. "I don’t even know what I’m doing."

"It’ll be all right, Harry. I know it seems insurmountable when you
look at what we’ve got to do as a whole, but if we take it a little at
a time, sooner or later the puzzle pieces will come together and
everything will fit," Ginny said. He couldn’t see her face, but her
voice sounded confident, and it soothed him.

"You make me feel like I can do anything," he whispered.

"You can."

"I saw my mum and dad’s graves when I was in Godric’s Hollow," he said.
He’d left that part of the story out when he’d told them all about
Wormtail. He didn’t know why, but he suddenly had the urge to talk
about it with her.

"That must have been hard for you," she said, running her fingers
through his hair.

Harry shrugged, enjoying the sensation her fingers were creating. "It
was strange. I’ve always wondered about them, but I thought when I
finally saw their resting place that I’d feel some sort of connection
to them or something. I dunno. It’s stupid really."

"It isn’t stupid, Harry."

"It was hard to be there; it made me think of how different things
should have been, but I didn’t feel like they were there. I didn’t feel
any different about them then I always had. Does that make any sense?"
Harry asked.

"I suppose," Ginny said carefully, "that maybe it’s not the place where
they are buried that connects us to the people we’ve lost, but the
feelings we have inside for them. I’ve never lost anyone really close
to me, so it’s not like I know what I’m talking about, but Mum lost a
couple of her brothers in the last war. I never knew them because they
died before I was born, but I know she still talks to them sometimes,
particularly when she’s feeling stressed. Fred and George were named
for them, well, their initials anyway.

"I don’t remember Mum ever going to their graves, but it doesn’t mean
she loved them any less. Maybe some people need a grave as a place to
grieve and others don’t. You never had a gravesite to go to, right?
You’ve always just known they died, so you’ve found other ways to feel
connected to them."

"I suppose," Harry said, burrowing his face into her hair and smelling
that sweet floral scent he loved so much. Until he was eleven, he’d
believed his parents had died in a car accident. He could remember
lying in his cupboard and having imaginary conversations with them.
He’d never considered that it was a form of grieving.

"So, what do you want to do for your birthday?" Ginny asked, and he
knew she was trying to cheer him up. Feeling in the mood to actually
celebrate his birthday for a change, he let her.

"I know exactly what I want to do," he said, nibbling on her ear, "but
I think your mum might object if we spend the day up here — not to
mention your army of brothers."

Ginny giggled, moving her head to give him better access to her neck.
She moaned softly as he continued to plant kisses along the slender
column of her throat, and he thought the sound might drive him mad.

Harry had just managed to relax and begin to enjoy himself when he
heard Mrs. Weasley hollering to them that breakfast was ready. Harry
and Ginny broke apart reluctantly, both panting and looking rather
"Well," Ginny said, standing up and straightening her clothing. "It’s
nice to see that my mum’s timing is as impeccable as always."

"Yeah," Harry replied grumpily, attempting unsuccessfully to flatten
his extremely mussed up hair. "It’s just brilliant."

"Don’t worry, Harry. We’ll have plenty of opportunities to continue our
activities once we’re out from under her eye," Ginny said with an
impish wink. Tossing her hair over her shoulder, she turned and left
the room, leaving a gaping Harry to follow in her wake. Her words had
sent his mind into overdrive, and he was suddenly very keen to begin
their quest for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with

When they entered the kitchen, they found it already crowded. Everyone
turned to stare, causing both of them to blush brightly. Harry was
surprised to see Ginny coloring; she was usually better at not letting
her family get to her than he was.

"Appears as if our birthday boy might have already received one of his
presents," Fred said innocently.

Harry felt heat flame in his face and neck and knew that he’d turned
even redder, if that were possible.

"Shut it, you," Ginny said in a low voice, piling a scoop of scrambled
eggs onto a plate. She handed the plate to Harry and filled another for

"Yes, Ginny," George said, grinning mischievously. "What took you so
long? Was it hard to get Harry to rise this morning?"

Harry choked on his eggs, looking around wildly to make certain Mrs.
Weasley was still busy at the stove and hadn’t overheard their

Ginny appeared to have regained her composure. She casually cast her
eyes downward at Harry and muttered, "Not really."

Fred and George sat motionless except for their eyes, which darted back
and forth between Harry and Ginny. They wore identical stunned
expressions before both broke out in hearty laughter.

Harry wanted the floor to open up and swallow him whole. He was certain
any one of her many brothers was about to curse him from existence. He
was glad he’d at least come of age, so he could defend himself when
they chose to attack. He glanced warily at Ron only to find that his
friend wasn’t even paying attention to them. He was pushing food around
on his plate and glancing at his watch every few seconds. Ron was
impatient to leave.

Sensing Harry’s stare, Ron looked up. "Get moving, Harry. You don’t
have time to eat. Dad’s ready to take us to the Ministry; he just went
to grab his cloak."

"Ron," Ginny said, grabbing Harry’s arm as he went to stand. "This is
his birthday breakfast; he should get to enjoy some of it."

"And he needs to have something in his stomach to do well on his test,"
Mrs. Weasley said, moving over to the table and placing a few more
slices of toast on Harry’s plate. "Harry, you look flushed, dear. Are
you feeling all right?"

Mrs. Weasley put the back of her hand on Harry’s forehead to check if
it was warm.

"I’m fine, Mrs. Weasley," Harry murmured, feeling anything but fine.
He’d completely lost his appetite and felt as eager as Ron to leave the
kitchen and the dangerously smirking twins.

"Don’t let the test worry you, dear," Mrs. Weasley said,
misinterpreting his unease. "I’m certain you’ll do fine. And even if
you don’t, you can always take it again later."

"If Harry’s feeling peckish, Mum, I’m certain Ginny will be able to
take care of him," Fred said with an evil grin. "She seems to know a
lot about his needs these days."

Not wanting to hear anything more, Harry jumped from his chair and
managed to spill his coffee all over the table in the process. Mrs.
Weasley hurriedly grabbed a towel and began to sop up the mess.

"Sorry, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said, flustered. This only caused Fred and
George to laugh harder.

Ginny glared at her brothers. "Ignore them, Harry," she whispered,
kissing him lightly on the cheek. "Good luck. You too, Ron."

"Yeah," Ron said, barely acknowledging any of them as he dragged Harry
from the kitchen.


They had to use the visitor’s entrance when they arrived at the
Ministry, causing Harry’s stomach to churn unpleasantly. Mr. Weasley
placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze
while they were inside the telephone box. Harry was grateful for the
support but was even more appreciative of Mr. Weasley’s silence. He
couldn’t bear right then to talk about what had happened the last time
he’d been there. The memories were all too close to the surface.

When the telephone box sprang open, they stepped out and into the
atrium. Harry had only a moment to notice that the fountain in the
center of the room had been replaced before a throng of reporters
rushed forward towards them.

"There he is," one of them shouted. "Mr. Potter, could you look this

Flashbulbs began going off in all directions while so many questions
were fired at Harry that he couldn’t hear any of them.

Surprised, he remained motionless for a moment, staring blankly at the
number of reporters. Mr. Weasley grabbed his arm and began pushing him
towards a glass doorway. Ron walked on his other side, attempting to
shield him from view.

The doorway opened suddenly, and Percy Weasley stood motioning them
inside. They sprinted through just as Percy slammed the door shut and
sealed it with his wand. Harry could see the reporters banging on the
glass while still shouting their questions and snapping pictures.

"This way," Percy said, leading them down a corridor and out of sight.

"What the devil was that all about?" Mr. Weasley asked, straightening
his robes.

"That," Percy replied grimly, "was the Minister’s idea. He informed the
press that you’d be arriving here this morning, Harry."

"Did he bother telling them I’m only here to get my Apparation
license?" Harry asked, firing up at once.

"No. Although he never said you were meeting with him, he left the
reason for your appearance very ambiguous," Percy replied, not meeting
Harry’s eyes.

"What else aren’t you saying?" Harry asked instinctively.

"I was sent to get you away from the reporters and take you through
security before you had time to answer any questions," Percy said, two
bright spots of color appearing on his cheeks.

"You did what you had to do to keep your job," Harry said, waving his
hand. "Besides, I didn’t really want to talk to those reporters,

Percy started for a moment, blinking behind his horn-rimmed spectacles.
Finally, swallowing heavily, he said, "Thank you, Harry."

Harry again waved his hand in the air, "Bygones. We have more important
worries at the moment."

"Still, I treated you very badly. I can see that now," Percy said,
shifting uncomfortably. Harry could tell that apologizing was something
Percy found very difficult to do.

"Percy, the best thing you can do now is to make things right with your
family. These are dangerous times, and you don’t want to leave anything
undone or unsaid until it’s too late. Take it from someone who knows,"
Harry said seriously.

Percy nodded gravely, his eyes shifted for a moment towards Ron who
stood with his arms crossed across his chest and a scowl on his face.

"Your mother will be pleased to hear we spoke, Percy," Mr. Weasley
said, his voice sounding slightly choked.

"I’ll visit her soon. You’d best head up to the testing center. They’re
expecting you," he said before turning on his heel and hurrying down
the corridor.

"I can’t believe you let him off that easily," Ron said, shaking his

"He’s your brother, Ron," Harry replied.

"All the more reason he shouldn’t have acted like such a git," Ron
said, scowling. "It’ll take a bit more than that for me to forgive

Harry glanced at Mr. Weasley, expecting him to reprimand Ron. The older
man didn’t, however, apparently accepting that Percy would have to mend
his relationship with his siblings on his own.

"We’d best go upstairs," Mr. Weasley said brightly, pressing the button
for the lift and wearing a wide grin that made him appear younger than
he had in months.

When they reached the testing center, they found it empty except for a
young witch who was sitting at the reception desk. She smiled
engagingly and lowered her lashes, telling them to take a seat. They
sat in comfortable chairs while the witch cast flirtatious smiles
across the desk. Harry shifted uncomfortably while Ron perked up
straightly in his chair. After several moments, the witch began to
pout, sticking her heavily painted lip out dramatically. She obviously
was seeking Harry’s attention, but he wasn’t heeding her advances.

Ron scowled when he realized the witch wasn’t paying any attention to
him, and he began to fidget. His leg quickly bounced up and down as he
shifted in his seat.

“Don’t worry about it,” Harry finally hissed. “You’ll do fine. You’ve
done it before.”

“I hate tests,” Ron hissed back.

Mr. Weasley sat with his face behind a magazine pretending not to pay
attention, although Harry could see his body twitching with suppressed
chuckles. Thankfully, Harry’s name was called first, and he followed
the stern-looking witch down the corridor and away from the
receptionist and Ron’s nerves.

He emerged twenty minutes later sporting a huge grin with his
Apparation license in his hand.

“Well done,” Mr. Weasley said, patting him on the back. “Well done,
indeed. Why don’t you have a seat while we wait for Ron?”

Harry had the distinct impression that Mr. Weasley had something
particular that he wanted to discuss, and Harry’s stomach twisted with

“Now you’ve come of age, I imagine some things will change,” Mr.
Weasley said a bit too casually, while picking at a stray thread on the
sleeve of his robes.
“Yes, sir,” Harry replied, resisting the urge to tug at his collar. His
neck suddenly felt very hot and prickly.

“I’m aware that you were working on something with Albus before he
died, and I can only assume you intend to finish what you’ve started,”
Mr. Weasley said.

Harry forced himself not to fidget and to control his urge to blurt out
everything. It was much harder to keep the truth from Mr. Weasley than
it had been from Moody or Remus. “Yes, sir. I’m sorry, Mr. Weasley, but
I really can’t-“

“I’m not asking you to tell me anything that you’re not comfortable in
telling me, Harry. I do want you to know, however, that you can always
come to me, or to anyone in the Order, for assistance if you feel you
need it,” Mr. Weasley said solemnly. “You can come to me at any time,

“Thank you,” Harry said, surprised. He knew that Mrs. Weasley wouldn’t
like his involvement in anything to do with the Order, but he’d never
considered the possibility that Mr. Weasley might see things
differently, more objectively.

“I’m not promising that everyone in the Order will feel this way,” Mr.
Weasley said, shifting his position. “I suspect there will be several
people quite angry with you, actually. But I’ve watched you over the
years as you’ve grown, Harry, and I know you are a more-than-capable
wizard. You and Ron are adults now, and I can no longer expect to make
decisions for you.”

“And Mrs. Weasley?” Harry asked, fearing the answer. Harry dreaded her
disapproval almost as much as he had Dumbledore’s.

“Molly will be angry, but I think you know that. You and Ron will
always be her little boys. She doesn’t want to let go. She’s a strong
witch, though; she’ll be all right. She loves you, Harry; she’ll
forgive you,” Mr. Weasley replied, his expression softening.

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