Nasty young gay dude gets banged hard

Nasty young gay dude gets banged hard
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Chapter 11 Disclaimer: not mine Severus Snape was surprised. Christmas was normally not a holiday he celebrated, choosing instead to spend the day working on various projects, or catching up on reading he wasn't able to get to with all those snot-nosed brats running around during the term. At least, that's how it used to be. He found that he didn't mind teaching so much, anymore.

But he still liked to use the quiet of the holidays to catch up on his personal pursuits. However, Christams was not a day he considered special by any means. He hadn't gotten a present in years. Not since Lily. Which was why he had been so surprised to wake up on the morning of the Twenty Fifth to find an innocently wrapped present waiting for him at the foot of his bed.

He had, of course, performed all the necessary spells to guarantee that there were no hexes or jinxes on the parcel, before opening it. Inside was a beautiful set of self-stirring rods for potions, as well as an assortment of ingredients that Severus knew were incredibly rare and therefore exceedingly expensive. The note proved the gift to be from Harry, who explained that the ingredients were a collection from his personal greenhouse.

So yes, Severus was surprised. He had gotten the boy a gift, of course, but he hadn't really expected one in return. He examined the present once more, and felt something like a smile creep across his face, already considering the potions he could now brew with these ingredients. He may be the Defense professor now, but potions were his true calling.

He'd have to find some way to thank Harry for the thoughtful gift. With that thought in mind, and the potions journal he had been planning to finish today cast from his mind, Severus quickly made his way to his personal potions lab. XXX As the holidays continued to pass, Harry and Ginny were looking for an opportunity to sneak away to Grimmauld Place. There weren't many, as the entire group came over frequently.

Blaise and Daphne visited the day after the holiday, thanking Harry for his presents, and letting out some stress by destroying a few dueling dummies. Astoria came over to watch some more movies, completely captivated by the technology. Harry thought it was a shame that she hadn't taken the Muggle Studies class. Two days after Christmas, a chance finally prevented itself. Hermione had stayed home to spend the day with her parents, Susan and Amelia had gone dress shopping for the wedding, Neville was working on his greenhouse, and Ron had agreed only partially willingly to help Fred and George at their shop.

A little questioning revealed that Minerva would be at Hogwarts all day, and Sirius would be busy at the Ministry, while Remus was working at a muggle bookstore. Ginny Flooed over promptly at ten o'clock, to give all the adults a chance to leave for their respective duties. Harry met her at the fireplace, and the two immediately left for the Black Ancestral Home.

Harry led Ginny up to the library, keeping an ear and an eye out for any company. The house should be empty, but it was used as a way station of sorts for Dumbledore's Order, so there was a possibility of someone showing up. Make sure you're careful around these books, he cautioned as they entered the massive room. Sirius said that some of them have curses on them, and some are just plain evil. Ginny nodded, and they began to wander through the shelves together, not wanting to separate in such a heavy and oppressive place.

It was like they could feel the evilness of the books whispering at them, trying to lure them closer. After almost half an hour of searching, they settled at a table with half a dozen books that looked promising. Though they didn't know how to dispel the curses, Harry could sense which ones were trapped.

He wasn't sure how, but some of them sent a shiver down his spine, and he just knew to avoid those ones. The ones that they had found dealt with methods of prolonging life, a few dark rituals, and the one Harry immediately started with, which spoke about soul magic. The day disappeared quickly as they poured over the books. Harry was captivated, and disgusted, by what he read, but what he learned certainly fit with what he knew of Voldemort.

Harry looked up and caught Ginny's eye. He opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off by a loud crack that echoed around the room. He looked down at the space next to him, startled, to see an old house elf watching him distrustfully. He frowned; he vaguely remembered Kreacher from his stay here after Sirius had taken him away from his aunt and uncle's. The elf had always been muttering to himself, not making much sense beyond the insults to muggleborns and blood traitors.

Still, he always tried to be polite to house elves, knowing that they had a lot of work to deal with, and not wanting to add to their burden. "Hello Kreacher," he said calmly, trying to sound neutral. Kreacher peered at him distrustfully. "Dirty godson of blood traitor master speaks.

Kreacher wonders what he is doing here. Yes, Kreacher wonders what he is doing touching precious Black family books." Harry and Ginny looked at each other, before Harry set the book he had been reading down, and turning his complete attention to the house elf. "Kreacher, Ginny and I were researching for a private project. We really don't want anyone to know what we're looking for." Kreacher's eyes narrowed.

"Filthy Potter boy speaks to Kreacher. He doesn't want Kreacher to say anything. Kreacher wonders why he should listen to filthy blood traitor." Harry grit his teeth, ignoring the insults. He just wanted the house elf to understand. "Kreacher, we're trying to find a way to end the war." Kreacher froze, his eyes widening as they looked at Harry. "Filthy Potter boy speaks the Dark Lord's name.

Filthy Potter boy acts as if he knows how to complete such an act. But no one can know. Master Regulus failed. And Kreacher failed Master Regulus." He was nearly in tears by the end of his rant, wailing loudly and sobbing harshly. Harry frowned. "What do you mean, Kreacher?" he asked softly. "What happened to Regulus?" He remembered Sirius telling him about his brother. Regulus had proudly joined the Death Eaters at sixteen, and then, according to Sirius, had gotten cold feet about something he was supposed to do, and been killed for it.

They only really knew that much because his death date had appeared on the family tapestry that was hanging in this house. He had just disappeared shortly before the war ended. No body, nothing. Did Kreacher know something nobody else did? Kreacher was still sobbing, but it was slowing down slightly, so Harry slipped off his seat and kneeled in front of the elf. "Kreacher, take your time and calm down. When you feel ready, please can you tell me what happened?" The politeness Harry extended only set Kreacher off again, and it was almost ten minutes before he calmed down enough to talk.

Slowly, and with several breaks, he told Harry and Ginny about how Regulus had volunteered him to the Dark Lord. He had gone to a cave, past animated bodies which Harry knew to be infiri floating in a lake, to a small island where the Dark Lord made him drink a potion, before placing a locket in a stone bowl and refilling it with the potion, before leaving.

He explained needing a drink, and disturbing the water, causing the bodies to come alive. There was real fear in Kreacher's eyes that made Harry sympathetic and a little uncomfortable. Harry frowned. "How did you get out, Kreacher? If Voldemort left you there, how did you escape?" Kreacher looked at him, confused.

"Master Regulus told Kreacher to return once the Dark Lord was finished with him." Harry nodded slowly. It would make sense, he figured. After all, house elf magic was different from that of witches and wizards.

It would be just like Voldemort to add anti-apparation wards and completely overlook house elves. If they could apparate and disapparate in Hogwarts, Harry was sure that Kreacher could get around whatever wards were in place at this cave and return home.

He nodded. "What happened next?" he asked, sensing that this part of the story would get even tougher for the poor elf. Indeed, Kreacher teared up, and then promptly spilled over as Ginny handed him a handkerchief.

After five more minutes, he had finally calmed down enough to continue. "Master Regulus asked Kreacher what happened. He was… concerned, and disappeared for weeks. He came back in the middle of the night and asked Kreacher to take him to the cave." Kreacher's eyes filled up again. "We went passed the bodies, and to the island. Master Regulus, he… he…" Kreacher sobbed, and Harry reached out, resting a hand reassuringly on the elf's shoulder.

Kreacher looked startled by the gesture of comfort, and Harry nodded for him to continue. Taking a deep breath, the house elf did. "Master Regulus told Kreacher to return home no matter what, and not tell anyone what happened, not even his poor mother. Mistress was so distraught, her brave and noble son, vanished, dead." Harry bit his lip. "He drank the potion and took the locket, didn't he." It wasn't a question, but Kreacher nodded miserably. "He drank, and saw horrible things.

The potion made Kreacher and Master relive… nightmares." He shivered. "When the basin was empty, Master Regulus took out the locket and gave it to Kreacher. He put in a fake, and told Kreacher to leave and destroy the locket. Before Kreacher did so, he saw Master dragged underneath the water by the dead bodies." Harry couldn't suppress his shiver at the image of anyone dying that way. It must have been horrible. "I'm so sorry for what you've been through, Kreacher." Kreacher hiccoughed, and peered up at Harry.

"Godson of nasty Master feels sorry for Kreacher?" Harry nodded, smiling reassuringly. "What you went through was horrible, Kreacher." He hesitated. "Would you like to take a seat? Ginny and I would like to talk to you, and we should all be comfortable, right?" Kreacher looked like he wanted to start crying again, but managed to contain himself, and hesitantly took a seat at the table Harry and Ginny had been working at. Harry and Ginny also sat back down. Ginny leaned forward slightly, her warm brown eyes compassionate.

"Kreacher, did you know what Regulus was doing when he took that locket?" Kreacher looked at her, eyes wide. "Master said he knew how to end the war." Ginny nodded and took a deep breath. "That locket was one of several objects that we believe are tying Voldemort to life." Kreacher shivered a little at the name, but didn't speak. "Harry and I are working towards removing those tethers, so that we can kill him, once and for all." "Basically, we're trying to continue the work Regulus was doing when he died," Harry summarized, hoping that the elf would be willing to help them.

Sirius had many horror stories about how awful this elf was growing up, but Harry knew that house elves mostly emulated their master's beliefs. Kreacher would have been awful, but only because Sirius' parents had acted that way. He would have just followed his Master and Mistress' attitude to please her. Kreacher's eyes got even wider.

"Potter boy will help Kreacher? Kreacher won't fail anymore?" Harry nodded. "We'll help you destroy the locket, Kreacher. I promise." Kreacher's mouth twitched, and Harry realized that the elf was trying to smile, but the notion must have been so foreign to him that he wasn't sure how. He was about to speak, when Kreacher popped away. Harry and Ginny barely had time to look at each other before the elf was back. In his hands was a gaudy locket.

He held it out to Harry gingerly. "Kreacher tried throwing it in the fire. He tried freezing it and breaking it, but nothing worked. Kreacher is sure the way to destroy it is by opening it, but it won't open." Harry took the locket and examined it. It was overly large, and gold, with an 'S' on the front, made up of emeralds. He raised an eyebrow and looked at Ginny. "I think this belonged to Slytherin," he commented.

Ginny leaned forward interestedly and studied the locket. "I think you're right," she agreed. "Although I can't imagine Slytherin walking around wearing that thing. It's kind of hideous." Harry snorted and nodded. A moment later, he frowned when he felt something like a pull in his scar. It was slightly reminiscent of the pain he used to feel whenever Voldemort was near, and he was concerned. Ginny furrowed her brow.

Can you feel that? she asked, a hint of fear in her mental voice. Harry nodded imperceptibly. It's a part of Voldemort. I can almost feel a pain in my scar, like it's responding to the locket. He looked at Kreacher. "Is it all right if we take this with us? We'll keep it safe, and when we figure out how to destroy it, we'll let you know." Kreacher's wide eyes studied Harry for a moment, before he nodded.

"Master Harry will keep his promise. Kreacher believes Master Harry will finish the Dark Lord." Harry was slightly shocked to receive such a vote of confidence from the elf, but he nodded, though he was confused as to why Kreacher was suddenly calling him 'master'.

"We should get back before we're missed," Ginny commented. Harry agreed, and they stood up. "Thank you Kreacher, for hearing us out, and telling us your story.

You were a very brave elf that day, and I have a feeling that hasn't changed." Kreacher sniffed. "Master Harry is very kind." Harry furrowed his brow.

"Why are you calling me 'master now?" Kreacher peered up at him. "Master Harry is Master Sirius' ward. He is Kreacher's master as well." Harry raised an eyebrow, but didn't comment. He was slightly amazed at how just one day could change the elf's beliefs.

All of a sudden, Kreacher wasn't the muggleborn-hating, pureblood promoting house elf anymore. It was a startling change. He smiled. "We'll see you soon, Kreacher. If you ever need us, don't hesitate to ask. We'll be there." Kreacher nodded. "Master and Mistress Potter are the best masters ever." Ginny and Harry stared. "You can see our bond?" Ginny asked curiously. Harry remembered what Fleur had told them a couple years earlier; that magical creatures could sense soul bonds.

House elves would surely know that they were married. Kreacher nodded knowingly. "Oh yes, it is very strong for a bond that has not been completed. Kreacher knows that Master and Mistress are a very powerful witch and wizard." The two teens weren't quite sure what to say, so they just said goodbye and headed to the Floo to return to McGonagall Castle, with both the locket and the book on soul magic that Harry found very informative in their possession.

Harry hoped no one would notice that they had taken the book, but he doubted they would. The library wasn't used for anything; in fact, the only part of this house that was used was the kitchen, mostly, and that was just for Order meetings. Once they returned, they immediately headed up to Harry's room. Harry pulled out a small wooden box that he kept various knick-knacks in, and emptied it out. He then placed several powerful wards on the box, before putting the locket and the book in and placing it in the fourth compartment of his trunk.

Hopefully the wards on the box will keep everyone but us out, he said as he closed the lid on his trunk. I think I made them powerful enough. Ginny nodded. I'm sure you did, Harry. I could feel the power in them. It should be enough to discourage anyone from trying, if they even figure out what it is we've got. With the immensity of their situation settling down around them, they both sat down on the bed.

I can't believe it, Harry commented. I know, Ginny replied. I mean, it just seems so different, now that we know the reality. In theory it was different, Harry agreed. Now that we know these horcruxes are real, and that we're not just grasping at straws, it seems so much more immense. We've got a lot of work to do, Ginny sighed wearily.

XXX Late afternoon on New Years Eve found a small group gathered outside in the back garden at McGonagall Castle. The house elves had decorated the garden with lights, and set out several rows of white chairs facing a makeshift alter. This too had been decorated with lights and draped with a sheer gold tulle fabric. There were white and purple roses on the alter and at the ends of each row of chairs.

The aisle had been lined with gold tulle, and there were purple rose petals scattered down its length. Several warming charms made sure that no one would be cold in the crisp December air.

Harry thought that the house elves really knew what they were doing, as he observed the scene from his spot next to Sirius and Remus. The setting was beautiful. It had snowed earlier in the week, and there was still a good three inches on the ground around them, but the location the elves had picked for the ceremony was dry.

And the colors worked together very well. It definitely gave off a 'winter wedding' vibe. The chairs were all occupied, as the guests arrived promptly. The Weasleys came together, with only Charlie still in Romania and Percy still not talking to his family not in attendance.

Fleur was with them. Augusta and Neville arrived early, as the Longbottom Dowager was performing the ceremony. Kingsley and the Tonkses arrived at nearly the same time, and the two Aurors were currently talking about different disarming techniques, while Tonks' parents listened with interest.

Hermione showed up just a few minutes before the ceremony was to start, and slipped into the open seat next to Ron, who promptly gave her a kiss on her cheek and complimented her dress, causing Hermione to blush, almost matching her rose colored dress in color, as she smiled her thanks. Invisible music began to play, and the guests all turned towards the back of the aisle, to see Susan walk down, wearing a gold dress, with spaghetti straps that cut off at the knees.

In her hands was a bouquet of purple roses. Behind her was Amelia. Harry spared a glance for Sirius, and smiled at the loving look in his godfather's eyes. It was as if he was a blind man, seeing the sun for the first time. Knowing that his godfather was truly happy with his life, and completely in love, Harry turned back to his soon-to-be… godmother?

Not really, since his godmother was Alice, but what do you call the woman who marries your godfather? He shook his head to clear it of errant thoughts, and just watched, a content smile on his face.

Amelia's wedding dress was beautiful. It was an off the shoulder long sleeve, simple A-line dress. No lace, no frills, just plain and serviceable. Very similar to Amelia's personality.

It definitely fit the hard-as-nails Minister of Magic. Her bouquet was made up of purple and white roses, and several leaves that had been charmed gold. The smile on her face was blinding. Her eyes caught Sirius', and didn't waver as she made her way down the aisle. Once the two of them were standing in front of Augusta, Amelia handed her bouquet to Susan to hold, and the Longbottom Dowager began.

"Welcome, friends and family. We are here today to join Sirius Orion Black and Amelia Susan Bones in holy matrimony. I hope you will bear with me, as performing weddings is not something I have ever done before. I will do my best not to miss anything." Everyone chuckled, and Augusta smiled. "Sirius and Amelia told me they wrote their own vows, so I'll let them get to it.

Sirius?" Sirius smiled widely, and focused on Amelia. "When I was seventeen, I joined the Aurors straight out of Hogwarts. I was… Well, I was an idiot who thought he could take on the world. I thought I was the smartest, the toughest, the strongest… and then I went to my first day of classes. And there was this fiery instructor there, who wasted no time in dumping me on my arse and telling me that pretty didn't mean squat to a Death Eater." Amelia snorted, and everyone else laughed.

Sirius shrugged. "She then kicked my arse a few more times, and I knew she was a keeper." Amelia's smile widened. "Amelia, we've both had our share of hardships. We've both had ups and downs. We lost so much time, and it's hard not to think about the 'could have been's. But that doesn't matter any more.

Because it's no use thinking about what we missed. All that matters is what we can achieve, together. We've got our whole future ahead of us. Forever." He took a deep breath, grasping her hands tightly.

"And so, Amelia Susan Bones, I vow to love you fiercely, no matter what challenges or obstacles we face. I vow to face those challenges with you, to never let you go through it alone.

I vow to be your best friend, your confidant, your love, your life. Forever and always." Amelia was tearing up as he finished, as were a few of the guests.

Augusta nodded, and turned slightly. "Amelia?" The Minister took a deep breath and started talking. "When we first met, I thought you were just a nuisance. Just one more obstacle on my way to the top. But then you just had to go and prove me wrong. You were so damn stubborn, and persistent, and I found myself falling just a little bit further each day without even realizing it." She sniffed, composing herself, and Sirius smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling in amusement.

"Standing here, looking at you, I'm reminded of all the reasons I fell in love with you. With you, I'm complete. We're complete. I remember the laughs, the beautiful moments, and the hardships that only made us stronger. I give you this promise today: I will love you completely, I will stand by you through good times and bad, I will cherish every moment, and I will knock you down a peg whenever you need it." Everyone chuckled. Augusta nodded to Harry, who pulled out a ring and handed it to Sirius.

Augusta cleared her throat. "Sirius, place the ring on Amelia's finger and repeat after me: with this ring, I thee wed." Sirius took Amelia's hand in his and slid the diamond-encrusted ring on her finger. "With this ring, I thee wed." August looked at Susan, who handed Amelia Sirius' ring. "Place the ring on Sirius' finger and repeat after me: with this ring, I thee wed." Amelia slipped the ring onto her soon-to-be husband's finger.

"With this ring, I thee wed." Sirius looked down at the wide platinum band that now adorned his finger. Augusta looked at the crowd. "It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you Lord and Lady Black. Sirius, you may kiss your bride." Needing no more encouragement, Sirius leaned forward and captured Amelia's lips with his own, oblivious to the clapping and cheering around him. When they broke apart, Amelia smiled prettily up at him.

"You're stuck with me now, Black." Sirius leaned forward again and gave her a peck on the lips. "Good," he replied, pulling back. They went down to accept their friends' congratulations, while the house elves set up several tables and got the food ready for dinner. They had a very enjoyable evening, eating the food the elves had prepared.

There was a small dance floor set up, and the various couples spent most of the night there, dancing and enjoying the beautiful evening. It was a clear night, and millions of stars could be seen twinkling above. When midnight rolled around, Fred and George once more set off fireworks, these with predominantly purple and gold colors. Everyone cheered as images took shape up in the inky black sky; roaring dragons, sparkling unicorns, and at the very end, the letters S and A inside two hearts linked together.

The couples all shared kisses before heading inside for the night. Susan stayed at McGonagall Castle, while Sirius and Amelia returned to the Bones Estate. She would stay with Harry and Minerva until returning to Hogwarts, to give the newlyweds some time to themselves.

It wasn't feasible for them to go on a honeymoon, not right now at least, and not with the war, but at least Susan could give them some space. Before the two adults left, Susan and Harry hugged them and congratulated them once more.

Black mom oiling her hot body

Amelia smiled brightly as Harry pulled back. "If I haven't said it yet, Harry, I am thrilled to be able to call you family.

If you ever need anything, please don't hesitate to ask." Harry blushed and nodded. "I'm glad Sirius has you," he said quietly, looking over at his godfather, who was currently speaking softly to Susan, smiles on both of their faces. "He needs someone to ground him. You both deserve to be happy." Amelia teared up and gave him another hug, before she and Sirius stepped through the Floo.

XXX Harry and Susan were getting ready to leave for the Hogwarts Express two days later, when their morning was interrupted by a haggard Sirius stepping through the fireplace. Harry frowned, reaching forward, surprised to see his godfather looking so exhausted.

"Sirius? What's going on? What are you doing here?" Sirius grimaced. "I know you two need to leave soon, but the situation has changed a bit. Last night, Azkaban was attacked." The two teenagers stared. "I thought you were moving the prisoners?" Susan asked hesitantly. Sirius nodded. "We were going to, last night. We've got a mole. We swept the Department early this morning, and found several listening spells set up.

Whoever did it had to at least be partially aware of the procedures at the DMLE, because every room is swept regularly for listening spells to prevent just this from happening. The Death Eaters knew when we were moving the prisoners, and when the wards would be down.

There was a period of a couple of hours and they struck at exactly the right time. Seven Aurors are dead, and nine more were injured, with three of those critical." Harry bit his lip.

"How many escaped?" Sirius shook his head. "All of the Death Eaters that were captured at the Ministry, as well as roughly twenty more who had not been sprung last year." He paused. "And Umbridge." Harry groaned. Of course that hag would jump at the chance to join ranks with Voldemort. Sirius sighed. "It's a tough situation, and I wanted to let you guys know first, before you read about it in the Prophet tomorrow.

I guess we can be happy that at least this happened too late for it to be printed right away. I also wanted to let you know that your trip to the Platform is no longer just Remus and Tonks seeing you off. A contingent of Aurors will meet you at the Floo station at Kings Cross." He held up a hand at the looks of annoyance both teens were giving him.

"I know, you don't want the guard. But you have to look at it from our perspective. Susan, you're the Minister's niece. And Harry… well, you're Harry." Harry rolled his eyes, and Sirius chuckled. "Not to mention, the godson of the Minister's new husband." He tossed them that morning's copy of the Prophet, where the Minister's secret wedding covered the front page.

Since no one had been aware of the wedding beforehand, the only picture showed was the official one they had had taken immediately following the ceremony, with Sirius and Amelia smiling happily in each other's arms from the alter. They had given it to the paper to use, knowing that they weren't going to hide their new status. Harry tucked the paper into his bag, to read later, and looked back at his godfather.

Sirius shrugged apologetically. "I know you don't want a bunch of people you don't know watching your every move, but you need protection. And don't tell me you can take care of yourself, Harry, this is how it's happening. Each person on this detail has been personally vetted. They're all a part of Amelia's personal guard." Harry nodded resignedly, and Sirius smiled slightly.

"I need to get back to help deal with the search and a whole bunch of other issues. You should head to the station, the guard should be there by now." They nodded and gave the older man a hug before he stepped through the Floo.

They looked at each other, both gazes successfully conveying their aggravation at having minders escort them to the Platform, before they gathered their belongings and went through the fireplace. As Harry had sent Hedwig on ahead, all he had to carry was his trunk, shrunken and inside his pocket, and his rucksack, which contained a clean uniform and a few books to read on the journey.

Susan likewise only had a shrunken trunk and a shoulder bag with things to catch her interest on the trip. At Kings Cross, they were met with five stony-faced Aurors, and Tonks, who smiled and waved at them, her hair its typical bubblegum pink. "Wotcher Harry, Susan," the perky Auror greeted. They greeted Tonks in return, before one of the other Aurors coughed, and Tonks rolled her eyes.

She gestured to the exit. "Let's get you two to the Platform, shall we?" They all headed through the crowded station to the barrier between platforms nine and ten. In groups of two, they crossed through to Platform Nine and Three Quarters, where the Aurors cut a clear path through the masses; people stared as they walked by, which was only natural, considering the armed guard that was escorting the two teenagers.

They stopped at a car halfway down the train, and Tonks gave them both a hug. "You should get on the train. I'll send the others your way when they arrive." Harry nodded his thanks, before glancing questioningly at the others. Tonks shrugged. "They stay until the train leaves.

Protocol and all that." Harry and Susan rolled their eyes, and got on board. Over the next fifteen minutes, the rest of their friends arrived, before the train took off at eleven o'clock precisely. Once they were on their way, Harry and Susan told the others about the prison break.

Hermione gasped in shock. "But how? I thought they were moving the prisoners to prevent this from happening?" Harry nodded grimly. "They were, the night the breakout happened. Unfortunately, Sirius believes there's a spy in the Department, who informed them of what was going on, as well as the window the wards would be down, so they were able to plan their attack around our weaknesses." "Wouldn't just the information they were able to get give us some sort of clue as to who it was?" Ron asked.

"Only a handful of people knew this move was happening." Harry sighed. "They found listening spells set up. They were probably taken down and re-applied regularly, to avoid detection by the department. Unfortunately, this widens the pool of suspects slightly, though whoever did it did have to be aware of department policies and procedures." "And we really can't do much since we don't know who those suspects are," Ginny grimaced.

Harry nodded. "Exactly. It'll be up to Sirius, Kingsley, Amelia, and the DMLE Head, Scrimgeour, to figure this one out.

We've got enough problems of our own." The two of them shared a significant look, thinking about the locket and the horcruxes, but didn't elaborate to their friends, who all considered school duties, plus the insane homicidal maniac bent on killing Harry to be enough to worry about.

They all settled down with reading materials for the rest of the trip; Harry shared with them the article about Sirius and Amelia's wedding, and they all commiserated over Harry and Susan's increased guard for the short walk from the Floo access to the Platform.

It was dark as the train pulled into Hogsmeade Station, and Harry and his friends, now all changed into their uniforms, headed to the thestral-drawn carriages and made their way up to the castle. Seeing the lights shining in welcome of the return of the students, Harry smiled. As much as he loved McGonagall Castle, he was glad to be returning to the first place he could ever remember calling home.

_ _ _ Chapter 12 Hey guys, sorry this is so late in the day. I had so much stuff going on today, I completely forgot it was Saturday! It's really hard to go apartment hunting from 12 states away, plus car hunting, since thanks to the idiot who decided not to actually pay attention to what she was doing while driving, my car is totaled. Yeah, it's been a trying week. Anyway, enjoy! Disclaimer: don't own A few days after their return to school, Harry and Ginny once more found themselves outside Snape's private quarters.

In his pocket, Harry had the locket Kreacher had given them. He didn't like holding it, because it made him feel dirty. He almost felt a sort of whispering coming from the piece of jewelry, and something in him wanted to respond. He had to stop himself from putting the locket on, and wondered if there was some sort of compelling charm on the infernal thing. He would be happy when they found a way to destroy it, once and for all. On Snape's "Enter," they walked in, and after closing the door, waited until the professor set up several privacy wards, before Harry pulled out the locket, the two teenagers taking a seat across the table from the older man.

Snape frowned as he looked at the gaudy piece of jewelry. "What is this?" he asked, hesitant to actually touch the hideous thing. Even from across the table, he could sense the evil the necklace radiated.

Taking a deep breath, Harry explained what they had learned from Kreacher. When he was done, Snape sat back with an amazed sigh. "Unbelievable," he muttered. "We spend all this time researching and guessing, and this house elf comes in and has had the proof all these years." He rubbed a hand across his face.

"I remember when Regulus joined up. He was only a few years younger than me. Just as quickly, he was gone. We weren't sure what had happened, but the rumor amongst Death Eaters was that he got cold feet and paid for it.

That's all any of us knew." He pulled out his wand and ran it over the locket, muttering a few diagnostic spells. After several minutes, he looked back up. "It's evil," he said simply. "There's no specific scan for a horcrux, but I believe it to be one, just based on the wrongness coming off of the thing.

And I have no idea how to destroy it." "I think I might," Harry said, pulling out the book on soul magic that he had found in the Black library. "This book talks about soul magic, but it has an emphasis on the darker side of the genre. It mentions horcruxes several times, and from what I can tell, there are only a few ways to destroy one. Fiendfyre, which I really don't fancy trying out, or basilisk venom, are two methods it mentions. Actually, it warns people of the dangers of those two substances, because they can destroy a horcrux." He looked at Ginny.

"Ironically enough, I stumbled across the method for destroying the diary by pure accident." He shrugged. "I'm not sure why I decided to stab that diary with a basilisk fang, it was just instinct." Ginny leaned over and gave him a peck on the lips.

"I'm glad you reacted on your instincts then, Harry." "Yes, you do have good ones," Snape commented. "And you're right, Fiendfyre is not a safe method at all." "So basilisk venom then?" Harry asked, almost cheerfully. Snape glared at him, and then sighed and nodded. "It's safer, though not by much. If you had a cut on your hand and accidentally came into contact with the venom, you would die painfully in minutes." Harry hid a wince at the memory of the basilisk fang piercing his arm, and furrowed his brow in thought.

An idea was niggling in the back of his mind. His eyes widened. "The sword is goblin made." Both Ginny and Snape were looking at him as if he had lost his mind. "Come again?" Ginny asked, raising an eyebrow. Harry spoke excitedly, trying to get them to understand. "Gryffindor's sword! It's goblin made. Goblin made blades only take on that which makes them stronger. It's why they never rust! Don't you get it? I stabbed a basilisk with it. Therefore " "The sword is impregnated with basilisk venom!" Ginny finished, her own excitement matching Harry's.

Snape coughed. "Only one problem." They looked at him. "How are you going to sneak the blade out of Dumbledore's office without him knowing?" Harry frowned. "That sword is mine by right. As Gryffindor's heir, I can claim it." Snape tilted his head to the side. He hadn't been aware of that piece of information, but it would make sense. Potters had always been in Gryffindor House, and always stood for what was right.

And they were a very old family. "But Dumbledore will still ask why it's missing," Ginny argued. "True," Harry acquiesced. "So we make a fake and switch them. He'll never know." Ginny nodded.

"Good idea. You'll get right on that?" Her tone was a little mocking, but her eyes were amused. Harry shrugged. "I'll ask Sharptooth if he can help. It's too bad we can't just put an illusion in Dumbledore's office, but he would definitely sense the magic. And there's no guarantee a tranfisgured object would last as long as we need it." They all agreed to that course of action, and Snape told them that he was relieved that they had proof, but now they had to figure out what Voldemort had used, and where the objects were hidden.

Harry bit his lip. "I think we need to tell others," he hedged. "Not everyone, of course, but Sirius and Aunt Minerva should know. They could really help with this." Snape sighed and nodded. "We will need to wait until Dumbledore is gone.

He would know if any visitors came to the castle. When he leaves, Minerva would be in charge, and could admit Black without anyone being the wiser." Harry and Ginny nodded. "Could you talk to Aunt Minerva then? Tell her that you need to speak with her and Sirius, but you don't want Dumbledore to know, so if he leaves for an evening, call Sirius and have him come." Snape inclined his head. "I will inform you when we have this meeting, so that you can attend." Harry smiled slightly.

"Thanks." Ginny looked at him. "We should get going. The Captain can't be late to his own Quidditch practice." Harry sighed. "True," he acquiesced. He looked back at Snape. "I'd appreciate it if you kept that bit about me being Gryffindor's heir a secret. I really don't want people to know." Snape inclined his head simply, and Harry smiled. "Thanks," he said softly, before the two teenagers left the Defense professor alone.

Snape waited until they were gone before he slumped in his seat. "Bloody hell," he muttered, thinking about everything he had learned that morning.

XXX That weekend, Luna surprised them all by completing her animagus transformation. When she changed back, Blaise returned his arms and legs to normal, and gave his girlfriend a hug.

"Great job, Luna," he smiled, kissing her on the cheek. Harry nodded, grinning broadly. "Awesome job, Luna. If you need any help figuring out how to fly, Susan can help you out." Susan smiled, and led the younger girl a short distance away in the meadow the Room of Requirement had provided for them, and started teaching the girl how to use the wings she had acquired, while Blaise and Daphne got back to work, and the others started up a game of tag in their animal form.

XXX With school back in full swing immediately upon their return, it was hard for Harry and his friends to find any real time to relax, or work on any side projects. Somehow, though, Harry and Ginny managed to find some time to work on developing their wandless magic abilities. They spent several weekends and free periods in empty classrooms, while the others were in the Room of Requirement. Their successes paid off, as they found that with more practice, it became easier to cast spells without their wands.

After several weeks of effort, Harry was able to cast most charms, hexes, jinxes, and curses through the fourth year curriculum, and was on his way to mastering fifth year as well. Ginny was right behind him, and though her spells were a little weaker without her wand, the difference was minimal. As they rested after an intense magical workout a couple weeks into January, Harry brought up an observation he had been cultivating, concerning their wandless practice.

"Have you thought about the limits to this ability?" he asked Ginny curiously. Ginny looked over at him and shook her head. "I'm just ecstatic that it's even possible, but something tells me you have," she commented dryly. Harry shrugged. "Once we got the actual casting part down, it really wasn't that hard to work our way through most of the curriculum.

Which leads me to wonder where it ends." When he didn't continue, Ginny leaned forward and nudged his hand.

"What are you thinking in that brilliant mind of yours?" she asked. Harry shifted in his seat. "Theoretically, I think there are probably very few spells we can't cast without a wand. I mean, most of them require the same sort of concentration to cast. With or without a wand, it's not that different. The only ones I think won't be possible are the emotion-based ones. The Unforgivables. The Patronus Charm.

You know, spells like that, that require intense hate, or joy." Ginny nodded understandingly. "That makes sense," she replied. "If those spells are too powerful or too intense, it would be logical that they would need a wand to work." Harry was about to reply, when a doe Patronus interrupted their conversation. He frowned, curious as to the shape the misty creature took; after all, his mother's animagus form had been a doe.

The Patronus looked at Harry, and spoke with their Defense professor's voice. "Tonight, after curfew. Don't get caught." The doe dissolved and Harry and Ginny looked at each other.

"So Dumbledore will be gone tonight," Harry commented idly. Ginny nodded, as they stood up to go meet up with their friends for supper. We'll take the Invisibility Cloak with us.

We sneak out at curfew. We wait for someone to enter the common room, and then we leave. No one will see us. Harry inclined his head in agreement. How do you think they'll take it? Ginny sighed mentally. They'll probably be upset that we didn't tell them before now.

Harry winced. Yeah, he agreed ruefully. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. And we went to Snape. Hopefully they'll see that he was the logical choice, with his knowledge of the Dark Arts.

And they can't deny what we've learned. What we've discovered. He squeezed Ginny's hand tightly. I know it seems like such an impossible task, but they'll have to take some joy in the fact that for the first time in several decades and two wars, we finally have a chance.

He shook his head. I'm a little more worried about telling Sirius about his brother's involvement. Ginny grimaced. Yeah, I can imagine how hard it will be for him, to finally find out how his brother died.

They sat next to their friends and left off with the mental discussion, not wanting anyone to figure out what they were doing and ask what they were talking about. Even so, Harry noticed Hermione narrowing her eyes slightly as she watched them walk into the Great Hall and sit down, though thankfully, she didn't comment.

After supper, they all returned to the common room to try and dig their way out of the mountain of homework they all had. Especially Ginny. She was really starting to hate OWL year. Curfew drew closer, and when it was almost time for Harry and Ginny to leave, they told their friends they were going to bed early, and disappeared to their respective dormitories, only to reappear a few minutes later after placing illusions on their beds and covering themselves in Dissilusionment Charms.

They knew where the other was due to their bond, and met by the closed door. It only took five minutes for the door to open, and the pair slipped out unnoticed.

Once they were in the hallway, Harry covered them with the Invisibility Cloak and they dispelled the Dissilusionment Charms. With a few well-placed charms to silence their footsteps and a minor Notice-Me-Not, no one was the wiser as they snuck down to the dungeons.

Harry knew they were probably being overly cautious, but he had learned over the years that that kind of thinking could very well save their lives. Without Dumbledore in the castle, the chances of someone actually seeing them were small, but better safe than sorry. They reached Snape's quarters with no issues, and knocked once before entering, removing the Cloak as soon as the door was closed.

The others were already there, and looking confused and worried at the appearance of the teenagers. Snape warded the room against eavesdroppers before Minerva spoke.

"Severus, I must admit to some confusion. Why did you want me to call Sirius to the castle at the first opportunity without Albus here?" Snape hesitated, looking at Harry and Ginny for assistance. Harry took a deep breath and stepped forward, observing the adults. Sirius and Amelia were both there, and though Harry knew the Minister would be a great asset, he wasn't entirely sure how he felt about telling yet another person.

But he forced those feelings aside, knowing that she needed to know, just as much as Sirius and Minerva. Gesturing for them all to take a seat, Harry swallowed harshly, trying to steady his nerves. Ginny rested a hand gently on his thigh, and he glanced over, smiling slightly at her reassurance.

Looking back at the adults, he began to tell them everything they had learned over the last few months. "Have any of you ever heard of a horcrux?" Minerva and Amelia looked confused, but Sirius paled significantly at the word, his eyes widening.

"How did you learn that word?" he asked, his voice harsh as he stared at his godson. Harry glanced at Snape, and catching the act, Sirius turned his glare to his former rival. Snape returned the look with a glare of his own, and Harry shook his head, sighing. "Ginny and I brought the idea to Professor Snape, Sirius." They all turned back to him, though Amelia and Minerva were still feeling very confused.

"Last May, Ginny and I began to wonder about a few things. Like how Voldemort survived that Halloween." Sirius paled at the implications. "You mean… He…" He trailed off, seemingly not having the words to go on. "Can someone tell us what the bloody hell you're talking about?" Amelia asked archly, leveling a not quite glare at her husband.

Harry bit his lip, and started at the beginning. "I'm not really sure how we came up with the theory " "You. You came up with the theory," Ginny cut in. "I just agreed with you." Harry rolled his eyes, but smiled fondly at his girlfriend. "Fine, a few months ago, I remembered the diary, you know, the whole Chamber incident?" Minerva grimaced, remembering the fear, finding out that three of her Lions had gone missing, and the utterly exhausting relief and horror at seeing them walk into her office, covered in dirt and blood.

"What about the diary?" she asked with forced calmness. Harry took another breath. "We brought " on Ginny's cough, he amended his statement, "I brought my thoughts to Professor Snape.

We talked about the possibility of it being more than just a memory. Professor Snape did some research, and came back with the possibility of it being a horcrux." "But what is a horcrux?" Amelia asked, exasperated. Harry's lips twitched slightly, but he kept his expression neutral. "Simply put, a horcrux is an object in which someone imprisons a portion of their soul.

While the horcrux exists, they cannot die." "Oh Merlin," Amelia breathed, while Minerva's complexion took on an ashy tone. "This diary was a horcrux?" Sirius asked in a hushed whisper. Harry nodded grimly. "That's what we believe. It was all just theory and speculation, until a couple weeks ago." He hesitated, and Ginny's hand found his, squeezing tightly.

Harry bit his lip. "A few days after Christmas, we found an opportunity to check out the Black library. Everyone else was busy, so we knew nobody would miss us for a few hours." Sirius' eyes narrowed. "Do you have any idea how dangerous that was, Harry?

Many of those books are cursed, there was a reason I told you not to go in there." Harry nodded contritely. "I know, but we thought your family's library would bear more fruit than the Hogwarts one, or the Potter one.

And I could sense which ones were cursed; we avoided those." They looked intrigued by the idea that Harry could sense the magic in the books, but the sixth year didn't give them an opportunity to question him. He told them about Kreacher's story, and was glad now that Amelia was there to comfort Sirius, as he learned just how his brother had died.

"Reg," Sirius whispered, his eyes overly bright. Amelia reached over and gave him a hug. After a few minutes, when he felt he had himself more under control, Sirius pulled away and looked back at Harry. "So Kreacher gave you proof? He gave you the locket?" Harry nodded and pulled out the gaudy locket, setting it on the table and looking at it distastefully.

"I keep it in a box in one of the compartments in my trunk that only I can access. There's a whole bunch of protective charms on it, to keep anyone who might find it out." They all looked warily at the piece of jewelry. All of them could feel the evil radiating off of the thing. "How do we destroy it?" Minerva asked softly. Harry, Ginny, and Snape shared a look, before Harry spoke.

"In order to destroy a horcrux, you have to damage it beyond even magical repair. From what we researched, the two most reliable ways to do it are basilisk venom or Fiendfyre." The three of them shared another look. "Personally, I'd rather go with the venom." Sirius snorted, thinking about the alternative. Fiendfyre was ruthless, eating up everything in its path without thought or care for anything or anyone that got in its way. "And where exactly do you expect to find a supply of basilisk venom?" Amelia asked, raising an eyebrow.

Harry glanced at Ginny again, and she nodded. But it was Minerva who replied, her eyes almost comically wide as she absorbed the implications of this meeting.

"You stabbed the basilisk with the sword of Godric Gryffindor. The sword is Goblin made, therefore, it now holds all the traits and characteristics of the venom." Harry nodded, smiling slightly. "The sword is mine by right as Gryffindor's heir, but Dumbledore would notice if it suddenly disappeared from his office.

Our plan was to ask Sharptooth for some help, and get a forgery to switch. The theory is that he'll never know." Sirius prodded the necklace warily with one finger. "So once we destroy this thing… Voldemort will be mortal?" Once more, Harry and Ginny looked at each other. Sirius groaned. "There's more?" Harry sighed. "Voldemort is a megalomaniac. He's a narcissist with a serious fear of dying.

Do you see him making just one of these things?" "No," Sirius replied with a shake of his head. "How many?" "We don't know," Ginny replied succinctly. "We're still looking into it. We just thought that you all should know what we've learned. We can't do this alone," she looked at Harry.

Minerva nodded. "I'm glad you brought us into the fold, though I certainly am not happy that you've done all this sneaking around. I do understand, though," she held up a hand when Harry looked about to interrupt. "This is about bringing about the downfall of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. And though it seems an impossible task, I do realize just what you've accomplished." She looked at Sirius and Amelia. "We know how to defeat him. You two are old enough to remember the last war, but you were still young.

You can remember the fear, the hopelessness, the constant battles where we didn't seem to be making any progress." They both nodded, grimacing at the reminder. Minerva leaned forward, her eyes hard and glinting with hope. "Harry, Ginny, and Severus have figured out the key to success. It's far from over, but we have a chance." Sirius let out a deep sigh and nodded.

"It still seems incomprehensible, but I'm sure when it sinks in I'll feel a little more hopeful." "So where do we go from here?" Amelia asked after a moment's silence. They looked at the teenagers, and Harry bit his lip, suddenly realizing that all of these adults were actually deferring to him. "Until we figure out how many Voldemort made, we really can't move forward.

The biggest issue right now is to figure out how many, what they are, and where they are." He looked at Ginny. "We're going to tell the others, and ask them to help us with research." Sirius and Minerva looked worried, but Amelia nodded grimly.

"I might not like you all getting involved, but I'm not naïve enough to think you'll keep this a secret from your friends. And together, you can cover a lot of ground with research." Sirius nodded reluctantly.

"You said that Blaise, Daphne, and Luna were nearly there with their Occlumency. Have they been tested by Jason yet?" Harry nodded quickly. "Over the break, they told me Jason believed their shields were as strong as they could be." Sirius sighed. "Then I guess we really have no grounds to object. Hopefully you'll be able to find something out, and I'll take a look through the Black library, see if there's anything more there." "There's one thing I've been thinking about," Harry commented idly.

"What does Dumbledore know? Professor, you told us that something about the diary piqued his interest," he looked at Snape.

"Would he have considered this possibility?" Snape shrugged. "Albus is not unintelligent. I'm certain he would know of the existence of such a thing. Whether or not he believes the Dark Lord used such a device, or more than one, only he knows that." "But if he did suspect, why not do anything to try and find them?" Ginny asked. "He's had fifteen years since Voldemort was defeated the first time.

What's he been doing?" "Sitting on his arse and waiting for me to take care of the problem," Harry muttered. Ginny snorted, while Minerva looked like she wanted to reprimand her charge, but couldn't quite manage. "Sounds about accurate," Sirius commented. "He probably thinks that since that damn prophecy is about you, he doesn't need to do anything. Or maybe he had some grand scheme, but we derailed it several years ago.

Either way, it doesn't really matter. We're not planning on including him in this, so don't worry about it." Minerva agreed, and realizing the time, implored the students to return to their dorms.

"It is getting late, and you both have classes tomorrow. Please ensure no one catches you. I would hate to have to take any points from Gryffindor tonight." Harry smiled and nodded, before he and Ginny left. Once the adults were alone, Snape turned back to the others.

"Switching topics, that… turn of events I told you about this summer, I believe it might bear fruit." Amelia looked confused, and the others, intrigued. "What's going on?" The Minister asked, looking from the professor to her husband.

Snape considered for a moment, before deciding that Amelia should be brought into the discussion, so he spent a few minutes telling her about his thoughts on Narcissa and her possible defection. Amelia stared. "Are you certain?" she asked softly. "Bringing Mrs. Malfoy into our confidence would require a good deal of trust, and to be perfectly blunt, I'm not sure if I am comfortable with that." Snape sighed. "I'm not suggesting anything right now, I am simply telling you that I think she might be willing to jump ship.

Black, perhaps this summer we could speak with her together, and you can present your offer to accept her back into your family. That may prove even more persuasive than anything I might suggest.

Narcissa has always been about image, and the Black family name holds more prestige than the Malfoy one. Especially after her husband's arrest." Sirius nodded slightly. "It would be a good motivator for her. Continue to work on her, and we'll see where we stand this summer." Snape agreed, and Sirius and Amelia left soon after. XXX That weekend, Harry and his friends all spent Saturday morning in the Room of Requirement, as he and Ginny finally told the others about what they had learned.

Predictably, they were all disgusted at the thought of someone actually creating a horcrux. "That's horrible," Hermione scrunched up her nose. "I mean, I know this is Voldemort we're talking about, so I shouldn't be too surprised, I just can't believe anyone would actually send an innocent soul to their death to save themselves." "That's probably a good thing, that you can't picture it," Harry replied grimly.

"It speaks to your character. But like you said, this is Voldemort we're talking about. He fears death and would not balk at killing a hundred innocents to keep himself from dying." There was a moment of silence before Blaise spoke up. "So you say that basilisk venom can kill these things? And you want to use the Sword of Gryffindor?" Harry nodded. "After I stabbed the basilisk, it became impregnated with the venom.

We're going to make a fake and switch it with the real thing, so Dumbledore doesn't find out." "But how does that work?" Susan asked.

"Why do you need something like basilisk venom to destroy these things? Why can't you just smash it?" Harry sighed. "Horcruxes are difficult to destroy. You can't just break the object.

You need to destroy it beyond even magical repair. The piece of the soul can't exist without something to anchor it, so when you destroy that anchor, the soul dies as well. But horcruxes aren't like human beings, at least not whole ones.

For example," he looked at Hermione, knowing that she was the most intrigued by his explanation, "I could take the Sword of Gryffindor and run you through, and your soul would be completely intact." "That's reassuring," Ron snorted. Hermone looked at her boyfriend. "I think it should be," she shot back. "Our souls are completely whole, Ron. They are our own. Voldemort can't claim that, can he.

With each object we destroy, we bring him one step closer to death." She looked back at Harry. "What do you need from us?" Harry smiled slightly. "Ginny and I have come up with what we think is a pretty good plan. There are several angles we need to address, so we thought that splitting up into teams would be best. Ron, Hermione, Blaise, Daphne, you should research where Voldemort may have hidden these objects. Neville, Susan, and Luna can try and learn more about Voldemort's past.

If it helps, his real name is Tom Marvolo Riddle. And Ginny and I will keep trying to figure out what the objects are and how many he made." "Give us an easy task why don't you," Ron groused, but his eyes were alight with the challenge.

Harry snorted. "Yeah, I know it's not going to be easy. I've thought a little about it, and I think Voldemort would have used places of significance. He wouldn't have just stuck his horcruxes anywhere.

He would have wanted their location to be as symbolic as they are. So start there. I know it's not much, but it's an idea." Hermione nodded. "We'll figure this out, Harry. I have faith that all of us together can end this." Harry smiled widely. "Together we're stronger," he said, glancing at Ginny. "We're a team." Ginny reached out and grasped his hand. "Exactly," she replied firmly. "We work together, and we end this." The weight of responsibility settled over them, before Neville coughed, clearing his throat.

"Where can we find information on Voldemort?" he asked curiously. "I mean, I know we could look through old Prophet articles, but that would really just tell us about the horrible things he's done. We need to find out how he grew up." Susan shivered. "That's just creepy, thinking about Voldemort as a teenager." Even Luna shuddered at the image. Harry bit his lip. "Well, we know Riddle went to Hogwarts. There has to be a record room in the castle somewhere. I can't give you much more than his name, and the fact that his father was a muggle." He glanced at Ginny briefly.

"I know I should be thankful and all, but what is it with evil bastards and their monologues when it would be so much more practical for them to just kill me and be done with it?" Ron, Neville, and Blaise laughed weakly, but the girls looked horrified. Harry shrugged. "Sorry," he said, though he didn't really sound it. "Just an errant thought." Ginny rolled her eyes. "Anyway, we'll keep each other updated with anything we learn. Professors McGonagall and Snape, along with Sirius and Amelia, know about all this, but no one else.

We're not planning on telling anyone either, so make sure no one finds out what you're doing." They all nodded seriously. "Do you think McGonagall could help us with old records?" Neville asked, looking at his fellow sixth year. Harry nodded thoughtfully. "That's a good idea, Nev. You guys should ask her." As it was getting near lunchtime, they all left the Room and headed down to the Great Hall, still thinking about that morning, and eager to get started.

XXX That afternoon, Harry received a letter from the Weasley twins, informing him that they had completed their transformation, as well as completed their magi-grenades, coming up with several varieties that would shoot out different spells. Harry replied quickly, congratulating them on both their successes, and giving them an idea for their listening devices, since they still hadn't managed to make them work yet.

He had thought about it, and wondered if Arthur could help them out at all. The man had, after all, been tinkering with muggle devices for years, even getting a car to fly and turn invisible.

Perhaps he could help them figure out how to get the listening devices to work. All in all, Harry felt like they were finally making some progress, despite how far they really had to go. _ _ _ Chapter 13 Hey guys, sorry that this is so late again. Once more, I seem to have forgotten that it is (or rather was, since it's after midnight) Saturday.

I was at work all day, and I just got home. Normally when I know my Saturday is going to be like that, I'll proofread the chapter the day before, and just upload it in the morning before heading to work, but like I said, I forgot what day it is. So it's a little late, but it's here! Disclaimer: don't own Gryffindor beat Ravenclaw on the Quidditch pitch at the end of January, something the lions were incredibly pleased about.

Cho, not so much, as it was her final year at school and as the team Captain; she so wanted to win the Cup this year, but who was she kidding. She knew that the Gryffindor team was near unbeatable. The game had lasted nearly three hours, with the final score being 410-130, an impressive tally for the lions, leading to a massive party in the common room that afternoon.

The good mood lasted until Monday, when a front page article in the Prophet informed the student population of several Death Eater attacks, resulting in several deaths and several people being admitted into Saint Mungos to be treated for injuries. Several students had been pulled out of class that day, to be told that their relatives had been one of those attacked. Ernie MacMillian and Terry Boot were pulled out of the sixth year Charms class to be informed that both of their fathers had been injured, though fortunately neither one was serious.

The same could not be said for the Patil twins, whose aunt and uncle had been killed, while their father had been seriously wounded, when their evening had been interrupted by Death Eaters. Though he didn't say anything as he offered his sympathies, Harry privately wondered if they had been chose because Lord Patil had backed Amelia for Minister, rather than Malfoy. With the former Malfoy Lord being sprung from prison, it was possible he had decided to go after those whom he felt had wronged him.

Speaking with Minerva briefly confirmed that they believed several escaped Death Eaters were responsible for the attacks, Malfoy being among the suspects. Far from being cowed, the newest attacks only spurred the students forward, training relentlessly at DA meetings. The Patil twins could be seen working on their spellwork week after week.

Ernie and Terry both joined them as well, wanting to be able to protect their families. XXX The excitement amongst sixth years in the days leading to the end of January was the notices that cropped up in all four common rooms.

Apparation lessons would be offered to any students who would reach the age of seventeen before the thirty first of August that year. The cost was twelve galleons, and would take place in the Great Hall. Harry and his fellow sixth years all signed up immediately, and the following Saturday, congregated outside the Great Hall after breakfast, until the doors opened and they were called inside.

The room had changed significantly in the few minutes they had been gone. The tables had all disappeared, and instead, the floor was dotted with circular hoops, approximately three feet in diameter. "Please find a clear space in front of one of the hoops!" a small, elderly man called out from the front of the room. There was a flurry of movement as everyone hurried to obey. Harry found himself a spot near the center of the room, with Ron and Neville on one side, Hermione on the other, and Blaise and Daphne in front of him.

"Now then," the man continued, "Welcome to apparition lessons! I am Professor Wilkie Twycross, and I will be leading this course over the next twelve weeks. We will meet for one hour every Saturday morning." He cleared his throat.

"The three D's of apparition: Destination, Determination, Deliberation. One must be completely determined to reach one's destination, and move without haste, but with deliberation. Once you have sufficient focus, you turn on the spot and disapparate. Now, normally you would not be able to apparate or dissaparate on Hogwarts grounds, however, the headmaster has lifted the wards on the Great Hall alone, and just for this hour." As Harry and his friends listened, Twycross had them work on focusing their minds on transporting themselves from their spot to the hoop a few feet in front of them.

Though they all worked hard, none of them felt any difference. Indeed, it wasn't until nearly the end of the hour until anything of interest happened at all. A bang distracted all of them, and they looked up to see Hannah Abbot standing inside her hoop, her left leg still stuck firmly several feet away.

Before she could do so much as scream, Twycross and several other professors descended, and with another bang, had her reattached once more. Twycross looked around at the room. "Splinching! It is what happens when ones mind is not sufficiently determined!

You must focus your mind, or you may find that you have left a body part behind. Back to work!" Harry refocused himself on the task, and spent the remainder of the hour trying to picture himself appearing inside that infernal hoop. He supposed he could consider what happened just before Twycross called the end to the hour a success.

Sort of. Just as Twycross was telling them that the lesson was over, Harry felt himself squeezed through something like a tight tube. However, instead of reappearing standing inside the hoop, he ended up skidding across the floor and crashing into Blaise and then Daphne.

The three of them went crashing to the floor as the rest of the hall laughed. Blushing, Harry stood up, offering a hand to Daphne, along with a mumbled apology to both Slytherins.

Twycross looked on, his smile widening. "An excellent start, Mr. Potter! Just a little more determination, but a fine showing. Now then, please exit the hall in an orderly manner so your professors can return the room to its former state.

I shall see you all next week." Harry's friends congratulated him on his success as they left the hall. "How did you do it?" Ron asked as they headed up to the Room of Requirement to spend the rest of the morning studying. Harry shrugged.

"I didn't really do it," he corrected. "I just sort of… slid across the floor." Hermione rolled her eyes, and Blaise snorted. "Yeah, I sort of saw that part." Daphne chuckled. "And we've got the bumps to prove it." Harry flushed guiltily. "Sorry, guys," he said sheepishly. "It was an accident?" They all laughed as they entered the Room and greeted Luna and Ginny, who had already settled in the room, studying for their OWLs. They told the two fifth years about the lesson, and Ginny gave her boyfriend a peck on the lips, her eyes amused as she congratulated him on his 'success'.

Harry sighed, settling into the couch next to his girlfriend. "You know, I think I've actually apparated before," he commented idly to his friends. Ginny raised an eyebrow and the rest looked confused.

Harry bit his lip. "It was accidental magic. I was seven, and running from Dudley and his gang. All of a sudden I was on the roof of the school." Hermione frowned. "Are you sure you apparated? Not that I'm doubting you, Harry, but that's rather unusual for accidental magic." Ginny nodded.

"Most wizarding kids tend to make things change colors, or levitate or Vanish objects. Some have been known to perform more advanced feats in times of stress, which sounds like what you were in." Harry shrugged. "I recognized that squeezing feeling when I felt it again. I'm sure I apparated." "Impressive," Blaise commented. "Maybe now that you remember the feeling, you'll do better in these lessons." Harry smiled slightly. "Perhaps. But I still have to wait until this summer to get my license." "Maybe you can help us then," Ron said.

"I know I'm going to need all the help I can get." Hermione hurried to reassure her boyfriend that he would be fine, as Harry promised to help as much as he could, and they all buckled down to deal with the onslaught of homework they all had.

XXX At the beginning of February, Harry received a summons from Dumbledore that set his hackles rising. What did the headmaster want now? The old man had been thankfully absent from his life lately, and Harry had been quite enjoying it. Saying goodbye to Ginny, he headed up to the headmaster's office, with her promise to monitor their conversation and get Minerva if she felt he needed his guardian's presence.

Harry had figured out that Dumbledore always knew who was outside his office because they had to give the gargoyle the password. Since he was the Heir of Gryffindor, he didn't need to give the gargoyle anything, which was why the headmaster always seemed surprised when he entered the office. Indeed, Dumbledore looked up from his desk, startled, when Harry pushed the door open. "You wanted to speak with me, headmaster?" he asked neutrally.

Dumbledore hid his surprise and smiled, gesturing for the teenager to take a seat. He forced himself not to scowl when Harry simply shook his head, preferring to stand.

After a moment of silence, Albus spoke. "Yes, Harry. Thank you for coming. Lemon drop?" Harry grit his teeth but didn't speak, just shaking his head, as the only thing he could really think of saying at the moment was to tell the headmaster to use his proper title; first names were really only something used between friends, after all.

He didn't think Dumbledore had earned that right, not anymore. But he didn't want to give away his ire, so he just remained silent. Dumbledore held in a sigh, and continued, hoping that he could get the teenager to understand. He knew there were issues between the two of them, but Harry had trusted him before, and he would again.

He just needed to understand. "I wanted to speak with you, Harry, because I need a special task carried out, and I think only you could ensure its success." Harry did nothing beyond raise an eyebrow.

When he didn't speak, Dumbledore continued. "I want you to get close to Professor Slughorn." "Why?" Harry asked reasonably. Dumbledore flummoxed for a moment. "It is not important," he tried to waive off Harry's concerns.

"I believe Professor Slughorn would like to get to know you better, and I think you could benefit from becoming closer to the professor." Harry almost shook his head at the headmaster's idiocy. He couldn't believe the old man still thought he had any sway over what Harry did. Damn straight, Ginny's mental voice echoed in his mind. Now put the old man in his place and come back to the common room.

Yes dear, Harry replied, amused. To the headmaster, he simply tilted his head to the side. "There's something I don't understand." When Dumbledore inclined his head in acceptance of the question, Harry continued. "You expect me to simply follow your orders and do what you want, with no explanation, after everything you've put me through?" Dumbledore's mouth opened and closed several times, before he stood up, his hands resting on his desk.

"Mr. Potter, I put up with a lot from you, but I do not " "No, you don't," Harry cut in abruptly. "You don't think, you don't act, you don't do anything. The only good I can see you being right now is a figurehead. At least your name still carries some weight, so Voldemort hasn't tried taking the school yet. But that's about it." Dumbledore was gaping now, and Harry felt himself slipping into a fighting stance, balancing his weight on his feet, spreading his legs to shoulder width to lower his center of gravity.

In his head, he could hear Ginny almost cheering him on. Her approval spurred him forward, when before he may have simply left it at that and walked away. "You illegally placed me with people who abused me, you locked my godfather away without a trial, and failed to push for one when the truth was dangled in front of your face. You continually withhold information, and you think yourself a god.

You're not infallible, Professor. You've made too many mistakes with my life and with this war.

Punheta para o meu amor

You let proven Death Eaters go free and expect them to want to change. You think you hold all the cards, but you don't. I wonder if you're not becoming more and more obsolete as the years pass by." Dumbledore now resembled a fish. Harry sighed. "I know you think you're in the right, and you're just trying to end this war. But you're going about it all wrong. You can't play chess with our lives and expect us to go along with it.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and you're walking a fine line down that path. Absolute power corrupts absolutely." "Harry…" Dumbledore finally managed to speak. "You don't know what you're talking about." "Don't I?" Harry asked, just about using up the last of his patience. "Last I checked, it was my name on that prophecy you and Voldemort seem to put so much stock in. At least I know what he wants." "You can't.

" Dumbledore protested weakly. "Can't what? Put you two together in the same group? There's a saying, professor, about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer." Harry paused and leaned forward slightly.

"Don't make me keep you closer." Dumbledore understood the meaning behind the words, and wondered just how things had deteriorated so quickly. He wouldn't believe that all hope was lost. He couldn't. There had to be a way to get Harry to understand.

Harry rolled his eyes, knowing what the headmaster was thinking. "I have to go do some homework. But before I leave… professor, Voldemort disappeared fifteen years ago.

You had thirteen years of peace before his return, to find proof of his continued existence, and to figure out why he didn't die. What have you been doing? Sitting on your hands, waiting for me to come along?

Your faith in that damn prophecy may very well have doomed us all, headmaster, because you had thirteen years to fix the problem. But you were too busy with your plotting and your schemes, and letting the real Death Eaters go while my godfather sat in Azkaban waiting for a trial that would never come." Turning on his heel, Harry headed towards the door, before he completely lost it and hexed the old man.

"Mr. Potter!" Dumbledore called out. Though he didn't turn around, Harry felt the surge of magic from behind him, and knew the headmaster was trying to keep the door from opening for him.

However, he failed to account for the fact that Harry was Gryffindor's heir, and therefore, the castle would respond to him above even the headmaster.

He threw open the door and quickly made his way down the spiral staircase. He knew without asking that Ginny was on her way to meet him, and he knew she would know where he was heading, so he just headed towards his guardian's office. Ginny caught up to him as he turned down the hallway to the office, and together, they walked the last few steps to the door. Harry knocked, and on hearing Minerva's "Enter!" walked inside.

Minerva looked up and frowned, seeing the couple there. Ginny closed the door behind them, and then waited for Harry to speak. He did so a moment later, grimacing. "I think I might have gone a little too far," he admitted sheepishly. Minerva furrowed her brow. "What happened, Harry?" Harry sighed.

"Dumbledore asked to speak with me today. He wanted me to get close to Slughorn for some reason, and then wouldn't tell me why. I kind of went off on him, and told him he had no right to expect me to just follow his orders. I think I also might have said something about treating us as chess pieces.

And there may have been something about keeping my friends close and my enemies closer." Minerva looked like she wanted to laugh, but was carefully keeping her expression neutral. Ginny had no qualms about letting out a snort at Harry's words. "Nice," she chuckled. "You're going to have to show me that memory later.

I want to see the look on the old man's face again." Minerva smiled slightly, secretly hoping Harry would show her the memory as well. That might feel almost as good as when she had slapped the old man last June. "What I don't understand is why Dumbledore made the request in the first place," Harry commented. "What's his end game?" Minerva frowned and Ginny furrowed her brow in thought. "He didn't give you any sort of reason," she said. It wasn't a question, since she had heard the whole thing, but Harry still shook his head, for Minerva's benefit.

"When I asked why, he just said it wasn't important, and that he thought I could benefit from getting to know Slughorn better." Minerva bit her lip. "He must have a reason. Perhaps you should do as he says, just to see if you can figure out why. Don't tell Albus anything you learn, but it might be smart to try and figure out what his goal is." Ginny nodded, but stopped when she noticed that Harry was thinking something through.

"Harry? You've got your 'I've got an idea' look on." Harry looked up, startled. "Hmm? Oh, I was just thinking…" He tilted his head to the side. "Professor Slughorn taught here for a long time, right?" Minerva nodded. "Yes. He taught me when I was in school, and I believe he had been teaching for a few years before that." Harry looked like that was the answer he wanted to hear.

"Is it possible he taught Voldemort? I mean, Voldemort before he was Voldemort?" Ginny gasped, and Minerva frowned. "I'm not quite sure… there aren't many people who know who You-Know-Who was before he became the feared Dark Lord." Harry nodded. "But he told me in his rant in the Chamber of Secrets about how he was going to kill me that his name was Tom Marvolo Riddle.

Which means he had a real name. And there's an award for special services with his name on it, dated 1943, in the trophy room." "That was several years before I started school," Minerva informed them. "But it would be conceivable to infer that Horace taught… Riddle." She found it easier to use You-Know-Who's real name, rather than his moniker.

It made him seem more human, somehow. "Maybe that's it, then," Harry said, his eyes wide with the implications. "Professor Slughorn is one of the only people who remembers Voldemort from when he was a kid." "That's just creepy to think about," Ginny shuddered.

"But it could be why Dumbledore wants me to get close to him," Harry argued. "Maybe Slughorn knows something about him that Dumbledore wants to find out." "It might explain why Albus brought Horace here to teach," Minerva commented. "He's kept Severus out of the Defense Against the Dark Arts position all these years, and while I know Severus never really wanted the post, why now? Certainly, it is easier to find a Potions professor than a Defense professor, but still, he's managed all these years." "But if Professor Slughorn knows something, Dumbledore may be trying to protect him from Voldemort by keeping him safe in the castle," Harry continued, nodding eagerly.

"It makes sense." "So where do we go from here?" Ginny asked. Harry looked at her. "I get close to Slughorn. See if I can get him to open up to me. It shouldn't be too hard, he keeps going after me to attend those parties of his. I'll stop declining the invites, maybe that'll soften him up a bit." Minerva smiled approvingly.

"Please let me know if you learn anything of interest. Albus may have been right about one thing; you probably would be the best bet for getting Horace to open up. He always did favor Lily in his classes, and rightly so, your mother was a superb potions brewer." Harry grinned, and Minerva sent them back to the common room to finish their homework.

XXX A few nights later, Harry was woken abruptly from a startlingly clear dream to see the early light of pre-dawn just barely making its way through the window. He frowned, steadying his breathing as he thought about what he had seen. The dream was so real that he knew it wasn't simply a fabrication. Like the dreams he had had in his fourth year, and when Mr. W Arthur, he figured eventually it wouldn't be strange to refer to Molly and Arthur by their given names had been attacked by Nagini, he knew that he had just had a glimpse into Voldemort's mind.

In the… dream? Vision? Whatever it was, he had seen Voldemort meeting with the Malfoys, Junior and Senior. They had been talking about some sort of mission at Hogwarts. He didn't hear any details, just something about the informants being in place and sending regular reports, and Voldemort telling both Malfoys that this was their last chance to redeem themselves, and that they better not fail.

Before he woke up, Harry had seen both fear and excitement on his former classmate's face. Knowing that he wouldn't get any more sleep that night, Harry got up and changed into his running clothes before grabbing his Arithmancy textbook and heading down to the common room. Ginny joined him a few minutes later, dressed similarly and with an Ancient Runes book of her own in her hands.

She sat next to Harry on the sofa, and he looked over, worried. Sorry I woke you up, he apologized. Ginny rolled her eyes. Yes, because you could help it, she replied sarcastically.

It's all right, Harry. You can't control these visions. Do you want to talk about what you saw? Harry winced. You saw it too? Ginny nodded hesitantly. It didn't sound too good, she mused. What do you think Malfoy and Voldemort are planning? Harry shrugged. I'm not sure, but we should find out who these 'informants' are. Ginny snorted. I think we can already come up with a pool of suspects.

Parkinson, Crabbe, Goyle, Warrington. You said you've seen them whispering together. Harry nodded. They're likely choices. There are a few more that I can think of, but those three are probably the ringleaders for whatever's going on.

Ginny sighed. So it's watch and wait. Seems like we do that a lot. Harry shook his head, grasping her hand in his. She smiled slightly and leaned into his side. We're doing something active, Gin. We're coming up with a way to beat him. This is just one more issue for us to deal with. I know it seems like it's all piling up, but eventually, we'll get on top of this storm.

Ginny looked at him and raised an eyebrow. How poetic. Harry looked embarrassed, and Ginny chuckled a little. I know what you mean. We'll figure this out. Together. Harry nodded. Together. He squeezed her hand reassuringly. They settled down with their books, and soon enough, the others joined them and they headed to the Room of Requirement to get in their morning run before breakfast.

_ _ _ Chapter 14 Hey guys, sorry this is late, again. I kept trying, but the site was giving me issues, and wouldn't upload the chapter Disclaimer: not mine Valentine's Day that year was on a Friday, with a Hogsmeade trip scheduled for the next day.

Harry and Ginny spent the evening in the Room of Requirement, enjoying each other's company over a candlelit dinner courtesy of Dobby. Ron had also managed to rustle up some Valentine's Day plans, setting up a picnic by the lake, utilizing several handy spells to keep the area dry and free of snow, as well as comfortably warm in the crisp winter air.

Susan felt a little left out as all of her friends spent the evening with their significant others, and spent the night just wandering the castle, thinking about things mainly Neville and Hannah. The Gryffindor and Hufflepuff spent an enjoyable evening eating in a classroom Neville had set up. As the night drew to a close, Hannah looked up at her boyfriend and took a deep breath. She really liked Neville, and liked being his girlfriend.

But she could see where this relationship was going, and knew she needed to speak up now. Sensing the change in mood, Neville glanced up and met Hannah's gaze. He smiled. "What's going on, Hannah? Did you like the meal?" Hannah nodded shakily. "I did… Neville, we need to talk." Neville furrowed his brow. "What's wrong?" Hannah took a deep breath. "Neville, I really like you." Neville nodded, confused. "I like you, too." Hannah shook her head. "No you don't." Neville opened his mouth, but Hannah spoke over anything he might have said.

"Not in that way. Neville, you like me as a friend, but I can tell that your heart isn't really in this. You and me, we're not going to work, because you're still in love with Susan." Neville stared, and Hannah sighed. "I'm sorry, Neville. I never meant to come between the two of you " "We broke up," Neville interrupted.

"You didn't come between anything. Susan and I " "Are good together," Hannah smiled, reaching out and resting a hand on his. "You broke up, but that wasn't because you didn't have feelings for each other." Neville looked uncomfortable, and Hannah's smile widened.

"You both got scared because you were feeling things you didn't understand. You fell in love, Neville, and it happened earlier than you had planned, so you broke up." She took a deep breath.

"It's time to stop running." Neville looked at her, and took in her understanding gaze. He smiled hesitantly, and stood up. "I'm sorry, Hannah," he started, but she shook her head. "It's all right, Neville. Go find her. And Neville?" she called out, stopping her now ex-boyfriend as he opened the door. He turned around and looked at her. "Once you find her, don't let her go. You both deserve to be happy together." Neville's smile turned more certain, and he nodded. "Thanks, Hannah.

I'll see you later." With that, he quickly left the room and made his way towards the Hufflepuff common room at a fast walk. He wasn't sure where he'd find Susan, but he hoped that he'd stumble across her somehow. Susan was on her way back to the common room when she heard someone call her name. Turning, she was confused and surprised to see Neville running up to her. The Gryffindor came to a stop in front of his former girlfriend and good friend, and then paused, unsure of how to start.

"Hi," he finally said. "Hey," Susan replied awkwardly. She looked around. "Where's Hannah?" Neville bit his lip.

"We broke up." Susan stared. "What? I mean, I'm sorry, Neville." Neville shook his head. "I'm not." Susan looked confused.

Had Hannah done something? Neville sighed. "Susan, when we broke up, I thought it was the right thing to do, but Hannah pointed a few things out to me tonight, and she's right. It's not fair to any of us for me and Hannah to date, because I don't have feelings for her. I never really did." Susan felt her breath catch in her throat. What was Neville saying? "Neville…" Neville shook his head again, taking Susan's hand in his.

"Sue, when we broke up, it's not because we didn't have feelings for each other anymore. You remember that, right?" Susan nodded, still confused.

Neville sighed. "Believe it or not, Hannah actually clarified it for me. It's not just that I wasn't ready for what I was feeling. I was afraid of it. I was confused and didn't understand the feelings I have for you. But I do now." He took a deep breath. "I love you, Susan. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I'm sorry it took so long for me to figure it out." Susan smiled brilliantly, and leaned forward to kiss him.

Pulling back, she reached up and brushed his cheek lightly. "I love you, too." Neville grinned and leaned down to give her another kiss. A few minutes later, they both realized the time, and with a blush, Neville gave Susan one more peck on the cheek, before pulling back.

"Good night, Susan. I'll see you tomorrow?" Susan nodded, beaming. "Night, Neville." They separated, and Susan quickly made her way back to the common room. Hannah was waiting for her as she entered their dorm room. Susan stopped just inside the door, noting that their fellow sixth year Hufflepuffs were already asleep. Hannah took a deep breath, looking at one of her oldest friends.

"Susan, I'm sorry." Susan frowned. "For what?" Hannah rolled her eyes. "I'm not an idiot, Sue. I know I should have stayed away from Neville. Even if you two had broken up, ex-boyfriends are off limits. And I could tell that you still had feelings for him." Susan sighed and began to change into her nightclothes. Once that act was done, she sat on her bed, folding her legs beneath her as she faced her friend. "All right, I was a little pissed when you agreed to go out with him," she admitted.

Hannah looked down, guilty. "It just really bothered me that you didn't even ask me if it was all right, first." She bit her lip. "I know we haven't spent a whole lot of time together lately. I'm sorry for sort of ignoring you over the last couple of years." Hannah shook her head. "You haven't ignored me, Sue.

I mean, yeah, we used to spend more time together over the summer, but you've still been a good friend. You just…" "Started hanging out with Gryffindors more," Susan finished. "I am sorry, Hannah. I became friends with Harry and the others, and got a little caught up. I should have included you more in my life." Hannah smiled slightly.

"I'm glad to hear that, but I don't blame you or anything. And I didn't go out with Neville to spite you or anything. I thought he was cute." Susan smiled shyly. "He is, isn't he." Hannah narrowed her eyes. "All right, girl. Spill. What happened tonight?" Susan's smile widened. "Neville caught up with me a little while ago.

We're back together." Hannah squealed, and then clapped her hands over her mouth when she realized the other girls in the room were asleep.

Removing her hands after a moment, she whispered, "That's so great, Susan! I'm so happy for you!" Susan blushed, but her smile could have lit the room. "We should get to sleep. It's getting late." Hannah nodded, but narrowed her eyes as she lay down, still looking at Susan. "All right, but you're telling me details later." Susan chuckled and nodded as she, too, lay down. XXX When Neville returned to the Gryffindor common room, he found Harry and Ginny, as well as Ron and Hermione all waiting for him in two armchairs next to the fire.

Hermione and Ginny looked quite content on their boyfriends' laps. Harry looked up as Neville entered the room, and raised an eyebrow. "Not smart, Nev. Don't you know that you're supposed to sneak back into the common room after curfew? Especially when there are three Prefects waiting for you?" Neville spluttered a little, but calmed down when he saw the smile on Harry's face.

The sixth year Prefect chuckled. "Have a good night, I take it?" Neville nodded shyly, taking another unoccupied seat next to his friends. "How is Hannah?" Hermione asked. "Did you two have a nice dinner?" Neville bit his lip. "Actually, Hannah and I broke up." Hermione gasped. "Oh, Neville, I'm so sorry." Neville shrugged. "I'm not." They all looked at him, confused. "Susan and I got back together." Harry grinned.

"That's great, Nev. I'm glad you two stopped dancing around each other. Even Ron could see that you two still like each other." "Yeah…" Ron paused.

"Hey!" They all laughed. "Seriously though," Harry said, catching his breath. "I'm happy for you." "Definitely," Ginny agreed. "Is Hannah all right with it?

I hope she wasn't too hurt." Neville snorted. "Hannah's the one who told me to stop running and face the fact that I was still in love with Susan. Technically I think she broke up with me, but she was right. Susan and I didn't break up because we didn't like each other anymore. We were both just… scared." He sighed. "I was afraid of what I was feeling, so I did the easy thing. But if there's one thing you've taught me Harry, it's that it's not worth winning if you don't have to fight for it." Harry blushed slightly.

"Thanks, mate," he said quietly. As it was getting late, they all headed up to bed. The next day was a Hogsmeade trip, and they wanted to get an early start. XXX The rest of February passed quietly, and with the arrival of March, the students of Hogwarts could almost tell that spring was on its way. The snow was melting, and here and there, flowers could be seen bravely peaking up from the ground. Unfortunately, this also meant that exams were looming, so the students couldn't really enjoy the cease in bitter cold weather.

Ginny and Luna were more harried than the younger and sixth years, as their OWLs were only a couple months away. Ron's seventeenth birthday was a festive occasion, as Harry once more asked the house elves to provide a feast for the entire House. They complied, and the Gryffindors spent that Saturday afternoon congregated in the common room, enjoying the food and celebrating their housemate's birthday.

Ron was almost as shocked as Hermione had been back in September, when so many of his housemates wished him a happy birthday. He just hadn't thought he was that popular. Sure, people paid him attention, but he had always figured that was just because his best friend was Harry Potter. Hermione gave her boyfriend a new set of keeper gloves, something that surprised and pleased Ron, as he certainly wasn't expecting the Quidditch-related gift. Harry and Ginny got him two tickets to a Cannons game that summer, and Neville gave him a gift certificate to Honeydukes.

It was a great day for Ron, and he still couldn't believe he was of legal age. His parents sent him a beautiful watch, as was the custom for a wizard who came of age, and a large box of sweets. Fred and George gave him a box of joke products, and Bill and Fleur, a magical razor. Charlie sent him a pair of dragonhide gloves from Romania.

When the party started to disband as students headed up to bed, Ron looked at Harry and smiled widely. "Thanks, mate. Today was great." Harry nodded, smiling in return. "Any time, Ron. Happy birthday." XXX Apparition lessons for the sixth years were proving to be quite a trial.

Harry was so far the only one to really make any progress, though several more people had splinched themselves. Ron had gotten really excited a few weeks into the lessons when he opened his eyes to find himself inside the hoop, until he saw several people laughing around him, and realized he had merely leapt the few feet to arrive at his destination, rather than apparated.

Others were caught flickering, an act where they apparated very quickly to their destination and back again, appearing to the rest of the world to simply flicker in their spot, not really traveling anywhere. It was yet another byproduct of not being sufficiently determined, Twycross informed them.

More than one student was getting frustrated with Twycross, and had come up with their own 'D's' behind his back. Dog-breath, and Dipstick were perhaps the kindest of these names. Several also suggested where Twycross could stick his hoops. Harry managed to have some success in early March, safely apparating into his hoop to applause from his friends. A few days into March, Harry was heading up to the common room one evening, when the sound of hushed voices caused him to pause.

Listening for a moment, he thought he could make out the shrill voice of Pansy Parkinson, and he quickly placed a Dissillusionment Charm over himself before sneaking closer. A slightly open door to an empty classroom showed him that it was indeed Pansy inside, along with Crabbe, Goyle, a seventh year he was fairly certain was called Miles, as well as another seventh year whose name he wasn't quite sure of, and a fifth year he knew was named Albert, only because Theo had told him about the horrendous stink the teenager had raised when he hadn't made the Quidditch team earlier in the year.

He didn't hear everything they said, but he did catch something about ensuring secrecy, and a 'possible way in'. They looked to be wrapping up their meeting right then, so Harry quickly backed away and made sure he was two corridors over, before he released the Dissillusionment Charm. Even if he hadn't heard everything, he knew that he had just discovered the most likely candidates for Malfoy and Voldemort's 'informants'.

When he returned to the common room, he joined Ginny, Ron, Hermione, and Neville by the fireplace, dropping his book bag down and setting up a few minor wards to prevent anyone from overhearing their conversation, including the charm Snape had taught him and Ginny, Muffliato. Ginny looked up when Harry sat down, and frowned at the use of the charms.

"Harry? What's going on?" She had been caught up studying, and hadn't overheard what he had on his way back to the Tower. The rest of them looked up as well, their attention drawn. Harry sighed and in a hushed voice, told them about the conversation he had heard.

"It sounds like they're working out a way to break into Hogwarts." Hermione pursed her lips. "Harry, I know it might not sound good, but Voldemort can't get into the castle. There are too many wards and protections in place." Harry shook his head. "Nothings infallible, Hermione." He glanced at Ginny, who nodded. Ginny leaned forward slightly.

"Something Fred and George have taught me is that anything is possible if you've got enough nerve. If Voldemort really wants to get in, he'll find a way." "But Dumbledore " Hermione argued, but Neville cut her off. "Haven't we learned by now that Dumbledore doesn't deserve our trust?" Hermione looked startled, before she nodded ruefully.

"I'm sorry, I know he's got a lot to answer for, but he's still the only person Voldemort ever feared. Wouldn't he think twice about coming here?" Harry nodded, conceding the point. "Still, I had a dream a while back, and Malfoy had been given a task, to 'redeem himself'. They were talking about a mission, and informants being in place." Hermione's mouth twisted downward.

"Why didn't you say anything earlier?" Harry shrugged. "It really didn't give me any specific information. And I've caught Pansy, Crabbe, and Goyle whispering together before. I told Snape, and he said he was keeping an eye on them. There's not much we can do, but keep an eye out." He bit his lip. "In the meantime, how are you guys coming with your research on our… project?" They all looked at each other.

"We might have a few things to talk about," Ron said, glancing at Hermione, who nodded her agreement. Harry smiled slightly. "Good. We'll meet this weekend, and discuss everything. For now, though, I've got a horrendous Defense essay that I haven't even started yet." Hermione stared.

"Harry! That essay is due this week!" Ron snorted. "Yeah, mate. Even I've started it." Harry rolled his eyes, but didn't respond, just pulling out a roll of parchment and his textbook and getting started. XXX That weekend, Harry and his friends spent Saturday morning in the Room of Requirement. Blaise and Daphne were so close to getting their animagus forms, so they spent an hour practicing, before Harry called them over so they could discuss what they had learned about Voldemort.

That practice paid off, as both Blaise and Daphne managed to successfully transform into their bobcat and fox forms. They changed back to cheering, as their friends looked on, happy at their success. Luna kissed her boyfriend, before Harry asked the Room to provide couches for them to sit on. Once they were all settled, he looked around at the group. "I just wanted to see how you're all doing with your research.

Luna, Neville, Susan, did you guys get a look at the old records?" Neville nodded. "Professor McGonagall showed us the records room. It's massive, and took some digging, but we did manage to find a record of Tom Marvolo Riddle attending Hogwarts from 1938-1945. He was a Prefect and Head Boy, a member of the Slug Club.

On paper, he sounds like a popular and well-liked student who was destined for great things." Neville shuddered. "If I didn't know he became Voldemort, I would have thought I was looking at a future Minister of Magic candidate." Harry nodded.

"He was good at hiding his true colors. A lot of people gravitated towards him because of his charisma and charm. Did you find anything that might help us?" Neville sighed. "There's not much there. We copied the file for you guys to look at, but it's really not much to go on. Riddle was an orphan. He grew up in an orphanage in London, and received a stipend from the Hogwarts Trust in order to pay for his school things." Harry took the parchment Susan handed him, and skimmed it.

It really was mostly superficial, but he knew it might come in handy. "This is good work, guys, keep digging and see what you find.

You never know what might be the key to bringing him down." Neville, Susan, and Luna nodded, and Harry looked at the others. "What about you guys? Anything?" Ron shrugged. "We've thought up a few ideas, but there's really no way to be certain of anything, without actually checking them out." Harry nodded.

"Voldemort's a narcissist. He would use objects of importance, and he would place them somewhere special. He wouldn't leave his horcruxes just anywhere." He looked at Neville.

"He grew up an orphan, right?" Neville nodded, and he turned back to Ron. "He spent the first eleven years of his life thinking he was insignificant, that no one cared about him. Then he got his letter to Hogwarts, and all of a sudden, he wasn't just an orphan with no future. He got proof that he was special." Ron gaped, and Hermione frowned. "What exactly are you trying to say, Harry?" Hermione asked.

Harry sighed. "I'm just suggesting that he might consider using places that symbolized his ancestry, his wizarding heritage. Places like Gringotts, where witches and wizards keep their money, or Hogwarts, the first place he really felt at home." Blaise tilted his head to the side.

"Sounds like you've given this a lot of thought," he commented. Harry shrugged. "Not a whole lot," he replied. "I just felt the same way. I grew up thinking no one cared, and then I was introduced to the wizarding world and felt special for the first time in my life." He grimaced. "I hate the fact that I can sympathize with the bastard, but at the same time, it could come in handy a little, because I do understand him." Ginny took his hand in hers and leaned into his side.

"Harry, the fact that you had similar experiences growing up means nothing. What matters is that you made different choices from him. Yeah, you might have felt the way he did as a child, but he chose revenge.

He chose power. He chose hate. Voldemort was obsessed with proving that he was the best, and believed that wizarding blood proved he was better than anyone else." She smiled reassuringly. "You chose family. You found one you hadn't had before, and you would do anything to keep it. You chose to be happy." Harry couldn't help but smile at his girlfriend.

"Thanks," he said softly, leaning down to give her a kiss. When they pulled apart, Ginny gave him a peck on the nose. "I'm always here to slap you with a reality check, Harry." Harry chuckled, and the others smiled. He rolled his eyes slightly, and looked at the group. "Just keep digging. You never know if something from his past might be the key to figuring out where he hid a horcrux." They nodded, and left the Room to head to lunch. XXX The next day, Harry decided to spend some time on the project Dumbledore had asked of him, the one he had decided to carry out for himself, rather than the old man.

Ginny called it Operation Slughorn, which made Harry roll his eyes, but he had to admit, it did fit. Slughorn was surprised, but very willing to accept the offer of help, and the two spent Sunday morning scrubbing cauldrons and giving the potions laboratory a good cleaning. Slughorn showed him a few tricks to get out set-in stains and old ingredients that had dried, and they talked about many things. Mostly, though, Harry steered the conversation towards the past.

Slughorn was happy to talk about Harry's mother at great length, and Harry enjoyed hearing the stories the professor shared. He still wouldn't trust Slughorn to watch his back in a battle, but he was warming up slightly to the man. Slughorn knew a lot about his mum, as she had been one of his star students, and more than once compared Harry to her, in terms of talent.

Though he normally didn't like it when someone compared him to his parents, wanting to be seen as his own person, Harry found he really didn't care so much. Perhaps it was because for the first three years of his schooling, Snape had been quick to tell him how much of a dunderhead he was, just like his father.

That had kind of tainted the whole experience. But now that Snape was no longer at his throat complaining and belittling him, he found that he didn't mind being compared to his parents so much. He knew they had been talented and wonderful people, and he wouldn't mind aspiring to be like them.

"So you must have been teaching a while, then," Harry commented idly, trying to get the professor to confirm their theories. "If you taught my parents, and Professor McGonagall said you taught her as well." Slughorn chuckled jovially.

"Oh yes, I remember Minerva. Bright young witch. Much better at Transfiguration than Potions, of course, but no slouch. Oh my, that was years ago! Did she tell you that?" Harry nodded. "She said you had probably been teaching a few years before she started, and you retired a few years after my parents graduated." Well, the last part wasn't really true, it was more just what he knew from when Snape had started teaching, and Harry knew he had taken over for Slughorn. Horace nodded, thinking.

"Let's see, I started here, oh, must have been 1928. Goodness was it really that long ago?" Harry nodded mutely, doing the math quickly; Slughorn would have surely been a teacher when Voldemort had attended. He wasn't sure he should say anything yet, though, wanting to earn the older man's trust and get a little bit more of a rapport, first.

Slughorn regaled him with a few stories of his first few years on the job; there were several that Harry quite enjoyed hearing, as they involved Dumbledore running into issues in his new role as the Transfiguration professor. Everyone hailed Dumbledore as the new Merlin, and had done so for so long, it was amusing to hear stories from before he had been someone so many looked up to. "Goodness me, is that the time," Slughorn exclaimed a couple of hours later, coming out of a story about his group of first years who had to spend an entire Saturday cleaning frog spawn off the ceiling of the Potions lab after a mishap in class.

"You should get on up to lunch before it's over." Harry nodded and started to clean up a bit, before he left the room, though not after accepting an invitation to a luncheon the following week, and promising to pass the invitation along to his friends.

XXX Later that day, Harry told the others what he had learned from Slughorn. They were all surprised to hear that the professor had been teaching for that long. "My mum and dad said that he taught them," Ron commented, "but this is way before them." Harry nodded. "Professor Slughorn said he started around the same time as Dumbledore." "Blimey," Ron muttered.

Harry shrugged. "Yeah, so he was around for a while. But think about it, guys. Slughorn started in the 1920's. Riddle attended in the late '30's. That would mean that Slughorn taught him." Hermione gasped. "How many people are still around who remember Voldemort from before?" Harry grimaced. "Not many. I think that's why Dumbledore got Slughorn to come teach. At Hogwarts, he's much safer than he would be anywhere else." Hermione's eyes glinted with knowledge. "You think he might have some information on Voldemort," she observed.

Harry nodded readily. "Yes," he replied simply. "He might know something and not even be aware of it, but McGonagall says I've probably got a pretty good chance of getting it out of him, because my mum was one of his favorite students.

If I learn anything, I'll let you all know." They nodded, and spent the rest of the afternoon doing homework. XXX The rest of the month passed in a haze of work, late nights and early mornings. Final exams and OWLs were coming, much too fast for the students of Hogwarts. Harry made sure to attend every party and get together Slughorn held, and even though he knew he was really in negative digits when it came to free time, he also spent several more mornings and afternoons helping the professor out on weekends.

It wasn't really that tedious, most of the time they spent brewing potions and talking about Harry's parents. He much preferred this to the Slug Club meetings, because he felt more like a real person having a conversation with someone who knew his parents, than a prop piece, used for someone else's gain.

Towards the end of the month, Harry finally felt like he had spent enough time working his way into Slughorn's good graces and he tried not to feel too manipulative at what he was doing so when they were bottling their brews that afternoon (an antidote to a poison that Slughorn had hinted might come up on the NEWT, and then praised Harry, telling him he would have given it an O had he been grading it), he carefully broached the subject he had been working towards for so many weeks.

"Professor?" Slughorn looked up and nodded for Harry to continue. He took a deep breath and did so. "I was wondering… do you remember a student of yours, called Tom Riddle?" He had thought to get a reaction from the older man, but not that big of one. Slughorn let out a sound almost like a yelp, and spilled half the cauldron of potion on the floor. Shaking in fear, he peered at Harry. "Where did you hear that name?" he whispered. Harry grimaced, using his wand to clean up the potion mess, before he replied.

"Your reaction indicates that you understand the significance. You know who Riddle became, don't you." Slughorn didn't appear to be capable of coherent thought.

Harry sighed. "I know you don't want to talk about it, Professor. But what you know could help us win." Slughorn let out a weak chuckle. "It sounds so simple when you put it like that, Harry. But it's much more complex." Harry shook his head.

"No, it's not." Slughorn looked startled by the abruptness of the statement. "Professor, we think we know how to stop Voldemort." Slughorn let out an "Eep!" at the name, but Harry pressed on, relentless.

"Have you ever heard of a horcrux?" If just the name had scared him, he seemed utterly terrified of Harry's latest question. "I can't," he whispered. "It's not… I just…" Harry leaned forward, his eyes blazing intently.

They almost seemed to glow in intensity. "Did you know my mother gave her life for me?" Slughorn's eyes were pained. "Harry, don't." Harry shook his head. "Voldemort gave her a choice. She could have stepped aside, but she refused, and he killed her." Slughorn was unaware of the tears that leaked from his eyes at Harry's harsh statement. "Do you want her sacrifice to be in vain? You could help us beat him, Professor." Slughorn looked at him for several moments in silence, before he sighed, looking down, unable to continue to meet the honest and searching gaze.

Slowly, he reached up with his wand and rested the tip at his temple, his other hand finding an empty bottle. As Harry watched, he pulled out a long silvery strand a memory. Slughorn deposited it into the bottle, and held it out. "Please don't think too badly of me when you see this.

Had I known…" Harry nodded, taking the bottle. "I understand, Professor. Thank you." Slughorn stopped him as he reached the door. "Harry." The teenager turned around. Slughorn was looking devastated and slightly lost. "I need you to do something for me." Harry nodded. "Of course." "Obliviate me." Harry looked confused. "Sir?" The Potions professor sighed.

"I need you to wipe my memory of giving you that. No one can know." Harry nodded slowly. He had never Obliviated anyone before, but he did know the theory. Hesitantly, he raised his wand, concentrating on what he wanted to do, before whispering, "Obliviate." Slughorn's eyes glazed over for a moment, before he focused again.

"Harry!" he exclaimed jovially. "Thank you so much for your help with these potions. Madam Pomfrey will be happy to have these antidotes, just in case." Harry nodded, trying to smile. "Of course, Professor. I'm going to go catch up with my friends now." Slughorn beamed. "Of course, of course." Harry made a hasty exit, mentally telling Ginny to meet him in the Room of Requirement as soon as possible, and to bring his pensieve. He knew he would tell the rest of the group soon, but he wanted to watch the memory first, to see what the professor had given him.

_ _ _ Chapter 15 Disclaimer: not mine Ginny met him at the tapestry of Barnabus the Barmy a few minutes later, and together, they entered the Room. It was a simple room, with nothing but a sofa and a low table inside. Ginny removed a box from her pocket and set it down on the table before tapping it with her wand. It enlarged rapidly, and when it stopped, Harry opened it and took out the pensieve.

Because of the delicate nature of magic required to create pensieves, they couldn't just be shrunken like most other objects. That was why people who planned on transporting the devices often invested in carrying cases like the one Harry had. It worked with the pensieve, and could be shrunken and enlarged without damaging the expensive piece of equipment inside. Harry deposited Slughorn's memory, and with one last look at Ginny, the two teenagers dove headfirst into the swirl of silvery gray.

An image of the Potions Master's office greeted them, filled with a group of students. Harry looked around with interest, but immediately turned his attention to his girlfriend when she gasped loudly. Ginny was staring at one student in particular, her face ghostly pale.

Feeling his stomach drop down to his feet, he followed her gaze, and then growled in anger, recognizing the teenaged Voldemort. He looked much the same as he had several years earlier, when Harry had fought him in the Chamber of Secrets. He immediately took Ginny's hand in his, and she leaned into his side, trying to calm her trembling. It had been years, he couldn't affect her any more.

Harry squeezed her hand reassuringly, telling her without words even mental ones that it was all right to be afraid. They observed the gathering for a few minutes, watching what was clearly an older generation of the Slug Club.

He recognized a few others, he thought. There were two men who shared the same troll-like statures of Crabbe and Goyle, and another who looked remarkably like Theo Nott. They listened as Slughorn thanked Tom for the box of crystallized pineapple, and commented on how he would go far in the world. As they watched, the room emptied out, until it was just Slughorn and Riddle alone. Harry grit his teeth as Riddle asked about horcruxes, and Slughorn gave him the answer, just like that.

He was intrigued when Riddle mentioned the number seven. The memory ended soon after that, and Harry and Ginny returned to the Room of Requirement. They sat down on the sofa, and Harry let out a sigh. "Well, that told us a lot," he commented. Ginny snorted and agreed. "We got more confirmation that he used horcruxes." Harry nodded. "We already knew that, though, and something tells me that Riddle already knew what a horcrux was when he went to Slughorn.

I think he was more interested in what would happen if he tried to make seven of them." Ginny groaned. "So now we need to find seven of these things." Harry shook his head. "Four," he corrected. "We already destroyed the diary, and we have the locket. And the seventh piece would be Voldemort himself. That leaves four pieces." Ginny shook her head.

"How do we even come up with ideas for what these things could be?" Harry shrugged. "We should get the others here, to tell them." He pulled out the fake coin he and Hermione had made for the DA the year before, and concentrated, sending messages to his friends. He hoped it would work, since all the coins were really designed to do was send out a date and time. He thought it was theoretically possible to isolate the coins he wanted to be notified, but he had never tried it before.

Ten minutes later, the rest of the group began to trickle into the Room. Ron, Hermione, and Neville came first, as the Gryffindor common room was closest. Luna followed soon after, and Susan, Blaise, and Daphne entered at the same time. "What's going on, Harry?" Hermione asked as soon as they were all there. Harry quickly told them everything he and Ginny had learned from Slughorn's memory. All of them looked distinctly green at the thought of Voldemort making seven of these disgusting things.

"I Obliviated Slughorn, so he doesn't remember giving us this," Harry informed them. Hermione opened her mouth comment or berate him on his actions, he rushed on, "He told me to. It's actually a pretty smart idea. That way, if any Death Eaters catch up to him, he won't be able to tell them anything. Even if they use Legilimancy." Hermione closed her mouth, and had to concede the point. Especially since Slughorn had told Harry to do it. "So now what?" Neville asked. "We know how many Voldemort made.

How are we supposed to figure out what they are?" Harry sighed. "We work together. You guys keep looking into his past, Hermione, Ron, Blaise and Daphne keep looking for places they may be hidden.

And Ginny and I work on what the objects are. We'll figure this out." He bit his lip. "I know it's hard to keep on top of this with exams coming up, and everything else we've got going on, but just do the best you can." They all nodded, and Harry stood up.

"I should tell Aunt Minerva," he informed them. "I'll see you all later?" They nodded again, and Harry left. Soon after, the rest of them broke up as well, heading back to their common rooms to finish their homework. XXX A few days later found Minerva seated in her sitting room at home, waiting for Sirius to show up.

She had informed Albus that she would be gone for the evening, and had returned to her home, asking Sirius to meet her there so that she could inform him of what Harry had told her. The Floo flared up, and Minerva looked up, smiling tightly as she greeted her former student and good friend. The two sat down, and after enacting the privacy wards, Minerva told him what they now knew. Sirius whistled appreciatively. "Nice job on Harry getting Slughorn to tell him." Minerva nodded.

"It was no small feat, but it is good to finally have some certainties. We know how many He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named made." Sirius sighed. "It is good news, now we just need to know what they are and where they are." Minerva glared at him, and he shrugged. "It's true." He stood up. "Thanks for letting me know. I'll tell Amelia when she gets home. She wanted to come, but you know how things are at the Ministry these days." Minerva winced.

Amelia was certainly dealing with a lot. She had received a lot of grief for the second Azkaban breakout, and she, Rufus, and Kingsley were working hard to try and uncover the leak they had in the DMLE.

Add to that the attacks by both Dementors and Death Eaters, and it was not a pleasant time for Amelia to hold down the top job. She offered her condolences, before lifting the wards and Sirius stepped through the Floo. Once she was alone, she sighed before downing the last of her tea and returning to Hogwarts.

They still had a long way to go, but she did feel like they were making progress. XXX With Ravenclaw's domination over Slytherin on the Quidditch pitch at the end of March, the rankings were pretty much set for the Cup. Of course, Gryffindor still had to play Hufflepuff towards the end of April, but with the way the points stood, the badgers would need to win by over two hundred points to topple the lions' lead. No one could really hope to beat Gryffindor at this point, not with the team in possession of two Firebolts.

Ginny and Harry met with Minerva and Snape to tell the Defense professor of what they had learned, and he promised to give it some thought, but they were all doing about as much as they could, and Snape couldn't be obvious about his involvement. Fred and George sent a letter to Harry in the first week of April, thanking him for the birthday gift a large deposit into the Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes vault at Gringotts, and asked if he had any suggestions as to how they should spend it.

Harry asked them to start developing more in their defense line, leaving it at that and trusting their genius to come up with ideas. He shared their update with the rest as soon as he received the letter, telling them that they were making some more progress on the listening devices, now that Arthur had joined forces with them. He had given them some good insights, and quite a few useful notes from his tinkering with muggle devices. Harry also sent them copies of the notes his mother had made, on getting electronic devices to work around magic.

XXX Harry was on his way to the Room of Requirement to meet up with his friends when he was stopped by the sound of muffled voices. He frowned, and headed towards the room the sound appeared to be coming from.

It was too muted to recognize who was speaking, but he definitely caught something about 'getting Death Eaters in the castle.' He hurried away when he heard the sound of footsteps heading towards the door, and rushed up to the Room of Requirement, where he immediately informed the rest of what he had heard. Hermione bit her lip. "I still think it's a long shot on them actually getting in the castle, but it wouldn't be a horrible idea to be on our guards.

Right?" They all nodded. Blaise and Daphne shared a look, before agreeing to keep an eye on their housemates. They knew it was mostly Slytherins involved in this plot.

It was sobering to think of people their age, willingly involved in a plot to allow murderers access to a school full of children, but they knew they couldn't afford to feel guilt over anyone who willingly aligned themselves with Voldemort. They had made their choices, and Harry and his friends would fight to survive. Shaking themselves off, they turned to more lighthearted topics. Like Voldemort's childhood.

Susan showed them some copies of old Prophet articles, and a few muggle ones they had managed to get their hands on. "It took a little digging " "A lot," Neville coughed, looking at his girlfriend.

Susan smiled slightly, and amended her statement. "A lot of digging. We found an article on the murder of a wealthy family. Mr. and Mrs. Riddle were killed, along with their adult son, Tom.

This was in 1943." Harry nodded, remembering Voldemort telling him about his muggle father. "What about his mother?" he asked curiously. Neville bit his lip. "We found something in one of the muggle articles about how the son came back a few months after vanishing with some beggar's daughter, talking about how she had bewitched him. Nothing on who the girl was, though. But she had to be a witch." Harry nodded. The muggles might think it was just something like lying to Riddle Senior about being pregnant or something, but it was far more likely he had been Imperiused or had a love potion fed to him.

"I don't think she attended Hogwarts," Neville continued. "We couldn't find any record of a witch from Little Hangleton who attended school in the timeframe that would make sense. Maybe she was homeschooled." Harry nodded again, smiling.

"Good work, guys. Keep looking, I'm sure you'll find something." He and Ginny then brought forth their ideas for possible objects. "Theoretically, horcruxes can be anything," Harry said. "An old boot, a tin can… it doesn't really matter." Ron snorted. "So we're going to have to check every tin can in Britain?" Harry rolled his eyes. "Can you see Voldemort using something like that?" he countered. They all shook their heads, and Harry shrugged. "Ginny and I already have one horcrux." Hermione and Susan gasped, while Ron and Neville's eyes widened, and Blaise, Daphne, and Luna looked intrigued.

Harry glanced at Ginny, before he told the rest about the locket Kreacher had given them. "There's a large 'S' on it, in emeralds. We figure it belonged to Slytherin." Ron snorted. "Seriously?" Harry chuckled as he nodded. "Yeah. Big ugly thing, I can't imagine Slytherin ever actually wearing it, but the point is, it was passed down somehow, and it's probably one of the few remaining relics belonging to him that are still known to the world." He took a deep breath.

"We figure Voldemort would like using something like that, because it belonged to a Hogwarts founder. More than that, Voldemort's always claimed he's the heir of Slytherin. He would certainly find a sense of justice in using one of his own ancestor's possessions to ensure his own immortality." Hermione furrowed her brow. "So you think Voldemort would use objects of importance for his horcruxes." Ginny nodded eagerly.

"Harry's right, he wouldn't use just any object. Something that belonged to the founders…" Susan tilted her head to the side. "So why the diary?" she asked reasonably. "What value did that hold?" Harry bit his lip. "You forget what that diary was made to do," he countered. "It was meant to open the Chamber of Secrets, and underlined his connection to the place." He frowned. "We know he used something from Slytherin, so it would be logical to assume he searched for something from the other founders as well.

As far as we know, the only known relic of Gryffindor is safe." "How?" Blaise asked curiously. Harry smirked slightly. "The sword. It's goblin made. It only takes on what makes it stronger. It would have no use for a horcrux." They nodded; it did make sense. "So now what?" Neville asked. Harry grimaced.

"We try to find out what other relics are associated with the founders. Just keep digging. Hopefully we'll get lucky soon." Ron snorted. "Let's hope there's more on our side than just luck," he mumbled. Harry didn't reply, but he did agree. Dumb luck wouldn't help them out with this. What they needed was a good break. He just wanted the right tidbit of information to drop into their laps and tell them what they were missing.

XXX With the arrival of the Easter holidays came even more studying. Ginny felt horrible after snapping at Harry when he suggested moving outside to enjoy the spring air. She hadn't meant to be so short with him, but all the strain was finally getting to her.

Harry backed off on Quidditch practices, knowing that there would need to be a major upset in order for them to lose the Cup, and his team was on top form.

With several of them sitting OWLs or in Katie's case, NEWTs, they needed the break to study. The rest were happy to have some time to catch up on homework.

When Ginny tried to apologize later, Harry just shrugged it off. He knew she was just stressed. They did spend a relaxing afternoon playing in their animal forms, letting out the stress and unwinding before they had to dive back into the books.

Blaise, Daphne, and Luna were ecstatic that they could join in. Once more, pamphlets on job possibilities appeared in the common rooms over the break, for the fifth years to peruse in preparation for their career counseling meetings the next week. Ginny was set to meet with McGonagall on Wednesday during her free period. When classes started back up again, Harry and his friends felt a little calmer, having had the time to catch up and in some cases, get a little ahead, in their studies.

Ginny met with McGonagall as scheduled, feeling slightly apprehensive. Minerva smiled when the youngest Weasley entered her office, and gestured for her to take a seat. "This is an informal meeting, Ginny. I'm just here to help you focus on your interests.

Have you thought about what you would like to do after graduation?" Ginny bit her lip. "I'd like to play Quidditch," she admitted. "I know it's hard to break in, and more reliant on luck and talent than any classes I would take." Minerva nodded. "You are correct. However, I believe that you may have a good chance.

We often have scouts come to the last few games of the year, to look at potential players, so keep working hard. What about after? Your Quidditch career will not carry you indefinitely." Ginny shrugged with one shoulder.

"I know. I haven't really thought about other careers. I like Transfiguration a lot. I also enjoy Charms and Arithmancy." Minerva considered. "You are doing well in all of your classes, averaging E's and O's. Have you ever considered teaching?" Ginny looked startled. "Not really." Minerva smiled. "You are very good with the younger years in the DA.

You may wish to consider going for a Mastery in a subject you enjoy. Perhaps by the time you finish with your Quidditch career, there will be an opening at the school.

Or if you like, you could work part time as the flying instructor. Madam Hooch has indicated that she would like to retire within the next few years. We can easily work around a training schedule, should that be a path you would like to pursue, and should you be drafted for a professional team. Another possibility is a position in the Department of Magical Games and Sports, once you retire from active play." Ginny stared.

"I do enjoy working with the younger students in the DA, but I'm not sure I really want to teach. I'll consider it, though." Minerva nodded. "This is the time to start thinking. You still have two more years, but you should be thinking about what classes will help you reach your goals." Ginny took a deep breath. "I think I want to drop History of Magic, Astronomy, Herbology, and Care of Magical Creatures, but keep with the rest." Minerva glanced at the parchment in front of her, and nodded decisively.

"You should have no trouble getting into the NEWT classes. Your comments from the professors are all complimentary, and like I said, you're averaging high grades, so just keep doing what you're doing, and remember, if you need anything, I am here." Ginny smiled and stood up. "Thanks, professor," she said, before making her exit. XXX The final Quidditch match was the Saturday after the Easter holidays, and true to form, Gryffindor dominated. Not that anyone expected anything different.

Even if Cedric had still been playing for the badgers, they wouldn't have stood a chance. The final score was 310-90, and Harry and the lions landed on the Pitch to approving cheers from their housemates. Minerva held up the Cup that had adorned her office for the last few years, and the crowd just roared louder.

She then passed it to Harry, who held it out to the rest of the team, and together, they lifted the trophy up. The party that followed lasted well into the night, with Minerva finally coming up to tell them to go to bed around two o'clock in the morning. With the Quidditch season over, no one had any excuse not to buckle down and hit the books.

Hermione bemoaned the fact that she hadn't started revising for exams ages earlier, but Harry and the others just rolled their eyes and ignored her. It was just the way she was. Ron managed to get her to stop briefly by giving her a chaste peck on the lips and telling her she would be brilliant, as always. Though Ginny was busy studying, Harry did spend some time in the Room of Requirement working on his wandless magic, as well as exploring the library the two had found months earlier.

Sometimes Ginny would join him with her homework, sometimes he was alone. He knew Ginny wished she could be practicing with him, but OWLs were important, and he didn't want her grades to slip. Though it vexed her, Ginny knew he was right. XXX The first weekend in May was a Hogsmeade weekend, and by that point, everyone felt like they needed a break. Harry and Ginny enjoyed a relaxing morning wandering through the shops and taking in the beautiful day. Flowers were blooming, the chill had disappeared from the air for good by now; it was well and truly spring.

They met up with their friends for lunch, and spent most of the afternoon talking and laughing in one of Madam Rosmerta's back rooms. Susan and Neville had spent most of the morning away from the crowds, enjoying the rekindling of their relationship, while Hermione had dragged Ron into the bookstore for the majority of the morning, though she did consent to stop by Honeydukes on their way to the Three Broomsticks.

Blaise and Luna had disappeared to the woods to play in their animal forms, and Daphne had joined up with Astoria, Colin, and Dennis to do some shopping. Harry really wasn't sure what was going on with his Slytherin friend and Ginny's roommate.

Some times, they seemed to be dating, others they were just friends. He didn't ask though, knowing that it was their life. Whatever worked for them. As the afternoon drew to a close, they all got up to head back to the castle, still smiling at the pleasant day. Their walk was interrupted by a bang and shouting. Harry's wand was in his hand before he was even conscious of the fact that people in dark cloaks and white masks were popping into existence around them. Most of the younger students were already further along towards the castle, and looking around, Harry noted that many students still in the village were pulling out wands of their own.

Without waiting for an invitation, Harry immediately sprung into action, Ginny quick behind him, and the others taking his lead. He fired off a stunner at the nearest Death Eater, and then had to dodge a Blasting Hex aimed at his head. Time elapsed quickly, as Harry ducked, dodged, and fired back. His aim was to capture, but he wouldn't stick to stunners, not when a quick 'enervate' would get the Death Eater back up and fighting again.

It felt like forever, but eventually, Harry noticed that they were receiving less opposition, and he cautiously peeked out from the partially blasted wall he had taken cover behind. There were about five men or women in robes unconscious in the street, but the rest were gone. Carefully and being mindful of the thought that it may be a trap, Harry stepped around the crumbling brick. Ginny, I think it's over. Ginny popped up as well, from her hiding spot in a nearby alley.

I think you're right, she commented. Harry bit his lip. "Where are the adults?" he asked out loud, taking stock of the situation now that it looked like the remaining Death Eaters really were knocked out. More pops sounded out, and Harry raised his wand quickly, spinning around to face the new threat.

He narrowed his eyes, recognizing a few of the newcomers. Fletcher, the scum who had tailed him on a previous Hogsmeade trip, was off to one side, looking very shifty. He recognized as Dedalus Diggle, the excitable man who had bowed to him in a shop while he was shopping with Petunia, and greeted him upon his return to the wizarding world before his first year, was next to him. Moody was there, and so was a woman he didn't recognize. The woman harrumphed at seeing the students pointing wands at them.

"Put those away," she ordered. "We're here to help." Harry was happy to see that not one of them obeyed, instead looking to him for instruction. Glancing around also gave him the opportunity to take stock of any injuries.

Thankfully, there didn't seem to be many. A few students had visible cuts or bruises, but they were all standing, and no one seemed to be too badly hurt. Moody rolled his good eye, the electric blue one seeming to focus on all of them at once. "We're not here to hurt you, Potter. Stand down." Harry tightened his grip on his wand, thinking. He wouldn't relax his guard until someone he knew and trusted showed up.

Ruffling the newcomers' feathers was just a bonus. It really irked him that Dumbledore's Order waited until the fighting was over to show up. No doubt they would try to take credit for stopping the attack. Another pop had several students turning towards the new addition, though Harry gestured for them to relax when it turned out to be Sirius, Kingsley, and Tonks, along with a three more Aurors from the DMLE.

Sirius almost smiled approvingly when he saw that his godson and the others hadn't relaxed their guard yet. "Kingsley, Tonks, do you need help getting the Death Eaters out of here?" he asked, looking sidelong at the Aurors. They shook their heads and moved forward, attaching portkeys to the five remaining criminals.

Once they were gone, Sirius gestured for Harry to stow his wand. The teenager listened, and following his actions, the other students also put their wands away. Sirius smiled. "You all should head back to the castle. We'll take it from here. Good job, all of you." Harry quirked his lips upwards slightly, as he led the group down the road towards Hogwarts. A few students mumbled a "Thanks, professor," as they passed Sirius.

Once the teenagers were gone, Sirius looked at the Order members who had shown up. "It appears your services are no longer needed," he commented idly. A couple of them bristled, but didn't speak.

"You should probably get back to whatever it was this situation drew you from." His voice dripped with disdain, and it was clear he knew that they hadn't even shown up in time to help at all.

Not for the first time, he thanked Merlin that his godson was so good at Defense. Moody was the last one to depart. When it was just he and Sirius alone, the grizzled Auror sighed. "The kids did well," he admitted gruffly. Sirius nodded. "You've done a good job of training them," he went on.

Sirius raised an eyebrow. "If there's something you want to say Mad-Eye, just say it. You never were one for beating around the bush." Moody let out a grunt that could almost be a laugh. "Neither are you, Black." He sobered quickly, and shrugged with one shoulder. "We came as fast as we could. Dumbledore alerted us less than fifteen minutes ago." Sirius frowned.

From the clear signs of the fight around him, it seemed plain that it had gone on for at least half an hour. Moody sighed. "We do the best we can, Black. We can't be everywhere." Sirius grit his teeth. "No. Especially when you must be on call to jump the second the old man says to." Moody looked surprised. "You used to be the best Auror in the DMLE, Mad-Eye. You used to do things because you knew them to be right, not because some old man told you to.

If you'll excuse me, I need to get back to my wife." Sirius disapparated, leaving Moody alone in the middle of a destroyed street. He clenched his jaw, looking around him at the destruction, and then spun on the spot, heading back to his home. _ _ _ Chapter 16 Disclaimer: don't own Snape frowned as he quickly sent off a Patronus to Albus, telling him he would be out of the castle for the rest of the day, before he quickly headed to the Entrance Hall and outside, passed the gates so that he could disapparate.

Normally, leaving the castle abruptly would indicate he had been called to a Death Eater meeting, so Dumbledore was used to the call from his Defense professor. However, this particular afternoon, he was heading off to meet Narcissa. She had sent him a rather panicked letter a few days earlier, and this was the first chance he had had to get away. He quietly entered his home on Spinner's End, and waited only a few minutes for a quiet knock to sound.

Opening the door showed his guest. Narcissa Malfoy entered the house meekly; it was a far cry from the dignified Lady that Snape was used to, and he felt things had only gotten worse for the woman since the first time she had shown up at his house the previous summer with her sister. He had spent some time talking with her over the year, and felt like she would hear him out on an offer of safety. She really didn't seem too keen on Voldemort's grand plan any more. Snape led her to the sitting room and gestured for her to take a seat, deciding to forgo the offer of a beverage, since she really looked like she just wanted to get this whole thing over with.

"What was it you wanted to speak with me about, Narcissa?" he asked courteously, his voice even. Narcissa took a deep breath and looked at her… what was he? They weren't really friends, she had to admit. She respected him, and he was allied with those her husband had laid down his allegiance to, but they weren't friends.

"You have told me that I can trust you, Severus. I find that hard to believe, as we were both in Slytherin. Cunning and resourceful. Why should I believe that you would not sell me out if it is advantageous of you to do so." Snape had to hold in a chuckle.

He was used to Narcissa deferring to her husband, but that didn't mean she was dimwitted. He nodded slowly, and spoke when he knew she would not catch the amusement in his voice.

"I have no wish to rat you out to anyone, Narcissa. Perhaps it would be better if you were to tell me what thoughts you have that may seem treasonous." Narcissa glared, but couldn't help the answer from coming. Severus was good at saying everything and nothing, but after meeting with him in private several times over the last few months, she believed she could tell him her feelings and he wouldn't rat her out, even if he didn't agree.

He had gone out of his way to assure her that he was there for her. He had even suggested the possibility of seeking safety in her maiden House! As if Sirius would ever allow that. Though she couldn't deny the twinge of sadness at the thought that returning to the Black family was impossible. "Draco has taken the mark. Willingly." Snape grit his teeth and nodded. He wasn't all that surprised. Narcissa sighed. "I want what is best for my son. But I am not altogether certain the Dark Lord is it." Snape pursed his lips.

He was close. Narcissa was almost there. The question was how much he could reveal. Narcissa was a trained Occlumens, so she would be able to keep his secrets, but the nature of spy work was delicate.

The more people who knew, the greater the danger. "I have mentioned it before, but you should speak with Black." Narcissa snorted. "Sirius would not accept me back into his family," she replied derisively. Her cousin had denounced anything dark the moment he had run away from the family at sixteen. Snape raised an eyebrow. "I wouldn't be so sure." Narcisa stared. "What do you know?" she asked suspiciously. Snape sighed. "Black may be more willing than you think.

But do not make this decision lightly, Narcissa. If you wish to return to the Black family, you must be willing to denounce the Dark Lord an all he believes in.

You must be willing to denounce your son and your husband. Are you?" Narcissa pondered the question for a few minutes. Could she really leave her son and husband behind? If it was the cost of safety and survival, she could do it.

They had made their choice. She would make the one that best served her. She looked back at Snape. "I am." Severus held in another sigh as he nodded. "If that is your decision, I will speak with Black. Be aware that he may ask you to prove yourself.

He won't trust you, but if you swear fealty to the Black family and offer assistance in the fight, it may go a long way." Narcissa tilted her chin up slightly, her expression observing and carefully blank. "You do not serve the Dark Lord," she commented neutrally. "You may act the part, but you report to a different master. Tell me, Severus, when did Dumbledore change your views?" Snape clenched his jaw.

"I do not align myself with the old man," he forced himself to remain calm. "And believe me, if I was making this offer on his behalf, you would be smart to remain as you are." Narcissa started. "To whom do you report, then?" she asked, idle curiosity in her tone. Snape shook his head slightly. "Just trust that I am resolved to seeing this war end, and I believe I am on the right side. I am willing to vouch for you, so do not make a liar of me, Narcissa.

If you want this, I will make it happen, but Merlin help you if you go back on your word." Narcissa took a deep breath.

"I want this," she said softly. Snape nodded. "Then I will speak to Black." Narcissa made to stand up, when Snape's voice halted her actions. "What is your son up to?" Narcissa flinched and turned around. "Pardon?" Snape raised an eyebrow, a not quite glare on his face. "Do not play games with me. I know several Slytherins who have spent the last year whispering in corners and classrooms, hiding their conversations and thoughts from everyone.

Something is going on. Tell me. Prove to me that you want to change." Narcissa wilted. She slid back down into her seat and Snape, watching her, refused to allow himself to feel guilty at the almost tortured expression she wore.

"Please, Severus. I do not want that life anymore, but he is still my son." Snape's almost-glare intensified. "If he is planning something at Hogwarts, think of all the lives in danger. How many other sons and daughters could be hurt because of him?" Narcissa paused for a moment, before she nodded slightly. "I am unaware of all the details," she said hesitantly, "but they are planning some sort of attack on the school.

The Dark Lord has given my son one chance to redeem himself, after the failure last June." Snape almost swore, but stopped himself, and just nodded resolutely. "Thank you, Narcissa. I will be in touch with you about Black." Narcissa bit her lip, and stood back up. When she was at the door, she stopped and turned her head slightly so that she was looking at Snape out of the corner of her eye.

"Thank you." And then she was gone. XXX Minerva and Harry were both concerned when Snape told them what he had learned from Narcissa, and promised to keep a close eye on the worrisome students.

Minerva also told Harry about Narcissa's change of heart, since the subject had come up, and he was happy to have her on their side, as long as she could be trusted. Snape sighed when the question was broached. "Narcissa is a Slytherin," he said brusquely. "She will look out for herself first.

She is willing to leave her husband and son to their fate because it suits her. That does not mean you should not be willing to offer her aid when she asks for it. She is simply learning the same lessons I did prior to the end of the last war. She has learned that there is nothing to be gained by serving the Dark Lord. That doesn't mean she would fight against him, but she won't fight against us either." Harry nodded carefully.

"I would feel more comfortable if she swore a vow to not fight against us, but I wouldn't turn her away when she's asking for help. I'm sure Sirius would say the same." Minerva nodded. "We will offer our assistance, of course.

But I will not allow her into our home unless she proves herself trustworthy. We can set up a safehouse if she needs somewhere to stay." Snape inclined his head. "That is acceptable. Perhaps once term lets out we can set up a meeting and discuss terms. I trust you will inform Black of the situation?" Minerva nodded again, and Snape left for his office. Once he was gone, Minerva turned to look at Harry. "What is your opinion?" she asked curiously. She knew they had sort of sprung this on Harry, and she was interested in his thoughts.

Harry raised an eyebrow. "I thought I already gave it." Minerva just stared, and Harry sighed. "One less person we have to fight against can only be a good thing. I've never had much interaction with Mrs. Malfoy, but if she's willing to set aside her feelings and come to us for aid, then we have to be willing to offer our assistance. Don't we?" Minerva smiled. "Well said, Harry. Narcissa is cold, but not unfeeling. If she made the choice to leave her family behind, it is because she truly does not want to align herself with You-Know-Who anymore." Harry's lips quirked upwards in a facsimile of a smile.

"All right. I should get going, I'm going to meet up with the others to study." Minerva's smile widened slightly. "Of course. I'm sure you all have nothing to worry about. Tell Miss Weasley that obsessing is not going to help. She is among the top students in her year, and she should not be worrying and wasting sleep." Harry grinned. "Yes, Professor." He ducked out of the room and headed up to the Room of Requirement.

He didn't tell them what he had been talking about with Minerva and Snape, since that sort of information would be best kept private. Ginny, of course, knew, but that was different.

They sat in a comfortable sitting room, as Harry asked for updates. Blaise shook his head. "There's no way to be certain," he huffed. "We can dream up possibilities, but we can't really check them out." Hermione pursed her lips. "I considered the idea of the orphanage he grew up in, but we don't even know where that is, do we?" "Somewhere in London," Neville supplied helpfully.

Hermione glared at him. "The point is, we can't really check anything out until this summer, and even then it would be difficult." Harry smiled slightly. "We'll find a way to check. I still think Hogwarts and Gringotts are possibilities." Hermione nodded once.

"I'm not so sure, but we'll add them to the list." Harry's smiled widened a bit. "Thanks. In the meantime, how are we coming with Voldemort's past?" Susan sighed. "I guess you could say we've had a little more luck," she shrugged. "We managed to get a name on his mother. Merope Gaunt. She lived with her father and brother in a shack outside of Little Hangleton, the town the Riddles lived in." Harry tilted his head to the side. "Why does that name sound familiar?" he asked, almost to himself.

Ginny frowned in thought. It did sound familiar, and she was sure she had heard it somewhere, probably from her husband. Boyfriend. Damn it, she really needed to figure out what to call him in her mind. Harry's eyes widened after a minute.

"Gaunt," he said quickly, looking at the others. "I remember that name from a few years ago, when Sirius was teaching me about things I needed to know as the Head of an Ancient and Noble House. I had to learn about the old families.

The Gaunt family is one of the older pureblood minor houses, but it died out over fifty years ago." Ginny furrowed her brow. "The Gaunt family… I think I remember you… telling me about that.

They weren't particularly known for anything, were they?" Harry shrugged. "Not really. Like I said, they were a minor house, but I think they had ties to some major pureblood lines. But if they had any real talent in the family, it died out a long time ago." He paused for a moment, before looking at Neville and Susan. "Do you know exactly where the family lived?" The couple shared a look, before Neville replied. "We have a general idea, but it might take some searching." Harry nodded, and Ginny looked intrigued.

"You think it's worth checking out." It wasn't a question. Harry bit his lip. "It's just an idea. We'll see if we can do some poking around the area this summer." They all nodded, excited by the prospect of an actual lead. "Do you two have any possibilities for what the objects are?" Daphne asked, looking at Harry and Ginny. Harry sighed. "It really is a lot of guesswork," he admitted. "We've done some research on the founders, and found a few leads.

The only known relic of Ravenclaw is her lost diadem." "But the lost diadem is… lost, isn't it?" Susan asked tentatively.

Luna nodded, showing more interest than she had been all afternoon. "Daddy's building a model that will replicate its properties." They all looked at her for a moment, before Ron spoke. "Sorry, but what the bloody hell is a diadem?" Harry chuckled. "It's sort of like a tiara. Ravenclaw's was imbedded with jewels, and had the phrase 'wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure' inscribed on it." "So you think this might be a horcrux?" Hermione asked.

Harry shrugged. "It's just another idea," he admitted. "It does seem awfully farfetched, since no one's seen it pretty much since Ravenclaw died." "Have you asked her daughter?" Luna asked, her voice breezy. Harry furrowed his brow. "Helena Ravenclaw? She disappeared before her mother died." Luna's smile widened slightly.

"She makes a delightful chatting companion when she's in the mood." The others just looked more confused. "You would know her as the Grey Lady." Harry started.

"The Ravenclaw ghost? That's Helena Ravenclaw?" Luna nodded, and Harry smiled his thanks. "We'll look into that Luna, it's a good idea. In the meantime, here's a picture of what the diadem looks like." He handed out copies that he had made from a book on the founders where he had found the information. They glanced at the picture briefly, before Harry continued.

"The other lead we found was an item of Hufflepuff's. She had a cup that was said to negate all poisons of whatever was placed in it. It's also been missing for a while." "No idea what happened to it?" Hermione asked, disappointed. Harry took a deep breath. "I think I've combed the entire library section of old Prophet's. The cup popped up belonging to a woman named Hepzibah Smith, who claimed to be a descendant of Hufflepuff.

A little digging and some reading between the lines, and I found out that Borgin and Burkes tried to get her to sell the cup to them many times. After her death, the cup was discovered missing by her family." "How did she die?" Blaise asked, wondering if it might have something to do with it. Harry sighed. "Her house elf was charged with the murder.

She was rather old, and admitted to putting something in her mistress' tea that turned out not to be sugar, but a poison." "It's a lie," Hermione stated with conviction.


Harry looked at her. "Of course it is," he replied calmly. "But who's eager to prove it? The elf admitted what she had done. In my opinion, someone planted a false memory in the elf's mind, to frame her." "So it's another dead end?" Ron asked, disappointed. Harry smirked. "Of course not. I'm planning on taking a little trip to Borgin and Burkes at some point, to see if they know anything." "He's not going to say anything you know," Neville said.

Harry's smirk widened. "He won't have a choice." He looked at Daphne. "You interested in helping me brew some Veritaserum?" Daphne blinked, startled. "What?" she asked, confused. Harry shrugged. "You want to be a Potions Mistress, which means you have to have some talent. I've seen you in class. You're good. Better than me." Daphne smiled at him. "Of course I'll help. You're planning on using truth serum to get answers out of Burke, aren't you." Harry nodded, and Hermione groaned.

"Harry, you know how much trouble you could get in, just for brewing the potion, let alone using it?" Harry shrugged. "Not nearly as much trouble as we'll all be in if we don't win this war." Hermione rolled her eyes, but had to concede the point. Ginny cleared her throat.

"I was thinking…" They all looked at her, and she bit her lip. "Harry, you mentioned how intelligent Nagini seemed. Is it possible to make a horcrux out of a living being?" Hermione and Susan looked a little sick, but Harry frowned in thought. "Theoretically, maybe," he allowed. "And I suppose it would make a sick sort of sense, for him to use his pet in that way. It would underline his connection to serpents, and again, the Slytherin line." He looked at Ginny. "I think you might be right, now that I look back on the dreams I've had with Nagini in them, and seeing her in that graveyard.

She was a little too intelligent for a regular snake." "So now we have to kill the snake," Ron commented. "I'll volunteer for that." They all looked at him, confused. Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Why?" Ron's gaze narrowed. "I owe that snake for what it did to dad." Ginny nodded understandingly.

"Sounds good to me." Hermione reached out and grasped her boyfriend's hand, while Harry did the same for Ginny. Since they didn't have any more new information to bring to the group, they spent the rest of the day doing homework. In a surprising display of trust, Daphne let Harry spent several hours exploring her mind. The year before, she never would have even considered it, but after everything he had done for her and Astoria, she knew she could count on him to use discretion.

She wasn't sure why he wanted to do this, but she trusted him to not be planning on using whatever he learned for anything nefarious. He had spent most of his time with this project using Ginny as his subject, but she really needed to study for her exams, and couldn't spare the time. Besides, Harry thought as he navigated the twists and turns of his Slytherin friend's mind, it was good to get multiple perspectives; it would help him learn a little better.

After a couple hours with Daphne, Harry switched to Neville when he offered. Harry happily accepted, and spent the rest of the afternoon studying his fellow Gryffindor's mind.

When they packed up to head to dinner, Harry felt like he had come a long way in developing his Legilimancy skills. XXX Over the next week, Harry was intrigued by an idea that had come to him as he had called his friends to him and Ginny using the DA coin a while back. It would be so much easier if they had a way to communicate with more than just a coin that could list dates and times. If they could input locations, or perhaps even numbers of opponents, or something like that, it would be so much more useful.

With that thought in mind, he secluded himself in the Room of Requirement for most of Saturday, while his friends were in the library studying.

Conjuring up multiple matching medallions, he worked tirelessly to get them to do what he wanted, with the result being a set of fourteen necklaces that were linked together so that any of them could be used to send short phrases to the others, like a location, or whatever else the wearer needed. He felt very pleased with his success, and presented them to his friends the next day.

Hermione studied the medallion closely. "This is quite intricate, Harry, I'm very impressed." She put the necklace on, smiling at her fellow Prefect.

Indeed, Harry thought the image worked. The medallion itself was a circle shape, slightly larger than a galleon. On the back, he had borrowed part of the image from his House Crest, and put the image of a crossed wand and sword. On the front was a dragon, its wings unfurled, rearing up halfway, claws extended. When they sent out the information, the dragon image would disappear, to be replaced by writing. They all admired the necklace, as Harry explained. "I thought about using a phoenix, but then I didn't really want to use something that could be linked to Dumbledore's Order.

And I could have used a griffin, but I didn't want it to be too Gryffindor for our Slytherins." He grinned at Blaise and Daphne, who rolled their eyes. "I thought the dragon fit. We're not just meekly following orders or waiting for someone to tell us what to do. We're fighting. These are different from the DA coins. You can enter short phrases into them, and they will show up on the others.

Locations, or numbers of opponents. When they're activated, they get warm." Everyone put them on, complimenting Harry on his spell work. Harry smiled his thanks. "I made a few extra. I'm going to give them to Cedric, Fred, and George. I figured they could probably find use for them as well.

I'll give the necklaces to them this summer. I'll also give ones to Professors McGonagall and Snape." Ginny beamed. "This is a really brilliant idea, Harry. The main issue with the coins was that we could leave them in our rooms, or might not notice when a new date was added.

These will tell us, and we'll be able to keep them with us at all times." She leaned over and gave him a kiss, which Harry returned willingly.

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"Now that that's all taken care of, I think we should talk about the hippogriff in the room," Blaise said. When they looked confused, he elaborated. "We know there's a plan in the works to infiltrate Hogwarts. Dumbledore certainly isn't going to do anything to stop it, so it's up to us." Harry let out a breath of air, conceding the point.

"What do you suggest?" The two Slytherins looked at each other, before Daphne shrugged. "We can put some monitoring spells up in the common room, since let's face it, most of the students we're keeping an eye on are there. It's kind of hard to plan when we don't know when or where this attack will come." Harry nodded.

"We'll think about it. If you have any ideas, don't hold it back." They all agreed, and moved on to more leisurely pursuits. They spent the rest of the day relaxing in their animal forms, since as Harry always maintained, sometimes the best thing to do when the stress was getting to be too much was just unwind and not think about whatever it was for a while. XXX Minerva and Snape both praised Harry on his idea and work on the medallions, and promised to wear it at all times.

They thought it could come in handy, and were pleased that he had included them as he made these plans. Minerva gave him a hug, smiling at the way he blushed at the praise. Pulling back, she observed her charge. "I'm really proud of you, Harry." He looked confused, so she continued, brushing his hair out of his face. "A few years ago, you would never have considered telling an adult about any of this. Do you remember all those harebrained schemes you cooked up with Mr.

Weasley and Miss Granger?

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And now look at you. You've grown up so much." Harry's blush deepened. "I think I just learned how to trust," he admitted. "So really, you and Sirius are to blame for this." Minerva beamed. "Well, I'll take partial credit, but you're the one who did the hard work, Harry. You let us in. Now, you should head back to your friends, but take ten points to Gryffindor for excellent forethought and spell work." Harry grinned and left the office. XXX Fred and George were feeling immensely frustrated.

Even after their father had joined them in their efforts, they still weren't having any luck in getting these listening devices to work. "It shouldn't be this hard," George complained, collapsing onto one of the benches in their workroom.

It was a weekend, and they were still working. Arthur had joined them since he didn't have to be at the Ministry, and they were trying to come up with new ideas on how to get these things to work. If it weren't for their potential use, they would have just tossed the idea in the impossible to complete pile. Arthur shook his head slightly. "It might be difficult, boys, but it will be worth it. Think of what it would do for our side, if we were able to get these devices in You-Know-Who's headquarters." The twins nodded.

They did understand, it was just frustrating that they had been working on these devices for months and still didn't have a working prototype yet.

Fred sighed and picked up the small device they had been working on. At least this one hadn't exploded on them. "How are we supposed to get this to work without magic?" he asked for the millionth time.

Arthur frowned, and went into his tool bag, pulling out several different sizes of batteries. "Perhaps the answer isn't to try and figure out how to put passive magic into something. Boys, do you have the notes Harry sent you? From what I saw at McGonagall Castle, Lilly Potter was a genius in getting muggle devices to work around magic. Perhaps the solution is to get a device to work off of this battery, and then shield the muggle technology from the magic surrounding it." He was very proud of himself for remembering what Harry had called the small objects that powered muggle devices.

Both Weasley twins immediately lost their frustrated looks and stood up, getting back to work. Together, the three of them spent the rest of the day, and most of the evening, working on this new angle. The result was a still nonworking model, but it was closer to their goal than any previous attempts. And this one wasn't likely to explode on them, so it was progress.

They were ready to keep trying, until Arthur noticed the time, and had to hurry home before Molly completely lost it. Once their father was gone, Fred and George looked at each other and grinned, before cleaning up and heading up to their flat above the shop. It was nice to have such a short commute from work to home.

_ _ _ Chapter 17 Disclaimer: don't own A few days later, Harry and Ginny managed to corner the Grey Lady in an out of the way classroom in the dungeons.

She was hesitant, but under their determined gazes and heavy pleading, told them of her sordid tale, her aspirations to make herself better than her mother. She had stolen the diadem and run away. Harry and Ginny were shocked to learn that the Bloody Baron, the Slytherin ghost, had been around at that point as a wizard, and had gone after her when her mother had fallen ill, and wanted to see her daughter again.

"I was too proud to admit my mistakes," Helena Ravenclaw sniffed. "In his anger over my refusal to return, the Baron killed me. When he saw what he had done, he turned his sword on himself. All these years later, he wears his chains as penance." Harry frowned. "What about the diadem?" he pushed gently, hoping she wouldn't just leave. Helena looked suddenly fearful. "I can't…" she whispered. Harry suddenly understood. "We're not the first ones you've spoken to about this," he said gently.

"You told another student about the diadem." Helena's misty eyes widened. "He was so kind and charming," her voice broke. "I thought he cared." Harry nodded knowingly. "It's all right," he reassured her. "Tom Riddle was good at making people tell him what he wanted.

Thank you for sharing this with us." Helena sniffed and glided away. Harry turned to look at Ginny. "So it looks like Voldemort found the diadem," he said grimly. Ginny shrugged as they headed back up to the main levels of the castle. "Yeah, but it still doesn't tell us where it is." Harry agreed, and they headed outside to join their friends in a study session by the lake, as they were tired of spending all their time inside.

XXX A week later, Hermione, Ron, Susan, and Blaise all said goodbye to Harry, Neville, Daphne, Ginny, and Luna, and met up with Twycross in order to go take their Apparition test.

As Harry, Neville, and Daphne were not seventeen yet, they could not take the test until the summer. Daphne was particularly upset, since she would be turning seventeen in just two weeks. Harry and Neville, with several months to go yet, were not quite as annoyed as they wished their friends luck, and headed outside shortly after the group of hopeful seventeen year olds left.

As limitless as the Room of Requirement was, they were feeling a little pent up, and decided to spend some time exploring the Forbidden Forest. They returned to the castle later that afternoon, feeling much calmer; it definitely did Ginny and Luna some good, to get away from the schoolwork and exam preparation for the day. Hermione, Ron, Susan, and Blaise met up with them at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall, and they all ate together as they told their friends about the test.

Fortunately, they had all passed, though according to Ron, it was a close thing for him. Hermione shook her head fondly. Sometimes her boyfriend rivaled Harry for the biggest inferiority complex. They all congratulated the foursome, and Ron preened a little as Ginny reminded him that Charlie had needed to take the test twice, which put him ahead of his older brother.

The others prompted her for the story, so Ginny told them about how on Charlie's first go at the test, he had apparated on top of an old lady doing her shopping, five miles away from where he was supposed to end up. They were all roaring with laughter by the end, and spent several hours talking as dinner ended and the room emptied out, until they had to leave or get caught out after curfew.

All in all, Harry felt it had been a pretty good day. XXX The end of the year seemed to be getting closer with alarming speed. By the time the end of May rolled around, Harry felt he had gotten a good grasp on Legilimancy, and would be able to try his theory out on Neville's parents. He actually felt pretty confident about it, but didn't tell Neville, because he didn't want to build false hope.

He had exchanged several more letters with the Healer Jason had put him in touch with, and she thought his angle for a cure was theoretically possible, if far-fetched. She prompted him to spend some more time working it out further, to ensure success, and promised to give it some more thought as well. She did, however, think he might be able to put the theory into action over the summer. Harry was nervous, but excited. He really wanted to give Neville his parents back.

It was one thing he and the other boy really shared: an unspoken wish to be reunited with his parents. Though Neville never really mentioned them after they had caught him at the long-term ward in Saint Mungos, Harry knew what it was like to ache for your parents. To be willing to give anything just to hear their voices again, to have them look at you with love and kiss you good night.

It wasn't possible for him to have his wish come true, but there was still hope for Neville. Shortly after their happenstance meeting at the hospital, Neville had told him in private that he would never give up hope, as long as his parents were still breathing.

He had figured if there were no hope at all, they wouldn't still be drawing breath. Harry hoped Neville was right, because what he was trying to do was near impossible, in the views of most witches and wizards. But Harry wouldn't give up. He didn't believe it was impossible, and he was looking to revolutionize the wizarding world.

He'd figure out how to reverse the effects of the Cruciatus Curse, he'd find a cure for Lycanthropy, he'd give the goblins the respect and recognition they deserved, he'd change the Ministry and redesign their ancient and obsolete laws. Of course, he knew he'd need a hell of a lot of help with all of this, but he was certain that together with his friends, they would change the world. Ginny looked up at him from across the room where she was doing revisions for her exams, and smiled.

Damn straight, Harry. We're going to give all those stuffy purebloods something to think about. Harry smirked. They won't know what hit 'em. XXX A few days later, Harry received yet another summons to Dumbledore's office. He considered ignoring it, but didn't think he should outright defy the headmaster just yet. He could still pretend that the old man had some authority, though he couldn't say with any certainty that he would be able to do so for much longer, unless Dumbledore had had a huge change of heart lately.

Somehow, he doubted it. Once more, Dumbledore offered Harry a lemon drop and a seat, and once more, Harry refused, privately reveling in the chance to make the old man uncomfortable and annoyed. But Dumbledore forced those feelings down, and just smiled genially.

"Thank you for coming, Harry. I know you must be busy studying for your end of year exams." Harry nodded silently. Dumbledore's smile tightened minutely, but Harry caught it, and internally smirked.

"I must congratulate you on your class standing, Harry. I believe you will have many people after you for a job this time next year." Harry's mental smirk turned into a frown. It was subtle, but he thought he could sense something like a lie in the headmaster's words.

Did Dumbledore not think he would get a lot of offers? Or did he not think he'd be graduating? Harry said nothing, and after a moment, Dumbledore continued. "I wished to apologize for my actions a few months ago. I was merely trying to help you succeed." Harry grit his teeth, and when he was sure he could respond without yelling, he did so. "Professor, I understand your goals, but you need to stop. Stop trying to insert yourself into my life, because I will never trust you the way I did before I learned everything you're responsible for." Dumbledore made to speak, but Harry kept going.

"Have you even looked at the report Madam Pomfrey compiled after I left the Dursleys?" Dumbledore blinked, startled. Harry smiled grimly. "I didn't think so. I would suggest taking a look, sir, and perhaps you'll understand just a little of what you put me through." He started to turn around, when Dumbledore managed to find his voice.

"You need my help, Harry. To fulfill the prophecy. You can't do it alone, there are things that only I know." Harry raised an eyebrow, and glared.

"I think I'll manage." He spun on his heel and left the office, seething. He knew the headmaster didn't think he had revealed so much, but he hadn't counted for what Harry already knew. In his mind, Ginny's voice calmed him slightly. Harry, come to the Room of Requirement. I'll meet you there. Just don't curse anything until you get there, all right? Harry nodded mentally, and waited until he reached the Room, asking it to provide him with a training room, complete with dummies for him to destroy.

That was how Ginny, Ron, Hermione, and Neville found him five minutes later. Ginny had tried to come alone, but as soon as she had said that Harry was upset, they all insisted on joining her. They watched from the doorway while Harry turned seven dummies to dust within the span of three minutes. When the room was devoid of opponents, Harry straightened up from his fighter's crouch, to the sound of applause.

He looked over and blushed slightly to see his fellow Gryffindors in the entrance, watching him. They all moved in and closed the door.

Ginny raised an eyebrow. "What's this about, Harry? What did Dumbledore say?" Harry growled slightly, his eyes hardening. "He knew." They all looked confused. "What do you mean?" Hermione asked, mentally asking the room to provide sofas for them to sit, which they all did a moment later. Harry grit his teeth. "He tried to tell me that there were things only he knew, so only he could help me fulfill that damn prophecy. Don't you see it? He knew about the horcruxes.

He's probably known at least since he saw that diary." Ginny's eyes hardened. "He probably had an idea before that, but the diary would definitely be proof for his theory. Damn it!" She slammed a fist against the arm of the sofa she was sitting on.

Harry nodded. "He's had all these years to solve the problem. And he knew how! But he waited for me to do it for him. All because he puts so much stock in that stupid prophecy.

How many people did he doom to die because he didn't do anything? If he had done something, anything, we wouldn't be faced with the problem of hunting down all these horcruxes based on flimsy theories and what little we can find on Voldemort." Ron let out an animalistic growl that reminded them all of his dog form.

"Bastard." Hermione looked like she wanted to reprimand her boyfriend's language, but couldn't manage because she completely agreed with his assessment. Neville shook his head at the audacity of the headmaster. "Somehow, it doesn't surprise me. We all knew he was too forgiving, too willing to put his 'greater good' ahead of the real people. The question is, what are we going to do about it?" Harry looked startled for a moment, before he grinned.

"I can think of a few ideas," he said mischievously. "Living with two of the Marauders, being friends with Fred and George, I think I've definitely expanded my prank repertoire." Ginny chuckled. "I think we can certainly help out with that," she agreed. "Growing up with the twins is very good for coming up with creative punishments." They all put their heads together for the next couple of hours, and by the end of their impromptu session, had several ideas to put into place to give the headmaster a hard time.

Hermione was fine with pranking the old man as long as he wasn't seriously injured, something they all agreed to. They didn't want to harm him, just make him miserable. Once they were finished, Harry went to go put the first part of their prank into play. He made his way down to the kitchen, and asked for the head elf. A moment later, a pop in front of him showed a proud looking elf looking up at him with awe.

"What can Barsto do for Master Gryffindor sir?" Harry was momentarily startled to hear himself called that. "You all know who I am?" he asked curiously. Barsto nodded eagerly, his large ears flapping.

"Master Gryffindor is the heir to Master Godric, sir. All elves be knowing who he is. All elves in castle will follow Master Gryffindor and obey his commands." Harry smiled slightly.

"Thank you, Barsto. I would appreciate it if you would call me Harry, though. I don't want people knowing my status as a founder's heir." Barsto nodded again.

"Of course, Master Harry. How can we be serving you today?" Harry took a deep breath. "Barsto, the headmaster has been trying to insert himself into my life for too long. My friends and I are planning a series of pranks to play on him.

Would you be willing to help?" Barsto nodded for a third time, his large eyes widening as the corners of his mouth tilted upwards. "Of course, Master Harry. What can we elves be doing to help?" Harry smiled. "All right. You know how Dumbledore loves his lemon drops?" Barsto nodded yet again. "I'd like to make sure he can't have them.

If you could ensure that any he has disappears, that would be great. He has that bowl in his office, can you make it so that any he puts in the bowl vanish?" Barsto actually beamed at this. He snapped his fingers.

"Of course, Master Harry. Barsto has just placed spell on bowl, and headmaster's private everfilling pouch. Pouch will not work anymore, and any drops that are put in bowl will vanish." Harry grinned. "Thanks, Barsto. If I need anything else, I'll ask you." Barsto's mouth stretched, if possible, even wider in a smile.

"We are happy to help Master Harry in all his endeavors." Harry nodded and left the kitchen after thanking the elf once more. Ginny's mental laughter rang in his head. Dumbledore's going to be so shocked, she chuckled. Harry smirked. This is just phase one, he reminded her. He's going to regret ever meddling by the time we're done with him. True to their word, over the next week, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Ginny all did their part to make Dumbledore miserable.

Even after one day, Harry could tell that the old man was missing his lemon drops. He only really appeared for meals, and looked slightly haggard and twitchy, almost like he was going through withdrawal. They slipped a potion into his pumpkin juice that made him cluck like a chicken for an entire day; made it so that he spent an entire day stuck in the Entrance Hall, by charming every door so that whenever his magical signature passed through it, he would end up back in the Hall; and had his fuzzy bunny slippers spend a morning attacking him wherever he went.

The house elves were ecstatic to help out, and were majorly responsible for keeping the headmaster in the Entrance Hall, as well as getting the potion into his drink. Barsto had proudly brought the slippers to Harry to charm when he had asked. The next weekend, Harry met with all his friends in the Room of Requirement, and almost flinched under the gazes of Blaise, Daphne, Susan, and Luna. "Spill it, Potter.

Why have you spent this whole week pranking Dumbledore to within an inch of his sanity?" Blaise asked, raising an eyebrow. Harry shrugged and explained about the conversation he had had with the headmaster the previous weekend, and what they had inferred. Blaise let out a low breath. "Damn," he commented. "Need any help?" Harry chuckled, and the others laughed. Daphne shook her head. "I can't believe the audacity of the old man.

He could end up killing us all because he put so much stock into that stupid prophecy." Harry nodded seriously. "The more I think about it, the more I wonder if he meant me to survive at all." Hermione let out a gasp.

"Harry, I know he's got a lot to answer for, but " Harry looked at her, cutting her off midsentence. "I know it might seem horrible, Hermione, but the first thing he did when I showed up at his office was to congratulate me on my class rank and tell me how many people would be offering me a job this time next year." He looked down briefly.

"The thing is, I could tell that he was lying. I don't think it was about how many people would be offering me a job, if for no other reason than I'm the bloody Boy Who Lived. But what if he was talking about me surviving to get any job offers?" Ginny's eyes widened, and then narrowed.

"You think he's interpreted the prophecy to mean that your death will bring down Voldemort." Harry nodded, grasping her hand tightly. She huffed, gritting her teeth. "Not going to happen," she stated surely. Harry nodded, agreeing. "I'm not planning on going anywhere." Daphne pursed her lips. "I'm up for a little payback," she growled. Luna tilted her head to the side. "Tell me what I can do to help." Her voice was so steely that it took them all aback for a moment.

Luna just smiled, though it could not be taken as reassuring for anyone on the receiving end of it. "No one gets away with hurting my friends." Harry smiled. "Thanks, guys. Here's what we've got so far." They spent another hour planning, and Harry was glad to have a few Slytherins involved; their ideas were creative, and in some cases, a little frightening.

After a while, they switched over to other pursuits. Harry asked the Room to provide them with a few more amenities, and they all broke up to separate tasks.

Ginny and Luna had brought their book bags and started doing more revising for their exams, while Hermione, Ron, Neville, Susan, and Blaise continued doing some research for their Horcrux hunt.

Harry and Daphne went over to the potions lab section that the Room had given them, and started working on brewing Veritaserum. The potion was incredibly difficult, and would take a month to complete, but Harry and Daphne were confident that, together, they could get it right, and just in time for the term to end. They also worked on a several potions to use for their pranks. After the first one was complete, Luna took it down to the kitchen to put into use, before returning to the Room.

They all worked the day away, only emerging when it was time for supper. They felt like it had been a productive day, and looked forward to implementing some of their plans for Dumbledore. Indeed, they were looking forward to dinner. If anyone was confused by the group's excitement as they all sat together at the Gryffindor table, they didn't say anything. It wasn't until there was a bang and a puff of smoke up at the head table that anyone had any idea of what the group may have been waiting for.

They all looked towards the noise, and started laughing. Where a moment earlier Dumbledore had been sitting, there was now a rather shocked goat. He had a long goatee that reached to the floor, and horns that curled slightly at the tips.

After a few minutes, Minerva finally managed to control her laughter enough to stand up. "Calm down, everyone, please!" It didn't work. The entire Hall was laughing loudly at the headmaster, and wouldn't be stopping any time soon. Minerva shrugged and sat back down, glancing over at Snape who was sitting next to her. The Defense professor wasn't laughing, but his eyes were amused, and there was a constant twitching of his lips, so Minerva knew it was taking all of his restraint to hold back.

"Well, I tried," she muttered, chuckling under her breath. Snape nodded austerely. "It was a commendable effort," he replied. It took another fifteen minutes for people to calm down enough to pick themselves up off the floor. Dumbledore had apparently had enough after ten minutes, and had cantered quite quickly down the aisle and out of the Hall, something that only once more set off those who had been close to getting themselves under control.

Finally, the room started to empty out, as people left for their common rooms or other parts of the castle, still chuckling about the wonderful prank, and wondering who had done it and how they had managed to get something that big passed the headmaster. No one had been oblivious to the number of pranks that had been played on Dumbledore over the last week, and were enjoying it immensely.

When the Great Hall was nearly empty, Minerva removed herself from the head table under the pretense of going to get some grading done. She passed by the Gryffindor table, where Harry and his friends were all still congregated, now eating ice cream sundaes like nothing had happened.

Harry had to stop himself from smiling when Minerva muttered under her breath as she passed, "Fifteen points to each of you for your excellent potions work." None of them reacted, knowing that if Dumbledore got actual proof of their involvement, he would insist on punishing them. Under the table, Harry reached a hand out to Blaise, who was sitting next to him. Blaise smirked and slapped his hand. The goat idea had been his, after all. XXX Albus sat at his desk in the early hours of the morning, doing something he had done quite frequently over the last few years.

Thinking about Harry Potter. While he didn't have any evidence, he was certain that the boy was behind the multitude of bad luck he had experienced over the last week. He had spent the entire day yesterday as a goat, for Merlin's sake!

He knew Harry was upset with him, but why couldn't the child just see that he was trying to do what was right? Harry was essential to winning this war, but only Albus had the key to destroying Voldemort, once and for all.

But how could he guide Harry if the boy wouldn't listen to him? For the first time, Albus considered the possibility that maybe he was going about this the wrong way.

He recalled Harry's challenge for him to look at the report from Poppy. What could be so bad that Harry would carry that much hate around? Albus was glad that Harry had his friends to focus on, since he knew just what that hate could do to a person, if they didn't learn to let it go. He worried a little, regardless of how happy Harry seemed, because that anger could be dangerous.

Sighing wearily, he picked up his wand and fingered it for a moment, remembering the moment he won it from Gelert Grindelwald, all those years ago. The wand was Elder, its core from the tail of a Thestral, a remarkably difficult substance to work with.

He had taken it from his old friend, and through the years, tamed it somewhat. Oh yes, this wand had left a bloody trail across the pages of history.

The Deathstick, the Wand of Destiny, the legend went that it was won by killing its previous master. Albus knew that wasn't true, the previous master only had to be defeated.

Gellert was still alive, and had lived in the prison he had built for his enemies, ever since that final battle fifty-odd years ago. He drew himself out of his morose thoughts, and sent of a Patronus to Poppy, hoping she would respond quickly.

A few minutes later, he looked up and smiled, forcing himself to act the part of the enigmatic headmaster. "Come in, Poppy." The mediwitch entered and closed the door behind her. "You wished to speak with me, Albus?" she asked, and he knew he wasn't imagining the thread of hostility in her voice.

He hadn't really spoken much with her in the last few years. Not since Harry had moved in with Minerva and Sirius, actually. Whenever they did interact, she always seemed to be forcing herself to remain civil.

He nodded genially. "Thank you for your swiftness, Poppy, please, take a seat." The healer did so cautiously, and waited for the headmaster to tell her why she was here. Albus cleared his throat. "I wondered if you could give me some insight to a situation you responded to almost four years ago." Poppy frowned.

"You want to know what happened when Mr. Potter ran away from his… relatives." Albus raised an eyebrow minutely at the venom in the woman's voice when she spat out the word 'relatives' like it was the vilest concept there was. Nevertheless, he nodded slightly. "If it wouldn't be too much trouble, Poppy." Poppy pursed her lips, before inclining her head.

"Perhaps it will do you some good. I will have the documents delivered to you." She stood up abruptly and was gone before Albus managed to do more than blink. True to her word, less than ten minutes later, a house elf popped into his office with a stack of parchment.

"Mistress Poppy asked Dinko to deliver this," the elf said, holding out the parchment. Albus smiled and nodded his thanks, taking the stack in his hands.

The elf popped away, and the headmaster settled into his seat, surprised at the thickness of the sheaf of parchment. Shrugging slightly, he began to read. It was shocking. He had really thought that the Dursleys were the best option. Yes, he had known that they were not listed on the Potter Will as potential guardians, and he had known that Lily did not get along with her sister, but the Blood Wards made up for any misgivings. His frown deepened as he read of a broken arm at the age of two, two broken ribs at four, scar tissue that had developed around five, six separate concussions over the years, broken leg, broken wrist, more broken ribs, more scarring… His complexion became steadily paler as he read down the list.

Surely the Dursleys couldn't be responsible for all of this? The Blood Wards should have stopped anyone with ill intent from harming Harry. … No they wouldn't, he realized with a start. The Wards would have prevented anyone with ill will towards the family from coming on the premise.

But if the monsters were already inside, they would have done nothing. What had Albus done? He had tried to protect Harry, and instead, had fed him to the wolves. He had thought he was doing what was best, but what if Harry, and Minerva, and Sirius were right?

Perhaps he hadn't gone about it the right way. He really thought that removing Harry from the wizarding world following the attack at Godric's Hollow would protect Harry from the remaining Death Eaters, while at the same time allowing the boy to grow up free from the fame.

He could admit to himself that he also did not want Harry to get too big a head. He remembered what James was like as a student, and he did not want Harry to be like that. He didn't want Harry to think he was entitled.

… Perhaps he also wanted Harry to be willing to lay down his life for the cause… Guiltily, he realized that was the case. He had known for quite some time since the first time Harry had told him about the pains in his scar, if he was being honest about the horcrux that resided in the teenager's head. Had he been setting Harry up from the beginning to believe that his life was only measured in its ability to bring about Voldemort's downfall?

Did he ever care about Harry as a person? Of course he did, the stubborn part of his mind insisted. He wanted to keep Harry safe! Or perhaps, the rebellious voice countered, he had just been concerned with keeping Harry alive until he could march to his death. Stop it, he said firmly to himself.

These thoughts would get him nowhere. The prophecy said that Harry would be the one to fight Voldemort, and Albus would make sure that happened. Everyone was wrong. He cared about Harry. He had to. Didn't he? _ _ _ Chapter 18 Disclaimer: don't own The fifth years were officially in panic mode, as June got into full swing. OWL exams were just over a week away, and Ginny was trying very hard not to break down.

Though she didn't appear it, they all knew that Luna was just as nervous. It wasn't that either of them thought they weren't prepared, both were at the top of the fifth year class.

But these exams would determine which classes they would take next year, and quite likely, what jobs they could get after they graduated. Ginny thought she was pretty lucky, having so many friends a year older than her, because she remembered a lot of what they had studied the year before, and she had seen them go through it, so she was somewhat ready for the year before it even started. But mostly, she just wanted it to be over.

The weekend before the OWL exams, and final exams were set to start, Harry and his friend all had one more meeting in the Room of Requirement, deciding that it would be best to leave this off until summer, after today. Hermione pursed her lips as Harry asked her if she had anything new, and shook her head slightly. "I think Hogwarts and Gringotts are our only real tangible leads right now," she admitted. "Honestly, I can't think of anywhere else. I agree with you that he would use places of importance, but how do we know what was important to him?" Harry sighed and nodded.

"I know it's difficult, and we won't really know anything until we actually check it out." He looked over at Neville and Susan. "Do you guys have anything more?" Neville shrugged. "We managed to get our hands on the reports from the 1920's and '30's from the orphanage the Voldemort grew up in.

Tom Riddle was a really nasty kid." Harry furrowed his brow. "How so?" The couple shared a glance, but it was Luna who spoke, her voice sounding reprimanding, as if she wished for nothing more than to stand in front of Voldemort and wag her finger at him. "He terrorized the other children. One boy teased him and then a few days later his pet rabbit was found strangled. There were also two children who went to visit a cave on a seaside during an outing, and were never the same when they returned, though they didn't say what Tom had done." Harry tilted his head to the side, thinking.

Ginny looked at him knowingly. "What is it, Harry?" Harry looked up. "A cave." Ginny gasped.

Erstaunliche Beute in Bushaltestelle

"You think…" Harry nodded, and Ron cleared his throat. "For those of us who aren't in the know, can you clear it up?" Harry smiled slightly. "Remember what we told you about Kreacher's story? He went with Voldemort to a cave to hide the locket horcrux.

What if it's the same cave?" They all made sounds of astonishment. Hermione leaned forward, her gaze approving as she looked at Harry. "I can see, now, why you wanted us to study his past, Harry. At first, I'll admit I thought it was just busy work, but you really thought it out, didn't you?" Harry nodded, his smile widening.

"Clearly, that cave had some sort of significance to Voldemort. He chose it for a reason." He glanced at Neville and Susan. "Do you have any more ideas on where his mother lived?

You said it was outside of Little Hangleton." Neville sighed. "We have the general area, but we'd have to go there to actually be certain." Harry nodded again. "We'll definitely do that this summer. Not alone," he hurried on when it looked like Hermione and Susan were going to object. "I'm thinking me and Ginny, with Sirius and maybe Aunt Minerva or Remus.

Neville, you should probably come too." Neville frowned. "Why?" Harry looked at him. "You have the general idea of where the place is.

Besides, if anyone deserves to go on this hunt, it's you and me. The two marked by that prophecy." Neville opened his mouth, probably to mention that he hadn't been marked in any way, but Harry rushed on. "Voldemort chose me, but you were singled out as well. And anyway, we stand together, don't we?" Neville blinked, remembering the conversation they had before their fourth year, when Harry had extended the hand of friendship, reaffirming the Potter-Longbottom allegiance.

He nodded resolutely. "Together," he said, steel in his voice. The others felt like they were watching something important, but weren't exactly invited to join in. Ron cleared his throat. "I don't see why just the three of you have to go," he commented. "What if you need more help?" Harry looked at his oldest friend. "I'd love to have all of you along to help, I'm sure you'd all be great, but too many people will attract attention." Hermione huffed softly. "I don't like it," she admitted, "But you are right.

Too many people will draw attention, and we don't need that. You'll be careful, and tell us what you find?" Harry smiled gently. "Of course," he replied.

Hermione nodded, and the others looked slightly appeased. Blaise shifted in his seat. "Harry, I know we're friends, and you don't need any declarations to trust that I'll stand beside you…" Harry frowned, looking at his friend. Blaise coughed, and stood up. Harry did so as well, and the two teenagers faced each other, serious looks on their faces, while the rest of the group watched silently.

"As heir apparent to the Ancient and Noble House of Zabini, I wish to offer my allegiance and backing to the Ancient and Noble House of Potter." He extended his hand, and Harry grasped it tightly. "As heir apparent to the Ancient and Noble House of Potter, I accept the offer," Harry stated firmly, hiding the bubble of nervousness that fizzled up from his stomach. He remembered the procedures from Sirius' teachings on the duties and responsibilities of Heads of Houses.

"May the flags of the Potter and Zabini families always fly together." Everything he said was the standard response for acceptance. The last line referred to a time when battles were fought on horseback, and a standard-bearer would carry the flag for the House or country the soldiers fought for. Blaise smiled and nodded, taking a seat once more. Harry was about to do so as well, when Daphne stood up.

"Can't let you two have all the fun," she smirked. She then held out her hand. "As a Lady of the Ancient and Noble House of Greengrass, on behalf of my father Lord Greengrass, I offer my allegiance and backing to the Ancient and Noble House of Potter." Harry smiled and grasped her hand, replying the same way he had to Blaise. When they finished, Susan smirked.

"I would, but we're already allied." Harry nodded as he and Daphne sat down. "I know. The Noble House of Bones has been a longtime ally with the Ancient and Noble House of Potter." He looked at Ron.

"So has the Noble house of Weasley." Hermione looked intrigued by all the formality, so Harry had to explain a little of the pomp and circumstance. "It's really just formalizing our friendship," he explained to the muggleborn girl. "We know we'll fight together, but Houses ally with each other for protection, for support, and several other reasons. Basically, if Blaise or Daphne were to have an issue, as an ally of theirs, I would be obligated to offer my assistance." Blaise nodded.

"Technically, Harry is the highest ranking of all of us. I'm heir apparent to an Ancient and Noble House, but the Zabini family isn't as old as the Potter family. Add to that the fact that currently, Harry is the heir to two Ancient and Noble families, as well as a Noble one. And Daphne isn't the heir to her family, since the Greengrasses are a patriarchal family, but she's authorized by her father to make family decisions." Harry grimaced. "I have to say, I'm kind of hoping Sirius and Amelia have a kid, because I'm not sure I want to be the head of two such distinguished and high profile Houses." Susan chuckled.

"I don't blame you. I'm squirming at the idea of being the heir to just one family, and it's not even an Ancient and Noble one." Ron shook his head. "I'm glad it's Bill that will have to deal with all that Head of House stuff," he commented. A few years ago, he might have been jealous that he wouldn't have any sort of prestige that came with being the Head of House, but he had grown up a lot since then, and he was content with who he was.

He would be happy if he came home to a loving wife and kids every day, had a good job that made him happy, and kept the friendships he had now.

He would be even more ecstatic if that wife was Hermione. As long as he had family, he knew he would be content. Hermione was intrigued with all the formality. "I didn't realize there was so much involved with all this," she admitted. "I knew you were all the heirs to your respective Houses, but it just seems so… medieval." Harry nodded.

"I guess it is, a little. A lot of the customs and phrasing has been around since then. Haven't you learned by now how behind the wizarding world is, Hermione? How many pureblood witches and wizards have actually heard of a computer? Or mobile phones? What about regular telephones, movies and televisions?" Hermione shook her head. "I guess you're right. It would be wonderful if we could introduce the wizarding world to all the advancements muggles have made. And Muggle Studies really needs a shake up.

I checked the publishing date for the textbook when I was taking it, and it was printed in the 1950's! There are so many inventions muggles have developed since then that I don't think Professor Burbage was even aware of! I tried asking her about mobile phones, and she just looked at me like I had grown a second head!" They all chuckled. "Perhaps once Voldemort is taken care of, I'll work on the Hogwarts curriculum," Harry commented.

"As Gryffindor's heir, I do have some say in what gets taught here. No matter what else, though, Binns needs to go." They all agreed completely, and with a glance at his watch, Harry realized that they were about to be late for a DA meeting. Just like the year before, he had planned a relaxing day to step away from studying and just have some fun, before they jumped into several weeks of constant tests. XXX On Sunday, Harry spent a good deal of time writing a letter to Sharptooth, trying to bring up several things he knew he would need the goblin's help with, without giving too much away or offending his account manager.

He finally finished in the early afternoon, and thought that he had a pretty good final draft that he sent off with Hedwig, before spending the rest of the day with his fellow sixth years, studying for their exams set to begin the next day. Monday morning found Ginny cramming for her Transfiguration exam that day, taking sporadic bites of her eggs as she attempted to read through the entire fifth year textbook before breakfast ended. Harry tried to tell her to calm down, but that just resulted in her snapping at him to stay out of it.

She guiltily apologized a moment later, but Harry shrugged it off. They all left the Great Hall five minutes later, and Harry and Blaise both kissed their girlfriends, wishing them luck, before they headed off to take the first of their end of year exams Defense Against the Dark Arts. Harry saw Daphne give Colin a peck on the cheek, and smiled slightly as she joined them in heading to the Defense classroom.

All in all, Harry thought they did rather well on their first exam. Snape had them sit a written exam first, before pairing them up in duels, with winners fighting each other until only one person was left. He graded them on how effective their nonverbal spells were, and deducted points for saying any spells out loud.

They were also given points for their dueling tactics, both defense and offense. Those who made it to the final four were given extra points, and the winner got an additional few points. No one was too surprised when Harry won, beating Neville out in the final match.

Blaise and Susan had put up quite a fight against those two, but in the end, it was the two roommates battling for the winning spot. They were all talking about the exam as they headed up for lunch. Daphne, Hermione, and Ron congratulated their friends on making it further than they had, and complimented some of the more impressive moves they had made.

Hermione had been disappointed to be beaten out by Daphne in the third round, and Ron had lost to Theo Nott in the same round. Daphne had been taken out by Susan in the next round. They met up with Ginny and Luna at lunch, and were relieved to hear that the two fifth years were feeling good about their test.

After a hearty meal, Harry and the sixth years left for their Charms exam, while the fifth years mingled in a side room off the Entrance Hall to wait for their name to be called to take the practical exam. XXX Harry received a reply from Sharptooth the next morning, and folded the letter up quickly, stuffing it in his pocket.

Ginny picked herself up from her Charms textbook, and raised an eyebrow. Is he willing to meet with us? she asked. Harry nodded minutely.

We've got an appointment for a few days after term ends. Ginny smiled slightly. Let's hope he's willing to help. Harry thought about the letter he had just read, and agreed. It was carefully devoid of any emotion, and sounded stilted, even just as words on parchment, but Sharptooth was a good ally, and Harry knew the goblin would hear them out before making a decision.

The rest of the week passed both quickly and slowly for the students. Ginny and Luna sat their Transfiguration exam on Monday, Charms on Tuesday, Defense on Wednesday, Herbology on Thursday, and Care of Magical Creatures on Friday. They then had the weekend off before sitting their exams for Ancient Runes and Arithmancy, - for those taking it then Potions, Care of Magical Creatures, Divination for those who took the elective and Astronomy, and finally, Muggle Studies again for those taking it and History of Magic.

Harry and the other sixth years had had a trying week as well, sitting most of their exams in that week. They would finish up by the next Tuesday, and have the rest of the week to relax, or in some cases, finish up private projects. Harry and Daphne were planning on spending most of the latter part of the week completing their batch of Veritaserum. They considered the idea of bringing the finished product to Snape, to make sure they had done it right, but weren't sure how he'd react, especially since they weren't planning on doing anything legal with the potion.

By the end of the second week, Ginny was ready to collapse. She didn't think her brain had ever gotten such a workout before in her life.

Harry just chuckled and gave her a kiss, congratulating her on her completion of fifth year in one piece. Ginny glared. "I don't remember you being this exhausted last year," she commented.

Harry shrugged. "Believe me, I was. I think I was just so relieved it was over." Ron nodded eagerly. "Just think about it, now you've got an entire month before you find out how horribly you did." Hermione elbowed him in the stomach, and he winced. "Well, that's what I was thinking when we finished our OWLs," he grumbled. Harry rolled his eyes. "You did great, Ron, and Ginny, you will as well. You're brilliant, so don't worry about it. You won't have any issues getting into any of the classes you want to take next year." Ginny smiled and kissed him, before digging into her dinner with gusto.

She felt like she hadn't eaten in weeks. All those exams were really exhausting, but she was really glad it was over with. Between bites, Harry told Ginny what he had been doing with his free time. Since exams had ended for the sixth years several days earlier, he had had some time to catch up on things. The Veritaserum was finished, and both Harry and Daphne thought it was as good as a licensed Potions Master could have made it.

Harry also mentioned a package the Weasley twins had sent him that afternoon, but didn't want to tell anyone what it was out here in the open, so he would wait until later that night before he showed them.

When they were finished eating, Harry and Ginny left their friends to take a walk around the castle, to unwind and spend some time together. They really hadn't spent much time together lately, just the two of them, and they wanted to have a little time to themselves. I can't believe how tired I am, Ginny commented. Harry smiled mentally. You just spent two weeks taking exams, Gin. You have every right to be tired. Ginny shook her head. It's not like it was really difficult, she admitted.

You were right that starting the revision early would help. I've been studying since the beginning of the year, really. I think that gave me a little boost, because I wasn't trying to cram the week before the exams. Harry leaned down and gave her a peck on the lips. You're just naturally brilliant, Gin. Studying probably helped a bit, but you're much smarter than you give yourself credit for.

Ginny glared slightly. So are you. Harry raised an eyebrow, and Ginny huffed. Harry, you're one of the smartest people I know. You're brilliant, your mind works in ways even I can't fully understand, and I've got a direct link to it. You've improved the Wolfsbane potion, you've successfully brewed Veritaserum and Polyjuice, you managed to cast a Patronus Charm at thirteen… your only issue is that damn inferiority complex, and believe me, if Vernon Dursley wasn't already in prison, I would have a few choice words with him over his role in making that happen.

And none of those words would be 'bless you'. Harry chuckled. I love you. Ginny raised an eyebrow, and Harry shrugged. Really, Gin, you make me a better person.

I love the way you always try to get me to see the positives. And you're right, Vernon is responsible for a lot of my inability to see the good things about me. I spent the first eleven years responding to 'freak', because I'm not sure he actually knew my name. Ginny growled. Even after I learned of the wizarding world, I still didn't think I was anything special, because that's how I was raised. But I'm really trying to change that, and I think I've come a long way in the last few years.

Ginny nodded emphatically. You have, Harry. All of your professors have seen it, after you started really applying yourself to your studies. You and Hermione are constantly vying for the top spot in your year! She squeezed his hand tightly. And even more than that, you've got an intuition about magic that goes beyond the classroom. Harry blushed, but didn't try to deny anything. He could see, now that he was out from under the oppression of the Dursleys, that he was a talented wizard, and not the worthless waste of space that his aunt and uncle had always made him out to be.

It was as they were headed back to the common room that Snape found them, his expression worried, something that set both Harry and Ginny's hackles rising. "What's wrong, Professor?" Harry asked immediately, knowing that it must be serious. Snape looked relieved to have come across them, and wasted no time in getting to the point.

"Narcissa just contacted me. An attack on the school is planned for tonight." Harry and Ginny immediately tensed. They had known that this was a possibility, but weren't sure how, when, or where the attack would come from, so it was difficult to put any preventive measures in place. "We need to tell Aunt Minerva," Harry said quickly, and they hurried towards the nearby office. Unfortunately, the Transfiguration professor wasn't there.

Snape frowned. Unless there was an Order meeting that evening, she should be in her office. He hadn't been told of a meeting, but he had also informed Albus earlier that he had to attend a Death Eater meeting that afternoon, so it was possible the headmaster hadn't told him, knowing that he would already be busy.

"Should we tell Dumbledore?" Ginny asked hesitantly. "I know he's not our first choice, but he should know if there's going to be an attack." Snape nodded, knowing that the chances of the headmaster being in residence were slim, if there was a meeting that evening. Sure enough, the gargoyle refused to open when Snape barked the password.

He turned to the two students. "Albus isn't here," he said brusquely. "The gargoyle only refuses to open when he's gone." Harry frowned and stepped forward slightly. "Guardian, as Gryffindor's heir, I command you to open. Hogwarts is in danger." The gargoyle nodded and stepped aside, showing the revolving staircase. Snape followed Harry and Ginny up to the office, raising an eyebrow as he followed the two teenagers.

Being a Founder's heir apparently had a few perks. Harry looked at him sideways as they waited for the staircase to take them up to the office, and shrugged. "It worked." Snape nodded as they reached the door, and Harry wasted no time in pushing it open and walking inside. As expected, no one was there. A cursory glance showed the fireplace to be extinguished, the many objects that cluttered the space puffing away, but not a single person was there.

Harry immediately turned to the corner, where he saw Fawkes sitting on his perch, watching them with intelligent eyes. He bit his lip, considering for half a moment. Theoretically, could he speak with Fawkes, since his second animagus form was a phoenix? Deciding that there was nothing to lose, he concentrated on his mental voice. Fawkes? Ginny looked at him, startled, but didn't say anything so that he could concentrate better.

Fawkes' gaze snapped to him, and his head bobbed down slightly. Greetings, wing-brother. I see you have finally grown your feathers. I could sense we were brethren all those years ago, though you did not know it yet. Harry tilted his head to the side. It was strange, having a conversation with a phoenix. Fawkes was intelligent, he could sense the vastness of the bird's mind, and knew that he couldn't treat him like any other animal.

Phoenixes had a will of their own, and wouldn't bow to anyone. Forgive me, I am not used to this, he started, but stopped when he heard something like a trilling laugh sound in his mind. I beg to differ, wing-brother, the bird interrupted. You have much practice at speaking through the mind.

Your bond to wing-sister is quite strong, and still in the process of being completed. I can sense that it will happen soon. Ginny gasped lightly, drawing Snape's attention to the two of them, and he frowned. What was going on? Ginny leaned forward slightly.

Fawkes? she asked hesitantly. Fawkes let out a trilling laugh again. Greetings, wing-sister. Harry managed not to blush at the phoenix's insight to their bond. He had said it would be complete soon. But Sharptooth had said that wouldn't happen until they became physically intimate.

They had made a deal with each other that it wouldn't happen before Ginny's sixteenth birthday. This coming summer. Harry shook his head to clear it of errant thoughts and focused on the task at hand.

Fawkes, Hogwarts is in danger. We need to get in touch with Dumbledore, or Professor McGonagall. Do you know where they are? Fawkes trilled an affirmative. There was an attack in Diagon Alley, he replied. Albus and the Order responded. They will most likely be kept busy for quite some time.

It is upon you, Master Gryffindor, to defend your home. Harry frowned, but nodded and turned to the others. "There was an attack at Diagon Alley," he informed Snape. "We're on our own." To his credit, Snape didn't ask how they knew or how they had managed to actually have a conversation with a phoenix. He just nodded and led them back downstairs. "What's your plan?" he asked instead. Harry immediately took out his DA coin, while Ginny pulled out her medallion that linked her to the rest of their group of friends.

While Harry called the DA to the Great Hall, Ginny told the others what was going on, as well as where to meet them. As they walked, Harry quickly explained what his plan was. "We'll get all the younger students in their dorms, and anyone fifth year and up who wants to fight, will defend the castle." Snape left them as they entered the Great Hall, telling them that he would inform the other professors of the situation.

Harry and Ginny watched as the majority of the school trickled into the Hall over the next ten minutes. Their friends all joined them at the head of the room, while the rest of the DA congregated in front of them. When it seemed like everyone was there, Harry took a deep breath, and told them what was going on.

When he was finished, there was a shocked silence for a moment, before Katie asked in a steely voice, "What are we going to do?" Harry looked at the group in front of him, and nodded determinedly. "We fight." _ _ _ Chapter 19 Disclaimer: not mine Nods of agreement met Harry's simple declaration, and the sixth year quickly began to outline their plan.

"I need any students fourth year and below to return to your dorm rooms," he called over the quiet hum of voices. Several people protested, but Harry just shook his head. "It's too dangerous. All of you return to your dorms.

Not just the common rooms, I need you to go back to your rooms." There was more grumbling, but those in their fourth year or lower all left the Hall. Harry nodded decisively. "All right. If anyone else doesn't want to fight, I won't make you. But you'll need to head back to your rooms now as well." He waited another moment, but no one left.

Harry smiled slightly. "Now that that's settled, Cho, Luna, you'll take a group up to the Ravenclaw tower to provide cover.

Neville and Susan, you know the statue of the humpback witch?" They nodded, and Harry continued, "There's a secret passage to Hogsmeade behind it. You two stake it out. Hermione and Ron will stay here with a group to defend the Entrance Hall, Blaise and Daphne will take a group down to the dungeons, and Ginny and I will take a final group to Gryffindor tower.

Let's divide up now into even groups around each leader." There was a flurry of movement as the students all picked a group. When they were all situated, Harry made a few adjustments, switching some of them to a different group if he thought they would be better somewhere else.

There were a few classmates he knew had excellent aim, and thought would be more beneficial in one of the towers, rather than the dungeons or Entrance Hall. Once they were all ready, Harry looked at his friends, and pulled a shrunken package out of his pocket, and enlarged it. "Fred and George sent me this, this afternoon," he explained. He handed out what looked like little flesh-colored balls. "These are transmitters," he said.

"Put them in your ear, and we should be able to communicate despite the different locations in the castle." They all put the devices in their ears, marveling at the genius of the twins. "These are similar to some of the muggle communication devices," Hermione commented. Harry nodded, smiling. "Fred and George get way more ideas from the muggle world than we give them credit for," he replied. "Now let's get to our positions." They all nodded seriously, and left the Hall, taking their groups with them.

Harry and Ginny took the last group up to the Gryffindor Tower, Harry taking the walk to attempt to communicate with the castle itself.

He had never consciously done it before, but as a Founder's heir, theoretically he thought it should be possible. He felt a presence in the back of his mind, and smiled slightly at the comforting feeling he got. Latching onto that sensation, he confirmed that no younger students were anywhere other than in their dorm rooms. Once he got that confirmation, he asked the castle to close off the rooms, so that no one could get out until he released them. He got something back that he was sure was an affirmative from the castle, telling him that all the students were in their rooms and the wards wouldn't allow them to leave.

As an added measure, he also asked the castle to put up silencing wards, so that they wouldn't hear what was going on around them. When they reached the Gryffindor Tower, the Fat Lady peered at them suspiciously.

"Gossip from the portraits indicates quite a lot of activity tonight," she said, looking at Harry. Harry shook his head and said the password. The Fat Lady didn't look happy, but swung open and allowed the group of students to enter. Harry positioned everyone around the windows, before he went to go grab the Marauder's Map.

Several students were confused when he walked through what appeared to be a solid wall where the staircase to the dorms should be. Ginny just smiled, knowing that no wards the castle raised could stop her boyfriend from going where he wanted.

Harry returned a few minutes later with the Map in his hands and his Invisibility Cloak in his pocket, just in case. He took out his wand and tapped the Map, murmuring, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." Several of the students gasped as lines began to form on the old piece of parchment.

"What is that?" Hannah Abbott asked curiously, watching the lines turn into corridors and classrooms, and small dots begin to materialize. Harry looked up. "A family heirloom," he replied. "It's a map of Hogwarts that shows where people are in the castle." "That's awesome!" a fifth year Ravenclaw exclaimed.

Harry smiled and nodded, before turning his concentration to the Map. "All right, we don't know who's coming, when, or where. Hopefully I'll be able to spot them on this whenever they do arrive, but we've got the most important areas covered." With people stationed at the Ravenclaw and Gryffindor towers, a group covering the Entrance Hall, one in the dungeons in case they received opposition from the worrisome Slytherins, and one covering the most convenient passage to Hogsmeade, he thought they were pretty well covered.

They all waited in mostly silence, as the night drew later. Some students got a little impatient, but a few words from Harry calmed them down.

He kept in touch with the others via the communicators, and everyone continued to wait. It was after ten when Harry saw the first signs of activity. He frowned when he saw names start to appear halfway down the hallway where he knew the Room of Requirement was located.

He recognized several names Avery, Macnair, two different Carrows, and he growled Fenrir Greyback. What the hell were those Death Eaters thinking, bringing that werewolf into a school?

Ginny looked over at him. They're Death Eaters, Harry, she said. I don't think they care. Harry shrugged with one shoulder. I guess you're right. Into the earpiece, he told the others of the development. "All right, I've got five on the seventh floor." He paused and moved his attention to another section of the Map. "Ron, Hermione, there's seven moving in from the grounds. Looks like they came out of the forest or the Whomping Willow passage.

Cho, Luna, you guys give 'em hell, we'll take care of the ones already inside." He got affirmatives back, and looked at the group around him. "Heads up, guys, we don't have a lot of time. Disilussionment Charms. They're a few hallways away, so let's break up. Two people take cover in each room. Wait for my signal before attacking." He looked around at the group of roughly ten students. "Be careful." They all left the tower immediately, and headed down several corridors until they were one hallway over from the Room of Requirement.

Harry directed the students to start hiding, and he and Ginny took a room themselves. They waited with baited breath as the Death Eaters moved closer. When Harry heard them pass the door he and Ginny were hiding behind, he raised his wand, counting in his head.

Ginny waited for him to give the signal, knowing that he was waiting for the right moment. A few seconds later, Harry made his move. A silencing spell on the door ensured that none of the Death Eaters heard him leave the room. Though he didn't say anything, Ginny knew what he was planning, and was right behind him. Harry and Ginny stepped out into the hall behind the last Death Eater, and immediately shot off a stunner. Ginny threw out a cutting curse half a second later, and the fight was on.

The rest of the students, knowing that this was the signal they were waiting for, left their hiding spots and opened fire. Caught between ten students ready and waiting to defend their school, the Death Eaters descended into confusion. But not for nothing were these names some of the most feared in the wizarding world. They regained their wits quickly, and began firing back, with worse curses than stunners.

The students were forced to take cover from Unforgivables, entrails expelling curses, and blasting hexes, just to name a few. Harry grimaced and tried to get his group into some semblance of order. Most students had taken to doorways, firing their shots as they could get them.

Harry shot off a Reductor curse at one of the Carrows, and grit his teeth as he saw that they were losing ground. The Death Eaters were getting closer to the end of the hallway, and closer to the Entrance Hall. "Damn it," he muttered under his breath. "Cho, Luna, we're going to need some help. Half you guys stay there to provide cover, and the rest meet us near the main staircase." He got an affirmative from Cho, and then turned his attention back to the immediate problem.

Greyback let out a snarl when Harry landed a glancing cutting curse, and turned his attention to the opponent who was attempting to stop him from reaching his goal. Harry was forced to duck inside a classroom as the werewolf threw a large fireball towards him.

A loud bang was followed by several stones falling from the ceiling, and the door collapsing on itself. "Harry, we're here," Luna's voice came from the earpiece, and he breathed a sigh of relief as he got to work on clearing a path for him to exit the classroom. It took a few minutes, but he managed to get the doorway cleared.

When he left the room, the hallway was nearly destroyed, but devoid of students. Harry, we're getting herded towards the Entrance Hall, Ginny informed him. We need some help here. Harry grit his teeth and immediately headed towards the sounds of fighting he could hear even all these levels above the actual conflict. I'm on my way. "Guys, I think we've got more issues," Blaise said, sounding frustrated and out of breath, like he was running and talking at the same time.

"There's a group of unfriendlies heading up from the dungeons now." Harry frowned as he reached the Entrance Hall and immediately jumped into the fray. "How the hell did they get in?" he asked, shooting a stunner and a blasting hex one right after the other. "Does it matter?" Daphne's voice cut in. "Point is, we need some help. We're getting pushed upstairs." "So you'll join the party then," Harry said sardonically. "We've got a big fight in the Entrance Hall. I don't think we'll be of much assistance." Blaise cursed but didn't say anything else as he turned his attention back to the group of seven Death Eaters that had somehow materialized towards the back end of the hallway that led to the Slytherin dorm rooms.

"Neville, can you guys come help us out?" Harry asked, dodging a cutting curse. "Not really," Neville's voice came through the earpiece. He sounded a little out of breath. "We've got a group of Death Eaters up here as well." "Damn it," Harry muttered. "How many?" "Six," was Neville's reply. "We're holding our own, but we're not going to be of much help to you." Harry nodded, though he knew his dorm mate couldn't see him.

"Just be careful." "Got it," Neville said, before putting all his attention on the Death Eaters that had emerged from the secret passage behind the one-eyed witch. Harry knew the students were not nearly as experienced as their foes. He was relieved when he saw help come in the form of several of their professors. Flitwick and Sprout appeared at the top of the main staircase, and Vector, Babbling, and Sinistra came from the direction of the staff room.

Flitwick fought his way to Harry's side, knowing that the sixth year was most likely the one in charge. "How many?" he asked, his quick spellwork dropping a Death Eater from halfway across the hall. Harry shrugged slightly, most of his attention focused on the battle around them.

"At least twenty," he replied. "Blaise and Daphne are facing a group in the dungeons and need help, if you would?" Flitwick nodded. "Say no more," he squeaked, and immediately rushed off towards the hall that led to the staircase down to the dungeons, only briefly pausing to have Professors Sinistra and Vector join him. Ginny threw herself to the side to avoid the bright green flash of the Avada Kedavra curse, wincing as she impacted with the floor.

Picking herself up quickly, she turned to face her opponent. Her stomach dropped slightly as she saw that it was none other than Bellatrix Lestrange.

Bellatrix was grinning like a madwoman, and seemed too happy to focus on the determined redhead in front of her. "You're playing in the big leagues now, girl," Voldemort's right-hand woman gloated. Ginny glared, and fired off a series of fiery darts towards the insane woman, who conjured a shield to absorb them.

Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny saw her boyfriend fighting his way to her side, and then focused on the fight she was faced with. Harry battled to Ginny's side, so that he could help her face off with Lestrange. They held their own for a few minutes, until another Death Eater joined Bellatrix. When Harry and Ginny picked themselves up from the aftermath of the explosion sent their way, it was to see several Death Eaters including Bellatrix and Greyback leaving the Entrance Hall.

Harry shot a few curses after them, but none of them landed, and then he was dragged back into the fight right in front of him. Ginny growled, facing off against her new opponent, someone she vaguely recognized from the few times she had gone to the Ministry with her father when she was younger. She thought he worked in the Department of Magical Transportation, but she wasn't certain. Yaxley, or something like that.

When Harry's attention turned to the departed Death Eaters again, Ginny told him to leave. We've got things covered here, Harry. You go after them. Harry looked at her briefly, before nodding and barreling towards the staircase. You be careful, he implored as he followed the path the Death Eaters had taken a few minutes earlier.

You too, was Ginny's reply, already focusing back on the Death Eaters in the Entrance Hall. Harry wasn't sure where the Death Eaters were going, but it looked like they were heading up several levels.

Focusing on the castle, he was able to get a distinct sense of wrongness heading towards the Astronomy tower. "Why would they be headed there?" he muttered to himself as he quickly headed in that direction. As he ran, he pulled out his Invisibility Cloak and covered himself, knowing that Disillusionment Charms could be fallible. His cloak had never failed. He slowed down as he took the stairs up to the Astronomy Tower, mindful of the enemies above him. When he got near the top, he started to hear voices, and, concentrating while creeping closer, the murmurs turned into words that he could understand.

"Hurry up, Carrow." Harry knew he would never forget the sound of Bellatrix's voice. "Dumbledore will be back any moment. We held him off as long as needed, but now that the fight's over, he'll be returning to the safety of his precious castle." Harry frowned as he realized that the fight in Diagon Alley that Fawkes had told him about was a setup. The Death Eaters had drawn the headmaster away from the castle so that they could get inside.

"We have enough time," another voice said, and Harry imagined that was Carrow, responding. "What I don't understand is how they knew we were coming," a new voice chimed in. "We weren't expecting that much opposition." "I have no idea," a younger voice spoke, and Harry imagined that this person was still a student.

He didn't sound older than sixteen or seventeen. It sounded familiar, but he couldn't quite place it. "Well you better start thinking, Warrington," another voice drawled, and Harry ground his teeth at the recognizable tone of Malfoy junior. He filed away the name Warrington, as well. Warrington was a seventh year, and part of the group of worrisome students he had seen whispering together several times over the year.

"I did my part," the voice he now believed belonged to Warrington responded, and Harry imagined the seventh year was glaring at his younger former fellow Slytherin. "And I don't take orders from you, Malfoy. At least I didn't get caught." Harry almost smirked. Not yet, he thought. "It wasn't my fault," Malfoy sounded sulky, even to Harry several steps down and not in the room.

"Both of you shut up," another voice growled. "We've got more important things to do right now. Is the Dark Mark set?" "Ready," the voice he thought belonged to Carrow responded. "When the old man returns, he'll come here first, following the Mark.

We'll be ready." "I hope so," Bellatrix said sharply. "Rodolphus says he just left the Alley." Harry grimaced, knowing that he wasn't in any position to take on at least five Death Eaters by himself. Gin, how's it going down there? he asked. Fighting's nearly done, Ginny replied. Several Death Eaters have already made a run for it, and the rest aren't putting up much of a fight.

It's almost like they're not trying to hurt us anymore. Harry nodded grimly. It's all a trap, he informed her. They've put the Dark Mark over the Astronomy Tower to lure Dumbledore to them. Ginny swore mentally. You're on your own for now, Harry.

Things are winding down, but help's not going to come for you. Not fast enough. Harry nodded again. Just take care of yourself, Gin.

If the Death Eaters are right and Dumbledore's on his way back now, you'll probably get help soon. At the very least Aunt Minerva, and if we're lucky, more fighters. Dumbledore's got to know something's up by now, if he's at all competent. Ginny nodded and returned to her fight, while Harry refocused on the Death Eaters above him. They were talking again. One of the unfamiliar voices was mentioning how easily they were able to get inside the castle.

"It wasn't that hard," Warrington sounded like he was trying to brag. "Montague told us about how when he was trapped in that Vanishing Cabinet last year, he could hear things from both Hogwarts and Borgin and Burkes. We realized that there must be another cabinet in the shop, so they formed a sort of passage. We moved the cabinet here to an out of the way room in the dungeons, and repaired it. We also discovered secret passageways on the seventh and fourth floor." "And yet it took you a whole year," Malfoy sneered.

"And let's not forget whose plan it was in the first place." Warrington didn't reply, but Harry imagined he was rolling his eyes. He frowned in thought, remembering his own, ill-fated, trip to the shop in question, located in Knockturn Alley, before his second year.

He vaguely recalled hiding in a cabinet there, to avoid being spotted by the Malfoys. Could it have been the same one? If so, it was probably a very good thing he hadn't closed the door all the way. He imagined that Warrington assumed he had discovered some impressive secret in the passageways they had used, but many people knew about the one behind the one-eyed witch. As for the seventh floor… he wasn't sure how they had gotten into the castle from the Room of Requirement, but he supposed one of the many rooms it could turn into was an out of the way entrance or exit.

The Room of Requirement didn't have thoughts or emotions. It wouldn't know who was asking, but if Warrington or one of the others had been walking by while thinking about needing a way into the castle, and they inadvertently called the Room up, it would have provided for them. "Quiet, both of you," Bellatrix snapped. "He's here." There was a shuffling sound, as if the Death Eaters were getting into position, and then another sound, as if someone had appeared in the room.

A moment of silence, and then, "Draco." Harry knew Dumbledore's voice. Malfoy had clearly lost some of his bravado at the appearance of the headmaster. His reply was shaky at best, but there was determination in his voice. "Dumbledore. Looks like we've caught you unaware." "We?" Dumbledore sounded like he was discussing the weather.

There was another rustle, and then Dumbledore spoke again. "Ah. Bellatrix, I wish I could say I am honored. And Fenrir, to what do I owe this displeasure?" "Oh you know, big school, lot's of… fun," the werewolf's voice was silky and pleased.

Dumbledore's reply was sharp. "Now you know I can't allow you to run loose in my school, Fenrir." "Oh but we already have," Bellatrix gloated. "You all just played right into the trap at Diagon Alley, didn't you. Made it quite easy to get in here." "Well, I'm sure you understand that I cannot allow you to wander around here any more." Harry almost admired the way Dumbledore was able to remain calm when faced with such odds against him.

But he knew that the moment was coming, and despite the headmaster's prowess, he was badly outnumbered. He snuck closer, until he was standing at the top of the stairs, finally able to actually see what was going on. Malfoy was standing at the front of the group of Death Eaters, which numbered six, total, including Malfoy and Warrington. "Do it, Draco," Bellatrix almost purred.

"It's your mission, you must complete it." Dumbledore was looking at Malfoy exclusively now. "You don't have to do this, Draco. You can step away." Malfoy appeared scared but determined to Harry, although he wasn't at the best angle to actually read his former classmate's expression. After a moment's silence, Draco raised his wand and fired. "Avada Kedavra!" he shouted, and a weak green light shot towards the headmaster.

Harry wished he could say that he was surprised that someone his age was willing to use such a curse, but with Malfoy, he really wasn't. Dumbledore seemed almost shocked as well, and was nearly too slow in moving out of the way of the killing curse. Harry swore to himself, ducking into the room, and firing spells at the other Death Eaters.

There was confusion all around, with Voldemort's followers trying to figure out where the new opposition was coming from. Bellatrix and Carrow were firing back in all directions, hoping to land a hit, while Warrington and Greyback just kept looking around them, trying to figure out where their opponent was hiding. Malfoy was still facing off against Dumbledore, and didn't look pleased about it. The headmaster was, after all, one of the most powerful wizards there was. Even he could see that, though he didn't think the old man could hold a candle to his Lord.

Albus was still trying to get Malfoy to see reason. "Draco, you don't need to do this." He dodged another curse. "You can come back to the light. It's not too late." "Why would I want that?" Malfoy sneered, though he was panting hard with exertion.

"To play nice with mudbloods and blood traitors? Follow muggle loving fools like you?" Bellatrix seemed to have given up on finding Harry, and was leaving him to Carrow, Greyback, and Warrington, who had finally gotten involved and were firing spells as well. "Enough of this!" she shrieked. "Do it, Draco!" Draco determinedly cast a powerful Reducto at the floor beneath Dumbledore. The headmaster's eyes widened briefly as he tried to shield himself from the blast. Unfortunately, he had been expecting it to be aimed at him, not the floor.

The curse caused the floor to explode, and as he was precariously situated near the open air at the edge of the tower, he was thrown backwards, his wand falling out of his hand as he struggled to keep conscious.

He lasted a second longer, before the black encroached on his vision, and he knew no more. _ _ _ Chapter 20 Disclaimer: don't own Percy Weasley wasn't an idiot. People may have called him a lot of things over the years, but unintelligent wasn't one of them.

Ambitious, driven, determined. But not stupid. He knew he was being punished right now, and to be perfectly honest, he didn't quite blame them. A few years ago, things had looked so promising. He had graduated Hogwarts at the top of his class, twelve NEWTs, Head Boy, and gotten a job with in a prominent office at the Ministry of Magic.

Perhaps he should have questioned things more when he started receiving instructions from his boss by mail, but he had just been so thrilled to be given such responsibility, that he hadn't second-guessed it. In hindsight, not the best idea. When it had been revealed that Mister Crouch had been murdered months earlier, and by his own son, whom he had smuggled out of Azkaban and kept under constant Imperius, Percy had found himself on the receiving end of quite an inquisition. Still, he had escaped relatively unscathed, and shortly after, found himself promoted to Minister Fudge's own office.

Again, perhaps he should have questioned things. But he had been so excited. Someone was finally recognizing his brilliance, and rewarding him for it. Much better than his own family, who pranked him, and scorned him for his bookish nature. At least, that's the way he saw it. But maybe he had been too harsh to judge.

He knew he wasn't the only smart one in his family. Bill had received the same number of NEWTs, and had been Head Boy as well. Charlie had focused more on his areas of interest, but had graduated near the top of his class, Gryffindor Team Captain, and all that. And even his younger siblings, he knew they were intelligent. They just all showed it differently. Sure, the twins joked around and barely scraped six OWLs and NEWTs between them, but he had taken a look around their shop in disguise of course, lest they recognize him and some of the work involved in creating those pranks was actually impressive.

He had actually begun to wonder if they hadn't failed so many OWLs on purpose! Now that he thought about it, it did make sense, what they had done Fred had taken the NEWT courses in Potions, Transfiguration, and Arithmancy, while George had done Charms, Ancient Runes, and Herbology. Together, they had covered the most important classes. As for Ron and Ginny… he knew his brother was a brilliant strategist. No one had lost to him at chess in years. Ginny had always been smart, and he knew she would succeed in whatever she attempted.

So if they were all so intelligent, why was he the only one who was ostracized for it? What was so wrong with wanting to succeed? Perhaps it was because, of all of them, he was the only one who shoved it in their faces. He could understand, now, how they may have taken his studious nature. But he knew he was intelligent, and he knew he was destined for success. It was one of the reasons he hadn't questioned it when Minster Fudge had offered him a position in his office as Junior Undersecretary.

He had flown off the handle at his father because, well, why couldn't he understand and be happy that Percy was succeeding? Didn't he want that? Perhaps he had been so defensive because he hadn't wanted to acknowledge the truth in his father's words.

And there was some truth there. It hadn't even been six months later when Minister Fudge had been removed from office, Amelia Bones elected as Interim Minister, and Percy effectively cut off at the knees. The first thing Madam Bones Minister Bones, he corrected himself had done, was sort through Fudge's former staff, and remove those she did not feel were suited to their positions.

Percy had been one of those. Oh, he hadn't been fired, just shifted sideways and down, into a position in the Department of Magical Transportation. He knew it was because Minister Bones felt she couldn't trust him. And could he really blame her? At the time, he had been suitably upset, but over the course of the last year and a half, he had done a lot of thinking, and come to the conclusion that she had been right. He hadn't been ready for that position.

His dad was right as well. The only reason he had been promoted was because Fudge wanted him close. For some reason, the former Minister had thought he could be used to spy on his family, Dumbledore, and Harry. Harry. Percy hadn't been too thrilled to learn of his sister's relationship with the Boy Who Lived at first, but after Harry had made his plea, Percy had decided to tentatively trust him. It seemed like he really cared for Ginny, and would do anything to protect her.

So why had he been so quick to follow the Minister and believe Harry to be nothing more than an attention-seeking liar? He was ashamed of the letter he had sent Ron the previous year.

Harry had never given him any reason to believe any of the drivel that had come out of the former Minister's mouth. He had just believed Fudge because that was easier than admitting that You-Know-Who was back. And because Fudge was the Minister. Surely that meant he couldn't be wrong? Right? No, not right. Percy's faith in authority figures had been badly shaken after Fudge's removal from office.

He couldn't believe he had estranged himself from his family just to further his own career. Actually, he snorted derisively, he could. He was ambitious. He had wanted to move ahead, and hadn't really thought about the strain he was putting on his family, beyond his sniping that they had never believed in him.

He wanted to reconcile, and he knew he would need to be the one to take that step. He had been wrong, and he wanted his family back.

That was the one thing the Weasleys prided themselves on, always remaining a family. No matter what, they looked after each other. He just had to swallow his damn pride and take the first step.

And that meant walking the thirty feet down Diagon Alley to greet his father. Percy had been on his way home when he had remembered that his mother's birthday was just a few days away.

He had thought he might pick up a present for her in the Alley, and bring it to the Burrow on her birthday, to begin the reconciliation process. He had been making his way out of one of the side alleys, a book of knitting patterns wrapped and shrunken in his pocket, when all hell had broken loose. His wand had been in his hand before he had even consciously thought about it. Percy Weasley was no slouch. Their opposition had been Death Eaters. There were at least twenty of them, and as he fired and protected himself, he thought he could recognize a few.

Rodolphus and Rabastian Lestrange, Nott. He was certain he caught a glimpse of Lucius Malfoy's pale blonde flowing hair, and the hulking figures of Crabbe and Goyle senior. Percy was exhausted by the time the fight was over. The Death Eaters had all apparated away, and the Aurors had arrived. Percy glimpsed Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall near Gringotts, talking to Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Head Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt.

He had been relieved to see the headmaster there, since he knew that Dumbledore was the most powerful wizard alive whatever else the man was, he could at least acknowledge that.

Glancing around the Alley, he saw several other adults milling about, helping shopkeepers clean up, or assisting with moving the injured to Saint Mungos. His heart thudded painfully as he recognized Fred and George standing with his father, followed quickly by relief that they were all right. He was quickly caught up in clean up, helping a nearby shopkeeper board up the broken window. The next hour passed by quickly as he helped out wherever he could, and before he knew it, the Aurors were insisting everyone go home.

Steeling himself, he turned to face his family once more. They were outside Fred and George's shop, clearly getting ready to go inside, no doubt to use the Floo, or in the twins' case, retire for the evening. Percy knew that now was his best chance, so he better jump on it before he lost his nerve.

Collecting his Gryffindor courage, he marched determinedly up to the Weasley trio. "Dad?" Arthur turned quickly in surprise, and then gasped. "Percy?" Fred and George also looked confused, but didn't say anything as Arthur reached out and quickly grasped his third oldest son in a tight hug. "Were you here the whole time?" the Weasley patriarch asked, pulling back. Percy nodded shakily. "I had an errand to run on my way home. I was leaving when the Death Eaters arrived." Arthur exhaled unsteadily.

"I'm so glad you're all right." Percy bit his lip. "You, too." He looked past Arthur to the twins. "All of you." He hesitated, and then blew out a breath of air. "Dad, I'm sorry." Arthur frowned. "Percy…" But Percy interrupted, needing to get this out. "You were right, dad. I was just too proud and arrogant to see it.

I didn't want to believe that I was promoted for anything other than myself. But you were just looking out for me, I understand that now. Family is too important to waste." Arthur sniffed, leaning forward to hug Percy again.

"It's all right, son," he breathed, relishing in the fact that it was his boy in his arms. He had hoped that Percy would come back to them, and he knew how distraught Molly had been, but after so long had passed, he had begun to feel like it may never happen. Percy let out a weak chuckle as he turned his attention to the twins. "I'm glad you guys are OK," he wiped his nose and attempted to collect himself. Of course, the twins had no compunctions over grabbing the stuffy former Head Boy in an extravagant hug.

"Percy, old chap, how spiffing to see you again!" Fred exclaimed. "Truly wonderful," George chimed in. Percy rolled his eyes as they let go, but didn't comment. The twins would be the twins, always joking. He figured it was how they coped with everything. And everyone could use a few laughs now and then, right? He nodded towards the shop behind them. "You two did a good job here," he admitted, rolling his eyes again at the gasps the twins let out. "I mean it. I took a look around, one time. The magic you put into your products is quite impressive." Fred and George looked at each other in surprise.

"Did he just," "Compliment us?" George picked up for his twin. "Amazing!" they exclaimed together. Arthur smiled fondly. "Percy, why don't you come back to the Burrow with us.

Molly will be worried, and I know she'll be ecstatic to see you." Percy hesitated for only a moment, before he nodded uncertainly. "I'd like to see mum," he said softly.

Arthur's smile widened. "Come on then, boys. It's getting chilly out. You'd think it was March, not June!" They all chuckled, and headed into the twins' shop to use the Floo. XXX Harry's stomach dropped when Dumbledore went flying off the Astronomy Tower. He had his issues with the headmaster, but he knew what it would do for the war effort if Dumbledore died. Not to mention, whatever problems they had, he didn't really want the old man dead. As soon as Dumbledore fell, Bellatrix gave a glad cry.

"It's over, time to go!" she shouted, before quickly turning and running down the stairs, the other Death Eaters following her, forgetting about the strangely invisible opposition they had been receiving. Harry knew he had to do something, but didn't know what.

He reached out desperately with his magic, and just grabbed. He wasn't sure what he was doing, but he felt it when Dumbledore was caught in a wave of his magic. He was just in time, and lowered the headmaster the remaining three feet to the ground. He hoped Dumbledore was still alive, but didn't have time to go check right now. The Death Eaters were still in the castle. Harry ran as fast as he could back to the Entrance Hall, only to find the fight over when he arrived.

Students and adults were milling about, looking after injured fighters, or standing in front of the doors that led to the outside. He immediately sought out Ginny, and found her kneeling next to a student off to one side. He hurriedly rushed over, hoping that whoever it was, was all right. Ginny looked up and smiled slightly as her boyfriend knelt next to her. Harry's stomach dropped slightly at seeing Hannah Abbott unconscious on the ground.

Ginny swallowed. "I think she'll be all right," she assured him. "I saw her thrown across the room by a stunner, I think, and she hit a wall. Madam Pomfrey should be able to heal her." Harry nodded, letting out a sigh of relief. "Why are people standing in front of the door?" he asked, glancing over at them.

It was mostly students Hermione, Neville, Susan, and Luna and Professor Flitwick. Ginny looked over as well. "The Death Eaters put up some sort of ward. No one can get out. A few minutes before you showed up, Bellatrix and a group of Death Eaters ran through, yelling 'it's done'.

All the Death Eaters here followed them outside, but when we tried to pursue, no one could get out. Best we can figure, the ward only lets people with the Dark Mark through." Harry bit his lip. "Why would the castle let something like that be put up?" he muttered to himself.

Ginny frowned. "You think the castle should have been able to stop it?" Harry didn't reply for a moment, as he felt some sort of answer in his bones. If he didn't know any better, he would say the castle was peeved at him.

He almost chuckled. Never mind, he said to Ginny. Hogwarts gave me an answer. Ginny pursed her lips. The castle spoke to you? Harry shook his head slightly.

I can't get actual words, but she still makes sure I know what she's trying to say. According to her, she is not all-powerful. She couldn't stop the ward from going up. Ginny raised an eyebrow, but didn't comment. She glanced back down at Hannah, and then stood up with a nearly inaudible groan.

Harry was immediately at her side. "Are you all right?" he asked worriedly. Ginny looked over at her boyfriend and smiled. "I'm fine, Harry.

I'm not hurt, just tired." Harry nodded, relieved, and took a moment to look around the room. Poppy was there already, and seemed to be triaging the students. Harry bit his lip, coming up with a plan in his head. He was glad to see Daphne and Blaise still standing, and immediately headed over to them. Daphne was interested in potions, and Blaise was considering a career in Healing. Both would be well suited to helping the mediwitch. Both Slytherins looked relieved to see Harry.

"Glad you're all right," Blaise said, trying not to show how worried he had been. Daphne gave Harry a hug, and pulled back, smiling softly. Harry returned the smile. "You too," he answered Blaise. "I need both of you to grab some more students who aren't hurt, and help Madam Pomfrey. It looks like she's going to need it." Both Slytherins nodded and left to find a few more students before reporting to Madam Pomfrey.

Harry frowned. He thought he heard banging, and went over to join those crowded around the door. "It sounds like people are trying to come in," he commented. Hermione looked over and let out a small shriek, giving her friend a tight hug. "I'm so glad you're all right!" she cried. Harry returned the hug. "You too," he replied. "What's going on here?" he gestured to the door.

Hermione refocused her attention. "There's a ward blocking the door. We can't get it down." "And the banging?" Harry asked. "People trying to get in," Hermione said succinctly.

"We think it's Professor McGonagall, at the very least. Probably some of the Order." Harry nodded, pursing his lips as he thought.

"Everyone stand back." Confused, the group in front of the door did as Harry ordered. Seemingly without prompting, Ginny came over to stand next to Harry. The couple grasped hands and stared at the door. Harry frowned as he felt the build up of magic blocking the entrance.

Do you feel that? Ginny asked, running her eyes up and down the door in front of them. Harry nodded absentmindedly. It's strong, but I think together we can overpower it. Ginny smiled tightly. Together. Their grip on each other's hands tightened, and beads of perspiration formed on their foreheads. Those watching were confused, as the two just seemed to stare at the door for several moments.

Suddenly Flitwick furrowed his brow, leaning forward slightly in anticipation. He could feel the build up of magic surrounding the two students. "Oh my," he murmured. Professor Sprout, coming to stand next to her colleague, looked over at him.

"What is it?" she asked, keeping her voice quiet so as to not interrupt anything. Flitwick glanced at the Herbology professor. "They're going to overpower the wards," he said, a hint of excitement creeping into his voice. "There's quite the buildup of power developing. Those two are very powerful." A moment later, everyone was staring at Harry and Ginny, as a loud shattering sound echoed around the Hall.

Harry and Ginny slumped slightly, but remained standing. With a loud bang, the door was thrust open, and Minerva, Sirius, Remus, and Tonks ran in, looking confused and ready for a battle. Harry looked at his guardians wearily. "It's over," he informed them. "The Death Eaters are gone, we're working on getting the injured up to the hospital wing." Minerva nodded shakily, stowing her wand.

"We came back as quickly as we could. There was quite a bit of opposition at Diagon Alley, and it kept us busy for a while." Harry smiled slightly. "We managed." Minerva glanced over at Poppy, and was pleased to see many students helping the healer out, transporting the injured away from the Entrance Hall and towards the Infirmary.

Harry bit his lip. "I need someone to come with me," he said softly, so that only Minerva and Sirius, the closest to him, could hear.

"Dumbledore fell off the Astronomy Tower." Minerva gasped, and immediately headed back outside. Harry followed her quickly. "I slowed his fall, but I'm not sure how injured he was." Minerva glanced at him sharply. "We'll talk about this later when we have time for the full story, but for now, let's just get Albus inside." Harry nodded, and the two made their way to the base of the Astronomy Tower.

There was a darkened mass in front of them, and they quickened their pace. Minerva dropped to one knee next to her boss, and reached out, searching for a pulse. She was relieved to find it beating strongly beneath her fingers. She looked over at Harry and nodded shakily, before conjuring up a stretcher and loading the headmaster onto it. Together, they brought Dumbledore inside, ignoring the cries of surprise at those still in the Entrance Hall, and hurrying towards the Hospital Wing.

Poppy was there, with her student helpers, and did not allow herself a gasp when Minerva and Harry brought Dumbledore in, simply directing them to an empty bed and joining them.

Minerva looked over at Harry, and understanding, he left them, going over to get an update from Blaise. "We've got most of the injured organized," Blaise said. "No one was too seriously hurt, and no casualties." Harry breathed out a sigh of relief. "Good," he replied. "And good job, here. Thanks for stepping up." Blaise nodded, and got back to work, as Minerva came over and wasted no time in giving Harry a tight hug. "I'm glad you're all right," she said softly, trying to get her breathing back to normal.

She had been so frightened when Dumbledore had informed them that there was a disturbance at Hogwarts. Harry let out a deep breath, feeling the adrenaline begin to leave him. "We're fine," he assured his guardian. "Everything's fine." He knew it wasn't, really, but for right now, no one had been seriously injured, and the Death Eaters hadn't gotten what they had come for.

Minerva nodded shakily, stepping back from her charge. "I know you're tired, Harry, but we need to know what happened. I'm going to contact Amelia and get her here. Will you gather your friends in the Great Hall?" Harry nodded his agreement, and left the Hospital Wing, after stopping briefly to speak with Blaise and Daphne.

Minerva looked over at Poppy for a moment, and then followed her charge out, knowing that the mediwitch would inform her of the headmaster's situation as soon as she was finished. XXX True to form, when Minerva and Amelia entered the Great Hall roughly ten minutes later, every student who wasn't injured or helping out in the Infirmary was ready and waiting.

Sirius, Remus, Tonks, Flitwick, and Sprout were also there. Harry and his friends were at the front, clearly leaders amongst this group.

Minerva noted that Blaise and Daphne were there as well, most likely feeling that they should be in attendance because of their status as leaders, and leaving the assistance of Poppy to other students. When Minerva and Amelia entered, everyone turned to look at them. The two adults quickly made their way to the front of the Hall, where the students were congregated. Amelia couldn't stop herself from giving Harry and Susan hugs, before she settled into a place next to Sirius.

Both teenagers looked tired, but unhurt. "I want to thank you all, and congratulate you on holding the castle tonight," Amelia said, looking around at the group of teenagers. It looked like nearly the entire class of fifth, sixth, and seventh years. She suspected that those who weren't here, were either injured and in the Hospital Wing, or helping Poppy with the injured. "I know you're tired, but I just want to get statements from you all about what happened.

Nobody's in trouble, I just need to know what happened." She glanced behind her, and was happy to see several Aurors entering. She had called in a few to help her collect statements. Rufus was still handling the situation at Diagon Alley, but Kingsley, Tonks, and two other Aurors she trusted completely were there.

Minerva cleared her throat. "Let's do this orderly. There are many of you, and only a few Aurors, so it may take a while." Kingsley started waving students forward, ushering most of them to where he and the other Aurors were standing. Amelia beckoned Harry and his friends over. "I'm going to take your statements," she informed them.

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"Am I right in assuming that you were in charge of this defense?" Harry nodded and Amelia smiled. "Very well, then. Just tell me what happened, Harry." Taking a deep breath, Harry did so, leaving out a few details as he saw fit. He would tell certain people later, but it wouldn't be wise to mention some things where anyone could overhear.

He told Amelia along with Minerva and Sirius, who were listening about how he and Ginny had been walking back to the common room when they had discovered a planned attack on the castle that evening, trying to get in touch with Minerva and Dumbledore, finding out that they were alone, organizing the students to fight, and everything that had followed.

Harry told them what had happened on the Astronomy Tower, and how he and Ginny had brought down the Dark Mark ward, allowing Minerva and the others to enter. When he was finished, Amelia got statements from the others, about where they had been located and what they had done to protect the castle.

"I'm very proud of you all," Amelia said, smiling at the students around her. "You did a great job, and held out against insurmountable odds." Minerva nodded. "I think it is safe to say that without you, things would have been a lot worse." They all looked pleased with the Transfiguration professor's praise.

Minerva looked around at the rest of the students. "It looks like things are winding down here," she observed. "You should all get to your dormitories and get some rest. As it is the end of the term, you don't need to worry about attending classes tomorrow, but it has been a long night." They all nodded, and left the adults in the Great Hall, making for their separate common rooms. They paused in the Entrance Hall for a minute, so that everyone could give Harry back their earpieces.

"Those were amazing," Ron commented. "We'll have to tell the twins they work like a charm. They'll certainly come in handy again." Harry smiled. "Fred and George really are geniuses, aren't they. Their last letter indicated that they might have something workable on the listening devices. Apparently your dad has been great help." Ron and Ginny beamed at the mention of their father. Arthur Weasley was a wonderful person, but because of his fascination with muggles and his seeming lack of ambition, he tended to be overlooked by most of the wizarding world.

But Harry knew that Arthur had a brilliant mind in his head. After all, the spells that had gone into enchanting that Ford Anglia had not been first year charms. Harry sighed. "You guys all did really great tonight, and I'm glad you weren't hurt." Susan gave him a hug, before stepping back into the arms of her own boyfriend, leaving room for Ginny to take over. "You're a great teacher, Harry. And a fabulous leader. You were just as amazing with all of this." The others all nodded.

Harry blushed slightly, but kept smiling. "Anyway, get some rest. Tomorrow's probably going to be pretty quiet, but I don't doubt that you're all as exhausted as I am." Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Minerva exiting the Great Hall, so he sent the others to their rooms, and hurried to catch up with his guardian.

Minerva smiled at him as he made his way to her side. "I'm going to get a report from Poppy," she informed him. "You should get back to the Tower, and I'll let you know what she tells me tomorrow." Harry nodded hesitantly. "Do you think Dumbledore's all right?" he asked cautiously.

"I mean, I have a lot of issues with him, but I wouldn't want him dead." Minerva sighed. "I'm sure he'll be fine," she assured him. "Poppy seemed optimistic when I left her earlier." Harry bit his lip. "Maybe now he'll listen to us a little more," he commented idly. "I mean, he was all for giving Malfoy another chance, and look what happened." Minerva snorted, but didn't reply, simply gesturing for him to return to Gryffindor Tower.

Harry did so, marveling at how much effort it was to climb the stairs. He knew he was in good shape, but there was a difference between working out and practicing spells, and an all-out battle with Death Eaters.

Harry, I think you've forgotten something. Ginny's voice sounded in his head, and Harry jerked, surprised. What do you mean? he asked, confused. He could feel Ginny's amusement. The wards on the dorms? Oh, Harry replied succinctly. Damn, he had forgotten.

No doubt students in all four Houses were trying to get into their dorm rooms, and failing. Yeah, I should take those down. That'd be nice, Ginny replied, even more amused. He had a feeling she was only just holding back from laughing at him, and probably only because there were students around her, who would wonder why she suddenly went off. Concentrating for a minute, Harry felt the castle release the wards, and gave Hogwarts a mental 'thank you'.

The wards should be down, he informed Ginny. She smiled mentally. Thanks, Harry. See you in a minute. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Harry entered the common room to see his friends waiting for him in the armchairs around the fireplace. "Everyone else has gone up," Neville informed him. Harry nodded. "We should get to bed as well. It's been a long night." Ginny nodded as well, groaning. "I can barely think, I'm so exhausted.

Did I really just finish my OWLs today?" Harry glanced at his watch. "Yesterday, technically." Ginny growled and elbowed him in the stomach, but Harry shrugged it off. After another moment of silence, they all got to their feet, heading up to their dorms. Hermione gave Harry a tight hug before they separated to the different dormitories.

"You did a really great job tonight, Harry," she whispered. Harry smiled as he returned the hug. "You too, 'Mione. I was proud to fight alongside you." Hermione sniffed, and moved over to give Ron a good night kiss. Ginny gave Harry the same treatment, before the two girls headed up to their rooms, and Harry, Ron, and Neville did the same. Seamus and Dean were still up when the three teenagers walked into the sixth year room, but they didn't say much as their classmates got ready for bed.

Finally, when everyone was in their beds and the lights off, Dean cleared his throat. "Harry…" He paused, and then sighed. "You did a really great job tonight. I mean, we had a lot to deal with, and not much adult support. But you really stepped up, and I was glad to follow you." Harry was glad the darkness hid his blush.

"Thanks Dean," he replied, feeling touched by his dorm mate's faith in him. Seamus grinned. "We really did kick some serious Death Eater arse tonight, didn't we." They all laughed and agreed, before dropping off quickly to sleep. _ _ _ Chapter 21 Disclaimer: not mine When Harry and his friends woke up the next morning, it was to find the sun streaming through the windows. Harry wasn't sure when the last time was that he had slept this late.

It had to be midmorning already! When they arrived at the Great Hall, it was clear that they weren't the only ones who had decided to have a bit of a lie in. The head table was about half full, with Dumbledore's chair being the most conspicuously empty. Minerva was seated to the right of the headmaster's chair, and waited until the room was full before she stood up.

"May I have your attention please?" It only took a few seconds for the room to quiet down, everyone was eager to hear any information the deputy headmistress would give them. "First of all, everyone who fought last night did a commendable job, and I assure you, any damages to the castle will be repaired. I want to assure everyone that Headmaster Dumbledore will recover, though he will need to spend some time in the Hospital Wing.

For the rest of term, I will be filling his role." She paused and looked around the room. Every eye was turned towards her. "In light of recent events, the Hogwarts Express will be leaving tomorrow morning, rather than at the end of the week." There was some muttering at that, but no one seemed particularly surprised.

It would make sense, after all, to have the students removed from the school after a Death Eater invasion. Minerva sat back down, and everyone returned to their breakfast. When the meal was nearly over, Harry looked at Ginny and the others.

"Can you get the others and meet in the Room of Requirement in a few hours?" They nodded, looking confused. "Where are you going?" Hermione asked as he stood up and stepped away from the table.

Harry glanced back. "I'm going to talk to Aunt Minerva for a while. I'll see you later." Hermione looked back at Ginny as Harry followed Minerva out of the Great Hall. "What is he going to talk about?" Ginny raised an eyebrow. "He wants to get a more in depth account of how Dumbledore is," she replied. "Probably a few other things about the attacks on the castle and Diagon Alley as well.

He'll tell us when we meet this afternoon. He wants to meet with all of us in the Room of Requirement, so let's tell the others. In the mean time, if we're leaving tomorrow, I need to pack." Hermione nodded, and elbowed Ron, distracting him from the third helping of eggs he was currently inhaling.

"Come on, Ron, we need to start packing." She didn't ask Ginny how the younger girl knew what Harry wanted, used to the level of understanding those two had through their soul bond by now. Ron grumbled, but he followed Ginny, Hermione, and Neville out of the Great Hall, stopping first at the Ravenclaw, then Hufflepuff, then Slytherin tables to inform their other friends about the meeting that afternoon.

Taking care to ensure no one else overheard, of course. XXX Harry and Minerva walked to the Transfiguration professor's office in silence. Once there, Minerva enacted several privacy wards before turning back to Harry. "Albus will recover," she said. "He suffered several broken bones, including broken ribs and a broken pelvis, but Poppy assures me he will be right as rain in no time." "That's good," Harry replied neutrally. Minerva nodded slightly.

"Poppy is hesitant to use too much magic to speed up the process, with his advanced age, but fortunately, his injuries will be able to heal the muggle way." Harry wasn't really sure what he felt; he didn't like the fact that he was somewhat happy that the headmaster had been injured, though he thought it was probably more because it had happened as a direct result of one of his cursed second chances. Minerva pursed her lips. "I know you left some things out last night, Harry, when you gave Amelia your statement.

Perhaps you didn't want to share everything in an insecure environment, but I would like you to tell me what you didn't say yesterday." Harry sighed, and nodded ruefully, before telling Minerva about Snape informing him and Ginny of Narcissa's warning, their conversation with Fawkes, and his connection with the castle, getting Hogwarts to raise wards to prevent the younger students from getting hurt.

"Snape left us pretty quick after we left Dumbledore's office," Harry said, finishing his story. "I think he went to tell the other professors what was going on, because they arrived partway through the fight, but he couldn't be seen as helping us, so he stayed out of the way." Minerva nodded.

"I have already spoken with Severus, and he said much the same thing. I am glad that he was able to do what he did. It is because of him that you had warning as it is." Harry smiled slightly.

"Yeah, things definitely could have been worse." He sobered, thinking about what could have happened. Minerva sighed. "You should go and pack. The train leaves tomorrow morning, after all.

I realize it isn't much time, but the Board of Governors felt that it would be best to get the students home as quickly as possible, considering what happened." Harry shrugged. "It makes sense. What happened at Diagon Alley?" Minerva felt herself release another sigh.

"We responded to the call for aide from Tonks, who was patrolling the Alley at the time. There were quite a few Death Eaters, but fortunately they seemed more interested in causing havoc than actually hurting anyone. The Alley was in a state of disarray by the time the Death Eaters left, but I have every confidence it will be fixed soon." Harry bit his lip. "Were there any injuries?" Minerva knew what he was really asking, and smiled sadly.

"A few major injuries, and two deaths. Most injuries were minor, though." She paused. "I did see Percy Weasley fighting at one point, and I think I saw him talking with Arthur, Fred, and George after the battle." Harry nodded slightly. "I hope he's coming around. I know how much it's hurting the whole family that he hasn't tried to patch things up." Minerva nodded as well.

"It is unfortunate, but I believe that Percy may be realizing his error. We shall have to wait and see." After a moment of silence, she took in a deep breath, and then let it out.

"Go pack. What will come will come. Let us hope that it will work out for the best, but worrying about it does nothing." Harry smiled. "I'll see you later," he said, before leaving Minerva's office and heading up to Gryffindor Tower. XXX After lunch, Harry and his friends all met in the Room of Requirement, where Harry told them what had happened on the Astronomy Tower. Blaise rolled his eyes at Harry's Gryffindor tendencies. "Seriously, Potter, what is it with that 'saving people thing' you've got going on?" Harry raised an eyebrow.

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"You think I should have let Dumbledore die? What would that do for our side of the war?" Daphne tilted her head to the side. "You aligning yourself with Dumbledore now?" Harry shook his head.

"Not at all. But Dumbledore is still an important figurehead, and Voldemort fears him, for good reason. He's a powerful wizard, whatever other issues I have with the man. And whatever else he's done, I don't want him to die." He smirked.

"I want to see the look on his face when we win, without him." Blaise and Daphne mirrored his smirk, while the others smiled or rolled their eyes. Harry sighed. "Aunt Minerva said he'd be all right, a few broken bones and all that, but he'll recover. Apparently Madam Pomfrey is hesitant to perform too much healing magic, due to his age, so he'll probably be laid up most of the summer." "I shouldn't be happy about someone else's misery, but I find that I don't care enough to, well, care," Hermione commented.

Ron grinned and kissed his girlfriend's cheek. "That's what I love about you." Hermione blushed, and the others laughed. When they quieted down, Harry told them what else he had learned from Minerva earlier that day. Ron frowned when he heard about his third oldest brother. "Not that I'm not glad that Percy seems to finally be seeing the light, but how do we know he's really changed?" Harry shrugged.

"I'm just telling you what Aunt Minerva told me. You'll probably have a chance to speak with Percy soon, you can make your own observations." Ginny nodded. "Sounds good," she commented. "If Percy's really sorry, then I'll be happy to have him back in the family. You know how upset mum and dad were when he chose Fudge over us, Ron." Ron grimaced, remembering his mother's sobbing from that day, as well as his own anger over the things his brother had said, both about his dad and Harry.

"Anyway," Blaise shattered the awkward silence that was developing. "We're going to be having those lessons with Sirius again this summer, right?" Harry nodded. "Of course. I think we'll also do some more research on the horcruxes. Ginny and I are going to talk to Sirius and Aunt Minerva about checking out the place where Voldemort's mum lived, so that will probably happen as well." He bit his lip, considering what he was about to say.

"I had a thought." Ginny snorted. "Well, you were overdue." Harry glared at her as the others laughed. "I'll have you know I have many thoughts. Important ones." Ginny rolled her eyes.

"Whatever you say, dear." She gave him a kiss on the cheek, and he smiled slightly, knowing that she was just playing. "All right, Harry, what was your thought?" Harry huffed, and then got serious. "Well, I was thinking, Voldemort gave the diary to Malfoy, right?" Ginny supressed a wince, and nodded. "So what if he gave some other horcruxes to his Death Eaters as well?" Hermione pursed her lips. "It's an idea," she said thoughtfully.

"Whom did you have in mind?" Harry shrugged. "I don't know. Which Death Eaters would he trust more than others?" "The Lestranges, perhaps Nott or Avery," Susan mused. Ginny nodded slowly. "If we had to guess, my money would be on the Lestranges. They've always been in his inner circle, and you know Bellatrix is his right hand woman." Neville growled at the mention of the family that was responsible for his parents' fate, but Harry's cautioning look stopped him from doing anything more.

"You're right, Gin. I would bet anything that Voldemort gave them a horcrux to hide. He probably didn't tell them what it was, of course. He never told Malfoy what the diary really was, or the prat wouldn't have given it away the way he had." He looked over at Neville.

"We might need your help for that as well, Nev. You up for it?" Neville frowned, confused. "What do you mean?" Harry leaned forward slightly, his eyes gleaming with anticipation, understanding, and amusement. "If the Lestranges do have a horcrux, the safest place for them to hide it would be Gringotts. Their Manor was seized by the Ministry after their arrest, since there were no heirs, but their vault is still in the care of the Goblins.

Because of that they did to your family, you could make a claim to the Goblins for satisfaction. Under the Old Laws, the Goblins would likely honor your request, and would let you choose from their vault. If there's a horcrux in there, you could take it." Neville nodded slowly. "You think it would work?" Harry shrugged. "There's no way to be certain there's even a horcrux in there, so it could be all for nothing." "But you don't think so," Ginny observed sagely.

Harry shook his head. "No, I don't. My gut is telling me that there's something to this theory. I think we need to check it out." Neville nodded grimly. "If it strikes at the Lestranges, then I'm all for it. I definitely owe them a few knocks." Harry looked pained as he turned to his friend. "I understand, Neville, but don't let yourself become consumed by revenge.

They're not worth it." Neville grimaced. "I know, Harry. But like we've said before, sometimes you need to put the rabid dog down. That family needs to end, and I would consider it an honor to be the one to do so." Harry sighed, but didn't comment. He knew he would want to help Neville with that task when the time came. And they would deserve every bit of pain afforded to them.

Susan coughed. "So… it's going to be another busy summer, huh? Wonder what it's like to have an easy life." That did it. They all started chuckling, and then laughing.

It felt good to let out some of the stress of their situation. After a good five minutes, they finally calmed down, and spent the rest of the afternoon playing in their animagus forms. XXX The next day, everyone was up early, packing last minute items they had missed or forgotten.

The train was due to leave right after breakfast, so they needed to be ready to go. As the meal drew to a close, Minerva stood up, drawing the attention of the room. "Just a few words before you all depart for the summer." Her stern gaze swept across the Hall, seeming to catch each and every student's eye. "I know that you are all looking forward to a relaxing summer, but I do hope that you will find some time to get some studying in as well." Several people let out amused chuckles, and Minerva smiled slightly.

"As you are all aware, there is a war on." Everyone sobered immediately. "I know you want to be able to enjoy your summer, but I must implore you to use necessary caution, and know that we are here if you need help.

If anyone has any safety concerns, please do not hesitate to contact myself or any of the other professors." She looked around the room again. "That is all. Have a good summer everyone, and we will see you next term.

Now, the train should be departing within the half hour, so you should all go collect your belongings and get down to the station." There was a sudden increase in noise as everyone stood up and left the Hall. Harry and his friends all returned to their respective Houses to grab their trunks, before meeting again in a compartment halfway down the Hogwarts Express. The journey back to London was nice and quiet. Most of them had books that they spent the trip reading, so talk was sporadic.

"It's interesting how much quieter things are without Malfoy around," Harry commented after a few hours of silence. Ron snorted. "This was a quiet year for you?" Harry glanced at his first friend and shrugged. "Well, yeah. At least, right up until the Death Eaters tried to take over the castle." They all laughed. Ginny snuggled into Harry's side. "I do understand what you mean, though.

Things got a lot calmer between the Houses after we formed the DA, but Malfoy still made things difficult. It was a pretty quiet year, all things considered." "It's nice to see someone actually stepping up to ensure discipline is carried out," Hermione commented.

"I know Dumbledore is the headmaster, but it's just so horrible that he wasn't going to do anything until Amelia stepped in and took the decision out of his hands." Harry nodded. "Amelia's a good person to have on our side." Susan beamed. "She is pretty awesome, isn't she." Harry chuckled, but nodded again.

Luna smiled, looking up from her copy of the Quibbler she had been reading. "I find that I much prefer this Minister to the previous one. Perhaps because she shut down Fudge's operation to bake the Goblins into pies. I suspect the Goblins are happier as well." No one spoke for a moment, and then everyone burst out laughing. Blaise gave his girlfriend a kiss, still smiling. Hermione looked like she wanted to say something, but managed to contain herself.

Luna glanced around at her friends even after all this time, she still felt the shiver of happiness run down her spine at the realization that she actually had friends. They were all looking at her with varying degrees of amusement. Except Harry. He still had traces of a smile on his face, but now he was studying her thoughtfully. "You do it on purpose, don't you," he said suddenly. Luna pasted a look of confusion on her face. "Pardon?" she asked innocently. Harry smirked. "You throw out these crazy theories and mythical creatures on purpose, just to see us react." Luna's expression grew mysterious, with a hint of a smile making its way across her face.

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean." Hermione gasped. "You really…?" Luna looked at her. "It does you good to be challenged, Hermione. You are a muggleborn, who finds herself living in a world of magic.

Shouldn't you be more open to the unknown? After all, once upon a time, magic wasn't real to you either." Hermione gaped, her mouth opening and closing like a fish.

"I…" She looked down, suddenly ashamed. "I guess you're right. I'm sorry, Luna." Luna's smile widened. "I believe that not everything can be proven. Sometimes, you need to go on faith, and just trust." Hermione looked suitably chastised, and the rest looked intrigued.

Luna was right. Weren't they all living in a mythical world? Surely it wasn't too outside the realm of possibility for there to be things out there that none of them knew about.

A short while later, the train pulled into Kings Cross in London, and the students began to depart. Harry and his friends all exited together, looking for their families.

It was easiest to search for the famous Weasley red hair, and after only a minute, Harry directed them to a large gathering near the exit to the muggle world. Mrs. Weasley was there with Bill and Fleur. Standing with her were Sirius, Remus, Tonks, Cyrus Greengrass, Druella Zabini, and Augusta. Slightly off to one side, but still a part of the group, were four Aurors, clearly there for protection. Astoria caught up to them as they joined the party of adults.

Molly smiled at the group. "Welcome home, dears. Luna, you're coming home with us, your father will pick you up this evening. Hermione, we've been in contact with your parents; they agreed to stay at home, due to the unstable climate, so they'll see you shortly." The two girls nodded, and the group of friends spent a few minutes saying goodbye to each other, even though they knew they would see each other again the next day.

Neville and Susan kissed, causing Augusta to smile approvingly. Next to them, Ron and Hermione also said their own goodbye, as did Ginny and Harry, and Blaise and Luna. Daphne looked on, a little jealous, but genuinely happy for her friends. In the back of her mind, she wondered if she should step up her relationship with Colin, but she couldn't quite make herself commit.

Colin was a nice guy, but she wasn't sure if he was really the one. And if she was going to go around enacting nauseatingly cute public displays of affection like her friends, she wanted to make sure it was with the right guy. Astoria sighed wistfully at the sight. She wished she had a boyfriend. Daphne nudged her sister, and sent the younger girl a knowing smirk. Astoria huffed and crossed her arms.

A moment later, the couples broke apart, and they all made their way through the barrier to the muggle side of the train station, hurrying towards the Floo access a short distance away.


The Aurors formed a tight perimeter around their main assignment. Namely, Susan, Harry, and Sirius. The rest of the group stuck close as well, and they reached the Floos with no issues. Molly smiled tightly at Harry. "Harry, dear, you should go through first. Then Susan." Harry knew why she wanted them to get to safety first.

He and Susan were, objectively speaking, the most important members of the group. With his status as the Boy Who Lived, and Susan's status as the Minister's niece, they were high targets. He gave Ginny one more kiss, and stepped through the Floo. Susan followed soon after, and then the rest of the teenagers, all bound for their own homes. Cyrus, Druella, and Augusta were the next through, and then Fleur, Molly, and Remus.

Sirius was the last one left, and he turned to look at Tonks and the other Aurors. "Thank you for your assistance. Let Amelia know we're all home and safe, and I'll see her tonight." Tonks nodded. "Got it, Lord Black," she smirked when Sirius rolled his eyes, and dodged him when he tried to ruffle her bright pink hair.

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"I'll see you later, Nymphadora," Sirius responded, smirking. Tonks growled, but Sirius was already through the Floo.

XXX Harry bounced nervously on the balls of his feet, trying to calm his nerves at what he was about to do. Minerva had returned home just a little while ago, and it was nearly time for dinner. Amelia would be working late, so Susan had managed to strong-arm Sirius into letting her go over to Neville's for supper, and Sirius himself would be joining Harry and Minerva for the meal.

Harry knew he needed to talk to his guardians, but he really wasn't sure how they would take his plans. He didn't think they'd doubt him, but he was unsure if they would be willing to let him participate, and Harry knew it had to be him. He had to be there. It wasn't a want or a desire, it was a need. It was necessary. He steeled himself, and pushed open the door to the sitting room, where his guardians were both whiling away the time before dinner.

Both adults looked up as Harry entered. The teenager took a deep breath. "We need to talk." How's that for the biggest most awful cliffhanger ever?! But you guys are going to be so happy. Stay tuned for the first chapter of the final story in this saga. next week! Yup, that's right, I've already finished it! I'm just doing some final revisions, but that shouldn't stop me from posting next Saturday! An end of summer (back to school for those of you to whom that applies) present from me to you.