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Chapter 1 : Chapter 01: The Opening Gambit
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As my regular readers will know, Pieces of a Soul, while a seventh-year fic, does not exactly follow canon. It is not the sequel to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; rather, it is the sequel to my own sixth-year fic The Greatest Power. Dear regular readers - at this point, you may skip the rest of my note and continue under the break with Chapter 1 of Pieces of a Soul.
If it has been a long time since you've read The Greatest Power, or if you haven't read it at all, I would recommend reading it first. Just in case, though, what follows is a brief synopsis of the story, which was written in the main before the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. In TGP, I got rather lucky with a few plot points. Here's a list of the main things I "got right": Draco Malfoy becomes a Death Eater and no one but Harry seems to realize this; relationships all came out right (H/G, R/H, Remus/Tonks); Dumbledore dies at the end; Seamus Finnegan gets angry about being passed over for Quidditch and Ginny plays Chaser; Harry takes private lessons with Dumbledore; Fred Weasley is killed (though as you know, that happens in the seventh book in canon, not the sixth).
Now for the things I "got wrong" as I was writing TGP: Ginny Weasley is a prefect; Ron Weasley is Quidditch Captain; Ron and Hermione get together way earlier than in canon; Voldemort continues to practice Legilimency on Harry (to disastrous effect); Harry begins to take a much more active role in the war effort and people stop treating him as a child (for the most part); Remus Lupin is named Harry's guardian; Draco Malfoy is killed by Voldemort for failing to accomplish his mission; Dumbledore is killed in a battle with Voldemort rather than by Severus Snape.
Pieces of a Soul, like TGP was begun before the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Because I didn't want to stray too far from canon, I worked in the Horcrux hunt, but you will find no Hallows here. I've put my own spin and backstory on it, and though I am now completing PoaS long after the end of the series, I will be staying true to my original story.
Obviously, this is a quick overview of a fic that is fully as lengthy as canon; I am simply trying to provide some context for any readers who might be joining me now, rather than at the beginning of TGP. If you have any sort of continuity questions, feel free to message me or leave them in reviews; I'll answer!
Happy reading, and I hope you enjoy Pieces of a Soul!
"You're back, are you?" Petunia Dursley sniffed as she opened the front door and saw her nephew standing on the front stoop, his ridiculous owl and large trunk parked just behind him.
"I'm back," Harry Potter agreed tonelessly as she stood to the side and allowed him to pull his things in after him.
For some reason, Aunt Petunia leaned towards him as he passed. "Be smart about it," she whispered. "And don't let that confounded animal make too much noise."
"Why are you -" Harry began, intending to find out the reason behind this odd behavior. After everything that had happened, anybody - even Aunt Petunia - who acted unusual in any way was cause for suspicion. He didn't have to complete his question, however, because the answer roared into life in the form of a purple-faced Vernon Dursley throwing open the door that led into the family's lounge.
"Potter!" he shouted, the vein in his forehead already seeming to have reached the danger point. "You won't be staying here, I say, not this summer, not ever again!"
Harry looked at Uncle Vernon in confusion. Though his uncle had tried to throw him out on a number of occasions, it had always been after some kind of upset and this (it seemed to Harry, anyway) was completely unprovoked.
"Vernon," Aunt Petunia protested in her most snappish voice. "We've discussed this before. What will the neighbors think if we throw him out now? It's only one more month and he'll come of age."
"Of age?" Vernon sputtered. "What's this nonsense? He won't be of age for another bloody year, and if you think I'm keeping him -"
"Wizards come of age at seventeen," Harry interrupted, saying the word "wizard" with a deliberate nonchalance which belied a simmering anger bubbling just beneath the surface. "What's all this about, anyway?" He could not find it in himself to be afraid of or even much disturbed by his uncle's temper tantrums.
"It's about you, Potter, inviting danger into this house!" Vernon shouted. "I won't have my family put in danger just to save your useless skin. That is it and that is final!"
Harry looked at Aunt Petunia, though he honestly would just as soon have walked out of the house as stay. The only reason he was here in the first place was that Dumbledore had asked him to come one last time to use what protection the blood magic could give until it ran out when he came of age.
"We'll be in more danger if he goes than if he stays," Aunt Petunia said quietly, and the room went so silent that they could hear the noise from Mrs. Next-Door-Neighbor's television set through the open window.
Harry and Vernon both gaped at her; Vernon because this was a bit of information she had never given him before, Harry because he had never thought about it from that angle. Now that she had pointed it out, however, it made a certain amount of sense. Petunia Dursley was the last person besides Harry himself who carried Lily Potter's blood in her veins. Once the blood protection had ended, they were certain to become targets themselves. After all, however unwillingly, they had been the reason that Voldemort had not been able to find Harry before he went to Hogwarts and entered the protection of Albus Dumbledore.
Harry recovered quickly. "She's right," he agreed.
"Then what about this?" Vernon snarled, pushing a well-worn piece of parchment toward Harry, holding it by its corner as though it might be diseased.
"What?" Harry asked, wondering what he could possibly have left behind that would have gotten his uncle into such a state.
He was quite surprised to see the Ministry's Guidelines for Safety that had been sent out to all Wizarding families the prior year. Why had Uncle Vernon held onto it for so long?
"You told us two summers ago this…this…Voldy-wart was back," Vernon said. "I found this when I went into your room to get Dudley's old television set for repair before he came home for the summer."
"It's Voldemort," Harry corrected.
"What?" Vernon spat.
"Voldemort, not 'voldy-wart,'" Harry repeated. "And yes, I told you two summers ago he was back, but it took the Ministry that long to figure it out, didn't it?"
"Shouldn't go out at night, should we?" Vernon said, becoming purpler still. "Have to watch out for those inferiors now, don't we? Well, it seems to me that -"
"That you wouldn't have to worry about the Wizarding world's problems if I wasn't here," Harry completed for him.
Vernon stopped short, rather surprised that his nephew had voiced his next statement almost word-for-word. Deprived of the need to shout this last statement, he nodded a bit feebly.
"And they are called Inferi, not 'inferiors,'" Harry couldn't help adding, growing more and more annoyed with Vernon's inability to read. Honestly, if he was going to eavesdrop on a notice that had been meant for Harry, he could at least pay enough attention to see what words had been used.
"Whatever," Vernon snapped. "Point is, we're not safe, and not one bloody person bothered to tell us about it. I'd never have known myself if I hadn't happened into your bedroom."
Harry gritted his teeth against retorting that if Vernon hadn't been being such a nosy git, he wouldn't have had to trouble himself in the first place. He didn't reply, and for a few moments, the silence in the room was thick enough to be cut with a knife.
"Why are you back early?" Aunt Petunia asked abruptly, looking pale, as though she feared the answer. "Dudley won't be back for another two days."
Harry gulped, determined to show no emotion in front of his aunt and uncle. "Headmaster Dumbledore is dead," he said as matter-of-factly as he could. "He was killed on Sunday, and they closed the school."
"Closed the school?" Vernon said incredulously. "You mean we're supposed to deal with you year-round?"
"No," Aunt Petunia answered before Harry could open his mouth. "He turns seventeen on July 31. After that, he doesn't have to stay."
Harry really had to fight back the angry words that wanted to come bursting from his mouth. Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard in the modern world, was dead…and all they could worry about was for how long they would have to allow houseroom to Harry.
"I still say he goes now, without a thought about when he 'comes of age,'" Vernon muttered to Petunia, watching Harry cautiously from the corner of his eye. "We're in more danger if he's here than if he's not. We've nothing to do with his lot."
"If you'd never taken me in as a baby, that might be true," Harry said quietly, deciding that it was high time to impress upon them exactly what was happening, for their own safety as well as his. "But when you took me, you sealed a blood protection charm which has kept me alive all these years. Now, when I leave, the blood protection ends -"
"Like we care about your bloody blood protection," Vernon sneered.
"You should, because it's been protecting you, too," Harry retorted. "You took me in when I was a baby, and you've kept me safe while I've been here for all these years, whether you ever actually gave a damn about me or not. You'll be targets now, and there's the little fact of Aunt Petunia having my mother's blood."
Uncle Vernon took a moment to regain his ability to speak. "Targets?" he asked blankly.
"It's true, Vernon," Aunt Petunia confirmed, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. "Although we've been promised the highest level of protection after he leaves, as long as he stays until he turns seventeen."
"You knew about this, Petunia?" Uncle Vernon asked in a tone of forced calm.
"I knew," Petunia said. "It was in the letter that horrid old man sent to me when he came." She indicated Harry.
Vernon began pacing back and forth wildly, pulling at his moustache.
"You knew!" he shouted finally, going across to slam the window shut. "You knew all along that this could happen, and you took him anyway!"
"I had to," Petunia said quietly, dabbing at her eyes again before she seemed to recover. "What was I supposed to do, leave a baby lying on our doorstep? Think what the neighbors would say! As soon as I brought him in, that charm as he calls it was sealed. We had to keep him after that."
"Very clever, very clever," Vernon said rather madly as he continued to pace to and fro on the lounge carpet, quite oblivious of the fact that the knickknacks on the shelf were shaking with this agitated footfalls. "So he hoodwinks you into keeping him," he pointed at Harry, "then you hoodwink me into it, and now we're in a fine mess."
"No one is safe right now, Uncle Vernon," Harry said in the same quiet, serious tone that was so unfamiliar to the Dursleys. "Even if you'd never taken me in, you'd be in danger. Everyone is. Voldemort's a killer - he's been killing all year. Mugg -" Here, Harry stopped, not wanting to inflame his uncle further. He corrected himself, "'Normal' people as well as people like me. He's killed entire families just for the fun of it, little children and babies just for sport." His voice broke just the slightest bit as he remembered some of the terrible scenes he had witnessed near the beginning of the previous year.
The shock value that Harry had intended finally hit its mark, and both of the Dursleys stared at him in open-mouthed horror.
"Fine," Uncle Vernon said after a silence that had extended over more than a few moments. "He stays, and this…this 'blood-protection' will stay up until his birthday."
Harry and Petunia both nodded.
"I don't have to like it," Vernon growled, suddenly turning on Harry. "You'll be staying in your room. Your aunt will bring your meals to you."
"No, I won't," Harry responded, all too aware of his new bargaining power now that Vernon had an idea of what could happen if he left early.
Vernon's face turned a deep shade of magenta and the vein in his temple seemed about to burst as roared, "You dare to cheek me, boy? I won't tolerate that, I won't have it! I won't -"
"You won't lock me in my room all summer," Harry stated flatly, cutting across an astonished-looking Uncle Vernon. "I've got things I've got to do, and I need to be able to move about freely to do them. You will not stop me doing what I have to."
Uncle Vernon raised his hand as though he was about to strike Harry, much as he had the previous summer when his nightmares had woken the house. Harry caught his uncle's hand in midair, however, and said matter-of-factly, "I've seen things that you'd never even dream of, and I'm not afraid of you anymore. I'll stay for both our sakes, but understand that I'll be an adult wizard soon - and allowed to use magic any way I choose. I'd keep that in mind if I were you." With that, he turned and walked out of the lounge without waiting to be dismissed. Collecting his trunk and Hedwig's cage from the bottom of the stairs, he headed up the stairs to his bedroom.
As soon as he had gotten reasonably settled into his small bedroom at Privet Drive, he sat down at the scratched and worn desk in front of the window to write Ginny as he had promised to do before they parted at the Hogwarts gates.
Dear Ginny, he began, feeling rather awkward to be writing her a letter but not wanting to disappoint her or make her think he'd stopped caring.
How are you? I've just arrived at the Dursley's and I think things are going to be okay this summer, mainly because Uncle Vernon's afraid of what I might do after I come of age and can use magic. We had a bit of a row when I first got here, but things are straight now. He tried to chuck me out, but Aunt Petunia wouldn't let him. It was really weird.
Did you get to the Burrow safely? Please send Hedwig back and let me know as soon as you can. It feels strange, being away from you. I've gotten used to seeing you every day, you know, and now I feel like something's gone. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I miss you.
Harry chewed the tip of his quill, trying to figure out how to close the letter. He hadn't been apart from Ginny for more than a day since the previous summer, so he hadn't had occasion to write to her since they had been together. Throwing embarrassment to the wind, he wrote:
I love you. Please stay safe.
Rereading the letter, he hastily added a post-script:
P.S. Tell Ron and Hermione that I'll write to them tomorrow. I want to get started looking at that packet Aberforth gave me before we left.
Finally satisfied with his efforts, Harry rolled the parchment into a small scroll and used a leather thong to attach it to Hedwig's leg. He stood at the window for a few moments, watching her fly off towards the Burrow, and gave himself a mental shake as she disappeared from sight. You've got work to do, Potter, he told himself sternly. Mooning over Ginny isn't going to end this any faster. Get a grip.
With that thought in his head, he finally pulled the leather pouch Aberforth had given him that morning towards him. For a few seconds, he simply sat at his desk staring at the smooth brown of the well-worn leather, almost afraid to find out what was inside. Giving himself another mental shake, he slowly undid the brass fastening and pulled a sheath of parchment no less than two inches thick from inside of it.
The first thing Harry did was to re-read the letter Dumbledore had written expressly to him. He knew now that this letter had been the reason Dumbledore had been delayed in coming to the battle; he had wanted to take the time to 'speak' with Harry one last time before he endeavored to do whatever it was he had done with the silver ring, whatever it was that had weakened him to the point of costing him his own life.
Harry's eyes smarted with tears that he hastily blinked back as he read the letter once again, and he could almost hear Dumbledore's aged but smooth voice as he traced his fingers over the words. With a hand shaking from anticipation and anxiety, Harry set the letter aside, knowing it was separate from the rest of the packet and wanting to make sure that he did not lose it under any circumstances.
The next pages were written in the same spindly handwriting as the Headmaster's letter and contained a variety of different-colored inks, much as though the writer had written part of the page then stopped and continued later with a different pot of ink and perhaps a different quill.
For hours, Harry flipped through the pages, squinting at the familiar handwriting, ordering and re-ordering them, but when the night had grown pitch-black and his eyes were starting to ache from the strain, he was no closer to understanding the contents than he had been before he'd ever looked at them.
The only part that had made any sense to him was a section of two or three pages near the middle which had been labeled in the top, left-hand corner "Gaunt Ring." Harry guessed, since there was no other mention of rings in the rest of the packet, that this might be the very silver ring which had cost Dumbledore his life. Those were the only two words he could decipher, however…the rest of it seemed unintelligible and was sprinkled liberally with words Harry did not understand. One word, in particular, he could not find in any of his textbooks, though he had looked several times: horcrux. Another group of words seemed to be an incantation of some sort, but even with what knowledge Harry had about Latin and incantations, he could not figure out what it meant. I'll have to ask Hermione about this, he thought ruefully, knowing that his friend would have been able to translate the incantation in a heartbeat. Once again, he realized that he would not have gotten far without his two best friends, and he hoped that they would find some way to come and visit before too much of the summer passed.
Drained from a day full of sadness, surprise and tension, Harry fell into his narrow bed well after midnight, resolving to begin again the next day. If necessary, he was certain he could place an owl order with Flourish and Blotts for some more books, and he knew also that he would be asking for Hermione's help as soon as possible. That, however, would be much harder, considering that he could not exactly ask the questions he needed to ask via owl post.
Harry's last thought as he drifted into an uneasy sleep was that he would have given anything at that moment to be at the Burrow with the ones he loved best.
"Grea' man, Dummledore," Hagrid slurred to Tom, the barkeep at the Leaky Cauldron. "Grea' man." Hagrid made a sweeping gesture with his large mug, spilling half a pint of oak-matured mead on the wooden countertop as he did so.
"Yes, Hagrid, he was a great man," Tom said patiently and not without a note of his own sadness and fear. Though he had not known Albus Dumbledore since his own school days long before he had taken over management of the Leaky Cauldron, he could not help fearing what would happen without the greatest wizard of the age around to thwart the efforts of the most evil one.
"Always washin' out fer folks, 'e was," Hagrid continued, motioning for Tom to refill his cup. "'ways wanted the bess fer ev'rybody, din't he?"
Tom debated for a moment about refusing to serve Hagrid another drink, seeing as how he had clearly had too much already. However, as he gazed into the devastated face of the Hogwarts gamekeeper, a wave of pity washed over him. Hagrid was obviously deep in mourning for Dumbledore and not handling it too well. Tom refilled his cup silently, thinking that he would most likely pass out after this one anyway. Hagrid had been staying at the Leaky Cauldron for the past five days, each of which he had spent drinking himself into a stupor and then passing out in his room upstairs. It seemed as though the half-giant could not bear the thought of going back to Hogwarts.
"Grea' man," Hagrid mumbled again, drinking deeply from his freshly-replenished mug. "Affer me da' died, 'e always took a speshel int'rest in me, din't he? An' when I go' esspelled…"
"He took you in as gamekeeper, believing correctly that you had been innocent," Tom supplied as Hagrid's sentence trailed off and the large man buried himself in his mug once again. He had certainly heard this story enough times in the past few days to be able to recite it by heart, and Hagrid had been one of his very few customers, anyway. People were now so frightened that most were afraid to leave their homes for any but the most essential of errands.
"C'rectly," Hagrid agreed drowsily. "Dummledore…'e was always c'rect, washn't 'e?"
"Most of the time," Tom agreed, wiping more spilled mead from the counter and hoping that Hagrid would fall asleep soon.
Just as he was about to suggest that the huge man at his bar go upstairs to his room for the night, a loud bang shocked Tom, Hagrid and the other two occupants of the pub into stunned silence. Within a few moments, it was clear: Diagon Alley was under attack.
"Right, I'll just nip into the back room to get some more -" Percy began cheerfully, ready to fill an order large enough that it would allow Weasley's Wizard Wheezes to make a sorely-needed expansion. As he was fumbling with his large key ring, a shout from his brother interrupted him.
"Perce!" George yelled from the front of the shop. "We've got trouble!"
Percy dropped the keys and drew his wand, knowing immediately from George Weasley's tone just what kind of trouble he meant. They had both been afraid of this; as Voldemort and his Death Eaters became more active and more open in their activities, everyone who worked on Diagon Alley knew that they were in danger.
"Mr. Weasley!" Valerie, the young woman who served as an assistant in the shop, sounded panicked. She, too, had drawn her wand, but her hand was shaking.
"Get behind the counter, Valerie, and stay low," Percy said sharply as he hurried past her to the front door, where George was already shooting hexes and raising shields in an attempt to protect himself and his store. Percy and George were both well aware that Valerie's magical abilities were very low; she had achieved only one OWL in her time at school, but she had an excellent way with customers and was quite good at running the front counter of the shop. On the whole, Percy and George were both very pleased with her, but during a time like now, the best place for her was out of the way.
"Percy!" George shouted again. "I need you up here! They're attacking the store!"
Sure enough, three masked Death Eaters seemed to be focusing on Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, possibly intent upon destroying the anti-dark objects that George and Percy had begun selling out of the back of the store or possibly simply intent on destroying anything that allowed anyone else enjoyment or laughter.
Percy joined his brother and began dueling expertly with the Death Eaters as George quickly muttered an incantation to bring the usual nighttime wards up around the store.
"Expelliarmus!" Percy shouted victoriously a few minutes later, sweat running down his face as he caught the wand in his hand and immediately snapped it in two. "Incarcerous!" Long white ropes flew out the end of the wand and bound the fallen Death Eater.
"Petrificus Totalus," George said fiercely, immobilizing another Death Eater just as he tried to unbind his comrade. "Not so much fun when it happens to you, is it?" he asked in a voice Percy did not even recognize. He raised his wand again. "Cruc -"
"George!" Percy yelled, shooting a hex at the remaining Death Eater. "No!"
George stopped, looking aghast at what he had almost done. He stepped forward, yanked the wand from the petrified Death Eater's hand and snapped it cleanly in two.
"Impedimenta!" Percy cried, throwing the last Death Eater back as he or she attempted to intercept George.
"Petrificus Totalus!" George yelled once again, the unfamiliar ferocity still in his voice. Before George could do anything else, Percy stepped forward and confiscated the Death Eater's wand and snapped it, looking down the street as a band of Aurors rushed toward the back entrance to the Leaky Cauldron.
Binding the Death Eaters together and placing them under an Anti-Apparation charm, Percy whispered to George. "Come on, let's get inside. Valerie's scared to death. We're all right now, the Aurors are here."
Without another glance at his enemies, George turned on his heel and went back into the shop, taking a terrified and shaking Valerie into his arms.
Hagrid had had so much to drink that even the sounds of the battle beyond the wall did not sober him. Enraged, he stood, weaving back and forth as the pub came into slow focus. Tom the barkeep had run to the back entrance of the pub and the other two patrons had charged into the battle, their wands raised. For which side they were fighting, Hagrid did not know or care. Here, at last, was a chance to avenge the Headmaster's death, and even through his drunken haze Hagrid would not let it pass.
He neared the back entrance of the Leaky Cauldron just as a female Death Eater screamed triumphantly, "Avada Kedavra!" The jet of green light hit Tom squarely in the chest, and he fell soundlessly, having given his life in the fruitless defense of his pub.
With a bellow of rage, Hagrid seized his pink umbrella just as Bellatrix Lestrange and one other Death Eater entered the pub.
"The Aurors will be coming this way when they discover the barman's body," Bellatrix whispered savagely. "We will make our escape into Muggle London, just as the Dark Lord commanded. Come, Dolohov."
"Yeh'll have to get past me, won't yeh!" Hagrid yelled drunkenly, his pink umbrella pointing absurdly at the advancing black-robed figures.
"'Yeh'll have to get past me,'" Bellatrix mocked, raising her wand once again. "Filthy half-human, you really think you could defeat Bellatrix Lestrange, the Dark Lord's most trusted -"
"Im- impedimenta!" Hagrid cried semi-clearly, pointing his umbrella straight at her. The jinx, however, did not work. Apparently, the two pieces of Hagrid's wand were not sufficient to correctly channel his magic, and all he was able to do was send golden sparks into the air toward her.
Bellatrix laughed insanely, standing still on the spot. "Hit me, then, half-human," she taunted.
"Crucio!" Dolohov cast his first spell while Hagrid was distracted by Bellatrix and still weaving drunkenly on the spot.
Hagrid's tough skin, inherited from his giantess mother, protected him from the worst of the spell. All he did was flinch as the red light hit him in the side, and he turned a face contorted by murderous rage toward his attacker. "Incarsheris!" he slurred, messing up the binding spell with his tongue thickened by too much mead.
Three pink parakeets emerged from Hagrid's wand, but they seemed to be as drunk as he was, for they immediately flew straight into the stone wall of the pub, breaking their necks and falling dead to the floor.
Bellatrix and Dolohov both laughed uproariously as Hagrid gazed in sadness at the dead birds. "Sorry," he muttered uselessly to them.
"Diffindo!" Bellatrix suddenly screeched, whooping in triumph as a shallow gash appeared across Hagrid's chest. Though the injury in and of itself was not dangerous, she had done what she intended to do - she had made a hole in Hagrid's tough skin.
"Diffindo!" Dolohov echoed, causing another shallow gash to appear along the half-giant's left side.
"Eshpeliermus!" Hagrid once again marred the incantation with his thick tongue, and when nothing happened, he resorted to swinging his umbrella through the air, attempting to physically assault his attackers in any way possible.
"Crucio!" Bellatrix said again, this time aiming the spell directly at the cut she had caused along Hagrid's chest.
Her idea of breaking Hagrid's skin had been effective, and the whole pub shook as Hagrid fell to the ground, screaming hoarsely as every nerve in his body exploded in pain.
"And now," Bellatrix purred, stepping up to Hagrid's body as she lifted the curse several moments later, "we will finish you. The Dark Lord will be pleased. Dolohov," she snapped abruptly. "See that we are undisturbed for a few more moments."
Dolohov nodded dumbly and remained at the back entrance, to which he had retreated as Bellatrix had cursed Hagrid.
"Diffindo! Diffindo! Diffindo!" Bellatrix chanted, aiming her wand at different parts of Hagrid's huge body. Larger gashes opened and Hagrid howled in pain, groping uselessly for his umbrella, which had fallen just out of his reach.
"Yeh dirty, yeh filthy…Death Eater!" Hagrid growled, looking up at her defiantly. Suddenly, with a roar of pain and rage, he righted himself, grabbed one of the stools from the bar, and attempted to bring it down over her head.
"Wingardium leviosa!" Bellatrix said, flicking her wand lazily and causing the bar stool to float uncertainly over Hagrid's own head for a moment before crashing to the ground.
Hagrid hardly noticed as the stool hit him as it fell. He simply charged at Bellatrix, completely heedless of her raised wand as he got closer, intending to beat her to a pulp with his gigantic raised fists.
"The Aurors are coming!" Dolohov suddenly called. "We must not be caught, Bellatrix. The Dark Lord's orders -"
"I know what the orders are, you idiot!" Bellatrix screeched before she turned back to Hagrid, who was still advancing on her with his fists raised.
"Avada Kedavra!" she screamed triumphantly, again aiming at one of the gashes on Hagrid's ravaged body.
The pub floor shook again as Hagrid fell, and Bellatrix and Dolohov stepped around him unconcernedly as they hurried out the front door into Muggle London, where they disapparated the moment they were free of the enchantments placed upon the ruined pub.
Sunrise on June the eighth found Harry sitting on the bench in Number Four, Privet Drive's back garden, a copy of the morning's Daily Prophet held limply in his right hand. None of the Dursley's were awake yet, but Harry, conditioned by now to wake up and pay the owl which brought his newspaper each morning, had come outside, feeling as though he could not stay in his room another moment.
The past few days had not gone well. Harry had come no closer in his search for the meaning of Dumbledore's notes; Hermione and Ron were not allowed to visit yet, Lupin had not come by, and though he had ordered several books on dark magic from Flourish and Blotts, they had not yet arrived.
Now it looked like they might not ever come, for Harry had just read the news of the attack on Diagon Alley from the front page of the Prophet, which sported a picture of the Dark Mark hovering over Gringotts, the Wizarding bank, and the news was that few of the shops on the main road were spared, though Knockturn Alley had apparently been left undisturbed. Harry could not bring himself to care too much about any of this, however. All he could think about was a sentence near the end of the article, explaining that "Rubeus Haggard, the half-giant gamekeeper at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was killed at the Leaky Cauldron after apparently having consumed more than twenty pints of oak-matured mead."
A weight comprised of anger, guilt and immense sadness overcame Harry as he sat on the bench and stared at the hedge. Over the past six days, he had written to Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Lupin and even Mrs. Weasley, but he had not once thought about Hagrid, who must have been feeling Dumbledore's death as much as he, Harry, was. Dumbledore, in many ways, had been a father-figure to Hagrid for over fifty years.
How could I not have written him? How could I not have asked how he was? Harry chided himself over and over. His rage at the Death Eaters who had killed Hagrid grew exponentially with each passing moment, and as the sun peeked hesitantly over the neatly-trimmed hedges of the Dursleys' back garden, Harry swore once again that he would take as many of them down as he could along the way. He did not yet know the identity of Hagrid's attackers, or even how he had been killed, but those details did not matter. The only thing that did was the glaring fact that Hagrid was dead.
Harry's heart was heavy as he sat staring at the hedge for what seemed like hours, not even noticing as the sun lost its hesitancy and emerged boldly over the horizon, heralding what was sure to be a pleasantly warm, clear summer day. He could not really see the light as visions of Hagrid played out in his head…Hagrid, welcoming the first-years onto the boats for their first glimpse of Hogwarts. Hagrid, offering a plate of inedible rock-cakes to Harry, Ron and Hermione whenever they came to visit. Hagrid, with his love for bizarre and dangerous creatures, who had been killed by the most bizarre and dangerous creature known to Wizardkind: a Death Eater. Hagrid…
"You've heard, then," said a quiet voice behind him, startling Harry so that he jumped off the bench, his wand raised and ready to strike.
"Moony," he said in surprise, lowering his wand immediately and looking into his guardian's gray eyes with his blood-shot green ones. "Yeah," he muttered. "I saw it in the Prophet."
"That's not the way I would have chosen for you to find out, Harry," Lupin said, striding forward to give Harry a tight one-armed hug.
"It's okay," Harry muttered. "They didn't even get his name right." Suddenly, he looked up at Remus Lupin, his expression somewhat accusing. "Why wasn't anyone with him? Why did everyone leave him all alone?"
Lupin sighed. "The Ministry and the school are in shambles, Harry," he said seriously, but not without some regret. "Voldemort and the Death Eaters have been attacking right and left, and the Order and the school staff have been running themselves ragged trying to set things to rights. Someone should have been with Hagrid. You're right. But there just wasn't anybody."
Harry nodded stiffly, knowing that Lupin was right.
"Hagrid came up against Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry," Lupin told him, his voice hardening. "The Aurors saw her and another Death Eater, who we believe was either Rodolfus Lestrange or Antoin Dolohov, go into the back entrance of the Leaky Cauldron. They must have left from the front and Disapparated."
"Couldn't get there in time to save Hagrid, could they?" Harry asked bitterly.
"Not Hagrid, nor Tom the barkeep," Lupin responded seriously. "Harry, Hagrid's death must be terrible for you -"
"It's terrible for everyone," Harry responded bluntly, not attempting to hide the grief in his voice. For this moment, just this moment, he needed to forget everything else out of respect and mourning for his friend.
"I know," Lupin said heavily.
"He's got to be stopped," Harry said, abruptly standing up. "I need help, Lupin. I don't know what I'm looking at."
"What you're looking at?" Lupin asked blankly, not having known about Dumbledore's packet.
"Come upstairs with me," Harry said, resolving that Lupin, at least, would need to know what was going on.
"All right, Harry," Lupin said with some confusion. "But there's something we need to do first. Follow me."
Harry followed his guardian through the back door of Number Four, Privet Drive, quite ignoring Aunt Petunia's gasp of alarm and Uncle Vernon's bellows of rage as they passed through the kitchen into the lounge. Dudley, who had returned from Smeltings a few days prior, was obviously having yet another lie-in; Harry hadn't known him to rise before ten since he had come home.
Lupin stopped in front of the fire and drew his wand.
"What the devil do you think you're doing?" Uncle Vernon demanded, following them into the lounge as fast as his considerable weight would allow him to do.
"Hello, Mr. Dursley," Lupin said dryly. "Not to worry, I'm just going to be connecting your fireplace to the Floo Network for the remainder of Harry's stay. We can't have him left without means to communicate, can we? Not to worry," he added as Vernon's face turned a dark shade of puce, "it's quite secure, I assure you." He waved his wand lazily, causing the boarded-up façade and the electric fireplace to vanish completely, leaving only an empty grate. Another wave of his wand produced a fair amount of kindling and some larger logs of wood.
"I don't want my fireplace connected to that…that fruit network," Vernon spat. "I forbid it. I agreed to keep that boy under my roof -"
"Only because it saved your own skins for another month," Harry broke in, determined not to let his uncle play the part of the generous martyr.
"You've been eating food I paid for, and you've got clothes I bought on your ungrateful back -"
"Only because Dudley outgrew them," Harry cut in again.
"And it's my home, and I don't want it connected to any network!"
"Of course, Mr. Dursley, that's your choice," Lupin said mildly. "However, I am afraid I will be unable to leave Harry here with no means to communicate with his friends. Owls are no longer secure, you see." He carefully avoided mentioning Harry's amulet, which allowed Harry to talk to Lupin alone; he knew that Harry needed more contact than that.
"Then take him!" Vernon exclaimed victoriously. Would this be all he would have to do to get that nephew of his out of the house for good?
"Certainly," Lupin agreed as Harry gaped at him, knowing the blood protection would void itself immediately upon his departure.
"You just make sure that your kind offer us all the protection from this…this…"
"Voldemort," Harry supplied helpfully.
"Right," Vernon said. "You're to make sure we're protected, just like that Headmaster of yours promised my wife."
"Ah," said Lupin regretfully. "That's where we'll hit a problem, isn't it? You see, Mrs. Dursley here," he indicated Aunt Petunia, who was watching the scene from the kitchen doorway, her lips pursed and white, "entered into a binding magical contract which clearly states, I'm afraid, that we may only offer our protection if Harry remains under your roof up to his seventeenth birthday."
Harry had to fight a mad urge to laugh at the way Lupin had cornered the bullying Uncle Vernon, whose face was, once again, darkening into an alarming shade which clearly foretold an imminent coronary.
"You'll just have to break your contract, then, won't you?" Vernon snarled. "It's your decision to take the boy out of the house. I haven't sent him off, as much as I'd like to."
"I'm afraid the contract could only be broken with the consent of both committed parties," Lupin said, his voice now sad and serious. Harry knew the change of tone had come because of the pain Lupin was experiencing as he thought about Professor Dumbledore and the fact that he would be unable to break any contracts, whether he wanted to or not.
"Vernon," Aunt Petunia said sharply, though her voice sounded somewhat defeated. "We will have to allow it."
"How much is a man required to take in his own home?" Vernon shouted, his temper going completely.
"It's only for another three weeks," Petunia replied.
"The network will be restricted," Lupin assured them in a chilly voice, "to this house, the Burrow, which is where Harry's friends are, and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It will be undetectable by any other parties."
"You just see that these…people…don't touch anything in my home," Aunt Petunia sniffed.
"Certainly," Lupin responded in a would-be cheerful voice, though Harry noticed for the first time just how drawn and tired his guardian looked.
"Moony?" he asked uncertainly. "Are you -"
"I'm quite well, Harry," Lupin responded. "Kindly stand aside for a moment while I make the connection."
Harry stood back, completely unconvinced that Lupin was telling him the truth. He watched as Lupin lit a fire in the grate, waved his wand in a complicated pattern over it, and then threw a small bit of parchment into the flames, where it burned with a purple flare. The fire turned the familiar green of the Floo Network for a moment and then went out completely.
"See, there was nothing much to it," Lupin said pleasantly. "No, if you'll excuse us, Harry and I have some things we must discuss before I take my leave."
Leaving the astounded and highly annoyed Dursleys behind in the lounge, Harry and Lupin left the room and went up the stairs.
"Er, sorry about my room," Harry said in embarrassment as he and Lupin came through the door and drew the curtains.
The room was, indeed, a disaster. Intent upon his efforts and dealing with immense amounts of frustration, Harry had completely disregarded placement of books, letters, spare bits of parchment, owl droppings and trash. It was a good thing Aunt Petunia avoided his room like it contained a dangerous and contagious germ, because if she had seen the state of it, she probably would have died of shock right from the doorway.
"Quite all right, Harry," Lupin said, noting to his own satisfaction that several notes from Ron, Hermione and Ginny were present alongside the ones he himself had sent over the course of the past week. "I can see you've been busy," he commented wryly.
"Yeah, for all the good it's done," Harry muttered. Now that the entertaining conversation between Lupin and the Dursleys had come to a conclusion, Hagrid's death had come rushing back to him in an unpleasant wave.
"What have you got here, Harry?" Lupin asked with not a small amount of intrigue. "Dumbledore's notes? I recognize the handwriting, of course, but he never mentioned…" Lupin ran his finger down several pages of parchment in silence while Harry waited, hastily lobbing dirty socks into his trunk and trying to gather things into neater piles.
"Horcruxes," Lupin muttered. "But surely, even Voldemort -"
"Yes," Harry said. "Horcruxes. Dumbledore wrote that word over and over, and I can't figure out anything except that I think that ring was one, whatever that is…"
"The ring?" Lupin asked sharply. "The one he was wearing the day of the battle?"
"The one that killed him," Harry said bitterly.
"Of course," Lupin muttered. "Only that would be important enough for Dumbledore to…when there was so much risk…"
"What?" Harry asked, wishing his guardian would stop muttering and would explain things properly.
"If the ring was a horcrux…if there are really six of them besides Voldemort himself…" Lupin said contemplatively.
"What the bloody hell is a horcrux?" Harry finally burst out, tired of the leading statements.
"A horcrux, Harry, is the objectification of the most evil magic in existence," Lupin explained, finally looking his charge directly in the eye.
"Well, that's not much of a surprise, is it, if Voldemort uses them," Harry commented sarcastically.
"Be quiet, Harry, and let me think," Lupin snapped, and Harry was slightly taken aback. He continued in a more patient tone, "A horcrux is made when a wizard splits his own soul in two, hiding part of it in an inanimate object. It can only be done if the wizard has committed the foulest offense imaginable - murder."
"Voldemort split his soul?" Harry asked, though the pieces were starting to fit together from everything he had looked at in the past few days and witnessed in the past six years. "Of course," he muttered. "That'd be why he didn't die when he tried to kill me. He still had pieces of his soul roaming around."
"You're right, Harry," Lupin said. "And you hit the nail on the head when you said 'pieces,' for Dumbledore did not believe that Voldemort only split his soul once, but that he did it many times."
"So now I've got to find all of them before I can have a hope of killing him," Harry said, already feeling overwhelmed.
"Yes, but Harry, we don't have enough information to go on with yet," Lupin cautioned. "We need to use the rest of this time to get as much information as we can. Harry, I've got to leave now. There is more to be done than I could ever have expected. Now that you've got an idea what you're looking at, go through it again, and take careful notes on what you find and what you understand. You'll be able to talk to Ron, Hermione and Ginny through the Floo Network, although no one can actually come through it."
"Why not?" Harry asked angrily. He had been hoping that his friends would be able to come and visit.
"Safety," Lupin said simply. "We simply can't take the risk. Sorry, Harry, McGonagall's orders."
Harry started as Lupin said this. He was used to hearing the phrase 'Dumbledore's orders.' He supposed that McGonagall must have taken over the leadership of the Order as well as of Hogwarts. He nodded reluctantly, resolving that it was only three more weeks and that it was better than nothing.
Lupin gave him another one-armed hug, and, magically charming the notes to copy themselves onto blank sheets of parchment, said, "You've got a long road ahead, Harry. Get as much rest as you can." When the notes had finished copying, he stowed them in another file much like the one Dumbledore had left for Harry.
"Moony!" Harry said suddenly as a thought struck him. "Don't tell anyone else about this. Dumbledore didn't want anyone to know, or he would have told them himself, wouldn't he?"
"I won't, Harry," Lupin promised seriously. "We'll keep this between us for now, and if I find it necessary to inform anyone else, we'll discuss it first."
Harry nodded as Lupin finished packing the copied parchments into his file. He knew that if Lupin said he'd keep it quiet, he would, but Harry still couldn't help but feel a little as though he had done something wrong.
"Keep an eye on yourself, Harry," Lupin said quietly as he prepared to leave. "There are Order members on duty around the clock, though you'll rarely see them. Just go out your front door and yell if anything's amiss, or contact one of us through the Floo."
Harry nodded and, closing the door behind his guardian, sat back down at his desk.
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