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The Paths We Tread by SeraphinArgento

Format: Novel
Chapters: 2
Word Count: 20,973
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, General, AU
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna, Neville
Pairings:

First Published: 10/10/2016
Last Chapter: 06/09/2019
Last Updated: 06/09/2019

Summary:

"What did you think, that we could just walk right back into our normal lives? Normal died in the Department of Mysteries! All we have left is the fight. All we can do is try to survive." AU after OotP, WIP. Ensemble cast with no true main character, Golden-Trio centric.  REWRITING AS OF 04/2019. Cross posted on FF.NET and AO3. 



Chapter 1: Small Steps Spiraling Down
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A/N: 

4/17/19

welp.

Life happens, and life has dragged me away from prioritizing any creative pursuits for quite a while now. Things are starting to settle down, and I intend to try to dive back into this story. As it wasn't finished when I stopped posting, and I've lost all my notes, I'll have to do some reconstructing here, so bear with me. For those of you who were following this story before I dropped off the map two years ago, I will be pulling the chapters down and making slight revisions, fixing typos and such over the next few weeks. I intend to repost the edited version one chapter a week, which should give me time to get caught up and ahead, so I can post new chapters every two weeks or so. I look forward to chatting with any of you who might still be interested in my little ideas!

 

Also, while I love and appreciate feedback, I have had the general outline for this story in my mind for years. If you don't like a pairing or a plot I use, please don't ask me to change it. I know a ton of people are stickler's for canon pairings, but I am not. This is going to be very AU, and canon pairings will be the least of that. There will be some who were villains in canon who may be redeemed, and vice versa. Few are what they seem at first glance, and one of my favorite things about fanfiction is the ability to find creative backgrounds and purposes for some of the under-utilized characters. If you like my concept and writing enough to continue reading, great! If not, I appreciate you giving me a shot.

 

Original author's note from 2016 is below.

Cheers, everybody!

~*~Alibi (AVA)

 

A/N: Assuming I'm successful, this will be an epic-length story, AU after OotP. It encompasses the trio's 6th year and continues onward through the rest of the war. There will be character death, abuse, assault, and many other triggers. If these will cause you true discomfort, please stop reading here. One of my biggest goals in this story is to deal with true consequences and true reactions to abuse, trauma, and war.

The focus of this story will be on the characters and their journeys, so call it drama/adventure, I suppose. There will be pairings, but they won't be the point of the plot, and I will not reveal them in advance. Many will develop quite a while into the story. Please review with any thoughts/comments. This is beta'd only by myself, so any spelling or glaring grammatical errors that you notice, please go ahead and point out. (Eventually, I'll need a Brit-picker, I suppose, as I'm an American gal.)

And now, we begin.

 

 

The Paths We Tread

Prologue:

Small Steps Spiraling Down

Somewhere in England

July 10, 1996

"Exxxcellent," the sibilant voice echoed in the darkness. Pettigrew trembled, his knees sore and his throat dry, as his lord sat with his eyes closed, a gentle smile on his face. The giant snake slithered past, brushing against his back, and he grimaced as his stomach turned.

Images flashed through his mind, him turned into a rat and running in the darkness, snarling and hissing echoing behind him from different directions – hunted by his old friend from one direction, by his master's pet from another.

He shook his head as another voice brought him back to present, Lucius Malfoy's drawling tones echoing through the darkened room.

"I quite thought so, my Lord," the disgraced aristocrat murmured softly. He stood by the fire, his face half-turned away from the Dark Lord, his hair gleaming in the firelight. It had been perhaps two hours since he had been broken from Azkaban, the Dementors quickly eliminating all human guards. He had gone to Voldemort first, of course, then straight into the bath before speaking with anyone else. He stood regal and proud, a muscle in his jaw twitching every so often.

"With the allies of Potter eliminated," he continued, "the boy will blame himself and spiral into depression. Draco tells me the boy is prone to melancholy and self-loathing as it is, it shan't take much to push him over the edge. A handful of his friends dead, and with messages left for him, should do the trick just fine."

"And you see no place," Dolohov questioned sharply, "for any of his friends among our ranks? Children they are, certainly, but some are... talented." A sick smile twisted his darkened features, and his tongue darted out and wet his lips quickly. Pettigrew suppressed a shudder. The man had been obsessed with young Hermione Granger since that day in the Ministry, speaking often of how musical he thought her screams. He wanted, quite desperately, to have her in his grasp again.

Malfoy sneered. "Which would you take? Only the Weasley brats and Longbottom are of acceptable stock, and even then, their parents were the enemy. Besides, they are," he added in a tone of grudging respect, "loyal little things. Only the Imperius curse would sway them. And unwilling servants are vexing. "

Dolohov made a noise of dissent as Voldemort nodded thoughtfully. "Potter had a gift for inspiring loyalty," he said simply. "His father was much the same, would you not agree, Wormtail?" He smirked down at the cowering man, his red eyes flashing.

James, Wormtail thought brokenly, shaking his head. "No," Voldemort continued. "I suppose you wouldn't know much about loyalty, would you, my traitorous friend?"

Red eyes glared across the room to where Malfoy and Dolohov stood. "Capture the Mudblood and the Weasley girl alive," he instructed. "We shall use them to send Potter a more – poignant message. Exterminate the rest, every last family member of his Inner Circle. Be ready to move on Halloween."

Malfoy nodded sharply and Dolohov grinned. Both men swept from the room, Malfoy whipping Pettigrew with his cloak as he passed.

Hundreds of miles away, Harry Potter woke with a start.


Granger Household

London, England

July 10, 1996

 

Being home felt strange.

 

Hermione sat curled in her window seat, a book propped open on her knees. The only source of light was a small ornate lamp sitting on her bedside table, and the only sound, the steady rain that fell outside the window. Night would fall soon, and she hadn't seen the sun peek out once all day.

 

She shivered, pulling her light shawl closer around her shoulders, and leaned her forehead against the glass. Pain flared in her midsection again and she grimaced, taking slow, deep breaths as she fought the suddenly increasing heat in her veins.

 

Ironic, really, that when Dolohov had attacked her, he had gone for her blood. The Entrail-Expelling curse, while nasty and lethal if he'd been successful, was the less insidious thing he had done to her. Not for the first time, she questioned her decision to keep the boys (her boys, part of her mind cried) in the dark.

 

You should tell, her traitorous mind whispered. They have a right to know you're going to - 

 

"Hermione?"

 

She turned her head slowly, the action jarring her neck and causing her to wince. Her mother stood in the doorway, that ever-present look of sadness and fear on her face. Emma Granger, Hermione reflected, had never been good at hiding her thoughts. Finally, her parents were beginning to understand what their daughter faced, what she had walked into when she joined the wizarding world all those years before.

 

A sneer curled across the face of the man standing at her mother's right shoulder, as he stared straight into her eyes as if he could hear her self-pitying diatribe. With a slight flinch, she forced down her pain and fear, and straightened her spine, her chin lifting and a slight – though forced – smile teasing at the corner of her lips. A flash of something almost like approval lit Snape's black eyes.

 

The potions master stepped around the two women still hovering in the doorway, crossing the room to sit at Hermione's desk. He reached into his crossbody bag and began pulling out flask after flask, and Hermione forced her face to remain blank as she watched him set each one carefully on the wooden surface. The rain began lashing harder at the windows as he retrieved the tenth vial, and her mother and Madam Pomfrey stepped fully into the room.

 

The two women shared a not-so-subtle glance of concern, and Emma sat gingerly on the corner of Hermione's bed as Madam Pomfrey knelt before the teen. The matron drew her wand and began murmuring incantations under her breath, numbers appearing and floating in the air around them. As she pressed her hand to Hermione's forehead, feeling for fever or chill, she and Snape frowned at the numbers shimmering around her form.

 

"The toxicity isn't decreasing," Pomfrey muttered as Snape rose from his chair, flicking his wand and making an IV setup appear in the room. Hermione grimaced, shrugging out of her shawl and rolling up her sleeve, as her mother gave her a watery smile.

 

"But it hasn't risen," Snape replied smoothly, giving Hermione, and then Emma, a pointed look. "Something we're doing is working, at least in part."

 

"The transfusions?" Emma Granger asked quietly, and Hermione scoffed under her breath. Her parents would both prefer to believe that it was the blood transfusions that were combating her condition, as it seemed much more 'normal' to them. They could understand it, unlike all the charms and potions. Idly, she wondered if they would still be comforted if they knew all that was added to the blood that was being given her.

 

As if on cue, Snape smirked slightly, picking up the small vial which held only slightly glittering, transparent liquid. With a steady hand, he poured three drops into the IV bag, followed by a ruby red, viscous liquid. Leaning forward, he attached one end of the IV to Hermione's arm, then tapped his wand to the bag. As was now a regular practice, Hermione conjured a mirror to float in front of her face, so she could watch the transfusion begin to do its work.

 

She was hideous, she thought blankly, as the tingling began in her arm. Her face was tinged with blue, her veins all standing out in stark relief against her skin. Glancing down at her arm, she watched the progression of the fluids through her veins, the slight golden light emanating from within her skin. Slowly, it coursed throughout her body, the blue tinge fading and her veins, while still visible, now less prominent under her slightly-warmed flesh.

 

All in all, the process took roughly twenty minutes. Hermione sat perfectly still, watching her face in the mirror. Slowly, her eyes turned back from the bloodshot red they had been, to her normal coffee-brown. She ignored the soft pings of magic as the numbers floating around her form began to drop, she ignored her mother's soft whispering with Pomfrey; all but her skin regaining warmth and color escaped her notice.

 

When the IV bag was empty, and the glow had faded, it was Snape who gently removed the IV tube from her arm, and Snape who vanished the contraption. Pomfrey bustled around her, taking reading after reading, before finally proclaiming the transfusion a success yet again. The matron handed the teen a small vial from Snape's collection, and she knocked the potion back with a cringe. Instantly, the slight lingering fuzziness in her head began to clear.

 

Her task complete, the mediwitch patted Hermione's hand gently, then turned and left the room, Emma hesitating only a moment before following. The moment they had gone, Snape pointed his wand at the door and closed it with a sharp thud.

Hermione was silent for several moments, but finally, she spoke. One hand toying with the edge of her shawl, now wrapped around her again, she said softly, "I'm not ready for this."

 

Snape resumed his seat at her desk, watching her with dark eyes, seemingly considering his response. Finally, he offered, "You could tell them. Fools though they are, much as they vex me, they would support you." He had an expression on his face as if he couldn't believe what he had just said, and Hermione couldn't help but laugh – somehow, he managed to make support sound like a dirty word.

 

"I don't want anyone's pity," she said staunchly. "Madam Pomfrey and my parents, Professor McGonagall, they're all bad enough. I can't bear - "

 

She trailed off despondently, and Snape said nothing. With a sigh, she rubbed at her eyes tiredly, and Snape let out an uncomfortable cough at the sign of weakness.

 

"To be truthful, news of your infirmity spreading would be disastrous," he murmured finally. "Yet the energy you will have to expend to maintain the glamours – "

 

"I can handle it," she replied stubbornly, and the corner of his mouth lifted in an almost-grin.

 

"Yes," he replied, "I daresay you can. I simply wish - "

 

"No!" she said sharply. "I've just told you, I want NO pity."

 

This time, he did smile. Somehow, even the well-meaning look appeared cruel on his face. "The dreaded potions master, feeling pity for a Gryffindor brat?" he murmured snidely, and Hermione chuckled again. "Very well, practice," he said, raising an eyebrow.

 

Hermione took a deep breath, nodded, and raised her wand. With a flick of her wrist and several whispered incantations, the last visible traces of her veins vanished. Her eyes brightened and the bags disappeared from underneath them. Only her hair and nails still showed any signs of ill-health, her nails without shine and her hair limp and, as always, slightly frizzy. She jabbed her wand this time, and her hair took on a slight bounce and shine, and smoothed slightly, though still fraying at the ends. She brought back her mirror, eyeing herself critically.

 

"Well done," Snape said softly, a rare smile gracing his features. "See how long you can maintain it. Owl me when it drops. And have Tonks and Shacklebolt give you some suggestions for improving the Glamour when they arrive."

 

Hermione nodded absently, still staring in the mirror. Tears formed at the corner of her eyes, and Snape clasped her shoulder lightly as he stood. His movement startled her and she raised her eyes, smiling sadly at the man who, these days like so many others, was responsible for saving her life. "Thank you," she whispered, and Snape scoffed.

 

Completing their now-typical back-and-forth, he replied only, "Thank me when we've found a cure." With one last, sharp glance, he turned on his heel and vanished.

 

Alone again, Hermione turned back on her windowseat, pulled her knees back up to her chest, and propped her book back open. Leaning her head against the window once more, she closed her eyes and listened to the rain.


The Burrow

Ottery St. Catchpole

 

Severus Snape appeared on a dusty stretch of dirt road, looking up at the most ramshackle house he'd ever had the displeasure of seeing. Shifting his cross-body bag, he stood and scowled a few moments before he began walking toward the front door. He hated these thrice-weekly visits, but fortunately, they were almost at an end.

 

Molly met him at the door, her usual smile looking rather forced of late. She saw him through to the sitting room and quickly disappeared – to start a pot of tea, or begin making the dinner she'd try to guilt him into joining, he was sure. The purpose of his visit sat silently, staring into the fire and twitching the fingers of his right hand every so often.

 

Snape said nothing, waiting for his presence to be noticed. The red-headed teen didn't move, his shaggy hair glinting in the firelight and his jaw clenched. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, and the tail-end of raised, scarred welts was visible on his arms. As he watched, the teen stiffened in his seat, lowering his head into his hands and muttering under his breath.

 

The weeks following the Department of Mysteries fiasco had been undoubtedly difficult, though none had it worse than Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley, he thought solemnly. The poisoning of Granger's blood had caused her to die twice in her hospital bed before he and Pomfrey had realized what was happening – and truth be told, they had almost lost her for good more than once, before an inelegant and temporary solution had been found. The indubitable Mr. Weasley, however, was now subject to what, in Snape's opinion, was an arguably worse horror. He watched, seemingly dispassionately, as shudders wracked the lanky young man's frame, and finally, after several minutes passed, Ronald Weasley sat up and turned towards the professor.

 

"What was it?" Snape asked quietly, dreading the answer.

 

"McKinnon," the youngest Mr. Weasley said shortly. He swallowed convulsively, but managed – this time – to hold the contents of his stomach.

 

Snape grimaced in sympathy. He hadn't been present for the death of Marlene McKinnon, but he had heard much about it after the fact. Rosier always did love to boast. She had died broken, battered, and unable to scream, after being used in the worst ways possible. That Weasley had just had to watch that – had to see it through Rosier's eyes, as if he were the perpetrator –

The young man in question was watching him like a hawk as he cast several privacy charms around the sitting room. Leaning forward in the chair, Snape retrieved a small bottle of ointment from his bag.

 

Ron, with a grimace, rolled his sleeves up still further and placed both elbows on the end table between them. With a flick of his wand, ointment coated the scars on his arm, and seeped slowly into the skin. Weasley let out a quiet hiss – Scaradicate salve tended to burn.

 

"I think," Snape said quietly, "further treatments will prove ineffective."

 

Weasley simply shrugged, a wry smile on his face. "Battle scars aren't going to upset me, sir," he said quietly. His voice, as it always was now, was tinged with a quiet solemnity. "Are we going to get to it?"

 

Snape nodded sharply, raising his wand and meeting his student's eyes. He didn't bother with any instructions; Weasley already knew what to do. "Legilimens," he intoned, and Weasley stiffened again in his chair.

 

It was three hours before they left the room, Weasley pale and shaking, Snape scowling and chilled. He handed his student a calming draught, nodded once at Molly, now sitting at the kitchen table, and swept from the house. As he readied to disapparate, he heard Molly's crooning voice as she tried to calm her son.

 

Foolish woman, he thought bitterly. You can't soothe away these nightmares.

 

Mad-Eye materialized in the walkway before him, the Weasley patriarch at his side. The pair nodded at the potions master and walked away, disappearing inside the house. Snape watched silently as the wards slammed down around the property, shimmering in the air around him and then vanishing.

 

He spun once on his heel...

 

And he was gone.


Longbottom Manor

Somewhere near Glasgow, Scotland

 

Neville flexed his fingers, letting out a slow, shaky breath as pain shot up his arms. Spots swam before his eyes and he shook his head roughly, trying to force them away.

 

"Easy!" McGonagall said sharply, frowning, and Neville scoffed slightly under his breath. With a muttered oath, he opened his eyes, focused on his target, and uncurled his fingers.

 

"Reparo," he said softly, and watched as the shards of his shattered clay pot fitted themselves together. His hand was trembling noticeably, the motions jarring his wand. He swallowed harshly, his brow furrowing as he glared at his hands and slowly, the trembling lessened until neither of them could see his wand move.

 

That would have been impressivefor me, he thought darkly, if I hadn't shattered the thing by missing my target to begin with. Shoving aside thoughts of inadequacy, he raised his wand again, sharp concentration keeping his hand somewhat steady, and shot the arrow spell through the tiny hoop across the greenhouse.

 

"Good," McGonagall said approvingly. "Well done, Mr. Longbottom."

 

He smiled softly. His professor had gone out of her way to compliment him since she had first heard the way his gran regularly cut him down. It was almost amusing, hearing the usually-stern Gryffindor head heap praises upon him.

 

Their physical therapy sessions were almost at an end. Over the course of several weeks, he had learned several stretches and exercises to help with the muscle cramps; he had rebuilt the strength in his legs, the dexterity in his hands, and the endurance of his lungs. Now, except for his hands, his physical condition was almost better than it had been before the Cruciatus exposure.

 

Except for his hands. Except for the constant, shooting pains through his body. He was almost better off.

 

Stockier now, instead of husky, he had shot up several inches over the summer and now stood an easy six foot. His hands, though unsteady, were broader, his shoulders were wide, and his jaw was hardened, his baby fat almost gone. The constant exercise had melted away his excess pounds, and his clumsiness, too. He was fairly certain, however, that he'd be the only male at Hogwarts to be practicing both yoga – for balance – and tai chi – for his calm.

 

McGonagall was watching him with pursed lips, and the expression on her face said that she had tried to get his attention more than once. He shook his head once more to clear it, focusing in on his teacher.

 

"Good," she said again simply, then pointed across the greenhouse. A new dummy appeared in the opposite corner, a bullseye on its center. As he watched, it sped from side to side, veering across, then forward, then back. She stood back, folded her arms across her chest, and glared at him over her glasses. "Hit the target," she said sharply. "No damage to the rest."

 

Neville nodded, took a deep breath, and raised his wand.


Somewhere in England

 

"Faster!" Lupin barked, and Ginny wheezed harshly as she raced through the obstacle course, spells flying around her. Lupin and Charlie circled the course, firing at her and her battle partner every so often as they dodged, rolled, and skidded along. A jet of fire shot out of the hedge to her right, and Ginny veered into Luna with a sharp cry, sending them both slamming into the ground. The dreamy blonde's hair was smoking at the ends and she gulped in air frantically, shoving her hair away from her eyes with a shaky hand. She glanced at Ginny and nodded; she was fine. The youngest Weasley grinned back impishly.

 

They struggled to their feet against the heavy packs on their backs, and raced again for the exit. As they ran, Ginny shot stunning spells towards their attackers while Luna wove a shield charm around them. The young part-fay's eyes glowed as the air around them sparkled, and Ginny fought to keep her head from spinning under the sedating influence of the magic in the air.

 

A sharp turn, hurtling around a corner, and the ground beneath them gave way. Luna yelped as they landed roughly in a pile of leaves and branches. They jumped up again and kept going, but the branches raised up and started to bind together, blocking their path. Growling under her breath, Ginny skidded to a halt, Luna slamming into her back and almost knocking them both down again.

 

The redhead watched with narrowed eyes as the branches curved in, knotting together and blocking their path. She raised her wand, drew a deep breath -

 

"Bombarda!" she cried, and the branches exploded. Grabbing Luna's hand, she dragged the blond through the gap even as it closed, branches tearing at their clothes. Around them, javelins started hurling themselves out of the earthen walls of their passage, and Ginny groaned in annoyance as Luna shoved her down to the ground.


Shell Cottage

Tinworth, Cornwall

July 11, 1996

 

He knelt on the floor, eyes closed and hands raised before him in concentration. Dumbledore sat silently at the desk, watching as his student traced shapes and patterns in the air. Across the room, Bill Weasley stood with his back pressed to the window, arms folded across his chest and his wand dangling from his left hand.

 

They had spent the better part of an hour going through the runes and movements he would need for the channeling spell, but Harry still didn't understand what he was trying to accomplish. Ron had always spoken of his eldest brother's brilliance, however, and Bill said the runeswork was important, so Harry simply gritted his teeth, shoved aside his impatience, and got on with it. Hadn't the eldest Weasley son earned Harry's consideration?

 

So Harry traced a dozen more designs in the air, moving slowly, carefully, lest he draw one wrong. A whispered breath echoed from his lips, and the runic shapes turned a shimmering gold, melting together and exploding outwards in a burst of song. In the spot where the runes had been, a dove appeared, flying away with a startled cry and a rush of wings. Harry opened his eyes, and smiled.

 

"That," Dumbledore said, smiling softly, "was beautiful."

 

Harry turned towards his headmaster and smiled back, then frowned just as suddenly, his brow furrowing. "How is this going to help me fight?" he asked sharply. "The shields, the transfigurations, the curse and hex training, all of that makes sense. How is summoning a bird going to help?"

 

Dumbledore steepled his fingers before his face, looking at Harry over the edge of his half-moon glasses.

 

"Focus, Harry," the Headmaster returned, "what do you feel?"

 

Harry frowned thoughtfully. Biting back his instant reply, he leaned back on heels and turned his senses inward. He could feel a tingling throughout his body, a gentle, quiet hum and a steady warmth – his magic, he realized with a gasp. He could feel his magic, could sense it like he had never done before, except in Ollivander's shop.

 

He glanced sharply at Bill, who quirked one eyebrow silently, then turned again to Dumbledore, and the headmaster smiled.

 

"Exactly," Dumbledore said softly. "Now that you know how to find your core, and better channel your magic – we can delve into true wandless abilities."

 

A feral smile grew on Harry's face.


Grimmauld Place

London, England

July 17, 1996

 

The Order of the Phoenix reconvened six weeks before the school year was to begin.

 

The members gathered silently in the dusty and solemn house, arrayed around the table in odd groups. The summer had already been long, drawn out, and eventful – not least of which, eventful in that the Order had swelled by six members, against the express wishes of Molly Weasley. With a strange look, half-grimace, half-smirk, Ron Weasley settled himself in his assigned seating with Mad-Eye on his left and his father to his right. He met his sister's dark gaze and grinned when she glared roughly at Mad-Eye. They had begun group combat training four weeks before, and Mad-Eye had chosen to attack her vanity and roughly chop off her hair with a cutting curse that, if it had connected with her, could have taken off her ear as well.

 

Ginny Weasley knew how to hold a grudge like nobody else, and Mad-Eye should be watching his back even more than usual, he thought idly.

 

As everyone settled down in their chairs, his eyes drifted around the table. Hermione sat adjacent from him, talking with Shacklebolt and Snape in low, earnest voices. Harry was, as he should had been, to the left of the head of the table, turning a small runic charm over in his hands again and again. Across from him was Bill, his eyes resting on the moody teen. Fleur squeezed his shoulder and leaned into him, whispering something in his ear, and he nodded but didn't look away.

 

Luna sat to Ginny's right, perched on the end of her chair with Charlie on her other side. The dreamy blonde Ravenclaw was tracing symbols into the table with her wand, smiling now and then as a puff of light flashed up from the table's surface. Brow furrowed, Lupin watched her from Ginny's left as she giggled under her breath, and Ginny rolled her eyes fondly.

 

Neville sat at the furthest end of the table, McGonagall at his right shoulder, his hands laying flat and still on the table-top. A book floated in front of the pair, now and then turning a page with a crisp noise, and both looked utterly engrossed and unaware of their surroundings.

 

Ron let his gaze travel over the others gathered at the table, from Tonks who nursed a cup of coffee in one hand and a set of maps in the other, to his mother, scowling at all the teens, to Vance, who was flipping idly through a Transfiguration magazine, to Dung, muttering sharply under his breath as he scribbled in a small notebook.

 

This was it. This was their whole inner circle.

 

He turned sharply as Dumbledore strode into the room, Hagrid and – holy Merlin, Viktor Krum at his heels. Hagrid and Krum split off, heading for the far end of the table with Neville and McGonagall, and as Ron watched, his father shifted in his chair and shot a strange look towards Krum. Ron turned towards his father with a questioning look, and the balding redhead shook his head, biting his lip sharply.

 

Ron sighed, rubbing his right arm absently. Across the table, Luna looked up from her carvings and watched his hands, a sad, lost look on her face. He pulled a face at her and she shrugged, going back to tracing the table.

 

Dumbledore cleared his throat once, and all side-conversations stopped. Luna ceased etching the table, and Neville dropped his book with a thud.

 

"We must discuss continuing the children's training at school," he said quietly. "For obvious reasons, it would be best that the rest of the student body not realize the – extent – of their lessons." At this, Snape frowned darkly, and the rest of the table nodded in agreement.

 

"Harry," he continued, "had a suggestion for a location where we could continue their training, that would not be easily accessible. That, in fact, only he, or those taught by him, could open."

 

Ginny stiffened in her chair, and Luna squeezed her hand as Lupin rubbed her shoulder. At the end of the table, Molly Weasley bristled, glaring at Lupin.

 

"Miss Weasley," Dumbledore said gently, his eyes solemn as he looked at the young redheaded girl, "do you feel you could brave the chamber once more?"

 

Ginny scowled, shoving her hands under the table, as Ron, Hermione, Neville and Harry all looked at her worriedly. Hermione worried her lower lip between her teeth and Neville stared solemnly as they all waited for her response. Luna just smiled vaguely.

A moment later, Ginny Weasley tossed her newly-regrown hair back from her shoulder and huffed. "A memory isn't going to control where I go and what I do," she said simply, and Fleur smiled at the young girl as every Weasley nodded approvingly. Ginny shot a look at Fleur and rolled her eyes.

 

"It is settled then?" Dumbledore asked, and Ginny nodded.

 

Shacklebolt cleared his throat, and Hermione and Tonks immediately turned to look at him. "It would be best if we did a sweep of the place first," he countered. "Yes, we're training the kids in combat, and most scenarios, they can handle well enough with just themselves at this point – but what if Riddle left something else nasty down there? Or, worse, what if there was another basilisk egg?"

 

Harry frowned. "I don't remember sensing another snake down there, and I think I would have been able to tell," he argued, but McGonagall grimaced.

 

"You were in terrible shape, Potter, when you and the Weasleys escaped the Chamber," she pointed out gently. "It would be best to be cautious."

 

"Agreed," Snape said immediately. "Potter, if you could reopen the chamber for us this weekend upcoming, myself, Shacklebolt, Mad-Eye, and Tonks can go in and scour the chamber. Perhaps you could assist, wolf," he added roughly, and Lupin merely nodded as Ginny and Luna scowled.

 

"Now," Dumbledore said, flicking his wand and lighting the hearth as a harsh wind swirled outside. "On to the real business of the evening. Harry?"

 

The Potter heir sighed, still passing the runic charm from hand to hand. "Some of you know this already," he said quietly, "but a few days back, I had one of my dreams."

 

Ron glanced at his dad worriedly, and his mum stood, walking over to her husband and standing behind him with her hands on his shoulders. Harry sent them an apologetic glance – still blaming himself, the git, Ron thought angrily – and continued.

"Voldemort was in a room with Pettigrew, Malfoy, and Dolohov – " Here, Remus, Ginny, and Hermione all stiffened, and Shacklebolt squeezed Hermione's hand as Ginny and Remus exchanged dark looks. "They were talking about an attack plan on Halloween. Basically," Harry paused, "they plan to eliminate us. Most of us."

 

"What," Neville asked, his voice hard but quiet, "do you mean by most?"

 

Harry flinched. "The orders are to take Hermione and Ginny alive, and bring them to Voldemort as a lesson. For me."

Hermione paled, and Ginny's eyes flashed.

 

"Poor Tommy-boy misses his pen pal, does he?" she asked viciously, and her mother sobbed. Down the table, Snape let out a surprised snort, and shot Ginny a look of grudging respect. Beside the redheaded young woman, Lupin growled under his breath.

 

“Let them try," the lycanthrope snarled.

 

"Any helpful information about this attack, Potter?" Snape asked with a snide tone, and Harry shook his head.

 

"Only that Dolohov is obsessed with you," Harry told Hermione, his eyes sad and haunted. "He seemed very keen to get you alone."

 

"He shan't get near you," Shacklebolt told the young brunette witch, and she shook her head in silence. Standing from her spot down the table, Tonks moved to Hermione's side, transfigured her straight-backed chair into an armchair – shoving Shacklebolt and Snape aside as she did so – and climbed in beside the young woman, pulling Hermione to her side in a firm hug.

 

"So with no idea as to their actual plan," Emmeline Vance spoke up, "what are our options?"

 

"We know one thing," Ron replied. "We know when they intend to do this."

 

"Unless," Charlie countered, "Voldemort wanted Harry to hear the date, so we'd be ready at the wrong time."

 

"It's all we've got," Ron argued back. "We can make sure that Gin and 'Mione are in a safe location on Halloween night, and be ready to fight, the rest of us."

 

At this, both girls glared at him, and Hermione's mouth opened to retort.

 

"Don't," echoed around the table, as Harry, Ron, Neville, Luna, and most of their mentors glared at the pair of stubborn teen girls.

 

"This isn't up for discussion," Harry, their defacto leader, continued. "If we know the intention is to capture you, we cannot have you accessible during that time. Who knows what they'll make you do," he swallowed and let out a shaky breath, "or what they'll do to you."

 

Looking up, and staring straight in Hermione's eyes, he said quietly, "You're my sister in all but blood. Ginny is Ron's sister. Do you think it's any coincidence they chose the two of you to kidnap?" he asked miserably, and Hermione sniffled as Ginny continued to glare.

 

"I feel left out," Luna murmured, breaking the charged moment, and several people laughed. Harry glanced down the table, a fond smile on his face.

 

"Don't worry," he said quietly, in an unusual show of emotion, "I love you, too, Luna."

 

She grinned at him, for once looking completely aware. "I know."

 

"Touching," Snape sneered, "though all these declarations are, we have yet to find a solution to this issue."

 

"Have you heard anything about it?" Neville asked, meeting the glare of his once-Boggart without pause.

 

The dour man scowled. "No."

 

"Then there isn't much we can do, right now," Pomfrey said softly, and he huffed.

 

"All of you are combat-trained now, da?" Viktor asked suddenly, his gruff voice echoing through the room. Hermione's eyes trained on his face as he looked around the room, meeting each of their eyes. "All know how to use many weapons?"

 

Shacklebolt shook his head. "Spell combat, yes, and we've done some hand-to-hand, but no real weapons training as yet."

 

"I can travel to the school or meet them somewhere on Friday nights," Krum offered, "teach staff and sword, knives." At this, Ginny's and Harry's eyes gleamed with excitement, and Neville and Hermione exchanged worried glances.

 

Dumbledore leaned back in his chair, stroking his extremely long beard. "I see no issue with such an idea. Certainly, the more aptitude they acquire, the better." He looked at Krum sharply, "You will demonstrate your skills to Lupin, Shacklebolt, and Alastor?" Viktor nodded silently. "Agreed."

 

"Anything else?" the headmaster asked, and Snape sighed softly.

 

"McClaggen. Pucey. Flint. Bulstrode."

 

"Marked?" McGonagall asked sharply, and Pomfrey drew in a breath.

 

Snape simply nodded.

 

"McClaggen is a Gryffindor," Neville said sadly.

 

"So was Wormtail," Ron muttered bitterly, and Lupin and Harry winced.

 

"Do we let them return to the school?" Molly asked as she rubbed Arthur's shoulders, still leaning slightly on her husband.

 

"We can't block them," Tonks pointed out, "not without revealing how we know."

 

"Unless," Moody said, "we start doing random checks." He uncorked his flask and took a long pull, then said, "Easy enough to justify, after what just happened."

 

"But would we wish to?" Hermione asked, her mouth twisting in a grimace. "If they are at the school, we can keep an eye on them – perhaps gain additional information. It's not a pleasant thought, but – "

 

"'Ermione 'as a point," Fleur said haughtily. "If zey are under zurveillance at ze school, zey should not be able to cause much damage. And you shall 'ave ze advantage of knowing what zey are doing at all times. Eet ees ze best option." Bill rubbed her shoulder lightly with a vague smile.

 

"I concur," McGonagall said with a frown.

 

Silence reigned the room for several moments, then Ron's mum straightened and declared, "Well! Dinner time, I think," and she disappeared into the kitchen. Moments later, the food she had prepared earlier came floating into the room and settled in the middle of the dining table, and Ron quirked a smile. Slowly, everyone began to dig into the meal, and individual conversations started up again.

 

For once not rushing to the food, Ron sat silently and looked around the table. An image flashed across his mind – a young, black-haired woman, lying bloodied and unseeing on the ground. He swallowed, forcing the image away, and shook his head to clear it.

Harry, as if sensing his sudden shift in mood, gave him a sharp look, and Ron grinned at his friend and reached for the mash like nothing was wrong.


Grimmauld Place

London, England

 

As after every training session or meeting, Harry had been spirited back to Privet Drive by the guard of the hour. The teen had shot a sullen glance Dumbledore's way, and Ron watched as his mum, muttering under her breath all the while, bustled around the dim kitchen wrapping and shrinking care packages for Harry to take with him. His dad clapped Harry on the shoulder as his mum slipped the packages into his pockets with a sniff. After a moment, Vance cleared her throat, shooting an apologetic look at Bill, who was leaning nonchalant against the cabinets, arms folded across his front and face blank.

 

Ron stood in the corner and watched Harry turn his head and look at Bill questioningly, watched Bill quirk his lips slightly and shake his head... and watched as Harry's face fell.

 

As Ron bit back a swear, Bill stepped forward and put an arm around Harry's shoulder, talking to him in a quiet, hurried voice. Harry's back straightened and his eyes hardened slightly, and the scrawny teen bit his lip and nodded. Ron's eldest brother just smiled softly, patting Harry on the back before he walked out of the room. Without another word, Harry looked up and shot Ron a lopsided smile, moving to touch the umbrella Vance was holding out.

 

Ron turned his back on his parents, who stood together in the kitchen, still watching the place where Harry had stood, and turned to go after Bill -

 

But his brother had already vanished.

 

Swearing under his breath, he stalked up to the room he and Harry had shared the summer before, and found the rest of their group sprawled around the room. He stepped through the door and shut it sharply, and no one looked up.

 

"Did he seem - ?" Hermione asked from her perch on the desk, leaned halfway against the window. The curly-haired girl seemed to grimace as she trailed off. Scooting slightly on the desk, she turned to face more towards the room, and scrambled to catch the book that almost fell from her lap.

 

"He is calmer than he was last summer," Ron said heavily, throwing himself onto his bed with a sigh. The mattress bounced and Ginny glared at him as it jostled her and Luna. With a muttered oath, his sister resumed her task of braiding Luna's hair, the blonde girl halfway in Ginny's lap.

 

Ron eyed them curiously for a moment. Those two, he thought, were strange. If he didn't know how boy-crazy his sister was...

 

Then again, he thought to himself, plenty of people probably think Harry, Hermione, and I are strangely close. 

 

He watched silently as Luna shifted on the bed a bit, sliding down so she was resting her head on Ginny's knee, then glanced over at Neville. The stocky Gryffindor was sitting on the other bed, tossing a rubber ball up against the wall and catching it over and over again. His hands shook now and then, but he just scowled and kept going.

 

"I don't know how," Ron continued, shaking his head, "but Bill is getting through to him. He was able to calm Harry out of a right funk, and Harry looked to him for guidance on how to act when Mum and Dad were pressing him. Maybe...?"

 

"Is he going to ask Dumbledore again?" Neville asked with a frown, and Ron scowled.

 

"He was gone as fast as Harry was," the red-headed boy replied. "Maybe that's where he went, but I dunno."

 

"Dumbledore will never let Bill take him," Ginny scoffed. "He doesn't care that Bill is starting to make Harry feel safe, he doesn't care that he could take care of him. He just wants us to follow his orders without question, even when they hurt us and help nothing."

 

"I don't think that's fair," said Luna quietly, looking up at Ginny with a frown, and the red-headed girl looked away.

 

"Whatever his faults, I do believe Dumbledore has all our best interests at heart," Hermione put in quietly. "Even he can be wrong. Maybe he truly doesn't believe it's that bad there. Maybe..."

 

"Maybe he'd rather let Harry die a little more each summer than risk it," Ginny shot back. "The Dursleys are as bad as Snape. And has he ever stepped in to stop him?" the redheaded girl demanded roughly, glaring at Hermione.

 

Ron looked back and forth between his sister and his best friend and sighed. Hermione bit her lip and looked down; he knew perfectly well she wasn't going to explain her strange new detente with their cruel Potions Master.

 

"Maybe it'll work this time," Neville said softly. "Maybe he'll listen."

 

The group just looked at each other, then looked away. In moments, the only sounds in the room were the rubber ball bouncing off the wall, the rustle of turning pages, and the steady thrum of the rain against the windows.


Privet Drive

Little Whinging, Surrey

 

"I didn't break it," Harry insisted quietly, his eyes flashing and his hands bunched into fists in his pockets.

 

"Like hell!" Vernon Dursley roared, stalking right up and screaming spittle in Harry's face. "That vase was on my porch when I got home, boy, and Petunia and Dudders aren't back from the shops yet! Who else, I ask you, who else could have done it?"

 

Neighbors, Harry thought to himself. A cat. A branch falling from the storm. He scowled as he stared back at the large man. Logic just wasn't Vernon Dursley's strong suit.

 

The Gryffindor boy took slow, deep breath, willing himself to remember what Bill had said about confrontation. 'Stay calm, stay firm, don't rise to their taunts, you'll be out of there soon,' the eldest Weasley son had told him when he left Grimmauld, and Harry stared as his uncle glared at him threateningly. It had been years since his uncle had been this forward, and he was honestly a little unsure what to do. If his uncle hit him, and he defended himself - well, wouldn't Dursley throw him out? And then what about the blood wards?

 

The man was still ranting, and it turned to white noise in Harry's ears as he reached up and fiddled with the dragon tooth necklace Bill had given him.

 

"Uncle Vernon," he started, in what he hoped was his most ingratiating voice, "I'm sorry the vase is broken, and I am happy to go fetch you a new one, but I didn't break it."

 

The man's face turned impossibly red, his eyes flashing with rage. "Oh, that's a laugh," his uncle jeered as he glared at Harry, and the teen took an involuntary step back. Like a predator smelling blood, his uncle moved forward again, pushing Harry back into the corner. "How do you mean to do that, I wonder? Planning to steal it, are you, boy, then come rushing back here and bringing the police down on my house?"

 

"No, I - " Harry cut himself off, swallowing.

 

"Where have you been, anyway? Off at another meeting with your little friends? Are they going to come threaten me again?" 

 

The man took another step forward, and Harry felt his back hit the wall. Suddenly, he was four years old again, running from a cast iron skillet aimed at his head.

 

"I've had it," Dursley declared suddenly, and Harry's blood froze as the man looked him in the eye for the first time that night. "I have had it with you, and your freakishness, and your freeloading, and your lies. We tried to stamp it out of you, we tried to fix you, but I guess there's just nothing for it."

 

"Uncle Vernon, what-?" Harry's voice died in his throat. Without another word, Vernon Dursley reached around the corner into the kitchen, his hand coming up with a fireplace poker. Before Harry could react, his uncle was swinging and everything went black.


Headmaster's Office

Hogwarts

 

"That isn't right, and you know it," Bill Weasley said calmly, twirling his wand idly in his left hand as he spoke. The Headmaster smiled benignly as he looked at the cursebreaker, his eyes twinkling.

 

"William," he began.

 

"Bill," Bill corrected tersely; working for the goblins had taught him it was a mark of respect to call someone by their chosen means of address. Nine years out of Hogwarts, and the Headmaster's insistence on calling him "young William" still rankled.

 

"It is admirable that you wish to take such an active role in young Harry's life," Dumbledore continued as if Bill had never spoken.

 

Start with a compliment, and then - Bill thought.

 

"Especially as you had only met a handful of times before this summer." Behind the Headmaster, the phoenix shifted on its perch, large black eyes staring unblinking at Bill.

 

Almost to script, Bill thought wryly. "There's nothing admirable about it, Headmaster," he said calmly. "Harry needs an adult he can trust, one who can put him first. My parents care, but they have too many others to look after. He hasn't really connected with any other adults aside from Sirius, and..." Bill's voice trailed off there, and he shook his head and leaned forward in his chair, "I think I can help him, and I know I can keep him safe."

 

Dumbledore regarded him seriously, his gnarled hands steepled beneath his chin as he peered over half-moon glasses. "I realize you are a talented wardmaster and cursebreaker, William. No one can refute that. But I am not certain you fully understand what you are asking - "

 

A sudden burning pain seared Bill's chest and he swore violently, one hand coming up to pull the dragon tooth pendant out of his robes. The tooth was glowing a brilliant blood red, and Bill shot to his feet as Fawkes let out a shriek.

 

Harry. 

 

Bill grabbed a handful of Floo powder from the mantle and threw it into the flames, as behind him, one of the Headmaster's trinkets let out a stream of smoke. "I'm not asking," he snarled over his shoulder. "The Three Broomsticks!"

 

Before he had even stepped fully into the tavern, he was apparating to Privet Drive.

 

A man of manners though he was - Molly Weasley would have it no other way - Bill wasted no time on niceties. Strolling up the drive, he simply blasted the door off its hinges, and indignant shouts sounded from inside the house. As he stepped over the threshold, he shot off three quick Patroni, then hardened his expression to his most menacing look. He found the family of three in the living room, the fat abuser sitting in an armchair with his scrawny wife hovering over him, their large son having scurried behind the armchair when they heard the door fall.

 

Bill didn't say a word, just leveled his wand on them as Dursley began to splutter. Behind Bill, he heard a loud pop outside, and then the quick footfalls of his father and the near-stomping of his brother. His dad and Charlie walked up behind him, wands already drawn, and Petunia Dursley paled as she looked at the grim group. The sudden sound of crunching glass echoed as Shacklebolt joined the group, but Bill never looked away from Vernon Dursley.

 

The rotund man had a huge gash on his forehead, running nearly to one eye. His right arm hung limply at his side and his face was badly scratched. Harry, Bill realized, had not gone docilely.

 

"Not so fun when they fight back, is it?" Bill asked quietly, and the boy behind the chair whimpered. Harry's aunt - his damned aunt, his blood, Bill thought angrily - froze at the quiet fury in his voice. Her gaze had been on Shacklebolt - he couldn't blame her, the man was certainly imposing - but her eyes snapped back to Bill the instant he spoke.

 

Bill looked away from the Dursley for a second as Shacklebolt stepped closer, meeting Petunia Dursley's eyes and smiling at her grimly. Yes, he thought to himself, you should be afraid of me. 

 

"It wasn't us!" the walrus of a man suddenly shouted, and Bill turned back to the male Dursley yet again. "The boy just attacked us! Think he's gone round the bend."

 

"Is that so?" Bill's father asked genially, but the kindly man's eyes didn't match his tone. "I've known Harry quite a while, you see, and I've never known him to attack someone unprovoked. Why, most of the time, he won't even defend himself!"

 

Dursley's mouth shut with an audible click. 

 

Charlie hadn't said a word, nor had Shacklebolt. Both of them moved off through the house, wands out as the checked room after room.

 

"I will only ask once," Arthur said in the same genial tone. "Where is Harry?"

 

"He ran," a shaky voice replied, and Bill and Arthur looked at the portly boy silently. Dudley Dursley hesitated for a moment, then shoved out from behind his father's arm chair, dodging the man's arm as Vernon Dursley tried to pull him back. A quelling glare from Arthur froze the large man in his seat, and Dudley cleared his throat.

 

"I don't know all of it - Mum and I came home and Harry was on the floor, and Dad was standing over him with a poker. Then there was this," the boy swallowed, his triple-chins quivering, and let out a shaky breath, "this flash of light, and Dad was thrown across the room. Harry scrambled up and then he ran out the door without a word. We went to check on Dad. He was bleeding."

 

Dudley let out another shaky breath, then looked up and met Bill's eyes. "I went to the door to look for him, but he was gone."

 

As Vernon Dursley began to splutter at his son, Charlie and Shacklebolt walked back into the room. "No sign of Harry," his brother reported. "And his things are all here, even his owl."

 

"Shut up, Dad," Dudley suddenly said shakily, and Bill turned to look at the family again. The large boy sighed and looked over at Bill, then looked away, biting his lip. "He saved me. Last summer. Those... those demented things -"

 

"Dementors," Petunia Dursley corrected quietly, a sour look on her face.

 

"Whatever," Dudley replied. "I thought he had set them on me, but he protected me. So... I guess I owe him."

 

Bill barely managed to hold back a scoff. He could care less if the little bully was starting to have an identity crisis. "Was Harry hurt?"

 

Petunia and Dudley Dursley colored as Vernon began to grumble again. "I didn't really see him, but... there was blood on the floor," Dudley replied.

 

Bill turned his back on the family. "Get all his things and bring them to my place," he ordered sharply, and Charlie nodded and moved off towards the stairs. "Shack, check Diagon and Hogsmeade, Dad, his friends' places and your house. If you find him, contact me."

 

Shacklebolt swept for the doors immediately, but his father hesitated a moment, glancing at the Dursleys before nodding and heading for the doors himself. Petunia Dursley shifted in place, then looked at Bill with a scowl.

 

Charlie came down the stairs a few moments later, nodded once, and walked out to the street. Bill waited until he heard his brother Disapparate before he spoke again.

 

The Dursleys stayed rooted to the spot as Bill twirled his wand, drawing golden characters in the air. He chanted under his breath before calling "Iustitiaexaudi me!"

 

The golden characters swirled in the center of the room like a tornado, then flew outwards and melted into the walls. The golden light faded after a moment, and the Dursleys stared in horror. Bill turned his head to look at Vernon Dursley and took a step forward -

 

Charlie's Patronus slammed into the room and Bill froze as he heard his normally calm brother's frantic voice. Turning on his heel, he stalked out of the house and disapparated, landing in the sands outside Shell Cottage. The shore was brutal, sheets of rain scoring his skin as he raced across the beach. His porch came into sight and he skidded to a halt.

 

Charlie stood just inside the porch, looking worriedly at the black-haired teen who sat on the steps. As Bill moved forward, Harry raised his eyes to meet Bill's gaze, but he didn't move.

 

Bill just walked over and sat down on the steps next to the teen.

 

Charlie shot him a look then murmured, "I'm gonna go find Dad and Shack. You might want to call Pomfrey."

 

One last worried look at Harry, and the dragon handler walked across the beach and disappeared.

 

Bill sat silently on the porch beside Harry, listening to the rain beat down around them, a chill sinking into his bones as the wind changed directions. One step back, and they would both be under the cover of the porch roof. Harry must be freezing, and Merlin knew he had injuries that needed tending, but Bill knew if he spoke first, if he moved first...

 

The silence stretched on, and finally, Harry spoke. "Can I - can I stay here a few days?"

 

Bill smiled. "You can stay as long as you like." Standing, he turned and offered a hand up to the younger wizard. And as Harry stared at his feet, he finally got a chance to take stock of the boy. He was soaking wet, as if he had been sitting out in the rain for hours. There was blood coming from his temple and neck, what looked like fingerprints on his throat, and his t-shirt was bloodied on the side.

 

And that was just what Bill could see from a glance. For Merlin's sake, Bill had been with him only an hour before! If Vernon Dursley had had more time...

 

I will kill him, he wanted to say.

 

Who could do this to a kid? he wanted to scream.

 

Instead, he said simply, "Come on. Let's get you into some dry clothes."

 

Harry finally cracked a wry grin and grabbed Bill's offered hand, and Bill pulled him to his feet and ushered him gently into the cottage.


Headmaster's Tower

Hogwarts

July 18, 1996

 

It was well past three in the morning when Albus finally returned to Hogwarts. Unravelling the mess the Weasley boy made had taken far longer than he had hoped. In his rush to get to Harry, William had shown no regard for the Statute of Secrecy, and neither had the others, really. Apparating and Disapparating in full view of the Muggle neighbors, letting Hedwig fly from outside, and even vengeance curses -

 

He should really talk to young William about his temper. And Kingsley - the others, he could understand, but an Auror, forgetting the Statute?

 

He turned the corner to his tower and sighed. All that aside... he had to figure out how to get young Harry back to that house, and back under the blood wards. But how to restrain the Dursleys? And how to convince the Order that it must be done, it must be borne, after they hear about the events at Privet Drive?

 

He stepped off the staircase and stopped short as he entered his office. From a chair by the fire, Arthur Weasley rose to his feet, an uncharacteristically grim look on his face.

 

"Hello Albus," the Weasley patriarch said quietly. "We need to talk."


A/N: Well, there's the prologue done. We have hit the ground running and we are off!

Next chapter, more consequences, more healing, and a behind the scenes look at the Order and the Ministry. And, of course, Harry and co are done waiting around...

 

Review if you have anything to say! They are appreciated, like cookies or cheesecake.

~*~ Alibi



Chapter 2: Ask Not
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

The Paths We Tread

Chapter 1:

Ask Not

 

Tonks Residence

London, England

July 20, 1996

 

Dora Tonks was bored.

 

The metamorphmagus was leaning casually against a tree, her eyes trained on the stately townhouse. She hadn't moved more than a few steps in about six hours, and she only had her gifts to thank for the fact that she wasn't stiff as a board.

 

Being able to control her body composition on a cellular level was good for more than a pretty face.

 

The young witch had been stationed outside her parents' home every night for the past two days. Before the dust had even settled from Harry's encounter with Vernon Dursley – pillock, Tonks thought with a scowl – Snape had carried the news that Bellatrix Lestrange had been given leave to settle some scores. And apparently, Andromeda Tonks was at the top of her list – and the Muggleborn wizard who had made her turn away from the Black family.

 

Tonks snapped her bubble gum nonchalantly as her hair shifted to red – not that anyone would have seen it under the disillusionment charm. As far as she was concerned… while she was grateful that Snape had warned her of the threat, it didn't change anything for her. She remembered seven years of Potions lessons under the tosser, after all.

 

Some of the students had called Snape a bully, but she disagreed.

 

When it was a 21 year old man against 11 year olds, the term 'bully' just didn't apply. 'Abuser' was much more accurate. And to hear Ron and Neville talk of it, he had only gotten worse as he grew older. No matter how many lives he saved, nothing would change the fact that he gleefully verbally eviscerated children and teens for sport. She knew Dumbledore vouched for the man, but being a spy for the Light didn't make him a good man. Not like…

 

Tonks cut that thought off at the pass, a flicker of sorrow flashing through her. She shook her head, as if to shake the thought from her mind, and let out a shaky breath.

 

And yet… Snape had given her the chance to save her family.

 

Tonks scowled again, blowing a giant bubble as she narrowed her eyes against the darkness. There was something about a stake-out which made the seconds feel like hours. Not for the first time, she wished she had some company – especially as Charlie was in town – but it was all hands on deck that night, dealing with the attack in Brighton. Some poor sod had been Imperiused to drive a lorry right into a crowded market, and the Oblivator squad just wasn't big enough to sort out the survivors and witnesses on their own.

 

She sighed, ran a hand through her short, spiky pink hair, and wrapped her arms around her middle. Strange, how cold it had been at nights this summer. England certainly wasn't tropical, but these 2 degree Celsius nights weren't typical for July.

 

She let out another shaky breath, and watched as it crystallized in the air. Her eyes narrowed and she carefully reached for her holster, drawing her wand into her hand. A chill stole over her body and she turned her head slightly, listening carefully for the slightest sound.

 

There it was. A whisper.

 

Get down! Sirius's voice echoed in her mind.

 

How dare you befoul our family with that filth! Bellatrix Black's youthful face flashed through her mind's eye, and she could picture the spell flying towards her mother – she heard herself scream….

 

Dementors.

 

She spun around, eyes peeled on the street as screams and shouts echoed in her mind. The sound grew louder and suddenly she saw the edge of a black cloak, billowing in its own wind. With a steady hand, she pointed her wand and whispered "Expecto Patronum!"

 

A silvery jack rabbit shot out of the tip of her wand and raced towards the creature, and as she watched, the dark being screeched, a piercing sound that cut through the night. It turned and started to glide up the street –

 

Glass shattered behind her, and Tonks spun around so fast she almost fell over. With a muttered swear, she bolted for the house, her Disillusionment slipping as she moved. The front bay window was shattered, the curtains blowing in a breeze, and Tonks shivered against the still night air outside the house.

 

She reached the window and shoved her hands down on the frame, vaulting through and ignoring the sharp pains as her hands were cut to ribbons. Before she dropped carefully to the ground, the cuts were sealing themselves together, and she crouched carefully in the living room of her childhood home, her heart racing.

 

Dora's eyes scanned the room, took in the scorch marks on the wall, the overturned lamp –

 

"Homenum revelio," she whispered.

 

Nothing. The spell showed no one else in the house.

 

"No," she said aloud. "No."

 

She didn't bother with stealth – why would it matter now, after all? Racing from the room, she muttered darkly as she tripped over the lamp cord and fell into the wall. The lights were dimmed in the kitchen, and a choked sob wrenched from her throat as she skidded to a halt just inside the doorway.

 

Tonks fell back against the wall, her hands clapped over her mouth as her eyes welled up with tears. Ted and Andromeda Tonks were propped up at the table, their eyes wide and unseeing. Her mother's arm was still outstretched, her fingers still wrapped around the dagger plunged into her husband's heart. A pool of blood had dropped down and congealed in Ted's lap, and his face was twisted in a grimace of pain and shock. His right hand held a scalpel, and there were tiny little cuts all over her mother's face. A book of matches lay on the table between them, and they were both covered in burn marks. And a pail sat on the floor by her father, a dark red liquid within.

 

The blood in her father's lap was already congealed. They had to have been dead for hours.

 

She heard another sob bubble up between her lips, and suddenly she couldn't breathe. She dropped her hands and stared straight ahead, her eyes seeing nothing. She had been guarding her parents' corpses, and hadn't even –

 

She screamed, stepping away from the wall, but her strength vanished and she stumbled over nothing, falling to the floor as she began to cry in earnest –

 

And a pair of arms banded around her back, wrapped around her middle, and Tonks was surrounded by the smell of evergreen and a burning fireplace and a hint of chocolate. She let herself be spun around and she collapsed onto Remus's shoulder, weeping hysterically as he rubbed a hand down her back and murmured in her ear. She sensed, more than heard, another presence in the room, and a steady thud on the floor – Moody.

 

"Christ," she heard her mentor mutter, and she curled in on herself further, trying with all her might to burrow further into Lupin's hold. "The devil brought you here, Lupin?" Moody asked as he stomped across the room.

 

Tonks whimpered. Her tears slowed, no longer great, sucking gasps of air but now a quiet, steady stream.

 

"I wanted to check on her," Remus said quietly. "She was — she was too quiet in the meeting this afternoon. I was worried."

 

Moody snorted, and Tonks bit her lip as a fresh round of hysteria began to surface. "Aye, so was I. Came here as soon as I left Brighton. And good thing too – left yourselves wide open, the both of you. You call this vigilance?" the man demanded, and Tonks let out a shaky breath as she pushed the tears back. She felt Remus's arms tighten around her and she sniffled, blinking rapidly to try to clear her vision.

 

"I would have known if someone came," she heard Lupin say softly, and Moody snorted again.

 

"And if a trap had been left?" her mentor shot back.

 

With a Herculean effort, she raised her head from where it had fallen in the crook of Lupin's arm – she was too short to quite reach his shoulder. Her hair brushed her cheek as she stepped back, eyes on the ground. The two men fell silent.

 

She could feel someone watching her intently, and she raised her eyes to meet Lupin's gaze. The older man was staring at her solemnly, a mix of sadness and – something, something she didn't quite recognize in his eyes. She jerked her eyes away from him and glanced over at Moody, standing by the table, by her – by the bodies.

 

The ex-Auror was staring at her, too, something sad and dark in his eyes. "You look like her," the man said gruffly, and she flinched.

 

Raising one hand – thinner than she usually kept it, and with longer, more elegant fingers – she stepped forward, pitching slightly to the side as her center of gravity adjusted to the slightly more curvy build. Her now steel gray eyes focused on the wall behind her parents, and her face twisted with hate.

 

There, on the wall, was a message scrawled in blood. A paintbrush lay on the counter nearby – the bitch had painted it by hand.

 

Defiance is death. 

 

She stepped forward, ignoring Lupin's hand reaching for her, ignoring Moody's warning growl, and brushed one hand against the gleaming letters. Under her touch, the letters flowed bright red. The period drawn on the wall beaded up suddenly, sliding down the soft yellow paint and spreading into a new message.

 

Be seeing you, Nymphie.

 

A whooshing sound echoed through the room, a sudden flash of silver registering on the edge of her field of vision as Moody sent off a Patronus. As Remus began to swear behind her.

 

And the younger, mirror image of Bellatrix Black Lestrange stood in her dead parents' kitchen, staring at the writing on the wall.


Shell Cottage

Tinworth, Cornwall

July 22, 1996

 

Bill stepped into the room carefully, his wand hanging loosely between the fingers of his left hand as he peered around the corner. Silence echoed through the cottage, and the dim light of dawn was just starting to creep over the horizon.

 

Harry was sprawled under the covers, one foot sticking out at an angle, his arm thrown across the pillow next to him. The boy's mouth was twisted in a slight grimace, his brow furrowed, but he was silent and still. No signs of the nightmare that had jerked himself and Bill awake at 1 am.

 

Not a Voldemort vision dream, the teen had hastened to assure Bill, acting as though that made the nightmare of no consequence.

 

Bill Weasley hated the Dursleys with a fiery passion.

 

He stepped back, closing the door quietly, and turned to head down the steep staircase. In the kitchen, he leaned against the counter as the steady drip of the coffee pot filled the room. His eyes roved carefully along the beach as the sun began to peek over the waves.

 

No one uninvited should be able to find the place, but that didn't mean he didn't constantly check. Especially with his new houseguest asleep upstairs.

 

A couple quick spells shot from his wand towards the shore, splitting off in either direction before sailing back to the rectangular mirrors in the wall opposite him. The two jets of soft blue light pulsed then spread across the mirror's surface, and Bill nodded with satisfaction as the view of the empty stretch of beach appeared. No ripples in the air, no gleams of unnatural light which would indicate spells or traps of any kind. No person or creature around, save a couple gulls and turtles that were all without the nimbus of light that would have revealed an Animagus.

 

They were alone.

 

He turned back to the coffee pot and reached up for a mug, smiling as a pair of slender arms wrapped around his waist. A soft sigh emanated from the figure behind him, and a gentle press of lips against his upper back had him closing his eyes.

 

Bill turned and grasped Fleur's elbows, leaning back against the counter and pulling the slender woman into the space between his legs. The blonde woman's eyes sparkled as she smiled at him, reaching up to brush his hair back where it had fallen over his face. She pressed her hand to his cheek and he turned his head, kissing her palm before he let go of her arms, and she stepped back.

 

"Good morning," the Frenchwoman whispered, and Bill quirked a grin at the small woman. There she stood in the early light of morning, barefoot and with nothing but his button down on, and looked as though she had stepped off the cover of a magazine.

 

How in Merlin's name did I pull this off? he thought idly, not for the first time.

 

Then the memory of literally pulling it off – it being his shirt, and off being off of Fleur – the night before flooded his mind, and he had to swallow carefully to keep his breathing steady.

 

Fleur's smile turned a bit wolfish, as if she could hear his thoughts, and he laughed ruefully.

 

"'Arry is still asleep?" she asked quietly, reaching around him to select a mug.

 

Bill nodded absently as he opened the window to let the post owl through, taking a slow sip of his coffee and making a face. He set the coffee down on the counter and Fleur promptly spooned a touch of sugar in the mug, placing it back in his hand as she poured a heavy amount of cream into her own mug.

 

"Yeah," he replied, clearing his throat with a wince. His throat was always a little sore in the morning – consequence from an injury in a dig in Chile, some six years before. No amount of potions or spell work had ever remedied that, and to this day, he would lose his voice now and then for no apparent reason.

 

Tossing the paper on the counter after he skimmed the headlines, he continued, "He seems to have managed to sleep through after that nightmare, though – it's early yet. Maybe – "

 

A sudden creaking sounded above their heads, and Bill and Fleur looked up as the sound of hesitant footfalls followed. With a lopsided grin, Bill turned and looked at Fleur, but she was already moving, quickly washing and drying her mug and setting it back in the cabinet, waving her wand at the countertops to remove any stray hairs she may have lost. Pressing a hand to his arm, she stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek, then drew back and hastened out the door, the screen settling back in place just as Harry came into the room, his hand rubbing the back of his neck.

 

"Coffee's on," Bill said casually, and Harry nodded as he slumped into a chair at the kitchen table, pressing his hand to his mouth to suppress a yawn. The teen's hair was a mess, his cheek reddened slight, and his shirt bunched slightly around the collar. As he watched, Harry reached up and fiddled with the shirt, but his hand missed the first try – landing a bit outside the fabric, as if he wasn't used to reaching for a shirt that size.

 

Bill knew from experience, it was difficult to get used to clothes that fit at first.

 

He turned around and pulled out a frying pan, waving his wand to summon some eggs and ham from the ice chest on the opposite wall. As the sizzling noise began to echo in the room, he turned back to look at Harry, leaning against the counter and crossing his arms across his chest. "Sleep ok?" he asked nonchalantly, and Harry nodded absently, still fiddling with his collar.

 

"Slept right through, as near as I can remember," the teen replied. "Though my pillows seemed a bit harder this morning?"

 

Oops, Bill thought to himself, quirking a rueful grin. So Harry didn't remember the nightmare after all, or Bill sitting on the edge of his bed and rubbing his back bracingly – or vanishing his pillow and blankets accidentally before he woke, yelling that they were choking him.

 

I hate them, he thought again, then cleared his throat and shook his head. "Strange," he agreed. "Bother your neck at all?"

 

"A little, yeah," Harry muttered, and Bill nodded.

 

"I'll fix them up after lunch," he said calmly. "As a matter of fact, I'll show you how to adjust them yourself."

 

"Great. Thanks," the teen said enthusiastically, and another flicker of anger stole through Bill. The kid was too damned easy to please.

 

"Course," the cursebreaker replied, turning back to the stove to slide the eggs and ham off of the fryer. "Viktor's going to be here around 11 this morning, by the way."

 

Harry nodded absently as Bill set the plates down on the table. The teen's eyes were shadowed as he looked down at the food, tension radiating off of him. Bill was sure he knew why – he'd had to practically force the boy to sit and let him cook the first couple days. Harry seemed to think he needed to do all the work. Slowly, the teen picked up his fork and began sliding food around the plate.

 

As he sat across from Harry, he glanced across the room and caught a flash of pink – one of Fleur's sandals abandoned in the corner. He slid his wand out of his pocket under the table and carefully banished the shoe back to his bedroom wardrobe, internally rolling his eyes at himself all the while. He was damned lucky a Fleur didn't mind being kept secret, or having to sneak around and out of the house. Bill wasn't sure exactly why he didn't want Harry to know she sometimes spent the night, he just —

 

Didn't want to make the kid uncomfortable, he supposed.

 

The dozen fire and ice roses he had sent to Fleur's flat after the first night he asked her to sneak out had probably helped, of course. That may be the only reason he wasn't in hot water with his part-Veela girlfriend.

 

He snorted to himself, drawing a startled look from Harry, and smiled reassuringly at the boy. "Are you excited to see everyone?" he asked cheerfully, and Harry nodded, still just sliding his food around. Bill frowned down at Harry's plate, and the boy sighed and began to fork bites into his mouth.

 

"Yeah," he replied after he had eaten a couple bites, and Bill stopped looking at the boy's plate meaningfully and began to eat his own breakfast. "Although Ginny is probably going to demand that I model all of the clothes you bought for me."

 

Bill laughed, his eyes crinkling as he reached for his coffee. "Odds are pretty good that Gin will make you try on at least a few of your new clothes for her," he agreed. "She's been a tad fashion obsessed since she was three or four."

 

Harry chuckled, and Bill made a mental note to get his sister a token to Gladrags. Maybe she and the girls would like to go on a bit of a spree – though Hermione would probably kill him for subjecting her to that.

 

Harry fiddled with his collar again, and Bill set down his fork and quirked an eyebrow at the kid. "Bothering you?" the eldest Weasley son asked, and Harry flushed and shot him a guilty, embarrassed look.

 

"Just – still feels strange, I suppose," the teen replied.

 

They had travelled to Cairo yesterday, by way of an old Portkey from a job that Bill had stashed away. Harry had been wide-eyed and enthralled by all the sights – the pyramids, the statues, the Bedouin village – but Bill had spirited him away to the local magical community shopping center. For a good three hours, he took the boy from shop to shop, re-outfitting the teen from head to toe. The Potter scion has been embarrassed and dismayed, but also extremely grateful. Too grateful, to Bill's mind.

 

The original plan had been for Tonks to come along – Charlie's best friend was a grand companion and had a keen eye for style, after all. But Merlin only knew how long it would take before the Auror would be up for socializing again. A flicker of pity and sorrow stirred in him as he imagined walking into a scene like that in the Burrow, and he shook his head to clear it as Harry started to give him a searching look.

 

Too observant by half, he thought sadly, even as he smiled at the boy. It was heart-wrenching, knowing what had truly taught the boy to be so attuned to other people's moods.

 

"You'll get used to it. And don't forget, Viktor is bringing us a Portkey Germany, as well. We have to get you some winter clothing still."

 

A shadow crossed Harry's face, but Bill didn't comment. The teen bit his lip then nodded, shoving the plate back with a sigh. Far more than half the food remained.

 

"I'm going to go wash up," Harry said quietly, and he picked up his plate and set the leftovers in the cooling cabinet, disappearing up the stairs without another word.

 

Bill watched him go with a slight frown, twirling his wand between his fingers as his mind raced. He knew that Harry was an independent, stubborn kid – pushing him would be a terrible idea. But still… he had to get him to talk.

 

Trust cannot be built without a foundation, his grandmother's voice echoed in his mind, and Bill sighed, scrubbing his hand over his face. Merlin knew, the kid had amazing bonds with his friends, but he needed an adult to trust, someone he could just know was in his corner. Bill hadn't had much growing up – his father's government salary had been stretched to the max feeding nine mouths – but he had never questioned where he stood in the world. He'd always had somewhere to go, someone to turn to.

 

Who had Harry had?

 

The sudden slamming of the screen door jerked him from his reverie, and Bill looked up to see Charlie throw himself into the chair opposite. His brother looked beat, his hair a mess and his eyes drooping, and Bill stood wordlessly and moved over to the coffee pot. Charlie didn't even look up, grunting in acknowledgment as a steaming mug of black coffee was set down in front of him. The dragon keeper wrapped both of his hands around the mug and scowled, taking three huge gulps before he set the cup down.

 

"Harry up?" he asked, peering around the room through still-bleary eyes. Bill nodded and jerked his head towards the stairs, and Charlie slumped back in his seat.

 

"Merlin, that was a hell of a night," his brother muttered. The stocky man pushed roughly to his feet and ambled across the room, pulling a loaf of bread from the cabinet and ripping off a piece of bread. "Tonks got it into her head to go down to the White Wyvern to shake some blokes down for information on Lestrange. She didn't find anything, but she did manage to get herself into a tussle with six wizards."

 

Bill winced. "Is she – ?"

 

"Oh yeah," Charlie replied, a slight grin twisting his face. "I mean, one of them got a good punch in, this tossed had to be at least 6'5," he waved his hands before shoving the bread whole into his mouth. After a few seconds, he swallowed then continued, "But you know how she is. Knocked them all flat, then tripped over a chair."

 

Bill chuckled lightly, shaking his head, and Charlie's face grew solemn.

 

"But she's – you remember how she was after," Charlie glanced nervously towards the stairs, then lowered his voice, "after Sirius died. She hadn't seen him since she was like 7, 8 maybe, until a couple years ago, but she was still on the warpath. Now?"

 

Silence fell between the two men, as both contemplated the horrible state Tonks was in. It was bad enough that her parents had both been killed, and by her psychotic aunt at that. That she had found them, had seen what they had been made to do, was worse.

But even worse than that, was the fact that somehow, Lestrange had gotten inside and killed her parents while Tonks was outside standing guard. The metamorphmagus has greeted her parents before switching with Dung to take her watch.

 

Bill could not imagine.

 

Overhead, the sound of the running water stopped.

 

"Anyway," Charlie continued, his voice back to normal volume, "she's staying with Shack the next couple days, so I thought I'd come along tomorrow, see what kind of trouble the three of us can get up to in Bavaria." He winked at his older brother and Bill nodded thoughtfully. In Cairo, he'd had connections, old friends and colleagues who were keeping an eye on things for him. In Bavaria, he and Harry would be traveling blind. He didn't know anyone there, after all.

 

"And Dad said to look up Klaus Brand," Charlie added as he dusted his hands over the sink.

 

Bill stared. Klaus Brand was a legend. "The spellcrafter?" he asked incredulously.

 

"Didn't explain," replied the dragon keeper, "just said to find him and bring Harry with you."

 

Arthur Weasley knew people in nearly every city, it seemed, and not for the first time, Bill found himself wondering just how his father came to know all these people. He had asked many times before about one connection or another. His father always seemed to have some funny story at the ready – usually involving some innocent-seeming Muggle item biting an unsuspecting witch or wizard on the nose.

 

Bill had been about 16 when he had realized how many of his father's stories ended the same way, and he had kept his questions to himself from then on. Clearly, asking was pointless.

 

But Brand – the man was brilliant, reportedly had a temper like Fiendfyre, and was notoriously reclusive. Bill seriously wanted to know how his father had managed that one.

 

He met his brother's eyes, and the second oldest Weasley son grinned at him. "If nothing else, it'll be interesting," Charlie said with a shrug.

 

Bill snorted, rising to clear the table as Harry came back down the stairs. The boy turned off into the living room and silence echoed – Bill gave Charlie a meaningful look and jerked his head towards the other room. Charlie nodded and cleared his throat, walking in his customary almost-stomp into the living room and throwing himself down on the couch. Bill heard Harry's quiet "hello," and smiled as Charlie immediately replied, "Heya, Harry, have I got some stories for you! We had a nest hatch at the preserve, and – ” 

 

As Charlie kept Harry occupied, Bill slipped out the doors and across the walkway to his work shed. Closing the door quietly behind himself, he summoned three books from the shelves of his secondary library, setting them down on the table which ran the length of the far wall. He set his coffee mug down and settled into the armchair, flipping open the first book and sitting back to read.

 

Great Magical Discoveries of the 20th Century:

A study in blood and curses 

 

The portrait of Klaus Brand glared up from the page, and Bill felt a deep disquiet starting to form in his bones.


Ministry of Magic

London, England

July 21, 1996

 

Reg Cattermole was late.

 

It was nearly 9 am, and he rushed through the Atrium, his robes on crooked and his shoes untied. He weaved around people and raced for the elevators, tapping his foot impatiently as he waited for the right floor. When the doors opened, he put on another burst of speed and skidded around the corner to his cubicle, throwing himself into the chair and dropping his case at his feet. With a furtive look around the room, he settled in to his paperwork, quietly congratulating himself for making it in without incident.

 

He flipped through parchment after parchment, idly thumbing through his task list for the day, and sighed as he leaned back in his chair. Another boring day of simple spells and mindless cleanup. He should really talk to his brother-in-law about that start-up the man had mentioned.

 

He glanced over at the picture stuck to the wall, smiling as his youngest daughter blew a raspberry at the camera, his oldest scolding her while his son ignored them both.

 

They deserved more.

 

Shaking his head, the man scrubbed his hand over his face before he pushed to his feet, adjusting his frayed robes around himself. He headed back for the elevators and down to the Atrium, where the main Floo hub was housed.

 

His assignments for the past six months had gotten somewhat strange. Usually, his job consisted of fixing problems as they cropped up, and filing papers in between. But lately, he had no end of tasks to complete – from adding new wards to the visitor's entrance, to adding a new chime to the Minister's office doors, even changing the spells on the cafeteria doors and walls.

 

He couldn't remember any of those having been done recently, however – perhaps they just all needed to be renewed.

 

But this assignment was the strangest. Certainly, he thought to himself, the spells maintaining the fireplaces wore down a bit over time, but respelling every month? Seemed a bit excessive.

 

And when he cast the spell described in his assignment, the stones seemed to glow an odd green – hadn't they given off a purple light when he'd done this last year?

 

He shook his head, glancing around to see if anyone else noticed. But no one was looking at him, not even the security guard. Reg sighed and looked back at the first fireplace. The stones looked normal enough, the glow having faded away.

 

Reg shrugged. The light had been the same for the past six months, and nothing untoward had happened. Besides, orders were orders. He wasn't paid enough to make decisions.

 

Grumbling under his breath, he moved along the line and cast the spell on every single fireplace.


McGonagall's Quarters

Hogwarts

July 21, 1996

 

The fire crackled in the hearth as Minerva sat silently in her favorite chair, a snifter of brandy open on the end table beside her. The Transfiguration Master propped her chin on her fist as she gazed blankly at the wall ahead, her mind racing. The letter had been abandoned on her desk, but she didn't need it any longer – she had read the letter end to end eleven times, and memorized the entire contents.

 

Miss Lovegood was nothing if not creative.

 

The young woman was an absolute enigma – extremely capable and focused one moment, distracted and foolish the next. Minerva couldn't possibly count the number of times she had turned her back on the girl, having given a simple assignment – spoons to ladles, really – only to find she had transfigured some strange creature onto her desk, or in her lap. Or, memorably, into Romilda Vane's hair.

 

Minerva shuddered momentarily. Good lord, could that child scream.

 

She shook her head, her eyes resting on the letter on the desk again.

 

Never mind that object to animal transfiguration was advanced far beyond Miss Lovegood's age or level. Never mind that the girl could never explain how she had accomplished such a feat. Every time Minerva had set the girl a task, through her entire Hogwarts career, she had failed to accomplish it, and instead, created something else from somewhere in the deep recesses of her brain.

 

It was a shame, Minerva thought ruefully. If she were able to think just a bit more logically, the girl could have been a gifted Transfiguration Master one day.

 

Unbidden, Minerva's mind conjured up a memory of the day she had asked Lovegood's class to transform a mouse into a snuff box – standard practice, and such a building block.

 

The girl had refused, saying the mouse wouldn't enjoy being a box.

 

She shook her head, picking up the brandy glass again and taking a short swallow. With a dry cough, she set the glass down and got to her feet, walking back across the room to sit at her desk again.

 

And to read the letter. Again.

 

She dropped the parchment with a bit of annoyance, rubbed her temples, and sighed.

 

Pandora Lovegood had been nothing like her daughter – the… quirkiness… came straight from Xenophilius – but mother and daughter shared an insatiable curiosity, and a need to create. The spell that had taken Pandora's life had been a scrying spell, one that sought to cut through any ward or boundary. Minerva remembered talking with the young woman as she worked through her ideas. They had discussed her mentor's input, the mysterious man that Pan refused to identify.

 

Pandora's goal with the spell was to create a global net, of sorts, which would enable law enforcement to catch any major uprising or attack as soon as it started. She had been an invaluable Unspeakable, one of Croaker's favorites.

 

She had been Minerva's friend.

 

A memory flashed through Minerva's mind, collapsing on the floor of her quarters in tears after Elphinstone had died; the slight blonde girl breaking into her rooms and sitting down on the floor with her, wrapping her arms around the professor and crooning to her softly as she wept.

 

Miss Lovegood had inherited more than just curiosity from her mother, she admitted to herself. The girl had inherited her mother's kindness, her compassion.

 

Which made her letter all the more unsettling.

 

Minerva sighed, turning to look at her bookshelves along the walls. Somewhere in there lay the answer to the girl's question.

She supposed she would just have to find it.


Somewhere outside Inverness

Scotland

July 22, 1996

 

Fenrir was ready for some fun.

 

He glanced up at the sky as he moved swiftly through the trees, scowling as he caught sight of the slightest sliver of the moon. He wished it were full already; there was nothing more exciting than running free under the moonlight.

 

He wished the Dark Lord's pet Potions Master would hurry up with his latest project. With claws and teeth, he could do some damage in his human form, but what he wouldn't give to be able to turn whenever he wanted.

 

He resented this weak flesh. Detested it, even.

 

But the blood and flesh of young pups helped to sate his hunger.

 

Too bad his Lord was sending him after an adult this time. An adult wizard, at that. Fenrir scowled, shaking his head, and wished he could howl. His skin itched and his fists flexed, open, closed, open, closed, as he imagined stumbling across a tasty little morsel. Maybe after he was done with his chore, he could take s slight detour before reporting in. Maybe even find a little girl.

 

It had been days since he'd had a little girl. He loved to rip the little pigtails from their scalps when he was finished with them. He had a display on the wall in his den, and there was still plenty of space to add a few more.

 

Fenrir had always believed in planning ahead.

 

He moved silently through another section of brush, and grinned ferally as the clearing came into view. Rookwood had said that the family was all out of town, except the boy. As he crouched behind a bush, his sharp eyes caught sight of a young man, swooping through the clearing in perfect figure-eights.

 

Rookwood had mentioned the boy had some talent. Must have, Fenrir supposed, to make it onto Puddlemere. Not many wizards were signed so young.

 

Christ, this was boring. Where was the thrill in snatching an unsuspecting wizard from the air?

 

Fenrir hated when it ended so quick. A little fear made the blood taste sweeter.

 

He grinned, mind made up, and stood quickly, making sure to thrash around some bushes and branches as he moved. Cutting through the brush, he circled around toward the house, and the boy spun on his broom, staring suspiciously in Fenrir's direction.

 

"Hello?" the boy called in a thick Scottish brogue. "Who's there?"

 

There was a tree right by the front porch. Fenrir chuckled under his breath, moving a few steps closer to the front of the house, and reached up, wrapping his claws around a low-hanging branch. He shook the branch roughly, the sound echoing across the otherwise-open field.

 

Even in the darkness, he could see the boy pale.

 

"What do you want?" the young wizard demanded, pulling out his wand and hovering closer to the ground. Fenrir stepped closer to the house, hiding his face in shadows, but he let himself snarl, followed by a deep, rumbling growl. The boy jumped, nearly falling off the broom, then locked eyes with Fenrir.

 

The boy froze, and Fenrir sprang forward, knocking him off the broom with one swipe of his claws. The wizard shouted, and Fenrir stepped on the broom, breaking it clean in half as the boy scrambled back on his hands and behind.

 

He could smell the stench of terror coming off the boy. The hunger stirred deep.

 

Stepping closer, he moved until he was standing practically over the boy, looked down, and smiled.

 

"Run," he whispered.

 

Oliver Wood jumped to his feet and ran.


Whin Park

Inverness, Scotland

July 22, 1996

 

Remus wasn't sure how much more he could take.

 

He stood by the play structure, hands shoved forcibly in his pockets as he gazed out over the park. He had been there over an hour, and still, his mind hadn't quite made it past the shock and horror of what he was seeing.

 

Twenty seven children, ages ranging from two to fourteen, lay splayed out across the grass, their eyes open, hands folded across their fronts in a mimicry of docility. The girls were all missing chunks of hair, the boys, their eyes.

 

And each and every one had their throat ripped out, and their stomachs ripped open.

 

The scar on his side, across his stomach, seemed to burn as he stood there, eyes glued to the grisly scene.

 

A sudden shift of the wind brought the smell slightly away from him, and he let out a shaky sigh of relief. His curse meant he could smell the destruction far more strongly than his fellows, but at least it was no longer being ushered straight at his face.

 

This wasn't happening. It wasn't real. He was going to wake up.

 

But it was. And it was. And he didn't.

 

Instead, a crunch of boots on gravel hit his ears, and the smell of old leather and cherry cigars floated on the breeze. Kingsley.

 

The Auror stopped beside him, clearing his throat and looking straight at Remus. He couldn't really blame the man. He wished he could look away.

 

"The constables have checked all the houses. All the parents are unharmed. Looks like he spelled them all to sleep then snatched the children – probably asleep as well." The Auror cleared his throat again, scrubbing his hand over his face. "Small mercy."

 

Remus shook his head. "The kids weren't asleep."

 

Shacklebolt just looked at him, a flicker of horror in his eyes, but the man said nothing. Remus stepped forward, silently willing his hands to steady, and he knelt beside the closest child.

 

She couldn't have been more than three, he thought sadly, wearing a pretty, light blue frilly dress and patent shoes. What was left of her hair was a deep red color – not dissimilar to Lily's hair. She had a cute button nose and a stuffed wolf toy still clutched under one arm. The toy was coated liberally in blood, and had been arranged so its mouth was pressed against her neck, open in a caricature of biting her.

 

Greyback's depravity knew no bounds. With a gentle hand, Remus reached down and brushed the hair back from her face, closing her tiny green eyes.

 

Kingsley was just watching him, silent, so Remus cleared his throat and continued. "He likely body bound them, so they couldn't fight too much – they are kids, certainly, but there were too many of them. If they weren't restrained somehow, one or two would have escaped. And they were all killed so quickly after the other that he wasn't dealing with a fight."

 

He stood abruptly, shoving his hands back into his pockets as he stepped back, turning to face the other man. "But he lives to cause as much pain and fear as possible. He wanted them awake."

 

Kingsley simply nodded, accepting Remus's explanation immediately. "The stomachs?" The Auror questioned, and Remus grimaced.

 

"He has a fondness for the liver."

 

Kingsley let out a shaky breath. The other man's eyes flickered down to Remus's side for a mere moment, then he shook his head. "So the hair from the girls, the eyes from the boys. Trophies, I assume?"

 

Remus stepped back, moving aside as the Obliviators and Aurors, the Mediwizardry squad swarmed around them. As he walked back across the field, one Obliviator brushed past him and intercepted the constable who stood a few feet from them. The man was sobbing openly, muttering something about "Lily's wolf." Remus's blood ran cold.

 

But Kingsley, and Moody who had been just a few feet away, were staring at him, waiting for a response, so he jerked his mind back to the present. "He keeps the girl's hair as trophies, displays them in his den. I've heard rumors that a small section of the hair goes into potions he drinks to improve his speed and strength. But the eyes – he hides them in places, and casts a spell on them so…"

 

"He can see through them," Moody finished grimly, and Remus nodded. They walked past another body – this one a boy, maybe 9 years old – and Remus swallowed.

 

He looked an awful lot like a young Sirius.

 

And…

 

Remus stopped cold, spinning on his heel and walking back across to the bodies. He felt more than heard as the other two turned and followed after him, but Remus paid them no mind. Walking through the rows of bodies that the Aurors had arranged in lines, he looked down at the faces, his mind screaming in horror as another layer of the depravity came clear.

 

A Lily look-alike, that amazingly shared her name. A Sirius look-alike, a mini Harry or James (and his mind rebelled at that one, because the poor little thing was only four at most), one that looked just like a Hermione, right down to the bushy hair…

 

Remus looked around at the 27 children, at the display of children who looked just like everyone he'd ever cared for, and felt true fear begin to take root.


Zauber Centre

Bavaria, Germany

July 22, 1996

 

Charlie Weasley was a man of simple tastes.

 

He weaved through the crowd following his elder brother and Harry, his eyes roving left and right across the street as they moved. Everyone seemed in a hurry, and none had the air of nervousness that had begun to steal over Magical Britain.

 

Charlie was a man of simple tastes. He liked strong whiskey, good food, forward women, and the open air.

 

Not – this. This place was far too cramped, far too crowded.

 

He scowled as Bill ducked into another shop front, one hand clapped on Harry's shoulder as he ushered his charge inside, then sighed, forcing his face to relax.

 

He had volunteered to come along. Bill needed a hand keeping an eye on a Harry, and keeping the boy from getting into another death battle while they shopped. Good kid, sure, but Merlin, that boy could find trouble like a mama dragon honing in on her nest.

Bill steered Harry out of the shop as quickly as they had gone in, a scowl on his face as he shook his head, and Charlie raised an eyebrow. Bill shot Charlie a glare and kept walking, prodding Harry along with him.

 

The kid was bright red.

 

They passed a good three hours that way – if not for shrinking charms, Charlie didn't think three Hogwarts carriages would have been able to hold all the shit his brother was buying for the kid. He scoffed, rolling his eyes in amusement. Sure, the kid needed clothes – his were in a right state. And okay, he didn't have much in the way of possessions. But.

 

It seemed to Charlie like his brother was trying to make up for nearly sixteen years of not having anything in one go.

 

Granted, with how much of it was clothing, and with Bill being – well, Bill – he might really think that this was a normal amount of things.

 

Charlie shook his head again, grinning ruefully as a Harry finally declared he could shop no more.

 

"One more," he heard Bill say, "then we'll find something to eat."

 

Harry seemed to forcibly hold back a sigh, and Charlie chuckled. Bill shot him a halfhearted glare over his shoulder, then once again steered Harry into a nearby shop.

 

How his brother knew what he was looking for, Charlie didn't understand – he knew for a fact his brother had never been here before. But somehow, Bill zeroed right in on the only Muggle-style jacket store in Bavaria.

 

Harry stopped protesting the second he stepped through the doors.

 

Bill's shopping thirst finally quenched, they headed off to a pub down the street, and settled into a corner booth near the back doors. Charlie went to the counter and put in an order as Bill cast silencing and shielding charms around the table, and the dragon keeper scowled as his neck prickled again. The stocky man looked around the dining room, his eyes quickly passing over everyone in the place, and –

 

There, nearest the front door. The man sat hunched over, a newspaper in his hands and a full flagon sitting on the table front of him. He seemed to have a natural, permanent scowl. His nose was prominent, bushy dark grey eyebrows, and a thin scar running down the side of his face.

 

Charlie was sure he'd seen the man at least twice on the street.

 

He gathered up their order as it was passed over the counter, paid the barman with a smile, and hurried over to his brother. Harry stood a couple feet away, staring at a large portrait on the wall nearby. The forbidding old man in the portrait stared back at the teen, unblinking. As Charlie set the food down, he leaned over to Bill and whispered, "By the door. Dark green robes."

 

Bill nodded quietly without even looking. "Saw him. He's been following us for two hours."

 

Charlie scowled half-heartedly. His brother's job was details, patterns. His was caring for giant animals which sometimes turned vicious.

 

Of course, Bill would have spotted a tail first.

 

"Plan?" Charlie asked quietly, and Bill grinned.

 

"You'll see. Just," Bill pulled a small jewel out of his pocket, an emerald carved in the shape of a scarab beetle. "Get this on him, and follow him."

 

Bill waved Harry over, and they ate unhurriedly, Charlie quizzing Harry briefly on his favorite stores and least favorites. Ruefully, Harry admitted that he didn't much like shopping, though the boy quickly added that he was grateful and would pay Bill back as soon as he could get to Gringotts. Bill just shook his head and didn't respond to any of Harry's questioning replies, and Charlie bit back a laugh as the teen got more and more frustrated when Bill refused to agree to recompense. Finally, the black-haired three himself back against the booth with a huff, and Charlie raised an eyebrow.

 

That, he realized, was the first time he had seen Harry Potter ever act his age. Charlie shot a sideways look at his elder brother. He and Fleur should have a sprog of their own. Bill Weasley was clearly a natural-born dad.

 

Bill and Harry were both giving him a funny look, and he realized suddenly that they had finished eating quite a while ago and had probably been trying to get his attention for a bit. Shaking his head, he laughed and pointed to a woman at the bar, waggling his eyebrows suggestively and grinning when Harry went red.

 

He hadn't really been staring at the broad, but might as well let them think that, and now that he noticed her…

 

Charlie sighed. No time for recreation on this trip. He cast another appraising look over the woman and shot to his feet, wiping his hands off and grabbing everyone's plates to clear up. Bill quickly took down his spells and Harry shuffled his feet nervously, like Charlie had realized he did every time it was time to go somewhere.

 

The kid was always bracing himself to be dumped off somewhere, alone.

 

They moved towards the door, Bill having clapped a hand on Harry's shoulder again and chatting animatedly with the boy – or at the boy, really, because Harry had sunk back into his uncertain and nervous silence. As they cleared the doorway, Charlie saw movement out of the corner of his eye, and he waved to Harry and Bill, loudly calling to them that he wanted to go check something out.

 

He ducked back behind a nearby shop cart, and waited.

 

Their tail came out of the pub just a few moments later, eyes locked on Bill and Harry as he moved down the street after them. With a flick of his wand, he sent the scarab jewel to hover behind the man, and when he stopped to duck behind a tree, it caught up and attached itself to his robes.

 

Assuming that the device was a tracker of some sort, Charlie fell back further her the man. He watched the unknown wizard follow all the way back to their hotel, his eyes narrowed as they went inside and headed up a flight of stairs.

 

Charlie shifted impatiently from one foot to the next, grumbling under his breath. The man stood there for a good thirty minutes, easy, his wand nowhere in sight, his eyes trained on the walls of the hotel as though he could see through them.

 

Hell, maybe he could. Mad-Eye couldn't be the only wizard in the world with a creepy, x-ray eye.

 

Finally, the man turned away, and Charlie watched from behind a pillar as he headed down a side street and ducked into the back of a bookstore. Charlie silently thanked whoever had decided to put anti-Apparition and Portkey wards on Bavaria's shopping center as he crept towards the store. As he watched, the man disappeared into a small loft apartment inside the store, and Charlie set off to go find his brother.

 

Things around Bill had always been a little strange, it was true, but – stranger still with Harry in the mix.


The Library at Alexandria

The Mouseion 

Alexandria, Egypt

July 22, 1996

 

Louis St. James was not happy.

 

He was a cheerful fellow by nature, easy-going and easy to please. When a mate called him asking for a favor, he was there. When a colleague asked him to check into something for him, he never minded one bit.

 

But when Bill Weasley called, the great pillock, odds were, Louis was going to get into a lot of trouble.

 

Which, of course, was how he found himself stealing through the forbidden section of the Library at Alexandria, on a quest to find – and liberate – a priceless artifact, and an ancient book.

 

He hated the blighter. Was never going to speak to him again.

 

Never mind that Louis lived for a challenge – didn't all curse-breakers? Never mind that he was promised the necklace Bill had been gifted from their last dig (and Louis knew his girl would just love the shiny trinket). Louis lived in the moment, and in that moment, he was not a happy fellow.

 

A sudden light flashed and Louis ducked as a security guard walked by. Breathing heavily, he rubbed his hand over his forehead and came away covered in sweat.

 

Louis scowled. That was exactly why he always sent Bill in first.

 

He ducked back down, and kept trekking through the library. As he moved, he carefully conjured his scuba gear and wetsuit, grumbling to himself all the while.


Bass Rock

The Firth of Forth

Scotland

July 22, 1996

 

Remus stepped off the small boat and looked around with a sigh. The island hadn't changed a bit, he saw, grinning wryly as a nearby gannet sauntered casually up to him to have a look. He glanced down at the bird and it simply stared back, completely unbothered by his presence.

 

A ways beyond, he could see the lighthouse and the old castle. Bracing himself, he took two steps to the right, then knelt and pressed his hand to an etching in the stone.

 

The air around him shimmered, and the wards fell. Suddenly, the rock island grew larger, grassy areas and even a small copse of trees appearing. Remus stepped forward into the territory given to the pack by the Dalrymple almost three hundreds years before, and stood before the pack village.

 

Legend told that the knight had lost a son to the curse of lycanthrope – the boy had been turned young, and stoned to death by the knight's village. In his grief, Hamilton-Dalrymple bought the island and sequestered himself on its rocky shores. After some time, he reached out to the nearby packs and invited them to live on the island, somewhere they could be safe, where they didn't have to hide.

 

Or so they saw it. As far as Remus was concerned, they were still hiding.

 

Tents, shacks, and small little houses came into view, and Remus stopped at the edge of the village. As he watched, the tent nearest the fire opened, and a small brunette woman appeared.

 

"Siobhan," Remus greeted, and the small woman walked over to him quietly, clasping his hands in hers.

 

"You only come to us when you need something, my friend," Siobhan said, a musical lilt to her voice as she chastised Remus. Her eyes were lit with sorrow, and she met his gaze with a tear slipping down her cheek.

 

"You've heard," he replied, and the Beta nodded.

 

"It is a terrible thing, to prey on the young," the woman replied. "No child should ever feel the teeth of a were." Her knowing eyes settled on Remus, then she turned and gestured for him to follow. "We will howl for them at the moon time, and give offerings to the Spirit that they may find peace."

 

Remus said nothing.

 

They moved quickly through the grass, Siobhan stopping short before a small, broken down chapel. A touch of her hand on the doorway, and the building grew cleaner, brighter, and whole again. She stepped through the doorway and walked up to the altar with sure, even steps, and Remus followed.

 

The werewolf woman stood at the altar, stepping back to place it between herself and Remus, and said, "I know why you are here. You ask us to disavow Greyback, to cast him out and declare him pack enemy."

 

Quietly, Remus replied, "I would say he's already declared himself your enemy. He attacks on the behest of a cruel wizard, who seeks to oppress everyone, including werewolves. His attacks will only increase the restrictions on our kind, increase the danger."

 

"And I say it is not he who has turned on our kind, Remus," Siobhan said softly, and Remus met her eyes unflinchingly.

 

The woman sighed heavily, then continued, "But as I said, it is a terrible thing, to harm a child. I should have cast him out long ago, when your father first brought you here. I did not make that mistake twice. He has been disavowed."

 

Remus bowed his head.

 

"He cannot step on this ground and gain any strength from the stream, from the chapel," Siobhan continued, "but nothing will stop him from joining up with any of the mainland packs. In fact, I hear that he has gathered an old crowd together already. There are whispers on the main shores that he plans to organize."

 

"Do you know any specifics?" Remus asked, carefully keeping the urgency from his tone.

 

The woman shook her head. "Only that they are somewhere in North Berwick," she said softly. "I heard a mention of Asena Lockheed, but none others."

 

Remus nodded thoughtfully, his eyes roving over the chapel around them, and Siobhan let out a sad sigh.

 

"You grieve," the Beta murmured, and Remus quirked a sad smile.

 

"One of the children was a student of mine, once," he replied, the image of Oliver Wood, sprawled on his own front steps, flashing through his mind. They hadn't found the boy until hours after the park attack. The poor child's parents had returned home from a night out to find their only son torn to ribbons on their porch.

 

The woman gazed at him thoughtfully, and Remus looked back at her, refusing to give quarter. After a long pause, she moved off into the chapel, and came back with a long iron nail. The nail was etched with runes and glowed faintly in the sunlight. Siobhan held the nail out, and Remus accepted it carefully.

 

"I thought this was a legend," he said softly, and she laughed.

 

"The nail will not cure anything," Siobhan replied. "But the runework on the side... Many of our pack believe it is a map, or a guide. It may lead you down the right path."

 

Remus nodded, turning to go without thanking the woman – giving gratitude in the packs was considered a show of subservience – but Siobhan reached out quickly, grabbing his arm. Remus looked down at her hand, then back at her and quirked an eyebrow, and the woman flushed and quickly let go, ignoring her own faux pas.

 

"Be sure you know what you do," the werewolf woman said urgently. "If the magic truly does exist to cure the were condition, it likely exacts a terrible price. And that's nothing against what some will do to you, if they find out you search for the cure."

 

Remus just looked at the woman intently, his eyes narrowed on her face. "Why do you give me this?"

 

Siobhan bit her lip and looked away, her long, simple shift swirling around her ankles as she stepped back. "I've dreamed of terrible times. Something is coming, Remus, something primal and…" The Beta shook her head, then turned to look at him once more.

"My family, my pack, we are happy here. We have no wish to return to our old lives. We ask that you leave us in peace, and never return here." She let out a shaky breath, tracing the engravings on the altar with one clawed hand. "But I have seen what will come of a world made to Greyback's liking, and it would be the end. He and his Lord," she spat, "must be stopped. At all costs."

 

She jerked her hand back from the altar, turned to face Remus.

 

"Go, now, Remus Lupin," she said urgently. "Go and never return."

 

Remus's eyes searched hers, and he nodded abruptly, turning on his heel and walking out of the chapel. As he reached the entrance, she called after him.

 

"You could have had a place here. You could have had a home."

 

Remus closed his eyes and let out a shaky breath. He didn't turn around. "My home was never here. Goodbye, Aunt Siobhan."

 

And as he stepped from the chapel, his father's sister whispered, "Goodbye, child."


Zauber Centre

Bavaria, Germany

July 22, 1996

 

The scarab was still emitting a signal.

 

Bill sat at the desk in the small hotel room, watching the small mirror in his hand as the green dot moved about the streets. The man had travelled to a grocer in Muggle Berlin, then Apparated back to the edge of Magical Bavaria, then strolled through town, to the pub they had visited for lunch, then finally returned back to the bookstore and the small flat within. Looking around, Bill shoved his hair back from his face with a sigh. He still didn't see why his father wanted him to find the man… but really, what did he have to lose?

 

Charlie was pacing the floor near the windows, Harry dozing in the bed behind him, and Bill scowled. He wanted to go home, he wanted to get Harry back to the safety of the wards, and they couldn't go until they met Brand.

 

Bill jerked his head towards the door, and Charlie nodded, rousing Harry with a gentle shake of the teen's shoulder. Harry looked baffled for a moment before the sleepiness cleared from his mind, then jumped to his feet, sliding his wand into the arm holster Bill had gotten him that afternoon. Bill nodded approvingly, gesturing for Harry to stay behind him, then led his brother and his charge through the streets.

 

The sun had sank hours before, and Bavaria was a very different sight after dark. A group of vampires prowled the streets ahead, and he and Charlie shot warning looks at the pair that drew too close. A hag was leaned against the side of a building, a middle aged wizard chatting with her, and they stopped and watched as Bill and the others passed by.

 

Bill was kicking himself. He should have known that just because they managed to blend during the day, didn't mean they would blend at night. Honestly, what was he, a total rookie?

 

He grabbed both Harry and Charlie by the arm, dragging them behind a shop, and cast a quick Glamour on both of them. Charlie made to return the favor for Bill, but the cursebreaker shook his head.

 

He wanted the man who had been following them to recognize him.

 

Bill had long made a career out of managing difficult and dangerous situations, and knowing where to step and what to do at all times. He easily recreated the oath Charlie had described, winding them through back alleys and across side streets to reach the shop where their tail had vanished. With a blank expression, he reached up and rapped three times on the back door of the shop, and the door swung open immediately, as if someone had been waiting.

 

Their tail stood in the doorway, the green scarab jewel in his hand, and Bill smiled. He loved a worthy adversary.

 

"Klaus Brand?" Bill said calmly, and Charlie started next to him, staring.

 

The spellcrafter scowled, and held out the scarab gingerly. Bill held out his hand and the jewel fell into his palm. Stowing the jewel back in his pocket, Bill continued, "My name is Bill Weasley. My father told me I should speak with you."

 

The man glanced at him, brow furrowed, then looked past Bill to the boy hovering at Charlie's shoulder.

 

"What on earth were you thinking, boy, bringing Potter here?" the man practically snarled, and Charlie raised an eyebrow as Bill forced his face to remain impassive.

 

Klaus Brand turned to look Bill straight in the eye, his expression thunderous. "Do you have any idea what the boy carries? He is marked, you fool!"

 

"I think," Bill said quietly, "that is why my father sent us here to you."

 

The man went still, his eyes flashing and his face going pale. "Get inside," Brand muttered, stepping back from the door. "Hurry." 

 

Charlie shot Bill a worried look, but the eldest Weasley son nodded, so Charlie stepped through the door with his hand on Harry's elbow. Bill glanced over his shoulder at the dark alley, a chill running down his spine, and followed.

 

The heavy stone door slid shut behind them, and they were plunged into darkness.


A/N: Reviews are like lemonade or coffee: awesome and life-giving.

~*~ALIBI



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