In the space of a heartbeat, Harry adopted the same stunned expression as the others.

"F-Fawkes? How are you, fella?" Harry hoped it was Fawkes, at any rate. He couldn't come up with a better explanation for the sudden appearance of a huge, red bird on his shoulder. He raised a tentative hand to ruffle Fawkes' feathers, and instantly wished he hadn't. This was no mere pet, but a fully realized magical entity--he might as well have greeted Tonks or Shacklebolt by skritching them behind the ears. But Fawkes didn't seem to mind; he even stretched his long neck to bonk his head against Harry's forehead, briskly rubbing it with the side of his bill.

Tonks found her voice at last. "Wow. It's, ah, nice to have you back, Fawkes. We've all wondered where you've been." Fawkes straightened himself upright again and tipped his head at the two Aurors with a quiet chirp. Then he turned his attention back to Harry, peering at him with glowing eyes and trilling a beautiful glissando that ended on a high note, like a human being might end a question.

Harry knew Fawkes was trying to communicate, and he wished his newfound Legilimency would kick in again, but all he could do was stare and wonder. Sirens were beginning to wail in the distance, growing closer, and Harry knew that once the police arrived, there would be a lot of uncomfortable questions that he would be expected to answer. Already the neighbors were interrupting their gawking to express their opinions on what had happened, and Harry could hear his name being muttered all around him.

"Yeah," Harry said awkwardly, "it's great to see you...but we really need to get going. Um, I'm going to need to Apparate now...if you don't mind." Fawkes, however, showed no intention of surrendering his current perch, and although Harry didn't think it would be very polite to just disappear out from under the phoenix, he didn't know if it was even possible to simply bring Fawkes along for the ride--like a house elf, he had his own form of Apparating that might not work at all with human sorcery. Harry raised his wand and pointed to it hopefully, but Fawkes continued gazing at him, serene and unperturbable. Harry turned to the others with a pleading look.

"Um..." said Tonks, "I, uh, you have any ideas?" She glanced at Shacklebolt, who folded his arms with a look of deep concentration.

"I don't know," he said finally, "but I think we can assume Fawkes knows exactly what's going on. Perhaps he doesn't want Harry to Apparate?" Fawkes bobbed his head, gripped Harry's shoulder tightly for a brief instant, then leaned forward to spread his beautiful wings and launch into a graceful glide. He landed a few feet away, hopped around to face them again, and quickly flapped his wings three times, just enough to gain a bit of height as he lifted something off the ground.

"My Firebolt!" said Harry. "You want me to fly?" Fawkes trilled softly. Harry looked quizzically at the Aurors. "Should I?"

Shacklebolt frowned. "We don't have brooms here, we couldn't follow you." Fawkes chirped and bobbed his head enthusiastically. "You don't want us to follow him?" Another chirp. "I would say Fawkes has something in mind, Harry. Well, we are the Order of the Phoenix, after all. I say go with him." Tonks nodded in agreement.

"Right, then," said Harry, with unconcealed glee, "we'll meet you at Headquarters." He took two steps toward his broom, then Fawkes beat his wings mightily and flipped it straight into Harry's hands. Harry leapt up to mount the broom as he caught it, taking flight in the same movement as though never to set foot on the soil of Privet Drive again.

The sirens, the gossip, and the crackling of the last few timbers of Number Four fell away as Harry climbed steeply into the sky at top speed, the cool night air whistling in his ears and blowing his hair out of his eyes for a perfect view of the sliver of moon over the dark landscape. The power was still out below him, though as Harry gained altitude, he could see the far-off edge of the blackout, a wide circle centered on his former home. It was far too dark for any Muggle to see him launch, and soon he would be much too high to spot, even where the lights were working. After weeks of captivity, he was free, lawless, untouchable.

But not alone. He heard the barest whispering rustle at his side, and, without looking, knew that Fawkes was with him, powerful red wings scooping the air, forcing it to aid him in defiance of gravity. They climbed higher and higher, until the heavy summer air became cool and thin, and all of London sprawled below them. Harry eased his weight toward his shoulders, tipping the nose of the broom downward so he leveled out in a graceful arc. Fawkes settled into a glide alongside Harry, his wings open to their full span. They regarded one another silently, each exhilirated with the joy of flight, each delighted to have a like-minded companion.

Fawkes suddenly tipped himself to the left, the yaw bringing him into a gradual turn, and Harry followed. Fawkes continued to tip, his wings losing lift as they became more vertical, and he dropped away sharply into a tight spiraling descent. Harry followed, "threading the needle" by plummeting through the center of the spiral, though not quite in a free fall; by slowing ever so slightly, he kept level with Fawkes, creating the illusion that the phoenix was simply circling him, wings motionless.

Fawkes leveled off to take advantage of a thermal updraft, and Harry quickly pulled out of the dive to watch him climb again, his wings open and still, letting the air push him effortlessly upward. Harry could feel the thermal, but his broom was powered by magic, not physics, and did not respond to aerodynamic forces the way Fawkes did. Harry wrapped his knees and ankles tightly around his broom and allowed himself to roll beneath it as he climbed, settling into an arc just above Fawkes; dangling under the broom, Harry's back gently brushed Fawkes's. Harry could feel the muscles responding to variations in the air current, different pinion feathers stretching and shrinking back to achieve the most lift. Harry let his head rest on the base of Fawkes' neck and closed his eyes, allowing the phoenix to guide their flight. He felt their climb grow sluggish, as the thermal spent itself, and when Fawkes finally beat his wings, Harry's eyes flew open in awe at their strength and control. He righted himself in order to keep up, but he wished he could spend the rest of the night flying back-to-back with Fawkes, studying his mastery of the air.

The two of them careened through the night for hours, absorbed in their mutual love of flight. But finally Harry chanced to look down and realized that not only had persons and cars shrunken to specks and disappeared, but trees and even whole buildings were indiscernable. To his surprise, he also noticed that he was breathing very hard. Harry halted with the realization that he was dangerously high, the air too thin to supply the oxygen he required. Yet he paused there a moment to take in the view of the land below, the bright interior of the city, the thin black river snaking through it. Fawkes had kept climbing, but presently he fluttered back down and landed on Harry's broomstick as though admiring the view as well.

"I think...I descend...a bit," panted Harry, feeling a bit sheepish that he had to spoil the fun over something as mundane as breathing. He peered at Fawkes over his glasses, wondering if Fawkes was disappointed and, if so, would it show in any way that Harry could understand, when it happened for the second time that day. Fawkes met Harry's gaze, and that indescribable connection formed.

Harry could barely grasp what was pouring into his mind. Fawkes was a being without language, and so ancient that his memories didn't just tumble out, they steamrolled. It was like drinking from a fire hose, centuries of knowledge pouring into his mind so fast and so alien that Harry couldn't even begin to decipher it. He soon stopped trying, and just let them flow through him. It was similar to listening to a symphony--he could feel the passion being conveyed, even though he couldn't recognize a single specific "note."

When the link began to disintegrate, Harry realized he was falling. His broomstick was gone, and he and Fawkes were plummeting through the air together; the phoenix had wrapped his wings around Harry's head and drawn him in tight to his feathery chest. Many thoughts flashed through Harry's mind at once; that the ground was much closer than it had been the last time he'd seen it, and was coming closer at a remarkable speed; that he really ought to be frightened (or at least disconcerted) by the fact that he could not hope to survive this fall; that he had absolute confidence that none of it mattered, that he was safer now than he had ever been, even when he was encased in the unseen magic that had broken the Avada curse.

Fawkes twisted his neck down between his folded wings to warble at Harry one more time, then burst into flames.

It would not be fully correct to say that Harry awoke in the courtyard of number twelve, Grimmauld Place, because he had not been asleep or unconscious. But as he blinked and took in the familiar structure, the dewy grass, he felt as though his whole life had been a bit like a daydream up till now, and he had just now snapped up, fully alert. The flames had scorched his clothes to dust as he fell, yet had not singed so much as a single hair. He had landed at a speed that should have crushed him to jelly, yet he was not only alive, he felt no pain. Harry was utterly unconcerned about Fawkes; he knew that the phoenix was nearby, unharmed, and that he would soon understand all of what just happened. For a moment, Harry did nothing but breathe, deeply at peace with himself and the world, a veritable Buddha among wizards.

Then an unknown voice spoke very softly from a corner of the courtyard. "Hello, falling star. Do you still own your heart?" Strange words, in a strange accent that he couldn't place. Harry sat up, discovering the dark outline of a witch in the wan light of the crescent moon. The Zen moment abruptly dissipated as Harry registered the fact that he was stretched out stark naked in the middle of Order Headquarters, and a stranger, a woman, was eyeing him from the shadows with intense curiosity.

The woman laughed. "I guess so. Hee hee! Perhaps you'd like a fig leaf?"

Harry was fervently glad to see his Firebolt wafting down to him like a feather, and he pulled it into his lap as soon as it was within reach, glaring angrily at the witch, still too nonplussed to speak. He briefly wondered if it was Luna Lovegood; this was exactly the kind of off-the-wall greeting he'd expect from her, but the voice and accent were completely wrong. Luna always sounded like she might float off in a strong wind, but this one was quite edgy, a no-nonsense, no-quarter kind of voice.

The witch muttered an unintelligible spell, and a brief light flickered from her wand. Harry was very surprised to see that she was not looking at him at all; her back was turned, it had been the whole time. He heard the rustle of fabric falling into a heap as the wandlight went out; she had conjured a robe or blanket, he couldn't tell which. "We'll meet again, in the light," she said very quietly, and slipped into the house before he could answer.

Harry stared after her until the door clicked shut, then slunk self-consciously over to what turned out to be a blanket. He wrapped himself in it, biting his lip gently with regret that had assumed the worst of this stranger, who had been in the process of doing him a rather kind favor. Still, she spoke so strangely, how could he have guessed what she was up to? He muttered under his breath, "Okay, that was one spooky witch."

Harry reckoned that people were probably waiting up for him in the kitchen, but he wished he could find his trunk and put some clothes on before making his entrance. He had no idea where Shacklebolt had sent his luggage, and he decided that the only thing worse than walking into a kitchen full of people while wearing nothing but a blanket, would be waking up some unsuspecting soul by barging into their bedroom in the middle of the night while wearing nothing but a blanket.

Tonks, Shacklebolt, Lupin, and several other witches and wizards had been sitting around the long table in the basement kitchen, looking anything but relaxed as they sipped from various bottles and cups. At least one of them was glancing at the clock at any given moment. Harry didn't even have time to set foot on the stairs before the nearest people saw him, and relieved cries of "Harry!" "He's here!" "You made it!" rippled around the table. Tonks bolted up the stairs and yanked him into a hug so tight that she crushed the air right out of his chest. "Cor, Harry, I've been worried sick, it'd be my neck on the block if you didn't turn up." She let him go and gave him a peck on the cheek, but he was too busy catching his breath even to notice.

"It's okay, everything's fine, no worries," Harry mumbled to the panoply of relieved faces filling the stairwell. Tonks, the closest, no longer looked anxious, however, but surprised.

"Harry...are you not wearing any clothes?" she asked, in a tone that suggested he was in major trouble if he had stopped to take a leisurely bath before letting them know he'd arrived.

He shrugged, feeling ridiculous for about the millionth time that night. "It's a long story, but no." Her eyes bugged out at him for an instant, then her smile returned and she pulled him down the stairs.

Harry awoke the next morning feeling a bit foggy; he'd stayed up almost until dawn recounting the night's events to everyone in the kitchen. He was in the same bedroom he'd shared with Ron on other occasions, but he was alone this time, except for Hedwig, who was glaring at him. "What?" he snapped, pulling some clothes out of his trunk. He was glad he didn't have any letters to send; she looked as though she would bite his finger off at the next opportunity. "Come on, now!" he said. "You've got water, food...don't tell me you're jealous because I flew here and you didn't?" She squawked loudly and turned her back; Harry rolled his eyes and got dressed.

He found Lupin and an unknown wizard in the kitchen. "Good morning, Harry--again!" smiled Lupin over his toast. "Join us! This is Lachlan Arukangi, he's from New Zealand!"

"Call me Lachlan," said the wizard, offering his hand. "A pleasure to meet you, Potter!"

"It's Harry." He was starving, so he gave Lachlan a drive-by handshake on his way to the stove, where he ladled himself some porridge.

Lupin patted the next chair, and Harry gladly sat beside him. "Everyone's so excited by what happened last night. Hagrid only had time to say how wonderful it is that Fawkes chose you before he was off this morning."

"Off?" blurted Harry around a big spoonful.

"To America. He wanted to see you before he left, but they were really in a hurry; he's trying to make it back before the wedding."

Harry was torn between asking who Lachlan was, what "Fawkes chose you" meant, why Hagrid was going to America, and who "they" were. At the moment, though, his stomach won the battle; he was ravenous after flying around all night.

Three bowls later, Harry felt as though he had a lead weight in his belly. He waited for the other two wizards to come to a break in their conversation, gazing at Lupin expectantly. His former professor sighed with a weary smile. "I suppose you're ready for a debriefing, Harry?"

Harry gave a single nod and said, "The drawing room?" Lupin nodded in return, patted Lachlan on the shoulder, refilled his coffee mug, and headed up the stairs without a word.

The drawing room was bright and airy, except for the corner in which the Black family tapestry hung; that part of the room still maintained a dreary, tomblike darkness. They both settled into the ancient armchairs, which had recently been restuffed and reupholstered in Gryffindor red. Harry had so many questions, he didn't know where to begin.

"I hope you don't mind that we've taken some liberties with your new home, Harry," said Lupin, indicating the chairs and the room as a whole.

Harry took a deep breath as he processed that comment; he still hadn't wrapped his head around the concept that this house belonged to him. "No, no, I'm glad you have. Thank you."

They regarded one another for a moment, until Lupin finally broke into a crooked grin. "It's hard to know where to start, isn't it?"

Harry blinked, grinning as well. "Start with what you've been doing besides housework."

"That narrows it down," Lupin smirked. "All right. You left after the funeral. We sent people out to look for Snape and Malfoy. Nothing. We expected no less. Snape's house in London had been emptied; the Malfoy manor was abandoned, apparently in a hurry. Narcissa left a lot of expensive things behind. We assume they're hiding out at some other Death Eater's home, though they could be with You-Know-Who himself."

"And do we know where he is?"

Lupin averted his eyes. "No. We've scoured his old haunting grounds, so to speak. We can't find him in Albania, France, Morocco, or Brazil. The Muggle governments are helping with the search; they've got a camera in a 'saddle of light' or something like that, it gallops high above the world and can take a picture of anything, anywhere--but only if it knows where to look. We'll be able to read the parchment on his nightstand--after we find him," he grumbled ruefully. "Unfortunately, it's finding him that's the trick."

Harry nodded. "We'll find him. What about the Horcruces?"

"I see you've been talking to Miss Granger," said Lupin, grinning. "Well, as you know, Dumbledore suspected there would be six. He destroyed the Gaunt heirloom ring. You had already found the diary. Slytherin's pendant is still a mystery, it may or may not be destroyed. A team of Aurors is pinpointing Helga Hufflepuff's gold cup, and we have people poring meticulously through 700 years' worth of wills, receipts, and such, trying to locate relics from Gryffindor or Ravenclaw. The only one of Gryffindor's that we know of right now is the sword in the Headmaster's office, and it's no Horcrux."

Lupin sighed. "This is the great mystery of our time. Everyone's uncomfortable with the idea that he's used two items from Slytherin, but only one from the rest of the Houses. Of course he'd have more than one from within his family, but then why the diary? Why not a third Slytherin relic? It would be more balanced to have three of Slytherin's and three others; that's just the kind of detail he would attend to. We must be missing something.

"And of course, not everyone believes he's sticking with House relics at all. Some people suspect there's one in that snake of his, but most agree it would be...uncharacteristic of him to use an animal, even a fairly long-lived one like a snake. Particularly since he sends her out on missions into our territory--he'd be foolish to risk a fragment of his soul by sending it into the Ministry of Magic to attack Arthur Weasley, for example. Others think he's used some piece of junk, you know, something so worthless that no one would ever think to pick it up--like a Portkey. Hiding in plain sight. The diary certainly fit that kind of mold. But I think he's far too arrogant to house his soul in a bit of rubbish."

"No, he can't," said Harry. "It has to be something that his followers can find right away if he needs it. He can't take the chance that his last bit of soul ends up at the bottom of a Muggle landfill."

"Exactly. He has followers out there keeping them for him. The Order and the Ministry are interrogating people around the world, but it's just as bad as that Muggle camera--millions of people to talk to, but only a handful know the answer. We're hoping to tip the odds in our favor: Horace Slughorn has been preparing Felix Felicis, but the stuff's a nightmare to brew and then it has to age for seven weeks. The first batch is just about ready to open."

Harry nodded; Slughorn had given him a vial of that potion less than a year earlier. "It'll help them ask all the right questions, for sure, but the luck will be finding the right person to interrogate. You should start with a map, maybe have ten people throw darts at it for a while, see where most of them land, look there first."

Lupin gaped at him. "Harry...I don't know what darts are, but I think you're onto something. Maybe we should stop searching for Voldemort's fortress, and use the Felix luck to discover it!" He patted down his robe for a quill and a scrap of parchment and scribbled himself a note furiously, then looked up in embarassment. "Sorry, Harry, I have a lot on my mind lately."

"It all fell to you when Dumbledore died."

Lupin's head dropped forward. "And I'm no Albus Dumbledore," he said mournfully.

Harry gazed at him sadly. "Neither am I. But we'll manage somehow." He wished he could think of something more comforting; Lupin looked as though the weight of the world was upon him, and in some ways, it was.

Lupin cleared his throat. "Quite right, Harry, no looking back. Where were we?"

"Finding the Horcruces."

"Yes, yes. There are two main schools of thought over the whole issue. Some believe we should eliminate as many of them as we can, prior to launching any full-scale attack on Voldemort. No such attack has ever worked, after all--his prior defeat was not achieved by conventional sorcery, as you well know. It seems reasonable to assume that he has protected his new...incarnation as well or better than before. The Ministry has studied your description of the way he was regenerated, and, as usual, he picked an excellent spell; they say we should consider his power fully restored. Some idiot in the Department of Mysteries actually suggested we use the same spell to revive Dumbledore; fortunately, the entire Auror division squashed that idea--the last thing we need is some Dark caricature of Dumbledore on the loose.

"It makes sense on several fronts to weaken him in every way possible before attacking, but the trouble is, no one's certain that destroying the Horcruces will actually affect him. If his soul has been truly cleaved, then destroying a fragment may not be any more effective than, say, grinding up a single shard of a broken dish. The remaining pieces would be neither more nor less strong. Which is the other argument--that we should focus our efforts on Voldemort's physical being, and once that's gone, we make a concerted effort to wipe out the Horcruces. We're sure to suffer some losses, no matter which front we take on first--that is, no matter what we do to weaken the enemy, we will also become weaker. It's impossible to say whether our gains would outweigh our losses. So from that perspective, we ought to strike as hard and fast as we can at the most difficult target, take care of the easier stuff afterward."

"And which side are you on?" asked Harry.

Lupin ran a hand through his unkempt hair. "They both have good points. I think...that is, I'm inclined to focus on the Horcruces. They kept him linked to this world the last time he was defeated, and they'll do it again. And he surely has no intention of wandering the wilderness for years without a body a second time. That was probably his first step after he incarnated, to make sure he'd have a new body right away if this one was killed. He hasn't come this far by repeating his mistakes."

Harry gazed toward the Black family tapestry for a moment, idly twirling a loose string on his robe. "Yeah, he's arrogant, but not to the point of carelessness. He analyzes it when things go wrong and makes changes. We need to do the exact same thing. The Horcruces allowed him to restore himself last time. We can't repeat that mistake."

Lupin let his head fall back into the chair, breathing deeply. He even stretched his hands along the armrests, looking for a moment like an ordinary man discussing social matters over cognac at an exclusive club. When he regarded Harry again, his look of relief was almost painful to see.

"So let me guess," Harry said drily, "because you're all for the Horcrux approach, the Ministry is dead set on the direct attack on Voldemort." It wasn't even a question; Harry knew how the game was played by now.

"Well, it's not quite that blatant," said Lupin diplomatically, "but yes, that seems to be the prevailing mood at the Ministry." They both rolled their eyes and smiled grimly.

"Then our path is perfectly clear. Good!" Harry shifted his chair slightly. "Tell me about our allies. Have we heard more from the giants?"

"Hagrid has been working on that. Now that Grawp has really started to communicate, he's confirming what Dumbledore guessed--that many giants are unhappy about their living conditions, the strict caste system, and so on, and have been looking for an opportunity to break their families out of the cycle. Voldemort's promised them the world, of course, but only the most grandiose are foolish enough to believe him. The rest can smell a rat; they expect to be wiped out like the other 'impure races', once Voldemort is through with them. Of course, their clan will wipe them out right now if they don't obey the Gurg, so they're in rather a tight spot.

"Persuading them to fight Voldemort is the least of our worries. The immediate issue is that they first need help to escape their clans, which means they also need a new place to live. And before that, we have to gain their trust. You know the general prejudice against giants in the Wizard community; we'd have to start with our own people, convince them that they should be nice to giants." Lupin shook his head, eyes downcast. "If we had a hundred years, maybe..."

Harry sighed. "Well, at least we know what they need, and want. We just have to figure out how to give it to them."

"I understand that's why Hagrid's off to America. To be honest, I've left that matter up to he and Ondossi; I don't know all the details."


Lupin grinned. "That's the good news, Harry, I'm getting to that! Every wizard community in the world was shaken up by the news of Dumbledore's murder. Even the ones who are too young or far away to really remember Voldemort's first reign, they had their illusions of safety shattered that day. Wizard soldiers have been coming from every corner of the world to join the Order; it's truly Dumbledore's Army now! Lachlan, you met at breakfast, is the headmaster of the New Zealand Academy of Magic. He has a network of Maori wizards searching the entire South Pacific for Voldemort. Hayao Yamada from Japan, he's a master of Defense Against the Dark Arts, probably the finest in the world after Dumbledore. There's a bloke from Namibia, he's a Bushman from the Kalahari Desert; wait till you hear him talk, I still can't say his name, they have whole new sounds in their language!"

Lupin became so animated while describing these new allies that Harry felt guilty for interrupting, but he wanted to know just whom had been entrusted with Hagrid's company. Hagrid wasn't supposed to use magic (though he obviously had a wand hidden inside that absurd pink brollie), and Harry did not like the idea of his friend gallivanting across the ocean with some stranger. "That's all great, but who's Ondossi?"

"Of course, sorry, Harry. Tura Ondossi is...well, she's from Northport, which is the largest Wizard city in America. She actually came here at Dumbledore's request--he had left instructions regarding the management of Hogwarts if...anything happened to him. He appointed her to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts."

Harry frowned. "Why not the Japanese guy?"

"I don't know Dumbledore's reasons, but I would much prefer to have him fighting than teaching at this point. He's not just good at spells, he's a tactician and a natural leader. Tura, on the other hand, is..." Lupin paused, looking up, as though hoping the right adjective would float into view. He opened his mouth twice, but rejected whatever he had in mind; he finally settled on "...spooky."

"Yeah? I think I met her. Last night, in the courtyard when I landed, there was a witch out there, she...talked funny."

Lupin smirked. "Like you didn't have to actually say anything to be part of the conversation?" Harry nodded. "That was her. A bit hard to describe, isn't it?"

" 'Spooky' works," said Harry. "Is she an actual Seer, then?"

"No, no, spookier than that," winked Lupin. "She's a Legilimagus. And, if recent rumors are correct, so are you, Harry."

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