Harry ached all over. His chest throbbed painfully where, only a few hours earlier, he'd been hit with a Killing Curse. The Boy-Who-Lived … twice.

His mind was so jumbled up he could hardly make sense of anything that had just happened. He'd …come back from the dead. Or had he even been dead?

He closed his eyes in sheer fatigue; he wanted nothing more than to curl up in his bed in Gryffindor Tower and sleep for days, that is, if the tower was even still standing.

The castle had grown quieter now. The battle was over, and the combined forces of the Hogwarts students, the DA and the Order of the Phoenix had won, narrowly. The dead numbered around thirty and the injured almost twice that.

The battle, he'd learned, had occurred all over Wizarding Britain. The Ministry had fallen, and Kingsley named interim Minister for Magic. The wizarding world was roughly in the same state of affairs it had been before Dumbledore's death; holding on to power, but only just.

He felt a sense of hopelessness crash over him. He could have ended it- tonight it could have been all over. But now, they were just back in the same position they had been at the beginning. Voldemort was still out there, weakened, but very much alive.

Why couldn't he have just killed him? He had come so close! Now Voldemort was out there again, probably making new Horcruxes and coming up with new horrors for the wizarding world. This was no victory.

Kingsley had headed off to the Ministry, to consolidate his power, and weed out the remaining Death Eaters still remaining there, trying to rally up the wizarding world into a full-fledged resistance against Voldemort and his remaining followers; Tonks had been transferred to St. Mungo's, with Lupin accompanying her, having been struck with a particularly nasty curse from Bellatrix, but fortunately saved by Fred Weasley who'd turned up just in time to prevent Bellatrix from finishing the job; Hagrid was out in the grounds, tending to his half-brother; Neville was sitting in the Great Hall surrounded by admirers and proudly displaying the Sword of Gryffindor, hardly believing his luck and Ron and Hermione were sitting here, by his side, not saying anything, but just being there.

He felt more grateful to them than he could ever possibly express to them. Walking into that forest had been the hardest thing he had ever done, and hearing their cries when they'd seen his lifeless body had hurt him down to his very core. They hadn't said anything to him about it yet, and he was glad, because he wasn't sure how he could ever truly explain. They just sat silently, waiting until he was ready.

But would he ever be ready? He had come so close! If he'd only been quicker, perhaps Voldemort would be lying dead now, and not thirty innocent people in the Great Hall who'd died believing in him. Everything he'd been through tonight had led up to that moment, the moment he could finally have finished him off, and he had failed.

Voldemort's final words echoed in his ears. True path to immortality … You have no idea of the true magic I possess! The Old ways are mine Potter! You will fall beneath the power of the Old Religion!

He had no idea of what this even meant. But he knew it not bode well for him or those he cared about.

At that moment Kingsley entered back through the front doors, striding purposefully across the Entrance Hall, looking calm, collected and more determined than ever. He paused, as he saw Harry, Ron and Hermione sitting on the battered steps of the marble staircase. He looked them over, his expression unreadable.

"We're meeting in Dumbledore's Office. I'd appreciate it if the three of you were to attend."

'We' could only mean 'the Order'. Harry nodded silently. He knew he'd have to give an explanation sooner or later.

Kingsley swept past them up the staircase, and Ron and Hermione began to rise to follow him, but Harry reached out and pulled them back.

"Wait," he murmured. He owed it to them. He had to tell them first.

He took a deep breath and began speaking in earnest, looking at his trainers, avoiding their gaze.

"I'm sorry for doing that to you … I'm sorry I had to let you think I was dead. It … it was the only way I could get back to the castle. I didn't want to put you through that, I'm sorry …"

He trailed away, unsure of what to say next. How could he tell them he'd been living with a piece of that monster's soul inside of him the last sixteen years?

"You see … I wasn't giving myself up to him. I wasn't trying to … what I mean is … I had a reason for going out there …"

Hermione placed her warm hand into Harry's and squeezed it gently. "We know, Harry. We know what made you go out there." Her voice was gentle, and thick with emotion.

Harry looked up at her in surprise, then looked at Ron and saw a similar expression of understanding on his face.

"But how could you know? I only just found out myself!"

Ron and Hermione exchanged glances. Hermione bit her lip. "Well, you see … we noticed you were gone. We wanted to come after you, to bring you back-"

"Yeah, to knock you senseless for even trying to give yourself up," Ron smiled weakly.

Hermione continued on as though she hadn't heard:

"-but someone stopped us. It was that man, the one who knew about the –Horcruxes-," Hermione whispered the last word, though there was really no need for secrecy any more. "He told us that this was the way it was to be, that- that you were the 'seventh'."

Harry froze, staring at her fixedly. He had known? He'd known from the start! That slip-up when he'd said 'only two left' after the destruction of the diadem suddenly made sense. Harry felt a cold rage surging through his body. He'd known Harry would have had to give himself up!

How did he know? Dumbledore can't have told him!

Harry looked down at his feet again, still angry. The fact that a stranger knew so much about their private affairs disturbed him. If he'd been such a great friend of Dumbledore's, why had Dumbledore never mentioned him? Even just now at 'King's Cross'? If he knew so much, why wasn't he a member of the Order?

It made no sense whatsoever. He could tell Ron and Hermione were thinking the same as him.

"How does he know so much? Just who is he?"

Ron shrugged, but Hermione looked deep in thought.

"Did you see the magic he used? That Shield Charm he used at the end there? That was powerful magic, more powerful than anything I've ever read about. He can't just be some ordinary wizard."

Ron nodded vigorously. "Yeah, there's something fishy about him. I don't think we should trust him."

Hermione scowled at Ron. "Why not? What has he done to harm us?"

Ron goggled at her. "He let Harry walk out there to die!"

"Yeah," muttered Harry. "But if he's really so powerful, maybe he knew I wasn't really going to die."

Ron shook his head. "Come off it Harry! He can't just pop up out of nowhere and spout off all this stuff we've been working our arses off trying to keep secret all year and expect us to trust him!"

"But, did you see his Patronus though," Hermione said, almost whispering, a far-off look in her eyes. "It was a dragon."

Ron huffed. "Yeah, that was cool. But what's that got to do with anything?"

Hermione jerked herself out of her day-dream to look at Ron with an annoyed scowl on her face. "Honestly, Ron. Don't you ever listen in class?"

Harry had to smile at the indignant look on her face; a scholar to the end.

Ron simply looked his confusion, and Hermione sighed exasperatedly.

"Patronuses are physical manifestations of positive energy forces able to protect against Dark creatures, and are unique to the witch or wizard that conjures it, correct?"

"Um, yeah?" Ron said, still looking baffled.

"Well … how many Patronuses have you seen that take on the form of magical animals?"

"Uh …"

"There're extremely rare!" Hermione insisted. "Most people's Patronuses are animals that are a representation of their character, or which has symbolic meaning to the person that conjured it, so we get things like, stags, dogs, otters, horses, swans … normal animals! But to have your Patronus be a creature of magic …"

Harry frowned as he tried to take this in.

"So what does that mean?"

Hermione shook her head, still miffed they hadn't grasped the severity of what she was trying to say.

"Only an incredibly powerful wizard could conjure a Patronus which would take on the form of a creature of magic. There's only been two recorded examples in history; Rowena Ravenclaw, whose Patronus was a Centaur, and more recently, Albus Dumbledore, whose Patronus was a-"

"Phoenix," breathed Harry.

"Exactly," said Hermione smugly. "For a Patronus to take a form of a dragon… and what's more it wasn't an ordinary dragon, it was one straight out of legend, the Ancient race that supposedly died out centuries ago. He must be very powerful if he could have conjured a Patronus like that."

Harry stared at her a few moments longer. Just how powerful was this strange man?

Ron frowned. "Hang on a minute. Wasn't Tonk's Patronus a werewolf?"

Hermione turned to glare at him. "There's been debates about that for centuries. But most people believe that technically, werewolves aren't magical creatures. They're made, not born. They're a result of a genetic mutation brought on by a bite which transits lycanthropy; a disease. Even Muggles can become werewolves."

Harry and Ron turned and stared blankly at each other. Hermione sighed.

"Honestly, you two. Did you ever do any work?"

"Maybe, occasionally …" Harry trailed off, an amused smirk on his face.

Hermione shook her head again and stood up brushing dust from her robes. "Come on, we'd better not keep Kingsley waiting."

Harry and Ron stood up and followed her up the marble staircase, towards Dumbledore's Office, still calling it that even though it hadn't been Dumbledore's for almost a year.

They approached the entrance, and side-stepping the lopsided gargoyle, moved on upwards towards the door at the top.

Someone on the other side opened it as they approached, and they made their way into the office.

"Remus!" cried Harry. "I thought you'd gone to St. Mungo's with Tonks?"

Remus' eyes darkened at the reminder, but he forced a small smile on his face. "The Healers there have assured me she will recover in time. She's resting now. She won't be awake for several hours yet, and I would like to be there when she does awaken," he said, directing this last part at Kingsley, who stood in the centre of the room.

He raised a hand in a calming motion. "Do not worry Remus. I shall not keep you away from your wife a moment longer than I need to. But we all must decide what our next move should be before it is too late."

Remus nodded curtly, and headed back to the chair he had obviously just vacated, allowing Harry, Ron and Hermione better access into the room.

It almost appeared as if it had been magically expanded, with the office being fuller than Harry could ever remember it being. The entire Weasley family were there, along with Lupin, Kingsley, several Ministry people, Professors McGonagall, Flitwick, Sprout and Slughorn, Hagrid, Aberforth Dumbledore, Hestia Jones, Dedalus Diggle, several more Order members Harry knew from sight by their brief passing through of Grimmauld Place and also a few members of the DA, including Neville and Luna, looking distracted as usual.

"Harry," Hagrid mumbled, his eyes filling up with tears. "I'm glad yeh're all right. Nearly gave me a heart attack yeh did!"

Harry flinched. "Sorry," he said sincerely. "But it was the only way."

"You had to surrender yourself because it was the only way?" asked Mrs Weasley sternly, her flushed face betraying the tears she'd been crying. "Harry, what possible reason could you have had?"

Harry glanced at Ron and Hermione. "It's a bit of a long story."

Kingsley nodded, and waved the three of them to some vacant chairs in front of the desk. "Then you had better begin."

Harry nodded, seated himself, and began to talk, only slightly uncomfortable about doing it in front of so many people. He talked for what felt like hours, going over everything that had happened in his sixth year private lessons with Dumbledore. His audience were quiet, and listened eagerly. It wasn't until Harry mentioned the Horcruxes that they stirred.

"Horcruxes?" whispered Professor McGonagall, looking distinctly sick. "As in plural?"

Harry nodded. "He wanted to make sure he was completely immortal, and … well … he thought since seven was the most powerful magical number-"

"Seven?" exclaimed the people in the room who knew what a Horcrux was, recoiling in disgust. Slughorn looked distinctly uncomfortable, Dedalus Diggle dropped his hat, Professor Flitwick squeaked and toppled off his seat and Kingsley's eyes darkened as he clutched the desk in front of him in anger.

The atmosphere in the room was almost palpable; everyone looked at each other in shock in disgust. Well, almost everyone.

"Uh, what's a Horcrux?" asked George Weasley, looking confused.

Bill answered for him. "It's among the darkest pieces of magic available. A person can split their soul and encase it in an object to protect it even if the body itself is attacked. It's nothing but pure evil; a pathetic attempt to live beyond death. We thought we'd found one in one of the tombs over in Egypt once. The very thought of it turned some of the nastiest goblins I knew into quivering wrecks."

"Split their soul?" Fred repeated, looking incredulous. "Is that why he didn't die when he attacked Harry when he was a baby?"

"Yes," answered Harry. "It leaves you as a spirit, less than a ghost. But he was able to use them to regain his body back."

He continued on, revealing everything Dumbledore had told him about the Horcruxes, wincing as he revealed the true nature of Tom Riddle's diary. Ginny had started, her face paled, and she gripped her mother's arm tightly, but she made no other comment. She locked eyes with Harry, who had to look away quickly to avoid himself being distracted.

He recounted his and Dumbledore's search for the locket, and Dumbledore's death soon after, and the revelation of the fake Horcrux. He ploughed on and on, relating the last year of his life in a wearied voice, how they'd realised where the real locket was and how they'd infiltrated the Ministry, and then gone on the run.

He'd hesitated when it came to the part where Ron had left, no wanting to bring it up again, but Ron had cut across him and continued the story himself. It was a tribute to the Weasley's familial bonds that none of his relatives said anything. The twins frowned and Ginny looked indignant, but they did no more than that.

He spoke of the silver doe and the Sword of Gryffindor and of going to Xenophilius Lovegood's house (Luna had looked interested at that point). He talked about the Deathly Hallows, and the ambush. He went over listening to Potterwatch (prompting wide grins from both the twins, Lee Jordan, Kingsley and Lupin) and then how they'd been caught by the Snatchers.

With a dead tone in his voice he told about Hermione's torture (observing how Ron held Hermione's hand very tightly in his at that point), their escape from Malfoy Manor, and Wormtail's death. Lupin's stoic expression had twitched at that point, but otherwise gave no other indication of how he felt about the death of the man he'd once considered a friend.

He talked about going to Shell Cottage, burying Dobby, conspiring with Griphook, and breaking into Gringotts (again prompting wide grins from the twins, whose eyes sparkled with glee).

His voice became faster now, skipping over the escape on the dragon, meeting Aberforth in Hogsmeade and getting back into the castle rather quickly.

He related his side of the Battle, about finding the Horcrux, witnessing Snape's death and then viewing his memories.

McGonagall gasped aloud when she heard about Snape's true allegiances, and her eyes filled with tears, but she said nothing. Harry was grateful; he'd discovered a long time ago, that when relating matters such as these it was easier just to keep going.

He told them about his decision to meet Voldemort face on, how he had allowed himself to be killed. He mentioned the revelation about the Resurrection Stone being inside the snitch, but deliberately missed out the part where he'd met his parents and Sirius; he felt that was just too private to share.

He quickly related everything Dumbledore had told him after his 'death', noting how Hermione and Mrs Weasley's eyes had filled with tears, and then how he'd come around, and pretended to be dead.

He sighed. "And from that point on you pretty much know everything else."

The room was deadly silent for the briefest of moments before Mrs Weasley shrieked and threw herself on him, hugging him closely.

"Oh Harry, you brave, brave boy!"

Harry didn't try and break the embrace; he just surrendered to it, as he had in the aftermath of the Triwizard tournament, revelling in it.

Mrs Weasley finally broke away, and dabbed at her eyes, before sitting down again, and seizing Ginny's hand in her own.

"Blimey, mate," George said, gazing at Harry in wonder.

Harry looked away from him. He really wished he wouldn't …

Kingsley stood up from behind the desk. "If times were calmer, and I was in full authority of the Ministry, I would not hesitate to award the three of you Orders of Merlin First Class, for all that you have done in the past year. I could not be more proud of you."

"Nor could I," added Professor McGonagall, her voice thick.

"Nor I," piped up tiny Professor Flitwick.

Harry hung his head. "But Voldemort got away. He's still out there! I missed my chance."

"Harry," said Lupin, his voice stern. "Don't ever think that! You've done more than I could ever possibly have imagined. You've struck a mortal blow to the enemy. The war is now tipping in our favour. Voldemort might have gotten away Harry, but thanks to you, he's weaker than he's ever been."

But Harry wasn't convinced. "Is he though? You heard what he said at the end!"

The room tensed.

Kingsley frowned. "As to that, I cannot be sure. He spoke of the Old Religion, an ancient form of magic that I believe died out many years ago. It was said to be very powerful, much more than anything we use now. But I fail to see how he could have learned such magic. All forms of that magic are said to have died out with the Druids."

"We shouldn't underestimate him Kingsley," Mr Weasley warned, his voice more wearied than Harry had ever heard it. "He may have come across it somewhere. Just because we do not believe it could be done doesn't mean that we should dismiss it. After all, how many of us would have ever guessed he could have created seven Horcruxes?"

A grim acknowledgement permeated the room, as Harry's head reeled. The Old Religion? He'd never even heard of it before. But judging by the severe looks on the faces in the room around him, it couldn't be good. He made a mental note to ask Hermione later.

"Well, what is our next move?" Hestia Jones asked bracingly.

Kingsley glanced at her quickly before answering. "We have to once more build up our resources. The Ministry must be reformed, the Muggle-Born Registration Committee disbanded etc. We must convince the wizarding world to come together to fight as one. We must build up the strength we have lost."

"Easier said than done, Kingsley," Lupin noted. "But what about this new threat from Voldemort?"

Kingsley frowned. "We must investigate this thoroughly. I'll have as many people from the Ministry on this as I can spare. Knowledge of the Old Religion has died out, but we must not assume no vestiges are left."

"Yeah," said Fred uneasily. "Didn't You-Know-Who mention something about having the powers of Merlin?"

Kingsley shot him a wry smile. "Voldemort certainly has a flair for the dramatic. We must not assume anything."

"But if he does have the powers of the Old Religion, "said Hermione uncertainly. "I mean, I've read about it, what little information there is anyway, and it's really powerful. What could we do against that?"

Kingsley shot a look over her shoulder. "I think I may have an answer to that."

Harry turned, and saw the mysterious man from earlier, standing in the corner, having apparently been there all the time.

He came forward now, as Kingsley beckoned and Harry finally got a proper look at him for the first time.

He looked like he was several years older than Harry himself with hair the same jet-black colour. He was pale, tall and slender with clear blue eyes. He was dressed simply in Muggle clothes; dark jeans and a dark blue jumper. At first glance there was nothing remarkable about him, but the more Harry looked, the more he saw. He held himself proudly and straight-backed, seeming to exude a sense of authority effortlessly, though something in his face betrayed a more whimsical nature. His eyes were deep, as though concealing some hidden wisdom, and made him look far beyond his years. But most of all, it was his very presence. It seemed like he was radiating magical energy, some deep and ancient power that had no limits. The only time Harry had sensed something akin to this had been at the Veil in the Department of Mysteries. He would have no troubling believing it if he had been told this man was made from the same mystical energy that had surrounded that place.

Kingsley smiled at him, but Harry could see his eyes were wary; he sensed it too. "Our young friend here was most useful in the battle, he took out several Death Eaters, apparently by quite some ease, and betrayed a great power."

"I'll say," said Fred. "That Shield Charm he did earlier saved me, Percy, Harry, Ron and Hermione from being blown up!"

"And he also displayed great power later when he used another Shield Charm against Voldemort," agreed Kingsley, watching him with curiosity. "Such power I have never witnessed in all my years as an Auror. It was almost as though it came from the Old Religion itself."

The man shrugged, and replied: "My ancestors were Druids, and some of the old spells were passed down through the family. But we've forgotten how to use them mostly. There's very little left of the Old teachings."

"Indeed," replied Kingsley, still eyeing him curiously. "Be that as it may, you still know more than the majority of us here about the ways of the Old magic. You may prove extremely valuable to us."

The man bowed his head and smiled. "I hope so."

McGonagall turned to Kingsley and frowned. "But who is this man? How do we know we can trust him?"

"Yeah!" added Ron. "He knew about the Horcruxes. He knew everything, even though we'd kept it secret and Dumbledore had insisted that no one else could find out! How does he explain that?"

Kingsley turned to look at him once again. "Is that true?"

The man nodded.

Mrs Weasley had turned pale. "You knew!" she screeched. "You knew Harry had a piece of that-that beast's soul inside him but did nothing?"

The man looked troubled. "Yes, I knew. But it was not my place to interfere."

"Not your place?" roared Mrs Weasley. "You could have helped them! But instead you left a bunch of seventeen year olds to risk life and limb on a half-brained scheme they knew practically nothing about and-"

"Mum! Shut up!" shouted Fred. "At least give him a chance to explain."

"I think we'd all appreciate that," said Lupin, intrigued.

Mrs Weasley looked around, and seeing she was defeated, sat down again huffily, shooting the man glares.

"Why don't you sit down?" asked Kingsley pleasantly, waving his wand and conjuring a chair out of mid-air.

"Thank you," replied the man, and he seated himself.

Kingsley opened his mouth to ask another question but before he could, a long quavering note echoed throughout the castle, igniting a fire in Harry's chest.

The room was silent for a moment. "What was that?" asked Neville breathily.

"It's Phoenix Song," said Harry, having recognised its warming effects.

"Phoenix song?" McGonagall asked in surprise. "But Fawkes hasn't been seen since the day of Dumbledore's fune-"

Her words were drowned out as more of the enchanting melody rung out over the school, and in a burst of flame, Fawkes had soared into the office. He was as stunningly beautiful as ever, his red and gold plumage striking and bold. His beautiful song continued as he glided through the room, mesmerising its occupants. Harry felt his soul lift, and the weight in his chest evaporate.

They followed the bird's flight in a kind of day dream, until Fawkes flew lower and lower, and eventually alighted upon his new perch; the strange man's shoulder, who murmured a soft 'Hello' and extended two fingers to stroke his beautiful plumage.

Harry sat there in shock for a few whole seconds, along with everyone else. Fawkes? He was Dumbledore's most faithful … well whatever he was, not merely a pet or a servant anyway. Fawkes would never act this way unless …

Unless Dumbledore had trusted him implicitly. Harry looked at him in a new light. If Fawkes would behave this way around him …

Hagrid cleared his throat gruffly. "Well, tha's me satisfied. Fawkes was Dumbledore's bird, an' if he trusts him, so do I. Can' go wrong with an animal's instincts."

The man smiled at up Hagrid, Fawkes still resting on his shoulder.

Kingsley took a moment to recover from his shock. "Well, then. I suppose we'd better start from the beginning hadn't we? What is your name?"

The man smiled again, and it looked so genuine Harry began to release some of his earlier misgivings.

"My name is Martin Emrys."

Hermione gave a little start next to him. "Emrys? As in the ancient Druidic name for Merlin?"

Harry looked at her sharply, before turning back to the man who was now laughing, though Harry could see nothing funny.

"Yes. The family myth goes that we're descended from him, though it's probably nothing more than wishful thinking on our part."

Harry looked at him closely; his laugh seemed genuine, as did his smile, but he detected something more. Something deeper.

Martin Emrys laughed again. "I suspect you're right Mr Shacklebolt, I'll have to start from the very beginning."

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