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Harry Potter and the Rule of Three

Chapter Text

Chapter 1: The Catalyst

July 4, 1995

The Welcome Witch was not in a welcoming mood.

Mirabella Sawbridge never usually was; the job of receiving and sorting the injured and sick that made their way to her desk wasn’t exactly designed to improve one’s disposition, but on this night it was even worse than it usually was. After nearly two decades of paying her dues, she honestly thought she’d be past working the overnight shift at the reception area for St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. There were other, newer witches who had never completed their apprenticeships and were unsuited to most other jobs in the magical world who were willing to work the overnight shift, leaving more senior staff members like her to work the busier day slot. Yet here she was after making what she now had to admit was one of the more foolish trades she ever had.

As she looked around the reception area, she heard someone approaching. “Hey Mira,” her friend Leona Rothley greeted as she came up to the desk, “I haven’t seen you in a few weeks! How’s the night shift treating you?”

“Ugh,” Mira tried to smother her yawn with a disgusted groan and was only partially successful, “Like a hippogriff treats a Malfoy. Were we this tired during our training?”

Her friend began to chuckle, the report of young Malfoy’s injuries still made the rounds. It was great for a giggle, and no one had quite figured how Poppy Pomfrey had managed to make such ludicrous claims sound so professional.

“Yeah, but that was twenty years ago. We used to work all night and then hit up the Leaky Cauldron for beer and breakfast. Can’t really do that anymore,” she finished with a rub of the dark circles under her green eyes.

With a half-hearted raspberry for her friend, Mira put her head in her hands. “I haven’t been this bored since the Merlin-be-damned tournament up at Hogwarts.”

“I heard there were plenty of fireworks up there,” countered Leona as she leaned against the desk.

Mira snorted. “Yeah, I read the Prophet too, but it all happened afterward. I would love to get my hands on the dickhead that was responsible for designing that tournament.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I traded shifts, cashed in holidays, and called in a few favors to get time off so I could head up to watch the end of the tournament, and whatever moron designed the tournament made it so that the last event was a hedge maze.”

Leona had to smother a chuckle at her friend’s obvious irritation

Seeing her friend try to remain calm at her annoyance broke Mira’s frustration, and she had to laugh along with Leona. “A bloody hedge maze! Thirty feet high! Once the champions went into the maze we couldn’t see a thing!”

“So you were sitting in the stands…” Leona trailed off as her chuckles moved into giggles.

“…with nothing to do!” finished Mira.

She tried as hard as she could to hold onto her pique, but faced with such blatant amusement, she broke. Their laughter echoed in the mostly-empty reception area before Mira calmed herself down, wiping her eyes. “That was such a waste of a traded shift. The only reason I’m working these overnight shifts is to pay my end of the trade. I didn’t even get to see who won; somehow there was this massive delay in the maze, and I had to get back here before they even had the winner.”

“So you weren’t there for all the drama when Potter reappeared with his dead friend, claiming You-Know-Who is back?”

“Are you kidding? Part of my arrangement was to get back here to take over the night shift that night. I figured the Tournament would be over in time for me to apparate. I had to read about it in the Prophet like everyone else,” Mira groaned.

“That has to be the worst vacation ever,” Leona sympathized, somehow without showing any traces of sympathy.

“It certainly wasn’t worth the effort I put into it,” agreed Mira.

Leona offered a small smile. “Well, think about it like this,” she cast a quick Tempus charm, “It’s already half past one, you’ve only got about five and a half hours to go before shift change, and then you’re home free.”

Just the mention of getting home to her soft bed had Mira rubbing her eyes with another yawn. “I still don’t know how you guys can handle the night shift. I would be completely useless. Guess I’m not as strong as you are,” she finished, letting her hands move up to her short blonde hair, trying to wake herself up with a scalp massage. “Maybe I should try to get my hands on some muggle coffee.”

Leona gave a knowing smile. “If you end up with any more of these shifts it would be a good idea. Potion brewing requires total focus so I have to be alert. Coffee is a blessing. Tea, as much as I love it, is pretty much useless after about the second night, and I’m so sick of hearing another warning on ‘the dangers of overusing pepper-up potions’ that it’s worth avoiding just for that reason.”

“Right along with the cleanliness of cauldrons and the need for antidotes to be administered by competent healers,” Mira finished.

Before they could continue their chat, the entrance chimed to signal the entry of a new patient. Leona took one look at the man staggering into the reception area and broke into new chuckles. She tapped the countertop to punctuate their chat and made her way back in the direction of her potions lab.

Mira readied herself for the incoming guest. Nighttime in muggle hospitals was somewhat quieter than the day period – depending on the population density of the local area – but with St. Mungo’s being the only hospital in magical Britain, there never really was any down time. The chat she just had with her friend was about the extent of any calm she would see that night.

One of the hospital’s most frequent patients, Derwent Gorman was a familiar face to most of St. Mungo’s staff. Lank, weedy hair hung down limply most of the time, framing a gaunt face that silently spoke to the desperation of too many nights without the galleons to pay for a decent meal. His frame gave the same impression. Derwent’s visits almost always involved the ill after-effects of some hare-brained scheme designed to profit for a few galleons.

This visit appeared to be no different. His usually limp hair shot straight out behind his head while soot covered his face. Derwent limped into the reception area, carrying a cloak of some kind with him. “What brings you to us tonight, Mister Gorman?”

“I was so close to finishing my Elixir of Life. I really thought I had it this time, but I stored my potion too close to the Bloodstone Cloak so they both, sort of, exploded.”

Stifling the laugh she so richly wanted to let escape, Mira noted his information down on her parchment. “You know the drill. Have a seat over in those chairs so one of the staff can have a look at you before sending you on to the Potions Accident ward,” she indicated the small waiting area where poisoning, accident, or spell damage victims were examined by the witches and wizards in their lime-green robes.

Her earlier scalp massage didn’t have the effect Mira was hoping for, so she leaned back against her uncomfortable chair and yawned, stretching her limbs as far as they would go. Three more days of the vampire shifts beckoned, then she had one whole day off to get her body clock back on its routine before she went back to daylight hours. The chaos wouldn’t be welcome, but the satisfaction of doing what she could to help treat people who needed it, and getting her normal sleep pattern back, would be. Anything had to be better than working overnight.

Without warning, her peripheral vision caught a small figure staggering into the reception area through the exterior window. Pain spiked through her own neck as she snapped back to attention, watching the newcomer. His gait was broken, and from the way he tried to lean on a wall only he could feel Mira could tell he was in extreme pain. His clothes hung off his body, made for someone at least twice his size and giving him the appearance of being even smaller than he actually was.

“Help…me,” he slurred, grunting a chest-wracking cough with the effort.

The boy looked to be young, pre-teenage years. He’d be on his way to Hogwarts shortly if he survived his injuries. His hair was dark, but whether it was black or brown was impossible to tell with how much dirt and mud were caked on his head. It wasn’t the dark shade that fixed her attention, however; it was the red. Blood poured from numerous head lacerations, obscuring his features in a mask of rust-colored stains. The effort of making his earlier plea for help had a fresh trickle running down from the side of his mouth.

Bruises spread around his face, from his jaw up to his eye area, making him look like a raccoon if said  creature had been involuntarily introduced to the business end of a brick wall.

The boy was thin too; almost emaciated, Mira corrected herself. The way his muggle clothes were hanging off of him, she figured that beneath the material his ribs would be visible. From the way he was holding his left arm in close to his body, she was positive that it was broken, even without examining him. Angling his body away from himself made it  appear as if he was trying to get away from the pain. As she began to rise to help him, he spat out a couple teeth in a cloud of blood.

“Please,” he pleaded once more before collapsing to the floor.

Taking her wand, she stabbed an emergency notification rune on her desk and rushed over to the boy. The alert she’d just activated drew three medi-witches over from the waiting area at a run. “This case needs immediate treatment. He’s got an extreme amount of trauma.”

“Good call, Welcome Witch Sawbridge,” the senior member of the team replied, “We’ll take it from here.” She cast a Mobilicorpus charm to levitate the patient and the three of them moved off at a run.

Only when she went over her memory of the event did she realize the identity of the boy.

Shit!” Mira’s wand shot out with her Patronus fox carrying a message that the critical case they just took back was none other than Harry Potter. Her final act, before returning to the desk, was to send off another Patronus. This time to Wizarding Protective Services, it was standard procedure when a minor  was admitted with no accompanying guardian.

The Emergency Care ward resembled an ant colony that had been kicked over, with all the ants scurrying around. The sudden arrival of a patient in their Emergency Treatment section needing immediate care was nothing new; that was the function of that particular area of the unit. The appearance of their newest patient indicated something out of the ordinary, and the medi-wizards and medi-witches went into their highest gear at the sight.

Graham Osset, the medi-wizard in charge of the ward for that shift, moved over to the newly-occupied bed as the Welcome Witch’s Patronus materialized through the wall, informing him in its ethereal voice that his new patient was none other than Harry Potter.

Summoning a Dicta-Quill and pad from his bag, he activated the writing tool. Osset pulled out his wand and started dictating diagnostic notes. As he spoke, the healers around him moved to slide over trays with the potions and other tools experience told them would be needed.

“Starting diagnostics on ten-year old Caucasian male of unknown identity. Beginning with physical injuries: at the feet we have numerous sprains and tears of the ligaments. I note a torn right and sprained left plantar fascia. Faded lacerations on the feet leaving extensive scarring,” he peered closer before setting his jaw and continuing, “Poorly-set and healed breaks in the lower tibia in both legs, just above the ankles. Cleaner breaks in both tibia again, halfway up between ankles and knees. Old breaks in both patellae along with torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in the left and a torn posterior cruciate ligament in the right,” Osset growled, anger rising with each new notation, “Skin laceration scars continue up both legs, with some deep-tissue wounds in the left thigh. Broken left femur. Pelvic crush indicators on the right side,” he noted, pausing at the patient’s lower abdomen.

One of their trainees in the room to observe their procedures vomited into a basin at the sight. As a more experienced medi-witch vanished the mess (and smell) Osset admitted to himself that even with his years of experience, seeing the horrors visited on a young boy was disturbing.

“Small metal ball-shaped objects deeply embedded into the fatty tissue, blunt-force trauma to both hands with multiple broken phalanges in each. Similar poorly-set break injuries in left ulna and right radius. Puncture would in the right forearm. Old breaks to scapulae and clavicles on both sides. Chip fractures in C1, C3, C4, C6, T2, T3, T5, T6, T10, T11, T12, L1, L2, L4, and L5 vertebrae.”

“Sweet Merlin!” Medi-witch Bertha Higgins slid over a new sheet of parchment under the quill as it filled the first.

Once he received word that the Dicta-Quill was ready to go once more, Osset carried on, ignoring the organized chaos behind him. “Three cracked ribs on the left side and four on the right. It’s damned lucky his chest isn’t flailed. The spleen is lacerated, and the left lung is punctured. He also has broken zygomatic bones on both sides, a cracked maxilla, badly broken jaw, and four missing teeth.”

“Now for magical injuries: I detect an uncommonly strong infant magical bind, tracers that appear to be linked to a warding spell of some kind, at least a half-dozen compulsion charms, a long-term loyalty potion keyed to a white-haired individual, and…” he trailed off, waving his wand over the patient’s forehead, “Sweet Merlin,” whispered Osset.

“What? What is it?”

He shook his head, “Dark magic, and a lot of it, concentrated in the patient’s forehead. It appears to be stable, so I want the physical injuries treated first.” He tapped a rune on his staff badge, summoning the Unspeakable stationed at St Mungo’s trained in treating dark magic.

“What the hell happened to this kid?!” Higgins exclaimed.

“Not our job, Medi-witch Higgins,” replied Osset, “We just need to get him back to health. Now, we have a lot on our hands here. When I remove the stasis charm, I’ll be giving him a dose of the Draught of Dreamless Sleep. Then, I want him given blood-replenishing potion. While that’s being dispensed, I want someone else giving him organ-repairing potions. We’ll stabilize the worst of the breaks, and then once the organs have been repaired and the bleeding has stopped, which should be sometime tomorrow, we can start vanishing his broken bones and giving him Skele-Gro.

“We can’t fix all his older, poorly-healed broken bones tonight; just the new injuries will need to be healed. Once the patient is awake again, I’ll speak to whomever his guardians are about vanishing and re-growing the old injuries. That will be a long process with how many of them there are,” only Osset’s experience and professionalism helped him contain his rage at the horrors visited on a child.

“Are we all clear, people?”

Hearing a round of affirmative responses, he turned back to the patient, ready to remove the stasis charm. One of his trainees piped up, interrupting his focus.

“Excuse me, sir, but if this is Harry Potter, well, Harry Potter’s a student at Hogwarts. He just competed in the Tri-Wizard Tournament this year, if my memory of the Prophet is accurate. This  patient has the body of a ten-year old.”

Another of the medi-witches cleared her throat, “What if long-term untreated malnutrition is part of the present diagnosis?”

“That would explain it,” Osset mused, “But if that’s the case the lad would have been near-starvation levels for years. We’ll have to get him on an intensive regimen of nutrient potions when he’s up and about again. Harry Potter is not going to die on our watch, people, so let’s get cracking!”

With a wave of his hand, he canceled the stasis charm, and almost a dozen highly-trained medical professionals sprang into action to save a young boy’s life.

Chapter Text

25 June 1995

Harry Potter sat on his uncomfortable bed in the Hogwarts infirmary. He snorted – with the way his first four years at the school had gone; it might as well be 'his' bed with a plaque on the wall. He always wound up in the same bed; after his collection of quidditch injuries, the battle with Quirrelmort, slaying a basilisk and then again after his run in with the dementors. Realistically, the bed was his. Now he was again suffering the starchy sheets and stiff mattress that couldn't possibly offer any real health benefits for anyone unlucky enough to spend the night on them.

The sound of his breathing was unnaturally loud in the silent infirmary. Dumbledore and the rest of the staff had gone to handle Tri-Wizard Tournament matters, most likely seeing off the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons contingents and ensuring that the Diggorys were taken care of.

With a snort, that he quickly regretted as it morphed into a groan from his Cruciatus-jangled nerves, Harry thought to himself that Dumbledore would probably be more focused on ensuring that Hogwarts – more likely himself since he likely placed the initial portkey charm on the Cup – wasn't affected due to negligence for what happened to Cedric. With the memories of his previous injuries and travails suffered at Hogwarts still clear in his mind, the one thing that stuck out was that the Headmaster had always insisted on not involving outside actors, namely the Department of Magical Law Enforcement's aurors. He'd even dragged Harry to his office for an interrogation before sending him to the infirmary. If there was one thing the old man hated, it was any hint of suspicion that he might be lacking as Headmaster, whether or not it was true.

His friends were gone, too, Harry remembered as another muscle spasmed. He grimaced, trying to fight off the effects of the torture curse. Ron and Hermione had stopped by to see how he was doing, but when it got close to dinner time, the redhead all but dragged her out, powerless to resist the call of his bottomless stomach.

If Harry were being honest with himself, seeing Ron leave was something of a relief. He was still unsure about where their friendship stood now that the divisive tournament was over. The anger and jealousy on Ron's face after his name shot out of the bothersome cup still cut him deeply, popping into the forefront of his consciousness at the worst times. The fact that someone who professed to be his best friend, could believe that he lied about entering himself in the tournament, hurt deeper than Harry cared to admit.

Ron and the twins had rescued him from Durzkaban once before already, but after the way the year had unfolded, he wasn't exactly expecting a repeat show of support. They'd parted at the end of years before but something felt different about this one.

Fred and George might find their way around to Privet Prison, though. Harry had planned on using the prize money from the Tri-Wizard Tournament to help them fund their joke shop. A thousand galleons was a lot of money, but he couldn't really use it for anything much. Living with his aunt and uncle over the summer and then at Hogwarts the rest of the year meant his biggest opportunities for expenditures were at Hogsmeade. There wasn't much there to tempt him. Fronting the startup costs for Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes, though, would see more than his initial investment of a thousand galleons come back to him eventually. The burgeoning friendships that it would cement, though, would be priceless.

It was probably the last time he'd see Hermione until they boarded the express on the first day of September. Her parents had mentioned something about an overseas trip in one of their letters, and Hermione would be joining them. Searching his memory, he thought they'd mentioned something about Australia. With the seasons flipped due to the equator, they would be there for the Australian winter, and miss the scorching sun of its summer. The pang of disappointment at the thought was sharp.

Hermione's smile had the tendency to light up his day, and the way she'd never once failed him – even when he thought she stole his broom to spite him, a failure he needed to make right for her still – earned her his undying friendship. She was the only student to believe that he didn't put his name in the Goblet to cheat his way into the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and she also snuck into the champions' tent before the first event. When he closed his eyes, he could still feel the phantom sensation of her arms around him.

The idea of spending his entire summer without seeing Hermione somehow hurt worse than the lingering aftereffects of the curse.

With the rest of the Hogwarts students, though, he knew he was on his own. Uniting the entire population of Hogwarts was a tremendous feat for anyone, but from the moment his name shot out from the accursed Goblet, POTTER STINKS badges had done just that. Members of each house and every year level had worn them.

Hermione and Neville had never worn one, of course, but he'd heard rumors bandied about none-too-quietly of even Ron considering wearing a badge. There were a few others he couldn't remember beyond their faces. Even his quidditch teammates had given him some suspicious glances after he became an unwilling competitor.

Since his two friends had been and gone, he was on his own. In a way, despite the similarity of isolation, the wide open space of the Hogwarts infirmary was worse than the cupboard under the stairs he'd inhabited for more than a decade. After the day he'd had, with the maze and its hazards, then fighting for his life in the cemetery, the infirmary's dark corners were more than a little unnerving. The familiarity of no one being there to help him tend to his injuries was disquieting.

Another painful spasm interrupted his train of thought.

"Damn Dumbledore," he muttered under his breath. Somehow covering his arse was more important to him than tending to an injured student.

"Not that I don't at least understand the sentiment, but is there anything you need Harry, mate?" As if Harry's thoughts had summoned the boy, Neville Longbottom made his way into the infirmary.

"Neville? What are you doing here?" Harry asked, surprised at his companion. "Isn't the feast still going on?"

"Yeah, but there are only so many times I can take Ron trying to talk about quidditch while stuffing his face before I need to get out of there," Neville joked, "But really, when I saw Madam Pomfrey at the feast, I wanted to see if you needed anything."

"That's…that's great of you, Nev," Harry stammered, floored at the offer, "I'm okay, though. Just trying to get tired enough to go to sleep." He even tried to fake a yawn, hoping that he wouldn't suffer a Cruciatus twinge at the moment so the other boy wouldn't feel obligated.

To his surprise, Neville actually laughed as he sat down on the bed next to Harry. "I think that's the first time you've ever lied to me. Even when you three were headed into danger in first year you had the decency to tell me the truth. Before Hermione froze me, at least."


Neville waved him off. "It's okay, mate. I was just pointing it out. Standing in the doorway for a few minutes showed me just how much pain you were in. I know the Cruciatus curse, what it does to its victims. You probably need another dose of potion to help with the spasms and pain."

"How…?" Harry trailed off, unable to speak at being caught out.

The fellow Gryffindor seemed to struggle with himself for a few moments before straightening his shoulders and standing tall before Harry's bed. "Bellatrix Lestrange tortured my parents into insanity with that very curse. There's not much I don't know about how it works and the effect it has.

"So you'll have to forgive me if I don't take 'I'm fine,' at face value," Neville ended with a wry look to take any sting out of his words. Without another word, he went over to Madam Pomphrey's potion cabinet and started looking for the Cruciatus treatment.

Harry's jaw felt like it couldn't go any lower. In all the years he'd known Neville, he'd never thought to ask about the boy's family, yet here he was, in the infirmary, breaking into the potions cabinet just to get him a pain reliever. It was truly humbling. "Nev, I can't believe you're doing all this for me. I never even asked about your parents before. Just assumed that since you weren't talking about them it was something you wanted to avoid, I guess. I'm really sorry."

"Don't sweat it, Harry. You were right; it's not something I talk about much. I still go to St. Mungo's once a week every holiday break to talk to them."

"St. Mungo's?" Harry asked, confused at another unfamiliar name he had to learn.

"The wizarding hospital in London?" Neville asked back at him, looking around the potion cabinet door, "You didn't even know we had a hospital to use?"

"I never even thought about it," Harry had to admit.

Shaking his head, Neville closed the cabinet and made his way back over to the bed with the vial of clear blue liquid. "Drink this. St. Mungo's Hospital is where all the most serious magical injuries and illnesses get treated. It's in London, in an abandoned warehouse converted into the magical hospital. It's even visible to muggles, but they just see the warehouse and a 'closed for refurbishment' sign. My parents have been in a special ward for spell injuries since I was a little over a year old."

A light went on in Harry's mind as he tossed back the foul-tasting healing potion. "That's about how old I was when Voldemort killed my parents and gave me this scar," he breathed, gesturing to his forehead automatically as he felt his jangled nerves calm.

"Well yeah," Neville said, not really understanding Harry's surprise, "You and I are almost exactly the same age; I think Gran said it's just a matter of hours apart we were born. My parents were attacked a few days after yours."

"Merlin!" exclaimed Harry, "That would have to be one of the biggest coincidences I've ever heard of! Two boys, almost the exact same age, whose parents are all attacked within days?"

"Not really a coincidence, Harry," Neville chuckled, but stopped when he saw that Harry was still confused. "Your mum was my godmother, and my mum is your godmother. Bloody hell, hasn't anyone told you anything about your family?"

"Nev, until I went to primary school and got yelled at for not responding to 'Harry' at roll call, I thought my name was either 'Freak' or 'Boy', because that's all my uncle and aunt ever called me. I was told my parents were worthless drunks who dies in a car crash they caused, and I didn't even know magic was real until my Hogwarts letter showed up. Hagrid gave me a photo album, but that was just pictures with no explanation of anyone but my parents," Harry answered, out of breath by the end of his confession.

Blowing out an exasperated sigh, Neville sat down on the bed next to Harry's again. "Okay. From what Gran has told me, our parents were all close friends, going all the way through Hogwarts together, standing up in each other's weddings, and our mothers even fell pregnant with us at about the same time. Since they were so close, they agreed that our mothers would be our godmothers. Your parents were attacked on Halloween, and mine were attacked a few days later."

"Wait a minute. If each of our mothers were the others' godmother, then shouldn't I have been taken to your house after my parents were killed?" Harry asked, suspicion growing in his voice.

Neville gave him an unsure shrug. "Well, I guess it would depend on your parents' will. You had a godfather, too, right? Maybe they set it up for you to go to him?"

It was Harry's turn to shrug. "I wouldn't know; I've never read or had someone read my parents' wills to me. I was dropped off at my muggle relatives'. I do have a godfather but he's…indisposed."

The other boy's jaw dropped. "But…but they had to have read your parents' wills! Someone had to have, at least!"

"Maybe they did, Nev. I just never heard any of it. I know I have a small vault in Gringotts, but that's about it. Maybe this summer I can get away from my relatives enough to get to the bank to see if I can find a copy of it."

Neville just shook his head. "Harry, mate: trust me. You need to go see the goblins as soon as you can this summer. They'll explain everything. If the will wasn't read, that might explain why you were left there, but that would be really strange."

"Thanks, I think I will. That's a lot to think about," Harry promised his friend, "If I can get away from my aunt and uncle I'll be sure to check that out."

Something in the way Harry phrased his statement, so soon after hearing that he didn't know his real name until he was in school, had the other Gryffindor's hackles up. "Are you…safe there, Harry?"

Harry flushed. "My uncle can be a little heavy-handed on discipline if I act out," was all he was able to admit, putting most of the onus for his uncle's discipline on himself, as he was used to.

"I would've told you about this a lot sooner if I'd known you didn't know. The friendship our parents had, well it would have been not just a duty but something I would've gladly done," Neville tried to assure.

Harry nodded. "I know you would have, Neville. You and Hermione are just about the only ones who've always had my back here. If there's one thing I know for sure about life at Hogwarts, it's that I can trust you. If our parents were such good friends, I want to keep that alliance going," he offered his hand to the other boy, "I think it should be an unchanging part of magical Britain, that wherever a Longbottom goes, a Potter will be at his side."

More than a little surprised at Harry's declaration, unused to being shown such appreciation. "It's been that way for a few generations. Wherever a Potter goes, a Longbottom will watch his back," he answered, clasping Harry's arm at the elbow in the way of warriors the world over, magical or muggle.

Both boys sat back after their promises, enjoying the sensation of having at least one friend they knew they could count on, when Madam Pomfrey came over and shooed Neville out. "Mister Potter needs rest to help his body deal with the effects of the Cruciatus."

Looking like he was going to argue, Neville got to his feet. Harry cut him off with a wave, "She's not wrong, Nev. Plus you should be getting ready to head home. I'll be fine here under this lovely young lady's tender mercies," he finished with a lopsided grin at the woman.

With an indignant huff, Madam Pomfrey started guiding Neville to the infirmary door. "Be careful, Mister Potter, or I might just decide you need a Dreamless Sleep potion to help your treatment along, not to mention giving myself some peace and quiet!"

"Oh, I'd be careful mate," Neville said with a chuckle, "She sounds serious. Don't worry, I'll save you some treacle tart from Ron."

"Neville!" called Harry from the bed, stopping both Madam Pomfrey and Neville before they could leave, "Keep an eye on Hermione, yeah? I don't want Ron to piss her off too much before they head home for the summer. He's got a tendency to rile her up pretty well."

The other Gryffindor nodded. "Don't worry, I will."

With that, Madam Pomfrey escorted him out and returned to her duties. Since Harry was her only patient, those duties solely involved monitoring his response to Cruciatus treatment and cleaning her supplies to store for the summer.

Well-used to spending long periods of time with only his own mind for company, Harry settled back against his pillows, contemplating what lay ahead for him.

He had just finished deciding that a chance run or two into London for some shopping in Diagon Alley might be worth the beating he'd get back in Little Whinging when the door opened again and a vaguely familiar blonde girl made her way in. She was slightly hunched over with her arms wrapped around her middle, warding off the cool air that still permeated northern Scotland in springtime. As she walked, he could see a slight hitch in her stride. She was barefoot, and rather than thick pajamas to keep her warm, the girl wore only a thin nightdress to protect her from the elements. As she took each step, a red dot appeared on the floor behind her, silently testimony that her foot had been cut in the process of coming inside.

"It happened again, Madam Pomfrey," she sniffled out. As the girl limped over to his side of the infirmary, Harry could see tear tracks coursing down her cheeks. "I woke up outside the castle, and the eagle that guards Ravenclaw's dorms wouldn't move to let me in. I guess I need to borrow a bed for the night, if that's okay with you."

"Oh dear Luna, of course it is!" the healer declared, moving quickly to help the girl. She summoned a thick blanket to drape around Luna's shoulders, casting warming charms as she did so.

As Harry watched, Madam Pomfrey led the girl over to a bed that was four spaces down from his own. She healed the cut on Luna's foot before tucking the warm blanket around her, placing a small satchel trimmed in Ravenclaw blue and bronze that the girl had been carrying on the table next to the bed. For the first time, the blonde's features began to relax. "Thank you. You've always been so kind to me when that silly eagle forgets to let me in," she said, her voice just loud enough for Harry to hear.

Pomfrey hesitated for the briefest moment in her actions. Even from down the ward Harry could tell she wasn't sure what to say in response. "I'm glad to be able to offer a warm place to sleep."

As Madam Pomfrey walked back over to her supplies, vanishing the girl's blood along the way, Harry used her distraction to sit up, wincing as his traumatized nerves protested the action. He shuffled over towards the girl Luna as quietly as he could, not wanting to draw Pomfrey's ire for being out of bed. When he sat down on the bed next to Luna, she jumped in surprise, scooting back across her mattress away from him.

"Hey, it's okay. I'm not going to hurt you, I promise," he pleaded in a hushed voice, holding up his hands and hoping she could see his sincerity, "I'm not even going to touch you. I'll sit right over here. I just wanted to talk, if that's okay? It's kind of lonely in here being the only one."

The girl sat up, ready to move if she needed to as her vibrant blue eyes changed from fear as he sat down in front of her took on a curious sheen. "You're Harry Potter."

"Yeah, I am," he answered. Sitting as close as he was now to the girl, he could see she wore a necklace that appeared made of corks and earrings that looked like live radishes. Her long, almost silvery blonde hair had hidden those from his view earlier. "Did Madam Pomfrey say your name was Luna?"

She looked down at her hands. "You've probably heard me called Looney. Most of the people in the castle think I'm crazy."

"Do you know why they think that?" he asked, keeping his tone and posture as gentle as possible so she wouldn't startle again.

Luna gave a small shrug. "Probably because I don't automatically disbelieve stories of unknown magical creatures. I tried talking to my housemates about the expeditions my dad and I take over holidays to find Crumple-Horned Snorkacks and other animals, but they just laughed at me."

Taking a risk that she would pull away, Harry scooted closer. "I know what it's like to be bullied, too."

With a piercing gaze from her clear blue eyes, Luna regarded him. "Yes, I expect you would, with the whole school calling you the Heir of Slytherin in my first year and then the badges this year."

Keeping his voice down so that Madam Pomfrey couldn't hear what he said, Harry answered her. "Yeah, but even before school. I always knew I was…different…than other kids. I figured it was just because I was an orphan, that I deserved the way my relatives treated me."

Luna's eyes widened at what he wasn't saying. "Do they abuse you, Harry?"

Shaking his head at the girl's bluntness, he tried to come up with an answer. "It's hard to say. I know my clothes aren't as nice as my cousin's, or anyone I went to primary school with, but at least they kept me, put a roof over my head, you know?"

Luna's eyes had grown wide at his confession. "It would seem you are not what the books make you out to be, Harry Potter."

"Those cheap novels?" he chuckled, "I've seen them before, even flipped through them. Whoever wrote them has a great imagination."

Luna returned his laugh before seeming to come to a decision. "It's the other Ravenclaw students. Because they think I'm so different, so looney," she winced at the hated nickname, "they steal and hide my things, even the only picture I have left of my mother. They confound the eagle that guards our common room to not let me in. They hide my clothes, so I have to spend the nights wandering the halls, hoping not to be caught after curfew. I had to spend a few cold nights before Madam Pomfrey found me and started letting me sleep in here."

Harry snorted. "Kind of belies the whole 'your house is your family' crap that McGonagall spouted at us before our sortings, doesn't it? Well, I guess in my case, my house really has been like my family. If you'd like to, I'd like to be your friend, Luna."

"I think that would be a great idea, Harry. Like attracts like, and there probably aren't two other people in the whole castle like us." The blonde girl gave him a sad smile, clearly understanding less than ideal life circumstances.

"Can you tell me a little about your family?"

Luna took a breath, regarding him. "Well, my father and I go looking for magical animals that haven't been documented already, and he writes about them in the magazine he publishes called The Quibbler."

"The Quibbler? I'm sorry, Luna, but I don't think I've ever read that particular magazine," Harry said, keeping his voice light.

The blonde gave him an understanding smile. "I'm not really all that surprised. We're a very small publication, and with our focus on animals not yet known to magizoology, not many people take us seriously."

Something about what she said stuck out in Harry's mind. "Would they take you more seriously if you were the only newspaper or magazine allowed to write about the Boy Who Lived?"

Confusion reigned in Luna's eyes before they cleared, only to be replaced with hurt and betrayal. "I thought you said you were different. Now you're just making fun of me like everyone else." She turned her back to him and rolled onto her side. From where he sat, not understanding how things had turned so bad, Harry could hear a muffled sniffling. His heart hurt at the thought that he'd offended someone he was forming a connection with.

Checking to make sure that Madam Pomfrey was still occupied at her desk, Harry shuffled over to the bed on Luna's other side. "Luna, please hear me. I wasn't teasing you. I wouldn't lie to a new friend."

She sat up, dabbing at her eyes with the corner of her robe sleeve. "You were serious?"

"Totally. You've seen the crap that the Daily Prophet prints about me. If I knew there was another paper that published just the truth I'd sign a contract in a heartbeat."

Blue eyes turned worried as Luna furrowed her brow. "But we're just a small magazine. There's no way we could possibly afford Harry Potter's exclusive rights."

Harry grinned at her, dispelling her concern. "What if I said it would only cost one Knut?"

Luna's jaw dropped open. "Harry!" she hissed, an impressive feat given the lack of sibilances in his name, "You could make a lot more than that for your exclusive media rights!"

"The money isn't important to me. I want to do this. It could bring a lot of attention to The Quibbler, and honestly I would rather have someone I consider a friend write the truth about me than whatever lies Rita Skeeter's poisoned quill dreams up."

The blonde made a decision. "My father put me on The Quibbler's Board of Directors, with full authorization to make business deals of up to ten galleons. I would be happy to purchase your exclusive media rights."

"Then I think we have a deal," Harry chuckled, offering his hand.

Luna shook her head. "Hold on, Harry. We can't just make a binding business contract with a verbal agreement and handshake. First of all, how long will it run for? Just a year? The rest of the calendar year? What area will it cover? The world? And what about the fee? Is it one-time or recurring every week, month, or year?"

Shaking his head at the barrage of insightful, well-reasoned questions, Harry grinned. "How about one Knut, one time, and you get the rights to write about, publish, and print photos of me, exclusive in all wizarding Britain, until my Hogwarts education is finished?"

Pretending to consider his offer, Luna looked off to the side. A heartbeat later, she was back looking at Harry with mischief in her eyes. "On behalf of The Quibbler, I would like to accept your offer. Hold on a moment, I have some parchment and a quill in my bag."

As she rooted around in the satchel, Harry had to choke back the uproarious laughter that threatened to overwhelm him. He could see why she'd been sorted into Ravenclaw. She was exceedingly clever and seemingly prepared for any situation that came up.

She quickly turned to him with the parchment and wrote out a passable contract in her neat handwriting. "There. You can look it over if you want, but it just says what we agreed on: that The Quibbler gets exclusive rights to publish your name and likeness, including muggle and wizarding photographs, inside magical Britain, until your education at Hogwarts is complete, in return for the fee of one Knut."

Scanning the sheet, Harry nodded. He trusted her, and that trust was borne out when the page said exactly what she said it did. He signed it without hesitation, handing it back to her. When Luna signed, the document flashed golden before creating a copy of itself.

"There! We're all set. Magic has recognized our agreement, so The Quibbler is now the sole media outlet authorized to write about Harry Potter."

"When would you like to do our first interview?"

Luna grinned. "Any time works for me, Harry."

"How about after I get out of here and before the end of the term? We might even get time to do it on the Express back to London."

"I like that idea!"

"Whereabouts do you reside when not in Hogwarts, Harry?"

"My relatives live in Surrey; why do you ask?" he answered, wondering where she was going with the question.

Her smile, sad at first, brightened to light up her whole face. "Other than Ginny Weasley, who I've lost touch with since we got sorted into different houses, I haven't ever really had a friend before, so I was hoping we could stay in touch over the summer."

"You know the Weasleys?" Harry tried to keep the surprise out of his voice. None of his redheaded acquaintances had mentioned this girl before."

"They're my closest neighbors. We both live near Ottery St. Catchpole, so Ginny and I kind of grew up together, but I haven't really seen much of her since we started at Hogwarts. That's why I was hoping we might be able to find something fun to do over the summer holiday."

Images of his aunt and uncle reacting to the girl wearing radish earrings and talking about various magical animals that may or may not exist had him chuckling. Misunderstanding the reaction, Luna drew back, hurt flooding her face.

Harry reached back for her hand, needing her to understand his meaning. "I wasn't laughing at your idea, Luna. I love it! But my relatives can be really nasty to anyone they don't consider 'normal'. I was just imagining how they'd react to you explaining about Crumple-Horned Snorkacks. I would love to stay in touch, but maybe if we get together for any reason, it shouldn't be at their house."

Luna giggled. "It wouldn't be the first time, but I can see the wisdom in your words, Harry. We can stay in touch with owls and plan when we can meet."

Satisfied with this, Harry gave her a smile. "I didn't know magic was real until my Hogwarts letter showed up. Can you tell me any more about Crumple-Horned Snorkacks or other animals like them?"

It was the right thing to say. Luna's smile lit up the entire side of the ward. Poppy Pomfrey looked over at the two teenagers, one talking away, one listening attentively, forging the beginning of a friendship.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

July 5, 1995

A career as an auror is not one that usually makes its participants more rested. Long hours working cases, trips out of the office to investigate and make arrests, and testifying before the Wizengamot all conspired to rob aurors of precious sleep time. Amelia Bones was feeling that fatigue all the way to her own bones as she trudged into St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.

The aftermath of the Tri-Wizard Tournament kept her entire department hopping. One of the main reasons the Tournament hadn't been held in living memory was the not so infrequent deaths of the competitors. After seeing the farce that Dumbledore managed to cobble together – neither she nor anyone she talked to believed that Ludo Bagman or Barty Crouch had the stones to overrule anything Dumbledore wanted done – Amelia was of the opinion that the blasted Tournament should be consigned to history's rubbish bin.

Having to interview and console the grieving parents of Cedric Diggory at the same time put a further drain on her energy reserves. The late nights dealing with what happened to Cedric weren't helping, especially at the ministerial level. Fudge simply refused to believe that Voldemort had returned, but no other outcome explained their data: Cedric and Harry touched the portkey attached to the trophy, both disappeared, and both reappeared an extended period of time later, but only one was alive. Healers had then confirmed that the boy died from the killing curse. When tested, Potter's wand showed no trace of firing off any unforgiveable curse, so someone else must have done it, but since no one could figure out who the mystery remained unsolved. The only plausible possibility they had was Harry's claim of Voldemort, but Fudge wasn't letting her even interview the lad over the possibility.

She hated telling families that they had no leads on who killed their loved ones. The unfamiliarity of ineffectiveness grated on her even more.

Her errand that night was as much therapy for her as it was concern for her mentor. Alastor Moody had spent the better part of a year trapped in his own trunk, impersonated by a Death Eater everyone thought dead for ten years. Experiences like that would have drastic consequences for anyone, even someone as tough as Moody. Two weeks after the Tournament, he had to come back to St. Mungo's for a follow-up to check the effectiveness of the potion regimen he'd been assigned after being freed from his trunk. It was an overnight stay, but if she knew the energetic older man, he'd be awake, uncomfortable and unable to sleep on a hospital mattress.

The lifts in the hospital made it easy to move from one floor to another – even magical hospitals had to move bedridden patients from one floor to another with as little disturbance as possible. She moved from the reception area up to the Spell Damage ward where Moody said he'd be if needed. The thought generated a chuckle at her old mentor. Kept prisoner for the better part of a year, told to go to the hospital for a checkup, and he still wanted her to know he was ready for a brawl.

She walked down a ward of private rooms that came before the place she'd find Moody. A twitch in one of the beds she could see through an open door caught her eye as she marched past. Barely covering a gasp with her hand, she looked closer. The sleeping child in the bed looked like he'd gone ten rounds with a hippogriff. Bandages covered most of his body, all the way up to his head, so he must have been admitted relatively recently, before the skin-knit and Skele-Gro potions dispensed by these best healers the magical world had to offer could do their work.

Something about the child under the bruising and lacerations looked familiar. Giving in to her auror-trained curiosity, she peered closer at the patient. He had messy dark hair that she swore she'd seen somewhere before. The bruises and cuts all over his face made it more difficult to place his appearance, but looking closer, she saw a dark brown vertical line above his right eye. Realization dawning, she moved his fringe out of the way as gently as she possibly could. The lightning bolt staring back at her confirmed her fears.

The child who looked like he'd been beaten nearly to death was Harry Potter.

Stepping back, she took a critical look at him as the victim of a crime. He bore signs of blunt-force trauma almost everywhere she could see. Lacerations virtually covered his skin, while bruising around the eyes traveled down to his neck and upper chest. Virtually all of the rest of his body was bandaged, so whatever potions the healers had given him hadn't fully kicked in yet.

Something was very wrong when the savior of the wizarding world could be hurt this badly and yet no one was there keeping watch over him. Amelia looked around, spying a healer who looked oddly like a barrel on toothpicks writing something down at a desk with a view of the whole ward. She marched over, keeping her steps quiet in deference to the patients in their beds.

"Good evening, healer. I'm Amelia Bones. I need to know what you can tell me about one of your patients," she declared.

The healer lurched to a standing position on legs that were far too thin for the obvious strength in his body. Long black hair framed an oval face with a rounded jaw and well-defined cheekbones. The intelligence shining out of his clear blue eyes told her that she was dealing with competence. "Bertram Purcell, medi-wizard currently in charge of this floor. Is this part of an investigation, Madam Bones? If it's not, the Healer's Oath means I can't release any patient information, even to the DMLE."

"Rest assured, Healer Purcell, I would not cause you to violate your oath. I am the senior DMLE agent on scene, so I am taking personal oversight of the investigation into the reason Mister Harry Potter seems to be clinging to life in one of your beds. What can you tell me about his injuries?"

The healer's demeanor underwent a drastic change. "I've never seen injuries like these in one person before. Between the old and new wounds, the boy barely has an uninjured bone in his body."

As Healer Purcell moved to get a thick scroll from his desk, one of the phrases he used sunk in for Amelia. "Old injuries?"

With a grunt, he unfurled the scroll. "He has extensive current injuries, but also a long list of older wounds that haven't been properly treated. We also detected long-term debilitating undernourishment, a healed basilisk bite that no one can quite believe, and numerous magical ailments."

Amelia's eyes were as wide as saucers. "Merlin! What happened to him?"

Healer Purcell snorted. "I thought that was your job, Madam Bones."

"Okay, okay. Right. Can you give me a copy of his report?"

The healer waved his wand over the scroll, creating a duplicate. "Here's a copy, it's got the standard charms on it which we use in criminal cases involving a minor."

Amelia nodded her understanding as she accepted the scroll; it would be illegible to anyone other than herself and those with her permission, and would erase itself once the case was closed. "Because I'm taking personal oversight of this case, I'll stay here until he wakes up and I can talk to him. I also want him moved to a private room because of his celebrity."

Purcell returned her nod. "I understand. I'll have him transferred to room 17A."

"Thank you, Healer Purcell. I will follow him into the room and keep watch while I read over this report."

Once Harry's bed had been levitated to the private room, Amelia took a chair in the corner and began to read the summary of Harry Potter's abuse.

Thirty minutes later, she put the scroll down with trembling hands, barely containing her anger. The full extent of the abuse heaped on the child left her reeling. According to the healers, there wasn't a single part of his body that didn't have either a current or old injury, but it was the magical blights that really stunned her. If she was reading the list correctly and not hallucinating, the boy would need Unspeakable-level curse-breaking to rid him of the magical maladies. Physical harm almost from when he was an infant left her nauseated, but the long-term malnutrition might have negative consequences for the rest of his life if they were too late for nutrient replacement potions to have any effect.

Checking to make sure he was still asleep, as if anyone with his injuries could reasonably be conscious, she made her way back over to the healer's desk. "If I didn't see the boy lying over there in the bed, I wouldn't have believed anyone, let alone a child, could suffer this much and still be alive."

Purcell's expression turned fierce. "If we hadn't seen him come in that way, we wouldn't have believed it, either."

"I'm assuming you can't tell me anything about his treatment," she phrased her next question as a declaration.

He snorted. "You'd be assuming right, Madam Bones. Disclosing his injuries to help your investigation is all we can do for the DMLE by law. The only people we can talk to about his treatment are his guardians, whomever they are."

Bones pursed her lips. As far as she was concerned the brutal beating of Harry Potter was now a DMLE investigation of the highest priority, but she had to figure out who the boy's guardians were to get some leads. She tried to ignore the shiver that raced down her spine at the thought that his guardians might have done this to him.

"His records don't show who brought him in for treatment in the past?" she asked.

Purcell's expression turned even harder, and the fire that appeared in his eyes made almost made her take a step backward, so foreign was it on such a genial face. "They probably would, had anyone ever brought him in for treatment."

"Merlin!" Amelia exclaimed, "That poor boy."

The healer nodded. "The one part of his treatment that I can tell you about now is that it would violate all of the Healer's Oaths to send this boy back where he came from without bringing him fully back to health, in every way."

"You have my thanks, Healer Purcell," she said formally, "Your patient there is a friend of my niece's at Hogwarts. I will arrange a twenty-four hour a day auror bodyguard for him, but I would request you to list him under a pseudonym, if possible. Keeping him safe while we find whoever did this to him is now a top DMLE priority."

"That's what I wanted to hear," Purcell said, "For now we'll call him Daniel Jameson. If I remember right his father's name was James."

Amelia nodded. "That will do. I will head right over to the DMLE and arrange the bodyguard. Until further notice, no one other than myself or his guardians is allowed to see him."

Purcell nodded his agreement. "It will be done, Madam Bones."

The head of the DMLE was no stranger to working late nights in her office, nor were her staff. Investigations often ran on nonstandard hours. Indeed, sometimes nonstandard was the standard. When she got back to her office and sat in her chair, she all but flopped back into her chair. One of the best things about having a private office was the ability to relax out of sight of everyone else. She gave the photograph of Susan that adorned her every desk since she took on guardianship of her niece her customary smile, then jabbed her wand into a rune on her desk. The rune activated the signal for her secretary.

Lavinia Tuckett entered the room a few moments later, her curly brown hair that hung down to her shoulders somehow not out of place, even at the late hour. She was used to being called in at all times of the day and took care to make sure she looked neat, even if her clothing became understandably less formal in the middle of the night. Lavinia's small green eyes were bright and clear despite the time. "What do we need, boss?"

Amelia took in the sight of her assistant with a warm smile. She knew she pushed her people hard, but the wizarding public deserved their best efforts and no one put in more hours than she did. "I need Kingsley Shacklebolt, Gawain Robards, Proudfoot, and Tonks," even the head of the DMLE knew not to use the metamorphagus' actual given name if she wanted a happy, productive auror, "in here within the next half-hour. After that I will have a few things I need to attend to personally. Finally, and tell no one you're doing this, but I want any and all media coverage of Harry Potter over the last six months."

Nodding her understanding, Lavinia moved to summon the named aurors. In the brief time before they would appear, Amelia started making notes for where she would need to go next. The idea that Harry Potter had never seen a competent magical healer in his life disgusted her. Taking in her niece when Susan's parents were murdered wasn't even a decision she had to think about to make. She'd faithfully taken care of the girl ever since, making time for healer appointments and vacations, giving her every semblance of a normal childhood possible. She made another notation to reach out to the muggle aurors to see what they could tell her on Harry Potter's life before and between his Hogwarts years.

Just as she finished the four aurors she'd summoned entered her office. "You called for us, Madam Bones?" Shacklebolt greeted.

She conjured three additional chairs to go with the one that usually resided on the other side of her desk. "Yes. I have some tasks I need you all to do related to a secret investigation. Each of them is vitally important and needs to be kept solely within the people in this office, understood?"

Four answering nods greeted that declaration, and without another word Amelia raised the privacy wards on her office. There was little enough chance of any magical or muggle means overhearing what went on in the director of the DMLE's office, but once the silencing, disillusioning, confounding, and privacy wards went up, someone could be standing right outside her door and not even know a room was there.

"Walking into St. Mungo's to check in on Moody tonight, I happened to notice a badly abused child. Harry Potter somehow made it to the hospital all on his own after apparently having been beaten to within an inch of his life, and I wish that was just a phrase in this case."

Auror Tonks' jaw actually hitting the desk sounded much louder in the stunned silence than it probably should have.

"From what I could tell, since Healer Oaths prevented them telling me anything about his treatment, none of the current injuries were magical in origin. He's in a private room under the pseudonym Daniel Jameson. Tonks and Proudfoot, I need you to find six more aurors you'd trust with your own lives and organize round-the-clock protection for him. No one, and I mean no one, gets in that's not myself, a Healer or his guardian with parchmentwork documenting that status, understand me?"

Tonks got her mouth back to normal proportions before shaking herself free of the shock and nodding again. "Got it, boss. Round the clock protection from just about everyone."

"Further, and I can't believe I forgot it, but your first job is to get in touch with a Healer Purcell and ask him who the hospital contacted from Wizarding Child Services. They would have had to for a traumatic injury to an unaccompanied child, but I forgot to ask. We need to get that contact and make sure they're in the secrecy loop. Make that your first priority once you're on station at Mungo's."

"Robards," she said, turning to her next auror, "We have a special liaison office with the Metropolitan Police for when our matters spill over into the muggle world and vice versa. Get the name of a point of contact in that from Miss Tuckett out there, and then get over to them and find out what they know about Harry's life: where he lives, who takes care of him, medical and school records, hell I want his primary school photos, got it?"

Gawain also nodded again. "Understood, Ma'am. But, won't the hospital have records of who his guardian is?"

"You'd think so, and that's a great question, Gawain, but they don't. According to the Healer I spoke with, Harry Potter has never seen a magical healer in his life."

"Bloody hell," Tonks whispered.

"Now, Shack," she said, turning to her most trusted auror, "That leads me to our job. We need to go down to the Records Office and find out what they have on Harry Potter and his parents. Somewhere there has to be a will listing instructions for what to do with the boy. There should have been a reading in the Wizengamot when they were murdered, but for the life of me I don't remember what those old fogies did."

Shacklebolt gave his own nod. "Understood. Why do you need me along, though? It's late enough that the Ministry should be deserted, and a simple document retrieval could be done by an assistant."

Amelia pursed her lips. "You're not wrong, but look at the bigger picture here: Harry Potter stumbles into St. Mungo's beaten nearly to death, with no medical records, and no one has any idea of who his guardians are, and none of us can remember what happened regarding his parents' will. Obviously I don't have any evidence I can cite, but my gut is telling me that something very wrong is going on here. I would rather handle finding the Potters' will myself with your wand watching my back."

Once she and Shacklebolt made it down to the Records Office they took the added precaution of disillusioning themselves, casting the strongest Notice-Me-Not charms they could. Amelia took the extra step of borrowing an invisibility cloak from Moody's desk that he used on his own investigations, trusting Shack to keep himself out of sight while she actually found the will.

The Records Office was silent as a tomb at the late hour, with all the daytime employees' home in their beds. Even with the quiet, she moved as softly as possible. Something about this whole situation made her uncomfortable.

Finding the will storage area wasn't difficult, but it took a few minutes to go back almost fifteen years. To then find the wills under the last name starting with 'P' took a little longer.

Twice she had to stop rifling through folders as the air itself took on a different feeling, almost as if there was more ambient magic giving it a charged sensation. When she finally found the right folder with the Potters' will, she had to take a step back, making sure she was seeing things correctly.

The folder was sealed on its three open sides with magical tape clearly marked with the Ministry emblem. A garish red stamp on the cover told her that the will was sealed 'By order of the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot Albus P.W.B. Dumbledore'.

"Shite," she murmured, "We need to get out of here, Shack. Right the hell now." Amelia slid the folder back into place and shut the drawer as silently as she could.

Knowing he heard her, she started sidling along the wall to the door. Just as they were about to leave, the lifts moved behind them. Amelia over her shoulder to see the Chief Warlock himself casting frantic detection spells at the cabinet. In her haste to leave, she missed the look of concern on Kingsley's face.

Back in her office, she and Shacklebolt shared a worried glance. If Dumbledore was taking that much of an interest in a will sealed more than a decade previously, it didn't bode well for anyone involved.

Amelia sat back, trying to make the pieces she'd been given that evening fit together in some kind of order. All she really knew for sure was that Harry Potter had shown up to the hospital beaten almost to death, had no listed guardian nor known residence, and his parents' will was sealed by order of the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, who apparently kept a close watch on the drawer where it was stored as well. The combination of these facts painted a picture that had the career auror certain something was very wrong.

As far as she could see it, the only course of action likely to yield any results was to wait for Harry to wake up from his treatment. If he agreed to be interviewed, she could start getting some answers to what was starting to look like a huge problem.

With a sigh, she prepared to apparate to St. Mungo's to leave word to be notified the moment Harry woke up, then to go home for much too little sleep.

Chapter Text

July 6, 1995

The next morning found Amelia making her way back to the hospital with her bag of supplies slung over one shoulder. After telling her secretary to put off all her meetings for the rest of the day, one of the house elves from St. Mungo's had appeared in her office informing her that Daniel Jameson was supposed to wake up that day.

A quick cup of tea to perk her up saw her on her way. She apparated to the ministry before taking the public Floo over. The questions that swirled around her head the night before still didn't have any answers, but she was hoping the young man at the center of the whole situation felt up to providing some after he woke up.

She made her way up to the floor, noting with satisfaction that her aurors had done their jobs admirably. Tonks and another young auror were shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the door to Harry's private room. Knowing they would have reported any serious attempts at incursion to her immediately, she tried to ask a different question. "Good morning, aurors. Any disturbances during the night?"

Tonks shook her head. "No, Madam Bones. Not even a second look as people walked past. Jameson has remained safe and sound. We peek in on him at irregular intervals just to be sure he's still there and fine. Oh, and the person from Wizarding Child Services assigned to his case is Jean Kempley. Looks like we lucked out this time.."

Amelia nodded, jotting down the name with a self-inking quill on a pad from her bag. Kempley was one of the good ones, passionate in her advocacy for children in need. "Excellent idea about peeking in irregularly. That will be included in the protection training manuals when I get the chance, if it's not there already. Now, Healer Purcell has informed me that this patient is expected to wake up today. As senior DMLE officer in charge of the investigation into his assault, I will be in the room."

The aurors moved aside to let her enter the room. Harry was asleep, with a peaceful look on his face that made him look even younger than his body. The bruising on his body was definitely less than the previous evening, and the cuts had been vanished as well. Dittany and a quick episkey were wondrous at healing lacerations. He was still pale, but she could see a noticeable difference in his coloring.

Taking the seat next to his bed, careful to not wake the boy prematurely with extraneous noise, Amelia took a sheaf of blank parchment out of her bag along with a self-inking quill. Taking a breath to center her thoughts, she started writing out the list of questions she needed to ask Harry when he woke up.

She had just made it to her third page of notes when he started stirring. Harry's eyes blinked slowly, and after turning his head, he murmured, "Herm'ne?"

Amelia was already moving to the door to let Tonks know that Harry was waking up so she could alert the healers, and mis-heard his request. "Don't worry. Healers will be here momentarily to help you."

Tonks was better than expected. As soon as she heard the noise of Amelia's chair moving, she must have contacted the staff. She'd no sooner gotten the door open than a healer was in the room. "I see Mister Jameson has decided to rejoin us," he quipped, casting an eye at Amelia's presence. A tag on his robes identified him as Julian Pepperidge. Amelia took in his pale skin, short, curly blond hair, small blue eyes, and muscular build. "Healer Pepperidge, Madam Bones. Purcell told me about the special focus on this particular case."

"Yes," Amelia answered with a nod, seeing the boy was still a little groggy, "He just started stirring a moment ago, and asked for help."

She moved out of the way as Pepperidge and an assistant approached the bed to take his vital signs. Out of the corner of her eye, Amelia noticed Tonks closing the door, again standing guard.

Harry's eyes gradually cleared from the enforced slumber, and looked for his glasses. "Where am I?" he murmured, wincing as the light of day flooded his senses. He tried to lift his arms to get the glasses but with his arms injured as they were, he fell back with a moan.

"You're currently occupying a private bed in St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries," the healer informed him, putting too much formality into the words to be anything but an attempt at humor. He reached for the glasses and gingerly slid them onto the boy's face.

"I made it," he whispered, leaning back against his pillow, relief visibly coursing through him.

Pepperidge gave him a short nod before sliding over to his bed on a stool. "You did indeed, Mister Jameson, and now you're going to be here for quite a while as we tend to the longest list of injuries I have ever seen in a living patient."

"Jameson?" Harry asked, eyebrows furrowed and voice slurred a little. "That was my Da…"

"That was my idea, actually, Daniel," Amelia interjected, "I thought a pseudonym might provide you some much-needed anonymity and protection from whomever did this to you."

He looked over at her, grimacing as his head turned. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but I don't remember your name."

She gave him a reassuring smile as she took a tentative step forward. "My name is Amelia Bones. I'm the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."

"Law enforcement?" Harry asked, fear rapidly turning to panic in his eyes. "I'm…I'm not in any trouble from getting away from my relatives, am I?"

Getting away? Amelia thought to herself, making mental notes for further questions. It was a little difficult to understand him with teeth missing but she was able to make out his meaning. "No, Mister Jameson, I promise you, no trouble will come from however you needed to get yourself here. I'm actually here to ask you some questions about what happened."

Harry looked down at his bandaged hands. "It was an accident. I fell down at my muggle relatives' house."

Pepperidge snorted while he made notes for the next round of potions. "For someone to have the injuries you have by falling down, they would have needed to fall off roughly Mount Everest. Several times.

"Hold still, Mister Jameson, while my assistant administers your next round of potions. This will be another painkiller as well as a tissue strengthener."

"You said this happened at home?" Amelia asked, moving to her next question. She was doing her best to keep this from feeling like an interrogation to the boy, but she had to get these questions answered to bring someone to justice.

Harry grunted, shifting as he tried to find a more comfortable position with his injuries. "I may have lived there, but it was never my home."

Several hundred miles north of St. Mungo's, inside a castle in the Scottish Highlands, an old man was sitting behind his desk. Albus Dumbledore had been enjoying the relative peace that always came at the start of the summer holiday in the aftermath of the Triwizard Tournament debacle.

After the somewhat public embarrassments Hogwarts had suffered over the previous few years, capped off by the escape of Sirius Black from a sealed room in the school, the blasted tournament had the potential to raise the school's star in Britain and Europe once more. Making the contest only open to of-age competitors was supposed to have reduced the possibilities of one of them being killed in the course of the events.

"You foolish man, Riddle," he cursed. Confounding the Goblet was supposed to be almost impossible, but Tom had come up with a way for Barty Junior to pull it off. Somehow that had been the least of their problems. Voldemort's resurrection and Cedric's murder turned what was once his hope to show Hogwarts as the shining jewel in magical Europe's crown into a disaster.

He sighed, rubbing his face as his body felt every one of his more than one hundred years. The horcrux hunt needed to begin soon if they were going to have any hope of defeating Tom, now that he had a working body again.

Minerva's warning about how they were the worst sort of muggles was dead on, but Harry growing up isolated from his fame as well as those who would wish him ill was more important.

The sudden silence jarred him from his reverie. Specifically, the sudden silence of the devices on the buffet table behind his desk. The same devices that he'd used for almost fifteen years to monitor Harry Potter's health and wellbeing along with the blood wards on Number 4 Privet Drive had spectacularly failed. Dials that had whirred and whizzed around for years as they showed Harry's heart rate and breathing were still, pendula that had faithfully swung their arcs as they confirmed the blood wards had dropped off their holders, and a clock-like device showing the blood trace on Harry had its hands fly off.

An eerie calm descended over the Headmaster of Hogwarts' office until his panicked shouts shattered any illusion of peace.

In room 17A of St. Mungo's, Amelia Bones was sure she was being fed a line. Decades working in magical law enforcement had given her a sixth sense for when someone was trying to deceive her. Harry was definitely not telling her the truth about how he got hurt, but it wasn't out of malice that she could detect.

"So you resided with your muggle relatives? For how long?"

"Ever since I was a baby. Ever since the night my parents were murdered," Harry answered, voice trailing off as the memory of his parents' shades emerging from Riddle's wand swamped him once more.

As Amelia watched the young man lying in the bed, her gut told her something was seriously wrong with his home life. Past experiences dealing with abused children told her that the gentle approach was the only way to handle them. Despite her anger over the apparent treatment of a child, she consciously forced her voice to remain soft. "Daniel, I would like to step outside and talk to the healers for a moment. Will you be okay? The aurors who stood guard outside your door all night will still be there."

Harry looked at her askance at the name Daniel, but after a moment where Amelia swore she could almost see the wheels turning in his head, he nodded.

As soon as the door closed outside, Amelia took Pepperidge aside. "This is now a clear case of child abuse, the extent of which I've never seen before. I am assuming personal oversight of the criminal investigation. I'm not going to interrogate the child in there, but I need to know what kind of shape he's in for a protracted conversation."

The healer gave her a pointed glance. "The potions and healing spells we used last night have had a marked effect on Mister Jameson in there, but he's not ready to play Seeker for Puddlemere yet. He can talk for a while, but if he gets worked up I will have to put an end to it. He needs rest to help his treatment."

Nodding her agreement, Amelia turned, but stopped when the healer called her back.

"Madam Bones? Any healer assigned to him will be more than willing to testify against whomever did this to him."

Amelia gave him another nod and went back into Harry's room. "Hi again, Daniel," she smiled after closing the door, "Are you feeling up to talking with me some more?"

"I think so," the teen said, trying to sit up before giving up with a wince, "What do you want to talk about?"

"Please, please don't try to get up. I know it's politeness, and I do appreciate the effort, but you've been badly hurt. Trust me when I say I don't hold it against you. As for me, I'm a law enforcement officer," Amelia said. After casting her strongest privacy, silencing, and notice-me-not charms on the room, explaining her actions as she did so, she sat down at the table again, taking up her quill, "and I came across the results of a crime last night. Namely, finding out you had been brutally attacked. I would like to know more about what happened so I can bring anyone who might have been involved to justice."

Harry looked at her with interest. "And what if they were muggles? What authority does magical law enforcement have over them?"

"Well," Amelia started, taking a moment to organize her thoughts, "If they committed a crime against a magical person, we can bring them before magical courts just like in the muggle world. If they're found guilty, there are some options available to the Wizengamot. For lesser crimes, Azkaban would be too harsh on people without a magical core, so they could be transferred to muggle jurisdiction with documentation of their convictions. For greater crimes, Azkaban might be appropriate."

He looked at her again, gears clearly turning in his mind but he remained silent.

"I know it can be hard to trust adults you don't know, so I won't push you to tell me what happened to bring you here," Amelia tried, "Instead, what if you told me a story about something else?"

"Like what?" Harry asked.

"Well, the healer told me about a healed basilisk bite that none of the staff here can figure out how you got. You see, there's no known antidote to basilisk venom, so you might just turn out to be the first person to survive a bite from one of those monsters. Would you tell me about how that happened?"

Harry looked at her again before making up his mind. "You said your name was Amelia Bones? Are you any relation to Susan Bones?"

Amelia smiled, knowing she could show Harry that he could trust her with her answer to this question. "She's my niece and my ward. I took her in when her parents were killed. We talked about it before, so I knew what they wanted in case the worst happened, but I would have taken her in anyway. She's the last relative I have; her parents – my sister and her husband – and my own husband were killed in the same war where you lost yours."

She was surprised to see Harry's face close off. "Yeah, she's in my year at Hogwarts. Did she mention anything a couple years ago about an 'Heir of Slytherin' or rumors they might close down the school?"

The phrase was totally new to her. "Susan never said anything about either of those in her letters. Certainly not about closing down the school. What happened?"

Seeing that she was genuine in her interest, Harry put aside his distaste for the younger redhead's actions. He normally wouldn't have opened up this much, but after his attack his defenses were down, and he badly needed someone he could trust. He started to speak, telling her about the petrifications, Dobby's charming of the bludger, and Dumbledore's reaction and analysis after seeing the inside of Creevy's camera. When he explained that one, he swore to himself her eye twitched.

He told her about the messages written in blood, more students attacked, including his best friend, and how the attacks stretched out over almost the whole year. He told her about finding the last message, Fraud-heart, the cave in after he tried to obliviate them to death, Ron getting stuck, the Chamber of Secrets, the basilisk, and Tom Riddle.

Amelia looked confused when he used the name. "Tom Riddle. I saw his name in a trophy case. He was a Slytherin head boy in the 1940s. I saw a memory of his through some kind of magical diary, and he talked about not having a home to go to. He must have been raised in a muggle orphanage."

Her façade broke just for a moment, and he saw the pity in her eyes. "I don't know, Madam Bones. Sometimes I wonder if I might have been better off in an orphanage. Anyway, the experience for Tom at his orphanage must have been so bad that when he discovered he was magical, he became someone else. If you rearrange the letters in his name – Tom Marvolo Riddle – you get 'I am Lord Voldemort'.

This time Amelia's shock was so profound her monocle slipped from her eye, hanging by its chain in a parody of how low her jaw hung. "You – you know this for sure?"

Harry shrugged, then grunted from the pain in his arms. "It's what his shade told me."

Pursing her lips for a moment, Amelia had an idea. "Do you know what a pensieve is?"

"Sure. The Headmaster has one he used to show me a memory of Barty Crouch Junior's trial. Fat lot of good that did," he snorted.

"Floppy!" called Amelia.

A small male house elf appeared. He looked to be in fine health, a sharp contrast to how Dobby appeared before being freed from the Malfoys. "Yes, Mistress?"

"Could you please bring me my projector pensieve and a stand?"

"Yes, Mistress. Floppy be bringing." With a pop, the elf was gone, only to reappear a second later with the pensieve and a plinth.

"Thank you, Floppy," she greeted his return, "You may go and work as needed or take some rest." With a bow, the elf popped away.

"Now, if you could concentrate on your memory of the Chamber of Secrets, and the Heir of Slytherin bullying, I'll pull that memory out of your head with my wand, and then I will be able to project it above the bowl for us both to see."

Amelia watched him concentrate, then placed the tip of her wand to his temple. After another second, she withdrew the silvery strand and dropped it into the bowl.

Harry watched as Madam Bones activated a rune on the side, casting an image about a foot above the surface. The magic of the pensieve allowed the same image to be shown in either direction – one wasn't the reverse of the other. He wasn't excited to relive this particular set of memories, but it would be harmless enough to show her. The thought that showing a caregiver how her ward was guilty of bullying might get said caregiver on his side never entered his mind.

Amelia was horrified.

From the very beginning of the memory, seeing Susan at best shun and at worst outright join in with Harry's bullying drove her anger at her niece to never before reached heights. For a child who had lost both parents to bully a child of the exact same circumstance went against everything she'd raised Susan to be. Her niece had been sorted into Hufflepuff, making it worse. She should have had the innate loyalty to see this and stop at least her participation in it. Even though hearing Harry speak Parseltongue during the farce of duel was a surprise, even an idiot could see that the snake backed off the unfortunate 'Puff boy after Harry spoke. Watching Susan mock Harry's gift by hissing at him in the corridor had her blood boiling.

Then Harry went down to the Chamber of Secrets.

The experience was exactly as he described. For any twelve-year old to have the intestinal fortitude to even go down the darkened pipe for the sole reason of rescuing the younger sister of his friend, well, there was really no doubt Harry was a born Gryffindor. Hearing from Tom Riddle his own heritage had her hand twitching for its wand.

The sheer size of the snake he unleashed floored her. The thing could have swallowed Harry whole, but he faced it without a wand. Fawkes' blinding of the beast's eyes helped for sure, but the skinny boy in front of her still took it on with a sword. She had a brief, irrelevant thought that it was a modern parallel to the story of St. George and the dragon. Amelia almost leapt into the air with a victory cry when he stabbed the snake through the brain.

Even nearly dying from the basilisk bite, he had the courage and strength to stab the diary, finishing off the shade of Tom Riddle and saving the young Weasley girl.

When the memory finished playing, she turned to Harry, stunned at what she'd seen. "M – Merlin," she stuttered as her hands shook, "You were twelve! If every auror I have went up against that beast, we would have taken casualties, and even then I don't know if we would have killed it. How were you never given an Order of Merlin?"

"I don't know. Dumbledore never told anyone about it, I guess."

"You really weren't kidding. I've never even heard of a basilisk that size."

"Do you believe me now?" he asked, trying to keep the petulance out of his voice.

Amelia took the rebuke in stride. "I did already, Harry. I'm a career auror, though, so I've had it beaten into my head to get proof for the courts."

Harry nodded his acknowledgment. "I guess that makes sense."

She used her wand to take out the silver memory strand. "Give me a minute to make a couple notes after watching that memory. Would it be okay if I made a copy of it? There are a few things I want to have to reference for my investigation, and it will help to show the healers how someone survived a basilisk bite."

"Sure, that's okay," Harry nodded.

Scribbling on her parchment, Amelia made a reminder to tell him that contacting Gringotts to arrange a harvest of the beast would put thousands of galleons, at a minimum, in his vaults. Her last note was a scrawled 'Diary?'

Something about seeing how the book affected the young girl and the way stabbing it vaporized the shade of Riddle troubled her, but she couldn't put her finger on what it was. Something to talk about with Croaker from the Unspeakables.

"So, did Madam Pomfrey have as much of a shock as the healers here when she saw the bite?" she asked, waving her wand and creating a copy of the memory in a vial. She handed the original back over to Harry.

The boy actually tried to laugh, before spasms of pain wracked his body. He took as deep a breath as his injuries would allow. "She probably would have scolded me to no end for being the only student who could end up in her infirmary with a basilisk bite, but I never saw her."

This time Amelia's monocle wasn't up to the shock, and fell out of her eye again. "You didn't?!"

Harry shrank back from her outburst, sending a spike of shame through her. He'd been so badly traumatized to end up the way he had in the bed before her that she needed to be more careful with her words. "I'm sorry," she apologized, softening her tone and posture, "I'm not mad at you, Harry. The professors at school should have taken you to her first thing after getting out of the Chamber. What happened?"

"Professor McGonagall led us to her office where Dumbledore was waiting with Mrs. Weasley. They sent Ron to the infirmary for his leg, and told him that Hermione was waking up from her petrification. McGonagall scolded us for breaking school rules and the Headmaster gave us two hundred house points each and an award for Special Service to the School, then sent me along to the feast," Harry explained, ending on a weak note in his voice as he realized how ridiculous that sounded.

Amelia took her monocle and wiped it clean, a mannerism he realized was either an affectation, since she could have used magic to clean it, or was a way for her to take a few moments to get her thoughts in order. Either way his respect for her increased a notch or two. Seeing someone with the ability to use magic doing something manually was rare.

"That must have made for an eventful year, for good and bad. Did they at least stop bullying you after that?"

"Bullying? Yeah, they stopped after all that. I'd love to say that killing a snake that big was the craziest thing that's happened to me at Hogwarts, but it would be a lie," he told one of the first adults who hadn't given him any reason to distrust.

"There's more?"

"Madam Bones, I've almost been killed every year at Hogwarts," he stated in a calm, quiet voice that she had no choice other than to believe.

Having already been shown to be truthful about his basilisk bite, she was already predisposed to believe him, but this was straining the bonds of any sort of credibility. "Wh – what happened?" she asked, forcing her hands to remain still so she could begin taking more notes.

Harry was feeling better by the moment, as the potions administered earlier took greater effect on him. He was about to start speaking again when a knock sounded at his door. Amelia got up and opened it, after removing her privacy charms.

His healer entered with a small bag, which he un-shrunk and opened, withdrawing a rack of vials with different-colored liquids inside. "Good morning, Mister Jameson. I have some potions I'll need you to take, and then I will let you rest. The first two are appetite stimulants. The more you eat the better the other potions will work. Then, I have a pain blocker, an organ repair supplement for the organ damage, a tissue repair supplement, and a nutrient booster. Later on this evening, I'll be vanishing the injured bones and tonight before you go to sleep you'll take Skele-Gro."

Harry groaned. "I bloody hate Skele-Gro."

Amelia's eyebrows rose at the statement.

"Too bad, Mister Jameson," grinned the healer, "But you'll be on it quite a lot over the next couple of weeks. We're going to be able to heal the older injuries as well, the breaks that weren't ever set properly, and give you healthy, strong new bones."

After administering each of the vials, which had Harry almost gagging at the awful taste the bright colors belied, the healer left. Amelia re-cast her privacy wards and went back to her parchment. "So, about those near-death experiences?"

Two hours later, Amelia sat back in her chair and rubbed her aching hand. She'd taken so many notes that she'd had to send for a DMLE house elf for more parchment. The sheer breadth of the crimes she'd identified in her notes beggared the mind. Not even taking into account the obvious abuse that had brought Harry to the hospital, the staff at Hogwarts were criminally neglectful of their charges; some unwittingly, some deliberately so. If Pomona Sprout killed Albus Dumbledore and turned him into fertilizer for her greenhouses the very next day, Amelia Bones would shed no tears.

From the troll that somehow got loose in the school, to a Voldemort-possessed professor, Quidditch injuries from rogue bludgers and a jinxed broom, Dementors, detention in the Forbidden Forest, secret tunnels, flights on magical creatures, and other escapades that made a normal Hogwarts education seem boring, Amelia could see how the boy meant that he had been almost killed every single year at Hogwarts.

To her great dismay, Susan's participation in Harry's seemingly school-wide bullying hadn't stopped with the 'Heir of Slytherin' nonsense. She saw a memory where Harry had seen her niece wearing a button that said 'Potter Stinks' in the lead-up to the Tri-Wizard Tournament. She would have words with the girl that very evening.

Showing her that bullying went beyond himself, he included a memory of him speaking with a blonde waif of a girl, Xeno Lovegood's daughter, as she talked about the shocking abuses suffered at the hands of her own housemates. She'd have to interview Filius Flitwick. Normally bullying didn't fall under DMLE jurisdiction, but the memory Harry shared clearly showed physical harm to the girl, and if she hadn't made it back into the castle, could have become grievous injury or worse.

She could easily tell how devastating it was for Harry to see Ron Weasley believe that he'd cheated his way into the Tournament. For someone who didn't have many good friends around Hogwarts to begin with, losing someone he'd considered one of his best was gutting. Her heart went out to the lonely child. She'd also noticed instances of Ron running interference in keeping the brunette girl Hermione away from Harry. The redhead was so insecure that he couldn't handle Harry's chance at a reward he felt was denied to him, and retaliated.

Almost shaking with anger, she placed her quill down and looked at Harry. "I can safely say I've never heard of anything like that happening ever." Amelia had to force her voice to remain calm so she wouldn't spook the boy like she almost did earlier.

"Do you still have that diary you showed me from the Chamber of Secrets? Something's bothering me about it, and I want to have the Department of Mysteries take a look at it."

Harry thought for a second before calling Dobby. A pop signified his appearance. "Dobby, can you get the black diary from your old master and bring it here for Madam Bones?"

"Yes, Great Master Harry Potter, sir," the elf nodded vigorously before popping away. A few seconds later he returned, handing the book over to Amelia.

"Thank you, Dobby," Harry said, making the elf blush before he vanished.

After putting the diary in her bag, she looked at the boy. "I feel like I should apologize for how Susan's behaved toward you, Mister Potter. She, more than anyone else, should understand you, and she's a Hufflepuff to boot. Rest assured, I'll be speaking with her tonight about her behavior."

"Please don't, Madam Bones. I know the pressure to feel included can be strong. It's not that big of a deal," he pleaded, trying to avoid the confrontation that would come if the girl knew he'd tattled on her.

She wouldn't let him hide. "It is to me. You've done nothing to deserve any of that."

Harry let the matter drop but remained silent, unsure of what to say until he hit on something fairly innocuous, at least in light of the deeply personal revelations of his memories. "So, what happens next? What do I do when I get out of here?"

Sensing the fear in his voice, Amelia gave him a reassuring smile. "I can assure you that you won't be going back to your muggle relatives. Just from what you've hinted at thus far, plus the injuries you had when you got here mean that it would be tantamount to child abuse if I were to send you back there."

"But Dumbledore," Harry interjected, but stopped before the thought fully developed.

"Did exactly that," Amelia finished for him, "And that's merely one of a long list of crimes I've compiled against him and others from your memories. If I can have copies of them, I think your memories will see quite a few people facing long lists of charges."

Harry winced. "I never meant to make this much trouble for people. The teachers run a good school, really."

With a raised hand, Amelia cut him off. "It's not about whether they run a good school or not, Mister Potter, and it's not your fault that they're going to be arrested. They are guilty of almost innumerable instances of child abuse, child endangerment, neglect of a child under their care, and any others I can dream up. It's my duty to every student in that school, but most especially you, to see them charged so that competent personnel who place the welfare of the students first and foremost can be placed there."

Going back to his original question. "So what happens to me?"

"Have you ever seen your parents' will?" Amelia asked.

He shook his head. "I didn't even know if they made one or not. I just grew up at my muggle aunt and uncle's house. I didn't even know about the magical world until my eleventh birthday."

Pursing her lips, Amelia nodded. "I suspected as much. I tried to see your parents' will at the Hall of Records, but it was sealed by order of Chief Warlock Dumbledore. He must have even had monitoring charms on the drawer it was in because he apparated into the hall before I'd even left. Well, as the senior DMLE official on this case, I'm have the authority to take temporary custody of you until the law-wizards tell me what the next step is. You can stay at Bones Manor with me and Susan. The first thing I will do tomorrow is go to Gringotts and see if the goblins know anything about your parents' will. Would you be willing to sign a release for your family's account manager to speak to me?"

Knowing she was going to be investigating whether or not he said anything about it, Harry gave her a warning. "Yeah, I'll sign that. It would be nice to read their will. Be careful when you go to talk to Dumbledore. Sometimes he looks at me kind of funny and it feels like I'm being X-rayed, like there's a pressure on my forehead."

She clamped down on her emotions. Legilmency on a minor was just one more to add to the list of charges Dumbledore would be facing. "Thank you for letting me know that, Mister Jameson." Taking out a blank form from her bag, she filled in the necessary information. His arms were in such bad shape that she had to hold the paper for him, and the signature looked more like a drunken spider had stumbled into an inkwell before staggering across the page, but goblin magic would authenticate it. "Thank you."

"Um, can you call me my name? I like my name. It's one of the only things I have left from my parents, and I didn't even know what it was until I was in primary school. I got yelled at for not answering to my name in roll call, then again when they thought I was lying that I didn't know it. My uncle and aunt always called me 'freak' or 'boy'."

Gritting her teeth, Amelia promised herself she would bring those animals to justice. Outwardly, all she showed was a kind smile. "I can do that, Harry, but only when you're out of this room and under protection. Until then I need to keep you safe, and for now that includes putting you under a pseudonym so no one knows you're here. Now, since I'm assuming temporary custody of you and responsibility for your protection, the healers here will be able to tell me more about your injuries and how to handle treatment. You should know that before I call them in," she pulled out her wand and held it up in front of her face, "I, Amelia Bones, swear to you on my magic that I will take no actions contrary to your health and well-being, and will undertake every effort to see you back to full health as soon as possible. So let it be written."

A muted flash of light signified the validity of her oath. Harry's jaw was hanging open at the declaration. "Um, wow. You didn't have to do that, but thank you."

"Now, so that I can help bring the people who did this to you to justice, can you tell me where you have been living over the summers?" she asked.

Uncertainty flooded Harry's system. Telling Madam Bones his relatives' address could see him taken away from them and placed at Hogwarts' year-round, since he had no other guardians. Putting him under Dumbledore's thumb, after looking at all his memories at once, didn't sound like a great idea in the moment. At the same time, she was the only adult to show what appeared to be genuine concern for his welfare in his conscious memory. Maybe taking a chance on her wouldn't be the worst idea.

"Vernon and Petunia Dursley live at number 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey. They are my aunt and uncle, and guardians from the night my parents were killed until I went to Hogwarts, and then over the summers," he took a deep breath, "Vernon and my cousin Dudley are the ones who hurt me," he said.

"Thank you for trusting me, Harry. I promise to you that I'll make sure that whatever happens, you'll be kept safe. So, would it be okay if I called the healer in to go over your situation?" she asked with a warm smile, re-holstering her wand.

Harry nodded, still stunned at the step she took to prove her sincerity.

Without another word, Amelia pulled down her privacy charms and went to the door. Cracking it open, she signaled for Healer Pepperidge to come into the room.

Once the man entered, she replaced her privacy charms and sat down, gesturing for him to take the other chair in the room. "Since the abuse causing these injuries occurred at Mister Jameson's muggle guardians' residence, he cannot go back there," she started her explanation, "and since I am the senior DMLE official here, I am assuming temporary custody for his own protection until the law-wizards and the Wizengamot can agree on a permanent solution."

The healer gave her a searching look but nodded at her explanation. "It's certainly uncommon, but it has been done before."

Amelia smiled. "Wonderful. Now, what can you tell us about his condition and treatment?"

The healer looked to Harry before sighing and pulling out a sheet of parchment. "There were numerous injuries. Some fresh, others older that went untreated or poorly treated. We even found a few magical abnormalities."

With a deep breath, Pepperidge plunged ahead, providing Amelia with a thorough rundown of Harry's condition and current treatments. The injuries weren't new to her, having been given the list the night before, but the treatment plan was. The he shifted focus.

"Now for magical injuries: our staff found an uncommonly strong infant magical bind – so strong that it's a miracle he's not a squib – tracers that were found to be linked to blood monitors and a warding spell of some kind, no less than ten different compulsion charms, a long-term loyalty potion keyed to someone with an incredibly strong magical signature, and a strong concentration of dark magic behind a scar on his forehead."

"Merlin! It's a miracle you were even able to make it here! No wonder you looked like a bus hit you when I saw you last night," Amelia breathed.

Harry winced. Vernon really must have been trying to kill him this time.

Healer Pepperidge continued his outline. "We gave him some organ-repairing and blood-replenishing potions last night, which got him stabilized. Today we planned on vanishing the first of the broken bones before giving him Skele-Gro to re-grow them. Mister Jameson has a few uncomfortable nights ahead of him."

"A few?" Harry asked, face twisting in pained anticipation. The memory of Skele-Gro after Lockhart vanished his arm bones wasn't pleasant.

Pepperidge gave him an understanding smile. "Unfortunately yes. If we vanished all your broken bones at once, it would cause organ and tissue damage and leave you in unnecessary pain. Instead, we'll do them in stages. It will make for a longer recovery, but in the end will cause less damage and leave you healthier."

"Well I can support that," Amelia interjected, "And I will be back later with more information on what we discussed earlier, Mister Jameson." She left with a pointed look, making sure he understood her meaning.

Harry nodded.

The door closed behind her as the healers went to work on Harry's injuries.

Chapter Text

July 7, 1995

Hermione Granger was worried.

Harry had looked so scared and forlorn in the Hogwarts infirmary after the Tri-Wizard Tournament that she'd made up her mind to break with her usual routine. So far during their Hogwarts years, she hadn't kept in touch with Harry over the summer, but looking at his expression as Ron dragged her off to the feast, she decided to change things this year.

Except it hadn't worked.

Taking some pounds out of her savings account, she was able to take a day when her parents were at work, she took a ride on the Tube to the Leicester Square station, the closest to Diagon Alley. She stopped at Gringotts to convert her pounds to galleons and was on her way to the Owl Post Office with a letter for Harry when she walked past Eeylops Owl Emporium. She couldn't resist a short visit.

One reassuring chat with the witch at Eeylops Owl Emporium, and ten galleons later, Hermione was the proud owner of a beautiful brown barn owl. Her parents were less than enthusiastic at first, but when she explained that having a barn owl roosting in their house meant they could write to her regularly at school instead of waiting for her letters, they accepted the bird with warmth.

She already had named him for Wilson, the calm neighbor who dispensed wisdom, one of her favorite characters from pre-Hogwarts television. As owls were a historic symbol of wisdom, Wilson the barn owl was her new post owl.

Three days later and Wilson had just returned with her third unopened letter. Somehow Harry wasn't able to receive owl post wherever he was. In her concern Hermione remembered that he had received his Hogwarts letter from a post owl – his stories about the dozens of owls perched on the Dursley's roof and car had herself and Ron in stitches – but hers wasn't getting through to him.

It couldn't be that it had a muggle origin; she'd sent letters to others, so she was stumped.

The Eeylops witch assured her that Post Owl magic could find someone even if they weren't at their primary residence, but now her owl had returned unable to locate Harry.

Without access to a Floo, her only real option was to send Wilson to the Burrow. Ron might have another ideas about how to track down Harry. With renewed purpose, Hermione got out a new sheet of parchment and started drafting her letter to Ron.

Amelia all but fell back into her chair; the percentage of the Auror Corps who had done even half of the things she'd seen in Harry's memories was minuscule. Fighting a possessed professor, never mind who was doing the possessing, killing a snake of dinosaur proportions, and winning the Tri-Wizard Tournament while fending off a resurrected Dark Wizard; he'd done it all, and a good chunk of it before he'd even gotten to his teenage years. The boy should have been given an Order of Merlin, perhaps three, at least.

Her eye moved back to the recent issue of The Quibbler laying on her desk. Lavinia had done a great job getting her this issue of the small publication. The Daily Prophet was the media of choice for most of wizarding Britain, but if The Quibbler had access to Harry Potter, that could change in a hurry.


Far from a life lived in the lap of luxury, Harry Potter was dumped on the doorstep of his magic-hating muggle relatives as a baby in the middle of a freezing November night.

It got worse from there.

This reporter had the opportunity to sit down with Harry Potter for an exclusive interview – the first he's ever freely given despite other media outlets' claims to the contrary – and was quickly out of her depth. Instead of being raised in a proper wizarding household by Sir us Black, his oath-sworn godfather or Alice Longbottom, his godmother, he was left with muggle relatives. You read correctly: Harry Potter's godfather is none other than wanted Azkaban escapee Sirius Black, a man with a Kiss-on-Sight order against him.

More on that later, though. On that fateful day more than a decade ago, Sirius Black was sent to the island paradise of Azkaban while Alice Longbottom was tortured by the Cruciatus curse. Thus, Harry was dumped on the doorstep of magic-hating muggles.

For the next ten years Harry was systematically abused. Starved of not only the love and affection due him as a human being, his relatives physically starved him as well. Forced to eat table scraps while he cooked, cleaned, and managed house for those charged with his care, he was also physically, emotionally, and psychologically abused.

The scars of his decade in Hell run far deeper than the physical. For the first ten years of his life Harry Potter was given a tiny broom cupboard under the stairs for his 'room', locked in as punishment or when company came over. His overweight cousin was given two whole bedrooms by comparison.

Worked harder than a house elf, Harry was forced to do all household chores, including outside duties like cutting the grass and tending flowerbeds. Often forced to work until his hands bled, Harry then had to come in, clean out his wounds, and make dinner for the three abusers. After sneaking a few bites of dry crust, he would be forced to do the dishes as well.

I also learned to my horror that he didn't even know his own name until what muggles call 'primary school', education for children aged five to eleven years in basics like reading, writing, and arithmetic. On his very first day in a new world, he was punished for not responding to his name at roll call because his aunt and uncle had only ever referred to him as 'boy' or 'freak'. His cousin ran a gang of children dedicated to bullying others, and engaged in 'Harry Hunting', where they would chase him around and physically beat him if they caught him.

But I hear you, dear readers: surely when he got his Hogwarts letter, life got better for the heir to the Noble and Ancient House of Potter, right? He was able to access his family's fortune and move to Potter Manor, right?


During his four years at Britain's only school of magical education, Harry has faced no less than a dozen threats to his life. From facing off with the spirit of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named twice in his first year to the biggest basilisk on record, controlled by the same dark wizard, to the escape of reputed mass murderer Sirius Black, to the farcical Tri-Wizard Tournament, his life has been in constant jeopardy since he rejoined our world.

That, dear readers, doesn't include the nearly constant bullying he's suffered at the hands of his schoolmates. Whether it's whispers that he's the next Dark Lord or somehow cheating his way into a tournament intended for witches and wizards three years older, students at Hogwarts – including one of his heretofore best friends – never feel shy about letting him know their displeasure.

Everything you thought you knew about Harry Potter was a lie.

I can hear you now, 'But surely the Ministry will step in and punish the wrongdoers?'


Sirius Black was never accorded the decency of a trial, being chucked into Azkaban right after being apprehended. One of the reported victims is actually still alive, and was responsible for the attacks. That's right, Peter Pettigrew was the one who killed those muggles and escaped in his unregistered animagus form – a common brown rat.

When Harry and his friends presented evidence to none other than the Minister of Magic, Headmaster of Hogwarts, and some of its faculty, he was accused of anything from being confunded to making up lies. As a result, Sirius Black is currently in hiding and Harry remains forced to return to his relatives' every summer.

Harry Potter saved us all fourteen years ago, and lost his parents in the process. The magical community has failed its hero at every step since then. This magazine calls on the Ministry, Hogwarts, and every individual in the position to help him to do so. It's time for us all to show Harry how much we appreciate him and his loss.

With a heavy sigh, she moved to call Shacklebolt back into her office; there was so much to go over from Harry's memories that Amelia wanted his objective eyes on them as well. Asking Miss Tuckett to summon her senior auror, Amelia made a note of the boy's muggle address from her notes during their conversation the previous night.

She could send aurors to arrest the Dursleys and have the Wizengamot deal with them, the extent of damage done to the Boy-Who-Lived would ensure a conviction. Amelia Bones couldn't help but feel that wasn't the right way to handle the situation; none of Harry's physical injuries were magical in origin, at least none of the recent ones. Letting the muggle courts deal with the animals who beat Harry so badly seemed more appropriate.

Fortunately, there was a liaison office within the DMLE that was in charge of handling cases that crossed the magical divide. She could just pass along the details, exacting a magical oath to silence, and let the Surrey Police handle the human refuse. There was a lack of physical evidence other than the healers' report on Harry's injuries to pass along; that would have to suffice. At the very least it could serve as enough reason for the muggle police to investigate the Dursley's house.

Shacklebolt strode into her office. "What do you need, boss?" he asked, sitting in the chair across from her desk.

"About a month's vacation, a warm sandy beach, and a drink with a little umbrella, Shack," Amelia greeted with a wry look. "but I'll settle for your help with this. I spent most of the morning talking with our young abuse victim. He showed me quite a few memories that, quite frankly, I'm still trying to process. So here's what's going to happen: I need you to stay in my office with silencing, notice-me-not, wizarding avoidance, and any other privacy charm you can think of activated, review each and every one of his memories and write down people we can charge with crimes you see committed. While you do that – and trust me it's going to take a while – I'm going to head to Gringotts. After what happened in the files last night, I want to see if the goblins have a copy of the will that might be readable. Once you're done with the possible charges, I want you to make contact with a Jean Kempley from Wizarding Child Services. I'll join you as soon as I can from Gringotts."

Shacklebolt nodded. "Understood."

"Good. I'll lock down the Floo and tell Tuckett that I'll be out of the office. When I get back, we'll get a plan of action together for how we want to attack the case."

She slid the rack of copies of Harry's memories across the desk and activated her privacy charms. "Make sure you have enough parchment ready. It's going to be a long list."

The black man grinned. "This will be fun."

Amelia returned his grin before leaving her office on her way to Gringotts.

Albus Dumbledore was using every bit of his decades of training, Occlumency, and magical experience to maintain his composure in the face of near-blinding panic.

He was failing miserably.

The catastrophic collapse of the blood wards around the Dursleys had him apparating around the country in an attempt to find Harry Potter. He wasn't at his relatives' house, the Burrow with the Weasleys, or even in Hampstead with the Grangers.

It was as if Harry had disappeared off the face of the Earth.

With the staff still on their usual two-week vacation as the summer holidays started, he didn't even have any additional staff to call upon. Severus was on his annual trip to gather rare potions ingredients across Eastern Europe and West Asia, Minerva was visiting the McGonagall clan home not far away in the Highlands, and Filius was visiting his clan at Gringotts.

Going to the Ministry was out of the question. Not only was he persona non grata with Cornelius, asking the DMLE for help locating a missing student would raise all kinds of questions Albus didn't want to answer.

The lack of information was driving him crazy. He simply had to know where Harry was; the lad's destiny meant that the Leader of the Light had to guide him. For someone so used to having nothing happen that he didn't control, not knowing the whereabouts of one of his students was threatening to give him a stroke.

To have that student be Harry Potter was maddening.

The only thing he could think to do was to apparate to the Dursleys, transfigure himself into an insect, and hide in a corner. There was a strong probability that Harry's relatives would have something to say about the boy. If worse came to worst, he could don a glamour and purport himself to be a Hogwarts official conducting a well-being survey of the students over the summer.

It took him a few minutes to remember the apparition coordinates near Harry's relatives, but after strolling past the Hogwarts wards, he was all set. Appearing outside the house, he took in the nearly-identical resemblance it bore to every house around it. He cast some detection spells around where the wards should be, confirming what the catastrophic failure of the monitors in his office told him – the blood wards protecting Harry from Voldemort were nothing more than a memory. The boy was totally unprotected.

Concentrating, Albus turned himself into a ladybug. He flew in through a crack in the window and took a position on the ceiling of the unnaturally clean living room. There wasn't even a speck of dust he could see from his new vantage point. Uneasy, he began waiting to hear what the occupants said.

He didn't have to wait long.

"The house is so much nicer without the freak around, isn't it Dudley?"

"Yeah, but I have to work a lot harder. At least the freak used to handle all the housework."

"That's the only good thing that can ever be said of him," a woman's voice answered, "Lazy, good-for-nothing spawn, from my bitch of a sister. A few extra chores are a small price to pay to be rid of the brat."

"Do you think you killed him this time, Dad?" the boy asked. The note of hope in his voice left Albus reeling.

"I might very well have, Dudley my boy. He wasn't looking good when he left."

"Aren't you worried about the police?"

"Not at all. There's no one who knows of him who would care to look for him. He was a freak, a nobody, born in another world; we just took care of him. If someone finds a dead body, they won't even know who he is."

Dumbledore was in a blind panic now. Forgetting to change out of his insect form, he flew blindly at the window, smashing his head against it a few times before an excited shout broke behind him. "Mum look! There's a bug flying against the window! Can I smash it?"

"No, Duddykins, I'll take care of it. I don't want bug guts all over my freshly cleaned glass."

There was a pause, and then heavy footsteps behind him. The pane he was gripping on slid up before rough bristles of a broom started chasing him outside. "Shoo! Shoo!" With one final smack for good measure, Petunia Dursley swatted the ladybug that was Albus Dumbledore out of her home.

Rattled from more than just the smack, Dumbledore flew off to an area between two houses that was out of sight of both, returned to his human form, and apparated back to Hogwarts.

Amelia squared her shoulders and marched across the marble floor, walking into the bank was always a slightly unnerving experience. Goblins weren't exactly friendly to the wizarding community, nevertheless, they respected fairness and honesty, two things Amelia always worked hard to practice.

Approaching the first open counter, Amelia waited to be acknowledged.

"State your business, witch," the sharp-eyed goblin greeted.

"I have urgent business with the manager of the Potter account. Please let me know when a meeting can be arranged as this is a critical situation." she said, giving her purpose and urgency but not too much information to broadcast in the bank's lobby.

"Gringotts is not in the habit of giving away information to those not authorized to receive it," the goblin growled.

"I am authorized to receive this information," she explained, keeping her voice level, but low enough to avoid unnecessary ears overhearing, "I have written permission in my bag. However, this matter is so urgent and secret that I may only discuss it with the account manager. Believe me when I say that if I cannot conduct this business, these accounts may undergo a review of their status here at Gringotts."

That made the goblin take notice. The possibility of one of the bank's biggest depositors transferring their entire business out of the bank would leave heads rolling. For the goblins of Gringotts, that would be in the most literal sense.

"Wait here."

Five minutes later, the teller goblin led her into a private office and introduced to the Potter accounts manager. Grinlast was a broad, brawny goblin who regarded her with what she chose to believe was a pleasant smile. "Your reputation precedes you, Madam Bones."

"Thank you, Grinlast. Before we go any farther, I have a document for you and I hope I can ask a question that won't be taken as insulting."

The goblin nodded. "Show me."

She slid the document across the desk toward him, watching as he cast his own detection spell. When the document glowed green, he grunted and transfigured a copy, sliding the original back to her.

"Ask away," he directed, reaching for a quill and parchment.

"Your security is well-renowned, but my business here is of such secrecy that I must confirm it for myself. Nothing of what we say in this office can be overheard by others, correct?"

The goblin looked at her askance for a moment before her words fully registered. He nodded again. "All offices at Gringotts are fully protected against any outside surveillance."

Amelia breathed a sigh. "I knew that, but hearing it helped with what I need to discuss with you today. Okay, it was recently discovered that Harry Potter had been beaten almost to death."

Grinlast's eyes widened, but he said nothing, waiting for her to continue as he scratched notes.

"Given my position as head of the DMLE, I treated it as a criminal matter, naturally. The boy also had older, untreated and or poorly-treated injuries, along with long-term debilitating malnutrition. I took temporary custody as the head ministry official on scene. There is little information that I can share. However, I can say is that the boy was abused by his muggle guardians…"

"Relatives," Grinlast muttered, still scratching notes.

Amelia stopped at the interjection. "Pardon?"

"Relatives," the goblin repeated, looking up at her for the first time, "They were never his legal guardians in the magical world. In the muggle world that might be different, but since the boy is magical, that trumps muggle law. Dumbledore claimed his magical guardianship, but as the boy was not muggleborn, that wasn't legal either."

"Why didn't the Goblin Nation tell anyone?"

He turned fierce. "It is not permitted for goblins to have official dealings with the Ministry. There was no way to 'tell anyone'," he growled.

Not wanting to upset someone who was providing her assistance by getting into a goblin rights discussion, Amelia nodded and held up her hands. "I understand. In any event, when I tried to view his parents' will at the Ministry, it was sealed by the Chief Warlock."

Few witches or wizards had ever seen a laughing goblin, at least in living memory, but Amelia saw one that moment. "So you want to see the Potter will, avoiding Dumbledore's machinations."

"No," she answered, knowing how to phrase her answer, "I need to see it so I can make sure the boy is protected and taken care of, and given time to heal and grow as any child should in a safe environment."

He regarded her once more, before nodding. "We have our own copy of the Potter will. It seems they did not place all their trust in the Ministry in the dark days before their murders. As you know, no witch or wizard has sway over Gringotts, and no Ministry law governs our policies. Therefore, the will sealed at the Ministry was never sealed here."

"Then with the authorization I was given from Harry Potter, I would like to see the will for myself, so that I can begin bringing redress if needed, and see to it that the boy is protected."

"Wait here," Grinlast instructed, scratching another note that he slipped into a slot on his desk. Less than ten minutes later, another goblin knocked at his door before handing over a plain brown envelope closed with an ornate red wax seal.

Without opening it, he slid it across to her. "The authorization from Lord Potter will let you take this copy of the will back to your office. It's a genuine copy and will show as legitimate to all scans, but I do suggest making another copy and keeping it in a safe place. Dumbledore might be able to get to your office, after all."

Amelia saw the wisdom of this course of action and nodded her agreement. "That makes sense. Wait, Lord Potter?"

Grinlast chuckled. "You are widely known as a clever witch. Think on this when you get back to the Ministry: Harry Potter was forced to compete in a Ministry-sponsored event that was only intended for of-age witches and wizards. What do you think might be the legal ramifications of that decision?"

Twenty minutes later Amelia marched down the front stairs from Gringotts with a bundle of parchment shrunken and stored in her bag. Steam might not have been shooting from her ears, but it was a close run thing. The goblins had given her both a copy of the will and a folder of items and galleons that Dumbledore had removed from the Potter vault under his illegal claim as Harry's magical guardian. The list of charges against Dumbledore she was mentally writing was getting longer by the hour.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6: The Board Changes

The second her foot left Gringotts premises, Amelia apparated directly back to the Ministry. Hoping she didn't appear too rude to people she barely acknowledged in her race to get back to her office, Amelia walked as fast as she could without actually running.

Approaching her office, she dispelled the privacy wards with a swish of her wand before making her way in. Once inside, Amelia re-applied the charms and flopped back into her chair, breathing out a sigh of pure relief.

Shacklebolt was still sitting at the desk, staring at her after the unusual entry.

Before he could ask what happened, Amelia jumped in first. "What did you think of those memories, Shack?"

The black man chuckled, and rubbed a hand across his face. "I think the rat population of Britain would take a massive downturn if this kid's information ever gets made public. I also think we might have enough to get Dumbledore the Dementor's kiss."

"That's not even the half of it," she answered him, unshrinking and then tossing the packet from Gringotts on her desk. She took the pensieve, withdrew Harry's memories and put them back in their vials, and then stored the rack in a drawer in her desk that was under a Fidelus charm.

"What did the goblins have to say?"

"What didn't they have to say?" Amelia gave a wry laugh, "I was able to speak to the boy's account manager. He gave me a copy of the Potters' will, saying that they knew all along that Harry's muggle guardianship was illegal. They couldn't tell anyone about it because goblins aren't permitted to contact the Ministry directly."

"Bloody hell," Kingsley answered, falling back in his chair.

"It gets worse. Dumbledore illegally claimed to be Harry's magical guardian, then stole upwards of five million galleons in gold and a handful of artifacts from the Potter vaults, claiming it was for the boy's education."

"Oh sweet Merlin!"

"Tell me about it. When I asked how he managed to get those items out of the vault, the account manager hemmed and hawed before he finally admitted that Dumbledore may or may not have had corrupt contacts within the bank."

"Had, as in past tense?"

A predatory grin spread across Amelia's face. "What do you think the goblins would do if they knew of a goblin helping a wizard steal from a vault?"

If Kingsley possessed the ability to turn pale, he would have. "I take it that goblin or goblins are no longer with us?"

"In Grinlast's words: a dragon leaves very little behind. Apparently they were just waiting for orders from Lord Potter or his legal guardian once the will was executed to reclaim the money and artifacts," Amelia gave herself a shake. "Okay, I have a copy of the will we can open and read right now. You're my official witness. Let's see just how badly things have gone off the rails with Harry here. I take it that you still being here means you never got to see Madam Kempley?"

Shack shook his head, "No, I ran through the memories another time to make sure I got everything."

"Okay. We'll both go see her after this."

Straightening himself, Shacklebolt stood up and moved to the side of his boss's desk. Amelia took the large envelope, broke the seal, and took out the sheets of parchment.

"Seems fairly straightforward. Harry's their sole heir for all funds, stocks, bonds, and properties in the magical and muggle worlds. That's an interesting provision. Not many magicals have investments in the muggle world."

"Lily Potter was a muggleborn," answered Amelia as she read over the document, looking for guardianship clauses. "Ah, here it is! In the event of their deaths before Harry reached majority, he was to go to his sworn godfather Sirius Black. Then in descending order of priority, his godmother Alice Longbottom, then…Sweet tapdancing Merlin!"

"Who?" asked Shacklebolt, not having gotten past the muggle investments to catch up to where she was in the document. He watched as his normally unflappable superior's face turned to awe bordering on shock.


"You?" he asked.

Amelia looked at the parchment, reading the section over three more times to be sure her eyes weren't deceiving her. "Me. Harry should have been given to me after Sirius went to Azkaban and the Longbottoms were attacked. It even says at the end of that paragraph that under no circumstances was he to be given to her muggle sister and her family."

"Boss," Shacklebolt scanned to the end of the document and saw something he needed to warn her about.

"What's that, Shack?"

"Look at the bottom."

Kingsley's ears rang as his boss turned the air blue demonstrating the variety of curse words she knew at top volume. When she finally calmed down, the implications finally sank all the way in. "We can get him for child abuse, child abuse by proxy, child neglect, child neglect by proxy, child endangerment, child endangerment by proxy, abuse of the last scion of a noble house, abuse of the last scion of a noble house by proxy, about a dozen other charges, and we can actually add will tampering onto that? He signed the fucking will as a witness and then deliberately ignored it?"

Shacklebolt sat back, trying to work through the ramifications of everything he'd seen from the memories and now the Potter will. The decision was painful, but easy to make in light of what they'd learned. "Madam Bones, I need to tell you something."

Amelia looked up at her most trusted subordinate's semi-formal address, waiting for him to continue.

"Albus Dumbledore runs a secret organization dedicated to countering Voldemort and the Death Eaters called The Order of the Phoenix. I'm a member."

Frustration mounting at each of the three bombshells that had just landed on her, Amelia tossed her quill on her desk and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Let me get this straight: Dumbledore has a militia of sorts that you, probably the most capable auror I've seen in years, are a member of, and you just now think to tell me this?"

"Seeing the way he appeared when we were looking for the Potters' will and watching as he tried to figure out what was going on with that will got to me. Something isn't right when the Leader of the Light wants to suppress a will that may or may not involve how the Boy-Who-Lived ended up looking like he was run over by a thestral."

She gave a sigh, trying to figure out how to handle this revelation.

"I know. I'll turn in my badge and resign," Shack said, guilt evident in his slumped shoulders.

Realization dawned. "No. I have a better use for your membership in this little illegal society," she said with a predatory smirk, "Your punishment for not informing me of either its existence or your membership will be to retain that status and inform me of everything that Dumbledore says and orders. You're now my spy within that Order."

Understanding he was being let off lightly, Shack nodded and went back to their previous topic, eager to shift her attention back onto Dumbledore himself. "Some of those endangerment charges could reach into the hundreds, if you consider how he had the Philosopher's Stone as a trap for You-Know-Who at the bloody school and then didn't do anything about the basilisk roaming Hogwarts. Every single student was in danger on both occasions." The combat-hardened auror actually shuddered at the thought of a gigantic venomous snake that could kill with a look loose in a school.

"We need to nail his wrinkly arse to the wall for these charges, Shack. He can't be allowed to get away with this in a fucking school. Merlin, my niece goes there!"

Clearing his throat, Shacklebolt tried to steer back to the reason for their meeting. "Okay, as I see it, we have several large tasks coming out from this, and a lot of very powerful people are going to be very upset when we start kicking over these doxy nests."

Amelia sat back, waiting for him to continue. Shack was her best auror, with one of the best heads on his shoulders she'd ever come across.

"My opinion on this is that we take Senior and Master aurors that we know we can trust, maybe even give them a veritaserum test to make sure they're not Death Eater scum or sympathizers, and assign them missions based on these issues," seeing his boss make a gesture to keep going, Shack consulted his notes and plowed forward, "First, we need to figure out what the hell happened with Sirius Black. From Potter's memories, he never got a trial in the first place, which means he was sent to Azkaban without due process. Having Peter Pettigrew appear in the Shrieking Shack lends a lot of credence to that. We need to get someone down to the Hall of Records for the documents around Black's trial to confirm that it never happened. Next, someone needs to look into Harry's muggle relatives…" he trailed off as Amelia interrupted him.

"Leave that one to me. I have an idea of how to handle those animals," she instructed, baring her teeth in a cruel parody of a smile.

The expression on her face sent shivers up and down his spine. Shack cleared his throat, profoundly grateful that he and Amelia were on the same side, "Got it. Okay, continuing on, Hogwarts is going to be a real problem. Almost every member of the staff is complicit, either wittingly or unwittingly, in placing traps, tests, or creating an environment where students were put in danger. However, if we go after the staff directly, Dumbledore will obfuscate as much as he possibly can before obliviating everyone in sight. We need to figure out how to handle that delicately."

She thought for a moment before the answer jumped out at her. Sliding her issue of The Quibbler across her desk to Shack, she gestured to the cover. "That article makes a perfect pretense for interviews. I can claim I'm investigating the allegations inside, and not give anything away about Harry at all."

"That's perfect. It should keep Dumbledore off your back long enough to get the boy to your house," he took a deep breath before the last part. "The most difficult part will be figuring out how we go after the Death Eaters Harry saw in that cemetery after Voldemort was resurrected."

Amelia nodded. "We won't have any help from Fudge on that one, so we have to handle it with extreme care. I've been working on how to do that in my head and still don't have any ideas. The dark bastard hasn't raised his head up since that night though, so we can put that one to the side for the moment. I agree with your assessment in all parts. Take it a step further: tell me who should handle each part of this heap of dragon dung that's landed in our laps."

Shack shook his head, chuckling at the mental image. "Well, now that we know Harry's legally your ward, or will be once the will is executed – another mess that will get stirred up – you could have him at your home, freeing up Auror Tonks. She could handle searching for the records of Black's arrest. I could head up the inquiry into Hogwarts, and once Moody's back on his foot," Amelia had to hide a smirk at the old joke behind her hand, "he can head up the push to take out the Death Eaters. Potter's memory is pretty damning. Mad Eye is the best person to go after dark wizards."

"Let's get it set up," Amelia agreed, "And I will handle the muggles. My plan was to have our muggle liaison office pass information to their police that we had evidence of an abused child. Magical evidence wouldn't be allowed to be passed, but us telling them about a suspected crime is enough to have them get a warrant to search the property in question. If we don't tell them too many specifics, the lack of a body might actually get them sent up on murder charges. As a matter of fact, I'll handle that as soon as we're done here, and you can run down to the Hall of Records to check for Sirius's trial."

"Isn't that a little extreme? Harry is still alive, after all."

"Shack, you didn't see the boy, nor the list of his injuries. I can't go into too many specifics since I'm not yet his guardian, but the list was three parchment sheets long, and included older, untreated injuries and long-term malnutrition. They were starving him. Trust me when I say it was a matter of minutes before it would have legitimately been a murder case."

The auror growled.

"We'll go with your plan. It was pretty much what I was intending to do anyway. Tonight I'll issue a summons to Minerva McGonagall, Poppy Pomfrey, Pomona Sprout, and Filius Flitwick to appear here tomorrow. I won't tell them why, but I will tell them it's a secret matter. I'm not exactly holding out hope that Dumbledore won't find out about their visits, but maybe with the school being on summer holidays, a few staff members' absence will go unnoticed long enough for us to start getting some answers. Once we interview those three, then we go after Dumbledore. You might actually have to take over the lead on the investigation once I become Harry's guardian. DMLE policy means I won't be able to investigate case involving a ward of mine."

"Makes sense. Wait, three heads of house but not the fourth?"

With a smirk, Amelia nodded. "Severus Snape was spared a stay in Azkaban purely on the word of Albus Dumbledore that he was trustworthy and repented his actions. If I summoned the miserable bastard here to interrogate, the chances that Dumbledore would be here before I even got his potions master in a chair are somewhere north of 'guaranteed'. I'll talk to the healer and the other three heads for information before I go after Snape and his patron."

"And the muggles?"

"Right, I'll let our liaison office know to pass along the report."

A thought struck Shacklebolt as soon as she finished speaking, and he didn't like the implications at all. "Um, boss?"

Having long ago learned to trust her protégé's instincts, she wanted to know what he was thinking. "What is it, Shack?"

Pursing his lips, Shacklebolt took a moment to order his thoughts. "We know Dumbledore was monitoring the drawer where the Potters' will was stored. What are the odds he has some method in place to monitor for the address of Harry's muggle relatives being mentioned anywhere in the Ministry?"

"Oh, shit," Amelia breathed. Kingsley was dead on. If she breathed a word of the address of the suspected child abuse, Dumbledore would know about it for sure. "What if I were to apparate to muggle London and work out how to use one of their telephones to make an anonymous call tipping them off?"

"I like the idea, but why not have me switch off with Tonks? She would be the ideal choice for anything to do with the muggle world."

She immediately saw the sense in his suggestion. "I like it. She can even make her voice sound like a male's to further disguise our involvement."

Kingsley nodded before turning to get up. "I'll head over to St. Mungo's and relieve her after I check the records for Sirius' trial."

"Oh, and Shack?" Amelia said.

He looked at her without a word, waiting her instructions. "Take a chair in his room. Thinking it over, I want eyes on him."

Shacklebolt winced. "Understood. Good luck."

Amelia gave him a wry grin as she escorted him out of her office, taking the chance to have Tuckett prepare summonses for Minerva, Poppy, Pomona, and Filius. The professors were 'requested' to appear in the morning, giving the professors time to complete their interviews before they went after the old man. Information gleaned from their interrogations could be then used against him.

Once those were drafted and dispatched, she got a recommendation for Eugene Samuels, a law-wizard that frequently worked with the DMLE that she could consult.

She was soon engrossed in writing up her notes for the law-wizard to go over, including points on all the memories, the legal status of Sirius Black, and what to do about Dumbledore.

Ron read Hermione's note in a swirl of conflicting emotions.

Brushing away the first thought that popped into his mind as irrelevant – wondering when Hermione had gotten herself a post owl – he started considering the implications of her words with the same level of analysis he gave to wizard's chess. The comparison was appropriate – Harry was certainly the white king, guarded by every other piece on the board and not allowed to move more than a little bit at a time.

Dumbledore was the white queen. He was certainly the most powerful piece on their side of the board. The corollary that went along with that that the pawns got sacrificed to protect the king and queen made him a little sick to his stomach. Ron was under no illusions that to Dumbledore the students of Hogwarts were all pawns. From the troll to the Philosopher's Stone to the bloody Tri-Wizard Tournament, the headmaster's actions were far too often for the betterment of his own reputation or for some scheme that he thought only he could understand.

His lingering loyalty to Harry and the idea of being best friends with the Boy Who Lived had him worried about his mate's whereabouts. Harry's story about He Who Must Not Be Named returning was difficult to believe, but Ron had never known his friend to lie about something that serious.

Still, he had information that their best female friend didn't have: the house number of the rescue he and his brothers performed, literally pulling apart the bars on Harry's prison cell to get him out. Hermione's note was worrying. With Voldemort possibly back and Harry at his relatives, it was a race to see what would be the end of him first. He also took the time to include a shrunken copy of the latest Quibbler, knowing that the Grangers probably didn't get magical newspapers at their house. The article about Harry should tell Hermione that something weird was going on. Maybe his bookworm friend could figure something out that he couldn't.

If Harry was out of communication, he might be in real danger. With a deep breath, Ron took a sheet of parchment and began drafting a reply.

On her way out the door, Amelia heard her name being called. Shacklebolt was not quite running to catch up with her. "What's going on, Shack?"

"H – those memories were right. The file on Sirius's trial had the notice of arrest, and the order of transfer to Azkaban, both signed by none other than Albus Dumbledore, but nothing else. The man was never given a fair trial."

Amelia's blood boiled at the injustice. "Okay, I'll add that to the list of things to discuss with the victim tonight. I still need to speak to a law-wizard about the will and see the witch from WCS before I head back to St. Mungo's."

"Good luck, boss. I'm headed to take Tonks' place at the hospital so she can tip off the muggle police," Shacklebolt wished her. He knew how much of a shitstorm was going to be kicked up when she filed for legal guardianship of Harry Potter.

"Thanks," she grumbled at him.

Tonks took in Shacklebolt's words without a blink, understanding all the implications at once. He passed on the directions from Madam Bones, along with all the relevant information, including the actual address to be reported.

"Understood. I'll take care of it right away. Luckily I don't have to go very far. There's a telephone booth just down on the corner."

Without another word spoken, Tonks waited for Kingsley to get settled in a chair next to 'Mister Jameson' before heading out the door. She informed her partner of the new situation. He heartily approved of having someone in the room at all times, and promised to keep the door safe.

Satisfied, she walked to the lift and made her way out the door, transitioning through the charmed window before looking around for her bearings and apparating to Surrey County.

Tonks concentrated her magic after punching 999 for the local emergency number and forced her voice to change to the deeper register of an adult male.

"Surrey Police, how may I direct your call?"

"Hello, I need to report a possible child abuse situation."

"One moment…"

Tonks heard the annoying buzz of toneless music before another voice picked up the call.

"Child Protective Services desk. How can I help you?"

"Yes, hello. I need to report a possible child abuse case."

"What's the address?"

"Number 4 Privet Drive in Little Whinging. I live down the street, and they have two boys in their house. One is a bit older than the other, or at least it always looked that way because he was so much bigger. I was out walking my dog a couple weeks ago and saw the littler one working outside. He turned to look at me and he had a black eye and some other bruises on his face. I haven't seen him since then, and I keep walking my dog down the street past that house to check on him. It might not be anything, but something felt so wrong about it that I couldn't live with myself if I didn't at least make the authorities aware."

"I'll pass the information along. Would you please give me your name and phone number for our records?"

Tonks hung up, content that her anonymous report would get the muggle police investigating the scum responsible for nearly killing the Boy-Who-Lived.

The law offices of Eugene Samuels were warm and inviting, with earth-toned furniture and décor, a view out over the Alley, and a leather couch and easy chair facing his fireplace. The man himself gave off the air of geniality. A smile seemed permanently etched on his round face. Short, curly blond hair framed his tanned face, and warm blue eyes made her feel like she could trust him. A good feeling to get from a law-wizard.

"Mister Samuels?"

"You must be Madam Bones? Come in! Right on time for our appointment. What can I do for you?" the kindly-looking man gestured for her to take to the overstuffed sofa while he took the chair on the other side of the low table between them. He wore a high-quality set of robes done in dark grey with blue trim.

Amelia sat down and put her bag on the table in front of her. She withdrew the Gringotts draft for the retainer, sliding it across to the law-wizard "I have a very delicate matter I need to discuss. Are we covered by privacy oaths at this point yet?"

"Not yet, but if you were to pay me a small retainer we will be. A hundred galleons should do it."

She wrote out a Gringotts draft for the funds and slid it across to him. "Excellent. Now I will be happy to take a secrecy oath," he lifted his wand, "I, Eugene Samuels, swear on my life and my magic that I will not divulge any of what Madam Amelia Bones, head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, tells me without her expressed permission. So may it be written."

A flash of light signified magic accepting his oath.

"Excellent. Okay, I've stumbled upon a bombshell, and I need some input on civil law instead of criminal," she began, taking her dossier out of her bag and launching into her summary of the events at Hogwarts over the past four years surrounding Harry.

Samuels paled. "My daughter just finished her first year there!"

"At least she wasn't there for the basilisk," Amelia commented, "In addition to Harry, who I now have a vested interest in staying safe, my niece has been there in his year, as well."

Standing on wobbly feet, Samuels walked over to a cabinet in the corner of his office, and after pouring two generous portions of muggle brandy, he passed one to Amelia. "So, seeing if I have this straight, you need my advice on what to do regarding the will and guardianship issues. We don't know why Dumbledore sealed the will at the Ministry, only that he did. Given that Harry was raised by his muggle relatives – how exactly are they related to him, by the way? – it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine that Dumbledore claimed himself Harry's magical guardian, too."

"But he's not a muggle-born! He doesn't need a magical guardian. He was raised by his maternal aunt and her family," Amelia protested.

"Correct, but for all intents and purposes, he was raised as one. Dumbledore sealing and monitoring the will tells me there's something he's trying to hide related to the Potter estate. You mentioned that first in line for caring for Harry was Sirius Black? The escaped mass murderer?"

"Yes and no," Amelia hedged, trying to figure out how to order her thoughts on the Black matter.

Samuels leaned forward. "I'm going to need a little bit more."

With a deep breath, Amelia laid her cards on the table. "I reached the same conclusion you did – that the godfather oath would have prevented Sirius from betraying the Potters to Voldemort and still living, so I had Kingsley Shacklebolt check the trial records. There never was one."

"There was no record?"

"There was no trial, Mister Samuels. Black was arrested, and the very next order sent him straight to Azkaban. That order was signed by then-Minister Bagnold, Barty Crouch, and none other than Albus Dumbledore."

Samuels started pacing at this latest bombshell. "I can see why you need legal input, Madam Bones."

"Call me Amelia, please," she asked, "I think with the amount of legal work ahead of us we're going to need to be on a first-name basis."

"Amelia, then. You need to execute the Potter will, over a dozen years too late, but there it is. You need to get Black a trial to clear his name, and you need to do it all without Dumbledore mucking it up."

"Except for the fact that I've just come from Wizarding Child Services where I had Mister Potter's guardianship transferred to me, supported by the will, that about sums it up, yes. Because he's listed under a pseudonym at St. Mungo's to protect his privacy, I had WCS use that as well. That should buy me enough time to get him healed and out of the hospital to my house."

Samuels stared at her before shaking his head. "Dumbledore and Minister Fudge will be the real problems," Samuels said, "As soon as the pseudonym is lifted, Dumbledore will know about it, and will call a sitting of the Wizengamot to rake you over the coals and try to reclaim guardianship."

That comment brought a memory back. "Oh, that's what I needed to ask you! The Potter account manager at Gringott's gave me something of a riddle. He said that Harry being forced to compete in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, which was only for of-age wizards and witches, could have some change in his status."

The law-wizard looked at her for a few seconds before he understood the riddle and started chuckling. "What he meant is that since the Ministry forced him into a tournament for of-age contestants, it wouldn't be hard to argue that the Ministry effectively emancipated him. He could be considered a legal adult."

"Do you think he'll need to do that right away?"

"I think it's useful to keep in his back pocket, to pull out if the Ministry tries to stick its nose in and force him into a home where the family has Death Eater connections."

Amelia sat back and thought. "How much of a risk is the Ministry or Dumbledore to this, really? If I stay on point and force him to admit why he sealed the will and claimed guardianship, he will either have to admit in front of the Wizengamot why he did those things or fail to contest the move."

Samuels gave her a calculating look. "Once it's public you're Mister Potter's guardian, you're going to be a target. You and your house, both from Voldemort's supporters and probably from Dumbledore. I would expect him to make a desperate effort to get Harry back under his control."

"Then you believe the story the Prophet decried that Harry witnessed Voldemort's return?"

He nodded. "I've paid attention to the stories swirling around about him since his reemergence into our world. The one constant has been how fanciful their denials have been. He's been everything from the next dark lord to the savior of the wizarding world. After a while it got hard to believe the vehemence, the very fervor of the stories decrying him. Generally with the Prophet I've found it's best to take their stories with quite a large pinch of salt."

With an exhale of relief, Amelia sat back. "Good. I happen to have copies of his memories of that event, plus the others."

Samuels sat back down. "You could probably do a quick file of the appropriate guardianship documents the moment the will is read."

"Good. I have a meeting with the witch from Wizarding Child Services later this morning. Now about the will: it's a very simple will. Essentially all it says is that everything goes to Harry and then names the list of his guardians. Would it be a legal reading if I were to take him to Gringotts the moment he's released from St. Mungo's and have the will read there?"

The law-wizard thought through his long experience with family law. "Provided you have someone to file the documentation immediately with the Ministry, there shouldn't be any problem with that. Your real problem will be when the story breaks. Dumbledore will haul you before the Wizengamot to contest the change, claiming whatever he makes up to make it stick."

"I've thought about that and I think I have an idea…"

Jean Kempley was one of those happy individuals whose personality was perfectly suited to their calling. A few years behind Amelia at Hogwarts, she was a fellow Hufflepuff who embodied the philosophy of that house perfectly. Spare and stern when it came to dealing with adults, as she often had to be when fighting like a badger for the children in her care, she was unfailingly warm and kind when it came to the children themselves.

Her face was kind and open, with a ready smile that would have almost any child giggling at the sight of her stark white teeth contrasting with her coffee-colored skin. Tight curls of brown hair hung down around her head, giving more than one infant a perfect grabbing opportunity over the years. Her robes, cut and styled to be reminiscent of the wings of a swan, were charmed to play animated scenes of pastel-colored animals chasing each other around and playing.

The woman's office was sparse, with two chairs facing a clean, organized desk. Not even a speck of dust survived on the surface to mar the neatness. Over to the side, however, were two small blue and yellow padded chairs on a thick black rug with a box of toys and books between them, giving children a safe space to enjoy themselves.

"Ms. Kempley," she greeted, taking one of the visitor's chairs.

"Madam Bones," the other responded with a smile. "What brings you into my office today?"

Taking out her folder full of parchment related to the case, Amelia gave a rueful smile of her own. "Business, I'm afraid. Forgive the question, but your office is protected against any kind of listening charms, right?"

Jean nodded. "Absolutely. For the privacy of my charges the Ministry gave me their best protections."

"Excellent. I have some documents I need to give you. I understand you're the person in charge of a recent admit to St. Mungo's?"

Kempley's soft, hazel eyes grew large at the documents Amelia slid across to her. "Yes, I was assigned this case. Mister P-"

She stopped talking as Amelia cut her off. "For the sake of his privacy due to his status as a celebrity, the hospital agreed to use a pseudonym for his care. If you could change all your parchmentwork to read 'Daniel Jameson' for his case it would be for the best."

Eyes still large at the revelation, Jean nodded. "I will do that immediately."

"Thank you. I have another bombshell to drop on you, however," Amelia warned, sliding her copy of the Potters' will over to the brunette.

She had to hand it to the Wizarding Child Services witch. Kempley was cool as they came. With nary a reaction to the document, she nodded and turned to a filing cabinet behind her desk and pulled a drawer open. Taking out a folder of her own, she moved her wand in an intricate pattern above the folder, causing several areas to flash purple. "There, the name has been changed on every document I have for him," she said. A further flick of her wand caused a document to shoot out from another drawer. "And here is the change in guardian document. I'll just fill in your name and his pseudonym – that will change when you notify me that it's safe for him to do so – and we're all set. If you'll just sign at the bottom, magic should recognize your status."

Amelia signed where directed and watched the document flash golden before copying itself.

Jean smiled again. "Always nice to see that I've done my job correctly. Magic now recognizes you as Mister Jameson's legal guardian. Your home is now his. I will be checking in on you as I did with your niece, but after seeing how well you cared for her, I'm not anticipating any difficulties."

"Thank you," Amelia answered. "I will be working with the goblins to ensure the wards are as strong as Ministry law allows. Kingsley Shacklebolt is now heading up the investigation into Mister Jameson's attack."

"I'll make a note of that, too. Thank you, Amelia," Jean acknowledged.

Ron's answering note did nothing to calm Hermione's worries. Tales of pulling bars off windows meant that Harry's summer life, and life from before Hogwarts, was even worse than he'd hinted at.

The magazine he'd sent her didn't do anything to help either. The Quibbler painted a horrific picture of his life, sending her into a guilt spiral for not recognizing any of the signs and doing something to help him.

Her hackles were raised up as high as they could go. Voldemort after him was bad enough, but to add in that he might have a bad home life felt like adding insult to injury.

Her other best friend included Harry's relatives' address. It might be time to figure out her way to Surrey to check up on her friend.

"Oh, mum? I need to make a little trip."

Hermione knocked at the plain door with trepidation swirling in her stomach. This was the house where, if The Quibbler and Ron were to be believed, Harry had been abused for a decade. Growing up in a loving household, the idea that someone could treat their own flesh and blood that way was entirely alien to her.

As the door swung open, Hermione half-expected to see monsters complete with jagged fangs and horns greeting her, but it was a painfully ordinary woman with short curled hair that greeted her, confusion in her eyes. "We're not looking to buy anything. Thank you!"

She tried to close the door but Hermione was faster. "I'm looking for Harry Potter! Aren't you his aunt?"

The woman froze. "What did you say?"

The amount of fear in the older woman's eyes chilled Hermione to the bone. Asking for her friend shouldn't make his guardians so afraid. "I'm looking for Harry Potter. He lives here. I'm a friend of his from school and I haven't heard back from him for a little while, so I wanted to see if he was okay."

"Petunia! Don't let any more of those freaks in our door! We just got rid of one, we don't need any more!"

The man's shout from inside the house turned the nervous butterflies in Hermione's stomach into a cold leaden ball of fear that sat heavy and low. "Is, is he okay?"

The aunt, Petunia from the shout, turned back to her. "You need to leave. Your kind aren't welcome here anymore. We want nothing to do with your world. Just leave us alone!"

"But what about Harry?" Hermione pleaded.

"The freak's probably dead in a ditch somewhere," a different, younger male voice shouted from inside. "Some other weirdos threatened us when we picked him up from the train so me an' Dad worked him over pretty good when we got home. He stumbled upstairs, grabbed his stupid birdcage, and crashed out his window. He went somewhere, but I didn't see."

Blood turned to ice, Hermione looked at the older woman. Something about the fear in Harry's aunt's eyes as she looked at her turned Hermione's own fear for Harry's safety into something else.

Her best friend had been attacked, brutally beaten in his own home by his own flesh and blood. She was starting to believe the magazine article saying that it had been going on for years. The hand-me-down clothes he always wore on the express to school, his smaller stature than most of their year mates, and a thousand other little signs all clicked into place, painting a truly horrific picture. Somehow she'd never picked up on it. Her parents were trained to look for signs of abuse, and they'd told her various age-appropriate things to look for in her classmates at school. Lessons about appearance, mannerisms, and defense mechanisms that children use to hide signs of abuse and none of it clicked in her mind for Harry until just then.

Before either could say another word, three police cars pulled up with lights flashing. Six officers in total approached the house. The first one looked at the older woman. "Mrs Dursley? We received a report of possible child abuse regarding your nephew and are here to check it out. Will you allow us inside?"

"Why should I? We're upstanding citizens; you have no grounds to invade our house." the thin woman declared.

Hermione stood to the side and watched the drama unfold. "Constable? I'm a friend of Harry's from our boarding school in Scotland. I was here to visit him and heard his cousin inside say that he'd been beaten and ran off."

Hardened gazes turned back to the woman in the door. "Well now, it looks like we're coming in anyway," the lead Constable - Higgins by his badge, Hermione saw - said. Turning to her, he gave her a grim smile. "If you could come in with us Miss...?"

"Hermione. Hermione Granger," she answered introducing herself.

"Miss Granger," Constable Higgins finished, "We're going to look around the house. Since you were here earlier and know the victim, we need to take a statement from you."

Smirking at the naked fear on Petunia's face, Hermione followed the group inside.

They congregated in a small, cramped living room stuffed with far too much furniture. A large man with a bushy mustache sat on a hideous sofa with an equally rotund boy of about her age beside him. "Constables," the man greeted, rising to his feet.

"Vernon Dursley?" Higgins asked.

"That's me. What can I do for you?"

"We received a call about a possible attack in this house, and with what I've just heard, we're going to be conducting a full search. You can sit here and answer my questions, or we can take a ride down to the station and conduct a more formal interrogation."

A female constable named Richards led Petunia to sit between her husband and son before standing behind Higgins and blocking the exit from the room. Three of the other four dispersed to look around the house, while the last gestured to Hermione to follow her through to the kitchen. After taking down Hermione's address and phone number, she said, "I'll need a statement from you, if you please."

Only too willing to help find out what happened to Harry, Hermione ran through the course of events as Richards made notes on a pad. "And when I never heard back from him, I found his address from our friend and came over here. That's when I heard the boy in there say how he was beaten and crashed out an upstairs window."

Constable Richards nodded at something behind Hermione, and two of the others went upstairs to check out that part of the story. Richards then moved to lead Hermione out. "This is police business now. If we need to, we'll be in touch."

Nodding, Hermione followed her to the hall between the kitchen and living room. One of the constables who went upstairs was just returning. "The girl's story checks out. There's some kind of cat flap on the door, which locks on the outside only, and the window's boarded all up. We knocked one of the boards out and found the remnants of iron bars on the outside. It's dirty, dark, and dusty and more like a prison cell than a bedroom."

"Locks from the outside?" Hermione murmured, realizing that everything Ron had told her was the truth. Harry had been a virtual prisoner in this house. As the fear set in, something caught her eye down the hall. Pushing through the group, she went to a cupboard under the stairs. Vernon was shouting at her to get out of that hall, which only increased the suspicions on the part of the officers. "Constable Richards? Take a look at this cupboard door. Have you ever known one to lock from the outside?"

Richards, instantly understanding what the girl meant, stormed back out to the living room. "Open that cupboard willingly, or we'll break it open. Either way that door is getting opened right the hell now."

Eyes wide with fear, Vernon shook his head and looked down, muttering something that only he could hear. Richards nodded to Higgins, who ran out to one of the cars. Returning with a large pair of bolt cutters, he quickly had the padlock off the door. Reaching in, he turned on the feeble light.

Hermione fell to her knees at the sight of fitted shelves that held a few crumbs, a 'bed' consisting of a mattress smaller than a baby crib's and a thin, ragged blanket. Faint letters and numbers comprising the alphabet and basic counting could be seen scratched into one of the posts. Tears coursed down her face at the prison cell her friend had endured.

These people were the worst of the scum her parents always warned her about, and her best friend might have paid the price. Squaring up to her full height, Hermione felt every bit of anger at the monster in front of her surge into her eyes. The atmosphere around her was positively crackling, tendrils of electricity sparked from her fingertips, but she felt none of it, so total was her concentration on the Dursleys. "May God have mercy on your souls, because if I find one hair on his head out of place, I won't."

Without another word, she turned and ran as fast as she could, the snap of handcuffs and the reading of rights echoing in her ears.

"That's it," Hermione choked out, replacing her phone in its cradle, "I've called every hospital within walking distance of those bastards' house. No one has any patient named Harry Potter or any John Doe b – beating victims that look like him. He's disappeared…"

She trailed off, tears overtaking her. Burying her face in her hands she felt a tidal wave of despair surge. Harry might have actually been murdered and she had no idea what to do or how to find out what happened.

Comforting arms enveloped her. Hermione turned in her father's warm embrace and sobbed her heart out on his shoulder. His hands moved up and down her back, soothing her like he'd done since she was a child.

"What do I do, Dad? I'm so scared something happened to him but I have no idea what to do next."

"Well, sweetheart, you checked all the hospitals?"

"Everything within an hour's walk, and if what I heard was true, he couldn't have walked for an hour."

"What about magical hospitals? Isn't there any place a magical person could go for healing?"

A lifeline in the maelstrom of her fear, Hermione clutched to her father's words with every fiber of her being. "Do you really think so?"

"Why wouldn't there be? Tell you what: why don't you send Wilson to your friend Ron and ask if he knows where someone magical would go for treatment?"

"That's a wonderful idea! Thank you so much Dad!" Hermione enthused, kissing her father on the cheek as she rushed off for parchment. Her hurry was so great she didn't even register the whiplash of her mood swing the way her father did.

"Michael Granger, you are a wonderful father," Mary Granger said as she walked into the living room in the wake of her daughter. Leaning over, she gave him a loving kiss. "While she's dealing with Wilson, why don't we get dinner started?"

Standing up, Michael followed his wife into the kitchen to begin one of their favorite shared activities, both of them looking for some solace from the worry over the circumstances of their daughter's best friend.

"How's he doing?" Amelia whispered to Shacklebolt as she walked into a sleeping Harry's room. She'd finally found a few minutes to stop by Alastor's room to see how he was doing before she went to see her new ward. Her former mentor was about ready to bounce off the walls as she'd expected. An invitation to her house with the promise of telling him about a conspiracy reaching to the highest levels of their society once the medical staff saw fit to release him had a familiar gleam in his good eye.

"The healers were really impressed, Boss. I heard some of their mutterings to each other, and the vanishing and re-growing of his bones is going even faster than they expected. They're starting to work on how to release his magic lock, thinking that will give him the boost he needs to help drive the healing even faster."

"Good. He's definitely looking better. I just came from meeting with the child services witch in charge of his case. She knows his pseudonym now, and the forms are charmed so that they have that name until she changes it. Because I executed that part of the Potters' will, I'm his legal and magical guardian now. That means you're in charge of the case as of now, Shack. I can't be involved. So I'm in the role of the concerned guardian."

"I'm really glad to hear that, Amelia," Shacklebolt smiled at her, genuinely happy for his boss. Amelia had been devastated when she lost the ability to have her own children in the first war, and then when her husband was killed by Death Eaters it just piled on top of the injury. She'd been an amazing maternal figure to Susan, and would be an absolute tigress defending Harry.

She returned his smile full-force. "I'll just leave him a note that I was here, but I'll catch up with him tomorrow. We have a lot to talk about. Keep me updated on the case, will you?"

Shacklebolt nodded. "Oh, you'll be interested in this. There was a commotion outside earlier. When I went to check it, the staff were passing a copy of The Quibbler up and down the ward reading the story about him and getting angry about it. Looks like Lovegood's article has caught the wizarding public's attention so you'll want to be on your guard. Hopefully the boy can get out of here sooner rather than later and you can get him home."

Amelia gave him a wordless nod in acknowledgement and jotted the message down on a small sheet of parchment for the boy to read when he awoke. She noticed how Shack had settled into his chair, ready to doze for the evening. Instead of getting impatient with his apparent lack of attention, she left the room knowing Harry was safe. Past experience had told her that the slightest noise would rouse Kingsley to full alertness, ready for action.

On her way out of the room for the night, Amelia turned back to look at Harry. He was still slumbering in peace, the lines of pain and discomfort erased from his face. Ever since he returned to Hogwarts, the boy had cut a larger-than-life image in the Prophet, with speculation on his deeds making him seem like either an up and coming dark lord or a weak fool. Laying there in the hospital bed, he looked just like any other boy – young man, she corrected herself – only frailer than most for his age. She had the sudden urge to take him in her arms to keep him safe.

Reading over the healers' notes on his injuries and then his parents' will told her that the boy who saved them all from the threat of Voldemort hadn't had anyone looking out for him since that night.

Amelia closed the door behind her as quietly as she could, vowing that from this moment, even if she failed somehow at getting legal custody of him, that he would have at least one adult fighting for his best interests. She would be the one person he could count on.

Stepping outside his room, she called her house elf to her. "Floppy!"

"Mistress?" the elf asked, popping next to her.

"I'm going to Floo home as soon as I get to the Floo point. Wake Susan promptly at 7 tomorrow morning. It's time she and I had a chat."

Chapter Text

July 8, 1995

Sleep was becoming a fond but distant memory to Albus Dumbledore.

The blind panic that had descended ever since his monitors over Harry Potter stopped functioning had only worsened. The Dursleys had mentioned hurting the boy, perhaps even killing him, but he refused to believe the boy was seriously injured or dead. That would be so calamitous for magical Britain that he simply refused to believe it could be possible. The weapon against Voldemort needed to survive until the final confrontation; no other possibility could be allowed. Thus, Harry was not dead.

However, the boy was nowhere to be found. Arabella Figg hadn't even noticed anything amiss, leaving him wondering exactly what he paid her to do. At least for now she was monitoring the Dursleys to see if the boy showed up back there at any point.

The entire Order of the Phoenix available to him at the moment had been unable to track the boy down, even his former Defense professor. He hadn't been to Hogwarts, nor had he sought out Sirius at Grimmauld Place. There weren't many other places he could be. Mundungus Fletcher was watching Diagon Alley for the Order, but other than that there weren't any other places in magical Britain he might be.

Muggle Britain would be the best possibility, and Albus was loath to admit that Harry might have an advantage over him there.

As much as he tried to think of an alternative, his best solution might end up being to use some of the galleons he'd taken from the Potter vault to bribe someone in the Ministry's monitoring office to include an alert keyed to the boy's magical signature. It was for the boy's own good, so it wasn't even stealing from him, after all.

Harry Potter slowly came back to consciousness from one of the soundest sleeps he'd ever had.

After a cleansing yawn, he realized that the Dreamless Sleep potions that the healers had given him were probably responsible for that. He went to stretch, realizing a moment too late that with his legs and ribs broken the way they'd been, he was setting himself up for some extreme pain.

It never came, at least for half of his body. His legs were pain free at last, and responded to his mind's commands. He was able to wiggle his toes, flex and turn his feet at the ankle, bend his knees, but when he went to turn his legs one over the other to rotate himself over, the agonizing pain flaring in his pelvis told him they hadn't gone higher than his femurs with the Skele-Gro the night before. His upper body was still stiff and sore, but not nearly as badly as it had been.

As if summoned, Healer Purcell opened his door and peeked inside. "Good morning Mister Jameson. I hope you're feeling better this morning."

"Well, some of me is," Harry gave what he hoped was a normal smile, "Those potions I was given last night worked wonders on my chest and rbs. How'd you know I was awake?"

Purcell returned the lad's smile. "It may not make for the most comfortable of evenings, but Skele-Gro does work wonders. As for the second part: we have monitoring charms on all our patients. If their heart rate goes above a certain level, or if they're asleep and wake up, the healers are notified."

"That makes sense. I do feel a bit better. So what's on the plan for today?"

"Do you feel up to a little conversation? I think it's time we went over your injuries and prognosis in greater detail."

A little tremor of fear shot through Harry, but he nodded. Better to be forewarned of whatever calamity was about to fall on his head. "Yeah, hit me with it."

Purcell came over and cast a couple diagnostic charms with his wand. "Your organs have mostly healed. I think another half-dose of the organ-knit potion should take care of the rest. You'll need another day of the blood-replenishing potion, but that should be all for that. Physically there isn't much left to be done."

"What about my bone re-growing?"

"I think we should be able to finish that off tonight and after that, my biggest worry is the magical trauma healing you need. We need to undo three different magical blocks and end a blood trace. Then there's the whole issue with the dark magic concentrated around your scar. We'd need the Unspeakables for any of this, but for all of it together I want their input on all of it. I just had to make sure you'd be physically able to tolerate their healing."

"You mentioned those magic blocks a while ago. Can you tell me anything more about them?"

Purcell gave him a look before nodding. "They're restraints that can be placed on someone's magic, usually when someone is a child to reduce the impact of any accidental magic episodes. You seem to have," he checked his notes, "three different magic blocks restraining your magical output."

Harry's eyes widened. "But I've never had any real issues in class with my casting."

The healers eyes narrowed at him for a brief moment. "Well, I guess I'll let the Unspeakables know they'll need to erect their strongest ward shields when they release those blocks."

"Will that increase my magical power?"

"Dramatically, I would think. Well over half your magic has been bound."

Harry gave himself a shake at the thought of that much more power available to him.

"Then there are two different blood tracers we identified that will need to be eliminated. One is a tracker and the other is a tap."

Green eyes widened again. "You mean one of these blood tracers was…?"

"Draining your magic, yes. To do what I'm not sure, but once the Unspeakables get involved they'll tell you what you need to know about it."

"Bloody hell."

"That's about the size of it. We also removed about a half a dozen compulsion charms and flushed a loyalty potion out of your system while you were unconscious."

"What was that you said about my scar?" Harry asked, tracing it with his fingers and wincing.

Purcell nodded. "Well, I don't have all the details, but when you were scanned initially for your injuries, the emergency crew downstairs identified it as the source of an…extreme concentration…of dark magic. I have no idea what it is or how to deal with it; that's something else for the Unspeakables."

"Sounds good to me. How much longer do you think I'll get to be here?"

The healer gave him a calculating look before consulting his notes. "It all depends on what the Unspeakables tell you, but barring any unforeseen complications, we can have you out of here in a day or two. Don't you want to get out of here back to your guardians?"

The look of pure fear that spread across the boy's face set Purcell back and think. He'd seen a few abuse cases in the pasts, but only the really bad ones. Magical healing meant that far too many abusers got away with hiding the evidence of their crimes. "Or we might set up a time for you to talk to Madam Bones to figure out what your next steps are."

Harry sighed. "I think that's a great idea."

Purcell looked at the table. "It looks like she was here and left you a note," he said, picking up the paper and handing it over.

Settling back into his bed, ready to take his next round of potions, Harry took the note and started to read.


I spent the day talking with the goblins, a law-wizard, and a ministry official, and I have an awful lot to tell you the next time I stop by.

Kingsley Shacklebolt is handling your case now, for reasons I'll explain when I visit. I'll try to make it sometime tomorrow (today when you read this).


Amelia woke at her customary 6 AM. Even on a Saturday, her usual day off, she found it helpful to stay on her routine. Sitting at her table with the latest Daily Prophet, she was glad her usual breakfast was light.


The recent sensationalist story in little-known magizoology rag  The Quibbler  is nothing more than the lies of a twisted mind, according to our very own Minister for Magic.

"It's perfectly understandable," said Cornelius Fudge to a concerned crowd at The Leaky Cauldron, "that after such a trauma early in life, Harry Potter might be a bit touched in the head. The very idea that Sirius Black could be innocent, when everyone knows what he really did, is laughable."

With the input from responsible adults who were on the scene, it's clear to anyone that Mister Potter was either confunded or making up lies. The leadership of Hogwarts should be called into question, especially since the Headmaster has been accused of leaving the boy with abusive muggles since infancy. Perhaps it's time for a more responsible wizarding family to step up for the care of the Boy-Who-Lived.

This paper calls upon  The Quibbler  to cease printing its lies about the Ministry, and for the Ministry to investigate the events of that fateful Halloween evening so many years ago.

It went on and on from there. Amelia had long been accustomed to the Prophet's ability to publish lies as truth with a little speculation, but now that they were writing about someone in her own personal care, her anger at the rag was mounting.

She had to take several deep, calming breaths before the mood passed. There was another unpleasant matter for her to handle this morning.

As if waiting for her to hold the thought, her house elf appeared. Floppy gestured to the parlor. "Missy Susan has had her brekky and is waiting for Mistress."

Steeling herself for the coming confrontation, she strode to the room. Susan was wearing her dressing-gown and slippers as she perched awkwardly on a chair by the fireplace with her hands folded in her lap. "Aunt Amelia, is everything okay?"

She pursed her lips before squaring her shoulders and moving to sit on a loveseat facing her niece's chair. The anxiety in Susan's usually warm eyes caught her by surprise and made her think. In preparing herself for this confrontation, she'd forgotten that the girl was still a child, not a criminal she was interrogating. Taking a deep breath to master her emotions, she smiled at the girl. "I need to talk to you about a few things that have come up in the last few days."

"Okay. I'll do my best to help."

"What can you tell me about Harry Potter?"

Her question caught the girl by surprise. Amelia could see her mind racing, as she tried to figure out how to answer the question. "He's a Gryffindor in my year, of course. Most of the school thinks he cheated his way into the Tri-Wizard Tournament. There was some kind of fuss over one of the judges, but I never heard the full story after the final event when he claimed that You-Know-Who had returned.

"I know The Daily Prophet has been running a lot of articles about him recently, but I don't know much about him as a student. He always hangs around with Hermione Granger, the top student in our year, along with the youngest Weasley boy Ronald, but from what I've heard he's a basically average student."

"That's not entirely what I asked. I want to know what know about him as a person. Have you ever sat with him for any length of time and talked? Maybe on the express to or from school?"

Susan's eyes were confused, and her face flushed. "Not really. Anytime I've seen him on the train he's always been with Granger and Weasley. It always seemed a little odd that he dresses in clothes that are on the shabbier side, when he's not in his robes, I mean. I know he's an excellent Seeker on the quidditch team, and he always seems to be getting called to the Headmaster's office, but everyone thinks it's a little weird that he seems so clueless about the magical world, and how he never seems to associate with older families."

Amelia's patience was wearing down. "Let's try cutting to the chase. What do you know about the 'Heir of Slytherin'?"

Auburn eyebrows rose at the question. "That was from my second year. A few students were attacked, petrified I think, and everyone thought Harry had something to do with it, especially after it came out in that one dueling club session that he could speak Parseltongue."

Frowning, Amelia thought about the best way to help the girl get to the answer on her own. "Did anyone ever figure out what actually happened?"

Susan colored slightly. "Nothing that I ever heard for sure. All we knew was toward the end of the year the attacks stopped, the petrified kids woke up, and Gryffindor got a ton of house points. Enough that they won the House Cup."

Amelia frowned at the prevarication. "And what did the Hogwarts rumor mill make of that?"

"There were all kinds of theories, but nothing ever was confirmed," Susan answered, brows furrowing at each question.

"What about this past year with the Tri-Wizard Tournament?"

"Aunt Amelia, what's going on? Why all the questions about Harry?" Susan leaned forward as she finally voiced her growing concern.

Taking a breath, Amelia thought on how to answer the girl. Harry's privacy still needed to be protected, at least until he got out of St. Mungo's, but she needed to tell Susan as much as she could. "Do you remember the other night when I was at the hospital to see Auror Moody?"

Susan nodded.

"I was walking down a hallway when I saw a badly injured child in one of the beds. Something about them seemed familiar, so I took a closer look. It was Harry. He'd been attacked and very nearly killed."

The girl gasped, hand covering her mouth in her surprise. "Was it the Death Eaters?"

Amelia pursed her lips. "When he woke up, I got him to talk about what happened. It turns out that it was his muggle relatives who took him in after his parents' murders who did that to him."

"His own relatives attacked him?" The horror on Susan's face was painful to witness, but Amelia had to know why the girl had been so cruel to Harry.

Instead of a verbal answer, the older woman reached into her bag and pulled out her copy of The Quibbler. She opened the magazine to the article about Harry and handed it over to her niece.

Ever since she was a child, Susan had been unable to lie to her. She had any number of tells, but the most obvious one was her face. Such fair skin flushed and paled easily, so Amelia learned early in Susan's childhood when the girl was lying to her. Watching her read the article was like watching a kaleidoscope. From her usual creamy complexion, Susan flushed bright red at first, then paled so drastically Amelia almost thought she was about to pass out. She turned watery eyes to her aunt. "Is this true?"

"Harry showed me some of his memories. He confirmed that Slytherin's monster was a basilisk," she explained.

"Wasn't one of the students letting it loose and ordering it to attack? That's what they were saying Harry was doing since he can speak snake," Susan murmured, trying to regain her emotional control by remembering the situation.

Amelia sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "Use your head, girl! Who are Harry's best friends?"

"Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley," Susan answered.

"So someone from a Light pureblood family and…?"

"A muggle-born," the girl breathed, realization dawning.

Amelia smiled. "And his mother was a muggle-born, too."

"So it couldn't have been Harry! Oh, Merlin!" Susan's paled complexion was back to blushing and approaching purple. The tears were overflowing their banks by now and coursing tracks down her cheeks.

"Harry showed me more than just his memory of fighting the basilisk. I saw what happened after the dueling club debacle. I saw you hissing at him with your friends," Amelia said. The parental figure in her hated having to cause her niece distress, but she knew from years raising the girl that showing her the mistakes she'd made instead of just berating her about them was one of the best ways to correct distasteful behavior.

"Oh, Merlin," Susan repeated in a groan, burying her face in her hands, "It looked like he told the snake to attack Justin! We thought were just sticking up for a fellow Hufflepuff!"

"I saw the memory, Susan. The snake backed away before Snape vanished it. Harry saved that boy's life! And what was his reward?"

Susan groaned.

"What about the Tri-Wizard Tournament? You said most of the school thought he was cheating his way in?"

"No one knew what happened. We all thought he somehow got around the age line that was supposed to make sure only seventeen year-olds could enter, and since the first name from Hogwarts that came out of the Goblet was Cedric, it sounded like he was trying to steal Hufflepuff's spotlight."

"Harry showed me that memory, too. "

Susan blanched so quickly Amelia almost reached for her wand, so sure was she the girl was about to pass out. "Oh, shit. The badges!"

For once Amelia let the swearing go without reprimand, knowing there was a more important point to make. "What happened with the badges?" she asked, trying to keep her voice surprised.

The girl closed her eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath as her arms crossed at her sides, almost as if she was trying to steady herself. "Malfoy started it. I think he paid the Ravenclaws to create them since he's not good enough at charms to do it himself. They made badges for just about the entire school that said 'POTTER STINKS' and some other messages at the tap of a wand. Hufflepuff," she had to take another breath to choke back a sob, "Hufflepuff all wore them as a mark of house unity. We thought we were defending our champion against a cheating Gryffindor trying to steal his glory."

"After reading that article, do you really think that was the case? Do you really think Harry wanted glory and fame and a thousand galleons at the expense of his friends and fellow students?"

Susan didn't answer directly, instead glancing back down at the magazine. "They were really abusing him?"

"The list of injuries the healer gave me was three full sheets of parchment, Susan. He said that almost every bone in Harry's body had been broken at one point or other, mostly poorly healed, and he was suffering from long-term malnutrition. Those animals were starving him. He went through Hell itself until Hogwarts, and then every summer in between terms."

The redhead's eyes grew huge during her explanation.

"Your parents were killed in the same war as his. You got sent to live with me, and I took you in, gave you a roof over your head, food, and clothing. I loved you like you were my own daughter. Albus Dumbledore dropped Harry on a doorstep in the middle of a cold November night with an aunt whose family hated magic and abused Harry for the next ten years. Then from what I've been told, he gets to Hogwarts and has the whole school bullying him at least once a year, saying nothing of the times his life has been in danger."

The guilt finally overwhelmed the teenager. Susan gasped again, "And I did it too!" The kaleidoscope effect her complexion had been undergoing through the conversation took on a telltale greenish tinge that Amelia recognized. Without another word Susan covered her mouth and dashed for the loo, Amelia hot on her heels. Hands long practiced from childhood illnesses pulled the girl's hair out of her face and gently rubbed her back as she retched up every bit of food she'd had that day into the toilet.

When the wretched heaving turned to sobs, Susan's agonized cries made it impossible for Amelia to help her rinse her mouth out. A quick application of mouth-cleansing and throat-soothing charms and Amelia had her niece wrapped in her arms. It was a long ten minutes before Susan recovered herself enough to speak, as the full-body shuddering giving way to small tremors. "I – I'm so s-sorry. I've been so horrible to him," the girl choked out.

Amelia shushed her and continued rubbing her back. "I know. You made some mistakes. But I guess the good news is that you get to atone for them."

"Yeah, I'll be super nice to Harry in September and get everyone in Hufflepuff to make it up to him somehow," Susan sniffed into her shirt.

"Oh no, dear. A lot sooner than that."

"What do you mean?" the girl asked as she looked back from her.

Amelia chuckled. "Well, I thought I would take you to St. Mungo's this morning to see him. He's kind of lonely without his friends, and…well, there's something else."

"Aunt Amelia?" Susan asked, trepidation giving hesitance to her curiosity.

"It's a long story, but his parents' will said that after his godparents, I should have been the one to take him and raise him."

Susan looked gobsmacked. "We should have grown up together?"

"That's right. You should have grown up with a surrogate brother. His godmother is Alice Longbottom, who was attacked a few days after Harry's parents were murdered, and his godfather is Sirius Black. After Alice and Sirius, my name was first on the list of the Potters' chosen guardians for Harry."

"But – but – the whole school thought Sirius was trying to break into Hogwarts to kill Harry and finish the job off. Some kind of revenge for how Harry killed You-Know-Who!"

"All lies. I've seen pensieve memories from Harry. Sirius was innocent, and thrown into Azkaban without even a trial. The real killed was Peter Pettigrew, who is still alive."

"Then why isn't Sirius being cleared? Why isn't Harry going to live with him?" Susan asked.

Amelia took heart at the girl's outrage at the latest injustice to befall Harry. Maybe their road wouldn't be as bumpy as she feared. "The Minister didn't believe Harry's testimony, and instituted a Kiss-On-Sight order for Sirius. He's apparently in hiding somewhere. I spoke with a law-wizard yesterday about what will happen when Kingsley arranges a trial to exonerate Sirius, but even then, more than a decade in Azkaban and then in hiding means he'll need a lot of help himself and won't be able to handle caring for Harry. He'll be coming here to live."

"Really?" asked Susan, guilt in her face giving way to hope.

Heart hurting for the girl who had a somewhat lonely childhood until she started spending time at the Abbots, Amelia nodded. "Earlier today I got that part of the will executed and filed for the change in guardianship. Kingsley Shacklebolt is handling the case now, since I can't run an investigation involving a member of my own household. He's not officially my ward yet, at least not until the will is read, but we don't want to give even the appearance of impropriety in case the will is challenged. Harry will come here when he's released from the hospital and make this his permanent residence."

Susan's mouth formed a perfect 'O' shape as the realization sunk in. "I promise you, Auntie, that I will make it up to him."

"I know you will, girl," she answered, pulling her in for another hug, "Now how about we get off this floor? These old knees can't handle it as well as they used to when you were a small child."

Her niece jumped to her feet and helped pull her up. "I'll tell Floppy to get the guest room ready for Harry," Susan promised, "and I'll be ready to help get him home whenever you need. He's probably pretty bored lying in bed all day, so I'll get a bag packed right now full of stuff he can do at the hospital for however long they have him there for."

Smiling at the girl, Amelia finally took a relieved breath. It wasn't going to be easy, and she suspected Harry would need to see a mind-healer to help him cope with the lifetime of trauma, but they would do their best to make him welcome.

Kingsley Shacklebolt was another who hadn't had much sleep the night before. He'd run plenty of his own investigations as he moved up the auror career ladder, but never a case of this magnitude. If he was able to get enough evidence from the interviews to lead the rest of the investigation, he could see the Hogwarts Headmaster and several high-ranking Ministry officials sacked.

Around four o'clock he'd given up sleep as a bad job and made his way into the Ministry. The extra hours would ensure he had all his interview notes and materials lined up. It ended up being a useful decision, and he was facing the day with more confidence than he'd expected the night before.

A young female trainee auror was monitoring a Dicta-Quill set up for the interviews. Department policy required two people be present to counter allegations of tampering with the Dicta-Quills. On a small table next to his desk was the DMLE's only projector pensieve. It had taken a fair bit of arm-twisting to get it, and in the end only invoking the name of Director Bones had freed it up for these interviews.

Poppy Pomfrey was his first appointment, in an order agreed upon with Amelia before she took guardianship of Harry Potter. The healer would be the best person to start with about Harry's injuries from his many adventures, before moving up the ladder to professors.

Precisely at eight she strode into his office. "Good morning, Madam Pomfrey. Thank you for making the trip down to see me on such short notice."

"Good morning, Auror Shacklebolt. What is all this about? I wasn't told anything other than that I needed to be here early in the morning. I wasn't exactly expecting to be interviewed by the DMLE so soon after the school year."

"Well, that's actually a good place to start," he started, sitting down across the table from the healer, "I have a few questions to ask you, and Trainee Auror Jane Birch here will be monitoring the Dicta-Quill operating and taking down our conversation."

Pomfrey nodded her understanding.

"The first thing I want to say is that you are not under arrest at this time. This interview is just to get some questions answered into a DMLE inquiry. Do you understand?"

The Hogwarts healer nodded again. "I understand what you said. I have no idea why you wanted me here but I'll cooperate as best I can."

Kingsley slid the latest issue of The Quibbler across the table to her, opened to the article about Harry Potter. "What can you tell me about the reported injuries Harry Potter has suffered while at Hogwarts?"

Pomfrey's eyes grew wide. "I, ah, well, he's spent more time with me than any other student since he arrived. I almost have a bed reserved for his use."

"Can you give me any specifics?"

"Well, in his first year I had to treat him for magical exhaustion after an...incident."

Kingsley scribbled a note of his own to guide future interrogations. "You never learned what exhausted him?"

"I…don't remember…" she trailed off, looking vague. Her left arm gave a small jerk but she didn't seem to notice.

"Okay. What about his second year?"

The healer sat back and thought to herself. "Well, there was the time he got hurt by a rogue bludger during his quidditch match. That fool Lockhart vanished his bones instead of getting him to my infirmary, so I had to regrow his forearm."

Surprised at the new information, Kingsley jotted down a note to ask Harry about that experience that he'd left out. "So there was nothing after that?"

Pomfrey's eyes blinked, but separately, in an oddly disconcerting way as she shook her head. "I don't really remember. The following year there was something about a Dementor, but the details escape me for the moment. Other than the random Quidditch injuries he suffered, and the aftermath of the third event of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, I haven't treated him for anything," she said before suspicion dawned in her eyes, "Why? What's going on? Is the boy hurt?"

Kingsley had been watching the healer during her answer, not really paying attention to the words as much as the woman herself. He was afraid he'd see the telltale signs of mind alterations, but that's exactly what Pomfrey displayed. Vague answers, twitching, and unusual pace of diction when approaching sensitive topics, and the healer had them all. After pretending to scratch an itch, the auror shot his wand into his hand. "Stupefy!" Pomfrey dropped back into the chair.

Pressing his wand into a rune on her desk, he summoned a departmental healer. "Poppy Pomfrey displayed the classic signs of mind manipulations. Take her to St. Mungo's and tell them I need her scanned to confirm exactly what has been done to her."

The healer nodded, levitating the unconscious woman out of the chair and moving her in the direction of the door. Shacklebolt scribbled more notes for his next interview before the door closed.

The slightly rotund woman who made her way into the interrogation room next brought a pleasant air into the room with her. "Good morning, Auror Shacklebolt. It's wonderful to see you again, but I was a bit surprised to see your summons. What can I help you with?"

"Have a seat, Professor Sprout. There are a few questions I wanted to ask you."

Pomona looked at him with trepidation. "Is this an interrogation? Am I under suspicion?"

Raising his hands to reassure the woman, Kingsley gave her a warm smile. "Not at all. This isn't an official interrogation. I'm merely running an inquiry into some of the recent events at Hogwarts," he gestured to the young blonde woman behind him, "Auror Birch here will be monitoring the Dicta-Quill while I ask you a few questions to make sure I get your responses accurately."

The head of Hufflepuff house took the seat across the desk. "What can I do for you?"

Looking down at his parchment, Kingsley regarded the woman for a moment. "What can you tell me about a Devil's Snare in the third-floor corridor three years ago?"

Sprout's eyes widened. "There was a Devil's Snare in the school? How did it get there?"

"That's what I was hoping you could tell me."

The herbologist cast her memory back. "I don't remember any going missing from my greenhouses before that school year. Did someone find it?"

"In a manner of speaking," he slid the same issue of The Quibbler over to her, "What do you know of any injuries or attacks that Harry Potter has suffered while at Hogwarts?"

That question rocked Sprout back. "I know he was attacked by Dementors during the quidditch match last year, because that happened in front of everyone, and then the time he got hit by a bludger. Those were all public, but for anything else I just heard rumors. He's in Gryffindor, so my only real interaction with him is in class. He's a slightly above average student, but I always thought some of his friends were holding him back."

Kingsley made more notes. "Do you know anything about the end of the Tri-Wizard Tournament?"

Pomona winced, eyes watering at the memory of her student. "I know Cedric Diggory died," she took a deep, shuddering breath to collect herself, "and I know what some of the students were saying that Harry had something momentous happen before he appeared back on the winner's stage with the body, but anything other than that is just whatever the Prophet printed."

"What were your students saying?"

"Well, some said that Harry killed Cedric to eliminate the competition, while others told me that Harry battled He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in a graveyard and brought Cedric back. I didn't know what to believe after the badge scandal when my Hufflepuffs took their turns mocking Mister Potter's part in the contest."

Shacklebolt looked up at the teacher. "That matches up with what I've been told. Thank you for confirming what I thought, Professor Sprout. Please don't discuss anything we spoke about with anyone else, but other than that you're free to go."

A bemused Pomona Sprout took the public Floo back to Hogwarts, running over the ramifications of her interrogation – Shacklebolt could call it whatever he wanted, but that had been an honest-to-Merlin DMLE interrogation – and not liking where her brain took her. Mindful of the instructions to not speak about her questioning, she began thinking back over all her interactions with one Harry Potter.

Filius was going to be a different story to interview. From what he could tell of Harry's memories, the charms professor had only charmed the flying keys; not nearly as dangerous as a Devil's Snare or Cerberus, but still negligent.

Kingsley had to approach this interview with a greater degree of care not to reveal too many of his cards. Flitwick wasn't the head of Ravenclaw for nothing.

The alert charm set up on the outer office pinged the new arrival. When the door opened to reveal the goblin, he was standing and ready for him. "Thank you for coming to see me, Professor Flitwick."

With a congenial smile, the teacher resized one of the chairs across the desk for his stature and took his seat. "I hope I can be of some help today, Auror Shacklebolt, even if I don't know exactly what you need to see me about."

He gave Flitwick a small smile as he inked a quill and prepared to write down his notes of his own impressions that dictation just couldn't capture. "I'm just conducting an inquiry into some of the recent events at Hogwarts. The auror here behind me will be watching the Dicta-Quill while I ask you a few questions. First off, I'd like to ask you about an event at Hogwarts some three years ago. Were you involved in charming a large number of keys to fly in a series of rooms on the third floor?"

Few people ever got to see a truly surprised goblin, but he did that day. Flitwick's eyes widened at the knowledge. "Y – yes, I was. It was a task that Headmaster Dumbledore asked me to complete."

"Did he tell you anything about why he wanted you to do that?"

Filius gave a wry chuckle. "Albus isn't exactly in the habit of oversharing. All he would tell me is that it was a test for some of the students. I think he hinted that it was for the quidditch team tryouts."

Kingsley nodded as he wrote some notes, then again slid The Quibbler across the desk again. "I have no trouble believing that. Now what can you tell me about bullying at Hogwarts? Specifically related to your own house as well as against Harry Potter?"

That question caught the goblin short. He took a deep breath to gather himself, then removed his glasses before proceeding to clean them with a handkerchief. "Bullying at Hogwarts," he started, "is never a simple issue. What might seem to be bullying to some is called a prank by others. The Headmaster is known for his lenient stance on horseplay, which doesn't help the situation. There are always cliques, of course, and the children of pureblood supremacists have no problem sparring with others, but outright bullying is rare. There are exceptions, of course. I remember Mister Potter suffering some ostracization when rumors swept the castle that he was attacking muggleborns, but since his best friend is one and his mother was one, anyone with an ounce of sense could see the fallacy. He suffered again this year after he was entered in that damned Tournament. To my own satisfaction, Ravenclaw were not the worst offenders by any stretch. Bullying in our house is usually limited to test scores."

Shacklebolt regarded him in silence for a moment before turning to the pensieve he'd set up next to the desk for these interviews. Jabbing at a rune, he activated Harry's memory of his conversations with Luna Lovegood.

The warring emotions that crossed the Charms professor's face was amusing in an abstract way. Shock, anger, and shame took their turn, but shame eventually won out. When the memory ended, his head dropped down far enough that his chin touched his chest. "Miss Lovegood is a dear student. I know teachers aren't supposed to show favoritism, but she is one of my students that I delight in teaching the most due to her intellect and joy in learning. I have no doubt that she's too gentle of a soul to come to me with bullying allegations. Rest assured auror, when the new school year starts, investigating and punishing the culprits will be my top priority."

"It's not me that you need to show. From what Harry Potter told me, a significant portion of the student body has no faith in the ability of the faculty to help. He seemed to intimate that it was Albus' influence that kept the staff from interceding on behalf of students."

Filius considered his words. "That's probably not too far off. Albus tends to take a hands-off approach to discipline, which isn't helped by Severus. Can I ask why you were talking to Mister Potter?"

Considering the man and his sincerity, Kingsley decided to lay some of his cards on the table. "This is the part of the interview you're not allowed to tell anyone. I will demand and enforce a magical vow if necessary."

Filius looked at him with wide eyes before nodding his understanding. "I will keep this information to myself."

"Four days ago Harry Potter was beaten almost to death."

Flitwick was stunned into silence.

"It gets worse," Kingsley said, trying to get the conversation moving again.

The charms professor gaped at him. "How could it possibly be worse than that?"

"He had a list of injuries three sheets of parchment long, and most of them were older, suffered before Hogwarts and left untreated."

"Dear Merlin," Flitwick breathed.

"What can you tell me about any injuries Harry's suffered while at the school?"

"I'm not his head of house, so my only involvement with him is during Charms class. I know he's suffered a few Quidditch-related harms, but other than that and what happened after the Tri-Wizard Tournament I haven't really any clue."

After making his own notes and checking that the interview had been noted verbatim, Kingsley gave Filius a smile. "I think that's all I need for now. I don't anticipate any charges coming from the enchanting of the keys since no students were harmed, but I do need to stress that nothing we spoke of today should be discussed with anyone whatsoever, especially at Hogwarts. This is an ongoing DMLE investigation."

"I understand. I'll keep this meeting secret," he stood and bowed. "Thank you for your time, and may I say that I hope you bring to justice whomever harmed that boy. He's always been a joy to teach, with a personality to match."

Minerva McGonagall was Harry's own head of house, and the staff member that would have the most contact with him. For Minerva not to be raising the alarm was, well, alarming. Her dual role as Deputy Headmistress put her in such close contact with Albus Dumbledore that Kingsley couldn't be sure of Minerva's allegiances. Dumbledore seemed to operate as a cult leader more than a headmaster or government figure a little too much for his tastes. His own association with the Order of the Phoenix was leaving him more nauseated every day.

Returning from the restroom, Kingsley gathered himself with a fresh cup of tea. Other than the interview with Poppy Pomfrey, this was the talk he had to be most on guard for signs of mental manipulation. Dumbledore would have to work a lot harder to keep his secrets with the usually-astute deputy around. It was due to the old goat's ability to interfere that he would enact the strongest security measures he had for this interview.

The alert chimed again, and Kingsley stood to greet his next appointment. Minerva McGonagall didn't sweep in with imperial airs, nor did she slip in meekly. The Deputy Headmistress entered with confidence knowing she'd earned her position. "Good morning, Kingsley. What can I do for you today?"

Extending his hand, Shacklebolt smiled at the woman. It wasn't so long ago that she had been his own Transfiguration professor. "Good morning, Professor McGonagall. I have some very serious matters to discuss regarding one of your students, so I'm grateful that you cleared your schedule for me today."

Minerva's eyes grew large, remembering the near-panic Albus had been in for the last couple of days. She had the feeling all this unaccustomed activity centered around Harry Potter, just as all the unusual events of the previous few years had. "I understand, and I'll be glad to provide whatever assistance I may."

"Excellent," he nodded as they both took their seats. Kingsley poured a cup of tea for her, then gestured to the trainee auror once more and explained her duties. Minerva's eyes widened even more when Shacklebolt activated a lockdown charm on the office, closing all windows and locking down the exits.

"I must take the extreme step of asking for a magical vow of your secrecy over what we discuss today. It regards an extremely sensitive DMLE investigation and any leak could compromise the safety of its subjects."

Minerva sat in silence for a moment but eventually nodded. Withdrawing her wand, she held it in front of her face and said, "I swear on my life and my magic that I will keep silent regarding the matters I discuss with Kingsley Shacklebolt this day, and further that I will tell the truth to the best of my ability. So mote it be!"

A muted flash signified magic's acceptance of Minerva's oath. "Now what the bloody hell is going on, Kingsley?"

Instead of directly answering her question, the auror began with his earlier tactic, sliding The Quibbler over to the Gryffindor head. "What can you me about any of the allegations of injuries suffered by Harry Potter during his time at Hogwarts?"

The question caught her off-guard, that much he could tell, but the brief flash of surprise was over in a moment. "Well aside from the various Quidditch-related injuries, some of which were caused by outside influence," she paused as Kingsley jotted down some notes that he wanted to remember, "he spent some time in the infirmary after Professor Quirrell retired, and then after the dementor incident, and of course after the Tri-Wizard Tournament."

"What about when he arrived at Hogwarts for the beginning of each term?"

"I…don't really remember. He always seemed happy," she trailed off, "But I never thought to look for anything specific."

The vagueness of the answer had Kingsley scratching notes. "And that never gave you any mental red flags that something might be wrong?"

"Now that you mention it, it should have. What's going on? Why all the questions about Mister Potter?"

He took a breath before informing Minerva of the events of the previous twenty-four hours. "Harry Potter was beaten almost to death four days ago."

The transfiguration professor sat back in her chair, shock slackening her features, but as hewatched, one of her eyelids twitched. "What happened?" she breathed.

"It's too soon to say. This is a top priority case for the DMLE, but we don't have any answers. His medical scans show numerous older injuries beyond what sent him to the hospital, hence the questions.

"As a matter of fact," Kingsley paused, reaching for her cup of tea with her left hand while her right hung down and out of sight, "Stupefy!"

The older witch dropped unconscious back into her chair.

He stood up and repeated the process from before, calling in a healer. "We need to get her to St. Mungo's immediately. Same as Pomfrey. She had all the classic signs of mental manipulations – eye twitches, vagueness, and the inability to give a concrete answer. I'm going to consult with Madam Bones, but I think we're going to need to figure out a time and a place to get the entire Hogwarts staff scanned for potions, charms, and obliviations."

The healer nodded, attaching a portkey and vanishing with the professor.

Chapter Text

July 8, 1995


They were all useless.

Trinkets designed to monitor young Harry Potter’s blood for signs of his health and location were less than useless to him now that they’d stopped working. The boy could be alive or dead and he had no clue. For someone like Albus Dumbledore, who prided himself on knowing everything that happened in the highest levels of magical Britain due to his many contacts and favors owed, not knowing the status of the most important person to the safety of the entire country was maddening.

The Order of the Phoenix was useless.

Mad Eye was still getting the healers to sign off on his capability, Sirius and Remus reported that he hadn’t shown up at Grimmauld Place – the fact that the boy might know the secret address of his godfather was mildly frightening, but first he needed to know if he was even alive – and he hadn’t returned to the castle.

Just as Dumbledore was getting ready to apparate to muggle London to start the search once more, the fireplace in his office flared green before a familiar face pushed through the flames. “Yes, Molly?”

“Albus! Ron just came to me with an idea for finding Harry!”

At last, the Headmaster thought to himself. One of the other members of the trio comes through. “What was his idea?”

“Has anyone checked St. Mungo’s? He said that Hermione told him that she saw Harry’s muggle relatives being arrested for child abuse and possible murder. Albus! Child abuse and murder? Just what kind of home has Harry been in all these years?”

Dumbledore’s head spun. The notion fit with what he’d observed at the Dursleys, but for the muggle police to be involved, the situation must be much more serious than he knew. “I assure you, Molly, that even though the boy’s home life has been less than ideal, he’s been safe and protected behind the wards. I very much doubt that he could be at St. Mungo’s because he can’t possibly know its location. Madam Pomfrey has always treated his injuries from the holidays.”

“Injuries from the holidays?! Albus Dumbledore that boy saved our daughter’s life! The Weasley family owes him a debt that can never be repaid. If he’s found alive, I promise you he will never go back to that house.”

“We will discuss this another time. I must proceed to the hospital to check on this lead. I will call an Order meeting tomorrow to go over the search once more if I cannot locate the boy.”

Anger in her face, but Molly withdrew from the flames. Barely a moment after the green subsided, Albus threw his pinch of Floo powder and shouted, “St. Mungo’s Hospital!” before disappearing in another emerald flash.

Back at the Burrow, Molly took her own head out of the flames and turned to her gathered family. She was visibly upset and trying to control herself. “Albus knew. He knew!”

“Mum?” Ron asked, “What did he know?”

“Remember what you told me about how his clothes were always far too big? And how you and the twins had to pull some metal bars off a window to get him out a couple years ago?”

The youngest Weasley male suppressed a shudder. “Yeah, something was really weird about that.”

“Albus knew. He said Harry might not have had the best home life, but that he was safe there at least,” Molly huffed, getting herself under control. “Ron, you need to go with Hermione to the hospital. If Harry’s there, he’d appreciate a familiar face. Take the Knight Bus. You won’t get there as fast as Albus but with the two of you there with him, you can make sure the Headmaster can’t remove him from the hospital.”

After her youngest son had called for the Knight Bus to head over to his friend’s for the trip to St. Mungo’s, Molly turned to her husband. “If Albus Dumbledore has something to do with what happened to Harry, we’ll be leaving the Order.”

Arthur nodded, knowing from long years that when his wife made up her mind about something, there wasn’t anything on the planet that could shift her, not that he even wanted to on this matter. As she’d told the old coot: the Weasleys owed Potter a debt they could never fully repay.

Harry sat back against his bed, relishing the feeling of not being in pain for once. Skele-Gro had worked wonders on his broken bones but the aches and pains were something he’d prefer to avoid as much as possible.

The only thing ruining his mood at the moment was the distinct lack of anything to do. It seemed that St. Mungo’s was lacking in any kind of actual reading material beyond The Daily Prophet and after his experiences with Rita Skeeter, he wouldn’t shred that newspaper to line Hedwig’s cage.  Even a simple book of crossword puzzles would be a godsend at the moment.

The auror bodyguards were good about slipping in to check on him whatever they could, especially the pink-haired one. Speaking of the devil made her appear, as she poked her head in. “Morning Daniel! Just wanted to check and see how you’re doing.”

“Hi, Tonks. Feeling better today. I think the healer last night said something about almost being done with the bone re-growing. After that I should be able to think about getting out of here to…I don’t really know where but at least it’s out of here!”

Tonks chuckled as she checked with her partner to make sure he was okay before closing the door behind her and sitting on the chair next to Harry’s bed. “I’m really glad to hear that. You’ve had a rough go of it.”

“It hasn’t been easy, but at least I’m away from my relatives,” Harry agreed, looking down at his hands, “I just wish I knew what I was going to do after I’m released. Do you think I could live at Hogwarts over the summer break, too?”

Heart hurting at the look of hope on the face of a teenager for whom having no actual home to go to was a step up, Tonks made a decision. “Hell no, H – Daniel,” she corrected herself, then hastened to continue when his face fell, “No one should have to live in that dreary old castle over the summer with nothing but ghosts and paintings for company. If it comes down to it, you can come stay at my apartment. A couple months isn’t long, so we can fix something up for you.”

He looked up at her, hope and confusion flashing across his face. “You’d do that for me? Why?”

She moved over to his bed and sat down on the edge, taking one of his hands gently in her own. “Because you’ve had a lot of shit to deal with in your life. Way more than anyone should ever have to. You deserve to be able to live on your own, live the way you need to live. More than that you deserve to have someone looking out for you for once, you know? Plus we’re practically family.”

“How’s that?” Harry asked, looking up at her.

“Remember what you told Madam Bones about your godfather? He’s my cousin. If you somehow manage to help her get him declared innocent and free, taking you in would be the very least I could, hell, should do for you.”

At first wanting to protest at what he saw was an obligation, Harry took a minute to think about her words. If they were really related, even by the relationship of godfather and cousin, having someone could potentially call family would be…wonderful. “Thanks, Tonks. That means a lot.”

“Damn right it does, Wonder Boy,” she grinned back at him.

Harry couldn’t help it; her infectious smile and irreverent way of speaking lightened the mood until he was chuckling, which started her off too.

“I have to admit I like ‘Wonder Boy’ better than the ‘Boy-Who-Lived’,” he smiled back at her.

“It fits you, if anything of what I’ve heard about you is true,” said Tonks.

“What you heard about me? What have you heard?”

“Well, Shack wanted me to know something about you if I was going to be handling your bodyguarding personally, so he told me some of the things he saw in the memories you gave Madam Bones,” the pink-haired auror explained. “He told me about the troll, the basilisk, and some stuff about the Tournament. I think you’re the only person in history to go up against a basilisk without a wand and live to tell the tale.”

“That was…not a fun evening,” Harry admitted, “I had no plan at all for how to deal with the giant snake. I just wanted to get Ginny and get out of there. Tom Riddle’s shade shot that to hell. Thankfully Fawkes blinded the basilisk and brought me the Sorting Hat, which just happened to have the Sword of Gryffindor. After that it was just a giant game of ‘Harry Hunting’.”

The defeated tone his voice held in the end told her more than the words. Tonks swallowed hard as she squeezed his hand. “I take it ‘Harry Hunting’ was one of the things that landed you in here?”

Harry looked down and away from her, not wanting her to see the weakness he knew was in his eyes. “It’s one of my cousin’s favorite games. He and this gang of his friends would force me to play ‘Hide and Seek’ with them but when they found me, they’d rough me up.”

The young woman sitting across from this remarkable young man leaned over and wrapped her arms gently around his shoulders. “Never again, Harry. They’ll have to go through me before you go to back to that hellhole,” leaning back a bit, she fixed his gaze with mischief in her eyes, “Besides, they probably won’t be there anymore anyway.”

“What do you mean?”

“I called the muggle police yesterday and reported them. They should be sitting in a jail cell somewhere in Surrey,” she grinned.

He forced back a chuckle. “Dumbledore probably won’t like that.”


“Well he was the one who always told me that I had to go back there over the holidays.”

“That won’t be a problem anymore,” Amelia Bones said as she opened the door, ushering Susan in front of her. Harry tried not to snort at how fast Tonks jumped to her feet and moved out the door, but the final squeeze of his hand was extremely reassuring. When he saw his Hufflepuff year mate he flinched, something that went unnoticed by exactly no one else present.

Amelia decided to ignore his reaction for the moment. She waited for the door to close before reapplying the privacy charms. “I just got a message from the department. The Dursleys have indeed been arrested. I wouldn’t expect them to see the outside of a jail cell for a very long time.”

Harry’s answering grin spread from ear to ear, faltering only slightly when he noticed Susan standing with her hands folded as she concentrated hard on the corner of his bed. “That’s good news. Thank you Madam Bones.”

“Ah, ah, ah! None of that now. You need to call me Aunt Amelia like Susan when I’m in here,” she smiled at him, taking the chair next to his bed.

He winced. “If it’s all the same to you, could we drop the ‘aunt’? I’ve had one of those and she didn’t leave me with any good memories of an aunt.”

Amelia mentally slapped herself for the mistake. “Of course you can call me just Amelia if that’s more comfortable for you, Harry,” she smiled, “and I come bearing news. I’m not in charge of your case anymore. Kingsley Shacklebolt is managing the investigation.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “What happened?”

“Do you remember that authorization you gave me to go see the goblins?”

He nodded, waiting for her to continue.

“Well, I was able to get a true copy of your parents’ will from them. It turns out that Dumbledore was one of the witnesses, so he knew exactly what it said. Further, your parents were explicitly clear in stating that you were never to be taken to her sister’s house.”

Harry’s jaw dropped. “Really?”

“Really. Dumbledore ignored your parents’ wishes, so he’ll be facing charges for will tampering, along with so many others.”

“So…who, I mean where…”

Amelia took pity on the boy trying so hard to ask who his parents wanted to take care of him but unable to actually articulate the words. “Sirius was their first choice, of course, and then the Longbottom since Alice is your godmother…”

“Neville really was supposed to be my brother,” Harry interjected. “Oh, I’m sorry for interrupting.”

She gave him another kind smile. “He told you?”

“Before we left Hogwarts. He found me in the infirmary after the Tournament. I was suffering from Riddle’s Cruciatus curse and he gave me some potion that really helped. Then we had a chat and he explained what his gran had told him about our mothers.”

“Well he was right. Without Dumbledore’s intervention, you would have been at the Longbottom’s when Frank and Alice were attacked and grown up with Neville,” she took a deep breath, “After them, your parents actually listed me as their next choice as your guardian.”

“You?” Harry almost squeaked.

“Me,” she acknowledged. “With Neville’s parents being incapacitated so soon after yours were attacked, you should have been given to me to protect and raise. You could have grown up with Susan here,” she gestured to her niece, immediately frowning at how both teens avoided the other’s eyes, “So, armed with that knowledge I went to Wizarding Child Services and spoke to Jean Kempley. She helped me file for the change in your guardianship so as of yesterday, I am now your magical and legal guardian. When your healers release you, I’ll be here to take you back to my home.”

Far from the reaction she had hoped for, Harry immediately closed off. “Oh, okay.”

Concern flooded her as she realized she’d made another mistake, but she couldn’t figure out what she’d said wrong. “Harry? What’s wrong?”

He sighed, figuring that it would be better to get it out in the open now rather than later. “I just…after Dumbledore I’m wary of manipulations, and even though I know that’s not what you were doing, that’s how it felt when I heard it. Like I still have no control over my life.”

Amelia dropped her head, understanding. “I promise, Harry, that was not my intention. I saw your parents’ will and it looked like a way to get you out from the old goat’s machinations,” she trailed off as an idea struck her, “But I may have a solution!”

“What’s that?’ he asked in a flat tone, not meeting her eyes.

“Grinlast, your account manager at Gringotts, told me something that I just filed away in my memory until now: you competed in the Tri-Wizard Tournament.”

“I sort of remember that, yeah,” Harry agreed with a hint of sarcasm that he was unable to keep out of his tone, despite everything Amelia had done for him so far.

Amelia smirked at his attitude, shrugging off the teenage petulance. “The competition that the Ministry forced your participation, which was only supposed to be for of-age wizards and witches,” she explained, hoping he would see where she was leading him.

He stared at her with a blank look in his eye for a few moments before realization dawned. “There might be a legal way we could use that to get me declared an adult?”

“I think that’s what Grinlast was trying to tell me. That way, if we can force it through, you’d be emancipated and able to choose your own residence.”

Harry hesitated, thinking everything over.

“It’s not a decision you have to make right now. We’d have to consult with a law-wizard for that, anyway. For now you can come stay with us, if that’s okay. I’m very sorry, Harry, I didn’t mean to make it seem like I was trying to control you,” Amelia apologized again, hoping he understood.

With a nod, Harry gave his agreement. “I think I believe you, but it’s not always easy to know who I can trust when it comes to adults. Thank you for that apology.”

“I understand. And I thank you for that trust. Now,” she said gesturing to her niece, “I have someone else here who wants to say something to you.”

Harry saw her looking to Susan and looked down at his hands again.

Amelia saw the tension between the two of them and realized that her presence was only complicating matters. “I’ll leave the two of you alone for a few minutes. You don’t need me here for this. I need to go see Alastor like I was intending to a few nights ago. The aurors outside will make sure you’re safe.”

Susan blanched and Harry looked a little fearful, but they didn’t say anything as she closed the door behind her and re-applied the privacy charms.

Knocking on the door and hearing a gruff voice bellow to her to enter, Amelia let herself into another room on another ward. “Alastor?”

“Amelia,” the one-eyed auror grunted. “What are you doing here?”

She stifled a grin. “I came to check up on an old grouch, but he was already gone, so I’ll settle for you.”

That got her a bark of laughter. “Seriously though, how are you?”

“Better now that I’m about to be released. They can’t find anything wrong with me now that their potions have run their course,” he grunted, looking at her with his good eye. “Now like I say, what are you doing here?”

“Well, I came to see you a few days ago, but then something happened…” she left the sentence unfinished, unsure how exactly to phrase it.

“Must have been a big something to get you all in a tizzy.”

She shrugged. “You could say it has essentially turned everything I thought I knew upside down.”

“Well out with it girl. Don’t keep me in suspense,” he grinned at her, “Sounds like a good story.”

Pulling out her wand, Amelia held it up in front of her. “I swear on my magic and my life that what I am about to say is the truth as much as I know it to be, and in no way fabricated. So let it be written!”

When the golden glow faded, Moody looked at her, pure curiosity on his face.

So, she told him. Amelia told him everything about finding Harry, seeing his memories, talking to the goblins, Dumbledore, and taking over guardianship.

“Son of a bitch,” he breathed when she was done. “You weren’t kidding, lass.”

“Tell me about it. I can’t see any way Dumbledore isn’t sent to Azkaban for this. If you consider how close he came to killing off the Potter line, it could mean the Veil for him.”

“You mean if the old fuddy-duddy club actually convicts him? He’s got a lot of allies, connections, and favors there, Amelia,” Moody warned her.

“What about you, Alastor? Which side of this are you going to be on?” Amelia asked the question she really wanted answered.

He grunted again and fixed her with his eye. “Dumbledore has done some good things in his life, but with what I’ve just heard, if it can still be proven,” he held up his hand to forestall her objections, “Yes, I know you swore your oath but I need to see the hard proof in front of me. If it can be proven, I’m on your side. No one deserves the life that lad’s had to live, and if the old goat is responsible, I’ll be more than glad to personally show him what I do to dark wizards.”

Amelia shuddered, knowing full well what her mentor was capable of doing to those he went after.

“Just shoot me your message when you need me, lass. I’ll be there to help you and Kingsley however you need.”

Nodding Amelia moved back to the door. “Thank you, Alastor.”

Back in Harry’s room, Susan flinched at the sound of the door closing, but after giving herself a shake, then stood up. “Harry, I’m sorry for how I’ve treated you. No matter how my house felt, you didn’t deserve the bullying that I and my house put on you. I apologize unreservedly for everything I’ve done. I don’t know how I’ll make it up to you, but I promise I’ll figure something out.”

When she stopped talking Harry finally looked up at her. “It’s really okay, Susan. Don’t worry about it. No apology necessary.”

Susan was quick to dispute. “Oh, no Harry! It’s not okay. I treated you horribly and you did nothing to deserve that. I promise you I will find a way to make it right.”

Harry was a complete loss. “I – I accept? I’m sorry, Susan. I’ve never had anyone apologize to me before, at least like this, so I have no idea what to do.”

The girl colored slightly. “May I sit down on the edge of your bed?”

He took a breath, but nodded.

Susan took the bag that she’d been carrying and placed it in her lap as she sat carefully on the edge of the mattress. “This was the first thing I came up with to do. I figured you must get bored here in this room, so I collected up some novels I enjoy, some puzzle books, and a few other things to pass the time. Here,” she said, handing the bag over, “You can keep the bag for now if you’ll be coming to live with us. Maybe it will make it easier to bring home any parchmentwork and potions the healers give you, or whatever potions you’ll need to keep taking.”

She paused to take a breath, regarding his surprise at the simple gesture of kindness. “I’m sorry no one has ever apologized for wronging you before. Believe me, most of Hogwarts owes you at least one. Hufflepuff gave you most of the troubles last year, and I feel awful about my part in that. I’ll do what I can to make it right with my house.”

Understanding that the girl wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer, Harry gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile and held the bag on his lap. “Thank you. I really appreciate the thought you put into this. I was getting pretty bored.”

A soft knock on the door preceded Amelia’s reappearance.

“Speaking of time and what to do with it, have the healers told you when you can expect to get out of here?” Amelia interjected as she re-entered the room.

Grateful for her interruption of the emotional moment, Harry looked at the older woman. “They told me tomorrow or the next day, but more likely tomorrow. Apparently they need to bring in the Unspeakables for some major curse-breaking.”

“Curse-breaking?” Susan squeaked as her aunt frowned.

“I heard a little bit about those injuries when I saw your initial healer the first night you were in here. They wouldn’t tell me that much about them since I wasn’t connected to you in any way, but now that I’m your guardian until and unless you decide to claim your emancipation, they may tell me more,” she explained.”

Harry nodded. “I think…” he trailed off, not knowing how to phrase his thoughts. The actions of a caring adult were so alien to him that it might as well have been in a different language.

Amelia gave him an understanding smile. “You want me to be here?”

He nodded again. “That would be nice.”

“Then I will be here. You won’t have to face what the Unspeakables tell you by yourself.”

A weight seemed to lift from his shoulders. He wouldn’t be alone.

Seeming to sense the moment, Amelia turned to her niece. “While I’m sure your bag of activities will get a lot of use, why don’t you go up to the tearoom and get something to eat while I speak with him about what I’ve been doing over the last few days?”

Susan understood her aunt’s request for what it was and nodded, getting to her feet. “I was getting a bit hungry anyway. I’ll be back in a little while. It was really good to see you again, Harry,” she said, giving her aunt a quick hug before she left the room.

Dumbledore exited the public Floo for St. Mungo’s and approached the Welcome Witch’s desk. The functionary was busy sorting through the line of people waiting for admission into the building, but he just had a simple question to ask.

Elbowing around the line and ignoring the murmurs of protest, he went to the desk and peered at the nametag identifying the Welcome Witch as Mirabella Sawbridge. “I’m looking for…”

“Back of the line,” she grunted at him, looking over his shoulder at the person behind him.

“Pardon me, madam,” Dumbledore interjected again, “I’m trying to find…”

“Back. Of. The. Line.” She growled at him, emphasizing her point with an emphatic jab of her finger in the direction he was supposed to move that even had her short brown curls shaking.

Nonplussed, he stared at her. When the people behind him started clamoring for him to move, he waved his hand back at them without taking his eyes off the dark-skinned witch in front of him.

“Do you know who I am?” he demanded, splaying his hands wide across the counter.

Dark brown eyes flashed, finally looking at him directly. “Yeah, I do. You’re the annoying old man who cut in front of a whole line of injured and sick people. You’re also the annoying old man who is going to drag his bony arse to the back of the line and wait his damned turn!”

Dumbledore gaped at her. In all his long decades of life he’d never been spoken to in such a way before. He leaned over the counter, using his height to intimidate this underling into doing his bidding. “I am Albus Dumbledore! Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, and…”

Now Welcome Witch Sawbridge was on her feet and glaring right back at his face. “I don’t care if you’re Merlin himself resurrected from the dead with the keys to Avalon! In this hospital the most injured are seen first! Since you don’t have an injury yet, may I suggest you move to the back of the line before I start to get irritated and give you a reason to jump right to the front?”

Applause and muted cheers accompanied his trudge to the back of the line. His fingers had itched to use his wand, but with so many watching, he’d be hard-pressed to obliviate them all.

Bare moments later, a large, older man with a few remaining wisps of white hair wearing a set of muted green robes made his way to the desk. “Sawbridge. What’s this I’m told about a disturbance?”

“Director Jenkins,” she started, but before she could continue, Dumbledore was at the front once more.

“Ah, Caradoc. Now we can make some progress here. Your employee here rather rudely brushed me aside just now, and I have important, urgent business that needs to be accomplished.”

Director of the Hospital Caradoc Jenkins looked back at his Welcome Witch. “Well?”

“The old goat pushed his way to the front of the line and when I sent him to the correct place, he got up his wand and tried to bluster his way in.”

Jenkins glanced back at Dumbledore’s visibly impatient posture. “Welcome Witch Sawbridge: in this hospital patient care comes first, last, and foremost, no matter who they are. Your next pay will see a permanent ten percent raise for upholding the principles of our care. Dumbledore, back of the line. When it’s your turn, this fine employee of St. Mungo’s Hospital here will be glad to direct you to where you need to go.”

The cheering this time was much less muted. In Dumbledore’s outrage, he missed a head of bright red hair and another of bushy brown hair making their way into the hospital.

Hermione staggered off the Knight Bus swearing to never use that particular form of magical transportation again. Ron, following her, wasn’t much better off. “Sorry about that. I should have asked Mum to make us a portkey.”

“From what I’ve read of portkeys the only benefit is that it would have been over faster. Don’t worry about it,” Hermione said, shaking off the last of her queasiness.

They used a disturbance at the Welcome Witch’s desk to slip into the hospital without anyone questioning their purpose there. Hermione thought she saw Dumbledore arguing with someone, but in their eagerness to get inside to find their friend they didn’t stick around to confirm. Ron didn’t think they were breaking any rules, but he was eager to avoid having anyone learn they were there to find Harry Potter until they found him.

Trying to look for Harry without asking his name in case there were Death Eaters around was an exercise in futility, Hermione saw after the first two minutes. All they were able to ascertain was that he wasn’t in any of the open bed areas.

Without anything resembling a plan, they were reduced to walking around and seeing what they could find. The Artifact Accident ward on the first floor was…informative, at least for everything that could go wrong with their magical world. As they walked past a row of cauldron explosion victims missing various appendages, Ron nudged her. “Think Snape should be teaching us potion safety a bit more?”

Hermione’s only answer was a vehement nod.

From there they moved up to the first floor and saw all the creature injury victims. Bed after bed of goring victims, bite wounds, and even a trampling or two had her stomach turning. “I think the worst part of all this is that they were probably caused by animals that Hagrid would consider cute but misunderstood.”

Ron’s chuckle was a bit forced. He looked a trifle green around the gills at some of the wounds.

When they moved up the stairs and saw the name of the second floor ward, she turned to her friend. “I think we can skip the illnesses on the Magical Bugs floor, don’t you?”

The redhead nodded. “I doubt Harry would be here, and  I don’t want to chance catching anything.”

Hermione shuddered and led the way up more stairs.

“Third Floor: Potion and Plant Poisoning,” she read, “Well, points for alliteration, but same as the last floor. Harry’s probably not here.”

Ron agreed as he kept walking.

“Fourth Floor: Spell Damage,” he read off the sign, “This is the last floor before the tearoom and gift shop, so if Harry’s going to be anywhere, it’ll be here.”

“I hope I’m right about this. If Harry’s not here…” Hermione let the thought die an early death. Harry was still alive. He had to be still alive.

But he wasn’t there. None of the beds they could see held Harry, and they walked up and down the ward three times. Ron had to stifle a malicious laugh when he saw Gilderoy Lockhart asking a healer what a potion was. “Serves the bugger right,” he muttered to Hermione.

Knowing the story from her friends, the brunette gave him a pat on the shoulder.

When Ron nodded at one of a row of doors leading to private rooms, Hermione saw the nameplate Longbottom and gave him a confused look.

“Longbottom. Neville’s parents. Mum and Dad told me they were attacked in the last war, just after Harry’s parents were murdered. They’re still alive, but somehow they lost the ability to function. They’re permanent residents.”

“That’s awful! Poor Neville,” she said, eyeing the door.

“Yeah. That’s why he’s being raised by his gran.”

A few doors down they saw two aurors, one with spiky pink hair, guarding the door. The pink-haired one gave them a strange look as they walked past but otherwise didn’t react to their presence.

“Must be a VIP,” Ron said after they were past. “That or a criminal. Having two aurors guarding a room has to mean something big.”

Hermione turned her head to look back at the door, wondering who was healing behind it.

Their search was fruitless. No Harry. “Well,” Ron said hesitantly, “we could go up to the tearoom, have some tea and try to figure out what to do next.”

Hermione huffed at the boy’s predictable urge to eat, but without any plan of her own, couldn’t think of anything else to suggest.

Ron led the way up the last flight of stairs and immediately went to order their tea. While he was engaged in that, Hermione looked around the room. It was warm and welcoming, no doubt designed to offer passive comfort to the relatives and friends of the hospital’s patients. Being the top floor, it got plenty of light through the large windows that graced every wall. The light yellow paint on the walls accented the light floral pattern of the tablecloths and china.

The familiar face she spied at one of the tables was just about the last she expected to see.

“Susan!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

The redhead looked up at the sudden noise and smiled. “Hi, Hermione. Ron,” she nodded at the boy as he approached, “Auntie Amelia and I are here visiting someone. What brings you to the hospital?”

“We’re here looking for H – ow! Bloody hell, Hermione! Someone. We’re looking for someone, but we haven’t been able to find them,” Ron started, cutting himself off at his friend’s kick.

Susan pursed her lips, studying the pair. Two-thirds of the Golden Trio, they were almost never seen without the other. Some of the Hufflepuffs had a pool going as to who was going to end up dating whom from the three, and she had it on good authority that the other houses were doing the same thing. “I’m just going to guess that you’re here looking for the other member of your group?”

Ron and Hermione shared a look, communicating without saying anything. He was visibly reluctant, but after an insistent nod from the girl, he looked back at Susan. “Yeah, we are. But he’s not anywhere we can find him.”

After a brief moment of making up her mind, Susan nodded. Her aunt had said Harry was lonely in his room and here were his two best friends looking for him. Their tea arrived, breaking the moment. She waited until the server had gone back behind the counter before continuing. “Your friend is the person Auntie and I are here to see. She’s been overseeing his case. How about I take you there after we’re done with our tea? Aunt Amelia’s in his room now, going over some of what she’s been doing on his case.”

Neither Ron nor Hermione was going to argue with such an invitation, so the three settled into their tea. Conversation was light, mostly centering around the events that ended their fourth year at Hogwarts. None of them had any idea who the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor would be, but as Hermione pointed out, “Other than Professor Lupin, it would be rather hard for any of them to be worse than who we’ve had thus far.”

Eventually the food and tea ran out and Susan judged that enough time had passed for them to return. “Okay, we can head back to his room now.”

“Bloody hell,” Ron said again, “Where the blazes is he? We’ve walked over almost the entire hospital where he could have been.”

The Hufflepuff grinned as she led the way out of the tearoom. “Apparently there was some kind of fuss with Dumbledore, so she had him put under a pseudonym in a private room for his protection.”

“The room with the auror guards!” Hermione exclaimed in a whisper, “Your aunt set that up to protect him?”

Susan nodded. “She did. She was the first person to see him here, so she started investigating, and apparently found out from his parents’ will that she was supposed to be his guardian, so she filed immediately for that change to get hm away from his muggle relatives.”

Hermione came to a standstill. “Your aunt is his guardian now?”

The Hufflepuff gave her a nod. “As soon as he’s released she is, yeah.”

Surprising the two redheads, Hermione wrapped the other girl in a bear hug. “Thank you. Thank you so much. Your aunt saved him!” she whispered.

Unsure how to respond, Susan patted Hermione’s back awkwardly. “Um, you’re welcome?”

Hermione released the girl and surreptitiously wiped at her eyes. “Sorry. I’ve just been so worried about Harry since those animals were arrested that hearing he’s got a safe place to go is…well it’s a huge relief.”

Ron nodded. “That does help a lot. Mum and Dad will be glad to know, too. They’ve been worried about him.”

Following Susan’s lead, they made their way back to the floor with the door guarded by aurors.

None of them expected the confrontation that was raging right in the ward.

After finally making his way to the front of the line, Dumbledore looked at the smirking face of the Welcome Witch. “At last. Now, I have urgent business inside the hospital. A magical ward of mine is inside. I must know what room Harry Potter is in.”

The woman looked at the register that was charmed to update itself for each of their patients. “There is no patient named Harry Potter here in the hospital.”

Annoyed, Dumbledore cast a silent, wandless compulsion charm at her, instructing her to follow his requests. “Give me the list of every teenage male patient you have at the moment.”

Sawbridge followed his instructions with glassy eyes. Satisfied, he made his way past the desk and into the hospital proper. She hadn’t been lying; there was no ‘Harry Potter’ listed on her parchment. His intent through the compulsion had even been so complete that she had even listed the patients in order of the floors. That made the work of recovering his weapon that much easier.

Floor by floor, ward by ward, none of the boys were Harry. Finally making his way to the last floor, he found a door guarded by two aurors. One of them was even young Nymphadora. Finally his luck seemed to be turning. The girl’s connection to Sirius had to mean that she was guarding Harry. He approached the room, putting as much genteelness as he could into his expression. “Good day, aurors. Nymphadora,” he ignored the glare she sent him, “I was just here to see a ward of mine, and I believe he’s behind that door there.”

“It’s Auror Tonks,” she returned, “and unless you’re sure there’s a ward of yours behind this door, I can’t allow you to enter. It would violate the privacy of whomever happens to be in the room.”

“I am very sure, my dear, so you won’t be violating anything by allowing me access to my ward,” he answered, eyes twinkling away.

Tonks kept her gaze just over his shoulder, Madam Bones’ warning about Harry’s experiences with the Headmaster’s Legilmency ringing in her ears. “Leaving aside the fact that you can’t seem to be able to find someone you claim is your ward, who is this individual you’re trying to find?”

Dumbledore’s look hardened. “I am trying to locate Harry Potter to ensure that he’s kept safe with the recent Death Eater activity.”

“Well then I guess we’re in luck,” she waited until the old man’s expression brightened before delivering the blow, “because the person behind this door is registered as Daniel Jameson. He’s a high priority victim in a DMLE case, which is why we’re guarding his door. Good luck on your search though, Headmaster.”

After the incident at the Welcome Witch’s desk, Dumbledore’s temper was frayed, and this chit of a girl telling him to bugger off killed what was left of it. “Now see here! I need to get past this door to ensure that my ward is safe! You will stand aside this instant!”

“What seems to be the problem, Dumbledore?” Amelia Bones drawled as she slipped out the door, keeping it too far closed for him to see inside.

“Ah, Amelia. I’m trying to track down a magical ward of mine that I believe is behind this door. Young Nymphadora here was highly rude and unprofessional, not allowing me to enter.”

“Well that’s odd. Auror Tonks here is one of our most professional aurors that we have. What really happened, Auror Tonks?”

With a smirk at her boss, Tonks turned back to Dumbledore. “The Headmaster here was trying to force his way into a room to determine if the patient inside is Harry Potter, whose whereabouts he admits he doesn’t know. I informed him that the room contained no one known as Harry Potter when he started to bluster at me. I wasn’t about to let him violate a random patient’s privacy, but it didn’t seem like he was about to take ‘no’ for an answer.”

“I’m well aware myself, having just left the room, that there is no one in there called Harry Potter, Albus,” Amelia declared, “and I will commend my auror here for following hospital policy and her orders.”

Unbeknownst to Dumbledore, Amelia overheard the disturbance outside the room and sent a messenger Patronus to Kingsley, asking for him and a few more aurors to come to the hospital. Her timing proved fortuitous, as Kingsley had just finished his interviews with the professors and was more than ready to take custody of Dumbledore.

“Now see here, Amelia, I believe this room holds Harry Potter, my magical ward, and I need to see him immediately!” Dumbledore lost all trace of the twinkle in his eyes as his temper worsened.

“Are you even suitable to be anyone’s guardian if you admit you don’t even know their whereabouts?”

Something in her tone got Dumbledore’s attention. He looked again at the aurors and Amelia. They were all too confident, too cocky. They knew something he didn’t.

“If you do not step aside and allow me access to my ward…”

“Who you admit you don’t know is even behind this door,” Tonks interjected.

The old man sent her a withering glare but otherwise ignored her, “then I will have to take drastic measures.”

“Try anything, Dumbledore, and you’ll be arrested for attacking an Auror, which as Chief Warlock you know carries an automatic sentence to Azkaban,” Amelia warned him, drawing her wand. Her aurors copied her action.

“Very well then. You leave me no choice. On your heads be it,” Dumbledore answered, drawing his own wand.

Mere seconds later, the old man fell over unconscious and wrapped in leather bindings. The aurors gaped at the spot Dumbledore had just occupied.

Susan, Hermione, and Ron entered the ward just in time to hear Dumbledore’s warning. When he drew his wand and made his threat, the teens sprang into action.

Susan was on the left, Hermione in the middle, and Ron to the right as they spread out behind the Headmaster. The girls looked at each other and nodded, then turned to look at Ron. He returned their nod, worried but determined.

Without wasting another moment, Susan cast, “Expelliarmus!

Her spell had barely finished when Hermione cast, “Stupefy!

Ron finished the set, casting, “Incarcerous!

Each of the three spells hit squarely on the old man’s back. He was unconscious before his body hit the floor.

Kingsley and his auror backup arrived just in time to hear the thud as Dumbledore’s unconscious body hit the floor. Jaws dropped, the aurors as one looked at the three teenagers.

Ron’s eyes were huge, fearful at what he’d just done. Tying up one’s headmaster typically does not portend good things ahead in the scholastic career.

Hermione was worried; her lifelong respect for authority figures leaving butterflies in her stomach at knocking her headmaster unconscious.

Susan’s jaw gaped as she stared at her hands. Her right still held her own wand while her left held Dumbledore’s wand, shooting arcs of sparks as it responded to the call of a new master.

Tonks broke the silence, looking over at Amelia. “So since they bagged him, do they get to do the paperwork?”

Chapter Text

July 8, 1995

Alone in his room once more, Harry was trying to figure out what the disturbance outside meant. Amelia had gone out to check what was happening, leaving him with very clear instructions: 'If this door bangs open, roll off the bed and get underneath. It may hurt but you need to hide.'

They were orders he had every intention of obeying. Far from at his physical best and without his wand – he still needed to ask a healer about the clothes he'd been brought in wearing, since he could only assume that's where his wand was – there was almost nothing he could do to defend himself if the need arose.

The door did open, but slowly. Amelia poked her head back in before rejoining him. "Nothing to worry about Daniel. Just Dumbledore trying to force his way into a room he suspected someone might be in. He's been taken care of."

Harry breathed a sigh of relief. "What happened to him?"

She chuckled. "Your friends and my niece were coming back from the tearoom to see you when they saw the old goat try to push his way in through two aurors and myself. They were behind him, so he never saw the stunning, disarming, or binding spells hit him. He was out before he hit the floor."

He tried to keep the laugh to a soft snicker. He really did. The image of three students yet to begin their OWL years taking down Albus Dumbledore without him knowing they were even there was hilarious, and soon he was clutching his sides in pain. "Oh, that's too funny!"

"They're currently outside giving their official statement of events to Kingsley Shacklebolt while a couple other aurors portkeyed Dumbledore back to a DMLE cell. I understand there was a small disagreement about having to do the paperwork on his arrest when it was three teenagers that actually took care of him," Amelia had to stop as she was laughing too much along with Harry to continue.

When they managed to regain their composure, Harry leaned back into his pillows. "Do you think they could still come in for a visit when their statements are over?"

Amelia gave him another smile. "I don't think I could keep them away. I'll need to consult with Kingsley but I'm not going anywhere. He's running the case, so I'll be able to stay here with you."

She seemed to know somehow that he needed repeated reassurances that she wasn't going to leave him alone to face whatever was ahead. It would probably take a lot more before he felt more confident in her, or any adult for that matter. Memories of the taunting from his aunt and uncle were still present in his mind, but Amelia was working hard to show she was different. "Thank you," he said.

"Now, I'm going to go out and talk with Kingsley. If your friends are done with their statements, how about I send them in to keep you company?" she asked, offering him something to help take his mind of what had just transpired.

"That would be great," he smiled at her.

She got up from the chair and made her way to the door, smiling back at him as she closed it with a soft click.

Susan, Ron, and Hermione looked at her with questions written on their faces.

"He's inside, and looking forward to seeing you," Amelia explained, "But remember for his privacy and security, he's under a pseudonym. Refer to him as Daniel, just in case, okay?"

Two redheads and one brunette nodded their understanding. "Will do, Aunt Amelia," Susan promised.

"Go on in then," she said, standing out of the way as the teens went to check on their friend.

"What's the story, Kingsley?" she asked when the teens disappeared into the room.

"It's bad, boss. Minerva and Poppy both displayed signs of mental manipulation during their interviews. I had them brought over here, and the healer had just confirmed they've been both obliviated and compulsed."

"Did the healer say anything about the magical signature of the person who did it to them?" she asked, already knowing the answer.

"It could only be Dumbledore. They said it was an older person with an extreme amount of power to obliviate that amount of memories over more than a decade."

"Of course it was him. I'm starting to wonder who's doing more damage to magical society: Voldemort or Dumbledore," she grumbled as she scuffed her shoe on the floor. "What are you going to do?"

"I have both trials set up for four days from now. Hopefully Sirius's testimony will shake loose more evidence against the old goat, so Dumbledore will be tried directly after him," Kingsley explained.

"Good. That old bastard deserves everything that's coming to him. Are Minerva and Poppy awake? I'd like to see them," Amelia asked.

"Yeah, I can take you to them. They're just down this ward in their own private room," he answered.

"Obliviation required a private room?"

"No, I think it was more to protect the ears of the other patients from the language they used when the obliviations and compulsions were reversed," Kingsley demurred.

Amelia's rich belly laugh rang out around the ward, echoing off the walls as people looked over at the source of the noise.

Kingsley guided her to a single private room a few doors down from Harry's. That, at least, explained how the aurors were able to respond so quickly to her Patronus message.

He knocked softly on the door, flinching when two voices barked, "Come in!" at him.

Amelia snickered. "Go back to the Ministry. Build your case against Dumbledore. I'll talk to the scary professors."

He actually looked grateful for her suggestion in the half-second it took him to turn and flee.

Still chuckling, Amelia pushed the door open and entered the room. Twin beds holding two of Hogwarts' most respected female authority figures greeted her. When Minerva saw her, the older woman's face transformed into a cruel imitation of a smile.

"How many years in Azkaban would I be facing if I transfigured Albus Dumbledore into a flobberworm and fed him to the dragons in Gringotts, Amelia?" she asked.

"Too many to make him worth worrying about, Minerva," she smiled in return.

"I know at least eight different ways I could murder him without it being able to be traced back to me," Pomfrey growled from the other bed.

"Let's try to murder his reputation first, so that once he's thrown in Azkaban, we won't be vilified by the public," Amelia offered as she took a chair, "Besides, when you hear what I have to tell you, it might get a lot worse."

"How could it get any worse than Albus obliviating us of trying to care for that poor boy at Hogwarts?" Minerva asked, dread coloring her expression.

"Let me tell you a little of what I've been up to the last few days…"

Once the door closed behind Amelia, Harry took a breath. Dumbledore was trying to track him down. He knew the Headmaster liked to know he made it to his relatives safely over the summer but going to the extent of drawing his wand on aurors was more than a little surprising. Still, thinking about the things he'd had to endure at school like tracking down the Philosopher's Stone, having students petrified for months at a time, and the bloody Tournament put the Headmaster's actions in a decidedly different light.

Before he could get too entangled in the web of these thoughts, the door opened to reveal Hermione, Susan, and Ron. All three looked a little shell-shocked, Susan most of all. They stumbled in and sat down, Susan in the chair, while Ron and Hermione parked themselves on the bottom corners of Harry's bed.

It didn't last. As soon as Hermione saw him lying in the bed, she snapped into action, lunging forward and wrapping her arms around him tight enough that his still-tender ribs protested. "Ha- Daniel!" she exclaimed, "How are you?! I've been so worried!"

"'Mione!" he gasped out, "Need to breathe!"

Ron took her by the arm and pulled her gently off him. "Give him a little space, Hermione! Merlin knows one of your hugs could keep him in here for another few days."

She jumped back off him, mortified. "Sorry! I just was so worried about you!"

"Guys? What happened out there?" Harry asked, sitting back up against his pillows and catching his breath.

Hermione was the first to jump in. "We apparently just arrested Dumbledore in front of about a dozen aurors, not to mention Madam Bones. Daniel, what the hell is going on?"

Harry grinned back at her language. "Well, from what Susan's aunt has told me, a lot of stuff is coming out about Dumbledore and his involvement in my life. Things like hiding the Philosopher's Stone in a school full of children as bait for Voldemort, allowing a basilisk to roam the school for months on end, and hiring professors either possessed by or linked to Voldemort somehow have the DMLE interested in talking with him; I can't imagine why."

Susan was next to find her equilibrium. "Well the three of us knocked him out and bound him. I cast Expelliarmus and ended up with his wand. One of the aurors tested it for the last few spells he cast and found he compulsed someone very recently, so they took it for evidence. He said that as soon as Dumbledore's trial is over, I can get it back. I guess it's mine now?"

"If you got it after the disarming spell, you won it off him fair and square," Ron explained, "So yeah, it's yours. I was the one who bound him up. Hermione knocked him out when he was threatening the aurors outside the door."

"That's awesome!" Harry grinned. "You might be just about the first person ever to win a wand off of Dumbledore."

The light in his eyes as he looked at Susan bothered, but Hermione's curiosity would not be denied any more. "I've spent the past couple weeks trying to find you. I even got a post owl to send you letters, but he kept coming back to me without delivering them to you. After Ron gave me your address in Surrey, I went to your house. I was there when they were arrested for attacking you. What happened? What did they do you?"

Harry's improving mood vanished like wisps of smoke before a sudden breeze. "I guess they'd finally had enough. I don't remember a lot of what happened, but the healers here said I didn't have many bones left that were unbroken, not to mention there was a host of magical damages they have yet to treat."

Ron spoke up for the first time. "They wanted you to be physically healed before dealing with the magical injuries."

The other boy nodded. "That was my understanding, yeah. Something about magic blocks and blood tracers."

Three other sets of eyes widened.

"Yeah, I guess they're getting the Unspeakables involved to break through some of them," Harry finished, shrugging shoulders that were thankfully almost entirely pain-free for the first time in almost a week.

"Bloody hell, mate. You just can't catch a break, can you?" Ron's outburst was enough to break the tension of the moment, and all four shared a wry laugh.

"So what are you going to do when you're released?" Hermione wondered. "Your relatives were arrested, and with the amount of evidence against them I can't see them getting out of prison for a very long time."

"Well," Harry said, "Amelia found a copy of my parents' will at Gringotts. After Sirius and Alice Longbottom, my godparents, she was first on the list of people supposed to raise me if anything happened to my parents. I guess that means I'll be going to live at Susan's house."

Hermione frowned, but was unsure exactly what bothered her so much about the notion. She had been decent friends with the redheaded Hufflepuff since Defense and Herbology in second year, and knew the girl was kind and friendly. Still, something about Harry living at her house disconcerted her.

Susan saw Hermione's furrowed brows and misread her consternation. "Oh, don't worry, Hermione. I feel awful about the badges my house wore this past year and I apologized to Harry," she reached over and gently patted Harry's forearm, "I promised him I'd make it up to him somehow."

The brunette's eyes grew huge at the implications, but before she could demand what Susan meant, Ron jumped in. "Bloody hell, Daniel. You know you could always come live at the Burrow!"

"I know, Ron. Your family has always made me feel comfortable at your home. This is a legal issue," Harry explained, "Apparently since Amelia is actually supposed to be my legal guardian, she got the execution of that part of my parents' will expedited, so I'll have somewhere to live after I get released. She did say something about how we might be able to use the Tournament to get me declared a legal adult, though."

"Of course!" Hermione gasped, seeing the ramifications at once, "You were forced to compete in an event only for of-age witches and wizards by the Headmaster, who is also the Chief Warlock, and a couple other top Ministry officials. They essentially declared you an adult!"

"That's what Amelia told me the law-wizard she consulted said," nodded Harry, "We just have to decide if we want to push for that to be recognized or not."

"Why wouldn't you, mate?" Ron jumped in. "The Potters are one of the oldest and richest families in Britain. If you can get declared an adult, you can inherit the whole thing!"

"She said something about that too, but I need to see the goblins before I can get that process started," Harry agreed, though the look in his friend's eyes as he talked about inheriting the money left him a little uneasy.

"If anyone deserves a break it's you, Daniel," smiled Hermione. She turned to look at the girl next to Harry's bed. "Would we possibly be able to come visit over the summer now that we know where Harry will be?"

Susan smiled. "Absolutely! My house is usually pretty empty and lonely unless Hannah Abbot is visiting. Having more friends to visit would be wonderful!"

"Just take the Knight Bus over to the Burrow, Hermione, and then we can Floo over to the Bones'," Ron chimed in, chuckling when the mention of the bus turned Hermione green about the gills.

"Well, I guess until we can apparate on our own it's the best we have," she sighed.

Susan's smile morphed into an impish grin that Harry couldn't help but think made her look exceedingly cute. "It's not the best, but at least it's safe. One more disadvantage muggleborns have, but with the Statute of Secrecy, they can't exactly connect every muggleborn household to the Floo network. Too much risk of people not in the know seeing something they shouldn't."

Hermione sighed again. "I know, and it's a good reason, but it really limits the ability of first-generation magicals like me to integrate into the wizarding world outside Hogwarts."

Pursing her lips, Susan nodded her understanding. "At least you can use the Knight Bus? I know it's not much, but it can get you to the Leaky Cauldron."

"That's it! I won't have to take the bus at all!" Hermione's eyes were sparkling, "I can take the Tube to the nearest station to the Leaky Cauldron and walk from there! Susan you're a genius!"

"The Tube?" Ron muttered, sharing a confused glance with Susan. The other redhead shrugged.

"Muggle mass transportation. It's a train that runs underground so it doesn't have to worry about surface streets," Hermione explained.

"That makes a lot of sense, Hermione," Harry grinned at her enthusiasm.

Amelia came back into the room, having used the short walk to throw up her Occlumency shields to their strongest. It took some effort after learning what memories the other two witches had blocked from their memories, but she was successful at hiding her anger at the old coot from the children. Pushing the door open, she smiled at the apparent ease between the four teenagers. "How's everyone doing?"

"We're all fine, Aunt Amelia. We were just talking about Ron and Hermione potentially Flooing over to visit at various times over the summer. Would that be okay with you?" Susan asked, standing to greet her aunt with a hug.

"Absolutely. Just give me time to add their names to the wards, and they can visit anytime," she said, smiling at her niece. "Harry, we need to get out of here and leave you alone for now. The healers want to give you the last course of potions before the Unspeakables stop by tomorrow. If it's okay with you, I'll meet you here in the morning to get you released, then depending on what the Unspeakables want to do, we can head over to the Department of Mysteries to get the magical healing taken care of."

"And if you want, the two of you can come over to our house to hang out after he gets back and we get him settled in?" Susan asked the other two, looking at her aunt for confirmation.

Amelia nodded. "I'll have you added to the wards tonight, so anytime tomorrow you can Floo over."

"I'll have to check with my mum," Ron said, "But I doubt she'll have a problem with that, especially when she learns what happened. I think she was getting ready to send Dumbledore a howler when I left."

"Oh, Ron," Harry interrupted, "Can you do me a favor?"

"Sure, mate. What do you need?"

"Just before the year ended, I had a conversation with Luna Lovegood. She said she lives near you?"

Ron nodded, "We're her closest magical neighbors. She and Ginny grew up friends before Hogwarts."

"I told her I'd keep in touch over the summer, but then all this happened, so I'm kind of afraid she might be worrying about me. Can you get a message to her, and possibly Neville Longbottom too, and let them know that I'm okay?"

"Sure thing. I'll have Ginny run over and let her know as soon as I get home, and I'll owl Neville."

"Thanks, Ron," Harry smiled, "They both stopped in to see how I was doing after the third task of the Tournament. Luna was being bullied really badly by her housemates, so we kind of struck up our own friendship with the way last year went for me."

No one missed the wince on Susan's face.

"I even made an agreement with her that her dad's magazine was the only media source allowed to write about me," he smiled.

"Getting some revenge on Skeeter, Daniel?" Hermione asked him.

"That and helping my friend out," he confirmed, "I figured if The Quibbler was the only one that could write about me, it could raise their profile and maybe bring more sales in and help her father out."

Hermione's eyes sparkled. "And you say you don't understand when I tell you that you have a 'saving people' thing," she grinned, then turned to look at Ron. "My parents are at their clinic all day, so they won't have a problem as long as an adult is there. I don't mind spending my summer visiting. We can even work together and get our summer assignments done."

Amelia smiled at the girl. "I'm taking the next three days off work to help get him settled, possibly more if the curse-breakers from the Unspeakables say that he needs more time to rest after they're done with him."

Surprised once more at the lengths she was going to just for him, Harry blushed and looked down. "You really don't need to do that, Amelia. I'll be just fine lying up in a bed if I need to rest."

She moved over to the side of his bed. "I told you, Daniel. Even if we get you declared an adult, I'd be thrilled if you considered me someone you can feel safe with. Reading the trust your parents had in me in their will meant a lot to me, and I want to honor that. I already consider you part of my household. It's certainly no inconvenience to take care of you!"

Harry's jaw dropped. "Th – thank you. That really means a lot."

Hermione and Ron smiled at him. Taking Amelia's words as warning, they made to leave. Hermione gave Harry a much softer hug on her way out and Ron gave his mate a handshake as Amelia escorted the three teens out of the room, allowing the healers in to administer the last course of potions he would need at St. Mungo's.

Dumbledore stirred back to life, groaning as waves of pain radiated through his body.

He didn't remember going to sleep the night before; just going to St. Mungo's to find Harry Potter before anyone else could get their hooks into him. There was something about a confrontation with some aurors and then…nothing.

Blinking his eyes, he took stock of his situation. An unfamiliar room, drab and bare. Not his. A hard, uncomfortable mattress underneath him. Again not his own.

He slowly sat up, stifling another groan. He was in a cell. What the hell had happened?

"Ah, good evening, Albus," Kingsley Shacklebolt's smiling face greeted him. "Have a good nap?"

"You have me at a disadvantage, Kingsley," the old man rejoined. "May I ask on what charges I'm being held?"

"You may, but not just yet. We're going to let you get woken up before we get into all those details. Suffice it to say that it's an awful lot, Albus. We'll be in touch to set up a law-wizard for you."

The auror turned on his heel and walked away, the motion hiding his smirk at the spluttering behind him.

July 9, 1995

Harry Potter was all smiles.

After almost a week of healers putting his body back together leading up to one final night in St. Mungo's, he was being discharged at last. Amelia, true to her word, was standing right next to his bed, listening attentively to Healer Purcell as he explained the course of potions Harry would need to be on over the next few weeks to get his health fully back up to where it should have been all along. Apparently a heavy course of nutrient potions featured prominently in his future.

She even took possession of the rack of vials Purcell brought, putting it in her bag after shrinking it down. He tamped down on the strange warm feeling of having an adult care for something so basic as his health.

The thought brought another to his mind. "What about vaccines?" he asked, flushing as his question interrupted the adults. "Sorry," he apologized, looking down.

"No, absolutely not, Daniel," Purcell said, making sure to keep eye contact with him, "That's a great question and I'm glad you remembered. Since you had no records here, and with what we've learned about your living situation, the hospital decided to play it safe rather than sorry and updated you with every magical and muggle inoculation we could safely administer. There are some that require a couple visits spaced over a few days, so you'll need to come back to finish those, but we did as much as we could in one night, then gave you a potion to help you sleep."

"Oh yeah. That must have been that night I had those really weird dreams," Harry nodded.

"I wouldn't be surprised. At least you're up to date on your vaccines," Amelia was able to suppress the growl in her voice at the atrocity of deliberately withholding basic medical necessities from a child, but it was a close thing.

Harry nodded. "And the best part is that I don't remember any of it!"

The adults shared an agreeable smile at the understandable sentiment. Something he said stuck out in Amelia's mind. "Wait a moment. You were in the muggle system until you were eleven years old, correct?"

"Yeah, I was. Why?"

"Muggle healers are required to vaccinate children at certain ages until the school years, when there's a recommended schedule of vaccines," Purcell contributed, seeing where Amelia was going, "If you were in the muggle educational system, why is it that no one ever raised the alarm over a child missing his vaccines?"

"Dumbledore," Amelia spat, "He must have falsified the records so no one would look too closely at your living situation. So he didn't just dump you on their doorstep; he actually worked against your health and wellbeing. Bastard."

"You'll be adding to his charges if you can corroborate this?" the healer wanted to know, visibly angry.

"You can bet your life on it," she said, "He can't get away with playing with people's lives like this. It's a miracle that the lad even survived."

Purcell gave a grim nod and looked over his notes. "I think that about covers it. You got your wand back, but the clothes were a total loss, so we transfigured you a set to change into before you leave. You're headed from here to meet with the Unspeakables?"

"Yes we are," Amelia affirmed, "They were going to come here, but felt it would be more secure to meet at the Department of Mysteries."

"Okay, well, I don't have anything else for you. As far as St. Mungo's is concerned, you are perfectly healthy and free to go."

Harry stood and offered his hand to Purcell. "Thank you for everything you've done for me."

"It's the job of a healer, Mister Jameson. You can thank me properly by never needing my care again," Purcell grinned at him.

"I'll do my best," Harry promised as he put the various documented orders on parchment in his bag while Amelia patted her own bag with his potion regimen.

Ten minutes later they were walking through the atrium of the Ministry.

The security measures left him feeling a bit uneasy about surrendering his wand, but as Amelia explained that it was the same for all visitors and she only kept her own because she was an employee, he had no real grounds for objection. She led him to a bank of lifts, then took one down to Level Nine to speak with the Unspeakables.

She led him through a long, bare corridor of dark marble flooring and uninterrupted walls to a single plain, black door at the end. Knocking on the door, she gave him a reassuring smile as they waited for it to open.

There wasn't exactly a reception desk per se, more of a waiting area with three different rows leading off of where they were. While Harry was trying to figure out where exactly any of the people were, someone in a dark grey robe that hid their face appeared in front of them.

"Bones and guest to see Croaker," Amelia said.

The hood nodded. Try as he might, Harry couldn't make out any details of whomever was under the garment. The person moved off down the left hallway, and somehow Harry knew they were meant to follow.

Amelia led him after the person, who eventually stopped at a plain black door. Amelia knocked three times before a deep voice bade them enter. As the door opened without a sound to her touch, Harry looked around to thank their guide but found them alone. "Creepy," he muttered.

"We're the Unspeakables," the same voice drawled from the room, "We get paid to be creepy."

Harry allowed himself a chuckle. "I guess that works then. You're Mister Croaker?" he asked, offering his hand to the robed figure leaning back against a plain wooden desk between two chairs.

The man dropped his robe, allowing Harry to see his face. He was older, with a salt-and-pepper tone to his hair and cropped goatee. Most surprisingly of all was the kind expression he had. A genial glint in his eye and a natural smile made him look like someone who could be instantly trusted.

"Just Croaker," he answered, shaking Harry's hand, "I understand you're here for some fairly intense curse-breaking?"

Amelia took that as her cue, pulling out a sheet of parchment from the healers. "Exactly. The Healers told us it would be at least two magical blocks and a blood tracer, and something about his scar."

Croaker took the sheet and looked it over, grunting at what it said. "I think I shall very much enjoy watching you dismantle the old goat buggerer's reputation."

It took a moment for his words to register in Harry's mind, but when they did he threw his head back and laughed. "I couldn't agree more, Croaker. What do we need to do here to help with that?"

"Well lad, I need to talk to you about that scar along with something else, and then we're going to go into a specially-warded room where I'm going to release those blocks and end the blood tracer. Then, it's all up to you," he answered, gesturing to the two chairs.

"Okay, starting off: your scar. Did the healers tell you anything about it?"

"Nothing more than it was a concentration of a lot of dark magic," he said, looking to Amelia for confirmation.

She nodded. "That's what they told me, too."

"Figures. Mind if I scan it myself to be sure?"

Amelia looked at Harry. He shrugged, not knowing what they could do to stop the man in his office and without their wands. "Sure, go ahead as long as it's just a scan."

"I promise you I won't cast anything harmful at you. It's in my best interest to see you free and healthy, causing endless trouble for our less-than-esteemed Chief Warlock," Croaker grinned at him.

With a final nod from Harry, Croaker drew his wand and cast two different diagnostic charms on his scar. Harry felt a tug on his forehead, almost as if something inside the skin was resisting, fighting back against the outside magic.

Watching the results put a worrying frown on Croaker's face. "Well, I have news, bad news, and worse news. Which would you like first?"

Harry felt a wave of anxiety surge. "Well, I guess the bad news," he offered in a halfhearted joke, trying to cover his nerves.

Croaker gave him a grim parody of a smile in return. "Your scar is indeed the center of some extremely dark magic. It is, in fact, a horcrux."

Amelia gasped.

"You know something of them?" Croaker asked her.

"Only in the most general terms. Some of the foulest magic in the world, horcruxes are…soul jars?" she answered.

"Essentially. When someone murders an innocent in cold blood – and it can never be any other kind of killing like self-defense, it must be the premeditated murder of an innocent person for no actual justifiable reason – it fractures the soul of the killer. Someone with knowledge of the horcrux ritual could, in fact, place that fraction of their soul into the container. Once they do that…"

"They're immortal," Amelia breathed, grasping the implications.

"Until the horcrux is destroyed, yes," Croaker explained.

"Okay, so my scar is a horcrux. Great. I was around someone who murdered an innocent person and somehow got a part of their soul into my head. Lovely. The only problem is that I don't know of any…oh bloody fucking Hell," Harry swore, seeing exactly what Croaker wasn't saying. "Riddle."

"Exactly. That's the worse news. The second charm I cast was to match the magical signature of the horcrux with the diary you gave me. They both match one Tom Marvolo Riddle," Croaker confirmed.

Amelia was out of it, staring at him in shocked horror.

"The only problem is that I'd rather this particular horcrux container not be destroyed along with the soul fragment," Harry growled, looking at the man.

Croaker sat back, creating a steeple of his fingers together under his chin. After a tense few moments, he chuckled. "I won't lie to you…"

"Call me Harry, please," Harry grumbled.

The chuckles increased. "Okay, then, Harry…I won't lie to you. There were a few in my department who wanted to chuck you straight through the Veil when we got an idea of what your scar might be."

"Absolutely not!" Amelia snarled, on her feet quicker than Harry would have believed. She moved to place herself between his chair and Croaker, wand ad the ready. When Harry realized what she'd done, the warmth that suffused his being was so strong he felt his hair tingle.

Croaker raised both his hands with his palms outward in the universal signal of surrender. "Not me, I promise, Amelia."

Neither her stance nor her wand wavered.

"You told me something of Harry's exploits. I'd love to see the memories, actually. But just from the little you told me, no one who had accomplished half that much deserves that fate. I give you my word my department are working night and day on finding a way to get that out of him. Safely," Croaker said, making sure each syllable was clear in the silent room.

Finally Amelia relaxed her stare and put her wand away, but stayed standing between Croaker and Harry. "I'm taking a big chance here. Harry is my ward now, and I won't play games with his safety," she growled.

"Would a magical oath suffice? I'm willing to make one, Amelia," Croaker answered.

She sighed and fell back into her chair at his question. "The fact that you said that is enough for me. You're really working on a way to get it out of him safely?"

"As much as we actually can," the older man promised, "I have our teams researching every arcane ritual book they can find."

"Let me see if I understand this: the scar I've had since the night my mother got rid of Riddle the first time is actually a jar of sorts for the part of his soul that detached when he murdered her. The only known way of dealing with horcruxes is to destroy their container. Namely: me. You know this because its magical signature matches the diary," Harry said, rubbing his face.

"That's about the size of it, yes," answered Croaker as he watched the boy.

"And you don't know if he happened to make any others, for example?"

Croaker's eyes widened just enough to be noticed. "And just how did you come to that notion, Harry?"

"Well, the shade of Riddle that I killed in second year was about sixteen or seventeen years old. From what I saw of him in the trophy room at Hogwarts, he must have been about forty or fifty when my mother's magic destroyed him. With as ambitious as everyone says he was, I can't see him only making one horcrux and then leaving it alone for the next few decades."

One corner of Croaker's mouth tilted upward. "Excellent deductive reasoning. I hope you consider a career in our ranks when you finish Hogwarts. I could use a mind like that."

"To be honest, I haven't really thought that far ahead," Harry murmured, ducking his head.

"Let's see just how clever you are. Take as a given there are other horcruxes out there. How would you find them?"

Seeing the challenge in his eyes, Harry sat back in his chair and started to think. Dredging every scrap of information he knew about Riddle up from his memory, focusing on the conversation in the Chamber of Secrets and what Dumbledore had told him. "His real name is Tom Marvolo Riddle, which he said was the name of his muggle father. Do you know of any wizarding families that use the name Marvolo?"

Croaker snorted. "There was a Marvolo Gaunt who lived between the First and Second World Wars, if memory serves."

"Putting him at just the right age to be Tom Riddle's grandfather, if he had a daughter," Harry noted.

"Which he did. Merope, I believe," nodded the Unspeakable.

"Then as one orphan thinking about another, I'd check any properties belonging to the Gaunts. It's a tie to his wizarding heritage that someone like him wouldn't want to forget. Especially since the family seems to have died out with him. That property might be protected with traps and whatnot, but it would be where I'd have hid one if I was him. Then I'd focus on Hogwarts. It's always felt more like home to me than my relatives, and if he had just an orphanage to go to over breaks, it would be even more so to Riddle."

"That's brilliant, Harry," Amelia smiled at him, "And with Dumbledore in a holding cell and out of the castle, we might just have time to search it. We might even be able to get that basilisk taken care of."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked her.

"Basilisk parts are some of the rarest and most valuable potion ingredients in the world, Harry," Croaker interjected, "How big would you say the snake was?"

"Well, I didn't really have time to stop and measure the thing as it was trying to kill me, but it had to be about twenty to twenty-five meters. About sixty to seventy feet, give or take."

"Bloody hell," Croaker breathed, "A basilisk that size could fetch into the millions of galleons easily. If Amelia would allow it, I want to be part of the group that goes down into the Chamber and retrieves the specimen."

"Of course," she answered.

"Any other bright ideas, Harry?" Croaker wanted to know.

"One of the first things I ever learned about the wizarding world is when Hagrid told me most wizards and witches think Gringotts is the most secure place in the world. Who's to say Riddle didn't entrust just the diary to just Lucius Malfoy? Maybe there's another horcrux in another Death Eater vault," Harry said, staring at the corner of the desk.

"We need to go see the goblins when we're done here," Amelia said, "so maybe we could run that idea by them. If there's something that foul in one of their vaults I can't see them liking that fact. They might just do all the scanning for us."

"Great idea," Croaker said. "My people will get started checking those places for horcruxes. One last thing, Harry: there's a prophecy about you contained in our Hall of Prophecies. Only a handful of people can hear the prophecy: the original seer, the one who heard the original prophecy, and the people it's about. After seeing that diary and scanning your scar, the initials TMR suddenly have a lot more meaning to me, and I suppose to you, too. If you like, we can go take a listen to the prophecy before I release your magical bindings. I don't expect you'd be in any shape to hear a prophecy afterward."

Harry met Amelia's gaze, searching for her feelings on the matter. Seeing only support and concern, he looked back at the Unspeakable. "Okay. Let's do it. Maybe that will explain why Riddle's so focused on me."


Harry groaned as Amelia called for her elf while helping him from the fireplace. His entire body hurt, from his toes to his hair. Floo travel wasn't his preferred way of moving around, especially after extensive treatment and the hell that had been the release of his magical blocks, but Amelia had assured him apparating would have been worse.

"Easy there, Harry. Just a little bit farther," she urged.

A soft crack announced the elf's appearance. "Yes, Mistress 'Melia?"

"Take Harry to the guest room Susan prepared. He'll need to sleep until at least tomorrow to for the effects of his healing to wear off, so if you could make him comfortable that would be wonderful. Thank you, Floppy."

"Yes, Mistress. Floppy take care of him," the elf answered before popping away with Harry.

Their arrival had made some noise, attracting the attention of Susan. "Auntie! Where's Harry? Is everything okay?" she asked in a flurry as she dashed into the foyer.

"Easy, Susan. Harry's fine. I had Floppy take him to his room to rest. He'll probably need to sleep it off until tomorrow. The Unspeakables did exactly what they said they would: got rid of all the magical blocks and tracers he had on him, but they dropped a couple of bombshells on him, as well."

"Merlin! What happened?"

"Not my story to tell, girl. He said he wants to have a meeting when he's feeling better. You, me, him, Ron, Hermione, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, Sirius Black, Tonks, and the law-wizard I've been talking to."

"That's a big group," Susan said.

"It is, but it's all the people he cares about. What he – what we learned today, all these people will be affected," Amelia sighed, running her hands through her hair, "Listen, I'm glad you're here so early. Can we move into the study? There's something I wanted to ask you."

"Absolutely!" Susan agreed, leading the way.

Once they were settled into the soft chairs, Amelia took a deep breath, "First of all, while Harry was getting his magical blocks removed, I contacted Jean Kempley from Wizarding Child Services again, and got his pseudonym retracted. Harry Potter is officially my ward, officially filed with the Ministry and everything. Anyway, I was doing a lot of thinking while Harry was having his magical blocks released. I know I'm his legal guardian right now, but I think I can do more. What if…what if I adopted Harry? You never felt like it was necessary for you, and I've always understood and respected that, but his situation is different…"

Susan broke in, chuckling at her aunt's verbal discomfort. "Auntie! It's okay! I understand. It makes sense. You can offer him more legal protection that way."

"Exactly! I'm going to contact law wizard Samuels and Jean Kempley again to get the paperwork ready for his signature."

"That's so exciting!" Susan enthused, going forward to hug her aunt.

Returning the hug, Amelia grinned at the girl. "I'm glad you're okay with this. Why don't you Floo over to Hannah's house and then I'll start contacting people to be here next week after Dumbledore's and Sirius's trials. Just make sure to keep tomorrow free to show Harry around, and don't tell her exactly why yet. I want to wait until after Dumbledore's trial before we start telling everyone Harry's living here now."

Susan grinned and headed for the Floo. It was less than a formality, as she and Hannah were so close they practically lived at each other's houses during the holidays, but she still always checked first.

When the teenager vanished into the green flames, Amelia started making her calls.

July 10, 1995

The next morning, the savory aroma of bacon cooking woke Amelia sooner than she was used to on days when she was not working. It was one of her favorite smells, but Floppy knew not to make breakfast until she'd risen. Strange, but maybe Harry had woken up early and was having breakfast of his own.

Amelia had been told to expect the energy loss after the release of Harry's magical blocks, but the amount it took out of him was still a bit of a surprise. He crashed early the night before and was in a deep sleep the entire evening. Floppy was monitoring his condition, but had reported nothing to worry about. He was just resting while his body adjusted to its new normal.

She'd used the time well; contacting everyone on her list except Sirius. His hidden location still made it impossible to reach out to him, but everyone else had agreed to be at her house following the two trials. Contacting a muggleborn wasn't the most straightforward for her, but Tonks was able to find the Grangers in a phone directory and call their house. Hermione was only too happy to make the trip for the trials and then out to her house afterwards.

After her niece returned from the Abbots, she and Susan had spent a pleasant evening together. Floppy prepared her usual wonderful dinner before they'd both turned in early. On her way to her bedroom, Amelia had peeked in on Harry. Despite Floppy monitoring him, she'd needed to see for herself that he was okay. He had been sleeping soundly, deeper than she could remember anyone not under the influence of sleeping draughts. What had stuck out to her, though, was the absolutely calmness about him. During the day, his face always seemed drawn and worried, like he was expecting the next blow to fall at any time. While asleep, his face was smooth and unconcerned. It was probably the only time he felt truly free, she reflected.

After a deep, cleansing yawn and full-body stretch, she decided to get up for her own breakfast. Harry's first day in his new home might be stressful for him, so she wanted to be around to handle any issues that arose.

Donning her dressing gown and slippers, Amelia made her way down the hall and main staircase to the kitchen area. She was expecting to find Floppy either making breakfast or serving it to at least Harry, if not Susan as well, but what she saw gave her a start.

Harry was working three different pots and pans on her stove, moving back from one to another in a dance so smooth she could tell he'd had years of practice. He was humming a tune she didn't recognize to himself as he prepared what looked like a large pan of scrambled eggs, another of bacon, and a pot of oatmeal. Floppy watched protectively over the kitchen, off to the side.

She was stunned. "Harry!" Amelia called.

He started, jumping around to face her. Unfortunately, his movement knocked the pan of eggs from the stove to the floor with a crash, spilling eggs all over her kitchen.

"I'm sorry!" he quickly apologized, eyes huge.

When she moved into the room to calm him down, he flinched away from her, protecting his face with his hands. In the same movement, he dropped to the floor and sat with his back against the cabinet, knees drawn up to his chin and arms hiding his face. He was breathing so hard he almost appeared to be hyperventilating.

Horrified at his near-automatic reaction to expected abuse, Amelia stepped back and raised her hands, palms outward. "Harry," she called gently. "Harry?"

He peeked through his arms. "Harry," she called again, in as calm of a tone as she could possibly manage, "It's okay. I'm not mad at you."

"Y- you're not?" he asked, eyes wide.

Amelia thought back to one of the classes the DMLE offered around the time of the last war for people dealing with a sudden traumatic event. Post-Traumatic Stress, they'd called it. She stayed calm, kept her voice quiet, and focused her energy on appearing as non-threatening as possible. With slow, deliberate movements, she leaned against the cabinets and sat down. Near him, but with a good few inches between so she didn't spook Harry any further. "No, of course not. It was my fault for startling you, and in any case it's an easy enough thing to fix," she said, smiling at the boy. Behind them, Floppy cleaned the mess with a snap of her fingers. "Now, what were you doing down here so early in the first place?"

He didn't meet her eyes, looking at his feet. "I just wanted to pay you back somehow and earn my keep."

Amelia almost didn't hear him, so low was his mutter, but his response shocked her. "Earn your keep? Harry you don't owe us anything!"

"But you're taking me in, giving me a roof over my head and a home!"

"And those are things I'm doing of my own free will, without expectation of anything in return. Here, come with me," she said. Getting slowly to her feet as she mentally cursed herself for feeling sore after just a few minutes on the floor. She decided to take a chance and offered her hand to the boy, making it his choice to take it and follow her. To her immense relief, he did.

Amelia led Harry to a bay window in the eating area just off the kitchen. She sat down and patted the space near her, but still far enough away for his comfort for him to take. When he was sitting down, even though he still had trouble meeting her eyes, she started speaking again. "Susan and I are a family, and it makes me incredibly happy that you've joined us. Yes, we do chores around the house sometimes, but that's mainly to keep Floppy from exhausting herself. If you want to help out, we won't stop you, but that should be your choice and not because you feel like you owe us anything, okay?"

He finally made eye contact. "I'm sorry. I guess I got a little nervous waking up in a new house, and old habits kicked in. My relatives used to make me do all the cooking for them, but if I dropped a pot, pan, or plate, I'd get in a lot of trouble."

"I know how difficult it can be to put things like that behind you, but I'll keep reminding you as many times as I have to that what they did to you is not your fault. It was nothing that you did, or didn't do. Their behavior was their choice, just as I made the choice to bring you here to live. Susan and I wanted you to come here, Harry. What happened this morning is nothing to apologize for. Like I said, it was my fault for startling you. If you feel comfortable cooking and you enjoy it then by all means you can have time to cook! But it's absolutely not anything you have to do for us, okay? You owe us nothing," she tried to reassure him.

"I could argue that, but I won't right now," he retorted with a grin.

"Smart boy," she shot back with her own smirk. Taking another big risk, she scooted over next to him and put an arm around his shoulders. "Are you okay?"

He froze at the contact, and for the briefest moment she thought she saw pure fear in his eyes before it melted away and he returned the embrace with both arms. Chuckling, she completed the hug, focusing on helping a child who had been almost totally starved of affection in his life feel some parental care for once. "If you think it would help, we can ask the healers at St. Mungo's for a reference to a mind-healer, maybe one from their own staff, for you to talk to. It doesn't mean I think you're crazy," she hurried to continue when she saw him readying to object, "But sometimes it can help to have someone to talk to about a situation, someone outside and impartial, if that would make you more comfortable than talking about everything with me. You're perfectly free to do that, and I will listen whenever you need me to, but if you'd be more comfortable with a professional, we can do that too."

A soft yawn and shuffle of slippers interrupted Harry's reply. Susan stood in the kitchen doorway in her own light blue dressing gown and matching slippers. "Whas' going on?" she mumbled, obviously still waking up. "I heard a crash."

"I accidentally startled Harry in the kitchen. He was under the impression that he had to cook breakfast for us," Amelia explained, releasing her hug. "I had to tell him that was your job instead."

"Hey!" Susan protested with a sleepy pout, "It is not!"

Harry chuckled, realizing in that moment that his impression in the hospital was correct: his redheaded year mate could be cute. He tried to hide his blush by explaining their conversation. "Amelia explained how the house chores work. I get it now, so if it's okay with you two lovely ladies, I'd like to go finish that so we can eat."

Amelia saw the way both teens were flushing and avoiding each other's eyes, and managed to stifle her eye roll. Oh to be a teenager again, she thought. Keeping two teenagers in the same house could lead to problems down the road, but she trusted Susan to behave properly. Thinking back over what she knew of Harry, it might be something she had to address at some point. Outwardly, she just looked at Harry. "Let Floppy finish the breakfast. She'll need to prepare an entirely new pan of scrambled eggs, and I wanted to talk about the next few days anyway," Amelia grinned at his embarrassment.

Now it was Harry's turn to sigh. "Okay, that makes sense."

The elf took over in the kitchen as the three went to the table. In moments, the food was in front of them.

"Now, Harry," began Amelia in between bites of eggs and bacon, "I spoke with Kingsley last night. He's working on Dumbledore's trial, and one for Sirius, too. The problem with the second one is that we don't know where your godfather is or how to get a hold of him."

"I don't know where he is, but whenever I need to contact him I either send Hedwig or Dobby with a message," Harry answered before he jumped at the muted pop next to him. "Dobby!"

"Did the great master Harry Potter call for Dobby?" the elf asked, bobbing his head up and down.

Harry greeted the new arrival with a huge smile. "Dobby! How are you?"

"The great Harry Potter asks how Dobby is? Harry Potter is even a greater wizard than Dobby imagined!"

The two women chuckled at the elf's antics while Harry smiled at his friend. "Dobby, this is Madam Amelia Bones, head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. She's helping Sirius get the trial he should have had so long ago, but no one knows exactly how to get in touch with him. Is that something you could do?"

The elf nodded vigorously, ears flopping around. "Absolutely Dobby can be doing that!"

"Wonderful!" Harry smiled at the little elf, "Amelia, if you could write a note for Sirius? Dobby can pop it over there."

As the elder Bones retrieved parchment and a quill, Harry squatted down in front of Dobby. "How is Hogwarts treating you, my friend?"

"The great Harry Potter concerns himself with Dobby? Do not worry, Harry Potter, Hogwarts is a fine place to work."

"Do you miss working with a family?"

"Sometimes. Dobby felt strong when tied to family magic," the elf nodded.

"What if you were able to bond with a family again? Would Hogwarts allow it?"

"Hogwartsy is just where Dobby be workings," the elf explained, "Dobby could bond with any family that wanted him, but none does," he finished with a mournful voice.

"What if I wanted you? What if I wanted you to be a Potter elf?"

Dobby's eyes grew impossibly wider. "That would be the deepest wish of Dobby's heart!"

"Very well then. What do I need to do to bind you as my elf?"

Dobby reached out, took Harry's hand and placed it on his forehead. Without any words, Harry felt a thrum in his magic before Dobby released his hand and opened his eyes. "Now Dobby is a Potter Elf." His eyes started tearing up. "This is the happiest day of Dobby's life," he said, throwing his arms around Harry's legs.

Somehow the little guy had grown a couple inches with the binding ritual, Harry realized. "I'm glad, Dobby."

"You are full of surprises, Harry," Amelia said, returning with her note and handing it over to Dobby. "If Dobby could take this to Sirius, Kingsley said he would make sure he got his trial just before Dumbledore's so he could use evidence from that trial against the old coot."

"Yes, Madam Bonesy. Dobby be doing!" and with a pop, the elf was gone.

"That is one interesting elf," she smiled. "Now, what would you like to do today, Harry?"

"I hadn't really thought that far ahead."

"Susan, why don't you show Harry around the house and grounds? If he's going to be here now, it would help to show him where everything is. Maybe Floppy can even make you a picnic lunch if the weather stays nice."

"That might work. I'm not sure what Harry does all summer, but I told Hannah I wouldn't be able to go over to her house today. Just not why that was so, like you asked, auntie."

Amelia gave her niece a thankful nod. "Anyway, after Dumbledore's trial, I have a plan to have everyone you wanted to meet with assemble here. The goblins were out while you were in the hospital, strengthening the wards and putting this house under the Fidelius charm, so we're as safe as we could possibly be. Once we know whether or not Dumbledore is going to Azkaban, we can make plans for the future."

Harry nodded. "Makes sense to me. You sound like you don't expect him to be convicted, though. Doesn't Auror Shacklebolt have enough evidence against him?"

Amelia took a deep breath. "As a law officer, yes. Purely on merit, he should spend the rest of his life in prison. As a politician…Dumbledore has far too many connections and favors on the Wizengamot. He might be able to spin a defense arguing that he was doing what he thought needed to be done and duck any charges. We may need to make plans."

"What if we go to Gringotts tomorrow to see about the rest of my parents' will? They may have resources that I'm not aware of. Between that and the Unspeakables, maybe we'll have a better sense of where we stand when we meet up with everyone next week."

"That's a good idea, Harry. Maybe we could owl Ron and Hermione to meet up with us in Diagon Alley at Fortescue's or something after we get our Gringotts business done," Susan suggested.

He turned to look at her in surprise. "That would be really nice, thank you. If it's not too much trouble, what if we were to include Neville, Luna, and Hannah, too?"

She gave him a radiant smile followed by a quick hug. "That's a wonderful suggestion! It could be a party!"

"Then we'll go with that," Amelia decided, getting to her feet, "Now why don't you two finish your breakfast and tour the place? I'll be Floo calling the law wizard to make sure I have all my bases covered for the next few days.

Chapter Text

11 July 1995

Breakfast the next morning was a much more relaxed affair. Floppy created her usual outstanding meal as Harry watched her technique. After sitting down to an enjoyable experience, Harry's fledgling morning routine had to take a break when a flapping at the window startled them all. "Hedwig!" he exclaimed, rising to his feet, opening the window and greeting his faithful owl with an extended arm as a perch. "Are you okay, girl?"

The owl gave him a stare before clicking her beak at him before giving him a bark that the two women present understood meant she was scolding him for worrying her.

After a small chuckle, Amelia looked up at him. "You were in the hospital for almost a week, Harry. She couldn't get in so she's probably been flying and hunting and waiting for when she could sense your presence."

"That makes sense," he said, stroking Hedwig's feathers after passing her a couple rashers of bacon. "She always has been the smartest owl. Aren't you, girl?"

The bird looked at him with more than a little reproach, but eventually clicked her beak and nuzzled into him. Harry was forgiven.

"She's beautiful," cooed Susan, who rose to give the bird even more bacon. The owl met her approach with a little wariness, but the presence of extra treats thawed her to the girl.

"So, Diagon Alley today?" Amelia asked both of the teenagers when they resumed their breakfast. "Starting with the Goblins? Do you want to see the law-wizard I've been working with, Harry?"

The boy thought over her offer before nodding. "At the very least I should say thanks for all his work. Anyone who managed to get me out of the Dursley's deserves at least that."

"That's the plan Aunt Amelia," Susan nodded in agreement, finishing her morning oatmeal. "Harry wants to get a full accounting of his assets from the goblins, and then we're going to meet up with a few of our friends at Fortescue's. I figured then we could invite them back here to go for a swim for tomorrow after the trials, if that's okay with you?"

Amelia put aside her minor annoyance at the last-minute request when she saw how excited the teens were. Truthfully it was such a minor thing, and after the last week of his life, Harry could certainly deal with some fun with his friends. "I don't see a problem with that. After the stress of the trial tomorrow a pool party sounds like a wonderful idea."

"Thank you, Auntie!" Susan smiled, getting up and giving her aunt a hug on her way to the sink with her bowl.

"Harry, I want to prepare you a bit before we get to Gringotts. I know you saw some of the documents when you were in the hospital but you were pretty out of things. You're going to see some numbers today that are pretty hard to believe, but the goblins are scrupulously honest when it comes to their accounts."

"Thank you for the warning. I don't really know much about my family history other than what's in the will you showed me, so hopefully they can tell me more."

"How did you pay for things for school?"

"I got a few galleons out of Gringotts every summer when my relatives would let me leave to handle school stuff," he answered, not mentioning the difficulty he had in getting away from his chores to handle his 'freaky business'.

Amelia seemed to get the message loud and clear, if the pursing of her lips was any indication. "Well, this morning we'll take care of that once and for all. Why don't you two run along and get dressed and we'll be on our way?"

Leading the way up to Eugene's office, Amelia looked over to Harry. "Thank you for doing this, Harry. Mister Samuels has put a lot of work into getting me as your guardian and overlooking your best interests in the wizarding world, so hearing you want to say thank you to him is what I was hoping for."

"It just felt like the right thing to do," Harry answered, following her inside the office. "I've never really had anyone that has worked that hard for me, so I wanted to show my appreciation.

As the man inside rose to greet him, Harry offered his hand. "Law-wizard Samuels, thank you for what you've done for me. The man who legally got me away from my relatives will always find a friend in me. If there's ever anything I can do for you in return, all you have to do is ask," he promised.

As the group sat, Susan took the seat next to Harry and gave him a warm smile. Seeing him in action, how he interacted with everyone around him was showing Harry Potter in a much different light than what she was used to at Hogwarts. Now that the nutrition potions had done their work, she had to admit that the skinny waif of a boy from their first four years was much improved in physical appearance as well.

"No thanks are needed, Mister Potter," Samuels said as he took his own seat, "When Amelia told me everything that has happened to you, it was the very least I could do to help. No one deserves a life like that."

"Would you like to be the official law-wizard for the Potter family? I haven't been told much about my parents or my family so I don't know if there's anyone in that role currently, but if there is they're going to be fired, so the job is yours is you want it."

Samuels didn't get to owning his own practice by being a fool. "Mister Potter I would be delighted to take that role on. As my first official act, I wanted to ask you if Amelia has discussed emancipation with you."

Harry nodded. "She mentioned that by forcing me to compete in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, the Ministry effectively declared me of-age, but that I would have to submit paperwork. What is your opinion on either course of action?"

"Well, emancipating you would make you in charge of your own life. No one would be able to force you to do anything you didn't want to, but it would have the negative impact of raising your profile. With the difficulties you encountered with Dumbledore and with Voldemort's return, that could be risky, too."

"You believe me about Voldemort?" Harry stared, incredulous.

Samuels returned his nod. "I saw your memories with Amelia. You have nothing to gain by lying, and it makes sense with other events swirling around."

"I just wish more adults in the wizarding world were like you, sir," Harry chuckled, "The trials for Sirius and Dumbledore are scheduled for tomorrow. My sense is that neither of them will be going to Azkaban Does that line up with what you were thinking?"

The law-wizard shook his head with a rueful look. "I wish I could disagree on Dumbledore, but I really don't. Evidence for Sirius is cut and dried with your memory, but there are far too many in the Wizengamot that think Dumbledore can do no wrong. Even if we were to show them actual proof of him breaking the law, they would say that since Dumbledore did one thing, the law should be changed to reflect that."

Harry took a deep breath. "Then I think I want to delay that decision for twenty-four to forty-eight hours. After the trials tomorrow, there's a meeting at Amelia's house where I will be discussing my future with her, Sirius, and my friends. Emancipating me is something we should all discuss then."

As Samuels nodded his agreement once more, Amelia decided that it was the right time. "There's one more alternative, Harry." She slid a folder from her bag over in front of him.

Opening the folder, Harry read the top of the documents before his brain shut down. The words just didn't mean what he thought they could mean. It wasn't possible. "Ad – adoption?" he croaked over the lump in his throat.

"In the short time that we've had together, I have been able to see what kind of young man you are. There isn't anything that would give me greater pride than to call you my adopted son."

"But…my parents? My name? Will I lose that legacy of theirs?"

"Your name would still be your own. I'm not trying to take your parents' place, or take away your family legacy. Law-wizard Samuels and I would be sure to work into the adoption documents that your name would remain the same, and that whatever they left you in their will would remain yours. I don't want to steal anything from you, Harry. This is about legal protection. As my adopted son I could offer you more protection than as your legal guardian."

A horrible thought shot into Harry's mind. Turning to his year mate, he forced his eyes to meet hers. "Susan, I know Amelia's your guardian, and not your adopted mother. I don't want to accept if this will cause any problems for you."

Eyes watering at the sweetness of the thought, Susan reached out and squeezed his forearm. "I know, Harry. Do you think Auntie didn't talk to me about this before showing you? I'm on board with this, too! It makes total sense."

Choking back the growing lump in his throat, Harry forced tears back at the same time. Amelia's gesture was the single most touching thing that anyone had ever done for him. His relatives never wanted him, Dumbledore manipulated him, but Amelia actually wanted to adopt him. She cared for him, and chose to do something that would put him first.

He took another deep breath. "I can honestly say that no one has ever done anything this nice for me in my entire life. I want to say yes, but I need some time to think this over. Can you give me until tomorrow? This should be something we don't rush into, but I want to wait until we talk over everything else."

Amelia nodded, seeing his point. "I totally understand, Harry. That's a reasonable, mature way of looking at it."

She slid the documents back into her folder as Samuels and Harry moved on to discussing the steps that would need to be taken in each of the trials the next day.

"Just remember, Harry: the goblins are a strong, fierce, proud warrior people. Respect them at all times and they will respect you in turn. You're a very polite young man, so I don't have any doubts that you'll be well-mannered with them, but respect is key as well," instructed Amelia as she led them up the bank steps.

"Thanks. That makes a lot of sense," he answered, climbing after her. Goblins had always appeared fierce to his eyes whenever he accessed his vault for school supplies, but other than people like Malfoy who went out of his way to cause trouble, he believed in treating everyone with polite respect.

Susan gave him what she hoped was an encouraging smile as she entered along with him.

When they got into the bank lobby, Amelia led the way to the first available teller. "Good morning, teller. We're here to see Account Manager Grinlast at his earliest convenience," she said, keeping her tone polite.

The goblin gave her a calculating look before stepping down from his post. "Follow me," he said.

Harry and Susan trailed behind Amelia as she followed the goblin back into the same office she'd visited on her last trip. Not knowing what to expect, Harry was still surprised at the room. Starting with the golden plaque on the door that simply said 'Potter', it was clear this was going to be a visit that might change his life.

Entering the room, he could see that Grinlast's office was cut from the same rock as the rest of Gringotts, but instead of being dark, magical lights ringed the entire interior to a brightness that made it feel homey and comfortable. Magical photographs lined one side of his desk. From the brief look he got, Harry could see Grinlast and a female goblin who was holding a baby. They looked like a happy family.

Grinlast himself awaited their entrance. "Thank you for coming to see me, Madam Bones. Mister Potter, my name is Grinlast, and I'm the account manager for the Potters. It's a pleasure to finally meet you. I was beginning to fear the worst until Amelia here contacted me. We've been owling you statements on your accounts and holdings quarterly since your parents were murdered, and yet we never heard a response."

"My apologies, Mister Grinlast. I don't know what to say. I never got any correspondence from the bank," Harry tried to explain. "I would have been much more proactive in managing my family's legacy if I had known."

"Just Grinlast, please," the goblin frowned, but before he could scold Harry any more, Amelia interrupted. "With Dumbledore's illegal usurpation of Harry's guardianship, he probably had all mail, including Gringotts correspondence, forwarded to him at Hogwarts. If the old coot hasn't destroyed it all, it's probably still there."

Nodding, Grinlast slid a thin folder and a thick brown book across to them to see. "Are you sure you want young Miss Bones here for this?"

"Madam Bones took me in, choosing to become my guardian. She and Susan are my family now. I know this is my choice, but I want them here for this." Without another word, he took the documents, starting with the folder.

It was the official copy of his parents' will, confirming what the document Amelia had showed him said: aside from bequests to Sirius, Remus, and Amelia herself, everything else they owned went to Harry.

Sadly, they had left him no messages, probably figuring they wouldn't need to with how young they were and how much time they would have together. Ignoring the pang in his heart, he reached over to the clearly very old book and opened the cover with slow, deliberate motions. He took care, because the outer edges of the pages appeared frayed, almost as if it would turn to dust in a slight breeze.

That was the last coherent thought he had for quite some time. Harry was dimly aware of Amelia and Grinlast having a conversation next to him, but the sheer size of the numbers on the page beggared all belief. It wasn't just the first page, though. The book contained page after page of accounts, assets, ownership in companies, rents paid from land he apparently owned. There was even a portfolio of muggle stocks he owned, obviously from his mother's influence. She had somehow seen future trends coming and invested into American technology companies, which had started off rocketing upward over the previous few years.

"Grinlast, forgive me for interrupting, but may I ask you a question?"

The goblin looked over at him. "I am your account manager, Mister Potter. My time is at your disposal as long as you continue to pay my fees. Ask away."

"What's the current rate of exchange for galleons and pounds sterling?"

"Galleons and pounds don't have a direct exchange relationship managed by any one government, so Gringotts usually holds to a roughly five-to-one exchange rate for pounds to galleons if someone needs to make the exchange."

Harry's eyes bulged. He did some quick calculations. All told, his liquid assets, property, and shares would be worth more than his great-great-grandchildren could spend in their lifetimes. Even the interest payments on that much would be more than he could dream of spending in a year. After a while the numbers stopped holding all meaning. He even heard Susan gasp on his other side once or twice. There was even a listing of more than a dozen properties he owned scattered around the world.

One of his ancestors was apparently a potion master, starting the family fortune by developing Skele-Gro, Pepper-Up, and Sleek-Easy hair potion. Although the rights to the last had been sold – at a profit that quadrupled the family fortune, he noticed – his family retained the rights to the other two potions, providing a significant income from St. Mungo's and other healing offices.

He also apparently owned three stores in Diagon Alley including the Quality Quidditch Supply store, half of Hogsmeade, and controlling interests in Cleansweep, a couple wizarding construction companies, and The Daily Prophet. The last finally got him to close his mouth in a predatory smile at the possibilities.

The document listed his residences in descending order of importance, starting with Potter Manor, the cottage where they were murdered, a chateau in Nice, one in Kerry, a private, unplottable island in the Pacific, apartments in New York, Paris, Lisbon, Rome, Vienna, Johannesburg, and a manor-style house near a small town west of Melbourne, Australia on the Great Ocean Road. The note next to that entry that read 'private beach' had his mind racing.

"Amelia?" he asked, unknowingly interrupting their conversation once more.

"Yes, Harry?"

"Everyone I've talked to about my parents has told me how my mother was the smartest witch of her age and my father was no slouch himself. Would you say that's true?"

"Absolutely. Why do you ask?"

"Why did they stay in Britain, with a prophecy like the one the Unspeakables helped me hear yesterday hanging over their heads, when all they had to do was come here and get a portkey to any of these properties?"

Amelia's mouth worked open and closed a few times. "I…have no idea. That's something that I think Kingsley will have to ask your godfather at his trial and then Dumbledore."

He nodded. "Grinlast, do you have a paper outlining how you've managed these accounts?"

The goblin barked a laugh. "One of the more astute questions you could have asked. I do believe we will get along famously. Yes, Mister Potter. Here you go," he said, sliding a sheet across the table, "As you can see, the accounts have grown by at least five percent each year I've managed them, and that doesn't count interest, just growing principal from investments. It may not seem like much, but when you consider the sheer amount of money we're talking about, five percent per year is quite a substantial sum."

Harry nodded once more. He was making more in interest payments per year than he could even dream of spending, let alone the actual gold. "I don't want to change anything right now. Keep managing them as you have been. Once I get a better understanding of finances, I may make some tweaks, but I can't see anything I'd change. Just initiate proceedings to recover what was taken without my knowledge or consent."

"Already done, Mister Potter. The money removed from your vault with the help of our traitor has been replaced with interest."

"Good," Harry grinned. "Can I keep this listing of properties? I'd like to study them in greater detail."

"Of course. They're yours."

"One more question," Harry started, "I killed a basilisk in my second year at Hogwarts. As far as I know it's still down in the Chamber of Secrets below the school."

"You killed a basilisk?!" exclaimed the goblin.

"Yeah, it was part of a plot to possess a student and kill students at the school. I had to go down in the Chamber of Secrets to fight it off and rescue her. It was a hell of a night," Harry shrugged.

"Don't sell yourself short, Harry," Amelia smiled at him, "I saw that memory. It was a miracle that you survived and rescued the poor girl."

"I had a lot of help," Harry demurred, "Anyway, I'm told that since I killed it, the carcass belongs to me, and may be worth some money for its potion components. Would Gringotts be willing to take over the harvesting and sale of the basilisk in return for taking their fee from the profits?"

Grinlast sat back and regarded him with a shrewd gaze. "Would you be willing to share your memory of this fight with us?"

Harry shrugged again. "I don't see why not."

The goblin stabbed one of his fingers into a rune on his desk and barked an order in the goblin language. "How big would you say the beast was? Roughly speaking, of course."

"I didn't really have any frame of reference, but when it slithered past me in the tunnels, it took a few seconds to go by me. Maybe between fifty and sixty feet?"

"From watching his memory, I would say that's a reasonable estimate," Amelia confirmed.

Susan's mouth was hanging open, and it looked like she had to fight off a shudder at the thought.

Before the stunned goblin could respond to that estimate, a knock at the door heralded the arrival of another goblin with a strange-looking device in his hands. A golden frame held a large greenish crystal about the size of a golden snitch suspended in the center. He left it on the desk and hurried out.

Grinlast looked at Harry after putting the device on the desk. "Place your forehead up against the green crystal as you remember your fight with the basilisk," he instructed, "I will have my head up against the other side. As you remember the event, it will appear in my own mind at the same time. This way we won't have to deal with taking a copy of your memory. Easier for business."

Harry looked at Amelia and Susan before taking a deep breath. He closed his eyes, dredged up the memory out of his mind, and placed his forehead against the crystal. Opposite him, Grinlast did the same thing.

When the memory finished, both sat back into their respective chairs. "That may be the bravest thing I have ever seen anyone do, Mister Potter. A twelve-year old taking on a beast that size with no wand? Your heroics should be honored in the halls of your Ministry."

"Can Gringotts help with its harvesting and disposal?" Harry pressed.

"Of course, of course. We'll take our fee from the profits, but for a basilisk of that size and for a customer of your stature, it will be a modest fee. The publicity we'll get from the historic nature of the event itself will more than make up for any small percentages we could try to take, especially if we include certified authentic wizarding photographs from your memory of the moment you stabbed the creature. I agree with your estimates of the size of the basilisk. I would estimate the profit potential to be anywhere from fifteen to twenty million galleons. When would you need a team ready?"

"Well, we're going to meet some of Harry's friends for ice cream at Fortescue's as soon as we're done here, then I was going to go to the school to see to the creature myself since Dumbledore's currently in a Ministry holding cell," Amelia grinned, "Would an hour be too soon?"

"It would be a rush job for a whole team, but I could have a group ready to go," the goblin nodded.

"I want to split the profits into seven equal sections: half for me, and the rest divided equally between Hermione Granger, Ginny Weasley, Ron Weasley, Penelope Clearwater, Justin Finch-Fletchley, and Colin Creevey," Harry said.

"That won't be a problem at all," Grinlast observed, making notes, "If the basilisk is as large as your memory suggests, they should each receive a significant sum even after our fees are taken out of the profits."

Looking at her watch, Amelia shook her head before Harry could pass out. "If that's all for now, Harry, we need to hurry over to Fortescue's to meet your friends."

"Absolutely. Grinlast, when Sirius is cleared, we're going to have a meeting with family and friends and figure out what to do. Until then I would be delighted if you kept doing what you were regarding my accounts."

"Understood, Mister Potter. I will keep managing your assets as I have. It was a pleasure to finally meet James and Lily's son. I would suggest that you take some time soon and visit your family vault. There will be more than just gold and jewels there. You might find some fascinating heirlooms."

"It was my pleasure, Grinlast. You are honest and fierce. There are few I trust, but you are high on that list. Thank you for that suggestion. I plan to adopt it as soon as I possibly can," Harry smiled.

With a final handshake, the group left the bank. Harry's mind was still spinning at the wealth eh had at his disposal.

"We're a few minutes early," Amelia noted, checking her mechanical watch, "Should we wait for your friends before ordering?"

Susan looked at her aunt before turning to regard Harry before an idea struck. Harry had been quiet and withdrawn since coming to their house and the morning had seen a series of shocks to his system, so maybe there was a chance she could take to do something extra nice for him and bring him out of his shell a little. "I think after everything Harry learned today, we could do with an early start. Two rounds of ice cream never hurt anyone," she declared with an impish grin.

Seeing what the girl was doing, Amelia gave a smile of her own. "I agree. Why don't you two make your order and I'll secure a table?"

The redhead nodded and led Harry into the ice cream parlor. "Have you ever been to Fortescue's before, Harry?"

He looked at Susan before shaking his head. "Probably too often. Hagrid took me here when we got my supplies before first year, and then once with Ron and Hermione. Then last year after I left my relatives and stayed at the Leaky Cauldron for a couple weeks I was here almost every day."

The smile that spread across Susan's face eventually stretched from one ear to the other and lit up her entire countenance. "What's your favorite ice cream flavor?"

Harry blushed and looked down at his hands. Susan was at a loss at his reaction, but when she went over what she knew about Harry, understanding dawned. She took a breath before deciding to risk a little touch. Taking his hand in hers, she held it until he met her eyes. "What they did to you was not your fault. It was the farthest thing from normal that there is. You were worse than a slave to them, but now that you're with us, you're going to see how real families live. I actually want to know your favorite ice cream flavor so I can get something special for you."

When he looked up at her face, she saw the disbelief. "Trust me, Harry. We'll take care of you."

Her expression held nothing of the mocking or derision he expected. Susan's strikingly blue eyes were warm and kind. In fact, her hand felt so soft and warm in his that he was in no hurry to move his own. Harry took a chance of his own and smiled back at her. "Okay, what about a chocolate sundae?"

Susan's face was full of nothing but happiness. The memories of how Hufflepuff reacted during the Tournament were still fresh, but Susan had promised to make it up to him. "Got it. Hang out here and I'll bring something really nice back."

"Okay, I trust your judgement about ice cream."

Susan beamed and actually hugged him before heading up to the counter, leaving Harry to sit at the table with Amelia. "Does she always take charge like this?"

"When chocolate is concerned, you can bank on it!" Amelia grinned at him, "Her sweet tooth is truly amazing. She's a true addict."

"Good to know for her birthday," Harry mused, "When is that, anyway?"

"July 19," answered Amelia, "and if you can procure chocolate somehow, you'll be her favorite person in the entire world!"

Harry filed the date away in his memory. Forgiving her had been easy, but the memories of Hufflepuff house's abuse to him was a lot harder to forget. Since he was living with Susan now, keeping peace at home might be the best way to handle the situation.

Before he could say anything else, Susan arrived with three dishes of the most delicious-looking ice cream that Harry had ever seen. "What the - ?"

"Rainbow sherbet for Auntie Amelia," the redhead grinned, "and two chocolate chip cookie sundaes for you and I."

"Chocolate chip cookie sundaes?"

"Fresh chocolate chip cookies that are warm and soft forming the base of the sundae, vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, and a maraschino cherry topping it all off," she smiled, sliding it on front of him, "And of course, lots and lots of sprinkles!"

Harry's eyes grew huge once more. Before he could say anything, a musical voice rang out behind him. "No fair starting without us!"

He turned to see Hermione, Ron, Luna, Ginny, Neville, and Hannah approaching. "What can I say? Susan made a compelling argument for starting early!"

"Sit right there while we get our own," Hermione instructed with a smile.

Presently all of the teenagers were sitting around a table, enjoying their own dishes of ice cream. Luna had a pile of brightly-colored sherbet ice cream like Amelia's, while Hermione had a bowl of mint chocolate chip. Ron had strawberry with whipped cream and Ginny's choice was chocolate ice cream with sprinkles. Neville had vanilla with hot fudge and brownie crumbles and Hannah had vanilla with cookie crumbles.

"How's your summer been, Harry?" Neville wondered. "I tried sending you an owl but she didn't even leave the house."

Susan and Hermione snorted as Ron shook his head. "Eventful," Harry eventually answered. "I have to thank you, mate. If you hadn't told me about St. Mungo's, I might have died."

More than one person choked on their ice cream. "Way to try to kill your friends, Harry," Susan scolded with an exasperated look.

"What?!" Neville eventually rasped after he dislodged the chunk of brownie.

Amelia cast the muffling charm. "Harry's muggle relatives attacked him at the beginning of the summer. He just got out of St. Mungo's a couple days ago."

"Sweet Merlin! Harry!" Luna exclaimed.

"I'm fine now, guys," he protested. "And with the nutrient potions they gave me, I'm healthier than I've ever been. It had a silver lining, I guess. Plus, Amelia helped me see my parents' will. It turns out, after your parents, Neville, Amelia was always supposed to be my guardian."

Neville's eyes grew large. "Harry, that's awful. I can't believe they attacked you."

"The experience started out badly, but at least it ended well. I got a wonderful new house and a great guardian out of it. I couldn't ask for more than Amelia."

"Bloody hell, mate. I'm glad you got away from those relatives. I still can't convince Mum that we actually had to pull the bars off your window," Ron chimed in.

"Bars, Harry?!" Hermione gasped.

Hannah and Luna frowned at the detail they never knew about their fellow student.

"Look, my muggle relatives weren't the nicest people. I get that. And I'm understanding a lot more about why I was there," Harry explained. "A lot of that has been made clear recently. As a matter of fact we just came from Gringotts where we saw my parents' will as well as the breakdown of accounts."

"Accounts?" asked Ron.

"Yeah. It turns out the vault I was using for my school stuff was just my trust vault," Harry answered, "And reading the book that Grinlast had of my family history, I saw that I had a relative that invented Skele-Gro, Pepper-Up, and Sleek-Easy hair potion."

Hermione's eyes grew huge. "Your ancestor invented the only thing that's been able to tame my hair?"

"I guess so, yeah," grinned harry, remembering all the struggles she had in the past with her bushy locks, "But the formula was sold a few generations ago. They did keep the other two, though."

"Trying to bump up the family profits with how much Skele-Gro Pomfrey has had to give you?" Ron joked, earning eye rolls and dry chuckles around the table.

Luna smiled from her spot next to Ginny, where she had been regarding Harry throughout the conversation. "Your aura is much clearer, Harry. You had a nasty infestation of Nargles before the end of the year, but whatever the healers did has cleared them right up."

"Thanks, Luna. You're looking much happier than when I saw you last, too," Harry smiled at the blonde. "Tell you what, everyone. What if you all were to accompany us to Hogwarts? The goblins are going to meet us at school so I can take them down to the Chamber of Secrets. They're going to harvest the basilisk and sell the components."

Ginny paled. "Are you sure, Harry?"

"I need to show them the Chamber, Ginny, so they can get the basilisk out, but it might help you if you see that it can't hurt you anymore," Harry said. He turned to the brunette Gryffindor. "Would you like to see the monster that put you in the infirmary for those weeks?"

Hermione wasn't sorted into her house for nothing. The opportunity to face down that beast and see the chamber of Salazar Slytherin was too tempting. "Of course I'll go with you!"

"Nev? Luna? Hannah?" Harry asked.

Luna and Neville nodded without hesitation. "Daddy is out of the country, so I'm totally free," the blonde answered.

Neville didn't hesitate for a moment. "I'll go with you, Harry. You slew that beast on your own. The least I could do is be with you when you deal with its carcass."

Hannah looked troubled. "I don't know…"

Susan jumped in before anyone could respond. "We messed up, Hannah. We believed the rumors that said Harry was setting this beast loose on the school. It turns out that he's the one who killed it, saving all of us. There's absolutely nothing to be afraid of. Harry destroyed the monster."

Harry's eyes rose at the way Susan defended him to her best friend, but he said nothing.

The blonde Hufflepuff looked at her roommate with a frown before shrugging her shoulders. "I guess if we're all going, I could tag along."

Amelia looked at the group of friends. "You won't be gone long. It shouldn't take us long to Floo into Filius Flitwick's office, escort the goblins down to the Chamber, and then head back out. You'll be home in a couple of hours."

The teens shared a look before they all nodded. "Let's go," Ron spoke for the group.

The group bounced out of the Floo in Filius's office one at a time. For once Harry made it through without humiliating himself on the exit. He just got back to his feet when the diminutive charms professor grabbed his hand and pumped it vigorously. "It's so good to see you up and about, Mister Potter! I was very worried about you when Kingsley told me what happened."

"Thank you, professor. It's been tough but the healers did some great work," Harry answered.

"Speaking of healers, Madam Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall are back from St. Mungo's. I think they would be most interested in speaking with you as well," Flitwick noted.

Unsure about inviting them along, Harry paused. Seeing his hesitation, the processor chuckled. "Don't worry. They're both apologetic toward yourself and apoplectic toward Dumbledore."

Harry smiled, easily picturing their ire, but wanted to know what turned it against Dumbledore. "Would it be possible to contact them and ask them to come to your office? I feel like they would want to be part of our errand."

Filius nodded. "I think they would be glad to see you. I have to confess that I wasn't sure what you meant, Amelia, when you said that you were leading a group of students and goblins into the school," he said to the wider group once they were assembled.

"You'll soon see what I mean, Filius," she said, "Let's head for the front gate. I can let them in from there and then Mister Potter here will take over the show."

Walking through the school when it was on holiday was a strange sensation. Portraits that usually moved and spoke with the students were sleeping and quiet. The staircases still moved, but without the rush to get to class, even they seemed dormant.

Filius stopped by McGonagall's office on their way. When the usually stern woman saw Harry in the group, her face softened. "Mister Potter," she greeted, going over to him and drawing him aside, "I would like to apologize to you for the role I played in you ending up at your relatives. I strongly objected to Albus's decision to place you there, but he overruled me. I would also like to apologize for the things that happened to you while at school here. I have recently spent some time with the healers at St. Mungo's and they were able to remove extensive obliviations and other mental manipulations. Suffice it to say that I am free of such things now, and I promise you I will make sure that the old goat never gets the chance to use me again."

"Thank you, professor. That means a lot to hear," Harry murmured, moved by the fierceness of her speech in apologizing.

"Before you leave today, it would be very nice of you to stop in and see Madam Pomfrey. Not only will she be glad to see you when you have no need of her in a professional capacity, I believe she will have something very similar to say," McGonagall requested.

Harry nodded. "I was going to after Professor Flitwick made the same request. While we're here, would you like to see the monster that was threatening the school in my second year?"

Her eyebrows shot up. "I'm sorry?"

"I'm leading a party of goblins down to the Chamber of Secrets, Professor, because they agreed to harvest and sell the carcass. Amelia graciously agreed to take a group of my friends along to see what was really petrifying the students."

Professor McGonagall didn't need very long to decide that she definitely wanted to see what was attacking her students. "I think, as the most senior person here at Hogwarts, it would be worse if I didn't go along," she answered with a weak twinkle in her eyes.

The goblins portkeyed in just as the group opened the gate. "Thank you for meeting us so quickly, Grinlast," Amelia greeted.

"To see a basilisk of this size, the honor is ours," replied Grinlast with a bow.

Harry grinned at the scene, surrounded by his friends. "All right, let's head up to the entrance of the Chamber, everyone."

He moved off into the school, flanked by Susan and Hermione with Neville, Ginny, and Luna following. Hannah followed the group but preceded Amelia and the goblins.

On the way, they passed the infirmary where they found Madam Pomfrey just getting ready to enter. "Mister Potter! It's the summer holidays! What are you doing here? Please tell me you don't need my services so soon after getting out of St. Mungo's?" she asked with a smile, taking the tease out of her tone.

"Nothing like that, Madam Pomfrey. We're all here to go down to the Chamber of Secrets to see the basilisk I killed a couple years ago."

Pomfrey looked troubled. "I need to offer you my apologies. Every time you came into my infirmary, Albus obliviated me of what my scans revealed. I should have put much more effort into treating you."

"No apologies are needed. Your actions weren't your own. The Headmaster's actions will see a reckoning tomorrow at his trial," Harry reassured her.

Pomfrey nodded. "I now have a personal house elf from the school whose sole instructions are to monitor me for any more manipulations from that old goat, as does Minerva," she nodded at McGonagall.

"Excellent. I'm very glad to hear that," Harry smiled before Pomfrey entered her infirmary.

The procession started once more, making its way to a certain room on the second floor.

"The entrance to the Chamber of Secrets is in the girl's bathroom?" Susan blurted.

"I guess?" laughed Harry. The rest of the party crowded in, waiting on him.

Myrtle was there as usual, and appeared surprised at the size of the party crowding into her bathroom. "Oh! Hello Harry! Any more trips to the prefect's bathroom lately?" she asked with a coquettish squeak. If ghosts could blush, she would have been.

Harry forced his own stammer back at the memory of her flirting. "Not since trying to figure out that egg clue, Myrtle," he answered, proud that he kept the strain out of his voice.

He could feel Hermione's and Susan's gazes on him without even looking. He took a deep breath before facing the sink with the snake carving. "Open," he hissed in Parseltongue. When the groaning and creaking of the porcelain separating finished, he had a flash of memory: Ginny had made her way down every time under the diary's control but didn't need Fawkes to get back out. "Stairs," he hissed at the opening. A set of stone spiral stairs emerged from the wall, leading downward.

"That might have been useful our first time, Harry," Ron teased with a dry laugh.

"Tell me about it," Harry agreed, remembering the shouts as they followed their fraud of a defense professor down, "Follow me, everyone. Ginny, are you doing okay?"

"Just fine, Harry," she answered, though her voice wobbled slightly.

"What happened the first time?" Amelia wanted to know as she made her way down behind Harry.

"It was a giant stone slide all the way down. Think I wore a hole in the back of my trousers," Harry explained. "We threw Lockhart down before us so he couldn't run off or curse us in the back."

"Lockhart? Gilderoy Lockhart? Does this have anything to do with why he's in St. Mungo's?" Amelia practically demanded.

"Let's wait on that until we all get to the bottom and then I'll give you that story, too."

Amelia huffed but followed on. Behind her the students filed down the stairs with the goblins bringing up the rear.

It took longer than sliding down, but eventually they were all gathered at the bottom of the stairs. Everyone with a wand was casting their strongest light charm to illuminate the dark interior. "Careful where you step," Harry cautioned, "It's mostly animal skeletons here for a bit."

Hanna made a noise of disgust, but didn't voice any actual protest. Susan said nothing, determined to share this experience. The party moved off deeper under the school. When the light from Harry's wand hit the shed skin, Susan made a noise that wasn't quite a scream, but it was close. She grabbed onto his left arm with a strength he hadn't expected from the girl.

"That's an old skin. The real basilisk is quite a bit larger," he explained.

Grinlast pushed to the front, examining the skin. "This shedding is at least thirty feet long. Because of their rarity and lethality, the longest basilisk actually recorded was only thirty-five feet. If the real thing is almost twice as long, your memory didn't do the size of the beast justice, Mister Potter."

"I had to save someone's life. I couldn't really stop to worry about things like that," Harry shrugged.

Oblivious to the incredulity of the people around him at his modesty, Harry led the way to the cave in. "This is where it happened. We forced Lockhart down here when he tried to run away instead of saving…the person who was about to die," he said, unwilling to say Ginny's name, "It turns out he never actually did anything his books claimed. The only spell he could perform was the obliviate. He would find people who actually performed heroic deeds, obliviate them of their memories, and steal the stories for his own. When we got down here, he got Ron's broken wand and tried to obliviate us, saying that our tragic deaths would make his next bestseller. Ron's wand backfired on him, wiping virtually every memory he had and causing this cave-in."

Unbeknownst to the rest of the party, Hermione and Susan were glad for the darkness as it hid their twin blushes. They'd sat next to each other in the front row of Lockhart's defense class and crushed hard on the coiffured and perfumed peacock. Harry's words had put that to rest once and for all.

The goblins set to work with a will, clearing the rocks but piling them in such a way as to support the roof of the cave. When the path was free, Harry led them to the heavy vault door. Another hissed 'open!'; and the animated snakes released their locks and the chamber opened. "Be careful, everyone. The basilisk has lain down here for two years. The air might be pretty rank."

However, his warning was in vain. The air inside the actual chamber smelled much the same as it had when he left it with Ginny, save for the metallic taint of blood in the air. As before, the torches lit to mark their progress. He didn't pay any attention to the gasps behind him as his friends saw Salazar Slytherin's private Chamber for the first time. Now that there was no life-or-death urgency, he could appreciate the snake statues more.

Then they came into the main chamber itself.

Silence reigned as the torchlight illuminated the basilisk carcass. "Sweet Merlin!" McGonagall breathed, disbelief dripping from her voice.

"This is what was moving around the school?" Flitwick managed to utter when he found his voice.

Without warning, a homing missile slammed into Harry. Hermione had him wrapped in a death grip, squeezing the breath out of him. He thought he heard sniffling, but chose to ignore it. Once he got his breath back he tried to comfort the girl. "It's okay," he murmured over and over, rubbing his friend's back. "The basilisk is dead. It can't hurt you anymore."

Hermione pulled back and slapped his arm. "You prat! This monster petrified me, almost killed me, and you beat it on your own with just a bloody sword and you're worried about me?!"

Ginny seemed incapable of speech, stock still in the corner.

"Bloody hell," Neville breathed, "You killed this thing with just a sword?"

"Didn't have much of a choice, mate," answered Harry. He turned to look at the adults present. Amelia stood in silence, eyes huge. Flitwick looked coiled like a tensed spring, ready to jump into action and attack the basilisk himself, and McGonagall was in shock.

Neville shook his head. "Only you, Harry."

McGonagall finally found her voice. "When you start school this September, Harry, Gryffindor will begin with an extra hundred points. It's a small compensation for your heroics, I know, but it will have to do for now until we can figure out something more appropriate."

Grinlast moved over to stand nearer the group. "Your memory truly did not convey the full size of this majestic monstrosity. To my knowledge a bigger one has never been found."

"Well, my best guess is that Salazar Slytherin put this here himself when the Chamber was built, probably into hibernation, about a thousand years ago," Harry said, "So it had all that time to grow and eat little rodents."

The goblin nodded. "That would explain it. The profit potential from this animal is as enormous as its size."

"Mister Potter," began Filius, "How is it that you were never awarded an Order of Merlin for this? You saved the entire school with this action."

"I guess Dumbledore never told anyone," Harry answered, "He gave Ron and me some house points. Careful!" he shouted at Hannah as she approached the animal, "Those fangs probably still have venom in them. I know from personal experience how quickly it will kill you."

"Personal experience?" McGonagall gaped. "Basilisk venom has no known antidote! Why are you still alive?"

"Fawkes," he answered, "The Headmaster's phoenix brought me the Sorting Hat, which had Gryffindor's sword inside, and then after I stabbed the basilisk through the mouth, one of its fangs broke off in my arm," here he rolled up his right sleeve, showing everyone the circular puncture scar, "I was dying, but I'd gotten the victim safe."

"Oh stop it, Harry. Stop saying the victim. It was me," Ginny protested.

He tried to wave her off but the brave young Gryffindor was having none of it. "If you can face that monster then I can face up to my role. Madam Bones," she said, turning to Amelia, "If you've seen Harry's memory of what happened then you probably saw that I had a cursed diary that was possessing me. I was losing chunks of my memory during that year, and I only learned later on that I was being taken over. Tom Riddle was directing me to come down here and release the basilisk onto the school." When she was done, her head hung low, as if she expected to hear shouted abuse before being arrested.

None of it happened. Amelia crossed the Chamber and put a gentle hand on the girl's shoulder. "I do indeed know about the diary, and what it was doing to you. I consulted with the Unspeakables about that diary, and we think we know what it is. Don't worry, Ginny. You won't have any problems from the Ministry over what happened. You weren't in control of yourself."

Tearful blue eyes looked up at the older woman. The hope in Ginny's gaze was enough to melt the sternest of hearts. "Really?"

"Really," smiled Amelia. "We know who Tom Riddle really is. You're not in trouble at all."

Ginny threw her arms around a second person, gratefully receiving Amelia's embrace.

A bright flash of light confused Harry until he looked over at Luna taking pictures with a wizarding camera. "Where did you get that camera?"

"Space-expanded bag," she grinned as she cocked her hip out, showing her bag off, "I carry it with me most places over the summer weeks in case I come across a good picture for the magazine. Can you stand next to the basilisk's head, Harry? I want to get a shot of you for the cover of our next article."

"Sure," he answered, and moved over to stand in between Luna and the basilisk. She grinned and stood back, trying to get as much of the head behind him in the frame as she could.

Luna used the excuse of going back to Harry and posing him next to the creature to have a quiet word with him. "I never got the chance before to say this, but thank you for saving my friend, Harry. I knew something was wrong that year, but I couldn't do anything to bring her out of it. She never told me how bad things got, but thank you for saving her," the blonde whispered, taking his hand and squeezing it.

Harry shrugged again. "It feels weird to say you're welcome, but I don't know what else to say. She needed help. I'm glad I was able to be there."

The blonde gave him a grateful smile but didn't say anything more. After she had enough good photos, the goblins ran a magical rope from the beast's snout to its tail. The rope held to the basilisk's spine before dancing back over to Grinlast. "Mister Potter," he called to where Harry was still quietly reassuring Hermione, "You might be interested to know that the basilisk measured in at twenty-one and just under seven-tenths meters, roughly seventy-one and two-tenths feet. I'll have to check the records at Gringotts but as far as I can remember that's more than double the next-largest basilisk that has ever been recorded."

Harry stared, stunned. "Well, then. I'm glad I was able to take care of it."

Ron snorted. "Just a quiet day at the office, right Harry?"

The goblins were holding a quiet consultation near the basilisk. After seemingly coming to an agreement, Grinlast approached Harry. "The size of the beast and the time constraints we have mean that rendering the carcass here is impractical. We want to use a portkey to send it to a special chamber inside Gringotts where experts can take their time, instead of rushing through and hacking it up."

"That makes sense to me. As long as our agreement is still valid," Harry nodded.

"Wait! Wait, wait, wait. Hogwarts: A History says that the school has anti-portkey wards! How can you portkey this out without carrying it outside the wards?" Hermione demanded.

"Well, that's not strictly true, Miss Granger," McGonagall chimed in, "Portkeys in are blocked, but portkeys out aren't. It just says so in the books and rules to keep families from pulling their children out without notice. The policy started as a way to avoid disruption and help professors maintain control over their students."

"Oh come on!" the brunette shouted, still embarrassed over her crush on Lockhart, "Is nothing written in the magical world truthful?"

"It also helps with people who have been injured too severely to walk," the charms professor continued, "Having to drag or levitate someone from anywhere in the castle to outside the wards before they could be portkeyed to safety would lose valuable time in healing them."

"I guess that makes sense," Hermione grudgingly admitted.

"Speaking of levitation, that wouldn't work in this case anyway. Basilisk skin is almost completely resistant to magic, so we wouldn't be able to lift a beast this size," Amelia chimed in, "A portkey is really the only option."

Grinlast agreed. "We have one all ready to go to take this back to Gringotts. We'll be in touch with you about the final figure and how the profits will be disbursed according to your stipulations, Mister Potter, but since the beast was much larger than our original estimates, I would now conservatively put its value at upwards twenty-five million galleons."

A round of gasps sounded in the chamber, but Grinlast wasn't done. "That would put your share at ten million, and the other six shares between one and a half million and two million. The final figure will need to be firmed up by our experts, but that would be my best guess."

Harry nodded. The number was staggering, but with the financial shocks his morning had seen already, he was able to withstand it. When the goblins tied a loop of rope around the creature's tail and all took hold, and the entire party disappeared with the basilisk.

Into a suddenly quiet chamber, Ginny walked over next to Harry. "Um, mate? What did he mean by that last bit? What he said about shares?"

Noticing that Harry was looking at his shoes and trying to force down another blush saw Amelia interject. "Since Harry is having the goblins harvest and sell the basilisk's potion parts, he wanted them to split the proceeds with the victims. He gets half as the actual slayer of the beast, and then he asked the goblins to give six equal shares to its victims: yourself, Ginny, and Hermione here, along with the other three who aren't here."

"He said between one and two million each!" Ron blurted, eyes the size of dinner plates.

His friend's shock brought Harry out of his embarrassment. "That's right, Ron. You were brave enough to go down the chute with me, and I know you would have been right next to me, helping rescue your sister if that fraud hadn't trapped you with the cave-in."

"Harry," Hermione began with a smile so sickly sweet and innocent he knew it disguised her plotting something unpleasant, "Did Grinlast happen to tell you the exchange rate between galleons and pounds?"

Scratching the back of his head to buy some time, Harry looked up with a sheepish smile at his best friend, "Um, yeah, Hermione. He said it was five pounds to each galleon."

Espresso-brown eyes bulged as her eyebrows rose to her hairline. "Then you're telling us that you're giving us each five to ten million pounds?!"

"You lost weeks of your life, Hermione! The rest of the victims lost way more than that. Since neither the school nor the Ministry did anything for you, I thought it was the least that could be done. I just wanted to help."

The sincerity in his pleading broke Hermione's ire and she wrapped her friend in a hug. "Oh, Harry. I didn't mean to sound angry. It's amazingly generous of you! I just didn't want to take away anything from you, that's all."

Ron and Ginny seemed to have temporarily lost the power of speech. The amount of money Harry was so casually discussing would see them set up for life. When Hermione released him from her embrace, Ginny took her place.

"Thank you, Harry. That means the world to me," she whispered, "You're an amazing guy."

Something about Ginny's hug felt off, like she was stiff and uncomfortable, but making the effort for him. Still there was enough room between them in the hug for almost an entire other person. Harry made a mental note to ask her about it later on, when they didn't have an audience.

"As much fun as standing around in this incredibly dark, dank chamber is, why don't we all head up and out of here?" Amelia interjected, "It's about time I get you all back to Diagon Alley so you can get back to your families."

"The trials for Sirius Black and Dumbledore are set for tomorrow, and afterwards there's a gathering at Amelia's and Susan's house…"

"Your house," Susan interrupted.


"Your house. You live there, too. Auntie is your guardian, too. It's now your house," she reiterated in a gentle voice.

"Ah, well, I guess that's true. Okay, so there's a gathering at S – our house after the trials. A lot of stuff has happened recently and I decided I want it all to come out. I want you all to know the stuff that I've had to deal with at Hogwarts and why I think it's been happening the way it has. There will be a pensieve there to show some of my memories, as words just don't do them justice. I was thinking we might turn it into a summer party. I can cook on the grill outside, and there's a really awesome pool for swimming. What do you all think?"

Everyone responded in the affirmative. Seeing the carcass of the basilisk that Harry had killed with the Sword of Gryffindor meant that everyone wanted to see more, even Hannah agreed, though she was the last to do so, to be there.

Chapter Text

12 July 1995

"I'm sorry, Minister Fudge. The scan revealed that Sirius Black is under the influence of no potions, counteragents, or magic of any kind other than the Veriteraserum," noted Elphias Hallworth, the DMLE specialist healer.

"But how is it possible for someone to develop a resistance to the truth serum?" Fudge practically whined, knowing the position he was in with Lucius.

"Hem hem."

"It's impossible, Minister. Based on all available research, there is no way to overcome three drops of the truth serum without any extraneous potion assistance. Given that my own scan shows him to be clear of such, Sirius Black is telling the truth."

"Hem hem!"

"But everybody knows Black is guilty! Peter Pettigrew is dead, and Black sold the Potters out to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named!" Fudge's complexion was rapidly moving toward the same color as his bowler hat.


"Not according to his own testimony," Hallworth said from the witness stand.


Fudge had had enough and turned to his Senior Undersecretary. "What is it, Dolores?"

From the visitor's gallery, Harry watched as a squat woman with a distinctly amphibian appearance got to her feet. "It's clear to me that we have been given a bad batch of the truth serum. We should suspend the trial until we have a certified vial. In the meantime, we have an escaped criminal who should be sent back to Azkaban to wait for us to get good Veritaserum."

Harry wasn't about to let the Ministry railroad Sirius back to that hellhole. He shot to his feet. "Minister Fudge!"

As one, the entire Wizengamot turned to stare at him. "Mister Potter? Who are you to interrupt this trial?"

"I'm someone with memories that I can submit as evidence which prove his innocence!"

"Nonsense, boy! You've tried to peddle your lies before!" shouted the toad-woman. "You will not be allowed to pervert the course of Ministerial justice."

"Pardon me, Minister Fudge," Samuels interjected, "But we entered Mister Potter's memories as evidence."

Fudge pursed his lips. He couldn't let Potter's memories be shown, but if he blatantly disregarded legal procedure in front of the entire Wizengamot he would be out as Minister before he could even plead guilty. "The memory must be shown if it was entered as evidence. Bring out the Wizengamot's official pensieve!"

Voices howled in protest, chiefly the pink toad-woman and the prosecutor, who no doubt had pocketed a sizeable chunk of Malfoy gold, but Fudge stood resolute. Harry moved down to the Wizengamot floor. Two aurors entered at the same time, one carrying a wooden plinth and the other carrying a heavy stone bowl. When the pensieve was ready, Kingsley Shacklebolt himself came down onto the floor to take Harry's memory. Having been forewarned of the process, Harry nodded to the auror and closed his eyes, calling up the memory.

When the silvery thread entered the bowl, Shacklebolt tapped a rune on the side and the image of Ron being dragged below the Whomping Willow appeared above the surface. Another rune tap expanded to almost life-size so the entire Wizengamot could see it. One final tap started the memory. Harry spent the time listening to the events from his third year as he watched Sirius in the accused's chair. The chains were draped lazily over his shoulders, almost falling off of one. He had the irrelevant thought that the chains might have been charmed to detect a person's guilt somehow.

His godfather gave him a wink and a smile, confidence radiating off of him despite his position. When the dog morphed into Sirius, when Snape showed up, and when Pettigrew appeared the entire chamber broke into gasps and shrieks. Hitting Snape with the Expelliarmus brought some chuckles from some who clearly knew the dour potions master.

When it was over, the woman in pink stood once more. "How is it possible that a student at Hogwarts can falsify a memory?"

Hermione and Ron jumped to their feet, immediately shouting that they could and would provide their own memories of the exact same events. When the woman tried to rubbish their claims, Fudge heard the loud protests from the visitor's gallery and decided to stall for time. "Is there any other evidence the defense has to support these claims?"

"As a matter of fact, there is, Minister," Samuels declared, standing up and picking up a folder. "This is the last will and testament of James and Lily Potter."

"What bearing on the case of Sirius Black could the Potters' will possibly have?" Emeric Seaton, the prosecutor for Sirius's, asked with a frown. Amelia had to hide a smirk at the DMLE's choice. Seaton was so incompetent that there was more a chance of him tripping over the table and falling on his face than there was of him actually winning the case, especially when it was stacked against him. His grating personality hadn't done him any favors among the DMLE, either.

Samuels bit back a smirk. "As I am about to show the court, everything," he declared, opening the folder and pulling out the parchment, "Now, this will has never been publicly read. This copy comes from the Potter vault at Gringotts, because the Ministry's copy was ordered sealed. Nor was it executed until a particular provision was executed a few days ago," he began but had to stop when the furor of the visitor's gallery grew too loud.

Banging his gavel, Minister Fudge called for silence. "Could you please explain why the Last Will and Testament of one of the last members of one of our oldest and most prominent families has never been publicly read? And I'm still waiting on an explanation for its relevance to this case."

"Certainly. Upon investigating a related case to this one, Madam Amelia Bones discovered that the Potters' will had been ordered sealed by the Chief Warlock. So, she went to the goblins at Gringotts and learned that the Potters didn't put all their faith in the Ministry at the time, and left a copy in their vault as well. We suspect that we know why the will was sealed, and our reasoning will be revealed in the second trial today. "

Fudge's gavel had to quell more murmuring. "I'm still waiting on the relevance, Mister Samuels, and losing my patience."

"My apologies, Minister. Upon reading the goblins' copy of the Potters' will, Madam Bones made a startling discovery: in the event of the untimely demise of both Potters, they had left an ordered list of guardians for him. First on that list was his sworn godfather…Sirius Black!"

Pandemonium. Shouting, banging, and stomping almost shook the very rafters of the Wizengamot and needed a cannon blast from Fudge's wand before the noise finally subsided. The cheering from the visitor's gallery wasn't lost on him. A politician is more skilled at taking the temperature of a room than a healer at taking the temperature of a patient. Seeing the mood of the average person in the gallery after the revelations of the memories and the will told him how the rest of the country would react. It also confirmed that his agreement with the Bones witch was a smart move, as well. Freeing Sirius and admitting his mistakes from the previous year was a small price to pay for her help in making sure that the next trial removed a major thorn in his side.

There was also the fact that so many people had seen the evidence with their own eyes that every obliviator the Ministry employed wouldn't be able to keep the news from getting out, and if THAT action was ever made public, he'd be getting up close and personal with a dementor.

Fudge slowly rose to his feet into the quieting chamber. "Members of the Wizengamot and the wizarding public: the amount of evidence from testimony under truth serum, memories willingly given, and documents from a well-respected couple is truly compelling. The fact that the accused has spent almost fifteen years in Azkaban without a trial confirming his need to be there is a travesty of justice that will not be allowed to happen while I am Minister. I now call for the vote: all those who believe Sirius Black to be guilty of the crimes from 1981 please raise your wands now."

Harry held his breath, but it was clear that far less than a majority were shooting sparks from their wands. He counted less than ten wands, all from darker members.

"And though it seems to be a foregone conclusion, all those who believe Sirius Black to be innocent please indicate so with your wands."

A sea of red sparks illuminated the chamber. "The vote is clear. Under my authority as Minister of Magic, I declare you a free wizard. The Kiss-On-Sight order is hereby rescinded, and my office will be in touch with you regarding appropriate compensation for your unlawful imprisonment," he promised. In front of the entire Wizengamot and the visitors, Fudge stepped down from his chair and walked over to the defendant's chair. "Release the prisoner!" he ordered.

When an auror came forward to undo the chains with his wand, Sirius stood, stretching his back out as his robes swished back into place. Fudge stuck out his hand. "Even though it was not my administration that was responsible for the miscarriage of justice that saw you wrongfully imprisoned, you have my apologies."

Sirius regarded the man for a moment, remembering the struggle Harry had to get Fudge to believe him after the dementor incident. Still, the Minister was doing the right thing now, especially in front of his financial supporters. He took the offered hand and shook it. "No hard feelings, Minister Fudge. I'm glad I can now be free to get to know my godson and reacclimate myself to wizarding society."

Further proceedings were interrupted as Harry burst over the railing of the Visitor's Gallery and wrapped his godfather in an embrace. "Congratulations, Sirius!"

Applause sounded down from all around them at the tender moment.

"Why do I detect more than a little bit of your hand in this, pup?" the older wizard said in a voice that only Harry could hear.

"Because you're smart?" Harry grinned, "Don't worry, I'll explain later."

The Minister looked at Harry. "You have my apologies for my short-sighted mistakes last year, Mister Potter. I should have listened to you more, but my judgement was clouded. Since we now know who you were supposed to be placed with that horrible night, can you tell me who your current guardians are?"

The teenager looked at him. "I think it will all come out in the next trial, Minister Fudge. About the other matter, don't worry about it. It probably would have been hard to believe if I had been in your shoes. The important thing is that justice was eventually done and now my godfather is a free man," Harry cast a quick look around to see virtually the entire chamber, Wizengamot members, visitors, and press alike, straining to hear what they were discussing. Deciding to throw the man a bone for actually helping, Harry cast his voice as loud as he could without yelling, "Thank you for rectifying this oversight. It means more than I can say to have my godfather back, Minister Fudge."

The Minister beamed at the thanks, but it didn't escape his notice that the Dicta-Quills in the press gallery were scribbling madly away. The public gratitude of the Boy-Who-Lived was an endorsement that no amount of gold could possibly have bought. Knowing to quit while he was ahead, he nodded. "Well, we have that next trial to get to. You're free to go, Sirius, but you're welcome to watch up in the Visitor's Gallery. We'll be reinstating you as a Wizengamot member at our next session," Seeing Sirius's understanding, the Minister turned to make sure the rest of the Wizengamot could hear his next words, "I call a recess of ten minutes to ready for the next trial."

Sirius kept his arm around Harry's shoulders as he allowed his godson to lead him up to the seats. When he got there, he was mildly surprised to see Amelia Bones along with Hermione, the youngest Weasley boy, and a young redhead that could only be Amelia's niece there. Hermione shot up and wrapped him in a hug. "I'm so happy you're free, Sirius!"

"I'm happy to be free, Hermione. I owe most of that freedom to you and Harry," he answered before he looked up to see Amelia holding a rectangular box out to him. "Is that…?"

"Yes, it is, Sirius," she smiled, "I got your wand out of the evidence storage for you. You're free now so you deserve it back."

He took the box with trembling hands. Harry watched as his godfather pulled out the wand he hadn't seen for almost fifteen years. Sirius's eyes closed as he smiled, feeling the familiarity of the magic focusing once more. "Thank you, Amelia. Thank you everyone."

"Not a worry, Sirius. Now I have my godfather back," Harry grinned at him.

Amelia turned to the group, taking out a handful of leather cords with a single metal pendant on each. "Put these necklaces on. They're enchanted pendants which will react with your magic to change your appearance. More than just hair and eye color, they will alter your facial and body structure in subtle ways, but the cumulative effect will be that you won't be recognized for who you really are."

"Why are you giving us these, Auntie?" Susan asked as she put hers on and felt the glamor shimmer through her very being.

"I don't want Dumbledore looking up to recognize you. He's been kept in the dark about what we've been doing for Harry, and I want him to stay that way," the older woman answered, "I need to go and take my usual place in the tiers so he won't suspect anything. You three sit here with Sirius, okay?"

The teens nodded, sitting back to watch the proceedings. Hermione shifted the bag she'd brought with her for the swimming party at Susan's house to directly underneath her chair.

The Wizengamot was readying itself for the next trial while they'd been chatting. When everything appeared in order, Fudge rapped his gavel three times to get everyone's attention. Harry and his group sat down to watch the show. "The Wizengamot will come to order. The next item on today's agenda is another trial. The Wizengamot will now gather to hear the accusations against Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. Aurors, bring in the accused!"

Harry had only thought the Wizengamot descended into pandemonium before; this was pure bedlam. The commotion of dozens of witches and wizards stomping their feet, clamoring to be heard above the din of shouts and roars almost shook the rafters. Amid the chaos, four aurors marching in a box formation while holding Dumbledore at wand point in the middle moved to the center of the room.

The drabness of the prison robes contrasted with his usual flashy attire, making him look even older than he normally did. On top of that, he was fitted with magic-restraining cuffs and leg chains, leaving him able to move at a short shuffle.

The aurors led him to the accused's chair and forced him to sit down. Unlike the lazy way the chains draped themselves over Sirius, this time they wrapped Dumbledore up tightly, pulling taut to a grimace from the old man.

Kingsley had to fire off a triple cannon blast charm to calm the room. When the gallery and Wizengamot members settled back into their seats and the noise shrank to a dull murmur, he strode to the middle of the floor while Fudge stood.

"Members of the Wizengamot! The wizard you see before you stands charged of a list of crimes that beggars belief. Albus Dumbledore: you are accused of seven hundred seventeen counts of child endangerment, seven hundred seventeen counts of child endangerment by proxy, seven hundred seventeen counts of child neglect, will tampering…"

As Fudge ran through the list of charges, Harry's attention drifted to the tiers of Wizengamot members. The shocked gasps had given way to slack-jawed staring. No one could have imagined that the heretofore 'Leader of the Light' could be accused of so many crimes, far less actually commit them.

When the list was over, the Wizengamot took a collective breath at the scope of the trial facing them.

Shacklebolt wasted no time. From the table in front of him, he picked up the issue of The Quibbler that featured Luna's article. "I would like to start with this magazine. Minister Fudge, Acting Chief Witch Longbottom, members of the Wizengamot, this is the very first we learned that all may not be well with the state of one of our society's heroes. This magazine first told us that, rather than the life of luxury that many books we now known to be pure fiction claim, that Harry Potter grew up without the basic necessities of life! According to this article, Harry Potter grew up abused, neglected, and starved. Malnourished and treated worse than a house elf, our hero, the one responsible for banishing He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, did not even know his first name until the age of five, let alone the existence of the magical world his sacrifice saved. The DMLE has investigated the allegations in this article and could not find a single item in the article that was less than factual."

"Did he have to start with this?" Harry grumped in the gallery. On his left Sirius responded with a very mature snicker while Susan on his right gave him a sympathetic look and a comforting hand rubbing his back.

"Is there a reason Albus Dumbledore's trial is beginning with how Harry Potter grew up, Auror Shacklebolt?" asked Fudge, grandstanding a bit to give Kingsley his opening.

"I'm glad you asked, Minister," the auror responded, forcing back a grin when his needling use of one of Dumbledore's titles related to a different person drew a flinch, "I'm addressing the charge of Will Tampering first, and this was my effort into establishing how the accused is guilty of that crime."

"Understood. Proceed, then."

"Yes, Minister. Now, Mister Dumbledore, will you please tell the Wizengamot how Mister Harry Potter ended up living a life of abuse and neglect? Walk us through the events that led to Harry growing up with his muggle relatives."

"I hardly think this is the place or time to be going through the events of so many years ago, Kingsley. If everyone would just come to their senses and realize this trial is nothing but a farce, I could get back to Hogwarts and prepare."

Kingsley wasn't biting. "On the contrary, Mister Dumbledore, this is the perfect time and place, given the charges against you. I will ask you again: how did Harry Potter come to be living at his muggle relatives?"

"It was simply the best, safest place for the boy to grow up, ignorant of his fame in our world and away from those who might mean him harm for banishing the Dark Lord."

Harry grimaced at the way Dumbledore reminded everyone that his mother's sacrifice blew Tom Riddle apart. Calling him a Dark Lord further reinforced the image of a terrible foe dealt with by a toddler.

Kingsley wasn't deterred"I think the statements from this article would indicate otherwise. According to The Quibbler, the boy was seriously abused from an early age."

Dumbledore chuckled, a benevolent mien coming over his face. "That particular magazine is known for its fanciful claims of unknown animals. I don't think it should be taken as the truth," he responded, eyes twinkling.

Harry growled at the slight on Luna's father's publication.

Kingsley stared at him for a moment before turning back to the table and picking up a sheaf of parchment. "Minister, Acting Chief Witch, I hold here a medical report from St. Mungo's. Harry Potter was admitted as a patient just under a week ago. This list of injuries includes not only fresh trauma inflicted on him at that time, but a comprehensive index of older injuries from throughout his childhood. These older injuries were largely left untreated."

"So he WAS at St. Mungo's!" Dumbledore exclaimed, eyes calculating, "Have you seen him? How is he? Where is he?"

Ignoring the old man and handing the parchment to Augusta Longbottom, Kingsley waited for the explosion. He was not disappointed. After casting a verification charm over the sheets to show the Wizengamot that they were genuine, Augusta looked them over. "Sweet Merlin! This is three pages long!"

Kingsley nodded. "Sadly, I am reliably informed that when Mister Potter stumbled into St. Mungo's he was moments from death."

Neville's grandmother paled as an ignored Dumbledore gasped. "I think then that with this list of injuries, we can assume that the article in The Quibbler is truthful."

"Now that your claims that the house was a safe place for him to grow up were proven false, Mister Dumbledore, I will ask you again: how did Harry Potter end up there?"

The old man wanted to argue, but Kingsley's expression told him he wouldn't let him off the hook. At last he gave up with a sigh. "I placed him there. So when you saw Harry, was he alive? Was he speaking?"

Kingsley forced back a shudder at the hungry look on Dumbledore's face. He wasn't the only one. "Why?"

Dumbledore looked confused. "I'm sorry?"

"Why did you place him there?"

"I thought it was the best place for him to grow up, as I just said. You may want to see a healer about your hearing, Kingsley."

The auror shook his head. "My name is Auror Shacklebolt. Anyway, I heard what you said. I meant why did you place him there? I know you're the Headmaster of Hogwarts, the Chief Warlock, and the Supreme Mugwump, but nowhere in those titles is anything related to the Wizarding Child Services office. On what authority did you place the baby Harry anywhere?"

"I can assure you that I am more than qualified…" was as far as Dumbledore got before Kingsley interrupted.

"I don't really care about your other qualifications. Without being a part of the Wizarding Child Services department, you had no authority to place a child in any residence. Did you fill out any of the relevant parchmentwork? Did you consult with the Ministry at all? Did you check back up on him from time to time? Most importantly of all: was that instructed by his parents' will?"

"James and Lily were friends of mine," Dumbledore began, "And in the absence of a will, placing the child with his blood relatives was the best decision for everyone."

Kingsley pounced. "Leaving aside for a moment the absolute lack of any authority you had to place any child with anyone, I want to focus on what you just said: the absence of a will. You're saying that the Potters left no will behind? The sole heir to one of wizarding Britain's oldest and wealthiest families left no will after the birth of his child? This is what you're telling the Wizengamot?"

"I had no knowledge of their final wishes," Dumbledore growled, "So I placed the baby where I thought he would be safest."

Kingsley's white teeth shone in stark contrast to the darkness of his complexion. He went back to his table and picked up yet another folder; the same one which got Sirius exonerated. "Minister Fudge, I would like to add 'lying to the Wizengamot' to the list of charges Mister Dumbledore is facing. I hold here the last will and testament of James and Lily Potter."

"No!" Dumbledore shouted, actually bouncing in his seat against the chains, which responded by restraining him tighter. "You cannot open that! It's sealed!"

"So you're admitting knowledge of the will now?" Kingsley shot back, "The same will you just claimed to have no knowledge of?" he gestured to the folder, "My apologies, Minister Fudge. While he is technically correct; the Ministry's copy of the will was sealed, this is a copy that was stored at Gringotts. In Harry Potter's trust vault, actually. The goblins, when I went to investigate, told me how fortunate it was that James and Lily placed the will in Harry's trust vault, as someone had been working with a corrupt goblin to remove a significant amount of galleons from the Potters' main vault. Luckily for Harry, they found out and…dealt with…that goblin."

Dumbledore shrank back as if struck, face paled.

"Since it happened directly in front of me, I find the defendant guilty of lying the Wizengamot," Fudge said, barely containing his glee, "but we'll deal with that with the rest of his charges when all this is done."

Augusta wasted no time picking up the folder. Ignoring Dumbledore's protests, she began looking over the simple document, which didn't take long. "In the event of tragedy befalling both of his parents, Harry was to be sent to live with his sworn godfather, Sirius Black. After him, in priority order, his sworn godmother, Alice Longbottom and then Amelia Bones…" her voice trailed off as she came to the bottom of the document. "Merlin's hairy arse!" the game old witch cursed in front of the entire Wizengamot.

When the tittering ceased, Fudge looked over to her. "Madam Longbottom, would you be so kind as to explain your outburst?"

Before she could answer, Dumbledore started yelling protests at a loud enough volume that Fudge looked over at Kingsley. "Silence the prisoner, please."

"With pleasure," the auror answered, casting a silencing dome over the accused's chair. Dumbledore continued to rant as if he was trying to overpower the dome, but none heard him.

"Now, Madam Longbottom?"

"Certainly, Minister. My apologies to all present at my language, but I felt that when I read that Albus Dumbledore signed the will as a witness, it was warranted."

Grumbling and growling sounded around the chamber once more.

Kingsley was not slow to press his advantage. He lowered the silencing dome. "Now, Mister Dumbledore, since we've established twice over now that you have no compunctions against lying to the court, I will give you one more chance to answer truthfully before two large aurors come out here and forcefully administer Veritaserum to you. One way or another we will have the truth. How did you come to place Harry Potter with his relatives?"

The old man grumbled and growled, glaring at the entire chamber but reserving a particularly hateful stare at Kingsley. When the auror signaled for two more to come out and join him, Dumbledore flinched. "No! Fine! Hagrid brought him from the scene of Voldemort's attack in Godric's Hollow to me at Hogwarts and then I took him there with Minerva McGonagall."


"Why what?"

"Why to all of it. Why did Hagrid go to Godric's Hollow?"

"I sent him there."


"Someone needed to go and he was with me."

"How did you know someone had to go?"

Dumbledore squirmed. "I had a monitoring charm on the Potters' cottage."


Fidgeting some more, Dumbledore finally answered when the two other aurors joined Kingsley. "They were in hiding from Voldemort. I wanted to know if anything happened to them."

"Why were they in hiding?"

"I hardly think that's relevant at this time. My alert triggered the attack and I sent Hagrid," Dumbledore sidestepped.

Kingsley looked up to where Amelia sat. She gave him a tiny shake of her head before he turned back to Dumbledore. "So, leaving aside the issue of why they were in hiding in the first place, why did you send Hagrid? Why not go yourself?"

"Rubeus Hagrid has my complete confidence and trust."

"Good for you. Why did you send someone forbidden from performing magic and who has no wand to the scene of a magical event that you attributed to an attack by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?"

"Because I trusted Hagrid."

"Which is not an answer. So, Hagrid went to the cottage, found baby Harry, and took him back to Hogwarts, where you decided to ignore the will you had witnessed and take him to his muggle relatives?"

"Essentially. Think back to the times we were in. Voldemort and his Death Eaters were running rampant, the Ministry had been infiltrated, and with the murders of the Potters, we didn't know who we could trust. I decided that placing Harry with his muggle relatives, away from the wizarding world, would be the best way to keep him safe in those dangerous days."

Harry grumbled to himself as he could see the Wizengamot members nodding to themselves. The old goat was dishing it out with a shovel and being believed.

Still Kingsley soldiered on. "I bet they were surprised to see you there. With how The Quibbler wrote that they hate magic, and the entire magical world, I would have to believe you got a frosty reception. How did you convince them to take Harry in?"

"It wasn't difficult. They listened to reason and took him in."

Kingsley gave a predatory smile that actually had the old man looking at him with wide eyes. "Can anyone corroborate that story?"

"Minerva was with me at the time," Dumbledore answered.

"So she would agree with your statement?"

"Of course."

"Interesting I have here a written statement from professor Minerva McGonagall about the events of that night that you might be interested to hear. 'I argued with Albus that entire time that placing the baby there was the wrong decision. I told him they were the worst sort of muggles, but he refused to listen to my concerns and left the baby wrapped in a blanket on their doorstep with a note.'"

The sound of gasps all around the chamber masked Hermione reaching across Susan to squeeze Harry's forearm.

"So rather than placing the baby Harry Potter personally, something that wasn't even in your authority to begin with, you simply dumped him on a doorstep on a cold November night with nothing but a blanket to protect him from the elements? At the supposedly safest house for him in all of Britain? I think every parent here is profoundly grateful that you never had the occasion to take care of their children."

When the murmured laughing subsided, Kingsley looked over at Dumbledore. "Well, I guess that accounts for the will tampering charge. Now, lets move onto child endangerment. What can you tell me about a series of traps on the third floor of Hogwarts guarding 'a most painful death'?"

Dumbledore visibly stifled a groan.

It went on and on. Kingsley was remorseless in his questioning pursuit. They covered the Cerberus, the Devil's Snare, the room with the flying keys, the potion trap, the troll, and the Philosopher's Stone.

The night before the trial Amelia and Harry had had an intense debate at her house about using Harry's memories in Dumbledore's trial, but decided against it in the end. Harry didn't want any extra attention over his exploits than he'd had already, and didn't want to give Dumbledore any reason to suspect that Harry had any input into the trial Harry knew he would be giving Luna a series of interviews for her magazine. Amelia wasn't entirely positive they would be needed, anyway, and she eventually said that Kingsley could handle the trial with the investigations.

Then Kingsley started with Harry's second year.

"I want to specifically discuss the allegations that a basilisk was roaming the halls. One of the deadliest creatures in the world was at your school and the Ministry, to say nothing of the DMLE, had to hear about it from The Quibbler?"

"The situation was entirely under control. The students were merely petrified, not seriously harmed. There was no need to bring in aurors," Dumbledore demurred.

"Petrified students?!" shouted Fudge, "Have you lost your mind? What about students being petrified is 'not seriously harmed'?"

"Once Pomona's crop of mandrakes reached maturity, Severus was able to brew the restorative draught."

"Once they reached maturity? How long exactly where these students petrified?"

"Not that long. I hardly see why this is relevant."

Kingsley was getting frustrated. "How long is 'not that long'?"

"The last students to be petrified were in the infirmary for no more than a couple weeks."

"What about the first one to get petrified?"

Dumbledore sat quietly, looking down at the chains.

"How long, Albus? Do I need to get the Veritaserum?"

"Before the Yule holidays," Dumbledore eventually admitted in a voice that the gallery had to strain to hear.

"And the mandrakes were mature enough for the restorative draught when?"

"In June."

"So the first student petrified missed well over half the school year?"

"Yes, but no lasting harm came to the child," Dumbledore admitted.

"You don't see why one of the most dangerous creatures in the world being in a school is relevant to child endangerment?"

"It was dealt with and all the students were restored."

"So you left students petrified for extended periods of time without making any effort to find extra sources of mandrake draught?"

"It wasn't necessary. Our mandrakes were sufficient," the old man demurred.

"I think the parents of the petrified students would disagree most vehemently," Kingsley snarled, but let the matter drop, content that he had successfully shredded Dumbledore's judgement in front of the entire Wizengamot.

"How long have you known Alastor Moody?" Kingsley asked.

"Many, many years."

"So you would be someone who could be expected to recognize mannerisms, habits, and idiosyncrasies?"

"I wouldn't put it exactly that way. We knew each other but other than spending time together during the last Voldemort war, we didn't exactly live together."

"Yet, when you went to hire him for the Defense Against the Dark Arts professorial post for the past school year, you couldn't tell that he was a polyjuiced former Death Eater pretending to be your longtime associate?"

"I had a few other things on my plate at the moment, with the Tri-Wizard Tournament to manage."

"A tournament in which one champion was entered against his will and got no support from Hogwarts faculty, one participant was murdered, another was put under the Imperius curse, and hostages in the Second Task had to be rescued by another participant?"

"You keep mentioning Harry Potter. I insist I be told about his condition and location. I am his magical guardian!"

"As we've seen already, your word on matters concerning Mister Potter is less than trustworthy. I'd be willing to bet that with the will now unsealed, the Ministry will have his guardianship situation sorted out properly, and it certainly won't include abusive muggles. The DMLE's contacts with the muggle police informed me that the relatives were arrested for child abuse as it is. Apparently, they're trying to see if they can work in murder charges, since Harry's missing from their system."

"That must be stopped immediately! They must be taken from the muggle jail and put back into their house as soon as possible so Harry can be returned to their care!" Dumbledore was practically bouncing in his seat again.

Hermione's growl was back, joined this time by Susan's. The entire Wizengamot was looking at Dumbledore like they'd never seen him before.

Fudge watched the entire proceedings with increasing excitement. Dumbledore had been an inconvenience for a long time, but now it looked like he was going to be sent to Azkaban. It didn't escape his notice that the sudden effort to rid him of Dumbledore started bearing fruit when he and Harry Potter started having the same goals.

"Why?" Kingsley pressed.

"Why what?"

The auror stared hard at Dumbledore. "Why is it so important that Harry Potter live with his abusive muggle relatives? They almost killed him last week. Do you want them to finish the job?"

"There are special protections around that house that will keep him safe!" Dumbledore insisted, seeing the mood of the Wizengamot shift in the posture and expressions of the members in the tiers.

Kingsley gestured to the report from St. Mungo's. "I think those sheets of parchment would beg to differ about his safety at that house."

"Safe from those in the wizarding world that would wish him harm. The attitudes of his muggle relatives can be adjusted," Dumbledore noted.

Staring at the old man like he'd never seen him before, Kingsley shook his head. "The relatives are in the muggle judicial system now, there's no changing that. Even obliviators wouldn't be able to erase muggle records."

"Then I insist I be told of his dispositions. I need to ensure his safety!"

"I think I can safely say that after this case is decided you will have no further contact with Mister Potter," Kingsley observed. He turned to Fudge and Longbottom. "Minister and Chief Witch, I believe I have proven every charge the DMLE has brought against the prisoner. I rest my case."

Augusta regarded Dumbledore. "Any closing statements, Albus?"

Unable to stand, the old man looked out around the Wizengamot. "Members of the Wizengamot, wizards and witches, you are witness today to an egregious miscarriage of justice. I am the Leader of the Light and the Defeater of Grindelwald. I am the Headmaster of Hogwarts and the beacon of justice in our world. You know that I never do anything without a good reason. The Ministry is attempting to use a few actions that I took in a tumultuous time when we didn't know who we could trust even in the Ministry itself to paint me as a monster. I admit that my actions may not have had the best results, but I took those actions with the best of intentions. Please see your way to dismissing these pathetic charges against me, freeing me from these degrading chains, and leaving me free to keep guiding our country on its path to the light."

Dumbledore couldn't exactly sit back down after his talk, chained as he was to the accused's chair, but from the way he clenched his jaw afterward told the entire chamber that he was done.

Harry had to hold back a snarl at the way the old man tried to pass off his manipulations of his life. From the whispers and grumbles to his sides, he could tell the girls and Sirius felt the same.

Minister Fudge stared at Dumbledore for a long moment before shaking his head. "That concludes the formal part of the trial. I call for the vote! All those who find Albus Dumbledore guilty of the crime of Will Tampering, raise your wands."

It was close. There were enough people with wands raised that they had to do a count. When Fudge was done, less than half of the Wizengamot voted him guilty. Fudge barely contained his growl. "You have been found not guilty of all charges. However, I find the suspicion of your deeds along with the proof of your lying to the Wizengamot to be enough cause for me to put forward a motion to remove you as Chief Warlock and as Britain's representative to the International Confederation of Wizards. Do I have a second?"

"Second!" shouted Augusta.

"I have a second, now I call for the vote! All those in favor of removing Albus Dumbledore from his roles as Chief Warlock and Britain's ICW delegate raise your wands!"

Almost the entire chamber raised their wands, with only a few of his more ardent supporters refraining.

"No! You cannot do this to me! I have earned my role in our society!" raged the old man.

"We can and we did. Your only title now is Hogwarts Headmaster, and I wouldn't be willing to wager any gold on you retaining that past the next meeting of the Board of Governors.

"Bloody hell," Harry cursed, but for once no one corrected him on his use of language.

Later, after Dumbledore left in triumph and the chamber cleared, the teens dropped their glamors, an auror walked up to where they were sitting. "The wand you won off Dumbledore," he said, handing a rectangular box to Susan. The girl pinked at the awed looks from Sirius and her friends, but accepted the box without a word.

With a wan smile at the girl, Harry made his way down to the floor to speak to Fudge.

The Minister saw him approaching and excused himself from speaking with Augusta Longbottom. "I'm sorry for how that turned out, Harry."

"Thank you, Minister Fudge. It's no one's fault but his. Out of curiosity, what of my earlier claims that You-Know-Who has returned?"

This proved to be a push too far. Fudge shook his head and looked at his shoes for a second before meeting Harry's eyes once more. "I'm sorry, my boy, I really am. The fact is that no one has ever returned from the dead before. I just can't conceive of it."

Rather than damage his newfound rapport with the Minister, Harry nodded his acceptance and shook the man's hand.

Escape plans were rattling around his mind as he rejoined the group, which now included a royally pissed-off Amelia, and prepared to Floo back to Bones Manor. Ron went back to the Burrow to collect Ginny before they rejoined everyone to go over the days' events.

From the Floo in the foyer of Bones Manor, Susan turned and waited for the rest of them to arrive. Harry shot out next, skidding across the floor of the entryway in a cloud of soot. Susan's giggles did nothing to help his embarrassment. With a dainty hop, Hermione was next out of the green flames. Sirius and Amelia completed the group.

Susan took charge. "Why don't you go get your bathing suit on, Harry, while I go show Hermione where the two of us can change, then we'll meet you down here and get into the pool?"

Harry blushed and looked down. "Um, sure. I can do that."

Amelia took pity on him, knowing why he was flushing. "Don't worry, Harry. I'll transfigure you a suit to wear."

"Neville, Luna, Hannah, Ron, and Ginny are all due to arrive in a little less than half an hour. That will give us time to get settled and start having fun," Susan added.

Sirius just looked around at the entryway. "I'll wait here for our next arrivals."

Amelia smiled at him. "That would be great. When they do get here, could you direct them to the two rooms in the back off the main hall to change into their bathing suits?"

"Absolutely," Sirius nodded.

Without another word, Harry headed off to his room, Amelia following. When they reached his door, she stopped him. "I'm sorry, Harry. I didn't even think to get you a bathing suit in the hustle and bustle of everything we've been doing."

He felt heat rising in the back of his neck. "It's just something my relatives never thought to waste any money on. It's not like they ever took me swimming."

Amelia gave him a kind smile. "You live here now, and I couldn't be prouder to be your guardian. You will absolutely have a bathing suit because Susan almost never misses a day in the pool over the summer. I was just thinking this morning that we need to go shopping for clothes for you. The rags your relatives put you in aren't fit to be burned."

The sincerity in her voice brought a smile of his own as he looked up at her. "Thanks. That sounds like a lot of fun."

"Why don't I turn an old tee shirt into a bathing suit then?"

Harry nodded and opened his bedroom door. Amelia followed him in as he got the shirt. The first thing she noticed from was that he hadn't unpacked his trunk yet. The room she set aside for his use was as bare as it was when Floppy got it ready. The bed was made, the chest of drawers had nothing on it for decoration, the trunk was up against one wall still, and even the bedside table only held a box for his wand and one for his glasses.

He saw the frown on her face when looked back to her. "I'm sorry, I'll clean it up tonight after everyone goes home."

She shook her head, frustrated that she had an expression that he misread. Amelia sat on the bed and looked at him. "What would you clean up? No, that's not what I meant at all. You remember this is your house and your room, right?" Off his answering nod, she continued, "That means you live here. I want you to unpack, I want you to feel comfortable and safe, okay? I want this room to reflect the real Harry Potter, whether that's Gryffindor paraphernalia or a Holyhead Harpies poster," she paused to chuckle at his blush. For all the heroic actions he'd taken in the memories she'd seen and for all the horrible things that had happened to him in his life, he was still very naïve and innocent.

Well, maybe not SO innocent, she reflected as he opened his trunk and she caught sight of a couple magazine covers. "Ah, Harry?"

He froze, immediately seeing what she must have seen. "Oh, God," he muttered, hiding his head in his hands.

Amelia gingerly withdrew the two copies of Wild Witches magazine. "Is there anything I should know about with these?"

"They're not really mine, I promise," he mumbled through his fingers, "I mean, they are, I guess, but I didn't buy them or anything."

"I'm not here to judge or scold you, Harry. Technically you could file for emancipation tomorrow, so it wouldn't be my place to criticize," she said, keeping her voice gentle, "You're a teenage boy. I would almost be surprised if you didn't have something along these lines."

"The Weasley twins gave them to me, as part of their thank you," he muttered, still unable to meet her eye.

"Thank you?"

"I gave them the thousand galleon prize from the Tri-Wizard Tournament. They wanted to open up their own joke and prank shop but didn't have the funds to do it. I helped them out and this was their idea of a thank you," he said, still looking down and blushing.

"Harry," Amelia said, using every ounce of her Occlumency to force back her amusement at his mortification, "Look at me."

When he finally met her eyes, he saw none of the condemnation, judging, or scolding that he'd expected. "I'm sorry," he apologized.

"Don't be. It may not be my idea of the best thing to have, but you're your own person. All I ask is that you keep this where Susan won't accidentally see it."

Harry gave a humorless laugh. "Susan see them? I want to obliviate myself of this entire conversation. You have no worries on her seeing them, Amelia. I think a minor Incendio this evening should take care of them. Maybe even create a hole for me to fall into."

That broke her, and her giggles eventually got him smiling along with her. Amelia's mirth broke when she realized something. "Oh, hell," she said.


"I would be willing to bet that your relatives never gave you The Talk, did they?"

"You mean the s – se…the talk about the birds and bees?"

Amelia's brows furrowed. "What do birds and bees have to do with anything? I meant the talk about sex. How little witches and wizards are made."

"No, you're right. They never bothered."

"Well, I assume from your magazines that you at least understand the mechanics of how human reproduction works?"

Harry's complexion had passed through 'tomato' and was heading for 'lobster'. "Yeah, I know that much at least."

"Then at some point after we get through everything tonight, I'm going to sit down with you and we're going to discuss the other side of sex, the emotional side for both partners."

"Oh, dear Merlin please kill me now," groaned the teenager.

Amelia grinned at his embarrassment. "Harry, look at me please."

When his eyes found hers again, she continued. "This is important to know. Sex is much more than just biology. If you don't have all the information it could lead to real problems for you and your partner. I'm your guardian now, and I'm not withdrawing my offer to adopt you. This is one of my obligations to you, and even though it may be uncomfortable, it's something I'll gladly do."

She took a deep breath and looked at him. Whereas his posture had started out guarded and reserved, by the end of their talk he had relaxed. "Are you okay? Are we okay?"

Despite how uncomfortable he was with the whole situation, Harry forced himself to think about her words. For one of the first times in his life an adult wanted to do what was right for him. She actually wanted to help him just because it was the right thing to do, not because she would get anything out of it. On impulse, he leaned over and gave Amelia a hug. "Thank you," he murmured.

Surprised that he made the first move, Amelia took a second to return the hug, but when she did, she returned it full force. "Don't worry about it. Now, I think I was coming in here to transfigure a bathing suit for you. Better get that done before your friends send out a rescue party." She took the shirt and waved her wand over it, transfiguring it into a board short-style bathing suit in just the right shade of emerald green to match his eyes.

"Best get a move on. I'll sit with Sirius for your other friends and their parents. I think even Professors McGonagall, Sprout, and Flitwick will be here."

Harry nodded. "That sounds good. I'll change and meet up with Hermione and Susan."

Susan finished putting on her bathing suit and checked her reflection in the mirror. Overall pleased with what she saw, she still noted with disappointment that her stomach wasn't as flat as it could be. Still, maybe a summer spent in the pool with Harry would provide the exercise she needed to tone it a bit.

Her aquamarine suit was a new one her aunt had bought for her at the beginning of the summer holidays. She'd filled out her figure a bit more, and her old one wouldn't have a hope of holding her assets in. This suit, conforming to wizarding society standards by fitting her from her neck to her knees, did an excellent job of highlighting her curves while keeping them covered. A naughty part of her mind whispered a hope that Harry had a good reaction to seeing her attire.

Leaving her room, she noticed how excellent her timing was when Hermione entered the hallway. At first, she thought with the amount of skin Hermione was showing that she'd forgotten her suit. The girl was in incredible shape, though with some of the adventures she'd heard rumors about, she'd have to be. "Hermione? Did you leave your bathing suit at home?"

Hermione turned and had to force her eyes from bulging out at the curves being hugged by the light blue suit. Even with as covered up as she was, it was easy to see Susan had an amazing body. "It's official: Hogwarts robes are the least flattering garments in the world. You look amazing, Susan!"

The redhead blushed as bright as her hair. "Thanks. But seriously, didn't you forget something?" she asked, gesturing to the other girl's midsection.

"I don't think so. This is my bikini," Hermione answered, turning in a circle as she showed off the maroon and gold garment.

"THAT'S your bathing suit? Hermione! I have underwear less skimpy! It doesn't even cover your whole…bum," Susan said, trying to control her blush at seeing so much of the other girl.

"That's kind of the point, Susan," Hermione smiled, "When you're laying on a beach or out sunbathing, the idea is to get as much sun as you can to minimize the tan lines. When my parents and I go on vacation in France, most beaches allow women to not wear tops at all, and some even have areas where you can be entirely naked."

Susan's jaw hung open. "Really?" she squeaked when she got control over herself.

"Really," Hermione was openly grinning now, "By muggle standards, this suit is actually fairly modest."

"Wow! Maybe I'll have to beg you to take me shopping next time. That suit is a lot more flattering than this one," Susan said, gesturing to her own torso, "It's even in Gryffindor colors!"

Hermione giggled, "I know! As soon as I saw it, I had to have it! They even had a display with bikinis in the exact other house colors. I almost had to wonder if the shop was run by a squib who left the magical world."

"It very well might be, or a muggleborn," the redhead agreed with a thoughtful look, "I'm sorry, but purebloods controlling the Ministry and Wizengamot don't exactly make it easy for anyone else to get ahead. You saw how the trials went today. Aunt Amelia gets frustrated at the corruption in the Ministry all the time. Even when they're not actually breaking the law, there's an 'old boys' network that helps keep the same families in power, protecting pureblood control."

Hermione frowned. "I've heard rumors of how bad it could be, but that's pretty discouraging."

"Don't worry about it now," Susan urged, "You're one of the smartest witches at Hogwarts. Once you get your OWLs and NEWTs you can figure out what to do from there."

"I guess there isn't much we can do about it right now, and Harry did say we're going to have a meeting tonight after dinner to discuss what happens next."

"Exactly right," the redhead smiled at her friend, "so let's stop dallying and get in the pool! I just hope your top stays in place if we start swimming!"

Susan and Hermione had just gotten into the pool and splashed around a bit when Harry made his way outside.

"Your aunt really knew what she was doing, making his trunks the exact same shade of green as his eyes," Hermione smiled.

The redhead nodded, enjoying the sight of Harry in a more relaxed situation. He'd been worked up over the trials and getting used to their house, so it was good for him to be able to have some fun. "That ratty old tee shirt has to go, though.

Hermione agreed. "Come on in, Harry! The water is perfect!"

"I'm sure it is," he grinned at the two of them before sitting down on the edge of the water and dangling his feet in. "You're right, this is just the right temperature."

"Lose the shirt and get in with us, Harry!" Hermione called.

He shook his head. "That's okay. Thanks Hermione, but I'm just going to sit here and relax for a bit," he explained, leaning back on his hands and feeling the sunlight.

Before Susan or Hermione could protest further, the rest of their friends emerged from the house. Ron and Neville had shorts like Harry's, Ron's in Gryffindor colors while Neville's were an eye-popping yellow. Neither of the boys were wearing shirts, unlike Harry, and their pale chests showed off the abysmal lack of sunny weather northern Scotland saw.

Hermione noted that Ginny, Hannah, and Luna all had suits like Susan's covering them from their necks to their knees. Ginny's was similar to Susan's, a sky blue to match her eyes whereas Hanna's was all Hufflepuff – black with yellow trim – and Luna's was a silvery grey that glittered when the light hit it right. Ginny and Luna were walking next to each other, and both were as pale as the boys, but Hannah had something that looked like it might be a tan.

Ron jumped in without a pause, running straight from the house into a cannonball that splashed the entire crew, but he was close enough to Harry that it soaked his entire shirt. The girls giggled as they walked down the steps into the pool, while Neville just shook his head as he sat on the side before sliding into the cool water.

Hermione was about to scold Ron for his antics when she saw the look of pure panic on Harry's face. She quickly swam over to his side, concerned for her friend as he tried to climb to his feet, slipping on the wet tiles bordering the pool. "Harry? Harry what's wrong?"

"Nothing, 'Mione, I'm okay. Just needed to get inside for a new tee shirt. This one's soaked," he explained, scooting back away from her.

"It's okay! See how Ron and Neville don't have shirts on? You could just take that one off and get into the pool with the rest of us," the brunette suggested.

Noticing how his shirt clung to his skin, Susan decided she liked what she saw. Quidditch playing toned the core muscles very well, and the nutrient potions from the St. Mungo's healers were doing wonders putting meat on his bones. Something off caught her eye, though. One of the drenched areas of his shirt clung to his skin, she swore she saw an x-shaped mark standing out against the skin of his chest. As she tried to puzzle out his reaction, it clicked in her mind.

Swimming over to where Hermione was standing against the side, Susan put her hand on the girl's shoulder. "Hermione, back off just a little bit, okay?"

The surprise on Hermione's face would have been comical under other circumstances. "What?" she exclaimed.

Susan shushed her again and looked up to the scared boy above them. Holding out her hand, she made the contact his choice. She had to fight off a smile when, after a moment's hesitation, he reached out and took her hand. "Don't be scared, Harry. We're all your friends here. There's nothing to be afraid of. We all care about you," she repeated over and over in a soft voice.

His tension slowly abated and his eyes lost the tinge of panic. After a strained few minutes, his head dropped to his chest. "I guess it's all going to come out tonight, anyway. Might as well get this part of out of the way."

With a deep breath he reached behind his neck to pull the shirt off over his head. The gasps from everyone in the pool started sounding as he put the shirt down, but when he straightened up, they turned to cries from the girls and growls from Neville and Ron.

White scars crisscrossed his entire torso, marking him from the neck down. The bruises of his latest injuries might have faded, but the blemishes on his skin were permanent. "I, ah, I know I could have asked the healers for scar cream, but something held me back. My relatives were horrible people, who did things to me that no one should ever have to suffer. I guess I wanted to keep these as a reminder, so I could remember what I overcame to get where I am now," he said in a low tone, brittleness seeping through that told everyone there how close he was to losing control.

Luna was the first to move. Susan and Hermione were frozen, eyes filling with tears, but the little blonde swam over to the side of the pool and pulled herself out. Not even caring that she was still dripping, she situated herself next to Harry, put her legs over his own, and wrapped him in an embrace. She pulled his head to her collarbone and started murmuring to him in a soothing voice. "It's okay, Harry. None of those were your fault. They were monsters to punish you like that. Seeing the amazing man you're becoming, and being lucky enough to be called your friend is one of the best things that's ever happened to me. These scars do not make you who you are; the care, dedication, and love you have for your friends does that. You are a wonderful person, Harry Potter, and I'm so proud to be one of your friends."

That broke the ice for everyone else. Susan jumped out the same way Luna did and took a spot next to him. Hermione was next, taking the spot Luna vacated when Harry straightened up. She and Susan wrapped Harry in a hug from both sides, letting him feel the comfort of their embrace. Luna reached down, extending her hand to help pull Ginny up. Ron, Hannah, and Neville were next, giving their friend a pat on the back and words of support.

Harry wiped his eyes, emotional at the show of support from his friends. "Thanks, guys. That meant a lot to hear that you aren't bothered by how I look."

"Oh we're definitely bothered, Harry, and you can bet that if the Dursleys ever get out of prison we'll be there to wreak unholy vengeance on them, but none of that affects how we feel about you," Luna smiled, but the predatory hint to her expression when she talked about his relatives had everyone looking at the Ravenclaw in a new light.

With everyone around him, Harry felt strong enough to jump into the water and enjoy just being a teenager with his friends.

"Did you know about this?" an outraged Sirius demanded of Amelia. They'd watched the entire scene from patio chairs on the veranda.

"I knew about the abuse, but not about the scars. He was covered up in a hospital gown when I was running my investigation, and he kept it on after I became his guardian," Amelia explained.

Sirius growled as he got to his feet. "I think a certain headmaster needs to account for his deeds. Since the Wizengamot didn't see fit to hold him accountable, I guess it's up to me!"

"Sirius Orion Black!" Amelia barked at him, "Stop being a bloody Gryffindor and think! What happened the last time you went off half-cocked looking for revenge?"

Hurt, he slunk back to his chair. "That was low, Amelia."

"It was necessary, Sirius. Harry just got you back from more than a decade in Azkaban. You're not good to him back in that place. He needs you in his life."

"About that…with you as his guardian – not that I'm trying to take that away at all, Merlin knows I'm not the best choice to finish raising a teenaged boy – what is my role in his life?"

Pleased that Sirius was listening to reason, Amelia nodded at the man. "Just be someone he can trust. From what I've learned, Harry hasn't had any adult figures in his life he could count on, except for perhaps Filius and Pomona. Just be there for him when he needs. You knew his parents, don't forget. I would expect him to start pumping you for information about them as soon as he gets the chance."

Sirius sat back and thought it over for a few moments as he sipped the delicious iced tea that Floppy put in front of him. "I can see that. It's really tough to not want to get some kind of revenge for him, but I did learn from my mistakes that horrible night."

"Good. Because I have plans of my own. I should tell you that I offered to adopt him."

He stared at her, eyes large.

"Not a blood adoption, Sirius! The documents that law-wizard Samuels drew up for me even stipulate that he is to keep the Potter name and I have no access to his vaults. That was put in at my own request! I didn't want to be yet another person out to take advantage of him; I wanted to protect him even more than a guardian could."

"What did he say to that?"

"Not much," she shook her head, "I think he was more overwhelmed than anything. But he could also file for emancipation with the Ministry after they forced him to compete in that damned Tournament. Whatever he does will be his choice, and I will support him to the full."

"As will I, Amelia," Sirius agreed.

Further conversation broke off as Floppy appeared, announcing the arrival of Filius, Minerva, Pomona, and Poppy.

Chapter Text

12 July 1995

Albus Dumbledore was livid.

After the indignity of the sham trial he'd been subjected to, having a Ministry auror laugh in his face when he asked for his wand back was an insult too far. The auror wouldn't even tell him who took the wand off of him. Still, after just escaping a trial and losing his Ministry positions, he wasn't as confident in his response as he would have been. He gave up for the moment and used the public Floo to head back to Hogwarts.

Once back in his office and cleaned up, he dug out his first wand, kept in a safe, Fidelius-protected drawer so none would question his use of the Elder Wand. Then, Dumbledore called for a meeting with his teaching staff. The things that came out at his trial needed to be explained.

His back was to the door when the professors entered, so he missed the fact that every single one, bar Severus alone, had their wands in their hands when they sat down.

"Would anyone care for a lemon drop?" he asked, holding out the bowl of sweets. Seeing nothing but barely-restrained hostility, he replaced it on his desk and sat back down.

"The traitor Shacklebolt is dead to us. He will no longer be part of the Order of the Phoenix," Dumbledore growled.

"How is it that you weren't convicted and sent to Azkaban?" asked Filius, changing the subject with neither politeness nor preamble.

Albus gave him a suspicious look. "Despite the kangaroo court the Ministry tried to run, the wisest members of the Wizengamot saw that the charges were nothing more than a trumped-up pack of lies."

Pomona snorted.

Glancing to his deputy, he met her resolute expression with one of pure disappointment. "Would you care to tell me why you sent that statement to the trial?"

Minerva lifted her chin. "Was anything in my statement untrue?"

He leaned back in his chair, stroking his beard. "As I have said many a time before, the truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution."

"Oh, can the hippogriff shite, Headmaster! I'm not one of your students! I will live my life according to my own conscience," Minerva barked at him.

Severus frowned, looking at her like it was the first time he'd seen her.

"In any event," the old man continued, glossing over the disrespect from two of his most senior professors, "we have a much more serious problem: Harry Potter has disappeared."

"Disappeared?" Filius exclaimed, voice dripping with false dismay, "Dear me. I assume you've notified the DMLE so the aurors can start their search?"

"No, I haven't notified the DMLE," Dumbledore snarled, "I don't trust anyone at the Ministry to handle his safety adequately. No, I will find him myself and bring the boy back under our supervision. Teenagers cannot be allowed to gallivant around on a lark, especially with the re-emergence of the Dark Lord."

"But you don't know where he is, or where he could be?" Pomona pressed, trying to get the old man to admit something.

"I don't. He was supposed to be living with his relatives so that the wards around their house could protect him, but he seems to have vanished. The last anyone has seen of the boy, he was at St. Mungo's after an accident," Dumbledore grumped.

"Dear me! Isn't that how you got arrested?" Minerva credited her years of scolding the Weasley twins and the Marauders for her ability to keep a straight face.

"I was merely trying to access my magical ward. He was in a room guarded by aurors, and they weren't allowing me to see to the boy. I tried to show them the error of their ways, but before they would see reason, some other aurors assaulted me and I woke up in a cell. They even took my wand, claiming someone won it off me with a spell, and wouldn't return it. I can't even feel it calling to me anymore," his voice, frustrated at the start, turned angry in the middle and ended up wistful.

"And just what put him in the hospital?" asked Minerva.

"I have no idea," Dumbledore grunted, "They said it was his relatives attacking him, but that was just part of the sham trial. He needs to be returned to their loving care. As far as I know, St. Mungo's was the last place anyone saw him."

"Well, then we had better let the DMLE know he's missing, but update that to tell them the last place he was seen was here, yesterday," Filius drawled, keeping his eyes on Dumbledore's face. The pensieve memory would make him laugh for years.

He wasn't wrong. Dumbledore shot up from his chair, eyes huge. "Harry was here?!" he shouted.

"Now that you mention it, I remember that as well," agreed Pomona, tapping her chin.

Minerva nodded, "That's right, he was here with his guardians."

The old man scoffed as he sat back down. "If you're all quite through with this little farce, we can start making a plan for how to find the boy. The Dursleys never would have come to Hogwarts. They hate magic with a passion."

Bristling at the knowledge Dumbledore had of Harry's living situation and how he insisted the boy not only go there in the first place, but continue to go back there, McGonagall had to call on her Occlumency to keep her expression neutral. "That would be true, if his guardians were still the Dursleys," she said, trailing off at the end to tantalize him.

Dumbledore frowned, staring at first one, then the other of his staff.

Flitwick overacted a long-suffering sigh. "If you must know that badly, Mister Potter was here with his guardians and a contingent of goblins to claim and render the carcass of the basilisk that he slew two years ago," explained the charms professor.

"No!" cried Snape, "That basilisk belongs to the school! I could have used those potion ingredients!"

"Oh yes, Severus," Minerva smirked, enjoying the discomfort of the most antagonistic professor she could remember, "As a matter of fact, the goblins said that it was more than double the length of the longest basilisk ever recorded. More than seventy feet long, it was."

Snape's usually pallid complexion got even worse, "The brat at least left most of the potion ingredients for the school, or arranged for the school to have the lion's share of the profits, I assume?"

Minerva actually laughed in his face. "After the way you've bullied everyone but Slytherin since you started teaching here? After the way the entire student body turned on him before he killed the beast, and then during that accursed Tournament this year? No, Severus, he didn't. The goblins are in the process of rendering the carcass down and, after taking their fee from the profits, will provide Mister Potter with half of the money, and the other half split evenly between the victims."

"No! I will not allow this!" Dumbledore yelled, pounding the table, "That basilisk was killed in the school, and will be used for the school! I am the headmaster here!"

"Except that it's not actually in the school anymore, and as the slayer of the beast, it legally belongs to Potter. The DMLE signed off on it," Filius interjected.

"Impossible. No one could render a basilisk that size down that quickly," sneered Snape, trying to find some thread of hope to cling to.

"Who says they've rendered it already?"

"Enough! I need to find Mister Potter, and the disposition of the proceeds from the basilisk is just one more of the things we will be discussing. Now would one of you care to tell me who his new guardians are?"

Filius, Pomona, and Minerva shared a look before the Gryffindor head of house looked back to the Headmaster. "No, we would not. Your interest in the boy is bordering on unhealthy. You've never been this…fixated on any other student. If you want to know who his new guardians are, you can find out on your own."

As one, the rest of the staff, except Snape, followed her out of the room.

"This is a disaster," Albus moaned, putting his head in his hands.

"I told you years ago to just cut the brat loose," Severus kept his sneer muted to his benefactor, but it was a close thing.

"He's our key to defeating Tom once and for all. I just need to get him mentally ready to make the sacrifice," Dumbledore said.

Snape held his tongue on the subject of Potter's death. "If there is nothing else, Headmaster, I must get back to my offices and organize the new ingredients."

"Of course, Severus, of course. Oh, there is one more thing: tomorrow morning I will be heading to the home of Miss Granger. If there is anyone who knows Mister Potter and his whereabouts, it will be her. It will be an uncomfortable conversation but needs must in desperate times."

With nothing more than a nod, Snape left the office.

Seeing the other adults arrive on the Bones' veranda, Harry made to get out of the pool. Looking for his tee shirt, he was surprised to feel a gentle hand on his arm. "Don't," Susan said in a soft voice. "None of us here think any less of you for their presence. You shouldn't need to feel like you have to cover up."

He looked at the girl and saw nothing but kindness in her face. "Well, I guess if we're going to be living together, I should take your word on some things," he tried to joke, but from the way Susan's face turned Weasley red, he knew he'd said something wrong. Thinking back over his words, he groaned. "Living under the same roof is what I meant."

"You'll have to excuse Harry, Susan," Hermione grinned as she joined them out of the pool, taking Harry's other arm, "Sometimes his mouth doesn't listen to his brain the right way."

"Hey! I resemble that remark!"

"Trust me, you don't need to cover up your scars around any of us, Harry. We're all your friends here," Hermione agreed with Susan.

Faced with two determined witches, Harry could do little but nod his agreement. He turned back to the veranda and squared his shoulders before moving to greet the new arrivals.

"Greetings, Professors!"

Minerva and Poppy, turning to greet him, stopped in their tracks and gasped at the sight. "Oh, Mister Potter! I read The Quibbler article about you, but seeing the damage up close and in person is horrible!" the healer exclaimed. "I should have been treating you with scar cream from your first day in my infirmary."

"It's okay, Madam Pomfrey. The healers at St. Mungo's offered to do that, too, but I wanted to keep them as a memento of what I had to endure."

Minerva pursed her lips, but nodded her understanding.

"Look, everything will be explained after the meal. Speaking of which," Harry broke off, looking around. "Dobby!"

"Yes, Master Harry?" the little elf said, looking excited for the chance to do something for his master.

"Do you think you could go to my vault, get some galleons, and then get a muggle grill, along with hamburgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, buns for all of them, ketchup, mustard, relish, side dishes, basically the works for a cookout?"

Hermione's eyes got huge while the wizarding-raised just stared at him like he was from another planet. From their perspective, he might as well have been.

"Yes, Master Harry! Dobby will be right back!" and before anyone could react, a soft pop announced the arrival of everything Harry had asked for on the veranda. Dobby had even gotten a premium charcoal brand for the grill.

"Um, pup? What's all this?" Sirius asked.

"You're in for a treat, godfather," Harry smiled, "This is one of the few skills I learned at the Dursleys that I actually enjoyed: cooking. What you see here is all the trimmings of the American tradition of cooking out. If someone can get the salads somewhere cool until the meat is done?"

Amelia and Minerva took the large containers of leaf salad, potato salad, and macaroni salad into the kitchen.

Harry turned and arranged the coals in a pile before lighting them with a weak Inciendo. When the coals all lit with a whoosh, he turned with a smirk on his face. "Now we let them warm up for a few minutes, then cool down before putting the meat on."

Sirius watched with rapt attention. When Harry judged the coals had cooled enough that the meat wouldn't turn into rubber, he put the bratwurst on the burner, closest towards him to be out of the most intense heat. One of his scars was from an unintentional grease fire he'd started at age seven when Vernon insisted that he perform the same function at the Dursleys, but Harry hadn't learned about the grease splatter from overheated bratwurst yet.

Hamburger patties followed next, spread out over the grill for the differing preferences in doneness of everyone there, and then after he'd flipped the patties and turned the sausages, the hot dogs followed, needing the least time to cook. The process even drew Neville and Ron over, primal urges pushing them to engage in that most male of endeavors, passed down through the genetic code from caveman times: searing meat over flame.

When he pulled all the meat off onto a large platter, he almost spoiled all his efforts by dropping it onto the ground when he turned and saw all the girls watching him as well. "Um, food's ready?"

Floppy appeared with a pop and snapped her fingers. The veranda furniture reconfigured itself to support a long deck table with chairs enough for everyone, umbrellas to protect from the all-too-rare English sun, and drinks.

Expectant eyes all turned to look at Harry, the author of the feast. "Hey, no speeches from me. Dig in!"

Harry took a deep breath, looking around the people gathered in the spacious study of Bones Manor. He was standing against one wall with a special pensieve in front of him on a wooden table. Around the surprisingly spacious room were a series of chairs and couches, each filled with a friend, guardian, or professor. Hannah and Neville took one of the smaller couches at the back of the room, Ron sat in a chair all to himself near them, Ginny and Luna were sharing an overstuffed armchair along one side of the space, and Hermione and Susan were on a large couch to his left right at the front. A series of chairs that Floppy brought in held Amelia, Sirius, Professors Flitwick, Sprout, and McGonagall, and Madam Pomfrey. After hearing what was planned, Neville asked to get his Gran, so Augusta Longbottom occupied a chair near Minerva and Amelia.

"The first thing I wanted to do is say thank you to everyone here. None of you have any obligation to me, to see this through, so the fact that you're all here means a lot to me." He saw nothing but smiles and resolution on their faces, encouraging him to continue. "So here goes. I'm going to take you all through…basically my life. I'm going to use this projector pensieve to show you some of the adventures that we've had at Hogwarts, and then the rest of my life, which I'm seeing in a different light thanks to something that the Unspeakables showed Amelia and me. Most of you have seen at least some of these events, but only Amelia knows pretty much all of them thanks to the interrogations we had at St. Mungo's," he finished with a cheeky smirk at her.

"Interrogations! Honestly," she huffed, but the twinkle in her eyes told him she wasn't offended.

Confusion, but some understanding nods answered him. With a nod of his own, Harry took his wand and darkened the room enough that the memory scenes could be visible before withdrawing a memory. The long, silvery threadlike substance was thicker and brighter than normal, as he'd tried to include a few memories to get this part of the evening over with. As he dropped the strand into the bowl, he turned to his audience. "About these first memories…well, you learned something about this earlier today. Listen, I'm not all that eager to go into the details, so please don't start asking me all about it. I just wanted to include this to frame what else I'm going to show you."

Hermione and Susan shared a look before they met his eyes and smiled. Neville set his jaw, staunch and strong. Ron looked worried, an expression his sister shared. Luna just looked serene. By and large the professors were frowning, remembering what The Quibbler's article had claimed and the sight of his scars earlier.

Harry activated a rune on the bowl with his wand and after looking for a spot to sit down, noticed that Susan and Hermione scooted apart to make room for him. Apparently neither of them would allow him to go through this without them. He didn't exactly know what the funny feeling that realization made in his chest was, but it was a good feeling, so he went with it, settling onto the soft sofa between the two witches. He briefly wondered if the sudden warmth in the room was due to his nerves over showing some of his most private memories or the company.

Before he could think about it too much more, the memory had activated, playing above the bowl in about a four-foot by three-foot rectangle. He'd chosen a selection of the worst memories he had from the Dursleys, knowing that he didn't need to show absolutely everything to get his point across.

When he was knocked off the chair that he needed to reach the stove after dropping a pan when he was cooking for his relatives at age six, Harry swore he could hear McGonagall hissing like a cat. The memory of the pain disappeared almost instantly after Hermione took his hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze

When he was given crusts and water and told to enjoy what he had after making them a sumptuous Christmas feast, Sirius could be heard growling at an ever-increasing volume that hit a crescendo when Harry's memory showed him being locked in his cupboard while Dudley opened a mountain of gifts. Susan put her hand on his forearm and stroked it gently. He tried not to react to the unaccustomed contact, but he couldn't stop from stiffening slightly.

When he was told his mother was a hooker who died in a car crash her drunken lout of a husband caused, the glass of tea that Amelia was using shattered in her hands, drowning out the sound of Sirius trying to muffle his cursing with teenagers present. "Damn it!" she swore as she repaired the cup and healed her hand from the cuts. "I'm starting to think muggle prison was too kind for those animals."

"I've broken out of prison before," Sirius chimed in, "Do we need to break them out to inflict a more creative revenge? I think between the two of us, Augusta's power, Minerva's transfigurations, and Filius's charms work, we could have them begging to be fed to one of Pomona's more dangerous plants."

The assembled company chuckled at his comment, none fully disagreeing.

"Trust me, Sirius, they're not going to have an easy time. I read an article once that said that muggle prisons have a hierarchy of prisoners based on the severity of their crimes. Child abusers are right at the bottom of that ranking," Hermione explained, "They will be suffering for a long time."

"It's still too good for them," Amelia growled.

"Not arguing at all," Harry answered as he went up to the pensieve and took his memory back. "They were awful, horrible people."

"Mister Potter…Harry, I can't apologize enough for not being more forceful with Albus when he decided to leave you on that doorstep that night," Minerva apologized, looking more than a little disturbed at what she'd seen.

"It's not really your fault, Professor. You were under those mind-altering magics from Dumbledore," Harry excused as he drew forth his next memory.

She looked surprised, so he explained. "Amelia told me some of what happened. None of the details, though."

Mollified, Minerva nodded at him. "The old goat will never take me by surprise again."

Dropping the memory into the bowl, Harry activated the projection rune again and took his spot back between the girls. Words on the envelope drew Sirius's eyes right away. "The Cupboard Under the Stairs! That old bastard knew all along where you were and how you were being treated!"

The sight of dozens upon dozens of owls trying to deliver his Hogwarts letter distracted everyone from that disturbing admission and had the entire room chuckling away. Next to him, Hermione was the first to come to the conclusion he was trying to lead them to. "Doesn't that come awfully close to violating the Statue of Secrecy?"

"Yes!" exclaimed Harry as he took that memory back, "That's exactly what I wanted someone to get out of that. Keep that in mind for the rest of this."

The pensive shifted to show the first time the trio acted together to save one of their lives. "How did the troll get into the school? And for that matter, how did it know to go exactly to that particular bathroom?" Augusta wondered aloud.

"We never heard a good explanation for that, Madam Longbottom. I'm just grateful Harry dragged Ron to the bathroom to save me," Hermione answered her over the back of the sofa.

"You stuck your wand up its nose?!" Sirius almost shouted.

"I'd been learning magic for about seven weeks! What else was I supposed to do to distract it from her?" Harry yelled back. "I had to do something!"

"And I'm eternally grateful that you did," smiled Hermione up at him.

Flitwick snorted when Ron took out the beast. "Not many first-years could take out a mountain troll with the levitation charm, Mister Weasley. I'm glad to see you were paying attention in my class!"

Fluffy didn't exactly have the same effect. Pomfrey shook her head. "All he ever told us was that corridor was off-limits. A bloody Cerberus! It's an actual miracle that no one was killed."

"Excellent reasoning, Miss Granger," Pomona compliment when she saw Hermione's advice for getting past the Devil's Snare. "Now I know what Kingsley meant when he asked if any had gone missing from my greenhouses. What an awful use for it!"

McGonagall grimaced at the flying keys. "Was that your work, Filius?"

The half-goblin hung his head. "Yes, Albus asked me to charm a bunch of keys to fly. He never told me what the end goal was, but seeing this…Mister Potter you must be one of the best fliers in the entire school!"

"Thank you, Professor. I don't know about that, how I compare to everyone else. I just know I love flying for the freedom. Professor McGonagall did me more of a favor with that broom than anyone else ever has," he admitted, smiling at his Head of House.

"It was nothing, Mister Potter. You had more talent on a broom than just about anyone since your father or Charlie Weasley. Seeing you catch the snitch is more than enough thanks," the usually taciturn professor said, returning his smile.

When Ron commanded the chessboard like Bobby Fischer, Professor McGonagall's eyes took on a knowing glint. "So that's what Albus meant by 'the best-played game of chess that Hogwarts has seen these many years'," she muttered.

"Another troll?! What the bloody hell was another troll doing there?" Poppy demanded as the memory moved on.

"Wait until you see the last bit, and I think it will be clear," Harry said.

Filius turned and grinned at Hermione when the memory showed her solving the potion puzzle. "You have no idea how many times I have wished for a re-sorting for you, Miss Granger. You belong in the house of the eagles." He punctuated his compliment with an overly dramatic sigh.

Harry turned to look at his friend next to him on the couch. Her cheeks were shining with a pretty blush, "Thank you, professor. The hat wanted to put me there, but when I explained how my parents didn't want me to go to Hogwarts in the first place, but I insisted on attending, it realized that my bravery was my defining trait."

"A great loss to my House," he nodded.

Understanding dawned on the professors when Harry crossed the flames and entered the final chamber. Seeing Professor Quirrell in the room had McGonagall, Flitwick, and Sprout gasping.

When he removed his turban, the entire room save Amelia – who had seen the memories before while Harry was in the hospital – Ron, and Hermione, was either gasping or shouting.

Both Hermione and Susan cuddled into him when they saw the touch of his bare hands destroy the possessed Quirrell. With the trauma of seeing Riddle's face again, on top of the resurrected face so fresh in his memory, he wasn't in the mood to flinch away from any more contact. Killing a man at age eleven was not something anyone should ever have to deal with. He wasn't entirely sure he ever had.

Hermione in particular burrowed into his shoulder. "I know you told me who was actually in the room, but seeing that was so much more horrible than you told me."

Sitting on Harry's other side, Susan looked over and saw how close Hermione was to actually sitting on his lap. Earlier that day, she had put on her bathing suit hoping for a reaction from him when he saw her, but something about watching Hermione clinging to Harry gave her a strange, warm feeling in her belly.

At first, she thought it was the disappointment of a loss, the loss of something she'd never had in the first place, but then the more she thought about it, it was a feeling of endearment. Harry and Hermione looked absolutely adorable together. She was one of his first and best friends at Hogwarts. If Harry sought out comfort in anyone, it should be her. Still, seeing Voldemort's face was bad enough that she refused to relinquish her position. Being that close to Harry somehow made her feel safe and protected. The feeling was so strange she resolved to talk to her aunt about it.

"Dumbledore not only hires a professor possessed by Voldemort; he then uses the bloody Philosopher's Stone as bait at the end of some traps that three first-years could solve?" Sirius's incredulous snort broke her out of her reverie.

"It gets better," Harry grinned.

He took the memories of the first year out of the pensieve and replaced them with the events of his second year, starting with flying the Weasley's car to Hogwarts.

There were more than a few laughs at his and Ron's expenses, but Minerva had the last word. When the images of Harry and Ron expecting to be expelled faded, she looked at the boys. "I had to put a stern face forward for Albus and Severus, but inside I was laughing harder than I had in years. You reminded me so much of your father in that moment."

Sirius faked a sniffle, swiping imaginary tears from his eyes. "My godson's a Marauder."

"Sirius Black! Don't you give him any ideas! He's already good friends with the Weasley twins!" Minerva scolded.

The ill-fated dueling club came up next. Hannah winced next to Neville as Draco's summoned snake flopped onto the dueling structure before moving toward Justin Finch-Fletchley. Watching the memory from Harry's perspective she saw the snake back off when he hissed at it in Parseltongue. They'd all been wrong. Seeing it from that perspective told her

Susan had the same realization as her fellow Hufflepuff. She'd been wrong the entire time. Her aunt had told her as much before Harry moved in, but seeing it with her own eyes was something else entirely. Leaning up toward Harry, she whispered in his ear, "I'm really sorry for how I acted toward you, Harry. Watching that, it was clear you did everything right."

"Don't worry about it. I can see how it looked suspicious in retrospective," he whispered, turning his head to answer without disturbing Hermione.

Susan shook her head, knowing he was giving her an out that she didn't deserve.

The cursed bludger chasing him around the quidditch pitch led directly into his stay in the infirmary when Colin Creevey was petrified. Filius growled when Dumbledore saw the melted camera. "There is no chance that old goat didn't know what affected that device that way."

"You really think so?" Hermione asked him.

"You saw how he said the Chamber has been opened. He knew just from looking at the insides of that muggle camera of Mister Creevey's what happened, and that it meant the Chamber had been opened. He knew for months and did nothing!" the diminutive professor exclaimed.

Harry's memories skipped ahead to his discovery of Hermione's petrified body. He'd kept it short, not wanting to see her face like that again, but the girl still tensed next to him. Giving her a reassuring squeeze with his hand, Harry nodded at the scene. "This is why I put this part in," he murmured. Sure enough, when he pulled the page from her hand that had the profile on basilisks and her scrawled 'pipes', appraising gazes turned to Hermione.

"Twenty points to Gryffindor when school starts again, Miss Granger," Filius said, "for outstanding deductive reasoning and research skills. I again lament the loss to Rowena's house."

Glad that the darkened room hid her blush, Hermione shrugged. "Thank you," was all she said.

Then his memory shifted to when he and Ron forced the fraud into the bathroom and down the chute into the Chamber. His Parseltongue speech wasn't a surprise after the dueling club memory, but it still had a couple people starting at the sound.

The entire group there, except for Sirius, had already been down to the Chamber before, so Harry was most interested in his reaction. His godfather didn't disappoint. Sirius gasped at the sight of the sinks moving, then pumped a fist at Lockhart's attempted memory charm backfiring. "Serves the bastard right!" he exclaimed.

When the door opened and Harry rushed forward to the still form of the young redheaded witch seated in that very room, he gave his godson an appreciative look. Then the shade of Tom Riddle appeared. Outlining his own heritage had the room surprised, but when he used the flame writing spell to show how his name became an anagram that they all refused to say, Sirius growled.

Even those that had seen the basilisk with their own eyes were stunned at seeing the live specimen that could only be compared to a dinosaur slithering out of the statue. Harry's arms were in real danger of falling off from blood loss, so tightly were Hermione and Susan squeezing them as the basilisk chased him around the Chamber.

Stabbing the basilisk through the mouth had more than just Sirius up on his feet cheering. Filius, Ron, and even Neville were pumping their fists at the victory.

Those cheers soon turned to horror when the memory showed the broken fang sticking out of his arm. Poppy in particular turned incredulous eyes toward the boy, as if trying to make sure he was still actually sitting there.

Ginny was in tears, sobbing softly on Luna's shoulder as Harry once more apologized for not being fast enough. The blonde had her friend wrapped in a tight hug as she watched the drama unfold. Voldemort's shade gloating again had more than just Sirius growling. Stabbing the diary and Fawkes's tears healing him ended the memory.

"I will never forget that hug you gave me in the Great Hall, Harry," Hermione whispered.

He nodded against her head. "Best one I've ever gotten."

She grinned up at him as he got up to retrieve the memory.

"Mister Potter," called Minerva as the memory ended, "The dead basilisk was nothing compared to that memory. Few have ever gone up against a basilisk even a quarter of that size and lived."

"Ginny was going to die. I had to do something," he answered from the pensieve, "But unfortunately the shocks aren't over yet."

So saying, he placed another silvery thread of memory into the bowl. "Nothing much from third year, since with Sirius sitting so serenely over there," he chuckled, "especially since most of you saw the memory of Peter Pettigrew at the Shrieking Shack at his trial, but there is one more thing I would like to show you."

Hermione knew exactly what it was before the Forbidden Forest appeared. The dementors. Harry's ghostly stag patronus chasing off a hundred dementors from his godfather had the entire room staring at him in awe.

"I've never even heard of a patronus that strong before!" exclaimed the charms professor, "and for a child barely into his teens to cast one is remarkable! Mister Potter I can truly say you are a one-of-a-kind wizard! That stag looked almost solid!"

"We spent a lot of time that year studying boggarts. I bet after that, a dementor's boggart is Harry now," Neville chuckled.

"I was pretty out of it by that point, pup, but watching that memory was amazing. It was like seeing the ghost of James Potter," Sirius breathed, suspicious glistening appearing at the corner of his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Mister Black?" Minerva asked with an arched eyebrow.

Sirius grinned, "Pettigrew wasn't the only one of the Marauders that was an animagus, Professor McGonagall. James was a stag we nicknamed Prongs."

"And?" the professor pressed, yeas of teaching experience helping her to recognize when she wasn't getting the whole story.

"And…I'm a large dog, a Grim, that they nicknamed Padfoot," he admitted before standing up and morphing into his form. A quick bark before he headed over to Minerva's chair and tried to lick her hand had the assembled group breaking down into laughter. She jerked her hand back and conjured a rolled-up newspaper. Filius contributed by charming it to chase him around the room until he morphed back.

"I take it you'll be registering your form now, Sirius?" Amelia asked him.

"Yes, Amelia I will register," he dutifully answered, sitting down in a huff.

"Now, time for the crux of the matter," Harry gave a humorless laugh at his own joke, putting a series of memories into the bowl, rather than one large one.

For fourth year, he started with the lighting of the goblet, watching Fred and George turn elderly, and then having his name spit out. Angry mutterings broke out when Dumbledore pushed Harry in the champions' room afterward.

"That bastard laid hands on you?" Sirius almost roared.

"Yeah, I never figured out why he was so mad, either," Harry answered his godfather.

"I don't care what his reasons were. He knows how you were raised. For him to put hands on you is disgraceful."

"I won't disagree with that, Sirius," Amelia chimed in.

The school turning against him again was next, and even though it would embarrass the redhead next to him, since Hufflepuffs led the charge against the glory-stealing Gryffindor he couldn't help but include an image of Susan wearing the 'Potter Stinks' badge.

He heard a sniffle to one side, and turning, saw shiny tear tracks coursing down Susan's cheeks. Despite her dismay, she seemed resolute in refusing to drop her head to hide from what she'd done. The redhead kept her eyes fixed on the memory, absorbing it. She had apologized to him already, but seeing her like this made it more real. Something to think about later.

His memories took the group quickly through the first task of the tournament, evoking gasps at an up-close view of how he outflew a Hungarian Horntail.

When the next memory started, he looked over to Amelia and Augusta. "I included this one for you both, Amelia and Madam Longbottom. I figured you didn't get the chance to see Susan and Neville at the Yule Ball."

With two grateful smiles in his direction, they all turned back to the projection. Neville stood waiting nervously for his date, but Augusta gave him a pat on his arm. "You were dashing, grandson."

Ginny cleared her throat. "You were a perfect gentleman the entire night, Neville. I never properly thanked you for that," she said with a slight waver to her voice.

The boy was fighting back another blush. "I was glad to escort you, Ginny," he said.

Susan's emerald dress had Amelia smiling. "You did wonderful, Susan. That dress is beautiful on you."

Harry was transfixed. Susan's figure was usually mostly concealed by the bulky Hogwarts robes, but seeing his own memory of her dress reminded him that she was all girl, and a gorgeous one, too.

Then the projection switched from watching Hermione come down the stairs in her periwinkle dress to Susan twirling with a Hufflepuff boy he didn't know. "You were both so beautiful. I should have asked you," Harry murmured, leaning forward and putting his face in his hands.

Hermione and Susan shared a look behind his head, unsure to which girl he was referring. Hermione curled up one corner of her lips, which Susan matched.

Skipping ahead to the second task, they all saw Neville tell him about gillyweed. "Thanks, mate," Harry said to the quiet Gryffindor, "You saved my bacon with that plant."

Neville blushed. Even in the darkened room his face got noticeably darker. "No worries, Harry. Plants are kind of my thing."

"And you're extremely good at working with them," Hannah told him with her eyes shining.

Having not seen anything other than the surface of the water, when the people there saw Harry's memory, they were surprised at everything that went on below the lake. Saving Fleur from the grindylows and then rescuing Gabrielle along with Ron had them all regarding him with a bit of wonder. "At least now you can't argue anymore that you don't have a 'saving people' thing," Hermione poked him.

He chuckled back at her.

Then the third task began and the mood shifted. Everyone knew something big was about to happen. Hannah shared a fearful glance with Susan while Hermione squeezed Harry's arm.

Seeing Viktor attack Fleur in the maze had Hermione gasping in outrage. "Wait, wait," Harry soothed, stroking her arm. Harry's memory showed the glassy look in his eyes as Harry put him down. "He was under the Imperius!" she gasped, relieved that Viktor was still the decent man who took her to her first ball.

"Yeah, that's what I figured," Harry answered, knowing the whole room could hear him.

The footrace to the Cup had everyone on the edge of their seats. Susan and Hannah gasped as the sentient roots grabbed a hold of Cedric. They all saw the hesitation in Harry's eyes, but when Cedric's plight got to be too dire, Harry once more rose to the occasion and rescued the other wizard.

Susan gave up all pretense and drew Harry into as much of a hug as she could from his side, trapping his arm against her chest. "That just shows how good of a man you are, Mister Potter," she sniffed into his collar.

"You're a hero, Harry," Hermione whispered, unconsciously echoing some of Hagrid's first words to him.

Harry tried to shrug, but with two witches on his arms, it was a lost cause. He didn't exactly want to draw too much attention to where his arms were, either, lest the moment be broken. Then he and Cedric touched the accursed Cup.

The people in the room cringed at the motion of a portkey. Not being the one transported left each one of them queasy and disoriented until it stopped.

"Kill the spare." The hissed voice of the creature that was Tom Riddle startled them all, except Harry. Knowing what was coming and having no desire to relive the night that featured in his worst dreams ever since, he chose to watch the people there.

At the sickly green beam of light, Susan flinched, clinging to his arm like a lifeline, but refusing to look away from Cedric's final moments. He couldn't see Hermione's face, but he swore he could hear a sniffle.

Neville had Hannah buried into the crook of his neck, but she, too would not look away. Ron looked grim while Ginny and Luna were clutching each other.

Amelia's eyes were fixed on the scene she'd already observed. Augusta and Minerva's mouths were hanging open in shock, and Filius looked like he wanted to draw his wand and start fighting. Pomona had tears running down her cheeks while the healer in Poppy looked broken at seeing someone she couldn't heal.

Sirius looked like a volcano about to blow its top. Harry winced. Right on cue, the rat had cut off his hand and stabbed Harry's arm. His godfather's rage was about to boil over, but the reemergence of Tom Riddle from the cauldron had everyone gasping in fear. "Damn that is one ugly bugger. Maybe that's why he's so mad. He was actually good looking as a younger man, at least from Harry's memory of the Chamber," Amelia chuckled, achieving her goal of drawing weak laughter from the rest of the room.

"Well that puts paid to the Imperius excuse," Sirius grumbled, watching wizard after wizard appear before being unmasked, clear of eye and speech.

"Exactly. I tried to take this memory to Fudge after Harry gave it to me, but the dithering ninny wouldn't even see it," Amelia returned.

The entire room felt the rage as Riddle hit Harry with Cruciatus after Cruciatus. When Riddle proposed the duel, heads started shaking all over. None of them wanted Harry to get into a magical duel with one of the most powerful wizards on the planet.

When the duel started, the linking of the wands bathed the room in the light of the spells. The girls on either side of him quickly picked up on the position of the bead of light between the two that seemed to signify who was winning the battle. Whispers of encouragement from the others told him they were not alone in that realization.

Susan gasped at the sight of Cedric's shade appearing out of Riddle's wand, Hannah not far behind her. Sirius's sudden intake of breath sounded next, knowing who was most likely going to follow.

Seeing James's and Lily's ghosts urging their son to escape the fight finished Hermione. Buried in his shoulder, her slender body shook with her sobs at the torment her friend endured at finally seeing his parents, but only seeing their shades.

Susan was next when Cedric asked Harry to return his body to his father. He looked over and as expected saw Hannah shielding her eyes with Neville's shoulder. The other boy's arms wrapped her in a tight embrace as his nose was buried in her hair.

Luna had a tight grip on Ginny still as they both cried, but neither girl shrank back from the images.

Glancing over, Harry could see from the glassy look in his eyes and half-smile that his godfather was broken. Tears overflowed their banks and coursed down his face at his old friends.

After all that, his hasty escape to Cedric and summoning of the Cup made for an almost anticlimactic escape. He'd ended the memory there, knowing there wasn't anything else to show everyone. Harry had to extract himself from Hermione and Susan, who weren't for letting go easily. At his absence, the distraught witches seemed to gravitate towards each other without a conscious decision. With a flick of his wand, the lights came back to full strength and he retrieved his last memory of the evening.

Before he could move, he found himself enveloped in gentle warmth. The blonde hair obstructing his vision told Harry just who was in his arms. "You are the most amazing person I have ever come across, Harry. I'm so proud to call you my friend," Luna whispered. Before he could reply, Hermione and Susan joined them soon followed by Ginny, Neville, Hannah, and Ron to make it a huge group hug with himself in the center. The girls were whispering encouragement and support while Neville and Ron gave him solid pats on the back, promising to be there the next time he faced off with the Noseless Wonder.

Harry looked around the room, seeing many people that weren't in any better shape than the two young women he'd left on the couch. "Dobby, Floppy!" he called.

The two elves appeared with twin pops. "Yes, Master Harry?" Dobby asked.

"Dobby, what have I asked you before? In the house, please just call me Harry," he reminded.

"Of course. What can we's be doings for you?"

"I think we're all in need of refreshments. Can you organize brandy and firewhiskey for the adults and butterbeers for the teens?"

The two elves looked around doing a mental count. With twin snaps, the requested drinks appeared. "Thank you both! I'll call for you if I need you again," he smiled.

The refreshments disappeared from the trays as quickly as they'd appeared. Everyone seemed to be in need of something to re-center themselves after the intensity of the memories. Hermione and Susan weren't for leaving his side, so eventually the room divided into adults conversing on one side while teenagers were left on the other.

Susan had a sudden dawning of an idea. Moving away from Harry, she walked around the outside of the circle to her best friend and took her aside for a quiet conversation. Harry tried to follow the movement, but when they started whispering, he couldn't hear what they were talking about. Just at that moment, Hermione grabbed his attention, asking him how he felt about seeing his parents.

After a few minutes, Harry heard a throat clearing behind him. Turning, he saw Professor Sprout looking at him, flanked by Susan and Hannah, with Professors Flitwick and McGonagall behind them. "Mister Potter," the teacher began, "Miss Bones and Miss Abbott came to me with an idea that, in retrospect, I wish I had come up with myself. In light of how much you worked to help Cedric, saving his life, and then bringing his body back under extreme duress, Hufflepuff House would like to issue a formal apology for the actions of its members in wearing those badges."

Embarrassed, Harry tried to wave her off. "It's really okay, Professor Sprout. It was an easy mistake to make…"

She was having none of it. "No, it is most certainly not okay, Mister Potter. The way you were treated is a stain on Hufflepuff honor, especially in light of the proof of your exemplary behavior. To that end, Susan and Hannah came to me with this idea, and after discussing it with Filius and Minerva, we all agreed. From now on, you will be the first Hogwarts student ever to be considered of two houses: Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. You will have a dorm room in the Sett and all the access and rights accorded to students sorted into our House at the formal Sorting. Welcome to the House of the Badgers, Mister Potter."

Stunned, Harry looked around. "I really don't know what to say. Professor McGonagall, are you okay with this?"

Smiling at him, Minerva nodded. "I think it's an excellent idea. If it were up to me, you'd be getting an Order of Merlin for your bravery, Mister Potter. This is the very least Hogwarts can do. I will fix the records tomorrow at the castle, and your robes will feature both color schemes."

"In that case, I am deeply honored to accept," Harry said to Professor Sprout.

Susan rushed to give him a rib-crushing hug, Hannah right behind her. When Susan stepped back, Hannah looked up at him, pale blue eyes shining. "I'm very sorry for how I treated you, Harry. I thought you were trying to upstage a Hufflepuff student, and now I know how wrong that was. Will you ever forgive me?"

"Yeah, Hannah, don't worry about it," he said, looking down at the floor, "I probably would have done the exact same in your shoes."

"No, you wouldn't have, but that's not the point. You can count on me from now on. I may not be in your league when it comes to power, but I'll do what I can."

"Thanks, Hannah," he smiled at the girl while Susan gave her friend an ear-to-ear smile.

After that, they split up into smaller groups and took the chance to use the loo before Harry gathered them all back again.

"Okay, so that was the background," Harry said, standing in front of the room once more as everyone enjoyed their drinks.

"Damn, pup. If that was the background what the hell is the real stuff?"

"Trust me, Sirius. It's big," he answered.

"What happens next, Mister Potter?" Augusta Longbottom asked.

"I'm glad you were the one to ask that, Madam Longbottom," he answered, "To answer that, I need to go back in time to just before I was born. Dumbledore was interviewing a professor for the Divination spot at Hogwarts at the Hog's Head in Hogsmeade."

"Wait, why was he interviewing her there? Dumbledore has never conducted any other interviews outside the school itself," Minerva interjected.

Filius nodded. "When I was hired, he escorted me on the long route through the school, I guess to properly overawe me at the majesty of the building."

"Well, from what I can gather, he's never done it any other time," Harry answered, "And I think I know why he did in this instance. During that interview, Professor Trelawney made a genuine prophecy, one regarding myself and He-Who-Shall-Remain-Noseless. Amelia took me to the Department of Mysteries after I got out of the hospital to hear what it said."

Taking a deep breath, Harry launched into the words. "The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies... and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies..."

Unsurprisingly, McGonagall was the loudest voice after he finished. "What a load of tripe! That ambiguous nonsense could mean anything!"

"Well, Dumbledore and Riddle both took it as literal Gospel truth," Harry answered, waiting for the reaction.

He didn't have to wait long. Augusta, still trying to work through the implications, sat up straight, "Riddle knows this?! That could have applied to Neville just as much as you!"

"He knows the first part. Apparently, someone overheard the first three lines and told him," Harry answered. "But who would have been in Hogsmeade at that point in time with connections to Riddle is something I haven't exactly figured out yet."

"SNAPE!" shouted Flitwick. "That explains everything! Why Dumbledore has always insisted the man was trustworthy, why he was in both inner circles during and after the war, and why he wasn't summoned to the graveyard in your memory! Snape was a confirmed, convicted Death Eater, but got off punishment solely on Dumbledore's word."

Harry sat down heavily, knowing the truth when he heard it. "So many things make more sense now."

"All this is well and good," Augusta said, knowing that it wasn't and they would need to return to the subject in the future, "but does anyone know why he's apparently not dead?"

"That is the crux of the matter, if you will," Harry answered, "Literally, in this case. For this part I need a promise from you all that what we're going to talk about is not going to leave this room."

Surprised faces – except for Amelia – greeted that pronouncement, but eventually everyone nodded. "What do you all know about horcruxes?"

Dead silence.

"Mister Potter! Those are some of the darkest magic in the world!" Pomona exclaimed.

"A fact of which I am well aware, Professor Sprout. Nevertheless, the Unspeakables have informed me that Riddle has created horcruxes."

"Horcruxes, plural?" Flitwick wanted to confirm; eyes wide at the implications. "Riddle created multiple containers for portions of his soul?"

"Yes, plural," answered Harry, "The Unspeakables aren't, or weren't when I spoke to them last, sure of how many exactly, but we know the diary I stabbed that was possessing Ginny was one, and…" he trailed off, unsure of how to continue.

"And?" Hermione and Susan prompted him in unison, sharing a surprised look as they did so.

He took another deep breath. "And my scar," he said, gesturing to his forehead.

"WHAT?!" the explosion of noise from all around him seem to hit him like a wave.

Shrugging, Harry met frightened eyes. Focusing in on blue and brown in the front couch, he tried to be as calm as he could relating what might be a death sentence. "When the healers at St. Mungo's scanned me, they found extreme dark magic concentrated on my scar. The Unspeakables did the same scans and confirmed that the horcrux was a match for the same magical signature as the diary. I have a piece of Tom Riddle's soul lodged in my head."

"Dear Merlin!" Minerva breathed, eyes spinning with the implications.

"But you destroyed the diary with a basilisk fang," Filius said.

Harry nodded. "Exactly, and I don't fancy anyone sticking one into my head, even with Fawkes right nearby. That pain was ridiculous."

"And neither can live while the other survives," Hermione murmured, catching up to the professors. "It all fits…" she trailed off with a dismayed cry.

"What all fits? What the bloody hell are you talking about?" Ron exclaimed, receiving several disapproving stares from his professors for his language.

Harry took a deep breath and looked at his first friend in the Wizarding World. "Amelia, the Unspeakables, and I came to the same conclusion that Hermione apparently just did. A horcrux is a soul jar, Ron, and while I have a piece of his soul in my head, he cannot be completely killed. He would go back to being a wraith, waiting for his next chance at a resurrection ritual."

"For that horcrux to be destroyed, then you would have to be, as well," came Luna's understanding voice, full of dismay.

Giving the girl a tight smile, Harry shoved his hands in his pockets. "Unspeakable Croaker said that there were people in his department that wanted to take me from St. Mungo's and toss me through the Veil to get rid of it," he admitted.

"Over my dead body!" Hermione shouted, jumping to her feet as protests sounded around the room. Susan was right behind her, outraged at the idea of killing someone who had displayed so much heroism.

Amelia's humorless chuckle broke the mood. "I said the very same thing, Miss Granger."

"She even stood between me and Croaker," Harry grinned at the older woman, "But I don't want to talk about Riddle right now. I want to talk about another old, manipulative wizard. I think the sum of the events we've seen points to a very disturbing conclusion, one I haven't even shared with Amelia yet because I don't want to believe it could be true."

"Dumbledore?" asked Pomona.

"Yep. I think the prophecy is what has driven his every action. It was just after hearing the prophecy that he told my parents to go into hiding, Snape told Riddle, and everything went to hell."

"Then he placed you with the Dursleys," Hermione murmured, seeing where he was going and not liking it at all.

"Had me locked up for years with no trial, sealing James and Lily's will," Sirius continued, understanding dawning on him as well.

"Kept you ignorant of the magical world and your place in it, not to mention your family history," chimed in Neville.

"All the traps in your first year, using a treasure as bait for Riddle's spirit," McGonagall remembered.

"Allowing a horcrux into Hogwarts, past the wards," said Filius, scratching his chin.

Pomona took up the tale next. "The tournament, not knowing the impostor pretending to be his long-time friend."

Harry finished the story. "The only conclusion I can think of is that he wants me virtually unable to defend myself against Riddle. Dumbledore is raising me to sacrifice my own life."

"But what happens afterward? Wouldn't Riddle be free to take over Britain if that happens?" asked a fearful Susan.

"My guess is that he plans to be there when it happens, shed a few crocodile tears over my body, and finish Riddle himself, claiming all the glory for ridding the world of another Dark Lord," Harry answered her. "Have you ever noticed how he never refers to Riddle by his name? Only by the false title and anagram. I think he believes it will make his victory all the more impressive in the eyes of the wizarding world."

Several mouths opened and closed around the room as people tried to poke holes in his theory, but none could.

"So, what are you going to do, Harry?"

Surprisingly, it was Susan that voiced the question that was almost visibly apparent on everyone's mind.

Harry took another deep breath, steeling his nerves and idly wondering if all the deep breathing was going to have him hyperventilating if he lost control at any moment, "Everyone in this room is someone I count among the most important to me in the world, and perhaps not coincidentally, would be among the first targets whenever Riddle and his band of merry masked morons decides to make a move against me."

"Twenty points for alliteration, Mister Potter," grinned the head of Ravenclaw house.

With a cheeky bow to the teacher, Harry looked back at the rest of the room. "If it hadn't become apparent what Dumbledore wants to do, I would have suggested staying here and laying low, but with Dumbledore most likely trying to find me and keep me under his thumb, I think I need to go somewhere far away for a while. Call it a vacation from people trying to kill me, even."

"Where would you go, mate?" Ron piped up.

"When Amelia took me to the goblins to formally read my parents' will, I found out that I own quite a few properties all around the world. I would like to take as many of you as are willing to go to one of my properties for a couple weeks at least."

Amelia took the lead as his guardian. "You better believe you're not getting out of my sight with two lunatics trying to hunt you down. Fudge will just have to suck it up. Susan will be coming with, too."

"You know I'm going to go with, Pup. You got my name cleared, and I have a lot of years to make up for," Sirius declared.

"I'll be there," Hermione declared, "My parents won't be able to close their practice for that long, but I will be able to go."

The professors shared a look. Minerva stood, acting as their spokesperson, as deputy headmistress. "I think we can do more good at the school, keeping Albus distracted and watching out for Riddle's activities."

Harry nodded his understanding. "That makes sense, and I really appreciate it, Professor McGonagall."

Luna gave him a beatific smile. "I think it would be for the best if I came along as well, Harry. Thank you for the kindness."

Ron and Ginny looked at each other over the back of the sofa. "We need to talk to Mum, but if she says yes then we're in too, Harry," his friend said.

For his part, Neville kept quiet, unsure of his place in the group. A hand on his shoulder had him jumping on the sofa next to Hannah. "This will be your choice, Neville. With Amelia and Sirius along I trust you'll be safe."

The boy shared a look with the girl next to him. "If you have room, I'd love to come along, Harry."

Finally, Hannah was the only one left on the spot. "I'll talk to my parents, same as Ron and Ginny," she said quietly.

"Great!" Harry smiled widely. "How fast can everyone get permission?"

"I will need to get back home somehow and talk to my parents. It might be best if Madam Bones came along?" she asked, raising the tone of her voice at the end to turn the statement into a question.

"I think that would be an excellent idea. Ron can get you home after you both Floo back to your house tonight, and then in the morning Harry and I can apparate over to your house to discuss things you're your parents?"

Hermione gave the older witch a smile. "That sounds great. Maybe if Harry tells us where we'll be going, Hannah, Susan, Ginny, and I can go shopping for stuff we might need."

All eyes turned to the green-eyed wizard of two houses. "No offense to anyone who may or may not be able to go, but all I will say right now is that it will involve a tropical beach."

The teens all cheered, excited for the idea of a beach vacation.

"Excellent. Anyone who has permission to come along should be back here tomorrow at noon," Amelia declared, "Then we'll go over the arrangements tomorrow when everyone who can come is here."

Chapter Text

July 13, 1995

"Are you sure you want to go through with this, Harry?" Amelia asked as she and Harry ascended the steps into Gringotts.

"Absolutely. I'm the one who invited them to leave their lives behind even for a couple weeks, so I want to do this for them," he answered, "Besides, I can't wait to see the look on their faces."

Amelia laughed, knowing how Susan would react to what Harry was arranging. "I'm glad that Hannah was able to make the trip," she said, testing Harry's reaction to the girl who seemed most hesitant in her interactions with him.

"If you want some entertainment, watch Neville when she gets to the Burrow," Harry grinned at her, "He's had a bit of a crush on her for a while."

With a groan, Amelia followed him up the stairs. "Great, and we're all going to a tropical island paradise together? That won't be awkward for them at all," she said.

Harry held the door for her to enter, grinning at her sarcasm. "Luckily we'll have you and Sirius along to chaperone."

"Rascal," she returned his grin.

Leading the way into the lobby, she joined him in waiting for the next available teller. "Good morning, teller. Harry Potter to see Grinlast at his earliest convenience," he declared.

The goblin gave him a toothy smile. "Grinlast left word to escort you to his office whenever you present yourself to Gringotts. Follow me."

Amelia and Harry shared a look before they shrugged and followed the goblin. He eventually led them to Grinlast's door. The Potter Account Manager looked up at their entrance. "Ah, Mister Potter and Madam Bones! What brings you to my office today?"

Harry and Amelia took seats in front of his desk. "I'm about to go on vacation for a couple weeks, and it occurred to me that some of my friends who are coming along might need muggle documents like a passport as well as clothes suitable for where we're headed. Since I invited them all to spend time with me, I want to fund their purchases and airfare." He went into detail about what he wanted and how he wanted it disbursed.

"We can arrange funds and travel documents for you without difficulty, Harry," Grinlast answered as he scratched yet more instructions.

"Great! I'll wait here for all of those and then hand them out later on."

While they waited for the documents and cards to come back, Amelia looked at her ward. "Do you know what your long-term plans are for all of this?"

Harry gave her a calculating look. "I have an idea for what I want to happen, but I don't know if I can pull it off. A lot has to happen and a lot has to go to right for what I intend, but I think I manage it. We can talk about it in more detail when we get out of the country."

Further replies had to wait as a goblin appeared with an armload of documents. Grinlast shrunk them all down and handed the bundle over to Harry, who slipped them into his satchel. "Thank you, Grinlast. Does Gringotts have branches in other countries?"

"We either have branch offices in areas allied to Britain like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and others, or we have relationships with the banking offices in other countries."

"Excellent. Thank you very much for your help once more, Grinlast. I hope that our continued association fills your coffers to overflowing."

"And may your enemies soon find themselves nothing more than a forgotten footnote in the dusty pages of history, Mister Potter," Grinlast replied with a bow.

Harry and Amelia returned the bow before leaving his office. A few quick steps out of the bank and they were at the Leaky Cauldron and taking the public Floo to the Burrow.

Molly didn't even let Harry get the soot off of him after sliding across the floor out of their fireplace before she'd pulled him up into a rib-straining hug.

"Oh, Harry! Ron and the twins told us about those awful muggles you grew up with but I wasn't sure it could be as bad as they described!"

"Missus Weasley! Need air!" Harry tried to gasp around her embrace. Despite its warmth, it had the unintended effect of spreading soot to herself as well as him. He tried to stifle a sneeze from the soot but couldn't stop it.

"Oh my, I'm sorry. Here, let me help you with that," the older woman apologized, cleaning him and herself off with a cleaning spell impressive for the silent casting she used.

With a flaring of the familiar green flames, Amelia popped out behind him. Her exit from the fireplace was graceful and firm, just like the woman herself. "Molly," she greeted, "Thanks for having us here. I take it the kids talked to you?"

"Yes, they did. Normally I wouldn't allow them to go off to the other end of the world on their own, but with you and Sirius Black going along, I think they'll be fine," the redhead answered, "Xeno said the same for Luna, or at least I think he did. Just kind of waved at her when she asked, I guess. He hasn't exactly been right in the head since his wife passed a few years ago."

"Excellent. I heard from Susan over at the Abbott's this morning that Hannah can come along as well, so we just need to check in with the Grangers about Hermione. We were supposed to meet back at my house but this one," she gestured to Harry, decided that the magical-raised needed to look like muggles when we travel and decided to take everyone shopping today. I contacted the children earlier via Floo. After the shopping, we can get the children back to Bones Manor to make the final preparations. Susan and Hannah should be Floo-ing over momentarily."

"Ron can Floo-call Neville while you meet Hermione and her family," Molly offered, "but can you tell me anything about where you're going to be headed? All he or Ginny would say is that a beach is involved."

"That's all Harry's told me," Amelia said, shooting a side-eye at the boy, "Apparently he feels that keeping the destination to himself is a security measure."

"Well, after what we learned about Albus, I can certainly understand that!" huffed the Weasley matriarch, "I think we can trust Harry to visit a property his parents left to him with you and Sirius there, too, Amelia. Trusting Sirius Black with our children; I certainly never thought I'd say those words!"

Amelia returned the chuckle, understanding the sentiment completely. If she hadn't seen the change that being out of Azkaban and involved in the life of a younger person like Harry had wrought on Sirius, she wouldn't have believed it either.

"So, Ron, Ginny, Luna, and Hannah will go to have some lunch at the Leaky Cauldron. You, Harry, and Susan will go to the Granger's. When you're ready, you'll meet up with them through the muggle side of the Leaky Cauldron?"

"That's our plan. We'll go shopping for clothes for the trip in muggle London, and we've set it up with Gringotts to arrange the muggle-style travel to avoid both Voldemort and Dumbledore," Amelia explained.

"Oh, my husband will love hearing all about that when you get back!" Molly laughed, "Okay, I hope you all have a great time on this vacation."

After a little bit more small talk, Harry called for Dobby to take them to Hermione's house.

"What's wrong, Hermione?" Mary Granger asked, seeing her daughter sitting on her bed, a wistful look on her face. Light from the window over her desk spilled across the room, illuminating the pale blue walls and giving the room its airy appearance that Hermione had always loved.

"Oh, hi mum," the girl answered, looking up, "I was just thinking about what we all learned about Harry the other day at Susan's house. His house now, too, I guess."

"Who is Susan?"

"Susan Bones. She's a Hufflepuff in my year, and really nice. We've had a few classes with the 'Puffs over the years like Defense and Herbology, and I always got along with her. Hufflepuff is the house of the hardworking, kind, and loyal, so she was easy to work with on projects.

"She's also the niece of Amelia Bones, the Director of all Magical Law Enforcement. When Harry finally got his parents' will read, it said that Amelia was to be his guardian until he comes of age, so he was able to get away from his awful relatives and into a safe home. Plus, she's high up enough in the Ministry, and powerful enough as a witch, that she will be able to help protect him from just about anything."

"Why does she live with her aunt?"

"Her parents were killed in the first war with Voldemort in the 1980s, just like Harry's parents were. Amelia took her in when she was a baby and raised her as her own."

"That speaks volumes about this Amelia's character. I remember you told me a little bit about Harry's relatives when you went to find him, I remember," Mary said, sitting down next to Hermione, "And then a little more about his adventures at school that night. No one should have to live that way. In fact, if you hadn't found him, we were going to call the authorities ourselves that night."

"That's right! You're both required to report child abuse! I should have thought of that. Oh well. At least now he's healthy and with a safe, caring new guardian," Hermione said.

Giving her daughter a calculating look, Mary tried to figure out how to phrase her next question. The answer was obvious from all her letters home, but she needed to know if Hermione knew the answer for herself. "Hermione, I don't think I would be overstepping, nor do I think it would be an earth-shaking surprise necessarily, for me to assume that your concern for Harry is somewhat more than it might be for any other friend?"

Hermione's mouth, opened to respond to her mother's initial assumption, dropped open in surprise. With a bright red blush, she turned back to her bed and muttered something only she could hear.


"Yes! Yes, okay? I have a crush on Harry!"

Mary chuckled, reaching out and drawing her little girl into a hug. "There's nothing at all wrong with that, dear. You're a teenaged girl; he's a teenaged boy. It's kind of the most normal thing you've had to deal with since going to Hogwarts."

"But half the witches at Hogwarts have crushes on Harry. What would he want with a shy bookworm like me?" Hermione asked, downcast, "And living with Susan just complicates things."

"Why would that matter?"

"She's beautiful, mum! Her skin is the healthy kind of pale, she has these gorgeous waves of auburn hair, kind blue eyes…when I was over there to swim yesterday, I ran into her after she changed and mum, she's so much more developed than I am. I mean, one of hers is bigger than both of mine! Why would Harry even consider me when he's already living under the same roof as someone like Susan Bones?"

"Don't worry about that right now," Mary urged, "You're only just shy of fifteen years old. Be his friend first and foremost. From what you've told me about him, that's what he needs more than anything else. If he returns the feelings, he'll find a way to let you know."

Hermione bit her lip before deciding to go ahead and reveal her biggest secret to her mother. "I definitely do have a crush on Harry, but what if…mum, is it normal to have feelings for more than one person at the same time?"

"At your age? Absolutely. You're still learning about who you are and who you want to be. Just have fun for now, getting to know people and staying friends. Is there any one in particular other than Harry that you're attracted to?" Mary asked, sensing the answer.

Hermione was chewing on her lip by that point. "I don't really know yet, but maybe? I don't really want to talk about it until I have the chance to think about my own feelings."

Mary gave her daughter a hug, but before she could say anything else, there was a knock at the front door. "Wasn't Harry supposed to be arriving this morning?"

"Yeah, but not just yet," Hermione answered. "Who could that be?"

There weren't many people lower on the list of those she expected to see at her door over the summer holidays than Albus Dumbledore, Hermione reflected as she opened the door. "Yes, Headmaster? What brings you to our house today?"

"Ah, good morning, Miss Granger. I was wondering if I might come in for a conversation best not suited for outside ears," he explained, looking around.

"I don't think that would be a great idea, Headmaster," Hermione declined, "I was at your trial, remember. I don't know how much I can trust you. Certainly not around my parents."

"I'm here to try to find your friend Harry, Miss Granger. He needs to be in a safe place right now," Dumbledore persisted. "I really must insist I come inside for this conversation. You wouldn't want to be implicated as the reason for magic being seen in a muggle area, would you?"

She hated it, but the man had a point. Plus, if she could keep him occupied and in one place long enough, Amelia might show up and arrest him. "Sure, come in," she said, keeping a wary eye on the man and her right hand near her wand. Once the door was closed, she reiterated her question as she guided him into the sitting room just out of sight from the front door, gesturing for him to take a chair that faced away from the rest of the house. "What brings you here today, Headmaster?"

Dumbledore folded his hands and looked at her. "I was merely wondering if you knew anything of the whereabouts of your close friend Harry. These are dangerous days, and with him not living with his loving relatives any longer, I fear for his safety."

"Loving relatives? You mean the same ones who attacked him and nearly murdered him? Those loving relatives? If you think he's going back to that prison ever again you must be out of your mind!" Hermione growled at him.

Out of sight on the stairs, Hermione's parents were standing and waiting to see how their daughter would handle the confrontation. She had always been respectful of authority figures growing up, sometimes to the point of hero-worship, so the way she was standing toe to toe with her own headmaster spoke volumes for her growing independence.

"Now, now, Miss Granger," the old man said, managing to look disappointed rather than annoyed at her intransigence, "That is no way for a prefect to speak to her Headmaster."

Unbeknownst to anyone in the house, Amelia, Susan, and Harry had popped right on the front walk just behind the Headmaster as he went inside. Amelia whispered for the two teens to stay on the front walk while she snuck into monitor the situation. With no real reason for Dumbledore to be at the Granger's house, she wanted to keep the girl safe. She opened the door without a sound and slipped in on the balls of her feet, hiding in the front hallway and listening to the conversation around the corner in the sitting room.

"Prefect?" Hermione asked, voice wavering. It had been one step in her planned Hogwarts career to make prefect and hold that position on her way to becoming Head Girl, but the way

"I was going to have Minerva inform you when she sends your supply list, but this attitude is so unfortunate that I thought it would be best to let you know of exactly what you stand to lose should you continue to disrespect my authority."

"According to what I've read in Hogwarts: A History, your authority as Headmaster of Hogwarts doesn't extend to its students over the holidays, especially when you're not that student's guardian. I won't be bribed or bullied to tell tales on my best friend!" she shot back, eyes fiery.

"Enough of this! I insist you tell me where Harry is at this moment! If you continue this unconscionable disrespect to my authority, I will have no choice but to expel you from Hogwarts!" Dumbledore thundered, determined to cow the young girl into submission.

Hermione's mother gasped at the threat, and her father was raging, but Hermione's next words held them in place. "You go right ahead and expel the top student in my year, Headmaster. My very next stops will be The Daily Prophet and The Quibbler. I think magical Britain would love to see how their adored Headmaster treats another one of his best students on matters that have nothing to do with him, especially when that student has just gotten out of the hospital after his 'loving relatives' almost beat him to death! Then I'll be off to France to enroll in Beauxbatons. After that farce of a Tournament, I doubt Madam Maxime would have any problems accepting me as a transfer student. Would you care to wager on my prospects of getting Harry to transfer, too?"

Raw, naked fear flashed in Dumbledore's eyes for a fraction of a second, but it was there, and she saw it. Without hesitation, he turned around and pinned her with a glare. Hermione felt a pressure in her forehead. "Ouch!

Amelia chanced a peek around the corner. Dumbledore was glaring at the girl, forcing eye contact. Hermione stood stock still, but appeared to be fighting him off. That was enough for her. She sent a silent banishing charm straight at the old man, breaking his eye contact and sending him crashing into the wall. So strong was her anger that he actually cratered the dry wall and sent picture frames tumbling.

Surging to his feet, Dumbledore moved to confront the threat, only to find two formidable witches pointing wands right at his head. "Performing legilimency on a minor in her own home, Dumbledore? If you move more than to put your wand on that end table and hold your hands out for me to arrest you, I'm going to take it as a threat and blow your head right off your shoulders," Amelia growled as she tapped a signal on her badge, "That is a distress call to the DMLE. Aurors will be here in moments to take you back into custody."

Dumbledore stood in shock, wondering what the Fates had against him to have Amelia-bloody-Bones dogging his every step. Knowing the game was up, he reached for an emergency portkey and twisted it, saying, "Until we meet again!"

He disappeared in a swirl.

Hermione blew out a breath of pure relief before turning and hugging a surprised Amelia. "Thank you, Madam Bones. He had me frozen. I was really worried he was going to going to figure out where Harry was."

"I'm glad I could be here to help. The timing couldn't have been better," she explained, seeing two adults who had to be Hermione's parents, from the photos she'd seen on the wall. She smiled as they came down the stairs and wrapped their daughter in a hug. "Call me Amelia, Hermione. You too, Mister and Missus Granger, I assume?"

"Thank you for defending our little girl," the mother said, extending her hand, "Call me Mary, please and this is my husband Michael. You rescued her from an attack, so the very least we can do is to let you call us by our names."

"Call me Mike," Hermione's dad insisted with his own handshake, "After that, you're always welcome in our house. And that's even before we talk about how you've taken in Hermione's best friend."

Said best friend was standing on the walk with Susan, waiting to see what happened. Dumbledore was one of the two most powerful wizards in the world, so Harry was worried about his friend and guardian.

To take his mind off what might be happening, Harry started examining the house. Even without knowing what Hermione's house looked like, Harry would have pictured exactly what he saw when Dobby dropped them off. A moderately-sized dark brick house with large bushes guarding the walkway to the front door, with white-framed windows perfectly situated for letting in whatever sunlight happened to be about, it was a lovely home.

Before too much longer, the door opened to reveal Amelia beckoning them in. "Everything's okay and Dumbledore is gone."

Harry approached the door with Susan following close behind. Amelia led them around the corner, where a woman whose appearance alone told him this was Hermione's mother was standing with Hermione and an older man. Hair the same shade of brown, even without the bushiness, and kind eyes that crinkled at the corners when she saw Harry and smiled. He would have had no issues trusting her as a dentist, had the Dursleys ever taken him to see one.

"Harry! Come in! Hermione's told us so much about you!" Missus Granger exuded, drawing him into a gentle, but warm hug after the door closed behind him. "And you must be Amelia's niece Susan? Hermione was just telling me about you this morning."

A mortified, "Mum!" sounded from behind her.

Susan smiled, extending her hand. "Susan Bones. Pleased to meet you."

"Mary Granger, and it's a pleasure," she said, shaking hands. "Hermione's told me a fair bit about you as well, but all I really needed to know was that you and your aunt took in her best friend when he needed it most. You're always welcome in our home."

"That's right," said Hermione's father. Taller than Harry even after his nutrient potions, Hermione's father had a pale complexion, a sandy tint to his own brown hair, and the same kind eyes, "That told us all we needed to know, Missus Bones. Sorry, Amelia," he apologized and corrected off her look. He shook Susan's hand as well.

"Well I'm glad to hear that, at least," Amelia smiled, "Harry is a wonderful young man, as I've gotten to know since I met him in the hospital."

Blushing, Harry looked down at the floor. Fortunately, Hermione picked the exact right moment to rescue him from the adults. "Why don't I explain what we're going to be doing today?"

"That would be a good idea, Hermione. You told me something about shopping for a vacation, but not much more," Mike Granger said. He gestured to couches and chairs lining the sitting room for them to use.

"Well, as you can see, it's not just Voldemort that poses a danger. Dumbledore is after me to fulfill a prophecy about me and Voldemort, but on his own terms. I want to get out of the country for a while to see how they each handle me not dancing to their tune. To that end, I was intending to take all my friends shopping today for muggle clothes for them to go with me. I think we could all do with a break."

"And for you, too, Harry. Remember that Auntie wanted to take you shopping soon. You could use a new wardrobe," Susan chimed in with a wicked smirk.

Hermione grinned at his discomfiture. "It's true, Harry. Not only have you grown, but those disgraceful rags that your relatives had you wearing aren't fit to be burned."

Amelia made it unanimous. "Like Susan said, I was planning to take you clothes shopping this summer anyway, Harry. Might as well get it over while the girls are shopping." She was about to say more, but the sound of pops outside had her checking the windows. "Those should be my aurors that responded to my signal. I'll go outside and inform them of the situation."

She left via the front door as Harry threw up his hands. "I guess I'm outvoted. Time for the dreaded…shopping trip…" he mock-shuddered to general amusement.

Mike decided to throw the kid a bone. "We're a little hesitant to allow Hermione out of the country without us for two weeks. Or, I should say we were a little hesitant. The little display your Headmaster put on this morning is kind of changing that. Is there anything you can tell us about where you're going?"

"Well, Mister Granger, I could absolutely do that, but do you remember what Amelia said Dumbledore was trying to do to Hermione?"

"Legmens – something like that?" Mary responded.

"Legilimency, yeah. It's a magical tool that lets the legilimens – the person performing legilimency – read someone's mind. Not like reading a book, it lets them have access to the thoughts in their head. He was trying to read from Hermione's mind where I'm living. As muggles, you have even less defense against a mind attack, much less any legal recourse," Harry ran his hand through his hair, "I guess what I'm trying to say is that if he comes back here to try that on you, well you can't betray what you don't know, right?"

"What's that? Dumbledore tried to mind-rape a student of his? He's in so much hot water," Tonks piped up as she followed Amelia into the house. "Wotcher, Mister and Missus Granger. My name is Tonks. I'm an auror, a magical police officer."

The Grangers looked amazed at the pink-haired young woman that entered their sitting room. Harry shot up and gave Tonks a hug. "Hey, Tonks! I'm glad to see you again!"

"Tonks here was one of my bodyguards while I was in the hospital recently," he explained to Hermione's parents. "You're one of the aurors that responded to Amelia's signal about the old goat?"

"Better than that, buddy boy. I'm going to be your bodyguard for the duration, on special assignment from the DMLE," she retorted.

Harry looked at his guardian. "Amelia?"

"It's true," the older woman huffed, pretending to be annoyed at the girl, "I was going to explain it all, but Tonks here jumped the broom. I wanted an extra auror to watch over you and your friends while we're overseas, and possibly even after we get back if the situation doesn't improve. I was able to get Tonks the assignment."

"Excellent!" Harry enthused.

Hermione and Susan shared a look.

"Anyway, what I can tell you is that we're going to a property my family owns that I didn't know about until recently. It's large, with at least ten bedrooms, all with their own bathrooms, and fully staffed by house elves," he finished with a gulp, looking at Hermione.

"Harry James Potter!" she exploded.

Harry flinched away from the noise.

"Hermione!" surprisingly the scolding remark came from Susan. "That was totally un-called for! Look how badly you startled him!"

"But house elves are slaves!" the girl persisted.

"They might have a bond of servitude to their owners," Amelia interjected, wanting to avoid the conversation getting too far off-track, "But it's a symbiotic relationship. Without the family magic of a wizarding household bonding them, the elves will waste away and die, often going insane before the end. They use a magical family's very magic to survive, and perform service in thanks for their life essence."

Hermione gaped, looking like a goldfish at such an effective rebuke from a woman she respected. "I…I didn't know that," she admitted, "I'm sorry for startling you, Harry. I shouldn't have done that."

"Bloody hell! That's all I had to do?" Harry said, drawing laughter.

"She's always been a bit driven," Mary explained with a grin.

With a huff, the girl sat down and folded her arms across her chest, knowing she looked like a petulant child but not caring.

"Anyway, the property is somewhere tropical, with a private beach, and a staff of elves that will do laundry, cook when I can't convince them not to…"

"He's a really good cook," Susan interrupted for his benefit, smiling when he blushed. Tonks snickered at his bashfulness.

"Thanks," Harry grinned back at her, "And it's apparently got some of the best secrecy and privacy protections available in the magical world. The goblins assure me that once we're there, we're as safe as we can be. I've arranged to pay for the clothes everyone is buying today, as well as passports for everyone but Hermione – since I assumed that she already had one and we're traveling muggle-style to ensure no one in the magical world can track us. Amelia will be there, my godfather Sirius Black will be coming along, and now Tonks, too, so there'll be three adults to chaperone eight teenagers. It's just for a couple weeks. Are you sure we can't convince you to come along, too?"

Mike and Mary looked at each other. "We were going to take a vacation in August before Hogwarts started up again. I suppose if we make some calls, we might be able to find someone to cover the practice for us," Mary said.

Hermione jumped up, whooping in joy as she threw her arms around her parents. "Oh, this will be so amazing!"

Amelia smiled. "We're about to head down to the muggle side of the Leaky Cauldron to find the kids' friends. Would you like to join us for lunch and shopping?"

"I think that would be a great idea. We'll need tonight to pack, but a day shopping with these friends of our daughters would be wonderful," Mike answered.

Harry gave a mischievous grin, a look that had Hermione putting her head in her hands. "Oh, God. What now?" Tonks and Susan watched on, enjoying the show as they learned more about Harry.

"Mister Granger, would you like to see some magic?"

"First off, call me Mike please. If we're going to be getting to know each other over the next couple of weeks, let's lose the formalities."

"And call me Mary, Harry," Hermione's mother smiled at the rhyme.

"But yes, I think we would be very interested in seeing magic," Mike finished.

Harry smirked at Hermione. "Dobby!"

Hermione groaned as the elf popped in next to Harry. "Yes, Master Harry?" Dobby greeted.

"Dobby, these are Hermione's parents. She's my best friend, and they are all going on vacation with us, but it's kind of last-minute for them. Would you be so kind as to help them pack?"

The elf stared at Hermione's parents intently for a moment before disappearing again with a snap.

"What in the world?" Mary asked.

"Give him a moment," Harry said, keeping his grin.

It was just a moment later before Dobby reappeared with four suitcases. "All packed, Master Harry!"

"Thank you, Dobby! You really are the best. You may go and rest or work as you need," Harry said with a pat on the elf's shoulder.

"Wait!" Mike interjected. "Your name is Dobby?"

"Dobby is Dobby, sir," he bobbed his head.

"Thank you, Dobby," the man said, "We really appreciate the help."

Dobby blushed before disappearing once more with a pop.

"What an amazing creature," Mary breathed.

"House elf magic is remarkable," nodded Harry, "and one that most magicals don't fully comprehend."

"Well, shall we head off for lunch?" Amelia asked, looking at her watch.

"So, Harry…are you going to tell us what's in the bag now?" Hermione pressed as they got to the private room at the Leaky Cauldron he'd arranged.

Looking around the room, Harry saw that it had been set up according to his specifications, with a long table around which everyone could sit. His friends took up one side while adults – including Tonks – occupied the other. He grinned at Hermione. "I think once Amelia and Sirius put up their strongest privacy wards, I can start explaining, yeah."

Without hesitation, the two adults moved to seal the room off against eavesdroppers and intruders. Ron took the opportunity to approach him. "Harry, mate, I wanted to tell you that Mum told Ginny and I we could go with you, but Lavender contacted me this morning. She wants me to visit a few times over the next few weeks before her family goes on holiday…" he trailed off, leaving the sentence unfinished but the sentiment clear.

Harry took a critical look at his friend. Although the boy had made amends after his betrayal in the early days of the Tournament, and had helped capture Dumbledore, the anger in his face when Harry's name came out of the goblet was never far from his mind. Trust is so easily broken and so hard to repair afterwards. He would miss Ron on the trip, but the other boy's presence had become uncomfortable of late. Nodding, he took Ron aside and reached into the bag he filled up at Gringotts, handing him a thick packet. When the redhead nodded his understanding, he gave his fellow Gryffindor a pat on the back and escorted him to the door. Ginny saw what was going on and frowned, matched by Hermione.

After Ron left to great puzzlement from the rest, Amelia and Sirius gave him a nod that their wards were complete. Harry cleared his throat, idly reflecting that he seemed to be getting practice in addressing large groups of people. "Thank you all for coming. It means the world to me that you're willing to come on this little vacation with me. There are some new vulnerabilities, though. Amelia?" he said, gesturing to his guardian.

"This morning, Albus Dumbledore entered Hermione's home and attempted to use legilimency on her to find out Harry's whereabouts," Amelia explained to general gasps.

"We're not sure if he figured anything out, but Amelia was right there to stop it, so he might start putting two and two together. So, this trip now has an added sense of urgency," Harry continued, "I stopped by Gringotts today to take care of some things. Long story short, we now have our muggle travel documents for the trip, including plane tickets and passports, and I set up muggle credit cards for you all. These will pay for the shopping today but they have an astronomical credit limit."

"Harry James Potter! What do you think you're doing?" Hermione exclaimed, quickly getting shushed by her parents.

"Easy, Hermione. I'm taking care of my loved ones," he answered in a quiet voice, "Dumbledore was willing to mind-rape you today to find me and keep me under his control. Does anyone here have any doubts that he would do the same to them?" Harry asked a suddenly quiet table. "Does anyone believe they could keep him out of their heads?"

Nobody answered.

"The money is for emergencies. If, after we get back from this little trip and Dumbledore or Voldemort start causing too much trouble, we can escape. They're both too arrogant to pay attention to the muggle world; with those passports and the credit cards I set up for you all, it should be relatively easy to disappear in the muggle side of London. Tonks, I'll contact Gringotts tomorrow to get one for you since you're coming too."

"No need, Harry. I have a muggle passport and wardrobe already," the auror said.

"But I'm still going to get you a card tied to a vault so you and your family can disappear if you have to."

Sirius nodded. "They're family. Cousins, Harry, so I appreciate your forethought."

That ended Tonks' protests, but she shot a dirty look at Sirius.

"Just how much can those cards spend, Harry?" Mike wanted to know.

"I set up a special vault to fund each one; the goblins are seriously pissed at Dumbledore and wanted to do anything they could to help me. Each vault now contains two million galleons," he ignored the round of gasps and murmuring, "and since the Goblins have an affiliation with a muggle bank set up by squibs to liaise between the muggle and magical worlds, the goblins will convert those galleons to sterling and transfer them to their muggle front to pay any charges."

"That's so much money!" Mary said with wide eyes, "How could you possibly arrange that much?"

"Please tell me you didn't use your money from killing the basilisk, Harry," pleaded Susan.

He shook his head, holding his hands up in a placating gesture. "No, Susan, I promise I didn't. Missus Granger…"

"Mary," she interrupted, reminding him of their earlier request that he use their first names.

"Mary," he grinned, "I recently discovered that my family was far wealthier than I ever dreamed of. Trust me when I say this doesn't even put a dent in my vaults. Even beyond that, protecting everyone in this room is worth way more than gold to me."

Touched, Hermione got to her feet and moved to his side. Wrapping him in a gentle hug, she sniffed into his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Harry. I know taking care of your friends is important to you; I just wasn't thinking."

"It's okay, 'Mione. Now, here are the passports, and credit cards. I'll distribute the tickets when we get to Bones Manor and are ready to go. I still don't trust Dumbledore not to find a way to take the information from someone's head."

Nods greeted his assessment as Harry passed out the documents. "There's enough money on these cards to cover today's clothes shopping, too. Not everyone here has a full muggle wardrobe, and I wanted to be sure to take care of that since I'm the one who invited you all."

Neville and Ginny looked like they wanted to protest, but no one wanted to refuse Harry's generosity. With all matters settled, he nodded to Amelia to dispel the privacy wards, allowing their waitress to bring in menus.

"That was delicious!" Mary exclaimed as they left the Leaky Cauldron back onto the Charing Cross Road.

"Magically delicious," Mike grinned, showing off his 'dad joke' sense of humor. "I can't remember a better stew that I've ever had."

The entire party groaned, but Harry chuckled after the groan. "The Cauldron's food is always good. I stayed there for a few weeks before third year after I escaped my relatives."

The statement got him several worried glances from his friends and the adults. Tonks in particular gave Amelia a questioning glance.

"Later," the older woman mouthed.

"So where are we headed for this shopping experience?" Susan asked from her position on Harry's left.

"Well, we're not all that far from a shopping mall. It's not as big as Harrods, but I think that kind of works in our favor. I know I need new clothes and a bathing suit. Hermione might not need all that much," he nodded to the girl on his other side, "But I still wanted her to be able to get anything she wanted."

"What's a shopping mall, Harry?" Luna piped up from behind him.

"Think of Diagon Alley with three times the shops and totally enclosed inside a building. There are shops selling everything from luxury and formal clothing to toys, food, and other trinkets."

Hannah's eyes bulged. "Sweet Merlin!"

Susan gave a light, musical laugh at her friend's reaction. "Come on, Hannah! Shopping awaits!"

It was a short walk over to the mall, but with the higher-than-normal temperatures that had made swimming such fun the day before, they were all grateful to get inside the air conditioning. After looking over at Amelia and Mary as they were chatting, Harry had a smile on his face. The magical-raised were staring wide-eyed all around them. Luna and Ginny were gaping, but Hannah in particular was almost hyperventilating and looked to be about to pass out. Neville was quick to put his arm around her shoulders to steady her.

Susan had stopped entirely, staring all around her in wonder. Hermione moved to distract her when an evil idea popped into her head. It would be a small, but apt revenge on Harry for setting up all that money without warning them in advance. She moved over to the redheaded girl and linked arms before whispering her plan into Susan's ear. The Hufflepuff girl got a malicious smile just like Hermione's as the girls turned to the adults. "Aunt Amelia?" "Mum?" they called.

The older women turned. "Why don't we let Sirius and Daddy take Neville and the others on a tour of the mall for a bit?" Hermione started.

"Then the four of us can ensure that Harry gets fitted for the best possible wardrobe," Susan finished.

Tonks laughed as Harry's eyes grew wide. He knew new clothes were in his future, but he figured he'd pick some out in the right sizes and then be on his way, not that he would be a live mannequin for the girls to play dress-up with.

"I'll stick with Mike and Sirius on this one, Harry. You have Amelia with you, so you'll be fine," the auror noted.

Mary and Amelia understood immediately what the girls were smirking about, and agreed completely. "That sounds like a wonderful idea, girls. Mike and Sirius?" Amelia called, "Can you keep an eye on the other teens while we four take Harry shopping for clothes?"

Mike grinned. "Sure, I think we can manage that. How about we meet up at the outdoors store later on?"

"Traitors!" Harry accused. He received no sympathy from the older men.

"Give us two hours," Mary grinned at Harry's groan.

Hermione and Susan cackled as the others moved off and Harry dropped his head like a man being led to the gallows.

"I think you're right, Susan. He favors autumnal colors: maroons, golds, oranges, and greens," Hermione mused as Harry emerged from the changing room in a forest green plaid button-down shirt and dark brown khaki slacks.

"He really looks good in that combination," the redhead breathed in agreement.

Hermione nodded, struck at how handsome her friend was. The right colors and cuts of clothes brought out his attractiveness to the fore. "Thankfully he has to wear robes at school, or he'd be fighting the girls off with pointy sticks," she said.

Susan snickered at the imagery, but agreed with the sentiment. Harry in those muggle clothes was doing funny things to her insides.

Harry's legs were getting sore from standing and turning as much as he had over the previous ninety minutes. It was an experience he never wanted to repeat, but when he started to get frustrated with the constant changing, sizing, and commenting, he realized just how special the occasion was. After that it was easier to bear, but he was getting very bored and antsy.

Amelia was the first to notice his increasing discomfort and decided to call a halt. "I think that's good, girls. He's got six pairs of pants, a dozen shirts, plus at least two weeks' worth of boxers and socks, then trainers and a couple pairs of dress shoes. He should be set for a while."

Hermione and Susan mock-groaned, but Harry fell back onto a chair with a sigh of relief. Mary just chuckled at the spectacle. She and Amelia had shared more than one amused glance at the apparent camaraderie between Susan and Hermione as they helped dress the boy. Far from the jealousy or competitiveness that she expected her daughter to show in the face of the buxom redhead sharing living space with Hermione's crush, the two girls appeared to get on extremely well. They shared laughs at Harry's apparent embarrassment over the clothes, compared notes as to how he looked, and in general were as thick as thieves.

When it was all over, Harry labored out of the store with no less than six heavy bags. Winking at him, Amelia took them and made off to the nearest restroom. Alone, she used her wand to shrink the bags and stuck them in her pocket. Harry's questioning gaze on her return saw her patting her pocket with a wink.

Hermione came by her intelligence legitimately. Mary picked up right away on what must have happened and gave a wistful sigh. "What I wouldn't give for the ability to do that…"

Chuckling, the group made off to meet their friends at the outdoor sportswear store. Mike and Sirius were waiting with their friends. Luna and Ginny appeared to have calmed down, but Hannah looked like her eyebrows wouldn't ever be rejoining the rest of her face.

"So, what did you think of your first visit to a shopping mall?" Hermione grinned.

"It was amazing!" Luna gushed, "I never knew muggles were so creative! Having so many different stores under one roof is wonderful!"

Hannah nodded wildly, looking like Dobby at his most enthusiastic. "This…this is unreal! Why can't we arrange the use of elecstrisity?"

"Electricity," Hermione corrected with a grin, "I know. There has to be a way to shield electronics to work. Maybe through runes?" she shrugged.

"Now let's get some bathing suits!"

Inside the store, which had a huge section used for bathing suits, the group split along gender lines. Mike and Sirius took Harry and Neville over to the men's side while Amelia and Mary shepherded the girls over to the women's suits.

Mike decided to use the opportunity of having Harry away from Hermione and Mary to get to know one of the two lads that Hermione had spent the best part of four years writing to them about. He knew some of the boy's history, from how his daughter had handled the search for the lad. He had a bad home life, and was probably abused if Hermione combing through hospitals looking for him was any indication, yet the lad had been unfailingly kind and polite. He held Hermione in extremely high regard, if the tales of him jumping onto the back of whatever a troll was were any indication. The only trouble was that they were in a muggle area, so talking about magic was out of the question.

"I've wanted to meet you for a long time, Harry. Hermione has written home to us talking about you so often over the years I almost feel like I know you. I don't think I can thank you enough for jumping on something's back, if you know what I mean."

Harry jumped slightly at the oblique reference to the magical world. "I was just glad I was there at the time. None of us knew much about what to do in that case. We got really lucky."

"I'll say," Sirius chimed in, "But it made me so proud."

"I didn't know you were there, Sirius."

"Oh, I wasn't. But we watched what happened through a special device yesterday. I'm sure once we get where we're going Harry could be persuaded to share with you and Mary some of his experiences," the older man grinned.

"I think I would like that very much," Mike smirked at Harry's wide eyes. "What I meant to say, Harry, was that I'm really glad Hermione's always been able to count on you. She didn't always have such good friends before going to your school, so it meant the world to Mary and me to see how she wrote of you. I know you'll always be there to take good care of her."

The hidden second meaning in Mike's words went right over Harry's head. "Hermione's my best friend, sir. She'll always be able to rely on me."

That was good enough for Mike. With a pat on the lad's back, the males chose their trunks from the wall. After spending two hours trying on different clothes, Harry was in no mood to go through that again. He just used the sizes the ladies decided on and picked one dark green pair and one orange pair out.

Over on the women's side of the store, the ladies were snickering over Hermione and Susan's retribution for Harry's sneaky generosity. "You two are evil!" grinned Hannah, "Boys don't like clothes shopping!"

"That's what made it perfect. He was so uncomfortable, but he stood there and did it without complaining. Something clicked about half an hour in and you could see him calm down and almost enjoy it for a while," Susan answered.

"You showed care for him," Luna said quietly, "You saw how he grew up. Abuse and hatred all day, every day, then he goes to Hogwarts and is either the second coming of Merlin or the next Dark Lord, depending on the mood of the day. That was the first time anyone has ever taken him shopping for clothes. We take it for granted, but he's never had someone sitting there, telling him what he looks good in. Harry must have realized that and understood what it meant."

"That poor boy," Mary murmured, thinking of a child growing up without love.

Amelia's attention was focused on the racks of bikinis. "Um, Susan? Are you sure you want to get suits like this? They're a little…daring."

Mortified, Susan looked at the older woman. "Auntie! Hermione said that these are the kinds of swimming suits muggles are wearing these days!"

Realizing this was part of a culture she knew very little about, Amelia turned to Mary. "I'll defer to your judgement on this. Bathing suits in our world are much more restrained."

Giving the woman a smile, Mary gestured at the display. "These would be perfectly acceptable on any beach in the world."

"Think about it this way, Madam Bones: we're going to be just with ourselves on private beaches, and even when she's back here, your pool is private, so she won't be subject to scandal," Hermione explained.

The other girls liked this explanation, with Hannah, Ginny and Luna moving to take bikinis off the rack in their preferred colors; Hannah picked a floral pattern in yellow and black; Ginny chose a geometric design that was emerald green as a base color with white shapes patterning the fabric; and Luna chose a similar style in a light purple with butterflies.

Susan took her aunt's hesitance as acceptance and picked out a black bikini with no pattern along with another one so skimpy that it had her blushing just for picking it up.

Hermione already had a bikini, but after Susan picked out her second suit with a halter top, she decided she had to be bold as well and chose a bright candy-apple red with a bottom that would have her blushing the same shade when Harry saw it on her. The girls moved toward the changing rooms to try them on as Amelia sought out Mary once more. "It's fine, Amelia," Hermione's mother said, "As my wise daughter just said, the only people who will see these suits are going to be the people in this group who are all close enough to family."

"Oh, I know. I understand and totally agree. I just was hoping you could help me pick out one for myself?" she asked with a self-deprecating chuckle.

Mary grinned at her newest friend and guided her over to the racks of suits.

In the changing area, Luna and Ginny were occupying adjoining changing rooms with Hannah in between them and Hermione and Susan on the far end. Each changing room had a mirror, but for a more all-around look, the row of changing areas hidden by its own door had a raised platform at one end with mirrors on three sides.

The redhead holding up her bikini in front of her. "I can't believe this is going to be my bathing suit!" Ginny whispered, "My mum would kill me for even thinking of wearing this in front of other people!"

Luna laughed. "It certainly feels empowering to wear something that bares so much of my body. I don't have the curves that the older girls do, but at least I feel like more than just a kid in this."

"You have wonderful curves, Luna," Ginny dropped her voice to a whisper.

"Do you think they'll let us share a room?" Luna wondered.

"I don't think that will be a problem. They know we're friends, and we're the same age, so that makes it easier."

"Thank Merlin!" Ginny breathed.

Hannah heard whispers but couldn't tell what they were saying. Shrugging it off, she donned the bikini, and checked herself out in the mirror, not quite believing that she was about to wear so little in front of Neville. Her crush on the shy Gryffindor boy had developed over the years to the point where she was beyond infatuated. Spending two weeks on a beach with him was the chance she needed to try to draw him out of his shell. If nothing else, showing this much skin should at least remind him that she was a girl.

On the other side of Hannah, Susan was trying not to lose her bravery. Of the two bathing suits she picked out, both were far more daring than her usual neck-to-knees coverage at home, but the halter-top set would show more skin than anyone outside her dorm room had ever seen. The back of the bottom rode up much more than she expected, but made her feel hot just from putting it on and it wasn't uncomfortable at all. Looking at herself in the mirror, she had to stifle a squeak at her appearance. Hermione's voice from the end changing room told her she wasn't entirely successful.

"Susan? Is everything okay?"

"Yeah," she tried to keep her voice under control, "I'm just a little surprised at how this suit looks and feels."

"I just got mine on, too. Step out here and let's take a look at it in the mirrors."

Susan took a moment to adjust the straps on the halter top to be sure it stayed up, and checked the ties on both sides of her waist. With a deep breath – noting how much it pushed her chest out – she stepped through the curtain over the changing room.

Her mouth instantly went dry.

Hermione was already out there, turning this way and that as she admired the bright red bikini. Hers wasn't a halter top like Susan's, but the bottom was just as daring. Instead of a traditional bikini-style bottom, hers was a T-back, showing off most of her bum. The redhead just stared at the girl's physique as she turned to each side, amazed at how fit and trim Hermione was. The girl may be slender, but she had a lot of apparent wiry strength.

Finally noticing the redhead, Hermione looked back at Susan. "Wow! That bikini looks outstanding, Susan!"

Finally swallowing enough to wet her throat so she could reply, Susan managed not to croak as she answered, "You picked a great one too. That bikini looks like it was tailored just for you."

The brunette blushed. "Well it's a good thing I'm getting it, then! Come on, your turn. Hop up and take a look."

Regardless of Hermione's urging, there was no way Susan was going to be hopping anywhere in that suit, at least until she could be sure that hopping wouldn't lead to popping out of it. She stepped up on the platform to look at her body from all angles. Her aquamarine suit, chosen to match her eyes, wasn't a T-back like Hermione's, but it still showed off far more of her rear end than she would have ever done before. Something about being around Hermione's casual confidence and worldliness was imparting some of the other girl's Gryffindor courage. The top was just as daring, showing almost all of her substantial cleavage.

As she was admiring the way the suit cupped her body and showed off her assets, a strangled squeak from behind her made her turn to make sure Hermione was okay. She was just in time to see a flushed Gryffindor turn tail and duck back into her changing room. "Hermione?"

The brunette was indeed turning the color of her bikini, but not because of Harry's appraising glance. Seeing Susan in her daring suit sent a spike of heat through her entire being. She'd never felt that way in her entire life before, and needed to collect herself. "I'm fine!" came the high-pitched shout, "Just needed to fix my straps. Didn't tie them that well."

Ginny, having just emerged to check her own suit, looked confused for a brief moment before her mind put the sequence of events together. A knowing look came over her face, but when Susan shot her a questioning glance, the younger girl just shook her head. It wasn't her place. Besides, Luna had emerged from her own changing room.

Nonplussed, Susan made her way back to the changing room to try on the more conservative bikini.

It was a tired, but excited group of teens and adults that made their way to Bones Manor. Shrunken bags lined the pockets of Amelia, Mike, and Mary, the latter of whom was still wistful at the ability to make shopping easier.

When the girls were done purchasing their bikinis, they moved on to the regular clothing stores. Harry tried to voice the desire to dress them as they had him, but was laughed off. Mike took him aside and explained that the women would not appreciate his input on their sartorial choices.

He didn't exactly understand it, but after riding the high of having his best friend, someone who was rapidly becoming a great friend, and the closest thing he'd ever known to a maternal figure helping him pick out an entirely new wardrobe, he rolled with it and followed along as Mike showed Sirius and Neville the wonders of a muggle electronics store.

As the girls retired to Susan's room to pack their new treasures into their bags for the trip in the morning, Harry, Neville, Mike, and Sirius moved into the study to play some cards.

"I wanted to ask you a question or two if that's okay, Sirius?" Mike began.

"Go right ahead," he answered.

Mike thought over his words, trying to phrase them properly. "We've heard a lot from the kids about what has been happening in the wizarding world, and it's pretty bleak. What I was wondering is the why – why is this evil person trying to take over and why does it involve Harry?"

"Well, the previous war, in which Susan's and Harry's parents were all murdered, and then the current one, were both started by this Tom Riddle, who calls himself Voldemort. Those that are drawn to his side are those that believe in pureblood supremacy – the idea that families which have magical parents on both sides back many generations are somehow superior to those which have a muggle in the family or a muggleborn. My own family was a dyed-in-the-wool pureblood supremacy family, which is why I ran away when I was sixteen and lived with James Potter, Harry's dad."

"That's…absurd! You're saying my daughter will be a second-class citizen?"

"Third, actually. She's a muggleborn. Unfortunately, that means that many careers will be out of her reach, and even if her intelligence were to get her a job within the Ministry, she would be passed over for promotions anytime there was a pureblood or half-blood competing with her," Sirius acknowledged with a frustrated nod.

"So what options are open to her?" Mike wondered, shuffling the cards that Sirius handed him.

"Not many. Quite a few muggleborns and squibs – people without magic born to a magical family," he clarified off Mike's questioning look at the term, "end up going back to the muggle world to find employment."

"I'm starting to see why Minerva McGonagall didn't tell us this part when she gave us our Hogwarts visit," Hermione's father grumped.

"What did you learn this morning, Headmaster?" Severus asked as he joined Dumbledore in the older man's office.

"Less than I had hoped. Miss Granger was most truculent, and outright refused to cooperate. When I pressured her, even threatening her with expelling her if she didn't tell me where the boy is, she called my bluff and told me she'd be contacting the Prophet if I did right before she transferred to Beauxbatons."

"Did you read her thoughts?"

"I tried, but before I could get anything other than an image of red hair, Amelia Bones showed up and blasted me into a wall. She tried to arrest me before I used an emergency portkey out."

"Red hair," Severus mused, "I think given his previous associations, it means that the Weasleys are the most logical choice for the Potter brat's new guardians."

"You are most likely correct, but I cannot ignore the seemingly omnipresence of Amelia Bones. Ever since Harry went missing, the woman has been everywhere, hounding me like a werewolf," Albus mused, "I will need to go to the Ministry to check the guardian records to be sure."

Before Snape could respond, he gasped at the burning sensation in his forearm. "I must leave at once, Albus. I am being summoned to the Dark Lord's presence."

"Go with all haste, my boy. Do be judicious with what you tell him that we've learned," Dumbledore warned.

With a nod, Snape disappeared through the Floo.

One hour later, Dumbledore slid the file drawer closed. It was as he had feared: Amelia Bones was now the legal and magical guardian for one Harry James Potter.

Prying the boy out from under her influence back to his gentle guidance would take all of his finesse, but luckily, he had nothing but time to plan.

"What have you learned, Severus?" Riddle hissed.

From his bowed position, Snape had to project his voice to be heard. "My lord, it appears the Potter boy is under the guardianship of the Weasley family. The old fool used legilimency on the Granger mudblood and found a mental image of red hair. It is well-known throughout the wizarding world that the Weasleys have been Potter's family in all but title since he rejoined our world."

"The embarrassment Potter caused me in the cemetery cannot go unanswered. We must make plans to rectify the situation with all haste. Perhaps a visit to Azkaban is in order to get my most loyal followers back."

"My lord," Snape started, asking for permission to continue.

Voldemort nodded.

"The Umbridge witch was most embarrassed at the trial when the blood traitor Black was freed. Perhaps a suggestion to her would provide us with an ally in the Ministry?"

A moment of silence as Voldemort mused over his words. "An excellent idea, Severus. Make it happen.


Chapter Text

July 14, 1995

London's Heathrow airport can be a lot to handle for muggles who don't fly often. The busiest airport in the world has few areas in any terminal in the airport without people hurrying through to make their flights or claim their bags. For a magical-raised who was new to even the concept of using electrical devices in their daily lives, walking into the airport couldn't fail to be overwhelming. Hermione and her parents led the group through the check-in process and to their departure area.

"Harry," Mike said as they walked through the terminal, "You never told us how you managed to get these amazing tickets on such short notice."

"I didn't really do anything. Just sent Dobby to Grinlast, my account manager, with a request for two more tickets – three if you count Tonks – with your names. He took care of the rest," Harry shrugged, after looking around to make sure no muggles were within earshot.

"Well, tell him from us that we really appreciate this," Mary responded.

He gave her a smile.

"Okay, we have to board in an hour," Hermione addressed the group, "As long as you're back here at this gate by that time, we'll be good to go. You all have your boarding passes, so we're on our way to the South Pacific!"

A round of cheers answered her as people dispersed. Sirius and Mike went to the food court for a quick meal and a beer, taking along Neville, Hannah, Ginny, and Luna. Mary and Amelia sat down on a chair to talk, leaving Harry, Hermione, and Susan on their own.

Rather than sit and wait around for an hour, they decided to walk around and do a little shopping for things to do on the flight. "What kinds of books do you like to read, Susan?" asked Harry as they approached a newsstand that sold a small selection of fiction and nonfiction books.

"Well, most magical novels involve animals or a struggle between good and evil, so that's pretty much what I've been exposed to," she said.

"Excellent!" Hermione grinned, linking arms and taking her over to the 'fantasy' section of the bookstore. Snickering at his friend's enthusiasm, Harry followed. The flights would take up the better part of two days, so he fully agreed with the need for something to read. After picking up a selection of novels, he grabbed a handful of crossword puzzle books and other things to keep his mind engaged.

After the newsstand the trio made their way to a market for snacks on Hermione's advice. Long-haul flights were grueling, made worse if you had to wait for the meal cart to come by. They soon used their credit cards to charge purchases of the books, peanuts, chocolates, bottles of water, and other goodies.

"So, you've never flown either, Harry?" Susan asked as they made their way down the terminal, watching these giant metal bird-things move around.

"Just brooms, Susan. The Dursleys never took me outside Surrey, let alone on an airplane," the boy answered, not even thinking of how casually he was discussing his former guardians' cruelty.

Hermione gave him a warm smile. "Trust me, you're in for an experience. Traveling is one of my favorite things my parents and I used to do before Hogwarts. Flying can seem boring, but they do all they can to keep people entertained."

Thinking it over for a minute, she decided her friends needed to see what was ahead of them. Hermione guided them over some chairs in front of a window where they could see the takeoff runway. She pointed to an airplane waiting to take off. "See that row of windows down its side? Each of those windows is facing a row of seats. For the bigger airplanes, the ones like we'll be on, it usually is three seats by a window, an aisle, four or five seats across the middle, another aisle, then three more seats by a window on the other side. I think we have the three by a window if I saw the boarding passes right."

Harry and Susan watched in silence as the plane moved to the ready spot, hesitated for a moment, then surged forward until the nose lifted up. Positive that something that large couldn't lift into the air, the redhead watched as the gigantic metal contraption lumbered off the ground and shot away from them. "Can I have the middle seat?" she asked in a near-whisper.

Hermione grinned, understanding what she meant. "Of course! I think since it's his first time too that Harry should take the window seat first to watch the ground as we take off, then we can switch as we want when we're airborne. Hopefully the movies are good."

"What's a movie?" Susan asked.

Hermione thought for a moment on how to explain movies to a pureblood. "You know how wizarding portraits and photographs in the Prophet move for a few seconds?"

Susan nodded.

"Think of something like that, but that goes for a couple hours and tells a story, like an entire play."

The Hufflepuff girl was impressed, thinking about the skill that had to go into making something like that with no magic.

"I didn't get to see any movies growing up, but I heard Dudley talk about them. I can't wait to see what the flight has," Harry said, not seeing the shared look of concerned determination between the two girls.

"How long are our flights again?" Susan wondered.

Hermione looked at her boarding passes. "Well, we have connections and layovers, plus we cross the International Date Line, so…it's best not to think about it too much."

"International Date Line?" Susan mouthed to Harry. He shrugged, not knowing what it was either.

"What are you looking forward to most about the vacation, Harry?" Hermione asked next, settling into her chair as she pulled her feet up under her.

"Not doing anything at all," he chuckled, "Seriously, it feels like I haven't stopped moving since Hagrid showed up to take me to Diagon Alley. I can't wait to just lay on the beach or the veranda or whatever and not have to do anything."

The girls smiled at him, understanding his sentiment without any difficulty.

"I think I can't wait to swim in the ocean," Susan said off Hermione's questioning look, "I've spent a lot of summer days in our pool at home, but I've never been swimming in the ocean."

Hermione nodded. "For me it's just spending extra time with you guys and my parents at the same time. Maybe we can even arrange to show them some of the things that we've learned at school while we're out of the country."

After watching another couple planes take off, Hermione led them back to the gate. The others hadn't returned yet, but Amelia and Mary looked like they were having a great time with their chat. "I'm so happy you two are getting along so well!" Hermione gushed.

"Despite our different backgrounds, we have a lot in common," Amelia smiled at the girl.

"That's wonderful!" Susan exclaimed as she sat down next to Amelia.

Before long, it was boarding time. Hermione kept watch the terminal for their friends. Her concern was needless, though, as all showed up on time. The magicals were a little wide-eyed still as they lined up to board, but by and large they didn't have any issues finding their seats.

Hermione gasped as she saw where the seats were. Harry hadn't given it away, but either he or the goblins had the foresight to reserve almost the entire first-class cabin for their party. Sirius, Mike, Mary, Amelia, Harry, Hermione, Susan, Ginny, Luna, Neville, Hannah, and Tonks took up almost all of the first-class seats. Due to the reverse-herringbone seating arrangement in the first-class section of the British Airways jet, some of their group ended up next to each other and some ended up facing each other. Seeing that the layout wasn't the three-seats across arrangement that he'd expected, Harry volunteered to take a reverse-facing seat so that Susan could sit next to Hermione with both girls facing forward. The redheaded girl's nerves had increased as they got closer to departure time, and she was happy to be accorded the middle seat.

The onslaught of new experiences had Susan's nerves as tense as they'd ever been. She almost snorted at the irony that she was now dealing with feelings like what the muggleborn students like Hermione must feel the first time they set foot in Diagon Alley and Hogwarts. She settled into the seat of unfamiliar material, feeling her body sink into its soft comfort. There was some type of shiny square thing in front of her which looked like a smaller version of the displays Hermione had pointed out around the terminal that had flight times and statuses. The brunette saw her confusion and leaned over, informing her was the 'in-seat entertainment', whatever that meant. Next to her was a screen that could be extended and taken in, which could block the view of the person on her other side if she chose to. A pocket in the side of her area had a magazine and a few cards with pictures illustrating things about their plane.

A flight attendant came by asking if they needed anything, but just as she did, a bang from down below had her screwing her eyes shut. Shaking her head, Susan focused on breathing in and out until the banging stopped. Opening her eyes, she looked around. Hermione smiled at her. "It's okay, Susan. They were probably just refueling or loading the luggage. There's absolutely nothing to worry about."

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely. These planes go through an exhaustive checklist before they're confirmed to be safe enough to take off and fly," Hermione explained, "Air travel is actually the safest form of muggle transportation that there is. Here, let me help you with one of the most basic features."

Susan sucked a sharp breath in as Hermione reached across her hips and grabbed two ends of a belt with metal attachments. She showed her how to fit them together with the metallic click telling her that she was safely buckled in.

It helped a little. Susan gave her a nod and what she hoped wasn't that weak of a smile in return.

The brunette reached over to the pocket next to Susan and pulled out the safety card, with diagrams of what to do in case of emergency. "See? Even if there is a problem, there are extensive safety features built into these planes. We're going to be perfectly fine."

Feeling her nerves recede slightly, Susan chanced a look around. Ginny and Luna had adjoining seats while Neville and Hannah chose seats that faced each other. Tonks took the seat just behind Harry – where she could keep an eye on him – and at the rear of their seats, Amelia sat next to Mary, with Mike on her other side. Sirius took up the very back spot.

Hermione calmly flipped through a magazine next to her while Harry was engaging in his own look around. Their eyes met and they smiled at each other. "Nervous?" Harry asked.

"Trying not to be," Susan admitted.

When the plane started backing away from the gate, her jump and muted squeak belied her attempt at bravery. Harry reached out and took one of her hands, squeezing in reassurance. Somehow, the strong fingers slotting between her own as Harry tried to calm her jangled nerves actually started her heart beating faster. On Susan's other side, Hermione did the same, having noticed the other girl's distress. The brunette's slim, strong fingers intertwining with her own had the same impact as Harry's. Between the two Gryffindors holding her hands, Susan felt like she might actually have a heart attack, but she was positive it would be a wonderful way to go. Susan gave them each a grateful smile before settling back against her seat.

A man's voice sounded throughout the cabin, telling everyone to pay attention to the flight attendants for their security demonstration. Seat belts were easy enough to understand.

When the plane reached its taxiing speed, she craned her neck to get a look out of the window. She saw strange markings and designations on the tarmac, speaking a language that only the pilots could understand. The aircraft bounced along as they made their way to the takeoff spot, where there was a brief pause before the twin GE engines roared to life and the jet shot forward, pressing her back into her seat.

Susan didn't see any of it. Her eyes were screwed shut tight as she focused on the feeling of two hands holding her own. If she concentrated, she could almost sense the tendrils of their magic dancing beneath their skin as they sought out her magic. "Susan?" Hermione began. "Don't you want to look out the window? Taking off in an airplane is one of the most exhilarating experiences there is."

The redhead took a chance and cracked her eyes open a tiny bit. Looking out the small window near Hermione, she saw the ground change perspective as the nose lifted off. It was like being on a broom, but much larger and faster. The buildings she had just been in, which were so immense they beggared even the Ministry building, receded into the distance and looked like models or toys.

She took a look around and saw Hannah squeezing Neville's hand so hard his was turning purple while her knuckles were white. Elsewhere, Luna and Ginny were also holding hands, but the rest of the adults seemed fine with everything.

The plane seemed to climb on a trajectory she wouldn't have believed possible, but it kept going. Soon the view changed from the buildings of muggle London to the cottony wisps of cloud. She gasped when it banked to the left as it climbed, but it soon leveled off on a new course. The low hum of the engines was muted in the most forward compartment,

When the young, blonde flight attendant came by to ask what their preferences were for drinks and food just after takeoff, Susan requested a diet cola off Hermione's recommendation, then settled in to enjoy the experience. Hermione showed her how to work the in-seat entertainment with the headphones provided, and off Harry's unasked question, she passed the instructions on to him.

Harry thanked the attendant for his diet cola and started a crossword puzzle as the flight climbed to cruising altitude. She copied his actions, choosing to listen to the 'popular music' channel on the console in front of her while reading.

After a couple hours flying west, the same attendant came around asking for their choices for the evening meal. Hermione looked up from the first-class menu with a cheeky grin for the blonde. "I would like the steak and lobster, please," she glanced down at the woman's nametag, "Jennifer."

Looking over the menu for herself, Susan looked at the slender young woman. "The chicken marsala for me, please Jennifer," she requested, taking her cue from Hermione.

Harry glanced up from his own menu. "I'll just have the macaroni and cheese, please, Jennifer."

"Are you sure, Mister Potter? You could have anything there on the menu," the pretty attendant asked.

Harry gave her a confused look. "But that's what I want."

"Excellent choice," she answered, noting the choice and moving on to ask the rest of their group for their requests. Hermione and Susan gave Harry concerned looks but let it go. Hermione resolved to watch what he ate the rest of the trip to be sure his simple choice wasn't due to any lingering fears from the Dursleys.

Hermione took a look through the movie catalog available, pleasantly surprised to see animated movies from the United States, comedies, and even a drama or two set in the United Kingdom. Watching Susan's reactions to her first movie would be almost as entertaining as Harry's.

Halfway through the flight, when the cabin lights were dimmed and those that could were dozing and those that couldn't were into their second or third movie, Mary looked in on her daughter as she returned to her seat from the loo. Harry was intent on what looked like Braveheart as she passed back down the aisle, but seeing Hermione made her stop and wish she had a camera.

Susan was passed out cold on Hermione's shoulder, and her daughter was asleep with her head resting on top of the other girl's. Their hands were clasped tightly together on the armrest, as if they had just nodded off together. They each had headphones on with something lighting up the screen in front of them.

It was an absolutely adorable sight. She quickly walked the rest of the aisle until she got to Amelia's seat. Mary tapped the woman on the shoulder and waited for her headphones to come off. "You have got to see this!" she whispered. Leading the witch back up the aisle, she gestured at the girls.

"Oh, how cute!" Amelia whispered back. "I'll have to get a photograph of this to you when we get back to Britain," she said as they made their way back to their seat.

"How are you going to do that?"

"Magic," Amelia grinned, whispering to keep her words inaudible from any others that might be in earshot, "There's a device that allows a person's memories to be replayed, and with a wizarding camera, or possibly even a muggle camera though as far as I know that has never been tried before, we can take photographs later on."

"That would be so incredible!" Mary breathed, eyes large at the implications.

"If Harry's up to it when we get to our destination, I'm sure he can arrange for such a device. His memories of life at Hogwarts are better than any of these movies."

No further movement happened until the cabin lights went on as they approached their first layover in Chicago. After a couple hours milling around another airport, taking in the differences and similarities between O'Hare and Heathrow, they left on their next leg, a shorter flight to Los Angeles.

On that flight they had a smaller plane without the same seating arrangement. Instead of a full first-class, they were in what was called business class. Three seats that were about twice as wide as the economy class they could see behind the curtain, but they all faced the same direction. Expecting the teens to switch their seating and mix up with the group, Mary was surprised to see they kept the same little groups. Harry, Hermione, and Susan took a row together, with Ginny and Luna in the next row and Mary, Mike, and Amelia behind them. Neville and Hannah took two seats across the aisle with Sirius and Tonks behind them. They still seemed tired at the airport, and would probably doze again on this flight.

She wasn't wrong. They'd started with Harry in the middle, Hermione in the window seat to his left, and Susan on the aisle to his right. On her first trip up, Mary saw Luna and Ginny dozing on each other. They had the armrest up with Ginny's head on Luna's lap. The blonde girl had a contented smile on her face and her fingers threaded through ginger locks. Hannah still held Neville's hand but appeared to have released her death grip. Reaching the front of the compartment, she had to go back for Amelia so the witch could have another memory for a magical photograph. Amelia's grin mirrored her own as they saw Susan and Hermione sleeping on Harry's shoulders. Susan still held a magazine open on her lap, but Harry and Hermione's hands were clasped together, like the brunette offered him comfort on the takeoff.

Turbulence they encountered over the Rockies jostled them awake at one point or other, and it looked like they switched seats when it did. Harry took the window next to Susan next, putting Hermione on the aisle. She waited a few minutes before heading up the aisle once more, and sure enough, Hermione dozed in her new seat while Harry was on to watching The Lion King with Susan's head on his shoulder. This time Susan and Harry were holding hands. Mary reached down to tuck Hermione's blanket closer in around her, earning an acknowledging smile from Harry before heading back to her own seat.

"I'm really surprised at how easily those three have gotten comfortable with each other," Mary said in a low voice as she got back to her seat.

"I am too," admitted Amelia, "If Susan was going to use anyone's shoulder as a pillow on this trip, I would have put gold on it being Hannah. They've been best friends since they were in diapers."

"What do you know of Harry?" Mary asked. "Hermione's written endlessly about him since she started at the school, so I feel like I know him fairly well, but I thought someone from your world might know him better."

Amelia sat back and thought for a moment. "Most of what I know of him I learned in the aftermath of finding him in the hospital. He…had a very hard early life. After his parents were murdered…" and she launched into a brief history of Harry's life, careful to keep talk of any of the more fantastic exploits he'd had to times when no flight attendants or others she didn't recognize were near.

By the end of it, Mary was sitting with large eyes. "I know what Hermione wrote home about, but most of that seems just too amazing to believe!"

"Tell me about it. If I hadn't seen some of the evidence for myself, I would have a hard time believing it, too," Amelia agreed.

A worried look came over Mary's face. "Hermione told me before we left that she has feelings for Harry, a crush, or perhaps more. Is he dangerous for her to be around? This Voldy-something character you just told me about didn't exactly sound like a clergyman."

"Voldemort," Amelia corrected, "And his actual name is really Tom Riddle. It wouldn't surprise me if half the witches at Hogwarts had crushes on Harry, but their shared experiences at school would seem to have intensified their bond. I've been watching Susan closely for any signs that she might have a crush on Harry, too. At first, I thought the way she's been sticking up for him, and then how she came up with the idea for him to become a member of Hufflepuff as well…I'm starting to wonder."

Mary frowned as a worrying thought occurred to her, "I just…I just hope that teenage hormones don't cause them any trouble if two of them develop feelings and one gets frozen out, or God forbid they each develop feelings for a different person in the group."

Amelia nodded as she looked over at her. "I know something about your world, but not nearly as much as it seems I should. What are the current attitudes towards nontraditional relationships?"

"Situations that are out of the norm aren't universally accepted, of course. Bigotry will always be a problem, but I think such sentiments are changing. We had friends who actually kicked their son out for becoming involved with his roommate at university. I remember being so horrified that they could do that to their own son," Mary answered, her voice wavering, "but there are moves to enshrine wider acceptance."

"Same-sex relationships aren't as openly accepted in my society, mostly because there's such emphasis on continuing the family name and bloodline. That's not to say it doesn't happen behind closed doors, but it's just not talked about. In many ways, we're still stuck in the Victorian era," Amelia finished.

"What about you, Amelia? What will you do if Susan became involved with another young lady?" Mary asked, wondering about the other woman's possible reaction. From her explanation of magical society's views, she had some worries. Hermione had never confided an interest in other girls, but the way she'd taken to Susan over the past few days had her running through events in her mind.

"Susan is the last blood family I have left in this world. She's my daughter in all but name, since I raised her from a baby. My only wish in this world is to see her happy. If that's with another girl, I will support her with everything that I am."

"I couldn't agree more," Mary smiled, "And we're in much the same boat. Neither Mike nor I have any siblings and all Hermione's grandparents have passed. She's the only family we have left, too, and all I want is for her to be happy, no matter who she ends up with."

"It'll be interesting to see how they get along as this trip and next year at school progresses," Amelia nodded.

Conversation slowed with both women content to examine their own thoughts over the matter as the plane made its final approach into Los Angeles International Airport.

July 17, 1995

Gentle sunlight poured its liquid gold through the window, lightly warming the soft breeze coming in from the Pacific Ocean. The soft puffs of air lifted a few auburn strands of hair, blowing them across the face of the sleeping witch.

She brushed her nose, trying to get the tickling to stop. When the wind didn't die down, she rolled over with a grunt, but the motion took her face directly into a patch of the sunlight. The beams wouldn't be moved away no matter how she tried. With a mewling protest, the witch grudgingly rejoined the land of the living.

Susan groaned and stretched, feeling the wonderful sensation of her limbs relaxing after an entire day and night spent resting. Trying to figure out how long they'd spent traveling was giving her a headache. Between spending more than twenty-four hours in transit as well as crossing the International Date Line, it was an exercise in futility. Regardless of how long it had taken, they were there, and after a date spent eating whatever light meals the Potter house elves put in front of them and sleeping in a bed that thankfully wasn't moving, they were fully acclimated to the new location.

Today being their first full day of being alert and on their vacation, she was eager to get a solid start on laying on the beach. To that end, she changed from her pajamas into one of the few bras she'd come across that offered enough support for her voluptuous frame, a matching pair of panties, a light pair of capri khaki pants and a light blue top with short sleeves that came down to just below her shoulders. She moved out onto the room's balcony, smiling in delight at the way the warm breeze caressed the exposed skin of her arms, legs, neck, and face.

Harry's villa here – to call it a mere house would be an insult – was amazing. Each room had its own balcony, and the way the house was situated on the small island, they each had a balcony overlooking the beach. On the flight, Harry had mentioned that the goblins told him the whole island, a small piece of land near Fiji, was warded with some of the most powerful protections available. Undetectable to any scrying magic, it was also warded against muggle eyes so that none could even discover the island unless a Potter brought them. He said that the wards were so strong that not even biting insects could live on the island, and no sharks could swim within a mile of the beach.

Susan was standing in the early morning sunshine, watching the glittering waves break on the perfect white sandy shore. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath through her nose. Somehow the very air itself was perfumed with fruity aromas, as if it the winds had passed over a citrus orchard instead of the ocean. The only trees on the island were some palms that clustered here and there, so it had to be magic of some kind.

When she opened her eyes and they adjusted to the light, she saw a lone figure sitting on the beach below her, off to her left and away from the house. From the short dark hair, it could only be Harry. There was no reason she could come up with for him to be sitting all by himself, so she grew concerned. Looking for her sandals, she slid them on her feet and made her way out of her room and down the hallway.

Built in a large U-shape, the villa had two rows of guest rooms on its upper floor. Surprisingly to her, the first night they were there – what little she could remember through a fog Hermione referred to as 'jet-lag' – the adults had chosen to trust the teens with an entire side of the house to their own. Harry had one of the larger rooms at one end of the U, with Neville next to him, then Hannah, Hermione, and Susan in their own rooms while Ginny and Luna shared one at the corner of the U. Tonks and Sirius had their own rooms on the other side of the building, as did Amelia, with Mike and Mary sharing the master suite at Harry's insistence.

Each bedroom had its owninsuite bathroom, walk in closet, and balcony complete with a comfortable, padded chaise lounge. She couldn't speak for the other bedrooms, but her own was decorated in such a way as to evoke fields of flowers, with light greens, blues, and yellows rampant in the paint and decorations. The whole room, with the aroma of citrus and the light that flooded in, made her feel like she was in a meadow.

Leaving the room with not a little bit of reluctance, Susan closed her door quietly so as to not wake up any of the other residents that were sleeping in. She padded softly down the hallway to the grand staircase that led up to the top floor, making her way downstairs and out through the kitchen to the rear of the villa. Thinking quickly, she grabbed a couple oranges and bananas from a bowl on the counter.

She closed the door backdoor as gently as possible before making her way down to the beach and padding across the soft sand. Approaching from Harry's right and behind him, she slowed her pace. "Harry? What are you doing out here?"

He jumped, startled at her appearance, and tried to rise to his feet. Waving him off, Susan joined him on the sand, crossing her legs as she settled next to him. "What are you doing out here so early?" she asked.

Harry looked away, stifling a yawn, "I couldn't sleep."

"Have you been out here all night?" she asked, fearing the affirmative answer she was sure was coming.

He nodded. "I guess it's a holdover from my time at the Dursleys, and then getting up for classes," Harry shrugged, "Plus the night in the graveyard is never very far away when I close my eyes."

Sensing his turmoil, Susan looked at his profile. Harry was wincing against the rising sun, but she could see telltale moisture tracks down his cheeks. The dark circles under his eyes mirrored how she'd felt the day before, and he hadn't slept the previous night. "This may sound childish, but don't you have a stuffed animal of some kind? I've always found that if I had a bad dream, cuddling with my little rabbit that I've had since I was a little girl helps. It was the last thing my parents ever got for me before they were murdered."

Harry turned to look at the girl as her voice wavered toward the end of her statement. "Anything I had at my parents' cottage was left behind when Riddle killed them and Hagrid took me away. My relatives certainly never bought me anything. I never had a stuffed animal."

Horrified at the thought of an abused child not even having the comfort of a stuffed animal when he was scared, Susan decided to take a chance. "I know I'm not Hermione, and you probably won't trust me fully for a long time, but I'm going to make amends for how I treated you. If you'll let me, that is. Can I make a small step toward that right now?"

"What'dya mean?" Harry asked, running his words together after another yawn wracked his body.

She gave him a warm smile. He wasn't pulling away, or even stiffening against her like he had a couple times on the planes when she laid her head on his shoulder. Shifting so that her legs were out in front of her, she gestured to her thighs. "Lay down on the sand and put your head on my lap."

He looked confused.

"Please? You acted as our pillow on the flights often enough. Let me return the favor?"

Harry nodded after a quiet moment. He shifted on the sand, adjusting his clothes for the new position, and laid his head on Susan's thigh. It was a soft, but surprisingly firm pillow. Framed in her auburn hair that was catching the morning sun, Susan looked as if her entire being was aflame.

"Shhh," she soothed, starting to run her fingers through his hair. Without any more conversation, she started to sing.

Harry could feel the fatigue overwhelming him. Between the warm sand, the warm pillow, her gentle fingers tracing soothing patterns through his hair, and her soft voice murmuring a melody he'd never heard before, he slipped into sleep before the first verse was over.

Susan sat on the sand, enjoying the way the waves broke. Her song was long over, but she kept threading her fingers through Harry's hair. He fell asleep almost as soon as she started singing, but she finished the song to help him stay asleep.

The poor boy needed the rest desperately. His face relaxed so much when he fell asleep that he looked years younger. She felt a spike of anger at whatever unknown entity made him have a life that no child should have ever had to live. Teenagers should be focused on grades, quidditch, and finding someone to date, not fighting dark lords for their very lives.

So lost in her thoughts was Susan that she didn't notice how much time had passed, she heard approaching footsteps. Looking up, she saw Amelia padding across the sand as fast as she could. "Oh! There you are."

"What's wrong?" she asked, keeping her voice down.

"Neither one of you were at breakfast, so we got worried and started searching," Amelia answered. Her aunt was dressed as casually as Susan had ever seen her, wearing a lime green tank top and jeans.

Susan nodded to her lap. "I woke up early and saw him sitting out on the sand by himself so I came out here to see if he was okay or not. Turns out he didn't sleep at all last night. Between that jet-lag thing and having nightmares from the graveyard, he hasn't been sleeping very well. All he did was put his head on my lap and he fell right to sleep."

Amelia's face softened, taking in the boy's haggard appearance. "Poor Harry. Do you want to come in for some breakfast? I can levitate him to his bed."

"No need, Amelia," Harry murmured from her lap, "I woke up when Susan stopped rubbing my head."

"Sorry, Harry," the girl apologized.

"Don't be," he smiled, "I haven't felt this calm in a while." With a groan, he rolled off of Susan's leg and struggled to his feet.

"Don't take this the wrong way, Harry, but you look awful," Amelia grinned, "Try to make it an early night tonight, okay?"

Harry returned her smirk. "Gee, thanks, Amelia. I'll be sure to try."

"If you're still having trouble sleeping, come find me," Susan said with slightly pinked cheeks, "I would be happy to sit up talking with you if it would help."

He looked at her with a bit of surprise, offering to stay up all night with him in front of her aunt, but she held firm. "If I can't sleep, I may just do that, assuming it's okay with Amelia," he qualified, looking at the older woman.

Amelia pursed her lips. "You're both getting old enough for me to not need to rule your lives. I trust you both."

Touched by her answer, Harry just nodded as he led the way back into the villa.

"Are you sure of this information, Lucius?"

"As sure as I can be, my Lord. Bones has taken a leave of absence from the Ministry."

"Did your contacts tell you why?" Riddle asked after taking a moment to consider the information.

"She has apparently taken custody of Harry Potter, Master. It's likely that she's taking some time off to acclimate him to her household," Malfoy assessed, keeping his knees bent on the floor and his head bowed, praying that the Dark Lord didn't feel the need to engage his wand.

Riddle thought for a moment. "It seems you have proven your usefulness once more, Lucius. I believe we can exploit this. Let us retire to the study to make plans. It may be time to help her give him a warm welcome."

"Found them!" Amelia smirked as she led Harry and Susan back into the villa.

Sirius, Mike, Mary, Tonks, and Hermione were clustered around the table, eating a light breakfast of toast, fruit, and scrambled eggs.

"Harry!" Hermione exclaimed, jumping to her feet and running over. "Where have you been?"

Returning the girl's embrace, Harry said nothing for a moment. "I was on the beach. Last night I couldn't sleep after I had a bad dream, so I wandered out and sat, watching the moon and the waves."

"I saw him from my balcony this morning," Susan chimed in as she took a seat at the table, gratefully accepting a plate of the fruit and eggs from Mary, "and I went out to see if he was okay. I could practically feel how tired he was, so I told him to lay down with his head on my lap. He got a little nap until Auntie came out to find us."

"Shouldn't you go lie down for some more rest then?" Hermione pressed after she passed Harry a plate of his own.

Mike shook his head. "I wouldn't recommend that, sweetheart. If he sleeps too much today, it might mess up his regular sleep rhythm for later tonight and the rest of the trip."

"That makes sense," Harry nodded, "So, coffee until lunch and then an early bedtime?"

Amelia smiled at him. "Sounds like a plan to me, Harry. Then laying on the beach, going swimming, and maybe a light dinner."

Before Harry could say anything more, Hannah, Neville, Ginny, and Luna came into the room, lured by the smell of eggs cooking. "Morning all," Neville mumbled, still rubbing his eyes.

Ginny and Luna took a spot at one end of the table between Mary and Amelia, smiling when plates of food appeared in front of them. The house elves assigned to this particular Potter property were just as efficient as the elves at Hogwarts.

"What does everyone feel like doing today?" Sirius wanted to know.

"Swimming!" Luna exclaimed with a happy grin, "I've never been swimming in a tropical ocean before I can't wait to see what kinds of fish and marine animals there are around here."

"I think that sounds fun," said Ginny, more quietly than her friend.

"That's what I've been looking forward to, too," Neville agreed between bites of his own breakfast.

"Me too," Hermione grinned, "That beach looks amazing."

Harry nodded. "I think there's a supply of gillyweed in one of the storage rooms here. What about we stay in shallower water in the morning to get used to the sea and then go for deeper dives this afternoon?"

"I like that idea," Susan answered, "Rather than jumping in at the deep end, so to speak."

After they'd finished breakfast and tea – strong espresso in Harry's case – the teens and adults went back upstairs to change for a day on the beach.

After splashing around in the shallow water for a while, the girls decided to go sun themselves on the chaise lounges, leaving Neville and Harry in the surf. The boys were content to float on the surface of the water and enjoy the waves.

Looking up at the girls in their bikinis, Neville turned a sly look to his friend. "Not to put down your hospitality, Harry, but I can see Ron's point of view, too. If a girl back home asked me to spend time with her, I probably would have taken that option. We're a pretty lucky pair of blokes to be enjoying this company, but I can't see any of them going after Ron."

Confused, Harry followed Neville's line of sight. When he saw where the other teen was looking, he tried to cover his flush by ducking under the water. Rising back to the surface, he shook the drops out of his hair and grinned. "Yeah, I guess I can see that. You and Hannah have been getting pretty cozy on the trip so far."

Now it was Neville's turn to flush. "Yeah, she's really awesome, but I'm not sure what she's doing hanging around me."

"Don't sell yourself short, mate. You have a lot going for you," Harry protested, "I think she definitely fancies you."

"I don't know…I do like her, so I guess we'll see how this vacation goes?" said the other boy, "We're in close quarters here, at least closer than other times, so maybe it will give me the chance to impress her somehow."

"Trust me, Nev; you don't have to try very hard," Harry promised with a smile.

"What about you? I walked to the loo a few times during the flights. You looked pretty cozy yourself between Susan and Hermione," Neville shot back, giving him a sly look.

"I was – I was just acting as the pillow," protested Harry, treading water back a few feet.

Neville looked skeptical. "On every flight?" he asked.

"Who knows why girls do what they do?"

"I notice you're not saying you weren't enjoying yourself."

Harry flushed again. "Well, two beautiful girls cuddling up…not exactly a hardship, you know?"

"Guy to guy here, Harry, do you fancy one or the other in particular? Do you think one or both of them fancy you?" Neville wondered.

Harry tried to shrug; it wasn't easy when he was treading water. "I don't know. Hermione's been my best friend since our first year. Even before, actually. The first words she ever said to me were about your toad on the Express."

Neville chuckled. "Poor Trevor. What an embarrassing first day of school that was."

"She's stuck by me through everything, even when she stole my Firebolt and had McGonagall check it over because she was worried it was cursed. I can't envision my life without her in it," Harry continued, staring out to sea, "She's absolutely beautiful, inside and out. Even when she's trying too hard in class or driving me to distraction with her studying schedule, I know she's got my best interests at heart."

The other boy nodded, understanding, but kept silent to let his friend talk his thoughts out.

"Then there's Susan," Harry said, eyes trailing back up the shore to the gorgeous redhead in her black bikini, "I haven't known her that long, and she was part of the 'Heir of Slytherin' nonsense and the badge disaster this year, but she's really, and I mean really, trying to make it up to me. She wouldn't let go of my arm when I was sharing my memories, and then this morning on the beach she was so nice about having me sleep on her lap. There's the whole thing with me living at her house, too."

"That's got to be weird, mate. You go from not knowing her that well to having her aunt offer to adopt you?" Neville shook his head.

"It's a bit odd. To tell the truth I'm leaning toward signing the papers for her to adopt me, even if I do file for emancipation afterward."

"Really?" the other Gryffindor asked, floored.

"Yeah, I mean…Other than Sirius, no one has ever actually said they wanted me to be part of their family before. I mean, Molly Weasley basically took me in and treated me like one of her own, but Amelia actually said the words out loud: she wanted me to be her adopted son. She was the first, and so far, only person who ever stepped up and fought for me. That means so much," Harry answered, surprising himself with his words, but knowing they were true the moment he said them.

"I'm glad it's working out finally for you, even if we should have grown up together."

"Yeah. I like to think your gran would have been a great guardian if Dumbledore hadn't interfered the way he did," Harry smiled. "You and I would have gotten into so much trouble as god-brothers.

"As far as them fancying me, who really knows with girls? They seem to be more concerned with me, but that could be just because I spent so long in the hospital."

Neville shook his head. Harry would get it sooner or later. "Speaking of Dumbledore, what are you going to do about school this year? He won't be in Azkaban the way he should be."

Harry sighed, slapping the water in frustration. "I don't know, Neville. I just don't see how I can go back to that school with someone who I genuinely believe wants me dead. I would be opening myself up to compulsion charms, potions, and any kind of mental manipulation he could dream up."

"But if you don't go to school, the Ministry could snap your wand, bind your magic, and obliviate you of the magical world," the other boy worried.

"Hence the dilemma. Plus, there's His Noselessness and his band of Merry Masked Morons to worry about. I think this vacation is a good time to have a war council," mused Harry.

"That's a good idea. Between your guardian, your godfather, and the Grangers, plus Tonks who's an auror, and all the Hogwarts students here, we should be able to figure something out," Neville agreed.

Harry looked back to the beach to see if anyone was making to head back into the water and caught sight of Ginny rubbing what looked like suntan lotion on Luna's back. They were a little too far away to tell, but it looked like the redhead had a smile on her face.

"Hey, has Ginny seemed a bit off to you since all this started?" he asked Neville.

The other teen thought for a moment before shaking his head. "I don't know her well enough to ask, why?"

"I don't know; it just seems to me like she's been uncomfortable recently."

"Well, you saved her life in the Chamber, so why not ask her? I don't know enough about life debts to comment, but it seems like if she'd talk to anyone, she'd talk to you."

"That's a good idea," Harry said, keeping his eyes ashore.

"Harry," Neville gestured, "Susan and Hermione left an empty chair between them. Any guesses as to who they want to sit there?"

Harry shook his head. "They're going to kill me."

Neville laughed as the two boys trudged through the wet sand, making their way to shore.

"Are you sure of what you're saying?" Rita Skeeter asked Albus Dumbledore in their private room at the Three Broomsticks.

The old man stroked his beard, pretending to consider her words as he leaned back against the uncomfortable wooden chair. "As sure as I can be. According to Ministry records, Harry Potter's guardian is now Amelia Bones. With the number of former Death Eaters that might wish harm on him for his vanquishing of the Dark Lord as a baby, I've always done my best to ensure his safety from unsavory elements of our society. Unfortunately, I can find no trace of the boy despite all my searching. Amelia and her other ward, Susan Bones, have disappeared as well, along with Sirius Black after his exoneration. I have also been unable to find any traces of his closest friends: Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, or Neville Longbottom."

"Do you really think they might have been kidnapped?" she asked, Quick-Quotes Quill scratching away madly at the parchment.

Ordinarily Dumbledore wouldn't trust someone like Skeeter with any information at all, but without the ability to track down the boy, he needed to bring any and all pressure he could to bear on the lad. If his efforts generated Howlers, so much the better. If there was one thing he knew, a swing in public opinion against Harry Potter would drive him running back to Albus Dumbledore's waiting arms for forgiveness like the wayward child he was. "Of course, I cannot say. The confluence of events is troubling, though."

Rita grinned at the statement. Quotes like this from Dumbledore himself would go a long way toward putting pressure on the Potter brat. She had her promise to the Granger girl that limited her somewhat, but if she published the article under a pseudonym, she would be in the clear.

"I think I have everything I need, Headmaster Dumbledore."

"Excellent. I'll just be on my way back to Hogwarts."

Harry was going to die. There was no other possibility. He was going to die, but he'd do it with a smile on his face.

Mary and Amelia came out from the villa, with Amelia holding a small container in her hands. "Scar cream from Poppy Pomfrey," she explained to his look. He started to object, but she raised her hand to explain, "I know you said you didn't want to get rid of your scars, since they reminded you of something you overcame, but she sent this along as an option for you – a choice. You don't have to use the cream, but you can make those scars go away if you want to."

He wavered. Then the hopeful, encouraging looks on Hermione's and Susan's faces gave a louder voice to his own quiet wishes to look more normal. "And she was sure that it would get rid of them?"

Amelia smiled. "Positive."

That was apparently all he needed. Hermione came forward and took the cream from Amelia while Susan led him to a chaise lounge and gently pushed him down onto the chair.

"Lay on your stomach, Harry," she urged.

He started to turn, but the redhead was surprisingly strong. Soon he was on his stomach while four hands rubbed scar cream up and down his back and legs. They were tentative at first, gently rubbing his shoulders, but a few noises that could be called whimpers had them pushing harder and moving lower down his body. They seemed to alternate, with one taking his back and shoulders and one taking a leg, then switching. Keeping the moans from escaping was becoming harder and harder, not that he was trying that hard after the first few minutes.

"Okay, girls. You had the scar cream rubbed in about five minutes ago," Mary teased, before heading back to the chairs next to her husband. Sirius was on the other side of Mike with Amelia last of all on their row of chairs.

As her conversation back home with her mother played over in her mind, Hermione couldn't resist the urge to be a little bold. She gave Susan a wink before saying loud enough for all the teens to hear, "Maybe you can return the favor by rubbing sunscreen on our backs?" she asked Harry.

His body's natural reaction to the mental image had Harry responding with a very manly squeak. "You go on ahead. I need to stay here for a minute or two."

The brunette looked confused until understanding dawned and she flushed bright red with a squeak of her own.

Confused, Susan glanced at Hermione for an explanation. Harry deliberately covered his ears while Hermione leaned across his back and explained.

"Oh, my!" the Hufflepuff exclaimed. Her own blush went down past her neck, coloring the pale skin.

Nearby enough to see what was going on, even if she couldn't hear the whispers, Luna quickly figured out what was going on. Soon her infectious giggling had even Harry giving a rueful chuckle at his predicament.

"Oh, Neville? Maybe you could rub some sunscreen lotion onto my back too?" Hannah asked, wiggling the bottle at him.

Now it was Harry's turn to laugh as his friend practically ran over to Hannah's chair. It didn't take Neville long to squirt a generous portion of sunscreen between her shoulder blades and working it in.

As he watched, Luna beckoned over to Neville, who tossed the sunscreen over to her. She squeezed more of it out onto Ginny's legs before massaging it into the girl's pale skin. When the redhead started moaning, he shook his head and gestured for Luna to toss him the sunscreen. "Gryffindors charge forward, I guess!"

Laying face down on the chaises, Hermione and Susan shared a smirk. Harry wasn't ambidextrous, so since she was on his right, Hermione figured she would get the sunscreen first. She wasn't wrong. The cold of the lotion on her sun-warmed skin made her gasp, but Harry's quidditch-trained muscles rubbing it into her shoulders soon turned that gasp into moans. Harry soon had her shoulders and neck done and was making his way down to her sides and lower back.

For her part, Susan watched the display amidst a swirl of conflicting emotions. She almost felt an obligation to feel jealous that the guy she was rapidly falling into a crush on was massaging the nearly-naked form of another girl, but the emotion had no heat for her.

Instead, watching Harry's strong arms lead to Hermione's mewls of pleasure were turning her on so much she had to squirm on her chair. She kept her gaze on the other two as Harry moved from Hermione's back down to the slender girl's surprisingly strong-looking legs was a revelation in and of itself. Susan decided right then and there that if she had to pick a favorite part of the other girl's body, it would be her legs. The thought was so new to her that she didn't really know how to handle it. Through her entire life, Susan had never felt any kind of attraction to other witches, even when they would change in the Hufflepuff dorm rooms.

Seeing Hermione in her bikinis had started something though, and it wasn't something she knew how to handle. The crush on Harry wasn't new – most witches in Hogwarts probably had crushes to one degree or other, but hers was only growing with how she was getting to know him. Feeling this visceral attraction to Hermione was out of the blue.

Still, she needed someone to talk to about these feelings. Her best friend Hannah was the girl she talked to about almost everything, but talking about an attraction to another witch might be a bit too much. Her aunt might be her best bet, but talking about having feelings for two people at the same time, one of them a crush on another girl, might be too much for her aunt.

Any further ruminations had to wait, as Harry had finished with Hermione and squirted sunscreen onto her back. The shock of the cold lotion dragged her from her swirling emotions back to the beach, but Harry's strong hands, calloused from so many chores done at the behest of his monstrous relatives, soon her bones turn to jelly and her brain to goo. Off in the distance she heard Hermione's sniggered laugh at the noises she was making, but Harry's hands felt too good for her to care about anything else.

That night, after a day spent in and out of the ocean and eating light meals and snacks, they had a bonfire on the beach. Mike and Sirius had the flames roaring high into the darkness while everyone else gathered round. There was talk of something called S'mores on another night of their stay, but for that first night they were content to sit around the fire and talk.

Harry found himself between Hermione and Susan once more, but this time with Susan on his right and Hermione on his left. They seemed to interchange their positions around him without any sort of conflict, but whenever the teens settled as a group, Hermione and Susan were always at his sides.

The flames roared high into the night sky, and the group settled down around them, enjoying each other's company.

Susan made it back to her room after the group broke up for bed, tired, but still buzzing with energy after such a wonderful day. The vacation of her lifetime stretched out in front of her, promising day after day of sunbathing, swimming, and snorkeling with this group of people she could easily see becoming a surrogate family.

Closing the door behind her, she fell back against it with a sigh of pure bliss.

"Ahem. We need to talk."

The blunt, matter-of-fact words snapped her out of her reverie. Hannah sat in the easy chair in her room's sitting area.

"Yeah, yeah I guess we do."

Several thousand miles away, another group of people sat around a fire, watching the flames roar into the darkness, enjoying the moment.

"Fiendfyre is such a remarkable spell," Riddle mused to Lucius and Peter as they watched Bones Manor burn to the ground. The wards were no match for his power, and the almost unchained fury of the fire spell made short work of the manor house. "When she returns from wherever she's managed to secret her niece and the Potter brat, focusing on their loss will distract her from our efforts."

Malfoy and Pettigrew nodded, not knowing anything else to say to their master.

"Come, my friends. We still need to plan the escape of my most dedicated followers from their living tombs on Azkaban.

Chapter Text

July 18, 1995


By Rita Skeeter

Ministry sources confirmed to this reporter that the home of the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Madam Amelia Susan Bones, was burned to its foundations last night. Aurors showed up on the scene as the embers were still smoldering, but were unable to salvage anything from the manor.

A DMLE source confirmed that no bodies were found in the wreckage, but the location of Madam Bones and her two wards is unknown.

That's right, dear readers, I said two wards. Everyone knows that Madam Bones took in her niece Susan after her parents were murdered, but what this reporter was able to confirm from Wizarding Child Services and Ministry records is that Harry Potter (the Boy-Who-Lived) recently had his parents' will read for the first time and Amelia Bones became his legal guardian as well.

Loyal readers will remember that Mister Potter was the center of much controversy during the recently-concluded Tri-Wizard Tournament, eventually being accused of lying when he made statements that seemed to indicate that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was back.

Mister Potter also appeared out of the maze that was the third task of the Tournament with the body of his fellow champion Cedric Diggory, whose exact manner of death was never fully established other than that he died by the killing curse.

Questions must be asked regarding the close time in between Madam Bones assuming guardianship of someone so shrouded in controversy and her home being burned to the ground. Until the whereabouts of Madam Bones, her niece Susan, and Harry Potter can be established, we can only wait and wonder.

Rita worded her article carefully to avoid breaking her promise to the annoying little muggleborn witch. Nothing she printed was a lie; it was mere conjecture artfully constructed to lead the reader to a specific conclusion. After being kept in a jar for an extended period of time, anything that made the Potter brat's life difficult was just fine with her.

She dropped the article on her editor's desk on her way out to the Leaky Cauldron for a well-earned drink and dinner. A late meeting with a Wizengamot source on possible new waves and alliances called for a full stomach.

Susan and Hannah talked until well after midnight, discussing everything that had been happening around the group of teens. When they were done, the redhead felt worlds better about her situation. Despite her initial fears of judgement from the girl she'd practically grown up with, Hannah was surprisingly understanding, reaffirming her unwavering support and love for her best friend.

The blonde girl was surprised at first, but in the end, Susan's vulnerability and trust in her friend had Hufflepuff loyalty winning out and the two witches embraced.

"What are you going to do?" Hannah asked when silence fell.

Susan buried her head in her hands. "I don't know. Who else would find themselves in this situation?"

"It's not ideal," Hannah answered with a rueful chuckle, "But it could end up being wonderful for you."

"Maybe if I had Gryffindor courage," the redhead said, despondent, "But how could I even begin to go about this?"

"Would it make you happy if everything worked out the way you hope?"

"Deliriously happy," Susan admitted, eyes shining as she allowed her daydreams free reign.

The blonde grinned at her. "Then I think, as your best friend, you owe it to yourself to take the chance. You'll always wonder what might have happened if you don't. Be a Gryffindor for once in your life!"

"So, what do I do?"

Hannah's grin spread from ear to ear. "Let's start planning!"

Later that morning, spun golden gossamer as light as the air itself woke a different redheaded witch. Ginny's nose twitched back and forth as a strand of Luna's hair caught in the early morning ocean breeze and tickled her face. With the way Ginny was resting her head on the smooth, warm skin of Luna's chest, the blonde's hair had blown into almost a mask for her overnight.

She gave a subvocal grumble at being woken in the dim light of the pre-dawn morning, but feeling Luna's arms around her robbed the sound of most of its pique. The other girl's embrace was so protective and safe that she couldn't' feel anything but happy in her arms.

Needing a trip to the loo, she carefully extricated herself from Luna's comforting arms and padded over to take care of business. Once finished, she made her way back to the sleeping area of the room and came to a complete halt, bereft of breath at what she saw. The sight of Luna's ethereally blonde hair splayed out across her pillow, caught in the sun's early morning rays, made her look like some kind of angel with a glowing halo.

After regaining her equilibrium, Ginny bounced on the balls of her feet across the room, soft as she could so as to not wake the other girl. With the greatest of care, Ginny drew back the flat sheet and slid in, regaining her place in Luna's embrace.

The blonde gave a happy sigh and slid her arms back around her erstwhile teddy bear. "Everything okay?" she murmured, "Not another bad dream?"

"No, just had to pee. Thank you for keeping the nightmares away," Ginny answered, "You keep me safe from Tom."

"I'll keep him away from you always," Luna promised with a sleepy grin, "Back to sleep now, love."

No other words needed to be said. Both girls reveled in the feeling of their warmth, and slowly slid back to sleep in time to the beating of each other's hearts.

Albus Dumbledore was paralyzed with fear.

The ravaged ruins of the once-majestic Bones Manor spread out before him, still smoldering from the fire that incinerated the ancient abode.

His contacts within the Ministry had informed him that a spike in magical use around the DMLE Head's residence saw a team of aurors sent out to investigate. They found what was left of the manor house as the fire spell finished consuming it. Apparating to the site not long after the aurors started poking around the ruins, Albus started casting detection spells to discern the magical signature of the attackers. Exactly as he'd expected, his scans showed the attacker to be Voldemort, but it was the total lack of any victims that had him in a panic.

His only hope now was that Sirius had taken the entire family to…he couldn't remember! It used to be the headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix, but somehow the Fidelius must have been reapplied. As hard as he thought and tried to remember where Sirius lived, he couldn't.

Auror John Dawlish saw Dumbledore poking around and hurried over, interrupting his ruminations. "Here, Dumbledore! You can't just go digging through a DMLE crime scene!"

"Oh? I wasn't aware this was already determined to be a crime scene. I was just attempting to sift through the wreckage to see if anything could be salvaged from the abode of our dedicated DMLE chief. Have you managed to determine what caused the blaze or if there were any victims at home at the time?" Dumbledore asked, hoping Dawlish's reactions told him more than the man's words would.

"Nothing yet, unfortunately. Director Bones was on vacation from the Ministry, but I don't know if she left any word of where she was going, or even if she was going anywhere. My next step is to inform the DMLE to contact her by any and all means available," the auror admitted.

"An excellent idea, John," the old man praised, "If I may so trouble you, Amelia's two wards are students of mine, and I am extremely concerned for their safety and wellbeing. If at all possible, would you be kind enough to inform me? I need to make sure my students are safe."

Dawlish thought it over before deciding he could see nothing wrong with helping out his former Headmaster. "When we find anything out, we'll let you know."

The older man nodded his thanks and left without another word.

Appearing directly in front of Hogwarts, Dumbledore walked as fast as he could back to his office. Alone once more, his fear took free reign. Harry was still gone, but so was his guardian now. Bones Manor was no more, but he could find no trace of Harry or the Bones witches. That lack of victims from the fire was currently his only solace. If Amelia had taken a vacation as Dawlish had said, it might be that which saved them all.

Settling back behind his chair, Dumbledore called for an elf. When one of the many Hogwarts house elves appeared in front of him, he looked down to greet the being. "Please send for Professor Snape to join me in my office."

With a nod, the elf popped away.

Moments later, without yet having come to any good answers, he watched Severus sweep into his office. "What happened today?"

"Voldemort used Fiendfyre to burn Bones Manor to ashes," Dumbledore explained.

Only the widening of his eyes betrayed Severus's surprise at the bold salvo. "What of Potter?"

Dumbledore sagged in on himself. "I could find no trace of any human victims in the blaze. Fiendfyre leaves little behind, so I cannot be certain, but nothing I cast detected any indications that the structure was occupied at the time. That would certainly seem to support what Auror Dawlish told me – that Amelia took a vacation to help welcome him to her family."

"Black is free as well. Perhaps Harry is hiding out at his house, wherever that is," Snape offered.

"That may well be, but as I seem to have forgotten its location, that is also a dead end. The Order is virtually useless to me as well. Young Nymphadora is also out of communication, the Weasleys refused to even answer their Floo, and the rest are less than useless at finding a wayward teenager. Our list of allies grows thin."

"What about the werewolf?" Severus gritted out, hating to have to make the suggestion. Desperate times called for desperate measures, he consoled himself, "He seemed to form a bond with Potter during his year teaching Defense."

Dumbledore sat back and considered. "I hadn't thought of Remus yet. You're right, though. He may be the key to finding both Sirius and Harry."

"Beyond asking Lupin, I don't see any other alternatives to sitting back and waiting for the Express to bring him to you," the potions master continued, "Minister Fudge is already losing value as an ally after the Tournament, and he exists in Malfoy's pocket as it is. Any more efforts to locate someone who has another magical adult, especially one as powerful both politically and magically as Amelia Bones, may see the Ministry take a more…active role in the management of this school."

Before Dumbledore could respond to that worrying statement, an owl arrived with an urgent message from the Ministry. "Ah, it seems events are progressing," he mused, taking the letter from the bird's leg and allowing it to fly back to the Ministry.

Severus worried for the Headmaster's health, so sudden and striking was his complexion paling.

"Lord Voldemort does not appear to be keen on letting the grass grow underneath him. There's been an attack and breakout from Azkaban."

Severus's eyes widened once more as his heart started pounding. The implications of a mass Death Eater breakout from Azkaban were not good for him. "How many?"

"Every Inner Circle Death Eater has been freed. Bellatrix, Rabastan, Rodolphus, Antonin, Augustus…everyone. According to this missive, even the Dementors have left Azkaban."

Just as Dumbledore finished listing who broke out of the island prison, Snape gasped and grabbed at his forearm. "He's summoning me. I need to get outside the wards to apparate."

"Be safe, my friend," the old man cautioned. "With his most ardent followers now free, I shudder to think of the mayhem he has planned."

Snape merely nodded as he hurried from the room.

July 19, 1995

Harry hadn't forgotten Susan's birthday. Checking the calendar before they left had gotten the wheels turning in his head, trying to come up with a way to make the day special for someone who was making up for the rocky start they'd had and rapidly becoming a friend. Birthdays were special and hew anted to make the day memorable for her.

A secret planning meeting the day before with Hermione, Neville, Hannah, Ginny, and Luna while the Hufflepuff napped had them agreeing on his ideas for what to do for their friend. Hermione even took him aside and said she'd do whatever she could to help make the birthday perfect for the Hufflepuff.

The help of the elves proved invaluable. Once he had his plan figured out, he called for Cooby and explained what he needed. On the morning of her birthday, he rose even earlier than he had been, aided for once by the bad dreams, and headed downstairs. "Cooby!" he called softly.

The elf popped into the room. "Yes, Master Harry?"

"Are we all set on the arrangements for tonight?"

"Oh yes, Master Harry. The elves know their instructions. Cooby and Wooby will be preparing the outside location, and Gooby will be handling the food."

"Excellent. Thank you for all your help with this," Harry smiled. "We need to make it awesome for Miss Susan."

Cooby nodded. "We likes Miss Susan. Elves be giving her best birthday ever!" he exclaimed before popping away.

Harry's smile turned into a grin. Susan was going to be blown away.

When she came downstairs, Susan didn't see the kitchen right away due to an enormous yawn closing her eyes. When her gaze cleared, she saw the entire group of people on the island assembled.

"Happy Birthday!" Harry exclaimed, trying to ignore his natural reaction to seeing her stretch in the relatively small cami shirt and sleep shorts she wore, moving around the table to give her a hug with the birthday wishes. Hermione and Hannah followed, with her aunt last as the others waved from their spots. Hannah passed over a cup of tea.

"What's going on?" Susan asked, still sleepy and confused, but appreciative of the hugs and the caffeine.

"It's your birthday!" Amelia said with a grin, "You didn't think we'd forget just because we're in some tropical paradise, did you?"

The redhead blushed. "I wasn't even thinking about it myself. Thanks, everyone."

"So, what would the birthday girl like for breakfast?" asked Harry, smiling as he took up station behind the stove.

She gave him a beaming smile. "I can have anything I want?"

Harry nodded with a chuckle. "Anything at all. It's your day today!"

"In that case, how about a bacon, egg, and cheese omelet with spinach, tomato, and mushrooms?" she requested. "It's my favorite."

"Ooh, that sounds really good. Harry, if it's not too much trouble, can you make me one of those, too?" Hermione chimed in with her puppy dog eyes set to 'stun' while Mike and Mary, well acquainted with Hermione's pleading expression, chuckled at Harry's apparent defenselessness.

Harry gave a good-natured groan. "Put those away, 'Mione. All you needed to do was ask."

"In that case, can I have one, too?" Luna beamed at him.

Grinning now, Harry looked around the room. "Does everyone else want one, too?"

Multiple nodding heads sealed his fate. "Okay, then. Give me a few minutes to chop the veggies and fry the bacon."

Instead of heading off to pass the cooking time outside the kitchen, the group sat down to watch him. "No pressure, Harry. You've always wanted to be a hibachi chef," he said to himself as he readied a cutting board, knife, metal mixing bowls, and ingredients.

"Don't worry, Harry. You've out-flown dragons and killed a basilisk as big as a dinosaur. How much trouble could breakfast be?" Hermione encouraged him.

For her part as the birthday girl, Susan sat front and center, with Hermione to her right and Hannah to her left. She watched, enthralled, as Harry first diced three large tomatoes with sure, swift strokes of the sharp knife. Once those were in a large stainless-steel bowl, he turned his attention to a large number of small, white mushrooms. Here he seemed to be even more sure of himself, as the knife flashed at a speed she wouldn't have believed possible without copious amounts of blood and missing fingers.

Once the next bowl held the mushroom pieces, he slid over to a massive bowl that had approximately three dozen eggs next to it. She was lost as he gave her a wink and a cheeky grin, but her jaw dropped open when he started taking eggs in both hands, cracking them on the rim of the bowl at the same time, and dropping the eggs in with only one hand. Impressed murmurs sounded around the kitchen at the speed he was cracking eggs, but it didn't distract Harry.

When all the eggs were in the bowl, he took a large whisk and started scrambling them. It took a few minutes but Harry eventually had them mixed together. The looks he got when he reached into the refrigerator for a can of sparkling water had everyone's eyebrows up.

"What's that for, Harry?" Sirius piped up from the back of the room.

"Just wait and see," he smirked, refusing to provide a specific answer as he opened the bottle and poured a good bit into the eggs. They bubbled and foamed a bit as he mixed it all together. Once that was done, he laid a large griddle and a large skillet on the stove.

Taking a container of baby spinach, he put that on the griddle with the mushrooms and tomatoes to soften up before putting quite a few rashers of bacon on the skillet, making sure to cover it so the grease wouldn't splatter everyone nearby.

Once he had a huge pile of vegetables and a stack of bacon rashers to use, he pulled out a fresh skillet. Harry put that one on the stove, replacing the two that were in the sink washing themselves (thanks to a wave of Amelia's wand). With a muttered engorgio and a swish of his own wand, Harry had the skillet taking up the entire stovetop. He turned all the burners on and used a ladle to lay on four large rectangles of the egg liquid once the pan heated for a few moments.

His audience watched as the eggs started cooking, fascinated by his skills as he deftly dropped chopped bacon, shredded cheddar cheese, the tomatoes, mushrooms, and finally the spinach into the center of each. When the eggs solidified, he used obviously practiced hands to flip the sides over, encasing the toppings in a warm envelope of eggs.

Harry used a spatula in each hand to slide the omelet onto plates, pushing the first four in front of Susan, Hermione, Hannah, and Luna.

Fifteen minutes later, everyone had a steaming breakfast in front of them. After digging in, the compliments to the chef were flying fast and effusive. "Okay, now I see what the bubbly water was for," Mike acknowledged, "I've never had eggs this fluffy before. This is amazing. I'll have to copy this when we get back to England."

Harry tried to shrug it all off, but Susan's look of gratitude promised that he would hear a more personal thank you later that day.

After breakfast they gathered in the living room for present time. Susan took center stage, on a recliner in the center of the back wall looking a little uncomfortable being the center of attention, but determined to enjoy her birthday. The rest of the group spread out around her in a semi-circle.

Amelia went first, of course, giving her niece a book of healing spells that she'd brought along on the trip.

Hannah wasn't surprised at all, but everyone else's confusion prompted an explanation. "I want to be a healer when I'm done with Hogwarts," Susan said, "My parents were murdered by Death Eaters, just like Harry's, and way too many other people's. I've had far too much death and destruction in my life, so my hope is to bring a little more healing and mercy to the world."

"A beautiful sentiment," Mary said, "Let me know if you'd like any of my old anatomy texts to study. I know they're not for magical studies, but maybe a different perspective on the human body would help guide your skills?"

Susan was astonished. "You'd really do that for me?"

"Of course! They're just gathering dust in the attic. I'd be happy to give them to someone who would get some real use out of them!" Hermione's mother affirmed.

"Thank you!" the redhead smiled.

Sirius, forewarned by Amelia of the occasion, slid a small box over in front of her. He'd carried it in his suitcase as well.

When she opened the box, Susan gasped at the ruby pendant and earrings that glittered up at her in their white gold settings. "Oh, thank you Sirius! These are amazing! I don't even know what to say!" she gushed, launching herself across the table at him.

"Don't worry at all about it. Such a lovely young lady deserves the proper jewelry to wear, and I just loved the way the July birthstone matched your hair," he chuckled into her embrace, placing a kiss on the top of her head.

"Gee, thanks, Sirius. How am I supposed to follow that act?" Harry groused.

Hermione gave him a smack on the shoulder. "Be nice! That was incredibly thoughtful of your godfather," she scolded. Getting to her feet with an indignant huff, she walked over to Susan and presented her own gift.

Getting fully into the spirit now, Susan tore off the wrapping paper and took in the sight of the beautiful leather-bound notebook. "Hermione! This is beautiful! Thank you so much!"

"It's practical, too," the brunette said through her blush, "It's charmed to auto-update with your notes from school, or you could save it for your Healing studies. At least, I've found books like this to be useful," she finished, looking down at her hands.

"That's wonderful! I can't tell you how much I appreciate this," Susan smiled, giving her a hug. "Thank you again!"

"Great job, Hermione," Harry congratulated.

Hannah gave her friend a beautiful scarf in Hufflepuff colors, while Hermione's parents had bought the girl a sweater she'd admired while they were out shopping. Tonks presented her with a wand holster charmed to remain invisible on her arm that also had protections against her wand being summoned from her. "This isn't exactly the most legal thing in the world, but I figure since you have Dumbledore's wand, you might want the ability to hang onto it when you go back to school," she explained, seeing the disapproval on the face of the woman who was, ultimately, her boss. "Sorry, Madam Bones."

Susan was about to hand it back, saying she couldn't possibly accept it when her aunt huffed. "Sorry for what? If someone were to present such a gift to my niece, for just those very reasons, I would happen to think it was very kind and thoughtful. It's a good thing I didn't see anything. Shame on you, Tonks, for not bringing even a small gift to my niece on her birthday," she finished with a wink.

Officially sanctioned, Tonks was able to relax and chuckle at her discomfiture.

Neville got her a set of magical hair care accessories in a beautiful wooden case with the Hufflepuff emblem inlaid in gold. When Susan gave a happy squeal and thanked him with a rib-cracking hug, he blushed. "Hannah might have told me something you'd like," the Gryffindor shrugged off the thanks.

Ginny and Luna gave her skin care products from Madam Primpernelle'sin Diagon Alley.

Finally, it was Harry's turn. He was in the process of getting up to retrieve his gift for Susan when she tried to stop him. "Harry! This is too much! You're the one who made all this possible. You're letting us use your villa, you paid for everything on our shopping trip…I couldn't possibly accept any more!"

"Too bad, Susan," he grinned at her huff, "I happen to believe that someone's birthday is just about the most important day of the year for them, so I wanted to make today special."

Left with nothing she could say in protest, all Susan could do was accept his gift. When she got it open, she gasped. "Oh, my! It's beautiful, Harry!"

Her friends and aunt crowded around to see, echoing her surprise. A beautiful bracelet lay in the box, the shine of its gold design matching Sirius's for its intensity. Dangling from this bracelet, however, were a series of charms. She instantly recognized the lion, badger, and eagle from Hogwarts, but the small snitch – complete with tiny flapping wings that looked like they were going to tickle her wrist – and book were her favorites. "There's more room for more charms to hang on the bracelet," Harry explained, "And it's a real charm bracelet: there are so many defensive charms on this that pretty much anything short of the Unforgiveables will bounce off you, and I think it will even vibrate when it detects harmful potions. As long as it remains in contact with your skin, your own magic will recharge it whenever it needs it."

Jaw dropped open, Susan couldn't even begin to form the words to thank him for the incredible gift. She gave it up after a few times opening and closing her mouth to no effect and simply wrapped the boy in a hug that made Neville's look like a gentle pat on the back.

"Thank you, Harry, I think is what she meant to say," Amelia smiled. "That was a wonderful gift, and I will sleep much better at night knowing she's so protected."

Harry smiled and shrugged. "I'm glad she likes it."

"I don't like it, you prat," Susan sniffed, turning watery eyes on him, "I love it! Thank you so much."

"Happy birthday, Susan," he said, returning her hug, "Now, what would you like to do next?"

The rest of the day passed however the birthday girl wanted. They went from swimming in the morning to a surprisingly competitive game of Monopoly – Harry figured one of his grandparents must have had a love for board games when he found a fully-stocked cabinet – that Ginny won going away.

"Six older brothers," the redhead grinned at the looks of surprise around the table, "I learned to be cutthroat if I wanted to win in anything." The rest of the teens cracked up her predatory smirk.

They moved onto another game that Susan thought would be fun. However, three turns around the board and, "Mister Green with the candlestick in the library," Luna declared, with a cheeky grin as she dropped the cards on the board, confirming her assessment.

Neville and Harry roared with laughter at the triumph on the little blonde's face contrasted with the disbelief on Hermione's. Even Mike and Mary had to hide smirks at their daughter's outrage on their way out to the outside seating to share some iced tea with Sirius and Amelia.

The brunette was flabbergasted. "Luna Lovegood! How in the bloody hell did you do that?" she exclaimed.

"Language!" Susan scolded, not a little amused herself at the other girl's reaction.

"Simple, Hermione! This is a very straightforward game based on the process of elimination," Luna explained.

"That's what we get for going in against a Ravenclaw in a game based on logic and deduction," Harry managed to wheeze out to the general amusement of the room.

He and Hermione begged off the next game, using their humiliation as an excuse to go and see the adults. As he got up, he gave each of his friends except Susan a pointed look, asking them without words to keep Susan occupied. One by one they nodded their response.

Finding them in their customary spot sipping iced tea on the terrace, he and Hermione went up to the table. "Sirius and Amelia, can I have your help with something for tonight?"

The older woman gave them a calculating look but it was Mary that answered. "You have plans for Susan's tonight?"

He smiled. "I know how much fun the girls had at the Yule Ball, at least until Ron ruined it for Hermione, so I was thinking about re-creating it here as a gift to Susan," he explained in a low voice, checking over his shoulder to make sure the doors were closed and Susan couldn't overhear him. "I had the elves create a dance floor on a cove out of sight of the main house, complete with lights, candles, and a fire pit off to the side. Somehow, and I didn't even bother asking, they were able to get a music player set up as well. I was hoping you two could help with the clothes – can you transfigure a couple tuxedos for Neville and I, Sirius?"

"And Amelia could you possibly work with Wooby on transfiguring some of the girls' clothes into gowns?" Hermione continued.

Mary stood up first, making her way over to Harry. She wrapped him in a gentle hug and gave him a kiss on the forehead. "You're a good boy, Harry. That's an incredibly sweet thing to do, and a lot of effort, for your friend." She gave her daughter a huge hug and a kiss on her own forehead, "You, too, Hermione."

Amelia was next, repeating Mary's actions. "What she said," she said after a watery chuckle, "This is a wonderful idea for Susan's birthday. I'd be happy to help. I'll get started right away, leaving Susan for last. Maybe we can even get some dressy clothes for the old fogies here, too."

"The more, the merrier!" Hermione chirped with a grin up at the older woman.

Sirius and Mike gave him pats on the back. "Good job, pup," his godfather congratulated. "I'd be happy to gin up a few tuxes for such a special occasion."

"You're a good young man, Harry," Mike said, moving to give Hermione a warm embrace, "Both of you are wonderful people to make her birthday such a memorable day."

"Geez, Harry! Whenever I finally manage to track down a boyfriend, I'm going to send him to you to be trained up," Tonks joked, but the admiration in her eyes was genuine.

Harry and Hermione shared a look.

"That's not a bad idea, Tonks," the brunette grinned.

Susan watched, perplexed, as her aunt and Sirius called one of her friends upstairs at a time on errands they refused to explain. Each of the teens came back to the dining room wearing huge grins but kept mum on what they'd been doing upstairs.

Monopoly and Clue gave way to checkers, Scrabble, and other board games as the afternoon rolled into the evening.

As the teens headed off one at a time, offering various excuses until it was just Susan, sitting alone in the dining room and watching the sun sink into the western horizon. It felt strange to be alone on her birthday, and she didn't like the feeling. She tried to console herself with how wonderful her friends, especially Harry and Hermione, made the day. It was still far more than she had most of her birthdays. She and Aunt Amelia usually spent the day with Hannah and her mum, so having such a crowd of people around to celebrate the day was a special gift in and of itself, but the words were ringing a little hollow. She really wanted to spend the evening of her birthday with their little group.

A noise behind her shook her out of her reverie. Susan turned to see her aunt calling her name. "What do you need me for, Auntie?"

"I need to get you ready for the last part of your birthday, Susan," Amelia grinned, "Follow me upstairs, please."

Confused and still a little in the dumps from her pity party a moment before, Susan followed her aunt up to her bedroom. There she saw a stunning ball gown laying on her bed. "What's going on?"

Amelia grinned. "Harry and Hermione arranged everything for tonight as a final surprise for your birthday. Put this on and I'm to take you to the place they set up. This is a transfigured dress which will revert to your pajamas at midnight tonight."

The lump in Susan's through at her friends' thoughtfulness was preventing any replies, so she simply nodded.

Thirty minutes later, thanks to a careful application of makeup and hairstyling charms from her aunt, Susan descended to the main level of the villa. Bathed in the blazing orange glow of the sunset, she saw Harry and Hermione there waiting for her. He was in a style of formal attire she'd never seen before. It appeared to be a black suit with a starched white shirt and a black bow tie. Hermione wore a maroon gown that transition from pale at her shoulders gradually darker through tiers of fabric. It looked stunning on her, clinging to her body and accentuating her figure.

"Happy Birthday, Susan," Harry greeted, attempting to cover his overwhelming approval of how the black gown hugged the redhead in all the right places by handing her a bouquet of tropical flowers with a kiss on her cheek.

Hermione was frantically trying to get her brain rebooted. Susan was breathtakingly beautiful, with a full, womanly bust that somehow didn't look out of place on her teenage frame. Harry's memories of Susan's gown at Bones Manor couldn't hold a candle to the one she wore now. One of her shoulders was bare, with the gown hanging onto the other shoulder by hope alone, given the voluptuous figure contained within the fabric. The dress clung to her sides as well, showing off her full hips and slender legs. A delicate silver filigree design traced up from the bottom, ending at her hips on one side, stretching up to the girl's arm on the other.

She had a fleeting feeling of sympathy for every male she'd judged harshly for giving girls 'elevator eyes'. Spending an entire day appreciating Susan Bones didn't sound like the worst idea she'd ever heard. The other girl's wonderful personality defused any jealousy that she might have felt over her own more petite stature. Susan was someone she just wanted to be around, and if she got the chance to appreciate her figure some more, she wasn't going to complain.

It might be time to have a girls' talk with her mother about these feelings.

Shaking herself free of her less-than-platonic appreciation of Susan's beauty, and clearing her throat of the sudden dryness that set in the moment the redhead came down the stairs, Hermione echoed his wishes and gave the other girl a warm hug. "We have something special for you down the beach, if you'd care to join us."

"How could I refuse such an amazing invitation?" the redhead grinned, taking Harry's offered arm in hers. She was mildly surprised when Hermione did the same thing on her other side, but putting the bouquet down for the chance to walk to whatever awaited on the arms of the two people who gave her all kinds of warm feelings was a compromise she was more than willing to make.

Amelia watched the teens walk out of the villa; heart full of joy at the sight. The setting sun backlit the trio, making them look almost otherworldly. The three teens were growing closer by the day, and she wasn't even sure at this point which of the other two her niece felt more for since they had gotten to the island. Amelia knew Susan's happiness would be assured with either, but in her heart of hearts, she was starting to worry over the potential heartbreak for whichever teen was left out of the eventual pairing she was sure was coming.

The sun slipped below the horizon as Harry and Hermione led Susan down the beach and around to the party cove.

When they cleared the point and turned into the cove, Susan's eyes went huge as she took in the sight of small tiki torches on posts approximately two feet high surrounding a square parquet wooden dance floor that somehow nestled into the sandy beach. Larger torches ringed the wider area of the cove, and a thatched hut with a counter-height bar around its outside stood at the back of the cove with what looked like cold drinks and finger foods.

All around the dance floor, all her best friends were standing and clapping. "Happy birthday!" cheered Hannah, Ginny, Luna, Neville, Sirius, Mike, Mary, and Tonks, grinning away at the stunned girl.

"This…this is…" Susan was overwhelmed, the shock leaving her unable to finish her thought, much less verbalize it.

Her aunt appeared behind her and smiled at the girl. "Happy Birthday, Susan," she said with a hug before moving off to join the adults.

Susan burst into tears, wrapping herself around Harry. "Thank you," she hiccupped through her tears, before doing the same to Hermione.

The brunette smiled at Susan's emotion and held the embrace, enjoying the feeling of hugging the other girl. "You're welcome, Susan. It was the most we could put together on such short notice."

"It's perfect!" Susan insisted, backing off the hug to look her in the eyes, "Merlin! I didn't expect anything at all today other than spending time with all of you and it's been the best day ever!"

Harry and Hermione shared a grin over the girl's auburn hair, silently congratulating themselves on a job well done.

After a round of hugs and thanks to all her friends, Susan led everyone over to the refreshments where she saw Gooby dishing out tropical juice smoothies for the teens along with margaritas and daiquiris for the adults. A side table stood ready for the evening meal, set for them all to have a place to sit.

Once they'd had their juice and munched on a few snacks, Harry moved over to where Susan was chatting with Hannah. "Oh, Susan?"

"Yes, Harry?"

"There appears to be something missing."

Confusion colored the girl's features as she looked around. "What's that? It looks like everything's here."

"Well, there appears to be a dance floor, but I don't hear any music. Gooby!" Harry called with a grin, "Can you get the music playing?"

"Yes, sir, Master Harry!" the cheeky elf called out as he snapped his fingers. Light music filled the cove, quiet enough for conversation but loud enough to dance to.

He tapped one index finger on his chin, pretending to consider. "Hmmm…it looks like there's still something missing…"

Susan was still confused, but he didn't let it drag on too long. "Dance floor, lights, and music, but no one is dancing yet. Would you do me the honor of the first dance?" he requested, bowing low. When he straightened up, Harry offered her his hand.

Susan responded with a curtsey, taking his hand and walking with him to the center of the floor.

As everyone else watched, Harry and Susan stepped in time to the music. Harry made sure to keep enough room between them to be respectful, but the experience of having Susan in his arms kept his heart fluttering.

When the song ended and they broke apart, he had to work hard to regulate his breathing, due to more than just the dance. "You're a great dancer, Miss Bones."

"You aren't so bad yourself, Mister Potter," she grinned back to him.

She strode off the floor and, screwing up her courage, she marched right up to the other half of her party planners. "Lady Hermione, would you do me the honor of the next dance?" she asked with another curtsey.

Hermione smiled back at the girl, returning the curtsey when Susan was done. "How could I refuse such a gallant invitation? Though I must declare it was hardly a labor."

Almost all eyes were on the two beautiful girls as they spun around the floor together, perfectly in time to the music without breaking eye contact. Sirius's gaze, however, was on his godson. Rather than jealousy, Harry's eyes shone with affection and happiness, but there was a hint of something melancholy about his expression.

Interesting, the Marauder thought to himself.

After a couple hours of dancing punctuated by breaks with small sandwiches, fruits, and drinks, Harry left the dance floor to join Gooby in the snack hut. "Are we all set for the big finish?"

"Yes, Master Harry!" the elf enthused, "Wooby and Cooby are bringing it from the house."

"Excellent! I can't wait for Susan to see it," grinned Harry.

Before he could do anything else, the two elves popped in with their burden. Harry gave it a look over to make sure it was perfect, but he needn't have bothered; the three elves were outstanding. He waved his wand with a muted incendio and, satisfied with his work, turned back to the floor area. "Excuse me, everyone! It just occurred to me that this birthday celebration is incomplete!"

"What? No, what could possibly be missing?" Hermione exclaimed, breaking off from another dance with Susan.

"This," he answered, gesturing to the hut. The three elves levitated the three-tier circular rich chocolate birthday cake onto a conjured stand in the middle of the dance floor. Five candles to each tier ringed the cake, making fifteen in all, one for each year of Susan's life. The icing was the deep brown of rich chocolate, decorated with thin white piping in intricate floral designs. Around the outside of each tier was a ring of rosettes in white icing, and on the front of each tier held a word written in icing. The top tier said, 'Happy 15th', the middle said, 'Birthday', and the bottom said, 'Susan'.

As the birthday girl and her aunt stared at the cake, Harry gestured to everyone else and started the singing of the traditional 'Happy Birthday' song.

When it was finished, he got to experience another grateful hug from the redheaded girl. "Thank you for everything you've done today," Susan whispered.

"Glad to make it special," he said, smiling.

Susan closed her bedroom door behind her and fell back against it, humming out a sigh of pure joy. Never in all her life had she experienced such a perfect day. From waking up to her favorite breakfast to spending the rest of her morning on a tropical beach, playing board games with all her best friends, and then having a dance in a ball gown on the beach under the moonlight, the day couldn't have gone any better if she had planned it out herself. Susan felt her entire being suffused with pure joy at the thought that Harry and Hermione went to such lengths for her, and got everyone else involved.

Humming to the music from the beach, she moved in a twirling dance around the room, her imaginary partner changing from Harry to Hermione as she swayed in time to the music in her imagination. Eventually spinning her way over to the bed and fell back on top of it, barely noticing when the clock changed over to the next day and her gown reverted to her pajamas. She fell asleep to the memory of holding a taller, dark-haired wizard and a shorter, bushy-haired witch in her arms.

Hermione was far too keyed up to fall asleep, even when she had her 'Cinderella moment' and her gown changed back to pajamas when the clock struck midnight. Susan had thanked them both, but it felt more like her going along with the amazing ideas Harry had.

She'd long known about her crush on Harry. Few people could pinpoint the moment they developed such feelings for another person, but for her it was easy: October 31, 1991. Having someone jump on a twelve-foot tall mountain of muscle with not much more than their bare hands to save one's life will generally endear them to one. From that moment, Hermione was a goner. Harry was certainly growing into his looks, too. Seeing him tonight in that tuxedo almost had her swooning.

The problem Hermione realized earlier that evening that she needed to talk to her mother about was the powerful attraction she'd noticed growing every day to one Susan Bones. Living in the girl's dorms, showering with her classmates, she was no stranger to the female form, but it had never affected her like this before. Susan had curves to die for, and the brunette was coming to accept that she had more than just an aesthetic appreciation for them after all. Between her deep feelings for Harry and her dizzying attraction to Susan, Hermione felt like she was slowly losing her mind.

Memories of their touch, their scents, and the piercing combinations of blue and green eyes swirling through her mind drove Hermione's arousal to crazy heights she'd never felt in her entire life. She surrendered to the feeling, allowing her hands to roam down her chest and on into her pajama pants, hoping the release would help her to sleep.

Harry fell back onto his own bed, hoping that Susan had as good of a time as she seemed to. Throwing birthday parties wasn't exactly his strong suit, but he thought he did a pretty decent job, judging by the way she hugged him.

Hermione looked like she had a lot of fun, too. Watching her dance with Susan was probably going to be his new Patronus memory. Knowing that he had a crush on both of them wasn't new to him; seeing them in their gowns just solidified it.

What was harder to accept was the knowledge that there wasn't anything that he could do about it. Not only was he almost positive neither of them would return the feelings, he had a quite literal death sentence hanging over his head. Bringing anyone into that situation would be unfair to them.

Feeling his tuxedo transfigure back to pajamas, he fell back on the bed, praying that the dance tonight would keep the graveyard from his thoughts, but even as he closed his eyes, he knew how useless it was.

The moment he closed his eyes, he went right back to that awful night.

"Kill the spare…"

July 21, 1995

Those on vacation on the Potter's island had settled into a routine so glorious that none even thought of complaining.

After waking up and enjoying a fortifying breakfast, usually consisting of pineapples, melons, grapes, and other fruits along with eggs and sausage or ham, they went for a jog along the beach, cooling off with a dip in the ocean, then played games in the villa during the heat of the day. Finally, they went back out in the late afternoon and evening for some magical tutoring from Amelia, Sirius, and Tonks.

Susan and Hermione still kept up their practice of massaging Harry with the flimsy excuse of rubbing in his special scar cream, paying him back by 'allowing' him to rub them with suntan lotion. Susan had become almost fanatically possessive of the experience after her birthday celebration, allowing only Hermione to take a turn due to her own role in the evening.

The cream was working, too: the scars that so horrified them all back at Bones Manor's swimming pool were fading by the day. When their vacation was over, Harry fully expected to have no physical reminders of his time in Little Whinging.

The mental scars from his childhood would take much longer to heal, but Susan and Hermione, along with Sirius, Amelia, Mike and Mary, and the rest of his friends were working hard to banish those as well.

Except when they were all up until the wee hours of the morning on her birthday, Susan had taken to joining him in his room each evening to sit with him while he got tired. The redhead's soothing presence allowed Harry the chance to drift off to sleep without seeing constant reminders of tragedy behind his eyelids. That wasn't to say they didn't regroup and attack him later on in the course of the evening, but he figured as long as he looked mostly okay, no one would question how little sleep he was actually getting.

That morning was different, however. When he stumbled downstairs around four thirty, looking for coffee after giving up on sleep for the morning, Hermione was waiting for him. "You look exhausted, Harry! What's wrong?" she somehow managed to exclaim in a whisper as she moved over towards him.

"Just a bad dream," he tried.

"Cooby!" called Hermione. "Can you please get Harry a strong espresso?" she asked when the house elf appeared.

When Harry started sipping at the rocket fuel, she gave him a dubious look. "Just a bad dream has you down looking for coffee before five in the morning?"

Had it been any later, his brain would have been up to the challenge of coming up with a better story, but with the first glow of dawn just beginning to peek over the sea, he was defenseless. "Okay, it was a nightmare. Susan's been helping me fall asleep at night, but once she's back in her own room, the bad dreams come back."

That was new information to Hermione. "Susan's been helping you fall asleep?"

He groaned, not meaning to let that slip. "Yeah, after that first morning on the beach she's been keeping an eye on me. One more day like that when I was nodding off on the sand and she offered to help me fall asleep at night. She just sits on the bed and we talk about anything and nothing. It's so much easier to fall asleep with her there than it is by myself."

Hermione pursed her lips, trying to focus on the moment, but the mental image of Susan and Harry on a bed together was…delicious. "I'm glad she's been helping, but you have to be able to get a full night's sleep, Harry."

"I know, I know. I won't use a potion, though. The healers at the hospital warned me about those."

"Oh, no, I didn't mean that. What if we talk to Amelia and Sirius and my parents today about it?"

Harry dropped his head onto the counter, immediately regretting it as bone met stone. "Shit!"

"Language, Harry!" Hermione scolded.

"Sorry," he grumbled, rubbing at his forehead. "I don't know if I want everyone to know this."

"It's okay," she soothed, coming in for an embrace. "Do you trust me? You're surrounded by people here who care about you, who love you. There's nothing to be ashamed of in asking for help."

He looked down at her in his arms. There was no doubt, no wavering, no hesitance in her expression. She held his gaze with nothing but care and concern. "Of course, I trust you. I don't trust anyone else in the world as much as you, Hermione. If you think it will help than I'll give it a shot, as embarrassing as it might be to me."

"Don't worry about it, Harry. We all saw how awful some of your memories are. Merlin! I don't think I'd be holding together anywhere near as well as you are after some of that."

"And isn't that the truth!" Amelia said in a morning-raspy voice as she entered the kitchen.

"I'm sorry if we woke you, Amelia," the girl apologized.

She waved it off. "Damn auror hours have trained my body to wake up at five in the bloody morning, every morning," the older woman grumbled before calling Cooby for her own coffee. "What has you two down here so early?"

Sharing a look, Hermione decided to lay her cards on the table. "Harry's been having more trouble sleeping. Nightmares are waking him up early."

The older witch cast a concerning eye on her ward, noting the deep circles under his eyes and the way he gripped the coffee mug like it held the very Elixir of Life itself. "I can certainly see that. I'd already been planning to organize some time with some of the specialist healers at St. Mungo's to see about helping you deal with that trauma, Harry."

"What can I do in the meantime?"

Amelia pursed her lips after taking a sip of coffee. "Has anything helped you with sleep?"

Hermione and Harry shared another look. "If I tell you something that has, will it get someone in trouble?"

"That depends on if anything inappropriate has happened," Amelia retorted, easily understanding what he meant.

Harry shook his head. "Not at all, Amelia. After Susan helped me fall asleep a few days ago on the beach, she started coming into my room after we went to bed. All she does is sit on the foot of the mattress and talk with me. Not about anything in particular, we just talk. Something about her being there is so soothing, so calming, that it helps me go to sleep. The nightmares don't start to come back until after she's gone back to her own bed. The only other person that's had anything like that effect on me is Hermione."

Amelia thought it over for a few minutes. "Let me talk about this with Sirius and Hermione's parents today, okay? There are a few things we might be able to try, but I want all the adults on board with whatever we come up with, okay?"

"Absolutely. I wouldn't ever try anything inappropriate," he promised.

She gave him a smile. "I know you won't, Harry. This is more for our own peace of mind. I just don't want to go and agree to something without their approval."

Harry nodded, understanding her position.

"Why don't the two of you take an early-morning stroll around the beach and see if the tide washed anything interesting up?"

"So, wait. What are you trying to say again, Amelia?" Mike wanted to know.

The adults, including Tonks, were all seated on the villa's terrace overlooking the beach. The teens were all playing in the surf, splashing each other and ducking under the waves as the water got deeper.

Watching them just have fun being kids was the best part of the vacation for Mary. Some of the stories she'd heard about the adventures at Hogwarts had her shuddering at what Hermione had to go through, so watching them play in the ocean like any other kids was a relief. Her daughter, so lonely and miserable before getting her Hogwarts letter, was happier than she'd ever known her to be. This remarkable group she'd begun building around herself looked to be the kind of friends that would be by her side for a long time.

The older witch sighed. "We saw how close those three got on the plane. They were using each other as pillows and looked extremely comfortable doing so. Then you saw how they looked at Susan's party dancing together. Would it be such a big deal if we had beds set up for the girls in the large room Harry's been using?"

"I really don't know if that's the best of ideas," Sirius demurred, surprising everyone.

Tonks in particular was looking at him like she'd never seen him before. "Who are you and what have you done with my crazy cousin?"

Grinning at her, Sirius explained his reaction. "I'm just worried about hurt feelings between the three of them. We've all noticed how they seem to be getting, but I'm concerned that if two of them pair off, the other one will be hurt."

Amelia sat back for a moment and thought about how to phrase her answer. "I don't think that's anything we really need to worry about just yet. I told Susan already that she should just be focusing on deepening the friendships before anything else."

"I had the same conversation with Hermione," Mary admitted, "and I think she understands the point."

"As for Harry, with the way he was raised, I honestly don't know what he knows of love or relationships," Amelia continued, "Growing up with his relatives the way he did, never knowing love or care, he's going to need someone talking to him, but more importantly showing him what real relationships look like. Mike and Mary, I think that's where you could come in. Your relationship would be the first real, stable relationship he'd ever seen in person."

"That's all well and good," said Mike, "But you're still advocating for our little girl to share a room with a boy."

"Mine, too," Amelia pointed out, "But it comes down to two things for me: I also have to do what's best for Harry now, because he's legally my responsibility. Most of us have seen his memories of the horrific things he's had to endure. If he's unable to sleep because of nightmares for at least the rest of the time we're here, it's going to damage him both physically and mentally. If providing a way for him to sleep means allowing his two best female friends to sleep in the same room, I trust Susan enough to handle herself."

Amelia's words had an effect on the people around her. Sirius was deep in thought and even Tonks was nodding, but the writing was on the wall with the next person's input.

"I trust Hermione," Mary answered, "but even beyond that, she is reaching the point of her life where she has to begin making decisions about her own life and body. I trust her, and I trust Harry and Susan, too."

"Okay." Mike sighed, throwing his hands in the air. "I may not like it, but I can't see a reasonable way to argue that I don't trust the kids involved. I just wish we had a baby monitor or something."

"What's a baby monitor?" Sirius asked.

"It's a device that transmits sound from a baby's room to a speaker in the parents' room so they can tell when the baby wakes up and needs a feeding or a diaper change," Mary explained.

"What if we had the elves set up a charm on the room, linked to Hermione and Susan's rooms, that alerts them if he's having a nightmare? That way one of them could go in and wake him up to get him out of the dream?" Sirius suggested, leaning forward.

"As long as you're prepared for them to stay in there afterward. With as much as those two seem to care about him, I can't see either of them going back to their own rooms after pulling him out of a nightmare," countered Amelia.

"So, let's say we arrange for a bed to be put in Harry's room, but insist the girls go to sleep in their own rooms to start the night off. If they have to wake him up from a dream, at least they have a separate bed they can use after he goes back to sleep," Mike said.

"That's a good compromise," approved Tonks with a nod. "That way you're not advocating for three teenagers to share a bedroom, but you're trusting the girls – and Harry, incidentally – enough to allow them to make their own choices if the nightmares persist."

"Okay, I can't argue against it anymore. If I show Hermione that I don't trust her enough now, it may damage our relationship, and I wouldn't do that for anything in the world. I trust my little girl," Mike said, giving in to the inevitable.

"So, when do we tell them?" Amelia wanted to know.

"Later. I want to have a little chat with Harry, man to man," Mike said, an evil glint in his eye.

"Michael Granger!" Mary scolded, "You are not going to scare one of our daughter's best friends!"

"I'm not going to scare him, Mary. I'm just going to explain the rules of our little arrangement so that he understands. You have to admit, allowing teens of both genders to share a room is a bit out of the ordinary, no matter if I see the reasoning behind it."

"I think that would be a mistake, Mike," Tonks commented quietly.

"Why do you say that?"

The pink-haired auror gathered her thoughts for a moment. "After Hogwarts I took a muggle class on psychology, thinking it would help me understand some of the criminals I was chasing down better. Since he showed some of his memories of stuff like this, I don't think I'm breaking any confidences of his to remind everyone that he's an abused child. The people he grew up with spent his entire childhood reminding him that they considered him to be worthless, and treated him that way. Then he gets to Hogwarts and has the entire school turn on him while he's in the process of saving it a few times.

"What I'm trying to say is that someone like Harry has little to no self-esteem at all. He has few true friends other than the people here. Going over to him and telling him why you didn't want him to have the one thing that may help him get a decent night's sleep by keeping the nightmares away…well that would be validating that feeling of worthlessness."

Amelia looked at her auror with a calculating gaze. "That's very insightful. If he really has such little self-esteem, he would probably try to convince the girls to leave him alone so as to not lose sleep of their own."

"Exactly! You were just talking about some hurt feelings if the trio split into a pairing, right? Harry is probably right now trying to figure out a way to convince the two girls to pair off because he doesn't deserve either one of them," Tonks finished.

Mary winced at the truth in the young woman's words. "In that case, I think it would be best to tell the girls themselves. That way we can demonstrate trust in them, without making Harry feel like he's imposing on them."

"Exactly!" Tonks exclaimed. "Do that."

Amelia grinned. "I'll talk to Susan, Mary, and you can talk to Hermione. Sirius and Mike, why don't you talk to the elves about putting the charm on Harry's room and moving an extra bed in there?"

The two men nodded. Mike wasn't thrilled with the idea, but when Mary gave him a hard look, he shrugged. "I trust her, and I don't want her mad at me for thinking otherwise."

She gave her husband a warm smile. "That's the man I married."

Mike and Mary left to have their chat with Hermione while Tonks was joining Harry. Sirius was alone at the table with his thoughts. He'd just put down his empty glass of iced tea when Amelia came back to the table. "How'd it go?" he asked her.

"Unsurprisingly well," the witch huffed as she sat back down.

He chuckled. "I didn't think it would take much to convince her to help him. They're getting to be pretty close."

"I was hoping they'd be friends at least, but this attraction caught me by surprise," Amelia admitted.

"What about the seeming attraction between Susan and Hermione?" he asked, keeping his phrasing as delicate as he could.

Amelia smiled at his delicacy. "Also a surprise, and an interesting development."

"Yeah, but how do you feel about it?" Sirius pressed.

"I told Mary that as long as Susan is happy, that's all that matters to me. She's the last blood relative I have left," said Amelia with a bit of fire in her eyes.

"Good. Harry may not be my last living relative, but I feel the same about him," Sirius said as Gooby brought them more iced tea. He never usually drank this much tea in England, but the heat of the local climate was making it more necessary.

"And what if it ends up being the three of them?" Amelia asked him.

"Then I'll give my godson a hug for finding the two people in the entire world who can make him happy and toast them when they get married," said the Marauder.

"What about school? With everything that's happened with Dumbledore, can we honestly send him back there?" she asked, surprising him with the inclusion.

"I don't know. It would seem that Dumbledore wants him alive until the final confrontation, so he may not be in any immediate danger. Plus, being behind those wards would keep him and the others protected from Death Eaters."

"If he can stick it out one more year and finish his OWLs, he can leave the school whenever he wants. Maybe that's the key," she mused, taking a sip of her tea.

"I really wish our generation had finished off this war the first time," grumbled Sirius into his tea, then an idea struck. "What if we use our combined resources – the libraries at my house, your house, and even Hogwarts library to research these horcruxes? They might have some information we could use."

Amelia nodded. "Those are good ideas. If Harry's okay with it after he gets a couple nights of solid rest, we'll suggest going back to Hogwarts to him at least for this year. I wouldn't bet against Hermione turning down any chance to go through three huge libraries for the chance to help him either."

Sirius chuckled at the truth in the statement, toasting Amelia with his tea.

Few people, took any real notice of the Wizengamot's latest legislation. Without Albus Dumbledore in the chamber to block the attempt, the Dark Alliance was able to cobble together enough votes to push the bill through, whereupon Cornelius Fudge immediately signed the bill into law.

From that moment it became illegal in wizarding Britain 'to spread gossip or slander about Death Eater activities to avoid a general panic'. Interestingly, the bill failed to define the terms 'gossip' or 'slander', thus making it effectively illegal to discuss the Death Eaters or their activities in public.

The photographer from The Daily Prophet made sure to get a good shot of a smiling Lucius Malfoy shaking Umbridge's hand, congratulating her on such an inspired piece of work.

Chapter Text

July 22, 1995

Hermione padded quietly down the hall in the early morning light, confident in her belief that none would be awake yet. They had taken up the habit of waking early to enjoy the island before the heat of the day set in, but not at just past five in the morning. The first rays of dawn were just peeking over the sea's horizon, providing just enough light through the villa's many windows that she was able to see without the aid of a lumos.

Ever since finding Harry downstairs one morning after a night of barely sleeping, she'd taken to waking up earlier than was her norm even at school, in case he needed someone to talk to about the nightmares. Letting him catch a nap on her lap on one of the villa's sinfully luxurious sofas sounded like a magnificent way to spend a morning.

Then her mother had come to speak with her. She remembered the overwhelming mortification at the older woman's grin when she finished talking. Somehow, the adults had come to an agreement that she and Susan were going to be allowed to help comfort Harry when he had one of his nightmares through a monitoring charm on his room. Her parents were apparently well aware of the feelings she had for Harry, and if her mother's smirking hints were to be believed, the attraction she'd been growing for Susan as well. "Be bold, Hermione, and you just might find your dreams coming true," her mother had whispered to her. Advice she planned on taking.

Her room's alert charm had activated just a moment before. It took her a little bit to recognize the alert and come to full waking, but when she did, she was out of her bed in a dressing-gown and slippers in moments. This had been about the same time of day as when his earlier nightmare had him downstairs looking for coffee.

Making her way to his door, she kept her ears open for the sounds of his distress. The hall stayed silent, so she eased the door open as quietly as she could before peeking n. The sight before her sent a bolt of a lovely, soft warmth right through her body, settling low and tingly in her stomach. Harry lay on the bed. He'd been recently upset, as his face was flushed and his eyes were red-rimmed and swollen and his body still wracked with trembles. That was upsetting, but the warmth she felt came from looking at the pale arms wrapped around him. Susan had beaten her into the room; the redhead was stroking his back with one hand and cupping his face with the other, cradling Harry's face to her chest. Her heart felt like it was about to burst. Hermione covered her mouth with her hand, physically stifling the 'awww' that was threatening to break out at any moment from the sweetness of the moment. She wasn't entirely successful, as Susan caught her eye. Hermione put one finger to her lips in the universal 'shh' gesture. The other girl gave her a minute nod.

Shucking her dressing-gown, Hermione left her slippers just inside the door, closing it almost silently behind her. She turned back to the room and tiptoed over to the bed, trying to keep her movements hidden from Harry. Pulling back the nearest corner of the sheet, she slid into bed behind Harry and wrapped him up, incidentally trapping Susan's arm between them. She shivered as the cool air being stirred up by the fan hit the skin exposed by her camisole and short shorts.

The extra pair of arms and new body behind him drew his attention, but his nose had already caught the unique scent he identified as 'Hermione'. He looked over his shoulder to find a bushy head of hair behind him. "'Mione?" he rasped; throat hoarse from his nightmare. "What are you doing? You should be in bed."

"I am in bed, Harry," she smirked.

"I don't mean my bed. I'll be okay, promise. It was just a bad dream," he insisted.

"Shhh. It's too early yet. Just lay here and let us drive the bad dreams away," she soothed, pulling Harry back onto his back.

With one witch snuggled into his left arm and the other snuggled into his right, their arms crossed over his chest, Harry couldn't honestly find a reason to argue, especially since he couldn't remember the bad dreams with them holding him. The trembles fading, he laid back against his pillow, closing his eyes.

"Oh how sweet," Amelia said, "This is another pensieve memory I'll be taking a picture of."

Next to her, Mary could only nod and smile at the sight of three sleeping teens as Hermione and Susan wrapped themselves around Harry. "As long as you send me a copy. They look so adorable," she gave a wistful sigh, "I guess that alert charm you were talking about worked."

"It looks like you were right about them not going back to the other bed in the room," Amelia grinned, gesturing the empty, made-up, and very clearly not slept in bed.

"They just look too cute together," whispered Mary, closing the door gently behind her, "But I think this isn't something that Mike and Sirius need to worry about just yet. Why don't you join me for some tea downstairs? There's something Mike and I were talking about last night that I wanted to run by you."

Intrigued, Amelia followed her down the stairs in the villa's kitchen to enjoy an early morning cup of tea.

Draco watched his father kneel on the floor in front of this…this…reptilian construct that was the Dark Lord.

Years and years of telling him how the Malfoys were better than anyone else, and his father was now prostrate on the floor, kneeling before someone that looked more snake than man, with his forehead pressed firmly against the tiles.

"It shall be done, my Lord," came Lucius's voice, muffled by the floor, "My son shall take the mark when he eliminates the Headmaster this coming school year."

Behind impressively impassive eyes, Draco raged at the absurdity of it all. Sure, no problem. Take an assignment from Snake-face here to kill the most powerful light wizard the world has seen since the days of the Founders. If I do, I get marked and am a servant of someone who tortures for fun. If I don't, I die. All for the Greater Glory of the Dark Lord.

The seeds of doubt planted that day had fertile soil in which to grow.

"Time to start increasing your training," declared Sirius later that morning, rubbing his hands together with a gleeful look, "Our vacation here is halfway over, and we're going back to a dangerous Britain with a resurgent Riddle and a manipulative old coot trying to control you. You guys need to be able to defend yourselves as much as you can."

"What are you going to have us start doing?" Harry asked, standing as part of a semicircle around the Marauder on the sand. It was mid-morning and they had all come directly from breakfast to train, on Sirius's request, immediately supported by Amelia. That morning, everyone had come to watch, even the Grangers. Mike and Mary were set up behind them and to one side, ready and eager to watch their daughter use magic.

"Well, I think a good spot to start our new focus on is with some lower-powered offensive spells, then we'll work on defensive shielding, and finish up with the Patronus charm that we all remember so well from Harry's memory. It's an extremely difficult spelt to cast, but even being able to practice it and generate a misty shield will keep a Dementor from you for a time. Then we'll move onto your more lethal attack spells short of the Unforgiveables."

"You want us to kill people?" Hermione asked, nervous. Mike and Mary looked dismayed, but deferred to the magical users' expertise. Sirius soon rewarded that faith.

The Marauder shook his head. "I don't want you to have to kill anyone, anytime, ever. If it was up to me, you'd stay the sweet, smart witch that helped rescue me from Hogwarts on the back of a hippogriff forever. But other people are probably not going to let you do that, so I want to you to be able to defend yourself against slimy bastards who won't give you any kind of mercy or breaks and fight by no rules at all. Death Eaters throw out killing curses like candy, and Dumbledore's strategy of stunners only in return is what had us losing the first war. It's time to change things up a bit."

Without another word, Sirius conjured a row of practice dummies. They were simple humanoid figures with limp arms that just stood there. "Okay, these are some basic training aids like we used at the auror academy so many years ago when I was there. Tonks, do they still use this kind of dummy?"

"They're a little more developed nowadays, but the concept is still the same. The most basic level of dummy is essentially target practice."

"Damn right. All I want to see right now is how accurately you can cast," Sirius instructed, "Get lined up, one dummy to each of you dummies, and start casting stunners," he chuckled at his own humor.

He started at one end of the rank of teenagers and started to check their casting. Ginny was first up, and nailed the dummy right in the center with little effort. Luna next to her was much the same. "That was fun!" she gushed. Sirius grinned at the girl before moving down to Hannah and Neville next in line. The blonde Hufflepuff missed with her first cast but corrected enough to hit the target with her next. Neville, on the other hand, was having a rough go of it. Five casts and he was still peppering the sand around the dummy. "Easy, Neville. You're trying to force too much into a simple stunner," Sirius observed.

The Gryffindor huffed. "It's always this way with wand magic. I can never seem to get my father's wand to work right for me."

"That's your father's wand? Not one that was matched to you?" asked the older man.

Neville looked down at his feet. "Gran insisted that it was the best way to honor him," he muttered.

Sirius shook his head. "She's a hundred and ten percent wrong. Ollivander always said to us that the wand chooses the wizard. When we get back to Britain, you need to get a wand matched to you. If you want, I'd be happy to buy you one. You have too much potential to let it go to waste on a wand not attuned to your capabilities," Sirius offered gently.

Understanding dawned in Neville's eyes. "No, thank you though. I'll handle it myself. I have some money I can spend, and if a new wand makes casting spells easier, it's worth it to me. Maybe they'll stop calling me a squib."

"If that's what you want," nodded Sirius, before moving down the line.

Hermione was firing off fast and accurate stunners, each impacting the dummy with a solid rocking back. Next to her, Harry was doing much the same, but as Sirius moved behind him to check his work, he paused, seeming to gather his magic. The next stunner actually knocked the dummy over. "Nice job, Harry! That was a wicked stunner," Tonks whistled, having stayed at that end of the row to watch.

Finally, Sirius came to the end of the row with Susan. She'd been quietly waiting her turn, observing the rest of her friends. With all eyes on her, she stepped up and cast her stunner.

The stunner worked just fine. The group of people watching her were stunned as the dummy flew about twenty feet up into the air, landing a hundred or so feet back into the waves. She stood, shocked herself, watching as the splash subsided. "Accio dummy!" she shouted, pointing her wand.

It was the absolute wrong thing to do. With a groan and a splash, the dummy shout out of the waves straight at her, increasing in speed as it flew. Susan froze, unable to move.

"Look out!" shouted Harry as he dove at her, tackling her to the sand. Fortunately for her, the sand cushioned the fall quite nicely, and she wasn't exactly objecting to feeling Harry on top of her.

"Sweet Merlin, Susan!" Hannah exclaimed, "You've never hit anything that hard in class at Hogwarts!"

"I know!" the redhead responded, accepting Harry's hand as he pulled her back to her feet, "Thank you, Harry. I couldn't move when I saw that thing coming at me."

"Seeker reflexes," he shrugged, "Just glad I could help."

The morning continued on, going through each new spell Sirius wanted them to try. With every new spell, Susan's power had them all staring at her in awe. The conjured dummy had to be replaced three different times when her stronger hexes blew it to smithereens. It had the interesting side effect of Harry trying to ramp up his own power to match her. Sirius was laughing so hard at their impromptu contest of power that he didn't mind re-conjuring the dummies over and over.

The exercise where they all paired off and practiced casting shields against the other's hexes generated the most interest from Hermione's parents. Mike watched as the kids put up the glimmering shields to deflect weak spells and an idea popped into his head. "Hey, Sirius?"

"What is it, Mike?" Sirius asked, leaving the row of teens to head over.

"Watching this shield exercise, it looks like the success of the shield depends on the reaction time of the person casting it, and the strength of the spell coming at it. Would that be a fair assessment?"

"That sounds about right, why?"

"Well, it occurred to me that muggle weapons can move a lot faster than these spells. In fact, some guns shoot bullets so fast they can't be seen by the human eye. Faster than the speed of sound, even. If you were to get some of these magical police armed with guns, they could get shots off before a bad guy could even react to get a shield put up."

That brought Sirius up short. As a rule, the magical world stayed away from the muggle, but if guns could shoot faster than any wizard could react, they could turn the tide of the battle, especially when Riddle was mortal once more. "That's a really interesting idea, Mike. I'm definitely going to look into it when we get back. I don't have the same lethal attack hang-ups that a lot of wizards do, at least until it gets to the Unforgiveables."

"That's another thing I've been meaning to ask you about. I understand the killing curse being unforgiveable, but why are the others considered so?"

Sirius thought for a moment, organizing his words. "There are many, many spells that can kill. The cutting curse, for example, can take down that palm tree over there," he gestured to a large tree behind them, "just as easily as it can take someone's head off. The Imperius curse, one of the other two, has only one use: it gives complete and total control over a person's mind to the caster. They can literally force them to do their bidding. The Torture Curse only has one use, too. It causes every single nerve ending in the human body to send messages of pain to the brain. There is also no magical shield that can defend against them."

"Ever thought about being a teacher, Sirius?" Mike asked with a smile after absorbing the lesson, "You'd do well."

"Never had the chance, Mike, between Hogwarts and Azkaban. Something to think about for the future, though."

Eventually they came to the spell he really wanted to see them do, but the one he had the least hope of them completing. Striding around to the front of the line, Sirius banished the dummies and looked over at his godson. "Now the fun begins. Harry: can you demonstrate your patronus to the group here?"

Looking around at the eager faces waiting his Patronus from the memory they all saw back at Bones Manor, Harry shrugged and stepped forward. After the last few weeks, he hadn't expected to have a memory good enough for Prongs to appear, but waking up for the second time that morning cuddled in between the two witches he was coming to have real feelings for proved to be more than enough. "EXPECTO PATRONUM!" he shouted. Prongs issued once more from the tip of his wand, stepping over the top of the sand to regard each member of the group before dissipating.

"I think it's safe to say that there is no other patronus quite like that in the world," Sirius grinned, ignoring the tears forming at the corners of his eyes at the sight of his best friend's animagus form, "So I will be satisfied if the rest of you can get a shield to form."

"The teachers will always tell you that you need your happiest memory, but after working with Professor Lupin all third year, one of the things that stuck out to me was that my patronus charm was always stronger with a memory full of love, instead of just happiness. You need to use the one most full of love that you can summon," Harry explained, "After that it's just what you saw me do: simply point your wand straight out and make the incantation."

The teens spread out in a line along the sand and drew their wands. Harry watched as they each closed their eyes, preparing to cast by calling forth their chosen memories. At first it was a struggle. The teens were casting, but just like it was for him at first, nothing was happening. They were getting frustrated at their lack of success. Tonks was observing the group, walking up and down the line and giving encouragement where needed, and demonstrating her own wolf patronus.

After quite a few attempts, Hermione finally made it work. Her otter bounced and gamboled around the beach for a few moments before fading away. That success spurred the others on. Soon Luna's beaming smile had her hare bouncing around her, leading to her infectious laughter at its antics. Their success had the others trying harder, and it wasn't long before Hannah had a majestic panther conjured. Neville set his jaw, found his memory, and soon had an enormous male lion pawing around the sands.

Ginny seemed to be struggling, not paying anyone else any attention, but trying to force the spirit animal out of her wand, but it wasn't coming. She managed a weak shield, but nothing more. Harry moved over to help her, but when he got to her side, she shied away from him. "Ginny?"

"I'll be fine!" she snapped, glaring at him with fire in her eyes.

He stepped back with his hands raised to make him look as nonthreatening as possible. Moving off down the line, he looked over his shoulder to see Tonks take his place, eventually helping the frustrated girl coax a horse out of her wand. Something was definitely off with Ginny and he made up his mind to figure out what was so wrong and see what he could do to help her get past it.

Eventually Susan was the only one who hadn't managed a patronus yet, and Harry could tell it was frustrating her. She gave no verbal reaction, but the telltale gritting of her teeth and crinkling at the corner of her eyes gave her away. He waved Hermione over and drew Susan to the side.

"You're fighting it too hard, Susan. You're trying too hard to make it happen. Love isn't something that can be forced," Hermione said, "Love has to grow and be nurtured, and love is the feeling under the happiness in the memories that get a patronus to form."

"She's right. Love is what makes the happiness that people say you need for these. Try to find the memory where you felt the most love you can possibly remember," Harry urged.

Susan thought about what they were telling her as she took a deep breath. Before the trip she would have said her happiest, most loving memory was any one of a number of times she'd spent with her aunt as a child, but after being on the island, her new choice was the night of her birthday. Seeing the lengths that these two wonderful people had gone to in making her birthday as perfect as possible, topped off with a romantic evening dancing on the beach, made that night easily her best memory, even ignoring the implications of calling it a loving memory. Calling it to the front of her mind, she closed her eyes, extended her new wand with its funny little knots out, and called the incantation.

With her eyes closed, she didn't see right away if she'd been successful, but a couple soft gasps made her open her eyes. Her jaw dropped open at the sight of a ten-foot tall polar bear patronus dwarfing every other animal on the beach. She looked around as if to make sure she wasn't imagining things, but everyone there was staring her in open awe. Even her aunt was watching with her mouth gaping wide from the terrace.

"Bloody hell, Susan," Sirius breathed, "Dementors aren't going to know what hit them when you unleash that!"

Blushing at all the attention, she turned to the two Gryffindors next to her. Susan bit her lip, thinking it over for half a moment before standing up on her tiptoes to give Harry a kiss on his cheek. "Thank you," she whispered. Turning to Hermione, her blush impossibly increased before she leaned over and repeated her actions on the other girl's soft cheek. "Thank you," she whispered again.

Since she ducked her head and walked away from the other two after thanking them, she didn't see Harry and Hermione both reach their fingers up to their cheeks, tracing the spot where Susan kissed them and staring after her.

When the teens were exhausted from repeated casts of such a powerful spell, Sirius called a halt. "That's good for now. Why don't you guys go get a nap and some rest before we all meet this afternoon?"

With a collective sigh of relief, the teens stored their wands back in their pockets and made their way back up the beach. Even with the fatigue, happiness that approached giddiness still swept through them all after experiencing the positive energy of so many patronus animals. Toward the back of the group, Harry stopped when he heard Luna calling his name. "Harry? Can you wait up a minute?"

Turning to see her standing with Ginny, he shrugged and stopped, waiting to see what they needed.

Hermione and Susan gave him a concerned look, but kept heading up to the beach, trusting him to tell them later if it was anything serious.

When they were alone, he could hear whispering. They were obviously arguing and trying to keep things quiet, but a lifetime of depending on his ability to detect attacks in any way possible had honed his senses.

"…saved your life! He won't hurt you!"

"I don't care, I just want to let it go."

"Ginerva Weasley! You promised you would talk to him about this."

A feminine harrumph.

"I'm not kidding. You owe it to him."


Luna called him again. "Harry?"

When he turned, he could see Ginny's arms folded and an angry glare on her face.

"Thank you for giving us the privacy to have our little…discussion…." Luna said, "But now Ginny has something to tell you."

"Ginny?" Harry said, keeping his hands out wide, showing her his palms, "It's just me. I'm not going to hurt you, I promise."

Slowly, almost reluctantly, Ginny lifted her eyes to look at him. When they made eye contact, her glare softened, then fell apart. "I'm sorry, Harry."

"Just…what's the matter? You've seemed so off over the last couple weeks. Is it something I did? Something I said? Tell me and I'll make it up to you, please," he pleaded with her.

"Oh, Harry," Ginny whispered, "It's nothing about you, I promise." She looked around and saw a large rock on the edge of the sand, under the shade of some palm trees. Gesturing for them to join her, Ginny led them over to sit down.

It didn't escape Harry's notice that she sat next to Luna facing him, maintain a physical distance. "Do you remember your second year, my first year?" asked Ginny when they were settled.

"Kind of hard to forget," he replied.

She snorted. "That's for damn sure. Anyway, I was mostly okay after that, but over the last few weeks since Riddle's return, I've been having…episodes."

"Episodes? Related to him?"

Red hair shook as she nodded. "Yeah."

"What kind of episodes? You're not losing chunks of memory again, are you?"

"Oh no, nothing like that. Whispers in my mind. I'll be shopping, or reading, or something, and I'll hear his voice in my mind. He taunts me, reminding me of what he did when he controlled me," she had to stop for a sniffle, "Then there are the nightmares. They were so awful at school I couldn't even go to sleep."

"I know something about that," Harry said, keeping his voice calm.

Ginny looked at him for the first time. "I know you do."

"Is that why you've been flinching away from me all this time? Why you're glued to Luna's side?" he asked.

"Pretty much. Tom has been taunting me, telling me no man will ever want me after he'd ruined me two years ago," Ginny took a deep, shuddering breath, visibly calming when the blonde reached over and gently threaded her fingers through Ginny's, "Luna's the only one who makes it better. She saw how badly I was struggling and just…hasn't left me to his voice. Something about her drives Tom out of my head and makes me feel safe."

"She makes it sound like such a chore," Luna laughed. The light, tinkling music of her laughter lifted all their spirits, "I promise you, Ginny does just as much for me when I get sad."

"Neither of you owe me anything," Harry protested, "You don't need to promise me anything. If you two are happy together that's wonderful!"

"I'm just…it's hard being near men sometimes, when Tom's whispers get stronger, you know?" Ginny tried to explain, "It's not you. Merlin knows you're one of the few males I know I can trust. Neville too, actually. I just need to be close to Luna to feel like myself."

"You're a very snuggly teddy bear," the Ravenclaw said, kissing her temple, "And you're not the only one who gets something out of this relationship, you know. I haven't been bothered nearly as much by the wrackspurts since you kissed me the first time."

Harry looked confused, but Ginny just smiled. "I'm glad. Sometimes it feels like I'm doing all the taking and none of the giving."

"Ginny, when we get back to Britain, it might be a good idea to go to St. Mungo's. Does the wizarding world have psychologists?"

"Have what? What are those?"

He pursed his lips, trying to figure out how to explain something that every muggleborn or muggle-raised knew. "Think of a healer who specializes in helping people talk through their problems, like when they're stressed, anxious, depressed, or hearing voices, possibly. They make you feel better when the problem is in your head. I think someone like that could give a lot of help for hearing Tom in your head still."

"I've never heard of anything like that, but if anywhere had them it would be St. Mungo's," Luna said.

"Me neither," added the redhead, "But Luna's right. I guess I could see about making an appointment. I don't think she wants me glued to her side for the rest of our lives."

"You might be surprised," Luna winked.

Trying to get the conversation back on track, Harry looked over at Ginny. "So, we're good?"

"Oh, yes Harry!" she exclaimed, leaning forward and initiating a hug for the first time. "We're good, I promise. I may flinch away from you sometimes if Tom's giving me troubles, but it's not you, I promise. It's all him, the bastard."

"You'll beat him, Ginny. You can do anything you put your mind to," he promised into her hair.

"Everything is set," Riddle declared, "You have your assignments. I will not repeat the mistakes of the last war. If we are to regain our proper place at the top of the Wizarding World, we must remove those who oppose. This is but the first real step in a long process. With these plans, we will weaken all of our most serious foes."

"They will fall like dominoes, my Lord," growled Bellatrix, the smile on her face both predatory and cruel, "And then we shall show these pitiful sheep who holds the real power in Britain."

More than one person staying at the villa gazed longingly at the beach as they finished up lunch, but it was finally time to make some concrete plans. The group made their collective way from the dining room into the living room. Cooby, Wooby, and Gooby had the villa's living area cleared out and the furniture arranged into a large circle. The area in the center remained clear for people to stand and address the group. In between each of the sofas and chairs was a small end table set with pitchers of ice water and glasses.

Unintentionally, they arranged themselves into two halves with adults on one side of the room and teens on the other. Harry took the couch in the center of one side with Hermione to his left and Susan to his right. Hannah and Neville took a loveseat on their right, while Ginny and Luna took a loveseat on the other side.

Mike and Mary were in a loveseat directly across from Hermione, Harry, and Susan with Sirius and Amelia on either side of them in overstuffed reclining chairs. Tonks sat by herself between the age groups.

The silence seemed to stretch on interminably as the group shifted in their seats and traded looks, unwilling to be the one to start the most important conversation they'd have about their future, so Harry took a deep breath and bit the bullet. "We need to figure out what to do about life back in Britain. Riddle's back with his masked morons. Dumbledore is a lot less on the side of the light than anyone has ever thought. And somehow, I'm caught in the middle between those two."

"All of Britain is caught between them, Harry," said Amelia, "I don't like to think about what the Ministry is going to be like."

"Dumbledore has so many supporters in the Ministry and the Wizengamot that he was able to be acquitted of a laundry list of charges for which he was blatantly guilty. Do you have any ideas about who or how many in the Ministry supports Riddle, either openly or in hiding?" Hermione asked.

"We have our suspicions, but the only confirmation I've ever gotten was watching Harry's memory from the graveyard when he summoned his followers. Unfortunately, Fudge has made sure I can't use that as evidence to get them in for Veritaserum questioning," she admitted.

"Can we trust Dumbledore in this fight?" Neville asked.

"I think we can trust Dumbledore to work against Riddle," Sirius said, "But everything we've seen tells me that he genuinely has only his own good at heart. Whatever he does, you can be sure it won't be for any aim other than that."

"So, what can we do? What are our options?" Susan asked.

"As I see it, we have three choices: you can go back to Britain and complete your OWL year at Hogwarts; transfer to another school like Beauxbatons in France; or you can arrange tutors and be homeschooled," Amelia answered her niece.

"If you transfer, it might set your education back a bit until you're established with your new year mates. With Beauxbatons there's the language issue, unless they've developed some more advanced translation charms," Tonks warned, making her first contribution to the debate.

"We wouldn't be entirely alone at Beauxbatons, either," Harry contributed, "The Delacours are still there, or at least Gabrielle is. Fleur is graduated, from what I remember. I'm not sure what she's doing now."

"Ah yes, the other champion. You would certainly have some influential friends to call upon if needed," Sirius grinned, "Jean Paul Delacour is very high up in the French Ministry."

"What about you, Amelia?" Hermione asked, "If some or all of us end up at Beauxbatons, what will you do?"

"I haven't given it that much thought," the older witch admitted, "I was mostly focusing on how to keep Harry, Susan, and the rest of you safe."

"If we stay in Britain, what about our role in the coming fight?" Ginny asked.

An incredulous Mary gaped at the girl. "You're teenagers, some of you just barely into your teens. What role could you possibly have in a civil war, or a rebellion, or whatever this conflict is?"

"This lunatic is attacking our very way of life, killing everyone who stands against him. Eventually we're going to be involved," the redhead protested. "Some of us, like Harry, are already a part of this mess."

"I'm in this because of the prophecy," Harry said in a quiet voice.

"What prophecy?" Mike interjected.

Harry took a breath. "There's a true prophecy that says that either Riddle or I will be the ones to kill each other. 'Neither can live while the other survives'."

"Just humoring the muggles here, but what's a true prophecy?" asked Mary.

"In the magical world, there are real Seers and people who can prophesize things that will actually come to pass," Amelia explained, "And there was a true prophecy made about Harry before he was born that said just that."

"So, if this prophecy is true like you say, Harry and Riddle have to square off in a fight to the death?" asked Hermione's dad, trying to understand.

"That's what Riddle suspects and Dumbledore believes," Harry nodded, "I think it's a crock of hippogriff shite, to be honest."

"Language, Harry" scolded Hermione with a soft slap on his shoulder, "Even though I agree with you."

"If I go back to Hogwarts, within the first week back at the castle, Dumbledore will have me under his thumb through charms, legilimency, or potion-based means, to ensure that I'm his good little soldier and do exactly what he wants to fulfill the prophecy the way he envisions. The problem is that Dumbledore has been getting his own way for so long he's pretty much incapable of seeing other perspectives," Harry said, sitting back against the sofa.

"So that means you probably shouldn't go back to Hogwarts," Sirius said, nodding, "We talked about you sticking it out a year to get your OWLs so you could legally walk away, but the more I think about it, the more I agree: Dumbledore can't be trusted around you."

"What about the rest of us?" asked Luna, piping up for the first time, "Without Harry in the castle, it's a hundred times more dangerous. Plus, it makes us targets for people trying to get to Harry."

"That's up to your parents," Amelia answered the girl, "I can only say that I'm leaning heavily toward agreeing to transfer Harry and Susan to Beauxbatons or hiring tutors."

"I can't see Mum or Dad agreeing to any of us leaving Britain. We're too tied to the area," Ginny worried.

Hannah and Neville shared glances, "I think my gran would want me to be safe, so if it looks like overseas would be a better option, I think I can convince her to have me go where Harry goes," the Gryffindor said after a moment.

"The Abbotts are one of the oldest families in Britain. I don't see my parents being okay with me leaving unless things get really, really bad," Hannah said, looking concerned.

"I'm a half-blood. If Riddle's not defeated soon, my parents will be looking to get out of Britain themselves," Tonks filled in.

"There's another concern, though," Harry said, "Horcruxes. Namely, the one in my scar. If the horcruxes aren't dealt with, Riddle won't ever die.

Off their questioning look, Amelia gave Mike and Mary a brief explanation of what horcruxes were.

"What's worse is that this fiend created at least one more that we know of," Harry said, "He tried to regain a body in my second year at school. I destroyed a diary he turned into a horcrux that he was using to possess another student. That's not even counting the one in my head."

"You have a horcrux in your head?" Mary's eyes goggled.

"Some part of his soul must have detached when he murdered my parents, and when he got blown to bits, it attached to the scar on my forehead," he gestured to the cursed lightning bolt, "Hence the prophecy: neither can live while the other survives. That horcrux has to be destroyed for him to die, but no one knows of a way to destroy a horcrux and keep the container intact."

"Yet, Harry. No one knows of a way yet," Susan declared in a quiet, firm voice like velvet covering steel.

"That's awful!" Mary exclaimed.

"He's a horrible, evil man," nodded Harry, "And he needs to be stopped, but I don't want to be the one to do it. Without sounding too whiny, I don't want to fight dark wizards. I just want to be a normal teenager trying to get through exams."

"That's what we all want, Harry. It's not whiny to want that. You've suffered more in your life than anyone should ever have to bear," Susan answered, leaning into his side.

"This is like something out of a cartoon movie. Real life bad guys aren't supposed to be able to do this kind of thing."

"Well, this one is, and this one does," Harry said, "And he tried to murder me right after he killed my parents."

"He killed my parents, too," Susan added, downcast.

"And my mother's brothers," Ginny added.

Amelia looked grim. "Very few people's lives have been untouched by this madman and his particular brand of insanity. That's why he has to be stopped."

"Well, what about Croaker? Can we trust the Department of Mysteries?" he asked Amelia.

"Croaker we can trust," she declared with confidence, "But the rest of the Department, hell, the rest of the Ministry I'm not so sure about. I still have chills over his worry that someone wanted to chuck you through the Veil to get rid of the horcrux in your head."

"You and me both," Susan muttered.

"Anyway, we're supposed to be back in Britain on July thirty-first, which gives us a full month before Hogwarts starts," Sirius said, "So, if we get back and do nothing but research…"

"Research?" interjected Hermione with eager eyes.

He chuckled, "Bones Manor has a large library, as does my home, plus there's the one at Hogwarts, and you said that the professors would help. If we divide our efforts, having some of us at each place, it would give us a full month to find any answers we possibly could. If we get to the end of that month with no answers, I'm all for getting out of the country," he finished.

"Obviously the absolute worst-case scenario is that this Riddle guy takes over and turns magical Britain into Nazi Germany, but what's the most realistic worst-case scenario you can imagine?" Mike asked.

"I don't think he would stop with magical Britain," Amelia said, "I think his dreams are bigger than that. Once he consolidated his hold over the Ministry, I think he would move against the muggle world, too. You have to understand, to pureblood supremacists, there's a kind of tiered ranking of other groups. Supremacists at the top, naturally, then pureblood non-supremacists, then half-bloods, then the muggleborn, then squibs, then sentient beings like centaurs, house elves, giants, werewolves, vampires, and finally muggles are classed the same as animals to them."

Mike and Mary shared a concerned look.

"And in the best-case scenario? He's defeated?" she asked.

"In the best-case scenario, Riddle's defeated, the Death Eaters are all sent to Azkaban, and we all go on about our daily lives," Sirius answered them honestly.

"But what about the bigotry?"

"In all honesty, Mary, I don't see that changing in my lifetime," Amelia took over, "Our society is controlled by the old purebloods, who wrote the laws to benefit them and their own. We talked a little bit already about how limited the prospects are for muggleborn and even half-bloods in some ways."

As conversation stoppers go, that one was a doozy. "You're telling us that even if the best possible outcome happens, Harry defeats this Riddle character, and all his minions are sent to prison, the bigotry against people who aren't of magical birth for many generations on both sides is so heavily entrenched that people like my daughter have almost no real prospects in the magical world?" Mike asked when he got his bearings.

"Essentially," Amelia nodded.

"Well, it seems like there's only one real choice to make," Hermione's father said.

"And I happen to agree," Harry nodded, "except for the fact of the horcruxes. With those, he's basically immortal, and as far as I can tell, the people in this room and Albus Dumbledore are the only ones alive who even know what the things are, let alone that Riddle made them. I just can't…I can't let that go. Someone has to do something about them. If we somehow made a list and left it on Dumbledore's desk, or if we figure out a way to track them down ourselves and dispose of them, then get the hell out of Britain for southern France.

"Here's the thing, though: the only people I owe anything to in this world to are in this room. My parents didn't die so I could join them before I even get out of my teens. My parents died so that I could live. I owe it to them to live that life. I owe it to each and every one of you to help you live yours."

"We're your friends, Harry," Neville protested, "You don't owe us anything. It's what friends do for each other."

Harry shook his head. "I may not owe any actual debts, but I feel an obligation to do what I can."

"You do have this habit of saving people," Hermione smiled at him.

Returning her smile, Harry shook his head. "I think the only way I'll ever be comfortable is if we either destroy the horcruxes ourselves or leave a list and a means of destruction for other people to carry out."

"And then what, Harry?" Amelia asked.

He explained his idea. By the end of it, he had everyone there nodding their heads.


22 July 1995


In breaking news tonight, a coordinated series of attacks has taken place across Great Britain late tonight. Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, and St. Paul's Cathedral in London, Edinburgh Castle, Lincoln Cathedral in Lincolnshire, Albert Dock in Liverpool, and numerous other historic and important locations sustained significant damage from explosions of some sort.

Casualties are expected to reach into the hundreds. Government investigators are even now trying to determine the extent and cause of the damage, and as soon as we have those answers the BBC will pass them along to you.

As the two girls went upstairs to change for the beach, Susan pulled Hermione aside.

"Um, I just wanted to tell you that after the way things happened on the beach, with how you and Harry helped me with my patronus, and then all that heavy talk in there…well, I think I'm going to be brave enough to wear my skimpier bikini to the beach this afternoon."

Hermione's eyes glazed over at the thought. "Uh, yeah, that's a good idea. I think we…I mean Harry will appreciate that," she stammered, hoping the other girl didn't catch her slip.

"What about you?" Susan pressed, biting her lip.

Caught by surprise, the brunette rallied after a moment and rose to the challenge. "You know what? I think that's a wonderful idea. Let's go get changed."

Susan grinned the whole way up the stairs.

Amelia fell back onto her seat on the veranda with a whoosh of a sigh and reached for a glass of iced tea from the tray that Cooby set before them. "Thank you, Cooby. You make the best iced tea I've ever had. I'm going to have to have Floppy figure out how to make it when we get back to Britain, since it will be the height of summer. Speaking of Britain," she turned to someone she was fast coming to call a friend, "Why haven't we gotten any owl mail here yet?"

The wizard smiled, having anticipated this question for the last few days. "When I first escaped Azkaban, I went off to the private Black family island in the Caribbean, and no one could find me, or even contact me. I had to initiate the contact first myself. I think this island is exactly the same: the privacy and security wards are so strong here that not even international owls can find our location."

"So, anything and everything could be happening back home and we'd have not a single clue about it?" she worried.

"Pretty much. And with how fast our time here is ending, it won't do much good to send an owl, either. We're on the other side of the world. By the time an owl got there, delivered a message, and then came back, we'd already be back in Britain."

"I'm not really that thrilled about going back to a country torn between Riddle and Dumbledore without knowing what's been happening for the last two weeks," she frowned.

"Wouldn't be much of a vacation if you worked the whole time, would it?" he grinned at her apparent irritation at being out of the news loop back home.

Before she could retort, the teens made their way out, changed and heading out to the beach for some swimming. "That looks like a good idea. I think we could all use some time to unwind after that talk," Amelia said, looking at the group. Her trained eye was observing the changed dynamics. Tonks led the group, rather than following behind, even as she broke off to sit with the older generation for tea. Neville and Hannah were holding hands as they'd taken to, but were standing much closer to each other than they had before. Ginny and Luna were nigh on inseparable, but that hadn't changed much over the course of the trip from what she'd observed. Harry, Susan, and Hermione walked as a group. That wasn't new, but watching them sleeping together this morning had started coalescing her view on the trio. From the beginning of Harry's time with her and Susan, all she'd hoped for was that the girl would find a way to make things right for him from her participation in his bullying, but this had exceeded even her most optimistic expectations.

"Oh, Susan?" Sirius called, bringing her out of her thoughts, "Can I talk to you for a few minutes?"

The redhead shot him an inquiring gaze, but shrugged, heading over. Harry and Hermione broke off from the main group of their friends, following her over.

"Can I see that wand of yours?" he asked, standing as they approached.

Perplexed, Susan handed it over to him.

He turned it over and over, this way and that as he examined it in minute detail. "This is the wand you took off Dumbledore at the hospital?"

"Yeah, they said it was Dumbledore's old wand, but since it was my disarming spell, it was mine to keep," Susan answered.

"And Hannah said that your casting with this wand was a lot more powerful than it used to be, right?"

"It seems that way, but I can't figure out why. The only thing that changed was the wand," she said.

"Indeed. Thank you very much, Susan. I won't keep you from this lovely day on the sand now. Maybe later on, if you decide to take a break, you might try an experiment I have in mind," Sirius said, handing her back the wand and retaking his seat.

Harry, Hermione, and Susan looked confused, but Sirius was smiling, so they let it go and made their way back down to the beach.

"Sirius? What's the deal about the wand?" Amelia wanted to know, sitting forward.

"Anything about that wand seem unusual to you?"

"Well, the shape was odd. Those four lumps were unlike anything I'd ever seen before."

"Uh-huh. I know you didn't look at it that closely but it was elder wood. And Susan said her casting was a lot more powerful with that wand."

He trailed off at the end, wanting Amelia to come to the conclusion on her own. Eventually understanding dawned. "But that was just a myth!"

"Was it? Look at it with an auror's eye, Amelia. We have a very old wand, made of a certain kind of wood, which responds to a new master after its old master was bested in a fight. Ever since acquiring said wand, the new master has a marked increase in accuracy and power. The evidence is somewhere north of circumstantial at this point," he answered, ticking off the points on his fingers as he spoke.

Tonks remained quiet, listening to the conversation. "If the Elder Wand ever existed, there's a decent chance Dumbledore figured out how to get it," she said.

"I don't know what to do with all this. If the Hallows are real, then what about the others? The Cloak of Invisibility and the Resurrection Stone? How is it that none have come across them before?" Amelia groaned.

Sirius got a strange look in his eye. "Who says they haven't?"

"Harry! Harry, mate, what's wrong?" Neville worried, coming closer. His closest male friend was standing in the waves, stock still, with his jaw hanging open and eyes glazed over. When snapping his fingers didn't break the spell, he tried waving his hand in front of his face. Still no reaction came from Harry. Running through all the spells that might have caused such a reaction while debating the fastest way to get to the villa for help, Neville turned and followed Harry's gaze.

"Ohhhhh, yeah, that'd do it," the other Gryffindor grinned.

Susan and Hermione were removing their outer clothing to reveal their bathing suits, but these were most assuredly not the same suits the girls had been wearing for most of the week. Even for bikinis, there was far more skin on display than usual.

Turning his head, he caught sight of his girlfriend getting ready for her own session of sunbathing. Poor Neville joined Harry as victims of the Witch's Wandless Stupefying Curse. By that point in their vacation, all three witches were well-trained in the counter-curse, however. "Sunscreen, Harry?" called Susan, wiggling the bottle in his general direction.

Hannah followed suit by waving her own bottle of sunscreen at Neville, and after sharing a look, both boys had a race to see who could make it to the sand first. It was a photo finish.

Harry knelt on the sand next to Susan, trying to catch his breath. He'd become painfully aware of how beautiful the redhead really was, but seeing her in a bikini that exposed as much skin was causing a dramatic drop in his higher brain functions corresponding to the rapid shift of blood flow south.

Taking the bottle, he squirted the thick white lotion onto her back, enjoying the little hiss she made as the cool goo landed on her warm skin. She must have noticed how it had taken a few minutes to get his brain rebooted from the sound, as she looked back over her shoulder. "Less staring, more rubbing, Mister Potter," she shot at him with a wink.

Stung into action, he stated rubbing her back with more gusto than before, enjoying the way her flesh rippled under his touch, but enjoying the soft moans she was making even more so. Normally a very pale-skinned girl, two weeks tanning under the blazing tropical sun had helped her go past burnt and into a very attractive tan, especially with the freckles appearing on her shoulders.

Hermione quietly slid off her own chair and moved to Susan's other side. When a second set of hands started massaging her skin over her shoulder blades, rubbing the lotion in with firm purpose, the Hufflepuff let out a moan that had him pausing in his motions. The extra pair of hands on Susan's other side gave him pause, until he looked up – much slower than his gentleman side would care to admit – and found Hermione also rubbing suntan lotion into Susan. She put her finger to her lips and smirked at him. Without missing a beat, the brunette undid strings of Susan's top, letting them fall to the side. Harry gulped at seeing the expanses of rounded flesh squeezed into the chair beneath her.

"Breathe, Harry," Hermione grinned at him before taking the sunscreen and squirting some of it on Susan's left leg. After handing the bottle back to Harry, she started massaging Susan's calf. Shaking himself out of his reverie, Harry repeated the actions on her right leg, trying to keep his eyes on the part of her body he was massaging, but he was having quite a bit of difficulty. The way that tiny scrap of navy blue fabric rode up between her cheeks, exposing most of her bum just seemed to call to him.

He shook his head, forcing his eyes away from her rear end. After a week of rubbing her with sunscreen, he knew she had muscles that he never would have expected on her frame, but every time he felt a little flutter in his heart at the excitement of touching her.

Hermione coughed. "Um, Harry? You missed a couple spots."

He looked at her in confusion. "Huh?"

She shook her head fondly at his confusion, suspecting the reason, and gestured at the redhead's bum. "This bathing suit doesn't exactly cover all the skin that the other one did."

Harry's eyes went back to the sight. "I don't know if I could…"

"Harry," Susan said, "It's okay. I trust you."

With that vote of confidence and Hermione's encouraging smile across from him, Harry hesitantly took the sunscreen and applied some to the rounded pale flesh in front of him.

I'm going to die, but what a way to go, he thought to himself.

Feminine giggling in stereo was a surprising sound, but after replaying the last few moments in his mind, he realized he'd said that out loud.

Susan's laughter soon turned to moans as Harry and Hermione began kneading her bum. To rub the sun screen in, of course. Their efforts soon went above and beyond that simple purpose, and the Hufflepuff found herself squirming in place and wishing she could squeeze her legs together. She was so turned on by the full-body rub that it seemed impossible the other two couldn't detect it.

A saucy chuckle from Hermione told her that at least one of them had.

All too soon the delicious torture was over. Hermione's soft, strong hands left her backside, soon followed by Harry's. Someone tied her straps once more, but in her hormonal haze, she couldn't tell who it was. Susan lifted her head, watching as Hermione returned to her own chair and untied the straps of her top.

"My turn," she snickered.

Harry took one look at the expanse of flesh revealed by the T-back of her own bikini bottom and reiterated his earlier thought. He was going to die, but in the best way possible.

July 25, 1995

The next move in the Wizengamot came faster than anyone from the Light or Neutral side expected. When Lucius Malfoy announced his bill announcing a new tax on 'newcomers' to the magical world, the light was in an uproar. Amid the shouts and stomping feet, he remained impassive, waiting out the ructions.

When Amos Diggory, the new Chief Warlock after Dumbledore's ouster, was able to restore order, Malfoy looked around the chamber. "If you're so certain this is a bad bill, then put it to the vote!"

"That's just what we'll do!" shouted one of Dumbledore's allies. "I call for the vote."

Unfortunately, the absence of the former Chief Warlock meant that the Light's alliances were fractured. Minister Fudge immediately signed the bill instituting a five percent tax on those of half-blood descent on all purchases in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, along with a ten percent tax on muggleborn purchases. Proceeds from the tax were to go to establish a fund for pureblood war victims.

"It is now time for the next phase of our plans," Riddle hissed, "The muggle livestock are in chaos and our allies are advancing our agenda in the Wizengamot. The time to remove our enemies is nigh. Bellatrix will lead one team with Rodolphus and Rabastan against the second Child of Prophecy to finish their earlier work, with a reserve team guarding against auror response. Dolohov and MacNair will lead another team against the next biggest thorn in our side at the moment."

"It will be done, my Lord," all three Lestranges said in unison, closely followed by the others.

Riddle looked around his assembled Death Eaters. "For too long have we been pushed to the shadows. For too long have respectable purebloods been made to cower before the newcomers. This ends NOW!" he shouted. "With these actions we return the structure of Britain back to its proper order. Do not delay, do not give mercy, and do not fail!"

July 28, 1995

It had to be perfect. Hermione fretted her way through a dozen different plans, debated calling on the aid of the elves, and eventually went with her gut.

After dinner the night before they were to leave, she set up an area on a cove out of sight from the villa, illuminated by small torches and provided with a bucket of ice and three bottles of butter beer.

She walked back to the villa and after looking for a moment, found them sitting together on a sofa, talking to her parents and Amelia. "Excuse me. I'm sorry to interrupt, but could I see you both in private?" she asked, proud of the way she kept the nerves out of her voice.

"Sure," Harry shrugged, getting to his feet. The redhead took his offered hand and stood, giving her aunt a pointed look and receiving a smile.

Hermione led the way out to the terrace, catching sight of her father with his head in his hands, getting his back rubbed by her mother in the living area over Harry's shoulder.

When the trio reached her area on the beach, she heard the twin gasps behind her. "Hermione? What is all this?" Harry asked.

The brunette took a deep breath and turned to look at them. "Okay, so here's the thing: we're leaving tomorrow to go back to a very uncertain Britain. The past two weeks here and even before, getting to know you, Susan, and getting to know you better, Harry, have been absolutely amazing. I just don't want to give that up."

"You don't have to," a concerned Susan replied.

"Seriously, 'Mione. You know you're not going to lose me that easily," added Harry, looking concerned. "What's going on?"

"No, no, oh gosh I'm not saying this right," the girl fretted, twisting her fingers together, "I mean I don't want to lose what we've been developing between us. I want us to try to be together when we get back."

When she finished her words, she extended her hand to Susan, missing the look of pure heartbreak crossing Harry's face. He quickly composed himself and took a breath of his own. "Well, I certainly think you make a wonderful couple, and I hope you have all the happiness in the world," he managed to get out before turning and heading back up the beach.

Hermione and Susan shared a look of confusion before understanding dawned. The brunette dashed after him, catching up with Harry about twenty feet away and grabbing his hand like a lifeline. "No!"

"What? What did I say wrong?" he asked, not even turning to look at her.

"No, Harry. It was me. I said it wrong. Come back here, please. You don't understand," Hermione pleaded.

The desperation in her voice and the strength of her grip stopped his momentum. Turning to look at her, Harry felt his resolve melting. "Okay," he said, unable to deny his best friend something so important.

When they rejoined Susan, Hermione didn't give uncertainty another opportunity to set in, retaking Susan's slender fingers in her own while maintaining her grip on Harry's hand. "I've recently come to terms with the fact that I have feelings for both of you, and I think you each have some kind of feelings for each other, right?" she asked, giving each of them pointed looks.

Susan blushed, but nodded after a moment. "I do, too, and I've been struggling with how to deal with it myself."

With both girls looking at him, Harry's resolve crumbled. "I don't know what love is, but I know I'm happier when I'm around you, both of you. I couldn't figure out how to tell which of you I liked more, mostly because I don't think there even is a difference. I've known Hermione longer, but Susan…you've been there ever since I got out of the hospital."

Hermione's relieved smile was like the sun, lighting up the beach. "What I meant to say earlier is that I want us all to be together. All three of us in a relationship."

"Can we do that?" Harry asked.

"Why not?"

"It's not that common in the wizarding world," Susan worried.

"I've never heard of it in the muggle world either," he answered her.

Hermione huffed. "Honestly! With the way our lives have been going recently, do either of you actually care? With a Ministry that either wants to capitalize off your fame or declare you the next Dark Lord, a Headmaster trying to control your life, and abusive animals of relatives that you had to live with…Harry," she continued in a softer tone, "I want you to control your own life, I want you to make your own decisions. To hell with the rest of the world if it makes us happy!

"And Susan, I know you don't have quite the same level of difficulty Harry's had, but your situations were somewhat similar, and I've learned what kind of social expectations there are on women in the wizarding world. If something makes you happy, why not go for it?"

"Do you really have feelings for both of us?" the redhead asked.

Deciding that words had their place and time, but so did actions, Hermione called up all her courage and pulled Harry down to her, watching his eyes grow large and then close as their lips met in a soft, firm kiss. Her own eyes closed as the sensation of their magic meeting overwhelmed her. A soft moan escaped as she felt the biggest rush of her life.

Stepping back, she forced herself to meet his eyes, fearing to see what might be there. Her worries were unfounded. Pure joy and affection shone from his gaze, sending her heart racing.

"Merlin, you two! That was amazing!" Susan gushed, "There was this, like, explosion of light and color when you kissed. I don't even know how to describe it other than to say it was beautiful!"

Hermione bit her lip and winked at Harry before turning and repeating the maneuver with Susan. It was impossible not to compare the kissing styles of Harry and Susan, but where Harry was a bit rough and deliciously manly with his teenage stubble, the redhead was soft, smooth, and sweet. Different feelings, the same reaction as her heart raced in the meeting of their magic.

"Oh, yeah," breathed an awestruck Harry, "I saw it too just then. It was like a prism exploded between you, and all the colors there are just shot outward. That was unreal."

Looking in the other girl's eyes, Hermione could see Susan was stunned, but overjoyed. "Okay, now you two," she said, gesturing in between them.

Harry looked over and met Susan's gaze. Hermione watched as they held a silent conversation ending with the slightest of nods. Rather than one making the first move to the other, they leaned in together for their kiss. Hermione finally saw what they meant. Something in between them seemed to coalesce before shooting out, bathing them all in an explosion of light. The magic charging the moment made her feel light, almost giddy. "That was wonderful," she purred, "So, we're doing this?"

"We're doing this," Harry answered.

"It's crazy, but it's just crazy enough to work," Susan grinned.

"Harry, will you be my boyfriend?" Hermione requested.

"As long as you'll have me," he replied, taking her hand.

She turned to the Hufflepuff. "Susan, will you be my girlfriend?"

A radiant smile broke out on the other girl's face. "I would love to, for as long as you'll have me, like he said," Susan said, taking Hermione's other hand.

Harry took a breath, "Susan will you be my girlfriend, too?"

"As long as you'll be my boyfriend," she answered with a giggle.

The three teens moved in close, wrapping their arms around each other in a group hug. "This isn't going to be easy," Harry spoke into the gap between their heads.

"Nothing worthwhile ever is," Susan answered, "But I think it could be something wonderful."

Hermione had no verbal response, her voice lost to the happy tears coursing down her cheeks.

"I don't want this moment to ever end," said Harry, reveling in the feeling of being held by the two girls.

"I know I don't either," said the brunette, finally finding her voice, "But I think we need to get back inside and finish packing. There are going to be some adults who will want to know what happened out here, too."

Harry groaned. "Just as long as your dad doesn't kill me, or Susan's aunt."

July 29, 1995

Amelia, Mike and Mary Granger waited for their moment, when Hermione had gone upstairs to check her packing, to take Harry and Susan aside.

"We know something about what happened last night," Mary began, "Hermione's never looked that happy in her life, except maybe for the day she found out about magic and Hogwarts."

"It's been plain to us for a while that you three have been growing closer," Mike continued, "And while this relationship is…unorthodox, to say the least, Hermione's happiness has us convinced it's worthwhile. You won't have an easy road, but if you keep your communications honest and open between the three of you, you could make it work."

"What we're trying to say is that we trust you. Just…make our little girl as happy as she has been the last few days," Mary finished.

Sharing a look with Susan, Harry turned back to the older couple. "I can't promise I won't make mistakes. I've never been in a relationship, and my muggle relatives are certainly no prime example. What I will say is that I will always do my best to make both Hermione and Susan happy, and never consciously hurt them."

"I will promise the same," Susan said, "Not that I've had much experience with relationships either, but I will do my best."

"That's all we can ask," Mary said, smiling. Taking first Susan and then Harry into a hug, she drew back to look them in the eye. "Thank you for making our daughter so happy."

Mike did the same with Susan, and shook Harry's hand firmly. "Thank you," he agreed with his wife.

They wouldn't learn until later that Sirius had much the same talk with the girls, and that Amelia did similar with Harry and Hermione.

All the adults gave them their blessings.

All good things must come to an end, and so the group of people prepared to bid farewell to the island. Two weeks of sand, sun, and fun were over, but the memories they'd made would last forever. More than one person there pleaded with Harry to allow them to revisit the island every summer.

As they made the first leg of their journey back to England, Mike and Mary reflected that they now had a much deeper understanding of the magical world and their daughter's place in it, and counted their blessings that two such staunch adults as Sirius Black and Amelia Bones were watching out for her and her friends.

Dozing in his own seat, Sirius was thinking about how much fun the trip had been. He'd had a bit of a return to what it was like to be a teenager in his own youth, watching the group of pre-adults having fun together. Heading back to a more dangerous Britain didn't seem quite the impossible task that it was before the trip when Harry had been nearly beaten to death. For the first time in quite a while, Sirius Black felt a sense of real optimism forming.

Amelia found herself thinking over the amazing twists and turns her life had taken since that fateful night she'd found Harry lying in the hospital bed, but she wouldn't change a moment of it. Harry was a wonderful young man, and he kept wonderful company. Getting to know Hermione and her parents over the last couple of weeks had been a treat. They were delightful people, with the fresh perspective of outsiders to the magical world. She surreptitiously fingered the sheet of parchment they'd passed along to her after an extensive conversation. The level of trust the Grangers had displayed just about floored her, but she promised to see it done.

Settling into her own first-class seat with a groan, Tonks was wishing she could have stayed on the island. Two weeks of sun, sand, and surf, with some of her favorite people in the wizarding world couldn't be easily topped, and she would miss the time there. Watching the teens all awkward around each other before pairing off made for hilarious entertainment. Her own memories of those awful teenage years were made it all the better that it was someone else.

Neville stared at Hannah as the blonde napped on his shoulder. Keeping his fingers interlaced with hers made flipping pages a bit difficult, but he wasn't willing to give up the experience. Having a girlfriend, especially one as amazing as Hannah wasn't something he'd been expecting, but she was teaching him the value of enjoying every moment of life without expectations. He wouldn't ever forget rubbing sunscreen lotion onto her supple body, but he treasured the nights they found a private cove and just cuddled watching the sunset or the moon's play over the waves just as much.

Ginny and Luna were happier together than ever, sitting so close they looked to be affected by a sticking charm. One of the blonde's legs was over the other girl's, but in return she had Ginny wrapped in her arms as they slumbered on their seats. Telling Harry what had been bothering her seemed to have a significant effect on the younger Gryffindor. She became less jumpy around the males on the trip, and even appeared to be having fun at times.

As tired as he was, Harry refused to allow his body to sleep and miss a moment of his time with the two girls currently holding his hands. Still amazed by the turn his vacation had taken, Harry occasionally had to shake himself to make sure he was awake and not dreaming that he now had two girlfriends. Girlfriends, plural! Girlfriends who were apparently just as interested in each other as they were him.

Life was never going to be the same again.


Chapter Text

July 31, 1995

Dolores Umbridge marched into Cornelius Fudge's office on a mission. The Minister wasn't seeing anyone at the moment – a rarity for him – so she closed and sealed the door behind her, casting a privacy charm on the office. "We need to do something about Harry Potter," she said without preamble, marching up to the front of his desk.

Had she been paying more attention to Cornelius and less to her own thoughts, she would have seen him sipping his morning tea. As it was, the resultant geyser from his spit take drenched his entire desk and, as she was standing directly in front of him, his Undersecretary.

"Minister Fudge!" she shrieked, dripping with still-warm tea.

The flabbergasted man grabbed his wand and vanished the mess from the papers on his desk and then from the pink-clad woman. "My apologies, Dolores, but you startled me. What's this about Potter?"

"He's a nuisance that needs to be dealt with! First that destabilizing article in that rag of a magazine and then somehow bamboozling the entire Wizengamot into finding Sirius Black innocent…he's causing trouble for the Ministry and needs to be taken care of," she explained, sitting down, "I'm afraid for what he might do next if not brought to heel. With the Bones bitch disappeared to Merlin knows where, it could be just the right time to make a move against him."

Fudge shook his head as he put his wand back down on the desk. "Absolutely not. With Potter's popularity across the wizarding world, he could bury me and my administration."

"But…but…he's just a half-blood upstart! What kind of power could he possibly have over the Ministry of Magic?"

"Did you see how he got his Headmaster disgraced? Did you see how he got Sirius Black cleared? The boy has popularity, and that is a power all of its own," Fudge answered.

Umbridge started pacing around the room, glaring fiercely at a photo of the Minister's dog. "Something must be done. He's trying to destabilize our world."

"I'm sorry, Dolores, I just don't see that. Besides, an acting Minister trying to…neutralize…the Boy-Who-Lived would be suicide, at least figuratively for my career and perhaps literally. If it ever came out that I was implicated in the murder of Harry Potter, the public would tear me apart in the middle of Diagon Alley," he said, wringing his hands. "I must instruct you to not do anything against Harry Potter."

Opening her mouth to answer, an idea dawned on Dolores. "Of course, Cornelius. Thank you for correcting some misapprehensions that I had. I will leave you to your tea," she declared with a sickly-sweet smile.

Eyebrows up at her change in tone, he nevertheless shook it off and waved her out of his office.

Back in her own office, Umbridge silenced all doors and windows before making a very specific Floo-call.

"Back home!" Mary smiled as they all stumbled off their flight at Heathrow. "Are you sure you want to spend a few more days with Harry and Susan?" she asked her daughter.

"Yes, Mum! I don't want to spend the next few weeks apart from them, if we can avoid it. Plus, there's the research into Harry's scar," Hermione blushed.

"Well I don't mind it, like we talked about before leaving the island. You can stay there for a week or so to do your research, and then Harry and Susan can come stay with us before we all meet up with Amelia and Sirius in Diagon Alley when we get your school supplies, then you can all stay with Sirius and use his library for research. It was a good plan, sweetheart."

"Thanks, mum," answered the girl. Next to her, Harry put his arm around her shoulder, testing the adults' reactions. Mary smiled; Michael winced momentarily but it passed into a nod of resigned acceptance. Amelia just grinned, widening to a smirk when Susan, her own face flushing, put her own arm around Hermione.

"I think these three will be just fine, and don't worry, I'll keep an eye on them while they're at our house," Amelia reminded them.

With a hug and kiss for their daughter, Mike and Mary headed off for their car in the extended parking area.

The others took the Picadilly line of the Tube to King's Cross station before making for the Leaky Cauldron. From there, Neville and Hannah took the public Floo back to her house, where he'd promised to escort her, then he would Floo back to his own house. Ginny and Luna followed them off, taking the Floo to the Burrow after exchanging hugs all around. Tonks kept going on the Tube to the nearest stop to her parents' home.

Finally, it was just Sirius, Amelia, Susan, Harry, and Hermione. The five remaining from the trip made for the apparation point outside. Sirius linked arms with Harry and Hermione, waiting for Amelia to side-along apparate Susan back to Bones Manor. When the former and current Hufflepuffs disapparated, Sirius did the same.

Harry hated the spinning of apparating, made even worse when it was side-along, but mercifully it was over soon. The cloud of soot surrounding him was a surprise, however. "Bugger it! I thought soot was only a problem for Floo travel," he said.

For once no one was sniggering at his inability to use any magical transportation with any grace. It was a welcome mercy, but when the cloud cleared, Harry's jaw dropped. Susan and Amelia were standing stock-still, looking around in shock.

Instead of the grand manor house that Harry was fast becoming attached to as a real home, all that was left were the charred remains of the walls, some standing higher than others, but all burned beyond recognition. Essentially the only thing left was the brick fireplace that normally held the Floo point.

Even the few nights Harry had spent at the house left him with fond memories of parts of the residence he'd spent time in, like the kitchen where he first made breakfast. A terrible thought struck him. "Floppy!" he called, watching Amelia spin around and look at him through wild eyes as he did.

The elf popped in right next to him. Susan and her aunt lost no time in wrapping the elf in hugs, tears coursing down their faces. "Floppy!" Amelia exclaimed, "You're safe!"

Susan was breathing deeply, relief that the elf was okay clear on her face. "What happened, Floppy?"

The little elf looked fearfully at his mistresses. "Floppy is sorry, misses. Bad wizards come, in masks and hoods. They broke the wards, then used fire-spell to burn house down. Floppy is able to escape, but not to save house."

"You did exactly the right thing, Floppy," Amelia protested, "We'd much rather have you safe than have you burned up with everything else."

"I totally agree, Floppy. It's so good to see you safe."

"This is really troubling," Sirius said, looking around, "Attacking the personal residence of the head of the DMLE openly like this is a bold step for the Death Eaters."

"Unless…" Susan started before trailing off, a horrible thought jumping into her mind.

"What's that, Susan?"

"Unless…they're not attacking the home of the DMLE chief, but the home of Harry Potter."

The troubling implications of that thought had them all silent for a few moments.

"We need to get to my parents. Right now," Hermione said, fear clear on her face.

Sirius saw the problem immediately. "Amelia, I can apparate with her and Harry. Can you bring Susan?"

The older woman nodded. "Just tell me the address and I can do it."

After Hermione told her where her house was located, Sirius linked arms with her and Harry and disapparated, Amelia following with Susan immediately afterward.

Harry fell out of the spinning sensation of apparating with a groan. Behind him, Sirius and Hermione were getting back to their feet. A cracking sound behind him announced Amelia and Susan's arrival. Assured that no one had been splinched, he took stock of his surroundings.

Hermione's home appeared to be in good shape. Nothing was broken or run-down, and more importantly from their morning expedition, nothing was on fire.

He was just about to breathe a sigh of relief when he noticed a very familiar feeling. The air was cold around him, and if he looked hard at the cars parked nearby, he could see icicles forming on the windows. The cold hand of fear wrapped around his heart, and for a moment he thought he could hear a woman screaming to a sickly green light. Knowing there were others around him, Harry violently shook himself free of the fugue state. "DEMENTORS!" he shouted, pointing at the swirling cloaks above the house bearing the address number Hermione told them a few moments before.

Just as he finished his yell, Mike and Mary ran out their front door, screaming the whole way. Unfortunately, the dementors took this as the dinner bell ringing and started their swarm.

Hermione was frozen with fear, unable to even yell at her parents to run. Seeing their daughter and the others, Mike and Mary sprinted for them, but one of the Dementors was faster. It swooped down between the two groups of people and made a grab for Mary. As Harry and Susan were pulling out their wands, it started the fatal Kiss. The sucking noise was awful, but the sight of Mary Granger's face spreading to the Dementor was worse.

"No!" Hermione screamed, falling to her knees with her heart breaking at the sight of her mother dying. She reached for her wand but the others were quicker.

Harry and Susan shared a nod and cast their patronus charms. Prongs was first out, but Berg, Susan's polar bear, was bigger and faster, leaping into the fight with a ghostly roar that was all the more terrible without the accompanying noise. One of its massive paws reached out and ripped the dementor away from Mary. The bear's claws actually tore the foul spirit in half as its powerful jaws locked on the dementor's neck, severing its head completely and stopping everything as the ear-piercing scream sounded around the narrow street. The other dementors froze in their spots. None of their kind had ever been killed before, or even seriously injured other than being driven off by the spirit guardian animals. One of them being hurt badly enough to be destroyed was completely alien to them and they had no idea how to act.

It proved to be a fatal mistake.

Prongs and Berg leapt up and charged the remaining dementors, using antlers, teeth, and claws to rip them to shreds, scattering skeletal limbs and ragged cloaks all over the lawn like macabre confetti. Their dying shrieks echoed around the street as black dust rained down on the people below.

Hermione had broken free of her catatonia and rushed forward to embrace her mother and father. Sirius, seeing the situation dealt with before he could even cast his patronus, took up a guard position with wand at the ready.

Amelia, having just drawn her wand in time to see Prongs and Berg make mincemeat of the Dementors, shook her head at the absurdity of the situation. The Grangers were rapidly moving into shock, and they needed medical attention. "Floppy! Dobby!" she called.

Both elves appeared next to her with a pop. "Yes, Mistress Amelia?" Floppy asked her.

"I need you to get Mike and Mary out of here. Mary almost was a victim of the dementor's kiss, and she'll need calming potions and other treatment," she paused, looking around as realization hit, "But we don't have anywhere we can take them with my home destroyed."

"Yes, we do," Sirius interjected, coming over, "Floppy and Dobby, take them to number twelve, Grimmauld place in London, the home of the Black family. There's an old elf there, Kreacher. I'll apparate before you and tell him you're allowed to bring the Grangers inside."

The elves nodded. Floppy took Mary and Hermione's hands while Dobby took Mike's hand. When Sirius disapparated, the elves popped out after him.

In the silence that followed, Susan and Harry started at each other before rushing into a crushing embrace. The first time they'd faced combat together had gone off near-flawlessly, if a little too close for comfort. Amelia's arms were soon surrounding them. "Excellent work with the casting, you two! I'm so proud of how fast you responded. I also didn't think it was possible to destroy those fiends. Your patronus guardians are phenomenally strong."

The two teens somehow found a smile after the stress of the attack, but didn't say anything. With the closeness of the embrace, Harry was first to notice the way Susan was trembling. Amelia felt it, too, but understood it first. "Your combat hormones are bleeding off," she explained, "We've noticed with aurors that reacted that way after their first real combat. They get a rush during the fight and then afterward when it bleeds off, they get shakes, some throw up, and most just curl into a ball. It might get worse later tonight as it really sets in. I'll have Floppy arrange some calming potions for you."

It was in that quiet moment that an owl flew down above them, alighting on a nearby tree limb. It had an envelope tied to its leg. "Bloody hell," Amelia cursed, "That's a Ministry owl. I'm almost afraid to see what letter it has."

She moved over to the tree and took the envelope from its leg, whereupon the owl flew off. When she opened and read the letter, Harry and Susan were treated to the sight of a master of cursing at the top of her game.

"What is it, Aunt Amelia?" Susan pleaded.

Amelia looked at them, took a breath, and started reading:

"Dear Mr Potter,

We have received intelligence that you performed the Patronus Charm at twenty-three minutes past twelve this afternoon in a Muggle-inhabited area and in the presence of a Muggle.

The severity of this breach of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery has resulted in your expulsion from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Ministry representatives will be calling at your place of residence shortly to destroy your wand.

As you have already received an official warning for a previous offence under Section 13 of the International Confederation of Warlocks' Statute of Secrecy, we regret to inform you that your presence is required at a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Magic at 9 a.m. on the twelfth of August.

Hoping you are well,

Yours sincerely,

Mafalda Hopkirk

Improper Use of Magic Office Ministry of Magic"

To the surprise of both women, Harry started snickering.

"Harry! What's so funny about getting your wand snapped and expelled from Hogwarts?!" Susan exclaimed, looking at him with wide eyes.

"Don't you see?" he asked, gesturing at the letter for her.

"See what?"

"Amelia, what's weird about that letter from an auror's perspective?" he asked his guardian.

The older woman thought for a moment before her eyes went wide. "Well, other than the fact that you actually want to be expelled from Hogwarts, I would say that it showed up essentially right after you cast the spell. It would have had to be on the way before we even got here. This was a setup!"

Amelia was furious. "Almost no one in the Ministry has the clout to get dementors from Azkaban. I need to get back there to start with Hopkirk and start tearing some people apart until I figure out what happened. Floppy!" she shouted.

The little elf reappeared from Sirius's house looking frightened. "What does Mistress need?"

The older woman took a moment to breathe and re-center herself. "I'm not angry with you, Floppy, and I apologize if my tone scared you. I need you to take Susan and Harry to wherever Sirius and the Grangers are while I go back to the Ministry."

"Yes, Mistress," replied the visibly relieved elf. She took the two teens' hands and popped away. A heartbeat later, Amelia apparated to the Ministry.

Chaos reigned at Grimmauld Place.

Between the crazed old elf that muttering insults to everyone bar Sirius and the portrait shouting abuse to everyone, Mary's hysterics – quite understandable after her near-death experience – and the way Hermione held her, as if her life was in the balance while Mike shouted for medicine, there wasn't a single space of silence to be found. Floppy dropping Harry and Susan into the middle of the noise didn't calm it down any.

Dobby appearing with a calming potion and chocolate for Mary and Mike focused attention on the muggle couple. When it became apparent that the Grangers were going to be fine, Hermione launched herself at Susan. The brunette wrapped herself around the redhead in a grapple-hug, peppering her face with kisses. "Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for saving my mum's life!" she exclaimed, punctuating her thanks with kisses to cheeks and lips.

For her part, Susan returned the embrace and kisses, grateful to have her girlfriend safe and sound, away from the dementors. As soon as Hermione caught sight of Harry, she unwrapped herself from Susan and shot over to him, repeating the process of thanks and kisses. "You two saved my parents!"

Mike got to his feet slowly, taking in the scene around him. Whatever had happened back at their house, he and his wife were in mortal peril. Harry and Susan had done something that he couldn't see, but the cold dread gripping his heart fled at their action, and then he and Mary were safe. He strode over to Susan and extended his arms. "Like Hermione said, thank you. I couldn't even see the danger, but you drove it off. Thank you," he said.

Susan didn't hesitate a moment before accepting his hug. "I'm just glad we were there in time to help you both," she said.

Harry took the older man's hand before being pulled into a one-armed hug of his own. "Thank you, Harry," Mike said in a voice thick with emotion.

"You're Hermione's parents. Like Susan said, I'm just glad we were there in time," Harry replied.

"What the hell were those things?" Mike asked when he reclaimed his place at his wife's side.

"Those were dementors. The soul-sucking guardians of the Azkaban prison," Sirius answered, "And my only real company other than insane Death Eaters for almost a decade and a half."

"You're a very strong man to come away from years of that with any kind of sanity intact," Mike told him.

"Well, I wouldn't go quite that far," Sirius deadpanned, using the self-deprecating humor to break the tension.

"So, what do we do now?" Harry asked.

"We stay here. This house is under the Fidelius charm. There's no way you could have even seen the building until I told you where it was – until I gave you the secret," Sirius said, "And we figure out what the hell happened to Bones Manor."

"I got a notice of underage magic use as soon as you left," his godson told him.

The former auror's eyes widened. "That timing is just a bit suspicious. Wait, bloody hell! Why didn't I think of this?!"

Without another word, he disapparated with a crack.

Having no idea of where Sirius went or why, the remaining people at Grimmauld Place just settled into their couches and chairs, trying to come to terms with what appeared to be a Ministerial assassination attempt the same day as they returned from quite literally the other side of the globe. The jet lag wasn't making it any easier to wrap their heads around the situation.

After a short while, the Floo in the study activated, shooting out two younger girls, Luna attempting to soothe a crying Ginny, then Sirius leading a wrecked Neville. Before anyone could react, the Marauder was shouting for more calming potions.

Hermione and Susan shot to their feet, rushing over to their friends. "What happened?" the brunette exclaimed, jumping when an ancient house elf came into the room with the required potions.

Sirius administered the treatment to Ginny and Neville before answering her. "Voldemort is moving against the Light, and targeting people known to be close to Harry. I apparated to Longbottom Manor and found Neville in a bad way," he took a deep breath, "Listen, there's no easy way to say this, but…"

"They got Gran," an unnaturally peaceful-voiced Neville said as the calming draught took effect. It was an odd sight as he spoke like it was any other day while tears tracked down his face. "I don't know exactly what happened, but there were windows damaged and the wards were down. Gran was laying in the entry hall. She had her wand in her hand and there were burn marks all over. It must have been the Death Eaters."

Giving the boy a pat on the shoulder, Sirius took up the tale. "There wasn't anything else I could do, so I took Neville and tried to use the Floo to check on Ginny and Luna here, but the Floo on the other end wasn't working. I side-along apparated him to the closest place I knew to the Burrow and, well…"

This time it was Ginny's turn to interrupt in her potion-induced calm voice. "The Burrow is gone. Razed to the ground. There was nothing left. No one was there, either. They destroyed my home."

"I think that's a good sign, oddly enough," Luna interjected, "If they hadn't gotten away before the attack, there might have been a truly horrific sight to see when we got back."

Susan and Hermione each took a friend to embrace, Susan with Neville and Hermione with Ginny. "We don't know where the Weasleys are, so I offered my home to Neville, Ginny, and Luna to use, just like the Grangers, until we figure out what the situation really is here," Sirius explained.

Mike got to his feet, heading over to the wizard with an extended arm. "You're a good man, Sirius."

"I just hope we can get this nonsense about Harry's using magic taken care of," Sirius said after the handshake.

"Auntie went off to the Ministry to kick some arse over it," Susan informed them with more than a little pride in her voice.

Sirius laughed at the swearing from the cherubic-faced teenager. "I'm sure she's going to leave a few ears ringing. Now, let's call those wonderful elves of yours so they can give mine some help to get this place fit for habitation."

The Marauder would have been surprised. No Ministerial ears were currently ringing. Amelia originally intended to go into the Ministry with a full head of steam, but dropped that plan when she figured that a slower, quieter approach would tell her more about why the Improper Use of Magic Office was interested enough in Harry Potter than they had a notice on the way to him when he actually performed said magic.

Apparating into the public entry to the Ministry, she was able to dodge most of the scrutiny by entering in a crowd of public visitors. Once through, she went straight to Kingsley's office, not even bothering to summon him to hers.

To her surprise, he was in a meeting with John Dawlish, and from the look on Kingsley's face, it wasn't a good one. The visible relief in his expression when he saw her warmed her heart. "Amelia! Thank Merlin! We've been looking all over for you!"

"Hi, Shack, Dawlish," she greeted, "I assume that has something to do with why my house is destroyed."

The black man snorted. "Yeah, you might say that. I know you were on vacation, and due to arrive back about now, so I've had aurors staking out all the main return points."

"We traveled muggle-style, Shack. Airplanes are a lot more comfortable than portkeying or apparating, even if the cumulative build-up of travel takes a heavier toll in the end."

"That'd do it. So, you're back now?"

"Not until tomorrow full-time. The only reason I'm here is this," she said, picking up the notice and handing it to her subordinate.

"Harry Potter cast his patronus in a muggle area? What the bloody hell is this?" Dawlish asked, incredulous.

"That part of the letter is true. We were at the ruins of my home when one of his friends figured that if someone made a strike against his new residence, what was to stop them from attacking his known friends and associates?"

Kingsley's eyebrows rose as she went through her tale. Amelia was gratified to see that he immediately spotted the issue. "He was just back in the country, and did his charm in front of muggles, but he did it to save lives. There were at least six dementors over a muggle house, and one of them was in the process of administering the Kiss to one of the muggles – the mother of his close friend Hermione Granger. Harry and Susan both cast their patronus charms to drive off the foul spirits, saving lives in the process. This notice arrived less than ten minutes after the dementors were destroyed."

"I beg your pardon?" Dawlish gaped, "I couldn't have heard you right just then. I almost thought you said the dementors were destroyed, but that's impossible."

"Is it?" she grinned at him. "I said they were destroyed, and that's what happened. Harry's stag and Susan's polar bear patronus charms were so powerful, so corporeal, that they actually did it. Dementors can be killed."

"This I have to see."

Ten minutes later they pulled out of Shack's pensieve. "That was amazing!" he exclaimed, "I've never even heard of a spirit guardian that strong before!"

"What about the notice?" Amelia asked.

He nodded, "Oh, on that you were totally right. There was no way the notice should have arrived as quickly as it did. And calling into question the casting of the charm discounts the presence of dementors and the actual concept of reasonable use of magic. I think I need to go have a chat with Madam Hopkirk," Shack finished, getting to his feet.

"I'll come with you and stand outside her office to overhear," she said. "Technically, my vacation isn't finished yet."

"Dawlish, are we done here?" Shack asked, turning to the other man.

The auror nodded, but with visible reluctance. "I guess. So long as you've heard my concern."

"I heard it, and you know how I feel. You're dismissed."

Dawlish got up and left, giving Amelia a long look on his way out.

With a shake of his head at her smirk, Shacklebolt led the way to the Improper Use of Magic office. Knowing Amelia would be standing outside, he chose not to cast the privacy charms, leaving it open for her to overhear the conversation.

When they got to the appropriate office, he entered without knocking. "Ah, Madam Hopkirk. Just the woman I wanted to see."

With wide eyes, the witch stood to greet him. "Auror Shacklebolt. What can I do to help you?"

"You can start by telling me who told you to send out this notice to Harry Potter," he said, jumping in with bared fists as he showed her the document.

The woman gaped, looking something like a fish as her mouth opened and closed without a sound escaping. "I – I d-don't understand," she eventually stammered, "We had a detection of the improper use of magic and the notice went out as per procedures."

"Ah, procedures. That's good to hear you say, because to my knowledge, procedure for these notices is to send them out after the magic has occurred, correct?"

"Y – yes," Mafalda answered, paling.

"Then would you like to explain to me how someone on the scene confirmed that this notice arrived by owl less than ten minutes after the patronus was used to chase dementors away and, in fact, save lives? I'm not exactly a cartographer, but it seems to me that there's no possible way that an owl could fly from here anywhere near its destination in ten minutes."

Hopkirk was back to doing her fish impression.

"Therefore, unless you tell me right now who told you to send out the notice, I'll be arresting you for being a party to an attempted murder of two muggles, and since the notice singled out Harry Potter, we might even throw in attempting to end the line of one of our oldest families to go along with it. That just might get you a date with the same dementors that he had to chase off…oh, that's right, they can't kiss any more people, since his patronus actually destroyed them. I guess we'd have to pull some more in from Azkaban just for you."

Having her fate spelled out for her in such a dire fashion broke her resistance. "It was Undersecretary Dolores Umbridge. She told me to send it out, that her information told her that he had cast the charm. I thought it was a little strange since my office didn't detect it until after I sent the owl, but she threatened to fire me and get me blacklisted from any other respectable jobs."

"Thank you, Madam Hopkirk. I think that's all I needed to hear. The summons for Mister Potter is hereby rescinded, and no hearing will take place for defensive magic," Kingsley said, turning on his heel before looking over his shoulder, "Of course, if I ever hear of such…unorthodox timing…of these notices again, I don't think I have to remind you of what will await you."

Kingsley wasn't one for unnecessary subtlety. A banishing charm threw open the door to Umbridge's office. "Dolores Umbridge!" he shouted as he strode into her sanctuary, flanked by two more junior aurors.

"What is the meaning of this?!" the garishly-dressed woman shrieked, jumping up from her chair.

"You are under arrest for the attempted murder of Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and her two muggle parents. Surrender your wand immediately," he declared, standing directly in front of her desk.

Her shock almost outpaced her rage. Almost. "I am the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic! You don't have any power to arrest me, auror!"

"No one is above the law, Madam Umbridge. Now, surrender your wand immediately."

"I will do no such thing! Go back to your office and clean out your desks, all three of you! You're all fired!" she shouted, turning almost the same shade as her outfit.

"I gave you the chance. Expelliarmus!" he cast after quick-drawing his wand. The hateful woman never saw it coming. Flung back into her chair from the force of his spell, she lost her wand to his grasp.

"Search her desk," Shacklebolt ordered. He had to hit Umbridge with a silencing spell, so loud was her shrieking.

It didn't take long. In the third drawer the auror opened, her eyes got wide. "Bingo!" she exclaimed, withdrawing a sheet of parchment, "The order of transfer for six dementors from Azkaban to the mainland along with instructions for exactly where to go."

Kinglsey turned a crocodile's grin onto Dolores: far too toothy to be anything but predatory. "I think that little bit of evidence seals the case. You will be coming along with us."

Umbridge protested and fought the entire way until Kingsley had enough and silenced her.

Watching in the hall as the aurors dragged the still-screaming Umbridge out the door and down the hallway, Amelia smiled in grim satisfaction. "So, it was an assassination attempt?"

"It seems that way, boss," Shacklebolt acknowledged. "She had all the documentation for death-by-dementor. I'll stick her in a holding cell under an alias so that Fudge doesn't try to bully his pet pink toad out of confinement."

"Good thinking, Shack. I assume that Harry's wand won't be snapped, nor will he be expelled?"

"Even if she somehow gets off the charges, there's enough evidence that Harry was set up to ensure that. I already told Hopkirk that I was rescinding her summons," the auror responded.

"Excellent," Amelia said through a yawn, "Now, if you'll excuse me, it's been a very long couple of days coming back from vacation, so I would like to go get some rest."

Remembering the address that Sirius told her, Amelia apparated to the location. She came out of the spin and righted herself in front of what looked like a dilapidated row house in muggle London. With a shrug, she went up to the door and knocked. In no time at all, Sirius had the door opened and ushered her inside.

"Welcome to my wonderful home," he said with no small amount of sarcasm, "You, Harry, and Susan are welcome here as long as you need. There's even room for the Grangers, now that their home is no longer safe."

Amelia nodded. "That makes sense. Well, lead me to them. I have news."

Sirius nodded, gesturing for her to follow him. When he led her into a sitting room with the remainder of her group, Susan launched herself at her aunt. "What happened?" the redhead demanded.

"It was a setup," her aunt started explaining, going into detail on what Kingsley was able to do. "So, now Harry won't be in any danger of having his wand snapped, and won't be expelled."

"Darn it," he said with mock seriousness, "A fat pink toad didn't get her way."

"I don't know, Harry," Hermione said as she thought it over, "It almost would have been worth it. Expulsion would have gotten you out from under Dumbledore, and if we're to leave the country, we could have gotten you a new wand elsewhere, anyway."

"I think we need a better idea of what's been going on while we were away before we make any other decisions," Amelia said, "Floppy!"

"Yes, mistress?" the elf asked, appearing next to her.

"It appears that we've missed a lot while we were on vacation. I want you to round up one or two copies of the Prophet from each day we were gone and bring them back here."

"Yes, mistress Amelia!" the little elf acknowledged.

In the end they were reeling. Illegal to discuss Death Eaters and their activities. New taxes on half-bloods and the muggleborn. Amos Diggory murdered in his home, ending the Diggory line. Then she heard from the teens that Augusta Longbottom murdered in her home and the Burrow was destroyed.

Wizarding Britain had taken a hard turn in their absence.

Needing to take some time to absorb the blows they'd taken on their return, Sirius decided to Floo-call the Abbotts to see if they might be open to hosting Neville for a while. He had no problems keeping the boy at Grimmauld Place, but with the loss of his grandmother, thought it might be more helpful to the boy if he spent time with his girlfriend and her family.

The Abbotts immediately accepted his request and opened their home to Neville. He looked like he felt bad to be leaving the house, but relieved to be around Hannah and her family during his mourning.

Luna took Ginny to her home, to be close by in case any of the Weasleys went back to reestablish the Burrow. Grimmauld Place felt oddly quiet with just Sirius, Amelia, Mike and Mary, Harry, Hermione, and Susan to occupy it.

When the other teens were gone, Harry, Hermione, and Susan went upstairs to find a private room, mindful of Mike and Mary's warnings to keep the door open. Harry was holding together, but Hermione and Susan seemed to be spacing out. More than once he had to take their hands and lead them around a corner. Finding a bedroom that didn't appear too dusty, they went in. Harry and Susan looked for chairs, intending to give Hermione the bed to rest on after the stress of what happened to her parents.

The brunette, however, had other ideas. She pushed Harry down onto the middle of the bed before cuddling up to his left side, pulling Susan down to his right. The heavy silence settling between them only lasted for a heartbeat before Hermione started twitching. Little spasms soon became tremors, ripples that encompassed whole muscles. Harry tried to soothe the disturbances, but nothing helped. The tremors soon became full-body shakes. On his other side, Susan was much the same way, even if it wasn't as intense. Her shakes still encompassed her whole body.

Harry wrapped his arms around both girls' shoulders and just held them to himself, murmuring sweet-sounding words into their hair. Across his chest, Susan reached for Hermione's hand and interlaced their fingers.

When the shaking subsided a bit after a few minutes, he noticed the upper portions of his shirt getting wet. The two girls were sobbing on him. He just tightened his grip and kept up the stream of speaking, muttering soothing words to them, reminding them that he was still there, that he wasn't leaving, and that he was there for them.

It took longer than he expected, but eventually both girls calmed. Hermione sat up first. Noticing the wet, snotty mess on his upper chest, she flushed red and ducked her head. "Sorry about getting…that…all over you, Harry."

"If you're apologizing, then I need to, too," Susan said from his other side, "I made just as big of a mess."

"Forget the messes; I can get a new shirt. I'm just worried about you," he said, sitting up between them.

"We'll be fine, Harry. This was just the stress bleeding off from everything – the travel, finding the manor burned down, then the dementor attack," Hermione said.

"It was my first time in a situation like that," Susan murmured, "Is this what it's like for you two?"

Harry looked down at Hermione, seeing a hint of humor finally start to drive off the fear that had been there ever since she saw a dementor attack her mother. "Pretty much," he answered the other girl.

"Awesome," she giggled, feeling a bit heady after the bleed-off of her emotions.

Breakdown over, Analytical Hermione took control once more. "So, we have a series of attacks against people known to be your friends, plus the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot."

"Take that with the laws making it illegal to talk about Death Eaters, and the new tax on everyone who's not a pureblood…it's not a good picture of society at the moment," Harry finished.

"Not really, no," the redhead agreed.

"How does this affect our other plans?" Hermione worried.

Thinking it over for a minute, Harry shook his head. "It doesn't. We still need to get the horcrux out of me. We still need to deal with Dumbledore and school, then travel plans for afterward. We just now have fewer people we need to get out of the country as well, sadly as it is for Neville."

"So, Gringotts tomorrow?"

"Yeah. We'll just have to be careful."

"Tomorrow," Hermione murmured as she pulled the blanket over the three of them. A round of sleepy kisses later and they were out like lights.

"Come on, let them sleep," Mike urged his wife down the hall to their own room.

She turned and looked at him with wide eyes. "You? You're the one saying to let them sleep in the same bed?"

Mike ran a hand through his hair. "It's been a hell of a day. I watched the woman I love almost get killed by a fiend I couldn't even see. Hermione watched her mother almost die. Harry and Susan had to perform advanced magic to save our lives. I know I'm not magical, but that's got to put a hell of a lot of stress on a kid, and that was on top of the jet lag of coming back from the Pacific. They're fully clothed, so I say let them enjoy the comfort they need. Plus, I need to focus on holding the woman I love," he smiled at her.

That being exactly the right response, Mary took his hand and led him further down the hall, intent on letting him do just that.

Albus Dumbledore sat back in his office, reflecting on how his plans for the saving of the wizarding world seemed to be teetering on the precipice.

Voldemort had returned, so the prophecy was even more valid than it had been before. Harry Potter still had his role to play for the Greater Good of the world, even if he was reluctant to see it. The boy had always had only one destiny from the moment the shortsighted drunk spit out her prophecy.

It was just a question of how many horcruxes Voldemort had made and how fast he could find them. The diary was one, and the one in Harry's scar made two. His research into Voldemort's origins told him that the Dark Lord would probably be targeting items linked to the Hogwarts founders, which would bring the total to six. With seven being one of the most powerful magical numbers, his biggest problem was if Voldemort had made seven horcruxes or counted himself as the seventh piece.

The flaring of his Floo pulled him from his musings. "Headmaster Dumbledore?" a voice shouted.

Moving closer to the fireplace, he saw the face of auror John Dawlish. "I'm here, John. What can I do for you?"

"I just thought you'd want to know Amelia Bones is back in the country. She arrived this afternoon to find her house burned down and a dementor attack on one of Harry Potter's friend's houses."

"How in the world did they get out of the country and back in without me knowing? I have monitors set up for the boy and his friends."

"They traveled muggle-style. Airplanes, I think she said?"

Albus stroked his beard. "Unexpected, and it complicates matters that they can travel in this way. Do you know where she's saying now that Bones Manor is no more? And whose house was attacked by dementors?"

"She didn't say anything about where they were staying in front of me, but the muggle home of one of Potter's friends – Granger I think it was – was where the dementors were."

With a nod, Dumbledore moved to close his Floo. "I understand. Do please let me know if you hear any more of her or Harry Potter's whereabouts."

"I will do so, Headmaster," Dawlish said before disappearing from the fireplace.

Dumbledore frowned at this new information. If Amelia and Harry and his group were back in the country, finding their home destroyed would mean they would have to make some alternate arrangements. Sirius would probably host the group at the location of…he couldn't remember at the moment, but they would most likely find their way to Diagon Alley in the morning to get a better idea of the events from their absence and make arrangements with the goblins for more permanent lodgings.

It would seem his morning was booked.

August 1, 1995

It was a somber group that gathered in the dining room the next morning. Dobby and Floppy were busy getting breakfast ready, allowing time for the people in the room to get their brains in gear for the morning.

Mike and Mary were sitting to one side of the long table while Sirius and Amelia had the head and foot, respectively, and Susan, Harry, and Hermione had the other side.

"So, everyone," Harry opened, trying to break the oppressive mood, "What's the plan for today?"

"Well, I have to go back into the Ministry," Amelia said after a moment, "Not only to find out what the bloody hell has been happening while we've been away, but also to get caught up. I also want to get in touch with Minerva like we talked about back on the island."

"And I want us to go to Gringotts. We need to consult with them about the idea of horcruxes to see if they have a way to dispose of them," Hermione said.

The association of horcruxes brought a memory back to Harry's mind. "You know, I said almost the exact same thing to Croaker when I got out of the hospital…" he started

"Said what?" Susan asked him, interested.

"That since Riddle gave one of his horcruxes to Lucy Malfoy, he might have given another to another follower of his, and Hagrid once told me there wasn't any safer place in Britain than Gringotts, so there was at least a reasonable chance that it might be in one of the Death Eater vaults," he explained.

"They might even have a way of using existing soul anchors to track the dark magic," Hermione mused.

Just at that moment, the last thing any of them expected shuffled into the room. "Nasty master and half-bloods and mudblood are talking about dark magic and soul anchors?" Kreacher asked as he moved to the table.

"We were, yes. What is it to you, Kreacher?" Sirius said with just a touch of belligerence.

The elf looked down. "Master Regulus gave a locket to Kreacher before he died. Said it was very important to the Dark One. He ordered Kreacher to destroy the locket, but Kreacher is a bad elf who could not obey Master's last order."

"Locket…could we see it, Kreacher?" Hermione asked, getting down on a knee in front of the ancient elf.

He looked at her with suspicion, but relented. Kreacher slowly moved out of the room, leaving an apprehensive silence behind him. Before anyone could think of anything to say, he returned with an ornate silver locket. "This is the locket Master Regulus gave to Kreacher before he died. Never has Kreacher felt such evil. Kreacher tried over and over, but could not destroy it."

"That feels an awful lot like the diary," Harry noted, "I can almost smell the evil rolling off of it."

"So, what? We just take this thing into Gringotts and ask if they can find any more?" Mary asked, "I feel dirty just looking at it."

Sirius chuckled. "If we took this thing into Gringotts without asking permission first, we'd be headless before we could even ask them about it. They wouldn't take kindly to us bringing something this dark into their bank."

"We have to go in and say we found something evil that we can't destroy, asking them for help?" clarified Susan.

"Basically, yeah. You have a great relationship with the Potter Account Manager – Grinlast, right? We ask for a meeting with him, then explain what we need, and like you said, that if we bring one in, there may be a way for them to find another in a Death Eater vault. They may be more helpful than you know."

"I guess we go to Gringotts," Harry shrugged.

"Oh! And when you go, you can take this with you so that the goblins can register it," Amelia said, taking a sheet of parchment out of her pocket that Mike and Mary immediately recognized.

"You kept it?" Mary asked, reaching over for the document.

"Of course! I was going to register it myself today, but since you are all going to the bank and I have to deal with the mess at the Ministry, it would just be easier for you to drop it off," Amelia shrugged, "A part of me worried we'd need it a lot sooner than planned with the attack yesterday."

Hermione looked curious. "Mum? What's that?"

"Your mother and I decided, after talking things over with Amelia and how difficult it could have been to wrest custody of Harry away from his relatives and Dumbledore, to draw up our will naming Sirius as your guardian if anything happened to us," Mike explained.

"That's what she wanted to drop off at Gringotts. It almost became necessary yesterday," Mary whispered, drawn back into the memory until her husband put his arm around her shoulder.

"But – but…" their daughter spluttered.

"Hermione," Sirius interrupted her, "It's a sensible precaution. In a worst-case scenario, how easy would it be for corrupt elements within the Ministry and Wizengamot to get custody of you awarded to someone like the Malfoys?"

The brunette shuddered. "Okay, that's a good call. I just don't like thinking about it."

"None of us do, 'Mione, but they're right, it's a good precaution to have in place. I should probably put a will in there myself when we're there," Harry agreed, "Now that His Noseless is back and everything."

"Okay, you lot. Enough of this maudlin talk. How about we dig into this wonderful breakfast and enjoy the morning?" Amelia interrupted.

The rest were only too happy to put off the depressing talk to enjoy one of Dobby's breakfasts.

When the meal was over, Amelia took Harry aside. "Before we head off anywhere, I want to have a talk with you."

Suddenly nervous, Harry looked at her, but only saw a wry smirk. "O….kay?"

"Don't worry, Harry. Just follow me to the study," she said.

When they made the quiet room, she closed the door and gestured for him to sit next to her on a sofa facing the fireplace. "Now, as I mentioned before our vacation, I know you're aware of the mechanics of human reproduction," she powered ahead as his face turned bright red, "so what I wanted to talk with you about is the emotional side of sexual intercourse. It's far more than just inserting Tab A into Slot B, and then other things that go along with physical intimacy.

"I know this is a little odd, given that you're involved with Susan and that Sirius is your godfather, but I'm trying to tell myself that I'm not giving you a 'how-to' manual for her, just general advice for how to handle yourself in a generic sexual situation," Amelia explained off his incredulous look, "And I'm your guardian in both the magical and muggle worlds, so the responsibility is mine in the end."

"Okay," Harry murmured, hunched over and looking at his shoes, "Let's get it over with."

Forty-five minutes later, Harry emerged from the study with a face that wouldn't look out of place as a traffic light. Amelia followed on behind him, trying to smother a smile. It hadn't been the most comfortable conversation, but she felt better knowing he was better prepared for his life ahead of him.

"I'd like to apologize for the awkwardness, Harry," she said, putting an arm around his shoulders, "But I feel better knowing that you're more prepared for the future and not just going in blind."

"Yeah, thanks, I guess," he shrugged, unsure of anything else to say.

She chuckled. "Okay, I need to head into the Ministry. Why don't you find Sirius and the others so you can get ready to head into Gringotts?"

After taking the Floo to The Leaky Cauldron, Sirius led Mike and Mary, Harry, Hermione, and Susan to Gringotts, trying to ignore the staring and pointing.

The teller that eventually saw them led them into the inner part of the bank to Grinlast's office.

"Ah, Mister Potter, Mister Black! What can I do for you this fine morning?"

"A few things, Grinlast, if you have the time."

"For you, Mister Potter, I have the time."

"Excellent. I would like to register this will for Miss Granger's parents."

"Since Miss Granger now has her own vault, I can do that. Would you like me to take over as your account manager?"

"Absolutely. I don't know any other goblins in person, and you've been wonderful for Harry. If you'd like, I can write up a recommendation for you to handle the vaults of the others who received funds from the basilisk payout," Hermione smiled.

"That is most kind of you, Miss Granger. Is there anything else I can do for you today?" Grinlast asked with a toothy smile.

"Well, now that you mention it, we do sort of have a big question to ask you," Sirius started.

Harry took a deep breath. "We have been made aware of how Tom Riddle, He-Who-Must-Not-Need-Sunscreen," he ignored the chuckles from around the room, "cheated death. He created horcruxes. It has been established that the diary controlling the girl who set the basilisk on the school two years ago was one, so that is one destroyed. He made others."

During his explanation, the goblin's eyes got progressively wider. When Harry finished, he launched into a screed of what sounded like invective in the goblin language that left the humans feeling glad they weren't able to understand it. "My apologies. Ragnok, the High King of the goblins, would have my tongue cut out for speaking such words in front of our guests, and he would be right to do so. What can Gringotts do to help cleanse the world of such foul magics?"

"I'm glad you asked," Harry grinned, "Because Riddle entrusted one of those foul creations to his lieutenant Lucius Malfoy, we think there's a chance he might have given one more to another of his Inner Circle, and since this is widely regarded as one of the safest places in Britain…"

"You think one of those abominations is within Gringotts right now?" Grinlast raged.

"That was our thought, yes," Sirius contributed.

"Would Gringotts be able to conduct a scan of vaults belonging to known Death Eaters for the darkest of magic?"

"We could do that, but it would require a sample of the same thing to match with. Many of our customers have stored dark artifacts over the centuries, items that are not illegal per se, but with so many of them detecting one might prove impossible. We have a modification of the wizarding Point-Me charm that can detect identical magical signatures on objects."

Susan and Hermione shared a sly grin. "Well, we just might be in luck!"

"You have one of these…these things?" Grinlast asked them, suspicious.

Sirius held up his hands. "We stumbled across one by accident in my family's ancestral home. I didn't think bringing it into the bank without prior permission would be good for our long-term health," he smiled at the goblin.

Harry interjected before Grinlast could move the conversation in a new direction. "Do the goblins have a procedure for transferring the soul fragments without destroying the containers?"

"We do indeed," the goblin said, turning his attention to him. "We perform a certain ritual and move the shard to an animal, which we then slaughter. Usually a pig, which serves as the main course in a feast," he chuckled through the squeamish shudders in the humans across from him.

"What if the container was a living host?"

Grinlast looked at him with narrowed eyes. "Am I to understand that you suspect one of these foul creations to be in a living host?"

The teens shared a look before Susan took the lead. "We have reason to believe that he has, or plans to, try to make a living horcrux host. Is there a way to transfer the soul shard without damaging the host?"

"I do not know if we have a method for that. I would have to consult the archives of my nation," Grinlast admitted, "I can get back to you once I have an answer from the archives."

"That would be wonderful, Grinlast. Thank you very much," Hermione smiled at the goblin. "We can bring our object in tomorrow morning, then?"

"That would be acceptable, Miss Granger."

Amelia, finding a momentary break in the stack of paperwork that accumulated while she was gone, went over to her private Floo. She tossed in some powder and called for the Transfiguration Office at Hogwarts.

Connection established, she poked her head in. "Minerva? Minerva are you there?"

The deputy made her way over to the fireplace. "Oh, it's so good to see you alive and well, Amelia! We feared the worst in the wake of the attack on your home."

"It was a rude return, let me tell you," Amelia gave a rueful chuckle. "I actually need to ask you for something, and I doubt you're going to like it."

"Of course! After the way you took in Harry Potter when he needed you most, I'd be glad to help!"

"Well, don't say that just yet," Amelia warned, "Here's what I need…"

Leaving the bank, the group ran into the last person any of them wanted to see.

"Ah, Harry my boy. It's so good to see you alive and well," Dumbledore said, keeping his voice calm and soothing, "It's time to end this childish rebellion of yours and listen to your magical guardian. I've only ever wanted what was best for you. You need to return to Privet Drive and your relatives' loving care."

Gobsmacked, the six individuals stared at the old man. Unable to believe his audacity, Harry started laughing. Snickers turned into full-belly laughs, and eventually he had to sit down on the steps of the bank, clutching his sides. "You really think you're some kind of god, don't you?"

"I'm sorry?" the old man replied.

"I am listening to my guardian, Albus, and she's taking very good care of me. I won't be going back to Privet Drive ever again, unless it's to bulldoze the building to the ground."

The old man frowned at him, unused to the way a mere child was speaking to the Leader of the Light.

Sirius, watching Dumbledore's hand twitch toward his wand, moved to place himself in between the old man and the rest of the group, wand at the ready. "I wouldn't reach for that wand, Dumbledore. No one harms my family and gets away with it, and these people here are my family. You've done a lot of harm, and somehow escaped a just punishment for your actions."

Sensing his advantage slipping away, Dumbledore looked at Susan and the Grangers. "Miss Bones, I offer you my deepest sympathies on the loss of your home. If only I had known in advance of what was going to happen, I might have been able to avert disaster. You're close to Harry; can't you make him see reason and accept my protection once more?"

The redhead looked at the old man like he was losing his mind. "I visited Harry in the hospital after those so-called loving relatives showed him how much they cared for him. You can bet your last galleon on the fact that Harry will never again set foot in any dwelling owned by those animals! Don't forget, they're in muggle jail and can't exactly take care of anyone right now," she growled.

Looking at the Grangers, he played his last trump card – the respect and reverence he believed Hermione still held for him. "I was saddened to learn of the attack on your persons yesterday," Dumbledore started, "We live in dangerous times, and all I want to do is protect you all from such troubles. Harry's relatives can be released from that silly prison with no more than a few confundus charms and some unlocking spells."

"You're forgetting a key fact here, Dumbledore," Mike Granger said, dangerously close to causing the old goat physical harm for all the troubles suffered by those under his care, "That 'silly prison' will have records of all the inmates they have. Guards do regular counts of their prisoners. If a few go missing, there will be a nationwide manhunt. You might be able to remove memories of a few, but you can't work your magic on the entire United Kingdom."

Harry took charge once more. "This discussion is concluded, Albus. As the Headmaster of the school in which I am currently enrolled, you have no authority over my activities and movements over the summer holidays. Nor are you my magical guardian anymore," he hurried to continue when he saw the old man's mouth opening to protest, "so I will spend my time with my real family."

Dumbledore pursed his lips. They were beginning to draw a crowd, and though he was quick on the cast, Sirius was still watching him like a hawk. Casting spells on the Boy-Who-Lived and two more of his students, plus the muggles present, would be very bad for his role at the moment. "Very well, Harry. We shall speak some other time when you are more willing to listen to reason and experience and this foolish teenage petulance is at an end."

He disapparated from the spot with a flourish.

"What a crazy old man!" Mary breathed, releasing the tension she'd held for the entire encounter. "Can't anything be done about him? He seems really dangerous."

"It would be like trying to lock up Winston Churchill in a loony bin, Mum," Hermione explained, leading the way back to the Floo at the Leaky Cauldron, "Too many people still think he can do no wrong."

"Didn't you say your friend Luna's dad runs a newspaper?" Mike asked, walking past the stores and trying to ignore the stares, "What if they were to publish a series of articles decrying the old goat and laying out all his misdeeds?"

Hermione turned shining eyes on her father. "Dad! That's brilliant! We need to get back as fast as we can and start writing them!"

Draco found himself in the family's heirloom room, staring at one of their most precious possessions. Inside thick, warded glass was a short sword that had been passed down from Malfoy to Malfoy for centuries. A Roman gladius sword, it was of the style that conquered Europe in the time of the Caesars. Malfoy family legend said that one of his earliest ancestors brought the sword with him from France, where a Roman centurion lost it in a battle with the Gauls.

Once in Britain, the earlier druids had enchanted the sword after that Malfoy had done them a favor, promising that the magic on the blade would keep it sharp through the ages, and it even had some defensive properties allowing it to reflect spells. It was a magnificent sword. Small and light, easy to maneuver and use in close combat, and sharp enough that with its enchantments it should slice through even the thickest, most magic-resistant hide. The edge gleamed in the darkened light of the room, supported by two pedestals with its scabbard hanging below.

"I think it's just about time this sword tasted the blood of a Malfoy foe once more," he said to himself, remembering the Dark Lord's instructions and the approval in his own father's eyes. With a shudder, he deactivated the wards and reaching for the weapon.

Susan disappeared as soon as they got back to Gimmauld place, pleading the need to unpack from the vacation and get settled. Harry and Hermione shared a look, but shrugged it off.

Sirius called for Kreacher to get the locket into a magically-protected box to take the goblins the next day. When the old elf heard that the goblins had a procedure to destroy the evil, he actually danced a jig on his way to fulfill the request.

Harry and Hermione moved to the living area of the townhouse, getting out some parchment and quills for the draft of the first of a series of articles intending to lay bare both the sins of Dumbledore and start attacking Voldemort's power base. So engrossed in their efforts were they that they failed to notice Kreacher summoning Mike, Mary, and Sirius to another room in the townhouse. They even missed Amelia's entry from the Floo after her work day ended.

Hours later, they sat back, exhausted, but satisfied with their efforts. "If Luna's dad will publish these, we can make huge strides into wrecking some reputations," Hermione grinned as she looked around, "It's a lot darker in here than it was earlier; how long have we been writing?"

"About time you two took a break," came a voice from behind them. When Harry and Hermione spun around, they saw Susan, but she looked much different than she had on their trip to the bank. Gone were the casual trousers and shirt she wore; now the redhead had her hair curled, hanging down on one side of her face. She wore a beautiful royal blue dress with a daring neckline that retained her modesty, yet showed off her impressive bust. The dress ended in an uneven hem that ran from her left knee to her right ankle.

The sophisticated look went for naught as the redhead burst into giggles at the utterly stunned look on Harry and Hermione's faces. "Good to see I can still surprise you," she grinned, "Come on, Dobby and Floppy helped me set up a private dinner for the three of us.

Still surprised at the efforts, Harry and Hermione followed her without a word into a small room near the main dining room, only to find that the surprises weren't finished yet. A small round table held elaborate place settings for three, with a silver candleholder in the middle. Everlasting candles spread their light around the room, making it private and romantic. "You were working so hard that you didn't even notice all the arrangements," Susan smiled as she took their hands and led them to their seats.

Harry snapped out of his surprise enough to hold Hermione's chair for her before moving to do the same for Susan. "So gallant you are," she thanked him with a warm smile and a kiss to the cheek.

"Susan!" Hermione exclaimed, "What all did you do?"

"Well, the last couple of days since we got back were so awful, and then with the confrontation today, I thought I would make the first effort for a date for the three of us," the Hufflepuff explained, "So I worked with the elves to get the room arranged and a meal taken care of. We're going to have a light vegetable salad, followed by some Italian wedding soup, and then a main course of braised pork chops, roasted potatoes, and steamed green beans, peas, carrots, and squash. Dessert, I have to admit, is due to my own weakness, a chocolate chip cookie sundae," she smiled.

"That sounds amazing," Harry returned the smile, chuckling along with the girls as his stomach rumbled in the room, "And much-needed, even if we are drastically under-dressed."

"Don't worry about that," Susan dismissed, "Your company is all I need tonight. Next time you can dress up, okay?"

The other two smiled, knowing no further words were necessary as the salad appeared in front of them.

The date was perfect. Dobby and Floppy worked their usual wonders on the food, to much approval from all three. Conversation was kept light on purpose, as they worked to get to know each other outside the life-and-death situations that dogged their footsteps. Harry was having so much fun he didn't even notice when each girl took one of his hands, stroking their thumbs over the backs of his fingers.

More than once Susan found herself blushing as two pairs of eyes across the table from her snapped up to hers from her neckline. From anyone else it would have offended her, but from Harry and Hermione it sent a naughty thrill through her, settling low and warm in her belly with its promise of pleasures to come. She was guilty of such herself, taking in the rugged masculinity that Harry was growing into with his workouts and adequate diet finally making up for his childhood, and Hermione's petite femininity. She was truly lucky to find such attractive people to share her love with.

Hermione was glad of a romantic evening to take her mind off the stress of the past couple of days. She'd had feelings that had grown ever-stronger for Harry from the moment he'd jumped onto the troll, solidifying when she thought he'd been dead. Now that he was alive and healthy, she wasn't willing to miss another moment with him. Susan was a delight, and gorgeous to boot. Hermione made up her mind to stop analyzing why they were with a bushy-haired bookworm and just enjoy their obvious affections.

Harry was still coming to terms with not one but two wonderful witches finding something in him worthy enough to love, and beyond that, enjoying each other just as much. Growing up without love, he wasn't sure exactly what the feeling was, but the more time he spent with the voluptuous redhead and his petite best friend, he was beginning to realize that he was head over heels in it for both of them.

The sound of a clock tolling ten in the evening from another part of the house broke them all out of their romance-induced haze. "I guess it's time to go to bed," he said with more than a little regret in his voice, "And I don't think we'll be allowed to share a bed again tonight, so would you lovely ladies do me the honor of letting me walk you to your rooms?"

Susan giggled, "I don't see how we could turn down such chivalry. Do you, Hermione?"

The brunette smiled warmly at her loves, "I don't either. Lead on, good sir knight," she grinned at Harry.

With a grin of his own, Harry got to his feet and moved around the table. Offering an arm to each of the girls, he again felt their now-familiar warmth encompass him as the teens moved out of the makeshift dining room. "Dobby and Floppy!" he called.

When the elves popped in, they looked to Susan first. "Did we do good, Missy Susan?" Floppy asked.

"It was perfection, Floppy. I can't tell you how happy we all are with the evening," she returned.

The little beings danced with joy at her words. "Thank you," Harry said, "You were amazing."

Hermione passed on her own thanks as they left the room, the elves busy cleaning up the debris. "I still feel a bit bad that they're doing all the work," she fretted.

"Didn't you see how happy they were? They're happiest with things to do," Susan said from Harry's other side, "Just let it be, please."

Unwilling to get into a heavy discussion after such a perfect evening, Hermione nodded as they moved up the stairs.

Reaching her room first, she backed against the door. "Thank you for such an amazing evening, Susan," she said with a smile, reaching over to pull the taller girl into a warm embrace and pressing a chaste, but loving kiss to her lips.

They broke apart a few moments later, eyes glazed over and breathless. "I don't think I will ever get tired of seeing that," Harry grinned, leaning over to give Hermione his own kiss. "Get some rest, 'Mione. We'll see you in the morning."

"Goodnight then, you two. Hope you sleep well," Hermione opened the door without taking her eyes off the other two, backing into her room and closing the door with a sigh. Harry took Susan's hand in his own, interlacing their fingers as they moved down to her door.

"My turn to say thank you for such an amazing evening, Susan," he smiled, pulling the girl into a hug an pressing his lips to hers, "That was a wonderful date you came up with on the fly."

Her eyes glazed over from the kisses, the redhead returned his smile. "I'm glad it was such a hit. Looking forward to your efforts now, Harry."

He took their linked hands and brought hers to his mouth, kissing the back of it. Harry wasn't exactly sure why he thought it was a good idea, it just felt like the right decision in the moment. "I'll have to bring my 'A' game then. Good night, Miss Bones," he said.

The redhead repeated Hermione's actions, opening her door and going in as she looked over her shoulder at Harry. "Goodnight, Mister Potter," she answered.

Harry stumbled across the hall and into his room, heart racing and giddy with happiness that two such amazing witches somehow found him worthy of their affections.

He fell asleep with a smile on his face, suffering no nightmares that evening.

Later that evening, Dumbledore passed Minerva on her way down from the owlery. The Scot had the glistening cheeks that indicated she'd been crying. "A bit late for sending post, Minerva. Is everything all right?" He asked, keeping his voice soft and kindly.

She gave him a wry look. "Oh, everything is wonderful except for this venerable," she almost spat, "institution losing quite a few of its best students."

"Indeed? Who is leaving? Do I need to visit their families and attempt to dissuade them from this course of action?"

This time Minerva outright laughed at him. "I doubt you'll have any success, Headmaster. The forms I just sent off were transfer forms and final transcripts for Ginny Weasley, Luna Lovegood, Hannah Abbott, Neville Longbottom, Susan Bones, Hermione Granger, and Harry Potter to move their schooling to Beauxbatons."

Dumbledore's shouted protest had the rest of the owls above them hooting and flapping their wings in protest.


Chapter Text

August 1, 1995

Rita Skeeter felt like Christmas and her birthday came early, and on the same day. "Are you sure of your information, Headmaster Dumbledore?" she asked, staring across the desk of the Headmaster's ornate, luxurious office.

"Positive, Miss Skeeter. Deputy Headmistress McGonagall told me so herself."

"But why would he do something like this?"

Dumbledore gave an eloquent shrug. "I'm afraid the reasoning escapes me as well. All that is known is that he was out of the country for two weeks in the company of his new guardian," he tried not to spit the word too much; losing guardianship of the Boy-Who-Lived still stung, "and upon his return made this extremely unfortunate decision. I can't help but think that if his guardianship hadn't been usurped, I would have been able to continue to ensure he got the best education in the entire world."

"It must be more than a coincidence that he disappeared for two weeks as soon as he had another guardian, taking along his best friends, and then immediately upon his return he decides to transfer schools and drag them all along," Rita mused, going over the information Dumbledore told her, "I wonder if there was any coercion used to make them go along with him."

The old man sat back, forcing down a smirk at her eagerness. Rita Skeeter may have had a fearsome reputation for uncovering scandal, but he'd been playing the game for decades before she'd even been born. "The time frame lines up with the attacks, as well. Poor Amos and Augusta were murdered while they were out of the country, and the Weasleys had to take shelter here in the castle while they set up alternate housing. They're actually living in the Gryffindor tower."

"I can't imagine what Potter must be thinking to disappear like this," Rita agreed, quill scribbling madly away.

"Especially when he has such a large role to play in these trouble times, too," Dumbledore mused sadly, stroking his beard.

"Eh? What was that?" the reporter asked, perking up.

"Well, I would appreciate if none of this comes back to me as the source, but if you'd like something extra juicy for your article…"

August 2, 1995

At breakfast, Mike and Mary shared a sly look at the grins the teens were sporting. Amelia had to stifle a snort when Sirius caught the sight as well and winked at her.

"Something you lot want to share with the old fogies?" the Marauder grinned.

Blushing, Harry was the first one to break. "Susan saw how stressed we were after the attack, so she took it upon herself to set up our first real date. It was amazing," he finished as Hedwig glided in with the morning's Daily Prophet. Harry, eyes lit up at seeing his owl for the first time in two weeks, took the paper from the bird, asking how she had fared while they were gone. A few scolding hoots and a gentle nip at his ear let him know she was displeased with his efforts. Three rashers of bacon and a promise to never leave her behind again had the owl giving him an affectionate head-butt.

Chuckling at his antics with his familiar, Hermione took up the tale. "She set up a perfect menu in a small, private room here with candles, delicious food, and even wore the most gorgeous gown I've ever seen. It was even better than the one she wore to her own birthday on the island."

"Birthday…birthday," Sirius said, something about the word clicking in his mind, "Oh damn it!" he whispered to himself, trying to hide his reaction from Harry's perusal of the Prophet.

"Sirius Black!" Amelia shouted, "What possessed you to swear like that in front of those kids?"

The wizard had his head in his hands, muttering to himself. Seeing Harry engaged in the front-page article, he turned to the witch. "Later," he whispered.

She caught his look and had to stifle a groan as understanding dawned.

Hermione, watching their actions and thinking over the words, came to the same conclusion. Without the cursing, she started banging her head on the table.

"Hermione!" Susan shouted, reaching over and catching the girl's forehead with her hand before she could hit the table again, "Stop! What are you doing?"

The brunette looked at her girlfriend. "I just figured out the same thing that Sirius and Amelia did. We need to talk," she whispered, not wanting to draw Harry's attention.

A muffled exclamation from Harry drew all their attention.

Instead of answering their queries, he tossed the paper on the table.

The Boy-Who-Fled?

Magical Britain's most confounding celebrity, Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, was not even in Britain during the recent wave of violence that swept across the country. That's right, dear readers, the most dubiously famous person in Britain fled the country just before a wave of violence resulted in the death of his friend's grandmother and guardian, Augusta Longbottom, and Amos Diggory, the father of Cedric, famously killed during the Tri-Wizard Tournament, along with the homes of his new guardian Amelia Bones and his best friends the Weasleys, who are now living at Hogwarts over the summer until they can line up a new home.

Questions were asked at the time – and never answered – when Mister Potter disappeared with Cedric and then reappeared quite a bit later on with his dead body. No priori incantatem was ever conducted on Potter's wand, so we only have his word for what happened to poor Cedric, and more than one person claimed his story was dubious.

With this fresh wave of violence connected to those he knows and calls friends and family, more questions need to be asked – and answered this time! – about just what it is Mister Potter has been doing with his time.

And then now comes word that he's transferring his education out of Hogwarts and Britain as a whole. I have been reliably informed that transfer forms and transcripts for Harry Potter and a number of his friends have been sent from Hogwarts to allow them to move their schooling to Beauxbatons in France.

Now, my loyal readers, you might be asking yourselves why such matters are important; it just so happens that there is a true, active prophecy regarding the Boy-Who-Lived currently in the Hall of Prophecies in the Department of Mysteries. Naturally I couldn't access it, much less hear it, as it does not concern me, but it still means that Harry Potter has a destiny to play for Magical Britain, and is choosing to flee to France.

I know I have some questions that I want answered. I would call upon the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to bring the boy in for questioning about this latest wave of violence as well as Cedric Diggory's murder, but since his guardian is the head of that Department, we all know how unlikely that actually is.

By the time he got done reading Skeeter's latest assassination piece, Harry's magic was so agitated that a small wind had started circling around the room. Susan, not knowing how else to calm him down, grabbed him by the shoulders and crushed her lips to his, keeping the contact until she could feel him relaxing. When her eyes opened again, she could see Hermione's approving nod and smile in her peripheral vision.

Turning her attention back to the paper, Hermione growled low in her throat. "I can't believe that bitch is suggesting that you had anything to do with Cedric's death, let alone the recent attacks! This doesn't violate the letter of the agreement we made with her, but it comes awfully close to violating the spirit. She doesn't actually lie in any part of the article, just strings together a few sensationalist comments and questions to lead the reader to conclusions she doesn't actually come out and say."

"Think it's time to call in the exterminators, Hermione?" Harry asked her, a predatory smile on his face.

"Next time I'm just going to squish her," the brunette grinned.

"Sorry? What are you two talking about?" Amelia asked, herself perturbed at the way the article was phrased. "How did she even find out some of these things?"

Hermione gave an evil laugh. "We found out her secret during the Tri-Wizard Tournament. She's an unregistered animagus. Her form is a water beetle. She transforms herself before significant events, hitches a ride on someone's robes or hair, and overhears what they say."

"That's…well, I want to say that's brilliant, but it's also criminal," the DMLE head said, "Why didn't you tell the aurors?"

"I didn't think anyone would listen," Hermione said, gesturing with her head over at Sirius "We haven't exactly had the greatest experience with Ministry officials believing us."

Amelia winced. "I understand. Still, we can get her arrested now, though."

"Can we? Read that last line again. She was already alleging that the DMLE wouldn't bring Harry in for questioning because of your ties to him. If you go after her, it's the same kind of nepotism, just in reverse."

The older woman harrumphed, knowing the truth when she heard it. "What can we do, then?"

Sirius thought for a minute. "Nothing. What can we do, really? If we respond, we look weak. If we get her arrested for being an illegal animagus, we play into her story. The only thing we can really do is ignore it."

"Where do you think she got her information?" Mike asked, looking over the article again.

Susan snorted. "The only place it could have come from is Dumbledore. The lines about the Weasleys living at Hogwarts and the bit about the transfer paperwork most likely came from him. I can't see Minerva keeping information like that away from us when we had Ginny with us coming back from the island."

"The only person who knows about our request for the transfer papers was McGonagall, though," Amelia argued.

"Yeah, but can't you just see her rubbing the old goat's nose in what she'd just sent off if he stumbled across her?"

A round of chuckles broke the tension around the table. "Yeah, I think that would make sense, especially after she learned how he'd been manipulating her," Hermione agreed.

"So, for now we do nothing?" asked Sirius, confirming his earlier point.

"For now. We continue as we were," Amelia nodded, "Getting the horcrux out of Harry is paramount. Sirius, why don't you take Harry and Mike to your library and start picking out books that may have some information? Tonks should be back later on and then we can sit down and make some concrete plans."

Catching her meaning, Sirius nodded and gestured for the other two males to follow him. They were just about out of the room when Amelia called out to Harry again. "Oh, Harry? I wanted to tell you something – it got lost in the shuffle of everything else, but you don't have to worry about that underage magic notice. Kingsley Shacklebolt took care of it. Dolores Umbridge put pressure on the Underage Magic office to send that after she'd arranged for the dementors to be in place around Hermione's house."

"That pink toad-bitch tried to kill my parents?" Hermione exclaimed; eyes huge.

Amelia shrugged. "It seems that way. She was the one who ordered the dementors to be there and threatened Hopkirk with firing if she didn't send you the notice. Shacklebolt arrested her."

"So, we're going to be called as witnesses to her trial?" Harry wondered.

"You, at least, and probably Hermione. The Wizengamot would never call muggles as witnesses, sorry Mike and Mary," explained Sirius, remembering procedure from his auror days.

"The evidence is pretty iron-clad, anyway," Amelia smiled, "The only way she'd be getting out of it is with some major corruption."

Harry looked dubious, but nodded and resumed his exit from the room.

When they were alone, Amelia groaned again. "Okay, how did we miss it?"

"Miss what?" Susan asked, confused.

"I don't know," Hermione admitted, "The only excuse I have is that traveling, the attacks and what happened to your house distracted us."

"What are you all talking about?" Mary interjected, leaning forward.

The brunette looked at her mother. "Harry's birthday was the thirty-first of July. Three days ago."

"Bloody hell," cursed Mary, "Why didn't he say anything?"

"Mother!" Hermione hissed, "Language!"

The other women around the table chuckled at the outraged girl correcting her own mother.

"I think it's because of his self-esteem issues," Amelia said, "He probably didn't think it was that big of a deal with everything else going on."

"Makes sense," Susan nodded sadly, "I just wish I'd known about it beforehand. What should we do to make it up to him?"

As one, Mary, Amelia, and Susan looked at Hermione.

"Okay, here's what I think…"

Meanwhile, in the study where the men fled, Harry headed straight for the Floo. Tossing some powder in, he called for the Rookery and stuck his head in when the flames turned green. "Luna! Ginny!" he shouted.

When the blonde came into view, she looked surprised. "Harry? What's going on?"

"I figured you hadn't seen that paper, and in any case, your father probably doesn't get The Daily Prophet. There was an…article…that appeared and said that Ginny's family is staying at Hogwarts while they look for a new home. I wanted to make sure she knew."

"Oh, that's brilliant Harry! Thank you so much! I'll be sure to tell Ginny when she wakes up," Luna said with a huge smile.

"She's still asleep?"

The blonde's smile dropped a bit. "Last night was a rough night for her. Tom was stronger than he should have been after the attack on her home."

Understanding dawned. "That makes sense. Poor Ginny. Make sure she looks at St. Mungo's for a specialist healer, okay?"

"I'll take good care of her, Harry," Luna promised, "I am rather fond of her, after all."

Harry chuckled. "I know you are, Luna. You're good for her."

Even through the fire he could see the ear-to-ear smile Luna wore at his compliment. "Thanks again for letting us know about her family. I'll tell her as soon as she wakes up. Have a wonderful day," she said, closing the Floo connection.

"That's a really nice thing you did just then, Harry," Mike said from his chair.

"The Weasleys were the first family to take me in and show me actual love and care. I'll do whatever I can to help them, even with some of the difficulties I've had with some of them over the last few months," he paused, taking a breath before saying something he hadn't even told the girls yet, "I'm planning on setting aside some funds at Gringotts when we go there later on to rebuild their home for them. They shared their home with me when they didn't have to; now it's my turn to do the same for them."

Those words saw Sirius get up out of his chair and embrace his godson. "I can't imagine how proud your mother and father must be of you, Harry. Merlin knows I'm so proud I could burst. That's the action of a truly good man."

"Thanks, Sirius. There's something else I wanted to talk to you two about this morning, if that's okay," Harry said, looking at the two men who were becoming role models for him.

"What's that, Harry?" Mike leaned forward, curious.

"Well, you remember how Amelia said she wanted to adopt me?"

Sirius smiled, guessing where Harry was going. "Sure, it was kind of hard to forget."

"I think I want to sign the papers to make that happen, and then file for emancipation as soon as the adoption goes through. That way I'll be responsible for my own actions and future, but I'll still be her adopted son."

The silence stretched on for a few moments, almost becoming uncomfortable until Harry looked at the two older men. "Well? I'm kinda freaking out here, guys."

Perhaps understandably, Mike was the first to speak. He hadn't grown up with Harry's birth parents, after all. "I think that makes a lot of sense, Harry. It would be a good way to say thanks to Amelia for her work taking care of you. She seems to really want to adopt you, after all."

Sirius finally found his voice again. "I couldn't have said it better myself, pup. Amelia's done so much for you, and I can't imagine your parents finding a better person to call you her son."

"Thanks," Harry said, smiling.

"Thank you again for allowing us to stay at Hogwarts over the summer, Professor Dumbledore."

Gratitude from Percy Weasley was very welcome, especially in the absence of the rest of the clan. Despite providing them with accommodations and the perfunctory thanks that they had all expressed upon their arrival, he hadn't spent any time with any of the Weasleys other than Percival. The remaining members of the family had avoided him almost assiduously. He was reduced to holding this conversation in his office to make any progress. Ministers and dignitaries had been reduced to awestruck teenagers at the majesty of the Hogwarts Headmaster's office.

With a nod, Dumbledore looked at the boy who was the most un-Weasley-like of anyone in the entire family. "You're most welcome, Mister Weasley. I just wish I could have provided the same level of help to Mister Potter, but he seems quite recalcitrant to accepting my assistance."

"That's such a shame, Professor. You've done so much for him already. Would it help if I sent him an owl, trying to convince him to at least come to a meeting here?"

"Oh, I couldn't ask you to do that, Percival. It would be too much trouble for something that I'm sure he'd refuse anyway," Dumbledore demurred, trying to hide his delight at the offer.

"It's no trouble at all!" Percy protested, "I'd be happy to."

Dumbledore allowed a smile to cross his face. "Since you insist, why not use one of these sheets of parchment?"

The old man watched Percy take a sheet of parchment and start scrawling the letter, oblivious to the compulsion and tracking charms littering the page.

Harry, Hermione, and Susan walked up to the front steps of Gringotts in front of Tonks, Sirius, Mike, and Mary. There wasn't any real reason for the Grangers to be there, but neither of them wanted to remain behind in Grimmauld Place alone with Kreacher.

He couldn't exactly blame them.

Tonks had returned just before they left for the bank after giving her parents the credit cards Harry had set up for them. They were a little skeptical, especially with the amount of money involved, but when Dora explained that Harry just wanted to look after relatives of a friend of his that might be in danger with a resurgent Riddle, they accepted them in the spirit offered.

The girls were walking close to him, providing emotional support since he had the locket in a satchel over his left shoulder. None of them liked being around the thing, but it was a necessary evil at the moment.

The moment they walked through the door, they were greeted by a phalanx of armed guards poking sharp axes and swords at them amid a cacophony of shouts. One, who appeared to be the leader of the guard, pushed to the fore. "How dare you bring such evil into Gringotts? You will be dragon shit before the sun sets!"

Harry raised his hands, palms empty and out to show he meant no threat. "Grinlast himself told us to bring this item. We have an appointment with him to deal with this."

The large goblin grunted. "A fine fool you must think me, then. Our laws are clear and precise. Take them to the detention area," he ordered.

Following the security guards, Harry pretended not to hear the cacophony of whispers and gasps of the wizards and witches in the lobby, staring as they were led off at sword point.

Two of those in the lobby watched with heightened interest. Draco Malfoy moved his gaze from the doorway where Harry and the others were taken and caught the eye of another blonde visiting the bank with her parents. Daphne Greengrass raised a questioning eyebrow at her fellow Slytherin.

Draco shrugged, as if to indicate he had no clue what happened either. Thinking it over, he looked at his father, who was busy demanding a meeting with the Malfoy account manager, and then back to Daphne. 'Later', he mouthed.

She nodded, and returned his silent word with, 'Ice cream?'

At his answering nod, she turned to her father and whispered a few words. The elder Greengrass looked at Draco with a searching gaze, but seeing no malice, nodded to his daughter with a smile.

Daphne led her father over to where Draco and Lucius were waiting. "Mister Malfoy," she began, speaking to the father, "I find myself in need of some cool refreshment this hot summer day. Would it be acceptable for your son to escort me to Fortescue's for some ice cream while you and my father conduct your business?"

Lucius, in the midst of arguing with a teller goblin for faster service, barely glanced at the girl before giving her a nod and a dismissive wave. Draco frowned, but sensing his release, offered his arm to Daphne. "You have my word that I will keep her safe," he promised the older man.

Roan Greengrass looked at the boy. He was the spitting image of his father in appearance, but in mannerisms he could see subtle differences. Lucius was never less than superior, informing all and sundry in word and deed that he was above them, and they should feel grateful that he deigned to notice them. Young Draco in that moment was different, promising to protect his daughter without having to be asked or told spoke to a different attitude than that of his father. This youth bore watching.

He nodded. "I have no doubts you will, Draco. You have my thanks. Enjoy your ice cream," he said, shaking the young man's hand and passing along a few galleons.

Watching them as they left the bank, he was treated to a sight few had ever seen: Draco giving an open, genuine laugh at something someone else had said.

Times were very much changing, it seemed.

They had only been waiting in a locked room for a few moments when Grinlast came barreling through into the detention area. "Mister…Potter!" he huffed, winded from the run, "I cannot…apologize…enough," he leaned over, bracing his hands on his legs and trying to catch his breath.

"What happened, Grinlast?"

Seeing the tightening around his eyes, Hermione took Harry's hand, knowing how upset he was to have been waylaid like they had been. Her touch calmed him down, but not all the way. He still radiated tension from his very core.

The goblin straightened up. "I got caught up in researching those transference rituals we were discussing. You remember the procedures to move a horcrux from a living host without destroying the original container?"

As Harry nodded, Susan shuddered a bit at hearing Harry described as a container, but forced it down. She looked at Grinlast again, noticing how distressed he was. His eyes were earnest, almost pleading, and he twisted his hands together. Sympathy for his mistake ran through her, but the beginnings of an idea popped into her mind. She began to chew it over as Grinlast spoke again.

"Well, I got so in-depth in the research that I forgot to notify the lobby guards that you would be bringing a dark artifact in here to study. You have my full apologies. This should never have happened. Please come with me to my office."

When they had all been seated, Grinlast looked over at him once more. "I cannot apologize enough, Mister Potter. It will never happen again. For my mistake, I will waive the fees of any transactions you conduct in the next month."

"Thank you, Grinlast. In any event, we have brought the item," Harry answered, gesturing to his backpack.

"I can feel the evil from here, Mister Potter. The horcrux?" he asked.

"It's in there," answered Hermione, speaking for the first time.

The goblin fell back against his chair, sighing heavily. "You have the thanks of Gringotts and all goblins everywhere for helping to rid the world of these abominations. Now for the test. If I could have you hold the bag above the desk for me?" Without another word, Grinlast held up a quill in his left hand and pointed at the bag Harry held up with his right. He then spun his finger in an intricate pattern. A bolt of light shot from the bag to the quill, but the sight of the light had them all gasping.

It was black.

Black isn't supposed to glow and shine like white light, but somehow this beam gave off a glow in the office that had them all cringing at the sheer wrongness of what they saw. The quill, after being touched by the beam, hovered in mid-air, spun around a few times, and then pointed down and a bit off to one side.

Grinlast burst into laughter. "It seems, Mister Potter, that you were correct in your supposition. There is indeed one of these creations in our bank. Whomever put a horcrux in their vault will pay heavily for the transgression," he declared, moving from amusement to angry growling by the end of his pronouncement.

Harry nodded, but before he could speak, Susan jumped in. "Grinlast, would it be possible to teach us that 'point-me' spell you just used?"

The goblin looked at her with a piercing gaze. "It's extremely uncommon for goblins to teach wizards some of our own magic," he said slowly, "But it's also extremely uncommon to need to hunt down multiple horcruxes. I think in the spirit of goblin-wizard cooperation, I can teach you one simple spell, especially in light of my failure earlier."

"After we find the other horcrux?" Hermione said, bringing them back on track.

Grinlast chuckled, "Indeed," he looked over at her parents, "Would the two of you care to remain here?"

"No, thank you, Grinlast," Mary said, "We've had far too many close calls to be comfortable away from the kids."

The goblin nodded and led the way, levitating the quill in front of them as they got into a cart and followed its point. Sirius looked fascinated, while Mike and Mary were gazing around in a kind of fearful awe at everything, when they weren't cringing at the wild turns the cart took as it pursued the fluttering feather.

Eventually they came down to some of the lowest levels in the bank and found one vault in particular indicated by the quill. Even the magicals in the group marveled at the dragon guarding the vaults at that level, cringing a bit when Grinlast quieted the beast by clanging together two metal instruments.

"You're hurting it!" Hermione exclaimed, watching the dragon whimper away.

"It is the only safe way to examine these vaults," Grinlast said, "Your friend Mister Potter there can tell you just how hard it is to deal with an untrained, wild dragon. Bringing them up from a hatchling with this kind of…restraint…trained into them is the only way we can safely use them as the vault guardians."

"Whose vault is this, Grinlast?" Sirius asked.

"Why, your cousin's," the goblin said with a predatory smirk, "The Lestrange vault."

"Bellatrix," the Marauder growled. "I think it's time to kick her from the family once and for all."

"You may do that, and even reclaim her dowry, but for the amount of curses and dark magic in that vault, you probably won't see much," Grinlast said.

Before anyone could say anything else, the goblin held up a hand for silence. He moved to the vault door and, using a complicated key to open the door. As one, the humans' jaws fell open at the sight of a room the size of the Grangers' house piled high with galleons, gold bars, jewels, and other valuables. "Bloody hell," Hermione breathed, "That's an awful lot of gold."

"You must remain here," Grinlast instructed, "as bringing you into the vault would violate our treaties. Plus, as I said, there are more cursed items in here than just the item we seek."

The group shivered, not wanting to deal with dark magic on that kind of a scale. They watched as the quill led Grinlast deep into the vault, eventually rising in the air and pointing directly at a cup. With a harsh wave, the goblin summoned the dual-handled cup down and into his hands. He hissed at the touch and immediately dropped it into a pouch hanging on his belt.

Without another word he emerged from the vault, closing the door with a sigh of relief. "That's done. It is indeed the…item," he finished, looking around in case there were any others nearby. "I suggest we head back to my office. There's something about this cup I want you to see."

A harrowing cart-ride later and they were back in his office, sitting in the same chairs they'd occupied before leaving. Mike and Mary looked a little worst for the wear until Grinlast handed them a couple anti-nausea potions. Downing them gratefully, they immediately looked better.

"Now, I told you there was something I wanted you to see about the cup," Grinlast said, "But first, I want to see the one you brought, if only to confirm a suspicion of mine. Can you take it out of your bag and put it on my desk?"

Confused, but trusting the goblin, Harry took the locket out, careful to use a handkerchief so the metal wouldn't come into contact with his skin. Once it was on the table, the magicals heard the dark, muted whisperings coming from the item.

"It is as I suspected," Grinlast said, falling back into his chair, "Do you see the emblem on the front? This is Salazar Slytherin's locket."

Silence reigned.

"Holy shite," Harry whispered.

Hermione looked angry. "As bad as the murders, tortures, and rapes were, he had to and desecrate a priceless founder's heirloom?"

"More than one, actually," Grinlast said, withdrawing the cup from his pouch and putting it on the desk next to the locket, "This is, unless I am very much mistaken, the lost chalice of Helga Hufflepuff."

The dark whispers from the cup joined those from the locket, sounding even louder in the silent office.

"I will keep these items in a shielded safe in my office," Grinlast said, "until we have all the other horcruxes. When the point-me charm finds no more outside this building, we will destroy them."

"Then all that remains is to kill Riddle himself. Easy peasy," Harry deadpanned, "I would like to keep the Founders' items intact, please, Grinlast. They represent priceless pieces of history that should not be lost due to the actions of one lunatic. I also have plans for them that should prove amusing."

"We can make that happen, Mister Potter," the goblin nodded, "And since you pointed out one of these monstrosities in our bank, you would normally be entitled to a finder's fee of one quarter of the value of the vault, since we're seizing it all."

Harry waved him off, "Don't worry about transferring it to my vault, Grinlast."

"Wait, Harry," Sirius said, eyes wide as he came to a realization, "Can I claim Bella's dowry before you take the fee out of the vault?" he asked the goblin.

"Such is not standard procedure, but with the assistance you all have provided, I believe we can allow that in this instance," Grinlast almost sounded reluctant. Almost.

"What are you up to, Sirius?" Harry asked.

"What if we set up a vault with Bella's dowry and your finder's fee as a way to help pay for any muggleborn or half-blood who wants to flee Britain because of Riddle and the Death Eaters?" Sirius said, "I can't think of a better prank to play on the bitch and her maniac."

"Spoken like a true goblin, Mister Black. You could do the same with your cousin Narcissa, claiming back her dowry from the Malfoys."

"Oh, do it, Sirius! You have to!" Hermione urged, "That would remove two of Riddle's biggest funding sources!"

"You don't have to convince me. Grinlast, can I do that here?"

"By my permission you can withdraw your wand and use it for that purpose," the goblin said.

Sirius nodded, standing and taking out his wand. "By my authority as head of the Black family, I do hereby cast out Bellatrix Lestrange née Black and Narcissa Malfoy née Black. They are no longer members of my family, and I herby reclaim any monies deposited into their married family vaults. So mote it be!"

A flare of light surrounded Sirius before fading away. "There. It's done."

In the office of the Malfoy account manager, the magic signifying the vow immediately deducted the balance of Narcissa's dowry. Looking at the account ledger, the goblin turned to his client. "I apologize, Mister Malfoy. It appears that your vault no longer has that many galleons to be used."

"What?!" Lucius shouted, his rage almost eclipsing his fear at what the Dark Lord would do to him for not having the money he'd promised. Almost.

"It appears that your wife was cast out of her birth family, which reclaimed any and all payments they made to your vaults upon your wedding."

Lucius was a dismal failure at remaining nonchalant. His palms were sweating and his collar felt a trifle too tight. "Ex…exactly how little do I have at my disposal?" he managed to eke out.

Instead of telling him, the Malfoy account manager slid the ledger across the table.

This time, Lucius's shout rattled the chandeliers in the upstairs lobby.

"Will you be able to teach me that charm now?" Susan asked Grinlast with an entirely too-innocent smile, "Actually, make that all three of us."

"As one last favor in return for helping us find a horcrux of the Dark Lord, I will do that, but after this we are even, Mister Potter," the goblin retorted, fixing Harry with a glare that they all could see was taking a lot of effort. There was even a glint of amusement in his eye.

Grinlast demonstrated the charm to Susan and Hermione, then watched as they each cast it on the quill, which activated each time and pointed in a different direction: one northwest and one southwest.

"Well, I guess that's confirmation that there are at least two more horcruxes out there," Harry mused.

Ten minutes later, the entire party left his office, having seen to the placement of the horcruxes in a sealed container in the room, blood-locked to Harry only for more security.

"Well, that's one job done, or actually quite a few little jobs done," Harry said, "How about we get some ice cream before heading back home?"

They stepped out of Gringotts into chaos.

"I have to say that I never exactly expected to be having ice cream with you at Fortescue's," Daphne said to Draco.

"Nor me either, but I'm having a good time," he retorted with a smirk. On the way over, they'd talked of inconsequential things like quidditch, enjoying being in each other's company without adult supervision.

Placing their orders, they took an outside table and settled in to enjoy the ice cream as they watched people moving around the Alley.

Taking a big bite of his sundae to re-focus his thoughts, Draco posed the question that had been on his mind since the events in the lobby that morning. "What do you make of Scarhead getting detained at the bank?"

Daphne looked at him with a frown. "I think it was probably a misunderstanding. Harry," she emphasized his first name, "was raised by abusive muggles, if the Prophet articles from Dumbledore's trial are to be believed, so he probably doesn't know all the ins, outs, and what-have-yous about dealing with the minutiae of our world. He probably did something on accident that got the goblins mad and it will all work out."

Thinking over her answer while she took a bite of her banana split, Draco eventually nodded. "I guess I could see that. If my introduction to the wizarding world was that oaf Hagrid showing up out of the blue and basically saying, 'Yer a wizard,' and then taking me shopping, I would probably have made a lot of the same mistakes," he grunted.

Daphne looked at him for a minute before bursting into giggles at his more than passable imitation of the gamekeeper. "You're still bitter over the Care of Magical Creatures class two years ago!" she eventually said, when she had control of her breathing again.

Draco glared at her for a moment, but couldn't maintain the malice in the face of her mirth. "Bloody hippogriff," he muttered into his chocolate sauce.

"Oh, stop," chided Daphne, "You could have had a ride just like Potter's if you'd respected the animal. Hagrid told us exactly what to do, and you ignored it."

Unused to being spoken to so forcefully from a classmate, especially a house mate, Draco frowned, but bit his lip. Granger got all the attention for her grades in their year, but Greengrass was no slouch. Highly intelligent, but with all the Slytherin sense of cunning, she refused to call attention to her intelligence. She was making good points, and once he forced down his natural pique at being spoken to in such a way, he had to admit she was right.

"Fine," he sighed, "I could have handled it better. Potter pissed me off and I wanted to show him I was just as good as he was. That's the first time I've ever admitted that to anyone."

"Really?" Daphne asked, eyebrows raised, "Not even to Parkinson?"

Draco looked up at her, expecting to see almost avaricious eagerness at the idea of learning gossip that she could hold over Pansy, but instead found surprised concern. "Pansy wouldn't give a rat's hairy arse about that. She and I are more of an arrangement than a relationship. Our fathers wanted to make a partnership both for business and to solidify the next generation."

Returning his gaze to his ice cream to contemplate his bleak future, Draco was surprised to feel a delicate hand on his forearm. "I'm sorry, Draco. One of my biggest fears has always been that my father would anchor me to someone I had absolutely no desire to spend the rest of my life with. So far, he hasn't, but I can only imagine the dread you feel," she sympathized, voice soft and soothing.

He was about to say something when panicked screams started sounding up the Alley.

Draco had his wand out in seconds, covering the approach from the min part of the alley. Neon green curses, dark red curses, purple and brown curses flew up from the Leaky Cauldron toward Gringotts.

"Get back into the shop!" he shouted at the people outside Fortescue's. When people continued sitting at their tables, frozen with fear, Draco started grabbing people and shoving them roughly toward the door. Daphne, reading his intentions, opened the shop and started guiding people inside.

"How proficient are you with your spell work?" she asked, rejoining him after the last of the people were inside.

"Passable on offense, better on defense," he admitted, "You saw how Potter got the better of me in that dueling club."

"You work on shielding out here, then. I'll head inside and protect people in there," she said, taking her own wand and turning to cast an unbreakable charm on the windows and door before she dashed inside.

Momentarily nonplussed at her actions, he shook his head free and moved to upend the tables, dragging them together to create a makeshift fort, settling in to wait. Sure enough, in moments a group of Death Eaters moved up the Alley, firing curses randomly at buildings and anyone unlucky enough to be caught outside. Harsh, braying laughter followed each one as they judged the accuracy of the cast by the amount of damage or the state of the victim.

Indoctrinated into this world, Draco's blood boiled at the sheer crassness, the absolute wrongness of their attack. For all the terror these animals were causing, they could have been killing purebloods by accident and damaging businesses owned and operated by purebloods.

When the group approached Fortescue's, they started concentrating their fire, trying to blow out the windows to injure the people inside. Draco raged at the ungraceful brutality. They had no idea who was in the building; they were just trying to cause chaos and injure as many people as possible.

Grimly determined he settled in and started returning fire when he saw her impenetrable charms on the glass were holding.

Explosions burst around the Alley, dropping dust and debris down on the people scattering for shelter. Harry's honed seeker eyes peered into the commotion. "Death Eaters," he growled, "Mike and Mary, you need to get back inside the bank. Not even those animals are stupid enough to attack the goblins. Find Grinlast, tell him what's going on, and he'll keep you safe."

Mike looked like he wanted to protest, and protest strongly, at not being able to protect his little girl, but the memory of his helplessness in front of the dementors and the sight of these wizards tossing around bolts of colored light like they were blasters from Star Wars convinced him there was nothing he could do to help the fight at the moment. Still, getting permits to carry guns shot to the top of his 'to-do' list when this was over. "Be safe, princess," he said, giving his girl a hug, then turned to Harry and Susan, "You two too, be safe. Take care of each other."

"We will, Mike," Harry promised. Hermione was losing the battle to remain calm in the face of people who had not only attacked her friends, but had killed people close to them. When her parents went back into the bank, she turned to face the Alley, her eyes almost glowing with her magic.

Sirius moved out to the front and left of the group. "Okay, no stunners, guys. If you stun them, they'll get right back up when someone wakes them up."

"He's right," chimed Tonks, taking the other side's point position, "You're not aurors. Do what you have to do to defend yourselves. If they get a shot at one of you, put them down hard."

The teens nodded and turned back to the steps. "Now!" Sirius yelled.

Standing in a group in the middle of Diagon Alley wasn't the best strategic move for the Death Eaters, but they were bullies, not strategists. The first volley of blasters and bludgeoners from Harry, Hermione, Susan, Tonks, and Sirius found their targets, scattering the robed figures.

"Anyone you recognize, Sirius?" Harry shouted as they took cover behind the columns in front of the bank.

"Hard to tell with the masks but…" Sirius trailed off as a lone figure with a silver-decorated mask strode to the front. The person was slight, but the mass of unkempt black hair had the Marauder groaning. "Bellatrix."

"Bellatrix Lestrange?" Harry said, worry thick in his voice.

"Yep. My dear, wonderful, insane cousin," spat Sirius, watching as two other silver-masked Death Eaters flanked her. "Oh, this is just getting better and better. Her husband and brother-in-law. We have the full set of Lestranges now."

As if called, she noticed the group. "Hello, cousin!" Bellatrix cackled, "And my niece! How is that muggle-loving disgrace of a woman I used to call my sister?"

"Living a better life than her sisters, you psychotic bitch," Tonks growled.

"She's not far wrong, Bellatrix," Sirius interjected before the woman could snap off a curse, "At least she isn't a hypocrite."

"I am no hypocrite, you blood traitor! I serve the Dark Lord and only him!" Bellatrix snarled, firing off a red curse that Sirius batted away like it was nothing.

"Oh, really? Then tell me why you spout pureblood supremacy bullshit and mindlessly follow a half-blood bastard," rejoined the Marauder, breaking into harsh laughter at the abrupt confusion on his cousin's face. "Tom Marvolo Riddle. Rearrange the letters and you get 'I am Lord Voldemort'. He was the son of a squib and the muggle she fell in love with and fed love potions. Trust me, we looked it up."

"You lie!" she screamed, firing off a killing curse, which Sirius neatly ducked, allowing it to blast the wall above the Gringotts door.

With that, the battle was joined.

"Roddy, Rabastan! Take out little Potty and his whores! The blood traitors are mine!" Bellatrix shouted, turning to her left first, then her right to shout at the two men. She dodged a piercing hex Sirius sent her way, then responded with a wave of three killing curses spread out over the entre bank entrance, forcing everyone to take cover.

Harry ducked behind a column to escape the threats. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Susan and Hermione had done the same. When the green curses exploded against the stone, he turned back around and started answering with every offensive spell he could remember.

Sirius had engaged Bellatrix in a brawl, trading spells and quips almost faster than he could see. "Hermione! Susan!" he shouted, pointing to the Lestrange on the right side, Roddy as Bellatrix had called him, "You take that one! I'll get this one."

Seeing the girls engage the one Bellatrix called Roddy, Harry had just enough time to dodge a glittering purple curse headed his way. He responded with a disarming spell, but Rabastan swatted the spell away, grinning at him as he did. "Is that the best you got, Wonder Boy?"

Lestrange shot a red spell back at him, shouting, "Crucio!"

Harry took a page from the Death Eater and dodged the Unforgiveable, shooting a fire curse back at him. He missed, setting a nearby cart on fire. "Damn it!"

Rabastan laughed, a harsh, cackling sound in the chaos of the alley. He shot a blaster back at Harry, impacting on the building above him and sending a cloud of pulverized stone dust over everyone.

Harry, sweat starting to pool around his collar with the exertions of the fight, responded with an immediate reducto, but at the last minute changed his wand angle and aimed at the cobblestones and not Rabastan. The dust and shrapnel obscured the Death Eater's view, allowing him to follow with a chain of petrificus totalus, stupefy, incarcerus, aguanemti, and glacius. Roddy Lestrange, trying to clear his eyes from the dust, fell over as he was encased first in tight leather straps and then ice as the freezing spell turned his water spray solid, encasing him in ice and taking him out of the fight.

Over on the other side of the steps, Hermione was shielding for Susan, allowing the Hufflepuff's greater power to focus on attacking the remaining Lestrange. Free of his own Death Eater, Harry started providing the same help to Sirius. When Bellatrix blocked his bombarda and answered with an organ-expelling curse, Harry summoned a nearby garbage can to catch the spell. She screeched at him, but had to dodge as Sirius sent another wave of attacks against her.

The Death Eater rolled out of the way, flashing her own shield to block his spells before she transfigured a stray rock into a panther. As it lunged at his godfather, Harry hit it with a finite, putting enough power into his cast to turn it to dust.

Over to the other side of the steps, Hermione had her hands full with her protego shields and transfiguring stone blockades. Susan's newfound power had Roddy scrambling for his own safety. Her bludgeoners and blasting curses were blowing through his shields like they were tissue paper.

Harry was dimly aware of shrieks and screams from the other parts of the Alley, but too much of his attention was on Bellatrix's fight with Sirius.

"Don't worry about me!" his godfather said, dodging a blood-boiling curse, "Help the girls and then help everyone else! I can handle this psychopath. The aurors should be along any minute."

Nodding, Harry ducked behind Sirius. Just as he got over to help, the Lestrange brother slipped a piercing curse past Hermione's shield. She went down with a cry, clutching her arm.

"Blast him!" Susan shouted, ducking down to help Hermione. He blanched when he saw the blood draining from her arm, but it was on the outside of the limb. Her shield had taken most of the power of the curse and the wound didn't look serious. Turning back to the Death Eater, he overpowered a bludgeoner, but Roddy dodged it at the last moment.

Susan cast a quick episkey on the gash and stood beside her boyfriend, seeing his hands start to tremble. She got her wand ready, a plan forming in her mind. Catching his eye, Susan nodded at the man. Harry nodded back and cast his aguamenti. In the same moment, Susan blasted the water with a freezing spell, turning the spray into a spear. The unfortunate Roddy Lestrange watched in horror as the ice spear shot across the alley, skewering him through the chest before he could get a shield up.

He was dead before he hit the ground.

Seeing her husband fall caught Bellatrix's attention enough for Sirius to sneak a diffindo through her defenses, taking off her wand arm at the shoulder. With an agonized shriek, she fell down, but before Sirius could bind her, Bellatrix grabbed her wand with her off hand and disapparated away. That was the cue for the remaining lower-level Death Eaters followed her lead.

With the threat over, Harry and Susan lunged back to Hermione. "Are you okay?" the Hufflepuff asked, taking Hermione's wounded arm and looking to the healing charm Harry had cast.

"Susan! I'm fine," Hermione smiled, but it was weak. "He only winged me. Just get a bandage and wrap it around my arm, and I'll be fine."

Sirius joined them, checking over Hermione's wound. "Good work on the healing spell, Susan. You're going to be just fine, Hermione."

"That's what I told them," the brunette said, rolling her eyes affectionately at her boyfriend and girlfriend.

"Don't get mad at us for worrying about you," Susan said, stroking her hair where she lay on the stairs.

A series of muted cracks focused their attention up the Alley, as a full dozen aurors portkeyed into the area.

"You three get back inside the bank," Sirius instructed, "Find the Grangers. I'm going to go talk to the aurors and give a statement. Oh, bloody hell," he finished, looking at the aurors.

Amelia Bones marched down Diagon Alley, headed right for them.

Draco screamed.

Every nerve ending in his body was sending white-hot messages of pain to his brain. Even when he was a young boy, being 'trained' by his father to withstand the Cruciatus curse, he'd never felt pain like this. The difference between being tortured by the servant and the master.

"Now, boy, get on your feet and answer my question," Voldemort hissed, releasing the curse to get some answers, "Why did you not join in the attack on Diagon Alley today when you saw it underway?"

Draco started mumbling about being there with a girl he liked as his tortured muscles protested his efforts to rise. It must have been too slow for his father as a blow to his face almost knocked him back down. Putting his hand to his stinging cheek, Draco called every Occlumency lesson he'd ever had to conceal how he was raging at the man who struck him.

"I want none of your excuses, boy! Tell our Lord why you were firing curses at Death Eaters today!" Lucius snarled.

"What would you have me do, father?" Draco growled, "I was in the open, with all kinds of witnesses, and I haven't taken the Mark yet. If I turned around and started attacking with them, I might as well take the Dark Mark and declare myself openly. Then what use would I be?"

"Stop your gibbering nonsense and speak sense!" Lucius was reluctant to admit that, but he needed his son to explain his reasons to avoid his own turn being tortured or killed by the Dark Lord for his son's weakness.

"I have been given the honor," the youth began, choosing his words carefully, "to dispose of the muggle-loving Headmaster, correct?"

Lucius and Voldemort nodded. There was curiosity in the red eyes as he listened to Draco, "Go on, young Draco," Voldemort instructed.

"How could I do that if I openly declared myself by attacking people in Diagon Alley in broad daylight?" he questioned, "Wouldn't it be easier for me to operate without people dogging my every move if I were to hide my…affiliation? Wouldn't it be easier if the student body remained unsure of my true status? I could ingratiate myself with the old fool easier without the Mark; I could even act as a sort of spy, keeping you informed of what's going on in the school. None of that would be possible if I was marked and attacking people in Diagon Alley without a robe and mask," Draco explained, mastering his twitching as he was breathing a little heavier at the end of his oration.

Voldemort sat back and thought over the boy's arguments. He made a kind of sense, as much as it galled him to have a subordinate with any kind of initiative. Still, the idea had merit. "It seems your son is more of a Slytherin than we knew, Lucius. I approve of your plan, young Draco. Ingratiate yourself with the fools and serve as my spy. You may depart."

Draco bowed without reply and left the throne room as quickly as he could, his trembling arms giving lie to his calm exterior.

He had an assassination to plan.

Amelia made her way out of the Floo and into Grimmauld place, glad to be away from the Ministry for another evening with her…family. As strange as it would have been to think just a few weeks earlier, the group of people residing in the townhouse had become her family.

The attack on Diagon Alley had seriously put a crimp in her afternoon. Death Eaters randomly killing and destroying had created a veritable mountain of work for her, dispatching aurors to conduct the clean-up and interview witnesses. Having her own family members be involved was still giving her the shivers. Only the excuse of needing to tend to her dependents got her out of the office. Still, the pile of parchment that would be on her desk the next morning had her dreading the new day.

Walking into the living area, she saw Sirius at the table, talking to the Grangers about the attack while Harry re-applied a bandage to Hermione's arm

"Okay, does anyone want to tell me why both my wards and their girlfriend were involved in a deadly fight outside Gringotts?"

"I'm sorry, Aunt Amelia," Susan apologized, "We didn't mean to, but when we left the bank, the Death Eaters were attacking. They saw us and came right for us. We had to defend ourselves."

Amelia sighed. "I know, I just wish you didn't have to be in that position."

"Us, too, Amelia," Harry answered her as he gently applied Essence of Dittany to the gash on Hermione's arm and blew. The girl shivered under his care, but when he was done, the Dittany was already closing over the skin.

"At least you managed to kill one of the Lestranges and recapture the other. That's why you didn't get an underage magic use notices this time, Harry. Everyone nearby could see it was in self-defense," Amelia explained.

Harry nodded, accepting the explanation and feeling his relief that the Ministry wouldn't be the one taking him to task at least. "What about the victims?"

The DMLE chief sighed, dropping her head down for a moment. "There were six killed, all innocent bystanders. Two were Hogwarts students, three were adults, and one was a child, unfortunately."

Harry slumped over. "A child? Hogwarts students?"

"Nothing you could have done, Harry," she said, "They were murdered before you came out of the bank."

Mike looked over at the teen. "From what Sirius tells me, you guys prevented a lot more tragedy when you took on the worst three. You kept their attention on you and not on the innocent bystanders all around you. Not only was that heroic, you saved lives by doing that."

"It could have been a lot worse, Harry," Amelia said, moving across the room and sitting next to him. When he didn't respond, she slid her arm around his shoulders, "You can't save everyone, Harry. Sometimes the worst happens before you're even there. It's one of the things they teach at auror academy."

She turned to Sirius. "And speaking of auror academy: remember Moody's target practice?"

The Marauder groaned. "Don't even say it."

Amelia gave a shark-like grin. "Any of these three gets wounded again, you're going to wish for that target practice."

Harry grinned at his godfather's obvious discomfort with the warning. Looking back at Hermione, he saw she was settled in comfortably on the couch next to Susan, resting her head on the redhead's shoulder. She reached out, grabbing his shirt with her hands and pulling him down for a kiss. "Thanks for taking care of me," she whispered, "I'll try to dodge faster next time."

"See that you do, milady," he smiled back at her, "I'm going to go shower off the dust and grime."

Leaning over to kiss Susan the same as he had Hermione, the other girl returned the kiss before pulling back and grinning. "Oh, I see. I get the pre-shower grimy kiss."

"Hey, that's what I got too!" Hermione smirked, "I got gypped!"

Knowing he was being teased, Harry straightened up. "Well then, I shall be off to cleanse myself of the filth of battle, fair maidens. When I return, I swear upon my honor as a gentleman to rectify this grievous oversight!"

With a courtly bow, he disappeared up the stairs. Susan and Hermione looked at each other and burst into giggles. "What a ham we're dating," Hermione said, shaking her head.

"Yeah, but what can you do? He's too sweet to throw back," Susan shrugged, "and so are you," she said, leaning in to kiss Hermione. "I got so scared when you got hit today. You need to not do that again."

"I'll try," the brunette promised again.

"As touching as this scene is," grinned Amelia, "What have you planned for Harry's belated birthday?"

Hermione returned the smile. "Well, I talked things over with my parents, and here's what I came up with…"

A tapping noise had Harry stirring from his slumber. Trying not to wake either of the girls, he put his glasses on and saw an unfamiliar owl at the window, tapping to be let in.

He slid carefully out of bed and padded over to the window, sliding it up to allow the owl inside. "Is that a letter for me?" he asked.

The owl gave a soft hoot and bobbed its head, sticking its leg out. Harry untied the letter from the bird, but before he could offer it a treat, it flew back out of the window. Nonplussed, he closed it back up and made his way over to the bed, unshrinking the letter when he sat down.

By that time, Susan and Hermione were sitting up, rubbing the sleep from their eyes. "Whass'at?" the redhead murmured.

"A letter for me," he answered, shrugging, "But I didn't recognize the owl."

"Open it, Harry. What does it say?" Hermione urged.

Unfurling the parchment, Harry started to read out loud, disbelief growing with each word.

If this letter is interesting to you, come alone

to the Shrieking Shack at midnight in two days.

"Well…that was unexpected," Susan deadpanned. "What do we do now?"

Chapter Text

August 3, 1995

"Are you sure this is a good idea, Headmaster?" Severus asked, keeping as much inflection out of his voice as possible.

The centenarian wizard shook his head. "Truly, I wish it had not needed to come to this, Severus. The boy would be safest here in the castle where we could keep him under our watchful gaze while we wait for Lord Voldemort to make his move. We both know how much stock the boy puts in public opinion. Look at these editorials and letters! They're crucifying the boy."

"But releasing the fact that the prophecy exists will force Voldemort's hand."

"It wasn't anything he didn't already know. This just puts pressure on Harry to give up this Beauxbatons nonsense and return to dear old Hogwarts where his parents wanted him to go."

"And you're sure it will work? The boy has proven remarkably resistant to your efforts thus far," the potions master asked with a raised eyebrow. "Sending him that letter might cause more trouble than it's worth."

"I have complete faith that Harry will return to my gentle guidance before the start of the term. There is truly no one better to guide him to his destiny."

Something smells amazing," Harry said as he and the girls entered the dining room. Sirius, Amelia, Tonks, and Mike and Mary were all sitting around the table with various breakfast foods in front of them. They were all looking at copies of The Daily Prophet and frowning, but upon his entry, changed to smiles.

Amelia was the first to get up, coming over to give him a hug before doing the same for Susan and Hermione. "It should. I told Dobby to make your favorite breakfast foods from Hogwarts and the island."

"Pancakes, eggs, hash brown potatoes and bacon?" he asked, leaning back to see her face.

She pulled him back into the embrace and ruffled his hair. "With a little fruit salad on the side. Just for you," Amelia said, guiding him and the girls to their usual three chairs. Winky was quick to dish out plates for the girls, but no one would get in Dobby's way of serving Harry's meal that day. The little elf was practically vibrating in excitement.

"We all need to apologize for letting your birthday pass without any kind of celebration, Harry," Sirius said from his own place across the table.

"Why didn't you remind us?" Mary asked in between bites.

"I don't know. I guess with everything that happened, with Amelia and Susan losing their house…"

"Your house," Susan interrupted, reaching over to take his hand and kiss his cheek, "I'll keep saying it until you accept it. It was your home, too, even if it was just for a little bit."

"Our house," he amended, giving Susan a half-grin, "and everything else…it just didn't seem like a big deal at the time."

"I get it," Tonks declared, surprising everyone there, "You didn't want to come across as selfish."

"Exactly," he said, pleased that she understood.

The adults shared a look before turning mischievous grins to Harry, "Well, that ends today. We're giving you a belated birthday party," Amelia said, "even if we will need some uninterrupted time to shop for gifts at some point."

"That's totally unnecessary, Amelia," he protested, "I don't need any gifts. As corny as it might sound, you all gave me the best gift I could have ever gotten. You took me in and gave me a family. You, too," he said to Mike and Mary, "When you said you thought I was worthy of your daughter. You were wrong, of course. No one ever could be, but I'll do my best," he said with a self-deprecating chuckle.

No one else thought it was funny, so to break the somewhat awkward silence, he coughed and continued, "Well, like I said, allowing me to be part of your family is the best gift you could have given. In fact," Harry paused, looking to the diminutive elf to his side, "Dobby can you go get the parchment I set aside last night and bring it here?"

"Of course, Master Harry," Dobby said, popping away, and then back in a moment, holding a few sheets out.

"Thank you, Dobby," he said, taking the documents. When Dobby popped away again, Harry got up and moved around the table, handing them to Amelia.

"What are…you signed them?" she asked, surprised at the gesture, "Why did you sign the adoption papers when you could just file for emancipation?"

"I still intend to do that," Harry explained, "but I wanted to do this first. You went out of your way to show me that you wanted me to be part of your family. Now I get to do the same."

Cuffing away a suspicious glistening from her eyes, Amelia got up and wrapped him in a hug again, placing a soft kiss on his forehead. "Thank you, Harry. I will understand if you want to keep calling me 'Amelia' instead of 'Mum'."

"We'll see what feels most appropriate," he said, smiling at her. Looking over to his girlfriends, he saw Hermione's eyes shining with tears and an overjoyed smile. She was always going to be thrilled for him to officially have a family, but Susan's reaction worried him more, as Amelia had been her guardian for longer.

However, her face was much the same as Hermione's. "Aunt Amelia never adopted me officially, and I never asked her about it. We didn't need it to make things work after my parents were killed. At least this way my boyfriend won't become my brother," she chuckled.

"I think it's a great idea, pup," Sirius said, "She was on the list to take care of you in your parents' wills, and she was there for you when you were in the hospital. I couldn't think of anyone better to do it."

Amelia was folding the sheets over to put with another that she had saved. "We'll drop these off at the Ministry on our way to the international portkey point. Before we leave the country, you'll be a legal adult and my adopted son."

"International portkey point? Leave the country?" Harry asked, excitement in his face. "Where are we going? What are we doing?"

"Don't worry about that just yet. Hermione came up with an idea for your birthday that we all loved. We're just popping over to France for the day," Mike said.

"What were you all reading when we came into the room?" Hermione wanted to know.

"Dumbledore's media campaign is bearing fruit for the old goat," Sirius growled, "He's using Skeeter to stir up the masses. That article she wrote has editorials and letters from the general public all calling you out of control, and vilifying you for transferring to Beauxbatons when you have the prophecy about you. Even without revealing what the prophecy is, she's got people in a frenzy."

"What else is new? Every time something happens, I'm either a hero for dealing with a threat or an up-and-coming dark lord. I think it may be time to start giving articles to Luna to publish in The Quibbler detailing some of what's been going on at Hogwarts over the years."

"Oh! That's a great idea, Harry! She could do a 'Life and Times of Harry Potter' series, with one article covering your life before Hogwarts, and then a separate article on each year of your education at the school!" Hermione exclaimed, seeing the benefits immediately.

"I like it," Amelia nodded, "It will put pressure back on the manipulative old coot for allowing things like that to happen in the school, especially if you write them without any slant, just presenting the events for people to take their own consideration from, and ask how any reasonable person thinks that Hogwarts is a good place to send their children, let alone the safest place in Britain as he's always claiming."

"Yes! Unleash the power of the crumple-horned Snorkack!" Harry grinned.

The arrival of another owl at the nearest window stopped any further conversation. "Oh, that reminds me. I got an owl already. It came to the upstairs window," Harry said, noticing the bird.

"That's really odd," Sirius mused, getting to his feet, "The wards shouldn't have allowed it to come straight to your bedroom. Like this one - the house wards alerted me to ill intent and magic on the letter it carries. I'll have to ask Kreacher how an owl could do that."

As the others watched, he raised the window and permitted the bird entry. Using his wand, he removed the letter and levitated it to the table. "Are you waiting for a reply?" he asked. The bird bobbed its head.

Turning back to the table, Sirius saw Amelia casting detection spells at the resized letter. "You were right. I'm detecting tracking charms, compulsion charms, and mind-altering potions soaked into the parchment. It should not be touched directly."

"Tracking charms?" Hermione exclaimed.

"Don't worry, Hermione," Sirius grinned, "This house is protected by ancient family magic and the Fidelius charm. There's no way for a tracking charm to work here."

Amelia had dispelled the charms, including the compulsion, and spread the letter out with her wand before reading aloud:

"Dear Mister Potter:

We're growing quite concerned about your wellbeing and whereabouts, especially since we're restricted to Hogwarts after the destruction of the Burrow. Please answer this letter with one letting us know where you are. If at all possible, try to journey to the castle to be inside its wards as the safest place in Britain.


Percival Weasley

"That wasn't Percy, at least the writing wasn't his own. That letter is nothing more than Dumbledore trying to figure out where you are," Hermione said, "Percy has a stick up his arse the size of a tree, but he wouldn't give a rate's arse where you were."

"Hermione Jean Granger!" Mary scolded her for the curse.

"Sorry, mum," the girl blushed, "I just got angry at Dumbledore."

"I think we all did," Amelia said, glaring at the parchment, "The question is what do we do now?"

Harry got a gleam in his eye.

"Uh-oh," Sirius grinned, "Look out. One of the new generation of Marauders has an idea. Well, don't keep us in suspense, Harry! Out with it!"

"We turn the tables on old Twinkles. We send him an answer back on parchment with compulsion charms."

"But he's Albus Dumbledore. Won't he be suspecting a trick of some kind?" Hermione asked.

"That's the beauty of it, love," Harry explained, not seeing the other eyes widening at his term of endearment, "Professors stay at Hogwarts over the summer right? So they receive mail at roughly the same time as we do during the school year? We layer compulsion charms – put a sloppy one, clumsily-applied on the parchment to make him do something really embarrassing, like putting on a pink tutu and singing 'I'm A Little Teapot' right on the staff table while everyone is there. Then we put another charm over the top of that to, I don't know, make him confess his secrets. He removes the first one, tells himself how much smarter he is than some kid, then he picks up the parchment and has the second compulsion charm affect him."

Tonks was the first one to get it, bursting into laughter. "You're sneaky. I like you," she said with a grin.

Hermione and Susan grabbed an arm each, "Too bad he's taken then," the redhead declared as both girls looked at the auror with matching smirks.

Shaking her head, Tonks watched as Harry wrote out his reply to Dumbledore on a blank sheet of parchment. When he was done and the ink was dry, she looked over to Harry. "It's you he's fixated on. Sweet and innocent prank or something more…humiliating?" she asked.

"What would be more humiliating than singing a children's song in front of the rest of the professors?" Susan asked.

"'I'm a Little Teapot' is innocent and sweet, something he could pass off as a simple wager," Tonks said with a wicked grin, "But what if I had him rapping something a bit more embarrassing?" She explained her idea

Pure silence reigned for a good ten seconds at the devious Hufflepuff in front of them before Harry and Hermione started laughing. Chuckles soon gave way to side-holding, eye-watering laughter that almost had them rolling on the floor.

"What's so funny?" Amelia said, "What's that song?"

Grinning at how well her idea had gone over, Tonks looked at her boss. "It's a hip-hop song from America," she explained, launching into a very brief explanation of the focus of the song.

That finished Sirius. Just like his godson, he was soon clutching his sides and roaring with laughter. "Do it! Please do it! You can make it my Christmas present!"

Amelia rolled her eyes. "Children. I am surrounded by children," the DMLE chief groaned, massaging her forehead.

Tonks grinned, but not hearing a denial or prohibition, cast the first compulsioncharm just as Harry had suggested. Then she gestured for Sirius to cast the second over top of it. "This way, there will be two separate magical signatures."

The Marauder nodded, understanding what she meant. "Now, Dobby!"

The elf popped back into the room. "Yes, Master Harry Potter Sir's dogfather?"

He stopped cold, considering the words. "I love it! Yes! Anyway, take this note to Hogwarts. Have one of the school's owls take it to Dumbledore."

When Dobby popped away with the note, Sirius looked around. "That way he won't know exactly where it came from."

"What about the owl you got earlier?" Amelia wanted to know.

Harry reached for the parchment. "It came with this note," he said, handing it over to Amelia.

"Meeting at midnight at the Shrieking Shack in two days. This is pretty vague."

"I know. Never seen the owl before and it came straight to my room."

"Setting the meeting for the Shrieking Shack makes it seem like it's a student. Easy access, outside the school's wards," Tonks noted, calling upon her auror training.

"It makes sense, but for right now we have to get going," Amelia said, looking up at the clock on the wall, "If we don't make it to the portkey point soon, we're going to lose too much time. We can plan what to do about this message after we get back."

"Get back from what?" Harry asked with a cheeky grin, trying to get her to spill the surprise.

Amelia Bones hadn't risen to the head of the DMLE for nothing, though, "Nice try, Harry," she smirked, ruffling his hair, "But it's still a surprise. Why don't you three head upstairs and change for the day so we can head out?"

Bellatrix woke up to a flare of pain across her upper body. Coming back to her master's palace after the fight was a challenge without her dominant arm, but she managed it.

Coming back without killing Sirius, Potter, or the whores, ensured that her master was displeased with her efforts. It also meant that after magically sealing her stump, he refused to grant her a silver limb like Wormtail's hand. "Your punishment is to live with your failure. Get used to casting with your off hand," was his only reply.

Something had been off with her magic ever since losing her arm. Her spells had been weaker, her aim less precise, and her concentration was weak.

It was going to take some work, but she was going to track down her blood traitor cousin and repay him tenfold for taking her arm.

Harry's eyes grew large when they got to the international portkey point in the Ministry. Neville and Hannah, plus Tonks along with Ginny and Luna were waiting for their entire party. "Guys?"

"Wait here for just a few minutes, everyone. I need to go file these forms before we leave," Amelia said, waving the parchments adopting Harry and then emancipating him before heading off down a hallway.

"We're all going along today, Harry," Ginny smiled when the teens grouped up, "Hermione invited us."

Breaking off from his smile, Harry headed over to the only other guy there and gave him a one-armed hug. "Nev, I'm so sorry about your gran. Anything you need, just ask, okay?"

The other boy gave him a weak smile. "Thanks, Harry. It's been tough, but Hannah and her family have been great."

"I'm glad to hear that," Harry said softly to his friend.

"Okay, you all brought the items I asked you to bring, right?" Hermione asked, making sure they were all ready. Seeing everyone nod their agreement, she turned to Amelia. "We're all set to go."

"Good. Now, it's just about time for our portkey," Amelia said, approaching from the office where she'd filed the forms. "All the paperwork is filed and valid. You're an official adult, but also my adopted son," she smiled, giving Harry another hug. "Now, let's head over to where we need to be for the portkey."

One portkey touch later, they landed in a heap…somewhere.

Harry stood up, groaning about how magical transportation had some kind of vendetta against him, and looked around. Blue-grey marbled columns with reddish-marbled gilded capitals and bases supported the vaulted ceiling of a large room. The columns framed alcoves of white marble around the room where portkeys periodically dropped off single individuals or groups of people. The room seemed as big as the entry way to the Ministry of Magic. "Where are we?"


Hearing his name shouted from behind him had Harry turning around just in time to see a blonde buzz-bomb running at him full-speed. With a squeal, it wrapped around him with a hug that only Hermione could match.

"Please forgive my sister," another smooth voice teased, joining the conversation, "She seems to have trouble controlling her hero worship."

"Fleur?" Harry said, looking over at the approaching witch with the prominent smirk.

"Oui! Welcome to Paris, Harry!" the blonde said, giving him a warm hug when Gabrielle had disentangled herself.

"Harry Potter," a distinguished-looking man said, offering his hand. When Harry took the handshake, the man grinned. "I am Jean-Paul Delacour, and this is my wife Apolline. Of course, you know Fleur and Gabrielle, my daughters."

"Nice to meet you, sir," he said, turning to introduce the rest of the group. "This is Hermione Granger and Susan Bones, my girlfriends, Hermione's parents Mike and Mary Granger, Sirius Black, my godfather, his cousin Tonks, Ginny Weasley and Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, and Hannah Abbott," he said, gesturing to each in turn.

"Ah-ah, Harry," Jean-Paul said, shaking his head vigorously, "None of this 'sir' business. You saved the lives of each of my daughters during that blasted Tournament. You need to call us by our names at the very least. All of you," he said, looking around at the group.

Blushing, Harry tried to shrug off the praise but Susan and Hermione wouldn't hear of it. "Thank you, Jean-Paul," the redhead said before he could answer, "Harry may be more than a little modest, but we do appreciate your kindness."

"Bah, it's nothing," Apolline waved off, "We've been meaning to make this trip for a while now, and having you all here to celebrate Harry's birthday was the perfect excuse. Now, shall we be off?"

"Oui, my dear," Jean-Paul said with a smile to his wife. He held out a large hula-hoop big enough for the entire group to grab. Once all had a hand on the hoop, he called out, "Mouse House!" and they disappeared in a swirl.

The owl flew into the Great Hall and made straight for Albus while he was finishing up his own breakfast that morning. Severus was nearby at the staff table, as were Minerva, Pomona, and Filius.

"Ah, a reply from Mister Potter!" the old man said, satisfaction in his eyes at the overture from his wayward student as he untied the letter from the owl and sent it back on its way.

"Are you sure that's from Potter?" Severus asked, "He hasn't exactly been one to reach out to you thus far.

"True, true. He's showing some teenage rebellion against authority, but I'm sure he's seen the light and will return to dear old Hogwarts where he can flourish under my tutelage," Dumbledore said, casting a detection spell over the folded parchment. "Ah, naughty boy, Harry!" he grinned, stripping away the rather obviously-placed charm on the document, "You're going to have to do better than a simple compulsion charm."

"He put a compulsion charm on a letter to you?" Minerva said, eyes widening. "Why on Earth would he do that?"

"Just more of his petulance," Dumbledore explained, "he wanted me to explain truthfully why he was left with his loving family, as if I haven't done that many times already. Now that the simple charm is removed, I can read what he actually wrote."

Unfolding and picking up the document, the old man was so eager to read Harry's words that he started scanning without even realizing the real compulsion was activating.

Mister Albus-Too-Many-Names Dumbledore:

Leave me alone. I've made my decision, and I'm sticking to it. If you try to get at me through my friends or family, you won't like what happens to you. This is your final warning.

As to your crude and rude attempt to learn my location:

Every time I look down on this timeless town
Whether blue or gray be her skies
Whether loud be her cheers or whether soft be her tears
More and more do I realize that

I love Paris in the springtime
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles

I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris
Why, oh, why do I love Paris?
Because my love is near

I love Paris in the springtime
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles

I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris
Why, oh, why do I love Paris?
Because my love is near

Dumbledore's eyes had gone glassy with the compulsion charm taking place, dulling the impact of Harry's rough words.

"Well, Headmaster Dumbledore?" Pomona asked, "What did Harry's letter say?"

"The letter is unimportant right now," the old man replied. "However, I have something very important to tell you. Something that simply cannot wait."

So saying, he pushed his throne back and climbed on top of the staff table, facing his shocked professors. "And that something is as follows..." he cleared his throat before belting into the lines of a song he simply had to sing, "I like big butts and I cannot lie..."

"Woah," Susan breathed, awed by the size of Disneyland Paris. Standing inside the gate, seeing the park spreading out before them with various avenues splitting off for other areas, the rest of the group could feel the wonder, too.

"What is this Disney?" Amelia wanted to know, "To build something this big – it has to be a huge company."

Tonks took the explanation. "It's a muggle entertainment company from the US named for its founder. They made cartoon movies, like the ones we watched on the plane to and from the island, based on older children's stories like Snow White and Cinderella. They were so popular that the company kept making them, and turned into a worldwide entertainment powerhouse."

"Huh. And his main character is this…Mickey Mouse?"

"Sort of, Amelia," Apolline said, "Mickey and Minnie are extremely popular around the world, and have been characters in many movies."

"All right. Let's start enjoying this park!" Harry enthused.

An amused Fleur watched Hermione and Susan walking around arm in arm, looking at nearby games and restaurants while their friends were in line for a roller coaster they refused to even try to ride. Hermione and her parents were the only ones of the English contingent to have visited the park before, so she claimed knowledge of the ride as her reason for not wanting to go. Susan looked conflicted for a moment before Hermione whispered something in her ear. Then she, too, begged off.

They had walked off before she had the chance to go with them, so she had to hurry to catch up to the other girls. She'd been surprised to hear Harry introduce them as his girlfriends – plural – because from her reading of the young wizard the year before, he wasn't the type to go for more than one witch at once. Having them apparently both be aware of it, and their parental figures along on the trip, made the puzzle all the stranger, and Fleur wanted to understand.

The French witch walked into the gift shop the girls entered. She peeked around a display, only to find the girls still arm in arm, but this time, Hermione's head was on Susan's shoulder. "Do you think Harry would like this as a souvenir?" the redheaded girl asked, holding up a snow globe.

"I don't know. It might be his style," Hermione answered, regarding the knickknack, "It's hard to tell since those damned relatives of him let him have so few belongings."

Fleur's brow furrowed. It sounded like they were saying Harry had a bad home life, but he'd been happier that morning than she'd ever seen him.

"Do you think we're going to be able to escape? Are we going to make it out of this okay?" Susan fretted.

"I have every confidence. If we can't find a way to get that thing out of Harry, the goblins will, and then we run for the hills. Everything will be fine."

The conversation had taken a desperate tone, and Fleur's concern was growing by the minute. It sounded like they were thinking about leaving Harry, breaking his heart. She refused to allow that to happen. Coming around the corner of the display, intent on confronting the girls, she stopped in her tracks, watching them share a sweet kiss, paying no attention to anything around them. Worry growing for her friend, she decided to leave the store and wait on a nearby bench to talk with the British witches.

Seeing them exit, Fleur beckoned them over. "Come here, please. We need to talk."

The other girls looked at each other before sitting on the other end of the bench, with Hermione in the middle and Susan on the far end.

"Forgive me for asking a personal question," Fleur started when they joined her, "but Harry introduced you both as his girlfriends. I remember how close he was with you, Hermione, during the Tournament, but I never got the chance to meet Susan at Hogwarts. Now, I wanted to take the chance to get to know you while our daredevils are enjoying the roller coaster, and I find you talking about running away and then kissing in the gift shop. You might understand why I feel worried for him."

"Fleur, it's not what you think," Hermione started to explain before the Veela's demeanor turned icy.

"I should very much hope not, Hermione. I owe Harry not only my life, but my sister's as well. He is an honorable man, a good man, and I hope that his girlfriends are not cheating on him before they break his heart," she said, eyes hard and cold.

Knocked totally off-balance at Fleur's hostility, Hermione had no words. Her mouth opened and closed without sound coming out, leaving Susan to step up to defuse the situation. "Hermione was telling the truth, Fleur. We are all three together, the two of us with each other just as much as we are with him. It's not cheating on him when all three of us are dating together."

Fleur searched each of their eyes for any traces of dishonesty. Seeing none, she nodded. "Bon. That is what I hoped was the case. Then we have no quarrel. However, I reserve the right to revisit this conversation if either of you ever hurt him. The last year was not easy for him, and he deserves better."

Trading an intimidated look, Hermione and Susan nodded. "Understood," Susan said, "We'll do our best, but neither of us has ever had a boyfriend before, to say nothing of a girlfriend either, so we're all learning as we go. We may make mistakes, but we'd never hurt him on purpose. We usually prefer to do things together with all three of us, but with Harry waiting for the ride, it gives Susan and I a chance to be alone, which can be nice as well. I fully expect Harry to want time alone with each of us, and that's totally fine with me."

"Me too," Hermione agreed, "We're working on not being jealous of each other when we pair off, but it's going to be a learning experience as time goes on."

The French witch gave a nod of her own. "That's good that you understand that. Your relationship will be difficult enough. Thank you for allaying my fears."

"Besides, it's worse than you know," Hermione said, looking down at her hands.

"What do you mean?"

"A lot of stuff came out after you went back to France. Harry ended up in the hospital when his muggle guardians beat him almost to death. Susan's aunt got involved, and they found out that the Headmaster had been keeping his history, his heritage, and his inheritance from him."

"Mon Dieu!" Fleur exclaimed, bringing a perfectly manicured hand to cover her mouth in her shock.

Susan nodded. "It turns out Dumbledore dropped him off on their doorstep in the middle of a November night after his parents were murdered, then they spent the next ten years treating him worse than a house elf. When Aunt Amelia started getting involved, he saw his parents' will, got healed, got his godfather cleared of unjust murder charges, and now is in control of his own life. We've kind of been along for the ride, but it's been wonderful at every step."

The blonde's eyes had grown at every word until her eyebrows appeared to disappear into her hairline. "I had no idea his life was so difficult."

"Harry's kind of private with his life. It took the two of us quite a while to worm it out of him, even when we knew why he was in the hospital to begin with," Hermione replied.

"I'm sorry for jumping to the wrong conclusion," Fleur apologized, "Thank you both for taking care of him. Just please keep doing so."

Hermione looked from the blonde to her redheaded girlfriend. "Did we just get the overprotective big sister talk?"

"I think we did," Susan grinned, "Consider me fully warned, Fleur. I'm glad you care about him, too."

The blonde grinned from ear to ear. "As I said, he saved my life and my sister's as well. Harry might as well be my honorary brother. I still feel badly for calling him a little boy when his name came out of that overgrown cup. I have to admit, Hermione, I had no idea you were…what's the word, bisexual?"

Hermione grinned, flushing bright red. "Well, I don't know if I am or not. I guess you could say when it comes to girls, I'm Susan-sexual."

When Tonks came by a few minutes later, it was to the sight of the three witches leaning on each other in laughter. "Wotcher, all. What's going on?"

"Nothing to worry about, Tonks," Hermione said, finding her equilibrium, "Fleur was just giving us the 'big sister warning' talk over Harry and apparently I said something funny."

They could almost see the wheels in the pink-haired auror's mind turning over the implications before she got it and nodded with an ear-to-ear smile. "Good on you, Fleur. Everyone deserves to have that talk at least once, and I don't exactly expect Amelia or Sirius to give it to these two. I was going to do it myself, but you beat me to it."

Fleur returned the smile with a grin of her own, looking for all the world like a satisfied feline. "Oh, look! They're about to get on the ride!" she exclaimed, pointing at their friends and family waving from the platform.

Roller coasters, Harry decided, were the muggle equivalent of flying on a broom. Even though the coasters at Disneyland Paris were smaller than Hermione said they could go, he still felt the familiar thrill of momentum, tight turns, and acceleration.

It was brilliant.

The safety harness on the mining train-themed roller coaster took away a lot of the thrill of danger he felt when flying, but he still loved every moment. Behind him, Sirius was screaming like a kid while Amelia, next to him, was shrieking at every dip and turn. Mike and Mary were behind them, enjoying the ride as much as he was. Surprising him, Hannah was next to him in the car, and when he looked over, she had a determined expression. Tonks, Neville, Hermione, and Susan had begged off the ride, saying they had no interest in thrill rides, but Hannah had set her jaw and marched into line next to him as if she had something to prove. She hadn't even made a peep during the run of the coaster, either.

In front of them, Gabrielle and Ginny were having the time of their lives. Both girls had their arms flung into the air, squealing in joy with every change on the track. They were born to fly, it seemed.

They got off the ride when it was over, Amelia stumbling a little and Hannah clinging to his arm. "That was terrifying, but so much fun!" the blonde gushed. Ahead of them, Ginny and Gabrielle were bouncing and skipping down the stairs, enthused and energized by the experience.

They found their way to the rest of their group, seated together on a large, round bench with a tree in the middle. When Hannah let his arm go to go rejoin her boyfriend, Hermione and Susan got up and took turns giving him a happy kiss and embrace. "How was the ride?" the brunette asked.

"A lot like flying," he grinned down at her, "Only the safety belts and bars took away a lot of the thrill."

Gabrielle and Ginny nodded as his girlfriends rolled their eyes. "I'm glad you were safe on the ride," Susan declared, "Merlin knows we have enough to worry about with you."

Harry grinned, taking her comment in stride. "What should we do next?"

Harry was in heaven.

Spending the day at the theme park, whether it was getting on the next ride they wanted to try, trying a new kind of food, or a small game, he was enjoying the day in a way that he had almost never enjoyed before.

He was powerless to resist the force that was Hermione Granger when she saw something that might tax her intelligence. Hermione had taken pity on Harry, not subjecting him to endless stores of gift shopping that Susan and Amelia seemed to love doing, and was walking around with him after arranging a meeting place and time. They had just wandered into another 'world' in the park when Hermione squealed and started dragging him off away from the rest of their group. "Harry! This was one of my favorite parts of the park when my parents brought me here after our first year. I couldn't figure it out then, and had to get my parents to come help me. This time we're going to conquer it together!" she exulted, eyes wide and bright with excitement.

Harry didn't answer, taking in the sight of the Alice in Wonderland hedge maze with more than a bit of trepidation.

"Come on, Harry!" his girlfriend insisted, grabbing his hand and pulling him along with her, oblivious to his growing discomfort.

The first few steps inside the maze weren't bad. With Hermione taking the lead, trying to calculate her path through based on her memory from three years before, Harry was focused on trying to make sure the hedges weren't closing in on them. A sunny, hot Parisian summer day grew darker and colder with each step they took. Chattering children on the other side of the hedge sounded like the clatter of an acromantula to his fearful ears, yet still Hermione pulled him deeper into the maze.

She led him around a corner to find a gardener trimming back the hedges and for the briefest moment, Harry's mind sent him back to watching Cedric pulled down by that hedge maze. He started to go for his wand to hit the hedge in front of him with a few reducto spells, but his girlfriend's voice brought him out of the funk.

"Harry? Why are you lagging? We need to get moving!"

Shaking his head clear of the vision, Harry took in the sight of her excited, determined eyes and forced a smile back to his face. "Lead on, MacDuff," he said, enjoying the flash in her eyes at the Shakespeare quotation.

"Actually, Harry, the line is 'Lay on, Macduff, and damned be him who fir cries "Hold! Enough!"' Never misquote Shakespeare to someone named Hermione."

He huffed at her cheeky grin. "That's what I get for never reading that play, then. Anyway, lead on!"

"Follow me!" she said, taking his hand once more.

From that point, she held his hand, lacing their fingers together. Losing track of him so early on while he stared at the gardener was disconcerting, so she kept him nearby. As they went deeper into the maze, Harry's movements grew stiffer and more uncoordinated. She started to get worried about him, but every time she checked how he was doing, he smiled down at her. She did notice that as they progressed, the smile grew farther and farther away from his eyes.

Things came to a head when they rounded another corner into a dead end. "Drat! I don't remember this part of the maze," Hermione growled, looking around for anything to serve as a bearing. Seeing nothing, she pulled him back, retracing their steps. Moving in a different direction, she failed to notice Harry freezing up at the sight of a teacup decoration in one dead end as she let go of his hand to try her next idea.

The teacup morphed in front of his eyes, taking on the shape and form of the Tri-Wizard cup. The bright day turned to night, and he was cold. There was a blinding flash of light and then he was back in the graveyard.

"Kill the spare…"

Not this time, he swore in his head. This time he would get to Cedric before his life could be wasted. Harry turned his body, trying to get over to the boy, but it was like he was running through molasses. He couldn't make himself run fast enough.

Just before the blinding flash of green light could strike Cedric's body again, a voice started shouting his name. A concerned voice. It was Hermione. He shook his head at the incongruity of Hermione being in the graveyard. She hadn't been there with him. It was just Cedric, who Wormtail killed without a second thought. Hands grabbed his shoulders, shaking him roughly. "Harry!"

"What? Who's there? What do you want?" he shouted, still fighting to get over to block the spell somehow.

"Harry! Come back, Harry! Please come back to me. You have to snap out of it!" Hermione urged.

He shook his head, fighting through the memory, but baby-Voldemort was still there, and Wormtail was getting ready to cast the killing curse. Tears coursed down his cheeks at his inability to save Cedric.

"Please forgive me for this, Harry," Hermione said softly. Sadly.

Suddenly a hard, flat impact across his cheek exploded his face in a world of pain. When his clenched eyes opened again, Hermione's eyes were inches from his own. "Harry? Are you back now?"

"What? Where are we?" he asked, eyes darting around, trying to blink the moisture away.

"Oh, bloody hell! The Third Task! I should have remembered. Come on, Harry," she asked, pulling him to his feet, "Let's get out of this. I am so, so sorry."

Harry was silent, still trying to come to terms with what happened in the maze as Hermione dragged him out the way they came in, dodging incoming children and families and apologizing the entire way. If she'd been focused on solving the maze before, it was nothing compared to her intensity at getting him out.

At last they cleared the maze. Rather than stopping at the first bench she saw, Hermione pulled him down the walkway until they were completely out of sight before throwing her arms around him in a tight embrace. "I had no idea that would affect you that way, Harry. I can't say 'I'm sorry' enough. Can you forgive me?"

Harry took a deep breath. "It's not your fault. I was a little worried when I saw the hedges, but I didn't think I would react that badly."

She took his hand and guided him over to the bench. "Just put your head on my shoulder, Harry. I'll keep the bad feelings away if you'll let me."

He resisted at first, still feeling the need for space after the Alice in Wonderland hedge maze closed in on him, but Hermione's eyes were pleading for the chance to make up for her oversight, and her arms did look inviting. He sighed, sat down next to her, and cuddled in, not caring about people looking at him.

"It was awful. I was back in the Tournament, in the hedge maze with all the animals and traps. When I saw the teacup, it turned into the Tri-Wizard Cup," he said, keeping his voice low to avoid people around him overhearing.

"You had a flashback. Traumatic experiences manifesting as a temporarily substituted reality," she said, remembering the definition she'd read.

"It was horrible," he murmured to her neck.

Her parents, Amelia, and Susan came upon them sitting there a few minutes later, Jean-Paul and Apolline not far behind. "What happened? Amelia asked, rushing forward seeing their position and Harry's tear-stained face, Susan not far behind. She pulled the boy to his feet and enveloped him in a warm, supportive hug. Mary wasn't far behind, and between them, Harry was feeling maternal care and concern for one of the first times in his life.

Hermione looked down, ashamed. "I dragged Harry into the Alice in Wonderland hedge maze. I couldn't solve it a few years ago, but I thought I could now, especially with him."

Everyone got it. "Dear Merlin. You flashed back to the Tournament. Hermione! What were you thinking?" Mary scolded her daughter.

The girl hung her head as Harry straightened up. "I wasn't thinking, Mum, and I admit that. I just saw a brain puzzle that I wanted to try to solve."

"Don't be mad at her, or at least don't be totally mad at her. I could have stopped it at any time. I wanted to see if I was stronger than the maze. I wasn't," Harry said, his voice dropping off to a whisper at the end.

"Don't, Harry. It was my fault. I should have remembered," Hermione apologized.

Amelia took a deep breath, releasing her hold on Harry and allowing his girlfriends to take her place.

"Come on, Harry," Susan said, remembering his joy at the roller coaster earlier, "There's a ride about someone named Peter Pan I saw a little while back. It didn't seem to be too intense. Want to go on it with me?"

"I thought you didn't like roller coasters?"

"I don't think it's a real roller coaster. It doesn't move too fast," she said, "Besides, I want you to do something that makes you happy after that experience."

Perking up, Harry took Susan's hand, then looked back to their girlfriend. "Hermione? Do you want to come along?"

"No," she shook her head, "I think I'd better stay back for this. Why don't you two go and enjoy the ride. You can pick up some ice cream or something on the way back."

Harry looked like he wanted to try to persuade her, but Hermione refused to meet his eyes, staring at her shoes with a reddened tone to her skin.

When the two teens had gone, Mary sat down next to her daughter. "What happened?"

"Like we said: I saw the maze, got excited at a puzzle, and didn't think about how it might affect him. I feel so bad, Mum."

"It was an easy mistake to make," Amelia said, taking the girl's other side, "But learn from it. Harry still obviously has issues related to the Tournament. Merlin, it wasn't even that long ago!"

"Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD," Mike chimed in, "that's what psychologists call it."

"That makes way too much sense," Amelia said, "He's probably got it in spades from his childhood and from what happened at Hogwarts."

"I think there is more to Mister Potter than meets the eye," Jean-Paul said, "And something tells me I will both enjoy and not enjoy the stories."

"What can we do to help him?" Hermione asked, still not making eye contact.

"Just be there for him. You did a great job when you realized what happened," Amelia said, rubbing the girl's back, "He realized that. He didn't seem upset with you. Hang in there," she finished.

Hermione gave the older woman a weak smile, but it was there. "Thanks. I'll do my best."

"He knows you care about him, sweetheart," Mike said, getting into the conversation, "Just make sure to reinforce that and you'll be fine."

"Thank you, Daddy," she smiled, getting up to give him a hug.

"Why don't you head off and see if you can join them in line?" Amelia suggested.

Hermione shook her head. "I had time alone with Susan earlier, and then Harry and I had our time alone in the maze. Let them have time alone together."

"He introduced you both as his girlfriends. You don't think it will lead to jealousy if you pair off?" Apolline wondered.

"It might, but that will just be something for the three of us to talk about," the Gryffindor explained, "It's unrealistic to think all three of us are going to want to do everything together all the time. There are going to be times when one of us isn't feeling up to something, or just isn't interested in something the others want to do. I Think that's actually one of the strengths of our relationship – that there won't be any pressure on someone to do things they don't enjoy. There will be times when we girls want to do something that Harry won't, and vice versa. We just have to be honest with each other."

"That's an incredibly mature attitude to have about life," Jean-Paul complimented her.

"Thank you," she returned with a smile.

Harry and Susan got off the ride and walked down the ramp, laughing and hanging on each other. "That was awesome! It was like the ride was trying to tell us the story!" he exclaimed.

"I liked it too. It definitely wasn't as intense as a roller coaster," Susan agreed, "I can handle rides like that. You and your roller coasters are like quidditch. Not for me."

At the end of the day, Harry made a point to give every single one of them a heartfelt hug and thanked them for making his birthday celebration one of the best days of his life. Saving Jean-Paul for last of the non-family group, he made a point of taking the older man aside and making a very specific request. The older man was only too happy to agree.

It was a tired group of British that took a portkey back to their Ministry and then another back to Grimmauld Place.

The soft opening and closing of his bedroom door would have been quiet enough to go undetected by most people, but not for his reflexes. Years of being trained to awaken at the slightest noise, lest his cousin or uncle take his lack of response as an excuse to whale on him, had simultaneously honed his ability to waken at the slightest of disturbances and stolen his ability to achieve deep sleep. In a house as terrifying as Grimmauld Place could be, that ability was annoying, but useful.

This time, though he couldn't see anything, he could hear soft footfalls padding across his room. Light feminine giggling from two different voices told him all he needed to know.

"Shh!" Hermione's voice whispered, "You'll wake him!"

"I'm being quiet," Susan's voice hissed back before both dissolved into more giggles, "You're the one who keeps shushing me."

"Hermione? Susan? What do you need?" Harry asked.

Busted, they stopped tiptoeing and just walked over to his bed, settling down one on each side. "Lumos," he heard from each side. The glow from their wands illuminated his two beautiful girlfriends in their nightwear. Spaghetti strap camisoles and very short, tight sleep shorts were extremely alluring, even in the weak moonlight streaming in from his window. Merlin, he thought to himself, their legs go on up forever!

Forcing his eyes up to their own, he decided to ignore their knowing smirks. The two girls settled their wands in special holes on the nightstands on either side of his bed, bathing the area in a soft light.

Before he could ask again what they were doing in his room, he felt soft lips kissing each of his cheeks. "What was that for?"

"Well, we screwed up. Badly," Hermione said, "And we're really sorry. I forgot about the Third Task when I dragged you into that maze today, and I feel awful about what happened. I'm so sorry."

"Both of us forgot your birthday," Susan said, interrupting his protest over Hermione's apology before it could get started. She looked down at her hands before meeting his gaze again. "Harry, I can't even begin to say how sorry I am for that, especially after how much work you put into making my birthday so amazing on the island," she apologized, laying down on his right side and cuddling in, wrapping her right arm over his chest and putting her right leg over his as her head found its customary place on his shoulder.

He tried as hard as he could not to look down the front of her camisole sleep shirt, but the eyes of a teenage male were always going to be drawn like magnets to the valley between such large, creamy mounds.

"Harry?" Susan called his attention, having noticed where his gaze had been.

He looked up, closing his eyes in embarrassment at being caught staring at her chest.

"You can look. I'm not ready to take my shirt off in front of either of you yet, but you shouldn't feel ashamed to look at whatever my clothes show. I chose to dress like this in front of both of you, after all."

"The same goes for me, for both of you," said Hermione, breaking his weakness and allowing him to wrench his gaze to his brunette girlfriend. He tried not to think too much on how her own eyes seemed to be shooting up from the other girl to meet his at the same time. "You both pretty much saw my bum on the island anyway," she reminded them with a grin, her blush clear even in the dim light, "Anyway, I have even less excuse, Harry. I've been your friend since you jumped on the back of a troll in first year. I've known when your birthday was. The travel and the attacks are my only excuse. I'm so sorry, Harry," she apologized.

Hermione didn't possess Susan's dimensions but her own sleep shirt flattered her petite frame nicely, and he caught himself watching her curves as she copied Susan's pose on his left side. "It's okay, both of you. I promise. You more than made up for it with the trip today, and you both had good reasons to have other things on your mind. I care about you both, and I don't want you to be upset over something like that. Please?" he asked, looking them both in the eye.

"Such a gallant boyfriend we have. I think it's time for his real birthday present, don't you agree, Lady Hermione?" Susan asked, a cheeky grin on her face.

"I do believe you're correct, Lady Susan," the brunette answered with her own smirk.

The redhead took the lead and levered herself up on one elbow. Looking down into Harry's eyes in the dim light, she smiled at him. "Shhh. Just enjoy this. Happy birthday, Harry," she whispered before leaning forward and crushing her entire body to his, throwing one leg over his. Their lips were last to meet, a soft, wet, warm joining, familiar and yet still new and foreign, exhilarating no matter what. She chose to share this intimacy with him, and it sent a thrum of excitement down his spine.

Then something new happened. Something even more warm and wet than her lips poked at his. Never having felt anything like this before, Harry opened his mouth in surprise, allowing her tongue entry into his mouth. At first unsure what to do, he let her take the lead, poking around his mouth, but after a few moments, the feeling got to be too good, so he pushed his own forward, feeling hers for the first time. Her hand came up, cupping his cheek and stroking the light stubble on his face as she kissed him.

For a few minutes their tongues dueled as they snogged. Unsure what to do with his hands, Harry settled for sliding them up her back and reveling in the feeling of her smooth, warm skin between the straps of her top. Their kissing distracted her enough that in her growing arousal, Susan unconsciously started pressing her core against his leg.

Unfortunately – or very fortunately – for him, her position and her attire, along with his previous views of both of them gave him a very normal, if involuntary, reaction. Susan, feeling his growing length as she slid her knee up and down his leg, squeaked, breaking the kiss and turning so red she could have passed for Gryffindor common room decoration.

"Susan? Is everything okay?" Hermione asked, reaching forward to stroke her thigh.

Harry started coughing as he realized what Susan had felt to lead to that reaction. "Oh, just kill me now."

Taking pity on the poor male, Susan leaned over and whispered in Hermione's ear, unintentionally pressing up against his manhood again. Hermione mimicked Susan's squeak when her girlfriend told her what was going on. She took a deep breath and composed herself before leaning up and giving the other girl a passionate kiss. "Well? The birthday boy is waiting. Don't do anything you're uncomfortable with, but enjoy it."

Susan, glassy-eyed from the lip-lock with her girlfriend, took one look down at Harry and dove back into their kiss.

The feeling of her breasts dragging up and down his body only drive him wilder. In the brief moment his Gryffindor courage surged to the fore, he slid his hands down and cupped her firm, rounded buttocks.

The resulting squeal that Susan made broke their kiss again. "Harry!" she exclaimed, pulling back.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" he apologized, yanking his hands away as shame raced through him at the thought of his liberties making her uncomfortable.

The girl looked down at him with surprise turning into a smile at his consternation. "Don't worry, silly boy. You just surprised me with that. You touched more than that on the island; I wasn't expecting it here. I kinda liked it," she winked.

On his other side, Hermione's eyes were fixed and her breathing heavy. "Wow," she whispered.

"What? Are you okay?"

The brunette turned to her boyfriend. "I totally understand the male obsession with boobs now. Watching Susan's chest bouncing when she shot up like that," she trailed off into a whimper, "Scoot over," Hermione urged the redhead, "It's my turn!"

With a tinkling laugh, Susan slid her leg off of his and moved back to the side, allowing Hermione to throw her leg over one of his own like the redhead had.

Falling forward, she braced herself on her elbow and crashed her lips on his. After a few moments starting the same as Susan had, she also slid her tongue out from between her lips, tapping on his own as if asking permission to enter. He gladly opened his mouth, allowing their tongues to dance together in and between their mouths. Like Susan before her, Hermione was the more aggressive of the two in their kiss, pressing him more than he pressed her, but with lessons from Amelia about not pushing for more than his partner was ready for echoing in his mind, he was more than content to let her take the lead.

Also like before, he contented himself at first with rubbing her back, but the memory of Susan's rear end in his hands and Hermione's reminder than they had seen almost all of her own had him sliding them downward to cup the clothed flesh. Expecting the squeak, he was surprised when she almost seemed to be expecting it and instead moaned into his mouth as she pressed her own core on his thigh. Now it was Hermione's turn to moan when she felt her oversensitive center rubbing on Harry.

Susan's sudden intake of breath signaled something, but he wasn't sure what, too lost in the feeling of the growing heat sliding on his own groin. Hermione broke the kiss off and pulled back, eyes wild. He looked over to Susan, who was kneeling on the bed next to his head and watching them with rapt interest. Hermione reached over and drew Susan into a searing kiss, threading her fingers into the other girl's hair to hold her in place as their tongues danced back and forth.

"Wow. Best birthday ever," he breathed, enjoying the feeling of the two witches cuddled into his sides.

After allowing the redhead to catch her breath, she reached over his body and tapped her on the shoulder. They shared a look, communicating without words, and both girls gave him another simultaneous kiss on the cheeks. "Happy Birthday, Harry," they whispered before settling down in their accustomed spots as all three fell into a deep sleep.

Chapter Text

August 4, 1995

"I'm worried about Ginny," Molly said to her husband as they paced the Gryffindor common room, "It was easy to see why she stayed away, but she's out there without anyone from her family."

"I know, Molly. I wish we could be there with her, but I think we made the right decision letting her stay with Harry and Sirius at his house. You know how safe that place is. We'd be there ourselves if they'd been in Britain when the Burrow was attacked," her husband agreed.

Before they could say any more, Dumbledore entered the common room. "Good morning, Weasleys. I hope you're at least comfortable here while you arrange new housing."

"Very comfortable, Headmaster, but I think we're getting ready to head to Gringotts to make arrangements. I think we're ready to get Ginny back under our roof," Arthur said, keeping a wary eye on the old man.

Both adult Weasleys were distinctly uncomfortable at how Dumbledore's answering smile never went anywhere near his eyes. "As a matter of fact, I just happened to get a notice from the Ministry that Harry Potter and quite a few of his friends, including your youngest child, have taken an international portkey to France. Given the forms they received for transferring their education to Beauxbatons, I can only surmise that they are making their final preparations to leave magical Britain behind them, abandoning us all to Lord Voldemort's…shall we say less than tender mercies."

Molly's eyes went wide, but Arthur set his jaw. "Don't worry about that, Albus. We know where they were going and why. With the resurgence of You-Know-Who and his servants, not to mention the antagonistic attitude the Ministry and the media have taken to Harry's efforts to defend himself, we may be moving to France as a family, not just Ginny and Ron's schooling."

For the briefest moment, anger flashed across Dumbledore's face, frightening both of them. "Such a decision would be the height of irresponsibility. The Weasleys – and Prewitts, incidentally – are some of magical Britan's oldest pureblood families. Abandoning your country in the midst of this struggle would help condemn our people to Voldemort's brutality. Harry leaving is already giving the enemy the edge he needs. That's why I have argued from the beginning that he should never have left his relatives' loving care or my guardianship."

The final dig at Harry was one too many. Molly had heard enough. Grabbing his beard, she dragged his face down to hers to deliver a howler in person. "You listen to me, you delusional excuse for a wizard. Those so-called 'loving relatives' you keep harping about almost killed that poor boy! You should never have left him with them! They're little better than animals, and now thanks to Amelia Bones they'll be living like animals in their very own cages.

"Also thanks to Amelia Bones, Harry has a guardian now who cares for him. She won't allow him to be abused anymore, whether that's physical, mental, or emotional. Ginny told us what happened to Harry growing up and then some of the things you've hidden from us that happened right here in these walls. You failed him in every way, and because of that, you'll never, ever, have any responsibilities for him again."

"Harry needs to be with his relatives to be able to accept his destiny, no matter what you have to say about the matter," Dumbledore growled, withdrawing his beard from the irate woman's grasp.

Molly stepped back, a deep sense of wrongness about Dumbledore's fixation on Harry suffusing her. "We disagree completely, Albus. For now, we need to start making plans for our permanent residence. You only have another month before the students come back, after all."

"There is no hurry at all, Molly. Take all the time you need. Once the school starts up again, you will be more than welcome to live at Grimmauld Place. After all, Harry won't be needing it when he's at Hogwarts," Dumbledore said, turning and walking away, content that he had one of Harry's closest allies under his thumb.

Molly and Arthur shared a glance, communicating without words the need to get their family out of the castle.

"I have to tell you, Pup: if you caught Dumbledore in your prank, I'm going to have to speak with Moony and make you an official Marauder," Sirius grinned at him at breakfast.

"What about me, oh cousin of mine? It was my idea!" Tonks protested, winking at Harry.

"You, too, Tonks," he retorted, "It would be good to get the Marauder numbers back up to four."

"Where is Professor Lupin, anyway? I thought we'd have seen more of him once you were cleared," Hermione wanted to know.

Sirius shrugged. "He probably went into the muggle world for work. Werewolves have a notoriously difficult time finding employment in magical Britain. That's why so many of them joined Riddle in the first war. He promised them status and money. We keep in touch, but infrequently. Owls for communication don't appear too well in the muggle world, as you know."

"That's awful!" the brunette exclaimed, "Are other countries like that?"

"Some are," Amelia said, joining the conversation, "Some are worse, most are better. Now that I've seen more of the non-magical world, it's been pretty clear to me that Britain pretty much stopped developing around 1850."

"Wasn't Dumbledore born around then?" Susan asked.

"1881, if I remember. Not long afterward."

"Hmm," Hermione hummed, thinking to herself.

An owl tapped on the window, breaking the moment.

"What do we have here?" Sirius asked, taking the note and unfurling it after scanning for charms and hexes.

The note had been tied around a small glass vial, stoppered with a small piece of cork. The vial contained just a single silvery memory thread, piquing everyone's curiosity. Sirius spread the parchment out on the table, noting that aside from a number of signatures, it had just one word neatly penned across the top: 'Bravo'.

Below that word were the signatures of every professor at Hogwarts except Severus Snape. Even Hagrid's scrawl adorned the parchment.

"Oh boy, Harry," Susan grinned, "I think your prank worked. Where's the pensieve?"

Sirius called for Kreacher to bring the device out to the kitchen so the Grangers could see it, too. When they were all assembled, he dumped the memory into the liquid and activated the projection rune.

From the very start, they were treated to the sights and sounds of Albus Dumbledore rapping 'Baby Got Back' on the staff table at breakfast.

The image, facing the entire table at once as the person sending the memory was obviously late to the meal, started moving up and down, as they were obviously shaking in laughter. The person turned to look at the rest of the staff table to show their reactions, finding Severus Snape aghast at the Headmaster's antics. His jaw hung open with his eyes bulging as his usually pallid complexion turned positively pale.

"I don't think I've ever seen Professor Snape show that much emotion before. I didn't even know his face could move that much," Hermione giggled, getting an answering laugh from Susan next to her.

The view shifted to the other professors. Filius Flitwick was holding his sides as he verged on toppling out of his chair, so hard was he laughing. Surprising them all, even Hagrid was chuckling at the old man's antics. Before Dumbledore's trial and the revelations of Harry's childhood, the giant would have been counted as one of his strongest supporters in the world.

Moving down the line, the person beheld the stern visage of Madam Pince as she glared at Dumbledore. Her lips were pursed as if sucking on a slice of lemon at his antics. 'Headmaster Dumbledore! Get down this instant!' she hissed at the man, but the compulsion was still going strong.

Professor Sprout made no pretense of decorum with the students not present, and didn't even bother hiding her laughs. Her shoulders were shaking and her full, rich mirth sounded in between Dumbledore's lyrics.

The Deputy Headmistress was fighting a losing battle to keep one corner of her mouth from quirking up. With the way her eyes were shining, Harry could see she was having to work harder than he'd ever seen her to keep the laughter in.

Up and down the line, the rest of the staff was having the same reaction to the old man. Some were outwardly laughing, while others were smothering their amusement as the Headmaster hopped up and down the table in the best approximation of a dance his elderly body was capable of doing.

The assembled group around the pensieve were laughing just as hard, but without the need to silence or suppress their amusement. Harry had tears rolling down his eyes. Every time he caught his breath, Dumbledore would start a new line and he'd start laughing all the harder. Hermione and Susan were leaning on each other for support, otherwise they'd have slid to the floor about halfway through the memory.

From his spot on the floor, Sirius wiped his eyes and looked up between Harry and Dora. "That's it. You two are official Marauders now. We just need to figure out your names," he wheezed, "Hermione and Susan: you're either going to have your hands full or step up your game and join them."

"Challenge accepted," Susan grinned.

Hermione matched her grin in a look that the males present would see in their nightmares for weeks to come. "Oh, I think between the two of us we could come up with some good pranks, Susan," she smirked at the other girl.

Mike and Mary were still roaring with laughter at Dumbledore's antics. Mary was especially enjoying his comeuppance. Seeing the man who had caused the boy who'd saved her daughter's life so much trouble acting like he was had her experiencing the heights of schadenfreude. Then she saw Hermione's evil smile in response to Susan's remark. "I don't know if I love that smile or it scares me silly," she said, "You've never exactly been a prankster, Hermione."

The brunette gave her mother an evil look, "But that was before I spent four years learning from the Weasley twins, dating the son of a Marauder, and learning from one of the originals. Trust me, Mum, I have pranks for days saved up here," she finished, tapping her head.

"Note to self: stay on Hermione's good side," Harry murmured just loud enough for everyone to hear.

With a smile at his innocence, Susan reached over and gave him a soft peck on the lips. "Close, dear," she whispered.


"It should have been: stay on Hermione's and Susan's good sides," she corrected, letting her soft, loving smile at her boyfriend turn into an evil smirk.

As Harry stammered out a response, the adults started howling all the harder.

"All right! Who wants to track down another horcrux?" Sirius chuckled.

Amelia was seated in front of him at his desk while Tonks had a sofa to herself and Harry, Hermione, and Susan took a small loveseat that had them cuddling. Mike and Mary were standing in the corner, listening to the preparations, but absolutely out of their depth when it came to magical curse-breaking.

"Try not to be too flippant, Sirius," Amelia scolded, "None of these things should be taken lightly. He's probably going to have traps and all sorts of other nasty surprises around them. You're going to need to be careful."

"Don't worry, Amelia. We'll be careful, I promise," the Marauder said, apology in his tone.

"Are you sure you won't need us to come along?" Hermione asked, unhappy at Harry going into unknown dangers without her.

Harry shook his head. "It's not that we don't need or want you to come along; it's that we need people here going through the library researching horcruxes and other soul magics to find a way to get the one out of my head. Sirius, Tonks, and I can handle the horcrux, especially since the goblins are sending along Bill Weasley to help with the curse breaking that we may need to do."

"Bill? Oh, good. He's going to be a huge help," Tonks said from the sofa.

"He should be here in the next few minutes," Harry continued, "And then we can cast the point-me on a quill like we did at Gringotts."

Before anyone else could say anything, the wards thrummed and there was a knock at the door. "That's probably him right now. I'll go check," Sirius said, getting up and heading to the front door.

"I'll go get a quill so we can do the locator," Susan offered.

She had just returned when Sirius led Bill into the room. "Hey, Harry," he greeted, "Grinlast told me a bit about what you're trying to do, and I'm glad to help however I can."

"Thanks, Bill. I really appreciate it," Harry nodded, "You know Amelia, I'm sure. This is her niece, Susan, and Hermione Granger. Those are her parents in the corner, and this one with the pink hair and potty mouth is Tonks," he grinned at the spluttering auror, "Susan here has a quill we can use, but the first thing I wanted to do is get a big map of Great Britain and a compass. The way Grinlast showed us this Point-Me spell, the quill indicated a specific direction. I thought it would be a good idea to plot where we are on the map, then use a compass to figure out where the most likely spots for a horcrux to be along those headings."

"That's a great idea, Harry!" Hermione enthused, giving him a peck on the cheek, "Sirius, do you have a compass here?"

"I just might. Kreacher!" he shouted.

The elf appeared in the room. "Nasty master calls for Kreacher?"

"Do we have a magnetic compass in the house?"

Without a word the old elf snapped his fingers, causing a compass to appear on the table by the fireplace. Kreacher popped back out of the room without another word.

"Creepy old elf," Harry muttered, "Okay, now we need a map."

Sirius went over to the bookcases in the corner of his study and pulled a sheaf of parchment off of one of the shelves. He tossed the stack onto the desk and started shuffling through the documents. "Here we go!" he exclaimed, finding the one he needed. With a wave of his wand, the others flew back to the shelf and the map he wanted unfolded itself on the desk, oriented correctly to the cardinal directions.

"Perfect," Harry grinned, reading the title, "'A Magical Atlas of Great Britain'. Now we just need a quill and the spell."

Hermione suddenly realized what they would be using for the signature they'd be scanning. Bill was the only one there who didn't know Harry's secret. "Bill, for this part, you need to either leave the room or give us a secrecy oath."

"All my work for the goblins is covered under a confidentiality oath, Hermione," Bill said, looking over the map.

"I'm sorry, for this that's not good enough," the steel in Hermione's voice had them all looking at her, "What we're about to do will reveal something that we're keeping secret from everyone in the wizarding world until we have a solution. It's that important. Either leave the room or swear a secrecy oath to us."

"Sirius? Amelia?" Bill asked, looking for confirmation from the adults. To his surprise, the DMLE head nodded. "She's right, Mister Weasley. This is important enough to us that we'll need that oath, or you can go get a drink or use the loo while we cast the Point-Me."

The older wizard just nodded, not needing to contribute anything more to the conversation.

A little surprised at their insistence, Bill eventually nodded his acceptance. Withdrawing his wand, he held it up in front of him. "I swear on my magic that I will not reveal anything I learn at Grimmauld Place or during the horcrux hunt that Harry Potter, Sirius Black, Amelia Bones, or any of their family forbid me from revealing."

A flash of light accompanied his oath.

Satisfied, Hermione nodded her acceptance. "Thank you, Bill. I'm sorry again that it had to be that way, but when you see what we're about to do, you'll understand."

Without another word, Susan got to her feet and took the quill over to the desk. Hermione joined her, lining up the compass arrow to magnetic north. "Okay, we're good to go."

The redhead nodded. "Harry, would you join us over here?"

He moved over to the desk with the girls. "Do it."

Susan faced him, smiling at the trepidation in his expression. "Don't worry, it won't hurt."

"I'm not worried about it hurting; I'm worried about it not working."

"It'll work. Grinlast showed us exactly what to do," she reassured him.

Behind them, Bill was looking confused, but Sirius quieted any questions before he could ask them with a wave of his hand. "They know what they're doing."

Without another word, Susan cast the spell between Harry's forehead and the quill. The same wrongly glowing black light sprang from Harry's head to the feather.

Bill's jaw dropped open.

Before anyone could explain, the feather, hovering in the air above London on the map, spun in several directions before pointing almost due north. Knowing what he expected to see, Harry got out a self-inking quill and a yardstick. He aligned the measuring tool with the quill and traced along the yardstick. "Damn," he breathed when he saw where the line intersected, "Just what I was worried about."

"What is it?" Hermione asked, coming over.

"Little Hangleton."

Everyone in the room except Bill took a deep breath. "The graveyard?" Susan wondered.

"No, I think it's here," he answered, tapping his finger over where the line intersected a building labeled 'Gaunt', "Sirius, does this map show family ancestral homes?"

"Everything not hidden under a Fidelius," his godfather confirmed.

"Then it's here. Gaunt Manor, or Gaunt House, or whatever."

"How do you know that, Harry?" Bill asked, wanting to know the reason for his certainty.

"Voldemort's real name is Tom Riddle. He was the son of Merope Gaunt, a squib of that family, and a muggle named Tom Riddle."

"Bloody hell. He's a half-blood."

"Yep. That's why I think the horcrux is at the old Gaunt place and not at the graveyard."

"What's this about a graveyard?"

"During the last event of the Triwizard Tournament, I was abducted via a modified portkey on the cup and sent to the graveyard here at Little Hangleton. Once I arrived, an escaped Death Eater used my blood in a dark ritual that gave Moldy-shorts a body back."

"Bloody hell," Bill said again, "And I take it the big secret is the fact that you have another one in your scar?"

Flinching at it being spoke out loud by someone not in his inner group, Harry took a moment before nodding.

"No one can find that out, Bill," Hermione said, eyes flashing, "If it gets out that Harry has one of Riddle's horcruxes in his forehead, his life won't be worth a Knut."

Nodding again, Bill rubbed his face with his hands. "I understand. I won't reveal that to anyone. Grinlast told me the goblins are helping you destroy these things so V – Riddle can be dealt with permanently."

"Exactly, and although there's a prophecy that says Harry has to be the one to finish him off, we're not sticking around to find out. Once his horcrux is gone, we're leaving the country. All of us," Amelia said, joining the conversation for the first time. "I'm going to resign from the Ministry and Hermione's parents are selling their dental practice."

"Mom and Dad sent me an owl saying you were all going to be back at Hogwarts when the year starts and they'd be moving here," the redhead said, brows furrowed.

"Dumbledore," Harry growled, "He must be intercepting their mail and changing it. We got a letter from Percy at the school laced with compulsion and tracking charms."

Bill wanted to argue, refuting that assertion with everything he had, but after talking to the people here and remembering some of the articles that were published after Dumbledore's trial, he couldn't. "We need to get my family out of Hogwarts."

"Cast the spell again, Susan," Harry said, "I want to see if it might show another one."

Looking at him a little funny but not arguing, Susan cast the spell again. This time the quill spun in circles and pointed to the north and slightly west.

Harry set his jaw. "I have a very bad feeling about this," he said. Taking the yardstick once more, he aligned it with the feather and took the inked quill, tracing the path up. "Yep, just what I was afraid of."

"Hogwarts," Hermione said.


"Well, maybe this isn't all bad," Sirius said, "If we can get a plan together to go in, distract Dumbledore, and get the horcrux and the Weasleys out."

"Sure, piece of cake," Hermione groaned.

"That's for later. For now, we need a plan for dealing with the Gaunt house," Harry said.

"I assume you mean more than just run in, grab the horcrux and run like hell?" Tonks deadpanned.

Harry gave her a wry look. "Speaking as one orphan about another, if I was leaving something meaningful in my family's ancestral home, I would leave all kinds of nasty surprises to guard it."

Sirius nodded. "That makes sense. Plus, you factor in what kind of psychopath we're dealing with and he might even have a monitor on the place, warning him if someone takes the horcrux. Hence why I want a plan."

"Well, we can't exactly plan too much, since we don't know what the house looks like. But we do have Bill and Tonks going with you, and me," Harry said, "So Bill can handle the heavy curse-breaking, you and Tonks will be there for extra power if needed, and I can handle any Parseltongue magic he set up. I think we should take a few doses of Pepper-up potion each, though, to help recover after we take down the wards."

"And Susan and I will stay back and start researching soul magics to get the one out of Harry, with Amelia staying here to help defuse any traps we may or may not set off on those books," Hermione finished, "I don't like being left behind, but if we're going to get through this we each need to play to our strengths."

Mike spoke up in his turn. "I plan on going out to look into getting us licenses to carry firearms. I still maintain that a bullet traveling faster than the speed of sound would do a hell of a lot of damage to a wizard who simply can't react fast enough to get a shield up. I have some contacts from my local shooting club that should be able to help. Amelia," he said, turning to the witch and sliding his driver's license out of his wallet, "Would you be able to somehow create copies of this for all the teens?"

She looked the document over. "That won't be any problem, but it may be easier to go through the DMLE. We have a liaison office with Scotland Yard, and they understand that magicals don't always have the same documentation that non-magicals do. What if I went through that office, getting official licenses like this created and put into government records? That way there wouldn't be any doubts as to their validity if they were challenged."

"That would be perfect. I know laws about owning and carrying handguns are extremely strict, so getting Scotland Yard involved, explaining that these teenagers are in direct danger from a terrorist, might allow for an exception under the law for them. For now, I'll head to my club to see about specific types of weapons and ammunition, plus some training for the group."

Sirius was digging in his desk for four medallions. Laying them atop the map, he cast the portkey spell on each. "I want each of us wearing these. Once we get the horcrux, we get the hell out with these portkeys."

"All right. Everyone ready?" Sirius asked, enchanting the yardstick to take them as a group as close as they could get to the Gaunt house. "Take hold and let's go!"

"So, do either of you want to tell me what's changed with your relationship?" Amelia asked after the group left. She and Mary Granger were following Susan and Hermione up the stairs to the library while Mike Granger stayed behind to study the map some more.

Hermione stumbled in her steps to the library, but caught her balance admirably. Susan choked on air. "A – Auntie?"

Amelia and Mary shared a grin. "You were very close in the study just now, touching both Harry and each other more than you have been. You also looked a lot more upset to see him leave than you had in the past. So, the most obvious conclusion is that something changed. Would you like to share what it was?"

The girls looked at each other, communicating without words before Hermione nodded. "We've been sharing a bed some nights, but you knew that. The other night, after we all got back from Paris," she took a deep breath, "we visited him in his room. Are you sure you want to hear this, Mum?"

Mary shrugged, blushing but resolved to have this awkward conversation to make sure her daughter was okay. "You're three teenagers dating each other, living under one roof, while your country is for all intents and purposes at civil war. It wouldn't exactly be earth-shaking if you were getting physical. I just hope if you do that you're responsible. I'm way too young to be a grandmother, and so is Amelia, I believe."

Hermione blushed bright red before shaking her head. "Okay, well, we each took turns snogging, but Susan and I were sort of on top of him – fully clothed – but not totally, and I guess we were…moving ourselves…on top of him. None of our clothes came off, though."

Susan's face was almost as red as her hair. "I wasn't ready to go any further then, but that won't be the case in the future. Are you sure you want to hear about each step?" she asked, her voice barely wavering.

"No, I don't want to hear about what you do in private. I just wanted to be sure you were being responsible and everyone consented to what you were doing," Amelia said, "I did teach Harry the contraceptive charms when we had the Talk, and I'll help you girls get the potion when you need it. Just remember to make sure you're in love and it's something you all want to do. When you get to that point you can come to either me or Mary if you have any questions at all. We'd rather deal with an uncomfortable talk than have you trying to figure something out on your own, right Mary?"

The elder Granger nodded. "Absolutely."

"Now that we have all that settled, can we please find a book to help us get the evil soul shard out of our boyfriend's head?" Hermione said, "And sweet Merlin but isn't that awful that that is the less awkward conversation to have right now?"

The women shared a laugh before moving into the library. There didn't seem to be much in the way of organization, and they soon got frustrated. Amelia had an idea, but wasn't sure if it would work or not. "Kreacher!"

"Nasty master's half-blood godson's mother calls for Kreacher?" the elf said, shuffling into the room.

"We have got to work on shorter names from the elves," Susan whispered to Hermione.

Amelia shot them a look but turned back to the elf. "We need to study all the books with any information related to soul magic, soul shards, horcruxes, and anything related to that topic that this library has. Would you be so kind as to stack those books on the table in the middle of the room?"

The elf glared at her, but snapped his fingers. In a flash, a dozen stacks of books three to four deep appeared on the table.

"Thank you, Kreacher. That will be all for now. You may go back to your other duties."

"Man, this is a dismal place," Bill grumbled as the portkey deposited them near the Gaunt house in Little Hangleton.

Harry shook his head. "No better or worse than my last visit."

"I'm sorry, Harry. If what the papers reported was true, that had to be horrific for you."

"Hey, at least I got to meet my parents," Harry shrugged, trying to find the one bit of good in the evening.

"What are you talking about?" Bill asked, looking confused.

"That's one thing the papers didn't report. My wand and Moldy-shorts' have the same core – a feather from the same phoenix. When our spells connected, they locked up and neither of us could cast any spells. It's called the Priori Incantatem or something. Anyway, when I forced the connection into his wand…"

"You made his wand submit?" Tonks's eyes were huge.

"I guess? I didn't really know what I was doing other than I didn't have a choice other than to keep fighting. Anyway, when the point of connection between our spells hit his wand, all kinds of weird stuff started happening. The shades or spirits of the last few people he'd killed started shooting out of his wand. They were all talking to me, but most of them I couldn't understand. Then I saw the ghosts of my parents. They distracted him long enough for me to get back to Cedric and summon the return portkey."

Bill was silent for a long moment. "That's got to be one of the bravest things I've ever heard anyone doing. Anytime you need my help in this fight, Harry, just send to Gringotts for me. I'd be honored to fight with you."

Touched at the words from the older man, Harry looked him in the eye and saw nothing but sincerity. "I appreciate it, Bill. Your parents have always made feel like I had a home in the wizarding world. It's easy to see how well that got passed along."

"I hate to break up the touching moment, but we have a creepy house to break into and a seriously evil artifact to recover," Sirius interjected.

Harry shook his head. "Right, mission. Okay, which house do we think it is?" he asked, looking around the area they'd landed in.

"Just a guess, but I'd say it's probably that place over there with the snake sticking to the door," Bill deadpanned, pointing at a dilapidated building just across the road.

Looking over at the indicated house, Harry saw the snake and snorted. "That would have to be it," he agreed. The house looked like it had been abandoned, with moss growing up one of the walls and half-hidden in a grove of gnarled trees. The roof was even missing so many tiles that he could see rafters. The whole effect was as of a building that time forgot. "How is it that the dead snake never rotted away?"

"Stasis charm, most likely," Tonks said, "People that connected to Slytherin always like their snake insignia."

"Time to roll," Sirius said, leading the way to the glorified shack.

"Sirius, wait!" Harry called. "We're not looking for trouble here, remember? Let Bill take the lead. This is his job."

The redhead shrugged and nodded to Harry. "I'll see what we're up against here."

He made his way to the edge of the property and started casting low-power detection charms. The boundary glowed red briefly before fading away. "There were some fairly powerful wards here once, but since it's been so long since he's been here, they've faded away. There isn't much in the way of active outer defenses here, and it will take me just a few minutes to disable what's left."

True to his word, the barriers were deactivated moments later and they were walking up to the door. Bill and Tonks looked askance at the snake that they could now see was nailed to the door. Harry tried to force back his disgust at the people who thought that was a good way to mark their door.

Sirius, long used to snake imagery in his family, was already reaching for the doorknob when Tonks stopped his arm, gesturing to Bill. The Marauder nodded, stepping back to let the curse breaker do his work.

"Bit nastier here," Bill commented after his diagnostics were finished, "There's a few ugly curses on the doorknob set to harm anyone who enters without saying the unlocking charm in Parseltongue."

"Lucky I'm here then, isn't it?" Harry grinned. He stepped up to the door and, seeing the snake once more, hissed at the door to unlock.

Having never heard Harry speak in Parseltongue before, Bill jumped at the sound, but quickly recovered his aplomb when the door unlatched with a click and slid open. He shook his head and cast more detection charms at the doorway. "Okay, we can enter. I was worried the floor might be charmed, but it appears to have faded over time like the wards outside."

Before anyone could move around the room, Bill started casting again. Harry took the opportunity to look around. His impressions of the outside had been correct. Enough tiles had been missing that there were holes in the ceiling leading to open sky outside. Moss growing on the outside had spread to the inside, showing the building had no weather protection wards, either. Mold stains spread across the white plaster walls; dirt covered the floor so much that the original flooring could barely be seen. The very air itself was stale and reeked of decay.

"Okay. Everyone be careful to only step on the green areas," Bill warned, "I've cast a visible trap charm on the floor, so it shows red where the floor is booby-trapped and green where it's safe to step."

Tonks looked and saw the checkerboard pattern on the floor. "Clearly he was anticipating trouble. Any idea what each of these traps does?"

"Nothing good," Bill answered, "Various blasting curses, lava bombs, blood and organ attacks, just all kinds of bad."

"Roger that," swallowed the auror, "Green areas only."

That proved easier said than done, as the rotting floorboards, exposed to years and years of weather and decay, were soft and spongy, offering little to no actual support to their steps. More than once Tonks' innate clumsiness made itself known and Sirius or Harry had to physically catch her from falling onto a booby-trapped part of the room.

"That might be part of the actual trap," Harry mused.

"What do you mean?" Bill asked, taking a careful step.

Squatting down with great care, Harry gestured to the floor. "See the green steps, and how they're rotten? It's almost like trying to walk on water here."

"Okay, I'm following you so far."

"Then look at the red squares. Without touching them, it looks like they're much sturdier, almost as if the magic in the traps protected the wood. What if the Dark Tosser figured on what would happen to the other parts of the floor under the elements and left the roof looking like Swiss cheese to make it worse? Like someone who made it this far into the room would take a step on a green square, fall off-balance, and try to right themselves on a part of the floor that was a trap?"

"The Dork Lard is just devious enough for that. You might be right, Harry," Sirius agreed, "We all just need to be really careful."

As the group made their way carefully across the floor, Harry looked around the room, trying to stretch out with his magic to sense where the horcrux might have been hidden. "There," he said, pointing down at an area of the floor next to the fireplace, "Check an area about three feet to the left of the fireplace."

"How do you know, Harry?" Tonks asked from her position.

"I don't really know; I sort of sent my magic out from me and got a really bad feeling from that area," he answered, knowing it sounded lame but not having any words to actually articulate what he'd done.

Bill shrugged, accepting his word after seeing and hearing his Parseltongue. "He's right. There's something under the floorboards."

"Well let's get to work! There are two lovely witches waiting back at home for me," Harry grinned.

Sirius and Bill rolled their eyes in unison while Tonks chuckled at his exuberance.

It took Bill a solid twenty minutes of grunting, sweating effort to break the curses and protections around that section of the floorboards, made more difficult by the presence of no less than four red-colored 'danger' squares in his grid pattern bordering the area.

At last he finished, and stood up with a groan. "There. We can lift the floorboards now. Or at least, you all can. I need to step back and take a Pepper-Up."

The oldest Weasley boy stepped back while Sirius and Tonks moved up to the spot. Sirius forced the boards open with a strong levitation spell. When he had the floorboards up and placed on the hearth of the fireplace in a stack, Tonks levitated what looked to be a dirty, dusty, yet nevertheless golden box hidden in the space out and placed it on a green square.

"Bloody hell," Bill breathed, "I can feel the evil in that box."

Sirius shuddered, "Me, too. That feels just like the others. Okay. Do we pop the box open to get the horcrux or just take the box with us?"

"Might be easier to just take it with us," Bill mused.

"What if…" Bill trailed off, thinking it over. Before anyone could prompt him to continue, he summoned a rock roughly the same size as the box. Holding it in midair, he transfigured the rock into a bronze box that looked like it was a duplicate of the real one. He even added a color transfiguration to make it look exact. Forcing the lid open, he gestured for Sirius to summon another small rock and placed it into his copied box. Without another word, he pushed the box back into the space below the floor, carefully replacing the floorboards over the box. "Phew! Now there's very little weight difference, if any, between what we took and what we left behind. Tonks?"

Nodding, Tonks summoned the box she was still levitating into a bag she had, never touching the metal with her skin.

With few other words exchanged between the group, they started tiptoeing out of the shack.

Back at Grimmauld Place, they put the pouch with the box in Sirius's study. "You know what, Pup? I don't even want that in the building. What's say we head to Diagon Alley and check with Grinlast about leaving it with the others?"

"I want to at least see what it is first," Harry said, staring at the pouch, "I want to know what kind of horcrux he left at his family's ancestral home."

"Just don't touch it directly, Harry. You saw what the diary did to Ginny," warned his godfather.

"Don't worry, Padfoot. I will stay away. I think Bill and Tonks should be nearby too, just in case there are some heavy-duty curses on the thing itself. Are they still here?"

"Yeah, I think he was getting some water. What if we catch him before he goes back to Gringotts? That way he can check with Grinlast for us or even take the box back himself," suggested the Marauder.

Harry thought about it for half a second before nodding. "That's good, that makes sense."

Sirius went off to collect Bill again, leaving Harry to stare at the box. As time passed, he pondered the box and its contents. He didn't need the money a golden box would represent, but the thought of taking something valuable from Riddle, who had taken so much from him over the years, made him grin.

He was done losing things to Riddle. He was even more done losing people to the madman. Cedric was the last. Ever since being thrust onto this stage first as a baby and then again when he'd gotten to Hogwarts, he was part of a fight he didn't want. The damned prophecy made sure of it.

The plan forming in his mind, though, would really take the piss out of them all, once and for all. His godfather and Bill re-entering the study broke him from the thoughts. "You needed some more help, Harry?"

"Yeah, I guess. I wanted to take a look inside the box, and Sirius said it might be a good idea to have you nearby in case the box itself had some more traps."

"Makes sense. Okay, how about Sirius levitates the lid open and I'll be at the ready? Then you can take a peek inside."

The others nodded, and the three men took up positions: Harry in front of the box, Bill to his right and Sirius to his left. At the redhead's nod, Sirius forced open the lid. Bill tensed, but nothing happened. A few moments passed with Harry bracing himself for some kind of attack. When none came, he cautiously approached the box and peered in.

It was a ring, but an oddly-shaped ring. Instead of being a closed-loop like most others, the circle turned into what almost looked like two snake mouths open at the top, facing each other, with a strange black stone in between their fangs. The stone had an odd pattern engraved into its top face: a triangle with a circle inscribed inside its angles and a straight line from its top angle down to the middle of its bottom side.

The ring was definitely a horcrux. He could still feel the evil coming off the ring, much like the other's he'd dealt with over the years. There was also something else. He felt an urge to pick the ring up tickling at the back of his mind. It sounded a lot like the whispers in his mind whenever Riddle would send him visions, which made it easier to fight. He had long practice ignoring the snake-faced bastard's words, so without much effort, he shrugged this off.

Sirius, however, was another story. He moved closer to the box faster than Harry thought possible, and was reaching out to the ring. "That would look so awesome on my finger," he said in a voice stilted and irregular. Not his own.

"Stop him, Harry!" Bill shouted.

Without even recognizing the conscious thought, Harry's hands snapped out and grabbed his godfather's forearms, but the older man's greater strength was too much for him. "Bill, Tonks! Help me!"

The eldest Weasley boy and the auror were on the other side in a flash, helping pull Sirius away from the box. Once they'd pulled him back about eight feet or so, Sirius's eyes cleared and he shook his head. "What the hell? What did I do? What just happened?"

"Compulsion charm. A damned strong one, too. It wanted to put the ring on," Bill explained, "I've come across a few things like that in various tombs and places I've worked."

"Huh. I felt it too, but it was weak, like a tickle in my mind," Harry said.

Tonks just shook her head. "That was a damned powerful compulsion, Harry."

Bill looked at him with a little more respect. "If you could throw off something that strong, it's no wonder Ron said you tossed off the Imperius curse. I even had to work pretty hard to shake this off."

Guiding Sirius back over to a couch, Harry turned to look at the box again. "Yeah, yeah, that's a horcrux all right. What's that symbol on the stone, though?"

Sirius took a closer look. "It looks familiar, like I've seen it somewhere before, but I can't place it," he said, rubbing his face.

Bill just looked at the stone. "Why not get your other friends in here, Harry? Hermione is supposed to be one of the smartest witches of this or any age. Maybe she might know what that symbol is."

"That's a good idea, Bill. Kreacher!" Sirius called.

When the elf came into the study, he gasped at the box. "That evil feels just like Master Regulus's locket."

"It is, Kreacher. Can you get Hermione and Susan in here, along with Amelia?" Sirius asked his elf, "We need them to look at it."

"Kreacher will bring them," the old elf nodded, disappearing.

When the others joined them in the room, Harry gestured to the box. "That's what we recovered from the Gaunt place. There's a weird ring in there with a strange stone. Don't get too close; it's got a wicked compulsion charm on it. I just wanted you to see the symbol on the stone."

Hermione was first, standing far enough away that she didn't feel the urge to put the ring on, but close enough to see. Susan followed, then Amelia and Tonks.

"A triangle, circle, and line," Susan said, "I've never seen anything like it."

"I have, but I can't remember where," her aunt mused.

Harry frowned. "We can do research. Now that we've all seen it, we can write it down and research it. Bill, can you take the box with you to Gringotts and give it to Grinlast? He's holding onto some others for us. We want them all destroyed at the same time."

"I can do that, Harry," Bill nodded, "For what it's worth, if you do destroy all of these things, you should all be given Orders of Merlin."

"Thanks, Bill, but I think I can safely speak for the rest of us when I say we just want to be left alone," answered Harry, shaking his hand.

Hermione, silent the whole time, spoke up before Bill could slide the box back into the pouch. "Can you break the compulsion charm on the ring?"

He looked surprised by the question and gave her a searching glance. "I can, but it might be difficult. Why do you ask?"

Biting her lip, Hermione looked down at her shoes before meeting his eyes once more. "I wanted to see if the horcrux was in the ring or the stone. If the stone is clean, I was thinking we could keep that here at least to study it."

Bill looked back to the box before sighing. "Okay, I'll see about breaking the curse. Can someone have some Pepper-Up ready to go? I have a feeling I'm going to need it."

Hermione scampered off to get the potion from Kreacher while Bill readied himself in front of the box. With a complicated wand movement, a dark red beam shot from his wand at the ring. After a moment of effort, he grunted, flexing his arms, and poured even more power into the effort. Sweat broke out on his brow, and the veins began to pop on his arms from the strain. "I – I can't hold it much longer," he grunted, "There's something else in there."

"The horcrux might be trying to protect itself," Amelia said, getting her wand ready and adding to his spell, Tonks right behind her.

Just when it looked like they weren't going to make it, Bill growled and forced one last surge into his spell, breaking the compulsion charm. An explosion of green light around the box shot up, then fell to the floor almost like it was fiery water.

Falling back, Bill would have collapsed to the floor had Sirius not been behind him to catch the curse-breaker. "It wasn't just a compulsion charm. There was a dark curse on the ring, too," he panted, sounding as if he'd just gotten done with a footrace, "It would have seriously hurt anyone who fell victim to the compulsion charm and put it on."

Hermione came in with three vials of the potion before anyone else could react, passing them out. "Kreacher somehow knew we'd need more than one. Here you go, Bill. Good call, it looks like."

The three accepted the Pepper-Up with a weary, grateful smiles to the girl. "Thanks. The ring should be safe to pick up, aside from the horcrux itself," Bill said, downing the glittering liquid.

"Is there a way to tell if the horcrux is in the ring itself or the stone?"

"I can cast a localization spell. It's standard for curse-breakers, to detect the areas of tombs or artifacts they need to focus on," Bill admitted, perking up as the potion took effect.

"Won't you need to rest a bit?"

"Nah, the potion is working wonders," he waved off the concern, "Here, let's take a look."

So saying, he cast another spell at the ring. Hermione held her breath, watching as the ring glowed red for a moment before it shifted and encompassed the golden circle itself.

"Reducto!" Harry shouted, casting at the stone itself. It shouldn't have worked, but it did, and the black stone was soon skittering across the floor.

Hermione summoned the stone with a flick of her wand. "There. Now we can study both the symbol and the stone properly."

Bill looked on, bemused at their actions before shrugging again. He sent the golden box back into the pouch and slung that over his shoulder. "I'll drop this off with Grinlast for you. Let me know if you find anything out about that stone."

August 5, 1995

"What are we going to do about the letter I got the other night?" Harry asked, sitting in Grimmauld's study after breakfast the next morning.

Amelia was in an overstuffed chair to one side of the room, with Sirius behind the desk. Hermione and Susan were sharing a loveseat in front of the fireplace.

"I know your school career thus far has had you getting into one life-threatening situation after another, but with a newly-reborn Dark Lord on the loose as well as a hidden Dark Lord after you, Harry, I really don't think going to the meeting is a good idea," Amelia said.

"Agreed, pup. We don't know anything about the person who sent it. For all we know, it could have been Dumbledore himself pulling a stunt like the double compulsion charm," Sirius said.

Hermione and Susan were nodding along.

Harry held up both of his hands, palms outward in a position of surrender. "I don't want to go, guys, I promise. However, I think someone should go to the meeting. We might be able to use the information this person has."

"I could go and get the information for us," Sirius offered.

Hermione shook her head, "If the person who set this up is expecting Harry and sees an adult, it may scare them off and they may not even show up."

"I'll go," a new voice declared, "I'm a little bit bigger than Harry, but not significantly."

As one, the room turned to see Neville standing in the doorway. "Nev, I couldn't ask you to do something like this," Harry said.

"That's why I'm offering. You didn't have to ask. I can take Polyjuice to make myself look like you," Neville insisted, "You don't have to do it all yourself, Harry. Let your friends help out. If I take a portkey with me, I can go to this meeting with minimal risk."

When a chorus of voices rose up in protest, Sirius got a funny look on his face. "No, we don't have time for Polyjuice. The person who set this up intended that specifically. Two days as opposed to a month. Luckily, I have a better idea, and yes, Neville, you may go to the meeting…"

"They both made the trip to Paris and our date here amazing, this time it's my turn," Harry said, trying to argue his position for the tenth time that day against the assembled adults of the group that was rapidly turning into an ad hoc family, "I want to take you out on a date."

"I don't like the idea, Harry," Amelia said, "I mean I like the idea of the three of you enjoying your time to just be teenagers, but I also don't like the security risks. Death Eaters are still running around out there, and Dumbledore is still free, no thanks to the Wizengamot."

Harry looked frustrated. "I hate this. I just want to be a normal teenager, taking his girlfriends on a date."

"Hate to break it to you, pup, but most normal teenagers don't have more than one girlfriend," Sirius grinned at him.

Proving his actual age, Harry made the very mature reaction of sticking his tongue out at his godfather, sending the older man into peals of laughter.

"I would suggest having Amelia or Sirius go as a chaperone, but I can see how that would impact the mood of a date," Mike said, "And while I would love to lump myself in with that group, I know that Mary and I are still useless when it comes to defense against magicals. I have some inquiries in with my club about firearms, but nothing definite has come back yet."

"I think I may try my hand with Scotland Yard," Amelia answered his questioning look, "If I phrase it as a request for people connected to the Ministry who may be in danger, they may be more willing to grant us some leeway. I'd like to get aurors equipped with heavier firearms at the Ministry."

Hermione's head quirked to the side, considering the idea. Something about having aurors armed with nonmagical weapons started her subconscious whirring into motion.

A light bulb almost visibly clicked on over Harry. He turned to Tonks with his pleading puppy dog eyes on full-blast. "Tonks?" he asked in an overdone, soft voice.

It took her half a beat to get what he was going to ask. "Oh, no. No, no, no. You, of all people, Harry? You'd ask me that?"

"Help me, Obi-Wan Tonks. You're my only hope," he pleaded, getting down on his knees.

Tonks rolled her eyes and huffed, glaring at him. "That's low, Potter."

Knowing he was winning her over, Harry pressed ahead. "You're the only one who can help me say thank you to my two wonderful girlfriends for our date here and then my birthday in Paris. Will you help me?"

Tonks threw her head back and sighed. "Fine. But you owe me big time, buddy boy."

"Um, what's happening here?"

Quicker than most, Mary proved to all where Hermione got her intelligence. "Harry figured out that Tonks here can be a chaperone on their date and change her form to someone they've never seen before so they won't know who is the actual chaperone."

Sirius saw the point immediately and chuckled, patting Harry on the shoulder. "Good idea, pup. I won't make her do it, because I happen to agree with Amelia, but if Tonks here is willing, you three can go out for a short date in muggle London."

Harry knew it was the best deal he was going to get, and turned to the frowning auror. "What can I offer you to make it up to you for doing this? You know I don't see you the way most people do. You're the only person we can trust to watch us and make sure we're safe, while remaining relatively invisible. I really owe you for this."

Tonks sighed again, folding in on herself. "No, I was wrong to say that. You took us all to the island for that wonderful vacation, and you gave us the ability to get away if things get bad here. This is really the least I could do for you."

He gave the auror a hug. "Thanks, Tonks. It means a lot to me."

It actually worked.

To be fair, neither the Death Eaters nor Dumbledore had much knowledge of muggle London, so their date night out for pizza and a movie was probably one of the best ways they could have hidden. The date was his idea, but the food was Hermione's. She wanted to offer the other two something totally muggle that they might not have had much experience with. The brunette suggested a small Italian place near where her parents lived.

Never having had pizza before, Harry deferred to Hermione's experience and expertise. She grinned at her boyfriend and girlfriend and ordered two pizzas: one that was half pepperoni and half mushroom and another that was entirely cheese.

"These are the basic varieties, nothing too crazy. I think you'll really like this," she'd smiled at them.

As usual, Hermione was right. Starting with cheesy garlic breadsticks and colas, they'd seen the pizza's appear with mouth-watering anticipation.

Harry's first bite had his salivary glands twitching, it was so good. He hoped his moan didn't sound too lascivious in the restaurant, but it was actually overcome by Susan's as she took her first bite. "Why can't the elves replicate this in the castle?" she asked, keeping her voice low.

"No reason they couldn't, but Dumbledore probably would have a heart attack at the suggestion of new muggle food for the students," Hermione chuckled.

"Well, I think this new food is delightful," the redhead rejoined. Swallowing her bite, she leaned over to give Hermione a kiss. The two girls pulled back, licking their lips.

"Mmmm, tomato sauce lips. I think it could catch on," giggled the brunette.

Harry grinned at his girlfriends' antics. "Sounds like something I might want to try."

"Play your cards right and you just might," Susan retorted, returning his smile. Never breaking eye contact, she took another bite of her pizza, making sure to get a good bit of sauce and cheese on her lips before shuffling closer to him and repeating the procedure.

"That was yummy," Harry agreed with Hermione, "We're going to have to remember this one."

She smiled, watching her partners and feeling a warmth suffuse her entire being. "Let's not take too much longer; the movie starts in half an hour."

None of them noticed the older woman grinning into her own cola.

"So that's the article we write for Luna?" Harry asked, watching as his girlfriends, Amelia, and Sirius read the parchment he'd drafted.

"I think so, Harry. It mentions your home life before Hogwarts, then goes into a brief overview of the first year. I like what you said about the troll," Hermione blushed, remembering her helplessness in the face of the twelve feet of solid muscle.

"And your account of the fight with Quirrell was well-written," Amelia noted, "From the memories you showed, you covered it perfectly, with no embellishment."

"I've had enough of Skeeter's manipulations," Harry grumbled, "If my name is going to be in print, I want the unvarnished truth."

"And that's the way it should be. I'll get this sent off to Luna for her to print," Amelia said, "While you three get ready for the meeting tonight."

Neville's heart was beating so firmly and fast in his chest it seemed like the entirety of the Shrieking Shack could hear it. Despite Harry's – and Hermione's – assurances that the building was perfectly safe, that it only had the reputation it did to keep students from discovering the secret entrance to the school, and that it had only been used to keep Remus Lupin in one place during his transformations, their promises were struggling against years of being told that it was one of the most haunted buildings in Britain. And he was there just before midnight.

Once inside, he took up a position in one of the corners back by the bed, as instructed, and flipped his hood over his head, hiding his face.

He didn't have much longer to wait. On the stroke of midnight, the doors flung open, and another hooded figure strode in. "Potter! Potter, where are you?"

The voice was familiar, but apparently whoever sent the note to Harry wasn't taking any chances either. In any event, this was his cue. Neville stepped out of the shadowy corner and extended his arm, a wrapped package clutched tight in his hand.

With a start, the hooded figure faced him. "What the bloody hell is this?"

Neville remembered his instructions and pushed the package into the other figure's hand, then turned to leave.

"Bloody Potter. Can't even listen to simple instructions. What the hell is this? 'Speak the hated hyphenation'. The only hyphenation I know that applies to Potter is Boy-Who-Lived? What the hell?"

Neville grinned and had to fight back a laugh at what he heard over his shoulder before leaving the building and activating his portkey.

Back at Grimmauld place, Neville fell in a heap as he landed in the study. "I bloody hate portkeys."

"Good to know I'm not the only one," Harry chuckled from the other side of the room, "Did he take it?"

"He did," Neville stopped talking as the mirror in Harry's hands vibrated.

Across the room, Hermione and Susan stiffened.

"Potter! What the hell are you trying to pull?" a voice sounded from the mirror.

"Draco," greeted Harry as the familiar voice sounded on his mirror, even if the face was obscured by a hood, "Not exactly who I expected to have sent that note."

"Potter. I told you to be here in person to meet. Where the bloody hell are you?" Malfoy demanded.

"Safe. With at least one, if not two dark lords after my blood, you might understand the need for a bit of precaution and secrecy," Harry explained.

The blond thought it over. "Whatever. What are these mirrors?"

"A special set of charmed mirrors that function as two-way communication devices. What did you need to talk about, Malfoy?" Harry said, not pleased that he was being hounded by his school nemesis.

"I actually needed to talk to you. The Dark Lord has given me an assignment that I think will end up with me dead. I don't exactly want that outcome, but I can't see any way out of it."

Silence greeted the statement. W