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Author Notes:

No, your eyes do not deceive you. This is the reloaded Chapter 9. It has been fairly heavily rebuilt.

I would actually recommend that you go back a chapter and reread Chapter 8, because something from the original version of this chapter was moved there.

Wishful Thinking

Chapter 9 – A Swiftly Changing Landscape

Severus Snape placed a properly concerned look upon his face as he strode through the halls of Hogwarts toward the Headmaster's office. He was, however, enjoying the news he'd have to give. This will teach those sanctimonious fools to underestimate me. I can hurt and degrade them as easily as they believe that they can me. It's just a pity that it couldn't have been managed for the brat's birthday, but a month after is good enough. The pain will still be sweet.

“Purgatory.” The old man tortures himself over things best done for the survival of the world. That is why the fight has taken so long. He makes the necessary decisions, but then flagellates himself over those same decisions.

“Come in, Severus,” Albus said.

Severus entered the room to find the man without his customary twinkle. He had certainly been without it these past days, since the return of the Potters, and the news Severus had to impart would certainly not bring it back any time soon.

“Albus, I have unfortunate news to report.” He stood before the desk, carefully schooling himself into the mien of a man who wished anything but to be doing what he was at that moment. “It appears that the Dark Lord has located the Grangers in Greece, and sent a team to kill them. The villa that they were in was destroyed utterly.”

“Is there any chance for survivors?” Albus asked carefully. The hope was raw in his voice.

“From the report that I heard at tonight’s meeting, unless they developed magical abilities in their last seconds, they were crushed by the collapsing structure. Even a wizard would find surviving such an experience to be a difficult proposition.” His demeanor spoke of sorrow, but in his head, he was dancing with delight. Now to find a way to get the information to Remus in such a way as to blame the Potters – or at least their spawn.

“Very well, Severus,” Albus sighed. “I shall make some inquiries and then request to meet with Miss Granger to pass along the sad news.”

“I shall return to my dungeons and continue my studies. I have been working on the Wolfsbane Potion in an attempt to alter its effects. The shift is still too painful for a werewolf to be useful to anyone for some time after the change.”

“Very well, Severus. It pleases me to see your attempts to fix such a grievous wrong.” He rose to his feet and walked around his desk, and the two men left the office together.

Their conversation veered to the banal as they walked together toward the entrance to the school. Before they reached the entrance, Severus said, “I fear I should take my leave of you now, sir. As I said, I have potions brewing.”

“Yes, Severus, by all means. I shall see you when I return.”

The Potions Master peeled off toward the dungeons and his laboratories. Oh yes, he thought with a smile. I am attempting to fix the Wolfsbane issue, but not in the manner that Albus thinks. With luck, I should be able to alter the effects enough to not have them noticed until it is far too late. And since Lupin is my only test subject at the moment, I can manage to rid the world of that vile creature.

He shook his head. I was so close. James Potter was dead, and the mutt got himself killed. All that was left was the werewolf and the sniveling coward, and the coward will be easy to manipulate to his death. The Dark Lord himself will do the job for me.

***

A regal looking owl tapped upon the window of Number 12 Grimmauld Place. Remus looked up in surprise. “Not one I recognise, but it's sent by someone with the secret. It couldn't have found us otherwise.” He opened the window and the owl flew in, landing before Hermione.

Miss Granger,

It is rare that I have had to write one of these letters, and I like them less and less each time I have written one. It is with truly heavy heart that I write this.

I have come across the unfortunate information that your parents were killed while in Greece. The Muggle papers state that it was a localised earthquake and subsequent collapse of the villa that they were renting, but it is my understanding that the cause was actually Voldemort's Death Eaters.

I can only hope that their end was quick and painless. I am truly sorry, Miss Granger.

Albus Dumbledore

The letter fell from numb hands onto the table, and Hermione began to shudder and shake. Harry picked the letter up and scanned it before setting it back down on the table. He knelt by Hermione and put his arms around her. “Let it out, Hermione.”

She spun in the chair and nearly threw herself at Harry, putting her arms around his neck and sobbing hysterically. The letter made its way around the people at the table, with a surprising number of scowls appearing on faces as they read.

Harry thought for a moment and then moved once more, this time picking Hermione up out of the chair and heading for 12 Grimmauld's lounge. Her crying could still be clearly heard from the kitchen where most everyone remained.

No one spoke for a long time as all were either lost in thought or unwilling to disturb those lost in thought. “We're dealing with a spy in the Order,” Hestia Jones said finally. “I'd like to think that with all the work we've done recently, trying to find the will and then find the Potters, I've learned a little of what makes that girl tick. I have very serious doubts that she chirped her parents whereabouts to everyone who would listen. She's not that type. She mentioned it in the Order, or at the Weasleys – people she trusts, or at least used to trust. The kids aren't about to say anything to Dumbledore or Snape about it, so any of them is right out.”

“But I'm not,” Arthur said sadly. “Albus was mildly surprised to see Hermione at the Burrow so early, so I explained that her parents were in Athens for a second honeymoon. I can easily see Severus complaining in his inimitable fashion about her 'interfering presence' to him, and Albus explaining why she was around.”

“It certainly wasn't common knowledge around the Order, as far as I know,” Remus said. “I knew because I'd asked her about them when I first saw her – same reason as Albus, surprise – and she told me. But it was just the two of us, unless someone was using Extendible Ears.” He thought for a long moment. “My thought is that the two most likely culprits are Albus and Severus. The question is, why?”

***

Harry carried Hermione into the lounge and sat down on the love seat, cradling her to his chest. “I know it hurts,” he crooned. “Let it out.” He rocked back and forth on the seat as she sobbed into his shirt.

The other four of the six who'd gone to the Ministry sat in shock at what they'd just learnt. Ron was blinking back tears, and Neville knelt on the floor next to the love seat, his hand simply touching her to let her know that she wasn't alone.

Finally, her sobs subsided, but she made no effort to pull away from Harry. “Thank you,” she sniffed. She looked around the room and saw the others. “Thank you, all of you.”

She suddenly realised that Ron had tears in his eyes. “What's wrong, Ron?”

He laughed softly. “You lost your parents to Death Eaters, and you ask me what's wrong?” He walked over to her. “I got to thinking what I'd feel like if I got told that Mum and Dad were dead in such a cold and unfeeling manner.” He leaned over and kissed her forehead. “You'll get through this, 'cause you've got us to help you.” He paused. “Well, Neville and Harry. Can't say as I'll be much help. Teaspoon, don't you know.” He grinned at her, drawing a small laugh from her.

“Oh Ron,” she replied, “you've grown so much since then. You're at least to tablespoon level, or maybe even a demitasse cup!”

“Demi-wha?”

“What he said,” Harry and Neville added simultaneously.

She rolled her eyes slightly. “It's a small coffee cup. It literally means that. It's a French word, meaning 'half coffee cup'. It's about 4 ounces, and I realise what you guys are doing, you sneaky people.” She smiled at them, a little watery, but they all understood.

“You'll cry over it,” Neville said, “But eventually you'll get past it. It'll always hurt a little, I won't lie to you about that. But it will get better.” He smiled his own weak smile. “My parents aren't dead, but I think I can call up some understanding.”

“Thank you again,” she said. “It means a lot to me.”

“Well, you mean a lot to me,” Harry said plainly. “Us. You mean a lot to us.” He blushed slightly at the misspoken phrase.

Her eyes sparkled, and the others in the room grinned to varying degrees. Before anyone could say anything to further embarrass him, Charlie walked by the room on his way to the kitchen. “Charlie?” Harry asked, stopped the dragon tamer.

“Yeah, Harry? What do you need?” The stocky man walked over and looked at the two in the chair.

“Well, the day that we escaped from the Dursley home, you cursed, and I wanted to ask you about it. I think I misheard what you said,” Harry was smiling slightly.

Charlie thought for a long moment, and honestly couldn't remember what he'd said at the time. “Sure, go ahead. What was it?”

“I'd swear that I heard you yell 'Hellfire and dalmatians!' before we left the place.” The smile Harry wore was a bit larger now.

“Yeah, that's the phrase! Dad taught it to me! How'd I do?” He sounded excited at learning something new, discovering whether or not he'd gotten some Muggle phrase correct.

Harry's grin widened, and even Hermione was giggling now. “Hellfire and dalmatians?” she asked.

Harry shook his head. “Um, I hate to tell you and your father this, but it's supposed to be 'Hellfire and damnation'. You definitely get an A for effort, though.”

Charlie stepped back slightly, thinking. “Huh. I always thought it was supposed to be a reference to the dogs that ride with the fire patrol people.”

“Nice thought,” Hermione said, laughing very softly through her sniffles, “but nowhere near correct. Sorry.”

“Hey, you learn something new every day,” Charlie said. “Now I can get it right if I ever need to use it again. And I can let Dad know too!”

“Let me know what?” Arthur asked conversationally as he stepped into the room. He seemed to be taken slightly aback as the Ministry Six began chuckling, or giggling in the girls' cases.

“The phrase is 'Hellfire and damnation', sir,” Harry said. “Dalmatians have nothing to do with it.”

“Are you ... yes, of course you're sure. I was so certain that I had it right!” he murmured. “I'd have sworn I learnt it correctly. Thought it had something to do with the dogs that follow fire patrol vehicles.”

Ron laughed outright. “We Weasleys all think alike,” he said. “Charlie said the same thing, and I know that I'd've come to the same conclusion if I'd heard the phrase.”

“I must unfortunately bring this to a more sombre topic,” Arthur said. “Is there anyone in the Order that you trust to give your power of attorney to?” he asked Hermione. “We’ll need to have someone to handle your parents’ estate and … other matters.”

“As long as we're talking Order rebels, yes,” she replied. “It would be best to have someone who knows the Muggle world better, though.”

“I understand and agree,” Arthur said. “Probably your best bet would be either Remus or Tonks, then. Both are pretty well at home in the Muggle world.”

“I'll talk to them later and see which one wants it or can handle it best,” she said with a sniff. “I miss them so much.” She put her head back on Harry's shoulder and cried a little more.

***

Harry entered the room for his last lesson in Occlumency. His mother had taken over the lessons for all those who needed to learn, including Arthur Weasley. In only three weeks, he'd managed to learn what he needed to in order to be somewhat effective, and Lily had showed him that there could be a gentleness to the art.

“You should be ready to take on the world, baby boy,” she said with a smile. “This is less of a lesson than a chance to test your skills. Since you head off to Hogwarts in two days, it will be harder to teach you if you still need it.”

He smiled at her and brushed away the gentle tendrils he felt tugging at his mind. He knew he'd never have noticed them at the beginning of the summer. “Nice try, Mum,” he said, his face breaking into a huge smile.

“I know, Harry,” she said, her own smile growing as well. “I thought I'd never see you until I passed on, and now we're here and LEGILIMENS!

This one was more of the style that Snape used on him, and he felt the strong pressure on his shields. In response, he walked over and tweaked her nose lightly, making her laugh.

“You pass, Harry. Voldemort will still get to you occasionally, because he's got an in, so to speak, but you should be far more able to ignore his visions and his taunts.”

“I wonder what will happen this year?” he asked. “What will go wrong for me this school year?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, you've been told about my school career so far? The Philosopher’s Stone, and facing Voldemort riding the back of someone's head? Stop that, Mum, I can feel you trying to get in.” He grinned impudently at her. “Then I had to fight that stupid basilisk while worrying about people hating me for being 'The Heir of Slytherin', which I'm not. Third year was that bit with Sirius, where they treated me like a mushroom for the year. And the information that they kept from me was ridiculous! 'Sirius Black tried to kill you as a baby. Oh, by the way, we're hiding that he was your godfather.' What did they think, that I was going to suddenly give myself over to Voldemort because one of his biggest supporters was my godfather?” He looked at his mother's amused look. “I know he wasn't a Death Eater now, but at the time -” He pressedhis finger to her nose. “I can still feel you trying, Mum.”

“I understand as far as Sirius is concerned,” she responded. “I'm quite impressed with your Occlumency, by the way. You've repelled every one of my attempts. The two most obvious ones I could understand, but I've continued attacking, and you've been able to keep me out. I'm not a Master at it, but I like to think I'm pretty good.”

“I had good teachers this summer.”

“Thank you, and I'll pass that along to Arthur as well.”

“Please. And thank him for putting up with Snape. That means a lot to me.” After a short pause, he added, “And thank you for not correcting me by telling me that it's 'Professor Snape, Harry'.” The last three words were delivered in a perfect imitation of Albus Dumbledore.

“Give him all the respect he's due,” she replied with an angelic smile. “Then go back to calling him 'Professor' when you're at school.”

He laughed. “I love you, Mum,” he said as he gave her a quick hug. He was startled, however, by the quick twitch he felt from her, and then the very tight return of his embrace.

“You have no idea how happy hearing that makes me. I spent so many years mourning your death, and now to hold you in my arms ... I will never be able to tell you how good it makes us feel to know that our darling baby boy is alive.” He could hear her holding back tears as she reached the end of her comment.

“And now I know that my parents loved ... love me,” he replied, his own voice getting a little thick. “Vernon and Petunia seemed to love telling me that you two were worthless and that Dad killed you both drunk driving. I ... please don't get depressed by this, Mum, but I used to wish I could die and be with you both.” He pulled her tighter. “Now I've got you right here. Except for the pesky problem of Riddle, everything is actually surprisingly good.”

James laughed from the doorway. “You've been listening to me too much, son. Describing a Dark wizard like him as a 'pesky problem'?”

“You guys will keep me safe, won't you?” he asked impudently.

“With our lives, son,” James said seriously. “With our lives.”

***

Even though he packed the night before, somehow the attempt to get to the train station still felt rushed. He had to admit that a large part of that was breakfast taking far longer than it should have, what with pictures being taken by his parents, who seemed to be trying to make up for five previous years of none. He didn't make things any easier, since he couldn't stop grinning over the fact that they were finally there to see him off to school for once, as he'd always dreamed.

Eventually they made it to Platform nine and three-quarters, along with the rest of the teeming crowds headed for school that day. Hermione was recovering slowly – she'd spent the day of the letter and almost all of the next day doing nothing but crying – but was no longer sobbing at the drop of a hat. She pretended to be over it already, but Harry knew better.

“Alright there, Hermione?” Ron asked softly as he gently put his hand on her shoulder.

“Yeah, I'm fine,” she replied non-committally.

Ginny's snort told everyone what was coming. “If we've decided that we won't accept that from Harry, why would we accept it from anyone else?” She looked at Hermione with a slight smile on her face, but the look also said that she was going to be rather like a terrier about this.

“Fine,” Hermione huffed angrily. “I'm hurting, and I'm grieving. Is that good enough?”

“Better,” Neville said. “It really does feel better to admit it, rather than hide it.”

“If I were her, I'd hide my face,” came the all-too familiar drawl of Draco Malfoy.

“If you were her, you'd still manage to be ugly somehow,” Harry shot back, much to the surprise of everyone within earshot of the meeting.

Draco Malfoy turned a colour that Harry remembered all too well from his uncle. It never worked well with Vernon, and it certainly didn't work on someone as pale as Malfoy. He finally inhaled deeply and his colour returned to normal. “I forgot for a moment. It's not as if I was being insulted by someone worthwhile, rather than the scar-head and his band of mewling sycophants.”

Harry's response was not one that anyone listening expected to hear, given his previous interactions with the blond. “Isn't it interesting that he's managed to describe his own troupe rather well? I mean, think about it – Draco at the head of a group consisting of Crabbe, Goyle, Parkinson, Greengrass, and Bulstrode. Their gender balance is the same as ours, I think, but it's hard to tell with three of them what they are. Malfoy speaks and they all hurry to agree with him. They're more sycophants than any of you five are.”

“Yeah, we'll tell you where to get off,” Ron said, also surprising the group.

“I'd imagine you have to tell him that in regards to the Weaselette,” Malfoy said with a smirk.

Harry turned to look at Ginny, who was seething, as was Neville. He winked to the both of them before turning back to Malfoy. “Well, if I were ever in that situation, you can bet I'd be trying to get off.” His voice made it quite clear which side of the double entendre he intended, and Ginny blushed furiously by way of applause. “Now, what brings you to this corner of the world, Malfoy, other than boarding the Hogwarts Express? Are you here to admit that your father is a Death Eater who was seen by quite a few Ministry officials in said gear?”

“My father is no such thing, Potter. If he were seen at the site of your godfather's unfortunate demise,” he replied, not having lost his smirk, “then he would have to have been there under the Imperius. Someone is obviously trying to besmirch the good name of the Malfoys.”

Harry's only response was a loud bark of laughter. “Of course he was under the Imperius! He had to be! After all, having such a horribly weak will like that has to be hereditary, so now I know where you get it from.”

Malfoy purpled again, but Harry bulled on. “Remember, Malfoy, that we had a teacher who taught us about the Unforgivables, and even taught us how to fight off the Imperius. Most of the Gryffindors could do it. How did you Slytherins do?” he asked. “If people who you consider far, far beneath you, such as Ron and Neville, can throw off the Imperius, then it really doesn't say much for your father, does it? You sneer at the Weasleys, yet they can fight it. Your father, on the other hand ...” Harry intentionally left the statement unsaid.

Malfoy looked ready to explode at Harry, his hand twitching toward his wand, but then his eyes landed on Hermione. “I was so sorry to hear about your parents, Granger,” he said in a voice so silkily insincere that it set Harry's teeth on edge. “It might make you want to think twice about how close to Potter you want to be.”

“The papers say it was an earthquake,” Harry said.

“The Muggle papers,” was the blond's scoffing response. “Anyone with any intelligence realises that it was a message to anyone who trusts Potter.”

“Yes,” Neville said. “It said, 'We're so scared of Harry Potter that we have to try to scare his friends away by killing the easiest targets we can find – people who can't fight back against wizards.'” He walked up and got nose-to-nose with Malfoy. “It says that you Death Eaters are all cowards.”

Malfoy was beyond angry, and his wand came out, but before he could say anything, Harry asked, in a rather passable and obvious imitation of his drawl, “Tell me, Malfoy, did they give you the real Mark yet, or is it one of those temporary ones that comes off with alcohol – play tattoos for children who want to be just like Daddy, but aren't old enough to play with the big boys yet?”

“You will not mock me, Potter! I am the last scion of the Malfoy family!” Malfoy bellowed, and the tip of his wand glowed. Before the spell could leave, Harry had shoved Malfoy's hand toward the ceiling, where the oddly mauve spell splashed harmlessly across the boards.

“Then act like one, you twit,” Harry barked. “You attempted to attack me. Are you aware that I can expel you from the Black family line now, and even bring your mother in as collateral damage, since it is obvious that she never trained you properly?”

“And how can you expel me from the family?” was the sneered response.

Harry raised his right hand, where the Black Family ring sat. “This states that I can, Draco. I'm certain that you recognise it as a valid Family Head's ring. Don't push me, or else you'll find yourself receiving a Howler from your mother about her expulsion. You are a member of the Black family, whether or not you carry its name. Your attitude reflects upon the family.”

He stopped and glared in the blond's eyes. “You must learn to deal with taunts without violence, young grasshopper,” he said. “You only shame yourself otherwise.”

Malfoy turned and started to stalk away, but he thought better of it and spun on his heel, moving in close to Harry. “This is not over, Potter. We'll hunt down and kill anyone who means anything to you. And we'll get away with it, too.”

Harry grabbed his collar and yanked him forward until they were face to face again. “If you're going to threaten like that, Malfoy,” he said conversationally, “you need to learn to do it better.” Harry slapped him once on each cheek, hard enough to cause redness. “Go back and try again.” He looked over the blond's shoulder and then pushed just hard enough to send the boy stumbling. Malfoy snarled at Harry and then stomped away.

“Was that high dudgeon or girlish snit?” James asked in a voice clearly heard throughout the platform, judging by the laughter that rippled around.

“Well, it's getting close to time for the group of you to board the train,” Lily said, her face tight. Harry looked and noted that Molly Weasley wore a similar look, so he was pretty sure that they'd just had the first of many battles as to which one was going to be the better parent to him.

“Before we step on, I need to tender an apology to Neville, to Ginny and her family,” Harry said.

“No you don't, dear,” Molly said. “While it was startling, I could tell what you were actually saying – that there were two ways to take it, and you chose the more complimentary version. I don't consider the family insulted.”

“Nor do I,” Arthur said.

“Nonetheless, it was somewhat crude, and as the Head of the Black family, I would like to take this moment to apologise for saying a potentially hurtful thing without prior warning.” He looked to his father, who nodded. “I would also like to state publicly that the Black family is proud to call both the Weasley family and the Longbottom family friend.”

James stepped forward. “The Potters would like to make the same statement. Both the Longbottom and Weasley families are considered friends by the Potter family.”

Arthur grinned. “The Weasleys are honoured and are proud to call the Longbottom, Potter, and Black families friend.” Neville reiterated the statement, claiming the Weasleys as friend as well.

“Now that we've got the lovefest out of the way, can we get on the train?” Ron asked. “I'd kinda like to actually catch the thing. We don’t have a car to fly this time!” Amidst laughter, they quickly boarded.

***

The trip was about two hours old when Susan Bones came by. “Hi!” she said brightly. “How was your summer?”

“Mine was decent,” Harry said, “but unfortunately, Death Eaters murdered Hermione's parents a few days ago.”

“There was nothing in the papers about it,” Susan said softly. “I'm sorry, Hermione.”

“I'd say it's okay, but ... well, I know what you mean. You didn't ... oh ...” Hermione faded off into some sniffs of grief, and Ginny held her for a minute while she pulled herself together.

“I'm really sorry, Hermione. I never meant to ...” Hermione just waved a hand at her, a watery smile on her face. “Okay.” She turned to Harry, feeling more than a bit embarrassed. “I was startled to see your parents were still alive. After all this time with everyone believing – I want to think that he had good reasons for it, but for Dumbledore to – it's just not right! I think you should talk with Auntie and see if there's something that can be done about what he did.”

Harry scowled. “I think I'd rather wait until someone a little more sympathetic to certain family friends is in that office. Right now, I trust your aunt as much as I trust Cornelius Fudge, which is to say – not at all.”

Susan was actually physically rocked back by this comment. “Aunt Amelia?” she asked in bewilderment, blushing as she spoke since her voice came out as a squeak. “She's upheld the law for years!”

“Yes, including the child endangerment ones. Luckily, Remus Lupin only visited occasionally, rather than living in the same house as my parents and I did this summer.”

Susan was looking more and more confused by the second. “But why would Auntie say anything against Mr Lupin? She was happy when she'd heard that he had been working at Hogwarts without an incident until the end of the year, once she learned about his affliction. She'd like to see better laws written in regards to the way werewolves are treated.”

“Based on what Auror Tonks said, the laws she'd likely want to see enacted involve camps and lots of silver. Tonks had her job threatened because she's seeing Remus. She was basically told that if she chose to marry him, her job was forfeit.”

Susan was shaking her head. “No. Not Aunt Amelia. She'd never do something like that. Auror Tonks must have misunderstood her.”

Harry scowled. “She morphed into using your Aunt's face and used her voice when she told us. I believe the exact quote was 'If you marry that beast, your contract will be forfeit.' She spat the words out, I believe.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Now, care to explain how that might be misunderstood?”

“I … I can’t. I’d like to think that there’s some explanation. But maybe my aunt really has been a bigot all this time and tried to fool me,” she said sadly. “You’ll forgive me if I don't thank you for this revelation,” Susan finished.

“I'm sorry, but you did need to know.”

She nodded and left the compartment.

“You've changed, Harry,” Ron said. “You've never acted like you did around Malfoy before. What happened? It was like you were a whole new person.”

“In a way, I am. Sirius left me leadership in the Black family, and with that comes certain responsibilities. I'll likely backslide and hex the hell out of him in the halls just in time to see Snape walk into view and dun me a thousand points, but for now, I'm trying to be more adult. I wasn't joking about that bit with the Blacks allying themselves with the Longbottoms and Weasleys.”

“We knew,” Neville said. “None of us treated it as a joke.” They quieted for a while, letting the scenery go by, both inside and outside. Several of the Sixth and Seventh year Muggleborn girls were wearing clothing appropriate for the very warm weather London had been experiencing in August, and none of the boys were entirely unappreciative.

“I saw Bones heading down the train in tears, Potter. You've got some talent. Is there a girl you've been with that you haven't made cry?” Harry heard as he looked out the window at the rushing trees and grass. He turned to find a somewhat nastily smirking Cho Chang.

“Does that include cries of ecstasy?” Hermione asked in a saccharine voice. “If it does, then the answer would have to be 'No'.”

“You have that right,” Ginny purred in a voice that made all three males change the way that they were seated. Cho simply stomped off.

“Wait, you haven't heard my tale of passion!” Luna yelled after her.

“Ginny, that's a very dangerous weapon you have there,” Neville choked out. “Careful how you use it.”

Ginny grinned at him and then turned to Ron. “You compliment me, brother dear,” she said with a smirk.

“Yeah, well if I'd been paying more attention who was talking, you'd not have gotten that reaction. I thought it was ...” he paused for a moment before saying, “...someone else.”

“Oh really?” Luna asked, doing the same with her voice, which actually drew a slight whimper from Ron.

“Please don't?” he asked softly, his ears and face trying very hard to match his brilliant hair. She merely laughed, musically this time, rather than the usual raucous cacophony, and moved to rest her head on his shoulder.

“I'm sorry about starting that, Harry,” Hermione said, “but Chang just ... she blames you for not saving Diggory, for not making last year work, and for not dropping me as a friend when you saw that her best friend had screwed up.”

“Not much of a friendship if I drop you because my girlfriend says that I should, is it?” he replied. She blinked and then smiled at him.

“We’re still only half-way there,” Neville said into the quiet of the car. “I wonder if anyone else will come by to harass us?”

***

Albus Dumbledore spent more and more time in his office these days. Ostensibly it was because he had the beginning-of-year paperwork to finish, but it was more to stay away from his staff, all of whom no longer seemed to trust him.

How do I make them see that it was necessary? That had the prophecy stated that I must be the one to suffer, I would gladly have placed myself in Harry's situation? How do I make them see that we stand a chance of winning against Tom now – one that we would not have had if he had remained with his parents?

He was startled from his reverie by a sharp knock at the door to his office. “Come in!” he said. “Please, come in.” The door opened to show Minerva in her usual mien these days – a very sharp line for a mouth and a more than slightly disapproving look to her eyes – and a James Potter who was coldly angry, with Lily silent beside him. “How may I help you both?”

James glared for a short time before saying in clipped tones, “We have come across some information that we wanted you to hear. What happens next is entirely up to you.”

“Please,” Albus said. “As they say, I am all ears.” He settled back into his chair uneasily. James sat without being offered a chair, and Albus scowled although it was obvious to all that he was aiming it more at himself. “My apologies. This situation that I have created has addled my manners. Please, sit if you wish. Minky?” A house elf appeared in a ragged tea towel. “Would you be so kind as to get us tea for three?”

“Would you like the little cucumber sandwiches with your tea?” she asked in her squeaky voice.

“Yes, please.” The little elf popped away. “I will swear an oath to you, magical if need be, that the tea and sandwiches are untainted in any way. I am making only an attempt to relax the tension between us. To prove that, I will permit you to choose my cup and pour my tea.” He looked to Minerva. “This is to ease your mind. I have not forgotten your comment.”

“Good,” was her only response, rather sharply delivered. A moment later, Minky returned with a tray bearing a tea pot, cream, sandwiches and sugar. She narrowed her eyes. “As much as you have given me reason not to, I will trust you in this,” she said, and poured tea for the three of them.

“Thank you,” was Albus's heartfelt reply. “Now, what is this situation you speak of?”

“We have a spy in the Order, Albus, and we know who it is. I'm not referring to Severus passing information as we know he is. I'm referring to someone knowingly passing extra information to the other side,” James said

Albus sat forward suddenly enough that he spilled some of his tea onto his robes, but he ignored the heat. “How do you know?”

“Two ways,” Lily said simply. “One was Draco Malfoy, who taunted Miss Granger with information that was not printed in the Daily Prophet. After all, her parents were Muggles, and the crime took place in a foreign country. The Prophet wasn’t interested in such a minor story. This means that the Death Eaters were definitely involved, since it is known that Lucius Malfoy has ties to the Death Eaters, especially after this past June.”

The thread was picked up by James. “Second was the small number of people who had been told by Miss Granger that her parents were in Athens – Arthur admits that he told you, and we know that she also told Remus. Miss Granger is not the type to tell everyone where her parents were, so that narrows the field down. Arthur is willing to take Veritaserum to prove he is not a Death Eater spy, and Molly has already told us, with a wicked gleam in her eyes, that she can vouch for the fact that Arthur has no Dark Mark anywhere on his body.” This was the first that James seemed to smile in the slightest degree. “I know that Remus didn't tell anyone, despite his being a 'Dark creature'.” He delivered that with a scowl, recalling the conversation that his friend had told him about. “Even knowing the reaction that it would cause in him, he has offered to take Veritaserum to prove that fact. That leaves you and anyone that you might have told.”

Albus sat back heavily enough that his chair moved slightly. “But ... but what reason would I have had for leaking information that led to the deaths of Hermione Granger's parents?”

“Perhaps you were attempting to isolate Harry again?” Minerva answered him. “You-Know-Who would react in very predictable fashion to such information. If you could remove the one person that has always been his rock, then he would possibly be forced to deal with you once more.”

For the first time that anyone could remember, Albus Dumbledore was seen with his jaw open in complete shock. It took him nearly a minute to find his voice. “Have ... have things gotten so bad that you truly think that I would stoop to Tom's methods to ... to gain control of Harry? Do you truly believe that I would have anyone's parents assassinated?

“That's the problem, Albus,” Lily replied. “The Albus we thought we knew would never have contemplated something like that. But the Albus we thought we knew would also never have kept Harry from his living parents for fifteen years, no matter the reason. The Albus we thought we knew would never have contemplated making us grieve for our son for the past fifteen years for no reason. We don't want to think that you might have had her parents killed, but discovering what you've done these past fifteen years has shaken our belief in your motives and your methods.” She stopped speaking for a moment. “I guess the answer to your question is 'yes'. Given what we've learned, we believe it possible that you had her parents killed. Whether it’s likely is another question. I will state however, based on your reactions right now, I would tend to think that you knew nothing of this until after the fact.”

Albus stood and began to pace nervously. “I will swear by any means that you trust that I knew nothing of this until you told me. I honestly believed that the knowledge was out there, and that someone had overheard it and told the Death Eaters.” He turned and faced the Potters and Minerva. “If you believe nothing else from me ever again, please believe that I truly had nothing to do with the deaths of her parents, unless it was trusting Severus with the ... Severus. But why would he make them a target, when they are not a ... I would not consider them a target of anyone's choice. What purpose could he have had?”

“Call him here,” Minerva said. “Hide us so that we may hear his explanation, and ask him about the Grangers. I shall call Kingsley Shacklebolt in case he is necessary.”

Albus's thoughts were whirling in his head. This has gone so far from my control. I have no trust from the Order any longer, and now it appears that the man that I have trusted and protected these past years may still be working for the enemy. It is time to deal with things. He looked grimly at his visitors. “Agreed. If you are willing to wait in the side room, I will send for him.” A moment later, Minky the elf was off to request Severus Snape's presence in the Headmaster's office, returning seconds later to report that he would be along presently.

***

Severus was settling in with the latest Potions journal, planning to enjoy his last moments of freedom before the dunderheaded students arrived, when a house elf appeared. “Excuse me, Master Severus, but Headmaster is wanting to seeing you.”

“Understood. I shall attend him shortly.” Severus sighed and rose to his feet. He moved about his quarters ensuring that things were safely placed away in a manner that any Weasley would immediately have classified as 'bustling'. Of course, to say so in class would earn at least a fifty point dunning to the one foolish enough to state it.

Finally certain that he could put off the meeting no longer, he left his quarters and began the trek to the Headmaster's office. I wonder what crisis has erupted this time? Likely something to do with those damnable Potters again. I could hope for a crippling injury for one or all of them, but that is a pipe dream, alas.

Perhaps he wishes to inform me – with all due sadness, of course – that the Granger mudblood will not be returning to these halls. If that is to be the case, then I just might throw myself a small party. And the opportunities to make the brat uncomfortable by reminding him that she is gone will be worth the time as well.

He scowled for a moment. I'm assuming that it is something good. More likely it is simply some last minute thing to do with the school.

He found himself at the gargoyle that guarded the entrance to the Headmaster's office. It was open, with the stairs already moving, so he stepped aboard and rode to the top, curious as to why the entrance below was already open. He swept carefully into the office – there were far too many gadgets and things that could be broken easily. “You asked to meet with me, Headmaster?”

“Yes, Severus. I need to ask you some questions in regards to the deaths of the Grangers.”

Severus stopped breathing for only a moment, but recovered before the Headmaster noticed. I hope. “Yes sir. What would you like to know?”

“Where did the information come from? Which of Tom's Death Eaters informed him of the location of the Grangers?” Albus looked inscrutable, which was his normal look before this business with the Potters had erupted. Perhaps he's finally gotten his feet back underneath him after all that the Potters have done to him. I will admit that I wish he had chosen a better time.

“I am surprised by the question, Albus. Is there a reason that the source is important?” He placed a look of concern on his face.

“Yes, there is. Please answer the question.”

He knows, and wishes me to implicate myself for some reason. Let us see why. “I am forced to admit, Albus, that I was the source for the information. The Dark Lord does not trust me completely. He has seen the newspapers from those days just after his first defeat, and knows that you vouched for me. He suspects that I am a spy within the group. He demanded information that would show my loyalties.” He shrugged. “There are so many things that I could have told him about the working of the Order, but I instead chose to give him the information that would do the wizarding world the least amount of damage. I told him that Miss Granger's parents were, in fact, in Greece.”

“So you gave the information to Tom, knowing that it would lead to the deaths of two innocents?” the Headmaster asked softly.

“Would you rather I gave him information on meeting times? Information about our membership? While our meeting locations are highly protected, the members are not. You know the type of information that I have. Would you rather I gave that information out, instead of the whereabouts of two Muggles?” he asked sharply.

The look on Albus's face told him immediately what the answer was. “Yes. I would rather you told him the entirety of the Order's membership than to have effectively murdered two innocents!” Albus was on his feet and yelling by the end of the sentence. “Myself, Hestia, James, Arthur – any of us can defend ourselves against other wizards. A Muggle cannot! It is the equivalent of placing a kitten into a steel barrel and then pouring molten metal over it! You know that it will die, and it will be an exceptionally cruel way to kill the innocent creature.” Albus took a deep breath. “You chose your target carefully, did you not?”

“How do you mean 'choosing carefully'?” Severus asked warily.

“You chose exactly which information to give Voldemort, based not on security, but upon the pain you could cause, didn't you?” Albus asked his question sadly. “You chose his target based upon your dislike of Harry, didn't you?”

“Headmaster, I ...”

“Silence!” thundered the Headmaster. “While I might have been willing to permit far too much in your vendetta against the Potters – a vendetta that was undeserved against a small child who had never known his parents – I will not permit you to cross the line between Light and Dark with impunity. I am certain that you chose your target based on the pain that it would cause Harry.” He sneered for the first time that the Potions Master could ever remember. “And I allowed that latitude for too long. No more. My actions have led you to think that you can do anything without paying the price. You now learn otherwise.”

Severus had had enough. “You sit there, sanctimoniously berating me for the pain I cause the worthless brat, while you are the author of most of his woes! Do not presume to lecture me about the pain I caused, Headmaster. You are a far better purveyor of the ware than I could ever hope to be. In your own way, you are the equal of the Dark Lord!”

“Yes, I have caused pain. Yes, I placed Harry in a situation where he would be abused. Yes, I have my own cell awaiting me in Hell for my actions. But who profited from your actions? Yourself, by causing pain to two students whom you loathe, and by proxy, to James and Lily, who wish that they could ease their son's pain that he feels for Miss Granger. At least my way to Hell is paved only by my intentions. Yours is paved by your actions.”

Kingsley Shacklebolt entered the office from the side room. “Severus Snape, by your own words you admit that you knowingly passed information to You-Know-Who which led directly to the deaths of the parents of a Hogwarts student. For this crime, I am placing you under arrest.”

Snape sputtered incoherently for several moments as Shacklebolt confiscated his wand and produced a set of magical bindings.

Before Shacklebolt could leave with Severus, Albus stopped him. “I have my own part in things, Kingsley, as you well know. You have my oath to place myself in your hands when the battle with Voldemort is finally done.” Shacklebolt nodded and left with the greasy haired man in shackles.

“Why, Albus?” James asked as he re-entered Dumbledore’s office, followed by Minerva and Lily.

“Why wait? Why did I do it? Why change my position? Each has their own reasons. Why wait? Until I know that Harry has a chance of defeating Tom, I dare not make things easier for Tom. Why did I do it in the first place? I truly felt that I was doing the right thing for the wizarding world, and possibly the world as a whole. Why change now? Severus. I see how easy it is to slip from doing good to doing evil. I have done evil in the name of good. I should pay for that evil.”

He sat down heavily behind his desk. “And now, if you will excuse me, I still have a school to run … and a teacher to find a replacement for. Feel free to stay for dinner if you wish – I’m sure you’ll want to see that your son arrives safely.”

As they left the room, escorted by Minerva, James looked back to see the headmaster resting his face in his hands for a moment. At that moment, he looked every one of his rumoured hundred and sixty years.

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