The story follows canon till HBP. It will be strictly T-rated, with implied adult activities. The pairings are not important, however, to those who are bothered by Harmony, you probably will not like that part of the story.

I was working on 'The Great Manipulator', but this story was churned out, with two more chapters at a stretch, and I had said I would write this story in 2018 when I posted this first chapter before.

I hope you like it.

The original conversation between Molly and Harry is largely replaced.

Mothers, Fears and Friends

As Harry sat at the table in the Burrow's kitchen, relishing the excellent (if a bit too hot) onion soup, he couldn't shake off the uneasy feeling that the evening's events left him with.

That Dumbledore hadn't told Harry about his intentions with regards Slughorn, but had instead expected unquestioning compliance once again, made him angry. But then Dumbledore was old, too old perhaps to ever change his ways. It had not bothered him as much as what had preceded that.

Dumbledore had never so much as bothered to check up on him, as he had admitted when he had told Harry about the Prophecy. Yet he had personally come over to pick him from the Dursleys. Whilst there, he had used magic, and had had Harry summon Kreacher. Then he had proceeded to use magic against the Dursleys as well, having also upbraided them. A small part of Harry had felt a thrill of guilty pleasure at that, another had simmered in resentment that it had taken Dumbledore so many years to finally realise that he had never been happy with them, and a third, cynically realist part of him recognised that Dumbledore wouldn't have done it if he had no reason.

He imagined himself in Dumbledore's place, having done what that man had done, and imagined another child in his own place. The idea that he had failed another person so horribly was indigestible to him, but he wondered what kind of a situation would force him to take such desperate actions. What had prompted Dumbledore to worry about little people like him?

A very startling idea revealed itself, when he coupled his observations with something else: the dead hand. Was it possible that, perhaps, the hand wasn't the only part of Dumbledore that was dying? Was it possible that he was setting his affairs in order?

Molly Weasley was sitting down opposite the boy she had come to think of as one o her own over the years. True, she had not had so much contact with the boy as to put herself in Lily Potter's place. But Harry had provided Ron with a steady friendship during the boy's early teenage years, and had then saved her darling daughter from certain death. Any mother, and particularly a very maternal lady like Molly, would be too hard-pressed to not care for the boy whom many pitied, many hated, many revered, but few truly knew, as her own son.

She saw the expressions flitting rapidly across Harry's face. She worried about him. The school years, a period of time that for Molly was something to fondly remember, were worse than unkind to Harry, and this last loss of Sirius could have been a loss too far. She wanted to console him, to embrace him and let him grieve as she was sure his mother would have. And that was where she was unsure as to how she should proceed. After all, she was not his mother, and Sirius was someone who was, legally, closer to Harry than she was. Yet, she couldn't ignore his present turmoil.

"Something on your mind, Harry?" she asked.

Harry looked up, startled. He gave her a weak smile and just shook his head.

Molly had dealt with her fair share of boys unwilling to speak, and though grief was not a factor in that, she decided to do what she usually did to bring them out. "Harry? You know that you can talk to me, don't you? Whatever it is about, including...well, including Sirius, you can talk to me. I am here to listen."

The mention of Sirius brought up a massive grimace of sorrow on Harry's face. He looked down towards his soup and nodded in a subdued manner. Molly couldn't help it. She sat down next to Harry and gave him a one-armed hug. It was a moment, a long one at that, before Molly found Harry breaking down. There were not many tears, but there was the anguish.

"Let it out Harry. Let it all out..." she said soothingly.

It was a full five minutes before Harry had calmed down.

"Better?" asked Molly.

Harry only blushed and looked away. "Than...Thank you Mrs. Weasley," he mumbled. "And sorry..."

"Harry. You don't have to ever apologise to anyone for being as human as any of us. Do you understand?"

She only saw him nod reluctantly. She stayed quiet as he ate more soup. There was no point pressing him and overwhelming him. He would speak when he comfortable become would. A while later Harry asked a question.

"Do you know Horace Slughorn?"

Molly couldn't help the moue of distaste that immediately adorned her face. She was rewarded with a tentative smile for that. She allowed for the change of topic, for the boy was at least talking now. "I do. I cannot honestly say that I liked that man much," she replied. "He taught us when I was in school."

He gulped, nodded and waved his spoon at her as he agreed. "He is going to return to Hogwarts. Professor Dumbledore took me along to convince him. Must have been one of those Defence Professors who resigned, though I must say, he doesn't look like much. He's got fitness issues."

"Why would Slughorn teach Defence? He is a Potions Master!"

"Has something happened to Snape?"

Molly was able to suppress the disapproval at the glee that laced Harry's tone as he asked the question. While she disapproved of them talking this way about any teacher, she knew that it wasn't just her children who gave such a response. Almost every person young enough to have learnt from Severus gave a similar response. "No. To the best of my knowledge, Snape is very much alright."

"Oh." One syllable could portray such a wealth of disappointment, really. "Well, knowing our luck, he might end up with the Defence position." He seemed so gutted by the idea that Molly decided to not voice her thoughts that that might be the exact thing that would happen. "Well, there still is the annual event during which the Defence professor is killed, sacked, memory charmed to within an inch of his life, revealed as an imposter or forced to live her life out with a massive fear of horses. I can live with that, I suppose." He sighed. "Dumbledore lied to me by omission again."

"He does do that." Harry looked up at her in surprise. She snorted and shook her head. "Really Harry, do you think we don't see that Dumbledore has far too many secrets? We have asked him, begged him to divulge more. We all forget the fact that he has kept secrets all his life, whether it is regarding his apprenticeship with Flamel and his work on alchemy, or his part in the two wars. He is too old, too rigid to change. However, he is also the person we have grown up seeing as an authority figure. It's difficult for us to go against that, or to distrust him."

Most people would have cringed at the morbidity regarding the DADA Professors, but then Molly herself had gone through seven Professors, and didn't find the subject worth commenting. The two lapsed into a comfortable silence as she ladled Harry more soup while he cut himself some bread. It was normal for her. Barring the twins and Ron, she had now been in this position for every single one of her boys – and, she remembered with a pang, even for Sirius and Remus the year before. Sirius, if one put aside the twelve years in Azkaban, was stuck being twenty one, as old as Percy was now. In spite of their many quarrels, she missed the man. And she knew that Harry missed him more than anyone could guess.

She retrieved herself from her musings and focussed on the boy sitting at the table. He was still pensive and worried. It was the same thing that she had seen a little while before. If at all, her explanation about Dumbledore had only made the expression more pronounced. The worry lines were now very prominent on his face. She couldn't point to any one reason. With the war, everyone was worried.

Out of the blue, Harry suddenly had a question. "Do magicals rely on instincts, Mrs. Weasley?"

"We do, yes. Why?"

He shrugged as he chewed on his bread silently. Thank heavens, but she wouldn't have to correct the bad habit of talking and eating in Harry as she needed to with Ron. "It's...nothing."

"Harry. Don't become like Dumbledore."

"His habit of keeping secrets kills people, Mrs. Weasley, just as my habit of following my instincts does," he retorted tersely. Evidently being compared to Dumbledore was not a compliment.

"Don't be absurd. Your instincts saved Arthur. Your instincts saved Ginny. Your instincts saved the Philosopher's Stone."

"And they also killed Sirius."

"And that's where you are wrong. They weren't your instincts, were they? It was just a vision You-Know-Who sent. I doubt you even heeded your instincts. You thought with the fear first, Harry," she pointed out simply. She could see he was still unconvinced. "Harry, let me tell you this. We are simple people. We think with our hearts. In your place, at your age, I doubt there would be anyone who'd react in any other way. I know I wouldn't."

Molly Weasley was not the greatest witch that ever lived, nor was she the wisest woman. But she was a mother, and that particular post has no comparisons.

"Thank you, Mrs. Weasley."

He smiled at the boy. "So tell me, what is worrying you? Is it whatever Dumbledore to you in his office?"

Harry jerked up in apprehension. Molly just patted his back. "He told us that he wanted you to keep it secret for the most part, but that if you so chose, and when you so chose, you would tell us. He asked us to support you. I do not see any reason to not do so." She shifted a bit and fidgeted before adding, "He also asked us to not mention it unless you did so first."

"I...I am not ready yet, Mrs. Weasley. I thought about it and – and... I...it is..."

"It is still overwhelming. I understand. But that is not the only thing worrying you."

"No," admitted Harry.

"Tell me."

"I don't know how I should say it."

"Starting at the beginning always works."

"Has Dumbledore been tutoring you?"

Molly laughed lightly. "Harry, I have drawn out the stories of teenage escapades, crushes, pranks, and everything else. You have a different situation, but you're no different from the rest of my boys."

Harry couldn't help but be happy at her implication. "I don't have proof. It's just a hunch. It's what..."

"...it's what your instincts tell you. Still, try me."

Molly was not going to let that go then.

"It's about the Order."

"Harry, you shouldn't worry yourself about..." Molly started reflexively, only to stop at the look of disappointment and resignation, coupled with the wry smile on Harry's face. He said nothing immediately. Molly just clutched at her face with her hands and sighed.

"It is okay, Mrs. Weasley."

She didn't reply immediately. Instead she exhaled noisily and looked at the boy in a woebegone manner. "No. It is not okay. I asked you, Harry. I should at least listen. It is just that I don't want you to have to fight, any of you. It is true, that Sirius and I disagreed about how much should be revealed to you, but then again, I still want you to keep your innocence, because I still see the boy of twelve eating breakfast at this table. Well I wanted that. It's all a pipe dream," she wistfully added, mostly to herself.

"I don't have much choice," he mumbled in response, but not loud enough for her to hear. "I understand, Mrs Weasley."

She smiled and then looked at him expectantly. Harry resumed eating, and then stopped as he felt her eyes on him. "What?"

"You were telling me something."

"It's about the Order," he reminded her cautiously.

"I know that it's about the Order, Harry. I don't want you to fight. That doesn't mean I won't listen."

He nodded slowly, and started slowly chewing on the bread, all the while looking at her warily. Molly cringed internally at the thought that her immediate response might have made him apprehensive. A moment later, his face relaxed. Apparently she had passed some sort of internal test.

"I think," Harry started slowly, "I think that the hand is only a part of the problems the Headmaster is facing. I think he is dying."


Harry cringed at her shout and Molly controlled herself. "I am sorry Harry. I didn't mean to shout at you, but I was shocked. No. I am terrified by the idea," she quickly pacified him. "Please explain, Harry."

So Harry haltingly told her about his (admittedly) rather vague reasons. When she frowned, he ended, "I said I have no proof!"

"No. I understand. But this is a big problem, Harry, and unfortunately, this is very much like Albus to hide his problems even if that hurts everyone. Thank you for telling me this."

"You won't tell anyone else, will you?"

"At the moment, no, I won't. However we might have to do some things as the Order collectively to find a way around that. I can't just up and go about asking people what we should do should Albus die."

"I understand."

She bowed her head and frowned at the table. Harry did say he had no proof, but even a contained but incurable curse at Albus' age was one of the things that could kill people anyway. At least they had caught this early. She looked at the boy and realised that in such a case people would look at him to do things. The Ministry already was, if the Prophet was anything to go by. Unfortunately, he was just a boy. His previous adventures notwithstanding, he was not equipped to do everything. It was time for the adults to step up. She was not very well-versed beyond managing the Headquarters. But she had decided that Harry was one of her own, so she would get him what help she could get.

"You said that Albus intends to give you lessons?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Let us see what it all is about. I will tell you this though. If what you say is true, the curse might start affecting his mind and he may say or do, or worse, insist that you do things a particular way. Don't worry. But be very cautious. Remus said he'd come around on your birthday. I will get Kingsley and Mad-Eye to come as well. They'll be able to guide you better."

The relaxing of Harry's face was its own reward for her.

"Thank you Mrs. Weasley," he said in a heartfelt manner.

"Never mind," she replied absently.

As Harry washed down the bread with the last dregs of soup, he asked, "Mrs. Weasley? Would you mind if I write to you during the year?"

"You shouldn't need to ask, Harry. I never insisted because I didn't want to intrude." She was happy though. Harry had warmed up to her enough to accept her in even a partially maternal role in his life.

Molly sat awake till Arthur arrived. She didn't broach the subject while Harry and he interacted, but Arthur knew his wife well enough to realise that she was troubled. They would talk later.

"Molly?" asked Arthur as she lay quietly but with a frown.


"You have been too quiet."

Molly remained silent for a while, and Arthur knew not to disturb her while she attempted to articulate things, for it was a rare instance when Molly was unable to do so. When she did say what was bothering her, it became amply clear that it was the very idea and not the words themselves that were proving to be problematic.

"What happens if Albus dies?" She had promised Harry that she would not put it forth as something he was worried about just yet.

"Molly?" asked Arthur weakly.

"Leave it," she said shortly. "It's just a worry."

"No. Molly, what made you ask?"

"Leave it Arthur. It's just my mind imagining horrible things."

He nodded unhappily, unable to coax any more out of her at that moment. They didn't talk about that, thereafter, but it started the wheels turning in Arthur's mind – often the greatest enemy and the greatest ally of man. Arthur's mind painted horrible scenario after scenario and forced him to ask himself if they were doing enough.

The following hours of light saw Harry attempting to speak past a bushy brown mane and deciding that it was better to shut up than have Hermione angry at him if her hair went into his mouth. And wasn't that a fairly revolting thought?

Other than their stuttering attempts at mentioning Sirius by reminding each other not to mention Sirius, with a few reproachful glares about the general insensitivity tossed in by Hermione and Harry in place of spice to negate the blandness of the 'discussion', it was a very usual welcome home. Ginny even started complaining about something in the 'I-can-talk-around-Harry' mode that she had started bearing the year before. There was the usual fight between the siblings. It seemed to revolve around a mysterious 'she', and Hermione seemed to be on the redheaded girl's side. The newly awoken boy could only stare at them in confusion as they went at it.

That was, of course, until Fleur came into the room.

There should be a rule, Harry thought as he rebooted his brain after having his cheeks kissed by the entirely too beautiful woman, against Veela bustling into the rooms of unsuspecting people early in the morning. At least he didn't become a drooling mess like Ron.

The short conversation that included her informing him of her impending nuptials to the eldest Weasley and Harry congratulating her was accompanied by the looks of barely constrained disapproval on the faces of Mrs. Weasley, Ginny and Hermione. It troubled him. Fleur was not that bad, once one tried to know her beyond the Veela. He couldn't understand why the three females seemed heavily perturbed by Fleur. He also couldn't reconcile himself with Ginny's oddly sharp and ... dare he say it, bitchy ... comments about the woman.

"Wait just a minute, now. This may be a stupid question, but what exactly is your problem with her?" The three stopped and frowned at him.

"As I said, she is a cow. She is the exact opposite of Bill," Ginny reiterated.

"You said Bill is down-to-earth and she likes glamour. Really Ginny, I'd say you're being prejudiced. With the job he has, and the adventure it has, Bill is as close to glamour as possible in a magical job. So pull the other one. Why don't you like her?"

"She is much too young!" protested Molly.

"What difference does even a decade make a hundred years down the line?"

"I'd rather have Tonks marrying Bill."

"Does she want to? Does he want to?"

"Not you as well!" said Hermione bitterly.

"I suppose you like the way Phlegm says ''Arry,' do you?" asked Ginny scornfully.

"It is not about me or about what I like or wish for," replied Harry tersely. "If anything depended on that, then my parents and Sirius would be alive, we'd never have had a Voldemort, I'd never have a link to him, there wouldn't have been that stupid tournament, and Pettigrew would have been eaten by Mrs. Norris' predecessor in his schooldays," he hissed angrily.

That dimmed the atmosphere immediately. Harry realised that and ducked his head. "I am sorry."

"Harry," started Hermione, her eyes tearing up a bit.

"No. I am sorry." He took a deep breath, before looking at the three women with frank disapproval. "Besides you're forgetting the most important thing. You are judging her based on your jealousies and insecurities," here he looked at the younger girls, "and your prejudices, which influence them," he continued, looking at Molly and then again at the girls. The three women flushed.

"What I think doesn't matter. But for what it is worth, I think that you're being a bit too obtuse. She isn't marrying any of you so your opinion doesn't matter much either. Bill and Fleur probably make each other happy, and love each other. Shouldn't that be enough? Are you saying Bill is too stupid to choose, if he can see past the Veela? You are behaving just like Dumbledore, deciding that you know best. And worse still, you'd rather Tonks marry Bill, but have you asked her?"

There was a bit of an uncomfortable silence where Molly, Ginny and Hermione studiously avoided everyone's gazes while Ron gaped at his best mate. Harry too looked away, slightly ashamed. He had unloaded some of the residual anger he held towards Dumbledore on them, if it was without the histrionics and with more than just a bit of forced calmness.

"What's got into you, mate? That was more direct and calmer than you were last year," Ron blurted out. The he smirked and added, "At least you've got an emotional range larger than a teaspoon."

"I have paid for my anger, misjudgement and for the inability of others to be direct and forthcoming when it was required. People die when that happens. I'll be damned if I repeat those mistakes. I hate it when people make choices for others when they don't have the right."

Harry then chose to avoid the four gazes that followed him as he left the bed and went about his morning ablutions.

The dressing down seemed to work. Ginny and Hermione seemed to be making efforts to not antagonise Fleur behind her back and were being politer, it seemed. Molly was less vocal with her disapproval, and also toned down the passive aggression, and instead chose to observe the French witch. Fleur seemed happier for it, and gave Harry a nod and smile in thanks.

He just shrugged in response. He didn't realise it then, but he had just earned two strong supporters. And he also didn't realise that when he stated his opinion and explained it, and people had stopped to think it over, he had taken another step down a path he was too reluctant to walk down, but already had strode down before.

The Prophecy remained a secret. He also never found out Tonks' problems – not that he could have done much about that. The OWL results that arrived with Harry's captain's badge later that afternoon washed the subject away. The mood was too upbeat in the Burrow for maudlin thoughts.

To the four who'd heard the outburst (yes, even to Ron), however, the resentment against Dumbledore was very obvious. The memory stayed with them long past that day.

Harry's decision to not divulge the Prophecy played more on his mind than he'd have believed. It tormented him at night and marred his waking hours. It hounded him and nagged at him. The Weasley clock taunted him in parallel. The combined effects were shown through the changes it wrought.

He spent less free time in the Weasley Orchard playing Quidditch, and instead, bugged Bill to teach him curse-breaking and spell detection and stuff. Bill in turn directed him first to Hermione and Fleur to learn at least the basics of Rune and Arithmancy. It wasn't because he knew what he had to do, far from that. It just gave him something to do, instead of getting lost in what ifs and only ifs. It also prepared him with a list of esoteric curses that he would know only in theory till he went to Hogwarts.

Hermione was sound in the Theory, but Fleur had used it in the field before and knew which parts were practically important. Runes, Harry realised ruefully, would have been the right option. Arithmancy didn't quite lend itself to easy learning, since it held quite a few theoretical concepts, but where Hermione could explain to him the rationale and the whys and hows, Fleur provided him with the cheats to work around that academic impediment. By his birthday three weeks after he arrived at the Burrow, Harry had learnt to hide things in plain sight, plan protective schemes for very small objects and in general had developed the spatial awareness and instincts to work with advanced magic.

The two women two formed a bond as Hermione, who had judged Fleur without truly knowing her, found a kindred spirit as far as being faced by prejudices and yearning for knowledge went, while Fleur found Hermione to be a witty woman shackled by her insecurities, but nonetheless someone she could truly call a friend. It was not unusual to see the two sometimes indulging in girl-talk.

Harry was by no means an expert beginner, but he now had an insight into the working of a curse-breaker's craft. Hermione had been forced to eat her words about wizarding logic. It wasn't absent. It just was the sole prerogative of people like Bill.

"Harry?" It was Hermione.

It struck Hermione that he had no longer the wish to waste time over what Ron took for granted. It had led to a quarrel between Ron and her because she and Fleur were spending more time with Harry over books. Ron's intentions weren't bad. He wanted Harry to be free after his yearly exile with the Dursleys. He, however, hadn't realised that Harry's priorities had changed. It had taken Bill to break that fight and set Ron straight. Harry had studiously maintained a distance. It was what he did when he usually had something to hide. Harry maintained a distance when they spoke of families. That was enough for Hermione to know that something was amiss.

Harry was poring over a few books that Fleur, a very hard taskmistress, had ordered him to go through for a particular question he had been stuck on. He looked up and gave her a strained smile.

"Hello Hermione."

She smiled back and pulled up a chair and peeped into his notebook. It was one of many lying on the table with bunches of refills for ball-pens. She couldn't complain about Harry's determination to learn once he decided that he wanted to. Then again she knew that after the first task.

"How's it going?"

"I am stuck at the interlaid runes because of the ties. Once I get them separated, I'll translate the whole set. Of course I can only translate the symbols yet. You said the contextual grammar was yet to come."

"It's very good progress though."

He just shrugged uncomfortably.

"Really Harry, you know me. I am not given to charitable assessments in matters of such importance. This is something to be proud of." She received just another smile, but there was the astonishment evident in his eyes at her approval. Did her approval, even one so minor, mean that much? She shook that thought away. She was reading too much into it probably.

"I hope it is as you say," he offered.

They sat in companionable silence as he went back to his work and she peered at the notebook and the writer by turns.

"What changed, Harry?"

"Everything did, Hermione. I have to change. I will tell you, just not now. There are a few people I trust to help me. They need to know."

"You don't trust me to help you?"

Harry looked at her as if she was rather daft. "Of course I do. However you aren't the only one who can help me. And you are not the only one who I think deserves to know. I want – no, I need Ron, Ginny, Luna and especially, Neville to know why they fought by my side, and to have the chance to choose to stay away if they wish to. I need help from people who know better. Mrs. Weasley mentioned Moody, Moony and Kingsley. I need all the people together."

"Oh." She just sat there. "Harry? Is this about the Prophecy?"

This time, her best friend set down the stationery, and looked at her in right earnest. He looked scared now, scared but determined. "Yes."

"It's down to you, isn't it?"

Sometimes Harry wondered whether a person could be too clever. "Yes. Yes, it will be me or him."

"Well it's not as if we didn't know."

Of all the things that he had expected, it wasn't this. "WHAT?"

"Why is that a surprise to you? I mean, through the years you have been his single most important target. He said so both from the Diary and when he captured you in the fourth year. To my mind it only answers why he went after your family at all and to go to the extent of going past a Fidelius charm."

"You mean?"

"Honestly Harry, it was the obvious inference once we entered into a trap and the battle took place in the Hall of Prophecies."

Harry was aghast. Was it so simple, really? But if she knew all along, or at least, since that moment in the Department of Mysteries, why did she not broach this subject before?

"Him or you, as you say, means that you must come to terms with eventually having to one day take a life..."

"...or have mine taken."

"No. I believe in you. I have faith in you, Harry. You can do it. I wouldn't say your past adventures prove it, because you should never have had to go through those ordeals. But you did get through them. You can get through this. Have faith in yourself for a change."

"But people die Hermione! People die when I am convinced!" he whispered in urgent distress. "I am at fault!"

"Sirius was your fault, but only to an extent," she told him, shocking him again. She was obviously being severely objective. "It is not a mistake that someone else in your position would not have made. Sirius would have done the same. I would too, for the people I love. It was your fault that you panicked and played into You-Know-Who's hands. It was Dumbledore's fault that he wouldn't come clean with you. It was Snape's as well that he took too long to inform the Order when he knew what we were about to do. It was also Sirius' fault that he did not take the fight seriously. As you said before, it is not all about you. Learn. Learn from this Harry."

By the end of her declaration, she was cupping his face and practically boring into his eyes.

"But you were hurt! You could have died!"

"I chose to follow you Harry, knowing what we might face. I have read so much about nonverbal incantations, and I didn't realise that he would use that. That is the only thing I'd change, Harry. I would stun him. But I would follow you again and again, so long as you need me."

Hermione wondered whether she was getting through to him. The next moment she was gathered up from her standing position towards Harry as he initiated a hug, a very needy one at that, for the first time that she could remember. She felt that he was clutching to a lifeline.

"I couldn't imagine ever not needing you, Hermione. I can't imagine anything good without you!" The words were muffled by her midriff into which he spoke, but the intensity wasn't.

Unbidden, her hands went around his head as she clutched him closer to her. The boy who could scold her for her pettiness and could throw himself at new subjects with the same intensity as fighting Voldemort needed her just as strongly. She stood there, threading her fingers through his hair, relishing in the feeling of being needed and needing someone as they did each other.

Sometime later, she was cupping his face again as his chin rested on her sternum. There was some uncertainty in his eyes, something she couldn't bear.

"Doesn't it disgust you?"

"That you might have to take that particular life?" she asked. "No."


"Harry, you know that I need to rationalise everything, don't you?"


"I thought long and hard about this. Do you know what I realised?"


"I realised that you won't be killing someone living."

Harry's arms loosened a bit as he leaned back with a frown. "I don't understand."

"Harry, you know how living beings are born, don't you?" she asked with a blush.

Harry blushed but nodded.

"Well, he wasn't born that way. Riddle was, but Riddle died in 1981. Now only his spirit remains, in a body that is not truly alive, but rather, is a magical construct. And even if that was not the case, I cannot imagine any victory where he does not die. And," she added for emphasis, "I have been there since the Troll, and even after Quirrel. What makes you think this might change things?"

Harry looked at her in sheer wonder. She had cut away at his guilt that had risen due to over-thinking about the future. He told her something else that was eating away at his mind.

"What was that?"

"I tried to torture Bellatrix."

Hermione was a bit torn. She was taking her time to analyse as usual. On one hand, it was an immediate reaction. Harry was no stranger now to the Unforgivables, either as the caster or as the victim. Feeling Harry start to draw away at her silence, she held on and asked, "Did it work?"

"No. I am not sure whether or not it is a good thing. I really wanted to kill her, but couldn't. I couldn't bring myself to do it." He seemed almost ashamed of it.

"She taunted you, didn't she? She made it sound as if you couldn't do it because you didn't care enough for Sirius?" Harry's face hiding in her midriff again was answer enough. "Harry, she is a mad woman. Her words do not matter. You care, I know. You care too much. That is why you can't bring yourself to truly harm or hate another." He relaxed in her arms. She caressed his head again. "And I care about you too. I care about you, I have faith in you and I will be on your side. I will do so as long as I am alive, whether that is many years from now, or at this moment."

"DON'T!" he growled. "Don't say that. No. No. Don't even think of that. If you're gone then there will be nothing. I will have nothing, nobody. No. I won't be able to survive that." He was beseeching her. As if to ensure that she was still there, he held onto her tighter, as children would hold their teddy, but with far more emotion. Her fall at the Ministry played in his mind over and over and he shook in terror.

"Harry. Harry!" Hermione couldn't get through to him now, really, and she took a drastic measure. She kissed him on his cheek, longer than would be considered normal for just a female best friend. She peered into his eyes and saw that they were clouded with fear. "I am here, Harry. I am going nowhere. I am here."

The moment was seen. For Molly, she recognised love for what it was. She had seen Arthur experience such terror during the first war. And she had experienced it over Christmas. Just like nobody but Arthur and she could calm each other, only Hermione could calm Harry. She would be lying if she felt that she never particularly wished that Hermione would choose Ron or that it didn't matter to her. But then as Harry had pointed out to her and the girls in much the same way as Bill or Charlie would have, it was not her decision. She knew what she saw. Harry's Heart was taken long before he knew to give it away.

And now, now that she knew what fate awaited him, she couldn't, as much as she wanted to disapprove of the choice of either of the two or wonder what if, truly, wholly and completely wish any other way. They didn't know it yet, but there was more to them than they could see. It was more than just a simple show of affection, even if it was without any display of the true extent of their emotions or any acknowledgement of the same.

"Potter!" growled Mad-Eye, startling Harry a bit.

"What did Mrs Weasley ask you to check last year at Headquarters during the Party?"

Mad-Eye smiled a grotesque, twisted smile. "Very good, boy," he laughed. "She wanted me to ensure that the creature was a Boggart." Harry nodded. "She said you wanted to talk to us about something important?"


Moody nodded and stalked away.

The party was decidedly sombre with all the news filtering in. There wasn't much to celebrate in a birthday while everybody was wondering when it would be their turn to die.

"Shall we just start?"

The other five of the Ministry Six, Arthur and Molly, Bill and Fleur, Remus, Moody and Kingsley nodded and settled themselves.

"Alright, the first thing is that I need to tell you all, but especially Neville about the Prophecy."

Kingsley and Remus made to protest, but Harry shook his head. "They fought with me. On my part, they have earned the right to know. And Neville must know why he lost his parents. More importantly, I trust them." He didn't see it, but the other five sat straighter at that.

"What do you mean?" asked Neville.

"You will understand." He proceeded to relay to them everything he had learnt in Dumbledore's office that day.

"It could have been me?" asked Neville, thunderstruck.


Remus said nothing. He looked pensive for a while before bursting out, "This drivel killed my best friends and is now threatening you?"


"What do you need?"

"That is the point. I don't know. I don't know how to fight Voldemort. I don't know what I should know. I am just...me."

"Well, knowing more spells and actually being able to perform them will be useful," Ron pointed out.

"We need to know how he remained alive," Luna dreamily stated.

"And find a way to undo that," agreed Ginny.

"We?" asked Moody.

"We," Neville forcefully agreed. "If I know him, Harry asked to see us and tell us so that we could choose safety, but know why we are in danger. Well, I choose to stand by you as I am sure you'd have if it had been me in your place. And we don't even need to ask about Hermione."

"I wouldn't stop you, if you are sure," Kingsley stated in his calming, deep voice. "But the road ahead will be arduous."

"It will be for everyone," Hermione said simply. Kingsley nodded in acceptance. Everyone looked at Harry.

He took a few calming breaths. "Thank you. Thank you, all of you. Your support means more to me than you'll ever know." There were nods and smiles and a grunt in response. "This matter ties into the next thing I have to tell. Of us all, only Neville and Luna do not know about the Order."

"Potter!" shouted Moody in warning.

"Can it, Alastor," scolded Molly. She was treated to raised eyebrows and gapes.

"You are supporting him?"

"My reaction when he first told me about what he will tell you all now was the same. I was wrong then and you are wrong now. What he will say is more important than anything else, and I say this while still wishing they needn't fight."

Harry nodded in thanks at Molly. "Suffice it to say that the Order is a group dedicated to fighting Voldemort. Dumbledore started it. Only adults who have passed out of Hogwarts can be members, therefore we aren't. My parents, Sirius and Neville's parents were and everyone else here is a member. That is all I know. Then again, you could find this information in newspapers. They just won't name the group."

That cut off all protests. The adults hadn't realised this.

"At the moment, the Order is practically the only resistance. A lot of it, however, depends on Dumbledore. And that is the unfortunate thing. Dumbledore is dying."

"WHAT?" It was the common question that erupted from every mouth save Molly.

"He doesn't have proof," she broke in. "But Albus has been cursed when he was off doing Merlin knows what. And that hand that looks dead? It hasn't healed. Whether that curse will kill him, we do not know, and the evidence is all just instinct, but at his age, a non-healing cure could very well kill him. We can't say when."

"He also attacked my relatives. He kept asking me to forgive me, and he was being too urgent. I don't know whether I am right, and I'd rather that I'm not, but we can't be prepared enough."

"But wouldn't he tell us?" Arthur asked uncertainly.

"Would he? When has Albus said anything directly, Weasley?" Moody asked. "Albus could be on his death bed and would say he is just feeling tired. He is too used to being the lone ranger who's the head of the Order only because he is the most powerful wizard alive and founded it." He took a swig from his hipflask and grunted. "Even if Potter is wrong, and the boy has a good head on his shoulders, so he mightn't be, we don't have a succession plan."

There was a protracted silence that was occasionally punctuated by an "Oh!" from Luna and a 'Bloody hell!' from Ron. The later opened his mouth to speak, but a glare from his mother quietened him as the younger lady was allowed to speak first.

"When the Brazilian Nifflewimpers' nest is threatened and they have babies within, they purposely take on the Ginger Eagles and allow themselves to be killed. In the meanwhile, the other of the pair escapes with the babies. Their nests, however, are connected to their magic and the trees' roots. So when the birds escape, the tree falls on the protecting bird, killing it. The Ginger Eagles think they win, because the Nifflewimper only takes up their space. The Ginger Eagles don't want to actually eat the Nifflewimpers. They just want to drive them away or kill them so that they are not in their space."

"WHAT?" Moody shouted. He was completely thrown off by this weird description.

"I think I understand," ventured Ron. "If Harry is right, Dumbledore won't tell us."


"Ron," Arthur reprimanded.

"No Arthur. Let him speak," Remus suggested.

"This is like chess, see? Dumbledore is right now King. He is the figurehead who doesn't fight, or move unless under check, but if we lose him, we lose everything."

Kingsley and Mad-Eye leaned forward in interest.

"So, if Dumbledore is dying, one thing he could do is replacing himself with someone else. I would say Harry, but that'd be wrong because of that Prophecy. Harry has to fight. I mean no offence, but nobody else is big enough a figurehead to cause public panic to go down a bit."

"None taken" intoned the three senior Order members.

"So he is springing a trap on You-Know-Who. Lull him into thinking that he has won by sacrificing the rook, a deceptively important piece, but not the most important one, disguised as the last protection to the king, while keeping the other rook, knights, bishops and the queen in seemingly unplayable positions. Here Dumbledore would be the rook, and our world would be the King," he explained. Everyone nodded at the analogy. "The King would be constantly under check. To do that, he could make his death fairly public. You-Know-Who believes that he has won, while we go underground and chip away at his forces. That's what Luna was saying, I think. It depends on whether he is actually dying," he finished lamely.

Luna smiled brightly at him and nodded.

"You git," swore Bill. "If you actually used those brains, you could be as great as Dumbledore."

Ron actually blushed.

"It's just so wrong on so many levels!" seethed Hermione.

"It is. I am not saying this is correct. I am just predicting," Ron temporised. With his confidence boosted, he was able to hold his own.

"He's right lass," Moody concurred. "You should think of a career in politics, boy! You'll have the coots dancing to your tune!"

Ron seemed to go as red as his hair. HE had never been praised this much.

"It's just that Dumbledore hasn't taken into consideration Voldemort's greed. If he is provided with an inch, he will take the whole land. He's quite like Hitler that way," Harry pointed out.

"Who's Hitler?"

"A murderous monster of a man who was the muggles' Voldemort and Grindelwald rolled into one," Remus answered.

Everyone shivered at the very idea.

"Sometimes, however, when the chicks, after growing fully, return to the old nest, something bad happens. The nests are often so damaged that they exert all their magic for it and die in the process. For them their home is the most important thing."

"No! You don't mean it!" Ron shouted. He didn't realise how he fit into the role of Luna's translator, but he did.

"You know it Ronald. To the Nifflewimpers only their home is important. Whatever they need to sacrifice, they do."

Given that Ron was the only person who had somewhat made sense of whatever she said, all eyes turned to him.

"She," he started then gulped. "She thinks that Dumbledore only wants to buy Harry time till he can fight. I don't know whether she is speculating upon his plans or a possibility, but she thinks Harry might have to sacrifice everything...everything."

"NO!" cried Hermione, the loudest voice among the multitude that protested.

"It might come to that," Harry replied resignedly into the quiet that followed. "I've wondered about that often."

"Well, Albus does make too many mistakes. This will be one of them. We shall find another way," Arthur forcefully countered, rejecting the idea completely.

There were grumbles and growls of agreement.

"So what do we do now?" demanded Ginny.

"We could confront Dumbledore," suggested Bill.

"You expect him to be truthful?" asked Remus with a mirthless snort.

"The way you people speak of Dumbledore, it would seem he will scuttle everything. Why not just keep a plan at the ready and use it if or when needed?" asked Neville pointing out the elusive obvious.

"The question now remains is this: what do we do at school?" asked Ginny.

"We should carry on with the DA. We can't make it an official club, but we can still keep it as a by-invitation-only study group," suggested Hermione.

"Why should we not make it official?" challenged Ginny.

"Because that would mean anyone could ask to join and we wouldn't be able to refuse. I don't want the current Slytherins in with us. I wouldn't trust them ever. If they really wanted to be seen as different, they would have made contact."

"Some are from the neutrals, lass!" Moody pointed out.

"Are they, really? They stay in the background, hiding behind Malfoy. If they were truly neutrals they would have sought to connect with both sides and chosen those who'd win."

"Study group it is!" Ron chimed in.

"We can actually do something else," started Harry. He had remained quietly attentive while the others spoke and now they listened. "We can keep our eyes open."

"What do you mean?"

"It is an open secret what Malfoy's greatest ambition is. His father has already attempted to cleanse Hogwarts of muggleborns. What if he has some initiation rite?"

"Malfoy is too young Harry."

"No," Remus corrected. "It can't work both ways, Hermione. If he is too young, then so are you. That hasn't stopped them. And from what I know of him, he seems to be the sort to think of Lucius as a martyr and might have vengeful ideas."

Hermione nodded in an unconvinced and unhappy manner.

"Don't think that he is too young to kill or have killed, Hermione," Kingsley said. "Eight of my classmates were marked in our sixth year."

"So we keep an eye out?"

"Yes," agreed Kingsley. "But we need secure communications."

"And someone secure to handle the communications and store the information," agreed Harry.

"I could do it," volunteered Molly.

"No. Forgive me Molly, but you haven't learnt the mind arts. I think Mad-Eye or I would be the best."

"Is Mad-Eye good enough? I mean Occlumency should be able to protect one from the Imperius," pointed out Fleur.

"They first gave me a massive concussion, lass, when Crouch banished a stone at the back of my head."


"Why couldn't Fleur do it? She has a part time job!" suggested Ron.

"I wouldn't mind."

"We shall decide that then," Kingsley declared. Then he paused. He turned to his fellow members and with a smirk asked, "Did you realise that these six just sat on an Order meeting where we accomplished more than we usually do?"

There was light laughter from the youngsters at what they perceived to be humour, though it in fact was reality.

"Hey Bill?" called Harry.

"Come in mate," Bill greeted his unofficial apprentice.

"May I trouble you a bit?"

"You are troublesome Harry. Being polite doesn't allay that much," the eldest Weasley brother answered.

Harry glared at him half-heartedly. "Laugh it up. Actually this is about something Luna said. We don't know how Voldemort lived. It reminded me of something. You know in Gin's first year she was possessed when he wanted to leach away her life and take her body to resurrect himself?"


"You don't know?"

"Harry this is the first time I am hearing about this!"

"You don't know that Ginny was possessed by Voldemort? They were in Egypt with you immediately after the year and you didn't know?"

"Harry. Tell Me Everything."

So Harry told him everything. Bill became paler and paler by the minute. By the end, he had consumed a full glass of firewhiskey.

"WHY DOESN'T ANYONE TELL ME ANYTHING?" he whispered angrily.

"I didn't know that you didn't know the whole story Bill. I'd have told you otherwise."

"Good Heavens! Do you know what that thing was Harry?"


"No. I didn't expect you to know either. I won't tell you, yet, because your Occlumency capability is not up to the mark." Harry grimaced and looked away. "Hey, none of that now," Bill scolded lightly. "You need to know why you can't know, yet. 'Yet' is the operative word here. But suffice it to say that you have set me on a possibly correct trail. You have my word, Harry. I will help you defeat Voldemort, if that's the last thing I do."

"Thanks Bill. There's actually one more thing. Can you take me to Gringotts?"


"Well we know how Dumbledore loves to understate things, don't we? He said Sirius left me a bit of gold." He hurried on as Bill's expression turned disappointed. "No, listen. Remus has been having problems with the werewolves. If there is any way to grow the money through aggressive investments or something, and with a few donations, we could hire a Potions Master to distribute Wolfsbane. Maybe they can be hired in some manner."

"Okay? It's not that easy, you know. They can't invest in the muggle world. They just have an account with the Bank of England which they use for the monetary exchange."

"Oh. Look, I don't know these things much. I just want to level the playing field a bit, and enticing the moderate werewolves with the potion seemed logical."

"I understand. I'll see what we can do."


"Say Harry, now that we are on the subject, I meant to ask you this. What do you want to do with Headquarters?"

"I don't want to live there."

"I didn't think so."

"What is going on at the moment?"

"It is closed. It will be back for the Order's use on September the first."

"Dumbledore asked me that day and I allowed him to use it. I thought you'd use it immediately."

"Yes. But we didn't want to. Not so soon anyway."


"So, what do you want us to do? Once we open it up, people like old Dung will clean it up."

"He was cleaning it up while Sirius was alive. I don't want that man near Grimmauld Place," Harry hissed caustically. "There's no guarantee that he mightn't have done some thieving already is there?"

"There isn't," Bill replied heavily. "You're right. When I said it was closed, I meant closed in the terms of normal, respectable people."

"Then there's not much to be salvaged."

"I don't know. Sirius might have left you something there."

"I trust your judgement Bill. If you think it is something Sirius might have left for me, keep it aside and give it to me. Otherwise, use that place. I don't know how many cursed objects might be lying there, though."

"Do you want me to take care of them?"

"Will you?"

"Happily," agreed Bill. "That place is crawling with dark stuff. At least I can have some tomb raiding practice. I have been set onto a desk job here."

"Knock yourself out then. Just be cautious and take someone along. That treacherous bit of vermin still inhabits that place."

"Kreacher," Bill muttered. "I will be careful."

Fleur came into the room at that moment and stopped and blanched upon seeing Harry. He smirked at the couple and said, "Yes Bill. Do be careful. Have a good night!"

Bill and Fleur just groaned. "You're too cheeky sometimes, you know that?" Bill asked rhetorically.