In the last chapter, Luna was cursed, and all signs pointed to Theo Nott. Harry was convinced to stand down and let the Aurors do their work. While waiting, he re-started the Defence club and rebuffed McGonagall's attempts at reconciliation, leaving the elderly witch in tears. When the Aurors failed to gather enough evidence to convict Theo, Harry and Dumbledore had a heated disagreement on how to handle the situation. Harry told Dumbledore what he thought of the man and it wasn't very flattering. To Dumbledore's amazement, both Tonks and Filius Flitwick backed Harry. As Harry left, he vowed to take care of Theodore Nott himself.

Quick note: Dumbledore is not ignoring the situation with Theo Nott. He just isn't sharing all of his means of surveillance with Harry. In his mind, he has the situation well in control and Harry will just get in the way. Remember that after the first time the Chamber of Secrets was opened, Hagrid was blamed but Dumbledore suspected Tom Riddle. Dumbledore was able to monitor Tom to a degree that even that brilliant young Wizard was unable to step out of line. That was before he had the resources of a Headmaster. Why doesn't he share this with Harry? He may need to watch Harry one day.

This is where we pick up.

I do not own Harry Potter or any of the characters – they belong to JKRowling.

FASA owns the Earthdawn setting which has influenced many of the ideas in my stories.

DoD—

Special thanks to my Beta Reader, 'Just William' for the excellent feedback and diligent work in making the story better.

DoD—

chapter 43 Proper Planning

Hogwarts

Room of Requirement

November 30, 1996

Theo Nott was tired and wary. He knew he was under scrutiny and the Headmaster always seemed to be watching him. Additionally, the paintings all paid attention to him when he entered a room, and the ghosts of the castle would frequently follow him about. Professor Snape warned him to be careful and brutally shamed him for what he called 'a poorly thought out plan' with the cursed necklace. By using one of Potter's friends, he'd put his own life at risk. Harry Potter…

How could anyone think Harry Potter was anything but a new Dark Lord? Potter's less than subtle threat in the great hall was enough to keep Theo up at night with worry. This is the boy who fought and killed Death Eaters by the dozen. If reports were true, he even managed to drive off the Dark Lord at the battle in the Ministry. Whether or not it was all true, Bellatrix certainly seemed infatuated with him.

As Professor Snape pointed out, killing Draco was a secondary objective. He only pursued it in hopes of garnering favour among the Dark Lord's inner circle. The primary goal was now his only goal. To that end, he was frequently out alone, trying not to be noticed. The Dark Lord had told him about the wondrous room on the seventh floor, and what an amazing room it was. If he had time, he would investigate all the marvellous gifts the room bestowed. But time was something he did not have. He had found the Vanishing Cabinet in the secret room on the seventh floor, but it was damaged.

Theo knew he was no charms master or enchanter, so this was a task he was in danger of failing. Professor Snape had given him access to the restricted section of the Library for research and that was his only flicker of hope. Given how little time he was actually studying his school curriculum, Theo was barely passing his sixth-year courses. However, the time spent on his task was beginning to pay off. He was steadily learning to repair damaged enchantments; it was just taking longer than he had expected.

Unfortunately, Potter and his friends had also begun using the secret room on the seventh floor. With this latest development, Theo was constantly afraid of getting caught. If Crabbe and Goyle were still in school, they could stand lookout and cover for him. He didn't trust Zabini, Parkinson or the Ice Queen with the task. They would be too inquisitive and would probably tell him to shove off. He considered Millie, but he didn't want her to get dragged into this mess. She was… a friend.

After pulling an 'all-nighter', Theo checked the time. Six in the morning… He cursed himself for losing track of time and now had to rush back to his dorm. He gathered his things and quietly exited the room of requirement. He had his pass from Professor Snape, so he'd be fine if he were stopped by a Professor. But he still wanted to be back in the common room before students began moving about. Otherwise, he might tip someone off. Someone like Potter. Or even more likely, Malfoy. Growing nervous, Theo broke into a light jog and headed for the stairs. Fortunately, one of the staircases was there waiting for him. Without breaking stride, he began his descent…

Suddenly, he was overcome with vertigo as he realised he'd missed the top step. His shock turned to fear as he fell face forward and impacted the edge of the stone staircase. He felt teeth break as he began his painful tumbling descent down the stone staircase. After the second impact, he lost consciousness. When he finally came to, he was at the landing on the fifth floor and he was staring up at the ceiling. He tried to speak but could only groan. All the wind had been knocked out of him and he was struggling to breath.

Theo painfully turned his head and saw his arm was broken and a bone was protruding. His legs were likely in a similar condition. How on earth had he missed that first step? He was sure he hit it… Suddenly, the stairs began moving… he was only half on the landing and his lower body was still on the stairs.

NO! He felt his torso slide off the stairs as they moved, and his upper body was pulled from the landing by the weight of his hips and legs. He was now falling through the air toward certain death. He tried to scream, but he was still unable to draw a breath. Dimly he accepted that this is how the house of Nott would end. His free fall only lasted a few seconds, then he felt himself slowing…

He then remembered that the staircase area was enchanted to prevent any student from falling to their death. He landed with a mild thud rather than a 'splat'. Unfortunately, with his broken bones, even a mild impact was enough to render him unconscious.

Far above, on the sixth floor, Harry Potter watched Theo Nott tumble off the stairs while under his invisibility cloak...

DoD—

Harry's Dreamscape

December 1, 1996

Harry was sitting peacefully with his family in his dreamscape. Rose had met him in the forest as he entered the depths of his own mind. Just as she had so many times before. As was often the case, she gave him the status on his magic. He was at full strength and 'they' had boosted his divinatory abilities to their peak potential. 'They' being Rose and Oakheart. She promised he would meet Oakheart after the ritual of thorns had ended, but for now he was too close to the Unseelie Wyld side of his magic to contact Oakheart.

Now he was enjoying time with parents. He shared the recent prank he had played on Theo and both parents seemed to approve. Especially his father who, in the past, had chastised him for failing to use his Illusionist side more frequently. Harry had essentially placed an illusion on the top few steps of the staircase Theo fell down, giving them the appearance of an additional six inches or so of length on the first stair step. This caused the rapidly moving Theo to miss the first step and take quite a tumble to the fourth floor.

Harry was somewhat shocked that his parents were accepting of his attacking another student, but these weren't really his parents. They were the incarnation of his noticeably young parents who had watched many of their friends perish at the hands of young Death Eaters like Theo. They simply did not see Theo as a child. Ironically, Harry knew they were very protective of him. His dream stunt with Bellatrix earned him all kinds of warnings and reprimands. It's wasn't like he tried to ride along in the mind of a mad woman. Thank god they were past that.

After reviewing the memory for the third time, James seemed satisfied. "Very nice. You created an illusion giving the appearance that the steps extended six inches or so… Just enough to throw him off, without making it obvious enough for the paintings or any house elves to notice. Probably."

Harry knew this was high praise from a Marauder. "Dumbledore has all the resources in Hogwarts watching Theo. I only knew this because Dobby had warned me. Today I caught a break and was able to catch him while running. I know where he's going, I just don't know why."

Lily seemed torn between irritation with how easily her son broke the rules and pride in his ingenuity. In the end, pride won out.

Lily focused on the results. "Those injuries should keep him out of your hair for a week or so." She looked critically at Harry for a moment, "Did you know the staircases have a charm to prevent anyone from falling to their death?"

Harry sheepishly answered, "No, and I was a little relieved he didn't die. There would have been too many questions. Theo is a marked Death Eater, and his time will come, but I can't afford to go on the run. Assuming I may have been caught. Which is kind of doubtful."

James shook his head. "Never underestimate Albus Dumbledore, Harry. The old man has got more tricks than a Muggle stage magician." He then asked, "The boy is scared and exhausted, use that against him. Be sneaky and use minor illusions, the kind of thing no one will notice, let alone a sleep deprived teenager. Everyone will assume he's making mistakes because he's not sleeping well enough."

Harry focused a moment, "I have a few ideas along those lines…"

James grinned, "So, what do you have planned next?"

Harry sat back into the chair. "Well, this is where I'll need mums help…"

DoD—

Hogwarts

Headmaster's Chambers

December 18, 1996

Albus emerged from the Pensieve with Filius and was hugely impressed. The two of them had just reviewed Harry's latest training session. In a straight up duel, Harry Potter could match or flat out beat almost anyone. The Charms Master had impressively transformed Harry Potter into a dual wanded fighter in under four months. Adding a second wand to Harry's combat style had made a significant impact on the teenager's already dangerous skill set.

Harry no longer appeared to be imitating the movements of his parents. He had found his own style of fighting, and was nothing short of brilliant. His speed and instinctive methods were a sight to behold. Albus reflected that he fought very much like Gellert… But Gellert was nowhere near this lethal at sixteen years old.

Filius snapped him out of his contemplation, "He's ready, Albus. In truth, he was ready two weeks ago, but I wanted to make sure he could still fight 'single wanded' should the need present itself."

Albus was less sure. "I'm not completely convinced, Filius. He needs to learn how to fight in a team. How to… I'm sorry, it's just been so little time. Is there nothing else you can teach him?"

"At this point, all I would be doing is reinforcing what he's already learned. He's outgrown me, Albus. He's a match for any Death Eater now, even Bellatrix. Did you see how fast he casts with two wands? That's unheard of." Thinking a moment, he added, "He's picking up teamwork in his instructions to the Defence group which Miss Granger and Mr. Diggory started. He's appears to be using Charlus' old tactics."

Filius waited a good thirty seconds for a response, but Albus seemed lost in thought and said nothing.

"Albus, did you see his speed? And the way he begins reacting to attacks before they happen? In three months, he'll be a match for you or You–Know-Who. Three months, Albus." Filius waited, but Albus was still deep in thought. "What's the problem?"

Albus adjusted his glassed, "I'm sorry old friend, I was lost in my own thoughts. My concern is whether or not I want to make Harry Potter even more dangerous than he presently is. At sixteen years old, he is one of the most dangerous wizards alive."

Filius didn't even try to suppress his groan. "Here we go again." Albus was shocked to be addressed so disrespectfully. Shocked and offended.

"What do you mean by that comment, Filius?" Having both Filius and Nymphadora refuse to back him up last month had hurt, but to be addressed like this…

"Albus, you act like he's some sort of teenaged Dark Lord. But have you really looked at Harry?" The diminutive instructor shook his head in disappointment. "He's kind to house elves. He's currently paying for Miss Lovegood's expensive treatment. He worries about Draco. Have you seen him with the Creevey brothers? Those hyperactive boys drive him crazy, but he's always patient with them." With a chuckle, Filius amended the last statement, "Well, he's usually patient with the Creevey's. It would take a saint to always be patient."

Albus gently nodded, "Yes, all very admirable behaviour. And yet… He is so unforgiving…"

"Dammit, Albus! He's training people that treated him horribly just so they have a chance if this war goes badly. And no, he hasn't forgotten all those attacks. Have you? Do you remember how many times he was in the infirmary? I believe one time nearly killed him." Filius waited for a response, but Albus said nothing. Growing frustrated, the Charms Master said what he had wanted to say for months. "You just can't stand that he isn't a miniature version of you!"

Albus had to force down his own temper. Occlumency… This was getting out of hand.

"That's not the case, Filius. I don't want him to be just like me, I want him to be better than me."

Filius looked confused for a moment, "Albus, if I had been through what he went through… I'm sorry to say this old friend, but Harry was right. We would be in a much different a position if you had been less focused on forgiving and had focused instead on doggedly pursuing justice fifteen years ago."

Albus hated this. He knew he had failed and too many Death Eaters to escape justice, but there were extenuating circumstances.

"My hands were tied, Filius, you know that. The old families asserted their power in the Wizengamot to ensure their lines lived on. And the Dark Mark is so much more than a tattoo… It does affect the wearer. Would you have me act like Barty Crouch?"

"No, not Crouch. But if you had acted more like Amelia Bones, you could have pressed for Veritaserum in the interrogations. If not Veritaserum, there are other ways to determine falsehood. Yes, you would have made enemies, but the enemies you would have made were never your friends to begin with."

Albus removed his glasses. "Had I done that; Severus now would be in Azkaban along with the others. Would you really want that?"

Filius tapped the table, his irritation showing. "Marlene McKinnon might say that's where he belongs."

Albus groaned. Ever since Harry shared that bit of information, Severus had been an outcast amongst the staff. He had been given no choice in his actions and it haunted him to this day. What possible good would sending him to Azkaban for life have accomplished?

"Filius, you don't really believe that…"

The Charms Master struck the table. "I sure as hell do! As does the rest of your staff. Marlene was a very dear young lady and what she went through… Wake up, Albus! Your refusal to aggressively stand against the old guard in the Wizengamot is the reason we're fighting this war again. You and your naive fixation on second and third chances for sadistic killers... How many Luna Lovegood's will have to pay for your failure to act?"

Albus knew Luna's attack had bothered Filius. Perhaps that's what has driven such an affable professor to openly question him. But he couldn't let this go on.

With a firm voice, Albus steered the discussion. "I'm not here to discuss my past errors, Filius. I'm here to determine if training Harry is another mistake."

Filius seemed to calm a bit. "Albus, it's no secret that the curse on your hand is worsening. I'm sorry to say this, but you're time here is limited. Can you realistically name one other person besides Harry that you would trust to carry on the fight when you're gone?" The last sentence was delivered with all the sensitivity and concern Albus had come to appreciate from his Charms Master.

Albus looked down at his withered hand. He mentally and methodically walked through his options. Miss Granger wasn't able to carry on the fight. She would freeze up when faced with having to take a life. Ronald Weasley was too emotional and might kill someone innocent. He tended to lead with his heart and only used his head when playing chess. In a few years, that would most certainly change, but Albus didn't have a few years. Cedric had all the tools and would fill the role nicely; except he couldn't make the hard choices. Cedric was too forgiving and trusting. He'd make the same mistakes Albus wished he hadn't made. With a sad chuckle, Albus realised he had just rejected Cedric for being too much like himself. Then there's that prophesy he had to consider. And that needed raw power. Power that only Harry possessed. That took William out of the running.

"No, Filius. Harry's the only one…"

The realisation of Cedric being too forgiving was a huge paradigm shift for Albus. Yes, it had to be Harry. Harry who was openly mistrustful and frequently angry. Harry who had been trained to think outside the box and looked for unexpected ways to defeat an enemy. Trained by Aurors and Curse-breakers and a Werewolf. Harry was no Dark Lord. He was just a relentless defender of those who couldn't protect themselves. Like Dobby and Luna. And the Creevey brothers…

Filius interrupted his thoughts once more. "Albus, I can't sit back and wait for any more students to perish. Either you train him, or I'll bring in a private tutor. From Tenochtitlán." Seeing Albus' shocked look, he added, "I'm serious Albus."

Albus was shocked to hear what Filius was proposing. "They practice Blood Magic. Worse, they practice Death Magic!"

Filius countered with, "They get the job done."

Albus gave a soft sigh and accepted the situation. "It seems I have no choice then. We'll begin after the holidays, as planned."

DoD—

Hogwarts

Potions class

December 18, 1996

Wednesday

Theo Nott was slowly stirring his potion in a clockwise direction. He reached over and collected three teaspoons of minced ginger and sprinkled it into his cauldron. After adding the ginger to his potion, he gently began stirring counter clockwise . Counting carefully to ten, he looked into his cauldron to see if the mixture was the correct colour.

It wasn't quite right. It seemed to be bubbling slightly. He looked over at his ingredients and realised the ginger was undisturbed. What had he just mixed in? He turned back and peered into his cauldron, only to have it erupt into his face. The mixture got into his nose, sinuses, and his eyes. Dimly he heard Professor Slughorn begin screaming for help as he felt the liquid begin to burn away everything it touched. He fell to the floor and began screaming.

Horace Slughorn stunned him and summoned the First Aid kit. He then began applying an Alkaline solution to counter the acid. Theo's eyes were melting and running down the sides of his face. All the students were focused on the horrific sight in front of them.

No one noticed Harry Potter smiling ever so briefly. He had to admit, Lily Potter knew her potions.

DoD—

Hogwarts

Slug Club Holiday Party

December 20, 1996

Friday

Harry and Ginny arrived a bit late to the Slug Club Holiday party due to Ginny and the Gryffindor Quidditch team having their own private celebration. From the aggressive look of her, Harry realised it involved a lot of flying. He didn't remember Woods doing anything before the holidays, so it must be Katie's thing. He didn't really resent the time she spent on Quidditch. He knew he had been the same way before his fourth year. It was actually good to see Ginny doing something she loved so much, he just wished their schedules didn't clash so much. Enough of that! Tomorrow, the school would break for the holidays and head home, but tonight was about having fun with Ginny.

As they entered the conference room housing the party, Harry noted there were Emerald, Crimson, and Gold drapes hanging from the ceiling and down the walls. The room was quite full and there was an ornate golden lamp dangling from the ceiling, casting a red light over the room. There was rather loud singing and the notes of a Mandolin coming from one of the corners. The entire room had a light haze of pipe smoke which smelled both spicy and sweet.

One oddity was what appeared to be roving tables, moving about the room. To Harry's astonishment, they weren't tables at all, but rather large trays being carried aloft by house elves. The food on the trays was varied and looked especially nice. The beverage trays appeared to be filled with either wine or water, depending on the tray. To the side of the room were the fixed tables of appetisers and beverages.

Searching the room, Harry saw two of his friends. Ron was filling a huge plate with food and Hermione was looking irritated with the sheer volume he was loading onto the plate. With a chuckle, Harry wondered if Ron knew the food on the trays and the tables were only the appetisers. Hermione was the official member and she brought Ron, but he was forced to promise her he'd mind his manners. He seemed to be trying…

Surprise, surprise, Cormac brought Padma. Or maybe it was the other way around. Harry knew Cormac and Katie were friends, but he hadn't realised he was close to Padma as well. They were both members of the club, but were they an item? Harry looked at Ginny and she smiled back at him and winked. Harry knew Ginny could practically read his mind and her wink confirmed it. Cormac and Padma were a couple.

Blaise Zabini was also there with Fay Dunbar. Now that was an odd pairing. A Slytherin and a Gryffindor. Neither of them seemed to pay him any mind, but Fay gave a small nod to Ginny. Wasn't Fay also one of the newer members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team? Harry was beginning to understand just how small his circle of friends really was.

Draco was there as well, but he seemed to have come alone. He was in a conversation with Horace and Snape. Harry tried not to show how much he despised his former Potions Master. Having him here at the party… Harry knew Ginny was looking forward to this, so he would do his best to ignore the disgusting man.

Harry heard Ginny gasp and he followed her gaze to three men talking to Professor Babbling. The Professor seemed to be overly excited to speak with them, but Harry only vaguely recognised the trio of men. And why was his post NEWT Runes professor acting so… odd. Yes, she was one of the youngest Professors on staff, but she never before acted like it.

Ginny leaned toward him, she looked amused at his confusion, "Harry, that's three of the Weird Sisters! Clockwise from Professor Babbling you have Kirley Duke, the lead guitarist, Myron Wagtail, the lead singer, and Orsino Thurston, the drummer. They were all students here back in the eighties." Ginny giggled and added, "From the way Professor Babblings acting, I'd say she remembers them."

Harry laughed with her, "I guess Runes aren't her only passion!" They both laughed at that. Maybe tonight would be even more fun than he thought.

Harry stepped up and snagged two glasses of Champagne from a tray and handed one to Ginny. It was time to start making the rounds. Etiquette dictated he'd start with Professor Slughorn, the host. A little alcohol might get him through a night in the same room with Snape. That's when he noticed two other men.

Looking over the room, he saw two other men. One was rather short and stout with a rather large set of glasses on his nose. The other man was the one to really catch Harry's attention. He was tall and slender with black hair. He had dark circles under his eyes and seemed extremely pale. Harry opened his senses and realized the man's aura was also very pale. His magic seemed odd. Harry took a breath and suddenly caught a faint scent of decay. It was less a smell than a description of the man's magical… taste?

With a start, Harry knew what the man was. "Vampire." He whispered it, but Ginny heard him.

She whispered, "Quiet, Harry. Please stop staring, it's rude." Harry looked over at his date. She looked amused and slightly embarrassed. "Vampires are kind of like Veela and Werewolves, very misunderstood. A few bad apples in the Middle Ages gave them all a bad name."

Harry was suddenly embarrassed. "Right. So, Veela are misunderstood?" He knew Ginny didn't like Fleur, maybe she was softening.

Ginny gave him a playful, but wary look. "Depends on the Veela." Harry realised she was fine with Veela as long as they weren't dating her brother…

Changing the subject back to the Vampire, he asked, "So who do you think the other guy is?" Ginny shrugged, but before she could say anything, a woman shouted out his name with a slightly inebriated voice.

"Harry Potter! I knew you would be here… the Fates foretold of this meeting!" Professor Trelawney was quickly approaching him. Harry wanted to shrink into the floor. All the eyes were now on him. He saw Snape sneer out of the corner of his eye.

Ginny whispered frantically, "I'm going to go see Fay… Sorry, Harry." And she was gone.

Professor Trelawney quickly approached and before he knew it, she was right in front of him. "My students have shared your many contributions to the Divination club Mr. Potter. I was terribly sorry when I heard you wouldn't be in my class. Terribly sorry." She peered at him through enormous glasses, her eyes were magnified to a ridiculously comical degree.

"Yes, Professor. Mr. Oppenheimer has been instructing me." Awkward.

"Well, my door is always open to you my dear. Always open, just like the third eye… but you already know that don't you? Yes, yes… I can see that you do." Harry continued smiling, but deeply wanted this to end. Trelawney gave him the creeps.

"Thank you, Professor." Harry searched for a moment before complimenting her. "Lavender and Parvati have told me how much they enjoy your class." Harry thought he saw Ron snickering.

"Yes, yes. Both very gifted… very gifted."

Just when it started to become awkward, Padma Patil walked up. "Professor Trelawney, can I borrow Mr. Potter for a moment?" Without waiting, she grasped the end of Harry's sleeve, carefully avoiding any thorns and pulled him to a side table.

Harry noticed she was ever so slightly smiling. "Thanks Padma, that was… well timed."

"You owe me, Harry. Professor Trelawney's not normally so… outrageous. But she's had a few…" Padma then held up her own glass of wine but refrained from actually sipping it. When she arched her eyebrows, the meaning was clear. Everyone knew Professor Trelawney was a bit of a lush.

Harry sipped his own glass. "So, you and Cormac?"

Padma laughed musically and looked over at her date. He was talking with Ginny and Fay. "Yes, Cormac keeps me entertained. He's quite easy on the eyes, you know."

Harry just gave her an odd look. "Cormac? Well, he's kind of arrogant…" Harry knew he needed to shut up. "But hey, he's probably a decent guy. Good for you."

Padma shook her head and chuckled. "Don't get too carried away, Harry. Truthfully, he's not very bright, but he looks ever so nice in formal robes." Seeing Harry's odd look, she added, "What? Wizards don't go on dates with Witches based on looks?"

Harry stammered and tried to find the right words. He knew Wizards valued attractive partners, but he didn't think Witches would. He'd have to ask Ginny about it after the party. Was that why she was always pestering him about looking his best? If so… Yeah, he'd have to make more of an effort. Tuck in his shirt…

Padma seemed to enjoy watching Harry squirm, "So, how's the Divination training coming?"

Harry was relieved to be off the Cormac and personal appearance topic. "It's coming along fine. I've had a few visions that were rough, so we're taking a break from Oneiromancy* until after the Yule holidays. But Psychometry** is pretty much there. Bibliomancy*** throws me a lot, but I usually get it after the fact. Cartomancy**** is fairly natural, but it's all in the interpretation. Of course, that's true for most methods. We spend a lot of time on interpretation and understanding Divinatory theory."

Padma laughed. "Divinatory theory, Harry? I think you've been spending too much time with my sister."

Harry couldn't help but chuckle with her. "It's not what you think. Well, maybe it is." After a moment, he added, "If we have time tonight, I'll give you a Tarot card reading."

Padma set down her empty cup. "I'll hold you to it. Well, I better get back to my 'Trophy Wizard'. I'll see you around, Harry."

As she walked off, Harry thought about his Divination training. Fritz had stopped his training over a month ago and they planned to resume after the holidays. The official word was that Fritz, and the Department of Mysteries were working overtime in trying to track Voldemort. Harry knew Fritz really didn't think it likely and was actually spending most of his time building in escape routes from Britain for when the Ministry fell.

When it fell, not if. Fritz shared his prediction and plans with Harry in their last session. It would fall soon after Dumbledore died. Possibly next Autumn, but most likely over the Summer. He helped Harry make plans as well. Two Horcruxes left… The Snake and one other. In January, they would work to find the 'other' Horcrux. For now, he practiced the occasional Psychometric reading and his nightly Occlumency. His main focus was preparing the DA and mastering dual wanded combat.

Harry saw Horace was now in a deep discussion with one of the musicians in the 'Weird Sisters'. He couldn't remember the name and wasn't really all that interested in them. He decided to approach his host after he had broken away from the musician. He saw Hermione and Ron were now talking to Ginny. Ginny gave him a smile and gestured for him to join.

Walking forward he gave her a mock glare, "Traitor!" Everyone seemed amused.

Ginny blushed and smiled, "I'm sorry, Harry. But I did send Padma over to bail you out!"

Harry shook his head and sighed, "Fair enough. All's forgiven." He enjoyed spending time with Padma. She was a less serious version of Hermione.

The four of them were soon joined by Padma and Cormac. They discussed the Defence group and the plans for after the Holidays. The members were now able to hold their own against the Slytherins in Snape's Defence class. Harry noted that they had all made significant progress and the basic spell chains looked good.

Everyone had been shown a basic duelling style and it was highly effective for most of the members. After the holidays, Harry would show the more athletic members a style that relied more on dodging and counter curses as well as defensive spell volleying. He was going to increase the team training as well after he met with Tonks and Remus.

Harry chose not to share Fritz's last discussion. The Unspeakable had made it clear Harry needed to prepare the group for an occupation. Prepare them without telling them. Hogwarts would still be reasonably safe, but precautions would had to be taken. Strategies would stress stealth and survival. Never travel alone, always aware of the area… situational awareness was key. He'd also have to teach them how to check their food and drink for poisons and potions… So much to do and cover. Maybe Fred and George could help… But that was next year. For now, he'd let them have a fun night without worry.

The group soon broke apart and Horace came over and greeted Harry. "Harry and Ginevra, it's so good to see you both. Harry, you'll be sitting beside me tonight. I look forward to hearing about your training with Albus. And Miss Weasley, from what I'm hearing, your skills as a chaser are nothing short of amazing."

While he was talking, Horace subtly 'herded' them to the table as only a skilled veteran of many dinner parties can. Once seated, Harry realised just how much Andromeda had taught him. He also realised Hermione must have had some form of training as she seemed very at ease. Her social 'gaffs' were not considered incorrect to the modern muggle world. They were common 'tells' in Muggle-born students, according to Andromeda. Basically, Wizarding etiquette was still in the eighteen hundreds.

Harry noted Padma and the Slytherin students were in their element, with both Padma and Blaise having slightly different training due to their foreign upbringing. It was all perfectly acceptable, given their cultural differences and it was still very polished. There were really only three attendees that stood out as untrained.

Fay Dunbar was obviously not trained despite her status as a half-blood. She was still well behaved, and no one cared if she used the wrong fork. The same was true for Ginny and Ron. Ginny was similar to Fay in that she carried herself well but occasionally used the wrong utensil while Ron was noticeably shovelling food into his mouth as fast as possible. It was obvious he was nervous… Of course, being seated beside Snape may have had something to do with it. Hermione was occasionally elbowing him.

Horace was the perfect host; he kept the conversations moving along and made a point to engage as many of his guests as possible. It was a nice dinner, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. The only difficult point came when Horace mentioned his last Potions class with the sixth years.

Horace practically sneered. "That Theodore Nott! I don't know what's gotten into him. The poor lad lost both of his eyes… He'll have to have them regrown in St. Mungo's over the holiday. He may never completely regain his sense of smell." Horace shook his head, then looked at Snape, "What on earth was the boy thinking adding Mandrake root to such a volatile potion… The only reason I haven't expelled him from the class is that I was friends his Grandfather, Cantankerous Nott."

Snape drawled out, "I never observed Theodore Nott making any such errors." He then peered directly at Harry, "It's almost as if he was… tricked… somehow." It was clearly an accusation.

Harry met his gaze and didn't flinch. "Tricked, Professor Snape? You mean like the way Miss Lovegood was 'tricked'?"

Missing the hostility between the two, Horace sipped his wine and continued, "No, no, no, Harry. In the last two months, that boy has become a walking disaster. He's fallen down three flights of stairs, He picked up a razor-sharp knife by the wrong end… and tried to use it!" Horace shook his head in distaste. "Blood everywhere… The boy is a basket case. I fear I'll have to ask him not to return to Advanced Potions. Sad, really. But safety is of the utmost importance in the potions classroom."

Harry continued to stare at Snape. He knew that Snape knew Theo was guilty. Harry had been using very subtle illusions to absolutely ruin Theo Nott at every opportunity. Not having him in Potions class would impact his ability to affect the boy. He also no longer sprinted down staircases… This would get more difficult. If only Dumbledore would expel the junior Death Eater.

Soon enough, the conversation turned to Eldred Worple and his time with Vampires. Both Eldred and Sanguini, his Vampire guest, were excellent conversationalists. They discussed the coming book tour and Vampiric society in general. Vampiric society was remarkably interesting, but at least five hundred years in the past. It actually made Wizarding society seem very modern in comparison.

Sanguini regularly referred to the United States as 'The Colonies' and became confused when discussions were raised around Eastern European countries. He did, however, share a bit about his mortal life during the early days of Wallachia. Only once did Harry see him gazing at Ginny. Harry only need to pump a bit of magic into a stare to get him to look away. Glowing eyes tended to do that.

As dessert arrived, the conversation shifted to the next 'Weird Sisters' tour and the different countries they would be travelling through. It was very interesting to hear about the places they had been in their travels and Sanguini asked many questions. Eventually, the conversations and the food reached an end. As the group was rising to leave, Horace made a point to have Draco and Harry promise to return to discuss politics over brandy and cigars.

Overhearing, Snape sneered. "Potter would never understand the political nuances of our society."

Before Harry could retort, Horace barked out. "Severus, you know as well as I do that Lord Potter is the Heir of two prominent families. If he hasn't been trained, then I'll make sure to remedy that myself."

Harry noted Horace referred him as 'Lord Potter'. That seemed to sour Snape tremendously. Looking at the contemptuous glare from Snape, Harry made a point to glare back with just as much disdain. Staring into Snape's black eyes, Harry thought about the innocents who suffered under the Death Eater. Marlene McKinnon… His own family… Others.

Harry actually hoped Snape would try something. He thought, 'Do it, Snape. Pull your wand…' He was so done with trading insults with the GIT. Harry so desperately wanted to put him in the grave. It was high time Snape was held accountable for his many crimes and sins. If not for this greasy bastard, he'd still have a family…

Harry noticed everyone was staring at him. The room was freezing… He'd let his magic seep out. He instinctively pulled it back in and tried to relax. Without breaking eye contact with Snape, he said, "I look forward to seeing you later tonight, Horace. I'll be back in thirty minutes."

Snape turned abruptly and stormed out. It was clear he was furious and wanted to distance himself from Harry. Harry briefly laughed. Snape thought he was the most powerful Wizard in the room. Well, they'd see about that soon enough. Next year…

Horace cleared his throat. "Yes, yes, Harry. We'll see you soon enough." After a very brief pause, "That was quite the display of magic. Pine and roses… nice and holiday appropriate." Always the witty host…

Harry smiled apologetically, "I'm sorry sir, Professor Snape loves to insult me and I'm afraid I let it get to me. I'm told he hated my father."

Horace looked sad for a moment. "Yes… well, there was more to that as well. I believe it's as the muggles say, 'you snooze, and you lose'. But taking his frustrations out on you is poor form. And that's not just my opinion, either." Horace was clearly disgusted. "Severus needs to grow up."

Looking around and seeing the group had thinned to just himself, Ginny and Draco, Harry handed Horace a small gift. "Merry Christmas and Happy Yule, Horace." It was a silver set of cigar clippers with the Slytherin and Slughorn crests on it. Goblin made and of the highest quality, it was paired with an ashtray and a dragon hide cigar case of matching design. Harry knew Horace would love it.

He walked Ginny back to the Gryffindor dorms and enjoyed every moment with her. They arrived right at curfew. Tonight, was incredibly nice and Harry wished he could kiss her. The thorns would be gone soon enough. Three and half more months… It wasn't just Ginny that he longed to touch… He hadn't been hugged in almost a year. His own familiar couldn't wrap herself around him… Soon.

Tomorrow they'd ride back to London and prepare for the New Year.

DoD—

Grimmauld Place

December 22, 1996

Sunday

Harry, Draco, and Hermione were sitting in the Study of Grimmauld Place enjoying their school break. The door was closed, and privacy wards had been raised. The Weasleys were collecting personal effects from the Burrow, so the house was quiet.

Harry had just explained to his two friends what he knew about Horcruxes and Legilimency. Draco was surprised, but Hermione was absolutely horrified. Harry knew it would take time for it all to sink in. Over the break, he intended to introduce her to Occlumency. It was a bit frightening what she'd be like with an Occlumency organised mind, but she had to protect herself. Draco already had the skill, but he'd be working to strengthen it.

Draco was visibly repulsed as he asked, "So, how many are there? There has to be a maximum before the soul becomes brittle and falls apart. Really, creating more than one seems like a foolish risk."

Harry agreed, "Splintering a soul seven times is beyond stupid, and it almost certainly results in insanity. Dumbledore thinks the Dark Mark is some kind of stabiliser. It spreads the insanity out across a few dozen people. It probably worked pretty well at first, but after the third or fourth split… Well, there's only so much that can be done. The Department of Mysteries believes the Mark also feeds on pain and misery. Either the misery of the bearer or their victims. It allows Voldemort to harvest that power. It likely helped sustain Voldemort while he had Death Eaters suffering in Azkaban."

Draco closed his eyes. Harry knew he was probably thinking about his father. It explained how all those aristocratic 'stick up their arse' pure bloods became raping psychopaths. It really did all make sense when you step back and look at it, but that didn't absolve the Death Eaters from their own crimes. Most of them joined up knowing how bad Voldemort was. Only the original supporters thought it was a political movement.

Hermione was still recovering, but managed to ask, "How many, Harry?"

Harry realised he never answered Draco's question. "We think there are two left. The Snake and one other. I've been trying to use my Oneiromancy* to get a handle on the last unknown one, but I'm not having any luck."

Draco stared at Harry for a minute. "What aren't you telling us?"

Harry dropped the other shoe, "Mr. Oppenheimer thinks the Ministry will fall. Sometime before next winter. He's predicted it to occur after Dumbledore dies."

Hermione practically screeched, "What?!"

Harry winced. "Yeah… The curse on his hand is getting worse. When I look at it and focus on the magic, it's pretty obvious he won't last another year." Seeing the shock on both students faces, he added, "He made a mistake." Among curse-breakers, a mistake means you got killed. Now he realised he should have broken this to Hermione a bit more gently.

Hermione wasn't ready to accept that. "Surely there's something that can be done…" Tears were welling up in her eyes.

Harry gently shook his head. "No, Hermione. He should have died within an hour of activating the curse. Somehow, they managed to slow it down, but it is still growing."

Draco considered it, "Can't they just remove the hand? Then re-grow a new one?"

Harry knew enough about curses to answer that. "No. It's in his pattern now. The hand is just a symptom of the curse. You won't visibly see it spreading up his arm, but it's already affected his whole body. He has something like eight or nine more months, then…" Harry let the sentence trail off. Harry wasn't a healer, but he knew his curses.

Hermione was openly crying now. "So, what happens next? And why are you only telling us?"

Harry took a deep breath. "Next year, I don't plan to return to Hogwarts. I'm going to actively search for the last Horcrux. Then I can kill the Snake and Voldemort together. But not until I find the last Horcrux." Reluctantly, he added, "I'd like you two to come with me."

Draco gave a slight nod, but Hermione looked stunned.

She asked, "What about… Ron? What about Ginny?" She sounded almost like she was accusing him, but Harry understood. This was a lot to drop on them.

"I can't send Ginny back to Hogwarts, but if the Ministry falls, Mr. Weasley would be held accountable if she's not enrolled. But I'm working on a plan for that."

Hermione waited, then asked, "What about Ron?"

Harry really was dreading this. "Hermione, Ron means well, but he… I can't do this with anyone I don't trust one hundred percent. He never means to screw up…' Seeing her about to argue, "Remember fourth year? Besides, if he doesn't go back to Hogwarts, his family will be treated as criminals just the same as if Ginny doesn't go back. That could mean a death sentence."

Hermione made one more plea. "Harry, you have to at least tell him…" Harry knew they were dating, and he hated this.

"I'm sorry, Hermione. I have zero doubt Ron will be interrogated about my plans if the Ministry collapses. I'll have to stage some kind of falling out before this year's over." Harry decided to change the subject before Hermione forced him to discuss how he didn't completely trust Ron. Not after the Eiectio in their fourth year. "You need to either bring your parents here or see about getting them out of the country."

Hermione just closed her eyes. She was still weeping softly. Completely overwhelmed.

Harry said the final piece. "Hermione, it might be best if you leave with your parents…"

She opened her eyes and looked enraged. "Harry Potter, do not even try to send me away!"

Harry didn't want her to leave, but he had to make her consider the option.

"Right… but I'd understand if…"

"No!" She made to slap him but thought better of it. "You and your damn thorns…"

Harry hated this. "Alright, Mione. So, you tell Ron and a few others you have an escape plan to get out of the country. Let's go with Canada or Australia. That way if Ron is legillimized or questioned under Veritaserum, your folks will be safe."

"I see. And what lie will you tell Ginny?" Hermione asked the question far sharper than she had intended.

"Only that I'm going on the run if the Ministry falls. I haven't worked out the plan yet, but I'll be taking her with me. I just can't tell her that yet."

Hermione sniffed a bit and wiped a tear away. "And the trace?"

"Already removed. It helps to have friends in the Department of Mysteries."

Draco spoke up for the first time since the meeting started, "Wait, just for her?"

Harry grinned, "Nope. You, me, Hermione, Neville, and Ron. But Neville and Ron can't find out, they'll give it away. Just make sure you all learn Apparition. Training starts when we get back and we're going to need it."

Hermione scrunched up her forehead and asked, "So, we just go wandering about looking for a Horcrux?"

Harry chuckled. "No. We stay here and use this as our base of operations. If Bill can't cast it, I can help the Weasleys put up a Fidelius over the Burrow, letting them move back. I'll recast one for Grimmauld Place, and it'll just be us. Well, the Tonks family and Draco's mum as well. Grimmauld Place is set on a few minor ley lines, so we can Apparate exceptionally long distances from here. We can pretty much get anywhere in Britain with three jumps."

Draco seemed apprehensive. "Harry, can you really beat him? If not, we can always leave Britain. There are plenty of Black properties in Europe and we can help other countries prepare."

Harry made a fist, his thorns digging into his own skin painfully. "Yeah, I can beat him. But we need to get rid of the last two Horcruxes." He still needed Dumbledore to train him, though.

Seeing a trace of doubt in his friends faces, he added, "I'm better than I was in the Ministry. Remember, Voldemort can only sustain a finite number of those tattoos. If I can kill off enough of the marked Death Eaters, his power reserves will be reduced. The Department of Mysteries doesn't think he can just create Death Eaters at will. It's a whole ceremony and he can probably only do a few at a time. Most likely seven on the night of a 'new moon'. If I kill eight a month, he'll lose them faster than they can be replenished. So, yeah, I'll be fighting to kill. No stunners. If the Ministry falls, we have to fight to kill."

Draco nodded, but Hermione hesitated. This was a lot to ask of anyone.

She turned to him; the concern etched on her face. "I don't know if I'm ready to kill, Harry. I don't know if I'll ever be ready."

Harry understood. "You help me with the Horcrux, I'll do the rest."

DoD—

Hogwarts Express

January 5, 1997

Sunday

Harry was sitting quietly as the train brought them closer to Hogwarts. The holiday break had passed by all too quickly. The days had been fun, but too short. Bill managed to set up a Fidelius over the Burrow and the family planned to move back before summer. Molly needed her own space and she never really liked Grimmauld Place. Harry suspected it was as much Kreacher and Narcissa Malfoy she wanted to get away from, but he kept that to himself. At least this year they had a great big Christmas and Yule Holiday celebration.

The twins came through for him with cartons of Peruvian Instant Darkness and other odds and ends. He'd make sure to stow them in the Room of Requirement for the DA. The Invisible Head hats would ensure anonymity of there was ever an altercation. A dozen shielded cloaks were purchased as well. No, they wouldn't stop a serious curse, but they would help against minor jinxes and hexes. But the best thing he was brining was his own handwritten training guide.

Harry looked down and began thumbing through his short Urban Combat training guide. He had worked diligently with and Tonks and Remus over the holidays putting it together. It wasn't as technical as what his grandfather had written, but it was simple and to the point. Remus' illustrations, while not professional quality, were actually rather good. Better than Harry's stick figures. The man was full of surprises.

Half of the manual was based on the school and half was generic to a city or town. It wasn't going to make anyone a death dealing commando, but it would make the DA members more effective at getting out of dangerous situations. It had an overview of Muggle London and using things like the subway and other crowded venues to escape dangerous situations. Of course, Apparition was the best solution as long as it wasn't blocked.

Harry looked up and around the compartment and was flattered to see most of the others reading the same manual. They'd have to come up with a way to magically hide them. Can't share their playbook… And it had to be kept out of Death Eater hands. Maybe it could be tied to the owner is some weird way. Harry had asked Hermione to look into it for him.

"Hey Ron, Nev? Got a minute?" When both boys looked up, Harry began laying the groundwork for Hogwarts.

"I want to train you two to take over for me at Hogwarts." Seeing their blank faces Harry added, "I won't be coming back next year and if things go bad… I need you guys to keep people safe."

Harry wasn't going to tell them about Fritz's prediction of the Ministry falling, but he'd make sure they were ready.

Ron looked flattered. "Sure thing mate."

Neville seemed suspicious but gave a brief nod.

Hermione remained silent and never looked up from her book. The sudden reddening of her cheeks was the only giveaway that she had heard anything at all.

DoD—

Scotland

Outer Hebrides

January 10, 1997

In the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, there is an unplottable island that has been used by Albus Dumbledore for many years. It is this island that he used to develop and perfect his impressive abilities. The landscape was rocky and barren, showing the effects of numerous explosive curses and it would likely never support life. It is this location that Albus Dumbledore brought Harry to begin his Battle Magic Training.

As the two Apparated with a popping sound, Albus directed Harry to a large and somewhat flat area. Many years ago, he and Gellert practiced there. They were so foolish and vain. But they trained themselves to be the best of their generation. Now Albus was training the next premier Mage of the Wizarding World, Harry Potter.

"Harry, I want you to start out slowly. We'll begin as a simple duel, then we'll switch to Battle Magic with area effect curses and the like. You've read the books, now we'll put it to practice."

Albus noted Harry looking about. "Professor, is this a safe location?"

"Yes, Harry. It is quite safe, and I've been using it for years. We'll come here three times a week. Today, we'll focus on using our full arsenals against each other. In the future, I'll transfigure other combatants to better simulate full scale battle."

Harry looked confused, "Why not start out with the extra targets?"

Albus smiled and shrugged, "I want to better understand your capabilities, my boy. Today we set the base line. In the future we'll be pushing it forward."

Harry gave brief nod, then asked, "What are the rules of engagement?"

Albus gave Harry a wry grin. "We're well past rules at this point, Harry. Hold nothing back, but when one of us achieves a victory, we cease."

Harry looked apprehensive. "I usually pull back a bit with Filius… Are you sure?"

Albus smiled broadly, "I'm quite sure, Harry."

Over the next hour and a half, the two wizards had five separate 'battles. The individual battles lasted less than ten minutes each and there was a need for healing and recovery between bouts. When the battles were over, Albus was the victor each time. In each battle, there were complex transfigurations, illusions, curses, and even elemental attacks. Harry held back in the first battle, but by the third battle, he was going all out.

Albus sat in a transfigured chair and finished drinking his Wiggenweld healing potion, feeling it repair a number of minor injuries. Harry was doing the same and was also drinking a blood replenisher after being on the receiving end of a well-placed cutting curse. More than ever before, Albus was coming to realise just how much talent young Harry had. Filius was right, in three months, Harry would be the one winning the majority of their battles. Possibly sooner if Albus' magic began to wither.

Harry's speed and reaction time was beyond any foe Albus had ever met beside Gellert and Bellatrix. He was definitely using some form of very short-term Divination… Filius was correct about that as well. How much faster would he be when the thorns were gone? Albus had only won the last two 'battles' on pure experience and creativity. Harry was still adjusting to two wands and from time to time, he missed an opportunity due to 'wand confusion'. But that wouldn't last. At some point in February or March, Harry would be so used to fighting dual wanded, it would be second nature.

Albus had a secondary reason for wanting to start their sessions with 'one on one' battle duels. He knew he could best Harry at this point in his training. He wanted to see if the Elder wand would shift its loyalty back to him. In each of their 'battles', the wand worked flawlessly, until he gained the upper hand. Then it… resisted. It was subtle and hard to describe, but Albus knew the wand would refuse to cast anything lethal once the battle was decided. He suspected the wand was somehow 'letting him' train Harry, but not injure him in a permanent way.

He had always suspected the wand was sentient, now he knew it. It was sentient in ways the cloak and the stone weren't. So, now he finally had access to all three of the Deathly Hallows, but he'd lost the loyalty of the wand. He had vowed long ago never to unite the three, but he still found it ironic. As the Master of Death… he might be immune to the curse that was killing him… Well, who knows? Maybe not. At least he could now leave this world knowing he did the right thing and, despite what Harry thought of him, he always tried to do the right thing.

"Good showing, Harry. I must say, I'm impressed at how far you've come." He looked down at his student and smiled. He meant it.

Harry looked up and gave a simple nod. "Thank you, sir."

There was little warmth in the acknowledgement. But it was professional and polite. Courteous, even. Albus was thankful for that, at least. No, they would never be close like he had been with Nicholas. That ship had sailed, as the Muggles said. Harry had judged him and found him wanting. People had always thought Albus had an even temper, but that's just Occlumency. He lost his temper from time to time just like anyone else… Like when he demanded Harry hand over his wands. And there was no coming back from it. He had to accept that his own poor decisions and actions had soured the relationship… Well, time to make lemonade.

"Let's head back, Harry. You did very well today. We'll review your performance in the Pensieve and find areas to improve upon."

*Oneiromancy = Dream Divination.

**Psychometry = Divinatory readings from objects.

***Bibliomancy = Divination from books. Open a book and read a random passage, then interpret it.

****Cartomancy = Using cards for Divinatory readings. Tarot cards and Oracle Cards are examples.

Alright, two more chapters and we wrap up Harry's sixth year and chapter 45 will be bloody. Harry's seventh year will be fairly bloody as well, but that's to be expected. My plan is to wrap this story up on chapter 50 and shift the majority of my focus back to Casting Shadows. Expect me to release one of my stories every two weeks or so.

Thanks.