Act I - Trials of Summer

Chapter 17- Confrontations

Sirius Black watched from the shadows as Harry stepped out of the parlor all alone. He saw the boy visibly exhale, before apparating away with a slight Crack! Barely a moment later, the veela girl stepped out, carefully glancing around without being obvious about it. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, she turned towards Gringotts and strode away, likely returning to her day job.

His godson— now, his son —decided to meet the girl on his own terms. Not wanting to force his presence, Sirius easily acquiesced to the request. Besides, it would've been hypocritical of him to force a chaperone on Harry after he himself had been fooling around with girls since his third year of Hogwarts.

And no, skulking in the shadows didn't count as being present.

Still, as glad as he was that Harry was interacting with the veela like this, he couldn't help but also feel a bit of concern. Beautiful women they may be, but that rose came with its own set of thorns.


"Lord Black?"

Sirius twitched, but didn't whirl around like a frightened teenager. As Lord Black, Kreacher's actions now made a great deal of sense to him, especially since he was technically the Lar. He knew the extent of the elf's loyalty towards House Black, and him by extension. But that didn't mean he was used to the elf's eerie methods.

"Do you really have to come in like that?"

The elf faded into non-existence, but his voice still echoed all around. "A good house elf is always nearby, Lord Black."

"Figures," he muttered, rolling eyes. He glanced back in the direction Fleur had left. "Something tells me Harry will be seeing her more frequently in the future."

He was still mighty suspicious as to why the wily goblin had thrown the veela into Harry's path. It was impossible for Griphook to have been ignorant of the girls' status as Beauxbatons Champion. Harry had told him about the Overlord's tentative offer of support, but at the end of the day, they were still goblins.

They may be on Harry's side, but that did not make them friends.

Not that his godson needed to worry about any of that. Sirius was there to do it for him.

"Am I to treat the veela as a threat to the young Master, Lord Black?" Kreacher asked in his signature gravelly tone.

Sirius opened his mouth to answer, but then thought better of it. Kreacher was the type to not think twice before murdering the girl in cold blood if he even remotely picked up on hostility on her part. Hostility that would be rather understandable, seeing as how they were stalking her.

"She's an unknown quantity," he answered after a while. "It's entirely possible she's a victim of coincidence, or perhaps even a pawn." He paused, remembering the strange exchange she and his godson had at Gringotts. "But something about her bugs me. I get the impression she's hiding something from us."

"Am I to capture her?"

Sirius resisted the urge to pull out his hair. "No, you blasted elf! Maintain your distance, but find out everything you can about her. Where does she go, with whom, who does she represent, and most importantly, what is she truly doing here? I want it all."

"Understood," Kreacher replied. And in the very next moment, he was gone. Not apparated. Not vanished.

Just… gone.

"Show off," he muttered, before shaking his head. The events at the bank yesterday were sure to carry their own set of repercussions. Now was the time to predict how things would turn out, and how best to turn them in their favor.

Putting his right hand into his robes, Sirius pulled out a white envelope, one addressed to a certain Pius Thicknesse. An unexpected letter from the wily solicitor had been the instigator for several of his plans that summer, including certain changes he'd made at Gringotts. In return for his help, the only thing Thicknesse asked for was a private audience as soon as Sirius was comfortable.

"I really should've given this to Hedwig," he muttered, giving a baleful look at the Wizarding Post Office. Slightly turning his head, he glanced at Eeylops Owl Emporium, wondering if he should just get himself an owl and be done with it. He remembered once having one— a large eagle owl named Jacky —before the poor thing had been killed delivering mail in 1979.

Maybe it was time to purchase another. And an elf too? Kreacher was dead useful, but using the Lar for day-to-day menial jobs just didn't sit right with him. Perhaps he should ask Harry about the Malfoy elf he freed.

Glancing at where his godson had stood moments ago, Sirius straightened up his robes and strode off.




"Well," Emma announced brightly, holding up the day's edition of the Daily Prophet, "look who made the news again."

"I count the days when I'm not headlining that rag," Harry rolled his eyes. As expected, Gringotts had sent a missive about his latest developments to the Goblin Liaison's office at the Ministry of Magic, headed by Dirk Cresswell. Given how the Daily Prophet had its headlines authorized on the daily by the Minister himself, there was no doubt that his Lordship would make the news.

"So, what are they saying this time around?"

Emma began to read. "Harry Potter has done it again. Like every year since his return to the Wizarding world after a decade of private instruction, Harry Potter has made yet another move to attract attention to himself. The Boy-Who-Lived, notorious for his ability as a parselmouth, a trait shared by dark wizards such as Salazar Slytherin and You-Know-Who, has once again proved that his fame has gone straight to his head."

Emma looked up from the newspaper. "Really Harry, I didn't know Gilderoy Lockhart was your role model."

He snorted in response. "Go on," he gestured.

"The controversial Triwizard Tournament saw Harry Potter participating as an illegal Champion despite being underage. Potter then gained infamy for the murder of Cedric Diggory and twelve other well-respected purebloods. Diggory, whose father Amos leads the Department of Magical Creatures, was famous for defeating Potter in a Quidditch match — a novel feat since Potter's controversial start as Seeker in his first year. Did Diggory's win, followed by his selection as Hogwarts Champion, strike a chord of jealousy in the Boy-Who-Lived? Witnesses claim Potter blamed Cedric Diggory for petrifying and kidnapping him from Hogwarts, a shocking accusation considering Diggory's record as a soft-spoken, kind-hearted Hufflepuff compared to Potter's arrogant attitude and his habit of taking undue advantage of the Headmaster's favoritism. Slytherin Chaser Urquhart had to say—"

"Enough," came Sirius's gruff voice as he walked into the room.

"Hey Padfoot!" Harry smiled.

"Seriously kiddo, how can you just sit there and listen to that load of tosh?"

He just shrugged. "I guess I got used to it over the years. No matter what I say, that hag Skeeter is going to write whatever she thinks will sell, and people will eat up every word. Last year, it got so unbelievable I even made a game out of it."

"A game?" Emma arched an eyebrow.

"Yeah, to see how twisted Skeeter can make it. Turns out people believe every single bit, even the crazy parts. You know even Mrs. Weasley got all frigid on Hermione when Skeeter painted her as my girlfriend after the First Task?"

She cackled at the description. "What happened?"


He stood there, tongue-tied. What was he supposed to say without making things awkward? That Mrs. Weasley believed he should end up with Ginny Weasley, who had a Hogwarts-sized crush on him? That he assumed Ron had feelings for Hermione, but was too dumb to recognize and act on them?

"Molly Weasley is the kind to believe that rag's crap," Sirius chuckled in agreement, saving him from the predicament. "But forget about her. Tell us about the hot bird you just had a date with."

"Oh? What bird?" Emma questioned, both eyebrows raised at his embarrassed face. "And since when have you been dating, big guy?"

"You'd think he'd start with Madam Puddifoots at Hogsmeade, maybe move on to underage firewhiskey through the backdoors of the Hog's Head. But no, this little shit here's going to ice cream parlors with his lady friend in the middle of the day!" Sirius wiped an imaginary tear off his cheek. "Kids these days! They grow up so fast."

Harry sighed. "There's no bird like that in my life—"

An offended hoot could be heard in the background.


"I wonder how your ruddy owl made that connection," Sirius chuckled. Said owl was currently giving him baleful looks from her little perch on the windowsill.

"It's odd, isn't it?" Emma threw in. "I knew owls were intelligent, but seriously Harry. Hedwig keeps toeing that line and then some."

"Hed's just that special," Harry cajoled, earning a pleased hoot from her.

"Somebody's whipped," Sirius barked. "Looks like your veela friend's got some competition. I wonder if it's because they're also avian in nature," he added, cupping his chin.

"Stuck between an owl and a veela," Emma added her two knuts as she tossed a smirk at him, the little sadist. "I can see a complicated love triangle forming there."

"Oh you see it too?" his perverted godfather guffawed. "Thought it was just me."

"Alright children, that's enough!" Harry quickly cut in, wondering if his face could possibly become redder. Seriously, how the hell did his financial meeting with Fleur Delacour turn into… this? If she ever caught wind of it one day, she may just hex him six ways to Sunday and back. Besides, she was an actual adult working at Gringotts, while he was only a fifth year—

A loud gong attracted their attention.

"Looks like somebody's outside," Sirius said. Harry pushed himself off of the reclining couch, but his godfather waved him off. "Don't bother," he muttered, squinting his eyes for a second.

"Allow them in."

As if it were an incantation, the large front doors opened, and immediately Harry could hear several people talking in soft voices. Three or four— he couldn't be certain —people stepped past the outer corridor and entered the atrium.

"Dumbledore's band is here," Sirius let out a long-suffering sigh, plopping down onto the sofa.

Harry arched an eyebrow. Wasn't he going to greet them?

They're just going to wait in the atrium until Dumbledore comes in, so we have time. Don't bother."

"And who, exactly, are they?"

"You'll see," his godfather offhandedly mentioned, before glancing towards Emma. "You're staying, right?"

The healer hesitated, before returning a terse nod.

Knowing when to drop an issue, Harry turned back towards his other question. "How did you do that?"

"Do what?"

"That door thing."

Sirius snapped his fingers, and poetically enough, the doors closed all on their own. "Magic."

Both Harry and Emma rolled their eyes.

"Didn't think you'd buy it," Sirius chuckled. "It's the wards. They answer to me. Since I didn't sense any ill intent from those standing at the doorway, the House allowed them entry to the atrium."

"Wards can do that? Sense intent and stuff?"

Sirius just laughed in response. "Kiddo, trust me. There isn't much that wards can't do But you'll need to take Runes and Arithmancy at Hogwarts for all that. Divination won't help you there."

"So much for an easy OWL," Harry grumbled. Truth be told, Divination was a complete pain in the arse. Even ignoring Trelawney's stupid classes and even stupider homework, he was wondering if he'd made the wrong choice by choosing to stick with Ron by taking the easy way out.

"You can always drop Divination, you know," Sirius offered. "Keep your Creatures elective and go with Ancient Runes instead. I'm a dab hand at Arithmancy, pants at Runes though. Lily was the little runesmith in our year."

"She was?"

"Oh yeah. A mean one, too. And for Arithmancy, I think Kreacher still has my old books and notes lying around somewhere. He can dig them up for you. Maybe you can try for an Arithmancy OWL privately in your sixth year or something."

Harry sighed, wondering if he even had much of a choice in the matter. After his recent displays with magic, he was beginning to worry if McGonagall would even allow him in her classes.

And to think she was warming up to him over the week he'd spent alone at Hogwarts.

"Still thinking about your transfiguration problem?" Emma consoled. Seeing his surprised face, she snorted. "You're rather easy to read, Harry. Another thing you may want to work on."

Harry sighed again. Wonderful.

"It's not as bad as it seems," Sirius chimed in. "Some people like your friend Hermione are generalists with magic. Others are more specific, and some of the latter are people born with magical traits."

"Like parseltongue?"

"Like parseltongue," Sirius affirmed. "And don't forget, you seem to have an affinity for ice."

"Freezing, more like," Emma corrected.

"And what exactly am I supposed to do with that?" Harry grumbled. "Open up an ice cream shop? Give old Florean some more competition?"

"Well, that was fast," Sirius grinned. "So I take it your ice cream date today went well, then?"

"Don't make me hex you."

Harry's eyes widened.

The group of guests— Dumbledore's merry band, according to Sirius —were actually people he already knew on a personal basis. Well, most of them, anyway. Harry could see Mr. and Mrs. Weasley sitting on one end of the couch by the door, with Mrs. Weasley sporting a rather vivid frown on her face. He spotted a strangely twitchy Remus Lupin on a nearby chair. Bill Weasley, Ron's eldest brother, leaned against the wall with his arms crossed. And finally there was that Shacklebolt person from the Auror duo that had inspected his wand at Hogwarts.

Are they all part of the Order?

It was surprising, and equal parts concerning, that every person he'd associated with over the years were all part of the Order. Had he really been so insulated all this time, living in a gilded cage where only a small crowd had access to him? He was already bothered by the fact that he had magical relatives all this time at Hogwarts, yet none of them had made overtures over the past four years.

And now, this.

"Professor Lupin, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley," Harry brightly welcomed as he descended the stairs. "I didn't know you were coming."

"Harry!" Mrs. Weasley's eyes brightened at his voice, and she quickly strode towards him. Harry swallowed and prepared himself for a massive bear hug, one which engulfed him a second later, expelling all the air from his chest. He suppressed the urge to cough as the woman released her hold on him and gave him a quick once-over.

"My, you look all skinny. No matter. I told Ronnie you were going to be at the Burrow with him for dinner—" Harry held back a frown at her supposition, "—don't you worry, we'll get you all fed up."

I'm sure you will.

"That might have to wait," Sirius's words broke through his inner turmoil from behind. "Harry and I already have plans for tonight. The reservation at Old Lisbon is hard to get, you know."

Harry suppressed the urge to turn around and look surprised, instead schooling his emotions. "Sirius insisted on celebrating my taking charge of House Potter." He didn't glance back at Sirius for validation. Doing so would simply be amateurish.

Mrs. Weasley gave Sirius a frosty look, before turning a beaming smile towards Harry. "Either way, Ron is expecting you. Dumbledore told us you'd be so happy to spend the summer—"

Sirius cleared his throat. Loudly, and with purpose. As everyone's attention was caught, Harry watched as his godfather strode ahead and embraced Professor Lupin with a soft hug. "Moony. Finally back, huh?"

"Only for a short time," the former Defense Professor replied, an easygoing smile on his face. "I'll be leaving shortly. Dumbledore has me talking to—" he paused, his gaze flickering towards Harry, "well, you know what."

"The werewolves, yes," Sirius blithely responded, much to the werewolf's consternation. "I assume they're still in Lochcarron, right?"

Harry couldn't help but be amused by the theater of it all. Sirius had described, in a long and animated fashion, Albus Dumbledore's need to keep information locked down on a strict need-to-know basis. One that only he had any say in. Emma, he was surprised to hear, was going to be a part of the Order despite having her own personal list of the organization's shortcomings.

Needless to say, his own opinion of Dumbledore's vaunted anti-Voldemort organization was not very high.

"You're meeting other werewolves?" Harry posed the question as innocently as possible. "That's what Voldemort's doing, isn't he? Recruiting werewolves?"

The atmosphere changed in an instant. The relaxed room was now strained, like a taut bowstring on the verge of snapping. Professor Lupin's face went blank, while Mr. Weasley hissed, likely from his use of Tom's name. Sirius appeared rather casual, contrasting with Mrs. Weasley. She was sitting on the edge of her seat, her hands clenching the arms of the chair so hard her knuckles turned white.

"Sirius," she snapped, staring daggers at his godfather. "Have you forgotten what Dumbledore said?"

That… was surprising. Harry had expected the woman to chastise Sirius, not outright attack him. A part of him marvelled at how seamlessly the woman had done so, shifting the topic from his question to a discussion between two members of the Order. He wondered whether it was on purpose.

Sirius's face resembled an unmoving slab of granite. "Please. Enlighten me."

"The part where he said not to tell Harry any more than he needs to know," Mrs. Weasley snarled, stressing every word. Even Bill took note of the argument, making him wonder whether it was because so few challenged Mrs. Weasley the way his godfather had.

"Harry needs information for his own good," Sirius countered. "Especially considering he's been the one—"

"He is a child," the Weasley matriarch retorted.

"A child that has faced Voldemort."

"That doesn't make him an adult," the woman bellowed. "He's not James, Sirius. No matter how much you make him out to be."

Sirius's outwardly demeanor reminded Harry of the calm before the storm. A rather violent one. "I'm perfectly aware of who he is, thank you very much. Dumbledore may have advised as such, but Harry is my godson. My responsibility. Not Albus Dumbledore's, and certainly not yours. Mine."

"Right, because being imprisoned in Azkaban for twelve years was a great way to parent a child."

That did it.

A sliver of something escaped from his godfather's body. Harry couldn't see it with his eyes, but he could feel it spread around him like an intricate web. It was a cold, dominating feeling, one that was equal parts intimidating and powerful.

It felt just like Dumbledore back in the Headmaster's office when he talked down Percy, only this time it was enveloping him in a protective nebula. And yet, he could feel it posed and ready, like a scorpion with its stinger ready to ward off predators and hunt prey alike.

"And whose mistake was it that I was imprisoned, Molly Prewett? Was it my fault that a faithful member of the Order was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment alongside the worst scum imaginable, without a single visit or inquiry from his friends?" Sirius whispered coldly, a blizzard of outrage playing across his face as his affable mask finally cracked, revealing the tumultuous emotions underneath.

Harry could sense the shadows in the room deepen, as well as a strange tilt in gravity.

The Lar was active, and it had sensed hostility in Mrs. Weasley's tone.

That would not end well.

He lifted his hand to intervene, but before he could—

"Padfoot, that's enough!"

—Professor Lupin grabbed Sirius by the shoulder.

And was instantly lifted off his feet and flung backwards. Harry winced as the werewolf dropped onto the floor with a resounding thud, though luckily he didn't look gravely injured. Sirius snapped in Lupin's direction, the shadows around him writhing in unison.

"Do not come between me and her, Moony!"

It was a terrifying sight, but Harry didn't dare move. Even if the former professor was hurt, heading for the man would paint Sirius in the wrong light. And he'd be damned before he let something like that happen.

So instead, he focused on Mrs. Weasley, keeping a vigilant eye on his furious godfather.

"Ar–Arthur," Mrs. Weasley stammered, falling to the floor. "Arthur, back me up!"

But Sirius's tirade was far from over.

"You may think the world of Albus Dumbledore, but I do not. Even this venue was offered to the Order to serve as headquarters not out of faith, but because the old man offered to train my godson, my son, for what is to come. Just like I promised Albus this venue, I also promised not to hide anything from Harry. And Sirius Black always keeps his word."

Harry felt something shift in the magic around him with Sirius's words. It was as if the House itself had registered something about the man's declaration, and was acting on it accordingly.

He wondered what it meant.

"I'm—" Mr. Weasley stepped up, his expression conflicted. "Sirius, I— we aren't trying to undermine your authority over Harry, but—" he gulped, pausing to gather his words, "I believe what Molly is trying to say is that she— we think of Harry as a son. Just like Ron. She's just trying to keep him away from danger."

"And how does keeping secrets from me help protect me?" Harry broke in.

Mr. Weasley sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Harry, I don't mean to minimize your suffering by any amount, but you have to understand. What you faced… It was a direct thing. War, on the other hand, is fought on multiple fronts. In the Ministry, at the Wizengamot, coalitions, alliances. There are groups within groups, agendas within agendas, and both sides want everyone to join theirs at any cost. War is a complex, multi-faceted beast, and that's what the Order is trying to manage here." He weakly smiled. "So believe me when I say, you really don't need to concern yourself with Order business."

Harry couldn't help but snort. All the adults in the room, apart from Sirius and Emma, were bloated to the brim with self-importance about their contribution in the fight against Voldemort, though not a single one would have even known of his return had Harry not told them.

Hypocrisy at its finest.

Not to mention, he didn't even deign to answer the question in the first place.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Weasley, but when it comes to seeing people sitting around with a self-righteous, arrogant, judgemental face and doing nothing, I believe I have the most experience of anyone in this room."

Mr. Weasley's head rocked back as if slapped. Harry knew he wasn't as subtle or proper as Sirius when it came to insults, but if the man was going to belittle, wittingly or unwittingly, what he had gone through thus far, then turnabout was fair play.

"And the next time you see Voldemort," he stressed the name, a part of him relishing at the round of flinches that overtook the room, "remind him that I'm just a child. Preferably before he throws another killing curse at me. I have survived it twice, after all. Let's hope the third time isn't the charm."

Harry hadn't meant for the words to spill out as they did. The frigidity of his tone, the anger lining his words, it all surprised him, but he seethed nonetheless. Some part of him was furious at Mr. Weasley for being presumptuous enough to disregard him when it came to Voldemort. For better or worse, the Dark Lord had been vanquished because of him and, more importantly, his parents. Every single year at Hogwarts, he had been hunted by some version of Voldemort or his followers, yet he'd been able to survive it all. No matter what some bumbling old fool might have had to say about—

Harry closed his eyes, and exhaled.

Rage. Rejection. Vindication.

He could feel his emotions surging within him, but with it came a sense of wrongness. Mr. Weasley had been nothing but good to him for all the time he'd known a man. He and his wife had given him a home when he had none, treating him like their own son. Lashing out like that was beyond inappropriate.

He opened his eyes, an apology on the tip of his tongue, when someone— Emma —spoke out first.

"You know," she said, strolling up to Mr. Weasley, who still looked shocked by Harry's fierce response, "Dumbledore offered me the chance to join the Order. Thrice. I rejected his offer though. Thrice. Then Sirius here helped me get a better opinion of you lot. But here's the thing," she declared, jabbing the man's chest with a finger. "Harry Potter is the Boy-Who-Lived. I'm no strategist, but discounting him seems like a bad idea if you plan on winning. Especially since last I checked, we all only managed to barely survive losing the previous one because of him."

That, Harry decided, was about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the stomach.

He had seen her speak with Sirius about the Order, and though it was under privacy wards, it was clear from her body language at the time that Emmeline Vance was not enthusiastic about joining Dumbledore's organization. And at the same time, she had put forward some sort of… proposition to Sirius— a matter that had made his godfather more than a little agitated.

"Let's be clear about one thing," Sirius proclaimed. "I have offered my House as a venue for the Order meetings at the cost of my security. I have also pledged a certain amount of the Black Family's finances to be used at the Order's discretion to champion its cause. But I will not allow my son to remain ignorant of any information that the Order obtains about Voldemort."

"If that is the case, my boy," came a familiar, grandfatherly voice from the end of the corridor, "then I believe we must agree to disagree."

Harry turned towards the end of the atrium, where the corridor began, and bore a look of surprise as he laid eyes on the one man he had never expected to meet during his summer holidays. And yet, there he was, standing in his flamboyant, flowery robes, looking every bit as eccentric as Harry remembered.

Albus Dumbledore was in the House.

The atmosphere was thick enough to be cut with a knife.

Albus looked around at the newly renovated Black Manor with wonder in his eyes. The elder Blacks had designed the House while paying proper attention to Representational Magic, connecting the Family to its earliest roots as Egyptian sorcerers of the Black Crafts, as well as other bloodlines slowly integrated through marriage. Most prominent were the snake engravings— a representation of Lilith, Medusa, and a number of snake-related deities —marking the family's association with the House of Gaunt and, more importantly, its allegiance to Slytherin House at Hogwarts.

He'd never been comfortable here, going so far as to decline Arcturus Black's invitation to the annual Black New Year's Ball year after year. And yet here he was now, using the same House as a safe haven for his own organization— the Order of the Phoenix. And Sirius Black stood in front of him on the stairs, reflecting the same power, belonging, and authority that Arcturus Black once did.

It was enough to fill an old man to the brim with déja-vu.

"Albus," he heard Sirius mutter in distaste. "What little lies have you been spreading this time around?"

Albus did not react. He hardly ever did. It was one of the many reasons why people found it difficult to get the better of him. A reactive opponent was one easily controlled. A composed one, however? Much more tricky.

"You've been busy," he lightly commented, taking a step forward. "Gaining the Lordship through questionable means when the Ascension should have happened in the Winter Solstice. Dropping the burden of Family Names onto a boy too young for the burden. Forcing a child into the shoes of an adult when he is supposed to enjoy—"

"What little time I have left?"

Albus froze. The rebuttal had come from an unexpected source. His gaze flickered towards young Harry, who was looking at him with antagonism. He had feared such a thing could happen by letting Sirius take custody of the boy, but his cheerful attitude and tales of summer holidays and beaches had hoodwinked him into believing the illusion.

And now, Sirius Black proved to be like all other Blacks before him. He had brought the boy into the fold, manipulating him into entering the cutthroat world of politics and pureblood elitism. Treacherous waters for even the most experienced of witches and wizards, and certainly no place for a Hogwarts student.

I was right, he sighed to himself. The apple has indeed not fallen far from the tree.

"Harry," he offered a small smile. "I'm glad to see you look well. I take it you are spending time with family?"

Somehow, that did not procure a reaction from the young man.

How perplexing.

Then again, Harry had been different since the Third Task. Albus had always theorized the boy's true nature as a horcrux. His ability as a parselmouth, his wand being the brother to Tom's own, and their overall similar mannerisms and background had always pushed him into believing the horcrux was active inside of him. It was why he had been reluctant in talking about the prophecy to its main subject.

Lord Voldemort already had enough aces up his sleeve. Giving up the Prophecy would only ameliorate an already well-prepared, overwhelming arsenal.

But Albus was no monster. He had been ecstatic to hear Harry had survived the killing curse a second time. Even more so when he realized that the boy was truly free. Any possibility of the boy being a horcrux was now gone.

Harry could now truly be Harry Potter.

Or so he assumed.

Tom's memory had taught him better.

Watching Harry morph into that… thing had been utterly horrifying, even for him. Morpheus had avoided him since he'd Seen it, since he'd Seen what Death itself looked like. Not the next great adventure, not the end of the road, but the other Death. The End Of All Things. The Infinite Demon of the Cosmic Demiurge. Yaldabaoth. It was a monstrosity so horribly anti-life and anti-magic that even channeling his own magic through his wand had sucked the everlasting life out of Harry's phoenix feather. Every single thing that had come into contact with Death had perished— magical enchantments, wands, robes, even life itself.

It was no wonder why even Tom would actively step aside from his desire to kill the boy should the opportunity present itself. He had committed all kinds of depravities to gain immunity from Death. He would not foolishly attract its attention because of an insignificant desire to kill a mere child based on hearsay.

Neither can live while the other survives.

For the first time, Albus wondered whether the Prophecy spoke of Tom's future, or Harry's.

And he truly did not know which was worse.

"I just wish to see you happy, Harry," he finally responded.

The boy's lips twisted into an angry sneer. "I am happy, Professor. I have a godfather. I have a house where I'm actually wanted. And now I'm getting to know about my own family history, like I should have a long time ago."

"Mea culpa, as the Romans used to say," Albus offered. "I wanted you to live a normal life. Family Names, traditions, responsibilities… I did not wish to keep you from them indefinitely, merely to delay them all until you were ready. None should be shouldered by one so young."

"I've been shouldering the weight of a madman trying to kill me year after year. Professor."

That… rankled him, as Albus felt the tiny stirrings of annoyance emerge. Even when the horcrux had been in the boy, he had not been this defiant. Though, despite his own feverish hopes, he could not in good conscience ignore the chance of him still being a horcrux. Nothing short of intense dragonfire or basilisk venom, or perhaps the calamitous Hellfire could destroy the abominations.

It was well within the realm of possibility the horcrux had transformed Harry by granting immunity against the killing curse itself.

After all, if Death had not consumed Harry's own soul, why would it consume the horcrux? Unless—

Albus closed his eyes. No. That possibility was far too grave to be true. And yet—

He looked towards Harry.

—Not entirely without its merits.

"What would you have me do, Harry?"

"How about you start by telling me why a madman has been coming after me year after year? Why did he kill my parents?"

"That," Albus replied, mildly surprised by his own composure, "is something I cannot tell you. Not yet."

Not until I am certain of your status.

Harry's face closed off. "Then we have nothing more to say to one another, Professor."

And with that, the boy coldly turned away and strode up the stairs, out of sight. Albus watched him go in silence, his mind churning out potential possibilities of what this act of defiance meant to signify. Mere days ago, he'd offered to provide private instruction to Harry during the summer, to better train him against Voldemort and his Dark forces.

But now, he was no longer certain.

Trelawney's Prophecy had spoken of the One with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord. But it never specified whether they would be Savior…

Or a Prince of Darkness.

Editor: Solo Starfish, the best goddamn starfish the world has ever seen.

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