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Chameleon I: Emeralds and Green Light by Alexannah
Chapter 8 : Where Dwell the Brave at Heart
 
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 14


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Author’s Notes: Wow … so much to say I don’t know where to start. (sigh) I am SO SO SO SO SO sorry for not completing this chapter sooner – I have a long list of reasons which to be honest I am just too tired to write down now. Oh and I’ve changed the ship to Harry/Daphne Greengrass, who will appear hopefully early into term. Sorry about the change, but I’ve realised I can’t write Luna ships. (sigh)
-----

Last Chapter: Petunia screamed, but was cut off as Albus grabbed the Portkey, activating it. Harry felt a familiar jerk around his navel and the Dursleys’ house was lost in a whirl of wind and colour.


Chapter Seven: Where Dwell the Brave at Heart
“It doesn’t make sense.”

Albus took his head out of his hands to look at Harry, who was nervously pacing the office.

“I mean, it had to be Voldemort, or Dark Magic at the least, so why not just attack?” Harry flopped heavily into a chair. “I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I; I was just thinking that,” Albus said in a low voice, rubbing the bridge of his nose. Harry watched him. He’d come to recognise that action as a sign of Albus being confused, anxious, tired, or a combination of all three. “It’s not like Tom to be indirect like that, and that’s what’s worrying.”

The two wizards and the two remaining Dursleys had arrived in Albus’ office, still coughing on the smoke. Petunia and Dudley, who were in shock, had been taken to Madam Pomfrey, and Albus had waited to discuss the happenings with Harry until they were out of the way.

“How come Voldemort was able to set light to the place anyway?” Harry murmured. “Was there some fault in the wards or something?”

Albus shook his head. “Not exactly. Those wards were fragile. If there was a fault, then they would just collapse completely. That must have been what happened. It didn’t even occur to me to check they were still standing when we came back from France.” Albus grimaced. “I’m sorry Harry, but I just didn’t think. The wards fell because you were out of the house for too long too soon.”

Harry groaned, and stifled a yawn. Someone knocked at the door, and Harry glanced at the clock, wondering who on earth was coming to the headmaster’s office at four in the morning, for that was what the time was.

“Come in,” Albus called. The door opened to reveal Professor McGonagall in a tartan dressing-gown and her hair loose. Harry noticed it looked quite nice like that.

“Poppy fire-called me to say you two were back. I must say, when I said it was safe to return today, I didn’t mean quite this early,” she said, her eyes twinkling in an almost Albus-like way.

“Good morning, Minerva. We didn’t really have a lot of say in the matter. The Dursleys’ place is burnt to the ground.”

“WHAT??? How did that happen?”

“We’re guessing Voldemort, but at the moment we don’t have a lot of proof.”

She flinched slightly at the name, her hands over her mouth. “Well, thank Merlin you’re both all right.” She stepped forward and, taking both wizards by surprise, hugged Albus tightly in a way reminding Harry of Hermione whenever he or Ron did something stupid.

Minerva!” Harry couldn’t believe it; Albus was actually blushing. He hid a grin. Albus mumbled something that sounded like, “Not in front of Harry,” and disentangled himself from Professor McGonagall’s hold. She blinked, and rubbed her eyes. Harry tried not to smirk at her face when she realised that they were both still clad in their nightwear.

“Well,” Professor McGonagall continued once she’d regained her composure, carefully looking anywhere but at the furry custard-coloured Puffskeins on Albus’ pyjamas, “I think you two ought to be getting back off to bed.”

Yes, definitely like Hermione, Harry decided.

“Ah,” Albus said, sounding quite pleased, as though he’d remembered something good. “Minerva, would you do us the honour of accompanying us?”

Harry raised his eyebrows, and Professor McGonagall looked surprised too. It was her turn to go pink. Noticing, Albus said quickly, “I haven’t had the opportunity to see Harry’s new sleeping arrangements, and I’m sure he would appreciate being shown around.”

“Oh – of course. Follow me, Mr Potter.” Although the words were formal, the tone was also playful as Professor McGonagall offered Harry her arm and smiled. Amused, Harry took it and allowed her to lead him through into Albus’ quarters.

He looked around as they entered. It was like large flat, only with older walls and furnishings. He had time to glimpse the kitchen, the sitting-room and the study before Professor McGonagall opened another door. Harry felt an inexplicable lump in his throat as he saw the words Harry’s Room written on the plaque.

He didn’t have time to comment – he didn’t know what to say anyway – before Professor McGonagall pushed him inside, Albus following close behind. Harry’s jaw dropped.

It was beautiful. He saw a four-poster bed first, remarkably similar to the one in the Gryffindor dormitory, only the hangings were half red and gold, half royal blue and gold. The walls were a creamy white, the curtains ruby and the carpet a soft sky blue. In addition to the bed, there was a waiting chest-of-drawers, desk, wardrobe and bedside table. Several moving Quidditch posters were plastered to the walls, and his trunk, which Albus had sent over that morning, was open by the bed.

“Well? What do you think? … Harry?”

For several moments Harry could only open and close his mouth noiselessly, but he finally found his voice.

“It’s -” he swallowed and tried again. “It’s wonderful.”

Professor McGonagall’s face split into the widest smile Harry had ever seen on her. “You like it?”

“I love it … How did it happen, Albus? You’ve been with me all week …”

Albus chuckled. “That would be Minerva. Hogwarts could have organised a room for you herself, but I thought a homemade touch would be nicer. Don’t you think so?”

“Definitely. Thank you, Professor!”

Professor McGonagall chuckled as Harry hugged her hard, and ruffled his hair fondly. “Don’t mention it. I’ve always been rather fond of DIY.”

“DIY?” Albus asked, apparently confused. Harry and Professor McGonagall laughed.

“I’m sure your cub will explain later. Talking of whom, Harry, do you like the posters?”

He nodded. The posters were of several different teams – although there was one of Ron’s team, the Chudley Cannons, there was also one of their bitter rivals the Tornadoes. Harry grinned at the thought of the look on Ron’s face when he saw it.

“I do. Is this why you wanted to know what team I supported?”

“Yes. But Albus said anything, so I got a bit of everything.”

Harry pointed to the Tutshill Tornadoes poster. “Ron’s not going to like that one.”

“Oh.” Professor McGonagall looked disappointed. “Do you want to remove it?”

“What? ‘Course not! Tough on Ron.” Both adults laughed.

“Right, now you two are definitely going to bed. No buts. Harry can be shown round more in the morning.”

“It is morning,” Harry pointed out.

Later in the morning. Go on, you two, shoo!”

Albus stared at her. “Er … Minerva, you’re the one who’s in our quarters.”

She blinked. “Oh … sorry. Lack of sleep catching up with me.” She shot Harry one last smile and bade them both goodnight. Harry grinned back as he collapsed backwards onto his new bed. The sheets smelled faintly of lavender and washing powder.

As she departed, Professor McGonagall couldn’t seem to restrain herself from commenting. “Albus, do you really have to wear those ridiculous things?”

“What’s wrong with them?” Albus asked, sounding hurt. Harry didn’t hear Professor McGonagall’s answer as he buried his face in his pillow to muffle his laughter.

-----

It started out pleasantly. Harry and two others he thought he recognised, but couldn’t see clearly enough to identify, were talking quietly in a room he also thought looked familiar but couldn’t place. It was large and bare; a couple of rugs were thrown on the floor, the furniture was little but ornately carved, the windows had no glass but the air was warm.

Harry faded in and out of the conversation: he caught the odd word or phrase, but not enough to make sense of what they were saying. It seemed to be an ordinary mundane conversation, but there was something about it that wasn’t quite right – Harry couldn’t put his finger on it.

Before he could figure it out, it all changed – several strangers dressed in black appeared suddenly in the doorway, fierce weapons out and pointing at the three of them.

After that it was a blur … Someone was screaming … Clashes of metal … Flashes of light … A sudden wave of heat … Harry running, running after the strangers …

A sudden pain in his head.

A shout of fury.

Flesh hitting dry earth.

Blood spreading over the ground.

A whir of colour and sound and a blinding headache.

Fire.

Shouting. The shouting was him.

Stone silence.

One sentence.

A scream. Two screams.

A whir of colour and sound and a blinding headache.

The thud of wood hitting earth.

It was over …


Harry jerked awake, shaking and breathing heavily, biting his lip painfully to stop himself from screaming out loud.

It’s alright, he told himself in a imitation of Albus’ voice. It’s just a nightmare. Just another stupid nightmare.

He tasted blood in his mouth and loosened his bite. A metallic taste started spreading over his tongue and he grabbed a tissue from the bedside table and spat into it, shuddering.

Okay, next time I go to sleep with a silencing charm. Yuk.
Harry slid out of bed and padded softly across the room. Light was already starting to filter through the curtains, cast a reddish glow over the room. Harry pushed open the smaller door next to the desk to discover that he’d been right: it was a bathroom. It only held a shower, not a bath, but all he wanted was a sink.

Several mouth-washes later and blood was still mixing with the water. Harry was beginning to panic slightly. His lip wasn’t bleeding that badly, was it? He pulled the curtain back to shed some more light into the room and peered into the mirror. For one wild moment he thought he saw something … odd … flicker in his eyes, but the next moment he convinced himself it was his imagination playing tricks on him in the aftermath of the nightmare.

He could see the dark substance in his mouth. He could taste it too. He coughed into his hand. More blood.

Uh-oh. This isn’t good.
The horrible taste was welling up in the back of his throat, making him choke. Dark red spots appeared on the mirror.

I need Albus, Harry thought desperately, wiping his mouth shakily on the back of his hand. He thumped on the wall between coughs, and heard movement in the next room. A moment later the bathroom door was pushed open and Albus hurried in.

“Harry?” He gasped at the blood smeared everywhere. “Merlin; what is it?” He reached out to Harry’s shoulders as Harry coughed one last time.

“It’s gone,” Harry murmured weakly in shock. He wiped his mouth shakily and coughed onto his hand again, just to make sure. “It’s stopped.”

“What was it? What happened?” Albus asked urgently. “Harry?”

“Blood.” This was stating the obvious, considering the state of the bathroom and Harry’s pyjamas, but Harry was starting to shake, fear flooding him. “Blood … in my mouth …”

Albus’ grip tightened on Harry’s shoulders as his voice broke. The boy was suddenly terrified. All the injuries and opening wounds flowed back into his memories, painfully vivid. “What’s happening to me? What is it, Albus?” Harry broke into choked sobs. Normally he would scold himself for acting like such a baby but right now he didn’t care. He was scared and confused and just wanted reassurance.

“Oh, Harry!” Albus drew him tightly into a hug, Harry gripping his pyjama sleeves as if he never wanted to let go. Albus could feel Harry’s thin form trembling violently against him and clutched him tighter, as if by holding him close enough he would be able to protect him, to keep him safe from Voldemort and Umbridge and the Death Eaters and Fudge and the Ministry and even himself.

Al-bus,” Harry persisted, his voice coming out slightly muffled from Albus’ shoulder. Albus was stroking his hair softly, a lump in his throat as he attempted to gather his thoughts. “T-tell me what’s h-hap-pening.”

Albus swallowed. “Harry … I …”

“P-please, Albus; I n-need-d t-to kn-know.” Albus closed his eyes as Harry took a deep shuddering breath.

“Am – am I going to die?”

Albus froze, his eyes flying open.

A muffled flump of body hitting ground … His face was deathly pale … blood drying on his skin … the cold flesh …“Alb-bus, p-please,” Harry begged. “You’re h-hid-ding s-someth-thing. Am I d-d-dying?” His voice shook fearfully on the last word and Albus’ grip tightened.

“N-n …” Albus swallowed and tried again. “N-no.” He hoped Harry wouldn’t notice just how much his voice was shaking. Harry relaxed very slightly, but still didn’t let go.

“You know, though. What’s hap-pening t-to me.”

“I don’t,” Albus replied truthfully.

“You’ve g-got an idea, though. And you’re not t-telling me. Please, Albus. I need to know.”

Albus sighed, a painful lump arising in his throat. He had resolved not to bring up the subject unless Harry asked him directly. Now, there was no escaping it.

“Not here. Let’s get you back to bed, then we’ll talk.”

Harry shivered. “Albus … can we go into your room? I d-don’t want to be on my own tonight.”

Albus pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. Did you really think I’d leave you on your own after what’s happened, you silly boy?” he murmured. Harry smiled slightly, it seemed in spite of himself. “Come on then.”

Harry allowed himself to be carried from the bathroom, through his new room which was getting lighter, across the hall and into Albus’. From what he could see, it was decorated in Gryffindor colours.

“I thought you might like it,” Albus said, reading Harry’s expression as he laid him on the bed. Harry smiled a little more and snuggled into Albus as they lay down together. Albus gently ran a hand through the boy’s hair, attempting – fruitlessly – to smooth it down.

Harry was a little calmer, and for a minute they just lay there together, Harry curled up in Albus’ arms, but the silence didn’t stretch for long.

“Albus,” Harry murmured.

“Harry?”

“Please tell me what you think. I’m s-scared. You said you wouldn’t keep things from me again.”

“I know.” Albus kissed the top of his head. “I know, Harry, I just didn’t want to say anything until I was sure either way.”

“So …?”

Albus sighed and braced himself. “I …” He paused and felt Harry’s forehead. “Harry, you’ve got a temperature again.”

“Have I?”

“Yes. You’re shivering …” Albus pulled the covers up over Harry’s shoulders. Harry moaned and tried to fight him off but Albus won.

Harry could barely move his arm to rub his eyes. “Am I ill? I mean, seriously.”

“I don’t honestly know, Harry. When you had a fever back at Heather Louise’s, it was just after – well, the cuts opening again, wasn’t it?”

“Er …” Harry strained his memory, trying to remember. “I think so. Is it significant?”

“If you’ve had a fever after every time, then yes; it would make all the difference. The problem is working out what is actually wrong.”

“So … is there no record of this happening before, or what?”

“In a way. You see, Harry, there is an … illness … that creates wounds on the body, which is what I considered at first, but it’s … not a physical illness, more a … psychological one, that becomes physical.”

“I don’t understand you.”

Albus sat up slightly, reached for his wand and summoned a sheaf of parchment. “This is it. Latnem Misfacio.”

Harry pushed the covers off his shoulders and sat up to get a better look.

Latnem Misfacio is an unusual mental illness that appears in the form of wounds and injuries appearing on the body. It’s caused by severe stress and/or emotional trauma, mostly the latter. The treatment is psychological, not magical, making it difficult to overcome and is unique to every sufferer. A person’s magic is used, consciously or subconsciously, to cause self-harm, and in some very rare cases has been known to be … fatal.”

Harry swallowed.

“It goes into more detail here,” Albus continued, shuffling through the sheaf, “but you get the general idea.”

“It certainly sounds like it. Why don’t you think that’s what I have? Not that I want it, but …”

“Because, as I’ve already said, as far as I can tell, the only physical aspects of Latnem Misfacio are the actual injuries. The rest is purely in the mind, meaning that sufferers are not themselves mentally, which you seem to be, all things considered. Plus there’s been no mention of side-effects such as fevers.”

Harry bit his lip. “So that’s all we’ve got to go on.”

“There’s also the fact, now,” Albus continued, more gently, “that blood in the mouth is definitely not a symptom.”

“I’m not sure whether to be relieved or worried,” Harry muttered. “I think I’d rather know what I have, even if it’s bad news.”

“I know,” Albus said wearily, “but at the moment I can’t find anything.” He sighed. “I asked Madam Pomfrey for help in researching the illness. I didn’t tell her what I wanted to know for, but she realised right away.” Harry nodded understandingly. “We’ll need more help with this, Harry. Do I have your permission to let Poppy give you an examination?”

Rather startled that he had asked first, Harry nodded. “I want to know what’s wrong.”

Albus smiled sadly and hugged him. “Good boy. Now get back into bed.”

Harry stuck his tongue out. Albus pushed him under the covers and lay down next to him, closing his eyes. Harry’s arms crept round his torso. It was almost morning but after the emotional drama of the night both were determined to get some more shuteye.

“Albus?”

“Mm?”

“I have a question.”

Albus yawned. “Go ahead.”

“Why did Professor McGonagall call me ‘your cub’?”

Albus frowned into his pillow for a moment. “Did she? I don’t … Oh yes, I remember.” He put a hand over his mouth as he yawned again, his eyes still closed. “It’s your nickname.”

“I have a nickname?”

“Yes. Minerva and I were good friends with your parents … they were in the Order as well … We knew each other quite well and often babysat for you.” He chuckled. “You loved it when she turned into her Animagus form. You used to search under the furniture to see where she’d gone.”

Harry grinned. “I can just imagine that.” He paused. “Albus …”

“Harry?”

“Did you spend a lot of time with me when I was little?”

“Oh, yes. Your parents said I was practically part of the family and had an excuse to favour Gryffindor when you were Sorted into it. Which of course wasn’t true, because as the headmaster I have to be impartial.”

Harry stared meaningfully around the room. “Impartial, right.”

“It’s not my fault I happen to like my old House colours.”

Harry chuckled, but a thought appeared to him. “Um … Albus …”

“Yes, Harry?”

“Would you have been disappointed if I’d been Sorted into Slytherin?”

Albus sat up straight, staring at him. Finally he said, “Only if you were unhappy in it.”

“So, yes, then.”

“Actually Harry, I think, given time, you would have settled into Slytherin, had you been Sorted there. I know you had a bad first impression of the House, but it’s not as dark and evil as it’s reputation gives it credit for. Most people in the House are fairly decent. My brother was a Slytherin … although I wouldn’t exactly call him decent …”

“What about -” Harry cut himself off.

“My sister?”

Harry nodded.

“The first Hufflepuff for … a long time. The rest of my family were mostly Ravenclaws, though my mother was a Slytherin.”

“Albus,” Harry murmured, “just out of curiosity, are you pure-blood?”

A chuckle answered him. “Now there’s an interesting question. Yes and no.”

“Meaning …?”

“Yes, a long time ago, but for a long time up till recently there have been only squibs born into the family. I was only the third generation of magic for several centuries.”

“Wow. How come there were only squibs for so long?”

“Now that,” Albus replied, “is a question with a long answer which I will tell you another time.”

“Oh, go on, Albus …”

“Harry, it’s … ten past six in the morning and we’ve had barely any sleep tonight. You are ill and I won’t keep you up any longer.”

“Spoilsport,” Harry muttered.

Albus kissed his hot forehead, stroking the hair out his eyes. “Go to sleep. Goodnight, cub.”

“G’night,” Harry yawned, closing his eyes properly. Albus watched him for a moment, humming softly. Harry twitched.

“Can you sing that out loud?”

Albus smiled.

Sleep tight now little Angel
May God bless you
Don’t be afraid of dreaming
Cause Daddy’s watching you




Sing a sweet lullaby
For the tears that you cried …


Albus faltered. Harry was more relaxed in his arms, his breathing even, his face still slightly flushed but no longer tense. He brushed Harry’s fringe out his face and paused. The lightning-bolt scar looked more distinct than usual, and the skin around it was inflamed and red.

Harry sighed lightly in his sleep. Albus hesitated, but in the end decided not to wake him. The night had been disturbed enough and Harry needed his sleep. It could wait till the morning.

-----

“Was the task successful?”

“It was, my Lord.” Bellatrix bowed and kissed Harry’s feet before holding out her hand. “We have the second emerald.”

It was the chain Albus had given Harry at the beginning of the holiday. The green gem – the emerald – glinted brightly in the dark setting. Several Death Eaters were gathered round Voldemort and Bellatrix, watching but not joining in.

A pale spidery hand reached out and stroked the gem gently before pulling it from its chain. Harry was able to examine it properly, something he hadn’t bothered to do before. It was as small and spherical as he remembered, very finely cut, and as bright a green as his own eyes. The light from the wand-tips danced on its surface. It was simply beautiful. Harry wondered what on earth it was.

“Any idea what it was doing in Potter’s possession?”

“None, my Lord. There was a complex charm on it I didn’t recognise, but Snape broke it before we brought it to you.”

“Did he now? Severus!

A figure Harry deemed to be Snape stepped forward. “My Lord.”

“What is the meaning of this?”

Harry got the impression Snape was choosing his words very carefully.

“My Lord, you have since last month suspected that Dumbledore may be onto your plan, and when I heard the emerald was at Potter’s I suspected a trap. The charm was some sort of tracking charm and I removed it at once before bringing it to you.”

“Fool,” Harry said softly. “When did you once inform me of your suspicions? And do you really expect Dumbledore to be idiotic enough to cast a tracking charm that could be picked up?”

“I thought you also suspected a trap, my Lord, because you didn’t go yourself, so I saw no reason to worry you further; and with the charm I thought it better to be safe than sorry. I realise now the charm could not have been what I deemed it to be, and I should not have removed it in such a hurry; but in my defence my Lord, we were in a hurry to clear the area and I thought I was taking the right option at the time.”

Harry surveyed him for a moment before saying lazily, “Crucio.

Pain exploded in Harry’s forehead as Snape writhed on the ground under the effects of the torture curse. In that moment Harry admired him: if this was what Death Eater meetings were like then Snape was a much braver man than anyone realised, willingly returning to the hornet’s nest just for information. Not only that, he barely made a sound, though when Voldemort lifted the curse his lip was bleeding from where he’d been biting it, and Harry could see blood on his hands where he’d been digging his fingernails into his palms.

“Maybe that will teach you to think twice before acting on your own suspicions, Severus. Up.”

Snape climbed shakily to his feet. Some of the Death Eaters were laughing quietly in the background as his legs shook.

“What of Potter?” Voldemort asked.

“We searched the ruins, my Lord,” Snape panted, “But there was only one body found … It wasn’t Potter’s.”

“How can this be?” Voldemort’s voice hissed from Harry’s mouth. “You were supposed to check he was inside before setting light to it!”

“He was inside, my Lord,” Bellatrix said, “He must have escaped somehow …”

Voldemort seethed, the pain in Harry’s head building angrily. “I want that boy dead! He has escaped me one too many times; next time he will die!

“Harry! Harry, wake up!”

There was a wet substance in Harry’s mouth. As he woke up sharply, shaking, he spat it out. Fortunately it landed on the pillow rather than Albus.

“Shush, cub. Easy now.” Albus continued to make calming noises, rubbing circles in Harry’s back soothingly. Harry wiped his mouth on his already blood-crusted sleeve, only then realising there were tears on his face. His scar was aching fit to burst.

A wad of tissues was pressed into his hands and he wiped up what he could. The blood seemed to have vanished again, but his throat ached, and so did his joints. His head was pounding and he felt like he was going to be sick.

“Albus -” he croaked.

“Shush.” A pair of arms encircled him and he lay his head on Albus’ shoulder, trying to gather his thoughts and push out the memories.

Albus pressed a cool hand to his forehead. “Harry, you’re boiling.”

Harry moaned as Albus pushed him down onto the bed after casting a quick Scourgify. “Stay where you are Harry, I’m getting Poppy.”

He groaned at the thought. Albus understood.

“Would you prefer Minerva? She’s a trained Healer as well.”

“Okay …”

Harry lay shivering as Albus hurried out of the room. The momentary sick feeling had passed, but he still felt terrible. He hoped things would improve, or he’d have another hell of a year ahead. Somehow, he doubted the illness – whatever it was – would get any better.

He started to sit up again as Professor McGonagall entered the room, followed closely by Albus, but she pushed him firmly down.

“Oh no you don’t.” She sat down on the bed and pulled out her wand. “Albus, you couldn’t even have put him in some clean pyjamas?”

“I came straight to you; I didn’t even think about it.”

She gave him the sort of look that she normally reserved for Harry and Ron when they were being inattentive, and turned back to Harry, sticking what he deemed to be a magical thermometer in his mouth. “Where does it hurt, Harry?”

“I’ ’ath a ’ithion.”

“Sorry?”

Harry poked the thermometer to one side with his tongue and repeated it clearer. “It wath a vithion.”

“A vision? Voldemort?”

“You need to thee Prothethor Thnape – Cruthiathus.”

Albus hesitated.

“Go and wait for Severus, Albus. I think Poppy’s still got some of the pain-relieving potion in her cabinet. I’ll stay with Harry.”




Albus squeezed Harry’s hand and left the room, leaving him alone with Professor McGonagall.

“Where does it hurt?” she repeated. Harry gestured to his throat and forehead and stayed quiet as she looked him over. “Is it just there or other places as well?”

“My thointh.” At her blank look, he pointed at his wrists and elbows.

“Joints?” He nodded. “Let me see.”

Professor McGonagall turned his wrists over in her hands and then his elbows. On close inspection, the wrists in particular looked lightly bruised. She frowned and drew the curtains slightly. Harry winced at the early morning light and put a hand over his eyes.

“Do you normally get joint pains?”

“Not really. But I thutht realithed they hurt thometimeth thith thummer when my hand bled.”

“Your hand bled? Where?”

Albus re-entered the room before Harry could show her the words cut into the skin. “Severus is asleep now; I gave him a DSP as well. I told him I knew about the fire and that Harry was fine – well, not affected by the fire, anyway. He’s got news, but that can wait.”

“I can tell you what the newth ith,” Harry said around the thermometer.

“I know Harry, but right now our priority is you.”

“Well,” Professor McGonagall said in a business-like way, “if you want to make yourself useful, you can get out some clean pyjamas for Harry – Not some of your crazy pairs, give the poor boy something decent.”

Harry chuckled as Albus glared at her and pulled a pair of midnight blue pyjamas with silver stars out of the drawer. “These acceptable, Minerva?”

She looked at them sceptically. “I’ve seen worse.”

Harry had never seen a darker look on Albus’ face than the one he focused on her then. It was obvious that insulting his pyjamas was not tolerated in any way, shape or form. But when Harry saw the slight spark of humour in his eye, he realised it was all in fun.

It took a moment for Professor McGonagall to realise why Harry and Albus were looking at her expectantly. She said “Oh,” and turned round.

“Albuth, I can do -”

Albus took the thermometer out of Harry’s mouth, glanced at it, did a double-take, let out a low whistle, put it down and started to take Harry’s pyjama top off him.

“Albus, let me do it – I’m not completely helpless -”

Professor McGonagall’s shoulders were shaking slightly as they fought over the buttons. Harry was sure she was laughing at them. Eventually Albus straightened up with the bloody pyjamas.

“You can turn around again now, Minerva.”

She turned and saw he’d taken the thermometer out. “Albus!

He told her what it had said and her eyes widened. “Oh.”

“What? Is that bad?” Harry asked anxiously.

“It’s high,” Albus said simply, depositing Harry’s pyjamas in the laundry basket.

How high?”

“Not excessively high, but not normal,” Minerva said quickly before Albus could answer. “Has it always been that bad?” She addressed the last bit to both of them.

“Around that, but I never took it so I can’t be sure.”

Professor McGonagall rolled her eyes. “Albus, you are as useful as a chocolate teapot.”

“That’s an idea,” Albus murmured thoughtfully but Professor McGonagall stopped him in his tracks. “Don’t start getting any ideas, Albus.”

He stuck his tongue out at her childishly as she turned back to Harry.

“Right. It seems I’m not completely clued-up about all this, so tell me everything from the start.”

Albus sat on the bed the other side of Harry and began explaining Harry’s symptoms. Harry wondered why he hadn’t before, but thought that he hadn’t had time when he was fetching her and hadn’t had much opportunity since. His attention back on the explanation, he saw Professor McGonagall’s face was horrified and suddenly thought, What did I miss?

“You’re joking,” she said in a faint voice.

“I’m not,” Albus replied seriously. “Harry, show her.”

“Show her what, sorry? I missed that bit.”

Albus took his hand and turned it over, frowning as he did so – the scars were not bleeding, but were inflamed and red. Professor McGonagall took one look and clapped her hand over her mouth.

“That’s sick,” she mumbled, breathing hard. “That’s absolutely vile. And on a student!

“There’s going to be a court case,” Albus assured her. Harry blinked.

“Court case?”

Albus looked at him witheringly. “Harry, the quill she used on you was a registered Dark object. You must have realised it was illegal.”

He shook his head. “I didn’t think about it like that.”

“Did she do it to you every detention?” Professor McGonagall asked. Harry nodded and she closed her eyes in apparent horror.

“Oh Merlin, what have I done?”

“Professor?” Harry asked unsurely.

“What do you mean, Minerva?”

“I’m sorry, Harry, I’m so sorry,” she whispered, rocking back and forth slightly, reminiscent of Dobby.

“Sorry for what?” Harry asked, confused.

“Don’t you remember?” Professor McGonagall ran a hand through her long hair. She seemed more discomposed than Harry had ever seen her. “You asked me if I could get you out of them and I said no. I told you off for not keeping your temper with her and I even said she had every right to give you detention.” Her voice shook slightly on the last part. Harry was shocked to see a tear find its way onto her cheek. Albus was looking at her in surprise, obviously not having known about that. He hesitantly reached out to her shoulder but her hands clenched into fists, shock turning into anger, and he pulled back.

“Why didn’t you tell me, Harry? Had I known I – Oh, the toad! Wait till I get my hands on her!”

“Minerva, you are not going anywhere near -”

“Harry, why didn’t you tell me, for Merlin’s sake? You know I would have stopped it! Why didn’t you tell me?

“She would have had you fired!” Harry exclaimed. “Her or Fudge. She could have done it easily if you’d kicked up a fuss about it. I couldn’t do that!”

Professor McGonagall stared at him in disbelief. “Then why didn’t you go to Albus?”

An uncomfortable silence filled the room as Harry’s mouth went dry and Albus dropped his eyes, shame filling them. Professor McGonagall looked from one to another and said softly, “Oh.”

Harry looked down at his lap, unable to meet the eyes of either of the adults. They both felt guilty and ashamed, yet right at that moment Harry felt unable to pin any blame on either of them. He remembered clearly how angry he’d been at Professor McGonagall after he’d taken points, and the way he’d been mad at Albus all year and the beginning of the summer. He knew later the feelings would arise again but at that moment he just felt ashamed of himself.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered hoarsely, still staring at his hands. He jumped violently when Professor McGonagall touched his shoulder.

“Don’t be sorry Harry, it’s not your fault.”

He looked up at her. “You were the one who told me to keep my temper with Umbridge.”

“I know, and I’m a hypocrite. Had I been in your position I think I would have said worse things, and probably hit or cursed her as well. I’m sorry.”

He squared his shoulders. “You’re a teacher, you’re meant to say those things.”

“Harry.” Albus put his arm round him gingerly. “We’re not blaming you, understand? Don’t blame yourself.”

“I’m not -”

“Yes, you are.” Albus began gently stroking Harry’s hair, something Harry had found soothing. “I can tell when you are. Your face looks pensive, your voice is low and there’s guilt written in your eyes.” Professor McGonagall looked astonished. Harry had to admit Albus was getting good at this. “We’re not blaming you Harry, and don’t you dare blame yourself. If anyone’s to blame, I am.”

“Did you know about this Albus?” Professor McGonagall asked angrily.

Harry looked up, his throat going dry. Had Albus known?

Albus shook his head slowly. “I heard rumours going round the school. I thought perhaps she may be using some – unconventional – method in her detentions, but I couldn’t find out what. I didn’t know it was a Blood Quill till after term ended, and I received a load of Howlers from a few angry parents.”

“So that’s what happened to your quill.”

Albus shook his head regretfully. “Burnt to ashes. Best one I had.” He sighed.

“Talking of burnt to ashes,” Professor McGonagall said, frowning, “what about this fire?”

“Can it wait, Minerva? I really don’t think this the time. It’s nearly seven o’clock for Merlin’s sake, and neither Harry nor I have had more than a couple of hours’ sleep.”

“Emerald,” Harry said suddenly, remembering.

Albus and Professor McGonagall blinked at him. “What?”

“I know why Voldemort set light to the house,” Harry continued excitedly, wanting to get it out before he forgot the contents of the vision. “I saw the Death Eater meeting just now in my vision. He was after the emerald gem you gave me.”

Professor McGonagall looked from Harry to Albus.

“Emerald? You one on the chain?” Harry nodded eagerly, suddenly feeling wide awake. “Are you sure?”

“Positive; I saw it. He’s got it.”

“What chain is this?” Professor McGonagall asked.

Albus felt around his neck, and frowned. “You said Voldemort’s got it?”

Harry nodded. Albus leaned over and tugged the chain out from under Harry’s pyjama top. “No he doesn’t. He’s got mine.”

“You had one?”

Albus nodded. “They were meant to change colour and heat depending on where you were and what state you were in. It was the best thing I could come up with at short notice. I was hoping to find time to think up something better, but you ran off before I could, and you know the rest. I left it on the bedside table.”

Harry nodded. “But why does Voldemort want it?”

Albus frowned. “That I have no idea about.”

“What, aren’t they special?”

“Not that I know of, other than sentimental value for me. They’re earrings.”

Earrings?

“My sister’s. Aberforth gave them to her for her seventeenth birthday.”

Harry leaned back against the pillow, frowning as he tried to remember what else had been said in the vision.

“The Death Eaters said … something about ‘got the second emerald’. There must be more than two. Where did your brother get the earrings from?”

“He made them, but I don’t know where the original emeralds came from. If Voldemort’s after them however, there must be something special about them.” Albus fingered Harry’s thoughtfully for a moment before taking the chain from around his neck. “I think we had better put this one somewhere safe.”

“Like where?”

Albus tapped the side of his nose cheekily and exited the room.

Professor McGonagall sighed and it occurred to Harry that they’d been as good as ignoring her for the past few minutes. Before he could apologise, she spoke.

“Albus told you about Aminta?”

“A little. Not much, really. I don’t want to pry.”

“I wish I’d known her,” Professor McGonagall said thoughtfully. “She died long before I was even born, though. She was very dear to Albus; he still misses her terribly.”

“I miss Sirius,” Harry said quietly.

Before he knew what was happening, Professor McGonagall had put her arms around him and pulled him close. Surprised, he froze for a moment before slowly accepting the touch. He’d just laid his head on her shoulder when Albus came back.

“I’m sorry, am I interrupting something?”

Professor McGonagall drew back and rubbed her eyes. “No, but I think we’d all better get back to bed. Thank Merlin it’s still the holidays.”

“You’re right. Harry, you need to get to sleep. Now.”

“Doesn’t he have a DSP?” Professor McGonagall asked. At Harry’s quizzical look, she added, “Dreamless Sleep Potion.”

“We need to get a different type, the regular one’s not working properly.”

“I could go and get one now …”

Both Professor McGonagall and Albus looked at Harry, who thought for a moment and then shook his head. “No, thanks. I’ll go without for tonight.” He turned pleading eyes on Albus. “But only if you …” He trailed off.

“I will.” Albus kissed Harry’s forehead. “You’re temperature’s dropped.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Almost back to normal now.”

“I think,” Minerva said seriously, “we need to talk about everything properly in the morning. I mean, later in the morning.”

“I’ll schedule an appointment with Poppy tomorrow,” Albus said, already climbing back into bed beside Harry. “And I’ll talk with Severus. And I’ll write to Aberforth.” He blew out the candle. “Goodnight, Minerva.”

“Albus! What did you do that for???”

“Oops. But it’s light anyway. You can see your way back to your rooms.”

“That’s not the point,” Professor McGonagall huffed. “Goodnight, Albus, Harry.”

“Goodnight,” Harry yawned, pulling the covers further up round him and Albus as Professor McGonagall left the room, shutting the door behind her quietly. Albus put his arms round Harry, pulling him closer, and Harry curled up in a ball in them. “G’night, Albus.”

“Goodnight, cub,” Albus yawned. “Good morning, rather.” He paused. “Do you like the nickname? Don’t feel obliged to say yes.”

“No, I do, really. So, I got called ‘cub’ because you all thought I would be in Gryffindor?”

“Actually, there’s more to it than that.” Albus looked anxiously over at the clock, but saw Harry’s wide eyes and gave in. “You had a toy lion … I think James bought it for you. It wasn’t lost with the house; something else happened to it … I think you lost it in a park or something. But it was this massive thing that was twice your size and you used to cuddle up to it at night. I believe I’ve still got a photo somewhere … I can show you if you like.”

A happy smile was spreading across Harry’s face. This was what he loved – hearing about the life he had before, that he didn’t remember. Although it made him sad, he also felt closer to his parents when people talked about them in a way that wasn’t putting them down, like Snape did.

“What was the lion’s name?”

“Er … Simba.”

Harry snorted with laughter. Albus grinned. “I’ve always loved that film.”

“So was that how I got my nickname?”

“It was Lily who gave the idea to me. I remember when I babysat for you once and you insisted that Simba joined us in the armchair and I read you both a story. You looked so small next to him. Then when your parents came home your mother said something like ‘Look at the little cub snuggled up with the lions.’ I called you ‘cub’ after that.”

Harry smiled blissfully. “I like that.” A thought suddenly struck him. “Albus … I know I’ve heard that song before … Did you sing it to me then?”

Albus shook his head. “No, I didn’t. You liked ‘Hush little baby’ too much to let anyone sing anything else.”

“Then … how come it sounds familiar?”

“I don’t know.”

“Liar.”

“I think I do … possibly. But I’ll look into it first.”

“Fine, be that way.”

Silence fell. Harry could feel his eyes closing and gave into it. The morning would be better …

-----

When Harry woke he groaned. It felt like he’d only been asleep five minutes. Albus heard him.

“Harry? Are you awake?”

He moaned in reply. “What’s the time?”

Albus looked at the clock and groaned as well. “Eight twenty. How do you feel now?”

“Absolutely lousy,” Harry muttered darkly, pulling the covers over his head. Albus pulled them back down and pressed a hand to his forehead.

“You’re still a bit warmer than usual. You’re staying in bed today, Harry.”

Harry nodded, his eyes still closed. “What’s that?”

Albus sat up, listening. It sounded like two people nearby having a heated argument. He slid out of bed, holding a hand to his forehead, and had just pulled on his dressing-gown when an angry voice yelled his name from the next room.

“ALBUS DUMBLEDORE!”

“Oh, no,” he muttered.

The door flew open to reveal a very red-faced Molly Weasley.

“You are in very deep trouble, Albus!” she stormed, flying at him as if she wanted to hit him. Harry saw him flinch, although that could have been because of the headache. “FIVE HOURS we’ve been waiting, after Remus woke us and told us Privet Drive was on fire! FIVE HOURS! You couldn’t once have thought to tell us Harry was -”

She stopped in mid-sentence, her mouth open as she saw Harry sitting up in bed. He grinned sheepishly.

“Hi, Mrs Weasley – Oof!”




Molly had run at him and was now hugging him so tight he could barely breathe. Harry tried to wriggle out of her grasp but failed. She was now crying all over him.

“Oh Harry, oh Harry, we were so sure – Everyone was in a panic, and no-one could contact Dumbledore, and Remus said he was with you, and Severus was away, and no-one could find the Death Eaters, and the house was burnt right down to the ground, and once we got there we couldn’t find any bodies or anything … Oh Harry, you’ve no idea how scared we were, it was like a nightmare -”

“It’s okay, Mrs Weasley, I’m fine,” Harry tried to assure her, but in truth he was shaken at what a narrow escape he’d had. He now felt utmost relief that he’d run away and Albus had come back to Privet Drive with him. If he’d been on his own he would be dead now.

“Oh, you stupid boy,” she sobbed, rocking back and forth. “Of course you’re not; you’re in shock; you need someone to take care of you, you need a home now … Come on Harry, get your things – Do you have any things, or did you leave them all behind? – Albus, could you lend him some robes or something, we’ll get you some proper clothes later – This afternoon we’re going to the Ministry and we’re going to sort this whole mess out; Arthur’s got a contact in the Child Protection Office -”

“Mrs Weasley, what are you talking about?” Harry said shakily, trying to take in what she was saying.

“Oh Harry, you’re coming back with me. Ron and everyone’s awake, they’re waiting to see you’re okay; then we’ll get your guardianship transferred so you can stay with us legally. It shouldn’t take too long; normally they take months but we’ve had the paperwork ready for ages, I think all we need now is the signatures …”

Harry shot a panicked look at Albus. To his surprise, Albus wasn’t looking at him; he was standing a couple of feet away and looking down at the ground, an unreadable expression on his face.

Molly continued, not noticing the look on Harry’s face. “Albus, couldn’t you at least have put him in a room of his own?”

“He did,” Harry said, his thoughts rushing painfully through his pounding head. “I didn’t want to be on my own.”

“Oh!” Molly burst into a fresh set of tears and Harry kicked himself for blurting that out, but she’d paused in her ranting enough for him to think clearly, and he seemed to have gained Albus’ attention again. Harry shot him a pleading look, and the one he got in return was confused, which in turn confused Harry.

“Molly,” Albus spoke up, interrupting her flow for the first time, “I don’t think Harry wants to be crushed.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Harry …”

She drew back, wiping her eyes. Harry took a couple of deep breaths.

“Mrs Weasley, I -”

“Molly, please, dear.”

“Um, okay.” Harry swallowed. “I, um, really appreciate all this and everything, but …” He paused, wondering how to phrase it.

Molly stared at him for a moment. “Harry, you’re at Hogwarts. It’s a school; it doesn’t have to be your home anymore. You can have a real home, with our family -”

“Mrs Wea – Molly,” Harry corrected, the name feeling strange on his tongue. Stranger than ‘Albus’ had been at first. “Really, I’m okay here. I’m tired of my life changing around out of my control, and I’ve made my decision now. I want to stay here.”

“But Harry, what about family? You’ve always wanted -”

“I’ve got one,” Harry said firmly.

Molly looked taken aback. For a moment she stared at Harry, as if trying to comprehend his words, then she looked between him and Albus, and the Knut seemed to drop.

“Albus, do you think you could leave us a minute?”

Harry looked back and forth between them, confused. He didn’t think it was very fair to kick Albus out of his own bedroom, especially when he’d only woken up five minutes ago, but Albus didn’t protest, just nodded and left.

Molly watched the door shut behind him before turning back to Harry. His mouth went dry as she took his hand, a serious expression on her face.

“Harry. What do you really feel?”

“Wh-what do you mean?” Harry asked, stammering in his confusion.

“I was worried you may be saying those things because Albus was there,” Molly explained gently. “I didn’t want to just take your word for it in case you just felt obliged to say it in front of him.”

His confusion clearing rapidly, Harry shook his head. “I’m sure, Mrs Weasley. I … Albus has been …” He struggled to explain. “He’s been wonderful to me. He’s like the father I never had.” His voice shook slightly on the word, but continued determinedly. “W-we’ve got really close the last couple of weeks. I’ve just started getting my life sorted and I’m settling down. I don’t want to change it now. No offence Mrs Weasley – I mean, Molly – but at the end of the day you’re my best friend’s mum, not mine.”

He couldn’t have been prepared for the hurt look that crossed her face, but he knew he had to continue. “I’m sorry, but I think – I know – this way’s best for me. I’m okay visiting, but I think if I was living with your family permanently I’d just feel … out of place, like I was intruding. It’s not your fault,” he went on quickly, “it’s just that you already have a family and I’ve always been on my own; I’d just feel like the odd one out.”

Harry stopped and breathed deeply, relieved to have said it all but worried he may not have explained it well. Molly had her face turned down for a moment, so Harry couldn’t tell how she’d taken it, but then she looked up.

“You’re truly happy with Albus?”

“Yes.”

She took a deep breath and squeezed his hand. “Harry, if you ever change your mind …”

He nodded. “I’ll remember.”

Molly kissed him on the cheek. “Hermione’s staying with us at the moment. Shall I send her and Ron over to see you? I know you must be dying to see them.”

Harry considered. “I am, but … not today, Mrs Weasley. I’m really tired; I’ve had hardly any sleep and I don’t feel well.”

She felt his forehead worriedly and he restrained himself from rolling his eyes as he fought her off. “I’m fine – I’ll be fine. I’ll see them another day.”

“All right,” Molly sighed.

Harry let out a breath of relief. It seemed like another huge weight had been lifted off his chest.

-----

“What’s that?”

Albus laid the tray down on the bedside table. “Breakfast.”

Harry sat upright to see. On the tray was a glass of orange juice, a plate with dry toast on, a pot of jam, a bowl of what looked like pineapple rings, and an unidentified potion.

“What’s that?

Albus picked the bottle up and looked at the label. “Poppy gave it to me just now. She wants to see you later, but for now this is a potion for bruising.”

“Oh.” Harry took it and looked at it. “Do I have to take it now?”

“Well, you’re supposed to take it with food, so I’d say yes.”

Harry sighed. “Fine.”

“You don’t have to sound over-enthusiastic about it,” Albus teased, uncapping the bottle.

“Ha, ha. I hate those potions. I always seem to get the foul-tasting ones to endure.”

Albus sniffed the potion gingerly. “This one doesn’t seem to bad. It smells like almond.”

Harry pinched his nose as he gulped the potion down and shuddered. “Ugh. Not as bad as Skele-Gro, but not exactly pumpkin juice either.”

“You had better get used to them,” Albus said seriously. “If we can’t tell what’s wrong after today then we’re going to have to go by trial and error … which will mean lots of nasty potions.”

“Thanks, you just made my day,” Harry said sarcastically, picking up the spoon from the tray.

“Sorry.”

“Do you have any plans for today?” he asked, digging into the pineapple.

Albus smiled. “It’s good to see your appetite is coming back. And my plans for today are seeing Poppy with you -”

“Apart from that.”

“- and talking to Severus later. He’s still asleep at the moment.”

“Are you going to write to your brother?” Harry asked.

“Done. I don’t know when he will reply. But in the meantime, I intend to do a bit of research.” Albus stifled a yawn.

“Don’t you have any idea what the emeralds are?”

Albus shook his head. “I vaguely remember I story about some emeralds belonging to my family once, but whether those are the ones I couldn’t tell you.”

“Hopefully your brother will have some answers,” Harry suggested.

“I hope so,” Albus sighed, “or we’re back to Square One.”

Silence fell for a few minutes.

“Have you eaten already?”

“No,” Albus replied, picking up Harry’s toast and taking a bite out of it.

Harry slapped his hand. “Get your own, stop eating mine!”

Albus shrugged and Summoned a banana. “I also,” he continued before taking a bite out of it, “intend to introduce you to an old friend of mine.”

“Who?”

“Ah, you’ll see later.”

“That’s not fair, you can’t tell me I’m going to meet someone and then don’t tell me anything about them. Male or female?”

“Male.”

“Wizard?”

“Well … that’s debatable.”

“Did he go to Hogwarts?”

Albus laughed. “Not exactly. Not as a student, anyway.”

“I give up,” Harry muttered. “You’re to going to give me any solid information.”

“Of course not, I would ruin the surprise.”

-----

“Where’s Albus?”

Minerva jumped and looked up. “Severus! You’re out of the Hospital Wing!”

Severus rolled his eyes. “A very acute observation.” He received a swat in return.

“I was not trying to state the obvious Severus, merely acknowledging my surprise that Poppy let you out so early.”

“She didn’t. You know I can’t stand her fussing. And I need to see Albus.”

Minerva sighed. “He’s in his quarters. I’ll go with you, I need to talk to him myself.”

The two of them walked in compatible silence to the headmaster’s office, gave the password (“Skiving Snackboxes”) and a second password (“Umbridge is an ugly toad”) to enter Albus’ quarters.

“Albus?” Minerva called.

“In here. Keep the noise down.”

Severus blinked as he entered the room. He had been sure that a) Albus would be in his study and b) said room would be decorated in only Gryffindor colours. Instead Albus was sitting at a smaller desk than usual in a red-white-and-blue bedroom with the curtains drawn.

“What -” he began. The other two immediately shushed him, pointing to the bed. On closer inspection, Severus saw there was a figure in it, with the covers drawn up so far that only a few tufts of black hair were in view.

“Who’s that?” he whispered.

“Harry,” Albus said quietly, confirming his suspicions, and standing to leave the room.

“Albus, do you think it’s a good idea to let him sleep through the day?” Minerva asked.

“I’m going to wake him at lunchtime. Severus, what are you doing out of the Hospital Wing?”

Severus made a growling noise in his throat. By now the three of them were in Albus’ living-room. Albus motioned for the other two to sit down and Severus did so grudgingly, staring at the fireplace. It was quite a nice one – there were four carved tiles, each with an emblem of each of the Houses on: a lion, a badger, a serpent and an eagle.

“I have news,” Severus said bluntly, helping himself without permission to Albus’ Firewhisky. “Besides the burning of Potter’s home which you obviously know about already -”

“You have information on his motive?” Albus finished questioningly.

“A little, but still invaluable.” Severus took a sip of Firewhisky, intent on dragging it out. He loved knowing more than Albus did.

Albus and Minerva shared a look. Severus continued.

“It seems the Dark Lord was after an – item – that somehow found its way into Potter’s possession. How it did, I do not know, you would have to ask the boy that himself.”

Albus nodded. “We’ve already covered that: I gave the emerald to him. Do you know why Voldemort wants it?”

Severus choked on his Firewhisky. “How did you know that was what he was after???”

“Harry had a vision this morning,” Albus and Minerva said in unison.

Severus grimaced. “So no doubt he would be able to answer all your questions himself.”

Albus shook his head. “He only saw part of last night’s events – I was hoping you could expand on what we already know.”

“Which is?” Severus inquired, pleased to hear they still needed him.

“Only,” Minerva said, “that You-Know-Who – alright, Riddle – has two of the emeralds and that there are more, but we don’t know how many. Albus has a third, but there could be more. We don’t know what he wants them for, though.”

Severus shook his head. “Some sort of ritual. He was very exited when he heard of them. I think they may increase his power a great deal – maybe even give him what he’s been working towards all these years.”

“Immortality?”

“In the worst-case scenario.”

Silence fell in the living room.

“Well,” said Albus at last, “at least we know one is safe. But if there are more, I think it would be wise to lay our hands on them before Voldemort does. Severus, do have any idea where they might be, or where they originated from, that might help us?”

Severus frowned. “He did mention the name of the last wizard who used them. Something funny … It began with M.” He rubbed his forehead. “Mor … Morban?”

Albus sat bolt upright, his eyes lighting up. “Morcraban?”

“That was it. Why, who was he?”

“She,” Albus corrected. He was almost jumping up and down in his excitement. “The most powerful Dark witch ever – she’s just legend now. She came into power several thousand years ago – long before the Founders. Her enemies …” He seemed to freeze.

“Albus? What is it?”

“Her enemies were the Thoron family,” he said in a low voice. “She cursed them so they lost all their powers. Every member of the family, reduced to Squib status.” He looked at Minerva, who had a stunned expression on her face.

Severus drained his Firewhisky. “You think that’s what the Dark Lord is planning?”

Albus shook his head. “Maybe. I don’t know. I’ve already started looking into the emeralds’ properties – if they are what I think they are, then taking power isn’t the only thing they can do.”

“If he took, say, your power, or Harry’s,” Minerva began hesitatingly, “does that mean he would have it, or would it just be lost?”

“I think it must be lost. Morcraban was eventually overthrown. If she’d had all the powers from the living Thorons at the time, that wouldn’t have happened.”

“Are there any living Thorons left?” Severus asked on a whim. “Maybe they could help us -”

Minerva looked at Albus.

“Two that I know of,” Albus answered, “and the moment we’ve wrapped up this discussion I intend to find out who else there is.”

“How do you intend to do that?” Severus asked in bewilderment. Albus gave the first smile since the beginning of the conversation.

“Look up my family tree.”

TBC …


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