An Inconvenient Truth

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Chapter 009

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Chapter Nine

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Friday 2 September

… --- …

Junior was seated at Moody's desk looking at a jar of large spiders that Hagrid had collected for him. The damned eye gave him headaches and that infernal wooden leg was a nightmare to get around with. To make matters worse, Moody's primary wand wouldn't so much as give off a spark for him, so he substituted the one that he'd recently bought from Ollivander.

Dumbledore had pulled him aside after the feast last night and had made the unusual request that he show the fourth through seventh years the unforgivable curses and point out that there is no effective counter-curse for them.

Their original plan had been to simply hand the Potter boy a portkey disguised as a parchment and activate it by tapping his wand to it as the boy was reading it. As it turned out, the inside of the castle itself was warded both ways against portkey use, so they would have to try something similar outside the castle. The Dark Lord had recommended using the Tri-Wizard trophy as a back-up plan, and now it appeared that would have to work, unless he was able to try something during one of the Hogsmeade visits.

Infiltrating the tournament would be difficult and time consuming. He would have to acquire access to the goblet and alter the seven-hundred-year-old charms to have the cup think that there were four schools, then enter Potter's name as the sole contestant of the fourth school. He would also have to write the entry slip so that the name of the fourth school was invisible when it came out and credibly suggest that it would be in everyone's best interest not to simply cancel the tournament and redraw; and instead have Potter compete the best that he could. Like any plan, it sounded easy when they were at his father's house discussing it over brandies. He would have to discuss the specifics with his master in the next week or two before the champions' names were entered.

In the short term, he needed to assimilate into the school and do a credible job teaching 35 hours of classes a week, quickly acquire some additional Polyjuice potion, and begin brewing his own supply.

Of immediate concern, he had class starting in five minutes. He would demonstrate the three curses this week and, based on his conversation with the old headmaster, actually place some of the students under the Imperius curse the next week.

… --- …

Ron and Susan sat at their respective tables thinking about the new school year. Both of them missed having breakfast with Harry, who was currently sitting with Neville, Hermione, Fred, George and the girls from the Quidditch team. After Professor McGonagall passed out the class schedules, Susan walked over to compare hers with Harry's. "Which classes do we have together this year?"

Harry handed her his schedule. She looked at it and observed, "This is good. We have Herbology together on Monday mornings, Runes together right after lunch, Charms together on Wednesday mornings and Defense together on Friday mornings."

Harry replied, "Do you think we know enough to do second level Runes?"

She nodded and replied, "We must. We passed the first-year test last week. Hermione was really kind to have helped us so much. We should get her something to thank her. If you're ready to go, I'll go get my book and meet you outside Professor Moody's classroom." She gave him a sly smile and suggested, "Maybe we can sit together this year?"

Harry smiled back and replied, "Sounds good. See ya."

When she had left and he was walking back to his dorm, Ron caught up with him and asked, "Which classes do you have?"

Harry handed Ron his schedule as they walked. Ron looked at it and asked, "What happened to Divination this afternoon?"

Harry replied, "I got sick of making stuff up and hearing that old bat go off predicting my death every week."

Ron argued, "Yeah well… but at least it was easy."

Harry disagreed, saying, "With Voldemort out there, I don't need easy. I need additional skills."

Ron flinched. "Don't say his name!"

Harry didn't reply, as he didn't want to start an argument. They got their books and walked to the Defense classroom. Neville was sitting next to Hannah who was sitting next to Susan who had saved a place for Harry between herself and Hermione. Harry sat in the saved seat and Ron scowled as he sat in the vacant seat in the back by Ernie Macmillan.

… --- …

Two hours later, Harry left the Defense classroom, rubbing his eyes. For some reason, he had gotten a headache in the class. He hadn't had any problems with his new glasses before but he really hadn't worn them much during the summer since he'd had his eyes healed.

Susan watched as Ron yapped to Seamus about how cool the new Professor was and Hermione and Hannah comforted Neville who had appeared to have been shaken from watching Professor Moody cast the Cruciatus curse on the spider.

As they walked along, Harry commented, "Professor Moody seems different in class than I would have expected."

Susan replied, "Maybe it was just the topic. Like he said, 'it's not nice.' They were all horrible. Are you all right?"

Harry nodded in agreement. Somehow, he had lived through the killing curse. Little did he know that he would become much more familiar with the other two curses as well.

… --- …

After attempting to make a quick appearance at dinner and getting stopped in the castle corridors for what seemed to have been a half-dozen times, Junior finally made it to his quarters where he sealed the door shut. He unstrapped that God forsaken artificial leg and that infernal eye and waited. Ten minutes later, the Polyjuice potion wore off. With a great shudder, Junior shook his head and stiffly stood on his own two feet. He had been required to take one extra dose today to maintain Moody's form as dinner dragged on.

He mentally thanked Pettigrew for mentioning Moody's habit about only drinking out of his own flask. Either the man was a complete alcoholic or a paranoid lunatic, sipping something out of his ridiculous flask day in and day out. Fortunately, Dumbledore seemed to be aware of, and indulgent about the habit, and it suited his current needs quite well. He could hold five doses in the flask, more than enough to get through a morning or afternoon.

He looked at the potion instructions that his Master had provided for him. Lord Voldemort had advised him not to attempt a double batch, rather to make several batches concurrently. According to the instructions and his own experience, a one-quart finished batch would yield enough potion for about ten three-ounce doses. That would be enough potion to last him a day if he stayed out of sight as much as possible.

He had what seemed to be a lifetime supply of lacewing flies and a good supply of knotgrass and leeches. He also had enough of the difficult to obtain ingredient, the boomslang snake skin to last for several months. The final ingredient, the powered bicorn horn was easy enough to purchase, though it was quite expensive. He hadn't brought enough gold along the last time that he'd gone out with his father and only had enough bicorn horn powder to last for the initial batches and a few weeks afterwards.

As his master had suggested, it was quite easy to obtain twenty two-quart cauldrons from the school stock. By three AM, he had finished the initial steps on all twenty batches and was relieved that the warmed cauldrons didn't give off a noxious aroma that he would have to explain away.

As he cleaned his ingredient cutting equipment, he recalled his conversation with his master last week regarding getting assistance from Snape.

"No. Do not attempt to contact Snape. He is too close to the meddlesome old fool to involve him. We don't have time to examine every conversation that the auror has had with the school staff, so as much as possible try to avoid them. Remember that Dumbledore is a skilled Legilimens, so keep your Occlumency shields up when you are near him."

As he drifted off to sleep he thought to himself, 'If I could just learn how to operate that infernal eye.'

… --- …

Wednesday 7 September

Amelia was delighted to see Hedwig fly through the open window into the kitchen. She missed having the kids at home and eagerly opened the notes that they had each sent.

Auntie,

The train ride was brill! Everyone in Hufflepuff came up and asked about Harry. Professor Moody will be covering the unforgiveable curses in class in the coming weeks and gave a demonstration on Friday. Was that how Mum and Dad were killed? Harry seemed especially quiet after Moody's class. I'll give him some time and space, but I'm sure that he was bothered by seeing it performed again.

The second level Runes class went well. Harry and I seem to be at about the same level as the rest of the class. Hermione was so nice helping to catch us up over the summer. I'll get her a thank-you gift when we have the first Hogsmeade trip.

Miss you. Say hi to Smidgen.

Love,

Susan

Amelia smiled to herself as she read Susie's note. Every other sentence seemed to be about Harry. She picked up his note and opened it.

Dear Amelia,

It is nice having a parent to write to. I'm glad to get back to school, but the summer was the best one ever. Please say hi to Connie and Just Rufusfor us when you see them. Susan and I are in quite a few of the same classes, but I miss sitting next to her when we eat our meals.

Please stay safe and let me know if anything comes up.

Love,

Harry

She smiled at his messy "boy handwriting" and at the sincerity of his letter. She said a silent prayer that they would both stay safe and attached her own notes back with Hedwig who waited patiently for her.

Just then, Connie's head appeared in the fireplace and called, "Amelia?"

She replied, "Right here, Connie. Come on through."

Connie replied, "Anna and I will be over in five minutes."

Amelia wasn't surprised by the call. Connie had made hundreds of after-hour visits over the years. Yet Amelia had sensed a note of urgency in her voice that usually wasn't present. She asked Smidgen to set out tea and biscuits when she heard the knock on the door. The little elf opened the door and the two investigators hurriedly walked in and began their tale.

An hour later Amelia replied, "So the short version is that a Horcrux is currently being held in Bellatrix's vault and if one of the Black family members walked into Gringotts with the key, you have an assurance from Longsnout that they will be allowed in to examine, but not remove any objects."

"In short, yes," replied Connie. He also mentioned that if a fire happened to destroy all of the contents of the vault, it would be highly unfortunate because there is no way to notify the registered vault tenants, as they are currently all residing in Azkaban."

Amelia asked, "Who would be eligible to enter the vault?"

Anna answered, "Bellatrix has a niece, Nymphadora Tonks and a nephew, Draco Malfoy. Either could enter if they had the key.

Understanding Connie's implication, Amelia inquired, "And where is the key?"

Connie answered, "It's currently in the personal property storage locker at Azkaban. If you sign this form, I'll go get it and you can give a quick call to Tonks. Fiendfyre would easily destroy everything in the vault and would certainly be easier to control than getting a dragon to destroy whatever is in there."

Amelia had a quizzical look on her face and commented, "We're asking her to destroy a vault full of property that in all likelihood, she's in line to inherit. What reason do we give her if we don't tell her that our real purpose is to destroy Riddle's Horcrux?"

Connie replied, "To keep the gold out of Riddle's grasp. We're best off not mentioning the horcrux."

Anna shook her head and commented, "Are you really asking her to potentially destroy a vault with a hundred thousand galleons or more in it that she's likely to partially inherit without even telling her why? That's her first twelve years earnings. That's going to require an incredible sales pitch on your part."

Amelia sighed and replied, "Connie, somehow I'll make it up to her to the extent that she has a claim on it. I don't know what else I can do. We can't force her to do it and we're not going to expand the number of people who are aware of the horcruxes."

Connie nodded and replied, "I agree."

Anna suggested, "I'll go get Tonks."

… --- …

The next morning, Riddle felt a blinding pain that lasted for nearly a minute. Pettigrew noticed his master writhing on the chair and asked, "Master, what's wrong?"

For a minute, Riddle was unable to answer, then the pain subsided, and he felt lightheaded for a few minutes. After five minutes or so, the feeling slowly went away and the Dark Lord called, "Wormtail, I need to be fed. Be quick about it."

Something was wrong.

…--- …

At the same time that the horcrux was being destroyed, Harry was working in Transfiguration when he felt a blinding pain and slumped to the floor. Hermione and Susan immediately went to his side and Hermione shouted, "Professor, Harry needs help!"

McGonagall was quick to react and called, "Mr. Weasley, go and advise Madam Pomfrey that Mr. Potter will be there momentarily." She immobilized Harry, and Susan and Hermione accompanied the Assistant Headmistress as she levitated Harry to the hospital wing.

Curiously enough, by the time she had levitated him onto a bed at the hospital wing, he seemed normal again and complained, "I'm fine."

Ignoring his comment, Poppy put up the privacy screen and examined him carefully while the two witches went back to the classroom under protest. Aside from the fact that his shirt was soaked, she begrudgingly agreed with him and released him to go to lunch.

… --- …

Friday 9 September

Junior blew a calming breath as the fourth years walked out of his class. To his absolute amazement, Potter completely threw off his Imperius curse on just the second attempt! As he would have expected, none of the other students even came close to resisting the infamous curse. He wondered how in the world the skinny teen had thrown off his mind control curse as if it were nothing more than a pesky insect, when it had taken him a dozen years to escape his father's control.

Then to his complete annoyance, the stupid kid kept going on about his new dragonhide boots.

It would be a long year.

… --- …

Later that evening, Crouch Senior woke up from being stunned all day only to be placed under the Imperius curse again. In the five seconds in between the two he resolved to find a way to contact Dumbledore when he had the opportunity.

In the meantime, he continued to stare at the wall as he had been commanded.

… --- …

Amelia was examining the photos that Anna had taken when she accompanied third year Auror Cadet Tonks to the Black-LeStrange vault the day before. The detection charm that Longsnout had cast had indicated that the object in question had been a small golden cup, not much larger than a jigger. Of nearly equal interest were the other cursed objects and financial instruments, deeds and the like that Anna had photographed.

The whole idea of soul splitting sickened her to think of, but as Connie had explained it the spell cast to actually split a soul and embed the other half into an object would literally split the castor's soul in half.

Amelia inquired, "Did the manuscript that you referenced indicate how many times someone could split their soul and have it work?"

Connie replied, "Other than the spell itself, it really only referenced five points. First, it took an intentional murder to initiate the process with the horcrux creation immediately following. Second, it was a literal split into two equal pieces. Third, multiple splits were theoretically possible. Fourth if the horcrux were destroyed the wizard would somehow be weakened magically, but there were no specifics. Finally, while sufficiently anchored, the witch or wizard who had created a horcrux couldn't be killed. I'll read it again and see if there was anything that I missed."

As she spoke, Amelia took notes and wrote several ideas down, so as to not interrupt her friend. When Connie had finished, Amelia removed her monocle and remarked, "What it didn't reference was how to destroy the horcruxes, what could be a horcrux, the idea of being killed vs. death by other causes and how large of a piece was needed to serve as an anchor or to survive."

Scrimgeour asked, "Where in the world would he have read how to do it? There can't have been many copies of the book made."

Connie replied, "It wasn't even a book. It was a handwritten manuscript from the Marr collection. I doubt that there were more than a small handful of copies created. Otherwise there would have been hundreds of instances of dark wizards or witches making them over the years."

Amelia remarked, "Dippet. Before Dumbledore became headmaster in '46, Dippet occasionally allowed students into the headmaster's reserved section. Riddle probably came across the information while he was in school. I think it makes sense to go and talk with Dumbledore about this and see what he knows."

Anna asked, "What else do we know about the other one that he made?"

Amelia reflected and replied, "It was a diary embedded with thought the essence of Riddle as a sixteen year old student. Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that if he made multiple horcruxes that it was probably the first one he made. Anna, let me see the photo that you took from the vault again, please."

Anna handed her the photo and she took a magnifying glass out of her drawer to examine the photo. There was an intricate engraving on the cup of a badger. She handed the glass back to Anna and asked, "What do you see?"

The young investigator looked at it for a moment and asked, "Is that an otter?"

Amelia smiled and replied, "Think Hogwarts founder. It was a badger. I believe that was Helga Hufflepuff's cup."

Connie remarked, "Where in the would Riddle or Lestrange have gotten hold of that? It must have been a priceless artifact before he corrupted it."

Amelia replied, "I'll set something up with Dumbledore next month. In the meantime, I'd like you each to consider what the similarities and differences are between these two items. Well talk again in a fortnight."

Scrimgeour remarked, "Maybe the three of you should go. I've said no to too many of his little suggestions over the years to have him interested in having tea with me."

Amelia was about to chide him about acquiescing to Fudge's request about stationing a full team in Diagon Alley, but decided that pouring salt in an obviously open wound wouldn't accomplish anything.

… --- …

Tuesday 20 September

Hermione found Susan and Harry in the library working on their Runes paper. She walked up behind Susan, gave her shoulder a squeeze and said, "Thank you two for arranging the birthday party last night. It was kind of you to remember and even nicer to see some people from the other houses too."

Susan smiled back and replied, "You're welcome, Hermione. I'm glad that we've gotten to know each other and become such good friends these last months."

Old habits dieing hard, the bushy hair witch glanced at Harry's parchment and commented, "Harry, your Feoh rune should describe wealth, not power. Also make the down stroke just a bit longer. Susan, yours looks good."

She smiled at the other witch, while Harry got his quill out.

Hermione winked at her and added, "Keep working on him. He's a keeper."

Susan beamed at her and replied, "Thanks."

… --- …

Sunday 30 October

Junior cursed at himself as he removed that cursed leg and the eye. He downed three fingers of scotch after the Polyjuice potion had worn off. The first batch of potion that he had made had been completed, bottled and stowed away in Moody's trunk. He had been able to purchase additional powdered bicorn horn, though the price had been higher than when he had purchased it in August.

Junior had carefully placed the charms that his master had recommended on the Goblet of Fire the night before. When the castle quieted down after those brats went to bed, he would suit up as Moody and place Potter's name into the goblet. If everything worked as they had planned, Potter's name would come out of the Goblet as the chosen champion of the unnamed fourth school. Unfortunately, there was no way to test and see if the charms would work as planned.

If Potter's name came out, he would need to be next to his father to tell him what to say in order to ensure that Potter was accepted by the other officials as the fourth champion and that the contest go forth as originally scheduled.

If not, his orders were to snatch the boy at the first opportunity and portkey him to his master's estate. He couldn't do it while Potter was in the castle, but might have a chance if he could be found at one of the Hogsmeade visits.

Junior downed three ounces of the disgusting potion, strapped on that horrible leg and eye before picking up the slip of paper with Harry Potter written on it and walking out.

The next day would be interesting.

… --- …

Tuesday 1 November

Amelia was awakened by little Smidgen who said, "Miss Suzzie's Harry friend's owl has a message for you, Mistress."

Auntie,

Something terrible happened at the Goblet of Fire ceremony! First it picked Victor Krum from Durmstrang. Then it picked Fleur Delecour from Beauxbatons. Then it picked Cedric. Then a minute later, Harry's name came out!

This is awful! Everyone says that the tournament is dangerous and that some of the previous champions have been killed!

Harry told them that he had nothing to do with putting his name in the goblet, he didn't want to compete, and that he had no intention of being in the contest. Mr. Crouch said that he had to - something about a magical contract.

Auntie, please help him. I don't want anything else to happen to him!

Love,

Susan

Amelia thought about what she knew about Harry Potter, the things he'd told her, what she'd seen herself, and the words that he'd used when he'd spoken them. He was undoubtedly the most fearless, noble young man that she'd ever met, but… And there was a huge point there; he didn't go looking for trouble. He would not have signed up for the tournament without discussing it with her.

The fact of the matter was that Harry was too young to sign a magical contract. There was no way in the world that the Dursleys would have signed anything on his behalf. She got dressed, ate a quick breakfast and hurried into the office.

When she got to Crouch's office, Percy Weasley, the new-hire aide was sitting at the desk outside the office. He inquired, "How may I help you, Director Bones?"

She smiled and replied, "Good morning Percy. You can arrange a meeting with Ludo Bagman and Barty in my office in fifteen minutes."

Percy looked uneasy and replied, "I'm sorry Director, Mr. Crouch will be unavailable all day. Actually, he may be unavailable for the rest of the week. Is there some way that I could assist you?"

The smile had left Amelia's face. In a much more directive voice she stated, "Yes Percy, you can. Go find him, and have him in my office in fourteen minutes."

"I'm sorry, Director Bones. Mr Crou…"

"Percy, do I look like the sort of person who would be intimated by an aide who has been at the Ministry for a month?"

"Nine and a half weeks, actually. I'm Mr. Crouch's personal assistant. I'm certain that I could help in…"

With every bit of patience she could muster she inquired, "Percy, would you enjoy being reassigned to Azkaban for a few weeks, scrubbing out cells of prisoners who have died?"

Without a trace of his usual pompous tone, Percy replied, "No, Director Bones."

Seeing some evidence of agreement from the teen, she softened her stance a bit and observed, "No, you certainly wouldn't. Please have them both in my office in twenty minutes, and come along yourself, since you are Barty's new personal assistant."

… --- …

"No, Weatherby, I'm supposed to stay here," droned the old man as he went back to staring at the blank wall.

In something of a panic, Percy protested, "But sir, Director Bones was most insistent." He really didn't wish to spend a month working in Azkaban scrubbing cells.

Crouch's monotone reply was, "Weatherby, I've worked at the Ministry for nearly forty years. You have worked for me for just over forty days. I'm not feeling well and I'm taking some time off right now. If there's something urgent that I need to see or sign, please bring it to me each afternoon at four. You can handle the daily work until I return. Can you do that, or would you prefer to be reassigned?"

Resigned to his fate with a scrub brush, the redhead replied, "No sir. Thank you for the confidence that you've shown me. I'll take care of everything. Specifically, what should I tell Director Bones?"

"Tell her that the ancient rules specifically state that once a champion has been entered and selected that they are honor bound to compete. It is assumed that the champion candidate either entered themselves, or had an authorized person enter for them. I view it as a magical contract, with at least a chance that an unwilling witch or wizard, once selected, would be magically penalized. We can review the process on a go-forward basis, but for now, it is what it is. Have I explained myself clearly, Weatherby?"

Encouraged by his manager's words, Percy gave a smart reply. "Yes sir. Perfectly clear sir. I shall relay your message exactly as you gave it, sir. With your permission, I'll take my leave now."

"Fine, Weatherby. Fill out the necessary paperwork for a promotional pay raise to level A-3 and I'll sign it the next time you come by. Is there anything else?"

"No sir." With that, Percy Weasley, AKA Weatherby, carefully closed his manager's back door and returned to the Ministry to relay Senior's messages and positions to a very unhappy witch.

… --- …

As Amelia was reading the letter from Susan, Ron was getting out of bed. He was hurt that Harry had lied to him regarding placing his name in the goblet. He had probably used his invisibility cloak to get across Dumbledore's line somehow. The passage of an evening had not diminished Ron's anger at Harry. If anything, it had only intensified. As he walked down the steps, he saw him sitting there, as bold as brass, chatting up Hermione.

… --- …

Fred gave George a significant look as they spotted their younger brother standing on the stairway, giving Harry a death glare. Each took a galleon out and they set them on the table between their chairs in some unspoken wager that only the two of them could comprehend. From across the common room, they could hear Ron's voice getting louder and angrier. Several students sat on their respective stairways to gawk and stay out of the way of what was certain to become an ugly scene.

George took out another galleon as Ron's voice got louder and whispered, "Double or nothing – Ron takes a swing at Harry before either of them makes it out the door."

Fred nodded, took two galleons out of his pocket and replied, "Agreed. Another galleon says Ronnikins ends up on the floor, bleeding."

McLaggen commented, "Your brother's bigger than Potter and stronger too. I'll take that bet." He took out ten galleons and set it on the table.

Fred and George immediately took out five galleons each and replied, "You're on." George thought to himself, 'Never bet against Potter.'

Oblivious of the wagering action taking place around them, Ron shouted, "Fine. Be that way. I hope you get your arse handed to you in the first task." He shoved Harry, who shoved him back. Ron reacted poorly and attempted a roundhouse swing at Harry, who was far too quick to be hit by such a slow punch. He got out of the way and gave Ron a big shove into one of the chairs where he landed arse over teakettle with a thunk on the stone floor, bloodying his nose. He looked up and shouted, "Drop dead, Potter."

McLaggen handed his galleons over to the smirking twins. Even in the face of a train wreck, there was gold to be made.

Ron picked himself up and stormed out of the door, flipping Harry the finger as he left.

Hermione shook her head and apologized to Harry, saying, "Charming."

… --- …

Wednesday 2 November

Classes had just started for the morning when Dumbledore answered the knock on his door. "Enter."

Quickly sizing up the emotionally charged woman, he greeted her. "Ah, Amelia. To what do I owe the pleasure this morning?"

"Pleasure? It's anything but. What in Merlin's name is going on with this contest of yours, Dumbledore? Susie wrote me and said that you had drawn an age line. How in God's name did Harry's name get entered, and why didn't you immediately declare the contest a draw and call for a recasting of the names?"

The old wizard steepled his fingers together as he looked at her and replied, "Indeed, I did cast an age line, Amelia. As such, I believe that it is highly improbable that young Harry entered his name into the Goblet. Further, I have my doubts that any of his classmates, at least those that call themselves his friend, had entered his name into the Goblet."

Amelia shook her head and stated, "I will not allow this to happen to Harry, least of all against his will."

"I quite agree, but it remains that someone has gone to considerable length to enter him into the contest. As Alastor observed, it would take a powerful wizard to bamboozle such a powerful magical object into believing that there was a fourth school."

Amelia was shocked at his statement. It hadn't even occurred to her how the perpetrator had done the crime. Yet at Dumbledore's words, Moody's idea made perfect sense. Was he suggesting that he somehow approved of Harry's participation in the contest?

"Certainly you're not suggesting…"

Dumbledore looked over his half moon specs and replied, "Actually, I am Amelia. I believe that we should allow this mystery to unfold a bit more and see what happens."

"See what happens! Harry's not some pawn for you to move on your human chessboard in an exploratory move, Dumbledore. It's not for you to decide that he should participate in this obvious trap just to see who you can flush out." She could barely contain her frustration at the arrogance of the man.

As calm as ever, the old wizard stated, "Frank Bryce makes me think differently, Amelia."

Enraged, Bones demanded, "What do you know about Frank Bryce, Dumbledore?"

As calmly as he could, Dumbledore replied, "I too, read the papers. He met his death in Little Hangleton in August. He had been the long time groundskeeper at the Riddle estate."

Amelia knew as much, as she had seen Harry's memory of the event, but she chose not to say so. She asked, "What's your point, Headmaster?"

"Since you are aware of the Prophecy, perhaps it is time to test young Harry's mettle."

The badger in her was ready to bite his withered arse. "Test his mettle? I've a good mind to pull him out of this school of yours and…"

"Actually, I think that's a fine idea, at least for the rest of the week. He's already had quite a falling out with young Mr. Weasley over his declaration that he didn't enter himself into the contest. Having him away from the school for a few days might save him a few friendships, and heaven knows, he'll need all of the support that he can muster this year."

Blowing out a breath that she had been holding, she shook her head and replied, "Fine. I'll go pick him up now. When you come to my house for breakfast Saturday, you'll tell me exactly what you have learned about horcruxes." Dumbledore made a conscious effort to keep his mouth from dropping open as the Director of Magical Law Enforcement walked out of his office and allowed the door to close a bit louder than normal. She was not a happy witch.

… --- …

By prior agreement, Anna had been tapped to question Harry that afternoon, after Amelia brought Harry home after taking him out for a quick lunch. Not that there was much precedent in this particular situation, but Connie excused herself on the basis of being too close to the family. Harry had agreed to take the veritaserum, and Connie carefully counted out and administered three drops of the powerful truth serum.

Anna waited a minute for it to take full effect and began her script of questions. "What is your name?"

In the expected flat voice, the messy haired teen replied, "Harry James Potter."

"Did you place your name into the Goblet of Fire?"

"No."

"Did you ask anyone to place your name into the Goblet?"

"No."

"Did anyone that you know place your name into the Goblet?"

"I don't think so."

"Did you want to enter the tournament?"

"No."

"This concludes the deposition." Anna was tempted to ask him how things were going with Susan, but she didn't want to violate his trust.

Connie administered the antidote and they waited a minute for it to take effect. Taken at face value, Harry's name coming out of the Goblet wasn't too big of a stretch to imagine. One of his pals could have easily tossed or banished his name across the age line without his knowledge. What was disturbing was the idea that Amos's boy had already been selected as the Hogwarts champion. No student would have had access to the Goblet long enough to have enchanted it into thinking that there were four schools. She asked, "Harry, who has it in for you at Hogwarts?"

He thought about her question for a few minutes and replied, "I can only think of two people, Draco Malfoy and Snape."

Connie waited a moment and suggested, "Keep going."

Harry added, "Malfoy's dad gave the diary to Ginny Weasley two years ago and got booted off of the Hogwarts board of directors because of it. He was probably pretty hacked off over that and I wouldn't put it past him to have talked Draco into doing something about it."

Connie considered his words and nodded. Launching another plot where he would only have to indirectly participate and could sit back and watch the bedlam from a distance didn't seem to be too out of character for the slippery wizard. She waited, and finally Harry continued.

"Snape has always had it in for me and from what my dad's friends told me, it is a continuation of some teenage grudge that he and my dad had when they were in school."

Connie might have dismissed his words, except everything that she knew and had observed about the teen suggested that he did not lie or exaggerate about important things. If anything, he understated most things. So she found herself with two leads that would be difficult to follow-up.

Harry asked, "Is there anything else?"

Connie and Anna looked at each other for a moment and Anna replied, "Not right now, Harry. You have been very candid with us this afternoon. Thank you very much."

… --- …

While Harry was being deposed by Anna, Susan was on the short end of some very hurtful comments, courtesy of Draco Malfoy. "Hey Bonesie, "I heard that the aurors came in and dragged your little boyfriend off. He's probably on his way to Azkaban by now." As if on cue, Crabbe and Goyle leered at the teen, making her very uncomfortable.

Fortunately Cedric Diggory had seen the exchange and called, "Knock it off, twerp. Shove off, you two. Come on, Susan. It's almost time for dinner. These two poster boys for contraceptive spells can go amuse themselves someplace else."

She walked along with her older housemate and gave him a grateful look. After they had gone a ways, she replied, "Thanks, Cedric. It's been a pretty crappy afternoon. I didn't think so many people would come up and say such crude things about Harry."

"Only the idiots would," observed Diggory. Potter told Dumbledore that he had nothing to do with putting his name into the goblet, and I believe him. He's a good guy."

"Thanks," replied Susan. "He didn't, I'm sure of it. He told me that he was looking forward to a quiet year at school with the focus on someone else for a change."

"It will work out," replied, Cedric, encouragingly. "If anyone gives you two an especially hard time, let me know. Okay?"

"All right," agreed Susan. Thanks Cedric."

He grinned and replied, "No worries."

… --- …

Saturday 5 November

Saturday morning, Amelia got up early. She wasn't surprised to see Harry sitting at the table having a cup of tea and pushing a raison with his spoon. Rufus had volunteered to take Thursday and Friday off and had taken Harry out to the Auror training center to work out his frustrations. Both evenings he had come home exhausted, but hopefully had learned something useful, in addition to simply blasting away bits of ballistic clay. She smiled at him and said, "Good morning, Harry. Are you rescuing raisons this morning?"

"No," answered Harry, not really listening. "I miss Susan." In reality, he hadn't been away from the strawberry blonde for this long since he moved into the house in the summer.

"I'm certain that she'll be delighted to hear that," replied Amelia, suppressing a smile at his absent-minded honesty. "Professor Dumbledore, Rufus, Connie and Anna should be here in a little while. I want to see what Dumbledore will offer up before we show him our cards. He may have some insight regarding those blasted horcruxes and hopefully he has some idea how many of those wretched things that monster might have created. Additionally, I intend to place some additional security in the school.

Harry looked at her, but didn't say anything. It felt like she had more to say, so he waited.

Realizing what he was doing, she smiled at him and added, "Very good, Harry." She continued, "Harry, Professor Dumbledore believes that it would be best if you agreed to participate in the tournament.

As she expected, she didn't have to wait long for his reaction. "He can go bugger himself. I don't want anything to do with that thing."

Unsurprised by his less than genteel remark, she replied, "Susie said about the same thing when I met her in the hallway at Hogwarts before I came and collected you."

He looked at her and she continued, "Irrespective of what Barty Crouch sees as the rule, it is completely your choice. As headmaster of the hosting school, Dumbledore can declare the contest to be complete and hold another drawing the next morning."

"Why does he want me to participate?" asked Harry, not at all convinced that it would be in his best interest.

"Why indeed?" exclaimed the old professor as he brushed himself off upon leaving the fireplace. "Good morning, Amelia, Harry. I believe that it would be in your best interest to participate in order to improve your skills and also to flush out the person or persons responsible for entering you in the tournament."

"We can discuss Harry's options and let him make an informed decision after the others have left," replied Amelia, who had no intention of allowing anyone to force their views onto Harry.

Dumbledore commented, "I wasn't aware that anyone else would be here this morning. Ah, good morning Miss Daily, Madam Hammer and Mr. Scrimgeour. How nice to see you all again."

Before the old professor could shift the conversation onto a subject of his choosing, Amelia interjected, "The subject of the day is Horcruxes - specifically as they relate to Tom Riddle. Professor Dumbledore has agreed to come here this morning to tell us what he knows about them and what he believes as well. Professor?"

Dumbledore noted the unsurprised looks on the faces of the two investigators and the Senior Auror. Obviously they had previously discussed at least the concept of the soul anchors. He began, "A horcrux is a vessel that is used to store a fragment of someone's soul for the purpose of anchoring him or her onto this plane of existence in the event that they are killed."

Amelia was going to cut the old professor off and urge him to get past the basics, but held back at the last second. If nothing else, it would help give everyone a common understanding of what they were up against.

As he continued, Anna made some notes in her notebook and listed some questions that she would ask after the old professor was through. In truth, she was expecting more information, beyond the overview level.

When Dumbledore stopped, she looked at her notes and asked, "Professor, in your opinion, did Riddle start murdering people who he felt had wronged him somehow, and came up with the idea of creating horcruxes later on, or do you think that creating them had been his original purpose?"

The old professor considered her question for a moment and replied, "Miss Daily, it is my belief that he discussed the means of creating a horcrux during his fifth year, made his plans and executed them the summer before his sixth year when his father and grandparents were doubtless murdered by his own hand." He paused for a moment and questioned, "Miss Daily, you used horcruxes in the plural. Is it your belief that he created more than one?"

She replied, "Yes. Who would Riddle have talked to regarding them when he was still at Hogwarts. The literature about them is quite scarce. Honestly, I'm amazed that Connie had even heard of them. Since Riddle, at age fifteen would have lacked the resources beyond what had been made available to him by Headmaster Dippet or some other professor, who do you believe was his source?"

'Well done, Miss Daily. It took me almost ten years to reach the same conclusions that the four of…" Seeing Harry, he corrected himself, "The five of you reached in a few months. I'm all but certain that Horace Slughorn was approached by Tom in the spring of his fifth year and asked about his opinion on that very matter. Unfortunately, I do not know what Horace advised him."

Anna saw Amelia writing in her notebook and guessed the topic. She asked, "Professor, how many horcruxes do you speculate that Riddle might have created?"

Impressed by her tenacity, Dumbledore replied, "I base my opinion, not with a predetermined quantity in mind, as Horace has refused to speak of his conversation; rather I have based it upon the items themselves. Clearly there was the diary of his sixteen-year-old self. He must have created that with the idea of not only providing an anchor of his own soul, but also to have the ability of using it to steal someone else's life force and re-animating himself at some point in the future."

He continued, "He may have created that first, with the murder of poor Myrtle Wagner, who was killed by Slytherin's basilisk that you, Harry so ably dispatched."

He paused for a moment to collect his thoughts and continued, "The second item I believe to have become a horcrux was a ring that his mother's father wore. Tom was wearing it beginning with his sixth year. It was said to have been owned by Salazar himself – One of two artifacts previously connected to him."

Anna asked, "And the other?"

"A locket that Tom's mother owned. I believe that she sold it to Borgin and Burkes to have some money to feed herself and her unborn baby with for the month before Tom was born."

"So you believe that he tended to use founders' artifacts for his horcruxes?"

"The evidence points to it," replied Dumbledore. "Hepzibah Smith was said to have purchased the locket and a small cup belonging to Helga Hufflepuff from Burke in 1927 or 28. Tom finished in 1945. I, among others, expected that he would apply for, and advance in, what could have been a spectacular career at the Ministry. Instead, he began his quest for power through intimidation, torture and murder."

Anna recapped, saying, "So you know or believe that he made horcruxes out of the diary, Slytherin's locket, his ring and Hufflepuff's cup. Any ideas about others?"

Dumbledore thought for a minute and replied, "It is logical that he may have created them out of opportunity – That said, if he discovered a founder's artifact, he would steal it and pervert it to his purposes. Unfortunately, that is an open-ended equation, leaving us with no clue as to what his final plans were. We can only assume that he hasn't made any additional horcruxes since Harry defeated him in 1981. Indeed, he may have consumed one to get to his current state."

Anna saw Amelia write something down, but didn't want to interrupt the headmaster's train of thought.

Dumbledore adjusted his half moon spectacles and continued. "My other thought is that he created the first one, most likely the diary, and came across the idea of creating additional horcruxes later on. I believe this to be the more likely scenario and believe that he was somehow given guidance regarding a number to use as a goal. As I mentioned, I have been unable to persuade Horace to reveal the details of any conversations that the two of them had. The two numbers that make sense magically, would be two plus one – that being two horcruxes plus his own piece, or six plus one."

Connie interjected, "Given that we already have the diary, you believe that he used a ring and a locket and identified Hufflepuff's cup for another, we seem to be past the two plus one theory."

Anna tried to get back on track before the deposition turned into a chat over tea. She asked, "Professor, do you have any thought regarding where Riddle may have hidden his horcruxes?"

Dumbledore replied, "He apparently gave Lucius his diary for safekeeping and will likely be very angry when he discovers that it was used and destroyed to no better purpose than a futile attempt to discredit Arthur Weasley."

Anna waited for a moment, and he added, "I find it very unlikely that Lucius knew what it was that he was keeping. First, it would have been completely out of character for Tom to disclose so big of a secret to any of his followers. Second, if Lucius had known that Tom's soul was anchored to this plane of existence, he and the remaining followers would have never abandoned their search for their master. As to where he hid the others, I can only speculate that he either hid them in places that held meaning to him, or with his most trusted servants, or both."

Anna glanced at Amelia, who nodded and spoke up. "Thank you, Professor. You have been remarkably candid this morning. In the spirit of co-operation, allow us to be equally candid. Connie and Anna discovered Hufflepuff's cup in Belatrix's Gringotts vault."

"We must obtain it as quickly as possible, " countered Dumbledore, who was obviously shocked and delighted at the discovery.

"That's not possible," Professor, replied Anna, attempting to look innocent. "The entire contents of her vault were destroyed in an accidental fire in early September."

Not certain what to say, Dumbledore asked, "And you are quite certain that it was indeed Hufflepuff's cup and that it contained a fragment of Tom's soul?"

Connie replied, "We're as certain as we can be without expanding the list of people who know how he survived in 1981."

Dumbledore nodded. He knew that it became exponentially more difficult to keep a secret as additional people became aware of it. He asked, "Madam Hammer, you appear to be remarkably informed regarding Horcruxes. My own list of resources on the subject is embarrassingly thin. If I may ask, how did you come across your information?"

Amelia cut in and replied, "Professor, whereas you have unlimited access to the public, restricted and the headmaster's private collections at Hogwarts, Connie, Rufus, myself and the two heads of the Unspeakables have unfettered access to the combined DMLE/Unspeakable library. Whereas Dippet probably gave young Tom Riddle access to the headmaster's collection that he had no business doing, the so called Marr collection is available on an eyes-only basis, meaning that the authority to view the said documents cannot be re-delegated to others."

Dumbledore nodded sadly. Armando should have never provided such dangerous information to Tom. There were only a few volumes that even referenced horcruxes in the restricted section. It didn't make sense that Dippet would have been so free with a fifth year. No school head would…

Clarity hit Dumbledore like a lightning bolt. He called, "Harry, when you return to the castle on Sunday, perhaps you would be willing to lead us on one additional tour of Salazar's Chamber of Secrets."

Connie didn't want Harry going anywhere near that awful place, and doubted that Amelia did either. She wanted to stay on track for a few minutes more and feared that Dumbledore was attempting to call the meeting to a close. She added, "Professor, the Marr collection had three other points of interest regarding multiple horcruxes that we should discuss."

Seeing that she had his undivided attention, she continued, "First is the idea of even fractures, meaning that the first horcrux created would have contained an even half of Riddle's soul. It makes sense that it was the diary, as it contained enough of his essence, both magical and spiritual that re-animation might have been possible."

Seeing him nod, she added, "That said, the ring, locket or the cup, whichever was made next would have contained a fourth, eighth and a sixteenth of his soul respectively. Thus if he made two or three others, they would have contained smaller and smaller fractions respectively."

Dumbledore nodded considering her words. Logically it wouldn't be possible to specify in advance that he wanted to chip off a seventh at a time like some sort of stonecutter.

Hammer continued, "Last, but not least, was the anchoring concept. It stated that if a wizard was killed after having lost ninety-percent of his anchor, he would die just like anyone else. As such, there was no practical benefit of creating a fifth, sixth or seventh horcrux, since they wouldn't provide a sufficient anchor if the first ones were already destroyed. That said, Slughorn might have suggested to Riddle that creating six or a dozen horcruxes would be the best number, but he would have been wrong and they weren't all created equally. He may have only lost two of six so far, but we aren't talking about seven equal slices of a cherry pie, and two of the four critical pieces have been destroyed. Professor, if Riddle was your equal before 1981 and you are ten times the typical wizard in terms of either raw power, or stamina, he's been cut in half and probably more in the last few years."

Scrimgeour added, "So the critical task would be to find his ring and the locket, or whatever was the fourth horcrux before he regains his body."

Connie nodded and replied, "In so many words, that's right."

Anna conjured a long strip of paper, some ten feet long by two wide. "This represents Riddle's soul and magical stamina in 1980 when he began looking for the Potters." She folded the sheet in half and carefully tore it along the edge. She tossed one of the halves into the fire, saying, "This represents Riddle's soul and magical stamina after Harry destroyed the first horcrux. Granted, a lot of it is gone, but even so, Harry would have a hard time filling this paper up for one of Snape's homework assignments."

Dumbledore was about to admonish her lack of respect for Severus, but Amelia gave him a withering look that McGonagall would have been proud of, and he remained quiet.

"If the ring was the second one created, it would look like this." She folded the paper lengthwise, cut it, and tossed one of the halves into the fire. Harry noted that it was now about the size of one of his friend Hermione's essays.

"If the locket was the third one created, it would have stored a piece about this size." She tore the paper in half, leaving a two and a half foot length, about the size of one of his essays. It looked pretty manageable.

"If the cup was the fourth one created, it would only be this large." She held up a sheet, hardly longer than one of Ron's essays.

She concluded, saying, "It really doesn't matter how many others there are. If the first four can be found and destroyed, there isn't enough of his soul remaining to anchor him if he is killed, and he couldn't come back."

Rufus commented, "Regarding stamina, if he could duel nonstop for hours before, even if he succeeds in getting a body back, he still might only be good for a small handful of serious spells before he wears himself out. Most of our aurors can go ten minutes straight before passing out. The point is, the so called prophecy might already have been fulfilled when Harry stuck that broken basilisk fang through the diary."

Dumbledore had a fleeting thought that most generals do not directly engage in battle, but thought better than to bring down the upbeat mood so early in what was likely to be a very long battle. He replied, "Well spoken, both of you. That brings us back to the tournament. Harry, despite Amelia's very valid objections, I believe that the best way to unravel the plot behind entering you in the tournament is for you to play it out. In the meanwhile, Anna, Connie, Amelia, Rufus and I have the responsibility to find and destroy the remaining horcruxes."

Amelia considered his words for a moment and gave Scrimgeour a meaningful look, worthy of Fred or George.

He nodded, and she replied, "If Harry agrees of his own free will, I will allow his participation in your event under two conditions. I intend to level the playing field and keep my son safe. First, Auror Cadet Tonks will be allowed to infiltrate into the school and Rufus is allowed to train Harry on weekends."

Dumbledore thought about her words and stated, "According to the tournament rules, no professor of the champion's school, or the champion's parent or guardian, or any tournament official is allowed to give direction or assistance to any of the champions. That would exclude myself, any Hogwarts teacher, Barty, Percy in his stead, or Ludo from providing direct assistance. If Miss Tonks were to take a temporary position as Poppy's assistant, she would be eligible to assist Harry as needed."

Amelia waited for the slippery old headmaster to finish before she said anything. In this case, she wanted everything her way, or not at all.

He continued, "Regarding coaching from Rufus, I think that would be a splendid idea. Naturally, I will run it by the staff and Barty so there are no claims of wrongdoing."

"No!" commanded Amelia. "The knowledge of the help does not leave this room. I don't give a rat's arse who wins your bloody event. I want Harry alive, whole and healthy at the end of the year. Agreed?"

Dumbledore nodded, still intending to tell a critical few.

Amelia shook hear head and replied, "Your word, Professor, your vow that no one outside this room will learn of any assistance given to Harry. Take it, or leave it."

Dumbledore sighed and replied, "I agree to your terms, Director."

Amelia gave Harry a soul-searching look and admitted, "Harry, its up to you. I would be happier if you just said no, but I respect you enough to give you the final say."

Susan will have my hide, thought Harry as he replied, "I'll do it."

"I'll train him Saturdays from eight until three," suggested Scrimgeour."

Harry gave Amelia a pleading look and she countered, "Seven until eleven. I'll make him a set of timed portkeys – One for each Saturday that he can take from the Hogwarts gates to the apparition point outside the training facility. Harry, no one must know of this. Can you keep it a secret?"

Harry replied, "I'd prefer to tell Susan, so she doesn't get mad at me, and I'll be okay. She nodded. Looking at Rufus, Harry replied, "Thank you, Senior Auror Scrimgeour. I'll do my best to learn your lessons and not mess up too badly."

"And what will Miss Tonks' role be?" asked Dumbledore.

Amelia replied, "For now, simply another pair of eyes to keep watch for strange occurrences and a pair of hands to react in case anything comes up. Since she has no real duties to perform, she may end up learning a fair amount of useful healing skills, and in that position, she would be free to quietly leave the castle on a short-term basis without raising suspicion. She can simply pose as a healer-trainee looking for some practical experience and not raise any suspicion. She can disguise herself enough so that none of your staff recognizes her. She could be on an exchange from Australia to get out of the issue of none of the staff recognizing her name as a former student. She'll do fine. Do we need another oath, Professor?"

The old headmaster realized that he had received as good of a bargain as he was going to get and replied, "Agreed." He took a look at his twelve moon watch and added, "I must be going. Harry, if you and the others could be outside Myrtle's bathroom at 8AM tomorrow, we can conclude our search. Until then, I will take my leave." With that he tossed a bit of floo powder into the fireplace and went to his next destination.

oc - OC - oc

As the old scribe walked into McGonagall's office, she was ready to admonish him for being late. It had been over a month since he had delivered his last report. She had no sense of humor regarding the unkind remark that he'd made in his report. As the words were forming on her lips, she gave a startled scream. Crow had tossed a dead rattlesnake on her desk!!!

"Where did you get that hideous creature?" she demanded.

Crow recalled a trip to some bad lands that he and his steel horse had recently made, but said nothing. Instead he placed a parchment on her desk, along with a note that read 30 minutes – 5178251 – Very interesting.

After the old scribe walked off, the thin professor attempted to banish the hideous creature from her desk, but couldn't, as one of the fangs was embedded into the wood. Not wanting anything to do with the deadly creature, she vowed to herself that Crow would receive a month of detentions the next time that she saw him and summoned Mr. Filch to remove the serpent from her office.

Per previous agreement, she got out her marking quill and loaded it with red ink to review his report.

… --- …

Thanks, Steve.

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