Unofficial Portkey Archive

Harry Potter and the Fifth Element by Bexis

Harry Potter and the Fifth Element



This is a story I've been working on for quite some time (several years) in another forum. Some of you may even be familiar with it. It was begun well before HBP, but I am updating it to conform to as many of the developments of HBP as I can stomach. I will be gradually uploading the existing chapters and then continuing on.

Some of you will undoubtedly find this story slow moving and boring. To each his or her own. It is H/Hr, although it goes through many twists and turns before it gets to that point.

The chapters in this story tend to be on the long (10,000+ words). My policy is to retain a 12-chapter cushion between the last published chapter and where I am writing new material, so there will always be a lot more written than is posted. There is a fair amount of overlap with the real world, and for the most part I research things to make sure that they are accurate.

This story is written primarily for my own daughter, and as long as she wants me to do it, I'll keep writing it.

Disclaimer: I neither own nor claim any other rights in the characters and other concepts created by J.K. Rowling. I make no money, nor do I seek any commercial advantage from this work. As such it constitutes "fair use" as defined in 17 U.S.C. §107.

Chapter 1 - Council Of War

Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorcerer, Chief Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confederation of Wizards, Chief Warlock Wizengamot) was viewed by many in the wizarding world as the greatest wizard of his time. He was known to be the only wizard whom Lord Voldemort, the most powerful Dark wizard of the last century, actually feared.

At the moment, however, Headmaster Dumbledore was feeling neither very great nor particularly feared. Rather, he was feeling frustrated, inept and outmanœuvred as he conversed in hushed tones with one of his most trusted operatives, the werewolf Remus Lupin. They had both just arrived, somewhat ahead of schedule, for the first meeting of the Order of the Phoenix to be called after the end of the Hogwarts term. Indeed, the students had departed on the Hogwarts Express only that morning.

"Are you sure Remus, both accounts?" asked Headmaster Dumbledore, his brow furrowing with regret.

"Yes, absolutely positive. The Riddle and the Malfoy accounts - all of them - were emptied yesterday … the last of the lot only thirty minutes before Gringotts received the Ministry's sequestration and seizure notice. I've had confirmation of this information from the usual Order sources, both within Gringotts and in the Ministry," recounted Lupin in a growling undertone, his yellowish eyes flashing faintly red, slightly betraying wolfish anger.

"It is a true shame we couldn't move fast enough, after recent events," Dumbledore commiserated, his expression becoming increasingly careworn.

"Stop being so bloody noble. We moved plenty fast. The blame lies squarely with those bespectacled twits in the Department of Wizland Revenue - Fudge's drones. Fast in the Ministry is timed with a calendar. They just couldn't move quickly enough or secretly enough to avoid tipping off Voldemort's spies. Or worse, they might well have been spies themselves," muttered Lupin with a heavy sigh.

He sank back into one of the numerous softbacked swivel chairs arranged along the large semicircular table facing Headmaster Dumbledore. Angrily, Lupin wadded up and heaved a piece of parchment at the bin along the wall. He missed badly, but the bin dutifully waddled after the stray projectile and gobbled it up.

"That is enough for now, Remus, I shall hear the whole story soon enough when you give your report to the assembled Order. I trust you had no difficulty locating our new meeting place," said Dumbledore as he unwrapped another lemon drop. "Care for one?"

Dumbledore offered a plate of the sweets to the scowling Lupin, but he was not tempted and waved them off with a frustrated gesture.

"No problems finding the place," Lupin affirmed a bit less angrily, "but I had a nasty run in with Peeves. Seems he coated the main staircase to the seventh floor with several centimetres of Stinksap. There wasn't any good way around it, so I had to slog through the Weasley memorial bog and come up via the back postern. But besides that diversion, it was just as in your instructions, `seventh floor opposite the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy being clubbed by trolls in tutus.' I forgot how many times you said I had to walk back and forth, but it was no bother. I concentrated on having this meeting and after a bit of woolgathering, there was the door…. Never noticed it before."

"Excellent," congratulated the Headmaster, but his smile did not reach his eyes.

"Because of Peeves, don't count on everyone being on time, though." Lupin paused, "if I may Albus, what is this place and why are we meeting here rather than at Grimmauld Place?"

"The answer to your second question will have to await the meeting," Dumbledore remarked as he reached for an ornate container the size of a snuffbox on the left-hand side of the podium on his desk. As for your first question, this place is known as the Room of Requirement, and at this time the Order is sorely in need of a new meeting place. This room takes on the form of whatever the person entering needs most at the time."

Dumbledore lazily tossed a handful of the powder into the nearby fireplace, which held a substantial blaze despite it being the middle of June.

"Argus Filch," Dumbledore called. A few seconds later there was some scraping and the grizzled head of the Hogwarts caretaker gingerly appeared in the fireplace, looking distinctly uncomfortable. "It seems that Peeves has decided to redecorate the seventh floor staircase with Stinksap," instructed Dumbledore, "I have an extremely important meeting here very shortly, and I need you to restore the stairway to a pristine condition as quickly as possible." Filch nodded and quickly left, grumbling something about poltergeists and red-hot pokers.

Lupin considered the scene he had just witnessed and pursed his lips. "I thought Filch was non-magical," remarked Lupin matter-of-factly. "I didn't know that it was possible to summon Squibs through the fireplace like that."

"Anything is possible. Squibs can be summoned, they just cannot use the floo network to summon others," replied Dumbledore knowingly.

"Really," said Lupin, tilting his head slightly. "I learn something new every time I talk to you, Albus."

"Actually," smiled Dumbledore enigmatically, "I never attempted to summon a Squib by floo before. I had no idea whether that was going to work. But the store of knowledge is increased only by trying new things. Or then, again, perhaps it was just the Room…."

"This room is indeed remarkable, though," continued Remus. "I never knew this place existed when I taught here, and I don't think that the rest of the staff did either," continued Remus.

"Hogwarts Castle hides many secrets, Remus," reminded Dumbledore as he made for his desk. "I have been here more decades than I want to think about, and I had only encountered this room once before this year. Until recently I thought it was simply an exceptionally well-concealed loo. Credit for discovering the true nature of this room goes to our staff of house-elves. Dobby revealed the Room of Requirement to Mister Potter last Term when he was looking for clandestine training facilities for the group he so provocatively named `Dumbledore's Army.'"

Dumbledore chuckled, but their conversation was interrupted as the door flew open and the one-legged Mad-Eye Moody stumped into the room, wand drawn and his magical blue eye whizzing about unpredictably in its socket. "Merlin's beard, Albus, what is this place?" exclaimed Moody. "I won't want to be going back to that dump in London after seeing this."

"So you approve, Alastor," rejoined Dumbledore. "You never really liked the `Grim Old Place' very much anyway, as I recall."

"Can't say that I did," growled Moody. "I never thought that security was up to snuff. There were all those portraits of Dark wizards to overhear us, that maniac house-elf, and the meeting room was too close to the living quarters of non-members of the Order - especially those untrustworthy Weasley twins with their Extendable Ears and who knows what else up their sleeves."

"I have taken care that last problem," remarked Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling for the first time in the conversation.

Moody's smile distorted his already hideously scarred face. "Good riddance…."

"I have offered them full membership of the Order," announced Dumbledore.

"Merlin help us all," Moody replied, his mouth more agape than usual. His face bore a look of stunned disbelief.

Lupin moved to calm the situation. "Well, the next time you see Harry, you can thank him for where we are now. He was the one who discovered this place," Lupin cut across, seeking a distraction. Providentially, the distraction came from behind.

The door opened again and members of the Order who also served on the Hogwarts staff entered: Minerva McGonagall, Deputy Hogwarts Headmistress and long-time Professor of Transfiguration; Rubeus Hagrid, who taught Care of Magical Creatures as well as serving as the Hogwarts groundskeeper; and the dark-haired and sallow-faced Potions Master, Severus Snape. Hagrid, a half-giant, sat down and was pleased to find that his chair expanded to fit his massive girth, three times that of an ordinary man. Even though magically fortified, however, the chair groaned in complaint.

"Well, well, Headmaster, it didn't take you long to take over Potter's little hideaway, did it?" commented Snape, half amused and half disgusted at the thought of the Order following in the footsteps of his least-favorite pupil. "Please excuse me for a moment while I decontaminate my shoes. The next time I encounter Peeves, he'll wish he'd never heard of Stinksap."

The room started to fill up as more members of the Order arrived, many of them sharing Professor Shape's opinion of Hogwarts' resident poltergeist. From the Ministry of Magic came the odd couple - two (off-duty at the moment) Aurors. In strode the stolid, Jamaican-born senior Auror, Kingsley Shackebolt, his well-tailored cloth-of-gold robes and a single gold earring accentuating his distinctive deep brown and totally bald scalp. He was accompanied by (don't call me Nymphadora) Tonks, a much younger Auror whose unadorned black robes were overwhelmed by her many and varied hairdos, currently a lime-green Mohawk.

Close behind the two ministry Dark wizard catchers, came three flame-haired wizards, plainly related to one another. Arthur and Molly Weasley had remained firmly behind Dumbledore even though Arthur's prospects at the Ministry suffered greatly for his loyalty during the many months of the Minister's self-denial - a denial that had abruptly come to an end the week before. Some things were just more important than careers. They had been members of the Order since finding out that Voldemort had nearly killed their daughter Ginny more than three years ago.

Among her many other responsibilities as resident mother hen of the Order, Molly Weasley had supervised the gargantuan, and now unnecessary, task of restoring the Order's formerly secret headquarters at 12 Grimmauld Place to some semblance of habitability. The Weasleys' eldest son, Bill, had only recently left his dream job at Gringotts - curse breaking in a variety of exotic overseas locales - for a desk job at the wizarding bank's head office. He was now fully available to assist the Order, and (not incidentally) to pursue the love of his life, the stunning French witch Fleur Delacour.

Although not directly relevant to tonight's agenda, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley shouldered another important responsibility that was never far from the minds of the members of the Order. The youngest of their six sons, Ron, was Harry Potter's oldest and in many ways best friend at Hogwarts. Although it was not yet public knowledge, Ron and his sister Ginny were two of the five students who had accompanied Harry on the recent midnight trip to the Department of Mysteries.

That seemingly foolhardy escapade had not ended in richly deserved disaster. Instead, it had brought about the capture of eleven of Lord Voldemort's best Death Eaters and had prompted Voldemort himself to come to the Ministry of Magic. After his appearance at the heart of wizard government, the Dark Lord's return could no longer be denied or concealed. Thus the chain of events that six Hogwarts students had instigated changed the course of wizard history.

Other members of the Order quickly filed in:

Elphias Doge stalked in, uncomfortable as usual. He had retired several years previous after a long stint as editor of the Daily Prophet, the newspaper with the largest circulation in the wizarding community of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, his successor, Barnabas Cuffe, was more interested in knowing "who" rather than "what, where, why, when, and how." As a consequence, the Prophet now also followed the most malleable editorial policy of any wizarding periodical. This had vexed the Order no end for some two years, but once again, change was in the offing.

Doge was unsuccessfully trying not to listen to Dedalus Diggle, an eccentric gentleman farmer from Kent, prattle on about irrelevant matters such as baling hay and converting bulls to steers. Diggle had been friendly with Albus Dumbledore for years, and he viewed the change in venue from Grimmauld Place to Hogwarts with glee. He could now combine meetings of the Order with his business dealings. Diggle supplied Hogwarts with a variety of agricultural products, including enough cattle and pig carcasses to feed the Castle's more than one hundred thestrals.

Close behind was Mrs. Emmeline Vance, an upstanding widow with a lengthy pure-blood lineage. The only "society page" Slytherin in the Order, she had been 100% anti-Voldemort for more than a quarter century. Her defining moment had been the Dark Lord's killing of her brother Archibald and torturing her sister-in-law Gretel with the Cruciatus Curse until Gretel had committed suicide by jumping off Blackfriars Bridge into the freezing Thames.

A number of other witches and wizards filed in and took their seats, including the Weasley Twins - Fred and George. They had each collected a large jar of Stinksap for use in creating some new, nefarious novelty to sell in their new and quite successful joke shop, Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.

As usual, the last to arrive was a shifty, ginger-haired man who practically stumbled into the room. He looked more disheveled than usual and thoroughly disconcerted. "Bloody 'Ell," he grumbled to nobody in particular, "'Ogwarts has plenty o' cutlery. Ya wouldn' think that that confounded 'ouse-elf woulda been so `tached t' a few pieces…."

The rest were giving him quite a wide berth as he wandered about the room.

"Just a `cause I 'elped meself t' `em wasn' any reason t' use that spinnin' spell on me."

He flopped into the large chair at the head of the table - where Dumbledore was supposed to sit. The chair shuddered, as if it were being violated in some fashion.

"'E … I think it was a 'e anyway … coulda just asked fer their return. But no, 'e 'ad to whirl me `round so fast that the knives `n forks jess a flew outta me pockets - `long with everythink else that was in `em. Crickey, I coulda `ad classified stuff in there."

Several other Order members rose to escort Mundungus Fletcher to his seat so the meeting could commence.

"I never did get everythink back. As I was leavin', I coulda sworn that those thievin' suits o' armour `ad nicked me cigars an' was smokin' `em."

"Move along, Dung," Mad-Eye Moody muttered to the wayward wizard. "The only way yeh'd come across confidential information would be if it were stolen…." Mad-Eye applied a firm grip to Fletcher's shoulder. As a long-time Auror, he thought the spell, if that were what it was (he wasn't familiar with elfin magic), had been quite an appropriate response to Fletcher's transgression.

Mundungus waved to the assemblage. "Sorry I'm late, but twas five full minutes after that afore I could even stand up. Then I was sick all over me shoes, and `ad t' clean meself up an' all…."

"That will be enough, Mundungus," sighed Dumbledore.

"Since when do ya `llow yer 'ouse-elves t' `ttack wizards, 'Eadmaster?" finished the disheveled wizard.

"Well Mundungus," retorted Dumbledore, you will find that at Hogwarts we have a number of free house-elves. One benefit of their freedom is that they are willing, and able, to defend Hogwarts and its contents against anyone perceived to be a threat - including anyone of a mind to make off with the silver."

"Well, maybe we should go back t' Grimmauld," Fletcher retorted, still looking thoroughly disgruntled.

"I have been meaning to talk to you about that as well," Dumbledore mentioned knowingly. "I am not sure that leaving you in charge of the house after we moved out was a wise choice."

"Are ya 'cusing me o' suffink?" Fletcher responded hotly. Catching himself unsteadily, a culpable look came into his eye, and he added, "Wait a minute … Don' answer that."

"Honestly, Mundungus, what am I to do with you?" Dumbledore shook his head knowingly.

"Do'n know guv'ner," Mundungus replied. "I suppose I could go 'ome t' Coventry an' let ya stew in yer own juices." It was a meaningless threat, and both of them knew it. Home had such pleasant memories for Mundungus Fletcher.

All the chairs in the room were full now, each one magically adjusting itself to the preferences of its occupant. Dumbledore's, for example, became a squashy purple armchair, whilst Hagrid's chair, despairing of supporting his weight in its current form, spontaneously Transfigured itself into a stout wooden bench.

Arthur Weasley sat in something resembling a Muggle recliner, except that it had a confusing array of buttons, switches and other control devices set in each of the armrests. He played with them idly, until the discomfited chair let out a screeching noise and turfed its occupant properly.

"Arthur, stop playing Captain Kook - or whatever that Muggle's name was," his wife chided him.

Mr. Weasley was just scrambling back into his seat when it was time to begin. Dumbledore tapped his wand on the side of his chair. Green sparks flew out of the end. With a wave of his other hand, the lights in the room dimmed briefly. He stood up to speak.

"Let us begin," he began, "with a moment of silence for one who is no longer among us. Sirius Black died as he lived, battling the forces of evil with courage and determination. He knew the risks and he not only accepted them, he embraced them. Even though he could have been sent back to Azkaban - or worse - by any Auror at the Ministry, when Sirius learned that Death Eaters had lured Mister Potter away and had invaded the Ministry itself, he refused the easy path when his godson's life was in danger. He was a true warrior, and he will be truly missed."

"Hear, hear," murmured everyone in the sound of Dumbledore's voice. Only Professor Snape, who had detested Sirius throughout his life, remained pointedly silent. Never betraying what he thought, Snape wore an inscrutable look on his face that the others all recognised. The look persisted as the room fell absolutely silent.

After a minute or so had passed, Dumbledore cleared his throat and recommenced speaking. "We have a rather full agenda for this evening, so we should get under way. The first order of business is a message from the Minister of Magic, which I received this morning." With that Dumbledore flicked his wand and a small canister resembling a medicine bottle appeared in the space at the center of the semicircular table.

"Arthur, will you do the honors?" the Headmaster asked.

Mr. Weasley turned a lever on his chair, which dimmed the lamps further. "I received this by special owl this morning from Minister Fudge, with a note that I so inform the Order. That surprised me, but with what happened, I suppose it shouldn't have been that much of a shock. Without further ado…."

Pointing his wand at the bottle, he intoned, "Apparicio verbatim."

With a soft popping noise, the stopper jumped out, executed a smart pirouette, and landed upside-down on the table. A translucent, slightly glowing, cloud of smoke emerged, which quickly resolved itself into the image of Cornelius Fudge, the stout, florid faced Minister of Magic. The image seemed ill at ease, tugging at his fancy ceremonial robes and shuffling his feet perceptibly, before the spectral Fudge cocked his head slightly to one side and began reading from what was obviously a prepared text, although the parchment itself was not visible.

Assembled members of the Order of the Phoenix, I am delighted to be able to address you. I would have liked to appear in person, but after discussing the matter with Headmaster Dumbledore, we thought it best … for security reasons … that I convey my greetings in this fashion….

"Righ'," murmured Hagrid to Professor McGonagall, who was seated to his left, staring down her spectacles at the ghostly figure of Fudge, her lips very thin. "Scared, more like it. Afraid o' the reception 'e'd get, after imposing tha' bloody Umbridge on us th' past year. I'd be chuffed ta get shot o' `em both."

"Hagrid, language," whispered McGonagall, an expression of mock disgust on her face. "I daresay that Peeves could have prepared a proper welcome for the Minister…. With something considerably worse than Stinksap…."

"Ahem." Dumbledore cleared his throat softly, and they fell silent.

…I assure you that I, and the Ministry, have seen the error of our ways. I have placed the entire Auror corps on war footing, and I am placing myself, as well as the entire resources of the Ministry, at the disposal of Headmaster Dumbledore. We are all in this together now, and just as I.… Just as I was so stubbornly wrong this past year, you will see that I will be even more stubbornly right from this day forward.

I have ordered a full, albeit confidential, inquiry into the events of the night of June 11-12. To ensure the impartiality and thoroughness of that inquiry, I have asked that it be conducted by retired members of the Auror Corps, and I am pleased to announce that Alastor Moody has agreed to head the board of inquiry.

I have rescinded all of the educational decrees concerning the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry that were passed over the past year. I have asked Headmaster Dumbledore to draft the language of a wizarding statute to ensure that the academic freedom of this institution that we all prize above all others is never again compromised.

I have forthwith removed the Dementors from their position as the sole guards at Azkaban. Unfortunately, most of them have already left to join He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Those few who professed loyalty to our cause are now being supplemented in their work with members of the Auror Corps. I still hope that their … er … unique talents will be useful. By the Ministry's best estimates, however, He Who Must Not Be Named now has the services of approximately 500 Dementors. I have therefore authorised the emergency training of the wizarding population as a whole in the performance of the Patronus Charm. Instructions are being sent by mail and posted prominently….

"Pshaw…. A sticky plaster for a cancer," Lupin grumped. "You can't teach the Patronus Charm by Kwikspell mail order."

…As a temporary measure, members of the Auror Corps, assisted by a goodly number of security trolls, are guarding the remaining prisoners in Azkaban. In addition, Azkaban is in lockdown until further notice, and the prisoners are subject to a variety of physical and magical restraints. However, I do not view this as the highest and best use of our Aurors. Whilst nothing is final just yet, I hope to be making alternative, more permanent arrangements in the near future.

I have also authorised a formal opening to the giants, with Headmaster Dumbledore to choose an appropriate emissary or emissaries. Upon emergency consultation with both the Wizarding Council of Great Britain and the Muggle Prime Minister, I am authorising the emissary to offer the creation of several giant reserves. These will be located in the wilder regions of Wales and Scotland, to be inhabited by such giants who agree to enter into an alliance with us. I have also countermanded the Werewolf Registration and Identification Act of 1994, and I am considering additional steps to give werewolves incentives to join our side, rather than flock to He Who Must Not Be Named, as they did during the last war. I will be having further discussions with Headmaster Dumbledore and others regarding terms that might be offered to other races of magical creatures with near-human intelligence.

In the present crisis, cooperation with foreign wizards is essential, so I have decided to appoint Arthur Weasley to fill the vacant post of head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation. I am investing him with extensive powers to negotiate alliances with other wizarding communities around the world. I desire additional initiatives towards the international wizarding community, and I have therefore asked both the Department of Magical Games and Sports, and through Headmaster Dumbledore, the Hogwarts School, to conceive and carry out such initiatives after presenting them for my approval.

I regret the … er … adverse publicity … suffered over the past year by Headmaster Dumbledore and various others perceived to be allied with him. I assure you that not only will that cease, but that positive steps will be taken - both inside the Ministry and without - to erase and reverse such an unfortunate series of events.

Finally, I have authorised the reopening of the case of Sirius Black.

It is my sincerest hope that we can now close the book on the disputes of the recent past and advance together, under my leadership and that of Headmaster Dumbledore, in our shared fight against the forces of evil that now shadow our land. Thank you, and good evening.

With that, the ghostly Fudge dissolved back into smoke and the smoke reentered the bottle, making a soft sucking sound. A flick of Dumbledore's wand caused the stopper to fly back into the bottle and the bottle to fly directly into Dumbledore's outstretched hand. "This," Dumbledore chuckled, "is going straight to Madame Pince. I want it preserved for posterity in the Hogwarts library. Eventually, this could be as important as the Wizarding Equality Treaty of 1836 or the Anglo-French Magical Concordat of 1939."

For a surprisingly long moment, none of the other members of the Order said a word. They stared at Dumbledore. They stared at each other. Their jaws had dropped, and their eyes had the slightly glazed look of people struggling whether to believe what they had just seen.

Finally, Professor McGonagall spoke, and she gave voice to the sentiments of the others. "Well Albus, that was certainly some about turn. I doubt that even Viktor Krum could execute a 180° reversal of course as quickly. Would you care to enlighten us as to how it came about? Surely there was more to it than just your persuasive powers."

"Yes, I shall, Minerva," said the Headmaster, his eyes twinkling with delight and just a little naughtiness as he considered what he was going to say. "The first report of the evening will be mine, concerning the state of relations between the Order and the Ministry. But first, I would like to offer my congratulations to Arthur. This promotion is as much delayed as it is deserved. I am thoroughly delighted, and I am sure that you will acquit yourself admirably in this important position."

Dumbledore then made a circular motion with his wand, and thin crystal goblets containing a pale liquid appeared in front of everyone. "A toast, to Arthur Weasley and to international cooperation in the fight against Voldemort - and three cheers!"

"Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!" The assembled Order cheered for Mr. Weasley, who grinned in a thoroughly embarrassed fashion. Molly Weasley kissed him squarely on the lips, and he turned, if possible, even more pink in the face than he had been before.

"Château Blackwalls," remarked Dumbledore in passing. "The finest wizard champagne in all Britain - although my friends at Beauxbatons would doubtless tell me that, not only is the very word misused, but such praise is akin to being known as the most sane member of the American opposition. Drink up, because it has been charmed so that the effects wear off in five minutes."

Frivolity reigned for that brief period.

"Rubeus, please put Arthur down…. Back to business," Dumbledore announced a few minutes later. The celebratory atmosphere was immediately replaced by rapt attention. "After the events of a week ago, with only the minimum decent interval to allow for the disposition of prisoners and physical repairs to the Ministry offices, I began a series of secret meetings with Cornelius and senior members of the Ministry. He is not an evil wizard at heart, just overly attached to his post and to the maintenance of a `peace and prosperity' status quo that he errantly believed was the most effective platform for his remaining in office."

"His love for the office he holds was the key. I told him in no uncertain terms that his denial of what he had seen with his own eyes must cease at once, or I would publicly demand a vote of no confidence. I made clear that I did not wish to do this, because I viewed this as a time for unity, not division. But if Cornelius did not publicly announce Voldemort's presence at the Ministry itself, I would. In this regard, I received most timely support from Rufus Scrimgeour, the Chief Auror, who threatened to resign noisily if the announcement were not made posthaste. It seems that over a dozen of his Aurors had personally witnessed at least the conclusion of my little duel with Voldemort, and had seen his return with their own eyes."

"At that point, Cornelius realised that his only hope to retain power was to become a war minister. Otherwise he would go the route of Neville Chamberlain, and he did not desire that. Hence the statement that appeared in last Sunday's Prophet. Since then I have been engaged in daily, sometimes almost hourly, discussions with the Ministry regarding war footing and cooperation between the Ministry and the Order."

"To answer a question that I am sure is on all of your minds, we will not be going back to 12 Grimmauld Place. I believe, and I know that Alastor shares this belief, that the security of that location has been compromised. It was always an issue, given the attitude of most of the prior owners, but when it became clear that the resident house-elf, Kreacher, was in communication with Narcissa Malfoy, I knew it was only a matter of time before that location was subjected to surveillance, or worse, attacked…."

"That blasted elf," Moody exploded. "Sirius was right, we should've been done with it long ago. When this meeting is over, I'm going back there straight away, and I'll personally strangle it, burn its body, and use the ashes for potion ingredients."

Dumbledore seemed impatient. "There is no use, Alastor. Kreacher is dead. He committed suicide Sunday night."

"Good riddance," replied Moody humourlessly. "At least that puts paid ta somethin'. Why'd it wait so long?"

"The house-elf code, Alastor," Dumbledore went on. "Any elf that in any way contributes to the death of his or her master is obligated to commit suicide through self decapitation. I doubt Kreacher had any idea why Narcissa Malfoy asked him to do what he did. When he found out that Mister Potter had gone to the Ministry after speaking to him, and that Sirius had died in the ensuing effort to rescue Mister Potter and his friends, Kreacher promptly performed the elfin spell that separated his own head from his body. He left a note with the request that his head be mounted with those of his ancestors, a request which I have honoured. In a roundabout, but nevertheless unmistakable way, Kreacher became another of Voldemort's victims."

Moody and Hagrid snorted, as Dumbledore went on with his report.

"Moreover, in addition to the security concerns, with Sirius' passing, the ownership of 12 Grimmauld Place has become less than clear, and it is possible that the new owner might not be well disposed towards the Order."

"Albus, how is that? Who is this `new owner'?" asked Mrs. Vance.

"As matters now stand, and this is by no means set in stone, Draco Malfoy," Dumbledore revealed.

There was a collective uptake of breath. This news was neither expected nor welcome to almost everyone in the room. Snape cast the Headmaster an inquisitive, sidelong glance.

"I emphasize that this situation is hardly settled, but to say any more would be trenching on the subject of Tonks' report, so I ask that you simply wait for more details later on tonight."

"Now as I was saying, as a result of 12 Grimmauld Place becoming a poor lookout, I asked the Ministry for the use of an appropriate safe house to serve as the headquarters of the Order. I am pleased to announce that the Ministry has agreed to this request, although we are still conferring about the optimal location for our headquarters. I am looking for something in a much better state of repair, with portraits that are considerably more considerate, and in a more pleasant neighbourhood. I am sure that we shall sort out the details within the next few weeks. In the meantime, until the students return, we shall be meeting here. I hope that is agreeable to everyone."

"Just as long as you remember to keep sending the school carriages to the Apparition point, Albus," remarked Molly Weasley. "With the anti-Apparition wards around Hogwarts, it's quite a slog otherwise, and I'm not getting any younger."

"Do not worry, Molly," assured Dumbledore. "Hagrid is a member, and he will not allow the rest of you to be inconvenienced."

"Now, as for other arrangements with the Ministry. It is agreed that the Order may recruit and induct into our ranks any Auror or other Ministry personnel at our sole discretion, subject only to notification of the appropriate head of department. We have agreed, however, that the Order will henceforth not give any assignment to any Ministry-affiliated member of the Order that affects his or her employment functions without the prior consent of the affected department head. I concur that this restriction is necessary to maintain the internal discipline of the Ministry. Any disputes will be resolved between Cornelius and myself. We shall have the Ministry's full cooperation with respect to any initiatives that the Order wishes to undertake against Voldemort, his Death Eaters, and anyone else allied with him."

"Internal discipline of the Ministry?" commented Moody. "Now that's a bleeding joke. That place is awash in political backstabbing, insubordination, and sucking up. I couldn't take it anymore. That's why I retired."

"Far from it being my place to disagree, Alastor," said Dumbledore. "But certain procedures are necessary for this arrangement to work. Remember, we were at each others' throats not long ago."

"Inquiries and trials. As you heard from Cornelius, there will be a full inquiry regarding the Death Eater incursion into the Department of Mysteries, and Alastor will head that effort. I can assure you that the Death Eaters did not compromise the Department's most confidential work. A full inventory is being conducted of the Hall of Prophecy."

"Others of you may be called upon to assist the Ministry's inquiry, and I encourage you to cooperate to your utmost. Remember, we are all on the same side now. The captured prisoners are being held at Azkaban under special guard, are being interrogated with Veritaserum, and are having their statements taken. Pensieve interrogation is a possibility if we receive any cooperation.

"In the case of escaped prisoners, it was suggested that there be no trial and that they be summarily kissed by Dementors who remain loyal to us. I have vetoed that idea. After what happened to Sirius, I am unalterably opposed to imposing punishment without a trial. So there will be trials occurring during the coming months. Some of you may be asked to testify or to prepare witnesses to testify. As you know, several important witnesses are under age, and thus require special consideration. Trials will employ a new procedure that I am working out with the Wizengamot. We will be using something a bit closer to the Muggle jury concept. However, as I will undoubtedly be a witness, I will not be presiding as Chief Warlock. Amelia Bones will serve as investigating magistrate."

"There will be a number of initiatives towards communities of other sentient magical creatures…."

Dumbledore paused, as there was a tapping and scraping sound at the window. A large great horned owl was seeking entry. "Alohomora." The leaded glass window swung inward at the mullion under the force of the owl. It flew directly to Lupin, upsetting the now empty champagne flute in front of him. The owl bore the distinctive crest of the Ministry of Magic. Frowning, Lupin untied the parchment from the owl's outstretched leg, and flipped it open as the owl departed. Almost at once what little colour there was drained from Lupin's face. He slowly refolded the parchment and slipped it into one of the folders in the expandable file at his feet.

"Anything amiss, Remus?" questioned Dumbledore, his face growing grave.

"Yes, but it can wait for my report."

"Very well. There will be a number of initiatives towards communities of other sentient magical creatures. Rubeus will be detailing a new approach that we will be making to the giants. Bill will be reporting on the status of ongoing negotiations with the goblins. As for me, I am pleased to be able to inform you that I believe we are very close to restoring a modus vivendi with the centaurs. I must thank Hagrid for providing the impetus for this. It seems that after having Hagrid's half-brother Grawp running amok in the Forbidden Forest for a week, the centaurs are more than willing to come to any reasonable agreement that will result in his removal. Under this arrangement, Grawp will be accompanying Hagrid on a new mission to the giants. I have also agreed that we shall not question Firenze about anything having to do with centaur society. In return, they have agreed to defer indefinitely his sentence of death, although Firenze will never be welcome in the Forbidden Forest and must stay clear. I expect to be reentering the forest myself in the next couple of days to sign the usual blood oath with Magorian to this effect."

"I am also pleased to report - particularly to you Remus - that much headway has been made in restoring the civil liberties of the werewolf population, and thus giving them reasons to choose our side instead of Voldemort's. Cornelius mentioned that he had countermanded the Umbridge Act. I am also negotiating regarding the full panoply of lycanthropic grievances: legal disabilities, improved conditions in Ministry full-moon holding cells, broad availability of Wolfsbane potion at subsidised prices, and an all-out wizard medical research programme to find a cure for Acquired Werewolf Syndrome. Some of this AWS research will probably occur here at Hogwarts."

"International initiatives. This will now be Arthur's primary responsibility, and I am sure he will be quite active in this area. I can inform you that Ludo Bagman, head of Magical Sports, has also enthusiastically embraced the idea, so I believe there will be a number of Quidditch-based programs with an international flavour taking place this year. Ludo has already organised an EU-wide international Quidditch camp for under-aged wizards to be held later this summer in Denmark. I have informed him that, with adequate security measures in place, I will be pleased for Hogwarts students to participate, except for Harry Potter. Ludo is also embarking upon a series of international visits to meet with his counterparts around the world, with an eye to arranging such matters. He leaves for the Orient momentarily. I wish him well in these endeavours."

"Finally, I mentioned that Mister Potter will not be participating in the Quidditch camp this summer - despite the fact that he is far and away the best seeker at Hogwarts…."

At this Professor McGonagall flashed a knowing smile. Snape scowled.

Dumbledore continued. "…All of you know that the boy is mentioned in a prophecy concerning Lord Voldemort. However, none of you are aware of precisely what the prophecy states. That is intentional. Please do not ask and do not investigate. This is a matter of paramount importance to the entire wizarding community. Fortunately, the only existing copy of this prophecy outside my control was destroyed during last week's events. Long ago, I made sure that the written notes made at the time of its utterance went missing from the Ministry's files."

"The public version of this prophecy, which we now understand is all that Voldemort knows, has Mister Potter as the only wizard who can bring about Voldemort's downfall. I wish to leave it at that. That is our story, so please stick to it. Going forward, any information about the prophecy will be provided strictly on a need-to-know basis."

"As a result of his part in the prophecy, and his role in last week's events, Mister Potter will be facing a very busy summer. He will be testifying for at least two, and maybe more, Ministry inquiries. In addition there are a number of Aurors and Unspeakables who are very anxious to speak to him about how he was able to gain access to the Ministry - and, I daresay, about his future career choices…."

Professor McGonagall smiled even more broadly.

"…Since he will be a frequent visitor to the Ministry anyway, I have arranged for Mister Potter to have intensive self-defence training under Kingsley's auspices. I anticipate that this training will resemble the Auror's course, but the details are up to Kingsley."

"I myself shall be assuming responsibility for Mister Potter's Occulumency training…." Dumbledore cast a stern glance at Professor Snape. Snape's unreadable expression returned. "…Recent events have only emphasized the critical nature of this effort."

"Despite all of Mister Potter's magical commitments, due to the need to maintain his personal security it will be necessary for him to remain with his Muggle relatives, the Dursleys, as much as possible over the summer. Thus I must regretfully refuse Arthur's and Molly's request that he spend the summer with them. We will be working with Arabella Figg to maintain the usual watch on the Dursley residence while Mister Potter is present."

"This past term, I attempted to deal with the boy's unique status by providing him with as little information as possible. I have now concluded that this policy was a disaster. My belief has been informed by comments that I received during my end-of-term interviews with him and all five other student participants in the events at the Ministry - particularly by the … emphatic … opinions expressed by Miss Hermione Granger. I shall therefore be changing my own course, both this summer and hereafter, and I shall be providing him with all the information he requests, unless it is too highly confidential to be disclosed to anyone. As we speak, I am having a device of Miss Granger's invention prepared for Mister Potter, through which he and I shall be able to communicate remotely, yet securely, on a nearly instantaneous basis. I expect it to be ready momentarily, and one of you will be delivering it."

"That concludes my report. Now, for what I gather is some bad news, I turn the floor over to Remus Lupin." With that Dumbledore said no more and sat back down in his squashy chair.

Lupin stood up and without formality began his report, which concerned Death Eater finances. "As you know, we've tried for years - literally - to get the Ministry to seize several Gringotts accounts associated with Tom Riddle, otherwise known as Lord Voldemort. Our sources tell us that these accounts, the four we knew of, anyway, totaled approximately 30 million Galleons, which at the established exchange rate of £5.25 to the Galleon, works out to slightly more than £150 million in Muggle money. Some, of course, was already in Muggle money."

"Two days ago we finally obtained Ministry approval, and a seizure and sequestration order issued. At the same time we obtained a similar order authorising the seizure of the even more substantial accounts of Lucius Malfoy, who as you know was one of the eleven Death Eaters recently arrested in connexion with the events at the Ministry. There were two affected Malfoy accounts, one in the senior Malfoy's name alone and a trust account for the benefit of his son. These accounts held about 55 million Galleons. A third, smaller, account solely in the name of Narcissa Malfoy was not subject to seizure, because she is not implicated and because the account consisted solely of funds from her dowry."

"Unfortunately, the Death Eaters were more nimble than the ponderous procedures of the Ministry. By the time that the orders were served upon Gringotts, all of these accounts had been emptied. The sequestration yielded a grand total of thirteen Galleons, seven Sickles, and five Knuts, meaning that, with court costs and filing fees, the Ministry lost money on the transactions."

Lupin went on to describe what was known of what he called the "Death Eater flight capital." A solicitor, Hieronymus Sinmore, who had been handling Malfoy legal matters for many years, had in all instances executed the withdrawals. Whether it was actually Sinmore was questionable, since the withdrawals had occurred at five widely separated Gringotts branches, both in Great Britain and on the Continent, within a few hours of each other, and the last had happened only thirty minutes before the Ministry orders were served on Gringotts.

"We suspect Polyjuice potion," Lupin continued. "The goblins swear that all keys and vault access codes were in order. Sadly, in all likelihood, the truth will never be known. The owl I received some minutes ago from the Ministry was an announcement of Mister Sinmore's death. He was executed, by Avada Kedavra, at his Central London offices. As we speak, the Dark Mark hovers in the sky overhead."

There was muttering among members of the Order. Someone asked what the Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee was going to do about the incident.

"At the moment, the Ministry is tearing its hair out trying to devise a response to this attack. The Dark Mark was so placed as to be plainly visible to hundreds of thousands of Muggles. Its appearance was even the lead story on the BBC. Fortunately, Murdoch-controlled media outlets are already blaming Arab terrorists, and in the end the Ministry will probably find it easier to go along with this Muggle-invented cover story than to devise one of its own."

The last portion of Lupin's report addressed where the Death Eater money had gone. The goblins at Gringotts had been more than happy to turn a blind eye to the transactions, and not only because of the 10% conversion fee they charge. Lupin voiced the widely held suspicion that "failure of the sequestration puts pressure on the Ministry side in ongoing negotiations for goblin support in the war."

"The path the Riddle/Malfoy funds took after that was circuitous. They had entered the Muggle banking system through a Luxembourg institution previously known for its role in financing Muggle arms transactions. From there the money had been wired to Bermuda, where it passed through several dummy accounts. It then found its way to the Channel Islands, where it disappeared in a maze of numbered accounts, most of which were believed to be associated with trade in illegal drugs."

"Obviously, this rapid, coordinated movement of Death Eater funds had been plotted out in minute detail long in advance." Lupin reported that Muggle law enforcement contacts, familiar with such transactions, speculated that somewhere along the way the money would be converted to what the Muggles called "bearer paper," anonymous certificates that represented cash to be paid to whomever walked into a bank with it. From there, they were certain that the funds would make their way into one of the financial havens for flight capital - Liechtenstein, Saudi Arabia, mainland China, South Africa or, less likely of late, Switzerland.

As Lupin concluded his generally downbeat report, Headmaster Dumbledore asked, "so that means that Voldemort now has unrestricted access to the equivalent of half a billion Muggle pounds?"

"If he doesn't now, he soon will have," replied Lupin. "This means he can buy whatever and whomever he needs."

"Very well," Dumbledore shrugged dejectedly. "This unfortunate, but not altogether unexpected, turn of events only underscores the urgency of making sure that Voldemort does not get his hands upon still more funds. If he does, the Ministry could well find itself outspent and outgunned. Tonks, may we hear your report."

Tonks, who had been listening raptly to the prior report, rose. As the conclave had progressed, her green mohawk had gradually changed colour and shape, so that it now resembled a bubble-gum pink bun - still thought by some to be wildly out of place for the giving of such a serious report. "The Ministry is going to allow us the opportunity to clear Sirius' name - and I think we'll be able to accomplish this."

There was a spontaneous outburst of applause, joined in by everyone except Professor Snape, whose silence was noteworthy.

"Still miffed 'bout losin' tha' Order o' Merlin two years ago, I'd reckon," whispered Hagrid to Professor McGonagall, who glared at Snape.

"Most importantly, we've located Sirius' wand, which had been stolen from the Ministry evidence room shortly before he was to be tried. The loss of this key evidence allowed Barty Crouch to cancel the proceeding and hand Sirius over to the Dementors without trial. At the time it was thought to be a backfired Death Eater attempt to set Sirius free for lack of evidence. More recently discovered evidence, however, strongly suggests that the theft of Sirius' wand was a ploy to induce Crouch to do exactly what he did."

"Stop holding us in suspense," a growling Moody cut across, "either get on with telling everyone what this `recent evidence' is, or I'm gonna."

"Enough!" spat Tonks, plainly upset that she would not be able to build the suspense any longer. She was still not used to so many people paying her so much attention.

"All right, all right," she continued. Tonks had become somewhat flustered, as she had just overturned a flagon of water on the corner of the podium. The liquid ran down the beveled surface, soaking her notes and dripping onto her shoes. It was not the way she had hoped to start her first essay into public speaking. So Tonks did what she did best - nothing fancy, just the facts.

"Sirius' wand was recovered by Ministry Aurors searching the Malfoy estate in Wiltshire after the Ministry seized it last night," Tonks began. "We believe Lucius Malfoy either carried out, or at least ordered, the theft of Sirius' wand to ensure that it would never be subjected to examination with Priori Incantatem."

"Sirius' wand is distinctive. It has a rare and very powerful core, the heartsting of a Great Gallician redwing. That species of dragon was the most powerfully magical in all Europe, but so dangerous to humans that it was hunted to extinction over three hundred years ago. You can imagine how rare such wand cores must be."

"But after months of searching, the Ministry located a brother wand in Krakow. Unfortunately, those were the days of the Muggle Cold War. It took considerable high level negotiations to bring a wand of that power to the UK. The Ministry thought its discovery was a close-kept secret, but obviously it came to Malfoy's attention. The only real question remaining is whether Malfoy was acting on Voldemort' orders, or of his own accord when he organised the theft."

"Don't be daft, Tonks," blurted Dedalus Diggle, "Malfoy is, and always has been, 100% Deater. Of course he was under orders from Voldemort. Sirius would have exposed Pettigrew had there been a trial."

"I wouldn't be so sure," Kingsley Shacklebolt cut across in his booming bass voice. "Malfoy is, first and foremost, 100% a Malfoy."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Diggle, raising his eyebrows.

"If you'd just let Tonks finish, you'd find out," Shacklebolt shot back.

"If Sirius Black had been acquitted, it could have cost Lucius Malfoy - or more specifically, his son Draco - a great deal of money," smiled Tonks, finally letting the cat out of the bag.

That was unexpected news. Tonks had everyone's undivided attention now - especially Remus Lupin's. "Sirius's father, Orion Black, was a pure-blood bigot, but neither did he tolerate criminals or Death Eaters. He despised Death Eaters for following the half-blooded Tom Riddle, even though he approved of many of Voldemort's ideas. I don't know the details, but Orion had some sort of run in with Riddle at a Hogwarts alumni function shortly after Riddle graduated. Old Orrie never did get rid of that facial tic he received courtesy of Riddle's hex. You could see it in the portraits at 12 Grimmauld Place - if you could stop him from screwing up his face long enough to look."

"He was also very disappointed with how his sons and heirs turned out. Voldemort killed his youngest son, Regulus Black, when Regulus tried to renege after becoming a Death Eater. The precise circumstances remain unclear. His death left Sirius, as the sole direct male heir, and we know how that story turned out. Orrie's oldest niece, Bellatrix, took up with that notorious Death Eater Rodolphus Lestrange. They were both in and out of prison for years, originally on a variety of mostly minor charges - Muggle baiting, blackmail, that sort of thing. The next-born niece, Andromeda Black, is my mother. She was disowned because she married a Muggle-born wizard. I'm the result, because that wizard is my dad."

There was some murmuring in the audience. Not everyone had known Tonks' heritage.

Tonks plowed on. "That left the third and final niece, Narcissa. She married Lucius Malfoy, whom everyone of course knew was a Death Eater. Malfoy compounded Orrie's anger by demanding the then-largest wizard dowry in British history for marrying her. Malfoy got it too, after Narcissa threatened to elope."

"So shortly after Pettigrew put Sirius in the frame, Orion Black gives up on all of that generation as a bad job. Instead, he writes out a new will in a fit of pique, leaving the entire estate of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black to I believe it was.… Want to get this exactly right.…" Tonks fumbled briefly with some parchments before finding what she wanted. "Dessicatus," she whispered, instantly drying the document.

Tonks read slowly and carefully. "`My first male heir who survives to majority without becoming either a criminal or a Death Eater.' Less than two weeks later, Orrie suffers a massive stroke that eventually kills him, so that's the phrase on which the Black inheritance turns."

"The only male heir who fits that description, then and now, is Narcissa's son Draco. We don't believe he's a Death Eater, at least not yet. However, if Sirius is cleared, then the Black estate passes to him and to his heirs - or heir, as is more correctly the case. That heir, with insignificant exceptions, is Harry Potter."

"I know, I witnessed Sirius' will," said Lupin in a low monotone, which earned him a sympathetic look from the prior speaker.

"So to make an unnecessarily long and complex story short," summarised Snape in a calculating sort of way. "If Black is adjudged innocent, the estate goes to Potter. If he's not, it goes to Draco Malfoy." He scowled and groaned slightly, contemplating those options. "What a classic Hobson's Choice. Either all that money goes on a fast track to the Dark Lord, or else it will be devoted to making Potter feel even more insufferably special."

"Life is like that, Severus," Dumbledore spoke in a soothing voice. "Consider it making a virtue of necessity, if you must. The Order's utmost priority is to prevent Voldemort from obtaining still more resources. I can inform the Order that I have once again made arrangements with the Polish owner of the brother wand, who is an old comrade in arms of mine from the struggle against Grindelwald. I should have the brother wand in my possession not later than tomorrow."

"Perhaps there's another alternative," Snape offered. "Maybe we can have those oafs at the Ministry sequester the Black Estate and declare it forfeit. Surely they can outwit a dead man."

Dumbledore stroked his beard, thought a bit, and then spoke. "That isn't an option, Severus. The will's existence is hardly a secret. Indeed, it has been in litigation for more than two years."

"Assuming that we perform Priori Incantatem, and it proves that Sirius did not perform the curse that killed all those Muggles. Then what? What other evidence do we have or need to support Sirius' innocence?" asked Bill Weasley.

"I know that Lily Potter kept a record, in code, of the Secret Keeper arrangements in her diary," said Lupin. "All her remaining papers are at Hogwarts, where they must remain until Harry decides what to do with them after he comes of age next year. I helped prepare the invisible ink using the Ecrita Umbra potion. I am sure that Snape knows a counterpotion that can restore its visibility."

"Elementary," responded Snape flippantly. "There are, in fact, five other invisible ink potions that are less subject to either tampering or reversal than Ecrita Umbra. I'm frankly surprised that Lily Potter, who took a N.E.W.T. in potions with honours, let you handle this rather than do it herself."

Miffed, Lupin shot back, "She had her hands full with little Harry, and she was once again pregn…."

"That's quite enough," interrupted Dumbledore. "This meeting will be long enough without anyone's fond reminisces. Please continue, Tonks."

The speaker looked at Lupin inscrutably before responding to Bill's question. "We have Pensieve evidence that Pettigrew still lives - memories that can neither be forged nor altered. We will be using a secure Ministry Pensieve to acquire memories from Remus, Harry, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, of Pettigrew's reappearance two years ago in the Shrieking Shack."

"That is all well and good," observed Dumbledore, "but Sirius' exculpation is going to stand or fall on the wand evidence, since memories all carry the source's perspective. There are many on the Wizengamot who unfortunately will discount the testimony of a werewolf. The mutual disdain between the Malfoys and the Weasleys is notorious. Finally, the other two are interested parties or possibly so, and she is Muggle-born. However, we also can harvest the memories of the entire Order rescue squad, who saw Sirius in his final combat last week. Even the memories of some of the Death Eaters will corroborate this, if we can obtain them."

"That gives me an excellent idea," commented Shacklebolt. "I wish I had thought of this before. We can interrogate all of the captured Deaters - particularly Lucius Malfoy - under Veritaserum for their views on whether Sirius Black was a Death Eater!"

"Brilliant!" exclaimed Professor McGonagall. "That could well cinch the case."

Dumbledore then commented, "Well, if there is nothing more about Sirius' case, perhaps we could move on to.…"

"Just a couple more things," Molly Weasley broke in. "How much money is at stake here, and does Harry know about this?"

"More money than in the Riddle and Malfoy accounts combined," responded Lupin. "The Blacks are, or I should now say were, one of the richest and most celebrated wizarding houses. Their lineage extends back over a thousand years. There are Blacks in the family trees of all four Hogwarts Founders. Hundreds of years ago, there was even Black blood in British royalty. The Black family profited greatly by being on the winning side in the War of the Roses, so acquiring their great country estate."

"Later, they were heavily involved in the creation of the British merchant marine and in the colonial trade. However, they managed to alienate both sides during the ensuing struggle over Protestantism in England, and as a result largely withdrew from Muggle affairs - not entirely of their own volition. Over the last hundred years, the Blacks have made most of their money in wizard banking and finance. As for what Harry knows…."

At this mention of Harry's name, Dumbledore cut across Lupin, "I have not yet had the occasion to discuss any matters of inheritance with Mister Potter," the Headmaster confessed. "Not the Black fortune and not even the residue of his grandfather's estate, which is due him when he attains majority next year. Since he will have to testify concerning Sirius, just how much he should know, and when, is a delicate balance. I intend to have this conversation with Harry within the month, though, since it is time that he knows."

"Now Kingsley, if you please, what can you tell us about cooperation with the Auror Corps?"

Kingsley Shacklebolt stood and reported that, with one or two exceptions, the 375-wizard Auror Corps was ready, willing, and able to join the fight against Voldemort.

"Indeed," he recounted, "just the other day Ivor Dawlish, whom I had assumed was Fudge's man in the Corps, showed me a most remarkable file. Surprisingly, he was helping us in his own way. The file contained all sorts of tips and other information concerning suspected Order activity within the Auror Corps."

Even Dumbledore was surprised by this news, and looked it. Seeing the Headmaster's incredulous look, Shacklebolt stopped. "Go on," bade the old man. "I find this quite fascinating. Apparently Fudge never knew the true colours of one of his most trusted associates."

"Ivor told me that during what he called Fudge's `reign of error,' he kept the entire dossier hidden under a stack of interagency reports about cauldron bottoms. Nobody would ever think to look for anything there, amongst so much doss. Thus nothing was ever acted upon, including several tips concerning myself."

There were some nervous laughs. Apparently their adversaries had known, or suspected, more than the Order thought.

Shacklebolt's report also revealed that Auror recruitment was to be stepped up, and funding increased. The Order was now free to make use of the Aurors' supplies of specialised combat gear. Finally, Kingsley himself had volunteered to supervise Harry Potter's intensive training over the summer months. This training would consist of the usual Auror's course, minus purely occupational matters such as law enforcement, arrest procedure, evidence gathering, and the like.

Alone among those in the room, Dumbledore knew the truth. Harry was fated to destroy Voldemort, not bring him to justice. The Headmaster had helped organise the curriculum for the upcoming training.

There followed reports on progress in negotiations with other sentient magical creatures. Hagrid chuckled as he explained how close a call the Order's recent dealings with the centaurs had been.

"Twas like somebody already said, makin' a virtue o' necessity," he admitted. "One week o' Grawpy runnin' loose was drivin' everything in the Forest `round the twist. Ol' Aragog, 'e told me that iffn I didn' do somethin' righ' away, 'e was going to lead `is entire brood strai' up ta 'Ogwarts Castle an' demand refugee status. Iffn the centaurs `adn't o' cracked when they did, I don' know wha' woulda 'appened."

Hagrid also recounted how he and Madame Maxime of Beauxbatons would be making another trip to the giants to present the Ministry's new proposal. Grawp, who had learned the basics of English, would serve as a translator. Dumbledore had performed a difficult charm to duplicate some of his Pensieve memories of the recent events at the Ministry. This allowed Hagrid to take a visual record of Dumbledore's recent duel with Voldemort to prove to the giant Gurg - whoever it might be by the time he got there - that Dumbledore remained the stronger wizard.

Most giants were illiterate, and they understood brute force better than anything else. Hagrid thought that seeing would be believing - that the giants would be impressed with the way that Dumbledore forced Voldemort to Disapparate from the Ministry.

Bill Weasley explained the status of negotiations with the goblins.

"Well, these talks have reached a tricky and delicate phase. Remus said earlier that he thought goblin annoyance with the Ministry's posture probably played a significant role in the successful disappearance of the Riddle and Malfoy funds. I agree. The goblins play for keeps - always. In such ways they demonstrate the value of an alliance."

"As you undoubtedly know, the Ministry had flatly refused the goblins' demand for complete legal equality with wizards. The goblin Impatok … er, king … Ragnok, remains interested in a deal, if for no other reason than he has Gringotts to worry about. Goblin control there is subject to a 75% vote of the wizard shares controlling the bank. Such a vote would turn them out."

"But there's a carrot as well as a stick…. The Ministry is dangling a very lucrative contract under which goblins would replace Dementors as the primary prison guards at Azkaban. Such an arrangement would provide employment, at good wages, for hundreds of goblins."

"Our peerless leader has had further sweetened the pot. Dumbledore has offered, in the event of a victory over Voldemort, to use all of the political capital that such a victory would create to press the cause of equality between goblins and wizards."

Everyone looked at the Headmaster, who smiled enigmatically.

"In conclusion, I believe that both sides desire an alliance and that the outline of a deal is in place. I expect there will be further news to report in a matter of a few weeks."

Arthur Weasley chimed in. "There's another favorable sign that Bill didn't mention. One of the seemingly intractable irritants in wizard/goblin relations has unexpectedly disappeared. My colleague Ludo Bagman finally made good on the longstanding gambling debts he owed to the goblins. Some of these debts date back years, to the 1994 Quidditch World Cup as well as the recent Triwizard Tournament. Bagman's high position in the Ministry has been a symbol to the goblins that wizards could not be trusted. To everyone's relief, that symbol is no more."

Minerva McGonagall reported - with what passed for glee, given her reserved demeanor - on the fate of Dolores Umbridge.

"All the Ministry educational decrees of the past Term been rescinded. More than that, I am intent upon undoing every action that that horrible woman ever took whilst at Hogwarts. I'm quite pleased to report that I'm well on my way to that goal."

There was even deeper satisfaction in her voice when she revealed, "Moreover, there is an increasing possibility that Umbridge herself will be the target of a Ministry inquiry. It seems that, in packing up Umbridge's office after her hasty departure, one of our house-elves came across a very unusual quill…."

Finally, Mundungus Fletcher was asked if he had anything to report. "The word on th' street," he wheezed, "is tha' th' Dark Lord's goin' t' be payin' major moola - bu' t'ain't nobody seen none o' it yet. I's quiet ri' now, almos' too quiet. Th' Dark Lord's lickin' some wounds ri' abou' now. No way 'e 'spected t' lose all those Deaters t' a few students in th' Ministry. I's all out `n th' open now, an' tha' calls fer a change in `is plans."

* * * *

As the meeting was breaking up, Arthur Weasley asked for a word with the Headmaster. "Albus," he half whispered, "about the Quidditch summer camp. Ludo told me this morning that if Ron wanted the Keeper's spot, he could arrange it. Ron positively has Quidditch on his brain right now. He finally overcame his fear of playing in front of people in the last match of the year, and did splendidly."

"I know. I was there," Dumbledore responded. "He kept the Cup where it belonged."

"I haven't told anyone about the offer yet, except Molly," Arthur continued, obviously wanting something. "I'd really like him to go. I love Harry like a son, but he almost suffocates Ron at times. Ron needs to achieve something on his own, and I'm hoping this is it. I think that, not only was Ron was stellar during that last match, but he can only get better with more experience. What do you think?"

"I had hoped," said Dumbledore cautiously, "that your son would be available to participate in Mister Potter's training over the summer. If I know Mister Potter, he would want to share that experience with his two closest friends. But you are correct, your son does need to shine on his own. That is the real reason, Arthur, is it not? You and Molly are not upset, are you, about the danger that seems to follow Mister Potter, and all too often involves his friends?"

"It scares me to death," interjected Molly, "but I couldn't bear to separate Ron and Harry. They need each other, and Hermione and Ginny too. Together, they are so much more than they would be apart. But I do want Ron to go to camp this summer. It will be so much more exciting for him than just sitting around waiting for something to happen, like last summer. He's had his share of disappointments."

"Very well," decided Dumbledore. "Send him to Quidditch camp with my blessing."

The Weasleys followed the others out of the door, headed for a school carriage, a quick Apparition, and a proper reunion with Ron at the Burrow, their now considerably less ramshackle home. The Headmaster and his deputy were the last to leave the Room of Requirement. As they did, the Headmaster spoke, "Minerva, you will be contacting the students whom Dolores disciplined last year won't you?"

"Of course, Albus," she conformed. "Nobody, least of all her, will get away with sacking you and inspecting me."

"Oh, and Minerva, be prepared to see a lot of Mister Potter and his friends. Voldemort knows now how well they complement each other. They are all targets now," the Headmaster shook his head. "This year may prove even more difficult than the last."

* * * *

Author's notes: After the debacle at Grimmauld place, no sane Order would want to continue having it as its headquarters. Thus temporary housing at Hogwarts over the summer holiday

While it sometimes seems like they should be, I don't believe the Weasleys are long-time Order members

Updated with the name of the Prophet's editor

Diggle's agricultural knowledge will figure at one point

The Blackfriars Bridge exists, and has had some famous jumpers

Dung's heritage will eventually be his undoing. His thievery has been updated

Never betraying what he thinks - from Can You See the Real Me by the Who

Eventually an initiative of the Department of Games and Sports plays a critical role

Unfortunate series of events - reference to competing literature

The sucking sound is courtesy of Ross Perot

The origins of both of the mentioned treaties will be revealed

The French insist that only products of the Champagne region be called "Champagne"

Sane member of the American opposition - and this was back in 1996. The crazies have only gotten crazier

Updated to reflect the known structure of the Auror Corps

Neville Chamberlain was the appeasement prime minister prior to WWII

I don't think that a society that treats house-elves as they are treated in canon would tolerate an elf bringing about the death of his/her master. Hence the ultimate penalty

The Malfoy rivalry will lead to a number of serious consequences, but not particularly as in HBP

The inventory of the Hall of Prophecy will uncover something unexpected

Pensieve interrogation - one thing in HPB that's never explained is why there are no memories of Voldemort taken from the captured Death Eaters

I will do in Amelia Bones, since she is not central, but in a different way

En banc means as a whole

Umbridge Act - restricting werewolf civil rights

Acquired Werewolf Syndrome, a similar anagram to AIDS; research seeks a cure, or at least permanent remission

Bagman's presence in the Far East has both good and bad consequences

All of the places named are centers of loose finance. This is an accurate description of bearer paper, sometimes called bearer bonds

The mysteries of the whereabouts of both Sirius' and Voldemort's wands during their absences will be explained

Deater is Auror/Order slang for Death Eater

Interesting facts about Lily Potter

The British merchant marine was not created for a particularly honorable purpose

There was more sympathy for the Order among the Aurors than Dumbledore realized

The 75% vote - and thus 25% veto - becomes important

Nobody asks the critical question concerning Ludo Bagman

- 42 -


C:\Documents and Settings\Owner\My Documents\HP & The Fifth Element.ch1 council of war.doc 07/21/03