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Chapter Thirty-Seven: Increasing Pressures

Albus sat quietly in his office. Most of the portrait frames lining the walls were conspicuously empty. Those that were in their frames had their backs to him. Fawkes had yet to return.

He sipped his tea and stared into the flames as he struggled to decide on his next move. Alastor was mistaken, he thought. He had to be. Especially about Harlan Gentry.

Harlan Gentry had been no Sorcerer. It was simply impossible. Harlan had merely been very clever and extremely stingy with his knowledge. He'd had access to ancient spell books and magical artifacts that rivaled the power of Hogwarts itself. With all that knowledge and power at his disposal, he had refused to use any of it against Grindelwald. Harlan had declared it simply unthinkable to bring such things into the light. Nor would he allow anyone else to use any of the artifacts held at the Isle of Shadows.

Albus knew of a few of them, knew enough, anyway. More than enough to have the ability to imagine what else might be there based on the legends he'd found. That Harlan had possessed such objects, yet refused to use them was unthinkable. How many lives had been lost? Even his own granddaughter had been rendered nothing more than a squib. All of that, because of his refusal to veer from the course he had been taught from the cradle?

No, Harlan had been no Sorcerer, just a cagey stubborn man with narrow vision. Harlan's daughter Dahlia had not even attended Hogwarts, no letter had been sent. She had been scarcely more than a squib. The granddaughter, Violet, now she had been frighteningly powerful. Thankfully that threat had been eliminated. She had been too powerful to leave unchecked, too high strung, too easily a Dark Lady.

Lily Evans had not been a Sorceress. Surely he would have known, would have noticed having a Sorceress in his school. She was a clever little witch, yes, but no Sorceress. A more stubborn, willful, troublesome girl there never had been. Always accusing, always questioning, always venturing where she shouldn't be.

She had simply refused to understand that the situation with Narcissa Black had been out of his control. He could do no more than to limit the opportunities Lucius Malfoy had to abuse the girl while they were both students. Her refusal to trust him had ultimately led to her and James' deaths. It was her distrust and hostility toward Albus that had led them to choose someone other than himself as Secret-Keeper, which ultimately led to their betrayal by Peter Pettigrew.

Harry ...

What was he going to do about Harry?

The boy, unfortunately, was a Sorcerer. One of questionable blood lines which could cause a great amount of trouble with public opinion, yet he was the one who must destroy Voldemort. It had been prophesied. Harry bore the proof in the scar from Voldemort's curse.

At least Harry had been raised without the Lore, which was still in his favor. No silly nonsense stopping the boy from doing what he must. Harry would be the one to take up the reigns of the Order of the Phoenix. Albus knew his own years were numbered; he had a few left, but perhaps not enough to see the end of the War and Voldemort's defeat.

Harlan had been as intractable as his great-granddaughter Lily. Only he was as bound to the Lore as Voldemort was Pure-Blood supremacy. Therefore, Albus had always watched Harry closely. He had stepped in many times through the years with Petunia.

Harry had his mother's stubborn streak though. Things were quite out of hand, now. The Apprenticeship had been a calculated risk, but Harry needed the extra training, and he had hoped that the Apprenticeship would afford Neville the extra protection of Hogwarts.

Harry was proving he could take charge, but his behavior was too far out of line. How was Albus going to get things back under control? Harry had to understand that everything had had to be done the way it had been.

Harry was running out of patience. The group gathered in the Apprentices' Tower had managed to accomplish next to nothing since they had gathered. At least Tonks had left; she had an Order meeting.

Draco was silent as he shot daggers at Remus with his eyes. Although that actually might not be a bad thing. Considering Draco's mood, it was probably best he wasn't saying anything. If the blonde Slytherin started in on the kiss they had accidentally witnessed between Remus and Snape, absolutely nothing would be accomplished.

Remus kept watching Snape. Snape, in return, did his level best to ignore Remus' existance completely. Blaise smirked everytime he glanced in the direction of the Potions Master and the werewolf. That in turn had Snape's glares split between Harry and Blaise.

Snape had, however, confirmed that Voldemort was one step closer to Immortality with the 'gathering of ingredients' needed for the potion.

They had debated bringing Hermione in to research the Soul's Thief. They'd already proven to Dumbledore that the castle held no secrets from them, so breaking the Fidelius Charm to bring Hermione and the others out of hiding wasn't something they would have to hide. The question was, could they trust Hermione not to go running to McGonagall and Dumbledore?

As much as he hated to admit it, not even Harry could say for sure. Hermione put her trust in authority figures, sometimes too easily, and Dumbledore couldn't be trusted. They weren't sure how far they could trust McGonagall either, as despite everything she was still very loyal to Dumbledore.

Tynan was insisting they get to their property lists and inventories. Other than waiting for Voldemort to make a move, there was little else they could do now.

"Here, Hestia, there's a spot by me," Tonks called.

"Where's Albus?"

"School starts in less than two weeks," Tonks said simply.

"Still ... this is important don't you think?"

Bill and Charlie Weasley slid into the seats on the other side of Tonks as Moody moved to the front of the room. The pair glared at each other.

"Where's Albus, Minerva?" Arthur Weasley spoke up.

"He's at the school," Minerva said tightly.

"Has Fudge been causing more trouble?" Arthur frowned.

"There is still much to be done to get ready for the start of term. All of Cornelius' nonsense has taken up a vast amount of time over the summer holidays," Minerva said sternly.


"There's also the Apprentice's Training," Alastor snorted. That effectively silenced all further questioning. If Albus was training Harry, then no more would be said on the Head of the Order's absence.

Alastor thought it was more like Harry was training Albus -- Albus was as stubborn and blind as they came on certain matters and Harry was proving just as tenacious -- but that wouldn't do the rest of the Order any good to know yet. Alastor couldn't fault Minerva's careful sidestepping of Albus' absence. The last thing the Order needed was more doubt within the ranks, and they especially didn't need to doubt their leader or the boy destined to face the Dark Lord.

Molly Weasley looked less than happy about the reminder, but it was too bad.

Minerva handled the rest of the meeting, which was chaotic. Without Albus' presence after the last disastrous meeting and the stunt Harry had pulled during it, tensions were higher than usual and it seemed less information was gained than usual.

"Bill, a word please," Minerva went up to the eldest Weasley son. "The Teaching Accreditidation Apprenticeship ..."

"I have my acceptance here, Professor. I simply hadn't gotten a chance to owl it today."

Minerva accepted the scroll with a pinched frown. "I see."

"Bill--" Molly frowned.

"Molly," Arthur put a hand on his wife's shoulder.

It was Minerva who asked, "And what about your position with Gringotts?"

"I'll have a job with them any time I want," Bill shrugged. "Gave my notice, my last day is the 29th. I still have my contacts there and will be doing the occasional bit of consulting as I can."

"Very well," Minerva sighed. "I need to talk to Mundungus, good evening," she gave the Weasleys a tight smile and moved on.

Molly scowled "And how do you propose to marry while studying at Hogwarts!"

"For the last time, I'm not marrying Fleur. I'm not even seeing her again!" Bill growled. "Night Dad, Mum." He made his way out of 12 Grimmauld Place without another word.

Hestia hung back, watching the ever more splintered group with sharp eyes, taking in every detail.

"You're later than usual."

"Dumbledore didn't come to tonight's meeting. I couldn't get an answer as to why other than school business and hints that he's personally training the Potter brat."

"Do they know anything about the crystal?"

Antonia shook her head. "Not a thing was said."

"So, either they don't know or they're being very careful ... do they suspect?"

Antonia shook her head. "They think they've taken care of the problem with Shacklebolt."

Bellatrix nodded slowly. "The next one will be harder to compromise."

Antonia agreed. "We should wait. At least a little while, they'll be too guarded to use the same ploy. We need another tack."

"Our Lord grows impatient."

"They know little and are in disarray. There are divisions--"

"Yes, Potter's outburst ..." Bella nodded. "But if Dumbledore is personally training Potter--"

"That seemed to be implied, but McGonagall was very ... nervous ... no, that doesn't seem quite the word, but something is off there."

Bella smirked. "That's something at least."

"The Weasley family seems to be splintered within itself as well."

Bella's smirk widened to an expression that could only be called pure malevolence. "They might just be the perfect target."

"The third son is Fudge's aide. His wife is from a family that has so much mixed blood it is apalling. There are more Muggles and Muggleborns than witches or wizards in the wife's ancestry. Add in the break from his parents and Dumbledore ..."

"Is there a Weasley ..."

"The Cursebreaker is going to Hogwarts and Mrs. Weasley doesn't seem pleased -- the Teaching Accreditation program."

"And the second one?"

"Single so far as I know."

Bella smirked. "I do believe it is time for Hestia to become interested in the second Weasley."

Antonia nodded with a wicked grin. "Hestia can comfort him after his brother's death."

"Go home, you cannot arouse any suspicion. I must talk to our Master."

"Harry, will you turn the light out already, it's late. McGonagall is going to have us reading til our eyes cross tomorrow since we've been so 'lazy',"

"Can't sleep," Harry sighed. "Besides, Tynan is about to go spare. I haven't looked over any of this yet." He motioned at the files and scrolls spread over his bed. "I can move out to the sitting room if I'm keeping you up."

"No," Seamus shook his head. Harry was being quiet as could be, and all he really would need to do would be shut his bed's curtains so the lamplight didn't bother him. "Want some help, mate?"

"If you want," Harry agreed.

Seamus nodded, climbed out of his bed and settled himself on Harry's. "Library inventories?"

"It still counts as going over the inheritance mess and maybe ..."

Seamus nodded. "Dobby or Winky could go get the books if we find anything that looks like it might be useful."

The two quietly sifted through the scrolls and files. There were only a few murmured comments now and then to break the silence, as Seamus came across something that looked interesting.

"Master Harry should be sleeping," Dobby frowned when he popped into the room in answer to Harry's summons over an hour later.

"Can't," Harry shook his head. "I need to get more of this done. Could you get us some tea?"

"Master Harry needs to be being sleeping," Dobby scowled. "Master Harry is sleeping now!" he pointed a long bony finger at Harry. Dobby's fingertip glowed hotly for an instant. A flash of bright pinkish light jumped from Dobby's finger to Harry's forehead and knocked the wizard unconscious.

"Er," Seamus stared in shock at the House Elf; he hadn't known they could do that. "He's not going to be too happy about that."

Dobby looked worried a moment. "Dobby will punish himself if Master says so." he said without the slightest waver in his voice. "Master Harry is going to be being sick if he isn't sleeping."

Seamus managed to nod. "Best keep yourself scarce for a bit, eh?"

"If you is thinking so Master Seamus, Sir,"

"Er, yeah, I is thinking so," Seamus nodded.

"Master Harry won't be waking up until it is being morning and being time to go to lessons," Dobby said.

"Okay, well, I'll put these up. I know what's been gone over here," Seamus managed. "And I'll get Harry comfortable."

"Dobby is going then, Master Seamus." The house elf bowed then and disappeared with a crack, much to Seamus' relief. His Gran always claimed she'd never have a House Elf because they could be too dangerous if they ever took the initiative to be; she'd sooner keep a dragon for a house pet. He had to wonder if his Gran wasn't right about that now that he'd seen this. He couldn't argue that Harry needed to sleep, badly. Still, it was unnerving to see the little creature be so ... forceful. He vowed then and there not to cross Dobby if he could help it.

He hurriedly put the papers and scrolls in stacks. Not Looked At Yet was by and far the majority. The notes left on the top of the other two smaller piles were Stuff Harry Looked At and Stuff Seamus Looked At. The list of books that Harry was most interested in getting a hold of was placed just to the side of the piles.

Now that the bed was cleared off, he moved to get Harry settled for the night. He took Harry's glasses off and carefully sat them on the nightstand, then arranged the other boy more comfortably in his bed and covered him up. Dobby was right. Harry needed sleep badly. Even asleep, the look of desperation and exhaustion clung to Harry's features.

Seamus stood and simply looked at Harry for several long minutes. His hand hovered for a minute; his palm itched madly to brush back the stray lock of hair back from Harry's face but he didn't quite dare. He shook his head and cursed himself in Gaelic before he went to his own bed.

"What?" Pansy frowned at Draco.

"We need to talk," Draco said flatly, "The girls are sleeping?"

Pansy gave him a disgusted look. "It's past ten, what do you think?"

"You're not safe, they're not safe, not yet. Dumbledore or someone could find a way to annul the marriage contract."

Pansy paled.

"What?" Draco sneered. "It's not like I really want to, either."

Pansy curled her lip at him. "Three days. I'll have Millicent take the girls, and I need to make a potion. I am not producing an heir for you for at least five years."

Draco looked horrified at that thought for a moment. "I -- fine. We just can't let this go on any longer than absolutely necessary. I don't trust Dumbledore or Fudge."

"What about Potter?"

Draco frowned. "What?"

"Do you trust Potter?"

He thought for a moment, then nodded. "Potter doesn't have enough of a clue what the devil is going on to have any plans of his own."

"That's not what I meant."

"Trust him to do his heroically stupid best to keep us all alive, yes. Like him, no."

Pansy nodded.

"I -- Good night," Draco said abruptly, a second before he spun on his heel and hurried down the hall to his own rooms.

Pansy closed the door and leaned against it, not quite sure if she wanted to cry, curse something or simply laugh at the sheer nightmare her life had become.

"Dad?" Bill Weasley frowned as he entered the flat he'd rented near Gringotts, instantly worried by his father's presence in his flat. He'd stopped off at the Leaky Cauldron to have a pint with one of his friends from work. It had just been one pint, half an hour's time spent at the most. Surely nothing had happened in so little time ...

"It's fine. No one's been hurt," Arthur quickly reassured his son. "I was just wanting to talk to you about today ... your mother thinks I'm here to convince you to move back in with us. Or, at the very least, to talk you out of this teaching apprenticeship."


"Oh, I'm not. You're thirty years old; you are certainly capable of managing just fine in your own flat." Arthur smiled at his oldest. "And of making your own decicions about this teaching program."

Bill looked at his father curiously. "I can put on some tea?"

Arthur nodded agreeably. "Why the program?" he asked as he sat down at the small kitchen table.

"Something's ... not right at Hogwarts. The way Harry behaved at Mrs. Parkinson's funeral, all of them. I've got the opportunity to keep that much of a closer eye on Dumbledore, and Ron and Ginny."

"You think Albus--"

"I don't know. Something just isn't ... I can't explain it, Dad." Bill sighed. "I just don't trust anything anymore."

Arthur nodded, more to himself than anything else. Bill's words weren't so different from what he had begun to think as well. He didn't want to doubt Albus. "I owe Harry a Wizard's Debt; if not for his vision I would have been killed by Nagini last winter."

Bill looked at his father in question.

"If -- if it came down to having to choose, I would almost have to follow Harry." Arthur met his son's eyes, silently asking Bill's stand with his gaze.

"I don't know," Bill said quietly. "Dumbledore has his reasons, but his reasons are coming too close to risking lives. If Harry hadn't pulled that stunt a couple weeks ago, would Albus have done anything about Kingsley?"

Arthur sighed. He didn't have an answer for his son.

"How's mum ... really?"

Arthur sighed again. "The last few weeks have been hard on her, this whole summer with the Twins, Ron and Ginny away. Everything that's come out about Petrus. Percy ..."

Bill hurried the tea along with a spell. He poured his father and himself both a cup. "I met with Marko, that's why I was late. Gringotts, officially, is neutral. Unofficially, they won't deal with Dumbledore."

Arthur's eyes widened. "Do you know why?"

Bill shook his head. "Whispers and rumors, nothing that can be confirmed."

"What are the rumors?"

Bill took a shaky breath. "Just -- stand with Harry. I'll make sure the kids are okay at school."


"Speculation is pointless, Dad, none of the stories agree, except for one thing -- no matter how good his intentions, Dumbledore's caused too much harm for the Goblins to have any faith in his ability to protect their interests. If Harry was in a position for them to do so they would throw their lot in with him."

Arthur took a drink of his tea. "I don't doubt Albus' intent."

"I don't either, but his judgment is another story. I'm really beginning to doubt it."


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