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SIYE Time:9:52 on 3rd December 2023


Harry Potter and the Ritual of Love's Memory
By Forge2

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Category: Post-HBP
Characters:All
Genres: Action/Adventure, General, Romance
Warnings: Death, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Violence
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 198
Summary: After the horcrux hunt implodes leaving most of those Harry loves dead, he starts a new life with a few fellow survivors far away from wizarding Britain. But the discovery of an ancient ritual that promises to send a single memory back in time sparks hope that maybe things can change. Dark ending to DH followed by a tweaked retelling of GoF through DH. Harry/Ginny. Friday updates.
Hitcount: Story Total: 37990; Chapter Total: 874
Awards: View Trophy Room






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Harry stumbled out of the fireplace and onto the floor, a thin layer of ash affixed to his clothes. He scrambled to his feet just in time to be engulfed in the embrace of his godfather. Harry grinned into the hug as his eyes darted about the room. Remus was positioned behind Sirius while Moody and Tonks were walking into the next room. The roar of the fire behind him announced Mr. Weasley's arrival.

"It's good to see you, Harry!" Sirius pushed him back while holding both shoulders. "What's this I hear about you playing around with dementors without me?"

Harry laughed. "Oh, you know me. Just trying to keep things interesting."

Hestia emerged from the fireplace last, dusting herself off before looking around. "Everything looks good from that end; I don't think anybody followed us. Are we meeting in the dining room?"

"Yeah, we're gonna get started in about fifteen minutes," answered Remus. "Figured Padfoot was going to be useless until he'd welcomed Harry, plus Dumbledore said Vance will be running a few minutes behind. Molly's got something delicious ready in the kitchen, though, if you want to get started while we're waiting."

At the mention of Mrs. Weasley's cooking, Hestia's eyes got wide and she licked her lips. "That's the best news I've heard today! Glad to have you here safely!" She patted Harry on the shoulder as she hurried toward the kitchen.

"I'm going to check in on Molly," said Mr. Weasley with a gleam in his eye. "Ron, Ginny, and the twins are upstairs. Hermione, too. If I know my wife, she's already sent dinner for you up there."

"I'll show you around. Welcome to the Ancient and Noble House of Black," said Sirius with more than a twinge of loathing. He made a grand sweeping gesture with his arm before making a rude gesture toward the house.

"Wait, this is your house?"

"Yep, ever since my deranged mother bit it about ten years back. Most of my family have been the unsavory sort, which helps explain why the house is decorated like a funeral home, only bleaker. Keep quiet at the landing by the hallway so as not to disturb my mother's portrait and try not to touch too much. There are who knows how many dark things hidden away in this place, and we're just starting to make it habitable again."

"How long have you been here?" asked Harry as they climbed the stairs to the second floor. Sirius crept quietly past a set of moth-eaten drapes and waited for Harry to do the same before answering.

"A few weeks. Offered it to Dumbledore to use as headquarters while you were in the infirmary. My father and who knows how many Blacks before him have warded the place to the teeth, so it's unplottable, off the registered floo network, you can't apparate into it from outside, the works. Dumbledore added a few extras of his own, including the Fidelius. At this point, it's one of the most secure places in Britain.

"Unfortunately, it's barely livable. Our family's old house elf went 'round the bend at some point after my mother croaked. Not that he was all the great before, but he really let the place go. It's like he didn't clean anything for a decade. So we're dealing with infestations of doxies, a thousand things not working properly, and all this dark stuff that my family just left where anyone could stumble onto it. Bit of a nightmare, if you'll believe it."

Harry started to ask what Sirius meant by "headquarters" when his godfather stopped at a door that was about halfway down the hallway. He knocked three times before calling out, "Hey, you lot! Everybody decent?" Without waiting for a reply, he turned the knob and pulled the door open.

"Harry's here!" Chess pieces went flying across the bed in the middle of the room as a red blur rocketed through the doorway, nearly bowling him over.

"Oi! I was five moves from checkmate!" called a smiling Ron as he hopped off the bed in Ginny's wake. Hermione snapped her book shut and raced toward them, as well.

Harry wasn't focused on either of them, however, instead fixating on the strong arms that threatened to crush his ribs in a hug. Red hair was pressed against his collarbone and his arms had snaked around Ginny's shoulders, holding her tightly.

"Sorry we couldn't send you more details about everything, Harry," said Hermione apologetically. "There's so much happening, but we couldn't say anything about most of it until you got here, especially about where we are and who all is here." Ginny gave one extra squeeze before releasing Harry, who received a less-energetic hug from Hermione and a hearty back slap from Ron. "We've been dying to hear about everything from last night, but I'm sure you've got a load of questions, too. Were there really dementors? How'd the Order get you? We'd heard that the floo network might not be viable, but we hadn't learned what their backup plan was."

"Give him a minute!" said Ron. "You hungry, mate? Mum left a bowl of stew big enough to fill up Hagrid."

Harry felt his stomach rumble, having only eaten a sandwich around noon. He flopped down into a lumpy green high-backed chair with a steaming bowl of stew and began to dig in.

"I've got to get back down there for the meeting," said a grinning Sirius. "You all catch up and I'll be back after it finishes."

For an hour and a half, the teens took turns recounting the events of the past month. Harry hungrily devoured the stew while listening to the others explain the Order of the Phoenix, naming as many of the members as they had met or seen.

Ginny and Ron explained how their parents had whisked them and the twins to the Burrow after they returned from Hogwarts for just enough time to gather some essentials before the family moved to Grimmauld Place. With Mrs. Weasley helping to coordinate Order communications and their family being known Dumbledore supporters, it had made sense for them to stay in Grimmauld Place with Sirius for at least the duration of the summer. Though both Ron and Ginny missed the freedom and comforts afforded by the Burrow, they had enjoyed being present to listen in on some of the discussions about Order business that had leaked out after the meetings and both had fun stories about members they'd gotten to know.

Hermione's summer had not been as pleasant. She and her parents had traveled to Bulgaria for Viktor's funeral a few days after arriving back from school. Her voice cracked as she described the ceremony and sitting with Viktor's sisters at the graveside service. She hadn't stayed home long before coming to Grimmauld Place, though she would be going back for nearly a month before the end of the summer holiday.

The twins literally popped in, having recently received their apparition licenses after coming of age. They were eager to hear news about Harry's adventures and seated themselves on the dresser as Harry began. There hadn't been much to tell about the majority of Harry's summer, so he cut to his row with Vernon and run-in with dementors straight away.

When Harry got to Kingsley's introduction, Hermione let out a sigh of relief. "I'm so glad it was him on guard duty. There are some people in the Order who would have been… Less helpful. He's easily one of the best we've met!"

Harry described the dementor attack and how he and Kingsley had made a break for the Dursley's house with the patronus protecting them. The twins cracked up at "Officer Shacklebolt" lying his arse off to give his Aunt and Uncle a fright. Lastly, he told them about the six who'd brought him to Hestia's cottage, the flight over, and ended with flooing into the house.

With the meeting still going strong, Fred took the time to talk Harry through a few of the new joke products they'd been devising. George produced an example, his Extendable Ears, which allowed for listening in to conversations from a more safe distance.

Even though the circumstances weren't ideal, what with them stuck inside an unpleasant house, dealing with the loss of a friend, and on the cusp of a wizarding war, Harry felt his spirits buoyed by the presence of his friends. As they waited on the adults, Harry smiled as he watched the twins tease each other and the rest of the room, tried to keep up with Hermione's myriad of questions, and caught himself glancing into Ginny's brown eyes.

Sirius walked back into the room looking a bit worn out. "I know meetings are important, but what I wouldn't give to have certain folks learn a bit of brevity… Alright, Harry, Dumbledore said that he needed to speak with you and me about something. Molly thought you might be too tired after everything, but I figured you'd be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, yeah?"

In truth, Harry felt exhausted from his long flight and a lack of quality sleep the night before, but he wasn't about to push back this conversation. He told his friends not to wait up for him before following Sirius back through the hall.

As they turned at the landing to make their way down the stairs, Harry saw Tonks nearing the fireplace. "Hey, Tonks!" called Harry. "It was really nice meeting you! Thanks for…"

"Scum! Filth! Blood traitors and half-breeds and mudbloods! How dare you besmirch the ancient and noble house of Black?!"

The portrait of Walburga Black screeched obscenities and insults as the curtains billowed away from the wall. Harry was so startled that he leaped back away from the wall. Sirius stormed over to the painting and was soon joined by Remus, both struggling against obstinate curtains on either side of the frame.

"Abomination! Shame upon the name of Black! Traitor to us all!"

Both men pulled the drapes closed with a mighty heave, silencing the portrait. Remus wiped his brow as Sirius leaned on his friend's shoulder. He gave a small huff of a laugh and said, "Turns out you don't have the market cornered on terrible family members. What d'you think of my mother?"

Harry looked horrified. "She was your mum?"

"Yeah. Broke her heart when I got sorted into Gryffindor instead of Slytherin. She even blasted my name off the family tapestry after I ran away from home. Just about the worst mother you could imagine. What do you think, Moony? Fair characterization?"

"I try not to speak ill of the dead…" Sirius rolled his eyes. "But your mother was one of the most heartless women I've ever had the displeasure to meet."

"And if Moony is willing to say that, you know it must be true," said Sirius as they rounded the stairs. "Apparently, Harry and I have to stay after class already. Will you tell Dumbledore that we didn't do whatever it is we're in trouble for?"

Remus grimaced and shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry, Padfoot, but he's already got McGonagall in there. Looks like you two are stuck in detention. Best of luck with it, though! I'm going to turn in. Got an early morning tomorrow." He followed the hallway while Sirius and Harry took the stairs.

There were a few witches and wizards still milling about in the large dining room. Dumbledore inclined his head slightly to Harry before returning to a conversation with a short wizard Harry had not met. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were holding hands while chatting with their oldest son, Bill, who walked over to shake Harry's hand firmly.

"Glad you were able to make it, Harry," he said brightly. "Kingsley told us you had a run-in with some dementors. Is your life ever dull?"

"The four weeks I spent doing nothing in the Dursley's house was pretty boring, but I hear your point."

"Fair enough! I'm going to get back to my flat, but I'll probably see you again soon." Bill walked two steps before turning back to Harry. "Oh, and Fleur made me promise to tell you she said, 'Bonjour!'" He gave Harry a wink before darting back toward the fireplace.

The room began to thin out. Sirius was laughing about something alongside Kingsley while Arthur and Molly spoke to McGonagall and the short wizard Harry had seen with Dumbledore earlier. The headmaster strode up to Harry while smiling.

"Ah, Harry! Just the person with whom I hoped to speak! Before we sit with Professor McGonagall and Sirius, I have an idea of a potential third confidant." Harry looked over his shoulder at the wizard speaking with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.

There was a part of him that knew Dumbledore must have good reasons for anyone he would be suggesting. Whoever the wizard was, he would surely check the boxes they had discussed in his office after the third task. But Harry felt a sense of dread as he imagined sharing such personal information with a complete stranger.

The man in question bid farewell to Professor McGonagall before making his way to Dumbledore and Harry. He didn't look as old as the headmaster, but Harry thought he might be fairly close. He was mostly bald with a white mustache and kind, hazel eyes.

"Albus! I couldn't leave without introducing myself to young Master Potter!" He extended a frail hand to Harry, who shook it and gave him a small smile. The man was at least a head shorter than Harry. "Elphias Doge. Albus and I are old friends. I've heard some fantastic stories about your exploits in the Triwizard Tournament. Congratulations on your win!"

Harry's cheeks went pink as the man continued to shake his hand vigorously. "Nice to meet you, sir, but I didn't really win the tournament. I tied with Viktor Krum."

Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling as he spoke. "Harry is quite extraordinary for a number of reasons, but I believe his humility to be one of his most exemplary traits."

"That I do not doubt! It's an honor to meet you, young sir. Albus, I've got to be on my way! I still expect you to visit over the summer! Marian was ever so disappointed when I had to cancel our dinner last month."

"I look forward to it! Have an excellent night, my friend." Elphias inclined his head to both Dumbledore and Harry before exiting the kitchen. The headmaster lowered his voice conspiratorially and whispered to Harry. "I'm glad you got to meet Elphias, but I must admit that when he walked this way I feared we might not be able to extricate ourselves from the conversation until you had a beard as long as mine."

Harry chuckled a bit as Dumbledore smiled at his own joke.

"As I was saying earlier, I have considered a potential third person to bring into our confidence. Tell me, Harry… What are your thoughts about Kingsley Shacklebolt?"

Harry blinked several times before cocking his head to the side. He'd been so caught up thinking about having to duck out of regular conversations with Doge that he hadn't considered the possibility of someone else as the third person to bring into the loop.

"Oh, Kingsley?" Harry's mind began to race as he thought through the previous two days. "I liked how confident and prepared he was. Before the dementors even arrived, he made sure I knew what was happening. He was cool under pressure and his Patronus was really effective. It was a tough situation because he didn't know me, but he had a good plan, got me prepared for what we were facing, and got me back safely.

"Talked to him some today and he seemed really solid. Being an Auror and connected to the ministry are pluses…" Before he left it at that, one final positive sprang to his head. "And he was great at lying to the Dursleys."

Dumbledore nodded appreciatively. "You have listed many of the reasons I thought he would be a fine choice. Do you have any reservations?"

Harry couldn't come up with a good reason not to include Kingsley and found that he was fine with that. "No, sir. Based on what I know of him, I think I'd like to have him be a part of it."

"Splendid! I was rather excited about the possibility myself but felt it best to continue practicing the art of inclusion with regard to decision-making, as it is a muscle I have not flexed as often as perhaps I should have." The headmaster turned to gather the attention of the three remaining occupants of the room, as the Weasleys had already exited. "Kingsley, may I perhaps ask a favor of you? Minerva and Sirius have agreed to sit with the two of us to discuss some matters of great import and I believe your presence would be most advantageous. May we impose on your time further?"

"Certainly, Albus. Not a trouble at all."

"Excellent. I've seen quite enough of the dining room over the past few weeks, and my aged back wouldn't mind a cushion. Sirius, shall we retire to the sitting room? The tale we plan to tell deserves a roaring hearth and perhaps something slightly stronger than pumpkin juice."

Sirius had no objections and bustled off to grab drinks while the other four got settled on couches and comfy chairs. Soon, Professor McGonagall and the headmaster were sipping glasses of wine, Kingsley and Sirius were nursing their brandies, and Harry was holding a butterbeer, even if his nerves made him a little too nervous to bring it to his lips.

"Before we begin, it is imperative that this conversation remains between the five of us. I have already cast several charms to ensure we are not overheard by others, either by accident or due to curiosity, but feel free to add your own. Sirius, will you ensure that Kreacher neither listens in nor interrupts?"

"Good thought," said Sirius with a frown, though his eyes were still alight with curiosity. "Kreacher! Come here!"

With a crack, an ancient and rather miserable-looking house elf appeared before Sirius. He was clad only in a dishrag and his drooping features made him look like a wax figure left out in the sun too long.

"Master has called Kreacher," croaked the house elf with a look of disgust. "Mistress would be heartbroken to see young Master defiling the noble house of Black with such scum."

"My mother didn't have any heart to break and you know it. Listen up! You are to go down to the cellar and tidy up until we finish our meeting. You are not to leave the cellar and you are not to listen in on our conversation. Same rules apply as with our other meetings, understand?"

"Master has bidden Kreacher to clean the cellar while Master and Blood-Traitors befoul the house of Black with their schemes. Oh, what would Mistress say?"

"She'd say a lot of foul things that we hear every time someone sneezes too loudly near her portrait. Now get to it!"

With a scowl, Kreacher snapped his fingers and disappeared again. Harry noticed that Kingsley had been pacing the room muttering an incantation. With the house elf's departure, the Auror returned to his seat.

"I believe it would be most helpful to begin with Harry's portion of the story before building out from there. Would you be so kind as to share with the group the events that predicated our meeting after the first task?"

Harry had expected more of a preamble from Dumbledore, who raised his wine glass to Harry and said no more. "Oh! Right. Yeah, I can tell you what happened." He took in a deep breath before beginning. "I woke up in the middle of the night about a week after the task with the dragon. I had this sensation like something was coming after me that I'd never felt before. It was like my mind was suddenly on full alert, like it wanted to defend itself.

"I woke Ron up in case we were being attacked, but he didn't feel anything and the sensation subsided some. I told Ron he could go back to bed, but he suggested that since we were already awake, we ought to sneak down to the kitchens to grab a bite."

Harry kept his gaze focused on Sirius, but thought he could almost hear Professor McGonagall's lips pursing at him as he explained. Harry hesitated while his face was heating before Dumbledore interrupted.

"As a side note, our story will include a healthy dose of rule-breaking, both by Harry and myself." Harry's eyes shot to the headmaster, whose smile was still warm. "I must ask that any law enforcement officers or school officials grant us pardon for our trespasses in advance, as our night will grow much longer if we must ask forgiveness after each described infraction."

Harry felt more confident after Dumbledore's admission of his own guilt and managed to meet his Head of House's stare. He was surprised that she looked nonplussed. Sirius was mouthing the words "I'm so proud of you!" at Harry and giving him two exaggerated thumbs up while Kingsley shook his head with a rueful smile.

"So, yeah. We walked down the stairs and started toward the portrait hole when something attacked me. Some sort of golden thread or string flew into the common room through the window, but it just moved right through the glass like ghosts do. It was floating toward me, but moving around a bit, almost like it was alive." Harry wiggled his hand and wrist a bit to simulate how the memory looked. The three new listeners were at full attention now, with none of the light-heartedness of a few moments previous. Their faces ranged from quizzical to concerned.

"The string flew directly at me and I had to duck out of the way so it wouldn't smack into my head. It went past me and Ron tried to hit it with a Stupefy, but the spell didn't affect it at all. I made a run for the portrait hole, but it was too fast and collided with the back of my head. Ron told me it disappeared when it hit and that I was out cold, so he took me to Madam Pomfrey.

"When I woke up a few hours later, something was different. I was trying to think back, figuring out what had happened to land me in the infirmary again, when I realized I had a new memory. But it wasn't my memory, except it kinda was mine? It's hard to explain..."

Dumbledore chuckled. "After speaking with Harry at length and spending several months searching for answers, there are a few details that I can confirm as fact and several inferences I feel reasonable given the information." McGonagall had a look resembling Hermione when she desperately wished to ask a question. Sirius was squinting slightly as if he couldn't quite make out what was in front of him. Kingsley's brow was furrowed but looked less worried than the others, even if he was just as perplexed. "The golden thread that Harry encountered was indeed a memory, only unlike any that I have encountered to date. After teaching Harry to use a Pensieve, he was unable to extricate this rogue memory from his mind for us to examine together."

"Did you attempt to extract the memory for him?" asked Kingsley. Harry tried to mask his snicker behind his hand with a cough.

"Indeed, I did attempt that very maneuver. As my wand touched his forehead, a blast not unlike a small bomb exploded in my office. Harry was thankfully completely unharmed, but the paintings are still giving me a hard time about being thrown across the room by one of my own students. From our experimentation, it seems reasonable to assume that this memory does not wish to be dislodged."

"Bloody hell, Harry!" said Sirius a bit more loudly than he intended. "This is the kind of thing you're supposed to tell me immediately, not half a year later!"

Harry shrank a little under Sirius' frustrated glare. He had known that his godfather wouldn't be pleased that such an important event had been kept from him, but the hurt in Sirius' eyes stung.

"Sirius, I must take the blame for Harry's omission. When he came to me regarding the rogue memory, I impressed upon him the need to keep the incident quiet for the time being for reasons which will become clear soon enough. Your godson has regularly advocated for your inclusion and is the reason we are sharing it with you now."

Grey eyes met imploring green ones as Harry willed Sirius to understand. "Alright, alright, you were sworn to ultra-super Dumbledore secrecy. But I'm still dying to know what this memory was actually about, though. When do we get to that part?"

Harry gulped as all eyes turned to him. Harry stared right back at Sirius. "That's a great question… So, before I tell you, I'm going to need you to promise that you're not going to make fun of me too much."

Sirius' eyes grew as wide as saucers and his grin would have sent the twins running for the hills. Apparently, the frustration of being left out of the loop had evaporated in the face of teasing fodder. "Harry, as your godfather, I solemnly swear that I will mock you relentlessly." McGonagall reached over and smacked the back of his head, causing Harry to laugh out a bit of his tension.

"Harry, I'm afraid you may be asking too much of him," said Kingsley gravely.

With a deep breath, Harry resolved to plunge ahead anyway. "Well, the memory is of me when I'm older, if that makes sense. I'm at Hogwarts down by the lake sitting up against a big tree next to someone who's leaning up against me." Harry ignored the look of absolute glee plastered across his godfather's face as he continued.

"She asks me what I'm thinking, and I say back to her that I'm really happy. Then I say that I wish I'd noticed her sooner and supported her more after her first year since it was so tough." The corners of McGonagall's mouth began to pull upward as she failed to contain a smirk that caused Harry to blush further.

"In the memory, I lean over to kiss the top of her head and remember thinking, 'I can't believe she fought one of Voldemort's horcruxes for almost a year.'"

Kingsley Shacklebolt swore so loudly and vehemently that Harry nearly fell out of his chair. McGonagall and Sirius both looked at him in a state of bewilderment as the auror's eyes zoomed back and forth as if he were trying to count dozens of unseen pixies fluttering around the room. He swore again, more quietly this time, before looking to Dumbledore.

"Well said," replied the headmaster.

"Hold on a second," said Sirius. "I'm going to need further explanation so I know when I should be yelling out that kind of thing. What the hell's a horcrux?"

"It's the worst kind of magic," Kingsley muttered quietly. "Absolutely evil stuff. That's… That's how he survived?"

"Yes, I'm afraid it is. In short, a horcrux is created when a witch or wizard splits their soul through murder and binds that piece of themselves into an object. The process is too horrific to describe in detail, but suffice it to say it is the epitome of the Dark Arts."

"And that's the reason why Voldemort was able to come back? He'd hidden part of his soul in something?" Sirius looked at Dumbledore as he grasped for answers.

"Not something. Some things."

Kingsley stood up and started furiously pacing back and forth. The color had drained from Professor McGonagall's face. "The diary… Good heavens, Ginny Weasley carried a piece of Voldemort's soul around for nearly a year!" Harry thought she looked as if she was going to be sick to her stomach.

"Yes, Minerva. That is precisely what we are saying. I'm sure you have many more questions, but perhaps it would be best for me to explain what I have learned in the past few months as well as a few of my guesses. Harry, was there anything else you needed to add in describing your rogue memory?"

"Not really about the memory itself," answered Harry, who was still a bit shocked at how chaotic things had become after the horcrux reveal. "Just a request that you don't make a big deal about all this to Ginny. I told her, Ron, and Hermione a bit about what happened. Hard to keep it from them since Ron was there for part of it and all. But all they know is that some sort of memory got planted into my head that contained information Professor Dumbledore thinks is important. And they know it's got an older version of me, but they don't know Ginny's in it."

Professor Dumbledore smiled at Harry and inclined his head in thanks before beginning. "The horcrux is not a well-known magic. In fact, there are scant few remaining books that mention it at all, let alone explain how to create one. I have been considering possibilities ever since Harry brought me this more than two years ago." The headmaster produced from within his cloak a leather-bound book covered in ink stains and marred by a nasty puncture wound straight through its middle.

The other adults gathered around the coffee table on which he laid the book. "Though the diary was destroyed before I came into contact with it, I was able to determine that it had been a horcrux. There are few reliable ways to rid the world of such an evil, but Harry was able to find one as he fought to save Ginny in the Chamber of Secrets."

Kingsley ran his fingers over the hole in the diary. "Basilisk venom?"

"Indeed. The incident was more troubling for me than I led others to believe. I held in my hand proof that Voldemort had successfully created a horcrux while still a student at Hogwarts, which was troubling enough on its own, yet it had been treated so cavalierly. Lucius Malfoy had been entrusted with the key to Voldemort's immortality, yet he used it only as a means to attack and discredit the Weasley family. Though I have no doubt Lucius would savor revenge against Arthur for his affinity for Muggles and his connection to our side, I could not fathom the choice to endanger his master's only means of remaining tied to this plane…"

"Unless it wasn't his only one," whispered McGonagall. "Albus, how many are there?"

"Of that, I am not sure. Part of our task as a group will be determining that. But I am getting ahead of myself. I must admit a grave error to you that a version of me committed. One that I almost repeated." The headmaster sighed deeply. "Until Harry came to me about this rogue memory, I had all but decided not to share my convictions regarding the probability of Voldemort creating multiple horcruxes. My intention was to research his past, track down the remaining items, and destroy them myself without burdening anyone else with the knowledge of the depths of evil Voldemort plumbed, thus ensuring that none who sought to follow in his footsteps would be able to learn of what he did or how he did it."

Professor McGonagall's lips became thin as she fought the urge to say something. Sirius' face was white as a sheet. A silence hung in the air before Kingsley mustered the wherewithal to speak.

"That would have been an incredible gamble, Albus."

Harry was astonished to see the headmaster blush slightly. The wizened man bobbed his head slightly to acknowledge the truth of Kingsley's statement before continuing.

"More than anything else, Harry's rogue memory shook me because of the implication. As he mentioned, the memory that was sent back to him involves an older version of himself, but he is still a student. This leads me to surmise that in whatever world the memory hails from, my plans have gone so terribly awry that I confided in a student. An exceptional student with more reason than almost anyone to know the truth of what Voldemort had done, yes, but a student of no more than sixteen or seventeen nonetheless."

"And that scared the hell out of you," said Sirius flatly.

"Without a doubt," replied Dumbledore. "In the aftermath of Harry's reveal, I spent as much time as I could spare attempting to rethink my plans. I considered ways I could change the outcome that had been described. I drafted a resignation letter to present to the Board of Governors, the Wizengamot, and the International Confederation of Wizards under the belief that I could dedicate myself fully and wholly to the search for horcruxes."

The three other adults let loose a chorus of disagreement, but Albus merely raised his hand slightly for quiet.

"In the end, Harry provided what I believe to be a much better solution. His entreaty to be allowed to share the memory with Sirius weighed on me greatly. I resisted his urging, coming up with far too clever reasons to keep my own counsel, until Sirius saved Harry and three other students after the third task. In my haste to address pressing concerns of the school and of the ministry, I did not recognize the danger right beneath my nose. Were it not for Sirius, Harry and his friends would likely not be alive today."

Kingsley nodded gravely and laid his hand on Sirius' shoulder.

"Once Harry recovered from his ordeal, I invited him to my office to discuss the tournament, the graveyard, and the rogue memory. During our conversation, I admitted some of these mistakes and asked for his counsel. We determined that it would be best to widen the circle, so to speak."

Sirius let out a laugh while shaking his head. "So you're telling us that you went from not telling anyone about these horcruxes to asking Harry for advice about who to loop in? That's a wild change in direction!"

Albus chuckled to himself and smiled knowingly. "Yes, that is the case. Given the choice, I think it wise to favor new, exciting mistakes rather than the same ones that have previously failed."

Sirius cocked his head to the side for a moment, considering the point. "Good enough for me. So, what do you need from us?"

"I would like to borrow each of your time and talents. The most pressing need is to ascertain how many horcruxes Voldemort created and begin identifying which objects he used for the process. As we unearth these secrets, we shall determine where they are located and when to destroy them. I am still unsure as to whether there is a maximum limit to how many horcruxes can be created, but I think it safe to assume it best not to alert Voldemort that we are aware of the lengths to which he has gone in pursuit of immortality. We do not want him to create more, nor do we want those he currently possesses to be hidden more securely or guarded more fiercely."

"A huge undertaking," mused Kingsley. "They could be anywhere… Or anything…"

"You are correct, but I doubt that the self-styled Lord Voldemort would choose an old boot or a tin can to harbor a piece of his soul that he thought would ensure his immortality. I believe it to be likely that the objects we seek are of great significance to our enemy, and therein lies an advantage. I intend to brief the group on what I have discovered thus far."

A grandfather clock somewhere in an adjoining room began to sound, indicating it was two in the morning.

"I have kept you much longer than I intended this evening. I propose that we adjourn for tonight and plan to meet again soon to discuss our next steps. In the meantime, please keep this conversation between the five of us. There may come a time when the circle will expand, but I must admit that I am still coming to grips with sharing so much with even as trusted allies as each of you. Shall we reconvene in a fortnight?"

"Sooner, if possible," answered Sirius. "I know it's different for those of you with day jobs, but I've got plenty of time. As much as I love fighting with this damn house to make it suitable for humans again, I'm raring to get to work on this project!"

Professor McGonagall was nodding along. "I know that our schedules will become more and more hectic as the new term approaches. I would be amenable to meeting again in a week's time. Kingsley?"

"Absolutely," replied Kingsley with resolve.

Professor Dumbledore looked pleased. He turned to Harry questioningly.

"Oh! Yes, sir. I'm with Sirius on this. I've got plenty of time and want to get to work."

"Wait a moment," started McGonagall. "Albus, surely you're not suggesting…"

The twinkling in Dumbledore's eyes was unmistakable. "Yes, Minerva, I intend to fully include Mr. Potter. In addition to the fact that another version of me entrusted him with this knowledge, I have my own reasons for believing him to be important to this venture, though they are best left for another meeting." He gave a significant look to the other three adults which Harry did not understand. Albus turned to Harry and winked. "Plus, he is the only one of us with experience destroying Voldemort's horcruxes."

Professor McGonagall looked ready to argue the point but instead released a long breath from her nose and closed her eyes. "Very well, though there are more logistical matters that must be adequately addressed than I can count."

"Challenges we shall meet together!" The headmaster stood up as the other four followed his example. "Thank you, truly, for your time this evening. I shall eagerly anticipate seeing you again soon!" He disappeared into the fireplace in a burst of green flames.
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