Progress Notes: *sighs* It is with regret that I am forced to put this story on hiatus. I have recently acquired the full time job that I was lacking before, and between that and several other things, I just haven't been able to write. I'll get back to this as soon as I can, but it may be a month or two. I hope folks will be willing to come back and read when I do!
A line of torches along both sides of the wall of the tunnel lit up as Harry passed through the archway. His footsteps echoed as he walked slowly towards the end, which was at least fifty metres away. On the floor below him he could see the imprints of his feet in fifteen years'of accumulated dust.
In the distant torchlight, he could now make out a chamber at the end of the tunnel. Quickening his strides and holding his wand at the ready, Harry made his way to the tunnel's end.
He stepped into a room free of dust and lit with a strange blue light that had no source that Harry could detect. There were two great stone coffins, similar to that of Dumbledore's at Hogwarts, and Harry's heart caught in his chest. By the light of the tomb, he made out a name written across the lid of each coffin.
James Francis Potter 1960-1981
Lily Evans Potter 1960-1981
Twenty-one. My parents were both twenty-one, Harry thought to himself. He shook his head. He of course knew that his parents had died very young, but had never been able to narrow it down to an exact number of years. To think that his parents had only been only five years older than he, Harry, was now…
Harry stood still in front of his parents' coffins for a long time. Gradually coming back to himself, he realised that Ron and Hermione would be worried about him, and turned to leave.
It was then that he noticed the single wooden podium standing to the left of the tomb's entrance. The podium itself wasn't as interesting as the envelope resting atop it. He walked over and picked it up. With a start, he saw that the letter was addressed to him. It was written in a strong, confident hand – could this be from his father? Taking a deep breath, Harry tore it open and read the contents.
Dear Harry, If the existence of this letter comes as a surprise to you, it means that I am dead or have been otherwise unable to contact you before coming here. That would be unfortunate, but better prepared than sorry later.
My name is Frank Longbottom –
Harry started at the name – the letter was from Neville's father!
and my wife Alice and I were friends of your parents. As you may or may not know, we were all part of a group called the Order of the Phoenix. The purpose of this group's existence was to fight the Dark wizard called Voldemort. You will know by now how that wizard met his apparent end, so I won't bother going through details I don't fully understand anyway.
My main purpose in writing this letter is that I don't believe we've seen the last of Voldemort. There's no telling when he'll come back, or how, but there wasn't a body, and as an Auror, I operate by the rule of never being certain of a death until you've seen the body.
Dumbledore, the leader of the Order, sees eye to eye with me on this, which is part of the reason your parents' tomb is hidden here and not in the cemetery on the surface – we don't want Voldemort or his followers having access to your parents' bodies for any reason.
Dumbledore has also placed powerful wards over the entrance; this is the reason why you and you alone were able to enter the tomb. Acting on my own, I decided that wards were not necessarily enough, and asked a man named Jackob Filch to take the duty of Guardian of the Tomb – you will have met him on your way here unless many things have gone awry.
Filch is an old friend of mine, and you can trust him, though I know for a fact that Dumbledore disapproves of his methods of fighting the Dark Arts. I was much the same in my way, but unlike myself, Filch prefers to work alone, or at the head of a group of people he has handpicked – I was part of such a group before I joined the Order.
If you're anything like your father – and I reckon you will be – you'll be eager to find any trace of Voldemort or his followers and bring them to justice. Jackob has assured me that he will help you with this when the time is right…and he is a very good ally to have. He's not as skilled a wizard as Dumbledore, but he has an eye for battle tactics and has developed some pretty innovative techniques for bringing down Dark wizards and creatures alike.
If Dumbledore is still Headmaster at Hogwarts School, you will know him well by now. Mind what he says; he is a wise man and has a knack for seeing things the rest of us don't.
Mind Jackob too, though, because he is an expert at staying alive, and has seen more fire and brimstone than Alice and I put together – which is a great deal indeed. He can teach you how to survive, and he can teach you how to kill. What you do with that knowledge is entirely your prerogative.
I pray you will forgive the 'to business' nature of this letter; your parents were very special people and they touched the lives of everyone they knew, especially those of us who fought alongside them in the Order. The wizarding world owes them – and you – a debt of gratitude. And while the wizarding world at large tends to forget their debts with ease, Longbottoms do not. Alice and I are at your disposal; you need but to ask for our help.
Sincerely Yours, Frank Longbottom
Harry bitterly remembered his trip to the Closed Ward at St Mungo's. He had no doubt that Frank and Alice would have helped him, had they still been sane. The letter did seem to clarify that Jackob was who he claimed he was. Harry still didn't trust him, especially after reading the part about Dumbledore not trusting Filch's methods. Anything that bothered Dumbledore was also very likely to bother Harry.
Harry realised with a jolt that some time had passed since he'd left Ron and Hermione with instructions to stun Filch and his men if he wasn't back within a certain time. Shoving the letter into the pocket of his jeans, he turned and ran from his parents' tomb.
They were all still waiting at the tunnel's entrance, though Ron and Hermione were looking very nervous.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Harry said. "I got caught up in…something."
"Frank's letter?" Jackob asked.
Harry frowned. "How do you know about it?"
"Frank told me," said Jackob. "He snuck it in there before Dumbledore sealed the tomb."
"Frank who?" Ron asked.
"Longbottom – Neville's dad," said Harry.
Ron's eyes widened, but Hermione said, "Why did he sneak it past Dumbledore?"
"Dumbledore didn't like me very much," said Jackob blandly.
"Yes, Frank mentioned that," said Harry. "He was vague on exactly why though."
"I have a tendency to kill my enemies," said Jackob with a dark smile.
Hermione's eyes narrowed. "I think it's perfectly clear why Dumbledore didn't like you then."
"Black and white thinking gets you killed, my dear," said Jackob.
"Got Dumbledore killed, you mean," Ron accused.
"It will kill anyone, but yes, from what I've heard of the circumstances surrounding his death, it killed Dumbledore."
Harry wasn't sure what to think. Dumbledore had trusted people too much – that was why he was dead, wasn't it? Perhaps it had been an inability to see shades of grey that had contributed to that blind trust.
"Following that line of thinking, I would be a fool to give you lot your weapons back, even though I've evidence you're not an enemy."
Jackob nodded. "Correct, Mr Potter. You're learning. However, we don't need to have wands to talk, and there are more comfortable quarters to do so, if you're interested?"
Harry thought about it for a moment, then said, "Yeah, all right. Your sitting room then?"
Jackob nodded. "Just the place."
They walked back down the corridor to the bottom of the long stairway, where sat several sofas and a coffee table strewn with maps.
"Make yourself comfortable," said Jackob, taking a seat on one of them. The bald Squib did the same.
The man in cowboy boots did not. With a look of contempt on his face, he leaned against the wall. "I can talk from here," he said in an obviously-American accent.
"I'm sure you can," said Harry, turning to point his wand at the American. "But I'd rather you sat."
The American looked at him with hard eyes. "Boy, if I wanted you dead, the whole lot of you would have been pushing up daisies an hour ago."
"Sullivan, please," said Jackob. "There's no need for any of that. Sit."
Sullivan glared at him but moved over and sat on the sofa.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat on the sofa opposite them.
"I have been remiss," said Jackob. "I did not introduce my compatriots. I would like you to meet Aiden Dane –" he gestured to the bald Squib, "– and Sullivan Bruce."
"Are you all Guardians then?" asked Harry. Frank's letter hadn't said anything about these other two.
Jackob shook his head. "Aiden is a werewolf hunter, and Sullivan is a wand-for-hire from the States."
"A werewolf hunter?" Hermione asked. It was clear that she, like Harry, liked this lot less and less as he got to know them better.
"That's right," said Aiden. "You have a problem with that?"
"We all do," said Ron. "We're good friends with a werewolf. He can't help what he is."
"No, that's true," said Aiden. "But I don't hunt the innocents."
"You're after Fenrir Greyback then?" Harry asked.
Aiden nodded. "Yes. And others like him."
Hermione gasped. "How many…I mean, there can't be that many others who–"
"There aren't," said Aiden. "Hence my working for Jackob. I've got no problem fighting Dark wizards either, I just prefer werewolves."
"And you," Harry addressed Sullivan. "You're a mercenary?"
Sullivan was quiet a moment before responding. "That's right."
"And what happens if Voldemort outbids Mr Filch here?"
Aiden hissed softly at the use of Voldemort's name, but neither Filch nor Sullivan seemed to care.
"Sullivan would work for the devil himself if the price was high enough," said Jackob. "But once he's signed a contract he's the most loyal man in the business."
"That's a…very strange code of honour," said Hermione.
"Honour's got nothing to do with it," said Sullivan. "It's good business, pure and simple. Folks know that if they hire me, I will stick by them until my contract is done, no matter what the opposition is offering. And the name's Sully, by the way. Jackob uses the full name to piss me off."
"I…see," said Hermione slowly.
"So what are you doing here, if not guarding the tomb with Jackob?" Harry pressed.
"The same thing you do on a regular basis, if the Daily Prophet is to be believed," said Jackob. "We hunt Death Eaters."
"Well, how come we've never heard of you before?" Ron asked.
Jackob looked at him. "Because generally speaking, we don't leave anyone alive to report back to the Dark Lord. Over the past several months, certain Death Eaters have just… vanished. Voldemort probably thinks the Ministry has them."
"That sounds…practical," said Harry, still not sure he liked these men.
"Or not," said Hermione. "What happens if you mess up?"
"What?" Jackob asked.
"What happens if you mess up?" Hermione repeated. "What happens if you kill someone who doesn't deserve it?"
"I suppose that depends on what you mean by 'deserve it'," said Jackob.
Hermione opened her mouth and closed it.
After a long moment's silence Jackob said, "Anyone branded with the Dark Mark has joined an organisation well known for murder, torture, and mind control. Our goal as a group is to 'catch them in the act' of doing such things, as it were, but we're not above hunting someone who has been proven to do such things in past instances, either."
"Not all of the Death Eaters work for Voldemort because they want to," said Harry. "Some are under the Imperius Curse, and others…well, others may have joined willingly, but found they were in over there head."
"You have someone specific in mind," said Jackob. It was not a question.
Harry nodded. "Draco Malfoy. He's a student in our year at Hogwarts."
Ron's mouth dropped in surprise. "Malfoy? Harry, you can't honestly think–"
"I was there!" Harry interrupted him fiercely. "I was there on the roof with Dumbledore. Malfoy wouldn't have killed him. He was lowering his wand when the others came up and Snape…and Snape killed Dumbledore."
"Maybe he was just waiting for backup," Ron countered.
Harry shook his head. "No. Malfoy had every opportunity to kill Dumbledore and he didn't. Dumbledore said as much, and Malfoy said that if he didn't kill Dumbledore, Voldemort would kill him and his family."
"It sounds like you are correct in your assessment – this young man doesn't sound like he has the stomach for murder," said Jackob.
"Does that make him weak, in your mind?" Hermione asked him.
Jackob shook his head. "No. Firstly, there is such a thing as a wrongful killing – that is how I define murder. Secondly, not every person can be comfortable with killing. Some people – good people – can kill without being bothered by it. Others kill when they absolutely have to, but feel guilty about it for the rest of their lives. Neither is wrong, they are simply… different."
"Where does Malfoy fit into that though?" Ron asked. "Given that, according to Harry, he doesn't have it in him to kill at all."
Jackob smiled darkly. "Oh, everyone has it in them to kill, Mr Weasley. It's just buried deeper in some than it is in others."
"I don't believe you," said Ron. "And how d'you know my name?"
"Come now," said Jackob. "Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger. Anyone who reads the Prophet knows who Harry's friends are by now."
"The Prophet is a rubbish paper," said Ron. "You shouldn't trust everything you read in it."
"No, that's true," said Jackob. "But I can read in between the lines quite well, thank you."
"We're getting off topic," said Harry. "What would you do if you encountered Malfoy, or someone like him?"
Jackob sighed. "I don't know. It would depend on the situation."
"All of this is operating under the assumption that Malfoy doesn't have it in him to commit murder," said Hermione. "All we know is that he didn't have it in him to commit murder then. I mean, Dumbledore started trusting Snape for similar reasons, didn't he, and look where it got him."
"Severus Snape," said Jackob. "Ah, there's a conundrum."
"He's a murderer, nothing more," said Harry fiercely. "There isn't anything complex about that."
"Ah, but there is," said Jackob. "In fact, there is a great deal about him that is an enigma. He is a man who is – was – trusted by the two most powerful men in the wizarding world."
"Voldemort doesn't trust anyone," said Harry. "And Dumbledore was obviously wrong."
Jackob sighed. "I think Voldemort trusts Snape as much as he trusts anyone. Possibly even more than anyone else."
"And you're basing this off…?" Harry asked.
"I have a spy in the Death Eaters," said Jackob.
"Even if your spy is right, I don't see the big mystery," said Harry.
"I think both men…if you can call Voldemort a man…trusted Snape as much as they were capable of trust. And… I think the trust of both men was misplaced."
"So whose side is he on, then?" Hermione asked.
"His own," said Filch. "He's rather like me in that respect."
"Snape is the reason my parents are dead," Harry growled.
"Voldemort is the reason your parents are dead. No one else," said Jackob.
"He told him about the prophecy!" Harry started. "He told Volde–" Immediately he shut up, realising what he had just blurted.
"Well well…" said Jackob. "Turns out the Daily Prophet was right after all. There was a prophecy."
"Damn it," said Harry.
"Well yes, that would be my reaction," said Jackob.
"Well…there was a prophecy," said Harry. "And Snape heard part of it, and went and told Voldemort. And acting on that, Voldemort killed my mum and dad."
"He did know," said Harry. "Snape told him he was really sorry and all, no harm meant by it, and Dumbledore believed him."
Jackob's brow narrowed in thought. "Did he now? Did he indeed? I wonder. Dumbledore was no fool, as I'm sure you know."
"Yes, but he had to believe the best in people," said Harry. "Fatal flaw."
"If you can call optimism a flaw," said Hermione.
"Taken to certain levels, just about anything can be a flaw," said Sully.
"Dumbledore's Legilimency versus Snape's Occlumency…" Jackob mused, almost to himself.
"How did you know Snape was an Occlumens?" Hermione asked.
"I make it my business to know," said Jackob. "Dumbledore and Voldemort are…were…both accomplished Legilimens. And Snape… Snape has done his fair share of lying to both of them, which speaks worlds for his Occlumency skill."
"Yeah, we get it, you think he's great," said Ron. "Were you going somewhere with this?"
"I don't think he's great," said Jackob. "I think he's nasty, slimy, and a backstabbing git. However, I have an appreciation for enigmas, and as I am trying to point out, Severus Snape is very much a puzzle."
"I thought you said he was on his own side, and was 'rather like you in that respect'," Hermione said shrewdly.
Jackob nodded. "That I did, and that he is, or so I believe. However, having met the man, I also know that he is vindictive, seems to enjoy picking on people weaker than he is, and moreover he doesn't wash his hair."
Ron laughed at that, but Harry shook his head. "So if Snape isn't on Voldemort's side, why kill Dumbledore?"
"Perhaps he had no other choice," said Jackob.
"How do you work that one out?" Ron demanded.
"I don't, it's just an idea," said Jackob.
"The Unbreakable Vow," said Hermione.
"I beg your pardon," said Jackob.
"The Unbreakable Vow," said Hermione. There was the sort of manic look in her eye she sometimes got when she'd finally figured out something complex. "Snape made the Unbreakable Vow with Malfoy's mother, to protect him! Remember the conversation you overheard before Christmas?"
"Ah," said Jackob. "Very interesting. Very interesting indeed. It could well be that the reasons behind Snape's actions… all of them…can be tied to why he made that vow. How much of this conversation did you overhear?"
Harry shook his head. "Just enough to know that he'd made it, and who with."
"Still though," said Ron. "He should've risked losing his powers when it came down to breaking the vow or murdering Dumbledore!"
A stray memory clicked in Harry's brain. "No," he said. "Dumbledore wouldn't have wanted that. Would've insisted Snape follow through with the vow, I think. He valued other people's lives – especially younger people's – much more highly than he did his own."
"So wait," said Aiden. "Does this mean that Dumbledore was murdered…on his own orders?"
"It's…possible," said Harry, shaking his head. This whole situation was a complicated mess; he didn't know what to trust anymore.
"I think, perhaps, that it would be safest not to trust Snape with anything for any reason," said Jackob. "But also to understand that he might have had good reasons for what he did, and hold off on killing him as a result."
"The Ministry won't see it that way," said Hermione ruefully.
"I don't work for the Ministry," said Jackob. "Last I checked, neither do you lot."
A slow smile spread across Harry's face. "No. No, we don't." He unslung the bow and quiver from his back and handed them back to Aiden. He returned Sully's wand to its owner, and nodded at Hermione, who handed Jackob's wand back to him.
"Thank you," said Jackob. "Since we're lowering our collective guard a bit…Maxwell, you might as well come out and join us."
A panel in the stairway shifted aside and a bearded man dressed in plain black Muggle clothing stepped out. He had six antique flintlock pistols strapped to his body, and a musket slung over his back. "Feasgar math," he said in a thick Scottish accent. "My name is Maxwell Machamish."
"You were there all along?" Harry asked, looking accusingly at Jackob.
"I was," said Maxwell. "And what would you have done, in Jackob's place, eh?"
Harry sighed. "Probably kept you hidden where you were until I determined it was safe. What's with the pistols?"
"I'm a Muggle," said Maxwell.
"I thought you said Muggles can't see this building," Hermione said to Jackob.
Jackob smiled. "Maxwell has a very rare gift. 'True Sight', some call it. For whatever reason, wizarding illusions have no effect on him."
"First started happening when I was 18," said Maxwell. "I was a Jesuit Novitiate at the time. My superiors thought I was crazy; I got laughed at or hushed too many times, so eventually I left. Started looking into what, at the time, I thought of as 'the occult'. I followed wizards, learned what I could of their society, and documented what I found."
"Documented where?" Hermione asked.
"In my own journals," said Maxwell. "Anyway, all of that changed in 1978. A wizard I had been following for several weeks was attacked by several men in black cloaks. They started torturing him – middle of the street in broad daylight and they were torturing him.
"I tried to intervene, and they nearly killed me for it. Long story short, Aurors arrived on the scene and saved my life. I had already discovered that some wizards had relatives who couldn't do magic, so I passed myself off as one. Lucky I did too, though I didn't know about Obliviators at the time. I recovered, and set out to hunt the men who had hurt me."
"So you became a witch hunter, essentially?" Hermione asked.
"Makes it sounds like he's chasing skirts," Sully said with a nasty laugh.
Maxwell ignored him. "Yes, I did. But enough o' this chit chat. Let's get back to business."
"What is business, exactly?" Ron asked. "We were questioning you before, and now we're all chummy."
"I wouldn't go that far," said Sully.
"I believe we were discussing our mutual goal," said Jackob. "Hunting Voldemort. If you really are the Chosen One, Harry, if you really do stand a chance of bringing him down, then we've got some information for you that could be crucial."
"Well, the Prophecy said one of us is going to kill the other," said Harry said. "It says I've got the power to stop him, not that I necessarily will."
"Then the more knowledge you have, the better," said Jackob.
"Agreed," said Harry. "What have you got for me?"
"It's just a theory, mind, but I think I know how Voldemort survived the Killing Curse backfiring," said Jackob.
Harry pretended to register surprise; he didn't want to let on how much he already knew. "Really?"
"I found reference to a little known, highly powerful Dark artefact called a Horcrux. Essentially the wizard splits his soul, and hides part of it away in an object. He can't be killed unless that object is destroyed."
Harry sighed. "Yeah, well. We knew about that. Only, he doesn't have just one Horcrux. He's got multiples. Possibly as many as seven, counting the one inside Voldemort himself."
Aiden cursed softly and Maxwell muttered something in Gaelic. Jackob was silent, but for the first time, Harry saw fear in the man's eyes. "Seven," he finally said. "Merlin's beard."
"If it's any consolation, we've destroyed two," Harry added.
Jackob raised his eyebrows. "Indeed?"
"Harry destroyed one, a diary. The other was a ring, Dumbledore destroyed it," said Ron.
"How did you find them?" Filch asked. "Finding even one Horcrux can be an extremely challenging task, especially for a wizard whose background is as little-known as Voldemort's."
"Tom Riddle was one of Dumbledore's students," said Harry with a rueful smile. "Dumbledore made good use of his Pensieve."
"So I see," said Jackob. "Any idea what the others might be?"
"Some," said Hermione. "Guesswork."
"A cup," said Harry. "Belonging to Helga Hufflepuff. A locket owned by Slytherin. Voldemort's snake, Nagini. And something belonging to Ravenclaw or Gryffindor – he seems to like objects associated with the Founders."
"What makes you think there are only six?" asked Aiden.
"Something Riddle said in the Pensieve," said Harry vaguely.
"Do you have any leads as far as location goes?" Jackob asked.
"Not really," said Harry. "I was hoping to find something in Godric's Hollow."
"Well, instead you found someone," said Jackob. "Perhaps we could be of help to you, though."
"How?" Ron asked bluntly.
"Well. If I were going to go about the business of making Horcruxes, I would need access to an extensive library of illegal texts…Dark magic – not the sort of thing that most wizards would have lying around. Even Death Eaters – that sort of thing tends to be a bit incriminating."
"So where would you look?" Harry asked.
"Why, the only place there is to look," said Jackob. "The library of a Dark wizard."