Harry Potter & the Ritual of Merlin's Choice

Chapter 25

A streak of light flew through the outer wall of Dumbledore's office, cutting Harry, whose head was in the Floo, off mid-sentence. He'd been in the middle of recounting Kreacher's destruction of Slytherin's locket for the headmaster.

The silvery streak stopped in front of Dumbledore and materialised into a rabbit. "Dumbledore, I've found the item you requested. I'll bring it as soon as possible."

Harry didn't recognize the Patronus, or the voice of the caster, but the headmaster smiled broadly as the rabbit vanished. "It seems that Frank has come through for us," he explained, then, changing the subject, asked, "What was it you were saying, Harry?"

Harry allowed himself to be side-tracked temporarily, finishing his tale before turning the conversation back to the subject of Tom Riddle's diary, ending with an offer to come by after supper with the Basilisk fangs to destroy it.

"Of course," the headmaster nodded his agreement, but his expression betrayed his frustration. "It is not as though I can destroy the Horcrux without them. I still do not understand why you refused to leave any at Hogwarts."

Harry shook his head in exasperation, not bothering to respond out loud. They'd already been over this argument several times. Remembering his time at Hogwarts, he wasn't willing to leave such a dangerous substance in a school full of children; that and he wasn't sure that he trusted the headmaster not to go off on his own if he had them too close at hand—not that he was going to tell the old man that. So, instead, he simply shut the Floo connection.

Dumbledore frowned at the rude dismissal, but let it go; there was no point in calling the stubborn young man back to argue the point further. He'd just be turned down, again.

Consequently, he opted to simply turn back to the task he'd been working on before being interrupted by, first Harry's Floo call, and then Frank's Patronus—catching up on the ridiculous pile of paperwork which had begun to accumulate on his desk, since Voldemort's disappearance on Halloween.

The sun had begun to set and he'd made a reasonable dent in his pile of paperwork, when his office guardian announced that he had a visitor at the base of his stairs requesting admittance. Dumbledore allowed himself a brief grin, finally! Then, setting aside yet another request for advice from the Minister of Magic, he instructed his office to let the Auror in.

A moment later Frank Longbottom, dressed in soiled and slightly rumpled Auror robes, stepped into the office, smiling broadly. "Headmaster!" he greeted enthusiastically. "I really must thank you for the information James passed on your behalf."

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled in amusement. "You're most welcome, son," he said, directing his guest to take a seat. "It was of use, then?"

"Was it ever!" Frank flopped into the deep guest chair, exhausted after his long day. "Malfoy's little hidey-hole was hidden under so many wards that it was nearly impossible to find, and I probably would have given up long before I found anything, if I hadn't known it was there. As it is, I put up with a fair bit of ribbing from my fellow Aurors for my insistence... But, was it ever worth it!"

His grin widened, "Malfoy was so confident of its security, that he stored some rather sensitive and incriminating documents, implicating both himself and several high-level Ministry officials in various illegal activities. More importantly, many of the documents pre-date the period of time he claims to have been under the effects of the Imperious, by a significant margin. So I'd say we have a pretty solid case against him. Even his pockets aren't deep enough to dig himself out of the mess he's landed in, especially considering the identities of some of the officials implicated by his records..."

"That is certainly excellent news," Dumbledore agreed gravely, but, his eyes betrayed his impatience to change the subject. "And the object James asked you to retrieve?" he asked.

Frank frowned at the change of subject, but he reached into his cloak, and pulled out a charmed magical stasis evidence bag containing an old black diary. "I managed to locate it before anyone else saw it…" He hesitated, fiddling nervously with the bag's seal, "Can I ask what it is? I put it in stasis because James implied that it was more than a diary. He said…he said…that it could be used to bring He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named back to life…" the last words emerged a hesitant whisper.

The headmaster regarded Frank intently, his eyes no longer twinkling, "You mustn't share this with anyone. It would be disastrous if news got out." Frank, squirming uncomfortably under the intensity of the headmaster's penetrating gaze, nodded mutely. "The diary belonged to Voldemort in his Hogwarts days," Dumbledore explained. "He imbued it with certain qualities designed to help him live forever."

"But it didn't work?" asked Frank, suddenly incredibly nervous. He'd been worrying about Voldemort coming back, ever since James had hinted at the possibility. Now the headmaster was suggesting… "He-he is de-dead, isn't he?" he stammered, "Since he attacked Godric's Hollow?"

"Voldemort has indeed been vanquished," confirmed Dumbledore. "However, as long as this object and others like it survive, he'll never be truly dead. But you needn't worry yourself with the details. I'm taking care of it," he assured, reaching across his desk for the diary.

Frank Longbottom wasn't reassured, not really… Even so, he handed the diary over quickly, suddenly anxious about holding it even through the buffer the evidence bag provided.

The headmaster accepted it without a word and, noting the way Frank's hands trembled nervously, immediately locked it away in his top desk drawer, to be dealt with later.

When he next regarded his guest, his eyes had begun twinkling again. "Tell me, have you and Alice taken any action with regard to Bellatrix Lestrange?" he asked.

Frank shivered involuntarily, at the reminder. "We couldn't prevent her from being released," he sighed, wringing his hands. "We simply don't have enough evidence against her. Hard to believe, uh?" He laughed nervously. Everyone knew she was guilty. They just couldn't prove it; she didn't leave coherent witnesses behind. "But we'll be extra vigilant whenever we're out, and we've warned our colleagues that we're being targeted. A general alarm should alert the entire Auror department to our distress, if anything should happen to us."

"Excellent, excellent," nodded the Headmaster. There was no need for any harm to come to the Longbottoms if it could be easily avoided, especially since the Potters had been annoyingly insistent on that point, and he'd rather not have to deal with Lily's wrath, if at all possible. "Will you be requiring the Order's assistance as well?"

Frank appeared to hesitate, still on edge about the possibility of being targeted by Bellatrix Lestrange, but he shook his head. "Thanks for the offer," he swallowed nervously, "but it's probably best to keep this official."

Dumbledore nodded his head solemnly in acquiescence to the younger man's request, but, unconvinced of the efficiency and reliability of the Ministry, cast a silent and relatively untraceable tracking charm that would activate should the Auror get hit with Cruciatus.

"Well," Frank pushed himself up from his chair and stood, shuffling his feet uneasily, "Alice will probably start worrying if I don't get home soon. I came straight from work…"

"Of course," Dumbledore agreed. "Let me know if you should change your mind."

"I will. And thanks again..." assured Frank, closing the door quietly behind him.

Dumbledore turned back to the, still ridiculously large, pile of paperwork sitting on his desk. He really should make an effort to finish it tonight. However, the Horcrux hidden in his drawer called to him, tempting him, so much more interesting than responding to his correspondence…

He was curious. After all, he hadn't gotten a chance to examine any of the others before they'd destroyed them…

Unlocking his desk drawer, he pulled the diary out of its protective stasis bag and laid it on his desk. He flipped through it cautiously, but except for Tom Riddle's name on the cover, it was completely blank. The empty pages were inviting, calling to him.

Surely it wouldn't hurt to ask a few questions while he waited for Harry to arrive… When would he get another chance to pick a budding Dark Lord's mind? With the right questions, he might learn enough to prevent other Dark wizards from ever rising to power…

He hesitated briefly, remembering Harry's warning about the diary, but then picked up his quill. He was only planning to ask a few questions, not pour out his soul to the diary, as the young lady in the time traveller's tale had done. There wasn't any harm in asking a couple of questions.

He began to write...

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