Grimmauld Place was as dank and dusty as ever, though Molly had tried to cheer the place up a bit by starting a roaring fire in the library hearth. The flickering candles, in their ancient sconces, cast an eerie glow on the faces of those gathered, and the late afternoon sunlight that crept through the heavy curtains only heightened the effect.
Their numbers had swelled, of late, and that in and of itself was comforting in some ways. The old familiar faces were there; Moody glowered near the fireplace, Dung Fletcher idly chewed on a cold pipe from his seat in the far corner, Snape stood silent as a statue in front of the closed door, and Remus paced before the fire.
"The Inferi are proving to be-- rather difficult to contain," Remus continued in a quiet voice. The perpetual circles beneath his eyes looked even darker tonight, partly from the full moon the week previously, and partly from the news Kingsley had brought of an entire family of wizards -- all of them Muggle-sympathizers of course -- who had been killed early that morning. "Enough that I'm inclined to agree with Nymphadora on the possibility of Voldemort having allies... beyond this realm. Certainly no wizard could cause so many to be raised, and if Voldemort really is in league with some sort of devil, or spirit, then we may be facing..." Remus trailed off, shaking his head, but the unspoken words weren't lost on anybody. "In more ways than one, Inferi are similar to Dementors. Most magic doesn't appear to apply to them, and even though they're able to be contained by fire, setting everything to light isn't really a viable plan in the long run." A wry, humorless smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
There were absent faces, of course. People whose names didn't get mentioned terribly frequently, because their loss had been keenly felt. And moreover, a reminder of their collective vulnerability.
But there were new members, now. Younger, but age had all but ceased to be a factor in this war; that much was clear from the amounts of Hogwarts students who, fresh from their seventh year, had wasted no time in enlisting in the reserve civilian defenses set up by the Ministry. The older sets of eyes in the room, however, kept casting watchful glances at the too-somber faces of the students. Particularly on the three seated side by side; red, brown, and black heads bent unconsciously together, even as they listened closely to the proceedings.
"So basically you're saying that we'd better not come across any social mixers between the Inferi and the Dementors, or else we'd be bollocksed, huh?" George asked from his spot next to Fred on the windowseat.
"George, language," Molly admonished, but Arthur nodded gravely.
"You're right about that, son. They're difficult enough to deal with on their own, but if any of us were to get caught in a situation where Voldemort brings them both along for back-up--"
"Which is probably exactly what he has planned for any sort of large-scale attack," Tonks broke in. The witch shifted in her cross-legged position, leaning back against the sofa next to Bill's legs. "So I reckon we ought to come up with some kind of plan to fight both the Inferi and the Dementors at once, since it's a bit more than just a possibility that we'll need it."
Silence, for a moment, as everyone mulled this over. With an absent flick of her wand, Molly sent the teapot 'round to give everyone a refill.
"--What about dragonz?" Fleur said abruptly, looking over in the direction of her brother-in-law. "They love nothing more than to make fire, non? So let them have a little fun, and use them against the Inferi at the same time. Iz tastey snackz, iz no problem."
Charlie looked uncertain. "I dunno," he replied. "Be a bit tricky, to just let a bunch of dragons loose in the sky and hope for the best. The ones I used to work with are tamer than most, but they're not that tame. Need riders to really control them, and there's only a rare handful that'll let people climb all over them. On top of which, I'm the only one qualified to do that in this group, am I right?"
There was a general murmur of assent. "Still, it's worth thinking on," Remus said, nodding to Charlie. "I know you're working with the Ministry's reserve forces now, but write a few letters, ask around at the preserve. You were there long enough to know who's sympathetic to our cause and who's not, I reckon. Might be able to drum up a few more riders that way. Meanwhile, Tonks, how's it coming with the explosive end of things? That's another possibility for a large-scale attack on the Inferi, I'm thinking."
The Auror opened her mouth, and then paused, looking a bit uncertain.
"Is everything quite all right, Nymphadora?" Dumbledore's voice made her look up. The firelight glinted off his half-moon spectacles, and he gave her a small smile.
Hesitantly, "They're having some problems, but in the past couple of weeks Bernard's been able to work out some of the major design flaws. They've a long way to go, though." Tonks paused. "Bernard might be-- he might going into the Ministry, to work directly with the team. Cut out the middle man, sort of thing."
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "I was under the impression he couldn't leave that bar of yours, Tonks, or has something changed?"
"It might be changing. Possibly. Yeah." The witch curled her legs up to her chest, hugging her knees, and Kingsley rested his large hand on her shoulder for a moment. "I'll keep you posted."
"Please do." Dumbledore nodded kindly, his blue gaze as piercing and percpetive as ever. "Meanwhile, another rather pressing matter is that of Tom Riddle -- who, many of you know, exists in Milliways as a twenty-nine year old wizard who has renounced the path he would have taken in order to become Lord Voldemort. He has also confided in me information with which we can win this war.
"Some of you may know about horcruxes – they are made from the darkest of magics when the soul is torn asunder with the act of murder. This fragment of soul is then hidden within objects of the makers choosing, in the case of Voldemort’s, in objects that have a special relevance to him. Two years ago, I broke the horcrux contained within a ring, a family heirloom of Tom’s mother. Two years ago, on the exact same date, Tom Riddle found himself in Milliways. The last thing he remembers doing in his previous time and place is being in the midst of creating the horcrux he sealed within that ring. Tom Riddle of Milliways is a horcrux incarnate. We have nothing to worry about regarding that piece of Voldemort's soul. In this plane of existance, the horcrux was destroyed.
“He spoke with me yesterday, and gave me the places and the items he’d marked as his future horcruxes. We knew, of course, about the quill that belonged to Ravenclaw was to be kept in a cave near Saint Mary's Bay. That one has been taken care of, so only three remain. A goblet of Helga Hufflepuff’s hidden in a pauper's grave in the church graveyard at Little Hangleton. A dagger purported to be Gryffindor’s should be found in a crypt in the old Wizarding Quarter of Alexandria. A locket belonging to Salazar Slytherin, will likely be found in a ruined tower on a desolated Albanian peak. The diary and the ring horcruxes were destroyed, but sadly, as Severus has informed us, the horcrux from the diary has been recalled. Voldemort, as a young man, thought to make seven. In fact, I believe that the seventh part of his soul resides inside his regenerated body. That seventh piece of soul will be the last that anybody wishing to kill Voldemort must attack - the piece within his body."
He nodded to Harry, the one who would have the dreadful honor. Harry nodded back, his piercing green eyes never wavering, and Hermione slipped her hand in his.
"However, as Tom relayed one last location he'd had in mind, we'd be wise to check a ruin on Anglesy island. We must destroy all the horcruxes we can now, before Voldemort has time to collect them and hide them somewhere else."
Dumbledore looked round the room at the grim, brave faces surrounding him. Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, he felt the honour and pride of knowing these fine people.
"I know this isn't an easy thing to ask. Not right now when you and your families are already in great danger. I shall be dealing with the horcrux in Alexandria myself. That is the one which Tom admitted would be guarded with the most vicious of spellwork."
Bill nodded and raised his voice. "Take me to Alexandria with you. I know Egypt and I know curse-breaking." He glanced quickly to Fleur but his eyes riveted back on Albus's face nearly immediately.
Molly's gasp broke the following silence. After a moment, Dumbledore said quietly, "Are you quite sure, Bill?"
"Yes, Mum, of course I am. I know Egypt better than anyone here, and if I can't break a curse on yet another crypt or tomb -- I've not yet met the curse that has bested me -- then it will be bloody well impossible for anyone else to do, and I'm not just saying that out of a misguided sense of pride. I can do it, Headmaster. And I can do it without jeopardising... well, enough said about that. I'm decided: I'm honoured to do this with you." Bill's eyes were set like cooling steel: no turning back. Not with a call to action like this, and an opportunity as precious as this one. It's only our whole world at stake, after all, said his expression. Most any risk is worthwhile when faced with those odds. Fleur bit her lip, but took up his hand and settled it in her lap, close to her belly. Because it needed to be done.
Tonks craned her head back to look up at Kingsley. "What d'you reckon, mate? Fancy a bit of an adventure?" The witch gave her partner a rakish smile, but Kingsley knew her better than that. There was a spark of fear in her grey eyes, along with the usual glint of steely determination and sheer bull-headedness. Everytime we have to do this, she has more to lose, he thought grimly, but smiled back.
"Wouldn't have it any other way. You bring the tea this time, my dear, and I'll pack a lunch."
"Now, now, Nymphadora," Snape cut in smoothly. "Are you quite sure that husband of yours would want you gallivanting off, trying to get yourself killed?" A pause, as his lip curled into its customary sneer. "Again?"
Tonks shot him a scathing look, and the twins rolled their eyes. Arthur cleared his throat. "Tonks is a fine Auror, very fine indeed. More than capable of handling herself in the field, if I may say so. Kingsley, Tonks, I'd be happy to offer my services to you, as well. Between the three of us we ought to be able to track down one of these horcrux things."
Kingsley and Tonks beamed gratefully at Arthur, and Dumbledore nodded. He started to speak, but paused when he realized there was a flurry of whispering coming from Ron, Harry, and Hermione. Finally the three of them looked up, and Ron cleared his throat. "We'll go after one. Us three, I mean."
Mrs. Weasley gasped again, but Arthur put a calming hand on her knee, and merely looked to Dumbledore.
"I think that is quite fitting. Now, Remus, I know you told me earlier you would go after one yourself, but I suspect you'll need some company--"
"I'll go." Charlie flushed as everyone's attention shifted towards him, and rubbed the back of his neck. He looked not unlike Ron, in that moment. "I've a day or two off-duty from training the recruits, come the end of this week, so..." Tonks caught his eye, giving him a tiny, encouraging smile, and he smiled tentatively back.
"Excellent. I shall meet with you individually, then, in order to give each group the most recent intelligence we have on each horcrux. I fear you shall need all of the weapons you can muster, tangible and intellectual, in order to do what must be done."