The last week of the school term was a deceptively calm one. The students were much more subdued than Roy had seen them before, and Cedric Diggory’s name could be heard frequently in whispered conversations in the hallways, accompanied often by Harry Potter’s. The students as a whole had decided to avoid Potter instead of accosting him with questions, which was probably the better alternative for him right now. Potter himself could rarely be seen walking the halls without at least either Hermione or the redheaded boy accompanying him. It was a good thing that he had friends willing to stick with him through this. Roy knew how much of a difference someone’s support could make during a difficult time.
As for Roy, he remained at Hogwarts, his presence becoming the second favourite gossip topic for the students. Roy occupied the space that should have been Karkarov’s during meals (Karkarov had, unsurprisingly, fled Hogwarts the night of the third task) and made an effort to get to know and catalogue all the members of the staff. They had been informed the day after the third task that Roy would be joining them next year, and were reasonably interested in him given the circumstances.
The second day Albus managed to free two hours in the evening to go over the memory of his conversation with Potter (as it turned out, pensieves were uncommon enough objects that it wouldn’t have been strange for Roy not to know about them). From Potter’s description of the ritual, Roy concluded that it was very likely something that classified as one of the acts that would have sent Riddle to the Gate. Creating mindless dolls meant to be moved by a Philosopher’s Stone the way the brass had done and used in the Promised Day only skirted the line, but creating a body meant to house and respond to a fragment of a soul was the kind of act Truth would most certainly punish.
There was also the detail of the magical protection against Riddle that Potter had received when his mother had died. Albus called it the power of love, Roy called it a spell Lily Potter had probably created herself to use as a desperate last measure (if love could protect that way, Roy suspected many more people would have survived the killing curse). They agreed to disagree.
The morning of the third day a portrait asked Roy to head to the hospital wing, where Albus and a still very weak Alastor Moody were waiting for him. It was kind of a morbidly hilarious experience to be subjected to the same suspicious scrutiny by the real Moody than he had been by the fake one (Crouch had been a very good actor, otherwise he wouldn’t have succeeded so well or for so long in his deception).
“Interesting scars,” Moody said finally, his magical eye fixated on Roy’s left side, then swivelling down to look from one hand to the other. Albus didn’t react, proving that he had already known about them.
“Likewise,” Roy replied mildly, pointedly looking over the plethora of scars and missing parts on Moody’s face.
“Albus tells me you were the first to suspect Crouch,” he said gruffly, and while he was somewhat hard to read, Roy thought he saw something like approval in his good eye.
Roy shrugged with a slight smile.
“I don’t have the kind of history or preconceived ideas about you that most people here do. He seemed the most likely culprit, so I suspected him.”
Moody nodded, and that was definitely approval in his eye.
Roy didn’t think for a second this meant Moody had decided to trust him; it simply meant that he had decided to take Roy seriously.
That suited Roy just fine.
Now that exams were over, students avoided the library and spent most of their free time outside. Roy didn’t even see Hermione there, whom he suspected would have gone anyway if it wasn’t for Potter’s situation. Roy spent most of his time in the library, continuing on with his research of soul-related magic. Whenever he took a break from the nonsense, he started studying magical means through which a person could transform into something or someone else. After learning about the existence of animagi and the polyjuice potion Crouch had used to impersonate Moody, he thought it was a knowledge that could prove useful at a later date. It wasn’t as tedious a research as his main project, but he wasn’t sure if it was a good thing he was becoming so used to the nonsense that he now could ignore it when it came in small doses. Magical explanations still made no sense from a logical point of view, but he found them almost refreshing after all the philosophical absurdity about souls.
Albus informed him that the Order of the Phoenix would meet officially for the first time the evening of the day the students were scheduled to leave for their summer holidays, though he had already started to coordinate people. Sirius Black had volunteered his family home to serve as their headquarters; while Black had officially been disowned because his family had been pureblood supremacists and Voldemort supporters, his parents and brother were dead, and thus he had inherited everything. The house hadn’t been inhabited in a few years, which meant it would require very thorough cleaning, but Albus assured him it was large enough to serve their purposes.
Roy composed a mental speech on the spot of how he couldn’t possibly assist with the cleanup because his research demanded a lot of time, and he intended to make the most of the summer holidays before his duties as a professor took over a good part of his time.
On the morning of the fifth day, Albus left to place all the necessary protections on the house, including something called a fidelius. Roy spent that morning researching the spell, and concluded it made for reasonably good security. Roy wouldn’t trust their safety solely on that spell, but Albus assured him the Blacks had been an extremely paranoid family and their house had layers upon layers of additional protective magic placed on it.
Finally, the end of term banquet arrived. It was nothing like what Roy had read these banquets usually were in Hogwarts: A History; instead of the colours of whichever house had won the house cup this year, the Great Hall was decorated with black banners and drapes in memory of Cedric Diggory.
Albus gave a speech, his attempt to reveal the truth of what had happened to the world despite the Ministry of Magic’s efforts to hide it and ask for unity in the difficult times to come. Roy studied the faces of the students as Albus spoke, trying to gauge their reactions. While grief over Diggory’s death was a common feeling with only a few exceptions, Albus’ words about Voldemort were met with a mix of scepticism and fear (and there were, as well, a handful of students who appeared excessively relaxed and even pleased. Roy marked them as likely the children of Death Eaters). For these children, Lord Voldemort was either a fear from their early childhood or the dark lord whose reign of terror they had never experienced in person but had heard plenty of horror stories about, especially those who had grown up in the wizarding world. Albus was a widely respected figure in the wizarding world, but it was clear many people in the room were desperately wishing he was wrong.
If they weren't the perfect targets for a discrediting campaign, Roy would eat his ignition gloves.
Roy smiled at Hermione when she waved goodbye at him while the students waited by the entrance of the castle for the carriages that would take them home. He stood back by the entrance doors and observed as they boarded said carriages, surprisingly unperturbed by the skeletal, winged horses that pulled them. Even if they were common creatures in the wizarding world —which Roy didn’t know, because he had no idea what those horses were; some type of chimeras would have been his first guess— he would have expected at least some of the children to be disturbed by them. The Beauxbatons carriage, pulled by far more beautiful winged horses, and the Durmstrang ship had already left, and once the last of the Hogwarts carriages disappeared into the grounds only the staff and the house elves remained in the castle (and the ghosts, whose existence Roy very firmly refused to even think about; how did ghosts not defy Truth’s rules of the world? Or maybe they did, but Truth wasn’t nearly as bothered by them as it was by Riddle?).
“Most of the staff will depart today,” Albus said, approaching Roy. “Ideally, you should be able to do so as well, but given the circumstances...”
“I don’t mind,” Roy said truthfully. “I was growing tired of hotel rooms anyway. I think I’ll explore the castle a little.”
“Oh? Well, there is a lot to discover in Hogwarts. Not even I know all of its secrets; sometimes rooms come and go as they please.”
Roy held back a grimace. That comment went straight to the list of things he wasn’t going to think about unless they proved necessary for his mission.
“Speaking of leaving,” Roy said, turning to face Albus, “I will need to visit Diagon Alley at some point this summer.” Because now that he had a permanent place to live, Roy refused to keep transmuting his handful of clothes every other day. He would be prepared for any incidents, but a trip there was non-negotiable.
“I suppose we could arrange something with another Order member. It would be best if you didn’t go alone; while Tom is content to lay low for now, it doesn’t mean the Death Eaters are going to be completely inactive.”
“And they won’t pass the chance to capture me if they see it, I know.” Roy had his doubts that it would be so easy for them to capture him, but he had learnt his lesson about taking unnecessary risks a long time ago.
He hoped he could go with someone reasonable, though, because he didn’t cherish the idea of a shopping trip with, say, Alastor Moody. Or Albus. Roy may like him, but Albus wouldn’t know a decent fashion sense if it slapped him on the face and then started bouncing around the room.
“Who’s in the Order?” Roy asked, digging for any information before he was faced with a room full of strangers.
Albus gestured for them to go back inside the castle, and Roy complied.
“A few people. You have already met Alastor, of course, and Sirius, Minerva, Severus, and Molly and Bill Weasley the night of Tom’s return. Aside from yourself and Bill, we have a handful of new recruits. Regretfully, we lost many good people during the previous war, and the population seems more reticent to acknowledge Lord Voldemort’s return than I feared, with the Ministry refusing to do it, so we haven’t managed to recruit as many people as we would have liked.”
Roy hummed. He wasn’t surprised: as a general rule, people weren’t willing to accept a change that could be harmful for them unless they had solid, undeniable proof of it. Sometimes not even then. Of the people who might be willing to accept it anyway, they had to account for those who would not go against the government’s official version of events.
“Sometimes numbers are not what matters most,” Roy pointed out.
“True. We do have some very remarkable characters amongst our numbers, and, at least for now, I expect we will be even with Tom’s forces.”
“For now?” Today the stairs weren’t cooperating, and they spun around twice before stopping at the right hallway.
“Do you remember what I told Fudge about the dementors?”
Unfortunately, Roy did; it had been a persistent thought this past week. He hadn’t fully understood the implications of that part of the conversation at the moment, but he had understood it was a serious matter even then. Now it worried him, plain and simple.
“That they will join Riddle at the first chance they have. Yes, I remember.” Which was another good reason to start learning the patronus charm. Roy intended to hunt down a secluded empty classroom at the first opportunity he had.
“Once that happens, I’m afraid all of Tom’s imprisoned followers who are still in a state to do so will return to his side.”
They reached the office, and Albus gestured to the couches instead of his desk. During the last week, Roy had learnt to ignore the sudden appearance of food, and thus didn’t need to contain a reaction when a tea set materialised on the coffee table.
“I wanted to ask,” Roy started, reaching for a cup (they had eaten breakfast just a little while ago, but it was good to have something to occupy his hands with), “how is your search for the horcruxes coming along?”
“Both well and badly, it depends on your perspective.”
“Could you be any vaguer?” Roy asked when Albus didn’t elaborate, and Albus smiled, amused.
“I could try. I believe I told you about Tom’s superstitious nature, didn’t I?” Roy nodded. “Well, while I am still searching for a way to confirm it, I believe I know in how many fragments Tom has divided his soul. Or at least how many fragments he intended to have. As you no doubt know, the number seven is by far considered the most magical number,” (Roy hadn’t known, he had looked at the arithmancy section and decided he had no time to waste on that nonsense about the magical properties of numbers; it figured it would be relevant) “and so, if I had to hazard a guess, I believe that is the number of fragments Tom wished to create. Which means there are seven horcruxes, counting young Harry.”
“How can you confirm that?” Roy asked, because he didn’t want to leave everything up to a guess about Riddle’s superstition. If they somehow revealed their knowledge about his horcruxes too early, Riddle would simply create more and hide them, making it nearly impossible to kill him.
“Oh, of course, I haven’t told you the specifics. For the last few years I have been collecting memories concerning Tom, trying to figure out what he has been up to, his possible horcruxes, and the places where he has hidden them. There is one person whom I am certain spoke to Tom about horcruxes while he was in school, but I haven’t managed to convince him to give me that memory yet: Horace Slughorn. He was the Head of Slytherin during Tom’s school years, and he had a club to which he invited the students he believed would have a great future, both to offer them connections and to gain them as his own connections for the future. Tom was his favourite student at the time, and Horace was the member of staff most enamoured by him. If Tom attempted to gain a second opinion on the hypothetical scenario of creating more than one horcrux, he would have asked Horace.”
“Have you spoken to Slughorn?”
“I have,” Albus confirmed, “and he wasn’t as successful in his attempt to convince me he knew nothing of Tom’s interest in horcruxes as he no doubt hoped to be. He has gone into hiding, now, because Tom always wanted him to join his side. I know where he is, though, and I will continue to attempt to convince him.”
“I imagine that is one of the reasons your research is going badly. What about the good results?”
“Would you like to see?” Albus offered instead of a straight reply. “While I haven’t located any, I believe I have identified three of the remaining five horcruxes.”
He stood up and walked over to the cupboard where he kept his pensieve.
That day they didn’t manage to observe and discuss Albus’ whole collection of relevant memories, but Roy was introduced to the charming Gaunt family and their frankly disgusting living conditions, Albus’ theory regarding Merope Gaunt’s snaring of Tom Riddle Senior, a record of a man who swindled Merope out of her ownership of Slytherin’s locket, and Albus’ first meeting with the eleven year old Tom Riddle.
Sometime while they discussed how Merope had lost the locket, an enthusiastic house-elf called Dobby had popped up in the office laden with trays of food because they had long since missed lunch.
When Roy asked if Riddle’s little collection of the objects he had stolen from other children at the orphanage was relevant because Riddle had acquired his horcruxes that way, Albus nodded.
“That is my guess, yes.”
“The locket is a horcrux, then?”
“And the ring,” Albus confirmed. “We will look at that next time we can both spare a few hours. Now,” he looked to the clock on the wall, “I believe we have a meeting to attend. We’ve agreed to meet at the Hog’s Head —which is unfortunately closed to patrons today due to an incident with a few prancing tables— so I can give everybody access to our new headquarters.”
The Order of the Phoenix was a motley crowd of individuals, some of whom would never have come together during peaceful times. The most obvious example of this was a man named Mundungus Fletcher, who had received many distrustful looks from the people Roy soon learnt were the Order’s new recruits (he was, apparently, a petty thief with a bad reputation). However, the old Order members vouched for his usefulness, claiming that Fletcher could obtain information no one else there was capable of, and that was the end of that discussion, even if it was obvious that not everybody was happy about his presence (Molly Weasley, for example, kept sending glares his way).
Snape’s presence, while garnering many glares and considerably more distrust than Fletcher’s, did not start an argument, which proved that everybody present already knew the identity of their spy.
It was Black’s arrival, accompanied by a man later introduced as Remus Lupin, which nearly caused a fight to break out. Albus had to step in front of Black —whom Lupin was trying to hold back— to prevent any spells from being fired, and then had to tell the frankly depressing tale of the Potters’ deaths to convince the crowd that no, Sirius is not going to go ballistic and murder everyone in the room and yes, we are sure he’s innocent.. Judging by the stricken looks all over the room, nobody had ever doubted the official account of events or Black’s guilt. It made Roy wonder how reliable the Order was, if they were willing to dismiss one of their own like that without even a token amount of doubt.
Before anybody could respond with more than a guilty look, the bartender —whom Albus had introduced as his younger brother Aberforth— told them to hurry up and get out of his bar.
Moody disagreed with the hurrying up part, and proceeded to interrogate everybody present on their reasons to join the Order, all the while making it abundantly clear if he caught someone with hidden intentions things wouldn’t be pleasant for them. When it was his turn, Roy shrugged and revealed his knowledge of how to create the Philosopher’s Stone and Voldemort’s interest in him (he ignored Albus’ disapproving look: he needed a story, and he wasn’t going to tell the truth, but there was no reason to lie about that part when there existed a very real possibility that the Order could learn about it through a Death Eater anyway, and this way Moody couldn’t catch him in a lie because he wasn’t lying). Snape scoffed, sent Roy a look that made it clear how little he thought of Roy’s blasé attitude in regards to the Stone’s issue, and confirmed that Roy was one of the two people Voldemort had expressly ordered to capture alive (the other being Potter, which proved how badly Riddle dealt with defeat).
From there on, Roy proceeded to ignore any attempt at talking about the Stone and Moody’s interrogation of the new (and old) Order members proceeded. Amongst the Order, there were a handful of old friends of Albus’, his brother (who told Moody where to shove his questions, but Albus stopped any fight that might result), the Weasley couple and their son Bill, two aurors, Black, Lupin, Snape, and Fletcher. Plus, of course, some people who wasn’t present at the meeting, such as McGonagall and Hagrid.
Once Moody was satisfied there was no spy (other than Snape, whom he very obviously did not trust), Albus handed around a piece of paper with the address of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, then set the paper on fire once they had all memorised it, and, much to Aberforth’s relief, they finally took the Floo to the old house.
Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place was, to be generous, a dump. A dump with a grumpy and possibly deranged house-elf who hated them all —but especially Black— and a screaming portrait of Black’s mother. The place looked like something Edward might have decorated himself. While drunk.
The meeting was a dull but necessary affair. The Order was informed of Hagrid and Madame Maxime’s mission to contact the giants; Remus Lupin (who just happened to be a werewolf, but Roy was reserving judgement because he had yet to learn enough about any magical creatures to even be able to identify, let alone judge, them) was tasked to try to gain some werewolves for their side, something nobody seemed to expect would work; a guard rotation was set to keep an eye on Potter’s family house; Black was told in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t allowed out of the house because by now Voldemort and his Death Eaters would know about his animagus form and it would be too risky to leave; Molly Weasley volunteered her younger children, the ones she deemed too young to join the Order or participate in meetings, to help clean the house, which Roy expected her children would object to; Bill Weasley agreed to try to negotiate with the goblins, given that he worked at Gringotts, but the prospects with them weren’t much better than with the werewolves.
Roy had no set task, his status as a somewhat wanted man preventing him from participating into virtually anything, but he came up with two ideas during the meeting which he personally thought were just as, if not more, useful than the entire meeting had been. The first one pertained to his trip to Diagon Alley, something he thought of when one of the aurors, Nymphadora Tonks, turned her hair a painful shade of purple halfway through the meeting and explained she was a metamorphomagus when she received some strange looks. Roy had learnt about them during his research on shape-shifting magic. Convincing Tonks (because calling her Nymphadora was out of the question, she had made that much clear when she introduced herself) to transform into an unrecognizable form and be his “date” for the trip was easy enough, and Albus couldn’t object because going with one of the Order’s aurors was one of the best choices available.
Roy’s second idea required a larger amount of persuasion on his part to convince Albus to agree. But he did. It was nice to get confirmation that his argumentative skills were still untarnished by this still-not-completely-familiar world.
At the end of the meeting, when people started to wander off to explore the dilapidated house —in teams, because they didn’t know what manner of dark objects could be around— or leave through the Floo, Roy walked up to where Black remained at the table, moping because he had been forbidden to step foot outside of the house, and sat next to him.
“Do you know how to cast a patronus?”
Black looked up at him from his sulk.
“Yeah, of course. Why?”
“I was wondering if you could teach me.”
Black looked him up and down, a mix of dubious and incredulous.
“You don’t know how to cast it?”
Roy shrugged nonchalantly.
“I never saw the point. Until what happened with Crouch, that is. Now I realize I would be better served learning how to cast it, and I figure it would go faster with a teacher. I hear it’s a complicated spell.”
Black let out something between a scoff and a laugh.
“That’s a way to see it. You don’t mind having to come here?” he asked, gesturing contemptuously around at the kitchen Molly was hurriedly cleaning with an impressive barrage of spells.
“Actually, I’ve spoken with Albus, and we believe we’d be better off practicing at Hogwarts,” Roy replied, and cut off Black’s predictable incredulous reply with an explanation. “The only ones in full residence at the castle during the summer will be Albus and myself, with occasional visits from Professor McGonagall. As long as you remain in your animagus form when you’re in sight of the portraits, there should be no problem.”
“And Dumbledore agreed to this?” Black asked in a way that made it clear he didn’t believe it.
“It took some convincing,” Roy confessed with another shrug. In fact, it had taken Roy pointing out Black didn’t appear to be the most stable of individuals (understandable after his long stay in Azkaban) and having him cooped up in this house would most likely worsen his situation: if Black was allowed outside, even in a controlled environment, and felt at least marginally useful, he would pose much less of a nuisance for the Order. At least during the summer, because that problem would appear anyway once school started.
“Now I can’t possibly refuse that offer,” he said, and extended a hand. “Let’s do some proper introductions. I’m Sirius Black, unfortunate owner of this hovel.”
“Roy Mustang, alchemist and future professor of Hogwarts starting next year,” Roy introduced himself, shaking Black’s hand.
“Hey, Moony!” Black called over his shoulder. Lupin looked at them from where he had been casting spells on kitchen drawers to see if the previous Blacks —or the crazy house-elf— had left any surprises in them. “You taught Harry the patronus last year, have any tips?”