The Longbottoms are attacked. Bellatrix Lestrange goes to a dinner party, where she isn't allowed to kill anyone. All our major characters are taking the chapter off!
Chapter 5 - The Fine Art of Negotiation
Bellatrix Lestrange was not pleased. This much could be easily guessed by the way that she walked up the sidewalk to Number 23 Riverwalk Lane. Her dress robes were immaculate. Her hair had been styled to frame her oval face and full lips. Makeup had been applied with great care and precision. Truth be told, it had been well over fifteen years since she had been "dressed to the nines". The overall makeover had the desired effect on the numerous males she had encountered this evening, none aside from her escorts ever suspecting that the stunning beauty in her mid-thirties they were ogling was actually the most wanted witch in Wizarding Britain.
She was annoyed at having to be at this residence this evening. The two men escorting her were more concerned that the woman they were with would harm them then the possibility of confronting any magical law enforcement. They shifted uncomfortably in her presence. The older of the two knowing full well, that Bellatrix would rather be killing someone right now and with the least amount of provocation would relish the opportunity to take her frustrations out on some poor hapless soul.
Bellatrix thought back to the moment that she was given her assignment. She had been furious. Had there been a prisoner or other expendable, she could have killed on the spot.
"Milord, please reconsider. I should be at your side. Am I not your most faithful servant?" She pleaded with Voldemort. "At least switch me with Peter and let me lead that mission."
"Dear Bella," Her master started. "Peter is ill suited for a diplomatic mission such as this. He lacks the polite society skills that you were raised with and he is rather loathsome to look upon. I know how much you enjoy combat, but there are many types of combat. This is but a different battle, but one that must be fought and won just the same. There are two overwhelming forces in the cosmos - Power and Control. If you have enough Power, you simply take Control. If you have enough Control, the Power becomes yours for the taking."
She knew he was right. She also knew that the Dark Lord would only endure so much questioning, even from her. She also suspected from his reply that he was actually enjoying himself at her expense. Narcissa was the high society type. Her sister was the ballroom debutante, Bella was more the back alley and bedroom type.
"Ring the bell, you moron." She berated the younger man, who visibly flinched.
A moment later, the door opened to reveal a young woman with curly strawberry blonde hair. Bella had been briefed on the soon to be seventh year Ravenclaw. The young lady was dressed well and smiled warmly. It was obvious that she had no real idea of the identity of the person she was addressing.
"Good evening. Welcome to the Edgecombe household. My name is Marietta. I will be your hostess for this evening. Father has asked me to take you to the parlor, where he will join us for refreshments while you discuss your business arrangements." Her manners were flawless and smacked of a proper upbringing for a pureblooded woman.
Marietta led them down the hallway to the parlor. She was very nervous at having to host this party. Her family had fallen on hard times. Her mother was in prison, charged with gross abuse of power. She had authorized widespread and highly illegal floo monitoring under the Fudge administration. As one of his strongest supporters, Madame Edgecombe's fall from power was fast, brutal and complete. Technically, her father had not been sacked from his position at the ministry. He was simply put on unpaid leave indefinitely pending the outcome of the investigation. Gringotts had frozen the family vaults at the request of the DMLE to determine the extent of financial wrongdoings in the scandal. The only liquid assets left for her family to survive on resided in Marietta's trust account. It would be gone before the summer ended and that was not even accounting for her seventh year of tuition. They had discussed selling the family house elf when the time came. Marietta faced an uncertain future and had already begun to realize that she would be persona non grata in Wizarding Britain. Despite her good grades, her tarnished family name would afford virtually no job opportunities.
"Here we are. I will go fetch some refreshments. It is about twenty minutes to sunset and the view from here is quite nice." Marietta said gesturing to the parlor's bay window. She left her guests and went into the kitchen to retrieve the tea set and pastries. Returning to her guests she offered the refreshments.
"May, I have your names so that I can announce you to my father properly? Please excuse my rudeness. Father did not provide me with the details of this evening."
Bella was going to enjoy this. "My escorts are Charles Higgs, patron of the Higgs family, his eldest son Terrence and I am Lady Bellatrix Black-Lestrange."
As Bella expected, Marietta's eyes bulged and her jaw dropped in a most unladylike fashion. To the young lady's credit, she did not faint but did clutch at the back of a chair to steady herself. After a pause of about ten seconds where her eyes blinked rapidly, she managed to close her mouth and turn back towards the hallway.
"Yes. Very good. I shall return with Father momentarily." Marietta managed to stammer as she quickly walked from the room. She hurried up the steps and knocked on the library door. "Father, Lady Bellatrix Black-Lestrange and her escorts Mr. Charles Higgs and Mr. Terrence Higgs have arrived." She finished with a gulp.
Jaques Edgecombe stood up quickly and looked at his daughter's pale complexion. "I am sorry for not telling you sooner, Marietta. I hope you will forgive me."
"We are not going to become Death Eaters are we?" She whispered rapidly losing even more color.
"No my dear, provided everything goes as planned. We must not keep them waiting." He answered.
They hurried back to the parlor, where Marietta introduced her father. She made sure there was more than enough tea in the pot and sat on the couch next to her father, but closest to the hallway. Marietta struggled to balance the need to be a proper hostess with the knowledge that her guest was in the words of the normally restrained Neville Longbottom -"The most vile psychotic bitch to ever see the light of day."
"Good evening milady and welcome to our home."
"Thank you for having us. I trust your wife is well."
"As well as can be expected during this difficult time. We are coping as best we can."
"That is good to hear," Bella replied pleasantly in her best high society manners, "The refreshments are lovely, but perhaps we should get to business."
"As you wish Lady Lestrange."
With that the elder Higgs opened a leather carrying case. From it he produced several documents. "The first document is a standard marriage contract for Terrence and Marietta to be concluded within one month of her graduation from school. The second contains the financial terms for the bride price and a schedule of payments. The third is the magical binding acceptance of documents one and two. Please review for any missing details." Jaques Edgecombe accepted the paperwork and began to review their contents.
Marietta was glad she had remained sitting. For the second time in minutes, she nearly fainted. Her eyes locked on to Terry Higgs. He also looked very uncomfortable. She remembered him vaguely. He had graduated when she was in her third year. She thought he had been on the Slytherin quidditch team, but wasn't sure. He had short curly black hair a stern looking expression on his face and a slightly oversized, but not Snape-like nose. Her mind tried in vain to acknowledge that she was now engaged and this was her intended.
Mr. Higgs looked at his uncomfortable looking son and future daughter-in-law with a hint of resignation. "Perhaps while we discuss the arrangements, your daughter could show Terry around the house and they could have a private conversation."
"Yes. That is probably best. Marietta, why don't you take young master Higgs out to the garden."
"Um okay." She muttered having lost all her composure. She stood and slowly moved out of the room. Terry sat rooted to the spot for a moment until an encouraging look from his father or more likely the intimidating look from Bellatrix prompted him to follow her out of the parlor.
They exited into the backyard in silence. Marietta had her arms crossed protectively as they stood by the small water fountain that was the centerpiece of a well-maintained garden. The stood there quietly for a minute before Terry decided to break the ice.
"It is really nice to meet you. You are much prettier than I expected." Probably not the best opening line, but it was all he could think of at the moment.
"Thanks. I suppose."
"I am just as shocked by this as you are. This all came out of nowhere about three days ago."
"Are you a Death Eater?" At least she was straightforward.
"No." He said rolling back his sleeves for her inspection.
"Do you plan on becoming one?"
"Not if I can help it. Dad and Mum took the mark, but a family should always have at least one member not marked, who is of age. All the assets and voting privileges are now in my name. I don't have anything to worry about it until my little brother turns seventeen. He just finished second year."
"So what do you do?"
"I work for Thorn Publications as a junior copy editor. I handle most of the updates and errata to the textbooks. You know when new information comes out and the books need to be changed?"
"Sounds interesting." She tried to say.
"Sounds boring is more like it!" He chuckled saying what she really meant. "My other option was waiting tables or other clerk work in Diagon Alley. I never really liked big crowds, but it pays the bills and I actually get to read alot."
"Why do you worry about that if your family is loaded? I mean your folks are buying me."
"That's not our money. I don't even know who is paying."
"Okay, I'll bite. Why? Its not like my family has a massive amount going for it right now. We are pretty much a charity case."
"Best I can tell is that your family is a charity case with a hereditary vote in the government. I think that is what this is all about."
Marietta thought for a moment that for a Slytherin, Terry was unusually forthcoming. Perhaps there was no advantage to be exploited. They were in this together, so laying out the brutal truth might be the best play from his standpoint. She chided herself for trying to oversimplify such a complex situation.
"Are they going to make us take the mark?"
"Not at least until you graduate. Then they will go after either you or your dad. Merlin maybe both after we, well after we get married. Once, that happens either you or I could control the valuables and voting rights for both families. Only one us would be necessary then." Both said nothing for the moment as the implications of what had just been said.
"Why did your mom do it and not you?"
"They tested us both. I tried really hard too. She was better. It was humiliating. I couldn't even look her in the eye for two days. She told me that she was proud of me though and that she didn't hold back. Her maternal instinct to protect her child, I guess. She wants to meet you. Said that you sounded really nice."
"Why didn't she come tonight?"
"She wanted to, but they had something else for Mum to do. They sent her instead. I am guessing that they didn't want your father to even consider backing out. Shit! Just being around her scares the crap out of me!" Marietta did not need to be told who "they" or "she" were. She suspected that his complete humiliation at being unable to outperform his mother had caused this sudden willingness to provide the details of their mutual destiny. She started to wonder if her "test" was held today, would she be able to beat him? She reasoned that she most likely could. His confidence was already been reducted to smithereens. Terry might even have a problem against his little brother right now.
"Have you told anyone yet?"
"Just Walter, my brother."
"What did he say?"
"He asked if Mum and Dad will buy him a woman when he gets older. The little brat is currently regrowing all the hair on his body. He said you had the word 'SNEAK" on your face for the last few months of school. What happened there?"
"Got a nasty little curse from Hermoine Granger. She failed to mention that a sign up sheet for a study group was a magically binding contract. It was a clever bit of work too. Stumped Madame Pomfrey for a few weeks. Instead of cursing my body, she cursed my uppermost layer of skin. Since the top layer is dead and not living, it was easier to enchant as an object. It was even self-renewing as more skin died it just reappeared. I practically scrubbed my face raw. Finally, the nurse had enough and told her that if it didn't get removed, she would see to it that this and several other incidents would end up in her permanent academic record. Madame Pomfrey went on to say that she couldn't stop Dumbledore from keeping her on as Prefect next year, but the Head Boy and Girl positions are voted on by the staff and the longer that curse remained the less likely Ms. Smartypants would be getting her vote. She caved pretty quickly though it still took the rest of the term to clear."
"What caused the curse?" He said taken back that one of Hogwart's most publicized little Gryffindors would do something so underhanded.
"I turned the group in. It was not authorized and Mother was pressuring me to help Delores Umbridge out any way I could. After I did it, I wasn't exactly Miss Popularity. Didn't help that my best friend was actually trying to date Harry Bloody Potter! Cho stood by me, but I know she blames me for it not working out. We barely talk any more."
"I read that Umbridge was in jail too."
"Merlin she was the worst DADA ever! She only taught theory! It was like learning theory from a hag that thought you were only two years old."
"Hey I had to take my NEWTS with Lockhart's preparation, if you could call what he did help! She couldn't have been worse than him. He single handedly cost most of my class a full letter grade on our Defense NEWT."
"Trust me she was. Even Quirell looked good in comparison. If you could stand the stuttering, you could occasionally pick something useful up."
They laughed for a minute. Marietta was actually enjoying herself around Terry. Maybe there was hope for him after all. He clearly wasn't a Crabbe, Goyle or Flint! From his job, she now knew that he was rather bookish, which given her Ravenclaw leanings was a nice trait. She reflected on her past boyfriends. Most of them were friends of whomever Cho had been dating at the time. Thankfully, Cho and Harry didn't work out, otherwise she might have ended up dating Ron Weasley! Looking back she had always been "Cho's okay looking best friend". She remembered her fourth year when on not just one but two occasions boys asked her out just as a stepping stone to try and ask Cho out. Terry seemed at least genuinely interested in her. That in itself was a nice change.
"We should probably get back and find out what else they have decided for us." Terry said with a hint of bitterness.
"I suppose. Listen, Terry you seem like a nice guy. Who knows maybe this will all work out? I keep thinking, it could be a lot worse. I will make you a deal. I will keep an open mind, if you do the same."
Terry smiled at her encouragement and offered his arm to escort her back inside. She gave him a pleasant smile and took she accepted it and the two walked back inside to face two fathers and a psychopath. The Edgecombe house elf had made a lovely ham this evening. Marietta hoped it would be to everyone's taste. She suddenly wanted to impress her future husband and father-in-law. She also hoped that the crazy bitch would avoid killing her and her father.
Many hours later an owl circled the sky in a different part of the countryside. It looked for a good place to land, but the smoke and still burning fires obscured it's view. The owl's internal senses told her that she was at Longbottom Estate, but there was little left but a battle-damaged shell and considerable amount of rubble. The frame of an expensive greenhouse still stood, but all the glass had been shattered from repeated curses. The aging broomshed still smouldered as it and the brooms inside continued to burn.
The owl flew closer avoiding the columns of smoke that drifted lazily into the predawn sky. Her sharp eyes spotted a leg belonging to an elderly woman jutting out from a pile of rubble. The leg was covered in bruises and cuts. Instinct told the owl that she would not be receiving anymore post. Ominous crumbling sounds could be heard and the owl knew that she could not stay in the ruins. She took to the air again making a pass over the destroyed greenhouse and broomshed. The messenger could guess that the battle, lead form the house to the greenhouse and from there it went to the broomshed and continued down to the pond. Scorch marks could be seen on the small dock. Her sharp eyes spotted a wand lying in the grass next to the dock. The bird could sense that her letter's recipient was near. She settled onto one of the undamaged dock pylons to wait for her message to be claimed.
Twenty minutes later, a sound could be heard. A quiet splash which marked someone's return to the surface. A young man soon to be sixteen treaded water for a moment feeling his neck and inspecting his hands. Satisfied that all was in order he swam to the dock and pulled himself up the creaking ladder. The young man had was barechested and barefoot, but wore some obviously soaked denim pants. After a minute of searching he retrieved his wand from the embankment. The owl hooted at him. He had not noticed her until now. She spread her wings and flew over to him, landing and extending her leg with the message attached.
Neville Longbottom looked at the owl's ministry markings as he took the parchment from the owl's leg. He was not expecting anything from the ministry. The battle, if you could call it such was so fast he had never really been able to fire off a spell. He doubted that there was an underage use of magic warning.
"Perhaps my bloody OWL results." He muttered saying the first words in four hours as he opened it.
It was a note from Harry Potter! Susan Bones and her family had been attacked last night. So this just wasn't an isolated raid. There was more going on. He could barely read the writing in the early morning light. Sunrise would be here shortly. Under normal circumstances he would be pleased to read of the passing of Rudolphus Lestrange. One less Lestrange in the world was clearly a good thing, but he knew by looking at what remained of his family home that his grandmother's body would be in there somewhere.
Neville had been in the greenhouse. It was after midnight and he had gotten up to care for a few of the plants that were best maintained in the light of the moon. Breeding a strong plant strain often requires periodic feedings and treatments at odd hours. Standing out there in the quiet of the night amongst his many plants, Neville felt at peace.
Shouts and spells rudely interrupted his peace of mind as the main house came under attack. Neville spun and grabbed his newly purchased wand. He peered out an opening to try and count the number of attackers. At least eight could be seen. He was grossly outnumbered and the main house was ablaze. One of the raiders began casting blasting curses at the greenhouse. Neville forced himself to the ground as the panes of opaque glass shattered spraying glass everywhere. He rolled trying to avoid cutting himself too badly. Half the main house had already collapsed, including to his horror the section where his grandmother's bedroom lay. Grabbing a sealed jar from the shelf he stumbled out the back of the greenhouse. He staggered towards the broomshed for a moment, but it too became engulfed in flames.
Neville knew with a certainty that his grandmother was dead, his house destroyed and that he had no means of escaping the property. The jar held his only hope for surviving this ordeal. He stumbled down towards the pond tripping as he hit the docks. One of the attackers saw him and began firing spells in his direction. Neville cursed knowing that he had dropped his wand, but couldn't see it in the darkness. Opening the jar he quickly stuffed some of the contents in his mouth. The next curse hit the dock next to him and he made a big show off falling into the pond.
Five minutes later a man with a silver hand stood on the dock. He asked for a report from the one of his subordinates. The new recruit smiled at his team leader.
"Yes, I saw the boy run out of the greenhouse. Got him with a stunner and he fell into the water. He's been down there for a while now. He would have drowned by now."
"Let's be certain. He could be under the dock listening to us right now!"
Gesturing with his wand Peter Pettigrew incanted, "Point me Neville Longbottom!" His answer was a greenish hue in the middle of the pond about fifteen feet below the surface. The aura was stationary. Peter and his subordinate watched the aura for another two minutes before it faded.
"Good work. The master will be pleased with us all." Peter said. It was hopefully the first of many raids his master would allow him to lead. He would prove his worth once and for all. Peter was oh so tired of the jeers of all the other Death Eater's. Most of whom were currently incarcerated. They would refer to him as "Wormie", "Master's pet rodent" and many other names. He was incensed. Who among them risked everything to bring the Master back to life. Where was their "superior loyalty" as they sat in their mansions basking in their wealth? The Dark Lord had kept him in the shadows, until the death of Sirus Black. There was no further need to hide again. Peter did not even care if he wore the mask or not. It was liberating. He would be feared. He would kill and he would enjoy every single second of it.
Neville remained still at the bottom of the pond. He noticed his body glow and realized they were checking on him. He had fins and claws. If they decided to "Accio" him, he would accelerate and come out slashing. Fortunately, they did not and a few agonizing minutes later the green glow faded. Neville waited down there until he began to feel the effects of the gillyweed wear off. Quickly, he ate some more. He waited again. Four full hours he spent down there brooding. He would need to wait until there was enough light to find his wand. Then he could summon help - maybe the Knight Bus. He would need to get ahold of the aurors, his uncle and the headmaster. He was not the strategist that Ron was. He did not have Hermoine's brains or Harry's sheer heroism. What he did have was a wand lying up there somewhere and a burning thirst for revenge. Voldemort's followers had taken another family member from him. It was time he started taking back.
Author's notes - Another chapter in the bag. The thought of Voldie sending Bella to a small dinner party amused me. I also wanted to give a little screentime to Terry Higgs and Marietta. They are two of the downtrodden in the potterverse. Terry is always a death eater isn't he? Usually the first time Harry kills one in most stories, it is either him or Marcus Flint. Marietta is always the girl that all the goody two shoes get to pick on without consequences. I thought it was an interesting scene as two purebloods rationally discuss the possibility that they may be forced into being Death Eaters. Again not every Death Muncher is a Draco clone. "Please mark me now so that I may start my killing spree." While I am on a rant lets just throw the whole SNEAK thing out the window. I am sure that the school nurse at a institution where much of the student body openly hates each other combined with the fact the little brats can do magic - has seen just about everything in her time. Even if she hadn't do you honestly believe she would let a student be disfigured by another student and remain that way. For a society that places such emphasis on taking the Dark Mark, it seems a little off that you could get away with marking up someone's face like that with no repercussions. Imagine Dumbledore letting Harry tattoo FERRET BOY on Malfoy's face if you will, but somehow Hermoine can get away with it. I don't see it happening either! Did you like the way Poppy threatened Hermoine? I thought it was appropriate and effective. Obviously it differs from cannon, but then I like it better that way. Finally Neville makes his appearance and boy is he pissed! If you think it is odd that he didn't try and fight, that's your prerogative. He had friends at the DoM. He was pretty certain his grandmother was dead already and there were at least 8 of them. He had a wand, some gillyweed and other assorted plants. I would run as well! Lastly, why not a bloodthirsty Peter Pettigrew? We will see how he develops as the story continues.