The beginning of the end.
Acknowledgements – Originally, this was the last chapter. There was just too much to tie up in one chapter, so I split it in two. The good news is that chapter 41 is all but done. A special thanks to all the folks at Alpha Fight Club. Their assistance is what makes the story more entertaining than I could alone. Kokopelli as always, thank you for your editing services.
Chapter 40 – It’s Always Darkest
October 31st, 1996
“I’m so happy you’re safe.” Susan whispered in his ear as she slid her arms about him.
Susan had been through the emotional wringer from the moment she realized Harry was out there in the fighting. First she was hurt that he hadn’t come to tell her he was going. Then, worry and concern replaced anger as she was torn between going to watch from the battlements and hiding inside her room, where she knew that he would want her to be.
In the end, she had waited in her room, concentrating on the weak thread of magic that connected them. As long as that thread existed, she knew that he was still alive. Early on in their relationship the link was new and awkward; the empathic nature of it had affected both of them. Now, the link was just so much background noise. She dreaded what would happen to her if the day came when she checked and the link wasn’t there.
She knew she had every right to be angry with him, that he had again run headlong into battle, again, but she was smarter than that and knew it served no real purpose. Instead, when an equally exhausted Charlie Weasley delivered him to her door she simply propped him up and enveloped him as much as she could. He was filthy and smelled awful, but she couldn’t care less.
Harry response was best described as garbled, but she didn’t need to understand the words to know what he was saying.
Harry pulled his head back from her shoulder and looked at the former Dragon Handler. “Thanks Charlie.”
“Anytime mate,” Charlie replied.
Susan watched the fellow red head turn to leave.
“Charlie?” Harry asked. Charlie turned to face him again.
“I’m sorry about your mum. Let me know as soon as you hear something about your father.”
“I’ll do that,” Charlie said, putting one hand on the doorframe for support. “Percy said he was at the Ministry. Bill’s trying the Floo, but it must be overwhelmed. I’m going to go find him and see if he’s found out anything. Get some rest, Harry. Susan, make sure he does.”
Watching Charlie leave, Susan realized that the Weasleys were fast becoming this war’s version of the Potter, Bones, or McKinnon families from the first war – either gone or all but gone.
She helped him out of his dragon hide while noting the obvious, visible damage to the armored vest. It shocked her to think what would have happened had he not been wearing it. She started a bath for him and had their elf clear away his clothes and see if someone could repair his armor.
He held his left hand up for her inspection. It looked gaunt and slightly shriveled. The skin and the coloration wouldn’t have looked out of place on a man in his seventies, but on a young man it was cause for concern. Could Harry be starting to turn into a Dementor?
Tired green eyes met hers. They searched for any horrific reaction. She gave him none. “I just destroyed some more of them, but there are still some left. I’m thinking I’ll wear a glove on that hand. I’ll be just like Michael Jackson.”
Harry looked at his hand with mild disgust. “A black Muggle musician; last I heard he’s turning into an old, white man too. Sorry, bad joke.”
She rolled her eyes, making a mental note to ask Hermione to explain the joke and directed him into the tub as she removed her clothes. The glamours hiding the slight bulge in her stomach were bound to her clothes. Removing the glamours made her self conscious, but it was worth the smile on Harry’s face – the first one she had seen there since he had staggered back in.
She settled in behind him and began washing his back. He smelled of death. Susan needed to remove that stench. “I’m probably going to fall asleep on you.” Harry cautioned.
“I don’t mind. Do you want a dose of Dreamless Sleep?”
“I can’t. The Minister might show up. McGonagall said she’ll send someone for me if he does.”
Susan responded, not catching the full implications of the statement. “Let Dumbledore handle it, unless, he’s injured again.”
“That’s not going to happen, Susan; he’s gone.”
“You mean gone like dead?”
“Yeah.” There was finality in his voice. Somehow that one word seemed to sum up the problem. The great hero was gone. She should feel sad, but instead she was numb again. Without him, who would the Wizarding world turn to? Susan knew the answer – her sixteen year old husband. It was bloody unfair!
“Did he fight Riddle?”
“Maybe, but I don’t think so. I can still sense him out there. There were rumors that he was in Hogsmeade, but I never saw him.”
“Did anyone else die that I know?” She was afraid to ask.
“Professors Sinistra and Thompson.” Susan stopped sponging his back. She had always liked the Astronomy teacher as well as the man that taught her Ancient Runes course. “Most of the rest I couldn’t tell, but I didn’t see Hannah’s dad or Mr. Torkelson once the fighting started. I couldn’t give a shit about Abbott, but I know you still like him. Tonks is with Remus in the infirmary. She’s not too bad, but he’s banged up again.”
Susan summoned Trixie and asked her to be discreet and find out if Peter Abbott was still alive.
Not knowing what else to say she said, “Do you want to talk about it?”
“I understand. We can just sit here in silence.”
Harry shook his head slightly. “No, just talk to me – about anything other than this bloody war.”
And so she talked; ten minutes into her story about her first bit of accidental magic as a child realized he was asleep. She kept talking anyway.
All Rufus Scrimgeour wanted to do was search for his wife. She was a special woman, who kept him going through the bad times and cheered him the loudest during the good times. His position as Minister of Magic denied him that luxury. All wands were needed elsewhere, his included. He assigned one of his bodyguards the task of searching for any leads into her abduction. Already, Rufus knew she would never be coming back to him.
He should be back in Hogsmeade, rallying the troops and making certain that he was “seen” as being in charge and proclaiming a victory, albeit a costly one over the wireless. Instead, he is staring at a gem rotating in the middle of a lattice of magic and listening to an Arithmancer explain that this gem is the “brains” of the Floo network.
The only problem is that it isn’t the same “brain” that was there this morning. The Dark Lord could have used the same type of gem, but he didn’t. He wanted Scrimgeour to know that the Floo Network was compromised.
“What do we do, sir?”
“How long until a suitable replacement can be constructed?” he asked the man.
“At least two months. We could contact other governments and see if they would be willing to provide us a replacement gem, but because of the expense, most do not keep a spare. First we must locate a suitable replacement gem and then…”
The Minister had no time for this.
“Shut it down,” Scrimgeour said wearily.
“Are you certain?”
“Yes, from what you are saying, we have no control over the Floo Network. It is a risk.”
It was another unsatisfying decision on a day full of choices such as this. As the Arithmancers shut down the System, the four fireplaces in the room roared to life. From each one a piece of parchment came out and floated to the ground.
“What is this?” He demanded.
“Sir, it appears that whoever created the crystal added the ability to convey messages via Floo. Some of the smaller nations use them as a replacement for owls and other methods. Its cutting edge spell and rune work. When she was in charge, Madame Edgecombe lobbied to upgrade our transit system, but was defeated…”
“Yes, by the owl breeders, the postal system, and the newspapers.” Again, the pettiness of politics caused Rufus a headache. He ignored the part about the messages being held in some kind of magical buffer. Now, he knew damn well who built that crystal for Voldemort. She probably threw in all the features she’d ever requested and some she hadn’t.
The message read as follows,
By order of the Minister of Magic –
The Floo system has been secured until further notice. During He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s successful attack on Hogsmeade, the central area that controls the Floo was taken over. This message is to inform you that we cannot protect you against the dark forces. You are not safe. Both Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter are now dead.
With the Floo network out of our control, the Dark Lord’s forces can bypass your wards even if you have password protected your Floo. Do not delay in taking actions to protect you and your family. The persons reading this are hereby authorized to destroy your Floo connection by any means necessary.
Minister of Magic,
Rufus reread the message and conceded defeat. All over the country terrified people listening to the news broadcasts about the battle just received this letter purportedly from him. If even twenty percent of the idiots believed what they read, the damage would still be massive! A Floo connection isn’t something that can just be reparoed!
“You! Get to the wireless, now! Announce that this message is a fraud. Tell them not to destroy their fireplaces. Go!”
Scrimgeour would have to get Potter out in the public again. The people would need reassurance. He grabbed another assistant, “Edgecombe has a husband. I want him brought into custody.”
Lord Voldemort looked down at the message, smiling. Right now, under the ‘fog of war,’ the English people were crippling their own infrastructure out of fear, creating yet more problems for the Scrimgeour administration. The panic generated by the message will be delightful.
Far less humorous was his losses; true, they had inflicted a massive amount of damage on the Minister’s forces, Dumbledore was dead and Hogsmeade was in ruins. His presence would have reduced the number of his own casualties, but he had been trapped, fighting his way out of Scrimgeour’s wards.
“What are your estimates, Edgecombe?”
The haggard looking witch answered nervously. She had suffered his wrath upon his escape from Scrimgeour’s bunker. He stopped short of permanently maiming her because her skills were needed. “Twenty to thirty percent of the households will destroy their connections. With the current staff of installers, it will take approximately four months to fully recover, assuming that they are all working 18 hour shifts. I have also altered the reactivation sequence on the controlling crystal. They will not be able to restart the process unless they are fortunate enough to discover the correct sequence.”
Turning to Madame Faircloth, he said, “Have some of our agents go to houses that have been abandoned and destroy the Floo connections and then join the mob demanding that they be reconnected and repaired with Ministry monies. When the installers arrive, they are to be either abducted or placed under Imperius. This will force them to give Floo installers Auror escorts. Reorganize my forces into smaller raiding and harassment groups. Avoid pitched battles with Ministry forces. Fill St. Mungo’s with injured draftees. Have our forces use curses with long term debilitating effects where possible. Their medical system is already overtaxed. I want it broken! Make it so Scrimgeour’s country cannot function. Next, the raiding teams are to focus on the Ingredient Growers’ Lobby. Destroy their greenhouses and get rumors started about shortages of key potion ingredients. Stir up economic unrest. They too will demand protection, rather loudly I suspect. The Minister claims his mob is an army. Let us see if he can effectively deploy this army.”
His top aide regarded him; she chose her words carefully, “You will force him to nationalize the Greenhouses. Some of our staunchest supporters are members of the IGL.”
He brushed aside her concerns. “With advance notice they can turn this to their favor; if they harvest early and make certain that we and they are well stocked before this begins, they will be well positioned to supply the black market as the prices spiral out of control.”
Addressing all present, he raised his voice. “My followers, we are entering a critical phase. Dumbledore is dead. We must now focus on toppling the Scrimgeour government. If we are successful, the people will remove him from power for us.”
The men and women surrounding him nodded in agreement and he dismissed them. He retired to his chamber and began looking at a hand-drawn map of the former Malfoy Manor that Lucius’ son had provided, along with the information concerning Potter’s formal wedding. Dumbledore was gone, but Potter had bested and killed the freshly minted Darius Longbottom and that troubled him. He could no longer afford to discount Potter’s abilities. First he had disposed of Snape and now Longbottom. Neither man was in his league, but they clearly were not in Potter’s league either.
Removing Potter would topple Scrimgeour’s government. It would also remove his last problem. He would need more intelligence about the newly warded Potter Manor from his informants. He would be prepared for the final confrontation.
Several days after the battle of Hogsmeade, a shadowy figure approached Narcissa.
“My son. Go ahead and speak. I’ve already set the privacy wards, but we have little time.”
“They wish to know more about the defenses now protecting our former home.”
“I am no genie. I will not grant your wishes for free.”
“What do you want?”
“I wish to lead the Black family, and I want the lives of Charles Weasley and Andromeda Tonks spared, if possible.”
“I will convey your requests, but I think it might be best to offer them something in return.”
“The portraits in the manor are a key defense; I will tell you the secret of how work and more importantly how they can be beaten.”
The Daily Prophet
Minister Declares Curfew in Support of War Effort
November 3rd, 1996
By Rita Skeeter
In a widely anticipated and supported move, Minister Rufus Scrimgeour has imposed a strict curfew to be enforced throughout the land. Apparition and Portkey travel are forbidden to all non-authorized personal. The Knight Bus and personal broom travel are the only permitted means of travel between the hours of 9 PM and 5 AM. The Minister made the announcement from the main square of a rebuilding Hogsmeade with Harry Potter standing onstage. He delivered a powerful speech amid the teams of volunteers working to repair the damage to the town.
“For the continued well being of our people and to increase safety in the realm, I am restricting travel by non-authorized individuals. Naturally, we do not expect the enemy to adhere to this, but it will be easier to track the movements of small groups of people and your Ministry will be able to respond quicker to enemy attacks. On behalf of everyone working diligently to ensure your safety, I thank you.”
After a thunderous round of applause, he continued, “Hogsmeade will be rebuilt. It will be more magnificent than ever! We will honor our heroes by vanquishing those who slew them. Our enemies are mainly comprised of foreign witches and wizards and the dark creatures that have believed the lies our enemy spews. No self-respecting English magic user would visit this destruction on their own people. Those carrying the so-called Dark Lord’s mark are to be given no quarter. We shall drive them from our fair land.
The Floo system damage has been vastly overstated and repairs are proceeding faster than anticipated. It is sad to see our enemy reduced to the level of a prankster, desperate to cause any damage he can. Key locations will be restored as soon as practical.”
The Minister went on to reassure the large crowd present that the Darkness would be defeated and the dream of Albus Dumbledore would be achieved.
“Albus Dumbledore was a great man, who gave his life protecting the students of Hogwarts. He dreamed of a world without fear and chaos. With your support, the government will deliver that world. With brave heroes like Harry Potter leading the way we shall prevail! Alas, even Harry needs your help. He needs all of us to pull together to vanquish the darkness. Be a beacon of light. The time is now!”
From there, Minister Scrimgeour stopped by a recruiting center and personally thanked people standing in line waiting to be inducted into the People’s Defense Force. The applause was loud and the atmosphere upbeat.
The Daily Prophet
More Funds for St. Mungo’s
November 9th, 1996
By Rita Skeeter
Friends, the Scrimgeour administration continues to deliver. Today, a spokeswitch for the Minister announced that a government sponsored expansion of St. Mungo’s Hospital. Under the new plan fifty more beds will be added before year’s end and over two hundred and fifty by the end of twelve months.
“The administration wants to ensure that the British Healthcare system continues to be the envy of the rest of the magical world. The healers of St. Mungo’s are quite simply extraordinary.
What can you at home reading this do? Volunteer and donate your time and your galleons. Come and help care for those brave warriors injured in the fight for freedom, the fight for our future. The Minister wishes to personally thank the brave wizards and witches of Abraxan Company, who have selflessly donated half their pay for the next two months to this particular effort. That is patriotism at its finest.
Unlike the thrice cursed foreign fighters the enemy relies on, it isn’t about the clink of coins for our brave fighters. They fight for duty, honor and peace. They fight for a future for their family and they deserve every ounce of support we can give them.”
The response from the crowd was overwhelming. Even my heart was tugged by the outpouring of emotion. Minister Scrimgeour had planned on attending, but urgent matters of state required his personal attention. Harry Potter had also been scheduled to appear at the press conference, but was also forced to cancel at the last minute.
The Daily Prophet
Minister Announces New Plans for Safety
November 12th, 1996
By Rita Skeeter
Today, speaking from the site of a repelled Death Eater attack at the Parker/Smythe Greenhouses, Minister Rufus Scrimgeour announced an even tougher policy on dealing with the foreign fighters that comprise the bulk of the enemy’s forces while touting the success of the defensive forces that have been redeployed to protect the sites .
“Plainly put, he’s afraid of us. He dares not face us in battle again or he’ll get the same drubbing we gave him during the victory at Hogsmeade! Instead, he orders his foreign born thugs to attack soft targets like a cowardly cur. To the fools who serve him, I say get out of our Britain. We do not want you here. If you are captured, you will be executed. Leave our borders or be buried here! We are sick of you and your time is up.”
It was tough talk backed by action as the first executions of captured foreign fighters are set to be carried out tonight. The Minister persuasive arguments won over support of the Wizengamot to strip the rights of non-English murderers captured during battle with the People’s Defense Force.
The Minister also had words of warning for those trying to take advantage of any perceived shortages of potion ingredients.
“First let me say there are no shortages. If necessary, I will authorize the release of Government surplus if it truly becomes an issue. Thankfully, the brave men and women of the People’s Defense Force continue to exceed even my expectations and have repelled more attacks than I care to mention. As soon as I receive a final report from my economic advisers, I will institute price controls for many ingredients. It’s nothing more than greedy persons trying to make money off of people’s fear. It will be illegal to pay more than these prices for goods. People caught in this dubious practice will be subject to the full prosecutorial power of our Government.
Like a coward, our enemy relies on fear and innuendo as his weapons. I’ve had reports that even his foreign fighters are beginning to desert him. Soon our enemy will have no one left to fight for him! We are winning this war! Floo service will be restored in an orderly fashion and it will be the best and most secure Floo system you have ever seen!”
The New Salem Herald
One Witches Journey to Freedom
November 23rd, 1996
By Rita Skeeter
Hello all. So very nice to be on this side of the pond and away from the lies and death that consumes my homeland.
England is sliding further into the abyss and the darkness threatens to consume everything.
For the last two months, I was forced to write stories and hand them to British censors, or find myself placed in a frontline unit marching to my slaughter. By the time they were done with it, roughly every third word was something I had written. I never thought I would be ashamed of seeing “By Rita Skeeter” on anything.
They wouldn’t let me tell the truth. I could only portray that fascist tyrant Rufus Scrimgeour in a positive light, but after my escape from the land I once loved, the truth can be told. Even his staunchest ally, Harry Potter, has begun expressing reservations about the iron fist that continues to tighten around all of England. Shortly after the massacre at Hogsmeade, one would have thought that poor Harry had become the Minister’s shadow. Time and time again, Harry was trotted out like a prize Abraxan and paraded for the audience. He was allowed a few sound bites and hustled out of the spotlight and told to just stand there and look heroic.
The papers in England avoid reporting the ever widening rift that exists between Potter and Scrimgeour. They only note the increasing number of times that Harry has been canceling his appearances with the Minister. I know Harry Potter. He is as courageous and loyal as they come. It says quite a bit when he starts turning his back on you!
Furthermore, I couldn’t say anything about six people stuck in a two person hospital room because of the massive numbers of wounded overflowing the hospital. I could only talk about the money desperately thrown at the hospital in some harebrained and ill-conceived expansion plan. I listened to Rufus “The Raper” of Britain give a speech in front of a pristine greenhouse saying there was no problem. Naturally, we had to ignore the five other greenhouses that had been reduced to rubble, which we weren’t allowed to take pictures of. I could probably count on one hand the number of people in England who know that the Goblin council has devalued the British credit rating.
The Floo system is in shambles, commerce has screeched to a halt, people who have money might not be able to find anything to buy and will be stupefied at what they have to pay if they can find a seller willing to sell.
Britain is a crisis of epic proportions. I know. I’ve seen it. I barely escaped. Anarchy and chaos reign supreme. People are being dragged off the streets, never to be heard from again by both sides.
It’s no longer one Dark Lord trying to take over Britain. It’s one Dark Lord trying to wrest power from another Dark Lord and it is the citizens who pay the price. The French are lobbying the ICW to institute a policy of containment no matter who prevails and the motion is gaining support from other mainland European countries!
I cannot lay this all at Scrimgeour’s feet. The Dark Lord does his part too. Every morning, we started with a quick head count to make certain that everyone was still alive. There was no eating or drinking allowed for one hour to make certain that no one was disguised by Polyjuice. Twice, our head count came up one person short and we simply accepted it and adjusted our number downward.
I have met the Dark Lord in person. He lives for strife and conflict. Should he gain power over England, he will unite them and lead a crusade against the Muggles. I doubt it will stop there. He would see the world consumed for his own amusement.
A once proud nation is being ripped apart before our very eyes. The tears the world cries are salted with the blood of the fallen.
The New Salem Herald
Noted Journalist Found Murdered
November 29th, 1996
By Michelle Chandler
Francine Amorita Skeeter’s journey to freedom chronicled in this paper lasted a mere five days. Last night, authorities were dispatched by concerned colleagues to investigate her absence at a Herald function intending to honor her bravery and courage.
She and her bodyguard were found dead. There were signs of forced entry and the usage of Dark Magic including traces of the Forbiddens.
Ms. Skeeter was a harsh critic of both the English Minister and the Dark Lord, blaming both for the quagmire that once was the most powerful Wizarding Nation on the planet.
A spokeswizard for the American Wizarding Congress declined to release specific details noting that the investigation was still in progress, but did release this statement.
“It saddens all freedom loving people to learn of Rita’s untimely death. In past years, her stories entertained us from the other side of the Atlantic. Only recently did she truly make her mark. Like Paul Revere racing on his glamour covered broomstick, she warned us that the British were coming. The strife in England is of the utmost concern to the President and Congress. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and work with the allies abroad to determine the best course of action in these troubling times.
For now, let us remember a heroine and champion of the truth that has been taken from us far too early.”
The Bureau of Investigations continues to aggressively pursue leads in this case. Numerous suspects are being questioned. The remaining three articles Rita penned will appear in a special edition tomorrow.
On a personal note, in the limited amount of time I knew her, I found Rita to be a delightful and sophisticated lady. She possessed a sharp wit and a keen mastery of the written word.
Please join the staff of this paper in praying for her spirit in the afterlife.
Harry cleared his throat abruptly causing both Ron and Hermione to leap apart. Both had been rather preoccupied. “I’m not interrupting anything was I?”
Ron smirked, “Oh of course not, mate! Hermione just had something in her eye.” He waved to Tonks standing at the end of the passageway.
“And you were just warming your hands inside her blouse before you could take that mote out? I’ve seen many horrible things, but now I’m scarred for life!”
“Oi! Hermione and I don’t have our own private room. We have to make do like the rest of the students.”
Hermione recovered from her embarrassment to ask, “What’s going on Harry?”
His happy demeanor faded. “I just needed to take a walk and clear my head. I saw two friends rather alone on my map and figured I could pay a visit.”
“What does the Minister want now?”
“More public appearances, more telling people that it isn’t that bad, more lies. He even had Percy deliver his latest ‘request’. I don’t know if I have the stomach for it.”
Hermione knotted her brow before speaking. “The people need hope…”
“Yeah, that was the same line Percy used. I shot him down and asked him how much hope he really had at the moment. I asked him if I going out and standing at the Minster’s side was going to help him find Penny and get his son back. I felt like a complete and utter git after saying it, but it got my point across. Public appearances aren’t going to stop Riddle and every one of these idiotic dog and pony shows is wasting time that I need to be dueling and training!”
“Easy mate, you’re practically living in the Room of Requirements already. You can only do so much,” Ron said earnestly.
“It’s not enough. Riddle’s becoming more active again. He’s leading some of the raids personally.”
His two friends moved close to his side lending him their support. Hermione said, “We believe in you, Harry. Is there anything we can do to help?”
“Yeah, Harry, if you want we could get Hermione to whip up a batch of Polyjuice and I could go to some of these idiotic public appearances for you?”
“Ron, they occasionally ask me to speak at these things…”
“Oh. I could get Dad to coach me.”
“How is your dad?”
“He’s staying at Bill’s flat. He doesn’t want to go anywhere near Hogsmeade.”
“I wouldn’t either. Thanks for the offer, but I’ll get by. Besides, it’s only a matter of time before Riddle tries something at one of these things. The Minister’s people basically drag the reporters to all these unannounced press conferences. The locations are changing all the time, but I know it’s only a matter of time before he get’s lucky or the Minister gets sloppy. I’d rather not have you there, playing me, if that happens.”
Ron gulped noticeably at the prospect of fighting Voldemort. Harry couldn’t blame him. Of those left alive, only Harry and Professor Flitwick knew what it was like to square off against Lord Voldemort. To be perfectly honest, Flitwick had several people helping and every time Harry had faced his nemesis, Voldemort had been hampered in some way shape or form through choice or circumstance. Harry’s luck wasn’t likely to hold out for the next encounter.
“Don’t worry. You guys are helping me. You’re keeping all the rest of the students from bothering me and Susan. Don’t think I haven’t noticed and believe me, I appreciate it.”
Hermione looked thoughtful for a moment, “Harry, rumors are starting to go around about Susan.”
“That she’s pregnant. I’m doing my best to head them off. I’ve got Parvati helping me …”
“Hermione, have you told Ron?”
Ron looked suspicious. “Told me what?”
Harry answered, “That she really is pregnant.”
“Bloody hell! She is! Really?”
Harry was impressed that Hermione kept the secret from Ron.
Hermione shushed her boyfriend. “She’s missed a few morning classes and people have noticed. I’ve been telling her to blame it on her ankle injury, but the glamours won’t hide it much longer. She’s already almost three months along.”
“We’re going to announce it after the Winter Holidays. I’m just worried that it’ll make Susan even more of a target.”
“Is that another reason you’ve been distancing yourself from us lately.”
Harry shrugged. “No, not really, I’m just so bloody busy! Plus every time we’ve gotten together we usually end up talking about the war. Trust me! That’s the last thing I want to talk about when I go take a walk. You know what’s funny…”
“I believe I finally understand Dumbledore trying to protect me from all this. Last year, all I was worried about was Umbridge and my useless lessons with Snape. I can’t believe that I thought that was hard!”
“So, what can we talk about that isn’t related to the war? With professional Quidditch cancelled the Cannons are on their longest non-losing streak ever!” Ron asked trying to lighten the mood.
“Are you and Susan ready for the formal wedding?” Hermione asked cheerfully.
“As ready as we can be, Hermione. Bill’s team has done a top-notch job with the wards. Scrimgeour wants to broadcast it live over the wireless. We’re trying to keep the guest list low. Where are the two of you going for the holidays?”
Ron laughed, “Bill’s new place is big enough. Hermione’s having her parents come by and I heard a rumor that I’m getting a formal introduction.”
Hermione rolled her eyes, “Dad’s going to lure you into a game of poker and give you the overprotective parent talk. Honestly, he still thinks I’m eleven!”
“You mean the card game where the losers have to take off their clothes? Dean keeps saying…” Ron said.
Harry was pretty sure Ron was putting one on her. Either way it worked. “Goodness no!”
“Listen, Susan and I want the two of you as Godparents. I’d already mentioned it to Hermione a ways back, but I wanted to officially ask both of you.”
Hermione beamed. Ron thought for a moment and smiled. “Sure we’ll help take care of the little nipper. I’d be honored.”
His girlfriend enlightened him. “Susan’s having triplets.”
“Bloody hell! What did I just agree to?”
“He has agreed to your terms, Mother. The Weasley you are so fond of and Aunt Andromeda will be spared, provided the three of you leave the country.”
“I accept those terms.”
Draco shuffled his feet nervously. “What information do you have for me to pass on?”
“The external defenses are solid, but not impenetrable. I have a basic ward map here. Memorize it and destroy it in case they search you. You can either have a Legilimens retrieve it, or use a Pensieve. Either way, the secret entrance will make the wards meaningless. Inside, the paintings can cast minor spells, but the energy they draw will come from the head of the Black family. Potter’s power is not limitless.”
“So, Potter will quickly exhaust himself.”
“You are correct. Against a small force, the barrage of minor curses would be overwhelming, but against a larger force, he will tire rapidly. He has also spoken to the acting Headmistress about animated statues similar to the chess pieces she once enchanted. Anti-Apparition wards are erected and Portkey wards prevent incoming ones but not outgoing ones.”
She paused looking around to be certain they were alone. “The ceremony will be in the ballroom. Scrimgeour may or may not be present, but expect eight to ten Aurors, real ones, not the draftees and twenty-five guests. Roughly half of them will be schoolchildren. Current plans have six broom riders patrolling the perimeter of the wards.
She straightened up and cast an appraising look at him. “Now, tell me how you are getting along with the former Head Girl? It did not take McGonagall long to rectify Dumbledore’s error.”
“Melissa is rather annoyed at the loss of status, but she knows the title is just a trifle.”
“Do you care for her?”
“She is attractive and smart. I anticipate the Baron formally acknowledging me as her suitor over the holidays. Why do you ask?”
“I was curious why you hadn’t asked me to make certain that her life is protected in the event Potter prevails?”
Draco scoffed, “Do you actually believe he will?”
“You disappoint me, Draco. The head of a great family has to consider all eventualities. Harry has made it this far. When concocting a scheme, you should never leave anything to chance. He will be at a disadvantage, but in the middle of a battle, there are no certainties. Since this is likely the last time we will be meeting before the holidays, do you wish me to work to protect her life in the event that the so-called ‘light’ side wins?”
“Yes. I suppose so, though her family’s stature would be greatly diminished. Still, it would make her more dependent on my goodwill. Yes, please do.”
“I asked them and they said, ‘yes’,” Harry reported to Susan.
“Harry, did you honestly think they would turn you down?”
“Are you still upset that I wouldn’t budge on Hannah?”
“No, not really. She’s an emotional basket case anyway. It’d likely be her mum doing all the work anyway. Besides, I adore Hermione. She’s just as much my friend now. I don’t really have any close enough male friends that I would consider. Guys who used to joke with me now seem somewhat lost around me. I must say that being married to you has put a real crimp in my social life.”
Susan promptly ducked the pillow he hurled at her as he replied. “Funny, I still catch a few girls staring at me. That Vane girl is a borderline stalker.”
She cheated, using her wand to banish it back at him. “Oh that’s easy to explain. You are the ultimate ‘Forbidden Fruit’. They are certain that they can take you away from me and all they have to worry about is ickle Susie. I, on the other hand, am ‘Certain Doom!’ Any bloke trying to chat me up gets to face you, a wizard training day and night to fight someone that most are still scared to name. Remember that demo you did for the old DA last week with you and Professor Flitwick going after each other?”
“Yeah, they wanted to be more involved in the war?” He began to cheat with the pillow as well, banishing it back at her while casting an illusion to duplicate it. She ducked the real one and tried to banish the illusion.
“I think that put more than a few in their place. I could tell the two of you were going extra hard, but mostly I just watched the expressions. Wayne and Justin about pissed their pants seeing what a real fight was like. Ron and Hermione had seen you before, so they didn’t count. I think Cho was all googly-eyed, regretting breaking up with you.”
“I’m not entirely sure we were ever together. Either way, she’s just as bad as Hannah in the emotional stability department. Megan and Seamus were impressed. I’ve seen them working really hard in Defense lately. Any truth to the rumor that they’re dating?”
“Yes, I heard she keeps ‘catching him’ on her Prefect patrols. Right about the same place Mandy always ‘catches’ Terry.”
Harry frowned, “Nice to see our school is being protected.”
“I don’t think there’s any protection from teenage hormones.”
He sat down on the edge of the bed next to her. “I suppose. I caught Ron warming his hands inside Hermione’s blouse while doing a dental examination. He moaned about not having a private room like we do.”
Susan looked at him slyly. “We do have one, don’t we?”
“Are you doing an evening training session tonight?”
“No, Flitwick says for me to rest. We’re doing a morning session and then you and I are Portkeying to the outer wards of our new home. A full company of Aurors will be going with us.”
“So, what you’re saying is that I have you all to myself tonight? You’ve already said goodbye to Hermione and Ron until the wedding? There’s no other crisis that requires your immediate attention?”
He smiled at her. “Yes, yes and no.”
She loosened her robe as she gave him a hungry look. “I did mention that now that I’m not morning sick any more that I’m getting a daily infusion of very interesting hormones?”
Harry unbuttoned his shirt and dropped it on the bed.
“Harry, go ahead and take the glove off.”
“I bet if took it off and showed her the claw, Romilda wouldn’t be so eager to date me.”
He peeled away the glove revealing the near skeletal hand beneath. “It doesn’t look like it’s gotten any worse.”
“I keep hoping that if I kill Riddle, it’ll break my link with the Dementors. I wonder if it goes back to the whole ‘neither can live thing?’ Everyone believes that I was cursed in the battle of Hogsmeade. I haven’t gone out of my way to correct them.”
Susan touched it. It felt cool to the touch and like so many times before, he recoiled from her touch, but she persisted. “I’m not afraid of you Harry. I’m afraid for you, but never of you.”
“Greetings, my lord.” Draco Malfoy said. His voice did not waver. Wherever his father was, Draco knew he would be proud.
“Rise, young Lord Malfoy. You are welcome here.”
Standing in front of this legend, Malfoy knew that Potter had no chance. The wizard in front of him radiated power. He was never more certain of anything in his life.
“What news do you bring me?”
“My mother described the methods of protection Potter will use in my former house. She had me stare at the ward map, so that the image could be retrieved by you. She was correct that my belongings were searched by the Defense Force before I was allowed to leave the castle. If you bring a Pensieve, I will gladly provide it.”
Lord Voldemort regarded him with penetrating red eyes. “We could do that, but I prefer to use Legilimency. I will be able to verify that your mind has not been tampered with and also experience your emotions during the encounter.”
The boy paled slightly, “If that is your wish.”
“Indeed it will be rather painful for you, but your suffering will be rewarded. I have agreed to your Mother’s requests. What is it you want, Draco?”
“I wish to fight alongside you and to be there when you kill Potter!”
“Ah, a thirst for revenge – I’m certain Lucius would be pleased. Very well, Draco Malfoy, you will have a place amongst my forces for the assault. Now, stare into my eyes and focus on the memory.”
Lord Voldemort was a master of the mental arts. He could be subtle, but that was seldom his way and he decided to see where the boy’s threshold for pain actually was.
From the thicket of woods roughly a mile from the target, Lord Voldemort watched small groups of people arrive for the festivities. He was certain Draco Malfoy believed everything he had relayed, but the Dark Lord did not rise to his position by merely believing the things others had seen. He witnessed the wedding gifts being scrutinized and the people being hurriedly ushered inside of the ward barrier. Lord Voldemort’s newly refurbished Necrodragon would give pause to the six broom riders attempting to control the airspace and his remaining trio of Giants would occupy those on the ground. The real battle would be taking place inside.
Potter’s sidekicks arrived and proceeded to start pointing things out to the Aurors. It caused him to sneer. The Aurors clearly did not enjoy being told their job. Things stopped short of wands being drawn, but even from this distance, there was tension in the air. Children playing in an adult’s world! How have they managed to resist him for so long?
He had seen all he needed to. Before the day ends, the boy, his friends and all others in that building opposing him would be exterminated.
Lord Voldemort entered the cramped tunnel holding both of his wands pushing past his followers to the front of the group. Potter would be unlikely to have a match for his spare. The Ridgeback’s heart had only been used to make a single wand. It was a close match. There would be little disadvantage using it. He adjusted the straps on his Unicorn skin vest.
The eight Trolls had been shrunken to human size using potions. He would have preferred to use his remaining trio of Giants, but the draughts would not work on those creatures. The sub-humans would go first and the twenty Death Eaters would follow. If the Trolls did not move quickly enough he would simply banish the creatures forward.
All his remaining forces would occupy the Ministry elsewhere. One of the Muggle warehouses adjacent to Diagon Alley had been converted for his use. There were fifty freshly created Inferii that were going to be released into the Alley simultaneously with this assault. A few other Mulciber was leading several other raiding teams that would strike in several places, intentionally triggering wards and creating havoc wherever possible.
“It ends today. I will be rid of this boy. Without his support, Scrimgeour will crumble.”
He found the rumors that the Minister had already laid the ground work for a Ministry in Exile to be particularly delicious. Whether or not they were true was another matter. Lord Voldemort’s Inner Circle had been all but replaced during this campaign. There was no room in his mind for failure. There was no need for further contingency plans.
A lone hag stood surrounded by the trolls. She was silenced, naturally, but the Banshee’s shriek would kill many of the weaklings; thankfully, the trolls were immune to her screech. The others would die with blood running out of their ears. It wouldn’t kill Potter, but it might thin out the resistance. The hag’s price of three newborn children was surprisingly low, though the stipulation that they be from magical humans was expected.
He checked the Muggle timepiece, unwilling to cast a spell which might be detected. If they were on time, the ceremony would have started fifteen minutes ago. There was no time like the present. Once more, he would challenge fate and make his own destiny.
“Now!” At his command the trolls drank from their gourds containing the counter to the shrinking draught and charged forward bursting into the hallway. The Banshee moved behind them with a wicked grin on her face, tossing the charmed necklace that muzzled her to the ground and crushing it beneath her foot.
“Kill them all!”