Neville and Voldemort ponder events, Fred and George talk with Harry, Theo and Pansy decide their futures. Umbridge reacts.
“Hey, Harry, Hermione,” Neville asked one afternoon in late January, “may I ask you two something?”
“Sure,” Harry replied, while Hermione nodded. The fifth year Gryffindors were heading back towards the common room, having finished classes for the day. Most wanted to relax for the hour and a half before dinner, while Hermione wanted to drop off most of her books and then head over to the library for some extra research.
Neville hesitated, but then asked nervously, “Do you believe there are such things are elementals and shadow-mages?”
The last part of the question got everyone looking at Harry with great interest. The story of the Slytherins’ encounter with ‘the Shadow’ had quickly spread throughout Slytherin, and then escaped into the general student population, none of whom had ever heard of the old American Muggle wireless show. Apparently, none had seen the recent American film, either. So far, no word of ‘the Shadow’ had escaped Hogwarts, but Harry knew it was likely to happen soon.
Harry rather regretted going over the top with this, but there was little he could do about it now. All he said in reply, however, was, “What are elementals or shadow-mages?”
“Well,” Hermione said confidently, “elementals are mythical mages, or wizards if you prefer, who are supposed to have had special affinities with the basic philosophical elements: fire, water, earth, and air. An air elemental would have control over the wind, for example.”
“You and Remus Lupin can both conjure bluebell flames without a wand, which most of us can’t; does that make you fire elementals?” Harry asked, curious.
“Not really,” Hermione answered. “Think creating and controlling heat that could refine and forge steel instead.” She considered. “I suppose, if they actually existed in the past, little things like a bluebell flame could be some remnant of the power. . . .”
Harry looked at Neville. “Sounds pretty iffy to me,” Harry said, “at least on the scale Hermione thinks they should operate on. What’s a shadow-mage?” Hermione and Dean also looked interested.
“A shadow-mage would be a wizard whose powers are enhanced by darkness – not the Dark Arts, I mean, well, like shadows,” Neville replied. “Supposedly they can travel invisibly through the shadows, maybe even from one shaded area to another.”
“Oh?” Harry replied, “that sounds interesting. Is that what people think this ‘Shadow’ might be?”
Neville, Ron, Seamus, and Parvati all nodded.
“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Harry admitted. “If there are people who claim to be able to do any of that, I bet it’s either a trick of some kind or some other kind of magic.” Despite everything, Harry decided to confuse the issue some more. “Unless, of course, you think Ninjas are shadow-mages.” Dean looked thoughtful at that.
“Ninjas?” Neville asked. “What are Ninjas?”
Hermione sighed and said, “Even though we didn’t cover it, the magical Ninja are covered in the second year history of magic text, chapter seven, and the epilogue of Lockhart’s stupid ‘Year with the Yeti’.”
The others stopped at looked at Hermione with affectionate awe, making her flush.
“How. . . .” Seamus started, but then he shook his head. “Never mind. Just mark us down as impressed.”
Within two days, most of the students were debating if ‘the Shadow’ was a shadow-mage, a Ninja, or both. Harry, Hermione, and Luna all mildly encouraged the idea of ‘the Shadow’ being a Ninja, as obviously Harry could not possibly be one.
Voldemort looked down at the inert form of Draco Malfoy. What he had found in the boy’s mind was difficult to process. Voldemort had prided himself on being a ‘master of magic’ since his Hogwarts days, but whatever had been used on Malfoy – and Voldemort could not determine if it was a hex or a potion or something else – was something totally new to him.
That worried him. He had now viewed the chain of events so often that the boy’s memories of the event were somewhat addled, and therefore useless for reviewing.
Voldemort could not believe that Potter would have allowed Malfoy to destroy the Lestranges as he had. Therefore, as he suspected (not realizing that this view had been subtly encouraged by Snape), Potter was not anywhere near the center of his new opposition. It was even more clear that Dumbledore was not either, and the Ministry certainly could not be. Whatever power and knowledge the old schoolmaster had, it did not include killing, let alone allowing the old-style painful deaths of the Lestranges! As for the Ministry, while he only had a few Marked followers there, Voldemort knew that the majority of Ministry workers would side with him, although only a few out of loyalty – at least at first. A few parts of the Ministry were to some degree efficient, such as the aurors and the Unspeakables, but again, no one in the Ministry could have allowed this level of death to be inflicted on Purebloods.
These ideas, taken in combination, easily eliminated the other European Ministries as well – they were all similar to the British Ministry in the attitudes to some degree. There was not a hint that any other Ministry outside of Europe was concerned either. That meant some other person or group was behind this opposition.
Could it be the Druids, coming out of their multiple hiding places? Voldemort considered them. They were a large and very powerful group, secluded in mountain recesses throughout Europe and especially in the Americas. They could also be frighteningly bloodthirsty if directly challenged. Still, he had deliberately done nothing to upset them, and he had been served with none of the traditional warnings, and the Druids were certainly about tradition.
The same was true of other old groups throughout Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas. He really could not threaten most of them for decades, perhaps even centuries, after his planned conquest of magical Britain, if ever. He had therefore been careful not to threaten or challenge them.
Who else could be out there? The idea that there might be a new group, whose rising over the previous hundred or so years had escaped his notice through the 1970s, did not occur to him. Therefore, there was little Voldemort could do but demand more information, and hope some came in that was useful.
Voldemort ordered Malfoy taken back to his cell and pondered. What could he do next if his next move failed? It depended on young Nott, who apparently still did not know his father was dead. Voldemort grimaced, thinking of Nott made him think of Pettigrew – who seemed to be his current most effective, or at least most useful, tool. That Wormtail might be his most useful tool worried Voldemort most of all.
Harry responded to the stereo exclaimation. “Fred. George. I wondered when you’d come along.”
“You knew?” Fred asked.
Harry nodded. “Sirius asked me over the break if I minded, and I said of course not! It gives him something to do, and I know the two of you won’t cheat him.”
George frowned. “How would we cheat him?”
“He’s still on the run; you could probably get around a contract,” Harry pointed out.
“Well, you’re right, we wouldn’t,” George stated firmly.
“Especially since he and Professor . . . I mean Remus have some really great ideas, and not only that, they know how to make them work!” Fred said happily.
“Since you are the Head of House, you can sign even though you’re underage,” George reminded Harry. “We were thinking, twenty-five and a half percent for each of us, twenty-five percent for Sirius, since he’s investing so much, and twelve percent for both you and Remus.”
“What I gave you was just that,” Harry pointed out. “A gift. However, “he added quickly, “I’ll invest half of whatever Sirius has to get the twelve percent offered.”
“That would be another thousand,” Fred pointed out.
“Money well-invested,” Harry replied. “I’ll send a note to the goblins.”
“Thanks, Harry!” the twins chorused.
It wasn’t until the end of the first week in February when Nott finally asked Millie Bulstrode to arrange a meeting with Harry that next Sunday. He refused to let her, or Pansy, join him in the meeting, and asked that Harry meet with him alone.
Harry was therefore rather wary going into the meeting. He checked out the room they would meet in secretly and thoroughly the night before, laying down magic detectors in case Nott or some other student tried to lay a trap. Hermione thought he was being overly-cautious, but had to agree he was hardly being paranoid.
Snape disagreed, and thought that Harry was being properly cautious. That did not bother Hermione. Luna, however, was also concerned, although she was not certain why. That did bother Hermione, who was still trying to find the good in nearly everyone. The fact that Snape was now helping Harry, and, so far that term at least, Dumbledore was not (apparently) in any way interfering made her feel justified in her optimism.
Harry, and Luna, both realized that Snape was helping Harry to save his own skin and to side with the eventual winner. He was still trying to subtly hint that he and Lily were boon companions through most of their Hogwarts years, which Harry was not buying, although he did not show Snape his doubts.
Nott walked into the classroom and looked around. Not seeing anyone, he took a deep breath to steady himself and walked in. Then, Nott pulled out his wand.
Nott spun around and saw Harry blocking the door.
“I’d advise you to put away the wand,” Harry said tonelessly.
Nott lowered his wand, but he did not put it away.
“No offense,” Harry stated in the same voice, “but the fact you haven’t put your wand away is not encouraging my confidence in you.”
“Potter. . . .” Nott managed to say, his voice cracking, “if . . . if I don’t. . . . It’s not just me. . . .”
“Meaning?” Harry demanded.
“If I don’t . . . all my family . . . dead. . . .” Nott’s hands were shaking badly, and Harry could see the boy was terrified.
Still, a terrified person might do anything, without thinking things through. “You can’t kill me, Theodore Nott,” Harry stated. “If you try and fail, won’t your family be equally dead?” Nott hesitatingly nodded.
“In fact, I understand your father is already dead.”
That shook Nott. Almost shivering, he asked, “Are you sure?”
“Pretty certain,” Harry allowed.
“Then . . . then the rest of my family . . . my little sisters. . . . If they are not already dead. . . .”
“Then they are already likely as good as dead. Do you want to add to their sacrifice by dying as well? If you really want to die, and for them to die for certain, then keep that wand out. Just try and use it, and you will be gone. I’m not going to lie and say I can have some allies of mine save any of your family if they are still alive, but that slim chance that I might be able to is all they have, because it’s a bigger chance than your being able to harm me.”
The silence stretched several moments.
“Well?” Harry asked.
“I have to at least pretend to try,” Nott whispered. His wand hand twitched.
Before Nott could complete whatever hex he may have hoped to try, he was screaming. His wand was broken and his hand was crushed.
Before anyone could enter the room to aid Nott, the teen looked at Harry. “Please?” he moaned softly. “Pansy is supposed to know where they are.”
“She’s decided, then.” It was another statement, not a question.
Nott managed to nod. “She brought the notices; she betrayed me.”
“Then she not only looks like a pug, she is a bitch,” Harry mused. He looked up as Snape and the Headmaster entered. Snape stunned the teen and took him away.
Dumbledore looked into the hard green eyes of ‘the Chosen One.’ “I’m glad you didn’t kill him,” was all Dumbledore said.
“His heart wasn’t in it,” Harry retorted. “I don’t kill for fun, or just to tie up ‘loose ends’.” He sighed. “I think you should announce that he attacked me with deadly force, and that he died in the exchange of fire. Then send him out of the country for his own sake.”
“That will cost some money,” Dumbledore commented.
“Take it from the money you’re holding for me.” Seeing Dumbledore’s puzzled look. “You know, the basilisk skeleton I claimed was only part of what was mine from right of conquest.”
Dumbledore winced at that, and left to make arrangements, not realizing that made Harry free to make his own.
Pansy was slightly worried. Nott was supposed to taken out Potter, and no matter if he had failed or succeeded, there should have been an uproar by now. If Nott had failed, he should be dead, and no betrayal was possible. Had he succeeded, he should have the ability to leave the castle, and again, she should be safe.
However, events of the past few months had shown that plans oft went awry. It was therefore in growing trepidation that Pansy went to bed.
Meanwhile, Dumbledore was talking to two of the aurors who were assigned to Hogwarts that term – there were only two at any given time, and this time they were, fortunately, Tonks and Shacklebolt. Dumbledore had also called in Moody. “Well?” he asked. The quartet had rounded up Harry and just sent him into the Gryffindor common room.
“Snape got the idiot away before we could question him,” Moody complained. “As for Potter, all four of us have full tracking charms on him. We’ll know wherever he goes for the next eight hours and we’ll know when he goes.” His eye angles to look into the common room, and he gave a little start.
“What?” Dumbledore demanded.
“The cheeky bugger flipped me off!” Moody exclaimed. “How the devil did he know I was looking?” He looked again and growled. “He did it again!”
“Never mind that, the important thing is, he’s in there,” Tonks pointed out.
Moody conjured a chair and sat, scowling at the wall.
“Well?” Shack asked, amused as he saw a flush creeping up Moody’s neck.
“Little bastard just had all the males moon me,” Moody griped. “They’re clearing out.” Moody suddenly flushed more deeply.
“What?” Tonks asked.
“Never you lot mind,” Moody said, not about to admit that one of Potter’s friends (Colin Creevey, in fact), in turning around, had displayed a suspicious mark above his pubic hair. Zooming in, he had seen it stated ‘Moody is a Perv’, but he was not about to proclaim it.
After five minutes, the other three had conjured chairs as well. It was thus an odd sight which met Snape when he found the group almost an hour later.
“Did you hide your Snake?” Moody complained, his head moving, but his magical eye keeping a close eye on Potter.
“I hid one and discovered that his family had indeed been captured. In fact, Nott’s maternal aunt had been killed in the attack, by all appearances sometime last night. I don’t know if this ‘Shadow’ can rescue the survivors or not. I tried my contacts, but those who were available do not know where they are being held.” Snape then admitted, “In addition, I seem to be missing one other student.”
“What does that mean?” Dumbledore demanded.
“It means that Parkinson’s dorm mates all swear she went to bed over an hour ago, but she is now missing. None heard or saw her leaving, or anything even slightly suspicious. Davis was awake the entire time, and her memory shows no signs of tampering. Neither did the others’.”
“What do we do?” Tonks asked. “We can’t search and keep our connections to Harry active.”
Dumbledore thought, and then said, “Alastor, keep an eye on Harry. We need him to have a complete alibi. The rest of us, and the staff, shall search the castle.”
Despite their best efforts, Pansy was not found during the night. Of course, neither did any of the searching teachers notice a rat with a silver paw hiding in the shadows. In their defense, they weren’t looking for something that small.
Moody was relieved at 5:20 that morning, when he reported that Potter was up. Rather than allowing Harry to go for his usual run inside the castle followed by a workout, he was pressed into the search parties. Seeing Harry’s demeanor, Snape decided that he had already successfully pulled off whatever had been done. He nevertheless stuck close to Potter, as did the Headmaster. Dumbledore did so as he wanted to make certain Harry was not involved. Snape, certain Harry was fully involved, did not want to miss the unveiling of whatever had happened to Pansy. While he knew he was not likely to approve, it should at least be interesting.
The searchers did not abandon their searches, but did break it off for breakfast. Or, to be more specific, Harry announced he was having breakfast, and all the other searchers converged on the great hall.
Harry spoke briefly to the other remaining Slytherin fifth years about what had happened to Nott the night before, said good morning to Luna, who whispered words of assurance and affection, and then took his usual seat between Ron and Hermione.
It was a little more than ten minutes later when startled screams brought everyone’s attention to the far corner of the great hall. A nearly nine meter-high tree had appeared, with a thick trunk and with heart-shaped leaves and masses of pink flowers, some on the trunk itself, and there were some pods hanging from the branches as well. Then new screams, more terrified, rang out as a naked woman’s body appeared, hanging motionless from a branch from a noose made from a thin rope, obviously dead. The face was blackish and mottled, but it was clearly Pansy Parkinson. From her left wrist hung a heavy pouch, apparently tied tightly before her death, as it had cut off the circulation to that hand.
“Prefects!” Dumbledore roared, “clear the students back to your common rooms!” He had forgotten that included Harry, but he was too busy to care. Madam Pomfrey was already at the corpse, magically making certain that the girl was beyond help.
As the last students clear out, they heard Professor Sprout state, “It’s a Cercis siliquastrum – the Judas Tree.”
No one was therefore surprised to discover that the pouch held thirty Sickles – thirty pieces of silver.
The outrage of Pansy’s death could not be contained, as the news had blared in that night’s ‘Evening Prophet’. While some of the attacks were on Dumbledore and the MLES, much was directed against Fudge and Umbridge. Nott’s mother and younger sisters had appeared seeking asylum in South Africa, telling tales of a Britain under siege from the Dark Lord mostly because his activities were abetted by the leaders of the British Ministry of Magic. Over the next few days, Mrs. Nott would reveal how her husband had paid off several government officials after Barty Crouch had been dismissed back in the early 1980s so that he would not be too closely questioned, and she had named names, including Fudge and Umbridge.
Further stories of corruption, large-and-small, came out so quickly that it was clear to most that the stories had been well-known for years, just covered up. No senior Ministry official escaped clean, although some, like Arthur Weasley, had committed only relatively minor infractions (like illegally enchanting a car).
With everyone seen as at least a bit soiled, the question was who would take the fall with Fudge? As tempting as it was to some, you could not fire over half the Ministry. Umbridge should have been kicked out with Fudge, but she managed to just hold on by promising to investigate the goings-on at Hogwarts. The hard-core Purists in the Wizengamot, feeling that Pansy’s death had been largely passed by in the furor, agreed to give her one last chance.
And so, two days before Valentine’s Day, Dolores Umbridge installed herself in Hogwarts and prepared to confront the one person she considered the main problem of wizarding Britain.