Rated for bloodshed.
Albus Dumbledore was not having a good week. On the fifteenth of October, the Board of Governors had reconvened, and they were demanding an explanation for the sixty missing students. The concern of the meeting was more the lack of tuition, to the tune of nearly thirty-five thousand Galleons, that accompanied the students’ departure, rather than the loss of the students themselves. That gold would have funded the school for the year as well as certain ‘traditional and expected stipends’ to some of the members of the board. With the gold having been withdrawn, those traditional bribes couldn’t be paid, and Dumbledore was in the hot-seat.
He was only fortunate that Lucius Malfoy had not been there. That would have been an unmitigated disaster! However, as an escapee from Azkaban, even he would have a hard time explaining his presence.
On the other hand, with his absence, and that of his cronies, the need for those bribes, was, if not eliminated entirely, at least greatly diminished.
As it turned out, they didn’t need Lucius.
As a proxy for all of the Potter votes, including the seat on the Board of Governors, Andromeda began to ask questions…questions Albus did not want asked. His usual answer of ‘it’s for the greater good’ satisfied nobody, especially not the five new members selected to replace the three Death Eaters and two sympathizers, who’d formerly held those positions.
Her most important question was: “Why is the tuition for the muggleborne students three times higher than for the purebloods?” Augusta Longbottom, the newly selected chair, was appalled; not only at the disparity, but also that like the Potter estate, she’d been charged the mugglebornes rate for Neville’s schooling.
He tried to explain that the mugglebornes needed to acclimate themselves to the vagaries of the wizarding system. That didn’t wash either. The board told him they would give him one more try before they would vote to replace him with someone who, as Carolyn snarked: “Had more than two brain cells to rub together.”
He sighed, and confessed it was the pureblood laws, in place that were responsible. What he’d failed to mention was that he himself, had written many of those laws…and specifically for that purpose.
Carolyn had been named to the board, because she held proxy for the Potter vote. Only Augusta held primacy over hers, being that she held both the Longbottom vote and proxy for the Gryffindor vote. That was, after all how she had taken the chair. While she could vote on the issues, Carolyn was there just to watch the old man roast. She took notes, however, and decided to investigate the origin dates of those laws. Being a pureblood and most familiar with the wizarding legal system, she knew those laws had been changed before her father’s untimely demise. She felt it was quite likely that Albus Dumbledore had had something to do with either…or both.
Over the next hours, the three of them worked as a bloc, to shove new by-laws into place with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. After forcing a vote, they resolved that the tuition would no longer be paid on a blood-based status, but on a sliding scale wherein the ones who could least afford to pay would pay the least, and those who could afford to pay more, would. It was, after all the same method used in the rest of the magical schools, and in a great part of the muggle world as well.
A second regulation they’d put into place was a series of restrictions on points gained or lost with a similar control over detentions. Any spurious reasons would be rejected by a council of the heads of house. Any serious objections, would be brought to the Board of Governors. Since it was a system designed into the castle itself, they would also investigate why that system was no longer working. Dumbledore paled. He knew it was his tampering, that allowed Severus to assign detentions and deduct points with such careless freedom.
He paled even more at their third decision. He and all his teachers would be facing an inquest, to determine their actual qualifications for teaching. He knew that only a third of the staff would pass such an inquisition and only Minerva was under his control. The rest of them had expressed concern for his methods, and the case of a few…his sanity.
Cuthbert Binns was summoned and told his services were no longer required. While he had been a dedicated teacher in life, he was more apt to lull the students into a coma now that he was dead. Until a replacement could be found, his position would be taken by Professor Tofty, who had lived through a great deal of the past two centuries and had an avid interest in both the subject of history, and why so many students had failed the course.
Instead of objecting, he simply smiled, and suggested they also investigate where his salary had gone for the past hundred years. A final smirk at Dumbledore, and he faded away entirely. The board decided unanimously to begin that investigation. By now, Dumbledore was beyond shock.
At the end of the session, Dumbledore turned to Carolyn and asked angrily: Did you enjoy the show, Miss Chapman?”
Carolyn smirked evilly, and replied: “Oh, immensely!”
Lord Voldemort was not having a good week. The previous weeks’ failure of his plan to capture Ollivander and his wands has done heavy damage to morale. All six of his servants were either dead, or captured. Worse, those two captures, were now missing entirely! Security at the Ministry had been increased threefold, and his few remaining loyalists there were unable to access the detention level.
Rumour had it they were now in an unplottable prison, somewhere on the continent.
Recruitment was down and casualties were up. This was intolerable!
He knew he would have to pull off a major coup to restore his servants’ faith in his agenda.
In London, Carolyn had just presented Petunia Dursley with a summons. She sat smirking as Petunia looked at the nasty thing on the table. She couldn’t bin it, because Madam Chapman knew she had it.
“Mrs. Petunia Dursley,
You are ordered and required to present yourself to the queen’s court in Guildford Surrey, with your barrister at ten of the clock, on the twentieth day of November in this, the year of our lord, one thousand nine hundred and ninety six, to face charges of abuse of a minor child, neglect of a minor child, molestation of a minor child, embezzlement, and tax evasion…”
Stapled to her subpoena, was one for her husband.
“The only reason I’ve presented this to you, and not your jailer…” Carolyn announced. “Is that Lord Gryffindor has arranged with the court, for you to remain in my custody until your trial. That’s why I’m here so often, after all. If he hadn’t, you’d still be in jail. You should be grateful, really.”
“Grateful!?!” Petunia screeched. “It’s that freak who should be grateful for all we’ve done for him! We took him in when we didn’t have to, purely out of the goodness in our hearts, and…”
Carolyn interrupted: “Petunia, you have no goodness in your heart…or anywhere else. Frankly, I’d as soon leave you to the courts, and hang my fee! As it is, I made a promise to Harry to do my best for you. Now, my advise to you, is when you enter that courtroom, you keep your bloody mouths shut, answer questions politely and do exactly what you are told!”
Vernon was not having a good week. Some fool had left a stopcock open on one of the milling machines that was undergoing maintenance, and now, a combination of oil and metal shavings coated the floor. This would take hours, if not days to clean up!
Dudley wasn’t having as good a week as he would like, but it was looking up. He’d found a tutor who wasn’t disgusted to be near him, and was diligently working to learn the things he’d skived off at Smeltings. She told him that if he continued to show the dedication he had, she was sure he’d be able to take his GCSE’s over, and with better results.
Harry was having a good week. For the past few days, Hermione had awakened feeling ‘frisky’, and had left him smiling each morning. His students were improving by the day and he could see them all being qualified in Ataru when the time came. Yes, Harry was having a very good week.
Today, they were running the nature trail, but he’d added a new challenge. They were to run it at full speed, calling on the force to help.
As usual, his announcement brought forth groans and complaints. He just smiled and said: “I’ll be running it with you!”
That was something his students really liked about Harry’s style of leadership; he was always right there in the front. Dumbledore would pull strings from the shadows, and send people out to die in his crusade for ‘the light’. Not so, Harry. Harry was an up-front kind of general.
He began by ranking all his students by capability. Though some complained about his assessment, they understood that their placement had been jointly decided by Harry, Mackenzie, Remus and Tonks, so they couldn’t cry ‘foul’. They waited their turns.
Harry and Hermione started off first. Harry set the nearly impossible pace, racing down the trail…Hermione following behind. She was not as in-tune with the force as he was, but she was working herself hard. After so many months of the rigorous training, she was in nearly as good a physical condition as Harry himself, and as in all her studies, she pushed herself to be the very best.
Luna, Susan, Hannah, Dean, Orla, Colin and Dennis, Stewart Ackerly, Morag McDougal and Kenneth McMichael were in the first group. Behind them were Oliver, Angelina, Alicia and Katie, Padma, Terry, Daphne, Su Li, and Sally-Ann Perks.
The twins led the third group. Neville followed, with a less-than-thrilled Ron as his charge. He’d improved, in the past two weeks, but he still had a way to go. Seamus, mentored by Ginny, Parvati, Lavender, Ernie, under the tutelage of Terry Boot, Daphne and Elizabeth Moon, all followed.
The later groups watched on charmed screens to see how he did. They were astounded. Until then they’d seen the basics of Jedi training. They’d rarely seen Harry go flat out.
He finished the run in twelve minutes and a handful of seconds. Hermione was nine seconds behind him.
All in all, they didn’t do too badly. The group had some difficulty using the force like that, but they were improving by the day. Even Ron and his ‘skivers’, as Harry thought of them, had improved. Of course, having three screaming lunatics on your arse the whole day, with the sole intention of building up your body, left little time to skive off.
The lesson he’d given the three worst, had made an impression on them all.
On the seventeenth, at the beginning of the day’s lightsaber training, Harry addressed his students.
“I want to see how much you’ve retained. Since there are too many of you to test in a single go, we’ll split into two different groups, and while I assess the first group, the second can work on your hand to hand combat.”
Groans followed he announcement. He split the group by having them sound off by twos. Every ‘one’ stayed, every ‘two’ left. Soon he had only thirty students to observe.
“OK, We’re going to be performing the katas, attack and defend, right handed only, from the start. By the numbers. One!” The students assumed the basic position, swung their lightsabers up over their right shoulders, and down in a diagonal slash.
“Two” He barked. The position shifted minutely and the blades swung to low guard.
“Three…” Blades, again lifted, to form a high sweeping circle over the wielder’s head, from left to right and then back down to the front.
“Four!” Blades came up in a vertical block.
“Five!” He called as blades shifted to an inverted strike, and “Six!” at the counter, a horizontal block
Each move met with Harry’s approval. Very few had to be adjusted or corrected.
“Twenty five!” The students whirled and struck in a horizontal arc.
“Twenty-six!” Blades became vertical once more, with the beams pointed down.
He counted to fourty-six, watching closely for errors in form, and determination. He smiled in satisfaction.
“Alright. Take a break! Have a drink!” House elves appeared with fortified lemonade. The students shut down their weapons, and drank the vitamin and mineral loaded liquid and milled about for a time. When Harry was ready to continue, they were as well.
“Ready for the left hand?” He asked. They all called out their assent.
“OK! One!” Legs shifted and blades moved up past the left shoulder, before slashing down to the right.
“Good, Two!” Blades went to the downward right side.
“Three!” Again blades whirled overhead, this time, from right to left.
“Four!” Vertical block.
The testing lasted for most of three hours. When he'd finished testing their knowledge of the independent steps, he went on to call out different combinations that might be seen in combat.
Those not in testing were out working on their hand to hand combat. When the first group was done, he released them to his fellow instructors. Harry stepped out of the castle to call the second group in, and was immensely pleased to see his students unconsciously using the force to enhance their strikes or to protect them when they did get hit.
He had the second group assume their spacing. Unfortunately this group included Ron.
Ron really enjoyed using his lightsaber…a little too much. He liked playing with it, but was less than diligent about his technique. He also noted that the spacing around Ron was a bit more than between the rest of them. Harry saw this and it worried him. Still, the red head was trying, Harry had to give him that. He was trying.
Mackenzie approached him after the second group had departed. “He’s gotten careless, Harry.”
“Mmhmm. I have to tell you; if he were under my command, I wouldn’t take him anywhere near combat. He’s careless, and undisciplined. While he’s nearly up to speed in the physical training aspect, his blade-work is sloppy. Just now, I’d have to say he’s more a danger to himself…or those around him, than to the enemy.”
“Yeah. I saw.”
“Macmillan is nearly as bad, but Finnegan seems to be shaping up. I think he’s sweet on the little carrot.”
“Don’t let her hear you call her that. She can be right scary when she wants to be.”
“Don’t worry, Harry. I have twenty years of dealing with Judith and Hermione. I can handle one teenager…magical or not.”
“Spoke the bard, sez I!” Harry snarked.
Mackenzie returned to the topic.
“I know he was your first friend, Harry, but you have to think about the rest of them. So far, we’ve been lucky. His blade is locked to sparring power. Still, he’s come close to burning several of the people around him.”
“Yeah.” Harry sighed. “I think I’m gonna test him, personally…see how well he’s getting on. I’ll tell him I want to spar with him. Maybe I can shock him onto focusing on what he’s doing. Maybe show him all the errors he’s making.”
“That might work, but I’d still consider cutting him loose.”
“Yeah. I hate to do it, but yeah.”
That evening they had the mass party for Luna, Sally Ann Perks, Angelina Johnson, Steven Capper, Stewart Ackerly, and surprisingly enough, Dobby.
No one was more surprised at how well regarded he was, than Dobby himself, when the embarrassed elf, received several different gifts, from hats and socks…to candles and scented oils, for his ‘private time’ with Winky.
Most of the gifts for the other celebrants, were similar, though Sally Ann and Stewart both received some books of fiction for casual reading, Steven was an avid sculptor and so received a very nice selection of soapstone to practice on, while Angelina found to her dismay that either Fred or George…or both, one never could tell with that pair, had gotten her the same kid of embarrassing bedroom toys as they’d gotten Harry. They made a mistake. Having been on the Quidditch team with them for so many years, Angelina was not so easily embarrassed. Waving a realistic looking vibrator in the air, she asked: “Is someone here trying to send me a message?”
George answered: “Or possibly a massage?”
Laughter and bawdy comments eased the tension.
Luna received a bunch of interesting charms and trinkets, most of which were meant to help control the psychic gift they now all recognized. She welcomed the gifts with happy tears.
Dobby handed her a small irregular package. With a curious glance, she unwrapped the thing. Inside was an antique stone sculpture only three or four inches high, that had to be several thousand years old. It had two curling horns coming from its cheeks, and seemed to be covered with wool.
“Dobby!” She squealed. Before wrapping the elf in a crushing hug, and planting such an enthusiastic kiss on the poor guy, that most of the people in the room were fanning themselves.
When she released him, Dobby wobbled on unsteady legs and sat down hard on the flags.
“What the hell was that all about?” Ron asked. Luna ignored him and danced…literally danced from the room.
“Dobby?” Hermione helped the wobbly elf to stand. “What was that?”
“Well, mistress Looney is always talking of crumbley horned Snorkacks, and so Dobby found a sculpture of one in Norway.”
Hermione nearly passed out.
“My servants!” Voldemort announced two days later. “I have decided it is time to sow terror in the muggle world. I want a large target identified for attack, by…Hallowe’en. That should bring Potter running, and I can deal with him for once and all!”
The gathered Death Eaters nodded in understanding, before he dismissed them all with a sharp: “Go! Severus, you stay!”
Snape remained behind. He knew the dark lord had no cause to punish him, but then, the dark lord had never needed a reason, merely an excuse. Worse, his behavior had gotten more erratic over the past months, and Severus suspected Voldemort was abusing, or at least, misusing the potions he’d brewed.
“Severus, I seem to be running low on the headache potions you’ve left me. I want you to make a double batch, this time, and stronger! They are not as effective as they should be. And be quick about it!”
That was enough for Snape. The master would be no use to anyone, if he were unable to make lucid decisions, and Severus could see that he was definitely under the influence of the powerful painkilling potions!
“Master, surely you are aware those potions are addicting…” was all he got out before he was writhing in agony on the parquet. Outside the doors, the Death Eaters could hear him shrieking. None of them wanted any part of what was making the master so angry, and so, none dared to enter.
Inside the room, Voldemort was shrieking nearly as loud as Snape. “You dare to question me!?! I am Lord Voldemort! You are mine! Your very life belongs to me!” He released the curse with mere seconds before permanent damage was done, then hissed: “You will never question my orders again, Severus, or I shall make your death a memorable one!”
Harry dismissed his crew after supper the next day, but when Ron passed his table, he called out: “Ron, hang about!”
Ron, knowing he was doing much better on the obstacle course, did so without fear.
“Ron, I want to test your blade work. How would you like to spar with me?”
“Wicked!” Was all Ron could say.
“OK. We’re going to limit this to what you’ve already learned, but understand this…I’m gonna be pressing you hard.”
Ron nodded his understanding.
Harry led Ron to he middle of the room where he handed his lightsaber to Ron and took the redhead’s weapon for inspection. Ron looked at Harry’s weapon and sighed, before handing it back. Harry twitched an eyebrow. He’d set the blade power a little higher than it should be, but Ron hadn’t caught it. He handed the weapon back. “You missed something, mate.” This time Ron caught it. He flushed, but adjusted the blade power down to the minimum.
“Sorry isn’t good enough, Ron. That blade can kill you. Let’s not let that happen, K?”
“OK, mate. Thanks for that.”
“Just remember it. Now, take your guard.”
Once Ron was in position, Harry struck. Ron wasn’t ready and the force of Harry’s strike, knocked Ron’s blade down and out of position. He hurriedly countered but just a little too late. Harry’s strike bounced the golden beam backward, toward Ron’s face. He had to stumble back to recover.
Harry wasn’t done. He struck again and Ron was wondering if his best mate was trying to kill him!
Another swift strike and Ron’s blade went flying.
Harry called Ron’s weapon to him and handed it to his friend.
“Ron, I only used positions one, two, three and four, and I had you with the first. You’ve gotten better in the physical fitness area, but you still need to go over your bladework. You have got to pay attention!”
Harry shut down his lightsaber and turned to leave the room. At the door, eh stopped. He didn’t bother to turn, but called out: “This is the last time I’m going to warn you, Ron. Next time, I take action, understand?” Then he walked away.
It was a very thoroughly shaken Ronald Weasley that stumbled his way to his dorm that night. Neville was waiting.
“What’d he have to say?”
“Ron? Talk to me.” They’d gotten closer over the past weeks, and Ron knew Neville was as dedicated as Harry, but he was also a good and trusted friend.
“Umm…he said I need to work on my bladework.”
“Then tomorrow, we get up an hour earlier, and we focus on your bladework.”
“What?” Ron was appalled. He was already rising at the ungodly hour of six AM!
“Ron, you have the potential to be the best, but you don’t focus. You’ve got big dreams, but you aren’t willing to work for them. Over the past two weeks I’ve pushed and shoved you to get you back up to where you ought to be, and you’ve come along well, but this has to be a self-motivated thing. I can’t continue to baby-sit you! If you want to go on this mission, you need to be combat ready by May, and that’s the end of it. I’ll do my best to help, Ron, but you’ve gotta do the work. Tomorrow. Five AM!”
With that, Neville shouldered his shower kit and walked out the door. Ron was shaken by how similar Neville’s departure was, to Harry’s.
How did it go?” Hermione asked.
Harry sighed in exasperation. “About as well as I expected. He’s gotten careless.”
“Harry, I know you love Ron, I do too, but I have to agree with my dad. You have to think of the rest of your students. Ron is on very thin ice. His laziness, his refusal to take this seriously…he can ruin this entire effort. You can’t allow that.”
“I know, sweetheart. I’ve put him on notice. He bungs this up one more time, he goes into the tank.”
“Is that what you told him, the tank?” She asked. “There might be a better way.”
“Actually, I said I’d take action. What better way?”
“Let me work it out and then I’ll tell you, OK?” She grinned a secretive grin.
Harry was far from convinced, but he trusted Hermione more than he trusted anybody else in the world. He would wait.
“How’s Seamus doing?” She asked.
“He’s hating life. Apparently, Ginny’s a right bastard!” He laughed at Hermione’s scandalized look. “Training-wise, I mean.”
Hermione laughed out loud. Harry again decided he could never get tired of that sound.
“Well, I’m for a shower. She announced giving him a naughty grin. “Care to join me?”
“Sure.” He replied. “I’ll wash your back.”
“And I’ll wash yours, and who knows…we might actually get clean.” Grinning, they shed their clothing and together they entered the bath.
Dobby appeared silently behind them took their dirty things and placed fresh uniforms for the next day’s use. He departed as quietly as he’d arrived.
Two days later, on the morning of the twentieth, Ortmund Selwyn, appeared before his brooding master, and bent his knee.
“Speak, Selwyn.” Voldemort sat slumped indolently in his throne, his chin resting on his fist. Selwyn’s words were enough to break him from his funk.
“We have located a suitable target. It is isolated enough so no emergency aid will arrive before we are through, but close enough for the news to spread within hours.”
“It’s a special operations training center. At Gilbert’s Hill Wood.”
A…special operations training…what is this rubbish?”
“The muggles are more ‘accepting’ of their defective spawn than we wizards, my lord. Instead of killing them off, or locking them into the basement, where they belong, they seem to think these ‘defectives’ can make a ‘contribution’, and so, they train them at a young age, to operate in muggle society. I understand this facility is such a training center. There should be more than a hundred there on Hallowe’en.”
“Yes!” Voldemort hissed, rubbing his fingertips together in pleasure. “This would be a coup, indeed. All those defectives dead, and my dark mark floating overhead! This would give the muggles reason to fear, if they cannot even protect their children, defective or not! And the ministry is sure to take the blame! Excellent!”
He returned his attention to his minion and snapped: “Go now, and form a plan…and contact the dementors. Tell them their master has need of them. I want to celebrate this Hallowe’en…properly!”
“As you will, my lord.” Selwyn backed away before turning and leaving. He dreaded dealing with the demons, but he dreaded being a ‘dearly departed’, even more.
As soon as the Death Eater, left, Voldemort reached between the cushion under him and the side of his throne, and pulled out a small brown bottle.
“I feel a headache coming, on, my little darling.” He whispered to the bottle, like a lover would. “A little sip should take it away…just a little sip.” With trembling hands, he carefully eased the stopper from the neck of the little brown bottle and lifted it to his lips. He sipped greedily, taking just a little too much, but really didn’t care, as a pleasant lethargy filled him. The potion was well brewed and took away his pain. It even tasted, if not actually good, at least not horrible. He would have to thank Snape for being such an exceptional brewer…after he ‘punished’ him a bit. He was after all, late with the next delivery!
On the evening of the twenty-first, a newer Death Eater violated an important safety rule. ‘Never bring the dark lord, bad news.’
Unfortunately this news was especially bad.
“What do you mean gone!” Voldemort bellowed. “Crucio!” He pushed such a great deal of his anger into that curse, that the Death Eater writhing on the floor would never recover. His minions watched the torture, outwardly impassive, but inside, each wondered when it would be their turn.
Selwyn smirked. He’d gotten the fool to deliver the message for him. It was always good to cover one’s own arse.
Unfortunately Voldemort wasn’t as gullible as Selwyn had assumed. “Ortmund.” He barked. “Have you something to tell me?”
Selwyn knew he was in trouble.
“Yes, master. I sent him to Azkaban to pass along your order to attend you.” He lied. “He reported to me and I brought him here immediately.”
“And why did you not go to Azkaban personally?” Voldemort asked in a quiet, and clearly deadly hiss. “You perhaps expected you were above obeying my orders?”
“N…no, master! You ordered me to arrange a plan to deal with the muggle defectives, and I have done so. It took all my time, and so, rather than delay the process any, I sent him. I felt it was more important to follow your orders to the letter than to attend such a minor detail.”
Voldemort smirked. A fast, and on the face of it, reasonable answer. He would torture this one only a little. Good men were hard to find, after all. As for the nearly dead man on the floor, well, he should have been able to work out a subterfuge himself. ~More’s the pity.~ He thought, as he transfigured the still-breathing Death Eater into a log and floated it to the fireplace. It was always nice to have a roaring fire!
“Tell me your plan.”
Selwyn gave what he thought was a brilliant plan; basically it was do what had always worked. Send in a team to erect antiapparation wards, portkey in and destroy everything, before sending up the dark mark and portkeying out. It was simplistic in the extreme, but had the advantage of being effective. On the other hand, Selwyn considered himself a showman at heart, and made it sound like the greatest display of genius on Earth.
Voldemort’s response was a snarled: “Crucio!” Selwyn fell screaming. A minute or so and he released his minion from the curse. “I am surrounded by morons! That’s the same plan we always use! Don't any of have an imagination?” He glared at all and sundry, hoping to find one he could punish…for something. None of his Death Eaters dared to meet his eyes. Finally, tiring of his game, he went on: “However, it does seem to be effective, so we will go forward with that.”
22 Oct, 18:45, Hogwarts castle:
Severus Snape was still having trouble controlling the spasmings of his muscles. Never before, had the dark lord held him under Cruciatus for so long. He wondered how long it would take to recover completely…or if he could. He lifted a shaking hand over the cauldron and began to sprinkle in the powdered essence of lotus flower, when a particularly powerful tremor caused him to drop in three times the required amount.
Cursing his fortune, he set the bottle onto the counter and reached for a neutralizer. Alas, another shake caught him and he bumped the bottle of lotus off the counter and in trying to recover the expensive powder before it fell, neglected the cauldron he was working on. The flame was just right, but the concentration of the tincture was too high by three, and when an unstable potion is heated, the reaction is usually…explosive.
He heard the warning hiss, and looked up. His last words before the explosion flung him across the room, was: “Oh, bugger!”
The Great Hall:
Albus Dumbledore was worried. Voldemort had been too quiet of late. That usually meant he was planning something big. He tended to strike on Halloween, and so, he had to be prepared for anything. If only that stupid bastard Potter were here, he could face Riddle’s test and hopefully die in the attempt.
Alas, the aforementioned stupid bastard was not there. In fact, just then, he was in the arms of his lover, giving Voldemort another killer headache and creating Patronus-worthy memories.
Dumbledore’s musings were cut off as an explosion rocked the castle. Shrieks of fear resounded throughout the hall as students were roused from their suppers by the blast.
He stood and let off a cannon blast, which had many of the younger students diving for cover.
“SILENCE!” He bellowed. “Please do not panic. No matter what that noise was, you are in the safest place in the castle. Students, you will remain here, Perfects please count your house members, and ensure they are all present. Teachers, please come with me. Let us discover what that noise was.” He already had an idea. Severus was not present, and he’d still been shaking from the Cruciatus he’d been regretfully exposed to. Apparently Tom had been in a towering rage over his discovering the dementors were gone from Azkaban, and had taken his anger out on the remaining Death Eaters. Severus had gotten the worst of it, simply because he was closest.
“Professor Babbling, would you please remain here and receive the prefect’s tally?”
Professor Babbling nodded her head. She knew she was magically the weakest staff member at Hogwarts, and so was more than happy to avid dealing with trolls and giant snakes and mad Death Eaters, and the like.
The students huddled in fearful groups, while the prefects took a nose count. Albus led the rest of his teachers from the room.
Dumbledore sent his teachers to different areas of the castle, based upon their perceived loyalty to him. He was fully aware of the blast’s location. He asked Hagrid and Minerva to join him in the dungeons. There, he found a corridor filled with noxious smoke. A banishing and a freshening charm cleared the air. There, in front of them, the stones were blackened and not a few were slightly out of place, but the huge oaken timbers that formed the basis of the floors above were cracked and burnt.
“Hagrid, would you be so kind as to shift the beams as I lift them?”
“O’ course, Perfesser!” Hagrid replied, stepping into the ruins. Dumbledore levitated the beams and had Hagrid shift them until they were in their proper places, then then he and Minerva cast repair charms on them to eliminate any damage caused by the blast. The stones were, likewise moved, though this time more through magic than by brute force. Again Reparo’s flew and the corridor was soon as sound as it had been before.
As son as the corridor was passable, he had Hagrid shove his way through the remains of the heavy oaken door leading to Snape’s private lab.
“Oh dear.” Even Albus was appalled.
The potions master was in horrible shape. He was bleeding from far too many wounds, had several obvious broken bones, and most likely a concussion as well.
Dumbledore cast an immobulus spell and levitated the injured potions master from the room, through the hallway and up the stairs towards the infirmary.
Harry ‘felt’ something off the afternoon of the twenty-fifth, and was meditating on the force to discover the cause of his unease, when Dobby appeared in the office and said: “Harry, they is a gathering of the girl-students in the infirmary. They is saying they is going to skin someone alive!”
Harry’s eyes popped open and he bolted from his chair. Dobby was excitable, but he never exaggerated. If that was what he said he heard, then it was what he heard! He called out: “Thank you Dobby.” as he rushed from the room. Leaning into the force, he could tell there was considerable anger, but no immediate danger. On the other hands, thoughts of skinning Ernie Macmillan alive were there!
Harry entered the infirmary to find a flustered Healer Jacoby standing in front of some privacy screens, trying to fend off quite a few, very angry young women.
“What the hell is going on?” He barked.
Silence reigned throughout the room until one; a smaller Chinese girl named Su Li, who reminded him uncomfortably of Cho, stepped forward. She sketched a bow, in the traditional manner, of apprentice to master.
“Harry, this is something that has festered for too long. It must be dealt with.”
“And what, exactly, is this?”
Megan Jones stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Su Li’s waist, and holding her warmly, said: “Macmillan there, has the idea that women are his personal playthings. He decided to make a move on Li, and when she mentioned that she and I are together, he…he called her a deviant carpet muncher and…well, I kind’a lost my temper and slapped him.”
Growls from the surrounding girls told Harry the story wasn’t finished.
“Anybody else?” He asked in a sigh. He’d hoped his students would have taken his warnings to heart.
“All of us, actually.” Padma replied. “He approached me and Parvati in our second week here, and told us he’d heard that twins share ‘everything’, and then made a comment about neither of us being able to handle his ‘man-stick’ on our own.”
Again, other sounds of agreement resounded. Several of the girls stepped forward.
Lavender told him that Macmillan had asked if she had beer in her boobs instead of milk…and could he have a taste? Ginny had knocked him out when he’d asked if he could bounce a sickle off her bum. Susan said that since she kept her hair in braids, it meant that she liked being ridden like a horse. Sara Moon said he’d told her; her uniform looked great on her, but would look better on the end of his bed. Lisa said he’d asked her if she preferred to be on the top, or on the bottom. Sally-Ann said the same thing.
Daphne told him that as soon as he approached, she’d pulled out the combat knife Harry had issued, and that had been enough to scare him off. A lot of them had wondered why they hadn’t thought of that. Angelina had threatened to teach him how to fly…without a broomstick, when he’d asked her if she would let him see how even her color flow was.
Harry asked her why she didn’t tell Fred or George. Her reply was a short: “I figured you needed him alive.”
Luna sounded rather disappointed when she said he hadn’t gotten ‘round to her.
“What are you going to do, Harry?” Hermione asked. She’d felt the disturbance through the force, and had entered only moments behind him.
To stave off the impending eruption of outrage, he held up his hands and added: “It’s only fair I give him a chance to defend himself.”
Even without the force, he could feel the disagreement with that statement from all the women there. Still, he had a job to do and he’d do it correctly. He walked past Jacoby and entered the silenced area. There on the bed, Ernie Macmillan wore a brilliant, hand-shaped mark on his left cheek and his eye was purpling.
“Hey Ernie. Wow! That’s a hell of a shiner! Wanna talk about it?” He asked, as he began to insinuate his mind into Ernie’s. Immediately, Ernie began to bluster. The self-important berk lost his concentration and with it, his shields.
“That Jones bint has a temper, Potter. You’d better do something about it!”
“I intend to. Y’know how girls are.” He made himself sound sympathetic. “They tend to slap when they’re upset.” He threaded his way around Macmillan’s thoughts, touching and watching as he guided the conversation.
“I understand you’ve been making some rather rude comments to some of the ladies here. Ginny, Susan, Lavender, Parvati, Hannah, Sara…” Each name he mentioned, brought up new memories. Soon he was nearly as angry as they.
He withdrew from Ernie’s mind and stood. “Dobby!”
Dobby appeared. “You called for Dobby?”
“Yes, Dobby. Please bring a stasis tube.” Ernie paled.
Dobby nodded and vanished as Harry flicked his finger and leaned into the force. Ernie couldn’t move!
“Ernie, if any one of those girls had been my sister, I’d have torn your lips off, broken your fingers, reversed your sex, trimmed your toenails up to your bloody knees, and pulled out your spleen…through your nose!” Ernie’s face grew paler as Harry listed punishments.
“As it is, they’ve asked me not to kill you.” he lied. “Instead, I’m going to remove the memories of your training and stuff you into a stasis tube.”
“What about a trial?” Ernie whinged. “Everyone deserves a trial!”
“You’ve just had one. I told the lot of you at the beginning, that should any such charges be brought, I’d be verifying those charges by peeking into your thoughts. I’ve just done so…when I was listing the girls you’ve bothered. The only thing that protects you from having a tattoo across your forehead is that you never actually tried to force anyone. Still, I cannot have a student harassing the others like that. This has to be a unified group. Your behavior would only help to fracture that unity. Don’t worry. This won’t hurt a bit.”
Harry used the force to render Ernie unconscious, before placing his palms on either side of Macmillan’s head, and leaning into the force. He constructed a mental tapeworm, programmed to seek out and neutralize any references to the force, and lightsabers. He left the Occlumency shielding, as that was a handy talent to have, regardless. He couldn’t do anything about the physical conditioning part, nor would he want to, except to fog the memory to seem like a dream.
A half hour later, sure that the memories of their training were gone, or on their way out, he withdrew from Ernie’s mind, to find Hermione waiting.
“How did it go?” She asked, wrapping him in a warm embrace.
“About as well as can be expected. I planted a virus to eliminate all his memories of the force. It’ll have run its course in a few more minutes…”
“A virus? You gave him a disease?”
“No.” Harry chuckled. “The brain is like a computer, you know, only a super powerful one. A virus refers to a computer programme that does certain things. This virus is designed to hunt down and eliminate any memories of the force, or lightsaber training. From there, it’s into the tank.”
“I’ve gathered statements from all the girls he’s bothered. Nearly all of us, by the way. The only two he considered off-limits, were me, because I have a ‘protector’…” She held up air quotes. “…and Luna, because she’s too weird for him. Even the thirteen-year olds were fair game.”
“Well, he won’t be a problem from now on. Let’s hope he’s the last demonstration I have to give.”
“Lord Potter, if the two of you are quite done…canoodling…” Jacoby interrupted them, with a disapproving look on his face.
“Oh, no!” Harry shot back with a cheeky look. “Never done canoodling. There can never enough canoodling in the world.” He raised his finger like a politician and added in a pompous voice: “We must make up for the serious lack of canoodles.”
Hermione giggled, and asked: “Should we return to our canoodle?”
“In a few minutes.” He promised with a kiss, and returned his attention to the healer. “Healer Jacoby would you make a final check-over of Mister Macmillan, before I button him up?”
“Lord, Potter, is that truly necessary? Imprisoning him like that?”
“While normally, I’d want to give him another chance, I think he’s used up all his chances already. He’s bothered almost all of my female students in the last two months. That can’t be allowed to pass. Here, he’ll be safe, and secure. Nothing short of a nuclear blast can harm in while he’s in the tank. I just want to make sure that when he is released, he won’t have a cold.”
“Very well.” Jacoby sighed. Healer Merrifield entered. Unlike Jacoby, he'd been a combat healer during the first blood purity war, and understood why Harry was doing what he was doing.
They both went over Macmillan nearly by the millimeter, until both pronounced him as healthy as it was possible to make him. When Jacoby pointed to the slap-mark and looked at Harry with a raised eyebrow.
“Leave it.” He ordered. “I want it as a reminder to everyone, of why I put him in there.”
Both nodded…for different reasons. Done that, Harry levitated Ernie’s body into the stasis tank, before sealing and programmed it for ‘long term storage’.
Dobby appeared and took the heavy vessel to the entry hall, where it would rest in a ‘position of honor’ as a warning, until this was done.
Outside, several ladies cheered.
“JONES!” He bellowed. “Get in here!”
The shy ‘puff entered and waited.
“Have a seat.” Harry gestured to the bed.
“While I agree fully with your actions, you cannot allow yourself be unduly influenced by emotions. Believe me, I know how hard it is to keep them under control. I’ll show you the necessary meditations in the force, but…” He looked meaningfully at her. “I want you to start a therapy group of all the girls who’ve had to deal with that berk, or anybody like him. I’d like you to pass on the training I’m about to give you and teach them how to control their immediate response.” He grinned. “Nice slap, by the way. I could see your fingerprints.”
Megan blushed at Harry’s backhanded complement, and then the two of them sank into the force and Harry began to instruct.
The next morning, Harry announced: “Ernie Macmillan is in the stasis tank because he was a letch. Normally, I wouldn’t have a problem with that, as Hermione says I’m a bit of a letch myself. The problem is, Ernie didn’t limit his ‘letchey-ness’ to a willing partner.”
Nearly all the girls in the room nodded with various degrees of satisfaction.
Harry continued. “Before I put him in, I created a mental programme, that sought out and eliminated his memories of the force, and especially of our lightsaber training. And then locked him in the tank. He’ll stay there until this is all over.”
Cheers erupted from the girls. Many of the males in the room decided to rethink their own seduction techniques. Apparently Macmillan wasn't as successful as he'd claimed.
“What do you call it, Harry?” Luna asked from the second table on the right.
“What do I call what?”
“That ‘programme’…I think you said.”
“Umm…It doesn’t have a name. Why should it?”
“Well, you invented it. You should name it.” Padma piped in. Harry glared at the Hindi girl. She smirked in return.
“It’s a virus to eliminate specific memories. It doesn’t need a name.”
“Oh everything needs a name, Harry!” Hermione began, sounding just like Hagrid. “We could call it, ummm, let’s see…it’s selective, so that should go there…”
“And it deals with memory…” Added Sally Ann.
“And eliminating them…” Roan Stewart called out.
“Or removal!” came from Hannah. Harry put his head in his hands in defeat.
“And it deals with specifics, so we can add that!” Orla put in her two knuts.
“And It’s Holistic!” Lavender. At the curious looks she added: “Of the whole.”
“Heuristic would be better.” Katie added.
OK” Hermione stood up. “That seems to cover it. How about Selective Memory Elimination and Removal of Specific Heurisms.
“SMERSH?” Harry asked incredulously. “We can’t use SMERSH!”
“Because it’s copyrighted!” He shot back. “Remember James Bond? SMERSH was the Russian secret service he was fighting against!”
Hermione turned pink. “Oh.” She mumbled. “I’d forgot.”
“I thought that was SPECTRE!” Justin shouted.
Harry vowed to make Justin's next turn on the ‘Grinder’, particularly difficult.
“It was, later!” came from Derek Chambers.
“Well we can still use some of it.” Hermione insisted.
“The specific and the memory….” Anna and Anika Montgomery chimed as well as the Weasley twins ever did.
Again Harry clutched his head. Hermione their group of friends were having too much fun.
“Let’s use selective rather than specific. It sounds more refined.” Daphne added, grinning at how Harry was dealing with this.
“OK, but the memory and the…the elimination should stay, because that’s what it does anyway.”
“How about thoughts?”
“SMET! Sounds nasty!” Angelina spoke for the first time. “Let’s hold onto that, though.
“How about ‘linear thoughts’?” Terry Boot asked.
Harry decided that Terry was going to share Justin’s misery on the obstacle course. In fact, they all were!
“That’s perfect!” Hermione crowed. Selective Memory Elimination of Linear Thought!”
“SMELT? That’s a fish!” Harry groaned. “What is it with you and acronyms?”
“You don’t like my acronyms. Harry?” Hermione asked with a dangerous glint in her eye. Most of the males in the hall immediately began to look for a quick exit.
Harry wasn’t totally clueless. He spoke in a neutral tone. “My self-preservation instinct tells me to answer: I love your acronyms, Hermione. They are part of what makes you so undeniably, uniquely and attractively you.”
“Your preservation instinct is a very smart part of you, Harry.” She returned with a wicked smile.
12:00, Little Hangelton:
Voldemort had been watching for the past few hours as his Death Eaters had been arriving by ones and twos, eagerly anticipating some random muggle slaying. Lucius, of course, was still relearning the art of walking, and so wouldn’t’ be of much use to him tonight.
He thought he might have gotten a bit carried away with his punishment. He had only so many 'inner circle' Death Eaters left. The raid was after all perfectly planned, trained and executed. It was only that still-unknown interference that prevented Bones’ body from being laid out on a bier in the Ministry’s atrium. Aah, well. Perhaps it was better he acted as he did. After all, his servants would not fear him if he coddled them.
He snuck a look to either side and when he knew he was clear of observation, eased the little brown bottle he always carried now and took a little sip of his wonderful elixir.
He instantly felt much better.
Sergeant-Major Thomas Davis lectured: “As you know, this will be a live-fire operation, so you make damn sure you don’t hit any of your teammates! We’ve gone over this again and again, and I expect you lot to know your jobs! Now, go get some shut-eye and muster back here at 22:00. Dismissed!”
Voldemort was positively giddy with the anticipation of children shrieking in agony, as they were introduced to unimaginable agony, and in fear as their worthless little lives were cut short. His all-knowing smile was truly terrifying to his servants as he issued portkeys for the fifty Death Eaters going on this mission.
“I shall be arriving anon to…‘inspect’, your work. I pray those results will prove to be …satisfactory.” There was no need to tell them what would happen if the results of the raid were not up to his expectations. They were already well familiar with his temper. The bone pit below the manor was filling with the remains of Death Eaters who had failed him.
At eleven thirty that night, Sergeant-Major Davies was silently moving his men into position around the grounded airliner mock-up, to capture or kill the sandbag ‘terrorist team’ on board, when four dozen black-clad terrorists appeared in front of them. Seeing the muggles moving in the dark, they raised their arms and shouted: “Avada Kedavra!”
Green lights flashed, and thirteen of Davis’ men fell dead. Seeing an unidentifiable but apparently deadly threat, the rest of the SAS group, took cover. One, a Corporal named Roger Johnson, was close enough to a dead soldier to reach out and pull him behind the berm. Only then did he realize that Ellison Bettows was dead. He could find no blood, no entry or exit would from a weapon, but the man was clearly dead. He double-checked in the quickest fashion he could. He jabbed a biro into Bettows’ palm. Nothing. He thumbed the throat mike he wore, and whispered: “Sergeant Major! Bettows is dead! No entry or exit wound, and no immediate cause of death is discernible.”
“Are you sure he’s dead?”
“Yessir. No heartbeat at all, no respiration and no autonomic response to pain stimuli.”
Unfortunately, Johnson’s movement had attracted the wrong sort of attention. Three green flares of light, blasted the top off the berm, while other curses set fire to the mocked-up buildings and greenery behind him. Smoke began to billow in the calm air as the fires spread.
Johnson felt ‘enough was enough’, braced his MP-5 on the berm and let fly. Bullets from an automatic weapon will do a hideous lot of damage to the unprepared….and the Death Eaters were as unprepared for armed resistance as anyone could possibly be. Four of the terrorists fell, bleeding from mortal wounds. Johnson paid for the demonstration with his life.
He would be the last casualty on their side.
“Open up!” Davis shouted. “Watch those sticks, and don’t let the lights touch you!”
Now for the first time in a long while, the Death Eaters were at a severe disadvantage. The anti-apparation wards they’d erected as a matter of course, were enough to prevent their swift departure. What’s more, they dared not portkey out as the master himself would be there to assess their results, and he’d made it perfectly clear that he expected those results to be substantial!
The months and years of training the SAS soldiers had endured, proved to be better than that of the Death Eaters, and before more than a few seconds had passed, another thirty-seven terrorists were dead, or dying.
Shortly before midnight, Voldemort appeared to the sounds of chaos. Smoke was everywhere and the screams of the mortally wounded rang through the air. "Aah! Bliss!" He sighed in pleasure.
Smiling in satisfaction he strode into the camp, completely ignoring the gate-side sign that read:
‘Gilbert’s Hill Wood, A T A.
Antiterrorist Training Base.’
He did wonder what that ‘pop-pop-popping’ noise was though.
In the main clearing he received a horrible shock. Far too many of his servants were lying on the ground, bleeding heavily, or dead!
A rapid ‘pop-pop-pop’ sound and he felt three bullets rip into his chest. In agony, he clutched the metal portkey he carried, and activated the device as he fell. The surviving Death Eaters copied his actions, vanishing in swirls of light, and leaving the SAS to wonder just what the hell was going on.
At twelve fifteen AM, Severus felt the burning on his left forearm as he was summoned.
He’d had to start the batch of painkilling potions anew when he’d been released from the hospital wing. Voldemort had been furious, at the delay, but understood, when Draco had sent him a message telling him of the explosion in the dungeon lab.
~Yes, yes, you reptilian monstrosity. Keep your scales on! I’m coming.~ He thought treacherously, as he packaged the bottles of pain-killing potions into a padded box, and rushed through the castle.
Of course the muggle loving meddler had to be there!
“Severus, my boy…” Dumbledore always made sure to reinforce the term ‘My boy’, with magic. It was his rather childish way of reminding Snape that he was after all, only a tool to be used until he was deemed to be of no further use. Snape understood the implication all too well.
He gritted. “Headmaster”
“Where are you off to, in such a hurry?”
“I have been called. Apparently the dark lord is impatient for his potions.”
“Aah, yes. Well we mustn’t keep him from his potions.” Dumbledore agreed amiably. He carelessly gestured his dismissal, leaving potions master seething, as he hurried down the long train to the front gate.
Dumbledore knew very well what was happening to Riddle, as when the spy had informed him what the dark lord needed…and why, he’d ‘tampered’ with the powdered essence of Belladonna that Snape used. He’d mixed in some powdered meconium resin from the opium poppy into the Belladonna. They were both alkaloids and would provide a synergistic effect. Severus didn’t know about his ‘improvement’, and Dumbledore had brewed other, untainted potions for Poppy. It wouldn’t do to have his students dependent upon potions, now would it?
At the edge of the wards, Snape disapparated to Leeds, where he rested for a moment and then vanished once more, to reappear in Little Hangleton. There a half mile away, at the top of the hill stood a manor-house that had once been described as ‘grand’ but now was more likely to be called ‘decrepit’.
He entered to chaos. Shouts of: “Where the bloody hell is Snape?” sounded. Severus could see several dying bodies being worked on as their comrades tried to stem the flow of blood. He schooled his thoughts and entered the master’s sanctum. One through the door, he was shocked and appalled to find the master in no better condition. Voldemort had vanished his cloak and was even then slumped back in agony as blood continued to seep from the holes in his chest.
“Master!” Snape blurted. “What happened?”
“That is not your concern! Give me the bottle!”
Severus handed over a bottle of his powerful pain-killer. And gaped, horrified, as Voldemort downed the whole thing!
He refused to be tortured again for daring to tell the dark lord to restrain himself, but it was a very near thing.
“There is something in my chest.” Voldemort gasped. “Find it and remove it!”
Snape set the box he’d been carrying on the table and drew his wand. Wafting it over the monster’s chest, he found what he was looking for. Three dark red areas appeared. There were many other red areas, and a reddish glow infusing the mutation’s entire body.
Snape knew that glow was caused by the overuse of the pain potions.
“Master there are three serious wounds in your chest...two penetrating the lung and one perforating. There are also two pieces of metal lodged in your left scapula, and while the damage to the lung and the surrounding muscles and bone is extreme, it is not irreparable.”
Voldemort wheezed. “Remove them and heal the damage.”
Snape nodded and very carefully summoned the bullets one at a time. Voldemort groaned at each bit of metal was pulled through already inflamed tissue, but the potion he’d just overdosed on, kept him from any real pain…or rational thought.
Soon two little bits of deformed metal rested in a glass dish. Snape scanned again, ensuring he’d missed nothing, and began to close the wounds.
He opened up his belt pouch and withdrew two potions…a blood replenishment potion and one to help to strengthen the injured tissue. Voldemort drank them down without hesitation.
Wafting his wand again, he gently cleaned the blood from his master’s body…surreptitiously capturing a sample for his later experimentation, then levitated the reptilioid to his bedchambers.
“Master you must rest now, and I must see to those who’ve been injured.”
Even as powerful a being as Voldemort was, he was thoroughly doped up on pain-damping potion. He muttered something unintelligible and waved his hand carelessly.
Snape pulled the blanket up around his master, cast a monitoring charm and dimmed the lights, except the one candle on the bedside table that Voldemort insisted upon, before leaving the room.
Out in the hallway, he saw that two of the injured had died, and several of the living Death Eaters were squabbling over their possessions.
“Avada Kedavra!” He snarled. One fell dead, and the others stopped in shock.
“Picking over the dead…like common muggles!” He sneered at the shocked terrorists. “The master would be ashamed to call you his servants!”
With snappish orders and not a few hexes, Snape chivvied them into service. Each of the surviving Death Eaters was laid on a table, and his robes removed. Scans showed who was the most seriously injured, and so, Snape set to work removing bullets and healing wounds. A liberal application of the pain potions he’d brought along, insured the Deez would sleep through the surgery, and unbeknownst to him, guaranteed a few new addicts.
The after action report showed fourty-one dead men wearing black dresses and white opera masks. Ortmund Selwyn was among them. Each man carried only a wooden baton, but those on the scene could attest to the danger of those wands!
Fourteen SAS troops died in the exchange.
Her Majesty sent a notice to Lord Gryffindor to present himself for an explanation. She sent another one to the Minister of Magic, Amelia Bones.
Binns’ salary for the past hundred years: I chose that approximation because in canon Hermione complains that nothing has been added to Binns’ lectures, since the late 19th century, which is presumably when he died.
Tuition figures: In 1996, undergrad tuition at Harvard university was just under $20,000. I figure most colleges are similar, and Hoggy’s would be on a par. Using the average exchange rate of 1.8 $-₤, and my preferred valuation of 1G= ₤19.17, I came up with roughly 580 galleons per muggleborne student per year, X 60 students = 34,800, galleons, or a bit over 1.2 million dollars. A sizable chunk of change, no matter how you look at it!
I figure it would be simple for an arrogant pureblood who’d never met a muggle, to mistake ‘Special Operations’ for ‘Special Needs.’
Autonomic response to pain stimuli: Even a nearly dead person will respond to pain applied to certain parts of the body, such as the inner palm. A standard method we used to ensure the dead were really dead was to poke their palms with a sharp point. If we could detect a response, we’d take them into custody…when we could.