The Prisoner Exchange and a big battle is brewing.
Acknowledgements - IP82 is a very good judge of what makes a story good and a damn fine writer in his own right. Sirius009 has really helped me with all his encouragement and ideas that don't involve Ginny being strung up by her entrails. ChuckDaTruck and Nukular Winter have also brought many worthwhile talking points and critiques of this work to make it better. Smeagolita is helping to fine tune the early chapters for a more professional look and finally there is the guardian angel of grammar FairyQilan. Her efforts keep me looking like my spelling and grammar are actually improving - I doubt it is the case. She's on vacation this week, so if the grammar and spelling are subpar - it's on me. Edit - Now beta edited, thanks FQ!
Chapter 20 - Your best foot forward
Colleen Isaccs looked out at the morning light from the first floor staff room at St. Mungo's. It had been a fairly quiet night. She had even been able to head up to Maternity to assist in a difficult delivery. Both mother and baby boy were doing fine. She spent the next hour watching the tiny bundles of life in the Narcissa Malfoy neonatal care ward. Two baby girls and the new arrival. The six pound nine ounce boy had the full attention of Melanie Rivers, the night shift Maternity witch.
"Things staying quiet down in trauma?"
"They are. I wanted to come up and see how little Gavin is doing. Being up here calms me."
"You're not having one of your nervous episodes again?" Melanie asked with concern for her friend.
"Fraid so. It just started about an hour ago." Colleen answered shaking her head. Her 'gift' was almost classifiable as a seer trait. She had feelings - a nervous anxiety if you will of bad things about to happen. Some of her coworkers downstairs referred to her as the 'Harbinger of Doom'. Not even a couple of weeks ago, she had shown up five hours before shift, unable to stay at her flat. It was the night Azkaban fell. She paced the hallways, did crossword puzzles in the break room and generally unhinged second shift with her behavior. Then the reports of fighting at Azkaban came in. They weren't joking about whether she was acting nutters anymore. The waiting was awful. They brought extra staff and supplies down to trauma. Someone turned on the wireless for any news. DMLE headquarters gave no new updates. Then, shortly before ten thirty in the evening, the first injured arrived. Everyone moved to help and the first wave of aurors were tended to, following the professional traditions of one of the finest magical hospitals in the world.
The thing that shocked everyone the most was that there was no second wave of injured. Less than ten came back from Azkaban. It was probably her worst night as a healer ever. As if things could not get any worse there were scattered reports of Dementor attacks coming in. Still later, a young woman rushed in floating a man who had been wounded by a vampire of all things. What in the name of all that is magical was happening out there? Colleen worked on the young red headed boy. She wasn't certain, but she thought he was one of Arthur and Molly's boys. The new war was already scarring young men and women.
She recognized Conrad Dawlish on the next table. They were not really friends, more like passing acquaintances from school and various Ministry functions. The auror, who used to help her with defense homework in trade for potions and herbology would never walk again. He would float on a seat attached to a medical grade magic carpet - the only type of carpets exempted from the import ban. She had spent a few nights talking with him and supporting him during what was clearly going to be a long and grueling period of rehabilitation.
Her 'gift' was what could only be described as a cursed blessing. It cost her her marriage to Jeff. It cost her her two boys in an ugly custody battle, which she lost because of Jeff's blood purity and money. Her boys resented her for that. The oldest, Perry just about to start Hogwart's barely speaks to her on visiting weekends. It wounded her to hear him say that she cares more about some strangers at her job than he and his younger brother Jerome. The loss of custody caused her to throw herself into her work with a renewed fervor. It was all she had left. Since the fall of Azkaban, her usual twelve hour shifts had been replaced with sixteen or eighteen hour shifts. Putting back together the pieces of the survivors from the prison battle had opened the wounds from the previous war.
Part of the burden of her 'gift' was that whenever she was nervous or anxious, people would pester her to no end! It wasn't like a switch that she could turn off and on. It wasn't a spell that you could finite! She couldn't grab a crystal ball or scrying glass and request clarification! No, she would just be nervous and anxious. Everyone knows that the last thing a nervous or anxious person needs is someone annoying them! To make matters worse, the few times she would venture to parties and various other functions her colleagues would introduce her to their spouses, friends and children. They would then proceed to frustrate her by asking for tarot readings, runic dice interpetations and anything else they could come up with. Like she was some soothsayer at a stand in Knockturn Alley for Circe's sake!
The oncoming shift was three mediwizards and one mediwitch intern. They were an experienced crew and she often covered for Abe Christopher while he fought his political battles in one inane meeting after another. Fixing people was easy. Fighting with other departments for funding and personnel was the hard part. Harder still was placating the attitudes of the healers under her charge. She was often surprised that despite their healer's creed that more dark wizards and witches did not come from the ranks of healers. It was not unheard of for healers to develop 'god complexes', believing themselves above errors, holding someone's very life in the magical palm of your hand. She didn't envy Abraham's position at all.
"Staying late again, Colleen?" He asked in his smooth baritone voice.
"I thought I would hang around for a bit. I'm a bit nervous today." She said looking off out the window of the staff room.
"How long?" Abe was respectful of her special ability and her skill as a mediwitch. Her department head put her in charge of the night shift at a very young age much to the displeasure of several others who had seniority over her. Abe managed to convince her to take muggle anti-depressants to help with her depression over the divorce. It was a poor substitute, but it was something.
"About three hours now. Here's the turnover list for your crew. Do you have the morning edition of the Prophet?" She said nibbling on a breakfast pastry. One of the useful perks of her position was to ensure that her favorite items were always available. She and the head of the hospitals small clan of elves had a wonderful working relationship.
"Well make yourself comfortable and try to relax. Hopefully, it's just a false alarm. Do you have the boy's this weekend?"
"I've got some tickets to a friendly between Falmouth and Puddlemere that I can't use. Anya scheduled one of her social events and I get to go play the dashing trophy husband. Why don't you take them?"
"That would be great. Thank you."
She tried to rest in the break room, but gave up and went out to the main desk in the trauma ward. She felt more comfortable there anyway. It was ten minutes after eight in the morning when the floo alarm sounded. In the fire was the face of a floo kiddie from DMLE.
"This is Healer Issacs. What can I do for you?"
"DMLE has just received an alarm from Gringott's. We have aurors en route to the scene. The supervisor requested that I make you aware this." The young man's voice cracked slightly showing the all the signs of puberty.
"Thank the supervisor and keep us informed." She answered politely.
Fifteen minutes later the fires roared to life as the first auror came through floating a body behind him. Gordon and Heather took over for the auror as Colleen waited for the auror to speak.
"It's pretty bad at the bank. More are coming through. I've got at least four dead and seven injured.Most of it looks like blunt force trauma. Damn Goblins took five whole minutes to unseal their bloody wards!"
"Thanks. John, call the front desk. Tell them that we have a stage two emergency in Trauma. Heather, get Abe from the morning meeting with the director. The first people to come running are usually your fellow interns. Put them on vital sign monitoring and injury diagnostics. You! Bring that one to this table." She said the last to an auror, who had just stepped through floating a second body of a young woman with bandages raggedly covering her right leg. Abe's crew was used to taking orders from her, though Gordon held seniority and chafed a bit under it.
With a wave of her oak and unicorn hair wand, the healer sterilized the table. A second wave activated a dicta-quill. She began her notes as she vanished the bandages with a third spell. "Patient is female in her late teens, not conscious. Diagnostics show evidence of a concussion, extensive bruising to the upper torso, dislocated right shoulder, fractured right hip, three fractures in the left leg and four in the right leg. Patient is missing right foot. Auror! Go back and find her foot! I may still be able to reattach it if you hurry! Did you administer any blood replenishing potions? Right. Patient has been given two blood replenishing potions by aurors on scene. Staunching blood flow from lower right leg. Abe, help me with this one. An auror is bringing her foot. I'll stabilize her, while you work on the reattachment. Turning over recording quill to Senior Healer Abraham Christopher." Colleen listened to Abe's melodic voice immediately launch into more detailed descriptions of the patient's injuries.
For the next two minutes, Colleen continued to tend to the wounds on the girls torso and set the dislocated shoulder. The auror looking a bit squeamish, when he returned floating the severed foot.
"Found it underneath the overturned cart. Thought it was part of a dead goblin at first."
She thanked the auror despite not really caring about where it was. "What do you think, Abe?"
"If we put it back on, we can't get rid of her leg bones for at least two days to make sure the foot holds and doesn't go gangrene. It's a lot of pain to be in, but I think it beats having to get a prosthetic foot."
"Concur. We reattach. Heather, get over here and assist Healer Christopher. He is going to do a limb reattachment. You'll want to see this."
The intern moved over to the table and took a look at the patient and gasped.
"What is it Heather?" Abe said not looking up from his intricate wand work.
"It's just I recognize her from the latest Teen Witch Weekly! She's Susan Bones, as in engaged to Harry Potter, Susan Bones."
Colleen almost tuned Heather out when the words Teen Witch Weekly were said. Heather's obsession was just a tad annoying, but the names Harry Potter and Susan Bones brought her right back into the conversation.
"Are you certain?" She and Abe both asked at the same time.
"There's the engagement ring and her head of family signet ring." Heather said breathlessly. Abe met Colleen's eyes and he gestured with his head back to the trauma desk.
"Right." She went to the floo and grabbed a handful of powder. "Security Desk."
"Security desk, this is Amanda."
"Amanda, it's Colleen. We've got a VIP in trauma. Can you send a pair of guards down and let Charles know that once the patient is stable, we will want to mover her to the special place?"
"The special place? Who is the patient?" The witch on the other end of the connection asked with sudden interest.
"Not at liberty to discuss. Tell Charles to come down here and I will discuss it with him personally." Colleen said ending the connection. She walked back to where Heather and Abe were continuing their work.
"Abe, as soon as she is stable, we should move her to the 'special place'. Security is going to send some people down and I requested Charles to come down in person. Keep an eye on people coming through the floo and into the area. The last thing we need is Death Eaters in the ward. Heather, not a word to anyone about the identity of our patient." She said in a hushed whisper.
The 'special place' was the floor four and a half - the fidelius high security ward. There were four private rooms off the hidden partial floor. The chief of security, Charles Thompson was the secret keeper. Less than a dozen people knew the exact location of the ward, though most of the staff knew of it's rumored existence. The last person to use it was Gilderoy Lockhart, when he was first brought over from Hogwarts. The hospital hid him from his adoring public for a month before finally transferring him to long-term spell damage.
"Good morning Minister." The man said taking his seat. His words were heavily accented Italian.
Rufus Scrimgeour didn't really want to have this meeting, but as many new leaders learn that eventually the position seemingly takes on a life of it's own. The Vatican emissary sipped at his coffee.
"To what do I owe this pleasure, Cardinal Arellano?"
"Ah, straight to business then. I was hoping to engage in a few minutes of idle chatter, but alas no. Very well, the Vatican is hearing rumors that you are founding an army here in the isles. We do not like these rumors."
"I do not know of this army you speak of. I have created an auxiliary force that augments our current auror contingent against the threat of a reemerging Dark Lord. This force is not authorized to operate outside of Britain."
"I see. Much like the politicians in the normal world, you choose your words and descriptions carefully. Proverbs tells us that 'If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked.' From what my sources say, the corruption of your previous ministry was quite complete."
Rufus regarded the Vatican wizard carefully. One of the great secrets of the Church was the number of magical folks in its rank. Magical children are often discovered by their parents from their outbursts of accidental magic. In many cases the parents would seek out an actual exorcist. What they often received was a potion and charms to help suppress the accidental releases and in some situations active recruitment followed. The Church was pragmatic enough to level the playing field with the magical world. Much of the dark ages were the direct result between the open warfare that was waged between the magical world and the Catholic Church during that era.
"I doubt the Dark Lord trying to overthrow my country will care about the Vatican accords. He will drag the world down the same path as Grindelwald."
"You make the situation sound desperate. For the moment this appears to be a regional problem. I shall recommend that your problem warrant further monitoring. This would be a very bad time to attract further attention from Rome, Interim Minister Scrimgeour. Be certain this auxiliary force does not become an army. I fear you would not like the outcome. Your sins will certainly be judged in the next life by the Creator. Your gifts that you have been blessed with are twisted to serve your own foolish ideals and perpetuate your decadent society. My gifts serve the almighty and the words and wisdom guide my wand. Good day, Interim Minister." The Cardinal delivered his not-so subtle warning, stood and left.
"Great! Just what I needed this morning - threats from religious zealots! At least, the day can't get much worse." He snarled.
Rufus Scrimgeour was a practical man. Deep down, he knew it was not wise to tempt fate - fate possesses a cruel streak.
"Minister, there has been an incident at Gringott's! There are several dead and many injured."
The Interim Minister of Magic shook his head knowing that fate was playing with him. It was going to be another long day. "Lead on Jennings. We'd best get there and sort this out. I want to know what happened and why. Get the Head of Goblin Relations to meet us there."
A depilation charm would have sufficed, but there was something refreshing about the click of the scissors and the feel of the razor on his freshly shaved head and face. He regarded himself in the mirror almost like a child. The reflected stranger in front of him tilted his head in curiosity. Some of the hair went into the dissolving solution along with many other ingredients.
He looked at the unfurled scroll before him unable to resist running his hand across his smooth scalp for at least the hundredth time. His assistant looked at him and nodded his head. He removed his shirt and tossed it aside, laying bare his entire upper torso. The assistant then picked up the one of the twelve bowls in front and a tiny brush in his other hand. "Are you certain?"
He nodded wondering if Jotunheim actually existed. Either way he would have his answer soon, very soon. Both men kept quiet while the brush painted intricate runes on his body.
The evening brought a slight chill to Harry. He felt more anxious than ever. The entire day had left him feeling drained and out of sorts. He stood a dozen feet inside the wards. Flitwick, McGonagall, Sprout, Hesita Jones and Peter Abbott stood near him. His head of house was openly expressing her displeasure at Harry's presence. Sitting on a rock trying to determine where the last twelve days of her life had gone was the obliviated Penelope Clearwater-Weasley, minus the collar of ensnarement she had been wearing. Harry had asked Dumbledore whether he was going to be watching from the castle. Harry had been surprised when the aging headmaster responded no.
"Your have your task to complete this evening, Harry and I have mine," had been the only cryptic response he had received. Over the shoulder of the headmaster, Harry spied the Nigellus portrait; who merely shrugged. Harry didn't like not knowing what Dumbledore was planning. Harry was new to this game of secrecy and innuendo, but was finding himself a fast learner.
They had descended the steps together and Harry walked by his side to the great hall. There the five that now stood by him waited for their instructions from Dumbledore. He whispered to McGonagall only to have her glare sternly at him. He simply smiled and offered her a lemon drop. Fawkes flashed into existence on the man's shoulder startling the Animagus in front of him.
"I bid you farewell and good fortune this evening. Fawkes tells me it is time to depart. Good luck with the exchange." Dumbledore said.
Flitwick looked up from admiring the Marauder's Map. All three of the professors had been quite interested in the artifact. "Mr. Potter, our guests are just entering the edge of the map. Snape has both Mr. Weasley and Ms. Lovegood with him. I fear he may execute her in front of you to attempt to provoke you."
"Who else is with him?" Sprout asked helping Penelope to her feet. Though Harry rarely had any interaction with the Head of Hufflepuff, she seemed even more pleasantly disposed towards him than he remembered. Harry attributed it to the fact that despite Susan's shortcomings in herbology that Susan was well liked by her Head of House.
"Mulciber, two Avery's, Pettigrew and one of the Travers boys. No sign of their master."
"Could one of them be using polyjuice?" Mr. Abbott asked.
"It's possible, Pettigrew did help make the map and there is another one like it in Riddle's headquarters. He probably could devise a way to fool it, but it did show Crouch during the tournament. I was just confused and thought it was Crouch Senior."
"I hope to spend some time studying this in great detail with some input from Mr. Lupin." Flitwick said.
"We are going to make copies for the teachers and the security force the Minister is going to station here during the school year. Students looking for broom closets should find out pretty quick." Harry said with a dry and mirthless chuckle.
"Sadly, I wish that was all there was to worry about during the upcoming school year, Mr. Potter. This will be my third war and my old bones grow weary of the senseless death and destruction." Flitwick said. Though the Head of Ravenclaw was not an official member of the Order, he had insisted on being here. Harry had spoken to him and touched on the subject of private lessons. It had taken revealing the first two lines of the prophecy to convince the charms master, but he promised to help Harry in every way possible.
"We'd best put the map away with Pettigrew coming. No sense in making it obvious, we are using it. Do you mind obliviating Penny again?" Harry said.
Flitwick folded the map carefully and stuck it in his coat pocket before turning to look at the young woman, who just a scant few years ago he had nominated as a prefect. His normally cheerful demeanor disappeared. "Were it up to me, I would perform a memory charm on myself to forget that I ever had any expectations of you. Obliviate!" Penny stared blankly at him for ten seconds before coming to her senses. Her vacant expression was replaced with a defiant look.
"He will win. You must know that. You have no chance."
"Tell me something, Clearwater. If what you say is true, why am I still even here." Harry replied coldly. "Tom Riddle is a powerful wizard, but he is sloppy and prone to mistakes. At least Grindelwald was able to make a lasting impression. What has your precious godfather accomplished? He keeps saying my luck is going to run out. That may be true, but not before his luck runs out. When I am finished with him, the most he will ever be is an entry in The Rise and Fall of Dark Wizards."
To say the rest of the group was shocked at Harry's proclamation was an understatement. McGonagall stepped beside him and whispered, "Harry! What do you think you are doing?"
"He'll look at her memories. That taunt is specifically intended for him. I want him angry the next time we fight. He makes mistakes when he is angry. I'll need every advantage I can get." He whispered the barely audible reply.
The Deputy Headmistress started to reply to Harry, but the sounds of people approaching alerted them to the presence of the Death Eater contingent. She turned instead with her wand already in hand as the group of eight approached. Six wore their standard Death Eater garb, though Snape and Pettigrew opted not to wear their respective masks. Fred and Luna wore simple cloaks. Fred's eyes darted around, while Luna's simply stared into the distance.
"Mr. Weasley, Ms. Lovegood, are you okay?" Flitwick shouted. Fred replied and Luna simply nodded.
"Let us make our exchange and be done with this." Snape said.
"Why did you bring both of them, Mister Snape?" McGonagall questioned.
"I thought perhaps Potter would like to see the girl one last time before she is disposed of."
"You animal!" Minerva screamed.
"Relax Professor," Harry said. "Are you willing to honor our agreement, Snape?"
"Do it, Potter."
"Potter! What are you doing?"
Harry tapped his temple with his wand and withdrew the selected memory. Placing it into a vial he withdrew from his pocket. "On my magic, this is the memory of what I witnessed before I destroyed Dumbledore's office. Clearwater, take this. Send Fred and Luna at the same time. They cross the wards at the same time."
Severus enjoyed the shocked look on McGonagall's face as she stared numbly at Potter. "Are you insane?" She screamed. "I will not allow this!"
"Move it Clearwater! Now! I don't really give a knut what you and Dumbledore will and will not allow. I am getting my friends back." Harry stepped in time with Penelope, shielding her from the Order members as Luna and Fred moved forward. Harry stopped and let Percy's traitorous wife walk the last twenty paces. There was a slight shimmer as the trio passed through the perimeter of the wards. Once clear Penelope stepped to the former potions professor and had a wand pressed into her hands. Fred dragged Luna behind a large rock as directed by Professor Sprout.
"Again your sheer incompetence staggers me, Potter! I shall enjoy giving this to my Lord." Snape gloated.
"Hello Harry. On behalf of the entire Death Eater organization I would like to thank you for making this evening and all the deaths leading up to this evening possible. Without your letting me go, none of this would have been possible. Maybe that cute little girl you're screwing would still have her mum and aunt?"
"Potter, no! They are trying to goad you into casting a spell from the inside of the boundaries out. It would allow them to return fire. You have what you came for, leave now!"
"Remember my promise, Snivellus. Next time I see you, you die." Harry said still pointing his wand at his former professor.
"I am sure like all your other pathetic efforts it will fail, you son of a mudblood whore." Snape said causing all the Death Eaters to laugh as they began backing away. As soon as they were out of sight, McGonagall rounded on Harry.
"Do you have any idea what you have done?"
Harry was saved from replying when Luna began to scream at the top of her lungs. Fred tried to hold her, but she curled into a fetal ball. Eventually, they stunned her and floated her body up to the castle.
Harry didn't stop to watch Fred's reunion with the rest of his family and Angelina. Alicia had been invited, but had refused. She still wasn't handling the loss of George very well. He followed Professor Flitwick to the hospital ward in silence. Inside he saw Remus still resting. When he wasn't at Harry and Susan's house for lessons he was here continuing to recover from his fight with the other werewolves. Harry pulled up a chair.
Madame Pomfrey revived Luna, who immediately launched into a fresh round of screaming. The noise woke Remus.
"What in Merlin's name?"
"The Death Eaters did something to Luna. She won't stop screaming. I am guessing they had her under the Imperius curse so she wouldn't act out during the exchange."
"I'm sorry to hear that. Was there a change of plans? I had thought the exchange was going to be for Fred."
"Yeah, we got him too. He is down with his family." Harry said wanting to change the subject. "How was Susan's lesson today?"
"Oh, I didn't get to go. Madame Pomfrey kept me here and gave me a sleeping draught. A few of my lingering injuries are not healing as well as she had expected."
The nagging sense of wrongness returned in full force. Harry immediately stood up and went to the fireplace. Dobby answered the firecall.
"No, Missus Susan has not come back since she left this morning." The sinking feeling in his chest grew.
Harry ran over his options. "Dobby, does Trixie know where Susan is?"
"Dobby is checking with Trixie."
There was a long agonizing wait, before Dobby returned. The little elf's voice was a high pitched squeal, "Mister Harry Potter! Trixie does not know where Harry Potter's Susan is! She is hidden from Trixie's magic!" Several people in the hospital wing had heard the shout.
Harry broke the connection and grabbed another handful of powder. He whispered the private floo address of Rufus Scrimgeour.
"Harry! My staff has been trying to track you down all day. Ms. Bones was injured at Gringott's this morning. She is in the high security ward at St. Mungo's. She's resting and out of surgery, but she was injured rather severely."
"What? How? Why didn't you owl?"
"We tried, but the owls didn't leave the ministry." Harry realized Dumbledore must have tightened the wards in preparation for the exchange this evening.
"How do I get there?"
"Check with the security desk on the second floor. I have a pair of aurors guarding her around the clock."
"How did this happen?" Harry asked in a frustrated manner.
"A wizard named Marcus Flint went on a killing spree inside the bank. He was targeting specifically goblins. The Bank's defenses eliminated him, but were designed to attack any one holding a wand. Four people were killed and seven more including your fiancÃ©e were injured. I'll contact Jennings and have him meet you at the hospital. He can brief you in full detail. The goblins initially tried to justify their use of force, but when they realized just who they had injured they started backtracking pretty quickly."
"Thank you, Minister. I'll head off to St. Mungo's as soon as I can leave the castle."
Harry turned and looked at Remus, who was already dressing. "Your still hurt, Remus. You'd be useless in a fight. Professor Flitwick, if it is not too much to ask would you accompany me to St. Mungo's. Susan was injured."
The Ravenclaw professor looked at the silenced, but still obviously screaming Luna Lovegood and then to the nurse. Madam Pomfrey shook her head, "You'll do more good there than here, Filius. I'll do my best, but we may need to transfer her to the hospital anyway."
In the end Harry ended up with both professors Flitwick and Sprout, who insisted on going to see Susan. He sensed McGonagall wanted to accompany him as well, but with Dumbledore's absence she was in charge of the castle. As they left the ward, Harry saw the ashen face of Neville Longbottom standing in the hallway. Professor Sprout said a few words to the shaken teenager. It did not appear to console him as he punched the wall with his hand in anger.
Ten minutes later the trio, plus the Minister's aide Jennings were at the second floor security desk. The guard there made them sign their name with a bloodquill for verification before handing them each a slip of paper.
The High Security Ward of St. Mungo's is located on floor four and one half. The button to access it will now be visible in the lift behind you. Be prepared to surrender your wand upon exiting the lift.
There was a single mediwitch and two aurors waiting when the lift's gate opened to floor four and one half. Jennings assured Harry that the two aurors and their replacements had been screened for the Dark Mark before being assigned here for twelve hour shifts.
"I am Colleen Isaccs", the woman said offering her hand.
"How is she?"
"Both her legs are still broken. We can't remove the bones and regrow them until we can be sure that her right foot will hold up to reattachment. She's immobilized and numbed from the waist down. All her other injuries have been treated. Mr. Potter, even if she manages to keep her foot there will most likely be some lingering neurological effects. It will be two days before I'll know for certain and be able to fix her legs."
"Can the rest of this wait? I'd really like to see her."
The mediwitch smiled and gestured for the door. Flitwick and Sprout motioned for him to go ahead. He entered the room. Had Harry stopped to admire the room, he would have noticed that the furnishings were top quality and the overall layout of the room was designed to promote cheerfulness. Instead he was focused on the person in the bed in front of him.
"Hi." Not exactly his best lead in. He pulled a chair up to her and sat down.
Susan didn't say anything. He could tell she was upset. She had obviously been crying.
"I'm sorry. I just found out about all this. Tonks took me to Hogwart's and I've been there all day. I should have gone with you to the bank." He said taking her hand. Susan was looking anywhere but at him.
He sat there with her in silence for probably five minutes, perhaps five of the longest minutes in his life. "Come on Susan, talk to me. Say something! Yell at me! Call me an insensitive prat! Anything!"
"I've been awake since three o'clock this afternoon. I've sat here for seven hours wondering where in Merlin's name you were and you have the gall to whine about five effing minutes of silent treatment!" Susan snapped at him before beginning to cry again.
Harry was stunned by her outburst, but moved in close to hug her. Instead of saying anything more he just tried his best to hold her.
"Oh Harry! I didn't mean that! I've just been stuck here and being angry with myself. It's not your fault I'm worthless in a fight!"
"Do you want to tell me what happened?" Harry said drying some of her tears. He then handed her a glass of water.
Slowly Susan began to give the details of what she could remember of the fight. The last thing she remembered was running for the carts.
"So let me get this straight, you destroy one of the four enchanted stone gargoyles protecting Gringott's and you consider yourself useless in a fight? I am guessing the Goblins are figuring out if they paid too much for them." Harry asked.
"I didn't exactly win, did I?"
"You were outnumbered four to one from what I hear and no one else was doing anything! Still you managed to take one of them down. That's nothing to be ashamed of!" Harry protested. Seeing his argument was bearing some fruit he pressed on, "Did I fight the dragon in the tournament? Sweet Merlin no! I out flew it. You're plenty good at fighting. You just need to work on your escaping."
Gradually over the next ten minutes Harry began to pull Susan out of her depression. Harry promised her that he would get answers from the Goblins. Susan was worried that she was going to loose her foot. Harry did his best do reassure her. He updated her on the prisoner exchange. Luna's predicament brought a flush of anger to Harry's cheeks. Another ten minutes passed before there was a knock at the door and the two professors entered. The four of them chatted for another half hour. Healer Issaccs returned with a sleeping draught. Harry gave her a kiss before she drank it and offered to stay, but Susan reminded him that he was needed at Hogwart's. The mediwitch said that the draught would wear off by nine in the morning. Harry promised to be there when she woke up tomorrow. Susan smiled at him and said that if he wasn't here by one minute after nine, he should start looking for places to hide.
"Where is Greyback?" Lord Voldemort's voice boomed impatiently. A mild breeze blew in from the east causing a slight chill in the evening air.
"He has been out of communication for the past three days, Milord. A few of our people saw him briefly yesterday, but he apparated away without giving any orders. I have some of our people searching for him." A werewolf, who had not identified himself answered.
Lord Voldemort sat astride his Necrodragaon outside the ruined barn about twenty kilometers east of the forbidden forest. The area was overgrown with vegetation and showed all the signs of at least a dozen years of neglect. McNair and four other new recruits accompanied him. Greyback's pack of thirty werewolves stood in front of him. Only fourteen were actual witches and wizards. The rest were either squibs or muggles who had been forcefully brought into the magical world. Greyback had an eye for talent as most of the new ones looked strong and able bodied. All of the muggles and some of the magical werewolves stared in unmasked awe at the Necrodragon.
"I grow weary of these delays." Voldemort did not like the current turn of events. Fenir Greyback was many things, brutal, egotistical criminally insane, but he was never tardy. He looked at his wristwatch. Precisely nine o'clock, Severus would be arriving at Hogwart's to retrieve Penny.
The air became thick with magic. Voldemort had been on both sides of an ambush enough times in his life to recognize one. Portkeys were delivering something into their midst at the same time he felt anti-apparition wards spring into place. The screams of the werewolf pack reached his ears as he recognized acromantulas, perhaps two score maybe more of the spiders arrived. Some of the converted muggles were actually using firearms against the giant spiders. He reared the Necrodragon and crushed two with it's massive forelegs.
Drawing his yew wand he began casting precision curses. With the spiders appearing in their midst, some of the spells were poorly aimed and ended up injuring other werewolves. McNair cast a few spells wildly before grabbing his massive axe and leaping into the fray. One massive acromantula snatched a werewolf up in its mandibles and split the man in two. It leapt over into the clear area around Voldemort and the Dragon.
"Die miserable Humans!" The spiders voice cracked. It hissed as a cutting curse hit it from one of his Death Eaters, but instead of leaping towards the attacker, the monster sprang into battle with the dragon though the beast was twice it's size. Voldemort dived off the side and gave the dragon a mental command to destroy the spider. He rolled to his feet and blew the back half off of another spider as he cleared away from where the two monsters fought each other. A pair of the muggle werewolves sprinted towards the treeline to the west when something nearly as big as the largest spider came out of the woods and pounced on him. It was a Cerebus, an all too familiar three headed dog. One of the werewolves was crushed underfoot and the second was snatched into the air by the center head only to have the other two heads tear at the man's body like some rawhide chew toy.
Acromantulas and a Cerebus, at least he knew who his enemy was now. The only question was where was his old school chum?
Harry and the two professors retrieved their wands and headed for the lift. When the doors opened, the saw Madame Pomfrey there with Luna on a stretcher. Two mediwizards were already diagnosing her with their wands. The young Ravenclaw witch had her hands bound to the sides of the stretcher. If one looked close enough they would see where her hands had clawed at her face. The scars had been freshly healed and would fade over time. The aging mediwitch looked older than Harry had ever recalled seeing her.
"How is she?" Professor Flitwick asked.
"I've had to bring her here, Filius. She is beyond my capabilities." Madame Pomfrey said shaking her head sadly.
"You did your best, Poppy. It's in their hands now."
Visiting Susan had helped Harry, but seeing his friend in such a condition brought his anger back in full force. Riddle would pay for this! Snape would pay for this! Pettigrew and every last one of those fuckers would pay for this! Professor Sprout placed a calming hand on his shoulder and began to lead him away. Luna's Head of House elected to remain behind with Madame Pomfrey.
Returning through the floo to Hogwart's, Pomona Sprout instructed him to get some rest and recommended that he stay in Ravenclaw tower tonight. Harry asked for the password and thanked her as he began walking towards the tower. A plan he had thought of several days ago and discarded out of hand resurfaced in his mind. Harry realized it could work, but he needed help with this and he knew there was only one person he could turn to.
Arriving at the entrance to the Ravenclaw Dormitories, he spoke the pass phrase 'Hope endures all hardships' and entered. He felt everyone's eyes on him, but no one could muster the courage to say anything to him. Harry walked directly to Hermione.
"I need to speak with Ginny. Where is she?"
"She's in the third year girls room. She's very upset right now. Neville laid into her something fierce. You're not going to do anything are you?" Hermione asked in a hushed voice. Ron was sitting next to her. His eyes opened wide as the possibility that Harry would do something to his sister registered on his brain.
"No. I just need to talk to her." He said reassuring her.
"Okay. I trust you Harry. Don't worry, the steps to the girls dorms won't turn into a slide during the summertime."
"Thanks." He replied as he started across the room. Fred was sitting on a couch with Angelina Johnson protectively curled up on him. He nodded solemnly at Harry. It was a face that lacked any hint of the surviving twin's usual mirth.
A quick walk up the steps and he arrived at door to the third year Ravenclaw girl's quarters. He knocked on the door.
"For the last time, Hermione. I don't want to talk right now. Leave me alone!" Ginny's voice hissed from the other side of the door.
"It's not Hermione. It's Harry. Open the door. I need your help."
The door opened slowly. Ginny's tearstained face regarded him. "What do you want, Harry?" she asked with a hint of fear in her voice.
"Not here, inside."
He ushered her back in the room and after ensuring that they were alone, with the exception of Ginny's pet pygmy puff. He used his wand to lock the door and silence the room.
"You're holding yourself responsible for what happened to Luna aren't you?" Ginny simply nodded.
"It's just like me with Sirius. It hasn't really gotten better with time. I doubt it ever will."
"What's your point, Harry?" Ginny said with a hint of her temper returning. Good, Harry would need her to have some of her old fire.
"Well I think it is high time for those bastards to get some payback. I've got a plan and I need you to pull it off. Are you in?"
"I'll do it! What do you have in mind?"
Harry began to explain his idea and what he required of her. Ginny Weasley's perception of Harry Potter changed that night. It may have been possible that she never really knew him at all. At the end of it, he offered her a choice - either an oath or obliviation. She hesitated for only a moment and then gave her oath.
Aragog circled the dragon after being knocked backwards. The ancient creatures sight was going, but the dragon was difficult to miss. The centaur Firenze had confirmed what Aragog already knew. His time in this existence was coming to a close. Some nights, a palsy would afflict some of his legs and even the medicine that Friend Hagrid brought him did little to stop it. His choices were limited to fighting and probably dying in a great battle or cowering in his lair suckling pig's blood tainted with elixirs to cheat death by another day or week. He was Aragog, the spider-king and he would die on his eight legs and earn his place in the afterlife! The dragon's claws gouged a trench into the earth as Aragog backpedaled shielding his multi-faceted eyes from the spraying dirt and rocks. The thing in front of him felt no pain, something the spider-king could not say as one of his legs was now completely useless. To regain the offensive, Aragog would need help. Most of his grown children that readily volunteered for a chance to drink human blood were still fighting in this glorious slaughter. The survivors would eventually battle with each other for the right to be his successor. The air was so thick with the smell of blood Aragog could taste it. Suddenly, the dragon's head snapped hard to the right as a rock the size of one of Mosag's eggs hit the side of its head.
Friend Hagrid's brother stepped into the clearing. A few of Aragog's more rebellious children had not taken the warnings to stay away from Grawp when the giant was brought to the forest. Aragog had less rebellious children shortly afterwards. As the dead creature turned to face the club wielding humanoid running across the clearing, Aragog made his move. He landed on the back of the dragon and bit into the plating at the base of the neck. Had it been alive the dragon would have been screaming. The giant blocked the claws with its club and plowed into the rearing dragon with his full weight. Dragon, giant and acromantula tumbled to the ground. Aragog felt the pain of being crushed by the combined weight. His back legs were crushed and in the ensuing struggles one of the dragon's rear legs clawed open his underbelly. He felt wet and squishy and knew that it was his end. In one final act of defiance, the spider-king latched its mandibles onto the claw that had disemboweled him and squeezed tasting his own ichor which coated the dead creatures appendage. Seconds before the light faded from his many eyes, the spider-king felt the satisfying crack of bone as his mandibles severed the clawed foot. The bright light flashing before him, was it the maw of the afterlife opening for him? No, it was just the humanoid structure bursting into flames.
Voldemort continued firing spells. Carcasses of arachnid and dead bodies surrounded him. His dragon would soon best the spider. It was a possible avenue of escape. The cerebus still stood, but one of it's heads no longer barked and snapped at the pair of werewolves fighting it. It finished both of them, but stumbled and fell to the ground. Only McNair, one other Death Eater and a paltry few of Greyback's pack remained. He would need to fight his way to freedom. His wand conjured shards of ice, which impaled yet another arachnid. A killing curse stopped one in mid leap. He sidestepped the dead creatures forward momentum. The loud clang of two axes meeting caught his attention. He spun to see McNair fighting a large man with his own axe. Voldemort saw that the man was completely shaven and covered in runes. He recognized the runes from the many times he had employed giants in his service. They increased strength and speed while augmenting the giant's innate magical resistance. Without the hair and beard, Voldemort barely recognized his former classmate Rubeus Hagrid. Hagrid was bellowing for some strange battlecry. What could 'Norbert' possibly mean?
He was about to intervene when he saw a glint of magic from the woods. He banished the corpse of the acromantula he had just killed into its path and was sprayed with its gore. There at the edge of the forest, with his wand raised over his head like a sword was Albus Dumbledore. A giant was charging into the clearing towards his Necrodragon as the barn where most of the surviving werewolves sought shelter exploded in a ball of flames.
Lord Voldemort could appreciate a superbly executed ambush. Well done to the Supreme Mugwump and his creature keeper. He must have others still in the woods to maintain the anti-apparition and portkey wards. Dumbledore was fresh and he was not. Dumbledore was prepared and he was not. None of that mattered. Now oblivious to the carnage surrounding him, he stalked forward to face the ancient charlatan whom the public desperately believes to be the 'only one he ever feared'. It was time to correct that falsehood once and for all.
Authors note - How many authors would give you a Voldie cliffhanger that you would even be interested in? Full discussion on Darklordpotter. See you there! Edit - Special kudos to D'Arean for pointing out the "Something vexing you" line from last chapter. It was a riff on Rickman and the Crone in Robin Hood. I always loved that scene.