The battle at #12 begins.
Acknowledgements - The whole Alpha Fight Club team (IP82, ChuckDaTruck, Nukular Winter, Nonjon and FairyQilan) all did an awesome job of helping me on this one. I would like to thank Kokopelli for all the rebeta work.
Chapter 26 - Black Widow Rush
"Move faster! Your wand work is too slow, and too sloppy! A trained enemy would crush you without a second thought! This is a basic Auror exercise."
Neville Longbottom stood panting for breath in the middle of the Room of Requirement. There was a thick sheen of sweat on his body and the shattered remains of targets everywhere. If magic had a smell, the air would have been thick with it.
Coedus circled his great, great, great grand nephew, correcting his stance and wand position. "Neville, you came to me seeking greatness. You must be willing to suffer for it. You are steadily improving, but already you should realize how far you have to go. In this room there will be no illusions between us. You want me to teach you what it is like to kill. When you step outside this room, you will need to return to your meek shell. Let your enemies underestimate you. Let them mock you. Give them no reason to be wary of you. When the time is right strike them down. If you find yourself in a real fight, expect no quarter and give no quarter. If they throw a stunner at you, you respond with a severing charm. If they try to body bind you, blast them."
"Yes Uncle." The young man answered to his Vampire ancestor.
"Should you learn nothing else from me, learn this - everyone in this world is dangerous. They are either dangerous to themselves or they are dangerous to others. You are either predator or prey. Look into your soul, Neville. Which do you choose to be?" Coedus asked.
Neville met Coedus' gaze and let him see his determination, "I'll reset the targets, Uncle. I will be faster this time," Neville said with determination. With a few wand motions, the broken targets began to reassemble themselves.
Coedus nodded his head in approval. He was actually pleased that Dumbledore had chosen him for the Potions position instead of the Defense against the Dark Arts. The Headmaster had negotiated with some injured ex-Auror name Dawlish to take that position. He gathered that Neville was slightly better than average for what this school had to offer. If that were indeed the case, teaching Defense would have been a mind-numbing labor guaranteed to send him on a killing spree. He wasn't sure his standards could be lowered that far.
He watched his distant relative begin the exercise anew as he considered his interview with the Ministry's Potion Masters. Their disdain for him as a Dark Creature showed, but he sufficiently impressed them with his knowledge of Potions. He was granted a probationary teaching certificate. His status would be judged in part by the success or failure of his first year of students.
Students of Hogwarts had always hated Potions, mainly because of the Death Eater that taught it. Coedus would give them a new reason to hate Potions. He had existed this long because he was a survivor. There would be no haven among the Clans until this war was over. Now his survival depended on teaching Potions to students less than one tenth of his age. They would learn or they would suffer.
Summoning the little magic still allowed to him, he cast a wandless banishing spell striking Neville, tossing him into the air. He crossed the room and stood over Neville. "Always expect your targets to fight back. Now, I will change into my wolf form. You will try to hit me with a stunner, but I expect that you'll fail. With enough work, you may one day be able to hit me in my bat form; that day will be a long time in coming. On your feet boy!"
"I hope you have enjoyed your accommodations, Ms. Delacour?" Lord Voldemort looked on as the young Frenchwoman was brought before him. He felt the slight pull of her allure, as did Snape who was standing next to him. The only others present in the chamber were five female Death Eaters, Mulciber and his two new 'converts.' He knew both men were strong enough to resist the allure emanating from the captive.
"Your man could not break me. You will not succeed either!"
"Oh my poor disillusioned little girl, you were under the impression that we were trying to break you. No, the best we can hope for is to 'soften' you a bit. I had one of my servants travel to the continent. He brought us back a gift. Would you like to see it?"
Sensing no answer was forthcoming from the part-Veela; Voldemort opened the wooden box and withdrew a vial containing a swirling potion. It had a rather unique coloration, mostly a cream color with swirls of emerald green flowing almost as if alive. He savored the look of horrific recognition crossing the woman's eyes. With a strength born of desperation, she shoved the two females restraining her and transformed into her avian form. He dissipated the fireball with ease as Snape petrified her.
"Severus, I do believe she recognizes the concoction. Here I was wondering if she was ignorant of her heritage. Since you can fully transform, you might be able to survive the 'Black Widow Rush.' If not, it means little to me. Now, I am going to compel you to drink this. Mulciber told me of your ability to throw off his curse after but a minute. Mine should last long enough for you to consume the potion. In six hours, when your violent urges begin to peak, I am going to send you back to your little friends at their secret headquarters. Severus and these two lovely ladies will be along to clean up whatever you haven't mauled."
Frozen in terror Fleur could only watch, as the vial was unstoppered. Her kin back in France had long ago sworn off using this potion. It was rumored that some of the other flocks elsewhere in Europe would still use it. 'The Rush' all but guaranteed a successful mating and magical offspring. Unfortunately, it also all but guaranteed that she would fly into a homicidal rage, a rage that would be focused on anyone she was mating with. She felt the euphoria of Imperio consume her as she was released. Obediently, she returned to her human form and drank the sweet elixir. Part of her knew it was wrong; the same part knew the potion killed over half of the part-Veelas that tried it.
Sadly, that part of Fleur was not in control as she emptied the vial and was led back to her cell. The Dark Lord continued to stay near, reinforcing his control to prevent her from vomiting the brew. He left after an hour, knowing the potion was now dispersed in her system. Fleur attempted to vomit, knowing it was now futile, but hoping anyway. All five of the females remained outside to guard her. For the next hour she felt no different and had begun to hope that she had somehow defied the odds. It was during the second hour that those hopes were dashed as she alternated between chills, cramps and hot flashes as her body prepared for breeding. She noticed that she was involuntarily glowing.
Fleur tried the mental exercises that her mother and grandmother had taught her as she approached puberty. These exercises had allowed her to control the release of her allure. When puberty finally hit, she had been pulled out of school, sequestered in a wing of the house with no male contact for over two months as she learned to master her abilities.
Focusing her willpower, she concentrated. Years ago, it had been like trying to grasp the wind. Now it was like trying to stand against a vortex. She fought for the next hour, her face a mask of determination. She began to feel the debilitating effects of the elixir on her mind. It attacked the pleasure centers of her brain inducing euphoria and sapping her resistance. She tried to fight this with all her talent and skill, but it felt so warm and nice.
She dared open her eyes to gauge her progress sometime in the third hour. The evil bitches had dimmed the lighting in her cell! The only illumination was coming from her body as her aura surged like never before. Her breath caught in her own throat as she glared at her reflection in the mirror. She was magnificent! The battle was over. Her struggles ceased, as she gave into the surge of pleasures trickling through her body and watched her radiance grow beyond her wildest fantasies. It was power like she had never felt before. She allowed her own hands the honor of touching such ethereal beauty. It was pleasant for now, but soon she would need more, so very much more.
The afterglow was wonderful; Harry was drowsing next to her while Susan felt some measure of guilt at how greedily she sucked up the comfort from having him pressed up against her. It was only after they had 'physically' made up, that they started the process of 'emotionally' making up. Harry had told her about the Dementors, their horrific offer and his greatest fear of turning into one of them. She now knew why her speech had affected him so. Was it shameful that she didn't regret saying it to him? Had she not, they would still probably be yelling at each other. Instead the breach between them had been bridged. Was Hermione was right, was being Harry's consort going to be a constant battle?
In telling her about his connection to the Dementors, Harry had given her the ultimate weapon in their relationship. Was it an expression of naÃ¯vetÃ© or trust? Susan recalled all the 'girl talk' in the dormitories, when the others would speak of their boyfriends. Some joked about having 'the goods' on 'their boys.' One of the older seventh years had found out her 'man' had strayed and had been begging for her forgiveness. Their arguments were comical in a sad way. Whenever Rebecca grew tired of his mouth, she mentioned that he could always go crawling back to that Slytherin whore and Kyle would clam up. The argument was over; he had lost.
She now had 'the goods' on Harry, but she was certain somehow that she couldn't ever use it like Rebecca used it. Harry wasn't like Kyle. 'Hermione is wrong! It doesn't have to be a constant battle.' Reflexively she pulled Harry closer to her as she scolded herself for even following that train of thought. His eyes drifted open and he stared at her only half awake.
"Everything okay?" Harry asked drowsily.
Susan knew that she was probably scowling and flush with anger. How to answer him? "Just wishing that our fights were about stupid stuff like you forgetting to give me flowers or some such crap. Instead, we get to fight about things like getting injured in battles and how much Dark Magic is too much. From what you told me, you never had a childhood and mine ended the night my family was murdered. We can't afford to be childish and petty with each other, can we?"
"No, I guess not. If you want, I can pencil into my calendar to forget the flowers every now and then? Give us something else to talk about?"
She allowed a smile to cross her face as her hand drifted downward and smacked him on his rump, "What a sweet gesture for you to make!"
"It's the 'giver' in me." Harry said, smiling briefly before darkening his expression. "Seriously, there's you, there's me and then there is 'us'. 'Us' has to be more important than everything else. I don't know if it can work otherwise. You and especially me need to remember that. Maybe that can be our signal to each other to calm down, just look at the other and say, 'remember us.' How's that sound?"
Susan bit her lip to fight back her tears as she rolled into him and wrapped her other arm around him, silently cursing him once again for saying something that melted her so completely. She touched her forehead to his and whispered, "It sounds brilliant!"
After a few minutes of kissing, Harry reluctantly pulled back. "Are you staying here tonight, or do you have to go back?"
"Madame Pomfrey wants me to let her work on my ankle, so I guess I need to go back. How about you? Come back with me?"
"Not yet. I have to meet with Rufus for a brief 'show of solidarity'. Cleftskull has been trying to get us down to the bank to witness an official apology for what happened. I guess their way of making amends is executing the goblin that panicked, activating the gargoyles. They'd like it if we attended. I kind of guessed that it wouldn't be your thing, but Rufus says I need to go to. Strength and cruelty seem to appeal to goblins."
Susan shuddered at the thought of attending an execution, even a goblin one. It sounded so barbaric. "I think I'll go to therapy instead. I also need to give Hannah the reaming she so richly deserves and then figure out of our friendship can be salvaged."
"Don't expect me to be so charitable," Harry replied. "I won't try to influence you, but don't expect me to be all warm and friendly around any of the Abbotts. I know you're as close to them as I am to the Weasleys."
"I know," Susan countered. "I won't try to force you into conversations with either Hannah or Chelsea if you won't try to make me play nice with Ginny."
"Hey it's the lovebirds!" Harry looked up to see the echo of Sirius Black walk into the picture frame in the sanctuary, a brandy snifter and a lit cigar in his hands. "Albus 'they- call-me-Lefty' Dumbledore is waiting for you downstairs and is requesting to speak with you."
Harry sighed and slid out of her embrace. As he started sliding his clothes back on he turned back to Susan and said, "I'll probably stay here tonight. I really don't feel like facing everyone in the castle. Tell Hermione and Ron that I'm okay and I'll be back there tomorrow. Sirius, tell him to come up to the library. Might as well get this over with."
Harry found Dumbledore waiting patiently for him in the kitchen talking with Sturgis Podmore. The old man kept his breathing mask clutched in his remaining hand. "Good morning Harry. It is good to see you in such good spirits," Dumbledore wheezed. "When I viewed you memories, I was concerned for you. Sturgis, would you excuse us?"
"Sturgis, wait. Before you go, I wanted to try something," Harry said.
The hamster Animagus looked at him and shook his head. "Look Harry, I don't know what progress you think you've made on becoming an Animagus, but it doesn't happen just like that," Podmore said, snapping his fingers softly.
Harry smiled and turned to Dumbledore. "I was thinking about that whole learning-by-doing thing, could you be ready with the spell to force an Animagus out of his form?"
"Harry, are you certain you wish to try this now?"
"Yes, Professor. I should do it while it is still fresh in my head. Now is pretty much as good a time as any." Harry's reply further confused Sturgis.
Dumbledore nodded raising an eyebrow as Harry began to concentrate on the feelings and the sensations he had while in control of Wormtail. Everything Sturgis had told him to this point said the first full transformation was always painful. It was that reason that most students of the art practiced the partial transformations to prepare themselves for their body's reorganization.
It was much like the feeling of trying to hammer the proverbial square peg into a round hole. Much like conjuration, there is a threshold point that has to be pushed past before the transfiguration could proceed. Harry had no idea what his form could be so instead of picturing the actual form; he chose to picture the cupboard under the stair as a barrier between him and his transformation. His form was waiting for him on the other side of the locked door. Inside the confines of his mind, he flexed his magic against the door, causing it to strain.
Gathering his magic as a battering ram, Harry felt the door straining under his assault. The door was his threshold. The same draining feeling when he cast his Patronus overcame him. He could do this. He would do this. He will - break through. A tingling sensation washed over his skin and there was something happening to his face; he didn't dare open his eyes. 'Just keep going. Don't stop!'
Opening his eyes he saw the world from a different standpoint. He was much shorter. For one horrific moment he thought he was a rat, just like Wormtail, until he stretched his left wing. Wings! He had wings! They were black like his hair. He beat them experimentally and managed to hover for a second, letting out a squawk of glee. He made his maiden flight from the floor to the kitchen table and strutted around the surface.
"I'd have never believed it, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes," Podmore sighed.
"Indeed. Well done, Harry," Dumbledore gasped and took a quick breath from his mask. "Perhaps your new raven form is an extension of your skill on a broom? There is a theory that the animal is a reflection of your personality and I must confess to reminding Minerva when she is being - shall we say, catty. Naturally, she reminds me that I have in fact become an old goat."
Harry leapt off the table half-falling and half-flapping back down to the floor and reveled in the freedom of his new form. He felt exhausted though. In hindsight, he probably should have waited another day or two before attempting this change. He felt cold. He could sense warmth nearby. 'Concentrate on the warmth! Let the warmth flow back to you.'
In the haze, Harry heard Sturgis sputter, "Albus? What's going on? What is this? It feel's like there's a Dementor in the room. Do you feel it getting colder?"
Harry heard Dumbledore utter a spell and he was violently tossed back into real body. He could still feel the traces of warmth. It had been coming from Sturgis and Dumbledore!
"Sturgis. Please leave us."
Harry watched as the Order member headed up the steps. Dumbledore cast privacy wards and took several more breaths from his magical device. "Harry, in your avian form you were able to simulate the effects of a Dementor. Until we can better understand this connection, I would ask that you refrain from transforming again without the presence of Minerva or myself. We need to examine this phenomenon under controlled conditions. Try once more, but this time try to avoid triggering the Dementor effect."
Harry transformed once again. It took far less power this time and he consciously avoided trying to draw the warmth towards him. It was there and he could sense it. Nervously, he changed back to his human form and tried to sense the same feeling of warmth. Thankfully, he could not.
"We will experiment more, but for the moment, we have more important matters to discuss. Let us start with your encounter last night with Tom."
Harry took a glass and filled it with juice from the pitcher as he sat down. The two of them began to discuss the events of last night.
"Harry, if you don't mind me saying, you are a bit distracted today. The Prophet article was a big success! Something on your mind?"
Harry fell in step next to the Minister of Magic. They were taking a 'Walking Tour' of Diagon Alley. The Minister had two new bodyguards. The two from last night were among the casualties. They looked at Harry uncertainly, most likely wondering how much of the article was to be believed. Six other Aurors were attempting to follow them and look inconspicuous. He doubted they would fool even the most casual of observers. Harry had stopped in front of the closed storefront of Fred and George's shop. The sign on the door promised that the store would open again. He conjured three flowers and set them at the base of the door. They wouldn't last but a few hours, but somehow it seemed fitting. He ignored the flash of the camera. Rita was nowhere to be found today.
"Honestly, I just want to get this whole thing with the Goblins over with. Killing in battle is one thing, but execution is another. They don't want me to do it do they?"
Rufus Scrimgeour looked thoughtfully, "I hadn't thought to ask. They probably would if you wanted. It could be good for your image? I see that the idea doesn't really appeal to you."
"No, not particularly. Where's Rita? I figured she'd be all over this." Harry said looking for a change of subject.
"I'm guessing she's still asleep. She barely made her deadline for her story. You should consider yourself fortunate; a day without Rita is a day for celebration. Spend enough time around the Wizengamot and you'll know what I am talking about."
They stopped along the way as the Minister greeted several individuals. Harry tried to be polite but brief to the people that approached them. The only person Harry actually sought out was the healer he recognized from St. Mungo's. She was seated at Fortescue's; eating lunch with what must be her two boys. Both boys looked up at him in surprise.
"Healer Isaacs, it is good to see you again. I wanted to thank you for saving Susan's foot."
The healer smiled warmly at him ignoring her children's gasps of astonishment. "How is she doing?"
"She's still limping badly and I've already heard a few complaints about physical therapy, but it's much better than the alternative."
Harry noticed one of the boys tugging at her sleeve. She turned and looked at the younger of the two. "Mr. Potter, these are my two boys, Perry and Jerome. Perry will be attending Hogwarts this year."
Harry shook both boys' hands saying that he hoped to see Perry around the castle this coming year. Figuring he had overstayed his welcome, Harry thanked her again and rejoined the waiting Minister and his entourage.
The small party continued conversing as they approached the Bank. As they entered, Harry found his eyes drawn towards the three gargoyles perched above them. He shuddered involuntarily, wondering how he would have fared against them, had he accompanied Susan on the day of the attack. His thoughts were interrupted by a group of approaching goblins.
"Minister, Lord Potter, on behalf of the Goblin Council of Elders, we thank you for coming. Please follow me."
Harry let Rufus lead the way. This was much more for his benefit that anything else. Harry was playing the role that he despised, heroic window dressing. Quite simply, he hated it. It was just another of those 'necessary evils' that seemed to be plaguing him far too often. With an abundance of sarcasm he thought, 'Maybe, I should pitch that to Rita as the title for my autobiography - Harry Potter: A Life of Necessary Evils.'
Following a long ride in the 'one speed only' carts, Harry found himself staring at a large well-lit cave surrounded by hundreds of goblins. A gantry stood in the middle with a pedestal where two prisoners were held in a kneeling position. Cleftskull and Scarmaker met him dressed in ceremonial garb. Harry was introduced to the twelve members of the Goblin council. The experience was best described as surreal. One of the most surprising things was having his picture taken by a pair of goblin photographers. Scarmaker looked somewhat offended when Harry asked him about it.
"Lord Potter, the goblin nation has its own media. A problem most of your kind has is the failure to see that other races are capable of having a society independent of yours. Your kind barely pays lip service to your Muggle governments. I had not expected such narrow mindedness from you."
Harry adjusted his glasses knowing that his account manager was baiting him. He could sense that this, like so many other things in his life, was some kind of test. Rufus had warned him to be alert for such tests and respond forcefully. "Scarmaker, you mistake my ignorance of your society and customs for narrow-minded stupidity. I ask questions because I truly do not know. You are underestimating me. The dementors underestimated me. The one who calls himself Voldemort underestimates me. If you are smart, you won't fall into that same trap."
Harry noticed several of the heads turn in his direction. The moment of tension passed and his answer must have satisfied them. His account manager merely returned his glare before smiling slightly. The Minister nodded at him as Harry fell into place next to him. The Goblin council surrounded the podium and began speaking in their language. Cleftskull made his way over to the small group of humans and began to translate.
"Chippedfang and Spinebreaker, for the crime of dereliction of your posts and failure to perform your assigned duties to standard, you are each sentenced to death. You may choose to die by beheading or you may choose trial by combat. What is your choice?"
The first goblin was allowed to raise his head from the chopping block as he spoke in a loud voice. "I choose combat. Let those who feel guilt over the shedding of human blood in defense of our kin declare their champions."
A murmur ran through the crowd of assembled goblins as the second prisoner repeated the same declaration word for word. Harry chanced a glance at the Minister to see him frowning. As a seasoned politician, he must clearly recognize the less than favorable environment. Several of the council members drew weapons and others screamed at the pair in their language. Harry noticed that Cleftskull did not translate what was said.
"A vote has been called. The ratio of combatants is to be determined. The first showing of hands determines how many council members are in favor of enforcing the death penalty. The second is for those not in favor. There! Nine hands for, and three against. The two of them will have to fight six goblins in combat. The 'armor of the accused' is now being brought to the stage and each defender is given a sword and a knife. They may choose to fight together or separately. It appears they intend to fight separately."
Harry watched as the one called Spinebreaker went first. The older goblin was still fast and could move fluidly with a sword. He was able to get inside the guard of the first 'overly eager' attacker and disembowel him. He pushed the dying goblin towards one of the other two, who were moving into a flanking position and hurled his knife at the third goblin. The knife was blocked away, but Spinebreaker scooped up the dead goblin's sword and was now armed with two swords. He met the two attackers in a flurry of blades as steel rang out against steel. The other two were clearly having problems handling this apparently extremely dangerous goblin.
"If Spinebreaker slays one more of his attackers, his family retains both their honor and the right to fill his position," Cleftskull said over the shouts and cheering of the masses surrounding them. It concerned Harry that most seemed to be cheering for Spinebreaker, who appeared to be tiring and was now on the defensive. It was at the moment Harry decided that the battle was almost over, that Spinebreaker blocked one of his attackers and snapped his leg out tripping the other one. A split second later and both attackers were lying in a heap of their own blood as Spinebreaker knelt gasping for breath and holding his gashed stomach. He staggered towards the edge of the circle. "If he crosses the circle, he is vindicated and will receive medical treatment."
Oddly Harry felt like cheering for the goblin as he crossed the line and into the arms of two goblins. They started treating his injuries with bandages and potions. Several others moved in to clear the bodies. Harry didn't need translation to tell that pretty much every goblin in the cave was chanting Spinebreaker's name in their language. Five minutes passed and the goblin medics helped him stand. He looked like he might fall any minute, but the cheers of the crowd seemed to lend him strength. An elder handed him the two swords he had used in battle. They were thrust high into the air and the screams became a deafening roar.
"Spinebreaker may now claim the right of retribution and challenge any of the Elders who judged against him in single combat. The battle will be fought in two days time. Spinebreaker has chosen to fight Boneripper in retribution. If he is successful, Spinebreaker will ascend to the position of Elder. The next battle will begin momentarily."
"What are his chances?"
"Boneripper is a skilled fighter, who relies on speed and power. Spinebreaker uses cunning and allows his opponent to commit to an attack and capitalize on their mistake. If the fight lasts more than two minutes Spinebreaker will win, otherwise Boneripper will triumph. Do you wish to place a wager?"
Harry shook his head 'no'. Somehow, betting on a goblin death match didn't seem like proper behavior. He watched as Chippedfang and his three attackers entered the Ring of Judgment and leaned in to the ear of Cleftskull, "May I ask why you are not an Elder?"
The grizzled looking goblin looked at him and bared his toothy maw. "We rise by guile and by the blade. The ancients bless me with skill in both. The Elders would not move against me unless they had five to one odds and even then I might prevail. I have enough favors to ensure that at most I would face two to one odds. A lesson for you, Lord Potter, it is best to be feared and respected, but if you can only choose one, then it is best to be feared."
Harry mulled that over as the next fight began. Cleftskull explained that Chippedfang had been on duty that morning, whereas Spinebreaker should have been there. It made Harry feel slightly better about wanting Spinebreaker to win, since the most he was really guilty of was being late for work. Though had he been there, several humans might have survived and Susan wouldn't be rehabilitating her injury.
Chippedfang was nowhere near Spinebreaker's skill. The three aggressors advanced on him mercilessly. One quickly impaled him. Chippedfang tottered backwards dropping his sword. He stared at the sword in his gut. A mad look crossed his eyes as he shifted the knife into the hand with all his fingers. He screamed something in goblin and hurled his knife, directly at Rufus Scrimgeour.
Harry's hand stretched out instinctively as the bodyguards pushed the minister to the ground. He felt his magic surge and he banished the knife. "Pello Novaculae!" It flew backwards and struck the rock wall of the cave hard enough to shatter, showering the area with chips of rock and shards of steel. He sank to his knees with the effort of casting the banisher. It was confusing. Why would a simple spell take so much out of him? It was only then that he realized that his wand was still in the pocket of his robes. Again, Harry had cast a wandless spell. The last time he had summoned his broom. It hadn't taken anything out of him. Perhaps that was due to the presence of the Dementors that night?
Knowing he needed to capitalize on the moment, Harry looked at Scarmaker. "Another example of someone underestimating me."
He sat in a very comfortable chair in his quarters reading through a stack of reports. The only sound was the continuous sound of something moving. The light dimmed momentarily. Lord Voldemort looked up from the latest reports of casualties to the rat on the tiny treadmill powering the light that he read by. "Peter, you would be wise to keep a constant speed. Your punishment for your involvement in Potter's attack is rather mild in comparison to what I could have done. It could be so much worse." He left the threat hanging and continued to read under a much brighter light.
The numbers were depressing, but the majority of those captured or killed had been neophytes. The only true loss had been Levski. He had enough cunning to bring Krum as an offering when he arrived. He was deeply troubled by the loss of the main nest of Dementors. He did not have time to question the remaining ones - a prompt response was called for.
"Peter, I am finished reading now. Your nightly exercises will continue until I see that you understand the magnitude of the damage you have brought to our organization. You may leave and prepare for tonight's festivities. We leave in one hour. I will be keeping an eye on you. If you performance fails to impress me, I may be forced to as you say, 'take decisive managerial action.' Do you understand my meaning?"
Peter changed back into his human form and scurried from the room, panting to catch his breath.
Minutes later, Lord Voldemort stood in front of his depleted ranks. "Tonight, my Death Eaters, we will remind them that we are a force to be reckoned with. Their little victories mean nothing! Augustus Rookwood, you will lead the new initiates through their rites of passage. Pick any three Muggle towns. Kill in large numbers. Wreak havoc and leave for the next one when the Ministry finally responds. Keep them occupied. Let them chase you all over the countryside. Rabastan Lestrange, your team has three priority targets to eliminate. I would like to see Dumbledore's allies in the Wizengamot thinned a bit. Finally, the Zabini family only seemed cooperative when their eldest male heir resided here as my guest. Damien Mulciber, teach them that my patience has its limits. How you choose to instruct this lesson is completely up to you. I encourage you to be creative. The rest of you will follow me into Hogsmeade. We will see if we can entice Dumbledore's little group and some Aurors into playing with us. I do not wish to destroy the town, except the Hog's Head. I wish to see Dumbledore's pathetic brother dead and his business burnt to the ground. Beyond that, I merely wish to occupy them. Severus, we will keep them focused on us. Your team will execute its objective. Rookwood's group leaves in thirty minutes. The next two groups leave thirty minutes after that. My group leaves shortly after that. Madam Edgecombe has managed to tap several Floo lines. Monitor the communications from here. When you feel that the time is right, unleash the girl and attack. Bring me victory, Severus. If that means killing the boy, then bring his head back as a trophy."
Precisely at Eight p.m., Augustus Rookwood and his team departed from the Portkey pad. Voldemort watched the fifteen Death Eaters disappear. He knew that he was in no way shape or form ready for a battle. Still with Albus Dumbledore completely out of commission, he felt he could handle any other wizard or witch who dared get in his way.
"Ms. Brown, could you come over here?" Colin's voice quavered. He couldn't get over the fact that he was dating Lavender. It was a bit strange that she insisted that he call her Ms. Brown at work, but he wasn't about to complain. It made her sound older and quite frankly it turned him on. He was this close to getting her to pose for his camera au natural and wasn't about to blow it.
Lavender looked up from her desk and cast a glance over her shoulder towards the watch commander, who was in the process of dispatching Aurors to the various Death Eater attacks. She had just handed the latest list to Trina to Floo the Obliviators, who appeared to be poised to collect some serious overtime. She was tired already, only two hours into the shift, but still she enjoyed how the whole headquarters seemed to revolve around her.
"What is it, Colin?"
"Um, we have another 'Dark Lord' on Floo four. He's demanding to speak to my supervisor."
"Circe! That's the third one this week. I'll handle it." She grunted and got up from her desk and stomped to Floo Number four. It amazed her how positively stupid people could be. "This is Ms. Brown. What do you want?"
"I am Lord Voldemort. I appear to have misplaced a number of my Death Eaters in Hogsmeade. I was hoping you would be a dear and send some of your Aurors to help me find them."
Lavender looked at parchment. "I see. According to this you're in the Hog's Head Tavern in Hogsmeade. So, I am supposed to believe that the Dark Lord stopped in there for a drink and to use the Floo. You didn't by chance come in with a Centaur and a Goblin did you?"
"What nonsense is this?" The face in the fireplace asked.
"Oh, you haven't heard the one about the Dark Lord, the Goblin and the Centaur going into a bar? Listen, I'm busy here. Get someone else to tell it to you! Now, take off that ridiculous glamour charm and go back to drinking with all your other loser friends and quit wasting my damn time, you stupid, effing wanker!" With that Lavender pulled the disconnect lever.
Lord Voldemort looked at the flames in front of him. Fortunately, there had been no one left alive in the bar to hear the girl's tirade. The lifeless eyes of Aberforth Dumbledore stared at the ceiling next to him. The Dark Lord had sent four unmasked Death Eaters in ahead of him and waited two minutes for them to get to the other side of the room before sauntering in. Aberforth had been busy changing two of his Death Eaters into goats when Voldemort's killing curse struck him down. Voldemort savored that feeling of true ruthlessness - the ability to simply walk in somewhere and kill instantly. Even after all these years, the rush still hadn't gone away. He conjured a box. Chopped off the head and dropped it into the box. Casting an engorgement spell on one of the Owls, he decided to send Albus a get well soon present. The girl should be dealt with, but that could wait. What troubled him more was that someone out there was making up jokes about him. He sent the enlarged owl on its way and cast his Dark Mark, joining the two others already in the sky. Another wave of his wand spelled out the following message next to the Floo, using the pool of blood leaking from Aberforth's corpse.
Who is joking now, Ms. Brown?
He walked out of the bar. Peter raised his wand towards the structure. "No! I have changed my mind. The bar is to remain standing." The pops of Apparation signified that someone was coming. "Come Peter; let us bloody their noses a bit before we take our leave. Make sure someone rounds up our two goats. We'll figure out how to change them back later."
Sturgis sat at the kitchen table reading the most recent issue of the Quibbler. It was a memorial issue to the late owner and full of a retrospective of his most outlandish columns. He cracked a smile every now and then over the exploits of those dreaded Rotfangs. Diggle sat next to him playing Solitaire. Sturgis found that to be as exciting as watching paint dry. Harry had come back a couple of hours ago and after chatting and eating some dinner, he'd begged off to go meditate. He felt bad for Harry Potter. Everyone expected him to be so much more than he is. Growing up he dreamed of being Beowulf, Merlin, or even Dumbledore, but as he watched the young man struggle with everyone's expectations, Sturgis realized what separated fantasy from harsh reality.
In a few days Hestia would be back and he could finally go see his wife and kids. Merlin knows he missed them. He hadn't seen them since the day of his trial and his swift sentencing to prison. Tonks and the late warden of the prison had managed to get some messages through. It was a poignant reminder of what he was missing.
A gong indicated an arriving Portkey. Diggle reached for his wand, as did Sturgis. Whoever was arriving would be in the parlor. Diggle was closer and moved to investigate. Seconds later he heard the older man exclaim, "Great Merlin!" Sturgis quickly got up and entered the room. It took a moment for his mind to register that it was Bill's French girlfriend. She was glowing, forcibly so as she wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing and pulling at Diggle's clothing. She was in all her unnatural glory! Her eyes bored into his and seemed so inviting. He shouldn't look. He's a married man. She beckoned him pushing the other wizard aside. He smacked into a wall before dazedly waddling towards her with his pants around his ankles.
"I want you!" she whispered urgently closing the distance between them.
"I can't," Sturgis said, making a lame denial. This couldn't possibly be happening to him, could it?
"I need you inside me now."
His wand dropped to the carpeted floor. His vows of fidelity were but a distant memory of another lifetime. All that mattered was this angel in front of him. Anything she wanted, he would give to her. He fell back into the floor as she mounted him. If he were capable of looking away from her eyes and perfectly formed breasts, he would have seen Diggle frantically pawing at her. So consumed in what he was doing he never noticed her hand morphing into a claw and slashing 'Dirty Old Diggle' across the throat. He didn't even notice the thud of the body landing, anymore than he notice the clawed hand gouging his body. There was so much heat swirling around him. It was hard to breathe. The angel told him to hurry. It was all the encouragement he needed. As he screamed his praise to her, the heat intensified, searing him. He saw the fireball forming in what used to be her hands. The corneas of his eyes burned as the angel brought the fireball into his face. His lungs seared, breathing in the superheated air as he died.
"Milord, there is a problem downstairs." Harry looked up from his meditation to see the once despised face of Sirius' mother in the portrait frame inside his sanctuary.
"What is it Mrs. Black?"
"The Veela girl is down there. Someone has given her Black Widow Rush! You are in great danger!"
"What?" Harry grabbed his armored vest and slid it on.
"A drug that drives her into a violent mating frenzy; your two guards are probably already dead. You should flee to Hogwarts."
"No! I need to help Sturgis and Dedalus!"
"The rush makes her allure stronger! You will fall prey to her charms!"
Harry finished buckling the dragon hide vest and hissed on his way out the door. "I can resist an Imperious from Voldemort. I can handle her!"
He didn't hear her response as he Apparated downstairs. "The Dark Lord only wants to kill you! She wants to fuck you first; then, she'll kill you. Stupid teenage boy!" The woman in the portrait shrugged before deciding to head back to her downstairs portrait and see if the boy was everything he thought he was.
Harry reappeared in the kitchen. The smell of burnt flesh immediately assailed his senses. He choked back the bile in his throat. "Fleur! Stop! You need help!" he cried.
Harry sucked in his breath when she turned towards him as she rose from the dead man beneath her glowing, naked body. Her French accent was more pronounced than he had remembered. "Oh, Arry! Not such a leetle boy anymore are you? So much power and so young. If I had known you were 'ere, I would not 'ave wasted my time with these! Let me show you what I can do."
"Fleur, you need help!" He tried the same approach as before. It wasn't working. He cast a water charm hoping it would knock some sense into her and put out some of the small fires in the room.
"Oh, yez, I want your help, Arry. I want it so badly! You like to play in zee water?"
Harry watched her walking towards him. It was much harder to resist her than ever before. He focused. In his mind he saw Susan smiling at him. "Sorry Fleur, Stupefy!" His red beam struck her just below her magnificent breasts. Much to Harry's shock she stumbled but did not fall down.
"Oh, you want to play rough." Harry found himself diving out of the way of a fireball. In a way, it was shameful - the hero of the Wizarding World hiding behind a couch from a naked girl.
"You will not harm Harry Potter!" Dobby screamed. Pots and pans took on a life of their own and flew towards the crazed Frenchwoman. Harry fired a second stunner at her, which she dodged. She had completely transformed into her avian form. A knife buried itself in her leg, causing her to scream in pain. Harry tried a body bind, which also failed. He felt a pull on his magic and saw a white light hit Fleur in the side. She doubled over and vomited a slug. Her aura flared and she immediately stopped convulsing. Fleur was looking less seductive and more intimidating with each passing second.
Snarling in rage, Fleur created a massive fireball, throwing it towards him. He tried to Apparate, but felt something preventing him. Someone had erected wards! Harry doubted he had enough time to dodge the fireball. He covered his face with one hand and tried to vanish it with his wand. Something blocked his view as the heat wave washed over him. Whatever it was knocked him to the ground and fell on top of him. The couch was ablaze, but had shielded his legs. The vest had protected his chest. His clothing was mostly in tatters. He pushed whatever had covered his face off of him and blacked out for a second.
The stinging pain of the welts now covering his arms helped him regain his senses. He looked at the object next to him.
Large round eyes looked back at him.
"Dobby is a good elf," the creature next to him croaked. The elf's backside was badly burnt. Dobby's eyes, which in life never stopped looking around, ceased their movement and became unfocused. The elf's body faded from view like it had never been there. Even in death, House Elves did not leave a mess behind them.
"Did I hurt you, Arry? Come out, and I will make it better." She must have changed back into her human form. Harry heard a gagging noise and knew that the portrait of Bellatrix had struck again. He looked at Sirius and saw that he was standing there, mesmerized, while his Mother was yelling at him to help his Lord. Mrs. Black and Bellatrix were the only female portraits on the first floor. The foul matron of the Black family crossed into Sirius' portrait and smacked him full across the face. Harry meanwhile tried a leg locker and a blinding curse, but whatever this 'Rush' thing she had been given seemed to overpower or negate his spells. He banished the burnt couch, which only knocked her backwards. She tossed it off of her like it was a beanbag. Harry tried ropes and added super strength to Fleur's inventory of new abilities. She tore them off of her and incinerated them, while continuing to mock him.
"Again, Arry! I will catch the next ones and use them to tie you up, so I can have my way with you."
"Burn these! Catena Ex Ferreus!" She wouldn't be able to get out of metal restraints. The spell shouldn't be used against humans, but Harry was out of options; everything else had been utterly useless. A shot of iron chain sprang from his wand at the same time Sirius Black's portrait returned to his senses. He gestured with his wand in the painting and pulled on his Lord's magic. The spell - Levicorpus dragged Fleur up by her feet just before the chain reached her. Harry watched in horror as the heavy chain he'd intended to bind her wrapped around her slender neck as her body was dragged upwards. The only sound in the room was a muted crack as her neck broke. He sprinted over to her, ignorant of his own injuries. Her aura faded before his eyes as he stared into a face so beautiful, even in death.
There was no time for Harry to berate himself amid the scene of death and carnage. The front door exploded as Severus Snape and two shorter, masked Death Eaters entered through the wreckage.
Author's notes - My apologies for this dragging on. The chapter is a week overdue and has interfered with the next chapter of Bungle. The combination of real life and getting my work up on fanficauthors(dot)net has really taken its toll. I know I promised Harry versus Snape in this one, but I think this is a powerful stopping point as well as an evil cliffhanger. Full discussion in my threads on FFA and DLP. As a contest for you readers out there, I am looking for the best Goblin, Centaur and Dark Lord go into a bar joke. The best one will be used and credited in the story.