Preparations are underway to meet Voldemort on three fronts
Castle Tioram (pronounced Cheerum) was and is a ruin situated on a remote, rocky island overlooking Loch Moidart. Its West Coast location is made all the more remote by the fact that it is only accessible at low tide. The 13th Century stronghold of the McDonalds of Clan Ranald, Castle Tioram was destroyed in the Jacobite Rising of 1715 and has lain in ruin ever since.
During the late summer of 1997 a sign hung from a chain simply stating, "Dangerous Ruin, Do Not Enter."
The sign did not begin to tell of the dangers within. Behind the muggle repelling charms, behind the glamour of a ruin in a perfectly serviceable castle, in the great hall Voldemort nee Tom Riddle was exhorting his followers, especially the werewolves to bathe in the blood of the weak, to show the world what a terrible thing it is to even imagine opposing the greatest wizard of the age. The lycanthropes were so close to changing that the blood lust was welling up inside them - they were ready to start tearing people apart already, regardless of the change.
"Not yet my beautiful killing machines, we must wait just a little longer . . ."
One of the black robed death eaters whispered a timely reminder and the Snake Lord nodded. At the non-verbal command the thirteen werewolves were herded into a large cage that was also the portkey that would send them to the sewer beneath the wizard's hospital, St. Mungo's. No one noticed the largest man placing the small metal ball in the latch-hole of the metal cage door. The portkey was activated and the werewolves were transported in the caged cyclone.
"Take Goyle with you and remember the crossbows."
McNair smiled evilly "right away milord!"
When McNair and the elder Goyle arrived at the place where the caged lycanthropes had been transported the 'executioner' McNair handed the other man a small crossbow, barely larger than a small handgun.
"Whot's this then?" Goyle asked, perplexed, "whot're we s'posed to do wit these toys?"
"Dark Lord's orders, 'bout an hour b'fore we let em' loose we shoots each of the beasties with a dart. They's small silver darts, won't kill em' just make em' madder'n Hell!"
Goyle and McNair shared an evil laugh until they heard a deeper laugh from the darkness near the caged werewolves. They each looked in the direction of the cage to see the door swung open and Fenrir Greyback walking purposefully toward them.
"I figured hiz Lordship would pull somthin' like that, I know he's got no use for us after this is all over so I'm makin' a couple o' changes."
The two wizards panicked, each trying to get their wands out of their robes before the werewolf was upon them, it didn't matter that he hadn't changed yet, he was still a murderous animal. Greyback roared and then both men knew only blackness.
When they came to they were just outside the cage with the still human lycans, but for how long; was it sunset yet? Had the full moon risen? Each man patted his robes looking for a weapon, a spare wand, anything. The alpha werewolf pointed to a small pile of daggers, shattered potion bottles and broken wand pieces.
"Y'see mates, silver 'urts us even when we're not changed" the huge werewolf was explaining to the death eaters, as though he were describing the weather, "but once we're changed, well, even a bit's a bit is too much. Yeah, we'd be crazy in pain, killin' everythin' in sight, but by the time the sun came up, we'd be dead. Silver in the blood, y'see? Pure poison."
He checked his surroundings "cage is in place, an' it's charmed to open at the right time. Reckon it's time t' get in. C'mon you two. You too." He chucked at the double entendre.
"No, no mate" Goyle was begging "I didn't know, I swear I didn't know!"
"Ya thought it sounded funny though, dinnya?"
McNair made to run for it but Greyback caught him by the hood of his robes and slammed him down on the ground, hard.
"Well, looks like we got us a midnights snack," he said, tossing the death eater's limp form into the cage. "Funny, we figured he'd be the one to turn and you'd be the 'sarnie,' just goes t' show, y' can never tell."
Goyle squinted, he'd never been able to apparate under pressure without spinching himself, but it'd be worth it to leave some part of himself behind if it meant he could get away.
"Won't work mate," Fenrir said wearily, "anti-apparation wards just went up round the cage, looks like is' darkness was gonna just leave you here too."
He stood and stretched, loosening up as much as he could before the change, "your choice mate, be one with us or be afters, whot's it gonna be?"
The elder Goyle's shoulders stooped and he hung his head and nodded, walking ahead of Greyback into the cage. As the door was swung shut the werewolf grinned toothily, "oh yeah, I got me a fine bitch tonight!"
As the sun set at Hogwart's Harry's thoughts drifted to Remus and how he'd be in a wolf's bane stupor, being looked after by his soulmate Tonks. He thought of the werewolves lurking beneath the hospital and wondered how many of them had been given a choice. He required his aurors to come up with a way to contain the lycans without killing them. Most of the better ideas were clever traps, all were silver. Then Charles Baxter mused aloud, "how do they expect to have werewolves there an hour before dawn? You can't just give one a portkey and say 'sic em!'"
Kim Morris offered "they have to be in a room or a big crate or a . . ."
She and Cruz both said simultaneously ". . . a cage!"
"A silver cage, or at least silver plated." Morris added.
Harry handed Lieutenant Cruz a box of cartridges and said by way of an explanation "silver bullets. I hope you don't have to use them, but lock and load. Take a shield specialist and a cover and concealment specialist as well, and JosÃ©?"
"I'd consider it a personal favor if you and your team didn't get yourselves killed."
The newly minted lieutenant smiled and said, "Yes sir!"
As Cruz's team headed out Harry turned to the center table. "How do you start a lot of fires, all at the same time?" he asked.
One of the muggle born aurors offered "timers, you set timed fuses and the bombs all go off simultaneously."
"Or triggers" another witch explained, "someone would have to be in a place to see where the fires would cause the most panic, and remember the idea is to AK people trying to escape the flames."
"I thought you couldn't burn a witch or a wizard," Harry mused, "I remember some balmy old wizard got himself burned at the stake half a dozen times because he liked the way the flames tickled."
"Yes, but in panic and smoke and noise even mages will get burned." Belle explained.
"Is there a charm for fireproofing?" he asked.
"Indeed there is Commander," Moody interjected.
"Can we charm a whole building and all its contents?"
"It'll shut down the floo network, but yeah, we can do that Commander!"
Harry stood on the table "who are my best charms people here? C'mon, don't be shy, I know some of you are charming!"
The assembled troops laughed.
About three dozen hands went up.
"Very well, you folks go with Sergeant Major Moody; he's got a project for you.
Harry turned to the Brigadier, "Sir, how many dark mark detectors do you have?"
"About a dozen, Commander, do you want them?"
"Yes sir, I'd like some of my concealment specialists to sniff out the death eaters that will be waiting outside."
Brigadier Smith looked thoughtful "we could set up an illusion so that it looks like the building is on fire and people are running out, then the DEs would give their positions away by firing at the illusion."
"That would be quite an illusion; do you have someone in mind Brigadier?"
"Yes I do Commander Potter, I have me in mind!"
"Very well, sir, consider yourself tasked!"
Both officers laughed. Then Harry stopped and asked, Brigadier, who else can do a really good illusion?
Once at the hospital the Lieutenant Cruz and his aurors only had to ask to find the quickest way to the sewer through the sub-basement. The disillusioned trio crept silently through the corridor until they heard the sound, like a dozen huge dogs snarling and yapping at scraps. Cruz, Morris and Smythe followed the sound and found a large opening in the ceiling. Morris the concealment expert silently climbed a ladder and froze as her head cleared the opening. She saw a pack of unnaturally large wolves ripping at a bloody leg-joint while a human cowered in the corner. One of the wolves stopped and howled a long piercing note that echoed through the sewers. The rest stopped fighting over what was left of McNair.
Thirteen pairs of lycan eyes stared at the spot where Kim Morris stood on the ladder. They couldn't see her, but her scent, the sound of her breathing, the fact that there was a hole in their perception let the werewolves know she was there.
"Hel - hello?" came the only human voice in the cage.
A growl and a snap of powerful jaws quieted the death eater.
Morris returned to her mates "about a dozen wolves and one man in death eater's robes in a cage, I don't think the DE wants to be there."
"Could you tell if he's been bitten?" Cruz asked.
"Yeah, a few times, scratched on the face and neck too."
"Bugger, he's a werewolf too then, he just may not know it yet." Smythe observed.
"We need to secure the cage," she insisted "it'll either open or completely disappear an hour or so before dawn."
"Do they look hungry?" Baxter asked.
"Yeah," she agreed, "starved."
"Think the kitchen can rustle up some steaks?"
"I guess, what are you gonna feed em?"
"I'm thinking steak tartar with enough sleeping draught to keep them asleep all night and well into the morning."
"I'll keep an eye on them" Cruz said, "you two hurry back with the midnight snack, all right?"
The staff at St. Mungo's was more than happy to accommodate the aurors, two huge platters of fresh ground beef with a powerful sleeping potion and an irresistible compulsion charm guaranteed the wolves would, well, wolf down the meat.
The lycans were suspicious of the two platters floating toward them, then above them where they up ended, spilling the juicy contents all over the floor. Well, wolves are not picky eaters, they all fell to eating and after a while, sated, settled in for a nice nap. All except Fenrir; even in his wolf form he could tell something was not right. He contented himself on McNair's bloody remains and feigned sleep as his packmates slept the sleep of the dead.
Harry had set his troops to rest, he knew better than to think they might be sleeping. Emotions were riding high, some laughed too loud, some were too quiet, a fair few were in meditation and prayer.
The Weasley / Delacour party had been given the Huffelpuff rooms as they were nearest the kitchens. The family's matrons were in their element ordering nearly half the house elves to cook and sew and decorate. Several times one or more from the wedding party asked about Harry's whereabouts but they were always gently redirected to something urgently wedding related.
At one point Hermione swore she saw a familiar face in the flat black robes of an auror officer but who did she know that was in the military? It would come to her in time, it always did. She did not mistake Staff Sergeant McClaggan for anyone else, but she ducked before the pompous git spotter her - she still had bad dreams about being cornered by that thoughtless self-centered primate.
Molly Weasley was livid - she needed to check on preparations in the great hall but she was being prevented from entering by a small squad of house elves who bowed and scraped and apologized profusely but didn't budge.
"We is seeing to the decorating just as Mizzez Weezee is saying!" one elf plaintively wailed.
The 'Weezee' stormed off in foul dungeon.
Everyone in the wedding party heard snippets of conversations concerning 'The Commander,' a man spoken of in tones of awe and respect. Everyone assumed the troops were talking about an officer senior in rank and years. From the time the first member of the wedding party had arrived all the aurors were under strict orders to only refer to Harry as 'The Commander.' There were other commanders present, Commander Donovan and Commander Webber, but they were referred to by name.
Two auror troops were talking about charms within Hermione's earshot and something about 'fire charms.'
"I can do fire charms" she volunteered, and produced a blue flame from the tip of her wand to demonstrate, "may I help?"
The two aurors looked at each other and asked "can you do a fire proofing spell?"
She grinned and pointed her wand at a tall tapestry, waved a rune symbol in the air and then dissipated the hovering rune in the direction of the tapestry.
"Give it a go" she invited.
One of the aurors produced a jet of flame from her wand and touched it to the fringe. Nothing, she then shot an arc of flame across the surface of the tapestry. Nothing. Then her companion created a sizable fireball and threw it hard against the tapestry causing the entire area to be bathed in flames. The flames died out and there wasn't even a scorch mark on the floor or ceiling. The tapestry was cool to the touch.
"Could you come with us Miss . . ."
"Granger, Hermione Granger."
"Miss Granger, please come with us."
Hermione was glad to have something to do other than wedding busywork; she swore that if she had to put up with one more squealing female she'd go balmy. She was ushered in to meet with whoever was coordinating the firespells and saw a grizzled gentleman in an auror's cloak, his chevrons of rank in gold on the left shoulder.
"Sergeant Major, we have a civilian volunteer who can do the best fire spelling I've ever seen!"
"Excellent, show him in, we need all the help we can . . ."
He had just turned to address the aurors when he and Hermione recognized each other.
The auror who spoke smiled and said, "oh, you already know her, excellent!"
"Professor Moody, what's going on?"
"Lass, I need to get to work here and I don't think I can have you involved, so if you don't mind . . ."
"Professor," she started, then deciding to give him his current honorific continued with "Sergeant Major, something important is happening here, and if I don't miss my guess Harry is involved somehow."
Moody's poker face didn't reveal anything but his magical eye twitched at the name.
"Sergeant Major, do you or do you not need a fire mage?"
"I do lass, but it could get dangerous and if The Commander finds out, well, let's just say you don't want to be on his bad side."
She stood her ground, "do you need me or not?"
He sighed heavily; "Aye lass, I do" he inhaled deeply, let it out and said "all right, consider y'self deputized. Um, I'm a bit short handed here, kin ye conjure y'self a cloak, flat black?"
She smirked and twirled her wand about her shoulders and the cloak appeared.
The old Sergeant Major nodded his approval "you'll find some sets of fatigues and dragon hide boots in the next room, just put em' on, they're self-sizing. Then hurry back, we have to fireproof the ministry building and we have less than six hours to do it."
Eager for a challenge she quickly found the fatigues and boots, donned them and felt them conform to fit comfortably. She returned in short order to see the RSM bent over the map of the ministry, he looked up and nodded at her uniform's appearance as if to say, 'that'll do, lassie, that'll do.'
What he said was "Place yer wand o'er yer heart and repeat after me . . ."
When he finished swearing her in as a deputy a copper brassard bearing the letters 'DA' appeared over her left breast, which made her grin.
"The last time we used these letters in this castle they stood for 'Dumbledor's Army'" she explained.
"Deputy Auror, Miss Granger, or rather Deputy Granger until further notice."
He motioned her to come and look more closely at the map
"We need to coordinate the fire mages so that the entire building is flame proofed, this will stop floo travel in and out but that can't be helped."
"We could use Watson's Inverse Tangents to isolate the fireplaces, that way floo travel is still possible."
Moody gazed at the young woman with his good eye and wished to all the gods that he were forty years younger, and whole.
"Right," he said, "your first task will be to set the Watson's Inverb . . ."
"Inverse Tangents, here, I'll write out the formulae and the runes." She sat down at his desk and began to write furiously.
"Baxter! Copy Deputy Granger's work here and get it to the aurors in place at the ministry. With the floos in place we should be able to get this done in half the time!"
"Damn, why didn't any of my people think of this?"
"Don't be too hard on them Prof, I mean Sergeant Major, the Inverse Tangents are usually not applied to flame spells."
"Thinkin' outside of the box deputy?"
She looked up from her work and said wistfully "Sounds like something Harry would say . . ."
Moody made it a point to look anywhere but at her as she went back to work. Twenty minutes later she said, "These are the basic arithemantic formulae, I need to go to the ministry to set the first three, after that anyone can finish."
"Aye, Mr. Moody?"
"Take a concealment specialist and Deputy Granger to the ministry, you'll be her shield."
"Aye sir!" he said to Moody, to Hermione he added more softly, "hi Hermione."
She hadn't recognized Charles Baxter from the DA because he had been a skinny, slightly clumsy kid, now he was tall and self assured. "Wow," she thought, "he matured . . . um, nicely!"
"We can take the floo to the ministry ma'am."
"Oh please, just call me Hermione, we've known each other for at least four years, I have to say, I hardly recognized you."
"Yeah, I'm getting that a lot these days. I didn't realize I was so scrawny before, it's amazing what three months of heavy workouts will do for the ego!"
She smiled and followed him to the floo. She stumbled out of the connecting fireplace in the ministry lobby and looked around. The last time she had been in the ministry after hours Dolohov had nearly cut her in half. She relaxed when she saw the other aurors.
"We're waiting on you to counter charm the Floo network before we begin to fireproof the atrium" Charles said.
She took a deep breath and began the incantations and wand patterns. As before, runic symbols appeared in the air before her then were absorbed by the target objects, in this case the three fireplaces. When she finished she cast an incendio into the nearest fireplace, stepped back and said "I'm done here, try your fire proofing charms now."
The aurors did and a bubble-like shield formed in front of the burning fireplaces.
"Excellent, we can finish in no time now!"
The teams went from room to room, all the common areas fireproofing the building, they didn't enter the Department of Mysteries as one of the unspeakables met them at the door and said "we're fine here, finish the rest of the building" then disappeared back into her shadow world.
The fire-mages were done within four hours. As they lined up at the floo networks heading back to the school Hermione asked, "anyone else here from Hogwart's?"
Baxter shrugged "Oh, a few you might remember, but I can't talk about some of them, General Order Number Three and all that."
"General Order Number Three?"
He nodded, "all I can say is that the secret will go with me to my grave, and beyond if I stay on as a ghost."
"But what . . ."
"Hermione, please don't ask, you could end my career before it begins."
"Oh . . . sorry."
"S'okay, we just have to take our secrecy oaths seriously."
"Unlike some people" she said, remembering the Malfoys in her fourth year. "You seem to be enjoying military life, how long have you been in the Auror Corps?"
"Newly minted, just graduated this week."
"And they already have you in the field; don't you normally get more training before your first field assignment?"
Charles chuckled "all I can say is the 'Fighting Ninth' hatched out of auror training fully capable and ready for action. We have The Commander to thank for that."
"He must really be something; you all speak his name with such high regard."
"He has made us the finest fighting force since Merlin brought the Pendragon kings to power."
"Perhaps 'The Commander' will require a round table?" she chided.
Charles Baxter smirked and rejoined "I'll pass on that recommendation Deputy Granger, I'm sure he'll like it."
She threw a fistful of floo powder into the fireplace, called out 'Hogwart's Great Hall" and stepped into the flames, she wasn't ready for the simultaneous floo transport of another auror and the two of them were unceremoniously spewed out onto the stone floor.
"Owie" she said simply, cradling her left wrist, "really, just what I need right now, a sprain!"
The auror in a flat-black cloak of rank helped her up saying "careful now!"
Marie looked shocked, seeing Hermione Granger in an auror's cloak.
"You're an auror?" they both said in chorus.
They both laughed, "No," Hermione chuckled, "this is your Sergeant Major's idea of a low profile; I've been helping fire proof the Ministry Building." She looked serious for a moment, "the Ministry needed fire proofing didn't it? I mean, the last time that was done was during the Blitz. There's going to be trouble, isn't there?"
Marietta simply said, "yes" then looked at Hermione's rapidly swelling wrist and said "let's get you to the hospital wing."
"I hate the thought of waking up Madame Pomfrey for this; I'll just mend it myself."
"Nonsense, b'sides, I'm sure Mme. Pomfrey is still up."
They were approaching the hospital wing from the back door spiral staircase when Marietta stopped and said, "Hermione, I have to apologize to you and to everyone who was in the DA two years ago . . ."
Hermione started to protest but Marietta cut her off.
". . . I was under a lot of pressure from me mum an' I had just broken up with, well, with someone and I didn't know how truly evil that Umbitch woman was and I know that's no excuse but please accept my apology. It would mean an awful lot to me . . ."
"Y'know, Harry has taught me a lot, but mostly he taught me that it's better to forgive than not. Of course I forgive you, and please, forgive me for the, y'know, 'sneak' thing?"
Marie held out her right hand and Hermione grasped it and they shook.
As they entered the healer's facility Hermione was astounded to see all the activity. At least three dozen beds were made up, as though waiting for guests to arrive, and in addition to Madame Pomfrey there were at least two healers in lime green robes and assorted support staff, including a small army of green toga-toweled house elves.
"It's going to be bad, isn't it?" Hermione asked.
"Maybe," Marietta offered, "maybe not, we just want to be ready just in case." She looked across the room and saw Healer Dumphries; then motioned him over.
"What's this then, wounded coming in already?" he asked, half jokingly.
"Yep, combat citation if ever I saw one, Healer Dumphries, Miss Granger here took on the entire floo network single handedly!"
They all chuckled at the small joke; the healer had Hermione place her arm on a table and began to heal the sprain.
"I hear you've been busy Lieutenant Pot . . ."
"The Commander is setting up the Burrow" she interrupted while pleading with her eyes for the healer to say no more, "I just needed to come back and recruit some illusionists."
"I have to do a quick inventory," the healer said, "keep this still for at least fifteen minutes or we'll have to start all over again, all right?"
Hermione nodded then turned to Marietta and said "I can do illusions; I can conjure solid objects and small animals and birds too."
"Why am I not surprised?" Marietta smirked.
"Marie?" Belle entered the facility looking worried, "are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Belle, why so worried?"
"Someone said you had fallen and were unconscious and being taken to the hospital wing and . . ."
Just then Belle recognized Hermione Granger, ". . . oh, hello."
Hermione thought the strikingly beautiful and sophisticated redhead looked familiar but couldn't place that face for the life of her. Perhaps she was the spokesmodel for a witch's beauty product, maybe she had been in one of the Witches Weekly adverts?
"No, I took a small spill after we ran into each other coming out of the floo network; Hermione here got the worst of it."
"Marie?" Myrtle asked phasing up through the floor. "Someone said you had broken your neck! I was so worried!"
"I'm fine, I'm fine. How do these rumors get started anyway?"
Hermione was getting more curious by the moment; something strange was going on here, she was sure of it.
Madame Pomfrey came over carrying a tiny baby in a blue blanket.
"I was just getting ready to feed little Paul here, would one of the mother's like to have the honors?"
Hermione's eyebrows knit together, 'one of the mothers?'
Belle said, "Allow me, I need to get in some practice, although with our next one I plan to feed from the 'tap.'"
She took the baby tenderly in her arms and began to feed him from the small bottle.
"What a beautiful baby boy," Hermione gushed, "is he yours?"
"Oh yes," Belle cooed, "he's our first, the first of many if I have my way."
"Me too!" Marietta exclaimed.
"I'll have to be content with our little Paul," Myrtle enthused "but isn't he the cutest thing?"
Hermione couldn't help but notice that the lady was incredibly fit for one who had given birth in the past month or so, judging by the looks of the tiny baby in her arms. What was truly odd though was that two women and one girl ghost seemed to share the mantle of motherhood.
"Um, Myrtle, please don't be upset but, how can you be Paul's mother too, I mean, you are a ghost, right?"
Myrtle smirked, "Amongst other things, yes. I'm a wife and a mother and I love my family" she made gurgling noises to Paul's obvious delight.
The healer came over and admonished Hermione to keep her arm still if she wanted the wrist to mend properly, she barely heard him.
"And Marietta is the mother too?"
All three ladies nodded.
"And the father is . . ."
"Marie?" came a familiar voice from behind her, "Marie are you all right? They told me you had fallen down a flight of stairs and were lying in a coma!"
Harry rushed past the now totally bewildered Hermione and grabbed Marietta up in a fierce embrace.
He hugged her and planted kisses all over her face and neck and said into her hair "Lef' tenant Potter; you are not allowed to panic your husband and commanding officer in this manner!"
Marietta returned the hug in kind "If I get hugs and kisses I'll have to make a habit of it!"
He laughed out loud at that.
"Mrs. Potter, and my Lady Potter, how is our number one son?" He gathered his wives into a warm group hug "how's my little boy; how's my little Three Pea?"
"Um, Commander?" Marie gently interrupted.
"Yes dear?" Harry said kissing her temple.
"We have company . . ."
Harry looked around and locked eyes with his bushy haired best friend.
Hermione meant to say "Hi Harry, how are you? How did you make a baby so fast and how is it that you're an auror officer and how is it that you're married to two women and a ghost?"
What actually came out was something that sounded like "urk?"