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Patron (Harry Potter AU) (Complete)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Starfox5, Feb 26, 2015.

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  1. Sargon

    Sargon Not too sore, are you?

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    That is a nice idea!
     
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  2. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Trapped it is!
     
  3. Fallenblades643

    Fallenblades643 Canned food pls?

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    He got Honey potted.
     
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  4. Threadmarks: Chapter 34: Changes
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 34: Changes

    Sirius Black was standing across from the entrance to Knockturn Alley, looking at the fires still going on inside, and felt a bit guilty. Just a little bit - it wasn’t his fault those buildings next to the ‘Capricious Courtesan’ hadn’t had proper fire wards. Even without a war going on, that was just criminal negligence. But then, it was Knockturn Alley. And they were at war.

    “Why can’t we go undercover as well?” Sirius had asked Aberforth when the operation had been planned.

    “Because without polyjuice, you’re too noticeable,” the old wizard had answered. “And we don’t have that many ‘donors’ anyway. And we need a reserve outside, in case things don’t go well inside.”

    Sirius hadn’t been able to say much about that - Valérie, Chantal, Eugénie and Laure were noticeable. Very much so. And he was memorable too, and handsome, if he did say so himself. “I bow to your experience then. Under protest.”

    “Do that, boy, and you’ll live longer.”

    And so he and his four friends - girlfriends - had been standing on a roof, a decent distance away from the brothel, hidden by invisibility cloaks, while the two aurors and Aberforth had had all the fun.

    Well, not all the fun - he had been sharing the cloak with Valérie, and while they hadn’t been as irresponsible as to distract each other intimately, just being close to her had been very nice. They hadn’t talked much, just held each other and waited together.

    But when the coin stuck to his sleeve had vibrated, he had jumped on his broom eagerly. Capturing Yennington would be a heavy blow to the Dark Lord. The first marked Death Eater caught. And even better, Hermione and Dumbledore would be able to find a way to help Harry.

    The five of them - he on his broom, the veela on their wings - had reached the brothel quickly. Guests and whores had been fleeing, trampling each other in their haste to escape, both out front and out the back. The only way to spot any disguised Death Eaters in the crowd would be to look for those trying to get in. And in the chaos below them, that had been far easier said than done.

    Then the back wall had been blown out, and he had seen Aberforth cut down a few wizards staggering around in the resulting dust cloud. Obviously, the old wizard hadn’t had any trouble spotting Death Eaters. Or starting fires inside.

    The coin had vibrated twice shortly afterwards - Aberforth’s signal that the mission had been accomplished. Without any help from Sirius’s Sexy Strike Squad.

    Just as he had been about to tell the girls they could go home, someone had fired a curse at them from below. More had followed, and while badly aimed, and probably cast without seeing them, some spells had come close. And then the first thug had mounted a broom, and flown up, wand out.

    Sirius had known they should have simply retreated, apparated away. But they hadn’t helped at all with the capture of Yennington, and whoever had been sending curses at them probably was working for the Dark Lord anyway, and so he had cast at the broom rider, and the veela had returned fire. Literally.

    Things had gotten a bit out of hand after that. The broom rider had soon found that while it was hard to hit a speeding broom with a spell, it wasn’t that hard to hit it with fireballs. Especially if you sent enough of them at the general area the broom was in.

    And Sirius’s group had found out that while this tactic resulted in a burned broom and rider, it also resulted in a dozen fireballs which had missed, and struck roofs around the brothel. Roofs which apparently hadn’t been as fireproof as they should have been. Then more people had joined the fray, and more fireballs had been thrown. And more wands had been burned. Or cursed. Until they had retired from the field.

    They needed more training. But they hadn’t lost anyone. And hadn’t hurt anyone innocent too much. He turned to Valérie, who had appeared at his side. “If anyone asks, we were not involved in that mess.”

    *****​

    “They’ve captured a marked Death Eater.”

    Harry Potter looked up from the parchment on his desk when his girlfriend entered the abandoned classroom they had appropriated and interrupted his Ancient Runes homework. Ron was not there, he was studying with Padma. Again.

    He blinked. “That was quicker than I expected.” He wasn’t sure how to feel about the fact that there was now a Death Eater imprisoned at Hogwarts. It was a good thing, a blow against the Dark Lord. But it meant that his girlfriend would studying the Dark Mark.

    “Yes. Sirius was apparently complaining about not getting to help much with the mission.” Hermione met his eyes. Waiting, Harry realized.

    The young wizard almost frowned. He knew just how dangerous those abominations were. Hermione was taking a big risk, even with Dumbledore there. And yet he knew she had been waiting for the opportunity. So he smiled. “That’s good.”

    She sighed and walked over to him, sitting down in his lap. Apparently, she had seen through his facade. “I have to do this. You know that.” She ran a finger over his scar, tracing the tissue, before caressing his hair.

    “I know. Doesn’t mean I like you taking that risk.” He could stop her. Order her not to. For a brief, weak moment, he considered it. And dropped the thought. He couldn’t do that to her.

    “I’m your girlfriend, your retainer, and a muggleborn. I’m already at risk. This is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.”

    He knew that. He still didn’t like it. But Hermione needed it. Needed to be able to do something to help him with … his scar. His enemy. He nodded, and hugged her. “Who told you?”

    “Sirius did. He’ll be bringing the computer to Hogwarts too. I told him he couldn’t apparate with it, or portkey or floo travel it.” Hermione kissed his cheek, and snuggled in his lap.

    “You mean…”

    “Yes. His bike can handle the load.”

    “Aren’t you, maybe, being overly cautious? A shrink spell, and Hedwig could have carried it.” His owl wouldn’t be pleased at Sirius usurping her position.

    “I hadn’t had the time to test that with a cheap computer.”

    Harry frowned and stared at her. “Do you really think that the computer could be affected by magic spells? You said it was the wards, not magic itself, that harmed electronics.”

    “Well… certain spells could duplicate some ward’s effects. Or they could affect the electronics. It’s energy, power, after all.” Hermione fidgeted a bit. He knew that expression.

    “And you like sending Sirius on an hours-long flight. After telling him he can’t cast any warming charms or other spells to make it more comfortable.” Harry shook his head.

    “Well… I still owe him for that last prank.” She grinned.

    “And did we really have to carry the package without magic?”

    “That might have been a bit overly cautious.” She smiled at him. “But better safe than sorry, right?”

    He groaned. “Aren’t you supposed to be the responsible one?”

    “I am. Compared to your godfather at least.” She stuck out her tongue at him.

    He shook his head again, then kissed her.

    On second thought, Sirius deserved it, for corrupting his girlfriend.

    *****​

    Pansy Parkinson watched as the students filled the Great Hall in the evening, taking their seats for the evening meal. It looked like nothing had changed, and yet something should have changed, or so she thought. Draco was dead. He hadn’t been the power he thought, not even within his own house, but he had been more than a common student. More than a Slytherin. His death, his absence, should be felt somehow by the entire school.

    And yet, outside her own house, nothing seemed to have changed. No students stared at a spot left empty in his remembrance. Not even Potter seemed to search subconsciously for Draco. Had her former boyfriend really been that insignificant to the Boy-Who-Lived? She didn’t know. But she suspected that this was the case. After all, Potter had been dealing with several attempts on his life, and was one of the Dark Lord’s personal enemies. Why would he care about some silly boy claiming to be his rival?

    She remembered how she had been questioned by those aurors after Draco’s body had been found. It had been a rather distressing experience. A reminder that Hogwarts was just a school, a place for children to learn magic. To fool around. And to delude themselves into thinking that all the games played there mattered. The little games of one-upmanship, the pranking, even the house cup and detentions… Who cared about school feuds when a war was raging outside the school? Who cared about cliques and house points when lives, when entire families were at stake? Apart from that twit Greengrass, of course.

    Hogwarts was a safe haven in the middle of a brutal war. And sooner rather than later, Pansy would have to graduate and leave the school.

    She saw Crabbe and Goyle sitting down at the end of the table, a number of younger students giving them space. The two hulking wizards looked lost. Even among the Slytherins, they had been the only ones truly affected by Draco’s death. They had been Draco’s shadows, his bodyguards, maybe his only true friends, if he had been able to have any, and he had left them. First when he had run away, then when he had died. She knew many were wondering, privately and not so privately, what the two knew of the entire… tragedy.

    Pansy snorted. If the two had known anything, then the aurors would have found out, and it would have spread through the Ministry. She knew Crabbe and Goyle better than most others. Those two hadn’t the brains to hide anything. If they were a danger to anyone, they’d not be at Hogwarts.

    The two Slytherins had always done what Draco ordered them to, and in turn, he had taken care of them. In his own way, at least. She blinked. For all that mattered, they had been Draco’s retainers. Loyal like a Hufflepuff, and dumb as a Gryffindor. Pureblood retainers. A mind-boggling concept. Not something one could talk about without risking a duel.

    And now they had lost their ‘patron’. If they were retainers, Draco’s heir would pick them up. But they weren’t. They were purebloods, after all. Sooner or later someone would slip into Draco’s old position. But for now, everyone in Slytherin was still avoiding them. Afraid of getting involved, exposed, endangered. So predictable.

    There was an opportunity for her. She knew them, they knew her - or thought they knew her. And she was pretty certain they were not a danger to her. But were they in danger themselves, just for associating, having associated with Draco? If they were, then so was Pansy herself, probably. So what did she have to lose?

    Her still fragile reputation among the other houses, and especially Potter’s circle. Taking Draco’s thugs under her wing wouldn’t help her plans. A month ago, that would have been enough to drop the idea in favor of other prospects. Play some games with Gryffindors, see if she could seduce Weasley in sixth year, sabotage Greengrass’s laughable attempts to land Potter.

    But now? Draco’s death had shown that the war wasn’t just a thing that happened to mudbloods. To other people. To adults. She couldn’t count on two more years of safety at Hogwarts. She couldn’t count on the war ending in two years either - the last war, the one people now were calling the First Blood War, had lasted for more than a decade.

    It was time to stop playing children’s games, and think ahead, past Hogwarts.

    Pansy stood up and walked over to the end of the table, her plate and cup floating after her. Crabbe and Goyle looked up when she was about to sit down next to them, and Goyle scooted a bit over, causing a first year to move away some more, freeing more space for Pansy.

    She sat down, smiling at the two. Up close, it was clear that they were not doing well. Crabbe looked tired, and Goyle was pushing his food around. For those two, whom she had seen suffer broken bones without a whimper in Quidditch, that was almost like crying openly. Briefly she wondered if Draco would have shown such a reaction to their death. Or hers.

    Then she buried that thought. Draco was dead. Pansy, Crabbe and Goyle were alive. And she’d make sure they all would stay that way.

    “We need to talk. After dinner,” Pansy said.

    Both wizards nodded. She liked to think they’d look a bit relieved, but she was probably fooling herself. She didn’t know the two that well, after all. Not yet.

    *****​

    “Buggering Broomsticks!”

    Ron Weasley heard Hermione hiss in response to his cursing. She’d not admonish him though, even if they were under the effect of a privacy spell. It was still too public for the girl to act like that.

    “Look at Parkinson! She’s making a move on Draco’s thugs!” he whispered.

    “Oh.” Hermione had missed that, probably due to her reading a book on her lap. If she was this bad already, the coming months before their O.W.L.s would be hell.

    Harry glanced over, and muttered a curse of his own under his breath. “Think she wants to become Draco’s replacement?”

    “We’ll know when she comes over to our table and sprouts insults and boasts about her family.” Ron scoffed.

    “Well, that’s not much of a problem then. More like a nuisance,” Harry sounded almost amused.

    “And she’d stop pursuing you in that case,” Hermione added helpfully before taking a sip from the cup hovering near her.

    “That would be totally worth the added hassle,” Ron smiled. Things would go back to normal. Flirting snakes were… weird. If they were back to exchanging insults instead of training together, Padma would love it. He would love it too, of course.

    “It’s a bit weird though,” Neville cut in, “that she’d split from Draco, and now tries to get his old friends back.

    “Friends? I’m not certain Draco understood the meaning of that word.” Hermione scoffed.

    “Tools can be a great help in the right hands,” Luna commented while her fork circled around the sausage plate, before diving and spearing two at once. It returned towards her plate, slowly, and the Ravenclaw’s knife rose, starting to cut the sausages apart while they were still in the air.

    “Parkinson’s hands are not the right hands though,” Padma said, glaring at the witch in question. Ron only nodded in agreement - he didn’t want another discussion about the Slytherin’s supposedly wandering hands.

    “Would you rather have them following Greengrass?” Aicha asked.

    “Well, then they’d be looming behind her while she tries to flirt with Harry,” Ron said. That would be funny. Funnier than them looming behind Parkinson while she flirted with himself.

    Ginny, Aicha and Luna giggled at that. Harry looked nonplussed and Hermione scowled. Ron’s muggleborn friend was almost as angry at Greengrass as Padma was at Parkinson. It made the self-defense lessons rather interesting. In the Chinese sense, as Hermione would quote some muggle saying. And not in the Japanese sense, as she corrected him often enough.

    Maybe things would change now. Hermione was already far too tense, with O.W.L.s, her new project, that other project they couldn’t talk about with anyone, not even their friends, and her parents in hiding. If she ever lost it…

    Ron shuddered at the thought.

    *****​

    “Good evening, Harry, Miss Granger. You are right on time.”

    “Good evening, Headmaster,” Harry bowed his head slightly while Hermione Granger smiled at Dumbledore. The young muggleborn witch was excited and nervous. This evening she’d finally get to analyze the Dark Mark!

    She glanced at Harry. Her boyfriend was smiling politely, but his eyes showed he still didn’t really approve of the whole plan. She understood him, but they had no choice.

    “Miss Granger and I will proceed to the special room. My office will be sealed, if anything or anyone needs my presence, please tap this device,” the Headmaster explained while pointing at a slowly rotating contraption on his desk. Usually, Hermione would have wanted to analyze the item, find out how it worked, but not tonight. Tonight she wanted to see the Dark Mark.

    Harry nodded at the old wizard, then pulled Hermione into his arms, hugging her briefly. She was surprised, but hugged him back at once.

    “Don’t get hurt,” he whispered into her ear before they separated again.

    “I won’t.”

    The young witch glanced at Dumbledore. Such a display of affection was a bit of a faux pas in in public. The Headmaster acted as if he hadn’t noticed though. He didn’t seem to mind either, judging by his smile.

    “Keep an eye on Fawkes, please - and don’t feed him, no matter how much he begs. Otherwise, feel free to peruse my office library here.” The old wizard pointed at a shelf stacked with books. Hermione felt a brief surge of jealousy. She reminded herself of what she would be doing, and that those books were surely not that rare. She still felt a little twinge.

    “I wish I could join you,” Harry muttered.

    “Unfortunately, your scar makes that a rather dangerous proposition, Harry,” Dumbledore said, smiling gently. “You’ll have to content yourself with ‘holding down the fort’, as the saying goes I believe. Not a glamorous task, but a needed one nevertheless. As far as anyone else knows, with the possible exception of Mister Weasley, you’re receiving special lessons here in my office.”

    Hermione hoped she didn’t blush at the mentioning of Ron. He was their best friend, and they’d not keep that from him.

    Harry sighed, and sat down on a conjured seat.

    Dumbledore nodded. “Let us go then.” A swish of his wand opened a door that hadn’t been there before, revealing a narrow passage. A secret passage. Before Hermione could ask, the Headmaster already answered: “It’s not known to our resident troublemakers. As smart as they are, they haven’t explored the castle as thoroughly as they think.”

    Hermione could believe that - even more when, after a few steps, they were in the dungeons. Obviously, this passage used a lot of magic. It might even be formed on demand, and not be permanent. Again, the witch suppressed her curiosity. She had more important things to find out tonight.

    With a flick of his wand, the wizard revealed a secret door, and behind it, a laboratory. Well-stocked, and seemingly well-used, but… something was off. She would have expected stricter security. Better defenses. Hermione frowned while she tried to puzzle this out.

    She didn’t have to. Dumbledore waved his wand, and a fake wall disappeared, exposing a truly massive door - a vault door, actually. Blinking, Hermione realized it was covered with runes. To cover up her surprise and awe, she said “Gringotts must be jealous.”

    Dumbledore chuckled, then touched the door with his wand, causing it to slowly swing open. Behind that was the real laboratory. Marble floors and walls, etched with runes, as Hermione saw.

    She followed the Headmaster inside and watched with some trepidation how the door closed behind her. Anything locked up here would never get out. Like the Death Eater who was supposed to be here… ah! He had been disillusioned.

    “I trust you deem the location safe enough?”

    “Yes, sir.” She was already staring at the left arm of the man, where a torn sleeve exposed his Dark Mark. He wasn’t moving at all, and she’d have thought he was dead, if not for the small tell-tales of … “Draught of Living Death?”

    “Exactly, Miss Granger.” Dumbledore beamed at her while he levitated the prisoner to the table in the center of the room, then vanished his robe. Metal bands slid into place, holding him secure and on the table. She noticed that there a few differently colored bands - Dumbledore wasn’t taking any chances.

    Hermione took a step towards the Death Eater. It was a sensible precaution. While the potion should keep him from waking up, or feeling pain, no one but the Dark Lord himself knew what his mark could do. Yet.

    She cast a detection spell, idly noting that Dumbledore tapped his reading glasses, then focused on the black mark. It looked harmless at first. Like a mere tattoo.

    “Do you see the enchantments woven into the skin? Almost hidden by the ink, it’s the first layer of deception - and defense.” Dumbledore sounded like he was teaching in a classroom.

    “I do. It keeps the mark from fading, and restores it when damaged, or hidden.” Quite clever, though at first sight nothing extraordinary.

    “Exactly. Though the marks do fade and grow with Voldemort’s power, so they have a connection. Hidden and buried, protected by the darkest curses. Soul magic.”

    Hermione took a deep breath. Soul magic was almost taboo in Wizarding Britain. Most of the known spells were banned. All rituals were. The potential for abuse was too vast. And the consequences of mistakes could literally be worse than death. Very, very carefully, she started to focus on the strands of magic she could see. Even without trying to prod, or unravel them, there was a certain danger - she had read about curses that entranced an observer, trapping them with hypnotic, shifting patterns.

    But forewarned was forearmed. She forced herself to look away regularly, to let her attention wander, jump from one part to the next, instead of focusing too much on one enchantment. The Headmaster’s commentary helped, of course - especially when he pointed out things she had missed. Anger at her failures was an excellent way to keep alert and distanced. Or so she told herself.

    She was here to observe, to learn, anyway, not to break the curses. That was the Headmaster’s task. And he was working hard, she could see that, as he unraveled, spell by spell, the first layer of the Dark Mark. The entrancing curse, and the enchantments that formed and retained the appearance of the mark. And below them…

    Hermione shuddered at the vile stench that seemed to fill the room when Dumbledore’s wand had stripped away the last parts of the first layer. She was choking, bile rising in her throat, until she canceled her detection spell. Panting, she fought against vomiting, retched, but did not lose her meal. It was disgusting, horrible, far worse than feeling in a Dementor’s aura. Because despite all that, part of her wanted to recast her spell, to look at it again. The witch shuddered and shivered, hugging herself.

    Even the Headmaster seemed affected. He sat down with his eyes closed, breathing heavily. “That was… a tad more powerful than I expected. I fear we have our work cut out for us. It is a very good thing Harry wasn’t with us.”

    “That’s… I don’t know. How many layers are there?” Hermione managed to bring her stomach back under her control.

    “I cannot say yet. Let us leave the premises - so close to the partially exposed mark, we’ll have a harder time recovering.”

    “It’ll take us a long time to unravel the mark, won’t it?”

    “Yes, Miss Granger. And we cannot rush this, or we will make a fatal mistake. Or worse, we might be affected by the more subtle effects of it.”

    “What do you mean, sir?” Hermione was flattered that the Headmaster was talking as if she was doing anything but observing him and the mark.

    Dumbledore tapped the door, opening it, and stepped into the fake laboratory, where he conjured a seat for himself and one for Hermione. As soon as the vault door closed again, the witch felt better, happier. Cleaner.

    The Headmaster sighed loudly. “All that lives has to die one day. The horcrux, preventing death, is one of the most fundamentally wrong, unnatural things. It fights against nature itself. As such, it corrupts all it touches. Tom managed to contain that effect, somehow, or all his marked followers would have been easy to spot. When I unraveled part of the mark’s enchantment, part of that containment failed as well, so to speak.”

    Merlin! That hadn’t even been the full effect of a horcrux? Hermione gaped.

    Dumbledore smiled. “Indeed, Miss Granger, worse things await us. Neither I nor Harry would think ill of you if you’d prefer to…”

    “No, sir. I will do and endure what it takes to solve this.” Hermione met his eyes, unflinchingly.

    Sighing, the old Wizard nodded, acknowledging her statement. “I didn’t expect any other answer, truth be told. But heed my words: It will be a long, hard journey, and it will leave you changed.”

    “I expect that. It’s worth it.” Hermione pushed her chin up. She was no quitter.

    “Even if it might cause you to lose the love of he whom you are doing this for?”

    She swallowed, then nodded. As long as Harry survived, and was happy...

    “I see. He is fortunate, very fortunate, to have your dedication.” He looked rather sad when he said it thought.

    The two remained in silence for a few minutes, resting.

    “Sir?”

    “Yes?”

    “Soul magic. It’s practically banned in Britain.”

    “And in most civilized magical countries.”

    “Some claim a Patronus shows a person’s soul,” Hermione continued. Or their totem spirit, a Native American Shaman would say.

    “Ah… that spell shows their spirit, their emotions. Maybe their magic itself. But it doesn’t show a soul. A soul is almost impossible to display. Or to directly affect with magic.”

    “And indirectly?” Hermione needed to know how to affect a soul, to destroy Voldemort’s.

    “Through our actions, we shape our soul.” Dumbledore spread his hands. “Our deeds, ill or good. Magical or not.”

    “And yet there is such a thing as soul magic. Magic that can split a soul, and bind it.” Hermione countered.

    “Yes. There are even the darkest rituals that sacrifice a soul.” The Headmaster shuddered for an instant.

    “Oh.” That might be a way to achieve what she thought..

    Dumbledore narrowed his eyes at her. “Those rituals do not just sacrifice a soul, they also demand a horrible price from the caster. That particular payment is usually delayed until they die though.”

    “Oh. I see. Is that the reason he fears death so much?” Was she willing to sacrifice so much for Harry? But then again, there were ways around that, Indirect ways, and not those the Headmaster had mentioned.

    “Maybe. I might know Tom better than anyone else, but not even I can understand all his thoughts.”

    “It makes me wonder though, sir,” Hermione marshalled her courage. “Otherwise, why would he fear death so much, if he knows that there is an afterlife?”

    “Ah, Miss Granger. Humans, including wizards and witches, tend to fear what they do not understand. And no one understands the afterlife,” Dumbledore said, nodding gravely at her.

    “But… we know souls exist. We know ghosts exist. Why don’t we know what happens after death?” Hermione wasn’t about to ask which religion was correct. She could deduce that, after all.

    Dumbledore chuckled, briefly. “Ah, but ghosts do not know what happens after death either. They are but mere copies, imprints, of the men and women they were. Like paintings. Actually, wizard paintings originated as an attempt to create a sort of artificial ghost. The ability to copy a memory and pensieves to watch it were developed as the technique was refined over the centuries.”

    “So… no one knows what happens when we die. Where our souls go.” That was a sad state of affairs, in her opinion. Such an important question, left unanswered.

    “Exactly. For all our knowledge, for all our magic, wizards are left in the same position as muggles where the afterlife is concerned: We can but have faith.” The old wizard smiled. “Let us rejoin Harry in my office. I think we have recovered enough so that he will not be unduly worried.”

    Hermione nodded. She felt guilty about deceiving Harry like that, but it was for his own good. She needed to do this, to save him.

    *****​

    Ron Weasley was concerned. Hermione was much quieter than usual, even counting the fact she was studying in their room before today’s Self-defense Club meeting. Some might think she had calmed down, but he knew better. Whatever she had done last night, with Dumbledore, had exhausted her. And shaken her. He looked at Harry, then nodded towards the witch. “Hm?”

    Harry shook his head. “She said it’s harder than she thought.” He kept his voice low, then seemed to reconsider and cast a privacy spell.

    “That’s all?” Ron was surprised. Hermione wasn’t one to brag, but that sounded like the understatement of the month. She usually was more the lecturing type. She had to be hiding something then.

    “That’s all she said.” Harry frowned.

    “She doesn’t want you to worry.”

    “And that makes me worry even more.” His friend grit his teeth.

    “She’s with the Headmaster though, she’ll be fine.” Ron tried to sound more confident than he was.

    “That’s what I am telling me to stop myself from…” the wizard trailed off.

    “... doing something she’ll make you regret,” Ron finished for him. When Harry stared at him, he chuckled. “Hey, I’m not the smartest guy around, but I know you two, mate.”

    “If you know me and her so well, what should I do then?” Harry glared at him.

    “Trust her. It’s all about trust. Trust me about that.” He patted Harry’s shoulder.

    “You sound like you speak from experience.”

    “Yes. Wish it was different, but… if you don’t trust your girlfriend, things won’t go well.” Ron sighed.

    “Padma still has issues?” Harry looked surprised.

    “She’s still insecure. Parkinson, Hermione, even Luna can set her off.” Fortunately, Lavender and Parvati couldn’t, anymore.

    “Do you trust her?”

    “I try.” Ron checked his watch. “It’s time to head out for the club meeting.”

    Harry ended the privacy spell, and went to disturb Hermione’s studying. Ron got up, and cleaned up the couch they had been on with a spell. A minute later, they were on the way to the training room.

    Trouble found them a corridor away from the club room. Trouble wearing tight dueling robes in Slytherin colors. Parkinson.

    “Mister Potter, Mister Weasley, might I have a quick word?” The snake’s voice sounded as polite as her demand required. Pretty formal, but formal had its uses. Especially when talking with a snake, when the alternative was hexing.

    Ron wanted to brush her off, but that would have been rude. And Harry was all about not being rude. His friend had learned the rules very well, but he hadn’t learned when those rules could be relaxed. Ron wasn’t sure that could be learned without growing up pureblood.

    So it came as no surprise when Harry nodded, and gestured to the closest classroom. “This should serve well. I trust this won’t take long, we have a meeting to attend to.”

    “Thank you, Mister Potter. It’s about the lesson I wanted to speak about.” Parkinson smiled. “I’d like two acquaintances of mine to attend as well.”

    Merlin’s broken balls! The snake wanted to bring Malfoy’s thugs into the Self-defense Club? Ron stared at the crazy snake. Why wasn’t her hair changing colour, and where were the pimples? Had she broken Hermione’s curse?

    “You mean Crabbe and Goyle,” Harry said, and Ron saw how tense he was.

    “Yes. I am aware of past … tensions… with your friends, but I spoke with both, and I’m certain they’ll not cause any trouble.” Parkinson smiled, trying to cover up the fact that she had been part of that “past tension” more often than not.

    “I find that … difficult to believe.” Harry wasn’t budging. Good!

    “Please,” Parkinson’s smile slipped a bit, just a hint of that familiar sneer shining through. “They just did what Draco told them to do, without asking questions. Or thinking twice.”

    Ron would have said ‘or thinking’, period. He wasn’t sure if the two Slytherins were as smart as Fang, Hagrid’s stupid dog. He was certain Crookshanks was smarter than the two put together - no one else had spotted the rat animagus, after all.

    “And now, with Draco gone, they do what you tell them to?” Harry sounded doubting.

    “Yes,” Parkinson nodded, smiling widely.

    “Will you take responsibility then, should they act out of line?”

    “Yes.” She nodded firmly.

    Ron was still staring. His friend couldn’t really consider… he saw Harry glance at Hermione. Damn. He was considering it. And Hermione? The girl was pulling out her schedules. Her cursed schedules.

    Ron smiled. That would quickly end this plot. Parkinson might have broken the curse on her, but she wouldn’t be able to break the curse on the two thugs. Then he frowned. If Parkinson had broken the curse on her, then she’d know about the curse, and wouldn’t try to sneak Crabbe and Goyle in the club without having taken counter-measures.

    Damn.

    *****​

    Pansy Parkinson, taking a break after several stinging hexes had broken through her shield and hit her rump, was surprised how easy it had been to get her two new… acquaintances trained with the rest of the club. Given their history, and her own, with Potter, she’d have expected a lot more opposition, even with her using the old forms Potter was so fond of. Simply stating she’d take responsibility for their actions shouldn’t have been enough. She knew, now at least, she was not that convincing, and that Potter and especially his mudblood retainer, were not that dumb.

    That meant they had a second wand hidden up their sleeve. And seeing as Potter was one of the Dark Lord’s personal enemies, it probably wouldn’t be something prepared by Granger, but something serious.

    Pansy glanced at Sirius Black, Potter’s godfather, head of the Black Family, and heir to Malfoy’s gold if the rumors from the Ministry were to be believed. He cut a dashing figure, clad in dark duelling robes, with a veela at his side and another nearby. Charming too, especially with the witches. The Greengrass twit was fluttering her eyes at him so often, she’d float away if she was a bit less top heavy.

    Pansy almost snorted. He was a Black. Underneath the charming facade, he was the head of the darkest, most feared family in Britain. The first person, ever, to break out of Azkaban. After spending over a decade in that prison. Bellatrix Lestrange’s cousin.

    The witch shivered. She didn’t want to run afoul of such a person. Whatever measures he had taken to keep Potter safe wouldn’t be aimed at pranking children, but at Death Eaters. And given his family, she’d likely have nightmares just seeing their effects.

    Maybe she shouldn’t have taken Crabbe and Goyle under her wing. She trusted them not to do something stupid without orders, but did she trust them with her life? How far would Black go, should they mess up, in forcing her to take responsibility? If Black followed the old laws…

    She shivered. She’d better make certain, again, that her two acquaintances behaved. They were currently training with Weasley. Which meant they were getting hexed while trying to cast shield charms. That wasn’t a good thing. Both were slow to anger, but if they ever got going...

    *****​

    “Mister Weasley, might I have a word? In private?”

    Ron Weasley, waiting for the other students to leave the room after the club’s meeting had ended, frowned for an instant before smiling politely at the snake. “Of course.” He ignored the way she nodded at the door, and simply cast a privacy spell, enjoying the way her eyes widened in surprise and hopefully annoyance. It wasn’t quite rude to deliberately miss her intention, but it wasn’t exactly polite either. But not even his mother would scold him for not going somewhere private with Parkinson.

    Hearing the faint buzz that indicated no one would be listening in, and after making sure his friends were keeping an eye on him - not that Padma would be leaving him out of hers - he smiled at the Slytherin. “How can I help you, Miss Parkinson?”

    “You could help me by not trying to curse Crabbe and Goyle into the Infirmary,” she spat out while glaring at him.

    “Pardon? I’ve been tutoring them. Everyone got cast at. You were hexed quite often as well.” Ron used his height to glower down at her.

    “I can cast a decent shield charm. They can’t. And they won’t be learning anything if all they can do is getting hit with hexes.” She didn’t seem to be intimidated by his height.

    “They’ll learn. Stinging hexes are a great motivation.”

    “I know them. They won’t. They’ll learn how to ignore the hexes, instead of trying to shield against them.”

    Ron blinked. “That’s stupid!” Trying to ignore pain, instead of trying to avoid it?

    “That’s them.” She was still glaring at him, so that probably hadn’t been a joke. “So, stop hexing them until they can cast a shield reliably!”

    “Shouldn’t they have learned that by now?” The look she shot at him told him enough.

    “I’ll go easy on them then.” He almost added ‘are you happy now?’, as if he was not talking to a snake.

    “Thank you.” She nodded at him, a brief smile on her face, then turned away. Probably to collect the the two thugs before they got lost in the castle.

    Ron dropped the privacy spell, and shook his head, grinning. He still didn’t know what Parkinson was planning, but he had foiled it at least for today, and without knowing it. And she had lost her smug flirty act too.

    When he noticed Padma’s glare, and Harry’s and Hermione’s raised eyebrows, he thought that maybe, he shouldn’t have grinned so much right after talking with Parkinson.

    *****​

    After several months of visits, Viktor Krum was getting used to muggle Britain. Or at least, muggle London. While there was no magic, and the clothes were a bit too prude for his taste, and there were too many muggles around, it offered advantages over Wizarding Britain that were very hard to beat. He could walk around without drawing a crowd of fans. He could walk around without having to fear an attack by Death Eaters. And he could walk around with Nymphadora Black-Tonks.

    His girlfriend’s fascination with the muggle world hadn’t been a passing fancy. Almost every time he visited, they went ‘clubbing’ in London. Or shopping. Like today. They had just been in a ‘records’ shop, and were now on their way to another.

    “You know, it’s weird that muggles are still so prude, with that kind of advertising,” he said, pointing at the picture - not a moving one, unfortunately - of a barely-clad girl that covered the part of a house.

    Nymphadora looked at it, then nodded. “They only wear that on the beach, and in the movies, but they show it in the city.” She ran a hand over her own clothes. “But they’re making progress. This outfit isn’t that bad.”

    Viktor had to agree - his girlfriend looked quite fetching in those muggle clothes. Mostly leather, black and glossy. And not too much of it.

    “Did you know that more wizards and witches are visiting the muggle world than ever before? I’ve heard the Obliviator Corps is complaining about having much more work too. They apparently lay the blame on Muggle Studies at Hogwarts, even though that’s just an elective.” Nymphadora grinned.

    “Are they genuinely interested in muggles, or simply fleeing the war?”

    The grin vanished. “The latter. I hope a number will discover just how fascinating muggle culture is, but most simply want to be able to relax without fear. Gringotts is probably making a killing too, exchanging galleons for muggle paper money.”

    She still looked a bit sad, so he pulled her close to him and kissed her cheek. Which led to her pulling his head around and kissing him ‘properly’. Later, when they heard a few teenagers whistling, they broke apart. Viktor glared at the insolent children, but they only laughed and passed them. Nymphadora giggled.

    He nodded at a muggle restaurant. “Let’s get something to eat.”

    It wasn’t a McDonald’s, nor a fish and chips shop, but an Italian restaurant. Which meant pasta or pizza. They chose one of each, and shared. And fed each other. Viktor loved that kind of casual intimacy. Just two lovers, eating together.

    When they were waiting for their dessert - tiramisu - he addressed the manticore in the room again. “How is the war going?”

    His girlfriend frowned. “Not bad, not well. We kill them, they kill us. So far we seem to be killing more of them than we’re losing, but no one has any idea how many wands the Dark Lord has.”

    “My family owes the Dark Lord a debt of blood.” Lala. The Dark Lord had been behind that attack, that much was now clear. Whether or not the man blamed for it had been a patsy, or a middleman, didn’t matter. Blood called for blood.

    “Are you asking if you can come over and join the war?” Nymphadora’s eyes widened in surprise.

    A number of his relatives, first among them is brother, wanted just that. Viktor had, so far, managed to convince them they shouldn’t. “If we’re needed. We’re not that many, but we have many friends.”

    “So far we’re holding out fine, and I’m not certain the Ministry would be thrilled to drag your family into the war. Fudge hates looking weak,” Nymphadora explained, leaning back. “But I’ve heard that Dumbledore expects the Dark Lord to look to the continent for more recruits.”

    He understood at once. “And that means, recruiters will appear.”

    “Yes. Some of the Headmaster’s friends are supposedly already working against them, but they are few, and the continent is big.”

    “I’ll pass it along. My country’s got a history on the Balkans.” A bloody one, dating back before the wars that had bought their freedom from the Ottoman Empire.

    “Thank you.” Nymphadora smiled, and rolled her neck, getting rid of a few kinks. He appreciated the effect that had on her tight top.

    “There’s something else I’d like to ask.” He had been wanting to ask for months now. Hesitating, doubting. But they were at war. Nymphadora was at the frontlines, even. Time might be running out any day.

    “Yes?” she cocked her head slightly to the side, looking at him.

    “I’d like to send my best friend to visit your family.”

    She gasped. A good sign - she knew what that meant, which meant she knew about the Bulgarian traditions. The wide smile that broke out on her face was an even better sign, as were the tears in her eyes.

    But the best sign was how she grabbed his shirt, and pulled him halfway over the table to kiss him.

    *****​

    Gilderoy Lockhart smiled indulgently at the 6th year witch who was trying to seduce him. Not that he wasn’t tempted, she was very pretty, and her robes left little to the imagination, but… he was a teacher. “I’m afraid, Miss Waters, that for tutoring, you should ask Professor Lupin. I am covering the lower years.”

    “But isn’t it a good idea to review the basics as well? I’m sure it would help my upcoming N.E.W.T. year studies very much if I could go over what I might have missed in my earlier years. It’s been a long time, after all, since I was a first year.” Waters was not giving up easily, he had to admit. She was leaning forward slightly, her robes parting a tiny but more, and her eyes were big, and pleasing. And promising.

    “That is true, but I wouldn’t want to put my colleague out by poaching, so to speak,” he began to let her down, again.

    “Someone mentioned poaching? And didn’t inform me?” The cheery voice of Jenny interrupted him. Waters jerked, then frowned - she didn’t like Gilderoy’s best friend.

    The famous author smiled widely at her though. “Jenny! What news do you bring us?”

    “We’ve finished another lesson without serious wounds. Almost boring.”

    He forced himself to laugh louder than usual, even though he wasn’t certain she was joking.

    “And who’s that?” Jenny smiled at Waters, who winced in return. Gilderoy could understand that - Jenny had her toothy smile on. The kind she used to scare annoying tourists - or class XXX creatures.

    “That’s Miss Waters. She was asking for tutoring, and I was just about to refer her to Remus.”

    “Ah, good idea! But you might want to watch your robe, Miss - he might get the wrong impression if you show up like this.”

    “Thank you, Miss Jenny,” Waters forced herself to say, and then fled his office with almost undue haste.

    Jenny closed the door with a wave of her wand, then fell into the next seat, propping up her boots on the couch table. Gilderoy cast a scourgify on both boots and table. Spider ichor stains were hard to get out if left alone for too long.

    “So, the chits are still trying to get in your pants.” She shook her head slightly at him.

    He nodded, sighing. “Mister Potter is, unfortunately, not willing to take them off my hands. Even though he would be a far more proper target for their affections and offers.”

    “Smart wizard.” A flick of her wand summoned a bottle of beer. Her own stash, which had somehow ended up in his office. She probably had bottles of that stuff stashed all around the castle by now. “Cached” she called it, making depots with foods for an expedition.

    “So, how goes the research?”

    “Oh, it’s going well. We’ve managed to cross the two spiders, and enlarge them. Now all we need to do is to create a spell that conjures the result.” She must have noticed his expression, since she frowned. “Yeah, yeah, I know. That’s a tall order. You wouldn’t know a spellcrafter, by chance, who is taking commissions and won’t sell the result to interested parties?”

    “Actually, I think I can help you out there.”

    He loved the way her expression softened when she was truly surprised. And impressed.

    *****​

    The Dark Lord Voldemort frowned when he entered the basement where Steinberg worked, and by all accounts, lived as well. He smelled fresh blood. Again. That likely meant another experiment had failed.

    “My lord!” Steinberg greeted him, stepping over the mass of flesh blood and bones in the middle of the testing room that probably had been a wizard or witch a short time ago.

    “Steinberg. Another failure?” He nodded at the corpse.

    “Yes, but a promising one. The wand remained stable for far longer than before. A few more experiments, and they should be ready for deployment.” The wandmaker smiled eagerly.

    Voldemort kept his annoyance hidden. Steinberg was one of the best wandmakers he knew, and it wouldn’t do to antagonize him needlessly. Even though his special wands were still not ready to be used by anyone but expendable curse fodder. Which he hadn’t that many at his disposal anymore. “And when will they be as stable as normal wands?”

    “Oh, that’s hard to say. This is a new field of the Dark Arts, after all, and so I might need to try out several ways to reinforce them.” The wizard suddenly seemed to understand the reason for the question. “Did your plans change?”

    “In a manner of speaking, yes. I think your masterworks shouldn’t be wasted on weak expendable fodder, but used by my best followers, in a surprise strike against the heart of my enemies.“

    “Oh. That will take more time then. I was focusing on gaining the best results for about one week - enough for an important mission and some safety margin. For a permanently stable wand, I would… hm…” Steinberg rubbed his chin, heedless of the streak of blood that left on his pale skin.

    “Do you best, wandmaker, and you will make history.”

    “Of course! I need more experiments though.”

    And that meant he needed more subjects to experiment on. Which meant another drain on his dwindling pool of hired wands. But it would be the height of foolishness to use prisoners for these kind of experiments. “I will send a volunteer down. But you’d best clean up this mess, or he might get spooked.”

    “Of course, of course!”

    The Dark Lord left the wandmaker’s realm, and returned to his study. One problem was taken care of, even if it was a minor one, and showed great promise still. That left another problem to be tackled, before he could focus on his main plan.

    The prophecy. He still needed to get his hands on the prophecy. But he hadn’t found any wizard or witch yet that had been the subject of another prophecy, and therefore would be allowed to enter the Hall of Prophecies. Suddenly, his eyes widened. He hadn’t found one - but maybe he could create one. Fake one.

    All he needed was the words of a prophecy that hadn’t come to pass yet, and he could find someone who would fit.

    It was time to sift through any works on Divination he could find.


    Chapter 35: Preparations
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2015
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  5. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    As is now almost usual: Does anyone have a better suggestion for the title?
     
  6. Beyogi

    Beyogi I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Dark Preparations maybe?

    Anyway, this is becoming more and more interesting. Pansi is playing gamese out of habit - let's hope she doesn't get herself killed. Nobody misses Draco. And Voldi is making progress on the Dark wands. What do they do anyway? Trap a soul in the wand?
     
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  7. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Changed it to "Changes".
     
  8. Photon

    Photon Getting out there.

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    I wonder whatever computer is going to behave like on in Hollywood movie or is it going to be at least resembling real ones. In the second case I think that Hermione at least at first is not going to find any new useful spells. It will rather result in proving that that theory behind Arithmancy is not sound. Like it happened with processing of images, natural language, generating chemical compounds and many other cases where introducing computers will blind iterating over possibilities mainly proved that entire thing is more complicated than expected.

    Computer and investigating Mark reminded me about certain book - "IGNITION! An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants by John D. Clark". It is really interesting book that is highly amusing and it has better "MAD MAGICAL SCIENCE!" than most stories that are fully fictional and do it on purpose.

    Quotes below are from from chapter "High Density and the Higher Foolishness"

    Unfortunately Ignition! is out of print, not sold in electronic form - but for example http://www.bookride.com/2007/03/ignition-informal-history-of-liquid.html has link to pdf at http://library.sciencemadness.org/library/books/ignition.pdf

    Bonus quote is at http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2008/02/26/sand_wont_save_you_this_time
     
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  9. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Well, in this case, that's not the case. Arithmancy is basically math here, and computers do math. The calculator worked already, the computer just makes optimizing easier.
     
  10. Photon

    Photon Getting out there.

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    Chemistry is also basically math. The main problem is applying proper math and interpreting results.

    The same with computers - going from task "count cats on the picture" to working program is harder than building 1 km high skyscraper. The same may happen here - doing old tasks (optimization of existing spells) will work - but I would expect that finding new ones is not going to work smoothly.
     
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  11. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    But here, Wizards already have the program. They know how to create spells through math, have known how to for a millenium, have done so for centuries (since the slide rule). The computer just allows Hermione to do it all much, much faster.

    Yes, it's not a perfect simulation. There's still testing needed. But she's not trying to replace an experimental process with a simulation - all she's doing is letting the computer do the math she'd have to do by hand. And that is a task a computer can do perfectly. And thanks to that speed, she'll be able to create far more spell variants, and speed up optimization.
     
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  12. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    I believe his point was that, while the 'doing what they already do only way, way faster' part (i.e. spell refinement and optimization) will probably work, the 'doing what they theoretically knew how to do but had never actually tried because it required an intractable amount of work' part (i.e. spell creation) is likely to fail because of bugs in their untested algorithms.
     
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  13. Nemonowan

    Nemonowan Getting sticky.

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    and

    are a bit contradictory. If nobody knows what hapens after death, how can they know that those rituals extract any price at all, let alone horrible, after death?
     
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  14. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Wizards creating a "levitate spell" with Arithmancy would get one variant. They could spend the same amount of time, trying to get a (maybe just slightly) better variant. But since creating the first spell took a long time, few spend that time again and again, trying to get a better spell. With a computer, you can create those formulas in no time.

    They know that some souls don't ever reach the afterlife, for example, and spend eternity "In between". They don't know what the afterlife is.

    And Dumbledore wouldn't really tell this Hermione, who's more similar to Riddle than this Harry, that maybe those prices don't get paid at all since his goal is to keep her from delving into the Dark Arts.
     
  15. Threadmarks: Chapter 35: Preparations
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 35: Preparations

    Bertram Kettlestock kept a smile on his face even though he wanted to sneer at the mercenaries and criminals gathered in this dingy tavern in southern Albania. Scum, all of them, willing to hire on with You-Know-Who. Most of them were from the Balkans, but more than a few hailed from all over Europe.

    Near the door stood two wizards wearing the black robes of Grindelwald’s Storm Wizards - but they were far too young to have been born during that Dark Lord’s reign, much less having fought for him. They had the arrogant attitude though, the one Bertram remembered from his time as an auror dealing with some veterans from that war. Hopefully they’d not have the aptitude for dark curses as well. Across from them, and glaring at the pair, were three French or Belgian wizards. Nondescript robes, shifty attitudes - they looked more like thieves than mercenaries. Of course, appearances could be deceiving. Near them stood a witch wearing the robes of one of the Swiss Militia, with the canton’s emblem torn off. A spaniard bravo was trying to chat the witch up, but judging by her bored expression, the wizard was not having much luck.

    And there was Bertram himself, disguised as a former British hit-wizard, who had left the country after the last war. In his opinion, hit-wizards were more likely to go mercenary after a war than aurors, having trained for and knowing nothing but combat. And even though he had left the Auror Corps, he still wouldn’t want to see its reputation tarnished.

    But the majority of the two dozen wands in the tavern were Greeks and Albanians. Clearly separated into two groups, watching each other, hands twitching each time a wand was drawn to summon another drink from the bar. No one among them seemed to have forgotten the past, when Albanian wizards had been the Ottoman’s auxiliaries in the Greek War of Independence. Not that the feuding ever had ended.

    Bertram didn’t know if this was normal for this tavern - a meeting spot for mercenaries - or if tonight was a special occasion. He did know though that it wouldn’t take a lot to spark a fight, and ruin the recruiting that was supposed to be going on. Or at least, ruin half of the possible recruits for the You-Know-Who.

    He took a sip from his ale, to mask his sneer. The scum in here deserved to die for even thinking about joining the murderer of his family. Bertram had done a lot he wasn’t proud of after quitting the Ministry. But there were lines he had never crossed. He had killed, but not murdered. Least of all children.

    For a moment his eyes wandered over to the young witch among the Greeks. She looked barely old enough to pass her O.W.L.s. But she was here, and therefore she wasn’t a child anymore, but scum. Had to be. He emptied his glass and summoned another, after banishing a few coins to the bartender. He wasn’t here to care about some foreign scum, no matter their age. He was here to foil You-Know-Who’s plan. To prevent more murders in Britain. Like those that had claimed his family. His daughter… she would be studying for her N.E.W.T.s now, had she lived. His eyes wandered back to the Greek witch. She had the same hair as Seren.

    The man next to the witch had noticed his staring, and was glaring at Bertram. He looked away. How much longer were the recruiters taking? He had been hunting those two wizards for two weeks now, and this was the first such meeting he had heard of. You-Know-Who must be pretty desperate for wands, if he was trying to recruit like this. Especially if they were inviting Greeks and Albanians into the same tavern. Hadn’t Aberforth cautioned him that You-Know-Who was very familiar with Albania? It made no…

    His blood seemed to freeze. It made no sense. Unless this was a trap. For him. His hand went into his pocket, gripping his emergency portkey. One muttered word, and he would be whisked away to a safe house. Unless wards had been erected to block that.

    He withdrew his hand. He could still get away. Step out to relieve himself, then flee on a broom, if apparition didn’t work. But if this was a trap, they’d be watching for that too. No, he had better chances if he stuck it out.

    He banished another coin at the bartender, and summoned his next beer. He was here as a hired wand down on his luck and deep in his cups. A role he was quite familiar with, which was why he had been approached by Aberforth. He wasn’t quite as familiar with the area as the older wizard - he hadn’t fought in the Intervention, hadn’t battled Barbary raiders and Ottoman Janissaries until the Magical Porte had finally caved in - but he was younger, and less well known.

    The door opened, and everyone tensed up as wands were drawn. A figure in a dark robes entered, face hidden by the white mask of a Death Eater. Everyone stared for a second, some hissing in surprise. Even the Germans briefly lost their arrogant sneer. The wands for hire had known who was doing the hiring, but to see someone openly walk around in Death Eater garb… that was a brazen move.

    The former auror wondered who was behind that mask. And who would be waiting, nearby, to spring the trap. Death Eaters never arrived alone, the cowards always came in numbers. They would be watching. Waiting for him to betray himself.

    The Death Eater walked towards the bar, his wand summoning a chair from one of the Albanians who had jumped up at his entrance. Without breaking stride, the wizard used the chair as a step to stand on top of the bar, looking down at the assembled crowd.

    “Greetings. I speak for the Dark Lord.” The masked wizard had a slight accent - a local recruited by You-Know-Who during his ‘exile’, maybe?

    The murderer went on to prattle about the honor of fighting for You-Know-Who - as if anyone here gave a damn about honor - and the opportunities it offered, before finally coming to the real argument: The gold offered. It was a sizeable sum. More generous than Bertram and Aberforth had expected, after the loss of the Malfoys. Far too generous, to be exact, for anyone but an actual veteran from Grindelwald’s War.

    Bertram stood up and sneered at the Death Eater. “What’s your game? That much gold, for that kind of scum?” He glanced over at the Greeks, scoffing. They bristled, and the Albanians laughed. “That’s the kind of rates people offer who don’t expect to actually pay up!”

    That got the attention of the wands. Among the mercenaries, there were always rumors, stories, of employers who promised gold, hoping the hired wands would die before they’d get paid. Or arranged such an event.

    “The Dark Lord is generous to those who fight for him,” the Death Eater said. Bertram still hadn’t spotted the others who had to be around.

    “The Dark Lord isn’t a fool though.” He walked into the middle of the tavern, facing the Death Eater - and placing himself between the Greek and Albanians. “That scum there would curse their own family for a tenth of that sum. Or sell their daughters and mothers.” He leered at the witch.

    As expected, that did the job. Wands were raised, and Bertram flung himself to the side, conjuring a slab of stone as a cover against the curses sent towards him. A few of the curses went wide, as he had hoped, and struck the Albanians. One of them hadn’t been quick enough with a shield and must have been wearing robes with shoddy protections, since he fell down, screaming and clutching his stomach. Bertram saw the man’s belly starting to swell, like a balloon, before he had to shield himself against more curses.

    He didn’t hear the sound the cursed man’s belly made when it popped. He didn’t miss the blood and worse splattering half the tavern though. Nor the screams of rage as the Albanians struck back.

    As the meeting turned into a chaotic, lethal brawl, and the Greeks turned their attention to the Albanians and away from him, Bertram grinned, and shot a volley of spells at the Death Eater, who was still standing on top of the bar. The criminal was too slow to react, and Bertram felt elated when a Piercing Curse shattered the protections from the man’s robes, and his Bludgeoning Curse smashed into the Death Eater’s mask. The man was thrown into the mirror behind the bar, then fell down, leaving a red trail on the reinforced glass.

    That had been too easy… the Death Eater had to have been expecting an attack, if this was a trap. Bertram cursed himself. The man had been bait, he realized. Expendable, maybe imperiused bait. And he had fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

    He had to get out! Bertram tried apparating to the back of the room, but failed. The front door was closer, but they would be waiting there. He needed a distraction, and quickly. Pointing his wand at the center of the room, he unleashed fiendfyre.

    It was a desperate move, but as expected, not even a Balkan blood feud was enough to keep the mercenaries fighting in the face of cursed fire threatening to burn them all to ashes. Yelling and screaming, everyone still alive scrambled for the door and windows. The people waiting in ambush outside would have a lot of targets to curse.

    He sent a blasting hex at the nearest window and pulled out his shrunken broom. The window wasn’t destroyed though. He turned around. The people were panicking now, trying to open the other windows, or the door - without any success.

    Bertram and everyone else were trapped inside the tavern. Facing fiendfyre he had deliberately let go out of control. He saw the young witch lie on the ground, dead or knocked out, close to the fire, and summoned her to him.

    She was already dead. He placed her body gently on the ground as the fire approached, then turned his wand on himself.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger stared at the little - or not so little - abomination in the unbreakable and enlarged jar on the table. The cat-sized spider was hitting the jar’s transparent walls with half its legs and snapping its mandibles open and shut, as if it was trying to break through and attack her. It probably was, she realized - the cross between a Redback Spider and a Sidney Funnel-web Spider looked rather aggressive, and at least one of those spiders was known to prey on larger animals.

    “How many laws were broken when you bred that?” She pointed at the jar, suppressing a shudder when the spider redoubled its effort to break out.

    “None!” Miss Jenny - Jungle Jenny - declared with a wide and slightly smirking smile.

    “Pardon?”

    “The British Ministry for Magic only banned cross-breeding magical creatures. That’s a magically crossbred and enhanced muggle spider!” Jenny grinned.

    “Oh.” That sort of oversight shouldn’t have surprised Hermione - wizards had a tendency to underestimate muggle dangers. “Completely legal then… “

    “Exactly!” Judging by the beaming smile of the Australian Witch, she either ignored or hadn’t noticed Hermione’s sarcasm.

    “And you want me to create a spell that conjures such spiders.” Quite ingenious. Conjured or transfigured animals didn’t possess magical powers, so most of the most dangerous magical animals were not that dangerous if conjured. But muggle venom would work perfectly well.

    “Yes.” The witch nodded. She was wearing her usual robe. The witch claimed it was a gift from an Aboriginal Shaman, but Hermione had her doubts. It bore more than a passing resemblance to the outfits usually seen in Tarzan movies. To think that Luna had already wondered if she’d have more success hunting Snorkacks wearing a similar outfit...

    “That way we’ll avoid the danger of such spiders escaping into the wilderness”, Professor Lockhart said. He was clad in teacher’s robes, in a tone of blue that suited his hair nicely.

    “And trouble with the ICW for threatening the Statute of Secrecy,” Hermione added. The spiders would probably mistaken for the results of genetic manipulation, but there was no need to explain that - the threat of the ICW getting involved might protect Britain from suffering a magical invasive species.

    “That too, yes.” Lockhart nodded. Jenny shrugged - the witch didn’t seem to have a high opinion of the International Confederation of Wizards.

    “I’ll have to observe the spiders, and probably dissect one or two.” Hermione wasn’t looking forward to that. But the promise of a swarm of those spiders, with their potent venom… That would be a nasty surprise for the Death Eaters.

    Miss Jenny made a dismissive gesture with her hand. “Oh, no problem. We’ve got about four dozen of them. We’d have had more, but the spiders are cannibalistic and the older ones ate their younger siblings.”

    Four dozens of them! If Ron knew… Not for the first time Hermione cursed the twins and their pranks, which had traumatized her friend as a child.

    “I’ll see what I can do then.” She was already considering how best to approach this task. The Snake Summons spell would be a nice base to build upon, but she hadn’t analyzed its formula in depth so far - an oversight, given that Harry was a parselmouth, and would be able to use snakes far better than anyone else but others who shared that gift.

    “Good! Me and Hagrid can then work on our next project!” Miss Jenny jumped down from the desk she had been sitting on, smiling.

    “Ah, Jenny… what are you planning to create now?” the professor asked, his voice betraying the same dread Hermione was feeling.

    “Nothing illegal!” came the quick reply.

    That didn’t sound too reassuring, not after Hermione had seen what kind of legal monsters the Australian witch and the half-giant professor had created.

    “Jenny…” Professor Lockhart glared at her.

    “OK, OK… we’re going to cross a Saltwater crocodile with a Spitting Cobra. If all goes well, we’ll have a creature as tough and strong as the crocodile, as fast as the snake, and able to spit venom more than 20 yards!”

    Hermione and Professor Lockhart stared at each other with matching expressions of horror while Miss Jenny left the professor’s office.

    “At least it won’t be flying?” the professor tried to see a silver lining.

    “Not yet.” Hermione said, shaking her head.

    “I’m rather certain that that would require magic, and therefore would be illegal.” Lockhart’s smile lacked his usual confidence though.

    “Professor, do you really think that will stop them? And even so… there’s the example of the pteranodons.”

    “The what?”

    Hermione hoped that if Lockhart was not familiar with the fauna of the Cretaceous, Hagrid and Miss Jenny wouldn’t be either.

    *****​

    “Mathilda? Are you home?”

    That was Aberforth’s voice. Mathilda Miller stood up when she heard the call from her floo. The two aurors she was still sharing the safe house with looked up from where they were writing and reading reports together, but didn’t move.

    “Yes, I am, Abe. What’s going on?” What would make him call at this hour?

    “Can I come through?”

    “Of course.” She grinned a bit at how the two aurors twitched at hearing that - Aberforth had made a big impression on those two. And on the walls where he had trained them. With them, usually.

    Her levity disappeared though as soon as her old friend stepped out of the floo and she saw his expression. He wasn’t bringing good news. Before he could say anything, she asked “Who died?”

    “No one died. But Bertram hasn’t been heard of in three days.” Aberforth sighed.

    Mathilda closed her eyes, and shuddered. She knew well what that meant. Bertram Kettlestock, one of her closest friends. One of those lovers she remembered fondly, too.

    “He could be simply out of reach of an owl,” Abe said.

    She looked at him until he grimaced and admitted: “I know. It’s unlikely. But it’s not impossible. That’s why I’m heading down there.”

    “What?” He was leaving the country?

    “I’m heading to Albania.”

    “But…” Mathilda trailed off. Asking what that would mean for her safety seemed petty when Bertram might still be alive, and in need of help.

    “That’s why I’m here. I want you three to play it safe while I’m away. No spying or skulking.”

    “We can’t sit the war out!” Kenneth, as expected, bristled at the suggestion. His partner remained silent - so far.

    “I’m not telling you to sit it out, boy. I’m telling you to take a break while I check up on Albania. It won’t take long.” Aberforth glared at the auror, and Mathilda winced in sympathy when Kenneth sat down.

    “Do you really expect your friend to be still alive?” Bertha asked, sounding even colder than usual in Mathilda’s opinion.

    “If he’s still alive, then he’ll need help. If he’s dead, then someone needs to finish his job. We can’t have the Dark Lord hire all the scumbags of the continent to throw at our people,” Aberforth stated. “I should have gone myself in the first place, I know the grounds there,” he added in a lower voice.

    “You knew the country. A few decades ago,” Mathilda corrected him. The old wizard shouldn’t be blaming himself - Bertram, like everyone else of their friends, had known the risks. And they all knew what they owed to Aberforth. She knew though that Abe wouldn’t see it like that. He felt responsible for them all. In that he was like his brother, not that she’d ever tell him that.

    “It hasn’t changed that much. A number of my old contacts will still be around. And I’ve got a few favors to cash in as well, with some of the clan heads there,” Aberforth stated.

    There wasn’t much Mathilda could say to that. Abe was set on going. And no one, probably not even his brother, could stop him when he was so set on something. So she nodded. “We’ll sit tight. Even if I have to sit on him,” she added, pointing at Kenneth.

    “Good.” Aberforth looked at the two aurors. “Keep her safe.” He nodded at Mathilda and turned towards the floo.

    “Abe!” She wasn’t about to let another old friend disappear like that. He turned around, and she hugged him. “You be careful too. You have to come back, you hear?”

    “I will,” he whispered, patting her back.

    She loosened her grip on him, and watched him step into the floo, her eyes watering.

    Neither of the two aurors commented on her tears, or tried to offer condolences. They all had lost people before, friends, comrades, and knew how hollow such words were. Instead, Bertha summoned more tea for all of them.

    Mathilda would start to tease the two aurors again soon. Change the topic, change the mood. But for now, she wanted to remain like this for a bit longer, remembering her friend.

    *****​

    The Dark Lord Voldemort read the missive that had just been delivered by an elf, then passed it on to Bellatrix. The dark witch glanced at it, pursing her lips. “My husband and his brother seem quite optimistic about their efforts. They report the killing of an agent of Dumbledore, but do not go into many details.”

    “Do you think they are covering up a mistake?” Voldemort trusted the two Lestrange brother’s loyalty to him. “Apart from the fact that they should have captured and interrogated the agent.”

    Bellatrix frowned. “Apart from that they only mention trapping the agent and baiting him with an imperiused impostor. They do not even describe their enemy.”

    “Indeed.” Voldemort showed her a news article from Greece.

    Bellatrix quickly read it, then looked at him. “A tavern in the order region was burned to the ground when Greek and Albanian mercenaries started a fight?”

    “I think thats the incident Rodolphus and Rabastan refer to.” Voldemort summoned the article back to him.

    “In other words, they don’t even know if they managed to kill their target. They just assumed it worked. Why am I not surprised?” The witch’s voice dripped with contempt.

    The Dark Lord was reminded of the saying ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’, and didn’t mention that the Lestrange brothers were skilled wizards, even though they hadn’t weathered Azkaban as well as Bellatrix. “They’ve hired a few promising wands already.”

    Bellatrix scoffed, but didn’t dispute his words. Instead she looked at the book he had been perusing, before the message had disturbed him. “Did you have any success yet, my lord?”

    He frowned. “No. So far I have not found any other subject of a prophecy. My … sources in the Ministry haven’t yet managed to procure more information.” Such as the resumes of seers applying for a job at the Ministry, which would list any prophecies they had ever made. “Although I have not given the matter my full attention.”

    “Oh?” Bellatrix licked her lips.

    “Yes.” He pointed at a tome on his desk.

    The witch ran her hands over the leather cover. She looked puzzled, then her eyes widened. “That’s…”

    “Yes. Apparently, the author decided he didn’t like to waste the skin.” Peculiar, but not unexpected, given the subject of the book. And the author.

    Bellatrix opened the book, with only a slight sneer showing her distaste. Soon she gasped, and once again met his eyes, smiling widely.

    He nodded at her. “Yes. Once I have mastered this, the war will be won.”

    “Yes, Master!”

    *****​

    “If Ron saw that…” Harry Potter shook his head at the unnaturally large spider in the glass cage, then winced at the slight pain that caused - since it was the full moon that day, Mad-Eye had given one of his lessons in Defense. A practical one. With him as a helper. Hermione had been furious at the old auror.

    “He would be out of the room in a second. So, it’s a good thing he’s snogging Padma,” Hermione said without looking up from her notes.

    “He might like to see you kill another one though.” He wasn’t looking at the spread out remains of the last spider his girlfriend had dissected. Watching Hermione butcher it had been unsettling enough. But he’d not let her work with such a dangerous monster by herself. Just one bite, and she might not be able to reach the bezoar in time. Sure, she said she was wearing robes enchanted against venom - and fetching robes they were, suited for her figure - but there was a reason aurors worked with a partner and pilots had wingmen.

    “Maybe. You can ask him if he wants to dispose of them once the spell is finished.” Hermione’s tone made it clear that she didn’t think their friend would want to.

    “Are you certain Hagrid and Jenny will let you destroy their creations?” As far as Harry knew, they seemed rather protective of any animals, even monsters like that spider, who looked like it was trying to kill them.

    “I’ll ask the Headmaster for support. I’m certain he’ll agree that the risk of such a spider escaping is too big. Do you remember the aurors fighting the acromantulas in our second year?” The witch raised an eyebrow at him.

    Shuddering, Harry nodded. “Yes. Though those are smaller, far smaller.”

    “That just means they can hide even better. And their venom is worse.”

    Harry blinked. The spiders were even more dangerous than he had thought. “You didn’t tell me that when you told me about the project.”

    Hermione flinched a bit. “I mentioned their venom was worse than that of the the two base spiders’.”

    “I’m not exactly an expert on muggle spiders. Or on Australia.” Apart from assuming that everything down there was poisonous and trying to kill tourists, especially wizards.

    “Sorry. Next time I’ll do a lecture.” She grinned, though still a bit ruefully.

    He groaned. “There’s a middle ground between too little, and too much information.”

    “That can’t be true since there’s no such thing as too much information!” Hermione stuck her tongue out at him.

    “I think most people will…” Harry didn’t get any further as pain shot through his scar, blood started running down his face and he lost his balance.

    The man in front of him was struggling on the slab of marble, pulling on his bonds, ripping his ragged clothes further. He looked desperate and afraid - and with good cause. The moon was rising, and soon the creature on the altar would change into a beast.

    Next to him stood his beautiful lover, Bellatrix, smiling at the doomed animal, wand ready, until the moon rose above the treeline. The man changed, then and there, fur sprouting, and bones broke as they changed shape, and changed the man’s shape into a monster’s. Normal restraints would have been broken, but those were magical, imbued with silver. Painful, but effective. The beast was thrashing, smoke rising from its wrists and ankles, where the bonds held it fast, and its maw was wide open - if not for the silence spell, the howling would be heard in the whole forest. It was useless, of course - the werewolf would not escape.

    Around them, small lights lit up, one by one, touched by the light of the full moon, forming a circle. And between them silvery bands of runes appeared, floating just above the ground. It was a rather simple arrangement, he noted. Easy even.

    Harry held out his hand, and Bellatrix handed him a silver knife. He wondered, briefly, if the beast saw it, and redoubled its efforts, or if those frenzied movements were a normal reaction to being bound by magic. It didn’t matter. He carefully placed the tip of the knife on the monster’s chest, causing more smoke to rise from the burning fur, and broke the skin, opening the monster up below its ribcage.

    It took a while to remove the heart - werewolves were a bit more different from humans than he had expected - but after a while, the monster had stopped thrashing, and he was holding the heart up, towards the moon, and all the runes floating around were shining brighter and brighter.

    Success.

    “Harry! Harry!”

    He wasn’t in the forest clearing anymore. He was on the ground. He wasn’t holding a still twitching heart in his blood-covered hands. But his hands were covered with blood - his blood. He hadn’t murdered a werewolf. He had fallen down, and hurt his head.

    No, that pain wasn’t the result of a fall. It came from his scar. As did the blood.

    Harry felt faint, and only dimly noticed more people arriving. Even the shriek and curses from Ron when he spotted the spiders sounded like some background noise. Hermione was holding him, clutching him to her chest. Crying.

    Then he was floating, out of her arms, out of the room, and knew no more.

    *****​

    Albus Dumbledore watched Harry and Miss Granger enter his office. The boy had been treated by Poppy last night, but he still looked shaken. Not that there had been much that could be treated. The scar had stopped bleeding before they had reached the infirmary, and a potion had replaced what blood he had lost. The witch at his side was far closer than usual, holding his arm. Understandable, given the events.

    “Please have a seat, Harry, Miss Granger.” He smiled encouragingly at them. Once they were seated - still holding hands - he continued: “You’ve had another vision.”

    “Yes, sir.” Harry sighed, then drew the memory out of his temple. Albus knew Harry didn’t want to review the vision, but Miss Granger seemed torn between staying with her patron, and watching what had upset him so. But if she went, then Harry would come as well. And Miss Granger knew that. And she wouldn’t want him to go through that again.

    “I’ll not be long. Feel free to peruse my library.” Albus said, nodding towards the shelves in his office. He didn’t smile when Miss Granger’s eyes lit up, as expected, not until he had turned away and was walking to his pensieve.

    The memory was longer than he had expected. He would have to study it in detail later, when the two children were not waiting in his office. But he got the gist of it. And he didn’t like it.

    When Albus returned to his desk, Miss Granger was pointing out some theorem in Marchaud’s ‘Foundations of Magic’ to Harry. It was a fascinating work - the wizard had been ahead of his time by centuries - but Albus didn’t think Harry was in a mood to appreciate it right now. Though it, or at least the young witch’s enthusiasm, served to distract the boy at least. Fawkes was munching on some lemon drops - apparently his phoenix had used the distraction as well.

    The Headmaster took his seat and sighed. “I think you already know that you saw another dark ritual by Voldemort.” Experienced, actually, as Voldemort. But there was no need to be so precise. Even Miss Granger didn’t mention that.

    “Yes, sir.” Harry sounded less shaken now.

    “He sacrificed a werewolf. But I couldn’t tell for what purpose.” Which was worrying in itself. To counter magic one usually had to know what one was facing.

    “It seemed to empower those runes,” Harry said.

    “Yes, though as far as I could tell, those were mere light runes,” Albus stated, And why would Voldemort sacrifice a werewolf to merely create light? The Headmaster would have to study the runes he could see, all of them, to be certain that this was all they did. But even so, Albus knew one possible answer. The worst possible answer.

    It was a test.

    *****​

    Be careful what you wish for, Sirius thought. When he had been told that his baby cousin was getting married to Viktor Krum, he had been overjoyed - he had barely kept the urge to have Padfoot jump around the two, barking wildly, in check. And he had been pleased to hear that Viktor’s family would be involved in the war against the Dark Lord. They had already lost one of their family, and they knew what they were getting into.

    But if he had known what exactly this would lead to… the tension in his home hadn’t been this bad since right before he had left it for the Potters’ back in his teenage years. Wizard wedding preparations were serious business.

    “Nymphadora! How can you claim this is a compromise?” Andromeda sounded aghast.

    “Mum! We’re having a Bulgarian wedding ceremony, and a British wedding!” Nymphadora was standing, facing her mother.

    “A British muggle wedding!” Andromeda shouldn’t be sounding quite that dismissive, in Sirius opinion. It reminded him of his mother, and her attitude towards his friends.

    “So? If it was good enough for the Potters, then it’s good enough for us!” the metamorphmagus declared, standing with her hands on her hips. As if to emphasize her point she was dressed like a muggle girl, again. That wasn’t helping with her mother’s mood, of course.

    “It wasn’t good enough for the Potters, it was the only way they could have married!” Andromeda was standing now as well. For a moment, Sirius expected the air between his cousins to crackle with lightning.

    “Oh really? That’s not what I heard from Sirius! They would have married in muggle Britain anyway! And that’s what we’re doing!” Nymphadora scoffed.

    “Sirius! What have you been telling my daughter?” Yes, Andromeda definitely sounded like his mother right then.

    Damn! Sirius wasn’t about to get dragged into this conflict. Some might doubt it, but his instinct for self-preservation was working just fine! “I’ve just told her how intent Lily was on marrying according to her family’s traditions.”

    “We don’t have muggle traditions!” Andromeda turned back to glare at Nymphadora.

    Her daughter wasn’t giving in though. “Well, maybe we’ll start with me then!”

    “Let’s calm down!” Sirius said, wishing that it wasn’t so close after the full moon, and Remus would be around. His friend was supposed to be the diplomatic one! Not that Remus would have been present anyway - Andromeda had made it clear that this was a ‘Black affair’. Blood and spouses only. The wizard briefly wondered if his own wedding, should it ever come to that, would generate as much trouble. He hadn’t even met Valérie’s parents yet… Merlin, he was thinking about marriage! It was contagious!

    The two headstrong witches didn’t look like they were about to heed his plea.

    “Andromeda. Nymphadora.” At last, Ted spoke up.

    “Ted!” “Dad!”

    Sirius had enough. “Be quiet!” He roared, then glared at the two surprised witches. “What is this about, Andy? I don’t recall you being that fond of British weddings.”

    His cousin met his eyes for a moment, then sat down, sighing. “It’s not the traditions, not exactly. It’s the whole impression it’ll leave. We’re a small family, even counting you, Sirius.”

    “Thank you,” he answered, drily.

    The witch ignored his remark, and addressed Nymphadora: “And you’re marrying into an entire clan. If we’re doing the ceremony the Bulgarian way as well, it’ll look like we’re the ones marrying into them without bringing much to the table.”

    “You’d mean we’d look like true muggleborns?” Nymphadora asked with a sneer reminiscent of her late aunt.

    “We’d look poor!” Andromeda spat.

    Sirius finally understood. He stopped Nymphadora with a silent silence spell before she could retort and make things worse.

    “Sirius! What’s the idea?” The young witch glared at him after ending the spell.

    “Andy’s concerned about the gossip this’ll generate. You weren’t born when she was emancipated, so you don’t know what she went through,” he started to explain.

    “Sirius!”

    He ignored Andromeda’s exclamation. It was better to scourgify the dirty laundry of a family before a wedding than afterwards. “When a child of one of the Old Families choses emancipation, people usually assume something scandalous is the reason. That was the case with Andy. Especially after I had left and gone to the Potters, but hadn’t chosen to be emancipated myself.” And hadn’t that been a scandal! Sirius was quite certain that he would have been removed from the family, if there hadn’t been a war going on and his parents had feared for the continuation of the line, and decided that having a son in each camp was a good thing.

    “What? Are you telling me that if we marry according to Viktor’s tradition, they’ll assume something is wrong with my family?” Nymphadora’s tone reminded him that she was still so young. So naive in some ways, despite her brash attitude.

    “That’s about it.” Sirius nodded.

    Nymphadora sat down, muttering curses under her breath. The animagus knew the feeling - he often was quite fed up with Wizarding Britain’s society himself. “So, what can we do?” she finally asked, frowning.

    “Oh, the usual Black solution.” Sirius answered, cheerfully.

    “Which would be?” Andromeda looked at him with suspicion in her eyes.

    “We’ll throw money at it!” He smiled brightly at her. The other traditional Black solution, dark curses, wasn’t really applicable here, after all. “Consider it a gift for my favorite cousin.”

    “And how will that help?” Andromeda sounded sceptical still.

    “We’ll come with so many friends, we’ll drown out the locals! And we’ll share the costs, so they can’t complain!” Sirius was getting into the spirit now. “And we might as well make a spectacle out of the muggle wedding!” They could do that - he had seen some very elaborate wedding pictures in those magazines.

    From the way Nymphadora’s eyes lit up, she had seen the same pictures. Andromeda, bless her soul, probably didn’t realize just what was in store for her, yet.

    *****​

    “I still can’t believe Nymphadora is getting married.”

    Hermione Granger looked up from her notes and at her boyfriend. “Why?”

    “She dresses so often like a punk, I keep assuming that she’d think marriage would be ‘too conventional’ for her.”

    “She dresses like a punk because she likes the style. She doesn’t really think like a punk.” Hermione knew that from talking with the witch - Nymphadora had become the closest to a ‘big sister’ the muggleborn witch had. And despite her pranking streak, the auror generally was a good source of information about some aspects of Wizarding Britain others, especially wizards and older witches, might not be too privy about.

    “I’ll take your word for it.” Harry leaned back on the couch facing her.

    “You’ll see it at her muggle wedding. There’ll be horse carriages, not punk bands.” And probably dresses for the bridesmaids that cost more than dress robes. At her boyfriend’s look, she added “Sirius wants an expensive wedding, and he’s not exactly looking at middle-class affairs for examples.”

    “Great,” Harry muttered.

    Hermione narrowed her eyes. She’d have expected a bit more enthusiasm. And deep down, she couldn’t help but think of a similar wedding, in her future. And Harry’s. A celebration more expensive than any wizard one would be a way to get back at a society that prevented her from marrying who she wanted. “What’s wrong?”

    Harry sighed, running his hand through his hair. “Nothing… I’m just… you know, jealous.”

    Jealous? He was jealous? Of Viktor? For a moment, all her insecurities rose up inside her. She forced herself to calm down though. “What do you mean?” It came out just a tiny bit sharper than she’d wanted.

    “They get to marry. In the Magical World.” He flicked his wand almost absentmindedly, conjuring a small cube of stone, and shattering it with a piercing curse before it hit the ground.

    “Oh.” They hadn’t talked about that part, much. After they had finally found out the truth about the Year of Discovery, this was the biggest elephant left in the room when it came to talking about their relationship.

    “I should be happy for them, and I am… but…” Harry trailed off, looking slightly ashamed.

    “It emphasizes just how unfair it is?” she asked, putting her notes down.

    “Yes.” He slid a bit to the side when he noticed her getting up.

    Hermione sat down next to him, and leaned into his side. It was unfair. And she hated it. Hated that she couldn’t do anything about it. Anything practical, at least. She clenched her teeth together, wishing to hurt or destroy something, until Harry slid his arm around her shoulders. They remained like that for a while.

    “So, how’s the work on the spider summons going?” Harry asked, blatantly changing the topic.

    “Well, I’ve got the spider part down.” Now that only left he monstrous part to be added.

    “I know that. Ron pretty much confirmed that.”

    “I said I was sorry! He shouldn’t have barged in!” Hermione flushed slightly.

    “Did you really have the room covered in spiders?” Harry sounded as if he was torn between amusement and horror.

    “Just the back half of it. And only the floor,” she added indignantly.

    “It’ll probably take him a few days to enter the room again.” There was the slightest hint of reproach in Harry’s voice.

    She sighed. “I’m sorry, but this is important. I didn’t expect him to be present, or I’d have told him in advance. I thought he would be studying with Padma.” According to the schedule she had made for him, he should have been!

    “Apparently, there’s been a bit of a row.” Harry said.

    “Oh? What about?” Hermione didn’t like hearing that. Padma was good for Ron.

    “Parkinson,” Harry spat the name out.

    “What did that witch do this time?” Not for the first time she thought about cursing the Slytherin.

    “It’s not so much what she did, but what Padma thinks Ron did, or didn’t.” Harry sighed.

    Hermione waited, and when Harry didn’t continue, she prodded him: “And what was that?”

    “He doesn’t know. He only knows she’s unhappy with him, and it’s because of Parkinson.”

    “Do you think she planned that?” Hermione had her doubts.

    “Maybe. But why go after Ron?” Harry frowned.

    “She might simply be looking for a pureblood boyfriend.” Or husband, the witch added to herself. Ron was a good catch, as some pureblood witches saw it - wealthy, famous, and not in line to become head of the Weasley family.

    “But why Ron? He hates Slytherins.”

    Hermione shrugged. “Maybe it’s the challenge. Or she’s just dumb. Or she wants him because Malfoy hated him.”

    “Or she just wants to ruin his relationship,” Harry added.

    “Maybe. It’s hard to tell with a witch who was Malfoy’s girlfriend for years.” Hermione had more important things to worry about. She cared about her best friend’s happiness, but she cared a lot more about her boyfriend’s life. And creating the spell for Miss Jenny and Hagrid would help with that. It wouldn’t help with the Parkinson problem. Well, it could, but that would be going a bit too far. And illegal too. It would be satisfying, though.

    Hermione spent a few moments imagining Parkinson’s reaction to the spell she was working on. It was a good motivation to continue her work.

    *****​

    Albania hadn’t changed much, Aberforth Dumbledore thought. At least not the mountains near the border to Greece he had spent half a year in hunting down Ottoman Raiders, so long ago. And the Greek village right on the border where Lea had her shop hadn’t changed at all, as far as he could tell.

    The old men sitting under the olive tree in front of their house watched him, wand ready. He was in disguise, and strangers were dangerous here. Suspicious too. Aberforth nodded at the men, carefully keeping his hands free and in their sight, and continued.

    He felt the wards tingle when he entered. His old friend had kept her edge, then - or at least her caution. He was greeted by a young witch though, barely out of school, and wearing rather daring robes for the region. Maybe things had changed more than he had thought.

    “Welcome to Lea’s, sir!” She sounded a bit more enthusiastic than she looked. No surprise - even with his beard cut, and a wide-brimmed hat on his head, Aberforth knew he didn’t look very trustworthy.

    “Hello, dear. Is Lea around?” He saw her smile vanish, replaced by open suspicion. Things must have been bad lately, for shopkeepers to react like that. “I’m an old friend of hers.”

    “What’s your name?” She didn’t look like she believed him. And after not having visited for so long, longer than she probably had been alive, Abe didn’t feel like a good friend either. But he had a mission to accomplish.

    He was certain she had her wand in hand, behind the desk. He smiled at her. “Tell her we almost became family, decades ago.” He couldn’t help but feel the pain again, hardly dimmed after all those years.

    That seemed to puzzle her. Before she could ask another question though, the curtain behind the witch parted and he heard a voice: “Don’t stand there like a lost muggle. Come in!”

    “Grandmother!” The young witch sounded surprised.

    “I know him, Abdera. Just tend to the shop.”

    The girl still glared at Aberforth as he made his way around the desk, but he ignored her.

    The room behind the curtain was colder, and smelled like incense. Just as he remembered. And she looked like he remembered, just older. “Hello Lea,” he said, after he had seen her throw up some privacy spells.

    “Abe.” She nodded at him. His old friend was wearing traditional robes. The same she and her sisters had worn in their youth. He didn’t know if that meant she had never married. The girl out front had called her ‘grandmother’, but that didn’t have to mean they actually were related. He hoped they were though - at least one of them should have been happy in her life.

    She had studied him as he had studied her, and came to a conclusion: “You’re back in the war.”

    “Another war, this time.” He took a seat, his duelist robes rearranging themselves so he would not be hindered should he have to jump up at once.

    “It’ll be fought the same as the others. And cause the same pain,” she said in a flat voice, her eyes daring him to object.

    He had no answer to that, and so he simply nodded, conceding the point. She was correct - out here, feuds were a way of life, and wars just meant more feuding.

    “Last I heard, your home is at war. Why are you here then?” Lea didn’t sound like she was accusing him of running away. He still felt a bit stung.

    “A friend of mine went missing across the border.” Missing, presumed dead.

    She scoffed. “That happens when you trust the dogs.”

    He wasn’t about to discuss her views of the Albanians. That was Albus’s job. He was here for Bertram. And whatever scum the Dark Lord had sent. “He had no choice but to head there. He was working against a recruiter of the Dark Lord fighting my country, and they were recruiting Albanians.” Among others. But it would not serve any point mentioning that. The less he got involved in the clan feuds here the better. For a moment, he thought that that was one thing he had been spared thanks to that tragedy, and then felt guilty about it.

    “And you have come to avenge him.” Again it wasn’t a question-

    “To save him, or to continue his mission,” he corrected her.

    She laughed, harshly now. “That’s your excuse. Just as you killed Haidee’s murderer not to avenge her, but to save me and Neola.”

    He closed his eyes, wincing. He hadn’t managed to save Neola. Her youngest sister.

    “I’m sorry,” Lea said. “You did your best.”

    “And it wasn’t good enough.” He scoffed. He blamed Albus, for abandoning the girl. But he blamed himself for letting her get kidnapped.

    “You saved me.” She frowned at him.

    “I didn’t mean it like that.”

    “I know.” Lea summoned a bottle and two glasses. Scottish Fire Whiskey. At his expression, she smirked. “An acquired taste, you might say.”

    Both lifted their glasses in a silent toast to the dead before drinking.

    Lea set down her empty glass. “So, what do you need to know?”

    “Any names and locations of those looking for hired wands. The Dark Lord doesn’t care about nationality as long as they’ll kill.” He might even hire muggleborns, should any be as stupid as to hire on.

    “He’d be a fool if he hired both Greek and dogs. They’ll fight each other instead of the enemy.” Lea grinned without humor.

    Albus didn’t share that view, as amusing as it was to imagine the chaos. Enough wands, both Albanians and Greeks, would not care overly much about the others, as long as the gold was good. And as long as they were away from their homes and families. “He uses his wands in small groups, isolated from each other. It would be easy enough to keep everyone separated.”

    She nodded. “He’s not that much of a fool then. But he’s still a fool for trusting dogs. And for fighting you.” She smiled at that.

    “Thank you.” He smiled back. He might not share her flattering view of his own power, but it was good to be appreciated. As Aberforth, instead of as ‘the other Dumbledore’ or ‘Albus’s brother’.

    “I’ve heard of offers. Family talks.” She glanced at the curtain, and back to him.

    So she had a family, still. He nodded, prompting her to continue.

    “They talk of foreigners, and generous offers.” And she had a family involved in the mercenary ‘trade’. Anything else would have been a surprise of course, given the area’s history.

    “Do they talk of the Dark Arts, and of killing children too?” He stared at her. “That is what the gold will be paying for. Dead children and demons feeding on innocents.”

    She looked away first. “No, they do not talk about that.”

    “Someone should.”

    “Someone will.” She filled her glass again. “Will you be hiring wands as well?”

    “Yes.” Albus could pay. Or he could get Black to cough up the gold. “If they’re willing to follow orders.”

    “Yours? Yes, they will.”

    “Mine.” After a heartbeat, he added: “And my brother’s.”

    She hissed at that, in surprise or disgust. Or both. She did fill her glass again, and he followed her example. “It’s serious then.”

    “Yes.”

    “There are two men, traveling through the country. And through the Dog’s country. Foreigners, cruel ones. Quick with their wands, generous with gold, but cruel. They were last said to be heading to Macedonia. They call themselves ‘Smith’ or ‘Brown’ or ‘Spencer’. We simply call them ‘the British’ by now.”

    “Thank you.” He grinned. He did remember Macedonia very well. It would be fitting if he caught the two there.

    “Now let’s talk gold. My family doesn’t come cheap.”

    Judging by her grin, she knew it wasn’t his gold he would be talking about, but his brother’s.

    He didn’t mind.


    Chapter 36: Old and New Wounds
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2015
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  16. Threadmarks: Chapter 36: Old and New Wounds
    Starfox5

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    Chapter 36: Old and New Wounds

    If Magical Albania hadn’t changed much, Magical Macedonia had not changed at all since his last visit, Aberforth Dumbledore thought. It was still a collection of small villages, hidden and warded in mountain valleys. Some were said to have been bastions of resistance during the Ottoman Occupation, never found or conquered while their brave wizards faced the Turks in a guerilla war before that term was coined. Aberforth, cynical as he was, thought it was more likely that the Macedonians had romanticized bandits as resistance fighters after the War of Liberation.

    But whether they had fought the Turks for their country, or for their gold, it didn’t change the fact that the Macedonians were good fighters. Not the most disciplined - the times of Alexander the Great’s squadrons of wizards were long since gone - but hardened and generally experienced. Good mercenaries too. And good friends - once you earned their trust. Worse enemies though, if you ever betrayed that trust.

    He was sitting on a boulder, in front of a cave, looking down into a valley. The village down there wasn’t one of the hidden ones. Muggles couldn’t see, much less enter it of course, but it wasn’t warded from other wizards. It wasn’t dominated by one clan either, but populated by a collection of various families, and even some foreigners. There Macedonians could meet other clans on somewhat neutral ground, and foreigners could meet Macedonians.

    And it was where all sorts of shady deals were brokered. With the Ottomans driven out, the local wizards had turned back to their feuding - some of the blood feuds between clans dated back to the Byzantine Empire - and to their mercenary work. This was the place where mercenaries were recruited. The Death Eaters would be coming there to recruit Macedonians, just as Aberforth himself had once, decades ago.

    He wondered if they remembered him. And if so, how. Ten wands had hired on with him, but only five had come back, covered with loot, glory and blood, as Sasha had put it. Sasha Nachev. Young, brash, and eager to test his mettle. He had been the leader of a small band, a mixed bunch even, not all from his own family. Aberforth remembered that meeting, right after the Intervention.

    Full of anger and determination, he had entered the tavern of the village and marched into the center of the room, drawing the attention of everyone inside. “Greetings. My name is Aberforth Dumbledore,” he had said. “I’m looking for a few brave wands for a mission against the Turks.”

    That had sent murmurs through the room, just as he had known it would. He hadn’t liked using his brother’s fame like this, still didn’t like it, but with Lea’s and Neola’s lives and freedom at stake, he had been willing to use any means at his disposal. Especially since Albus had refused to help him, had even tried to prohibit him from doing anything ‘to jeopardize the hard-won peace treaty’ with the Ottoman Empire. His brother had been weighing the threat of war, of hundreds, thousands dead, against the fate of two witches. And, as if he had learned nothing from Grindelwald, Albus had made his choice. And Aberforth had made his.

    Sasha had stood up then, a lad barely above 20 years old, clean-shaven still, and had walked up to him while others lowered their gazes - or were even leaving in haste; the Intervention hadn’t been exclusively aimed at Ottoman slavers, after all, and Albus’s role had been well-known. “Are you the vanquisher of Grindelwald?” Sasha had asked, eyes gleaming. He had twirled his wand between his fingers, as had been all the rage among mercenaries back then.

    And Aberforth had stared at him, shaking his head. “No, lad, I’m his younger brother.” He had barely kept his anger at Albus from erupting, but Sasha had laughed at his ire. “I’m Sasha Nachev - also a younger brother,” the Macedonian had said and slapped him on the shoulder. “Come, sit down, and let’s talk - about elder siblings and this mission of yours!”

    Aberforth had laughed, despite himself, and shared a drink, or three. And discovered mastika, the Macedonian national drink, as Sasha had put it. He still stocked that liquor at the Hog’s Head to this day. He had explained his predicament, ranted against the injustice of all, and Sasha had listened.

    “Saving two maidens - even if they are Greeks, and not proper Macedonians - and avenging a third? That’s a mission straight from a tale or song! Breaking into an Ottoman’s harem? That’s the making of a legend! Of course we’ll help you!”

    Aberforth had smiled, but before he had been able to thank the young wizard, Sasha had added: “But since you’re getting the women, we’ll get all the loot!”

    That had been Sasha: young, fearless, and with a flair few could match.

    Aberforth wondered what Sasha would be doing now. Would he have become a respected patriarch of his own family? Or a wizard mothers warned their sons from taking as an example? Probably both. He was famous though, at least in his village. Aberforth had seen to that. Had told his friend’s family about Sasha’s last stand.

    Sometimes he wondered if Albus would have reacted like Sasha’s brothers had, had their fates been reversed. Would his brother have mourned him, or himself for losing his last sibling? He didn’t know, and doubted he would ever know.

    He pulled out a flask from his enchanted pocket, mastika, and raised it to the setting sun. “To gold and witches!” he repeated Sasha’s favorite toast, then poured some on the earth, before taking a sip himself.

    “That’s an unexpected toast, from the man who saved my grandmother.”

    He was glad he was facing away from the cave that the girl, the woman, had just exited, so she couldn’t see his expression. Iva, Abdera’s older sister, sounded so much like her grand-aunt Haidee, it brought up painful memories whenever she surprised him. Fortunately, the twenty year old witch didn’t look quite like Haidee. She was taller, and more slender. She wore the same robes though.

    When he turned around, his face showed the indulgent smile of a grandfather. Or granduncle. “I was just thinking of an old friend, it was his favorite toast.”

    “Sasha?”

    He shouldn’t be surprised. Of course, Lea would have told her family all about the botched rescue that left her second sister and half the wands who came to rescue them dead. He nodded.

    “I would have liked to know him. Even if he was a Macedonian.” She grinned, then stared down at the village. “I don’t like your plan.”

    “I know.”

    “You’re taking too many risks yourself. You hired us, you should let us take the risks.” For a slip of a girl, she was sounding like an experienced mercenary. Then again, no experienced mercenary would volunteer like that.

    “With me not used to fighting at your side, we’d endanger each other while disillusioned.” More so than usual, even - there was a reason most veterans scoffed when a young wizard or witch mentioned fighting while disillusioned; any group not trained extremely well would quickly lose cohesion in that sort of fight. “I’ll do much better by myself, with the others having to worry about hitting each other by mistake.” And he didn’t want Lea’s family to risk their lives like that. If he had known just how young they were, he’d never had made the offer. Which Lea had known, of course.

    Iva sat down on the boulder closest to him, a flick of her wand cutting and summoning a grass stalk to her lips she then started to chew on. “As soon as the concealing spells drop we’ll move in though.” Glancing at him with a challenge in her eyes, she added: “You’ll certainly be able to tell us from our enemies then.”

    “Aye.” But the villagers would only see another bunch of foreigners. He could just hope that he had arrived in time, and the Death Eaters hadn’t managed to hire any Macedonians yet. Getting mistaken for raiders attacking the village would be messy. Very messy.

    Iva blinked, then nodded, “Good. She probably had expected him to try and argue. But while she didn’t look like Haidee, the few days spent in the company of her and the other mercenaries from her family had shown Aberforth that she had the same unbending spirit. The spirit that had made Haidee resist to the end, pushing the slavers into killing rather than capturing her. He’d not let that happen to Iva, the old wizard vowed.

    “I’ll tell the others,” Iva continued. But she didn’t get up, instead remaining seated, watching the sunset with him. “Why didn’t you visit before?” Her tone was both curious and slightly accusing.

    He sighed. Lea hadn’t asked that. She had known. “I was ashamed.”

    “Why?” Iva sounded honestly puzzled. “You saved my grandmother.”

    “And I didn’t save your grandaunt. Grandaunts.”

    Iva shrugged. “Haidee died defending her home and family. You weren’t even there.”

    “I should have been. And Neola was killed in my attempt to save her and Lea.” Which wouldn’t have happened if Albus had helped. The wizard who had defeated Grindelwald would have sent the guards of the entire city fleeing by his mere presence.

    “Two were lost, but you brought one back.” Iva shrugged. She never had known her grandaunts. And she hadn’t vowed to save them both.

    He wasn’t in the mood to argue about it though, and so he nodded, seemingly conceding her point. The girl smiled, clapped him on the shoulder - this time evoking memories of Sasha; Haidee had never acted like that - and stood up. “Good. I’ll tell the others to get ready.”

    He nodded and stood up himself. The sun had set. It was time.

    Aberforth disillusioned himself and apparated to the outskirts of the village. With the light fading, he needed to be closer to spot any intruders. That he would be further apart from the girl that brought up so many painful memories by her mere presence was just a side-benefit.

    *****​

    Aberforth Dumbledore watched as the last of a dozen disillusioned wizards settled in what appeared to be a decent guard spot. He had expected more from a Death Eater who had killed Bertram than disillusioning a dozen wands and spreading them around the village, half of them facing the tavern. Of course, he couldn’t be sure that those were all the wands at his enemies’ disposal. On the other hand, it would have been sufficient to deal with most wizards. While Aberforth wasn’t on his brother’s level, he was quite experienced at silent casting, and at detecting hidden enemies by means other than the standard Human-presence-revealing Spell. Having a way to spot disillusioned enemies without warning them of that fact had served him well in turning the tables on ambushers in the past.

    He briefly pondered waiting a bit longer, looking a bit harder for another trap, then decided against it. He couldn’t risk letting the Death Eaters finish their recruiting. And he wouldn’t let Bertram’s murderers get away.

    Disillusioned himself, he slowly snuck up on the outermost guard, his enchanted glasses showing the man’s position and silhouette thanks to Bat’s Eyes. His target was leaning against a low wall surrounding a garden, staring at the road that led to the next village - if he wasn’t slacking off, of course. His spell wasn’t that good for details. It usually didn’t need to be.

    When he was close enough, he struck and quickly cast several spells. A silencing spell prevented the man from alerting his comrades and hampered his own casting. Not that he had much of a chance to try, since several Bludgeoning Curses hammered him around, smashing him against the wall hard enough to break bones while a Disarming Spell relieved him of his wand. It was over in a few seconds.

    Protected by the wall from witnesses, Aberforth finited the disillusion spell on the man and looked him over. Albanian robes. No Macedonian would be caught wearing those. It had to be one of the Death Eaters’ latest recruits. That made dealing with the rest of them easier. As for this one… for a second Aberforth hesitated. The man was unconscious, beaten, and no threat anymore. Then his his face hardened. He had hired on with the Dark Lord, and everyone knew what that kind of work entailed. Murder, and worse.

    And if he left him there... the Macedonians didn’t share the same hatred for the Albanians as Lea’s people, but one of them, caught sneaking into the village? He’d be seen, probably rightfully so, as a raider looking for a victim, and he’d not die easily, or quickly.

    “Diffindo,” he whispered, and cut the man’s throat, then vanished the corpse and the blood-soaked earth around it. No one seemed to have noticed the disappearance of the guard yet - a common problem with disillusioned forces, even those using some means to detect each other - and the old wizard grinned ferally as he took a look at his next target.

    *****​

    Rodolphus Lestrange sneered under his mask as he entered the hovel that passed for the tavern in this dirty village. He couldn’t understand why the locals didn’t have more impressive homes. Their expansion charms were first rate, as the tavern’s main room attested to, and the furniture showed they were not poor either, so why were they still hiding behind the facades of poor muggle houses? It wasn’t as if muggles could even see the village! If he didn’t know better, he would suspect that this was the work of mudbloods. But the Dark Lord would never hire mudbloods, so that couldn’t be the case.

    As always, the sacred robe and mask he wore made an impression. Everyone inside stared at him, some jumped up from their tables, a few even cast shields and other spells of protection. He smiled. Rabastan had wanted to send in another imperiused local, but he had put his foot down. They couldn’t afford to sacrifice the best and maybe only recruiting location in Macedonia for another trap just because his younger brother was paranoid. Not to mention that they had killed their pursuer, and that an imperiused tool wouldn’t be able to hire anyone but fools. Their Lord needed more wands - skilled ones - not fools.

    But to indulge his brother, he had left him and those Albanians and Greeks they had already hired outside, to watch his back. Rodolphus could handle a bunch of foreign mercenaries by himself. Not that any of them looked like they would be making trouble. Most were avoiding his gaze, not that they could see his face at all.

    Another advantage of wearing the sacred robes was that everyone knew they were signing on with the Dark Lord. Weaklings who had no stomach for what fighting in a war took would know not to apply. And despite the Macedonians’ reputation as fierce fighters, there were too many in this tavern who frowned or even glared at him.

    On the other hand, a promising number smiled. Rodolphus slowly turned, addressing the entire room “Macedonians! I represent the greatest Dark Lord Britain, the World, has seen in centuries! He has conquered death himself, no mortal can stand against him! He offers those worthy among you the chance to fight at his side, for riches and glory!”

    An older wizard wearing the traditional robes of the locals stood up. “How much gold is your Lord offering for our wands?” he asked with a lopsided grin - a dark curse scar covered half his face.

    Before Rodolphus could answer, he heard screams followed by explosions from outside the tavern. His brother! He started for the door, but was caught up in a veritable surge of people as half the tavern rushed forward as well.

    *****​

    Aberforth stepped to the side, letting a Killing Curse pass him by so closely, his vision turned green for an instant. He had managed to kill four of the dozen mercenaries before they had noticed his actions, but to their leader’s credit, they had quickly started casting anti-disillusionment jinxes all over the village, forcing him to fight them openly.

    He was fine with that. The wizard who had missed him - another Albanian, judging by his robe - dodged behind a wall. Aberforth’s Blasting Curse blew both wall and wizard to bits. Messy, but effective. He was already moving again, weaving through the garden of the next house. A broom rider rose behind the village’s temple, scouting, or preparing to attack from the air. It didn’t matter as the old wizard interfered with the man’s control of his broom just enough to hit the bucking broom and its struggling rider with a fire spell. Both were set ablaze and crashed on the cobblestone square in the center of the village.

    The old wizard was almost out of the garden when it and the house it belonged to started to explode around him. His shield protected him from the debris though, and the dust thrown up covered his escape. He spotted the caster, perched on the temple roof, and transfigured the shingles into almost frictionless ice. According to the high-pitched screams that followed, cut short by a crunching impact on the stone floor below, that caster had been either a witch, or a boy. Aberforth didn’t care either way - anyone who signed up to fight for Voldemort was old enough to be killed.

    He reached the back wall, transfiguring a hole into it that he could run through - he was too old to vault over it, as he’d have done decades ago. Just as he was about to double back to hit the enemies who’d be pursuing him now in the rear, he heard screams from the crumbling house. For a moment he was tempted to ignore them. There were still seven Death Eaters or their lackeys around. Then he snarled. That was what Albus would do. He wasn’t his brother!

    Aberforth went back, a wave of his wand parting the wall again but this time turning it into a shield against pursuit from his right side. The front and right side of the house had been blasted apart, and he could see a girl half-buried under the rubble, screaming with pain and fear. Above her, the first floor was threatening to cave in and crush her, or bury her alive.

    Like Haidee had died.

    His first spell turned the crumbling first floor into a solid arch, and his next turned the rubble and debris pinning the girl down into water, leaving her soaked, but free. And bleeding freely. Cursing his haste he rushed forward. If he could stop the bleeding…

    A series of curses hit his shield, shattering it, and overwhelmed his robe’s defenses. A spell clipped his shoulder, and pain surged through him as his blood started to boil. He dropped to the floor, casting a counter-curse while more spells sailed over his head, striking the back wall in a cacophony of wild colors and shaking the remains of the house. Dust and pebbles fell down from the remains of the first floor.

    He cursed his foolishness as he banished a mound of debris at his attackers, then turned it into pure alcohol before it reached them. A Fire-Making Charm set it ablaze. Piercing screams told him he got at least two wizards as well, but more importantly, he bought enough time to escape with the wounded girl.

    With his shoulder still hurting as if it had been burned from the inside, he crawled towards the witch, wand ready to cast. But when he reached her, he saw she had already succumbed to her wounds. A small part of him knew he wouldn’t have been able to save her anyway. Not with his limited knowledge of healing spells. The rest of him felt guilt, and anger. Rage. New and old.

    He recast his shielding spell and stood up. A blasting curse opened a hole in the front wall, sending shards of stone and wood at his enemies. He strode through, already casting - his glasses, stuck to his nose, showed him where his enemies were while the dust cloud thrown up by his spell hid him. Then he was out in the open.

    Curses he had last used in the Intervention struck a figure wearing Death Eater garb. His opponent was good, Aberforth admitted, his protections turning away spells that would have killed lesser wizards. But he was not good enough. While the man was reeling from the battering his shield and robe were taking, Aberforth turned the stone and earth beneath the dark wizard into acid.

    The man dropped to his waist into the newly-created hole, then started screaming when the acid ate away at his robes and skin and private parts. The old wizard was about to put the scum out of his misery when he heard someone scream to his left.

    “Rabastan!” A barrage of dark curses flew towards Aberforth as another masked Death Eater appeared. That had to be the one who had entered the tavern before the fight started. And if the first Death Eater was Rabastan Lestrange, then this would be his brother Rodolphus. Two marked members of the Dark Lord’s inner circle. No wonder Bertram had been killed! And now they were out for his blood!

    He dove forward, into a roll, but his body was just too old, and too wounded, and he hit the cobblestones hard, sliding rather than rolling over them. He felt ribs breaking and his knee sent shards of pain up his leg. He had dodged the spells though, and he hadn’t lost his wand. He quickly raised part of the ground as a stone wall to shield him. As curses hit the wall, shaking and shattering it, he recast his shielding spell and created a slab of marble as another barrier - and not a moment too soon. More curses shattered it almost as quickly as the first stone wall, but he had gained enough time to react now. He banished the remains at the attacker, peppering his shield, then aimed his wand at the still screaming Death Eater who was trying to crawl out of the acid pit. A flick, and the screaming man flew at the standing Death Eater.

    *****​

    Rodolphus was incensed. That scum had dared to hurt his brother! He would pay for this unforgivable crime with his life! The dark wizard was sending spell after spell at the man, crushing the feeble walls his foe had conjured to hide himself. Rodolphus’s enemy would not escape! He was wounded, and slow, and Rodolphus was one of the Dark Lord’s chosen! His spells couldn’t be stopped!

    A wave of rock shards flew at him, but his shield stopped them, easily. He was about to strike down the wizard who was trying to reach more solid cover when he noticed something large flying at him from the corner of his eye. Rodolphus dove to the side and cast a blasting curse at it before he touched the ground. His shield would be able to handle another hail of fragments much better than a massive… He recognized his brother’s screaming face right before his spell hit and Rabastan was torn to pieces right in front of Rodolphus, blood and other remains splattering against his shield.

    Rabastan… his younger brother… dead. By his own wand… no, by treachery! Foul treachery!

    Screaming in rage, Rodolphus turned around to end the life of the man who had sent his brother to his death, the tip of his wand already glowing with a dark curse.

    The last thing he saw were a dozen wizards and witches sending curses at him.

    *****​

    Aberforth lowered his wand, gulping down air despite the pain each breath caused him. That had been close, though partially it had been his own foolishness, and rash actions. But he was no Albus. He couldn’t suppress his emotions, couldn’t act that coldly, that calculatingly.

    “Grandmother will be pleased to know you haven’t changed, and still would risk your life to save a witch,” Iva said, stepping closer and peering at him while the rest of her group formed a circle around them, facing the villagers and mercenaries who had arrived, at last, at the scene of battle.

    “She’d still call me a damned fool,” Aberforth muttered, “and she’d be right.” A swish numbed his ribs enough for him to stand without too much pain. Showing a weakness would be bad now, with his group facing a village of Macedonians while standing amidst the ruins of their houses, and with at least one of the villagers dead.

    “A fool you may be, but an impressive wizard,” the witch whispered, smiling and patting his shoulder - his wounded one! He couldn’t tell from her expression if she had done so deliberately. Lea would have.

    Scoffing, he straightened and took a careful step forward, taking care not to hurt his wounded knee further, and left the circle formed by Iva’s group. The villagers were watching them, him, wands out, ready to curse. One wrong step, and there would be a bloodbath. He had been in worse situations. Smiling, he repaired his damaged robe - the enchantments were already recovering - and addressed the wizards and witches: “Greetings. My name is Aberforth Dumbledore. I’m looking for a few brave wands to battle scum like those.”

    That sent a murmur through their ranks, as he had known it would. His brother was famous, after all, even in the far-away corners of Magical Europe. He pointed at the wrecked house behind him. “I am sorry, but I couldn’t save the young witch that scum had wounded. She was dead before I reached her.” An older woman gasped, and started to run towards the ruins, followed by a younger witch and wizard. He heard them wailing soon after they had entered the remains of the house. The rest of the crowd facing him and Iva’s group didn’t seem too concerned though - they were probably visiting, and not villagers, he realized.

    An old witch stepped forward. “Aberforth Dumbledore? Sasha’s friend?”

    A relative of Sasha? He nodded and pointed at Iva. “That’s the granddaughter of the witch Sasha and I saved. She and her family have joined me already.”

    More murmurs broke out. Iva shifted her weight around a bit as many took a closer look at her.

    A middle-aged wizard with a badly scarred face chuckled. “There were more than half a dozen of them, and you beat them all.”

    “More than a dozen, disillusioned,” Aberforth corrected him. The wizard nodded.

    The old woman spoke again. “I’m Ruza Nacheva, Sasha’s sister. Why did you attack them in our village?”

    “They have killed a friend of mine, burning down a tavern full of people in the process, and were planning to kill more of my family. I saw they were preparing an ambush in the village, so I intervened.” It was close enough to the truth.

    Ruza nodded, accepting his explanation. “They were hiring, but they are dead now. You’re hiring, and you’re alive.”

    “Yes. Though while the pay is good, the mission will be dangerous. You will be facing the Dark Lord’s worst, you will be working in a country that doesn’t share your traditions and customs, and you’ll be taking orders from my brother, Albus.”

    “Will we be saving fair maidens?” A young wizard asked, grinning wildly. The young witch next to him added: “Or handsome wizards?” Many in the crowd laughed.

    “Who cares about that, will there be loot?” The scarred wizard asked, setting off another round of laughter.

    Aberforth tried to ignore the wailing and lamentations from the dead girl’s family. No, this village hadn’t changed at all. Like Sasha, they were both used to violence and death, eager to fight and even more eager to celebrate. He wondered how his brother, who had troubles with the rougher clientele in Aberforth’s inn, would handle those people.

    Imagining Albus’s reaction made him chuckle as they walked towards the tavern.

    *****​

    Albus Dumbledore had no trouble smiling reassuringly and confidently at his friends gathered in the cottage on the coast of Dover. This time he had good news to share with the Order of the Phoenix - very good news, in fact.

    “My friends, please excuse my slightly late arrival. I have just received very good news.” At that, even Sirius sat up straighter and paid more attention to him than to the veela Albus was rather certain would become his wife. Even Nymphadora and Viktor were less obviously enamored of each other. “Not only have the Dark Lord’s recruiting attempts in the Balkans been stopped, but we have gained more wands for our cause.”

    “Allies?” Emmeline asked, surprised.

    Alastor scoffed. “Mercenaries more likely. Cutthroats, the lot of them, but good fighters. They’ve got far more experience than our own hit-wizards recruits because they don’t coddle their children. As long as they’re paid they’ll usually not turn on you, unless the situation turns desperate. But don’t count on it. Keep them between you and the enemy, and never let them out of your sight lest they’ll be tempted to listen to better offers.”

    Sirius grinned. “I’ll be glad to put Lucius’s gold to good use then.”

    “Alastor is exaggerating a bit, but yes, several mercenaries have been hired. I bid you to welcome them warmly, and be tolerant if at first they have trouble fitting in. As Alastor pointed out, they have different customs and traditions.” Albus hoped that his brother had hired the more dependable, honorable ones, and not bandits in all but name. Aberforth had an unfortunate tendency to associate with the more unsavory elements of Britain, which colored his views, sadly.

    “And they’ve got different experiences. They’ve got a lot of pride, and their wands sit loose in their holsters. They take insults deadly seriously, and start blood feuds over what we’d call small disagreements,” Alastor said in his usual gravelly voice, his good eye looking at Molly Weasley while his enchanted one spun around.

    Viktor nodded. “He is correct. They may not have attended a prestigious school like we have, but they have grown up and live with regular raids and feuds. That experience cannot be discounted, as some of our border guards tend to find out.” Nymphadora patted his hand.

    Kingsley, ever the auror, asked: “You said the Dark Lord’s recruiters have been stopped. Permanently?”

    Albus nodded. “Rodolphus and Rabastan Lestrange as well as a dozen wands they had hired were killed in Macedonia.”

    “Those beasts are dead?” Sirius grinned ferally. ”Augusta and Neville will be overjoyed!”

    Hestia nodded. “Whoever killed those two is certainly a welcomed addition to our ranks.” Her slight glance at the four veela sitting with Sirius and Remus showed, at least to Albus, that she wasn’t quite as welcoming towards those new members. The Headmaster hoped she’d get over her jealousy soon - it wasn’t as if she had been serious about Sirius. She wouldn’t have believed him guilty otherwise.

    While the others voiced their agreement, and whispered among each other, Alastor chuckled. He probably knew who had done that deed, and that Aberforth would scoff at the thought that he would ever join the ranks of what he saw as Albus’s order.

    Minerva coughed, and most of the people present quickly fell silent. Not unlike her students in class, Albus thought, amused. “With his recruiting efforts in the Balkans stopped, for now, won’t the Dark Lord look towards other sources of new followers?

    “Dark creatures like werewolves, vampires, trolls and even giants!” Emmeline stated. Albus saw Remus wince.

    Alastor snorted. “Werewolves and vampires we can handle. And giants? They’re no problem. They’re too afraid to leave their last hideouts, and with good cause.”

    Most of those present looked puzzled. Understandable, since they only knew the old reports of battles against giants. The grizzled auror chuckled.

    Rubeus nodded in agreement. “Yah. Giants been scared’f muggle cannons fer centuries, and tha muggles improved them alot since. Giants’re tough, but not that tough, and they make f’r awfully big targets, me’mum always said.”

    “If we could get those cannons...” Sirius whispered.

    “It would not do us any good,” Albus shook his head at the wizard. “While they are very useful to hit and kill large, lumbering giants, they would have a much harder time hitting humans.” He didn’t mention that learning how to use them without killing yourself or your allies by mistake was difficult as well - Sirius and even Remus might take it as a challenge. “The muggles use them to hit vehicles, not other muggles. And outside of dealing with giants and their resistance to magic, they are not as useful as a wand.” Not to mention that the ICW’s reaction upon discovering that anyone started to use muggle artillery in a wizarding war would be rather drastic. “But enough of that. We will need safe quarters for our new allies, and a lot of them. I have a few more such cottages prepared, but depending on how many join us from the Balkans, it won’t be enough.”

    “I’ll host Viktor’s family in my home then, They’ll be family soon enough!” Sirius announced cheerfully, as Albus had expected him to.

    “I can expand a house or two easily. Did it enough at home,” Arthur offered. William added: “And I can ward them.”

    Albus had hoped for such an offer as well. The Weasleys were used to doing much of what other, richer families contracted out. With Aberforth’s generous hiring practises, such self-reliancy would prove quite fortunate for Albus’s finances.

    The Headmaster smiled at his friends. “Very well. Now, what other news is there?”

    While Kingsley and Nymphadora shared the latest reports from the Ministry, Albus was already planning how best to use his new wands. Integrating those mercenaries would require a delicate touch. Maybe he should leave them to his brother…

    *****​

    “I offer you the hospitality of my home.”

    Sirius Black greeted Viktor’s family - his parents, Mihail Bogomiliev and Lyubuv Radomirieva, as well as his older brother Apostol Mihailiev and his best friend and best man, Boris Stankoiev - who had just arrived through the floo.

    Mihail bowed back and declared: “I accept your hospitality for myself and my family.”

    Grinning, Sirius took a step closer and offered his hand. “Welcome to No 12, Grimmauld Place! Ancestral home of the Black Family, and once the most cursed building in London! Don’t worry though, it’s almost perfectly safe now.” Behind him, Valérie and Eugénie giggled.

    His well-practised line didn’t seem to faze the family. A quick glance at the carefully bland expression of Viktor showed the reason for that. Oh, yes, the young man would fit in just fine. His often stoic expression hid the sense of humor anyone marrying into Sirius’s family would need.

    “And we’re glad to be here!” Mihail stated, and embraced Sirius. “To prepare for war, and a wedding!” In a stage-whisper, the wizard added: “Both are very similar when it comes to my family, you know!”, then laughed while his wife scolded him.

    Sirius was released, and resisted the urge to check his ribs before he introduced his girlfriends to his new guests. To his slight surprise, the four veela were greeted very politely, but a bit distantly. Probably Viktor at work again. Hopefully, that lack of the usual reaction to them wouldn’t be seen as a challenge by his girlfriends to step up the flirting. While the French witches understood cultural differences, they didn’t always act with those in mind.

    “Now, let me give you a brief tour of the house, and show you your rooms.” They had added another floor for the new guests - apart from those present, a number of Viktor’s extended family would be arriving later, and Sirius thought it would be best to not mix them with his other guests, not too much at least, until they had grown used to each other. Remus had approved of that.

    Thinking of his best friend made Sirius felt both guilty and relieved that Remus had chosen to stay at Hogwarts for the duration of the visit of the Krums. Revealing the man’s curse to the guests would have created problems, but not revealing them would have gone against the hospitality Sirius had offered. Cursed if you did, cursed if you didn’t.

    Kreacher arrived at the top of the stairs, showing his teeth in what went for a friendly smile for the old elf. The little bugger was happy, of course - all of the Krums were purebloods. The wizard pointed at the elf. “That’s Kreacher, my family’s house elf. If you need anything, call for him, and he’ll come. Eventually.”

    Kreacher nodded eagerly.

    Sirius felt the need to add: “He’s also quite deranged. Please ignore him should he start rambling about slaves and dungeons.”

    Judging by the looks his comment caused, Viktor hadn’t been that thorough in preparing his family for their stay at Grimmauld Place.

    “Oh, no, Kreacher wouldn’t do that. Master made it clear that the Dungeons are a private family matter.”

    While the Krums now openly stared at him and his girlfriends, Sirius wondered if Hermione would believe it if he vanished the cackling elf’s tongue and claimed it was an accident in the kitchen.

    *****​

    The room was covered with two dozen foot-wide spiders skittering around, sharp claws leaving small dents in the floor and sharper fangs clicking as they tried to reach the piece of meat dangling from the ceiling. Even after five minutes, they hadn’t met with any success.

    Hermione, observing from the side, shook her head. The summoned spiders were not smart enough to climb up the walls and along the ceiling to descend from above. They weren’t even smart enough to climb over each other so some could reach it. She pointed her wand at them.

    “Clades Araneae!”

    Her spell covered the area in a flash of light, and the two dozen spiders - the result of two spells - started to twitch, trembled, then collapsed and lay still.

    Hermione sighed. “I fear that’s the best I could do. I can’t get them smart enough to find a way around that obstacle, or to work together.”

    “I didn’t expect them to. Neither of the parent species are social, or smart,” Miss Jenny said while prodding the closest carcass with her basilisk hide boots. When she saw fluids leak out of the carapace, she nodded, apparently satisfied. “I also didn’t expect you to create two spells though.”

    Hermione smiled. “I didn’t want to create a poison without the antidote.” Well, she did, sort of - she hadn’t created an antidote to the spider’s venom. There were potions, and beozars, but those didn’t work that well with poison meant to liquify a victim from the inside.

    “So… ‘Bane Spider’ and ‘Spider’s Bane’?” The Australian Witch was grinning.

    “Yes.” Hermione hadn’t chosen those names herself. Ron and Harry had insisted that “Redback-Funnel-Web-Hybrid-Spider Summons” was not a good name for her new spell, no matter how correct it was, and had made her pick one from a list of suggestions they had come up with.

    “I like it. And ‘Spider’s Bane’ will be very popular in my home country.”

    “It’s also very popular at Hogwarts,” Hermione said in a dry voice. At least among those in the know. Ron had jumped at the chance to test that new spell, and according to Harry, was still casting it several times a day in their dorm room. As a consequence, all sorts of spiders were now an endangered species near the Gryffindor dorms.

    “Does it work on magical spiders too? That would have been very useful when the acromantula nest in the Forbidden Forest was cleared out. They burned down a whole section to get all the eggs and young, or so Gilderoy told me.”

    “I haven’t been able to test that, but it should work, though it will have trouble affecting the bigger ones.” Hermione frowned. While acromantulas were dangerous and known man-eaters, they were also intelligent, the older ones even able to talk. Killing them all like that... She felt like a hypocrite, developing such a spell after her reaction to that massacre. But as that event had proven, there were already a lot of spells to kill those spiders, hers worked just a bit more selectively.

    “Even better! If you can tweak the spell to include all venomous arthropods, you’ll never have to pay for a drink in any pub in Magical Australia, ever again!” It went without saying that only the enclaves founded by British wizards were covered by that. The Aborigines ruling most of the continent though...

    “Aren’t there spells to deal with pests and such already?” Hermione couldn’t imagine any magical country in an area with venomous spiders and other insects not developing spells of that nature.

    “Yeah but most are ward-types which force the critters out of an area. Yours kills them. That’ll be a hit.” Jenny’s grin seemed slightly deranged to Hermione.

    “I think spreading ‘Spider’s Bane’ should be delayed until the war’s over. If Death Eaters learn it, or of it, ‘Bane Spider’ won’t be too useful,” Hermione pointed out.

    “Ah, right. I guess I’ll have to wait until I can get my boots enchanted with that spell.”

    Hermione was briefly confused about the purpose of such an enchantment, until she remembered that some animals tended to sneak into boots left on the ground during the night, leading to venomous stings or bites in the morning. Though a ward would work perfectly fine there. “I’ll see what I can do about tweaking the spell, but with my O.W.L.s ahead, I won’t have much time until the end of term.” And she had her other research to do as well. Harry needed her.

    “That’s no problem. The war won’t be over that quickly anyway. Thank you again! I’ll teach it to Rubeus, and the others.” Jenny grinned, and turned to leave.

    “Good evening, Miss Jenny.” Hermione thought that the war not ending quickly actually was a big, the biggest problem, but commenting on that point would have made her look pedantic.

    *****​

    “And one bludger goes straight for Bell, who’s carrying the quaffle, but there’s Fred - or George - Weasley, intercepting it and sending it back to the Slytherins. Ow! That one came from Goyle’s blind side, and hit him right when he was batting at the other bludger, which caused him to miss! Double hit, and and he’s off the broom! Flint is calling for a time-out as Matron Pomfrey rushes on the pitch to render first aid.”

    Harry Potter knew he was supposed to stop playing, in his case searching for the snitch, during the time-out, but no seeker would ever do that. So all he did was stop his broom while his eyes kept looking for the golden ball. Malfoy’s successor as Slytherin’s seeker, Martello Preston-Davis, did the same. If the snitch appeared now, that would lead to probably embarrassing scenes as both of them would try to get closer without looking as if they had actually spotted the snitch.

    Harry grinned, then schooled his features again, and slowly, very slowly started to drift to his right. He carefully didn’t look in that direction at all, but kept his eyes on the Slytherin seeker. Preston-Davis noticed, of course, and snarling, started to fly towards Harry’s right. Too fast to count as a drift. And as Harry had expected, Hooch didn’t miss that.

    “Preston tries to hunt the snitch during the time-out, earning a penalty shot! As Goyle has returned to the pitch, Bell lines up, aims, and she scores! 140-50, Gryffindor!”

    Snickering, Harry sped up. For the House of the Cunning, their Quidditch players were a rather gullible lot, at least most of them. He dove down towards the ground - not a Wronksi feint, even if Hermione would disagree, since he pulled up far too early - and did a lap on the level of the lowest rank of the spectators. He thought he had spotted something golden below the Hufflepuff stands. If it had been the snitch, then it had disappeared again though. Harry didn’t really mind. He loved flying and this was the last Quidditch match of the year, the last chance to compete - at least according to the study schedule Hermione had made for him.

    “Has Potter seen the snitch? Why else would he fly straight at the stands? And Weasley blocks another shot from Meadhill!”

    Why would he? Because it was fun! He ducked under the stands, weaving through the support beams, then shot back to the pitch, almost colliding with a Slytherin chaser, who promptly fumbled the quaffle. Rolling his boom, Harry rose in a steep climb before leveling out 100 yards above the pitch. Preston was following him, though a bit more cautious. Too cautious, Harry thought, to have a chance to catch up with him. Meanwhile, Harry’s team had scored again. 150-50.

    For a few minutes, the Gryffindor seeker flew a ‘standard search pattern’, as Hermione had called it. He trusted his intuition and luck more, but his girlfriend had spent some of her precious time on researching such patterns from airplane searches, and so the young wizard felt obligated to at least use them a few times during a match. The witch usually didn’t care at all about the game, after all.

    Just as he was about to switch for a random pattern, he spotted a glint near the ground. A golden glint!

    Harry banked and dropped into a dive straight down, rapidly picking up speed. The sound from the air rushing past his ears started to drown out the announcer. Harry didn’t notice. He was focused on the snitch, and on the dive. Halfway there. He was still accelerating. Almost… now!

    He started to pull up with both hands, straining to fight the broom’s momentum. As soon as he wasn’t headed straight down anymore, he reached out with his hand towards the snitch. At the last second, the ball took an extreme turn and Harry missed his grab, the tips of his fingers brushing against one of the fluttering wings.

    Cursing, he pulled with both hands to turn around, Preston was right behind him, and might… he managed to duck just in time to avoid Preston’s screaming body. At that height, and with that vector… Harry winced when Preston hit the cushioning charms covering the ground. Even with the charms, that hurt, as he knew from personal experience.

    He had now finished pulling his own broom around and was chasing again after the snitch, which was trying to escape towards the Gryffindor stands. Snarling, Harry raced after it, once more reaching out with one hand. The thing was faster than he had expected, flying straight, not darting around as usual. It didn’t matter much though. The wizard bent down, reducing drag to speed up a tiny bit more. Almost… almost… his hand closed around the snitch, then he pulled his broom up while he slowed down as much as possible.

    He cleared the spells protecting the Gryffindor stands from crashing brooms and bludgers by a hand’s width while the students below were jumping and cheering. Ron in his keeper armor was already racing after him on his own broom, a wide grin on his face, followed by the rest of the team.

    After a group hug in the air, with lots of shoulder-clapping and cheering, the team flew the traditional victory lap, cheered by three-quarters - more or less - of the spectators. Among them a wildly waving and smiling Hermione.

    *****​

    “I’ve received confirmation of the deaths of Rodolphus and Rabastan.” The Dark Lord Voldemort said. He had felt them die, of course, but it wouldn’t do to spread what the Dark Mark really did. Not even to his Bella. Let her believe he needed a spell to confirm it.

    Bellatrix Lestrange pursed her lips. “That will set your recruitment plans back, my lord.” Otherwise, the witch didn’t react much to the news of the death of her husband and brother in law. Voldemort hadn’t expected her to. Their marriage had been an arrangement all involved had known was a mere fiction, a concession for her family. Neither love nor passion had been part of it, and despite both Rodolphus and Bella being among his most faithful, he hadn’t seen any sign of friendship developing either. Even before Azkaban. Afterwards… they had tolerated each other, which had been the best he could have hoped for.

    “That is correct. Other agents are still at work in Europe, but the Balkans are the best source for wands.” Redirecting one to the area was possible, but his enemies would expect that. His wand would have to act with a good cover, and setting that up would take some time. Dumbledore had won that round.

    He briefly closed his eyes and took a deep breath to calm down. Ranting or destroying something wouldn’t do him any good. The ritual he was creating showed promise, great promise, but it couldn’t be rushed, not without taking unacceptable risks. He still needed a diversion, and he would need more wands even once the ritual succeeded, to take over and run the country.

    He would have to resort to creatures then. Vampires and werewolves. They would make useful curse fodder, given their grievances with Britain’s society, and while they didn’t fight for free, a promise - empty, of course - of a higher status in a country ruled by the Dark Lord would be sufficient to make them loyal. He’d have to be a bit more discreet when sacrificing werewolves, of course, but since that would only happen on a full moon, when they were reduced to mindless beasts, it shouldn’t be too difficult to hide the truth about his work from the cursed beasts until it was too late.

    He felt Bellatrix’s arms around him and caressed her hair before returning the embrace. It was tempting to console himself in her arms. But it wouldn’t solve his problems. He needed wizards, not beasts.

    He took a deep breath again. He’d have to activate some of his secret followers. And check if Igor was still resisting him, or if the traitor had finally succumbed to his influence. Durmstrang would make for a good recruiting ground if its Headmaster was once again one of his. He might even let the traitor live, should he provide enough wands for the Dark Lord.

    He ran his hands over Bellatrix’s bare back, then kissed her. While he led her to his bed, his eyes briefly glanced at the note on his desk, the report from his spy at the Ministry. Yes, Dumbledore had won one round, but Voldemort was about to win a decisive victory. The prophecy would soon be his.


    Chapter 37: The Prophecy
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2015
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  17. Threadmarks: Chapter 37: The Prophecy
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 37: The Prophecy

    Cyril Meadwater-Baker didn’t know much about the war. He knew why he wasn’t allowed to go outside anymore: It was because of You-Know-Who. The same You-Know-Who who had been defeated by the Boy-Who-Lived, as every Harry Potter novel he owned stated at least once. You-Know-Who had returned from death, though, like the Cuban Zombie Lord, and Harry Potter hadn’t used the Blessed Salt on him yet. Until the Boy-Who-Lived defeated You-Know-Who again, Cyril was stuck.

    But he didn’t know much more about the war. His parents and grandparents didn’t tell him much, and he wasn’t allowed to read the Daily Prophet anymore. He wasn’t allowed to visit all of his friends either - some of them, his parents said, were ‘too exposed’, or ‘too dangerous’. He didn’t know how that worked. The last time he heard that, it had been about a very small robe, and a very fast broom.

    It wasn’t that bad though - he was living at his grandparents’ house now, the big ‘Meadwater Mansion’, as his mother called it, and all of his cousins were there as well. Those who, like him, were not at Hogwarts yet, at least. And the cousins who had finished Hogwarts, but those were adults, and didn’t count - he couldn’t play with them. Well, he could play chess with Alphons Meadwater-Tryce, but he would lose all the time unless he could play with his grandfather’s set. But after his mother had heard the things the pieces said when they were taken he wasn’t allowed to play with that set anymore either.

    He was about to ask Meribeth Meadwater-Brown to play seeker with him again - grandfather had allowed them to fly their toy brooms indoors, provided they avoided their grandmother’s rooms and the kitchen - when he saw his father enter through the door. That was weird- he usually came through the floo, and much later in the day.

    “Cyril! Come here!”

    “Yes, dad!” The boy trotted over to his father, who was still wearing his office robes. His mum thought they were too boring, but dad said they fit his work at the Ministry.

    Dad hugged him, as he usually did when he came home, even though Cyril was almost old enough to get his Hogwarts letter, far too old to get hugged like a baby!

    Pouting, Cyril asked: “Shouldn’t you be at work?”

    “I took the afternoon off so we can go shopping for your birthday present.”

    “Oh?” Cyril perked up, smiling, then frowned. “You said that was too dangerous, and we’d owl-order.”

    “I said that, but things have changed.” His father looked a bit distracted, Cyril thought. “And I think you deserve a big gift, with the war and all.”

    “Oh!” His granny had said the same thing. Cyril had gotten far more dessert and gifts ever since they had moved in with his grandparents, even more so than he usually got at the big mansion. “Can I get the new Cleansweep 9 then?” Most of his cousins wanted a Firebolt, but Cyril knew they were too expensive, and the latest Cleansweep was the best overall broom on the market.

    His father nodded. “Don’t tell your mother though, not until the birthday.”

    Cyril beamed. “Let’s go then!” He turned to head to the floo, but his dad held him back.

    “We’ll apparate. It’s a surprise, remember?”

    Cyril nodded, took his father’s hand, and the two went outside. He’d get a Cleansweep 9 for his birthday! This was a great day!

    The apparition was weird, far worse than floo travel. It felt as if a giant stuffed him into a small tube, then wrung him out again. Or so Cyril imagined. Floo travel was far better. But it was for a Cleansweep 9, so he’d not complain.

    They didn’t arrive in Diagon Alley though, but on some field. “Dad, did you get lost? This isn’t Quality Quidditch Supplies!”

    “Oh, no, Cyril. I already bought you the broom.” Dad pulled out a small package in broom form.

    “But…” Cyril liked going shopping. There were so many things to look at. He had heard there would be a new joke shop opening even, soon at least. On the other hand, what really mattered that he got the broom he had told his parents so much about.

    Another wizard in a ministry robe appeared. Cyril hadn’t heard the popping noise from apparition, so… had he been invisible? And why?

    “Meadwater.” The man had a harsh voice.

    Dad looked distracted again, even as he nodded. “Macnair.”

    Cyril had heard about Macnair. His mother called him ‘the butcher’, and his father didn’t like him either. But Cyril knew he had to be polite even to people he didn’t like. Especially to people he didn’t like. “Hello, Mister!”

    The wizard bent down and grinned at him. He looked scary, and Cyril gripped his dad’s hand tighter.

    “Hello Cyril. Did you know there’s a prophecy about you?”

    *****​

    “The Lestrange brothers are dead?” Neville Longbottom sounded as if he thought this was too good to be true. He looked hopeful though, sitting on one of the couches in the unused classroom that Harry and Hermione had taken over. The last classes for the day had finished, and if not for that news, they’d be already studying until dinner. And they’d study soon enough, if Hermione’s expression was any indication.

    Harry Potter nodded at his friend. “Yes. It’s not been officially announced yet, so keep it a secret, but both were killed in the Balkans. Dumbledore told us so.” Sirius had told him that, to be precise, but his godfather had heard it straight from the Headmaster’s mouth in an Order meeting.

    “I… I have to tell Gran.” Nevill said. He was breathing heavily. Ginny, sitting next to him, put her hands on his shoulder and thigh.

    “Of course, Neville.” Harry was carefully ignoring the hint of tears in his friend’s eyes. He glanced at Hermione, sitting at his side, then at Ron. Both looked as uncomfortable watching their friend’s emotional reaction as he felt.

    “Just don’t spread it around, it’ll be mentioned in the Prophet soon enoughy,” Hermione cautioned the Gryffindor.

    “And in the Quibbler!” Luna added. “Would you have a quote for us?” The Ravenclaw witch leaned forward eagerly, her pad and quill floating out of her enchanted bag.

    Aicha rolled her eyes, grabbed Luna’s collar and pulled her friend back to her seat. “There’s a time for interviews, Luna. And it’s not right now.”

    “But…” Luna pouted. “Dad said a good reporter is always working.”

    “And a good friend knows when not to work.”

    Neville made a sound that was as much a chuckle as it was a sob. “It’s been months since they escaped… knowing they were out there, waiting… Merlin, I hope they died slowly and painfully.” He looked up at Harry, hopefully.

    Harry shook his head. “We didn’t get any details. We don’t even know who killed them.”

    Neville blinked. “But… Gran needs to know. I need to know.”

    “She’ll have to ask the Headmaster then. But I doubt he’ll tell her. It might endanger whoever did it,” Hermione said.

    “Bellatrix Lestrange,” Neville stated in a flat tone what everyone had been thinking. The dark witch would certainly attempt to avenge her family’s death.

    “Do you think she’ll go on a rampage?” Ron asked. Padma flinched at that.

    “If she did she’ll likely get caught or killed,” Hermione said. Harry knew she thought that this would be, overall, a good thing. Fortunately, she didn’t share her opinion, nor let her expression show it. His girlfriend was sometimes a bit too ruthless for her own good.

    He opened his mouth to reassure Neville that Bellatrix wouldn’t go after his grandmother when his forehead erupted in pain. Bending over, he barely could hear the others gasp, barely felt the blood running down his face, or Hermione’s arms around him, and then he was somewhere else, was someone else.

    *****​

    The boy was staring at him, tears running down his cheek. The child couldn’t move his eyes due to the Full Body-Bind Curse that held him, but he could still cry. He bent down, almost gently brushing the tears away from the child’s left eye. Next to the child, a muggle, tied with magical ropes and silenced, was desperately struggling. Both the boy and the muggle feared what was coming, even if neither knew what was about to happen to them. He laughed at the sight of the muggle screaming without making a sound, his feeble brain struggling to comprehend his situation as much as his body was to escape, both attempts doomed to fail.

    He raised his wand at the muggle. If he had the time, he’d draw it out - the ritual worked better if the sacrifice died slowly. The more pain, the more gain. But he lacked the time to do it properly. A silent Cutting Curse cut the man’s throat, and he bled out in less than a minute. A flick of his wrist had the blood float up, and gather in a golden bowl. He poured the red liquid down on the boy’s forehead, the ritual magic causing the blood to form his mark on the child’s skin as it dried far quicker than was natural. More blood was used to form runes all over the child’s head.

    A jab with his wand caused the dried blood to flare up, smoke rising from the forehead as the blood seemed to burn off over the course of several minutes, leaving unblemished, unmarked skin. The boy was still stiff, unable to do or say anything, despite the agony he had felt during the process.

    Only one thing left.

    “Obliviate.”

    Hermione Granger, shuddered as she retreated from the Headmaster’s pensieve. To think that Harry hadn’t just seen, but felt, lived through that… She hugged him, hard, comforting him, and herself.

    It took Dumbledore a bit longer to leave the pensieve, but when he did, he looked very concerned. Almost shocked. And tired - but he had looked tired already when they had finally managed to meet him, late in the evening, after he had returned from a Wizengamot session.

    “That didn’t look like the horcrux ritual we saw before,” Hermione said, looking at the old wizard.

    “It was not.” The old wizard led them back to his office. When all were seated, he conjured three glasses and floated a bottle of whiskey - muggle whiskey, Hermione noted - over. She briefly considered refusing, but decided against it. One small glass might do her good.

    It didn’t. The burning sensation in her throat was not quite as bad as shooting fire out from her mouth, but it came close. That was not some normal whiskey!

    The Headmaster spoke up again: “It was not, and yet it was - or so I think. I will have to study that ritual in more detail, and consult a few books to check the runes he used.”

    “They looked like Harrapan, I think,” Hermione added. “The Indus script.” She didn’t know much about Magical India’s traditions, but she had read a book about ancient languages in her second year, to prepare for her third year.

    “Oh? I do hope it doesn’t involve Kali,” the Headmaster looked at her with sudden interest, but didn’t elaborate.

    According to her muggle source, the script was still undeciphered. But if the wizards of India had kept it in use… no, if they had kept it in use, more would be known about it. The Statute of Secrecy was only a few hundred years old, after all. “Do you have experiences with Indian Magic traditions, sir?”

    “Unfortunately I lack real experience. Or fortunately, given the subject matter. India’s Magical Castes are very insular, and do not share their knowledge with those not born into the caste. I suspect Tom acquired the knowledge he just demonstrated through underhanded or violent means.”

    “To turn a child into a horcrux,” Harry spat out. Hermione saw how tense he was, how angry and disgusted. She understood - she had been focusing on the academic aspects, and tried not to think of the consequences of that ritual. “Why did he do that? He has to have a reason!”

    “While it is possible that he simply wanted to add another soul anchor, hidden from everyone, I do suspect another motive. Today’s session at the Wizengamot was unusually long, due to several delays and obstructions of the planned proceedings. If that was done to keep me occupied and unable to interfere, then that would strongly indicate this ritual was more important than his others.”

    “If the delay was the work of his agents and spies, can they be exposed due to that?” Harry asked.

    “I fear that they were working through unwitting pawns - something the Wizengamot sadly is not lacking in.” Dumbledore sighed with a tired smile. “But I will mention this to Amelia, who can authorize an investigation.” He looked at Harry and Hermione. “I do not have to stress that this needs the utmost secrecy. If Tom realizes that Harry can see what he is doing during rituals…”

    Hermione nodded repeatedly. “I told our friends who witnessed it that they can’t tell anyone about this, and they only know Harry’s scar started bleeding.”

    “It would have been better if they hadn’t seen anything, but it’ll do for now.” Dumbledore sighed again, and Hermione had the distinct impression that he was considering other measures to preserve the secret of Harry’s connection to Voldemort. She didn’t say anything though - she knew perfectly well how important that secrecy was for Harry’s safety.

    “I think that’s all for now. Here is a pass in case you encounter a prefect.”

    Harry took the pass before he left the office with Hermione.

    Outside, Hermione saw Harry sigh, and lean against the wall. He looked as tired and exhausted as the Headmaster, right then. Hermione glanced around. No one else was nearby. There shouldn’t be a prefect patrol either at this hour.

    She stepped up and embraced her boyfriend. If he was surprised at her breaking her act as the dutiful retainer in semi-public, he didn’t show it. He just hugged and kissed her.

    *****​

    The early light of the rising sun shone into Albus Dumbledore’s office when he closed the last book he had consulted. He had studied the memory in the pensieve for hours, all throughout the night. It had taken two Pepper-Up potions to keep going without getting sloppy. Minerva and Poppy would be incensed if they knew what he had done. But it had been needed - he was now reasonably sure what Tom was planning. But that did not mean he knew what he could, and should be doing about it.

    Those Indian runes all were related to Perception and Possession. The boy had not just been turned into a horcrux, but into a vessel for Voldemort’s senses. One he could control from afar, unless Albus was greatly mistaken. And one that shared part of the Dark Lord’s soul. A vessel that would be able to access the prophecy in the Department of Mysteries.

    The old wizard didn’t know the name of the poor child, now doomed, but he was likely the subject of another prophecy stored in the Hall of Prophecies, and therefore would be allowed to enter. Unless Albus alerted Saul of the danger.

    But could he do that? Voldemort would be certainly stopped, but he’d not be hurt. And he’d know that somehow, Albus had known of his plan. It wouldn’t take him long to eliminate the possible leaks and spies. But would he find out that Harry could see through his eyes? That was very likely, even more so with Harry’s friends, not trained in Occlumency, having witnessed that scene. Obliviation sounded more and more like the best course of action. On the other hand, if Voldemort wasn’t stopped - or not by measures taken right after his ritual, there remained the possibility that Saul’s current precautions would stop him - then he might assume, should he hear about Harry’s reaction, that the boy simply felt pain whenever Voldemort worked ritual magic. Might - it was by no means certain, and Albus knew well how dangerous and foolish it was to hope an enemy made a mistake. He could start rumors that Harry was a seer, but that was unlikely to fool the Dark Lord. It remained a possible cover story, though. Albus would have to discuss it with Sirius and his godson.

    But that didn’t change the fact that no matter how he twisted it, he had to decide if protecting the prophecy was worth revealing Harry’s connection.

    Albus stood up and started to pace in his office, waking Fawkes up, who trilled at him in concern. “I am alright, old friend, just thinking,” he told his companion.

    The answer was that the prophecy wasn’t worth it. The Dark Lord hadn’t let his lack of knowledge about its contents hold him back much, if at all. And as he was getting more desperate by losing so many followers, he’d throw caution in the wind anyway. Further, Harry already was marked by the Dark Lord, both literally and figuratively, as the symbol of Tom’s first defeat. He already wanted to murder the boy, knowing that they were destined to face each other wouldn’t change that.

    No, protecting the prophecy wasn’t worth the possible loss of more insight into the Dark Lord’s plans and rituals. Especially not with that disturbing sacrifice of a werewolf.

    So Albus wouldn’t inform Saul. Would hope that either the Unspeakable’s protections were strong enough to stop the Dark Lord, or that Voldemort would bypass them without hurting anyone. And would hope that in the end, his gamble would be proven correct, and not turn out to be one of his many grave mistakes.

    And he’d hope against hope that the unknown young boy the Dark Lord was sacrificing would survive, somehow. Even though he knew that as a horcrux, the child was doomed already.

    *****​

    Cyril Meadwater-Baker kept bouncing from one foot to the other. There was a prophecy about him! He was special! His dad had told him so this morning, and was now taking him to see the prophecy! Cyril was so excited, he had managed to forget all about the fight between his mum and his dad, when she had found out about his birthday gift shopping trip. Cyril hadn’t understood why that had been a bad thing, just because she hadn’t known about it. But that was why she shouldn’t know about this, or about the new robe his dad had gotten him today as well - mum was ‘too emotional’.

    “If you’ll follow me, Misters Meadwater-Baker,” the man with his face hidden by his robe - the Unspeakable! - said, motioning for Cyril and his dad to enter into the Department of Mysteries! It was like in ‘Harry Potter and the Magical Mystery’!

    They were descending in a special elevator, even his father had never been in that one, and he had been working for the Ministry since before Cyril had been born!

    “Welcome to the Department of Mysteries,” the Unspeakable said. Cyril wondered if he was smiling, under his cowl. “I’ll lead you to the Hall of Prophecies, after a quick check for curses.”

    The wizard - or witch, the voice was … weird … took out a wand and started casting. Cyril flinched, he didn’t know why - he wasn’t cursed, after all. But neither he nor dad were cursed, or under any spell, at least no spell that wasn’t a normal spell. Cyril didn’t know why his dad seemed embarrassed.

    “You’ll have to wait here, sir. Only the direct subjects of a prophecy are allowed inside the hall,” the Unspeakable said, holding up his wand.

    “What? I’m his father, I need to know about the prophecy concerning my son!” Dad sounded angry, but not as angry as last evening, when he had fought with mum.

    “Security reasons, sir. You understand.”

    Dad grudgingly nodded, looking a bit like when mum had convinced him to move in with their grandparents. Cyril didn’t really pay that much attention though. The other wizard led him through a door, into a room with a dozen door, a room that moved around itself!

    And then they were walking down a shiny stone hallway, with lots of pillars, towards one of the biggests doors Cyril had ever seen. It was bigger than the gate back at his grandparents’ house! When it slowly opened, Cyril also could see that it was thicker than their family vault door at Gringotts. It had to take powerful spells to move it at all!

    When he stepped into the Hall of Prophecies, Cyril held his breath, but no spell struck him down - he was meant to be there! Just as his dad had said. Looking around, he spotted rows upon rows of shelves, all packed with blue globes. “Are those…?”

    “Yes, Cyril. Those are the prophecy records. Each stores a prophecy, and only those it concerns can access it.” Cyril stared at him, and he added “Only those who are mentioned in the prophecy can take one and listen to it.” Ah!

    Behind them, the massive door closed, and for a second, Cyril was deathly afraid. He just knew, somehow, he’d not leave this hall again.

    It was his last thought, before he started to scream with pain.

    *****​

    The Dark Lord Voldemort didn’t take more than a second to push his consciousness past the weak resistance the boy provided and take control of the child’s body. Long enough for the Unspeakable to realize something was wrong, but not long enough to do stop him before he took control and dodged the first spell, rolling behind the next shelf.

    His now small hand dipped into the concealed pocket in the robe, where the wand Steinberg had provided had been hidden this morning. As soon as he touched it, he felt a rush of power. It wasn’t a perfect match, like his yew wand, but it sung to him anyway.

    The Unspeakable was good and smart. He was disillusioned already, and retreating. But he wasn’t good enough, not when facing the Dark Lord - no matter what body he was currently using. He wasn’t a mere shade anymore, not after his resurrection. A flick of his wrist had the floor around the vault door rise and seal it off. Whispered words put up anti-disillusion and apparition jinxes. Just in case the Unspeakables had found ways to ward the hall against apparition and still apparate inside it.

    He could feel the wand struggle slightly with those spells. It seemed to burn with the desire to cast dark spells. Smiling cruelly, he obliged it, sending a volley of dark curses at the other wizard. None of them hit, but they forced his opponent to move where he wanted him to move to. And the spells Voldemort was using were so easy to cast… far easier than he was used to.

    He didn’t even feel the pain from the possession that had sent the boy into a screaming fit and had needed an effort from the Dark Lord, intimately familiar with pain in all its forms, to ignore. His smile widened as a his next barrage forced the hooded wizard further back.

    The Unspeakable was not giving up though, and sent curses of his own at Voldemort. He must have realized that he wasn’t facing a child, and judging by the selection of spells hitting the protective barriers around the prophecies, he was quite versed in the Dark Arts himself. The Dark Lord was forced to dodge, and conjure shields of stone and metal to absorb some of the curses.

    The outcome though was never in doubt. A Head-Shriveling Curse almost hit the man, a Heartcrusher sent half his robe smoking, and an Organ-Rotting Curse made him jump back, right onto the patch of marble the Dark Lord had spelled when the fight had started. Stone vines shot up from it, twisting around the man’s legs and piercing them with barbs longer and sharper than a shark’s teeth.

    Voldemort chuckled when he heard what a desperate scream sounded like, with the Unspeakable’s voice-changing enchantment working. He had to finish the fight before help could arrive though, and couldn’t enjoy himself. Floating up behind a shelf, he pointed his wand at the struggling wizard.

    “Avada Kedavra!”

    The Unspeakable was good. Faced with the choice of letting the stone vines crush and impale him, or letting the Killing Curse hit him, he managed to stop both by blasting the vines’ base and flinging them into the path of the curse. The stone fragments that were sent flying from the resulting explosions hurt him further though, and he didn’t manage to stop or dodge Voldemort’s second Killing Curse.

    A quick detection spell originally developed for libraries pointed the Dark Lord at the one prophecy mentioning Harry Potter. The vault door was starting to open, but was blocked by his sealing spell. It wouldn’t hold out for long, but neither would his body - the damage from the possession and the feedback from Steinberg’s wand was too great.

    It didn’t matter though. All he needed now was to listen, and both his spell and this body would last long enough. He flew to the shelf and grabbed the orb, then touched it with his wand. At once the unearthly voice of a seer caught up in a vision filled his ears.

    “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord…”

    He was laughing when the Unspeakables broke through his sealing spell, laughing as the child’s body he was possessing was breaking down, bleeding from his mouth, ears and eyes, and laughing when he was back in his own body.

    Bellatrix, who had waited at his side, guarding his body in his absence, smiled at him. “My lord? You succeeded?”

    He nodded.

    “I did. I now know the full prophecy.” And he knew he had been a fool.

    *****​

    Harry Potter stared at the Headmaster, who had just told him that Voldemort had managed to learn the contents of the prophecy linking the two of them together. Despite the precautions taken by the Unspeakables. He stood up, anger filling him. Anger and dread. “How was that possible? You said only those mentioned in it could access it! Did they let the Dark Lord walk into the Ministry?” He barely noticed Hermione standing up as well and placing a hand on his shoulder, nor Fawkes flapping his wings.

    “In a manner of speaking,” was the calm reply. “He possessed the boy you had seen in the vision, who was a subject of another prophecy, and therefore allowed to enter the Hall of Prophecies.”

    Possession… so that had been the ritual’s purpose! But… “Like Quirrell?” he asked, remembering that night when that teacher had died. Had been killed. By Harry.

    “Yes. He did not burn to ashes, but he did not survive the Dark Lord possessing him.”

    Harry sat down, leaning forward and covering his face with his hands. Another innocent victim dead because of the Dark Lord, and he hadn’t been able to do anything but watch! Hermione gently rubbed his back and pressed her thigh against his.

    “Do not blame yourself, Harry. There was nothing you could have done,” Dumbledore tried to console him. It didn’t help much. Harry knew he couldn’t have done anything, but that didn’t change how guilty he felt.

    “Sir?” Hermione spoke up. She sounded uncertain, nervous. Harry put his hands down and glanced at her. The muggleborn witch was biting her lower lip, and twisting a finger around a lock of her hair. She was nervous. He reached for her hand, trying to comfort and reassure her.

    “Yes?”

    Harry’s girlfriend pushed her chin up a bit, almost defiantly. “Did you let the Dark Lord get the prophecy?”

    What? Why would Hermione ask… Harry whipped his head around to stare at the Headmaster.

    The old wizard sighed deeply. “You are as perceptive as always, Miss Granger. I suspected what the Dark Lord was planning this morning, after analyzing Harry’s memory all night. And yes, I had decided not to inform the Department of Mysteries of my suspicion.”

    “But why didn’t you…” Harry blinked. Why had the Headmaster let the Dark Lord get the prophecy, after all the efforts spent to deny him that knowledge?

    “The price would have been too high, Harry. “If his attempt to get the prophecy had been foiled, the the Dark Lord he would have started to look for the spy that revealed his plans to me, and would have become aware of your connection. That would have led to him taking steps to sever it. Or he might have attempted to attack you through it.” Dumbledore looked at them over his reading glasses.

    “But he has the prophecy now!” Harry retorted.

    “That he did - but he already knew half of it. Knowing it entirely doesn’t change much, if anything at all. As much as I loathe to say it, he was already planning to kill you, since you’re responsible for his first defeat.”

    Hermione’s grip on his hand grew stronger, and Harry swallowed. He had known that the Dark Lord wanted to kill him for years now, but to spell it out like that…

    ”I understand.” He did, but he still didn’t like it. “But there will be a time when the price will not be too high.” He met the Headmaster’s gaze without flinching.

    “I hope that when that day arrives, that your situation has changed.” Dumbledore answered, glancing at Harry’s scar. As did Hermione.

    There wasn’t much Harry could say to that.

    *****​

    Kenneth Fenbrick shook his head as he entered the Auror offices in the Ministry for Magic. “And again we’re getting the most volatile case! Investigating a murder in the Department of Mysteries! A murder where the main suspect is You-Know-Who himself, according to Bones! Someone must hate us!” He wasn’t fond of the Unspeakables, despite the help they provided to the DMLE on occasion. Who could trust people who hid their faces from everyone?

    His partner, Bertha Limmington, raised an eyebrow at him while she checked the paper aeroplanes and parchment rolls that had piled up on her desk during their most recent absence. Kenneth studiously ignored his own stack.

    When she saw that her eyebrow had no effect on him - he was used to it, by now - she spoke up: “Would you rather do combat duty than run an investigation?” She didn’t have to add ‘like a hit-wizard’; he understood her meaning perfectly well.

    Pouting, he said: “I’d like to have a simple case, for once. Not one involving the Unspeakables and the Dark Lord.”

    Bertha shrugged. “The better you are, the harder the cases assigned to you get.”

    “And the more dangerous.”

    “That’s probably your fault,” Bertha stated, in a deadpan voice, while she sorted her memos and letters with her wand.

    “What?”

    “The boss probably fears that without enough danger, you’ll get bored.” Bertha grinned when he gaped at her for a second, before he realized she had made a joke. She chuckled, briefly, when Kenneth huffed. Then she grew serious again. “It also may mean that we’re the most trusted aurors in the DMLE. Especially with a case that strongly hints at the involvement of at least one covert Death Eater and the Dark Lord himself!.”

    Kenneth didn’t know if he should be proud or worried if the two of them were the most trusted aurors. He sighed instead. “Let’s check the Hall of Prophecies, before it gets lost in another dimension.”

    Bertha raised her eyebrows at him, and he held up his hands defensively. “Hey! I listen to the grapevine! They never found that missing Unspeakable, and that was ten years ago.”

    The trip down to the Department of Mysteries and then to the Hall of Prophecies didn’t take long. When the door slowly opened, Kenneth quipped: “Does Gringotts know that someone stole their most secure vault?” The Unspeakable escorting them didn’t say anything, but Bertha glared at him. He shrugged. He had to say something before he got creeped out by their silent escort and the rumors of what was stored in the other rooms of the department.

    The hall was large and filled with shelves of those blue orbs, prophecy records. “Did the intruder and the victim fight here?” Kenneth asked their escort as they walked to where the victim - or the first victim - had been found.

    “Yes.” The hooded figure answered in that voice that made it impossible to even guess their gender. If it still had one.

    “There’s no damage visible to the shelves or the room.” The auror looked around.

    “Very strong protective enchantments. Non-standard ones.” Bertha was studying the closest shelf. The Unspeakable didn’t confirm or comment.

    Kenneth sighed and studied the shelves himself while Bertha crouched down and ran her wand over the dead wizard on the marble floor. “Cause of death was the Killing Curse. Multiple stabbing wounds in the legs, though no visible source. Lots of residue from multiple dark curses,” she dictated to her floating quill.

    Kenneth was certain not all of those curses had been cast by the Dark Lord. There were rumors about the Unspeakables, after all. Even though he didn’t believe that demonstrating all three Unforgivables was a required test to get hired, and a way to force them to keep the departments secret by the threat of a life sentence in Azkaban.

    He took a closer look at the victim. “That looks like the work of an Amazonian Murdervine. But a huge one.” He remembered the pictures he had seen in that Herbology lesson very well. 12 year olds were easy to impress. Or to traumatize. Sprout had stopped using that particular example for the dangers magical plants could pose even to a skilled wizard afterwards, or so he had heard.

    Bertha flicked her wand. “No traces of plant matter.”

    “It might have been a transfigured one. But there’s no sign of any changes to the environment.” The shelves he could understand- they gleamed with enchantments. But the floor, or ceiling?

    “The room is enchanted to restore itself.” The Unspeakable informed them.

    Kenneth sighed, and Bertha even glared at the wizard. “Why weren’t we informed of that at once? We would have come straight here before possible evidence vanished.”

    “According to procedure, information about the department’s organisation and layout can only be divulged with special permission.”

    Kenneth scoffed, but didn’t press further. He had long since learned that to argue with the bureaucracy was fruitless. That didn’t mean he’d not do it anyway - but he had also learned not to burn bridges, especially not during a case. “Let’s look at the child.” When he saw that the Unspeakable cast a bubblehead charm in response, Kenneth had a sinking feeling in his gut.

    The corpse of the boy, Cyril Meadwater-Baker, looked like it had rotted for months. It probably smelled worse. “He looks like he broke apart at the seams.” Kenneth peered at what had been an arm. “Did the first victim hit him with a curse?”

    Bertha shook her head. “That’s the effect of the possession. Though it usually takes far longer to reach that point.” She looked at the Unspeakable.

    “Time was not manipulated in this vault,” was the answer to her unspoken question. The witch looked relieved. Kenneth knew Bertha’s logical mind had issues with time turners and similar magic.

    He nodded at the remains spread out over a square yard. “So, something sped the process up. By a lot.” It didn’t take a genius to know that the Dark Lord was probably responsible. “The question is: What did it?”

    “The cause of death is deterioration of the body caused by possession. That means the second death is confirmed as another victim.” Bertha summarized.

    “Unless it was willing possession,” Kenneth cut in.

    Bertha nodded. “Unlikely, but possible. “Where’s the prophecy record the possessed accessed?” His partner stood up, and Kenneth couldn’t help but noticing how her new robes fit her body. She had changed her style, ever since that undercover mission they wouldn’t be talking about.

    “That’s classified and not germane to the investigation,” the Unspeakable droned.

    “What? That record was the culprit’s goal!” Bertha

    “Yes. And all you need to know is that it was a prophecy mentioning the Dark Lord.” The inhuman voice of the Unspeakable sounded even creepier right then.

    “I’ll lodge a protest with our superior,” Bertha spat. The Unspeakable didn’t answer, which Kenneth took to mean that this would be useless. Judging by Bertha’s expression, she shared his impression.

    “Let’s go talk to the victim’s father.” The witch all but stormed out of the Hall of Prophecies. Or would have, if the Unspeakable hadn’t taken his time to open the door.

    Kenneth really didn’t like the Unspeakables.

    *****​

    Kenneth studied the wizard sitting in the small room across from him and Bertha. Jaime Meadwater-Baker. Gryffindor, like Kenneth, but five years younger. Young enough for Kenneth to not recall ever speaking to him at Hogwarts. Meadwater-Baker looked like the broken man he probably was, after losing his son to the Dark Lord.

    “My condolences for your loss,” Kenneth said.

    The wizard shakingly nodded. “Thank you… I don’t know how this happened, but it is all my fault. If I hadn’t taken him down there yesterday morning…”

    “Mister Meadwater-Baker, at that point your son had already been possessed. Something must have happened earlier,” Bertha explained. ”Can you remember anything out of the ordinary?”

    The man gave an account of his last two days, interrupted by crying fits. On the day before the incident, he had worked in the morning on expansion charm controls, and spent the afternoon broom shopping with his son.

    “Your memory shows signs of having been tampered with”, Bertha summarized the results of her tests once the man had finished.

    “What? But…” Meadwater-Baker trailed off, gaping.

    “Yes. We’ll look into this shopping trip. Where did you buy the broom?” Bartha said, cool and collected.

    “Quality Quidditch Supplies… Cyril wanted a toy broom as well, matching the model, but I told him he could get a real broom, or a toy, not both… at least I remember it like that…”

    Kenneth fought not to wince. Losing his son, and then realizing his last happy memory with him might be a fabrication… that was terrible.

    Bertha, of course, was all business. “We will check with the shop and the clerks working two days ago. Do you remember any of the staff?”

    Meadwater-Baker nodded, but his description focused more on the Quidditch robes the staff wore than their actual appearance. It would be enough to check up on though.

    Someone had controlled the man, and modified his memory.

    Kenneth swore they’d find the bastard and arrest him.

    *****​

    Paige Caldwell stared at the man, the wizard, who had appeared in the garden of her current residence. It looked like a decrepit house from the outside, but she had managed to repair the inside and she had a deft hand for transfiguring furniture out of debris. A deft hand, and a lot of experience - life as a werewolf in Britain had given her ample opportunities to practise such spells, since she’d never had a place that hadn’t been in dire need for repairs. She wasn’t good at warding though, which was a very bad thing in the current war, and due to her curse, she wasn’t welcome at her family’s mansion. ‘Dark creatures are a risk for the children’, as the woman who had been her mother put it.

    “Who’re you, and what are you doing here?” she spat out, challenging the visitor. A smarter witch would have been more polite, a more cautious witch would have moved back inside her home for some cover, but she was a cursed witch. She was a decent wand at fighting, often out of necessity, and with the way she and other werewolves were always pushed around by the Ministry, with new regulations seemingly implemented each year, she was rather averse to giving ground in her home, her territory. If the wizard tried to push her, she’d push back, and worse.

    “I’m Phineas Brown, and I’m here to speak to you, Miss Caldwell,” the man said, politely. He didn’t meet her eyes, or challenged her in any other form.

    She felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. “What about?”

    “Your life.”

    She gasped, and raised her wand. He raised his hands, empty of his own wand. “I’m just here to talk. I’ve got a proposal for you.”

    “Speak!” She tensed up. If he made any kind of threatening move, she’d curse him and charge forward. She knew she was faster than most, and close to the full moon, the urge to beat, tear at something, someone, was slowly growing.

    “Might we talk inside? It’s a private matter.”

    He wanted to step into her home. Her safe place… she almost growled, but then nodded. She wasn’t a beast, she was a witch, and she had manners. Even if she didn’t always show it.

    She saw he was looking around with interest in her living room, which she’d turn into her bedroom once she was about to sleep by transfiguring the couch into a bed.

    “Impressive use of charms and transfigurations, Miss Caldwell.” He nodded at her, the compliment somewhat ruined by his patronizing tone. She wouldn’t summon her tea set for him, that much was clear.

    Paige still nodded, accepting the compliment. She knew how to conduct herself in polite society.

    “And yet… for a witch of your talents, this is a rather poor venue to live in.”

    She snarled at him. He had to know very well why she had to live like this. “I manage.”

    “Oh, no one would ever doubt that. But should you be content with ‘managing’, or would you prefer to excel? To live in a land where being cursed with lycanthropy doesn’t lead to such discrimination? Where you can live the life you deserve?”

    Paige scoffed. If there was such a country, she’d already be living there. Apart from a few Scandinavian Berserker Communities - and after dating a berserker for a few months she knew all about their own brand of lunacy - there was no country that hadn’t some unfair anti-werewolf laws. “There’s no such thing.”

    “Not yet, there isn’t. But it will be, and soon.”

    That offer… the obvious fake name… “You mean Britain.”

    His smile widened, flashing white teeth at her. Too white, too polished, That one never had fought for his life with teeth and claws. “Indeed.”

    “And you’re telling me You-Know-Who would make the country a better place for me?” She didn’t want to believe it. She knew how cruel, how evil the Dark Lord was. How many he and his had murdered.

    And yet, she had also known that she was her parents’ daughter, that they would always protect her, that they would never hurt her. One tragic event had shown her the error of her beliefs. Why should she trust those who kept harassing her with more and more rules and regulations each month?

    The wizard was smiling still. “He is generous to those who are loyal to him. And he has a long tradition of appreciating your kind.”

    She also knew the Prophet claimed You-Know-Who had been losing wands left and right. But why would she believe that rag, given the lies it published about werewolves?

    “I’m listening.”

    *****​

    Ron Weasley should be happy. He was strolling around Black Lake with his girlfriend, Padma Patil. The sun was shining, and the weather was warm, but not yet hot, perfect even if neither of them were wearing charmed robes. He had no study session scheduled, no training awaited him, and the Chudley Cannons had won their latest game. He should be happy, but he wasn’t. And the reason for that was walking at his side.

    “What happened to Harry?” Padma asked, not for the first time.

    “Nothing,” he answered, not for the first time either.

    “But…”

    He cut her off. “No ‘but’. Nothing happened.” She pouted at him, like Parvati often did. He didn’t mention that, of course. “Didn’t you hear Hermione? We’re not talking about this.” He made sure his privacy spells were still working, just in case.

    “She meant not talking to anyone else, we were both there, we can talk about it.” Padma was stubborn about this. She hadn’t let up for the whole time they had been walking together. That wasn’t how he had imagined their stroll.

    “We won’t though.” Padma already had seen too much, Ron knew.

    “Why not? Don’t you trust me?” The Indian witch wasn’t quite sniffling, but Ron knew she was close.

    “Of course I trust you, but this is simply too dangerous to trust anyone with it.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulder, trying to comfort her.

    It didn’t work. She didn’t shrug him off, at least. “But you, Harry and Hermione know about it.”

    “Well, yes.” As soon as he said it, he knew he had made a mistake.

    This time she shrugged him off and walked a bit faster, obviously angry. His longer legs caught up to her easily. Before he could say anything though, she was talking already. Or ranting.

    “I’m always the odd one out, the one no one trusts! The one not good enough! Everyone else knows so much more, can do so much more, and now I am not even trusted to talk about something I saw with you!” she sobbed, and he saw tears running over her cheek.

    “I trust you!” He tried to hug her, but she took a step back.

    “You don’t act like it!”

    “I can’t talk about that. It’s too dangerous!” He was getting angry himself now. Why didn’t she understand that he loved and trusted her - but that this was for her own good?

    “But you talk with Harry and Hermione about it!”

    She knew that already. He nodded. “Of course!” they were his best friends.

    “What do I have to do so you trust me as well as you trust them?” She stared at him, sobbing still, her whole body tense.

    He didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t as if he could give her a to-do list, to earn that kind of trust. It didn’t work like that. And the kind of things that did create such trust he didn’t want her to go through. Or suffer through.

    But he had to answer, before she ran off, hurt even more. “It takes time.” That sounded lame, even to him.

    And Padma stormed off anyway. Ron let her go. She wasn’t taking this well, all the pressure from the O.W.L.s, the war, and from Parkinson. And, he finally realized, he didn’t, couldn’t trust her to stand up to that kind of pressure. To not blurt the secret out in a heated row.

    He had to talk to Harry and Hermione.

    *****​

    “Sir?”

    Albus Dumbledore looked at the young witch while he levitated Yennington’s body back onto the bed in the corner. “Yes, Miss Granger?” He was tired - the session had been productive, but exhausting - but the witch might have caught something he had missed, unlikely but not impossible.

    “Will you be obliviating our other friends as well?”

    Albus smiled. “I think they can be trusted not to let anything slip.” He didn’t have to add ‘unlike Miss Patil’. Harry, Miss Granger and Mister Weasley had told him about her, after all.

    “It would be hard to learn Occlumency by the end of the school year though, especially with the studying needed for our O.W.L.s. I’m quite glad Harry, Ron and I learned it already.”

    “Quite. But memories can be removed, and later restored as well.” Albus didn’t know if the young witches and wizards would go along with that. He hoped they would. If not… he’d do what he had to. And had done.

    “Ah.” Miss Granger smiled, relief obvious on her face, and she was notably less tense during the trip back to his office, and the waiting Harry.

    Once the couple had left Albus’s office, he pulled out a scroll of parchment that had arrived earlier that day, carried by a nondescript owl. Saving Gerhard Steiner from a life sentence in prison, or even execution, for a mistake Albus would have made as well, at that age, had certainly turned out to have been a very wise decision. Without the Transfiguration teacher at Durmstrang Albus would have been unable to keep a close eye on Igor.

    Durmstrang’s Headmaster had held out against the influence from his former master for an admirably long time, but every man would break under that pressure, sooner or later. And according to the letter, Igor had reached his breaking point now.

    Albus pulled out a scroll of parchment and summoned his quill. It was time to act.


    Chapter 38: Breakthroughs and Betrayals
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2015
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  18. Threadmarks: Chapter 38: Breakthroughs and Betrayals
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 38: Breakthroughs and Betrayals

    Igor Karkaroff, Headmaster of the Durmstrang Institute, arrived late in the Mess Hall. His students were sitting at their tables already, silently waiting for the food to arrive, waiting for him to start dinner, the stupid worms. He looked at the Bulgarian table, where Krum had sat during his time at school. Ungrateful wretch. He looked at the staff sitting at his table, saw them staring at him. Backstabbing blood traitors, whispering behind his back, plotting, hoping he’d fall. His wand slid out of his wrist-mounted holster into his hand. He wanted to blow the table, the hall up. Turn the tables into kindling, pepper the little pests with splinters, make them bleed and cry, kill the blood traitors before they opposed his…

    He took a deep, shuddering breath and fought the urge down. He hadn’t killed anyone in years. Not since the Dark Lord had been defeated in Britain. He wouldn’t start now!

    He waved his wand, and at once the dishes started to float out of the kitchen into the hall, spreading out over the tables. The students transfigured or conjured their plates and silverware - that late in the year, even the first years had learned that, and wouldn’t need the very plain ones provided by the school, though not many of them would be up to conjure the kind of elaborately designed plates the older students used to show off.

    “Smacznego.”

    As the students started to eat, Igor sank down into his chair. He ignored the looks, the glares from the staff as he summoned some food on his plate, then started to eat without tasting anything. It wasn’t the food, he knew that - it was him. As soon as he had finished he stood up, nodded at the rest of the staff and left.

    Back in his quarters, secure on the lowest level of the institute’s basement, behind the strongest wards he could have had installed, he allowed himself to vent. Screaming with rage, he ran past his office, to his living room, and started blowing up his furniture. He only stopped when the room was a cratered mess. He was panting, but the urge to lash out at those wretches, to kill them, hadn’t abated. He transfigured the wreckage into animals - wolves, stags, dogs, cats - and killed them with the darkest curses he knew, but even seeing them writhe in agony, their entrails strangling them, their flesh rotting off their bones, did not satisfy him. They were not alive. They were not even dumb animals.

    For a moment he felt like visiting the pond of the Institute. Kill some of the creatures held there. He could claim they were too dangerous for the students. He shook his head. No one would believe it. Maybe if he killed the werewolves at the school… his hand started to tremble. No, they hadn’t done anything. To him, or to the Dark Lord.

    He slid his wand back into its holster with enough force to bruise his wrist, then went to his office. He had work to do. There were reports to read and exams to check. Before he could finish his first roll of parchment though, his door announced a visitor.

    He had his wand out and ready to curse before he even bothered to look at the small crystal ball on his desk that told him the name of the visitor. Steiner. The blood traitor. His Transfiguration Master. What in the Nine Hells was the old fool up to, disturbing him in the evening?

    Igor flicked his wand, closing the door to his quarters - he hadn’t yet restored his living room - then opened the door to let his visitor in. Steiner entered, his eyes opening in surprise when he saw the wand aimed at him. “Good evening, Headmaster.” He sounded sycophantic as always. Igor knew he was after his position. He knew the man had never really renounced Grindelwald’s ideals. He was a double traitor - a blood traitor, and one of Grindelwald’s wands.

    Igor longed to send the wizard away, but properties had to be followed. “Good evening, professor. How can I help you?” He kept his wand aimed at the man - Igor trusted his wards, but Steiner was a few decades his senior, and who knew what a former Storm Wizard could do? The things he had seen in the Institute’s archives…

    “You’re feeling his presence in your mind, don’t you?”

    Igor felt as if the blood in his veins froze. How did the professor knew about this? He glanced at the man’s left arm, hidden by his seemingly modest teacher’s robe.

    Steiner shook his head. “I’m not one of his.” The professor sneered. “I’d never be one of his.”

    Igor snarled at him. Of course the man’d never follow anyone but Grindelwald. “So, whose wand are you?”

    Steiner frowned, but Igor went on before he could lie. “You’re someone’s creature. If you were not, if you were fit to lead, you’d be the Headmaster, not me.”

    Steiner glared at him now, but didn’t deny it.

    “We’re both traitors, but I at least decided to stand up for myself,” Igor scoffed. “So, who…” then he knew. “Dumbledore. You’re his.” The only one who’d know what the Dark Lord was up to. What he could do.

    Steiner didn’t answer, but his expression told Igor he was correct. “What does my dear colleague want then?”

    “He knows that you’re slowly being corrupted by your master’s mark. That sooner or later he’ll win, and turn you into a slave - or a mindless animal,” Steiner stated as if he were talking about the weather.

    Igor ground his teeth. He knew that already. Hated it, of course. “I asked what he wanted, not what he knew.”

    “He offers you sanctuary, until your master has been dealt with.”

    “The Dark Lord cannot be easily ‘dealt with’,” Igor said through his clenched teeth. He felt rage when the insolent wizard sneered slightly in response - as if he was not acknowledging his master’s power. His former master’s power, Igor corrected himself. He almost cursed the professor, but controlled himself. “Nor can he be quickly dealt with. He came back from the dead, after all.”

    Steiner showed that insufferable, almost invisible sneer again, though his voice was polite when he said: “If you’d prefer it, you’d be unconscious for the duration of the war.”

    Igor snorted. “Unconscious, unable to defend my own mind? Would Dumbledore actually try to trap me like that? He might as well offer me a quick and painless death!”

    Steiner’s expression didn’t change, and Igor once again really wanted to curse the insolent, mocking wizard. “That’s what he offers, right? He offers to kill me before the Dark Lord takes control?” As if he’d let himself be slaughtered like a dumb animal. He’d kill himself. Once the time had come.

    The other wizard nodded. He looked wary now.

    Igor bared his teeth. The plotting worm probably looked forward to killing him, wanted to replace him. And Dumbledore would control two schools. “I reject his ‘gracious offer’,” he spat out. “I’ll handle my affairs myself.”

    “You’re running out of time. The longer you’re waiting, the greater the danger you’re posing for our students.” Steiner stared at him. The hypocrite, as if he cared about the students!

    “That’s what you think, right? You want to kill me. You think I’m weak, and a coward, for betraying the Dark Lord. Even though you did the same!” He was standing now, facing the traitor.

    Steiner’s smile was answer enough for him.

    “Avada Kedavra!”

    His Killing Curse flew true, but was stopped when the stone floor of his office rose as a wall in front of the professor. The wall was shattered by the spell’s impact, but the Transfiguration professor had his wand out now.

    Igor wasn’t that worried though - they were in his office, inside his own wards. The best his gold had managed to buy! And it felt good, no, glorious, to finally cut loose, to vent his rage on a deserving target!

    He sent spell after spell at the man, using curses he hadn’t cast since the last war. Steiner used more transfigured walls to protect himself. The Prussian didn’t even try to return spells, he had to know the wards would render them powerless! And his walls were shattering under Igor’s curses! And the door was locked so he’d not be able to escape!

    The Headmaster was laughing when he launched a Blighting Curse followed by an Organ Rotting Curse at his wanna-be murderer. He would kill the upstart, and then he’d show Dumbledore the folly of trying to get him killed - of offering to kill him!

    Steiner had run out of walls, and his shield crumbled under the first curse, with his robe barely absorbing the next. The fight would be over in a few seconds - unless Igor decided to drag it out. He shook his head at the temptation - he couldn’t afford to play around right now.

    He started to move his wand when he noticed that his arm felt heavier, slower. Then the pain started. What had Steiner done? He had trouble standing, but managed to drop into his seat rather than falling to the floor. His wand clattered on the floor when he lost any feeling in his fingers.

    “P-poison?” he managed to stammer, laboring to keep breathing already. But how? Why hadn’t his enchantments warned him, or prevented this? “H-how?”

    Steiner shook his head at him. “I’m no alchemist. I simply transfigured the poison so it would deliver itself, so to speak.”

    Alchemy? This was Dumbledore’s poison? Igor wanted to scream, but he couldn’t do anything. Not even breathe. And the pain had become even worse.

    “It doesn’t look painless to me. I assume that making certain you’d die was more important than doing it painlessly.” Steiner looked down at him, his features showing both pity and satisfaction.

    The pain had become unbearable when Igor finally died.

    *****​

    Ron Weasley listened to his girlfriend explain about a particularly tricky arithmancy equation she had solved. Padma was happy, despite the looming O.W.L.s and the study sessions needed for that. She was happy because she didn’t remember the latest, biggest fight they had had, nor the reason for it. She had been obliviated.

    And he was unhappy because he was responsible. Their other friends had volunteered to have the memories of Harry’s vision removed and stored until they had mastered Occlumency. Padma hadn’t been given that chance. Because he hadn’t trusted her to take it.

    “... and that means this can be used to analyze wards,” Padma finished, beaming at him.

    He forced himself to smile. “That’s great! You’ll get an ‘O’ in Arithmancy for sure!”

    “I hope so. Unless the expert poses questions that haven’t been answered yet, to see how we attempt to solve it.” The Ravenclaw witch pouted.

    “They do that?” That was the first time he had heard of that. He wondered if Hermione knew about it.

    “Sometimes. There was a scandal ten years ago when the problem actually had no solution.” Padma shook her head, frowning. “They fired that expert though, and had the exam redone during the vacation.”

    “Pressure from some Wizengamot member?” Ron could see that happen. There were always rumors about parents pulling strings for their children.

    Padma shrugged, which did interesting things to her chest, distracting him. “I don’t know. Maybe.” She perked up. “But it’s rather unlikely to be repeated. The current expert hasn’t done this in five years - we’ve got transcripts of all his exams.”

    “I see.” No wonder the Ravenclaws were so Ravenclaw - the only ones Ron knew who prepared for an exam like that were Hermione and Percy. And Hermione’s friends, including himself, of course - she wouldn’t let anyone of them escape.

    “Are you done as well? Do you want to take a walk around the lake?” the Indian witch asked with a hopeful expression.

    Ron froze. He distinctly remembered the last walk around the lake, the fight, and the obliviation that had followed. “Ah… I think I better study some more. O.W.L.s are important.” He forced himself to smile at her, and ignore how his girlfriend briefly looked hurt before she nodded in agreement.

    *****​

    The Hogwarts Self-Defense Club’s meetings had been turned into practise sessions for the DADA-O.W.L.s, Pansy Parkinson thought. Instead of students learning how to defend themselves from attacks they were learning how to cast spells needed for the exams. The Slytherin student wasn’t sure if she liked that. Good O.W.L.s were important, but she was quite certain she’d do well on her exam already. On the other hand, Greg and Vincent were profiting, and she usually managed to dump them on someone else for tutoring in those session, freeing her to practise herself. The two lugs were loyal and brave, but trying to teach them something more complicated than cursing someone was often an exercise in frustration. She sometimes wondered how Draco had managed to stand that - or if he had ever tried teaching them anything.

    The witch stretched, limbering up for some dueling training. She was one of the few outside Potter’s friends who still trained dodging and shielding, fighting instead of academica. As she bent down to touch her toes with her fingertips, she noticed Weasley watching. Acting as if she hadn’t noticed, she took her time to stretch, making sure he got an eyeful and would realize just how tightly her dueling robes fit her.

    He noticed, she was certain, since he looked away brusquely after staring. And his girlfriend noticed too - the Ravenclaw was glaring at Pansy. The Slytherin acted as if she was oblivious to the attention, until Patil started some spell exercise with Potter’s retainer. As soon as the other witch was busy, Pansy stood up and approached Weasley.

    “Mister Weasley? Would you care for a duel? I think I’ve already gotten all the spell revising I can stomach.”

    She saw Ron starting to smile - as expected he was sick of the revising too - then school his features and nod at her. “Alright, Miss Parkinson. Standard rules?”

    “Yes.” Pansy looked around for a referee, but Professor Lupin and Mister Black were both occupied observing spell practise.

    “Aicha? Would you mind refereeing?” Weasley called out. The Arabian witch nodded, and came over to them, followed by Lovegood. The blonde Ravenclaw smiled widely, rubbing her hands together. “Oh, this should be entertaining!”

    Pansy wasn’t sure how to answer that. The eccentric witch was an enigma for her. She seemed to be interested in Granger, but as far as the Slytherin knew, she had never made a move. It wasn’t shyness - Lovegood was known to often be very blunt. But what else would keep her from trying to get what she wanted? Pansy didn’t know. And so she simply nodded with a polite smile, and stepped on the slightly raised dueling platform. The wards that prevented stray spells from leaving the area - if not always successfully - made her skin tingle for a second.

    Ron followed her example and faced her, wand raised. He cut a dashing figure in his customized robes. Pansy used the opportunity to ogle him, under the guise of studying her adversary.

    Antar clapped her hands together.

    “Bow!”

    Pansy took a deep bow. She knew she was likely to lose - Weasley was very good with his wand. And he usually went all-out in duels too. Within the rules.

    “Wands ready!”

    Pansy’s wand moved into the “guard” position.

    “Start!”

    Pansy dropped to the floor and rolled to the side. Three brightly colored spells flew over her head - as expected, Weasley wasn’t holding back at all. She returned fire with two spells of her own, both missed, but gained her enough time to cast a shield charm.

    That saved her from Weasley’s next two spells. She conjured a dozen rocks - or at least ten and two pebbles - and banished them at the redheaded wizard. His shield protected him, without shattering like hers had. She wasn’t beaten yet, though. A quick hex filled the dueling platform with smoke while she rolled to the other side, and when a gust of wind dispersed the smoke… she was staring right at the tip of his wand.

    “Stupefy! Stupefy!”

    Parkinson’s duelling robes absorbed the first spell, but the second, right behind it, took her out.

    She woke up - was woken - right afterward, or so she thought - the revising was still going on.

    “That was quite good, Parkinson,” Weasley stated, grudgingly.

    “Thank you. But not good enough.” Pansy didn’t bother with flattering Weasley, she simply got up and nodded. ”Another round?”

    Again Weasley smiled for a second, before his face settled on a neutral expression, and he stepped up to the platform. “Sure.”

    This time Pansy didn’t last as long. But she managed to make her opponent flinch at least. after the fifth round, he kept his smile when talking to her. Pansy hoped that was because she had impressed him somewhat, and not because she had been hit with all sorts of hexes, and was in considerable pain. Patil’s frown pointed to the former, at least.

    *****​

    “Thank you for your help.”

    Kenneth Fenbrick smiled at the shop attendant in ‘Quality Quidditch Supplies’. He was just being polite though - as expected, none of the staff of the shop recalled Meadwater-Baker visiting them the day he remembered as having spent broom shopping. As he left the shop he glanced at the Firebolt on display. Ah, if he could afford one of those! Maybe once the new model came out, and the war had ended...

    Outside the auror looked at his partner, Bertha Limmington. “Polyjuice?”

    The witch shrugged. “She wasn’t obliviated, or confunded. We’ll have to go through the list of people who bought a broom here that day, to narrow the possibilities down.”

    “Unless they simply imperiused someone to buy the broom for them.” Kenneth wasn’t quite as optimistic as Bertha. Hoping the enemy had made a mistake was a bad habit for an auror. Even though most criminals made more than one mistake.

    “As unlikely as it is to give us a result, we still have to investigate, if only to eliminate it as a lead for the investigation,” Bertha said while they were walking towards the Leaky Cauldron. They were under a privacy spell, but both were wearing their auror robes - these days, any auror showing his or her colors in the streets was a good thing for the country’s morale.

    “Do we visit each and everyone of them?” Kenneth didn’t whine, even though he felt like it. That would take more than a day.

    “No. We’ll check first if anyone on the list recently reported a theft or a break-in. If imperiused, they’ll not be able to withdraw gold from Gringotts, so they will have taken the money from the gold they keep at hand, and that might get noticed quickly - especially in shops,” Bertha explained.

    Kenneth hadn’t thought of that. While it was often dangerous to make assumptions, this seemed sound, and wouldn’t delay them much if it didn’t pan out. A brief floo trip later they were back in the Ministry, and on their way to the DMLE offices.

    *****​

    “Mister Floxroot? Please have a seat. My name is Kenneth Fenbrick. This is my partner, Bertha Limmington. We’re investigating the theft from your shop.”

    Kenneth smiled at Killian Floxroot, the owner of ‘Prized Pets’, a shop in Diagon Alley specializing in exotic animals - magical and muggle ones. A day ago he had reported the theft of a sum of gold from his shop that matched the price for the broom Meadwater-Baker had given his son.

    The wizard looked surprised at facing two aurors. “When I reported the theft yesterday, I was given the impression that it wasn’t a high priority.”

    Kenneth didn’t mention that he had heard through the grapevine that Floxroot wasn’t too popular in the DMLE, after a few of his stock - the kind Professor Hagrid would call ‘interesting’ - had escaped and caused trouble in the Alley. “Well, we’re on the job now.”

    Bertha drew her wand. “May I quickly check you for signs of memory alterations?”

    “Memory… you think I’ve been obliviated?” Floxroot’s eyes widened in shock.

    Bertha simply nodded. “Yes.”

    “Of… of course.”

    Bertha cast several charms, her expression darkening slightly with each spell. Finally she holstered her wand. “Indeed, you have been obliviated. It seems very likely that the thief compelled you to buy a broom with the missing gold, and and then removed the memory of that action.”

    Floxroot gaped, then shivered, hunching over. “I’ve been imperiused?”

    Kenneth sympathized - to be mind-controlled was one of the worst things that could happen to a wizard. And having to suspect your memories, to be unable to trust your own recollections, was almost as bad. To never know, to always wonder what you had done, had been forced to do…

    Bertha nodded. “That’s the most likely spell, yes.”

    “Merlin…. who’d do such thing? It’s not as I’ve lost a fortune…”

    “Let’s just say you’re lucky to be still alive.” Kenneth smiled at the man, ignoring the glare from his partner. When he saw the man understood what he had just hinted at, he hastily added: “You were used to buy a broom, nothing more, as far as we can tell.” That seemed to reassure the wizard. A bit at least.

    “Mister Floxroot, we need your memory for the entire afternoon that is suspect.”

    “Of course. Do you think you can restore my missing memories? Remove the fake ones?”

    “We can remove the manipulated ones, but restoring obliviated memories is still impossible,” Bertha stated, bluntly and coldly.

    Kenneth almost sighed - she was brilliant, but sometimes she missed what impression she left on those who didn’t know her as well as he did. “Do you know how to copy a memory, sir?”

    It took ten minutes of coaching, but they got the memory, and the still shaken wizard left their office - presumably to head home, but Kenneth was certain he’d hit a pub first, or buy a bottle or three of Ogden’s finest.

    “Do you think you’ll find anything in the tampered memory?” Kenneth didn’t think the Dark Lord’s agents would have been sloppy enough to miss something. But no one was perfect.

    “I hope I can use his and Meadwater-Baker’s memories to find possible witnesses who didn’t have their memories erased, and then get copies of their memories,” Bertha explained while labeling the vial she had stored the memory in.

    Clever. Even if the culprit had erased more than just his presence, he couldn’t have erased everyone’s memories. And both in Diagon Alley and in the Ministry, there was a lot of people walking around at any time of the day. A lot… “Merlin! Do you know how long this will take?”

    “I’ve reserved the pensieve for a week.”

    Kenneth stared at his partner. She was serious. She also had found what was probably their best chance to crack this case and find the agent. “I’ll forgot how the real world looks after a week spent in memories!” he grumbled.

    Seeing Bertha frown at the way he had just mangled logic was a small consolation for him - he had a very long week ahead.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger stared at the ugly knot of pulsating strands she saw thanks to her spell and shivered. This was it. This was the core of the Dark Mark. This was where Voldemort’s soul was bound to the Death Eater’s. This was how the soul was anchored.

    She suppressed the growing but by now familiar nausea, the headache, and the spark of longing, as she analyzed the structure and changing patterns of the entwined strands. Forcing the bile rising in her throat down, she used her wand to very carefully prod the point where the strands disappeared into the flesh beneath. When she pulled it back to study the changes that had caused, she was shivering despite the charms on her robe. It was a warped, yet elegant construct, alluring and repulsive.

    The witch finally understood the mark. And if she understood something, she could find a way to destroy it. She already had a hunch how. To tweak that strand there, and cut this one… it was only when her detection spell was suddenly and silently finited that she realized she had her wand pointed at the Dark Mark.

    “I think it is time to stop for today, Miss Granger,” the Headmaster stated in a calm voice.

    Hermione whipped her head around, staring at the old wizard. She had forgotten his presence. Hadn’t seen him either. All she had seen was the Dark Mark. The horcrux. Her head was beating rapidly and she was panting, and if not for her charmed robe, she was sure she’d be soaked in sweat as well. She certainly felt filthy. And her head… “Merlin,” she muttered while rubbing her temples. While she had been focused on her task, she had been able to ignore the pain, but now it was back with a vengeance.

    Dumbledore nodded gravely, his wrinkled face showing both concern and understanding.

    “Thank you, Headmaster.” Hermione stood up, on slightly shaky legs, and took a few steps back from the body, to lean against the wall. She would have conjured a chair or seat for her, but she’d rather not attempt that in her current state, nor so close to the horcrux.

    The wizard levitated the Death Eater away, over to the cot on the other side of the vault, before turning to her.

    “I’m alright, sir,” Hermione pre-empted his question.

    He didn’t look like he shared her opinion, and Hermione briefly wondered if she wore the same expression whenever Harry told her he was fine after a rough Quidditch game or training. “Was it worth it, Miss Granger?”

    She nodded, slowly.and took deep breaths until she wasn’t in danger of losing the contents of her stomach anymore. “Yes, Sir. I know what I’m facing now.”

    Dumbledore pursed his lips. “So you do. And you know the temptation of the Dark Arts now, as well.”

    “Yes, Sir.” Her headache hadn’t abated, and she pulled out a vial and drank it. When her head started to hurt less, she sighed with relief.

    “It is a constant temptation. The lure of more knowledge, an easy way to deal with an enemy. Or a danger. Or a problem. Or an inconvenience.”

    Hermione looked at the old wizard. He sounded as if he was speaking from personal experience. He probably was, she realized, given his experiences. “I will resist it.”

    Dumbledore held her gaze for a few moments longer - she half-expected him to try to read her thoughts - then nodded. “Very well. Do you require further sessions with the mark?”

    “One more, I think, to double-check my findings.“ One she had a concept, she’d have to do some testing too.

    “After the O.W.L.s then. I dare say you need a bit more rest after today.”

    Hermione opened her mouth to protest, then closed it again and nodded reluctantly. As much as she hated to admit it, he was right. She hadn’t felt that weak, that sick, that hungry, before.

    She was still shivering when the vault door closed behind them and they made their way back to Dumbledore’s office. Back to Harry.

    *****​

    Albus Dumbledore kept a close eye on the young witch as the two returned to his office. She stopped trembling halfway there, and gained some color to her face as well, but she still looked exhausted. She didn’t seem driven though - or at least not as much as he had feared. That was a good sign. He seen how easy it was to drive oneself to exhaustion and beyond, researching the Dark Arts. Seen, and done it himself, once.

    He closed his eyes for an instant, remembering the days of his youth. Gellert. Their plans. Their research. And their mistakes. His fatal mistake. His shame. He saw a lot of his younger self in Miss Granger. More than he liked, if he was honest. A brilliant mind, great ideals, and a ruthless determination. Fortunately, Harry was no Gellert. He wasn’t delving into the Dark Arts with Miss Granger - his connection to Voldemort would make studying the Dark Mark far too dangerous - and he would rather rein her in than spur her on. The boy was an anchor for Miss Granger. He would, hopefully, keep her from falling to the lure of the Dark Arts. And if she did… Harry had the power to control her, in extremis.

    Albus was not feeling well himself - studying the horcrux took a toll on him. Both on his body, and his soul. He had done what he could to spare the young witch the same burden, but it hadn’t been enough.

    They entered his office, where Harry was reading a book. Albus recognized it at once. “Are you reading ‘Battlefield Control’?” he asked while he sat down and summoned three glasses and one bottle.

    ”Yes, Headmaster,” the boy answered while Miss Granger hugged him before sitting down next to him. “I thought it might be useful.”

    “And was it?” Albus asked, curious. The book was interesting, but more so for the historical information, these days. Some of the ideas could be adapted, of course.

    “It seems rather outdated. Neither muggles nor wizards fight in the manner the book describes,” Harry said while passing the book to Miss Granger, who eagerly flipped through the pages.

    “It was written before the Statue of Secrecy went into effect.” Albus floated the glasses over to the two students, then filled them with a flick of his wrist. “Back at the time wizards and muggles fought side by side, and their tactics reflected that. After magic was hidden from the rest of the world, warfare changed for both wizards and muggles. Muggles had no longer to worry about spells and magical beasts, but the absence of magic forced them to find other means to compensate too - especially for reconnaissance and commanding. It took them over 200 years to replace broom cavalry and communication mirrors. Wizards meanwhile saw their battles shrink to what would have been considered skirmishes before. Instead of battles involving thousands of men, small groups of highly mobile combattants became the norm.” He had their attention now, though Miss Granger was still glancing at the pages.

    “I wonder what would happen if we used muggle weapons in battle,” Harry mused.

    Albus smiled. “Not much, I would expect. We’re not trained to use them, nor do we have tactics to use them effectively against magical foes. Apart from a few niches they would do more harm than good for quite some time. And the political ramifications...” The old wizard sighed. “It would be a propaganda coup for Tom to see muggle weapons slaying wizards. People would be reminded of the witch-hunts, and getting labeled as a ‘blood traitor’ would change its meaning.”

    Harry looked like he wanted to disagree, but nodded, if reluctantly. “Niches?”

    “Modern muggle weapons have a far greater range than wands. Used in the right situations, enemies could be caught unaware and unprepared thanks to that. Though they would quickly adapt, and any advantage would be mostly lost,” Albus explained. He missed teaching students, terribly. But he had too much work, too little time to teach classes. Too much responsibility to follow his true passion.

    “Such an advantage could be decisive though, if used at the right moment,” Miss Granger said.

    The Headmaster nodded at her. She was probably already thinking of acquiring muggle firearms. “Indeed. And should that moment happen, rest assured that we will use them.” He didn’t quite grin at seeing her eyes widen in surprise - she probably didn’t expect him to have thought of that. Just like him, at that age.

    The young witch looked at the book again, hiding her expression. Harry chuckled a bit, which earned him a glare. Albus smiled. Young love.

    He finished his own glass before addressing more recent matters. “As Miss Granger will be telling you in more detail, we’ve succeeded in unraveling the defenses of the Dark Mark. While we have not yet found a way to put that knowledge to use, I am confident such applications will follow.”

    Miss Granger nodded, exchanging a tired but proud glance with Harry, while Albus refilled his glass with his wand. The liquid formed an amber-colored arc as it rose from the bottle and fell into his glass.

    Harry cleared his throat. “I’ve heard a rather surprising rumor. Some people think Voldemort had the Lestranges killed so they would not object to his affair with Bellatrix.”

    Albus met the eyes of the young wizard. “In a war, victory can rarely be achieved with your wand alone. In order to win, you need not just to beat your enemy’s wands, but to prevent him from replacing his losses. In a civil war, which is what we are fighting in, the chief means to achieve that is propaganda. If Voldemort is seen as a man willing to have his loyal wands killed because he is going after a married woman, or after their family fortune, then many more traditional families will think twice about allying themselves with the Dark Lord.”

    “People actually believe that?” Miss Granger sounded doubtful.

    The old wizard smiled. “Wizards and witches generally are more willing to believe fantastic stories, seeing as they are used to fantastic magic.”

    The muggleborn witch grumbled something under her breath Albus didn’t catch, but judging by Harry’s frown, it hadn’t been a polite remark. Though the boy had some doubt in his expression as well when he agreed with Albus: “Indeed. Some students have already forgotten Draco’s stance towards muggleborns, just because he was supposedly killed by the Dark Lord.”

    Did the boy suspect it had been Albus who had killed them? The Headmaster didn’t let the worry Harry’s words caused show on his face. “It is generally thought more noble to be killed fighting for people than for coin. And the Romans had a saying: De mortuis nihil nisi bene.”

    “‘Do not speak ill of the dead’,” Miss Granger said. “It’s ironic that one of the biggest bigots is now seen as a hero.” She scoffed. “I hope he knows this in the afterlife, and suffers more for it.”

    Harry nodded in agreement. Albus sighed. He hoped the afterlife wouldn’t include suffering for your sins. It was a slim, probably illusionary hope, but it was all he had. He’d find out soon enough, anyway - he wasn’t getting any younger. And there was the war.

    “Neville’s grandmother hates the rumor though - she doesn’t want the Dark Lord to be the one who killed those who had tortured her son and his wife.”

    Albus understood that. He’d hate it himself, were he in Augusta’s place. But the needs of the war took precedence over the feelings of an old witch. Or an even older wizard. “I do not think this will last overly long.” Once the war was won, he would start clearing up those kind of ‘misunderstandings’.

    Miss Granger mumbled something. He looked at her “What did you say, Miss Granger?”

    The witch met his eyes, almost defiantly. “The first casualty when war comes, is truth.”

    “You are correct, Miss Granger.” She probably suspected him. But she also shared his views, Albus knew. He stood up. “I think it is time for you to head back to your dorms again. Before Minerva starts believing that I am exhausting two of her favorite students shortly before their O.W.L.s.” He gently shooed the two out, then fell back into his seat, his body aching.

    He wasn’t getting any younger. And the Dark Arts and their effects were not getting any weaker.

    *****​

    “And those are my friends Valérie, Chantal, Eugénie and Laure Delacour,” Sirius Black introduced his girlfriends to the latest guests in his home, a dozen relatives of Viktor who’d be joining the Order in the battle against Voldemort. There were a number of pretty witches among them, which probably had prompted the four French veela to stand a bit closer to him than usual at such occasions.

    Boris Stankoiev, Viktor’s best man, bowed with a flourish in return, and introduced his group. Including his mistress, Bisera Ivanova. A veela. Sirius had an inkling that things were not going that well when Bisera and his four girlfriends stared at each for a moment. All were smiling, but Sirius knew his lovers well enough to know it was an act.

    Trying to defuse the brewing dispute, he gave the new arrivals a tour of the house. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.

    Thirty minutes later, he was treated to a line-by-line recap of the discussion between the veela and he was getting a bit worried. His shy, gentle Valérie was pacing in his bedroom, her voice changing between its usual timbre and the more inhuman tone of a transformed veela as she complained about Bisera. “What does that girl think she is, looking down on me?” She threw her hands in the air, and Sirius imagined small flames sprouting from her fingers while she tried to ape the other veela’s voice. “‘Oh, you share a wizard? Four of you? ‘ow interesting. My Boris wouldn’t ‘ave the energy to satisfy another woman, much less three. Not after ‘e has satisfied me.’” The French witch sneered. “Stupid Bulgarian flobberworm! Acting as if ‘aving a dull lover without imagination or stamina is a good thing!” Valérie was really mad - among veela, comparing someone to worms, animals that lived in the earth, was one of the worst insults.

    Chantal, who was sitting on an ottoman nearby, long legs draped over another and leaning against a floating pillow, agreed. “She certainly ‘ad an attitude. But I’m more worried about the other Bulgarians.”

    Sirius looked at her. “Did they make advances towards you?” If they did...

    Chantal looked surprised for a moment, then smiled. “No, not the men. The women. Bulgarians see us as temptresses, trying to ensnare wizards. And they think we’re just fit to be mistresses, not wives. Some of those witches might make moves on you.” Her expression clearly showed that she’d not tolerate that.

    “Well, they don’t stand any chance. I’m firmly yours!” Sirius declared, with a grand gesture. “Very firmly,” he added with a wink that had them giggling. They grew more serious quickly though.

    Laure, spread out on the left side of his bed, cut in: “It’s getting a bit crowded.”

    Sirius shrugged. “Well, we have to host our allies somewhere. And I’d rather have Viktor’s family and friends in my house than some of the mercenaries from the Balkans.” Everyone nodded at that - the things one heard from that particular spot made the Barbary Coast look like a vacation destination.

    “As long as they behave!” Valérie said. Sirius nodded. Had those been flames in her eyes? He patted his lap, and she joined him on his bed, sitting between his legs. He wrapped his arms around her, and the two stayed like that for a while.

    Eugénie, sitting next to them, sighed. “At least Fleur and her Beel will be back from France soon.”

    Sirius wasn’t certain that was a good thing, given Fleur’s temper and Bill’s looks. And the fact that many of those witches and wizards would be fighting in the war - and everyone knew how randy soldiers were when they were not fighting.

    He didn’t say anything though. To think that he once had thought he could never have enough pretty girls in his house! He had even dreamed of having a harem in his youth. If he had managed to forge his father’s signature, back then… he’d had his route to Constantinople planned out already when his parents had found out and stopped him. He had been young and stupid, before Azkaban.

    Thinking of that place, that time made him shiver, despite Valérie’s closeness. He didn’t have the urge to change into Padfoot though. Not anymore.

    *****​

    Paige Caldwell wasn’t certain her lot in life had improved. Certainly, she had better quarters now. The best expansion charms, and furniture that was not a finite away from turning into rubble. And food - real food. Meat. Rare, not burned to a crisp.

    On the other hand, her company hadn’t improved. Quite the contrary. Many of her new roommates were of the worst lot. Uncultured, barbaric, some were barely above beasts no matter if they were under the full moon. There were even muggles among them!

    But it was just a temporary measure, for the war’s duration. Once they had won, things would change. No one would ever tell her where she could live, and how. Never again! She would be free. Free and powerful. It was worth fighting for. Worth killing for. Britain declared her a dark creature? She’d show them how dark she could be!

    She told herself that several times a day. Especially after hearing the bragging of those who had been in the Dark Lord’s service for a while. The full moon was close, and she felt the beast in her rise, trying to take control. Urges, animal, violent ones, filled her. She slid her hand into her enchanted pocket, gripping her vial filled with Wolfsbane potion. No matter what anyone else said about the will of magic, nature, or the animal’s spirit, she’d not become a mindless beast.

    “Paige?”

    The werewolf flinched when she heard the loud voice from the hall. Fenrir Greyback, the leader of Voldemort’s pack, as he called them. The most infamous, most feared werewolf of Britain. His rampages were the stuff of nightmares. Or had been, before she had been cursed herself, and had seen the other side. Her side. It hadn’t taken her long to understand how one could be driven, enraged, enough to rampage. Not after living in Britain as a werewolf.

    She also knew that Greyback was as brutal, cunning and powerful as the tales made him out to be. She didn’t know any werewolf who could stand up to him. But that didn’t change the fact that he also was an uncouth brute who stank.

    But he was her superior, and she would never get to live in a Britain where she was free if she ignored him. She wouldn’t get to live, period, as one idiot boy had found out a day after she had arrived, when he had insulted the older werewolf. She stood up from the mattress she had been lying on - Greyback claimed beds were for monkeys - and opened the door with her wand. “Yes, Fenrir?” All werewolves were told to use first names, seeing as they were all one pack. Or so Greyback claimed.

    “The Dark Lord’s got a mission for you.”

    Paige’s eyes widened. “The Dark Lord himself?” she asked, her voice betraying her nervosity.

    “You won’t meet him, but the order came straight from him.” Fenrir scowled at her, but didn’t go further - only idiots didn’t fear the Dark Lord, and he wasn’t one.

    Paige nodded. “Who else is going on the mission?

    Fenrir laughed. “It’s just you, and some witch.”

    “What? So close to the full moon?” That didn’t sound like the usual mission for the werewolves. Paige wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad thing.

    “Yeah. They need a young werewolf who is still civilized. You fit the bill.”

    Paige nodded, even though that sounded ominous. Any other answer would have been a bad idea.

    Fenrir gave her a small coin. “That’s a portkey. It’ll drop you right at the meeting spot. You’ll be informed there. Do the pack proud. And if the witch is stupid, but not too stupid, bite her.”

    The old werewolf was still laughing at his own joke - if he had been joking - when the portkey went off and dropped her in front of a middle-aged, but attractive witch.

    *****​

    Dolores Umbridge saw the beast land on her carpet in a crouch. She wanted to kill the animal, but her orders were clear, and she prefered living to killing such abominations. She kept her wand out, of course. Just in case the monster lost control.

    “Hello, Miss…” the animal started to talk.

    Dolores cut her off with a gesture of her hand, walking around her. At a safe distance, of course. At least the werewolf wasn’t dressed in rags, and didn’t seem to be too dirty. Maybe she could pull this off. Provided the beast didn’t growl at people like she was doing right then. “Stop that!”

    “What?” The animal snarled at her. Dumb and arrogant.

    “Growling. Stop it.” She stared at the creature until the werewolf looked away. “You’ll have to pass for a real witch for this mission, you can’t be acting like an animal.”

    “What is the mission?” the insolent beast asked with a sneer.

    “It’s quite easy. There’s a Wizengamot member, Trevor Fickleton. The Dark Lord wants him bitten by a werewolf tonight.” The animal looked at her, surprise giving way to eagerness as the beast’s bloodlust rose.

    “I assume you’ve got a plan to get me to him.”

    “Yes. You’ll be posing as my niece. He is very interested in meeting her.”

    The nostrils of the thing widened. “Do you mean that he expects me to…”

    Dolores narrowed her eyes. “You’ll do what he wants until the moon rises. Understood?” As if any of those animals had a problem with rutting. She should be glad to be allowed to touch a wizard.

    The beast growled, showing her teeth. Dolores almost cursed her. “The Dark Lord ordered this. Are you defying him?”

    Even the dumb animal wasn’t that dumb, though she was still glaring at Dolores when she lowered her head.

    The witch nodded, satisfied. “Good. I’ve gotten a decent robe for you. Put it on.” It was much too good for the beast, but Dolores’s niece would be wearing such a robe. She watched while the werewolf dressed. The Dark Lord had been right. If she hadn’t known about the creature, she might even have been fooled into thinking this was a proper witch.

    Trevor wouldn’t suspect anything. He certainly would never expect Dolores to bring a werewolf to him - he knew her too well for that. Or thought he knew her. Thought he owned her. Thought he could reduce her to his concubine without her taking revenge on him.

    Dolores snarled. He’d find out just how wrong he was, tonight. When the full moon reached his bedroom and the little whore shed her human skin.

    *****​

    The Dark Lord Voldemort pondered the report from Umbridge lying on his desk. His plan had worked. Fickleton was now cursed, and just one revelation away from losing everything - his position, his gold, his family. The fool would do anything Voldemort ordered to avoid that fate.

    The Dark Lord shook his head as he read the last paragraph on the scroll. Umbridge thought she would get to order the man around. She was almost as big a fool as Fickleton himself - with her reputation her relationship with that wizard, no matter how fake it was, tainted the man’s reputation and therefore reduced his worth for the Dark Lord. The former Ministry employee would have to leave Fickleton. Voldemort had other tasks for her anyway.

    He’d inform her later that week about it. In a personal meeting - just in case she didn’t take it well. If she wasn’t willing to obey his orders, he’d find another use for her. Such as Steinberg’s experiments. His gaze fell on the wand on the other side of the desk.

    He summoned it into his hand and studied it, once more. It seemed to sing in his hand, daring him, begging him to cast the darkest curses he knew. Promising him that they would be as easy as a first-year’s charm. They would be, he had found that out when he had possessed the boy in the Ministry. But the price the wand demanded… A wizard using such a wand would burn brightly, but quickly, his own body, his life, fueling the wand’s power. The boy he had possessed had been doomed after just one fight with such a wand.

    Those wands would have been very useful, had he still a lot of expendable wizards and witches to send into combat. But in the current situation, he couldn’t afford to sacrifice them. Not in a fight, at least.

    But if his hunch paid out, he wouldn’t have to sacrifice any of his followers. Voldemort wasn’t a wandmaker, but he was the greatest practitioner of the Dark Arts in the world. He knew more about sacrifices than anyone else. And he knew that smart wizards sacrificed their enemies, not their allies.

    A wand that sacrificed its wielder was of limited use. A wand that sacrificed its targets though…

    Voldemort was smiling when he left his office in search of Steinberg.


    Chapter 39: A Dark Day
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2015
    bukay, DonLyn, Valint and 9 others like this.
  19. Threadmarks: Chapter 39: A Dark Day
    Starfox5

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    Chapter 39: A Dark Day

    “Pensieves should be illegal!” Kenneth Fenbrick declared when he withdrew from the memory of Balthasar Brighton, co-worker of Meadwater-Baker. “They obviously were made with torture in mind!”

    His partner, Bertha Limmington, ignored his outburst. “Brighton didn’t spot anyone entering or leaving Meadwater-Baker’s office,” she summed up the latest memory.

    “Yes… just like everyone else we saw. Maybe the culprit was invisible.” Kenneth leaned back and rubbed his eyes. He had seen the same scene from far too many eyes during the last few days. They already had found out that the Death Eater who had manipulated Floxwood had used a disguise thanks to the memory of his neighbour, but that wouldn’t have worked in the Ministry, where strangers were not allowed to roam the halls.

    “Or he too was obliviated.” Bertha rooted through the dozens of vials containing the memories of Ministry employees they had already watched, then pulled out another. With a flick of her wand she transferred Brighton’s memory into a vial, and put the next one in the pensieve.

    “If he was obliviated as well we’d never find them,” Kenneth said. He would hate for the Death Eater to escape. After the last few days the auror had had, the one responsible deserved to suffer!

    “Not necessarily.” Bertha dove into the memory.

    Kenneth sighed, then followed her. He found himself watching a corridor inside the Ministry, near the entrance to the offices where Meadwater-Baker had been working. “Whose memory are we watching?”

    “Meredith Wilkens’s.”

    “Wilkens? She doesn’t even work there. What did she …” Kenneth trailed off when he saw the witch suddenly stumble and drop a stack of parchments. When she cursed and bent down to pick them up, her already daring robe slipped a bit. “Ah. Tripping jinx. A distraction?”

    “Yes.” Bertha paused the recording, and pointed at the watch in the background, and a man in thick robes entering the corridor leading to Brighton’s office.

    Kenneth narrowed his eyes. That wizard should have shown up in Brighton’s memory. He walked around to look at the wizard’s face. “Macnair.” The butcher.

    Bertha nodded.

    “How did you know Wilkens was there? And how did you get her memory?” Kenneth knew they had taken the memories of all of Meadwater-Baker’s co-workers, but Wilkens worked in the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes - quite far from those offices.

    “I heard that she was having an affair with Mackenzie from Broom Regs.” Bertha was checking her watch and making notes inside the pensieve.

    “Bertha! You were gossiping? You?” Kenneth stared at her.

    His partner glared at him. “I couldn’t exactly ask around officially, that would have tipped the suspect off.”

    “Of course.” Kenneth agreed with her even if he was grinning widely - he couldn’t think of anyone less likely to indulge in office gossip than his partner. Including the Unspeakables.

    He grew serious as soon as they left the pensieve though. “Do you want to arrest him right away, or simply question him first?”

    Bertha cocked her head to the side. “We don’t have enough for a warrant, yet. But he might get spooked if we approach him.”

    Kenneth nodded. “He’ll know he’s been made if we start asking questions about the case. And a cornered Death Eater will flee - or fight. Both will confirm his guilt.”

    “He might be prepared for such an eventuality though. We’d need backup,” Bertha stated. “And a curse-breaker and a healer. Just in case.”

    “Gathering that many might be a bit conspicuous.” Kenneth didn’t think there were too many spies inside the Ministry, but there was always the risk of just one mole at the wrong place.

    “We don’t need to involve the hit-wizards,” Bertha said. “Aurors should suffice.”

    Kenneth nodded. Given the way they were recruiting anyone able to cast a few curses and a shield charm, there were bound to be a few spies among the hit-wizards. “Let’s call Bones.”

    *****​

    Walden Macnair was sorting through parchments, trying to reduce the stacks on his cluttered desk. He wished there was an execution scheduled - he hadn’t killed anything this week yet, neither for the Ministry or the Dark Lord. And he hoped he’d get to kill a sentient creature. Butchering animals wasn’t as satisfying as killing those who knew what was happening. Those who begged, cried, and pleaded. Like werewolves. If only muggles could be hunted…

    His musings were interrupted when someone knocked at the door of his office. “Yes?” He drew his wand, slowly floating a cup of tea over to his desk as a cover.

    The door opened, revealing two aurors. Fenbrick and Limmington. Walden knew about them - both through the Ministry’s grapevine, and from the Dark Lord himself. They were among the DMLE’s best, and had caused a lot of harm to the cause. What were they doing here? They could have some questions about magical creatures, he supposed. But he wasn’t an expert on creatures. Just on killing them.

    “Mister Macnair?” the wizard asked.

    Walden almost scoffed and asked who else the idiot thought would be in his office, but he controlled himself. “Yes.” He slowed the teacup down a bit more. Let them think he was a weak wizard, struggling with such a charm. Aurors always looked down on anyone else in the Ministry.

    Fenbrick smiled and stepped closer to Walden while the witch apparently found the pictures of dead animals on the wall interesting. Fitting for a Ravenclaw. Unless it was an act. That would be more Slytherin. “We’ve got a few questions for you.”

    Walden looked at the auror. “Is this an interrogation?” As soon as the words had left his lips, he knew they had been a mistake. Too confrontational. He needed to act like a friendly fellow Ministry employee, not a suspect.

    Fenbrick acted as if he hadn’t noticed the slip. “No, just some questions. We’re investigating the recent break-in at the Department of Mysteries.”

    Walden felt as if his blood froze in his veins. They knew… or did they just suspect? Wouldn’t they have arrested him, if they had proof? He had erased all traces of his involvement, hadn’t he? He managed to shrug. “Haven’t heard anything about it but rumors.” The teacup was now simply hovering, halfway to his desk.

    “Let me,” the witch said, pulling out her wand.

    Walden almost dropped the act and cursed her, but she simply levitated the cup to his desk. Fenbrick had drawn his wand as well, when Walden had been focusing on the witch, and was now acting as if he was peeved at his partner being quicker on the draw. But both were looking at Walden, and they were so far apart, he couldn’t keep both of them in sight.

    The executioner had no excuse now to keep his wand ready. The polite thing would be to holster it. But that was what they were counting on. He’d not disarm himself. But if he pointed his wand at one of them, both would curse him, he was certain of that. But … they probably thought he couldn’t do anything.

    Fenbrick was the more dangerous of the two. Gryffindor, good with his wand. Not a bookworm like the witch. He smiled at the auror and said: “Oh, I need sugar as well.” Walden pointed his wand at the shelf to his right, and levitated the drained Erumpent horn there - a souvenir from a raid against a ring of poachers up and towards him.

    “Is that…?”

    “Oops, I meant the sugar box next to it!” Walden made the horn wobble a bit, then let it drop. While the two aurors were staring at the falling horn, wands moving to stop it from hitting the floor and detonating, Walden sent a Blasting Curse at Fenbrick and slid off his chair.

    His curse hit the wizard in the chest and blew him back, but his robe must have saved him - Walden saw no blood or guts. He couldn’t follow up though, since Limmington was showering him with curses. For a witch with such a cold reputation, she seemed livid. Walden’s desk and chair were ripped apart - Cutting Curses - and his robe had to stop a Bludgeoning Curse that still threw him back against the wall.

    Walden retaliated at once. “Avada Kedavra!”

    His Killing Curse missed, but the witch had dropped to the ground to dodge, and that gave him an opening. He sprinted to the door, his wand sending another Killing Curse at the aurors. It hit his desk, and Walden felt elated when it exploded, sending a hail of splinters at his enemies, and destroying the hated parchments on it. The slight blue glow told him at least one of them had managed to get a shield up in time.

    It didn’t matter. He was at the door, and he only had to turn right and run down the corridor to reach the department’s holding area. He would be able to use his emergency portkey there, where the beasts captured by his department for disposal were transported in.

    The door was thrown open before he reached it. Multiple red spells shattered his shield charm and overloaded his robe’s protection. More aurors! Enraged, he charged them, about to unleash another Killing Curse but their next spells hit him first.

    *****​

    “Confringo!”

    Kenneth hadn’t looked up when he heard the spell, he had tried to jump to the side and cast a shield at the same time, but he had been too slow and Macnair’s Blasting Curse had caught him right in the chest. His robe’s enchantments had saved his life, but it still had felt worse than when he had tried to sneak into Beauxbatons’ carriage at Hogwarts in 6th year, and an Abraxan had kicked him. He had heard and felt his ribs break as he had been thrown back and to the side, landing hard on the floor. Stunned, he hadn’t been able to move, had been at Macnair’s mercy.

    Bertha had saved him, sending curses at the wizard with a fury Kenneth had seldom seen, forcing the other wizard to dodge and shield rather than finish him off. And then…

    “Avada Kedavra!”

    The green Killing Curse had flown at them, almost hitting Bertha. His partner had dropped to the ground to dodge, and that had given Macnair the opportunity to sprint to the door. Bertha had been about to intercept him, but...

    “Avada Kedavra!”

    Another Killing Curse had flown at them. Kenneth had flattened himself against the floor, his broken ribs causing agonizing pain, but the curse had missed both him and Bertha, and hit the desk, blowing it up. And then Kenneth had been stabbed by a dozen daggers, bleeding like a gutted pig, and Bertha had been rushing and screaming healing spells...

    “What were you thinking?” Amelia Bones asked with a frown, standing at the door of the small room in St. Mungo’s where Kenneth was lying in a bed, interrupting his flashback. “Risking your lives like that?” She wasn’t shouting, but her glare spoke volumes.

    “He was much faster than I expected,” Kenneth defended himself. He could hex himself for having fallen for that cheap trick as well. That’s what he got for playing games, instead of charging in.

    “Prior experiences left us with misleading conclusions,” Bertha, who had been sitting on a chair next to his bed, added.

    “In other words, you didn’t think a spy for the Dark Lord would be dangerous?” Bones raised one eyebrow and glared at them through her monocle.

    “The other spies we encountered were not quite as quick,” Kenneth defended himself. Yennington had been slippery, but not as dangerous. Though they hadn’t met him under similar circumstances.

    “Macnair has had a lot of experience. We assume he joined the Dark Lord during the last war.” Their boss shook her head even though they couldn’t have known that. But they could have suspected it, Kenneth knew.

    “Has he been interrogated yet?” Kenneth asked.

    The older witch shook her head. “He hasn’t woken up yet. He was hit by multiple spells. Nothing lethal, but they took no chances after he got past you two.”

    Kenneth winced. That scene wouldn’t look that well on his record. Even though without Berhta and him they wouldn’t have found Macnair in the first place, it never looked good when a suspect almost escaped - and almost killed the aurors trying to arrest him. And in front of witnesses, and in the Ministry itself. Teasing would be the least of his worries.

    “The healers claim he’ll be fit to be interrogated tomorrow at the latest,” Bones went on. Kenneth perked up and started to smile, earning him another glare. “You’re stuck here another day.”

    “My robe stopped the Blasting Curse!” the auror protested. He did feel, well, not entirely fine, but well enough to interrogate the scumbag who had failed to kill him.

    “It didn’t prevent the busted ribs and the ‘multiple puncture wounds’ you suffered after that. The healers want to keep you here for a bit longer, just to make sure there’s nothing they missed.”

    Kenneth looked away. He knew he had been hurt badly - but it had just been wooden splinters, not a dark curse. Nothing St. Mungo’s couldn’t handle.

    “Still, excellent work on ferreting out the traitor. The exact means you used will be classified though - we don’t want to let the Dark Lord know how his spy was discovered. Get healed up. If I see you out and about without having been discharged properly, you’ll be healing up during a suspension. That goes for you as well, Limmington,” Bones stated, then left.

    Kenneth turned to Bertha. “Were you hurt?” She looked fine, but he had been out for a while. Long enough to heal others up.

    His partner shook her head. “No. I cast a Shield Charm in time. To protect me at least.”

    The auror narrowed his eyes. She sounded off. Was she blaming herself? “You couldn’t have protected me. And it was my fault for being too slow.” Too overconfident.

    “I should have protected you. Covered you. I should have known he’d never keep a horn that wasn’t drained of the explosives in his office. And I didn’t.” Bertha wasn’t looking at him, but down.

    “I’m still alive, so you did. You saved my life too, from what the healer told me.” Kenneth winced, remembering what he had heard about his wounds, how close he had come to dying.

    “You shouldn’t have been hurt in the first place,” Bertha said.

    “My plan, my fault. I acted like I was a damn hit-wizard and not an auror.” Though to be honest,he had botched the hit-wizard part up as well. He had acted like a damned fool. If Aberforth ever heard about it...

    The witch shook her head and stood up. Kenneth blinked. Bertha was taking this really hard. He knew he had to say something before she’d leave, but couldn’t think of anything he hadn’t said yet until his partner had already opened the door.

    He opened his mouth, ready to blurt out what he felt, when he heard a blood-curling scream from another part of the hospital.

    *****​

    Walden Macnair wanted to scream, wanted to yell, wanted to spit at the healers and aurors surrounding him, but he was naked, paralyzed and held by spells, forced to listen to them discuss him as if he was not there, as if he couldn’t hear them, as if he was an animal and not a wizard!

    “The subject has recovered from the effects of the spells he was hit with during capture, and I don’t detect any lingering wounds or damages. Not any significant ones, at least,” one wizard in the white robes of the healers from St. Mungo’s commented to the dicta-quill and parchment floating next to him.

    “When can we start interrogating him?” an older auror asked. Walden recognized him. John Dawlish. Not exactly the cream of the crop, despite his experience, but competent enough at sucking up.

    “There’s something I want to check out still…” the healer answered, pointing his wand at Walden’s left side.

    “The Dark Mark?” Dawlish cocked his head, staring at the arm. Walden felt even more rage filling him, overwhelming him. He struggled harder against the spell binding his body, but he couldn’t move any part other than his eyes.

    “Yes. It seems to conceal a spell of sorts. Maybe an enchantment.” The healer bent forward to look at it, and Walden knew that expression - a damned know-it-all, too curious for his and everyone else’s good. That was the Dark Lord’s sacred mark, the symbol of his loyalty, not some ‘interesting phenomena’ or whatever the current slang of the Ravenclaws was!

    “That could be dangerous.” Dawlish took a step back. “I’ve heard tales from the last war…”

    “Really?” The healer beamed at him. “I’ve called a curse-breaker from Artefact Accidents, but if you could elaborate?” Walden wanted to growl. If he had been free he would have ripped both of them to shreds with his bare hands, a wand was too good for them!

    Dawlish shook his head. “It was just rumors… that if you touched the mark, You-Know-Who marked you. That he could hear you through it.”

    “Oh… “ The healer showed, at last, the fear Walden’s master deserved, but before he could say anything else, another white-robed wizard arrived, and he smiled again. “Ah, Flowers! I’m glad you found the time to help us out here!”

    “Of course I’d come - studying the Dark Mark? That’s an opportunity not many have!” The two nodded at each other, then the curse-breaker greeted Dawlish.

    Another eager Ravenclaw! Walden tried to keep the new arrival in his sight, but paralyzed as he was, that was impossible since the man stepped around the cot he was lying on. Walden could still hear him fine though.

    “Fascinating… truly fascinating. It looks a bit like a cursed tattoo I had to deal with half a year ago… from Haiti.”

    Walden heard a mumbled spell, then he was filled with pain almost as bad as the Dark Lord’s cruciatus. It felt as if dozens of red-hot needles were piercing his skin - and not just on his arm. He couldn’t scream, couldn’t move, but he could feel the excruciating pain. And hear the curse-breaker dictate notes while he tortured him, if he even noticed what he was doing.

    “It looks like a hidden enchantment under the mark. Enchanted ink, but something moAAAAAH!”

    The pain Walden was suffering didn’t stop, but the curse-breaker was screaming now as well, stumbling back and gripping his wand arm, which was shriveling and turning black in seconds. And then he felt the spells holding him falter, and the pain went away.

    The healer and Dawlish, even the two hit-wizards guarding Walden, all were staring at the flailing, screaming cursebreaker. No one was paying attention to their prisoner. Not until Walden sat up, the wand the curse-breaker had dropped in his hand, and started casting.

    “Confringo!” His shouted incantation was barely audible next to the screams from the dying curse-breaker.

    His Blasting Curse hit the healer. The wizard’s robe didn’t seem to offer any protection, and his chest blew up, showering Dawlish and the still screaming curse-breaker with blood and flesh and bone fragments. Walden jumped off the cot and rammed his shoulder into Dawlish, then grabbed the man’s wand arm, jerking him around, while he aimed his wand at the left guard.

    “Avada Kedavra!”

    The hit-wizard collapsed, dead. The other hit-wizard was casting, but Dawlish was still standing and served as a shield, his robe’s enchantments stopping several stunners. Walden laughed and jammed his wand into the auror’s gut.

    “Confringo!”

    Dawlish gaped and made a gurgling, wheezing noise when the lower half of his body was destroyed. Walden let him drop to the floor, then stepped to the side, dodging another spell from the remaining hit-wizard. His enemy looked young and inexperienced. He’d be easy prey.

    The Death Eater was already aiming at the last guard when his bare foot stepped on blood and flesh, and he slipped. His spell went wide, and he stumbled against the cot, then against the curse-breaker, whose screams were still droning out anything else.

    Unbalanced, he didn’t manage to either shield or dodge the next curses the guard sent at him. He felt the Cutting Curse on his arm and leg, he felt his chest cave in when a Bludgeoning Curse hit him, he felt himself fly back, towards the wall, but he didn’t feel the impact that broke his neck.

    *****​

    “Albus!”

    Albus Dumbledore turned towards the floo in his office, and saw the head of Amelia Bones peak out from the green flames.

    “Yes, Amelia?” he answered. The witch looked like she was barely holding in her anger. Most would have missed it, but he had known her since she was a first year student.

    “I need to talk to you.”

    “Certainly. Come on through.” The Headmaster unlocked his floo with a flick of his wand, then sealed it up again as soon as the witch had stepped into his office. He summoned two glasses and a bottle of Ogden’s finest. “Please have a seat. What happened?”

    “The Dark Mark happened.”

    “Was there an attack?” He hadn’t heard of any from his contacts, but if it had been recently discovered...

    “No. We found a mole in the Ministry, the one who had arranged for the Dark Lord to possess that boy. It was Walden Macnair. The executioner. We arrested him, but during his treatment at St. Mungo’s some idiot curse-breaker took a shot at unraveling his mark.”

    Albus winced. He knew very well just what exactly could happen when the Dark Mark’s protection was triggered. He wasn’t too surprised about the identity of the spy - in hindsight, Macnair fit the profile of a Death Eater very well.

    Amelia didn’t miss his expression. “You knew about the danger.”

    “Yes I did. I did not expect anyone to try and break the curses on it though.” In truth, he had considered the possibility, but warning the Ministry about the dangers of tampering with the Dark Lord’s mark would have warned the moles working for Voldemort about his own research.

    Amelia scoffed. “The curse-breaker got cursed. His screams distracted the healer, guards and the auror present, which allowed the Death Eater to grab a wand and attack them.”

    “Was he not restrained?”

    “He was. The spells failed when the mark’s curse triggered. At least that’s the most plausible explanation.”

    Albus nodded. That would make sense. Some of the curses he had broken might have had such an effect. Maybe they overrode the less harmful effect… he focused on the matter at hand again. “Muggle means of restraining might be needed then, for the next captured Death Eater,” the Headmaster commented while making a note to do so as well with his own captive.

    “I’ve already given orders to that effect. Macnair killed the healer who had been treating the wounds he had suffered during the arrest, then killed one of the guards and John Dawlish before the remaining guard killed him.” Amelia emptied her glass and refilled it. “The curse-breaker died an hour later. His arm shriveled and rotted, and no one could help him. Even amputating it didn’t stop the curse.”

    Albus nodded. He didn’t ask if the guard would have been able to stun Macnair instead of killing him. Hit-wizards were not aurors, and the current corps was focused on fighting a war, not capturing criminals.

    “Why didn’t you warn us?” Amelia’s eyes bore into his.

    He briefly considered lying, but decided against it. She deserved to know the truth, even if it would be a burden for the witch. “If I had, the Dark Lord’s spies would have informed him that I was researching his mark.”

    Amelia narrowed her eyes. “You sacrificed four people for that?”

    “I did not expect anyone but the Unspeakables to try to unravel the Dark Mark.”

    “Did you warn them?”

    “They would have known the risks.”

    Amelia’s lips formed a thin line and he could see how she fought to control her temper. “Damn you!”

    He sighed. “I am sorry about the deaths, but even without a warning they should have known better than to risk the Dark Lord’s curse.”

    She stared at him, then closed her eyes. “You’ve got a plan for that mark.”

    “Yes.” A different plan that she might imagine, but a plan nonetheless.

    “I hope for you that it is worth four lives.” She downed the whiskey, then burped flame.

    “So do I, Amelia.” He smiled ruefully. It was more important - it was the most promising way to stop the Dark Lord, and with him the war - and the curse-breaker and the auror should have known better, but that didn’t change how guilty he felt.

    “I trust you’ve arranged for someone to continue your plan, should anything happen to you.” Amelia sniped.

    “Yes.” Miss Granger would continue her work, and he had prepared a note for his brother. Just in case Tom proved to be more than his match.

    Amelia refilled her glass again and raised it in a mocking toast. “To bloody wars and sacrifices, and to damned leaders!”

    He simply raised his glass in response. There was nothing else to say when he agreed with her judgement.

    *****​

    Standing in the hall serving as his throne room until he conquered the Ministry, the Dark Lord Voldemort looked at the latest wands Steinberg had crafted. The Prussian wizard stood behind the floating tray on which his work was presented, looking eager.

    “I implemented your suggestions, my lord. They will perform admirably.” He didn’t show any sign of nervousness.

    Voldemort glanced at the wandmaker and the other wizard flinched. Those hadn’t been mere suggestions; the Dark Lord had provided the Prussian with detailed instructions and information about the Dark Arts so he could refine his wands and correct their main flaw, the price they made the wielder pay.

    “I mean, your plans, my lord,” the wizard hastily corrected himself.

    Voldemort smiled, then studied the wands again. The enchantments looked like they should. He picked one up, ignoring how Bella tensed up. They felt right too.

    “They have been tested,” he said, looking at Steinberg.

    “They have, but not as extensively as I wanted.” The Prussian scowled.

    Voldemort ignored his wandmaker’s expression. To test the wands properly, at least according to Steinberg’s standards, he would have had to provide far more test subjects than he had access to. The Ministry’s efforts had made it harder to procure sacrifices, even if one stuck to muggles no one would miss. He already was slowly culling his werewolf recruits for his research, he couldn’t afford to lose more wizards.

    Therefore the only way to test the wands was an actual battle. It would ruin the surprise somewhat, but it was better than to hold them back only to find a fatal flaw during a crucial mission.

    “Craft three dozen more of them. I need them by the end of June.”

    Steinberg, unfamiliar with Britain, simply nodded, even though the order meant he’d have to work hard for weeks. Bella though let slip a gasp.

    “Leave us!” Voldemort ordered, and the wandmaker left, the floating tray trailing after him.

    As soon as the door had closed behind the Prussian, Bella turned towards the Dark Lord. “Master, the end of June. Does that mean… ?”

    He nodded at her. “Yes.” Of course she would know what happened at the end of June. Everyone in Britain did.

    She smiled widely, licking her lips. “May I…”

    He gently shook his head. “Not you, my love.”

    She looked away, pouting, until he gripped her chin and made her look at him. “I will not risk you for a mere test. You are not expendable.”

    She shivered, biting her lower lip until it bled as she struggled with herself, then nodded, as he had known she would.

    He could taste her blood when he kissed her.

    *****​

    Paige Caldwell left the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her and held up with a Sticking Charm. Despite spending half an hour in the bathtub she still didn’t feel clean. If the bigot hadn’t been sitting in the main room of the apartment they were sharing she’d have cursed, or hit something to vent her anger. But she wouldn’t show any weakness in front of that witch.

    Walking towards her own room, she caught Umbridge’s sneer. The werewolf had to struggle not to attack the woman. It would feel so good to curse her, hit her, choke and strangle her. Smash that pretty face, break her classic nose. Paige was certain the witch would lose her arrogance before she lost her life. The only thing holding her back were the Dark Lord’s orders. She didn’t dare disobey them, even though Umbridge was responsible for her current situation. She smiled at the witch, even smirked - with an effort. The werewolf wasn’t happy, not at all.

    Paige had joined the Dark Lord’s forces to fight for a better Britain. To crush their enemies. She hadn’t joined to whore herself out to blackmail influential wizards. That had been Umbridge’s idea. The filthy slut.

    The werewolf entered her room and swept her wand in an arc to close the door. A silence spell followed, before she screamed in frustration and hit the armoire standing in the corner until the doors cracked and her knuckles were torn and bleeding. She felt better, and yet still almost as bad as right before the full moon. If only she could attack someone. Anyone.

    She sat down on the floor and leaned back against the wall. She had to calm down. She had to control herself. This was just a temporary ordeal. Sooner or later this would end, and she’d be fighting the Ministry’s lackeys. Then she’d be able to vent all her rage on them.

    *****​

    Dolores Umbridge looked up from the Witch Weekly magazine she was reading - even a beautiful witch such as her had to stay informed of the latest trends, especially given her current… assignment - when the beast returned from the room serving as its lair. Instead of cursing the animal, as she wanted and as it deserved, she sneered at the werewolf. It was all its fault. If there were no werewolves Dolores would be blackmailing her way back to power instead of seducing wizards like a common whore just to get them bitten by the cursed monster.

    And she wouldn’t be living together with the beast just so their cover would hold up better. If she had known what would happen she’d have never let that animal pose as a relative of hers.

    The beast sat down at their table, across from Dolores, and summoned a meal from the kitchen as if it was a proper witch, and not a dark creature pretending to be human. She watched, disgusted and fascinated at the same time, as it ate, wondering if it would drop the act and simply feed like a dog. It didn’t. It even cleaned the dishes and sent them back to their proper place in the kitchen. Passable manners. Apparently, Dolores was a better teacher than she had thought.

    She caught the werewolf staring at her, and stared back. She knew she couldn’t appear weak to an animal, or it wouldn’t obey her. For a while, both were staring at each other, neither one flinching or backing down.

    “Rees ap Evan has sent an invitation,” Dolores said, enjoying the way the beast flinched at the mentioning of Dolores’s latest target. The Welsh wizard was the heir of Evan ap Thomas, an aging but still powerful Wizengamot member who was delegating most of his work to the younger man these days.

    “When does he expect us?” The werewolf was trembling slightly.

    “Tomorrow evening. It’s a private invitation.” Dolores smiled when she saw the monster twitch. “Dress up nicely, I don’t want anyone to think my ‘cousin’ couldn’t afford proper clothes.”

    “The lech will rip them off or vanish them anyway.” The werewolf was now sulking. Dolores felt a bit better.

    “I’m certain you’ll be able to protect your robe,” she said with a sweet smile. “Just shed it quickly. Otherwise you’ll have to repair or replace it yourself.”

    “You’re just mad that you’re not invited.”

    Dolores laughed at that, even though she wanted to curse the stupid beast for presuming she would ever be jealous of an animal. “He prefers his girls dumb and meek. I’m too smart and powerful for him.” Her sneer added ‘unlike you’ as clearly as if she had shouted it.

    The monster growled at her and stood up - it had understood the insult. “Whore!”

    “Beast!” She had stood up as well.

    Both had their wands drawn and aimed, but neither pushed further. The Dark Lord had made it extremely clear what would happen to them should their animosity cause them to fail him.
    The witch just hoped the monster wouldn’t lose what self-control it had, and forget.

    *****​

    Harry Potter leaned back in his seat and watched the countryside as the Hogwarts Express traveled towards London. His fifth year at Hogwarts was over. He had taken his O.W.L.s, and unlike Hermione, he didn’t doubt that he had done well. Two months of vacation with his family awaited him. First in London, for Grimmauld Place and the Dursleys. Then the Caribbean, for the meeting with the Grangers, followed by Bulgaria, for the wedding. Probably France as well, for the beaches with veela, at least according to Sirius.

    He glanced at Hermione, who was sitting next to him, fast asleep. The witch had been pushing herself far too much in the last term. Researching the Dark Mark, training self-defense, and studying excessively for the O.W.L.s. If he hadn’t stepped in she’d have burned herself out. Or worse. Or she would have been cursed by their friends, for trying to make them burn out. Well, some of them - Ron hadn’t complained as much as Harry had expected, probably due to having a Ravenclaw girlfriend. Padma, of course, had jumped at the chance to study with the brightest witch of her age. And Neville… well, he had endured.

    “I wonder if we’re going to be as exhausted after our own exams, next year,” Luna said, looking at the sleeping or at least resting students in their compartment.

    “It wasn’t the O.W.L.s, it was the parties after them.” Ginny snorted, shaking her head as she looked at her brother, sprawled out on an expanded seat with Crookshanks sleeping on his chest, next to Padma’s head.

    “Parties? It looked more like one very long party that only ended when the time to board the train came,” Aicha commented. “And judging by some compartments we passed, it hasn’t yet ended for everyone.”

    “Well, it is a monumental moment in their lives. They have passed from childhood to not-quite-adulthood!” Luna declared, nodding several times to her own words.

    Harry blinked. “Not-quite-adulthood?”

    “You’re having sex now!” Luna beamed at him while Ginny rolled her eyes and Aicha frowned at her friend. “Though you’re not having sex right now, unless what we are seeing is just a very convincing illusion and Hermione’s actually not asleep, but busy…” An elbow from Aicha ended that sentence.

    Harry sighed. He should have known better than to ask the blonde. “We’re not having sex while hiding under an illusion.”

    “Are you sure? Maybe Hermione would like that. Did you ask her?”

    “Luna!” Another elbow hit the Ravenclaw witch from the other side, where Ginny was sitting.

    “Are you going on an expedition with your father during the summer?” Harry tried to change the topic. It wasn’t that he was embarrassed talking about sex - well, not that much, not after two years with Sirius and Nymphadora teasing him whenever possible - but he didn’t want to discuss his sex life with his friends. Such as he had one, of course.

    While Luna happily started to tell them about her plans for the summer involving Snorkack hunting in Sweden or Switzerland, Harry glanced at Hermione again. A lock of her hair had fallen over her face and was moving each time she breathed. He gently brushed it back behind her ear. His love life only concerned two people - himself, and his girlfriend. Though he doubted the Grangers or Sirius shared his opinion. Hermione though did.

    Before he could ask Luna which country she was headed to, the train suddenly shook violently, throwing them all off their seats. The sounds of warping metal followed, and Harry realized with horror that they had been derailed.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger woke up right before she was thrown into the ceiling of their train compartment. If not for the Cushioning Charms built into the train - never having been needed according to Hogwarts: A History - she’d been hurt seriously. Even with them her robe’s protection were triggered since all inside their compartment were thrown around like crash dummies for several horrible seconds until the train finally stopped moving. Someone was lying on top of her, blocking her view of most the compartment and weighing her down.

    “What happened?” she heard Ron ask. “Where are we?”

    “Train wreck. Get up!” Harry! He was alright! Hermione turned her head and saw her boyfriend pushing a trunk that had fallen on him away. He was peering out of the window.

    “Train wreck? How… Voldemort!” Ron cursed as he got up himself, joining Harry.

    Her friend was right, Hermione thought, the only reason for the Hogwarts Express suffering a derailment was sabotage - an attack! The young witch levitated whoever was lying on her away - it was Padma, she saw afterwards - and checked the door to their compartment.

    Thanks to the dozens of protective spells on the train, the windows hadn’t broken and the doors hadn’t jammed. But the students had to be panicking, even if this was just an accident and not…

    She heard an explosion, and the train shook again. It was an attack!

    “Death Eaters outside, attacking!” Harry shouted. “The guards are engaging them, but it doesn’t look good.”

    Padma started to scream. Hermione cast a silencing spell on the witch. They couldn’t afford to panic right now. Fortunately, the privacy spells she’d cast on their compartment were still working as well, so they couldn’t hear the rest of the students screaming. That would have been distracting, at the least.

    “We have to get out of here. I’ve alarmed Sirius already. Grab the portkey!” Harry yelled, throwing the end of a rope to her. Hermione caught it, waited until everyone was touching it - Ron grabbed Padma’s hand and held it to the rope - and then activated it. Nothing happened. As she had expected.

    “We had to try. Brooms it is then!” Harry decided. He pulled his shrunken Firebolt from his pocket. Ron followed his example, as did Hermione. Ever since their return from Bulgaria last year she had been carrying a broom of her own with her just for such a situation, courtesy of Sirius. Before she could check if the others were prepared as well though another explosion, rocked the entire train. Then another one followed, much closer.

    “Shields!” Hermione yelled, casting one of her own and moving to cover Harry, who was jumping back, away from the window with Ron.

    Then the window blew up, and once again Hermione and her friends were thrown around like rag dolls.

    *****​

    “Merlin’s rotting underwear!” Ron Weasley cursed while he got back on his feat and summoned his fortunately still shrunken broom back to his hand. That had been a close call. If his Shield Charm had been a bit weaker, his robes a bit cheaper, then he’d be gravely wounded, or worse. As it was, he felt as if he had been his brothers’ target for beater practise - his robe’s protections had done what they could, but something had gone through.

    He and Harry had shielded the others though. And both of them were already facing the hole that was left of their compartment’s window. A second later Hermione joined them. With the train wrecked for good, the privacy spells had gone as well, and they could hear screaming from all sides. Screaming and yelling, and explosions. He saw one student on a broom take to the skies, only to drop down screaming, and aflame a second later.

    “They’ll be waiting for people trying to escape!” Ron yelled. The Death Eaters had flyers up.

    “We can’t stay in here. The train won’t stand up to those spells!” Harry started to move towards the window. Before he reached it though another spell hit that area, and the remains of the window and wagon started to smoke and melt.

    “Don’t touch it! It’s an acid curse, but I don’t know what kind!” Hermione yelled. As if anyone was daft enough to touch it!

    “Help has to be underway. We only need to hold out a few minutes,” Harry said.

    “But the attack… those spells… if Voldemort himself is out there…” Hermione didn’t finish. Ron knew what she meant. What the Dark Lord’s presence would mean.

    “Let’s get out on the other side!” Ron said, then looked back. Padma was still silenced and still trying to scream. Neville was already opening the door - or vanishing the remains. And the other girls were helping, even though the usually unflappable Aicha looked shaken, and Luna looked scared. Ginny looked mad enough to use dark spells.

    They would have to climb over wrecked parts and piled up luggage, but they should reach the window on the other side, Ron thought. If no one was waiting to blow that and them up as soon as they opened it, of course.

    A loud yell made him whip around. Through the hole in their compartment he saw a broom rider approach, casting curses at the train. A Death Eater! And judging by the speed of his casting, a veteran one!

    For a moment, Ron was frozen. A Death Eater, probably inner circle too. What could they, what could he, do against such a foe? Then he snarled and sent a cutting curse at the broom. To his surprise, he hit it, wrecking the broom’s balance and steering. The rider’s loud yells turned into screams as he plowed down into the field like a seeker who had fallen for a Wronski feint.

    “There’s dozens of them out there, and they’re wiping the floor with the aurors!” Harry yelled, moving towards the window side again.

    “Wait! Don’t touch the acid!” Hermione yelled again, then cast a spell Ron didn’t recognize. A clear liquid splashed all over the remains of the wall, and the wreckage stopped smoking. Another spell turned a piece of metal jutting out of the mess into a mouse. Ron blinked.

    “I’ve neutralized the acid. And the mouse shows it worked!” his best friend explained.

    Ron nodded. “Next time, use a rat!” he shouted, joining Harry. Hermione followed.

    The broom rider he had caused to crash was getting up. Obviously wounded, but not out of the fight. Ron hesitated for a fraction of a second, then pointed his wand at the wizard.

    “Confringo!”

    Harry and Hermione cast as well, three spells hitting the wizard or the ground he was standing on. Before the smoke and dust thrown up by the explosions had cleared, they had sent three more curses at the area. All that was left of their target were pieces.

    Ron had to fight down a sudden bout of nausea at the sight, but he recovered quickly - the Death Eater scum had tried to kill him and his friends and family. Probably had killed a number of students. Children.

    “To the right!” Harry yelled.

    Ron turned his head and saw a Death Eater cursing a wounded hit-wizard. So that’s what an Entrail-Expelling Curse looked like, the Gryffindor thought. He didn’t have any regret killing that Death Eater.

    Then he glanced back. His friends and his sister hadn’t left the compartment yet. Neville met his eyes, then shook his head. It had to be too dangerous to move away. They were stuck, cornered. Like rats.

    “Where are the aurors? Where is Dumbledore?” Ron spat out, aiming at another enemy.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger ducked her head as another dark curse flew over her. Part of her noticed that it made no sense - the Death Eaters attacking the train were using dark spells with an ease and speed she envied, but their aim was terrible. Not that she should be complaining about that.

    The young witch didn’t know how long they had been fighting, but it couldn’t have been for more than a few minutes, or help would have arrived already. She had used the time well though - thick stone walls surrounded the remains of their compartment, protecting them and their friends but leaving some slits to look out and cast through. They were somewhat safe. Safer, at least, than the guards that had been on the train - most of the hit-wizards out there were dead or dying, she assumed, given the volume of curses sent at the train, and at them, and that she couldn’t see many who were still moving.

    “They should have retreated already!” Ron yelled while he blew up a small mound of earth a bit away, just in case it might have served as cover for an attacker. “If they stay any longer, they’ll be caught in a pincer by Ministry reinforcements!”

    Hermione knew he was right - that was how raids were conducted - but the Death Eaters didn’t seem to share his opinion. Were they actually trying to stand and face whatever the Ministry sent at them? Was this the decisive battle some journalists and students were talking about? But why here, and why now? Was it about Harry? They wouldn’t get him, over her dead body!

    She reinforced the wall on the left side, where Luna and Aicha were crouching, trembling, but with their wands ready in case anyone got close. Each curse that hit her walls weakened them, and if they were shattered…

    She spotted another attacker trying to climb over the warped roof of the train to their side. With a snarl, she transfigured the wall beneath him into spikes, then vanished the roof he was standing on. The man fell down onto the spikes and started screaming. Not for long - Ginny popped up from behind her position and silenced him with a cutting curse to the neck.

    Hermione couldn’t help but thinking that Voldemort’s possession of the girl had not faded as much as Ron had claimed or hoped. Although they could use her right now, since the expected help still had not arrived. Where was Dumbledore?

    She briefly checked if Padma was still safe in the middle of their spot. She would have stunned the witch, had the Ravenclaw not recovered her wits enough to at least be able to hide and keep silent.

    *****​

    Pansy Parkinson didn’t know what exactly had happened. All she knew was that she had to get out of this trainwreck, get to safety. Around her the students were panicking. Screaming, yelling and trampling over each other as they tried to flee the train. Those that could still move, at least - she had seen one student, a Ravenclaw sixth year, die, her heart ripped out of her chest by some dark curse while trying to climb through a window.

    She wouldn’t die like that witch, Pansy swore. “Greg, Vincent! With me, we’re getting out!”

    Her two fellow Slytherins followed her. Pansy wasn’t certain if they were too slow to panic, or simply too used to obey orders, but she wasn’t complaining either way.

    “Where are we going?” Greg asked, pushing a screaming second year student out of their way.

    “We need a distraction so we can leave the train without getting cursed!” Pansy yelled over the screaming and crying.

    “Fireworks!” Vincent grunted.

    “You have some?” The boys were quite fond of anything that was loud and blew up, Pansy knew that.

    “Weasley!” Vincent pointed at the rear of the train, where the loud explosions they heard were not coming from Blasting Curses, as Pansy realized. And where thick smoke obscured the area.

    Just what they needed. “Let’s go!”

    They made their way to the rear of the train, over and through other students when needed. More were following them though, Pansy noticed. Probably thought she had a good plan, and was not simply improvising and hoping for the best. If she was not scared shitless, she’d have laughed loud.

    “Parkinson! Help!”

    She knew that voice. Pansy whipped her head around and saw Greengrass standing in the wreckage of a compartment. The Slytherin witch’s robes were torn, but she looked unharmed. Idiots had all the luck, Pansy thought.

    “Tracey is hurt!” Greengrass yelled, tears in her eyes. “I can’t help her!”

    For a second, Pansy was tempted to sneer at the twit and go on. But she was a fellow Slytherin. And Davis wasn’t that bad. And the witch’d owe her. “Greg!”

    The burly wizard nodded and climbed inside the compartment, Greengrass giving way. He returned in seconds, a blood-covered body thrown over his shoulder. Davis. The witch was still breathing, but also bleeding, Pansy noticed. A quick Episkey stopped the bleeding, somewhat, but she couldn’t do anything else. She almost told Greg to float her instead of carrying her, but the girl would be safer over the wizard’s shoulders. Less likely to be dropped too.

    “Let’s go!”

    They pushed on, towards the end of the train. “Ok… we’ll go out, then left, towards the forest.” Pansy remembered that there had been a forest on the other side of the train. She didn’t wait for the others to acknowledge her plan, but got out first.

    Her eyes and throat started to hurt as soon as she entered the thick smoke and started to run. She didn’t care. She had to escape!

    She stumbled several times, and fell down once, the field was littered with debris from the train and transfigurations, but Vincent simply pulled her up with one hand. He was at her side when they got out of the smoke, close to the edge of the forest.

    Closer to a Death Eater too. “We’re Slytherins!” Pansy yelled, hoping the man would let them pass. He just laughed though, like a hyena, and pointed his wand at her.

    When the glowing curse flew towards her, Pansy froze.


    Chapter 40: Breaking and Recovering
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2015
    bukay, Pezz, DonLyn and 10 others like this.
  20. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    I wonder if anyone is going to sacrifice themselves (or someone else) for Pansy.

    Not the only way she might survive, but a dramatically-appropriate one.
     
    Starfox5 likes this.
  21. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    In a way. It depends on your definition of sacrifice.
     
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  22. Threadmarks: Chapter 40: Breaking and Recovering
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 40: Breaking and Recovering

    “Where is Dumbledore?” Harry Potter asked loudly, for the umpteenth time. The shelter he and his friends were hiding in was slowly giving way under the assault from what had to be half a dozen dark wizards, despite Hermione’s best efforts to reinforce the walls. And she had to neutralize those acid spells twice already.

    “I don’t know! Even with the anti-apparition jinxes up, help should have arrived by now!” Ron said. “Confringo!” Harry’s friend grinned. “Got one. Not dead, but should be hurt.”

    Harry nodded, then sent a Blasting Curse of his own at the earth wall protecting one attacker.

    “We can’t keep this up much longer,” Hermione said while she crawled over towards Harry’s position. His girlfriend was looking exhausted, but determined.

    “We don’t exactly have a choice!” Ron said, using a conjured mirror to keep an eye on their enemies without exposing himself. “We’re surrounded!”

    Harry glanced back, where Neville was sitting, left arm in a sling stuck to his robe. Ginny had taken over for him guarding their rear after his shield and robe hadn’t managed to completely stop the debris from two exploding walls. Padma was lying next to him. Ron’s girlfriend had been hurt as well, if not as badly, but the Ravenclaw was in shock, according to Hermione.

    Harry focused on their situation again. Ron was right - the attackers had destroyed the car around them, denying them more cover, but at the same time, making it much harder for the dark wizards to reach their shelter. The young wizard hoped the other students who had been in the car had managed to flee. He didn’t think many had, though.

    Aicha was cradling her genie in her hands. The little thing had been hurt as well from exploding debris trying to find a way out - or trying to get help. Both the Arabian witch and Luna were looking more grim than Harry had seen them. Angry too, but more afraid he guessed.

    “We can’t stay!” Hermione exclaimed, looking from one slab of conjured wall to the next, ready to repair and reinforce or replace them.

    “And we can’t run. They’ve got anti-disillusion jinxes up as well!” Ron grit his teeth. “We’ll have to chance the brooms.”

    “Not everyone can fly.” Harry nodded at their two wounded. They’d never be able to ride a broom in their state. Ron opened his mouth, but he cut his friends off. “And if we double up, then we’ll be too slow to evade their spells.”

    Ron closed his eyes and balled his fists. “Damn!”

    Hermione didn’t call him on his cursing, and if that wasn’t a sign of just how desperate their situation was, then Harry didn’t know what was. He looked at his girlfriend. She could fly a broom, well enough at least. He could order her to get his broom and his cloak, and escape.

    Hermione looked up from where she was reinforcing their left wall, and shook her head at him. Her lips moved, and while he didn’t hear her words, he knew what she was saying: “I’m not leaving you.”

    *****​

    Before Pansy Parkinson could scream, much less try to dodge, Vincent was there, in front of her, his shield charm up and his wand pointed at the attacker. “Stu…”

    Behind Vincent’s hulking body, Pansy hoped for a moment that the spell had missed him. But then he stopped casting, staggered, and when he slowly turned around already falling, she saw that his chest had been ripped open. His lips moved, but nothing but blood came out, and his eyes sought hers while he fell. For one horrible fraction of a second she clearly saw the broken remains of his ribs framing the hole in his body where his heart had been, then he hit the ground, and Pansy was facing his murderer again.

    Screaming, she jumped desperately to the side, and the laughing, cackling murderer’s next spell went wide, disappearing into the smoke behind her. She didn’t know what kind of curse that had been, but it had gone through Vincent’s shield without shattering it. Her own wouldn’t protect her. She had to get away before she was killed herself!

    The edge of the forest was close, but she couldn’t turn her back to that maniac, or he’d kill her from behind. He was tracking her with his wand, a wide grin on his face. And Greg was behind her, somewhere, with Greengrass and Davis. Unless they had become lost in the smoke. A spell flew towards her, just when she was stumbling over a root or rock. The spell hit the ground in front of her, covering it in a fine mist - that quickly started to eat away at the soil. Screaming once more, she scrambled back. Another spell splashed down behind her.

    He was playing with her, she realized. Suddenly enraged, she sent a Bone-Breaking Curse at him. His shield stopped it, and he laughed louder, his next spell cutting her off from the forest. She whirled around, facing him, and aimed at the ground in front of him.

    “Reducto!”

    Her spell blew a small crater into the ground, showering the man with clumps of earth and rocks, and hiding him behind a cloud of dust. For a moment, she felt hope, and started to run around the acid pools his spells had left. Then she heard him laugh again.

    He hadn’t been fazed by her spell. His dirty robe wasn’t even torn, his shield charm still up. He stared at her, licking his lips, and waved his wand, almost mockingly.

    Then the murderer disappeared under a half-giant that had dropped from the sky, right on him, driving him into the ground and breaking his body. The bastard wasn’t laughing anymore, but screaming - until the fist of Professor Hagrid smashed into his head and shattered his skull.

    “Are ye alright, Miss?”

    Pansy stared at the man’s fist, dripping blood and something else.

    “Miss Parkinson?”

    Shaken, she nodded. “Y-yes… but Vince… Crabbe…” She pointed at his body, 20 yards away.

    The professor took a look and growled. “Basterds!” When turned back to her he was smiling though. “Grab this!” He put a coin into her hand, which closed around it reflexively. “Run inna forest, it’ll portkey ye ta St. Mungo’s!”

    With that, the huge teacher turned around, drawing his oversized wand, and ran towards the train. Pansy stared after him. Where had he come from? Looking up, she saw two dozen brooms, and something she didn’t recognize. It looked muggle though.

    She would have stared for longer, but then she saw Greg stumble out of the smoke, coughing and wheezing - he never had learned to cast the Bubblehead Charm, she knew. “Over here!” she shouted, waving, while more explosions went off further away, the broom riders swept down at the Death Eaters, spells flying from their wands. “I’ve got a portkey!”

    *****​

    Sirius Black yelled in triumph when his Bludgeoning Curse hit the flying Death Eater in front of him straight in the head. The dark wizard was thrown back, and started to descend towards the ground in an uncontrolled spin. He hadn’t been thrown off his broom though - probably the result of a sticking spell.

    It didn’t help the Death Eater - Valérie hit him with two fireballs before he could recover either his wits or his control of his broom. The transformed veela screeched and banked to the left, following Sirius. Remus and Chantal were in a wild dogfight - a very fitting description for the aerial combat, even if it was a muggle expression meant for planes - a bit to his right, and Eugénie and Laure were already bombarding Death Eaters on the ground. Remus was fighting much more aggressively than usual, due to the full moon being so close, and the situation seemed under control.

    Sirius didn’t see any other broom riding Death Eaters around, though they might have disillusioned themselves and fled. Or the other way around, given the anti-disillusionment jinxes covering the area. Sirius didn’t care. His godson was down there, facing dark wizards who wanted to kill him! He didn’t want to even consider the possibility that he had been killed. Harry had to be alive!

    Snarling, he dove towards the ground, his wand sending curses at a dark-robed and masked wizard sprinting towards a broken car. He didn’t hit the man, but he forced him to seek cover behind a rock, allowing Valérie to swoop down from behind and fry the bastard. The veela screeched again, then screamed with pain when a curse clipped her wing. Trailing feathers, she started to fall, but Sirius was already there, catching her, then weaving around half a dozen more curses until they had gained enough altitude to be safe - relatively.

    He glanced at her wing, which was smoking and sizzling, feathers turning black and dropping. For a horrible second, he was torn between helping her and Harry, then he started towards where Bill had been dropped. Harry might be in danger, but might be safe as well - Valérie though needed a curse-breaker now!

    *****​

    Hermione Granger was panting, struggling to keep casting, keep reinforcing the walls and roof protecting Harry, herself and their friends from the curses of the Death Eaters attacking them. Fortunately, the attackers lacked imagination, stubbornly trying to break down the stone and earth walls she was conjuring and transfiguring, instead of using more indirect means of attacking. If she had been in their place…

    She shook her head, wearily. She had to focus, she couldn’t let her mind wander. Harry needed her. Another wall shattered to her left. She didn’t bother ducking - the earth she had conjured behind that wall absorbed the splinters and debris. If she had thought of that right away, then Neville wouldn’t have… She grit her teeth, burying her guilt, pointed her wand and raised another wall in place of the destroyed one. The first spells started hitting it before she even had finished packing earth behind it.

    They couldn’t stay. They wouldn’t hold out for much longer. She knew it, Ron knew it, Harry knew it. But there was no way out - not even on brooms. It was a veritable siege… a siege!

    “Luna! Aicha! Start digging a tunnel! Use the vanishing charm!”

    The two girls stared at her, blinking.

    “Vanish the earth, and dig a tunnel we can escape through!”

    They finally understood, and started casting. Hermione looked at Harry, exchanging tired but now hopeful smiles. They’d get out of this death trap!

    Then she heard the screams from the Death Eaters closest to them.

    *****​

    Ron Weasley’s mood had been all over the place, worse than a seeker in a whirlwind. First the shock of the attack, then the anger at the Death Eaters, rage, fear for his friends and himself, then growing desperation, and determination, suddenly replaced by hope, and now surprise. Surprise and elation at seeing the Death Eaters who had been trying to kill them getting attacked, from their rear, and from above. The help they had been waiting for had finally arrived!

    Ron yelled with glee when he saw one of the mounds of earth the scum was hiding behind blow up. “Yes! Take a vial of your own potion! See how you like it!” he screamed, sending a Blasting Curse of his own at it.

    Then he froze for a second, a shiver running down his spine. Another, larger mound, where according to his estimate three of the attackers had been taking cover, was suddenly swarmed by spiders the size of cats. Dozens of them! When he heard the screams of the Death Eaters, he couldn’t help but shudder and think of his spider extermination spell. Hagrid had created monsters!

    But at least the monsters were on their side. Ron saw one of the Death Eaters stumble out, broom in hand, with one spider clinging to his bleeding back and another wrapped around his leg. The man was trembling and shaking, and screaming like a mandrake getting pulled out of the soil. Ron silenced him with a Blasting Curse that - coincidentally - also killed the two spiders, not that they had been truly alive to begin with.

    Luna and Aicha were still digging, even though they must have heard the news as well. Ron could just make out the blonde’s head in the hole. He looked at Harry, then nodded towards the girls. “Shouldn’t we….?”

    Harry shook his head. “We’re not safe yet.”

    Ron saw that Hermione hadn’t stopped reinforcing their position. He doubted she would, not even when Dumbledore himself arrived, until the anti-apparition and anti-portkey jinxes were down and they could flee this place.

    And given what they had gone through, he didn’t want her to either.

    *****​

    Albus Dumbledore was furious when he surveiled the battlefield from above. The Death Eaters had attacked his students! Defenseless Children! When he saw the small bodies wearing the black robes of Hogwarts lying in the fields, next to shattered, smoking cars, he almost lost control of his temper. Almost - he was too experienced for that.

    Instead of hot rage it was with a cold fury that he guided his broom down towards the center of the battle, a bunker in the remains of a shredded car, probably the work of survivors of the hit-wizards who had guarded the train. A flick of his wand blew up one Death Eater hiding behind a wall of earth, and he saw Miss Jenny and Gilderoy putting the new spell they had developed with Rubeus to deadly use. Miss Granger had helped as well, as he recalled. If she wasn’t so busy researching...

    Further ahead, the cars and the engine were in better shape, but surrounded by attackers as well. They’d need help. Albus sent a Patronus out to tell Filius and Minerva to take the rest of the teachers and look for students and Death Eaters around the area where the cars had been destroyed, then flew towards the engine. On the way he sent another to Sirius, telling him to secure the remains of the back of the train with his group as soon as the Death Eaters had been driven from the sky.

    Then he hit the Death Eaters. Three were crushed beneath the wave of stone he created before he touched the ground, their shields unable to withstand tons of marble piling up and crashing on them. He dismounted and shrunk his broom before the rest managed to react. One Death Eater faced him, sending dark curses at the Headmaster that he had last seen decades ago. For a second he wondered if Tom had found a veteran of Grindelwald’s army. Then he noticed that the spells were horribly aimed - no Prussian Storm Wizard using those spells would have missed so badly - half of them didn’t even hit the floating marble shields that protected Albus. And none of those he had fought so long ago would have exposed themselves like that Death Eater had, standing out in the open as if this was a duel in the ring.

    Then again, the man’s shield was strong, matching his apparent command of the Dark Arts. Not strong enough though - Albus shattered it with a wave of his wand. And the man hadn’t thought to enchant his robes against transfiguration either, which cost him his life when Albus turned the Death Eater’s clothes into steel traps snapping closed around his limbs and torso with enough force to break his bones like twigs.

    Two more Death Eaters rushed at him, seemingly heedless of the danger. Albus side-stepped their spells and flicked his wand. One got stuck in the swamp Albus turned the ground before them into, the other managed to avoid that trap by stepping on hastily conjured planks of wood - until Albus finited those, then turned the mud in the swamp into petrol, which he then set afire. Their protective spells didn’t last long faced with such an inferno, but long enough for their bloodcurdling screams to be heard by their friends.

    To Albus’s surprise, the other Death Eaters didn’t seem to be affected much, if at all, by their comrades’ fate. Was he facing Voldemort’s inner circle? He dismissed that - the Death Eaters were making too many mistakes Voldemort’s experienced wands would never make. Such difficult spells, cast with so little finesse. He created a whirlwind of debris with his wand while his marble slabs deflected more dark curses, then transfigured the debris into razor blades before sending his construct at the closest Death Eaters. They were literally cut to pieces.

    Yet still the men did not break. One was so focused on attacking the train car in front of him, he didn’t even notice Albus until he was covered with Rubeus’s spiders - quite an impressive spell indeed. Had Tom hired berserkers?

    Behind Albus he heard a series of explosions. Those were not Blasting Curses, but fireballs - Sirius and his friends at work. He was very glad so many of the Order’s fighters had responded since there was no sign yet of the Ministry’s forces. No sign of Tom either, so far - if this was just a feint, to draw him out… he shook his head. Even if it was, he couldn’t let his students be massacred.

    The next Death Eater was screaming his incantations in futile rage, letting Albus know the spells he would be casting in advance. To Albus’s surprise, the man never tried to fool him by casting a different spell than he shouted, not until the three dozen silver daggers Albus had conjured had pierced him like a pincushion. The screams from the man, and his rapid death, told him enough: Werewolves.

    A blasting curse to the ground next to two more Death Eaters shook them up and threw up enough dust that they failed to spot the rock he had conjured above them until they were crushed beneath it.

    He didn’t see anyone else attacking the car, not anymore, and turned back towards the rear of the train. There were more foes to face, and hopefully more children to save.

    *****​

    Harry Potter stared at the destruction around him. He had known it had been bad, but he hadn’t known just how bad. Too many bodies wearing the black robes of Hogwarts were lying amidst the wreckage of the Hogwarts Express. At least the engine didn’t look too damaged, but the cars… and the landscape. He glanced over his shoulder. Hermione was standing a step behind him, and to his left, as usual for a retainer in public.

    He reached out and took her hand, pulling her towards him.

    “My…” Whatever surprised protest Hermione had been about to voice died when he took her into his arms. After this horror, he needed to hold her, reassure himself that she was not hurt, that she was safe. That they had survived.

    And damn anyone who took offense at the sight of them!

    “Blimey!” Ron exclaimed next to them. “It’s a massacre!”

    “P-Parvati? Has anyone seen Parvati?” Padma stammered, pale and shivering.

    Harry was tempted to simply ignore her, and focus on holding Hermione, but the witch in his arms gently pushed him back, so he released her and looked at the Indian witch. “I haven’t seen her. I don’t even know in which car she was.”

    “She was in the second or third from the front,” Padma answered, tears appearing in her eyes. About 10 yards away, an auror and a healer stood from where they had been kneeling next to a body. The auror flicked his wand, and a conjured blanket covered it up.

    “Why didn’t they arrive sooner?” Ron muttered, steadying Padma. The Ministry’s forces had made their appearance after the battle had been over already - after Dumbledore, the Order and the teachers had routed the Death Eaters.

    “I don’t know,” Harry said.

    “Harry!”

    That was Sirius! Harry turned around and saw Sirius running towards him. He barely managed to brace himself before the older wizard hugged him - harder than Hermione ever had. “Merlin, you’re safe! You’re safe!”

    For a moment Harry feared his godfather would break down and cry as he patted his back. “I’m OK. No one of us died, but a few got hurt.”

    “Cursed?” Sirius pulled away and stared at the youths. “Dark curses?”

    Hermione shook her head. “No, mostly splinters from explosions.”

    “Still, let the healers take a look! Those bastards threw around a lot of very dark curses.”

    Harry blinked. “Who was cursed?”

    Sirius took a deep breath. “Valérie. In the wing. Bill saved her, but… they’re not sure how much damage was done.”

    Padma sobbed. “Where is my sister?” Everyone looked awkwardly while Ron tried to console her. Harry didn’t know what to say. He suddenly felt guilty.

    “Let’s ask an auror. They will be noting the names of those who escaped safely, and of those…” Hermione trailed off. Ron shot her a brief glare.

    “Come, let’s get to the healers!” Sirius started dragging him away. Harry let him - he didn’t want to stay around the carnage any longer than he had to.

    *****​

    St. Mungo’s was overflowing with patients, healers, aurors and hit-wizards. Pansy Parkinson averted her gaze when a healer rushed past her, trailing a floating, convulsing witch in tattered remains of the grey robes of a hit-wizard. The Slytherin student hadn’t been quick enough though, and had seen the bleeding stumps where the woman’s legs should have been, and the smoke rising from the black skin…

    She felt bile rise in her throat again, and fought not to retch. A bubblehead charm kept the smell of the wounded and cursed out, but it didn’t do anything against the memories. Next to her, Greengrass was sitting on the same small bench. The blonde witch hadn’t said a word since they had sat down. Hadn’t done anything but stare at the door behind which Davis was getting treated.

    Greg was leaning against the wall next to them. The large wizard was silent as well, but he was wiping his eyes with his sleeve regularly, ever since Pansy had told him about Vincent.

    Vincent. Pansy would have died if not for the boy. The dumb, brave boy. He probably had thought the shield charm he had taken so long to perfect would keep him safe, when he had stepped in front of her. But it had failed him. All that training, all that tutoring… and he had died. In front of her. Saving her. Who had failed to teach him how to defend himself properly. Who had picked the route that had led them straight to the wand of a crazed Death Eater. And who had been too slow, too stupid to react. Unlike Vincent.

    His death was her fault. Her damned fault.

    Pansy buried her face in her hands and wept. She didn’t stop when she felt one, then another hand on her shoulders.

    She was still weeping when Greengrass’s mother arrived.

    “Daphne!” The Head of the Greengrass rushed towards her daughter. “Hecate’s blessing, you’re safe! They told us at the desk, but ...”

    Greengrass started to cry too, then. “I’m fine, but Tracey… she’s…” The blonde witch didn’t manage to say anything else.

    Pansy shuddered, but sat up and cast a cosmetic spell to clean up. More parents would arrive soon, or so she expected. After a moment, she cast the spell on Greg as well. The shadow of a smile appeared on his face when he nodded his thanks.

    And yet when her own mother arrived, she started to cry again.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger was, as perverse as it felt, glad that her parents were not around. That they were on a world cruise, cut off from wizard news. That they would only be hearing about the attack with the knowledge that she was safe. The hospital was a madhouse, with heart-rending scenes happening everywhere. Parents reuniting with their children, crying with relief. Or parents finding their children hurt, or worse.

    The others in their group had left already, with their families. Parvati was safe as well, her parents had told them. They hadn’t known about Lavender though. Hadn’t thought to ask. It was now just her and Harry. And Sirius and his girlfriends.

    The witch didn’t want to be there. Each time she saw one of the wounded, saw someone cry, she remembered the battle, the desperate struggle to keep up the walls that kept them safe. The fear that she’d fail, and get her friends, get Harry killed. She just wanted to get away, to get home, grab Harry and not let go of him for the rest of the day.

    But she couldn’t. Not yet. Valérie had been hurt saving them, and was getting treated in St. Mungo’s. And Sirius was going spare. He needed Harry nearby, and Harry needed her. His godfather was pacing in front of the door to Valérie’s room, growing more and more agitated. Valérie’s cousins were there as well, not quite pacing, but Hermione saw them fidget, and twitch, and jerk each time something came near them.

    “What exactly happened? Why did the Ministry take so long to arrive?” Anything to distract them and especially Sirius.

    The animagus stopped pacing. “I don’t know. We went to the wrong spot, at first, and had to search for the train.”

    “Disinformation, or a mistake?” Harry was frowning. Hermione touched his back, under the guise of brushing some dust off him. She could feel how tense he was. If he was blaming himself for this...

    Sirius shrugged. “I don’t know. The Ministry isn’t lacking in either spies or idiots.” He started to pace again.

    “Was that your bike I saw?” Harry asked.

    “Yes. I loaned it to Hagrid. He hasn’t a broom that can carry him and can keep up with others. If I had known about the spiders...”

    “Well, you did, didn’t you?” The wizard had been told, after all.

    “I hadn’t known just how bad they are.” Sirius sat down next to the two. “But compared to those Death Eaters… the last time I saw so many dark curses was at the Black family reunion.”

    Hermione hoped Harry’s godfather was joking. “Was Remus there as well?”

    Sirius nodded. “He was. He’s at home now.” With the moon soon to rise, he’d better be.

    Before Hermione could ask another question, the door opened and a tired healer stepped out. “We’ve managed to undo most of the curse’s effect, but we can’t say yet if the wing will regain functionality. You can see her now.” Without waiting for an answer, the man turned away and pulled his wand out, sending a small paper-aeroplane off.

    Sirius was already in the room, holding Valérie. A second later, the two were buried under the other three veela. Hermione hesitated to approach them, they looked so… intimate. She felt like an intruder, until Harry took her hand, closed the door and they joined their family.

    *****​

    Albus Dumbledore sighed as he read the scroll St. Mungo’s had just sent him. Seamus Finnigan. Gryffindor, fifth year. Dead. Killed. He added the name to the list that had far too many names on it already. Another one followed, Vincent Crabbe. Slytherin, fifth year. Killed. Rubeus had told him about that student already. But Albus had hesitated to add the name until the clinic confirmed it. Melvin Bracken. Ravenclaw, fourth year. Killed. Maria Baytrunks. Ravenclaw, fourth year. Killed.

    More were wounded. Headboy Cedric Diggory had engaged the attackers to let the other students escape. He had been joined by Cho Chang and Marietta Edgecombe, and all three had been gravely wounded. They were alive at least.

    Not only students had been wounded. Aurora had been cursed, but was expected to recover… in time. Rubeus had caught ‘a few scratches’, as he had put it. Anyone else with the possible exception of Olympe would have been killed. Flitwick and Minerva hadn’t escaped unscathed, but their wounds had been healed already. Gilderoy had not been hurt, unlike Jenny, though the Australian witch claimed she had had worse just visiting friends in the Outback.

    He hadn’t heard from his brother yet, whose ‘friends’ had engaged Death Eaters attacking the Breakwater family’s mansion. Hopefully, that meant things had gone well there, Aberforth would have thrown any dead into his face otherwise, or so he hoped.

    So much death, so much sorrow. If he had been on the train, that wouldn’t have happened… if he had been faster to see through Tom’s deception… if he had anticipated this… Albus closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. Anger, either at Tom or at himself, wouldn’t serve him now. He needed to keep a cool head, to counter Tom’s plans. Something had been up with those Death Eaters they had fought, and he needed to find out what. The old wizard stood up and walked towards his pensieve.

    The Dark Lord had not been seen today. He had known Albus would intervene in an attack on the Express, so where had he been while Albus had saved his students?

    *****​

    Amelia Bones hadn’t slept either, Albus saw the next morning, when they met in Cornelius’s office. She looked awake, but the Headmaster saw the signs of a Pepper-Up potion at work. Or two.

    The Minister had been reading the Daily Prophet until Albus had arrived, and now threw the newspaper on the desk with a disgusted expression and enough force to have the aurors and hit-wizards depicted on the front page flee their frames. “Dozens of students dead! What went wrong yesterday? How could this happen? Where were our aurors and hit-wizards?”

    Albus wasn’t about to correct the number of deaths - even though there hadn’t been quite as many dead students as the Daily Prophet claimed, it was, without a doubt, a horrible tragedy anyway.

    Amelia spoke in a clipped voice. “The hit-wizards on the train did their duty. Without them, many more students would have been killed. They were almost wiped out, Cornelius, while protecting the children.”

    “But why were there so few? And why were the others too late?” Fudge looked at Albus. “We’re all grateful that you and your staff arrived to fight the attackers, but you shouldn’t have been alone.” That was added with a glare at Amelia.

    The witch didn’t let the unspoken accusation stand though. “We were deceived. The first reports of the attack led us to another location. We had to search for the real location of the attack. At the same time, reports of attacks in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade came in, and alerts from a dozen homes, stretching our forces further.”

    Cornelius didn’t look like he accepted that excuse, but he didn’t press further. Smart, Albus thought, given Amelia’s temper and lack of sleep. “Talking about ‘our forces’... something you want to elaborate on, Albus?”

    “You already know that I have a number of friends who will fight the Dark Lord’s forces when they are needed,” the Headmaster answered, smiling slightly.

    “‘A number of friends’, yes. I didn’t know about that army of foreigners though.”

    “The Dark Lord has been recruiting foreigners for some time. Asking foreign friends for help seemed an appropriate answer.” Albus spread his hands. “And I have no doubt that their presence surprised the Dark Lord and disrupted his plans.” He had known keeping the reinforcements from the Balkans a secret would ruffle some feathers, but there were too many spies inside the ministry. Tom would have known about the mercenaries at once, and adjusted his plans.

    “You don’t trust us to keep a secret?” Cornelius asked.

    “I trust you and Amelia, but I fear that not everyone working for the ministry is trustworthy.” Albus saw the minister’s chest swell a bit with subconscious pride, then his expression fell again when he was reminded of the moles riddling the ministry.

    “What are your plans for them now that we know about them?” Amelia leaned forward.

    “The same as before: Keep them ready to oppose the Dark Lord’s forces wherever they are needed.”

    “Coordinating with the hit-wizards would reduce the danger of them getting attacked by mistake and make it easier to cover more of the country,” the head of the DMLE said.

    “It would also make it easier for the Dark Lord to track them,” Albus countered. “Further, I am not certain how well they would integrate with the hit-wizards. They come from a very different culture.”

    “We can’t have foreign mercenaries roam Britain!” Cornelius declared.

    “We need them. This attack has shown that the Dark Lord has more and better wands at his disposal than we thought,” Albus calmly stated. The number of hit-wizards killed by the attackers, and the way they had been killed was proof enough of that.

    “Who exactly were those Death Eaters, Albus? We haven’t found a marked one among them, but according to the reports, they cast worse curses than the Dark Lord’s inner circle.” Amelia stared at him.

    “I would not go that far, but I have personally witnessed a surprising competence with difficult dark curses among the Death Eaters we fought at the Hogwarts Express. That is a marked contrast to the other attacks.”

    “Those were mostly diversionary in nature,” Amelia argued.

    “Mostly, but not entirely. And I doubt the Death Eaters would have refrained from using such curses since their use would have made even diversions more effective.” Albus shook his head. “But I also noticed a curious lack of combat experience among those dark wizards.”

    “They were quite effective against the hit-wizards,” Amelia said, her expression darkening at what she probably saw as a slight against those brave men and women had given their lives for the students.

    “Yes. But that was entirely due to the surprise, and the spells used. Actual tactics and fighting did not match the demonstrated proficiency in the Dark Arts,” Albus explained. “They were rather careless, and far too fixated on attacking. Inexperienced, in a word.”

    “Do you mean that those were students, fresh out from a ‘Dark Wizard Academy’?” Cornelius looked rather doubtful as he quoted a rather popular but entirely fictional novel set during Grindelwald’s War.

    “I wish that were the case. It would mean that their loss would have dealt the Dark Lord a severe blow. Alas, I fear the reason for the proficiency lies in this.” With that, Albus pulled out the wand he had taken from one of the Death Eaters the day before.

    “The wand?” Cornelius sounded confused for a moment.

    “It is a very unusual design. It’s not a normal wand, but something else. I will be conferring with Ollivander and the Unspeakables later, but I think the wand made the wizard, in this case.”

    No one found his wordplay amusing.

    “That aside, there is still the question what we should do about dozens of foreign wizards fighting in Britain.” Amelia wasn’t about to let that go.

    When the meeting ended, Albus had agreed to have - thoroughly vetted - liaison wizards and witches join his ‘foreign friends’ to improve coordination, and grant the Ministry some measure of supervision, if not actual control. It was a better result than he had expected.

    *****​

    Ollivanders hadn’t changed in decades. The shop looked just the same as it had looked when Albus himself had bought his wand, so many decades ago, from Garrick’s father. It was a welcome bit of familiarity, after Albus had walked through a Diagon Alley bereft of the usual crowds. The few people he had seen shopping were afraid and nervous, and quick to leave.

    Garrick didn’t show any such nervousness or surprise when Albus ended the Disillusion Charm that had his his entrance from prying eyes. “Good morning, Albus. What brings you to my humble shop? You’re not in need of a new wand, are you?” The wandmaker laughed at his own words, and Albus smiled a little in response.

    “No. I am here to show you something. In private though.” The Headmaster waited until Garrick had closed the shop, then pulled the wand and the two others he had acquired at the Ministry earlier out.

    The other wizard’s eyes widened when he saw them, and even more so when he laid his hands on them. “Merlin!” He looked at Albus. “Where did you get them?”

    Albus smiled, but did not answer. Garrick muttered something under his breath that he missed, and studied one of the wands more closely. The Headmaster waited patiently - he knew how masters of their craft could get when faced with something they hadn’t seen before.

    After half an hour filled with mutterings, notes, and swishes, Garrick put the wand down looked up. “This is an abomination!”

    “You know what it is then?” That was better than what Albus had expected.

    “I’ve never seen one like this before. But I know the style of the wand. It’s Steinberg’s work.”

    “Steinberg? He was thought to have been killed after Grindelwald’s defeat.” The survivors of that wizards experiments hadn’t been in a merciful mood.

    “Supposedly. There have been wands in the past that reminded me of his work, but they were normal. This though… it looks like he perfected his design.” Garrick pushed the wand towards Albus with a sneer. “This thing is steeped in the dark arts. I doubt it is useful for anything else but killing. But that it’ll do very well.”

    “It did, I saw that myself. The Dark Lord’s men had over two dozen of those wands.” Albus ignored how the wandmaker seemed startled at hearing this and stashed all three wands again. “Did you detect any weakness of the wand?”

    Garrick shook his head. “I would need to study it longer to discover such flaws. With an expert for the Dark Arts. All I can say that this wand hungers for blood and pain.”

    “I see.” That would explain the behaviour of the Death Eaters, somewhat. “Thank you, Garrick. You have done our country a great service.”

    Garrick smiled, though it looked forced to the Headmaster.

    “Rest assured, I will keep your involvement absolutely confidential,” Albus said. That seemed to reassure the other wizard. The wandmaker had done his best to stay out of the last war. Some would even claim he had done so because he expected the Dark Lord to win. He wouldn’t have been the only one too afraid of Tom to take a stand though, so Albus wouldn’t judge the man for that. Not everyone could be a Gryffindor, after all.

    He disillusioned himself and left the shop. Hopefully, the Unspeakables would find out more about those wands. They’d have to be very careful though - who knew what traps were hidden inside those wands.

    *****​

    The Dark Lord Voldemort read the Daily Prophet and smiled widely. The country was shaking in terror. Dozens of students and hit-wizards massacred, the Hogwarts Express wrecked - it was a blow to the heart of Wizarding Britain. It showed them no one, nothing was safe from his wrath. Not even children at Hogwarts.

    Of course the rag tried to tout the Ministry line that the Death Eaters who had attacked the express had been wiped out, that the Dark Lord himself had fled - but that was propaganda. None of the parents who had lost a child would believe it. His plan had worked well, the diversionary attacks drawing off forces, the imperiused ministry employes sowing confusion, reporting the wrong location… and he had been able to use the opportunity to take out a thorn in his side. Jeremias Flauntroy, the head of the Flauntroy family, had died in his mansion, and would be replaced by his son - who had been bitten by the werewolf wench last week. No one would suspect him to be working for the Dark Lord.

    If only the wands had worked better. He had lost more wands than he had planned - including werewolves. He needed to discuss this with Steinberg.

    He heard Bella stir on his bed behind him and turned around. The witch blinked at the sun. He loved those moments, when she had just woken up, the smile that appeared when she remembered their night together. He hadn’t sacrificed a werewolf that night, even though it had been a full moon.

    “My lord?”

    He nodded at her. “Good morning, Bella.” Steinberg could wait a bit longer

    *****​

    Sirius Black watched Valérie transform in the hall in No 12 Grimmauld Place, and had to fight not to wince. The veela’s right wing looked almost whole, with just a few less feathers than the left one, after a week of treatments, but the way it hung slightly down, didn’t move quite as well as the other… it didn’t look good. He smiled encouragingly though.

    Valérie nodded back at him, clicking her beak, then tried to fly. She almost lost her balance when her right wing couldn’t match her left one. He glanced at her cousins, and all three of them showed the same worry, and slowly growing sorrow. After a frustrated screech, Valérie apparently tried to match the left wing to her wounded one - but that didn’t allow her to lift off. And when she tried harder, she lost her balance again, this time actually falling to the floor. More angry curses and screeches followed, and more attempts to fly failed.

    When she collapsed, and started to transform back, Sirius rushed to her, and pulled her into his arms.

    Shivering, she held him. “I… I will need a broom I think,” the veela said, trying to smile and make light of her fate.

    “I’ll buy you the best!” he promised, but she was crying already, sobbing into his shoulder. To have lost the ability to fly… Sirius didn’t want to imagine how that had to feel. Chantal, Eugénie and Laure joined the two, like in the clinic, mumbling assurances no one believed while hugging them. Valérie kept crying though, he could feel her body trembling in his arms, heard her sobs, and felt her tears on his neck.

    He heard a coughing noise, and looked up. His godson was standing there, looking embarrassed and uneasy. Next to him stood Hermione, looking slightly lost in thought. They were dressed in muggle clothes.

    “Did the healer say what exactly had happened to her wing?” The witch asked suddenly.

    Sirius said: “They said the curse was lifted, but the damage was done. The wing’s been weakened.” Too much to fly. Valérie’s sobs grew louder, and Sirius cursed the witch for asking, and himself for answering without a thought.

    “Is it the muscle, or the bones and ligaments, or both?” Hermione asked as if she was in class. Harry glanced at her, and she elaborated. “Physiotherapy and reconstructive surgery might help recover at least part of the moving range. Maybe enough to fly.”

    Sirius didn’t know what Harry’s girlfriend was talking about, but if it could let Valérie fly again, he’d move heaven and earth to get it. And judging by the expressions on the veela, so would they.

    *****​

    “Do you really think muggle therapy and surgery can help Valérie?”

    Hermione Granger looked up from the book she had been flipping through and met Harry’s eyes. She nodded. “It’s possible. It can’t hurt, at least. She can still move the wing, just not as well as before. Training might overcome that.”

    “It was done by a dark curse though,” Harry said, putting the book he had been reading the back cover of back on the table.

    “That curse was lifted. Depending on how it worked, the effects, although resistant to restorative magic, might be dealt with using muggle methods.” Hermione added her book to her pile. The bookstore they were in had a sale going on, and it would be a crime not to take advantage of that. Even if they had to interrupt their stroll through London for that.

    “If it doesn’t work out they’ll be devastated,” Harry pointed out as they moved towards the register. “And we’ll have some trouble finding someone able to help them, without breaking the Statute. It’s not as if there are lots of surgeons and therapists who know about magic.”

    “It’s still a decent chance. And I’m certain we’ll find a way.” A relative of a wizard with the skills needed would be best, but if needed, they’d tell a muggle. It wasn’t as if the Statute of Secrecy was in that much danger from one doctor learning about magic. And if it was, there was Obliviate. “I’ve written to my parents, just in case. They should know a good surgeon, and maybe a therapist too.” She didn’t think Sirius and his girlfriends would be waiting until they were meeting her parents in the Caribbean in a few weeks. And if that failed, she’d look into a developing a spell to compensate for the crippled wing. After she had saved Harry, of course.

    Harry sighed, but nodded.

    Hermione leaned against the counter as their purchases - or rather, her purchases - were rung up. She caught the glances from the clerk, and the other customers, and smirked. She wasn’t dressed that provocatively, certainly not when compared to the typical attire of a witch in her year, but she had taken care to pick an outfit that looked attractive, and sexy. After a week spent visiting hurt friends and attending funerals, and dealing with nightmares, she needed a distraction. As did Harry. And her boyfriend had been quite distracted so far by her, if she did say so herself.

    Harry took the bag, and the two left the store, holding hands. In the muggle world, they were just boyfriend and girlfriend, not Patron and retainer. Nymphadora was acting as their bodyguard, but she was family - they didn’t have to act their roles in front of her.

    The witch stepped closer to Harry, taking his arm as they strolled down the street, towards a street café. If only they could act like this and use their wands!

    Hermione shook her head slightly. She wouldn’t think such morose thoughts, she would enjoy the day instead!

    A glance showed her that she wasn’t the only one harboring darker thoughts. “What’s eating you?”

    Harry sighed. “I can’t help but thinking that Seamus and the others would still be alive, if I had reacted differently to the attack.”

    “You mean, if we had reacted differently,” Hermione corrected him. “And you’re wrong. Parkinson tried to flee, and Crabbe got killed protecting her.”

    “Apparently she and Goyle also saved a few other students.” Harry wasn’t looking at her now, and she had the impression he wasn’t looking at anyone or anything but his memories of the attack.

    “By holing up, we made them focus on us, and probably allowed others to flee. Like a rearguard,” Hermione pointed out.

    “Probably. We can’t be sure.”

    “No, we can’t. But we can’t be sure that we didn’t save anyone either. And we know we saved our friends.” Hermione wasn’t about to let Harry torment himself with guilt.

    “I know that. But…”

    “You’re still feeling guilty. For surviving where others did not.”

    “Yes.”

    “That’s a perfectly normal reaction.” She knew that since she felt the same. “It doesn’t mean there’s any truth to the feeling.” And if she told him and herself that a few more times, she might start truly believing that as well. “Let’s sit down in that café, and rest a bit.”

    The ice cream wasn’t as good as Fortescue’s, but they could share a bowl here, feed each other spoonfuls of dessert, and hold hands with no one thinking the muggleborn witch was overstepping her boundaries.

    And there wasn’t a war going on in this world. The people around them were enjoying the summer, not fearing for their lives. She licked a dollop of cream from her lips, then smiled at Harry. “Let’s not talk about the war for the rest of the day. Not a single word.”

    Her boyfriend nodded in agreement. His smile didn’t reach his eyes, but it was a start.

    They’d get through this.

    *****​

    Sirius Black winced at the sight of Valérie suffering during her ‘physiotherapy’. To think muggles went through such torture regularly after breaking a limb… Though from what he had heard, the Grangers had dealt out even worse to their patients - dentists were feared among muggles for their painful treatments.

    Valérie was enduring this, eagerly even. To be able to fly again the veela would do almost anything. Even breaking the Statute of Secrecy. Though it was more like lightly scratching it - as Hermione had said, one more muggle knowing about magic wasn’t a big deal. Especially with compulsion charms making sure she’d not tell anyone else about it.

    “And that’s enough for today.” Cecile, the torturer, announced. After the initial shock of seeing a man transform into a dog, and a woman into a bird-like creature, the muggle woman had recovered quickly, and had taken Valérie’s case as a challenge.

    “I can still do more!” Valérie protested, even though she had already resumed her human form.

    “Honey, you’re that close to collapsing, or hurting yourself. You need rest. We’ll continue tomorrow.”

    “But...” Valérie tried again.

    “No buts! We’ll continue tomorrow. You’ll be flying soon enough.”

    Sirius had started to walk over to his girlfriend, and was close enough to hear Valérie mutter ‘not soon enough’ under her breath in response. Sirius ruffled her hair, which made her pout and stagger off to ‘freshen up’ in the locker room of Cecile’s office.

    Once she had left the room, Sirius handed over the money for today’s session to Cecile.

    “You’re still sceptical that the therapy will work,” the woman stated while pocketing her pay.

    Sirius reluctantly nodded. He wouldn’t say so in front of the veela, of course. But… “It’s hard to imagine that anything will work where magic fails.”

    “You’re paying a lot of money for something you don’t trust then.”

    Sirius shrugged. He was rich, after all - and what use was gold if you couldn’t spend it to help your family?

    “I told you before: While I cannot promise results, I am positive that this treatment will work. At least for the physical disability. If that will be enough for the magic dust to kick in, then she’ll fly again.”

    Sirius had to chuckle at the expression. “You know it’s not that kind of magic that allows her to fly.”

    The therapist snorted. “It’s as good a word as any. Even with double their strength, those wings wouldn’t allow her to fly. So it has to be magic. Wasn’t it you who told me of the theory that damaging a magical creature’s body could influence their magic?”

    “Yes.” Sirius had done so - though he hadn’t told anyone just how Eridanus Black had researched his theory. What his ancestor had done to creatures…

    “So, healing the body should heal the magic as well.”

    For creatures that might work, Sirius thought. It had to.

    Valérie returned from the locker room, still wearing her muggle exercise clothes, though they looked clean and fresh now. And her smile, while tired, wasn’t an act anymore. She was healing.

    Sirius bowed to the woman, then offered Valérie his arm.

    “Let’s go home.”


    Chapter 41: Caribbean Vacation
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2015
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  23. Starfox5

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  24. Threadmarks: Chapter 41: Caribbean Vacation
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 41: Caribbean Vacation

    “Welcome, my friends.”

    Albus Dumbledore wasn’t smiling when he greeted the assembled Order of the Phoenix. He hadn’t felt like smiling very often since the attack on his students. Though, he mentally amended, glancing at Sirius and Valérie, sitting very close together at the corner, there had been reasons to smile, even in those dark times.

    “I assume you have read the latest issue of the Daily Prophet. As much as it pains me to say it, the number of deaths reported there is correct.”

    He waited while sharp breaths were drawn by those who had still hoped it was a mistake, and those who had already known - the teachers like Minerva, Filius, or Rubeus, as well as the aurors Kingsley and Nymphadora - nodded with grim faces. Molly was sniffling, comforted by Arthur. The witch had almost lost four children in the attack. Young William patted his mother’s back. Fleur though, the curse-breaker’s girlfriend and fiancée, didn’t seem to know how to react. After a few seconds, she whispered something Albus didn’t catch to Molly, and then held William’s hand.

    “So many children killed…” Dedalus muttered, shaking his head as if he still could not believe it. The Headmaster wasn’t surprised - he was a very traditional man, and to see the Death Eaters breaking one of the oldest customs and traditions of Wizarding Britain, and attacking the students had shocked him to the core.

    “Indeed. Wizarding Britain has suffered a blow to the heart.” Albus had to control himself to not let his anger show, much less have it take over. To strike at his students, his school… Tom had gone beyond the pale. Sadly, it was still not certain if the Dark Lord would benefit more than he’d suffer for his vile deed. At least in this life. It was yet to be determined if more of Britain’s wands were outraged and spurred into fierce defiance than cowed into submission. “And yet this is not the worst news I have.”

    That caught everyone’s attention.

    “Those of you who fought there, as well as those of you who helped rescue children, know about the dark curses that were cast by the Dark Lord’s men.”

    “Aye. Curses I’ve not seen in that number since the days of facing the Inner Circle in the last war,” Alastor commented. “And cast from wizards and witches barely out of school, judging by the bodies and pieces we found. Spells fit for a Dark Lord’s right hand, cast by kids too dumb to know how to fight or even duel properly. Quite the mystery.”

    That caused a lot more whispering and muttering. Sirius pulled Valérie into his lap, no doubt remembering the curse that had struck her and had almost taken her life. That would have robbed her of her ability to fly, if not for the muggle means Miss Granger had apparently discovered. This ‘physiotherapy’ might be able to overcome the lingering effect of the curse, if Sirius’s tales were to be believed. It was a fascinating thought, and Albus hoped he’d find the time soon to investigate the matter. With such curses cast by the enemy, any means to counter their effects would be in dire need soon enough.

    He didn’t have the time today, though. The Headmaster held up one of the wands taken from the attackers. “Indeed, a mystery - but one solved.” He saw the hope on some faces, and the sudden dread on those who understood what he was about to tell them. “They could cast such difficult and dark spells thanks to special wands. Wands that are attuned to the Dark Arts.” Close enough for laymen, even if Saul would frown at him for simplifying it like that.

    He didn’t let his friends discuss this matter, and work themselves up in a frenzy or even panic. Some still whispered, but they soon feel silent as he continued. “Those are very dangerous wands - for their wielders as well. And not just because they make them overconfident, and prone to commit fatal mistakes.”

    Alastor nodded at that - earlier, the old auror had given him quite the analysis of the tactical failures of the attackers. And of the mistakes the Order members had committed.

    “They influence the wielder, urge them to kill, and do worse - at the expense of their own safety,” he explained.

    “So, if we can exploit that, we can deal with them,” William said, nodding. Albus almost smiled at the youth’s optimism.

    “Lad, they were inexperienced, but they killed most of the guards of the Express - and those were not raw recruits. Don’t underestimate them!” Alastor glared at the young curse-breaker. “And that’s only as long as whoever is making those wands does not improve them.”

    The Headmaster nodded. “I cannot stress enough that you need to be careful. This time we were facing inexperienced new recruits drunk on the power their new wands bestowed upon them. The next time we might be facing experienced Death Eaters - or even the Dark Lord’s inner circle - wielding such wands.”

    “But what can we do?” Molly asked.

    “Train harder, prepare better,” Alastor answered. “Be ready at all times to fight with all you have. Constant vigilance!” The grizzled auror glared at Nymphadora when she joined in with his last words, but the metamorphmagus simply grinned back at her former instructor.

    Albus coughed lightly, to draw the Order’s attention again. As nice as a bit of humor was, especially these days, they had important matters to discuss. “As you know, we have received reinforcements, friends and allies, from abroad.”

    “And wands for hire,” Alastor muttered.

    “For now and for the foreseeable future, we have the advantage of numbers. We’ll train as well, both individually and in groups. Many of us already do that.” He nodded at Sirius and his veela friends. “But we’ll need to train to fight together with our new friends as well.” That didn’t go over that well. Albus knew a number of the Order members had reservations against working with mercenaries due to their past, and others because of the hired wands’ sometimes questionable loyalties. Aberforth wasn’t completely imagining his and his shadier friends’ grievances, after all. And yet, those reservations had to be put aside if they had to have any hope of winning the war. Firmly, he continued: “This is needed. We have to work together, closely together, to defeat the Dark Lord’s wands. We cannot do so without training together.” And, so the Headmaster hoped, it might also cause some of the wizards and witches, both from the Order and others, to adjust their views of each other. It certainly had done so for him, back during the Intervention.

    Alastor met his gaze, at least with his good eye. He was the key, Albus knew. His old friend was one of the most experienced and respected or at least feared members of the Order. And for all his eccentricities, his influence among the aurors and even the hit-wizards was considerable.

    After half a minute, Alastor snorted. “Alright, I’ll work with the lot. Even if most of them are criminal scum, I’d rather have them fighting the Dark Lord properly than messing up.”

    This time Albus smiled. Now he only had to tell them about the Ministry liaisons.

    *****​

    His brother looked tired, Aberforth Dumbledore thought. More tired even than he had expected, after the attack on the Hogwarts Express - or the ‘Train Massacre’, as the Prophet was calling it. For a moment, the old wizard felt a touch of worry about his brother’s health. Just like himself, the Headmaster wasn’t getting any younger, after all. Then Aberforth pushed it away. The man had a lot to answer for, and being tired was nothing compared to what had happened to those who had suffered for the old wizard’s mistakes in the past. And would be suffering again.

    Gruffly, he nodded at the table in the corner before Albus could greet him. The Headmaster nodded, then went ahead. Aberforth took two butterbeers, then summoned a bottle of Ogden’s Finest and followed him. On the way he exchanged a glance with Iva, who was sitting at a table with a few of her wands. The girl looked at him, then back at Albus. Aberforth wondered, briefly, what she was thinking of the man he blamed for her grand-aunt’s death. What Lea had told her.

    It wasn’t the time to dwell on that though. He and Albus had more pressing matters to discuss, or his brother wouldn’t have visited. He took a seat opposite his brother. There was no real need anymore to act as if they were not working together. After the Dark Lord had sent his murderers against the students, only those too weak or too craven to fight, or those supporting him, with words or deeds, would not take a stand. And Aberforth was neither, which the Dark Lord knew well.

    Albus ignored the butterbeer and filled a conjured glass with a double shot of the whiskey.

    “That bad?” Aberforth asked, opening his bottle of butterbeer.

    “The funerals are over, and the shock has given way to frantic activity at the Ministry and Wizengamot. Frantic, but often chaotic, lacking any plan or even direction. Keeping the Wizengamot from blindly rushing down a path to disaster takes a lot of effort,” the Headmaster explained.

    Aberforth shrugged. “I don’t expect anything else but short-sighted stupidity from that bunch of fools.” He sipped from his bottle. “Do you suspect there are some traitors at work?”

    “If there are, then they are very subtle about it. Fortunately, Amelia has kept her head on her shoulders, and her position, and Cornelius can be reasoned with.”

    “Bribed or cowed, you mean,” Aberforth couldn’t help stating. It likely had taken either or both to prevent Fudge from sacrificing Bones as a scapegoat to deflect the blame from himself. Damn politicians!

    Albus ignored that. “Both are concerned about our recently arrived allies from outside Britain.” The old Wizard smiled wearily.

    Aberforth sighed, and briefly closed his eyes. He knew that expression. “What do they want?”

    “They want to have liaisons. To coordinate our forces.”

    “What?” Aberforth wasn’t certain he had heard correctly. “The Ministry’s riddled with spies, especially among the hit-wizards! Too many were recruited too fast to keep traitors out, and you want them to know about our plans and missions?”

    “No, I do not want that. But we need to work together to beat the Dark Lord, especially if he manages to procure more of those dark wands. And I want to prevent tragic misunderstandings from happening,” Albus said, in the kind of overly understanding tone Aberforth hated.

    He knew what kind of ‘tragic misunderstanding’ Albus was hinting at. He hadn’t dreamed of the dead Bavarian wizards in years, but he hadn’t forgotten them, or how he had slain them thinking they were Grindelwald’s. He snarled at his brother, but didn’t, couldn’t say anything right then.

    Albus calmly met his gaze. He looked like he regretted his words, and Aberforth was certain he did, but he also knew no matter the regret, Albus would still do and say whatever he thought necessary. He reached for the whiskey, and poured himself a shot, then threw it back.

    After he had stopped burping fire, he glared at Albus again, loathing both his brother and himself. “They can liaise with the hired wands. My other friends are not the kind of people to fight in the field.” And they were not the kind of people who wanted the government to know about them, and their skills. The Macedonians and Greeks that were staying in his inn for now, until more safe houses could be set up, though… they wouldn’t care, since they’d leave Britain afterwards anyway. And they hadn’t done anything… questionable… in Britain before. Hopefully.

    Albus nodded. “Of course. It would make no sense to expose those of our friends who do not fight. At least not in the open.” Aberforth didn’t comment on the fact that the existence of the Order of the Phoenix was now a very open secret, even if the name itself was still a secret.

    “You’ll personally choose the liaisons for my friends.” Choose, and test. And if one of them turned traitor, Albus would pay. Aberforth cared about his friends, both old and new, far more than about his brother.

    “Of course.”

    His brother was too understanding. He wouldn’t even gloat, or act as if he had expected that, even if he had. And while he had noticed Iva’s resemblance to her grand-aunt, he hadn’t said anything. His brother knew which lines he couldn’t cross. Even if it had taken him a long time to learn.

    Aberforth snorted, and refilled his glass. “So, what did you find out about those ‘dark wands’?” Talking about the war, as disgusting as it was, was far easier than talking about the two of them.

    *****​

    Ron Weasley looked at the bright, blinking Triple-W-sign that was floating in front of the freshly-painted house in Diagon Alley, together with a flashing billboard that proclaimed ‘Grand Opening!’, and smiled widely. His brothers had done it! Their own shop, not even three weeks after finishing their N.E.W.T.s!

    “Impressive, isn’t it? Like a muggle advertising neon board!” Ron’s dad was beaming with pride. Mum nodded in agreement, but kept looking around the alley nervously - not even the presence of aurors and hit-wizards next to the store seemed to reassure the witch that they were safe. It was a wonder Dad had managed to convince her to travel through the alley after taking the floo to the Leaky Cauldron, instead of directly flooing to the twin’s flat above the shop. But someone had to show that Wizarding Britain wasn’t scared, and the more people who acted normally were seen, the more would follow their example. Though it carried a certain risk, of course.

    Ron exchanged a glance with Ginny. Their mother wasn’t exactly paranoid. If the Dark Lord dared to attack the Hogwarts Express, then Diagon Alley wasn’t any safer. It certainly didn’t look like many thought it was safer - the usual summer crowds were absent.

    Urged by mum, they entered the shop. Ron shivered slightly when he felt the wards he was passing through. Security was tight. The announced ‘Grand Opening’ was scheduled for the next day, but family and close friends were invited a day earlier to celebrate. And given the twins’ popularity as Quidditch players, that meant the store was packed. Granted, his family alone would have made for a decent crowd, but there seemed to be many current and former Gryffindor students. Wood, for one, was there, talking with the Gryffindor chasers. It probably was a good thing mum had packed more snacks for the occasion.

    Padma wasn’t present though, nor would she be, despite an invitation. He hadn’t even seen her since the attack. She had written him, explaining that her family was still dealing with the attack, and wouldn’t want to take more risks. He didn’t know if he was now considered a risk as well by her family. Or by her.

    “There you are!” His brother’s voice cut through the noise of several conversations and interrupted his thoughts before they could turn too glum. Heads turned towards them as Fred and George waved at them, grinning from ear to ear. “What do you think of the shop?”

    “It looks great. Very impressive spellwork!” Dad said. “Inspired by muggles, I take it?”

    “In part. All products are wizard-produced, of course,” Fred assured them. “Even if they look like they’re built by muggles.”

    Their father nodded jovially, not inquiring further. Whether he truly believed them, or simply accepted the claim Ron couldn’t tell. Since dad was the head of the department that dealt with illegally enchanted muggle items, Ron hoped his brothers weren’t breaking the law.

    “It looks very nice,” mum agreed, after a short inspection of the ground floor, “but will you have enough customers, after…” She trailed off, unwilling to mention the attack on the Hogwarts Express. She hadn’t taken the fact well that all four of her children on the train had been facing the attackers with Harry and the rest, or had been creating a distraction so others could flee. And the twins calling her out for being part of the Order of the Phoenix, fighting the Dark Lord, yet lambasting them for doing the same hadn’t helped at all. Ron shuddered at the memory. That had been a terrible evening. But they had come through it stronger. Family came first.

    “Our owl orders are still doing well,” George assured her.

    “And there’s the interest from the Ministry. I dare say they’ll not have to rely on customers from the street for a while yet,” Percy cut in. Ron hadn’t seen him arrive. He hadn’t seen Ginny leave either, but she was now talking to Neville and his grandmother next to the ‘Dream Drops’ display case.

    “What’s the Ministry interested in?” Mum looked both proud and curious.

    “They’re probably interested in some of the products they used against the Death Eaters,” Ron explained, then winced when he saw the reaction to him bringing up the attack. Too much analyzing the battle with Sirius and Remus and his friends had made him forget that his family didn’t talk about it.

    After a second, Fred nodded. “Yes. We’ve got orders for the Peruvian Darkness Powder, the Screaming Saucers, and most of our bigger fireworks.”

    “We might even research a few products that aren’t jokes,” George added, and for a moment, everyone was silent when the implications sank in.

    “Everyone is doing their part, as it should be,” dad stated, looking first at mum, then at the rest of his family, before changing the topic. “So, what does this box do?” He pointed at a colorful box.

    “Oh, that’s a Skiving Snackbox. A well-sized range of fake illnesses and their remedies, if you want to skive off school,” Fred gleefully explained. “Or chores at home,” he added with a wink.

    Further explanations were interrupted by the arrival of what looked like everyone from No 12, Grimmauld Place.

    “Harry!” Ron said. He would have greeted Hermione as enthusiastically, but they were in public since the crowd was made up of close friends of the twins, and not of the couple. So he simply nodded at the witch while his mum and dad greeted Sirius cordially, and wished there were less people around. Not for long though - he was proud of his brothers’ achievements, and wished them a successful opening, after all.

    *****​

    “You wish to study dementors?”

    Hermione Granger didn’t flinch under the Headmaster’s questioning gaze, but it was a close thing. “Yes, sir. Their habits and powers might provide insight into souls and soul magic.”

    He didn’t answer right away, he simply ran his hand through his beard and summoned a lemon drop from the bowl on his desk. Fawkes trilled, trilled again, and when the phoenix didn’t get any, stuck his head under his wing and apparently sulked.

    “Those creatures have allied with the Dark Lord, so it might be nigh impossible to study one, much less do so safely,” he finally stated.

    “I know, sir. But even second-hand reports from experts might offer useful insights and ideas.” That was as far as she was going to hint at her plans.

    Dumbledore’s gaze seemed to grow even more intense, and she defiantly raised her chin. She wasn’t planning to do something unforgivable. The Ministry had used dementors to suck out the souls of criminals for centuries, and if they were allowed to do it, then she could do the same against the Dark Lord. If her idea worked.

    “I see,” Dumbledore briefly closed his eyes and seemed to sag a bit in his seat. When he met her eyes again, he looked tired. “Given the current problems, it might behove us to know more about those creatures.” He had to know what she was planning, but it didn’t look like he’d admit it.

    Hermione could live with that. What mattered what that she succeeded in her task. For Harry.

    “Ebenezer Renquirt is the Ministry’s foremost expert on Dementors. He was compromised last year, though, and since then he has been under much closer surveillance and scrutiny. That means that approaching him would endanger the secrecy needed for this.”

    Hermione refrained from protesting that the risk would be worth it, and simply nodded.

    “I do have some contacts with almost as much experience - or at least, an equivalent library on the topic - though. Given the fact that those creatures are among the Dark Lord’s forces and how difficult casting the Patronus Charm is, it wouldn’t look out of place if I asked for access to research easier counter-measures.”

    He had to be talking about the Department of Mysteries! Would she be able to accompany him there?

    Her thoughts must have shown on her face, since the Headmaster started chuckling. “I fear I have to disappoint you, Miss Granger. While I might get access to those tomes, thanks to my position and reputation, taking you with me would be out of the question.”

    For a moment, anger filled Hermione. All that knowledge, hidden away! Reserved for a select few, out of the reach of a mere muggleborn witch! She controlled herself though.

    Dumbledore continued: “Indeed, even making the suggestion would cause you to come to the attention of a number of people who might be a bit too zealous to understand that sometimes, the end justifies quite dark means. Trust extended towards me would not be extended towards a young witch or wizard still in school. That view is justified, somewhat, given that the most recent example of a young prodigy researching such topics was Tom Riddle.”

    Hermione gasped. “You mean they would…?”

    The Headmaster nodded. “They do not know you as I do. And should they know that Harry carries a piece of Tom’s soul in his scar, they might assume he is being corrupted, or even controlled by the Dark Lord. And through him, yourself.”

    Hermione felt a shiver run down her spine as she realized the danger Harry and herself would be facing should this become known by the Unspeakables. She lowered her eyes. “I didn’t consider that, Headmaster.” Her stupidity and ignorance could have caused Harry’s death!

    “Do not berate yourself, Miss Granger. The inner workings of the Department of Mysteries, their purpose even, is not known to the public. Nor is it set in stone, so to speak - depending on who makes up its staff, their goals and means can vary widely.”

    Hermione smiled cynically. “That description fits the entire Ministry, sir. Too much seems to depend on the whims of individuals, not on laws.”

    “I would not call it whims, since custom and tradition can often be much harder to change than laws, but I do agree that Wizarding Britain has been shaped by individuals ever since the time of the founders. Though - was not that the case for Muggle Britain as well? Outstanding individuals played crucial roles throughout history.”

    Hermione had to admit that, if grudgingly. “They did. And yet the rule of law is paramount. And muggles at least try to keep the laws up to date.”

    “But once again, Muggle Britain is less judicious in that than other muggle countries. Tradition and custom play a larger role than in countries with a written constitution.” Dumbledore sent a few grapes towards Fawkes, which circled around the still sulking bird.

    “And yet Muggle Britain’s constitution is quite established, while Wizarding Britain still lacks that fundamental agreement. And given how thoroughly the knowledge of magic was erased from the muggle world, I cannot help but fear that even wizarding traditions might not be as old as they are claimed to be.” Maybe that was why History of Magic was taught by a ghost and never seemed to change.

    “A good point, Miss Granger. To change history means to change the present, after all. Though what magic makes possible, magic can guard against.” The Headmaster smiled at her as if she had just answered a difficult question in a lesson.

    “That’s true, sir. But with the small size of Wizarding Britain, it takes less to affect it. Less magic, and fewer individuals. Far easier for mistakes to be made, and not get corrected.” And, privately, she thought that the wizarding public was far less critical than the muggle one as well. Too prone to follow blindly whoever cried the loudest.

    “It is hard to argue against that, given our current situation, and yet it’s also far easier to change for the better with fewer people. I prefer to remain optimistic.” Albus flicked his wand, and a lemon drop sped towards Fawkes, who reacted in an instant and gobbled it up, together with the grapes.

    Hermione couldn’t disagree with that. She had to hope for the best as well, given her and Harry’s situation. She nodded. “Leaving that aside, if I’m not to be allowed into that library, how can I access the tomes then?”

    “I’ll be making copies.”

    “Is that allowed?” Hermione asked. The Headmaster had spoken as if copying works presumably protected by the best spells the Department of Mysteries could muster was easy. It was probably easy, for him, Hermione realized. Suddenly, focusing on curse-breaking looked a lot more appealing than focusing on spellcrafting.

    “I could just as well use my pensieve to reread any tome I’ve read and have a dictaquill write it down. That would take more time than we can spare though,” Dumbledore said with the barest hint of a sly smile.

    Hermione decided that she really wanted a pensieve. Though maybe it might be possible to create a spell that allowed the caster to copy memories into a blank book. Or maybe there was a way to create a portable pensieve, like a portable television… She forced herself to focus on the topic at hand again, and blushed slightly when she noticed the gentle smile on Dumbledore’s face, who probably knew all about her thoughts right then. “I see. That’s quite a … pragmatic outlook.”

    “Indeed. I should have the books you require before you leave to meet your parents.” Dumbledore pointed his wand over his shoulder and an old, thick tome flew from one of the shelves at the back of his office, landing gently on the desk. “You can take this book with you right now though. It contains a detailed report about the first appearances of the Dementors in the 1300s, up until the time they moved to Azkaban. I always found that having a solid grasp on the history of a subject both facilitated its study and helped to avoid overlooking important aspects.”

    “Thank you sir!” Hermione eagerly summoned the book towards her. She wanted to skim it right then, but reluctantly stashed it in one of the expanded pockets of her robe .

    “Is there anything else to discuss?” The Headmaster was looking at her over his reading glasses. She couldn’t tell if he meant the question rhetorically, or if he knew or at least suspect something.

    “Ah… there is one more thing, sir.” Hermione took a deep breath. “As you know, we will be meeting my parents in the Caribbean.”

    Once again his gaze grew more intense, and she realized he already knew what she was about to say.

    *****​

    “Alright, does everyone have all their baggage?”

    “Yes.” Harry Potter patted the pocket of his robe where his trunk was stored in in response to his godfather’s question. He caught Hermione peering into her pocket before answering herself, and grinned. As if she would forget her trunk, after packing it so carefully, and after double-checking her lists. And yet she’d worry. Part of her charm.

    Valérie, Chantal, Laure and Eugénie nodded as well. Between the four veela and himself, Sirius had deemed Harry safe enough to travel abroad. Neither Nymphadora nor Remus would be coming with them. Nymphadora because she was far too busy preparing for her wedding, scheduled for the end of July, Remus because of his furry little problem. Harry thought the man could use a vacation, especially with the increasing hostility towards werewolves after so many of them had joined Voldemort, but it was the older wizard’s decision.

    “Good, the portkey is scheduled to be activated in three minutes!” Sirius checked his watch.

    Harry wasn’t looking forward to using it. Travelling to Paris and then Sofia the previous summer had been bad enough, and it was a far longer trip to Port Royal, the capital of Magical Jamaica. If only they were flying! A plane would take even longer than a portkey, but it would be a far more agreeable ride.

    But Sirius had balked at the idea of spending hours in a ‘metal contraption that a bit of accidental magic could utterly wreck’, and Hermione had backed him up, citing numerous ways to destroy a plane using magic. Harry didn’t think the Death Eaters knew enough about muggles to pull any of those plans off - a few of them were so tricky, and would have made him wonder what Hermione had been thinking, if he hadn’t known her so well - but he couldn’t prevail against both his godfather and his girlfriend, not if they were thinking about his safety first and foremost.

    Of course, without Dumbledore arranging for an anonymous international portkey, and fake identities thanks to his contacts abroad, taking a plane would have been safer. And Harry wouldn’t have to dye his hair, muggle style, and wear makeup over his scar. Though Hermione made a nice-looking blonde, he had to admit.

    So, he was facing a nausea-inducing trip. An auspicious start for their vacation, if he did say so himself. Not that he’d say that out loud - Hermione was looking forward to see her parents, who’d take a break from their cruise for a month, and he’d rather bite his tongue than make her feel guilty and ruin it for her.

    “Alright, gather round! It’s going to be a wild ride!” Sirius grinned as he presented the short rope that would transport them across the Atlantic. Harry shot his godfather a dark look, then touched the rope, taking a deep breath.

    An instant later, he was whirling around himself.

    Harry didn’t know how long the portkey took. It had felt like hours, at least to him. He belly-flopped on the cushioned floor, as he had expected. At least he wasn’t feeling ill enough to need the bucket that appeared in front of him, even if his legs shook some when he stood up.

    Sirius, who had been whooping in apparent joy for most of the trip, was already up - if he had not arrived standing anyway - and looking around. As were his girlfriends, but as half-bird creatures, that was to be expected. Or so Harry told himself.

    Hermione though, lying on the floor, was looking rather green in the face and taking deep breaths.

    “Come on, get up, Miss! We’ll need to clear the chamber for the next arrivals! I can levitate you if you can’t stand yet!” Sirius announced cheerfully, his wand already out.

    The muggleborn witch shot Harry’s godfather a glare while she stood up with his help. “I’ll manage,” she muttered. Harry didn’t mention that he had voted to take a plane - she looked a bit too miserable to rub it in. And she knew a few too many hexes to risk it.

    A pair of guards awaited them outside the chamber, both wearing loose white trousers and shirts, with sashes in green, gold and black wrapped around their waists. “Welcome to Magical Jamaica. Please proceed to customs,” the taller one said, with the bored air of someone who had said that far too often already to still care.

    “Of course!” Sirius responded, and led the group towards the door indicated by the man’s gesture.

    “It really looks like a colonial building of the 17th century.” Hermione had recovered enough to study the architecture on the way. “I read that the Magical Quarter survived the earthquake that officially sank Port Royal, and used it to help implement the Statute of Secrecy, which went into effect at the same time.”

    “Are we actually under the sea?” Laure asked.

    “According to ‘The History of the Magical New World’, yes. Though ‘Magical Sights Worth Seeing’ claims that the enclave has the space warped around it, and is actually on sea level,” the young witch went on.

    “It doesn’t really matter,” Sirius cut in. “We’re not staying in the town, after all!”

    Harry thought it did matter if they would be drowned by the sea should the spells fail, or not, but didn’t think speculating about such an eventuality was the smartest or most polite thing to do right after arriving in the town. Besides, Sirius was right - they’d meet the Grangers at a private villa Sirius had rented for the vacation.

    They’d not spend all their time there, or even in muggle Jamaica, of course. They had plans for Magical Jamaica. Plans not everyone might agree with, but that couldn’t be helped.

    *****​

    “Mum! Dad!”

    Hermione Granger rushed at her parents as soon as she spotted them. It had been too long since she had seen them last! She hugged her mother, almost tackling her to the ground, then felt her father’s arms close around the two of them, patting her back. She didn’t keep count how long they remained like that, she simply enjoyed the reunion with her parents. “I missed you!”

    “We missed you as well, honey!” her mother said, probably with as many tears in her eyes as Hermione had.

    “Oh, yes. It’s been so long, I forgot how you looked. I thought you had brown hair…” her father said, pointedly looking at her currently blonde and straight hair.

    “Ah… that’s for the disguise.” Hermione smiled, but didn’t let go of her mother. “We’re here under fake names.” Like her parents.

    “Fake identities for you, for us, for everyone…” Her father shook his head. “Well, it’s a decent reason to dye your hair, at least. Better than your boyfriend preferring blondes,” he added with a slight smirk.

    “Dad! I wouldn’t do that!” Hermione protested. Well, she wouldn’t, unless it was needed. Or if she liked it as well.

    “Harry prefers Hermione,” Sirius cheerfully cut in.

    “Welcome, Sirius,” her mum said, nodding at the wizard. “I’d offer to give you a tour of the house, though to be honest, it would feel weird, since you paid the rent for the villa.”

    “Picked it out as well - the notification of us having rented it came as a bit of a surprise,” Hermione’s father commented.

    “Don’t worry about it. Just another measure to improve our security.” Sirius waved his wand in a dismissive gesture.

    Her parents seemed to accept that. Well, they had accepted the paid-for World Cruise too. “Let’s get you settled, and then Hermione can tell us all about her year,” her dad said.

    Hermione took the hint, and released her mother from her grip. She hoped she looked embarrassed about having held on like a limpet for a bit too long, instead of feeling guilty for not planning to tell her parents all about what had happened. She didn’t want them to worry after all, especially not when they couldn’t do anything to help her.

    *****​

    “... and did you know that after the Statute of Secrecy went into effect, Magical Jamaica was one of the first colonies to achieve their independence from Wizarding Britain? The wizards among the Maroons outnumbered the British wizards left on Jamaica, thanks to having served as a safe haven for fugitive wizards for decades already, and conquered the island in 1752, when a Goblin Rebellion in Britain prevented the Ministry from sending help to the garrison.”

    Sirius Black glanced at his godson while Hermione gave a lesson in Jamaica’s history, magical and muggle, to her parents, who seemed to be listening with rapt attention. Maybe the thirst for knowledge was in the witch’s blood. Harry was paying attention too, but from what Sirius could see, he was focusing more on the witch’s body than her words. Maybe the two would finally do the deed during this vacation. Given the danger they all were in, it was stupid to delay what everyone knew would happen!

    In Sirius’s opinion, it was a perfect setup: A young couple, a month in the tropics, in a luxurious villa with a private beach… Even if the muggle bikinis were a bit conservative, as all things muggle, that, and the presence of the girl’s parents, simply added a bit of a challenge, in his opinion. Maybe he should have a word with Harry, explain some things… Sirius smiled when he remembered how he had slept with Mandy Finbottom in the witch’s parents’ bedroom while they were at a Yule Ball… or would have, if he had been able to remember more than that he had done it.

    “Troubling thoughts, cherie?” Valérie’s voice interrupted his thoughts.

    He turned his head, and smiled at the young veela moving towards him, a tray with a few drinks floating behind her. “Just another lost memory.” He pointed his wand at the tray, and one drink flew towards him.

    “Ah.” Valerie sat down in his lap, one drink with a straw hovering near her head while the tray continued towards the others present at the pool. She knew what he was talking about, and she knew he wasn’t quite as casual about it as he acted. But she also understood that they were on a vacation with his godson, and it wouldn’t do to ruin it with his own problems. She placed a kiss on his lips - almost chaste, for her - and whispered. “We’ll ‘ave to make more and better memories then.”

    “That’s a good idea.” He ran his hands over her bare back. The smooth skin showed no sign of the curse damage to the wing that would grow out from there when she transformed. He was certain it would have been different if the damage had been to her arm - if Padfoot hurt his paw, Sirius’s hand would be hurt as well.

    His fingers must have lingered a bit too long, for he felt her stiffen some. “I’ll be able to fly again, soon,” she whispered.

    “You will.” She had to. She would. She was keeping her daily exercises up, even during their vacation, if not quite as stringently as under the supervision of her therapist.

    He glanced over at his godson again, and caught Harry turning his head away. The boy had been staring at them, he knew. And not because he was ogling his godfather’s veela girlfriend, but because he was concerned about the two of them.

    He really had to have a talk with the boy, Sirius thought. It was his duty as Harry’s godfather’s to worry about him, not the other way around.

    *****​

    Harry Potter smiled when he saw Padfoot playing on the beach. His godfather was chasing a frisbee Valérie, Chantal, and Laure were moving around between them with their wands. Eugénie was sitting at the pool, supposedly ‘resting’, though Harry was certain she was keeping guard. Even with that reminder of the war at home, and the danger they were all in, he was happy to see Sirius acting so carefree.

    “He’s getting better,” Hermione commented next to him, putting the book she had been reading down.

    “Yes.” Finally.

    “He’s still got a way to go though,” Hermione added.

    “Therapy wouldn’t help him much, if at all. He thinks that’s just for ‘crazy people’,” Harry glanced at the book in her lap. He knew it was about dementors. Harry shuddered just thinking about them, and he didn’t know how Sirius would react, should he realize just what Hermione was studying.

    Hermione frowned at him. “The Headmaster enchanted it. Sirius won’t be able to read it.”

    “I know.” And he still didn’t like it. They were terrible creatures, and the thought that she was researching them filled him with dread. She was probably planning to use them. All he could think about was that moment back in third year, when a horde of the monsters had attacked them. If not for his Patronus Charm...

    The witch closed the book, and slid it into her expanded bag.

    Harry suppressed the sudden guilt he felt at that. He knew she was doing this for him.

    The young muggleborn leaned back and met his eyes. “Did he ask you again if we have slept together?”

    He grimaced and looked away. “He hasn’t just asked. He has hinted rather strongly that we’re ‘wasting time we could be spending together’. What about your parents?”

    “They haven’t asked or said anything about us being intimate.”

    “Oh?” That sounded good.

    “Which is very much unlike them. I’d have expected a lecture about safe sex, or at least some teasing comments.”

    “Oh.” That didn’t sound good.

    “Yes. And Valérie wanted to give me ‘tips’.”

    “Tips?”

    “You know, about enjoying your first time. As a witch.”

    “That must have been embarrassing.” Probably as embarrassing as Sirius’s lecture.

    “More informative, actually.” The witch smiled at him. She had listened to the tips? Of course she had! Hermione wouldn’t refuse knowledge, even that kind.

    He didn’t know what to say while his imagination ran wild. His face must have betrayed at least some of his thoughts though, since he noticed she was blushing.

    Or, he thought, with a suddenly dry throat, she was having similar thoughts.

    He coughed and said: “Let’s go swimming!” They needed a distraction right now.

    “Alright.”

    *****​

    Swimming, and diving, in the warm waters of the Caribbean was vastly different from swimming in the Black Lake in Scotland, Hermione found out. The tropical sea provided much better visibility than the murky lake, and the fishes and other fauna were more colorful too.

    Both herself and Harry were using Bubblehead Charms to explore the sea near their beach - under the eyes of Eugénie, who was flying above them. She wouldn’t join them in the water unless there was an emergency, but whether this was to give them some illusion of privacy, or because she didn’t like diving was hard to say. Fleur hadn’t had any special trouble with the second task, so it wasn’t something related to being a veela.

    The young witch didn’t care either way - she was having fun chasing small schools of fish, and playing a sort of tag game with Harry, with stolen kisses as prizes. There weren’t any ruins, like in Port Royal, but the shallow sea floor here had its own hidden attractions and mysteries.

    Just when she was about to swim closer to a large field of seaweed, Harry shot in front of her, using the Supercavitation spell he had used to win the second task in the Triwizard Tournament. For a moment she felt anger - that was cheating! Then she realized he wasn’t playing anymore, but pointing at the seaweed. She didn’t see anything, but she wasn’t the youngest seeker in a hundred years. Hermione mouthed “What?” at her boyfriend, and he pushed his head towards hers until their Bubblehead Charms overlapped and they could talk to each other more easily, without shouting.

    “I think I saw a siren.”

    Hermione almost gasped. A siren, here? Even though Jamaica did have a small population, most of them were said to be living near Port Royal, using the charms hiding the magical town from muggles for their own benefits. She drew her wand and slipped her free hand into the enchanted pocket on her bikini bottom, where she had stored a number of emergency supplies. Sirens had a reputation of luring sailors to their doom, and while that was likely overblown like so much else, the species was known to have a penchant for violence if provoked. And they didn’t like veela.

    Harry and herself waited, watching the field of seaweed, but apart from a few small fishes nothing else emerged from it. Still, Hermione decided to give the area a wide berth, just in case this was territory claimed by a siren. There wasn’t any reason to go looking for trouble, after all. Even or especially with a veela flying as a guard above them.

    “Let’s return to the surface,” she told Harry.

    Her boyfriend nodded, then pulled her closer to him, until she was pressed against his body, and surrounded by the air bubbles providing the spell’s effect. As she had expected, and Harry had told her, it was a very distracting experience without a suit covering her whole body.

    Not quite as distracting as Harry shooting through the water at high speed, with her hanging onto him though.

    They did reach the beach without trouble, and in record time, but Hermione needed some time to calm down afterwards.

    *****​

    If there was one thing Harry Potter loved most of their vacation so far, it was that his family were using fake identities, so he and Hermione didn’t have to act like Patron and Retainer in public, but could be a teenage couple in love. There was no pressure from society, no one looking disapprovingly at them for being out for a stroll in Port Royal’s magical quarter. Which was actually bigger than the muggle village.

    After two days of grueling apparition lessons, walking around with his girlfriend on his arm was an even more enjoyable experience as well, even though both Hermione and himself had mastered it. With or despite Sirius’s help. Harry could still hear his godfather’s voice, telling him to be completely determined to reach the destination, and move deliberately, not hastily. Or Hermione reciting a small book’s worth of instructions verbatim. And he still wasn’t sure if Hermione leaving her robes while apparating away had actually been an accident, or a prank.

    He had his arm wrapped around Hermione’s waist and both of them were wearing robes in the local style as they were walking down the main street in the afternoon, past various shops and bars and the odd street musician and food stall. Just a normal tourist couple, exploring the old pirate town. With his ‘parents’ in tow.

    He glanced behind him, where Sirius and Valérie were following them. His godfather was grinning widely at him. Before Harry could comment though, Hermione spoke up and tugged at his arm: “There it is!”

    Harry followed her gaze, and spotted a worn sign in a narrow side alley: ‘Mr. Smith’s Used Books & Curiosa’. That was the bookshop Dumbledore had recommended. Hermione was already doing her best imitation of a train engine pulling him towards the shop’s door.

    The inside of the shop smelled like old parchment and dusty paper - and marihuana. The ‘magical weed’ was widely used on Jamaica, and not solely for religious ceremonies. Hermione released his arm and made a beeline to the clerk at the back of the shop. Harry followed her at a slower pace, restraining from rubbing his arm.

    The witch smiled at the middle-aged wizard there. “Hello! We’re looking for books on ‘sympathetic magic’!” Which was commonly known as ‘Voodoo’, even if Hermione had explained that that was not really the same thing. Just very close.

    “That would be this shelf there, Miss.” The man pointed at the shelf to his right.

    Hermione shook her head, her currently blond hair flying back and forth. “I’m looking for more informative and rarer books.”

    Harry saw how the other wizard stiffened at hearing that - and even more so when Sirius and Valérie entered right then. He was also quite certain that Hermione was rolling her eyes at the man’s - in Harry’s opinion quite understandable - reluctance to point them towards books which were illegal in most of the Magical World, and were considered shady even in the Caribbean. The houngans were more feared than respected, or so he had heard.

    Fortunately, a small sum of galleons from Sirius made the reluctance vanish before Hermione could grow exasperated. The clerk opened a hidden door at the back, revealing another room full of books. When he saw Hermione’s reaction to that, Harry was both amused and jealous - of those books.

    After half an hour, Hermione had picked half a dozen books on Voodoo, and the clerk was ringing up her purchases while the witch was already happily skimming through the first one while Harry was impatiently waiting - just like normal tourists.

    Before the clerk had finished handling their purchases though, a dark-skinned wizard man in a bone-white robe with short, grey hair entered, interrupting the man.

    “Hello, Jebediah.”

    “H-Hello, M-Mister B-Blagrove.”

    “I’m here for my order.” The man spoke in a whisper that still seemed to fill the room.

    “A… of c-course, s-sir!” The clerk dropped Hermione’s last purchase and rushed through another hidden door, presumably to fetch whatever the man wanted, though Harry wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d have simply fled the building. He glanced at the door, and saw half a dozen people waiting outside the shop. That wasn’t a good sign.

    The man turned around, smiling, and seemed to notice Hermione for the first time - or rather the book she was holding. “Quite an interesting tome, Miss…?”

    “Wilkinson,” Hermione answered, giving her fake name.

    The man nodded, a polite smile on his face. Harry was about to step up to Hermione, just to show that she was with him, under his protection, when his scar erupted with pain.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger whirled around when she heard Harry scream, and gasped. Her boyfriend was on the floor, blood flowing from his scar, wiping away the makeup that had been covering it, while he was thrashing in pain! Sirius was moving towards them, followed by Valérie. Her first impulse was to stun Harry. End his torment until whatever dark ritual Voldemort was doing was over. She didn’t do that though. As much as she hated it, they needed to know what the Dark Lord was doing. So instead of a stunner, she cast a Body-Binding Curse and a Silencing Charm.

    “We need to get home!” she yelled at Sirius, cutting off whatever he was about to say. She glanced over her shoulder at the the man in the white robes, Blagrove, who had scared the clerk so much. The wizard was staring at them, with an unreadable expression. Hermione grabbed the last book and dropped a few galleons on the counter while Sirius vanished with Harry. She vanished the blood on the floor, then focused on the villa’s apparition area. An instant later, she appeared there, followed by Valérie.

    While they rushed Harry to his room, she mentally berated herself. She had been so stupid - she had forgotten about the time difference between Britain and Jamaica! The full moon would have already risen back home while it was still daytime here. She should have expected that Voldemort would conduct another ritual, even if he had skipped the last full moon!

    And now, not only was Harry suffering, but someone - someone rather sinister-looking - had seen him collapse and bleed! If his secret got out...

    And it was all her fault! She should have known!


    Chapter 42: Jamaican Affairs
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2015
    bukay, Pezz, DonLyn and 13 others like this.
  25. Threadmarks: Chapter 42: Jamaican Affairs
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 42: Jamaican Affairs

    He wrinkled his nose at the stench of burning fur and flesh that rose from the bound animal on the marble altar. The restraints were cutting deeply into the werewolf’s limbs, the silver they were inlaid with burning its skin wherever they touched it. He could have magically adjusted them, but why should he have bothered? The beast would be dead soon enough, and a Silencing Charm worked well enough to keep it quiet. The stench though… that hadn’t been as bad during the last ritual, and he wondered why this was the case. It wasn’t bad enough to warrant a Bubblehead Charm though, just… unpleasant.

    The lights floating around the circle that surrounded them were lit already, shining under the light of the full moon. There were no bands of runes appearing between them though. Instead a crystal ball was floating next to the creature’s head, dull and dim - so far.

    The werewolf was shaking its head back and forth, spittle flying around. If not for the charms on his robe, some would have hit him. Disgusting! His Bella was already taking care of it, though - a flick of her wand had the monster gagged, and the sight of its eyes rolling around briefly amused Harry.

    He smiled at his lover, then gripped the silver knife and approached the werewolf. This time he had some experience, and he cut deeply, and surely, quickly exposing and removing its heart. Instead of holding the heart up, towards the moon, he touched it to the globe, which started to glow brightly while runes appeared, floating around it.

    Too brightly, he realized. Far too brightly!

    He whirled around, towards Bella.

    “Protego Maxima!”

    The dark witch stared at him with surprise when he grabbed her arm. She shouted in alarm when the globe behind him exploded and the night was turned to day. He managed to apparate away, taking Bella with him, right before his shield was shattered by a blast fueled with the energy gathered by the ritual.

    Brief relief, then anger filled him. He had failed.

    Harry woke up with a gasp, drenched in sweat and panting. He shuddered, hugging himself. That had been… terrible. He didn’t know what would have happened if Voldemort had died with him sharing his mind. He didn’t want to know, he realized - and immediately felt guilty for being happy that he hadn’t found out today. That Voldemort hadn’t been killed.

    “Harry!”

    He felt arms wrap around him, a body was pressed against his, blonde hair flew into his face… blonde? He almost pushed the girl away until he remembered that Hermione had dyed and straightened her hair as a disguise.

    Hermione! He held her, buried his face into her shoulder and neck, until he had calmed down.

    “I’m sorry, Harry. I should have thought of the time difference, and the full moon… “ Hermione whispered.

    He pulled back and shook his head. “No. It’s not your fault. No one thought of it.” She didn’t look like she believed him. “Not even Dumbledore.” That seemed to get through his girlfriend’s guilt. Somewhat at least. So he went on: “I’ve seen Voldemort’s ritual. He sacrificed another werewolf, but something went wrong, and he was almost killed.”

    As expected, that kind of information served to distract Hermione from her guilt, and he was soon facing questions that made him wish for a pensieve.

    *****​

    Sirius Black stared at Harry after he had finished recounting what he had seen during his ‘vision’. To think his godson had to live through those evil rituals as if he was the one performing them… he shook his head slightly, trying to focus on something less nauseating. “Dumbledore needs a copy of those memories.”

    “I wish we had Hedwig with us…” Harry muttered. Hermione, sitting next to him on his bed, patted his arm. Sirius knew the girl had stayed at his godson’s side ever since they had returned from Port Royal. It was just the two teenagers and himself - Dumbledore had been quite clear on the urgent need to keep Harry’s connection to Voldemort a secret, and Sirius agreed completely. Even the cover story they had prepared, of Harry being a seer, wouldn’t help much if Voldemort ever found out.

    “We didn’t take her with us for the same reason sending her back wouldn’t be a good idea: She’s too conspicuous,” he explained. Sales of snowy owls had increased after Harry had gotten Hedwig, but it hadn’t been more than a handful. The beautiful owls still stuck out wherever they flew.

    “We could rent an owl here. Or maybe hire a courier,” Hermione proposed. “We could even mail it through the muggle post. Though that could take a long time, unless we pay a lot. Which might draw attention to it. The police might suspect there are drugs in the package.”

    Sirius didn’t know much about the muggle post or police, but a rented owl was simply not safe enough. “I can contact Moony on the mirror, he can call Dumbledore, but....” The two teenagers nodded. They knew as well as he did that it was the night of the full moon, and while Wolfsbane would ensure Remus didn’t lose his mind, he couldn’t exactly talk in his furry state.

    “I think the secrecy is more important than informing Dumbledore right now. A few hours won’t make much of a difference,” Harry said.

    “Alright.” Sirius took out his watch to check the time. It was currently 8 PM, so that meant…

    “The moon will have set in London at 01:39 AM Jamaican local time,” Hermione stated, closing a small leather-bound notebook.

    He frowned at her briefly, which didn’t impress her at all, but made Harry smile, then leaned back in his seat, summoning a drink. “Thank you. So, almost six more hours. But Moony will need some time to recover, after he transforms back.” The rum burned in his throat. Not quite fire whiskey, but close.

    “Best call him in the morning. Our morning.” Harry looked like he could use some time to recover himself.

    “I think rest is a good idea...” Sirius started.

    “There’s one thing…” Hermione interrupted him. “That man who saw Harry’s episode… he saw the scar bleed.” The young witch bit her lower lip.

    “You did vanish the blood spilled.” That was the first thing he had asked, after they had gotten back to the villa. “With that taken care of, there shouldn’t be too much of a danger. Even if the scar has been recognized, Jamaica is not exactly a friendly country for Death Eaters.” Otherwise they’d have met up somewhere else with the Grangers.

    “Yes.” She didn’t look like she was really agreeing. “Just… his expression, right before we apparated out…”

    “Who was he, anyway?” Harry asked.

    “The clerk called him ‘Mister Blagrove’, and was very afraid of him,” Hermione added.

    Sirius frowned. He really didn’t want the kids to worry, but he wasn’t about to lie to them. “He was probably a houngan.”

    “Aren’t those dark wizards?” Harry narrowed his eyes.

    “Technically, Britain considers them dark wizards. But as I told you before, Britain’s definition of ‘dark’ is somewhat arbitrary. They once considered all of Jamaica’s wizards ‘dark’, right after the island had won its independence from Britain. Relations were quite strained for almost 200 years.” The animagus snorted. “If not for the distance involved, and the fact that by the time Britain was able to muster enough wands to have a shot at invading, the rest of the Magical New World was not friendly towards Britain either, there might have been another war.”

    “And we’ve come here for a vacation?” Harry shook his head.

    “Relations improved a lot in the last 50 years thanks to Dumbledore,” Sirius explained.

    “‘The History of the Magical New World’ claims that as well, but doesn’t go into details. It only mentions ‘diplomatic efforts’.” Hermione pursed her lips as she looked at Sirius.

    The older wizard snorted. “He defeated Grindelwald. That scared the houngans into reforming some of their more questionable practises.”

    The muggleborn witch had an eager glint in her eyes. “What exactly did they do?”

    “Do you know what zombies are?” He took another sip from his rum.

    “In the Caribbean, it generally means people under the control of a wizard. Unlike the victims of the Imperius, they are reduced to puppets, almost like golems. They lose any will of their own, and any sense of self-preservation. Unlike the Imperius, it also requires a rare potion, though it is said that the potion can be used in a ritual using sympathetic magic, so it doesn’t need to be imbibed,” Hermione answered as if she was in a lesson at Hogwarts. “In Europe, ‘zombie’ has been used lately as a synonym for inferi, probably an influence of muggle horror movies, though so far that hasn’t been proven. In the Americas…”

    Sirius held up a hand before she could cover the American and Asian versions. “We’re in the Caribbean, your first definition applies here.”

    “So the houngans used to create zombies?” Harry frowned. “What scale are we talking about?”

    Sirius smiled. His godson had good instincts. The ICW wouldn’t have cared about a few zombies. “A massive scale. My family was very interested in the Dark Arts, as you know, and they did some research in the 19th century. Which, incidentally, led to the end of one particularly curious branch of the family.” He noticed the two teenagers staring at him, and coughed. Maybe he shouldn’t have grinned when he said that. But he had seen the notes of their research, and their outlines and plans in the library. “According to what they found out, ever since their independence, the houngans have kept an army of zombies ready to be activated in case there was an invasion.”

    “An army of muggles. It wouldn’t make sense using wizards for that, they couldn’t cast spells as zombies…” Hermione trailed off, her eyes wide. “But how could they…. rituals.”

    “Exactly. Officially, zombies are hard to create, using a rare potion and some blood or hair from the victim. A bad thing, but, like the Imperius, more of a personal threat. Unofficially? There’re rumors that with the right sacrifice, the population of entire villages can be turned into zombies.”

    “Bloody hell!”

    “Language!”

    Sirius chuckled. “Anyway, with Dumbledore defeating Grindelwald despite that Dark Lord’s heavy use of inferi, the houngans realized that their main threat wasn’t that effective anymore. And since Grindelwald had conquered a number of countries in Magical Europe, and invaded a few more, there was a movement in the ICW to act a bit more preemptively to prevent another such Dark Lord from rising. Jamaica wasn’t the only country that suddenly felt like reforming. At least enough to not look like the home for the next Dark Lord who might try his hand at invasions.”

    “Why didn’t anyone stop Voldemort then, when he started his first war?” Harry looked angry.

    “Various reasons. By the time he went active, people had slid back into isolationism again. Most of the countries outside Europe, but a number of European ones as well, had never been really happy with the thought that other countries could meddle in their internal affairs. Unlike Grindelwald, Voldemort didn’t push an international agenda. At least not openly. And since Dumbledore was opposing him, most probably thought he didn’t need any help. So, when everyone realized that Voldemort was a threat to Dumbledore, many were too afraid to get involved - in case the Dark Lord won. And some certainly hoped that the two would kill each other off.” Sirius shook his head.

    “Great. We’re facing a Dark Lord for the second time because people don’t learn from history.” It was hard to tell if Hermione was more offended by the lack of learning, or the Dark Lord, or so the animagus thought.

    “Back to the matter at hand. If that was a houngan, what does that mean for us?” Harry patted Hermione’s hand as he looked at his godfather.

    “Well… it depends on the individual. Port Royal may be the capital of Magical Jamaica, with the Governor’s Palace and the administration, but the actual power is held by the houngan leaders of the various communities.” Sirius smiled apologetically at Hermione.

    The young witch was looking very frustrated. “Why isn’t that in any of the books I read? Does the Magical World have an aversion towards writing down the truth? It’s the same with the laws and customs in Britain!” Sirius thought only Harry’s hand on her thigh and his arm around her shoulders kept her from jumping up and pacing in frustration.

    “Well, houngans also have a reputation of using dark rituals to deal with their enemies from afar. Most writers wouldn’t want to chance offending them by spilling their secrets in public.” Sirius’s explanation didn’t seem to help much in calming the witch down.

    He decided to leave that task to his godson, as well give him the privacy needed for it. “I’m heading to bed now, so I can get up early and call Moony.” Grinning, he winked and added: “The privacy charms will last for the night, and you won’t be disturbed, so take advantage of that!”

    “Sirius!”

    *****​

    “That impossible man!” Hermione huffed. She was still angry. At the Magical World, who let books be published full of false information, while the truth was only known to a select few. At the Dark Lord, for inflicting more pain on Harry. At Sirius, for inappropriate jokes. And at herself, for failing Harry.

    Harry patted her back, smiling. “He means well.”

    The witch felt guilty again. Here Harry’s godfather managed to cheer him up, and she was ranting about it. “Sorry. I’m just… the whole thing worries me.”

    “It worries me too.” Harry pulled her in his lap. “But as Sirius said, we’re still pretty safe. You heard what he said about the houngans fearing Dumbledore.”

    “Yes.” She sighed. “But he also said the world thinks Voldemort is a match for the Headmaster. If this houngan thinks he can ally with the Dark Lord…”

    “We don’t even know if it was a houngan,” Harry said.

    “I think it’s safer to assume it was.” She shuddered. Zombies were worse than she had imagined.

    “Well… if you want to learn sympathetic magic, you might need to meet a houngan.” Harry ran his hands over her back in circles.

    “Not necessarily.” She had books, some very informative ones.

    “Books alone won’t be enough.” Harry didn’t have to add ‘as we just learned today again’; both were thinking it.

    She pouted. “They might be enough to learn the principles. I’ll have to create a ritual anyway, it’s not as if I could copy an existing spell.”

    “And adapting a ritual would be more work than creating one from scratch, without the arithmantic formula,” Harry agreed. He was taking Arithmancy as well, after all, even if he was not creating spells outside class.

    “Exactly. So, maybe avoiding the houngans is a better choice, all things considered.” Apart from the personal risks, there was also the risk to Harry’s reputation to consider. The Boy-Who-Lived having dealings with houngans wouldn’t go over well in Britain, better relations in the last 50 years or not. On the other hand, this might be the key to saving Harry’s life. The Headmaster had to know what she was planning, but hadn’t said anything.

    “I’d rather not deal with people who turn others into zombies. European or Caribbean.”

    “Yes.” She’d rather not deal with them either. But she would, for Harry.

    “At least we now know the Dark Lord makes near-fatal mistakes as well. Imagine if he blew himself up next time.” Harry chuckled.

    “It’s too much to hope for, I think. He won’t make the same mistake twice.” Hermione wasn’t a pessimist, just a realist.

    “So…”

    “So…”

    She stared into his eyes. They were alone. Sirius had said the privacy spells would last - and they would, she knew them as well. And her parents were unlikely to disturb them. She leaned forward and kissed him. He responded enthusiastically. For a while, she didn’t think of houngans, or the Dark Lord. Or anything but Harry.

    *****​

    The Dark Lord Voldemort looked at his sleeping lover as he contemplated what had gone wrong during the ritual that had almost cost him his life. The orb that should have absorbed the power had failed to do so. But had the runes used on it been faulty, wrong, or simply not strong enough to handle it? He would have to craft a stronger orb. Or something else to absorb the power of the curse. The ritual would be useless if he couldn’t use the power of the sacrifice, which meant he needed a way to store it temporarily.

    He briefly thought about using it directly, but discarded the idea. He’d have to see his target, which meant the target would be able to see him, and probably disrupt the ritual. And sympathetic magic required a sort of link to the target - which could be very hard to acquire, at least for the targets worth the ritual.

    No, a stronger vessel was the answer. Or a weaker sacrifice. But the curse was as powerful on a child as on an adult. At least that was the accepted wisdom. Maybe he should test that.

    He ran a few equations in his head, then summoned his arithmancy and runes material, to start. It was late, or early, and he hadn’t slept yet. But anything was better than remembering, or dreaming of, how close he had come to dying, no, to losing his body once more.

    *****​

    “‘Mysterious explosion wrecks forest’ - doesn’t that sound like it should be handled by the Department of Mysteries?” Kenneth Fenbrick muttered when he and his partner, Bertha Limmington, had they left the office of the Head of the DMLE. It certainly didn’t sound like a report, more like a headline.

    Bertha raised her eyebrows at him. “We need to investigate it first, in case it’s related to a crime.”

    He scoffed. “Why is it always us who get the freak cases? Why can’t we get the easy missions, for once?”

    His partner missed, again, that he had been asking rhetorically, and answered him: “It’s your fault.”

    “What?” He stopped walking and stared at her.

    “We got the first few of those ‘weird cases’ because you angered Bones.” She continued walking, and he had to run after her.

    “That’s a rumor! A baseless rumor!” It was. He never hit on the witch! Wait… maybe that was why… no. Certainly not.

    “Anyway, since we handled those prominent cases, we got more of the same. We’re now considered experts for those kind of cases,” Bertha said with the slightest hint of mirth.

    “I knew it! I knew that working so hard was going to come back to bite us in the ass! But did you listen to me? No!” He wasn’t a Hufflepuff, after all.

    His partner chuckled at that, and Kenneth smiled. She looked cute when she smiled. Or laughed. Or did anything. He almost reached over, to pat her on the shoulder, but held back.

    “Well, let’s see what the Obliviators have left for us.” He took a look at the map, and concentrated on apparating.

    *****​

    “That’s… I wonder what the department for muggle-worthy excuses will make of this,” Kenneth said while staring at the scene of destruction in front of him.

    “Meteor strike,” Bertha said, paying attention to the torn and burned remains of grass and brush near her.

    “Seriously?” He looked at the felled trees, the razed clearing, the still smoking remains of trees smashed to kindling. “I guess it could fit.”

    “They’ll drop some duplicated meteor material, and deepen the crater.”

    “What about the fact no one actually saw a meteor?” Muggles had better telescopes than wizards, or so he had heard. It wasn’t as if many wizards cared for Astronomy. If not for a tradition dating back to the founders of the school, it wouldn’t be a subject at Hogwarts.

    “It’ll be presented as a small one.” Bertha started to walk towards the center of the crater, her wand swishing back and forth as she cast several detection spells.

    Kenneth followed her, casting some spells of his own, but mostly looking around, trying to imagine how the area had looked before the devastation. “The explosion was reported an hour after the moonrise, right?”

    Bertha froze for a moment, then nodded. “Yes.”

    “And there was a clearing here, nothing else?”

    “I didn’t find any remains of a structure. Apart from marble and silver fragments, but not enough to account for a house.” She didn’t ask what he was thinking, she simply stared at him.

    “Full moon, silver… sounds like a ritual. Probably went wrong.” It wasn’t really original. It sounded too easy. But it would fit the facts. Apart from the sheer force unleashed here.

    “It’s possible.” That was as close as Bertha would get to admitting he had a point without further proof.

    Of course, there was one thing that would explain the devastation as well. “Do you think it was You-Know-Who’s work?” The only other wizard he could think of able to cause something like this was Dumbledore. And the Headmaster didn’t do rituals.

    “It’s not impossible.” Bertha apparently didn’t like the idea any better than he did.

    “If it was him, we’re unlikely to unravel this mystery.”

    “We’ll do our best,” Bertha stated, her attention on the ashes near the center of the explosion.

    “Didn’t you learn what happens when we do our best?” Kenneth pouted. She was ignoring him.

    Grumbling, he went and looked for anything that wasn’t a tree, or ashes. He didn’t expect to find much.

    *****​

    Harry Potter woke up with his arms wrapped around Hermione. His girlfriend had her head on his chest, the blonde hair looking even lighter with the morning sun shining on it. He still wasn’t used to her dyed and straightened hair. It just felt off. Un-Hermione, somewhat. Luna would have a blast making all sorts of remarks about them being lost cousins, or sisters though. He chuckled at the image.

    “Harry?”

    “Sorry for waking you up.” He slowly withdrew his arms and interlaced his fingers behind his head.

    “No problem. I should probably head back to my bed.” Hermione lifted her head and stared at the secret door leading to her room. Secret from her parents, at least - Sirius had cast the concealing charms personally. Harry felt a bit guilty about hiding this from her parents, but it wasn’t as if they’d had sex. The two of them had just slept together. They had come close to doing it, though. He nodded reluctantly.

    She must have noticed, since she smirked at him, then straddled him and bent down for a kiss. He didn’t remember pulling her lacy top off, nor how her g-string had disappeared, but they technically still hadn’t had sex when she left his bed and room.

    But they had come much closer.

    *****

    “I’ve called Moony, who called Dumbledore, who contacted a friend of his in Jamaica, who will visit us and take the memory to send to Hogwarts.”

    Hermione Granger looked up from her breakfast when Sirius stepped out of the villa onto the porch overlooking the pool, where they were eating. French breakfast, since the villa hadn’t come with staff and Eugénie had cooked. Her mother had mentioned a few times that she’d cook, but so far she hadn’t done anything. Which Hermione was glad for. She still wanted to eat a Jamaican breakfast though, even if they had to go out for it.

    “Is that the one who arranged our visit here?” Harry asked while his knife buttered up a floating croissant.

    “Yes, Julius Booth. Apparently an employee of the Jamaican Government.” Sirius sipped from his tea - the most British part of the breakfast, brewed by Harry.

    “Ah… do you think…” Hermione began.

    “Yes,” Sirius cut her off with a wide grin. “Dumbledore said he’ll also answer questions.”

    Hermione pouted while the rest of the people present chuckled, even Harry! She didn’t like being so predictable. She glared at her boyfriend, who kept grinning, and patting her thigh. The witch stuck her tongue out at him, but she was already wondering how she could ask their visitor discreetly about sympathetic magic. Once he arrived.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger tried to study their visitor without being obvious about it when Sirius led him to the salon where everyone but her parents and Eugénie and Laure, who were out at the local market, was waiting. Julius Booth was an old wizard, with thin gray hair, dark skin, and a weathered, clean-shaven face. He was wearing a white shirt and loose matching pants, made of linen - or made to look like it. One couldn’t be sure with magic. The traditional vestment of Jamaican wizards, or so her book claimed. Not that she could trust it that much, as Sirius had demonstrated.

    “Good morning, Mister Potter, Miss Granger, Miss Delacour, Miss Delacour.” The wizard nodded to everyone. Of course he’d know their names already, having arranged their cover identities. “I hope you are enjoying your stay on our island, despite this… episode.”

    “Thank you, sir, we are,” Harry said, nodding back. “We’re grateful you’ve come so quickly.”

    “Of course. Albus impressed the importance of the task on me.” Booth sat down and a cup of tea and a plate of sweets floated towards him. “Thank you.”

    Hermione saw Harry pull the vial with the memory of the ritual out from his enchanted pocket and hand it over to their guest. The old wizard took it, and Hermione saw his eyes widen a bit when he looked at it. Sirius had sealed it with some spell only he and Remus knew, but she didn’t think that would surprise an old friend of the Headmaster.

    Booth carefully put the vial into a pocket of his own, then took a sip from his tea. “I’ll send it to Albus as soon as I’m back in my office. Officially, I’m here to discuss some immigration matters with you, so I will have to stay for a bit to keep my cover.” He smiled warmly at Hermione. “I’ve been told a conversation about my country would be welcome to pass the time.”

    Hermione was too eager to learn more about the island to feel put out about yet another wizard - or two, counting the Headmaster - teasing her. “Yes, sir. I’ve found out that the books I’ve read do not tell the whole truth.”

    “That’s no surprise,” Booth said, nodding. “Jamaica’s wizards have traditionally kept a lot of secrets. Even before the Statute of Secrecy went into effect, we’ve been in hiding.”

    “That was in the time of the Maroons, right?” She had read up on the muggle and magic history of Jamaica, and both featured those prominently.

    “Indeed. After a schism occurred among the Haitian houngans, some fled to Jamaica and founded the Maroon communities, protecting escaped slaves in their hidden enclaves. At least that’s the official history. Some claim that the escaped slaves were actually enslaved by the houngans.” Booth put his cup down. “Though given our nation’s traditions, many will take offense at such speculation.”

    “Violent offense?” Harry asked.

    “Yes, Mister Potter.” Booth pointed at his robes. “We Jamaicans are very proud of our roots as escaped slaves who managed to win not only their freedom, but their independence as well. We were among the first magical nations in the New World to ban slavery. That’s also why you will not find any house elf on our island. Their bondage is anathema to us.”

    “What about retainers?” Hermione asked, before she could help herself.

    “Ah, our official position is that it’s not slavery, despite most of us knowing that that was where it originated from.” The wizard took his cup, which had been refilled by the enchanted pot, and took another sip, smiling. “My personal opinion is that it is a bit too close to the bond between a houngan and their apprentices for anyone to dare taking offense at.”

    “Ah.” Hermione nodded, letting the pot refill her own cup while she nibbled on a scone. “How old are those apprentices, usually?”

    “It depends. Traditionally, they were chosen as children, and raised in the home of their master. These days, most are chosen during their school years, and begin their apprenticeship after graduating. Though whenever a student drops out, rumors appear that he or she has been apprenticed early. A result of the secrecy surrounding the houngans.”

    “That’s the famous School of the Waves, correct?” Valérie asked.

    Booth nodded. “Yes. Officially, it’s the Caribbean School of Wizardry, but everyone calls it the School of the Waves. Or the School of Fog.”

    “Because it’s inside a magic ship that travels around the entire Caribbean, hidden by magical mists,” Hermione said eagerly, then jolted a bit when Harry poked her side. “Sorry,” she mouthed towards him.

    Booth didn’t seem to have taken offense. “Indeed, Miss Granger. I was schooled there myself.”

    “They don’t teach voodoo there though, right?”

    Booth nodded, but his easy, warm smile faded a bit. “That art is only taught from one houngan to his apprentices, said to be sworn to silence and unconditional obedience.” His eyes stared past Hermione for a second, unfocused, before he smiled again.

    “Ah.” That meant learning sympathetic magic from a houngan was no option. No wonder the Headmaster hadn’t cautioned her against her plans. She didn’t doubt that her oath to Harry would not allow her to swear another oath. It looked like she’d have to content herself with books and inspiration. To cover her disappointment - and relief - she asked: “Does that mean that the houngans choose their own successors from outside their families?”

    “They say that magic, not blood will determine the heir,” Booth said. “Though since I’m no houngan, I’m not in a position to verify how true that claim is.”

    Hermione cynically suspected that a rather disproportionately large part of apprentices came from a houngan’s family. She didn’t say anything, but Booth’s smile seemed to indicate he knew what she was thinking, and she thought he might share her opinion.

    “How much influence do the houngans have on the government’s policies?” She saw Sirius frown, and Harry tense up, and knew she might have made a faux-pas. But the Headmaster had let her know she could ask questions, hadn’t he? His friend wouldn’t take offense, would he?

    Booth kept smiling, though he sounded a bit self-deprecating. “They are listened to when they make suggestions, due to their experience and knowledge. Of course, sometimes they seem to disagree among themselves about the best course of action, which can cause a bit of a tricky situation for our governor.”

    “Ah.” So, as Sirius had said, the real seats of power were the houngan enclaves. Despite the refreshing egalitarian attitude towards muggleborns and the fact that the government and parliament was democratically elected, Jamaica didn’t seem to be that much better, if at all, than Britain for an ambitious muggleborn witch to live in.

    Well, she could still enjoy her vacation. And she would. Although… “We saw a wizard in the shop. The clerk called him “Mister Blagrove...” She saw Booth’s smile vanish, and his grip on his teacup tighten. “Is he a houngan?”

    “A rather well-known one, yes. One of the youngest houngans of Jamaica. His Master passed on unexpectedly a few years ago. He has stayed away from politics, mostly, so I haven’t had much contact with him, but there have been rumors… he’s not a man many dare to cross.” Booth looked at Harry. “Do you think he recognized you?”

    Harry coughed, his hand touching his forehead. “I think he might suspect something, at least. I wasn’t exactly inconspicuous.”

    “I doubt he will risk doing any harm to a protégé of Albus,” Booth stated. Hermione couldn’t tell if he believed his words, or not. “If you meet again, be polite and respectful, and you should have no trouble.”

    Harry nodded. Hermione didn’t think it would be that easy - it never was, in her experience. She held her tongue though.

    Harry and Sirius asked a few more questions, mostly about broom flying spots on the island - of course, apart from Hermione and her parents, everyone here was obsessed with flying - but the old wizard soon checked his watch, then bid them goodbye. Dumbledore was waiting for the memory, after all.

    *****​

    Albus Dumbledore withdrew from his pensieve, his mind full of the ramifications of Harry’s memory. Dear Julius had come through again, after arranging for the villa and cover identities. Maybe now he’d consider them even for Albus saving his family so many years ago. The old wizard shook his head. Julius probably wouldn’t. Not that it mattered that much, the two were friends. But it would have been nice to be friends without that hanging over them.

    He sat down behind his desk. Tom had failed in his ritual. That was good news. But on the other hand, it was now clear what he was doing: The Dark Lord was creating a new ritual. A very dark one, from what he could tell - sacrificing a werewolf under the full moon meant the curse, one of the strongest the Magical World knew, was being tapped into. If Tom managed to harness that kind of power… the preliminary report he had gotten from Amelia was quite clear on the power of that mysterious explosion. The aurors hadn’t found anything else but marble shards and some silver though, and, having seen the memory, he doubted they would. The magic unleashed would have wrecked any signatures, and probably rendered most magical detection spells useless. Muggle means might work, but he already knew what had happened. On the other hand, it might serve to cover up how he knew what happened.

    Albus sighed. He couldn’t tell what exactly the Dark Lord was planning, not with just the record of two sacrifices, and two attempts, one successful, to channel the power of the ritual.
    He hoped that the Dark Lord would be forced to proceed more cautiously, and therefore more slowly after his near fatal mistake. If that ritual needed to be performed under the full moon, then that would limit him to one attempt per month. And yet Albus feared it wouldn’t slow down Tom enough. The Dark Lord was a brilliant wizard, after all. He had been a prodigy, his talent obvious even as a child. If only he hadn’t turned to the Dark Arts...

    He could only hope that an old man’s experience, another young prodigy’s talent, and a brave boy’s prophesied power would be enough to defeat Tom. At least their foe had no access to a computer, to speed up his Arithmancy. That might be the edge they needed to beat him.

    *****​

    “You know, if we have to expect such a scene each full moon, and have to keep it secret, people might think you’ve become a werewolf.”

    Harry Potter looked up from where he had transfigured his sandals into flippers and stared at Hermione. “Do you think so? They do not seem to suspect Remus.”

    “Most students think he’s hunting werewolves during the full moon, trying to avenge his family. A few girls think it’s sooo romantic.” Hermione shook her head, her expression showing clearly what she thought of such notions.

    “Merlin!” Harry was both appalled that some girls thought losing one’s family to a monster was romantic, and grateful that so many apparently didn’t suspect Remus’s secret.

    “Well, using the time differences, you can be seen in the moonlight in Bulgaria, before the moon rises in England. That should prevent such rumors from cropping up.”

    Harry sighed. “Hopefully.” He picked up his flippers. “Are you ready?”

    Hermione nodded, grabbing her own flippers and goggles - both transfigured from sandals and a hairband, unlike Harry’s goggles, which had been specifically made with lenses to correct his sight. One of those days he’d give contact lenses a try, but enchanting them was tricky due to the need to place runes on them - a very difficult, if not impossible task for such tiny, transparent things. Maybe after the war, when they had more time to spend on such tasks...

    This time Laure acted as a guard above them as they dove into the water from the small Zodiac. Harry oriented himself quickly and waved to Hermione to follow him. His girlfriend had been talking about enchanted earplugs to communicate underwater, but nothing had come of it. No one seemed to have thought of it, and she hadn’t had the time to do it herself. Harry wasn’t disappointed - he rather liked the silence under water. It was peaceful. They still could touch their Bubblehead Charms together, if they wanted to talk. Harry rather liked how close they needed to be for that to work too.

    Beneath them a few colorful fishes fled from their shadows. Hermione would know what species they were, Harry didn’t care much. He knew what was dangerous underwater, that was enough. And those fishes weren’t.

    He dove deeper, towards the wreck of a ship - or rather, a boat - that they had seen earlier, from the air. A crab was making its way over the reef nearby, seemingly ignoring him and Hermione. A few more fishes sped away to hide among the corals. A manta ray seemed to eye him before continuing its path. Harry and Hermione followed the big fish for a while, then turned away, swimming towards the wreck again.

    As they neared it, he spotted something golden floating in the water, behind the hull’s remains, and almost rushed towards it before he realized it wasn’t a snitch. Maybe Hermione was right when she said he was taking Quidditch too seriously. It looked like… strands of hair?

    Then a head popped up, a girl’s face, with gills. A siren!

    Hermione was a few meters to his right. He slowly swam towards her, not leaving the siren out of his sight, until he could touch his girlfriend and point her at the creature. He thought he heard her gasp through the water.

    For a while, they stared at each other, not moving other than to keep in place. Then the siren swam up and towards them. Unlike the merpeople in the Black Lake, she looked like a human girl with a fishtail instead of legs. As far as he knew, sirens were the result of magical chimera experiments, like centaurs. And as touchy about anyone bringing that up.

    The siren stopped about three yards in front of them, cocking her head and smiling, showing a row pearly white teeth that looked just a bit off. She seemed to be a bit younger than Harry, if she aged like a human, and was only wearing some decorative pieces of coral and shells on her human half. He waved at her, slowly, and smiled in what he hoped was a friendly way for sirens. Hagrid had been talking about threat displays, and showing teeth was often part of that, but the siren didn’t look threatening, despite showing her own teeth. Maybe that was the human part of her heritage.

    She waved back, and he could see the webbing between her fingers, then she swam around the two of them, faster than they could move, before she started touching and poking them, apparently amused by their appearance. He glanced to Hermione. His girlfriend was staring, and trying not to squirm when the siren’s hands ran through her hair.

    “Hello,” Harry spoke up. He didn’t know if she could hear or understand him, but it seemed silly not to say anything.

    The creature turned towards him, and said something he didn’t understand. It didn’t sound like Mermish, at least it wasn’t as high-pitched. He pointed at himself. “Harry.”

    Hermione followed his example, or so he thought - he could hardly hear her through the two bubblehead charms.

    The siren giggled, pointed at herself and said something equally unintelligible, then darted forward, tapping Harry on the head, then sped away, stopping and looking over her shoulder after about 20 yards.

    Harry understood, and gave chase. The siren was far too quick and nimble to be caught though, even with him and Hermione working together. Until he cast the supercavitation spell. Then it became a high-speed game of tag, mostly between him and the siren - Hermione was a bit too cautious when using the spell to tag either of them often.

    Harry didn’t know how long they had been playing, only that it had been less than an hour, since his spell hadn’t run out, but the game ended when the siren suddenly cocked her head, as if listening to something, then pouted before smiling, bowed to them - sort of - then waved and swam away, towards the deeper waters.

    Harry and Hermione waved back, then returned to the surface themselves. Harry was smiling widely - this vacation was turning out to be perfect, even with his episode during the full moon!

    *****​

    Vincent stepped in front of her, and was hit by the curse meant for her. He turned around slowly, and she saw his ruined chest, broken ribs poking through shredded skin, blood gushing out where his heart had been. “Your fault!” he said, blood spewing from his mouth, as he staggered towards her. “Your fault!”

    Pansy Parkinson woke with a gasp. That nightmare again. Vincent dying, and blaming her. The witch sat up and wrapped her arms around her knees, shivering. If not for her enchanted night clothes, she’d be drenched in sweat, or so she thought. She closed her eyes, and tried to think of something else, anything else, than Vincent’s death.

    No one blamed her for it. At least not to her face. Greengrass and Davis even called her a hero, for saving Davis. Their families did it too. Her and Greg. And Vincent. A hero! She snorted. She wasn’t a hero. She had just done what a good Slytherin would have done! Seen an opportunity, and used it, while saving herself! Vincent had been a hero. A damned, foolish, dead hero. He was supposed to be a Slytherin, not a Gryffindor!

    Why had Vincent done that? Why had he stepped in front of her? Had he thought his shield would protect him? Had he hoped she’d owe him her life? Or had he known what he was doing, what he was risking?

    Would he be alive if she had not stumbled on the Death Eater and frozen in surprise? Or if she hadn’t taken Draco’s place?

    Was it her fault that he had died?

    Pansy shook her head almost violently. It was the fault of the Death Eaters! They had attacked the Express! They had killed the students! Even the pureblood Slytherins!

    She ground her teeth. The Dark Lord wasn’t supposed to do that. He was supposed to attack mudbloods and blood traitors. Do what’s needed to make Britain strong again. To restore the Old Families’ power. That was what Draco had always said.

    But Draco had been an idiot. And she’d been an idiot for believing him. No one who wanted to restore the Old Families’ power would attack the children, the heirs, of those families. Nor would he stoop to using werewolves, and other dark creatures. She’d heard her mother blame Dumbledore, for failing to protect the children under his care. And the Ministry, for arriving too late. For being fooled by the Dark Lord’s spies. And she had seen how afraid they were of losing her.

    That was what the Dark Lord had been after, she realized. Fear, and loss of trust in Dumbledore and the Ministry. That was what the students had been killed for. What Vincent, had been killed for. They had been mere means to an end. Tools to be sacrificed, like chess pieces.

    Pansy hissed, clenching her jaws together until it hurt. She was no piece to be moved around, to be sacrificed for anyone! Damn the werewolves! Damn the Death Eaters! Damn the Dark Lord!

    Rage filled her. So much rage and pain, she wanted to lash out, to hit something, anything.

    When she noticed that the glass on her nightstand was shaking, as was the bookshelf next to it, she forced herself to calm down. She hadn’t suffered an episode of accidental magic since she had received her wand. She’d not start now.

    She was a pureblood witch, and she would act like it!

    And she’d train harder than ever. With Greg and anyone else who didn’t want to be a sacrifice for the Dark Lord.

    *****​

    Henry Blagrove sat in his favorite chair, on the balcony overlooking his garden. Next to him stood a servant, with a tray of fruits and his favorite drink. As all who served him and his family in the house, the man was completely under his control, unable to even move a finger without an order - Henry’s servants wouldn’t be as easy to manipulate as his predecessor’s.

    His grandchildren were playing under one of the palm trees in the garden, but he wasn’t looking at them, or at anything. He was thinking about Harry Potter. Who’d have expected that the Boy-Who-Lived would be taking a vacation in Jamaica? Or that his disguise would be broken by a curse, right in Henry’s presence? It was clear that the spirits had wanted this to happen.

    What wasn’t clear was why they had wanted this to happen. Was he supposed to help the boy dealing with whatever ritual magic was hurting him, indebting Potter and by extension Dumbledore to him in the process? Or was he supposed to use the opportunity to forge an alliance with the Dark Lord Voldemort? Either option offered a lot of possible rewards, and risks.

    Dumbledore owing him a favor would strengthen his position on the island. Just being seen on good terms with the old wizard’s protégé would make his rivals wonder what his relationship to the Supreme Mugwump was. They’d be cautious, and would be less likely to move against him. The Boy-Who-Lived was a contact to be cultivated in his own right. Despite his young age, he was a Basilisk Slayer, the winner of the Triwizard Tournament, and of course the slayer of the Dark Lord Voldemort. He’d certainly leave his mark on Britain. And his retainer was interested in voodoo. Yes, there was quite the potential there. Although from what his contacts told him, Lucius Booth had visited the boy already. Booth was Dumbledore’s wand on the island in all but name, and might have dealt with whatever curse had afflicted the boy already.

    On the other hand, if Voldemort won he would be Dumbledore’s successor. The one to be feared. And while he was not as trustworthy as Dumbledore, he’d be in need of allies among the International Confederation of Wizards. Someone who helped him during the current war in Britain, and then offered support - discreet, but substantial - in international affairs could gain a lot. But then, how likely was Voldemort’s victory?

    The Dark Lord had been defeated once already. Whether it had been the Boy-Who-Lived, or his parents, it hadn’t taken Dumbledore to do the deed. And from what he could tell, the Dark Lord wasn’t doing well in the current war either. His attack on school children smelled of a desperate tactic. To attack children was to attack a country’s future. That wasn’t the mark of a good ruler.

    No, he didn’t think the Dark Lord would prevail. But was the possible gain from helping the boy worth the risk should the Dark Lord end up winning despite the odds? Dumbledore wasn’t getting any younger. Although he had been Flamel’s favorite student. And The Alchemist wasn’t getting any older…

    He took a sip from his drink, and levitated a fruit to his hand. Decisions, decisions. Not doing anything would be the safest course of action, but to let such an opportunity slip through his fingers didn’t sit well with him. And might anger the spirits.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger put down the notes she had been taking - from a rather dry treatise on the speculative origin of the “Ravenous Cold”, but quite informative - and looked out at the sea. Not a single cloud was in sight, the sea was calm, she could spot a few bright white sailing yachts near the horizon, on one of them would be her parents… it was a sight straight out of a tourist ad. A tropical paradise. And it was real.

    The young witch stood up and stepped out on the porch, transfiguring her summer robes into a bikini and a sunhat, then stretched in the sun. Valérie was sitting at the pool, resting from her latest ‘therapy session’. A faint whooping sound drew her attention to the sea, where Harry and Sirius were practising crazy stunts on their brooms. She shook her head, then looked back at the veela, who had a faint look of longing and hope on her face. Justified hope - she was, if not healing, then at least adapting rather well. Hermione expected her to be flying again soon.

    Walking over to the pool, she summoned her sun tanning lotion and her favorite towel. Valérie greeted her with a smile while the towel settled itself over the chair next to the veela. “Finished with studying for today?”

    Hermione nodded. “For a while at least.” A flick of her wrist had a dollop of lotion spread over her skin, and another changed her bikini’s fabric so there wouldn’t be tan lines, then she sat down next to the veela.

    The young witch remembered last summer, at the Côte d’Azur. She had been so insecure, with her and Harry surrounded by all those veela. Jealous too. She glanced over at Valérie. She still was jealous. Sort of. But she wasn’t insecure anymore. Harry loved her. She loved him. And neither oath nor life debt mattered.

    She closed her eyes, removed the hat and enjoyed the sun for a while. After all the stress of the last year, and the horror of the attack on the Hogwarts Express, this vacation was shaping up to be perfect. Even, she thought with a twinge of guilt, the absence of their friends was perfect. It let her spend a lot more time alone with Harry. Especially in the evenings, and nights. She smiled at the memories.

    Then she frowned. The two of them were still holding back. Waiting. What for? His birthday? Her birthday? The start of their sixth year? Equinox or solstice? Some sign from the gods, or magic itself?

    Hermione scoffed. This was between her and Harry. Magic wouldn’t influence it.

    *****​

    Harry Potter looked up from the book he was reading on his bed when the secret door connecting his and Hermione’s room opened. She was coming over, as usual since the full moon, for some snogging, and petting. His girlfriend was wearing a sheer white camisole top, and matching panties, as he could see when she turned to close the door.

    He watched as the witch slowly walked over to him, hips swaying, a smile on her face. Lessons from Valérie, he thought. And he grinned when he saw that she was forcing herself not to ask what he was reading, or to try to sneak a glance of the pages.

    “It’s a book about the tactics of Grindelwald’s Storm Wizards during the war, written by Peter Rockhurst, a British hit-wizard who fought them,” he said showing her the spine.

    “Ah.” Hermione climbed on the bed and straddled him. She didn’t ask if she could read it when he was done. Or if it was any good. Instead she started kissing him right away. He didn’t mind.

    When they broke the kiss, both were panting, and his hands had slipped under her top. “Do… do you think your parents suspect what we are doing?” Sirius had told him enough stories about angry parents of his past conquests to worry about such things.

    Hermione ran a hand through his hair, the other resting on his chest. “Yes. Mum asked me what wizards used for contraception when we arrived here. Since then neither she nor dad have said anything.”

    They hadn’t said anything… that meant they hadn’t said anything against what the two were doing. And Sirius clearly (and sometimes loudly) approved of it. Anyone else didn’t matter.

    He pulled her top off, then kissed and caressed her again. A bit later, her panties had vanished, as had his shorts, and both were flushed, and sweaty. It was time to stop before they went too far.

    “Tonight we’re not stopping!” Hermione said, as if she had read his thoughts, then pushed him down on his back and stared at him.

    He met her eyes for a moment, both of them panting. She looked determined, but also nervous. Then he nodded, and pulled her down on him.


    Chapter 43: Temptations
     
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2015
    bukay, Pezz, DonLyn and 11 others like this.
  26. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    I added another scene right before the last one.
     
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  27. steamrick

    steamrick Matter: protons, electrons, neutrons and morons

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    Very nice.
    Had a long, slow buildup... now let's see how Hermione reacts to Susan wanting to follow through on her suggestion for a threesome in the new school year.
     
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  28. Threadmarks: Chapter 43: Temptations
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 43: Temptations

    The next morning Hermione Granger wasn’t certain how she should feel about having slept with Harry. The romance novels she had read - mostly in secret - made a big deal about losing one’s virginity. So did the gossip in the girls’ dorms. According to those sources, she was now a woman. And a unicorn would shun her now.

    She didn’t feel that differently. She felt satisfied, in more than one way, at having done it. She was even proud, both for having been the one to initiate it, and for having done it when she chose to, and not when anyone else thought it would be appropriate. And while it hadn’t been the mind-blowing, magical moment some novels described it as, it had been very satisfying in the end. Certainly a memory she would cherish for the rest of her life.

    Though she did feel a bit guilty as well. She had been a bit pushy - though Harry hadn’t seemed to offer any resistance. And she had sort of, maybe, left her parents in the dark. Though they had at least given their implied consent. Still, she wouldn’t exactly blurt out ‘We’ve done it!’ at breakfast. Unless anyone asked.

    Unicorns hadn’t mattered in her life before, not counting that time right after she had read ‘The Last Unicorn’, so she didn’t see how their opinions should matter at all.

    She would, she decided, simply go on as before. Well, she added mentally with a smile as she looked at the dozing form of Harry, sprawled out next to her on the bed, mostly as before. She was quite certain they’d not stop or hold back as they had before, from now on.

    And she was looking forward to it. Very much.

    *****​

    Harry Potter woke up with a weight on his chest. A by now familiar weight - Hermione’s head, cocked to the side. Contrary to other mornings she was awake already, and smiling at him, close enough so he could see her clearly without his glasses.

    “Good morning.” The young witch was smiling widely at him while she brushed some of her currently straight hair back behind her ear.

    “Good morning.” He flicked his wrist and felt his wand slide into his hand, then summoned his glasses. As he slid them on he cast his usual Sticking Charm on them. Between quidditch, pranks, and hexes in the hallways, it had been one of the first spells he had mastered.

    For a moment the two looked at each other without saying anything while their smiles grew. Harry was searching for something to say. Something that wasn’t utterly cliche or would cheapen last night. He wasn’t having much success. ‘I wish you had had your natural hair’ wouldn’t be appropriate, or smart.

    “So…” Hermione stared at him.

    “So…“ he trailed off, then glanced at the secret door to her room.

    She had noticed, and twisted a strand of her hair around her finger while she bit her lower lip. “Do you want to keep this a secret?”

    “Not really. That would feel wrong. But announcing it would feel wrong too,” Harry said, reaching out to put his hand on hers. It would feel like bragging too.

    “Then we don’t do either. We just act as usual,” Hermione said, nodding emphatically.

    “Alright.”

    They could do that.

    *****​

    At breakfast, Harry found out that they couldn’t.

    “You look quite tired. Did you have a wild night?” Sirius greeted him as he arrived at the table on the porch.

    “Of course,” Harry answered, trying to sound deadpan and sarcastic. “We didn’t actually sleep that much.”

    Judging by the way Sirius’s eyebrows rose, the young wizard hadn’t succeeded. Hermione blushing slightly when his godfather whipped his head around to study her didn’t help, of course. He could see the moment when Sirius realized they had had sex; the wizard’s eyes widened, and he was gaping for a second, before he whooped. “You really did it!” Then he apparently remembered where they were, and blinked. “Oops.”

    Harry wanted to hex him very much right then.

    He might have, if not for the reaction of Sirius’s girlfriends.

    “Vraiment?”

    “‘ermione!”

    “Ohhh!”

    “Raconte!”

    The four veela clustered around Hermione, squealing even, and started to bombard Harry’s girlfriend with rapid questions, half of them in French, while he and the others at the table stared at them in surprise. Harry’s French wasn’t that good, but from what he understood, they were asking quite intimate questions about last night. Hermione’s expression, a mix between shock and embarrassment, seemed to support that assumption.

    Hermione’s father coughed. “Well… what is planned for today?” Then he blinked, and cut off Sirius before Harry’s godfather could make what would have almost certainly been a lewd remark. “I mean, do we visit Port Royal?”

    “I’d love to visit the sunken town. Or not quite sunken town,” Hermione’s mother chimed in. After a glance at Sirius, who was now staring at them, she added. “Really, it’s quite a normal for teenagers to have sex. We expected this for a while.”

    Harry thought she sounded a bit too nonchalant, but he’d be the last to point this out. Nonchalance was good. “I think we can visit during the afternoon,” he ventured, with a glance at the the four French witches. They appeared to have calmed down, and Hermione’s face had started to return to her normal color, but they seemed determined to grill her in private after breakfast.

    “Oh, I have to tell Moony! He owes me ten galleons now!” Sirius grinned and took out his enchanted mirror.

    “You bet on when we’d have sex?” Harry blurted out. He shouldn’t have been surprised, really, but still…

    “Of course!” Sirius flashed a wide grin at him, then started to call his best friend through the mirror.

    Well, Harry thought, it was better than his godfather asking him for details. Or trying to give him pointers.

    *****​

    “Dear Ron…”

    Ron Weasley threw the parchment on the table. He had read the letter from Padma twice already. She was in India, visiting family. She couldn’t tell him more because her parents feared for her and her sister’s safety.

    He pushed his chair away from his desk, enjoying how the backrest adjusted when he leaned back. The cushioning charms were holding up as well. Who would have thought he’d actually get something useful out of the homework he had to do during the vacation?

    His amusement was short-lived. He didn’t expect Hermione-length letters from Padma, but something more than what amounted to ‘the weather and food are fine’ would have been nice. Especially after he had written a rather long letter. For his standards, at least. A rather personal letter too.

    The redheaded wizard sighed, closing his eyes as he slowly spun around with his chair. What really ruined his mood was that he was actually sort of glad Padma had written that letter. It made him feel less guilty about having caused her to be obliviated. And about planning to break up with her.

    He had thought a lot about it. About them. About Padma. He liked her. She was smart, she was pretty, she was nice. And she liked him. Or had liked him. And for a while, it had been great. But it hadn’t been great for a while now. Padma… he didn’t really understand what had changed. She hadn’t been as jealous at the start of their relationship as she had been at the end of the last year. Not even when her sister had hit on him. She had liked hearing about Parvati’s attempts at flirting with him.

    He didn’t understand why she had changed so much that she’d be jealous of Parkinson. As if he’d ever get together with a girl like her! A Slytherin to the core, and Malfoy’s ex! Ron shook his head at the idea. And yet Padma had been so worked up about the snake after each session of the Hogwarts Self-defense Club, they often had a fight afterwards. Ron didn’t want a girlfriend he fought with so often. Did that make him a lazy wizard?

    He didn’t know. He did know though that there was another reason for breaking up with Padma. The Ravenclaw witch didn’t really fit in with his friends. It wasn’t that they clashed - though Padma was jealous of Hermione as well - but he was the best friend of Harry and Hermione, and they had bigger problems, much bigger problems, than worrying about who was going out with whom, or who was best in class. Padma probably hadn’t really understood that until the attack on the Express.

    And if he was honest with himself, then he had to admit that he didn’t think she could handle it. Or she’d have written a different letter.

    He sighed. It looked like he’d start the Year of Exploration as a single wizard. A year ago, he’d have been happy. But a year ago, he hadn’t had a girlfriend yet. Hadn’t known what he would be missing. What he was already missing. Though he didn’t know if he was missing Padma, or just a girlfriend.

    He stood up and pulled out his shrunken broom. Maybe flying a bit would help him clear his thoughts.

    *****​

    “What did you and the Delacours talk about?”

    Hermione Granger looked around before answering Harry’s question. Her parents were still studying the Governor’s Palace of Port Royal, and the animated statues in front of it that were depicting and reenacting the island’s history. Though, as she understood, the history was presented in a more than slightly edited version. Laure and Chantal were nearby, but currently talking to - and probably getting propositioned by - a few locals.

    “Sex,” she finally said.

    “Sex?”

    She didn’t think Harry should be as surprised as he sounded. “Yes. Apparently there’s a tradition of talking about your first night among the French. Or at least among the French witches of the Delacour family.” The British witch was still a bit doubtful with regards to the exact age of that tradition - the four veela had been living with Sirius for close to a year now, after all, and the man loved his pranks. Although the talk had been far more informative and comforting than what she’d have expected of a prank.

    “So, you’ve discussed us with them?” Harry sounded almost apprehensive, and she saw him glance towards the two veela with them.

    Hermione shook her head. “No. We talked about sex in general.”

    “Ah.”

    His relief was obvious, and irked her. Did he really think she’d do that? “They did have a lot of advice though.”

    “For…?”

    “Yes.” And that was all she was saying. Let him steam on that a bit. “What did Sirius say?”

    Harry flinched a bit.

    “That bad?” Hermione knew Sirius rather well, after several years, but he still managed to surprise her - for good or ill - regularly.

    “Just very enthusiastic. And he had a lot of advice as well.” Harry was staring at the slight shimmering barrier that surrounded the town and marked the end of the displacement effect that protected it from muggle eyes and lifted it above sea level.

    “Well, that was to be expected. He had a lot of advice for you and me for years.” Mostly of the inappropriate kind, Hermione thought.

    “Yes. And he has a lot more.”

    “Anything good?” Hermione quipped before she could help herself, then giggled at Harry’s gaping expression.

    Her boyfriend shook his head, but he was smiling. “We can share the advice later.”

    “OK.” More knowledge wouldn’t hurt, after all.

    “Now let’s visit the ghost ship!” He slipped his arm into hers and started to steer her towards the pier ahead of them.

    “It’s not actually a ghost ship, you know,” Hermione said while they were walking along the pier. They couldn’t actually step on the ship, alas. “Just a haunted former pirate ship.”

    “Close enough,” Harry answered, then grinned at her disapproval.

    “It’s more than just a haunted ship, Miss Granger.”

    Hermione’s wand shot into her hand even while Harry moved in front of her - his wand already out and pointed at the man who had surprised them. The houngan who had surprised them, she corrected herself while dread filled her. Blagrove. He hadn’t appeared from nowhere, but neither she nor Harry had recognized him until he had spoken - they had just seen a random passer-by.

    The man seemed not to be concerned about Harry’s wand, or hers. Or even those of Laure and Chantal, who were approaching quickly. He pointed at the ship. “It’s actually a national treasure. Or a myth, if you prefer. The ‘Ellen’s Fortune’ was originally a pirate ship whose crew had flaunted the Statute of Secrecy in the first half of the 18th Century, preying on muggle shipping with the aid of magic. The British Ministry managed to bring her up after a hunt that lasted for years, and had her crew executed at this very spot. They planned to use the ship themselves, but the ghosts prevented that. Before they could be exorcised, the War of Independence began, and to the British Ministry’s surprise, the ship and her crew proved very helpful for the Maroon forces, providing essential support for the siege of Port Royal. She became the island’s flagship after the war, and has held that position ever since.” With a grin, the man added: “She still sorties once per year, but of course the Statute of Secrecy as well as muggle shipping are quite safe from her now.” Hermione realized he had a very faint British accent, something she hadn't noticed during their brief first meeting.

    “That’s very interesting,” Harry stated, lowering his wand. He was right, Hermione thought, even if he didn’t mean it. “I’m very sorry for drawing my wand on you, but you startled us, sir,” Harry added while he holstered his wand. They were in public, after all, and Dumbledore’s friend had been quite clear on how to treat the houngan. At least she had felt the familiar tingle of a privacy spell.

    She stuck her own wand back into its holster and stepped a bit to the side, to her usual spot slightly behind Harry, before she remembered that she wasn’t in Britain. Smiling politely, she stepped forward, next to Harry. “After the recent unpleasantness in Britain, we’re a bit nervous.”

    Blagrove nodded, smiling graciously. “All too understandable.” He nodded towards the two veela, who were close enough now to have entered the range of the privacy spell. “My ladies Delacour.” At least Hermione’s parents were keeping their distance. “I apologize for startling you, but my curiosity overcame my manners.”

    A peculiar wording, Hermione thought. Had this been a sort of test? He obviously knew a lot about them already. For a moment she wondered if he had spied on them last night, then dismissed that notion. The wards on the villa had been too strong for that.

    Harry must have shared her thoughts, since he spoke up. “Let us consider the matter over then, Mister Blagrove.”

    Blagrove smiled, flashing perfect teeth at them. “Of course. I trust you feel better after your recent accident, Mister Potter.”

    “It was nothing to be concerned about. Just a little mishap.” Harry smiled, though Hermione knew it was forced. As was her own smile. Her worst fears about Harry’s vision were coming to pass; the houngan had not only recognized Harry, he was also interested in him.

    “I wouldn’t make light of such an event, Mister Potter. Such magic can be very dangerous.” He smiled again, friendly, but with a warning, or threatening undertone. “Julius is a capable wizard, but he’s no houngan. He’s not privy to the kind of magic you seem to be dealing with. Or seeking.”

    Hermione had to struggle not to shiver when Blagrove’s gaze fell on her with his last words.

    “But you are.” Harry took a small step towards her.

    “Yes, Mister Potter. And I do not think that it was mere coincidence that you suffered such an episode when we met for the first time. It was a sign.” Blagrove wasn’t smiling now, but staring at them. “Though this is not the place for such a discussion,” the man added, almost casually, without elaborating further.

    He was fishing for an invitation, Hermione realized. She didn’t know if that was reassuring - meeting him under their own wards would grant them quite an advantage - or if inviting him would place them in more danger. Though she was quite certain that spurning the houngan was dangerous.

    Harry must have come to the same conclusion. “Might I invite you to our temporary home, Mister Blagrove? Tomorrow evening, maybe?”

    “I’d be delighted, Mister Potter.” The man was beaming at them.

    Hermione felt a cold shiver run down her spine.

    *****​

    Henry Blagrove was in a good mood when he apparated back to his home. Not because of the invitation by the Boy-Who-Lived. That he had expected. It would have been terribly rude, after all, not to invite one of the de facto rulers of the island, and the boy was anything but rude.

    No, Henry was in a good mood because the boy had, so far, lived up to his reputation. He also had quick reflexes, courage enough to face Henry, as well as both decent training in combat and the knowledge when not to use that. Quite impressive for someone so young, but then - he was the Boy-Who-Lived, and Dumbledore’s protégé.

    In other words, the boy was worth the trouble of getting involved in that mess in Britain, even if only on the sidelines. And his girl was showing some promise as well - from what his contacts had gathered, she had shown remarkable potential in spellcrafting. She was very skilled already.

    Even if the two turned out to be disappointing upon further testing, Henry meeting them in public - his privacy spells hid their words, nothing more - would have ensured that no one of his rivals would be contacting them for fear of provoking Henry, even though they wouldn’t have recognized the boy yet. Preventing any other houngan from making inroads with Dumbledore’s protégé was a success in itself, and well worth setting up the meeting at the pier.

    On the other hand, whoever was cursing the boy was likely to notice him as well. Since Potter was still alive, it couldn’t be a houngan. At least not one of importance. Maybe an apprentice who had managed to flee his master, and was now serving Voldemort. Most likely from Haiti - the houngans there were not quite as diligent with controlling those they taught as the Jamaicans were.

    If he played his cards right Henry could both indebt Dumbledore to him, for saving the boy, and his fellow houngans, for preventing Dumbledore from blaming them for the actions of some stray apprentice.

    And, maybe, get another apprentice as well.

    Unless allying himself with Voldemort turned out to be more profitable.

    *****​

    Sirius Black was in a very good mood. Ecstatic, even. Or as close to ecstatic as he could get, without a nude woman in his arms. His godson had done it! All of Sirius’s efforts in making those two loosen up some had finally paid off! Harry and Hermione were no longer wasting time dancing around each other, they were having sex! His godson was a man now! He could teach him so many things at last!

    If only James and Lily could see their son and his girlfriend… Sirius sighed, melancholy replacing his joy. Their deaths still hurt, even after all those years. Damn traitorous rat! He sat down on the closest chair on the veranda and stared out at the sea, trying to remember the good times with his friends.

    “You seem rather sad for a proud godfather.” Valérie’s voice interrupted his attempt to recollect what exactly the Marauders had done to earn themselves a full month in detention in their fourth year. It had involved the showers in the quidditch locker room, he was certain of that, but the rest was hazy - lost in Azkaban, like so many others of his memories.

    He smiled at the witch, and leaned back in his seat. She accepted his unspoken invitation and sat down in his lap. “I’m just thinking of the reaction of Harry’s parents,” he said, holding her.

    “What would they say?” She rested her head on his chest.

    “James would be proud, and boasting. We’d be drinking together. Lily … Lily would have known what they were going to do beforehand. Probably before Harry even. She was just that smart.”

    “Like ‘ermione?”

    “Somewhat. Lily was brilliant, like Hermione.” Less prude though, now that he thought of it. Ah, the 70s… “But she was better with people. Hermione’s a bit… reserved.”

    “Mh.”

    He raised an eyebrow at her even though she wasn’t looking at him. “You disagree?”

    “I’d call ’er discreet, not reserved.”

    “Ah. Your talk.” His imagination ran wild for a bit, until Valérie poked his side.

    “You talked to ‘arry.”

    “I did!” His godson had even listened, more than usual, when Sirius had gone into detailed advice. At least for a while.

    “Good.” She leaned back against him and shifted her weight a bit around.

    The two sat in silence for a bit, watching the azure sea. Two seagulls were circling above the beach, looking for food. Sirius knew Valérie was staring at the birds with longing.

    “I think it’s time for your therapy,” he said while squeezing her hand. It wouldn’t do to slack off, not when she was getting so close to being able to fly again.

    “I guess so.” Sighing, she stood up and stretched. Once again Sirius was tempted to ask her to delay.

    But he simply watched as his girlfriend concentrated, as feathers appeared and wings sprouted from her back, one well-formed, perfect as her human form, the other slightly crooked, and darker in spots, missing some feathers. Her robe adjusted automatically to her new body - not that the few scraps of fabric floating around her needed much adjustment to start with.

    Sirius cast a few cushioning charms, earning him a slight glare. If Valérie had been in human form he knew she would have pouted.

    “That’s not too encouraging,” she said, with the slight screeching undertone of her transformed form.

    He smiled. “Habit.”

    “As long as you stop doing it once I am ‘ole again…”

    With that she started to flap her wings, sending grains of sand and even a few small pebbles flying away from her spot. Sirius could see how she was straining, fighting her own, maimed body. Earlier this week he had mentioned that according to Harry, she might have already been flying if she had taken a running start, and used thermal updrafts to help her… Valérie and her cousins had been quick and vocal, very vocal in pointing out that ‘gliding was not flying’. Apparently, they had known what Harry had meant.

    Now the French witch was sort of hopping, jumping up, then touching the ground again, despite her wings working hard. But each time her jumps lasted longer. It still wasn’t flying…

    And then Valérie jumped, and didn’t get back down. Instead she was climbing, circling above the pool, into the sky.

    For a moment, the animagus stared, almost frozen. She had done it! She was flying! Then he pulled out his broom, unshrunk it, and mounted it to join her in the air.

    Sirius caught up to his girlfriend above the sea, where she was chasing the seagulls they had seen earlier. The poor birds were screeching in panic, even though they were easily evading the still clumsy bird-woman. Valérie herself was screeching in joy, diving at the birds, then pulling up and gaining more altitude before repeating her ‘attacks’.

    He stopped his broom, and simply watched her play in the wind. Could this day get any better?

    Of course, that was when Valérie overdid it and failed to pull up, doing a credible imitation of a seeker who had fallen for a wronski feint, straight into the sea. He dove after her, concerned - she hadn’t been that high, and hadn’t been going that fast, but still…

    There she was! Resurfacing, scowling and sputtering - she had transformed back - but alive and healthy! He stopped near her, and reached down to give her a hand.

    Maybe he shouldn’t have grinned quite so widely at her predicament. He saw her expression change into a smirk, and before he could react she had dispelled the Sticking Charm keeping him on his broom and pulled him into the water.

    He hadn’t felt as happy in a long time as he did right then, splashing into the Caribbean Sea. His girlfriend was flying again, and pranking him. And his godson was a man.

    And he had great fun hexing the seagulls, after Valérie told him they were laughing at them.

    *****​

    “You did what?!”

    Harry Potter, sitting on a couch in the villa’s salon with Hermione, winced at the volume of Sirius’s shout. “I invited Mister Blagrove, the houngan we talked about with Mister Booth, to the villa tomorrow evening.”

    “Why? That man’s dangerous!” Sirius stood before him, hands gesticulating wildly.

    “That’s why I did it,” Harry responded. “It was obvious that he was expecting an invitation, and I suspect he’d have felt insulted if I hadn’t invited him. And I don’t think insulting one of the rulers of the island is a good idea. Or safe.” He met his godfather’s gaze until the older wizard sighed and sank into one of the armchairs in the room.

    “Merlin’s balls, Harry! A houngan! They don’t like British wizards. At all.”

    “Even if they do, Booth claimed that they still fear Dumbledore and won’t anger him,” Harry said.

    “Unless they’re allies of the Dark Lord,” Sirius shot back.

    “If that was the case, wouldn’t he have done something when he saw us at the pier?” Hermione added.

    “Houngans have a reputation for avoiding open battles, instead striking with curses from afar.” His godfather hissed through clenched teeth.

    “Not counting the zombie attacks,” Harry responded - he had done his homework, after all. “And if he plans to curse us from the safety of his enclave, why would he want to visit us?”

    “He needs a link for his magic. Blood or hair, usually.” Sirius stared at him. “You aren’t missing either, are you?”

    Harry shook his head.

    “I’ve vanished all his blood when he had his vision.” Hermione leaned into him, a comforting presence at his side.

    Sirius closed his eyes. “Damn it! Why did we pick Jamaica as a vacation spot?” He blinked, then narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “That was Dumbledore’s recommendation. He said it was safer to meet the Grangers here. His friend arranged everything…”

    Harry felt his girlfriend tense up. He wrapped his arm around her waist in response.

    Sirius was looking from Harry to Hermione and back. “Did you expect this meeting?”

    Hermione sighed, then answered: “I didn’t, though I suspect the Headmaster took the possibility into account.”

    Sirius stood up and stared at the witch so intently, Harry fought the urge to step in front of her and shield her with his body. “What’s going on? What are you planning with Dumbledore that you would meet with a houngan?”

    Hermione took a deep breath, but Harry spoke before she started to explain: “They’re looking for a way to remove the thing stuck in my scar without killing me.” He felt a pang of guilt when Sirius paled and collapse back in his seat.

    “Merlin! That’s …” the older wizard trailed off. “Dumbledore thinks it’ll take this?”

    Hermione nodded. “We’ve been working on ways to deal with it. Sympathetic magic is one of the more promising options.”

    Sirius stared at the witch, and Harry could almost see how his godfather figured out what the plan was - the animagus was looking at Hermione as if she was a houngan. The young wizard pulled her into his lap in response, and glared at his godfather until the man smiled weakly in apology.

    “We’ll do what’s needed,” Hermione said.

    Sirius rubbed his face, then nodded. “Of course.”

    Harry felt another pang of guilt. Those two would do anything for him, pay any price. Even if he would do the same for either of them, he didn’t feel as if he was worth it.

    The three remained silent for a while.

    “We still need to prepare for this ‘neighbourly visit’,” Sirius finally declared, breaking the silence. “Even with Dumbledore’s reputation protecting us, we’ll have to make sure our visitor can’t get his hands on any hair or blood or other link from any of us. Nor get the opportunity to tamper with our food.” He sighed. “That won’t be easy.”

    “We’ll layer detection spells on all of us, to prevent him from sneaking any control potion in. And we’ll have to clean the house of any of our hair and blood.” Hermione said. “Bathrooms and beds especially,” she added, with a slight blush.

    “We could place some blood and hair, from a dog maybe, as decoys,” Harry proposed. “Just in case he tries something.”

    “Good idea!” Sirius nodded approvingly. “Prank the houngan, sort of!”

    Harry knew his godfather didn’t really think this was a prank, but anything that helped lift their mood was welcome.

    *****​

    “Do you think I’ll be next?”

    Pansy Parkinson looked up at Greg’s words. The two of them were studying in her family’s house, and doing their homework. Or pretending to do it - she hadn’t actually turned a page for the last 10 minutes. “Next?”

    “To die,” the boy said. Most would have missed the slight fear in his voice. Pansy though knew him better than most. “Draco died, killed by the Dark Lord. Vincent died, killed by a Death Eater. I’m the last one left.”

    Pansy gasped, then shook her head emphatically. “No, you won’t die! And you’re not the last. Did you forget me?”

    Greg blinked, then nodded, smiling faintly, and returned to reading his book, apparently reassured of his survival. “Thanks.”

    Pansy closed her eyes. He trusted her. Probably with her life. She didn’t deserve that kind of trust. No one did. She didn’t want that kind of trust. She didn’t want to worry about him.

    And yet she did. And hoped fervently that she hadn’t just lied to Greg. The boy had taken Vincent’s death even worse than he had taken Draco’s. As soon as their parents had allowed it, he’d come visiting her. Her parents thought he was consoling her, being a good friend. Offering support to their distraught daughter.

    They didn’t know him. He had lost his best friend. He might not show it, but he was hurting a lot more than she was. He needed her help more than she needed his. Sighing, she closed her book. “Let’s practise some.”

    She didn’t have to elaborate. Greg knew that when Pansy said ‘practise’ she meant ‘dueling’. They had been practising a lot. And they’d train even more. The next Death Eater attacking them would rue the day he joined the Dark Lord.

    *****​

    Hermione Granger cast another cleaning charm on the salon table. She, Harry and Sirius as well as Valérie and Chantal were waiting for their guest. Her parents were on another day trip, with Laure and Eugénie to keep them safe. She didn’t want to find out the hard way that the houngans didn’t consider her muggle parents part of Harry’s family.

    Not even Sirius made a joke about her constant casting - everyone was all too aware of the reputation of houngans. And everyone was nervous as well. Harry was pacing, Sirius was fidgeting in his seat, after he had sniffed around as Padfoot for any traces of blood left, Valérie was fussing over Sirius and Chantal was checking the villa’s borders and wards.

    Or rather, she was setting down outside the salon. “Someone apparated nearby,” the veela announced, before taking off again - to meet the visitor.

    Harry took his seat next to her, wearing his best robes - his safest, most enchanted ones. As was Hermione herself. Though they’d still have to buy new robes. For Nymphadora’s wedding, and for their sixth year. The first year they wouldn’t have to wear the old school robes. She’d need some time to enchant them as well.

    Then the door opened and she focused on their guest. Mister Blagrove was wearing the same robes he had been wearing yesterday - they looked like rough and simple white trousers and a shirt. Traditional garb for a Jamaican wizard, and apparently, a houngan as well. He was alone. Hermione wasn’t certain if that was a sign that he didn’t mean them any harm, or simply showed how confident the man was. Or that he didn’t want them to see his usual entourage.

    “Welcome Mister Blagrove. I offer you the hospitality of my home.” Sirius was greeting the man with all the ease and grace expected of the head of one of the Old Families hosting a guest in his - if only temporary - home.

    “I accept your hospitality, Mister Black,” the houngan said, bowing with a smile.

    Hermione relaxed. Only slightly though - while attacking one’s host was heavily frowned upon in the Magical World, it wasn’t quite unheard of, and she suspected that later using sympathetic magic through a link obtained as a guest might not be covered by that custom anyway.

    “You’ve met Chantal Delacour already. This is her cousin, Valérie, both dear to me.” The two veela bowed, greeting the man while Sirius introduced them as his girlfriends, or mistresses. Jamaican custom was not as strict about the exact status of one’s lover as Britain.

    “Good afternoon, sir.” Harry was slightly less graceful as he bowed in greeting - he had been raised by muggles, after all, though he had had nearly five years of practise now.

    “It’s an honor to meet the famous Boy-Who-Lived.”

    “My girlfriend, Hermione Granger.”

    With the veela being as charming as expected, Hermione felt a bit like the ugly duckling of the family, with her own bow coming off a bit stiff - she was used to being the retainer at Harry’s back in such situations, not his… girlfriend. Blagrove didn’t notice, or rather, didn’t show that he had noticed.

    “The pleasure’s all mine, Miss Granger.” He bowed as deeply as he had bowed to the others, even if he had a glint in his eyes.

    They took their seats around the low table, Valérie summoning a few snacks and an assortment of drinks to choose from, and they - mostly Sirius - made some small talk for a while, until Chantal and Valérie excused themselves to ‘fly a bit’. Hermione knew they weren’t happy about it, but even Sirius had agreed - after some arguing - that since Harry’s ‘condition’ had been mentioned by the houngan, it was best to keep the talk as private and secret as possible.

    Once the two veela had left, Blagrove raised one eyebrow, and Hermione thought his smile was looking rather more ominous than easy-going. “I take it your girlfriends are not interested in more serious matters.”

    “They’re a bit flighty,” Sirius answered with a grin. Hermione was too tense to glare at him for his joke.

    The houngan nodded at the wizard, though the muggleborn witch couldn’t tell what he really thought. “I trust you have been informed about my offer.”

    “You offered to help with the cause of my ‘episode’,” Harry said, leaning forward.

    “Indeed I did.” Blagrove touched his fingertips togethers. “Someone is affecting you from afar, through a link. It’s obvious.”

    “We gathered that.” Harry said.

    “And you suspect sympathetic magic behind it,” the houngan stated, with a nod towards Hermione. “Hence your purchases in that shop.”

    Hermione dug her fingers into her thigh as she realized that the man didn’t know what was happening - he had to suspect a voodoo curse. Harry’s secret was still safe.

    “And the link works through your scar.” The Jamaican pointed a long finger at Harry’s forehead. “Through the famous mark left by the Killing Curse.” The eager expression on his face made Hermione want to hex him.

    “That is what we suspect, yes,” Harry said, skirting the truth a bit.

    “Which means Voldemort is behind this attack. Or rather, one of his followers with a rudimentary understanding of voodoo. For if he was a houngan, you’d be dead already.” The man grinned smugly. “Fortunately, I’m not such a dabbler, so it should be rather easy to deal with this threat.”

    The houngan was getting rather close to the truth, Hermione thought nervously. And he was entirely too happy about the whole situation. Sirius seemed to share her opinion, judging by the way he tensed up. If he had been in his dog form, he’d have probably growled.

    “Do you offer to kill that wizard?” Harry asked.

    “It’s the most effective way to ensure your safety,” Blagrove claimed. “And your girlfriend’s safety. You’d not be the first man controlled from afar and forced to kill his loved ones,” he added casually.

    Hermione put her hand on Harry’s thigh, gripping it. She knew that while Harry could keep a lid on his temper very well, threatening his family, and especially her, would rile him up.

    “A generous offer,” Sirius cut in. “Though I expect you’d need to use Harry’s scar yourself, to ‘deal’ with that unknown wizard.”

    “You’d be correct, Mister Black.”

    “Which would mean you might be able to use that link yourself, afterwards.” Harry’s godfather leaned forward. He had still a polite smile on his face, but his eyes were cold.

    “Not necessarily. There are ways to protect him from any such attempt.” Blagrove’s smile faded a bit.

    “Ways a houngan would be needed for as well,” Sirius stated.

    Their guest nodded.

    “That seems like far too much power over me to grant anyone, much less a stranger. No offense meant, sir.” Harry smiled at the man, though Hermione could see and feel his tension.

    “None taken.” The houngan’s smile grew stronger. “It’s a legitimate danger, after all - alliances, even friendships, can change, or end.”

    “Well, I think we’ll have to decline your generous offer then.” Harry bowed his head. “I’d rather be dead than a slave. I’m sure you’ll understand that, given your country’s history.” Hermione didn’t know if she should resent Harry for that comment, or not. It struck a bit too close to her own situation.

    “Of course I understand. That’s why I’m offering you an alternative. I could teach your girlfriend ways to deal with this threat.” He stared at her, that chilling smile on his lips again.

    Hermione lifted her chin in response. “Are you offering to teach me voodoo?”

    “As you no doubt know, that would require oaths you’d not be willing to swear. But I’m offering to teach you sympathetic magic. As you no doubt know, houngans are the experts at that kind of magic. And our knowledge is not to be found in books.”

    Hermione bit her lower lip, hard. To learn what she needed, from a houngan… She knew he had ulterior motives - he had to, given his reputation and position. Anyone who had the knowledge that she needed would. She looked at her boyfriend. He didn’t like it, she knew. Had known as soon as she had heard the offer. She shouldn’t like it either. But this could be the best way to save Harry. And the knowledge he was offering her…

    She heard Harry whisper a curse, then he looked away. He knew just as well as she did that they needed this.

    *****​

    Henry Blagrove kept smiling politely, not showing just how pleased he was with the meeting so far. Miss Granger would be accepting his offer. To help her boyfriend, of course. But also because she craved the knowledge he offered. He had taken her measure.

    “We accept your offer to teach us about sympathetic magic, sir,” the girl said. Prim and proper, as expected. He glanced at Black, whose face betrayed none of his emotions. Henry hadn’t expected anything else - the man was the head of one of the Old Families of Britain. His young charges were not quite as skilled in hiding their emotions though.

    The houngan looked at the Boy-Who-Lived, whose face betrayed his reluctance for a moment, before the young wizard nodded his agreement. Henry didn’t miss how the witch frowned, briefly, in response. The girl didn’t like to require the boy’s permission for such agreements. Didn’t like to be under his power. Others might have missed it, but Henry understood the feeling very well - he had been an apprentice for decades, forced to do his master’s bidding, until he had finally managed to break the bindings. And his master. He knew all about facades, and resentment, and the urge to become free, to be your own master.

    “We have an agreement then.” He held out his hand - to the boy, first, which had the girl’s eyes narrow for an instant again. He had a firm grip. Henry turned to the girl, and they shook hands as well.

    “Where will we be instructed, sir?” The witch asked. She was eager, and a bit desperate, Henry thought.

    “I would offer my home, as befitting a teacher, though I think your guardian would agree that this house would serve better.” He glanced at Black, who nodded.

    “I think that would be best.”

    Henry graciously nodded. Of course, the Boy-Who-Lived wouldn’t be visiting Henry’s enclave. Not with that scar of his offering someone a way through his wards. While the wayward apprentice working for Voldemort was no threat, a more skilled houngan was another thing. “Have you studied the books you purchased already?”

    The witch nodded. “I did, though the contradictions between the books and sometimes inside the same book make forming a coherent model of their content a bit difficult. Even though the basic concepts are the same - some parallels to quantum mechanics, maybe - the details vary greatly, and the descriptions of the rituals seem to be more hearsay than actual observations.” She was about to continue when the boy stopped her with a not so subtle touch, and whispered something into her ear. She blushed. “I’m sorry, I got a bit carried away.”

    Henry smiled indulgently. “Don’t be. It’s refreshing to see such enthusiasm from a foreigner. Most seem to fear our traditions, a result of many centuries of ignorance and tales told by our enemies.” And of experiencing the power of the houngans. The British had many reasons to fear their magic. “Please continue.”

    While the girl rambled on, Henry used the opportunity to look at the boy’s scar again, his interest hidden by his glasses’ enchantments. He longed to properly examine the scar, but that was clearly out of the question - at least for now. Maybe the boy would come to trust him enough… Even so he had been able, thanks to the other spells on his glasses, to study the scar somewhat. And even the glimpses he had managed to catch were very interesting.

    The scar was said to be the result of the killing curse, but Henry doubted that. It felt more like soul magic. Similar to certain gris-gris. Maybe it wasn’t a wayward apprentice working for Voldemort, but that dark wizard himself, trying to work his dark arts through the scar? The man could have easily visited the Caribbean in the past, and gathered some of the same books the girl had purchased. Enough information to start him on that path, but not enough to master it.

    Maybe Voldemort had not tried to kill the boy, but to control him, and whatever ritual he had tried had backfired? If the wizard had attempted to duplicate the voodoo ritual Henry was thinking of without proper instructions, such a failure was very likely. Of those who tried to delve into the secrets of voodoo without a master, many met such a fate - the spirits did not react well to what they perceived as slights.

    And yet, the ritual, if that had been it, had not entirely failed. A link had been created. A soul had been touched. A skilled practitioner of the arts, such as Henry himself, might be able to build on that foundation.

    Once the girl had reached the descriptions of rituals in those books, Henry held up his hand. “There’s no need to go over those. You were correct in suspecting that those authors never observed an actual voodoo ritual.” They would have been killed, if they had, or bound. “They might have observed a muggle ceremony, at best. In any case, if it’s agreeable, we could start the lessons tomorrow, in the afternoon. You will not be staying too long on our island, after all.”

    The witch nodded, then glanced at the boy.

    “Alright.” Mister Potter’s agreement was slightly less enthusiastic, and obviously prompted by the girl. Interesting.

    Henry was looking forward to discover more about the boy’s relation to the girl. And about his scar. So much potential, there. He knew now why the spirits arranged this meeting.

    *****​

    “... and they agreed to have daily lessons with the houngan in the rented villa.”

    Albus Dumbledore nodded when Remus had finished his report. “Thank you, Remus.”

    “Did you expect this to happen? Sirius thinks so.” His Defense Teacher seemed to suspect this as well, judging by the way he held himself.

    The Headmaster smiled gently. “I considered the possibility, though I did not expect Mister Blagrove to take an interest.” Which would require some investigating.

    “Why would they need to learn voodoo?” Remus didn’t quite spit the word out, but his scowl made his opinion of that particular magical tradition clear. “I somehow doubt he’s under such a spell.”

    “He is not. And they’re not learning voodoo. Just sympathetic magic.” An important distinction, Albus knew. At least for the public.

    Remus narrowed his eyes. “From a houngan. He’ll not exactly teach them ways to heal people from afar.”

    “The reputation of houngans in Britain has been a bit colored by our history with Jamaica. And a few sensational articles in the Daily Prophet.” He flicked a lemon drop to Fawkes, who gobbled it up.

    “There’s enough truth to the reputation though, behind the legends.”

    Albus couldn’t contradict that. Remus had always been among the most studious of his year. “I trust Harry and Miss Granger not to be lured down that particular path. Sirius will be keeping a close eye on them as well.”

    “I still don’t see the need for those lessons. What… Merlin!” Remus stared at him. “You plan for them to use that to strike at the Dark Lord?”

    He was, in a certain way, though that was not something Remus needed to know, even if the teacher suspected it. “Harry is vulnerable to this kind of magic, and understanding it better will help with protecting him. The Dark Lord has studied the Dark Arts extensively, and I am quite certain he at least looked into voodoo.” The Headmaster was quite certain that Voldemort never tried to learn voodoo too. Tom would never have paid the price the houngans required to teach their magic.

    “Why don’t you research it then?” Remus asked. “You’re the one he fears.”

    “He is not the only one who fears me. I am afraid, but the odds of any houngan teaching me anything are rather small.” His actions in the past, those very few knew about, had ensured that.

    “And the odds of any houngan teaching Harry, despite knowing how close you are, are better?” Remus scoffed.

    “Yes, as your own missive proves.” Albus smiled at Remus as if the other wizard was still a student asking difficult questions in class.

    “The houngan will try to manipulate them. Do you trust the kids and Sirius that much?”

    “Yes.” He had been keeping an eye on the two children for years, after all.

    Remus shook his head. “I don’t like it. And Sirius doesn’t like it either.”

    “I am quite certain that neither Harry nor Miss Granger like it.” And yet they’d do what was needed. As would Albus. “I am in contact with a friend on the island. Mister Blagrove knows that as well.” The man was no fool, after all, or he would have never become a houngan. And he would know the price for hurting the children. The Headmaster changed the topic. “You said Miss Delacour managed to fly again, without the help of magic?”

    Remus nodded. “Yes. Sirius was overjoyed. That was before he knew about the visit.”

    “Remarkable. To think muggle means overcame a curse effect!” This would require further studies.

    “Hermione’s parents claim it’s a simple matter of the body learning how to compensate. If the damage done to her wing had been just a bit worse, it wouldn’t have helped.”

    “Ah. Still, it is a remarkable feat.” And it gave him a few ideas about how this could be adapted for magical healing. He’d have to check with a friend at St. Mungo’s one of those days to see how feasible his ideas were. Once he had the time.

    If not for Remus’s presence, Albus would have sighed. So much to do, so little time…

    *****​

    The Dark Lord Voldemort examined Steinberg’s latest work while the wandmaker hovered nearby, fidgeting and waiting. It was better than the wands used in the attack on the Hogwarts Express, but it wasn’t perfect yet. Probably not even good enough.

    “Has it been tested?”

    “Not in actual battle, my lord.”

    Voldemort was tempted to order a test. Curse fodder going against each other, with a prize to motivate them. But he couldn’t afford it. He hadn’t the manpower to spare for such. He could launch another raid, of course, but that would put even more wands at risk.

    He shook his head. “The wand is still too difficult to master.” Not for him, or for Bella. But the kind of scum who needed those wands to stand a chance against veterans? They were not strong enough to withstand such a wand’s influence for long. Not used to wield such power.

    “Reducing its strength further will reduce its power, my lord.”

    “Find a way around that!” He had a few ideas himself, but since he wasn’t a wandmaker, he couldn’t tell if they were feasible. But with how slowly the work on the ritual went, due to the need to have a full moon to test it, there would be ample time to test several possible ways to improve the wand design.

    And enough time to expand the number of Wizengamot members cursed with lycanthropy.

    And deal with the Boy-Who-Lived.


    Chapter 44: Sympathy
     
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2015
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  29. Threadmarks: Chapter 44: Sympathy
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Chapter 44: Sympathy

    “Sympathetic magic is, in essence, a way to affect the whole through a part of it, no matter the distance between them. It’s a way to target a curse.”

    Hermione Granger nodded to Blagrove’s words as she made notes. She already knew that, of course, from the books she had read, but it wouldn’t do to interrupt the houngan when he had been the one to offer to share his knowledge. A dicta-quill was transcribing the entire lesson, but she always learned better if she made notes of her own.

    The witch had been torn between anticipation and dread while waiting for the man to arrive. Even though the houngan might be her best hope to save Harry, she didn’t trust him too far. Neither did anyone else of their family - as before, they had removed all traces of blood and hair from the villa, though they had skipped the decoys. But they hadn’t stopped there, but gone far further. She almost glanced at the corner again, where Harry’s cloak hid their guardian. If the houngan tried anything to hurt Harry, he’d be stopped. So far he had not tried anything.

    “Some claim that this is possible because even cut off, dead, a body part retains an echo, an imprint of the soul, and this is what links them together.”

    Hermione almost gasped, and only managed not to stare at Harry by focusing on her notes. This was very close to what she was hoping to achieve. But if the secret got out...

    “That is blatantly incorrect. Sympathetic magic works on animals and buildings as well - both lacking souls.”

    That Hermione hadn’t known. The books, and the tales always spoke of humans being controlled or killed from afar, never buildings. She wondered how wards on a building affected such a spell cast at it.

    “For the same reason, the claim that blood is the key to sympathetic magic is wrong. The importance of blood for magic is vastly overrated anyway.” Blagrove scoffed. The very faint British accent she had noticed before was now a bit stronger. She wondered where the Jamaican had picked this up - had he been in Britain, in his past? Was there more behind this statement about blood than magical theory?

    “No, the key to sympathetic magic is that anything and everything is made up from small parts, all which have at least one thing in common, and that by affecting those small parts, you affect the whole. This idea, this concept, is what defines sympathetic magic. The link is not physical, but ideal.”

    Hermione almost raised her arm, as if she was at Hogwarts. She didn’t want to speak out of turn, after all. Blagrove must have noticed her expression, and nodded at her. “Sir, if the link is not physical, why does sympathetic magic need a physical object to work?” All the books agreed on that.

    “The physical object is needed as the target for the curse used with sympathetic magic. Without anything to be affected, no spell will take effect.”

    Hermione nodded - she should have known that. She heard Harry cough and mutter “Semantics” under his breath.

    “That’s the concept. The actual execution is very difficult. It requires a ritual.” Blagrove met her eyes and she thought she saw a hint of amusement in his polite expression. And a challenge.

    She raised her chin slightly in response.

    *****​

    Henry Blagrove smiled while he watched the two teenagers scribe runes on parchment. The girl was as quick a study as he had expected - and hoped - and the boy was, if not quite as quick, not much of a hindrance. As far as teaching them sympathetic magic went. He was a rather large hindrance for recruiting.

    Not that Henry had serious plans to recruit the witch, no matter her potential. Or perhaps because of her potential. She would not make a good apprentice, always chafing at her bonds and quick to question instructions. Like Henry himself had been. And probably willing to employ any means to break free from her master. Like he himself had been. And had done. He’d rather not end up like his old Master.

    No, trying to turn her into an apprentice wouldn’t end well.

    He turned his attention to the Boy-Who-Lived. The only wizard who had survived the Killing Curse. It was no wonder the boy had attracted the attention of the spirits. Both Papa Ghede and the Baron were interested in a wizard so tightly tied to death and the Dark Arts. Henry knew that from personal experience.

    But what were the spirits’ goals? The obvious assumption was that Papa Ghede had protected the child from dying before his time, stopping the Killing Curse, and that the Baron had resurrected the Dark Lord who had cast that very curse. Were Potter and Voldemort just pieces of a match between those two spirits?

    Or was it more complicated? Should the boy have died in his crib, and the Baron had intervened, prompting Papa Ghede to revive the Dark Lord to do what he had been prevented from? It was unlikely, but not impossible that the parents of the boy had made a deal with the Baron, to save their son, sacrificing their own lives as payment.

    If only he could examine the scar! He was certain that this was the clue he needed to unravel this mystery. The scar was not the result of a mere dark curse, that he knew - it was seeped in soul magic. And death. If he knew the scar’s secrets, he’d know what the spirits wanted. And he’d know which spirit he’d help.

    But he couldn’t. Not without starting a fight. And while he was quite confident that he’d win against the boy and his guardians - unless that scar was hiding even more secrets and power that he assumed - the boy was under Dumbledore’s protection. Henry had no illusions what would happen if the Supreme Mugwump arrived on the island because of his actions. His fellow houngans would cast him out, some would even attack him, just to placate the vanquisher of Grindelwald.

    No one had forgotten what had happened to Brandon Whyte and Teresa Manley, forty years ago, and to all their apprentices.

    But if Henry didn’t do anything, he’d anger at least one, maybe both spirits. And he suspected that limiting his lessons to sympathetic magic wasn’t enough to placate either Papa Ghede or the Baron.

    He might have to resort to something houngans only did in dire need.

    “I think that’s enough for today. Study those runes some more, and consider the sacrificial aspects of the ritual. We’ll go over it again tomorrow.”

    *****​

    Harry Potter sighed with relief when Blagrove had left the villa. “I don’t like that man.”

    His girlfriend nodded, after a second. “He’s a good teacher, but…”

    “He’s up to something,” Harry stated.

    “We knew that already when he offered to teach us. No one does that without some ulterior motive.” Hermione collected her notes - which were covering the salon table as well as the dining table.

    Harry handed her the parchment from the dicta-quill which was still floating near them. “Is it worth the risk?”

    Hermione nodded without hesitation. “Yes. This ritual we’re learning should let me learn enough to design my own.”

    She sounded confident, but Harry remained sceptical. “Voodoo is supposed to be a secret art, only those bound by oaths able to learn it.”

    “Technically, it’s not voodoo he’s teaching us. Just sympathetic magic.”

    “Which is a central part of voodoo,” Harry countered. It was what made the houngans so scary to most wizards, after all.

    “I’d say the central part of voodoo is the religion,” Hermione sat down on the couch.

    Sirius and Valérie returned after having escorted their guest to the door. Or rather, Valérie returned with Padfoot, who was wandering around with his nose on the floor.

    Harry blinked. “Are you playing sniffer dog?”

    Padfoot bopped his head and barked once, then went back to what looked like a slightly chaotic search of the room.

    “Is he actually trying to ‘sniff out treachery’?” Hermione sounded as sceptical as Harry felt.

    “He’s trying to find anything our guest might have left,” Valérie said, taking a seat at the now cleared dining table.

    “Yes,” Sirius said, having transformed back into a wizard. “I’d rather not have him drop a pebble, and then curse it with voodoo.”

    “I do not think that would work… the wards might not be able to protect the pebble, but they’d stop the curse from affecting anything else.” Hermione frowned. “Though…”

    “Could you enlarge and then transfigure a pebble into an animal, and take control of it?” Harry asked.

    “I doubt that you can split the effect up like that. Though you could probably turn the pebble into poison, and enlarge that - but you’d do the same to the part in the ritual circle, next to you..” Hermione bit her lower lip in that familiar way that told Harry she was thinking hard about ways to get around what she had just said.

    “We are already able to deal with poison,” Sirius said. “I’m not too worried about possible voodoo attacks, I simply want to know if he left us anything we don’t know about.”

    “Listening spells?” Harry threw out.

    “Privacy spells would still protect us.” Sirius shook his head. “Don’t get too hung up on voodoo. Using voodoo to duplicate normal spells doesn’t make them more powerful, or able to break through defenses - unless you’re directly targeting a wizard through his blood.”

    “Technically, it’s sympathetic magic, not voodoo,” Hermione added, earning an eye rolling from the animagus.

    Harry sat down on the couch and pulled her on to his lap. “So, did you find a sign of treachery?”

    Sirius looked at him, probably trying to decide if Harry had been mocking him. “No. But I still don’t trust the houngan. This ritual may look harmless, but could be a trap. We need to be very careful there.”
    “The greatest danger is Voldemort finding out about this link,” Harry said, tapping his index against his scar. “Blagrove already thinks there is a link. If he is working for Voldemort, or with him, then he’d have informed him of that already.”

    Sirius nodded. “I doubt he’d dare angering Dumbledore without support from Voldemort.”

    “I’ll still go over what we learned, and see if there’s something we have missed,” Hermione announced, standing up and spreading out her notes on the salon table. “Just because it’s unlikely doesn’t mean it’s impossible.”

    Harry sighed. It looked like a long evening. And a long week, or two - not exactly what he wanted his vacation to end up like. Then he felt guilty at thinking such selfish thoughts. She was doing this for him, after all. They all were doing this for him.

    He tried not to show just how much this weighed on him.

    *****​

    Sitting in the kitchen, holding a mug of tea, Paige Caldwell felt like blowing something up. Or ripping it to pieces. Or someone. Specifically, Wilbur Burke. That arrogant, disgusting, grabby scumbag represented just about everything that was wrong with male werewolves. Nothing in the head but sex, barely able to wield a wand, and the views of an animal.

    He was easy on the eyes though, and if he tried, he could be very charming. So charming, she had fallen for him, and bedded him the very night he had arrived in the flat she was sharing with Umbridge. A decision she had regretted in the days since. Very much.

    “Hey, sweetcheeks! Still sulking?”

    Paige turned her head slightly and glared at Burke. The man smirked, then leered at her bare legs, and went to raid the fridge for breakfast - in his case, raw meat. And the full moon was still weeks away. The witch shook her head. The only good thing about the man’s presence was that Umbridge wouldn’t enter the kitchen as long as he was in there - though after two days, Paige had started to prefer the other witch’s company to Burke’s. And that said more than anything else just how disgusting that man was.

    But his presence was required - and ordered. The next target of their group to be cursed, Wizengamot member Ethan Hathaway, prefered wizards to witches. Paige and Umbridge were just tasked with introducing Burke to the old wizard, they wouldn’t have to sleep with him. It didn’t do much to make her feel better - the next full moon, she’d likely be required to spread her legs for the Dark Lord’s goals again.

    She gripped her cup tightly, almost crushing it. As satisfying as it might be, in theory, to curse those bigots who were responsible for the plight of werewolves, she had signed up to fight, not to whore herself out. She was better than this. She would not remain a whore.

    She noticed that Burke had stopped smacking, and was staring at her, almost warily, before he grinned cockily - though it looked a bit forced. “Hey… if you want some meat, I’m always in a sharing mood.”

    She realized she had been growling, and scoffed at the weak double-entendre before standing up without another word. In the living room, Umbridge was sitting on a seat. Burke had been sleeping on the couch since his second night here, and Paige was rather certain the other witch hadn’t touched it much less sat on it during that time. The two exchanged a glance, Paige glaring at the door to the kitchen, rolling her eyes, Umbridge sneering, though more at the door than at Paige.

    She sat down at the table and summoned the Daily Prophet. No news worth reading, mostly speculation, gossip, and some article about the war that said nothing with a lot of words. Paige growled at the picture of the Minister addressing the Wizengamot, and smirked when the figure tried to leave its frame.

    Then she sighed. She was getting bored as well, waiting for Burke to leave. Hoping the next full moon would arrive quickly was a novel experience for Paige, and not one she enjoyed.

    *****​

    Henry Blagrove stared at his garden without really seeing it. He couldn’t tell what wine he had just drunk. He was still, after a week of giving lessons in sympathetic magic, trying to decide what to do about the Boy-Who-Lived. Or rather, how to find out what the spirits wanted him to do.

    Contrary to what other wizards thought, those who only knew muggle ceremonies, a houngan generally only asked the spirits for a specific boon. If the boon was granted, the spirits had agreed to the deal, and the houngan had a year to pay the price he had offered. Henry had done so, asking for guidance, but he had not received any. Or not any that he had seen - one had to pay a lot of attention to see how and where the spirits affected the world to nudge their faithful along. Sometimes they appeared in dreams, but seldom with a clear message. And not too rarely, they led a houngan astray, presumably because they had been angered in the past.

    There was another way, of course. He could invite the spirits to possess someone, like the muggles did. But that was very dangerous when you were caught between Papa Ghede and the Baron - who would he invite first? Whose anger for not being called first would he risk? The Baron had helped him greatly, but as great as his boons had been the price he had to pay - and would still pay, unless Papa Ghede interceded on his behalf. And even if he risked this, there was no guarantee that he’d receive a clear answer - when the spirits took possession of someone, they tended to indulge in the physical pleasures that spirits without a body were denied.

    He had to examine that scar.

    *****​

    Kenneth Fenbrick was just finishing his latest - and slightly late - report when his partner, Bertha Limmington, entered their office and floated a rather thin file towards him without a word. He grabbed it from the air and opened it. It contained a set of wizarding photos of what looked like a rather luxurious ‘private club’. Probably taken from a pensieve, he thought while watching the dancer in the background pivot in the air - they generally didn’t tolerate cameras inside such venues. Then he recognized the witch in the background, pushing a curtain back so she could leave a booth. Umbridge. He looked at his partner. “Don’t tell me we’ll have to go undercover as courtesans again!”

    “I doubt that will be needed. Though if needs must…”

    He stared at her, then coughed, not sure if she was joking or not. “What’s up with Umbridge? Last I heard she wasn’t being investigated. Did that change?”

    “In a way. According to the file there, she was seen with Trevor Fickleton two months ago. A month ago, she was hanging on the arm of Rees ap Evan. Last night, she was in the booth of Ethan Hathaway.”

    “Hathaway? He doesn’t like witches.” That wizengamot member liked tall, handsome wizards.

    “Yes.”

    “You think there is more to this than a former Ministry employee working as a whore.” He didn’t ask - he knew his partner well enough.

    “Correct. According to the file, Umbridge put a lot of effort into cultivating Fickleton as a friend when she had become persona non grata at the Ministry. She dropped him less than two months ago, and started working on Rees. Apparently successfully, but she soon dropped him as well, and is now working on an avowed homosexual.” Bertha pulled another photo out of the file. “This witch here hasn’t been identified yet, but is likely to be working with her.”

    “Not bad. She looks a bit rough on the edges though,” Kenneth commented, cocking his head to check an angle. “And here, when she thinks no one can see her, she all but vomited. Not your typical courtesan.”

    “She might be unwilling, but there are no signs of her being controlled with magic.” Bertha checked another paper. No picture there.

    “She could be doing it for the money. If she flunked her exams, and can’t get a decent job...” Kenneth shrugged. It happened.

    “It’s enough of a suspicion to warrant an investigation, apparently.” Bertha sniffed.

    Kenneth groaned. “Don’t tell me it’s a political case!”

    “Then I won’t.” Bertha was smiling again.

    He glared at her. “Funny. Who’s behind it?”

    “The Minister.”

    “Those rumors about them, then?” Kenneth had heard many variants, but none had really convinced him.

    “Likely to be true.” Bertha grinned. To think the Minister had been chased around his table by that witch...”

    Both chuckled, even if Kenneth didn’t feel like it. Another political case. More people would be meddling with the investigation. Trying to make him and Bertha present the facts in a certain manner.

    “I should have joined the hit-wizards. Easier work, and you’re expected to curse people each day,” he muttered under his breath.

    Bertha didn’t react.

    “That’s where you tell me that I’m needed at my current job, Bertha!” He glowered at his partner..

    She chuckled. “I don’t think you’d make a good hit-wizard. Not enough self-discipline. Or any other discipline.”

    “Hey! Just for that, you can play the courtesan when we visit the club later, and I’ll be the dashing rich first time visitor.”

    “Dashing and rich?” Bertha squinted at him in an exaggerated manner. “Have you been holding out on me?”

    Kenneth closed his eyes, huffing. “Let’s get to work.”

    “Technically, you should have been working for the last hour.” Bertha was teasing, but there was a glint in her eyes.

    “You know what I mean!”

    *****​

    Hermione Granger waited while Mister Blagrove inspected the runes she had painted on the polished marble floor. They should be perfect, according to her notes and arithmantic calculations, down to the amount of chicken blood in the paint she had used. But as with exams, she still worried while her work was tested. What if she had made a mistake? Failed? Harry’s vision had shown the possible consequences of a failed ritual. Granted, they were not sacrificing anything (though the blood in the paint was required, which made her wary), and only trying to locate an object through one of its parts, but still…

    She felt her hand grasped and gently squeezed. Harry. She didn’t need to glance at him to know he was smiling, in that slightly teasing way he had when she worried about her grades. She pressed her lips together, pointedly not looking at him, and heard a soft snort. She wasn’t wearing her robes, the enchantments on them would disturb the ritual, just a white shift that reached the middle of her thighs. She wasn’t even wearing her torc - and after years of wearing that precious gift, she felt naked without it.

    But teased or not, she wasn’t that tense anymore when the houngan stood up and nodded at her. “This is acceptable.” She still was relieved of course.

    “Now, you have studied the ritual. Here is one quarter of a coin, you will find the rest of the coin.” With that, Mister Blagrove handed her a slice of a doubloon.

    Hermione felt the weight in her hand, then put it down in the center of the circle she had drawn. Then she sat down, her legs crossed, at the edge of the circle. Taking a deep breath, she nodded at Harry and started chanting while she remembered the instructions from the houngan.

    Visualize the part as the whole, then that as the sum of its parts.

    The doubloon was heavy, large, and shiny. Four times the mass of the slice in the circle. She could imagine it. She could imagine four such slices, eight, sixteen, countless slivers, pieces, forming the coin.

    See the bonds that hold the whole together. The force that forms the whole. And follow it.

    Her eyes were closed. And yet she was looking, searching for the thread that tied the essence of the coin together. The tiniest glow would show her… There!

    She followed the tiny glowing thread she had seen, until she saw a shiny coin - missing a slice - buried in the earth beneath a palm tree. There was the rest of the doubloon!

    She opened her eyes, noticing how the quarter of the coin was still slightly glowing. How her dress was clinging to her skin, soaked with sweat. How she was panting, tired. She looked up, smiling, at Harry, who smiled back, then at the houngan.

    “I saw it, it’s buried under a palm tree at the beach north of us.”

    “Indeed, Miss Granger. Congratulations,” Blagrove said in a dry voice.

    She didn’t care - she had done it!

    Harry smiled at her, offering a hand to help her stand up. She took it, and then gasped when she realized that she needed the help - she was not steady on her feet. Before she could fall, he had her in his arms.

    “How long…?”

    “About an hour.”

    An hour? She pulled her head back from his shoulder and stared at him, surprised. She’d been chanting for an hour? No wonder she felt so tired! She leaned against him again, enjoying his warmth.

    “Now it’s your turn, Mister Potter.”

    Hermione sighed, and the two separated, Harry, wearing only a pair of linen trousers, receiving another piece of a coin, then taking her former spot in the circle, closing his eyes.

    When he started to chant, the runes on the floor started to glow, spreading out from the coin. Hermione watched, fascinated, as she saw the pattern she had drawn on the floor emerge, glowing. Then she looked at her boyfriend, his bare chest, his face, his reddening scar.

    She gasped, taking a closer look. The scar wasn’t bleeding, but it looked fresher, inflamed even.

    This wasn’t good! She had to stop that, but if she interrupted the ritual, the backlash would be very painful… She glanced at the houngan, and saw his eyes were glowing.

    *****​

    The scar had started to react as soon as the Boy-Who-Lived had entered the circle - before he had started the ritual. Henry Blagrove cast a detection spell, his potion-enhanced sight could see through disillusionment, and spot some curses, but he needed more to examine the scar. It would make it harder for Potter to finish his ritual, but the houngan had to know what was happening. He focused on the scar, which was glowing under his sight, then on whatever was affecting it… his eyes widened. Others would have missed it, easily. Or would have dismissed it as a reaction of a curse scar to magic. But he knew better.

    The boy’s scar was reacting to the anti-possession ward! The reaction was very weak, but clearly visible for someone with his extensive experience with both the spirits as well as the Dark Arts. The boy wasn’t possessed - the reaction would have been much more violent in that case - but something was in that scar that was similar to possession. When he realized what the scar was hiding, he gasped.

    Then the boy started the ritual, and the runes surrounding the teenager began to shine brightly with power, quickly obscuring the fainter traces of the anti-possession ward and the scar itself. It didn’t matter - Henry had seen enough. He had been wrong, there was no wayward apprentice behind the attack through the scar!

    The boy carried a piece of another’s soul in his scar!

    He glanced at the girl, who seemed to have noticed the scar’s reaction as well. She was staring at him, now, with wide eyes. Had she seen his reaction? Did it matter? The Boy-Who-Lived had a piece of another soul in his scar! Henry knew more than enough about the Dark Arts to understand what that meant. Someone had split his soul, and anchored it in the boy. Someone had created a horcrux. And there was only one wizard who had both the means and the opportunity to do that: The Dark Lord Voldemort.

    Henry knew a lot about horcruxes, even though he had never dared to make one himself; not when it meant angering both the Ghede and the Baron as well as sacrificing his afterlife. Nothing could stop Death forever. But as the Old Egyptians had shown, Death could be held at bay for a long time. Voldemort didn’t have to beat his enemies in Britain, he could outlive them.

    This changed the situation. It wasn’t a question anymore of who would win, Dumbledore or Voldemort. It was just a question of when Voldemort would win. Unless the Boy-Who-Lived died. Didn’t Dumbledore know about this? Was he planning to sacrifice Potter at just the right moment so he could kill Voldemort as well? That would assume that Potter was the Dark Lord’s only horcrux… but that didn’t make any sense. Who would create a living horcrux, which would die, of old age, unless killed before, as their only means of cheating death?

    No, Voldemort had to have created another horcrux. His true soul anchor. Protected and hidden, well beyond the reach of even Dumbledore. It’s what Henry would have done, had he decided to risk creating a horcrux.

    Potter… Potter was not a means to cheat Death, he was a weapon. Sooner or later, he’d succumb to Voldemort’s influence, and would be controlled by the Dark Lord. The Boy-Who-Lived defecting to the Dark Lord would be a blow to Voldemort’s enemies, Britain’s morale would plummet. But Potter was more than a symbol, he was a force by himself, Henry knew that. The boy might be not as brilliant as his girlfriend when it came to learning spells and unraveling the mysteries of magic, not as precise in his wand movements, but when it came to casting what he knew… the houngan hadn’t seen that kind of power very often. And as Dumbledore’s protégé, he’d have ample opportunities to use that talent against Voldemort’s enemies.

    If Dumbledore was just playing for time, waiting for the most opportune moment to deal with Potter, then there was an opportunity. Henry knew a lot more than either Voldemort or Dumbledore about sympathetic magic. And he was a houngan. With a little help from him, the right ritual, the Dark Lord could break and quickly take control of Potter, far faster than Dumbledore would expect.

    It was, Henry thought, a far more advantageous outcome than supporting a doomed boy and an aging wizard against a Dark Lord who would outlive all three of them.

    He realized the witch was still staring at him, her surprise and worry having been replaced with suspicion. She was smart, after all. And, sadly, still bound to the boy. Though maybe he’d get her as an apprentice, after the Dark Lord controlled Potter. He doubted Voldemort would care much about a muggleborn witch. Provided she survived the war.

    But it was time to cover his tracks - it wouldn’t do to arouse more suspicion, not before the deed was done. Fortunately, he had come prepared, just in case he needed a distraction. He might not have been wearing his enchanted robe, but there were other ways to be protected. More expensive, but what was gold when dealing with spirits?

    “I fear Mister Potter’s ritual is not going as well as yours, Miss Granger,” Henry said, in as concerned a tone he managed, while he crushed a small piece of clay in his pocket. The witch’s head whipped back to the boy, just in time to catch the bright flash that erupted on the middle of the circle.

    “Harry!”

    While the ritual went out of control, and the backlash started to hurt the boy, Henry drew his wand. He’d make it look like he attempted to help - it wasn’t as if the boy would die, not from such a weak ritual.

    Before he could cast any spell though, he suddenly froze. Someone had paralyzed him, despite all his protections! This was impossible - no one here was able to do that! Had this been a trap by one of his rivals? But how had they been able to hide from him? And what houngan, other than himself, would risk open battle?

    He caught movement in the corner of his eyes - the only part of his body he could still move, and would have screamed in sheer terror, had he been able to. There was Dumbledore! The wizard was pulling off a cloak of invisibility that had hidden him. How had Henry failed to spot him? His detection spell should have shown any trace of magic in the room!

    The old wizard turned towards the houngan with a look of anger and disappointment, even regret on his face, and Henry realized just why the spirits, or rather, one particular spirit, had arranged his meeting with the Boy-Who-Lived. It hadn’t been to offer him an opportunity.

    It had been the Baron’s plan to claim what he was owed for granting Henry the boon of freedom, so long ago.

    Henry felt like laughing at his own folly, right before he was stunned.

    *****​

    See the bonds that hold the whole together. The force that forms the whole. And follow it.

    Harry Potter had tried to follow the instructions Mister Blagrove had given them. But it was difficult. Far more difficult than imagining the whole coin. The young wizard had grit his teeth, forcing all thoughts of failure away. He’d do this! He had to, unless he wanted to let Hermione do such rituals alone, let her risk herself.

    See the bonds that hold the whole together. The force that forms the whole. And follow it.

    His scar had tingled, even hurt a bit, but that had not even been a nuisance. He had focused on the slice of the coin in the center of the circle. Focused on the whole coin in his mind. It had been all in his mind. Where had been the link he had known had to be there? He had taken a deep breath, pressing on, forcing himself to focus even more. He had caught a glimpse, a tiny spark - if he hadn’t been a seeker, he’d have missed it - and tracked it. Had that been a thread?

    Suddenly, his vision was filled with light. Light so bright, it hurt his eyes, despite them being closed. Pain shot through his head, quickly growing worse. His skin felt like burning. The ritual was going wrong…. out of control… the power hurting him. burning him. Growing stronger, wilder.

    He snarled, struggling to regain control. If he didn’t, it would hurt everyone else in the room as well - Hermione. He wouldn’t let her be hurt through his mistake. He wouldn’t!

    He wouldn’t!

    Suddenly, the pain was dimming. His head, his skin, felt better. He opened his eyes, and saw the runes on the floor weren’t shining anymore. The piece of gold in the center had melted, and the area around it was blackened, runes smudged or burned off. His trousers had been burned as well, though his skin looked, if red, not truly hurt. Sunburned, at most.

    “Harry!”

    He had time to turn his head, see Hermione was unhurt, right before she crashed into him, hugging him as she pushed him to the ground. Memories of last night welled up, their positions so similar, but were quickly squashed as he felt his girlfriend tremble in his arms.

    Dumbledore was there, not hiding anymore. And Mister Blagrove was… stunned and bound, on the ground? It had to have been the Headmaster’s work, and he wouldn’t have done that, unless...

    “Did he sabotage the ritual?”

    “He did, Harry,” Dumbledore answered, in a grave, and slightly tired voice.

    “Why?”

    “That’s what we will find out,” the old wizard said, his expression utterly lacking his usual smile.

    Then Padfoot stormed inside, changing into Sirius in mid-leap, and things went out of control for a while, again.

    *****​

    Albus Dumbledore stared at the bound and once again stunned Henry Blagrove. For a moment, he saw Henry Ainsworth. The boy from London who would have attended Hogwarts, if not for his muggle parents moving to Jamaica during the Second World War. Who would have grown up into a wizard, had not a houngan noticed the boy’s magical talent, and taken him as an apprentice. Without giving either the boy or his parents a choice, of course.

    Back then, there had been nothing Albus could have done, realistically, about the abduction. Not during Grindelwald’s War. And later, after he had defeated Gellert, after he had been elected as Supreme Mugwump of the ICW, able to deal with such incidents without his wand, Henry Ainsworth had already become Henry Blagrove. A houngan apprentice. The man might have chafed at the bonds laid upon him, and would have resented becoming a retainer sworn to a Patron as well, had he stayed in Britain, but he had chosen to succeed his Master anyway, continuing the cycle.

    The Headmaster felt sorry for the boy, as well as for the man whose mind he had read. Sorry for what had happened, and sorry for what he would have to do. But if Voldemort learned of his link to Harry… Henry wasn’t entirely correct about the nature of the link, and it’s consequences, nor did he know about the blood protection, but the Dark Lord would be able to both take precautions against Harry’s ‘visions’ as well as use their link to hurt Harry. Or worse.

    And when put against the life of Harry, and the fate of Wizarding Britain, the life of a houngan who had turned dozens of people into mindless servants and murdered innocents to hurt his enemies didn’t carry much weight. Nor did his honest sympathy for Miss Granger’s situation - or what Henry thought her situation was. The man had been seen himself as much as he had seen the young witch when judging her - not entirely without cause, though. Albus would rather not consider what path his brilliant student would have chosen, should she have become the retainer of someone other than Harry.

    No, his course of action was clear, if not entirely honorable. But then, hiding under Harry’s Cloak of Invisibility, and wielding the Elder Wand wasn’t exactly ‘fair’ either. Not that fairness had much of a place in war. As an additional benefit, Henry’s fate would likely scare his surviving peers into staying at least neutral in the current war, but that didn’t make him feel better about what he had to do.

    He pointed his wand at the unconscious houngan.

    “Diffindo.”

    *****​

    Sirius Black looked up when the Headmaster returned from wherever he had taken their captive. He didn’t ask about the houngan’s fate. He didn’t need to - the old wizard’s expression told him enough. Neither Harry nor Hermione asked either. Smart kids.

    “What had he planned?” Sirius leaned forward. That piece of scum had tried to attack Harry. If not for the Headmaster anticipating such trouble - not that it had taken the wisdom and experience of Dumbledore to expect a houngan to double cross them - he might have gotten away with whatever he had wanted.

    Dumbledore sat down in the seat opposite Sirius and the kids. “He had planned to betray Harry to Voldemort. To help the Dark Lord to attack Harry with sympathetic magic.”

    Sirius growled. If the houngan had been present, Padfoot would have ripped the scum’s throat out. After savaging his groin.

    “So, he had planned this from the start?” Harry asked, stiffly.

    The Headmaster summoned a floating teacup and some sweets before answering. “He had not yet decided which side he would join when he offered to teach you. That decision was made today.”

    “Because of my … ?” Harry tapped his forehead.

    “Yes.” The old wizard sipped from his cup.

    “And I thought he liked teaching us… “ Harry’s girlfriend looked at the floor, shoulders slumping. His godson wrapped his arm tighter around her, consoling her. Sirius smiled despite the circumstances - Harry knew how to treat a girl.

    “He was impressed by you two. Especially by you, Miss Granger. He had considered to make you his apprentice, after the Dark Lord had won - if you were still alive.”

    Hermione gaped for a second at the Headmaster, then clenched her jaw together. For a few seconds, no one said anything. Sirius saw the young witch tremble slightly, and Harry whisper something into her ear. He almost missed the faint, sad smile on Dumbledore’s face.

    “So, the situation has been dealt with. Yet, should we cut our stay here short anyway?” It wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice, they had a few days planned, though the kids hadn’t been able to really enjoy the last week or so, with daily lessons. Although the animagus suspected Hermione might have enjoyed that more than lazing around. She was weird that way. Not weird enough to enjoy learning more than sex though, from what he could tell.

    “Julius thinks there shouldn’t be trouble, but…”

    “Better safe than sorry?” Hermione asked when the Headmaster trailed off.

    “I am loathe to recommend depriving you of more time spent with your parents, Miss Granger, yet it might be advisable to return. Julius will not be able to cover up Mister Blagrove’s unfortunate demise, and the other houngans will look into the matter.” Dumbledore took another sip from his cup.

    Sirius agreed with the old wizard. “It might be best. If our cover won’t hold up much longer, we risk attracting Voldemort’s attention to this location.” He didn’t need to lay out that that would put the Grangers into danger.

    Harry looked mulish. Sirius would have bet a hundred galleons that the boy hated to deny his girlfriend anything, but he wouldn’t go against her wishes. And her wishes were centered on what was best for Harry, not herself. Like Sirius.

    “We can leave tomorrow,” he said when no one objected to the proposal.

    “I’ll have Julius make arrangements for the Grangers to return to their cruise without catching the wrong kind of attention.” Dumbledore sounded both remorseful and satisfied. Sirius was tempted to ask if they had done what the old wizard had wanted. He didn’t - there was no need to make the situation worse.

    Harry was, after all, safe, and the vacation had accomplished what Sirius had hoped for.

    *****​

    Shopping for new school robes could be funny, Ron Weasley thought. Especially if you were shopping for a sixth year robe and had enough gold to not care about the price. And if your best friends were doing the same. And if it took place in Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, the best tailor shop in Diagon Alley.

    “They count this as a school robe?” Hermione sounded exasperated while holding up what looked like a bunch of floating strips of fabric.

    Ron craned his neck to take a closer look. “Yes.” He grinned at the witch. “Would look good on you too.”

    That earned him a glare from both Hermione and Harry. They were still somewhat prudish, despite Sirius’s efforts. “I’m just being honest!” he defended himself.

    “I don’t see you going for a minimal loincloth,” Hermione said.

    “That’s not fashionable anymore.” He lowered his voice somewhat. “Besides, we’ll be buying robes mostly for protection, right?” He was no expert, but he knew that you needed some space for the runes to enchant robes. Given the number of spells Hermione was planning to cast on their robes, skimpy wouldn’t work as a base. He could always use transfiguration to adapt the style, if he felt like it.

    “How’s Padma doing?” Harry asked.

    Ron froze for a second. His friend was just making conversation. He didn’t know.

    “Ron? Something wrong?” Hermione had picked up on his reaction.

    He sighed. “I don’t know how she’s really doing. She’s still in India, and her letters are both very short, and only about the weather and the food.”

    “How did she handle the attack on the Express?” Harry had dropped the last robe he had checked out, and was now paying his full attention to Ron, or so it looked to him.

    “Not good. Not good at all.” Ron shook his head. “I wanted to, well, be there for her, but apparently, her family didn’t want me nearby.”

    Hermione drew a short, sharp breath, Harry just looked grim. Ron didn’t tell them that he expected to break up with the Ravenclaw witch. Instead he changed the topic. “So… wedding clothes?”

    Harry groaned and Hermione scowled. At Ron’s questioning glance, she explained: “You didn’t hear yet? We’ll be wearing Bulgarian robes.”

    Ron nodded. He knew that those robes were styled differently for purebloods, half-bloods and muggleborns. And anyone who knew Hermione would know how much she hated that.

    Harry shook his head. “We’ll not be wearing actual Bulgarian robes. We’ll transfigure ours to match them.”

    Ron agreed. He wasn’t keen on giving up his robe’s enchantments, even if only for a few hours. They were at war, and Harry had been attacked in Viktor’s house before.

    “If Padma is not coming, will you pick another date for the wedding?” Harry asked.

    Ron shook his head. “I doubt it. Most of the girls I know are on vacation.” Or locked up in their homes, afraid for their lives after the attack on the Express. Even Ginny had trouble getting their mum to let her out of the house without an escort.

    Hermione had picked up another school robe for sixth years, frowning.

    “You know, you could simply buy a fifth year robe, and transfigure it as needed at school,” Ron offered.

    “And one accidental or not so accidental finite later, people gossip about Harry not being able to buy me a new robe.” Hermione shook her head. Ron decided not to follow his own advice. Malfoy was dead - and good riddance - but the Slytherins were still slimy snakes, with half of them ready to support the Dark Lord. He wouldn’t be caught like this by them. To be mocked by the likes of Parkinson…

    “OK, let’s pick some expensive robes. We’ve got an image to maintain.” That Slytherin was the last witch he wanted to see him in less than perfectly stylish robes.

    *****​

    “There you are! How do you feel? Did you have more nightmares? I wish I could help you!”

    If Pansy Parkinson had known how Greengrass would react to Davis getting saved by Pansy, she’d have killed her instead. Alright, not killed her. But maybe have had her obliviated. The bloody twit was hugging her in public now, as if they were best friends. Not even Davis was going that far!

    “Greengrass. Davis.” She managed to utter while a blonde airhead tried to crush her ribs.

    “Miss Parkinson.” Davis sounded formal. Well, she had good reason to. Pansy might not have created a life debt by helping the two other Slytherins, but they owed her. Now if only Greengrass would act the part as well!

    “Are you here to buy your school robes as well?” Pansy managed to ask. Clothes should distract the twit - that had always worked at Hogwarts.

    “No, no. But that’s a good idea! Let’s shop together!”

    Pansy felt herself dragged towards Madam Malkin’s, blinking, with Davis following at a slightly more sedate pace. They almost ran into Potter, Weasley and Granger at the door - literally. Greengrass stopped just in time to avoid a collision, and Pansy stumbled before she could regain her balance.

    When she saw their amused expressions, especially Weasley’s smirk - they thought this was funny - she wondered if anyone would mind if she strangled the twit who had just embarrassed her in the changing room.

    “Good afternoon, Miss Parkinson, Miss Greengrass, Miss Davis” Potter said, bowing his head, followed by Weasley and Granger. He was quite old-fashioned. It had a certain charm, she had to admit.

    “Mister Potter, Mister Weasley,” Pansy returned the greeting, nodding at the muggleborn witch as well, though not addressing her.

    “Have you had a nice holiday so far?” Greengrass asked, making conversation. To Pansy’s surprise, she didn’t try to flirt with Potter. Given the glare Granger had sent at her the last time she tried, that was for the best, in Pansy’s opinion.

    “Yes, we did,” Potter answered. “I hope your holiday is going well too.”

    “Since I’ve fully recovered from my wounds, yes.” Davis stated.

    Greengrass nodded repeatedly. “She was saved by Pansy and Greg! They were so brave!” Before Pansy could decide whether or not this had been a veiled insult, likening them to Gryffindors, the blonde sniffled. “And Vincent… he’s dead.”

    That seemed to take the three Gryffindors by surprise. Had they already forgotten Vincent’s sacrifice? Didn’t anyone care about his death, other than his family and friends?

    “I offer my condolences,” Potter bowed his head again, before she could make up her mind about how to react.

    “Thank you,” Pansy pressed out, bowing in return. It wouldn’t do to lose her manners in public.

    Weasley looked at her, with a slightly puzzled expression, as he, Potter and Granger moved to the side and let Pansy and the others enter the shop. Pansy almost asked why he was staring at her, but let it slide. She had to buy new robes, after all.

    *****​

    The Dark Lord Voldemort rubbed the bridge of his nose. He knew his failed ritual was under investigation - not even the worst auror could have missed it - and he needed a distraction for the next full moon. A ritual the aurors could find, to misled them. Maybe even trap them. And a corpse to be blamed for it.

    The corpse was easy, but a fake ritual? That would require a lot of preparation. Unless he ordered some of his expendable wands to try a ritual without the needed training or talent. That he expected to easily find a suitable sacrifice among the ranks of his followers said more than enough about the kind of people currently making up the bulk of his forces

    Speaking of rituals… He looked at the parchment on his desk again. His contact was asking for a lot of gold. But if he came through, then it would have been more than worth it. Bella would be unhappy at missing the chance to personally deal with her family, but he could handle that. And it would be worth it too.

    Sooner or later, Potter’s luck had to run out.

    Chapter 45: Wedding Blues
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2016
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  30. Andrew Greaves

    Andrew Greaves Wonderseeker

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    I don't know. Maybe it's just me or the nature of this site, but I find myself expecting that this whole 'Year of Experimentation' that's been anticipated for so long will involve something rather more than just tradition and peer pressure.

    I just can't see everyone, whether magic-raised or not, just cutting loose and fucking someone every night or so. Shyness and modesty are a thing, after all.

    Unless they aren't, of course.

    I can certainly see them using magic -- a targeted Obliviate, perhaps -- to relieve the students of any undue reluctance involving such issues.

    Which brings up a lesser, but still related issue. Are they going to still have gender-segregated dorms, separate chambers, or perhaps even a non-segregated dorm for each House? (Is privacy a thing, in other words.)

    Incidentally, another not-incompatible possibility involves them knowing that it was impossible to conceive, consciously, sub-consciously, and unconsciously. Not so much for the males, but for the females, who actually have a stronger libido, but unconsciously counterbalance that with the far greater risk to their freedoms. No risk means nothing to hold their passions back.
     
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