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The Dark Lord Never Died (Harry Potter AU) (Complete)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Starfox5, Feb 2, 2016.

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  1. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    The Dark Lord Never Died

    Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any of the characters in the Harry Potter books or movies.

    Summary: Voldemort was defeated on Halloween 1981, but Lucius Malfoy faked his survival to take over Britain in his name. Almost 20 years later, the Dark Lord returns - but Malfoy won’t give up his power. And Dumbledore sees an opportunity to deal with both. Caught up in all of this are two young people fighting on different sides.

    Author's Notes: This story is set in an Alternate Universe, and while the basic setting of Harry Potter remains (Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, 7 years, post owls, brooms, wands, apparition, Voldemort's war in the 1970s, Dumbledore fighting Grindelwald etc.) the Magical World is different from canon. I'm not using Pottermore's information. Further, a number of characters will act quite differently. Part of that is due to the different path this world took after Halloween 1981, part of it is because I think just about every character in canon was ruined to make the canon plot in the last few books work (somewhat), and I don't like that.

    I'd like to thank my beta readers, thekingofsweden1 and rpeh, for improving the story a lot.

    Cover:
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2017
    Biigoh likes this.
  2. Threadmarks: Prologue and Chapter 1: The New Britain
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Prologue

    Wiltshire, November 1st, 1981

    “You-Know-Who is dead!” The news spread like wildfire through Wizarding Britain. Wizards and witches danced in the street and fireworks were launched in numbers to even make the muggles take notice. Owls darkened the skies at Hogwarts, taking wing to inform every family. In Little Whinging, a baby was placed on the doorstep of a middle-class family to be raised in safety.

    And in the mansion of the Malfoy family, the Inner Circle of Voldemort’s Death Eaters had gathered. Lucius Malfoy, the Dark Lord’s right hand. Bellatrix Lestrange, his chief enforcer. Theophanes Nott, Rabastan and Rodolphus Lestrange, Barty Crouch Jr., Antonin Dolohov, and Augustus Rookwood. Shaken by the news of their Lord’s defeat, they were eyeing each other with suspicion in their eyes, knowing that some of those present would be thinking of saving themselves, at the cost of betraying their comrades and the Dark Lord’s cause.

    “The Dark Lord didn’t die! He cannot die!” Bellatrix was standing, daring anyone to contradict her. “He cannot have been defeated by a mere baby! They are lying!”

    “But why hasn’t he returned to us? Why hasn’t he summoned us?” Dolohov braved her ire to ask the question that everyone wanted to ask.

    “He has his reasons. He might need our help. We must be searching for him!” The eyes of the witch showed signs of insanity. Malfoy realized she was close to losing what shreds of control she still had. Her husband and brother-in-law were agreeing with her, no surprise there, and Crouch voiced his fervent support - the young man had a fanatical glint in his eyes. It was time to speak up.

    “You are right.” That surprised most of his more level-headed comrades, Lucius knew. “The Dark Lord didn’t die. But the blood traitors believe he did. If we are caught searching for him, they’ll see this as confirmation, and take heart. Our enemies were on the brink of collapse, we all know that. Mudbloods and blood traitors were fleeing Britain, morale among aurors was eroding with each day, each dead traitor, and not even Dumbledore would have managed to keep the traitor Minister in power for much longer.” The blond wizard stood up and started to walk around the table.

    “We would be failing our Lord and his sacred cause were we to openly admit that we have lost contact with him.” He spotted Rookwood smiling faintly. “The Dark Lord never died. We need to show that to the rabble opposing us, even without our Lord himself present among us.”

    Bellatrix looked confused. “What do you mean?”

    “The Dark Lord will be seen, in public, striking at his foes, with his trusted followers at his side. The lies of Dumbledore will be exposed.” He saw that Rookwood and Dolohov nodded in understanding.

    “You mean to take the place of the Dark Lord!” Bellatrix gasped, her hand twitching. The crazy witch was an instant away from denouncing his plan as treason.

    “Never! No one can take, no one will be taking his place. But we will crush his enemies in his name so that when he returns he will return to a Britain united under his banner, awaiting his rule.” That seemed to placate Bellatrix. “Augustus, can you provide us with the means to fool the blood traitors?”

    The Unspeakable nodded. “They will witness the Dark Lord striding towards his enemies, striking them down, and sending them fleeing in renewed terror.”

    “Tomorrow we’ll strike at Diagon Alley and show them that the Dark Lord never died.” Lucius knew Bellatrix had to be dealt with, sooner or later, she was just too unstable, but she would be useful in the short term. Her fanatical loyalty towards the Dark Lord was well known, and her presence would help with the ruse.

    In a way this development was even fortunate. He was sure that news of the Dark Lord’s survival after he had been declared dead would not just destroy Dumbledore’s reputation, but also utterly crush the morale of their enemies, and he doubted the Ministry would survive such a blow. And once the war was won and pureblood rule restored, the Dark Lord would be retiring to research the secrets of the Darkest Magic, only appearing a few times in public and leaving the ruling of the country to his trusted advisor and right hand, Lucius Malfoy.

    *****​

    Chapter 1: The New Britain

    Wiltshire, July 29th, 1999, 03.15 hours

    Hermione, youngest Wand-Leader of Britain, looked at the smoking ruins of what used to be Malfoy Manor. The field of rubble, illuminated by several globes of lights floating around, formed a stark contrast to the impressive building she knew from her first tour as a guard, before she had been promoted to the Investigative Branch of the Wands of Britain.

    She cast several detection spells, frowning at the results. Fiendfyre. That explained the ashes, but given the strength of the walls, erected in medieval times, not even Fiendfyre would have reduced them to rubble. Someone had destroyed the house with blasting curses before setting the ruins afire - quite a lot of effort, especially with the Minister’s family not at home. She wondered what kind of person would do such. And who’d leave the Dark Mark floating over the remains.

    A flash next to her had her in a crouch, wand out, before she realized what had happened. “Colin!”

    “What?” The young man blinked at her, lowering his camera.

    “Warn me next time!” She shook her head at her fellow Wand. Colin was still a rookie, having graduated just a month ago from Hogwarts’ special course for muggleborns, but he was a member of the Wands of Britain. The Ministry’s elite didn’t make such mistakes.

    “Alright!” Colin started to take more pictures of the ruins.

    Once again she reconsidered his assignment to her team. A tour as a guard would have taught him a lot about how to act in the field, but then she’d have had to wait six months before having him working for her, and she wanted him as soon as possible - given how rare pensieves were, and how often a pureblood commandeered their use, having the best photographer she had found in her team would help her a lot. He’d shape up soon enough, she told herself. Just like she had told herself for years when she had been tutoring him.

    “This is an outrage! A scandal!”

    She didn’t flinch when she heard Draco Malfoy’s whiny voice behind her. Not anymore. She had expected the pureblood wizard to show up. It was, had been, his family home after all. And even if his presence would make her work more difficult, it also meant that the area was now deemed safe by the Wands surrounding it. And that meant the Minister wouldn’t be long in coming.

    Lucius Malfoy. She smiled thinking of the Hero of Britain. He had saved the country from the blood traitors whose corruption had been ruining it. He had saved her from parents who had abused her so badly, St. Mungo’s healers had removed her memories of her earliest childhood. And he had saved the country from the Dark Lord’s madness ten years ago.

    And there he was, talking to his son. Hermione ground her teeth when she spotted his gloved left hand. A few weeks ago, a dark artifact had been slipped into his room, no doubt the work of Dumbledore’s blood traitors. The Minister had been cursed and while he had survived, he had lost his left arm, which had been replaced by a prosthetic. If she ever caught the ones responsible for the attack… but it wasn’t her investigation.

    The attack on the Malfoy Manor, however, was her case.

    She couldn’t hear what the Minister said to his son - spells protected their privacy - but it was a rather short discussion. Draco apparated away with a visible scowl, and the Minister called out to her: “Wand-Leader Hermione!”

    She hurried over to him, touching the tip of her wand to her chest to salute. “Sir!”

    “What did you find out about the attack so far?”

    “It was conducted with Blasting Curses, very powerful ones, before Fiendfyre was unleashed. Judging by the blast radiuses, it was the work of a small group at most - there was little variation in the amount of destruction per spell. We haven’t found the wardstone yet, so we do not yet know how the wards were broken.” Hermione didn’t mention the other possible way for an attacker to get past wards: Treason. Only the Minister’s family could have done that anyway, and they were beyond suspicion.

    Minister Malfoy nodded, and she continued. “The culprits left the Dark Mark floating, though we cannot tell yet whether this is an attempt at misdirection, or if this was one of the last fanatics who are still at large.” A few of the former followers of the Dark Lord had been misguided enough to support him despite his madness when the Minister had fought him, and not every one of those fanatical wizards had been hunted down yet. “We’ve found a surviving house elf, but he’s been unable to form coherent sentences yet.” Or as coherent as those elves ever got, at least.

    “His mind was probably obliviated, or damaged.” The Minister made a dismissive gesture with his artificial arm. “Focus on fanatics as culprits. Dumbledore’s blood traitors wouldn’t use such a ruse; in their delusion they want everyone to know of their crimes in an attempt to terrorise the population.”

    “Yes, Sir!” She saluted again as the Minister turned away and started to walk through the ruins of his family home, ashes blown up with each step.

    To think anyone would be as craven as to attack this great man in this manner… she’d find the ones responsible, and bring them to justice!

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, July 29th, 1999, 14.07 hours

    Lucius Malfoy, British Minister for Magic since 1981, flexed his left hand while he studied the reports and notes on his desk. His artificial arm was still ‘adjusting’. In time it should function and even feel as his original one, or so the healers had claimed. It wasn’t as good as the one Augustus had made for himself, but Lucius would rather have a muggle hook than attach a prosthetic the leader of the Unspeakables had made to his own body. He didn’t think his old comrade would betray him, but only a fool would trust him - in his place, Lucius would certainly hide some ‘precautions’ in such a limb. He scoffed.

    He started to read the preliminary report from Hermione again. As usual, it was far more detailed than most final reports from others. Unfortunately, it didn’t contain much useful information. Which, given the eager little mudblood’s talent, said something about the skill of the attacker. But he had known that already.

    A knock at his door interrupted his reading. His wand was in his hand in an idle looking gesture before he answered - given recent events, it was better to be a bit paranoid. “Yes?”

    His secretary, Daphne Greengrass, entered. “Minister. Severus Snape has arrived with your potions.”

    “Send him in, please.” He graciously nodded at the girl. It wouldn’t do, even for him, to treat a pureblood daughter of a prominent family with less than the utmost courtesy. Even though she was mostly a piece of fluff he’d not trust with anything important. If only Davis wasn’t a half-blood, and therefore unsuitable for this position....

    Severus entered, black robes billowing. As soon as the door had closed behind him, the pale man dropped his potion bag to the floor and took a seat. “We won’t be able to use the cover of me providing you with potions due to your injury much longer.”

    “I’ll make you an advisor in Defense matters,” Lucius said.

    “The Dark Lord will expect me to provide him with more information about your plans once I’m officially your advisor.”

    Lucius nodded. “Carefully chosen information, which will strengthen your cover and earn you more trust. No one suspects you yet, I trust?”

    “None. Bellatrix doesn’t trust me, but she doesn’t trust anyone who did not flee Britain with her, and she’d never go against the will of the Dark Lord.”

    “Who does trust you,” Lucius said, smiling. “How did the Dark Lord react to my family’s absence last night?”

    “He was furious,” Severus said, rubbing his left arm briefly and trembling. Lucius managed not to shudder - cutting his own arm off had been a small price to pay to be free of that madman’s grasp, but as a double-agent, Severus couldn’t do that. His spy continued: “I managed to deflect most of his anger though, by pointing out that no one could have predicted that deadlock in the Wizengamot, which led to you and your family joining the Notts for dinner to straighten it out.”

    The Minister smiled. That had gone as planned. His family was safe and the Notts would find it much harder to change sides now, being blamed for foiling - even unknowingly - this attack. If only he had had more time to prepare a trap or an ambush. But he hadn’t yet the numbers of Wands who’d overcome the Dark Lord. At least not Wands he could trust with his life. And it would only have bought them another grace period - until all his horcruxes were dealt with, the Dark Lord would return.

    “Has he told you about his next plans yet?”

    “No.” The potioneer shook his head. “I am certain he’ll strike again, at others who have betrayed him, but I couldn’t tell who will be his next targets.”

    Lucius started to rub his chin, but stopped. His left hand still felt wrong, and his right held his wand. Just in case. “There’s not much we can do then. The Wands are already on alert.” Though the mudbloods didn’t know yet that the Dark Lord had returned. And they wouldn’t ever, if Lucius could help it. They’d be fighting a mad pretender and fanatical but delusional Death Eaters. He leaned back in his seat. “Tell him that I’m terrified, and nervous. That I suspect treason in my ranks. Play the skills of the mudbloods down, so he’ll keep underestimating them.”

    Severus scowled at that. Lucius smiled indulgently. His old friend, even though he was a half-blood himself, scorned mudbloods and was quite critical of the Wands of Britain. If he’d only consent to give some Defense lessons to them he’d see how talented and useful they could be, but the man loathed teaching even more than he loathed mudbloods.

    The potioneer nodded, handing him an empty vial to dispose of, to maintain their cover. “Give my regards to Narcissa and Draco.”

    “I will.”

    *****​

    Beauxbatons, July 31st, 1999, 10.00 hours

    Albus Dumbledore, professor of Alchemy at Beauxbatons, looked up from the desk in his private quarters, his wand ready, when the door to his office was opened from the outside.

    “Albus! Where are you?”

    When he heard the loud voice of the school’s Headmistress, Olympe Maxime, he relaxed - slightly. “I am in my quarters,” he answered, using his wand to open the door connecting his flat with his office. “Come in!”

    The half-giant witch entered with a frown, waving a newspaper in his face. Ah! “Albus! According to this…” She hesitated a second.

    “Rag?” he prompted with a smile.

    “... article,” she went on with a glare, “the home of the British Minister for Magic has been attacked and destroyed. A mere few weeks after an assassination attempt on him with some unknown dark item.” She sat down on the chair in his room, which creaked under her weight, despite the spells reinforcing it.

    “Ah, yes. I read the article this morning. Terrible business, indeed, but knowing the minister, not really surprising. He has a lot of enemies.” Of course he had known about both events before the newspapers, much less the public, had learned of them. Severus was as skilled as he was brave, after all.

    His nominal superior glared at him. “Were you involved in this affair?”

    He put on his most sincere expression. “Olympe, I give you my word that neither myself nor any friend of mine were behind those attacks.” He wasn’t even lying, technically.

    Judging by the slightly embarrassed tone of Olympe, she believed him. “I’m sorry for jumping to conclusions, Albus, but you know how much pressure I’m under from the Duc.”

    “I know, Olympe.” He was well aware of how much the Duc D’Orléans, the ruler of Magical France, wanted to avoid a conflict with Wizarding Britain. But he also knew just how much the Duc needed him as a deterrent against any possible ambition from Britain’s new ruler - the Malfoys had been a French family, originally, before fleeing to Britain three centuries ago after a feud with the d’Orléans. As long as the Duc had plausible deniability, he’d not bother Albus’s plans. Even better, he was certain that once Lucius’s position was sufficiently weakened, the Duc would be all too willing to actively help the British resistance in order to rid himself of his ancient foe.

    To reach that point though would take time.

    “Good. British business should remain in Britain.” Olympe sniffed disapprovingly, as she was wont to do when talking about Albus’s home country.

    “It should, but it will not. The kind of people who rule Britain are not the kind to be satisfied with one country. Just like Grindelwald, they will build up their forces, and then they will strike,” Albus said.

    He saw the Headmistress flinch when he mentioned Gellert. Contrary to Britain, which had not really suffered in Grindelwald’s War, France and most other countries of magical Europe had never forgotten the atrocities committed by Gellert’s Storm Wizards. And they hadn’t forgotten who had defeated that Dark Lord. He continued: “And you know how Malfoy and his cronies think about ‘impure’ wizards and witches.” Such as half-giants.

    “I’m not afraid of them.” Olympe narrowed her eyes at him.

    “I know you are not. But what about your veela students? Would you want to see them reduced to pets like in Bulgaria? Trotted out as mascots to perform?”

    “That will never happen! If they dare to invade France, we will beat them. Even if it takes another hundred years, we’ll throw them back over the channel.”

    “And how many wizards and witches will die in that war? How many died in the Hundred Years’ War?” Albus leaned forward. “Why wait until they have recovered the strength they have lost conquering Britain, before fighting them?”

    “You’ve been saying they’ll invade for almost 20 years now. They haven’t.”

    “They haven’t had the wands. But it’s been a generation. They’ll soon be ready. You know what they have been doing to muggleborns.” Kidnapping children, and raising them to oppress their own kind - Lucius certainly had proved why he had been able to betray the Dark Lord!

    Olympe stood up. “You always say the same things. You’ll never change.” She nodded at him. “Good day, Albus. I have things to do.”

    Albus smiled ruefully while she left. His colleague wasn’t stupid, but she and many others didn’t want to accept what was happening. Didn’t want to know what was obvious to anyone studying Britain. If only the Duc had heeded his advice, back when Albus had come to France. Or the ICW. Lucius’s regime would have been crushed easily. But no one had wanted to create a precedent for intervening in another sovereign country.

    He leaned back in his seat. And so it had fallen to him to take the steps needed to prevent a Dark Lord from threatening Magical Europe. Again. Even if that took helping another Dark Lord to return from the dead. And sending young people into lethal danger.

    *****​

    Outside Argelès-sur-Mer, July 31st, 1999, 14.00 hours

    Ron Weasley passed by the buffet set up at the edge of the field and got himself another plateful. He had missed Beauxbatons’ food in the year since he had graduated. Mum was a great cook, but she was distinctively and stubbornly British - and Ron preferred French food. Not that he’d ever say that at home, he’d never hurt his mum.

    Munching on a few pommes frites, he watched the rest of the guests mingling with each other. It looked like most of his year was present - no surprise, Harry and Neville both were popular mecs, and they had celebrated their birthdays together for years. The two were standing together near a wizard tent, talking with Neville’s gran. The old bat was probably complaining about the birthday cake again - the feud between her and mum was almost legendary, ever since the Weasleys had all but adopted Harry and Neville. And this year’s cake was truly magnificent. Big enough to feed twice the number of guests who attended, and delicious if the samples he had tried when she had been testing her recipe were any indication.

    Catching sight of his sister, Ginny, who was stalking towards the group in what looked like the latest and most daring robe from Paris, Ron smirked. At least he know knew where her signing bonus from the Avignon Aigles had gone. Mum would be furious. Even with all her children now working and earning gold, she had never forgotten just how bad things had been shortly after their arrival in France, and for years afterwards, until Bill had secured that post at the Gendarmerie Magique and Charlie had become the best seeker in all of France. Even if he had to wear shocking pink robes on a broom.

    Ron finished his plate while Ginny greeted her boyfriend enthusiastically. A bit too enthusiastically, Ron thought, but then, his sister was still concerned about other witches ‘moving in on her wizard’, as she had put it. She probably wouldn’t relax until she had married the guy.

    At least Harry didn’t seem to mind. By the time they separated, Neville and his grand-mère had left for the tent, probably to get out of the burning sun for a while.

    Ron vanished his plate and started to walk towards the couple. Ginny spotted him first.

    “Ron!”

    He smiled widely. “Hi there. Did you arrive directly from Paris?” He was rather certain she had - mum wouldn’t have let her wear that robe to the party if she had gone home first.

    “Yes, otherwise I’d have been late,” his little sister said.

    He shook his head, chuckling. “Mum’s going to go spare, you know.”

    Ginny scoffed. “She can go spare all she wants, I’m an adult now, I’m earning my own money, and I’m dressing how I want!” Her claim of maturity was only slightly marred by her pouting expression, in Ron’s opinion.

    “So, finally caught up to me again? No longer a year behind?” Ron asked, grinning at Harry.

    His friend laughed at the old, very familiar joke. Ginny rolled her eyes, but then, she had thought the joke stupid when Ron had first made it, years ago. He nodded towards the tent. “Same old argument?”

    Harry nodded. “The usual.” He looked at Ron’s robes - average, civilian ones. “You’re not on duty?”

    “I quit, actually,” Ron answered, after a quick privacy spell.

    “What?” Ginny blurted out, staring at him. “Why? What did Mum say about that? What are you going… oh!” She held a hand in front of her mouth when she understood.

    He nodded at her. “I’m heading to Britain tomorrow. It’s time.” A gendarme of Magical France couldn’t be involved in an undercover operation in Britain. A civilian however...

    His sister gasped. “But your career…”

    He shrugged. “It only ever was a way to get more training. Not like Bill’s.”

    Harry grumbled something that sounded like ‘lucky you’ under his breath. Or ‘lucky guy’.

    Ginny turned towards her boyfriend at once. “Are you going as well?” Ron couldn’t tell if she wanted him to say yes or no. He didn’t think she knew it either.

    Harry shook his head. “No. I’m staying with Dumbledore.” He hugged the relieved girl.

    Ron raised his eyebrows at his friend. There was a story behind this, he knew - Harry had been roaring to go with him and the others, and ranting when Dumbledore had told him he couldn’t. He had a feeling his friend wouldn’t exactly be staying safely at Beauxbatons and assisting Dumbledore. He knew the mec well.

    Ginny turned around, but stayed in Harry’s arms. “You’re not going alone. Who else is going?”

    “Percy and the twins.” No need to try to keep that a secret. Ginny would hear about that anyway. “And a few others.” Those names she’d not learn.

    She gaped again. “Mum is going to blow up!”

    “That’s why Dumbledore’s the one who will tell her. He has the best chances to survive it.”

    Ron and his brothers would be safely in Britain by that time.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, July 31st, 1999, 19.17 hours

    “Hermione! Any comment about the attack on the Minister’s manor?”

    Hermione, on her way to the floos in the Ministry’s atrium, turned around when she heard Luna Lovegood call her name. She waited until the blonde pureblood witch had reached her before answering: “I’m sorry, but Ministry policy prohibits any member of the Wands from commenting on cases, ongoing or closed.” As Luna knew perfectly well - Hermione had told her that half a dozen times in the weeks since the other witch had started to work full-time as a journalist for her father’s magazine.

    “Of course! But I’m not asking about a case, I’m asking about the dragon attack!” Luna smiled widely and brandished a scroll to take notes.

    “Dragon attack?” Had she missed an attack by a dragon?

    “Yes! The Malfoy Manor was destroyed by fire and great force - the trademarks of a dragon attack! Do you think the dragon was smuggled over the border, or did it escape from Gringotts?”

    Even after years of having known the quirky witch - about the only pureblood student at Hogwarts who would mingle with the muggleborns, and the reasons for that still made Hermione angry years after it had been dealt with - the Wand-Leader kept getting surprised by her friend’s theories. She tried to find a safe answer: “I do not think that there is currently a dragon in Britain, outside Gringotts.”

    Luna scribbled down a few notes, mumbling “Ministry unaware of location of dragon.” Looking up, she asked: “I guess that means there are no measures being taken to capture the animal?”

    “You would have to ask that question of a member of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, Luna,” Hermione said.

    Her friend pouted. “They are never open when I try to visit.”

    That didn’t surprise Hermione. The Lovegoods were, if not quite infamous, well-known in that particular department for scaring the more gullible parts of the population with tales of dangerous imaginary and not so imaginary beasts and how they could appear in Britain. That Luna’s father had been crucial in identifying a Chinese Vampire the department had missed ten years ago hadn’t helped the relationship between the premier naturalist of Britain and the DRCMC any. “Well, if there is a dragon on the loose, then they’d be very busy I think,” she said, then winced when Luna quickly scribbled down another note. She really needed to learn to hold her tongue.

    Fortunately for the Lovegoods, the Minister was very fond of the Quibbler, finding their articles both amusing and a nice diversion, which he had claimed once in her presence when the head of the DRCMC had demanded that he shut down that magazine.

    “That’ll be my next article!” Luna stated, finishing her notes. and beaming at her. “So… do you want to catch dinner with me?” She added “at the Cauldron” before Hermione could ask if she meant it literally, like that time in Hermione’s seventh year.

    “I would love to,” the muggleborn witch answered, relieved. Luna smiled, and grabbed her arm - her left arm, not her wand arm. A Wand had to be always ready.

    Before they reached the next floo though, it lit up and Draco Malfoy stepped out of it. Hermione snapped to attention. The Minister’s son was a ‘Special Consultant’ to his father, and as such, he was officially in her chain of command. Just like he had been as a ‘Special Prefect’ and later Head Boy in Hogwarts when she had attended the school.

    The blond wizard nodded at her, then stopped. “Hermione. It has been a while, hasn’t it?”

    “Yes, sir.” When she saw his smile turn into a familiar smirk, she quickly cleared her mind of the disgust she felt. And the guilt at feeling that way towards the son of the Minister. Her guilt at having studied occlumency from a stolen book at Hogwarts despite muggleborns being banned from that discipline she had rationalized away long ago - it was better to break a rule than lose her temper and hurt the Minister’s son.

    “After that attack on my father’s manor, I think I need an additional guard for the night. Wait here, I’ll be back shortly after meeting my father.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    She didn’t relax her stance until the wizard had stepped into the main lift. Then she took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Luna.”

    “You don’t have to do this.”

    “Wands obey,” she quoted the first rule.

    “He shouldn’t be giving those kind of orders, then.” Luna pushed her chin forward, but she looked pouting more than defiant.

    “It’s OK.” Hermione hugged her.

    Luna shook her head when she stepped into the floo. “It’s not, and you know it,” she whispered before she vanished in green fire.

    Hermione took a deep breath, then checked if she had a spare robe in her expanded pouch. Sometimes Draco didn’t let a witch disrobe, but simply vanished her clothes. After what had happened to Sally-Anne, who had been caught naked in the hallway by a teacher, most female Wands had started to carry spare robes.

    Checking the clock on the wall opposite her, she wondered how long she’d have to wait.
     
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  3. Biigoh

    Biigoh Moderator

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    ... looks at the art in the cover... that's poser type art. XD
     
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  4. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Indeed. I use DAZ Studio to make covers for all my stories. And some illustrations for Patron.
     
  5. Biigoh

    Biigoh Moderator

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    Outside of that, it's interesting the views of the Malfoys... hmmm, no mention of Narcissica?
     
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  6. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Narcissa might appear in a later chapter.
     
  7. Threadmarks: Chapter 2: The Return
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 2: The Return

    London, Diagon Alley, August 3rd, 1999, 12.43 hours

    Ron Weasley scratched his beard as he waited in line at the checkpoint for international portkey arrivals in Diagon Alley. He still wasn’t really used to the beard, the result of a Hair-Growth Potion, nor was he used to having black hair, but Antoine Dupont, visiting from Magical Québec, would be looking a bit too much like Ron Weasley, brother of the famous seeker Charlie Weasley without it. It would be a rather pathetic end for him if he was caught by Malfoy’s thugs because he had been too much of a Quidditch fan in his teenage years. There still was a chance that he’d be spotted, even though he had avoided appearing in public for a year, but since he had used muggle means to dye his hair and beard, the British purebloods were very unlikely to see through his disguise.

    While a corpulent wizard from the Salem Enclave debated the validity of his papers with the auror on duty, Ron studied the guards at the back, next to the exit. A wizard and a witch, both wearing the brown robes of the Wands of Britain, they looked like they were barely out of school. But despite their age they were alert and kept their wands ready, casting spells on each arrival. And, Ron noted with a bit of surprise, one of them was keeping an eye on the auror as well. Dumbledore had been correct then, that Malfoy’s pureblood regime relied on muggleborn enforcers.

    The Wizard from Salem finally managed to get the auror to accept his papers, and left the checkpoint. Now it was Ron’s turn.

    “Papers please,” the auror said in a voice still tinged with annoyance.

    Ron handed his papers over. Those would pass muster - they were official ones, issued by the Ministry of Québec. Or what was left of it, after their latest disastrous war with the Free Republic of Maine and Vermont. A little gold went a long way in that country these days.

    The auror, a pureblood or he’d not be wearing the red robes, didn’t seem to care about that - if he was even aware of it. But Ron caught the muggleborn wizard cast a spell, and grow tense. He forced himself to look bored and tired. His papers were genuine, and his disguise was magic-proof.

    “You’ve imbibed a Calming Draught,” the Wand stated. The auror frowned, but didn’t say anything.

    “Yes,” Ron answered, letting his faint accent show a bit. “I don’t take well to magical travel. Unless it’s on a broom. But I’m no Jocunda Sykes, so I had to take a portkey to cross the Atlantic.”

    The wizard nodded stiffly. The auror rolled his eyes and handed Ron’s papers back. “Enjoy your stay in Britain, Mister Dupont.”

    “Thank you.” Ron smiled at the pureblood, then at the two Wands. They didn’t smile back, but the witch nodded slightly. Ron had seen friendlier goblins, and the young wizard was quite glad when he passed through the door between them, and entered Diagon Alley proper.

    Outside, on the cobblestones of Wizarding Britain’s most famous shopping mile, he took a deep breath. He was back in his home country. Back in Britain. The country his family had lived in for hundreds of years, until that day in 1981. Contrary to his older brothers, he didn’t remember their home, the Burrow. Not without a Pensieve, at least. But he had grown up knowing they’d return, and take back what was theirs. Like all of his family. And he’d do his part.

    Though he had to find a place to stay first. According to his brothers, the Leaky Cauldron was the best choice - the owner was said to respect the privacy of his guests. With his traveling trunk floating behind him, Ron started walking. The passersby looked different from the ones he was used to in Paris or Marseille. The robes were more old-fashioned, and of course no muggle clothes were visible at all, but that he had expected. Though the nervous atmosphere was unexpected. He saw several aurors, their red robes standing out easily among the crowd, but no Wands out on the street.

    When Ron entered the Leaky Cauldron he felt like hurting his brothers, who had recommended the inn as ‘perfect’. Dirty tables, a dirtier floor, and seedy wizards and witches gathered around a corner table who eyed him as if they could not decide if he was a threat or a mark. Ron narrowed his eyes at them and straightened his shoulders until they looked away - his family had been sorted into Gryffindor for generations, and as a gendarme magique he had learned how to deal with the riff-raff preying on the weak.

    The old, bald wizard behind the bar chuckled. “Welcome to the Leaky Cauldron, boy.”

    Ron frowned slightly at being called ‘boy’, but didn’t try to correct the man, it wouldn’t do any good. Another thing he had learned as a gendarme. He headed to the bar, dropped his trunk and leaned towards the man. “Mec, I need a room.”

    “Name’s Tom, not ‘Mac’. Do I look like a Scot?”

    “It’s French for ‘mate’,” Ron explained.

    The man stared at him. “Your English’s very good for a Frenchman.”

    “I’m from Québec, but my family’s been traveling a lot in America,” Ron answered with his cover story. He twirled a galleon between his fingers. “Do you have a room?”

    “Of course. We’re a bit too close to muggle London for most.” When Ron didn’t react to that comment, the man grabbed the galleon and handed him a key. “Number 11, first door on the right at the top of the stairs.”

    The room was decent - small, but clean, and the window went out to the muggle street. In a pinch Ron could jump out of the window, and disappear in the muggle streets. He put down his trunk and pulled out a well-read book and a notebook. He had his first report to make.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 3rd, 1999, 17.30 hours

    “Oh, look! They’ve got new puffskeins!”

    Hermione had learned long ago that trying to resist Luna when the other witch enthusiastically wanted to show her something was an exercise in futility. While it didn’t lead - contrary to rumors - to dislocated shoulders - her blonde friend simply wouldn’t quit if she thought Hermione needed to ‘see something other than parchment and work’.

    So she let herself get dragged over to the pet shop in Diagon Alley, where two dozens of the colourful balls of fluff were bouncing around in a cage behind the window. Truth to be told, she enjoyed it more than she wanted to admit. With everyone in the corps alerted about the possibility of an attack by deluded fanatics revering the dead Dark Lord, she hadn’t had much time to relax lately. With most regular Wands on alert, the Investigative Branch hadn’t had the usual support for their work.

    Luna stopped poking the window and agitating the puffskeins and turned towards her. “You’re smiling! You like them! I should buy you one!”

    “Luna! I can’t have a pet. I don’t have the time for it.” She didn’t, not really. Her neighbour, Sally-Anne, could probably feed it, if she wasn’t home in time, but that wouldn’t be right.

    “You could carry it around with you,” Luna smiled. “Take it out when you take a break. And set it on Draco when he comes too close! Puffskeins can be vicious, under the right circumstances, you know!”

    “Luna!” Hermione was scandalised at her friend’s joke. At least she hoped it was a joke - puffskeins were harmless, there was no known report of them harming a witch or wizard. Well, one Wizengamot member had choked to death on one in 1823, but that was not the puffskein’s fault.

    The blonde witch giggled, before growing more serious. “You need more fun in your life, you’re working too much.”

    “My work is important. I’m helping to keep everyone safe. That includes you.”

    Luna sighed and grabbed Hermione’s arm again. “Let’s go eat something!”

    The two walked towards ‘Merrin’s Pub’. Frequented mostly by half-bloods, it had both purebloods and Wands among its clientele as well. They would still attract some attention, mostly from guests, since it was very rare for a pureblood to associate with a Wand. Outside the privacy of their bedroom, at least. Hermione raised her chin. She didn’t care what everyone might think of her, it was perfectly fine for her to dine with her friend!

    Right when they reached the entrance she heard screams from further up the street. She whirled around, stepping in front of Luna with her wand out, and cast a Shield Charm before she knew what was happening. Then part of the street further up the alley exploded, and panic swept through the crowd. Blasting Curse, she realized - it was an attack!

    Hermione reacted at once, pushing Luna into the pub and yelling: “Take the floo back to the Rookery!” She didn’t wait to hear what the blonde was saying, and started to sprint towards the fighting, casting a signal spell to alert the Wands on duty at the same time.

    Another explosion sent up a cloud of dust, obscuring her view and pelting her shield and the fleeing crowd with stone fragments. Yells and screams next to her told her that not everyone had been protected by a shield. She would love to stay and help, but her duty was clear - a Wand of Britain served her country best by attacking its enemies. So she ran forward, casting a bubblehead charm on herself as she passed a fleeing family.

    Out of the dust cloud in front of her stumbled an auror, coughing and wheezing. Before he could recover, a cutting curse from behind him sliced into him, and sent him to the ground, bleeding and screaming. Another auror ran up to her fallen comrade. She managed to cast a healing spell before she too was hit by a curse - a Piercing Curse, Hermione noted, well aimed - and fell down with a hole in her head.

    The muggleborn witch flicked her wand and sent a gust of wind against the dust cloud driving it back and dispersing it. Finally she spotted the enemy - and cursed. Half a dozen or more Death Eaters were cursing anyone they could see! Bodies littered the street already.

    She kept running. In a fight, only fools stood still without cover. There was no sign yet of reinforcements - the enemy must have blocked apparition and portkey travel. She would have to attack alone, with only aurors at her side. No matter - she was a Wand, she’d do her duty.

    Snarling, Hermione sent a cutting curse at a masked enemy who was aiming his wand at a fleeing witch, and severed the arm at the elbow. “For Britain!” she yelled, and cast a Blasting Curse of her own, which sent two more of the enemy into seeking cover around the entrance to Knockturn Alley. A yellow curse harmlessly splashed against her shield, and in retaliation, her Bludgeoning Curse smashed the chest of the witch who had cast at her to pulp.

    When the street near her exploded, she threw herself to the ground, rolling over cobblestones as splinters and one red spell hit her shield, and didn’t get up until she was behind the next corner. Two more curses flew past her, one clipping the wall and covering part of it in smoking acid.

    Another auror died, his entrails spread over the ground around him, in front of a smoking shop. The Death Eaters would be flanking her any second. She transfigured rocks and debris on the ground into a pack of terriers and sent the dogs at the attackers. Half of them were destroyed before they had made more than a few steps, but it was enough for her to disillusion herself and move across the street to a better position, in the side alley there behind an upturned cart.

    She was quite surprised when her textbook roll didn’t end up with her behind cover and ready to cast, but with her on top of a wizard already crouching there.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 3rd, 1999, 17.30 hours

    When he heard the explosion and the screaming, Ron started to run towards them before he realized what he was doing. A result of his training as a gendarme magique, he thought, smiling grimly while avoiding a panicked witch running in the other direction, dragging a little child with her. He didn’t stop though. Whatever was happening, it would involve Britain’s forces, and any knowledge about their strengths and weaknesses would be useful for the Order. At least in theory.

    But when he turned the corner and saw a figure in black robes with a white mask cast a Torture Curse on a young wizard, he didn’t even think of waiting, or observing, he cast a bludgeoning Curse at the Death Eater that smashed both the wizard’s mask and face. The man almost flipped flipped over from the impact and fell down hard. A dozen of his comrades were left though. Ron only spotted two aurors, both dead or unconscious already.

    And his spell had caught the attention of the Death Eaters setting fire to the shops nearby. When a couple curses flew at him, he jumped to the side, cast a shield charm and ran towards the next corner just as it had been drilled into him by Major Abel - a moving target was harder to hit, and you didn’t want to get hit, Shield Charm or not.

    He saw a few more red robes in the distance, but didn’t think they’d last long, outnumbered like this. A position, he belatedly realized, shared by himself. Well, who would he be to break the family tradition of being brave rather than smart or cunning, even if he had never actually been sorted into Gryffindor?

    That didn’t mean he had to make it easy for the scum though. While the street behind him was blown up, he jumped behind an upturned cart. It wouldn’t stand up to spells for long, but it could hide him for a moment, long enough to get his bearings and think about getting out of this mess alive.

    That’s when something fell on him, and he realized an invisible wizard had jumped him.

    An invisible witch, he corrected himself, after he realized just what he was grabbing.

    An invisible, dangerous witch, he added, when he felt the tip of a wand digging into his throat.

    “Who’re you?” he heard her whisper while he let his hand drop from her chest. Invisible hair touched his face - she must be leaning down while straddling him.

    He almost answered with ‘Ron Weasley’, but caught himself. “Antoine Dupont. I’m a visitor from Québec.”

    “Run further down this alley, it’ll be safe there!” he heard when the wand was, to his relief, withdrawn and the witch rolled off him.

    Before he could get up the witch suddenly became visible. Not by her choice, as her cursing told him. His eyes widened when he realized she was a Wand of Britain, wearing the typical robes of the corps. He hadn’t wanted to get that close to them.

    Then the cart was blown to pieces, many of them hitting his shield. For a second he feared for the witch, but she had managed to cast a Shield Charm herself, just in time. They were not safe though - with their cover gone, they were exposed.

    “For the Dark Lord!” Three Death Eaters charged at them, wildly casting spells as they ran.

    ‘In a duel, accuracy beats speed’, Ron remembered as the spells flew wide while he crouched down and his own piercing curse hit the one in front in the leg. The man went down, clutching his bleeding leg. Then the street under the Death Eaters exploded, and the two still running were thrown into the walls. Ron ducked as his shield failed under another volley of stone fragments.

    He winced when he saw what was left of the first Death Eater, who had caught the brunt of the explosion on the ground.

    “What are you waiting for? Run!” the witch yelled at him.

    “And get cursed in the back after they get you?” He got to his feet.

    The Wand huffed and moved forward, towards the entrance of the alley they were in.

    Ron followed her. “Covering left,” he whispered, as if he was in a training exercise again.

    She nodded, then seemed startled for a second. Whatever she had been about to say was interrupted by the appearance of two more Death Eaters running towards them. No, they were running from something.

    “Stupefy! Stupefy! Stupefy!” The witch next to him sent stunners flying while Ron banished the rubble the Wand’s Blasting Curse had left at the Death Eaters. One was hit by a stunner and a few rocks, and went down, the other managed to dodge both, but got hit by a Cutting Curse from behind that clipped half his head off.

    Ron found himself staring down the wands of two more brown-robed wizards who had chased those Death Eaters, and for a second he feared he’d be their next target. Before he could jump to the side and conjure some obstacle, the witch at his side barked: “Stand down, Wands! He’s a civilian!”

    The two other Wands complied at once. Ron wasn’t surprised - the girl sounded quite bossy. Or commanding. “Wand Dean! Report!”

    “Those two were the last, the other survivors retreated out of the area of effect of the anti-apparition jinxes and fled,” the dark-skinned wizard said.

    “Bag the prisoner here, then secure the area!”

    “Yes, Wand-Leader!”

    The witch - a Wand-Leader, at her age? She couldn’t be older than himself - turned to Ron. “Stay here! You’ll be questioned afterwards!”

    First caught in a Death Eater attack, and now about to interrogated by a Wand… Ron didn’t think his first mission for the Order of the Phoenix was off to a good start.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 3rd, 1999, 17.50 hours

    Colin, who had appeared with the other Wands, was still taking pictures of the area when the last of the wounded who hadn’t been sent to St. Mungo’s with emergency portkeys were treated. By now, half the reserves of the corps had arrived and secured the area. More aurors had arrived as well, Hermione had noted. Sadly, Head Auror John Dawlish was among them. The witch didn’t know how such a wizard had been promoted to that position. He wasn’t exactly incompetent, but he was far too confrontational, wrecking what little cooperation between the Wands and the aurors existed. And he was walking straight towards her.

    He didn’t bother with a greeting. “Half a dozen fine aurors were killed today. Where were the Wands?”

    “Our forces engaged the enemies as soon as they were alerted,” Hermione answered. She wasn’t quite standing at attention - Wands answered to the Minister, not to the aurors - but she was standing straight.

    “Obviously, not fast enough. I told the Minister your kind wasn’t fit for this.”

    “If we had patrols out, we’d have been faster on site,” Hermione answered, suppressing her anger. The man’s position, if not himself, demanded that much respect, even though his words didn’t make much sense if even a smidgen of logic was applied to them. “But current doctrine demands that the corps’ forces are kept ready at our base.” She didn’t mention the guard duties Wands had - those wouldn’t be pulled from their posts to intervene unless the Minister personally ordered it. Smiling sweetly, she added: “After this though I’d expect that doctrine to change, should the DMLE support such a proposal.”

    Dawlish glared at her, then turned away. Hermione caught a muttered ‘mudblood’ from the man. It didn’t faze her. She knew her blood was impure, tainted by her muggle ancestry. And yet the Minister had seen fit to let her and her fellow Wands wield magic in service of Britain anyway. Trusted them with his and his family’s lives, even - despite her ancestors having hunted witches, murdering them out of jealousy, religious fanaticism and blind hatred, until the wizards had been forced to hide not only themselves, but the very existence of magic if they wanted to survive.

    Hers was a legacy of guilt.

    After checking that Colin was still doing his job, Hermione walked back to the wizard she had met during the fight. Had fallen on top of him, actually. She snorted, imagining Luna’s reaction to that story. She schooled her features quickly though - a lot of people had died today, and it wouldn’t do to appear amused.

    The foreigner, Antoine Dupont, was leaning against the wall where she had left him earlier. That didn’t mean he was harmless, of course. He was a skilled fighter, despite his young age. She hadn’t seen enough of him to be certain, but he might be almost as good as the average Wand. And that meant he had either been trained very well, or had had a lot of experience for his age. Given that he was from Québec, she was betting on the latter - Magical North America was full of wars and insurrections, and Québec had just been beaten by the Free Republic of Maine and Vermont in one of those bloody conflicts. If he had told her the truth about his origin, of course. Dean had checked his papers already, and they had proven to be genuine, but one could never be really certain.

    He saw her approaching, and pushed himself off from the wall, smiling at her. He was handsome, she thought, now that she had the time to look him over. Dark hair, a well-groomed beard, fit body… quite a difference to most of the purebloods she knew.

    “Mister Dupont,” she said, nodding at the young wizard, “thank you for waiting.”

    “No problem,” he said, with a very faint French accent.

    “I’ll have to ask you a few questions, about this incident. Standard procedure.”

    “Shoot.” He flashed her a quick, confident smile. So far he fit the reputation of the Americans as being far more casual than Europeans.

    She pulled out a piece of parchment and her quill. “How did you happen to get involved in this attack?”

    “Well, I heard the explosion, and the screams, and I ran towards their source. When I saw one of those masked people torture a child, I simply reacted, and hit him with a spell, and after that, they were on to me.” Antoine shrugged, as if having fought for his life against Death Eaters had been anything but special.

    “Do you always run towards danger, Mister Dupont?” She studied him closely.

    “Not always. But… “ she saw he winced slightly. “Some habits are hard to break, even after I left my home.”

    “You’ve fought in the war then?” That would explain his skill and reaction.

    “I’ve seen my share of combat.”

    She narrowed her eyes a bit. He could be simply modest, or he could be evasive. It was hard to tell. A few months ago the Wands had been informed that there could be trouble from Québecois trying to gather more supplies and recruits for their war in Britain. Nothing had come of it, so far. She asked him a few questions about the fight itself, which were answered in detail. Better, she thought, than she’d expect from an auror in his place. If that hypothetical auror would have survived the fight. He could be a trouble-maker, maybe a mercenary looking for work. But he had helped her, had fought the Death Eaters. There was no reason to take him in.

    “So, are you satisfied?”

    She nodded. “Yes, Mister Dupont. If we have more questions we’ll contact you. Where are you staying?”

    “In the Leaky Cauldron, room 11.”

    She wrote the address down.

    “I never got your name, Miss.”

    She blushed briefly when she realized her lapse. She should have introduced herself before the interview. “I’m Wand-Leader Hermione.”

    “We’re on a first name base already?” He smiled widely. “Call me Antoine.”

    “Wands of Britain have no family, the Country is our family,” she repeated what had been drilled into her since she could remember.

    “So, you’re Hermione Britain? It’s a cute name.”

    She opened her mouth to dress him down, but he held his hand up. “I’m sorry… I grew up with some bad jokers, and they rubbed off on me.”

    “It’s alright,” she answered. He seemed sincere enough.

    “Can I buy you a drink as an apology?”

    She looked at him, surprised. That didn’t happen to Wands. Purebloods didn’t flirt with muggleborns, other than to mock them - and she didn’t know many who’d mock a Wand-Leader. Apart from Draco Malfoy, of course.

    For a moment, he seemed as surprised as she was, then he smiled. “I know you’re busy, now, but… maybe tomorrow? To celebrate we both survived this?”

    She should have turned his invitation down. She was a Wand of Britain, her life sworn to defend her country, not some pureblood girl looking for… whatever. Instead she muttered something noncommittal about not knowing if her schedule would permit it.

    “I’ll send you an owl then, to check.”

    And with that, Antoine - Mister Dupont - left.

    If she ever told Luna this, her friend would be even more amused.

    *****​

    London, The Leaky Cauldron, August 3rd, 1999, 18.40 hours

    Ron Weasley sighed. Flirting with a Wand-Leader. Inviting her to a drink. What had he been thinking? Granted, if he played it right, she could be a good source of information. But from what he had seen after the fight, when he had waited at the corner, she wasn’t just a Wand-Leader, but also in charge of investigations, or whatever the Wands of Britain called that. At least she had ordered most of the other Wands around, especially that annoying kid with the camera.

    No matter how he thought about it, fooling her would be difficult, and dangerous. And that didn’t even touch the problem that he hadn’t been thinking about using her as a source of information when he had asked her out. He had just thought she looked cute. And his lines…. ‘Hermione Britain? Cute name’? He closed his eyes. If his brothers knew about this, they’d tease him for days. They’d do it anyway, he realized, even if they thought he had been planning to use her.

    He let himself fall down on his bed. At least he had something to report now - the Death Eaters were already attacking Britain, and he had a rough take on their and the Ministry’s level of skill. Not bad for his first day. And he hadn’t made stupid mistakes during the fight. Other than getting into it in the first place, of course. But, merde alors, if he wanted to stay safe he wouldn’t have volunteered to go to Britain! Though he needed a real bolthole now, that his residence was known to Malfoy’s Ministry. He had a wizard tent, for emergencies, but a purely muggle flat would be better. He doubted that Malfoy’s goons would be familiar with the Muggle World. Hm. If he could confirm that, then that could be a major weakness - a staging area right next to the heart of Wizarding Britain’s government.

    He rolled over on his stomach and grabbed his disguised code books, transfiguring the fake into the real one. He had another report to make. Hopefully, back in France they’d not expect him to keep that frequency up.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 3rd, 20.00 hours

    Lucius Malfoy put the report of the attack on Diagon Alley down. It wasn’t as bad as he had at first feared. Or had expected, when Severus had told him about the Dark Lord’s plans. The attackers killed almost to a man, no Wand lost, and less than a dozen dead civilians. Enough to serve as an excuse for some controversial orders. The deaths among the aurors were regrettable, but he hadn’t expected them to fight as well as his Wands. And his Wands certainly had proven their worth. Efficient and deadly. Just as he wanted them. His ‘allies’ and ‘supporters’ hopefully would realize that he controlled their best hope to beat this ‘new’ menace.

    He leaned back in his seat and clasped his fingers. Even if his Wands performed as well as he hoped, it wouldn’t matter much until the Dark Lord was dead. And to kill him he had to track down those thrice-cursed horcruxes. A task Augustus had made remarkably little progress in, despite all those years he claimed to have spent on it. He could but hope Severus was more successful. The ones they had destroyed so far were mostly the result of chance - the Diary had been literally handed to Lucius himself, and the locket had been given to Narcissa by the Black’s deranged house elf after Lucius had claimed to have defeated the Dark Lord ten years ago. That meant that four more were hidden out there - if Horace’s memory was to be trusted. Four horcruxes, and ten years without anything to show for.

    First things first though. He signed the prepared decree that authorized the Wands of Britain to use the Unforgivables in battle against the Death Eaters, ‘after this shocking display of just how depraved those deluded ‘Death Eaters’ have shown themselves to be in their attack on innocent wizards and witches in Diagon Alley’. Of course Dawlish would ask the same authorisation for the aurors as soon as he heard of this, and Lucius would of course grant it as well - after making sure that everyone knew Dawlish was to blame for not thinking of it, and that Lucius hadn’t wanted to go over the head of the Head Auror.

    He summoned his secretary with a flick of his wand that rang a bell at the door.

    “Yes, sir?”

    He handed her the scroll. “Have that passed to the Corps, and distributed to the Department heads, the Wizengamot and the Daily Prophet.”

    “Yes, sir.” She bowed. “Your wife asked me to remind you that you have a dinner scheduled in half an hour.”

    For a moment he wanted to cancel. The attack on Diagon Alley was certainly a more than good enough excuse. And Narcissa hadn’t stopped asking him to confiscate No 12 Grimmauld Place, the Black’s ancestral house in London, ever since Malfoy Manor had been destroyed. And she didn’t understand that overruling the will of Orion Black would seriously - severely - damage his position since all the other rich families would not tolerate such a blatant grab of a family fortune. Not even from him.

    On the other hand, such a dinner would show that the Ministry wasn’t particularly alarmed or even afraid of this new threat. He nodded. “Thank you.”

    He checked his watch. He had more than enough time to get presentable. And get additional guards. Just in case Severus was wrong about the Dark Lord’s plans.

    *****​

    Beauxbatons, France, August 3rd, 22.14 hours

    “Come in please,” Albus Dumbledore said when his spells informed him of Harry’s arrival, putting down the message from young Ron.

    “Professor.” Harry nodded at him as he took a seat. “I came as quickly as I could after I received your Patronus.”

    “I hope Miss Weasley was not too angry about this.” Miss Weasley’s temper was well-known at the school, after all.

    “She understands, with her brothers off as well,” Harry said, though Albus didn’t miss his slight wince.

    “Understanding does not preclude anger, but I digress.” He handed the message from Mister Weasley over. It matched the intelligence from Severus, but there was no need to inform Harry of that.

    The young wizard read it quickly, then looked up. “This looks like open war.” He understood, then.

    Albus nodded. “Attacks by Death Eaters on Diagon Alley in broad daylight only happened at the height of the last war, shortly before the Dark Lord’s defeat at your hand.”

    “My forehead, you mean,” Harry interjected, touching his scar.
    Albus chuckled, even if the humor was rather dark, given the circumstances. “Indeed. Even enraged by Lucius’s betrayal, and affected by his soul having been split, I would have expected Voldemort to be too smart to attack Britain without first building up his forces.”

    “His followers could have prepared for his return.”

    That was a possibility. Albus wasn’t certain if he prefered it to an unstable, reckless Dark Lord whose forces might fall too quickly to Lucius’s. “In any case, our window of opportunity might not be as long as I had expected.”

    Harry stiffened. He knew what that meant. He nodded, slowly. Brave, as had been his parents. And so many others, lost in that senseless war. And as were too many others, already risking their lives in this new war. “Now, then?”

    “Yes,” Albus answered, fighting down his guilt.

    “Best get down to it then.” Harry stood up, and only a slight trembling betrayed his nonchalance for the lie it was.

    Albus stood up as well. “I’ve prepared the ritual in my chambers.” He opened the doors to his private office, and with a swish of his wand, unstuck and rolled up the carpet hiding the pentagram drawn on the stone floor.

    “Where do I stand?”

    “Sit down in the center.”

    As the boy, no, the young man, sat down, Albus raised his wand. He had created this spell years ago, but he had never cast it, not for the purpose he had created it. He knew it would work though, and he knew its price. Focusing on the casting, he started to weave his wand back and forth in increasingly complicated movements while he chanted words from a language not spoken in millenia. When he finished, he was breathing heavily from the strain, and the tip of his wand, won from Gellert so long ago, was glowing.

    He touched it to the trembling man’s forehead, and closed his eyes when the screaming began.

    *****​

    “Five more shards. Four horcruxes and the Dark Lord himself,” Albus mumbled.

    “And this. Can’t forget this. I know, I tried.” Harry pointed at his forehead. It had taken him an hour and a rare potion to stop shaking, but he seemed to have recovered his often biting wit.

    “We will deal with that afterwards.”

    “We better. Wouldn’t want this pain to have been for naught.”

    Albus forced himself to grin, even though he didn’t feel like it. The burden he had placed on Harry… “First things first though. Can you locate them?”

    “Vaguely. I know four lie in this direction,” he pointed, “and the fifth in that.” He moved his hand a bit to the east. Four in Britain, then, and one in… half of Europe lies in that direction.

    “We shall hunt down the single one first.” They’d have to move around a lot to pinpoint its location, but that wouldn’t matter much in Europe. Tracking the ones in Britain would be far more dangerous - and not just because one of those would be the Dark Lord himself.

    “When?” Harry asked in a tone that suggested that the answer should be ‘right now’. That wasn’t feasible though.

    Albus met the young man’s eyes. “In three days. My absence during the week would raise suspicions.” Suspicions he’d rather avoid, for all the trouble they could cause.

    Harry didn’t look happy, but nodded, if reluctantly. He understood the need for secrecy and subtlety. One good thing that had come from being raised by Sirius Black.

    Albus handed a few vials of dreamless sleep over to Harry. At his stare, the old wizard added. “Just in case you start to have nightmares.”

    Harry snorted. “I already have nightmares. Occlumency deals with them just fine.”

    “The link I created might render that discipline less effective than you are used to,” Albus explained.

    Harry frowned. He did take the vials with him when he left through the office's floo, leaving the old wizard alone with his thoughts, and with his guilt.
     
    NavigatorNobilis, qof, Beyogi and 3 others like this.
  8. Threadmarks: Chapter 3: Rendezvous
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 3: Rendezvous

    London, Diagon Alley, August 4th, 11.45 hours

    “What are you doing?” Hermione asked Luna, who was moving with a very weird gait. Luna and she had been friends for years, but the muggleborn witch was still confused more often than not by the blonde’s antics.

    “I’m appeasing fate by the traditional dance-walk performed by the ancestors of the Ukrainian Steppe Shamans.”

    Hermione decided not to ask about the dance part, nor about Ukrainian Shamans - intuition born from long experience told her that she wouldn’t like the explanation - and instead asked: “Fate?”

    Luna froze for a moment, her right foot hovering five inches above the ground, and turned her head to the brown-robed Wand. “Yes,” she said, nodding slowly. “Fate conspired twice so far to ruin our meal together, both times by causing dreadful calamities. I will not tempt it a third time by not appeasing it.”

    “Ah.” Hermione nodded, smiling. “Will fate be appeased by the time we reach the restaurant?”

    “It should be.” Luna continued towards ‘Connington’s’. Since the inn was owned by a half-blood, none of the purebloods who would disapprove of Luna’s friendship with Hermione would even think of eating there. Perfect for the two of them.

    Even so Hermione noticed a few of the guests glance at them before looking away. She was used to that, though. Even those without something to hide tended to be nervous near her and her fellow Wands. Since they were regulars there it generally wasn’t that obvious, but the attack last evening must have had the population on edge.

    Luna had stopped dance-walking and had grabbed her left hand to drag the taller girl to their favourite table. Hermione let her, despite the less than professional impression this left. She did notice a few of the nervous guests starting to smile though.

    As usual, Hermione needed a while to decide on what to order from the menu while Luna picked her meal at once by combining dishes from the different daily specials. Fortunately, the staff was used to the blonde.

    “So… how’s work?” Luna leaned forward as soon as the waitress had left their table. She hadn’t got her quill out, so she was asking as Hermione’s friend, not as a journalist. Luna had few rules, but those she had, she followed more stubbornly than the Wand herself.

    “Busy. The corps will be on alert for the time being.”

    “You’re always on alert,” Luna said.

    “Not technically.”

    Luna snorted. “You’re always ready to jump into a fight.”

    “‘A Wand is never off duty’,” Hermione quoted another rule she lived by.

    Her friend pouted. “All work and no play. That’s not healthy.”

    She shrugged. “Would you still like me if I could sit on my wand while people need help?”

    Luna scowled cutely and stook several bites out of the various things on her plate instead of answering. Hermione smirked, then smiled. “But I can assure you, unless there’s another attack, I’ll not be working late.” She was still waiting for answers to her requests to the Department of Mysteries and the Auror Office, anyway. Interdepartmental cooperation in the Ministry of Magic was, unfortunately, far worse than it should be. The Corps’ own Investigative Branch was still understaffed and underfunded, in her opinion.

    “So you can bury your nose in the latest books then?” Luna gently teased, before spearing a chip with her fork as if she were a hunter on the prowl.

    “Maybe.” Hermione winced when Luna’s head shot up and the blonde stared at her with wide eyes.

    “Maybe?” The former Ravenclaw cocked her head to the side. “A week ago, you told me you had a stack of books you needed to read still…”

    “Ah…”

    “What would keep you from your books, other than your duty?” Luna didn’t quite scowl at the last word, but it was close.

    “I might have a… an appointment,” Hermione said. She wouldn’t, couldn’t lie to Luna. Not after the betrayal her friend had suffered in her first year. She still got angry remembering how cruel those girls had been to the naive blonde who had believed she had found friends. Well, they had paid for that, Hermione had seen to it.

    “An appointment? You mean… a date?” Luna was leaning so far forward, Hermione was certain she was about to stand up.

    “It’s not a date. I just might … go for a drink? If he sends an owl, that is. It’s by no means certain.” Dupont might have realized by now that purebloods didn’t date, didn’t go for drinks with Wands.

    “He? Who’s he?”

    “A Québecois I met during the attack yesterday. Antoine Dupont.”

    “Oh… you met on the battlefield, and he fell in love with you?” Luna’s smile threatened to split her face from ear to ear.

    “No!” Hermione shook her head. This wasn’t some robe-ripper plot. Just some easily-impressed foreigner being friendly.

    “You said you met him during the attack.” Luna scowled.

    “I did. He didn’t fall in love with me. He just asked if we could have a drink together.”

    Luna frowned. “If he’s just toying with your feelings I’ll hex him back to America!” She ignored Hermione’s giggling, then blinked and asked: “He’s not a Ministry employee or related to the Minister, is he?”

    “He’s just a visitor… but, what feelings?” Hermione asked.

    “Your feelings, of course. You’d not choose a drink over a book for just any wizard, would you?”

    “I’m just curious. I haven’t met many foreigners, and none from Québec yet.”

    Hermione was certain Luna didn’t believe her claim. She wasn’t certain if she believed it herself.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 4th, 12.30 hours

    He should have skipped lunch with his family, Lucius Malfoy thought. He could have eaten a quick lunch in his office, instead of eating at his new home. Their new temporary home, as Narcissa insisted. His wife was just so much more bearable if they had an audience than in private. She had been the perfect host during last evening’s dinner with the Notts - polite, witty, friendly, pretty.

    A far cry from how she was currently acting.

    “This house is not safe enough for us,” Narcissa said while Dobby, finally recovered from the attack on Malfoy Manor, served the entrées.

    “It has the best wards outside Hogwarts or the Ministry, and no one but our security detail and us knows its location,” Lucius said while reaching for his glass. He ignored the slight wince from his wife - Narcissa still shied away from touching his artificial left hand.

    “Grimmauld Place has stronger wards.”

    Lucius had expected that. Narcissa was almost obsessed with the ancestral home of the Black family. She was far too sentimental about such things. “We have no claim to that house.”

    “Of course we have a claim. Everyone else who could inherit it is either a traitor who fled Britain, or was cast out of the family. And Draco’s the only male heir left.” Turning to Draco, she added: “Wouldn’t you like to live in your ancestral home? The one ancestral home that is still standing?”

    Lucius frowned at the reminder that Malfoy Manor had been destroyed. It had been necessary, but it still vexed him.

    “Of course mother,” Draco answered, then glanced at Lucius. “If it’s safe.”

    Lucius almost snorted. Grimmauld Place, safe? Merlin, he had last been in that house when Orion Black’s will had been supposed to be read and he couldn’t remember ever seeing a more pitiful, cursed dwelling! It fit a family split between the Dark Lord, Dumbledore and himself perfectly well. But saying that would cause quite a row with his wife. Instead he said: “It doesn’t matter how safe it is, we cannot claim it until the inheritance question has been settled.”

    “You’re the Minister, you could simply confiscate it,” Narcissa said while their son nodded.

    Lucius raised an eyebrow. “Overruling Orion Black’s will? You know how the other families would react to that, dear.” He really didn’t need more problems in the current situation.

    “Who says you’d be overruling the will? Who else would Orion have wanted to inherit the house but Draco?”

    “No one would believe that.” Lucius wanted to sneer at his wife, but controlled himself.

    “Why not?” Draco asked.

    “It’s too well-known that your great-uncle had declared that the actual will couldn’t be read until all surviving members of the Black family were present.” Lucius didn’t have to mention that Narcissa had been the one to complain about that to her friends, thus spreading the news. She had learned the need for more discretion since.

    “But they’re all traitors!” Draco pouted. “Fled to France, even!”

    “The Blacks never cared much about that.” Lucius glanced at Narcissa, who glared back at him, but didn’t contradict him. “Back in the war, they were quite happy, as I recall, to have Sirius fighting for the Ministry while Regulus had joined the Dark Lord.” At least Orion would have been, the crafty old wizard. His wife on the other hand...

    “Uncle Orion threw Sirius out of his home for joining the blood traitors.”

    “And yet he never disinherited him.” Lucius was certain Orion had known Sirius would run to the Potters. “And while they did cast out Andromeda when she married that mudblood, she was explicitly named as a family member in the instructions to the will’s executor. I presume the will reinstates her.” Quite understandable, after her daughter had been revealed as a metamorphmagus. Few families could boast of such a gift. Even Walburga had accepted that - though she had maintained until her death that Nymphadora was actually the daughter of Andromeda and Sirius, since a mudblood could never father such a daughter. Blacks!

    Draco didn’t look convinced, so Lucius added: “Besides, mudbloods would not be welcome there.” Walburga had commented on her ‘precautions’ often enough when she had been alive.

    “Oh.” Draco blinked, understanding what that meant. “I’d prefer to stay here then.” That earned the boy a glare from Narcissa, but Lucius knew his son wouldn’t be moved. As much as he loved his mother, Draco wouldn’t want to give up his dalliances with his mudblood paramours.

    “You should start looking for a wife, Draco.” Narcissa smiled at their son. Draco almost managed to hide his distaste at the suggestion.

    “There’s ample time for that,” Lucius interjected. “A boy shouldn’t be tied down too soon.” He certainly hadn’t been. And as long as Draco was sticking to seducing mudbloods, he’d also avoid all the trouble Lucius had caused with the families of his conquests.

    Narcissa’s glare could have frozen a salamander. Lucius didn’t care. He was a Malfoy, and his son was a Malfoy as well. By the time Draco’s son or daughter was in power, the Blacks wouldn’t matter at all.

    But he had to defeat the Dark Lord first. Fortunately, he had been preparing for that for almost 20 years.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 4th, 18.55 hours

    Ron Weasley - Antoine Dupont, he reminded himself - was sitting at a table in the corner inside ‘Connington’s’, the inn Hermione had named when she answered his owl in the afternoon. It had a decent, not too expensive selection of drinks, according to the billboards over the bar. And as he had found out half an hour ago, the food served was good. Not as good as his mum made, at home, and no contest with the food served at Beauxbatons, but good. For British dishes.

    He studied the note that had come by owl again. ‘Connington’s, 19.00 hours. Hermione’. Short, to the point. Like the girl, maybe. He had sent his note, asking if she had time for a drink this evening, since not sending it might have looked suspicious. And yet… would he have been relieved if she had turned him down, or disappointed?

    He took a sip from his butterbeer when the clock on the wall turned to seven. A few seconds later, she entered. At first sight, she didn’t look any different than when they had met. Same robe, same hairstyle - a wild mane of thick, brown tresses. A French witch would have never come for a drink with him without changing out of her work robes.

    She spotted him before he could wave at her, and started to walk towards him. He noticed that the other guests were staring at her, but couldn’t tell if that was because she was the only brown-robed Wand in the inn, or if there was another reason. Up close, he saw she had put on lipstick.

    “Good evening, Miss Britain.” Ron stood up and smiled while she frowned at his joke. When she offered her hand, he bowed and kissed it.

    The witch looked flustered for a moment, then schooled her features and nodded, sitting down before he could hold the chair out for her. “Good evening, Mister Dupont.”

    “Call me Antoine please. I’d feel old otherwise.” He sat down again and waved at the waitress. “What would you like to drink?”

    “A butterbeer, please.”

    “Make it two butterbeers.” The waitress left and he turned his attention back to the witch. “You know, I wasn’t sure you’d be coming, with the attack and all you must be swamped with work. I’m happy to be proven wrong, of course.”

    “We have the situation under control,” Hermione said, sounding confident. So, the Ministry had been prepared for such an attack.

    He nodded. “The terrorists would be very stupid to try such an attack again, after all of the attackers in the first raid were killed.”

    “With your help, Mister Dupont.”

    “Antoine,” he corrected her. “Please. I feel weird using your first name while you use my last name.”

    “I don’t have a last name.”

    “Even more of a reason not to flaunt mine,” he said, grinning. When he saw her flinch just a tiny bit, he winced. “I’m sorry.”

    “For what?” Her face had lost all expression.

    “For bringing up your … ancestry?” She didn’t react to that, not visibly at least, and he hurried on. “I’m not used to… Back home, we don’t have such a divide.”

    “We’re the Wands of Britain. We protect the country with our lives.”

    She sounded like she was repeating what she had learned by rote, but she seemed to honestly believe it.

    “And judging by what I saw yesterday, you’re very good at it. Better than the aurors I could see.”

    Hermione smiled at that. “We’ve been trained very well for our duties.“ Her pride shone through.

    “At Hogwarts? Even in Québec we heard of the school.”

    “Yes.”

    The waitress arrived with their butterbeers. Ron raised his in a toast. “To surviving yesterday!”

    The witch looked like she wanted to roll her eyes, but she mimicked his gesture. “To survival.”

    When she put the bottle down again after drinking, she asked: “What made you visit Britain instead of France?”

    “I was in France already, looking into Beauxbatons. I want to learn more about Britain. Things are not well at home. Of course, I didn’t expect to run into an attack on my first day. I trust this is not a regular occurrence?”

    “It’s not exactly normal, but we might be facing a group of fanatics.” Hermione sounded as if she felt personally responsible for the Death Eaters attacking Diagon Alley.

    Ron made a dismissive gesture with his left hand. “At least the local forces are more competent than I’m used to back home.” He smiled at her. “Prettier too.”

    The witch blushed at that, then frowned. “You’re quite the charmer, Antoine.” She didn’t sound too happy about it. Guarded even. Once burned, twice shy?

    “I’m just being honest,” Ron answered. He was, incidentally - Hermione was pretty, though he knew prettier witches. Had dated them too. Though the girl sitting across from him had a certain je ne sais quoi those girls had lacked. Or it was just the fact they had fought side by side, and she was a scary witch in combat.

    She stared at him for a moment, then nodded almost grudgingly.

    “Are you not used to people calling you pretty?”

    The Wand-Leader shook her head. “Not purebloods.”

    “British purebloods must be stupid then,” he said before he could help it.

    She chuckled, then looked surprised and even a bit shocked at her own reaction.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 4th, 19.10 hours


    Hermione took another sip from her butterbeer while she studied the wizard sitting across from her. She should not have laughed at his joke. Not in public. That was the kind of joke the Wands laughed about at Headquarters, in the barracks, when they were talking about the aurors. Or in private with Luna, maybe. Not with a foreigner - a pureblood foreigner - whom she had just met the day before for a few minutes.

    "British purebloods are aware of the danger muggles represent," she said, falling back to familiar ground.

    "What danger is that?" He leaned forward, sounding honestly curious.


    Hermione frowned. Didn’t they learn anything in the Americas? "They hate magic. They have had witch hunts for centuries. That's why the International Statute of Secrecy was implemented - so we'd be safe from them."


    "Well, it worked fine, didn't it?" He emptied his own bottle and signaled for another. "The muggles have no idea about magic anymore."

    "The death penalty for witchcraft is still in effect in many countries," she countered. "Muggles cannot understand magic, and they fear and hate what they cannot understand."

    He shrugged. "I've been in far more danger from wizards than from muggles. Witches too," he added with a slight grin that made her wonder what exactly he was alluding to.

    She decided not to dwell on that. "America is a bit of a special case. Most of the Magical World is far more peaceful." Only Grindelwald's War was comparable to the conflicts of North America, and that war had only been fought for a few years. North America hadn't known true peace ever since the first war against the native tribes had been started - by muggles of course, before the Statute of Secrecy.

    He coughed, and she frowned, understanding what he was hinting at. "Britain has been at peace for almost 20 years."

    "Until yesterday." He wasn't smiling, or grinning, she noted. As a Québecois, he was probably very familiar with the cost of war. She had an inkling though that he wanted to make a joke.

    Hermione reluctantly nodded in agreement. There was no sense in ignoring reality. "We'll deal with that soon though, and peace will be restored."

    "I'll drink to that," he said, raising his bottle. "To peace!"

    She matched him, touching her own bottle to his. "To peace!"

    "Are you planning to immigrate? You mentioned checking up on Hogwarts and Beauxbatons." His eyes widened just a bit, but he nodded. She added with a grin: "You seem a bit old for a student though."

    He chuckled at her feeble joke. "I am thinking of leaving Québec, yes. I don't want to raise a family in a war zone. And the only two options for someone who speaks French and English are Britain or France."

    "You could learn another language." It wasn't that hard.

    He laughed. "Two are enough for me. I don't have room in my head for another language, I'd probably have to forget all about potions to learn one."

    "I take it potions wasn't your strongest subject then?" Hermione asked. Québec's school hadn't got the best reputation, but apart from Salem, none of the East Coast's magic schools were held in high esteem. But as Antoine had demonstrated, their defence lessons were very good.

    His expression was all the answer needed. "It isn't as if it's useful for me anyway - it's far too much of a bother to collect all the ingredients."

    “Do you have a family already?” she asked, only realizing how this could be taken when he grinned widely.

    “Why, are you applying?” He continued right when she opened her mouth to protest. “No, not in the sense you were thinking about. There is no Mrs Dupont.”

    “Ah.” Not very eloquent, but it beat asking the logical follow-up question - was he looking for one? That he was looking for a witch was a given; wizards usually were. Not many approached a Wand though.

    “What about you? Is there a boyfriend in the picture? Not a pureblood, since we already established that they are stupid, but a fellow muggleborn maybe?”

    She blamed her slight blush on the reminder of his joke and her reaction to it while she shook her head. “I’m a Wand-Leader, I’m not supposed to … ‘fraternise’ with the ranks.” That didn’t stop others, of course. Wands were a tight-knit corps.

    “I never was much for not doing what I wasn’t supposed to.” He raised his bottle at her again.

    “I’ll believe that at once,” she said frowning a little. He gave the impression of a trouble-maker - though a skilled one.

    “You’ve never broken a rule then?” He sounded both teasing and sceptical.

    “No.” The lie rolled off her tongue easily. She’d had a lot of practise, ever since she had dealt with Luna’s bullies back at Hogwarts.

    “Maybe you never found a good enough reason to then.”

    She didn’t answer that, just nodded and sipped from her butterbeer.

    “But I can’t help pointing out that I’m not a Wand,” he said, smiling. “There’s no rule against ‘fraternising’ with a pureblood, is there?” he added, as if it was an afterthought,

    “If there were, would I be here?” They were fraternising at this moment, after all. Then she realized how what she had said could have been taken as an invitation.

    He didn’t seem to take it as an invitation, though his smile just got a bit more teasing. “I’d hope I was a good enough reason to break such a rule, if there was one.”

    “I could always claim I was investigating a witness.”

    “In a pub? Why do I think you always had a good excuse when you broke a rule?” He raised his eyebrows at her.

    “Because that’s what you’d have liked to have been able to?”

    “I’m more a follower of the ‘don’t get caught’ philosophy.” For a moment, he had a wistful expression.

    “And how did that work out for you?”

    “Ah, I’m still alive, and healthy. And I learned a lot.” He ordered another butterbeer for them both. “Speaking of which, do you do this often? Investigate a witness, I mean.”

    “I’m a member of the Investigative Branch of the Corps,” she answered. “We’re not just a bunch of guards.” Hermione couldn’t quite keep the bitterness out of her voice.

    “I can’t imagine the aurors took that well - shown up in combat, and in investigation.” He must have noticed her sudden suspicion, since he added “I saw you fighting and investigating, remember?”

    She nodded. Of course she did. “So, what do you think of Britain so far?”

    “It’s very pretty.” He looked at her, smiling just long enough so she got his meaning, then continued: “Though it’s a bit weird to never see muggle clothes on the street.”

    “We’re proud of our traditions,” she answered, hiding her distaste for muggle fashions.

    “I think that’s probably the biggest difference to Québec. That, and the food.”

    “What’s wrong with our food?”

    “It’s not French.”

    That started an in-depth discussion of the various merits of Britain and France for a Québecois. Hermione didn’t ever quite say that Antoine should have stayed in France if he liked it so much during the discussion, but she came close to several times. The man was infuriating - and yet witty and charming. And completely ignoring the fact that she was a muggleborn. Something she had only experienced with Luna.

    When they said their goodbyes, out on the street, he didn’t try to kiss her, or anything else.

    She didn’t know if she should be glad or disappointed about that. But they agreed to meet again, and she liked that.

    *****​

    London, August 6th, 12.10 hours

    Ron Weasley studied the menu of the restaurant he was sitting in. Indian. Not as good as French, but more than a step up from anything British not cooked by his mum. And as it was a muggle restaurant in muggle London, it was about as safe from Malfoy's goons as it could get in Britain.

    That didn't mean he could be complacent - he was at war, after all. And so he had his wand ready under the table when a pretty girl in ripped jeans, boots and a crop top walked towards his table. When she almost tripped over a chair on the way, he relaxed a bit. He didn't put the wand away until she had tapped the book on the table - 'Bridget Jones's Diary'. Having that on display had already earned him a few weird looks and a comment from the waitress he had been able to deflect with a 'my girlfriend's gift'- twice.

    "Hello! I hope you didn't wait too long!" Nymphadora 'Just' Tonks, as Charlie called her, looked like a dark-skinned fly girl about his age, a far cry from the girl he knew from France. She bent down to kiss him on the cheek, and almost smashed her nose into his eye. The metamorphmagus would have been the perfect agent if not for her clumsiness.

    "I haven't even ordered yet," he answered. "Madras for you too?"

    "Korma. I don’t like it too hot."

    “Wimp.”

    “Says the bloke whose first introduction to curry ended with him guzzling down an entire pitcher of water.” Tonks grinned.

    Ron scowled. Charlie had a lot to answer for.

    They ordered, and waited until the waitress had left before lowering their voices - magic means to ensure they were not overheard would draw attention from the Obliviators. With almost no one in Wizarding Britain visiting muggle Britain anymore, any magic tended to stand out far more than it did in France.

    "So, everything went well then?" Tonks leaned forward, one hand on his, to fool any observer into thinking they were a couple.

    "Yes. I've rented a room at the Cauldron, saw a Death Eater attack and the Ministry response, and I met a friendly Wand-Leader."

    "A friendly Wand-Leader?" Tonks's eyebrow rose just a bit higher than should be possible. "And you 'saw' a Death Eater attack?"

    "I was kind of caught up in it. And she's friendly - we spent an evening chatting about all kind of stuff," Ron explained, then narrowed his eyes when he saw her grin and heard her hum the James Bond theme. "Knock it off!"

    "International Ron of Mystery?" The girl's grin widened.

    Maybe there was something to avoiding muggle culture, Ron thought. "She's a Wand-Leader in the Investigative Branch. Friendly, but she fully believes Malfoy's lies."

    "Investigative Branch, and she's spilling secrets? That could be a trap." At once, Tonks was serious.

    "I don't think it's a trap. She didn't exactly tell me anything about her cases, but I could find out a lot just by chatting. She seems not used to purebloods being friendly with muggleborns."

    "And just how friendly are you planning to be?"

    If Tonks hadn't sounded utterly serious, he would have made a joke. As it was, he shrugged. "Enough to find out as much as I can about the Wands."

    The metamorphmagus cocked her head to the side. "Just remember that the agent's not supposed to fall for the mark."

    "Yeah." He wouldn't. Even though Hermione was certainly cute, though not a stunning beauty, and he definitely felt attracted to her.

    "Just think of what she'll do to you if she finds out you've been using her."

    He almost said he wasn't about to use her, but nodded instead. "How are the others doing?"

    "The twins have followed your recommendation and are using a muggle warehouse as storage. Production still has to be done in magical areas though. Percy's cultivating a Ministry employee. He's not sleeping with him though."

    "Neither am I!"

    "Of course not. You'd not cheat on your Wand-Leader."

    Ron rolled his eyes.

    *****​

    Worcestershire, August 6th, 23.45 hours

    “What do we have? Apart from dead aurors and a destroyed manor." Hermione asked, walking up to another smoking ruin. Stepping around a body in red robes that looked like he had been smashed by a giant.

    "Same kind of spells as used against the Minister's manor. Probably same caster too," Dean answered her. "And dead Notts."

    Hermione nodded. "Any survivors?"

    "Theodore Nott wasn't at home, but with his girlfriend. His parents were killed, as were, as far as we can tell, the aurors guarding them and the house elves."

    "None of the attackers were killed?"

    "If the attackers suffered any losses, then they took the bodies with them when they retreated or vanished them."

    "Why weren't we alerted in time? They can't have broken the wards that quickly."

    Dean shrugged. "We moved as soon as we received the news. Someone must have delayed the alert."

    Hermione nodded, her lips pressed into a thin line. Both of them knew what that meant.

    Treason within the Ministry.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 7th 1999, 10.05 hours

    “I don’t want to hear excuses, I want results! Before anyone else shares the fate of the Nott family.” Lucius Malfoy glared at the wizard who was supposed to be his closest ally, Augustus Rookwood, Head of the Department of Mysteries.

    The Unspeakable seemed unperturbed by Lucius’s outburst. He simply shrugged. “We’re working on the issue. But the needed secrecy hampers our efforts somewhat.”

    Lucius controlled himself with an effort. “You’ve had almost 20 years to find a solution. Now the Dark Lord is back and coming straight for us.”

    Rookwood waved his artificial left hand as if it did not concern him. “Nott was a fool, thinking his manor’s wards could stop the Dark Lord. Or trusting the aurors to respond in time,” the man added with a sly smile.

    “Whether the fatal delay was due to treason or stupidity, the people responsible for it will be found and punished,” Lucius declared.

    “By your mudbloods.”

    “If the Aurors cannot deliver results. The Wands have already proven themselves to be more effective than the Aurors.” Lucius met the man’s eyes. Rookwood had his Unspeakables, and the secrets hidden in the vaults beneath the Department of Mysteries, but without Lucius’s Wands he’d fall to the Dark Lord, whose knowledge of the Dark Arts still was second to none.

    “And they’re now casting the Unforgivables. Rather dangerous, isn’t it?”

    “Only for our enemies.” The aurors had been authorised to use the formerly forbidden spells as well, as planned, but Lucius didn’t expect much to come of that - they lacked the training to use them effectively.

    “Of course,” Rookwood said, with just a hint of amusement. “In any case, we’ve got time. You and I are protected by the wards of the Ministry. And the Wands of the Ministry. Meanwhile, Antonin is already hunting our former comrades. He might take a few of them down and distract the Dark Lord before his death.”

    Lucius nodded. Dolohov was a very good duelist, and had a gift for both fighting and torture, but that was as far as his talents went. He was no great loss. Even Karkaroff, hiding behind the wards of Hogwarts, was more useful. “Will the trap you built into his arm have a chance to take out the Dark Lord?”

    “If there is a trap, then it is certainly Antonin’s doing - that would be the kind of surprise he’d like, wouldn’t it? It’s a good idea though. Avoid torture and take some of them with you, if you fail.” Rookwood nodded, as if the thought had only just occurred to him. Lucius was more convinced than ever that it would have been a very bad idea to trust him to craft a prosthetic arm.

    “All that will be useless until you find a way to destroy the Horcruxes.” The Minister clenched his left fist. It almost felt like his real arm.

    “Do not fret, Lucius. I’m close to success.”

    “That’s what you said before.”

    “Such matters cannot be rushed. But I’ve recently gained a very promising lead on some rather elusive knowledge that will help me complete my work. Trust me, our troubles will soon be over.” Rookwood appeared to be very confident. Before Lucius could demand more details, he continued: “Although I cannot really say anything more at the moment.”

    Lucius trusted the man as much as he’d trust either of his sisters-in-law, but he nodded. Rookwood would do all he could to defeat the Dark Lord, if only to save his own skin. Afterwards though… Lucius would have to make sure his Wands would be ready.

    *****​

    Nurmengard, Magical Bavaria, August 7th 1999, 22.05 hours

    “Nurmengard. I should have known,” Albus Dumbledore said, staring at the tall, dark tower that rose from the top of a cliff.

    “Does that mean all that apparating around and fiddling with a map was not needed? Would have been good to know beforehand, I could have done without all the squeezing and stretching and falling down.” Harry’s joking tone took the bite from his barb. Mostly.

    Albus turned to look at the boy. “It is just a figure of speech. I meant that it makes sense for the Dark Lord to hide his Horcrux at this place.”

    “Why? I wasn’t the best in History of Magic, but wouldn’t the most secure prison on the continent be a rather bad place to store a dark artifact?”

    “Unfortunately, no. What staff is on the premises mostly keeps both prisoners and themselves fed and cared for. Nurmengard relies on wards instead of guards. Wards created by dark rituals, their strength and power far beyond what you would expect from wards not even a century old.” Albus winced, remembering just how his old friend had achieved that feat. All those deaths…

    “How does that help the Dark Lord, exactly?”

    “A Horcrux tends to corrupt all it touches - people, animals, plants, even inanimate things. That makes hiding it rather difficult in the long run. Powerful wards would prevent that - for a time.”

    “Does that mean there could be one hidden in Hogwarts?”

    “That is a distinct possibility.” A very likely one, given the Dark Lord’s past.

    “Great. I’m barely out of school for a year, and I’m about to break into one already.”

    Albus chuckled. “For now though, let us focus on breaking into a prison.”

    “From what I hear, Hogwarts is not much different from a prison. For the muggleborns at least,” Harry said, turning to face the dark tower.

    “Rumors have been exaggerated, as far as I know,” Albus said. By how much was still to be determined. “Now, the wards are tuned to keep prisoners inside. Entering therefore will be easier than leaving.”

    “If we end up stuck inside, I’ll blame you when Ginny gets mad,” Harry quipped, though Albus could see the young man was more nervous than he let on.

    He chuckled, hopefully reassuring him. “Do not worry - I am certain we will not be hindered too much.” His wand, won from Gellert, would ensure that. It wasn’t quite a key to the prison, but it would make defeating its defenses far easier, given how crucial the wand had been for its construction. He nodded at Harry. “To get inside though, we will have to rely on your flying skills.”

    Harry pulled out his shrunken broom. “What exactly will we be facing?”

    “As we fly closer, a storm will surround the tower, making it near impossible for a broom rider to reach it. I will mask our presence somewhat, so the wards will not react too strongly, but it will still be, as I think the common saying is, ‘a bumpy ride’.”

    Harry chuckled. “I’ve flown in storms before, and in far more crowded areas. Saddle up!”

    While he straddled the broom behind Harry, Albus reminded himself that thanks to the Elder Wand, he should be able to save them from a deadly fall should the young wizard’s confidence turn out to be misplaced.

    As it turned out, Harry’s confidence was fully justified. If not for the war, he would be among the best seekers in Europe. They were not as much beating the magical storm, but using it to reach the tower, effectively turning its defenses against them. Not unlike how Albus himself preferred to deal with wards and curses. He still had to steady himself for a second, after Harry had landed them in the courtyard - he was not used to flying like a leaf in a storm.

    “Well, I’d say that made all the apparating around worth it!” Albus’s young comrade was grinning from ear to ear, his robes and hair in disarray - more than usual - and despite visibly tired from the effort, he seemed to shine with pride. “I’ve never been challenged in the air like this!”

    Albus didn’t want to dampen Harry’s mood, but they had a mission to focus on. “Can you sense it?”

    Harry concentrated for a moment, closing his eyes and grinding his teeth, then pointed at the middle of the tower. Albus felt relieved - he wouldn’t have to confront what remained of the worst mistake of his life.

    Using the Cloak of Invisibility, sneaking into the tower was easy. Even wards created with blood sacrifices and the Elder wand could not pierce that cloak, and its guards knew the strength of the wards, and had grown complacent as a result. The biggest challenge was not stumbling over each other’s feet, as Harry put it.

    Finally, Albus was waiting in front of a storage room while Harry stood in the middle of it, turning with his eyes closed, moving slowly from one side to the other, until he reached out and tapped a brick in the wall with his index finger. “Here.”

    Albus entered the room himself, after listening for any guard making their round, and studied the brick. He couldn’t detect any defenses. “Ah.” He pointed his wand at it, and turned the brick to water. It ran down the wall, revealing a knife in the hole it had left. And for the first time, the old wizard felt the effect of the Dark Lord’s Horcrux.

    He staggered back as the cursed item tried to invade his mind, showing him his mistakes and sins, taunting him with his dead family. Albus had had decades to come to terms with his past though. He wouldn’t be defeated by mere lies and illusions. He aimed his wand at the foul artifact, and cast. A blue sphere surrounded the knife, and the assault on his mind stopped.

    Next to him, Harry took deep breaths. The boy hadn’t collapsed, even with his mother’s protection gone. A remarkable feat. His scar was bleeding though, and he was trembling and sweating. Albus vanished the blood, then summoned the sphere containing the horcrux. “We need to leave now.”

    They stepped to the next window, barely wide enough for a head - but a swish of Albus’s wand changed that, even if it took him some effort, and a few seconds afterwards, they shot into the sky on Harry’s broom, into the gathering storm.

    If flying to the tower had been a bumpy ride, trying to fly away was far more taxing on both Harry, who had to steer a broom through what was essentially a hurricane, and Albus, who was casting constantly to keep the wind from growing worse. If not for sticking charms cast with the Elder Wand, they’d have been blown from the broom within a minute.

    This time there was no ‘riding the storm’, as Harry had called it. They had to cut through it, countering the wind’s force with magic and sheer skill at flying. And they couldn’t apparate away until they had left the storm. The further they flew from the tower, the stronger the storm grew, the air tearing at them as if it was alive. Again and again they were beaten back towards the tower by sudden gales as if they were a bludger getting hit by a beater’s bat. They wouldn’t be able to last much longer, not under this strain.

    Then they suddenly plummeted straight down, towards the rocky ground. Albus heard Harry curse as the boy fought to stop their fall, strained to pull up again, but all he seemed to be able to do was to change their angle of descent, from straight down to slightly ahead.

    Then Albus understood. Harry was using gravity itself against the storm to break through the last, strongest barrier surrounding them. Once again the wind hit against them, pushed them back, but this time, it was not enough. They shot out of the storm, into calm air. Albus apparated them away seconds before they would have smashed into a rock.

    They appeared in a small clearing, a few miles away, and fell to the ground as soon as Albus dispelled the sticking charms. For a while, neither Albus nor Harry said anything. Then the old wizard spoke: “That was a bit too close for comfort.”

    Harry snorted. “If you’re looking for comfort, you should ride a carpet, not a broom,” he said, his bravado only slightly marred by his shaky voice.

    Albus chuckled. “As an old man, I’ll keep that in mind.”

    *****​

    Beauxbatons, France, August 8th, 01.37 hours

    Albus Dumbledore stared at the remains of the Horcrux in his office. The alchemical concoction he had developed had performed as planned, reducing the knife - a sacrificial knife of Aztec origin, used in the Dark Lord’s resurrection according to Severus - to a few broken, brittle shards of grey stone.

    Three more to find, and destroy. And Harry’s scar. Albus doubted the next Horcrux would be as comparatively easy to secure. They’d have to enter Britain, brave Lucius’ minions, and risk encountering the Dark Lord himself. It would be dangerous, risky. Some might even call it foolhardy.

    But he felt more hopeful than in a long time.
     
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  9. Threadmarks: Chapter 4: Doubts
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 4: Doubts

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 8th, 1999, 11.21 hours

    Sitting on the bench near the Fountain of Magical Brethren in the Ministry’s atrium, Hermione watched another Ministry employee walk past in the slight daze typical of someone who had just received the antidote to Veritaserum. The young Wand-Leader shook her head. She spotted Colin walking towards her, but there was no sign of Dean.

    “Dean’s coming in a few minutes, he was held up by Sally-Anne,” Colin said as he reached her and sat down. “What’s wrong?”

    “Dawlish. He actually thinks using Veritaserum on anyone even remotely connected to the Floo Network Authority will help him find the traitor.” She sighed. “As if the Memory Charm and the Fake-Memory Charm didn’t exist.” Amateurs.

    “Fake memories can be found with careful questioning though, especially if the subject can’t remember why they did something,” Colin said.

    Hermione nodded. The youngest member of her team had read the books she had given him last year. “Even if they pay enough attention to spot such signs, they would not catch the real traitor, but his imperiused patsy.” And if the real traitor was as careful as Hermione suspected, they wouldn’t have shown their face at all. Maybe even used polyjuice. “Though if they find the patsy, they could narrow down the number of suspects to those who both have the skill, and the opportunity to pull this off.”

    “That’s a lot of wizards and witches.”

    “Not that many. We’re either dealing with an old mole, dating back to before the Minister killed the Dark Lord, or a recent convert with the skills and talent for this.” Not many of those were around.

    “You’ve got a suspect in mind already?”

    “Not a suspect, but a group of suspects. Former and present Obliviators.” The number of Obliviators had been reduced in the last decade. There hadn’t been a need for too many of them; with the blood traitors gone, very few wizards and witches in Britain were as foolish as to interact with muggles.

    “The mole could have hidden his skill,” Colin said.

    “Unlikely. Delusional Fanatics believing that the Dark Lord returned from death are not the type to make such long-term plans. I think it’s someone who has been turned recently.”

    “What would be his motive? Gold?”

    “Gold. Blackmail. Threats to their family.” All things a thorough investigation would turn up.

    “Did you tell Dawlish that?” Colin watched another dazed employee walk past.

    “He didn’t listen.” Hermione’s mouth formed a thin line.

    “Do you think we’ll have to bail them out again then?” Colin asked in an eager voice.

    “That’s likely. The Minister wants that traitor found.” And that was exactly the kind of task the Investigative Branch had been formed for. Hermione couldn’t wait to show their worth.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 9th, 1999, 16.40 hours

    “Wand-Leader Hermione to see you, Minister.”

    “Send her in,” Lucius Malfoy said to his secretary.

    The girl walked in and saluted, then stood at attention. He nodded at her. “You wanted to speak to me, Wand-Leader?”

    “Yes, sir.” She looked determined, but also slightly nervous. Just as she should be. “It’s about Jeremiah Brockleton.”

    “The traitor?” Dawlish had come through, as expected, and found the wizard who had delayed the alert from the Notts.

    “I don’t think that he is the real traitor, sir.” The witch raised her chin slightly. Stubborn.

    “Oh? Dawlish found that he sabotaged the floo, obliviated himself of the memory of his deed, but failed to cover his tracks. His wand revealed the spells.”

    “I believe that the investigation by the Aurors was a bit prematurely concluded, sir. He had to have been in contact with someone else. The timing of the attack with his shift is too perfect.”

    “You don’t believe it could have been a coincidence?”

    “No, sir. There are no coincidences.”

    Lucius hid his smile at the parroted line. It was good to see that his Wands were as suspicious as they had to be to serve him, even if it was currently a bit inconvenient. “Have you read the report of the investigation?”

    “No, sir.” Her tone told Lucius that she didn’t think the investigation was worth the parchment it had been written on. She wasn’t wrong, of course.

    “I see. And yet you think the Aurors missed something.”


    “Yes, sir.” Stubborn indeed.

    “And you wish to lead your own investigation.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    Lucius leaned back. He was certain that the girl would not give up even if he denied her request. The thought of a traitor inside the Ministry was too much too bear, as it should be. Fortunately, this wasn’t an unexpected complication. He sighed. “Truth to be told, I’m not too happy with the investigation myself.” He hid his amusement at the way her face lit up. So eager, so smart, and yet so easily fooled. “But this needs to be discreet. To undermine the Aurors without concrete proof would be ill-advised in the current situation. Britain needs to stand united in the face of this threat.”

    The mudblood nodded. “Of course, sir.”

    “Tell me your plans.”

    He made appreciative comments while the girl explained her suspicions and conclusions. They were well-reasoned out, even though they were quite wrong. A bit of Legilimency showed that she honestly believed her words, and didn’t suspect anyone else. For such a smart witch, her mind was rather easy to read. When she had finished, he nodded. “Your request is granted. You report directly to me though, not to anyone else.”

    “Yes, sir!”


    He nodded at her. “Anything else?”

    “No sir.”

    “Very well. Good work, Wand-Leader.”

    She beamed at him before leaving. Once the door shut behind her, he grinned and shook his head. She’d never find Severus, of course. The man was far too skilled as a spy. But Lucius might have to tell Albert to prepare another patsy. One that would suicide upon capture. Not right now though - it wouldn’t hurt to have the little mudblood investigate Lucius’s employees for signs of treason. After all, there could be a real mole hiding in their ranks, one Severus didn’t know about. And whatever else turned up would make good blackmail material.

    *****​

    London, Knockturn Alley, August 9th, 1999, 22.14 hours

    "Knockturn Alley. You'll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy," Tonks, wearing the disguise of a slightly older and much less reputable witch, whispered while she and Ron Weasley entered the infamous alley.

    "Worse than Marseille's Rue Maudite?" Ron, disguised as an older blond wizard himself thanks to some muggle hair dye and makeup, had some limited experience with that part of Magical Marseille. More than he had with Star Wars, in any case.

    Tonks actually paused. "Good question. I'd say Knockturn Alley is safer for visitors. You don't have as big a chance to get robbed or kidnapped here. The Wands and Aurors react violently to such acts, and don’t care much about who they hurt, so the residents police themselves more. But the goods and services offered here…" she shuddered.

    Ron nodded. That was why they were here, after all. His hand slipped into the expanded pocket of his robe, patting the the small case stored there. Tonks had already scouted out the Wand and Auror presence in the alley.

    Arms hooked, the two strolled down the alley, past the pawn shops and secondhand shops catering to Wizarding Britain's poor. Their goal lay further in, where the shops and pubs and brothels catered to those with more gold, and a taste for the illegal.

    Like the 'Blue Pixie'. They stepped past the doorguard, a thin wizard twirling his wand as if he was wishing for a fight, and entered a dimly lit room with many alcoves, centered around a stage where a nude witch was dancing around a cauldron where another nude witch was apparently taking a bath. Not a really exciting sight for someone who had spent weeks in Magical Paris, and had been on a few raids on brothels in Marseille. Celestina Warbeck's ‘A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love’, was playing, and Ron couldn’t help imagining his parents’ reactions to one of their favorite songs being played in such a lewd scene.

    Out of habit, Ron scanned the room. He didn't spot anything illegal before they were seated in an alcove. He hadn't expected to - they'd be discreet. Polyjuice taken backstage, mind control spells that didn't leave the victim a brainless drone.

    A young witch in a far too-skimpy robe and heels so high she had to be using magic not to stumble approached them, carrying a tray with a few empty glasses on it. She used her wand to clean the table, then took their orders.

    Ron looked over at Tonks, who had drawn her wand, acting as if she was just cleaning her clothes. She nodded at him. They were currently not being spied upon then. Good. He slipped his hand into his pocket again, opened the case, and felt a dozen tiny creatures scramble up his fingers and arm, disappearing under his robe.

    He had to struggle not to twitch when the little bugs started to make their way down to the floor over his belly and legs, and grabbed his drink when the waitress returned as if it was a quaffle.

    Tonks leaned in, pointing at the stage where the two witches were now inside the cauldron, doing things he really did not want to associate with his parents, and whispered into his ear: "Everything alright?"

    Ron raised the glass, covering his lips, while he answered: "They tickle."

    That had the metamorphmagus giggling. "I'll tell the twins then that they need to redo their recording bugs."

    "Do it, and you can collect the bugs by yourself next week," Ron whispered back. They'd tease him mercilessly about it. They wouldn’t make them worse. Probably.

    "I could."

    "And get hit upon by everyone, and draw attention?"

    "Maybe I like attention."

    "Of course you do.” He ignored her huffing. “But I'd hope you've got higher standards than wanting the kind of attention you get in this alley."

    "Maybe I'll make you collect them by yourself.” She pouted at him, then suddenly grinned. “What would your girlfriend say if she caught you with a whore on your arm?"

    "She'd not recognize me in this disguise."

    "Ah, right. If she was that smart, she'd not be with you." Tonks giggled again.

    "She isn't with me anyway,” Ron answered.

    "Mh."

    Ron sighed. Tonks was again acting like an annoying elder sister. He usually could handle her better, but he usually wasn’t getting close to a girl working for the enemy. He had to admit though that he didn’t feel nervous anymore about infiltrating Knockturn Alley. Which was good because they had to plant the bugs in half a dozen more locations if they wanted a good chance to catch a ministry employee doing something illegal enough to blackmail them.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 12th, 1999, 18.23 hours

    “Look at that robe! Madam Malkin’s most expensive piece this season.”

    Hermione pointed at one of the pictures spread out on the desk in her office. They showed all the members of the current roster of the Obliviators, in civilian clothes and on duty, and had been taken in the last few days.

    Dean and Colin bent forward and studied the picture - Colin craning his neck because he was looking at it upside down. She used the opportunity to vanish the remains of three sandwiches - her team and herself had done quite a lot of overtime this week, though given the importance of their missions, that was only to be expected.

    “Didn’t know you were a fashion expert, Hermione,” Dean said, leaning back and grinning.

    She rolled her eyes at him. “I checked the catalogues for robes and jewelry for this assignment.” Fashion was something for purebloods to worry about. Wands worried about more important things.

    “So… that makes the fifth Obliviator with more gold than he should have,” Colin said, looking pensive.

    Hermione nodded. “And the other two we’ve checked come from rich families.”

    “Which means we wouldn’t be able to tell if they also had more gold than they should have. A pattern.” Dean grabbed his cup of tea and finished it.

    “A distinct pattern.” Hermione stood up and started to pace. “Well-hidden - most would assume the Obliviators were simply paid more in general.” But her team had the records from the treasury.

    “They would know though, so all had to be in on it. But all of them being traitors…” Colin trailed off, suddenly looking unsure of his own conclusions.

    “It doesn’t have to be treason,” Hermione said. “It’s more likely that this is a sign of corruption. It could be treason though. It would be easier to hide gold if they are already receiving bribes. Or they could be blackmailed.” She faced her two teammates. “Either way, we need to investigate this.”

    “We already are. We’ve trailed and observed them for hours to take those pictures,” Dean commented. “And we haven’t found a sign of where they get this gold. Despite even observing them in their bedrooms.” And hadn’t that been a surprise, to find out just how good Colin was at taking pictures without getting seen. Hermione wondered just what her youngest team member had been up to at Hogwarts - Wands got quite some leeway, if they were training useful skills. Like sneaking and spying.

    The Wand-Leader nodded. “We haven’t observed them at work though.”

    Dean’s eye widened when he understood what she implied. Colin blinked at first, looking confused. “We’ve spied on them in their offices… oh!”

    Hermione didn’t confirm their guess, even though they were right. The Obliviators were the only Ministry employees whose duties took them into the muggle world. The only ones who were permitted to, outside emergencies, to venture there. The perfect setup.

    That meant that to investigate, they’d have to follow the suspects into the muggle world. Hermione wasn’t looking forward to that. Not at all. She knew practically nothing about muggles.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 12th, 1999, 23.58 hours

    Diagon Alley’s lower part looked to be ablaze when Hermione arrived with her team, and every Wand that could be spared. For a moment, she was shocked, and judging by the curses and exclamations uttered by the other Wands, so were her comrades. Then her eyes adjusted to the dimly lit scene, and she realized that just a few buildings were burning, thick smoke obscuring the rest. Dozens of screaming people were fleeing while Aurors on brooms were trying to battle the fires.

    Normal fires would have been put out by now - even the Aurors would have managed that, Hermione knew. Not those fires though. She saw a pillar of flame shoot up from the ruins of a shop - Hancock’s Used Cauldrons, she thought - and twist around to strike at one of the red-robed broom riders. “Fiendfyre,” she muttered.

    The Auror was too slow to dodge, and the fire leapt at his broom, then onto his robes. For a horrible moment, both man and broom were on fire, shooting through the night sky, then the broom turned to ashes and the burning Auror fell down, crashing into a roof.

    She stared, then shook her head. She had a task to do. They all had. A quick Amplifying Charm later, her voice rang over the screams and noise: “Wands! First Squad, Get the civilians to safety! Second Squad, create firebreaks! Third Squad, cover us in case the attackers are still around!”

    The Wands jumped to obey, herding the panicked civilians away. Hermione knew she’d be reprimanded later for taking charge of the Wands, but someone had to. “Dean, Colin - with me!”

    Her two teammates fell in with her while she made her way towards the closest fire. Fire breaks would protect the rest of the street - provided someone didn’t spread more Fiendfyre - but there were houses behind those, untouched still.

    They passed a few stragglers dragging trunks and in one case carrying a habitat filled with puffskeins. She saw one wizard’s hair start to burn, just from the heat of the fire he was running from. “Douse yourself!” she shouted.

    “Aguamenti!”

    Soaked, they continued, but they couldn’t get as close as Hermione had hoped - the fire was simply too hot. Then a snake shaped out of magical fire jumped at them, stopped at the last second by a hastily conjured barrier.

    “Fall back!”

    A couple more Aguamentis drove the fire back, but the fire was already spreading to other houses, licking at the roofs and walls. Broom riders tried to keep the flames at bay with water, but the fire was too strong. Water wouldn’t help… they had to smother the flames. Sand… if they could transfigure and conjure enough sand the could do it.

    She ran towards the Wand-Leader running the evacuation. They’d need every wand on this if they wanted to save this part of the street.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 13th, 1999, 15.48 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione stared at the ruins of almost a dozen houses. Hours after the fires they hadn’t been able to smother had finally burned out, smoke still rose from the remains, and ash covered most of the street. She’d stayed to the end, then had slept for a few hours, before returning, and she still felt exhausted. And angry. A bit ahead, Colin was taking pictures, but the youngest member of her team wasn’t showing much of his usual enthusiasm for his work either. Dean wasn’t around yet - he was visiting a friend who had been hurt in St. Mungo’s. Officially, he was getting a statement, of course. The Minister had left already, after getting her report. Fortunately, she hadn’t had to use Occlumency to hide her illegal plans this time.

    “Hermione!”

    Upon hearing the familiar voice, the Wand-Leader turned around. Luna Lovegood was waving at her from behind the barriers holding gawkers back. Hermione smiled and made her way to the barrier, letting the blonde witch and her oversized scroll of parchment through.

    “You’re OK!” Luna shouted while hugging her tightly.

    “I sent you an owl, silly,” she answered, chuckling. Luna’s concern felt good. Not many outside the Wands would care about her.

    “You just wrote you were fine. That doesn’t mean you weren’t hurt!” Pouting, Luna released her and looked her over. “You’re not hiding wounds under that robe, are you?”

    Hermione shook her head. “No. I wasn’t around when the attack happened, I was just there for the aftermath.”

    “You missed the dragon then!”

    “Dragon?” Hermione asked, before she remembered her friend’s theory that there was a dragon loose in Britain. Just like her father, Luna stuck to her theories. Sometimes the muggleborn witch wondered how Luna would have turned out if her mother hadn’t died. Would they still have become best friends?

    “Yes. The same dragon that attacked Malfoy Manor has now struck against Diagon Alley!” Luna nodded and scribbled down a few notes.

    “We’re not certain if it was a dragon,” Hermione said. “Fiendfyre was involved.”

    “A dragon using the Dark Arts? That’s new! Headline material for certain!” Luna nodded, and scribbled some more. Hermione, thinking that an attack on Diagon Alley would have been headline material anyway - was headline material at least for the Daily Prophet - didn’t comment. Everyone knew the Quibbler had its own take on the world. Or on reality. But the Minister liked it.

    The Wand-Leader waited while Luna finished her notes, letting her gaze wander over the crowd of spectators. Most of them were gawking at the ruins, afraid or shocked. Some though looked grim, angry. Others sad. Some were crying - they either had lost a house, or a loved one there, she assumed. Then she spotted a familiar face. Antoine. Dupont.

    He had seen her as well, and started to walk towards her. She smiled, despite the situation and their surrounding.

    “Hermione,” he said, nodding at her in sort of almost-bow.

    “Antoine.” She was still smiling, she realized.

    “Hermione? Antoine?” Luna piped up. “Oh! You’re her paramour! The mystery wizard from Québec, who met her on the field of battle and conquered her heart!” She was beaming at them both, and peering at Antoine with unabashed curiosity. “I’m Luna. Luna Lovegood,” she said, before Hermione could introduce her. “Hermione told me so much about you!”

    “Enchanté, Miss Lovegood,” the Québecois said, displaying good manners despite his obvious surprise.

    “She’s my best friend,” Hermione explained. She wanted to rein Luna in, but she knew from long experience that nothing short of a Silencing Charm would stop the blonde. And she’d not do that to Luna. Hopefully he’d not get mad at either of them.

    He looked surprised while Luna happily nodded. “I’m her only pureblood friend too. Or was, until you came along. The rest are afraid of her. Silly, isn’t it? There’s no need to be afraid of her. Unless you’re a criminal. You’re no criminal, aren’t you?”

    Hermione’s other pureblood friend shook his head. “No, I’m no criminal.” Then he grinned. “Well, now she’s got two pureblood friends. We’re outnumbering her.”

    Luna giggled while Hermione shook her head in amusement. The wizard turned serious soon though. “I’m glad you were not hurt in this… “ He made a gesture towards the ruins.

    “Dragon attack.”

    “What?”

    “It was a dragon attack. By a dragon using the Dark Arts. Probably possessed by some Dark Lord’s ghost.” Luna was nodding to herself while she explained her theory.

    Antoine was staring at the blonde, then at Hermione. The Wand-Leader shook her head. “So far we have found no proof of a dragon attack.”

    “Yet. The dragon would have hidden his trace well, since he obviously can hide from the Ministry easily, or he would have been found already. He can probably eat memories. Or change his color to appear like a rock.”

    The wizard seemed amused now, and Hermione narrowed her eyes, suddenly feeling very protective of Luna. If he made fun of her…

    He didn’t. “Maybe. Though whatever he can do, I’m certain Hermione will find him.”

    Luna emphatically agreed with that, and Hermione felt touched by the trust shown. “We’ll find whoever did this, and end them.”

    Antoine cocked his head slightly while he studied the ruins. “The attackers didn’t stay and fight then, or you’d have caught or killed some. Hit and run from the air? Like dragons,” he added, with a smile for Luna.

    Hermione wondered if he had seen similar attacks, in the War in Québec. “It looks like it.” She shouldn’t tell him that, it was an open investigation, and he was no wand, but… he already knew what had happened. And he might offer her some insight. A Wand did whatever duty required, after all. And that included talking to charming foreigners. She nodded towards the untouched part of the street. “Would you like, ah… The café there serves very good tea.”

    “Ah. Aren’t you on duty?” Antoine looked surprised.

    “I spent the whole night fighting the fires. I’m still on overtime, technically,” she answered, a trifle too defensive. Maybe he didn’t want to...

    “Oh, yes! Let’s take a break together! I want to find out everything about my best friend’s paramour!” Luna started to drag both of them towards the café.

    Hermione exchanged a glance with Antoine. He seemed more nervous than amused now. She grinned - it was usually she who had that effect on people, not Luna.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 13th, 1999, 16.15 hours

    “... and that’s why I believe the dragon is hiding in Wales, filling the ecological niche left by the absence of the Welsh Greens. Since he’s filling a niche, no one has spotted him yet, because they are looking for a dragon, not a niche.”

    Ron Weasley, sitting in what the what the French would call a pathetic imitation of a café, felt quite confused by Hermione’s friend Luna Lovegood. ‘Quirky’ didn’t even come close to describe the blonde’s flights of fancy. He couldn’t tell if ‘dragon’ was her code word for ‘Dark Lord’, or if she honestly believed there was a dragon in Britain, hiding and using the Dark Arts. His parents must have downplayed the Lovegoods’ eccentricities a lot in their tales of the Burrow.

    He glanced over to Hermione, who seemed to take the whole story in stride. A surprising stance from the witch, whom he had thought was very logical and as sharp as a cutting curse. “How did you two become friends?” he asked, before he thought about how pushy that might sound.

    He saw Hermione stiffen for a second, then take a deep breath, but Luna was already talking. “Oh, it happened soon after I started school. I felt very lonely, and some girls were infected by Nargles, and started picking on me. Hermione cured them of the infection though, once she found out.”

    “Nargles?”

    “Small invisible animals that hide in the hair of people and influence them so they start stealing,” Hermione said.

    “Not really invisible, just hard to see unless you have just the right angle,” Luna corrected her, tapping the corners of her eyes. “They can be scared away by dirigible plums and cork, and by Hermione.”

    “I think I scared the girls they had infected more.” Ron could see Hermione smirked a bit when she said that.

    “Hermione can be very scary,” Luna whispered conspiratorially while she leaned towards Ron. “But she’s a really nice witch, no matter what the purebloods say.”


    “Ah.” Ron nodded. “Did you get in trouble for that?”

    Hermione shook her head. “No.” She seemed to hesitate a second, then continued. “They had broken the rules, so if they had complained, they would have been punished.”

    “Despite it being the fault of the Nargles,” Luna added. “School rules are really unfair when it concerns Nargles.”

    “I see.” Ron didn’t, really, but it seemed the best answer. “So, afterwards, you were friends?”

    “Best friends, yes!” Luna nodded so forcefully, her head was bobbing up and down. “We’re so close, I don’t need cork or dirigible plums to scare away the nargles, she does that much better. She’s so scary!” Hermione’s smile slipped a bit, and Luna giggled. “They made me a Prefect too, because of her.”

    “Oh?” Ron hadn’t thought muggleborns had that kind of influence at Hogwarts. Not in Malfoy’s Britain.

    “Both Prefects and future Wands patrol the school and enforce the rules,” Hermione said.

    “She was really good at enforcing the rules, everyone said so. Even when she was just a first year,” Luna cut in. Ron had a brief vision of a pint-sized Hermione scolding much older students.

    Hermione chuckled, and continued. “So the teachers tend to choose Prefects who don’t cause friction with us.”

    Luna nodded. “They don’t always succeed though. Malfoy caused a lot of friction.” She frowned.

    “Luna!” Hermione sounded scandalized.

    “He did!” The blonde witch insisted. She turned to Ron. “He was always bothering the wands, especially the… ow!” She pouted at Hermione. Ron hadn’t heard the witch casting, but Luna was rubbing her side and Hermione had just withdrawn her elbow.

    “The Minister’s son’s time at Hogwarts isn’t a topic we should talk about,” the Wand-Leader said primly.

    Ron nodded, though he was certain it was a topic he should find out more about. “So, you spent a lot of your time with Hermione and the other future wands?”

    Luna nodded. “I spent most of my time with Hermione, and since she couldn’t visit the Ravenclaw Tower, I usually visited the Barracks. That’s the dorm for the Wands.”

    “They’re not actual barracks,” her friend explained. “They’re a dorm like the others in Hogwarts proper, just newer.”

    “And smaller. But they’re cozier too. And they have their own library too. I wasn’t allowed to visit it, but it mostly contains books about Defense anyway, and not about the more interesting topics, such as Magical Creatures, so I didn’t mind much.”

    “Well, you had your own exclusive library in Ravenclaw Tower,” Hermione said, and her tone gave Ron the impression that she had minded not being able to visit that library.

    “Mh.” Luna nodded. She bent towards him again, and added in a whisper: “I used to sneak books from there to her, you know! If you ever need to apologise for something, do not bother with chocolate or garden gnomes, give her a new book. It might save your life!”

    “Luna! You make it sound as if I would do anything for a book!” Hermione huffed.

    “You wouldn’t?” Luna asked, then giggled at the other witch’s expression.

    Ron joined her, chuckling. Hermione glared at both of them, but seemed to fight a smile herself. For a moment, Ron felt as if he was back in France, chatting with friends. Then he reminded himself that he was on a mission, and that at least one of the two witches sitting there would do her best to kill him if she knew that. He managed to keep smiling, and felt even worse for it.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 13th, 1999, 16.45 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione was happy. Happier than she had a right to be, she thought guiltily, with a glance back at the ruins up the street. But she loved spending time with Luna, especially these days, with deluded dark wizards attacking her country, and Antoine… she took a sip from her cup to mask her smile. He was charming, witty, and lacking both arrogance and fear when talking with her. She wasn’t used to purebloods acting like that. Apart from Luna, but her friend was a special case. Maybe that was why she found the Québecois so attractive.

    “You were in the muggle world? Did you see many of their animals? They are so fascinating, so exotic. We’re doing a series on them, in the Quibbler, about the differences between them and the magical creatures. Some purebloods actually think muggles are animals, can you imagine?” The blonde witch in question was chatting animatedly, gesturing with both hands.

    “Well, I’ve been to the zoo,” Antoine said.

    “Oh? I’ve wanted to visit it, but it’s scary, since it’s full of muggles.”

    “I haven’t had any trouble with muggles,” Antoine said.

    Hermione couldn’t tell if he was honest, or simply didn’t want to discuss such an ugly topic with them. She had to know though, even if she felt guilty at using Antoine like that, for her own aims. “How did you manage that?” she said, cutting in.

    “Manage what?” Antoine asked.

    “Avoid trouble with the muggles.” Everyone knew that it took a lot of training to fool them.

    “Ah. It’s not that hard. If you wear muggle clothes, and don’t use magic, you’re generally fine. If you don’t know how to act, you can act as a tourist, and they’ll help you.” Antoine smiled.

    That sounded far too simple. Muggles couldn’t be that stupid. “Posing as a foreign muggle seems even more difficult,” she said. He probably didn’t know, being a foreigner himself.

    “There are so many muggles around the world, they can’t know everyone’s country.” He leaned forward with a grin. “Are you thinking of going on a trip into muggle London?”

    “Regulations prevent that,” she said. It was true, even though her duty forced her to track the Obliviators into muggle England.

    “It’s a pity. I’m sure you’d look cute in muggle clothes.”

    She blushed, thinking of the pictures she had seen, of muggle clothes, in that magazine she had confiscated in Hogwarts. To walk around like that… Although, she could check the archives, for similar magazines, and get an idea of how to dress. Just in case her shadowing the Obliviators didn’t go according to plan. “I like my robes,” she said, finally.

    “She is very proud of them,” Luna said, nodding. “Youngest Wand-Leader ever!”

    Hermione spotted a familiar face entering the café. Marietta Edgecombe. She could see the sneer forming on the witch’s face when the former Ravenclaw spotted Luna, and how she froze when she saw Hermione. The Wand-Leader smiled and pulled a lock of her hair out, twisting it slightly. Edgecombe turned around at once and left. Who’d have thought that a single Medusa’s Curse would leave such a lasting impression?

    Sadly, it was time to leave for her as well. Accumulated overtime or not, she had her duty. And yet, when it came to say her goodbyes, she hesitated. “So… do you want to … do this again?” She almost bit her lower lip while asking, and waiting for his answer. But she was a Wand-Leader. She faced worse things than a possible rejection.

    “Ah, yes. Yes.” Antoine smiled.

    Hermione wasn’t certain if his slight hesitation was a good or a bad sign. It could mean he didn’t really want to, and was just being polite, or it could mean he wasn’t just repeating lines he said to any pretty witch, like some purebloods.

    But she knew she wanted to meet him again.

    *****​

    London, August 17th, 1999, 19.41 hours

    Ron Weasley swallowed the last bite of his sandwich, checked for a tail, both with his eyes and with his enchanted glasses, then walked across the street and to the small house, one in a row of similar ones. Old, but not decrepit. Worn.

    He pressed the bell, and waited, trying not to think of what kind of contraption was currently aimed at him, in case he was an enemy. Finally, the door was opened. “There you are!”, a brown-haired man with a thick mustache said, bidding him to enter. Fred. Or George. Even without a disguise, it was hard to tell them apart.

    “Tonks informed us about your ‘progress’. A real James Bond, aren’t you?” his brother said, grinning like a loon.

    “I’m no James Bond.”

    “Well, someone has to be him, since Q is already taken, Tonks is a girl, and Percy certainly couldn’t be Bond. So, you’re him by default.”

    “We’re not using those code names.” Even British purebloods would catch on.

    “Just internally. So, did you bring them?”

    Ron opened the muggle-style jacket he wore, part of his disguise, and handed the box to his brother. “We collected them yesterday, and replaced them.”

    “Ah, there you are, my little bugs!” Fred whispered, opening the box as he led Ron downstairs. “Show me all the naughty things you saw!”

    Ron rolled his eyes, but didn’t say anything. It would just encourage his brothers. They entered the cellar, where his other brother was bent over a smoking cauldron. The room was cluttered with various devices that Ron didn’t recognize, but assumed were far more dangerous than they looked.

    “Fred! Ron finally decided to visit us, and brought us a gift!” Fred, or rather George, said.

    “Ah, he managed at last to tear himself away from the Wand-Leader he seduced in the line of duty?”

    Ron decided that he needed to get back at Tonks, and soon.

    *****​

    Argelès-sur-Mer, France, August 17th, 1999, 21.04 hours

    “We will be entering the country through the vanishing cabinet the Weasley brothers have set up. I have procured fake identities for us which should stand up to the scrutiny of the muggle authorities, so we will be able to move freely in muggle Britain, to pinpoint our targets.” Albus Dumbledore was smiling as he explained the plan in the living room of Sirius’s and Harry’s house.

    Sirius Black didn’t seem impressed though, judging by his frown. Harry’s godfather was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. “Are you certain that this is safe? With the Dark Lord attacking, Lucius’s brainwashed muggleborns should be ready to apparate at a moment’s notice to deal with any threat.”

    “They are restricted to Wizarding Britain, as Harry’s friends have found out. Since Lucius has isolated the country from muggles, his control over muggle Britain has been greatly reduced. His people can maintain the Statute of Secrecy, but are hardly capable of finding enemies hiding among the muggles,” Albus said.

    “Unless you attract their attention with magic. That’s how they are finding the muggleborns.”

    “They are looking for accidental magic and spells. Enchanted items, like brooms, and cloaks of invisibility, can be used safely;” Albus answered. “We have tested that.”

    “I still don’t like it,” Sirius muttered.

    “You don’t like me taking part in this. If it was just you you’d jump at the chance to strike back at Voldemort and Lucius,” Harry said, glaring at Sirius.

    Sirius glared back, but didn’t answer.

    “I’m an adult. My friends are already in Britain, risking their lives.”

    “And their parents are going spare.”

    Albus winced. Molly Weasley’s reaction to the decision of four of her sons to infiltrate Britain hadn’t been pretty or loud. The witch had raised her children in the belief that they would one day return to their ancestral home, but she obviously hadn’t wanted that day to arrive so soon. She had settled down, fortunately. Albus coughed, to draw the attention of the two wizards before further words were said in anger. He could claim, honestly, that Harry was indispensable for this task, but that would not do the situation justice. “You were younger than Harry when you joined the first war, Sirius.”

    Harry smiled, and his godfather’s frown deepened. “As were my friends, and we know how that turned out for them.”

    Albus knew that all too well. James and Lily, murdered. Peter, turned traitor, and Remus vanished. If not for the need to take care of Harry, Sirius would have been killed in a brave but ultimately futile fight, of that Albus had no doubt.

    “Besides, you are one to talk! At least Malfoy doesn’t want me dead. Both he and Voldemort want to kill you for your inheritance,” the young wizard said, standing up and facing his godfather. “You’re in twice the danger I am.”

    “I’ve also got twice your experience.” Sirius pushed off from the wall and stepped closer to his godson. His son in all but blood, Albus knew.

    “Remember that witch who tried to kill you, five years ago?” Harry said, referring to a rather clumsy attempt at assassination. Albus still didn’t know if Lucius had actually been behind that; the witch in question hadn’t remembered who had sent her.

    “I had the situation well in hand,” Sirius claimed. He also had toned down his womanizing though, since that incident.

    “Children, please. As touching as your need to keep each other safe is, we are at war. Far too many people depend on us to squabble like this.” Albus hated to do this, hated to send young people into harm’s way, but needs must. A lot of the exiled British wizards talked about how they would take their homes back. An impressively large part of them would take up their wands if Albus but asked, but few among them were capable of the kind of deeds the war effort needed right now. Sirius and Harry were among them. Sirius, because of his experience, his talent, and his family’s knowledge. Harry because Albus had taught him. Him and his friends.

    There hadn’t been any choice where Harry was concerned. The prophecy clearly said the boy would be facing Voldemort, so he needed all the training and help he could get. But his friends… if not for Albus encouraging them, teaching them, would they be so eager and willing to enter the war? Was it right to let the brightest and bravest risk their lives for people they did not even know? Where did teaching turn into manipulating?

    The two younger wizards stared at each other without saying a word. Finally, Sirius opened his arms, and the two embraced.

    Albus kept a smile on his face while he tried to deal with his guilt.
     
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  10. Blargh

    Blargh I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    This au is very interesting, good job at adapting canon into this. Also this is the first one of your fics where you have Ron paired with Hermione and I'm liking the focus on her changes. I am interested in why you are not using enchanted robes like you are in Patron. I thought it was a very good idea that could be relevant in pretty much any au.
     
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  11. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    I'm trying not to repeat too much from one story in the next, to avoid getting repetitive. Enchanted robes were a feature in Patron since that AU is supposed to have far more magic and magic items in daily life than canon. They also have a significant effect on battles, two things I don't think this story needs.
     
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  12. Threadmarks: Chapter 5: Revelations
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 5: Revelations

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 18th, 1999, 14.23 hours


    Lucius Malfoy, Minister for Magic, leaned back in his chair and watched his artificial hand while he bent each finger individually. As the healers at St. Mungo’s had predicted, it felt now almost like his real hand. He glanced at the latest issue of the ‘Quibbler’, amused by the headline: ‘Dark Dragon Attack!’

    The things the Lovegoods came up with were always good for a laugh. And since Lovegood believed the Dark Lord had slain his wife, one of the more capable Aurors at the time, before Lucius could stop him, both father and daughter were staunchly opposed to similar threats to Britain. Not that anyone took them seriously anyway, outside a few naturalists.

    Greengrass interrupted his reading. “Minister. Your Defense Advisor has arrived.”

    Lucius nodded at the girl. “Send him in.”

    Severus Snape walked in, clad in black robes and sneering at Lucius’s secretary, as usual. After the spy had cast a few of his own privacy spells - Lucius couldn’t say if the man honestly didn’t trust his own precautions, or if this was simply a gesture - he nodded. “The new cover is holding. The Dark Lord is pleased with my position.”

    “Doubly so after the Notts’ demise, I trust.”

    The spy nodded. “Yes. Though he has been asking when I will be able to arrange a similar situation for you.”

    “You can tell him that I’ve grown paranoid, and have found your tool. He should understand that you would need more time to cultivate another,” Lucius said, folding his hands.

    “He is less understanding of such concerns than you would expect. Mere mudbloods are of no concern to him, and so he does not grant the Wands the consideration they deserve.” Severus sneered, either at the Dark Lord’s folly, or at the mudbloods.

    “I see. Did you find out if he’ll attack Diagon Alley again?” That last attack had scared the population, and scared people lost trust in the government. Something he couldn’t afford, not right now.

    “He plans to attack somewhere else while you focus your mudbloods on the Alley.”

    “Hm.” Lucius would have preferred another attack on Diagon Alley. The Wands would be able to handle it. Maybe even ambush the attackers before they could strike. “Hogsmeade then, or Godric’s Hollow.”

    Severus nodded. “He didn’t say so, but they are the most likely locations.”

    An attack on another manor wouldn’t have the same impact on Britain as an attack on one of the two pure wizarding villages in Britain. Godric’s Hollow would be more vulnerable, having been a mixed village until a few years ago. “Any child could see that. Would you be blamed if his forces were ambushed?” The Wands might even manage that without any warnings, should the Dark Lord’s forces use the same tactic as in Diagon Alley.

    “I cannot say for certain. The Dark Lord has been quite volatile since his return.”

    He couldn’t afford to lose his spy. Not until Severus managed to lure the Dark Lord into a trap. “Tell him that the Greengrass family is one of my most important, though secret supporters. That I plan to have their daughter marry Draco.”

    Severus slowly nodded. The spy understood what Lucius was thinking. “That might be enough to keep me from suffering for his mistakes.”

    And Lucius could hire a smarter secretary.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 18th, 1999, 17.58 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione walked into the archives of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and nodded at the pureblood guard in passing. He glared at her in return, but she ignored it. He knew as well as she did that he was not allowed to hassle a Wand on duty - and he had no way to tell that Hermione wasn’t exactly on duty. Or rather, was stretching the definition a bit.

    The witch went past the room where visitors could study the archived files without taking them out of the archives, into the main repository. Row upon row of shelves filled a hall there, thanks to expansion charms. Many sections were sealed and required the permission of the Minister himself to be accessed. Those housed the cases involving dark wizards, traitors, and forbidden rituals. But she wasn’t after that kind of information.

    She walked to the shelves where confiscated muggle contraband was stored. Minor cases. Muggle clothes, muggle items, and muggle food. Filth that had no place in Wizarding Britain. She pursed her lips and told herself that she was doing this to fulfil her duty to her country, then grabbed the box labeled ‘muggle magazines - Cosmopolitan’. That should be exactly what she was looking for: a magazine detailing the different muggle cultures.

    Twenty minutes and five boxes of different magazines later Hermione had learned two things: Muggles were obsessed with sex and dressed utterly inappropriately. She really hoped she wouldn’t have to try to ‘fit in’ while trailing the Obliviators in the muggle world..

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 19th, 1999, 01.57 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione was a criminal. Not only had she duplicated muggle contraband, but she was now breaking into the Obliviator Headquarters. It couldn’t be helped though - she had to gain access to the tracking charms of that Department so she could follow the Obliviators in the muggle world without triggering the trace herself. Otherwise she’d never expose whatever crimes those wizards and witches might be committing outside Wizarding Britain.

    Disillusioned and under a Silencing Charm, she waited outside the door on the third floor for the shift change. Like the Aurors, the Obliviators had members ready around the clock. Not as many, nor as prepared as the Corps, of course. Wands were always ready, after all. The clock struck 02.00 hours, and no one had arrived yet. Sloppy.

    Two minutes past the time, a pair of yawning purebloods walked down the hallway. Hermione pressed herself against the wall and held her breath, but they didn’t even glance in her direction. Hidden by her spells, she followed them, slipping through the door before it could close. The loud sound of a chime would have masked her steps even without her charm, or so she realized. Once more she hid at the wall while two equally sleepy wizards left through the door, triggering the chime again.

    After a few minutes in the ante-room, she peered into what passed as the ready room for the Obliviators. The two wizards she had seen were sprawled out on the beds there, already falling asleep it seemed. She shook her head at the sight, then reminded herself that they were not Wands and didn’t have to be ready for treason or an attack. They could trust the charms to wake them up if they were needed.

    It also made it easier for her to reach her goal - the link to the runic array that controlled the tracking charms covering Britain. The runic array itself was located in the Department of Mysteries, of course, safely guarded by the most devious defenses the Unspeakables could think of, and tracking magic all over Britain.

    The link was an enchanted quill and a never ending scroll of parchment, set on a sturdy table, noting all magic done in the muggle parts of Britain. Strictly one-way, of course - only the Unspeakables were allowed to actually manipulate the runes detecting that magic. Maps of Muggle Britain and of Muggle London hung on the wall, and more were on another table and in a cabinet there.

    She studied the quill for a bit, noticing that someone had tied a bell with an an Amplifying Charm on it to the shaft. It seemed the Obliviators were not supposed to be sleeping on the job. That explained the loud chime on the door too. Shaking her head, she focused on her task again and pulled out a communication mirror and a lens borrowed from Colin. It wasn’t quite as good as a camera, but it would allow her to observe the mirror from wherever she was, as long as she held the other mirror. In theory.

    Placing the mirror so she had a clear view of the map was something of a challenge though, and took far longer than she had expected. She was still adjusting the mirror when suddenly, the quill started moving and the bell’s ringing was amplified tenfold. Surprised, she barely managed to disillusion the mirror before a sleepy wizard entered the room.

    “Something up?” she heard the second one ask from the other room.

    The wizard who had entered glanced at the scroll and dispelled the Amplifying Charm. “East End,” he said. “Just Martin and John, as expected.” He waited several minutes while the Quill kept scribbling, then cut the parchment full of notes off. Instead of filing it in the shelves in the room, where dozens of scrolls were on display, he vanished it before he left the room again.

    Hermione stared at his back. The Obliviator had erased all proof of magic done in muggle London! And he and his co-worker had expected that entry. Martin and John… Martin Tuckleton and John Merriweather were Obliviators. Her theory of a conspiracy involving the entire section seemed to be right on the mark.

    The Wand-Leader adjusted the now invisible mirror until she had the view she wanted, then sneaked out again. The two men were fast asleep once more, as she saw. A Silencing Charm on the door took care of the chime, and she was out of the office. After dispelling the charm, she left the third floor.

    All doubts and guilt she had had were gone. She knew now that the Obliviators were committing crimes, she just didn’t know yet what they were doing. But they were casting spells in muggle London, without any magic being detected beforehand. To think that the very people tasked with upholding the International Statute of Secrecy were endangering it!

    For a moment she considered apparating to the location in the East End, then decided against it. They must have left already, and she would trigger another alert from the quill, warning the Obliviators.

    But next time… she grinned. Those criminals wouldn’t escape.

    *****​

    Hogsmeade, Britain, August 20th, 1999, 15.00 hours

    Ron Weasley looked at the ruins of the “Hog’s Head Inn”, the location of Aberforth Dumbledore’s last stand. The inn keeper hadn’t wanted to follow his older brother into exile, or so Ron had been told by his parents, instead choosing to defend his home to the end. A fence surrounded the area, and no grass or any other plant seemed to grow over the blackened rubble and the few walls still standing. Stepping a bit closer, he suddenly felt as if he was in danger. After moving back, he felt fine again. Warning wards, then. And probably something worse behind them. If they ever wanted to use the tunnel that led from the cellar of the inn to Hogwarts, they’d have to deal with that. If the tunnel existed anymore.

    That was what he was here to find out. He stepped around the area, carefully avoiding and noting the boundaries of the ward, and pretended to study the ruins in a crouch while he set down a “Nosy Niffler”, as his brothers had called the thing. It looked like a rock, but would map the underground in an area using sound. Magical sound. Somehow.

    He noticed someone walking towards him at a fast pace, and slightly turned to keep them in his field of vision, without looking like he was ready for a fight. Brown robes - a Wand. It was a young witch, probably his age or a year younger. Stepping away from the fake rock, he smiled at the witch.

    “Hello.”

    “Hello, sir,” she said. “Please be careful not to enter the area. The ruins are cursed.”

    “Ah!” He faked surprise. “That’s why there is a warning ward.”

    Her eyes widened briefly in surprise, then narrowed slightly. “Yes. Do you have experience with wards?”

    “Some. I’m from Québec. A number of areas have them now, until the traps left from the war are disarmed,” Ron said, using his cover. “I’m Antoine Dupont. Enchanté, mademoiselle.” He bowed to the girl.

    She looked surprised again. “Wand Sally-Anne.”

    He turned to the ruins. “Do you know why the curse hasn’t been dealt with yet? The ruins look rather old, and this seems like a prime location for a house or business.”

    “A very powerful wizard was killed here, and cursed the area with his dying breath. So far no Curse-Breaker has been able to deal with it.”

    Ron whistled. Dumbledore’s brother must have been powerful indeed, to leave such a legacy. Not quite as impressive as the curse Voldemort had placed on Hogwarts, but still.

    The girl frowned. “I’m positive that the curse will be broken soon though.”

    “After so many years?”

    “Yes.” She sounded confident.

    He couldn’t tell if she was just parroting the Ministry’s line, or if she had reasons for her optimism, but nodded in acceptance. “I hope you are correct. Such a sight brings back memories I’d rather not remember.”

    “Oh?”

    “The war. In Québec,” he added when she looked puzzled.

    “Ah.”

    “It’s why I’m here. I am looking to leave my home country, so my future family will not be facing the same troubles I did. Either Britain or France look promising.” He pointed towards Hogwarts, visible in the distance. “I had hoped to tour the school, but it’s closed for visitors until further notice.”

    “Yeah. Sluggy’s all afraid.”

    “‘Sluggy?’”

    The girl blushed slightly. “Horace Slughorn, the Headmaster. He’s been very concerned about the safety of the school since those attacks started.”

    “Ah. A good stance, for a school. I’d want my children to be safe as well.”

    She snorted. “At the moment, there are only muggleborns there anyway. The purebloods spend the summer with their families.”

    She didn’t sound sarcastic, which should have surprised him, but didn’t. “Well, I guess I’ll check out Hogsmeade then. Are there any shops and inns you’d recommend?”

    That seemed to surprise the girl again. If she and Hermione were typical for the Wands, then they probably were not used to casual chit-chat with others. At least not with those outside the Corps.

    “Ah… Honeydukes has the best sweets in the world.” She grinned. “And the ‘Three Broomsticks’ serves good meals.”

    “Thank you.” He bowed again, then started towards the village’s center while the Wand went on towards Hogwarts. He should have asked if he’d meet her at the pub later, he thought. She could be a good source of information. On the other hand, he’d rather meet Hermione again. For information, he added, but it was an afterthought.

    *****​

    London, Knockturn Alley, August 20th, 1999, 22.32 hours

    The ‘Blue Pixie’ didn’t look any different than during his previous visits, Ron Weasley thought. Only the show on stage had changed. Instead of a cauldron filled with two witches, three almost-nude witches danced around a stake surrounded by fire to the sounds of the Weird Sisters’ song ‘Fiendfyre’.

    It wasn’t too hard to keep his attention on the scantily-clad redhead approaching a corpulent wizard in his booth. He was just the backup anyway, and he didn’t expect any trouble.

    The wizard leering at Tonks was Eberhard McIntosh, a member of the Wizengamot who used the brothels in Knockturn Alley to indulge desires the Ministry wouldn’t tolerate if exposed. His position and influence made him the perfect target for blackmail. His habits also made him the perfect target for some lethal spell practise, Ron thought, but they needed him alive. For now. Afterwards though...

    The man’s smile grew when Tonks slid on the seat next to him, after almost falling into his lap, but froze on his face when the metamorphmagus whispered something into his ear. When he looked at the pictures she had placed in his hand, Ron could see the blood leave McIntosh’s face. He masked his smile with his glass, enjoying the man’s expression.

    Tonks stuck to the plan and didn’t give the wizard much time to adjust. She whispered once more into his ear, then stood up and left the booth. He ignored her when she passed his table, keeping an eye on their target. He felt the bugs they had placed a week earlier run up his legs, slipping into the case. Hopefully they’d reveal more useful information.

    *****​

    London, August 21st, 1999, 10.02 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione was ready. She had her invisibility cloak, her communication mirror was charmed so only she could hear its signal, she had her maps ready and she had informed her team that she was ‘researching facts’, so she wouldn’t be missed. All she now needed was for the tracking charm to actually give her and the Obliviators a target to apparate to. A target that would reveal more to her than how they dealt with a drunk wizard who had apparated to a muggle plot of land by mistake, and splinched himself.

    Which was taking a bit more time time than she had expected. So much in fact, that she had already spent almost the entire Friday actually doing research into Fiendfyre and ways to hide with magic while she had waited. And today she was already a few hours into the latest book she had acquired for her private use.

    A sudden ringing sound from her mirror interrupted her reading. The alert! She slipped the cloak on and peered at the mirror. Levitation spell cast in Watford in Hertfordshire. She pulled her map out, and checked where this town was located. 17 miles northwest of Central London. She cast a Silencing Charm on herself, then closed her eyes, visualizing the distance. Apparating to a location she hadn’t been before was difficult, and more dangerous than normal Apparation, but Wands needed to be able to react to any attack, anywhere, after all.

    This wasn’t an attack, but it was as important. She waited until the tracking charm announced more magic - Apparitions - then focused and willed herself to travel to her destination.

    Hermione appeared on a muggle street. She was about a hundred yards off her target she guessed, after checking the street numbers. A very good result. Under her cloak she hurried towards the source of the alert, a small muggle house. The front yard looked normal, if boring. Close-cut lawn, with a paved part for the family’s car, a metal monstrosity. She shook her head - to think that the Ministry actually had used such contraptions, before the Minister had taken over and put an end to such nonsense.

    She couldn’t see any sign of the Obliviators. Pride filled her - she must have beaten them to their target, despite their far longer experience with such events. Though it also meant she could not simply follow them inside the house, and if she used a spell to open the door, she’d leave a trace. There were ways around that, but the Obliviators might spot them. So she walked past the house, to the backyard. She kept an eye on the sky, since a Levitation Charm had been detected.

    She heard a child giggle, followed by a gasp. “Ben! Ben! Come, watch!” Muggles! But what was going on? Hermione turned the corner, and stopped. Sitting on the lawn in the backyard was a little girl, giggling as toys floated around her.

    “Look, mum! Unicorns can fly!”

    The Wand-Leader whipped her head around, spotting a woman in muggle clothes standing in the backdoor. She had her wand drawn in an instant - if the muggle tried to harm the child… she didn’t remember what her own parents had done to her, but she knew she would have died if not for the intervention of the wizards who saved her.

    To her surprise, the woman was smiling, not screaming. “That’s… a miracle, Betty! Ben, come watch! Quickly!”

    Another muggle, a man, arrived. “What’s…” he trailed off, staring at the beaming girl while a pink unicorn toy and a small doll seemed to dance with each other.

    “I told you, she’s special! Our baby girl is special!”

    “You did, you did…”

    The two held each other. That wasn’t the reaction Hermione had expected. Muggles hated magic, instinctively. Her own parents had … were those muggleborns, in hiding? But why would they… they would have known magic would be detected. What was going on?

    Popping sounds made her jerk around. Apparition sounds! She saw two robed wizards - the Obliviators had apparated directly into the backyard. Martin Tuckleton and John Meriweather.

    The two muggles gasped again, and the man took a step in front of the woman. “What … who are you?”

    “Betty, come inside!” the woman yelled. The girl looked at her with wide eyes, the doll and unicorn toy falling to the ground, and stood up.

    “Another mudblood! That’s our lucky day!” Merriweather announced. “Stupefy!” A red spell struck the little girl before she could run to her parents, and she toppled to the ground, unconscious.

    “Betty!” Both muggles screamed. The man charged the wizards, the woman ran towards the girl. Neither made it more than a few steps before he was stunned and she was bound in magically conjured ropes. The woman’s scream was cut off by a silencing charm.

    Another voice spoke up from behind the thick hedge screening the backyard from the neighbours. “Ben? Jane? Is everything alright?”

    Merriweather cursed. “That’s why you stun them, damn it! Go and deal with the muggle!”

    Tuckleton frowned, but apparated away. Hermione heard another gasp through the hedge, followed by “Stupefy!” and “Obliviate!”. Then he reappeared.

    Merriweather had levitated the girl up. “How do we do this? Burn down the house?”

    Hermione saw the woman’s eyes widen. She was screaming, crying, but the Silencing Charm prevented anyone from hearing her.

    “Burglary gone wrong?” Tuckleton was looking hopeful, and Hermione had the feeling that he wasn’t just thinking about the loot.

    Merriweather shook his head. “Can’t do that. We do it a bit too often, and the muggles might get suspicious. The Minister wouldn’t like it if the ICW started complaining.” He looked at the two muggles. “Let’s frame the man for killing the girl and faking a kidnapping. No loose ends.”

    Tuckleton nodded. “If only there wasn’t that much paperwork when we discover mudbloods...”

    Merriweather shrugged. “Let’s do it. You do the woman, plant some suspicions about the man.”

    “What about the mudblood?” Tuckleton twirled his wands between his fingers. If a Wand had done that they’d had have received extra duties for a month as a punishment.

    “Just wipe her memory. No need to go to the trouble of faking her memories or some injuries - Brendan is not on duty today.” Merriweather cast a Silencing Charm on the muggle before waking him up.

    “Ah, good. I don’t know why they hired that idiot. He has no clue how things are done.” Tuckleton shook his head and started to wipe the woman’s memory.

    Hermione was shocked. That wasn’t how things were supposed to be. The Obliviators were supposed to save muggleborn children from the muggles, to protect Wizarding Britain. They weren’t supposed to… Why would they consider faking abuse? The muggles wouldn’t know, and the wizards wouldn’t care. Or would they?

    She had been abused by her parents. Or had she? What if… no, it couldn’t be true. This had to be an isolated case. It had to be. But she had been trained as an investigator. The two wizards had not acted as if this was a special case. It had been routine for them. And she already knew that the entire Obliviator team was hiding something. What if that wasn’t just theft, but more? What if this was the norm? This was… this had to be treason.

    If not for her own Silencing Charm the two Obliviators would have certainly heard her panting as she reeled from the implications. She almost attacked the two, but managed to control herself. She couldn’t be certain they were acting alone. She didn’t know enough yet. She needed more information, to catch everyone involved.

    So she waited, wand still aimed, when the two apparated out with the little girl - Betty - despite the urge, the need to strike at them, strike them down. She was about to apparate away as well, then hesitated. The two muggles… they didn’t deserve this! She hurried over to them and oblivated them of the fake memories. Betty would have simply disappeared from the backyard.

    She left the house, still under her cloak. She couldn’t apparate back, not without triggering another alert, which would arouse suspicions - she had spent too much time arranging the muggles’ memories. She’d have to find a way back to London using muggle means. But this was an easy task, compared to dealing with what she had seen.

    *****​

    Watford, Hertfordshire, August 21st, 1999, 12.11 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione was breaking the law again. It couldn’t be helped though - without muggle money, sneaking on a muggle train to Euston Station at Watford Junction wearing an invisibility cloak was the only way to board it. The only way to board it without drawing attention from either muggles or wizards, that was.

    It was also educational, to see how muggles traveled. They traveled so slowly, they must be wasting years of their lives traveling! After a quarter hour on the train, to travel such a small distance, Hermione couldn’t understand why purebloods and half-bloods voluntarily used a train to travel to Hogwarts. Though they certainly had the time to waste on such frivolity - many of them seemed to waste their years in Hogwarts as well, she thought, with a smirk.

    Her mirth vanished quickly though when her thoughts returned to what she had seen two hours earlier. How those Obliviators had acted… she knew they were part of a conspiracy, but she didn’t know how far this conspiracy reached. They had mentioned that there was no need to fake abuse, since Brendan - who had to be Brendan Babcoke, one of the caretakers in the orphanage for muggleborns - wasn’t on duty. That meant they had co-conspirators who were on duty. It implied that the others handling young muggleborns were in the know, but Hermione couldn’t believe that everyone involved in raising muggleborns would be party to the crimes she had observed. They had raised her as well, after all. No, it was more likely that the others were less diligent. More prone to trust the Obliviators, and assume any wounds had been healed already. Probably.

    She closed her eyes and sighed. She was making the same mistakes her instructors had warned her about: She was assuming things, trying to fit facts to her theory. A theory born from her own desires. She was a Wand-Leader though, not some silly pureblood girl with delusions about her future husband, like the younger Greengrass!

    She would uncover this conspiracy, and each and every last one of those involved. Her duty would not allow anything less. The Minister would expect nothing less. And if she had to break into sealed records, or interrogate an Obliviator with veritaserum, so be it!

    The train arrived in Euston Station, and she sneaked out. She had planned to take another train to central London, but those trains were more packed than she had thought - the risk of a muggle stumbling into her was too big. Her lessons in shadowing people in Diagon Alley during the Hogwarts rush were still quite fresh in her mind. She would have to walk until she was close enough to the Leaky Cauldron to apparate to the Corps Headquarters without getting tracked.

    Granted, the odds of getting tracked were slim - it wasn’t as if they could find her once she was in Wizarding Britain again, nor was there much of a chance of her being suspected - but the Obliviators might grow suspicious, and stop their crimes, delaying the investigation. And, if she was honest with herself, she was curious about the muggle world, after what she had seen so far.

    She stepped into a toilet stall, and removed her invisibility cloak, and her robe. The muggle dress she wore underneath was the most modest she had found in her source material, but it still felt rather indecent to her. On the other hand, this ‘cocktail dress’ would not hinder her should she need to run or fight.

    Half an hour later she was still not used to muggle London. Every street seemed as packed as Diagon Alley on a busy day. There were so many people, and they dressed so differently! If they had wands they’d look like the Quidditch World Cup camp. Nothing in the books she had read at Hogwarts had prepared her for this!

    At a crossing, she checked her map again, to ensure she was not lost.

    “Do you need help, Miss?”

    She looked up and saw a man smile at her. “I’m just checking where I am.” She couldn’t let a muggle lead her to the Leaky Cauldron, even hidden as it was.

    “London can be a bit overwhelming for a first time visitor. Where are you from?”

    “Québec. I’m supposed to meet my boyfriend near here,” she said, and hid a smirk when his face fell, and his beaming smile was replaced by a polite one, hiding - unless she was very mistaken - his disappointment. He had been helpful though, so she thanked him before walking on. Antoine would be amused, she thought, if she told him the story. Not that she could ever tell him this story; it would be admitting to having broken the law.

    But she could imagine his smile at hearing it, at least.

    *****​

    London, August 21st, 1999, 13.26 hours

    Ron Weasley wasn’t certain if he’d be in at least slightly less danger if he were to conduct a frontal assault on the Ministry of Magic by himself rather than staying a second longer in this so-called ‘Safe house’, where the twins were showing Percy their latest inventions. To think that their father had inspired such horrors with his fascination for all things muggle...

    “And this is our best attempt on a binary poison yet. Binary poison is a bit of a misnomer - we used three components,” George (probably) said.

    “Actually two, and a catalyst, if you want to be precise,” possibly Fred added.

    “And we know you want to, Percy.”

    Percy, his hair dyed blond, chuckled. “As long as none of the components by themselves trigger wards we’ll be good. Though I’d like to know the components anyway. While I’m not supposed to see any of the experiments in the DoM, accidents do happen.”

    Ron coughed. “Improved Polyjuice.”

    Percy grinned, and the twins frowned at their brothers. “That was a fluke!”

    The oldest Weasley brother present shook his head. “What about counter-measures? Will a bezoar work? Or a Bubble-Head Charm?”

    “A bezoar will slow it down, nothing more,” Fred said.

    “You still die, just more painfully. A Bubble-Head Charm will do nothing at all - it has a contact vector,” George went on. “Stays around for a while too.”

    “How long will it stay around?” Percy asked.

    “A few days until it degrades. It’s resistant to the common cleaning spells too.”

    “Hm. So it cannot be used to deny the Ministry the use of the DoM,” Percy pursed his lips.

    “No. We tried to make it stay active for longer, but that made it harder to spread.”

    “Hm. It’s not ideal. They are likely to have sealed rooms too, and those wouldn’t be affected. It might be better to use that against the Minister.” Percy looked at Ron. “What do you think?”

    Ron nodded. “The Minister, from what I have been able to gather so far..:”

    “From his cute Wand-Leader!” Fred piped up.

    “In bed!” George added.

    Ron ignored them. “... is concerned about assassinations, but his security shouldn’t be as hard to penetrate as the DoM. His office is unlikely to be fitted for potion and other volatile experiments.” He sighed. “It’ll be likely to affect a number of Ministry employees as well though.” Wands among them. Maybe even friends of Hermione. Or… No. She was in the Investigative Branch, she didn’t guard anyone anymore.

    “You’ll have to make sure your girl won’t be around then.”

    “Tie her to the bed.”

    Percy coughed. “Unhelpful suggestions aside, we will cause collateral damage. That’s a given. If poison won’t work well in the DoM, what else can you give us?” In that department at least, Ron thought, there wouldn’t be any innocents or civilians.

    “We were thinking of a magical variant of a fuel-air explosive.” Fred pulled out a sketch. “Disperses an explosive fuel-air mix, then detonates it.”

    George stepped up next to him. “It wouldn’t do that much to a place with proper fire wards, as long as they can protect their air or cast Bubble-Head Charms in time.”

    “Such as any place you live at that’s still standing after two weeks,” Ron said. Mum had been livid at the loss of that cellar.

    “Shush! Anyway, And it’d be affected by air-cleaning charms, which would be in use there. We’ve solved that, and we’ve been working on a magical variant that bypasses those wards, but that didn’t pan out. The actual blast was still affected.”

    Ron exchanged a glance with Percy. The twins were still far too fond of exposition. “So, what did you find that works?”

    His two brothers frowned at him, then George sighed. “Well, the Magical FAE works, as long as it can spread enough and is large enough. Every ward can be overloaded, after all. But we’re not certain that the DoM allows for a build-up with sufficient strength. So we took a look at another project.”

    “Get to the point please. We’re the ones using the things,” Percy said.

    “You know how wards react when you botch up an attempt to take them down?” Fred grinned.

    Ron winced. During his time in the Gendarmerie Magique, he had seen that happen once. An entire team of Curse-Breakers, wiped out.

    Fred must have noticed his expression, since he nodded. “Exactly! We found a way to sort of duplicate such an attempt with runes. Just enough to trigger such a reaction.”

    “Merlin…” Ron could imagine the effect.

    “Yes. And the wards will need a short while to regain their power, opening a window of opportunity for a FAE to do its work.” George grinned. Sometimes, Ron worried for his brothers. More often, he was worried about them.

    “With the personnel in the area already hurt by the wards overloading,” Percy said with a grim expression.

    “Exactly! And thanks to Gemino Curses, the whole array will fit into a normal pocket even without expansion charms. Takes a bit longer to deploy, but that shouldn’t be a problem - it’s just about a minute. After you trigger it.”

    “That’s a rather short time to get away,” Percy remarked dryly. “You’re not still holding a grudge about last year’s Yuletide?”

    Fred rolled his eyes. “It got a time-delayed trigger, duh. We don’t want you to die.”

    “I was just joking,” Percy clarified.

    “You need to say that in advance. You joking is such a rare occurrence, we’re not used to it.”

    “I’m joking often, it’s just that my jokes usually go over your heads.” Percy smiled at the twins while Ron chuckled again.

    “Sure, sure.” George made a dismissive gesture. “Anyway, we’ve got a few more things ready. Including a knock-out stunning rune in a fake wand. Someone not keyed to it by blood touches it - poof! Great for taking out someone who disarms you.”

    “Not so great if your girl is cleaning up after you, so don’t let it lay around in your bedroom, Ron!”

    Ron rolled his eyes. He loved his brothers, but they could get really tiring. While he listened to another demonstration of a cursed quill, he wondered what Hermione would think of the twins, should they ever met. Would she be impressed by their creativity, or appalled by their antics? She seemed to adhere at least in part to a ‘the end justifies the means’ philosophy - no surprise, having been raised in Malfoy’s Britain - but she also was quite determined to uphold the law. Maybe he should ask Luna.

    He shook his head. He was thinking as if the witch was his girlfriend, and not working for the enemy. That sort of mistake could get him and his brothers killed.

    And yet he couldn’t stop it.

    *****​

    London, August 21st, 1999, 17.00 hours

    Albus Dumbledore stepped out of the vanishing cabinet with a smile on his face and his wand ready. Though there were no enemies waiting for him, just one of the Weasley twins, staunch allies - even if some of his colleagues in Beauxbatons might have a different opinion. Albus couldn’t deny that they often acted rather recklessly in school, but ultimately, nothing had happened that a few - or a lot, sometimes - Mending Charms couldn’t fix.

    “Greetings, Mister Weasley,” he said, as much out of politeness as to judge if the young man - Fred, he thought - was influenced or controlled somewhat.

    “Hello Professor,” Fred grinned. “Right on time. George is in the lab. Can’t stop our work, you understand.”

    “Of course.” The twins’ talent for potions and enchantments would have seen them with a successful business in Paris by now, if he hadn’t recruited them for the Order. Hopefully, they’d pursue less lethal projects, once the war was won. But their ingenuity was needed now, to deal with a foe that had had almost 20 years to prepare. He sighed theatrically. “If the Headmistress knew about this…”

    Fred grinned. “She’d curse about ‘perfidious Albion’ again.”

    Albus nodded, and used a communication mirror to tell Harry and Sirius, who were waiting in France still, that the house was safe. Or as safe as a building inhabited by the Weasley twins could be. “I trust you are careful with your work.”

    “Always, Professor!” The cheerful claim proved the young wizard’s confidence, even if it didn’t sound quite as reassuring to Albus, who had known the twins for years.

    Sirius arrived through the floo, wand ready. Albus approved. He wouldn’t go as far as his old friend Alastor, but they were in enemy country, and could not afford to be too trusting.

    “Sirius!” Fred beamed at the older wizard.

    “Hello! How are your brothers doing?” Sirius asked, looking around.

    “Ron’s flirting with a Wand-Leader,” Fred smirked. “He’s taking our Gryffindor tradition to extremes, but that’s the youngest brother trying to prove himself for you.”

    “Good for him!” Sirius grinned.

    Albus didn’t think young Ron would be quite as ruthless or cunning as to seduce a witch to gain her trust in order to exploit it. The youngest Weasley son was following in big footsteps, but the professor doubted he’d pick such a way to prove himself. Then Harry arrived.

    “Well, he’s been meeting her often. He claims it’s just to keep his cover, of course.” Fred grinned.

    “Hello … Fred? Who are you talking about?” Harry asked.

    “Ronnikins. He’s seducing one of Malfoy’s enforcers.”

    “Like James Bond,” Sirius added.

    “And I’m George,” Fred - Albus was quite certain now - said.

    “Wow! Living dangerously, is he?” Harry shook his head.

    “Says the boyfriend of our sister!” Fred grinned. “What’s a Wand-Leader compared to the looming threat of six Weasley brothers, and Ginny’s own temper?”

    Harry snorted. “As if she’d let anyone, much less her brothers, hex me. Not that you lot could, of course.” The boy smirked cockily, but Albus hadn’t missed his earlier smile when Miss Weasley had been mentioned. Ah, young love!

    “You’re lucky you’re on a mission, or we’d test that claim,” Fred said.

    “Keep telling yourself that, and you might sleep more easily,” Harry answered, with a grin that could have been taken straight from Sirius - or James. Sometimes Albus wondered how Lily’s presence would have changed the boy. Though as his steady relationship with Miss Weasley showed, Harry was not simply following Sirius’s example in all things.

    Albus coughed. “Loathe as I am to interrupt such a high-spirited discussion, we do not have unlimited time for our task.” If they wanted to pin-point the locations of the remaining horcruxes, without apparating through Britain and attracting the attention of Lucius’s henchmen, then they would have to work hard in the time they could be absent from France without arousing the suspicion of Olympe, or the French Ministry.

    The four younger wizards grumbled, but acquiesced. Soon, Sirius, Harry and Albus were wearing invisibility cloaks - or the Cloak of Invisibility, in Harry’s case - and astride the fastest brooms Sirius’s gold could buy, three models of the ‘Blitzschlag’ from Daedalus, Prussian’s foremost broom tuners.

    “To think we’re back in Britain, after all those years…” Sirius sounded nostalgic. “Lily always told me I’d end up banished from the island, but I didn’t think she was serious.” When neither Albus nor Harry reacted to his line, he sighed. “You’re far too serious.”

    Albus ignored that opening as well, and addressed Harry. “Let us proceed.” If his suspicion was correct, then London was a good starting point for their search.

    *****​

    London, August 22nd, 1999, 04.00 hours

    A weary Albus approached the safe house. Unlike Sirius and Harry, he wasn’t used to staying on his broom for hours and hours, cushioning charms or not. Not anymore, at least. And he wasn’t getting any younger either. Though, he thought with grim determination, he was still fit enough to see this war through.

    He used the communication mirror again, to signal their arrival to the Weasleys inside, so they could disarm the defenses. After half a minute, the ‘all-clear’ was given, and the three of them entered the house.

    “Took you long enough! Did you fall asleep on your broom, you slacker?” Ron Weasley was there to greet them.

    Harry snorted. “After a measly few hours? No chance in hell. The old man though…” he pointed at Sirius. Harry had held up under the strain this mission had put on him, though Albus knew the boy was at least mentally exhausted. Not that the stubborn wizard would admit that, of course - he’d claim he was fine with two limbs missing, the Professor thought.

    The older wizard snorted. “As if. Now, what is this I heard about you seducing one of Lucius’s hit-witches?”

    “She’s a Wand-Leader, not a hit-witch, and I’m not seducing her!” Ron said with an indignant tone.

    “So, she’s seducing you?” Harry raised his eyebrows.

    “Children…” Albus said, before the situation could escalate. Harry and Mister Weasley were good friends, but both were tired, and both had a bit of a temper. He’d rather avoid having a row while they were in Britain on a mission. “We are on the clock, as the saying goes. If we are to keep our trip secret, we cannot linger for too long.”

    “Of course.” Ron grew serious at once. “Were you successful?”

    “Indeed. We now know the locations of our targets.”

    “Great!” Ron beamed, then frowned when no one else shared his good mood. “I take it that’s not a good thing?”

    “From a certain point of view,” Albus said.

    “We’ll have to break into Hogwarts, the Ministry of Magic, and Voldemort’s Headquarters,” Harry announced. “Piece of cake, right?” The boy was grinning, though Albus knew he was all too aware of how dangerous their mission was, and was simply putting up a good front.

    Young Ron winced.
     
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  13. Blargh

    Blargh I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Although I'm sad at the lack of Luna Hermione experiencing the muggle world and the truth about the mudbloods was very interesting.
     
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  14. Threadmarks: Chapter 6: The Investigation
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 6: The Investigation

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 23rd, 1999, 08.00 hours


    “Please have a seat.”

    Lucius Malfoy nodded at Albert Selwyn. The young wizard sat down. Officially, he was here to give a weekly report from the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office - a division of the Office for the Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects that was tasked with hunting down dangerous muggle artefacts brought into Wizarding Britain. Unofficially, Albert was here to report about the rather clandestine things he did for Lucius. Such as ensuring that regularly there were dangerous muggle artefacts to hunt down and show the population of Wizarding Britain that associating with anything muggle was unwise. Or doing whatever else Lucius needed to be done, no matter the legality.

    “John Dawlish was quite grateful for your handling of that cursed toy car,” Lucius said, after glancing over the report. “Apparently, it hurt one of his Aurors severely before you appeared on the scene.”

    Albert nodded, his expression not changing.

    To think a full-fledged Auror had not been able to handle a cursed muggle item! Sometimes Lucius wondered if he had gone too far when he lowered the requirements for becoming an Auror. On the other hand, many pureblood families were happy that prestigious positions, such as Aurors, were now held by the right kind of wizards and witches. And if he hadn’t lowered the requirements, then the only Aurors would have been those smart and ambitious enough to study on their own while in Hogwarts - exactly the kind of people Lucius didn’t trust among the Aurors.

    Albert was ambitious as well, of course, but as an orphan with poor prospects, a family member the rich part of the Selwyn family didn’t want to acknowledge, he owed his position to Lucius.

    Lucius looked up again. “Good work.”

    “Thank you, sir.”

    “What did you find out about the DoM’s latest scheme?” Rookwood was up to something, Lucius was certain.

    “I’ve been very discreet, sir, so progress has been rather slow. Though I confirmed that the Department has been in contact with various scholars. Those specialising in the Great War.”

    Lucius nodded, hiding his reaction to that news. The Great War. Over 150 years ago, when the Magical Ottoman Empire had been pushed out of the Balkans in the bloodiest conflict in magical Europe until Grindelwald’s War. There were dozens of stories about forbidden magics and dark artefacts being used in that conflict, laying waste to much of the land that was liberated. Much of it was made up, of course. Like the tales of genies altering reality itself by granting wishes. But the destruction was real. If Rookwood managed to acquire such artefacts… they would be useful against the Dark Lord, but could Lucius trust his ‘ally’ not to use them against himself first?

    He couldn’t, of course. “Find out more about what the Unspeakables are seeking. Question those scholars. But ensure that you’re not seen, or remembered.” It wouldn’t do to tip off the DoM.

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Only secure one of those scholars if you can cover it up.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    Lucius stared at the other wizard. Was that a hint of resentment? Or just wounded pride? Albert had talent, but Lucius had taken over Wizarding Britain thanks to his cunning, driving both the great Dumbledore and Bellatrix Lestrange out and reforming the entire country! He knew better than to underestimate his enemies!

    He smiled, hiding his thoughts, and nodded at the younger wizard. “How is your sister doing? Eager to return to Hogwarts for her second year yet?” A little reminder that more than Albert’s career depended on his loyalty to the Minister never hurt.

    “She’s looking forward to returning to school, sir. She complained I was working too much.”

    “Ah, Draco was the same at that age. Always asking after me.” Lucius smiled widely at Albert, whose own smile looked a bit forced.

    The young wizard would remember his place, Lucius was certain.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 23rd, 1999, 16.50 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione wondered how she could have fallen so far so quickly. Less than a week ago, she had been a law-abiding Wand. Now she was breaking into the archives of the Ministry - for the second time! And she wasn’t after some old minor case files she could access with permission, no, she was after the sealed records of the Obliviators. She told herself again that she needed them, to uncover the full extent of this conspiracy. She needed proof to present to the Minister. The records would provide that.

    A Wand did whatever duty required, she told herself. The end justified the means, and she needed to expose those traitors before they did further damage to Britain. The Minister would expect no less of her!

    So reassured in the morality of her endeavor, Hermione pulled her invisibility cloak on and left the bathroom she had been in. It would be easier to enter the archives while it was still staffed - there would be no alerts to circumvent. She passed a number of Ministry employees, purebloods of course, already leaving their offices, but it wasn’t as bad as it would be past five o’clock, when almost everyone would be heading home. Everyone but those employees working in shifts, the Wands, and those stuck working overtime.

    She reached the archives when the shift ended, and had no trouble sneaking in while the employees were leaving. As she had expected, one clerk was still working - Archibald Bradford. Everyone in the Investigative Branch knew that wizard, one of the slowest and least helpful archivists in the Ministry. He was the perfect stooge for her plan.

    While the last of Bradford’s co-workers left, the young witch sneaked over to a trolley with boxes on it. As Dean had told her at lunch, the Aurors had just wrapped up a case involving counterfeit potions he had originally discovered. That meant the confiscated potions would be sent to the archives.

    She spotted a box marked ‘potions’, and grinned. No one would suspect something afoul if a counterfeit potion turned out to be unstable. Glancing back, she saw that Bradford was fetching some tea for himself, obviously planning to stay some time still. A flick of her wand opened the box, and she saw that Dean had been correct - mostly medical potions that were far less effective than advertised. Someone had been hoping to scam a population scared by the ongoing attacks. She pulled out a vial from her pocket, unstoppered it and dropped a sliver of Erumpent horn in. The vial was already trembling when she levitated it into the box, and she hurried to take cover near the entrance to the sealed part of the archives.

    A minute later, the box exploded, splattering fluid all over the floor and the shelves nearby. The clerk’s scream was drowned out by the deafening alert that the explosion had triggered. While the wizard was staring at the remains of the trolley and the mess caused by the explosion, Hermione opened the door to the sealed part with a spell she had learned from those books she wasn’t supposed to own. Entering that section would usually trigger the alert as well, but it was already sounding.

    She was barely inside when the alert cut off and she heard a shout: “Nobody move!” She frowned - she had hoped Seamus would be on patrol already. He was a Wand from her own year, and he’d likely have his team search the entire archives. It would be difficult, though not impossible, to evade his notice, though if all went according to plan, she wouldn’t have to do so for long, and she had an excuse ready in case she was discovered.

    “What’s going on here? Bradford!”

    Ah, Dawlish had arrived, as expected. Probably at the head of a gaggle of Aurors who had been running late. The man was stupid, but no one accused him of being a coward, and Hermione knew he’d rush to the archives as soon as he heard the alert.

    “We heard the alert, and responded at once,” Seamus said.

    As usual, Dawlish took the fact that the Wands had beaten the Aurors as an insult. “We’re handling this, since Auror files were affected!” Hermione had seen him blustering so often, she could imagine his expression perfectly without seeing him.

    “Head Auror, we’re just here to help.”

    “We don’t need your help. This is an investigation, not some battle. Go and polish your wand or whatever, and leave this scene before you mess it further up!”

    Seamus controlled his temper, but Hermione heard the tension in his voice while he ordered his team out. She felt slightly guilty for setting her fellow Wands up for this kind of verbal abuse, but needs must. They’d get even next time they handled a real case.

    While Dawlish investigated - or rather, she thought cynically, tried to make sure the Aurors wouldn’t be blamed for this incident - Hermione went to the Obliviator files. She grabbed the most recently archived files including the muggleborn recovery she had observed and copied them. Two dozen cases stretching back a month should be enough to spot some discrepancies, especially once she could compare them to testimonies and interrogation results.

    Then she hesitated. She shouldn’t. It was unprofessional. But she needed to know. She sifted through the cases archived 16 years ago, until she found the one marked ‘Hermione Granger’. Granger… she had a name. She licked her lips, then took a deep breath, and pulled the file out.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 23rd, 1999, 22.40 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione had had to wait an hour before Dawlish had been satisfied that Bradford would take the blame for the explosion, instead of the Aurors who had packed the potions, and left the premises again. The Aurors could work really fast and efficiently if they needed to protect themselves. She had sneaked out afterwards, and gone back to her quarters. And she had read the files she had copied. Hers, Dean’s, Colin’s and Sally-Anne’s. And the more recent ones.

    None of them showed anything out of the ordinary. But they all looked far too much like the one from Watford for a skilled Investigator like her to trust those records. Even though the idea that this conspiracy went back for almost two decades was … should be unthinkable. But she was trained to never assume when she could know. And she would know the truth.

    She had the names of those Obliviators who had recovered her from her parents, supposedly saving her from abuse. They were no longer with the Obliviators, but she’d track them down, interrogate them, and find out what had happened to her, and her family. And to her friends and their families.

    It wouldn’t be easy though. Far from it. She couldn’t get help from her team, couldn’t even tell them about this - they were not trained in Occlumency. She’d have to do it alone. At least she had a supply of veritaserum no one would miss a few drops of.

    She thought, briefly, about Antoine, then discarded the idea. He was a foreigner, a civilian, and even if she could trust him - or obliviate him afterwards - this was too dangerous to involve him.

    First though she had to find the addresses of the people she needed to interrogate. Actually planning how to … secure them would follow later.

    *****​

    Northern Cornwall, United Kingdom, August 24th, 1999, 12.40 hours

    Ron Weasley studied the cottage on the cliff through the binoculars. He was hidden under an invisibility cloak despite the distance to the small building. Better safe than sorry, he thought - it wouldn’t do to underestimate the Dark Lord. He pulled out two cameras and took pictures, both muggle and magical ones. Another camera would provide surveillance in his absence, so they could track the Death Eaters coming and going.

    The cottage didn’t look like a Dark Lord’s hideout. It was small, probably two rooms and a kitchen, and looked old and in need of maintenance. Appearances could and would be deceptive, of course. Expansion Charms could hide a palace in that house, and spells could take care of a leaking roof without being visible. If this was a safehouse from the old war, it would be well-prepared too.

    He studied the possible entrances. The windows were small, the door looked sturdy. Probably easier to blow a hole in a wall or two. There would almost certainly be a big basement with a dungeon and a tunnel or two for emergencies, from what Ron knew of the safehouses of the Death Eaters the Order had raided in the last war.

    And there would be traps and wards and other defenses. Ron shuddered, remembering Sirius’s story about a house where the furniture had turned out to be a bunch of transfigured snakes, with curses on them so a Finite would end both the curse and the transfiguration. Sirius hadn’t thought that particularly nasty or cunning, but the wizard’s views had been clearly warped by growing up in the ancestral home of the Black family, Ron thought. The ideas his brothers had had for traps after talking to that man… the young wizard shuddered.

    He took another look at the cottage. He’d not try to go in the building, he’d try to destroy it from outside. It was not close enough to the edge of the cliff to send it falling down with magic or explosives, but a bit of Fiendfyre would certainly do a number on the building. If timed correctly, it’d alert the Ministry too, and the escaping Death Eaters would be facing the Ministry’s forces. Both Voldemort and Malfoy would be weakened as a result.

    But Hermione would be among those too. Probably. Likely. The witch would arrive with the other Wands, facing the Dark Lord’s worst. And while she was good, he didn’t think she would fare well against Voldemort himself.

    He ground his teeth. It was a good plan, and yet he was loathe to suggest it to the Order. Was he turning traitor for a pretty witch? She was not really the enemy, though. Or shouldn’t be. As a muggleborn, she should be attacking, not defending Malfoy. But if he tried telling her that, she’d attack him. Her loyalty towards Malfoy was unquestionable.

    He told himself it didn’t matter anyway. Even if he didn’t mention his thoughts, his brothers would think of a similar plan. Or something worse.

    Ron shook his head. There had to be a way to save her. But short of capturing her and keeping her as a prisoner until it was over, he couldn’t think of one. And if he did that, he’d be a suspect: too many had to know of them. Their meetings. Not that it would be easy in the first place anyway. Maybe he should ask his brothers for help. They’d tease him even worse, but if it saved her life...

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 24th, 1999, 18.30 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione was sitting with her team in their office, picking at the meal Colin as the youngest had brought from Diagon Alley.

    “Is something wrong with the chips?” the Wand asked.

    She looked up at him, then shook her head. “No, I’m just not that hungry.” She saw Colin exchange a glance with Dean, and almost frowned. Before Dean could say anything, she spoke up again: “I’m not stressing out like before the O.W.L.s.”

    Dean didn’t look that convinced. “Something is eating you though.”

    Hermione rolled her eyes at the pun, but couldn’t deny it. The investigation into the Obliviators was occupying her mind far more than a normal investigation. It was personal. Very personal. She couldn’t share her concerns with her friends though; even if she found a way to convince them to learn Occlumency, breaking the law in the process, they’d take far too long to master it. She couldn’t keep Dean from worrying though; she had learned that lesson back in 1996. Sighing, she decided to be a bit economical with the truth: “I’m just concerned about what our suspects are up to, in the muggle world.”

    Dean nodded. “It’s not as if we can observe them there without official permission, and we can’t get official permission without something more solid than expensive robes.”

    Hermione nodded. “And despite observing them closely, we haven’t found anything that would hold up in court. We haven’t even enough evidence for a ‘reasonable suspicion’ of criminal activity.”

    “They’re guilty though! Of something!” Colin said. “We know it.”

    Hermione frowned at Colin, and the excited kid ducked his head, blushing.

    Dean chuckled, then grew serious again. “I take it your research into precedents and procedures, which has taken so long, hasn’t produced anything helpful then?” His tone was light, but his expression said something else. He knew, or at least suspected she hadn’t just done research.

    She picked up a chip, cold now, and dunked it in the mushy peas before eating it, to win some time. “I found nothing that I could present to the boss.”

    “Did you find anything we could use to dig further?” Dean asked. He definitely knew then what she had been up to. Of course, he knew her very well.

    “Nothing concrete yet. Promising, maybe, but I need to do a bit more research. Boring stuff, you know.” Hermione sighed, a bit theatrically.

    “If you need help, I’m available. Even off the clock,” Dean said.

    She wanted to tell him. Kidnapping a retired Obliviator would be far easier with his help. But if anyone read his mind… “As soon as I have something solid, I’ll tell you.”

    “And me!” Colin said.

    “Of course,” Dean said. The kid happily nodded, unaware that neither Dean nor Hermione would let him join them should they do some extra-legal investigation. Not that she would let Dean join her either, but...

    “Do you ever wonder how things are, in the muggle world?” Hermione asked as casually as she could manage.

    “Oh, yes!” Colin said. “Ever since I saw that confiscated muggle camera! It was so different, so small!”

    And that was why they’d never take Colin with them, Hermione thought.

    “Sometimes,” Dean said. “You too?”

    Hermione nodded. “Sometimes.” She wanted to hint at her doubts, her suspicions, but didn’t. Once she had enough proof though, once she had the Minister’s permission to investigate further, she’d inform her team. And they’d know.

    Everything. Including their names.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 25th, 1999, 22.15 hours

    Ron Weasley, wandering through the less reputable sections of Diagon Alley, felt the communication mirror in his pocket vibrate. He pulled it out and faked checking his appearance. Percy was calling.

    “Someone’s been in my room.”

    His brother’s message was but a whisper, but the communication mirror transmitted his voice loud and clear, protected by a privacy spell against eavesdroppers - the twins had improved on Sirius’s design. The wizard concealed the mirror in the palm of his hand and asked: “Did they take anything?”

    “None of the gold I had left there was taken. But they went through my notes.” Probably copied then.

    That meant it wasn’t a thief, but a spy. “Who do you think sent him?”

    “I can’t say for certain,” Percy answered. “It could be the Department of Mysteries, checking on my trustworthiness, or the Minister’s faction, or even the Dark Lord - he has spies in the Ministry, and they might have noticed my visits. But it clearly means someone’s suspicious of me.”

    “If they just wanted your notes they’ll not return,” Ron said.

    “But if they do return we can trap them.” Percy said, knowing what Ron meant. The twins’ gadgets that had detected the spy’s entry could also be used to trigger a trap. They would have to be both quick and careful to avoid breaking Percy’s cover though.

    “Yes.” Ron would have to be ready to apparate to his brother’s room at a moment’s notice. And he’d need a very good excuse if that happened during a rendezvous with Hermione. James Bond never had to deal with that, he thought.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 26th, 1999, 18.00 hours

    “What do you want for dinner?” Colin asked, parchment and quill in hand. Ever since he once had mixed up an order, he had been taking notes. Hermione might have overreacted a bit, but in her defense, she hadn’t been able to eat lunch that day.

    “Fish and Chips,” Dean said, not looking up from the parchment he was reading.

    “Nothing for me, I’ve got a dinner date in 30 minutes,” Hermione said.

    “Ah, Luna?” Dean asked. The blonde witch had shot down his advances during his sixth year at Hogwarts, but he still showed quite an interest in her, Hermione knew that from his regular questions if her friend had taken a boyfriend yet.

    “No,” Hermione said, somewhat distracted since she was checking the ward licenses issued in the last 20 years to see if she could find the addresses of Keagan Banks and Ottokar Merriweather, the retired obliviators she was hunting.

    “No?” both members of her team said together, and with obvious surprise.

    Hermione looked up, frowning when she saw both Colin and Dean stare at her. “What?”

    “Who are you meeting?” Dean said, while Colin at least had the grace to blush and look away.

    Hermione briefly debated telling him that it was none of his business, but decided against it. She was already keeping too much from them, and these days, knowing what your partners were up to was important. “I’m meeting Antoine Dupont. A tourist from Québec.”

    Dean blinked. “That’s the guy from the attack on Diagon Alley. You’ve been seeing him?”

    She narrowed her eyes at her friend. “Yes.” It wasn’t as if she was as nosy about Dean’s affairs. Granted, he tended to tell her and Colin everything about his paramours without being asked, but still.

    “Ah.” Dean’s smile looked forced, not teasing, so her glare had been effective.

    Colin had beaten a hasty retreat under the cover of fetching his and Dean’s dinner, and the office was silent for a few minutes as she and Dean returned to their reading.

    “He’s a pureblood,” her friend said suddenly.

    Hermione sighed and put the records down. “Yes. From the Americas. They’re different.”

    Dean didn’t look convinced. She couldn’t really blame him - both of them had had their experiences with purebloods at Hogwarts. She forced herself to smile confidently. “He’s a foreigner. If he turns out to be not so different, I can hex him without getting into trouble.”

    Dean chuckled. “True that.” He quickly grew serious again though. “But if he’s a tourist, how long will he be staying?”

    “He’s looking to immigrate to France or Britain,” Hermione said. She didn’t say that he was also looking to have a family. That would have led to more awkward questions she didn’t want to think about, much less answer. Besides, there wasn’t anything to worry about anyway. It wasn’t as if they were in a relationship.

    “That sounds serious,” Dean said, with a hint of teasing.

    Hermione rolled her eyes. “We’re just meeting for dinner, and talk. It’s not as if we’re about to break a bed or something else by trying to perform something from an illegal copy of confiscated contraband.”

    That had Dean both blush and wince, and Hermione could study her files in peace until Colin arrived, at which point it was time for her to leave anyway.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 26th, 1999, 18.45 hours

    Ron Weasley stepped into ‘Connington’s’ right on time, and spotted Hermione already waiting at what seemed to be her usual table in the back. He walked over to her with a smile and greeted her.

    “You’re looking very pretty.” The young witch had, as he noticed when he greeted her, put on some makeup and done her hair. It was a far cry from what the girls at Beauxbatons did just to attend lessons, and she was wearing her usual robes, but for the serious girl he had started to get to know, it seemed like quite a step. And for Ron not to notice and compliment her, would have been a rather big misstep.

    “Thank you. You’re looking sharp as well,” Hermione said, with what he thought was the hint of a blush. Or just a trick of the light. Her smile seemed genuine though, and he once again felt a pang of guilt for deceiving her.

    They ordered - Ron picked a dish he wasn’t familiar with, having been spoiled for most of the food he knew by his mum’s cooking - and for a moment, neither said anything. Ron cleared his throat, and asked: “So, how was your day?” It was a bad line, but it was all he could think of right there. Somehow, most of his lines seemed inappropriate.

    “I’ve read files and records all day,” Hermione said.

    “Boring then?” He asked, with a grin.

    She pursed her lips. “It wasn’t boring.” She sounded a bit defensive though.

    “You’d rather be out and about, doing something though?” he guessed. He had hated the paperwork in the Gendarmerie Magique himself. It was part of the reason - though a small one - that he had volunteered for this mission. Which he had to keep a secret from Hermione.

    “Yes.” She nodded, almost forcefully. “How was your day?”

    “I mostly spent it in my room, resting.” And preparing to apparate to Percy’s room and tangle with the burglar or spy. And writing reports, but he couldn’t tell her that. He smiled at her. “I feel bad now about lazing around while you were working.”

    She made a dismissive gesture. “Speaking of work… what kind of work are you looking for?”

    He took a sip from his wine to gain time. His cover had been created with an eye towards infiltrating the local underworld as a wand for hire. That wasn’t something he wanted to tell the girl though. She’d be disappointed in him. “I’m not exactly certain, to be honest. I’d think I could be a good Hit-Wizard, or maybe an Auror. If they hire foreigners.” That was true, even.

    “Ah.” She nodded. “We haven’t any Hit-Wizards anymore. The Wands have taken over their duties. Though you’d certainly be a better Auror than just about everyone else currently in that department.”

    That sounded bitter. “Oh? That sounds like you have had a lot of trouble with them.”

    She snorted. “Well, you’ve seen them in action, haven’t you?”

    “Oh, yes. I thought those were recruits stuck with the bad shifts or something,” he lied.

    “If only!” She frowned. “But I shouldn’t talk about that.”

    “Well… what are the requirements to hire on as an Auror?”

    Hermione smiled, and for a moment, she seemed younger, and less cynical. “Oh, they are rather easy. You need decent passing grades in your N.E.W.T.s or the international equivalents in Defense, Potions …”

    While the witch listed all the requirements a wizard had to fulfill to become an Auror - the standards did seem far lower than those of the Gendarmerie - and often added some commentary about Hogwarts teachers or other trivia, Ron tried not to feel too guilty about exploiting her eagerness to help him. Or about his plans to capture her to keep her safe.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 26th, 1999, 23.37 hours

    Time had flown, Hermione thought, when she checked her watch right outside ‘Connington’s’. Talking with Antoine, the hours had passed like the wind… she blinked. She was now thinking like some character in a Robe-ripper novel, and not like the Wand-Leader she was.

    And yet even after a brief analysis as a member of the Investigative Branch, she had to admit that talking, spending time with Antoine had been very enjoyable. So enjoyable that she was loath to have it end now, despite the late hour, and her plans for the next day. And, judging by the way Antoine was hesitating to say his goodbyes, the usually suave Qébecois didn’t want to part yet either. Well, Wands didn’t hesitate. They attacked!

    “I really enjoyed the evening,” Hermione said. “It was a lovely date.” There. Now the quaffle was in his possession. He could drop or sink it. He hadn’t seemed to mind her tendency to lecture, as her friends called it, so she was hoping that...

    Antoine didn’t drop it. He nodded and smiled. “Yes, it was. Time just flew. We should go dancing next.” He didn’t question if there would be a next date. He had no reason to, of course. They had had a very good time.

    She held her breath when he stepped closer. Now she felt like the heroine in a Robe-ripper. She was suddenly warm, hot, watching him reach out to her, parting her own arms… then he was pulling her into his arms, muscular ones, she noticed, and their lips met.

    She wasn’t a blushing virgin, of course. Wands rarely were at the time of graduation, with all their lives spent in the company of other Wands, and no families to care about, or for them. But this kiss was not like those ‘experiments’ with Dean, after the celebration of their O.W.L.s. She felt… she wanted him. Not out of curiosity, not to find out how it felt, not because she was drunk, she simply wanted him.

    When they broke the kiss she was panting, and her hands pulled back from where they had been grabbing his hair and slipping under his robe’s collar. For a moment she wished both of them had been wearing muggle clothes. Meeting his gaze, seeing him breath heavily, she was certain he was wishing the same thing.

    They kissed again, embracing each other even tighter this time. She didn’t care that they were in public; they would know better than to jeer at Wands. All she cared about right now was Antoine. Damn it, those novels she very much had not read had been correct. She really wanted him to push her down and have his way with her right here. Or push him down.

    Their second kiss ended, and they stared at each other, still embracing. Antoine wet his lips, and said: “If we don’t stop now, I think we’ll end up in the next available room.”

    She felt him tense, starting to push her back, and held on tighter. “Your room’s closer.” Not to mention that while it wasn’t exactly forbidden to others, only Wands and Luna ever entered the quarters of the Corps. She saw his eyes widen, and nodded. He still seemed to hesitate, so she offered a reason he would understand, with his past: “We’re at war. I could die tomorrow.”

    He nodded at that, as she had expected he would. It wasn’t why she wanted this, and she thought he knew it as well, but it was a good enough excuse to lay any remaining doubts and guilt to rest.

    He apparated the two of them straight to his room. Their robes hit the floor without either saying another word. They could talk later. Much later.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 27th, 1999, 07.08 hours

    Ron Weasley woke up when he heard spells being cast, and had his wand in hand and pointed at the other person in his room before he remembered where he was, and with whom.

    “You’re quick to draw,” Hermione said, though her wand was pointed at him, and her tone belied her casual words. She was already dressed, he noticed, and her hair looked tamed.

    Ron lowered his wand, calming down. “I’m sorry, old reflexes.”

    She drew in a hissing breath, then nodded. “I forgot.” From the way she bit her lower lip, she seemed to blame herself for forgetting about the war he had supposedly fought in.

    Instead of apologising, he asked: “What time is it?” The sun was up, but it was still ‘too damn early’, as he would have said at home - especially on the weekend. And as he had said often, back when his mum had taken care to wake him up early after a night spent in Paris.

    “Nine minutes past seven. I’m late already.”

    Ron blinked. Of course she’d have work, it was Friday. But… “Let me guess: ‘Wands don’t have weekends’?”

    She frowned at him, but he thought she found it at least a bit funny. “We do have time off regularly, to rest and recover. But our shifts are arranged so every day is covered, of course.”

    He nodded. Of course. Malfoy wouldn’t want to present his enemies with days when half his guard was off-duty - even though, or so Ron thought, the vast majority of them would still be ready to fight at a moment’s notice. Even as he committed this new information to his memory, he felt guilty about abusing the witch’s trust like this.

    She opened her mouth, but didn’t say anything for a second. “Do you… regret it?” She inclined her head a tiny bit towards the bed. For a moment she looked far more vulnerable than he had ever seen her.

    He did, but not for the reasons she would think of, and so he shook his head. “No, no! Never! I just feel guilty for being on a vacation, while you have to work. And fight a war.” His excuse came easily to him. He stood up, heedless of his lack of clothes, and walked over to her. Hermione looked surprised, and - although that might have just been his vanity speaking - slightly distracted before he pulled her into his arms. He silently cast a Breath Refreshing Charm with his wand behind her back, then kissed her properly.

    She was smiling when the kiss ended. “I really have to go…” She glanced at the bed again, but he didn’t think she’d delay her work for another round. Unlike other girls he had known. And he didn’t want to tempt her. More, at least.

    “When does your shift end?” he asked without thinking. It was Friday, but that spy was still out there. And tomorrow, Dumbledore would be arriving. Harry probably as well.

    “I don’t know, I’ve got an open case… I’ll send you a note?”

    The way she turned the sentence into a question made him wonder just what kind of lovers she had had before. Hermione hadn’t been a virgin, or inexperienced, and she had taken the initiative last night, but… he couldn’t help feeling that she had been surprised by the experience. Pleasantly surprised. And he was honest enough to admit that while he hadn’t had any complaints - apart from that salope Maribel, who had done that to get back at him for an earlier slight so it didn’t count - he wasn’t exactly Don Juan.

    “I’ll be waiting, and looking for a nice club to dance in,” he said.

    She smiled, then frowned at his words. “I can’t really dance,” Hermione answered.

    “I’ll teach you, don’t worry.”

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 27th, 1999, 11.55 hours

    “You look distracted. You never look distracted.“

    Wand-Leader Hermione looked up from the menu she had been staring at for the last minute. Her friend Luna was staring at her with narrowed eyes. “Err…” She had been distracted. All morning, until Luna had contacted her - using an owl since they weren’t at Hogwarts anymore. The muggleborn witch hadn’t made as much progress on her investigation as she had been counting on either. Granted, she also had slept less than she normally did.

    “What happened?” Luna leaned forward, the tip of her tongue wetting her lips in anticipation. There was no stalling the blonde when she was in that mood, Hermione knew from experience.

    So she didn’t. “I had a date with Antoine. I spent the night.” There, everything told.

    Luna’s squeal would have made everyone in the pub turn towards them, if not for Hermione’s privacy spell. The pureblood witch currently hugging the breath out of Hermione wouldn’t have cared anyway. “How was it? How was he?”

    The flustered Wand-Leader revealed far more details about last night’s events than she had wanted and reassured Luna that she didn’t think it was just a one-night stand - and where Luna had heard that term, she didn’t want to know - while they ordered and ate.

    Though when dessert - for Luna, Hermione didn’t feel like indulging - arrived, the blonde grew serious. “What will you do when Draco asks for you again?” Luna managed to cover ‘Draco’ with enough contempt for an entire 30 inches essay, and add enough not-so-hidden meanings to ‘ask’ to make Hermione fear her friend was about to storm off and hex the Minister’s son.

    It was a good, if disturbing question though. “I’m certain he’ll not bother a witch with a steady boyfriend.”

    Luna scoffed. “If you believed that, then you’d never have been made Wand-Leader in the Investigative Branch.”

    Hermione sighed. “I’m certain the Minister will help, if I ask?” She didn’t like how she turned that into a question.

    Luna shook her head. “You’ll have to marry to be safe. Though even that might not be enough to make Draco behave like a decent wizard.”

    “Marry?” Hermione stared at her friend. Marriage between a Wand and a pureblood… it wasn’t explicitly illegal, but it wasn’t done. She didn’t remember any Wand who had married at all, so far. Wands were married to Britain, one of their instructors had once said.

    “Well… we could also transfigure Draco into a tuna sandwich and use him as Snorkack bait.”

    “Luna!” There were things one didn’t joke about, and assassination was one of those things!

    “You’re right - that might give the poor dears indigestion,” her friend said in an earnest tone.

    Hermione snorted despite herself, and changed the topic to the Quibbler’s latest article about mythical animals before her friend plotted even worse treason, but she couldn’t forget about the other witch’s question. What would she do about Draco?

    *****​

    Beauxbatons, France, August 28th, 1999, 14.17 hours

    Albus Dumbledore studied the latest message from Severus once more. The Dark Lord was preparing to further weaken Lucius’s hold on Britain by striking at the Minister’s allies, and Lucius had decided he would sacrifice the Greengrass family. He had known that for some time. But now he knew that they’d be attacked today.

    They weren’t exactly innocent, of course. The Greengrasses were among those who had profited from Lucius’s regime the most, with monopolies added to their already considerable fortune. Their eldest daughter was Lucius’s personal secretary even. But they hadn’t been Death Eaters, and as far as Albus knew, they hadn’t supported the Dark Lord until after he had won. They hadn’t supported the Ministry either though.

    Try as he might, Albus saw no way to save the family without endangering Severus’s cover and with it the man’s life and the whole war. With Tom and Lucius expecting the attack to succeed, it had to succeed or Severus would be suspected as a traitor.

    The old wizard sighed. As distasteful as it was, sacrifices had to be made. In this case, the Greengrass family.
     
    space turtle, qof, sesbio and 5 others like this.
  15. gomjibar22

    gomjibar22 Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    Very nice. While I'm still gonna be shipping Hermione and Luna in my mind, the way you handled it with Ron was great!
     
  16. Threadmarks: Chapter 7: A Bloody Evening
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 7: A Bloody Evening

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 27th, 1999, 16.55 hours

    “You called, sir?” Daphne Greengrass asked, standing in the doorway to his office.

    “Yes, I did,” Lucius Malfoy, Minister for Magic, said to his secretary, holding up a scroll of parchment. “Please send copies of this to all Department Heads. It’s a memo about the recent changes to our security procedures.”

    “Of course, sir.” The young witch approached his desk, and bowed, as she took the scroll.

    “After you’ve done that, you can go home, dear.” Lucius smiled at her.

    The girl looked surprised. “Are you certain, sir? You generally work late on Fridays.”

    Lucius didn’t frown, even though he found it annoying that the dumb witch had managed to remember this habit of his, and today of all days, instead of his other habits and preferences. “I’m certain. Your parents would not be pleased with me if I keep you up too late.” And he’d rather not deal with rumours of him and the blonde having an affair. Narcissa wasn’t as smart or talented as she thought, but she had the excessive pride of the Blacks in spades, and knew far too many dark curses.

    “Thank you, sir!” The witch beamed at him. “We’ve got a family dinner this evening. Astoria’s back from her trip to Scandinavia.”

    “Oh? It’s a most fortunate timing then,” Lucius said, faking surprise. He had known the date the girl’s sister would return, of course. It wouldn’t do to have a family member survive the attack of the Dark Lord, and in a few days it would be too late - Astoria would be at Hogwarts for her final year, safe from attacks.

    “Oh, yes! She visited Oslo and Stockholm, and even Lapland.” Greengrass smiled widely. “My parents didn’t want to let her go alone, before her graduation, but she wheedled and pleaded all during the Yuletide holiday until they caved in.”

    Lucius smiled while the twit talked about meaningless drivel he had absolutely no interest in. It helped that she’d be dead soon. To think that Crispin Greengrass might have expected Draco to marry this girl! As if he’d let such a simple witch pollute the Malfoy bloodline!

    When the girl started to mention Astoria’s friends from school - something about a Naturalist club, Lucius coughed, and rustled a few sheets of parchments.

    “Oh, I’m sorry… here you give me the rest of the evening off, and I’m holding you up!” Greengrass blushed, fittingly embarrassed.

    He smiled gently, hiding his scorn. “Do not dwell on it, dear. Family is important.”

    She bowed, and left his office.

    He sighed when the door had closed behind her. He’d be able to hire a smarter secretary soon. Parkinson would be a good choice. She and Draco might even get over their unfortunate animosity if they had to interact regularly.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 27th, 1999, 19.45 hours

    If a Wand wanted to go dancing, there wasn’t much of a selection of venues in Wizarding Britain. The clubs that featured ‘traditional wizard dancing’ didn’t admit muggleborns as a rule. Most of them didn’t allow half-bloods inside either. That meant that the few locations where half-bloods and muggleborns could dance were always packed. Like ‘Ebenezer’s’, a pub with a dance floor situated in a side alley of Diagon Alley. Hermione would be meeting Antoine there, according to the note an owl had dropped off in the afternoon.

    Hermione spotted Antoine outside the pub at once. Her friend was leaning against the wall, watching the people outside, both the guests taking a break, and the passersby. The witch was struck with how similar to a Wand he was acting, tense and observant. It shouldn’t be a surprise, she thought, seeing as he had lived through a war. When he saw her, he pushed off the wall and met her halfway.

    “There you are!” he said, then kissed her.

    “Your note said a quarter to eight,” Hermione said. She was perfectly on time, as a Wand should be.

    “That it did.” He looked her over. “You look fine today.”

    “A Wand’s always ready for duty,” she answered with a grin. Despite his compliment, she was feeling slightly defensive about wearing her regular robes instead of dress robes. Not that she had civilian dress robes. She had briefly, very briefly, considered transfiguring one set of robes into something a bit more fashionable, but she was a Wand of Britain, and she’d not hide.

    He grinned, and offered her his arm. “And your duty tonight is to enjoy yourself!”

    She had to giggle at that as they entered the pub. It was full of people - mostly half-bloods, she thought, with a few Wands and probably even fewer purebloods - smoke, and loud music. A privacy spell and a Bubble-Head Charm allowed them to talk to each other though. A few drinks later - Hermione stuck with butterbeer, he noticed - they were on the dance floor.
    “I thought you couldn’t dance,” Antoine asked, smiling, but implying a question.

    “I meant traditional dances,” she explained. Pureblood dances, very formal, very traditional. Very much not for muggleborns. She had thought and maybe hoped a bit that Antoine was talking about those when he had offered to teach her.

    “Ah!” He grinned. “I think those here are more fun though.”

    She nodded just as the song changed to a slower one. A glance later, she was dancing so close to him, she could rest her head on his shoulder. He was right, she thought, this was more fun than the dances she had seen on guard duty.

    Then she felt the enchanted coin in her pocket starting to vibrate. Hermione had created that one back in Hogwarts, during her fifth year, so she could contact Luna and vice versa. It didn’t let them talk to each other, but it had three different vibrations Luna had dubbed ‘Hey!’, ‘Let’s meet later!’ and ‘Help!’. It wasn’t of much use outside school, where they could easily use owls or the Floo, but it was a memento of their friendship, and so Hermione always kept it on her.

    And she was very glad for that right now - her friend was calling for help.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 27th, 1999, 21.04 hours

    “Luna needs help!” Wand-Leader Hermione told Antoine as she turned away and started towards the exit, pushing past the other guests and ignoring their protests. They shut up quickly once they saw she was a Wand, anyway.

    She gripped the enchanted coin. Luna had mentioned during lunch that she was meeting her friend Astoria Greengrass this evening. But would they be in Greengrass Manor, or somewhere else? Greengrass… the Minister’s secretary was Astoria’s sister.

    She felt someone grab her arm and whirled around, wand at the ready, before she realised it was Antoine asking: “What happened, Hermione?”

    She hadn’t noticed that he had been following her! “It’s Luna! She needs help! But I don’t know where she is… of course, the Floo! I’m sorry, I have to go!” She hated to do this, but Luna needed her.

    “Wait! I’ll come with you!” Antoine reached for her again.

    “What?” She shook her head. “You can’t. This might be an attack by the Fanatics.”

    He hesitated, then asked: “And what if it’s not?”

    “If it’s not I’ll come fetch you. I’ll know in a few minutes!”

    With that, she apparated straight to the Ministry.

    *****​

    Hermione reappeared at the designated Apparition area, with two wands aimed at her. The Wands on guard there - Seamus and Sally-Anne today - were alert, as they should be - customarily, one entered the Ministry through the Floo or main entrance, not by Apparition.

    “Possible attack on Greengrass Manor, I’m going to check the Floo connection. Seamus, alert the Corps!” Hermione barked at them, already rushing towards the lift. Seamus followed her a second later.

    The ride down to level 6, where the Floo Network Authority was located, took far too long for Hermione’s liking. Luna was in danger… even the wards on an old building like Greengrass Manor wouldn’t hold off the Fanatics too long, as the attacks on Malfoy Manor and Nott Manor had proven. She almost blew the doors open when they were not quick enough for her.

    There was no guard here, but there was a clerk on duty, looking as if she had startled him. Before he could ask what she wanted, she snapped: “Emergency, come with me!” and stormed past him towards the closest Floo connection.

    She ignored his protest that those Floo connections were for maintaining the network, not actual use. It was an emergency. Kneeling down, she threw powder into the fire and shouted: “Greengrass Manor!”

    The floo didn’t light up. “Check the connection!” she ordered, standing up.

    The clerk fumbled with his wand. She couldn’t wait for the dolt, not with Luna’s life on the line! She was halfway back to the lift when he finally yelled: “The Floo here is working properly, the problem is on the other end!”

    Definitely an attack then. Or at least, she thought, there were more than enough reasons to assume one. Her slight guilt at thinking about covering her action disappeared when she imagined Luna trapped inside a burning house, or worse, captured by those animals.

    Foregoing the lift, she sprinted up the stairs to the Wands’ Headquarters, where brown-robed Wands were already gathered. “Greengrass Manor’s Floo connection is down. Luna was meeting with their daughter and signalled for help!” she shouted.

    The first squads were apparating out before she had spotted Dean and Colin among the Wands. Linking up with her team, she followed the next wave.

    Those cowardly criminals would face the full might of the Corps!

    *****​

    Kent, United Kingdom, August 27th, 1999, 21.15 hours

    When Hermione and her team arrived in the field outside Greengrass Manor, the first wave had already conjured staggered walls to provide the arrival zone with cover and break the line of sight. Above them, a squad of broom riders had just taken to the sky. She couldn’t help frowning at the memories of flying lessons that the sight brought back.

    “With me!” Hermione ordered, and moved away from the arrival zone, Dean and Colin following her. It wasn’t dark yet, so as soon as she was past the inner walls, she could see the first squads moving to envelop the estate, and trap the attackers between them and the wards of the manor - like in training. She still had fond memories of ‘Exercise Audacity’, where she had received a commendation.

    A flash behind her startled the young witch. “Colin!” she shouted, “Don’t do that!”

    “Sorry,” the youngest member of her team said, without sounding as if he really regretted it. He continued taking pictures too.

    She was about to read him the riot act when Dean shook his head. “We’re just reserves, like the youngest Wands. With all of us here, we won’t be needed until it’s time to bag the bodies.

    Hermione frowned. While she shared his view, orders were orders. They might be members of the Investigative Branch, and one Wand short of their full complement, but they were members of the Corps, and every Wand did their duty. Before she could say anything though she saw spells flashing in the distance. “Contact at the gate,” she said, pointing at the area and pulling out her omnioculars. “Stay here, Colin, or I’ll stun you and portkey you straight to the brig,” she added, knowing he was about to move towards the fight.

    “We’ve got the area covered with anti-apparition and anti-portkey jinxes,” Dean said unhelpfully, staring through his own omnioculars. Colin was still taking pictures.

    “Looks like they have the situation in hand,” Hermione said, as she saw three squads of Wands engage about half a dozen dark-robed and masked enemies. Outnumbered two to one, the Fanatics didn’t stand a chance. A volley of Blasting Curses broke whatever formation they had, and the shaken survivors were taken down by Piercing and Cutting Curses. She hoped one of them would be stunned as well; they needed prisoners.

    “There’s another skirmish at the other end!” Colin said in a voice even more excited than usual.

    Hermione turned around. Another two squads were engaged there. “Looks like that one’s already over…” she started to say when the entire area vanished in an explosion. Bombarda Maxima, she realised, blinking, though how had one spell caught all of the Wands there at once? They had been spread out to avoid exactly that...

    “Merlin!” Dean exclaimed.

    Through the dust cloud thrown up by the explosion, Hermione could see the flashes of green spells. Killing Curses. “No one authorised them yet…” she said.

    Two figures ran out of the cloud. Brown robes - Wands. She recognised one of them: Francis, one year above her at Hogwarts. He was casting blindly behind him, as was the witch next to him. A green spell hit him from behind, and he fell. The other Wand turned around, conjuring a wall in front of Francis and herself, then knelt down. Before she could check on her fallen comrade, the wall was blasted to pieces and her Shield Charm shattered under the hail of stone shards. The witch was about to cast again when a Cutting Curse sliced her in half and she fell down next to Francis, drenching both of them in her blood.

    The dust cloud was still settling when a monster walked out. Pale skin, inhuman face, red eyes. Behind him followed more wizards wearing the Death Eater masks, and one witch Hermione recognised at once from the wanted posters and her file.

    Bellatrix Lestrange.

    *****​

    “Merlin’s Balls!” Dean cursed next to her. “That’s Lestrange!”
    “Switch to earthen walls and fortifications!” Hermione shouted, conjuring already. Others were not as quick, and the monster in the front sent spells at the stone walls shielding the Corps’ command post, turning them into weapons against the Wands as slivers and fragments were sent flying through the air from explosions.

    The voice of Wand-Commander Daniel sounded through the camp, amplified by a spell: “Mary, Robert, centre! Keavan, Sarah, flank!”

    Hermione was busy conjuring earthen walls while the Wand-Leaders named deployed their squads as ordered. She saw Mary and three more Wands run to a gap she had left between her last two walls, where they stopped to cast. Multiple explosions sounded from up front.

    “That’ll teach them!” Dean snarled, conjuring more walls himself.

    Hermione wasn’t certain, and created steps in the wall in front of her, to climb up. She needed to know what was happening. Colin followed her. The Wand was still holding his camera.

    The blasting spells from Mary’s squad had left craters in the earth, but hadn’t stopped the enemy’s advance. The pale monster in front was striding forward, a wave of his wand filling the craters while spells splashed harmlessly against his shield. He seemed unstoppable, a force of nature. Hermione felt fear fill her.

    Cursing under her breath, she fought her fear down and shouted: “His shield is withstanding multiple curses!” She saw the monster look at her, his wand flashing, and threw herself off the wall, taking Colin with her, a second before the earthen top exploded. Her shield caught the clumps of soil thrown at her easily. If that had been solid stone...

    Both Wands landed hard, though Colin had it worse, with Hermione landing on top of him. He cried out in pain, and she thought she had heard at least one bone break. But it was better than getting hit by that curse. Rolling off him, she called to Dean: “Get him to the Healer!”

    Her friend dragged the smaller wizard off, not bothering with a levitation spell. Another wall exploded, and more curses tore through the cloud of debris thrown up, striking two Wands who had taken cover there. One screamed, his leg cut off, the other made strangling noises with his intestines wrapped around his neck.

    She heard more explosions from up ahead. The broom flyers had started to attack the Fanatics. She heard screams as well, so they had hit at least some of the enemies. A glance through a gap showed her that the monster and Lestrange were still advancing, seemingly unaffected by the bombardment, the dark witch cackling madly. The pale thing flicked its wrist, and shot a few curses up in the air. They burst into green clouds. One of the broom riders couldn’t evade them, and flew straight through one. Hermione realised they were acid clouds when he started screaming, tearing at his blistering skin, and fell from his smoking broom, wildly jerking until he hit the ground.

    The enemy’s advance was halted by Keavan’s and Sarah’s squads attacking from the flank. The masked Fanatics behind the leading group were struck hard and driven towards the wards of Greengrass Manor. Hermione readied herself for the sally that would be ordered and transfigured the earth in front of Lestrange and the monster into a bunch of poisonous snakes to distract them.

    Instead of attacking them though, the snakes turned around and slithered towards the Wands’ positions. Hermione gaped, and was almost too late to dive behind cover again when the mad witch sent a few curses at her.

    She rushed to the next gap while the wall next to her was crumbling from multiple spells, sending an unaimed Blasting Curse at the dark witch, who was already turning towards the Wands who were flanking them.

    Why wasn’t the commander ordering the sally? She sprinted towards the command post, around a still-standing stone wall, then recoiled. Wand-Commander Daniel and the Wands with him were down - dead it seemed, Daniel’s bloody body held within the coils of a monstrous snake of giant size, fangs the size of wands piercing his neck.

    Hermione didn’t hesitate. She cast a Cutting Curse at the snake, slicing deep into its body and causing it to shriek in agony, further proving its unnatural nature, then vanished the earth beneath it, forming a pit to trap it.

    Turning around, she cast an Amplifying Charm. “Wand-Commander Daniel is dead. Special Authorisation granted. Centre, move to engage the enemy! For Britain!”

    The Wands behind the walls charged to the gaps or climbed the walls. Hermione herself rushed to the top of the closest wall thanks to conjured steps, pointed her wand at the monster and summoned all the hatred she felt.

    “Avada Kedavra!”

    All around her, green spells flew towards the enemies. For a moment, she felt elated. No one could dodge that many spells!

    The monster was too quick though, and vanished behind a conjured wall himself. Even before the obstacle was shattered by dozens of curses, Hermione was already casting the next Killing Curse.

    “Avada Kedavra!”

    Another wall shattered, and this time, staggered curses followed it up. Hermione saw several of the Fanatics behind Lestrange fall down, struck. She aimed her wand at the centre of the enemy’s formation, where a wall was stubbornly standing. Spell after spell hit it, and it would be destroyed soon enough, no matter what kind of magic kept it standing despite the onslaught.

    Before it fell though, two figures shot up into the air from behind it. The monster and Lestrange, both flying without a broom. That … Hermione sent a spell after them, together with several other Wands, but she knew they wouldn’t hit them. They were too fast, too far away.

    The stragglers on the ground though… that was a textbook encirclement. No one had to give the Wands any orders as they cut the fanatics down with well-aimed spells.

    And yet Hermione didn’t feel satisfied, much less happy. Too many Wands had been struck as well, by that pale inhuman monster. With a sinking feeling, the exhausted witch realised that those had not been delusional Fanatics led by Lestrange. Whatever that… thing… had been, it had been far more powerful than any wizard she had ever seen.

    *****​

    Kent, United Kingdom, August 27th, 1999, 21.45 hours

    “What happened?”

    Wand-Leader Hermione stood at attention outside the Greengrass Manor while the Minister for Magic listened to Wand-Leader Sarah report the night’s events. According to seniority she would succeed Daniel in command of the Corps, unless the Minister promoted someone else in her place, of course. Hermione’s usurpation of command had been as short-lived as the battle itself. She didn’t think she’d be punished given the circumstances, but as always when she had done something against the rules, but for a good reason, there was that lingering doubt until matters were settled properly. Which wouldn’t happen for some time, she knew, with the losses the Corps had taken today. So many dead…. over a dozen Wands had been killed and even more had been wounded - some with crippling curses, already in St. Mungo’s. The Corps would take a long time to recover from such a blow. Time the enemy would not grant them, if they were smart.

    At least the enemy had been hurt as well. Over twenty of them had been killed, a handful captured. Among the dead was Rodolphus Lestrange, one of Britain’s most wanted wizards. The Fanatics had been struck a heavy blow, but Hermione didn’t think it outweighed the loss of Daniel, and so many others. At least Dean and Colin had survived. The younger wizard hadn’t been hit by a dark curse, so he’d be back on duty in a day or two.

    She stood even straighter when Sarah reported that Hermione had taken command after Daniel’s death, and the Minister’s attention turned to her. “That was good and quick thinking, Wand-Leader. Your actions may have won the battle. Commendable.”

    Hermione felt a warm glow inside her upon hearing Minister Malfoy praise her. “Thank you, sir. I was merely at the right place to act, any other Wand-Leader would have done the same I think. I’m sorry that monster escaped.”

    He smiled. “It won’t escape next time, now that its powers are known.”

    “Yes, sir!”

    The Minister turned back to Sarah, when a Wand approached them: “Sir! The Greengrass family has left their manor!”

    Hermione turned and drew her wand, as did the other Wands. It was highly unlikely that the Greengrasses were a threat, but no Wand took the security of the Minister lightly. Especially out in the field. There was the family, and there was...

    “Hermione!”

    Wand-Leader Hermione had to struggle to keep her composure when she saw her best friend rush towards her. She almost shouted ‘Luna!’, despite the Minister’s presence. Knowing nothing she could do would dissuade the blonde witch from her chosen course of action, Hermione opened her arms and braced herself just in time for Luna to slam into her and hug her hard. She just knew she would get teased about this later by her friends!

    “I knew you’d save us, but when I saw the snake-creature attack I was so worried…” Luna sniffled.

    Hermione was briefly confused. How had her friend seen the snake that had killed the Commander? Maybe afterwards, when the unnatural animal had tried to climb out of the pit she had created? No, it had been cut to pieces with multiple curses from a squad of Wands before it reached the top.

    “And when he flew off… I wanted to go out right away, but the Greengrasses said we should stay until we were certain it was safe!”

    Ah, she was talking about that creature! Upon reflection, the monster had looked a bit like a snake, with its missing nose. Hermione nodded. “We beat it, Luna, no worries.” No need to go into the terrifying details; the younger witch was unnerved enough already. “I got your message, and alerted the Corps.” And she really should create a better way to communicate; a way to send actual messages.

    Looking around, she saw that the Minister was talking with the Greengrasses. From what she could overhear the family was, of course, very grateful that they had been saved by the Minister’s forces. Daphne Greengrass even looked like she wanted to hug him. Hermione understood the sentiment.

    “Come, you have to meet them!” Luna started to drag her off before she could object.

    “Wait!” Hermione said, but to no avail.

    “Mister Greengrass? This is Hermione, the friend I contacted when the Floo was down! I told you she’d save us all!” Luna yelled, heedless of the fact that she was interrupting the Minister himself. At least, the embarrassed witch thought, the Minister looked amused rather than annoyed. He was fond of Luna’s family, she remembered hearing.

    Once more Hermione found herself the centre of attention. She tried to say that she had just done her duty, but Luna was already talking about the coin, and Hermione’s achievement in creating it.

    Hermione could only nod and hope Luna didn’t start telling tales of their time at Hogwarts.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 28th, 1999, 01.29 hours

    An owl pecking at the window of his room had Ron Weasley up from his bed and letting the bird inside in a few seconds. He hadn’t been able to sleep anyway, worrying too much about Hermione and Luna.

    The owl had a ring with the Ministry seal and was carrying a rolled-up parchment. He all but ripped it off the bird, ignoring its protests, and read it. It was curt, but told him what he wanted to hear after worrying for hours: Both Hermione and Luna were safe and unhurt. She’d talk to him later.

    He sat down on the bed again, sighing with relief and smiling, then closed his eyes. He couldn’t really deny it anymore - he had fallen in love, and hard, with the enemy. A misguided enemy, lied to and exploited by her commanders, but an enemy nonetheless.

    “Merde alors!”

    He had a mission, he reminded himself. Hermione had been called away because Luna needed help. Given her words before she had left, and the note stressing that both were safe and unhurt, the logical conclusion was that they had been in danger, probably in battle. Not against his family, he thought - he doubted Tonks would have attacked Luna, or if she had, wouldn’t have given her time to call for help, and Fred, George and Percy were all busy with their own tasks.

    But once they were ready… he didn’t want his family to fight Hermione, and he certainly didn’t want to fight her himself. He had to find a way to get her out of the war. Capture her, and move her to France, or somewhere else. She’d hate him, but she’d be safe.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 28th, 1999, 10.21 hours

    ‘Albino Half-Naga Attacks Greengrass Manor’

    Minister for Magic Lucius Malfoy shook his head, staring at the headline of the special issue of The Quibbler. He briefly skimmed through the speculation that the giant snake that had been killed was a foster parent or sibling of the ‘Half-Naga’, then dropped it on his desk. “The things Lovegoods come up with…” he said with a smile. It was useful though. An exotic monster attacking Britain was certainly better for the country’s morale than speculation about the Dark Lord returning from the dead.

    The wizard sitting across from him didn’t share his amusement. Severus, his nominal advisor in Defense matters, was quite agitated - understandable, since he was likely to be held responsible by the Dark Lord for the failed raid on Greengrass Manor. The spy scoffed. “I’m less interested in reading this nonsense than in finding out how the attack failed.” He stared at Lucius. “You assured me that all precautions had been taken.”

    The Minister didn’t like the suspicion audible in his spy’s tone, even though it was to be expected. He had done all he had promised. “Everything had been prepared. But no one could have predicted that Miss Lovegood would invite herself to the Greengrass’ family dinner to welcome their youngest daughter back, nor that she would have a way to alert the mudbloods. No one but a seer, and as you know, those are in short supply.”

    Severus’ eyes briefly opened, then they narrowed again. For the dour potioneer, that was as good as gaping, Lucius thought. “Lovegood fouled this up?”

    Lucius nodded. “It’s quite a coincidence, but I looked into it. She’s friends with a Wand-Leader, and they had created a way to contact each other during their time at Hogwarts.”

    “A communication mirror?”

    “Not exactly. It was a variant of the Protean Charm. Quite primitive, of course, and unable to convey any information other than danger, but the mudblood in question assumed the worst, and mobilised the Corps.” Lucius sighed. Hermione was proving to be even smarter than he had expected, but her tendency to act as she saw fit, evident in her taking command at the battle, was a two-edged blade.

    “Who was the mudblood?”

    “Hermione, from the Investigative Corps.” Lucius knew his spy needed as much information as possible to placate the Dark Lord. Maybe the potential problem in his ranks would be solved by the Dark Lord himself?

    “I think I remember her. Obnoxious attitude, and more eager to please than your average Ministry sycophant?” Severus sneered.

    “She’s very loyal and shows a lot of initiative.” And would serve as a good scapegoat for the Dark Lord, Lucius thought.

    The other wizard nodded. “I trust your relations with the Greengrass family have improved considerably as a result of this… mishap.”

    “They have.” Lucius almost sighed. While the gratitude of the family was useful and would certainly serve to further prove the information Severus had delivered to the Dark Lord, Daphne seemed to suffer from a bad case of hero-worship. She had all but thrown herself at him last night, and he was not quite certain how to handle her once she returned to work - he had ordered her to take a day or two off, to recover from her ordeal. If Narcissa mistook her attitude for something else… his wife had a rather large, and usually irrational streak of jealousy.

    “How many losses did the mudbloods suffer?”

    “They are still treating some at St. Mungo’s, but the estimate is that the Corps suffered fewer than twenty total losses. More than that was inflicted on the Dark Lord’s forces. Among the dead was Rodolphus Lestrange.”

    Severus winced. He might have to pad those numbers a bit, or so Lucius thought, to avoid the Dark Lord’s anger. Though according to some rumors his spy had revealed, the Dark Lord might not be that concerned about the loss of Bellatrix’ husband.

    “The commander of the Corps was killed as well. You can portray that as a grave loss.” It wasn’t, actually, in his opinion. Wands were replaceable.

    Severus nodded. “I’ll inform you as soon as I have more news about the Dark Lord’s reaction.”

    If he survived, Lucius thought. The man was quite the accomplished spy, but the Dark Lord sometimes lost his temper. He hoped Severus survived - he needed the man to win this conflict.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 28th, 1999, 11.35 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione hadn’t had a good morning. None of the Wands had. Everyone was dealing with the aftermath of the biggest battle the Corps had seen so far - and the most costly too. Her joy at having saved Luna had been replaced with sorrow about the losses the Corps had taken, and anger at the mistakes she and her fellow Wands had made in that battle.

    She had already made a list of weaknesses that had to be addressed, first among them communications. The wands needed a better way to communicate in a battle. Communication mirrors wouldn’t work, and the Protean Charm she was thinking of using as a way to send messages to Luna wouldn’t work well either, not in battle. It would have to be a sort of … a charm that let the commander address all the Wands, or a group of them, and let the Wands report back. But mirrors were limited to a pair. Maybe if each Wand-Leader received one… though the Wand-Commander would be stuck juggling them, unable to do much else.

    She sighed, leaning back in her seat. Colin was still in St. Mungo’s, but would be back later today. He’d have to fill out the paperwork then though. Dean was helping out Sarah. And she was supposed to be working on her investigation. But she hadn’t found a lead on Keagan Banks and Ottokar Merriweather yet. They were not listed in the Wards License Registry. Which meant they were from families who already had warded houses. Which meant they were the heirs.

    She’d have to check the wills. After she met with Antoine for lunch. Her boyfriend? Lover? She didn’t know how he saw her. He was a pureblood, and a foreigner. But she knew that she considered him her friend. He had worried about her, as his note had told her. She felt guilty at having let him worry for so long - especially since she knew he had experienced war himself.

    She checked the clock. Time to go and meet him.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 28th, 1999, 12.00 hours

    Ron Weasley hugged Hermione as soon as he reached her. “You’re safe!”

    He felt her grow tense for a moment as she said: “I sent you a note as soon as I could.” She sounded more than a bit defensive, and he berated himself mentally- he hadn’t wanted to make her feel guilty, or anything.

    “I’m sorry, I just…” he trailed off. She would understand the sentiment, he thought.

    Hermione nodded. They remained in each other’s arms for a bit longer, then separated and sat down at the table. He noticed the waitress grinning, but didn’t care one way or the other. Who cared about public displays of affection, as Percy called them, when you were fighting a war?

    “What happened?” he asked. “I’ve read Luna’s article, but…” he grinned ruefully. “How is she doing, anyway?”

    “She’s either with Astoria Greengrass, or her father. It depends on how long she has to convince him to let her out of the Rookery every again,” the witch explained.

    “Oh. Understandable, I suppose.”

    The frown she sent at him made him feel happy that he hadn’t joked about wanting to keep her safe as well. She wasn’t one of the witches looking for a big Gendarme to protect them, or at least acted as if they were, he reminded himself.

    “So… was there an albino Half-Naga?” He asked, after ordering. He was curious, but this would also be very useful intel.

    Hermione nodded, though he thought it was a bit reluctant. “The description in the article is accurate, though I couldn’t tell if it was actually a Half-Naga. It was not human, that’s certain.”

    “A monster cult?” He had heard of such things, though never encountered one. Some creatures could control the minds of wizards and witches, gathering groups of dedicated followers that way. Veela were said to have done that in the past as well.

    The witch pressed her lips together for an instant, before answering: “Maybe.”

    He was rather certain she didn’t think so, and didn’t want to lie, but didn’t press the question. It didn’t take a genius to deduce that this had been the Dark Lord, not if one knew what he did. Dumbledore’s briefing had been quite informative. “There was also a fierce battle, according to the article.”

    She nodded once more, less reluctantly, but her expression told him that the battle had been as costly as described. “That’s true as well.”

    “And you were in the thick of it.” He reached out to grab her hand and ran his thumb over the back of it.

    “I did my duty. As did everyone else.”

    “And you won. It won’t bring the dead back though.”

    “No, it won’t.” She nodded with a faint, sad smile, probably thinking he had been in the same situation.

    He felt guilty at deceiving her - he had seen fellow Gendarmes get cursed, but he had never been in a battle of that scale. He had studied enough about the War in Québec to fake it though. “Do you think they’ll attack again?” It was a dumb question, of course. They would. The Dark Lord wouldn’t stop just because a few dozen people had been killed.

    “Their leaders escaped, as did some of their forces,” the girl said, then bit her lower lip, as if she had said too much.

    He acted as if he hadn’t noticed her slip - the article hadn’t mentioned other leaders. “I’m sure you’ll be ready for them though,” he said, patting her hand.

    She nodded with a grim, almost ferocious expression. “We will be.”

    He continued to lightly prod her for more snippets of information during the meal, feeling guilty all the time.

    *****​

    London, August 28th, 1999, 13.54 hours

    “You know, Ron, if you corrupt Harry to your ways, and turn him into a suave seductive spy, Ginny will hex you into a puddle.”

    Ron Weasley sighed at probably George. He had already briefed the twins on what he had found out, and correlated from the news articles. And of course they had focused on ‘the Dark Lord ruining his date’, and his ‘James Bond act’.

    Ron loved his family. Including his brothers. That didn’t mean he assumed even for a second that he could ask any of them for advice about his love life. He had learned that lesson in his fourth year. And hadn’t forgiven them until his sixth year. And that had been just the general chagrin d’amour of a boy crushing on a girl who didn’t return his feelings. Not him sleeping with the enemy on a spy mission.

    So, Ron was really glad Harry would be arriving shortly. He needed a friend he could talk to about his love life. A friend who would not mock him, or spill his secrets to the rest of the family. Harry wouldn’t do that, even though he was dating Ginny and Ron’s parents considered him family already. That Ron knew a number of embarrassing secrets about Harry, including that incident with Fleur Delacour, was just insurance, of course.

    The mirror next to the vanishing cabinet lit up. “I’m coming through now.” It sounded like Harry’s voice to Ron. He and George had their wands trained on the cabinet anyway before it began to open.

    Harry stepped out, straightening and nodding at them. A few detection spells later, Ron patted him on the back. “Good to see you, mec! How’s France?”

    “The same as usual. Ginny’s busy with her new team.”

    Ron nodded. “And our little sister is annoyed that you spend so much time in Britain, I bet. And that, being the new star player of the Avignon Aigles, she can’t come with you.”

    Harry winced. “She understands how important this is. But with the matches on the weekends, and me not always there to support her, nor at the parties in the evenings… some magazine already speculated that I’m jealous of her success as a Quidditch player, and we’re on the outs.”

    “Damn, that’s bad.” Ron knew Ginny had a temper, and wasn’t one to simply endure such rumours. What she had done to the girl insinuating she was using Harry as a beard to hit on Gabrielle…

    “She’s already planning a few ‘outings’ for us to counter such rumours,” Harry said while the two went upstairs, to a hopefully bug-free room to talk. “But enough of my love troubles. What about yours?”

    Ron blinked, and his friend laughed. “Please. I know you. You’re not the type to seduce a girl to take advantage of her. Of course you’d have troubles.”

    Ron wasn’t certain if he should feel flattered or insulted by that. But he had hoped to talk about that exact topic with Harry, even though he’d not have called it ‘love trouble’. More like… Well, it was love, and he was in trouble, but still.

    Once they were in the living room, he cast a privacy spell and sat down in the old armchair, sighing. “Mec, I feel terrible about lying to her.”

    “I somehow think you’d feel rather worse if you told her the truth, that you’re a spy working for her dear Minister’s enemies,” Harry said.

    Ron frowned at him. He had forgotten about his friend’s sarcasm.

    Harry held up a hand in a placating gesture. “I’m just saying how it is. How serious are you anyway? I hope that you’re not already thinking of names for your children.”

    Ron snorted. Mum had had Harry spooked right well and proper that dinner, until his friend had realised that she had been joking - mostly. “We both use protection.” He hadn’t meant to say that yet.

    “You’re already sleeping with each other? Wow, that’s...”

    He glared at Harry, and his friend didn’t finish whatever he had been about to say. Ron wasn’t about to say it had just been one time. It hadn’t been a one-night stand, even if they hadn’t found the time yet to do it again.

    “Merlin, haven’t seen that glare since I told you about the rumors about Marie, in 5th.” Harry smiled.

    “Those were spread by Melanie.” That jealous bitch, Ron remembered, had managed to wreck that relationship thoroughly. He’d been an idiot, back then.

    “Well, you do seem serious. More serious than I thought.” Harry didn’t sound like he considered that a good thing.

    “I just want to keep her safe.”

    “Pretty hard to do that, with her being a Wand and all,” Harry pointed out.

    “Well…” Ron trailed off.

    His friend sighed. “And that expression I haven’t seen since your ‘fool-proof plan’ in 6th. You know, the one that wasn’t fool-proof at all, you fool. What are you thinking of now?”

    “I was thinking of capturing her. Get her out of the country. Keep her safe until the war’s over.” It would work.

    “She’d hate you, and with good reason, mec. Sleep with her, then she wakes up a prisoner? That’s not just bricking up the fireplace, that’s blowing it up and cursing the remains. And we’re not even talking about how she’d feel about you betraying her country.”

    Ron frowned at him. He knew that, and far better than Harry - who had never met her. “She’ll hate me anyway, once she finds out who I am and what I do. At least this way she’ll not be fighting us.”

    “Mec, you’re screwed then.”

    “I know.”

    The two wizards stayed silent for a while, then started to talk about Quidditch.

    *****​

    London, August 28th, 1999, 15.01 hours

    Albus Dumbledore studied the pictures taken of the Death Eater cottage - footage, the twins called it. “Remarkable pictures. To think the muggles have advanced that much in the last few years…”

    “Yes, Professor. Dad’s been on our case about the ‘muggle options’, as he calls them, ever since we joined the Order,” Fred said.
    “The older guard doesn’t like his ideas,” George added, “no matter how useful they are.”

    “Old people are often rather conservative,” Albus said, smiling gently.

    “You’re even older,” Fred pointed out.

    “And I am quite stuck in my ways. It’s just that one of my ways is being curious about new things.” He chuckled, then focused on the pictures again. The Death Eaters seemed to leave with brooms, under the cover of disillusionment spells, or invisibility cloaks. That made them slow to deploy, and to return, but safe from surveillance. They’d likely be prepared for tracking charms as well.

    “So, Professor, will we be blowing the cottage up? Roast us some Death Eaters?”

    He shook his head. “No. That would reveal too much about our ability to track them.” And threaten Severus’s cover, which was already on very shaky ground, after the failed attack on the Greengrasses. “We’ll need another way to lure Tom’s followers into a battle with the Ministry’s forces.” He tapped the Daily Prophet and the Quibbler on the table in the safe house. “I think we have a few opportunities here as well.”

    Albus was quite certain that the Dark Lord would not tolerate looking like a fool, nor was he a wizard who tended to let those who defied him and escaped live. But Tom would take some persuasion and manipulation to launch an attack at either the Lovegoods or the Greengrasses, given his recent setbacks. Severus could work on that, once he had secured his position again.

    Of the two families, the Lovegoods, former neighbours of the Weasleys, were the easier and more likely target for a raid. At least the Wand-Leader Severus had mentioned lived in the Ministry itself. That was a good thing, since she was the one young Ron was interested in.

    Fate had a peculiar sense of humor, Albus thought.

    *****​
     
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  17. Threadmarks: Chapter 8: Plots Exposed
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 8: Plots Exposed

    London, Diagon Alley, August 28th, 1999, 18.15 hours

    “According to the Daily Prophet, the Wands of Britain have proven their valour and skill by rescuing the Greengrasses.”

    Lucius Malfoy smiled at his wife’s words, though he was already on his guard - Narcissa was quite adept at hiding biting criticism in effusive praise. “I’ve never doubted them.”

    “And yet my dear sister escaped.” The pureblood witch frowned at him.

    Lucius barely saw Draco whispering to Dobby as he fought back a sigh. “There was nothing the Wands could have done, dear.” He had checked the reports, and the memories of select mudbloods. Who would have thought Bellatrix could learn how to fly without a broom?

    Narcissa sniffed. “Another chance missed to claim my ancestral mansion.”

    “Even if Bellatrix had died, your other sister, her daughter, and your cousin would still be around,” Lucius pointed out. His wife’s fixation with Grimmauld Place was growing more irritating.

    “It would have been a first step at least.” Narcissa daintily sipped from her wine.

    Draco scoffed, drawing Lucius’ attention to the fact that he was reading the Daily Prophet at the table. Before he could scold his son - and the house elf that had brought it to him - Draco put it down. “Mudbloods! Almost losing to a weak-minded rabble in the thrall of some creature!”

    “You’re talking about a very powerful creature, son. Your aunt was the Dark Lord’s most trusted follower; she is by no means weak-willed,” Lucius explained, wondering once again if he should have told Draco the truth about the Dark Lord. But at the time, his son had been too young, too impulsive. Too Gryffindor. And afterwards… He’d do it once Draco decided to settle down.

    “Indeed. Bellatrix is many things, but weak-willed? Do not underestimate this ‘creature’, Draco,” Narcissa said. As much as she hated her sisters, she took offense when anyone insulted them. Lucius knew that from personal experience.

    “Yes, mother.”

    “To think the Greengrass family came close to becoming extinct,” Narcissa said. “Neither daughter has yet founded a family.”

    Lucius knew that tone. He exchanged a glance with Draco, who looked pleadingly at him, and nodded. “It would be far too crass to talk about marriage right after such a horrible event, dear. Unbecoming of any old family.” Daphne, marrying Draco? Lucius would personally kill her if everything else failed!

    His wife was fuming, he saw that, but she didn’t say another word. A Black would rather die than conduct herself in a crass manner. Well, a Black other than Bellatrix.

    For a while, the family ate in silence.

    “May I read the official report, father?” Draco asked suddenly.

    Lucius looked at him. His son hadn’t shown much interest in the details of his work so far. He smiled. “Of course. It’s good of you to take an interest in such matters.” For Narcissa, he added. “But after the meal, of course.”

    Later, in his study, he handed the preliminary report to his son. Draco skimmed most parts but the actual fight, mumbling some names. Was he maybe worrying about his dalliances? Lucius had already spoken with the key Wands, but showing the entire family cared about them would help morale, the Minister thought. As last night had proven, they needed the mudbloods to beat the Dark Lord.

    Maybe his son was growing up. It wouldn’t be the first time a young wizard became a man during times of war. Lucius had done the same, after all.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 29th, 1999, 20.45 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione threw the last report she had to write on the ‘out’ pile on her desk. Finally done! She leaned back, ignoring the jealous expression of Dean, who was still writing his reports, and stretched her arms over head. The Wands had been buried in paperwork this afternoon, but the young witch had felt she had been singled out - she had had to write reports as ‘acting Wand-Commander’ as well, just because she had been in command for a few minutes.

    Now though, she had finished her task, and could leave for Diagon Alley. Meet with Antoine, check up on Luna, head to room 11 at the Leaky Cauldron… It was tempting, but she had another task left still.

    She needed to find those retired Obliviators who had saved her from her muggle parents. She tried to suppress the doubts that she harboured, the nagging feeling that the reports she had read did not tell her what had really happened. It was inconceivable that the rot she had discovered among the Obliviators reached that far back. It had to be inconceivable.

    And yet, she wouldn’t be able to shake this feeling until she had tracked Keagan Banks and Ottokar Merriweather down and interrogated them.

    She grabbed a roll of parchment and stood up. “If anyone is looking for me, I’ll be down in the Wills Registry.”

    “Updating your own will?” Dean looked at her. “Are you and that tourist that serious?”

    Hermione chuckled, ignoring the emotion that question brought up. “I’m just covering the bases. Theoretically, the attack on Greengrass Manor could have been motivated by someone slated to inherit the estate.” Greed was behind many crimes, after all.

    Dean snorted and shook his head, indicating what he thought of that theory, but went back to his own report as she left.

    A few minutes later she entered the registry. As expected, no one was around. She dropped her request on the desk of the clerk in charge, who’d see it in the morning, checked for witnesses, then went into the archives. She had memorised all the close relatives from the family registry, and it didn’t take her long to discover that Banks had inherited his great-aunt’s home in Durham. Merriweather was trickier - his family had a lot of members. She finally found a cottage in Pembrokeshire that he had inherited from his great-uncle in 1990.

    On a whim, she checked the family registry again. Both Banks and Merriweather had inherited their estates despite the bequeather having multiple closer relatives. Banks’s great-aunt had disinherited her own children. Hermione couldn’t help but suspect foul play - it would have been easy for a trained Obliviator to modify some memories, and arrange an inheritance...

    She’d have to be very careful approaching these two, Hermione thought as she left the archives.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 30th, 1999, 06.30 hours

    Lying on her side, her head propped up by her off-hand, Wand-Leader Hermione trailed her fingers over the chest of a sleeping Antoine, up to his face, and over some of his freckles. She smiled when she saw him grimace and scrunch up his nose, still asleep, at her touch, and withdrew her hand.

    “I’m becoming a scarlet witch,” she mumbled. “I didn’t even think of returning to the barracks yesterday.” She didn’t really feel guilty about it though. Being with Antoine just felt right. Luna said he made her happy, and she was inclined to agree.

    She leaned over and kissed him on the lips, which woke the wizard up.

    “Too early…” he moaned, squeezing his eyes shut.

    Chuckling, she shook her head. “You’d never make it in the Corps.”

    “Probably not,” he admitted. “Not that I’d be able to join anyway, right? You’re all muggleborn.”

    “Yes,” she said, wondering where he was going with this. They hadn’t talked about blood in a while.

    “And you’re the best wizards and witches in Britain.”

    “Yes.” She smiled proudly, then blinked. What...

    He smiled wryly. “And yet the purebloods look down on you. Weird, right?”

    She nodded, slowly, then shook her head. “We’re trained for this. They aren’t.”

    “Oui, I’ve seen Aurors in action, they really are not trained enough. Wouldn’t have lasted half an hour back…” he trailed off, sighing. He must have remembered the war, she thought. “Do you have time to eat breakfast with me?”

    “If you don’t take too long getting up and dressed.” Hermione grinned at him, glad to see that topic dropped. “Unless you’d prefer to do something else in the time I’ve left…” she licked her lips, and his eyes lit up.

    *****​

    Outside Pembroke, Pembrokeshire, United Kingdom, August 30th, 1999, 22.40 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione, wearing her invisibility cloak, studied the cottage near the coast of Wales. Ottokar Merriweather, retired Obliviator, lived there. Alone, according to the records she had seen. As expected from a centuries-old house, the wards were quite strong. She wouldn’t be able to break through them quickly enough to catch anyone inside - or avoid the response of the Corps. Fortunately, she had other options. Especially since this area was registered as magical, and wouldn’t trigger an alert at the Ministry.

    Out of her bag, she pulled a box with four frogs inside. A flick of her wand had them confused into thinking it was mating season, and an Amplifying Charm later the area was filled with croaking loud enough to drown out a dragon’s roar.

    It didn’t take long for Merriweather to leave his cottage, wand in hand, to deal with them. To his credit, he seemed to expect someone else to be around as well, since he was looking around and had cast a Shield Charm in advance. He didn’t think to cast the Human-Presence-Revealing Spell though, not even when he left the warded area. Amateur, she thought, as she sent two Piercing Curses followed by a Stunner at him.

    His shield shattered under the first curse, the second holed his leg, and the Stunner took him down before he could scream. She had expected that, and had aimed at his legs so she’d not accidentally kill him.

    She hadn’t expected the red curse flying at her from the window of the cottage though. Fortunately, she had excellent reflexes and was invisible, so she managed to dodge the spell by dropping to the ground. Rolling to the side, she berated herself - her instructor had taught her to keep moving when casting while disillusioned. Now she was facing someone in a warded house, who had probably already called the Aurors.

    She could summon Merriweather, and flee. But her plan to obliviate him afterwards was already foiled - the other wizard would know of the attack. And she couldn’t get to that wizard; breaking through the wards would take longer than even the response time of the Aurors. She cursed under her breath - she had been sloppy to assume he was alone, and lacked a backup plan - and sent a few spells at the cottage, seeing them splash against the wards without effect. With a bit of luck this would be seen as another Fanatic attack, or a simple attempt at theft. They’d not suspect a Wand.

    Then she apparated away. She had a house in Durham to visit.

    *****​

    Near Durham, County Durham, United Kingdom, August 30th, 1999, 23.05 hours

    Keagan Banks had a bigger, older house than his former colleague. Even stronger wards too. Hermione had another batch of frogs, but to use the same trick twice would be foolish. Not to mention that she would run into the same problem if the man had visitors. But she had a plan. Instead of the box she pulled out a vial and a small pouch with a lock of hair out of her bag. She picked a single hair from the lock, then dropped it into the vial.

    A gulp later, she felt her body change, taking the shape of a 16 year-old Cho Chang. Back in her fourth year at Hogwarts she had decided to go with Marietta Edgecombe’s body to teach the two Ravenclaws a lesson, but she had kept the hair from the older witch as well. A quick transfiguration changed her nondescript robes into a copy of the latest fashion from Teen Witch Weekly, and a few drops from a flask gave them the correct smell of firewhiskey.

    The picture of a drunken teenage witch, she deliberately walked into the wards. Her yell of pain when they pushed her back hard enough to make her stumble wasn’t as fake as her appearance.

    “Hey! What’s wrong with you?” she shouted. “That hurt!” She didn’t quite hit Chang’s snobby accent. Not that it would have mattered - Chang was now quite a bit older.

    She closed her eyes briefly, then walked into the wards again. “Ow! Merlin damn it!”

    That did it. The front door opened, and Banks peered out, wand aimed at her.

    “Tyron? That you?” She squinted at him.

    “You’ve got the wrong house, Miss.”

    “Uh? But I apparated just like I learned.” Hermione stood up on shaking legs. She didn’t need to fake that - she was not used to this body, and the wards did hurt. Swaying on her feet, she shook her head. “We celebrated our licenses, you know.”

    The former Obliviator sighed. “You’re drunk.”

    “Tipsy!” she protested, giggling. “I just had a tiny bit!”

    “You’d better use the Floo to return home.”

    “Thank you!” She smiled at him and walked once again into the wards before he could stop her, though this time she yelled even louder, and stayed on the ground.

    Hermione heard him mutter about ‘stupid bints’ and walk towards her. When he shook her shoulder, she rolled onto her back with her wand pointed at him.

    “Stupefy!”

    *****​

    Near Durham, County Durham, United Kingdom, August 30th, 1999, 23.20 hours

    Levitating the retired Obliviator into his own home and securing him hadn’t taken long. Using gloves, Wand-Leader Hermione opened his mouth and administered four drops of Veritaserum to the man. It might be a slight overdose, but she was certain the man would survive it.

    “Rennervate!”

    Banks woke up with the dull expression of a potioned man. He showed neither fear nor anger at being bound to a chair - the Veritaserum was working. Hermione activated her Dictaquill and started her questions.

    “Who are you?”

    “Keagan Banks.” Prompted, he stated his birthdate, address and family.

    “Were you working for the Obliviator Office back in 1983?” She leaned forward, watching him carefully.

    “Yes.”

    “Did you recover a muggleborn child named Hermione Granger in 1983?” She almost stumbled over the name. Granger. She had a family, apart from the Corps.

    “I don’t know.”

    For a moment, she feared he had been obliviated. Then she told herself it had been 16 years. Witnesses rarely had a good memory, especially after such a long time. She pulled out the copy of the report. “Is this your signature?”

    He squinted at the parchment. “Yes.”

    She let him read it. “Does this report state the truth about what happened during that incident?”

    “No.”

    Hermione drew a hissing breath. “What parts are untrue?”

    “The muggle abuse.”

    “The child abuse by the muggles?” She held her breath.

    “Yes.”

    Hermione closed her eyes, and fought to concentrate. She still couldn’t assume, didn’t know… “Was the child hurt as stated in the report? Broken bones, bruises, lacerations?

    “Yes.”

    “By whom?”

    “Ottokar.”

    “Merriweather?”

    “Yes.”

    She hissed. “Are you certain?”

    “Yes.”

    “Why?”

    “For the report. Some Healers don’t like to fake files.”

    Some. Not all. The rot had spread more than she had feared, even back then. “The report claims you obliviated the parents. Is that true?”

    “Yes.”

    The young witch wondered if the man had started to fight the potion, he was rather evasive compared to other subjects she had interrogated. Although as a former Obliviator, he would be well-versed in the mental arts. “What exactly did you do to them?”

    “Stunned them and set fire to the house. Made it look like an accident.”

    Her parents were dead. Hermione had no family in the muggle world. She ground her teeth and focused on the interrogation again. “Why did you do this?”

    “Orders.”

    Orders? What? “You were ordered to do this?”

    “Yes.”

    “By whom?” Who could have ordered them to do this, and fake the reports? To murder and lie?

    “The Department Head.”

    Merlin! How far did this conspiracy reach? “Cornelius Fudge?”

    “Yes.”

    Fudge… he was still Head of the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes. But according to all she had heard and had observed, he was weak and easily influenced… could he have hidden his true nature like this? So close to Minister Malfoy, for all those years? She trembled. “Was there any reason given for those orders?”

    “Orders from higher up.”

    Hermione froze. There was only one person above Fudge. The Minister himself. That couldn’t be true. Not him. Fudge had to have been lying. But why? Why would he have done this? Maybe he had been imperiused, but again, for what purpose? And by whom? Maybe Banks had been memory-charmed, but again, to what purpose? No one knew she was investigating this. What aim, what goal would it serve to lie about a muggleborn’s family? She knew one possible reason, of course. Even if it couldn’t be true. “How… “ She took a deep breath. “How many reports about muggleborns being abused by muggles did you fake?”

    “I don’t know.”

    Frowning, she reworded the question: “Did you fake more reports about muggleborn children being abused?”

    “Yes.”

    She hesitated, then pushed on. “Did you fake all of them?”

    “Yes.”

    Once again she wanted to stop, but she couldn’t. She had to know. “Did you ever see any muggleborn child being abused by muggles?”

    “No.”

    Merlin! Herself, Dean, Colin, Sally-Anne, Seamus… everyone in the Corps ‘knew’ they had been saved from magic-hating muggles! It couldn’t be true! He had to be lying, or be manipulated. But her training made her continue the interrogation. Her training, and her need to know the truth. “Did… did the Minister know about this?”

    “Don’t know.”

    “You don’t know if he knew?”

    “Yes.”

    She shouldn’t ask the next question. Her training had taught her that. But she couldn’t help it. “Do you think the Minister knew?”

    “Yes.”

    “Why?”

    “Fudge wouldn’t have done anything without his approval.”

    Fudge. It came back to Fudge. He was the key. She would have to interrogate a department head. Without getting caught. Merlin! Could she do this by herself? And yet, if she didn’t, she’d never know just how far this rot had spread. And even though she dreaded the answer, remaining ignorant was not possible.

    She asked a few more questions, learning details that made her feel both enraged and sick. She came dangerously close to killing the man on the spot. The things he had done… “Did you obliviate and memory charm purebloods as well?”

    “Yes.”

    “Who?”

    The rather long list included his own family, which she had suspected already, and numerous others. Sometimes for petty reasons, sometimes for worse. Once again she had to fight her temper or she’d have killed the man. Taking deep breaths, she noticed that he seemed more lucid. With an evil smile, she turned her wand on him.

    “Obliviate!”

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 31th, 1999, 06.00 hours

    Ron Weasley woke up in Hermione’s arms. A situation he was becoming quite used to lately. Late last night she had come to his room, straight from work. She hadn’t said anything, and he hadn’t asked after she had deflected his first question, but she had been different. Not quite shocked, but much more … emotional than usual. Not just passionate during the act, but clingy afterwards, as if she needed to hold on to him or she would lose him.

    He wondered what had happened. She hadn’t been like that after the battle with the Dark Lord. And yet he couldn’t ask, not without raising suspicions. She was a Wand-Leader, after all. And at risk from the Dark Lord himself. A risk she had no idea about; she didn’t even know that the Dark Lord had returned, from what he could tell.

    He longed to tell her, warn her, and yet, he couldn’t think of a way to achieve that without ruining his cover. And his brothers were close to finishing their lethal inventions. Even if he managed to capture Hermione to keep her safe, her friends would likely die. And she’d hate him. Even more than for lying to her and deceiving her and exploiting her love.

    He closed his eyes, feeling like the worst wizard in Britain. At least that burglar hadn’t revisited Percy’s room. Maybe his brother’s cover had held.

    He felt her wake up. Her arms started to move around, wrap closer around him while she was still asleep. Then she stiffened, for a moment, realising she was hugging someone. Then he felt her relax, and her arms and hands wander around, after she remembered who she was with. And then…

    “Good morning, Antoine…”

    He felt her breath on his neck while she whispered into his ear, and stiffened himself.

    “Good morning, Hermione.”

    She tugged at him, pulling on his back while she slid on top of him, a smile on her face. Licking her lips, she seemed to hesitate for a moment, almost as if she was shy, before he pulled her down into a kiss.

    He managed to forget his guilt until she had left.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 31th, 1999, 10.15 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione ignored the usual frantic preparations of the Corps for the Hogwarts Express’ departure on September 1st. She had a mission of her own. Cornelius Fudge. She needed to find a way to interrogate him without anyone knowing about it. He was the key in this investigation. The one who was behind this… those crimes. And his interrogation would prove that.

    It wouldn’t be easy. Fudge wasn’t paranoid, but he was security-conscious. He usually had a guard and his secretary with him whenever he left the Ministry for an official reason. Not that he did that often since the attacks by the Fanatics had started - he had taken to almost exclusively traveling via the Floo Network. His home would be warded of course.

    But, Hermione thought with a smile, he had a weakness. Two actually. His secretary, Dolores Umbridge, didn’t like the Wands, and let them know it at any opportunity. That included sending Wands on guard out on menial tasks as if they were mere unskilled workers. Like fetching meals for her boss, or other purchases.

    And that meant that it was an open secret among the Wands that Fudge had a mistress. If she could take the witch’s place with Polyjuice, she’d have the perfect opportunity to dose the man with Veritaserum. But for that, she needed to know who his mistress was. That wouldn’t be too easy. A Tracking Charm on the next gift Umbridge sent a Wand out to fetch was a possibility, but she would have to be very careful with those. Or… some of the gifts had been clothes. Anthony had complained a lot about having to fetch dessous. Maybe she should check with Madam Malkin’s.

    Further plans were interrupted by Dean arriving in their office.

    “Did you hear about the last attack?”

    “What?” An attack by the Fanatics? Or was he talking about her own actions last night?

    “Yes. Someone tried to kidnap Ottokar Merriweather. Fortunately, his nephew John Merriweather was with him, and managed to save the man.”

    “John Merriweather?” He had been the wizard at the cottage?

    “Yes, our suspect. They claim it was a Fanatic, but they seldom attack alone. I think this was related to our investigation,” Dean said.

    Hermione didn’t let her nervousness show. Did he suspect it had been her? “Do you think our suspect took over the family business when his uncle retired? And that he is in trouble with the unknown source of that illicit wealth?”

    Dean nodded, and Hermione felt relieved. “Yes. Either a victim, or a greedy partner. Either way, we can use this as a pretext to investigate him further, right?”

    She nodded. “It’s not quite enough to dose him with Veritaserum, but we should be able to take a very close look at his finances. And maybe at those of his nephew.”

    Dean grinned, and she smiled, but she wasn’t that happy about it. If their investigation uncovered more of what she already knew, then Dean would know about it - and he didn’t know Occlumency.

    She was in a bind. For the first time in her life, Hermione hoped that they’d not find anything in an investigation.

    *****​

    Outside Pembroke, Pembrokeshire, United Kingdom, August 31th, 1999, 15.40 hours

    “Yes, sir, we need to investigate the entire area. That includes the house,” Wand-Leader Hermione said politely while Dean and Colin were already searching the cottage - a bigger task than expected, due to several expansion charms applied to its interior. Ottokar Merriweather looked outraged, but he didn’t explode. Pity, Hermione thought - she had her wand ready and could have stunned him at the slightest provocation.

    “Is your nephew here?”

    “No. He’s at work,” the wizard spat out.

    She nodded. “We’ll question him there then. Now, please describe the attack, from the first time you noticed something amiss…” Her Dictaquill was already taking notes.

    The wizard glared at her again, looked back to the kitchen where Colin was inspecting the pantry, then started to talk. “I was talking to my nephew when I heard this infernal noise from giant frogs.”

    “What were you talking about with your nephew?”

    “Huh? Family business.” He briefly looked alarmed, then settled down.

    “Ah. Please continue.” She’d not be able to dig further than that. Not yet.

    “I went outside, to deal with whatever was there, when I was attacked. Blew a hole in my leg, then I knew nothing anymore.” He rubbed his calf.

    “You were attacked with two spells then?” She knew she had cast three spells.

    “Three. One spell shattered my Shield Charm.”

    “Did you have time to cast the Shield Charm?” Hermione asked.

    “Yes.”

    “So, did you see the attacker before you were hit?”

    “No, I did that before I left my house.”

    “Ah.” She nodded. “Did you expect an attack?”

    “Can’t be too cautious these days,” Merriweather grumbled.

    “And yet you went out alone. Not even with your nephew,” Hermione said, only her expression turning the statement into a question.

    “He was covering me from the window.”

    “That was brave of you. But also foolish.”

    “We drove the attacker off. You didn’t do anything!”

    “Are you certain it was just a single attacker?”

    “So my nephew said.”

    “Did he see him then?”

    “No, but he said the spells all came from the same location.”

    Hermione nodded. She needed to be more careful with that tactic. “Do you have any idea why someone would attack you?”

    “No,” he said, glowering.

    “Do you own anything a thief might target?”

    “No.”

    “So, it was a random attack, which you didn’t expect, but were prepared for.” She kept her expression bland while Merriweather ground his teeth. “Do you have anything else to add?”

    “No.”

    “Thank you for your cooperation, sir.”

    Dean left the man’s study, nodding at her and patting his pocket. He had copied all documents he had been able to find then. Colin finished taking pictures of the last room.

    “Do you have a cellar?”

    “No,” Merriweather said, too quickly.

    Hermione pondered searching for the entrance, but decided against it. She didn’t have a solid enough suspicion yet.

    “Thank you, Mister Merriweather. We will do our best to capture your assailant.”

    “You’d better,” the man grumbled.

    The three Wands left, apparating to the Ministry as soon as they had left the wards. Once back in their office, Hermione cleared the big table. She frowned at Dean when she discovered a box of half-eaten take-out. At least it had been put in stasis. “I can’t leave you alone for one evening, huh?”

    “One evening, yes. But lately, it’s more like almost every evening,” Dean retorted. He was grinning at her though.

    She didn’t quite blush. Part of her felt warm, remembering the reason why she was missing so many meals with her team; part of her was happy that any further absence of hers might be blamed on that as well. And another part of her felt guilty for lying so much to her closest friends.

    She pushed those feelings away. “Let’s see what you found.”

    “I’ve got all his records!” Dean emptied his pockets, and the table was covered in tiny scrolls that were quickly unshrunk.

    “Good work, Dean. Now let’s see what the man tried to hide with all that parchment.”

    Colin looked eager while Dean groaned, but they would all do their duty.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, August 31th, 1999, 18.30 hours

    “Alright. Merriweather’s records do not show any sign that they have been tampered with,” Wand-Leader Hermione summarised the results of the last few hours.

    “It was a bust!” Colin exclaimed, obviously annoyed.

    Hermione shook her head. “No. It simply means that he’s using channels that do not leave records.”

    Dean nodded. “The muggle world.”

    “Only partially. Even if he fences the loot there, muggles can’t pay him galleons. For that he has to use wizards. Or goblins,” she added.

    “Only a fool would use goblins to fence illegal loot. Whether it’s stolen or illegally imported muggle goods, they’d blackmail him and drain him dry.” Dean smirked.

    “Which leaves us with wizards. Wizards willing to break the law.”

    “Knockturn Alley!” Colin piped up, looking excited.

    “Exactly,” Hermione said, pleased that her youngest team member had caught up. “With the scope of this - all Obliviators have shown unaccounted-for wealth - they have to have something set up there.” She didn’t mention her knowledge about the crimes against purebloods.

    “How do you want to do it? Shake them down, or undercover?” Dean leaned forward.

    “Undercover. If we shake them down, someone might warn our targets,” Hermione explained.

    “Is there a chance they might use memory charms on those wizards?” Dean asked.

    “There is, but if they regularly sell whatever they bring back from the muggle world, they can’t obliviate everyone all the time; they need to have structures set up.” Hermione smiled. “And we’ll find them.” Banks had mentioned his contacts during the interrogation, but those had been replaced or retired in the years since. Merriweather was likely still doing that kind of business, if his nephew was so close to him, but he was out of her reach, for now.

    “Good! We can’t track them in the muggle world, but Knockturn Alley is in our jurisdiction,” Dean said, sounding very satisfied.

    She looked at her friends. “Exactly.” Checking her watch, she added. “And it’s dinner time.”

    “Dupont waiting?” Dean asked.

    She grinned. “I hope so.” They’d go dancing again.

    “We need to meet the wizard who makes you stop working on time,” Dean said. Colin nodded.

    “You did,” Hermione pointed out.

    “Properly, I mean.”

    She stared at him for a moment. He wasn’t jealous, she was certain of that. She couldn’t see a logical reason not to introduce them to Antoine. Though an illogical, selfish part of her wanted to keep Antoine all to herself, and maybe to Luna, she nodded. “I’ll arrange it. Not today though,” she added, when Dean perked up with a glint in his eyes. “Without a warning, I’m not going to spring you two on anyone but a suspect.”

    Hermione left their office while her team members chuckled. Antoine was - hopefully - already waiting for her.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, August 31st, 1999, 22.51 hours

    Ron Weasley was going to hell. In a houndbasket. Or whatever the saying was - his dad sometimes mixed them up. The lies he told were just piling up. He knew his lover was in danger, as was her best friend, and he needed to warn them, without endangering his own family. Or himself.

    He closed the door to his room at the Leaky Cauldron, casting a few spells on it, for privacy and security. When he turned around he saw Hermione’s robe on the floor, and her smiling at him wearing … were those?

    “Do you like it?”

    “I wasn’t aware Wizarding Britain had that kind of lingerie… certainly another reason to move here!” He said, smiling.

    Her face fell for just a second, before she smiled again. “I transfigured them myself, actually.”

    “You did a good job.” She would have had to have a picture at least, as a model. He didn’t mention it, of course - as far as he knew, possession of ‘muggle items’ was prohibited.

    “Thank you.”

    The witch stepped closer, a sly smile on her face, and ran her wand over his robe. He almost didn’t hear her whisper.

    “Wingardium Leviosa.”

    His robe flew over his head, landing on a chair, or maybe a lamp. He didn’t care. He gathered her in his arms, and carried her to the bed, all thoughts of deceit and dangers forgotten.

    Later, lying next to each other with her head on his chest, he finally said what he had wanted to say the whole evening, but always had found reasons - excuses - not to. “You know, I wondered…”

    “Hm?” She looked up at him, pushing back her brown mane with one hand.

    “Luna was mentioned rather prominently in that article, wasn’t she?”

    She frowned slightly, though the way her nose seemed to scrunch up just a bit was adorable, he thought. “It’s her father’s magazine, and she was present. And without her, we’d not have known about the attack, not in time to save them.”

    “It’s not that. It’s just… the attack failed, and that monster might take it personally. What if it plans to go after the Lovegoods?” He saw her open her mouth, and went on before she could say something. “It happened back… “ he trailed off. “You know. The enemy going after prominent people, to make an example out of them.”

    She drew in a hissing breath, seemed to ponder something for a bit, then nodded. “The Greengrasses are still considered to be the enemy’s main target. It makes sense, of course - the enemy wanted them dead, yet they still live.”

    He made a note of this small indiscretion about the Wands’ orders.

    “But,” she continued, “the Lovegoods are also in danger. I’ve given Luna a communication mirror, so she can alert me if the Rookery comes under attack, but…”

    “You think it’s not enough.”

    She nodded.

    “I may be able to help you with that.” It would help his mission, he told himself. The Order did expect an attack on the Lovegoods, and hoped this would lead to another battle between the Ministry and the Dark Lord’s forces.

    *****​

    Ottery St Catchpole, Devon, United Kingdom, September 1st, 1999, 10.20 hours

    Ron Weasley stared at the house that looked like a giant chess piece. A rook, to be precise - though more in the style of the muggle chess sets he knew. At least, he couldn’t see the trebuchet wizard rooks usually had on the top to shoot the pieces they took. Shaking his head, he said: “Now I know why you wanted us to apparate, instead of taking the Floo network.”

    Hermione, standing next to him, chuckled. “Yes. It’s a very impressive sight from the outside - as long as you haven’t seen the inside yet.”

    “What do you …”

    His question was interrupted by a loud scream: “Hermione!”

    Luna Lovegood had spotted them, and was rushing towards them. He could see the Wand’s eyes widen, before the blonde crashed into her and the two tumbled to the ground.

    “Oof! Luna!”

    “What? We’re not in Diagon Alley, and the grass is soft.”

    “Never mind.”

    Hermione untangled herself from her friend and slowly got up. Luna shot to her feet, and tried to tackle Ron. Being much taller, much heavier, and more muscular than Hermione, he stood his ground, though he swung her around once to keep her from hurting herself by crashing into him.

    “Whee!” she yelled, finding her balance again. “You should keep that one, Hermione. He’s fun!”

    Before either Ron or Hermione could comment, she had grabbed their hands and started to drag them towards her home. “Come, come! Father’s waiting! I think.”

    Ron exchanged a glance with Hermione, expecting her to be slightly flustered, but she was just grinning at him. The reason for her mirth became obvious as soon as he stepped into the house. The Lovegoods’ home was cluttered with all sorts of exotic things, covering the walls, the shelves, and peeking out from under couches and inside half-closed chests and trunks. Stuffed animals, both magical and muggle - at least he thought they were stuffed; one seemed to move as soon as he was not looking at it. Body parts and skeletons, thankfully not moving. African tribal masks, American native headdresses, staves and trinkets of all kinds. Muggle guns next to a muggle helmet, and what looked like a washing machine with a TV antenna on top of it made him feel a pang of nostalgia; that looked like his father’s office. And parchment and books, more of either than he had ever seen outside the library in Beauxbatons, or the Ministry in Paris.

    “I understand now what you meant,” he said, and Hermione’s grin widened while she nodded.

    “Ah, there is our Heroine!”

    “Daddy!”

    “Mister Loooof!”

    Luna’s father was hugging Hermione, lifting her off her feet even. “I have to thank you so much for saving my little girl! I thought she was safe, but apparently, the Greengrasses had been dealing with illegal snake egg smugglers, and attracted the attention of the Indian nagas, who sent an assassin their way. Probably. I’ve not yet ruled out the possibility of the half-naga, being the result of an affair between Astoria’s father and a naga, come to restore the family honour.”

    Definitely Luna’s father, Ron thought, while Hermione smiled - it looked a bit forced to Ron, but that could be because her ribs had to hurt after that hug - and Luna nodded sagely.

    “And you must be the wizard who finally caught Luna’s best friend’s heart! Well met, Mister Dupont!” Mister Lovegood offered his hand, and Ron shook it, then blinked when the man suddenly leaned forward, studying him.

    “Hm…” The blond man walked around Ron, who fought the urge to turn to keep facing him. “Tell me, Mister Dupont, do you have British relatives? You remind me of my former neighbours, the Weasleys.”

    “Err… I don’t think so, sir. Though I can’t exclude the possibility that some of my ancestors might have had ties to Britain, before they moved to Québec. Centuries ago”, Ron added. His parents had never mentioned that ‘poor, eccentric Lovegood’, their former neighbour, was sharp enough to almost see through his disguise.

    “But he cannot be a Weasley, father!” Luna cut in. “Weasleys all have red hair!”

    “That could be a glamour, or a curse!” Her father declared, nodding to his own words.

    “What?” Ron said.

    “Indeed! Let us check!” Mister Lovegood continued as if he hadn’t heard, and aimed his wand at Ron.

    For a moment, he was torn between drawing his own wand and starting a fight, and apparating away. He could blame old trauma from the war, he bet. He decided to stand and do nothing instead, hoping whatever the wizard was about to cast wouldn’t turn his hair red.

    It didn’t, to Ron’s relief.

    “No curse, and no glamour,” Lovegood said, sounding disappointed. “That would have been a great story though - a relative of the Weasleys, back in Britain!”

    Ron forced himself to sound curious and ignorant. “The Weasleys, sir?”

    “Blood Traitors,” Hermione muttered from where she was skimming a book near a pile of musty tomes.

    “I would not call them that, myself,” Mister Lovegood said, with a glance at the Wand. “They are an old family, very brave, all of them. Gryffindor to the core.”

    “Loud too, mum said,” Luna added.

    “Yes. Molly had a temper. They were our neighbours. Back when the Dark Lord waged his war, they fought for Dumbledore. And when the war was lost, they left with him. Even Muriel Prewett did, and she was not even a Weasley.”

    Ron heard Hermione scoff, but ignored it, for now.

    “They had been prominent supporters of Dumbledore, so they couldn’t have stayed, even if they had wanted to.” The man sighed. “The Minister had their house razed to the ground.”

    “It was an interesting one! I saw pictures. Taller than the Rookery. All angles and shingles and wooden…” The tip of Luna’s tongue stuck out from her lips while she apparently tried to find a word for walls that rhymed with ‘ngles’. “... boards.” She finished, with a disappointed expression.

    “Interesting,” Ron said, in as bland a voice he could form.

    “Not as interesting as this house!” Hermione said, slipping her arm into his. “Can you give us the tour?” She added, with a beaming smile.

    “Of course! We’ve found a few more interesting things since you last visited!” Luna stood up from the stack of books she had been using as a seat. “Some we found in our own attic!”

    Ron’s smile slipped a bit when she added: “They shouldn’t be dangerous anymore.”

    *****​

    “I would recommend an escape tunnel,” Ron said, later, discussing the threat to the house, and possible ways to protect the family.

    “But then we’d surrender the Rook!” Mister Lovegood said. “We can’t do that!”

    “And Hermione will come to save us, with all her friends!” Luna said, beaming at the witch sitting next to Ron around the oval kitchen table.

    “Just as a last resort,” Ron responded. “Houses can be rebuilt, people can’t.” His parents had said that often at home.

    Hermione nodded, leaning forward. “I would feel much better knowing that you can flee anytime you choose. Otherwise, I’d be worrying about your safety in the middle of the battle.”

    “Oh!” Luna jumped up, sending her chair sliding back against the wall. “We can’t have you distracted! Antoine is distraction enough for you! Father! We need a tunnel!”

    “Very well. I shall see if we can purchase one.” Mister Lovegood nodded.

    “What? Purchase?”

    “The goblins are said to use instant tunnels to raid their dwarven neighbours,” the man started to explain.

    Ron hadn’t ever heard of dwarves. “But… that would mean others knew of it. And could sell the secret to your enemies.”

    Hermione agreed. “It’s best to dig the tunnel yourself. I can teach you a few charms that would make it easily, if you want.”

    “Or we can use the Voracious Mole!” Luna said. She turned to the door, then stopped. “I mean, if we had one.”

    Hermione groaned. “Luna… please don’t tell me you violated the rules about importing magical animals again!”

    “Alright!” Her friend chirped. “I won’t then!”

    "That's not what I... never mind." Hermione sighed.

    Ron had the distinct impression that this was not an isolated incident.

    *****​

    Beauxbatons, September 2nd, 1999, 22.45 hours

    Albus Dumbledore put the report of young Mister Weasley down on his desk and pondered its content. The Lovegoods’ home was certainly no old wizarding manor. Its wards wouldn’t keep the Dark Lord away for any length of time. The protection granted by the various plants surrounding the area - Whomping Willows, mostly - would not slow down Voldemort either, though the Lovegoods would know that, after the daughter had seen him fly away.

    The house wouldn’t serve well as a battleground; the Death Eaters would be gone too quickly for the Ministry’s response. Theoretically, that would make it an ideal target for Severus to recommend to Voldemort to strengthen his position and regain some of the trust he had lost. Though with the escape tunnel that was being dug - by means that Mister Weasley had declined to describe - that would soon change. And given the Dark Lord’s vanity, he might want to attack those who had labeled him a ‘half-naga’ anyway, and Severus would not gain anything from the sacrifice of that family.

    Besides, Albus told himself, Severus would still be trusted since it had been his contribution, his help, that had made the Dark Lord’s ‘return from death’ possible in the first place. None of the Death Eaters still loyal to Voldemort had managed to accomplish that. Severus had delivered the ritual that gave the Dark Lord a new body. A ritual that Albus had found. He wondered, sometimes, what Tom would do should he find out that his new, inhuman appearance was due to Albus’s careful modification of the ritual, and not a side effect that could not be avoided. If only Albus had dared to alter the ritual even more. If he could have built a physical weakness into the ritual without the Dark Lord spotting it...

    Sighing, he leaned back. Their best opportunity was another attack on the Greengrasses. Severus was optimistic that Lucius would agree to letting their new location slip soon enough. That would have to do.

    The Lovegoods would have to hope that the Dark Lord delayed his attack long enough for their escape tunnel to be completed, or for the Wands to be able to respond in force even quicker. If they underestimated their enemy, then both the responding force and the Lovegoods would be killed. He didn’t think they would, not after facing the Dark Lord in person, but they still did not know who he really was.

    *****
     
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  18. Blargh

    Blargh I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    This latest chapter was great.
     
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  19. Threadmarks: Chapter 9: Betrayals
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 9: Betrayals

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 3rd, 1999, 08.15 hours

    Minister for Magic Lucius Malfoy smiled at Albert Selwyn and put his report from the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office down. “Thorough as every week, Albert.”

    “Thank you, sir.”

    “And what about your other project?” Lucius leaned forward.

    “I’ve investigated two of the scholars the Unspeakables have been in contact with, but they had nothing in their notes but conjecture and hearsay about Ottoman Artifacts,” the young wizard said. “Since they were not retained as consultants by the Department, I did not interrogate them personally.”

    “What about the third?” Lucius asked. He was very familiar with that affair - Augustus was not a man he could afford to lose track of.

    “A search of his room in London did not reveal much, but the Department of Mysteries has continued to pay his lodgings and retain his services. Therefore, it is very likely that he possesses useful knowledge.”

    “I would think that would make him a prime target for a more personal touch,” Lucius remarked. Was Albert getting sloppy?

    “Yes, sir. Though given current events, I decided to proceed with more caution. As an important source for the Department of Mysteries, Mister Brockton is under some scrutiny.”

    “They have him under surveillance?”

    “Yes, sir. There are detection devices in his room as well as unorthodox, yet subtle wards. As he tends to apparate directly to and from his room, tracking him has been difficult.”

    Lucius sneered. “Difficult? For a wizard of your talents?”

    “I’m confident I can work around those defenses, sir,” Albert said, though a bit stiffly, “but I did not think it worth the risk to rush this.”

    Lucius stared at him for a moment. The young man met his eyes without flinching. He hadn’t lost his nerve, then. “Alright. What about Nott?”

    “Theodore Nott is still in his family’s town house near Diagon Alley. He has barely left the building since the death of his parents.”

    “He’s hiding. Smart of him. Has he had any visitors?” Theo Nott wasn’t a threat yet, and wouldn’t be for some time. Taking over his parents’ estate and investments was no easy task for the young wizard.

    “There have been regular Floo connections to the Parkinson Manor.”

    Lucius frowned. He didn’t think the elder Parkinson would make it obvious where he was traveling to by taking the Floo Network. Not after the Notts had died due to sabotage of their Floo connection. That left his daughter.

    “Do you wish for an intervention to prevent a relationship from being formed between Miss Parkinson and Mister Nott?”

    Lucius shook his head. “No. Focus on this scholar.” He couldn’t afford to waste his agent’s efforts on the hope that Pansy and Draco would get together. Not with the Dark Lord on the offensive, his spy in danger, and Augustus doing who knows what.

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Has your sister settled in at Hogwarts again?”

    “Yes, sir.” The young wizard raised his chin just a bit.

    Lucius nodded, smiling. “Good. In these trying times, it is reassuring to know that your loved ones are safe.”

    “Yes, sir.” Albert nodded stiffly. He had understood the message.

    Lucius needed results.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 3rd, 1999, 11.17 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione studied the robes on display in Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions. Pretty, but impractical. And, if she was honest, they didn’t offer much variety compared to the muggle clothes she had seen. She buried that traitorous thought and entered the shop. There shouldn’t be many clients so shortly before lunch, not on a Friday. And with the rush for new student robes during August over, a number of the employees would have taken time off. It was perfect for her plan.

    Anthony had been annoyed at having to fetch lingerie for Fudge, so she walked over to the intimate apparel section. The selection was more diverse there, quite similar to what she had seen in the confiscated muggle magazines. She wondered if maybe Madam Malkin was using illegal material as inspiration.

    Hermione noticed that a saleswitch was eyeing her nervously, and felt a brief bout of annoyance. Wands protected everyone in Britain with their lives! Why would a law-abiding citizen feel nervous around her? She could use this though. Nervous people made mistakes, and would try to avoid her.

    Turning around, she addressed the witch. “I’ve some questions about this garment.”

    The girl smiled - it looked a bit weak to her - and nodded. “Of course.”

    “Do you have that in a smaller size as well?” She pointed at a particularly complex looking piece of silk and lace.

    “They will adjust to your body perfectly, Miss.”

    “Despite the silk?” She raised an eyebrow. Silk was notoriously hard to enchant.

    The girl nodded. “It’s a special silk, Miss. A trade secret.”

    “Really?” Hermione frowned. “And it can be coloured as well?”

    “Yes, Miss. We can do that for you, if you prefer to have professionals do it.”

    That would make placing tracking charms easy, though she couldn’t exactly predict when Fudge would buy the next gift of this kind for his mistress. Fortunately, she had another way to get the witch’s name. Distracting the saleswitch with another question about lingerie, she pointed her wand at the other end of the shop and cast a silent Banishing Charm at the rows of mannequins. They toppled over, startling the other witch.

    “Please excuse me!” the saleswitch blurted out and went to straighten things out. Hermione nodded, but moved to the counter in the centre of the shop, where the till was located - and the sales records. She had duplicated the records before the mannequins were all standing again.

    A few more questions about lingerie later she left the shop. If she had had the galleons to spare, she would have bought a ‘teddy’ - just to check if there really was silk that could be easily enchanted.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 3rd, 1999, 12.05 hours

    “Here’s your food!” Hermione announced, placing the take-out boxes on the desk in her office.

    “How much do we owe you?” Dean asked.

    “My treat.” She still felt guilty about lying to them.

    “You’re quite generous lately,” Dean said. Colin was already opening his lunch.

    “I’m just buttering you two up since we’ll have more work coming.” She grinned at him.

    “I see. We’re working, and you’re off with your lover.” Dean shook his head. “When will we be meeting him?”

    “Next week, I’m not yet certain on the exact date,” Hermione said. She’d invite Luna too. “But if you try to interrogate him, we’ll stick you with the bill.”

    “Would I do that?” Dean asked, the picture of offended innocence.

    “In a heartbeat,” she answered in a flat tone.

    Colin nodded, his mouth filled with chips.

    Dean glared at them both, then chuckled and started eating himself.

    Hermione opened her own box. She’d check the records she had duplicated later. Hopefully, the lingerie signed for by Anthony had been sent in later for repairs or alterations - silk was finicky to work with, and most witches prefered to let tailors do any work on silken garments.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 3rd, 1999, 18.40 hours

    Wand-leader Hermione knew the name of Cornelius Fudge’s mistress: Marissa Micklebrock. She remembered the pureblood witch from Hogwarts. Two years her senior, very pretty, very vain, very dumb. No wonder the witch hadn’t achieved anything better than becoming the paid woman of an older wizard. Finding out where Micklebrock lived had been child’s play - she had bought a new house with new wards recently, no doubt paid for by her lover, and therefore she was in a few registers.

    Now she needed to find a way to get hair from the witch. And an opportunity to meet Fudge while the witch was unable to interfere. That wouldn’t be that easy, but she didn’t think it would be too hard either. The weak link in any defense was the human element, as she had learned. Laziness, carelessness, and arrogance made people neglect their security measures, and Micklebrock had all of that in spades.

    She checked her watch. 18.45 hours. It was time to go. Luna said they’d have dinner at 19.00. She left the office and made her way to the Ministry’s atrium. There she spotted Draco Malfoy standing around near the Floo Network connections, with Sally-Anne behind him on protection detail. The Wand’s face looked like a mask; she was showing no expression at all. Hermione pursed her lips. Maybe she shouldn’t take the Floo from here.

    She walked towards the Apparition point instead, as if she was on a mission. People got out of her way, as expected, and no one called out to her before she apparated away.

    *****​

    Ottery St Catchpole, Devon, United Kingdom, September 4th, 1999, 09.20 hours

    Ron Weasley stared at the field across the pond. The empty field, where once a cozy little house had stood. He didn’t remember the Burrow himself; he had been too little when his family had left Britain. But he had seen pictures, and heard stories. To see it now, gone…

    “That’s where the Weasley’s house stood,” a cheery voice sounded behind him.

    He turned around, berating himself mentally for letting anyone sneak up on him, even if it was just Luna. “Ah,” he said eloquently.

    The blonde nodded. “If you look at it just the right way, you can see the outlines still, or so daddy says. I’ve never managed yet. I’d like to, to be able to paint it. You can’t paint what you haven’t seen, not really.”

    Ron didn’t know what to say to that, so he just nodded.

    The witch cocked her head to the side and looked at him. “You look sad. What’s wrong?”

    He was startled, then answered, truthfully: “I was thinking of my home. I left it.”

    “Oh.” Luna stuck her tongue out in the corner of her mouth for a bit, apparently thinking. “Well, if you’re some long-lost relative of the Weasleys, as daddy thinks you are, then you’re at home here, kind of. You could dye your hair and see if you can claim the place.”

    He looked at her, not certain what to say to that. This was getting surreal. If he told this to Harry he’d laugh loudly. If he told this to his family… he didn’t know how they’d react. Apart from Percy. He’d scold Ron for endangering his cover.

    “She’d love it, you know, if you stayed here. Hermione,” Luna added, almost shyly.

    “Oh?”

    “Yes. You’re her first love, you know.” His face must have shown some of the guilt he felt at hearing that, since the blonde witch continued: “It’s not your fault, you know. Wands are a bit weird when it comes to that, and British Purebloods are stupid when it comes to Wands.”

    He nodded. He knew that already. All the good purebloods had left with Dumbledore. Apart from Luna and her father.

    “What did they do?” He didn’t want to ask Luna, it felt like betraying Hermione, but he wanted to know. She was a strong witch, but sometimes, she looked vulnerable, or wounded.

    “They?” Luna looked at him with wide, silvery eyes, seemingly confused.

    “The purebloods,” he explained.

    “Oh, them.” Luna sighed and sat down on a treestump. “They don’t like the Wands. But some of them...”

    “Some?” Ron asked, waiting.

    Luna hunched her shoulders and hugged her knees. “Draco. Draco Malfoy.”

    “The son of the Minister?” Ron knew about that family. Dumbledore and Sirius had been quite thorough in their briefing. And his father had known Lucius at school.

    Luna nodded. “He was in her year, and he likes to sleep with Wands.” She sighed. “It makes him feel better, I think, about being weaker than them.”

    That hadn’t been in the briefing. He didn’t like where that was going.

    “What did he do?”

    “It’s more like what he doesn’t do.”

    Ron clenched his fist. He had heard stories about what evil things Death Eaters had done. Death Eaters like Malfoy...

    “He doesn’t care about them.” Luna looked angry. “He just sleeps with them.” She looked at him. “And they sleep with him, because he’s the Minister’s son.”

    Ron blinked. “That doesn’t sound like something Hermione would do.” She wasn’t the kind of girl who’d sleep with a man just because he was powerful, or the son of someone powerful!

    “I told her not to! But she doesn’t listen. ‘Wands obey’, she says!” Luna spat out. “Even though I’m certain the Minister doesn’t expect that kind of obedience.”

    Ron blinked again.

    “But that was before she met you. I’m certain she’ll tell him off next time!” Luna smiled. “She loves you, you know. And she wants you to stay in Britain.”

    He nodded. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t even know what to think. But if he ever met Draco Malfoy… Well, that git was an enemy, wasn’t he? Ron might be a liar and a spy, exploiting a girl’s trust and love to fight against the government she fought for, but he would at least ensure that she’d not suffer that git anymore.

    *****​

    Diagon Alley, London, September 4th, 1999, 14.31 hours

    Marissa Micklebrock looked like Hermione had expected: Long tresses that reached the small of her back, color-charmed from her natural brown hair to match the hue of Narcissa Malfoy’s hair. A flashy robe that was far more fashionable than practical, forcing her to take very small steps. And the vapid expression she already knew. The Wand-Leader felt slightly ill just thinking that she’d have to act like that to fool Fudge. It would be hard.

    The witch she was observing was on her way to ‘Contessa’s Coffeehouse’, a bar catering to rich pureblood witches. Or, as Hermione thought, to the wives and mistresses of the nouveaux-rich. It featured overpriced,fancy food and beverages and the gossip du jour, all served in the full view of all passersby in Diagon Alley. You’d not spot a witch from an old family, like Mrs Malfoy or Mrs Greengrass, there. They had been taught better.

    Hermione herself was wearing a black wig, frumpy robes, and carrying an oversized basket - the picture of a struggling half-blood witch on her way to buy groceries in the cheaper shops down the alley. She pretended to stumble right when Micklebrock crossed her path, and flailed her arms, ‘accidentally’ grabbing the witch’s hair before letting herself fall to the ground. The Wand yelped when she hit the cobblestones - this investigation was turning out to be rather painful.

    Not just for her, either.

    “Ah! My hair!”

    The other witch yelled, holding her head while Hermione pocketed the strand she had liberated.

    “I’m sorry, I slipped,” she stammered, getting up and summoning her basket.

    “Sorry? You almost ripped my hair out!”

    Hermione held her basket up, as if to keep the enraged witch at bay. If needed, she could simply throw it at her and flee. Not that she thought Micklebrock would manage to cast a serious hex, much less a curse.

    Everyone in the café was staring at them, or rather, at the screeching Micklebrock. When the witch finally realised this, she shut up quicker than a Knockturn Alley resident when faced with a patrol, and Hermione used the opportunity to slip away into the next side alley. There she transfigured her robes into the brown robes worn by Wands, and restored her hair color before apparating away.

    Part one of her plan was completed.

    *****​

    Ottery St Catchpole, Devon, United Kingdom, September 4th, 1999, 19.35 hours

    Ron Weasley stared at the Voracious Mole, as Luna called the monstrous animal, digging through the soil underneath the Rook. He had never heard about that animal in his lessons at Beauxbatons.

    “I shouldn’t be watching this. I shouldn’t even know about this!” Hermione sighed next to him.

    “Well, technically, it could be an enlarged muggle vole,” Luna said, beaming at the animal.

    “Enlarged how many times?” Hermione narrowed her eyes.

    “Hm… “ Luna mused, the tip of her tongue sticking out. “It’s about the size of an average Headmaster. So… how much does a vole weigh?”

    “It was a rhetorical question, Luna.”

    “Oh.”

    “Not that I mind your presence, quite the contrary,” Ron said, before Hermione could once again lament her complicity with ‘another breach of the prohibition on imports of exotic magical creatures’, “but if you’re here, how can we alert the Ministry, should anything happen?”

    “I’ve left a mirror with Dean,” Hermione answered him.

    Ron nodded. Both witches seemed to trust the Wand. He’d still feel better once the tunnel was finished. And the animal gone back to wherever the Lovegoods kept it. Voles shouldn’t have such large fangs and claws, he thought. Especially not voles weighing about 250 pounds that received steaks as treats.

    “So, will you be working as a bodyguard in Britain?” Luna asked suddenly. “We can give you good references, of course!”

    “I think he’d make a good Auror,” Hermione said, before Ron could answer. “He’d have more regular hours too, that way,” she added with a saucy grin.

    “Ah! I didn’t think about that. But will they accept him as an Auror, after he has beaten Draco in a duel for your hand?”

    “What?” Ron blurted out, together with Hermione.

    “Well, how else would Draco understand that things have changed? It’s not as if you’d ever curse him, Hermione!” Luna pouted.

    “Luna! No one will be cursing or duelling the son of the Minister!”

    “So, you will talk to the Minister about your relationship?” The blonde witch beamed at her.

    “Err…”

    Before Ron could say anything, a gong sounded upstairs.

    “That’s an alert. Someone’s attacking the wards!” Luna said, her eyes wide with fear.

    *****​

    “Keep digging, Voley!” Luna yelled while the three ran back through the tunnel to the cellar. Ron was in the lead, but Hermione was close behind him.

    “Dean!” The witch called out.

    Ron glanced back over his shoulder and saw that she had pulled out her mirror while running. He couldn’t hear any response though. Since Hermione didn’t keep shouting, he hoped that it was just the sound of his, then their, footsteps on the stairs drowning out the response.

    He reached the ground floor and saw Mister Lovegood at the window, wand aimed outside. The wizard looked more focused than Ron had ever seen him. “Fanatics. The same that attacked Luna.”

    “Dean! The wards at Luna’s are under attack. We need help!” Hermione yelled.

    Luna arrived behind her and stopped, and for a moment, no one moved. The gong had stopped, and Ron could hear the Wand’s response clearly: “We’ve got multiple alerts of attacks. We’re deploying all over Britain, but we can’t move the main force until we’ve spotted the half-naga, orders from the Minister.”

    No one said anything. Then Luna spoke up: “I knew it was a half-naga, and the Ministry agrees!”

    Before anyone else could say anything, the entire building shook from an explosion. Dust fell down from the ceiling, and a few trinkets dropped to the floor, but the building’s walls held. So far.

    “They’ve breached the wards,” Mister Lovegood said, unnecessarily. “But the Erumpent-proofing is working!”

    “We need to know if that half-naga or Bellatrix Lestrange are here!” Hermione yelled, rushing to the window not yet covered by Mister Lovegood. Ron followed her, taking out his binoculars from his pocket while Luna cast a spell at the door.

    Another explosion shook the building, and he saw a few stones hit the ground outside. The sun had just set, but there was still light outside… flickering though… Merlin!

    “They’ve set fire to the roof!” Hermione exclaimed.

    “Luna! Release the animals so they can escape!” Mister Lovegood yelled.

    “Yes, father!” the blonde witch yelled, running to the back of the house.

    “What animals?” Ron heard Hermione mutter while he searched the treeline, from where colorful spells were flying at the building. Another explosion followed, and he heard things break above them. Then he saw a pale, inhuman face between the trees. “He’s here! The half-naga is here!”

    “Where?” The Wand-Leader asked, watching through Omnioculars.

    “Middle of the sector, near the birch.”

    “I see him. Dean, confirmed sighting of the half-naga! No sign of Bellatrix Lestrange!”

    “We’ve just deployed the main force to the Greengrass mansion, where Lestrange was…”

    Whatever else the Wand was saying was interrupted when the entire house seemed to erupt. Ron cast a Shield Charm right when the ceiling started to collapse, and the blue force field protected him from the flaming debris.

    “Luna!” Hermione shouted, shielded by her own spell. “Luna!”

    “Ow!” The witch stumbled back from the rear of the house - which fortunately had not collapsed. “Daddy!”

    Ron saw that Mister Lovegood had been trapped under the remains of a beam. He aimed his wand at it.

    “Wingardium Leviosa!”

    The beam floated away, and Luna levitated her father to the centre of the house, frantically trying to treat his wounds.

    “Confringo! Bombarda! Reducto!”

    Hermione was frantically sending spells through the ruins of the windows.

    “They are advancing! We need to move!”

    Ron cast a few spells of his own, then had to stop when the Wand-Leader transfigured the debris into walls to gain them a bit more time. He took a deep breath. “They’ll have us surrounded. I’ll charge out the front, you take them out the back!” He’d take as many of them with him as he could. And he’d die near his family’s ancestral lands.

    “No! They’ll have us surrounded. And Luna won’t leave her father,” Hermione responded.

    “Come, down to the cellar!” Luna shouted.

    Ron exchanged a glance with Hermione, then the two ran towards Luna while fire licked at the stairs from above - Fiendfyre! - and the walls Hermione had erected exploded, stone fragments shooting through the ruined living room. Just as they reached the stairs leading down to the cellar, Ron heard a thundering roar from above, and screams.

    “Siegfried! No! I said you should flee!” Luna yelled while Hermione dragged her downstairs, followed by Ron, who managed to pull the door closed before the rest of the ceiling collapsed on them.

    *****​

    Ron fell down the stairs more than he jumped, but he managed to land on the ground without breaking anything.

    “Bubblehead Charms!” Hermione yelled, casting already. “We’ll suffocate otherwise!”

    Ron followed her example. Luna cast one on her father, who was groaning and therefore alive, and then on herself. Hermione filled the stairs with conjured stone. “That won’t hold them off for too long.”

    “The debris topside and the fire might keep them away though,” Ron said, looking around. The tunnel didn’t seem to have collapsed.

    “Let’s move into the tunnel! If the house collapses on us, we’ll still survive there!” Hermione levitated Mister Lovegood as they stepped into the opening. The earth shook again, and the ceiling started to creak. Ron and Luna hurried after the Wand-Leader.

    Once inside the tunnel, they closed up the entrance and reinforced the ceiling with spells. Ron didn’t know how well it would hold up, but it looked sturdy.

    “The Wands will be here soon. Dean got my message. It’ll take time to mass enough Wands though,” Hermione said. “They’ll escape.”

    “As long as we survive,” Ron said.

    The Voracious Mole was still digging ahead of them. Luna was treating a few cuts on Mister Lovegood’s face. A minute passed. Then another.

    “I lost the mirror when the house collapsed,” Hermione said, looking angry with herself. “Sloppy of me.”

    “We’re still alive,” Ron tried to console her.

    “And Voley will have us out in no time! No longer than a few hours!”

    “The Wands will arrive much sooner than that.” Hermione looked to the ceiling. “Once we can apparate inside here, we’ll know the battle is over.”

    She took it for granted, Ron thought, that the Wands would win. If only he could tell her that they were not facing a half-naga, if that even existed, but the Dark Lord, returned from death!

    He sat down on the ground, sighing.

    “Poor Siegfried! I told him to fly away!” Luna said.

    “Who or what is Siegfried?” Ron asked.

    “A Thunderbird.”

    Hermione looked at Luna. “I didn’t hear that.”

    “He’s a Thunderbird!” Luna repeated, louder.

    When the muggleborn witch slapped her forehead, Ron had to laugh. After a second, the two witches joined him.

    *****​

    Ottery St Catchpole, Devon, United Kingdom, September 4th, 1999, 22.12 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione winced, staring at the ruins of the Rook, or the Rookery, as Luna often called it. The building had collapsed, probably burying the basement even, and Fiendfyre had destroyed the remains. She felt guilty, knowing her friend and her family had lost everything but their lives. And, she added, some of their animals. Hopefully no one would connect the Thunderbird to them.

    She still didn’t know how they had managed to smuggle those animals into Britain. If she was ever investigating a smuggling case that left her stumped, she’d ask. Not before though - she was already overlooking too much.

    The Wands had arrived too late. She had expected that, and had known once they had apparated out. She winced at that thought. Since she had waited so long, just to be safe, to escape, Dean and Colin had thought for hours that she had died. She had apologised, of course, and they had said they’d have done the same, but Hermione felt guilty still.

    Around her, Wands were still securing the area, but she felt alone. Dean was taking Antoine’s statement back in London, Colin was developing his pictures, and Luna was with her father at St Mungo’s.

    The sound of an Apparition behind her made her and the other Wands turn around, wands raised. She lowered her wand at once though, when she recognised Luna. The witch had cleaned her robes, which had been streaked with earth and dirt and ash the last time Hermione had seen her, but she had to be in shock still.

    “How’s your father?”

    “Daddy’s fine. They’re keeping him for a day or so at St Mungo’s, for observation. I don’t know what for, they took pictures already and he’s no Metamorphmagus who can change his looks.” Luna shook her head, apparently confused.

    Hermione hugged her, whispering: “I’m sorry, Luna. All this…”

    Luna nodded, her chin bobbing up and down on Hermione’s shoulder. “Oh, yes. Rebuilding will be difficult, difficult indeed.”

    “I’ll help as much as I can,” Hermione promised. She had not much gold - Wands didn’t need much gold - but she could help with spells, and maybe find out ways to build houses more efficiently…

    “Great! You can help me persuade Daddy that we need a Queen, not a King!”

    “What?”

    “He wants to build a King. But everyone knows that the King is one of the weakest pieces. We need a Queen instead; she’s the most powerful piece!”

    “Huh?” Hermione was lost. Did her friend mean...

    “You know, we had a Rook, now we can build a better piece! The Minister already said he’ll pay for a new printing press, and the repairs, under some ‘press support act’, so we’ll have the gold to expand!”

    Hermione repressed the urge to sigh. It seems not even escaping death twice in a week was enough to change Luna.

    “Also, we’ll be moving in with you! The Minister said we wouldn’t be safe anywhere outside the Ministry, with our home destroyed, and you’re the only one we both know well enough to move in with who lives in the Ministry. We’ll need to expand your room though, or Voley won’t fit.”

    Hermione blinked. “What?”

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 5th, 1999, 09.01 hours

    Lucius Malfoy was happier than he appeared to be with the events of last night. True, his mudbloods had failed to defeat the Dark Lord, and multiple manors and homes had been attacked, sowing terror in the hearts of his people. But the Dark Lord had once again been prevented from accomplishing his goals, and in a way that would not cast suspicion on his spy.

    And once again, one mudblood had been responsible.

    “Thank you for your report, Wand-Leader.” He nodded to Hermione, who was standing at attention in front of his desk. “You’ve been a friend of Miss Lovegood for years, which explains your presence. Mister Dupont is a friend of you both then?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    He caught a slight blush on the girl’s face, and met her eyes with his wand drawn under the table. He wasn’t the best Legilimens, but the girl’s mind, for all its brilliance, was an open book to him. He delved into it, and soon found what he was seeking. Mister Dupont was far more than a mere friend of the Wand-Leader. He was her lover, and the girl hoped he would become even more.

    “Good work, Wand-Leader. Dismissed.”

    The mudblood saluted, then left his office. Lucius leaned back and considered the situation. A mudblood, in a serious relationship with a pureblood. A foreign pureblood even. That wouldn’t do. If the mudbloods started to develop family ties to purebloods, then that would lead to divided loyalties. It was one thing to sleep with them, but to have children with them? To marry them?

    He shook his head. He needed loyal Wands, not another group of wizards and witches with designs of their own. It would be easy to send the girl to her death, to let the Dark Lord remove this problem, but she was useful - she had proven this twice now. He’d rather not lose her until the Dark Lord was dead for good.

    Fortunately, there was another solution for this problem. He’d have to talk to Draco, but he doubted his son would object. After what he had seen in the girl’s memories, this should be an enjoyable task for him.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 5th, 1999, 12.15 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione’s room in the barracks of the Corps had been small, but well-furnished, with lots of shelves. It had been everything a studious Wand would have wished for. It still was. Only now it did not open into the hallway, but into a living room. Two more doors there led to bedrooms, one to a bathroom, all the results of clever Expansion Charms. And judging by how quickly the room was being filled with conjured furniture, she’d need another Expansion Charm or three soon enough.

    “Luna! You can’t place that couch there!” she said, more than slightly exasperated.

    “But it doesn’t fit anywhere else!” her blonde friend retorted.

    “That’s because there are already two couches and four seats in the room,” Hermione pointed out. “Luna, the couch is directly in front of the door!”

    “Why, yes, it is.” Luna blinked, cocked her head sideways, then turned to the Wand. “It can serve as a barricade, in case the Ministry gets breached!”

    “And how do we get in and out without climbing over it each time?” Hermione told herself that Luna had just lost her home, that her father was still in St Mungo’s, and that she shouldn’t get angry at her friend.

    “Hm… we could conjure a ramp! It would be fun!” The witch beamed at her. “Voley could dig a tunnel too!”

    Hermione narrowed her eyes. Luna was quirky, but this was… she sighed, walked over and hugged her friend. “It’s alright, Luna. We’re all alive. We’re all OK. Your father will be back soon,” she said.

    “But… I need to... “

    The blonde witch squirmed in Hermione’s grasp, but the Wand didn’t let her go. Luna relented then, and hugged her back.

    “So many of our belongings were lost. So many souvenirs, and artifacts. Daddy said we shouldn’t cling to material goods, but almost all that we had left of mum…” she started to sob.

    Hermione held her for a long time.

    *****​

    Hogsmeade, Britain, September 5th, 1999, 22.30 hours

    Ron Weasley kept checking his surroundings as he made his way to what locals apparently claimed was Britain’s most haunted shack - the Shrieking Shack. His friend Harry did the same next to him. Sirius Black though, up front, acted as if he was just taking a stroll in the evening, and Dumbledore, behind them... well, if anything could worry the professor to the point of showing it, then Ron didn’t want to ever encounter that.

    They were coming through the woods, hidden from the village. There shouldn’t be any guards or patrols around, but you could never be certain - sometimes people made mistakes, or acted on a whim. As a Gendarme on a raid, Ron had once stumbled upon a pair of guards who had left their posts for a tryst in an alcove. Weeks of surveillance, of mapping patrol routes, all undone because of love, as Lieutenant Dubois, his superior, had remarked. At least no one had died back then, though several Gendarmes had been cursed.

    “Ah… this brings back memories!” Sirius declared as they entered the shack. “Back when we… “ the older wizard fell silent. Ron looked at Harry.

    His friend winced, then mouthed: “My parents, and Remus.”

    Ron nodded. He knew about the Marauders, Sirius had let slip a lot when he had been discussing pranks with the twins a few years ago, even if he didn’t like to talk about his dead friends.

    “Let us proceed. The entrance to the tunnel is hidden, so anyone inspecting the building will not find anything amiss,” Dumbledore said.

    And so the four entered the tunnel leading to Hogwarts. Or rather, to the Whomping Willow. Ron licked his lips. They were sneaking into one of the best-guarded castles of the Wizarding World, to deal with one of the worst things the Dark Arts had ever produced. If not for Dumbledore’s presence, he’d rather be facing the Dark Lord again. The telltale buzzing sound of a modified Silencing Spell interrupted his thoughts and he looked to his side to see his friend stashing his wand.

    “Are you afraid your girlfriend will find out?” Harry asked, with a slight grin. “You look worried.”

    Ron rolled his eyes in annoyance, even though the banter took his mind off the danger ahead. “I told her I was meeting with a potential employer who wanted to remain discreet.”

    “A meeting that late? Didn’t you say she was in the Geheimpolizei?”

    Ron sighed. “She’s in the Investigative Branch.” Which was not that different from Grindelwald’s counter-espionage forces, he had to admit that. But Hermione didn’t know about Malfoy’s lies. Didn’t know she was being deceived. Both by the Minister and by himself, his guilty conscience added.

    “Ginny would assume the worst, and she’s not an Auror,” Harry said.

    Ron scoffed. “The Aurors in Britain are a joke. But I hinted that I was meeting one of my contacts from home.”

    “So, instead of worrying what exactly you’re doing, if you might be meeting a lover, she’ll be worrying you’re going to leave for Québec? That’s kind of… cold, mec.”

    “I know that,” Ron spat out. “But what else can I do? Tell her I’m working to topple her idol?”

    “Technically, we’re working to destroy the Dark Lord right now,” Harry pointed out. “She certainly would have no problems with that.”

    “No. She just would want to help. But we’re currently sneaking into Hogwarts, which is run by Malfoy’s cronies, and she might have a slight problem with that,” Ron pointed out.

    “You know, you can’t keep stringing her along. Sooner or later she’ll find out. Sooner rather than later, if she’s as smart as you claim.”

    “I know. And she is,” Ron said.

    “And she hasn’t seen through your cover yet?” Harry said, sounding rather sceptical.

    “Not everyone is a lousy liar,” Ron shot back.

    “That’s not exactly something to be proud of, is it?”

    Ron groaned. He had walked right into this one. Just as he was about to think of a comeback involving Ginny and his friend’s futile attempt to keep a secret from Ron’s sister, Sirius interrupted them. “We’re about to exit the tunnel, so stop that noise!”

    Chastised, both fell silent. A minute later, they were under the roots of the Whomping Willow. Ron had seen several of those trees in Ottery St Catchpole, and disillusioned or not, he certainly hoped that Sirius’s claim of being able to stop the plant-monster from lashing out was true.

    Turned out it was. A short sprint later, the four intruders were inside the castle. If not for the tracking spells the professor had cast, Ron would have lost the rest of the group already.

    “I can feel the target. It’s above us,” Harry explained. “Follow me.”

    *****​

    It took them almost an hour to track down the Horcrux - to an empty wall near a painting of dancing trolls.

    “It’s behind that wall,” Harry said.

    “That’s an outer wall, Harry. There’s nothing but air behind it,” Sirius said.

    “It’s still there, Sirius. Maybe inside the wall,” Ron’s friend insisted.

    “There’s a very powerful enchantment on this wall,” Dumbledore cut in.

    Ron wasn’t taking part in the argument. Someone had to keep an eye out. Or an ear. And he heard… “Silence. I hear footsteps!” he hissed. Dumbledore had cast spells to hide their voices, but he couldn’t hear the patrol or whoever it was while the rest of his group discussed their course of action in the middle of a bastion of the enemy.

    The group shut up, and for a minute Ron heard nothing but his own breathing and footsteps, slow ones, coming closer and closer.

    Then a man turned around the corner, a corpulent wizard, in expensive robes. He held his wand in one hand, and a piece of parchment in the other. Ron recognized him. Horace Slughorn, the Headmaster of the school.

    “Good evening, Albus,” the wizard said. “Quite impolite of you, to sneak into the school without telling anyone.”

    *****​

    Hogwarts, Britain, September 5th, 1999, 23.50 hours

    Albus Dumbledore ended his Disillusionment Charm and nodded at his successor as Hogwarts’ Headmaster. “Good evening, Horace. I did not want to disturb you for the mere retrieval of a trinket someone lost in the school before your time.”

    He was rather certain that Horace didn’t want to harm them - the other wizard would never have come in person if that had been the case. How he had found them though was another question. Horace was an excellent potioneer, and a born networker, but he wasn’t even half the wizard Albus was. Someone had to have tampered with the castle’s wards, and to do that required brilliance Horace lacked.

    Horace scoffed. “I don’t believe the great Albus Dumbledore would return from his French exile for a mere trinket. Not with the Dark Lord returned from his grave.”

    “He’s got the Marauder’s Map!” Sirius exclaimed.

    Horace looked startled for a second, and glanced at the parchment in his hand. That was how he had found them then.

    “The Marauder’s Map?” Albus asked Sirius.

    “A map my friends and I created when we were students. It shows the school, and everyone inside. I thought it lost in our 7th year, but apparently, it survived. I completely forgot about it!”

    Albus hid his annoyance at that oversight. They could have walked into a trap if someone other than Horace had had the map. “I see. Ingenious indeed. Horace was always one to profit from the achievements of others.”

    “Spare me your sanctimonious talk, Albus!” the Headmaster spat. He was touchier than Albus remembered - life under Lucius might not agree with him as much as he had expected. “You’re here for something very important, and judging by the fact you’ve been standing in front of that wall for minutes like some lost first years, you need my help to achieve it.”

    “And since you are here, alone, you are in need of help as well,” Albus answered. “You do not trust Lucius to defeat the Dark Lord, do you? And you fear what Tom will do to you, once he wins.”

    The other wizard winced, and Albus smiled.

    “We could simply take all we need from him,” Harry said, still disillusioned.

    “Horace is not the most courageous wizard, but he is a true Slytherin. He will have taken precautions against such rudeness,” Albus pointed out before the more impatient members of his group could act rashly.

    The potioneer smiled. He never could resist compliments entirely, Albus knew that well. And he wasn’t quite as clever as he thought he was.

    “But unless you want Tom to win this war, it is in your best interest to help us here, Horace,” he said with a smile. “After all, Lucius already knows about the secret to the Dark Lord’s immortality, does he not? And there is only one he could have learned it from.”

    Horace paled, then glanced at the wall. “Is that why you are here?”

    Albus nodded. “Help us, and we will be out of the school in no time. No one will know about this.” No one but them, of course. Horace knew as well as Albus did that once he helped them here, he’d have to help them later as well. He couldn’t betray them to Lucius, not as long as he believed the Minister would lose this war.

    Horace waited for a moment, then took a deep breath. “This is the entrance to the Room of Requirement. Think of what you need while you walk past it three times, and a door will appear.”

    “Thank you, Horace. Your courageous help will be remembered, you have my word.”

    The potioneer smiled thinly, nodded, and then turned to leave. He had not quite reached the corner when a door appeared in the wall. Young Harry had been quite eager to finish their task, it seemed. Not that Albus could fault him.

    *****​

    Outside Maidenhead, Berkshire, Britain, September 6th, 1999, 20.15 hours

    “That’s a really nice body you have, dear, but those clothes are too cheap. You need more classy ones.”

    Wand-Leader Hermione posed in front of the mirror, ignoring the commentary. She had a nice body, even though it wasn’t her own. Marissa Micklebrock wasn’t the brightest witch, nor the most skilled, and certainly not the richest or most well-connected, but she had a very nice figure and a very pretty face. Hermione would have been a bit jealous, if not for Antoine. Her lover certainly was far above Fudge!

    She checked the clock on the wall in the witch’s living room. The Polyjuice would still be effective for another half an hour. And the real Micklebrock was still sleeping in the cupboard, and wouldn’t wake up until she was given the antidote for the potion Hermione had made her drink.

    The silly witch had been far too trusting when ‘Cho Chang’ had wanted to talk to her. Hermione had almost felt guilty at how eager Micklebrock had been to chat. Just almost, though - she was on a mission, an important one that could shake the entire Ministry. Would shake the entire Ministry, once the Minister heard about what had been going on for close to two decades!

    She took another look at the mirror, over her shoulder. The lingerie she was wearing wasn’t quite as daring as the muggle ones she had worn for Antoine. It should still be more than enough, coupled with Micklebrock’s slightly fuller figure, to keep Fudge’s attention on her body, and help him miss any slips she might make in her impersonation act.

    She pursed her lips. Thinking of that traitor, and what he had ordered done to her parents, made her skin crawl. Fortunately, she wouldn’t have to act friendly for very long, just long enough to be certain there were no guards observing them.

    A voice from the fireplace interrupted her thoughts.

    “Darling? It’s me!”

    She straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath.

    “Come through, I’m alone!”

    It was time to expose the leader of this conspiracy.

    *****​
     
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  20. Threadmarks: Chapter 10: Truth Hurts
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 10: Truth Hurts

    Outside Maidenhead, Berkshire, Britain, September 6th, 1999, 20.30 hours

    “Again: Did the Minister personally order you to have the reports detailing the circumstances under which muggleborn children were taken from their parents falsified?”

    “Yes.”

    “Are you certain that it was the Minister who gave you this order?”

    “Yes.”

    “Was that Minister Lucius Malfoy?”

    “Yes.”

    “Did you see any sign that he might have been under the influence of a spell at the time?”

    “No.”

    “Is it possible you misunderstood him?”

    “No.”

    “Do you remember his exact order?”

    “No.”

    After 15 minutes of questions, increasingly detailed questions, Wand-Leader Hermione felt a brief surge of hope. If the drooling cretin in front of her had misunderstood the Minister, maybe taken a remark out of context, thinking he was doing what the Minister wanted, without ever checking again… She shook her head. She knew better than to fabricate such excuses, but maybe...

    “Was the order implied or clear?”

    “Clear.”

    “But you do not remember it.”

    “Yes.”

    How could Fudge not remember the exact order that had destroyed so many lives? Hermione wanted to grab the potioned man and shake him until his sorry excuse for a brain gave her the information she wanted!

    “Did you ever tell the Minister how your department executed his order?”

    “Yes.”

    “How often?”

    “In every personal report.”

    “Was he pleased?”

    “Usually yes.”

    “When was he not pleased?”

    “When we failed to make the quota.”

    “The quota?”

    “Of mudblood recruits.”

    “Did he call them that?”

    “Yes.”

    It was no use. She couldn’t deny the truth anymore. Part of her still wanted to cling to the slim hope that someone had manipulated Fudge into thinking the Minister had wanted this, and hid the whole conspiracy from the Minister as well. For almost 20 years. But if anyone could have staged this, staged her investigation, controlled the memories of everyone she met, then why wouldn’t they have simply dealt with her?

    She had to face facts, like she had been trained to. The Minister, Lucius Malfoy, knew what the Obliviators had done. Knew it, wanted it, had ordered it, and had been pleased by the results. Nothing else made any sense. Unless… the Dark Lord could have done this. Manipulated everyone. Kept the Minister as a puppet.

    But once again, she had to ask herself why the Dark Lord would have done this. And why, after his death, it had not been stopped. Unless the Dark Lord’s death had been faked, and he was still alive, still controlling the Minister… but why? Why would he ruin his own reputation? Portray himself as mad if he wasn’t? And why would he let the Fanatics claiming to follow him still run loose? He was said to have lost his mind, at the end, but ...

    It still did not make any sense. And the Minister hadn’t shown any signs of being manipulated. He had always seemed to be, had been in control. A far cry from the known effects of long-term mind control.

    Hermione noticed that she was crying, had been crying for a while, when the ink on the parchment in her lap was already smudged by her tears. She wiped her eyes and sniffled.

    The Minister was kind. Polite. Generous. She remembered his visits to Hogwarts. He had cared. He always brought a few gifts. A camera for Colin. The broom for Dean. The tome about runes for herself. Just what they had been wishing for. He had never called them mudbloods, and had never let even his son call them that in his presence.

    Had that all been a lie? Had she been fooled? Had everyone in the Corps been fooled? Could the Minister be as ruthless as to have them taken from their families, their parents killed, or otherwise disposed of, and then raised as if they were his favourites? Make them think he loved them?

    “Uhh?”

    Fudge moaned. She pointed her wand at him and stunned him without really looking, her training the only reason she confirmed that he was slumped over on the chair she had sat him in, bound.

    Hermione shivered, sobbing again. She didn’t want to admit it. She longed to forget everything she had found out in this investigation. But she couldn’t. She was a Wand-Leader in the Investigative Branch. She couldn’t keep lying to herself, no matter how much the truth hurt.

    Her entire life was based on lies. She hugged herself, then bent forward, her forehead touching the table’s surface. And then she screamed until she collapsed.

    *****​

    An hour later, she had recovered enough to levitate Micklebrock out of the cupboard, arrange a scene with Fudge and a few bottles of wine, and obliviate the couple. If she hadn’t planned that cover-up all in advance, she probably would have messed it up - or given in to the temptation to wipe more than the last hour from the man’s mind.

    She apparated straight to the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley and marched up to room 11. To Antoine.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 6th, 1999, 22.15 hours

    Ron Weasley drew his wand when he heard the knock at his door. He knew that people intent on attacking or arresting him wouldn’t bother with knocking, but they would know that he knew that, and might hope it would surprise him. He glanced at the window. He couldn’t see anyone there, and the spells he had cast on the wall and roof nearby had not been triggered either. He checked the door with a small device from his brothers. The witch outside looked like Hermione, or someone using polyjuice. He wasn’t expecting her. She had said she had another commitment tonight.

    “Yes?” he called out.

    “Antoine? It’s me.”

    She sounded like Hermione, but… distressed, as his mum would say. An impostor wouldn’t be as… off, he thought, or would look worse to make him lower his guard. He was already opening the door though, wand held at his side.

    “Antoine…” She stumbled into his arms, then hugged him, hard. Her hair got into his face while she buried her face in his neck.

    He kicked the door closed while he wrapped his arms around the witch. She was tense, trembling even. Close to crying, he guessed. He had never seen her like this, and he guessed few ever had.

    He rubbed her back, and her head, using the opportunity to pull her mane out of his face until she seemed to calm down, at least a bit.

    “Hermione, cherie… what happened?”

    She shook her head. “Nothing… I can’t tell you.”

    “Did a mission go bad? Did you lose a friend?” What else could have shocked the confident, strong witch like that?

    “No… “ She started to cry.

    He held her, mumbling consoling words in English and French, and gently led her away from the door so they could sit down on the bed. He doubted she was listening, but she didn’t lose her grip on him.

    Did… he remembered the talk with Luna, where the Burrow had been, and felt as if someone had driven an ice spear into his belly. Was it possible?

    He knew he shouldn’t ask, if she couldn’t tell him, but he had to know. “Was it Malfoy?”

    He felt her jerk, then she pulled her head back, staring at him with wide eyes. “How did you know?”

    He ground his teeth. Malfoy would die for this! “Luna told me about Malfoy,” he spat out.

    She blinked. “Luna? But would she… oh, Draco Malfoy! No, no.” She shook her head again. “He didn’t do anything.”

    What? Draco hadn’t done anything? Hermione wasn’t lying, he could tell, but if it hadn’t been Draco, then… “What has the Minister done?”

    The young witch shook her head. “I can’t tell you!” She bit her lower lip until he could see blood drops appear. “I can’t tell you!”

    “Why not?” He said. He shouldn’t push. But she had come to him. That meant she couldn’t tell anyone else. Didn’t trust anyone else.

    She simply shook her head, tears in her eyes.

    “Hermione!” He grabbed her shoulders and stared straight into her eyes. “Trust me! Please. I want to help you!” Anyway he could.

    “No. It’s too… no.” She tried to get up. For a moment, he didn’t let her, then he pulled his hands away and she shot up, chest heaving.

    “I’ll find out. I’ll investigate myself, you know,” he said before she reached the door. He would, too.

    She turned around, looking as if he had struck her.

    He smiled weakly, shaking his head. “Not telling me won’t protect me. I’m just that dumb.”

    She stared at him, licking her bleeding lip, crying silently. He stood up, and walked over to her, gathering her in his arms again. After holding her for a while, he tried again: “What happened?”

    She whispered: “I found out my whole life is a lie. I wasn’t saved from abusive parents. My parents were murdered.” She sobbed, shuddering. “On the orders of the M-Minister.”

    He closed his eyes and inhaled sharply. Merde.

    “And it’s not just m-me. It’s everyone from the Corps. It’s all lies. Lies and murders.”

    He listened as she told him about her private investigation of the Obliviators, and the conspiracy she had uncovered. She was calming down as she focused on her story. When she finished, she wasn’t a wreck anymore. Still shaken, but he could see the strong, stubborn witch again he had come to know and love during his time in Britain.

    Part of him was happy that Hermione knew the Minister was a murderous piece of scum. But part of him wished she hadn’t had to suffer through a shock like this.

    “So… what are we going to do about this?” He asked after she had healed her torn lip with a quick Episkey.

    Hermione looked surprised, then sighed. “We could go to France. Sneak out of Britain. Be safe.”

    He smiled, even though he already knew she wouldn’t do this. Not his Hermione. Too stubborn and brave for her own good. “We could. But you won’t, will you?”

    She looked away. “I can’t leave my friends believing, fighting for him.” She spat out the last word with more venom than one of Neville’s experiments.

    “I guess we’ll have to take down the Minister then,” he said, as nonchalantly as he could.

    She snorted. “I guess so.”

    Ron would never get a better opportunity to tell her. He cleared his throat and said: “I have to tell you something as well. Something important.”

    She blinked.

    “My name’s not Antoine Dupont. I’m Ron Weasley, and I’m working for Albus Dumbledore.”

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 6th, 1999, 22.50 hours

    Hermione stared at her lover, gaping. He was not Antoine Dupont, but Ronald Weasley? Working for Albus Dumbledore? The leader of the Blood-Traitors, hiding in exile in France?

    The witch quickly took a step back and drew her wand, aiming it at him. “You are…” she trailed off. What was she doing, trying to arrest an enemy of Britain, no, the Minister, after what that man had done to her? Her wand wavered.

    Antoine - no, Ron - had raised his hands, in an apparent attempt to placate her. “I’m not your enemy,” he said, his eyes moving from the tip of her wand to her.

    “You… you lied to me!” she spat out. First the Minister, and now him. She gripped her wand tightly. Then she remembered what they had been talking about, in the last few weeks, what she had told him, naive as she had been, and rage filled her. “You used me! You used me to spy on the Ministry!” She felt the urge to curse him. A Bludgeoning Curse, to his face. And another to his groin. That would...

    He shook his head almost frantically. “I didn’t lie to you about my feelings. I love you!”

    “You’re lying!”

    “I’m not! I’m a spy, yes, but I never wanted to lie to you.”

    “But you did!” she snarled.

    “I didn’t lie about loving you!”

    Hermione took a step forward. The Minister had used her. Antoine - Ron - had used her. Everyone had been using her, lying to her, abusing her trust and loyalty and love! She pushed the tip of her wand into his throat. One Piercing Curse, and he’d die. He knew it too. He didn’t move a muscle, but his eyes never left hers. A moment passed. Both were breathing heavily. She was crying again, she noticed. When had she started?

    “Give me Veritaserum!” he said suddenly.

    “What?” She blinked, then wiped the tears from her eyes with her free hand.

    “You think I’m lying, I’ll prove that I’m not.”

    She could see sweatdrops on his face. They almost looked like tears. “Veritaserum is not perfect,” she said. As a spy, he’d be protected against it. Dumbledore was an alchemist, he’d know how to counter it.

    “You’d notice that.”

    She would, she knew that. She had interrogated enough suspects with Veritaserum to know the signs. She had been trained to notice the signs. But did he know that?

    “If I was a callous spy, abusing your trust and manipulating you, would I have been as stupid as to blurt this out right now?” His head was cocked slightly to the side now, the tip of her wand forcing his chin up.

    He had a point there. That hadn’t been the action of an experienced spy. “What would you have done then?”

    “Tried to make you stay in the Ministry so you could take your revenge. Kept you isolated, dependent on me. Offered to serve as a contact to Dumbledore, and made you think it was your idea, and… I’m not helping my case, am I?”

    Despite herself, she had to snort. He smiled weakly, hopefully, and she shook her head. He wasn’t lying, she didn’t think so. He’d have been prepared with a better story. She snorted again, shaking her head. It would be almost funny, the whole situation she was in, if it didn’t hurt so damn much.

    She lowered her wand, letting her hand drop to her side, and started to sob. She didn’t stop crying until she was too exhausted, too drained, to stay awake.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 7th, 1999, 06.30 hours

    When Ron Weasley woke up, he was alone in his bed. For a moment, he thought and feared that Hermione had left already. Then he saw her sitting in a conjured armchair, watching him with a guarded expression.

    He cleared his throat. “Good morning.”

    “Good morning.”

    He licked his lips. “Are you feeling better?”

    “Yes. Though after last night, that's not saying much,” she added in a dry voice.

    He didn’t comment, or grin. He was certain he was on thin ice still.

    The witch stood up and walked towards him. He swallowed when he saw how intense her expression was, up close. She put her hands on her hips and stared at him. “So. Tell me who you are.”

    “Ron Weasley. Ronald Bilius Weasley. Sixth son in my family. I’ve got five older brothers, and a little sister.” And if he introduced Ginny like that, he’d pay for it dearly.

    “You’re not from Québec.”

    He shook his head. “I’ve visited. Briefly. I was born in England, but I grew up in France and went to Beauxbatons, then joined the Gendarmérie Magique, after graduation.” With a quick smile, he added. “The Gendarmes are not quite the joke the British Aurors are.”

    She snorted, then frowned. “France is sending spies to Britain?”

    “No!” He should have said that right away. “I quit so I could go on this mission.”

    “And what is your mission, exactly? Apart from seducing naive Wands?”

    He opened his mouth to protest, then saw the faint grin. She wasn’t quite over his deception, but she was getting there. And she believed him - he was certain she’d not be here if she didn’t. Huffing, he said: “To spy on Britain’s two most dangerous enemies: Lucius Malfoy and Voldemort.”

    She frowned at him. “The Dark Lord was…” She stopped, snarling. “Was that a lie as well?”

    “Partially. He lost his body, but with the help of the Dark Arts, he didn’t die. Which Malfoy knew.” Or knew now, at least. “He took a long time to get a new body, but…”

    “The half-naga!” she interrupted him.

    “Yes. He’s not exactly a half-naga, but close enough.”

    She sat down on the bed next to him, though not as close as she would have, a day ago. “So. The Dark Lord returns, bent on revenge against Malfoy. And Dumbledore sees an opportunity to have them weaken each other, to destroy them both?”

    He nodded. “Essentially, yes.” It wasn’t exactly a secret if anyone could deduce it.

    “Are you planning to have the Wands and the Fanatics fight each other until barely anyone is left?” She asked, narrowing her eyes.

    “The plan was to let the Death Eaters following the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters following Lucius kill each other.” He saw her take a deep breath, and reached out to grab her thigh. “Listen. That changed. Things are different now. Because of you.”

    She scoffed and stood up. “Because of me? Are you trying to tell me that Dumbledore would change his plans to wipe out my friends just because you love me?”

    “No! He’d do it because if you can accept the truth about Malfoy, then your friends, all the Wands, can do so as well.” He looked at her. Logic. He knew he had to appeal to her mind, not her heart, to regain at least part of the trust that had been destroyed.

    She nodded, slowly.

    “If we can enlighten the Wands about the Minister’s crimes, then Malfoy is done for. And Dumbledore can defeat Voldemort,” Ron said. The Aurors would stand no chance, and Malfoy had no one else to stand up to the Wands.

    “He couldn’t defeat him in 1981…” Hermione started to say, then blinked when she saw him grin. “Another lie? The Boy-Who-Lived was real?”

    “He’s my best friend.”

    Hermione stared at him. He hoped he’d be able to tease her about this one day, and make her laugh.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 7th, 1999, 18.30 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione hoped that her friends in the Corps hadn’t grown suspicious when she left the Ministry. She knew she hadn’t been acting like her usual self during the day, but she hoped they would assume she had some trouble with her lover - Luna, at least, had jumped to that conclusion during lunch, and the muggleborn witch had had to make an effort to convince her friend not to go and hunt down Ron.

    It still felt weird, thinking of him as ‘Ron’ and not ‘Antoine’. A former Gendarme and current spy, not a former soldier. An enemy. Former enemy, she corrected herself. She was an enemy now - of the Minister, if not the Ministry. If there was a difference. She was a traitor, though she had been betrayed first. As had all her friends and comrades in the Corps.

    “Hermione!”

    She stopped and turned around when she heard her name, and barely managed to keep her expression neutral. Draco Malfoy. The son of the Minister. Before she had found out the truth, that thought had always caused her to feel guilty about loathing him. Not anymore.

    “Yes, sir?”

    “I’ve read the report about the battle in Ottery St Catchpole. Very impressive.” The wizard smiled at her.

    “Thank you, sir.” That was unexpected. Hermione forced herself to smile in return.

    “I would like to discuss this further with you this evening.”

    “I’m sorry, sir, but I have a prior engagement. I can meet you tomorrow though, at the Ministry.”

    “Ah. Of course. We’ll talk over lunch then. Good evening” Draco Malfoy nodded at her, and started to walk towards the lift.

    Hermione hadn’t expected that. The Minister’s son generally didn’t take it well when things did not go as he wanted. She was relieved she had not been forced to either flee, or go along with him - and she was quite certain she knew what he had had in mind when he wanted to ‘discuss’ something - but she was worried now what he was planning. At the same time, if he was meeting her for lunch he might not want to sleep with her.

    Though, knowing what she knew about his father, she couldn’t help but worrying what he wanted now.

    Trying not to let her thoughts show, she proceeded to apparate to the Leaky Cauldron, where Ron was waiting for her.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 7th, 1999, 18.45 hours

    Ron Weasley checked if Hermione was alone before opening the door. He was certain she didn’t want to betray him - she could have arrested him in the morning already, and he’d be dosed with Veritaserum, or imperiused already - but as he had been taught, you only needed to be careless once to die.

    He smiled at her. “Come in!” The way she smiled back, a bit forced, tore at him. It wasn’t the smile she had had before their mutual revelations. Nor the shy smile she had when they had started dating. It was the guarded smile of a hurting witch. And it was his fault.

    She nodded at him and entered, then took a deep breath when he closed door. He could see her relax.

    “Did you have a stressful day at the Ministry?”

    She frowned. “I don’t like lying to my friends. Or keeping the truth from them, keeping them ignorant of such important information.”

    He winced, feeling guilty. “I’m sorry.”

    “Why? Oh.” She pressed her lips together. “But there is no choice. If they knew, Malfoy would find out as soon as he read their minds.”

    “That complicates things.”

    “It does,” she said, and he had a feeling she wanted to roll her eyes.

    “How often does he meet each Wand?”

    She pursed her lips. “He doesn’t have a schedule. He likes to talk to us. He visits the young ones at Hogwarts, talks to us there, asks about our plans, what courses we like, our hobbies… he manipulates us perfectly!” she spat out. After a few deep breaths, she continued: “And even if I told them… they might not believe me. Not without proof. They might think I was memory charmed.”

    “And if you deliver the proof, they might think Fudge was memory charmed as well?”

    Hermione nodded.

    “So much for the plan to show your friends the truth, and have them take over the Ministry.” He sighed.

    The witch narrowed her eyes at him. “Was that Dumbledore’s plan?”

    “No, that was mine,” he answered, feeling slightly defensive.

    “So, it’s back to ‘let’s have the Dark Lord and the Ministry bleed each other’s forces dry’.”

    He shook his head. “No. Dumbledore will think of something.” Hopefully.

    “I think with the right preparation, I can convince my team. They will at least see that if I was a traitor or had been memory charmed, I’d simply prepare a trap, and have the same done to them, not use such an elaborate story.”

    “They don’t know Occlumency though, right?”

    She nodded. “But that can be worked around. I’m their leader, I’m the one who talks to the Minister most often. If they meet him, I can memory charm them, if needed.”

    Ron realised, once again, that his love had a rather ruthless side.

    She frowned at him. “It’s reversible.” She bit her lip. “That would be a good way to deal with Draco Malfoy, too.”

    What? “What did he do?”

    “He invited me to lunch for tomorrow. That’s unusual for him. Normally, he simply takes the witches to his bedroom.”

    Ron clenched his teeth. That was just as Luna had said. But this change? Was the git interested in Hermione? Obviously.

    “I’m not sleeping with him. I’ll make him think I did, if needed.” She smiled at him.

    He thought that wasn’t OK either, but better than the alternative. “I didn’t expect a Wand to know such spells.”

    She bit her lower lip. “We’re not supposed to. But I thought I should learn about them, to better defend myself against them. Learning them just happened.”

    “Did you use them?”

    “A few times, at Hogwarts. But I’m certain I can cast them perfectly well still.”

    He didn’t think it was a good idea to mention that Draco Malfoy would make a good test subject. “Let’s go get something to eat on the way.”

    “Where are we going?”

    “I’ll introduce you to my family,” he said nonchalantly.

    “What?”

    She really was cute when she was surprised.

    *****​

    London, September 7th, 1999, 20.04 hours

    Even more than an hour later, Hermione didn’t think the comment about meeting his family had been that funny. Nor her reaction. ‘Meeting the family’ hadn’t been something she had ever expected, and the novels she had read at school, courtesy of Luna, had tended to place a vast importance on such an event, and to imply certain things about a relationship.

    Granted, meeting Ron’s brothers and ‘fellow spies’, and making more plans to overthrow the Minister was certainly more important than… well, a witch could dream. Even a muggleborn one with no family left.

    “Something wrong?” Ron’s voice interrupted her thoughts. He had already finished his part of the pizza slices they had bought at a stand while waiting for the muggle bus.

    She shook her head. “I’m not that used to wearing muggle clothes. I feel inappropriately dressed.” She looked around.

    He chuckled. “You’re dressed perfectly to fit in with the muggle clubbing crowd.”

    “We’re not mingling with that crowd though,” she said. When he looked surprised, she added: “I’m not entirely clueless about muggles.”

    Instead of feeling chastised for his assumptions, Ron grinned. “You were breaking the Ministry law before you found out the truth, hm?”

    She felt her face flush just a bit. “In the line of duty.”

    He nodded, and managed to make her feel even more flushed just with his expression. She glared at him, and he finally looked somewhat cowed.

    “Sorry… I’m just a bit nervous about the meeting with my brothers.” Ron winced.

    “Why?” That didn’t sound too promising. Of course, fraternisation with the enemy would be problematic. And they were purebloods, and she was a muggleborn…

    “They’ve got a particular sense of humour.”

    “That’s not very informative.” And didn’t sound that bad, to be honest. Dean had a peculiar sense of humour too. Not to mention Luna.

    “They like pranks. And they’re rarely serious. Even if they are creating devices meant to kill dozens.”

    That on the other hand sounded ominous. No Wand would be fooling around when lives were on the line.

    *****​

    “So, that’s the infamous Wand-Leader Hermione!”

    “She looks much smaller than you made us expect, frangin!”

    “But that could just be an act.”

    “Ron’s a bit gullible when it comes to pretty faces. Remember Michèle?”

    Hermione, standing in a rather bland muggle room, found herself the subject of intense scrutiny from Ron’s older brothers. Ron’s older identical brothers. Who had their wands drawn, if not quite aimed at her. Despite the grins the two flashed at her, she felt as if she was just one wrong movement away from a fight. And a part of her wanted to know who Michéle was.

    “Cut it out, mecs,” Ron cut in. “I told you she’s seen through Malfoy’s lies. And you tested me for the Imperius and potions already.”

    That was news to her. She glanced at him, and he shrugged. “I’d not spring you on them without some warning.”

    She nodded slowly. He was a spy after all, and his co-conspirators would be suspicious of her motives. She turned her attention back to the twins. “I expect you’ll be testing me as well then?”

    They nodded, grinning.

    She added, with narrowed eyes: “As long as you stick with the tests needed to determine if I’m a danger to your mission.”

    Fred - if that was his name - glared at Ron. “Someone spread tales.”

    Ron huffed. “I didn’t have to. You’re not as slick as you think, mes frères.”

    “There you have it, George, the field agent’s experience at work.”

    George nodded. “The field agent who fell for the enemy. Before her possible defection.”

    Ron rolled his eyes. Hermione cleared her throat. “Might we get on with those tests? We don’t have all night to spend on this.”

    “Of course not! Far be it from us to keep you from doing… ‘other things’!” Fred exclaimed.

    She turned to Ron and spoke in the most bored tone she could manage. “They sounded more entertaining in your stories. Maybe we should test them?”

    “Hey!”

    Ron chuckled while his brothers frowned.

    “At least she has some spine,” muttered George.

    “She hasn’t met mum yet,” his twin said.

    The actual tests were far less extensive than she had expected. She simply had to walk through a curtain of liquid. “Thief’s Downfall?” She asked. It must have cost a fortune to get the goblins to part with one.

    “Inspired by it.” Fred grinned.

    That was very impressive. If they had managed to copy one of the most famous goblin accomplishments, they were far more talented than they appeared.

    “You’d not believe us if we told you that clothes prevent it from working, would you?” George said, leering at her.

    She rolled her eyes at him. “Are you sure that they are your older brothers, Ron?” she asked while stepping through the curtain. The liquid seemed to evaporate as soon as she was past it.

    “Physically, yes. Mentally, they’re somewhere between our post owl and Ginny’s pet puffskein,” Ron said.

    “Hey now! Our little brother wasn’t that mouthy when we came to Britain!”

    “Cherchez la femme, indeed. Corrupted by the exotic temptress of the vile enemy. Mum will be so sad.”

    She snorted despite herself while the twins ran a few more spells over her. Ron didn’t seem to find it funny though.

    “Are you satisfied now?” she asked. They had plans to make, after all. She couldn’t spend too much time away from her friends, even with Ron.

    Fred nodded. “Yes. Let’s go to Dumbledore now.”

    Dumbledore? Here? In Britain? She whirled around to stare at Ron.

    He shook his head. “I didn’t know about this, trust me!”

    Judging by the glare he shot at his brothers, she was inclined to believe him. That didn't mean she felt any better about meeting one of the two most infamous and most dangerous wizards she knew about.

    *****​

    Argelès-sur-Mer, France, September 7th, 1999, 21.03 hours

    Hermione was more nervous than she was used to. She hoped it wasn’t obvious to everyone. Travelling through a vanishing cabinet was bad enough - she had no idea where she was, and if it even was in France. But to meet Albus Dumbledore, the infamous leader of Britain-in-Exile, as one newspaper called him, or ‘The Headmaster-Who-Was’, according to The Quibbler! A few days ago she’d have drawn her wand, and either gotten herself killed, or escaped to inform the Corps.

    Now though, he might be her best hope to get revenge on Malfoy and stop her fellow Wands from serving that criminal. If he was not another manipulative Dark Lord, of course.

    “Good evening, Professor!” Ron said. Her lover looked nervous himself - he hid it, but she knew some of his tells, by now. Or thought she knew.

    “Good evening, Mister Weasley.”

    Dumbledore looked quite harmless, but a member of the Investigative Branch knew not to trust appearances. Or anything else but hard facts.

    “Professor, this is Wand-Leader Hermione,” Ron continued. “Hermione, this is Professor Dumbledore. The leader of Britain’s exiles.”

    The young wizard was reaching out to wrap an arm around her waist. Hermione couldn’t tell if it was possessively, or protectively, or both. She took a step forward and evaded him; she would stand on her own. She didn’t check how Ron reacted. Didn’t want to.

    “Good evening, sir.”

    “Good evening, Miss Hermione,” the old wizard said, smiling at her. “Please have a seat.”

    She’d rather stand, but that would make her look both rude and nervous, and so she sat down on the couch the wizard had conjured. Ron sat down next to her, but not as close as usual.

    The professor conjured a seat for himself. “Mister Weasley told me you found out about the manipulations Lucius used to fool the youngest generation of British Muggleborns into loyally serving him.”

    The witch nodded. “Yes, sir. I investigated the Obliviators, found irregularities, observed their crimes, and then tracked the conspiracy back to the Minister himself through Fudge.”

    Dumbledore sighed. “Ah, Cornelius. I assume it was too much to hope that he would manage to keep his office as neutral as it traditionally was. The Obliviators took no sides during the war, but obviously that changed after the fall of the government.” He shook his head. “But to know the depths he sunk to, to preserve his position...”

    Hermione didn’t know what to say to that, and simply nodded.

    “But I digress. You wish to save your fellow Wands from being duped pawns of that man, and bring those who did so much harm to you and your families to justice.”

    It wasn’t a question, but she answered it anyway. “Yes, sir.”

    “I and a few of my friends and allies might be able to help you, just as you could help us. But in order to join forces, I need to both know you can keep our secrets, and that you can be trusted.”

    Her eyes widened. “Legilimency?”

    He nodded. “I will need to test how skilled you are in Occlumency, and if you are not planning to betray us. It should not take too long, but it will hurt.”

    She nodded, focusing her will as he aimed his wand at her.

    “Legilimens!”

    At first, she could not feel anything, but some faint, light touches. Seeking a weakness to slip into her mind, she realised. She kept her focus, reinforcing her walls. She would not be fooled.

    After a few minutes, he nodded. “So far so good.”

    Then he came at her mind again, and this time his mental probe felt like a blow to the head. She ground her teeth to avoid crying out in pain. Taking deep breaths, she kept meeting his eyes, trying to fortify the imaginary walls around her mind. It didn’t work well - he was battering them down with relentless pushes and probes. She gave up trying to keep him out, and switched to burying her important memories under irrelevant ones.

    He cut through those attempts at subterfuge like a dragon smelling blood and dove into her memories, laying her thoughts bare to his probes, until she was unable to even try to resist any longer, and had trouble thinking at all.

    She came to with a splitting headache, stretched out on the couch, her head in Ron’s lap while the wizard glared at Dumbledore. The professor did not seem to be perturbed by the hostility shown, and calmly addressed her: “You have impressive mental defenses, Miss. I broke through them, but I have more experience and talent than most, and it still took me longer than I expected. I rather doubt anyone but Voldemort will be able to break into your mind.” He nodded and she felt oddly pleased at the compliment. “Still,” he continued, “operative security demands that you cannot be privy to too many details - torture can loosen the tongue of anyone, after all. But I know you can be trusted as an ally.”

    Ron took her hand, squeezing it. He looked relieved. Hermione would have glared at him, for doubting her, if her head had not hurt that much.

    “Now, let’s talk about how we can help each other…”

    *****​

    Argelès-sur-Mer, France, September 7th, 1999, 22.30 hours

    Albus Dumbledore watched as young Mister Weasley and his paramour left through the vanishing cabinet. Miss Hermione was a formidable young witch. Very stubborn, very brave, and with a strong sense of justice. To see people such as her serve Lucius’s regime was depressing, and yet it also gave him hope that the damage Lucius had done to their country during his rule was not as severe as the old wizard had feared. If there were witches and wizards like Miss Hermione, even if they were duped, then the Minister had not corrupted the entirety of society.

    Which made what he was about to do even harder. He had talked with the young Wand-Leader, and he agreed with her opinion that it would be nigh-impossible to convince the entire Corps that they had been manipulated and abused practically from birth. Which meant that he had to consider them assets of the enemy. The witch was certainly aware of that as well, but she hadn’t talked about it, and he knew she didn’t want to think about it. Once she had come to terms with what she had discovered these past few days, then she would though - his intrusion into her mind had shown him that she generally did not shrink away from facing the truth, no matter how much it hurt.

    But how would she react? Would she accept that not all of her friends - her family, as she knew them - could be saved? That even misguided as they were, they were a threat? That he could not tell with any certainty, but he had reasons to hope she would accept the bitter truth.

    Though Albus at least had a plan to save as many of the Wands as possible. Lucius had created a system that concentrated all the power in his hands. Apart from Augustus, he had no credible rivals in Britain left. The Wands’ first loyalty was to him. If Lucius died at the hand of the returned Dark Lord, the Wands would focus on the Death Eaters to avenge him. The rest of Britain though would be shocked, and the Ministry might be willing to welcome the exiles back, to defeat a common foe - Albus knew that his reputation as the only one the Dark Lord ever feared had not suffered too much in Britain; Lucius had used him as an external threat for political gains.

    Draco and Narcissa would have to die as well though. As Lucius’s family, they might manage to transfer the Wands’ loyalty to them, and neither Draco nor Narcissa could be trusted with power. By all accounts, Draco combined the worst aspects of Lucius and Narcissa: Arrogance, cruelty, and stupidity. And his mother was not quite as cunning as she thought, but had all the Black’s traditional pride and thirst for vengeance.

    With the Malfoys gone though, Albus would just have to contend with disorganised pureblood families Lucius had intentionally kept divided and weak. Augustus would be the only real threat, but if things went according to plan, Augustus would be dead before Lucius.

    The man rarely left the Department of Mysteries these days, and Albus was quite certain that the Horcrux Harry had felt in the Ministry was in that wizard’s hands. Two pixies with one spell, as his brother used to say.

    Narcissa was not the only one with a penchant for vengeance, after all. Albus didn’t plan to avenge his family, but he was not averse to take revenge when the opportunity presented itself.

    First though, he had to figure out how to use Miss Hermione’s talents in his plan to break into the Department of Mysteries.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 8th, 1999, 00.45 hours

    Ron Weasley was slightly nervous when Hermione entered his room at the Leaky Cauldron. The meeting with Dumbledore had gone well, as far as he could tell, after that awful ‘test’. But the witch had been uncharacteristically silent on the trip back, and he didn’t think that was simply due to a desire to not risk anyone eavesdropping - they had been using muggle transportation, a cab this time, after all.

    He knew she did not fully trust Dumbledore. She had refused his offer to store a copy of her memories, just in case she should be hit with a Memory Charm. Ron thought she was planning to store a copy of her memories herself, but didn’t want to ask. He did hope that she’d trust him with it though.

    “So…” he said, eloquently.

    “Yes?”

    “What do you think of Dumbledore?”

    The witch pursed her lips. “He’s impressive, though that is to be expected of the wizard who defeated Grindelwald. He sounds very persuasive, understanding and friendly, but… so did Malfoy.” She frowned. “A man in his position, fighting Malfoy and Voldemort, he can’t be a nice man.”

    Ron winced. Hermione didn’t sound as if she would have an easy time dealing with Malfoy’s betrayal. Her trust in others had been dealt a harsh blow, and it extended to others, such as Dumbledore, possibly himself. “I can’t deny that Dumbledore is fighting a war, with all that entails. But he is a good man.”

    “‘Good Wands have to make hard decisions’,” Hermione quoted at him.

    He didn’t think it was prudent to point out that this was something taught to her under Malfoy. She was hurt enough without making her question her skills and training. He sat down on the bed. “He’s on our side though.”

    “Our side?”

    “You and me.” He looked at her.

    After a second that felt like an hour to him, she smiled faintly and nodded. He noticed her looking at the bed, and wondered if they’d sleep together. She had spent the night in his arms, the night before.

    The smile she showed then made him hope for something more, even though he was not certain they were ready for that again.

    The alert from Percy ended that line of thought. His brother needed help!

    *****​
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2016
    space turtle, qof, sesbio and 4 others like this.
  21. riaantheunissen

    riaantheunissen Know what you're doing yet?

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    Somehow I don't think Hermione will just take Ron at his word. Contingency planning and privately questioning everything seems likely.
     
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  22. Threadmarks: Chapter 11: The Department of Mysteries
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 11: The Department of Mysteries

    London, Diagon Alley, September 8th, 1999, 00.55 hours

    “My brother Percy needs help!” Ron Weasley shouted, jumping up.

    Hermione was on her feet at once, drawing her wand.

    He held up his hand, casting a Shield Charm. “He doesn’t know you, he might attack you by mistake.”

    He saw her freeze for a second, and he thought there was a flicker of understanding on her face when he disapparated.

    Ron appeared in Percy’s room, in the middle of a fight. His shield was hit by two spells, a Stunner and a Body-Binding Curse, before he could react. He managed to drop to the ground before a third spell hit him, and whipped his wand around.

    “Stupefy!”

    His own stunner hit a man in drab robes near the door who had been about to curse him again. Then his shield was shattered by a Piercing Curse from the witch near the door, protected by a blue shimmering shield of her own.

    “Protego!”

    Ron managed to shield himself in time and the witch’s next curse splashed harmlessly against his Shield Charm. He rolled to the side, casting a bludgeoning curse at her, which was stopped by her Shield Charm. Her next spell missed. His didn’t, and the woman went down, bound in conjured ropes. He stunned her for good measure while he got up.

    A stone wall was dividing the room in two, and a dead tiger was on the floor. Spells were flashing behind the wall. Percy! He aimed his wand at the wall.

    “Finite Incantatem!”

    The wall disappeared, and he saw Percy behind an animated armoire and the remains of his bed, exchanging spells with a robed and masked assailant who was protected by what looked like an ape made of rock, whose leg was stuck in the ground and whose right arm was melting. The man glanced at him, and Ron could see his eyes widen right before his own curses tore into the wizard. A few spells later, the attacker was down for the count, and the ape had been dealt with.

    “Are you hurt?” Ron asked.

    “Bruises and a few cuts. They wanted to capture me, not kill me,” Percy answered, standing up and dismissing his animated defense. He aimed his wand at the debris on the floor. “Reparo.”

    While Percy’s bed was restored, Ron checked on the attackers. All were still unconscious, and he bound them for good measure. “Where’s Tonks?” The metamorphmagus should have been here by now.

    “She’s out in muggle London to prepare more safe houses,” Percy said, “she can’t apparate back to Diagon Alley without tipping the Obliviators off.”

    “Ah.” Dumbledore hadn’t told him anything about imminent movements of the Order to muggle Britain, but it made sense to prepare so they could move in quickly - or as quickly as muggle travel allowed.

    “We need to interrogate them. Find out why they attacked,” Percy said. “If they are hired help, then someone will be monitoring the building too.”

    Ron nodded. “I’ll be right back.”

    He apparated back to his room in the Leaky Cauldron, and found himself staring at the glowing tip of Hermione’s wand. “Ah… we’re both OK.”

    “What happened?” Hermione asked, lowering her wand. She didn’t look too happy. Ron wouldn’t have been happy in her place either.

    “Three people broke into his room, trying to kidnap him. We’re about to interrogate them, find out what they know.”

    Hermione nodded and transfigured her brown Wand robe into a black robe with red trim fit for a night out in the alley, the stared at him. It was obvious she expected to come with him this time.

    Ron didn’t try to persuade her otherwise. He pulled out his mirror, to inform Percy that he’d be bringing a friend. His brother didn’t seem surprised in the least, he noted with some jealousy. Percy had always been the smartest of the Weasleys.

    Stashing the mirror again, he held out his hand to her so he could side-along apparate her.

    *****​

    “You must be Hermione. Percy Weasley, at your service,” Ron’s brother said, bowing with a flourish as if he was at a ball at Beauxbatons.

    “Wand-Leader Hermione.”

    At least his girlfriend didn’t seem to be impressed by Percy, Ron thought. He pointed at the three captives. “We’ve been expecting something like this, for a while.”

    Hermione pulled out a vial.

    “Veritaserum?” Percy asked.

    Hermione nodded. Ron swallowed a sarcastic comment - what else could it be?

    The interrogation didn’t reveal anything useful. The three had been hired in Knockturn Alley, to kidnap the ‘scholar’. They didn’t know their employer, and hadn’t seen his face. They just had a way to contact the man, to set up a meeting once they had secured Percy.

    “They have no idea that I’m working with the DoM,” Ron’s brother said. “Which means they didn’t deal with the surveillance the Unspeakables have me under.”

    “They’re expendable. The skilled people fooled or removed the surveillance. Unless this is a test by the Unspeakables,” Ron said.

    “That’s unlikely. If they suspected anything, they could have simply interrogated me in the Ministry,” Percy said.

    “But now the Unspeakables will know something is not as it seems,” Hermione pointed out. “If their surveillance was defeated - or if they lost people watching you - then they’ll know you have had help. After such an incident, they’ll interrogate you just to be certain nothing happened.”

    Percy nodded. “My thoughts exactly. Even with the privacy spells having kept them from noticing what went on in here, they’ll suspect. I think it’s best if I disappear - with the ‘burglars’. That will keep whoever is behind this as well as the DoM wondering exactly what happened.”

    “What about your mission?” Ron asked.

    “I’ve accomplished most of it. With Miss Hermione’s help available, my own position is not as crucial.”

    Ron nodded.

    Neither of the two wizards mentioned that this would mean a few of the drastic plans involving the more lethal inventions of the twins were now off the table. Ron was glad, even if it meant he’d have to take bigger risks. But he knew Hermione would never forgive him - or let him live - if he took part in blowing up the Ministry where her friends lived.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 8th, 1999, 12.20 hours

    Four hours of sleep wasn’t enough, Wand-Leader Hermione knew that. But with the attack on Ron’s brother, and the need to get him out of Diagon Alley unseen, and without leaving traces in the Obliviator office, she hadn’t had any choice. Well, Ron had thought that he and Percy could handle it, but Hermione had refused to leave them. Not with the potential danger of assassins in the employment of the Minister or the Department of Mysteries out there.

    And now she was facing a lunch ‘meeting’ with Draco Malfoy. She downed a Pepper-Up potion. It would keep her wits sharp for a few hours - long enough not to hex the wizard. Hopefully.

    The lunch meeting was in his office, of course. The Minister’s son wouldn’t be seen dining with a muggleborn in public. She arrived at the door, five minutes early as usual. Sally-Anne was standing guard outside. The two Wands exchanged a glance, and Hermione knocked.

    She was familiar with the office, from her tour as a guard. It hadn’t changed much, apart from the small table added to the side. Far too small for a business lunch, there was hardly enough room for the plates and cutlery. Malfoy certainly had other things in mind than work, though why he didn’t simply ‘invite’ her to his bedroom, Hermione didn’t know. Yet.

    “Hello Hermione,” Draco said, smiling widely.

    “Hello, sir,” she answered, “I’ve my report here.” She pulled out a thick scroll from her expanded pocket.

    “We can go over it after lunch. During lunch.” He gestured to the small table. “Please have a seat.”

    He was acting as if she was a pureblood witch, Hermione realised. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. Her first impulse was to check for a Confundus Spell. While she nodded slowly, she stared at his eyes. They looked focused, sharp. That didn’t match the usual signs. His smile looked natural too - polite, with a hint of arrogance and glee. But once again, seeing that aimed at a Wand, at her… she took her seat, feeling on edge.

    Draco looked to the side. “Dobby!”

    At once, a house-elf in a towel appeared, carrying covered plates.

    “Young Master!”, the creature squeaked, and the meals floated to the tables. “Dobby brought the first course!” A snap of his fingers later, the covers were lifted.

    “An amuse-bouche,” Draco explained. “Just to tease the palate.”

    Hermione nodded. She was familiar with the term - Ron had gone into detail about French cuisine, which she recognised in retrospect as a sign that he had spent more time in France than he had claimed - but to see it served to her… Something really was not right. She wanted to focus on the report, but he hadn’t even glanced at it yet. Which indicated that he didn’t really care about it. Which, in turn, meant that it was just a pretext to get her into his office.

    Which once again made no sense. He used to simply call her to ‘guard’ him in his bedroom.

    “You look ravissante today, if you pardon my forwardness.”

    “Thank you sir,” she answered, then ran her wand over their food to check for potions and poisons.

    Draco raised his eyebrow at that. “Dobby has been in my family for decades. He wouldn’t let anyone tamper with the food.”

    Hermione knew several ways to tamper with the food a house-elf was preparing or serving, but didn’t mention that. “A Wand is always vigilant, sir.”

    “You don’t need to be so formal, cherie. You have done so much for Britain, and for my family.” He beamed at her.

    “Thank you, sir.”

    He looked slightly annoyed at her answer, but recovered quickly and smiled widely at her again. “I’ve spoken with my father, he said you were responsible for most of the defeats the enemy has suffered. I agree with him,” he said while the elf served the next course: Salad, with French dressing.

    What was with the French terms and food, Hermione wondered, while the Minister’s son went on about her achievements. She didn’t remember Draco being fond of French anything. Merlin! Was he trying to seduce her because she had a French-speaking lover?

    She decided to test her theory. “The salad is very good. The dressing reminds me of the recipe Antoine showed me.”

    Draco gaze hardened for an instant. “Antoine?”

    “My boyfriend. He’s a wizard from Québec, planning to immigrate. He was visiting Luna Lovegood with me when the attack happened. It’s all in my report.”

    “Ah.” Draco looked as if his dressing was a tad too sour. “How did you two meet?”

    Hermione smiled. “We actually met when the Fanatics attacked Diagon Alley for the first time. He fought them as well.”

    “Brave of him, but a bit foolhardy, for a tourist.” His smile looked a bit forced.

    She was tempted to tell him that ‘Antoine’ was a veteran of the last war in Québec, but decided against it. It was better for Ron to be underestimated, since him joining the Aurors was now certainly not on the table anymore. “He had to defend himself - they were casting at him. I intervened.”

    “As you were trained to. I bet he was grateful to have been saved by such a charming beauty.”

    She nodded, putting a slightly vacant smile on her face. “Oh, he was!”

    “You said he’s planning to immigrate?”

    “He said so,” Hermione answered. “He’s a pureblood, and Québec is not a good place to live in, after the last war they lost. He said he doesn’t want to raise a family there.”

    Draco’s smile grew even more strained. “Are you planning to found a family with him?”

    “I don’t know… we haven’t talked about that.” She smiled. Let him think it was just a fling.

    “I see.” He looked pensive for a moment, while the main dish was served.

    Hermione tried to change the topic to her report, with limited success. Draco kept complimenting her - flattering her, as if she was a pureblood witch - throughout her verbal report. He definitely was trying to seduce her, she thought.

    She should have been relieved that he never pushed her, but when she finally left the office, after an hour and a half, she was on edge. She was certain that even if Draco was jealous of another pureblood, he’d not act like this.

    Something was up. She had to inform Ron about this.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 8th, 1999, 19.06 hours

    Ron Weasley liked Luna Lovegood. It was hard not to like the young witch. But he would have preferred it if she wasn’t present at the dinner with Hermione. They had important things to talk about, after all. Things they couldn’t discuss with Luna present. Hermione had insisted though - she hadn’t spent much time with her best friend, she had said. Ron hadn’t been able to say anything against that - he knew their relationship was still affected by the revelation that he had been lying to her. Trying to get her to ignore her only pureblood friend who hadn’t been lying to her wouldn’t have been a good idea.

    “Daddy is leaving St Mungo’s tomorrow. The Minister already arranged the printing of the Quibbler in the facilities of the Daily Prophet, until we can replace our printing press,” Luna said, gesturing animatedly with a fork while she ate her meat pie. “And his room in Hermione’s quarters is ready already. Though given how little time she’s spending in there lately, I’m not certain if the quarters are hers anymore.” She pouted. “We could use her room for Voley!”

    The Wand-Leader in question winced. “I’m sorry, Luna. It’s just…” she trailed off, looking at Ron.

    “It’s just?” Luna looked at him with big silvery eyes. “Just what?”

    “The sex,” Ron said. It seemed the most plausible explanation. Judging by the glare Hermione sent at him, she didn’t share his opinion.

    “Oh! Of course!” Luna nodded happily. “It’s just like bonobos!”

    “Just like what?” Ron and Hermione said together.

    “Bonobos. They use sex to deal with conflict and stress. And to greet each other, bond, reconcile… they use sex for just about everything, I think.”

    “What are bonobos?” Ron wasn’t certain he wanted to know.

    “They are dwarf chimpanzees,” Luna explained. “Living in Africa.”

    Ron had never heard of them.

    “And you think we…?” Hermione looked a tad flushed.

    Luna nodded. “You’re under a lot of stress, and sex is a good way to deal with it. I’m happy you’ve chosen that method, instead of hexing stupid purebloods. Although if you had hexed Draco, he wouldn’t have tried to seduce you.”

    “He what?” Ron asked.

    “How did you… Sally-Anne!” Hermione spat out.

    Luna nodded. “She told me all about the lunch in his office. Draco must be very jealous of Antoine to try to imitate him.”

    “He what?” Ron blinked. Malfoy’s son was imitating him?

    “Yes. He tried to be as French as possible, to seduce Hermione.”

    “She wasn’t even present during lunch!” Hermione said.

    Ron was getting confused.

    “She was in his office when he instructed his house-elf, and ran through his lines,” Luna said.

    “What? He had lines?” Hermione stared at her friend.

    “Or a script. Probably written by his mother. Narcissa tries to make him marry, you know. Maybe this is how he rebels against his parents? Although I believe he simply cannot stand the thought of a witch preferring anyone over him.” Luna looked pensive, holding up her fork with a piece of pie speared on it.

    Hermione rubbed her face. “He had a script… I can’t believe it…”

    Ron shook his head, laughing. To think that the son of Lucius Malfoy was trying to seduce Ron’s girlfriend by following a script written by his mother!

    “Well, it’s better than asking his father to deport Antoine,” Luna said.

    Ron stopped laughing.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 8th, 1999, 19.45 hours

    “How did your lunch date with Hermione go?” Lucius Malfoy asked while Dobby served the first course.

    “It went well.” Draco smiled, but Lucius had seen him jerk a bit. His son might not like it, but he’d do his duty to his family.

    “Did you…?“ Narcissa’s expression of distaste made her meaning clear.

    “No, mother. We had lunch, and a pleasant talk. She was quite flustered during the meal.” Draco smirked.

    Narcissa said, frowning: “I don’t see why we can’t simply get rid of the foreigner. If he’s not around then Draco doesn’t have to lower himself to that.” She turned to their son. “You should be courting a pureblood witch from a good family, instead of cavorting with mudbloods.”

    Lucius restrained from sighing. “Deporting Mister Dupont without sufficient reasons would not sit well with the mudblood and the Lovegoods. Manufacturing such reasons would likely cause the Wand-Leader to suspect something and investigate.”

    “I didn’t teach Draco how to court a witch to see those lessons wasted on a mudblood!” Narcissa sniffed.

    As if Draco was ready for marriage! Lucius had no doubt that Narcissa’s lessons in courtship had been put to very good use by Draco - he was his father’s son, after all. And he was smart enough not to ruffle any pureblood feathers by sticking to mudbloods. He smiled at his son, who smiled back. Witches!

    “How did Dobby perform?” Lucius asked. The house-elf had been acting a bit odd since the attack on Malfoy Manor.

    “I had to go over the lunch plans twice with him, but he didn’t miss his cues, father.”

    “Well done.” More good news. Dobby had been in his family for decades. It would have been hard to replace him, should he have been unable to serve with the kind of skill a Malfoy required from his servants.

    A lesson Albert Selwyn still had not learned. To fail to secure that historian… At least the boy had had the sense to use disposable hired wands for the task. But Augustus was now warned. Keeping the Head of the Department of Mysteries under control would be more difficult now. Maybe the boy needed a stronger reminder of the price of failing him?

    *****​

    Beauxbatons, September 8th, 1999, 22.15 hours

    Albus Dumbledore put the latest missive from Severus away. Antonin Dolohov had attacked Tom. He had been killed, but apparently had destroyed the Death Eaters’ current base in the process. And a number of the current Death Eaters. An impressive feat, for a single wizard. Helped along, no doubt, by whatever Augustus had done to the man’s artificial arm. Lucius had lost an experienced supporter, and Tom had lost a sizeable number of his followers. An ideal result, for those who opposed both.

    But did it complicate or simplify Albus’s plans? With Voldemort weakened, the odds of him killing Lucius were now lower than before. On the other hand, Severus’s position among the Death Eaters was now further improved. And he might be able to convince the Dark Lord that Lucius didn’t have to die at Tom’s own hand, but that death at a servant’s hand would do as well. That way, Severus could kill Lucius and Tom would claim the credit. The Wands would be out for revenge, and with fewer Death Eaters to take on, they would not lose that many people should they be led to the new base of Voldemort.

    But only if Voldemort was already dealt with by the time the Wands arrived. Otherwise it would be a massacre. Which meant the last Horcruxes had to be destroyed as soon as possible. Before Tom rebuilt his forces. The one in the Ministry would be next. Once that was accomplished, there would be but the one at Tom’s side left. And Harry’s scar.

    He summoned a roll of parchment. He had to inform Dzvonko Lazarov that he would not have to stall any longer, and let the British wizards in Macedonia acquire the ‘artifact’ Albus had prepared. Based on the information Mister Weasley had given the Unspeakables, they would assume that the best time to test the artifact was the new moon. Which would end in two days. Enough time to acquire the artifact and get it to Britain, not enough time to spot the trap.

    Breaking into the Department of Mysteries would be far easier if the majority of the staff was trying to break out.

    Albus smiled. During his time as Headmaster and Chief Warlock, he had neglected his alchemical research. But he had had almost 20 years and Nicolas’s help to make up for it.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 8th, 1999, 23.10 hours

    After Luna had apparated back to the Ministry with a cheerful ‘Enjoy the rest of the night!’ Wand-Leader Hermione was alone with Ron. Her lover. Maybe. They hadn’t made love since the night she had found out about Malfoy’s lies. And Ron’s deception. Held each other, yes, but…

    Ron sighed, interrupting her thoughts. “So… where are we?”

    She knew what he meant. He looked quite nervous. She felt the urge to hug him. She didn’t though. She faced him instead. “You lied to me.”

    “Yes.”

    “It hurt.”

    “I’m sorry.”

    He was, she could tell. “I know.” She sighed again, closing her eyes. Seeing him was distracting. “I understand your reasons.” She did. Intellectually. She was still hurting though.

    He didn’t say anything. She opened her eyes and looked at him again. His hands were gripping his thighs. “You know, I wanted to ask you to take me to France.”

    “You wouldn’t have, though,” he said. “You won’t leave your friends.”

    “‘Wands do their duty, whatever the cost’,” she quoted, then flinched. Could she trust anything she had been taught?

    “It’s not just duty. It’s you.”

    “It’s how I was raised.” Indoctrinated. Deceived. Manipulated.

    “Only partially. Every witch is different.” Then he winced. “That sounded better before I said it. Less… you know.”

    She had to chuckle, more at the face he made than at his words. He smiled a bit weakly in response. Sighing, she sat down on the bed next to him. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

    “I’m still sorry.”

    “You had no choice. If you had told me before, I’d have arrested you.”

    “You’d have tried,” he said, then blinked.

    She narrowed her eyes. They stared at each other. Hermione was certain she’d beat him in a battle. Wands were the best. “I’d have arrested you.” Or killed him.

    “Maybe.”

    If the room was not completely unsuitable for a duel, she would have proposed to have one right then and there. “Maybe we should duel, sometime.”

    He nodded, then shook his head. “Merlin! We’ve gone from being sorry to being ready to duel. Is that a bad sign?”

    She sniffed. “It would only be tactically sound to know each other’s capabilities before we enter combat.” When he stared at her in response, she had to chuckle.

    “I’m still sorry.”

    “Are you going to keep saying that?”

    “My brother Charlie told me that a wizard in a relationship will be saying it a lot. Dad says once you’re married, you’ll say ‘Yes, dear’ instead.” He grinned, taking the sting out of his words. Most of it at least.

    “Didn’t you tell me the twins were the exception in your family?” The Weasleys did sound like a peculiar family. They used to be neighbours of the Lovegoods; maybe there was something in the water there?

    “You’ll be able to judge that for yourself, once we’re done with Malfoy.”

    She nodded, and he smiled.

    They didn’t make love that night either, but they held each other.

    *****​

    London, September 9th, 1999, 20.05 hours

    “So, Hermione, we finally meet face to face!”

    “Good evening, Tonks.” Wand-Leader Hermione nodded at the witch after entering the Weasley’s safe house in London.

    Tonks turned to glare at Ron. “You told her about me!”

    “Of course I did,” the wizard answered. “I’d rather not have a misunderstanding.”

    “Hmph.” Hermione noticed that the metamorphmagus slightly changed her lips when she pouted. “Anyway, welcome to our merry band of spies! I’ve been dying to meet the witch who managed to seduce our master spy!”

    “It wasn’t like that!” Ron cut in.

    “Oh, so it was you who did the seducing, James Bond style?” Tonks wriggled her eyebrows at the wizard.

    “The details of our relationship are private,” Hermione said. Ron had said Tonks was much more professional in the field than she acted ‘back at the base’, which didn’t seem that hard given what she had seen so far. The muggleborn witch was not amused at the metamorphmagus joking about her relationship.

    “Wow. You sound like Percy!” Tonks frowned at Ron. “You made her sound much friendlier.”

    “I’ve recently found out that I’ve been lied to by the Minister all my life, and that my parents were murdered on his orders. Please forgive me for not joking around,” Hermione said in the coldest tone she could muster. Ron wrapped his arm around her waist in support.

    “I’m sorry.” The metamorphmagus had the grace to look ashamed. “I’m just the last of our group to meet you, so I got a bit…” she trailed off, shrugging.

    A slightly awkward pause followed.

    Ron broke it. “Actually, Harry’s the last one of our group whom she hasn’t met yet.”

    Hermione could see Tonks wanted to make a joke, but restrained herself. The Wand-Leader felt no small amount of satisfaction at seeing that. She also felt more than a bit petty, but she wasn’t in the mood for jokes and horsing around.

    “So… what’s up today? The message said we’d be taking part in a planning meeting?”

    “Dumbledore said ‘Operation Deep Penetration’ is a go for tomorrow night,” Tonks said.

    “I’m certain he didn’t call it that!” Ron said through clenched teeth.

    Hermione didn’t quite roll her eyes when Tonks smirked. Apparently, making jokes about something other than the Wand-Leader’s life and love life was alright in the metamorphmagus’s opinion.

    “It’s a fitting name for a James Bond mission!” The other witch insisted.

    “You plan to infiltrate the Ministry then. The Department of Mysteries, to be precise,” Hermione said.

    Tonks looked surprised. Before she could say anything, Ron cut in: “And that’s why we don’t let you name things. Code names shouldn’t be that obvious.”

    “Without knowing what your brother has been doing, I wouldn’t have come to the conclusion as quickly,” Hermione said.

    “But you would have, right?” Ron grinned.

    “I might have considered the Minister as a target too.”

    Tonks grumbled. “Well, it is the DoM. We’re going to enter the most secure place in Britain outside Gringotts.”

    “I can get you inside the Ministry,” Hermione said, adding ‘with some effort’ to herself, “but the Department of Mysteries is off-limits even to Wands.”

    “Don’t worry, the Professor has a cunning plan.”

    Ron snorted. Hermione frowned. “Do you think his plan will need to be improved?” It did seem rather hasty, seeing as she was not brought into this conspiracy until a few days ago.

    “You’ve never seen Black Adder, have you?” Tonks grinned at her.

    “Is that a movie or a TV show?” Hermione asked.

    “BBC TV show” Ron said. “Tonks loves it.”

    “Muggle culture is not permitted in Wizarding Britain,” Hermione said. He knew that already, of course.

    “That would have just made it more popular in our school,” the metamorphmagus said.

    Hermione had confiscated a number of muggle books at Hogwarts from delinquents, but she didn’t feel like mentioning that, so she simply nodded.

    “Anyway. Let’s get to France, Dumbledore can explain his plan better than I can!” Tonks said, making shooing gestures towards the entrance to the cellar.

    “You don’t know it either, do you?” Ron said.

    “Hmph!”

    Hermione really hoped that they were more professional in the field. Or in the Ministry, as it was. Wands joked around in their quarters, but not in the presence of outsiders. She blinked. Maybe they didn’t consider her an outsider.

    *****​

    Argelès-sur-Mer, France, September 9th, 1999, 21.00 hours

    “And that’s the Boy-Who-Lived, youngest seeker in a century at Beauxbatons, and fiancé of the star chaser of the Avignon Aigles, Harry Potter!” Ron Weasley said. “Harry, this is the youngest Wand-Leader of Britain, Hermione.”

    “Just Harry Potter,” his best friend said, shaking the hand of the witch and sending a glare to Ron.

    “Hermione.”

    “I have to point out that you didn’t deny anything,” Ron said, grinning.

    “How do you keep him under control?” Harry asked the witch, seemingly ignoring Ron.

    “The details of our relationship are private,” Hermione answered, though unlike when she had said the same to Tonks, she was smiling now. More than just being polite, at least. Ron was glad his best friend and his girlfriend seemed to be getting along well.

    “Ah, I guess that means I can’t use the same means. Not without his sister killing me, at least,” Harry said. “Mind you, sometimes it’d be worth it.”

    The witch snorted. Ron thought they might be getting along a bit too well.

    “Until Ron told me otherwise, I always thought that the story of the Boy-Who-Lived was a lie,” the witch said. Fishing for information, Ron knew.

    “Understandable, given what Malfoy did to you and the rest of Britain,” Harry said, neatly deflecting the implied question.

    “Where’s Sirius?” Ron asked. He’d have expected the wizard to be there with Harry, in case Hermione turned out to be a danger.

    “He was held up in the kitchen, I think.” Harry’s eyes flickered to the door, and Ron almost shook his head.

    “Here I am!” Sirius Black entered, as if he had heard his cue. Which he probably had - Ron was certain that the older wizard had been watching them disillusioned, or using Harry’s cloak. The wizard smiled widely, then bowed to kiss Hermione’s hand. “Sirius Black, at your service!”

    “Good evening, sir.”

    The witch looked surprised, and Ron reminded himself that she wasn’t used to being on the receiving end of pureblood politeness.

    “Call me Sirius! ‘Sir’ makes me feel old - and a wizard should never feel old in the presence of a beautiful witch.”

    Hermione nodded in response. She didn’t seem to be too impressed by the older wizard’s charm, Ron noted.

    Sirius must have noticed her reaction as well, and frowned at Ron. “I hope someone hasn’t been spreading rumours about me,” he said. “Baseless rumours, all of them! I’ve never left a witch unsatisfied,” he added, with a leering smile.

    “Mrs Malfoy seemed to differ, judging by what I overheard of her conversations,” the witch answered.

    Tonks made exaggerated sounds of surprise. “Just wait until I tell mum! Sirius and my aunt…”

    Sirius gaped. “I’ve never touched her!”

    “I was referring to the inheritance issue,” Hermione clarified. When Sirius smiled again, she added: “I’m certain she wouldn’t talk about past lovers in the company of Wands.”

    “I never had any relationship with Narcissa,” Sirius grumbled while Harry and Ron chuckled and Tonks was laughing. The wizard cocked his head. “Dumbledore has arrived. Let’s get up to the salon.”

    Ron sneaked a glance at Hermione as they followed Harry and Sirius upstairs. The witch had a faint smile on her face, which slowly changed to a serious expression. She might not be as outgoing as Tonks, but she would fit in with his friends, he thought.

    *****

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 10th, 1999, 06.45 hours

    “Good morning, Ralph.”

    Wand-Leader Hermione nodded at the wizard at the entrance of the Barracks. Ralph had been a year below her at Hogwarts, and was on his tour as a guard.

    “Good morning, Hermione. Early shift?”

    “I’m working on a case.”

    “Ah.”

    Ralph wouldn’t suspect anything - Hermione getting up early to work on case was not unusual. Nor was her working late. Wands were never off duty, after all. She felt guilty for deceiving him, despite how she had been deceived all her life. It just felt wrong to not tell the Corps the truth. She felt like a traitor.

    And she was nervous. The moon was rising right now, as far as the new moon could be said to rise. The Unspeakables had received the trapped artifact the day before. They could be starting their experiments any minute now, no matter how unlikely Dumbledore had said that would be. The Wand worried. The whole operation seemed too rushed to her, even though everyone else had taken it in stride - Harry Potter even had joked that he preferred not to wait too long, since he was in greater danger of dying from boredom while waiting than while infiltrating the Ministry.

    Well, he would have to wait for her signal. And she’d have to wait for the alert. After she had smuggled the vanishing cabinet that was currently in her pocket, shrunk, into the storage room. Its counterpart was in France, where Ron and the rest of the ‘Infiltration Team’ was waiting. Which was probably why Hermione was feeling so isolated, despite being surrounded by friends and comrades she had known for years.

    She didn’t head to the storage room right away. She headed to her office, and forced herself to sit down and read reports - shuffle parchment, Dean would call it - for half an hour, before ‘remembering’ that she needed some evidence.

    Then she went to the storage room. The one with the evidence from completed cases. The chance that someone else would visit it that day was very small. Not zero, sadly. She pulled the cabinet out and placed it in the corner. Hopefully, even if someone did visit the room that day, they’d mistake it for another filing cabinet. The Corps used to get a hodgepodge of equipment, early on, and the Ministry wasn’t much for standardisation anyway. She placed a case number on it - not from a case of hers, of course - grabbed the file she used as a cover, and left.

    The communication mirror in her right pocket felt very heavy while she walked back to her office. It would be a long day, waiting for the alert, wondering when it would go off, wondering if anyone would discover the cabinet…

    And she didn’t even have an interesting case to focus on.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 10th, 1999, 15.30 hours

    Ron Weasley couldn’t help feeling nervous when he stepped out of the vanishing cabinet. This was not like when they had been sneaking into Hogwarts. That had been a school, intimately known by the Professor, filled with students and teachers. This was the Ministry, in the middle of the day, filled with Aurors and Wands. He wasn’t greeted by hexes and curses, though, but a plain storage room, devoid of people. He could hear an alert in the background, shrill and loud. The plan was working, as far as he could tell.

    Behind him, Tonks stepped out of the cabinet, followed by Percy, Harry and Dumbledore. All of them were wearing the hooded robes of an Unspeakable. Once he opened the door, the alert was much louder. Somewhere out there, Hermione was acting like a good little Wand in an emergency, probably herding Ministry employees away from the lifts.

    “Let us be off, friends. We have no time to lose,” Dumbledore said. Percy took the lead, as the one familiar with the route. They reached the atrium without anyone questioning them, as expected. Few would try to stop an Unspeakable, much less five of them. Even less so in the middle of an emergency. Hermione would, Ron thought, if she suspected something. The witch was fortunately on their side.

    The group reached the lift and after a check with Harry that the Horcrux was in that direction, took it down to the Department of Mysteries. And to a tense situation. About a dozen Wands were in the corridor, facing the open entrance to the department. Reddish smoke was wafting out of the open door, and two Unspeakables were guarding it - from the looks of it, against the Wands. A third was stumbling out, part of his robes, and limbs, dissolving, Ron realised with a sinking feeling.

    Dumbledore took the lead and marched straight on, the Wands moving aside. “Take the man to St Mungo’s!” he ordered en passant, and two Wands all but leapt forward to grab the wounded wizard. The two Unspeakables at the door hadn’t moved a wand to help their colleague. Ron hoped that meant other Unspeakables were likely to ignore the group as well.

    The two guarding the entrance didn’t matter since Dumbledore had hit them both with an Imperius before they could react. While the Professor whispered instructions to them, Percy led the rest into the Department of Mysteries, past the massive iron door gleaming with runes inlaid in silver. More reddish smoke filled the hallways behind it. Bubble-Head Charms went up.

    “This direction!” Harry whispered, pointing ahead right when Dumbledore rejoined them.

    On the way, they reached a round room with twelve doors, two of them spewing red liquid out, which formed a rapidly growing pool on the floor.

    “Do not touch this,” Dumbledore cautioned them. “Harry?”

    Harry pointed to the left. “This direction.”

    “As expected,” the Professor commented, and led the group to the right.

    Doors didn’t lead where they should on this floor, Percy had told them. It still felt wrong to Ron. They gave the alchemical concoction a very wide berth. Ron had heard the twins gleefully describe what it did, and he didn’t fancy being dissolved and turned into more acidic poison, or poisonous acid. While being paralysed.

    Throught the rightmost door, they entered a hallway untouched by the deadly fluid, and Harry stumbled.

    “It’s right ahead,” he mumbled.

    “Augustus’s office.” Dumbledore nodded, then pulled out his wand. “The wards on the door are far from the ones that guard the department itself, but nevertheless it will take some time to alter them so we can pass through. Be vigilant.”

    That was ominous. Ron had his wand out, facing the door behind them. A few minutes later, the door opened. Another Unspeakable, her robe smoking in spots, rushed through, then stopped. “What…”

    She didn’t get any further before Ron and Tonks struck her down with Stunning Spells. He knelt down to check on her. The smoking spots on her robes were tiny, but spreading. Given some time, they would turn the robe, then the witch, into liquid. And spread further. Stone took far longer, but wouldn’t resist. He pulled out the vial of the catalyst that would render the concoction inert, and poured some on the robe. That liquid started to spread faster, and where it touched the smoking spots, they stopped spreading.

    “I don’t want to run into a part of the escape route turned into that, should we have to retreat,” he said, glancing at Tonks. He couldn’t tell if the metamorphmagus believed him or not, but she didn’t say anything against his action.

    More minutes passed. Ron imagined the red tide rising in the department. Filling hallways, until a door was carelessly opened. Maybe they should raise a dam, just to protect themselves, if the Professor took any longer. He trusted Dumbledore, but…

    “Done,” the old wizard announced. A flick of his wand pushed the door open.

    The office of Augustus Rookwood looked almost disappointingly normal. Banal, even. Shelves, an impressive, but ultimately normal desk, a few chairs, a seat behind the desk, and two doors. Harry held his forehead and pointed at the left door. This time, they took it.

    Rookwood’s laboratory, which that door revealed, was dimly lit but spacious. If not for the Bubble-Head Charm, Ron was certain his nose would have been assaulted with the stench of dozens of exotic compounds and ingredients, mixed together with dusky moldy tomes. He looked around, wand out, while Tonks guarded the door with Percy.

    Harry walked to the centre of the room, turning slowly around, then pointed at the far wall. “There.”

    “Hidden inside the wall?” Dumbledore asked.

    “I know - how unimaginative!” Harry said. “At least it’s not hidden behind a painting.”

    Ron snorted, and even Dumbledore chuckled. The Professor swished his wand, and the wall seemed to peel off, revealing a strongbox.

    “Not even a safe,” Harry muttered. “No respect for the classics.”

    “For a British pureblood wizard, that is a classic. Safes are a muggle thing, in their opinion,” Dumbledore pointed out.

    “I didn’t think that would stop a Death Eater from using it.”

    “Augustus might have been concerned about his public image,” Ron added, “if he planned to replace Malfoy one day.” And what traitorous Death Eater wouldn’t have planned on becoming Minister himself?

    “As fascinating as this speculation is, we are a bit pressed for time. The spells on this box are exceedingly strong.”

    “Not as strong as the ones on the ring inside.”

    Ron whirled around when he heard the voice. How had anyone been able to get past Percy and… He gasped when he saw a translucent witch floating in the corner. A ghost!

    “Pandora.” Dumbledore nodded towards her.

    “Headmaster.” The ghost bowed.

    “Not any longer. I am a mere Professor these days,” Dumbledore said.

    “And the leader of the British Exiles, here to destroy the Horcruxes of Voldemort.” The ghost floated closer. She looked familiar to Ron, somehow.

    “You are remarkably well informed for a dead person, my dear.” The old wizard glanced to the side. “Though if you are haunting this place, were you killed by Augustus, perchance?”

    The ghost shook her head. “No. I am bound to this place by the ring in the strongbox. Or rather, by the stone set in the ring.”

    Dumbledore jerked. “The stone?” He asked in a voice tenser than Ron had ever heard from him.

    The witch nodded. “Yes. Be warned though: It is cursed. To touch it means certain death.”

    “Quite considerate of you to warn me. I would not have expected this from a supporter of the Minister.”

    “I chose to stay in my home instead of going into exile to prepare for another war.” She shrugged. “And I chose a career in the Ministry, something denied to me before the change in regimes.”

    “You were banned from employment following a fatal accident.”

    She waved her hand. “I was cleared of all wrongdoing in the investigation. But since it was the nephew of that stupid cow Bagnold who had died due to his own idiocy and greed, I was blacklisted.”

    Harry coughed. “I don’t like to break up this touching reunion, but… Strongbox? Horcrux? Ring any bells?”

    Ron snorted at his best friends comment. Even the Professor seemed embarrassed.

    “You’re quite right, of course.” Dumbledore turned back to the ghost. “You would not be able to help with that task, would you?”

    “I could.” The ghost seemed to study her nails intently.

    “And what would you desire in return for your assistance? Revenge perhaps on whoever killed you?”

    Pandora scoffed. “What do you take me for, a fool? No. In exchange for my help, you will take care of my family. They will not be harmed or otherwise punished for choosing peace over exile. No matter what they did. Make up a lie about them helping you, if you need to.”

    “As you wish.”

    The ghost seemed surprised at Dumbledore’s quick acquiescence, and narrowed her eyes. Before she could say anything though, something exploded in the office next to them.

    *****​

    Ron Weasley cast a Shield Charm, then pulled the door open, getting out of the line of fire. Harry, shielded as well, jumped right through, into a roll. Not quite Gendarme standard, but it worked for him. Ron slid around the door, leading with his wand.

    Inside, Percy was on the floor, unmoving and bleeding. Tonks was staggering, as if drunk, and bleeding as well. From her mouth. In the middle of the room stood an Unspeakable, exchanging spells with Harry. Another was entering the office from the hallway.

    Ron cast a Reductor Curse at the door, more to distract the second enemy, and followed it up with two Piercing Curses and one Sticking Charm aimed at the floor. The Unspeakable’s Shield Charm deflected his curses easily, but the explosion must have made him - no, her - miss the third spell, and she stepped on the patch Ron had aimed at, becoming stuck.

    It didn’t take the witch more than a second to cancel the spell, but that was enough for Ron. He cast two more Piercing Curses as he rushed the woman, shattering her shield just before he crashed into her, slamming the witch into the wall and grabbing her wand hand while his own wand dug into her throat.

    “Reducto!”

    The spell decapitated the witch, showering the wall behind him with blood and gore. Ron checked the hallway - empty - and was about to turn away and help Harry when something grabbed his leg and swung him around, into the next wall. His shield took the brunt of the impact, but pain shot through his leg when the grip tightened. He screamed, and twisted around.

    A tentacle as thick as his arm was wrapped around his leg, crushing it. Other tentacles were flailing around, battering Harry’s shield. All were sprouting from the floor, where Rookwood’s desk had stood. It hadn’t been that normal, after all, Ron thought.

    “Diffindo!”

    His desperate Cutting Curse sliced into the tentacle, right when he was swung around again, and he crashed into the next wall, trailing a severed slimy appendage. This time it hurt even more, his leg must have been broken in multiple spots - or crushed. He was in so much pain, he didn’t feel worse when he hit the floor.

    Another tentacle moved towards him, and all he could do was to cast a Shield Charm. Before it hit his shield though, it suddenly vanished. Then the Unspeakable in the room started screaming. Ron stared while the man’s legs dissolved and he fell, into the puddle of red liquid that had been his limbs a few seconds ago. His flailing arms followed, then his torso, and finally his head. Ron hoped the man had been dead already by then, but it had happened so quickly…

    Dumbledore strode into the room and threw a vial in the air. He flicked his wand, and the vial grew, then emptied clear liquid over the red puddle. The alchemical concoction stopped hissing at once.

    “Merlin! You didn’t tell us how fast it was, Professor,” Harry said, in a shaking voice. Ron’s friend looked battered himself, but he could still stand.

    “Just as the right catalyst can speed up the reaction that would have rendered it inert after being exposed to air for an hour, another can make it react far more aggressively,” the alchemist explained while running his wand over Percy. Percy!

    “Your brother will live, Mister Weasley, but he’s been the victim of quite a nasty curse. I’ve stopped it, for now, but to remove it will take the efforts of a dedicated Healer, I think.” The old wizard said.

    Ron sighed with relief.

    “I’ve been hit as well,” Tonks said, shaking still. “Just not as…” After another wave from the old wizard she sighed in relief. “That curse tried to rearrange my organs. I managed to stop it, but…”

    Ron felt ill, thinking what Percy must have suffered. He almost forgot his own pain, until Harry walked over and turned his pants to stone for a crude splint and bandage.

    “If you had fought like this, maybe you’d have defeated the Dark Lord 20 years ago,” the ghost remarked.

    “Why would you think I did not?” Dumbledore answered. “But let us retrieve what we came for, and leave the premises.”

    “At least no one is likely to stop us ‘evacuating our wounded’,” Harry said, while the ghost and Dumbledore went back to the laboratory.

    “They better not!” Ron spat out.

    Tonks transfigured the remains of the desk into two stretchers, then levitated Percy on one while Harry did the same to Ron.

    “Just lie back and enjoy the ride,” his friend said, grinning.

    “Do you say the same to Ginny?” Tonks asked. “Or is that her line?”

    Ron groaned, more to humour her. Seeing that the metamorphmagus was back to her usual self, or faking it close enough, was a relief after seeing her shaking and … he closed his eyes.

    Dumbledore returned. “Ah, good. We’ll follow Harry’s plan. Our robes certainly look battered enough to lend credence to our cover.” He looked around. “Hopefully, Augustus’s death will be blamed on his own experiments. Our ghostly ally will join us later.”

    The ride back was more nerve-wracking than Ron had hoped for. They had to deal with the red tide, as he was thinking of the fluid, twice. Then they reached the exit. If someone had discovered the Imperius on the two guards…

    But no one had. And no one tried to stop a group of Unspeakables evacuating. The Wands even cleared the lift for them. A short ride later, they were in the atrium, on the way to the Apparition point where Dumbledore’s portkey would take them back to France.
     
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  23. Threadmarks: Chapter 12: Ripples
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 12: Ripples

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 10th, 1999, 16.15 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione felt the mirror in her pocket vibrate three times. The signal that Ron and the others had safely arrived back in France. She was relieved, but didn’t show it - the Ministry was still in turmoil. No one knew what had caused the disaster in the Department of Mysteries, only that the entire floor had been evacuated, and that multiple Unspeakables had been brought to St. Mungo’s for emergency treatment.

    The muggleborn witch was waiting in the atrium with her team, looking at the Aurors arguing with an Unspeakable. Apparently, the two Unspeakables guarding the entrance were still refusing to let anyone but their colleagues inside. No one could get hold of the Head Unspeakable, Augustus Rookwood, and the Minister had been moved to his home at the first sign of trouble by his security detail.

    Which meant that Dawlish’s attempts to take over the investigation were not only premature, but doomed from the start. Hermione shook her head when a particularly loud yell from the argument the Head Auror was having with the Unspeakable reached her ears.

    “Dean, keep an eye on the situation. Call me as soon as something changes. I’ve better things to do than wait until the Minister sets the idiots straight,” she said. She had to remove the vanishing cabinet as soon as possible from the storage room, after all. “Colin, see if you can take a few pictures of the atrium.” Preferably showing Dawlish making a fool of himself, she thought.

    “Do you think we’ll get to investigate it?” Dean asked.

    “If Rookwood is dead or incapacitated, which seems likely since no one has seen him since the alert, then the Minister will send us to investigate,” Hermione said. He certainly wouldn’t send Dawlish’s fools down there. “Though,” she amended, “maybe not our team.”

    They had been doing criminal investigations, not disasters or accidents, almost exclusively since they had been formed. But if her team was ordered to investigate, then she’d know that the Minister suspected the Dark Lord was involved. Sabotage would be suspected soon enough. Dumbledore claimed he had a method to fudge the portkey logs, but a thorough investigation would reveal that the last group of evacuated Unspeakables never arrived at St Mungo’s.

    “Right.” Dean nodded.

    “I’ll check on Luna, then finish my current case.”

    Her friend was standing at the back of the crowd on her tiptoes, trying to watch everything. She looked rather concerned too - she was likely worrying about her friends. Hermione nodded at Dean, then walked towards the blonde witch. Colin was already taking pictures. The young wizard didn’t need to be told twice to use his camera.

    “Hermione!” Luna hugged her as soon as the blonde witch spotted her. Yes, Hermione’s friend had definitely been worried about her. Of course, since she didn’t work for the Ministry, Luna couldn’t have known that Wands were not allowed to enter the Department of Mysteries, and therefore unlikely to be involved in the disaster. “What happened? Did the dragon that attacked Diagon Alley escape from custody?” the younger witch asked.

    “We don’t know anything yet. The Unspeakables refuse to let anyone enter.” Hermione patted Luna’s back and her friend calmed down and released her.

    “Oh… maybe their Lycanthropic Albanian Bubotuber used the power of the new moon to grow faster than their spells could cut it down?”

    Hermione smiled. Luna was back to her normal self. “We’ll find out as soon as the Minister returns.”

    “Oh… isn’t it safe yet? He could send Draco down first, to check. He would do something useful that way!”

    Hermione scolded her friend. “Don’t let the Minister hear that!” She didn’t trust the man anymore; who knew how a man who ordered her parents killed would react to such a comment? If something happened to Luna…

    “Hmph.” Luna pouted. “Will you be investigating the scene?”

    “I think I might be involved, but another team will have the lead. Probably Benjamin’s.” The older Wand-Leader had investigated a number of magical disasters, including the explosion that destroyed an illegal brewing operation in Hogsmeade over a year ago. Hermione had guarded the scene then, one of her first missions as a new Wand.

    “Oh.” Luna looked around. “Daddy should be around soon. He’ll love to write an article about this!”

    “I’ll be right back. I want to clear my desk, in case I get involved in the investigation.”

    Luna nodded sagely. “Good thinking! Daddy always says that good organisation and precise preparation are the foundation of any investigation!”

    Hermione smiled at her friend, and left to remove all traces of her own involvement with the crime. And, maybe, make a quick call to check on Ron.

    *****​

    Outside Argelès-sur-Mer, France, September 10th, 1999, 18.48 hours

    Ron Weasley, lying in the bed in his usual room in Sirius’s house, ground his teeth and hissed under his breath as the Skele-Gro was restoring the bones in his leg. As he had feared, they had not just been broken, but crushed, so the potion would take the whole night to work. Which meant he’d feel as if a thousand needles were pricking his skin for hours.

    He wouldn’t complain though. Not with Percy and Tonks in the Emergency Ward in the Hôpital Hermétique in Paris. If not for some quick spellwork from Dumbledore, his brother would have died. What Ron had overheard... organs moving around inside his body, changing, breaking up, acid, blood and bile mixing… not even the Skele-Gro had caused him to retch like that. Tonks had been able to withstand the effect to some degree, thanks to her talent, but she would need days to recover. Percy would be lucky to be back on his feet in a month or two. But both would live, and that was all that counted.

    Harry and Dumbledore had been the only ones to come through unscathed. Relatively unscathed, in Harry’s case. Until now.

    Ron could hear them coming. He glanced over to where Harry was sitting. “Been nice knowing you, mec,” he tried to joke.

    Harry grinned. Then the door was thrown open, and Ginny stormed inside, followed by another Harry. Ron’s sister made a beeline towards Harry, jumping on his lap and hugging him so hard, everyone could tell she was their mum’s daughter. The kiss that followed wasn’t anything Ron wanted to associate with his mum though.

    He looked at the other Harry. “Shouldn’t you be intervening? Berating Harry for going on a dangerous mission without you?” He had expected both of them to rip into Harry, like they had after his infamous ‘crashing catch’ in his last Quidditch season at Beauxbatons. Sirius had wanted to come with them and it had taken Dumbledore to convince him otherwise. The Professor had insisted on taking only the people essential to the mission: Percy for his knowledge of the DoM, Harry for his ability to sense the Horcrux, Dumbledore because he was Dumbledore. Tonks because she could impersonate anyone at a moment’s notice, which could be a lifesaver in a pinch. And Ron himself, so Hermione had an additional incentive not to betray them. Dumbledore had worded it a bit more diplomatically, of course.

    Sirius Black shook his head. “I agreed with the plan. Helps his cover, and keeps the rumours of a split between the Red Spitfire and the Boy-Who-Should-Have-Gone-Pro at bay. I was the only one available who wasn’t needed on the mission, and who knows Harry well enough to impersonate him.” He leered suddenly. “And I got to spend an afternoon with a lovely young witch, and show her just how much more charming, suave and stylish I am than my reckless godson.”

    Ron saw Harry glare at the older wizard. “And so much older.”

    The wizard pouted in a very Sirius way, which was creepy to see Harry do.

    “Don’t worry, after I told him I’d hex him into a poodle if he misbehaved, he was the perfect gentleman.” Ginny had broken off the kiss with Ron’s friend. “He’s still scared of redheads,” she added with a smirk.

    “I’m not!” Sirius, still looking like Harry, exclaimed.

    Lily Potter and Molly Weasley had left an impression, Ron thought.

    His sister sniffed. “I’m still not that clear why Harry needed to be seen while this went on. Even if Dumbledore said he had his reasons. Where is he anyway?”

    “Went back to Beauxbatons,” Harry said. He had his arms wrapped around Ginny’s waist.

    Voldemort knew that it had been Harry who had defeated him the last time, so it made sense that he’d keep him under observation. As long as Harry seemed to live the easy life of a member of the jeunesse dorée, spending his godfather’s gold for idle diversions, the Dark Lord would focus on Malfoy. Hopefully. Ron didn’t think the ruse would last that long. He hoped it wouldn’t need to last that long. There was just one Horcrux left.

    Harry and Ginny went back to kissing and whispering, and checking each other for bruises and wounds - Ginny had had a training session dodging bludgers.

    “I should quit Quidditch,” Ginny said suddenly. “We could elope, and no one would expect us to appear in public for a month or two. We would be free to focus on the Dark Lord.” She was grinning, making it sound like a joke, but Ron knew his sister. She was more serious than she wanted to appear.

    He rolled his eyes. “Mum would hunt you down. And if she didn’t no one would believe you had eloped.”

    Ginny stuck her tongue out at him. She didn’t see Harry’s relieved expression behind her back. It wasn’t the marriage, Ron knew, but the possibility that Ginny would get involved in the battle against Voldemort that scared his friend. He closed his eyes. His leg hurt terribly, he had almost been killed a few hours ago, his brother was in emergency care. He wasn’t in the mood to see Harry and Ginny get into a row over his friend’s overprotectiveness. As the youngest child of seven, and the only girl, his sister had a chip on her shoulder the size of the Eiffel Tower.

    He pulled out his mirror. “I’m calling Hermione.”

    Ginny jumped up from Harry’s lap and darted over to his bed. “Oh! The mysterious witch who caught my brother’s heart!”

    “Someone’s been reading robe rippers again,” Harry said dryly.

    Ginny scoffed. “What else would fit the situation? Two enemies, falling in love, discovering a tragic past, and working together for a better future.”

    “Someone has been talking far too much about my love life,” Ron muttered.

    “We just worry about you, Ron.” Ginny said. “It’s also nice to see everyone focusing on another couple for a change.”

    “And it’s amusing,” Harry added with a grin.

    “If you are going to be like that, I’ll not call her until you’ve left,” Ron threatened.

    Ginny sat straight and folded her hands in her lap. “I’ll be good!” she said, grinning exaggeratedly.

    Ron patted her shoulder. She was trying too hard, he thought. Acting perky and flirty and cheerful. They all were, he realised. Gallows humour. He was familiar with it, from his time in the Gendarmerie. His sister shouldn’t be familiar with it, he thought.

    “You know, I don’t want to disturb her in the middle of something. She’ll call once she can.” He nodded at his friend. “Harry needs to rest anyway. Healer’s orders.”

    After Ginny had dragged Harry off to his room, where they wouldn’t get to rest for a while, Ron suspected, and Sirius had left to check the kitchen - more likely the wine cellar - he leaned back and held the mirror up.

    Hopefully, she’d call soon.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 10th, 1999, 20.30 hours

    “Why, hello cherie!”

    Wand-Leader Hermione Granger closed the door behind her, then nodded at the wizard in Ron’s room in the Leaky Cauldron. She didn’t know who it was. Fred and George were difficult to tell apart when they were next to each other. With one of them alone and polyjuiced into Ron, it was impossible. She didn’t care either. She wanted to talk to Ron, not to one of his brothers. She needed to know how he was doing, if he had been hurt.

    The witch pulled out the shrunken cabinet from her pocket and handed it over. To his credit, Ron’s brother didn’t try to make jokes, or act like Ron. “I heard from France,” he said instead. “Everyone lived. Ron’s not hurt seriously.”

    “Thank you,” Hermione managed to say. Ron had been hurt then. She was used to friends getting hurt. Had been trained to expect it. And yet this felt like a blow to her stomach.

    “Were there any problems on your side?”

    She shook her head. “The senior team of the Investigative Branch is on the case. I expect to be called in as well, once they discover the sabotage.”

    He didn’t question that this would happen. Another point for him. “Will you be in danger?”

    “That is unlikely. Vanishing cabinets do not leave traces. The only way to connect me to them is if anyone saw the Unspeakables leave the storage room, and then check the records for my own visits there. They will have to interrogate far too many witnesses to reconstruct that.” And by the time they managed that, Hermione suspected that the Minister would have been dealt with.

    She turned away and pulled out the communication mirror, then cast a privacy spell. She didn’t want anyone to overhear her conversation. Then she tapped the mirror.

    It lit up almost at once, and Ron’s face appeared in it. “Hermione.”

    “Ron.” She could see that he was in bed, propped up by pillows. It was a normal bed though, not one in a clinic. “How badly are you hurt?”

    Ron winced, then frowned. “I see my brother’s been talking.” He sighed. “Not very. The bones in my right leg are currently regrowing. I’ll be back on my feet and in Britain tomorrow, right on schedule.”

    Skele-Gro. She knew just how painful that was, from training. Some of the older instructors pulled no punches when they were teaching muggleborns. But Ron was acting as if it didn’t hurt, and so she simply nodded, accepting his words. “How are the others?” she asked.

    “Harry’s fine. Some bruises, minor stuff. My sister is making certain that he’s resting. I hope.” He grinned.

    She snorted.

    Ron grew serious again. “Percy and Tonks are in the Hôpital Hermétique. Badly cursed, both. They will live, but Tonks will take weeks, Percy months to recover.”

    Hermione didn’t ask if there would be lasting damage. There usually was with serious curses.

    “It was Rookwood himself. Took the two of them down, almost got me, before Dumbledore killed him.”

    She hissed. Ron had come really close to dying then. She controlled herself. She wouldn’t make a scene. Especially not with his brother in the room. “Did anyone see you leaving the storage room?”

    He closed his eyes briefly, then said “No. No one saw us. Unless they were invisible, and I think the Professor would have spotted those.”

    “Good. Then there’s no chance they’ll connect this to me.”

    That had him smiling widely, his relief evident on his face. Which caused her to smile. She wished she could go through the cabinet and visit him. Just for a few minutes. But she couldn’t. If the Corps called her, which wasn’t unlikely given what had happened, and she was in France, out of reach… or they entered the room, and she wasn’t there, and the cabinet was… Ron would be back tomorrow.

    “Ginny wants to meet you.”

    “Your sister?”

    “Yes.”

    “Will she be replacing Percy or Tonks?”

    He shook his head. “No. She’d probably like to, but she can’t. She’s Harry’s cover. Probably literally right now.”

    She had to snort at that. And once again fight the wish to visit him straight away. She told herself he was too hurt anyway.

    “So…” he said, “don’t let my brother annoy you too much.”

    “Should I be worried?”

    “I’m more worried for him.” He grinned. “Love you.”

    “Love you.” She placed a kiss on the mirror before it went blank, and felt like a first year discovering sappy novels. Again.

    *****​

    Beauxbatons, France, September 10th, 1999, 22.15 hours

    Albus Dumbledore used a spell to take the ring out of the strongbox and set it down on the marble table he used for experiments in his laboratory. A brief glimpse had already revealed that the curse on it was fiendishly strong, and clever. To think that Augustus had been using it…

    “Impressive, isn’t it?”

    Albus slowly turned his head to look at the ghost floating next to him. “If you care for the Dark Arts, maybe. I would pick another word to describe those curses,” he said, his voice carefully neutral.

    Pandora’s ghost laughed. “Magic is magic. You can admire spellwork without judging the caster’s morals.”

    A very Ravenclaw view, Albus knew. A view he had tried to change, in his days. Without success, as this former student of his illustrated. “Even after you have been bound with this,“ he pointed at the stone, “you have not changed your views?”

    Once more the ghost laughed. “Why should I? I’m just an imprint of the witch I was. Her soul has entered the afterlife.”

    That surprised him. He wouldn’t have expected the witch he had known to show such faith. “You changed then, after I went into exile.”

    “No. You simply did not know me. You saw what you expected, and never looked past it.”

    “Maybe.” She did stay in Britain when Albus and the Order went into exile, after all.

    She sniffed, but didn’t continue the topic. “You know what this is, do you?” she said, floating over to the cursed ring.

    “Yes. Both the ring, and the stone.”

    “And you know how to destroy them.”

    “Yes.” He wasn’t planning to destroy both though.

    “But you won’t, or you’d already have dropped some Basilisk poison on both, instead of wondering about the curses on the ring.”

    He didn’t answer. There was no need to.

    “Rookwood told himself that he was researching a way to destroy all of them in one blow. Or a way to find the Dark Lord’s soul, and bind it. What’s your excuse?” The ghost sounded as if she was mocking him. “Are you searching for all three of them? Chasing legends? Like my husband, in his youth?”

    “No.” He shook his head.

    “Lying to me, or to yourself already?” She laughed once again, then suddenly froze. “Unless… you found the other two already!” She sounded excited. “That’s why you want to undo the curses! You want to save the stone! Merlin, the three Hallows, united!”

    “It would be a shame to destroy such an artifact, but I will not unite them.” Not unless there was no other way to deal with the last of the anchors.

    “And you think you can resist its lure? The power it offers?”

    “I learned my lesson decades ago.”

    “You might have. Others haven’t.”

    “And they will not find it.” Nicolas had been protecting a far more tempting target for centuries. His old mentor and friend would keep the stone safe as well.

    She didn’t believe him. Her expression made that obvious.

    “Did Augustus kill you?” he asked, to change the topic.

    “No.” Her response was curt, and she looked angry.

    He simply waited, studying the curses on the ring. Pandora had shown him how to disable the defenses of the strongbox, but not those on the ring itself.

    “Lucius did,” the ghost spat out.

    “Did you know too much?”

    She didn’t answer, just sneered.

    He didn’t mention that she’d still be alive if she had chosen exile. There was no need to be cruel. “That is why Augustus bound you; to find out about the Minister’s plans.”

    “An obvious deduction, Headmaster.”

    “What did Lucius try to keep a secret?”

    “That the Dark Lord had made Horcruxes. Something Augustus already knew,” she added, in a mix of amusement and bitterness.

    “But you knew more about Lucius.”

    “Yes.”

    It couldn’t be that useful, or she would have offered it as a trade for something already. Or simply to improve her family’s fortunes. On the other hand, she might just be testing the waters, and she would have certainly learned more about Augustus’s plans as well.

    “Lucius had one of those Horcruxes, a diary. He asked me to research means to destroy it, without telling me what it was.”

    “And you figured it out.”

    “I did.” Obvious pride was audible in her voice. “And he figured out that I had figured it out.”

    He didn’t ask how she had died. Since her family was still alive, Lucius must have known that she hadn’t told them. And he would have used very drastic means to find out.

    “Do you wish to be released, once I have separated them?”

    The ghost hesitated, and for a second Albus thought he saw through her mask. Then she nodded slowly. “But I want to see my family before that.”

    Perhaps she had not quite as much faith in her claims of being simply an echo, then.

    “As you wish. It might take a bit of time though. They’re currently staying in the Ministry after their house was destroyed by the Dark Lord. Both are safe and healthy,” he added, after he saw her expression darken.

    *****​

    Outside Argelès-sur-Mer, France, September 11th, 1999, 06.35 hours

    Ron Weasley took careful steps on his way to the kitchen in Sirius’s house. His leg still felt rather delicate, even though any medical charm would claim its bones had been fully restored. It simply was hard to forget how it had felt without any bones. Like a bag of meat. Or skin.

    To his surprise, Ginny was in the kitchen, despite the early hour. Then he saw that his sister was cooking, and it made sense.

    “Going to serve Harry breakfast in bed?”

    The redhead jerked, then turned around, glaring at him. “Don’t sneak up on me!”

    “And a good morning to you, ma petite!”

    That nickname she couldn’t stand earned him another glare. He grinned and made himself some tea, then grabbed a pair of croissants. “Ah… I missed this.”

    “Mum would say you’re not eating right,” Ginny said.

    “I’m not drinking coffee, am I?” Mum had never been fond of French food, but seven years at Beauxbatons meant all her children had grown to like it. He lifted his head a bit. “Besides, that’s not exactly a typical English breakfast you’re cooking.”

    Ginny stuck her tongue out at him, then turned back to cooking. After a while she asked: “WIll you be visiting mum and dad before you return?”

    “I can’t,” he said, without hesitation. “Either Fred or George is filling in for me, but they can’t keep drinking Polyjuice.”

    “You don’t want to meet mum;” she accused him.

    He didn’t. Not right after Percy had been hurt like this. “I have a mission. They know I’m fine.”

    “They know you’re not hurt seriously enough to require a stay at the hôpital. That’s not the same.”

    “I wasn’t in any worse shape than after a rough Quidditch match,” Ron said.

    “Mum will still worry.”

    “I know. But this is important. They need me. More than ever, with Tonks and Percy out of action for a while.”

    “You mean she needs you. Hermione.”

    Ron couldn’t tell if Ginny disapproved of what she suspected. He shrugged. “If she has to spend too long in the company of the twins, she might develop an aversion to our family.”

    Ginny snorted, then narrowed her eyes. “You’re that serious about her?”

    “Well… “ He had been thinking about it. And she had been thinking about it as well. But he didn’t know how seriously. And the fact that he had been lying to her for so long wasn’t helping.

    “I really need to meet her,” Ginny interrupted his thoughts. “You haven’t been this hung up over a girl since Fleur.”

    He rolled his eyes at her. “I was twelve at the time.”

    She snorted. After checking the pot she was making porridge in, she sat down across from Ron. “I envy you, you know.”

    “Why?” He finished his second croissant and pointed his wand at the basket with the others, summoning a third.

    “You and your girlfriend are fighting side by side. I have to watch Harry go off to Britain while I’m staying back in France.”

    And a good thing that was! Ron thought. “He’s not exactly alone. He’s always with at least Dumbledore, and usually with the rest of us as well.”

    “I hate waiting, worrying, being useless.” Ginny flicked her wand at the self-stirring rod in the porridge, adding a few more rotations.

    Ron didn’t comment on her using Potions equipment in the kitchen. “You’re not useless.” He checked if anyone was nearby, then leaned forward. “Without you, Harry might do something too reckless. You know how he is. He needs a keeper sometimes. And I don’t mean to guard the hoops.”

    “I’m a chaser.”

    “You certainly chased him,” Ron said, then held up his hands when his sister started to frown. “Calm down, it was a joke. He needs you. He’d sacrifice himself for everyone of us, but you’re the one he’ll survive for.”

    She sighed, but he saw her smile a bit. “I know. I still… I want to do more.”

    “So do Bill and Charlie. And yet they know they can’t.” He grinned. “Shouldn’t have been so good at Quidditch, ma petite.”

    She looked down. “It’s what made Harry interested.”

    Ron sighed. Ginny was, beneath her confident attitude, still a tad insecure. “That again? I told you, Harry’s not that shallow.”

    “He doesn’t want me to quit,” she said, slightly morosely.

    “Of course he doesn’t! He knows you love it. And as any Quidditch fan, he knows it would be a crime for you to quit the sport.” And, Ron added to himself, it kept her safely out of the war.

    Ginny scoffed. “He has no leg to stand on, being the best seeker in a century and not going pro.”

    “You know why he isn’t going pro.”

    “He wants to finish Voldemort off first. Protect us all from that menace,” Ginny said. “He’s too damn noble.” She scowled. “I wish this stupid prophecy didn’t exist.”

    Ron shrugged. “We’re making progress.” One more Horcrux left. Then Dumbledore and Harry could kill Voldemort.

    “You’re also getting hurt!” She stood up. “Don’t you worry about your girlfriend? She could get killed any day!”

    He didn’t stand up, but frowned at her. “Of course I worry about Hermione! But what can I do? She’s not going to quit and hide. She’s not that kind of witch.” Quite the contrary. And, a small voice inside his head added, she was too useful for the mission now.

    Ginny seemed to deflate. “And Harry’s not the wizard to up and quit either. We’ve got the worst taste in partners!”

    “Some would say we’ve got the best taste.”

    Ginny chuckled at that, then looked at the pot on the stove. “Merde! I almost forgot about the porridge!”

    While his sister started to hastily gather all the dishes for the breakfast in bed, Ron shook his head, gently smiling. And thinking of Hermione. Maybe he should try serving breakfast in bed as well. Though a French breakfast, he thought.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 11th, 1999, 10.30 hours

    Lucius Malfoy was pacing in his office. He was alone, so there was no need to present the image of a calm, collected leader to others. The Minister for Magic was anything but calm and collected. The Department of Mysteries had been devastated! Whether by sabotage, an attack, or an accident was unknown, yet. And Augustus had disappeared. Was his rival dead, or had he fled, hoping he would be thought dead? Or was he simply hiding until he was certain this hadn’t been an assassination attempt?

    Lucius stopped pacing and glanced at his desk. Parchment was piling up. He had read the most important reports already, of course, those from his investigators. But they hadn’t found out much yet - the area was still deemed unsafe by Augustus’s people. The Wands had found out that a group of Unspeakables had vanished though - the group had not arrived in St Mungo’s, as the guards had thought, but had been portkeyed somewhere else. An untraceable Portkey. Such things were very rare. If Augustus had been with them…

    Lucius started to pace again. He didn’t think Augustus would have died in an accident. The man was far too cautious for that. Assassination, on the other hand, was possible, but difficult - Lucius knew very well just how difficult it was; he had made plans for a long time, just in case, and hadn’t found one that he would have considered likely to succeed.

    So, who could have killed Augustus? One of his own Unspeakables? It was possible. They would have been the only ones regularly meeting him, and they worked where he lived. Lucius had considered bribing one of them himself, but he had had trouble finding one. And even if he had found one, he would have had to find a way to approach them without risking discovery. If Augustus had found out, he would have retaliated. Had it been a colleague, then it was possible that they had acted out of ambition, or resentment, of course. But Lucius didn’t think that that was too likely. And the thought that someone else had succeeded where Lucius had failed was disturbing.

    If Augustus was dead. Lucius didn’t know, and hated his ignorance. And hated how vulnerable he felt. He wanted more guards around him, but he couldn’t let them see him like this, much less observe his upcoming meeting.

    A knock at the door interrupted his pacing and thinking. He sat down before answering.

    “Yes?”

    Greengrass peered inside. “Your advisor has arrived, sir.”

    Finally! “Send him in please, Daphne.”

    “Yes sir.”

    Severus entered, looking as grim as ever. He’d better have good news for Lucius!

    As soon as the door was closed and the privacy spells cast, the Minister said: “You heard about the Department of Mysteries.”

    “Yes.” Severus nodded.

    Lucius waited, rubbing his artificial hand.

    “I haven’t spoken to the Dark Lord yet. I had no reason to suspect that he might have been planning this though. I’m, sadly, not privy to all of his plans.”

    Lucius had no stomach for the cautious remarks of his spy. Not today. He needed answers. Facts. “What do you think? Was this his work?”

    “I would have expected him to consult me, should he have planned this. I am, after all, his best source inside the Ministry. Or so I assume. But I cannot exclude the possibility that he has another source, closer to Augustus.”

    For a moment, Lucius feared that Augustus himself had betrayed them to the Dark Lord. Then he dismissed the notion. The leader of the Department of Mysteries wouldn’t have arranged such an accident, but would have stayed at his post and struck at Lucius instead.

    He nodded. “Do you think Augustus is dead?”

    Severus shook his head. “If he was killed by the Dark Lord, we would have found his mark floating over the body I believe. It would have been a huge blow to the public’s faith in the Ministry. If another Unspeakable had killed him, he’d have left evidence of the man’s death. Uncertainty would delay the promotion of a new Department Head.”

    “Unless such confusion plays into the hand of the assassin,” Lucius pointed out.

    The potioneer nodded, conceding the point. “That is always a possibility.”

    “But why did Augustus flee then? To escape an assassin?”

    “I believe it is more likely that there was an accident, and he fled before he suffered the consequences.”

    Lucius nodded. He knew his spy wasn’t talking about the magical effects. “You think the investigation will uncover a plot against me?”

    “I think no matter how well he covered his tracks, the fact that the entire Ministry was almost devastated by his failure would have allowed your Wands to find any evidence you needed to deal with him.”

    Lucius smiled. “Maybe. My Wands are often too scrupulously honest to find the evidence I need.”

    “You raised them that way.”

    “I did, yes.” And overall, it was for the best. He wouldn’t be safe if his Wands started to get a taste for intrigue. “If Augustus has fled though, where would he go?” Lucius’s former comrade wasn’t the kind of wizard to spend his entire life hiding.

    “There are a number of countries who’d welcome the former Head of the Department of Mysteries,” Severus pointed out.

    “Not many would do so openly though.” Lucius shook his head. “And I know him well. He would not want to give up on Britain. His life’s work was here, in the bowels of his Department. No, he wants to return. And there are only two ways he could have a chance at returning to his former position.”

    “The Dark Lord. Or Dumbledore.” Severus nodded.

    “Would the Dark Lord take him back?”

    Severus paused. “I would not say it is impossible, but the Dark Lord does not suffer betrayal. And yet… he hates you the most, so he might offer Augustus a deal.”

    “Which the Dark Lord will break, of course.” Lucius scoffed. “But what about Dumbledore? He was not one to refuse a man a chance to redeem himself.”

    “I do not know that much about Dumbledore,” Severus said. “But has he done anything in the last two decades? And would Augustus’s flight be enough to make him go to war? Last I heard, France was holding firm to their policy of non-involvement in British affairs, and made this clear to the exiles.”

    “Did you hear this at the Dark Lord’s court?” Lucius asked. Severus was correct about the French policy towards Britain’s exiles. They had assured the Minister several times that France would not condone Dumbledore turning their country into a staging ground for a civil war. But would that have changed after a civil war had started in Britain anyway? And if the French believed that Lucius’s government would fall?

    “I looked into the matter after I overheard a few of the Dark Lord’s remarks about his old foe.” Severus winced. “He did not seem concerned about the possibility of Dumbledore challenging him again.”

    “Do you think we could set them against each other?” To see both of them destroy each other… that would be a neat way to end this war.

    “Voldemort avoided facing him in the last war. If he were to do the same again, would Dumbledore try to hunt him down, or would he turn against you?” Severus asked.

    Lucius pressed his lips together. While his claim that the Dark Lord had gone insane and had become a danger to Britain had worked, it had also caused people to think of the Dark Lord’s enemies in a better light. It was not unthinkable that they would turn to the old wizard, should they lose faith in the Ministry. Especially if the current threat to the Ministry seemed to fear Dumbledore.

    On the other hand, if Dumbledore returned as an ally of the Ministry against this ‘Half-Naga’, this would certainly boost the morale of the public. Lucius could portray himself as offering his hand to the exiles, after two decades of separation, in exchange for working together against a new threat. More curse fodder would be useful, and a lot could happen in a war, after all.

    But would such a move make him look too weak, instead of wise? And how far could he trust Dumbledore? Contrary to the man’s image, he had been a politician for decades. And how would the Wands react when suddenly traitors were allies? Would they also believe their tales about the muggle world? Could his Wands handle orders to ally with the exiles, yet not trust their words, without losing their trust in him? Could Lucius risk that?

    He shook his head. He couldn’t. “He would turn against us. But only if he hadn’t a much more urgent problem to deal with.”

    Severus raised his eyebrows. “The Horcruxes.”

    “Yes.” Augustus had said he was close to a breakthrough. He had been saying this for some time, of course, but Augustus would have made an honest effort, if only to protect himself. He still would make an effort, if he was still alive. But for now, Augustus was not available anymore. Lucius wasn’t a researcher. He needed help to find and destroy the Dark Lord’s remaining Horcruxes. The other Unspeakables were not an option; they couldn’t be trusted not to make a deal with the Dark Lord instead. Severus alone was not enough; he was already risking his life daily as a spy.

    “If Dumbledore finds out about the Horcruxes, he’ll focus on them. He’s an old wizard and he would not risk an immortal Dark Lord taking over after his own death. And he will have to be discreet about it as well, in order to avoid letting the Dark Lord know about it.” A Dumbledore working in the shadows was far less of a threat to Lucius than one openly fighting.

    “A fake note from an Unspeakable, who has stumbled upon this secret during the accident and believes Dumbledore is the only one able to deal with this, should be enough, if sent together with some notes from Augustus,“ Lucius said.

    “Dumbledore might not trust the note.”

    “I can send part of the diary with it, to provide evidence.”

    “That would do it.”

    “But first, find out what the Dark Lord knows about this. Depending on what you find out, we might have to change our plans.” Any information about whether or not Augustus was still alive, for example.

    “What can I tell him about your reaction?”

    “Tell him I am panicking, afraid for my own safety, and do not know what happened.”

    Severus nodded

    Once the spy had left, Lucius sighed. He still had to decide how to handle … the mess. Half the Ministry had seen the events. People were talking and speculating about what had happened in the Department of Mysteries. Lucius could downplay the incident as an accident. A tragic disaster, but nothing that would have an impact on the war. An experiment gone wrong, research set back a little, but nothing that would affect anyone outside the department.

    People would believe it, not know just how wrong they were. Dead wrong, to be exact.
     
    space turtle, qof, sesbio and 6 others like this.
  24. Threadmarks: Chapter 13: Confessions
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 13: Confessions

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 11th, 1999, 14.30 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione was taken aback by the destruction she saw inside the Department of Mysteries. To think Ron and the others had willingly entered the department while this acid wave had filled it… she shuddered.

    Dean glanced at her, raising his eyebrows. She schooled her features. “Imagine if this flood hadn’t been stopped, and had filled the Ministry.”

    That made her friend wince. “Stupid Unspeakables, messing with things they can’t control.”

    “We don’t know if that’s what happened,” Hermione corrected him automatically. “It could have been sabotage, or an attack from the outside. Although the latter seems a bit far-fetched,” she added. “Alright, let’s get to work. We need to know if that half-naga was involved.”

    Colin was already taking pictures everywhere, but those wouldn’t show magical residue. Dean sighed. The Wand wasn’t looking forward to covering the entire department with detection spells. Neither was Hermione. Especially since she already knew that they wouldn’t find anything linking this to the attacks on the Malfoy, Nott and Lovegood families.

    *****​

    “What did your team find?”

    Wand-Leader Benjamin was five years older than Hermione, and his tone showed just a slight hint of condescension towards the youngest Wand-Leader in the Investigative Corps. Both were standing in one of the laboratories of the Department of Mysteries.

    Hermione stood at attention, not showing how tired she was after four hours of casting spell after spell. “We didn’t find anything that would link this to the half-naga. Though the office of the Head Unspeakable has been cleared of any residue. Including the corpse found there. But there were signs that the body found there had been suffering from exposure to the acid, though the effect had stopped before the witch had died. It could have happened at the same time the whole mass went inert, but I’m recommending a closer analysis of the body’s robe.”

    Benjamin nodded. “We’ve tracked the origin of this wave to an Ottoman artifact, which was delivered to the department just two days ago.” He pointed at the center of the room, where a misshapen lump of metal was sitting. “That’s all that’s left. Apparently it was a research project that the Head had given priority. There was an outside expert involved, who vanished a few days ago.”

    “And Rookwood is still missing?” Hermione narrowed her eyes. “His office is purged, the outside contact missing, a dead Unspeakable in his office…”

    “We have a lot of questions for him,” the older Wand-Leader said.

    “But we have to find him first,” Hermione added. She didn’t sound smug, but Benjamin still frowned.

    “Let’s hope he can’t hide as well as that half-naga.”

    Hermione didn’t react to that barb, but she nodded rather stiffly before she turned to leave. Even though she knew about the truth behind the ‘half-naga’, the comment hurt her pride.

    *****​

    “We’re back to hunting snakes then,” Dean summed up the day a bit later back in their own office.

    “Half-nagas,” Hermione corrected him. “We wouldn’t want someone to think we’re hunting Slytherins.”

    Dean and Colin chuckled. The youngest member of their team was checking his camera. He’d have to spend hours developing the pictures.

    “I’m going to get some food. Are you eating with us, Hermione?” Dean asked, standing up.

    She shook her head. “I’m meeting Antoine.” She had to ensure that he really was fine, now. And find out what exactly had happened in the Department of Mysteries. She wanted to see if her own deductions were close to the truth.

    “We still haven’t met him.” Dean was grinning as he said it, but it wasn’t the first time he had mentioned his wish to meet her boyfriend.

    “We can have dinner together next week,” she said. “For the weekend, he’s mine.”

    “You’ve got it bad,” her friend said, shaking his head.

    She nodded. “Oh, yes.”

    “And what does the Minister’s son think about your new relationship?”

    Hermione sighed. “Is this all the Corps talks about?” Sally-Anne should be guarding more, and gossiping less!

    “I heard it from Luna,” Dean admitted.

    Hermione sighed. “She’s concerned about his reaction.”

    “And does she have a good reason to be concerned?” Dean was staring at her, and Colin had stopped cleaning his camera.

    She hesitated a second, then nodded. “You know him, and his ego. I hope he’ll give up after he realises I’m not interested, but…”

    “That could take a long time,” Dean said. “He isn’t exactly used to being turned down.”

    “You could ask the Minister to talk to him,” Colin proposed.

    Hermione winced, and cursed herself right afterwards. She was too exhausted, after worrying about Ron for the night, and working the whole day. Dean hadn’t missed that slip, she knew. “I don’t think that would be a good idea. The Minister is under a lot of pressure with the attacks and this disaster.“

    Colin nodded, turning back to tinkering with his camera. Dean didn’t look convinced.

    “Want to walk together to the Floo connection?” her friend asked.

    Hermione didn’t want to, but nodded.

    “Alright. I’ll get you the usual order, Colin.”

    As soon as they were out of the office, Dean cast a privacy spell. Others would think they were talking about a case.

    “Did anything happen with the Minister?”

    “No.” She wasn’t lying. Nothing that Dean was suspecting had happened.

    “But you don’t think he’d help you,” Dean said. He knew her too well. And there was a reason he was with her in the Investigative Branch.

    “Antoine’s a pureblood, and a foreigner. If we were to marry, then the Minister might see that as a security risk.” It was a good explanation. And the mentioning of marriage might distract her friend.

    It didn’t. Dean frowned. “That makes no sense. You know the Minister. He trusts us implicitly.” He hissed. “You don’t trust him!”

    She had no choice now. He wouldn’t let that be. “I’ve finished my investigation, Dean.”

    His eyes widened.

    “You’ll chance on me and Antoine in Ebenezer’s this evening. Say, in two hours. Don’t look into the Minister’s eyes should you meet him until then.”

    Dean nodded, stiffly. He understood.

    Now she had to explain this to Ron.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 11th, 1999, 19.00 hours

    Ron Weasley found himself embracing and kissing Hermione as soon as the door to his room in the Leaky Cauldron had closed. He had missed her, especially after his group had left the Department of Mysteries, battered, bruised and with two of them cursed. He held her, feeling some tension he hadn’t noticed until then leave him.

    “How did you get hurt?” she whispered.

    He winced, remembering the moment he had been thrown into the wall. “Rookwood transfigured his desk into tentacles. One of them grabbed me and slammed me into the wall, before crushing my leg.”

    “That sounds worse than what you told me,” she said, frowning. She glanced at his leg too, and he thought she was restraining herself from checking for lingering damage.

    He didn’t think it was a good idea to tell her he hadn’t wanted her to worry. “Sorry. It was still a bit fresh, then. I didn’t want to think about it.” Not while Skele-Gro was making his leg hurt far worse than the wounds had, at least.

    She bit her lower lip. “No, I’m sorry… I didn’t think about that.”

    Now she sounded guilty, which in turn made him feel guilty. He kissed her again. They sat down on his bed, her in his lap, and he told her more details about the fight against Rookwood. Hermione nodded, obviously trying to analyze the whole battle in her head.

    Finally, she nodded. “That fits what I found. Not that there was much to be found. Dumbledore didn’t leave many traces. Though he’ll be among the suspects as soon as Benjamin realises that the whole flood had to be the result of alchemy.

    “Benjamin?” He hadn’t heard that name yet. Another friend of hers?

    “The Wand-Leader in charge of the investigation.” Her tone didn’t seem to indicate a close relationship with the wizard.

    “You weren’t put in charge?”

    “No, my team is still hunting the ‘half-naga’.”

    The Dark Lord. He nodded. It would have been useful if she was the one investigating the incident, but it would also endanger her just a bit more.

    “Speaking of my team…”

    He looked at her. She didn’t usually beat around the bush.

    Hermione took a deep breath, then sighed. “Dean suspects that I don’t trust the Minister anymore.”

    “Merde.” He tensed. How to deal with that, with him…

    “I told him to meet us by chance in Ebenezer’s, in about an hour and a half.”

    “What?”

    She looked at him, frowning. “He’s my friend, and he’s a good Wand. If I, if we don’t tell him, he’ll find out anyway. Or ask the wrong person for help.”

    “You said he doesn’t know Occlumency.” There were ways to deal with such knowledge.

    “He doesn’t. But if he noticed this once, he’ll notice it again.” She knew those ways, of course. And she was probably correct. “He doesn’t have much contact with the Minister though, since he is no team leader.”

    “You want to tell him the truth.”

    “About the Minister, yes.”

    He nodded. “Will you be able to tell what he’s thinking?”

    “Yes. I know him well. We were in the same year.”

    Ron suppressed the spike of jealousy at hearing that. He told himself Dean was just like a brother to Hermione. They grew up together as Wands, and hadn’t any other family. It didn’t help that much. But he wasn’t about to ask her if she had ever slept with the mec. “And if he wants to rat you out?”

    “Then I’ll obliviate him,” she said in a flat but determined voice. He didn’t doubt that she’d do it - that was the Wand-Leader he had grown to know and love.

    “Well, let’s get something to eat then, before we meet Dean.”

    He almost snorted when he suddenly thought that this was like meeting the family of his girlfriend. Hopefully, it would turn out better than when he had met Estelle’s family. That had been a debacle.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 11th, 1999, 21.00 hours

    Ebenezer’s didn’t look like a good location to talk treason, Hermione thought. It was loud and packed with people, even with the threat of an attack by the Dark Lord hanging over them. Not that the people around her and Ron would know that muggleborns and half-bloods were in danger. They thought a ‘half-naga’ was attacking the purebloods.

    And yet the noise level would make eavesdropping difficult, even without privacy charms. With them, it would be nigh-impossible.

    She clung to Ron, as if they were just out to have a good time. She didn’t see Dean around yet, and so steered Ron to the dance floor when a slow song started.

    For a few minutes, she could relax and enjoy the moment. Then she saw Dean. He came right up to them, smiling. He was forcing himself to smile though, she could tell.

    “Fancy meeting you here. Is that your mysterious lover?”

    “Hello Dean.” She didn’t need to force herself to sigh. “This is Antoine. Antoine, this is Dean, one of my friends from the Corps.”

    The two wizards shook hands. An outside observer would attribute their slight awkwardness to her. Ex-lover meets current lover. A good cover.

    “Let’s sit down,” she said, loudly.

    “Alright.” Dean agreed at once. A good sign, she thought.

    They managed to grab a table thanks to their brown robes. The predominantly half-blood crowd didn’t want to get in the way of two Wands. Hermione briefly wondered how much of that was fear, and how much was respect. Then she cast the best privacy charms she knew, masking both words and gestures, and nodded at Dean.

    “I’ve tracked the Obliviators in muggle Britain.”

    He nodded. “I assumed you did.”

    “I saw Martin Tuckleton and John Meriweather ‘recover’ a muggleborn child. They wanted to murder her parents, but decided against it. Because, as Merriweather put it, they had done that too often.”

    Dean drew a hissing breath.

    “They decided instead to frame the father for murdering his daughter.” She stared into his eyes. “There was no sign of any abuse. The muggles saw the child do accidental magic, and liked it.”

    Her fellow wand blinked. She continued before he could ask. “I checked the records. Our records. I tracked down the Obliviator who had ‘recovered’ me from my parents, Keagan Banks, and interrogated him with Veritaserum.”

    “You were the one attacking Ottokar Merriweather,” Dean said.

    She didn’t answer that. “I presented him with my file. He admitted that he had faked the report. My parents hadn’t abused me. Merriweather hurt me, to fool the healers. They murdered my parents.” She felt Ron wrap his arm around her, and took a deep breath.

    “Merlin’s stinking arse!” Dean swore.

    “I asked about the other reports. Yours. Colin’s. Sally-Anne’s. He said he had never seen a muggle abuse their child. All the reports were faked.”

    Dean was staring at her, his mouth opening and closing.

    “Banks had done that because he had been ordered by his superior, Cornelius Fudge. I interrogated him. He had acted on orders.”

    “By… by the Minister,” Dean said, shaking.

    “Yes.”

    “Are you… are you certain?”

    “Yes. I can give you the memories, but you know about the pensieves.” They couldn’t use one of those rare devices without catching attention.

    “I can’t believe it,” he said, shaking his head. “Not the Minister.”

    “I didn’t want to believe it myself.”

    “Could.. Could it have been a setup?”

    “No. Too many people, too much information to be manipulated.”

    “They could have simply memory charmed you.” Dean glanced at Antoine.

    “I’ve mastered Occlumency.” Best nip that suspicion in the bud.

    “You could have been memory-charmed into believing you did.” Dean was grasping at straws.

    “If ‘they’ could do that, would ‘they’ bother with having me talk to you, instead of doing the same to you? Make you believe you found out yourself, or independently confirmed the facts? Or simply make you forget?” She didn’t have to point out that he could have been easily ambushed with her help.

    Dean closed his eyes, cursing under his breath. Hermione reached out and took his hand. “I know how you feel.”

    He nodded, shakingly. “So… our whole life, the whole Corps…”

    “... is based on lies and murder,” Hermione finished for him.

    Dean took a few minutes to compose himself again, enough at least to continue their talk. “And what’s his role?” He pointed at Ron. “He knows about this.”

    Hermione studied Dean. He was shaken, but he did believe her. She was certain of that. And he’d not betray her. They had known each other too long, trusted each other with their lives even. Still, he couldn’t protect his mind. Telling him the truth about Ron would be a mistake. Dean would understand that. “Yes, he knows. And he’s helping me.”

    “Helping you with what?”

    “Helping me to find a way to inform the rest of the Corps. And to avenge our families,” Hermione said. “That scum who did this to us will pay.”

    Dean nodded, his expression as grim as hers.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 11th, 1999, 22.30 hours

    Ron Weasley found Dean staring at him as soon as Hermione had left the table to ‘freshen up’. He met the other wizard’s eyes, of course.

    “I don’t like you,” Dean said. It wasn’t really a surprise.

    “Why?” Ron asked, barely refraining from adding ‘jealous?’.

    “She shouldn’t have gone to an outsider.” The Wand scowled.

    “A pureblood, you mean.”

    Dean didn’t answer that, but his scowl deepened.

    “She didn’t come to me because of this, you know. We got together before she found out about it,” Ron said. The implied accusation that he had exploited Hermione’s shock after her discovery wasn’t something he’d let stand. No matter if Dean had actually implied that. And it was close enough to accusing the Wand of being jealous.

    “I don’t care about that,” Dean said, baring his teeth. “But we’re her family.”

    Ron had no doubt of that - Dean was acting like Estelle’s brother. Merlin, he was thinking about marriage with a girl that had dozens of brothers and sisters! On the other hand, he thought, he had six siblings. And his mum. He chuckled. “You certainly act like the typical brother.”

    Dean narrowed his eyes. “I take it you’ve met many of those?”

    Ron rolled his eyes. “It’s a cliche.” Apart from Estelle’s brother, he hadn’t met anyone actually acting like an overprotective brother. Though as Ginny’s sibling, his standards might be a bit skewed.

    “If you hurt her, you’ll pay for it.”

    “This isn’t some bloody wireless show!” He scoffed at the other wizard. “Are you really going to tell me she needs your protection?”

    “She vulnerable when it comes to relationships.”

    Ron suppressed the guilt he felt - he had hurt her, even though he hadn’t wanted to. “She’s stronger than you think.”

    Dean snorted.

    Ron sighed. “You know why she wouldn’t go to you with this. If Malfoy reads your mind, he’ll know all about this.”

    Dean glared at him. “I know about it now.”

    “Yes.” Ron didn’t hide the fact that he didn’t like this. “And you’re a risk.”

    “And you’re not?”

    “I’m not living and working in the Ministry,” Ron said.

    “And yet you could meet the Minister anyway. You certainly are known enough,” Dean sneered.

    “I’m prepared for that.” He had mastered Occlumency for this mission, after all.

    “How? Occlumency?”

    “It’s a very useful skill. Have you ever duelled a Legilimens?” Ron hadn’t, actually. Unless the Professor counted - but Dumbledore could probably predict his moves just from his experience.

    “A Shield Charm will stop that.”

    “Maybe.”

    “I’ll learn Occlumency,” Dean said.

    “That takes too long.”

    “Maybe you took too long,” Dean said, sneering slightly.

    “Just ask Hermione how long she had until she had mastered it.” Ron smiled, just a bit smugly. Dean glared at him again.

    Hermione’s return to their table with a new round of drinks which prevented them from continuing their discussion. The witch sat down, then looked from Ron to Dean and back. “What did you talk about?” she asked, warily.

    “We’ve been talking about ways to prevent Dean from endangering us all by having his mind read,” Ron said. Dean scowled, but nodded.

    “There’s not much to be done. Avoid the Minister. If you can’t avoid him, don’t look into his eyes,” Hermione said. “It won’t work forever, or even that long, so we’ll have to prepare to quickly inform more of the Corps so that we can secure the Ministry and then inform the rest of the Wands.”

    Ron was quite certain that sort of planning should be done with Dumbledore, not by themselves. He couldn’t say that though. “That’ll be difficult.”

    “The Minister’s weakened. With the disaster in the Department of Mysteries and the half-naga troubles, we’ll have an opportunity for a take-over soon, I think,” Hermione said.

    Dean snorted. “If we can convince the Corps, the Ministry is ours. The Aurors certainly won’t be able to hinder, much less stop us.”

    “The Unspeakables are a wild card, but with the current troubles, they are weakened as well. Until there’s a new head, they’ll be mostly focused on their own issues. As usual.”

    “Maybe.” Ron didn’t think it would be that easy. Things never were. And the Wands didn’t really strike him as good plotters and schemers. Not even the Investigative Branch. “Don’t tell anyone though, until we have a plan.”

    Dean nodded.

    Ron took a sip from his drink. He really needed to talk about this. With Hermione, and with Dumbledore. Now if only Dean would leave…

    As if the other wizard had read his thoughts, he leaned forward. “Now let’s change the topic to something less serious! How did you win our dear Wand-Leader’s heart?”

    Ron would have happily hexed the git. As if it wasn’t obvious what Dean was trying to do! He glared at the other wizard while Hermione was blushing slightly, and mock-scolded Dean.

    Ron just knew this would be a long evening.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 12th, 1999, 11.45 hours

    “So… what happened in the Department of Mysteries?” Luna leaned forward, towards Hermione, uncaring that she just barely manage to avoid pushing her robe into her meal.

    “It’s an ongoing investigation,” the Wand-Leader answered reflexively. “I can’t talk about it.”

    “Of course, sorry I asked.” Luna smiled. “So… let’s talk about what didn’t happen in there!”

    Hermione sighed. “Luna…”

    Her blonde friend pouted. “But the Ministry already released the official statement: It was a tragic accident during an experiment. So, logically, that means that the investigation has already been concluded!”

    Hermione rubbed her forehead, ignoring her own meal for a moment, glad she habitually cast a privacy spell when eating with Luna. “You know that’s not the truth.”

    “Of course it’s not the truth!” Luna exclaimed. “Not even you would be that quick. But it means that officially, the matter has been settled! At least as far as we civilians are concerned. Which means you can talk to me about it! About what hasn’t happened, I mean.”

    Hermione thought Luna sounded a bit off, then closed her eyes when she realised what her friend had to be thinking. She patted the blonde’s hand. “It wasn’t that kind of accident, Luna. It wasn’t spell research.”

    Luna bit her lower lip while she slowly nodded. “I was just thinking about mum, you know.”

    Hermione smiled. “I know. It also wasn’t an attack by the half-naga.”

    “Albino half-naga,” Luna corrected her. She sighed. “It’s a bit of a relief, you know? To see that even in the Department of Mysteries, accidents do happen. Some people said my mum would still be alive, if she had been working there.”

    Hermione nodded. The other witch had left unsaid that people also said that her mother would have joined the Unspeakables, if she hadn’t wanted to work part-time to take care of Luna. “Accidents happen everywhere.” As did attacks and acts of sabotage.

    Luna sighed. “The Minister himself told daddy about the accident. She had been working on a new spell for him, and it didn’t go well. He later revealed that she had helped him prepare for his confrontation with the Dark Lord. Said mum was a hero.”

    Hermione had heard that story often. She now knew that at least part of the story had been a lie; the Dark Lord was still alive. She didn’t say so, though. She held Luna’s hand instead, and smiled, and listened while her friend told her about her mother.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 12th, 1999, 19.34 hours

    “I was thinking, with Dean convinced, we could contact Wand-Leader Benjamin and Wand-Commander Sarah. If they believe me, then we could have a shot at turning the entire Corps before Malfoy notices.

    “You know we can’t really plan anything without Dumbledore,” Ron Weasley said to his girlfriend. They had just finished eating in his room.

    Hermione froze for a second in the middle of vanishing their take-out boxes, then sighed. “I know. I just… “

    “You just hate how your friends believe in Malfoy and fight and bleed for him,” Ron finished for her.

    She frowned. “Yes. And how we might be forced to fight them.”

    “I doubt we’ll have to do that. Once Malfoy is dead, and the Dark Lord is dead, we’ll have enough time to sort things out peacefully. There’s no one poised to succeed Malfoy.” At least Ron thought that this was Dumbledore’s plan.

    “Draco and Mrs Malfoy might attempt to take over. They have the best claim.”

    “Do you think the Wands will follow them?”

    Hermione bit her lower lip. “I don’t know… Draco is questionable. He hasn’t really impressed anyone. At least not in a good way.”

    Ron frowned. “How so?” According to Luna, the git had been using the Wands as his personal harem.

    “We don’t really talk about that with the rest of the Corps.” Hermione looked down. Ron assumed she meant the group of witches Draco preyed on.

    “Ah.” He didn’t want to press further. He really wanted to kill Draco though. Painfully and slowly.

    “And Mrs Malfoy… she isn’t really loved. She is always rather aloof, distant.” Hermione sat down on the bed. “But they are the son and wife of the Minister. If he dies, many will support them, just because there is no one else.”

    “Well, looks like they’ll have to die as well then,” Ron said. With them gone, they could contact the Wands directly.

    Hermione hesitated, then nodded. “I guess so. Or they might send Wands to die pointlessly.” She sighed. “But if the Minister dies before we expose his lies, then some will keep believing in him. Make him a martyr even.”

    “Dumbledore might have a plan for that too.”

    Hermione looked at him. “You put a lot of trust in him.”

    “Of course. He’s the greatest wizard of our time,” Ron said.

    “That doesn’t make him perfect though. He was beaten by Malfoy once already.”

    Ron’s first impulse was to explain that things had changed. That Dumbledore knew what he was doing. “You don’t trust him.”

    “Not that much. I doubt he really cares about the Wands. Not many do. Even those we protect don’t like us, so why would someone fighting the Minister really care about us?”

    She looked rather lost, so Ron pulled her into his arms. “Trust me, he does care.”

    He didn’t think he would be able to convince her of that though. Hopefully the Professor would be able to.

    *****​

    Beauxbatons, France, September 13th, 1999, 18.07 hours

    Albus Dumbledore looked at the letter he had just received. It was just as Severus had told him - a note supposedly from an Unspeakable, warning him of the Dark Lord’s Horcruxes. As proof part of the diary Lucius had destroyed had been sent with it. Even forewarned, he had checked the letter for curses, poison and other threats - it wouldn’t do to become careless when things were going so well.

    Albus briefly wondered if he would have been deceived by the letter, had he received it without knowing what he did. Would he have reacted like Lucius hoped he would, moving against Tom? Probably, he had to admit to himself. Though he also thought he would have acted with careful planning, not the rash action Lucius obviously hoped for.

    Although if Lucius expected him to react in a rash manner, then that could be exploited. If the British Ministry thought he was moving against Voldemort, then they might order the Wands not to interfere with certain operations. This could be useful.

    He had other issues to ponder though. Like the unfortunate revelation of Wand-Leader Hermione’s knowledge about her and the other Wands’ past to her coworker. Dean. She had had the presence of mind not to mention Albus’s involvement, but her and Ron Weasley’s security was now compromised. How could he deal with that best?

    Removing Dean’s memories was a possibility, but he might have expected that, and taken precautions. Which Legilimency would reveal, unless the young man had been so clever as to have the knowledge that he had taken such precautions obliviated, and had left a letter explaining where he’d find it. He had known agents in the past who had used such measures. But he doubted Dean would think of such a ploy, and he’d need another Wand to obliviate him. Still, memory modification was not perfect. A wizard chosen for the Investigative Branch might discover he had been manipulated over time, if he kept interacting with the subject of the modification - in this case, Hermione.

    Albus could have the Wand kidnapped and held until the war was over. A rather drastic solution, but it would remove the danger of Dean’s mind getting read. But at the same time, careful planning would be needed, and his apparent disappearance still might throw suspicion on Hermione, leading to an investigation endangering her.

    He could remove Lucius, of course. Severus could easily kill him. With the Minister gone, the threat of him reading Dean’s thoughts was gone as well. It would also prompt Tom to move against the Ministry though, which would be in disarray and vulnerable. Albus and his friends might be forced to intervene to prevent the Dark Lord from winning, and they were not yet ready for such an operation.

    Which left Albus with waiting, and hoping that Voldemort’s Horcruxes were dealt with before Hermione’s friend compromised her actions. It wasn’t his favourite option, but it was the best he had - or rather, the one with the smallest risk of failure. And not likely to pit the Wand-Leader’s love to young Mister Weasley against her loyalty to her friend.

    Which was, he knew, a growing problem. Any fool could see that exposing the lies of Lucius to the Wands to turn them against him would not be easy at all. Or rather, nigh-impossible. People seldom wanted to hear disturbing truths, and the Wands had been indoctrinated from birth. Many would dismiss the evidence as faked and Hermione and Dean as having been memory charmed or imperiused.

    Albus didn’t think that Hermione and Dean would have accepted her findings, had they not been trained as investigators who were used to questioning everything. The rank and file of the Wands? He was certain they were trained not to question orders from the Minister. Some would believe her, of course, but not enough.

    No, it was best to kill Lucius before trying to convert the Wands, even though this would make it more difficult to make them see the truth. It would make Lucius a martyr, many would see any revelations as baseless slandering of a dead man. Albus would also have to proceed with a lot of caution, to prevent the Wands from rallying against him, or be rallied by another pureblood trying to follow Lucius’s example. The Investigative Branch seemed to be the most promising avenue of attack. If they could interrogate Cornelius and the Obliviators, check themselves for signs of manipulation, they might be convinced of the truth. It shouldn’t be too difficult to set them on investigating the Obliviators either, but to do it so they wouldn’t expect a setup was trickier.

    Overall, the odds of the Wands ending up split, even fighting each other, would still be high, but it was the best he could think of.

    The old wizard hoped Hermione would see this as well.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 13th, 1999, 19.12 hours

    “Sir? Wand-Leader Jane is here to speak to you.”

    Lucius Malfoy, Minister for Magic, looked up from his desk at the interruption. His secretary looked slightly nervous. But Wand-Leader Jane was the one leading the security detail for Narcissa this week, and she wouldn’t disturb him unless it was important.

    “Send her in, please.”

    The mudblood entered and saluted.

    “Good evening, Wand-Leader. What happened?”

    “Your wife received a letter from her sister, sir.”

    His eyes widened just a bit. Had Dumbledore received his fake notice, and was now contacting him through Narcissa’s sister? Had his plan worked far better than he had dared to hope? That would be very good news.

    “Her sister Bellatrix Lestrange, sir.”

    “What?” Not Andromeda? Only long habit and experience kept him from showing his surprise more.

    “The letter has been thoroughly checked for curses and other threats, and was deemed safe.”

    They wouldn’t divulge the contents unless he asked. He could show his trust in his wife’s loyalty. But it would be quite the risk. He nodded. “You have a copy, I assume.”

    “Yes, sir.” Jane handed a letter over. He read it quickly.

    Dear Narcissa

    By now you are aware that the Dark Lord has returned to us. He is more powerful and mighty than ever! He has conquered death itself! To be in his presence is to bask in his glory!

    You should also be aware now that to stand against him is foolish beyond belief. Mudbloods and traitors cannot stand against him. Not even the heart of the Ministry is a safe place. Those who betrayed their lord and master will suffer as they deserve.

    But while your husband has doomed himself by his treason, you do not have to share his inevitable fate. You are still my sister, my blood. If you abandon your traitorous spouse, the Dark Lord will show you and your son mercy. You are of noble blood.

    I urge you to think about your family, and do the right thing. I would hate to lose the last members of my family because they decided to support a traitor in his suicidal attempt to defy the Dark Lord. Should you continue with this folly, I cannot guarantee your life, much less the life of Draco.

    Your loving sister

    Bellatrix

    “Interesting. Thank you, Wand-Leader. Please forget that this letter was delivered today.”

    “Yes, sir.” They would obliviate themselves of the knowledge, he knew.

    He pondered the letter. Bellatrix was lying, obviously. The question was, did Narcissa realise that, or would she be fooled by nostalgia and misplaced love for her sister? Or moved by fear of the Dark Lord?

    He believed she’d stay loyal. She knew how unstable her sister was. It was a miracle Bellatrix had managed to resurrect the Dark Lord, in Lucius’s opinion, given her lack of patience and self-control. But Lucius couldn’t be certain. Narcissa had one weakness, and that was Draco. If she thought it would save her son, she’d do anything, betray anyone. Even Lucius.

    He couldn’t take the risk. He had to ensure Narcissa’s loyalty. And there was one way.

    He flicked his wand and hit the enchanted bell on his desk, summoning Daphne.

    “You called, sir?”

    “Yes. Please send for Draco. I need to talk to him at once.”

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 13th, 1999, 20.30 hours

    Lucius Malfoy stepped out of the fireplace in his home’s entrance hall, followed by Draco.

    “Mother!” his son called out, his excitement obvious. “I’ve great news!”

    “Draco!” Narcissa hugged her son, though her smile vanished when she looked at Lucius over Draco’s shoulder, suspicion evident on her face.

    “I’m about to lead a special team in the search for the half-naga!” Draco said. “Father said it was time for me to prove myself!”

    Narcissa froze for a moment. “That’s wonderful, Draco. I’m so proud!” she managed to say with a smile. “You can tell me all about it during dinner; I have to speak to your father for a second about a letter I received today.”

    Draco nodded, and went to his room. Narcissa’s smile vanished as soon as he had turned away, and she glared at Lucius.

    He met her eyes unflinchingly and gestured to the study. His wife walked past him as if her upper body had been frozen stiff.

    Lucius had barely closed the door, cutting off the sound from the hall, when she rounded on him.

    “How could you!” She was trembling with rage.

    Lucius raised an eyebrow. “How could I do what? Offer my son the chance to prove that he’s my successor? To impress the Ministry, and more importantly, the Wands?”

    “How could you send him against the Dark Lord! Draco doesn’t even know it’s him, returned from the dead!” Narcissa screeched.

    And some people thought the Malfoys had Veela ancestry, Lucius thought, before focusing on his wife. “You sound as if you have no faith in the Ministry forces.”

    Narcissa drew a hissing breath. “You know about the letter I received.”

    It wasn’t a question. He nodded anyway. “Of course.” She would have known he would be told.

    “So why would you send him out… Merlin! You want him to declare himself the Dark Lord’s enemy!” She gaped at him.

    “He already is the Dark Lord’s enemy. You know how the Dark Lord was, you know how your sister was. They will not spare him, no matter what you do. My blood flows in his veins, he is my heir. If I fall, then he will be next, unless the Dark Lord is killed,” Lucius said.

    “How can you kill a wizard who has come back from death once already?” She had tears in her eyes. Her trust in him had been waning, he realised. “With Augustus gone, even!”

    “Augustus might be gone, but there’s another who will be able to destroy the Dark Lord,” Lucius said.

    “Who? There is no one able to face him, other than…”

    He nodded. “Dumbledore now knows about the Dark Lord’s way to cheat death. He’s an old man now, so he will do all he can to destroy the Dark Lord for good, before he succumbs to old age.”

    “You are planning to beat a troll in your house by luring a manticore inside!” Narcissa accused him.

    “Dumbledore is nothing like a mad beast.” Unlike the Dark Lord, whose form now betrayed his base nature. “Do you honestly think he will attack us, knowing it would plunge Britain into a war? A war of which the cost would be paid with the blood of mudbloods and blood traitors?”

    His wife blinked.

    “He will not attack, not as long as attacking us would mean attacking our loyal mudbloods,” Lucius said.

    “Merlin… they’re like hostages.” Narcissa said, apparently finally appreciating his reasoning. “But he’ll try to turn them against us.”

    “He can try.” Lucius scoffed. “They are not under any spell. They are loyal because they were lovingly raised to be loyal.” To him. “Who will they believe, an exiled traitor, or the man who has been like a father to them for decades?”

    Narcissa slowly nodded, no doubt now regretting her lapse in faith in him. He had to forgive her - she was simply too emotional, and not rational enough.

    “But Draco will still be in danger!”

    “He won’t be in any greater danger than he already is. He’ll be surrounded by Wands ready to lay down their life for him.” And most of the planning would be done in the Ministry or other safe places.

    “I want the best Wands to protect him. The very best!”

    “Of course, dear.” Lucius would be a fool to trust the safety of his heir to anyone but his best Wands.

    Narcissa nodded. She had already calmed down, and her face didn’t betray her earlier outburst anymore. She was a true pureblood witch.

    *****​

    “I want Hermione!” Draco declared at the table.

    “What?” Narcissa actually flinched at her son’s statement, Lucius noted with well-hidden amusement.

    “Hermione. If I’m to hunt this monster, then I need the best Wands at my disposal. And she’s the best in the Investigative Branch.”

    “Ah, of course, Draco.” Lucius’s wife was smiling again.

    “And if she’s in my group, I’ll be able to seduce her easily!”

    Narcissa flinched again.
     
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  25. Threadmarks: Chapter 14: Hunting in the Woods
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 14: Hunting in the Woods

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 14th, 1999, 08.30 hours

    “The Minister will see you now!”

    “Thank you.”

    Wand-Leader Hermione smiled politely at the Minister’s secretary, Daphne Greengrass. The pureblood witch in turn was beaming at her, no doubt remembering the attack on her family’s manor. Hermione didn’t like to remember that night; too many of her friends had died, but that wasn’t the fault of the Greengrasses.

    She entered the office of the Minister for Magic with no small amount of trepidation hidden behind her Occlumency shields. In the past, she had simply hidden her true feelings about the Minister’s son, but now she was hiding far more dangerous knowledge. If Malfoy’s Legilimency probes slipped through her facade, she would doom not only herself, but Ron as well, and his family. And maybe even Dumbledore and any hope of freeing the Corps from serving this evil man.

    “Wand-Leader Hermione, reporting, sir!” She saluted him.

    “Good morning, Hermione.” The Minister smiled at her, and she felt his mental probe entering her mind when he met her eyes. She focused on presenting the eager, inexperienced Wand the man was expecting. The naive witch in love with a foreigner, but remembering her … dalliances … with Draco fondly. The stupid girl admiring the man before her.

    He withdrew from her mind rather quickly, without even coming close to her true thoughts and feelings. She hid her relief as well as she had hidden her hatred.

    “I have important news for you. You will be reassigned to a new team.”

    “A new team, sir?” Hermione was surprised, and worried. She was a good Wand-Leader, and her team was working well.

    “Yes. I’ve decided to form a special team to hunt down the half-naga. You’ve been doing excellent work in the Investigative Branch, but I think to end this menace, we need to combine the best Wands from the whole Corps to work together. This is not just a criminal investigation, and can’t be treated as one if we want to stop this monster from attacking Britain.”

    A task force, then. It made sense, Hermione thought. Her team alone wouldn’t be able to track the Dark Lord, and even in a unit as tight as the Corps, there was friction between branches and teams. “I see, sir.” The Minister was not to be underestimated.

    “I knew you would. The staff at Hogwarts tells me that you’re the smartest Wand they ever taught.”

    “Thank you, sir.” She didn’t have to fake her embarrassment at that compliment.

    “Good. Dean will take over your team and continue your other work while you’re absent. I trust he can do this?”

    She had hoped to be able to take her whole team with her. They were working well together, and they knew as much or more about the Dark Lord as anyone else in the Corps. And they accepted her leadership. Some of the older wands might not trust her due to her youth. “Yes, sir. Who will be leading the new team?” Probably Benjamin, she thought.

    “My son. He has been looking forward to working with you.”

    It was a testament to her mastery of Occlumency that she didn’t let anything of her reaction to that revelation show until she was out of his office, and behind a privacy spell in the bathroom.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 14th, 1999, 09.35 hours

    “Now that everyone’s here, we can finally start!”

    Her Occlumency allowed Wand-Leader Hermione to show a polite smile to Draco Malfoy’s declaration instead of her real thoughts. She and the other Wands were standing at attention while Draco was addressing them.

    “My father has given me the order to personally hunt down the half-naga that has been eluding the Aurors and Wands so far. To achieve this I’ve gathered the best Wands from the Corps. That means you.”

    He smiled widely at them. Hermione managed to keep her polite expression on her face. She should have known what to expect, she thought, when she heard Draco was their leader. The six other Wands in her new team were all very competent and skilled. And all very attractive witches. It was rather obvious why Benjamin wasn’t among the Wands selected for this task.

    “This is a great honour for you all - to be the Wands that will destroy this threat to Britain under my leadership!”

    Wand-Leader Jane was usually in charge of a protection detail for the Minister’s family. She’d be Draco’s bodyguard, Hermione thought, together with Jasmine, a witch a year below her, and Laura, two years above her. Hermione herself, as well as Benjamin’s best witch, Cleo, would do the investigation. Teresa and Mabel were from the Combat Branch, and would likely be scouting when not fighting. At least that was how Hermione would assign the tasks.

    “Hermione will be my aide.” He smiled at her, just like he had smiled at her during their ‘lunch date’.

    Hermione felt ill. She hoped Draco would stick with trying to ‘court’ her, and that things at the Ministry would change before he lost his patience.

    But then, should the Minister be killed while she was on this new team, then she’d have the best opportunity to take Draco out of the picture as well. And with Jane assigned to this team as well, the security detail for Narcissa Malfoy would be missing their best witch.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 14th, 1999, 19.04 hours

    Ron Weasley knew something was wrong when Hermione entered his room in the Leaky Cauldron, carrying take-out boxes again. Her expression was too calm, too controlled. He drew a hissing breath and asked: “What happened?”

    “I got reassigned to a task force to hunt down the ‘half-naga’.”

    “Wasn’t that already your mission?”

    “In the Investigative Branch. Now I was pulled from my team and put together with Wands from all branches. And the team is led by the Minister’s son.”

    “Merde!” Ron said, snarling. He had the sudden urge to go and kill that foul cretin. “Did he try anything?”

    Hermione frowned then shook her head. “Not really. Just what he thinks is flirting.”

    Ron nodded, making an effort to calm down. He didn’t like the jealous, even possessive feelings that had filled him. Hermione would like them even less, he thought. “But that means you’ll be under closer surveillance.”

    “Yes. He didn’t like me ‘going off’, but didn’t try to stop me.” Hermione sat down at the table. “On the other hand, I’ll be in a good spot to deal with him, once needed,” she added in a cold voice.

    Ron nodded. “We are getting close to killing the Dark Lord for good. That’s just another reason not to wait much longer to assassinate the Malfoys.” A very good reason, he thought privately.

    “It won’t be easy to get to the Minister and his wife though,” Hermione said. “They have improved security procedures since the Department of Mysteries.”

    “I’m certain Dumbledore has that covered,” Ron said. He checked his clock. “How likely is it that the cretin will try to disturb your evening?”

    Hermione pursed her lips. “I don’t know. I doubt he’ll do that on the first day, but if he’s taking a page out of the book from my old instructor… “ She winced. “We had a night exercise on the first day in the Corps.”

    “Merde. We better not risk going away then.” While they could take the vanishing cabinet back to Britain in a second, traveling back from the safe house would be a problem.

    “Yes.” Hermione sighed. “I’ll check Draco’s schedule, to see if he’ll be busy with a ball or party. That would allow me to leave Wizarding Britain for a few hours.”

    “Unless he takes you with him. As bodyguard or aide.”

    “That would be possible,” the witch said. “I might have to organise a cover. Something very boring, but time consuming.”

    “Meeting an expert for nagas?” Ron said. “We could fake one. Or find a real one.”

    “Others might want to come with me. Or have the expert visit the Ministry instead.” Hermione shook her head. “I don’t know why he’s after me. There are far prettier witches in the Corps. I doubt it’s just the fact that I have a boyfriend.”

    “He just wants the best witch in Britain,” Ron said, which made her smile, and blush a little. “Dumbledore will visit Britain anyway, so we might as well meet in Diagon Alley. I’ll arrange a room under a fake name.”

    “That might get noticed. We’re monitoring new tenants, in case the enemy tries to infiltrate the Alley that way,” Hermione said. “It would be safer to use this room. They need to be able to vanish quickly though.”

    Ron chuckled. “Well… the easiest solutions are usually the best.”

    He didn’t like how this development affected their plans though. And he was certain Draco would become an even greater problem.

    The sooner the Malfoys died, the better.

    *****​

    Beauxbatons, France, September 14th, 1999, 22.14 hours

    Albus Dumbledore read the note from Young Mister Weasley. Miss Hermione’s new assignment complicated matters somewhat. On the other hand, her position would make coordinating the killings of the Malfoys a bit easier, even if it put the witch at risk.

    “If you had acted as ruthlessly in the last war, you might have won.”

    Albus looked up at the interruption. Pandora was floating in front of his desk. He raised his eyebrows at her. “Pardon?”

    She scowled. It seemed that even dying hadn’t made her any more patient. “Planning the assassination of an entire family… if you had done that back when the Dark Lord attacked Britain for the first time, I doubt we’d be here.”

    “Perhaps. But it would not necessarily mean that things in Britain would be better. What kind of country would we have become, if we had started to act like our enemies?”

    The ghost scoffed. “A lot of people would still be alive.”

    “Namely you.”

    “Exactly.” She smiled, then grew serious again. “If you had killed Malfoy 20 years ago, he wouldn’t have been able to betray everyone. The Ministry might not have fallen, even.”

    “Or someone else, someone worse, might have triumphed.”

    “Who?”

    “Augustus, for example,” he said, watching her closely. She had spent years as a ghost with the man, so she would know him well.

    Her expression grew angry. “He wouldn’t have had the guts to do what Lucius did. He was no leader, no matter what he thought.”

    “He led the Department of Mysteries,” Albus pointed out.

    “He administered it,” Pandora retorted. “He had plans to take over the Ministry, for over a decade, but never acted on it.”

    “That might just have been caution on his part.”

    “Which proves my point. He would never have dared to gamble like Lucius. He went along with it, but he’d have fled rather than initiated that ploy.” The ghost stared at Albus.

    “You said he planned to betray Lucius?” he prompted her.

    “Yes.” She floated a bit to the side.

    “Would you mind telling me how?” Albus asked, smiling.

    “What will you offer to me in return?” she asked, grinning.

    “The satisfaction of helping to defeat the man who murdered you?”

    She snorted. “You will kill him anyway. You’re already planning his death.”

    “I could force you to tell me,” he pointed out.

    “Albus Dumbledore, using such distasteful means? Torturing a poor soul for information?” She scoffed.

    “You said it yourself: You’re not a soul, just an imprint left behind.”

    He thought she flinched, but it was hard to tell. “I still haven’t seen my family.”

    “Arranging such a meeting is not easy, given the current events in Britain,” he pointed out. “They are still living in the Ministry.”

    “Why are they there, anyway? I’m no expert, but that strikes me as very unusual.”

    “Your daughter’s best friend is a Wand-Leader. She and another friend saved your family when the Dark Lord attacked.”

    Pandora stiffened, then nodded. “I can see how that will complicate matters.”

    “Indeed. But I’m confident I will be able to arrange a meeting with your family, given a bit more time.” He smiled. “Now… what had Augustus planned?”

    “He had worked out how to transfigure Basilisk poison into an inert aerosol that would not trigger the detection spells in the air ducts. That way, it could have spread through the building, ingested or inhaled by everyone, and once the transfiguration ended - instant massacre.”

    “Brutal.” Very brutal.

    “Yes. And that’s why he didn’t do it - it would have killed too many, and left the Ministry too weak. He could have used it to kill Lucius, but without taking the Wands out, he’d likely have been killed as the first suspect. And if he had killed the Wands as well, the Dark Lord’s followers would have stormed the place.” She grinned.

    “You would have done it.”

    She stiffened, then nodded. “I probably would have, if I had wanted to take over. That crazy witch and her husband and brother-in-law could have been dealt with without the muggleborn guard.”

    Albus nodded. There was a reason he had kept an eye on Pandora at Hogwarts, and later on. She drifted away and he returned his attention to his files. He would have to check the notes he had taken from Augustus’s office. Nicolas would be interested in this discovery as well.

    His mentor had a stock of Basilisk poison as well.

    *****​

    Kent, Britain, September 15th, 1999, 14.52 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione Granger stared at the forest across the field. It was a small one, not much dense underbrush, just enough foliage to block sight. The kind of terrain that screamed ‘ambush ahead’ in her old instructor’s voice.

    “We’ll search the woods, and find their tracks!” Draco announced.

    Hermione glanced at the others in the task force. Teresa and Mabel frowned. Cleo didn’t show any emotion past a polite smile. The report from the Obliviators was a day old. Someone had apparated into the woods, but not out. They hadn’t found anything when they had arrived yesterday, but they hadn’t looked for anything but muggle witnesses. Of which no one had been found. But it had been the second such report in two weeks.

    “It’s likely that there won’t be tracks. This could be simply a convenient spot they apparate to, before taking a broom,” Hermione said.

    Cleo nodded. Draco scoffed. “People always leave tracks. We just have to find them. Hermione, with me!”

    Hermione didn’t roll her eyes, but she felt like it as she followed Draco across the field towards the forest. Teresa and Mabel were already sprinting past, moving ahead of them to scout the edge of the forest before Draco entered effective spellcasting range. Despite her expectations, she was reassured when the two witches signalled the ‘clear’ before their nominal team leader had reached the forest’s edge himself.

    Then two hours of combing the forest followed, with Cleo and herself looking for magical residue that would have faded already.

    She exchanged a glance with the older witch. “The last time I did this was in training.”

    Cleo snickered. “Oh, Merlin, yes! The ‘Find the needle’ exercise?”

    Hermione nodded. “We found it, after four hours.”

    “Good on you. We took five.” Cleo shook her head. “I’d never have expected to do this for real.”

    “Well, it’s not as if we have a chance to find anything, unless the Obliviators’ reports are wrong,” Hermione said.

    “I doubt that,” the other Wand said. “They’re the most trusted ones in the Ministry.” ‘Other than us’ remained unsaid, but every Wand knew that by heart.

    “‘Trust no one’,” Hermione quoted their instructor. She looked around. No one else was nearby. Draco had, after two hours stopped following her and distracting her with compliments, and was now ‘planning’ in the wizard tent they had brought with them. His guards were with him.

    Cleo laughed. “Not really practicable, is it?”

    Hermione shrugged. “I’m not certain I’d agree. The Obliviators are a very small team, and they operate in the muggle world - without any outside supervision. Who but them could prove it if a report was faked? And if their teams stay the same, it only needs two to work together, and they can do what they want among the muggles, with no one the wiser.”

    Cleo raised her eyebrows. “If you put it like that… aren’t there inspections?”

    Hermione shook her head. “Not to my knowledge.”

    The other witch narrowed her eyes. “Have you been investigating them?”

    Hermione nodded. “They were among the wizards with the skill and opportunity to manipulate employees in the Floo Network Authority to sabotage the network during the attacks by the Fanatics.”

    “Did you find anything?”

    “Nothing that tied them to the sabotage. But… there were financial irregularities,” she said.

    “Bribes?”

    Hermione shrugged. “If they are being bribed, then it happens in the muggle world.”

    Cleo nodded. “I see.”

    “And there was that attack on a retired Obliviator. Very atypical for a raid by Fanatics,” Hermione added.

    “A lone attacker, using non lethal spells. Atypical indeed.” Cleo looked pensive now. “A co-conspirator?”

    “Maybe. If we had permission to observe the Obliviators in the muggle world we might find out more, but…” Hermione trailed off.

    “We’re not going to get that,” Cleo said.

    “No, we’re not.” Hermione sighed. “Instead, we’re combing a forest for residue that has faded already.”

    Cleo chuckled. “At least Draco’s not hounding you anymore. Why’s he so stuck on you, suddenly?”

    Hermione looked at the witch, then sighed. “I don’t know. He ignored me for a month or more, and suddenly, he’s trying to seduce me as if I was a pureblood.” She shook her head. “Maybe the fact that I’ve got a pureblood boyfriend makes him jealous?”

    “So, those rumours are true?” Cleo grinned. “How did that happen?”

    Hermione had to revise her estimate of Sally-Anne’s gossip network. Apparently, not the entire Corps knew about her and Ron yet. She smiled. “I met Antoine during the first attack on Diagon Alley, actually. He’s a veteran from Québec, and jumped in to fight the Fanatics. He asked me out after I interrogated him.”

    Cleo perked up. “That sounds like straight out of a wireless show!”

    “Well, without the drama and misunderstanding. But we were together at Luna’s, when the half-naga attacked.”

    “How good is he?”

    “Well, he’s got experience, but he’s not used to working together as well as we are.”

    Cleo snickered. “I meant as a lover. Or were you talking about his experience in bed?”

    Hermione gasped. “Cleo!”

    “He has to be better than Draco, or you’d not have stuck with him.”
    “Well, yes,” Hermione said.

    “Mhh. Maybe I should be looking for foreigners myself. Does he have a brother?” Cleo actually looked interested.

    Hermione shook her head. “No.”

    “That still leaves friends and comrades.” Cleo prodded her. “Come on, hook me up!”

    “If you have a foreign lover, it might cause Draco to hound you,” Hermione pointed out.

    “But he’d stop bedding me.”

    Hermione nodded. She could understand that argument. “You could always pick a Wand.”

    “There’s no one I’m interested in. I could fake a relationship, but it would feel like treason somehow, you know?”

    “I know. He’s not the Minister, but he’s his son.”

    “If he was more like his father…” Cleo trailed off, grinning.

    Hermione forced herself to nod in agreement.

    *****​

    London, Ministry for Magic, September 15th, 1999, 18.17 hours

    “That was good work, everyone. While we didn’t find the half-breed yet, we’re on the right track. Sooner or later, the Fanatics will make a mistake, and we’ll find their hideout.”

    Hermione Granger didn’t quite cheer at the words from Draco, but she managed to smile like everyone else. It wasn’t that the plan was a bad one, but she knew that the Minister’s son was severely underestimating the danger he was risking.

    “And as a thank you to you all, I’m inviting you to dinner.” Draco flashed a smile at the group of witches.

    Hermione’s first impulse was to cite a prior engagement, and beg out, then she reconsidered. Refusing the invitation would be a snub, under the circumstances. It wasn’t as if he had invited just her, after all. And the presence of the other witches should keep him from being too forward.

    “Where will we be eating?” Jane asked. She sounded somewhat tense, as far as Hermione could tell - she was probably already planning the security measures.

    “At my home,” Draco said.

    Hermione saw Jane nod, and relax a bit. Security would already be in place, after all. The Wand-Leader was grateful she hadn’t turned the invitation down - she’d be able to find out more about the security measures protecting the Malfoys’ home. Just in case.

    “I’ll just call Antoine and tell him he doesn’t have to wait with dinner,” Hermione said. It wouldn’t hurt to remind everyone that she was taken. She shook her head when she spotted Cleo grin, and nudge Teresa.

    *****​

    Draco’s parents were not at home, as he told them when they stepped out of the Floo connection a bit later. Jane entered with the air of long familiarity, as did Jasmine and Laura, but the rest of them looked around with open curiosity. Draco grinned, and led them on a short tour through the house.

    “It’s just a temporary home, of course, until the manor is rebuilt, so I’ll ask you to excuse the cramped accommodations,” he said while showing them the entrance hall, which was probably greater than the entire Leaky Cauldron. And Draco seemed to be serious even.

    Hermione used the opportunity to peer out of the windows, and find out where the home was located. They were in Diagon Alley, to her surprise. And judging by the neighbouring buildings, the Minister’s temporary home looked far less impressive from the outside. Good camouflage, she thought as she noted where the guards were placed. And winced when she saw Sally-Anne was one of the guards. Half the Corps would have heard about Draco’s ‘new harem’ by tomorrow.

    “And here’s my room. It’s quite modest, but everyone has to make some sacrifices until we’ve finally dealt with those criminals.” Draco smiled and looked directly at Hermione while he opened the door to an opulent room with a bed that could comfortably fit four people.

    Everyone but Jane made the impressed sounds Draco would expect, though Hermione thought that at least Cleo wasn’t actually impressed. She couldn’t tell what Jane was thinking, but she had to be completely loyal to the Minister to have been trusted with the Malfoys’ security.

    On the way to the dining room - Jasmine and Laura were almost giddy at the thought of eating where the Malfoys usually ate - they passed the rooms of the Minister and his wife. Draco didn’t show those, but Hermione made a mental note of their location. She planned to hand the memory of the visit over to Ron, but it didn’t hurt to keep track of those things.

    “Dobby!” Draco said, once all were seated - with Hermione to his right, an honour she could have done without, especially given the glances from Jasmine and Laura. The house elf that had survived the collapse of the Malfoy Manor appeared and started to serve the entrées.

    “Dobby’s been in our family for decades, and he cooks very well,” Draco explained. “You’ve had already had the pleasure to enjoy his cooking, Hermione.”

    She smiled, despite the fact that the memory of that lunch date didn’t fill her with joy, but apprehension. “Yes. He is very skilled.” Poisoning the family would be out then, house elves were notoriously hard to bypass.

    Cleo came to her rescue before Draco could really start with his flirting. “What does your boyfriend think of Britain’s cuisine, by the way?”

    “Oh, he said it’s taking a bit to get used to.” Hermione grinned. “I’m certain he’ll learn to appreciate it though.

    “He has fought our target before, right?” Teresa asked. “When the Lovegoods were attacked.”

    “Well, we exchanged a few spells, but quickly retreated since we were outnumbered,” Hermione tried to downplay the battle. A glance told her that Draco was frowning. Hopefully he’d not try to match spells with the Dark Lord himself in an attempt to outdo Ron.

    Jane must have had the same thought, since she said: “Once we’ve found the enemy, the Corps will take all of them out.”

    Hermione nodded. “Indeed. That’ll be a mere formality. Finding them is the real challenge,” she lied. She felt relief when Draco perked up and smiled.

    She really could do without their new leader deciding to attack the Dark Lord with just this group.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 15th, 1999, 19.46 hours

    Ron Weasley finished his meal and looked at Dean, who was sitting across from him. “Do you eat take-out every meal?” he asked, mostly to break the silence they had spent the last twenty minutes in.

    “Not every evening,” Dean said.

    “Ah,” Ron said. He didn’t really like the Wand, but he knew they both cared for Hermione. And the silence felt awkward indeed.

    “So, Draco’s inviting his new all-female team to his home, which is considered a great honour in the Corps since that has never happened before. To a Wand at least.”

    Dean nodded. “Didn’t she tell you that already?”

    “She did, though not in that many details. She was rather short when she informed me she couldn’t eat with me today.” Ron didn’t hide his frown. “I guess that’s why you decided to keep me company.”

    “Yes.”

    “You know she won’t really like it if she thinks we’re keeping something from her.”

    “Yes.”

    Ron sighed. “So, why did you come? To tell me once more you’ll hurt me if I hurt her?” The protective brother routine was getting old. Ron and his own brother hadn’t been that bad. At least not when Harry had started dating Ginny. Or the other way around.

    “No.” Dean sighed, through clenched teeth. “I’m mostly here because you’re the only one apart from her who knows about Malfoy.”

    Ron understood. “And you don’t like passing time with the rest of the Wands, who don’t know the truth.”

    “Yes,” Dean said. “It’s even worse now, with Hermione in that other team.”

    Ron nodded. “So, what exactly does the Corps think about that?”

    Dean frowned. “Someone nicknamed the team ‘Draco’s Harem’.”

    Now it was Ron’s turn to grind his teeth. Dean didn’t grin, at least.

    “Word from the security details is that this was the Minister’s idea, and that his wife doesn’t like it,” Dean said.

    “What’s her problem with it? Does she hate her son sleeping with muggleborns?”

    Dean shrugged. “That, or she thinks it’s too dangerous. Or both.”

    Ron nodded. Narcissa likely knew about the Dark Lord. “And what do they think about Draco?”

    Dean shrugged. “He’s his father’s son, but he’s not his father.”

    “Fortunately not!” Ron said. “He’d have half the witches in the Corps trying to get in his pants otherwise.”

    Dean snorted. “More than half, trust me. And a part of the wizards too.”

    “Did the Minister ever take advantage of that?” Ron made a vague gesture with his hand.

    “No. He doesn’t cheat on his wife. Which is part of the reason that makes him so popular in the Corps.” Dean sighed and leaned back. “He was our father. Still is.”

    “That’s why he did it. To get a loyal force of soldiers.” Expendable soldiers, Ron thought.

    “Yes,” Dean spat out. “And that’s why he’ll die.”

    “Easier said than done.” For Dean and ‘Antoine’, at least. Dumbledore sounded as if the Minister was living on borrowed time.

    “We’ll find a way.” Dean grabbed another butterbeer from the basket he had brought.

    “Did you ever think about just leaving? Moving to another country?”

    “And leave my friends following a man who had their families killed?” Dean scoffed.

    “And if the alternative is death?”

    “We’ll find a way. I trust Hermione,” Dean added, with a slight sneer.

    Ron frowned at the implied barb that he wouldn’t trust Hermione. “Maybe the half-naga will kill the Minister.”

    Dean narrowed his eyes, and for a moment, Ron thought he had made a mistake. The Wand was a member of the Investigative Branch, after all. Did he deduce that it was actually the Dark Lord?

    “That would mean a number of Wands would have been killed as well.”

    “Right. But you already lost a lot of Wands fighting that monster.”

    “Even with the Minister dead we’ll fight to protect Britain.”

    And that was the problem, Ron though. As long as the exiles were seen as Britain’s enemies, at least.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 15th, 1999, 22.31 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione pulled the memory out of her temple, and guided the silvery ribbon towards the vial Ron was holding.

    “That’s the memory of my visit to the Malfoy’s new home.”

    “Great!” Ron said, then winced. “I mean… it’s not great you had to visit, but it’ll help us.”

    “Planning their assassination, you mean,” she said.

    He nodded. “I reckon so, yes. We’re getting close to killing the Dark Lord, and we need to be ready.”

    “I wish we could tell the Wands the truth,” Hermione said. “There has to be a way.”

    “If you can think of one, I’m certain Dumbledore will listen,” Ron said. “But I can’t think of a way that won’t endanger everyone.”

    Left unsaid was that Dean’s knowledge already endangered them. Which was the reason her fellow Wand didn’t know about the exiles’ involvement. Hermione frowned. She hated to admit it, but she couldn’t think of a safe way to convince the Corps. And she had spent all her free time thinking about this lately.

    “Well, Dumbledore will visit us here tomorrow evening. I’ll get the cabinet tomorrow.” Ron grinned. “Ginny wanted to come as well, but everyone stood their ground. Even Harry. So, you’ll have to wait a bit longer until you can meet my little sister.”

    Hermione nodded. She wasn’t that eager to meet all of Ron’s family, if she was honest. She still felt a bit jealous at him having so many siblings, while she was an orphan. The Wands were supposed to be her family, her siblings, she knew, but keeping secrets such as hers made her feel more distant. As did the prospect of Ron and his family fighting them.

    She still didn’t know what she’d do. She didn’t want to fight her fellow Wands, but to let them hurt Ron… She ground her teeth.

    “What’s wrong?” Ron asked, sitting down next to her.

    She shook her head. “I’m just frustrated with the whole situation.”

    “Ah… things will get better, trust me. You won’t have to suffer Draco for much longer.”

    She didn’t correct his assumptions, even if it made her feel a bit more guilty. She was keeping far too many secrets lately, from everyone.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 16th, 1999, 21.17 hours

    “Thank you, Miss Hermione. That should greatly help our cause.”

    Albus Dumbledore pocketed the vial of memories he had been given and smiled. It felt good to be back in Diagon Alley, in the Leaky Cauldron even. The memories those walls held… maybe it was a good thing that Mister Weasley had chosen a room that opened to the muggle street, and not the alley itself.

    “I hope so, sir. And may I ask what you are planning to do with them?”

    The young witch calmly looked at him, and Albus lost his smile. “Indeed, if anyone has the right, it’s you.” He sat down at the table. “As you might already know, we are, as the saying goes, closing in on the Dark Lord. I do not think I am overly optimistic when I say that his unnatural life will soon be cut short.” He noticed Harry nodding in grim agreement, and as often, felt a pang of guilt at subjecting the boy to such a burden. But fate didn’t want to bend to the will of an old man. “But I have come to the conclusion that the Minister and his likely successors have to be dealt with before that.”

    ‘Dealt with’. A nice turn of phrase. Gellert would have mocked him for being squeamish with words, but not deeds.

    “Killed, you mean.”

    Albus nodded at the young Wand. “That is correct, Miss Hermione.” The thought of kidnapping Draco and Narcissa had entered his mind more than once, but it was simply not practical. He was not about to risk his allies’ lives to save those two, nor was he willing to risk another war should they escape and press their suit with support from the population later. Although that could be avoided by various, if often unsavory means.

    She nodded. “I guess I’ll be tasked with killing Draco.”

    “Only as a last resort. If things go according to plan, then the Minister will be killed at a time when his family is at home. Though your assistance in entering said home would be appreciated,” Albus said.

    “Ron and his brothers will be attacking the Malfoys then.”

    There was the slightest hint of accusation in her gaze, though whether it was aimed at his ploy to secure her help by putting young Mister Weasley in danger, or the likelihood of them fighting the Wands guarding the Malfoys, Albus couldn’t tell.

    “It will not be just them. A number of others with ties to Britain will be joining us.” Nymphadora was still being treated, but her safehouses would be able to house Kingsley and the others. He smiled. “They will be joining us, and hopefully the Wands, in fighting the Dark Lord.” That should help smooth the takeover of the Ministry later.

    “That means they cannot be seen attacking the Malfoys. Or rather, that there cannot be any witnesses.”

    The girl had a talent for spotting the problems of his plan. He nodded. “Correct. I hope we can accomplish our task without killing anyone other than the Malfoys.” There was Obliviation, of course.

    “But you don’t expect things to go that smoothly.”

    He shook his head. “No, I do not.” There was a way that would all but ensure it, Nicolas had had the marvelous idea of adapting Augustus’s work with Basilisk poison to the Draught of Living Death, but using it on this mission would likely preclude its use on the Ministry, should that become needed later. And as much as Albus hated it, he’d rather see a few Wands killed defending the Malfoys, than far more die in a pitched battle for the Ministry.

    “Plans rarely go as planned,” Harry cut in, grinning, “But we usually make them work anyway.” The young man grew more serious again, and looked at Albus. “I’ll be there as well, of course.”

    “Mec...” Mister Weasley started, but Harry cut him off.

    “Forget it. I’m not going to let you risk your life without me.”

    “Good,” Miss Hermione said, with a glance at Albus.

    “I will, of course, join this undertaking as well,” Albus said. And not just to protect Harry, even if Miss Hermione’s comment might hint at that. It wasn’t as if he would be planning anything else for the day the Malfoys would meet their fate.

    The two young men grinned, but Miss Hermione didn’t look that convinced. Albus should have expected that - young people rarely adjusted quickly, or well, to having their most trusted authority figures being revealed as frauds.

    He feared that Wizarding Britain would be in a similar state, after this war was over.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 18th, 1999, 16.25 hours

    “Wands!” Draco Malfoy stood up, discarding a paper aeroplane. “I’ve just received a notice! The Obliviators have detected another apparition in that forest we visited earlier this week! Everyone up, we’ll move at once! This time we’ll catch the culprit!”

    The son of the Minister was brimming with excitement. Wand-Leader Hermione, temporarily - very temporarily she told herself each day - attached to this task force had to admit that she didn’t know anyone in the task force who was that enthusiastic or motivated about apparating into forests anymore. Not when they hadn’t caught anyone all week, apart from a couple meeting in a ‘romantic muggle forest’ for a tryst. In every other case the mysterious apparating wizards had left already when the team had arrived. They simply couldn’t react fast enough to catch anyone who did not linger.

    “Come on!” He clapped Hermione on the shoulder as he moved towards the Apparition area in the Ministry.

    She winced behind his back. Draco had been touching her more and more lately. He had stayed within the boundaries of proper manners, so far. Mostly pats on the shoulder like the one she had just received, but she really didn’t like where this seemed to be going. His flirting was bad enough. At least he would be busy staring at trees for the next half an hour, instead of staring at her. She still didn’t know why he was fixated on her. He had slept with Jasmine and Laura this week, and neither had seemed to mind his advances.

    Cleo shook her head at her, smiling wrily. “You’ll be able to meet your boyfriend after this. The boyfriend you still haven’t me introduced to,” she whispered, grinning.

    “Sorry,” Hermione said in a low voice, speeding up a bit to keep pace with Draco, “we tend to get, ah…”

    “Frisky?” Cleo grinned.

    Hermione nodded. It wasn’t entirely wrong, but she still felt bad for lying to Cleo, who had quickly become a friend.

    They passed a team of Wands, Combat Branch, guarding the Apparition area. There were traps ready as well, Hermione knew. Runes inlaid in the floor, wards ready to be deployed. Intruders would have a very hard time entering through that area. It could be circumvented though.

    Hermione had a feeling she might be called on to do that, sooner rather than later. She hoped she would be doing the right thing then.

    *****​

    They arrived at the edge of another forest in Kent. Teresa and Mabel immediately split off and entered the forest. Jane, Laura and Jasmine surrounded Draco, then followed them a few yards into the forest. Cleo and Hermione exchanged glances, and followed their example, checking the area with their wands for magical residue. As expected, they found nothing but their own.

    “Pretty dense foliage,” Cleo commented.

    She was right. The underbrush seemed denser than normal, for the area - after half a dozen such trips, Hermione was now somewhat knowledgeable of the local plant life. “Yes…” She couldn’t hear any animals either. Or any Wand.

    “Ambush!” Jane shouted. “Apparition-Jinxed!”

    Hermione dropped to the ground at once. A second later, a tree detonated near Draco’s position. She cast a Shield Charm, followed by a Human-presence-revealing Spell. Cleo joined her on the ground, panting and covered by a Shield Charm herself. More explosions followed. Further away though… and her spell didn’t reveal anyone hidden nearby. With the underbrush and trees limiting line of sight, why didn’t the ambushers move in, press their advantage? Her instructors would have failed her, had she done the same. Then she blinked. Had that bush just moved?

    “Merlin! It’s a trap!” Cleo shouted. “The plants are moving!”

    Tentacles shot out of the densest bush, towards Hermione. The witch rolled to the side, but one of them clipped her shoulder, adhering to her robe.

    “Evanesco!”

    She vanished the tentacle with part of her robe, and moved towards the edge of the forest. Cleo was there already, but stopped near a tree. Hermione reached her side. The field looked clear, but...

    On their right side, a marker appeared - a disillusioned wizard. Or witch, seeing how it had had come from the spot where Jane and the rest were. It started to run over the field. After about 10 yards, the ground erupted around her, and tendrils wrapped around an invisible figure. Then they constricted, and Hermione heard a short scream. Laura. The scream cut off, and blood covered the ground, attracting more tendrils.

    “Merlin…” Cleo said. “We’ll have to fly.”

    Hermione looked up. A dozen markers hung in the sky. Disillusioned wizards.

    “We can’t,” she said, then yelled “Ambushers in the sky!”

    “Plants getting closer!” Cleo shouted. “Fire’s not working on them!”

    Hermione glanced behind her. Tentacles were writhing on the ground, held at bay by Banishing Charms from Cleo. Her friend wouldn’t be able to keep this up for long. And there were more spells flashing towards where Jane and the others were with Draco.

    “Use Vanishing Charms on the plants!” Hermione shouted. Another tree exploded above her, and splinters pelted her shield. She ducked reflexively. How long would the enemy flyers wait for them to try to flee over the field, before attacking from above?

    Fire bursting above her answered her question. A giant snake made of flames and smoke broke through the canopy, and slid down a tree trunk, setting it aflame. Fiendfyre!

    “We can’t stay here, and they want us to flee on the field! We need to charge ahead!” she shouted to Cleo while sprinting towards Jane’s last position. More tentacles shot at her, but she managed to evade them. Judging by her cursing, Cleo did as well. Behind them the fire spread, and chased them.

    “We can’t go through those plants!”

    They met Jane, who was kneeling next to Draco, shielding him with her own body. Jasmine was there as well, driving the plants back. Laura was shooting curses at the field. More Fiendfyre was ravaging the forest.

    “We need to get through those plants in the forest!” Hermione panted. “It’s the only way!” If she could transfigure a tunnel, or a breach through them… but could she do that fast enough to outrace Fiendfyre? If she closed the tunnel behind her...

    “Saddle up! We’ll fly - through the forest!” Draco yelled, pulling out and unshrinking his broom.

    Hermione gasped. Flying through a forest? At high speed? She wasn’t that good at broom riding! But the cursed fire was close, and would soon reach them. It was their only chance. She pulled out her Nimbus, and kicked off. Draco was already speeding ahead. For all his faults, the wizard could fly. For a moment, Hermione contemplated following him, but he was too fast. Instead, she followed Cleo, hoping the witch was a better flyer than herself.

    She heard a scream behind her, and glanced over her shoulder, almost freezing at the sight. A hydra made of fire had broken through the canopy, and several of its heads were diving at Jasmine, who must have been slow to mount her broom. The witch and her broom disappeared in an instant, and the fire was chasing Hermione.

    She leaned forward, reducing air resistance, and shot after Cleo, who was weaving around trees. Hermione tried to copy her friend’s moves, and not to think about the monster made of cursed fire chasing after her. If the ambushers had spotted them, and were racing to cut them off at the other edge of the forest…

    She almost crashed into a tree Cleo narrowly avoided, and her right foot caught on a branch, wrenching her off-course. She managed to control her broom enough to follow Cleo again, but she had lost time, and to the left of her, the trees started to catch fire. Had the others set the whole forest afire?

    She sped up, but had to brake again when she barely avoided flying into a tree trunk. The roar from the fire sweeping through the woods grew louder, or so she thought. She had lost sight of Cleo, Draco had disappeared long ago, and she hadn’t even seen Jane since they had taken off. It was just her, the trees, and the fire.

    And the fire was gaining. Or she had veered off-course without noticing. She wasn’t a scout, she was in the Investigative Branch! Tears ran down her face while she weaved around a pair of tree trunks. She didn’t want to die, not like this, not on a broom, burned alive.

    To her right, a tree crashed to the ground, sending sparks up into the canopy. She pulled to the left again, away from those flames. Smoke started to overtake her - the wind was driving the flames towards her, she realised. She didn’t dare slow down to cast a Bubble-Head Charm, and breathing grew more difficult. If the smoke started to grow any thicker, she’d not be able to spot a tree before crashing into it.

    And then she was out of the forest. She bent down and accelerated as much as she could, trying to apparate, all the time expecting a curse to hit her.

    Her third attempt worked.
     
    space turtle, qof, Beyogi and 3 others like this.
  26. Threadmarks: Chapter 15: Cracks
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 15: Cracks

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 18th, 1999, 16.35 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione appeared in the Apparition Area for the Corps. She was safe. Alive. Before she could say anything, she felt herself float away from the area, deposited not so gently a few yards away.

    “Clear the spot! Get the wounded to St. Mungo’s!”

    She was panting, coughing and covered with sweat. Her lungs hurt with each breath. Too much smoke, she realised. Far too much. She blinked through eyes filled with tears - and not just due to the smoke she had flown in - and saw more Wands enter the area and disapparate. A lot more Wands. Entire Teams.

    “That’s Hermione!” someone shouted, and once more she was lifted into the air. She was getting sick of leaving the ground.

    “Hermione!”

    She turned her head. “Dean?”

    Her friend nodded, smiling widely. “You’re alive! What happened? Jane alerted the Corps, and our first wave ran into an ambush!”

    “What?” No, her team had been ambushed… she shook her head. Of course! “It was a trap… they were ready for us, the entire forest was a trap.” She had to pause to cough. “Enchanted strangling vines, and Fiendfyre. The field was trapped as well. Anti-Apparition Jinxes everywhere.”

    “We heard that, yes. And our vanguard was just ambushed right where they appeared,” Dean said.

    “That’s Hermione?” another voice cut in. Wand-Leader Benjamin. “What happened to the Minister’s son?”

    “We flew through the forest, away from the Fiendfyre…” She coughed. “He was the first to get away. Haven’t seen him since then.” Hadn’t he appeared in the Ministry as well? What about Cleo? Jane?

    “Hermione!”

    Dean and Benjamin jumped to attention. Hermione followed their example, but had to bend over as coughs wracked her.

    “What happened? Where is Draco?”

    She repeated her report. The Minister turned to Benjamin. “I want that forest secured and those Fanatics killed or driven away! Save my son!”

    “Yes, sir!” Benjamin saluted, and disapparated, presumably to inform Jane. The Wand-Commander would be at the front, directing the Corps. The Minister turned away, then stopped. “Get her to a Healer,” he added, almost as an afterthought.

    Dean helped steady her. “Can you walk?”

    She nodded, coughing again.

    “We’ll take the Floo then.” He started leading her towards the next Floo connection.

    “What about Jane? Cleo?”

    “I don’t know.”

    She closed her eyes. “They knew we’d call for reinforcements. They didn’t want to just ambush us, they also used us as bait.”

    Dean muttered a curse. In the background, she heard the Minister shout again. “The whole Corps is deploying?” She asked, between coughs.

    “Yes. All but the skeleton crew. The Minister’s son is in danger…”

    “That’s what they are counting on. They know we have to attack, no matter the cost, for Draco.” She spat out the last word. “I saw Laura and Jasmine die. Teresa and Mabel disappeared scouting the forest. They must be dead as well. But Cleo and Jane…”

    They had reached the Floo connection. Dean grabbed some powder and threw it into the fire. He dragged her with him while she was coughing too much to say the destination.

    “St. Mungo’s!”

    *****​

    London, St. Mungo’s, September 18th, 1999, 22.35 hours

    Hermione woke up in a room in St. Mungo’s. She recognised the the furniture at once. Dean was sitting on a chair next to her bed and Colin was dozing in a conjured armchair nearby.

    She took a deep breath. Her lungs didn’t hurt anymore. “Did you reach Antoine?” It felt great to be able to talk normally again.

    Dean nodded. “I told him you were OK, but had to stay in St. Mungo’s for a few hours, for observation. He wanted to come, but I told him it was a Corps operation.”

    “Thank you.” She smiled. Ron wouldn’t have had to worry over much. And Luna was on a trip to Sweden, looking for pygmy trolls. She wouldn’t return until Monday. “Did you hear anything about the others?”

    Dean drew a hissing breath, and she knew he had bad news. “Jane is dead. She never made it out of the forest, as far as I know. You already knew Jasmine and Laura were killed. They found Mabel and Teresa’s remains - or so they think. Cleo’s alive, but…”

    “What?”

    “She caught a nasty curse. She apparated directly to St. Mungo’s, and they didn’t recognise her.”

    Hermione winced. That sounded bad. But she was alive, at least.

    “The worst is Draco, though.” Dean’s lips formed a thin line and she could almost see the anger boil up inside her friend.

    “What happened to him?”

    “He apparated to his home, but didn’t think to inform the Corps right away. While we were charging a trapped, burning forest, he was already safe!” Dean ground his teeth. “If he had not wasted so much time changing his robes, we’d not have lost another half a dozen Wands in that ambush and that pointless battle!”

    Hermione closed her eyes. “Merlin!”

    “Yes. I heard Sarah was blamed for the losses, even though the Minister ordered her to charge in and save his son, no matter the cost.” He shook his head. “I can’t confirm that though, just a rumour.”

    Hermione nodded. But for the Corps, even a rumour like this was a bad sign. Or a good sign, depending on your view.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 18th, 1999, 22.45 hours

    Stepping out of the Floo connection, Minister for Magic Lucius Malfoy sighed at the sight of his wife. He had had better days. He had almost lost his only son and heir in an ambush by the Dark Lord. He had lost a dozen of his Wands, among them some of his best, in exchange for half that number of enemies. He had lost face in front of his Wands too, when he had lost his composure and ordered them to charge into an ambush to save his son.

    “Good evening, husband,” Narcissa greeted him with a clipped tone and a stone-faced expression. Only her eyes betrayed her fury.
    And his wife was about to lose her temper. At least she was still controlling herself in front of their guards. Lucius couldn’t afford to lose their confidence in him. That they didn’t think much of Draco right now could be fixed, in time.

    “Good evening, dear.” He nodded at her, then at the two Wands guarding the Floo connection.

    “I need to talk to you.”

    “Of course, dear.”

    He smiled, and followed Narcissa to the drawing room. His smile vanished, together with his wife’s hold on her temper, as soon as the door was closed behind them.

    “Draco almost died due to your stupid plotting! You put him against the Dark Lord, dared that monster to go after him, and he did!” Narcissa all but screamed at him.

    He suddenly was very aware of just how much she resembled Bellatrix. For a moment he was tempted to cast a Shield Charm, even though his wife hadn’t drawn her wand.

    “You and your clever ploys and plots! Your oh so loyal mudbloods failed to protect Draco! If he wasn’t such an exceptional flyer, he’d have been killed! Burned to death like your useless animals! They couldn’t even spot a simple trap!”

    He ground his teeth. No one had spotted that trap, even though in hindsight, it had been obvious. He couldn’t even blame the Wands, much - they didn’t know about the Dark Lord.

    “They died for our son,” he said.

    “As they should!” Narcissa spat. “It’s the only way they can atone for their failure!”

    That was entering very dangerous ground. Was his wife not just losing her temper, but her sanity? Like her sister? “They were under his command.” In hindsight, he should have told Jane that she could overrule Draco for his own safety.

    “And they failed him! Failed us!” At least she wasn’t banishing or wrecking the furniture. She stared at him. “And this disgusting ploy of yours ends! I will not have my son lay with mudbloods any longer!”

    Lucius was quite certain that Draco was currently enjoying the company of a Wand in his room, but it wouldn’t be smart to point this out. “As you wish,” he nodded at her.

    It wasn’t a big concession. Hermione’s loyalty was no longer a major concern, not after today’s events. The entire Corps’ loyalty towards Draco had suffered from his son’s mistake. An understandable mistake, given that he had just barely escaped an ambush by the Dark Lord, and hadn’t thought to return to the Ministry, but a mistake still.

    “And he’ll not take part in this war anymore. He’ll stay safe until your mudbloods have killed the Dark Lord, or died trying!”

    “That’s not your decision, dear, but his, and his alone. Our son is a man now, and no longer a child to be ordered around.” If Draco sat the war out, any chance of regaining the Wands’ respect would be lost. He’d have to explain that to his son, if needed. Carefully worded, of course.

    “His decision? You manipulated him! You made him think he should risk his life!” she hissed at him. “You encouraged him to fornicate with those sluts!”

    “I did not,” he lied.

    “Of course you did! I’m not stupid!” She sneered at him.

    He met her eyes. He wouldn’t let her fear ruin his family. She trembled, then looked away.

    “Curse you!” she said, sobbed. Then Narcissa started to cry. For real, not for show.

    He felt a pang of guilt. He knew he was right, but he didn’t want to hurt her. Stepping closer, he put his hand on her shoulder, feeling her flinch. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. He was, but he’d not yield to her. He couldn’t. Too much was at stake.

    She didn’t answer, but she didn’t shrug his hand off, or pull away when he embraced her.

    *****​

    Beauxbatons, France, September 19th, 1999, 00.30 hours

    Albus Dumbledore read the report from Severus again, frowning.

    I informed the Dark Lord about Draco’s task and suggested that the Dark Lord’s forces ambush him. Sadly, he managed to survive, but the Ministry’s forces were further weakened by the losses of some of their best Wands, even if a few of those with Draco escaped as well. I retain the Dark Lord’s trust while Rabastan was punished for bungling the ambush.

    He couldn’t fault Severus. Draco’s death would have hurt Lucius, maybe even driven a wedge between him and Narcissa, and the Dark Lord’s trust in the spy would have greatly increased. Severus didn’t know about Albus’s other allies, especially not about Hermione.

    No, if anyone was to blame, it was Albus himself, for not considering this when he had heard of Miss Hermione’s new assignment. If he had told Severus not to take action against Draco the young witch wouldn’t have been at risk.

    It had worked out well enough though. The Wands’ trust in the Malfoy family had been shaken, and Miss Hermione was alive and well. The deaths of the other Wands was tragic, but it would pit the others more firmly against Tom, and might even facilitate a peaceful solution once Lucius was killed.

    He rubbed his beard. There was another opportunity thanks to Severus’s action. Draco might have escaped, but he had lost the respect of the Wands. Severus should be able to convince the Dark Lord that this was a good time for Lucius to die.

    *****​

    London, St. Mungo’s, September 19th, 1999, 09.30 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione and Wand Dean approached the room Cleo was recovering in at St. Mungo’s. Wand-Leader Benjamin was standing outside, leaning against the door. He straightened when he saw them coming.

    “Good morning Benjamin,” Hermione said, nodding at her older colleague. Dean simply nodded his greeting.

    “Hermione, Dean.” Benjamin looked as if he hadn’t slept at all. He looked her over. “I heard you were hurt as well.”

    Hermione shook her head. “Just some smoke poisoning.”

    “More than some,” Dean added. “She was coughing so much, she had trouble talking.” He ignored her glare.

    Benjamin snorted. “You were lucky. Cleo caught a curse. A real bad one. Dozens of cuts, dark magic.”

    Hermione hissed. Every Wand knew what that meant. Scars at best. Wounds that never healed, at worst. If they lived.

    “She almost died from blood loss, they poured Blood-Replenishing Potions in her while the Healers worked on her wounds. They didn’t know how to close the wounds. No one knew the counter-curse, if any even existed. They finally managed to save her, but… it’s not a pretty sight,” Benjamin said while moving away from the door. “She’s asleep, finally.”

    Hermione nodded, then entered the room. Cleo was in the single bed. An ugly knotted scar ran from the middle of her forehead down to her jaw, over where her left eye had been. Another was barely visible on her collarbone, disappearing under the blanket.

    She knew this kind of scar.

    Dean shook his head. “Merlin!”

    “They must have used a scarring curse to treat her,” Hermione said. “Dark magic.” It was ingenious, in a way. Force the wounds closed with more dark magic. But while the curse saved Cleo’s life, it would have left her with hideous scars.

    She stepped closer, and and looked at her friend. Her hair had been cut, but that could be regrown. Unless it was dark magic as well. She was pale, which made the scar stand out even more, and looked far more frail than Hermione remembered her.

    “Get well soon,” she said, placing a card on the side board next to Cleo’s bed. “We’ll get whoever did this to you.”

    “Yes,” Dean said.

    Benjamin was leaning against the wall when they left the room again. He looked at them, but didn’t say anything.

    “I still have to write my report,” she said. “They didn’t demote Sarah, did they?”

    “What? Of course not!” Benjamin said. “What happened?”

    “Cleo and I were the only ones who escaped. By sheer luck, if you can call it that,” Hermione said, glancing back at the door. “Us two, and Draco.”

    Benjamin sneered. “I heard he ran, left you all to face the Fanatics.”

    “Not exactly. We had lost Mabel, Teresa and Laura before Jane gave the order to retreat. Jasmine died while we got on our brooms. Fiendfyre. Draco had the fastest broom, and outpaced us,” Hermione explained.

    “But you wouldn’t have been in that forest if not for him.” Benjamin scoffed. “He wanted his harem of witches, and wanted to play at being a leader. That’s why you and Cleo were pulled from us.”

    “He wouldn’t have been able to create his ‘harem’ if the Minister hadn’t supported it,” Hermione pointed out.

    Dean nodded. “I heard it wasn’t Draco’s idea either.”

    Benjamin’s face grew hard. “Are you certain?”

    “We’re not certain, but when has Draco ever been active in chasing criminals?” Hermione pointed out.

    “He’s been chasing witches,” Dean added.

    “And even if it wasn’t his idea, the Minister certainly didn’t stop him,” Hermione said.

    Benjamin nodded. “Sarah’s getting the blame, but he ordered her to press the attack against a prepared enemy. Even though we’d have been too late to save Draco.

    “Is it true he was safely at home while the battle was still going on?”

    The older Wand-Leader nodded. “Yes. Didn’t think to tell anyone.”

    “Didn’t ask about his team either,” Dean added. “Or care.”

    Hermione thought she heard Benjamin mutter ‘bloody idiot’ under his breath, but she wasn’t certain. She was certain though that he wouldn’t keep his opinion to himself. He was too angry, he needed to talk to someone.

    Rumours would spread. And hopefully, more Wands would question the Minister.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 19th, 1999, 14.30 hours

    “You’re early,” Ron Weasley said when Harry stepped out of the Vanishing Cabinet in his room in the Leaky Cauldron. Harry was supposed to search for the Dark Lord’s current hideout with Dumbledore, but later in the day.

    “Yes,” his friend grinned. “I didn’t want to leave you all alone and brooding, parted from your girlfriend for the day.”

    Ron sighed at his friend’s antics. “Trouble with Ginny?”

    Harry nodded. “Sort of. She wanted to come as well. ‘Just to meet Ron’s girlfriend’, she said, but…”

    “... we can’t take people to Britain just for that.” Ron shook his head. “But you know she’ll be even unhappier with you for going ahead of schedule, and leaving her.”

    “Yes.” Harry looked around. “Do you have a drink here?”

    Ron narrowed his eyes. “Harry, are you trying to make her mad at you?”

    “What?” Harry looked startled.

    “You look like when you were dumping Jacqueline, and wanted her to dump you,” Ron said, remembering that short-lived relationship. If Harry was pulling the same stupid stunt on his sister… they were not 15-year-old idiots anymore.

    Harry sighed. “I’m not trying to make her mad. Not really.”

    “But…?”

    “You know… what we are doing is dangerous.” Harry sat down at the table.

    “I know. That’s why my sister isn’t coming to Britain until the war’s over.” Ron was wondering what Harry was talking about.

    “We’re closing in on the Dark Lord and on Malfoy. Anyone of us could die during the next missions. Even with Dumbledore at our side.”

    Ah. Ron thought he understood now what was eating his friend. “Yes.” He summoned two butterbeers from the chest in his room and handed one to Harry. “It is dangerous. Percy and Tonks almost died. You and I were lucky.” He still had some nightmares about tentacles, from time to time.

    “Yes, we were lucky. Luck runs out sometime.”

    “It just has to last a bit longer,” Ron said, opening his bottle. Then he sighed. “Hermione was attacked by the Dark Lord’s followers yesterday.”

    “I know.”

    “Her friend said she was fine, but she spent the night at the hospital in London.” He hadn’t seen her since then.

    “That kind of fine then.” Harry nodded.

    He would know about that, of course. Ron remembered how often his friend had claimed to be ‘fine’ after a Quidditch accident. “Yes. It was a close call, at the least. She was lucky.”

    Harry took a sip from his beer. “Don’t you want to lock her up somewhere safe?”

    Ron had felt that urge a number of times. “She’d kill me if I tried.”

    “What would you do if she died?”

    Ron didn’t really want to think about that, much less talk about it. “Do you want to know what I think Ginny will do should you die?”

    “... yes.”

    Ron finished his bottle. “She’d go berserk and fly on her broom to Britain to take revenge if we don’t let her join the mission.”

    “That’s what I’m afraid of.” Harry closed his eyes.

    “Well, don’t die then. Don’t do anything stupidly brave, and you’ll be fine. Dumbledore will handle the Dark Lord.” Ron tried to sound as confident as he could.

    His friend sighed though. “It’s not that simple.”

    “What’s eating you, Harry?” Ron was losing his patience with his friend. Before a mission, you were not supposed to talk like that. It was like Quidditch - if you went into a match thinking you’d lose, you’d likely lose.

    “Dumbledore might not be able to handle the Dark Lord for me. Boy-Who-Lived and all, you know.”

    Ron stared at Harry’s forehead, where the scar was hidden behind muggle makeup. “What do you mean?”

    “We’re kind of… connected. There is even a prophecy, that we’ll fight each other.” Harry looked past Ron, out of the window.

    “Is that why you can sense his Horcruxes?”

    “Yes. Dumbledore says I’m also protected by whatever my mother did before she died, but… he isn’t certain it’ll be enough.”

    “Dumbledore doesn’t really put much faith in prophecies,” Ron pointed out. The professor’s arguments with Beauxbatons’ Divination teacher were almost legendary.

    “Let’s just say there’s a lot of acts backing this up.” Harry stared at him. “I might have to die to kill him, Ron.”

    “Merde.” Ron hadn’t known about this. Harry had always had a devil may care attitude, taking risks on the pitch no one else did. And now this.

    “Yes.”

    “Since when have you known?”

    “Few years.”

    “Those special lessons with the professor.”

    “Yes.”

    “He has a plan though, right? He’s had years to prepare.” Dumbledore had to have a plan.

    “Yes, he has a plan to kill Voldemort permanently and save me. But he’s not certain it’ll work.” Harry winced.

    “Well, then we simply kill him non-permanently, and take another 20 years to work on a better plan!”

    His friend shook his head. “I told him to go for Voldemort’s final death.”

    “What?” Ron stood up. “Are you bloody crazy?”

    “I’m not. But I might go crazy if he survives. We have a connection.” Harry pointed at his forehead. “A piece of his soul is stuck in there. Whatever mom did has been keeping me safe, but… I’m starting to feel him. His emotions. Sometimes I catch glimpses of what he sees. Despite my Occlumency. And it’s getting worse.”

    “Merde.” Ron was horrified. To imagine that sort of connection to the Dark Lord… to share his thoughts… he shuddered.

    Harry sighed. “I don’t want to become a danger, or lose my mind. So… if the plan doesn’t work out, please… “

    “You have to tell her.”

    “I can’t.”

    “You have to. If you don’t, and you die, she’ll always wonder if you didn’t trust her. If you didn’t think she was strong enough to handle it. Not good enough.” Ron put his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Trust me, if you care for her, you have to tell her this.”

    “She’ll kill me.”

    “No, she won’t. She loves you, mec.”

    She’d probably make him wish that she had killed him, a bit. But Harry deserved it, a bit. To hide something like this, from Ginny, and from him… Ron tried to feel angry about it, but he couldn’t. Not when he imagined what his best friend was going through, and what he was facing.

    Harry sighed, and stood up. “I guess I better get it over with, then.”

    Ron nodded. “That’s the spirit, mec.” He grinned. “If she kills you, do I get your broom?”

    Harry stared at him, then chuckled. “You wish, mec,” he said, before stepping into the cabinet.

    Ron kept his grin up until the cabinet was closed.

    Merde.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 19th, 1999, 17.30 hours

    Ron Weasley had his wand out when he heard the Vanishing Cabinet creak. He didn’t expect trouble to arrive from France, but after more than a month as a spy in Britain, some habits were ingrained. And when the doors opened, he knew trouble had arrived.

    “Did you know?” Ginny asked, in place of a greeting.

    “No,” Ron answered reflexively.

    She glared at him, as if trying to decide if he was lying, while he pointed his wand away.

    “What are you doing here?” he finally asked. “This is…”

    “Too dangerous for a witch? Like your lover or Tonks?” Ginny said, putting her hands on her hip. “Too dangerous for a Weasley, like you, Fred and George and Percy?”

    “Percy and Tonks almost died!”

    “And you’re still here.” She tossed her hair back. “And Percy and Tonks are not available. Which means you need more people.”

    They did. But they didn’t need his sister. “You know why you can’t do this. You’re too well-known in France.”

    She scoffed. “Hah! If Harry can disappear for an evening or two a week, so can I. Everyone will assume we’re off in a love-nest.” Before he could say anything, she sneered. “And don’t give me that line about being the reason for Harry to come back, the reason he’ll not do something reckless! He told me about the real prophecy! He told me he might have to die to kill Voldemort once and for all! Ce con!”

    His little sister was shaking, and he could see tears in her eyes. He knew this revelation had to have hurt her greatly. To find out that your love might have to die, and that he had kept this from her… It wouldn’t have helped that she had resented Ron and his brothers slightly overprotective attitude towards her for years.

    He saw that she had her wand drawn. “He told me today. I told him to tell you.” Ron didn’t like to sacrifice his friend, but it was every wizard for themselves in such a situation.

    Ginny conjured a couch and slammed herself on it more than she sat down. She took a few deep breaths to calm down. “He told me. And I told him I won’t let him go off to die by himself.”

    “You didn’t hex him, did you?” They had a mission tonight.

    She sniffed. “Of course I didn’t. I’m not a silly little girl who thinks she can solve her troubles with a hex, Ron!”

    “Not anymore, you mean,” he said, before he could catch himself.

    She glared at him, but she couldn’t exactly hex him now without proving her claim wrong.

    “Where is Harry then?”

    She shrugged. “He should be along in a while, with Dumbledore.”

    “And what did our parents say about this?”

    She looked away. “They don’t exactly know. Yet.”

    He closed his eyes. “So, you’re doing the exact same thing you are mad at Harry for doing?”

    “Yes.”

    Ron sighed. “Ma petite, that’s not exactly mature.”

    Ginny shrugged. “I’ll tell them after it’s over.”

    He realised she’d not budge, and tried another argument. “You’re not trained in combat, not to the level we are. You’d be a liability in battle.”

    “I’m not planning to fight side by side with you lot,” she said. “I’m the best flyer of all of you, with the possible exception of Harry.”

    “Possible exception?” He raised his eyebrows.

    She folded her arms. “I’m the better chaser.”

    “And that will matter in battle exactly how?”

    Her grin made him regret his question at once.

    “Did you know Fred and George have created many wonderful items that can be thrown at enemies?”

    Ron was going to kill the twins, if they all survived this.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 19th, 1999, 18.05 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione entered Ron’s room at the Leaky Cauldron with a smile. She had spent the day filling out reports, and answering questions - from Sarah, and from other Wands. But the day was over now, finally! And if she was early enough, they might have enough time to…

    The redhead sitting on a new couch next to Ron, waving at her made her drop that line of thought. Hermione recognised her from the Quidditch magazine covers at once. “Ginny Weasley, I presume.”

    “Hello. You must be Hermione.”

    “Yes.”

    She looked the girl over. Red hair, freckles, pale skin despite her occupation… she looked at Ron and back to his sister, realising she hadn’t ever seen Ron without his muggle disguise.

    Ginny had studied her as well. “You’re not what I expected after hearing Ron talk about you.”

    Hermione raised an eyebrow, glancing at her lover. “Really?”

    Ron stood up. “She’s been dying to meet you, and took the first excuse to head over to Britain.” He gathered her in a hug, and they kissed.

    “Well, that explains a lot.”

    The redhead’s comment made Hermione break off, and blink. “Explains?”

    Ron was glaring at his sister.

    “I’ve seen him with all his girlfriends so far.” Ginny smirked.

    Hermione was still confused. “I don’t understand.”

    “I was curious why he was so hung up on a girl. Worse than when he had a crush on Fleur.”

    Was she insinuating…? Hermione wasn’t certain if she should feel insulted or flattered.

    Ron rolled his eyes. “She’s just doing her annoying little sister thing.”

    “I’m just looking out for you. I was right about Estelle, wasn’t I?”

    “Estelle?” Hermione asked.

    “A witch I had a very brief affair with at Beauxbatons”; Ron said.

    “Long enough to meet her family,” Ginny added.

    “Ah.” Hermione shouldn’t be jealous of an ex-girlfriend of her boyfriend, but she was. The girl had had a family Ron could meet, contrary to herself.

    “Three weeks is not long,” Ron said.

    “That’s half the time we’ve known each other,” Hermione pointed out.

    Ginny made a dismissive gesture. “He never talked about her as he talked about you. It was all about her body.”

    “I was sixteen,” Ron said through clenched teeth. “Now, Hermione just survived an ambush by the Dark Lord, or his forces, so could we stop talking about my teenage crushes as if they mattered?”

    Hermione nodded. She looked at the witch. “I take it that you’re replacing Tonks then?”

    Ginny nodded, smiling widely.

    Ron groaned.

    Hermione knew she was missing something.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 19th, 1999, 20.05 hours

    Albus Dumbledore smiled despite the tension in the small room. The cause of said tension, Miss Weasley’s presence, might not be appreciated that much by the others, but in his opinion, it was a good thing she was here, with them.

    She was in danger, that much was obvious, but Albus knew that the idea that she would be safe if she stayed in France was an illusion. Should anything happen to Harry, or to her brother, she’d almost certainly do something quite rash and very dangerous, if not outright suicidal.

    On the other hand, her presence at the frontlines, so to speak, might cause Harry to act more rashly to protect her - but at the same time, it might cause him to act with a bit more restraint and caution. The shared experience might also help their relationship, which had been strained lately, as far as he could tell.

    Ah, young love! He refrained from sighing. This was another reason for not opposing young Miss Weasley’s presence, as futile as it would have been: Albus was quite certain that the prophesied power Tom knew not was love. And there was a lot of love that he could feel in this room. Familial and romantic love.

    He cleared his throat. “Now that everyone is here, including me, let us start.” Harry and Mister Weasley chuckled at his joke - Albus had been the last to arrive. Miss Hermione didn’t, but Miss Weasley snorted. “I’ve considered the most recent events, and I have come to the conclusion that we cannot further delay our settling of accounts with the Malfoy family. The danger that they will cause further harm to innocents,” he nodded at Miss Hermione, who met his eyes with a serious expression, “is simply too big.”

    Solemn nods answered his statement.

    “I’ve taken steps that will see Lucius dead soon, though I cannot say yet when exactly he will find his end. But once he dies, his son and wife have to be dealt with at once. We must be ready to act at any time, if called upon.”

    Miss Hermione spoke up: “Draco’s task force has been dissolved. I cannot stay that close to him anymore.”

    Albus suppressed a smile at the relieved expression Mister Weasley showed upon hearing that. “I have endeavoured to have the strike occur in the evening, so at least Narcissa Malfoy should be at her home. And in case Draco himself is not present, we’ll be planting evidence that he was behind the assassination of his father.”

    The young Wand-Leader frowned. “How credible is that evidence?”

    “It should be most persuasive. Not too blatant, just enough to raise suspicions.” Hints that he had purchased the very poison that would claim Lucius’s life. Hints that he had escaped the ambush with the help of the Dark Lord.

    Miss Hermione didn’t look convinced.

    “I do not count on this to convince the Wands that he was the culprit, but I hope it will sow enough doubts so he will not be able to easily take control of the Ministry. Ideally though, he will be at home when we strike.”

    “What about witnesses?”

    “We will be wearing Death Eater masks. It will not fool the Dark Lord, but who will believe him, should he protest his innocence?” Albus asked.

    The witch seemed to mull this over. “Some in the Investigative Branch will suspect. That’s how we’re trained to think.”

    “As long as there is no proof there should not be any serious repercussions.” Nothing that couldn’t be handled, at least.

    “Once they are dead, the Dark Lord’s return will be revealed. This should allow the exiles to return.” Albus expected to be welcomed by most Wizards in Britain, as long as he was their best hope against the Dark Lord, and Lucius could be conveniently blamed for any grudges the exiles might carry. The Wands were the wild card, so to speak. But given the numbers they had lost to the Dark Lord, he was optimistic that they would not be eager to fight him and his allies.

    “That said, let me now explain the attack plan in detail.”

    *****​

    Forest of Bowland, Lancashire, Britain, September 19th, 1999, 23.45 hours

    “So, ma petite, how are you feeling about your first mission as a spy in Britain?” Ron asked, leaning against a rock at the edge of a forest.

    Ginny frowned at him, then sniffed. “All we did was travel back to France, checked a muggle map, apparated to Denmark, checked the map again, then returned to London and flew for hours into a forest in North England.”

    “It’s called recon,” Ron said.

    “I’m not complaining.”

    She wanted to, Ron knew. “You still have to tell mum.”

    That earned him a glare.

    He saw a marker appear over the Forest - his Human-presence-revealing spell had caught Dumbledore. Probably. He drew his wand anyway. The marker dipped below the canopies of the trees, and the professor revealed himself. Next to him, Harry removed his cloak. Ron still didn’t know why Harry’s inherited cloak was not detected by a spell that revealed Dumbledore, but he wasn’t about to question their good fortune.

    “We have successfully confirmed the Dark Lord’s current location,” Dumbledore said.

    “And his last anchor,” Harry added. “It’s a rather old and small cottage - again. I guess he thinks that no one will suspect him and his followers of staying in such humble lodgings.” He shrugged.

    Harry wasn’t looking at Ginny, Ron noticed, and Ginny wasn’t looking at him. The two hadn’t made up yet, then. He sighed. He could try to make them make up, but both his sister and his friend were sometimes too stubborn for their own good. And he guessed that this was one of those times.

    He sighed again. Louder this time. That earned him a glare from both of them, and a chuckle from Dumbledore. He rolled his eyes. “Merlin, it’s as bad as when you were dancing around each other for the first time. Haven’t you grown up some in the last few years?”

    “My brother, l’expert de l’amour,” Ginny said, sniffing.

    Harry snorted. “He’s just grumpy that he has to spend the night on a broom, instead of staying with his girlfriend.”

    Ron frowned at them. Even with his broom, it’d take hours to return to London. He couldn’t complain though - it had been his choice to come along. Not that he had a choice, with Ginny going as well. His mum would kill him if anything happened to his little sister.

    The two glanced at each other, smirking.

    They still hadn’t made up when the group mounted their brooms again, but Ron was quite certain they would, once back in France.

    *****​

    London, St. Mungo’s, September 20th, 1999, 10.21 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione tried not to stare at her friend. And failed.

    Cleo snorted. “I’ve already looked into a mirror. The thing was struck silent. Didn’t offer me any advice.”

    Hermione winced.

    Cleo touched the knotted blue scar on her face. “That’s actually the worst. The rest… well, they’re ugly, but they didn’t, you know, hit anything important.” She stretched her arms over her head. “I can move without problems, I can cast. I can still serve. And some people think scars are sexy.”

    Hermione nodded. If her friend was being brave, then she could do no less. Even though she suspected that Cleo was just putting up a brave front.

    “Benjamin told me about the rest of us. And Draco. Shortest task force in the history of the Corps.”

    “Yes,” Hermione confirmed. And one of the first to fail their objective, as well.

    “And now we’re back where we belong, and Draco’s back to doing what he did before.”

    “Meaning, nothing,” Hermione said.

    Cleo looked surprised, then chuckled. “Better than messing up another operation. Though to be fair, one of us should have expected an ambush.”

    “Not such an extensive one. They did know it was Draco leading us,” Hermione said.

    “Another traitor then. Did you find them yet?”

    Hermione shook her head. She hadn’t looked for the traitor yet either.

    “Draco’s probably been bragging to everyone anyway. Jane would know, but…” Cleo winced.

    Hermione nodded.

    “They’re keeping me another day or two, to make certain that my skin won’t suddenly split open again and cover everything in my blood. I guess you’re back on duty already?” Cleo looked at Hermione’s brown robe.

    “Yes. Back to hunting the half-naga.” And to planning an assassination.

    “Well, I better get some more rest, or I’ll be stuck here even longer. That means ‘shoo! Get back to work, you lazy witch!’” Cleo grinned at her, but Hermione could see that the other witch was close to breaking down.

    She reached out and hugged her friend, ignoring Cleo’s weak protests until they stopped and the crying started. Work would wait.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 20th, 1999, 17.45 hours

    “Hermione!”

    The Wand-Leader had just enough time to brace herself before Luna crashed into her. The blonde witch was sniffling and clung to her.

    “I came as soon as I heard you were hurt again, but you were already gone from St. Mungo’s!”

    “I sent you a note,” Hermione pointed out.

    “I didn’t check my mail after your first note.” Luna was still hugging her. “What happened?” she asked Hermione’s hair.

    “We ran into an ambush in a forest. The half-naga had prepared a trap for Draco. Cursed plants, fire traps, and Fiendfyre. I escaped on my broom, like Draco.”

    “How did you get hurt? And where?” Luna still wasn’t letting go of her.

    “Just some smoke poisoning. Easily treated,” Hermione tried to reassure her friend.

    “That’s dangerous! Why didn’t you cast a Bubble-Head Charm?”

    “There was no time, the Fiendfyre was too close…” Hermione closed her eyes, wincing. She had spent the day writing reports, and had forgotten about not telling Luna everything.

    “What? You were so close, you couldn’t take the time to cast a single spell?” The blonde witch was trembling in her arms now.

    “I survived, I’m OK. They wouldn’t have let me out of the hospital otherwise, you know?” Hermione pulled back and smiled at her friend. Who was crying. Damn.

    “Please… I’m really fine now. And I’m off the task force. Draco gave up on his plan.” She patted Luna’s back until the blonde had calmed down. And her thoughts wandered back to last night.

    Dumbledore had finished detailing his plans to assassinate Narcissa and Draco Malfoy. They had been quite sound, as far as Hermione had been able to tell. Not too complicated, flexible enough to be adapted on the fly, somewhat, and taking into account several possible problems.

    When she had thought he would leave to track down the next hideout of the Dark Lord, he had turned to her instead.

    “Miss Hermione, there is one more thing I have to impose on you for. You are friends with Luna Lovegood and her father.”

    It hadn’t been a question. She had nodded anyway, already wondering where he was going with this.

    And then he had pulled out a stone from his robes, and conjured a ghost.

    She cast several privacy spells, even though they were in her room in the Ministry. Luna noticed, of course - the blonde was far more perceptive than most thought - and tensed up.

    Hermione winced and sighed. There was no way out of this - she had made a promise after all, and to a rather vengeful ghost. She took a deep breath and said: “Luna, I met the ghost of your mother.”

    Luna froze. “What?” she whispered, suddenly looking more frail and vulnerable than Hermione had ever seen her since they had become friends.

    “Yes. I met her last night.”

    “Where? If she was a ghost, then why hasn’t she approached me? Why did she leave me and daddy alone?” The blonde witch was crying now.

    “She couldn’t, Luna. Someone had bound her.”

    “What?”

    Hermione hated herself for doing this to her best friend, but she had to tell her.

    “She didn’t die in an accident. She was murdered.”

    Luna stared at her, mouth open, tears running down her cheeks. Her lips moved, but she wasn’t saying anything. She blinked. “But… the Minister said it was an accident…” Then her eyes widened.

    Hermione nodded.

    Hermione had seen Luna angry a few times, but she had never seen her furious. Until now.

    “I’m going to kill him.”
     
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  27. Threadmarks: Chapter 16: End of the Line
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 16: End of the Line

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 20th, 1999, 17.55 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione reached out and grabbed Luna’s hand before the witch was halfway to the door of her room. “You can’t!”

    Her friend whirled around, and for a moment, Hermione was staring right at the tip of Luna’s wand, aimed straight at her face. She had underestimated her friend’s anger and desire for vengeance. She shouldn’t have made that mistake. Luna had never been really angry about her own troubles with her fellow Ravenclaws. Whenever she had been angry it had been on Hermione’s behalf.

    “What?” Luna asked, trembling.

    Hermione stood her ground. Luna was her best friend. No, more than that. She was the sister she had never had. The blonde witch wouldn’t hurt her. As she had expected, Luna suddenly gasped when she realised what she was doing, and she hastily pointed her wand away. She was still crying, even more now.

    “You can’t kill him right now,” Hermione said, taking a deep breath. “And you’re not the only one whose family he hurt.”

    Luna frowned, then her eyes widened and she slapped a hand over her mouth, staring at Hermione.

    The Wand-Leader nodded. “I found out that my parents didn’t abuse me. I was taken from them by Obliviators right after I had first done accidental magic, and they were killed.” She swallowed. It still hurt to say it. “As were most of the parents of the Wands.”

    “Merlin’s Snorkack!” Luna mumbled, then hugged her.

    Both witches remained hugging each other for a while. Then Luna asked in a whisper. “How long have you known about this?”

    Hermione, her head resting on the blonde’s shoulder, winced. “I’ve known it for three weeks.”

    “Oh Hermione!” Luna said, hugging her harder. “Have you told anyone?”

    “I couldn’t tell anyone. Even if they’d have believed me, the Minister could have found out when he read their minds.” Hermione swallowed. “I told Dean a week ago. He had found out I didn’t trust the Minister anymore.” She felt Luna tense up in her arms, and knew her friend had to be hurt. Hurt that she hadn’t been told. Hurt that she hadn’t noticed.

    Luna didn’t say anything for a few seconds. She broke their hug and took a step back, looking into Hermione’s eyes. “But you could tell him, then. So… you don’t expect the Minister to read his mind.” She paused for another second. “Not before you kill him.”

    Hermione bit her lip. Her friend had been in Ravenclaw for a reason.

    Luna went on: “You met the ghost of my mother. You weren’t investigating, you were looking for a way to kill the Minister!”

    “Not exactly,” Hermione said. “More or less.” She sighed. In for a knut, in for a galleon. “I’m not alone. There are others.”

    “It’s not just Dean and you then… Antoine!” Luna gasped.

    Hermione told herself that Dumbledore would have expected this when he told her to inform Luna about her mother’s ghost. She nodded. “He’s actually not from Québec.”

    “What? He lied?”

    She winced. “He didn’t have a choice,” she said. She understood his ruse, of course. But while it didn’t hurt anymore - not really - it still irked a bit that she had not seen through the lie. She pushed the sentiment away. “You two actually met long before I met him.”

    “What?”

    Hermione smiled at Luna. “He’s Ron Weasley. Your former neighbour.”

    Luna stared at her, blinking rapidly. “Oh… Father was right then! He said he looked like a Weasley, even if he didn’t have red hair!”

    Hermione chuckled. “He dyes his hair. I’ve never seen how he looks without his disguise, actually.”

    “What? Are you serious? He’s been wearing a disguise all of this time? What if it gets stuck on his face, and he can’t take it off?”

    “Err… his disguise is his dyed hair, and his beard,” Hermione explained.

    “Oh.” Luna pouted, as she usually did when Hermione shot down a new theory of the blonde.

    Hermione smiled. For a moment, the revelations about Luna’s mother, her own parents and the Minister seemed forgotten, and it was like they were back at Hogwarts, talking about anything and everything.

    The moment didn’t last though.

    “I’ll have to tell daddy.” Luna bit her lip. “I don’t know how he will take it. He misses mummy even more than I do. He’ll be back in two days.”

    Hermione nodded. She knew that, but she also knew that Luna rarely talked about it. It was too painful. And yet now her friend would not only be forced to talk about it, but to confront her mother’s ghost as well.

    “And you can’t stay in the Ministry. The chance that you’ll meet the Minister, and he’ll read your mind is too great. It won’t be for long though.” Hopefully, the Minister would be dead before Luna’s father returned to Britain.

    “I want to help!” Luna took her hands in hers. “Please!”

    Hermione sighed, and nodded. That was how Ron must have felt when Ginny had arrived in Britain, she thought.

    “Let’s go and meet my boyfriend.”

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 20th, 1999, 18.20 hours

    Ron Weasley hadn’t been looking forward to apologising yet again for having lied about his identity. Especially not to Luna - the girl just had a certain innocence that made him feel really really bad for deceiving her. But he had known that he’d have to, since she was Hermione’s best friend, and he was serious about the Wand-Leader. Very serious.

    He had just hoped it wouldn’t happen this soon. But Hermione had to inform Luna about her mother’s ghost; Dumbledore had been quite clear on that, even though he hadn’t gone into many details. And so Ron had spent the last hour or so preparing his apology.

    He stood up when the door opened and Hermione and Luna entered, but before he could start to deliver his prepared speech, Luna was in front of him, peering at his face with narrowed eyes.

    “Hello Luna...” he asked more than greeted her.

    She frowned, then turned to Hermione. “I’m sorry, but we’ll have to shave him. It won’t work otherwise.”

    “What?” He stared at the blonde, then looked at his girlfriend, who was smiling weakly at at him.

    “Hm?” Luna glanced at him. “I said we’ll have to shave you. And probably check your ears, if you didn’t understand me.”

    “No, no, I heard you just fine, I just… why would you want to shave me?” he said.

    “So I can see how you look without your disguise, of course.” Luna nodded, as if it was self-evident.

    “Luna,” Hermione said. “I told you I don’t care about how he looks without a beard.”

    “Of course you wouldn’t! Love is blind, after all. That’s why I’ll check him. I’m objective.” Luna nodded to her own words, and pulled her wand on him. “This will only take a second!”

    “Luna! He can shave himself!” Hermione yelled.

    “But…” Luna pouted. “Fine!”

    Ron looked at Hermione. She pulled out a vial from her robe. “I’ve got a hair-regrowth potion here.” When she handed it to him, she added in a whisper: “Please. She’s not taken that well to the news about her mother.”

    He winced, and nodded, and pointed his wand at his face. A simple charm later, his cheeks were smooth for the first time in weeks. And the two witches were staring at him. Then Hermione cast a Colour Change Charm.

    “He does look like a Weasley!” Luna exclaimed. “Just like on the old pictures.” Her face fell, and Ron realised that she had probably lost those pictures when her home had been destroyed by Voldemort.

    “I used the same colour as his sister’s hair,” Hermione said.

    “All of us have the same hair,” Ron added quickly.

    Luna was studying his face again, going as far as poking him with the tip of her wand. After about a minute, she nodded. “He’s handsome enough. Your children will not be ugly,” she said to Hermione.

    “Children?” Hermione asked.

    “Of course. He is looking for a place to raise a family, isn’t he?” She frowned at him. “Or was that a lie as well?”

    Yes, Ron thought, Luna was still feeling hurt about his subterfuge. He shook his head. “No, I want to have a family.” They hadn’t talked about that, though. Not before, and not after he had told her his real name.

    “With Hermione.” Luna nodded.

    “If she’ll have me.”

    “And if you two stop talking about me as if I’m not in the room,” Hermione said in a flat tone, though she was blushing a bit. He hoped that was a good sign.

    “Sorry,” Luna said.

    Hermione opened her mouth, probably to say she shouldn’t be sorry, but closed it again without saying anything.

    “I’m sorry for lying to you, Luna,” Ron said. “But I couldn’t tell you the truth.”

    “I understand. It still hurts though,” the blonde said. “But I suppose seeing your old home razed to the ground hurt you as well.”

    He didn’t have actual memories of the Burrow, but he had seen pictures. And it had hurt. “Yes.”

    “But you will return, will you? Your entire family? Once the Minister is dead.” Luna sounded hopeful. “It would be nice to have neighbours again. Even though we can apparate and floo all across Britain, neighbours are special. We could rebuild together. Save some costs. Maybe build matching homes. Two Rooks!”

    Luna’s smile started to slip a bit, and her eyes started to fill with tears, Ron noticed. He nodded quickly. “My parents have always told us that we’ll be returning to the Burrow. We will come back and rebuild.” He doubted that all of the family would move to Britain though. Some, like Bill and Charlie, had a life they loved in France. And witches too. And he was not certain what Ginny and Harry would do. And he hadn’t even asked Hermione where she wanted to live. She hadn’t even met his parents yet. But it wasn’t the time to mention that.

    The blonde witch’s smile widened, and she nodded several times. Then she hugged him.

    Hermione joined them and ran a hand over his cheek.

    “Do you like it?” he asked.

    “I think I do.”

    He wanted to kiss her, but Luna still had her arms wrapped around his waist. Hermione grinned at the sight.

    Luna sighed and released him after a few more moments. “So… how do we kill the Minister?” she asked, sounding far too innocent for her question.

    “Dumbledore has a plan,” Ron said. Not that he knew anything about it. Operational security.

    “Does it involve Erumpents? Or Nundus?”

    “I don’t think so.” And he fervently hoped Dumbledore wasn’t planning on using those animals.

    “Aw. What about Lethifolds? Or Manticores? Maybe Acromantulas? There might be some survivors in the Forbidden Forest looking for a new home. There had been a colony there, you know. Or… a Tebo?”

    “How would you capture a Tebo?” Ron was quite certain that the Professor’s plan didn’t involve any animal. But talking about them was a fun way to pass the time until Dumbledore’s arrival, without opening any more old and new wounds. And he was certain Hermione was as glad as he was to see Luna acting again like she usually did.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 20th, 1999, 19.30 hours

    “Good evening, Miss Lovegood,” Albus Dumbledore said, after stepping out of the Vanishing Cabinet in Mister Weasley’s room at the Leaky Cauldron. It was a bit risky to leave it there, instead of in the safehouse’s basement, but they would need to be able to react quickly as soon as Severus managed to convince the Dark Lord to let him kill Lucius, and that meant they needed to be able to apparate without alerting the Ministry. The longer they waited, the bigger the chance that their conspiracy would be discovered.

    “Good evening, Mister Dumbledore. Or would you like to be addressed as Professor Dumbledore? Or Chief Warlock in Exile? Or Albus?” the blonde witch asked, looking at him with open curiosity.

    “Please call me Albus,” he said, smiling.

    “Alright, Albus!” Luna chirped. “You can call me Luna then!”

    “With pleasure, Luna.” When he saw the expressions on Mister Weasley’s face, and on Miss Hermione’s, he had to refrain from laughing. Even in exile, his reputation diminished, far too few would dare to address him as a friend, rather than a superior.

    “So, Albus… where is my mother’s ghost?” Luna asked.

    She sounded earnest, but there was something in the way she held herself that made Albus think she was not quite as eager as she sounded.

    “She’s in France. I did not want to bring her with me today, in case you might prefer to have your father at your side for the occasion.”

    “Oh,” Luna said, briefly biting her lip. “I suppose that’s a good idea.”

    She sounded relieved in Albus’s opinion. Understandably so. He didn’t press the point. “When will your father be back in Britain?”

    “He’ll be back the day after tomorrow.”

    Albus nodded. “I can arrange for a meeting then, or the day after, barring circumstances outside my control.” Like Severus’s success.

    “Such as?” Luna asked at once.

    “There are plans in motion already, and their consequences might require immediate action.”

    Luna blinked. “Did you trap Lucius’s wardrobe with a lethifold, and don’t know when he’ll try to wear it?”

    “Something like that.”

    “If it is a lethifold, then I hope it won’t get a stomach ache from digesting that murderer!”

    “I do not think that will be a danger,” Albus said. The girl certainly had imagination, something many wizards and witches seemed to lack these days.

    “Good. As much as he deserves to die, his death should not lead to others’ suffering.”

    “I am afraid that this cannot be avoided. The Minister’s death will cause many of those he has fooled over the years to mourn him,” Albus said.

    “Yes. And more will be afraid, and ready to surrender to the Dark Lord,” Hermione added.

    “The Dark Lord?” Luna’s eyes went wide.

    “The half-naga is actually the Dark Lord, returned from death,” Albus explained. Apparently, Miss Hermione and Mister Weasley hadn’t told the witch that yet.

    “How did he do that?” Luna asked. “Did he fall victim to a failed self-transfiguration? A potion mishap?”

    “I am sorry, but he did not share what he did with me,” Albus said. It wouldn’t do to tell anyone about Severus’s sabotage of that particular ritual.

    Luna pouted in response. “And I doubt he’ll tell us. After a second, she grew serious again. “If you arranged the death of Lucius Malfoy by lethifold, what about Draco?”

    “I have not been able to arrange a similar fate for Draco and Narcissa.”

    “I could ask daddy to get another lethifold for Draco.”

    Luna looked actually serious. Albus almost winced when he imagined what would happen should Hagrid and the Lovegoods meet. “The timing needed makes another trap unfeasible. I am afraid that in those cases, more direct action will be required.”

    “Can we kill Draco? Hermione, Ron and I? Narcissa never did anything I know of, but Draco...” Luna growled.

    “We haven’t been able to reliably predict his schedule,” Hermione said. “Mainly because he has no schedule and does what he wants on a whim. That makes planning his assassination a bit difficult.”

    “Daddy says that with the right bait, any creature can be trapped. And Draco certainly qualifies as a creature.”

    Dumbledore nodded. He had had similar thoughts. The problem was to find the right sort of bait. Since Draco seemed to have given up his attempts to seduce Miss Hermione, the most obvious solution was no longer workable. Although a similar bait might work.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 20th, 1999, 20.00 hours

    “You want her to get close to Draco?” If not for her Occlumency training, which had included exercises to keep her calm, Wand-Leader Hermione would have been yelling at the Professor. She noticed with some satisfaction that Ron was looking outraged as well. And she noticed with dread that Luna wasn’t looking outraged.

    “Not in the sense you might be assuming, Miss Hermione,” Dumbledore said, perhaps a bit more quickly than he usually spoke. “But while I have not met him myself, from what I deduced from various sources, he is a tad vain, and would not be averse to having an interview with a trusted journalist, or having her accompany him on an outing.”

    “There would be guards with him on both occasions,” Hermione said. “And he might mistake professional interest for personal interest.”

    “That shouldn’t be a problem,” Luna said. “If he wants to sleep with me, that would be helpful in separating him from his guards, wouldn’t it?”

    “Luna!” Hermione gasped. Her friend couldn’t plan to…

    “What?” Luna frowned at her. “Why can’t I use my wiles to lure him to his death? Do you think he’d not fall for such a ruse from me?”

    “No, no!” Hermione was quick to say. Luna didn’t need to doubt herself. “But if you get implicated in his death, then the Corps will at the very least interrogate you.” She smiled wrily. “And the odds that I will be doing that are not very high.”

    “Oh.” Luna looked disappointed.

    Dumbledore cleared his throat. “I was not planning to use such a ploy to directly kill him.” He looked at Ron. “Your brothers have developed a device that allows us to track Draco. Quite subtle, and I doubt that anyone is aware of it, much less has developed counter-measures for it.”

    “Ah! I can do that, easily!” Luna sounded pleased, but Hermione that knew her friend was putting on an act. She had done the same back at Hogwarts, before Hermione had found out about her troubles. But the Wand-Leader also knew that Luna needed to do something, or she’d get worse. To find out about the murderer of her mother, and not being allowed to do anything against him… Hermione knew how that felt; she hadn’t been able to touch the murderers of her parents yet. They needed to be alive so others could find out the truth from them, later.. And she was certain that Luna’s father would insist on helping as well. Which was another problem that would need to be handled. Xenophilius Lovegood was usually a very friendly wizard, but she was certain that he’d be enraged once he heard about his wife.

    “That still leaves us with the problem that according to your plan, all of our available forces are committed to attacking the Malfoys’ home in Diagon Alley. Who would be available to attack Draco?” she said. She didn’t really think that Luna and her father were the best choice for that. They could bring in Dean - but Hermione wasn’t certain how he’d take this second major secret she hadn’t shared with him.

    “You are correct. And while there are measures that would require fewer wands, they would be a bit too destructive to be used with a clear conscience.”

    Hermione noticed that he hadn’t actually said that they wouldn’t be used.

    “We can also assume that as soon as Lucius is dead, his son will be taken to a safe place by his security detail.”

    “That’s standard procedure, yes,” Hermione confirmed. Procedure Draco had known about, but not followed himself.

    “We will have to trap this place then.”

    Hermione hesitated. She knew where Draco was to be taken thanks to her past assignment. And she knew where to check if that had changed. But she also knew at least four Wands would be apparating with him. And she didn’t really want to kill them along with Draco.

    Dumbledore smiled. “Do not worry. The trap I have in mind will only kill Draco, and not harm any of his guards.”

    Hermione nodded, but she was still a bit hesitant. This sounded a bit too good to be true. But would Dumbledore try to deceive her, knowing she’d find out? He had been open with her so far. And she didn’t think he’d plan to get rid of her. Probably.

    “Though Draco’s been known to override such procedures,” she said.

    “In that case we might have to improvise. But even if he should live, his reputation has suffered greatly among the Wands, hasn’t it?”

    “Yes.”

    “His power would be limited then.”

    “Not that limited. Wands are trained to obey. Grudges or even doubts wouldn’t change that much.”

    “We can but do our best, Miss Hermione.”

    She was certain he had another plan, in case Draco managed to succeed his father, but she nodded. The die had been cast, after all - she was now as much a part of Dumbledore’s forces as Ron was.

    “So… can daddy and I join in the assault on the Malfoys’ home then? We can dress up as Death Eaters too!”

    And even though she knew it hadn’t been her fault, she felt as if she had dragged her best friend into this as well. Seeing Luna eagerly asking to be party to killing the Malfoys was disturbing. Her friend had not yet recovered from the shocking revelations, Hermione realised. It had been too much, too quickly. The murder of her mother. The murder of her friends’ families. Draco’s behaviour towards witches. But, she was certain, Luna was hurt most by the betrayal. She had thought the Minister was a good man. Had looked up to what she believed was a friend of her family.

    Hermione knew how her friend was feeling. But she didn’t know what killing the Malfoys would do to Luna.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 21st, 14.30 hours

    Ron Weasley didn’t like this part of the plan. Not at all. But Dumbledore had thought of it, and Luna had volunteered, and even Hermione had, after some arguing, agreed. And so he was - discreetly - watching as Luna was flirting with Draco Malfoy.

    Technically, she wasn’t flirting, just being her usual friendly and cheerful self. But the little monster facing her would certainly think she was flirting. Ron knew men like him, who took every smile as an invitation for more.

    He hadn’t made any advances so far, but the two were in public. He wouldn’t try anything there. Still… he didn’t like Luna being so close to the Minister’s son. Even if it would lead to the scum’s death.

    The blonde laughed, pointed at something on the parchment her dictaquill was scribbling on, then handed it to Draco. Ron, hidden behind a Daily Prophet and spying on them through his enchanted glasses, tensed up. But nothing happened when Draco took the parchment into his bare hands. The coating of the parchment didn’t register as a poison then. His own spells hadn’t detected it either, but there had always been the possibility that Draco was protected by more powerful or sensitive spells.

    He still didn’t like the setup. Luna should be protected by an alchemical concoction of Dumbledore’s that covered her skin, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to relax until the witch had finished her ‘interview’ and Draco was gone.

    *****​

    Yorkshire, Nidderdale, September 21st, 1999, 23.21 hours

    “Does every safehouse look like a cottage or hut?”

    Wand-Leader Hermione snickered at Ron’s question. “Not every one. The house in Diagon Alley that the Malfoys use is quite impressive. But for a safe house, something less ostentatious seems better. Less obvious.”

    Ron grunted. “If every safehouse looks like that, it’s becoming obvious.”

    Hermione refrained from pointing out that there were far more huts and cottages than impressive estates. Her boyfriend was just a bit unhappy that yet another night was spent mostly on a broom. Even though she didn’t mind sitting behind him and wrapping her arms around his waist that much.

    “Well… you said there are guards?” Ron asked, pulling out bag from his enchanted pocket.

    “Yes. Two Wands and one Healer are stationed there,” Hermione said.

    “Are they rotated in and out?”

    “No. They stay there for as long as the safehouse is in active use - usually a period of months. Otherwise, too many would know about its location.”

    “Wow. That’s some boring post.” He shook his head.

    “While it’s against regulations, I do think we can expect the defenses to be a bit more lax than they should be,” Hermione said.

    “They would still be enough to stop us. If this thing doesn’t work…” Ron shook his head and put what looked like a miniature muggle vehicle down.

    “Your brothers swore it would work,” Hermione pointed out.

    “Yes, I know. And I trust them. I just remember them when they were younger, and less trustworthy.” He put the thing down and held a box in his hands with a few buttons and levers. A very long cable connected the two.

    “What is it exactly?”

    “The twins called it a ‘remote-controlled miniature Jagdpanther’,” he said and pushed two levers forward. The small vehicle started to move forward, then stopped. “Well, it works. So far. Now it has to pass through the wards.” He pulled a invisibility cloak over himself and stood up so he could see over the low wall they were hiding behind, then set the small vehicle down there and sent it forward.

    Hermione put on her own cloak and stood next to him. She could barely see the dark cable that trailed behind the ‘Jagdpanther’ and it would be close to invisible from inside the cottage, as the vehicle itself was, if anyone ever looked outside. Ron could only control it thanks to spelled goggles, or he’d lose sight of it as well.

    “Close to the wardline… and we’re through.”

    Hermione held her breath. If the theory of the twins had been wrong… it wasn’t. Since the thing was devoid of any magic, and technically completely harmless, the wards didn’t detect, much less stop it.

    About ten minutes later the small thing had reached the cottage.

    “Wind’s blowing from the correct side. I’m releasing the ‘payload’,” Ron said, pushing another button. Hermione imagined how the gas was released, and entered the cottage.

    They waited five more minutes, then Ron made the vehicle drive back. Not all the way though - neither of them wanted to be close to the thing now. Even if the gas it had dispensed was supposed to be harmless by itself. They mounted their brooms and flew away, dragging the thing behind them on the rest of the cable, then vanished it as soon as they were out of sight and range of the cottage.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 22nd, 1999, 20.05 hours

    “Your Advisor in Defense Matters has arrived, sir,” Daphne Greengrass said, standing at the door.

    “Thank you, dear. Send him in please.”

    Minister for Magic Lucius Malfoy took care not to show his curiosity - and his - slight - anxiety. He had to appear both confident and calm to his subordinates, even if Severus wanted to meet him with ‘urgent news’ and such a message from his spy among the Dark Lord’s ranks was more than enough cause to be concerned.

    Severus entered, and Lucius’s secretary closed the door behind him. The potioneer sat down in his usual seat, looking around.

    “We’re alone,” Lucius assured him. He rubbed his artificial left hand with his right.

    Severus nodded. “Good. This information cannot leave this room. It’s too dangerous.” He leaned forward and dropped his voice to a whisper. “I’ve looked into the matter of the ambush Draco almost died in.”

    Lucius leaned forward as well, taking a deep breath. His spy hadn’t known about the attack on his son in advance, which had thrown some doubt on just how much the Dark Lord had trusted him.

    “You know that the Dark Lord wants your entire family to die.”

    Lucius nodded. That wasn’t exactly a surprise. Lucius had known this was the result of giving Draco the task to hunt the Dark Lord. Had even counted on it. Severus wouldn’t have considered this urgent news though.

    “He has a plan to assassinate you, and has trusted its execution to the same person who planned the attack on Draco.”

    Lucius blinked and felt fear rise inside him, before he fought it back down. The Dark Lord had wanted to kill him for over a decade, and hadn’t managed so far. “Have you found out how he plans to kill me?” He was well-protected, but if he knew more he could foil any plan.

    Severus nodded. “Poison.”

    Lucius’s eyes widened. “Poison?” That was a surprise. With detection spells and numerous antidotes available, poison didn’t seem to be a very likely means to assassinate him. “I assume then that the Dark Lord has obtained a very exotic poison that he thinks will get past my defenses.”

    “Yes.” Severus nodded. “He discussed it with me.”

    Again, no surprise. The Dark Lord certainly would have discussed such a poison with his best potioneer, and asked for advice, since he thought Severus was his loyal spy and was meeting regularly with Lucius. And, Lucius realised, not for the first time, the Dark Lord might not be wrong. If Severus ever thought that Lucius was losing this conflict, he could easily switch sides.

    The question was: Did his spy think that? And if so, were the precautions Lucius had taken - he glanced at the crystal on his desk, which was still inert, and the panel in the wall to his side - sufficient to protect him? He didn’t have to fear Severus drawing his wand on him, not in this room, but his spy was a potioneer...

    “Which poison is it?” Lucius asked, not showing any sign of his growing anxiety. He couldn’t afford to appear weak. He blinked.

    “It’s a muggle one.”

    Lucius chuckled. “A muggle one?” A bezoar would counter anything the muggles could concoct. Anyone who had passed their N.E.W.T.s exams in Potions knew that. But why would the Dark Lord stoop to such measures?

    Severus didn’t share his mirth. “I should be more precise. It’s a poison adapted from a muggle invention.”

    Lucius blinked. “A muggle invention?”

    “Yes. A binary poison.”

    Severus was stalling, Lucius realised suddenly. He would not usually take his time in displaying his knowledge. And if he was stalling, then that meant… he blinked again. Was his vision getting blurry?

    He slapped his left hand over his mouth and swallowed the bezoar hidden in his palm. His wrist-holster shot his wand into his hand, but he fumbled the catch, and it clattered on his desk. He tried to grasp it, but his wand arm didn’t seem to work anymore. Nor did his voice seem to work anymore. Or his lungs.

    His left arm did, though. As did the surprises he had built into it. Thin needles shot out of his fingers, but the traitor had dropped to the floor, out of his rapidly diminishing sight. He wished he had installed a trap in his arm, like Antonin. But he had other means to get revenge. He smashed the inkwell on his desk, alerting his guards.

    Then his sight faded completely, and the burning in his lungs grew painful. He heard the door opening, heard a shriek, and then nothing anymore.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 22nd, 1999, 20.15 hours

    “I am sorry, sir, but I have never encountered a Snorkack on the continent. Although I cannot claim to have been…”

    Albus Dumbledore had expected it, and so he didn’t jump up when a glowing white doe appeared in Mister Weasley’s room in the Leaky Cauldron and announced “It is done” in Severus’s voice.

    The others though had jumped up, and Miss Weasley had even drawn her wand. He had expected that as well, and didn’t comment on it. Instead he slowly stood up and said: “Lucius Malfoy has been killed. The Ministry will be in lockdown soon, and the Wands on high alert. Let us be off so we are ready.”

    Messrs Weasley were the first. Smiling widely, they grabbed their brooms, disillusioned themselves, and disapparated.

    Mister Lovegood, with whom he had been discussing various fascinating animals, was next. He hugged his daughter, then dropped a small piece into a vial. A gulp later, his body started to shake and tremble, then blur, and the Dark Lord’s inhuman form stood in the room. He blinked, which was a very disconcerting sight for those not used to chimeras, then smiled. Which was even more upsetting. “Marvelous! That’s how it feels to be a half-naga!”

    His daughter cleared her throat. “Daddy, you need to be off now. Remember the plan!”

    “Of course I remember, my little darling! I’ll be scaring Hogsmeade and Hogwarts!”

    “Be careful!” Luna said, right before her father disapparated.

    Miss Hermione pulled out a vibrating stone. “A general alert. I’ve to report to my team,” she said, smiling grimly. She exchanged a hug with Mister Weasley, then disapparated herself.

    That left Sirius, Harry, Mister Weasley, Miss Weasley, Luna and Albus himself. Half a dozen - a quite typical number for a Death Eater raiding team, at least in the last war. He smiled at them. Brave young wizards and witches, all of them.

    *****​

    When they appeared in a side alley in Knockturn Alley, wearing the garb of Death Eaters including the typical masks, they heard screams from afar. Messrs Weasley had started to set fire to roofs then, using incendiary draught. Not quite as dangerous as Fiendfyre, nor as deadly, but the fires it started would take some effort to put out, tying up forces from the Ministry. Albus cast a quick spell. Draco was in Diagon Alley, but far from their position. Onward then.

    He led the group, disillusioned, to the back of the Malfoys’ home. Then came the risky part - taking down the wards. He had studied the wards the day before, and he was confident that, with the help of the wand he had won from Gellert, he could take them down quickly - they weren’t old wards, created by blood sacrifices, like those on many manors of old families. The question was: Would he be quick enough so the expected response would not arrive? Messrs Weasley would have finished their arson campaign by now, and would fake an attack on the Ministry, but once the wards of the Malfoys went down, the Wands would react. And if they appeared while he was still taking down the wards, the backlash would be terrible.

    But the spell had been cast, the fight was on. He raised his wand and started to tear down the protections on the house.

    It took him five minutes to take the wards down, and he felt more exhausted than he had hoped. Rushing things, he thought, breathing heavily, always led to more effort than needed. Out loud he said: “It’s done!” while sealing the windows on this side of the house with a flick of his wrist.

    He immediately focused on what he had seen in Miss Hermione’s memories, and apparated into the house, right into the room with the Floo connection. He had an Anti-Apparition Jinx covering the building, preventing anyone from fleeing or coming to their rescue, before the two guards realised he was there.

    The Wands there were quick and skilled, but they had been covering the Floo connection and the door, and he had appeared in the corner of the room. The first Wand was down, smashed into the wall, before she could react, the second’s first spell was stopped by his shield, and the Wand didn’t get another spell off before he too joined his comrade at the wall with broken bones.

    He didn’t like to hurt them so, but if he just stunned them, some would suspect foul play. Even them surviving would be suspicious to Miss Hermione’s colleagues. Hopefully, Sirius and the others would not have to kill anyone, other than Narcissa of course.

    Albus transfigured the Floo connection into a flowerpot, sealing it off - and stopping the Thief’s Downfall above it that would remove both disguises and compulsions from any passing through. Then he cursed the two Wands with a slow-acting, exotic, dark spell he knew that St. Mungo’s had the counter-curse for, and strode out of the room. Time was of the essence.

    A Wand was running down the stairs, saw him and stopped, wand rising. Albus hit her with a stunner before opening a hole underneath her, sealing the witch into the stairs. Another spell made it appear as if the cracks in the stone allowing her to keep breathing were the unintentional result of a curse aimed at her during the fight.

    He sealed the front door and windows while Sirius entered the hallway. “Back’s clear. Two Wands down and cursed,” he announced, rushing up the stairs followed by Harry, Mister Weasley and Miss Weasley.

    Luna though - he recognised the marker he had left on her disguise - wandered over to him. “We should head to Draco’s room,” she whispered.

    “He will have been evacuated to the safehouse by now,” he said.

    “Mh… we should still go to his room.”

    He took a look outside. No reinforcements were arriving so far. Nodding, he led the witch upstairs, past a whimpering, suffering Wand on the first floor. Sirius’s work, Harry didn’t use those kind of spells.

    They arrived in front of Draco’s room thanks to Miss Hermione’s memories. The door was closed and - as a spell told him - locked and reinforced. It wouldn’t stop him, of course.

    “Please open a mouse hole in the wall.”

    Intrigued, he did as Luna asked. She nodded, and he just knew she was smiling behind her mask, then knelt down and pulled out a small box. A spell later and a mouse hurried through the hole he had opened.

    “Snuffbox to Mouse,” she said, standing up. “Many think it’s not a useful spell, but I think it’s just overlooked, and deserves its chance to shine. Although it’s not really a snuffbox, if it contains no snuff, is it?” Then she swished her wand.

    “Finite.”

    Despite the situation he smiled behind his own mask and aimed his wand at the door. It wouldn’t take long for the second part of the binary poison that Luna had just released to take effect.

    A few seconds later, the door was opened and a Blasting Curse stopped by his shield. A Banishing Charm threw the witch trying to rush out back into the room, despite her Shield Charm, and into the wall. The other witch, kneeling next to a body on the ground, sent a volley of curses at him which he sidestepped, ending her Shield Charm, then hitting her legs with a Bone-Breaking curse. She collapsed, screaming, before a Stunning Spell knocked her out.

    Draco lay there, twitching. The Wands had been trying to save him - Albus saw vials of what had to have been antidotes, and a box with bezoars on the ground. Not that either would have worked against the poison Albus and Nicolas had created.

    “He might have some Atlantean Cockroach in his line, they are very hard to kill after all,” Luna said, staring down at Draco. Lucius’s son was foaming at the mouth and making gargling noises with each breath he took. When the foam turned red, Luna shook her head. “But even those cockroaches die to the right kind of poison.”

    Draco stiffened, then relaxed, his open eyes staring sightlessly at them. Luna shrugged and picked up the snuffbox she had transfigured earlier, sealing it up before storing it inside her robe. Albus approved of her caution - they were protected from the binary poison’s effect, but it was better not to take too many chances. It was not quite basilisk poison, but it was a serious threat even to alchemists, if they were careless.

    “How did you know he was here?” Albus asked.

    “It was an easy deduction. Draco always ran to his parents if there was any trouble. With his daddy dead, that left his mummy,” Luna said.

    The two left the room and headed to the uppermost floor. Sirius and the others were already there.

    “My dear cousin’s dead,” the wizard announced. “She never was as good with curses as she thought. Unlike Bellatrix. I’ve used a family curse, if the Wands are clever they’ll track it back to Bellatrix; it was a favorite of hers.”

    Right then the house shook. “Reinforcements have arrived,” Albus stated calmly. “Please mount your brooms.” He did so himself, then aimed his wand at the ceiling.

    “Bombarda.”

    His spell blew most of the roof away, opening a hole for them to fly through. The debris thrown up had hampered the flyers who were not chasing after the twins, and their scattered formation was not able to stop them from flying outside the Anti-Apparition Jinxes and apparating into a forest near the one Draco had almost died in.

    The Wands wouldn’t apparate blindly into another possible ambush, so the group had ample time to shed their disguises and vanish them.

    “That’s the end of the Malfoy regime!” Sirius declared. “The end of our exile!” The others cheered and Luna did a little dance.

    Albus let them enjoy the moment, before they mounted their brooms and set out to return to London. The Malfoys were dead, but that didn’t mean the exiled British could return. And the real enemy was still alive. And Tom would now be aware that someone else was involved in this war.

    Severus planned to lay the blame for this on Augustus, making Tom believe the man had survived the incident in the Department of Mysteries, but Albus didn’t think the Dark Lord would fall for that ruse.

    No, the fight against Voldemort would not be quite as easy as ending the Malfoys had been.
     
  28. Threadmarks: Chapter 17: Shockwaves
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 17: Shockwaves

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 22nd, 1999, 20.25 hours

    “The Minister’s been murdered!”

    “The Minister’s been killed!”

    “The Minister’s been assassinated!”

    Wand-Leader Hermione had heard those words, in all possible variations, dozens of times just passing from the atrium of the Ministry to the offices of the Investigative Branch. She had expected that - the Wands had just lost their father figure. The closest person they had to family, outside the Corps. And she knew that if she hadn’t found out how muggleborns were ‘rescued’, she’d be feeling the same shock and loss. Though the Wands were still acting as they had been trained. The Ministry was sealed off, and she’d had to go through a Thief’s Downfall to enter.

    Dean wasn’t in the office, but Colin was. “What’s the situation?” Hermione asked.

    “Ah…” he began, startled, before he was interrupted by an amplified voice.

    “Someone’s setting fire to Diagon Alley!”

    Colin jumped up. She held her hand up to stop him. “The Ready Squad in the Alley will get it. Where’s Dean?”

    “He went to… you know, the office...“ Colin swallowed, and she saw that he was close to tears. Fortunately, he took her rage at how the Minister had fooled everyone as rage against the assassin.

    “Let’s go then! Benjamin will be there as well, he can reassign us elsewhere if we’re not needed.”

    They were halfway there when another shout went through the Ministry.

    “The Half-naga was sighted near Hogsmeade!”

    Once again Colin jerked, but Hermione kept walking, and he rushed after her. They were investigators, and there hadn’t been a general alert. Yet.

    The two reached the floor of the Minister’s office. Two Wands - a few years above her, she thought - were standing guard at the lift. Two more were in the anteroom, next to Greengrass. The pureblood witch had her face covered by her hands and her shoulders were shaking from crying. At least the pureblood witch had a good reason to cry - the Minister hadn’t betrayed her, Hermione thought.

    Benjamin was inside the office, casting detection spells. The rest of his team was there as well. Even Cleo, who flashed a smile at her. And Dean. The body of the Minister was still in his seat. From the looks of it, he had died in pain. Good.

    “Benjamin. I came as fast as I could. What happened?” she said while entering. Colin started to take pictures behind her. She’d ask him for some copies of Malfoy’s corpse later.

    “We’ve just started the investigation, but as far as we know, he was poisoned by Severus Snape, his personal potioneer and Advisor in Defense Matters,” Benjamin said.

    Snape had to be working for Dumbledore then. No wonder the professor had been so certain he could have Lucius killed - Snape had been among those most trusted in the Minister’s circle of friends.

    “Merlin’s arse,” she said, then looked more closely at the corpse. “How did he get the poison past all the detection spells?”

    “That we don’t know yet, but he is a master of his art. He could have created a new poison that the spells don’t detect.”

    Or rather, a new poison the two leading alchemists in the world had created, Hermione thought. A binary poison, with both components detecting as harmless. She nodded to Dean. “Good to see you.”

    He nodded back. She could see that he suspected that she had been involved in this, but he didn’t know how. And she couldn’t tell him. Yet.

    She took out her own wand and started to investigate the scene. She was glad everyone was so worked up about this death that she didn’t have to hide her own anxiety. Right now, Ron, Luna and their families were attacking the home of the Malfoys. A home protected by her fellow Wands.

    And so she jerked when she heard another alert.

    “The Minister’s home is under attack! Floo’s blocked!”

    For a moment, everyone froze. Benjamin addressed the entire room. “Keep working, but be ready to move out at once.”

    “We’re going to get the assassin,” Cleo whispered when their paths crossed.

    Hermione nodded, feeling guilty at deceiving her friend. If only she could tell everyone the truth. Prove it too. The professor had said he had a plan, but he hadn’t conferred with her yet - and she knew her fellow Wands best, didn’t she?

    Finally, the call she had been waiting for came.

    “Fanatics killed the Minister’s wife and son!”

    Hermione closed her eyes, taking a deep breath.

    “Merlin!” Cleo exclaimed.

    “The entire family!” Colin whispered.

    They didn’t announce that anyone had been captured or killed. But that didn’t mean it hadn’t happened. Hermione turned to Benjamin. “Should I take my team to the Malfoys’ home?”

    He hesitated just a second, then he nodded. “Yes.” She had known he’d send them - the killing of the Minister was more important, and she had the senior team.

    “Colin, Dean, let’s go!”

    They headed down to the Apparition point. Colin was still coming to grips with the death of the Malfoy family, but Hermione wasn’t really listening to his mutterings, and judging by the lack of a reaction, neither was Dean.

    Shortly afterwards, they were in front of the Minister’s home.

    “Blimey, they blew the whole roof away!” Colin said, gaping, then taking pictures.

    “They blew it away from the inside,” a Wand standing guard outside - Kelly - explained.

    “Did we get any of the attackers?” Hermione asked. The way the other Wand winced, she had been a bit too forceful. But she was worried.

    “No. They blew the roof up, and flew out.”

    Hermione hid her relief while Dean asked: “Where were our flyers?”

    “Blown away,” Kelly said. ”Those who were there at least.”

    “What about our losses?” Hermione didn’t have to fake her anxiety. Dumbledore hadn’t come out and said so, but she was certain that he’d rather have killed the guards than fail the mission.

    “Everyone inside was cursed. Dark curses - our Healers couldn’t do anything, and they were taken to St. Mungo’s.” Kelly grimaced. “They’re not certain if they can help them…”

    They should have the counter-curse, or so Hermione had been told. If that had been a lie… She shook her head. “Let’s go inside. We have our duty.”

    *****​

    The house looked worse inside. Torn walls, broken windows, even the stairs had been torn up and the ceilings blasted. The three Wands made their way to the upper floors with the help of transfigured stairs, past another grim-looking guard.

    Narcissa Malfoy had died in her bedroom. And she hadn’t died well.

    “Merlin!” Dean exclaimed. Colin shivered. Hermione knelt down next to the remains of the witch and waved her wand in a familiar pattern.

    “Entrail-Expelling Curse and a Fire Flaying Curse,” she said. Looking up, she added. “That one’s one of the Black family curses. Bellatrix Lestrange used it often according to our reports.” She hadn’t expected those kind of curses being used by Dumbledore’s group. But maybe she should have. You couldn't really frame a dark witch without dark curses, after all, and Sirius Black was the cousin of Bellatrix and Narcissa. And apparently hiding a rather nasty streak under his charming attitude.

    After checking the room for traces and clues without success, they went to Draco’s room. His corpse looked almost peaceful, compared to those of his parents. “Poison,” Dean announced. “Not the same as the one used on the Minister though. Different symptoms.”

    Hermione nodded. “Was his security detail poisoned as well?” They hadn’t been, or their corpses would be next to him. But loyal Wand-Leader Hermione wouldn’t know what traitor Hermione knew.

    “No. Just cursed.”

    “Just,” Hermione said, frowning. “Selective poisoning usually means treason, but I don’t know how Snape managed to get both the Minister and his son. Accomplices then.”

    “The Fanatics. Snape must be working for them.”

    Hermione nodded. Colin shook his head. “Merlin’s arse! How deep goes this rot?”

    Far deeper than you’d imagine, Hermione thought.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 22nd, 1999, 23.25 hours

    “I’m going to the Leaky Cauldron,” Wand-Leader Hermione announced. “Luna’s with her father on an expedition to hunt moon rabbits in Wales, and I don’t feel like being alone.”

    Colin nodded, fooled by her excuse. Dean met her eyes, then stood up. “I’ll get a drink myself before bed. After today, I need it.”

    Hermione nodded. Colin looked like he was considering joining them, but then he sighed. “I’ll wait until this last batch develops, then I’ll go to bed.”

    Hermione didn’t let her relief show. Dean nodded curtly, and the two left their office. Neither spoke until they had reached the Leaky Cauldron. The pub was full, but the mood was not jovial, but tense. The news that the Minister for Magic had been killed, with his entire family, had spread like Fiendfyre, and everyone was now anxious, wondering and worrying about who would succeed him. The Chief Warlock, Elias Cornfoot, was acting Minister, but no one expected him to actually take the reins of the country.

    Usually, Wands entering a pub mostly frequented by purebloods would be ignored. Not this evening though. A wizard who looked like he had drunk a bit too much stood up and yelled: “Hey! You Wands!”

    When they turned towards the man who was wearing a slightly frayed robe, he took a step back, and almost fell down onto his chair.

    “Yes?” Hermione asked, less friendly and polite than she’d usually be when addressing a pureblood.

    He swallowed, but then rallied his - partially liquid - courage: “What happened? How could anyone kill the Minister and his entire family? What were you doing? First the Department of Mysteries, now this!”

    “We’re still investigating the exact events.” She couldn’t say more. Her pride made her want to comment further. To tell the wizard that it hadn’t been the Wands’ fault.

    “Tell us what happened!” A witch yelled, from another table. Others took up this cry.

    “It’s classified information.” Hermione raised her voice. “Are you a spy trying to find out what we know?”

    “What?” The witch was staring at her.

    “If we tell you what we know, the culprits will hear, and will be able to hide. Is that what you want?”

    Hermione and Dean had drawn their wands. They were facing about two dozen wizards and witches, but the drunk wizard who had started this confrontation flinched and took a few steps back. The crowd, lacking a leader, backed down. For now, at least - there was some muttering and whispering.

    The crowd had gone from hostile to scared. Pushovers. Hermione nodded, and turned to head upstairs, trusting Dean to cover her back, should anyone suffer from some renewed courage and decide to do something foolish. She knocked on the door to Ron’s room and loudly announced: “It’s me and Dean.”

    “Come in!” Ron answered. She felt relieved - he wasn’t in a hospital then, like his brother or Tonks!

    She heard the door unlock and checked inside. There he was, standing with his wand in hand, a smile on his face. He didn’t look hurt. She closed her eyes for a moment, then rushed to him. They hugged and kissed.

    After a while, Dean cleared his throat. “Before you end up in bed… I want to know what happened today! Someone killed the Minister, and I’m certain you were involved. But you couldn’t have done it alone. And you didn’t ask me for help. And those were Fanatics attacking the Minister’s home… What happened?”

    He wasn’t quite pointing his wand at them, but he had it out. And she could see that he was tense, tenser than she had seen him before, outside of a battle. Before she could answer him, someone else spoke up.

    “I believe I can explain the whole situation to your satisfaction, Mister Dean.”

    In the corner, Dumbledore faded into view.

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 22nd, 1999, 23.42 hours

    Albus Dumbledore smiled gently at the startled young Wand, his wand hidden in the folds of his sleeves. It wouldn’t do to make the young man think he was about to be attacked. And even so, Mister Dean’s wand was almost raised before the young wizard realized that Albus was not attacking. He relaxed, but just for a moment. When the man’s eyes widened, Albus knew that he had recognised him. The wand started to point at him again, then was pointed at the floor. The young wizard wouldn’t attack then. Albus kept his own wand ready anyway.

    “You’re Albus Dumbledore! The leader of the exiled blood traitors!”

    “Traitor is a matter of perspective,” Albus said. “What do you call a man who has your family killed so he can raise you as a loyal slave?”

    Mister Dean stiffened and pressed his lips together. As if on cue, Miss Hermione spoke up: “The Minister betrayed us. Every one of the Corps.”

    The young man took a deep breath. Albus could almost see how he struggled with himself. He gave the young man a few moments, before he said: “I am not trying to tell you that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. But I am telling you that we - the wizards and witches who went into exile in France, rather than bend the knee to the Dark Lord - are not your enemies. After all, we were called blood traitors because we supported muggleborns such as yourself, and Miss Hermione.”

    The Wand slowly nodded.

    Albus continued: “We haven’t forgotten our home though. We have simply bided our time until the moment was ripe for our return.”

    “So, that’s your plan: Kill the Minister, and take over Britain?”

    Albus would be lying if he denied that this summed up part of his plans at least. So he didn’t answer. Instead he said: “We have returned because the Dark Lord has returned.”

    “What?”

    “The Dark Lord Lucius claimed to have killed has returned from death. Due to the dark magic used to return a body to him, he has taken the appearance of what The Quibbler dubbed a ‘half-naga’. Given his affinity with snakes, it is not an entirely wrong classification.”

    The young man didn’t look convinced yet. Albus nodded at him. “Who else but the Dark Lord could stand up to the Corps? Who else would the Lestranges follow? Who else would the Minister have feared so much?”

    Mister Dean hissed and stared at him. Albus twitched his wand, and entered the man’s mind, brushing past his rudimentary shields with ease. The young man wanted to deny this revelation, but his mind, trained to investigate, would not let him. As expected. He was also not in love with his friend, which was a very good thing - jealousy and scorned love could drive people to do terrible, tragic things. Like betraying their best friends.

    “We have come back to Britain to deal with the Dark Lord, once and for all. We know how he has cheated death, and we have the means to destroy him for good, this time. We do not want to fight you, or the Ministry,” he said.

    “But you would, if we don’t want you to return.”

    Dean was thinking about warning the Corps now. The knowledge that this would condemn his best friend to death weighed heavily on him though.

    “Why would we want to fight them?” Miss Hermione cut in. “Or rather, why would we want to fight for the same kind of people who think we’re beneath them, who have us kidnapped, our families murdered, and who raised us as slaves to fight and die for them?”

    Albus saw how the young man wavered. Felt how rage at Lucius, and the memories of years of slights rose, above the lingering loyalty he had been conditioned to feel towards the Ministry.

    “We’re not your enemies, Mister Dean. As you should recall, we killed no Wand today, nor any innocent.”

    “You cursed them though! With Dark Curses!” Dean’s sudden anger at him almost made him lose the connection to the man’s mind.

    “We did,” he said. “But with curses for which the counter-curse is known at St. Mungo’s.” He smiled apologetically. “It is needed that this attack is thought to be the work of the Dark Lord, so the Wands do not attack us in a misguided attempt to avenge the very man who had their families murdered and deceived them for all their lives.”

    Once again Dean struggled, before he accepted it. “You want us to fight the Dark Lord instead.”

    “I want you to protect Britain. Your help in fighting the Dark Lord would be welcome, but you have suffered and bled for Lucius Malfoy already, I would say you have done far more than you had to.”

    “We’ll not shirk our duty to Britain!” Dean spat out, though Albus could see the doubts in his mind.

    “You’ll need the Corps. The Dark Lord has many followers,” Miss Hermione said.

    “Working together might reduce the casualties for our side,” Albus said. He was counting on such an alliance, not just to fight Tom, but to lay the foundation for the time after the Dark Lord’s defeat. If the Wands could be won over, Britain would follow. Apart from the Dark Lord himself, they were the last significant power left in the country. Lucius had left no significant opposition in his desire to secure his family’s power.

    “That’s a matter to be decided by the next Minister,” the young man said.

    “I suppose that this would currently be Elias Cornfoot, as the acting Minister?”

    “For a certain definition of acting,” Miss Hermione said. Her fellow Wand snorted, then looked surprised at his own levity.

    Albus smiled. “I will contact him then. I dare say that in the current circumstances, he will be quite amenable to meeting with me.” He knew that the young man was still not fully convinced, but it shouldn’t take that much more - after all, the Wand had already been aware of Lucius’s treachery. And he knew that should he betray them, his friend would be killed. Something Albus knew the Wand would not let happen.

    “More than you think, Professor,” Mister Weasley suddenly said. He had, perhaps wisely, stayed silent during their talk so far. He stashed a communication mirror in his pocket. “My brothers just called. The Dark Mark’s floating above Diagon Alley.”

    *****​

    London, Diagon Alley, September 23rd, 1999, 00.35 hours

    Ron Weasley had known that Dumbledore planned to frame the Dark Lord for the killing of the Malfoys, but he hadn’t understood what that would do to the people. Now he knew. All around him, people were panicking. Not the Wands, of course. But the Leaky Cauldron had all but emptied, three fourths of the crowd were gone; the rest seemed intent on drinking themselves into a stupor.

    In the alley proper, things didn’t look any better. A lot of people were on the street, staring at the Dark Mark. Some were crying, most were whispering. Afraid. Scared. One spell away from fleeing in panic. He had often asked himself, after hearing his parents tell stories of the last war, how Britain could have fallen so quickly to a Dark Lord whose survival had been faked, but now he understood how that had been possible. Fear, overwhelming fear had taken hold of the population, and made them give up. The few brave wizards and witches who had continued to resist had not been enough to turn the tide.

    He hoped that the Wands would be enough.

    “This is pathetic,” Dean muttered, staring at a trembling old wizard fumbling with his wand for a minute before managing to disapparate.

    “It’s to be expected,” Hermione, at Ron’s side, said. “The Minister has been killed, and the Dark Lord has returned, all on the same day… people are shaken. That’s likely to be the reason he hadn’t announced his return until today. He wanted to shock the country into surrendering.”

    Ron nodded. That was probably the main reason, though Dumbledore’s spy might have influenced the Dark Lord as well, delaying this until the professor was ready for it. Not that he could mention that here on the street.

    “We’re not surrendering,” Dean said through clenched teeth.

    “Well, they’re not rioting. And we can’t exactly stay out here all night in case there’s an attack,” Ron said. That would leave them too tired to work well tomorrow - and Ron knew that there would be a lot of important tasks for everyone. The fate of Britain hung in the balance.

    “The guards in the alley should be able to handle the situation,” Hermione said. “And if there is an attack, the entire Corps will react. We wouldn’t be able to do much, out there by ourselves.”

    “I guess I’ll head home then,” Dean said. Reluctantly, Ron thought.

    Hermione nodded at her fellow Wand. “Are you alright with…” she trailed off, though both wizards knew what she was talking about.

    Dean winced. “I’m not, but… what alternative is there?” He gestured at the scared mass of people. “This is worse than I thought.”

    He disapparated without another word. Ron looked at Hermione. They should have taken Dean back to the Leaky Cauldron with them. To be certain that he was on board with their plans. Hermione ground her teeth - she had to know this as well. “He’ll come around. As he said, there’s no alternative.”

    Ron nodded, though he had some doubts.

    They headed back to the Leaky Cauldron. The number of wizards and witches drinking heavily had increased. The mood had grown even more desperate.

    Dumbledore had been waiting in Ron’s room for them to return. As soon as they had closed the door, he ended his Disillusionment Charm. “Did Mister Dean return to the Ministry?”

    “Yes,” Hermione nodded. She looked at the professor. “He’ll not betray us,” she said, but there was a sliver of doubt in her voice, in Ron’s opinion.

    Dumbledore inclined his head. “No, I do not think he will betray us. But I am not certain that he will help us either. In any case, he would do well to avoid a wizard’s eyes.”

    Hermione pressed her lips together. Ron knew she was frustrated. At herself, for letting Dean go, and at Dean, for going. And at Dumbledore, for causing this situation. There wasn’t much he could do about this right now though. “The people out there are scared out of their wits. If the Dark Lord actually shows up, they’re not going to resist,” he said.

    “I concur,” the professor said. “It is a quite familiar situation. Tomorrow, I will contact the Ministry as soon as it is possible to do so without arousing suspicion. The Wands should be able to keep the Dark Lord at bay until then, should he try something.”

    “That was your plan,” Hermione said, staring at the old wizard. “You knew this would happen, and you planned for this.”

    “I did. I remember the time after the Dark Lord’s first defeat well.” Dumbledore sighed. “So much fear and panic. The Ministry collapsed within days. Many of those who had kept fighting while others fled or surrendered were killed. Lucius took control with ease, and as easily kept it. He smiled at the witch. “There were no Wands of Britain then. There were people as brave as you and your comrades, but they were weary and tired from years of the war, and their number dwindled with each battle.” He sighed again. “I don’t like causing the entire country to tremble in fear, but I am convinced that this is the best way to secure the Ministry without causing more bloodshed, and without turning the Corps into our enemy.”

    Hermione frowned, but she didn’t contradict the wizard. “I should have deduced that Snape was your spy long before this. You were so certain that you could have the Minister killed, you had to have someone very close to him. And you had to have someone close to the Dark Lord to frame him convincingly, and whom the Dark Lord would believe could kill the Minister as well.” She scoffed. “How could I have missed this?”

    “You are well-trained, but you are still young,” Dumbledore said. “The idea that the man Lucius has trusted with his health, his personal potioneer, his friend even, for close to two decades, could be a spy, might not be too outrageous. But to assume that he not only has gained the confidence of Lucius, but of the Dark Lord as well, and is betraying both? Few would not dismiss this notion as too implausible.”

    Hermione nodded while clenching teeth. She didn’t like making mistakes, Ron knew.

    “But, knowing all this, can you find a fault in my plan? Or offer a better alternative? We are trying to avoid a bloody conflict with your comrades.”

    Hermione shook her head. “No, I can’t.”

    The professor didn’t gloat. He simply nodded. “I have to return to France now, and prepare for tomorrow. Have a good night, Miss Hermione. Mister Weasley.” Dumbledore nodded at them and vanished through the cabinet.

    Hermione sighed and sat down on the bed. “Snape’s a dead man,” she said. “The entire Corps wants to kill him. With the exception of Dean and me. And I don’t think the Dark Lord will overlook that Narcissa and Draco were killed right after Lucius.”

    Ron said. “Snape will know this, and if he has gone back to the Dark Lord, he only did it because he thinks he can frame someone else as a traitor. Or did so.” He didn’t think Dumbledore would knowingly sacrifice the man. Or rather, he hoped that would not be the case.

    “I suppose so.” Hermione closed her eyes. “Did he plan all of this? When he sent you to Britain?”

    Ron didn’t have to ask who she was talking about. “I don’t think he planned or even expected everything that happened.” Especially not the two of them falling in love. “But killing Lucius and then stepping in to protect Britain against the Dark Lord?” He nodded. “I think that was his plan all along, or one of his plans.”

    “Do you ever question him?”

    Ron took a deep breath. “I don’t follow him blindly. But my family has trusted him since before I was born. And he hasn’t let me down yet.”

    “I once thought the same of Malfoy.”

    Ron suppressed the slight spark of anger he felt at hearing this comparison.

    “He too was very charming, and he too had long term plans, and hidden plots,” Hermione said.

    She was looking at him, biting her lower lip. She looked very vulnerable. Like when she had told him all about her investigation into her own past, and when he had told her his real name.

    “And you’re worried about Dumbledore turning out to be like him?”

    She nodded. “All those plots… I feel used. And the curses he used on the Wands… I know I should have taken Dean back to him, but I didn’t really try.”

    He sighed. He understood why she was worried. In her place, he would be worried as well. He chose his words carefully. “He has planned this, yes. But he did a lot to avoid killing any Wand, even though it would have been… easier and safer to do so.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “So far he has not betrayed my trust. And I don’t think he has betrayed your trust either, has he?”

    She shook her head. “No, he hasn’t. But he was careful with his words. Very careful.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “I’m not used to feeling the need to watch my allies as much as my enemies.”

    He nodded. “He warned me of this, you know. Said that becoming a spy would change how I looked at the world, and at others. Said I wouldn’t be able to trust people easily anymore. I chose to become a spy anyway.” And he was certain that Dumbledore had known he would. “I don’t regret it. If I hadn’t, I’d not have met you.” And wouldn’t have fallen in love.

    “I guess that’s one thing to be grateful for.” She smiled, weakly though.

    “But an important thing, I hope?” he said, pulling her in his arms. If her feelings towards Dumbledore extended to Ron as well...

    She nodded.

    They kissed, and then fell asleep in each other’s arms.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 23rd, 1999, 15.30 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione walked through the atrium, ignoring the few nervous Ministry employees milling around. Apart from the Wands, the Ministry might as well be gone for the day. Half the employees hadn’t even shown up for work, and the rest seemed to expect an attack by the Dark Lord any minute.

    “Pathetic,” Dean muttered next to her. He had said that a lot today. They hadn’t talked about Dumbledore yet. Hermione knew she should, but… she wasn’t certain she could make as convincing a case for the man’s aims as was needed right now.

    “The Minister was killed, and the Dark Lord returned, all within a day,” Hermione said. “They’re not trained to handle this.” She didn’t mention that most of the Corps was guilt-ridden having failed to save the Minister. The Wands didn’t talk about that.

    “That’s what we’re for!” Colin piped up as they entered the headquarters of the Corps. “We protect Britain!”

    Benjamin was in his office with Cleo. The female Wand flashed a smile at Hermione, slightly twisted by the scar running from her forehead to her jaw. Benjamin just looked at her. “Any success?”

    She shook her head. “No. We didn’t find any trace of whoever spread the rumours about the Dark Lord’s return. Nor of those who spread the rumours of Dumbledore coming to Britain.” She knew, of course, who had started those rumours, but they had been in disguise.

    The Wand-Leader sighed. “I didn’t expect you to, but it was worth a shot.”

    Hermione wasn’t certain she agreed, but she had to admit that having more Wands out on the streets, being seen, was probably worth more right now than working on her cases. Not that she wanted to actually solve every case. For some of them, she had been responsible after all.

    Cleo nodded. “The whole Ministry’s in a tizzy, and things have become even worse ever since Dumbledore contacted the Chief Warlock.”

    “Acting Minister Cornfoot,” Hermione corrected her automatically.

    “We can consider ourselves lucky if he manages to be a reacting Minister,” Cleo said. “He was the Minister’s mouthpiece, and with him gone…”

    Benjamin didn’t bother to call her on the remark, Hermione noted. The Chief Warlock wasn’t exactly respected in the Corps.

    “What’s happening on that front?” she asked.

    “Professor Dumbledore is expected to arrive today, to talk to Cornfoot,” Benjamin said. “We’re part of the security for the meeting.”

    “That’s a remarkably fast development,” she said.

    Her fellow Wand-leader snorted. “If Cornfoot had refused to see Dumbledore, the public outrage would have been too great. With the Minister gone and the Dark Lord revealed, people want their saviour.”

    “Kind of funny, that they turn to Dumbledore after he has been seen as the major threat to Britain for close to twenty years,” Cleo said.

    “They fear the Dark Lord more than Dumbledore,” Hermione pointed out. “They fear his vengeance for following the Minister after he supposedly killed the Dark Lord.”

    “But Dumbledore was defeated by the Dark Lord in the last war,” Cleo countered.

    “Not personally. They never met on the field,” Hermione said. “The Ministry’s collapse was what ended the war.”

    “And we’re currently reenacting that collapse,” Dean said.

    Benjamin shook his head. “As long as the Corps stands, the Ministry stands.”

    “But where does the Corps stand?” Hermione asked. She needed to know that, preferably before Dumbledore arrived.

    “Where the Minister wants us to,” the wizard answered.

    “And if that’s with Dumbledore?” Hermione looked at him. That was the real question.

    “That’s better than with the Dark Lord,” Benjamin retorted.

    Cleo nodded emphatically, then ran a hand over the scar on her face. “I don’t want to surrender to those Death Eaters.”

    “No one wants that,” Dean said. “And I think Cornfoot knows that.”

    “If he doesn’t he’ll be made aware,” Benjamin said. “We’ll not betray the Minister’s legacy to his murderer.”

    Hermione forced herself to nod at that pronouncement. She told herself that it was the right thing to do - the Dark Lord wanted all muggleborns dead. Not that she could tell them that, the Wands still believed that the Dark Lord had survived Halloween 1981, and had not gone mad until later, when the first Wands had already been through Hogwarts. She changed the topic. “Has the investigation of Rookwood’s disappearance shown results yet?” she asked.

    Benjamin shook his head. “Nothing. If he’s still alive, then he hasn’t appeared yet.”

    “I doubt he’ll show his face, not with the Dark Lord and Dumbledore back in Britain,” Dean said.

    Colin nodded.

    Cleo snorted. “Let’s hope he’s dead. The situation is complicated enough.”

    “Rookwood would at least be a capable leader,” Colin said. “And he’s British.”

    “If he’s still alive, then he’s a suspect in the murder of the Minister,” Hermione pointed out. She felt bad when Colin’s face fell, but it was better if the Corps didn’t consider Rookwood as an alternative to Dumbledore. “Besides, Dumbledore has been British longer than any of us has been alive.” It was far easier, she realised, to push Dumbledore’s agenda when she was faced with the alternatives.

    “He didn’t save us from the muggles though!” Colin said, frowning. “How many muggleborns were abused and killed by muggles while he was in power?”

    “I don’t know. But I know that the Dark Lord’s forces killed a lot of muggleborns during the last war. And the surviving muggleborns went into exile with Dumbledore,” Hermione said. She would have liked to point out that the Minister had been a follower of the Dark Lord during that war, but that might be pushing things too far, with Malfoy dead for less than a day. The wound was too raw still, everyone but herself and Dean was ready to lash out at the Minister’s enemies. If they suspected Dumbledore had a hand in this...

    “That just means that they saw Dumbledore as the lesser evil.” Colin could be stubborn.

    “I wish we could ask them about it,” Hermione said. She had to remind Dumbledore of this possibility. Then again, he likely had thought of that already. Planned for it. “Do we know who will be coming with Dumbledore?”

    Benjamin shook his head. “No. Sarah wants us all ready, just in case this is a trap, or if the Dark Lord attacks.”

    “Great. Guard duty again,” Dean said.

    “We’ll be observing the delegation from the Exiles. Gathering information,” Benjamin said.

    “While acting as guards.” Dean snorted.

    Benjamin looked at Hermione. She sighed. “Give it a rest, Dean. We’ll do our duty, as usual.”

    “Of course. At least it’ll be interesting to see how our acting Minister will be reacting.”

    While everyone chuckled at that, Hermione made a mental note that Dumbledore’s plan had decent chances to succeed. At least the Corps wasn’t opposing it, as far as she could tell.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 23rd, 1999, 17.30 hours

    Albus Dumbledore stepped out of the Floo connection in the Ministry’s atrium and found himself facing a dozen Wands. They were not quite threatening him, but they certainly were not a simple honour guard; their positions and posture showed that clearly. He didn’t lose his smile though - he had expected that. Miss Hermione had warned him in advance as well. He spotted her, in the background, with Mister Dean and a younger wizard. Albus would have felt better if he had either obliviated the man, or spoken to him some more. But the risk of the Wand turning on them, condemning his best friend to death, was very small. Acceptable, he had decided. Behind Albus, the Floo flashed again, and Sirius stepped out of it, followed by Arthur.

    “Welcome to Britain, Professor Dumbledore,” Elias Cornfoot, the acting Minister, standing in the middle of the Wands, next to Crispin Greengrass and Phileas Parkinson, said.

    “Good evening, Minister,” Albus said. “It is kind of you to welcome me in person.” He nodded to Crispin and Phileas. “Mister Greengrass. Mister Parkinson.” Then he gestured to his two companions. “May I introduce you to Sirius Black and Arthur Weasley?”

    Arthur smiled widely. “We’ve met before, when I was working at the Ministry.”

    “Ah, yes.” Cornfoot’s smile seemed more than a bit forced. Greengrass wasn’t quite as obvious, but Albus could see that he looked a bit embarrassed. Parkinson didn’t show any emotion.

    The Minister cleared his throat. “Shall we proceed to the Conference Room?” He hadn’t introduced Wand-Commander Sarah, who stood behind him, Albus noticed.

    “And who might you be?” the professor asked, smiling at the young witch.

    “Wand-Commander Sarah,” came the reply. The woman didn’t smile, but nodded at him.

    “Pleased to meet you. You command the Corps then?”

    “Yes.”

    Albus nodded, hoping Sirius wouldn’t flirt with the witch, or at least not too much, and then followed Cornfoot to the room that had been prepared for their meeting. Six seats were prepared at a massive table made from black, polished oak. Daphne Greengrass was standing at the wall, next to another seat.

    “Greetings, Miss…?” Albus trailed off.

    “That’s my daughter, Daphne,” Greengrass said.

    “It is my pleasure to meet you, Miss.” Albus turned to the three pureblood wizards. As he had expected, his greeting of Sarah and Miss Greengrass had thrown them off a bit. “Shall we begin then?”

    “Of course.”

    Everyone took their seats. Sarah took up a position behind the Minister. Half a dozen other wands formed a line behind her, including Miss Hermione. Miss Greengrass took out a dictaquill.

    “Ahem. You are aware of the Dark Lord’s return and the Minister’s demise. Minister Malfoy, I mean,” Cornfoot began.

    “That is correct. I’ve kept a subscription to the Daily Prophet after my departure from Britain,” Albus said. It was correct, though his information was a bit more detailed than that, of course. “My condolences on your loss.”

    “Ah, I see.” Cornfoot fidgeted a bit. “We are currently in a bit of a crisis. The death of the Minister has shaken our country, and the return of the Dark Lord has shocked and terrified the people.”

    “They have a good reason to be shaken,” Albus interjected. “He has proven to be rather unstable, and as I understand, he has sworn vengeance on all who have betrayed him. A definition that, I believe, extends to just about every prominent pureblood.”

    Greengrass nodded gravely. “He already tried to kill me and my entire family. If not for the Minister, we would be dead.”

    “The Minister, and the Wands, I believe?” Albus asked. “I do not think Lucius fought the Dark Lord by himself.”

    “Yes, of course.”

    Albus saw that Sarah squared her shoulders. He wasn’t about to overdo the flattery, of course, but he wanted them to know he respected and acknowledged them. He looked at Cornfoot and waited.

    The acting Minister coughed. “As I was saying, we’re faced with a crisis. The faith of the people in the Ministry has been shaken. Our forces haven’t been able to provide us with any successes against the Dark Lord’s followers to give the people new hope.”

    “Not surprisingly, given that it has been less than a day,” Albus said. “I am familiar with the Dark Lord’s tactics. He is very hard to find.” Unless you could track his very soul.

    “He’s also terrifying on the battlefield,” Parkinson said. “We’ve lost dozens of Wands when they met him.”

    “Back in the last war, he avoided a direct confrontation, and withdrew whenever we met on the field.” Albus smiled. “Unlike Grindelwald, he refused to duel me.”

    “He has grown more powerful in his absence,” Parkinson said. “He has taken an inhuman appearance even.”

    Albus raised his eyebrows. “Things have changed then. When my allies and I left Britain, mixed blood was not seen as a sign of great power by Mister Malfoy and his friends.”

    The reminder that Lucius had ruled Britain in the name of blood purity caused the three wizards to squirm, just has he had expected.

    “Nevertheless, I am quite confident that I can match him spell for spell.” He smiled at them.

    Cornfoot looked like a drowning man who had just been offered Gillyweed. “That’s very reassuring to hear, Professor. Britain needs help, or it will fall into his inhuman hands.”

    “A Ministry on the brink of collapse, a terrified population, and dark forces on the advance… I am very familiar with this situation. As are my allies. We had to leave Britain under similar circumstances.”

    Cornfoot winced and glanced at Parkinson and Greengrass.

    Albus leaned forward. “But rest assured that I and many others would gladly return to our home to help the Ministry in its time of need. Provided, of course, that there are certain changes in the Ministry, and its policies.”

    He leaned back in his seat with a smile as the acting Minister exchanged glances with the other two purebloods. He had them.

    Lucius’s blood purist regime wouldn’t survive its founder. Albus would make certain of that.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 23rd, 1999, 21.15 hours

    Wand-Leader Hermione was very glad that the negotiations between Dumbledore and the Ministry - at least the first round - had concluded, and not just because the professor had managed to receive the concessions he had wanted, and the likelihood of the exiles fighting against the Corps had diminished greatly. It had taken almost four hours, and she was glad for a break. Not that she’d show that, not in front of Sarah. The Wand-Commander would have her hide if she showed such weakness in front of their guests.

    The results were, broken down to essentials, quite clear: The British Ministry of Magic welcomed the return of the British exiles who left Britain in 1981. A general pardon was extended to them. Confiscated property would be returned to the original owners, with compensation for the current owners decided at a later date. The same went for destroyed property. The British exiles would be joining the fight against the Dark Lord under the leadership of Dumbledore. No more discrimination based on blood status.

    To acting Minister Cornfoot, those would have looked like easy concessions. Most of the land and houses the exiles wanted back were owned either by purebloods rich enough not to care much about losing them, or purebloods poor enough not to matter much. Most of those who still cared about the actions in the last war the exiles were being pardoned for were enemies of the Ministry anyway. And even the end of discrimination might not look like much to a Minister desperate to get help against the Dark Lord since all muggleborns currently in Britain were Wands, and the half-bloods had had almost 20 years to get used to their place.

    The real struggle would come after the Dark Lord was defeated, when the returned exiles would demand changes to Britain. And, Hermione thought when she saw Dumbledore approach Sarah after the meeting had ended, some of the groundwork for that would likely be laid today as well.

    “Wand-Commander Sarah, may I have a word about our strategy after the press has been informed?” Dumbledore asked politely.

    Sarah looked surprised for a moment, then she nodded. “Of course.”

    “Splendid!” He smiled widely, then turned to the acting Minister. “Shall we proceed to inform the press now, so the good people of Britain might go to sleep knowing that things have changed for the better thanks to the Ministry?”

    “Of course,” Cornfoot hastened to say.

    Journalists from the Wizarding Wireless, the Daily Prophet, Witch Weekly, Teen Witch Weekly, and The Quibbler were waiting in the atrium. She smiled at Luna, sitting there with her oversized notepad, next to her father. The blonde witch beamed at her, before sticking out part of her tongue from the corner of her mouth as she concentrated on reporting. Behind the journalists stood what looked like half of the Ministry employees. The cowards had returned after rumours of Dumbledore’s presence had reached them, Hermione thought.

    “Wizards and witches of Britain, I have good news!” Cornfoot said. “In our time of need, Albus Dumbledore has returned to Britain, to fight the Dark Lord.”

    Even though just about everyone already had to have known that, the whispers and murmurs grew louder, and the acting Minister had to wait almost a minute before he could continue. At least the people sounded hopeful rather than hostile. Not that the two dozen Wands in attendance would let anyone cause trouble.

    “With him return our fellow wizards and witches who left Britain for the shores of France when the Dark Lord took over. Despite the tragic loss of our Minister, the Ministry stands strong.”

    Dumbledore kept smiling while Cornfoot informed the press about their agreement with far more words than were needed. FInally, the press could ask questions. Unsurprisingly, they were aimed at Dumbledore.

    “Why are you returning now, and not before?” asked the Daily Prophet’s journalist, Rita Skeeter.

    “I am returning now because the Dark Lord’s presence has been confirmed.”

    “Would you have returned if the Minister was still alive?” Skeeter asked.

    “I do not think Lucius would ever have asked me to come back.” Dumbledore nodded at Xenophilius Lovegood.

    “Do you foresee any problems dealing with the Dark Lord? He has taken the form of a half-naga, after all,” Luna’s father asked.

    “I do not care what form he takes. I am here to fight him and defeat him, just as I defeated Grindelwald.”

    “You fled from him twenty years ago, why would you think you’ll be faring any better now?” Jones from the Wizarding Wireless asked.

    “I moved to France because the Ministry at the time had collapsed, and organised resistance to the Dark Lord had vanished. There were no Wands of Britain around at the time, and my allies, brave though they were, were facing too many enemies. This is obviously not the case today. The Corps has fought the Dark Lord several times, and has proven to be both effective and courageous. Together, we will end this threat to Britain.”

    Hermione couldn’t help but smile at that, and she could see many of her fellow Wands were smiling as well. It felt good to be acknowledged. Then she remembered that Dumbledore had been planning all of this, and had no trouble schooling her features again.

    Rita Skeeter, of course, couldn’t let such a statement stay unchallenged. “Wouldn’t you question their competence, since the Minister and his entire family have been killed while guarded by them?”

    Dumbledore frowned at the witch. “While I am not familiar with the details of Lucius’s death, it is known that he was killed by a wizard he trusted, and met without Wands to guard him. You cannot expect the Corps to guard you when they are ordered away.” He nodded at the reporter from Witch Weekly.

    Graziella Gibbons smiled. “My question is for Sirius Black.”

    The wizard, who had until then been smiling at all the pretty witches in the audience, and among the Wands, straightened up and beamed at her. “Cast away, Miss!”

    “You haven’t married in exile, despite having been among the most eligible bachelors for years. Will you be looking for a wife in Britain?”

    Hermione saw the wizard twitch, but he answered with a wink and a smile. “I’ve been looking for the right witch all my life, but I haven’t found her yet. I’m not about to give up though.”

    That caused more murmurs among the audience. Mostly among the witches, though, Hermione noticed. As if there was nothing more important to ask.

    Then the representative from Teen Witch weekly asked about Ginny Weasley’s relationship to Harry Potter. Hermione Granger almost wished the Dark Lord would attack the Ministry.

    *****​

    London, Ministry of Magic, September 23rd, 1999, 22.15 hours

    When the press conference finally ended, Wand-Leader Hermione was ready to hex the lot of the journalists, just to shut them up, even though she realised Dumbledore had deliberately shifted the topic away from the death of the Malfoy family. It was just too aggravating. And she needed some food.

    She was walking back to the Corps Headquarters with Dean, behind Dumbledore’s delegation, when Colin caught them and handed them two packages with a sandwich and sweets. She beamed at him. “You’re a lifesaver, Colin!”

    Dean chuckled. “But whose life did he save? Yours or the reporters’?”

    She snorted. “Both - Sarah would have killed me for losing my patience.” She hastily ate a few cauldron cakes. That should tide her over until she could eat in peace.

    They reached the Corps’ HQ and Sarah led the three exiles into her office. Hermione tagged along, and used the opportunity to study Arthur Weasley some more. During the negotiations, he had not said overly much, presenting the picture of a harmless, friendly wizard. Though given Ron’s abilities as a spy, and after meeting Fred and George, Hermione didn’t believe the act. Dumbledore wouldn’t have taken a harmless wizard with him. His open curiosity was likely just a way to spy without acting suspiciously.

    Sirius Black, on the other hand, might truly be a flirt - he had complimented every witch he had met, including herself, and not even the coldest stare from Sarah seemed to have impressed him. Hermione didn’t know what his game was, or Dumbledore’s.

    Once inside her office, Sarah turned to her visitors. “You wanted to talk about strategy.”

    “That is correct, Wand-Commander. I have about two dozen witches and wizards ready to move to Britain at once, and engage in combat. More will follow, though they need a bit more time to get ready.” He smiled. “After almost twenty years in exile, they didn’t exactly expect to be able to return so quickly.”

    Sarah nodded. “You need safe quarters then.”

    “At the start, at least.”

    Hermione was certain the exiles had more than the one safehouse she knew of, but she understood that telling this to Sarah would do more harm than good.

    “We’ve been fighting a defensive campaign so far, which limited our options. Efforts to track the enemy to their bases have not been successful yet.” Sarah seemed to look at Hermione when she said that, and the Wand-Leader frowned. The debacle with Draco hadn’t been her fault!

    “I believe I can help you out there. I know some rather obscure spells to track people. There’s a good chance even the Dark Lord does not know them, and therefore would be hard-pressed to defend against them.” Dumbledore nodded. “Though this information should remain confidential, lest he prepare.”

    “Of course,” Sarah said, in a flat tone. She didn’t seem to be too impressed by Dumbledore, unlike most of the older wizards and witches Hermione had seen in the atrium.

    “You haven’t voiced your opinion during the negotiations,” the old wizard said.

    “It isn’t my place to make policy.” Sarah’s answer was in line with everything Hermione had been taught.

    “And yet you could, if you wanted to. You are currently among the most influential people in the Ministry.”

    “The Wands serve Britain. They do not rule it.” Sarah stood straighter.

    “An admirable stance. Too many discovered too late that entering politics was a mistake. I can understand if you wish to keep the Corps out of that sort of business. Though at the same time, you might wish to have the same say in your future as every other witch and wizard has.” He smiled. “Some of the people coming to help us would have been among your ranks, had they been born but a few years later. I know they are interested in your experiences and would like to talk to you.”

    Hermione understood what Dumbledore was doing there. Had thought of that herself. Talking with muggleborns who hadn’t been kidnapped by the Obliviators might make the Wands question what they had been told about their own lives. Subtle enough to not raise suspicion too. Mostly, at least. With a bit of luck, others would discover the Minister’s lies, without Hermione having to push things along.

    If things went well, that would solve a lot of problems. Among them the fact that Ron couldn’t reveal himself yet without threatening this new alliance. Hermione wasn’t planning on marrying ‘Antoine Dupont’ just to keep Dumbledore’s schemes from unraveling.

    *****​
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2016
    space turtle, sesbio, Beyogi and 2 others like this.
  29. Blargh

    Blargh I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Joined:
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    Should this be 'he' instead?

    It was another interesting chapter.
     
  30. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

    Joined:
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    Yep, should be. Correcting.
     
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