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Chapter 45: Weep No More, My Lady (Year 7)
Pulling socks out of the drawer in his wardrobe, Harry frowned as something rattled against the side.
What have I got in here—
Then he remembered.
Face set, he picked up the long, graceful wand Fox had given him in the stone-walled corridor a few weeks before. Hermione had one too, he remembered, and wondered for another moment where this one had come from, before shrugging and sliding it into the protected slot made for such a thing at the top of his trunk.
It goes where I go, until we finish this war.
Another few pairs of socks revealed a curve of glass, which Harry pulled out with a laugh, recalling the day Meghan had presented them with the mysterious glass globe she'd found in the Room of Hidden Things. Shaking it, he watched the tiny flakes of snow drift past the jagged cliff depicted inside, then excavated a hole for it within the folded underwear already half-filling his cauldron.
Maybe now that school's over, I can figure out what link it might have to Voldemort and his Horcruxes.
Straightening his back, he looked around the small, circular room with its six beds for what he knew might well be the last time. Even if school reconvened normally in September, he doubted he'd be sleeping here.
Just a little too easy to find, and nowhere to run if I'm cornered. We'll set up shop down in Sanctuary, or even move into the Hogwarts Den full-time…
That thought made him a little itchy, remembering his days in hiding from the regime of Dolores Umbridge, but with his Pride around him, he thought he'd be able to handle it.
And besides, the Den's where I finally worked out how I felt about Ginny. Rubbing his wedding band, Harry felt a smile come to him, more naturally than it had in weeks. Moving past yesterday is easier when the face of tomorrow is that beautiful.
Setting aside philosophy to be discussed on the train ride, he started to turn back to his wardrobe, when an oddity caught his eye. Draco's bed lay neatly made, as it had been for those same weeks, but one of the pillows seemed to have a lump at its corner.
Curious, he rounded the bottom of his own bed and pulled back the covers on his brother's.
Meghan paused in her careful folding of robes as the door, behind her, creaked. The window was open to the warm June breeze, and two of her dormmates, chattering across their own beds, hadn't noticed anything, but she thought something or someone might just have come inside.
But who would come up here invisible, that would use a door? The ghosts can't touch anything, and anybody who should be here wouldn't need to hide…
Casually, she checked her wand and piece, ensuring each were within reach for a fast draw.
Because if anyone thinks I'm going to be easy just because I'm little, I'm going to give them a big surprise.
A soft "whuff" at about the level of her thighs made her sigh with exasperation and lower her hands. "What do you want, Wolf?" she muttered without moving her lips, continuing her folding. "You know you're not supposed to be up here."
Warm, furry weight pressed momentarily against the backs of her legs, and beside her feet, a small blotch of color appeared in her peripheral vision. Meghan counted to five, then looked down.
Beside her sat a red-and-gold cuddly lion, of the type the Pack-cubs had cherished since they were small. She couldn't help but glance up at her own, holding pride of place, as always, on her pillow. "Why are you giving me your—" she started to say.
She broke off as another possibility occurred to her, and slowly bent down to check her thoughts against reality.
The tag on the lion's hind leg was marked, faintly but unmistakably, with an F.
F for Fox. Because we couldn't use our proper names' initials, Harry's and Hermione's are the same, and he didn't want the "little" part written down…
"Thank you," she murmured, and set Draco's lion beside her own on the pillow.
They could keep each other company while she finished her packing and ran an errand she'd been considering for a while.
"Your go." Dean Thomas held out a handful of slips of parchment towards Lindz Jordan. "Best way to defend against…"
Lindz plucked a slip from the handful. "A werewolf," she read aloud. "With the Wolfsbane, or without?"
"Right. So without the Wolfsbane, you get up high or out of reach behind a wall, and just Banish stuff at him until he runs off. Or find something sharp and silver, and then it's not a problem anymore. Except cleaning up the mess." Lindz grimaced. "With the Wolfsbane is harder, because then it's like fighting another human, only a human with sharp claws and teeth. Really, really dangerous teeth."
"In which case the silver is probably your best option." Dean fanned his thumb along the edge of the strips. "Better make sure you know where your mum keeps the good cutlery."
"Definitely. Okay, your go." Lindz relieved Dean of the slips and held them out for him. "Best way to defend against…"
Dean looked down at the slip he'd chosen. "An Inferius." He shuddered. "God, those things creep me out. But they're only as smart, or know as much, as the person controlling them, so there's a weakness right there. They can't be given anything complicated to do, so even a basic locked door could stop them, as long as they can't knock it down just by persistence. Fire scares them, because it can destroy them, and…" He patted his hip, where his potion piece resided. "A couple things on here can do the same."
"A couple?" Lindz drew her own piece, looking at the indicators on the back end. "I know about the red potion, if you carry it, but what else do we have that could stop an Inferius? Most of it requires something alive to work on."
"Would you believe it's this one?" Dean turned his piece so that Lindz could see the indicator.
"The white?" Lindz blinked. "But that's the healing potion!"
"And healing is another word for restoring, for putting things back the way they ought to be. An Inferius is a dead body that was brought to 'life' by a spell, so healing it…" Dean snapped his fingers. "Breaks the spell. Puts it back the way it ought to be."
"Which is properly dead and not stuck in between." Lindz nodded. "All right, I suppose that makes sense. But it's not a very strong potion we carry. Would it still work?"
"Even if it didn't break the spell all the way, it'd help. Slow it down some, give you a chance to get your wand out. Or go grab the matches." Dean grinned. "Sometimes Muggle stuff works better. I mean, which would you rather? Say all four syllables of 'Incendio' and hope you got the movement right, or just…" He mimed striking a match against a box.
Lindz pursed her lips, considering. "Can I have both options? Just in case?"
"'Course you can." Dean pounded fists with his girlfriend. "Half-blood power." He smiled a little. "I'm going to miss you this summer."
"You probably won't miss me for long." Lindz slid the strips of parchment into her pocket. "Not if the Ministry falls as soon as Lee's been saying it might."
"True." Dean ran a hand along the stone wall of the classroom they'd commandeered for saying goodbye, and for a little last-minute DA work. "I hope you like little sisters."
"Well, I don't know. Are you planning on serving them boiled, or fried?"
Meghan turned in a few lazy circles, holding out her arms to the sunlight, then shook off her momentary trance with a sigh and started walking. She needed to get to where she was going, do what had to be done there, and get back to Gryffindor Tower all without anyone noticing she'd ever been gone, and that didn't give her a lot of time.
Here's hoping it's enough.
At the edge of the spot by the lake where she'd sat with her Pride a few weeks before, fighting tears with all her might because she might not be able to stop, she paused and gave a little, respectful bow. "I hope I'm not disturbing you," she said quietly. "But I couldn't think of any better place to call. He was your friend, after all, and that means he might be listening here, if he is anywhere—"
A flash of fire in the air above the white tomb made her gasp, and a few notes of a song like liquid flame brought a smile to her face. "Fawkes," she breathed, hurrying forward to greet the phoenix as he landed neatly on the end of the tomb. "You did come! Thank you, thank you so much."
Fawkes turned his head to regard her with one round, black eye. Yes, I've come, he seemed to be saying, but why did you want me?
"Oh. Yes." Meghan pulled her robes tight against her side and drew her dagger, holding it across her palms. "It's for this. For me. Because I think I know what I ought to carry inside my dagger, the way Harry has Sangre's venom inside his. Would you, could you, give me a few of your tears? Please?"
The phoenix blinked at her slowly. You can heal with your own power, she could have sworn he was saying now. Why would you ask for mine?
"Because my power…" Meghan grimaced a little, but lying to a phoenix was a stupid idea. "My power is limited. It comes from me, from what I have inside. And if I use too much of it, then I'll collapse and have to be taken care of, and that's taking away my skills as a fighter, and as a Healer, and taking away somebody else who'll have to take care of me. But if I have another way to heal, beyond the normal spells and potions, then maybe I can save some people who couldn't be saved any other way, without always having to drain myself. Please, Fawkes? I won't use it stupidly, or for anything that doesn't truly need it." She gazed up at him with the dagger lying across her hands. "I promise."
For one more moment, Fawkes considered her. Then, with a small croon, he bent his head, and thick, glossy tears began to fall from his eyes, dropping one by one onto the dagger blade, where they were instantly absorbed. Meghan counted thirteen before the phoenix lifted his head once more and chirruped at her. You have what you wanted, little chick. Now, remember your promise.
"I will." Meghan sheathed her dagger again and stroked the back of Fawkes's feathered head. "Thank you again. This might help a lot of people."
Her other hand brushed against the lip of the marble tomb. Idly, almost reflexively, she let her power flow through it.
Fawkes mantled as Meghan sprang back with a gasp. "But—" Wide-eyed, she stared at the tomb. "But how? Why? I don't—"
Cutting herself off, she approached again, brushing her fingers across her eyelids to invoke her Healing Sight. The magic she could sense here came from two different sources, both strong, stronger than her own, but while one was strange and marvelous, known only on its surface and in its most obvious appearances, the second was as familiar as the faces of her Pride and her Pack.
"Ohhhh." She exhaled a long sigh as she placed a name to the second power. "So that must be why—"
One sharp, scolding note sprang from Fawkes, bringing Meghan's head around. "What?" she asked, shielding her eyes against the blaze of magic which was the phoenix to her Ravenclaw-sensitized eyes. "Am I wrong?"
Fawkes shook his head, then extended one wing to gently touch Meghan on the lips.
"No, I'm not wrong, but hush." Meghan frowned, and looked down again, then up. "That other magic is yours, isn't it?" she asked, blinking her eyes back to normal. "It looks just like you."
A bob up and down of a red-feathered head confirmed her guess.
"So it's like Mama says. I don't always need to know everything, just what's good for me." Meghan scowled. "Which I hate. But are there reasons that I shouldn't ask questions yet? Important ones?"
Another nod, more emphatic, and Fawkes took wing. Meghan dodged out of the way, and watched as the phoenix spiraled upward into the sunlight, until he vanished in another flare of fire. "I wonder if he's going back to the Founders' Castle," she murmured. "I wish I could have asked him to say hello to Fox and Luna for me." She smiled a little. "And somebody else, too."
Patting the hilt of her dagger, she started back to the Hogwarts she knew.
The sooner she got started preparing for this summer and fall, the better.
Severus Snape gave the potion he was brewing its requisite three stirs, then set the stirring stick down to turn and take an ingredient off the shelf behind him.
In the normal course of things, I would have been back in Spinner's End for two weeks now, after the ending of the school year, but the Dark Lord wishes all his followers to remain close before he makes his move towards the Ministry. While I do not care for most of the company, I must admit the working conditions are better here. Especially the light…
When he turned back, someone was sitting on his windowsill.
"Hi," said the beaming young witch he still had to remind himself to call Starwing. Her face clouded as she looked him over. "I scared you?"
"You…startled me," Severus corrected, impressed against his will by the owl-minded girl's perceptiveness. "I did not hear you arrive."
"Startled." Starwing nodded, as though committing this to memory. "I come in?"
"By most reckonings, you are in already." Severus sighed at the perplexity on Starwing's features. "Yes. Come in."
"Thank you." Lithely, Starwing dropped to the floor, giving her black cloak a little tug so that it would slide free of the windowsill. Her eyes widened even farther than usual as she gazed around the room. "Magic," she breathed, as though entranced. "Magic, and magic, and magic!"
"Yes, indeed." On a whim, Severus picked up a jar of ordinary daisy petals. "Is this magic?" he asked, holding it out.
"No." Starwing shook her head. "Not magic."
"And this?" Severus reached to a higher shelf for a vial of dragon's blood.
"Yes." Starwing counted on her fingers for a moment, then shook her head again. "Not enough," she said fretfully, holding up all ten. "Too much magic."
Repressing a laugh, Severus held up two fingers of his own. "This many?" he suggested. "Along with yours?"
"Yes!" Starwing clapped her hands, looking as though she wanted to bounce in place, but restraining herself admirably, Severus thought.
Perhaps a bit too admirably…
"What," he said idly, returning the dragon's blood to its shelf, "is your name?"
The girl fussed with a bit of her hair. "Starwing," she said, her tone implying that he really should have known this already.
Severus picked up his stirring stick again. "What is your quest?"
This caused a moment's puzzled frown, before the blue-gray eyes lit with satisfaction. "Be eyes, and ears, and hands." A finger brushed against each of the named organs in turn. "For him." A kiss on her red-stoned ring gave Severus the original of the pronoun, not that he had doubted. "Until we win."
"I see." Reflexively, Severus checked the door, ensuring that his spells of locking and soundproofing were still in place. This was not a question he wanted to be caught asking Lucius Malfoy's girl. "What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?"
Starwing's eyebrows rose as if he had affronted her terribly. "Not swallow," she said curtly, folding her arms across her chest. "Owl."
"I beg your pardon." Severus stirred his potion three times. "The airspeed velocity of an unladen owl, then."
After frowning in consideration, Starwing shrugged. "Fast," she said. Then her head came up as though listening to an unheard call. "I go now," she said, moving towards the window. "Come back sometimes?"
Severus hesitated, then gave in to his curiosity. "Yes," he said, setting aside the stirring stick in favor of his wand, to adjust the temperature of the fire. "Whenever you see me here, and the window is open, you may come back."
"Thank you." Starwing beamed. "I see you again."
Seating herself on the windowsill, she swung her legs out of it, then pushed off. A flutter of hair and cloak in the wind was replaced quickly by feathers as she changed forms mid-fall, and a quiet hoot drifted back to Severus by way of goodbye.
I may regret giving her that permission, and yet…
A rustle behind him made him turn.
Lying on the floor beside the door, as though it had been thrust underneath, was a folded slip of parchment.
My spells should have neutralized anything harmful, or stopped it from entering here.
Who wishes to send me a message—and why?
He levitated the parchment onto his work table and opened it with his wand.
The two sentences within, in truly horrendous handwriting, had him glancing involuntarily towards the window once more.
Luna Lovegood's ring contains some form of liquid, it read. What potions require constant replenishment for control?
Percy Weasley had thought nothing could ever require more control from him than learning to bridle his anger while a captive of the Death Eaters, or keeping himself from falling in love with his brother's girlfriend.
Clearly I never considered how irritating one man's arrogance and blindness could be.
"—getting a little tired of your scaremongering, Weasley." Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour administered a long, searching look from his unusual tawny-gold eyes. "What are you hoping to accomplish by starting a panic?"
"Sir, I want only to keep people on the alert. We have an enemy, and a dangerous one—"
"And overstating the dangers will wear people down just as fast as open battles," Scrimgeour interrupted. "This is the Ministry of Magic, for Merlin's sake! Do you really think we can be taken over by a crowd of fools in ugly masks with an outdated agenda and no idea how to rally popular support behind them? Even if they got past our security measures, how could they possibly—"
A silver-white animal, long and slender, shot through the Minister's closed door and bounded up to Percy. "Now," it said in his father's breathless voice. "It's happening now—warn everyone—"
"What was that?" Scrimgeour demanded as the weasel-Patronus dissolved.
"An example of appallingly bad timing." Percy drew his wand and cast a Peephole Spell on the door, checked up and down the corridor, then eased it open and began to whisper into his own wand's tip. Intellectually, he knew there was no need for a clear line of sight when sending a messenger-Patronus, but he always felt better when he could watch them on their way.
And with a message this urgent, my messengers will need all the strength from my good thoughts they can possibly get.
His words finished, he summoned the memory of the Hufflepuff Halloween Extravaganza, of the cheers and laughter of the Hogwarts students as his twin brothers attacked block s of ice with revving chainsaws, of the smug smile of Crystal Huley as she sipped the butterbeer which was meant to be the winner's reward. Pointing his wand first in one direction, then in the other, he spoke the words carefully.
A tiny, four-legged creature with a short, narrow tail burst from his wand each time, one vanishing down the length of the corridor, the other making a right-angled turn into the wall.
Which finishes my part of the notification tree.
Now to the next step—secure those I'm with, and persuade them to exit the premises as calmly as possible—
"What do you think you're doing, Weasley?" Scrimgeour was on his feet, striding around his desk. "How dare you ignore me, in my own office, no less?"
Which may be a challenge.
"If we could continue this discussion outside, perhaps, sir?" Percy motioned to the open door. "The fresh air might do us both good."
Scrimgeour looked him up and down. "What's your game, Weasley?" he asked suspiciously. "There've always been rumors about you, just bits and pieces, nothing I put any credence in, but now all of a sudden—"
"Sir, we have no time." Percy kept his voice low and even, his body language neutral, allowing only a trace of the urgency he felt to escape him. "The Ministry is under attack as we speak, and you will be a primary target. They would prefer to capture you and place you under Imperius, to give the general public the impression that all remains normal, but if that's not possible, they will kill you and replace you with the puppet they've prepared without a second thought. We have a whole string of safe houses, places they don't know anything about—"
"We?" Scrimgeour's eyes narrowed. "Just how many of you are in this?"
Percy took a breath, ready to commit himself—
"Security!" bellowed a voice from behind him. "Don't move!"
"Let me see your hands!" added another.
The breath escaped as a half-audible curse, as Percy obediently held his hands out to either side of him, empty. One of the Ministry's security bravos he felt confident he could have dueled and won, but two would have required either specialized equipment or more skill than he currently possessed.
And unless I'm wrong—
One of the guards yanked him roughly aside, pinioning his wrists behind his back with one hand and slapping his glasses off his face with the other.
I'm not wrong. Percy winced at the sound of his lenses shattering, but nonetheless marked the spot where the frames had fallen, and likewise the arc of his wand's descent as it was pulled from his pocket and tossed aside. Ministry security guards don't do this sort of thing. These two are fakes. Death Eaters.
I can only hope the Minister spots that as quickly as I did…
"Sir, are you all right?" the second guard was asking Scrimgeour now, a blur of lime green robes and blond hair half-obscuring the Minister's tawny mane and crisp black robes in Percy's sight. "Was this man threatening you, offering you harm?"
"Not exactly. What is this?" Scrimgeour's voice was skeptical, which gave Percy a thread of hope. "I didn't call for security—"
"The news just got in, sir." A ripple of movement was the false guard's arm, waving in Percy's direction. "This man is a member of the Red Shepherds, the vigilante group. Probably a high-ranked one, too. No telling when they recruited him, but they needed someone highly placed at the Ministry if they were ever going to achieve their goals, and if he'd been able to talk you into going with him—"
"So that's it." Scrimgeour exhaled through his teeth. "Weasley, I'm disappointed in you. I never thought you, of all people, would be taken in by such fringe insanity. But then I suppose blood will tell. Thank you, gentlemen, you've saved me a great deal of—"
He broke off with a choked gasp as a metallic gleam flashed in the false guard's hand. The scent of copper and iron flooded the corridor, and the Death Eater holding Percy's arms leaned forward eagerly, his grip relaxing.
Percy slammed his elbow backwards as hard as he could, tore himself free as his captor doubled over, and dived to the floor. The second Death Eater cursed at the noise and started to bring his wand around towards where Percy's had fallen—
From the other side, Percy rolled upright, armed his potion piece, and fired a blast of yellow potion into the side of the blond Death Eater's head.
Never be where they expect you, Sirius Black's voice admonished in the back of his mind as he took out the Death Eater who'd been holding him with a second shot. If they took something from you, take them out first, then go back and get it. Otherwise they don't have to follow you, they just have to keep your whatever-it-is framed in their sights, and you'll come to them…
Snapping his piece over to the white cartridge as he hurried to the spot where his wand had been thrown, Percy noticed with a distant pride that his hand was barely trembling. He'd pay for it later, he knew all too well, but just now the Minister's life and his own depended on his ability to stay strong.
Wand in hand, glasses repaired and restored to their spot on his face, he knelt beside Scrimgeour, who was still breathing but had lost consciousness, either from blood loss or from the fumes of the potion Percy'd used. He hoped it was the latter, but feared it might be the former. The knife the Death Eater had used to stab him was still sticking out of the wound, and the robes around it were saturated with blood.
Some of them need to be more hands-on than others, it seems.
He sprayed the wound with white potion and conjured a bandage around it, leaving the knife in place for the moment, and sighed in relief as blood did not immediately begin to soak his created cloth. Still, they weren't out of the woods yet by a long cast. Conjuring a stretcher was hardly a challenge, but levitating it along would obviate any chance for a wanded defense, and while he'd just proven that a potion piece had a definite part to play in this game, one lucky spell by an alert Death Eater could leave him holding a bouquet of carnations or a pink-eared rabbit instead.
Which would mean I'd have to drop the Minister to fight them, and the jar might well start him bleeding again. How am I supposed to—
Noise from around the corner brought his wand up, and down again almost immediately as he recognized the voices. "Here," he called, getting to his feet as Charlie and Tonks appeared at a run.
Thankfully, I don't have to. We will be able to manage a great deal better.
"Antidotes," he warned his brother and sister-in-law, waving his free hand around. "I had to use my piece, they took my wand."
"Looks like you got it back." Charlie thrust his hand through the slit in his robes which gave access to his own potion piece, pressing it against his antidote patch so that the fumes of the knockout potion wouldn't affect him, then bent to look at Scrimgeour. "Well, damn."
"I wish we had the time to transfigure them." Tonks cast a poisonous glance at the two Death Eaters. "They'd make a nice addition to the pond. But we're already behind time. If someone isn't on the way to check on these two right now, they will be soon."
"Agreed." Percy started to sweep his wand towards the Minister, but Charlie beat him there.
"You just fought a battle, I didn't," he said, starting back the way he'd come, Scrimgeour floating beside him. "And you're going to have a lot more to do when we get where we're going—don't think I don't know who's been masterminding most of this stuff, keeping tabs on who was ours and who was theirs here at the Ministry, and who hadn't made up their minds…"
"If they haven't yet, they will need to now." Percy Summoned the wand from one Death Eater as Tonks did the same to the other. "Unless they plan to close their eyes and ears to anything strange they see or hear, to pretend that this is a perfectly ordinary and legitimate transfer of power."
"You think they won't?" Tonks's hair was fading out of its usual bubblegum pink to a mousy, tired brown. "We're lucky to be getting as many of them as we are. Most people don't particularly care who's in charge as long as their own personal little lives aren't affected. Which is awful of me to say, maybe, but I just get so tired of picking up the pieces. Especially after Mum." Her voice thickened, but her hand remained steady. "How she died for nothing better than some stupid political feud. Which, I know it doesn't usually go that far, but it did that time, and nobody even seemed to care…"
Percy laid his hand against her arm. "We'll have a chance to start over, after the war," he said when she glanced around at him. "To try to make things better. But first we have to get there."
"Right." Tonks managed a smile, twisted but real. "Thanks, Percy."
Wands drawn, eyes and ears open, they hurried after Charlie, Percy pausing just before he turned the corner to aim his wand back at the Minister's open door and whisper a three-word incantation.
Knowing in advance that they might have to give up the Ministry to the Death Eaters had given him and the other Red Shepherds a chance to prepare a number of unpleasant little surprises for the invaders.
Bellatrix Lestrange was less than impressed with the excuse the cringing, middle-rank fool who'd been placed in charge of the Ministry operation gave her for the delay in sending out teams to begin rounding up Mudbloods and their pathetic families.
"If the records are dancing, then make them stop dancing," she explained in her sweetest voice when the fool lay panting on the floor in front of her, courtesy of several seconds of her best Cruciatus.
"We've…we've tried," the wizard gasped, cringing away as Bella raised her wand again. "Please, my lady, no! We've tried, I swear we have, but every spell we try just makes them dance a different way, or do something we never expected—one spell made them multiply by ten, we tried it three times before we realized what was going on, there's a whole room full of duplicates—please, my lady, please—"
"Multiply by ten," Bella repeated, a thought tugging at the back of her mind. "Wait here."
Rising on her toes and turning, she Disapparated, reappearing back at Malfoy Manor, where her Master looked up from his discussion with Severus and Lucius to greet her with a smile. Lucius's pet, sitting behind him with her sewing in her hands, never even lifted her eyes.
"How are things at the Ministry, my dear Bellatrix?" asked the Dark Lord, tapping his fingertips together. "Has the cleansing begun?"
"Someone with more wit than hair had the sense to enchant the record rooms, my lord." Bella scowled. "Enchantments which cause the scrolls to dance around, or do other strange things in response to ordinary spells." She turned to look at Severus. "Including one which multiplied them tenfold."
Severus nodded. "The Weasley twins," he stated with confidence. "That was one of their trademarks, when they would release unexpected items on school grounds. Common spells causing unpredictable reactions."
"Can you stop it?" the Dark Lord asked, in a tone which warned that only one answer would be acceptable.
"My lord, I can." Severus smiled slightly. "I wrote a counterspell specifically for this type of mischief while I still had them under my tutelage. Quod illud unde esset posuit, ita me iuvent. Though sadly, it must be used on each individual item, so this may take some time."
"Do you need him, my lord?" Bella looked up at her Master with the little flutter under her ribs which always seemed to result when she regarded his pale, snakelike face. "Or may I borrow him, to try and hammer that incantation through a few thick skulls?"
"Just as long as you do not take that phrase literally. Not yet." The Dark Lord chuckled at Bella's pout. "Wait until we have the Mudbloods, my dear. Then you may do whatever your wicked little heart desires."
"My lord." Bella curtsied until her knee almost touched the ground, then waited for Severus to join her before Disapparating again.
"The other reason I wanted you," she said when they were back at the Ministry and on their way to the record rooms, "is that you'd know a few Mudbloods we can send the teams after right now, without waiting for the records. Strike some fear into them, get them realizing there's a new day dawning and they can't get away with pretending to be as good as us any longer. What do you say?"
"I say…" Severus stopped in the doorway, observing the chaos within. Several of the larger filing cabinets had formed a conga line, with two hapless Death Eaters caught in its middle. A handful of scrolls with shredded edges were doing a can-can, complete with shrill shrieks, and off to one side several yellowed sheets of parchment were executing a stately minuet. Thrusting his wand towards the mess, he whispered a few words, and a single scroll soared unerringly into his hand. He unrolled it, looked over the writing on it, and handed it to Bella.
"Dean Thomas," he said. "Harry Potter's dorm-mate. Muggleborn, with two young Muggle sisters. Will this do?"
"Oh, yes," Bella breathed, stroking the precious parchment with her fingers, feeling her blood rise as she envisioned the terror on the little girls' faces, heard them shrieking for their brother to come and save them. "Yes, this will do nicely…"
Dean was lying on his bed, reading, when he heard the thump in the hallway. Quickly, he shoved his right hand under his pillow, his left into his pocket—
"Hold it!" A masked man in robes stepped into his doorway, pointing a wand at him. "Don't move a muscle." Taking in Dean's position, he snorted in derision. "Wand under the pillow, Thomas? Really? What're you going to do, kill some feathers?"
"What do you want?" Dean asked, holding steady. If the man would just come a little further into his room…
"Oh, all sorts of things." The man snickered, strolling into the room and over to the bedside. "But you're going to have to come with us for most of them. Hold still, now."
With his wand, he flicked the pillow away.
Dean's right hand was empty.
"What—" was as far as the Death Eater got before Dean grabbed hold of his wand's tip, yanked his own wand free of his pocket, and Stunned the man nonverbally.
"I'm left-handed, if you didn't know," he told the unconscious Death Eater, getting to his feet. "Runs in the family."
"Master Dean!" Kreacher appeared in the center of the room with a loud crack, looking mortified. "Master Dean, Kreacher is so sorry—"
"Is everyone else okay?" Dean interrupted ruthlessly. "Mum and Eric, and the girls?"
"Yes, the family is well." Kreacher smiled, showing all his pointed, discolored teeth. "Miss Marcie is kicking one of the bad men Kreacher stopped and Miss Annabelle is painting the face of the other. The Master's parents pack up clothing and belongings to take away with them."
"I should do the same." Dean turned towards his closet. "Good thing I'd barely unpacked from Hogwarts, huh?"
A loud double bang like a car backfiring outside the house signaled two Apparitions in quick succession. "Dean!" shouted a girl's frantic voice. "Dean, are you all right?"
"Go to her, Master," said Kreacher, waving Dean out of the room. "Kreacher will do the packing."
"Right." Dean bolted into his little sisters' bedroom to hang out the window and wave at Lindz, who must have been Side-Alonged by either Lee or Maya, both standing behind her. "All fine here!" he called. "Unexpected visitors, though."
"Tell me about it." Lee conjured a large, clear-sided tank in Maya's hands. "How many of them? We'll take them with us, when we head you-know-where…"
"Really, Severus holds hidden depths," Lucius remarked later that afternoon as Peter brought the newest stack of requested books to the table. The master of Malfoy Manor sat comfortably in his chair, reading slowly through an old manuscript and occasionally comparing it to one or another of the volumes Peter had supplied him, making notes on a scroll of his own to one side. "Who would ever have guessed that he could understand the Weasley twins well enough to create such an appropriate counterspell?" He chuckled. "'Put that thing back where it came from or so help me', indeed."
Peter laughed dutifully, and hurried back into the stacks of books before Lucius or Starwing could get a good look at his face. Certain things were beginning to add up to a total about which he was quite thoroughly conflicted.
It's not my problem, he decided after several moments' hard thought. In another world, another lifetime, maybe it would have been, but it's not. I'll pass it along to the person whose problem it most legitimately is, and then I'll let it rest.
I have enough to worry about as it is.
Hermione sat by herself at the window of the girls' room at number twelve, Grimmauld Place, hearing footsteps rushing here and there, voices calling to one another. She should be out there, she knew, doing her part for the influx of Muggleborns and Muggle family members to Sanctuary, but a deep, painful melancholy had got hold of her and refused to be moved.
It's stupid and I hate it, and of course it's happening at the worst possible time—we need everyone on their feet and working, not sitting in the dark and crying, but I can't, I just can't—I've tried, and my legs won't hold me up, my hands won't grip my wand, I absolutely hate this—
A soft hoot drew her attention to the tiny screech owl on the windowsill, a small scroll tied to its leg.
"Is that for me?" Hermione blotted her eyes on her handkerchief and untied the scroll. "Thank you, but I wasn't expecting anything…"
Her eyes fell on the few brief words in an almost-indecipherable handwriting.
For a moment or two, she sat very still.
Then she began to smile. "Of course," she whispered, dabbing a last tear away from her unscarred cheek. "Of course."
Conjuring a shallow metal tray, she set the parchment on fire and allowed it to burn out, then crumbled the ashes with her fingertips and blew them away into the breeze outside the window. "No reply, thank you," she told the owl, which bobbed its head at her and flapped away.
Tying her hair back with her wand, Hermione Granger-Lupin hurried out the door of her bedroom. "Ginny!" she called, spying her friend in the center of a cluster along the corridor. "Where can you use me?"
Her tears were gone, and would not return.
Vengeance, in all its glorious fullness, was now the order of the day.
And I know exactly what I'll be putting inside my dagger, once we get to Sanctuary.
Well, that took slightly longer than planned. My apologies.
Great news! I have finished my third original novel, and will be releasing it for purchase through Amazon and Smashwords this Friday, November 29, 2013! Entitled Killdeer, it is my science fiction debut, and features a girl named Elspeth, who was looking for some new music in her starship's computers and instead found a mysterious new race. If this sounds familiar, you may have read the first section (or movement) of Killdeer in my short story collection, Cat Tales, where it was published as "Music Hath Charms", or its sequel, "Glorious Song of Old", either on my Fictionpress page or in last year's holiday collection, Sing We Now of Christmas.
Speaking of holiday collections, In the Bleak Midwinter, this year's entry in that category, will also be released on Friday! As always, it is a sampler of my various open universes, including a couple of Trycanta stories (including one from my collaborator, Elizabeth Conall), one from Glenscar, another sequel to Killdeer, and a sequel to last year's "The Angel and the Rose", an originalization of my fanfic "The Point of No Return". If you missed last year's Christmas special, it's still available, or you can go to my Etsy site and pre-order the combined edition, Christmastime Is Here 2013!
Thank you, as always, for reading, and please don't forget to review!
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