Disclaimer: Welcome to Fanfiction Free Britain, brought to you by JK Rowling!
A/N: Okay, so I was stuck on this chapter for ages. I know what the next big event in the story needs to be, but I just couldn't figure out how to get from here to there. This chapter only covers part of that setup, which wasn't what I had planned, but thing are looking up because I've done something that I haven't been able to manage since The Arithmancer: plot out a detailed outline all the way to the final battle.
"Rookwood," Voldemort demanded. "Have you figured out what it was that cut off Travers' legs?"
"It was some kind of cutting wire, my Lord," Rookwood said. He carefully held a piece of the thread-like ribbon from the Weasleys' shop with dragonhide gloves. "It's similar to what Granger used in the Department of Mysteries, but much more refined. The earlier version couldn't cut all the way through limbs, but this is the sharpest thing I've ever seen, and incredibly strong."
Voldemort hissed softly. "That mudblood is becoming a thorn in my side. Something we've never seen before, and refined so quickly? Can you replicate it, Rookwood?"
The Death Eater paled a little. "Deepest apologies, my Lord, but I cannot. None of us saw her cast the spell, and every test I can devise tells me it's made of graphite. It ought to shatter at a touch—Ah, ah, but it's easy enough to counter," he added quickly.
"Yes, my Lord. I don't know what the hell this stuff is…but I know it's flammable."
The next day, Hermione, George, Harry, and Fred rejoined Mr. Lovegood and Luna at the factory, and their work resumed—Hermione on her research, the Lovegoods on Liberation, the Twins on the Wireless broadcast, and Harry…Harry was a little bit adrift. He was trying to get a handle on the Order's operations, and he was communicating with Kingsley through the new rings, but he didn't have all that much to do directly. He may have been the Chosen One and what Hermione had called a "battlefield commander," but that didn't mean a whole lot in practice except that he was to defeat You-Know-Who. Hermione could tell he was antsy and wanted to do more, but he didn't have many options.
For herself, looking back over it, her work on the Killing Curse wasn't a total loss. In fact, her analysis of how it attacked the nervous system gave her just the clue she needed for one of the spells she was working on—a spell for incapacitation. It wasn't derived from the Killing Curse by any means, though it was fairly dark. It was more the analogy that helped her, but she would take what she could get.
As for the horcrux problem, Hermione was now pursuing her other lead: refining the Hominem Revelio spell into a Soul-Detection Charm, which she could hopefully combine with her knowledge of ritual magic to achieve finer manipulation of souls, as absurd as that sounded. She was just beginning to tease out the parallel patterns in the equations.
After a week had gone by, the Wireless system was done, and George and Fred were ready for their inaugural broadcast. The password had been disseminated through the muggle-borns of Britain—a system that Hermione believed would be fairly trustworthy, considering that it worked with the original Quibbler story. Thus, on Saturday evening at eight o'clock, in darkened houses and silenced rooms across Britain, Wizarding Wireless receivers were quietly switched on, waiting for the news.
Hermione stood in the back of the studio, watching the Twins in action as the broadcast began. She had offered a bit of advice on the broadcast, mostly on things like call signs and catch phrases befitting an underground radio station. When a little light with a handwritten sign that read On Air lit up, and Fred began to speak.
"Good evening, and welcome to Radio Free Britain," he said, "your source for the real news of the war." He had deliberately put on a smoother and deeper tone to his voice for the broadcast, both to sound "sexier"—his word—and so he would sound different from George. "This is your guide through the perilous, Death Eater-dominated world we live in, the Red Fox."
"And I'm your other guide to the pureblood dystopia, the Raccoon," George added in something close to his normal voice.
"Now, if you're hearing us, you've probably heard that we were putting out a super-secret broadcast tonight," said Fred.
"And if you didn't hear about this…how are you listening to us?" said George.
"Well, I'm sure everyone who's listening is a trusted friend of someone who's in the loop, Raccoon—unless they're a spy! Get 'em!"
George laughed: "But seriously, the idea here is to get the real story of the war out to you, the people of magical Britain. In case you've been living under a rock, the Daily Prophet is run by the Ministry, and the Ministry is run by the Death Eaters. The regular Wizarding Wireless is probably being threatened into silence, The Quibbler's lead editor was killed, and Witch Weekly will tell you how to style your hair, but it won't do you much good against dark wizards."
"Our program is the first place you can go to learn what the enemy is doing and how to keep yourself safe," Fred continued. "Our kindred spirits behind Liberation, whoever they are, have the same idea, but a print newsletter can't respond as quickly as a radio show.
"So here's our top story this evening: the Muggle-Born Registration Commission. Of course, they're not calling it that. The puppet Ministry's nefarious plans were revealed back in June, and they officially scrapped them, but make no mistake, good listeners, they are still going ahead. The new agency is called the Magical Heritage Restoration Project."
"Muggle-borns out there, do you know what the word 'Orwellian' means?" Fred asked. "We didn't until a muggle-born friend of ours filled us in. Here's your lesson of the week. It means they're hiding their true nature by naming things the opposite of what they really are. Then, they deny they were ever considering doing anything different and stick to their lies no matter what. Don't be fooled by the innocuous name. They say 'restoring magical heritage' means finding muggle-borns who are secretly related to old pureblood families to restore weakened or extinct lines to their former glory. And I'll bet they'll even 'find' a couple muggle-borns who fit the bill. But for the rest of them, soon enough, they'll come back around to the idea that they stole their magic somehow, which is of course impossible. Muggle-borns, you know how this story ends. Don't fall for the Ministry's lies."
George let Fred's warning sink in for a few seconds, then added, "Luckily, thanks to the heroic sacrifice of Xenophilius Lovegood in publishing the final issue of The Quibbler, many muggle-borns were forewarned of the trap and have already fled the country. Those who are underage are believed to be enrolled in Beauxbatons, and we thank them for accepting our refugees with open arms.
"In other news," he took up the next story, "Dolores Umbridge was released from Azkaban this week. As many of you know, Umbridge was imprisoned last year for the crime of using the Cruciatus Curse on an underage girl in front of dozens of witnesses. Her release was done quietly, and Minister Thicknesse has declined to give any explanation for the move, but she has since been hired back by the Ministry. Officially, she has an unimportant desk job in the Department of Magical Games and Sports, but inside sources say that she will be organizing the so-called Magical Heritage Restoration Project behind the scenes. And you can probably guess how that's going to go."
"Right you are, Raccoon," said Fred. "And now for our next segment: Potterwatch! Where we compile the latest news about the Chosen One, Harry Potter, and try to separate the truth from the rumours."
"Now, Red Fox," George asked, "the whole wizarding world has been gaga over Harry Potter since he was just a baby, and a lot of people are putting their hope in him to get rid of You-Know-Who for good. By Harry is only seventeen. Are these expectations really justified?"
"Well, I'd say yes and no," Fred answered. "There's no way Harry beat You-Know-Who himself when he was just a baby, and he has said publicly that was his mother's doing. But at the same time, Harry is clearly no ordinary seventeen-year-old. Who could forget the Triwizard Tournament, when a fourteen-year-old Harry defeated a dragon single-handed."
"That is true, Red Fox, and I have it on good authority that he successfully cast the Patronus Charm when he was thirteen."
"Well, that's not all, Raccoon. Harry is also known for killing a gigantic basilisk with the Sword of Gryffindor when he was only twelve."
Harry was glaring at the Twins from across the table, fuming that he couldn't break into their conversation with his microphone turned off.
"So basically, any way you slice it, he is one powerful wizard, and you never want to count him out of a fight," Fred concluded. "But at the same time, I want to remind our listeners that one man can't win a war on his own. You-Know-Who sure isn't trying to win on his own. He has a whole army! To everyone listening to us tonight, you need to be prepared to fight for your lives and your loved ones if the Death Eaters come to call. These are dangerous times, and we all have to keep each other safe in order to survive and eventually win."
"Well said, Red Fox," George agreed. "So where is Harry Potter now?"
"That is the great mystery, isn't it, Raccoon?" Fred said.
Harry rolled his eyes at the pair across the table. "Uh, guys, I'm right here," he yelled.
"What's this?" Fred gasped dramatically. "Ladies and gentlemen, Harry Potter is here with us in the studio!" He switched on Harry's mic.
"You guys are dorks," Harry said.
"Now, don't worry about our safety—or more importantly, Harry's safety," George said. "We have carefully hidden our location so that no nefarious characters can find it. Welcome to the show, Harry."
"Uh, thanks…What was your codename again?"
"Raccoon. Honestly, real professional operation we've got here."
"But we do offer reliable news that every freedom fighter needs to know," Fred countered. "Now the last public sighting of the Boy-Who-Lived was on June 28 when he assisted in saving a student returning home from Hogwarts from a Death Eater attack. Potter was seen cursing the infamous ex-Unspeakable, Augustus Rookwood, who had been in Azkaban for passing Ministry secrets to the enemy. Despite Rookwood's superior knowledge of curses—"
"And seriously, you do not want to mess with that guy. He is one scary son of a bitch."
"—Harry came out unscathed. Harry, would you like to tell us about that?"
"I guess so," Harry said. "It's not like people don't know about it. Hermione was at King's Cross to escort a friend home from the Hogwarts Express. I was worried someone might come after them, so I went there and hid, and when I saw two Death Eaters attacking them, I cursed them from behind. Hermione did most of the fighting."
"Yes, Hermione Granger, Undesirable No. 2 and arithmancer extraordinary," George grinned at Hermione, who was sitting at the next table. "Granger was also seen at the fight at King's Cross, where she fought Rookwood head-on and also killed the Death Eater Robert Jugson. Can you tell us how that went down?"
"Er, well, it was Hermione and…our friend against Rookwood and Jugson. Rookwood was an Unspeakable, so he knows lots of insane curses that I've never even heard of, and he reverse-engineered some of Hermione's spells. They were both casting a bunch of different spells, and Jugson and our friend were mostly protecting themselves."
"Well, Hermione Granger is probably the only person who can match Rookwood spell for spell," Fred chimed in. "I bet she's already reverse-engineered some of Rookwood's spells, too."
In principle, the last bit should have been a secret, but the Death Eaters would have already known or guessed by now, so they agreed to allow the speculation. Even so, Harry said, "I won't confirm or deny that. Anyway, Hermione collapsed a wall on Jugson, and I stunned Rookwood while he was distracted."
"Well, it's ugly business, we know, but in times like these, sometimes, it's us or them," Fred replied. "So what are you doing now to fight the Death Eaters?"
This was a question they had planned a very narrow and vague answer for to avoid tipping their hand—at least tipping it more than You-Know-Who already knew. "There are some tasks that Dumbledore assigned to me before he died. I'm working to complete those. It's difficult, but I'm confident in getting them done."
"And what would you say to our listeners, Harry," said George, "who might be thinking that you are the Chosen One, and as such, you ought to be leading the charge against You-Know-Who?"
Harry glared automatically at the abstract listener who would think that. "I say it's like you already said: I'm just one guy. There are a lot of good people out there with more skills and experience than me. Even if I am the Chosen One—and I don't put much stock in prophecy—everyone can do their part to help fight the war. Remember, You-Know-Who wouldn't be half as scary without dozens of sycophants to run around killing people for him. Take them down, and he's crippled."
"Wise words, Harry," Fred said. "Thanks for coming into the studio to talk to us." A bit of misdirection to suggest he wasn't staying in the same place they were.
"Sure, no problem," Harry said, and they switched off his microphone.
"And that was Harry Potter giving us his exclusive interview," Fred continued. "As you can hear, he's alive and well and still working on Albus Dumbledore's master plan to take down You-Know-Who once and for all.
"Now, as for Potter's other close friends and associates—Ron Weasley, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin—it looks like they've all gone to ground. It's almost impossible to find any of them, and Harry wouldn't tell us anything, for their safety. Of course, that's not surprising given how many times the Death Eaters have tried to kill them. Granger's parents were killed at New Year's last when a rogue Death Eater, believed to be Dolohov, set their house on fire with them inside. The Weasleys' home was also destroyed shortly after the new regime took over."
"Truly these are dangerous times, Red Fox," George lamented. "But that's why we encourage you to continue supporting us by listening to Radio Free Britain!And we have more than just gossip for you here. I'm pleased to introduce our next segment, 'Knowledge Is Power' with our regular correspondent, Lady Archimedes."
Hermione's microphone switched on, and she read from her script in the best BBC Radio voice she could manage: "Good evening, I'm Lady Archimedes, your arithmantic oracle for staying safe in a dangerous world." She glared at Fred and George across the table. They had insisted she do that intro. "Tonight, I want to talk to you about security questions. As you'll recall, when the present crisis was revealed to the public, the Ministry advised the populace to create security questions to prove the person you're talking to is who they say they are using information only they know. Security questions are good, but they can be tricky. If more people know about your secrets that you think, if you're sloppy about them, if you simply run out of good questions, or if a Death Eater catches one of you and pumps you for information, they can easily fail."
"And what would you advise, Archimedes?" George spoke up.
"If it's someone you see at all regularly, choose proper code phrases—passwords—and change them often—something that keeps changing so it can't be compromised if the Death Eaters get it out of someone. Remember Hogwarts, if you were in Gryffindor or Slytherin, how the passwords for the dorms would change every two weeks, and that did a pretty good job of keeping intruders out." Of course, she thought, for the average wizard, none of that would matter if the Imperius Curse were involved. That was detectable if you knew what to look for, but it would complicate matters too much to discuss it back to back with passwords, so another segment would be devoted to that.
"You think we've got some Slytherins listening in, Archimedes?" Fred cut in.
"It could happen," she said. "Not all Slytherins are bad. And for that matter, not all dark wizards are Slytherins. It's just the unfortunate truth that most of the people with strong pureblood prejudices wind up in Slytherin, and the Death Eaters have been using that house as a recruiting camp for thirty years, now."
"Well, that much is true. Here's hoping your advice foils a few Death Eater plots. Thank you, Lady Archimedes. Now, we've heard about Harry Potter's friends, but it's also our duty to keep you updated on the movements of the enemy."
"Too true, Red Fox," George agreed. "Aside from the public face through the Ministry, You-Know-Who, the Chief Death Eater, has been quiet lately, the latest open Death Eater operation being the murder of Xenophilius Lovegood on June 28. We've heard rumours of sightings, of course, but we can't confirm them yet, and we at Radio Free Britain suspect that he is lying low until his Ministry puppets are fully in position. So we encourage you to continue listening to this broadcast in future weeks for the latest updates. Next week's password will be 'Sherbet Lemon'. Until then, keep each other safe. Keep faith. Good night, and good luck."
"Good night and good luck" had been Hermione's idea. It seemed appropriate to the situation. Fred and George turned off their equipment and relaxed after a job well done. "Good job, boys," she said. The inaugural broadcast of Radio Free Britain had gone pretty well in her opinion. Now, if only the rest of the war could go so easily.
On the first of September, the "orphaned" Luna and Neville Longbottom went back to Hogwarts. Mr. Lovegood was still worried about letting Luna return, but with him "dead", she wasn't worth anything to the Death Eaters anymore, and she insisted on going back to help her fellow students (and she wanted to spend more time with Neville). Luna was to call Harry on her communication mirror as soon as possible to inform them of the situation there, but despite waiting up anxiously, she didn't call that night. Hermione tried not to worry too much. It was likely there wasn't time or breathing room after the Welcome Feast to call them, and while all of Neville's roommates were trustworthy, Luna's might not be.
In retrospect, maybe they should have given Luna the Map and Neville the mirror. Oh well, she was sure they'd sort it out for themselves.
On the second night, Luna did call. Harry answered on his mirror, and he, Hermione, and Mr. Lovegood crowded around to see Luna's and Neville's faces side by side.
"Hi, Dad!" Luna said cheerfully. "Hello, Harry and Hermione."
"Hey, guys," Neville said. "Glad you're still alright. The radio broadcasts have been great."
"Hello, Moonbeam," Mr. Lovegood said. "How are you fairing in the enemy camp?"
"Things are alright for now," she said. "Just a bit unpleasant."
"What's the situation at Hogwarts?" Harry asked. "We only know what they were planning at the start of summer. What did they end up doing?"
Neville blew out a breath. "Well, for starters, two Death Eaters stopped the train halfway and came on looking for you and Hermione, Harry."
Mr. Lovegood gasped softly. "Did anything happen?"
"Nah. They searched the train and left when they couldn't find them." Neville smirked at Harry. "I told them to piss off because you wouldn't be dumb enough to show up."
"It was rather impressive," Luna said happily.
It was impressive how far Neville had come, Hermione thought, even if he was getting a bit reckless. "Do you know who they were?" she asked.
"Nah, I didn't recognise them. The first one was tall and thin with a short grey beard and a ponytail…robes looked pretty fancy for a Death Eater. The second was shorter and bald with a pointed chin."
Hermione turned: "Mr. Lovegood?"
"The bearded one is Selwyn," he said. "Very respected old family. Interesting. He mostly avoided suspicion after the last war. I'm not sure about the bald one. Might have been Crabbe."
Hermione made a note of that. Keeping track of Death Eater movements was critical—who was seen on what missions, who showed their faces in public (of course, that was most of them, now), and so on.
"What's going on at Hogwarts?" asked Harry.
"Well, Snape's Headmaster, like they said," Neville told them. "He hasn't been too bad himself so far, mostly keeps away from the students. They demoted Professor McGonagall from Deputy Head. She's just Head of Gryffindor now. They brought in some goons we're pretty sure are Death Eaters for some other classes. Defence Against the Dark Arts is just Dark Arts, now. The new teacher who's also the new Deputy Head is a guy named Amycus Carrow."
"Fell under suspicion after the last war, but was never formally charged," Mr. Lovegood offered.
"Right. Officially, we're still learning to fight and defend ourselves in that class, but I can tell it's going to get nasty later."
"Muggle studies is required for everyone now," Luna said. "I've had it already. It mostly seems to be about how muggles are stupid, dirty animals who hate wizards."
"Sounds like my relatives," Harry said in a poor attempt at levity.
"Hmm. I'm not sure how they're going to fill seven years of material with that," Luna continued. "It might be more about the history of muggle persecution of magic."
"That might almost be an improvement," Neville grumbled. "Binns is the same as ever. You'd think with Death Eaters going through the school they'd finally get rid of him, but no. Anyway, the new Muggle Studies teacher is Alecto Carrow—Amycus's sister…at least, I hope she's his sister. If she's his wife, it would be gag-worthy—although they're both so ugly it wouldn't shock me if it was both."
Hermione felt a little nauseous at the thought. It was worse because they knew it did happen sometimes. She had strong suspicion the same was true about You-Know-Who's mother and uncle, and maybe even his grandparents. "What about Head of Slytherin?" she changed the subject. "One of the Carrows?"
"No, it's your friend, Professor Vector, Hermione," Luna piped up.
"Septima? How did that happen? They know how close she is to me."
"Maybe Snape really is on our side?" Harry suggested.
"What about Potions, Neville?" he asked.
"Heh, you're never gonna believe this one, mate. It's Barty Crouch Jr."
"What?" Harry and Hermione gasped.
"But he's the one who resurrected You-Know-Who!" Harry yelled.
"He's the one who cut Cedric's arm off!" Hermione said.
"He's a known Death Eater!" Harry added.
"I know, mate. I know," Neville said. "I don't know all the details. Something about how he wasn't in Azkaban the whole time let them claim he was never supposed to be there in the first place. I know how dumb it sounds, but you know how much crap some people are swallowing these days."
"Tell a lie big enough, and people will think it's too crazy to be wrong" Hermione muttered. The same old story.
"Yeah, pretty much," Neville agreed. "The crazy part is, he's still unfair on us Gryffindors, like Snape was, but he's actually a better teacher."
"That doesn't take much," Hermione said. "Snape wasn't actually trying."
"True. Oh, and one other thing. I checked your Map, Hermione, and Crouch is keeping Bertha Jorkins prisoner in his apartments."
Harry and Hermione stared at each other in shock. "Bertha Jorkins?" Harry said.
"She's still alive?" Hermione said.
"Last I saw her, she was under the Imperius Curse, and You-Know-Who gave her to Crouch as a 'reward'," he explained. "He could've kept her that long."
"Holy cricket," she muttered. "She's been trapped with them three years, then."
"If we could get to her…" Harry started.
"Do you want us to do a rescue mission?" Neville asked.
"No. Not yet, Nev," Harry ordered. "Crouch is smart. If he doesn't know about the Map, you'll have an advantage, but if he's as smart he looks, he'll have wards and traps set up. Investigate carefully, but don't move until you're sure about what you're up against."
Neville shifted and seemed to become more businesslike. "Yes, sir," he said. "We're still working on how to have the D.A. meet with so many Death Eaters in the castle. We might have to do in-House meetings or something. We'll let you know when we've connected with everybody."
"Got it. Stay safe, Neville," Harry said.
"Good night, Dad. Good night, Harry and Hermione," Luna said.
"Good night, Moonbeam," Mr. Lovegood answered, and Harry closed the conversation for the night.
The next issue of Liberation ran with the headline, Hogwarts Reopens Under Death Eater Teachers! The story carefully detailed the Death Eater credentials of Snape (keeping to the deception that he was loyal to You-Know-Who) and the three new teachers, along with the negative changes to the curriculum. And the Death Eaters would probably wonder how they got some of that information. Good.
Below the fold, there was another story: Muggle Princess Dies in Paris! Were Death Eaters Involved? Hermione had been shocked to learn of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in a car crash in Paris at the end of August and was immediately suspicious. She wasn't sure if she was on the right track, especially as it happened out of the country, but the Royal Family very likely knew about magic, possibly including Diana, and talks with the French Ministry could be very important to the war effort. The official story of drunk driving and fleeing from paparazzi was plausible, but could just as easily have been set up, and she had to wonder if Death Eaters were somehow behind it.
Meanwhile, the Order's work continued. For herself, in addition to her spellcrafting, Hermione found herself having to review the messages that she had received through the rings (and in person).
"I can't stand seeing Umbridge going around and messing with muggle-borns like that. I want to do something about it." That was Harry. Hermione agreed, but wanted to be a bit more cautious about how to go about it.
PROSPECTS FOR BREAKING UP MBRC? —HJG
That was her message up the chain to Kingsley, who could coordinate the whole Order through his cell. They both knew MBRC stood for Muggle-Born Registration Commission, even though that wasn't its official or maybe even its unofficial name. Kingsley's reply soon came back:
INVESTIG MOM SECURTY—WILL KEEP POSTED
The message came to the whole cell, but that wasn't a concern. Operation security was never assumed within a cell. He was looking into it, presumably figuring out how they might be able to pull it off. That wasn't his only message either. She and Kingsley didn't have a lot to discuss since she had few status reports to give at the factory, but since she was basically the head of the resistance's media, so he passed along important stories to her:
CRESSWELL ARRSTD—HEAD OF GOBLN OFFICE
That was a bit trickier to parse. She had to ask the Weasleys to get the relevant background to understand that Dirk Cresswell was the head of the Goblin Liaison Office, possibly the Ministry's most important diplomatic post and a very well-respected wizard, and he had apparently been arrested. She then passed the message down to the Creevey Brothers:
INVESTIGATE CRESSWELL ARREST
The Creeveys had come up with a packet of information at their dead drop detailing the incident. Cresswell was a muggle-born who was arrested for faking his family tree to appear as a half-blood. He was currently being held at the Ministry. A man named Albert Runcorn had found him out and brought him in. Runcorn's exact position in the Ministry was unclear, but he seemed to be Umbridge's chief enforcer—the one who would hunt down muggle-borns and bring them in for "investigation"—sort of a head of the secret police. Radio Free Britain broke the full story on its next broadcast, and Liberation circulated with attached photos. The story worked well, if not for Cresswell himself.
However, Hermione was completely shocked by the next message she got from the Creeveys:
RITA SKEETER WANTS 2 TALK 2 U—MEET? —CC