AN: another year almost finished. I will publish another chapter this year, but will make a longer break over Christmas.
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The number of reviews is closing in on 3000 (currently it's at 2984) the number of favourites is close to that as well (currently 2951), and the number of followers is nearing 4000 (currently 3920) you all make me so happy I decided to publish my little story after I had the first few chapters finished!
Wednesday, 13th December
During breakfast Severus listened attentively to the discussion his colleagues had, sipping from his cup of coffee with honey and eating his toast with scrambled eggs. Sonja was eating next to him, deeply engrossed in the latest issue of Potions Quarterly. It contained a detailed examination of the effects of dried toad livers over fresh and pickled ones on a certain branch of hair care potions. An interesting read.
"I can't believe that the board insists on having an expert check the Headmaster's health." Minerva shook her head, her lips pinched into a sour expression. "He's as collected and competent as ever!" Severus almost snorted at that and quickly hid his face behind his cup again.
"But you can't just dismiss the findings of Poppy out of hand, Minerva," Filius interjected, arms moving about in his exuberant gestures. "We know that the Headmaster has duelled with dark wizards in the past. That way he came into contact with some dangerous curses. The curse that affected his hand and arm this summer could be a cause as well. I for one would feel better when a certified healer told us that Poppy's concerns are unfounded."
"Poor Albus," Pomona said into the strained silence. "It must be hard to know that your own mind is going to lose its edge." She sounded sad and was almost constantly shaking her head.
Severus had to work not to roll his eyes, or snort. The fact that the Board of Governors had come by the previous day during lunch to demand the Headmaster undergo a more extensive health screening than Madame Pomfrey was able to execute, was still occupying the minds of the staff. Severus had listened to quite a few amusing rumours circulating around the school. The best one so far claimed that the Headmaster had been seen sunbathing in the nude during the summer, and now the scandalized Governors were calling for his dismissal.
A strong scent of herbs, myrrh, and sherry preceded the arrival of Sybill, with her dramatic, overlarge glasses, her many colourful scarves, and her other usual flourishes. Now Severus had to keep himself in check even more fiercely. He was quite happy with the fact that the Divination Professor only seldom found her way down into the Great Hall for meals. But obviously she wouldn't miss the opportunity for one of her dramatic – and obviously faked – predictions.
With an overacted sigh, the professor Severus detested the most out of all the current staff fixed the Headmaster's empty seat with a mournful gaze. "How sad and dark a fate awaits our dear friend. Only loss and despair are in Albus' future. It's hard on us whose inner eye isn't clouded with the trivialities of the mundane, daily struggles, to know, but to be ignored." A few students sitting near enough to hear what Trelawney was saying either sniggered or looked on in awe. It always tended to surprise Severus that there were so many human beings who would fall for such bad acting.
Of course, in the back of his mind Severus was aware that he held such deep animosity towards this specific colleague only because she had been the one to speak the prophecy which he had foolishly carried back to the Dark Lord, only to place his one friend squarely into the spotlight.
Pushing his thoughts on those past events – which couldn't be changed anyway – into the deep, dark places of his mind, Severus once more concentrated on the present. He needed to get every nuance so he later was able to relay an accurate report to his Lord. If they would be able to remove the old man from the castle, Severus' own job of protecting Lily's son would be easier.
Severus looked up as the morning post came in with the big flock of owls and the few other birds carrying mail, sprinkling the people sitting in the Hall with small water droplets from the feathers and wings of the birds flying in from the cold weather outside.
The fifth-year Slytherins were still chuckling, and Harry was flushed in embarrassment, because Pansy had pointed out that he still had some dried paint on the tip of his nose as he had arrived in the common room this morning.
"Let poor Harry be, Pansy. You've seen how deep he vanishes into what he's doing when he's working on his art," Theo chided gently, while he filled his plate for a second time. He loved the food at Hogwarts, and the ability to chose what he wished without one of the elves sending him disappointed looks if he didn't take at least two pieces of fruit with his breakfast.
With a curt nod, Pansy made a big show of her effort to stop laughing. They all had seen Harry drawing by now, as he often sat in the common room with his pad of paper and his coal and pencil, drawing plants from 1000 Magical Herbs and Fungi or one of the pets roaming the room. Theo had once suggested Harry should draw a Hippogriff, sending Draco into a fit about savage beasts and that he really would appreciate it if they wouldn't bring up that blunder at every possible opportunity.
They were in the middle of their meal – now much quieter as the reality of an early morning hit them after the fun of teasing Harry had faded – when the post owls came flying into the Hall. Theo greeted his father's owl with a piece of crisp bacon which the bird ate with relish, while Theo released two scrolls from their ribbons on the eagle owl's leg. A big smile shortly spread over his face, as he saw that one of the letters had been written by Aiden. He loved letters from his little brother. The boy always had much to tell from his classes at the school Lord Lestrange had founded. What pranks some of the others had played, games they had learned, excursions they had been on... Theo wished that there had been such a school back when he himself had been young enough to need to learn his letters. This school sounded like much more fun than studying alone with a tutor.
Suddenly Harry shot up from the bench, shaking in some suppressed emotion that didn't look pleasant at all, and rushed off without a word, leaving his bag and everything else behind.
"What's wrong with him?" Blaise asked of no one in particular, looking after the almost running figure of their Housemate.
Theo left the others to their quiet speculation and took up the newspaper Harry had been reading before he had decided to run off to places unknown. He didn't have to search for long, and the change in atmosphere in the Great Hall indicated that more people had looked at their copies of the Daily Prophet by now. There on the front page, with a ghastly image last seen right after the Quidditch World Cup over a year ago, was the article Harry had most likely read.
With quick eyes Theo scanned the information – what little there was – on the first page and soon came to a conclusion that explained perfectly why and to where Harry had run.
"Stop guessing," Theo admonished the others, folding and turning the newspaper so the others could see. "I would say Harry is on his way back to the dorms, and to his mirror, to ask his father about this."
Quite a few of the others paled considerably. Either because they feared for a family member who might be apprehended after a crime with a hovering Dark Mark above it, or because the thought of calling out the Dark Lord as Harry was probably preparing to do left them with horror in their guts.
Ignoring the angry and fearful murmurs spreading through the Hall, Theo started to read the article carefully. It seemed that the Dark Mark had been cast over a small house containing two flats, one of which had been inhabited by several young witches in an arrangement to share the rent among them. The young witches were missing – presumed abducted – and there were minimal signs of a struggle. The Aurors had been informed after the muggles living in the neighbourhood had called in the muggle equivalent of the Auror Department because of the odd sight of the Dark Mark. The only statement from a Ministry representative was the comment from one Auror that they were working on the case with all due haste and resources at their disposal.
Theo snorted and picked up his and Harry's things. "I'll go back to the common room. Check on Harry. Please inform Professor Slinkhard that we'll probably be late. Thanks." Not waiting for a confirmation from the others that they had understood what Theo had said, he turned and strode from the Hall, following his friend.
This was one of the situations where Harry was prone to make hasty decisions and cause himself loads of trouble. And as a good friend, it was his duty to at least try to talk Harry out of whatever harebrained scheme he might come up with.
Almost out of the Hall, Theo caught the eye of Hermione Granger – Heiress Lestrange – sending her the silent reassurance that he would look after Harry. The small sad and worried smile he got in response sent thrills of warmth through his body. Shaking his head – he had no time for this now – he got rid of the distraction to concentrate on what he needed to do now: Find Harry and make sure he didn't do something stupid.
With fraying patience, Marvolo held onto his polite mask. He was sitting in one of the small cubicle-like spaces that were placed all around the Auror Department – at least he wasn't in an interrogation room – and watched the chaos around him. He had expected some sort of chaos after the Dark Mark had been spotted once again. But this wasn't resembling the relative order of an anthill, looking like utter chaos but serving a clear purpose, each ant knowing what to do. No, the Aurors were running around like headless chickens. If he still had been out to claim wizarding Britain by force, it would have been too easy. No challenge at all.
The fact that he was tired beyond measure wasn't helping his temper. They had called for him to be here some hours before midnight, and now it was time for breakfast at Hogwarts. And he neither had gotten any dinner nor had anyone offered him something for breakfast, or even to drink.
So here he sat, hungry, thirsty, and tired. Marvolo thought it said a lot about his self-control that there wasn't anyone dead yet.
The Auror who had asked him the same questions over and over since Marvolo had arrived late the last evening, was moving back to the cubicle. And not anything remotely helpful, either. Marvolo didn't know who had cast the Mark, or where the girls had been taken. He was boiling inside, incensed that someone had dared use his Mark for their own purposes. As soon as he could leave he would summon a select few of his Death Eaters to get to the bottom of this.
"Lord Slytherin. I hope you will be more amendable to helping find those young witches now than you have been in the last few hours." Marvolo rolled his eyes. This man was full of himself, but that front he tried to project had cracks all over. After all, the Auror hadn't slept at all this night. Just as Marvolo hadn't been able to rest.
"I'm more than willing to help. But you constantly ignore my answers to your questions just because they aren't what you want to hear. And you ignore the advice I have tried to give you. The Dark Mark over the house can be dispelled. But as I can see, you don't believe me." Marvolo didn't manage to keep the sneer of his face. And the Auror's face wasn't friendly either. If they didn't get rest soon, they were liable to kill each other.
Before the Auror could again demand to know where the young witches had been taken, Marvolo felt the mirror in his pocket vibrate. Ignoring the Auror, Marvolo got the mirror out and answered his son's call.
"Henry. You look upset." And the boy did. He was flushed as if he had been running, his green eyes were blazing with anger and frustration, and his mouth was set in stubborn lines.
"Because I am!" was the harsh answer. Then the boy suddenly looked puzzled. "Where are you?"
Casting a look around himself – taking in the pandemonium – Marvolo shrugged before he answered. "I'm in the Ministry, the Auror Department. You have read the morning paper?"
Henry nodded jerkily and after a moment's hesitation switched to parseltongue. .:I have. You weren't arrested, were you?:.
Marvolo felt the underlying tension in his son at this question. If Marvolo had been arrested, it would place Henry once more into a situation where he couldn't be really sure what the next day would bring regarding his living arrangements. And that in a moment where everything seemed to be working out. Having grown up in an orphanage where kids came and went, each one hoping to find a family, Marvolo felt that he could relate to that dreaded uncertainty. So he tried to manage a reassuring smile, not so sure that he was capable of producing one that would pass muster. .:No need to worry. I really wasn't involved in whatever happened. But I was asked to come here to help with possible inside knowledge which I might still possess. Not that that has worked out until now. They don't even want to listen when I tell them that the Dark Mark can be easily removed from the sky:.
He sighed with an exasperated air, casting the hovering Auror a disapproving glare. A quiet snicker from the mirror drew his attention back to his son. .:I will keep you informed, Henry. Most likely I'll have a long and hard day. After I manage to get done here, I will have to see who dared go against my orders:.
.:You think one of… them went after the witches living there?:. Henry only hesitated for a moment and then didn't clearly acknowledge the fact that the Death Eaters very much still existed. .:Why would they risk something like that?:.
Out of the corner of his eyes Marvolo was aware that another person had come over to hover nearby, but he ignored the incompetent people in favour of focusing on his son, who actually was asking intelligent questions. .:I used deeply ingrained prejudices to get those who were influential or just convenient onto my side. Several of them still hold those beliefs close, even with – or maybe because of – the new evidence to the contrary we have found. Appearing law-abiding and pleasant might have lessened their fear of what I might do if they take matters into their own hands:. And he was already mulling over ways to correct that misconception. Maybe Karkaroff would be of use once more, to remind everyone that those who betrayed the Dark Lord would wish for death long before they would be granted that reprieve.
Sadly, it was a possibility that he would have to let the perpetrators be caught by the Aurors, as he needed to be seen as the Lord Slytherin fitting in with society, following the laws, even when he had different opinions on what magic needed to be restricted and what not.
"You will be late to classes, Henry. You can rely on me. I will keep you informed." The looming presence just at the edges of his awareness wasn't going away, so Marvolo felt he probably would be forced to interact with the person. But first he needed to be sure his son was calm enough to go through a day of classes.
"Okay. I will go then. Call later today?" There was insecurity in those incredibly green eyes, and Marvolo tried again to don a reassuring face. Maybe he should practice them in front of a mirror. Until now he mostly had needed other masks – knowing, friendly, polite… – and all of them were becoming easier and easier. But reassuring in a way a parent was to a child, and not in the way of a partner in some political or financial endeavour, wasn't something he had much practice with.
"I will call. Even if it is late, or there's only time for a really short call. Keep the mirror on you." A quick nod from Henry and the boy's relieved expression made Marvolo feel as if he had managed to do what he had planned. Set his son's fears at ease.
Pocketing the mirror, Marvolo turned around to face the little crowd gathered at the edge of the cubicle spaces.
In a glance he had noted the nervous but pleased expression of the Auror who had tried to get him to admit some kind of guilt – Marvolo hadn't felt it necessary to remember the man's name – the calculating look on the slightly lionish looking Head Auror, it all pointed at several more unpleasant hours. "Good morning, Head Auror Scrimgeour. I feel you must be quite busy this morning. How may I help?" Marvolo could watch as contempt and suppressed anger swirled through the wizard's eyes, and held fast to his pleasant, if tired, expression himself. He was here to gather information for himself but also to make sure the best for their society was done. And leaving the Dark Mark hovering over a village mostly inhabited by Muggles wouldn't do any good.
"My Auror here informed me just now that you claim to be able to dispel the Dark Mark, Lord Slytherin. I would like to know how that is done." The Head Auror was an imposing and impressive figure and the tone of his voice, the barely hidden threat, was authoritative, as someone in his position would need.
"That's correct. You really think that someone would create a spell with such an impressive effect without creating a way to get it down quickly again?" Seeing that the other wizard's patience was rather thin by this hour, Marvolo hurried to launch into an explanation he had never given before. Of course there was a counter, but he never had given it out to his followers. He wasn't quite sure why, but the roots of the charm might have had something to do with it. "Are you familiar with the group of spells usually called the Nightlight Charms?" At the look of confusion, Marvolo almost started to chuckle. All who grew up in wizarding Britain had seen or heard of those charms. They were used by parents to set a small light in their children's rooms that couldn't set anything on fire, but wouldn't vanish before the night was out either.
"Of course I have. What has that to do with this!" The head Auror was now seriously pissed, but one of the other Aurors a young witch Marvolo felt had a family resemblance with the Blacks – probably Nymphadora Tonks, the one Dawlish had told him about – looked as if she had made the connection. A clever one, that.
"They take on different forms – mostly of pleasant animals and flowers – but are all variations of the same base-spell, which is why they all have the same counter. Research I did uncovered the way to create a new variation – unique incantation and all – to link to a design I came up with." Horrified disbelief was the most prominent expression on the faces of all within earshot. "You can simply cast the counter for the Nightlight and remove it with that."
Marvolo remembered quite well how smug he had felt after realising that the spell used for generations to ease the fears of small children in dark bedrooms would now be used to inspire fear and dread in grown-ups. He still thought it was rather clever, and a fine example that any spell could be bent to do evil with enough imagination and determination.
"We never… a simple Finite doesn't work on a Nightlight… It really is that simple?" Marvolo just nodded, then rubbed his hand over his eyes. He really was terribly tired.
"It really is that simple. I remember thinking I would need something simple everyone could cast without trouble. Keeping the incantation in certain circles made sure not everyone could use it. But I guess as it is rather simple, anyone who has heard of the incantation and seen one of the old photographs… As I have told your Auror several times already, Mr. Scrimgeour, I was with my mind-healer yesterday evening. And I'm unaware of any plans and plots to abduct the young witches. Several of those pressured into service and those that only were loosely associated with the organisation could have told the incantation to any number of people, who might have told more… I'm sorry that I can't help you with narrowing the field of possible suspects down any that way. But what little I could hear indicates that whoever took them knew their schedule and the layout of their flat. I would start with those that are close to them." It was funny how his oath to do the best for their community was affecting him and his actions. Even funnier was that he was pretty sure someone closely related to his Death Eaters was the culprit, but he hadn't once said an untrue word in that explanation.
"Thank you, Lord Slytherin. I guess it would be best for you to go home. Take our sincere apology for cutting your appointment with your… healer, short." Scrimgeour sounded unsure over how not to draw attention to the fact that Lord Marvolo Slytherin, former Dark Lord – probably – had just admitted to having a mind-healer.
Marvolo snorted. "I don't recommend existence as a bodiless spirit for over a decade. And living under a curse causing paranoia, leading to horrible actions… let's just say taking up a somewhat normal life takes work." Without a further word, Marvolo stood from his seat, cast a wandless charm to straighten his robes, so he didn't look as if he had spent the whole night in his clothes, and walked out of the Auror Department, his head held high. He wasn't sure it had been the best idea to repeat the information that he had been with a Mind-Healer the evening before. But it was where he had been, and if they decided to question him again, maybe with veritaserum, or another truth-indicating tool, having actually stated the truth the first time would prove valuable. At least he had managed to work in a more plausible explanation for his need of a Mind-Healer than confusion over his sexuality. Trauma over past events would place him firmly with those not even able to speak the words Dark Magic in a tone above a horrified whisper.
Now he needed to take a short nap and then decide who might be the actual culprit and how he was going to confirm those suspicions. He had to suppress a yawn and spontaneously decided to take a longer nap. He needed a clear head for what was going to do.
John walked up to Scrimgeour next to Shacklebolt, who had also been called. The night had been hectic in the Auror Department since the moment their Muggle Liaison had informed them that the Dark Mark had been reported to the police by some muggles in a small village. They both were pretty tired by now.
"Ah, there you are! Come here, Dawlish, Shacklebolt. I have a job for you." Another senior Auror walked away after receiving some orders from their boss and the Head Auror's attention was all for them. "I want you to go to the crime scene and dispel the Dark Mark. Lord Slytherin was kind enough to pass on information on how to achieve that. I trust at least one of you is familiar with the nightlight charm?" Puzzled, John turned to look at his partner – they had been a pair for all their assignments for some time now, so the term was appropriate – and to his relief found the other as confused as he was himself. "I know it seems improbable, but Lord Slytherin claims that the Dark Mark is a variant of the nightlight family. Go and check!" Without waiting for their response, the man with the wild hair turned and walked over to another group of Aurors to give out more instructions.
Without the need to discuss what to do next, John and Shacklebolt fell into step and started to walk over to the room reserved for apparation, warded to only allow Aurors in or out.
"Did you know?" Shacklebolt asked, checking his robes, clearly avoiding looking at John at all.
"Did I know what? That the Dark Mark is supposedly a horrifying nightlight? No, I never would have guessed," John snorted. His mind was still trying to cope with this revelation. The Dark Lord never had told anyone that there was a counter to the Dark Mark hovering in the sky. It always had dissipated after some time, depending on some factor they never had figured out. For a while there had been a kind of contest among Death Eaters on raids and missions who would manage to cast a Dark Mark to last the longest. The longest time recorded had been a little over fifteen hours. But because they didn't always get reliable times for the end of the spell, they soon had abandoned the game.
He never would have guessed that such a simple and happy spell as the nightlight charm had been the basis for the Dark Mark.
Shacklebolt only hummed non-committally. As long as they now were working together, neither of them had confirmed the other's suspicion regarding their political alliance until now. John was pretty sure they wouldn't either. It wasn't really necessary, after all.
"I think that if he ever had told anyone, if he had it would have been widely known by now. Just because it's so hilarious. A Dark Lord, using a charm used by mothers all around the world to create small lights for their children at night, to spread terror?" Chuckling they slipped into their warm cloaks and into the room to apparate to the crime scene. They had a job to do.
Quite a bit away from the hustle and bustle of the Ministry and the excited chatter of Hogwarts, Albus was pacing inside the small kitchen of his hidden safe-house. After the Governors had all but demanded he let himself be checked over by an expert in the damage of Dark Magic, he had hidden behind all the paperwork he had been neglecting until the heaps of parchment on his desk were at risk of toppling over, before he had retreated to this old cottage near the sea he used from time to time to relax away from demands and curious eyes.
Now he was here in equal parts to hide from the worrying looks of Poppy, as for an opportunity to clear his thoughts and decide what to do. Was this a design to remove him from the school? Diminish his influence further, to clear the road for the dark designs of Tom?
Albus dearly wished he could be sure that Poppy never would be involved in such a scheme. But could he be sure? Just before colliding with the worn table in the kitchen, the old wizard turned sharply on his heel to walk back the other way.
On the other hand, she insisted on the examination each year, mostly taking to more or less forcing him to come to the hospital wing, or even walking up to him in his office, claiming if he wouldn't come to her of his own accord, she would search him out. Sometimes she would demand he sleep more, eat more of this and less of that, giving advice on his health as was her job. But until now, the exam never had turned up anything dire.
So if she truly had seen signs of a problem with his mental health, she would have done what now was happening. Informing the Board – as was required when an illness of a member of staff might endanger the students – and contacting an expert to get better insight as to what might be done.
But wouldn't he know if his mind was compromised? His pacing got more frantic, the end of his long white beard moving about in the wind created by the fast movement.
He had always been proud of his clear mind and ability to evaluate its state without outside observation. In fact, he had relied on it to make sure his own faults – the fact he wasn't to be trusted with power – didn't cause him to cause trouble or harm. But if he couldn't trust Poppy, who did he have left?
Was it possible that she had been coerced, or influenced? Maybe some spell, or potion? But he was pretty sure he would recognize the effects of the Imperius curse on someone's behaviour – he had known that most of those claiming to have been forced with the curse to serve Tom had lied – and Poppy always was too careful about what she consumed to be slipped a potion.
So had someone managed to slip him something? Albus shook his head, changing directions near the cabinets on the other side from the table. That was as unlikely as Poppy being under some undue influence. He had his own personal silverware, goblet, and plates. All were charmed so he would see a glow around them if they came into contact with poisons or potions mixed into his food or drink. And he was taking a general antidote to such things regularly. In the past there had been too many crude attempts on his life – mostly from Gellert's followers after their duel – so he had started to take precautions.
But if no one could have given him anything, and Poppy was just as normal as ever, how was this all possible? Maybe he could ask Severus for a cleansing potion… but no. That slithering Slytherin hadn't told Albus that he was going to take up his position as Lord Prince. Hadn't even hinted at the possibility. Albus had only learned of this because his good old friend Elphias had come by to tell him.
Albus snorted and stopped near a window, peering out to the shoreline and the spray of the waves. Family matters indeed. Maybe Albus should have paid closer attention to his spy. Now the young man had gone and gotten married, only to claim his seat on the Wizengamot shortly after that. Was Tom the reason for this change? Had he put pressure on his Death Eaters? Or was Severus delusional enough to believe that there wasn't any more danger? Albus wasn't sure, and that frustrated him greatly.
Despite all his wishing that Tom somehow was behind this, Albus tried to stay realistic. He had come into contact with a lot of really dark magic during this last summer. He had destroyed a horcrux, and if that wasn't dark magic, nothing was. And he had been carrying that thrice-damned curse around in his hand for far too long. Alastor had been right to scold him for his attempt to use the situation to his advantage. He clearly had done more damage than he could have gained if his scheme had worked out.
Now no longer full of frantic energy, Albus started to prepare himself some tea the good old-fashioned way. Sometimes it was nice to just take the time to make every step of the process the muggle way. A luxury to have the time needed to prepare a pot of tea without magic.
He needed to do research to find a way to determine if his state was as severe as Poppy seemed to believe, and then find a way to appear sound of mind. He couldn't be removed from his post at Hogwarts. If that happened, his only other remaining position would come next, and then who would stand in Tom's way, preventing him from harming their society?
By lunchtime Harry had managed to calm down a lot. Oddly enough, he had believed Marvolo the moment the other had claimed to have been ignorant of the attack until the Ministry had asked for his help.
Now he was listening to the gossip going through the school. As usual the story from the Prophet had been all through the school by the end of the first lesson. Now, a few hours later, the variations on what was going on stretched from someone new claiming the title of Dark Lord therefore challenging Lord Slytherin, to the claim that the ghosts of those Death Eaters who had died in Azkaban and the last war had come back to haunt them all.
If it weren't for the fact that three young women were missing and maybe even dead, it would have been quite hilarious. Sometimes Harry thought that creative writing assignments – other than divination homework – might make a nice addition to the curriculum. With the strange gossip springing up regularly, there just had to be a writing prodigy somewhere among the students.
He just had settled at the Slytherin table – Draco in a heated debate with Theo over the latest Quidditch news from the league – looking over the available dishes, when Hermione came over to sit with him, ruthlessly shoving the other boys a little to the side.
"Harry, you were gone so fast this morning! I've been wanting to talk to you since yesterday! Guess what Uncle Xerxes had to tell me!" The girl was so excited that the manners learned this summer had no chance to stand up to her enthusiasm.
Harry smirked, ignoring the reason he had run out this morning, and filled his plate with roasted vegetables, chicken breast, and potatoes. "Then do tell! You're almost bursting!"
With an indignant huff, Hermione gave Harry's shoulder a little punch, not happy he was teasing her, but not caring enough to leave and not tell him anything. "He not only came to bring the supplies for you, but because he wanted to inform me that the family might get two more people. He received a letter from two wizards – twins, he said – telling him that they think they might be his sons." Harry simply watched her and made the appropriate noises at the right moments. Once Hermione was on a roll it didn't need much to keep her talking. "Uncle Xerxes thinks it's possible. He was travelling after he finished school, as was tradition in many families who had enough money to make something like this possible. He said it was meant to give the young adults the opportunity to broaden their horizons, see new places, learn new things, before they had to take over their responsibility to their families."
Seeing the dangers of a looming tangent ahead, Harry quickly swallowed what he had been chewing, and interjected to keep his friend on track. "So he did more than travelling?"
Hermione blushed, but quickly came back to her train of thought, others around them now attentively listening. "Yes. He met a young witch, he said, and they got close." Her blush got deeper. "The two claim that their mother recently died and they went through her things. Finding his name in one of her diaries, they want to come here and test if they truly are his sons. I'm so excited! I'll get to meet wizards from another country, get to talk to them. Not in passing like during the World Cup, or only other European wizards and witches from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons."
"Where are they from?" Daphne asked from across the table. She had fixed some nice green hair-things – Harry had no idea what the contraptions used by girls for their hair were called – in some small braids, glittering in the candlelight, having an oddly distracting effect on Harry. Funny what he was noticing lately. The way someone wore their hair hadn't mattered much last year, besides noticing that it was either short, long, or somewhere in between. But now he looked at girls and found their hair was drawing his eyes, and the styles other boy's wore sparked the question if he maybe could manage something similar with magic, and if it would look better than his normally wild hair.
"South America. They've been travelling a lot, they wrote. Uncle Xerxes answered them yesterday, to invite them over for Christmas. He wanted to know what I thought, and reassure me that I was his heiress. Some grown men not carrying his name, born out of a liaison with a witch he hadn't known all that well…" Hermione blushed again, suddenly conscious that some might call the possible additions to her family bastards because their parents hadn't been married, and seemingly not sure how to react.
"Don't worry, Hermione," Daphne reassured the other witch, "Having children outside a marriage isn't really all that scandalous, as long as neither parent was married to another at the time. And the way it sounds, that wasn't the case here, was it?"
Harry listened only half-heartedly to the following discussion about bastard children throughout time both in wizarding and muggle society while he ate his delicious meal. It was still a little bit startling whenever his Gryffindor friends – really, any of them – interacted on friendly terms with his newer Slytherin friends.
Here he was hoping that this trend would continue. It was so much better than the alternative.
After his nap – much too short to really help with the fatigue, but already longer than he really could afford – Marvolo had called a few selected Death Eaters to his office in his Headquarters. The Carrow twins now were out and about in the seedier pubs to be found in small villages and Knockturn Alley, listening in to drunken ramblings. He hoped that whoever had been dumb enough to risk angering him was also dumb enough to brag about it.
John Dawlish had brought a detailed report on what the Auror Department had managed to gather that would qualify as evidence. Sadly, it wasn't much. But knowing what the Ministry did and knew was important, so Marvolo had sent John home to get some much-needed sleep.
Over lunch Marvolo had talked with Xerxes and Lucius, sending them out to gather a picture of how his followers were taking the change, and who might be unhappy with the lack of violence. Maybe he should have made such inquiries much earlier. It might be not really that useful to call his people too often, but the opportunity to scan their minds had always been a good one.
He would have to rectify his oversight tonight.
After a few well-placed spells, the big assembly room was clean and prepared for the Death Eaters. "Barty." Stepping forward and going to his knees, Marvolo's assistant held out his arm, baring the Dark Mark. With his finger and a small pulse of magic Marvolo sent out the call, before he stepped back and sorted his robes a last time.
It didn't take long until the first figures appeared in the room with different levels of sound. Idly wondering what exactly determined the volume of the popping sound caused by apparation, Marvolo waited for all his people to arrive. He had instructed the Carrows to stay out, so when everyone but them was there, Marvolo launched into his little prepared speech.
Nagini was slithering around his feet – she finally was finished shedding her old skin and was much happier for it – adding to the menacing effect he was aiming for. "Someone has broken one of the few rules we always held dear. Someone is claiming something they aren't entitled to. Someone will suffer greatly for this treacherous action." The burning fury that had been simmering in the back of his mind since he had been called to the Ministry finally broke to the surface. It crept into his words, making the s-sounds remarkably similar to the sounds of parseltongue, sending shivers through his followers. "You all have seen the news. If the one claiming our symbol for something I didn't authorise is among those standing here before me, Igor will get someone to keep him company." Somewhere in the back one dark figure fell to their knees, begging to be spared. Marvolo had to restrain an eye-roll. Such a pathetic display. That one probably wasn't the culprit.
"Severus!" The Potions Master stepped forward from his place among the others, confidently walked forward before sinking to his knees in a sea of pooling robes. Dark eyes behind a white and silver mask met with Marvolo's own red ones. It did not take much effort to link their minds so they could communicate via pictures and feelings. Marvolo showed his servant the names of all three missing witches and after that the image of his own graduation feast, with a feeling of overwhelming curiosity. Slytherins in their last year tended to bind their ties in a subtly different way. All three had graduated not that long ago, so it was reasonable to assume that Severus had taught them and might know something more. Quick images of all three witches – obviously from Potions classes – came from Severus' mind, accompanied by the feeling of certainty and thoughtfulness. The order had been given and received.
The next hour was gruelling. One after the other Marvolo called the Death Eaters before him and searched through their minds. It was embarrassingly easy to follow their desire to keep things hidden to the memories in question. And he got to see far too many things he would rather not have known. It seemed his people took his order to have bigger families to heart. One thing he was certain of rather quickly was that he certainly was no voyeur. Suppressing more than one shudder, Marvolo made his way through all those he didn't know as well, and incidentally those that hadn't been in his service as long as those he trusted more. The younger ones, those that had been made Death Eaters just months before that night, all weren't guilty. It was when Yaxley tried to run that he knew he had found a lead. A quick stunner and some binding ropes, and the useless wizard was ready to be interrogated.
This mind felt almost sticky, like honey, or tar. And Marvolo had to work his way through delusions until he found the memory of an evening in the dark and shabby backroom of a pub. He was giving a speech and trying to recruit his son and the boy's friends for an effort to help the Dark Lord back to the right path.
"You want to reinstate the custom of kept women? Are you insane?" Of course Marvolo knew about that custom. It really wasn't something only the wizards of Britain had ever thought of. In fact, Marvolo was convinced that the Vikings had brought the idea of prisoners of war to be used as slaves to the islands. All in all, using prisoners as slaves, selling, and even making them for that specific purpose had been part of several economies in the past. But it had been some time since such actions had been accepted practice. In fact, it had been wizards and witches who had realized it wasn't right rather earlier than Muggles did. Maybe the fact they didn't want to come in contact with non-magicals had made this easier, but they never would manage to change anything the political way if they tried to get that practice reinstated.
A long and freeing cruciatus later – Yaxley of course was screaming and writhing on the floor – Marvolo lowly growled to the wizard whimpering on the floor. "You will either go to the Aurors and turn your son in, or you will encourage him to do so himself. You have one day from now before I'll take action myself. Am I clear?" Another whimper was the only answer, but that would do.
"You others are dismissed." The message was clear enough, and they certainly wouldn't do something as stupid as this.
The hall cleared quickly, but it took some time for Yaxley to manage to get to his knees and move to leave himself. Marvolo impatiently tapped his foot. He had promised Henry to call on the mirror to keep the teenager up to date with what was happening. If Yaxley needed any longer, Marvolo would need to do something about it. "Hurry up!" Spurned into action by the venom in his Lord's voice, Yaxley finally managed to get out of the room.
Rolling his shoulders to loosen the kinks caused by leaning forward to look into the eyes of kneeling men, Marvolo walked out of the room to the office. He would need a headache relief potion before he could call Henry. This had been a rather long day. A really long day indeed.
They had woken up in a dingy small room, chained to the floor made from a rough, dirty stone. The three of them had quickly inspected the room as well as was possible with their arms and legs bound by heavy chains. The room wasn't big, or all that sturdy, but they couldn't reach the walls from where they were secured, so there was no way for them to find a weak spot in the wooden wall to break through.
Not one of them knew how long they had been unconscious, but judging by the fact they were hungry, thirsty, and needed the loo, it must have been the whole night and probably large parts of the next day.
Susan had been screaming for some time, calling for help, but now they had huddled down together, crying silently, trying to conserve warmth. They only had their nightwear and no heating. It was cold.
"If we had our wands we could be out of here by now!" Jenny murmured with anger, her arms slung around her own torso.
"But if they had managed to miss such an essential part of keeping someone prisoner, I would be rather more ashamed for having been bested by them," Neela snorted and they all had a short moment of humour before the despair of their situation chased the good mood away again.
Until now they had managed to keep their body functions under control, but it was getting rather uncomfortable fast. Before they could start to go over their possibilities – for the fourth or fifth time – the door opened, creaking on its hinges, admitting a figure garbed in dark, long robes, face hidden behind a bone white mask.
The three of them shuffled their positions so they could move better and have their eyes on the figure at the same time. Susan was wary. Who was that?
"There you are, weak, filthy, as dirty as your blood." There was a definitive sneer in that voice. But the way the figure moved, it was clear he – his voice at least sounded as if he was male – wasn't all that sure of himself. "On your knees in the dirt where you belong. I will teach you your place." The laugh that followed was hollow and eerie. A cold shiver run down Susan's back. She hadn't thought that she could feel any colder than before that man had come in here.
Jenny's taunt of, "You know your robes are tatty, right? And I think the charm you used to get them black, is fading. Not much of a wizard, are you?" was rewarded with a harsh backhanded slap into her face, and a quick kick to the side for Neela.
"Silence! Susan will be mine, as she should have been the moment I decided to have her. And you others know that my comrades are at the moment playing a game of cards to see who gets to choose first." His following laugh was dirty and ended in a snicker. And suddenly Susan knew. That was that Yaxley boy, that pathetic little boy who had been obsessed with her in school. The one who couldn't take no for an answer. Cold dread filled her stomach. She was currently getting a degree in forensic psychology, she knew to what lengths stalkers would go to obtain the object of their fixation.
Two quick hexes from Yaxley's wand had the others stunned, before he grabbed a small vial from a robe pocket and opened it by popping the cork out with one thumb, holding it with the same hand. "Now be an obedient little mudblood and drink this. If you do, your existence as mine – like it should have been for far longer now – will be almost pleasant. But I will have you no matter what you do or think, make no mistake. Now drink!"
He pressed the phial against her firmly closed mouth. The scent of freshly baked cinnamon rolls, damp earth, and broom polish filled her nostrils. She knew that scent! Her eyes widened in horror. All girls in her year had at least once brewed amortentia, or at least had scented it once. Interpreting who the one and only might be based on the scent each of them would get was a favoured party game at all-girl parties.
When Yaxley pinched her nose so she would have to open her mouth eventually to breath, Susan knew that there was no way for her to escape the potion. Now she finally understood why the potion wasn't in the regular potions curriculum. It wasn't romantic to dose someone with a love potion. The last clear thought she had was that she hoped the Aurors would find them all fast. It was unlikely they would manage to get out of this by themselves.
AN: the description of the Dark Mark and the way it works in the films let me wonder if there were other, friendlier, versions of shimmering and glittering lights hovering around. The fireworks the twins Fred and George came up with sounded similar. And suddenly the idea of a Nightlight Spell had been born. I hope you like it ;)
Thanks to Jordre and Jake for helping to improve my spelling!
First published on the 1st of December 2017
Next chapter planned for 15th of December 2017