Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns Harry Potter, and no one owns justice.
Seventh Year: Voldemort is Going Down!
The trio soon found that the muggles were sparing no expense for security. Ron remarked unhappily that they were being as paranoid as the late Mad-Eye Moody, but the truth was the muggles might have been worse. They were taken to a secure facility, strip-searched, given flimsy blue shirts and trousers that looked suspiciously like prison uniforms, and placed in separate rooms—albeit furnished ones—to stay overnight.
"Bloody hell, muggles actually do that?" Ron had exclaimed when the soldiers explained to him what a strip search was, which probably hadn't endeared him to them. Hermione was just glad they had a female soldier on hand to search her. She also pleaded with the staff to be careful with her beaded bag, since she had placed a number of dangerous items in it. The rooms—or cells—they were in looked a little off to her, but it took her a while to place it: there was no wood anywhere. They clearly didn't want to chance them making new wands.
By morning, it was clear that none of them were under Polyjuice. Lance-Corporal Williams then came into each of their rooms and performed several spells to confirm that they weren't disguised with transfiguration, various charms, or were metamorphmagi. He then dosed them with Veritaserum and a muggle psychiatrist interrogated each of them in turn with various questions that were apparently intended to verify that they weren't under the Imperius Curse. Even Hermione wasn't sure how that worked, but they all passed. Finally, they were returned the clothes they were wearing yesterday—laundered and pressed, no less—and led into a small conference room to meet the commanding officer of the muggle forces.
The commanding officer turned out to be a woman—a Colonel Stewart, to be precise. She spoke courteously to them, but they could tell she was still a soldier on high alert. "I'm sorry for how we had to treat you yesterday," she told them. "I hope you understand it was a matter of security."
"Of course, Colonel," Hermione said. If the Ministry had been half this careful, she suspected Voldemort would never have got off the ground.
"I should inform you at the start that the Prime Minister is watching this discussion remotely," she said. Harry and Hermione were shocked for a moment, but they nodded. "I've read all three of your files. By all accounts, you've done great service to your country over the years, especially in informing the Prime Minister about the Marriage Law scandal. Thank you for that. Now, before we begin, there's a bit of paperwork to deal with. All three of you are still minors under muggle law. Your guardians have a right to know that you're here and are being questioned. Mr. Potter, your guardians are listed as Mr. Weasley's family." This was true. Harry had gone to them as the only realistic option after his relatives had been jailed. "I ordered my staff to inform them that you were both safe with us as soon as we were sure you were you."
"Ma'am—er, Colonel," Ron interrupted, "is my Dad okay? Oh, and Percy? They would've been at the Ministry."
"They are safe with us, Mr. Weasley," she replied. "Your father is currently lending his expertise in helping us process everything we took from the Ministry. We were a bit suspicious of him at first because he expressed such a strong interest in us muggles whilst being so clueless about us—" Ron turned red at this. "—but when he verified his stance under Truth Serum, we asked him to help us out. He should be able to visit you later. I'm told Percy was more resistant, but he was captured unharmed. I haven't checked if he's feeling more cooperative today."
"Sounds like Percy," Ron mumbled.
"Miss Granger, we attempted to contact your parents, but we couldn't reach them," Colonel Stewart continued.
"They're hiding out in Australia, ma'am," Hermione said cagily. "Out of contact. I don't know myself where they are."
Stewart sighed: "Alright, since your birthday's only three weeks away, I'll put you down as a crown ward and let it slide. You can stay here if you don't have anywhere else to go."
"Thank you, ma'am, but I'm sure the Weasleys will take me."
"Very well. Now, you told Corporal Lethbridge that you had critical information to defeat You-Know-Who?"
Hermione and Ron both looked to Harry, who took a deep breath and started talking: "Vol—You-Know-Who made things called horcruxes. They're…they're pieces of his soul hidden away in objects and protected to keep him from dying."
"Like a phylactery in muggle fantasy literature," Hermione provided.
Colonel Stewart seemed to understand that. "So we have to destroy the horcruxes to kill him?"
"How many of these are we talking about?"
"Four. He made six, but two have been destroyed already."
"And you said one of the people we captured from the Ministry had one?" she asked Hermione.
"Yes, ma'am. Dolores Umbridge was wearing it in her picture: a large, gold locket with an 'S' on it."
Stewart checked through her files. "We have it," she said. "We searched her, and she was wearing it when we brought her in."
"Tell your men not to touch it," Harry said urgently. "The two we know about, one had the power to possess people, and the other had a dark curse on it that killed Dumbledore—or would have if Snape hadn't."
Stewart nodded and called on her radio, informing the soldiers to take extra precautions with the locket and destroy it as soon as possible.
"You might not be able to do that, ma'am," Hermione warned her.
"Horcruxes are nearly indestructible. Only extremely powerful and dangerous magics can destroy them…They haven't been tested against muggle weapons, but it wouldn't surprise me if they can stand up to anything short of a nuke."
She called into her radio again: "Cancel that last order. Lock the locket up, but don't destroy it. What can destroy it, Miss Granger?"
"Basilisk fangs are the safest way. The other methods are extremely dangerous to produce or carry around. Unfortunately, we don't have any."
"Oi, wait a minute," Ron cut in. "I know where we can get some basilisk fangs. You took over Hogwarts, didn't you?"
Stewart shook her head: "No, Mr. Weasley, we're still drawing up plans."
"Oh," he deflated, "well, when you do, there's some under it."
"Where—oh, the Chamber of Secrets!" Hermione exclaimed. "The basilisk is still in there. That's brilliant."
"Always the tone of surprise."
"You are brilliant, Ron," she said, rolling her eyes. "But we'll need Harry to open it. He's the only Parselmouth we know."
"Parsel-what?" Stewart asked.
"I can talk to snakes," Harry told her. "You need to do that to speak the password to the Chamber."
"I'll make a note of it. So we have a potential way to destroy the horcruxes. Do you know what the other three are and where they are?"
He shook his head. "I wish I did. One of them is V—You-Know-Who's pet snake. He keeps it by his side most of the time. Another one is a gold cup that belonged to Helga Hufflepuff, but we don't know where it is."
"You can probably find pictures of it in the book shop," Hermione supplied.
"Er, yeah. But the last one we don't know anything about, except it probably belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw or maybe Godric Gryffindor."
"That's not much to go on," Stewart said with a frown. "Do you know where the other ones were hidden? Is there a pattern?"
"Dumbledore thought there was, but I couldn't follow it. One was in You-Know-Who's mother's childhood home. One was in a sea cave he'd visited from the orphanage where he grew up—the orphanage is gone now, I think. And Lucius Malfoy had the other one we know about."
She perked up at once. "Lucius Malfoy? One of the top Death Eaters? Is it possible he has any others?"
"Maybe…or another Death Eater could, too."
"I'll have all of the ones we captured questioned about it. Hopefully, that'll turn up something."
The trio were stuck in the little apartment—or something like an apartment—while the troops got the "holding facility" under control. From what they could tell, there were still a lot of prisoners being brought in, processed, and, in the case of those who were found to be innocent, sent home with instructions to stay away from major magical centres for a while.
Still, Mr. Weasley got a chance to look in on them when he got a break from whatever they had him working on. And he looked like he was having a good time despite the circumstances.
"Ron! Harry! Hermione! Thank Merlin you're alright," he said, hugging all three of them in turn. "We knew we couldn't contact you because you've might've been hiding somewhere you couldn't take a message. I was surprised Remus even found you. You've been at Headquarters the whole time, then?"
"Yes, Mr. Weasley," Harry said. "We got lucky Snape didn't give up the location. I don't even know what he was playing at."
"Huh. Yes, you'd have thought he'd give the location to You-Know-Who. Maybe he didn't think you'd go there."
"Have you talked to Mum and the others?" Ron asked.
"Yes, Colonel Stewart connected me to them this morning. Of course, everyone panicked when the muggles rolled in. Thought we'd all be locked up or something. They were all relieved to hear you're safe, of course. And here's some news: the Twins already knew this was going on!"
"They did?" Hermione gasped. "How? I never heard anything."
"The muggles told them to keep it a secret. Apparently, a few days after the Ministry fell, some muggle-born tracked them down on behalf of the Prime Minister and asked to buy out their whole stock of defence gear. They'd closed the shop, but they were still doing mail order, so they could do it without anyone noticing."
"Wicked," Ron said. "How's everyone else?"
"Ginny's fine. Says she wants to see Harry. Charlie's back in Romania. We're still trying to get in contact with Bill and Fleur. They're hidden behind a Fidelius, and Remus is the Secret Keeper, but we don't know where he is right now. Tonks said he did a runner because he was worried what the muggles would do to werewolves."
"I can't imagine they'd give them any trouble," Hermione said. "Any sensible muggle would understand that it's just an illness and not really dangerous."
"Their information might not be accurate," Mr. Weasley cautioned. "Most of it would have come from the Ministry. Or maybe they've been buying out bookshops, too. I don't know where they found out so much about us, honestly."
"Do you know what happens next, Mr. Weasley?" she asked.
"Not much. They're going to try to lift the restrictions and such slowly. They have a plan for reconstituting the Ministry, I think. But it sounds like they're keeping us on a pretty short leash until they take care of You-Know-Who. They're definitely not reopening Hogwarts until then. But look on the bright side. They've done more in two days to fight the Death Eaters than we did in two years. And did you see all those neat weapons they have? It's amazing how creative muggles are. They even have this one that knocks you down by shocking you. It's called a Zater or something."
"A Taser, Mr. Weasley," Hermione corrected. Honestly, were all wizards dyslexic around muggles?
It was Rodolphus Lestrange, the only one of the the Lestranges they had in custody, who tipped them off to the horcrux in Bellatrix's vault. That was harder than it sounded. They almost missed it until they caught him in a lie about something else. When Colonel Stewart asked Arthur Weasley why the Veritaserum wasn't working, he explained that an accomplished Occlumens could resist its effects. This stumped them for a while until they talked to some doctors and Healers and came up with a workaround. It turned out that when you dosed someone with sodium thiopental and Veritaserum, they lacked the mental will to resist as each drug made up for the shortcomings of the other. After that, it was the easiest interrogation they'd ever run.
When Colonel Stewart questioned Walden Macnair, he tipped her off to a better way to destroy horcruxes, too: throwing them through the Veil of Death in the Department of Mysteries in the Ministry. (The man was an expert on every method of execution in the wizarding world.) This made the "Golden Trio" feel very foolish when she asked them about it, but they agreed that it would certainly work. Nothing came back out of there. Unfortunately, the Department of Mysteries was currently closed. A few of the Unspeakables had surrendered, but most of them had holed up in the Department, and no one could get in. They also knew that the Department had been infiltrated by at least a couple of Death Eaters, who had put out the fake muggle-born research, so they would have to be careful about how they approached it.
Even so, with this knowledge in mind, they could go for the one in Gringotts. Tony Blair personally walked down the still locked-down Diagon Alley under heavy guard to stop in front of the glowing and humming wards of the bank. There were still no goblin guards outside the bronze doors to speak to him, only the sign that read, CLOSED FOR BUSINESS, so he hoped that there was someone just inside or otherwise monitoring the door, as he shouted out, "I am Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Acting Minister for Magic. I need to speak with King Ragnok or Ambassador Brodrig on a matter of immediate importance to the war."
He waited a minute, and the doors opened just a crack. A goblin face peaked out to see who was there and promptly closed them again. After several more minutes, they reopened, and Ambassador Brodrig came out, also under heavy guard, and strode up to the ward line. "Minister Blair," he said. "Here I am. You said you had something important to discuss. What is it?"
"Greetings, Ambassador," Blair said. "It has come to my knowledge that one of your vaults contains an artifact that is of critical importance to defeating He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. I am here to ask you to hand it over to us."
Brodrig growled. "Our vaults are not subject to search by outsiders, human. You have no right to confiscate property that was entrusted us under the revised Treaty you made us sign."
"I am aware of that, Ambassador," he replied calmly. "However, we are not asking for property. We have actionable intelligence that a certain artifact in the vault of one Bellatrix Lestrange houses a part of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's soul. Now, stretching the definitions in the law a bit, that means that the artifact in question is legally a person and therefore cannot be considered property. It also means that you are legally harbouring a criminal, and under that same revised Treaty, we demand his immediate extradition. This is the artifact we are looking for." He held up a photocopy of a picture of Hufflepuff's Cup from a book in Flourish and Blotts.
Brodrig's eyes narrowed suspiciously as he considered Blair's chain of logic. "And if we refuse?" he ventured.
"Then Gringotts will be declared a hostile nation for harbouring a terrorist, and we'll be in the same position we were in two years ago. Do you really want to find out if your wards will stand up to a bunker buster penetrator, Ambassador?" The last bit was a little much, but the goblins seemed to respond best to that sort of hard-line rhetoric.
The goblin hissed, but he knew he was cornered. "I will speak with the King about this, and we will investigate your claims," he said. "If they prove to be accurate, we will hand over the…'criminal' to you."
"Thank you, Ambassador."
It was several hours before they heard from the goblins again, but when they did, Ambassador Brodrig grudgingly handed over the horcrux to the SARR. If they stretched the definitions in the law a little bit the other way, it wouldn't legally be a summary execution to destroy it, but that would have to wait regardless.
A whole team was assigned to comb through the historical books in Flourish and Blotts for artifacts that could qualify for the last horcrux. Since the Sword of Gryffindor and the Sorting Hat were pretty well assured to be safe, the most likely answer seemed to be Ravenclaw's Diadem, even though it had been lost for a thousand years. Colonel Stewart questioned Harry in much greater detail about Dumbledore's reasoning for what the horcruxes were. She was of the opinion that his theory of Founders' artifacts was probable, but it was wishful thinking to rely so heavily on that theory (not to mention to rely on three teenagers to solve the problem). However, in the course of the questioning, Harry's strange connection with the Dark Lord came up.
"Now that's interesting," Stewart said. "Mr. Potter, would it be possible for you to use this connection to look into You-Know-Who's mind."
"No!" Hermione said urgently. Stewart raised an eyebrow at her. She hesitated. "Dumbledore wanted Harry to learn how to block You-Know-Who out from the start," she said. "He…he couldn't find a good enough teacher, though. So You-Know-Who used that connection to manipulate Harry before. He fed him false information, and it was a complete disaster…Harry's Godfather was killed in that fight."
"I see." Stewart turned back to Harry: "I'm sorry to hear that, Mr. Potter, but you must understand that circumstances have changed dramatically. Your Dumbledore is dead, and we can work quickly to verify most information you receive. And keep in mind, I'm asking you to look around in You-Know-Who's head, not waiting for him to feed you information."
Harry considered this. "It could work," he reasoned. "But I've never done it before. And even if I can do it, he'd probably figure out that we're hunting horcruxes."
"But without any other information, it may be the only way to find out what the last horcrux is and where it is. We'll just have to act fast then: find You-Know-Who's base and be ready to storm it when you look into his mind."
"Can we just kill him first and then get the horcruxes?" Ron suggested. "I mean, he was gone for ten years after Harry got rid of him the first time."
Hermione shook her head: "That would work in principle, but if he's a disembodied spirit, he can still possess people. Remember Quirrell? We don't know how long it takes or how hard it is to fight, but we do know he can kill people that way, and he'll be harder to contain."
"Yeah," Harry agreed. "I think I'm gonna have to try it. I guess if you can find where he's hiding out, I'll do it, Colonel."
"But it would be incredibly dangerous, Harry," Hermione warned. "Remember, it wasn't just the visions. You-Know-Who tried to possess you the last time you got close to him."
"But I know I can fight that off, Hermione. Think about it; this could be the power he knows not."
"The power he knows not?" Stewart asked.
"There's a prophecy—They talked about it in the Daily Prophet. Haven't you heard about it?"
"Only rumours there is one. We don't know what it is."
"Oh, well, it says I'm the one with the power to defeat You-Know-Who—that it has to be a fight to the end between him and me."
"Bloody hell," she breathed. "Are these prophecies…reliable?"
"Not always," Harry said. "Dumbledore would say if you just ignore it and keep fighting the way you have been, it won't come true. But it does say I have a power You-Know-Who knows not, and I doubt that's changed. Maybe this is it."
She nodded in thought: "Plausible, but I'm not well-versed in this. I'll have to question the people who surrendered from the Department of Mysteries. And before we do this, we have to get into that Death Chamber…Once we have that and You-Know-Who's location, we'll go searching for the last horcrux. Until then, you three are free to move about the unrestricted parts of the facility. My men will keep you safe."
"Thank you, Colonel," Hermione said.
"Yeah, thanks. I could do with stretching my legs," Ron grunted, standing up.
"I'll show you to the rec. room. It's on my way." Colonel Stewart escorted the trio through the holding facility, pointing out the mess hall and other important locations. They came to the front of the building where soldiers were still bringing prisoners through.
"Colonel!" a voice called. "We've got another one for you."
They all turned and were stunned by what they saw.
"He surrendered in Hogsmeade this morning. He's agree to tell us everything he knows."
There, standing in handcuffs, was Severus Snape.
"YOU!" Harry roared, pulling his wand on the man. Hermione and several soldiers rushed to restrain him and Ron.
"Let me go! He murdered Dumbledore!" Harry shouted.
"Calm down, Mr. Potter, or I'll have to take your wand," Stewart ordered.
Harry and Ron both lowered their wands, but Harry snarled at Snape. "Colonel Stewart, he's a traitor," he said. "You can't trust anything he says."
"Don't speak of that which you don't understand, Potter," Snape called out in response.
"I saw you—!"
"You saw me play exactly the part that Dumbledore wanted me to play," he replied, to Harry's shock. Snape then turned towards the Colonel. "Colonel Stewart, I presume? I am Severus Snape, and since Mr. Potter brought it up, it is true that I killed Albus Dumbledore, but I did so on his explicit orders. The old man was badly cursed and was already dying, and he wanted me to 'prove my loyalty' to the Dark Lord. But I am entirely against the Dark Lord, and I am willing to submit to any questioning you have for me."
"Believe me, you'll get it, Mr. Snape," Stewart replied. "Take him to interrogation, and give him the truth serum cocktail. I'll be there shortly."
The good news was that Snape really was on their side, and he knew where Voldemort was. When the muggles invaded, Voldemort was smart enough to figure out he wouldn't have a chance in the streets against an army, so he hid in the one place in Britain that might be able to keep them out: Hogwarts, just like Hermione had suspected. That presented problems for getting in, but if they did get in, it would also take away what they feared might be his most devastating tactic against muggles: rapid-fire Apparition. Snape had locked down the wards before he left from the now-sealed Headmaster's Office, so Voldemort wouldn't be able to bypass them.
The bad news was that he had no clue what or where the last horcrux was, and Dumbledore had never known, either. Snape wasn't actually sure how the old man had thought Harry would be able to find it on his own, and he admitted to questioning the man's mental health for some time.
The worse news was something that blindsided and horrified everyone: Harry was a horcrux.
Ron and Hermione didn't want to believe it at first, but Harry didn't deny it. It made so many things fit that he felt like he'd always known somehow. Just to be sure, Colonel Stewart brought in an Unspeakable named Faraday who had decided to cooperate to check him over. It was true.
That was why they were having an emergency teleconference with a shell-shocked Mr. Weasley as Harry's guardian, Unspeakable Faraday, and the Prime Minister.
"The books are very clear," Faraday said. "The only way to destroy the soul fragment is to destroy the vessel it's residing in."
"That's what mine say, too," Hermione agreed.
"But…but Harry wasn't a proper horcrux," Mr. Weasley said, trying to wrap his head around it. "You-Know-Who didn't do the ritual. Shouldn't that mean something?"
"If the soul fragment is latched on, it doesn't matter. Nothing short of death is going to dislodge it."
"Well, we need another solution, Mr. Faraday," the Prime Minister said. "We can't kill a kid just to get rid of this terrorist. You're supposed to know more about magic than anyone. Don't you have any ideas?"
"Several, Mr. Blair, but all of them are very uncertain, and we have no way to test them."
Colonel Stewart spoke up: "Snape told me that Dumbledore believed if You-Know-Who personally cast the Killing Curse on Mr. Potter again, it would kill the horcrux and leave him alive."
"How's that?" Blair asked.
"Honestly, I couldn't follow the logic, sir. In fact, I'm not sure Snape did either. It was something about blood protection."
"But that would mean sending Harry against You-Know-Who himself," Mr. Weasley protested.
"And there's no guarantee he'll use that particular curse," Blair agreed. "He'd be stupid to try the same thing again when there are so many other curses he could use. Mr. Faraday, what were your ideas?"
"Well, sir, it might be possible to modify the Killing Curse into some sort of exorcism spell to remove the horcrux. Or maybe a dementor could pull out the soul fragment whilst leaving Mr. Potter unharmed. Or maybe we could use the Veil of Death to pull it out without killing him by putting only his forehead through it. But all of those things are far more likely to kill him outright."
But something caught Blair's ear. "Wait, only his forehead?" he said. "Is the soul fragment just in his scar, or does it go through the rest of him?"
"It's…it's a little hard to tell…But it can't go past his skull. If it physically went into his brain, it would have altered his personality. He has to be getting the visions magically somehow."
"Then here's an idea," Blair said. "Why don't you just cut out part of his skull and replace it with a titanium plate?"
Faraday gaped at the Prime Minister's face on the screen. "Muggles can do that?!"
"We don't know how much time we'll have after he figures out where the last horcrux is—and that's if this even works. We may have to knock him out, cut out a piece of his skull and destroy it in the space of a few minutes."
"We're going to need a mobile operating theatre inside the Department of Mysteries to even try that."
"And we don't know if trying to cut it out will release any dark magic—curse the surgeon or something."
"It depends how self-aware the horcrux is and how powerful it is," Faraday told the team. "According to the records, the danger of a standard horcrux lies in its will. If it wakes up, it could influence the…surgeons to turn on each other. But the soul fragment in Potter's head might not be strong enough to do that. It could also try to possess him, but again, it might not be strong enough. Without any special protections, though, it won't release any curses."
"That's all well and good, Mr. Faraday," Stewart said, but it's no help if we can't actually get into the Department of Mysteries. Do you have any leads on that?"
"Not easy ones. Or quick ones, rather. The Department of Mysteries can be locked down in ways that are impractical for the rest of the Ministry. It has provisions to withstand a long siege. At this point, I think we're going to have to brute force it."
"Have all the Unspeakables who surrendered lead a team to smash through the wards on the Department. We have enough knowledge to do it, but we'll need wands."
Colonel Stewart sighed. "I'm going to regret this, aren't I?"
"Probably yes, ma'am."
The Second Battle of the Department of Mysteries was brutal and terrifying. Though not as bloody as Diagon Alley or the Ministry, the unit that breached it suffered the highest percentage of casualties of any fighting in the war. And the things the Unspeakables did…well, most of the soldiers refused to talk about it afterwards. The brains that had attacked Ron Weasley two years ago, the time-manipulation magic, and the Veil of Death that had claimed Sirius Black were among the most mundane things down there. A couple of the soldiers went mad from what they had seen. One man had to be carried back up in the foetal position, rocking back and forth and muttering "Tekeli-li" to himself over and over.
Faraday and the other invading Unspeakables tried to reason with their coworkers, but two of them were Death Eaters and were able to sow enough confusion in their faceless robes to keep the fight going for quite a while. Finally, after hours of rooting through sealed horrors and abuses of the laws of nature, the SARR declared the Department of Mysteries secured. Even then, it was so disturbing that parts of the battle were never entered into the official record.
With the area cleared, the Locket of Salazar Slytherin and the Cup of Helga Hufflepuff were thrown through the Veil of Death at once. Then, equipment was quietly brought in to set up a mobile sterile operating theatre in the Department. Colonel Stewart initially wanted to place it in the Chamber of Death itself, but one look at the Veil and its effect on doctors and soldiers in particular, and she agreed to move it next door to the relatively benign Brain Room (although she made a note to have a long discussion with the Unspeakables about why they had a tank full of brains).
There was good news, though, after the carnage. After a couple of days of interrogations and talks, Colonel Stewart brought most of the other Unspeakables around to her side. A majority weren't with the Death Eaters, and nearly all of them resented the Department being co-opted to spew their propaganda. They had just feared the dangerous secrets within falling into the wrong hands and had thus sealed it off. Once he was turned, Croaker, the Head Unspeakable was able to help with their plans. He reviewed the plan for Harry and ruled it plausible, and he also suggested a few safeguards to ensure the surgeons' safety.
Stewart walked out of that meeting feeling much more confident. With all of the pieces in place, it was time to start laying plans for the Siege of Hogwarts.
Although he was well aware of the necessity of the situation, Harry Potter did not appreciate his present circumstances. He was strapped to a gurney in five-point restraints in a darkened room with a bright light shining in his face. He could hear and smell the brains swimming in the tank nearby. His friends weren't allowed to be there with him and were still back at the SARR's operating base to help coordinate the battle, and team of doctors surrounding him with sharp metal implements brought back unpleasant memories from his childhood. He honestly couldn't remember the last time he'd been stuck with a needle. Such things just weren't done in the wizarding world.
A team of guards armed with non-lethal weapons surrounded the operating theatre. If the horcrux tried to take control of the doctors, the guards could run in and drag them out. Croaker insisted that the horcrux would not be able to control that many people at once. The Unspeakable had also provided an enchanted mirror that allowed Colonel Stewart to communicate with the doctors in real time and relay Harry's report of the last horcrux to the units now surrounding Hogwarts.
"Okay, Mr. Potter, the IV is in, but you're just on saline now, so you shouldn't feel anything," the head surgeon said. "We've done all we can before the Colonel gives the go-ahead. I'm afraid we can't help you with this mind-reading trick of yours. You'll have to do whatever it is you do on your own."
"It's on you now, Mr. Potter," Stewart confirmed. "Tell me where the last horcrux is, and I'll tell the men to mobilise."
Harry closed his eyes and concentrated. He had been told the plan. The timing would only be possible with magic. Once he determined where the horcrux was, a section of soldiers would go by portkey to retrieve it and bring it to the Veil while most of the rest of the regiment attacked Hogwarts to keep Voldemort occupied. They would have to kill Nagini and Voldemort himself in one stroke, after the other horcrux and Harry's scar were taken care of. There were a lot of things that could go wrong, but it had to be done.
Harry reached out, as he had not done before, to look into Voldemort's mind. The presence he always felt at the back of his mind—instead of pushing it away, he pulled towards it. Images began to flit through his head—images of depraved acts, torture, and death that he never wanted to see again, but he pressed on, whispering a single thought in his head: horcruxes.
An image of a diary, destroyed with a basilisk fang through it, flashed in his mind.
He pressed harder: Horcruxes. Horcruxes.
The ring that Dumbledore had destroyed, still intact in the vision.
Slytherin's locket. Hufflepuff's cup. And then…a delicate crown—one that he recognised: the Lost Diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw.
He pushed harder, risking discovery, but desperate for an answer. Where?
An image of Hogwarts. A tapestry. A hidden room. Yes, it would be safe there. No one would ever find it. Only he, Lord Voldemort, had plumbed Hogwarts' deepest secrets and understood the Room Where Everything Is Hidden.
Harry's eyes opened with a jolt as the shock went through him. He recognised it. The memory came back to him: a wig on a bust on top of a cabinet in which he had hidden Snape's old Potions book.
"I found it!" he yelled.
"You found it?" Colonel Stewart. "Where is it?"
"It's at Hogwarts! It's Ravenclaw's diadem, like we thought. It was right under our noses. I've seen it—bloody hell, I touched it, and I never knew!"
"Mr. Potter, where is it?" she demanded.
"In the Room of Requirement. Ask for the Room Where Everything Is Hidden. Look for a bust with a wig on top of a cabinet. I hid my Potions book there last spring."
Stewart looked over at Ron and Hermione, who were sitting out of view in case they were needed. "Did that make sense to either of you?" she asked.
"Yes, ma'am. We know exactly where it is," Hermione said, sounding relieved. "We can direct the soldiers if we need to."
"Alright. We'll do that by the mirrors. Croaker, send the Horcrux Section to join the Chamber of Secrets Section at Hogwarts. We're going to do this all at once. Doctor, put Mr. Potter under and begin the operation. We need that soul fragment out of him as soon as possible."
"Good luck, Harry," Hermione called.
The last thing Harry heard was the voices of soldiers springing into action as the Battle of Hogwarts began.
The attack on Hogwarts was to come from all sides. With You-Know-Who in the castle, they would need to strike swiftly. With the Unspeakables' help, the SARR had Portkeyed in to various places around the castle, outside the wards. Alpha Company would emerge from the non-forbidden forest in their jeeps and roll up the front path from the east. Charlie Company would come along the river from the north, the actual Forbidden Forest being too full of dark creatures to be safe. Bravo Company, the shock troops, had dusted off some World War II amphibious assault vehicles and Portkeyed to the bottom of the Black Lake to storm the castle from the ravine below. Delta Company split off sections to enter through all seven secret passages from Hogsmeade, even the one that was caved in. The Death Eaters of course knew about all seven, but the idea was to keep the Death Eaters occupied on as many fronts as possible. And last of all, the newly-commissioned SARR Artillery Battery was split into two gun lines of three 105-mm howitzers each and ensconced just inside the wards on two of the mountains overlooking the castle. These would shell the castle as needed from outside spellfire range if the infantry encountered heavy resistance.
The section going for the Chamber of Secrets was not going through any of the secret passages, but was riding with Bravo Company. Severus Snape had been very helpful, drawing up a map of enough of the castle's plumbing system to figure out how to get in through the drainage tunnels from the ravine. (After all, the basilisk had needed a way out to hunt.) Ron Weasley had pointed them in the direction to get to the Chamber of Secrets directly from there, but if they couldn't find the way quickly, they would climb up to the second floor and go in through Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.
And if this wasn't the weirdest mission they'd ever been on, they didn't know what was.
Colonel Stewart gave the order for them to move out through the Sergeant's mirror—he being one of the few people in the regiment with magical communication—but she also told them to prepare for the arrival of the Horcrux Section. They had left space in the amphibious assault craft in case of the unlikely event that the last horcrux happened to be in Hogwarts. According to Potter, it was.
The Horcrux Section Portkeyed into the back of the craft and struggled to find their feet again. Magical travel was not pleasant. "What's the situation?" the Chamber Section's leader asked.
"We have to go all the way up to the seventh floor," the Horcrux Section's leader said. "We'll come with you to get the basilisk fangs and then split off from there."
"Got it. What's our range?"
"We just crossed the wards," their lead wizard said as he monitored their progress with some obscure spell. "Two hundred meters."
"Forward units are hitting the shore now," said a man with a periscope. "They're moving out and securing a beachhead."
"A few spells from above. No major attacks yet. The way's clear to the drainage tunnels."
"One hundred meters," the wizard reported.
"Alright, places everyone!" the Section Leader said. "Move as soon as the door opens. We've got a clear path now, but we'll need to get to cover fast."
"Everybody ready…" Moments later, the vehicle hit the rocky shore, and the door slammed open.
You-Know-Who's "army", more thugs and mercenaries than true believers and having lost a majority of its elite fighters in the fighting over the past few days, was outnumbered five-to-one. But they also had Instant Death Curses that could kill a lot more easily than a rifle, at least at close range, and Exploding Curses that could fire a lot faster than RPGs. They also had the fortified high ground…and they were learning. The Spartans had inflicted fifty-to-one casualties against the Persians through superior battle tactics, as had been made abundantly clear to the attacking soldiers so that they would remember they couldn't afford to be sloppy.
Booms rang out around Bravo Company as they stormed the underbelly of the castle. Like the beaches at Normandy, the muggles went down fast, but they took more than a few Death Eaters with them by firing RPGs up at the windows they were casting from. More distant thumps transmitted through the ground—they would later learn from the other teams blasting their way through the sealed "secret" passages.
It was breeching the secret passages, which the Death Eaters weren't prepared for, plus having battle mages on their side that made the difference. If it had been an all-muggle force fighting a magical army that had thought about and trained in fighting the muggle Army, they probably would have needed at least an entire tank battalion and maybe even aerial carpet bombing to do this.
The two key sections made their way to the drainage tunnels as the others provided cover fire. From there, it was easy. The Death Eaters hadn't secured this part of the castle well and would take time to get reinforcements there. Better yet, the basilisk could only fit through pipes that were nearly as tall as a man (why the castle's plumbing system was built that way was anyone's guess), so it was easy to tell which way to go. With Snape's and Potter's instructions, they soon made it to the Chamber of Secrets. A recording of Harry speaking the Parseltongue password was played over the mirror to open the Chamber. They had taken the opportunity to test the system on the locket just before it was thrown through the Veil, so they were sure it would work. They grabbed hold of some basilisk fangs, fixing them to their rifles with modified bayonet mounts, then found the shaft up to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom and scaled it with broomsticks and levitation spells and joined the fight.
Charlie Company ultimately hard the hardest job in this battle. Storming in as a mechanised unit, they found themselves assailed by dark creatures streaming from the Forbidden Forest on their left long before they reached the castle. There were enormous spiders the size of horses, brainless-looking lumps that fit the briefing description of trolls, feral-looking humans who were probably untransformed werewolves, and worst of all, giants. They'd been briefed on giants, but they'd hoped they were just rumours. There hadn't been any confirmed reports of them at Hogwarts, but there were half a dozen fighting for You-Know-Who, and one giant was worth at least a dozen wizards.
Or rather, they were until an RPG hit the lead giant with the goblin-forged helmet square in the chest. In muggle wars, RPGs were anti-tank weapons designed to punch through twelve inches of solid steel. Golgomath fell over dead with a huge hole in his chest. At the sight of it, the other giants turned and ran, fighting their way through the spiders with their clubs, completely demoralised.
The spiders and trolls were, with some difficulty, dispatched by .50-calibre machine gun fire.
"Why didn't we just bring the giant bloody can of Raid?" the captain said.
The East face of Hogwarts castle was being heavily shelled by the artillery, caving in all the upper-level windows where Death Eaters were defending as Alpha Company rolled up. The castle wards were strong, but they had been designed in the days of catapults, and the Death Eaters hadn't had time to reinforce them enough to stand up to modern weaponry. You-Know-Who himself knew quite a bit about muggle military weapons, but his knowledge came from World War II and was all secondhand, so even he was a little out of date.
Under spellfire, Alpha Company rolled up to the castle walls at top speed. There were a lot more doors into the East Wing than the West Wing, so it was an ideal position for a superior force to surround and enter from all sides. Striking hard and fast, the soldiers entered through the greenhouses, the training grounds, the library wing, and others entrances and began sweeping both up and down from the ground floor to neutralise all hostiles and free the hostages—the teachers who had been in the building when You-Know-Who moved in. Colonel Stewart was watching personally on Potter's magic map to make sure they didn't miss anyone. Once they had the East Wing secured, they would cross the bridges to the West Wing and join the rest of the SARR in fighting You-Know-Who himself where he held court in the Great Hall.
"Fourth floor clear," Stewart told Captain Yates over his magic mirror. He still couldn't get over how weird this was, but he stuck to the mission. "Fifth floor clear." There was a sound of flipping through pages. "Get more men on the seventh floor. We've got six hostiles following the Horcrux Section there."
"Yes, ma'am. Seventh floor now!" He yelled to his section. "They need backup there." The Captain led his men up the stairs where they found the Horcrux Section pinned down by a gang of Death Eaters. They were already down from nine men to seven. They must have encountered some fighting on the way up. But the wizards couldn't stand up to a crossfire of better trained soldiers with faster weapons, and the six Death Eaters fell in under a minute.
"Much obliged, Captain," the Section Leader said with a salute.
"Did you get the artifact, Section Leader?"
"Not yet, sir. We were just opening the door." He motioned to one of his men, who walked back and forth down a stretch of corridor three times, revealing a door. Captain Yates stared when it was opened.
"What was it they say?" he said. "Merlin's beard!"
Colonel Stewart's voice sounded again in stereo from the two men's mirrors: "Yates, gather your men and head to the bridges. The East Wing should be clear by the then you get there. Horcrux Section, finish the job, then follow them to look for the snake."
Yates and his section left while the Horcrux Section entered the Room of Requirement. It was huge; it was a total mess; and it had a frightening amount of dangerous looking magical junk in it. However, with Granger and Weasley helping direct them, they spread out and soon found the diadem on a bust on top of a cabinet, right where Potter said it would be.
"Best not to touch it," Granger said in the mirror. "Stab it before it does anything."
One of the soldiers knocked the bust off the cabinet with his fang-bayonet, letting the diadem roll on the floor. It stopped before the feet of one of the others.
"Stab it, private," the Section Leader said.
The private raised his rifle to stab downward, but he hesitated and started to sweat.
"Is there a problem?" the Section Leader barked.
"It's…it's talking to me, Corporal."
"Ignore it and stab it now. That's an order." He didn't want to take any chances with this kind of black magic.
The private still hesitated, his hands starting to tremble. That was a bad sign. "I…" he started to say.
"Stab the damn jewelry, private!"
The man lunged down and drove the point of the basilisk fang into the centre jewel of Ravenclaw's diadem. Suddenly, a cloud of smoke burst from in it and swirled around the soldiers until it whipped into a miniature hurricane. There was a creaking, followed by a crash, and centuries' worth of furniture came tumbling down on top of them.
Ron and Hermione winced when they heard the crash and the screams. The Section Leader's mirror shattered, turning the image into a dark spiderweb of cracks and disjointed images, but the sound still came through with the collapsing furniture and the soldiers trying to stay on top of it.
"Section Leader?" Colonel Stewart said when it became relatively quiet. "Section Leader, report!"
"We're—ugh—alive, ma'am," the Section Leader groaned, and Stewart sighed with relief. "We destroyed the horcrux. Brought the place down on us though. Smith and Dobbs are hurt pretty bad, and it's lucky Taylor was wearing a flak jacket, or she'd have taken a fang to the gut."
"Alright, get out of there," Stewart ordered. "Send two men to take your fangs to Alpha Company, then retreat to the nearest safe point."
"Yes, ma'am," he groaned.
"Croaker, what's the status on Potter?" she called.
There was no answer for a minute. Ron and Hermione clutched each other's hands for support.
"Croaker?" she demanded.
"Here!" the Unspeakable called. "Sorry. I was having an argument with the doctors over whether to use Skele-Gro to fix his head. The operation was a success. We got the horcrux out and we threw it through the Veil. It's gone."
"Good," she said. "All units! You are cleared to engage the primary targets. Repeat: engage primary targets. Remember, we have to get the snake first. Let's finish this."
"How's Harry, Mr. Croaker?" Hermione asked worriedly.
"He should recover fine if I can convince them not to put that plate in his head," Croaker replied. "It's a good thing I learnt the procedure, though. The horcrux influenced the surgeon more than we thought. He nearly killed Potter twice by cutting in the wrong place. I had to convince him to take a consensual Imperius to get him through it."
"You can do that?" Ron said.
"In an emergency, yes. The bottom line is, you're friend's going to be fine, kid. Now we just have to take down You-Know-Who."
The Great Hall was more of a classic head-on assault, given that it had only one easily-accessible entrance. Charlie and Delta Companies had forced the Death Eaters back from where they had entered the castle, pushing the remaining group of less than a hundred to barricade themselves in the Great Hall while the better part of a thousand muggle soldiers and battle mages had to plough in like a Roman phalanx. The Chamber Section and the runners from Alpha Company had moved up near the front to attack the snake-horcrux that intelligence said was in there with them. When the order came to engage all targets, the soldiers took their places and threw two hand grenades against the barricaded doors.
The doors blasted inward, and the soldiers in the front ranks ran forward, guns blazing, and the battle mages and liberated teachers followed up with all the curses they could think of. The remaining Death Eaters, including all that was left of the inner circle, didn't hold back, casting almost entirely Instant Death Curses, dropping soldiers' bodies in heaps near the entrance. But the Death Eaters couldn't dodge and couldn't conjure solid enough shields fast enough to escape the hail of lead and spellfire, especially in such a confined space, and they fell just as fast. On the scale of a castle, they could have mounted a nigh-impenetrable defence, but in this glorified kill box, they didn't stand a chance.
The noise was deafening, so that no one could here each other shouting. The House Tables and High Table were used as barricades and promptly shredded by bullets. The torches were shot from their brackets. Floating candles fell from the air, lighting the rubble on fire. Voldemort stood at the centre of the High Table, casting curses as fast as he could and shielding anything that came his way. Unfortunately, he didn't send Nagini to the front lines, despite believing her to be invulnerable, but kept her in reserve.
The casualties inflicted were almost one to one in the Great Hall. By the standards of modern muggle militaries, that was still a devastating blow to the SARR. They lost close ten percent of their numbers in the few days of fighting (though the enemy lost three times that in absolute numbers). That was the level of damage wizards could do if they really pulled out all the stops. The SARR just couldn't carry enough physical shielding to block that many Unforgivable Curses. God forbid, if they ever needed to do this again, they would be more prepared, but the Prime Minister fully intended them to work with the wizards from now on to prevent things from getting this bad again.
When the Death Eaters were beaten back to a dozen or so, and bodies littered the floor of the entire Great Hall, Voldemort finally sent out Nagini. Immediately, every soldier who had a basilisk fang pounced on her with another dense knot of soldiers providing cover fire. Voldemort realised only too late what they were doing. Nagini got a few bites in, but even she wasn't fast enough to stand up to such superior numbers.
The fighting intensified still further after that as the soldiers turned their rifles on Voldemort himself. The Death Eaters melted as they were overwhelmed by the seeming endless tide of muggles with machine guns until only the Dark Lord himself was still standing. He must have killed a dozen from behind his heavy shield before they took him down, but even he couldn't hold out forever. Over the sound of sustained gunfire, they could just hear him shout, "No! No! This isn't possible! I am invinci—"
An RPG blasted through Voldemort's shield like tissue, and the continued machine gun fire turned him into swiss cheese before he could get off another spell. Voldemort's body seemed to drop in slow motion, and moments later, an ear-ringing silence fell in the Great Hall.
"Colonel Stewart, this is Captain Yates," Alpha Company's leader called it in. "All targets neutralised. Repeat: all targets neutralised. It's over."
Kate Stewart leaned back in her seat wearily, releasing the tension that she had built up over the past days. Ron and Hermione looked at each other and realised they'd been holding onto each other for dear life the entire time as they'd recoiled in horror as the sounds of gunshots went on and on in the mirrors. They paused for a beat and then kissed heatedly.
Stewart didn't seem to notice, being more preoccupied with her soldiers. She didn't know how many had died, but she could guess it was a lot, especially for a single regiment and a single operation. They'd have a lot to deal with soon, but all she could say in that moment was, "Good job, everyone. Mission accomplished."