Antilitigation Charm: Harry Potter and his world all belong to JK Rowling. The original characters and plot are my own. No money will be made from this work.
Thanks to Coromandel for keeping my on track, and being the best beta-brit picker a Yankee could wish for.
Please note that this chapter is slightly out of step with the others, switching back to the world outside of Hogwarts and the night before.
13 November, 1976. Wales.
The approach to Donn'hywel Castle is steep as the keep proper is situated high on a hill overlooking the River Dee. Grown over with thorny brambles, the ill-kept path was narrow, and as he shuffled along, Jugson felt certain that the cursed plants were out for a taste of his blood. After a quick glance over his shoulder confirmed that he was past the crumbling outside walls of the estate, he twitched out his wand, causing it to erupt in wavering flame. As he suspected, the thorny vines did retract from the path, but the light also brought odd shadows into starker contrast. The feeling of being followed and watched by something hidden was intense. Or several somethings. Well, he likely could handle whatever it might be.
Pulling his cloak tighter about his neck, he wrenched his eyes away from the suspicious shadows and walked up to the postern gate where he had been instructed to present himself. This aspect of the castle would have afforded a view of the extensive grounds that poured out below, transitioning to the wood that was home to many a ghastly creature. Thankful for the magical fortifications as well as the material ones, he knocked on the thick door, calling out, "I bring news, I am expected."
A cold wind picked up as he stood there under the clear night sky, blowing his flame sideways. Keeping it firmly in his will, he forbade it to burn him.
With a crack an elderly house elf appeared, perched on a stone ledge situated directly overhead. "State yer name, Wizard."
Jugson sighed, "You know me, Rook. Let me in before I catch a curse. Its bloody dangerous out here."
The house elf stared down at him, its huge black eyes glinting malevolently. "Master's brought new guard dogs. Mayhap you'd like to see them, if you's in such a disagreeable mood." He hummed, "Oh yes. I see two of them out there now."
Turning, placing his back to the door, Jugson snarled at the elf. "Jugson. It's Jugson. Let me in. Now."
Ears pricking up, Rook watched the darkness for another long moment before muttering, "I told the Masters that those undying wolves were not hungry enough. Should have been on you long before this, if they were proper guard dogs. Good thing you weren't injured, Master Jugson." He winked out of existence.
Jugson could see the form of the creatures waiting behind him in the dark now. They were unnaturally large, and they now stood, heads down as if following a trail. Both heads came up, and now Jugson could make out that one was missing an eye and t'other had a deep rent in its shoulder. His palms started to sweat in response to the revelation. These were inferi. As the door behind him unlocked and swung back, he stumbled backwards with a poorly swallowed shout of fright and his wandlight died.
Rook pushed the door firmly shut, allowing the bar to fall down, locking out the aberrations. The elf cackled lowly, the sound echoing across the bailey back to them. "Come. Masters are expecting you."
Jugson shakily rose to his feet, dusting off his travelling clothes. Finding that Rook was waiting for him, he growled. "Was that your idea of a jest?"
Making no effort to hide his amusement, the elf flapped his ears. "No, sir. Was Master Rodolphus' idea. I am but a loyal servant to House Lestrange." He lowered his voice a fraction, "But if I was you, I'd not suggest it to be funny, sir. He might not see it that way, see?"
Gesturing with force, the wizard pointed toward the door they were approaching. "I'm to enter this way, am I?" He bristled at being brought in through the kitchens.
Rook turned and walked backwards, still leading the bald wizard on. "We are all His servants, sir. It gives my blackened heart joy to do as he bids, and it would do you well to remember your place." He stopped, staring up at him, "Exert your mind and will to his whims, lest his attention fall on you, Master."
The door behind them opened, bleeding faint smoky light onto the cobblestones behind Rook. "You will find what you need. When you are ready, knock and I will guide you the rest of the way." The elf disappeared, leaving nothing for Jugson to do but to slip inside.
There he found the vast empty kitchen of what had once been an important fortress, capable of feeding hundreds with ease. A fire was laid in one of the lesser hearths, its coals burning low but hot. The grate was an ornate work done in black iron, made to resemble salamanders curling about one another. Obscured by a mountain of fine ash, its beauty alluded Jugson who was focused on the robes and mask left out for him. Quickly he pulled off his travelling cloak and pulled the heavy black ceremonial robes over his head. As he put the silver mask to his face, a thought occurred to him. One that chilled him to the bone.
He lifted his hand and knocked once at the nearby door and it swung open for him. A red roll of carpet sat in the passageway in front of him. Rook spoke at his side, causing Jugson to jump. "Kick the carpet and it will lead you to the audience chamber, Master." The elf bowed low, its ears brushing the ground nearby.
"You won't be coming along, then?"
The elf violently shook its head. "The Dark Lord finds elves offensive, Master."
Jugson laughed uneasily at that, "Of course he would. Right. Off I go." With that, he nudged the roll and it unfurled in front of him, and unfurled, and unfurled… it continued to do so out of easy sight. Taking a deep breath, Jugson stepped onto the plush pile, wishing it didn't put him in mind of a river of blood. As he stepped forward, he had the sensation of having moved much further than one step ought to take one. The breeze of his own movement threatened to blow back the hood that he had pulled up to hide his bald pate. Two steps and he was well away from the kitchens and the carpet led him up a steadily widening passage, then a narrow stair, which let out into a wide black marble foyer. He hardly had time to appreciate the place as he felt the rug under him tug him in encouragement onwards.
One more step and he found himself standing in the open doorway of a large receiving room. There at the back were velvet hangings above a dais. On the dais were two chairs. Seated in a pose of supreme ease was the Dark Lord himself. Jugson broke out in a cold sweat, fear stealing his resolve for a fleeting moment before he recalled his mission and stepped into the hall. The carpet did not extend into this room, and the change in speed of movement was disorienting, as though the floor slowed down abruptly.
He could make out the figure of Lord Rodolphus Lestrange seated at the Dark Lord's right hand, and the figure of Lady Lestrange seated primly down below. A roaring fire was laid into the hearth, and compared to outside and the lower halls, the room was sweltering.
Jugson hurried up to the foot of the dais, not quite even with Lady Lestrange and threw himself down on one knee, his right arm sweeping down before him in a gesture of profound respect, his left behind him in correct courtly form. "My Lord."
Standing in the shadows, cloaked and masked, Augustus Rookwood, the Spymaster of the Knights of Walpurgis, stood listening as the nervous Jugson reported. The man was intelligent and detail oriented, much more so than the average thug, but he lacked patience and tended to shoot from the hip. As such, he had failed to rise higher in the ranks so far. Still there seemed to be potential yet untapped. He made a mental note to consider further training.
It had been Rabastan's idea to have him stationed at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, as it was an ideal place to observe the comings and goings of many people. They had tried to place a man in the Leaky Cauldron, but Tad Abbott, the man currently running the show there hadn't been willing to hire the man they had sent. There was talk of finding a suitable wench to do the same spy work, but witches who were interested in their cause felt the work beneath them on review, so that part of the operation was stymied. He'd been looking into helping a cousin of the Dolohovs' emigrate for this purpose, but again there was no guarantee that once she showed up that Tad would give her the work.
Thus far, Jugson had decanted a list of names of people he had glimpsed entering and exiting the back room of the Three Broomsticks, which had been reserved for a private affair earlier this night. Albus Dumbledore, Whittington Nott, and Conrad Rolle had been clearly identified leaving together, which told them little more than they already knew.
Albus Dumbledore was the biggest potential threat to their whole operation, a hero well respected throughout the wizarding world for putting a stop to the atrocities of three decades past inflicted on the wizarding world by Gellert Grindlewald.
Sir Whittington Nott was also a decorated war hero who had spent much more time on the front lines. Augustus had obtained his dossier from his contact on the Board of Governors and had looked into his official public records at the Ministry. His medical records revealed that he was out on leave at least twice in 1939-1945, and he earned an Order of Merlin, Second Class. He was inducted as a Knight Companion into the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath from the Queen for the public aspects of his work. According to Nott Senior, his uncle and one of their own, it was rumoured in the family that he was instrumental in persuading Dumbledore to face Grindelwald in the final duel in 1945, but when asked outright over tea, he had replied that he was merely responsible for getting Dumbledore to the necessary place. Nott wasn't sure what to make of his nephew - the lad was brilliant but very wild, and had never shown any sign of settling down. He had a younger brother who was much more likely to live long enough to inherit the family seat.
In 1953, Sir Whittington retired from his position in the Ministry to pursue cursebreaking. It was a second wave in the golden age of archeological discoveries being made by Muggles, and having posed as a Muggle before, he was able to insinuate himself into the most successful British and American outfits, well positioned to study and divert them away from discoveries of magical importance. He recently resigned, presumably to pursue this position as a teacher. It seemed to be a rather large change.
The last wizard on the short list was Conrad Rolle, a minor Muggleborn wizard whose family were landed gentry. There was a thin file on this man, indicating that he had been an Arithmantic analyst for the British Ministry, however his birth status had seriously hindered his ability to progress beyond a low level position in spite of his aptitude. After a particularly useful presentation describing predictions of Giant movements and likely points of attack, the French Foreign Minister requested that he be exchanged as part of a cooperative effort between the two governments. The British received a supercilious, useless pureblooded witch who had claimed status as a Seeress, and the French a highly capable, albeit Muggleborn, Arithmantist. Rookwood found him detestable, but did not underestimate the meaning of his presence on the staff at Hogwarts. Dumbledore was assembling a team, one meant to oppose Lord Voldemort.
"Did you manage to find out what they were discussing?" Rodolphus' voice was flat, sneering.
Jugson ducked his head down, his nasal tenor a contrast to the senior Lestrange. "No, sir. They had strict instructions and the door was warded from the inside. I did try to listen at the fire, but I was interrupted."
Fire-listening was a well kept secret within the Ministry of Magic. If there was a fire in a hearth that had been connected to the Floo network, just as it could be used to travel and communicate, it could also be used to listen. It took a good deal of concentration to pull it off without melting your eardrums. Jugson's lack of hair was an advantage there.
Lady Lestrange wheedled sweetly, "Surely you heard something, Mr Jugson. You are so dedicated, I know…" She looked up at him from under her lashes and smiled winsomely, "Surely you heard a scrap? Names? Anything at all?"
Jugson's shoulders hunched and he stammered, "Hard pressed to say with absolute certainty, M'Lady."
Rodolphus leaned forwards, mouth drawn back in a grimace as he hissed out, "Think. Harder."
The whole host stopped breathing and trained their attention on the figure sitting next to Lord Lestrange, who had been still until this moment. He leaned forward, watching Jugson intensely, "Where are your manners, Lord and Lady Lestrange? Our brother has travelled far and fast this night to bring us this news." The Dark Lord himself spoke, even the stone listened.
Lady Lestrange took out her wand. "Of course my Lord." With a twitch she summoned a chair, highbacked and straight with arms upon it. She stood up, gesturing for the cowering Death Eater to rise and take a seat, smiling for all of the world as though he were among friends.
It wasn't until Bellatrix reached down and pulled at Jugson's elbow with a falsely jovial, "Up you go, there now. Much better." She surveyed the man, thinking for a moment before summoning a low metal brazier over and setting it to Jugson's side.
Rookwood suppressed a groan as she used magic to light the thing. Did she suppose that she would be allowed to practice her twisted hobbies on his agent? Surely not.
The Dark Lord watched the proceedings with a cordial smile fixed in place, his red eyes glittering. Rookwood had seen pictures of the Dark Lord from his school days, having looked into his official files at the Ministry out of curiosity. Once he was a well turned out lad with dark wavy locks and bright eyes. He was a natural leader, and that skill had developed further as his influence expanded. He was persuasive and passionate in his beliefs. He had travelled the world extensively, researching magics considered Dark at best by the narrow minded elders who cared nothing for more than maintaining the status quo.
His physical body had changed in strange ways that Rookwood found fascinating. The Dark Lord had never confided in him the source of power that lent him what he claimed as everlasting life, but anyone with eyes to see had to notice the unnatural pallor to the wizard's skin. It was ethereal, nearly translucent. His dark waves of hair were now shocks of pure white, his eyebrows the same. His eyes were no longer brown, having transformed to blood red, his pupils vertical slits which suggested that he was no longer wholly human. His hands had remained strong but the fingernails were elongated and translucent, reminiscent of claws. His nose had flattened, as though it were a tire that needed more air. Today he wore finely tailored full length silk robes, black with Slytherin green woven in, only visible with direct light. They were high collared, lending the impression of the clergy. Over it he wore a rich black velvet vestcloak, and upon his index finger sat a heavy gold ring inset with a large onyx, cut into an octahedron and suspended by its points.
For years Lord Voldemort would not show his face to his followers, insisting on always wearing a mask. He had not declared his claim as the Dark Lord, nor his intention to free the magical world from its own fetters until about five years ago. The mask came off, and he moved openly, always surrounded by his faceless but fanatically devoted knights.
It was a particular show of mutual trust and support for the Lestranges to be allowed to attend meetings maskless, but then their father, Ramses, had been the Dark Lord's most trusted confidante and advisor. Rookwood had never seen the Dark Lord in such a towering rage as the night that Ramses was picked off by a lucky shot leveled by one of the Ministry's Junior Aurors.
Ramses had been a stabilising influence, counselling patience and encouraging the charismatic leader to conserve magical blood wherever possible. While he agreed that it was The Purists right as the elite to lead and protect the world, he pointed out that it would take every magical body to properly control the Muggle populace and mould the lesser race into obliging servitors with the Magical World as rulers and protectors.
All of that restraint burned away in the mad grief that followed, and now no-one with magical blood was untouchable. If the Dark Lord ordered it, they were to be wiped from existence.
The bright flaring of the fire within the brazier brought Rookwood's attention back to the present and his poor subordinate. The man's fists were clenched on his knees, his knuckles as white as the Dark Lord himself. It was not pity but an eye to economy that moved him out of the shadows, bowing to the white marble wizard on the dais. "My Lord, if I may?"
Terrible and fascinating, those ruby eyes shifted down to regard him. He met the Dark Lord's glance head on, and felt that odd dizzying sensation that told him the wizard had looked into his mind. Moments later Voldemort inclined his head in permission to his Spymaster.
He straightened and turned to gaze at Bellatrix, finding that she had fixated on the Dark Lord and was standing, lips parted in ardent fascination. He spoke loudly, enunciating clearly, "Lady Lestrange, I'd like a quiet word with Jugson here, if you would excuse us."
It was an uncomfortable silence that extended too long before the witch understood what he was asking. A flash of irritation was clearly visible in her expression as she turned to walk back to her own chair.
Rookwood took this opportunity to step over to his agent, his voice dropped low. "I think it would behoove us to take this out of your hands for a short span. If you will permit me?"
The man's dark eyes closed for a moment before he gave a curt nod, appending it with, "If you would do it, sir."
Rookwood reached out and grasped the man's black wool clad shoulder, murmuring, "You have my assurances of good faith, Jugson." His hand spasmed in a gesture of support before he went on, "Look at me."
Scared, barely trusting, Jugson opened his eyes and met the gaze of the Spymaster whose wand was at the ready. "Imperio!"
Rookwood maintained physical contact with Jugson, feeling his shoulder relax under the influence of his magic, murmuring to him, "It would please me if you were to resume your report, starting with at what time and where you attempted to Fire-listen. I want every detail that you can remember."
"I was in the kitchen, the only other fire in the whole place, see. I added the powder you gave me, and called up the back parlour as it is called." He cleared his throat. "They was discussing helping Lydia Rolfe's family. Collecting money and clothes, seeing as we burned down their dirty nest t'other night."
It was gratifying to hear the man anxious to please. "Very good, Jugson. Go on."
"It was Albus Dumbledore speaking, he must have been standing near the fire. Anycase, somebody, Slughorn I think, said something about a favoured student of his being Muggleborn, but the Headmaster cut him off rather sharply, saying that they don't discuss such things in public." He hastened onwards, "I could tell someone was talking, but it was impossible to make out what they was saying. Then a different voice, a woman's voice gabbled on at the Headmaster, and she sounded like she was making demands. Very cross with Dumbledore she was, but then the daft man turns about and starts talking about old Nobby Leach dying."
Rookwood had a sinking feeling... "And?" He could see sincere regret in Jugson's eyes as he answered.
"That's when Rosmerta stuck her head back, yelling for me to put in seven pork pies and three orders of chips and I lost the fire connection. Had to get back to work see, didn't want her to suspect what I was up to, but by the time I got free again, I could hear several disapparate, and I nicked out to the alley and that was when I saw Albus Dumbledore, Whittington Nott, and Conrad Rolle all speeding away on broomsticks."
He blinked rapidly. "I think that Nott fellow knew I was there but I don't think he seen me."
The Spymaster allowed some warmth to leech into his tone, letting his agent know that he was reasonably happy with his performance. "Let us hope not. Now, did you notice who else might have attended that meeting? Did you see anyone arrive?"
The man nodded emphatically, "Yes sir, I did."
Merlin save him from literal people. "And who might that be, Jugson?"
"I saw Griselda Marchbanks totter in. Didn't see her leave, though. And there was old Lady Longbottom with her. That's all, sir."
Rookwood turned to regard his Lord, "I am satisfied. The three wizards leaving together was indeed the most significant piece of information to be had and he reported that on his own." He felt Jugson nodding agreement silently at his side.
Lord Voldemort intoned, "We shall discuss further. You have pleased me, Jugson. Rodolphus, Bellatrix, I think that Jugson here is tired?"
Rookwood let go of Jugson's shoulder, cancelling the Imperius Curse. The change in demeanour was immediate, the man sagged back into the chair. He had the wild-eyed look of an alley cat who just narrowly escaped a demented six year old who wanted him to give him a bath.
Bellatrix rose, sensible to her duty as Lady and hostess. "But of course, my Lord. Brother, I'll show you to your chambers. This way, please." She curtsied to her Lord, waiting impassively as Jugson got shakily to his feet, bowed deeply and then scurried away, following her out at a hurried pace.
After both were out of the hall, Rookwood turned back to the Lords. "Odder Fellows. I am certain that was a meeting of the Odder Fellows, a group dedicated to fellowship among wizarding kind and charity work. They've been around for centuries."
Lord Voldemort and Rodolphus met this news with blank looks. Rodolphus challenged this statement, "Charity work? Whatever for?"
Rookwood cleared his throat before answering, "From what I understand, it gives them something to do, occupies their minds with clothing drives and fundraisers. Knitting caps for orphans. That sort of thing. Many of the great Ladies are members. The more liberal leaning ones, mind you. I believe Dumbledore's been a member for decades."
The Dark Lord waved his hand at this. "So, what do we know? Dumbledore met with a group of bleeding heart fuddy-duddies, and brought two wizards of interest with him." His expression sharpened. "Bring Nott in. Let's find out more about his wayward nephew. Perhaps he could be persuaded to see reason."
"Of course, my Lord. It will be done directly." Rookwood bowed deeply before turning on the spot, disappearing with the tell tale crack of disapparation.
Folks, with that I am on a brief hiatus. I have been slammed in real-life work and studying for the test that makes it possible for me to continue to work. This story is not abandoned. I will be applying time and energy into plotting and shaping this monster towards the end of a cohesive book and the beginnings of the next. I'd liked to express a warm thanks to readers like you! I deeply appreciate the support you have shown me over the past four and a half months.