Content Warning: Character Death

Chapter 55: Betrayals and Sacrifices

May 23rd, 1998

Harry held the long awaited meeting in the Shrieking Shack late in May. Of course, he was there, along with Hermione, Ginny, Daphne, Blaise, Tracey, Ron, Neville, Ernie, Justin, Susan, Padma, Sue Li, Sirius and Bill. From the outside, Dumbledore, Amelia, Krum, and Gustav came.

"I am holding Umbridge in check," said Amelia, "Her magical Security Force doesn't have the numbers or training my people do, but I can't one hundred percent count on all of them. There are still a few Scrimgeour loyalists in the Aurors. Still, I think we'd win if we had to fight, though it would leave us vulnerable for a while."

"We don't want that confrontation while Riddle is still alive," said Ginny, "we either need to deal with them quietly and without fuss or we need to take down Riddle first."

"Tom Riddle is without a doubt the greatest threat," said Dumbledore, "but he is still protected by a horcrux. He cannot be killed."

"If we could lure Voldemort out we might have a chance," said Ron, "Sure, he probably keeps a close eye on Nagini at Malfoy Manor. But if we can lure him out, Harry could easily break in with Dobby's help and kill the snake."

"What if he takes the snake with him?" asked Bill.

"Even easier," said Ginny, "If Harry shows up Riddle will send Nagini somewhere 'safe' while he fights him. Then I sneak up from behind and destroy the last horcrux."

"He'll probably keep Nagini with him," said Harry, "he's vain enough to believe he can protect her, even in a pitched battle."

"So how do we lure him out?" asked Sirius.

"There is one way to lure him out that is guaranteed to work," said Blaise.

"Oh?" asked Dumbledore.

"Who is providing the bulk of his forces?" asked Blaise, "Either by using the criminals under her command or getting criminals from other countries, my mother is what is keeping the Death Eaters afloat. If we kidnap her, all that goes away within a matter of a few weeks. He will come after her almost immediately, if we publicise our location."

"That might work," said Amelia, "and of course we'd lay a trap for him. But will he see the trap?"

"He might suspect a trap," said Hermione, "but he is under the impression that we think all his horcruxes are gone. He won't think we're after Nagini."

"He'll try to spring the trap," said Harry, "and there are things we can do to make it look like we're desperate."

"But where do we take Madame Zabini?" asked Ernie, "Where could we lure them?"

"Hogwarts," said Sue Li and Susan Bones at the same time.

"We cannot place the students in danger," said Dumbledore adamantly.

"That's why we do it after school is out!" said Bill, suddenly understanding.

"It's the most defensible location in Magical Britain," agreed Ron, "Voldemort will believe that Hogwarts is the trap."

"But can we find Madame Zabini?" asked Krum.

"Yes," said Blaise, "we can. I can find her,"

"You sure, Blaise?" asked Daphne.

Blaise nodded.

"Are there any objections then?" asked Daphne.

Everyone shook their heads. Harry looked at Ginny, who nodded at him, and then Hermione, who just shrugged.

"That's the plan then," said Harry, "we'll take down Voldemort first, using Madame Zabini, then we'll deal with the Wizengamot."

"Oh!" said Padma suddenly, "there is one other thing we have to do!"

"What?" asked Hermione.

"We need to convince McGonagall to let us use Hogwarts," said Padma sheepishly.

A slow titter seemed to spread across the room, and soon enough everyone had started laughing. That was probably going to be the hardest part of all.

XXXXX

Narcissa had to admit that she preferred being tortured by Voldemort to having sex with him. He wasn't exactly a gentle lover, and when she was being tortured at least all her loathing was directed at him alone. Plus there was no real affection from him, she was just a glorified bed warmer as far as he was concerned. Her relationship with Lucius had hardly been passionate by any means, but it was downright sappy compared to this horror.

But that made her job easier. A talented Legilimens might meld minds with someone they were being intimate with. There was no intimacy between them. So there was no mind reading. Even better, Narcissa realized that much of his previous skill in legilimency was now lost to him. Whatever losing all those horcruxes had done to him, it was inhibiting his ability to use legilimency. Narcissa's not inconsiderable skill with Occlumency was more than enough to completely keep him out. And he didn't even realize it.

And it wasn't just Legilimency. His entire sense of the appropriate seemed to be gone. Anything that struck him as amusing or fun would now get you in his favor. He was still clever, but his unstable emotions were now in the driver's seat. Again, Narcissa blamed this on the destroyed horcruxes.

And so, she finally made her move, confident that Voldemort was no longer able to figure out what she was doing. She had just finished having sex with Voldemort and was acting very satisfied. Nagini was slithering around somewhere. A very clever way to make sure she wasn't trying anything.

"Mmm," she said, "Too bad that you are going to have to take the field soon."

"Only I will be able to deal with Potter and his women," said Voldemort. That was a cute conceit of Voldemort's, that the Weasley girl was also Potter's lover. Voldemort would probably have insisted on it if he was in Potter's place. It was positively deluded.

"Of course," said Narcissa, "What do you plan to do with Nagini?"

Voldemort seemed to freeze. "What do you mean?" he asked dangerously.

"What I mean is that ever since Harry destroyed your second-to-last horcrux, you've barely let her out of your sight," said Narcissa, "It's obvious to everyone in your inner circle that she's your final horcrux. So how do you plan to protect her when you leave?"

"Are you saying that your manor is not secure?" asked Voldemort, his voice still on the verge of murder.

"With you gone? Yes. My house is not safe if you are not here," said Narcissa, "remember, everything Dobby knows about this house, Potter knows. He could easily try to lure you out and attack your main base."

"Potter does not know I have another Horcrux," said Voldemort.

"And when he tries to kill your snake and he can't?" asked Narcissa, "I think he'll investigate, don't you? And with you not around who would stop him? He'd be able to recognize it close up, wouldn't he?"

Voldemort hissed. "A good point," he said.

"Let's face it," said Narcissa, "you are the only person who can protect Nagini."

Voldemort seemed to nod thoughtfully.

Narcissa smiled. It was all worth it, because she had just managed to convince Voldemort to expose his one weakness to Harry Potter. She hoped Nott had told Harry what she had told him, that Nagini is a horcrux. If he had, Voldemort's days were numbered.

XXXXX

Bryant Greengrass leaned back in Augusta Longbottom's sitting room. The food she had served had been very good, but so far she had declined to tell him what this was all about. He suspected she was unhappy about Umbridge. Well Bryant was unhappy about Umbridge. She had gone too far, especially with the Magical Security Force and the ban on muggleborns in the Ministry. Luckily the Wizengamot would be meeting at the end of the month. Umbridge had apparently found what she needed to convince the Wizengamot to ignore precedent and elect a pliable Minister as well as suitable new members for the Wizengamot.

Augusta walked back into the room. She had a bit of a limp, which apparently would be permanent. It was a miracle she'd survived. Bryant simply couldn't see the Wizengamot without her.

"I will cut right through the bullshit," said Augusta, "Prior to returning to government service last year, Dolores Umbridge was recruited as a Death Eater by Theodore Nott."

Bryant's stomach was suddenly very queasy. "Are you sure?" he asked, knowing it was probably futile.

"Nott Jr. confirmed it," Augusta said simply, "he's Potter's spy in the Death Eaters. Well he was. Potter considers it too dangerous to allow him to go back. When Harry mobilizes the Army of the Triumvirate at the end of the school year, he'll be with them."

"This means…" started Bryant, but Augusta interrupted him.

"It means that Dolores' takeover at the Ministry was a coup, and you, as well as what remains of the Wizengamot helped her," said Augusta.

No wonder Daphne and Astoria wanted nothing to do with him! Bryant had been well and truly played. And in doing so, he'd implicated the entire Wizengamot.

"Wha… does this mean that Potter… is he going to move against Umbridge?" he asked.

"I don't know his exact plans," said Augusta, "but you understand what this means right? What he has to do now?"

And Bryant nodded. Every member of the Wizengamot was complicit in this solely on the basis of the fact that they had not called themselves back into session. Which meant they'd have to be removed. This was all his fault.

"Potter didn't want me to tell you," said Augusta, "and he's smart not to. You betrayed him. But I know you would never do something that would put your daughters at risk. And if this fails, it's life in Azkaban for them."

"Potter has my support," said Greengrass. All thoughts of becoming Minister were now gone. He'd been stupid to trust Umbridge, and he'd only done so because of his stupid stubborn pride.

"Good," said Augusta, "Here's what we need to do…"

XXXXX

May 24th, 1997

The day before N.E. started, Harry was still upset with Augusta. She'd been specifically told not to include him. Bryant had put a Death Eater in power. And he hadn't even had good intentions doing it. Despite that, he had to admit Bryant would be useful. Maybe he could redeem himself a bit here. Maybe.

Harry's bigger concern in the immediate moment was Hermione. She was spending all her free time studying. With that, plus organizing for the Army, plus being Head Girl, well, she hadn't had much time for herself. She had tried to make time for Harry, but two nights ago she come over to his room and fallen asleep while he'd been doing things to her that he wouldn't have believed she could fall asleep during. She needed a break.

"Hermione," said Harry, "can I talk to you?"

Hermione looked up from her notes. "Yes Harry?"

"Tell me," said Harry, "do you or do you not have the memories of Tom Riddle and Rowena Ravenclaw in your head?"

"I do," said Hermione slowly.

"You are going to absolutely dominate your exams," said Harry, "you are prepared. You don't need to do this to yourself, especially as we're likely to go right from exams into the war."

In fact, the N.E. were administered starting one week prior to the O. , and their second week overlapped with the first week of O. . But the N.E.W.T exam hadn't actually run into the second week for almost 50 years. Simply put, there were far fewer students taking each exam, and the time afforded for the second week was just in case something went wrong.

"Is this about the other night, I am sorry I fell asleep Harry," said Hermione.

"That was just a symptom of the problem Hermione," disagreed Harry, "and that is the least of my concerns right now. You need a break."

"But things have changed since Riddle took the N.E.W.T! I need to…" Hermione protested.

"Okay, I see how this is going to be," said Harry, "Luckily, I am prepared. Daphne!"

Suddenly Daphne marched into the room, followed by Tracey, Luna and Ginny.

"You're coming with us," said Daphne.

"But I need to study!" protested Hermione.

"No you don't," said Tracey. And each of the girls grabbed one of Hermione's limbs and carried her away.

"Have fun girls," said Harry as they marched out of the room.

XXXXX

Hermione sank deeper into the water, letting the warm feeling wash over her. Yes, this was nice, and she had needed it. Daphne was sitting behind her, trying to get a knot out of Hermione's hair. Luna kept trying to get in a splash fight with Ginny, but Ginny was trying to have a conversation with Hermione.

"We should have invited Harry and Neville," said Luna, "They'd have played with me. And I'd see their cute bums."

"None of us have any objections to Harry and Neville being here," said Tracey, "But Daphne decided it wouldn't be fair if you and Hermione could have your boyfriends here, and I couldn't."

"Sorry Tracey, but I have no desire to see my brother's bollocks… again," said Ginny.

"It's better as a girl's night out anyway," said Hermione, who was not even slightly interested in hearing how Ginny had seen her brother's unmentionables the first time.

"We're here to relax Luna, not have a splash fight or ogle backsides," said Ginny.

"I suppose," said Luna.

"I do think I needed this," said Hermione.

"Damn right you do!" said Ginny, "Once we leave school, you're second in command of the Army of the Triumvirate. You need a clear head."

"Is that really going to matter?" said Hermione, "you and Harry are both going to be there to help me."

"You never know what is going to happen Hermione," said Daphne, "plan for the worst and all that."

"Especially since if Voldemort doesn't bring Nagini with him we'll have to split up," said Ginny.

"Hmmm," said Hermione, "let's not talk about that right now. What are you going to do after the war Tracey."

"I don't know," said Tracey, "I'd like to do Quidditch, but the problem is I'm not the greatest player."

"You're a fantastic player," said Ginny, "it's just only obvious once you're on a team that you know well. Your skills are in knowing exactly how to get the quaffle to the right person to score."

"Gwenog Jones was at the Ravenclaw game," said Luna, "I'm sure you're on the radar of other teams as well."

"Are you going to finish at Hogwarts Ginny?" asked Daphne.

"Probably," said the redhead, "It's annoying, but Luna will be alone if I don't. Plus maybe I'll get to be Head Girl or Quidditch Captain."

Hermione felt a rough pull on her head. "Got it!" said a very pleased Daphne, "Your hair should be temporarily tangle free."

"Time to get in then!" said Luna as she grabbed Daphne's arms and pulled her into the water.

Daphne spluttered as she came up. "One way of doing it," said Daphne with a laugh.

"Luna has a tendency to do things without asking," said Ginny, "Like kissing Harry."

"I just like to kiss my friends," said Luna.

"Nothing wrong with that," said Hermione.

"Do you want to kiss us?" asked Tracey.

"I wouldn't say no," said Luna, "I don't get what the big deal is. I like to kiss people I love. Is that so strange?"

"It isn't!" said Daphne. And suddenly she grabbed Luna by the head, leaned in, and started to snog her, really open mouth snog her. Finally, after several seconds Daphne pulled away.

"Well, Daphne and I are clearly on the same page," said Luna after a moment, "though I will admit I was surprised by the tongue."

"Listen Luna," said Daphne, "if I'm going to kiss one of my girlfriends, I'm going to do it right."

The other girls all laughed.

XXXXX

Harry was still sitting in the sitting room when Hermione came back.

"Have a good time?" he asked.

"I did, and I needed that," said Hermione, "I also realized that there is something else I want to do."

"Oh?" asked Harry.

"I want to go to bed. And I want you to make love to me, if that's all right."

Harry let his smile show on his face. "I'm always up for that."

"Good," said Hermione, "I really do need it. I want to be with you."

Harry had absolutely no objections to that.

XXXXX

May 30th, 1998

The N.E. weren't hard for Harry or Hermione. The lower number of students in each N.E.W.T. class meant that the practical exams took a third of the time that their O. had. Harry was just happy they were over and done with. And this weekend was the last bit of entertainment for the year, the last Quidditch match between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor. Harry did the math, and he realized that if Gryffindor won the match by over 200 points, they'd take the cup.

The truth was that today was it. Tomorrow the entire Army (sans Astoria, who was still a fifth year and had to take O. ) would pack up and leave. This match would be Harry's farewell to Hogwarts. McGonagall wouldn't be happy that the Head Boy and Girl were leaving before term ended, but she'd understand.

And the match turned out to be good. Gryffindor was a better team, but the Ravenclaws made them fight for every goal. Slowly but surely, the Gryffindors pulled ahead, first by 50, then by 100, and finally by 150 points.

Tracey seemed despondent. "If Gryffindor catches the snitch it's all over!" she cried out.

Eventually, Gryffindor had a 210 point lead. But at that moment Colin saw the snitch. He was far away from it but he lunged forward to close the distance. And Carrie, the Ravenclaw seeker, saw him. But she was headed the wrong way! Suddenly she pulled into a sharp inverted turn that made Harry's stomach want to flip and turned around faster than he could believe. She was accelerating, surging towards the snitch. And then she had it.

Gryffindor had won the match but lost the cup. The Slytherin stands erupted into cheers and celebrations as they realized they had won the Quidditch cup. Tracey threw her arms around Ginny and kissed her on the cheek and then did the same to Harry. They'd done it!

Suddenly, Ron was there, flying in from the pitch. He landed in the front of the Quidditch box and walked up to Tracey. Grabbing her face he gave her a long full kiss.

When he finally finished, he said, "Congratulations."

"Thanks," said a very red, very satisfied Tracey, "See you in 30 minutes?"

"Definitely," said Ron as he remounted his broom and flew back to his team.

"You okay Millie?" asked Nott, "you don't look all that happy."

"I am happy," said Millie, "I'm just relieved my poor play didn't cost us the cup. Oh, and I have something to show you Tracey."

"Should we all come see it?" asked Blaise.

"You'll all find out about it shortly," said Millie, "Tracey should see it first."

"All right," said Tracey, "lead on." And she followed Millie away.

Blaise shook his head as the two of them left. "Something is eating her," he said to Harry and Nott.

"Something is very wrong with Millie's aura Harry," said Luna, "she's incredibly tormented. I thought she was upset because of her poor play in the last match, but she still was off after we won the cup."

Something about this began to ring alarm bells in Harry's head. "Which way did they go?" he asked.

But they'd both completely disappeared in the crowd.

XXXXX

"Where are we going?" asked Tracey as they left the Quidditch box.

"It isn't far," said Millie, "just under the cover of trees."

"I have an appointment with Ron…" said Tracey, leaving the rest hanging.

"It won't take long," said Millie. There was something off about her voice.

Tracey shrugged. Millie had been acting weird for a while now. But as Millie led her into the edge of the Forest, she began to feel uneasy. Something was wrong.

"Are we off school grounds?" asked Tracey.

"Yes, you are," said a voice. Suddenly Tracey was face to face with Rufus Scrimgoeur and ten other wizards.

"I'm sorry," said Millie, her voice sounding tiny, "They threatened my parents."

"Bring them to the Ministry, directly to the courtroom holding cells," said Scrimgoeur, "Apparate directly. Do not let anyone outside Magical Security or Umbridge see them."

Tracey had been searched and her wand was taken from her. Millie had been similarly searched. Suddenly someone grabbed her rather roughly from behind. And then she felt the familiar squeeze of apparition.

XXXXX

When Ron said that Tracey had missed thier rendezvous, Ginny knew something was wrong.

"Get the Army searching for Tracey and Millie," Hermione said, "Harry and I will alert the teachers."

"All right, we need to search this school from top to bottom," said Ginny, "But I don't want anyone leaving the school grounds. Do you understand Ron?" She gave her brother a pointed look.

"I get it, it's dangerous," said Ron.

"We need someone to check the border," said Daphne, "if she was lured off school grounds…"

"I will do it," said Ginny, "because I can do it safely. Tracey was a skilled combatant, so if she did leave the school and she was taken, whoever did it is either skilled or numerous."

Everyone nodded at that. They all knew that Ginny could take care of herself. Except for Nott that was.

"Are you crazy? You're going out there alone?" he demanded.

"I am capable of defending myself," said Ginny, "if you follow me you will only get in my way."

"And you're just okay with this?" Nott yelled at Justin.

"She's got this," said Justin, stepping between Ginny and Nott, "Let it go and trust her."

Nott slumped his shoulders and stepped back. Ginny gave Justin a warm smile and headed on her way.

She had to admit, Nott's outburst was worrisome, but that could be dealt with later. She supposed that Nott still had a certain degree of protectiveness towards her, which wasn't necessarily bad so long as he could keep it in check.

She started in the section of forest closest to where the Quidditch pitch was. She quickly found marks in the dirt. She was no tracker, but she guessed that a number of people had been here for some amount of time. Had they been lying in wait?

Suddenly she heard a rustle from behind her. She turned around and drew her wand. "Who's there?" she yelled.

Nott walked out of the bushes. "Whoah, it's just me. It isn't safe for you to be out here alone."

Ginny suddenly was angry, angrier than she'd been in a while. "I am perfectly safe Theodore. I can take care of myself. You, however, cannot. You are at risk. You put me at risk. Get back to Hogwarts now!"

"What are you talking about?" demanded Nott. And Ginny remembered that Nott didn't know she had Riddle's memories. Which meant of course he didn't think she was safe on her own.

But all of a sudden that didn't matter. Because Snape was standing there.

"Snape!" Ginny said through gritted teeth.

"Hello Lily," said Snape.

"I am NOT Lily Potter!" said Ginny emphatically.

"Don't be silly Lily, I know who you are," said Snape, "I've come to save you from Potter. I knew you'd come looking for your friend when Umbridge's goons took her. And now you're coming with me."

"Like hell I am," said Ginny. And she attacked. Snape managed to block her spells, but all his counter attacks were blocked with almost casual efficiency. Spell after spell, Ginny came closer to striking home at Snape while his spells kept falling further and further behind. She heard Nott gasp as he realized just how far ahead of a normal student her age she was.

But that gasp reminded Snape he was there. He moved like a fucking panther; suddenly rushing Nott and putting his wand to the young man's neck. Nott's wand was tucked cleanly behind Snape's ear.

"Drop your wand or he dies," said Snape.

Ginny could see Nott's eyes close as he realized what he had done. "Let him kill me," said Nott, "this is my fault, and I'll pay the price for it."

And that, of course, ensured that Ginny couldn't do that. For all her problems with Nott, he understood what a colossal idiot he had been.

"You fucking moron," she said, throwing away her wand, the Elder Wand, "as if I'd do that."

Snape threw Nott aside and lunged for Ginny. She tried to wandlessly summon her wand, but Snape deflected it as he grabbed Ginny. The wand landed at Nott's feet.

"NO!" screamed Ginny.

But it was too late, Nott had picked up the Elder Wand.

"Sectumsempra," said Snape. Blades of magic shot from his wand and struck Nott in the midsection, slicing him open. Nott grasped his stomach, trying to hold in his intestines.

"Stupid boy," said Snape, his face looking extremely upset as he apparated himself and Ginny away.

XXXXX

Nott knew he was going to die the moment that Snape apparated away with Ginny. It became inevitable. But he realised that he not only knew what had happened to Ginny, but what had happened to Tracey. Potter had to be informed. So Nott couldn't just lay down and die. But he wasn't going to make it back to school with his intestines hanging out.

So, taking Ginny's wand, he cauterized the bloody cut across his stomach. He knew that he had probably just destroyed what slim chance he had to survive. It didn't matter. He had to get back to school.

He stumbled out of the forest only to see Harry and Hermione leading the way towards the forest. McGonagall and the rest of the staff was behind them.

Nott stumbled forward until he was sure Harry could hear him.

"Snape has Ginny, Umbridge's goons have Tracey," said Nott with the last of his strength, "tell her I'm sorry…"

And then he fell forward, and knew nothing more.

XXXXX

As Nott fell forward Harry pulled out his wand and did a medical scan spell. And when he saw what was revealed he gasped.

"Get Madam Pomfrey!" shouted McGonagall.

"It doesn't matter," said Harry. "He was disemboweled, probably with a Sectumsempra, and he burned it all shut. He knew he was a dead man walking. And… he's dead."

Everyone hung their heads.

Harry had no idea what had happened. He had no idea how Snape had captured Ginny, or why it appeared that Millie had betrayed Tracey. But right now that didn't matter.

"Hermione," he said, "Summon the Army of the Triumvirate."

Hermione nodded and ran towards the school. Harry bent down and picked up Ginny's wand. The Elder Wand.

"Headmistress," said Harry, turning towards McGonagall, "my people and I, we have to leave. Now."

McGonagall just nodded. She couldn't deny him. Not after this.

Riddle had made his move first. Now it was time for Harry to make his move. He hoped Riddle liked it.

Author's Note: Some of you may notice that some of my chapter lengths have gone down recently. This is because in Chapter 51 I started basing this off of my third outline. The third outline only covered Chapters 51-59, and was the way I compensated for all the plot threads I had added since I wrote the second outline. Actually, it covered 51-60, but I would later combine chapters 57 and 58 because there just wasn't as much to cover there as I had anticipated. The third outline more resembles my outline for Harriet Potter and the Guardians of Atlantis in structure, so it shouldn't be a surprise that I have shorter chapters. Twisted Path generally followed a strict structure of 2 school chapters, one holiday chapter, 2 more school chapters then summer break chapters. Harriet Potter is based more on theme and story structure. Strangely, following the Harriet Potter structure for seventh year actually made me follow the Twisted Path structure, which I had deliberately tried to avoid in my first and second outlines.

Anyway there isn't much to say about this chapter. But now that he's dead, I do want to talk about Nott. Nott is a bit of a contradiction. He is definitely creepy, especially in the earlier parts of his story when he is actively pursuing Ginny. I like to think that he was getting over her. But the way he goes out does undercut that a little bit. I think, given that he doesn't know what Ginny's true capabilities are, that his worry that she is in danger are at least a little justified. Or maybe he's just being arrogant and thinks he can protect her. I'll be honest, I'm not 100% sure what Nott's motivation is here. I will say that prior to my Narcissa Malfoy rewrite Nott didn't really spy on the Death Eaters for the AoT. His sole purpose in the story originally was for Snape to use him as leverage to get Ginny to put down her wand. Otherwise, there was no way Snape would be able to capture Ginny.

Next Time: A lot happens in the next chapter, so rather than try to give an inadequate summary, I'll just say that in the next chapter our heroes make their preparations for battle. Also, Daphne gets laid.