CHAPTER 10: Progress of war: Perspectives
Sirius heaved a dramatic sigh as he finally finished up with the prisoners from the Ministry attack. It had taken him two days to do, even with Remus dropping by the day before to help out. Together, along with Bill, the three of them had divided the Ministry workers by threat-assessment and status-wise.
The mundane Ministry workers, the ones with the harmless jobs, were allowed to return to and continue with their jobs, but were supervised by a couple of Deatheaters. Those wizards and witches who had been in a position of authority, like the few remaining Aurors and the scattered remnants of the Defense Department, were treated like prisoners, locked away in the bowels of the Ministry building, to await processing at a later date.
The Department of Mysteries and the Unspeakables had given them a bit of trouble, barricading the whole Department until Sirius allowed them to continue working on whatever it was that they were working on. Sirius discovered happily that the Unspeakables didn't really care about who was in charge of things at the Ministry, so long as they were left alone to do their research, so long as no one but they knew what they were working on. Bill had actually managed to interview a few Unspeakables about their political viewpoints, discovering that most, if not all, thought that the deceased Fudge had been an idiot by cutting their funding. None of them seemed to trust Dumbledore and his hidden intentions all that much either; something about the old coot trying to discover and use their secret projects and research just one too many times. Sirius grinned gleefully at that.
Sirius assigned fifteen Deatheaters to guard the dungeons, using a rotation system at random, to prevent the usual laziness and sloppiness that was associated with the tediously boring task of guard duty. He also had Charlie organized the wands they had collected from their prisoners, separating each wand into it's own box, clearly marked and labeled to be stored in the archives.
Remus had taken it upon himself to search out known Order members, taking them to a separated dungeon to be processed on a threat-assessment, and feeling only slightly bad at pulling Arthur Weasley from the other prisoners. He also kept Percy isolated in his own cell at the far end of the dungeons, the cell itself silenced, especially since he knew Severus' identity.
Now Sirius made it to his office, Fudge's old office, to just have a breather from the work. He knew that the former Minister had done nothing right during his stay in office, and it was already a pain trying to sort through all the mess, making his job all the more difficult, but as Acting Minister, Sirius was determined to do better than expected, or even better than necessary, if only to help Harry and Tom in their world domination goals.
He sank into his chair, closing his eyes tiredly. Merlin, he needed to sleep, if only for a few hours. After a moment, he sat up and started riffling through all the paperwork on his desk, surprised at all the little things that seemed to need his direct approval or attention. He scanned through several reports quickly, snorting with disgust that some of these fools thought that they could actually get away with bullshit under His watch. It was now obscenely clear that Fudge had never actually read through any of the documents in his care.
Coming to a decision, Sirius began to reply to each report and document, telling many of those who released the papers that he was no fool or idiot, and that many of the Department Heads had the authority to make a good deal of decisions needed, stating that Sirius did not have time to baby-sit. He also threatened several wizards who were, playing the system, so to speak. It seemed that during his stay in office, Cornelius Fudge had accepted bribes from Deatheaters, and had allowed corrupt Ministry officials to slowly empty the Ministry's coffers. What an idiot.
A light knock on the door to his office interrupted Sirius from his inner musings. He glanced up irritably before going back to his work. "Come in."
The door opened and Remus stepped inside, smiling tiredly. "I hope I'm not intruding on anything important." He said lightly. Sirius gave a sigh and rubbed at his eyes.
"No, not terribly important. Just highly annoying." He waved his hand, motioning for the werewolf to take a seat. "Come, sit down. Do you have anything to report? Or is this just a social visit, not that I mind." He grinned.
Remus shrugged. "Both, to be honest. I managed to locate and contain most, if not all, of the Ministry-based Order members. Most of the Aurors have disappeared, probably going to Dumbledore as we speak, but most of the Order members we currently have in custody are in no authoritative position. A few, two or three, have access to highly classified information, but I've contained them in the second subbasement dungeons, along with Percy Weasley. What do you propose to do with him?"
Sirius was silent for a moment, thinking. Finally, he sighed, and leaned back in his seat. "I don't know. At worst, we have to kill him, and at best, we erase that memory, but memory charms can be broken. That depends on his family that we have."
Remus stared at him for a minute, face expressionless. "You're doing that a lot. Too often."
Sirius was puzzled. "Doing what?"
"The sighing. When was the last time you actually slept?"
The ex-convict chuckled. "To be perfectly honest, not since the attack the day after you left for the other Lycans with Varien."
Remus' usually gentle features suddenly took on a sharp-edged determination. "Paddy, you are going to go home immediately and get some rest. Some real rest, and I mean actual sleep. I'll finish up here, and Seeker will see to it that things go smoothly. I will join you at home in three hours, and if you're not asleep by then, I'll knock you out cold."
"All right, all right, geez," Sirius stood up with a flourish, hands raised in mock surrender. "I'm going! I'll check on the kids, though, to make sure that they're getting enough sleep. Those two don't sleep on a regular basis. They nearly as bad as Brewer when he plays with his potions."
Remus grinned at that. "Padfoot, go. I'll be home soon."
Sirius nodded and put on his half mask, leaving the office after a quick hug from his mate. He leisurely traveled through the Ministry building, ignoring the hushed activity around him. Many of the Deatheaters bowed to him as he passed, seeing that he was one of the Elite.
The main Hall of the Ministry, with all the Floo networks and that disgusting, inappropriate fountain (Sirius hated that thing), had been cleaned of all the debris and rubble and any evidence of combat, once again, perfectly clean. Most of the Floo networks had been closed for security reasons and guards were everywhere.
Sirius made his way to one of the few remaining networks that were open, calling out, "Riddle Manor!" before leaving the Ministry behind.
The Manor was quiet, as most everyone should have been asleep at the time. He yawned, thinking suddenly of his bed. But he knew she should see if the Dark Lords were awake, so that he could give a quick report. If not, it could wait until morning.
All those who lived in Riddle Manor had rooms in the East wing, away from the rest of the house and on the third floor. The library and training dojo were on the second floor of the East wing, and their War Room was on ground level. The West wing contained the dungeons, converted from the basements, the large, open room they would use for Deatheater meetings, and several guest rooms. Finally, the North wing held Severus' potions labs, the kitchens and House Elves, and a conservatory, in which grew an abundance of small trees, exotic plant life, and rare specimens of nature.
The three wings were connected in the middle by a large foyer and several staircases. It also held the Floo connections. This is where Sirius was, moving towards the East wing.
He paused in the library, grinning as he caught sight of Draco fast asleep at the desk he shared with Hermione. The young Malfoy was going to be sore in the morning, but at least he was sleeping. And Hermione was nowhere in sight, meaning that she was probably asleep in her room.
Sirius continued on to his room, very much intent on reaching his own bed before he collapsed into blissful sleep. Now that he had the chance to get some rest, he was exhausted.
In his room, he managed to pull off his boots and he dropped his mask on a table, falling into bed full dressed. He buried himself into his blankets and his cloak, curling up on himself. He was out like a light in moments.
Ginny Weasley was awake in the early morning, staring out her window as pre-dawn light filled the skies with a variety of gray tones. She barely slept anymore, needing only a few hours a night at most to function properly.
Her mind raced as she thought about her new mission. Harry and Tom had briefed her the day previous, giving her the bare facts of her new mission. Return to Hogwarts, spy on the students and faculty as best as she could, recruit students among the older years, and be McGonagal's contact to the Dark Order. She would show up at the school on Halloween, just over a week away, terrified and pitiful. They would probably have to rough her up a bit for effect, though, if necessary.
She had never, personally seen Dumbledore being manipulative, so she wasn't sure what she would have to look for, and she doubted her own skills of persuasion, as well. Perhaps her Head of House would be able to give her some pointers and advice.
She thought about her friends at the school, particularly a certain Ravenclaw in her year. Ginny missed her friends, but her family, her new family, was more important to her, especially now. She dreaded and cringed at the thought of her inevitable encounter with Ron when she returned.
Her youngest older brother would pitch a fit about Harry, buying into all the lies. He would ask about Hermione and sulk. Ginny could imagine it, even now, a week away. Ron would probably end up hurting her with his temper, and Ginny knew it, and prepared herself for it. Harry would be furious, and slightly guilty, but Tom would understand. Harry, too, would understand the need for her to undergo any abuse from her family at Hogwarts, and he knew that she could just use it to her advantage, but it was just in his nature to feel guilty for the pain others went through.
Heaving a sigh, Ginny left her window, her feet taking her through the halls of the sleeping Manor. She had heard Sirius come in about and hour ago, meaning that Remus had most likely kicked the Animagus out of the Ministry due to exhaustion. She had come to learn that while the werewolf had self-restraint when it came to his own personal health when trying to accomplish something of great importance, Sirius had no such restraint, and threw himself into whatever he was doing with everything he had. He had been like that while training her and her brothers in the summer.
She figured that Hermione and Draco were already sleeping, completely out of this reality now that Severus had pushed them practically to their beds earlier in the evening, and they'd be out for a while now. Severus himself might be in the Potions labs working, but it was likely that he was catching up on some rest as well, since he was going to be all over the place, at the Manor, helping Hermione and Draco while planning strategies with Tom and Harry, and at the Ministry, helping Remus take care of Sirius and all the minor issues that would need dealing with, and at the Daily Prophet, where the twins would be in charge, and just anywhere he would be needed for anything that had to be done.
Charlie would be leaving in the morning for Romania, having spent so much time away from his dragons and their handlers. They knew that the news of Charlie's 'defection' hadn't reached the other dragon tamers, and wouldn't for some time, if at all, since there was so much confusion to work around, and at the present time, it probably wasn't even on Dumbledore's priority list to enlist the dragon tamers to his cause in the nearby future, and besides, Charlie would have been the insider Dumbledore would have used to gain the aid of the dragon tamers in the first place, not to mention that he was one of the best dragon handlers Romania's had in twenty years, making his expertise and experience much more valued.
Her feet took her to the library, to her favorite section of the large, comfortable room. It was almost surprising, but Tom had a decent amount of fiction books, both muggle and wizard. It had become her favorite pastime to curl up in front on the blazing fire with a good book of another world that didn't exist. With a flitter of a smile, she found her current book and settled into the armchair that she deemed as 'hers'. As she picked up her place within the pages, familiar music floated gently through the open doors and she smiled; Fawkes had started singing again. The bird had really taken to Harry and Tom, and the rest of them, actually. It was... comforting.
Soon she was lost once again within the words of her book and the images her imagination created from those words, lost in her own little world.
As preparations continued, time seemed to pass unnoticed, until Harry realized that it had only been a few weeks since everyone seemed to scatter. Ginny was at Hogwarts now, recovering from the injuries she had sustained upon her departure for the school. To make it easier on everyone, Tom and Severus had taken it upon themselves to give her the convincing proof she need to secure her position at the school, deciding to take all the guilt they could and perhaps sparing the others from the ugliness of what was necessary for their plans. It had mostly worked, except that Harry had been adamant about at least watching the process, to steel his resolve for the future endeavors he would undoubtedly have to participate in during this war.
It had taken Tom several hours after the youngest Weasley had departed to calm Harry down and reassure him. It was a good sign, because Tom felt that Harry should never be coldhearted about anything. In his eyes, Harry should never be comfortable with torture, or even hurting another being or creature.
Charlie was also gone, having left for the dragon colonies nearly three weeks ago, and he wasn't expected to report back for a few months at least. But the dragon handler knew how to take care of himself, he knew what was expected of him, and also what to look for when it came to signs of trouble.
Bill had returned to Gringotts, calling on his racked up vacation and sick days as an excuse for his absence. But still, he had received a warning from his bosses that another stunt like his recent 'endeavor' would get him very much fired. He would still be working with Sirius in running the Ministry, but his aid would be very limited, and more towards a financial point, since he already worked with a bank. In other words, Bill had become the new Head of Finance within the Ministry and a financial advisor for Sirius.
The next couple of years were certainly going to be quite busy.
Back at the Manor, several delegations were slowly beginning to arrive, in one form or another, either in person or by means of written communication. The guest wing of the Manor now held three Lycans, two centaurs from the Forbidden Forest, one vampire sent from his clan to investigate their goals, and a pack of griffins hiding in the woods at the back of the Manor, just past the cemetery.
In another few weeks, Hermione and Draco would be ready to begin their major excavation project, and their first stop was just outside a small little village on the coast. They had a group of at least ten Deatheaters assigned to each of them, and after the first site, they would spilt up, with Hermione going west and Draco going east. The two academics had also set up a form of communication between the two of them through enchanted mirrors, created with Sirius and Remus' help. They would also be carrying with them a large number of shrunken ready to use and illegal two-way Portkeys. Right now, they were just going over their final plans and preparations, checking their respective timelines and such.
There was another larger scale battle being planned for just before the Christmas break, and this time, the target were the different ports leading out of the United Kingdom specifically used by the wizarding world, to block off the mainland until they could move outward. Tom had explained that he didn't want anyone interfering with their takeover of the wizarding world. In this, Tom and Severus were the masterminds, and Dmitri of the wolves joined them in their planning. Harry watched and learned through it all, only occasionally adding his own input, and sometimes surprising the others with a half conceived idea or notion that, once fine-tuned, could have a major impact on the outcome of their plans. It would also be much easier for them since Sirius held control over the Floo system, and all the legal Portkeys.
Harry also sent out random scrimmages of Deatheaters to attack random towns and semi-isolated areas, attacking some minor points in Dumbledore's defenses, in an effort to keep the old man on edge. He refused to give the Headmaster enough time to recuperate from the heavy loss of the Ministry. He did, however, leave Grimmauld Place alone, for the time being, and he knew that what remained of the Order was holed up in the Black family home; at least until Dumbledore could find another Headquarters. He wanted to toy with the old man a little.
And so it was, as the day came to a close near the end of November, Tom called an end to the meeting sending everyone assembled off for some rest. Here, Harry decided to mention the Order Headquarters, feeling the need to take it away from their enemies.
"Before you all leave for some well-deserved rest, I would just like to mention something I believe the rest of us have forgotten about." He said, rising from his seat beside Tom in the war room. Tom, Dmitri, Remus and Severus paused, bringing their attention to him.
"What have we forgotten?" Severus voiced the question that was on all their minds at Harry's statement.
"Number 12 Grimmauld Place. Dumbledore still resides there, whenever he isn't at Hogwarts, along with the remnants of the Order of the Phoenix, I'm sure. We haven't been giving him enough time to try and find a more secure location for his Headquarters, but I don't know how long that will last. My reasoning for this is that the Noble House of Black is still under Dumbledore's Fidelius Charm, so the location is somewhat secure for him to remain with his hold over it. We've been harassing him quite continuously for the last little bit, since the Ministry's fall, and he has a school to run, which should be on the verge of panic as it is. He has also lost his spy and Potions Master, and needed to replace the DADA professor as well. He was never prepared for a situation like the one he's in right now, and I doubt it that he prepared the rest of the Order.
"The Order has lost a fair few key players, and they, as a whole, are trying to bring their scattered pieces back together. I know that Tom struck a hard blow during their battle at the Ministry, and it was enough to throw the old man off balance. But it probably hasn't even occurred to him yet that Grimmauld Place could be, and is, a security risk for him and a target for us."
"You may be on to something, My Lord." Severus was quiet, astounded that he hadn't thought about the Black Manor before. It was obvious that it hadn't occurred to anyone yet.
"Do you suggest an attack then? Before Dumbledore can remove his forces and everything that may have some value to us from the House of Black?" Tom asked, a glint of pride showing in his crimson eyes. Harry grinned and nodded.
"As soon as possible. Preferably within a week."
"Very well. Thank you for mentioning that to us, Varien. Well, gentlemen, we'll continue this discussion at 0800 sharp. Until then." Tom dismissed them and he and Harry quickly hurried to their shared rooms.
"You did good today; I'm proud of you. You are a natural leader, and it's showing now that your skills are more fine-tuned." Tom said as he pulled Harry into his arms, bringing the sheets up to cover them both. Harry smiled at his mate's praise, soaking it up.
"Thank you. Grimmauld Place has been itching in the back of my mind for a few weeks now, but we've both been so busy lately, with everything, that I've kept putting it off." He cuddled further into his Mate's arms, almost feeling the light smile his action produced of the other.
"We all have been busy, and this is the first, and hopefully the only war you're running. You're doing remarkably well. Get some sleep; we'll deal with Grimmauld Place in the morning."
Harry nodded, and within a few minutes, his breathing evened out, and Tom joined him in his sleep, and both of them were blissfully undisturbed in their slumber.
For Draco, the time passing was mostly unnoticed. But it finally caught up to him as he strolled through the frozen gardens in the sharp sunlight. Tomorrow morning, he and Hermione would leave for the town of Seaton, with Deatheaters-turned-excavators and their search would begin.
It had started snowing a week and a half previous, startling almost everyone with the sudden reminder of the passing time. It had also alerted Draco that he still had responsibilities that needed to be dealt with in regards to his family Estate, since he was the current Head of the Malfoy line. So two days after the first snowfall, Draco had summoned his family solicitors to one of his estates in France, and over the course of several long hours, Draco was able to gain complete and total access of every liquid asset he owned, and he tightened security around his vaults and information to the degree that the old Ministry's best hackers couldn't have gotten through.
He was also going to fund this entire project with the contents of several of his vaults- not that it made much of a dent in his inheritance.
However, by the end of everything, he was going to be noticeably less wealthy.
But that was over and done with for now. Anything else concerning his financial status could wait a few months at least, six months, at the most.
A chill breeze cut through the thick material of his cloak, and he shivered briefly. He looked briefly back towards the Manor, and caught sight of a light in the library window, a dim shadow obscuring some of that light. Hermione must be awake then.
The thought of the clever girl warmed his heart, and a smile touched his face, gentle and warm even in the frosty chill of the early morning. He knew that the longer he remained in her company, studying and researching with her, the more he cared about her. He was noticing the subtleties of her nature, the ever growing spark of wit and prose. He had yet to win an argument over anything with her, and it would probably just get harder further down the line. He was already looking forward to it!
As he started back towards the Manor, Draco came to the realization that every person who had come to the Manor was well on their way on a path of self-discovery, revealing, for each of them, a great deal of many surprises. In many ways, everyone in the Manor had found their freedom, whether they realized it or not, in ways no one could have suspected. And for some of them, they wouldn't have wanted it, either, the way things had been before.
He smiled at this realization, and walked back to the Manor, his step much lighter and a gleam within his grayish orbs. Things were going to start going better now.
Albus Dumbledore was certainly in a serious predicament. Almost instantly after the Ministry had been overrun, those who had been able to escape had flooded to Hogwarts and the school was quickly becoming a fortress. The few remaining Aurors had set up a number of wards on the perimeter of the grounds, and bolstered the main defenses of the castle itself. The quidditch pitch had been turned into a training arena, and the Aurors had already recruited many of the seventh years into their training, desperately trying to raise an army before the Dark Lord's next attack.
The parents of students had also flooded to the school in an effort to stay safe in one of the last places many people considered safe. The school was becoming very crowded, and almost all of the guest rooms in the castle were occupied, as well several of the unused classrooms that littered the large castle. It was all he could do to keep his students to continue their studies with all the distractions going on around them.
Everyone was fully aware of the their current danger, and the threat that awaited them outside the castle and it's grounds. It was nothing but pure chaos at it's best.
He was also finding it harder to escape the school, since he was such a high profile wizard. Since everyone knew who his was, and regarded him with such high esteem, he had very little privacy, except perhaps in the secure corners of his office and quarters, and this was disrupting his own plans to fight and defeat the Chosen One and his Serpent Lord.
He needed his privacy right now, in this crucial time before the war broke out completely, while both forces were mobilizing. He needed this time to find the perfect weapon against that bastard child Harry Potter and the pathetic Dark Lord Voldemort. He also had an idea as to where he could find such a weapon, and if he could succeed, then he would come out as the victor, and the world would once again be his!
But there were things in his way. He knew Minerva was keeping her own counsel lately, especially since he had spurned her about the Potter brat. She always had a soft spot in her heart for the former student, and he knew that she would never have understood his reasoning behind his abandonment of the boy before he could come into his powers fully. It was better this way, and Dumbledore couldn't, and wouldn't, change the past for anyone, not even for Minerva.
She was going to prove to be an obstacle later on, oh, he was certain of that.
Then there were the Weasleys. Since the miraculous return of their daughter, the family had become the poster family for the Wizarding world, and Molly was enjoying the power that came with that status a little too much. Arthur wasn't too much of a concern, but he had taken the Grangers under his wing, mourning for their 'lost' daughter with them. He wouldn't be much a threat unless something happened to his youngest child; then Arthur Weasley could prove to be very dangerous.
And The Weasley children... well, the few that remained with him and the side of Light. Young Percy was nowhere to be found, not since the capture of the Ministry, and he was presumed dead, not that Dumbledore would have used him anyway. The child had always been a little too conceited, and pompous. His attitude had always something to be desired, and he had been smart enough to have resisted Dumbledore's coercion if the boy had felt he had overstepped his bounds.
The youngest boy, Ronald, would be much easier for him to manipulate. He was so full of anger and rage at everything in the world. That anger would be easy to mold, and he could make the boy into the perfect soldier, fighting for him, and him alone. He could make the boy strong, and he wasn't the smartest wizard around, despite his prowess with a chessboard, which would make it easier for him as the Weasley boy wouldn't be able to detect any falsehoods.
The daughter, however, was a high risk, and she could prove to be a very dangerous problem. He knew he would not be able to control her to his whims, and he had the notion that she was hiding something, but if she was acting the spy, she was proving to be either equal to or surpassing Severus' skills. She was currently the only scion of hope for those who had suffered from the Chosen One and the Serpent Lord. She was the only one to have returned from the clutches of death and the Dark. She was everywhere, surrounded by her friends and well-wishers, and her family. Minerva had also taken to her, keeping her close by at all times possible, but that could be because young Ginny was one of Minerva's lions, safely returned to the castle.
Many of the Aurors were also seeking his advice, and seeking for him to be their leader, more so than he already was. They wanted him to be more involved with their war plans and their meetings. They wanted him to abandon his school, and focus entirely on the war that was fast approaching, and they wanted the children to be fodder for the war. But Albus would never do that; the children of this school were his to direct, his to control. The children of his school were to be HIS army!
But, at last, he was finally able to seek a moment's peace and privacy, in the middle of the night during the first week in December. He roamed the lowest passages of the school, deep below ground, and deep within the belly of the castle. No one would find him here, as no one else knew these passages as well as he did.
He reached a dead end in the hallways, leading into a solitary room. The stone down here was damp, almost directly beneath the lake opposite of the Chamber of Secrets. He imagined that no one but himself had been down in this room for hundreds of years. The room would suit the purpose he had in mind, and he smiled grimly.
He had a plan to defeat the Chosen One and his Serpent Lord, but he would to do something that even he didn't was right, even for the cause of the Light. This task that he had in mind was troubling, but he was determined to bring down his enemies before they could truly bring about chaos.
He hated that he would have to do this to her, but he was reaching a dead end.
Inside the large stone room, spelled against the moisture and other elements, was a coffin, freshly dug from it's grave. The coffin itself was simple in design, but had been engraved with an intricate and delicate flower, enchanted to last through the ages of wear and tear beneath the earth. Workstations were strewn about the rest of the room, surrounding the coffin, and on a few tables, there were cauldrons simmering and bubbling within their stasis spells. He had taken a great many precautions in preparing this, since he didn't know how long it would take him, especially with so many distractions and interruptions from the rest of the castle above him.
He removed the stasis spells from a few of the cauldrons, and adding a few ingredients to each, he chanted, infusing each of the potions with power. He added a bit of blood, sacrificed from a centaur he'd caught a few days earlier, and he knew that this was very Dark magic he was working.
But it would do very nicely.
Once the potions had settled again, he replaced the stasis spells and turned, facing the coffin. He sighed, smiling fondly as he recalled who occupied the coffin.
"My dear, I am truly sorry for the suffering you'll have to endure for me and the side of Light, but I am afraid this is necessary. You are the only one who can defeat them both. Soon, you'll be able to wake up and live again, and you'll do what I tell you is necessary, for the safety of the world." He patted the wood gently and traced the engraving fondly. "You'll be my little weapon, the world's hero, just like your son was supposed to be."
Ginny was getting worried. While she had learned a considerable amount about spying from Minerva, and she had made progress with recruitment, she still had almost nothing on Dumbledore. The old man was being reclusive, and was most definitely plotting something horrific; she was unable to even get close enough to him to find out even a hint.
She had already recruited many of the seventh year Gryffindor boys, with the sole exception of her brother Ron, as well as a few Ravenclaws with the help of her best friend Luna Lovegood, and even a few Hufflepuffs who had known Cedric Diggory before his death. The few remaining Slytherins were resisting her, but that was to be expected with the prejudice they were receiving from the rest of the school and it's new occupants.
It seemed that the rest of the wizarding world was flocking to the sanctuary of the school and Dumbledore, and the remnants of the old Ministry had turned the castle into a fortress.
It was getting harder to have a moment's peace as well, considering she was the only 'survivor' of her Lord's 'tyranny and destruction'. The thought made her sick. It was only by Minerva's intervention that Ginny was able to have her breathing space, and even then, it was usually in the company of the Head of Gryffindor.
The older witch was also getting worried, Ginny knew, about the recent activities of Dumbledore. There was no explanation, and no reason for the old man to be excluding himself from the war effort, unless it was because whatever he was planning needed the utmost secrecy, and was very, very dangerous.
She would be able to give her report to Harry and Tom on the next Hogsmeade trip next week, through the local post office and an anonymous owl to the town closest to Little Hangleton, where one of the other Elite would pick up her letter. It would be a different owl each time, to lessen the chances of someone intercepting her reports, and thanks to Minerva, she also knew how to write in code, disguising important information in seemingly irrelevant banter.
It had been hard for her to return to the castle, and dealing with all the people, when all she wanted was the solitude of the Manor. While her parents had been relieved about her return, and were way overprotective ever since, her brother had initially treated her like the plague. Ron had confronted her a day or two after her return, demanding all sorts of things, and when she had been unable to answer them to his satisfaction, he had grabbed her roughly and shaken her, blaming her for Hermione's disappearance and apparent death, and wishing that Hermione had returned safely instead of her. Her forced injuries from Tom and Severus hadn't even been completely healed, and the bruises on her arms had taken days to fade and go away, and Ginny had learned to keep her distance from the unruly, violent redhead she had called her brother.
She had quickly realized that Ron would be a big problem if Dumbledore managed to get through to him, which is what she feared. He was really a brilliant strategist, and with Dumbledore as his mentor, he would create havoc on their plans. Ginny also feared that if he ever found out of Draco's growing friendship with Hermione, he would stop at nothing to kill the blonde. Ron's anger would be very useful to Dumbledore, and both she and Minerva knew it, but there was nothing they could do about it on their end.
Then there were her parents. Molly just cried these days, happy that her daughter was returned to her, but she also cried constantly for the children she'd 'lost'. She mourned them even though there was no evidence that they were dead. She was useless. Her father, Arthur, was another story. After some time, she might be able to recruit him to their cause, but it would probably be only if something else happened to her. She was till the youngest child, and she would have to greater chance of ensuring that their family line survived, and she knew that Arthur would see to it that the Weasley line was secure, since it was one of the few things he had left in his control.
But other than that, she had squat to report. Nothing. Things at the school were going slowly. With the Aurors setting up a rough base of operations, and training as many students they could get their hands, despite the many parents that had also arrived, she was trying to avoid getting caught by them. She was sure they would like to speak with her alone at some point, since she was the only witch with personal experience with their enemy. And while it would be good to know what the remaining Aurors were planning, there was no way she could find out without getting trapped.
At the present moment, she was hurrying down a relatively empty corridor to her Charms class; she was late for it because the new DADA professor had wanted to talk to her, reassuring her that if she needed anyone to talk to, someone was always available. It was nice that people were looking out her but Ginny was getting tired of everyone treating her like a porcelain doll that was about to break.
She rushed into the Charms corridor and crashed right into someone, falling to the floor and dropping all of her books as she went. She looked up from the floor and cringed; she had just plowed right into her brother, Ron, who did not look at all happy to see her.
"Sorry," She said, picking up her fallen books and stuffing them into her bag before getting to her feet. "I can't talk right now, I have to get to Charms."
"I don't care." Ron barred her way as she tried to move past him, and he grabbed her arm. "We're going to have a little talk again, just a friendly chat between siblings, you get me?" His smile was ugly, malicious, and his eyes burned coldly.
"Ron, I'm late as it is. I'm also behind in my studies. Please, I have to go to class, so let go. Don't you have class as well?" She tried to wheedle her way out of this 'talk' Ron wanted, but his grip on her arm remained firm.
He pulled her into an empty classroom, locked it and released her arm roughly, making her stumble into an old desk. His wand was out as he glared at her.
"Tell me again, sister dearest, how was it that you, and you alone escaped from the Dark Lord and Potter, when there were more capable wizards captured with you. Tel me again how is it that Hermione is not here in your place. If anyone could have escaped, it would be her." He glared at her, throwing a silencing spell on the room.
She gulped nervously. She was in a dangerous position, and she knew it. Ron had become powerful under the training regimen the Aurors had been pressuring on students, and something about him had been lost with Hermione's disappearance, like he had lost his sense of morality, his conscience. He didn't care how it happened, but he always got his way, be it on the practice field or otherwise.
Ginny stuck to her story, making no sudden movements, but still defiant. "I told you already, and everyone else! Fred and George were going to take me to Diagon Alley that day, and Deatheaters ambushed us on the way there. Hermione was already there when we were brought to Voldemort. There wasn't any sign of Harry then. We were placed in different cells in the basement of his fortress and more or less forgotten about. The guards assigned to my cell, at least, barely remembered to feed me regularly, if at all. I've told you this!"
"How could you escape? Why you?" He demanded, shooting off a Reducto spell at the desk closest to her.
Ginny shielded herself from the flying debris, bringing her arms in front of her. "What is your problem? I escaped when someone further down the cellblock made a fuss during our mealtime and my guards left my cell unlocked! I was able to grab hold of one of the torches lining the walls and brought it down on one of the few Deatheaters' head. I grabbed his wand and blasted my way through one of the side entrances. I got caught and they brought me to Voldemort. He beat me up and sent me back here as a warning to Dumbledore!" She flinched as Ron exploded another desk. "Isn't that good enough?!"
The taller redhead was suddenly in front of her and he slapped her before she could move. The force of the hit was enough to send her sprawling. Ron sneered at her, disdainful. "You had the chance to get Hermione out of there and you left her behind. Then you have the nerve to parade around the castle like a hero, like you did something special. You're pathetic, and I should kill you before you get more innocent people hurt and killed."
Ginny stared at her brother, incredulous. Had he really just said that? She was frightened enough to know that he would kill her, too, if he was pushed enough. "Are you serious?! What could I have done? I didn't even know if she was still alive when I escaped! Let alone what cell she could have been in, if she was even in the same block as I was!" She crawled away from him, scrambling to her feet. She knew her story was good, with no holes to exploit. "Besides, if you kill me here and now, you'll be a kinslayer! Mum and Dad would disown you, the rest of the wizarding world will shun and despise you and you would be left out for the wolves!"
Ron realized the truth in her words and backed off, another sneer marring his face. "But in the battlefield, well, that will be a different story. But if you ever even think about mentioning our little 'meeting' today to anyone, I will find some way to set up an unfortunate and tragic 'accident'." He released the silencing and locking spells and left the empty classroom, leaving Ginny alone, tears running down her face.
She waited a few minutes, gathered up her things and headed for the Gryffindor dorms. She needed to think about how she was going to report this to Harry and Tom without Ron suspecting anything.
If Dumbledore decided that Ron would make a good weapon, then they were in trouble. A volatile Weasley bent on revenge with a self-righteous fury would be a very big problem for them.
The Manor house was empty, and Harry was left alone to his solitude. Currently, everyone else who was able was with Tom, scattered across the country, leading groups of Deatheaters and some werewolves in the attacks planned for the wizarding ports leading to the mainland that would effectively close them off from the rest of the world, at least until they were ready to deal with it.
As to why he wasn't with Tom, leading one of the attacks himself, well... he had nearly collapsed earlier in the day. It had been the first vision he'd had since hearing the Prophecy, since he had resolved his differences with Tom, and this vision, while fragmented, had frightened him. It had also startled Tom and Severus enough for them to convince him to stay behind on this mission.
The vision itself had lasted only a few seconds, but he had lost sense of his surroundings, and everything had felt like it had turned upside down. The images had flashed by in sharp bursts, painful. It had been a while before he could regain his senses and tell the others about the vision, and when he had gazed up at them from where he'd fallen on the floor, they had been startled and worries. Tom especially had seemed frightened for him.
He sighed and found himself in the library, empty now that Hermione and Draco had left with their bands of Deatheaters and Centaurs for their archeological expeditions, searching for the Sword of Darkness. No one was in the Manor and Harry felt incredibly lonely. The twins were looking after matters at the Daily Prophet while Severus was away, and Remus wasn't due back at the Manor for another week, being the go-between for Sirius at the Ministry and Tom. Ginny wasn't going to be back at the Manor possibly until she graduated from Hogwarts, and even then, possibly until it would be time to reveal their identities during the war, when they would have to take up their side of the war. Bill was in Egypt, back on his previous assignment from the goblins before this had all started, and he was only able to send the odd letter or fire call with an update every now and then. Charlie wouldn't be able to report back to them for another couple of months, he knew that, but he still the missed the company of the elder brothers, Charlie and Bill. They were his surrogate older brothers, and they were the ones he usually went to if he had to talk to someone about anything, including his concerns about and regarding Tom.
Even Fawkes wasn't around. The phoenix had taken a liking to Hermione and Draco and had followed them when they had left. The fiery bird had stayed with him for most of the day before leaving, crooning a soft trill every now and then for Harry's comfort, and he had appreciated the gesture.
He grabbed a book on advanced Transfiguration and settled into a chair beside the fire and began to read. Despite everything that was going on, with learning everything he could about warfare and politics, he still needed a basic education, now more than ever since he was no longer at Hogwarts, but Tom had the best library he had seen, and he was so far able to keep up the basic lessons he needed.
Today, his thoughts seemed to drift away from his book, leading his mind back to the vision. None of his other visions had been so fractured and painful, but then the other visions had always been Voldemort-induced. If Harry had to take a guess, he though that his previous visions were something that was controlled by his link with the Dark Lord, and had probably limited his visions to things that related to the link between them. Now that his link with Tom had stabilized, it wasn't a factor with his visions, resulting in the vision that felt like it had almost shattered his mind.
He had only seen bits of an event, and there had been screaming, too, and someone had been crying. He had seen flashes of green eyes, a woman's eyes, crying. There had been the clatter of chains, and he thought he had seen a familiar figure bound in chains, reaching out for something. An arrow with bright green fletching had struck something, and he had felt pain with it had hit. He had heard Dumbledore laugh, and had seen the old man's blue eyes twinkling. Anything had been lost, as he had collapsed.
He sighed, again. There was very little to go on with this vision, but he felt that he knew whom those eyes had belonged to, and that he should know the bound figure. He realized that those bright green eyes probably belonged to the figure. When he had been able to stand again right after the vision had hit, he had told Severus and Tom as much of it as he could, and even they hadn't been able to make heads or tails of the thing, although the two figured that it would be something disastrous for them.
Harry finally put his book aside, and stood from his chair to stand at the window. The day was growing late, but they had estimated that it would take a few days before they could fully control the ports, to stop any incoming Floos, and they would also be using the ports as focusing points for an anti-aparation shield that would seal the island off directly.
In a bid to stave off the loneliness of the empty Manor, Harry went to war room, where they planned out their attacks, and removed Ginny's latest report from Tom's desk. He had read it already, but the information inside had disturbed him deeply. He hadn't realized the true character that Ron was revealing now, and it startled him that his once best friend had become so violent, so... cold.
It also worried him that Dumbledore was making himself scarce, despite the activity in the castle. He was planning something that could truly devastate them if they weren't able to stop the old man. The Auror activity at the castle was also slightly disturbing. The thought of using the children of the castle as fodder for their war was inevitable, but he felt saddened by it nonetheless.
This war, completely unavoidable by Dumbledore's decision, was going to take it's toll on everyone affected by it, and after the war was won, it would take a long time before they fully recovered from it, and Harry knew that it was going to hard on everyone. There were going to be casualties, and both sides will be suffering greatly.
He was glad that his Elites were such strong people, because they would be the ones giving hope to the masses as he and Tom fought against Dumbledore. They were his pillars that he relied on for strength, as he had no illusions about his own strength. Harry knew that he was only as strong as the people around, that he gained his own strength from them, gained his strength to be able to protect them.
He wondered about his own strength, despite the people he kept around him, and he wondered if he was strong enough to carry them through this war and into the turbulent years ahead. He knew that if they won this war, that the first few years while he and Tom set up their kingdom were going to be rough on everyone.
He turned away from the window, suddenly irritated. It was this manor, empty like this, that was making him all depressing. He wished for something to do, something that would occupy him until the others would be able to return. He left the library in search of that something.
The battles were over, they had won control of the wizarding ports, with reports coming in from each squad with their own success and of the token resistance of each location. Tom roamed the empty halls of one indistinctive building, used by British wizards as a main portkey office. Portkeys were made here by Ministry officials and sent to the Ministry for distribution via Floo, of which they also had control.
But Tom was distracted this night, as he had been for the last few days. Not distracted enough for others to notices, except for, perhaps, his Elites. He was worried about Harry, and the horrible vision his little one had suffered from. The thing had been ghastly to watch, those few horrid seconds as his Mate fell to the floor with a sharp cry.
He had known, even when he had sent hateful visions to his Mate before the Prophecy's revelation, that the visions sent weren't generally painful; the only aspect that had hurt the younger Ancient then had his hatred and anger, but the vision itself had caused disorientation at the worst.
He had wondered about the cause of the vision as well, since there was no previous indication that the Potter line had been even the slightest bit clairvoyant. While there was the possibility that the Evans line, the family line of Harry's mother Lily, had the Gift of Sight, surely it would have shown itself with the brilliant witch herself. But it hadn't. There was no precedent for Harry's Gift, and that alone was cause for worry in his mind.
Tom longed to be home, at the Manor with his Mate, and away from the machinations of war that continuously pulled him away. He knew Harry would chafe at being left behind, and that the younger Ancient needed to been seen on the battlefield soon, or he would otherwise be seen as weak, but with the sudden revelation of Harry's Gift... well, he had seen it has a necessary precaution, and Severus had agreed with him, having witnessed the vision himself.
But enough of these morbid thoughts of things that were beyond his control; he would be leaving here soon, free to return home to his Mate! He longed for the warm embrace, of that brilliant smile that could light the room, of those sparkling eyes that burned with emotion for him. He wanted nothing more than to return to the Manor and shower his Mate with his affection. He smiled quietly at the thought.
Remus showed up then, Flooing in from one of the various rooms in this innocuous building. He came out into the hallway just ahead of Tom and nodded as he saw his Lord. The werewolf bowed and saluted, his polished steel mask gleaming.
"Your report, Moony?"
"Sir, every target has been conquered, with minor resistance. I just finished overseeing the reinforcements of the wards surrounding the long distance Apparation field in Manchester. Everything is going smoothly, as planned."
"Anything from the remnants of the Order, and remaining Auror forces?"
Remus shook his head. "Nothing, sir. Not even a scout to check out the situation. They've remained holed up at Hogwarts, just like we predicted and from what our spies have told us."
Tom started to laugh lightly, the sound full of contempt. "Good. That will make it all the easier to gather them all in one place, but that is ages away."
"Yes, sir. My Lord, if I may suggest..." Remus trailed off, his golden eyes just barely glinting from behind the mask that kept his identity secret from all others.
Tom raised a black brow in question. "Yes?"
"Go back to Headquarters. To be perfectly honest, you're not needed here anymore, and He is waiting." The Lycan smirked, knowing he could get away with his blatant and somewhat disrespectful honesty. "We can take care of everything else that needs to be done here, and at the other targets."
Tom allowed himself to chuckle, disregarding the less than respectful tone Remus had used. "Of course, my friend. Tell the others not to take very long, as we still have a lot of work to do before this war can be over."
"Understood, sir. Now get going before I have to chase you out of here!"
Tom laughed outright, and several Deatheaters hurrying by jumped at the sound, flinching. Apparently, things were never good when the Dark Lord laughed. Tom shook his head and with a quick to Remus, he left in search of the nearest exit.
Things were looking very good for them. He smiled. Very good, indeed.
A/N: This chapter has been a long time in coming, and there were many problems along the way. I thank you for your patience, and hope that all of my readers continue to enjoy my story. I shall try not to take as long with the next and future chapters. Thank you all.