"Good," Harry praised. "Great job, Hermione and Neville. Despite being outnumbered, you held your own well, complimenting each other and working in tandem. Alicia, next time consider the strength of your defense before aiding a teammate. It was a good sentiment, but it cost everyone. In saving one, you sacrificed all four."
Alicia, who had gingerly gotten to her feet, nodded.
"Colin, see what you are up against before you react. Justin, really good job on strategy, even if it didn't work. It might've if you knew your spells. Protego Scutum isn't made to absorb physical momentum. Aegis scutum would've been a better option. Research more about the spells you frequently use, especially shields. Each shield is different. And Katie, what the hell!?"
"I got scared! I have a major phobia of reptiles, okay?"
Harry sighed loudly, but before he could say anything, a glowing white spectral dog ran into the room through the floor.
It opened its mouth and spoke in Sirius's voice. "Lichfield, Wells, and Little Whinging are under attack! Go to Little Whinging!"
"I will accompany—"
"No," Harry said, as his battle robe appeared over his body. "Stay here, Hermione. I will be back."
And without a sound, he apparated straight to the neighborhood he had spent most of his childhood in.
Ch.70 Behind Closed Doors
3rd February 1996
Little Whinging, Surrey, England
Harry soundlessly appeared on the street of Privet Drive. The neighborhood he had spent his childhood in was in flames. Burning in the heat of an inferno.
The old Dursley residence was aflame, fiendfyre devouring it. Figg's house had already been reduced to ashes.
His eyes wandered ahead, spotting the spellfire. With a single thought, the world around him warped.
Appearing at the other end of the street, he spotted familiar faces battling figures clad in black robes and silver masks.
Power coursed through his veins. Fury burned through his chest.
He recognized Sirius and Remus, as they dueled three Death Eaters together. A distance away Fleur was going up against another.
With a twitch of his wand, a blasting curse shot forth. The Death Eater's shield shattered with a bang.
Fleur, unfazed, slashed her wand. The man's chest tore open. Blood splattered on the tarmac as the body fell.
Harry's eyes were drawn ahead as screams sounded. Another house went up in flames.
'Number nine. The Robinsons. Petunia never liked them.'
Fleur turned, her silvery blonde hair flying wildly. Her eyes roved over, latching into his.
But Harry didn't wait to catch her eyes. Curses rained down from his wand. The three Death Eaters battling Sirius and Remus were caught off guard in an instant.
The first crumpled to the ground, his head separated off his shoulders.
"Potter's here!" Someone in the distance shouted.
The second Death Eater was blasted across the street. He crashed straight into Number four.
'His last fiery grave.'
Without waiting, Sirius and Remus downed the third Death Eater with a piercing curse.
"Protect the civilians. Save lives. GO!" Harry ordered, strolling forward.
A group of Death Eaters had just come out of Number Eight. Their masks were off. Their expressions were contorted with fear.
Suddenly, the car parked in front of Number Eight rose in the air, shooting toward Harry.
Without breaking his stride, an eldritch purple spear shot forth from Harry's wand.
His aim struck true. The spear intercepted the incoming car, reducing it to smithereens.
Small bits of metal fell to the ground with miniature clangs. It was all that remained of the car.
'Can't have that.'
Magic burned through Harry's veins. A terrible hiss escaped his lips as he jabbed his wand toward the sky.
An invisible dome stretched over Privet Drive, stopping the Death Eaters from aparating away.
'An anti-travel ward. Parselmagic and Salazar Slytherin at their finest.'
Two heart-wrenching screams echoed through the place. Three Death-Eaters fell to the ground. Dead with body parts missing.
'Worst case possible of splinching. Ouch.'
The Death Eaters glanced at their fallen companions before looking at Harry.
Harry swung his wand upwards with a roar.
The fire from the burning houses rose, leaving the houses extinguished. The flames twisted haphazardly, high above the ground.
Harry poured more effort into controlling the flames. With a grunt, he turned his wand sharply.
The flames coalesced into a flaming, miniature sun right over Privet Drive.
Sweat began to drip down Harry's face. Drops splattered against the tarmac, wetting it briefly before the water dried.
The Death Eaters were all gathering and running to save their lives by now.
'Time to end this.'
With a slash of Harry's wand, the flames rushed toward the fleeing figures.
That was when the wheel of fate shifted to save them. Harry's wards collapsed with a ground-shaking bang.
A ball of black smoke flew through the sky before diving into the heart of the flames
The flames Harry had so tediously controlled, vanished into nothingness. Only its heat and roar lingered.
The black smoke hovered near the ground before taking the form of the Dark Lord. The smoke lingered around him, slowly forming his dark robes which contrasted sharply with his albino white skin.
Voldemort's red eyes glinted murderously.
"Harry Potter," He hissed.
In response, Harry uprooted and banished two street lamps at him.
With a lazy flick of Voldemort's wand, the street lamps vanished.
"Not today, Harry, I am afraid." He said, taking a lazy glance around at the carnage. "I just came here to stop you from murdering my followers."
"Oh, you are already scared of me. Good." Harry replied as the pops sounded all around.
The Death Eaters had apparated away.
A thin lipless smile curled onto Voldemort's face. "Your taunts mean little to me, Harry."
In response, Harry slashed his wand. A bolt of lightning shot at Voldemort.
He just raised his wand, erecting a shield in response.
"Not today, Harry," Voldemort tsked before jabbing his wand at the sky.
An eerie green triangle with the dark mark in its center appeared in the sky.
'Their new symbol.'
With a swipe of his wand, a ball of glowing red light shot at Voldemort.
Voldemort just smiled before disappearing in smoke. Harry's spell flew through thin air and hit the tarmac.
With an ear-shattering boom, the road was torn apart.
Harry's shout was met with silence.
Dust and smoke filled the atmosphere. The only sound that came was Harry's heavy breathing and the silent crumbling of Privet Drive.
A breeze blew across the street, clearing Harry's vision.
A soft hand grabbed Harry's shoulders, making him turn.
"He ran away, 'Arry," Fleur said softly. "There's nothing you can do about it."
Harry nodded and Fleur pulled him into a hug.
A strange emotion was welling in Harry's chess.
"I never loved it here," He breathed against Fleur's neck. "I even hated it here. But it feels—"
Harry was cut short as his attention was drawn back to his surroundings.
Sirens of the police cars were blaring, coming closer.
"Sirius, can you take care of the cops?" Harry asked, looking at his Godfather, who was standing a little distance away.
Sirius had a thin cut on his cheek and the lower part of his robes were muddy. Remus's hand hung limply at his side as he scrambled across the street to check on Emily Vance who had emerged with the Piers from his destroyed house.
Memories of Harry hunting swirled in Harry's mind.
"The muggle Aurors? Sure." Sirius huffed, wiping his face. "I think you should get back to the Headquarters. You too, Fleur."
"Come, 'Arry," Fleur said softly. "They might need help somewhere."
With a last mournful glance, Harry grabbed Fleur's arm and twisted, apparating straight to Grimmauld Place.
3rd February 1996
Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, London
Several battered, half-tired people sat within the group assembled at the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix.
Harry looked around the table to see the damage.
Remus had his arm in a sling. The left side of Hestia's face and her left arm was covered with a burn salve. Daedalus Diggle had his head wrapped in bandages. Arthur was wincing in pain at the slightest movement.
And not to mention, a handful of members were entirely absent.
Some, like Amelia, Scrimgeour, Kingsley, and Moody were running damage control across the attacked areas to uphold the Statute of Secrecy.
Another dozen, who had fought were being treated for their injuries by the healer crew in the Order of the Phoenix.
The ones present, who had actually fought the Death Eaters barely an hour ago, were covered in soot, mud, or blood.
All three in Nymphadora's case, who was wearing a sick smile on her face as the blood of Death Eaters covered her robes alongside mud and soot.
From what Harry had heard, she had slaughtered three of them at Lichfield, not even giving them the courtesy of a quick death. She had left them to bleed out, as their skins rotted, and burning pain shot through their body, immobilizing them.
Harry had recognized the curse from its description. The Black family at its finest. Or worst, depending on what way one saw it.
A gruesome curse. While not holding the sheer pain or the unstoppability of a Cruciatus Curse, it was still one of the worst curses to get hit with. Death was often guaranteed once you fell victim to the curse.
A slow, painful death.
The effects of Andromeda's death were clearly visible on her daughter as days passed. Tonks' hatred toward the Death Eaters was growing by the day and it seemed that she was finally getting her revenge.
'But her mental state is not right. The Tonks I knew would never be wearing a smile after killing three people. She needs to see a therapist. I will talk to Sirius about it.'
"I hope everyone is here," Dumbledore began in a dead tone. "Today was the first attack by Voldemort on Britain. This is the first of many. As we know, he hit Lichfield, Wells, and Little Whinging. In these attacks, we, unfortunately, lost Sturgis Podmore."
Silence reigned over the table.
'Another of our numbers down.'
"Sturgis was a brave man who died fighting for what he believed in. To Sturgis."
"To Sturgis," Harry chanted back almost mechanically.
'I don't even have a glass to raise in his memory.'
"Now, onto concerning matters. We need Obliviators in our numbers. At least a few." Dumbledore said gravely. "The Statute of Secrecy is vital to be maintained. I am ashamed of myself that I didn't spot this sooner, despite having done the same in the first war."
"Everyone in the ministry is running haywire trying to sort through this," Arthur said. "I yelled instructions from the floo, only a few minutes ago myself. The Obliviator and the magical reversal squads are on it."
"That is not going to cut it. We need more people," Harry said. "We need people to work on damage control. The Order cannot do everything. We need hands on deck from the ministry. At all times."
"Take the employees from useless departments like sports and games, creature department, and education department and put them on the field to run damage control. They just need to know three spells. Obliviate, Aguamenti, and Reparo. Nothing more."
"They need to agree to do it," Arthur said.
"They damn will if they value their jobs then," Harry snapped. "We are not telling them to fight. We need to maintain the Statute of Secrecy. That's it. The Order cannot put their resources into two things and neither can the Auror and Hitwizard forces. We fight the Death Eaters. We prevent them from killing people. We protect innocents. But we cannot do everything."
"That is correct," Sirius said. "With Voldemort and Grindelwald in play, we need to protect the Statute of Secrecy. But the order cannot do it."
"That is a sound idea, I believe. Take members from other departments and put them on Obliviator duty and tell them to run damage control after attacks. This was a relatively small attack. If they attack multiple locations… populated locations like London—"
"The DMLE will be understaffed to handle such a fallout. But the ministry has enough force to run damage control if trained. Voldemort seldom did wide-scale attacks at muggle locations in the last war. Grindelwald has no such qualms. He will burn down London just for the sake of it. And if it happens, we can control the fire and push it back but we won't be capable of handling the fall of the Statute of Secrecy at the same time."
Dumbledore leaned back in his chair before nodding. "Take this message to Amelia and Alastor as soon as—"
Dumbledore stopped short as there was a frantic banging on the door of the kitchen.
Harry and Dumbledore shared a look before Harry wandlessly opened the door, making Amelia burst in.
"Dumbledore, you need to see this," She said, hurrying toward the headmaster without a preamble. "The Queen has summoned us tomorrow morning on an urgent basis. The muggle Prime Minister just dropped this off at my office."
"Why would the Queen summon you?" Harry blurted. "She is—"
"While the first point of contact to the muggle government has always been the Prime Minister, the Queen is the reigning authority in matters of muggle-wizard relations. I last met her in '81." Dumbledore said, looking through the papers Amelia had given him.
"While we do not strictly fall under the crown, we still are British citizens, meaning, she is still our Queen in a sense even if the wizarding world is outside her legislative and executive jurisdiction. But if she summons us, we still need to answer. It is complicated." Amelia clarified.
"We need to be ready tomorrow," Dumbledore declared. "Wear your best dress, Amelia. We are meeting the Queen. And don't, by any chance, carry anything more than your wand or be late. In fact, report to my office at nine."
"I can come with you," Harry piped up. "I am muggle-raised and—"
"No, Harry. You are not coming. Because she specifically has asked for Amelia and me. Also, if you come, that will look like intimidation. The Queen might not interfere with us but she keeps up with the affairs of the wizarding world as she does with her own. It is her duty. She knows who the most powerful wizards are. You and me together? That sends a message that if need be, we have enough force to squash anything that she throws at us."
"That's okay," Harry said with a grimace.
'We can't fight two wars. Especially one against muggles when Grindelwald is in action. He will make it a full-out war between muggles and wizards which will only end up in destruction. War always does.'
"I am adjourning the meeting right here as I need to get going," Dumbledore declared as he stood up. "Everyone, I suggest that you go to bed and rest. Heal. Because this is just the beginning. Things are only going to worsen from here."
At the grim nods, Dumbledore turned to Harry. "Harry, my boy, you should return to Hogwarts."
"Yes, yes. I will."
"And, do me a favor. Take my fifth-year morning class tomorrow. And if need be, the other fifth-year class after lunch. I do not know how long the meeting with the Queen will last."
"Of course, Professor."
"Excellent. Good night everyone."
And with a pop, Dumbledore disapparated.
Harry looked over to Nymphadora who stretched lazily with a smile on her face. "Good night people. I am going to sleep."
There was a sense of satisfaction in her voice that Harry couldn't shake. A satisfaction that was giving him the creeps.
Tonks had enjoyed killing Death Eaters.
"Sirius, we need to talk," Harry said. "Now."
4th February 1996
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Whispers once more followed Harry as he walked through the corridors of the castle.
The news of the attacks had gotten out alongside the news that he had faced Voldemort again.
As Harry was on his way to the DADA classroom, he found himself face to face with a fuming Angelina Johnson.
"Angelina. How may—"
"When were you going to fucking tell me that you cannot play Quidditch?"
"Excuse me?" Harry asked with bewilderment.
"As a teacher, you can no longer participate as my seeker," she hissed.
"That's unfortunate but I didn't know," Harry coughed. "I should've seen that coming."
"That's not the fucking point, Potter. I let you get away with not coming to most practices. I let you get off with many things because you perform flawlessly in matches. Now where the fuck am I going to find a seeker in the MIDDLE OF THE MOTHERFUCKING SEASON!?"
"I— I will help you find my replacement, Ang—"
"Don't bullshit me, Potter. You know fucking well that you cannot help us in the practices now that you are a teacher. Didn't you care about—"
"No, I really don't care about Quidditch, Angelina," Harry snapped back. "It didn't even cross my mind when I took the position. But there is nothing we can do. I say, go to McGonagall and try to get permission for me to play."
"No, she refused!"
"What do you want me to do then, Angelina? I have more important things to worry about than Quidditch, as much as I hate to say it."
"I need YOU to get me YOUR replacement!"
'That is exactly what I said not even a minute ago.'
"Ginerva Weasley. She is good on a broom. I will lend her my firebolt for the match to win. Take her to practice."
"She's our best bet, I guess," Harry shrugged. "Good on a broom. Decent reflexes. Lithe and light, which is perfect for a seeker. Plus, with my Firebolt's speed, she has a good chance of catching the snitch."
"She is gonna go up against Cho Chang. She is as experienced as you are. Maybe more, seeing you don't practice these days beyond a couple of days before a match."
"She'll do just fine. Ravenclaw's not the problem. You, Alicia, and Katie will crush them or at least minimize the margin by which we might lose. You know what? Tell Fred and George to take Cho out early."
"You're talking of rough-housing her."
"A bludger to the back won't be pretty. I would've recommended the Wronski Feint—"
"Yes, my favorite. It would take Cho out of the game. She rides a Comet and has a bad habit of tailing the other seeker."
"That was you. You have an eye for the snitch that no one does."
Harry felt a smile bloom on his face. "Well, that's true."
"Don't get too cocky."
"Just take her out, you'll be fine. Put one of the twins on her tail during the match and begin training Ginny. Now, if you don't mind, I've got a class to teach in less than two minutes. That too, the fifth year." Harry said hurriedly as he glanced at his watch.
"I thought you were—"
"Filling in for Dumbledore. He's out for work. Now bye!" Harry yelled as he began to rush up the stairs to his class.
As soon as he was out of the line of sight, he apparated mid-step, straight to his office.
Taking a measured breath, Harry straightened his robes before looking at his watch.
'One minute to the bell. I would've been late had I not apparated.'
With a look around the room, Harry walked to Dumbledore's cabinet and summoned his class planner for the fifth year.
It was disappointingly empty.
'Not that I can complain. I haven't written anything in mine either. Guess I would've to just ask someone.'
The loud ringing of the bell made him jerk up. Shoving the file back in place, Harry locked the cabinet before hurrying into the class.
"Good morning everyone," He said, walking into the class, making the Hufflepuffs and Slytherins look up. "Before you all ask, Headmaster Dumbledore cannot teach today due to some important work."
"What work?" Malfoy asked loudly.
"You can ask the headmaster in your next class, Mr. Malfoy. Now can someone— yes, Malfoy?"
"You are not qualified to teach this class," He sneered. "This is not—"
"If you have got a problem with me, Mr. Malfoy, you can take it up with the Deputy Headmistress," Harry said briskly. "Now, can somebody tell me what Professor Dumbledore has covered in the past classes?"
"We finished the shield spell and today we were going to begin learning non-verbal casting, sir. And we had to hand in the homework of its theory today." Megan Jones promptly replied.
Harry saw her cheeks turn pink as she spoke just as a few muffled groans sounded at the last part.
"Well, then please hand the homework in the next class to the Headmaster himself. Now, non-verbal casting. I assume that everyone is aware of the theory of the topic as I assume you all have done your homework."
"Yes, professor," people chimed.
"Excellent. Then we can get right down to the practicals. Form pairs and face each other."
With a flick of Harry's wand, the desks disappeared, being transported to the adjacent room and students began to form pairs.
"Does everyone know how to cast a simple stunner?"
"We learned it in the third year, Potter," Malfoy ejaculated loudly, making Harry turn.
"Thank you, Mr. Malfoy. It was a rhetorical question." Harry scoffed. "Now, why don't you get into your pair and face your opponent."
Malfoy sneered in response.
"Also," Harry added, narrowing his eyes. "It is Professor Potter."
Malfoy didn't reply, choosing to face Nott, who looked disappointed in his choice.
"Now, the students standing to the left will try to cast a non-verbal stunner at their opponents while the opponent shields using the Protego shield. That way, you will have a practice of both. Now, as to how to get on with non-verbal casting. It is simple. You break the casting down. First, try to perform a spell properly. Wand movement, incantation, all of it. Then after a couple of tries, you eliminate the wand movement and point and cast it. Once you get that down, you must begin to soften your incantations. Finally, you completely forgo saying the incantations."
"Sir, some of us already know how to cast non-verbal spells," Daphne said. "So—"
"Then you should practice more, Miss Greengrass. Pair up with someone who knows non-verbal casting as well. Go to the side and have a mock duel using curriculum spells."
Harry stressed the word 'curriculum spells' because he was well aware of the fact that if Susan and Daphne dueled while going all out, he would need a much bigger space to conduct the duel. Not to mention, he would need to actively witness it like a dueling referee.
Both the girls had progressed to the point that Harry was sure that they would get into the Hit-wizard squad if combat was the only basis. Fleur would definitely get in if she wanted to.
Daphne gave him a dry glare before giving Susan a look.
In the Slytherins, Daphne was by far the most competent. Same for Susan in Hufflepuff even if Cedric came close.
"I think we might need a little more space here, Harry. Spells are going to fly." Susan whispered as she brushed against him.
"Okay folks, those who know non-verbal casting, go to the other side of the classroom. Those who don't, stay on this side so I can help you." Harry ordered as he waved his wand, expanding the classroom.
Half of the Hufflepuff house, along with Daphne and Blaise Zabini from Slytherin moved to the other side of the classroom.
Harry looked carefully at Zabini, the son of the infamous Black Widow. He was the only person who seemed to know non-verbal casting and was not a part of the Dragon Legion.
Sparring him a last glance, Harry turned to the remaining students. "Well, what are you gawking at them for? Pair up."
An hour and a half later, the bell rang, signaling the end of the double-period DADA class.
"Okay, everyone. Pack up. Before you go, I have homework for you. I want you to practice doing a few charms nonverbally. The summoning charm, banishing charm, levitation, and if possible, the shield charm. Professor Dumbledore will be testing you on it in his next class. Am I understood? Good. Class dismissed."
People began to move out of the door just as the classroom began to shrink, reverting to its original size. Susan and Daphne, alongside many others, bid him goodbye or gave him a smile on their way out.
As Harry turned to leave the classroom and go back to his office, a voice behind him rang out. "Potter, a word please."
Harry turned only to see Blaise Zabini standing behind him, his book bag slung over a shoulder. His wand was nowhere in sight.
Harry gave the boy a moment to start before clearing his throat. "Zabini. Did you have a doubt about the lesson?"
The boy raised an eyebrow before shaking his head. "I think we both know that is not the case. I have been doing spells non-verbally since the Christmas break. No, I wish to talk to you about something else."
Harry gave him a nod before walking to the door that connected his office to the classroom.
"Come through," Harry said, inviting the boy into his office and closing the door behind him.
As Zabini looked around, a glint of caution shining in his eyes, Harry calmly sat on the edge of his desk.
"How may I help you?"
Zabini flicked his wrist, bringing forward his wand.
"May I erect a privacy charm?" He asked, almost hurriedly as he watched Harry's fingers twitch.
Harry's eyes narrowed.
"You may," Harry replied and patiently watched the boy weave a few privacy spells, some rather advanced, over the room.
"I don't recognize the last spell," Harry said, as he watched the walls flash with a slight purple hue. Reaching out with his magic, Harry sought its intent.
'A ward-protection spell. Similar to the one I do in parseltongue but much weaker.'
"I would be greatly worried if you did," Zabini replied easily, putting his wand away, showing he was unarmed.
"It is a ward shield though. An extra armor so that enchantments cannot be dismantled easily. Overkill in such a case." Harry added, making Zabini give him a stink eye.
A moment later, he seemed to compose himself.
'Occlumency. Nothing I wouldn't have expected.'
"See, I have no quarrel with you or Dumbledore. I didn't interfere with you and we barely have shared a word in all our years at Hogwarts."
"Indeed. So, what do you want?"
"I don't. My mother does."
'His mother. Oh, Merlin.'
"I am not marrying her," Harry said instantly. "She—"
"She doesn't want to marry you, Potter," Zabini replied with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. "She isn't into young boys by her own admission, especially someone her son's age. And she won't risk doing anything to you of all people. You marry her and you die, my mother's going to end up kissed by dementors or lynched to death before she could say a word."
Harry hummed contemplatively for a moment, allowing the statement to linger.
"Then what does she want?"
"The thing you offered all the Slytherins in our common room."
The air grew cooler as Harry leaned forward. A part of him was itching to try Legilimency on the boy but he knew that it wasn't a viable option.
"How does your mother know of my offer?" He asked edgily.
There was no way the secrecy spell invented by Salazar was bypassed.
"She doesn't know about it. I got a letter from her this morning to contact you and ask you if you would be willing to have a meeting with her. You or Dumbledore either, I mean. She seeks the protection of House Zabini from the conflict that is going on. Namely, Grindelwald and Voldemort. That goes exactly hand in hand with the offer you made."
'Well, he seems genuine enough. His mother, though, is like the Lucius Malfoy of Italy. Too dangerous to be dealt with unless you have considerable leverage.'
"Well?" Blaise asked impatiently at the pause.
"Tell her to meet me this Sunday. Location of her choosing, but within Britain. Oh, and lunchtime."
The boy raised an eyebrow.
"You're leaving the location for us to decide?"
"Take it as an olive branch from my side. I am dictating the time you dictate the place. Also, despite whatever you think your mother can do, I can do more."
"I do not particularly think seduction might be your strong suit," Zabini said with a wry laugh. "But you don't need to worry about that."
Harry tutted. "Are you going to take it or—"
"I will," Zabini said with a nod. "And… Thank you for hearing her out. It is seldom that my mother will seek help instead of strong-arming someone to have a deal."
"Then I shall inform you of the place as soon as my mother reverts. See you around, Potter."
6th February 1996
Lestrange Manor, Britain
"You're late, Severus," a high, clear voice rang out from the head of the table.
The room was full of silent people, sitting at a long and ornate table. The room's usual furniture had been pushed carelessly up against the walls. Illumination came from a roaring fire beneath a handsome marble mantelpiece surmounted by a gilded mirror.
"My apologies, my Lord. Dumbledore held me up. I came as fast as I could." He breathed.
"Do not make this a habit, Severus," Voldemort hissed, leaning forward from the shadows. "I let you away with a lot. Your tardiness though is annoying."
"You are most generous, my Lord. And I assure you that it won't happen again."
"Make sure it doesn't. Now, find yourself a seat."
Snape hastily took the nearest seat, right beside Avery.
"Now, I need reports, Severus. What are Potter and Dumbledore up to?"
"My Lord, Potter claims to have made you flee from a fight with him."
"Our Lord chose not to engage after saving his men," Bellatrix hissed.
"His words, not mine, Bellatrix." Snape Drawled.
"No Bella," Lord Voldemort hissed firmly, his red eyes glaring at Bellatrix. "You are not allowed to go after the boy. He will kill you. Any of you. I have seen what the boy is capable of. He is mine and only mine. Severus, continue."
"Nothing more than that, my Lord. The Order plans to run interference in case of attacks, as usual. And as I am pained to say it, this time, they are in a much better position. They are preparing for attacks. Medical supplies are being hoarded. Dumbledore is thinking of recruiting internationally."
"Is he now?" Voldemort asked silkily, stroking his new wand.
Yew. Runespoor and Dragon Heartstrings. Thirteen inches.
It was as good as his old wand from Ollivanders had been. Perhaps slightly better, owing to the change of the core.
"Very well. Anything else I should be aware of, Severus?"
"Not that I am aware of, my Lord."
"Very well. When will the giants be ready, MacNair?"
Snape nearly rolled his eyes.
Walden MacNair's younger brother, Wilfred, wasn't nearly as capable as he thought he was. He didn't have the contacts his elder brother had, for one.
But that was good. Good for the Order of the Phoenix. MacNair's incompetence had prevented the giants from being brought to Britain thus far.
And with Lucius and Nott gone, neither did the Death Eaters have enough capital to make things flow in the black-market channels.
"Decently, my Lord. They should be in Britain by the end of this month. The first week of March at the latest in case of delays."
But that won't be the case for long, it seemed.
"I do not like delays, Wilfred." The Dark Lord hissed.
"I apologize, my Lord. But there is little I can do. With Lucius gone—"
"No excuses! Do whatever it takes! I want the giants here by the end of this month."
"I will try my best, my Lord."
"Indeed. Now, Yaxley, have you found any willing benefactors for our cause? Or do I need to rely on Grindelwald for funding?" The Dark Lord hissed.
"No— no, of course not, my Lord. I have found a few willing benefactors. The Rosier Family, or what remains of it is willing to fund us. Even old Jugson is prepared to do anything for our cause after the death of his family. Lord Carrow, on the other hand, has a few demands or so he says."
"Then negotiate. We need funds, Yaxley. Use whatever means necessary. Our most willing benefactors are dead, and their accounts were frozen by the ministry."
"Your wish is my command, my Lord."
"It is my command, Yaxley," Voldemort sneered. "See that you fulfill my command."
"Of course, my Lord."
"Dolohov. What luck do you have with recruitment?"
"I have a total of twenty-three wizards and witches ready to join our cause. That is all I could manage in the past month."
"Only twenty-three?" Voldemort hissed.
"People are more scared of Potter and Dumbledore as compared to you, My Lord. Especially after so many of ours were executed after the ministry attack. They do not believe that—"
"That I am still powerful enough as I was. My name doesn't carry the same weight that it used to. They rely on their saviors to save them." Voldemort said softly, his red eyes glinting murderously in the darkness of the room. "And we must remind them. Remind them of the power of Lord Voldemort!"
"Where shall we attack, my Lord?" Bellatrix's excited voice echoed through the room, sending a shiver down Snape's spine.
Dumbledore would need to hear about this.
11th February 1996
Guerriero Di Lupo Restaurant, London
Harry subconsciously fiddled with his bow tie and tux as he looked at the restaurant in front of him.
He was here to meet Anastasia Zabini, The Contessa of Sicily, and arguably the most powerful woman in magical Italy, as far as the political arena was concerned.
She was much like the Lucius Malfoy of Italy minus the Death Eater part. Politically influential and having contacts that money couldn't possibly buy.
But that was not to say that she was clean.
Oh no, that would be a gross underestimation of a woman.
She had gone through eight husbands in the past decade. Eight.
Out of them, seven had died in mysterious circumstances. Most, including Harry, suspected that Anastasia Zabini herself had murdered them to gain their fortunes. But not a shred of proof had ever been found against her.
Blaise's father had died in 1982, succumbing to a long-standing blood curse in the Zabini family line. After his death, Anastasia had all but vanished from the surface of the earth for a year and a half. That was until the fateful convention of the Italian Parliament in 1984. The day she took the Zabini seat, as the Contessa of Sicily.
After that, there had been no looking back for the woman. She had proceeded to dominate the parliament and gain an ear to the Minister of Italy within a scant few weeks. And then, she had married man after man, all of whom suffered unexplainable fates, leaving Anastasia their fortune.
Not over-the-top alone but eight such fortunes? Now that was something.
Anatasia Zabini was rich enough to make most pure-blood families look like paupers in front of her wealth. Even the Black fortune didn't come close to the sheer money she had.
Anatasia Zabini, as much as Harry hated to admit it, was a consummate Slytherin. A person whom even Salazar Slytherin respected for her Slytheriness.
The fact that she had single-handedly quadrupled the Zabini fortune in the past decade, despite the extravagant lifestyle she lived, and the bribes, funding and whatnot were a testament to her sheer skills as far as politics and finance were concerned.
Had it been anyone else, Harry was sure they would've been put under investigation or worse, been jailed. But not a single finger had been ever raised against Anastasia Zabini. On paper, the woman was as clean as she could be.
And she had asked for a talk with him, having come all the way from Sicily to meet him.
That was not to mention the place of the meeting. She had invited Harry to have lunch in a muggle restaurant in London of all places.
A Michelin Star Italian Restaurant.
'Vernon would go bonkers if he was invited here.' Harry mused as he walked toward the door with a last glance at the Silver-Black Rolls Royce parked right outside the place.
The doorman bowed and pulled the door open for Harry to enter.
"Mr. Potter," A smooth cultured voice greeted as soon as he stepped foot into the place. "Miss Zabini is waiting for you. This way please."
Harry's eyes lingered for a moment on the suit-clad man before roving around the rather posh, yet empty restaurant.
Only a single customer was sitting at a table in the center of the place.
A beautiful lady, dressed in an expensive black gown with a heavy diamond necklace adorning her neck.
'Anastasia Zabini. Contessa of Sicily.'
The necklace glittered as she rose to her feet seeing him approach.
"Lady Zabini," Harry said with a smile as she extended her hand, making Harry kiss the air above her knuckles. "It is a pleasure to meet you."
"Lord Potter," She smiled, a hint of her pearly white teeth glinting in the light of the place. "And the pleasure is all mine. You are a celebrity amongst us."
Her voice sent goosebumps pricking down Harry's neck before Harry smothered it, giving a slight laugh in response.
"You know, I was quite surprised when I got to know of this destination," Harry commented as he took a seat at the table across from her.
"Oh, I own this place," She said nonchalantly as she gestured to someone behind Harry.
Harry's hand went to his wand as he turned to see who it was. A moment later, he relaxed as he saw muggle waiters hurrying in their direction, carrying the starters and other foodstuffs.
'Rich to the point of insanity. A restaurant like this, especially in the heart of London won't come cheap.' Harry mused as he waited for the waiters to serve the food.
"Thank you," Harry told the man as everything was served. The man smiled and backed away from the table before rapidly disappearing from sight.
"I hope the place and choice of cuisine are to your liking, Lord Potter."
"Let it be known that you are an excellent hostess, Lady Zabini," Harry said, raising a glass to her. "Now, how may I help you?"
"Straight to the point, I see," She said, almost disappointedly. "Very well. I am here to make you an offer you can't refuse."
"An offer. Most interesting. What do you have in mind?"
"House Zabini seeks your protection from the two dark lords who are currently at large," She said amiably before taking a bite of the salad-type dish that had been served.
"I know of it. Blaise told me as much. But why?"
She frowned. "Why do you mean why? Isn't it obvious?"
"Ma'am, please don't think that I do not know of the power your family has. You have wealth, influence, connections, and power. You are the Contessa of Sicily. You have the Auror force of Italy at your beck and call."
Anatasia scoffed in an unladylike manner. "Do you think that any Auror could hold their own against Grindelwald?"
"A small force could stall him long enough for you to escape to safety in one of your villas or castles." Harry reasoned dismissively.
"That isn't going to work. If it would, I would've already done it. No measure is safe enough against men like them. Gods amongst men. To face them… you need another like them. Someone powerful enough to lay waste to armies. Like you or Dumbledore."
"And?" Harry drawled.
"I want you to come and protect me if the Death Eaters or the Knights ever attack my home. Also, added protection in the form of wards or anything else you might see fit."
"So, if Death Eaters attack, you expect me to come running—"
"And protect me and my son, yes. Also, I require you to extend your protection to him at Hogwarts. The boy is in Slytherin. I do not want him harmed."
"That is quite an ask. You essentially want me to be your son's bodyguard."
"Not a bodyguard, but extend your protection to him if needed. I am not sure how safe my son is at Hogwarts. But he is stubborn and wishes to continue there." She explained.
"And might I ask, what is in it for me?"
"Anything you ask." She said, leaning forward. "Money, information, houses, contacts— you name it. I am a woman of great resources, Mr. Potter. Resources that could topple governments. Information that could bring ruin to the most influential families. As a small gesture, let me start now."
She brought her small handbag out and parted the pearl handles before removing a scroll.
Harry's eyebrows rose as he took the proffered scroll and unfurled it.
"These are Gringotts' vault transfer papers. A money vault, number one thousand two fifty of the Diagon Alley branch. Whose latest audited value, which was done yesterday is—"
"A quarter million Galleons," She replied with a smile. "That is a small funding for the Order of the Phoenix. And this is just the beginning. Agree to my terms and you have the full support of Anastasia Zabini, that is me, behind you."
"That is quite a lucrative deal," Harry said, as he kept the parchment back on the table and picked up his cutlery.
"Your point is?"
"What you are offering seems too good to be true to me. And such things tend to make me suspicious. You are offering me anything and everything I want, in exchange for protection for you and your son. Something you can arrange for yourself if you really want."
"It is not going to be enough if they come for me," She practically hissed. "With Grindelwald's inclusion in all of this, things have changed drastically. I wouldn't be sitting here if just Tom Riddle was my problem."
Harry's head snapped up at that.
She knew Voldemort's real name.
"Oh yes. I know his name. It isn't hard to find if you know where to look. Especially since Dumbledore tried to have it published twice and failed due to the unexpected assassinations of the editor of the papers. Tom Riddle is someone who won't go against me unless I do something to him. He never expanded his reach past Magical Britannia. It is Grindelwald who is the real threat to me."
"He killed much of your family in the war. I know." Harry conceded.
"Much?" She scoffed. "He is the one practically responsible for Blaise and me being the last of the Zabinis. If Blaise and I die, it will be the end of the Zabini name. Please, Mr. Potter. I come to you, not as the Contessa of Sicily, but as a mother."
The word seemed to reverberate through the room.
"I understand," Harry said, making her smile sadly.
"Then I think we both will be mutually beneficial to one another. You do your best to protect me and I throw my full support behind you, given, of course, it is reasonable."
"You have got yourself a deal then, I suppose. I will send you the portkeys and the emergency beacon. Add me to your wards, won't you?"
She nodded before looking up sharply. "Speaking of wards, I also wish for you and Dumbledore to ward my houses— at least two of our primary residences to the best of your capacity. One is here in Britain and the other is the Zabini castle in Italy. No need to do the rest."
"Wards, Mr. Potter. To protect where we stay. And we will stay indoors as much as possible. The wards just need to be powerful enough to give you time to reach me and—"
"Respectfully, you've enough money to get the world's best warding team to do your warding," Harry said. "Why do you want me to do this stuff?"
"That's already done," she waved dismissively. "I took Europe's best warding team and gave them the job about eight months ago. In fact, I hired them as soon as Dumbledore gave his statement in front of the Confederation. I knew what was coming."
"That's good to hear," Harry vocalized.
"But with Grindelwald's inclusion, as I said, I feel highly unsafe. Grindelwald is the one responsible for Blaise and me being the last of the Zabini family. You must understand the gravity of the situation the Zabini family is in. No sort of protection is enough against him. You need to ward my properties. I know you and Dumbledore both are masters of warding."
"Alright," Harry said after a moment of consideration. "Then I will look over your wards and add anything I might see fit. I will protect Blaise and you against the Death Eaters when necessary. Is that all?"
"For the wards, I don't only want you to look over them. I want you to add Parselmagic wards over our property alongside the Fidelius charm."
"The warding on the box in the Triwizard tournament. It had wards in a language that the best of curse breakers couldn't crack it for hours. A warding which you did in less than ten minutes. And you are a known parselmouth. Also, you demonstrated a Fidelius charm for your OWLs. I know that you can do it. I am asking you for the best protection there is."
Harry's eye twitched.
She was playing now. Negotiating. Something he didn't like.
"And you are going to give everything as promised. Contacts. Money. Anything I ask for."
"I have conditions on them." She added almost hesitantly, making Harry narrow his eyes further.
"Those conditions better be reasonable or the complete offer is off the table. And I will do the favor of pointing Grindelwald in your direction. You don't play politics with me."
Harry made a wind blow through the restaurant, as the lights flickered overhead.
"I know, I know. Just— see, I don't want Blaise or myself being dragged into the field. I won't raise my wand unless it is in self-protection."
"Done." Harry waved off.
"This offer ends from both sides once Grindelwald and Voldemort die or are captured."
"The sums of money, beyond what I've given you right now, would need reasoning. A reasonable need. I won't allow you to mooch off my fortune for yourself. I am giving this money to act against Grindelwald and Voldemort."
"I need amends on that one. First, I will not share any plan I have with you. You won't be getting secrets from my side that way."
"I would at least need a vague reason or hint as to why you need the money. I am open to swearing a secrecy oath if it cannot be done without it. Also, do not pretend that you cannot fund it yourself. The Potter and Black fortune together are much more than mine." She scoffed.
"Indeed. We will come back to that when needed."
"Okay. Also, if I get something done for you… something not exactly legal, you do not ask me how I did it."
Harry raised his eyebrows before nodding in assent.
"That's all then. Do you have anything to ask of me?"
"Do you have any information right now about the other side?" Harry enquired, taking the last bite of his starter.
"Not much. But I can give you some things that governments around the world have hidden in the past few weeks. And I do have some heavy inner information on it."
"Yes. And we have three more courses to go." She said with a grin, as she clinked her wine glass twice with her knife, making three waiters hurry toward the table.
Harry was in for a long talk. And just maybe, he had made a very beneficial deal for himself.
AND… DONE! Hope you all liked the chapter!
A huge thanks to Mughil and Ultimate Gamer for betaing the chapter.
Kjhonny2112: I see Hermione as a sister-figure for Harry rather than a love interest, at least as far as my story is concerned. I just like that dynamic more as compared to a love interest.
Guest: I post it at least once every month. A rough estimate would be every 3 or 4 weeks. Also, a small request for you. Please name yourself even if you are reviewing from a guest account. It makes answering easier.
Xurofall: Yes… I took inspiration from Wednesday ;).
Sonotawriter: Hey… I had my chemistry exams at that time. Got that mixed up. xD
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