Chapter Fifty – Master and Minions
They were free.
After years of confinement.
Years of constant torment by the Dementors.
Years of pain.
Years of waiting for their fallen Master's return.
They were free.
And the world would pay.
The journey back from Azkaban took hours. Their exertions, after long years of isolation, weakened them greatly.
But at long last they again entered the presence of their Master.
As always darkness pervaded the chamber. Voldemort sat comfortably in a simple chair. He found stark simplicity conveyed his power quite effectively.
He watched as his returning followers slowly and with great reverence entered the chamber.
He observed them closely. The pain of their imprisonment was apparent. The slow, almost aching way they walked. Their faces etched with lines, drained of color, of life. Permanently scarred by Azkaban.
But as they grew closer to their Master they grew a little taller. Their steps more certain. Voldemort saw strength in their eyes. The devotion, the loyalty so lacking in his other followers.
The Death Eaters formed a semi circle in front of Voldemort's chair and dropped to their knees.
Voldemort rose from his chair and slowly made his way around the semi circle. Touching each bowed head in turn. No words were spoken. None were needed. As he touched them he allowed a bit of power to flow out of himself through the Dark Mark and into these most loyal of his Death Eaters.
Such a thing would never be done, or even considered, for any of his other followers. They were weak, cowardly, they denied him. But these few had proven their loyalty. They earned the reward he gave them.
And they knew it. They knew the Dark Lord possessed power immeasurable. Power beyond their comprehension. They'd seen it. After all, death itself clearly held no sway over him.
And now a small portion of that power flowed through them.
Voldemort completed his rounds and returned to his chair.
He spoke, "Arissse my Knights, my Death Eaters."
They rose. Their faces still bore the mark of Azkaban but their eyes radiated power.
"Welcome," Voldemort said. "You have ssufferred much in my service. And I have given you the first of your rewards. Rest assssured, when we take back our world from the weak and tainted you will be raisssed above all others."
Bellatrix spoke first. "Master, we are eager to resume the battle. What service do you require of us?"
Voldemort smiled. "For now, patience. Soon enough you will unleasssh your fury. But first ressst."
He motioned with his hand and the assemble group turned and began to depart. Their steps now much more certain, their heads high. The weariness banished from their bodies by the gift from their Master.
"Bellatrix," Voldemort said. "Remain for a moment."
Bellatrix Lastrange turned and calmly walked back to her Master's chair.
Voldemort waited until the others left before he spoke.
"There are traitors among my Death Eaters," he said. "Those who feel they can challenge my power."
"Malfoy," she spat.
"Yesss," Voldemort hissed.
"What do you desire Master?"
"You will find them for me," Voldemort said. "Use whatever tools or methods you deem appropriate."
"He brought many into our ranks," Bellatrix noted.
"And they are now sussspect," Voldemort said. "Question them; question any who were loyal to Malfoy. He and his followers musst be found."
"And when I find him and his traitorous lackeys?" she asked a touch of malice entering her voice.
"First you musst retrieve what they ssstole from me," Voldemort said handing her a picture of the scepter he sent Mafloy to get for him.
"Kill them. Ssslowly."
He watched as Bellatrix nodded and turned to follow her fellow Death Eaters. Another small smile touched Voldemort's lips. Truly loyal Death Eaters now stood by his side. Ones who understood the stakes involved. The slow death that lay before the Wizarding world unless something was done.
Dumbledore refused to see it. Refused to bow before the inevitable. The old fool dared to oppose him. But now Voldemort knew his weakness.
Yes the boy. He miscalculated in his previous encounters. A rare mistake. But one easily corrected. He now fully understood his connection to the boy.
And that fool Dumbledore. His weak sentiment kept him from taking the expedient action. With but one stroke he could end this battle. But he refused. He held back his hand.
And now Voldemort knew why.
Voldemort's smile grew a touch wider. Dumbledore's defeat and his own victory, was now assured.
"Well over two thousand prophecies were destroyed," Amelia Bones reported.
"Was anything else lost?" Fudge asked.
"According to the Unspeakables, no," Bones replied. "But they are still going through the rooms and, honestly Minister, depending out what was stolen or destroyed they might not tell me."
"And Arthur Weasley was found in the corridor leaving the Department of Mysteries," Fudge noted.
"We have no direct proof he was actually inside," Bones said. "He claimed he was out stretching his legs since he was working late. We confirmed with Perkins Weasley's plans to work late last night. The Unspeakables either don't know or won't tell me how anyone got into the Department of Mysteries," she frowned. The Unspeakables were annoyingly tight lipped.
"This isn't the first time we've caught one of Dumbledore's people trying to get into the Department of Mysteries," Fudge said. "Don't forget about Podmore."
"Assuming he was working for Dumbledore at the time. Besides you said that was just a ploy to get him into Azkaban to free the prisoners," Bones said. "We've determined that his wand in the holding area was a fake. We still have Aurors searching the island. They can find no trace of the escapees and Auror Galiwag is still missing as well."
"Probably a traitor. Dumbledore is a sneaky one," Fudge said. "Have Weasley held for interrogation."
"Minister we don't have enough to hold him," Bones said.
"We are at a moment of crisis," Fudge retorted. "Malfoy's disappearance, Pritchard's murder, the obviously arranged breakout from Azkaban and now an attack on the Ministry itself. Dumbledore is clearly trying to take over. Every measure must be taken to safeguard the Ministry. Have Weasley held for interrogation."
Bones held her tongue for a moment debating how far she could argue this point with Fudge. She sighed. "Very well Minister. I will question him myself."
"Very good," Fudge replied. "This may very well give us the opportunity to move against Dumbledore and all of his followers."
Standing dutifully to the side Percy's face remained a mask. Inwardly his intestines started tying themselves up in knots. Fudge was arresting his father. He might call it 'questioning' but it was an arrest. And he was discussing going after the rest of Dumbledore's followers. How long would it be before Fudge went after his entire family?
He had to find some way to warn them.
Lunch had been a quiet, grim affair at #12 Grimmauld Place.
The escape of the Death Eaters, an apparent attack on the Ministry (although only Dumbledore and Harry knew what really happened) and learning that they were going to have to entrust their safety to Muggles had all combined to sour everyone's mood.
Even the twins, normally up for a bit of jovial fun, were unnaturally subdued.
As lunch finished Albus rose from his chair. "As you know tomorrow will be our last day here. I want everyone to go through the house and make certain that all of your belongings have been accounted for and that nothing is left behind. Voldemort," a shudder went around the room, affecting everyone but Harry, "may find this house soon. We must leave no clues about where the Order has gone or our plans. We will take a portkey to our new Headquarters the following morning. Understood?"
The people gathered around the table nodded. Molly Weasley spoke. "Professor, is there any word about what is happening at the Ministry? I can't get a hold of Arthur."
"None yet," Dumbledore answered. "Edgar should be contacting me soon. I'm certain Arthur is safe."
She nodded and then promptly began assigning everyone present a room to check. Making sure everyone had something to do and that the entire house would be cleaned out before they left.
After everyone else had left Hermione approached Dumbledore who was sitting quietly at the end of the table.
"Yes Ms Granger," Dumbledore replied with a smile.
"What about Kreacher?" she asked. "I know he is a wretched little thing. But we can't just leave him here to be berated by that awful portrait."
Dumbledore sighed. "I am not certain. However much he may wish too, he can't betray Sirius so it would difficult for even Voldemort to gain any information from him."
"But there is still a chance," Hermione said.
"Yes, I'm afraid there is," Dumbledore replied.
"Could you take him to Hogwarts?"
"Not with Umbridge there," Dumbledore said.
"Could we take him with us?"
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled for a moment. The first sign of humor Hermione had seen from the Headmaster all day. "It would be interesting to see how our new hosts react to a house elf. An excellent suggestion Ms Granger. I will speak to Sirius about it at once."
Elder Sinclair entered his office at the Ministry of Magic. The situation was … chaotic at best. No one was entirely certain what happened. They all knew about the escape from Azkaban of course. But nobody knew why the Ministry had been locked down (Thus far only the Minister, the Unspeakables, select members of the Wizengamot and the Aurors knew the Department of Mysteries had been penetrated).
In such an environment rumors ran rampant. People said Minister Fudge had been attacked, that some dangerous creature must have gotten loose in the Ministry building, Dumbledore was being held prisoner in the Department of Mysteries and all other sorts of rumors. Although surprisingly only a couple of people dared breath the idea that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was behind the current troubles and never within earshot of one of Minister Fudge's known cronies.
The Aurors had allowed most of the night staff to go. Visitors were going through a much tighter screening process before being allowed to pass beyond the first floor atrium.
Chaotic was indeed the polite way to describe the situation.
Fortunately such an environment meant Sinclair's late arrival went unnoticed. He had several spells set up in his office to automatically send out memos and other correspondence and to make noise so it seemed he was working even if he wasn't. He and Albus developed the spells at Hogwarts, they'd come in quite handy when they wanted to be somewhere other than studying (The Marauders were hardly the first (or even the best) pranksters to prowl the halls of Hogwarts).
Sinclair knew he would need to make the rounds soon and check in with his various contacts around the Ministry.
As he was settling in and beginning to make plans a knock came to his door. Sinclair looked up to see Percy Weasley standing there.
"Elder," Percy said. "If I may have a moment of your time, the Minister wanted me to check in with the members of the Wizengamot."
Sinclair nodded noting the subtle movement of Weasley's left hand. A signal that he needed to speak privately.
"Of course young Mr. Weasley," Sinclair said. "There are some confidential messages I need you to pass on to Minister Fudge. Please come in."
As Percy entered the office, Sinclair made a subtle motion with his wand. The door closed silently.
"We may speak freely now Percy," Sinclair said. "What is so urgent that you would risk direct contact?"
"Fudge arrested my father," Percy replied. "It's only a matter of time before he goes after the rest of my family. He getting more and more obsessed with proving Dumbledore wants to take over. Even Bones is starting to see it but she can't do anything to stop it."
Sinclair nodded as he contemplated the situation. "Why is your father being questioned?"
"Because the Department of Mysteries was broken into last night," answered Percy. "Thousands of prophecies were destroyed and my father was found by some Aurors in the hallway just outside the entrance on level nine. He also thinks Podmore tricked us to sending him to Azkaban to help Dumbledore break out the Death Eaters."
Again Sinclair nodded. Young Tom's strategy began to present itself. As always a near masterstroke in its execution. He successfully diverted attention away from himself and squarely on to one of the few people truly capable of apposing him. Forcing Albus to fight a two front battle against both Tom and Fudge. And while Fudge might be an idiot his harassment kept Albus from putting his full attention and resources to the task of dealing with Tom.
And as always Tom's endgame remained well hidden behind feints and counterstrokes.
But as brilliant a strategist as he may be, Tom still suffered from the tunnel vision that afflicted him during his first campaign. He viewed Albus as the primary threat to his plans. He discounted the other Initiates, properly assuming the majority would prefer to stay in the shadows rather than confront him directly. He clearly had no knowledge that the Muggle world was already acting against him.
Yes, Tom's blind spots might be the key to his defeat.
"Elder?" Percy queried.
Sinclair broke from his musings. "This is troublesome. I will see what I can do. Do not worry. Amelia will not step too far out of bounds no matter how hard Fudge pushes her. She is far too much the professional. But it may take some time."
"But my father …"
"I am sorry Percy," Sinclair said. "Countering Voldemort's moves will require a subtle touch. But rest assured the remainder of your family is quite safe. Not even young Tom will be able to find them."
Percy nodded. "Can you at least tell me what is happening? Did you have something to do with Malfoy's disappearance?"
Sinclair sighed. "You know the dangers Percy. You are in a perilous position if Fudge were to learn of your duplicity …"
"Then the less I know, the less I can reveal," Percy acknowledged. "It's just …"
"Frustrating to not know if what you are doing accomplishes anything," Sinclair finished. Rising from his chair Sinclair rounded his desk and put his hand on Percy's shoulder. Sinclair studied the younger man for a few seconds. "Believe me lad. The information you have provided has proven quite valuable even if I can not tell you how."
"Thank you Elder," Percy nodded.
"You have difficult work ahead of you," Sinclair said. "Fudge's paranoia is making him jump at shadows and creating conspiracies out of thin air. You need to continue playing the dutiful and loyal follower."
"It's getting harder," Percy said. "I use to be able to take comfort in the fact that he at least administered the Departments well. But now even that's starting to slip. Everything is about getting Dumbledore. "
"Yes," Sinclair nodded. "Which makes your work even more vital. Now, I have kept you too long."
"You're right Elder," Percy said. "I'll keep you informed."
With another pat on the shoulder Sinclair sent Percy on his way and returned to sitting at his desk.
Blind spots or not Tom's strategy was proving too successful. It was one thing to give your opponent a little room to make him feel confident and in control. But give him too much and you limit your own ability to counter him. Perhaps the time had come for his own flanking maneuver against Tom.
Nothing too direct. He did not wish to tip his own hand to Tom. But any move directly against Tom or his Death Eaters risked drawing attention. No not Tom.
Yes. Give Albus more breathing room. That would focus Tom's attention even more against his old mentor. Give him what he expects to see.
A small smile twitched at the corner of Sinclair's lip.