A/N: Sorry about the long wait (this one wasn't supposed to happen) but right after I posted the previous chapter, havoc struck and, well... too long went by without me updating. So, here it is, and I hope you enjoy it!
Oh! For new readers and people looking at old chapters, they are actually safe to read: my sister refurbished all of them. Dare I say, they might actually be coherent now...
Adrift in A World:
Root of Hemlock, Slips of Yew
The faint moonlight shone down on a small, winding path through the forest, small gaps in the draping leaves showing a lupine form slinking across a path. Its ears pricked forward and its yellow eyes gleamed maliciously at the gate visible in the distance; padding up to the heavily warded padlock, the werewolf sat and waited for its orders.
He ignored the fact that he was now virtually trapped within the area. Like most old or wealthy families with enemies, the Parkinson had a border around their property that, once a person with direct ill intent against the family crossed it, restricted them from leaving it by any means except for help by a member of the family.
And Harry knew exactly how likely that situation would be.
'A saving-people-thing, indeed,' Harry thought as he narrowed his eyes at the gate, giving it a sweeping glance before focusing on the lock. 'Why couldn't I have just agreed with Snape and said that his plan would lead to immediate, safe, and completely unquestionable success?'
He gave a soft woof to signify that he was in place.
"We got the images, Collins," Peter's voice said tinnily in his ear. "Can you focus more on the hinges than the padlock? The lock is far too heavily warded. I think I can even spot a Ministry-built one that hasn't been used since 1985--"
Harry gave another woof, rolling his eyes in annoyance as he stood impatiently in front of the hinges. Soft metallic laughter rang from his ear.
"Perhaps the lecture on rare Ministry wards can wait for a more opportune moment?" Dumbledore asked.
Peter cleared his throat. "Yes, well… You lot can all be quiet. I've heard too much about Quidditch from half the people in this room to accept any abuse on the matter."
Harry growled in more obvious irritation.
"Pettigrew, perhaps you should focus on the fact that my godson is right outside a Death Eater's house," Sirius spoke up, cutting across the rest of the voices.
"We're on it, Grimsleigh," Hestia Jones said, stung, from farther away. "Believe or not, even experts have to look up some of the custom-made wards. Now, quiet, all of you."
Watching the forest and grounds with suspicion, Harry shifted his weight to different paws, trying not to itch the unfamiliar apparatus laying across his forehead, one that laid a peculiar set of glasses in front of his eyes and put a small phone in his ear, finally trailing to encircle his neck like a very stiff collar.
Pettigrew and Jones had been true masters of their craft, plying Harry with the communication set and various metal-lined buttons that contained potions Madam Pomfrey expected Patricia to need.
"I don't care if it doesn't seem like she doesn't need them," the nurse had told Harry sternly after initially balking at the Order's plan. "You will give them all to her, immediately, and make sure she drinks all of every single one. Do we have an understanding?"
Harry had hastily agreed, hiding the buttons along his jacket lining before transforming into his werewolf form and getting the uncomfortable collar snapped across his throat by a heavily disapproving Sirius.
"You're an idiot, Harry," Sirius had said, taking the opportunity of Harry's inability to respond. "Don't get me wrong--thank you. Thank you so much, because you are the one with the best shot of getting her back-- but are you sure you know what you're getting into?"
Harry had stared at Sirius blankly after hearing that, images of stone walls and red eyes flashing across his mind, the sounds of his own screams ringing in his ears. 'Of course I do--Moody, Snape, Dumbledore and I are the only ones who do understand what I'm getting into.'
"Of course you do," Sirius had answered himself in an echo of Harry's response, his tone heavy with self-recrimination. "I should have been there to make sure you had never been in that situation, instead of being so stupid when fighting my cousin. But, I promise," he had told Harry seriously, "that won't happen again."
Not knowing if Sirius had meant doing something stupid or if he had meant Harry getting captured by Death Eaters, Harry hoped that his godfather meant the former, because any attempt of the second, Harry felt, was certain to not end well.
Harry jerked to the present as the bushes to his left rustled in the wind. Growling in apprehension, Harry padded silently towards it, eyes trying to peer into its depths.
"Collins?" Peter asked as the glasses projected the sight of the bush back to him. "What is it?"
Ignoring the question, Harry sniffed hesitantly at the plant, rearing back and sneezing as he caught scent of an unpleasantly remembered, coppery smell. He heard comments from Hogwarts about Hestia finding the type of ward and various questions about what had distracted Harry.
"Collins,"Peter asked again in a more answerable format, "is there something alive in the bush?"
Harry shook his head silently, hoping the motion of the glasses would translate. Waiting a second to make sure Peter had understood, Harry began digging at the base of the bush, the smell growing stronger as dirt was loosened and scraps of roots were unearthed.
The smell nearly overpowering, Harry dragged out the last plant visible in the small hole he had dug. He paid no attention to the uprooted bush and focused his vision on the dirt-covered plants that were giving off the scent that was a painful reminder of the plant that had been thrown at the doors of Hogwarts just a few days before.
"Christ Almighty," someone from Hogwarts breathed. "Are they planning some kind of biological attack next?"
"Would some kind of vaccine be found in the blood Poppy took from Remus and Collins?" Lily asked. "Something we can distribute to the werewolves in Britain?"
"Assuming we can get any werewolves to trust it, or us?" Remus broke in sardonically.
"Also assuming we can get any werewolf to care about the lives of others," added Snape in a heavily condescending sneer.
"Says the resident Death Eater," Remus shot back.
"In any case," McGonagall said over the two, "collect a few samples, Collins, then bury the rest as they were."
Harry gave an incredulous woof.
"Oh, right!" Peter interjected. "Collins, picture a bag attached to your left arm--foreleg, sorry--and think 'container animagus'."
Harry gave a second incredulous woof.
"It won't register as magic,' Hestia broke in, her tone testy and impatient. "Just do it, Collins, so we can get on with this."
Intrigued, Harry did as instructed, and watched with some bemusement as a bag appeared. He nosed it open and began picking up leaves and roots from the different specimens.
"No, not that one, Collins," Snape exclaimed as Harry went for one of the older-looking roots. "It's too old to have any similarity to the finished product. For Merlin's sake, a show of intelligence would be appreciated."
Harry woofed in acknowledgment and instead foraged among the newer-looking plants until a pair of identical cracks echoed like gunshots through the woods. Scurrying for cover, Harry kicked the dirt back around the now decidedly bedraggled bush and dove into the shadows, only yellow eyes visible as he peered around a tree to catch sight of the newcomers.
A loud burst of static blasted into Harry's sensitive ears, making him duck down and drag his head across the forest floor in a vain effort to get the earphone off before he quieted and stilled to watch the surrounding area.
Two cloaked figures rounded a nearby bend in the trees, one of them waving a wand parallel to the ground.
"Shouldn't he be here by now?" One of them asked, a feminine lilt barely coming through the heavy cloth mask. "The plan was scheduled for ten o'clock, correct? No rescheduling?"
"None." The second figure answered. "However, the agent wasn't able to give too much information without being revealed."
Growling softly in anger and alarm, Harry wondered who had betrayed him. A member of the Order, certainly; his first thoughts went immediately to Pettigrew, but he wasn't certain if that suspicion was justified, or just lingering bias. The two weren't Death Eaters, which fairly ruled out Snape in the odd event that, just as Pettigrew's loyalties were the opposite in this world, Snape was a true Death Eater. The other members of the Order Harry didn't know enough of to guess their motives or their loyalties.
'Are these people from a new side?' Harry wondered worriedly. 'Are they on Voldemort's side? The Ministry's? Their own?'
"Well, there're no traces of any recent humans here. Animagus, you think?" The first asked.
Harry's eyes widened. He hadn't heard of any way to trace humans, magical or otherwise, before, and it was doubtful that Dumbledore wouldn't have informed him of the possibility of any such spell.
'Who are these people?'
"The lad's seventeen." The second figure said skeptically.
The woman turned towards him with the patent patience of a primary schoolteacher. "I repeat: Animagus, you think?"
"No," the second one growled in obvious annoyance. "But do a sweep anyway. Crazy brat," he finished with a quiet mutter.
The second cloaked figure shot him a hidden dirty look before whispering a spell. A yellowy haze billowed from her wand, searching through the air like a living creature before sweeping towards Harry with a triumphant whoosh.
"Crazy brat, indee--"
Paws finding purchase among the roots, he darted forward toward the two, growling and snarling ferally as he did so. Registering the recoil of fear from the man who seemed to be in charge, Harry chose him as the weaker of the two and leaped at him, ripping the fabric covering his face and barreling solidly into him. Hoping that the woman would stop to help him, Harry continued running forward, trying to reach the bend in the trees and relative safety that would give him a chance to return to Hogwarts; he would make sure to root out the spy before returning for a second rescue effort.
"Animagus revealo," the woman said calmly from behind him, the spell hitting him straight in the back of the head.
Muttering a curse as he tripped from suddenly finding himself in his human form, Harry waved his arms wildly and stumbled to an ungraceful halt before spinning around and glaring at the witch staring at him impassively.
"What the hell do you think you're--"
"Oh, calm yourself, Collins," the woman said airily, blindly reaching out a hand to help her partner stand. "You're far too interesting to damage."
"And you don't consider this mission that you seem to know all about, and just wrecked all to pieces, at all interesting, do you?" Harry's voice dripped with ill-hidden anger.
"Don't be so melodramatic; we didn't wreck anything," she responded, raising an eyebrow at him in the same supercilious tone she had used on the man now glaring at Harry grimly, hood askew.
"For Merlin's sake, we're standing outside a heavily warded Death Eater's house," Harry hissed. "Seeing as how you knew the exact time and location of what I was attempting, I expect you know that any magic in the area will register with the ward and send a veritable army of Death Eaters right to our location?"
The man grunted in amusement. "We're not nearly so far behind as the rest of the world in our capabilities." He sighed impatiently at Harry's patently unimpressed look. "That portion of the wards is negated for a field of about seven meters."
"Stupefy!" Harry shouted without a second's pause, flicking out his wand and pointing it at the man before aiming at the woman. "Scalantus!"
The two spells bounced harmlessly off the shield the two had waiting.
"Do that again," the man said, his eyes now glinting angrily, "and you will quickly become less interesting."
"Be nice," the woman chastised mockingly. "We did interrupt his rescue mission, even if we didn't wreck it. Now," she turned to look at Harry, pulling her hood down as she did so, "an Animagus at your age; that's a pretty nice trick."
"You'll excuse me if I don't take that compliment sincerely."
Harry glared at the two coldly, eyes searching for some kind of identification or purpose. They both wore shapeless cloaks of some dark coloring, heavy fabric covering their arms and hands. The woman was holding a rather short, lightly colored wand while the man held no wand at all; instead, he held a rather odd metallic contraption Harry couldn't place.
He tapped a complicated pattern onto his device, and the area briefly crackled with faint sparks of magic. "Wards back on," he informed the woman in a trained manner. "Level two possible discovery."
Harry cursed. With no possible way to transform back into his Animagus form, he would either have to retreat and come back at a later date, something he didn't feel comfortable doing, knowing that the two in front of him, and possibly more people, had access to the Order's plans. Or he could continue, changing the plan as he went along: something that was sure to infuriate the Order, not to mention Sirius.
"Sit, please, Mr. Collins," the woman said, settling herself in the grass. "We don't have so much time that it can be spent with the two of you glaring at each other. That goes for you, too," she said with a short glance at her partner.
"How about I stand, and you tell me what you want?" Harry snapped.
"Suit yourself. But I'm hardly going to tell you much of anything at the moment; I suppose one of the most pressing things we want is to know why you haven't done anything about that skeleton you found near that Justern."
Harry blinked. He had almost forgotten about that, busy with everything that happened since then. But what did it have to do with these people? The skeleton had to be forty, maybe fifty years old, if the note he had also found was any indication.
Did that mean they were somehow related to JIESS?
That seemed to be the most likely argument, if, as the woman had said, the most pressing question was why he had done nothing...
"Because your club doesn't seem with the bother," Harry said dismissively, taking up that guess and running with it. "Though I can't seem to remember... Are you in the one that hosts the weekly tea parties, or the one that passes out flyers?"
She glared at him, before smiling grimly in acceptance of the scored point.
"Neither, of course; we've been fighting against the Ministry, Order, and Death Eaters for years, though, and I'm sure this will gratify you, most of our recent effort shave been against the Death Eaters more than any other group."
"You attack everyone, but at least you attack the murderers and bigots more than you attack anyone else. Consider me gratified."
"Stop making quips and pay attention," the man growled. "Maybe you'll actually learn something."
Harry snorted. "I'm with the Order; you're hardly going to get any applause or sympathy from me."
"Our efforts have been less successful than we wish," the woman continued without pausing. "And we find ourselves in the position of having only one option left."
Harry waited impatiently for her to continue.
"We're going to eradicate the Statue of Secrecy."
"You're insane," Harry said flatly. "Unless your goal is to completely wipe out the Wizarding World, of course."
"I'm not sure if it was the same 'where you come from'," the man said, sardonically stressing the phrase, "but here the government is utterly corrupt. You can't be born from Muggles without having your life threatened, you can't have a containable disease without having your rights taken away, and you can't argue with the system, which is run by Death Eaters, and Order members, by the way, without being thrown in Azkaban or being thrown on the front lines."
"I can hardly argue with two thirds of your argument, but I doubt the Order has done anything to warrant your attacks."
"We have focused on them the least," the woman conceded, "but they have warranted our stance nonetheless. Prejudice, judgment, high-handedness and refusal to act. They're only a step above the rest of the world that does nothing but wait for someone to save them."
"Right," Harry drawled, "and anarchy is so much better, of course."
"It'd only be anarchy," she responded, "if we didn't have a plan."
"Watch the Order," the man said, tapping his watch and showing it to the woman before standing up, "and you'll see what we mean. When you do, come for a visit."
"Where at?" Harry asked, mind racing. He didn't believe them, of course; they had to have some information backing up there claims, though, which would no doubt help against the Death Eaters.
Yet, he remembered everyone's immediate reaction to him being about to speak in Parseltongue, and how Dumbledore, even in his original dimension, would concede to the Ministry's worst acts of corruption...
"We'll send you a package," the woman said, "and you'll know where to go from there. And since the Order will be frantic by now, I'm sure, tell them that those plants interfered with transmission, and that you had to guess the password to make the bag disappear. 'Recede container', by the way.
"Unless, of course, you plan to tell the Order about us."
"Wards off," the man interrupted. "Ten seconds before power drainage, if you're going to return to your Animagus form."
Harry eyed them warily, before transforming back into his werewolf form. He growled shortly at them, and stood smugly as the man flinched back.
"Don't be such a git, Collins," the woman said with an amused sigh, before putting her hand on the man's shoulder and disappearing.
The wards softly crackled back into place.
"--follow it to his last location, Black, it's not that difficult of a concept--"
"Seeing as how your only apparent skills involve adding one cube of sugar or two, Grimsleigh, instead of anything more useful, how about you--"
"Sirius, be quiet," Peter said shortly, and Harry's ear twitched as he felt the device resettling. "Collins, what the hell was that? Any threat?"
The room quieted down immediately as he shook his head, then directed the camera at the no longer visible bag.
"Ah," Hestia Jones said in recognition. "We didn't even think about interference from other systems; this is only safeguarded against wards and the like."
"Something to fix later, then. Are you sure there's no trouble, Collins? If not, go ahead and examine those hinges again. We almost have it..."
Harry walked over to the gate once more, trying to memorize the scents of the two who had just left. Perhaps he would accidentally bump into one of them somewhere... the ability to recognize them, and then confront them on his own terms, would be a definite advantage.
He tuned out the snippets of advanced conversation from Pettigrew and Jones, catching occasionally names or bits of conjecture. Having already seen Bill Weasley explain the basics of them to Hermione, Harry had decided that they were far too complicated for practicality or genuine interest; even Hermione, who had brought the topic up, had had a rather glazed expression at Bill's conclusion.
The only similar topic Harry had any experience in was ward deconstruction, but, as the two conversing were simply trying to figure out the wards used, making the Parkinson home vulnerable to invasion wasn't on the agenda just yet.
"Got it!" The two exclaimed together.
"Anything either of you haven't seen before?" Lily asked. "There hasn't been anything published about new ones recently."
"Nothing," Hestia Jones answered smugly. "Hopefully that means they're all getting complacent, especially since the Parkinsons have connections to the experimental spells departments at the Ministry and would have new ones before anyone else."
"With foreknowledge," Pettigrew continued, "we could probably bring them down in an hour, maybe half of that at the less well-connected houses.
"Which means that our part in this venture is over until tomorrow, so, Moody, you're up."
"You know the plan," Moody said without preamble. "Try to take as many of them out before they capture you, especially the more fanatical of the lot. Your job is to get Williams and then get out. No investigating, exploring, or rescuing other prisoners. I don't want to see any of those rookie mistakes from you, even if you are one. And I expect you to have finished your syllabus by the end of the week, so no slouching off. Got it?" He didn't wait for Harry's answer. "Good. Now go to it, Collins."
"Be careful, H—Chris," Sirius said worriedly, and Harry woofed in agreement. There was a short pause, and Harry could imagine his godfather's suspicious look.
"And don't even think about mocking them until you escape."
Giving a crackling sigh of disappointment over the receiver, Harry transformed himself and cut off communication.
'I never do think...'
"--Barty Crouch will definitely have to go, the misogynistic git."
"What was that, Bella?" An amused Crouch stuck his head through the doorway to look at her with wry amusement, and she looked up from the note she was writing.
"Not you, much to my dismay," she responded, rolling her eyes and he grinned, entering the room to sit across from her. "Your father, the almighty Minister."
"Ah, him. I'd be right in line with you, but then who would there be?" He asked, the question getting the attention of a few nearby Death Eaters. "Someone worse, no doubt. Remember that awful Senior Secretary he used to have?"
Antonin Dolohov raised one eyebrow, a look of distaste on his face. "Wasn't he arrested for forgery and misconstruing the budget a few years ago?"
"A corrupt Minister, though," Augustus Rookwood contemplated. "That'd be easier than a virtually blind Minister..."
"...and more useful than a corrupt head of Magical Games and Sports?" Bellatrix suggested archly, and he scowled.
"Alright, then, Black. Let's say we offed him-- sorry, you offed him, Crouch," he edited at Barty's pointed look. "Who'd you pick as Minister that would actually be likely to get the spot?"
"Well, myself, of course," she exclaimed, fluttering her eyelashes before frowning in thought. "A couple of days ago, I would have said Lucius could have gotten it. But he's still missing; besides, even if he did escape all safe and sound, my belief in his competency has reached an all-time low."
Pollard Parkinson laughed at that. "Not to fear, Bellatrix. We should get him back in a couple of days, if Severus was right and the Order doesn't back out of their mission trip."
The rest of the group gave him confused looks. "What does that have to do with it?" Barty asked, twirling his wand and making two quills dance across the table. "Sure, if we decided to actually hold onto Collins and use him as ransom, then those fools would release Lucius, but we're not."
Parkinson lowered his voice conspiratorially. "It's not just Collins that we're going to use as ransom. Our Lord has--"
He broke off suddenly, as his pocket started shouting his name. Looking simultaneously annoyed and concerned, he pulled a mirror out of his pocket, which had his daughter's face on it.
"What is it, Pansy?"
"It's the wards! Some lunatic is outside, throwing curses at the house!"
Pollard's mouth tightened, a grim expression on his face. "Is he alone?"
"As far as I can tell, but he hasn't let up on spells yet and... damn! He's putting spells around the house that should be visible for miles. You need to hurry, Father, or the Aurors will show up to see what is going on..."
"Do you need some backup?" Augustus interrupted, standing up and pulling out his wand.
"I don't think so, but it wouldn't hurt," Parkinson responded, an angry gleam in his eye. "The wards are open to your Apparation. Come if you want, since it should prove to be very entertaining once I get my hands on him..."
Hurriedly conjuring near-indestructible neon ropes that wrapped themselves around Parkinson's gate, Harry watched the grounds for any appearing Death Eater who, he was sure, had received the message from the figure watching Harry angrily through the front windows.
While Jones and Pettigrew had suggested using the opportunity to gain intelligence on which wards the Death Eaters were most likely to use, they had added that actually destroying the wards, especially just to get attention, would waste a chance to do some damage later. Harry had agreed to the stipulation, telling them that the Parkinsons had a collection of banned items that not even a corrupt Ministry could ignore.
Instead of breaking into the house, Harry decided that he might as well be caught vandalizing the exterior as opposed to any other scenario: not only had a majority of the Order refused to let Harry skulk around Knockturn Alley until being kidnapped, this plan had a rather strong chance of drawing negative attention to the Parkinsons. He also laying some a few rudimentary defenses, sending word-activated explosive spells to be absorbed by the ground.
With that last thought, Harry pointed his wand towards the sky and drew a caricatured Dark Mark followed by a line of text inviting all interested wizards to apply for Death Eaters status through the Parkinsons, sending a sarcastic wave to the visibly furious silhouette watching him.
Sending several simple spells to splash uselessly against the gate, Harry waved sarcastically once more at the figure in the window before turning around and surveying the grounds behind him consideringly.
While the family and, more importantly, Voldemort, might be content thinking Harry was simply snooping and fell afoul of the wards, Harry wished for a more solid alibi for his getting caught in the trap. Perhaps he could be, after catching Malfoy so easily, attempting the same with the Parkinsons?
A rather thin excuse, too thin for Harry's comfort, but--
With a small squawk of surprise that he would later deny, Harry ducked and spun to see the incoming opponent. The red light splashed against the tree behind him as Death Eaters came into view.
"Is that all you've got?" Harry yelled in return as he took cover among the trees, knowing it would be useless to send any spells back until they had cleared the wards.
In an almost orchestrated response, nearly a dozen beams of similar light honed in on him, and the battle was on.
Robin McIntyre bit his lip in an obvious attempt to hide his facial expression as he scanned the horizon along the edge of Parkinson's property.
The owner of the property, on the other hand, took no such measure.
Face tightened into a furious grimace, Pollard wrenched the front door open and marched out onto the grounds towards the silhouette figure playing merry hell in the distance.
"Bet it's one of Dumbledore's lackeys," Barty muttered to Bellatrix in amusement, setting a meandering speed at which the group followed Parkinson.
"Maybe," she responded doubtfully. "Most of them have more common sense or more cowardice."
"Black?" He asked in negating response. "Those Weasley and Prewitt horrors? Having common sense?"
"A point for each of us, then, as you didn't defend the second variable."
Robin took a stumbling step towards the two, eyes focused on the bastardized Dark Mark instead of the uneven ground. "I'll see that Dumbledore's lackey and raise you a Collins."
"Collins, already?" Nott said incredulously. "Good Lord, Severus just might be on our side after all."
Augustus sighed sorrowfully as he aimed his wand at Collins. "Remember, Nott: he that lives upon hope will die fasting."
In synchronism, the small group cast the Cruciatus at the human-shaped shadow that revealed Collins's hiding place.
McIntyre watched as Collins dodged and, turning his wand into a spotlight that made them all wince at the sudden light before the brief spell faded, said, "You know, I can do that spell, too. How about a little extension of vocabulary?"
"Really?" Parkinson said coldly as he levitated over the gate, tossing a spell at Collins as he did so. "Let's see it, then, boy."
"I'd much rather use it on that Black still hiding behind the fence; you don't interest me nearly as much."
"Then you certainly chose the wrong house," Parkinson responded, keeping up a steady blur of spells that Collins apparently didn't recognize, choosing to dodge them instead of risk a shield charm. "Because you are now on my list of interest!"
"Scantalus!" Collins shot back, the voiced spell requiring Pollard's first dodge, and Parkinson counterattacked with a navy spell that met its mark.
Bellatrix sighed in disappointment from her vantage point next to Robin. "Alas, it's entirely possible that Pollard won't even need our help."
Robin eyed her critically. "Nothing in that sentence said that we shouldn't go out and help him anyway."
He bit his lip nervously as she turned towards him, the stark reminder that she held a superior posture to him suddenly evident in her stance.
"For a new one, you're certainly learning quickly," she acceded before turning to the fighting pair, leaving Robin to breathe in relief. "Parkinson," she shouted, "is your dignity and sense of superiority restored?"
"Restored?" The Death Eater returned indignantly, gritting his teeth as his shield charm attempted to buckle under one of Collins' spells. "They were never at ris--"
He paused in a moment of irked realization and sent three silvery domes to the ground, face etched with anger as he glared contemptuously at his opponent. "Explosives? Explosives? Do not try your paltry spells on me, Collins – I have little patience for schoolyard tricks."
With a quick slash of his wand, he sent the domes hurtling towards Collins. He then removed the spell as they neared his opponent, watching as the delayed detonations sent Collins flying solidly into the ground a distance away.
"Wonderful," Rookwood said happily as he also levitated over the fence. "That means it's our turn."
"Still," Lily said, brow creasing with annoyed confusion, "we should have done this before, just in case Malfoy knows something that could help Collins."
Snape scowled. "If you had been paying any attention, you would have heard me say that not only will Veritaserum probably fail to give us many answers, letting Collins overhear any valuable information before packing him off to get captured by the Dark Lord is a less than intelligent plan. Do I need to repeat myself once more?"
"That's all well and good," Peter said, "but what if there is some trap or spell that will result in Collins getting into deeper trouble than we planned? Malfoy might also know if Voldemort decided to suspend whatever the hell he was up to."
"The Dark Lord is not one to tell all of his followers one thing, and then tell just one of them something contrary," Snape said, annoyed. "Even if he did elect to be at the mansion, Malfoy would hardly be aware."
"At this stage," Albus interrupted with finality. "All we can do is continue the path we have chosen and hope that Alastor has success."
"Wait a second," Peter said, stopping them all from moving and interrupting Snape's disgruntled comment about the Auror. "If Voldemort made it so Veritaserum doesn't work on Malfoy, and we try to force the issue, couldn't we potentially send him to another dimension? Considering the little knowledge we have of the topic..."
There was a moment of uneasy contemplation, before the door to the room holding Malfoy captive opened. Those waiting in Dumbledore's office looked up curiously, only to see Moody's scowl and Minerva shaking her head.
"I never thought I would ever applaud Voldemort for anything," Moody told the room at large, "but he certainly has us beat in this respect."
"Nothing?" Lily asked. "What about other truth serums, spells..."
"If Veritaserum won't work," McGonagall answered, "then nothing will."
"I don't know about that," Moody argued, giving a pointed look to Dumbledore, "Collins and Grimsleigh seemed to have the right idea."
Snape waved his hand in dismissal of that sentence. "As much as I hesitate to stand between an Auror and a path of violence, Collins was fairly certain of where the Dark Lord holds court, and wouldn't have depended on Lucius's answer to make his decision. We, on the other hand, would have such a dependence."
"So," Lily said in a voice of uncertainly, "now we wait?"
"No," Snape said, "now we make sure that Grimsleigh or anyone else does not do something monstrously idiotic while we wait." And, with that last statement, he left the office without another word.
Everyone else stood and began waling to the door in partial agreement. "Am I the only one with the feeling that Snape doesn't like Grimsleigh?" Peter asked facetiously.
"Is there anyone here who actually thinks Snape is fond of anyone?" Moody responded.
Lily watched them leave hesitantly, quietly positioning herself to be the last one left in Dumbledore's office. Not quite sure if she was taking the right course of action, she gave all the portraits a pleading look for silence, knowing that they'd temporarily comply out of curiosity, and darted into the room where Malfoy remained a prisoner.
"Mafloy," she greeted levelly as she pulled the door mostly shut behind her and pulled out her wand.
"Mudblood," he responded in just as bland a tone.
It's the only thing I can think of, she remembered Grimsleigh saying from a conversation earlier that day. If I stop him from going, and that's a definite 'if', he'd just go later.
He obviously knows what he's getting into, she had responded, and Grimsleigh had given her a look that told her he knew she didn't believe that. Well, what do you want me to do about it?
The Transfero Stimuli, of course. You know how to cast it. I don't, or I wouldn't have mentioned it at all to you.
Her eyes had gone wide at this. You want me to cast it on you? Aside from the fact that I have no idea what all the spell could do, and the fact that I don't routinely go around cursing people just because they ask, don't you think Collins will be a little less than happy at the idea?
He had laughed at her, and she was nearly tempted to just walk away when he shook his head. That's not what I was asking you at all. If there were no other option, then yes, I would be asking that, but...
But? She asked curiously. What do you want me to do, cast it on Snape?
No. He had said, after looking tempted by the thought. I want you to cast it on Malfoy.
Let me get this straight. She had responded with an angry frown. You want me to torture Malfoy, in order to stop Collins from the same? Something he volunteered for?
She sighed unhappily as she remembered the direct answer. For all that she despised the idea in principle, she still found herself standing in front of a bound and wandless Malfoy, preparing to curse him.
She looked at him for a second, and Malfoy returned the gaze with a condescending sneer and a raised eyebrow. Her eyes narrowed.
Later, after she had elicited promises of silence from the portraits and given a short nod of success to Grimsleigh's questioning look, she realized that it hadn't been half so hard as she imagined it to be.
'This,' Harry realized as he attempted to move his arms underneath him and sit up, 'was one of my least intelligent plans.'
"Wonderful," he said out loud as he stood up, trying to hasten his eyes' adjustment to the dim light as he searched for his wand. "Absolutely, mindblowingly --"
"Wonderful!" He heard one of the Death Eaters yell out, and he continued to search frantically for his wand. "That means it's our turn."
"Oh, hell," Harry muttered, as he turned to see them leave the boundary of the gate. Giving his wand up for lost, and taking the small consolation that at least the Death Eaters couldn't take it from him, he hurriedly climbed the nearest tree and waited for someone to pass underneath.
"We should really do this more often, Parkinson," he heard Bellatrix comment in the distance. "Just trap all our mildly amusing opponents in your wards and go hunting when we have a spare moment."
"A wonderful idea, Black," Pollard responded dryly. "Except for the fact that if they're left alone, they start decorating with all sorts of tacky spells."
"What's even more annoying," another one said nearby, and Harry glared as Barty Crouch Jr. came into sight as he walked underneath him, "is when they think they've outsmarted you by hiding in a tree like they haven't yet evolved."
Not waiting for Crouch to do anything but glance up with an amused expression, Harry jumped and tackled Crouch, kicking him in the stomach and wrenching the wand from his grasp. "Reducto!"
An opaque shield appeared in front of Crouch just in time to take the spell.
"Give it up, Collins," Parkinson said as he walked out of the shadows of the forest, other Death Eaters doing the same until they had Harry surrounded in a near circle. "I'd be amused if I weren't equally annoyed, and you'd do best not do anything more to tip the balance."
Harry looked quickly around him, counting his opponents and knowing that there was no way he'd be able to defeat any of them, let alone continue the fight. He didn't remember the Death Eaters, especially Parkinson, of his past being as skilled, and, after the easy capture of Lucius Malfoy, had seriously miscalculated.
Grimacing bitterly, Harry prepared to throw Crouch's wand on the ground in surrender.
"Wait!" Bellatrix said suddenly, and Harry tightened his grip on the weapon reflexively. "Our little Order member here promised me a Cruciatus."
Various groans of annoyance circulated through the group, and Parkinson frowned. "Black, must you really? He doesn't even have his own wand -- you can curse him later without toying with him."
"It's called magic, Pollard," Bellatrix responded. "Accio Collin's wand."
Harry smiled as Bellatrix frowned in frustration and spun to glare at him. "Collins! Where is it?"
Raising an eyebrow, Harry just stared coldly back, a smug grin in place. While rather frightened to be so easily beaten, Harry resolved to keep his tradition of making his captors just as unhappy as himself, regardless of Sirius's admonishment.
Scowling, she waved her wand again in the direction Harry had been thrown earlier. "Accio wand!"
This, much to Harry's dissatisfaction, was successful, and Harry's wand flew into Bellatrix's outstretched hand. She stared at it with a dissecting look, before giving a bark of laughter. "Petty dark magic?" She asked incredulously, holding out the wand Harry had made several days ago, one which Harry valued much less than the one he had bought from Ollivander. "Pathetic. Crucio!"
Harry fell on all fours as it made contact, clenching his jaw to not make a sound as imagined knives bit into him and his limbs twitched as his senses were overcharged for a timeless second .
Then it stopped.
Or so Harry thought, until he realized that his muscles were still unconsciously jumping and Bellatrix was still pointing his wand at him. It hadn't stopped, Harry thought with a bit of wonder, he just couldn't feel it.
Trying to ignore the part of his mind that had firmly decided not feeling the curse probably wasn't a good thing, Harry had hardly noticed that the Cruciatus was lifted until Bellatrix spoke.
"I'm disappointed," she said dropping it to the ground. "He tried to take us on with a wand that doesn't even work right. We must not be intimidating enough."
"Or," Harry said, dragging a numb hand through the thistle covered topsoil without feeling a thing, "you and your two-bit Lord just aren't worth the effort."
Parkinson waved his hand dismissively at Harry's statement as he walked towards the middle of the circle where Harry stood. "Keep in mind that you are out-manned, outmaneuvered, and," he waved his wand and dissolved Harry's lighted conjurations with a second's incantation, "without much experience. If we aren't worth the effort, what does that make a Mudblood like yourself?"
He clamped his hand onto Harry's shoulder, and, shoving him roughly to the side while still keeping contact, activated a Portkey. Wincing at the sudden maelstrom of wind and the disarming journey typical of such travel, Harry could barely sense the other Death Eaters following them before the Portkey deposited the two on the ground.
Never having become accustomed to travel by Portkey, Harry stumbled and fell to the ground before warily looking around.
"Good evening, My Lord," Parkinson said pleasantly to a figure not standing far from where Harry knelt ungracefully.
"To you as well, Pollard," Voldemort responded, an undercurrent of amusement in his voice. "I see you were successful a bit earlier than planned."
Harry froze momentarily at the sound, paling as he realized the severity of the situation. Far from being a relatively simple, however painful, rescue attempt, this had now become something Harry doubted his ability to walk away from.
'At least,' he thought as he slowly reached for the knife he had threatened Pettigrew with just days ago, 'I won't feel anything.'
"Good evening, Tom Riddle," Harry said darkly as he stood, gleefully taking in Voldemort's angry surprise at the name. "It's such a pleasure to meet you."
And he lunged, knife in hand, for the kill.
A/N: Well. Aside from the abysmally long time to write this, at least it has the beginning of the major plot. I had told a few people that this would be the last chapter (it'd have been a lot longer), and then I could start on a sequel – one with a plot, storyline, etc...
Then I realized that it took 8 months to write only 15 pages, and it seemed that that plan didn't stand too much of a chance of becoming reality.
So, if you have any questions, comments, scathing reports, or something you want to happen in this (because writer's block sucks nearly as much as trying to remember something off the tip of your tongue) please review!