The Vampire Prince
Chapter 19: Events in Motion
Bellatrix stormed through the corridors of the dilapidated castle that Voldemort had chosen to make his headquarters, wand grasped tightly in hands and itching to throw a curse at someone. As smug and happy as she was going to be when this war was over and she was on the winning side, having been able to be a person who was pivotal to the success of the "Light" side, it was, and had been for a while, grating most severely on her nerves that she was back in the service of the Dark Lord and had a part to play. She hadn't used to mind so much, playing subservient to him even though she was his better, but now that things had changed and she had quit, she found it less fun than usual to keep up the game, even if the benefit was not having to hold back all of her nasty emotions.
Although, at this particular point in time, it was beginning to seem like that benefit wasn't even existent. Though she was still favored above the others, and still feared more than respected by those of lower rank and even those of t he Inner Circle, the Dark Lord had noticed that after her 'kidnapping' she had been more violent and cruel, and had bade her, with what might as well have been an order, to keep a reign on her temper when amongst allies. It made cursing their brains out very, very difficult, as far as she had experienced.
It didn't, however, prevent her from firing off several nasty hexes and curses at the bare stone walls as she made her way out of the complex, or completely roasting a tree as she walked past it. In fact, the walls bore faint scorch marks already, as a testament to her passage, and the forest surrounding the property was beginning to thin, bit by bit. She didn't usually leave the castle, as frequent absences with no tortured muggles brought back as souvenirs would raise suspicions, and since she was a wanted woman there was hardly anywhere for her to be going that was not 'work' related. Today, however, she finally had a reason to leave, aside from needing to before her wand 'slipped' and someone met with a very unfortunate accident that she would certainly get punished for later.
She checked carefully to make sure she still had the ever-so-precious piece of parchment in her hand as she passed the wards and then spun on her heel to disparate with a sharp crack.
The castle she re-appeared in was not nearly as dismal and infuriating as the one she had just left, and almost against her will she found herself relaxing. Here, the people in the hallways looked at her with respect, but no fear, and she didn't feel tempted to curse any of them. How much of that was her personality, and how much of that was the effect of the role slipping away, she had no idea, but she liked to think it an indicator that she had made the right choice. Maybe it was just the sense that she would have to actually put some effort in if she wanted to just open fire on the people here that made her suddenly restrained, but still, she liked to think it was more than that. It was the small amount of romanticism that still remained in her belief system.
She strode, as always, without invitation into Celdere's throne room. These days, the woman was in constant conversation with her advisers, thinking up battle plans and rearranging supplies and discussing correspondence and intelligence, but these days, Bella no longer felt any sort of qualm about interrupting, despite the glare Celdere sent her way every single time. She was a Black, yes, and she had been taught courtly manners from an early age, but time under Voldemort, and in Azkaban, had robbed her of the slight inclination she had to follow such manners. Besides, it wasn't like the queen hadn't ever had to handle someone who was somewhat uncouth before.
"I have it," she announced triumphantly, words drowning out the current conversation about how to circumvent the UN's sanctions on a thing in a place that Bella really wasn't at all concerned about. Conversation stopped, Celdere flashed her the expected glare, but the look mellowed almost instantly into one of anticipation.
"Your cover remains in place, I trust?" the queen inquired, holding out a hand for the piece of parchment that Bella had yet to even withdraw from her pocket. The condescension in the enquiry was almost enough to make her want to keep the secret to herself, but that was hardly productive, and so she grudgingly gave it up to the other woman.
"It does. People are too afraid of me to question when I decide to 'supervise' the lower level Death Eaters," she said dismissively, "and Voldemort isn't smart enough to know that paper can be intercepted, or smart enough to think anyone would dare intercept it. And a memory charm makes sure that no one remembers I was there when it goes missing." It was like taking candy from a baby, but she didn't mention that.
The queen was hardly listening anyway, fully focused on the paper before her and the words written upon it, before she passed it to one of the ever-present advisors. "It will take some time before we can get things fully into motion," she told the false Death Eater.
Unsure of what else to say to that, Bella simply nodded.
Celdere caught and held her gaze. "Thank you," she said simply. "This may completely change everything."
Bella nodded again, the gesture more curt than before, and spun on her heel to leave the room.
Harry absently gave the owl a piece of bacon for a reward as he unfolded the letter it had brought him, his name written on the outside in Celdere's distinctively old-world script. Idly, he wondered what the older woman could want; things had been relatively quiet lately from pretty much everyone. Without really thinking about it, his eyes slid down the table to where Ron was sitting with Seamus and Dean, and then to the Slytherin table where Daphne was engaged in conversation with Tracy Davis. Things with Ron and Ginny had calmed down, more in Ron's case than in Ginny's, but even though things had been patched up didn't meant that things were entirely back to normal. For the moment, Ron was content to continue spending most of his time with Dean and Seamus and Harry and Hermione were for the most part content to let it remain that way. Small victories were easier to achieve, and at the very least there was no longer any sort of animosity in their relationship. Perhaps it was even better in the long run that Ron start to find a way to spend his time outside of the Trio, given that Harry and Hermione were a couple and tended to make him the third wheel. However, things with Daphne had remained much the same. The Slytherin was still just as much a mystery and unknown as she had been previously, and though they desperately wanted to test her, neither Harry nor Hermione had managed to come up with the perfect thing. However, scanning the letter Celdere had sent him, he was forced to admit that perhaps they were going to have to skip the testing stage of the relationship and move right to the heart of the matter.
Casually, he took a look at the other piece of parchment that had come with the letter. That, he recognized instantly, had not been written in Celdere's hand, as it was an untidy scrawl that was legible, but only just. However, at that moment it seemed much more grandiose than it truly was, all because of the information that it contained. His eyes roved the hall once more; this time his gaze rested primarily on the High Table. Unfortunately, there was no good way to flag Dumbledore down for a meeting, but that hadn't stopped him before, and besides, he had some amount of time to consider how to go about it. By the time he had taken careful note, Hermione had finished scanning Celdere's note and had passed it to Morgan, eyes coming to focus on Harry the instant it left her hands. Giving her a hesitant smile, he passed the parchment in his hand to her, watching as she read it very deliberately before folding it in half and passing it to Morgan, who opened it incredulously.
"Now what?" she asked, speaking for the first time during the entire exchange.
Harry shrugged. "Dumbledore, obviously, and then after that…" he trailed off, unsure of precisely what to do next.
"Some sort of strike will be made," Hermione pointed out. It was obvious, but the statement served to remind them all that they would be taking part in this as adults, rather than staying home like children.
"But how we'll spread our resources while doing so has yet to be determined," Harry countered. His girlfriend conceded his point with a nod. Harry chanced another glance at the High Table only to find that it appeared Dumbledore, with his somehow magical omnipotence, was looking his direction. Harry casually tilted his head to the side, gesturing without words towards the Entrance Hall, receiving a slight raise of a water goblet in return.
"We're going to be late for class," Hermione pointed out, not watching Dumbledore or looking anywhere near the High Table, but knowing Harry well enough to know how the exchange had gone based solely off of his facial expressions. Harry gave her a wry grin, but shrugged and stood. They all knew he wasn't particularly fussed about missing class, and he also knew that they would get a note and everything would be just fine in the end. Giving an unhappy sigh, Hermione stood and followed him from the hall with a small exasperated look at Morgan, who made no move to follow them. Through unspoken agreement they both headed straight towards the Headmaster's office, expecting him to catch up to them there, potentially with his wife in tow.
They weren't disappointed. Only a few minutes after they had given the password to the gargoyle and had arrived in the small hall outside Dumbledore's office the grating of stone stairs reached their ears, and the two professors stepped from the stairs. As if responding to the Headmaster's presence, the door to his office swung open gently and all four moved inside without discussion, the door swinging shut just as soundlessly as it had opened. Only then was any conversation began.
"First things first, I suppose," Harry announced, placing Celdere's letter on the Headmaster's desk. Minerva, he noted, was uncharacteristically perched on the arm of Dumbledore's chair, rather than having conjured herself up another, most likely wooden and straightbacked, but it made it so that they could both read the letter at the same time. With a small gesture, she summoned the paper and held it so that Albus could also see it, and they began to read.
"How on earth did you manage to get that?" was the first question when they had finished reading, and Harry produced the piece of paper with the Fideleus on it.
"A source," was the simple answer, causing Minerva to purse her lips and a slight frown to mar her features. Dumbledore, on the other hand, simply took it in stride.
"Excellent," he said, eyes sparkling behind his half-moon glasses. His wife shot him a slightly incredulous look, obviously concerned over the fact that he didn't appear to be worried that the two teens were keeping information from them.
"That slip is yours to keep until the next Order meeting," Harry informed him, "And you are free to distribute the secret to whomever you think best. I do ask, however, that the paper remain intact, as not everyone has been given the chance to see it." Most importantly, the Amazons.
"And after that?"
Hermione shrugged. "We will need to meet, obviously, and figure out our precise strategy. This information is relatively new, and while I'm sure that Celdere is already hard at work to come up with something, we will all need to contribute to make sure it is the best plan for everyone and that it uses our resources efficiently."
"So this will all be over, one way or another, soon?" Minerva breathed, awe in her voice.
"Voldemort has no idea we have this secret, so yes, we're going to do our best make this strike count for something," Harry responded firmly. "After all, the best element of attack is the element of surprise."
"And you'll not say anything more about your source?" Minerva pressed, curiosity getting the better of her. Instantly, both of her students turned to stare at her, the slightest smirk gracing Harry's features.
"Who they are isn't as important as what they've learned," Hermione said dismissively, and Minerva didn't press the issue, perhaps somehow knowing better than to press any further than she already had.
"Obviously it'd be a good idea to call a meeting soon," Harry pointed out, "and it's probably best that all parties involved have a concrete plan, or at least a definite list of resources, ready to bring to the table." His glance didn't only drift to the professors on the other side of the desk, but also to Hermione. Though the pair of them were far more coordinated, and discussed the matters more frequently, than the Order was with anyone else, it didn't mean that the reminder didn't apply to all of them. For his part, he knew that Celdere would be more than adequately prepared, and while it was likely that Hermione would be excessively prepared as well, it couldn't hurt to put the reminder out there.
"I will see to it that we have, at the very least, something to work with by then," Dumbledore said pleasantly. "And I'll inform you when I can next get everyone together." Order meetings, Harry thought, were by far too difficult to schedule. He supposed that was the drawback to volunteer armies; neither the Amazons nor the vampires needed to worry about scheduling. If it worked for the leaders, it worked for everyone else.
"Then it's probably best we get to class, before we're missed," Hermione said, acknowledging Dumbledore's statement with a nod.
"Of course," he said, waving his hand to summon a blank piece of parchment as he drew a violently purple quill from the inkpot on his desk. The soft sound of the quill scratching against the parchment filled the office for a brief moment, leaving them in not uncomfortable silence. Minerva used the opportunity to curiously survey them over the rims of her square spectacles while the two students tried to carefully ignore her gaze. No doubt she was still wishing she knew the identity of their mysterious informant, but neither of them were foolish enough to think letting her in on the secret was anything other than incredibly stupid.
"Thank you Professors," Harry said, rising as the piece of parchment was slid across the table and the purple quill was returned to the inkpot. Both favored the students with small smiles, Minerva's no more than a slight upward twitch at the corners of her mouth, which faded as the door closed behind them.
"The curiosity is bothering you immensely, isn't it, my dear?" Dumbledore asked his wife, the slightest hint of laughter in his voice. Unfortunately, her ears caught it and she directed an irritated glare in his direction as she rose from her perch on the arm of his chair.
"Indeed," she responded crisply. A pause, and then, "Who on earth could be getting them that information? Voldemort has been keeping such things incredibly close to the vest, and there's no way a casual spy could have gotten so close to be able to slip it out." The words were tinged slightly with frustration.
"I'm sure in time we will know the answer," Albus responded, in what was supposed to be a soothing manner, but really did nothing but cause a slight flare of her frustration, her eyes flashing as she pinned him with another glare.
"I'm sure in time we will," she ground out, "but whether that time will be soon enough to make a difference, should this prove to be more dangerous than anyone thinks, remains to be seen."
Not disagreeing, Albus didn't respond. Besides, the only thing he really could contribute to the conversation at that point was a joke about cats and curiosity or, as the conversation turned further from curiosity and more towards concern, one about mother hens, or lionesses. Neither reference, he knew, would really be appreciated by the woman in front of him.