Harry Potter's Fourth Year
A/N: The last chapter proved to me how much more interesting Bellatrix could have been as the main villain in Harry Potter than Voldemort (he's more of a schemer, she seems more of a 'let's get it done' type of gal). Let's see what kind of mayhem I can cook up for her in this (the final) chapter. A brief epilogue at the end.
Harry ran down the hall as fast as he could. He knew the person behind him was thoroughly trained in lethal spells. That fire whip proved it – and it had only been inches from mortally injuring Harry.
He was trying to sketch out some sort of plan as he ran. The Scoil was in lock down, so that would help reduce the number of bystanders or potential hostages for the assassin to use. Harry could duck into an empty room. The door would seal behind him. He'd be safe, like Victor now was.
He consider and then rejected it. Harry had to deal with this. He couldn't put it off. He couldn't delegate this unwanted responsibility.
He needed to capture the assassin or disable him somehow. Who knew how long it would take for Aurors or others to come to aid him?
At the same time, he knew he couldn't go head-to-head against an adult, highly trained wizard. Harry would be left in ribbons on the bloody floor. This person wasn't like Dumbledore: he didn't waste time blathering on and on. His first action had been that nasty purple spell…before he switched to that horrifying fire whip.
Harry pulled his wand and wordlessly cast silencing charms on himself. Then he pointed his wand and conjured three small pieces of stone to appear in the hallway he had just skipped past. Gravity would do the rest from there after the stones appeared in midair. Perhaps that little sound diversion would buy him a few more seconds to plan. A first diversion in what would probably be a war of diversions.
Harry ran and attempted to plan.
First. What were his assets? What could he rely upon?
He knew the school…but it was possible his attacker did as well. Obviously he had managed to get inside. Was he a master's candidate here? Was he an outsider?
He was a metamorphmagus…but he couldn't exactly change his appearance and disappear among a horde of other people, the Scoil alarm had seen to that. In any case, Harry wouldn't have wanted to endanger others just to save himself.
He knew some illegal wards…but perhaps the person momentarily distracted behind him had been trained as a cursebreaker.
He could lay some traps, so simple they were obvious but unresistable…but he was counting on an assassin to act in the way Harry expected. Who said an assassin had to be logical?
Second. What were his liabilities? His training from his Dueling and Combat course was so ingrained that he thought this way almost instantaneously now.
Unknown accomplices…someone helped him or her into the school.
Unknown fighting style(s).
Unknown abilities, weapons, tactics…unknown everything.
Merlin, what could he do? He had no plan. Running, hiding, and planning wasn't itself a plan.
Voldemort entered the temporary headquarters established by Bellatrix Lestrange.
"Why are you grinning like a loon?"
"Master, our attack on the Ministry was a complete success…"
His snake-like face narrowed in confusion. "What attack?" His words were precise and cold.
"The attack to celebrate your resurrection, Master. The building was destroyed. We estimate nearly two hundred blood traitors perished…"
Voldemort had his wand out in seconds. "Crucio!"
"Why wasn't I told of this? I would have stopped it. Stooges under the Imperius have much greater value than destroying the Ministry – we would have ruled it from the shadows, Bellatrix. The fools in the wider world would have known the truth and never spoken of it, cowards that they are. They deserve utter enslavement for being as dull witted as they are. However, your attack had made it clear to all and sundry what happened. You gave away our advantage, Bellatrix. Even the Muggle government will know…. What were you thinking?"
Voldemort stopped screaming and released Bellatrix from the spell.
"Master, they were not fit to…"
"No, Bella, you were not fit to withhold this information from me. Now you will tell me everything. Our longest term plans are ruined. It would have been easiest to put a puppet in the Minister's office and rule from there. The Wizengamot would have done what I wanted; it was filled with the oldest of the pureblood families in any case. But you ruined this ready-made scenario. We will have to try entirely different things to accomplish our goals. You gave away our advantage of surprise and stealth…"
Bellatrix bowed in resignation. But inside…inside she knew she was right. She told Voldemort much of what she had done, but not all of it. She decided to keep her master's recovered trinkets to herself. The pretty Slytherin locket, the large stone ring, the chalice: Bellatrix held them all now. She'd already obliviated the others of the knowledge. Her cruel Master gone to great lengths to hide them, so they were obviously important to him. But she wasn't telling all of her secrets to a man who rewarded her with the Cruciatus Curse. No.
"Yes, Master. I understand. I will start from the plot's inception…"
She had always been his most faithful servant. She deserved to be treated with respect. She told the half man-half creature what he desired to know, but she seethed.
No one tortured Bellatrix Lestrange with impunity…not even her Master.
The Irish Ministry of Magic was the first magical government to learn what had happened in London.
Brighid Daly wiped the tears from her eyes as soon as she learned that one of her friends in the legation had died in the explosion.
She prepared herself to brief her superiors. Alan had been inside the Ministry in the Department of International Magical Cooperation. The British were apparently trying to resurrect an old tradition called the Triwizard Tournament…and they wanted Ireland and the Scoil to be involved somehow.
Brighid Daly, the head of the Irish legation in London, apparated to Dublin as soon as she collected the basic facts of the situation. She'd even walked by the disaster site. She walked into the emergency meeting with the Minister and relevant department heads.
The Minister was a rather stern wizard who'd held the post for seven years. He knew what he was about. He didn't even wait for Brighid to sit down before he lobbed his first question. "Do we know who did this?"
Ambassador Daly shook her head. "The place is in ruins, even the Muggle building above it collapsed. It's a nightmare… Witches and wizards need to investigate and keep the muggles out of the ten levels below the building they're investigating."
"Will this bring the British wizarding world into the open?"
Daly shrugged. "Most of their Aurors and Law Enforcement hierarchy seem to have survived. It's possible they'll get this contained…"
The Minister turned to look at his Head of Intelligence and Analysis. "Any clues from what you've heard?"
"We've had monitors in Britain for a while now. There was a powerful ritual of some sort near Manchester last night. Then this thing in London ninety minutes ago. The monitors put Bellatrix Lestrange at the ritual last night and unknown signatures at the disaster in London…"
The Minister asked questions of everyone else in the room, brief, to-the-point questions. Finally he sighed.
"Ambassador Daly, you'll return to London, close the Embassy, and return to Dublin for the time being. I'm not leaving our people in place to get hurt when the British don't even have a functioning government to deal with the situation… I'll instruct the Foreign Secretary to put out the word to the other magical governments. I will personally contact the Muggle Prime Minister and pass this information along."
The spymaster pushed his body forward. "If I might, sir, perhaps we should erect the international portkey diversion barriers…"
"We've never done that, not as long as there's been a magical government here…" The Head of Aurors was turning purple with shock at the proposal.
The spymaster raised his hands. "I'm not saying 'bounce them back.' I'm saying direct all international portkeys to secure facilities for the time being. Britain has a band of terrorists that just destroyed their magical government. They have operated in our country, too, in recent memory. I don't want this spilling over here…"
"It's a terrible precedent…"
"It's better than us having this next meeting where all of us are in our funerary attire, Ainsley, where we're all the honoured dead being put into the ground."
The Minister was silent for a few moments. "Erect the wards. Staff a center with Aurors round the clock. Everyone using an international portkey, even Ministry officials, gets deposited there. Close off any but the official International Floo points, as well, and make sure those are staffed. And get the Magical Detection Office focused on apparition coming from offshore. And someone look into tracking brooms…"
The conversation went on for a long time. It eventually expanded to having trackers placed on those who arrived in Ireland via Muggle means of transport as well. They were protecting their future.
The meeting ended abruptly when a security officer entered the conference room to tell the Head of Aurors the following: "The Scoil alarm has sounded. Someone has penetrated their defenses."
Blackheart was very surprised, unpleasantly so, that his first attack had failed. Then all of his other spells failed to connect. Then that blasted Potter managed to get his friend to safety.
Blackheart heard the locks echo through the Scoil. He didn't have time to retrieve Potter's friend. The officials would be warned by now. The whole operation was turning rotten.
The longer he stayed in this building the greater the chance of failure. This was already the riskiest single contract he'd ever taken. Staying here past five minutes would almost ensure failure. The Irish would send their best. The teachers would eventually begin hunting him. Perhaps even the Potter brat would get lucky.
He unleashed his fire whip and aimed it where Potter had disappeared. It sailed through the air and only connected with stone. The boy was smart. He kept moving. Moving meant life, meant safety. The boy was cleverer than anyone had known, it seemed, even Blackheart.
Blackheart had studied the boy up close. He'd even used these last months to fully dredge out everything known about Harry Potter. Protected as he was normally by the Scoil, the public record was thin. But Blackheart had probed former students, especially the useful Colin Matthews, who was now dead. (Blackheart preferred permanent measures instead of Memory Charms, as they could be broken in many cases.)
Colin's memories had shown how Harry dueled, how he reacted to attacks, how he lost control of his accidental magic… All interesting, but useless information in the present situation.
Blackheart threw all of his knowledge out the window. He had lost his advantage of surprise.
He began to run after the boy. He had to kill his quarry very soon. The boy was a good hallway ahead of him by now. Blackheart moved only by listening. The sound…suddenly disappeared. Then a shifting of rocks over there. Blackheart ran after them. He ran. Then he stopped to listen. He heard nothing. No movement, no breathing, nothing.
"Good work, boy."
Even Blackheart could hand out praise when it was deserved.
He began retracing his steps. He quickly examined each open room he passed and sealed them. He tested out all the doors to see if any of them weren't truly sealed.
He figured Potter had by now sealed himself away…made himself impervious to assault.
He sighed and kicked at the floor. And saw a few odd looking stones. They didn't match anything in the Scoil. They had just been made. Just been created as a distraction…and Blackheart fell for it.
He started running again.
He saw the intersection of hallways ahead. That was where he'd turned aside and gone off on his tangent. Clever, boy. Very clever.
Potter had bought himself time. Was it worth it? Was it enough?
Blackheart ran down the hall. He had to catch up. He didn't have that long left before he'd need to retreat or hide himself. Blackheart ran down a hallway without thinking. He just ran through a magical trigger. He stopped when he felt the wash of a powerful ward spring into place behind him.
He could feel the ward. Behind him. He pivoted in fear. The thing was really strong and ominous. He cast a couple of diagnostics before cursing himself for this foolhardy plan of his. His attacks failed, he fell for a diversion, and then he walked for a trap.
He could have done this a different way. He could have waited for Potter to leave the Scoil…he could have been left waiting for years and unable to meet the tight deadline of his contract.
He sighed. It was true. This had been his best chance of a high risk, high reward situation. It looked grim now.
Then it got worse. His jaw dropped as the ward analysis flared back with an answer.
For Blackheart was now in an impossible risk, high reward situation.
He stared at what appeared to be a 'death ward' of some variety raised between him and his means of escape. He had faced a lesser construct than a 'death ward' only once in his life and had a mortal fear of them, stronger even than his fear of enraged sphinxes.
He recognized he was trapped in this hallway and the four classrooms down here.
"How did Potter do this? Who would teach a child such a vile creation as a 'death ward'?"
He was reeling in the unpleasant facts. Was Potter in here? Or was this a prison or holding cell?
Blackheart wasn't going to sit still for this. He would go down only after he killed a dozen people. He examined the hallway closely. It was decorated in a martial fashion. There was a stone statue in a fighter's pose and two suits of armor. A few tapestries with battle scenes. No where to hide.
He checked the doors in this hallway. Three of them were thoroughly secured. He could crack the wards, but it would greatly weaken him to do so. He approached the partially opened fourth door with a good deal of caution.
His lack of caution earlier had trapped him inside this hallway. He didn't want to be further confined if he could help it.
He cast a dozen detection spells before he even touched the door to push it open. The door was clean. He reached forward and pushed the door. It creaked lightly as it opened onto a dueling chamber.
He cast more spells to determine what might be hiding in the room. He got a positive signal that there was a magical being of some sort behind a door at the edge of the room.
Blackheart thought for a second about his options. He was trapped. He would be caught. But he could take Harry Potter with him. If one must die on assignment, one should achieve the objective first.
Blackheart pointed his wand at the door he'd just tested and applied a ward-resistance charm to it. He pulled the door shut and then opened it quietly. It still made some creaking noises. But it hadn't sealed. If he went into this room, he could come out again. Perhaps, just perhaps, he'd have time to take care of the hiding Harry Potter and then see what could be done about that 'death ward.'
He moved with silent feet inside the dueling chamber. He walked halfway across the room and decided on his attack. The boy had to be hiding in that closet. Wasn't it stupid of him not to have shut the room's door behind him? It would have sealed, giving him a fair amount of protection. It would be his last mistake.
Blackheart cast his most powerful explosive curse at the wooden closet door. The solid piece of wood instantly turned into thousands of tiny, flying knives. If the Potter brat had been inside the closet, he was now dead.
Blackheart walked over to the site of his victory. He wanted to know his target was truly dead.
The British Prime Minister walked into his office after getting pulled from an urgent meeting. He didn't like talking to his counterpart in Ireland very often as they shared the same first name. It made conversations a bit strange.
"John, how may I help you?" His tone was brusque. He had a crisis to manage out in the other room. But when a fellow head of government calls and says it's an emergency, one pays attention.
"Mr. Prime Minister, I think I can help you…" The formal tone was a polite rebuke to the flippant British PM.
"If you know why I had a building blow up in downtown London, I'd be glad to hear it."
"Yes, John. That's exactly why I'm calling."
"I just had an emergency meeting of sorts with those special types…"
"Oh, you have those magical folks, too, in Ireland?"
"Yes. They just told me that the British Ministry of Magic had been destroyed…"
The phone line was silent for a good few seconds.
"Why wasn't I told? It happened here, in my country…"
"Probably because your Minister of Magic is dead. It was a bloody, deadly attack…"
The British Prime Minister was quiet again as he tried to remember the things he'd been told over the last few years.
"I've heard a bit about their wars. Some of them up to no good again?"
"Sounds like it's exactly the same group acting up again, John."
"I'll have to call in some special advisers then. Got some squids working in MI6, you know…"
"I think you mean squibs…and, yes, I did know." The Irish Prime Minister was laughing.
"Bloody security service you have. Thank you again, Mr. Prime Minister, for the notification. I'll not forget the service you've done me today."
"Terrorists are terrorists, whether they be like us or those other folks. Got to keep a firm hand with them."
"Exactly, John, exactly. Pass along my greetings, will you?"
The line went silent. John Major, Prime Minister, then asked his secretary to clear his day. He needed to visit MI6.
Orion Murphy-Black had never felt the true Scoil alarm activated before. Sure they tested it once per year so that all the students were aware of it. It made no sound, but it did register as a repeating ping inside each student and teacher's mind within the Scoil. Orion ran to his office to consult with his instruments. He had two designed to tell him exactly what was happening, who had activated the alarm, and where.
When Orion consulted his trinkets, he didn't know what to do. It looked like a real attack. There had been lethal spells used in the first floor corridor. Victor O'Neil had activated the alarm and was currently sealed in a room.
Orion stepped to his Floo. "Auror Office."
When a head popped into view, Orion began talking. "I have someone in the Scoil casting offensive magic like crazy. The Scoil is in lockdown after a student triggered the alarm…"
The unnamed Auror looked stunned but stayed professional. "We'll send a team. Keep your students and faculty safe, sir."
Orion pulled his head from the fireplace. "I don't know how. This attacker is already trying to kill one of my students… Is there anything I can do to help?"
He got up, threw away the logic of the situation, and ran out of his office and headed to the first floor. He hoped he wouldn't be too late. He hoped he could at least be of some help to whoever was in need.
The cloaked killer walked past Harry, not even sparing him a second glance. Harry's entire plan hinged on the man being terrified by the 'faux black ward' that Sirius had taught him. It would stun a person – and its magical signature resembled one of the famed Black Family 'death wards' – so it was perfect for any situation with a potentially experienced cursebreaker. People into grave robbing knew how to preserve their own necks.
It seemed this killer did as well.
So Harry stood very still. He watched the man move cautiously and slowly. He watched the killer cast detection spells of every sort. The killer never noticed his prey. Hiding in plain sight was the best solution, wasn't it?
Harry had conjured a bit of sandstone and used his metamorphic abilities to give his hair and skin the correct color. Sure, he'd had to vanish most of his own clothing and use a color spell on his underwear, but he looked like an old statue in a rarely used corridor, didn't he?
Harry breathed as slowly and shallowly as he could manage with all the nervous energy flowing through him. It wasn't easy to be fifteen feet away from a killer.
The man eventually walked inside the trap. He'd scanned at the doorway and then gone inside quietly but intent on something.
Harry listened as a massive explosion ripped through the opened room. What was the killer attacking?
Harry stepped off his conjured pedestal and stepped to the doorway. The cloaked assassin was standing in front of where they kept the dueling dummies… Had he attacked them thinking they were Harry?
The young man was confused for a moment. Sure, they were the Gilderoy Lockhart Dueling Dummies, "each equipped with a hair from Gilderoy's perfect head" (according to the faded advertisements still woven into the dummies' cloaks). Was a single hair on a dueling dummy enough to trip a magical detection spell? Apparently so.
Harry stifled a laugh at the fierce killer probing and prodding the ruined remains of a life-sized Gilderoy Lockhart dummy. Harry decided it was time to act.
He pointed his wand into the room and wordlessly cast the 'Serpensortia' spell four times. The snakes moved quietly and quickly through the room. As they were about on top of the killer, Harry conjured his Grim-like patronus. The silver beast flew through the air.
The attacker saw the silver energy and tried to cast spells at the terrifying-looking spectre. His snakes used the moment to attack. Three managed to strike the man in some part of his body. Instead of just falling to the ground, screaming, he twisted around looking for his prey.
Harry knew the man was dedicated to his work.
He didn't stop the silent incantation he was performing while his patronus and snakes were doing their worst. After thirty seconds, the vile-seeming 'black ward' flickered into view in the center of the room.
It wasn't a strong ward, as it was only the result of Harry's magic and had no powerful rune stones to tether and strengthen it. It had taken thirty seconds to create and would only last for three hours. It was enough time. It was just strong enough. The ward itself wasn't keeping the man trapped, but rather the man's fear of what the ward might be.
Harry stepped into the safe side of the room from his vantage point at the door.
Harry's patronus began to fade from view. The killer managed to destroy the last of the conjured snakes. Then he looked around his new prison.
He whispered in horror. The words sounded like "Another death ward."
His mouth didn't move as the killer unleashed a half dozen spells right at Harry. All of them were sickly green in appearance: the Killing Curse.
None of them made it through what Harry called the 'faux black ward'. The light black previously displayed by the ward became several shades darker. The curses had just made the frail ward quite strong… Ironic.
Wards were beautiful, poorly understood things, Harry knew. Magical theory was correct that nothing labeled as a shield could withstand the Killing Curse. But shields were arbitrarily described as defensive spells that took less than six seconds to cast.
There were several varieties of defensive wards that could block every type of magic. Because of their power, many of them were considered to be forms of Dark Magic. However, Harry didn't care.
The 'faux black ward' he'd used twice this day was a comparatively simple, but obscure ward (some of the more complicated of the Black Family's true 'death wards' required days of rune carving and hours of casting time), and was powerful enough in almost every case to stop a witch or wizard cold. It took on a faint black aura and proceeded to absorb any magic that passed near it, including the magic contained within the bodies of witches and wizards. Such a quickly created ward wouldn't kill, but it would incapacitate anyone trying to pass through it (where true 'death wards' drained a wizard's power so quickly and viciously that it killed him).
By the perturbed stare on the killer's face, the man was now convinced he was held by a 'death ward.' After all, the thing had just absorbed six killing curses.
He pivoted and look to the wall that was likely an outer wall of the Scoil. He began casting battering and explosion curses at the stone work. His mission had failed. He was now trying to escape.
Harry tried to start a conversation with the killer. He started with the obvious. "It's a dueling chamber. It's warded against misaimed spells. The floor and ceiling are, as well."
The killer didn't let up in his barrage. He attacked everything in the room. Only the wooden doors to the storage areas gave way under the assault. All of the stone surfaces came away completely unscathed.
The killer even sent another dozen at the black ward separating him from Harry Potter. They were absorbed. Every spell the man sent at the black ward actually strengthened it.
"You know, it will probably last for nine or ten hours now…because I'm not taking it down sooner."
The cloaked man didn't care. He kept twisting and turning, trying to find some sort of vulnerability.
"These bizarre pieces of wizardry can't be defeated by brute force. The only times the famed Black Family 'death wards' failed were when traitors betrayed the Family from inside the structure under siege." Such a history had, of course, only increased the famed Black Family paranoia.
The killer kept attacking. He was using powerful spells at full intensity. He was caught but refused to acknowledge his situation.
"We have all the time in the world," Harry said. "No one will be able to pass through the first wards I set at the hallway entrance. And you won't be able to get through this ward. Attack way."
The man continued casting. His wandwork was exceptional, so Harry was almost glad to sit back and watch for a while. He was still in a bit of shock so he didn't really tie together the fact he was calmly observing and learning from a man who'd just tried to kill him.
Harry watched as the man began to tire. With the volume and strength of the magic he'd been using, it wasn't terribly surprising. The killer finally slumped to the floor in defeated resignation.
"You're stronger than I had expected," the killer finally said.
"I'm glad," Harry responded. "I rather like my life as it is."
Orion Murphy-Black arrived at the lesser used of the two dueling corridors. He saw the kind of ward that was in place and knew not to get anywhere near the crazy thing.
He'd gotten the house elves to do a check on everyone in the school. Seventeen had come back unaccounted for. Sixteen of them had already signed out for the vacation. Only Harry Potter hadn't been found.
Orion wondered if Harry had cast this monstrosity or if the attacker had done it… There was nothing he could do right now, but wait…and hope…and think.
If Harry had done this, perhaps the boy had a plan. It was possible, but not likely, Harry was still alive.
If the attacker had done this, then he'd have to dismantle the ward before attempting to escape. Orion settled into position and cast a notice-me-not charm on himself. He'd be ready to take some vengeance for his student and his invaded Scoil.
He wondered if the Aurors would arrive in time to see anything happen.
He wondered if he'd survive long enough to discover why this had happened – and who was behind it.
Blackheart considered his narrow menu of options. He had an exhausted body, a functioning wand, and not much else. What could he do? Wait for Irish Aurors? No. That would never do.
He could negotiate his way free from the boy… But this particular incarnation of Harry Potter seemed smarter than he'd expected.
Shock and awe? He could reveal his true self…throw the boy off that way.
He wouldn't give up, not until every option was exhausted.
"You're stronger than I had expected."
"I'm glad. I rather like my life as it is."
It wasn't the kind of rejoinder he'd expected. Next attempt.
"That ward is illegal."
"I don't really care. Someone shooting killing curses at me is a criminal."
The boy wasn't falling to pieces.
"It's funny the way our choices can come back to hurt us, Potter."
"I can see that."
Fine, enough with the subtlety. Next plan: the truth.
"I chose to teach you, you know. It seems, from your sandstone-colored skin, you've used my lessons against me. I never thought you'd actually learn the things I taught…"
"I don't take classes from murderers."
"You did from me, Harry."
The man pulled down the hood of his cloak. His face was completely white with only eyes and a mouth. He had no hair, no ears, no nose. Nothing.
"My work attire is not very pleasing, I apologize. Let me show you something more…recognizable."
He adapted his face. It changed into a form Harry Potter would have to acknowledge.
"You called me Aleksandr Dobrydin. I was the metamorphmagus who taught you the beginning steps of a meditative cycle, a cycle useful for mastering the mind arts and eventually even highly refined wandless magic…"
Harry didn't let his surprise show. But he had been surprised.
"You. Sirius asked you if you were an Unspeakable…"
"I work for no government on a formal basis. Highest bidder only."
"Who hired you?"
The man just smiled.
Blackheart would never have worked for that man. "Never met the man."
"Some of the Death Eaters?"
Blackheart just smiled. It was as good as a yes.
Harry nodded. He understood. "How did you get in?"
"The place is only locked down during term. In between, anyone with an appointment can visit, even a lowly master's candidate from outside Dublin. I sent a letter and got a portkey in return. Simplest thing to set up…"
"The execution, so to speak, was harder," Harry said.
The killer was quiet. The boy had a vicious, truth-telling tongue.
"Why would a contract killer tutor a kid like me?"
"I have to keep up my many legitimate identities to protect the name of Blackheart. The woman who asked me to tutor you wasn't someone I could easily turn down, not without consequences."
"Sirius said you told him to make sure I learned this. Why did you doubt my abilities by attacking me like this?"
"When I said it took years to learn the meditative cycle, I meant ten years. Very few ever get to that point; lack of patience, you understand. In fact, very few metamorphmagi get beyond mastering the seventh or eighth step. You seem to have developed a passive detector of dangerous magic?"
Harry just nodded.
"It's my mistake, then. Not for telling you the exercises, but for thinking you only a lucky child. I do not expect I'll be given the chance to make a similar mistake again…"
"I hope not."
"I don't suppose you care to help out an old teacher?"
"I think any debts I might have owed you ended when you tried to kill me, yeah?"
The room fell silent. He'd asked the question. The denial hadn't been unexpected from this particular Harry Potter. A smarter Harry than he'd expected, more talented than he'd guessed.
"How far have you progressed?"
"I'm stumped on finding my animagus forms so far, but at least I'm sure there's more than one. The rest is coming along nicely. I've started working on a wandless levitation charm. Perhaps a few more weeks for that…"
"It's remarkable progress. You'll be able to take over for Blackheart in a few years if you keep it up…"
"Blackheart. I've never heard of your alter ego before."
"Best to keep things exclusive, I think. Only the people with the money and the need for my services should ever hear of Blackheart."
"Do a lot of metamorphs end up in your line of work?"
He nodded. "Some for governments, some independently. Even the ones in law enforcement sometimes moonlight. It's too good an opportunity…"
"Before I let the Aurors in, would you care to really tell me why you trained me? You could have fed me lies instead of things that worked…"
Blackheart smiled for the last time. The boy really was smarter than he'd known.
"The most powerful magics are never committed to the page, Harry; they're always taught from one to another; that's why so much of the best magic is lost and rarely rediscovered."
"The spells in spellbooks?"
"Worthless trash. Things that everyone knows are things that everyone can block. Your 'black wards' are proof of that. Mostly they're rumors through history, with a handful of people able to use them, but when used – well, I found out I couldn't bring them down. It's privileged knowledge and powerful for that fact…"
"Lumos was created by Merlin, they say, and you call it worthless?" The boy wasn't angry…he was curious.
"Merlin's legend rests on scraps and fragments of the things he's supposed to have done; no one has his journals or his private spellbooks. They never existed; the best never let their secrets out like that. Who knows what Merlin really did or didn't do…none of those he trained personally left much information behind.
"That said, remember to teach some of what you know to those worthy to learn it, no matter whether you might be fashioning yourself an opponent for the future. It's your obligation to magic. That's the only way to live."
Harry just nodded. He stood up, his body returned to its natural colors, and he flicked his wand to conjure himself a temporary black robe. He dressed and walked out of the room.
Blackheart heard the wards fall outside and then he heard a loud commotion as people began trying to run down the short hallway. Two teachers or administrators practically flew into the room looking angry enough to kill.
To kill. What a simple job. What a lovely life.
The downside, of course, was just this situation. Blackheart had sworn years earlier never to be caught. Never to be caught alive. It was too late now, far past the point of repair.
He turned his wand on himself. As he saw the first Auror enter the dueling chamber, Blackheart said, "Avada Kedavra."
The Irish Minister of Magic was back in another meeting. It was a very long day.
"Ambassador Daly, Foreign Minister Collins, what's the news?"
The Foreign Minister began to speak, "The British Ministry of Magic created a number of enemies within the international community in the last few decades, especially with its poor handling of the Voldemort situation in the 1970s and early 1980s. It never really tried to repair its tattered reputation, especially with that asshole Bartemius Crouch as its Head of International Magical Cooperation."
The Minister of Magic just smirked. "You never wanted to make up. You hated your British counterpart…"
Ambassador Daly, reassigned to general liaison work, interrupted the distraction. "Sir, the consensus opinion worldwide seems to have settled on 'let the snobs deal with the problem, they created it.'"
The Minister was trying to settle on his own policy.
"It would be a different situation had another country been attacked. Had Turkey been attacked like that, we would offer assistance. Had it been Egypt or Spain, we'd have had temporary Aurors loaned to them within hours.
"But, it wasn't any of those countries. It was Britain."
The Minister turned to look around the room. It seemed Ambassador Daly had more to say. He needed in her direction.
She pulled up a small sheaf of papers. "The Irish Ministry of Magic did earliest (and most non-judgmental) work disseminating the truth of what had happened in Britain. Within three hours of the British Ministry building's destruction, France, Spain, and Belgium activated their magical travel barriers. None of them offered assistance of any sort to the British. Privately the French Minister told me he hoped that Crouch had died.
"Within six hours, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, and Denmark erected their own protections. The Germans sent in a few Unspeakables to assess the situation, but they also pulled out their formal diplomatic corps.
"As for the bureaucratic nightmare known as the American Ministry of Magic, we don't expect them to get anything accomplished until tomorrow. Knowing them, it may take them a week to recall their diplomats.
"In short, the world has abandoned Britain because Britain abandoned everyone else. It lied about the innocence of these free Death Eaters, it broke agreements on fixing the conditions of its wizarding prison, and then it crumbled under a single attack…"
The Minister nodded. The evidence was rather unidirectional. No one planned to offer aid to Britain.
The Minister finally decided. "While it seems that Britain is in a sticky place, to the people still living inside its borders the loss of the Ministry means little, aside from the pain of all the deaths and the sheer level of fear it created. No one will actually miss the 'services' it alleged provides. We can only hope that they will deal with their prisoners somehow…"
Ambassador Daly nodded. She agreed with leaving the British to fend for themselves. "It will wake a lot of people up. Too bad it'll take them a good long while to organize enough to talk with each other. I hope they learn fast."
Harry woke up the morning after all the excitement was over. He'd been interviewed by Aurors and every other sort of government bureaucrat for hours…on what he'd observed of Blackheart, on how he knew to cast such wards, on how he'd trapped a vicious assassin.
"Youth and cunning can win out over experience and arrogance, you know," had been a common remark Harry had said. He hadn't given up his tricks.
After it was over, the Scoil's Healer had stuffed Harry full of a sleeping potion.
Now he had the hardest parts to deal with. Harry saw Orion Murphy-Black, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin sitting in the hospital wing looking at him.
"This won't be pleasant?"
"Well, none of us will try to kill you, Harry," Sirius said.
"Why," was all Remus said.
"Why? Why try to lead him away from everyone else?"
Remus nodded. Sirius and Orion seemed interested as well.
"Because I couldn't pawn that off on someone else. I could have locked myself in a room – like the one I pushed Victor into…he's alright, isn't he?"
Orion Murphy-Black said, "Yes. He's still at the Scoil and wants to make sure you're okay…"
"Well, I couldn't let someone like Victor get hurt just because this psychopath was flinging spells at me. So, I used what I had available. I knew I'd never be able to defeat a fully grown wizard, but I could trick one, couldn't I?"
Sirius was bursting with nervous, emotional energy. "Kidnapped. Stalked by an assassin. Harry, do you ever have a normal year? Why do you have to run toward danger?"
"I had nothing to do with organizing the kidnapping. As for the crazy guy yesterday, he came after me. I just led him away from everyone else…"
The conversation lasted a long time. The Headmaster was terrified of 'death wards' in his school. Remus tore into the Headmaster for the security breach that allowed an assassin, under the guise of a prospective master's candidate, to enter the Scoil. Sirius alternated between pride and fear for his godson.
Harry tried to listen to everyone. He tried to keep his patience. But…it just wasn't possible.
"Here it is. It's okay for me to risk my life...but I can't willingly risk someone else's without them knowing it. I could have hidden and left that nutcase to do whatever he was going to do, but I didn't. I couldn't."
No one agreed with Harry, but eventually his stomach won the argument. It grumbled and the two hours of conversation, accusations, recriminations, and attempts to get Harry to promise 'never to be so foolishly brave, and stupid, ever again.'
A large breakfast helped to quiet and calm all of them. When the conversation resumed it was a touch more rational.
"The first thing we'll do," Headmaster Murphy-Black said, "is have all candidate meetings outside of the Scoil. They'll last longer than an hour and we can determine if someone is under a glamour or using Polyjuice…"
"Headmaster, the man was a metamorphmagus."
"You didn't tell that to the Aurors."
"It didn't matter in this case, but it will for future precautions..."
"Why didn't it matter?"
Harry wasn't happy about having to tip his hand. "We spoke after I captured him…"
Sirius jumped up. "You did what?"
"We chatted. I wanted to find out who'd sent him – and how he'd gotten inside the Scoil."
"Of all the crazy things…"
The meeting went downhill from there. None of them were pleased about Harry's foray into detective work.
Harry spent a very tense two weeks at Black Estate. He was allowed outside so long as he stayed in the wards. He was prohibited from the Quidditch game he and Victor had planned to attend in Dublin. He had to withdraw from the Creature Club trip to Costa Rica where they apparently had a Peruvian Vipertooth Reserve.
It was a boring two weeks. Both Sirius and Remus treated him a bit like he was fragile and likely to break.
"Guys, Ireland has the defensive wards up. No more Death Eaters can sneak in, right?"
Remus grudgingly admitted that was true.
"So, the only things I have to fear are lightning strikes, getting hit by Muggle lorries, spoiled cans of tuna, and other random chance events…"
Sirius and Remus both agreed with Harry and still refused to let him leave. Victor, for his part, came over to the Black Estate a few times to keep Harry from overwhelming boredom. A lot of flying was done – and commiserating about overprotective guardians. Harry began teaching Victor a bit about warding.
Before Victor left from his final visit, both Sirius and Remus got pranked.
The idea had come from Victor. "They think you should be protected, right?"
"Well, let's show them what that feels like…"
Harry smiled. They spent forty minutes executing the plan. After Victor left, Harry began cooking a highly aromatic dinner. The entire manor filled with the scent of roast beef.
Sirius was the first one to thunder down the stairs. Just as he walked into the kitchen – thud! – he found himself in an oversized baby jumper locked into an adult sized playpen. He began to yell. Either Harry was ignoring him or the silly pen was silenced.
Remus was entranced by the smell and joined in Sirius' fate ten minutes later.
Harry didn't even spare a glance at either of his guardians. He finished up with the roast and mashed potatoes and shallot-butter green beans. He sat down at the kitchen's table and ate a very fair helping. Then he turned, seemed shocked at the appearance of two 'babies,' and executed phase two of the prank: feeding time.
"All right, my little men, I have strained squash and apricots for both of you tonight…"
Both Sirius and Remus began howling at that. There was a delicious roast beef and Harry was planning to feed them strained squash! The injustice.
Harry proceeded to attempt the feeding. He had Sirius' face almost coated in cold squash before he gave up on the joke. Remus was howling with laughter.
"Even a prank can be a learning activity, you see…" That was all Harry said, but both Sirius and Remus understood the larger message. They also both appreciated 'real people food,' as Harry jokingly called it.
The roast beef was quickly demolished as were the sides Harry had prepared.
The last day of his imprisonment passed with some excitement. His O-level results showed up. It was rather a quick turnaround, Harry thought with a bit of surprise.
Harry got the envelope and opened it in full view of Sirius and Remus. They both wanted to see how he'd done.
International Standard O-Level Results
Scoil ar Draiocht Glas: Harry James Potter
Scoring Explanation: Tests graded at a 6 or 7 are considered a 'High Pass.' For magical subjects, students are encouraged to continue on through N-level coursework. Tests graded at a 4 or 5 are considered a 'Pass' and students are discouraged from continuing on to pursue N-level coursework. Tests graded at a 1, 2, or 3 are consider 'Not Passed.' Students may retake any subject test they wish after the payment of a fee during any standard testing session.
Magic Only Subjects:
Dueling and Defense 7
Magical History 5
Study of Other Magical Races 6
Magical Languages 6
Subjects Reported for International Baccalaureate:
English Language 7
English Literature 6
European History 5
World History 5
Anthropology and Archaeology 7
"The kid's as big a bookworm as you ever were, Remus."
Remus just rolled his eyes. "Be glad he inherited his mother's brain, Sirius. Don't you remember that James just doodled on his History of Magic test at the OWL level to protest Binns?"
Sirius laughed. "Didn't work, did it? The old bore is probably still there, granting naps to all his students. Goblin rebellions, my foot."
"Why have I never heard that story before?" Harry was also smiling.
"Because I didn't want you to purposely fail it just to follow in your father's footsteps."
"Okay," Harry said, laughing. "But now it's story time."
So, the rest of the day was indeed story time. Sirius wooing girls; James chasing Lily; the antagonism between a certain group of Slytherins and Sirius and James in particular; embarrassing moments in the lives of many Hogwarts professors. James' daring do on the Quidditch team. Snape testing out Dark spells he'd invented on Sirius and James in sixth and seventh year… Harry stopped laughing around then.
"They allowed you to do those things to each other? They didn't expel him for using a slashing curse on Peter and Remus? That's horrible," was about the sum total of Harry's expressed thoughts on the subject. "Was no one paying attention?"
John Major had been spending an inordinate amount of time at MI6 since the 'bombing' in London. He had been hearing about the magical world from people other than that oaf Fudge and his subsequent replacements…and it was quite disturbing. The Voldemort fellow sounded like quite a piece of work.
And if he ever learned from some of the IRA's tactics, then everyone would be in trouble. Magical bombings everywhere, assassinations on the front page scaring everyone.
"What can we do?"
The chief 'squid,' as John Major called the man, had a dark gleam in his eye. "We put together some plans. We wait for the right moment. We destroy them. The magicals won't expect that the 'Muggles' are paying them any attention. They won't be expecting us to attack, Minister."
"Can we ensure we get them all?"
"We can be sure to get the worst of them… I've begun hearing rumors from my contacts in Knockturn Alley that Voldemort was resurrected."
"They can do that? Bring back the dead?"
"To some extent, yes. How they do it, I have no idea. But we'll get some assets in place to track where they are. Once we find a good location where we know they will be…we can arrange something."
"What are you thinking?" the prime minister asked.
"They're terrorists, right? We'll just ensure that one of their 'terrorist plots' backfires on them…"
"Be careful, man. This is my country we're talking about."
The man just nodded. "Careful as we can."
The Prime Minister wasn't terribly reassured. But he knew that the people who were supposed to deal with this sort of thing were dead or disbanded. He knew he wasn't being told the whole truth, but couldn't figure out what they were lying about.
He vowed to eventually figure it out.
Harry's fourth year began with a lighter courseload (in terms of sheer number of tutorials taken) and an increase in the amount of work he did for each one. Where he'd done two to three hours of work per course pre-O-levels, now he was up to five hours per course. Juggling the schedule became harder.
He added a one-term course on Enchanting (which required O-levels in Charms and Runes) and would be taking his first official course on Warding in the following term. He continued on with his strongest magical subjects: Dueling, Charms, Transfiguration, Runes, and Potions. He had wanted to keep up on his Magical Languages, but found he didn't have the time. He contented himself by remembering he didn't care to learn Mermish, although Gobbleydegook could come in handy with the Gringotts goblins some dat. Instead, he wanted to do a special option in Spell Design: his Arithmancy was at an acceptable level to help and his Warding and Runes learning would make him quite gifted at the subject.
In his nonmagical studies, he chose a fairly full courseload. He didn't have a mind for most sciences (save the wonders of Archaeology, which didn't have an N-level option on offer). He took Advanced English Language, Advanced English Literature, Latin Literature, French Literature, Political Studies, Advanced Economics, and Calculus. The English Language course was only a single term option. He'd take the Political Studies in place of it in second term and the economics course the term after. The Latin and French literature courses were each single term courses for the year. Calculus and English Literature were full year options. The only problem with all the single term options was having to revise for the N-levels after so much time in between tutorials.
He was busy, to be sure, but he and his group still practiced their dueling techniques two or three times a week. Harry and Victor found time for flying, as well. He really had become quite good as a seeker, but he was still terrible as a keeper.
Harry never went back down to that one corridor where he'd ambushed the assassin. He never answered any questions on what had happened either, not even for Victor.
"I'm sorry, Vic," he said one time. "It's not that I can't tell you. It's that I can't really bear to think about it again. I haven't tried obliviating myself or anything, I just hate pulling them up and reliving them, you understand? They're there and collecting dust. Best they stay that way, in my view."
Harry told no one, not even Sirius, the name of the man who'd come to kill him. Harry didn't want Sirius to act even stranger after knowing that Harry, Sirius, and the killer had spent several days together in training in Bulgaria.
Harry did, however, redouble his efforts on the meditative exercises. He was going to master them all by the time he left the Scoil with his Master's. He would become an adult with a full set of powerful tools at his disposal. He was done with kidnappers and would-be assassins and controlling old men. And feeling helpless.
Bellatrix Lestrange fumed as she was demoted to preparing meals for her Master and his reconstituted Death Eaters. She had brought him back – and now she was the 'camp cook.'
Blacks never stood for betrayal of any sort.
She had been tortured by her Master. She had been all but thrown to the curb. She wasn't given tasks to perform, raids to lead or even join… She had nothing to do but mind the kitchen.
Bellatrix stirred the massive cauldron filled with vegetables and meats. It was the work of servants, house elves, bitter little squibs. It was not fitting for a Black.
She would find a way…a way to get even.
She began dishing the food into bowls. She was even expected to serve the 'menfolk.'
She bit her tongue…and bided her time.
After the meal Bellatrix served, Voldemort sealed the room and met with his Inner Circle.
"We have two agenda items: freeing our brethren from Azkaban and taking Hogwarts. The Ministry is destroyed, the only power remaining is in Scotland now. We will create a new government there and root out the mudblood cancer."
The planning for Azkaban took hours, as it needed to be conducted with a limited force while at the same time freeing all of the Dementors on the island. It wasn't easy to accomplish two large objectives in a single stroke.
The last question was when.
Voldemort had the final response to that, as well. "Two weeks from tomorrow…"
Seeing blank faces.
The conversation turned to Hogwarts and lasted well into the early morning.
Many people awoke on November first to grim news.
Sirius broke the story to Harry before the young man went down to breakfast. Harry's reaction? "The escaped prisoners can't get into Ireland, right? Then it's just a lesson the British have to learn. Don't be stupid handling prisoners."
Sirius had begun to note Harry's coldness regarding anything British after his kidnapping. Since the assassin attack it had grown worse.
John Major, the British Prime Minister, took the news from his chief 'squid' much less calmly.
"There were remnants of the Ministry still around and they didn't even try to defend the prison? Why didn't they ship the prisoners elsewhere – or get some other government to help?"
"Most of the world's other magical governments have turned their backs on Britain…"
"Yes, the British Ministry has burned quite a few relationships in the last twenty years. They don't have a lot of goodwill. Especially since they let twenty or so of the terrorists caught in the early '80s walk free…"
"They did what?"
"There were allegations of bribes and such, from what I hear, but no one ever dug deep enough to prove it. Plus a lot of their mess spilled out into other countries – mysterious killings in Germany, odd bombings in France, disappearances of prominent wizards and muggles in Italy and Spain. All of it looked like the nonsense from these terrorists."
"Who in their right mind lets terrorists walk free – how did the people support and believe it, even excluding the official corruption?"
"Witches and wizards are, for the most part, hidebound in tradition and deeply respectful of those who are more powerful than they are – they are also scurrilous gossips. The Ministry is made up of a lot of powerful people so they get believed. The newspapers there were bought and paid for in the same way that the politicians were…"
"So the freed terrorists waited more than a decade before breaking out the imprisoned terrorists?"
The 'squid' just nodded.
"You have a green light on Operation Misfire," the Prime Minister said. "Wait until you have the best possible target."
"I have a very good idea where they will be going. The only question is when."
The Prime Minister just nodded. The details made him nauseous.
Inside what was left of the British Auror command, the reaction was subdued. The Director of Magical Law Enforcement, Amelia Bones, had perished in the attack. Three people were currently locked in a political battle to head the department. Rufus Scrimgeour had headed the Aurors for three years, since Amelia had taken the overall Directorship. Rufus wasn't well liked.
Winston Dawlish was a senior Auror and was relatively competent, but was despised within the department as a political suck-up. He'd been a favorite of the late Cornelius Fudge.
The third candidate was the recently reactivated Alastor Moody. He wasn't liked or disliked by the ranks…he was feared.
Each of the three candidates was pushing for a different response to the breakout.
Scrimgeour: "We need to make a good showing for the people. They need confidence in us all, particularly the Ministry as it gets reconstituted. We need a united front to show we're handling things well. We'll bring Harry Potter back to Britain to improve morale." His detractors complained that Scrimgeour never did anything, just talked of doing things.
Dawlish: "We need international ties now. We need to bring in forces from the other countries to help us stop all of this. We're too small and disorganized to handle this sort of disaster by ourselves. I have good ties with colleagues in France and Spain. I should be the one to organize this." Many people agreed, but others say it as a stalling tactic. It seemed to put the onus on others to recapture the prisoners.
Moody: "If we don't help ourselves right now, no one will be interested in giving us the time of day. We were sloppy with the prison. We got cocky and distracted and the opposition overwhelmed us. Let's do it right this time. We catch them; we try them; we execute the guilty ones. I lost my nose and eye capturing the Lestranges and my leg to Evan Rosier. I will be damned if I have to keep going through this for the rest of my rapidly shrinking lifespan." Most of the veteran Aurors agreed with Moody, even if personal differences with the man kept them from supporting him.
The debate raged within the temporary Auror headquarters…and nothing got done.
"Come in, Mr. Potter. Please take a seat."
The ritual was an old one by now. Harry thought it comforting, a tradition that never seemed to change about the Scoil.
"With all the chaos over the last break, I never did get the chance to congratulate you on some excellent O-level scores. It's been a while since anyone rated straight 7s in the wanded subjects…"
"Thank you, sir."
"I was also pleased with your International Baccalaureate scores, as well. Are you still considering attending a nonmagical university?"
"It's very possible, but I can't make a lot of plans until Britain settles down…"
Orion Murphy-Black just nodded.
"One thing, Mr. Potter, I wanted to mention. This will be our last meeting as student and Headmaster. I'm stepping down before the next term starts…"
"Because of what happened at the end of last term?"
The Headmaster nodded.
"I'll announce it to everyone at breakfast tomorrow morning. I think it's best. Anyway I was due to step down in a few more terms as it was. We don't like the blood to get cold at the Scoil, do we?"
"Well, sir, I'm grateful to this day that you sent me a letter of admission."
"The Scoil has become a richer place by far, young master wizard."
The rest of the meeting was pleasant and relaxed. The Headmaster dutifully confirmed Harry's planned coursework. Orion Murphy-Black mentioned that he would be rejoining Gringotts in their Inheritance office.
"I never knew you were a lawyer, sir."
The Headmaster smiled. "We each have to keep some secrets, don't we?"
They parted with a handshake…and an invitation to Harry's mastery party, whenever that should take place.
The attack on Hogwarts occurred three days after the school children had gone home for the holidays. There were a number of reasons for the timing:
-- attacking children didn't support Voldemort's goals, as they would be the ones to create the future generations of witches and wizards for his eternal empire;
-- the wards at Hogwarts were weaker without all the additional energy supplied by students casting spells all day and night long;
-- and Voldemort didn't want to give the international community a reason to actively oppose him.
He could care less if they sponsored meaningless resolutions in their versions of the Wizengamot…so long as none sent troops.
Voldemort and his troops, plus the two hundred dementors he'd liberated from Azkaban, made their way through the Forbidden Forest. His scouts told him that Hogsmeade had been abandoned upon word of Voldemort's advance on Hogwarts. Even the centaurs were gone.
"It's time. Nott, Mulciber, herd the dementors into place. We'll set them to draining the ambient magic. The rest of us, save Bellatrix, will then begin with the ward breaking techniques I taught you."
Everyone got into place. Bellatrix, still serving out penance for planning out the destruction of the British Ministry of Magic, was assigned to keep the dementors in place once they began to draw down the wards. Not only did the job require her to be near the horrific creatures, but it was also a job that she wasn't suited for. Bellatrix was many things, but she wasn't a storehouse of happy memories. She couldn't cast the Patronus Charm. Voldemort knew it.
He knew it. Voldemort apparently hoped that Bellatrix would slip up and receive the Kiss.
But Bellatrix didn't slip up once during the whole seven hours it took to bring down the wards. Apparently the castle had been abandoned by the staff…as no one interrupted the ward breaking process. There weren't any well organized Aurors to interrupt them in any case.
Voldemort's forces, save Bellatrix and the Dementors, stormed the abandoned castle.
"The library has been cleaned out, and all the famed artifacts of the school had been carted away. They knew – somehow – that this invasion was coming. No matter. We will find the traitor.
"For now, the castle is ours. Hogsmeade is ours, for our most faithful supporters. I will re-open the Chamber of Secrets and command the basilisk to guard our new seat of power. Britain will fall at our feet. We will remake this world in our image. Blood and power are all that matter now."
He would rest for a day before he began constructing new wards to keep him and his followers secure. In this, the New Ministry of Magic. Children could be taught here still and his hand-selected bureaucrats could keep a watchful eye over them. Adults who might be given to insurrection would be more careful and cautious if their children were forced to attend school here, say from age five on to age twenty.
He would issue the proclamations at the New Year.
"Ministry Reformed at Hogwarts." It was the perfect, and obvious, location.
"All Children Five through Twenty Mandated to Receive Government-Funded Education." Fifteen years of indoctrination: no one would be able to withstand that.
"All Witches and Wizards to Present Themselves for Blood Status Review." Would anyone dare to speak out against this? Voldemort would soon find out.
"Three Year Compulsory Government Service for All Wizards Aged Twenty to Fifty." What better army than one filled with Imperiused conscripts?
"Hogwarts School to Update Curriculum; Muggle Studies Now Mandatory." Witch burnings and the truth about muggles invading the wizarding world would be the new order of the day. He would leave out of the announcement the new courses in the Dark Arts and Battle Tactics. Proper soldiers needed proper tools, didn't they?
It would be wonderful. Plans came together like this so rarely.
Then he might begin to look more carefully at the Harry Potter who had torn his life from him. He had only caught brief glimpses of the boy when he had occupied the body of that bumbling teacher at Hogwarts, but he seemed like a slip of nothing… His death would be proof that Voldemort was back – and invulnerable now.
Bellatrix Lestrange screamed. She screamed in frustration, in rage, in utter hatred.
She'd been assigned quarters inside Hogwarts…in the former Hufflepuff area, next to the kitchens. She was now assigned to manage the house elves.
She bent down and plucked up a wooden box she had carried with her ever since her 'Master's' resurrection. His trinkets were inside. She'd never told him that she'd found all of them, after all he'd never thanked her for bringing him back to life.
They were valuable to him somehow, but she hadn't discovered the exact reasons why that was.
She knew they were critical to the justice she'd be exacting. It no longer mattered if Voldemort killed her for what she'd done. She would fulfill the Black Code. She would have justice for the wrongs done her.
She didn't know how…or when…or where, but Voldemort would pay for the humiliations he'd heaped upon Bellatrix Lestrange.
And he would never suspect. Not until the exact moment it happened.
Harry Potter had a wonderful Christmas holiday at the Black Estate. Victor had come over for a day and they had exchanged gifts. Harry received an enchanted pickaxe and magical rope for his first expedition inside a magical tomb. Victor received a dueling cloak in advance of his first performance in a dueling tournament come late April.
On Christmas Day, Harry kicked the house elves out of the kitchens and fixed a massive dinner the muggle way. Roast goose, garlic-dill rolls, savory roasted sweet potatoes, delicious vegetable salads, plum puddings, mince pies, and a half dozen other dishes filled the table at noon. Harry got to cook so infrequently now, but he liked to do it up right from time to time. The skill, along with his interest in gardening, was about the only blessing the Dursleys had ever provided him.
Andromeda, Ted, and Nymphadora Tonks – recently readmitted to the Black Family – plus Orion Muphy-Black, plus Remus Lupin, plus several other master's candidates from the Scoil joined Harry and Sirius for the sumptuous feast.
The conversation inevitably turned to the happenings of the last week.
"The Germans offered to send Hit-Wizards to help retake Hogwarts, but the British turned them down. The refusal supposedly came from the British Muggle Prime Minister's office of all places…" said one of the master's candidates, who was working in the field of international magical cooperation (what an oxymoron, Harry thought).
Andromeda broke into the monologue at that point. "I attended Hogwarts and feel sad at what's happened to it, but I can no longer in good conscience remain in Britain. My Nymphadora was twenty minutes late arriving to work the morning the Ministry was destroyed. It was the only thing that saved her life."
The metamorphmagus blushed and her hair shifted to a bright red. "I was only just out of the Auror training when it happened. The old line Aurors basically started brawling with each other…and nothing else happened. It was time to leave."
Sirius said, "We're glad you could be here today, Nympha—"
The blushing ex-Auror shot him a look that stopped Sirius mid-word.
Harry laughed and brought the fork full of sage dressing to his mouth when he felt a wash of a massive amount of energy hit him.
He looked around the table. A few others were reacting as well. Sirius was the first one to ask. "What just happened?"
"It was like the largest wave of magic I've ever felt, like a powerful ward collapsed or something… Could it have been the ones surrounding the Scoil, Orion?"
The Headmaster shook his head. "No, I'm anchored into them and I can still feel them."
The conversation and speculation continued for some time before Remus finally said, "Hogwarts…"
At that, many at the table began to nod. Orion speculated, "If something had happened to the vaunted Hogwarts wards – but weren't they brought down last week by Voldemort? – then the magical shockwave could be enormous."
Ted Tonks looked confused. "But new wards wouldn't have absorbed enough power to make a blast that stretched for hundreds of miles."
There was something else involved.
Theodotus Brankovitch sat in his office in MI6. He was balding, in his mid sixties, and was the eldest of the squibs still working for Her Majesty's Government. He was also quite pleased with himself.
His longest held plan had just come to pass. It was Christmas Day and he'd given himself the one true gift he'd always wanted: justice.
Theodotus wasn't his given name; nor was he born a Brankovitch. But the name Thomas Nott had ceased to exist decades earlier when a ten year old boy never received an invitation to attend Hogwarts. He'd been tossed out of his family for the 'crime' of being a squib. They'd apparently hoped that the disgraceful squib had died.
Theodotus Brankovitch had the last laugh, of course.
Operation Misfire had been executed this morning. Eight massive, but crude, bombs had been dropped on and near the area where Hogwarts was located. Satellite photography had proven that Hogsmeade and Hogwarts had been utterly destroyed. A team of SAS was just now prowling the grounds to bring back first hand reporting.
Theodotus had hypothesized that the explosives would have a wonderfully devastating effect when exploded against the famous Hogwarts wards. Plus they'd had several hundred Dementors, it seemed, from what his Knockturn Alley sources had told him. An infernal creature like a Dementor could be destroyed, but they inevitably claimed the life of the wizard responsible with the magical backlash.
The report he'd seen from the Unspeakables suggested that using Fiendfyre or some other dark fire spell on a Dementor could cause the beast to explode, along with half an acre of the land surrounding it. As a beast of almost pure energy and emotion, it had quite a colossal effect when it died.
Killing hundreds of them with bombs had only intensified the devastating magical effect.
Hogwarts was destroyed; Voldemort and his blood purist thugs were destroyed; Theodotus' last remaining known family, younger brother Bradford Nott, was surely dead. Theodotus suspected the man had a son, but it didn't matter to him.
Operation Misfire had been perfect.
It was now being spun to the other citizens of Britain as a terrorist operation gone awry. Dozens of suspected terrorists, similar to the ones who'd tried to bomb and bring down the World Trade Center in Manhattan, had accidentally detonated a large bomb, triggering a chain reaction with all the other components they'd procured. That it had happened in a remote part of Scotland with no loss of civilian life was a godsend.
John Major would get support to step up anti-terrorist operations. The people of the nation would be freaked out and reassured in the same moment. MI6 would get more interesting work to perform.
Life was good.
Justice was done.
Harry returned to the Scoil after his Christmas break. He had heard of the destruction of Hogwarts and the likely deaths of Voldemort and his followers, but he didn't dwell on it.
There were a number of things Harry didn't dwell upon.
He didn't think about a Prophecy he'd never heard of or witnessed that had been destroyed in the British Ministry of Magic.
He didn't think about the dark artifacts known as horcruxes nor dwell on the fact that Bellatrix Lestrange had managed to bring together all of Voldemort's horcruxes in one location at Hogwarts.
He didn't think about how muggle bombs created heat far in excess of what was required to destroy horcruxes, let alone incinerate people, stone, and everything else they touched.
He never though about why his deceased parents had been targeted by a madman…or why he had been targeted by Dumbledore for cruelty in his earlier years.
Lastly, he never wondered why Divination was never offered at the Scoil ar Draiocht Glas. Divination was, of course, such a wooly discipline that it wasn't taught at all. Didn't everyone know that prophecies, in particular, were quite easy to fake and that even 'real' ones came to pass less than a fifth of the time?
Really…who would ever set any stock by such a ridiculous thing.
Harry never wondered about such important details of a life he might have had to live. He just studied, ate meals with Sirius and Remus, dueled with Victor and the others in his little group, and enjoyed life.
He never wondered what would have happened if he hadn't made the Irish Choice, as he'd come to think of it. Coming to the School for Green Magic was, perhaps, the best choice he'd ever made. There was no need for second guessing.
Harry Potter clutched his Certificate of Mastery in his left hand as he took his last stroll as a student through the caverns protecting the Scoil ar Draiocht Glas. He would be eighteen in a few months. He would be starting at the Wharton School in Pennsylvania little over a month after that. He'd decided to learn Muggle-style financial management and to take in a foreign country at the same time. After all, he could inject the Potter Estate with some good old fashioned American-style capitalism…the goblins were far too cautious in their financial outlook. Harry would learn to take care of his money and Sirius' as well.
But, that was months away.
For the rest of the spring and summer, Harry, Sirius, and a crew of cursebreaking enthusiasts – sadly not including Harry's friend Victor, who had a full term left at the Scoil before he finished his Mastery – would be investigating ancient Mayan ruins in Guatemala under the first expedition funded by Black Potter Excavations.
Sirius has been busy for the last year setting up the Black Potter company which they both intended to put to serious use throughout the world. There were many secrets of magic that still hadn't been rediscovered.
Harry was less interested in treasure than in knowledge. He'd come to acknowledge much of Aleksandr Dobrydin's final words of wisdom to him, with a twist. 'Most knowledge isn't written down, but passed from person to person.' However, people always left clues that were useful to some extent to reconstructing knowledge. Harry no longer needed the exact instructions for a spell. He just needed an idea of what it was meant to do and what basis it worked up (earth magic, soul evocation, arithmantic formulation, runic encoding, or otherwise). Harry could reconstruct a bit of magic from that point.
After all, he'd completed a dual Mastery in Dueling and Warding, with a special topic in Spell Design and Modification in less than two years. Harry knew his magic. He had an almost instinctual ability to grasp it, master it, and modify it to his needs.
Harry arrived back into the forest that hid the Scoil caverns. He saw the tiny leprechauns out in force today. They were snickering and singing and laughing. It was a wonderful day.
Harry apparated to the Black Estate. He cast a framing spell on his Certificate and hung it next to the one Sirius had earned a year and a half earlier. Sirius had delayed getting his as long as he could, but eventually even he couldn't justify continued study at the Scoil. Sirius had had to finally become an 'adult.' He couldn't hang out with his godson inside the Scoil any longer.
The party was held in the back yard. Scoil graduations were always private affairs, just the teachers and the students, with the public portions held outside the Scoil wards. Harry walked outside to see his godfather, Remus, and three dozen other people Harry knew and liked. They'd come to celebrate his adulthood, his independence.
Harry accepted a small glass of Firewhiskey and then began to circulate. Dinner would be in an hour. Then a few gifts to give and receive – which was, apparently, a Scoil tradition. The graduate gave small tokens to each person who attended their graduation party. Harry had settled on a practical gift, enchanted ward monitors. Each one he'd crafted had a different look: some were golden baubles, some crystal, some were iron or pewter representations of famous archaeological sites. Each of them performed the same tasks: they reported on which wards were raised on a given property, their relative strength levels, and whether or not unpermitted individuals were attempting to cross them or break through them.
After years of danger, Harry had developed a sufficiently deep paranoid streak.
Harry mingled. There were a number of pretty witches in attendance, some of whom Harry had dated before, but he felt no desire to settle down anytime soon. He was about to commit himself to four years mostly spent in America.
But flirting was fun. Especially with Nymphadora Tonks. She could dish out the suggestive compliments, but was utterly unable to take them in return. It was fun seeing her turn colors…she was utterly transparent. Everyone knew Tonks was a metamorphmagus. Next to no one knew that about Harry.
As for his animagus forms, Harry had only informed Sirius of one of them – and Sirius was the only person to know that much. The conversation had been long and drawn out. Mostly it had consisted of Sirius begging in both human and animal form.
When Harry caved, he only said the following, "One of my forms will be very useful for cursebreaking if we're ever in a tight spot, say a collapsed tunnel. I can become a type of viper. Logical for a parselmouth, of course."
He told no one of his large mammalian form or his flying form. Those were secrets to hold for now.
One of Sirius' financial advisors – and friend of both Harry and Sirius – began chatting with Harry. He stopped daydreaming and eyeing some of the more suggestively dressed witches and tried to pay attention.
"Now that the situation in Britain is repairing itself, do you plan to return?"
Harry cocked his head and considered the question. "Never thought of it. The goblins have sold off the land at Godric's Hollow that my parents owned outside town. The lands where Potter Manor used to be before it was burned down have been kept. Sirius arranged for the Ministry of Magic to purchase the cottage where my parents and I were attacked by Voldemort. It's some kind of official memorial now, I think. Other than that, I don't believe I have property there."
"But you don't have to have an ancestral manor to go back sometime."
"Well, let's consider what memories I have of the place. I can recall the night my parents were killed there. I have all too clear images of my life with the Dursleys. And then, my last time back, was when I was kidnapped. It's safe to say I have an entire world of countries to explore before curiosity will drag me back…"
"They could use you, Harry. They've got the new Ministry building set up on the land they bought from you, if you didn't know, plus the new School they're building right next door. Soon enough Godric's Hollow will be a mostly wizarding village again."
Harry just nodded. He'd never been, but he'd shared Sirius' memories of what the place had looked like before the attack and what the gravesites looked like. He loved the memories of his parents, but the very idea of Britain was repugnant to him.
Finally it was time for food. People slowly moved to the massive table. This meal the house elves had spent days working on. Harry got the seat of honor at the table underneath the tent. The weather had been beautiful all day long.
Harry surveyed the faces. Remus, Orion, Andromeda, Ted, Nymphadora, Victor, Maya Beltain, Fred and George Weasley (recently enrolled master's candidates at the Scoil and prospective business partners of Sirius'), Padraig Connelly, and many others. He stood up and extended his glass.
"Friends, a toast to new beginnings. May each of us find the place we enjoy most and the time to make our dreams real." He downed his champagne. "Now, let us all enjoy the feast."
The smiles of everyone assembled made the food taste even better.