Here's another update. As impossible to believe as this may be, the next story I update will be my very first, Harry Potter and the Unlocked Knowledge – I know many people have been waiting about two years for an update to it, and enough people have begged for it that I finally started writing it. Look for that coming up.

Also, updates on this story and all of my other stories are posted first on DarkLordPotter . net's Work By Author section. If you want the first glimpse of chapters to come of this story and many fine others, be sure to check it out. It's a great forum for critique if you're an author as well.

Thanks to The_Santi (pureb99), Taure, MattSilver_3k, and everyone else who helped beta this chapter, I do appreciate your hard work.

Also thanks to Sesc and sirius009, who pointed out that the scene breaks I was using were cut by FFn's filters. I have changed all the chapters of this story, so they should have scene breaks now – and thus be quite a bit more readable. Sorry about that confusion!

Escape to Darkness: Chapter Six

The Art of Deception

Only three days had passed since Harry returned from Italy; in addition to the normal whirlwind of activity always resulting from the return from an international trip, Grindelwald's news of Voldemort's obsession with finding and killing Evan Rosier was wearing thin his nerves.

The Dark Lord had somehow found the time to research every bit of Rosier's history - and that of his family and extended family - in order to find the suspected traitorous Death Eater. Several other Death Eaters who were close relatives had in fact felt the Dark Lord's Cruciatus Curse for the first time in years as they were questioned about Evan Rosier.

Grindelwald had been copiously taking notes every day he returned from his meetings with Voldemort about the Dark Lord's plans; as of late, Voldemort was planning to assault every possible hideout that Rosier might be linked to, all in one massive coordinated attack by his Death Eaters. Other Death Eaters had remarked that it was almost like the good old days, ten years prior - many were looking forward to the assault.

Harry and Grindelwald also had plans for the night.

"This one." Harry said, pointing to a random photo amongst the pile lying on a large wooden table in their warehouse.

"Muggles currently live there. We could relocate them, but the fact that we did might so be too obvious." Grindelwald said dismissively; Harry shook his head, annoyed at how his every suggestion was shot down.

"Well fine, then you just bloody well pick whichever one you like." Harry said, waving his hand over the photos of possible hideouts of Rosier that Voldemort knew about and intended to attack. Grindelwald considered for a moment, then put his finger on one, sliding it toward Harry.

"This one. I like this one." Harry looked skeptically at the picture Grindelwald pointed out.

"It's a shack. No Death Eaters would be caught dead living in a place like that." He paused for a moment, then reconsidered. "Which means it would be a low priority, so the most incompetent of the lot would probably be sent to check it out." Harry agreed, slowly nodding as he thought over the shack.

"Okay, yeah I agree, the shack it is. But this sounds a bit like walking into a trap, to me, Grindelwald." Harry said skeptically. It was an improvement on his original reaction to Grindelwald's plan, which was to laugh aloud at what he perceived to be the older wizard's joke.

"It is not a trap," Grindelwald repeated patiently. "If you are expecting them. You've already demanded the entire shack be rigged, Harry. And like I told you, the intelligence Voldemort has indicates that this shack is one of the least likely places for Rosier to be hiding. He'll probably send two of his most incompetent Death Eaters. He has indicated that he is going after Rosier manor himself - I managed to convince him that bringing 'Dolohov' would be a good idea. I believe he's going to bring Bellatrix as well, probably to let her play with the family."

"But I still don't understand why we're doing this at all." Harry said, pouring himself another cup of tea and grabbing a scone to finish off his breakfast. He shook the thought from his head that discussing an ambush of Death Eaters seemed an odd breakfast topic. "I mean, if I stay away from the raids, then they don't find Rosier at all and think he's hidden better than they thought."

"Yes, but if two junior Death Eaters are killed at this little hovel belonging to Rosier's mother's family - a different branch of the family with far fewer living relatives than the branch of the family that owns the manor - then it just confirms this idea in Voldemort's mind that Rosier is indeed the traitorous Death Eater. He'll find nothing but the bodies, but the evidence we've planted in his mind will leave him no choice but to draw the obvious conclusion. Any lingering thoughts he might have about your identity will be gone - he will be certain that you are Evan Rosier, jealous of the lives of luxury lead by the Death Eaters now." Harry sighed but acquiesced, looking again at the plan the two wizards had developed.

Two days prior, Voldemort had announced that he wanted any and all information about properties held by the Rosiers, past or present. Grindelwald assumed then that he planned a strike against the supposedly traitorous Death Eater, and planned accordingly. The hovel had been brought forth by a childhood friend of Evan Rosier's, the younger Avery. Rosier had mentioned that it belonged to his mother's brother, who lived there before his mother killed him for being a blood traitor.

Voldemort decided that it was much more likely that Rosier found refuge in the Rosier manor, a stately home near Kent, currently occupied by a different branch of the family. However, Grindelwald knew that Voldemort couldn't rule out other possibilities entirely, and would likely send out multiple small teams to many locations.

"Your precautions are overkill anyway, Harry. I expect you'd have only a bit of difficulty even if you didn't set enough traps to make an unopened pyramid look like a vacation spot. If you cannot defeat a pair of gorillas with wands, then you shouldn't have been practicing gardening charms this past week. I also don't see how your revenge against Lucius Malfoy can possibly end in a way other than him killing you once he finds out, unless you improve as a duelist." Grindelwald was a firm proponent that Harry should be skilled enough with just a wand to take on any number of Death Eaters in a fight to the death. Harry preferred more guaranteed odds, however.

"I believe you were the one who always said, 'A fair fight is when both combatants are too stupid to know to set up an ambush.'" Harry said dryly. "Besides, don't underestimate gardening charms - I've got plans for those. Every one of the candidate houses has trees around it, after all." Grindelwald sent him a curious look at Harry's cryptic commentary, but didn't reply, so Harry sighed and changed the subject.

"Do we have any idea what Rosier looked like? I mean, obviously it would be stupid to go in there looking like Harry Potter. So do I just change some features randomly? I was thinking about some vicious scars, maybe - enough that if I get the hair color right maybe they'll just assume it's Rosier under the scars." Harry suggested. Scar tissue was notoriously difficult to transfigure, but he'd gained such an expertise with cosmetic human transfiguration that he was eager to try.

"Thick scars, Harry? Sweet Merlin, if you spent half the time you spend on cosmetic charms on large-scale transfiguration, you could turn the entire hovel into a persistent Nundu that you could ride straight through Malfoy Manor." Grindelwald said with slight annoyance. "But yes, that sounds fine. Obviously you'd need some kind of disguise, just on the off chance that one of them happens to survive. Be certain that they don't, in fact, survive, though." Grindelwald reminded Harry harshly. Harry nodded as though that were obvious.

"Yes, I know, thank you. And I'll clean up the hovel afterwards, leaving only their bodies and the Dark Mark - it won't even look like a struggle." Grindelwald broke into an almost craggy smile.

"Excellent." Grindelwald watched as Harry carefully ladled out what appeared to be at least a gallon of thick red potion; if he didn't know better, he'd have thought it randomly thrown together ingredients that were on the verge of violently exploding.

Looking at an ornate pocketwatch, he reminded Harry of the time. "It's nearly time for both of us to leave." Harry nodded and gathered up a few last minute supplies for his traps - which caused Grindelwald to shake his head in disappointment, as he thought it unnecessary.

Grindelwald quickly applied his own charms to his person, though, transforming into the dour image of Antonin Dolohov. Quickly conjuring the Death Eater's mask and donning the fine hooded cloak they'd stolen from the real Dolohov before they killed him, both Grindelwald and Harry nodded to each other in passing before Disapparating with the twin cracks of rulers being snapped on a table.

oooOOOooo

"Ah, Antonin. You're a bit late - Internal Affairs work, I presume?" Voldemort acknowledged as Grindelwald arrived at prescribed meeting place near Malfoy Manor; they didn't use the Ministry office this time, since Death Eaters other than the Inner Circle would be present. Indeed, it was a gathering of nearly 40 witches and wizards, all hooded and cowled in the typical hood and robes of Death Eaters; a few prominent members of the Inner Circle, such as Bellatrix and her husband, forsook the masks most members wore.

"I was just instructing some of our members about the plan you helped devise." The Dark Lord said, his pale face reflecting the moon's light eerily. He pointed his wand and, as he waved it across the ranks, a full half of the Death Eaters' robes turned stark white. "Those in the white robes will assault four Muggle targets; use Fiendfyre, in the shape of a Phoenix. An informant photographer will photograph the attack, which will understandably be blamed on the Order of the Phoenix malcontents. Dolohov, Bellatrix, Rodolphus, Rabastan, and myself will assault Rosier manor." Grindelwald watched as Lucius Malfoy nearly interrupted with the protestation that he would not be accompanying his Lord. Lucius closed his mouth abruptly and clenched his wand, shooting a glare at Dolohov. Grindelwald met his eyes and leveled an emotionless look back at him before turning back to Voldemort as he issued other assignments to the remaining Death Eaters.

"Lucius will take Avery Jr. and the young Mr. Nott to France - we traced relatives there; it isn't likely that Rosier would stay there, but kill anyone you find after asking. And remember Lucius, they're French, so use your best manners." The assembled chuckled slightly at this; Lucius nodded, well used to these assignments after decades of them. Voldemort continued on for some time before all but three Death Eaters had their tasks for the night. Grindelwald was holding his breath - the hovel where Harry was planning his ambush had not yet been mentioned.

"And Nott, Booth, Gibbon. You three head to this hovel owned by Rosier's mother's family. I can't imagine Rosier hiding there, of all places, but I want to be sure. After you three finish there, you may join the others with the Muggles." He said, nodding to the wizards in white cloaks. Nott Sr., Voldemort's oldest Death Eater and valuable ally since their Hogwarts days together, rarely went on missions. Grindelwald suspected that he was only being called upon now because of the need for large numbers of loyal Death Eaters, as well as the unlikelihood - at least in Voldemort's mind - of their being any danger at the hovel.

Grindelwald had deduced that Nott was the closest thing Voldemort had to a friend; he had also aged poorly, which Grindelwald harrumphed at since he was nearly fifty years the Death Eater's elder, and was quite likely the slowest wand out of all the Death Eaters. Though Harry wasn't confident in his dueling skills, Grindelwald suspected that even without tricks, Harry would be more than a match.

Knowing he would soon be dead, Grindelwald found himself somewhat morbidly fascinated at how Voldemort would take the news.

"Go. Find Rosier." Voldemort hissed. When most of the rest had disappeared, he turned to the four he would accompany to the Rosier manor.

"The protections are formidable - we can only Apparate to the edge of the grounds. Come." The five of them disappeared in a cacophony of 'crack's and reappeared in front of a large wrought iron gate.

Bellatrix and her husband made to raise their wands, but Voldemort held up his left hand in a fist, signaling them to hold. His own wand came up, and his eyes - usually so carefully transfigured to blue - flashed to red as he pounded against the protections of the manor with silent magic. While the first few spells seemed to only shake the gate slightly as they collided with it, the third and fourth dented it; the fifth and sixth spell twisted the gate and attached fence viciously, and the seventh blew the gate straight off its hinges. The ambient magic lent a silver twinkle to the air as the protective magicks failed.

The four Death Eaters strode boldly forward, but Voldemort was faster still. In a move that amazing Grindelwald, who knew that such magic was deemed impossible, Voldemort's lower body seemed to explode into smoke, and he shot off like a bullet into the air, flying toward the Rosier home. Grindelwald had to wipe the astonished look off of Dolohov's face, but wasn't quick enough.

"I know, it still amazes me every time he does that, too." Rabastan said with a grunt; the four took off at a run across the well-manicured lawns to the manor proper, and they arrived just as the front door - two ten foot tall, thick doors, were blown clear off their hinges by the Dark Lord.

While he had previously mocked his ability to lead, and the fairly pitiful attempts at subterfuge, Grindelwald had to admit that Voldemort was a damned powerful sorcerer, if nothing else.

"Find the family. Bring them here. If you find Evan Rosier...kill him and bring the body." Voldemort said, his fury written all over his face and further disrupting the transfigurations that gave him a more human appearance.

The ritual he used must have included unicorn blood, because Grindelwald did not know of anything else that could so curse someone that powerful magicks just dissipated like that.

A thorough search of the manor revealed five habitants; Grindelwald found the children, and quickly also summoned up and stunned the House Elves.

"Excellent thinking, Dolohov...perhaps a bit overly cautious, but better than the alternative." Voldemort said approvingly. Grindelwald tried to look as obsequious as he could.

The family was Silenced, and tied up with thick chains that were spiked, no doubt quite painful if they moved - conjured by Bellatrix. Voldemort waved his wand at the Elwood Rosier, the patriarch of the family.

"Where is Evan Rosier?" For his part, the old man looked flabbergasted. Grindelwald knew that Voldemort was using Legilimancy on him, but also knew that the Dark Lord would probably not trust it; while uncommon, Occlumency was certainly not an unheard of art amongst purebloods.

"I don't...he's dead! Years ago - Moody got him, you know that!" Grindelwald, too, looked into the man's eyes and tried to see past the immediate fear - that was always the most difficult part about Legilimancy used in conjunction with torture. Well, that and going insane yourself, but a wizard of Grindelwald's caliber was in little danger of that.

"Then why would I come here tonight?" The interrogation strategy was good - even Occlumens usually only prepared themselves to block out a certain sort of thought from their head; by asking questions they didn't assume you'd ask, it was possible to surprise them, and get at thoughts they would otherwise want to keep hidden.

Elwood Rosier's thoughts, however, were clear. 'Because you've finally gone off the deep end, you crazed half-blood!' Grindelwald kept the smirk from his face, but only barely. It seemed that Rosier had a few memories of Tom Riddle, who had taken to calling himself Lord Voldemort in Rosier's final year at Hogwarts, as a young man. Rosier hadn't thought highly of the burgeoning Dark Lord, even if the boy had been a bit of a prodigy.

Voldemort found Rosier's thoughts to be less amusing. "Bella." He said simply, giving a nod to the witch. She jabbed her wand cruelly at the eldest Rosier and snarled, "Crucio!" Rosier fought against the curse at first, but was soon writhing under the insane woman's tender ministrations. His screams were bloodcurling.

Voldemort held up his hand once more, and Bella paused in her torture, panting heavily as though aroused. Voldemort waved his wand at the Rosier family, who had been screaming protestations under their Silencing charms, and the wife's voice became audible.

"-op it! You bitch!" She spat at Bellatrix once she realized she could yell once more.

"Where is Evan Rosier?" Voldemort said, repeating the question. He had calmed down now, probably having come to the conclusion that if Evan Rosier was alive, these family members didn't know it.

"I don't know you evil, filthy mudblood! And even if I did, Tom Riddle, I wouldn't tell a half-blood like you anythi-" Her diatribe was cut off when Voldemort nodded to Bellatrix, who repeated her judicious use of the Cruciatus Curse on Mrs. Rosier. Grindelwald had seen in her mind that she had once been a classmate of Tom Riddle's; even fancied him at one point in their fourth year, though he had ignored her rather blatant display of interest.

Grindelwald reflected that he had never learned as much about Voldemort's past as he did while he was torturing former classmates who he believed to be sheltering a traitorous Death Eater - it was quite enlightening.

The three younger Rosiers, cousins who were staying at the family manor of their patriarch for the recently-begun summer holidays, also knew nothing about the whereabouts of Evan Rosier. After he let Bellatrix have her fun with the Cruciatus, though none of the Rosiers were yet driven insane, he held up his hand a final time.

"Should I kill them, my Lord?" Bellatrix asked hungrily. Grindelwald was almost amused at how much like a rabid dog she was.

"No. Dolohov." He said. Grindelwald stepped forward, his wand at the ready.

"Yes, my Lord." Voldemort turned to him, eyeing the Rosiers distrustfully.

"I believe it has been some time since we sent a messenger to the Giants. You speak some Giant, do you not?" Back under Silencing charms, the Rosiers were merely weeping at their inevitable fates.

"I do, my Lord." Grindelwald likely spoke far more Giant than Dolohov ever had. At the possibility of being sent as the envoy for Voldemort, Grindelwald's mind whirled - there were so many possibilities for the clans of his old allies.

"Excellent. I believe this family might make an interesting show of good faith, don't you?" Voldemort said, his mouth twisting into a hideous approximation of a smile.

"I do agree, my Lord. Especially the young girl, if I may say so." Rabastan and Rodolphus smirked at this comment as well, and Voldemort nodded in approval.

With a few twists of Voldemort's wand, the Rosier family had been transfigured into doormice. Grindelwald himself conjured a small cage to house them, after Stunning the excitable mice-Rosiers.

"I shall leave to parlay with the Giants at once, my Lord." Grindelwald said, following the Dark Lord out the blasted entryway of the Rosier manor.

"Fiendfyre!" Bellatrix yelled, followed by her husband and brother-in-law, burning down the ancient home.

"See that you do, Dolohov. And Antonin - find someone else to do your paperwork. You will not be late to another of our gatherings." Voldemort said, eyes flashing before he transfigured them back to their original blue with a swish of his wand.

"Of course not, my Lord." Grindelwald said. He watched Voldemort disappear with a soft 'pop', and, alone since Bellatrix and her ilk were still playing with Fiendfyre, Disapparated with an even softer 'pop'. Some things were just a matter of experience, after all.

oooOOOooo

Far away, on the eastern shore of England just south of where Hadrian's wall once stood, three figures dressed in black cloaks appeared all at once with the sound of a car backfiring. It was just close enough to the rocky shore to hear the occasional crashing of the waves when the tide came in; after their arrival, the waves ignored the interruption and resumed their rhythmic lull.

Their appearance seemed to go unnoticed - a spattering of trees dotted the property and cordoned it off from its neighbors, though several large houses could be seen far in the distance, and indeed a small village was not far to the south. Even if they were noticed, the residents who'd lived in the village for any time would always be the first to say that they remembered odd happenings coming from that little cottage surrounded by trees. Even now, children dared not play - the hovel exuded wrongness such that not even the thrill of rule-breaking could change their minds about the place.

Of course, the children nor the surrounding residents knew that such a stain was the result of dark magic, practiced for hundreds of years by the family that owned the cottage.

Now, however, the three men in black cloaks were quite surprised to see a single light coming from the cabin; their heads turned as they exchanged meaningful, surprised looks - obscured by the silver masks they wore, perhaps, but still recognizable as meaningful.

"It looks like...a lightbulb swinging from a rope." One of them whispered to the other two as he peered cautiously at the window. They were all surprised at this - their Lord had said it was unlikely for anyone to be at the cottage.

"Seems like one lightbulb wouldn't give enough light for a whole cottage, assuming its not actually that small on the inside." Nott said, curious at what it might mean. Nott was many years Rosier's senior, but while they might not have known each other well, Nott thought he at least knew Rosier's type - the younger Death Eater was much like Lucius or Avery, involved in the politics side of things and caught up in the excitement of learning forbidden magic at the foot of the most powerful sorcerer the world had ever known. He expected that if Rosier was actually using this disgusting shack as a hole to hide in, that it was luxurious inside. But then, thirty years was enough time to change a man.

The faint rustling of the trees in the wind caught his ear, and Nott suspiciously looked back at the trees. There seemed to be more of them than before.

"Booth, Gibbon...did there seem to be this many trees here before?" He whispered furiously. As he glared at the trees, almost daring them to draw closer, they merely swayed innocently in the wind.

Something wasn't right. Nott had survived a long time as a Death Eater - and he had never been even an average duelist, before age and neglect slowed his reflexes further - and had done so principally by choosing the correct time to strategically retreat.

Letting the two younger Death Eaters advance ahead of him, Nott fingered his wand anxiously before deciding that a confrontation with Rosier would be better if Voldemort himself were leading the charge. He twisted on the spot and felt the familiar pressure of Apparation as he disappeared.

He reappeared with a thunderous crack twelve feet up and cried out with pain. He landed with a thud that knocked the breath out of him, and immediately began coughing furiously.

Booth and Gibbon had, at the crack of Apparation turned around and threw curses. A nasty dark red curse flew from Booth's wand, his long hair swept back from the force of it, and Gibbon let loose a purple hex. Both met empty air, as Nott was on the ground, still coughing slightly, and dragging himself on the ground. Upon trying to stand, Nott realized that his right foot had been violently splinched off above the ankle; the foot itself was nowhere to be found.

"What the bloody hell, Nott?" Booth demanded, eyeing the fallen Death Eater. "There's nothing out here and you splinch yourself?" Gibbon was fighting a smirk, at the sight of the rich pureblood patriarch crawling on his hands and knees.

"There must be," Nott managed to say between gasping breaths. "Some kind of Anti-Apparation Jinx...that splinches you."

Booth looked skeptical, but kept his doubts to himself as he eyed the trees once more.

When they had arrived, only a thin copse of trees had separated the bit of Rosier property from the surrounding Muggle area, and other Muggle houses had been visible on hills surrounding the property.

Somehow, the property had grown; no longer were any Muggle houses visible, and the trees - no, the forest they found themselves in the middle of was vast, stretching as far as any of them could see. And what was worse, the clearing was noticeably smaller than before.

"Nott..." Booth said warily. "I think you might be right about the trees."

Booth was helping Nott get up - Nott had delicately conjured a crutch, and was careful to avoid the raw wound where his shin simply ended - when Gibbon let loose a surprised scream.

"The roots! Lacero! Lacero!" Gibbon cried out frantically, unleashing two Slicing Hexes at the vines and roots that Booth and Nott noticed were starting to crawl up his leg.

"Sectumsempra!" He screamed at the closest tree. The trees had not only grown more numerous, but larger - the Dark curse sliced through the tree, but Gibbon had not planned on it being over fifty feet tall, and massive in girth. Nor did he account for the fact that it might fall forward.

"Run!" Booth yelled over what sounded like a crack of thunder as he saw the tree lean perilously. He scrambled forward toward the hut, as did Gibbon - who shot out a few more Slicing Hexes, just for good measure.

Without his foot, however, Nott was in no shape to run. Instead, the experienced Death Eater scrambled backward, toward the encroaching forest. Gibbon and Booth saw him use his good foot to jump just clear of the trunk of the fallen tree before it slammed into the ground with a thunderous boom.

The two Death Eaters covered their eyes at the dust and dirt that the fallen tree stirred up, and the impact knocked both of them on their feet. In the wake of the tree falling, there was only silence, and it ominously weighed on the two Death Eaters; Nott hadn't made a sound since the tree fell.

"Bloody hell! Nott!" Gibbon called out warily, a beam of wandlight illuminating the forest as he swept the area. "Reducto!" He said, carving a sizable tunnel through the trunk of the fallen tree. He had to stoop, but made his way through to the other side where Nott had fallen.

Nott was nowhere in sight, and the forest had grown to cover all of the area on the far side of the tree.

"Gibbon, get the fuck back here, are you crazy?" Booth hissed, breaking the heavy silence that had enveloped the still forest. Booth himself was still backing away from the murderous trees, toward the shack.

"Come on, let's check out the shack and get the hell out of here!" Booth said, his voice only quavering slightly as he attempted to point his wand at all the trees at once.

"Fuck the shack, I'd get out of here right fucking now if we could. But you saw Nott...I've never even heard of an Anti-Apparation Jinx that just splinches you all to hell." Gibbon replied, sweating slightly under his mask. Booth grunted his agreement, mostly just glad that Gibbon had gotten some sense and joined him in getting as far away from the trees as possible.

"But as long as Rosier is in the shack, we kill him and the enchantment dies with him. So let's kill the bastard and get the hell out of here." The two Death Eaters faced the door to the shack now, and could see it better in the moonlight.

It was even shabbier than it looked from afar - the wood that made up the exterior was half-rotted; the door was ill-fit, made up of uneven planks of wood, and the light from inside was clearly visible from under and over the door.

Booth raised his wand, glancing at Gibbon - Gibbon didn't have seniority over him, but Booth knew that Gibbon was quite a bit cleverer than him, so it wouldn't hurt to listen to his suggestions on occasion. Gibbon nodded seriously, standing beside Booth with his own wand raised, ready to curse anyone inside.

"Confringo!" Booth yelled, blasting the door off of its hinges.

As soon as he had, the world became very confusing for the Death Eaters. Gibbon thought he heard a loud noise, but couldn't be sure - it was only brief, and then he heard nothing at all. And for some reason he swore that he was flying on a broom all of a sudden, but that was impossible - he hadn't brought a broom.

He also felt burned, and totally winded, but when he tried to breathe, he knew he only coughed violently, even though he couldn't hear himself do it. The feeling of flying - and not just flying, but flying like a lunatic, with barrel rolls and loop-de-loop - had ended when he suddenly found himself back on solid ground. He'd landed on his elbow, and with such force that he was fairly sure he'd torn his own shoulder clear off. Fighting to breathe, he merely succeeded at moaning miserably. Fighting back the intense vertigo from his flight, he failed and vomited as he tried to get up off the ground.

With some difficulty, Gibbon tried to piece together what was happening, as he focused on the vomit now dribbling from his mask. When they'd blown open the door, there had been some sort of explosion, he concluded through the fogginess of his addled brain. He still couldn't hear - he reached up and touched his ear, and found blood in a trail down to his neck. Gibbon was no Healer, but he suspected that his loss of hearing and the blood trail were connected.

A glance to his right confirmed that Booth was also on the ground - and in worse shape than himself. Burns marred Booth's face - the entirety of it was at least bright red and blistered, and he could see that the explosion had melted his partner's skin clean off. It was a hideous sight to behold, and if Gibbon hadn't emptied his stomach moments ago, he would have done more than dry heave at the sight of his fellow Death Eater.

Booth opened his mouth in what Gibbon presumed was an agonizing scream, and just lay on the ground, not even attempting to get up. Gibbon, however, struggled to his feet. He wasn't sure what kept him going - perhaps it was morbid curiosity. He doubted it was any sort of loyalty to his fallen Death Eaters; with what had happened with Nott's attempt at Apparating, a good argument could be made that Gibbon just couldn't think up an alternative to trying to kill Rosier. Having his head rattled in an explosion hadn't helped, he thought miserably.

Gibbon pulled himself up to a full standing position and, his left arm and shoulder not responding, lit up his wand in his right hand, despite being left-handed. Yet another handicap he felt he could ill-afford. Luckily the Killing Curse had no foolish wand waving - and his target this evening had given him plenty of rage to fuel the Dark curse.

Gibbon eyed the floor near the door to the shack suspiciously. Despite it being charred from the explosion, he saw that the floor was slightly damp and stained slightly red; whirls of smoke were still rising in wisps. Gibbon eyed the floor distrustfully, but seeing no other option, he hopped over the potion-soaked section and landed heavily inside; his left arm jarred painfully as he landed, and he thought he might have hissed in pain - without his hearing, though, he couldn't tell if he'd managed to stifle it.

The inside was as shabby as the outside - and not even magically expanded as Gibbon had expected. The ceiling in the corner away from the chair was patchy, and water damage was obvious on the nearby wood walls. The shack was sparsely furnished, with only a brick hearth - a cauldron was sitting above the crackling fire - and a high-backed luxurious red chair facing it broke up the monotony of rotted wood walls and concrete floor. Fortuitously for the Death Eater, the chair was occupied.

"Everbero! Avada Kedavra!" Gibbon yelled, throwing the chair out of the way with a banishing charm before blasting its occupant with the Killing Curse.

Too late, he noticed that Nott, still missing his foot and clearly wide-eyed with terror since his mask was also missing, was in fact the previous occupant of the high-backed chair. Life left his eyes the instant the sickly green curse impacted him with the typical rush of wind.

Gibbon's ears suddenly erupted in intense pain as he heard a sucking schloop!

"Argh!" He cried out, dropping his wand to clutch his ears. Amazingly enough, he could hear his own cry this time. Fumbling wildly, he grabbed for his fallen wand and dove behind the fallen chair.

"Rosier, you bastard! Avada Kedavra!" Gibbon cursed. Rosier almost casually ducked beneath his high flying curse. Gibbon got a good look at Rosier now - the man's face was an almost solid mass of scars, including half of his scalp in a what looked to be a poorly healed Dark cutting curse.

"I thought you'd appreciate the return of your hearing." The dark cloaked Rosier said mysteriously. He leveled his wand at Gibbon, who simply ducked lower behind the chair.

He did not count on it wrapping itself around him, his arm pinned to its armrests.

"No! Fuck, Rosier!" The scarred Death Eater did not respond. The cords in Gibbon's well-muscled neck pulsed as he struggled to break free from the imprisoning chair, and he abruptly shot off another curse, having retained his wand as the chair captured him. "Avada Kedavra!" He spat viciously.

Rosier side-stepped the curse easily, and without a word ripped Gibbon's wand from his hand, slipping it casually in his pocket. "You should have worked on adding some variety to your spellwork. Even the Dark Lord doesn't exclusively use the Killing Curse. It is, however, a very useful curse. Avada Kedavra."

A rush of wind seemed to tousle Gibbon's hair slightly as he saw the burst of green light come toward him. Gibbon knew no more.

With a few twists of his wand over his scarred face, Gibbon's attacker changed his appearance dramatically. He opened his mouth wide and seemed to stretch it out, raising his eyebrows and stretching that part of his face, as well.

"Scar transfigurations apparently make your face cramp. Noted." Harry Potter said with a somewhat detached tone.

oooOOOooo

After a late night of slaughtering Death Eaters, Harry found his morning quite relaxing. Grindelwald had not returned from the previous night - Harry assumed Voldemort had discovered his handiwork at the shack, and Grindelwald's absence was related to that somehow - and so Harry visited St. Mungo's in the guise of the affable Henri Desjardins.

"Good morning, Henri. My, that bush looks wonderful - who would have thought you'd be a dab hand at Herbology?" A medi-witch exclaimed, stopping at Henri's creation in the atrium of the hospital.

"Actually Charms, my dear." Henri said with a wink at the stout witch. "And I zink you could 'ave guessed that I am charming." He finished with a bright smile that she returned happily as she laughed and moved on with her day.

Since Harry had begun volunteering at the hospital in his ploy to seduce and separate Narcissa Malfoy from her husband, he had almost thought of it as a sort of penance. It was not beyond him that his revenge against Malfoy and the Death Eaters for his imprisonment had collateral damage; while Grindelwald shrugged it off as necessary and irrelevent, Harry at least felt better about it when he volunteered at St. Mungo's to help pay off his karmic debt.

There was also the fact that he had burned down a part of the hospital, and owed them for that, as well.

Ignoring that, however, Harry continued shaping the St. Mungo's garden atrium centerpiece into an homage to - and perhaps a mockery of, in the eyes of some - the golden statue in the Ministry of Magic. Instead of a House-Elf, centaur, wizard, and goblin, however, Harry's arboreal statue had a large and small patient, a young medi-witch, and a large Healer smiling over them holding a clipboard.

"Henri, that looks wonderful!" Narcissa Malfoy said demurely as she approached him once he finished and took a few steps back to check his work. She offered her hand once he turned to her, which he kissed politely before embracing her in a more intimate manner, and kissing both of her cheeks.

"Well, Narcizza dear, when I am surrounded by a beauty like you, 'ow can I 'elp but attempt to create beauty in all zings?" Harry said, finishing with a wave in the vague direction of the new greenery.

"You are certainly a man of many talents, Monsieur Desjardins. Gardening charms, of all things...they fell out of favor decades ago, I believe!" She said in a somewhat surprised tone. She had flushed prettily at his earlier flattery, before offering her arm, which Harry gladly took, holding the older woman close to his side.

"Well, as I said before, beauty can be found in many zings - I am particularly good wit' ze flowers, I zink. But really, a beautiful garden is zimply a neccezzity at any manor, I zink. Wizout a garden it...falls flat?" Harry continued chatting aimlessly. Of course, gardening charms were a rather recent skill that he'd perfected, despite there being a fairly definitive tome on their myriad uses during his imprisonment. They were some of the charms he'd used on the forest the night before, as a means of scaring the Death Eaters into being sloppy; it had worked perfectly, in his own opinion.

"Of course, Henri, and I agree totally - at my manor, we have gorgeous gardens, complete with peacocks! In the spring, the colors are simply wonderful; and the aromas! If I could bottle the scent of my gardens, I would run WonderWitch products out of the perfume industry." Harry laughed appropriately at her somewhat snide tone.

"I could use such a perfume myself after today, I'm afraid...I will be cleaning ze used potions supply room; it is a dirty task, ze ozzer volunteers 'ave said." Harry said with distaste that wasn't entirely feigned - during Hogwarts, his least favorite detentions were scrubbing cauldrons with Snape, and this brought back a few unwelcome memories from his distant past.

"Well luckily, Henri," Narcissa began with a cheshire grin. "I drew the same task for today, so you will at least enjoy good company."

Perhaps the undesireable task would not be so bad after all, Harry reconsidered, as a large grin lit up his own disguised features.

Unlike detentions with Snape, volunteers were encouraged, and expected, to use magic. So scrubbing cauldrons, flasks, and bottles was at least not quite as bad as Hogwarts. Harry began the series of charms with a broad wave of his wand so that the brushes stood at attention.

Narcissa started a few tasks with a bored look, and buckets were filled with water and Mrs. Skower's All-Purpose Magical Mess Remover, which was a potent enough cleanser to clean off the remains of even the worst Potions accident from cauldrons, Harry well remembered.

A few more waves and swishes of Harry's wands set the brushes to scrubbing, and while Harry still conducted their actions mindlessly, he turned to converse with Narcissa.

"So, Narcissa! It has been some time since we 'ave 'ad a chance to talk, I zink...whatever is going on in your life?" He asked with the excited grin of someone who hadn't spoken to their close friend in nearly a week. He had actually taken the Lady Malfoy out to lunch in norhtern France again just after he returned from Italy as Giacomo, but since then he had been in quite a whirlwind, and had not had the opportunity to see her again.

"Well, Henri, I've been quite busy...this is actually the first time I've had to volunteer here in a week!" Harry was surprised at this, as he'd come to know that Narcissa rarely missed a day of volunteering. Perhaps he wasn't the only one who worked here to pay off some karmic debt.

"Yes," she continued at his look of interest. "Dealing with the aftermath of the fire at the satellite hospital. My husband Lucius funded it, you know." Her face grew taught with anger as she admitted this. "And I come to find out that his unwillingness to fund it past a certain point was the reason that they avoided security measures like Fireproofing Charms - which would have saved the building, the life of the man who died in the fire, and thousands of galleons of medical expenses for burn victims - patients and Healers and medi-witches alike! Not to mention Lucius himself suffered some burns and nearly died in the fire!"

Harry put away his wand a moment and held Narcissa's hand compassionately - though in truth her words merely added fuel to the rage he felt for Lucius, shortchanging a hospital on safety measures. "'Ow 'orrible, Narcissa, zat you have to deal wiz such zings! Why is Lucius himself not 'aving to worry about it?"

A stormy look crossed her face, and Harry knew he'd said exactly the right thing to the distraught witch. "Lucius is still recovering from the fire, and is much too fragile right now to deal with such matters." She said as though the line was rehearsed. "Or at least, that's what I was told by that tart of a medi-witch he has attending to his every need, even after all this time. As if she doesn't think I know exactly how long burns take to heal! He could have regrown a liver after this long! Why he insists on being coddled like that, I have no idea, but he's only spent a few hours at home this entire week!"

A flash of insight hit Harry, and he had to fight off a smirk on his face when he realized how perfect the plan that just came to him was. The easiest way to convince Narcissa to be unfaithful to her husband was to convince her that he was unfaithful first.

And this medi-witch looked to be the perfect person to arouse Narcissa's suspicion.

"Of course, my dear - the whole zing seems very suspicious, almost like zere is more going on zan just 'is recovery!" Harry said nonchalantly in the ridiculously accented English of Henri. Narcissa's eyes narrowed, and Harry could almost see the wheels in her head turning. She brought her left hand up to her mouth worriedly, and her eyes narrowed just a fraction.

"Do you," she began with a slight tremble. "Do you think there is something more going on between them, Henri? She is...a much younger witch than I am..."

"Narcissa," Henri comforted, drawing closer to her as he took her trembling hand in his own. "Lucius would be a fool to cheat on such a wonderful woman! If it is true...well, 'e wouldn't deserve you!" Harry said, intentionally doing little to quell her burgeoning fears.

"But let us not dwell on such zings, my dear! So tell me about the problems wiz rebuilding ze ozzer 'ospital?" Harry changed the subject, allowing Narcissa to dwell on those thoughts for a while; he paid only cursory attention to his horde of diligently scrubbing brushes and cauldrons lined up to receive their cleaning as he turned to the distraught witch.

"Oh yes, the hospital...well, as I said, it was originally funded by Lucius - only at my request...well, demand, really. I'm sure you've heard of a bit of...reputation...that surrounds my husband. I merely thought that such a donation would help stop the awful whispers. And, of course, I'd been volunteering at St. Mungo's for years, so I knew exactly how badly they needed the extra space. And now, with it gone...well, as I mentioned, it appears that due to some fiscal...tightfistedness...may have contributed to its destruction.

"With me in charge, however..." Her look grew serious. "You can be assured that no security measure will be sacrificed. This facility will be state of the art, with no corners cut. There are some complications, however...the Creature-Induced Injuries Ward is the "Dangerous" Dai Llewellyn Commemorative Ward, and the proprietor of that trust is Einion Llewellyn; he's a good man, and generous, but he and Lucius never got along. Negotiations were tough to get him to agree to housing the ward in Lucius' auxiliary site in the first place, so I'm not certain he'll even agree at all."

Narcissa looked away then, and somewhat worriedly admitted, "And I'm not even sure I blame him. I could hardly believe the liberties Lucius took with the drastic security cuts. I'm not sure I'd want a commemorative ward to be overseen by him!" Narcissa finished, slightly red faced but unabashed at her scathing review of her husband.

"Zat is truly horrible, Narcissa." Harry said as he comfortingly put an arm on Narcissa's back, rubbing small, comforting circles with his thumb rather intimately. "Would it 'elp if I perhaps talked to zis Loolin? Lowoolin? Zat is a difficult name, I zink!" Narcissa smiled appreciatively at Harry, who gave her a charming smile as he butchered the name.

"Llewellyn, Henri." She said through a smile that brought out slight dimples in her cheeks. "And...well, I'm not certain it would help...After all, technically you'd have no business at the meeting..."

"Well we will 'ave to change zat, zen! Whatever you were planning on spending to build it, I will contribute ze same - and it will zerefore simply be better and more beautiful. Ce sera magnifique, I'm sure! Now we are equal partners in ze new 'ospital, and 'e cannot object to my being zere." Narcissa's face lit up at Harry's proclamation. The fact that he didn't actually have an enormous fortune that he wanted to spend on the project was only a minor hurdle; Grindelwald would literally have killed him if he'd spent most every knut of the Gamp fortune on such a thing.

"And I zink I have ze perfect crew in mind to build ze 'ospital, Narcissa. Zey did work on Beauxbatons, and I zink ze French Ministry as well - it will be ze most beautiful place in England, I zink!" Narcissa was too caught up in the plan now to object to anything he said - at least, he hoped, since Harry was just planning on getting Grindelwald's help to permanently transfigure everything in the hospital, and not actually hiring a construction crew.

"Oh Henri, that sounds wonderful! I hadn't even begun to think about plans like that yet. I just knew I wouldn't be using the same shoddy crew that Lucius did when he built the original hospital extension. And you're right, if you're a partner in the sponsorship of the hospital, then Einion couldn't object to you being at the negotiations with him! Although..." She stopped for just a moment, looking as though she was almost embarrassed to continue.

"Are you sure that you could contribute the funds necessary to double the cost I was going to contribute? I'm certain that the funds could be put to excellent use in the construction, of course, but...well, Lucius spent nearly tens of thousands of galleons on the original building. With the cleanup of the old building as well as the additional costs of doing the job properly." Narcissa took just a moment to look properly upset at her husband again. "I daresay the estimates could run up to thirty or even forty thousand galleons."

Harry adopted a thoughtful look as though he was considering this, even though he of course had no intention of contributing anything but his time and spellwork to the project. "Well, Narcissa, as you have mentioned to me before, ze children are ze ones who use ze Dangerous Creatures ward ze most. And zat would be in ze new building. Dearest Madame Gamp, before she passed, said zat it was ze children zat she wanted to support ze most, wiz 'er money. I zink zat a new 'ospital for children would be somezing zat she would want to contribute to. I will dedicate some of my resources to making ze 'ospital an enjoyable place to visit for ze children, I zink. Alzough, how enjoyable can a 'ospital be when you get trampled by Abraxans?" He finished with a laugh; even Narcissa smiled appreciatively - but then, he'd just promised to donate forty thousand galleons to her cause, so he wasn't surprised that she appreciated his humor.

"Oh Henri, this is going to be marvelous! And you and I will have a marvelous time planning out the hospital, I think - I have some wonderful ideas - I really can't imagine why Lucius didn't consult me before building the other one. And I just know you'll have some marvelous ideas as well, of course! Oh! I'd best Floo Einion and set up a meeting. And I'll try to keep it short, I know how you've said that you detest meetings." She said, still clutching his arm and talking a mile a minute with excitement.

"Perhaps a lunch meeting would be better for you, Henri? A bit presumptuous to take Einion to France for our usual international lunches," she said with a slight blush. "But there is a rather nice restaurant I can get us a table at near Diagon Alley...the only entirely wizarding restaurant I know of, actually - it's very exclusive. If you haven't been there before, you'll just love it, I know! Yes, we really must go to the Sló, I think, for business like this. It's only proper, you know!" Harry wasn't quite sure what exactly Narcissa was talking about, but decided judiciously that smiling and nodding was never a bad idea.

"Well there's so much to do, Henri, I'm afraid I simply must get started with it! You don't mind if I leave you behind here, do you? Excellent - I'll be sure to owl you the luncheon date with Einion, then!" Narcissa raised herself on her toes for one final hug with Henri, and also kissed him appreciatively on the cheek, before flushing slightly and leaving the room, presumably to begin the myriad of plans that Harry had helped set off.

Harry had little real experience with women - its sum total amounted to a blissful month or so in Italy - but was rather certain that the lingering kiss on the cheek was less on the friendly side of gestures, and more a sign that his plan to steal away the wife of Lucius in order to completely unravel his life was succeeding.

The cauldrons scrubbed clean despite his inattention to them, he set the storage room back in order with a few grand swooshes of his wand, and quickly Portkeyed to the Italian Ambassador's office in the Ministry of Magic; Narcissa's mention of an owl reminded him that he had not checked the mail there - or even stopped in - for several days.

He nearly bowled over an unknown witch when he appeared.

"Oh good heavens!" The familiar voice cried out as she was essentially tackled by Harry's arrival. Harry got a very unpleasant sinking sensation in his stomach when he realized just who the witch he had ended up on top of was.

"Who are you? What are you doing in the Ambassador's office? Get off of me!" Hermione Granger screeched indignantly. "Excuse me! Put your hand there again and I will curse it off!"

Harry got up with whatever remained of his dignity - on an unrelated note, Hermione had continued to fill out rather nicely - and smoothed out his robes by running his wand over them, fixing his hair with a similarly simple charm that left it perfectly wavy.

"Excuse me, miss." He said, still shocked at seeing his childhood friend in his office. He only then realized that Henri Desjardins had no business in the Italian Ambassador's office; and especially no business with a Portkey taking him there directly.

"I believe I asked what you're doing in the Ambassador's private office! And however did you get a Portkey here? I was told those were restricted to diplomatic personnel only...Wait a minute, I recognize you, you're Henri Desjardins! You're in that Witch Weekly magazine Tonks reads all the time," Hermione said, wide-eyed in confusion.

Things were quickly going downhill, Harry realized. He saw no way out of his predicament. Well, besides the obvious.

"Obliviate!" Harry said almost regretfully. He grabbed his mail and Apparated with a 'pop' back to the warehouse he and Grindelwald kept under the Fidelius Charm. He had a feeling the old wizard had some explaining to do.

"Wha? What happened?" Hermione said to no one in particular as she looked around in confusion at the state of the Ambassador's office.

Hermione took careful stock of the state of the office - she made sure to keep the Ambassador's office immaculate, even though she had yet to see him step foot inside of it. But now, the papers she was carrying were spread all over the floor - almost as though she'd dropped them - or been attacked! And...the Ambassador's mail that she'd delivered in a careful pile was missing!

Noting an odd soreness, she peered down the neck of her robe, and saw the redness of what were clearly fingers on her breast.

Quickly throwing Floo Powder into the fireplace, she called out, "Department of Magical Law Enforcement!"

When the face appeared in the fire, before the DMLE agent could even say a word she cut in, "This is Hermione Granger in the Italian Ambassador's offices in the Ministry. There has been a suspected intrusion, theft, assault and Obliviation of personnel. Send an investigator immediately!" She said before pulling her head out of the fire. She chewed on her bottom lip nervously, but vowed that whoever did this would not be getting away if there was even a shred of evidence.

oooOOOooo

If you liked what you read, please review – particularly insightful reviews get personal responses from me, and are really what motivates me to write. Thanks!