3SM131

Disclaimer – I don't own HP or much of anything else.

Chapter 131

Draco and Dudley bounced down the stairs of Grimmauld Place for breakfast. They knew without saying that they'd be served whatever Victoria wanted to eat. Kreacher spoiled her shamelessly, with Sirius' amused encouragement. Tori and Sirius were a rather terrifying pair, and when Beth joined them, wise wizards fled.

Lucius and Petunia were hoping to get Tori to Malfoy Manor soon, before she'd been totally converted from Slytherin to Gryffindor by Sirius and 'Uncle Big Bad' Remus' influence.

The boys entered the kitchen in time to hear Lucius snarl at Sirius. " … it's quite obvious you can't even spell the word discipline, let alone enforce it, so if you think I'll let you babysit Tori unattended you can just think again."

Sirius merely grinned. "You sounded a bit like Snape, there. He won't let me babysit Beth without Harry or Tom being there, either."

"You're supposed to be tracking down a thief, anyway, Black." Lucius grumbled. "Dudley and Draco can stay and do more of their summer homework while watching Tori." Lucius gave the pair a stern look. They had done exactly zero homework at Aunt Marge's and the excuse that she'd kept too close an eye on them had not gotten them off the hook.

Draco smiled happily even under the stern look. "I found a bunch of really neat music at Aunt Marge's. I copied a lot of it into music crystals – you'll like some of it, I'm sure." Dudley and Hermione, who had visited a few times, had not known that music could be copied into enspelled crystals for listening and Draco had felt quite smug in being able to introduce them to the enspelled crystals. Luckily the spells were already on the crystals when purchased, so they hadn't needed to cast any spells, themselves.

Dudley nodded in agreement. "Who knew she was a 'Three Dog Night' fan back in the '70's?"

Draco tapped a crystal with his wand and music poured out. Lucius looked aggrieved to have to listen to "The Road to Shamballa" and "Joy to the World" while eating his waffles, but everyone else enjoyed it.

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Severus and Lucius strode through the ministry, surrounded by a small army of Dragonriders and ICOW Peacekeepers. Madame Anat Ahmos led the pack, telling the Wizengamot that she would be the pair's 'legal counsel'.

The Wizengamot assured them that that would be quite all right and they got down to business, finally asking the wizards what had happened.

Veritaserum was administered and they answered the questions that Madame Ahmos asked. She had made it clear that the Wizengamot could hand down questions and she would decide if they were appropriate.

"What happened after Harry, Cedric and Tom disappeared with the Triwizard Cup portkey?" She asked with a peaceful smile and look of encouragement.

The answer was rather shocking in its brevity. "They had followed the portkey trail as far as they could and then returned to Hogwarts when they were unable to find the boys."

The news that the pair had had absolutely nothing to do with the 'kidnapping' and 'whatever had happened in that blasted graveyard' was embarrassing, but not terribly surprising for the Wizengamot. The vote to clear Severus and Lucius of any wrongdoing was unanimous and several wizards (including Fudge) had taken the opportunity to give lengthy speeches and elaborate apologies.

Lucius and Severus bore it all with faint smiles. Lucius did rune equations mixed with Arithmancy in his head that he was working on to improve warding on the Manor. Severus plotted out new spell formulas. He was quite sure that with different wand movements he could make the boil – inducing hex untraceable, and if so he had a list of people he was going to cast it on, many of whom were sitting in the Wizengamot that day.

The pair was finally dismissed and Tom came forward then and, also under veritaserum, told his story. Unfortunately, he could only give the tale as 'this is what I heard', since he was blinded at the time.

A good number of the Wizengamot were relieved that Tom could not say that the Dark Wizard leading the group was ever called Lord Voldemort by his followers, so "the wizard could have been anyone, really". Tom would have been angrier, but he'd spent most of his time looking for Dora in the crowd of Aurors without any success.

Cedric also could only say that he'd seen Pettigrew and a 'cloaked figure'.

Harry Potter came forward and Severus hobbled up behind him, he still could not move faster than a shuffle, but he was not going to let Harry face the Wizengamot alone.

A loud discussion about the use of Veritaserum on an underage wizard ensued. Severus stopped it with a hoarse bark. "If you want to use Veritaserum, Harry and I will return in two years when he is seventeen and we are sure his magic is settled, otherwise you will just have to make do with the truth spell."

This halted proceedings for a time, as most of them felt a mere truth spell was not sufficient for something this important, and they finally decided to watch his memory in the court pensieve and decide if it whatever Harry Potter had witnessed was enough to draw conclusions from.

Madame Ahmos removed the memory from Harry and placed it in the basin.

The memory started with Cedric portkeying away and they watched the ritual with horror. The pale figure that emerged with the melted looking face was not familiar to any of them. The spells used and the addition of the house elf Winky had changed a few things. Even Death Eaters from the first war that might have been able to recognize him would have had difficulty knowing him by sight in this new body of his. It was his control of their Dark Marks that had told them who he was when they had answered his summons, as well as the familiar feel of his magic.

They were also familiar with his liberal use of the cruciatus.

The duel and the escape were watched breathlessly and the memory ended with Tom flying off with Harry.

If Albus thought that would end the questions, he was wrong. As far as most of the Wizengamot was concerned, the only thing that it had established was that a Dark Wizard had done a rejuvenation ritual to restore his magic and renew his body somewhat. Yes, he obviously had garnered followers, perhaps had even cowed some remaining Death Eaters into proclaiming him as the Dark Lord Voldemort returning to them. The use of the dark mark to call the Death Eaters was waved aside – perhaps Peter knew how to call them. The dark mark was something that no one outside of Voldemort knew all the usages of.

Cornelius was torn. He desperately wanted Voldemort to not be back, but action needed to be taken. Albus was demanding they all admit that Lord Voldemort was back, although Hugo's frown and the collective flinching throughout the chamber should have told him that they weren't ready. Even Madame Ahmos had grimaced at the name.

Hugo believed Voldemort had returned, but was also sure that the public needed to be eased into it, just as they had the werewolves. Albus' very Gryffindorish "all or nothing" attitude would not make the willfully blind see the truth, it would just make them more stubborn.

Cornelius finally stood and waved Albus back into his chair. The last thing Fudge wanted was to have to endure any Dark Lord rising. However, he felt better knowing he had Albus, Hugo, Lucius and Severus behind him, along with Harry Potter.

"Let us review what we have seen and know to be true. A dark wizard has risen, and used a ritual to restore or enhance his magic. He has a fair number of followers, and they either are made up of Death Eaters, or at least include them. Whether this is 'He Who Must Not Be Named' or not, we need to protect the citizens of the Wizarding World who we serve and ensure this rise of dark wizards is of short duration."

Cornelius was satisfied with his brief speech and the rest of the Wizengamot murmured in agreement. Hugo sighed and glared Albus into silence. Whether it was Voldemort or another 'Dark Lord' the warding and protections they would implement were the same. Eventually Voldemort would show his hand and everyone would know the truth.

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Severus followed Harry and Beth out the door to help set up the 'surprise' Birthday party for Tom. Beth was sure Tom knew nothing about it in spite of her loud whispers and the evidence she kept leaving out in plain sight around the house. Tom smiled for the first time in days at her antics and promised to give an award winning performance of shock for her.

Severus dropped his load that consisted of a pitcher of lemonade and sat down, tired by even that much. He was remembering things when prompted with no difficulty but his strength and endurance were taking longer. He still tended to walk with all the speed of a first year with a sprained ankle, especially when he had to go more than the length of a hallway in the house.

Severus glanced at Tom, who was hovering another table into place. Tinker had delivered another note from Dora and Tom had read it quickly before stuffing it into a pocket with a sigh. Severus told himself sternly it had been only a week or so. The news Tom had given her was not something quickly adjusted to by anyone.

Severus had cornered Tom a few days before when he'd remembered that Dora and Tom were usually joined at the hip whenever possible. Tom had explained what he'd told Dora and why. Severus had sighed in resignation. That year in the Gryffindor tower had infected Tom with occasional bursts of insanely brave honesty – always at the worst moment, in Severus' opinion.

Severus, after he'd recovered from the shock, had tried to reassure Tom. After all, she hadn't returned the ring, and she was communicating after a fashion. Severus was just relieved that Tom was not giving up, or worse, doing something stupid. Certainly Lord Voldemort would not have allowed Dora to 'work things out', not that the Dark Lord would have been honest in the first place, of course.

The floo sounded and the chattering of voices was heard as Beth greeted the newest guests to the 'surprise' party. Severus watched Tom's stiff smile relax a little as the Tonks' and Dora arrived.

Dora had agreed to attend the party, unsure of how she would feel when she arrived. She'd carefully picked a color for her hair, a neutral lavender shade that gave nothing away and firmly told her metamorphmagus ability to stick to it. Her instructors had told her years ago that letting her hair telegraph her every emotion was a mistake. She intended to listen to that advice for today, at least.

Dora had spent a miserable week, barely able to function at the ministry and crying herself to sleep at night. Staying at her apartment was torture, since she kept stumbling over things belonging to Tom that had been left there. She tried gathering up his things, and then realized she didn't want to send them back – it seemed too permanent. Escaping to her parents was impossible, as they hounded her for an explanation of the 'little tiff'. Even her father, who had once been wary of Tom, was now in Tom's corner.

Headmaster Dumbledore had sent short 'supportive notes' and Auror Hugo Savage had cornered her a few times, offering to 'lend an ear' if she needed to talk. She hated that it made her look cold and rather heartless to refuse their help, but she knew neither of them had the true tale of Tom's origin.

In spite of her shock it never occurred to her to betray Tom and the thought of breaking up with him and returning the ring chilled her. That fact told her more than anything else that she accepted that Tom really was not Lord Voldemort in any true sense. The real problem was that she felt uncertain that she really knew Tom, if she was unaware of something as huge as his true origins.

Oh, she knew he was honorable and brave and that he was not Lord Voldemort, but that did not mean he wasn't perhaps hiding something else. Finding out any more secrets about him would be truly devastating; it would mean she really knew nothing at all about the man she loved. She had tried to communicate her concerns to Tom in their letters to each other, but his confused replies left her feeling that he was missing the point.

The Birthday party might not be the best venue to try to work things out, what with the number of well-meaning family and friends who were urging reconciliation that were present at the party. Dora took the small stack of presents from her parents and herself and placed them by the growing mound on the table hidden behind a large azalea bush that Beth and Tori were sure Tom knew nothing about.

The group that had been invited was smaller than most years, due to the rather heavy wards and the gauntlet of dragons and guards at the gates. A mournfully apologetic Albus, Fudge and Hugo sat across from Lucius and Severus, who had donned looks of betrayal and injured innocence for the occasion. The pair had decided to milk the situation just a bit, though in truth they understood how it had all happened.

They knew the three wizards would have rescued them if they'd known where they truly were. Still, they could have pushed a little harder, they thought. So the pair got a bit of revenge, listening to the three stutter out apologies and assurances that it would never happen again. Sure they had apologized at the hearing, but listening to more groveling was not something any Slytherin could resist hearing.

The party commenced, Beth and Tori had Tinker pop in with the cake and they yelled "Surprise!" at Tom, who managed a delighted look of shock. Presents were opened and cake consumed. This one was a six – tiered mountain of cake, covered in dragons made of icing that flapped around the surface of the cake, trying not to be cut into. Serving a piece with a whole dragon on it was a bit difficult, but the dragons glared and roared if you lopped off a tail.

Most of the cake was still there when the party wore down. Dora stood and looked at Tom meaningfully and announced that she and Tom should deliver at least part of the remains to the wizarding orphanage Tom had financed. There were happy looks of relief on almost everyone's faces at this. Everyone seemed sure that they would be 'working things out' during the trip.

Then Tori and Beth cheerfully declared that they wanted to see the children, too. They had friends among them and hadn't seen them in weeks. Percy saved the situation, saying he would take care of the two girls on the excursion. This would allow Tom and Dora to have their much needed talk.

The cake was delivered and the children happily scampered around the lawn, under one dragon's indulgent eyes. Hazelette was now quite taken with the orphans; they took the place of the Hogwarts students quite nicely.

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Rufus, meanwhile, was clearing out his desk at the ministry under the watchful eye of Kingsley Shacklebolt and Moody. Moody, at least, was a bit sympathetic over Rufus' overzealous actions against the pair of Slytherins. Moody had a rather blurred line about acceptable behavior that was not to be crossed, but Rufus had managed to cross it.

Rufus had received a chilly missive from Minister Fudge. It was delivered by his Great Horned Owl who had an intimidating stare that was much more menacing than his own. It had said to remove his belongings from his office, as his suspension was to be permanent and then present himself on a certain date for a 'hearing'.

Down the hall several of Rufus' trainees that had been a part of the attempted recapture of Lucius and Severus were complaining about how they were being treated. They were all still 'trainees' so they'd had a thorough dressing down and 'marks on their record'. Most of them didn't seem to realize they had been cut a huge break.

The few full Aurors like Claudius Smith and Roger Hopkirk were facing hearings just like Rufus. Pleading that they were 'just following orders' may or may not save them as it had the trainees. The trainees could plead that they hadn't known all the rules and laws as yet, etc. They were all aware that if the wizarding world continued to yell for someone's blood over the debacle they and Rufus would be sacrificed first.

Claudius Smith and Roger Hopkirk were both rather spoiled sons of important (at least in their own eyes) families. Claudius had now embarrassed his whole family, having somehow come out on the wrong side of the situation. If he was not cleared at the hearing he would likely be disowned, and he already was sure he would not be cleared.

Roger Hopkirk was as prejudiced as his brother Timothy and twice the bully. His family didn't care about what he'd done, but they did care that he'd 'disgraced their name'. The only commandment his family had was 'Thou shalt not get caught', and he'd broken that. His trust vault was now being taken from his control until he'd 'redeemed' himself.

Claudius and Roger cleared their desks and, in a snit, simply dumped everything into the overflowing waste can. They had then taken off to a nearby bar to drown their sorrows in some firewhiskey. They soon were plotting out some revenge. A hastily put together idea formed, fueled by the alcohol. Adrian Kirke had been overheard saying he was going to the Birthday Party for his old roommate, Tom Riddle, but would be a little late due to so much paperwork.

They got out the Auror credentials they still had and changed the names to Adrian Kirke and then rather drunkenly made their way to the gates of the Welsh Preserve. Claudius went first, presenting his ID and hoped Adrian wasn't already there. The Dragonrider eyed him closely and let him pass. Claudius managed a hopeful smile and asked for directions to Dragonsrest. The Dragonrider sighed and waved over a nearby Peacekeeper to watch the gates.

Roger watched that with relief and presented himself with his ID, smiling at the Peacekeeper eagerly. He could hardly believe it was working. They had thought Roger would have to wait until the Dragonriders guarding the gate had changed out.

The Dragonrider went just far enough to point out the house and headed back, not seeing Claudius go another direction. He met with Roger and they snickered in relief at having achieved this much. Now what to do?

They found, once here, that they hadn't the nerve to attack Dragonsrest. Yes, they hated Snape and had been happy to help incarcerate him and his buddy, Lucius, guilty or not. Facing them over their wands was something else. Not to mention the other wizards that might be there. Other targets presented themselves soon enough. Tom and that traitor, Dora Tonks came out followed by two small girls and someone who could only be a Weasley, considering his hair.

Claudius and Roger watched their possible victims with rapidly fading enthusiasm. If attacking Snape and Malfoy was now looking daunting, assaulting any of their family members was also starting to look unwise. They knew Tonks was quite good with a wand and this Tom Riddle had proven himself in that fight at the World Cup.

"What do we do now?" Roger hissed, watching Tom and Dora in an intense discussion. "I thought we'd capture one of the escapees and find something incriminating on them to show the Wizengamot."

Claudius grimaced unhappily. Sobering up a bit made all this look less viable as a plan. "There are too many at the house to get Snape or Malfoy and I doubt they leave incriminating evidence laying around for us to find conveniently." Claudius glared at Tom and Dora.

All these half – bloods and muggleborns running around, always somehow managing to get one over on the much superior purebloods like himself, they were absolutely galling. They were cheating, of course, or using some form of dark magic.

They were little better than animals like the muggles, not fit to breath the same air as pureblood wizards, though Pureblood families that considered themselves 'Light' could not say so out loud. Of course these upstarts had magic and that bought them entry into the wizarding world but in the eyes of the Smiths and Hopkirks and families like them, well the halfbloods and muggleborns would never really be welcome in the social circles they occupied.

"Maybe we can just make the whole lot of them unhappy, instead." Claudius smiled; yes this would be easier and less hazardous. Roger looked at him hopefully. "We can make the two little brats disappear. Oh, we won't hurt them ..." Claudius said at Roger's alarmed response to that. "… We'll leave them where they'll be found, eventually."

Roger nodded with a malicious grin, yes that was possible.

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Once the children were intent on eating cake and playing under Percy's supervision, Tom and Dora went around a corner of the big, rambling house that was now an orphanage. Tom cast a silencing charm and immediately started a nearly incoherent speech that was a mix of apologies and fervent promises that he was not like the Dark Lord and never would be like him.

Dora tried to get a sentence in here and there without much success. It was discouraging, really. Tom seemed almost desperate to convince her which, she was afraid, meant he perhaps didn't trust her love for him, although that was probably not his fault. It also meant that he still didn't understand anything she'd said in her letters. Her concern was not that she could not separate Tom from Voldemort in her mind, but that she needed to know there were no more surprises in store.

They were interrupted, not by the children's screaming; they always seemed to be screaming. Whether happy, sad, angry or frightened … there was always screaming. No, it was Percy's shout of alarm that got their attention.

Claudius and Roger had kept their heads down and tried to keep from attracting any attention as they stalked their prey. They finally got to a tree near the house and stopped, pretending to be 'discussing' something. They kept their eyes on the pair that had bounced alongside the Weasley that was hovering the cake and waited for the children to come nearer to them while playing one of their 'chasing' games.

At last Beth and Tori ran in their direction to get away from a laughing youngster that was now 'it'. They had been in luck. The large house that was now the orphanage was not far from the border of the Reserve – within running distance across a field, if they were fast.

The warding was impressive; however it was mostly to keep everyone and everything out, not in. It also prevented portkeys and apparition. They could squeeze past it on foot with some Auror-level escape spells they had, thankfully, already been taught.

They carefully watched Percy and the pair that was still intently talking. Beth and Tori circled around, avoiding their pursuer, the loop taking them by the wizards. Claudius and Roger glanced at each other just before striking, nodding at each other in agreement. Both were glad the firewhiskey had not worn off; as they still needed the liquid courage it gave them.

They lunged forward, sweeping the girls up and running across the field, wishing it was not such a large one. The girls were silent and offered no resistance, at least not for a moment or two, and then their shock wore off and the kicking and screaming started. It took Percy a second or two to realize that the screams were not happy ones.

"Get inside, everyone, now!" Percy bellowed the order with enough force that the children, who had been staring at the sight of their friends getting snatched, followed his instruction without hesitation. Of course they couldn't 'run for their lives' without shrieking loudly.

Percy was already hot on Roger Hopkirk's heels, and fired a tripping hex, hoping that Tori did not get hurt in the fall.

Roger tumbled down and Tori hit the ground with an unhappy bleat, but did try to roll away from her abductor. Roger scrambled back to his feet and managed to grab one of Tori's arms before she could twist away. Roger and Percy exchanged furious hexes. Roger was impeded by Tori's squirming and yanking on him as well as the firewhiskey still sloshing around in his gut. Percy had trouble what with having to aim carefully enough to be sure not to hit Tori.

The standoff ended with the arrival of Hazelette, who had been watching the playing children. She landed near Roger with a crash that made the earth shudder. The let out a truly evil hiss that was nearly as loud as the Hogwarts train engine. The look she gave Roger promised pain and a lot of it.

Roger had dragged Tori half-way across the field by then and hated to give up. Not to mention that Tori was now looking good as a shield against the dragon. Roger dragged Tori back and lifted her in front of him, ignoring the painful kicking against his shins.

This left Percy with no way to strike without risking Tori, and glanced over at Dora and Tom who were dueling Claudius, who was using a thrashing Beth as a shield as well. Roger took full advantage of the fleeting distraction and cast as powerful a concisimicus as he could manage.

A fountain of blood erupted from the deep lacerations that the yellow light of the spell gouged into Percy's chest.

Dora saw Percy go down and ran to his side, desperately trying to stem the flow of blood. Roger watched the fall of his enemy with drunken satisfaction, but his inattention cost him his hold on Tori and she managed to squirm from his grasp, running toward Dora as fast as possible. Roger aimed his wand at Tori in his anger, but an agonizing pain in his leg occurred and he found himself upside down in the air, dangling from Hazelette's mouth.

Claudius saw Roger's situation and backed toward the edge of the warding even more quickly. Tom fought to get him to drop Beth, but Claudius was rather good with a wand and had no intention of losing Beth as a shield. Another dragon arrived, dropping behind Claudius. The female Hungarian Horntail had arrived; thrilled to have an opportunity to, perhaps flame an enemy. Claudius looked behind him in horror. He was now caught in a crossfire and only shielding on one side.

Beth sensed his inattention and sank her teeth into his wrist and he dropped her with a howl. Beth ran for it – straight to the dragon and ducked behind one of her forelegs, which was large enough to completely block her from view.

Tom pulled out some his nastier curses, then and soon had Claudius covered in welts, no bones in one leg and had broken a few fingers with his Expelliarmus.

The Horntail eyed the helpless soon to be ex-Auror but Yvane's Tom was already yelling at her not to flame anything or anyone.

"Oh, Gigi said she would leave him for you. Hazelette told her to behave." Beth said with a sunny smile.

"Gigi?" Tom asked, a little stupefied.

"Yes, she said her name is Gigi." Beth craned her neck back to look up at the dragon.

Tom shook his head and herded Beth and Tori to the orphanage as Dragonrider, Peacekeepers and partygoers arrived to the scene. Jennifer screamed and threw herself onto the chest of the motionless Percy, impeding the efforts of the healers that arrived.

Gigi kept an eye on the defeated Claudius and Yao kept an eye on Gigi. Yuan went to Hazelette, persuading her to lower Roger to the ground and to please not bite down and swallow any parts. Roger was too relieved to at the rescue to offer any resistance as he was taken into custody.

Claudius was surlier, even with a furiously embarrassed Albus and Hugo apprehending him while a sullen Fudge took charge of the cringing Roger.

Tori and Beth, now rescued were regaling their horrified parents about their adventure with happy smiles.

Tom caught up with Dora who, along with Heather were half – carrying a weeping Jennifer as they followed the stretcher Percy was being carried on. Oliver walked beside Heather and wrung his hands in sympathy.

"Is he dead?" Tom asked Heather's mother, Ruth who was trailing behind Jennifer. He was distraught at the thought of losing his friend … his first real friend, well human friend. Yvane was the first friend. Still losing Percy would be a blow.

"No, Percy will be fine. He did take some severe cuts, might even have a few battle scars." Ruth sighed. "Jennifer is simply a bit … um … dramatic."

Tom looked at the loudly lamenting redhead and sighed as well, where was Severus and his potions?

Percy arrived to the healers and Jennifer settled where she could hold his hand and weep a bit more. Heather and Oliver stood near her, trying to reassure Jennifer that Percy would be just fine.

Dora rejoined Tom and maneuvered him into a quiet corner. She'd had enough of this. "Tom, are there any more shocking secrets I need to know, or is the skeleton you dragged out of the closet the only one you have?"

Tom searched her eyes for shadows or suspicion. No, she had accepted the truth and the realization made him giddy with happiness. "No, I'm afraid that's the only mystery I have – I'm otherwise quite a dull fellow." He answered with a wry grin.

"Excellent." Dora swatted his arm and led him toward Dragonsrest. "I want a Christmas wedding."

Tom smiled, that would make it easy to remember anniversaries. The walked by Hazelette's enclosure and heard bellowing, making Tom laugh.

"What?" Dora asked.

"Oh, Hazelette is demanding an all – deer diet again." Tom smiled. "She says the taste of traitorous wizards has upset her stomach again."

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A/N – Resolved a few issues. We should be off to 5th year in the next chapter. Debating the return of the toad.