A Count of Eight
Friday 17 July 1998 (After seventh year)
- … -
The night before the raid, Amelia invited the people who'd started down this journey with her, or had been greatly impacted by it – Rufus, Moody, Connie, Anna and Sirius, Shack and his wife, Tonks and Remus, Neville and Hannah, Cedric and Hermione and of course, Harry and Susan. The teens had finished school a week earlier and had been briefed on the option of doing the raid, as opposed to simply asking the Royal Air Force to simply drop a bomb. Ultimately, it was Scrimgeour's decision and responsibility, but it had been Harry's viewpoint that he'd listened to. His words, "I want to see his face and know that it's him, so we can give people some closure after all of these years," swayed his decision.
Naturally, Hermione had dozens of questions that she needed answers to, and at Harry's personal request, Scrimgeour agreed to accommodate her.
"How long did it take you to find him?"
"Actually, we've known where he was since the day that you were taking the train on your way to fifth year – 1 September 95. Moody noticed that some of the Lestrange artwork and family heirlooms were going on the market. That led us to a careful search of their three properties. Two of them were truly vacant. The other was occupied. That led us to a prophecy debate, and we decided on the strategy of containment."
Amelia, who was sitting across from them added, "We attempted to capture his Death Eaters as fast as he could recruit them, keeping his total headcount low. Connie kept fabricating "Supposed sightings" every few months. They would get published in the Daily Prophet. We must have raided abandoned homes in nearly every county except by Minehead, where he actually was."
"Who did all of that artwork actually belong to?"
Scrimgeour chuckled and remarked, "I believe you're actually asking two questions at once, Miss Granger. The properties were willed to Nymphadora Tonks. In lieu of our trying to recover it and potentially expose our knowledge of the operation, Auror Tonks accepted a one-time payment of five million galleons in exchange for all property rights left to her in their Will. As for who the property originally belonged to, we believe that Lestrange acquired it during the Second World War."
Hermione seemed satisfied, if not happy, with the answer. She asked, "How do you know that he's there?"
Amelia admitted, "We don't know that he's there, right now, this minute. We've observed that he's living there. At great personal risk, Alastor has taken Polyjuice on an occasional basis and physically entered the house, acquiring valuable information about the Death Eater count and their current plans. We've used this information with devastating effect on some of their raids, keeping their headcount low, but equally important, making it unattractive for potential Death Eaters and supporters to join his cause."
Scrimgeour observed, "Between the desertion of the Malfoys and Notts in '95, the arrests of standing Wizengamot members, Burke, Bletchly and Rowe at about the same time, and the eventual disclosure by Tiberius Ogden that he'd run for Minister at Riddle's request, support for Riddle's cause from it's classic source – the old family traditionalists wilted. It all but dried up after Riddle murdered him."
Connie added, "That and he all but left the widows and orphans to starve. In the past, families of those Death Eaters who were captured or killed were compensated and taken care of – via his Sponsor's gold, of course. We've estimated that he probably didn't get more than about three million galleons for selling off everything in Rabastan's estate that wasn't nailed down."
Hermione protested, "But you've let the war go on for three years. Hundreds of people… My parents…"
Amelia patiently replied, "Hermione, we didn't let anything. We simply weren't ready to respond."
Remembering his pledge to accommodate all of her questions, Scrimgeour added, "Miss Granger, Amelia's right. Fudge, with the guidance of Malfoy and Dumbledore decimated the fighting strength that the ministry had attained in the late '40s and again by 1980. Granted, in '81 we were losing the war, badly, but it was with an auror force staffed at nearly two hundred. There was budgeted support for proper training and equipment. As soon as baby Harry defeated Voldemort, Fudge reallocated two thirds of the headcount in a misguided effort to keep down the werewolves, halfbloods and muggleborns. It wasn't until 1983 that the so-called Reasonable Restriction on Underage Magic amendment was added to the secrecy laws. Fudge created an entire department, headed by his niece, Malfalda Hopkirk to ensure that little muggleborn wizards and witches like you didn't get to practice your magic over the summer. The purebloods all got around it by acquiring their annual Conditional Use of Magic permits. The old families all knew about them and could afford them. Dumbledore agreed not to have them mentioned at school and presto – an instant institutionalized disadvantage. Even with them gone, it took two years to get that repealed."
He set down his glass and continued, "Back to subject, Riddle still has his teeth and claws. Yes, he personally murdered your parents – more brutally than you'd been led to believe, since you asked for the truth. He tried to murder Amelia twice in the last three years. He killed Ogden for losing the election. He personally killed Aurors Nick Straighthand and Bob Sunset. He killed my daughter Anna and my son-in-law, Oliver Wood. I know we've suffered losses, but we weren't ready."
Mollified by his answer, and a bit embarrassed by her outburst, Hermione asked, "What changed?"
Scrimgeour refilled his glass and replied, "Three things. We've long known how to setup anti-apparation wards. They can be set within a few minutes. Quickly Warding against portkeys has always been much more difficult."
Connie added, "All but impossible would be a more accurate statement. The runes need to be cut by hand."
Scrimgeour nodded in agreement and continued, "I tasked Alejandro Croaker, head of the Department of Mysteries, to come up with something strong enough to reliably cover a thousand by thousand foot area that could be set up within five minutes. Needless to say, it was a long, difficult, and expensive project. It took two and a half years and nearly three million galleons to develop. Without it, we didn't have a reliable, repeatable method of leashing Riddle when we decided that we wanted to start a fight."
Hermione nodded, wondering how it had been done and was ready to ask if she could talk with the man sometime.
Scrimgeour added, "In the mean time, thanks to Moody, the quality of the defensive skills of those finishing Hogwarts has substantially improved. The people finishing didn't take three years to untrain and retrain properly. With a few exceptions, Dumbledore hired the biggest set of buffoons and losers imaginable to teach at Hogwarts. Snape, single-handedly did more to harm the Healing profession in Britain, than any other method that I could imagine. St. Mungo's has habitually been short of qualified candidates."
Slightly amused at his own rant, he continued, "Back to topic – The last two cadet classes have finished with the highest average scores that we've seen in a generation. That said, they haven't gotten their arses handed to them in their first encounter and had half of them immediately resign on us, like in previous years."
Scrimgeour glanced at Amelia, who nodded. He continued, "Finally, if the truth be known, we've been waiting on Harry. By any definition of the word, he got lucky in that graveyard in '95. I'm not saying he didn't display outstanding potential there, and more so, outside Ollivander's that summer when he cut down those dozen Death Eaters, but he wasn't ready to face the Dark Lord. We weren't satisfied putting him in front of Riddle with a ten percent chance of success. We waited patiently, and invested in him until we believed that we have a ninety percent chance of success. Like you, I'm well aware of the cost of that investment."
Rufus recalled his promise and added, "He spent his fifth and sixth years training with Moody three nights a week in lieu of the normal defense class. This last year, he only took three other classes and spent four afternoons a week training with the hit wizards. He wasn't allowed to pass that information along, but that's the nature of the work."
Amelia added, "Hermione, things had to change socially at the same time. We made certain that every arrest was properly investigated. Everyone accused of a crime was given a proper trial. There aren't the giant cracks to slip through, like what happened with Sirius Black. Everyone had the opportunity to call a Solicitor and to call witnesses."
Hermione asked, "But where are all the prisoners kept? I read that Azkaban was never re-opened."
Scrimgeour remarked, "The location of the prisoners is confidential. The dementors were magically confined to the island. Since they had no one to feed on, they died off within a year. When Riddle raided the island again last year, it was empty."
Hermione replied, "But that was cruel."
"True, but it had to be done. Simply stated, they were too dangerous. We weren't going to allow any Dementor Welfare Society to get started."
Hermione turned slightly red, knowing that he was indirectly referring to SPEW. She reflected on his words for a moment while the others finished their desserts or refilled their glasses.
Rufus remarked, "So here we are."
He looked down at the other end of the table at Harry and Susan, who were quietly conversing with Mad-Eye, Neville and Hannah. He stood and called for a toast.
"Britain has changed quite a bit in the last four years – mostly for the better.
Those who stand for freedom have grown stronger.
Those who would oppress it have been held in check.
The time has come to make our play – to cut off the head of Tom Riddle and stick it on a post for the world to see.
So that our children may enjoy a generation of peace and security.
So that their children will read of the futility of oppression.
Tomorrow, we lead others into battle.
It is a mission for which we have trained long and hard.
It is my sincere hope that we will all dine together tomorrow.
If some of us should fall, I want you to know.
That it has been my honor, my privilege, to serve with you.
He smiled at them and added, "That said – We'll meet back here in seven hours, at 4AM. At 5AM, we'll leave for Minehead. Recheck your equipment and get some rest."
… - …
It wasn't their first time. With luck, it wouldn't be their last. As they were getting undressed, Susan asked, "Harry, would you do me a favor?"
As he'd done countless times, her young lover replied, "Anything. What would you like?"
She looked into his eyes, and replied, "Put a baby in me, Harry. No spells tonight."
Anticipating his questions and possible protests, she announced, "Hannah, Hermione, Tonks and Anna are having the same conversations about now, so get moving.
Harry performed perfectly.
… - …
Amelia and Rufus sat in their high backed chairs facing the fire. She remarked, "You gave a great speech here tonight. Did you mean it?"
Her friend replied, "Every word, Amelia. Every word."
"Will it be enough?"
"I believe it will; so does Croaker. So does Moody. So does Shack, and deep down, so do you."
They sat in silence, watching the flames dance in the fireplace. After a while Amelia asked, "Are they sleeping?"
Rufus chuckled and replied, "You were eighteen and in love once."
Amelia smiled in happy remembrance.
… - …
Harry and Susan got up at three and showered. They put on their dragonhide, then their brand new Auror uniforms and went downstairs to have coffee and a light breakfast.
Amelia was up. She'd never really gone to bed. She'd sat by the fire with Rufus in their comfortable chairs resting and chatting. She looked at the two in their still fresh uniforms and a sad smile found it's way onto her face – Pride, love, concern and respect were rolled together with the not-so-distant memory of little Susie and her friend Hannah learning to walk together. She'd enrolled all of the newly finished teens into the Auror training program earlier in the week, explaining that their being Aurors – even if only for a week would eliminate many of the potential legal issues associated with the day's activities.
She only hoped that they wouldn't be buried in their still unpurchased dress uniforms. They spoke about ridiculous things. Susan asked about the floaties and if the pool was ready. Amelia replied, "I'll ask Smidgen to have the pool ready by tomorrow."
Rufus joined them and Harry asked, "How many people do you expect to be there?"
He replied, "We know that eight people have been living there as recently as 12 June. We know of no significant changes, though the Parkinson and Edgecombe girls could be there since finishing school. To answer your question, I'd expect no more than twelve inside and six to ten outside when he calls for everyone, once the attack starts. We don't want to rush the charge into the upper levels. I'd rather maintain numerical superiority outside and on the first level. Once you personally see him. I'd rather you torch the house than lose eight good people fighting our way through the house. The head on a pike idea would be nice, but it's not worth losing any good people if we don't have to."
Harry replied, "I'll try and wear him out, so he doesn't have the energy to try a fancy spell that could be costly."
Shacklebolt and Moody arrived. Shack reminded them, "Any and everyone there is considered a hostile. There have been no known abductions that we can trace back to Riddle."
Moody added, "Don't discount the use of Polyjuice. If you see McGonagall there, the person impersonating her is a hostile. Everyone on our side is wearing the same uniform. The badges can't be transfigured or worn by anyone else. Shack, lets go with the back tape too, just to be safe."
… - …
Shack counted again and reported, "All thirty-six of us are here." In his deep, soothing voice he began, "Let's go over the operation one more time."
"The warding team of twelve will split into four units. Each three-person unit will be carrying a box of dirt and rock that contains the ward stones. They will arrive five minutes before everyone else. The person not carrying the box will carry the shotgun. The warding team's objective is to activate the ward stones, keep them going and be ready to quickly drop the wards if necessary for an emergency extraction." He looked around to see if anyone had questions.
"The boxes are heavy and can't be lightened magically. If you're toting them, you'll earn your pay today." He looked over at Lupin and Black, who'd talked their way into joining the mission, and were simply volunteers.
"As soon as the wards activate, Riddle is likely to notice. Croaker will call Hopkirk from the Ministry, who will supervise an immediate shut down of the floo network. Most likely, Riddle will call every Death Eater on the planet using the Dark Mark. Anyone trying to apparate or portkey in should be bounced back. They'll try again to apparate in – most likely just beyond the property line. It's critical that the ward stones not be disturbed while we're there. They are the key to holding Riddle on-site until he can be taken out. For the most part, you're guarding the perimeter from outside intrusion. Don't let us down."
He looked around and saw confidence in the team member's eyes.
Shacklebolt continued, "Outside Auror team – The eight of you will be divided up into two units; one for the front door, the other for the back. Your first job is to break down the front and the back door. Once the doors are blasted open, your next job is to lob the lighting stones through all of the upstairs windows. Your third job is to interdict any hostiles attempting to leave the house. They cannot be allowed to disrupt the ward stones or leave the property. Remember – Everyone is considered to be a hostile – even a house elf. There is no priority in taking prisoners."
The message was clear – no one would be leaving the property alive.
He turned to face Harry and said, "The sixteen of you are going in. Remember the two rules."
"Do what you need to do to finish your shift.
Do what you can to help your partner complete theirs."
Shack continued, "It's a big house. It has three levels and a cellar. Lower level team - Your job is to secure the first level as soon as possible. Check the basement if you still have the manpower to do so. Keep the first floor including the stairways secure. Work your way up to the second level of the stairway. You must keep the stairway clear so the upper floor team can evacuate if necessary."
Upper level team – You'll enter thirty seconds after the first floor team. You'll assess if any of the first floor team manpower can be reallocated to the second level. Do not lose control of the stairways. Your job is to kill every hostile that you encounter.
So far, so good?"
Everyone replied, "Yes Sir."
Shack continued, "Outside team. Be certain that a lighting stone has been sent through every window. Blast the windows open first if you need to. I don't want any dark rooms where people can hide. The stones give off a special light that will illuminate anyone who has disillusioned themselves. Potter has overall command of the upper level team. I have command of the first floor team and Amelia has command and control of the outside team. Professor Croaker has responsibility to keep the wards up as long as we need them and to bring it down on Minister Scrimgeour's command."
… - …
As they prepared to go, Croaker asked, "How did you two lads get so lucky as to be here this morning? For most people, going to Voldemort's house is the last place in the world that they'd want to be."
Sirius grinned and replied, "This represents my negotiated settlement with the ministry in exchange for twelve years of false imprisonment. I told Scrimgeour I wanted to be there the day that the snake-faced bastard goes down."
Remus added, "As Mr. Black so ineloquently put it, I'm also cashing in my reward – In my case for the capture of Peter Pettigrew. As such, we are Aurors for a week."
Sirius asked, "So what exactly is in the wooden crate? It's about the size of a child's coffin?"
Croaker remarked, "Indeed. That's exactly what they are. Mr. Moody and I visited the estate in Minehead about a month ago. We dug up four sets of dirt and rocks large enough to act as ward stones. Most of the runes have already been cut into the rocks. The key to the fast activation will be to replace the contents of the coffins exactly where they had been by vanishing the wood surrounding the dirt and stones. Then the final rune can be quickly carved into the top rock."
"That took two and a half years to develop?" asked Moony incredulously.
"No," admitted Croaker. Actually my grand nephew, Neville thought it up in late May. The key was using local dirt and stones. His idea was to transplant them. After that, it took about a week to rehearse how to vanish the box and not the dirt, and testing how big of a box could safely be carried. Beyond that, it took some time to collect the dirt, and here we are."
… - …
Moody went to each of the raiders and placed a one-foot piece of wide blue tape on the back of their uniform.
Hermione asked, "What's that for, Professor?"
Moody replied, "It's duck tape. In case any of the scum try to transfigure their robes to look like ours. Theirs won't have a badge or the blue tape."
Hermione nodded and replied, "It's called duct tape, Sir. It's used to repair forced air furnaces and air circulation systems."
Moody held up a package that read Duck brand Duct tape and replied, "Whatever. You see someone without their duck tape, you hex them first and ask questions later. Got it, Recruit?"
Hermione sheepishly replied, "Yes, Sir."
… - …
The Lestrange house in Minehead has built in 1625 by a wealthy shipper. Later, he decided to take his chances in the new world and sold his home to Newton Lestrange.
The property sits on sixteen acres of lightly wooded property. It's a three-story structure, largely made of oak and stone. Each floor has about three thousand square feet. The first floor has a spacious kitchen, a large formal dining room and two large sitting rooms.
The second floor has a center hallway, four bedrooms, a small sitting room and a large, well-appointed library. Most visitors never were allowed passed the second floor.
The third floor has four bedrooms and a spacious Sun Room, above the library. Glassed on three sides, one could see the ocean; watch the sun rise, or set, depending on the time of day. Relating to the raid, it offered an excellent view of the grounds.
The stairways in the home were the result of the original owner's desire to keep guests out of the third floor. The stairway originating in the kitchen went to the library on the second floor, then to the Sun Room on the third floor. However, the Grand Stairway originating from the sitting room only went to the second floor sitting room. Hidden from most visitors, there was another stairway that went from one of the second floor bedrooms to the master bedroom. There was a separate stairway from the kitchen down to the cellar.
Intelligence about the house itself was distressingly sparse. Moody had never had the opportunity to simply wander around the structure, and never had his magical eye with him, as he had only entered the home while in his Junior Polyjuice disguise. As such, Moody had only seen the Grand Stairway.
… - …
Among the big decisions in planning a raid like the one at hand were the total number of people to have involved and how to deploy them. From some perspectives, eight people were too many to have in the house and fifty were too few. The risk of information leaking went up every time another handful of people was added. The same could be said for the risk of getting seriously injured or killed from friendly fire.
There was also the very real unknown as to the exact number of hostiles in the house. They believed the number to be eight. Realistically, at the exact moment of the raid, there could just as easily be four or twenty-two. It wasn't out of the question that the two inside teams could find themselves outnumbered in a home where it would be ridiculously easy to be outflanked.
… - …
At 4:45 Shack called, "Line up by team. Warding Team.
Unit One – Black, Lupin, Croaker
Unit Two – Longbotton, Whitehorse, Pape
Unit Three – Abbott, Smith, Holland
Unit Four - Lee, Cook, Arden
Shotguns loaded - on safe."
The four teams lined up next to their wooden crates and waited for the command to leave.
Front door – Winters, Redman, Granger, Hammer"
Rufus added, "And Scrimgeour."
Shacklebolt frowned. He didn't want the Minister anywhere near the danger in the event of a catastrophic failure, but had been outranked.
"Back door – Daily, Frost, Amelia Bones, Moody."
The two teams lined up. In addition to their normal gear, they were carrying what appeared to be small beach bags filled with glass globes, the size of oranges.
"Downstairs team – Susan Bones, Beam, Tonks, Hiram, Whitebear, Walker, McMaster and Shacklebolt."
Everyone who had already been called grew tense at the naming of the last team. Though everyone going was under great risk, it was the last team that would almost certainly encounter three quarters of the action. There were no surprises, and they'd rehearsed as best as they could, but the tension was still there.
"Upstairs team – Potter, Michelle Wood, Michael Wood, Gunner, Fred Weasley, George Weasley, Fawcett, and Steel."
Harry had picked each of the people. Aside from himself, Fred and George - who he'd seen in action many times, the others were the Ministry Hit Witches and Wizards. They were the fast draw artists of their day. They wouldn't hesitate. They wouldn't miss, but most importantly, they wouldn't fire at shadows, or each other.
Finally, Shack announced, "The ready room team plus two healers are available on call – Stanley, Ashworth, Wesson, Dexter, Healer Crabtree and Healer Page. They can be instantly called by any of the team leaders. If called, they will portkey to Croaker's position."
He looked at everyone and remarked, "Gentlemen, Ladies… Enjoy your day."
Everyone replied, "And you, Sir."
Ten minutes later, he called, "Warding team. Go!"
… - …
Remus felt disoriented for a moment as they landed. He looked and saw that Croaker and Black were right next to him.
Croaker asked, "Are you both ready?" He pointed to what appeared to be a shallow grave about seventy-five feet to their north.
As they got to the spot and rested for a moment, Croaker added, "Okay Lads. Lift the coffin and we're going to place it just over the hole. Very good, no to the other side, towards me."
Sirius lifted the heavy container in place for what felt like ages. His muscles were beginning to shake. In reality, it had only been about ninety seconds.
Meanwhile, Croaker had looked at the two groups adjacent to theirs had placed theirs. Using prearranged hand signals, Neville indicated that the group on the other side of him had placed theirs. "Move it a little farther down. Good."
He tapped his wand against the box twice and the box vanished, dropping the dirt directly into the hole. He adjusted and restacked the rocks and carefully carved the last rune. Immediately, there was a blue crackle, like static electricity that shot from his rocks to the others, then briefly filled the inside of the perimeter.
He handed the shotgun back to Remus and called, "Wands out, Lads. Spread out a few steps and both of you get by a tree. I'd expect that Riddle knows that we're here and will be calling every follower that he's ever had. Expect company within seconds. If a group comes, let them pass and hit them after they've gone by."
… - …
Four simultaneous Reductos to the front door followed a few seconds later to the back door and the spacious Lestrange home had a whole new ventilation system. Connie called, "Toss one lighting stone each through the hole in the door, then we'll step back and work on the upstairs windows."
Hermione made eye contact with a grim faced Harry for a moment as the downstairs team dashed through the opening in the front of the house. She silently prayed that it wasn't the last time that she'd see her best friend."
… - …
Neville felt the eight extra shells in his pocket as he held the Holland and Holland 12 gauge side-by-side shotgun in a death grip. He'd seen the blue crackle a minute earlier and looked over where his great uncle Algie was. Suddenly, he saw seven Death Eaters appear just yards away from where they were.
… - …
Moments before, Pansy asked Marietta, "Why do we have to eat so early?"
Marietta replied, "Otherwise, they'll be down here. They creep me out. Come on, the kitchen is down the Grand Stairway and to the left."
They were halfway down the fancy, wide, wooden stairway when they felt the concussion as the two large oak front doors blew off their hinges.
… - …
Moments before came the call, "Outside Team – Go!"
Anna, Amelia, Moody and one of the senior Aurors, Tim Frost landed. They reached the back door and had a light stone ready to toss when they heard the boom of the front door being blasted apart. Moody called, "On three.
Not as big as the double front door, the remaining pieces of the back door were no larger than beater bats and the doorway was quite open.
Anna called, "Toss the stones."
Moody had already taken a dozen steps back and started shattering the upstairs windows. If the truth, be known, he enjoyed breaking things.
… - …
"Downstairs team – Go! Upstairs team goes in 30 seconds. Good luck."
Meanwhile, at the front door, Shack and McMaster led the team in through the ruined front door. Whitebear and Tonks saw movement at the same time and fired.
Edgecombe and Parkinson let out a surprised whimper as they felt their internal organs slip down the stairs. Struck again by Beam and Walker, they were dead before they hit the bottom stair.
Shack called, "Bones, Beam – look over there. Tonks, Hiram, Whitebear look over that way. McMaster, Walker – watch the stairs. Fire at anything that comes down." He looked around and moved towards the kitchen.
… - …
Moody was about a hundred feet away from the house, scanning the second and third floor window openings for movement. There were twelve windows on their side of the house, plus the big glassed in Sun Room, which he had not shattered. Suddenly he called, "Down!" as a jet of green light flew over where Amelia had been standing a moment ago.
… - …
Riddle felt the ward connect and knew that they'd been found. Immediately rising from the high back chair in the master bedroom, where he'd been resting, he took stock of the situation. He ran to Junior's room and grabbed the man's arm; jabbing his wand against the skin of his Mark.
Junior felt the Mark burn as hard as he'd ever felt it. Riddle cast sonorous and called, "The ministry has foolishly elected to bring war to our door. We have the advantage of position. Our brothers will soon come to our…"
The first door blew open.
He directed, "Have the Carrows cover the stairway from my chamber."
The second door blew open.
"Barty, tell them, and then quickly join me in the Sun Room. The eight on the second floor are well able to defend themselves."
… - …
Two hundred miles away, Finrir Greyback felt the urgent call and gave his sleeping pack of werewolf wizards a poke. He said, "Get up Lads. Let's go have some fun."
… - …
Still holding his shotgun, Neville saw the Death Eaters by his Great Uncle Algie start moving. Too far away for him to do anything, he silently recounted the extra shells in his pocket and looked around again.
… - …
Outside in back, Moody was about a hundred feet away from the house, still scanning the second and third floor window openings for movement. From time to time, someone would pass by. He stood, watching, hoping to get a chance to fire a spell at someone.
Suddenly, he called, "Down!" as yet another jet of green light flew over where Amelia had been standing a moment ago. He fired a blasting hex back at the edge of the stone window, shattering some of the rock and blowing fragments into the room.
… - …
At the outer perimeter with Croaker's warding squad, Black heard the telltale pops of seven apparations.
Greyback and the others were disoriented when they arrived. The first time they tried apparating directly to the front door, and were unknowingly bounced back by the anti-apparation wards.
Black was momentarily almost surrounded. Sacred witless, be silently backed into the big oak tree as tightly as he could.
"There! Over there," called Greyback, pointing to the front door outside team. "Get em, Lads!"
They started running. When they were fifteen yards away, Sirius and Croaker cast Diffindo spells, cutting two of the Death Eaters down.
Lupin wanted his pound of flesh for having endured thirty years of discrimination, rejection and hatred. He carefully aimed at Greyback and fired both barrels, hitting the evil wizard a dozen times in the head and neck. Greyback's body took a final, faltering step and tumbled, while his head exploded in a burst of blood and gore.
Remus quickly broke the side by side open while kneeling behind his own tree. He fumbled for the shells, dropping one in an effort to quickly reload. The other arrivals concluded that they were caught in the open between a wizard or two and a much larger group that had suddenly seen them.
The four remaining wizards elected to charge towards Remus.
Black, who had watched the pensieve memory of Harry outside Ollivander's, aimed at two of the charging wizards and called Dif-fin-do. He aimed low and hit both men some six inches above their knees. The sudden expenditure of so much magical energy left him light-headed and he dropped to his knees.
Croaker was out of position relative to the other two wizards. His priority was the defense of the wards; even at the risk of life and limb to the other two.
Remus had just snapped the shotgun shut and raised it when the other wizard reached him. Lupin felt the man slam straight into the muzzle of the side-by-side as he fired, resulting in the stricken man becoming impaled onto the shotgun.
"Gotcha," called the remaining wizard as he tackled Remus, thinking he'd be an easy prey.
Croaker saw his chance and cast an exploding hex between the last attacker and Remus. It sent both men flying. Lupin was wearing his ministry issued body armor. The now mortally wounded attacker was only wearing a filthy dress shirt that was now soaked in blood. He dropped to the ground, leaving Croaker a clear view to finish him off.
… - …
The Carrows, followed by O'Hearn made their way down the stairway leading into the kitchen. There was no noise on either side, so the four of them crept down the stairway and reached the kitchen. They had already fired at Shackelbolt when he noticed them. Alecto had cast Diffindo while Amycus had cast the killing curse.
Potter heard the commotion and cut O'Hearn in half as they were dashing back up the stairs.
Kingsley Shacklebolt was dead.
… - …
Riddle directed to Crouch, "Go get your racing broom and return as quickly as possible." Junior had a moment of disappointment when he assumed that the Master would use it to escape, leaving them in a bad way, but quickly complied.
Crouch returned a moment later and bravely held out his broom for the Master to take. Junior was surprised when Riddle handed it back to him and said, "Barty, I have a most important mission for you. Wait by the large open window in your room. Disillusion yourself. If the attackers reach the third floor, fly out of the window and low to the ground. Go to the Hogwarts trophy room. Find the special award that Dumbledore gave to Tom Riddle and tap it with your wand, seven times. Do not fail me. You're my most faithful servant. Go."
… - …
Amelia heard the gun blasts from the other side of the house and grew concerned that the warding teams might have been overrun. She'd heard spellfire from inside the back door, but understood the importance of holding her position and letting the other teams do their jobs. After a minute, she directed Moody, "Go in and get a status. I'll watch the windows."
… - …
Harry and Michelle were getting ready to go up the kitchen steps when Moody walked in thru the door. Harry saw him and raised his wand as Moody said, "Badge, tape, dragonhide. What's the status?"
Harry replied, "My wandholster has come in handy." He looked at Moody and winked. "Shackelbolt was hit a minute ago with at least two curses. We've killed three and seen at least three others. The central stairway is at a stand-off. We're going up this stairway to the second floor to shake that up."
Moody replied, "This stairway likely leads all the way up to the third floor. You could get trapped in a crossfire if you use it to go too far before the second floor is properly secured. You might consider sending Michael instead, and flaming the main stairway for a moment as a diversion. Put it out and see how they react. I'm going back to my post. You're in charge inside."
A moment later, Harry directed, "Michelle, Michael, take Gunner and Fawcett to the second floor. Have them hold the landing. Go see if you can find any Death Eaters and fire blasting hexes at them. They're messy and distracting. Be back in two minutes. Go."
… - …
Outside in the front, Connie was concerned about the status of Croaker's team. She directed, "Winters, Redman – go check on them." She called the Ready Room at the ministry and announced, "We're in the middle of an attack on Voldemort's hideout. He has called in additional Death Eaters. Good people are down. Be certain to clearly identify yourself when you arrive. Bring and provide cover for the Healers."
… - …
Inside the house, Harry ran to where Susan was and in a quiet voice called, "I want you to flame the upper third of the stairway. Aim for the center. I'll cover you. We'll let the fire burn for a minute and create some smoke. I'll wet it down to put it out and you can cover me. Okay?"
She nodded and Harry shouted, "Go!"
… - …
Smoke started filling the second floor as the Death Eaters that had been guarding the Grand Stairway pulled back from the flame. Michele and Michael Wood cut down Death Eaters O'Connor and O'Neil, who had made the mistake of moving towards the library without looking. Seeing no one else close, the Hit Team retreated back to the stairway and directed Gunner and Fawcett to follow them back to the first floor.
… - …
As the smoke began drifting up to the third floor, Riddle found Junior and directed him, "Go now, Faithful Servant."
… - …
Outside at his warding station, Neville was watching the house and noticed what appeared to be a broom flying itself some ten feet off the ground, coming right towards their position. He took aim and pulled the trigger.
Momentarily flustered, he took the safety off and made a swing shot at the broom as it passed by.
Bang! The first shot missed.
Neville increased his lead and aimed higher, assuming that there was a rider to go with the broom.
Bang! A moment later, the broom and the still disillusioned rider fell to the ground.
… - …
Harry doused the fire and called, "Fred, George – take Gunner and Steele and charge the Grand Stairway. McMaster, Susan, Whitebear and Tonks - Watch the Kitchen Stairway. I'll cover you as you go up. Don't slip on the steps."
Fred saw movement at the same time Death Eaters Neil and Eichman fired Reducto blasts at George. Harry, Fred, Gunner and Steele fired and there were two more dead Death Eaters.
George tumbled down the stairs, banged, bruised and with a newly broken arm and nose from the fall. He was alive.
… - …
Outside, Moody began casting a variation of the Impervious charm to keep the windows from shattering. He told Amelia, "We don't want Snake Face banishing a load of broken glass at anyone. It would be too hard to shield."
Amelia called Connie, and within a minute the front side of the Sun Room was reinforced as well.
… - …
Inside, Harry called, "Good work. Susan, Fawcett – Get George outside. Go to the front. There might be a healer outside to look at him. Michelle, Michael – Go back up the Grand Stairway. If the floor is clear, call for Tonks, McMaster and Walker for reinforcements. See if there isn't another stairway to the third floor. If there is, and you can, seal the door."
He looked at Whitebear and said, "Mike, we're taking the kitchen stairway to the third floor."
… - …
Outside, Sandy treated George. There was a lot of blood coming from his broken nose, but Sandy had that stopped within a minute. She gave him one unit of blood replenishing potion and asked, "What's happening inside?"
George replied, "There are eight dead that I know about. Most are theirs."
… - …
Upstairs on the third floor, the Carrows had disillusioned themselves and had discovered that they were visible with the light stones. They tossed them into the hallway and quietly waited in the Master's bedroom, by the stairway.
… - …
In the Sun Room, the Dark Lord waited in silence for a rematch with the annoying Brat-Who-Lived.
His mother had somehow saved him with old magic nearly sixteen years ago in '81. He was but a wraith the two times that they'd met in '91 and '92. Potter had gotten off a lucky shot as he ran and escaped before they could conclude their test of wills in the graveyard.
The room was warded. This time, they could do battle all morning if needed. He'd finish off Potter once and for all, and then toss the brat's head outside of one of the windows. Riddle vowed to himself to exercise patience. He wanted to see Potter bleed his life out on the floor, groveling for his life. He wanted to watch Potter's lifeless eyes go dim. He was certain that this would be his greatest day.
… - …
Harry was ready. Step by step, he and Mike Whitebear slowly – ever so slowly, made their way up the stairs. They looked up as high as they could to be certain that they weren't walking into an ambush. Finally, they made it to the second floor and were partway up to the third floor when they heard a loud voice fill the stairway.
"Harry Potter… You have come to attempt to fulfill your destiny… Instead, you have come to die at my feet. Send your little friend back down the stairs and come up when you're ready. We shall finally have our dual. I'll even let you take the first shot."
… - …
Back at the Master's chamber, the Carrows stood disillusioned next to the far wall, silently ready to fire at the first thing they saw.
Meanwhile Walker, McMaster and the Woods were discussing their strategy. Michelle whispered, "We've most likely driven all of them up onto the third floor. The dumb ones have already been finished off. We have to assume that anyone who's left is part of Riddle's inner circle and competent. Walker and Michael, take the front left and right. Michael, disillusion yourself and take a step in first. We'll be right behind you. Be careful."
… - …
Harry and Mike Whitebear went back down the stairs. Harry called out the back door for Moody. In a low voice, Harry announced, "He's up there, waiting for a duel."
Moody replied, "Best I can tell, the Sun Room is about thirty by sixty feet. You should have a bit of room to dodge him. We could flame the house now, but he might pull some bit of really advanced magic and either get away, or kill a lot of good people. It would be safer if you could wear him down a bit, but it's up to you."
Harry nodded and replied, "Get everyone out of the house and flame it." He looked Moody in his good eye, steeled himself, and announced, "I'll be back down within ten minutes. Thanks Mad-Eye, for everything."
Moody nodded solemnly and replied, "Good luck, Harry. If things go pear shaped with the fire, jump out of the library window. They'll watch for you and grab you. We'll fire the house in eight minutes."
He took out his pocket watch, and said, "Go!"
… - …
Michael took a step into the apparently empty room as Walker followed. Suddenly, two wands appeared by the far wall and cast the killing curse at the defenseless man. Michael cast a sweeping Diffendo and as the two jets of light hit Walker, the last two members of the Carrow clan clutched their nearly headless necks.
With heavy hearts, they carried John Walker's body back down the stairway.
… - …
Plans made, Harry carefully walked up the stairway. Upon entering the room, he saw Riddle seated in a chair at the far end of the room.
Outside, he heard Moody's call of, "One."
Harry looked at Riddle and asked, "So was it all worth it? You killed hundreds, or thousands; I don't know. Why?"
Riddle contemplated for a moment and replied, "Because they were there. They were in my way. They were blocking my path to be the greatest wizard who ever lived, as are you, Harry Potter."
"Enough talk. Are you ready?" Riddle stood - empty hands at his side. He looked at Harry for a few moments and said, "Make your move."
Harry made a feint to raise his left wand in attack, but conjured a tree instead.
In the blink of an eye, the Dark Lord pulled his wand, fired a very powerful cutting hex and easily sliced the tree in half.
Solely focused on the task at hand, Harry cast Dif-fin-do in a sweeping arc that severed Voldemort's real thumb.
The Dark Lord howled in rage, and fell off his game plan. Avada Kedavra.
Harry ducked, took a few steps back and asked, "How's that Horcrux thing working?"
Inflamed, Voldemort fired again, and nearly hit Harry as he rolled to the right. Riddle fired again in the direction where Harry was moving. Only seven years of Quidditch honed reflexes saved him, as he made a sudden stop.
Harry went back on the offensive and cast two quick Reductos. Both blew small holes through the floor, inches from Voldemort, who cast another killing curse that went way high.
Harry cast Diffindo and cut Riddle's foot. He wasn't certain how badly.
Riddle howled again and cast another killing curse that shot between Harry's legs as he jumped to avoid the deadly jet of energy.
Harry fired a wide Diffindo arc back, and hit Riddle in the side.
With a determined gleam in his red eyes, Riddle fired a sweeping Diffindo arc back, hitting Harry in the chest.
Harry was knocked back, but realized that his body armor had held. He looked over and realized that Riddle was winded. He fired another Diffindo and cut Riddle's wand hand in half. His wand clattered onto the wooden floor, but Tom managed to pick it up with his ruined other hand.
Riddle struggled to stand up and cast, but only a weak red light came from his wand. As Madam Pomfrey would describe it, he was magically exhausted.
Harry called Expelliarmus, and Tom's wand clattered to the floor. Harry called Accio Wand, and caught it as it flew into his hand. He put it in his pocket.
Tom Riddle called, "Finish it, Potter." He staggered back to the high back leather chair, where he'd been sitting. Blood was dripping freely onto the floor as he moved.
Harry cast Incarcious and replied, "No. Not yet."
Potter was ready to walk over, knock the chair on its side and kick the shite out of the monster who had ruined so many lives, but decided that he wanted Tom alive and conscious for what was to come. He cast Incarcerous a second time and remarked, "Have a nice minute."
That said, he dashed to the stairway and cast Incendio on the section of polished wooden floor nearest the stairway. Finally, he cast Colloportus to ensure that the back door was locked tight.
That done, he was dashing down the stairs when he heard, "Eight."
Looking into the large dining room, he saw a dozen wizards casting Incendio up into the second floor. Within moments, the second floor fire was fully engaged. As the smoke began to billow out of the second floor windows in earnest, they cast Incendio around the rooms of the first floor and they left the house. Harry cast a final Incendio into the kitchen stairway and walked out the door to see the outside witches and wizards casting Incendio into all of the open second and third floor windows.
Within another minute, the entire house was ablaze with flames reaching nearly fifty feet into the air. Riddle's screams of agony could be heard for a few minutes, then died away. Amelia was tempted to cast a silencing spell, but decided that they provided a sense of closure to a horrendous ordeal. A steady column of thick, black smoke rose into the air and slowly disappeared into the wind. A few minutes later, the house imploded on itself with the Sun Room's glass panels crashing onto the burning oak timbers.
… - …
Several hundred miles to the north, a silver plaque, erroneously awarded to a student some fifty-five years ago cracked. A wisp of black smoke escaped, and vanished, never to be seen again.
At the same time, Harry's scar burst open, like a popped pimple and a drop of some unpleasant, black fluid oozed out of it. Harry winced for a moment and Susan asked, "What was that?"
She took a clean cloth out of her pocket and wiped it away.
… - …
As the house continued to burn, Anna went back into Investigator mode, taking photos of the fire and each of the dead bodies that had been pulled out of the house prior to flaming it.
Connie was talking to Rufus when Harry walked over. Scrimgeour was ready to call down the wards when Harry suggested, "Leave them up a while longer, just to be sure." He pulled a wand out of his pocket and said, "This is the one that he was using. Please snap it when you're done testing it. He was wearing dragon hide boots. I expect they might survive the fire, though they'll be cut up a bit."
Scrimgeour nodded and took the lieutenant bars out of his pocket. He said, "Harry, Shack had put you in for these a week ago. In all of the preparation for the raid, awarding them to you was a detail that I overlooked. Perhaps Amelia would do me the honor of putting them on for you."
Harry looked at him and replied, "Thank you, Sir."
Scrimgeour gave him a smiling look and replied, "It will always be just Rufus, Harry. You earned it, well before today."
Finally, enough evidence had been gathered and the primary statements had been taken. Other departments could douse the fire later. Amelia called, "Bring the wards down. Let's go home."
ooo CCC ooo
As the old scribe watched, McGonagall read his report. He never enjoyed relaying the details of battle. It was never clean, or romantic, or fair. Rather, it consisted of normally kind and gentle people being placed in a hostile, horrific, terrifying situation and doing their very best to complete their shift.
As he turned to leave, she nodded at him and hoped that his next ride would be safe when he went to see what Alastor was doing. She looked at the bottom of his report and saw the numbers 2427372 and 6780275. One was an older report, but one that the old scribe had enjoyed.
McGonagall wasn't positive if, or when she'd see the old scribe again, but in either event, she wished him well. She carefully placed the light stone on her shelf, next to the other artifacts that he'd left her over the years. As he got to his steel horse, she called, "Good night, Mr. Crow. Vaya con Dios."
… - …