Gilbert finally halted us before a pair of ornate doors flanked by a pair of guards. That wasn't terribly unusual by this point. Almost all of the doors we'd had passed by were ornate, and more than a few had guards, though these doors were less ornate than many but only by a matter of degree. He conferred with the guards briefly, and then one knocked on the door.
There was a short pause, then the door swung open and a man with a very correct suit appeared. "Yes?" he asked, and with that he went from unknown, to one of the three quintessential exports that have made Britain famous: Butlers, Redcoats, and James Bond. Including this gentleman, I had encountered the first two in the last half hour. Meeting the third did not seem impossible.
"The Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Chief of Aurors, Harry Potter, to see Her Majesty," Gilbert said.
The man ducked into the room briefly, then opened the door wide and stepped back for us to enter. "Minister of Magic Shacklebolt, and Chief of Aurors Potter," he announced, and I had the rare pleasure of being introduced without a title that had at least six hyphens in it.
"Thank you, Albert that will be all."
"Yes, Your Majesty," Albert the Butler said, bowed once, and then pulled the door closed behind him with an ominous click and suddenly I felt like I was back in my second year, being stuck in the Headmaster's office for the first time again.
I gave the room one quick glance. It was worth much more than one, and deserved more than a quick one, but it was all I decided I could afford it. My impression was that if the Gryffindor common room had to be stripped down to bare stone and then entirely redecorated in the same color scheme and an unlimited budget, the room I was in was likely what it would have ended up looking like.
There was a massive chandelier hanging dead center, one of the long walls was dominated by a bay with floor-to-ceiling windows flanked by equal-sized mirrors, while opposite was a fireplace with another mirror above the mantle that almost reached the ceiling. There was a cluster of four settees—though the decoration though what would have been solid gold in the wizarding world was probably gilded wood or something similar given the disparity in cost and the lack of strengthening charms—were clustered so that the two in front of the fireplace mirrored those in front of the bay windows.
And all that was the centeral third or so of the room.
The Queen was sitting at the far end the of the room, in front of another enormous window so Kingsley and I had to cross all of that magnificent opulence—not to mention a very fine rug—to stand before her. There weren't any magical instruments or portraits of Headmasters—though there were several paintings including two that were wider than Ron was tall and were just shy of being floor to ceiling, literally. The castle was still teasing at the back of my mind, but the truth was that magic was unnecessary, the coach, the gatehouse, the staircase, guardroom, and all the rest had been more than sufficient to intimidate me. Probably not a good thing since my reaction to being intimidated has become increasingly violent over the past three or four years.
Kingsley led and I followed a half-step behind and to his side as we crossed the room. The Queen, and the man who I assumed was the Prime Minister, were sitting on chairs that matched the settees around a gilded table in front of a window that was only slightly smaller than the bay window. The third chair that would have completed the arraignment had disappeared—and it wasn't located at any of the other three, otherwise identical, table/chair clusters we had passed to reach them.
The Minister wore a muggle suit, the Queen—who from snatched glimpses of news shows on the Dursleys' telly seemed to favor hats—was wearing a crown. Was it a crown? There may have been another name for it, but whatever. It was metal and had a bunch of sparkling things set in it, therefore it was a crown
The whole thing was tickling my sense of the absurd. I mean, I'm seventeen, haven't completed my seventh year of Hogwarts, just defeated one of the most feared Dark Lords in history—this after facing off with him at least a half-dozen times since I was one, not to mention that basilisk when I was twelve, the werewolf and kiss (sick, I know, but disturbingly logical of wizards) of dementors when I was thirteen, or that… Hell, you know all of that stuff by now—and now the Chief of Aurors and, get this, I'm meeting the Queen. If I told the Dursleys, Vernon would have a stroke.
Wait, the heck with the Dursleys and the Secrecy Statutes. I could quit, write up my life story, and sell it in the muggle world. Nobody would ever believe it was real and I'd make more than the GDP of some countries. I could get Dean to do the cover art and maybe some nice little illustrations for chapter headings. With my luck I'd end up right back here getting a knighthood out of it. Sir Harry Potter, it has a ring to it.
Kingsley bowed and I mimicked him and decided that if I'd had my choice I'd rather be camping out hunting for Horcruxes again
The one word and a glower managed to convey Angry!-Dumbledore after discovering that the role of Alastor Moody was played by a Death Eater everyone thought had died in Azkaban, and Disappointed!-Dumbledore when I showed up for our let's-explore-the-life-of-Tom-Marvolo-Riddle-lesson without Slughorn's memory.
The Minister just sat back in his chair with an expression that Draco had often tried to wear but had never quite pulled off. Something that managed to convey a great deal of self-satisfaction and also that you were about to get it and he was going to enjoy watching.
Apparently the silence was getting to Kingsley as much as me, because he opened his mouth. "Your Maj—" and closed it just as abruptly when she raised a finger slightly.
"So." She said again. "You have a great deal of explaining to do, Minister. Your predecessors have not been at all cooperative with Our Minister. They have been even less so with Us. It is Our understanding that the fundamental nature of your government is a stewardship for Our personal rule. Is that correct?"
The man sitting next to her shifted slightly and I glanced at him. As our eyes met I felt a stab of surprise at her use of the royal second-person and cold satisfaction. I mentally shook myself free of the alien thoughts. Was that what it was like for Albus and Severus? I had never managed legilmancy before without using my wand and casting the spell, and yet I had done both here entirely by accident. That…shouldn't be possible.
"Yes, Your Maj—"
She cut Kingsley off again. "Then understand this, Minister," she said, contempt dripping from the title. "You will satisfy Our questions and those of Our Minister. If you do not We shall climb up on Our throne—there is a convenient one several doors down from here in the State Apartments—and denounce you properly, and then pick someone to take over until a sensible form of government can be properly established!"
Oh yes, it was exactly like being in Albus' office again. The only thing missing was Severus saying I should be expelled.
"As Your Majesty pleases," Kingsley said.
"We are not pleased, Minister," she told him. "We are not pleased at all."
She glared at us for a while longer while the Prime Minister smirked.
"Explain," she ordered.
"Not you, him," she said, gesturing at me. "The last two years, and then you can explain why Minister Shacklebolt brought a boy with him."
Boy, was it? 'Boy' had been Uncle Vernon's second-favorite name for me after 'freak'. To Albus it had always been delivered with a grandfatherly tone right before he told me he wasn't going to tell me why Voldemort tried to kill me. Then there was Fleur in the room behind the Great Hall after I'd been chosen as the fourth Triwizard Champion. This time it managed to convey both Vernon's anger and Fleur's contempt.
I managed to keep from snapping back at her. Bully me.
"Three years ago," I said, "A very dark wizard named Tom Marvolo Riddle managed to regain a physical body and—"
"Regain a physical body?" The Queen asked sharply.
"Wizard?" the Prime Minister asked. "I thought it was a witch—that is what you call your female mages, correct? Flight from Death indeed."
"Yes it is, witches, I mean, but why would you think he was one?" I asked, then, remembering a pointed comment Fleur made at the end of my fourth year, "oh, you mean that poorly pronounced French-thing? Yes, well, he started calling himself 'Lord Voldemort' while still in school. If you rearrange the letters of his name they spell out 'I am Lord Voldemort'. And it's Flight of Death."
"Apparently they don't teach French at that school of yours," The Queen said coolly.
"Your Majesty?" I asked.
"You haven't answered Our question."
"The short answer is that everyone thought he died back in '81, Your Majesty," I told her, and made a mental note to ask Fleur about the damn name. Nothing like a little lecture on grammer and pronunciation to put someone in their place. Besides, I enjoy a good in-joke as much as the next bloke as long as I'm in on it. "The long answer is a bit longer."
She glared at me.
"Tom Riddle was born to a witch and a well-off non-magical man, under…dubious circumstances, Your Majesty," I said.
"A simple 'Ma'am' will do," she said coolly.
"Yes, Ma'am," I agreed. "He left her and she died in childbirth living only long enough to pass on his name. He was raised in a non-magical orphanage and had a fairly unhappy life. At some point odd things began to happen around him, accidental magic isn't unusual around a young wizard or witch. What was unusual was that by the time he was approached with his acceptance letter to Hogwarts—Hogwarts is—"
"We are aware of Hogwarts."
Of course she was.
"By the time he got his Hogwarts letter, he was already able to at least partially control his magic—which is extremely unusual even for those brought up in the magic world—and was using it to terrorize the other orphans and staff. By the time of his fifth year in Hogwarts he'd taken to using his new alias, surrounded himself with the heirs of some of the oldest magical families, in particular the more…conservative and traditional families, and had used an ancient monster to terrorize the school, resulting in one death, and then placed the blame on another student."
"What does this have to do with his regaining a physical body?" the Queen asked.
"At this time he set himself on three goals. Achieving immortality, a world without magic-using children born to non-magic parents, and where the non-magical population was either dead or firmly under his heel. For the most part he was obsessed with the first, and strived to achieve the second in the United Kingdom, at which point he would have moved on to the third."
"He obviously didn't succeed," the Prime Minister said, speaking for the first time.
"He did for his first goal, or near enough to it," I said. "Kings—er, Minister Shacklebolt could probably tell you better than I how close things were the first time around."
"First time?" The Minister asked.
Okay, so Scrimgour and Fudge hadn't been keeping them fully informed, but you'd have thought whoever was the Minister before them—Bag-something, I think—would have kept his counterparts informed and that they would have had a way of briefing their successors.
"Some time in spring or early summer of 1980 there was a prophecy made, in the very old Greek sense," I said. "Something vague and not-to specific that foretold the coming of one who could vanquish the Dark Lord. A spy gave Voldemort the first part, the one with the few details that identified who the person was—or rather persons, because there were two possible choices. Whether he decided to come after me first because my mother was non-magic born, or because he was able to discover where the others were hiding, I don't know.
"On the 31st of Ocotober, 1981, Tom killed my father, my mother, and then turned his wand on me. When it was over the house was in flames, I had survived a curse that had before always been considered instantly fatal and impossible to block, and everyone thought that Voldemort was dead."
"Why would they think such a thing?" The Queen asked.
I considered that briefly before mentally shrugging. "There is a ritual, the darkest of magics, that requires a human sacrifice to perform, but allows a person willing to use it to split their soul and anchor the split-off part of it in an object. As long as the object remains intact the wizard retains a foothold in this world. One Horcrux, however, does not provide much of a foothold. Tom had the insane idea of splitting his soul seven ways, six horcrux and himself—seven being a very potent and very stable magical number."
The horrified look on their faces was worth it. Kingsley even turned green, a singular feat considering his skin tone. I wonder which part bothered the muggles more, the idea of human sacrifice or the fact that he carved his soul into pieces.
"By the time he attacked my family he had already made five of the things, and whose death was better to use to create number six than the death of the one prophesized to kill him? Things didn't work out the way he intended. For a couple of reasons his attempt backfired and destroyed his body, leaving his spirit to wander helplessly."
"Until he…'regained his physical body, you said?" the Prime Minister asked nervously
"Correct, Minister, three years ago," I said. "Another dark ritual needing bone from his dead father, flesh from one of his minions, and blood from a mortal enemy."
"How old were you?" he asked.
"A month and a half shy of fifteen."
"I can't believe they let a child…" the Queen murmured.
"Nobody 'let' me do anything," I said dryly. "He left very few choices."
The Prime Minister looked at Kingsley. "When Minister of Magic Fudge and I spoke two years ago when he was on his way out of office, he sounded as though this Voldemort had only just returned."
"Former Minister Fudge is a…politician, sir," Kingsley said. "He was very…concerned about appearances and maintaining his position and power. When Harry reported the Dark Lord's return three years ago, it threatened all three. Fudge was very effective at slandering the two most prominent proponents of Voldemort's return. This suited Voldemort perfectly, because it gave him a whole year to set plans in motions, recover his strength, marshal resources, and try to acquire a copy of the prophesy in its entirety."
"Would knowing something vague and unspecific have helped him?" the Queen asked.
"Not really, Ma'am," I said. "There are some elements in the magical world—"
There was a buzz in my pocket, followed by a little magical dingle, and then someone's voice I didn't know saying; "Auror Potter? Chief Auror Potter, please respond!"
I swore mentally and pulled out my badge. "I beg a moment, Your Majesty."
She glared at me, but nodded.
I stepped back a ways and addressed my badge. "Potter."
"Chief Auror, this is Auror Greely, there has been an incident of magic in the view of muggles."
"Where and what kind?" I snapped.
"Ottery St. Catchpole," the Auror on the other side of the badge reported. "A very noticeable display of magic. Someone summoned a giant rainbow and put some kind of permanence magic on it that is resisting dispelling."
What the hell? I expected some kind of reaction, but who the hell was pulling my Aurors off tracking down Bellatric Lestrange and Voldemort's other insane minions to deal with breaches of the secrecy statutes?
"Who assigned you to this task?" I asked.
"Sir, the call originated in the—"
"I don't care where it came from," I said. "What I care about is that instead of trying to hunt down and capture the rest of the Death Eaters, the Aurors are chasing after rainbows."
"The call originated in the Director's office," Greely replied after a moment.
"Thank you, Greely," I said. "Since you're there you might as well wait until the Law Enforcement Patrol, or whoever is supposed to be dealing with this, shows up."
"Yes, Chief Auror."
The badge stilled in my hand and I glared at it for a moment. "Auror Travers," I said, I didn't have a wand to tap it with but Windsor was still there in the back of my mind and the badge activated in my hand.
"Chief Auror, are you okay?" Travers asked.
"Why wouldn't I be?" I asked pleasantly.
"Well, given whom you are meeting with…" his voice trailed off. "What happened?"
"Can you conference in Director Hammers?" I asked.
"Yes," he said slowly, then, "just a moment."
There was a pause.
"Hammers, this is Harry Potter, Auror Travers is on the line as well."
"On the what?"
Pure-bloods. "On the badge," I said.
"Why didn't you say so?" she asked, then, "You're still supposed to be in that meeting with Her Majesty. What happened?"
"Nothing," I said. "Except that said meeting was just interrupted by one of my Aurors reporting in that a potential breach of the secrecy statutes has occurred."
"Where? Do you need people? I can assemble an entire strike team—"
"He was reporting a magical rainbow had been summoned and enchanted against dispelling near Ottery St. Catchpole," I said.
There was a long pause.
"He shouldn't have reported it to you," Travers said. "But why didn't you set the exclusion on your badge before going into your meeting?"
"Because I didn't know I could exclude calls?" I asked acidly. "Because if an emergency occurred I wanted you able to reach me? What I really, desperately want to know is why one of my Aurors is chasing rainbows instead of Death Eaters."
There was a very long pause.
"Sir," Travers said coolly. "You might recall at your meeting last night that you assumed responsibility for magic in the presence of muggles. That includes breaches of the secrecy statutes."
"No," I said coldly. "I said I was taking over investigating crimes against muggles. Murder, muggle-baiting, use of love-potions and other means of coercion… Unless the breach of the secrecy statutes involves an actual crime, such as opening up with killing curses on a busy shopping street or using magic to blow up Parliament, I neither said nor implied that the Aurors would be dealing with breaches. Now, I thought we were all agreed that the Death Eaters that remain on the loose are the highest priority threat."
"We are," Hammers said. "But—"
"The call that diverted one of my Aurors from doing just that came from someone in your office, Director," I cut her off. "When I have time I'm going to track down who and launch an investigation to determine if the person in question is merely incompetent or if this was a deliberate effort to draw an Auror away from searching for and dealing with an ongoing threat to the safety and security of the United Kingdom. Is that clear?"
Okay, so I'd cribbed that last part from a brief clip of a movie I'd overheard once, but it sounded good and both Hammers and Travers were silent. "I'll take that as a yes," I said. "Travers, check in with all the Aurors, make sure no one else has been diverted. And then…call whoever is supposed to be in charge of investigating breaches of the secrecy statutes and who is supposed to be cleaning up conjured rainbows. I have Greely watching the scene until they get there. Is Percy in the room?"
"Uh, I am, Chief Auror."
"Good, Percy, I think we need a press conference," I said. Okay, it was my fault, but it wasn't entirely out of order. "Do it yourself if you think you're up to it, or if you think Travers will get the message across better, have him do it. Something asking for sanity and discretion and how we haven't put a stop to the ongoing celebrations but asking people to keep them confined to the magical world and reminding people that we all share a collective responsibility to maintain the secrecy statutes. I'd prefer if it came across more like Professor Sprout or Flitwick reminding people of no magic in the corridors, than a lecture by Professor McGonagal."
"I can do that," Percy said.
I knew he could. I knew Percy of old, after all. Give him a little chance to stand out on his own and he'd be as happy as a pig in mud or the Twins—George—in a joke shop.
"Good, get to it," I said. I felt the badge die down and pocketed it again.
Attention to myself for the rainbow successfully diverted. Banish my rainbow would they? I'd like to see them try…just so long as it wasn't my Aurors wasting their time. Though maybe I should have gone for something more subtle. A bush with an eternal flame charm on it, perhaps? The muggles went for eternal flames at the graves of really important people, right? I made a note to check just in case.
"Trouble?" the Prime Minister asked.
"No, sir," I said. "A misinterpretation. It used to be someone else was responsible for attacks against mu, er, non-magicals, and a third group was responsible for cleaning up breaches of the secrecy statutes. Somehow when I told the Ministry that the Aurors were taking over responsibility for deliberate magical attacks against non-magical society, the latter group decided that we were going to be responsible for the secrecy breaches as well.
"Most of that was cleaning up the confusion, but the initial call was from an Auror who had been assigned to deal with a rainbow in Devon that someone summoned and charmed to resist dispelling."
I took a breath, "As I was saying before I was interrupted, Ma'am, there are some people that set great store by Divination. Voldemort was among them. The prophecy was important only because he thought it was important and allowed it to govern his actions which had the predictable result of fulfilling the wret—er, thing—" one must be polite, after all. "Two years ago he set a plan into motion to take a copy from the Ministry of Magic's archives, when it fell through he made a very public appearance in order to try and salvage it. Not only did he not get the prophecy, but he revealed that he really was back."
"Voldemort moved very fast," Kingsley said, taking over now that I had filled out the background. "With his attacks in the non-magical world, first with that bridge and then the attack in the West Country, he pinned down a great deal of the Ministry for days, long enough for him to Amelia Bones and Emmeline Vance, respectively the Director of Magical Law Enforcement and the Deputy Minister of Magic."
"Which put this Scrimgeour in charge," the PM said.
"Yes, sir," Kingsley said. "Rufus Scrimgeour was the Chief of Aurors at the time, and would have likely made a very fine general, but was…less than ideal to lead a civilian government.
"By the summer of last year Voldemort had enough followers in the ministry, either who answer to him or were enspelled to do his bidding, to take over. They assassinated Scrimgeour, killed a few other ministry workers, and intimidated the rest into doing their bidding. They didn't move against the non-magical world, but that was only a matter of time."
"I spent the better part of a year hiding out with a couple of friends as we hunted down and destroyed Tom's soul-anchors," I said. "Then we settled things a few days ago with wands on the grounds of Hogwarts. I walked away. He didn't."
The Queen gave me a long look, then turned to Kingsley. "The state of the United Kingdom?"
"The physical damage is rather easily repaired, Ma'am," Kingsley said. "Public trust in the government is another story. In addition, while many of Voldemort's most fanatical followers died or were captured at the Battle of Hogwarts, there are still nearly a dozen of his inner circle still on the loose. There are also a large number of people who went missing during the past year whose fates have to be ascertained, and an even larger number of people who were abused for whom compensation, if any, has to be determined.
"Immediately after the battle, a quorum of previous Ministry of Magic Department and sub-department heads, and members of the wizengamot, convened. I was chosen as interim Minister of Magic. My first move was to declare martial law. I am not conversant with what such a declaration would mean in the non-magical world, but in the wizarding world it is a fairly recent name for a much older legal tactic used for emergency governance. It gives me the authority to suspend both the legislative and judicial bodies for one year and one day starting at the first sunrise after the declaration. I have that long to…restore a, as you put it, 'sane form of government', Ma'am."
"And what's to stop you from becoming another despot?" The Queen asked coolly.
"Three things, Ma'am," Kingsley said. "First, you can remove me and replace me with anyone of your choosing."
"Indeed?" she asked.
Kingsley nodded. "I think technically the Minister of Magic is considered the Royal Wizard or Witch in the non-magical world, but I know that on the magic side the senior title attached to the job is the Lord High Steward of Her Majesty's Magical Realms and Environs. The Minister has to have the confidence of the reigning sovereign who may replace him or her at any time, either by naming another Steward, or by directly assuming power."
"You mean Her Majesty could assume Direct Rule?" the Prime Minister asked.
"Yes, of course," Kingsley said, sounding rather confused. "Why?"
"That's not how things work in the non-magical world, Kingsley," I said, trying my best not to laugh at his puzzled expression. The PM didn't seem to know what to say, and from the way the Queen arched one eyebrow, I rather suspected she found the sudden and complete bewilderment on the part of the two ministers rather amusing.
Or that's how I chose to interpret it anyway.
"The Prime Minister has much the same job," I continued, "but the Queen can't replace him the same way, or take up direct governance."
"Legally the option remains," the Queen said, "technically."
"Although it is an unwritten constitutional rule that she won't," the PM said dryly.
She ignored him. "But it is a technicality, and few things are more detrimental to one's authority, real or perceived, than to give an order one knows won't be followed." She fixed Kingsley with a searching look. "Such is really an option?"
"Regardless of the changes in the political landscape in the non-magical world over the past four centuries, the Rex Arcanum, as modified in 1621, that lay out of the governing of your magical realms are still fully in effect, Ma'am," Kingsley said. "The Oaths sworn are still as binding today as they were. If you wished to assume direct rule you could, and short of open magical rebellion we can't stop you. Not without extremely serious consequences. Breaking magical oaths is something that nobody does lightly. With the particular oaths laid out in Rex Arcanum…well, there is a reason why Cromwell never had much success getting us to join him."
"I believe something like that would be a trifle difficult to hide," the Queen observed.
"We could do some things with illusions, glamours, and other magic," Kingsley allowed. "But we'd have to be careful of the Secrecy Statutes."
"I see," she murmured. "You mentioned that there were three limits upon your power, Minister, and yet you have named but one."
"Yes, Ma'am," Kingsley agreed. "The first limit is your ability to replace me at any time. The second is that after the period has expired I have to justify all actions I took, or that were taken on the basis of my having declared martial law, to a body of representatives freely chosen by the inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland, human, magical, and otherwise.
"And three, one of my first moves was to bring in Harry."
The Queen looked at me expectantly.
"I've had serious odds with the Ministry in the past, I'm a hero, and right now the public loves me, Ma'am" I said. "As long as that stays the same and I don't come out against what Minister Shacklebolt is accomplishing, they'll probably go along with it. Right now things are shaky enough that if I did object loudly enough they'd probably rip Kingsley into very tiny pieces. It doesn't require a lot of effort on my part, which leaves me free to run the Auror Office."
"You have direct control of that office?" the Prime Minister asked in surprise.
"Yes, sir," I said. "I realize that I am young and inexperienced for the job, but it's mine and I'm going to run it as best I can. My first concern has to be the Death Eaters, Voldemort's minions, who are still on the run. Equally important, however, are stamping out the corruption and the 'favors' that are traded by the oldest magical families, and investigating and prosecuting those wizards and witches who commit crimes against magical non-humans as well as non-magical humans—both of which in my experience the Ministry has a poor record of accomplishing."
"Bold, very bold," the Queen said. "Can you do it?"
"I honestly don't know, Ma'am," I told her. "The Aurors are under-staffed, critically so at this point, what with losses over the last year. I've taken steps to counter this, but the training for an Auror used to run three years. I have already approached several non-human members of the magical community about joining to bring differing viewpoints and magic to bear on the problem. As part of this trend I'd like to post one of my Aurors to liaison with the non-magical law enforcement, preferably on a nation-wide basis, and request a non-magical liaison to work as a member of my office."
"Including with access to our crime laboratories," the Queen said.
"I honestly don't know how much help that kind of support would be," I said, "but it certainly couldn't hurt, Ma'am."
"Tony?" she asked.
"My office can see to that, Ma'am," the Prime Minister said.
"Minister?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"I grew up in the non-magical world. I know most bobbies don't carry guns. I even understand why. Under the circumstances, however, I am going to require that whoever who send to liaison with my office not only carry, but knows how to—and is willing to—use one if necessary. I will do my best to provide whatever protection I can, but I would be lying if I didn't tell you that a great many people that are on my side will be…extremely upset by the idea of having a non-magical person not only visiting the magical world, but working as an Auror."
The Prime Minister nodded slowly.
"You do not approve, Minister Shacklebolt."
"No, Ma'am, I don't," Kingsley said slowly. "I think it is a grand idea and I don't question the wisdom of providing a liaison to the non-magical side. But I also think it will cause disruptions and complicate problems that are already complicated enough, and provide very little return in exchange. However, I did tell Harry that he could run his office as he saw fit until and unless he gave me cause to remove him. If he thinks that this is worth pursuing I will caution and advise against, but I won't gainsay it."
The Queen started to say something, but I missed it over trumpets that suddenly blared a warning. There shouts in the distance, the trod and heavily laden men, the clinking of metal armor. Nine centuries of Pissed-off-enragedcastle suddenly stabbed itself into my mind.
I stumbled back as pain, so like that of my scar when Voldemort was angry and yet completely alien, stabbed into my skull from behind my right eye. Kingsley was turning to look at me, I knew the Queen and Prime Minister were both staring, and all I could do was try to keep my brain from leaking out of my ears as Windsor screamed ThreatThreatThreatThreat at me. My lungs burned as I tried to breathe, an alien sensation since castles don't breathe, and I tried to speak but castles didn't do that either.
I had to remember I wasn't a castle. I was a real boy.
The far door opened and I watched as a pair of guards marched in, but I saw as they opened the door and walked 'away' from my point of view. Hey, I was 'seeing' through hidden security cameras, how cool was that?
The part of me that was still Harry was relieved as the second pair of guards entered from that door because whatever had set Windsor off had been noticed by the muggles and they were doing their jobs and protecting their Queen. The part of me that was a semi-sentient castle that had 'not a scrap of magic in it' was still screaming ThreatThreatThreatThreat with a side of DangerDangerDanger.
"Harry!" the Minister's voice. WarningWarningWarning.
A third pair of guards followed the second, and then a fourth pair.
The Queen LoveHopeTreasureHonor said something as all eight muggle soldiers shouldered their weapons.
Windsor shrieked unhelpfully as clarity returned.
There wasn't time to draw one of the wands I'd kept. Even Voldemort's in its spring-drive arm holster would have been too slow. Besides, unless I wanted to kill all of the muggles there wasn't much point in going for that wand. Voldemort's Yew-and-Phoenix Feather was Pain and Destruction given form. It wouldn't have been enough to Defend.
I raised a hand, fingers spread, and felt the air congeal before me until it felt like I was standing before a really thick floor-to-ceiling slab of invisible jell-o.
The muggles opened fire. I felt the air/jell-o tremble as the bullets smacked into it and slowed, and then stopped. The muggles stopped to reload and the bullets hanging in the air in front of me dropped to the ground as I pushed and the muggle soldiers were flung to the ground.
Time enough to draw a wand now, my right hand went for the Elder Wand as the doors in the side of the room opposite the windows and furthest from the nook with the Queen opened. I reached out my left hand and wandlessly, wordlessly, summoned. There was a heavy thump as something momentarily went airborne before crashing to the ground next to me.
Wand out I turned and flung a bludgeoning spell the length of the room towards the far doors near where the others sat. Blue-black magic, the color of a fresh bruise, rippled through the air just as the doors opened and another body hit the floor with a thump and a spray of red that was lost in the decoration of the room.
I flicked a stunning spell at one of the soldiers who was leveling his weapon at me, and I could see the lost/remote look of someone under the Imperious curse, reversed my wand to cast another summoning charm as the last set of doors opened directly opposite where the Queen sat and then banished the soldier in the door back into his fellows in the hall while he was still in mid-air.
Hooves were clattering in the distance and I couldn't tell if those alarms were Windsor still blasting in my head or someone had finally noticed something wrong. I turned and stunned and bound the guards at the end of the room and started to do the same to the second lot when a bright red spell flashed past me. Turned again, a wizard in the dark robes and mask of a Death Eater strode into the room, the mask smeared with blood. Another bright-red spell flashed at me and I caught it on the tip of the Elder wand. A subtle flick sent it tearing through the decorative screen into the fireplace where it lit the logs waiting there.
I sent a disarming spell, a stunner, and then a tripping hex at him. He countered or dodged while returning with a barrage of blue-black spells that I took on a shield charm. I cast another tripping charm, the foot suspension charm when he dodged that, a charm that changed his white mask teal that he let by as irrelevant but masked the Weasley-Potter Flaming Snot-Bat Hex.
He screamed and tore off the suddenly burning mask.
"Higgs?" I asked, blinking. Higgs had been the Slytherin Seeker my first year back before Draco bought his way onto the team.
"Potter," he said. "This has been a long time coming."
"Huh?" I asked.
"If you hadn't taken up as Gryffindor Seeker that little piss-ant Malfoy would have been content in a Chaser slot where he belonged. You ruined my chances of playing professionally."
What the hell? I wanted to ask but I was too busy stumbling back from his suddenly resumed attack. My foot caught on something heavy and I nearly tripped over a disillusioned Death Eater, but the Elder Wand flicked and something heavy and gold and expensive leapt between me and a violet-colored curse where it promptly exploded.
"Why aren't you going after Malfoy, then?" I asked.
"I will, as soon as I'm done with you," Higgs said. "The Dark Lady will honor me above all others for removing the blight named Harry Potter from the universe!"
Which answered one question—why hadn't the insane blood-thirsty Bellatrix Lestrange attacked yet? Answer, she was recruiting and it looked like her insanity was contagious.
Higgs spell-threw one of the gold-and-crimson settees at me and I spelled it aside and retaliated with a stunner that he blocked. He really was quite talented, unfortunately.
"I'm going to kill you, Potter!"
"Flint? What is this, a Slytherin Quidditch Team reunion?" I asked a moment before Windsor slammed into my mind again about the ThreatWarningThreatWarningThreat at my back. I gestured with my empty left hand, didn't have a choice, Higgs was too dangerous to leave uncovered and I knew the Elder Wand was going to have a new master, but I FeltHeardSaw the giant bay windows explode behind me as Flint was banished through them. A moment later the glass remaining in the frames melted and flowed and then the missing glass was repaired.
Higgs stared at me with wide eyes as I circled around and backed away towards where Kingsley and the Queen and PM had been. His wand jabbed out and I heard the words before he intoned Avada Kedavra. I dodged right, but the spell was going to miss me even before he loosed it…
And then Windsor grabbed my entire left arm and jerked it out so that I caught the deadly spell in my left hand and incidentally proved a vague suspicions right. I was now immune to the effects of the Killing Curse. That didn't keep my entire arm from going numb.
I backed away, the Elder Wand hanging loose in numb fingers. He chuckled and advanced on me. Then he took another step, and then another, and then I slowly brought the Elder Wand up before me in a duelist's opening salute.
He grinned at me and did the same.
His grin had just enough time to disappear before the very beautiful, very ornate, very large chandelier came spearing down and spattered the mirrors, the windows, the walls, and the rug, and the ceiling of the Crimson Drawing Room…crimson.
My arm grew less numb and I waved the wand at the remaining soldiers. "Stupify."
All the Queen's men went to sleepy land.
Pucey and Bletchley poured into the room together, took one long look at what was left of Higgs, couldn't find Flint, and raised their wands together. I summoned Higgs' wand and tossed it to Kingsley who was hopefully somewhere behind me still. There were still three members of Slytherin Team from my first year unaccounted for, but I couldn't spare them the time it took to think about them if I was going to hold these two off at the same time.
The clatter of horse hooves which had been getting progressively nearer, was suddenly here and a horse-mounted knight entered the room with a light jump over the stunned soldiers.
Pucey had timed to turn and scream as the horse reared back, and then he disappeared under its front hooves. Bletchley kept facing me, which told me that they had trained together and trusted each other and knew which one was going to take responsibility for which area. But all the training in the world didn't help him as the Queen's Champion's very efficient sword came around in a flat arc and took his head off at the shoulders. More blood sprayed into the room as Blenchley's heart tried to keep his now-absent brain supplied with oxygen.
Over the gory remains of three dead wizards and a shattered chandelier he saluted me with a dripping red blade, which I returned with my wand. Then he tossed down my sword belt with Gryffindor's sword, and both Kingsley's and Severus' wand, but my holly-and-phoenix feather wand was missing.
I tossed Kingsley his wand and buckled on the sword belt as two more horses bearing the armor of the sons of James I walked into the room.
"Post guards," I told the statue. "I want this room secure. Try not to kill the non-magicals, they've been enchanted to act against the Queen."
It was probably a stretch. Bellatrix would have simply told them to go forth and kill.
The Queen's Champion saluted again then turned to the other two knights as more suits of armor began to enter the room with weapons glinting.
"Not now, Kingsley," I said, digging out my badge. "Travers."
"Harry, what is it n—"
"No time," I said. "There's been a Death Eater attack. Windsor Castle. They've enspelled some of the soldiers guarding the castle, Imperious, probably. I've got four Death Eaters down so far. Three in the Crimson Drawing Room, one punched through the windows on the—"
"East side," The Queen spoke up behind me.
"—East side," I finished. "There are more still in the castle. Windsor is…it's complicated, I'll explain latter. The Crimson Drawing Room with the Queen, the Prime Minister, and Kingsley is secure. Get a team, no, get two teams here right now. Use my current location as an apparrating point. How do I conference people in?"
"Just tap the badge and ask for all the people you want to talk to," Travers said.
"Fine, Aurors Travers and Granger."
"Hermione, there's been an attack on Windsor castle," I said. "I've got my present area secure along with the Crown, Kingsley, and the PM. I need a guess. Where else would the Death Eaters attack in the muggle world."
"Any place large with crowds, I suppose," she said. "Force us to expend resources covering it up."
"No," I said. "I need a message."
"Harry, the attack was a message."
"Obviously," I said.
"No," she cut me off. "Harry, it's the middle of the week in early May. Easter was back in April and Ascot isn't until June. The Queen isn't supposed to be in residence at Windsor at all."
"There's a leak," I said, suddenly feeling very cold. "Fine. If they were going to hit another location, where would it be, Hermione? Buckingham?"
"How should I know?" Hermione demanded.
"Because you're Hermione," I said. "Pick a place."
"Oooh," she hissed in frustration. "The Tower of London."
"It's just about the biggest tourist attraction in the country with a lot of foreign visitors. They could steal or destroy the crown jewels, and there is an old legend that if the ravens were to ever disappear from the Tower the monarchy would fall and with it the country."
"Travers, did you get all that?"
"Yes, we're on it."
"Good," I said, trying to think fast. It was hard to do, Windsor was still yammering away but at least it wasn't projecting emotions and screaming anymore. "Um…Hermione, do you still have muggle clothes on?"
"Under my robes, yes."
"Travers, get the hit wizards to Windsor now. If you've got anyone that can blend into the muggle world, get them to the Tower."
"If the Death Eaters attack someplace else—"
"Then we can go to a bloody public loo and apparate," I cut him off. "Windsor was probably the only attack today, so it has to be first priority."
"You can't know that."
"And an attack just happened to occur on the same day that Kingsley and I are having a face-to-face with the Queen?" I snapped. "According to Kingsley, Windsor is where the Ministry traditionally gets called on the carpet by the Queen. You heard Hermione, the Queen isn't supposed to be here, and in any case I can't imagine a blood-supremacist working for her or the PM, can you? That means we have a leak in the bloody Ministry, not that that's a big surprise.
"I want a secondary team at the Tower of London just in case Bellatrix or whoever came up with this decided to get fancy and hit two places at the same time. Is there anything else?" I asked.
"The Firm," Kingsley said coming up behind me.
I looked at him.
"The Royal Family," he said.
I knew we didn't have enough people to put a guard on everyone. The headache behind my right eye was coming back. Windsor may have stopped screaming about direct threats to the Queen bit it was still an extremely unhappy castle and there were tourists in the lower ward.
"Coordinate with the Queen, find out who is most exposed," I said. "We don't have the people to put a person at every place they might attack. Not without not leaving us with enough people to reinforce any attack."
"I don't have a badge anymore, Harry," he said.
"Potter, the first team is ready to apparate," Travers reported.
"A moment," I said. I turned to the Queen's Champion. "I have reinforcements apparating in, you won't attack them will you?"
The statue saluted me with its gore-encrusted blade.
"I'll take that as a yes," I said. "Travers, send them."
There were a quartet of pops and Aurors in Lavender's newly designed uniform apparateed into the room. I would have preferred dragon-hide armor, but I'd take what I could get. Kingsley and I had our wands and leveled, but the Minister was already starting to relax before they fully reformed. I only recognized Dawlish.
"Dawlish," I said.
He gave a sort of choppy nod.
"Your team?" I asked.
He nodded again.
"Fine, I want you to set up here," I said. "You're responsible for the safety and security of the Queen and Prime Minister. I need you to coordinate securing and clearing Windsor Castle. There are about a thousand—" Nine hund…I shoved Windsor out of my head "—rooms in the upper ward alone. I also need you to coordinate Auror movements across the country if this isn't the only attack. Kingsley can explain. Don't bother the armor or statues, they'll take it personal and the Queen's Champion has already got two of them."
I gestured to the equestrian statue and then the bloody lump of Pucey and decapitated Bletchley.
Dawlish looked a little green at that, but he nodded and with a gesture and a few words the Aurors went about securing the doors.
"Stunners only on the muggles," I continued. "We've already been attacked by soldiers under the Imperious."
"What about any Death Eaters?" he asked.
"The safety and security of the Queen and the PM come first, then those that work at the castle or are here as tourists. I don't want any heroics, and I don't want any dead Aurors. If that means you can't risk taking them alive so be it. That is not an order to kill them wholesale, especially since they may well have wizards and witches under the Imperious as well as the muggle soldiers. And it's bloody difficult to get straight answers from the dead, and right now answers are what we need."
"Understood," Dawlish said with a satisfied nod. "We brought a change of robes for you, no armor, I'm afraid."
"That's fine," I said.
Someone had conjured a screen in front of the window bay. It would keep anyone with a telescope from seeing inside, if anyone was looking in they probably had a good view of me stripping down to the basilisk-hide vest before I pulled on the dark—midnight—blue robes. My badge stuck to my left chest, the sword-belt found its way across my waist, and the Elder Wand fit just fine in the holster for my holly wand.
I was ready to roll.
"Kingsley, coordinate from here," I said.
"What are you going to do?" he asked.
"I have a nine century old castle yammering away in my skull, Kingsley. I'm going to let it guide me, I don't have enough control to pick points out on a map…which we don't have anyway."
He didn't like it, but he nodded in agreement.
"Once I have a few rooms and some hall secured I'll see about bringing in some medi-witches and wizards."
"Some Healers too," he said.
"Do healing spells work on muggles?" I asked.
"Spells, yes, they use your power, potions don't," he said.
I nodded my understanding, gripped the Elder Wand, and did the one thing you were really not supposed to do. I apparated without a firm destination and—
—found myself in a section of corridor with two suits of armor riddled with bullet holes and armed with those weird spear-axe things, standing over a quartet of soldiers that had come off the worse in the exchange. Two had limbs separated, and the other two had nasty gurgling chest wounds. I leveled the Elder wand at one of the later and muttered Episkey, one of the few healing charms I was really familiar with.
His breathing eased, the gurgling stopped as his flesh flowed like water until it was totally healed, and then his uniform continued the watery rippling until it was repaired as well. I summoned ropes to tie him up, then hit him with a stunner. The second soldier was just as easy, and in a moment of inspiration I held a severed arm to the much shortened limb of one of the other two before trying the spell. Flesh melded back together as though it had never been separated.
I tapped my badge when I was finished with number four. "Kingsley."
"Harry, we have a map," Kingsley said. "It isn't complete, we only have the upper ward and even then we don't have many of the service rooms and passages."
"That's fine, you have my location?"
"There's four soldiers down here, stunned. Two had gurgling chest wounds, two had lopped off limbs. Two suits of armor. I've repaired them, the soldiers I mean, but they should be checked over by medics before we decide on what we're doing with them."
"Understood. Two with severed limbs, two with sucking chest wounds."
I tapped the badge off and apparated ag—
—ain and took a bit of orange magic that was shot through with blue swirls in the chest. The basilisk hide took most of it so it only felt like I had taken a practice bludger in the chest.
I tossed a fireball at the attacking wizard. Turned and threw up a shield as two more soldiers opened fire on me—just how big was the garrison?—I stunned them unconscious. The wizard ducked back into the hall and I batted aside a pair of curses, used a shield charm against a third, but he had already ducked back into a cross corridor before I could retaliate.
Elder wand extended, I began to slowly chant. Hermione had a head full of twisty little spells for all sorts of occasions or situation, but I knew some good stuff too. One of them was this nifty little enchantment I'd run across in a maze that shall never be sufficiently cursed, and then made a point of researching for the next two years. A little niche piece of magic that I had never had a good situation that I could use it in.
A golden mist filled the cross intersection of corridors just as the wizard ducked out of it. There was a startled yelp as he felt himself pulled towards the ceiling, which offered me the perfect chance to hit him with a stunner. Conjured ropes tied up the wizard, and then a flick of the Elder wand dispelled the mist.
There was a sound behind me, no corresponding alarm from the castle, but I whirled around anyway, wand up. A muggle crouched in the hall by one of the soldiers, the statues leaving him alone so he was clearly not a threat.
The wizard crunched to the polished marble floor behind me.
"Harry?" he asked slowly.
I blinked. "Gilbert?"
He rose with one of the soldier's rifles and a belt with pouches on it that I assumed carried ammunition. "Explain," He said.
"Death Eaters," I said. "They've charmed a bunch of the guards and tried to kill us."
"Alive and safe, along with the Prime Minister," I said. "The room we were in is secure and I'm using it to bring in reinforcements. What happened to you?"
"The armor started walking around, and someone pulled the general alarm down in the south ward, but now all the alarms, fire and everything, have been silenced. Speaking of, would you mind?" he gestured down the hall where my fireball had started something or other on fire. "We just got finished cleaning up from the last fire that got out of hand."
I turned and muttered and extinguishing spell. The fire immediately went out.
"Do you know how many more there are?"
I shook my head. "Windsor has been guiding me, more or less."
"I see you already hit the guardroom," he said, gesturing at my belt.
I shook my head. "The Queen's Champion showed up. Very efficient, that statue. The horse trampled one Death Eater, and the knight took off a second's head. Pop," I said.
He winced, "I don't want to imagine the cleanup. The fire was bad enough, but at least it was explainable. I don't know how we're going to explain blood…or brains."
"Don't worry, that's what magic is for." I nodded at the rifle in his hands, "You know how to use that?"
"I did a tour with the Parachute Regiment," he said. "How about you, how are you without your staff?"
"The staff is mostly just for show," I said. "I have my sword, I'm just missing my holly wand."
He frowned at me. "I already see two."
"And I started with four. Two of them are extremely dangerous in the wrong hands." Voldemort's because of its use as a symbol, the Elder wand because it was the Elder wad, but he didn't need to know that. "If I'd given up all my wands, Her Majesty would probably be dead," I said blandly.
"Very well," he said, not sounding at all pleased. "What shall we do next?"
"Grab onto my shoulder," I said. "I'll side-along apparate you."
He grimaced at that. "You know where to go?"
"No, but Windsor does," I told him. "Are you coming or not?"
He grabbed my shoulder and I focused on the Castle and apparated only to find out that side-along apparating is almost as miserable and experience from the apparator's side as it was the side-along's side.