A/N: Many thanks for your reviews.
Chapter 36: Lessons, Duels, and Plots
"Captain?" Barty Crouch, Jr. said inquisitively as he stepped into Amelia Bones's office.
"Yes, come in and close the door behind you," Amelia said, trying to be as welcoming as possible without accidentally selling the impression that she wanted to be anything more than a close acquaintance of the department head's son.
Barty shut the door and then helped himself to a seat in Amelia's office. "What can I do you for today?" he asked.
Amelia steepled her fingers and stared off into space, not answering immediately. She did know what she wanted to talk about, but she did not want it to seem to him that this was something she was doing as a matter of course.
"Ah, yes, Barty," Amelia said, bringing herself out of her self-imposed reverie. "The thing is that I am thinking about making a bit of a political move. In order to get the desired effect, I need some help to see to it that your father ends up with a little bit of egg on his face. Nothing too permanent or serious, you understand. Naturally, I thought of you."
"Is that so?" Barty asked cautiously.
"Yes," Amelia said casually. "You are quite the model son, but everyone around here has noticed that your father doesn't really appreciate you all that much. You have quite a bit of talent that old Crouch and Prewitt have overlooked. If things go well, I might have the power to give you more opportunities to excel. At worst for Crouch and Prewitt, they will have a bit of embarrassment to deal with. Nobody gets hurt in the end."
"What did you have in mind?" Barty asked.
"Well," Amelia said hesitantly, as if she was having second thoughts about bringing him into the plot, "the easiest way is to make some sort of policy or procedure approved by your father look stupid. Maybe if a couple of prisoners were to escape . . ."
"Prisoners in the Ministry cells and Azkaban don't just escape because of a slightly bad policy," Barty pointed out.
"True," Amelia agreed, "but perhaps in transit?"
"Yes, I think there is always room for mistakes there," Barty said.
"So, if you were to be assigned to a prisoner transport detail sometime in the next few days, there is the hypothetical possibility that all the prisoners might escape, and that somehow, the reason for their escape will be tied to Director Crouch," Amelia said.
"A very good chance, I should think," Barty agreed. "Chances would be increased if the transport detail was moving at night and maybe on a weekend."
"Prisoner transport has been known to occur on all days of the week and all times of the day," Amelia said. "There's nothing odd about that."
"Nothing at all," Barty concurred.
"I appreciate you coming this evening," Professor Dumbledore said to Bellatrix by way of greeting.
"Always a pleasure," Bellatrix said with false brightness as she walked through the doors that served as the main entrance to Hogwarts.
Dumbledore walked with her through the doors and gestured toward the Great Hall. "We will be hosting our dueling club meeting in there. If you would accompany me, there is a room behind the staff table where we can briefly discuss certain matters while we wait for the students to gather.
"Lead the way," Bellatrix said despite the fact that she and Dumbledore were already making their way toward the Great Hall.
Soon, they entered the Great Hall to discover that a number of students had already gathered in anticipation of the meeting. Among them was Sidra Potter and Ron Weasley, neither of which Bellatrix particularly liked. However, she spared them both a respectful nod as she passed with Professor Dumbledore.
"I'm afraid that this dueling meeting will be our last for this academic year," Dumbledore told Bellatrix. "The summer holiday is fast approaching, and most of the students want to focus on preparing for their exams."
"Of course," Bellatrix murmured, not caring about whether there was another dueling meeting any time soon.
They entered the room behind the staff table, and Dumbledore secured their privacy in the room with locking and anti-eavesdropping spells. "I was hoping, though, that you might consider dropping by to do individual tutoring with some of the students with which you are already acquainted," he said, continuing the conversation.
"Tutoring? Really?" Bellatrix responded, not hiding the fact that she was not particularly warm to the idea.
"If you are going to be taking my students out on little adventures, it would serve both you and them if they had a little bit of extra training," Dumbledore suggested, his eyes twinkling perhaps a little coolly. "I'll think about it," Bellatrix said, actually intending to approach Harry and see if he wanted to do it.
"Excellent," Dumbledore said, seeming very pleased. "As the next order of business, I was wondering if you received my owl detailing how we have spent the money you kindly donated."
"Err, yes," Bellatrix said, remembering a letter that Harry had examined but that she had not really paid any attention to.
"Have you decided whether you can spare any more money for the charitable efforts?"
"Not yet," Bellatrix said. "Things have been eventful of late."
"Naturally," Dumbledore agreed before flitting onto the next subject. "I was hoping to get a bit of an update on your horcrux project. I understand that you captured another one."
"Yes," Bellatrix said.
"So that means you have possession of two horcruxes and have destroyed a third, if I have been kept up to date."
"I have two horcruxes, and one was destroyed," Bellatrix confirmed.
"There's also one somewhere in this castle, correct?"
"So that means that Lord Voldemort made at least four horcruxes," Dumbledore mused. "Do you know if he made more than that?"
Bellatrix yawned and did not attempt to hide it. "The information I have indicates that there are three horcruxes that have yet to be discovered. That makes a total of seven. My limited knowledge of Arithmancy and my extended study of horcruxes in general suggests that the Dark Lord will not have made more than seven horcruxes."
"When are you going to begin searching in earnest for the fourth horcrux?" Dumbledore probed.
Bellatrix cracked a mischievous smile. "The search is ongoing."
"Very good," Dumbledore said despite it being obvious to both him and Bellatrix that he did not really comprehend quite what Bellatrix had meant. Nevertheless, he pushed on. "And what of the remaining three horcruxes? Have you had a chance to make any efforts there?"
"I am preparing to begin my efforts there," Bellatrix said, admitting that she had not really done anything to identify the remaining horcruxes. "Perhaps you can pass on information to me if you hear that the Dark Lord at one time or another acquired any valuable or famous magical objects."
"I will do that," Dumbledore agreed readily. "Now, just so you are not taken by surprise, I want you to know that I have told Hermione Granger about the horcruxes. She has been doing a lot of research since then. She is a smart witch, even if she is young. If you give her the chance, she could prove useful to you."
"I will keep that in mind," Bellatrix said.
"Excellent," Dumbledore said. "There is one last thing I wanted to bring up. While I do hope that you agree to give some of your new friends some tutoring on dueling, I was especially hoping that you might give Hermione some tutoring on the Dark Arts and horcruxes."
"You want me to teach the Dark Arts?" Bellatrix asked in a surprised tone of voice.
"Well, not teach the Dark Arts per se," Dumbledore said, "but at least bring Ms. Granger up to speed. If anything happened to you, we would be very sorry indeed if you took everything you have learned to the grave before you have a chance to use it against Lord Voldemort."
"I will see what I can do," Bellatrix said half-heartedly.
"Very good," Dumbledore said, smiling brightly. "I believe it is time for your lesson to start."
"My lesson?" Bellatrix asked. "Don't you mean your lesson? You essentially usurped me last time I taught at this sort of gathering."
"Fear not," Dumbledore said with an undecipherable smile, "I will allow you complete, uninterrupted freedom this time." He then led Bellatrix out to the raised platform where the staff table normally was placed at meals. After silence fell among the students present, he introduced Bellatrix and turned the time over to her.
Somewhat bemusedly, Bellatrix surveyed the group of students who had gathered to learn dueling skills from her. Near the front, she spotted Rose and Leo. The rest of their friends had spread themselves out in the crowd.
Bellatrix drew her wand and cast a minor voice amplification charm. "Tonight, I will not focus on teaching you specific spells. You should be learning individual spells in your classes and on your own time. Tonight, I will teach you how to cast rapid combinations of spells. At the end of this lesson, you should be able to begin crafting your own spell combinations. You will then practice them until you can do them quickly and without thought."
Harry's heart pounded in the eerie silence that permeated the Room of Requirement. His wand drawn, he patrolled the small lanes in between each towering pile of rubbish and treasure that the room had apparently collected during the length of its existence.
Although his general detection spells had detected nothing, Harry was now methodically walking among the piles of junk, casting multiple detection spells on each pile. It was a long and tedious process. At one point, he spotted a broomstick. Grabbing it, Harry took off into the air and surveyed the contents of the room as he slowly flew in circles near the room's ceiling, still casting detection spells.
Eventually, he satisfied himself that the room was devoid of wards or spells that he might accidentally trigger. With that behind him, Harry turned his attention to figuring out how one might find the proverbial needle in the haystack. The room had failed to honor his request to produce only the horcrux. Perhaps it did not understand the nature of the horcrux enough to produce it, or perhaps there were spells protecting the horcrux from magical manipulation. Feeling rather like he was searching for the snitch during an indoor Quidditch match, Harry patrolled back and forth over the piles of junk both looking for anything that seemed obvious as well as trying to think of any possible way he could use magic to detect the horcrux.
The thought of burning the contents of the room occurred to Harry. He strongly suspected that the horcrux would survive such a fire, but the thought of destroying all of the treasures in the room held him back. In theory, the Room of Requirement drew on the contents of this room when producing other rooms requested by those who needed it.
So, Harry continued to fly, both racking his brain and watching for anything unusual among the piles of discarded books, furniture, and other items.
Hermione watched the persistent purebloods, social climbers, and overambitious politely mob Bellatrix as the rest of the students who were wont to attend dueling club meetings melted away—heading back to their common rooms for the night. Not wanting to leave Bellatrix with the impression that she was a part of that crowd, but afraid that Bellatrix would find an opportunity to slink away, Hermione approached the group and took a position on the outer fringe, trying to make eye contact with Bellatrix.
Bellatrix never returned eye contact, but when the final student departed the Great Hall, Bellatrix gazed at Hermione with a somewhat blank stare.
"I . . . uh, wanted to ask you some things," Hermione said.
"Yes," Bellatrix said, absently fiddling with a ring on her hand. "Professor Dumbledore told me that he would like for me to teach you the Dark Arts."
"Not quite the Dark Arts," Hermione corrected hastily. "I know about your special project, and the headmaster thought it would be a good idea for us to work together. Mainly, you could tell me enough so that I could have more solid base for my research on the magical objects you have been collecting."
As Hermione waited for a response, Bellatrix continued to touch the ring. Finally, she began walking to the entryway of the Great Hall, letting her hands drop to her sides. "It appears that I have plenty of time," Bellatrix said, not sounding overly pleased, but resolute. "Let us find an empty classroom."
"You mean you want to start tonight?" Hermione asked, feeling quite surprised as she moved to catch up and walk beside Bellatrix.
"Why not?' Bellatrix countered. "I am here; you are here, and it would be a bother for me to come back here any more often than necessary."
"There's curfew to be considered," Hermione said. "We might go over."
Bellatrix pointedly gazed at the badge on Hermione's robes. "Surely that is good for something."
"Well, I suppose," Hermione said aloud, silently telling herself that it would probably be okay to stay out late with Bellatrix. Professor Dumbledore had practically assigned her to associate with Bellatrix as much as possible. Then of course, he had approved of her going with Rose and the others to that cavern well after curfew as well.
Hermione noted that Bellatrix's memory of the school seemed to serve well for quickly finding an empty classroom on one of the upper floors. Hermione watched as the other witch shut the door, locked it, and erected wards to protect against eavesdroppers and intruders. Bellatrix then levitated a desk to the middle of the room and transfigured it into something that resembled more of a worktable.
"So," Hermione said, trying to fill the silence, "my research led me to Heclades's treatise on the Dark Arts. He mentions horcruxes."
"Does he?" Bellatrix asked, taking position at one of the sides of the work table.
"Yes," Hermione said, not sure whether to sound confident or whether to take Bellatrix's comment some other way.
"And what did Heclades say about horcruxes?" Bellatrix inquired, watching Hermione dispassionately.
Hermione, not sure what Bellatrix had in mind, stepped across the room and took a position at the opposite side of the table.
"Well, he outlined some of the more mainstream rumors," Hermione said, wondering if she should recount the specifics.
"The term mainstream and the Dark Arts do not mix," Bellatrix informed Hermione. "Your first lesson regarding the Dark Arts will focus on how the Dark Arts passes through time. You will learn that the Dark Arts pass through time both as a culture and as an art passed from masters to apprentices. When we are finished tonight, I expect that you will be able to conduct research on the Dark Arts far better than you have in the past.
Hermione frowned. "What is wrong with looking to Heclades for background?"
"When I finish presenting my lesson, you should be able to tell me the answer to that question," Bellatrix said.
Harry cast a banishing at one of the piles of junk and watched as the precariously balanced contents of the pile scattered across the floor with a loud crash. Still, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Instead of being in a pile, the junk was now merely in a worse mess. Wondering what Bellatrix had been thinking when she suggested this course of action, Harry nudged his broom and flew slowly to the next pile of junk, also wondering how he could have bent the timeline to the point that Bellatrix Black was now teaching Hermione Granger the Dark Arts.
Harry had been surprised when he had learned from Bellatrix via the Malfoy ring connections that Professor Dumbledore had requested that she take Hermione under her wing. Bellatrix had not been enthusiastic, but Harry had supported the idea, even resorting to pointing out that Bellatrix may as well stay at the castle until he was done poking around the Room of Requirement for the night. Hopefully, Dumbledore would be so focused on monitoring Bellatrix's movements through the castle that he would continue to neglect the upper floors where Harry now was.
Shaking his head with a faint smile, Harry walloped the next pile of junk with a banishing charm. To his surprise, an extremely large horde of pixies burst forth from the center of the stack and flew for Harry. Not having dealt with pixies in such a long time, Harry was not quite as quick with his wand as he might have been if faced with a Dark wizard.
The appropriate freezing spell came to mind, and Harry thrust his arm above his head, about to cast it. Just then, he spotted three Dementors emerging from the pile of junk. Gasping, Harry forgot about the pixies and began the movements for a Patronus spell, summoning the happiest memory he could despite the rushing torrent of bad memories—his mother screaming, the death cries of Order members in various battles of the Lost War, his friends mourning for others who had fallen.
The familiar stag that was Harry's patronus burst forth from his wand and Harry watched with satisfaction as the stag trampled the Dementors, but his satisfaction was short-lived. The pixies had continued to attack him, and before he could right himself, he found himself separated from the broom and falling into the junk below.
He landed on his wand arm funny and felt the bone snap. Cursing as pain exploded through his arm and trying to shield himself from the attacking pixies, Harry grabbed his wand with his left hand and let off a banishing charm. The pixies were pushed across the room, and some of them smacked into the far wall. The Dementors had dodged the Patronus and were still coming for him. Confused, Harry tried to direct the Patronus back toward him, but it faded.
Bewildered at this strange behavior, Harry quickly realized that he was dealing with boggarts. In quick succession, he cast the spells to kill the boggarts. They dissipated, but just as soon as they did, another danger presented itself. A diadem that had been mixed in with the junk had sprouted silvery legs as if it was some sort of spider and was rapidly rushing toward where Harry was lying. Trying to move himself but finding it difficult while holding a wand with his only good arm, Harry hit the diadem with a blasting charm. Seemingly immune to the blasting, the diadem continued forward. Harry cast a banishing charm at it. The banishing charm had no effect. The spidery diadem then jumped on Harry and went for his throat with some of the legs. Harry dropped his wand and began one-handedly wrestling with the diadem, trying to push it away from him as it alternatively tried to strangle him and draw blood.
Realizing that he was in over his head, Harry squeezed his ring and sent a message to Bellatrix. "Help me!"
"The Dark Arts were probably far more prevalent in ancient times than they are now," Bellatrix droned on, "but that is attributed to the general ignorance and superstition of the magical population. Everybody had an idea of how Dark Magic might work, but few truly understood, and even fewer had the luxury of being able to study uninterrupted by the cares of eking out a living under feudal lords. If somebody learned about Dark Magic, it was because they had found somebody to teach them. The founding of Hogwarts led to a decline in the Dark Arts because more standard and practical forms of magic were being taught to a broader base of people. Do you understand that dynamic?"
"Yes," Hermione said, looking up from the parchment on which she had taken notes.
"Good," Bellatrix said.
Hermione resumed her note taking before Bellatrix could continue lecturing. The depth of Bellatrix's knowledge had taken Hermione by surprise. Only now was Hermione realizing the complexity of the assignment she had been given. The horcruxes fit into this somehow, and of course, the Dark Arts had enjoyed considerable influence over society. To Hermione, it seemed like what Bellatrix was saying melded in with nearly everything she had learned.
Suddenly, Bellatrix grabbed her wand and cancelled the charms protecting the empty classroom.
"What's going on?" Hermione demanded.
"Harry's in trouble," Bellatrix hissed as she rushed out the door.
Dropping her quill, Hermione took off after Bellatrix. As she made her way into the hall, she saw that Bellatrix was running at full tilt. Drawing her wand, Hermione also began running. Quickly, it became apparent that Bellatrix was faster and had more stamina than Hermione, but still, Hermione was able to keep Bellatrix in sight until she disappeared into a door down a hall that Hermione had previously thought devoid of any rooms.
Panting, Hermione reached the door and paused for only a moment to catch her breath before pushing her way into the room. Inside, it was chaos. Random objects were strewn all over the floor, and hundreds of pixies were swarming over something near the back of the room. Bellatrix was ahead of Hermione, climbing over furniture and weaving her way through an obstacle course. Every couple of seconds, she released a powerful shocking curse from her wand that caused an electrical-looking orb to zoom into the middle of the pixie swarm and explode.
"Target those bloody pixies," Bellatrix shouted, looking back for an instant to confirm that Hermione had followed her.
Not bothering to reply, Hermione began blasting stunners at the pixies. Because there were so many, each stunner eventually hit a pixie. But, realizing that this was not going to help Harry if he was the target of the swarm, Hermione conjured a whirlwind and let it rip across the room. This had the desired effect of driving the pixies away, but it also caught up some of the junk, and Bellatrix got hit in the head.
Wiping blood from her forehead, Bellatrix glared back at Hermione. "Be more careful!" she yelled before turning back to her objective and pushing forward.
"Sorry," Hermione called back remorsefully, already summoning a more carefully tailored whirlwind.
Harry gritted his teeth as he tried to summon strength to force the diadem away from him. So far, he had kept it from cutting his throat open, but it had gotten a strong chokehold around his neck. Suddenly, he felt someone else tugging at the diadem. Opening his eyes, Harry spotted Bellatrix kneeling above him. Just as he realized this, the diadem's grip on his throat loosened enough for him to breathe a bit more than he had been. "I think this is the horcrux," Harry gasped.
"No, really?" Bellatrix shot back, pulling on the diadem with her free hand as she braced herself against the floor with her feet.
"Yes, really," Harry said, adjusting his hand so that he could get a better grip on the diadem.
"What's wrong with your other arm?" Bellatrix asked.
"Broken," Harry said. "I've had worse in Quidditch, though."
"Didn't know you had those sorts of escapades in Quidditch," Bellatrix grunted, moving so she could get more leverage on the diadem which was doing all it could to hang onto Harry's neck.
"Forgot to mention those parts," Harry said.
"Forgot, yeah," Bellatrix said sarcastically. "All right, I think I can use a spell to stun this thing."
"A stunner?" Harry said, still having to struggle a bit for his breath. "It's a diadem-horcrux!"
"It's like short circuiting something that uses electricity," Bellatrix said. "Of course, it will quickly recover on its own before long, but it should be long enough for me to get it in an unbreakable container."
"Do it," Harry directed.
"I think I'd better stun you first," Bellatrix said. "Just in case part of the spell hits you, too. It wouldn't kill you, but it would be more than just unpleasant for a conscious or sleeping mind."
"I'll wake you up as soon as possible," Bellatrix promised before hitting Harry with the stunner.
For Harry, everything went black.
Hermione's original plan to stun the pixies would have been kinder, but in the chaos, she had resorted to banishing charms, exploding hexes, and fire. After several minutes and several spells, There were several hundred pixie corpses spread across the side of the room where Hermione's whirlwinds had brought them.
Hermione made her way over to where Bellatrix was kneeling just in time to see Bellatrix raise her wand with a dramatic flourish and let loose a burst of crackling energy that looked like red and purple lightning. Whatever the spell was supposed to do, it had apparently worked, for Bellatrix stood up, holding a silvery diadem in her free hand. "Accio glass jar!" she called. Nothing happened. "Accio glass container," Bellatrix tried again.
A crystal globe floated over to her. "It will have to do," she sighed, glancing at Hermione. "Levitate the ball for me, will you?"
Hermione levitated the ball and watched as Bellatrix used some delicate magic to melt the top of the glass ball open. She deposited the diadem therein and melted the ball again to reform it into a globe. She then cast about a dozen separate spells on the ball, including an unbreakable charm. "Hold it," Bellatrix directed Hermione.
Hermione grabbed the ball as Bellatrix returned to where Harry lay unconscious on the ground.
"Enervate," Bellatrix said.
Harry's eyes opened. "Did it work?" he asked faintly as he sat up and tried to reorient himself.
"Yes," Bellatrix said, motioning toward the ball that Hermione was holding.
"Good," Harry said. "All's well that ends well. I'm going to need to get my broken arm looked after, though."
"It's a simple break," Bellatrix said, assessing it without actually looking too closely. "I should be able to take care of it at home."
"All right," Harry acquiesced, glancing around, but staying where he was sitting on the floor.
Bellatrix looked back to Hermione, who was clutching the crystal globe, and held her hands out after depositing her wand in its sleeve holster. "I can take it now."
Hermione handed the ball over to Bellatrix. "Is that another horcrux?"
"Yes, and apparently a dangerous one at that," Bellatrix said.
"What are you going to do with it?" Hermione asked, perhaps a little too casually.
"Put it in my curio cabinet," Bellatrix said sarcastically.
"So, destroy it?" Hermione asked, attempting to interpret the sarcasm.
"Eventually," Bellatrix acknowledged.
"How is a horcrux destroyed?" Hermione asked.
"Fiendfyre or basilisk venom," Bellatrix said impatiently, looking around absently. "We have access to both."
Seeming to know what was going through Bellatrix's mind, Harry piped up. "I can just do the fire spell to get home."
"I know that," Bellatrix said. "I think maybe you should take me with you. I don't want to stroll through the castle and the grounds carrying the horcrux."
"I'm not sure how to do it for two people," Harry said, looking a bit nervous.
"It's probably like double Apparating," Bellatrix said, bending down and taking a seat next to Harry. Holding the crystal ball nestled in one arm, Bellatrix wrapped the other around Harry. She looked up at Hermione. "I have no doubt that you will inform Professor Dumbledore that I have captured the fourth horcrux. Feel free to do so, but do not mention Harry."
"Right," Hermione said, feeling at a loss for words.
Bellatrix nodded to Harry, who had retrieved his wand from the floor while Bellatrix was speaking to Hermione.
Using his unbroken arm, Harry awkwardly swished the wand from his sitting position. Flames exploded, and Harry and Bellatrix were no longer in the Room of Requirement.
Harry stood on the catwalk that ran around the edge of the hangar, which Bellatrix had bought specifically for their practice dueling sessions. After Harry and Bellatrix had arrived at their flat via the fire travel, Bellatrix had dosed Harry with a bone knitting potion and had immobilized him arm with an invisible cast. Then, at Bellatrix's urging, they had proceeded to the hangar for one of their normally schedule practice sessions.
Despite not having use of the arm, Harry had cast his image projection spell with his left hand before transferring the wand to his right hand while maintaining the spell. Then, he had drawn a Wandel wand and now held it in his left hand as he watched Bellatrix stand near the center of the hangar's floor.
"Come on, Harry," Bellatrix called loudly. "You cannot just spend the whole night hiding."
Harry frowned and used the image projection spell to make himself invisible and project his voice to another part of the catwalk. "In case you didn't notice, I happen to have a broken arm."
"So what?" Bellatrix retorted, shooting a flare to where she had heard Harry's voice. The flare revealed nothing. She had apparently expected that, for she had not followed the flare with any hexes.
"You're practically forcing me to duel left-handed with a Wandel wand!" Harry grumbled, projecting his voice and a non-image to the hangar floor right behind Bellatrix.
She whirled, letting of a shockwave blast from the tip of her wand. Realizing that Harry had not been behind her, she sighed. "It's good for you, Harry. Dueling left-handed can be valuable in certain situations—for instance right after you've broken your right arm in a duel."
"I've never broken my arm in a duel," Harry growled, making it seem as if he had spoken from the ceiling, right above Bellatrix.
"There is also the small matter of your favorite spell to consider," Bellatrix said.
"What about my favorite spell?" Harry asked, not really sure what spell she was talking about or how it was relevant to getting a broken arm in a duel and having to duel with the other one.
Scanning the area around her, Bellatrix slowly backed toward a wall, apparently having decided that it would be better to have her back against the wall so that Harry could not sneak up behind her. "You use the image projection spell every chance you get, Harry," Bellatrix pointed out. "If you are to use that spell safely, you must keep a wand dedicated to holding the spell. You should realize, Harry, that you are well on your way to perfecting a two-wand dueling style. You may as well embrace it and take this opportunity to develop your style further."
Harry decided that she was right, but he was still unhappy about having his right arm in a cast. "The last time I broke my arm, the bones got vanished and a dose of Skelegrow had everything healed by the next morning," he said accusingly, causing his voice to echo around the hangar as if he had spoken it from multiple locations.
"If you would like me to vanish your arm bones and dose you with Skelegrow, I would gladly do so," Bellatrix said, maintaining her guard, but no longer bothering to try to find where Harry was located.
"If you can restore bones like that overnight, why am I going to be wearing this cast for the rest of the week?" Harry demanded.
"Because I am not a professional healer," Bellatrix said, rolling her eyes. "I promise you, Harry, I know of no way to fix your arm any sooner. Skelegrow is the only other option, and I know you do not want that.
"Fine," Harry said sulkily, finally turning his attention to actually winning the practice duel now that he knew that Bellatrix had not deliberately done anything unfair. He caused his image to appear in front of her. Predictably, she reacted, and while she was glancing at the image, he shot a spell at her from where his body was standing. Without waiting, he drew his attention away from the image spell so that he could see from his body and swiftly moved to another position on the catwalk as she sent a barrage of spells toward him, following his progress along the catwalk.
At that point, he used his Wandel wand to cancel all the lighting in the hangar, leaving both him and Bellatrix in the dark. Knowing that the dark helped her as much as it did him, Harry used the image projection to make faint noises suggesting that he might be moving to another part of the catwalk. He then jumped down to the floor, softening the fall and masking the noise with a cushioning charm.
Using the light from the spellfire generated by Bellatrix's assault on the catwalk, Harry crept to a new position from where he would pursue the practice duel in earnest.
Harry and Bellatrix practiced throughout much of the night. Exhausted from his encounter in the Room of Requirement, and still trying to master the regular use of his left hand for dueling, Harry had been disadvantaged and lost more often than usual to Bellatrix. Eventually, they ceased and made their way to the first open restaurant they could find to order breakfast and enjoy it at a leisurely pace.
From breakfast, the couple wandered to a grocery store where both Harry and Bellatrix fetched a shopping cart and went different ways. He fetched the eggs, milk, sausage, and other assorted items. When finished, he found Bellatrix reading a magazine near the checkout stand. She had filled her shopping cart to the rim with frozen meal boxes.
"You do realize that Kreacher doesn't know how to use the microwave, don't you?" Harry muttered as they began the checkout process with the half-asleep cashier.
"I have determined that it would be better for Kreacher to limit his talents to household tasks not involving cooking," Bellatrix said primly as she unloaded armfuls of boxes onto the conveyor belt.
"What happens if we have company?" Harry asked. "Are you just going to heat up frozen meals and plop the plastic tray down on the table in front of them? That would be some dinner party."
"First off," Bellatrix said as she stepped back and let Harry put his items on the belt, "we would take guests to a restaurant. However, in the event that we do bring them home, if plopping plastic trays in front of them offends you, I am sure we could transfer each meal to a proper plate after microwaving it."
"Perfect," Harry said, giving up on that fight.
When they returned to their flat with their magically enlarged grocery bags, Bellatrix proceeded to put the food away while Harry trudged to the bedroom, changed, and slipped into bed, feeling quite exhausted. Bellatrix followed about five minutes later.
"Daily Prophet came," she said as she stripped off her robes and exchanged them for her customary sleeping garb. "Looks like a couple of Death Eaters escaped custody while on their way to Azkaban."
Were they important Death Eaters?" Harry asked.
"No, just small fish," Bellatrix said as she climbed into the bed. She grabbed an alarm clock from the bedside table and set it to wake them up in time for dinner.
"Do we have to be anywhere this evening?" Harry asked after watching her set the clock.
"No," Bellatrix said, "but seeing as many of our activities are going to be nocturnal for a while, we may as well make it a proper routine." She used her wand to make the curtains more opaque before settling down next to Harry. Together, they fell asleep while the rest of the world went to school and commuted to work.
Neither Harry nor Bellatrix thought more of the escaped prisoners until Amelia asked Bellatrix to meet her for dinner one night. Physically, Bellatrix went alone to the specified restaurant, though Harry used the image projection spell to accompany her. As Bellatrix strode into the restaurant and was shown to Amelia Bones's table, Harry projected his image into the shape of a common housefly and made it appear on the cloth of booth seat on which Bellatrix took a seat. He did not try to make the fly move, but he could hear as if he was there in person.
"Looks like you started without me," Bellatrix commented as she sat down and noted the plate of food in front of Amelia.
Amelia pushed past Bellatrix's comment without giving an explanation. "I've got a little gift for you," Amelia announced, pushing a detailed map of the U.K. over to Bellatrix.
The server came over, and Bellatrix shooed her off by declining a beverage beyond the water already on the table, handing her the menu, and ordering the special. She then picked up the map and surveyed it. On it were two dots. "What is this supposed to be?" Bellatrix asked.
"Those two dots are the prisoners who escaped from Ministry custody a few nights back," Amelia said. "The ghost of your dearly departed can use this to track them and follow them to the next Death Eater raid or gathering. Then, instead of the usual show of lighting and mystical ghost figures, your dearly departed can stun every Death Eater in sight, memory charm them, and put the same tracking charm on them. Do that once or twice and it will be possible to track Death Eater movement so that you can begin a more serious ghost campaign against the Death Eaters."
"This map barely tells me what city they are in," Bellatrix observed just as the server arrived with a take-home box for Amelia.
"Tap the dot, and the map will show the city itself. It won't give exact street plans, but the geography should be enough, I think, to put you in the right neighborhood. Tap it again to zoom out. If you tap it four times rapidly it will give you instructions for how to add more people to its tracking mechanism."
"It seems very useful," Bellatrix said, frowning as she eyed the map and watched Amelia load her entire meal into the takeout box. "Why hasn't the Ministry employed this method until now?"
"I didn't really think of this idea until I was racking my brains for a way to help your dearly departed increase productivity," Amelia admitted. "Then, there is also the fact that we've approached this from a law enforcement perspective. We arrest Death Eaters and keep them arrested. I'm not sure Crouch would have the guts to let somebody go and wreak havoc in an attempt to get a profit out of it."
"Okay, then," Bellatrix said.
"It would be better if we did not meet like this again," Amelia said, finishing up and preparing to leave. "Secrecy, you know. When your dearly departed starts doing things, I'll talk up you, Harry Ashworth, and the Black name as much as I can with the reporters and coworkers."
"And then I just assume that you will be in the wings, prepared to subtly give me help as a secret ally when I come out in the open as having helped the Ministry and publicly start a campaign to further my political ambitions?" Bellatrix said, sounding quite suspicious.
"Yes, count on it," Amelia said, standing up, saying farewell, and leaving the restaurant.
Bellatrix sat alone in the booth with only Harry's projected housefly image as company. Thoroughly nonplussed, she accepted her meal from the server and stabbed the steamed vegetables fiercely. Noticing the fly still on the seat next to her, Bellatrix decided to bring him in on the loop.
"Basically," she said, "Amelia Bones wants to be Head Auror or Director of Magical Law Enforcement. No doubt, the people who currently hold those positions are highly embarrassed because of the prisoner escape. This embarrassment will turn to public humiliation when Aurors under Amelia's direct command start hauling in Death Eaters by the dozen, courtesy of the Ghost of Ashworth. If she's honest enough to throw credit our way, I might find my way onto the Wizengamot because of this, but largely, the profit and glory will belong to Amelia Bones."
"Sounds complicated," came Harry's quiet voice.
"Oh, no, it actually is quite simple," Bellatrix said, picking up her dinner knife after switching her fork into her other hand. "The complicated part is what I plan to do about it."
"Just remember that the most important goal is to take Tom down," Harry's voice intoned. "Also remember to order me something and bring it home."
"Today was going to be special! It was Didders's first day home after completing his schooling," Petunia wept. "And then this!" She gestured to Dudley, who had been transformed into an extremely large, yellow canary and was now sitting on the loveseat, making it look like a smallish armchair. Occasionally, he would flap his small wings and chirp.
"This is a very common prank among witches and wizards," Tonks informed Mrs. Dursley as she sharply elbowed Sirius Black, who was snickering uncontrollably. "It's my understanding that it automatically wears off after a few minutes."
"It's been more than a few minutes," Petunia wailed.
"Quite," Tonks said, glancing at Dudley. "Well, let's wait a few more minutes. If he doesn't change back on his own, we'll undo it, and all will be well."
"Not all will be well," Lily said darkly from where she stood at the front window. "Somebody is harassing Petunia and her family, and I suspect it's to get at me. I intend to find who it is and give them a piece of my mind!"
"Mrs. Black," Professor Dumbledore said as he passed out of the Great Hall and found Bellatrix standing there waiting for him, "what brings you back to Hogwarts so soon after your last visit?"
"I was so enthused about giving Dark Arts lessons to Granger that I could not keep myself away," Bellatrix said, smiling snidely. "There is also the matter of a small favor I need to ask of you and your Order."
"Let us talk about it in the privacy of my office," Dumbledore suggested, passing over Bellatrix's sarcasm and gesturing for her to follow him toward his office.
They made their way to the headmaster's office swiftly, making small talk. When they arrived, Dumbledore took his customary seat while Bellatrix chose one of the chairs across from his desk.
Dumbledore proffered the lemon drop dish as he smiled benignly. "What is it you have in mind, Mrs. Black?"
"With my other activities, I have been too busy to pursue my Ghost of Ashworth counter attacks," Bellatrix said, ignoring the lemon drop dish.
"And you would like for the Order to pick up that task?" Dumbledore said, returning the lemon drops to his desk.
"I only need help from the Order for one night," Bellatrix said, "but I will not know what night or what time until the very moment."
"How many people would you need?" Dumbledore asked.
"Two or three," Bellatrix said.
"So, what you really need is to have two or three Order members on call for several nights in a row."
"Yes," Bellatrix said. "They would need to be ready for departure at a moment's notice."
"And what would they be doing?"
"I've got a tracker on a couple of Death Eaters," Bellatrix explained. "Hopefully, they will lead us to the beginnings of a Death Eater raid. My goal is to stun and obliviate all the Death Eaters involved in the raid and place tracking charms on them so that I can more easily interfere with future raids in which those Death Eaters might participate.
"It sounds like it could be a very successful plan," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling.
"But?" Bellatrix asked.
"But what?" Dumbledore said.
Bellatrix rolled her eyes. "I am waiting for you to start spouting conditions and prices."
"Well," Dumbledore said slowly, "the thought occurs to me that you better would be able to pursue these attacks against Death Eaters if you were to open yourself to receiving more help on the horcrux front. I understand that you now have three horcruxes in your possession."
Bellatrix was already shaking her hand. "The horcruxes are perfectly safe."
"Very well," Dumbledore sighed. "I must say that I feel that you are taking extraordinary risks by working on these horcruxes alone and by being the only person responsible for their safekeeping. It would be far better if you brought the horcruxes to Hogwarts and let me help keep them safe. I would allow you full access and let you retain primary responsibility for using them against Lord Voldemort."
"Your concerns are duly noted. Now, how about you assigning two of your Order members to camp with me at Grimmauld Place tonight until it is clear that nothing will happen tonight—and then the same for every night thereafter until I can get trackers on more Death Eaters?" Bellatrix said.
Professor Dumbledore leaned back in his chair. "Tonight is short notice, and committing two Order members does draw on my resources."
"Are they doing anything better?"
"Many of them have families."
"Families that would benefit from Death Eaters being terrorized and captured," Bellatrix countered.
"What if you reassured me that you will be willing to continue giving Ms. Granger lessons on the Dark Arts and that you will provide dueling instruction to Rose Potter and her friends?" Dumbledore proposed.
"Whatever," Bellatrix said, standing up and signaling she was finished with this conversation. "Have your Order members meet me at Grimmauld Place shortly before sunset. If you have relevant questions, I will be in an empty classroom teaching Granger—assuming she is available."
"I am sure she will make herself available," Dumbledore said to Bellatrix as she slipped out of the room.
"One of these days, your fashion sense will kill you," Harry grumbled to Bellatrix as he dug through her collection of footwear looking for some boots he could wear to Grimmauld Place and then hopefully to the Death Eater raid that the Order would help him subdue. He had just dosed himself with Polyjuice and had undergone the transformation into his wife's body. Now, he was on the final stage of his quest to dress himself in clothes in which he could duel in best form. His last battle experience in Bellatrix's body had not been as pleasant as one might hope.
"What's wrong with my shoes?" Bellatrix asked, standing with arms crossed as she watched Harry go through her footwear.
"Every last one of them has high heels!" Harry complained. "You know what? I give up." He stood up and glanced at the clock. "The shops in Diagon Alley should still be open for another half hour. I'm going to go buy you a new pair of boots that you can duel in."
"What if you cannot find any boots without heels?" Bellatrix smirked, stepping aside as Harry, looking like her mirror image, stalked past her and made his way to the main room of the flat after having put on a pair of slippers.
"Then I'll get wizard boots in your size," Harry resolved.
"Don't you dare!" Bellatrix exclaimed. "And if you buy a pair of boots that is not black, I will beat you senseless for every person who sees you wearing them and thinks it's me."
"I'll be sure to not let you know what happens," Harry said, taking out his wand, which he had disguised to look like Bellatrix's wand.
He apparated and found himself in Diagon Alley. Swiftly, he made his way to a shoe shop. It took a thorough search of the shop, and the shopkeeper had to stay ten minutes past closing, but Harry finally settled on a pair of black, dragon hide boots. The boots did have heels, but they were small enough to not give Harry any trouble. Satisfied, and wearing Bellatrix's new boots, Harry apparated to Grimmauld Place and hoped that the Order members assigned to assist Bellatrix this night were people who did not know Bellatrix overly well.
For the first night, Dumbledore had assigned Frank and Alice Longbottom to be on call, and they had been waiting outside of Grimmauld Place when Harry arrived. After Harry had explained everything, they had told him they intended to sleep in Grimmauld Place for the night and that he could wake them if the opportunity to foil a Death Eater raid presented itself. However, it did not.
In the early hours of the morning, Harry left Frank and Alice at Grimmauld Place and made his way to Hogwarts. Taking a quick gulp of Polyjuice to renew his disguise, Harry then used the fire transportation spell to take him to an empty classroom. From there, he made his way to the Room of Requirement.
Leo Black was waiting for Harry in the hall outside of the Room of Requirement. He frowned when he saw Harry approaching. "Bellatrix?" he asked.
Harry shook his head in the negative and rapidly paced back and forth to summon a room in which he could teach some dueling. The door to the room appeared, and Harry opened it, gesturing for Leo to step in. As soon as the door closed, Harry explained to Leo how he was using Polyjuice.
"Wicked!" Leo exclaimed.
"Yeah," Harry said vaguely. "So, I thought I invited all of your friends to this thing."
"You gave us really short notice," Leo explained. "Last night we had a party for winning the Quidditch Cup. Getting up early wasn't going to work out for them."
"Well done," Harry grinned. "But, please tell me you still enjoyed the party."
"Oh, I did," Leo said. "I feel exhausted, but I didn't want to miss an opportunity like this. Besides, I told them all that you would probably do more sessions. Summer is coming, so it will be easier to meet up."
"For sure," Harry said, fiddling with his wand. "Let's get started then. Bellatrix said she taught your dueling club about spellfire patterns. Have you worked on any?"
"Yes," Leo said. "Would you like to do a one-on-one thing?"
"Sure," Harry said. "Give me everything you got. Once I know where you are, maybe I'll start throwing some spells your way to see if you've got enough flexibility in your routine."
"Great," Leo said, drawing his wand.
It was hard work, but Leo was thoroughly enjoying his session with Harry. In the dueling club class, Bellatrix had explained things very clearly, but had not done so well helping students put the dueling skills into practice. Harry seemed to believe in learning by doing. He had Leo show him what he had learned from studying on his own, and then practiced with him. Occasionally, Harry would pause the dueling and explain to Leo how he needed to change some aspect of his posture or spell casting, and then instruct Leo to focus on that during the next spell set. Leo already had a long list of things he wanted to work on in between lessons.
Eventually, Harry broke off this mode of practice. "I think that's enough of that for today."
"Oh, are we done then?" Leo asked, feeling disappointed.
"Not quite," Harry said. "I've got a different exercise for us to try. It will be for my learning as much as for yours. I want to develop some of my stealth skills. You'll benefit from learning to defend yourself from hidden enemies."
"Okay," Leo said, willing to try this out. "How do we know who wins if this isn't a normal duel?"
"One of us gets stunned?" Harry suggested, smiling and infusing warmth into Bellatrix's normally dispassionate face.
"I don't want to get stunned repeatedly," Leo said, pushing back. "Besides, you're so powerful that you can probably just zap me with a stunner from anywhere, no matter how many shield spells I have. It should be harder for you to win."
"All right," Harry said cooperatively. "What if you win the round by stunning me, and I win the round if I can . . . take away your wand?"
"You can still blast me with a disarming charm," Leo sighed, "but I guess it doesn't leave me stunned over and over."
"I'll try to be more subtle than that," Harry said. His wand twitched and something behind Leo flashed.
Reflexively, Leo glanced in the direction of the flash. When he looked back to where Harry had been standing, there was nothing there. Surprised, Leo spun around and in a complete circle. Despite being able to see the entire room clearly in good lighting, he could not see Harry anywhere. "Are you even in here?" he called out.
From the corner of his eye, Leo spotted a flash of light. Instantly, he threw himself to the ground and rolled, coming up and shooting a stunner in the general direction from where Harry had fired. The stunner hit the wall and cancelled out.
Annoyed with his inability to even see his opponent, Leo shot stunners in several random directions before erecting a shield spell to make a bubble around his person. Almost as soon as the shield coalesced, a yellow beam of light came from above Leo and shattered the shield.
Then, Harry appeared right in front of him, reaching out for his wand. Leo shot a stunner with lightning speed, but it passed harmlessly through the illusion. Panting from the adrenaline in his system, Leo turned slowly trying to find some sign of where Harry might be.
"I win," Harry declared suddenly standing about two feet to Leo's left.
"What?" Leo exclaimed. He looked at his hand. His wand was no longer there, although he still had his hand clutched as if it was there.
Harry also looked surprised as he observed Leo's consternation. "You didn't even feel me take the wand away?"
Harry handed Leo the wand. "Close your eyes, hold out your wand like you're dueling, and concentrate on trying to feel me take away your wand."
Leo closed his eyes and gripped his wand, waiting. The sensation of the wand beginning to leave his hand was very slight. "I feel it," he said, opening his eyes, clutching the wand tight, and finding Harry standing right next to him with his hand on Leo's wand "I guess I was just so caught in up trying to find you that I didn't notice what was going on next to me."
"Indeed," Harry said. "You will want to learn how to focus. In a situation where you don't know where your enemy is and where you are alone, you definitely should focus on the safety of your person."
"Right," Leo said, feeling a bit embarrassed.
"Now humor me," Harry said. "Hold your wand like you're in a dueling stance, but don't fire any spells. "Tell me the instant you feel me taking away your wand."
Leo closed his eyes and assumed a dueling posture, clutching his wand so tight that his knuckles were beginning to whiten. A moment passed before Harry tried.
"Feel it," Leo said as he felt a tug on the wand.
"You're holding your wand quite tightly," Harry said. "Try to hold it normally as if you don't expect me to steal it."
"Fine," Leo said, relaxing his grip.
Another moment passed, and then, Leo felt the slightest sensation against his flesh. "Feel it!" he exclaimed
"Again," Harry said, sounding a bit disappointed.
This was repeated several times with Leo being able to feel the wand moving each time, no matter how subtly or delicately Harry tried to do the deed. At one point, Harry did a switching spell.
"Definitely felt that!" Leo exclaimed, opening his eyes and gesturing for Harry to return the wand.
"Blast," Harry muttered. "It seemed like it would work." He handed Leo the wand.
"You did get the wand away from me," Leo said encouragingly.
"Yes," that is good, Harry admitted. "But think how much more amazing it would be if the person doesn't realize for several moments that the wand has gone missing."
"Try something new," Leo suggested, holding the wand out and closing his eyes.
He stood there for several moments, but nothing happened. "Harry? Are you going to try?"
"I already did," Harry declared.
Leo opened his eyes and found that his wand indeed was gone. He flexed his hand, and rubbed it. "I could swear I felt it still there."
Harry smiled victoriously. "Let's try it a few more times."
They did, and each time of ten more attempts, Harry was able to slip away the wand without Leo noticing.
"Are you going to teach me how to do that?" Leo demanded after Harry declared that they had probably done enough and that Leo should probably make his way down to the Great Hall for breakfast.
"You would need to learn more than just a couple of spells to make that work in a real situation," Harry said. "Maybe later on I can teach you. I still need to develop and test it out some more. Doing it in these circumstances is a far cry from doing it in a normal duel."
"Are you going to try it on your wife?" Leo asked mischievously.
Harry smirked, suddenly looking more like Bellatrix than he had all morning. "Oh, yes. I'll let you know how it turns out."