A/N: Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, or any other holiday greeting you prefer, even if only Happy Tuesday Eve. ;)

Chapter 38: The House of Black Rises

Lord Silvere

Evening came, and Harry and Bellatrix were woken not by Bellatrix's alarm clock, but by the sound of a chime that Bellatrix had charmed on the door and connected to the wards. Hermione's frequent visits had led Bellatrix to conclude that it would be nice to have a little more warning than the knock on the door for when they had guests or intruders.

"Your friend is zealot," Bellatrix mumbled from her spooning position next to Harry. "Doesn't she realize that we're nocturnal?"

"That's just Hermione for you," Harry grunted. "I'm surprised you haven't cooled her ardor yet."

"We need her enthusiasm, or rather, cooperation," Bellatrix said, unwrapping her arm from around Harry, climbing out of bed, and slipping on her bathrobe. "Especially for tonight."

"About to make a breakthrough?" Harry asked, rubbing his eyes as he sat up.

"The breakthrough has already been made," Bellatrix said as she left the room and walked down the hall to let Hermione into the apartment.

Wondering what Bellatrix had planned for the night, Harry rolled out of bed and made his way to the bathroom where he began to shower. Not long into his shower, Bellatrix entered the bathroom. "Do you mind?" Harry grumbled as she began her morning ablutions.

"Not at all," Bellatrix said as Harry finished his shower.

"That wasn't what I was asking," Harry mumbled as he toweled himself off and after dressing, left Bellatrix to complete her own morning routine. Harry found some juice in the refrigerator and poured himself a glass. Deciding that he was not in the mood to fry up his own food this once, he opened the freezer and examined Bellatrix's assortment of frozen meals. Opting for a dinner selection even though he technically was having breakfast, he picked a box out of the freezer, removed the plastic tray from within, and slid the tray into the microwave.

While his meal cooked, Harry fetched the Daily Prophet from the living room and proceeded to thumb through it until the microwave timer beeped. Bellatrix stopped by the kitchen to grab a couple of snack bars before proceeding upstairs to work with Hermione.

"As soon as you finish, I need you to come up and assist us," Bellatrix told Harry as she walked out of the kitchen.

"Sure," Harry said, eyeing the Quidditch scores and trying to remember if the Chudley Cannons or any Quidditch team for that matter had been able to play during the season after his seventh year. He supposed it did not matter. It was likely that if they had played, they would have lost, and they were losing now, too.

Satiated by Quidditch scores and his first meal of the day, Harry cleaned up and found his way to where Bellatrix and Hermione were working. From what he could observe, they had been mostly making small talk in Bellatrix's corner while waiting for him. The corner, in addition to Bellatrix's own wingback chair, now featured a chair very much like the armchairs from the Gryffindor common room. Apparently, Hermione had earned enough standing to have her own piece of furniture in Bellatrix's lab. The two witches stood as Harry approached.

"I have concocted a way to discover the location of the remaining horcruxes," Bellatrix said to Harry. "But, you shall have to perform the magic yourself."

"Sounds great," Harry said, drawing his wand and conjuring a red wingback chair for himself and sitting in it.

Hermione and Bellatrix followed suit before Bellatrix continued her explanation. "Tonight, you need to practice Legilimency because that is an important part of the magical process. Hermione has kindly assented to let you practice on her mind."

"But only if you promise not to hurt me or reveal anything you learn to anybody. Not even Bellatrix," Hermione said. She blushed and looked at Bellatrix. "Sorry. It's just that letting Harry in is necessary for the cause, and his knowing my thoughts is unavoidable, but you don't really need to go in."

"I understand," Bellatrix said, seeming to accept Hermione's feelings.

Harry arched one of his eyebrows at Bellatrix. "Necessary, huh?"

"Yes," Bellatrix said smoothly, "you need to practice on a mind that has had no preparation against such invasions. It will be more like the real thing."

"I'm pretty sure Tom is competent at Occlumency," Harry said.

"His Occlumency shields will be irrelevant," Bellatrix said.

Harry frowned and glanced at his watch. "I really need to get going if I'm going to have a chance for a . . . profitable night."

"You will have plenty of time for that project," Bellatrix assured Harry. She then proceeded to explain Legilimency and some of the more subtle nuances associated with casting the spell as Hermione looked on.

Eventually, Harry felt prepared enough to attempt the spell. Looking into Hermione's somewhat naïve eyes, he began practicing. After several attempts, Harry felt his consciousness slip inside of hers, and he began seeing a rapid succession of images beginning with Hermione's arrival at the door of the flat and then in reverse chronological order. Feeling distinctly uncomfortable, Harry cancelled the spell as soon as he got to her having dinner with her parents.

"Looks like I've got it down," Harry said.

"He definitely saw some of the things I've done this evening," Hermione confirmed.

"Good," said Bellatrix. "Now, the next and final step this evening will be an exercise where you search Hermione's mind for specific memories. Over the course of the past few evenings, I had Hermione hide a number of small objects throughout this room. You will want you to focus on discovering how many objects there are, what they are, and where they are."

"I'm not sure how to do that," Harry said, trying to think of a way that he could accomplish what Bellatrix wanted using the instructions she had just given him.

"I am about to tell you," Bellatrix said before launching into a detailed explanation about a number of methods one might use to sort through a person's memories.

The explanation took longer than the initial learning of the mind-reading spell and involved a good bit of give and take as Harry tried to process and remember Bellatrix's instructions. Several times, she required him to repeat the methods back to her, claiming that he only had one shot at Hermione because once he had found the memories, he couldn't practice finding them again.

Finally, Harry declared that he was ready and cast the spell on Hermione. This time, Hermione's mind was different to Harry—she seemed to be resisting his attempts as he scanned hundreds and even thousands of memories. Most of her memories were rather mundane, though there was the occasional tidbit that caused both him and her to blush. Eventually, Harry found the right path, and he had to crack a small smile. Bellatrix had been clever. She had asked Hermione to hide some of the objects before telling Hermione why.

Harry cancelled the spell and rapidly summoned each and every object, displaying a knowledge of where and what and how many had been hidden.

"Well done, Harry," Bellatrix said, rewarding Harry with a smile that reached to her violet eyes. "We shall be able to rehearse the next step of our plan very soon."

"Are you going to let me observe that when you do it?" Hermione inquired.

"Perhaps," Bellatrix said vaguely, apparently not prepared to include Hermione in everything they did as a matter of course. She looked at Harry. "If the rehearsal is successful, it would be . . . irresponsible for us to not carry out the actual performance as soon as possible."

"Of course," Harry agreed.

"The thing is," Bellatrix said giving Hermione a sidelong glance from behind her long, dark hair and then looking at Harry, "once we do it, things are likely to become tense for a bit. It would be good, I think, if you were to find success tonight."

"I suppose I can be more aggressive than usual," Harry said with a small smile, wondering why Bellatrix was trying to be so circumspect around Hermione. Perhaps Bellatrix had sensed that Hermione was uptight about some things.

"I will be waiting for word from you," Bellatrix said, subtly gesturing toward her right hand, which bore one of the Malfoy communication rings.

~!~!~!~!~!~!

"I thought the Ghost of Ashworth waited for raids to happen and then struck from the shadows," Ron said as he, Harry, and Leo hovered on Harry's broomsticks in a part of London filled with fancy townhouses. They had found a rooftop area that was not particularly well lit.

"Yeah, well, the Ghost of Ashworth normally doesn't really care about which Death Eaters will be headed to Azkaban as a result of his efforts," Harry said. "This time, Bellatrix has decided that it would be worthwhile to expose somebody on the Wizengamot as being a Death Eater or something else bad."

"Why do that?" Leo asked.

"Clearly, Harry's wife is hoping that she'll get appointed to the Wizengamot," Ron, ever the strategist, said to Leo.

Leo grinned. "I get it. So, who are we going to sacrifice on the altar of Bellatrix's ambition?"

Harry smiled, knowing that Leo's humorous characterization of their mission was spot on. "I have a list of candidates. Bellatrix and I think that most of them are Death Eaters."

"So, whose house is this then?" Ron asked, pointing down to the townhouse that Harry had been observing while Ron and Leo had watched to make sure the coast was clear.

"The name is Umbridge," Harry said.

Leo arched an eyebrow. "My dad has mentioned her as working at the Ministry, but she doesn't sound like the Death Eater type to me."

"She probably isn't," Harry admittedly candidly. "She's worse. With a little bit of luck, I might be able to prove it tonight."

"And if you can't?" Ron asked.

Harry shrugged. "We'll select a real Death Eater from my list."

"Oh, goody," Leo said.

~!~!~!~!~!~!

The sound of a loud, magical gong shook Amelia Bones from her sleep. Without stopping to think, she leapt from her bed, threw on her Auror robes, and used the fireplace in her room to Floo directly into Auror office's special fireplace. Hastily, she made her way to the command desk. "What is it?" she asked the on-duty coordinating Auror.

"Some sort of Ghost of Ashworth spectacle, Captain," the coordinating Auror said respectfully. "Minister Prewitt and Director Crouch are already on the scene with their personal guards and personnel from other Ministry offices. The situation is under control, but there needs to be an official investigating officer to file a report and take any prisoners into custody. The night captains are otherwise occupied, and you have previous experience with the ghost. I'm sorry to have woken you."

"It's all right," Amelia said as she accepted a portkey from the coordinating Auror. "Feel free to call me in for any sort of Ghost of Ashworth activity."

"If you're that anxious to work extra hours, I'm sure nobody would have objections."

Amelia nodded, her thoughts already racing as she activated the portkey. Why had the ghost not come to her first? How could it be that Minister Prewitt had arrived at the scene before an initial response team from Auror corps? Surely it must have to do with whatever Bellatrix Black had discussed with the Minister.

The portkey took her to the street outside of a London townhouse. Magical orbs lit the entire street while workers from other Ministry departments maintained blockades at the ends of the street and worked to place memory charms on Muggle witnesses. From what Amelia could overhear, the Muggles would be left believing that some sort of gas explosion had occurred. She found the Minister and Director Crouch in front of the townhouse in question. They were surrounded by their guards and a mob composed of news reporters. Amelia managed to elbow in and get close to the guards just as it was announced that Prewitt and Crouch would be taking questions.

"Is this or is this not another Ghost of Ashworth incident, Minister?" demanded a Daily Prophet correspondent.

Minister Prewitt smiled. "The initial emergency call indicated that this was a Ghost of Ashworth incident. However, it now appears to us that the alleged Ashworth sighting was the result of a panicked mind. There is no Ghost of Ashworth involvement here."

"A panicked mind. Really?" the reporter demanded. "This Ghost of Ashworth has been striking willy nilly and now you're claiming that somebody merely saw an illusion? The ghost's existence is practically an established fact!"

"We are not denying the ghost's existence," Director Crouch said. "About an hour ago, the resident of the townhouse, Dolores Umbridge, became the victim of a household accident. In the confusion that followed, Madam Umbridge suspected she was the victim of a Death Eater attack. At some point, she became convinced that she had seen the Ghost of Ashworth and so indicated when she contacted the Ministry for assistance. So, you see, the frequency of the Ghost of Ashworth occurrences led Madam Umbridge to incorrectly assume that this also was another Ghost of Ashworth occurrence."

"Since when does the Minister of Magic and the Director of Magical Law Enforcement respond personally to magical accident situations alongside the reversal squad?" a wireless reporter asked suspiciously, seeming to have accepted the magical accident story and now finding an oddity to the new spin on the situation.

"Director Crouch and I happened to be at the Ministry when the call came in, and knowing Madam Umbridge to be the head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation, we decided to accompany the initial response team," Prewitt explained. "It is fortunate that we did."

"Yes," Crouch said, suddenly butting in, "while Ministry personnel rescued Madam Umbridge and brought the situation under control, evidence was discovered among her effects that implicate Madam Umbridge in serious . . . misdeeds."

"Such as?" asked the Daily Prophet reporter.

"Suffice it to say that Madam Umbridge has been undermining Minister Prewitt's policy objectives and has been associating with Death Eater sympathizers. Additionally, we have reason to believe that she has used her office to advance Death Eater interests. We also discovered a number of illegal Dark artifacts on the premises," Minister Prewitt declared.

An international correspondent perked up at this. "Is not Madam Umbridge also a member of your Wizengamot?"

"Not any longer," Minister Prewitt said.

"Doesn't she need to be first convicted before you can remove her?" demanded another reporter.

"She has agreed to resign," Prewitt said. "In exchange for a measure of leniency, Madam Umbridge will be cooperating to help us repair many of the things she did wrong. If there is anybody out there who has been victimized by this witch or is aware of anything she has done that could hurt the Ministry or other people, I strongly urge them to come forward immediately."

"Do you believe there are victims?" a reporter inquired.

"Absolutely," Director Crouch said. "If anybody is aware of any misdeeds by her, we need to know what you know. We intend to begin to immediately screen all foreign diplomats that Madam Umbridge appointed or influenced. This cancer will be removed immediately."

"Who will replace Madam Umbridge in her post?" asked the international reporter.

"I'm not prepared to say at the moment," Minister Prewitt replied. "Obviously, I am looking for somebody with diplomatic experience who is unlikely to have been . . . unduly influenced by Madam Umbridge. I should have a name for you within about an hour if the person I have in mind accepts."

"And the Wizengamot vacancy?" another reporter asked.

Minister Prewitt paused. "Well, it so happens that in the past weeks I have been actively recruiting a certain witch for my administration. However, this new Wizengamot vacancy has given me an opportunity to capitalize on this witch's talents in a bigger way. Given her prior willingness to join the administration, I do not think it would be inappropriate to announce that I intend to appoint Bellatrix Black to fill Madam Umbridge's seat on the Wizengamot. Madam Black is powerful and talented. Her own father is a martyr of the war we are fighting. I am confident that she will prove to be a powerful influence for good. And, I think I can fairly say that her acceptance of the appointment is a foregone conclusion."

~!~!~!~!~!~!

Amelia sighed as she used her fork to poke at her breakfast. Rather than go home and fetch her subscription copy of the Daily Prophet, she had purchased a copy in Diagon Alley before making her way to the Leaky Cauldron and ordering breakfast.

The front page screamed that the Ministry had arrested Madam Umbridge and very well might prosecute her for treason. A small square on the bottom right of the page announced that Minister Prewitt had recalled Andrew Foxe from his exile as the Ministry's ambassador to the U.S. Department of Magic. He would be Umbridge's replacement.

Foxe had been demoted from being Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement when Minister Black had assumed power. It had seemed a black mark on his record then. Now, it was a sterling recommendation and badge of honor. Minister Black had trusted Andrew Foxe, and Minister Prewitt, who had replaced Foxe in the DMLE, could say that Foxe ran an honest ship.

Then, of course, the entire second page of the newspaper was devoted to Bellatrix Black's appointment to the Wizengamot. Nothing there was new to anybody, except for news of the appointment, of course.

"I really ought to send them a good stock photo of myself," came Bellatrix's voice.

Amelia lowered the newspaper and watched as Bellatrix sat down at her table. "So, the great Madam Black has seen fit to respond to my request for a meeting."

"Why would I not?" Bellatrix said, leaning back in the chair. "It was you that originally implied that we should keep our distance."

"I would have kept my promises," Amelia said. "The Ghost of Ashworth would have done a great good, I would have been able to lift myself to a position where I could help move this war forward and out of its stagnation, and you would have gotten your precious Wizengamot seat."

Tom came over to take Bellatrix's order, but she motioned him away. When he was gone, she responded to Amelia. "Prewitt contacted me and practically threw the seat in my hands. The price was relatively small. The Ghost of Ashworth merely must avoid undermining Minister Prewitt's authority."

"Nice bargain."

"It is a nice bargain," Bellatrix agreed. "And, it does not have to hurt you. In about a week or two, I will return the map to you. On it, you will find the many Death Eaters being tracked. From there, you will be able to wage war against those Death Eaters whenever they start a raid. I will even do my best to provide assistance for you in exploiting the map, but the alleged Ghost of Ashworth cannot be overly involved unless you are okay with supporting Minister Prewitt. Eventually, you will be the star auror, and I will be waiting in the wings to advocate on your behalf if and when advancement opportunities arise. You cannot find a fairer situation than that. After all, it is what you offered me. So, what do you say?"

"Fair enough," Amelia said, seeing for the first time that morning that her ambitions were still mostly intact.

~!~!~!~!~!~!

Bellatrix and the night arrived almost simultaneously on Privet Drive. She was standing in the driveway of #2 examining her BMW when Lily Potter almost literally popped out of one of the bushes marking the boundary between #2 and #4.

"How are you this evening, Mrs. White?" Lily said in a rather accusing tone of voice.

"Fine, thank you," Bellatrix said, drawing her wand and using it to cast several minor repair charms on the BMW. "I was wondering when you were going to come visit me."

"Who told you that I was on to you?" Lily demanded.

Bellatrix shrugged as she looked at Lily with a small smile. "Word gets around. Would you like to come in?"

"I suppose," Lily said.

Bellatrix led Lily into the house. It was a mess. Bellatrix sighed.

"Your nephew isn't about to win any awards for good housekeeping," Lily commented.

Bellatrix nodded in agreement and cast several cleaning charms to clear enough space for her and Lily to sit comfortably. "I never expected him to be tidy. Mostly, I am impressed that he has managed to keep himself alive."

"So, you don't actually live here," Lily deduced.

"Err, no," Bellatrix said as she took a seat on the couch and motioned for Lily to help herself to a chair.

"So, then, why do you own this house, and why are harassing my sister and her family?" Lily inquired rather pointedly.

Bellatrix smiled winsomely. "I needed a small house in which to keep to Draco and any other potential detainees. When I moved in, lo and behold, your sister showed up on my doorstep to welcome me to the neighborhood."

"And you've repaid her kindness handsomely," Lily said.

Bellatrix rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. She is a singularly unpleasant person who deserves to have a little harmless fun in her life. Besides, think of how your relationship with her has improved. You have rescued her from some of these incidents like a proper sister. You have probably interacted with her more in the past month than you interacted with her in the past five years. I gave you an opportunity, Lily. And, let us not forget that I have not limited my interactions with the Dursleys to pranks only. I did force Draco to mow their lawn free of charge for a month."

"Well, when you put it that way," Lily said, her voice clearly sarcastic.

"Yes, that is the way I put it," Bellatrix said. "Now, it is fortunate that you are here because you can save me the trouble of visiting Professor Dumbledore."

"Don't change the subject," Lily snapped.

"I already did," Bellatrix said. "Tell Dumbledore that I have reached a point where I should be able to divine the location of the last three magical objects for which we are looking. When I have divined their location, as it were, it will be essential that we act immediately to recover these objects. To that end, we will need the Order to form strike teams to recover the objects. If the Order does not want to participate, I will go to Minister Prewitt and arrange for action through the Auror Corps. Dumbledore is free to choose whether the Order does it or the Aurors do it."

"What are you saying?" Lily asked, clearly confused.

"Just relay the message to Dumbledore," Bellatrix said. "He will understand. Tell him that I will send him an owl with the date, time, and location. From there, I will do my divining and we will move to capture the magical objects. I will expect confirmation from him that he is willing to help."

"Are you expecting that the Death Eaters will cause trouble when we try to capture these objects?" Lily inquired.

"Almost certainly," Bellatrix answered as she stood up. "Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go give Draco a spanking for driving my car without my permission."

Lily stared at Bellatrix as she also stood up. In the silence, the two witches heard the back door open and then slam shut. "It looks like you'll have to catch him first," Lily said.

A feral smile crossed Bellatrix's face, "He will find it difficult to hide from me."

"Well, I guess I will give Dumbledore your message," Lily said stiffly. "But, I don't want you to bother my sister anymore."

"I will do my best to refrain," Bellatrix said as she showed Lily to the door.

"See that you do," Lily said as she left.

Bellatrix shut the door behind her and went to work cleaning up the house with a few brisk cleaning charms. After a few minutes, the back door opened to admit Harry, Hermione, and a levitated, unconscious Draco.

"We saw him running out the back and thought we should stop him," Harry said.

"It is a good thing you did," Bellatrix said. "He probably overheard too much. Obliviate him and dump him in his bedroom."

Harry and Hermione did so, and afterward, Bellatrix led the way down to the concealed basement where Bellatrix had built Tom's custom prison cell. "If my method fails to work on him, we do not need to be overly concerned," Bellatrix said. "He is not the perfect match for what we want to do. But, if it does work, it would be very comforting."

"Right," Harry said, seeming to have mostly caught onto what Bellatrix had planned for discovery of the horcruxes.

"Did that potion from the cave cause any complications?" Hermione asked.

"Well, he is still alive," Bellatrix said. "I did not actually check up on him. I have been having Kreacher feed him and administer various potions. Given that Kreacher continues his job, Tom is probably still alive."

"I hope you gave the elf very specific and complete instructions," Harry muttered as they reached the cell door.

Inside they found that Tom was awake, but lying on the floor in a drug-induced stupor. His blankness was complete enough that he did not seem to realize that he had any visitors.

"If he's all messed up like this, won't that make it difficult to perform our experiment?" Hermione asked.

Bellatrix shrugged. "Before we go to all the bother, let's find out. Harry, see if you can perform the Legilimency charm on him and get into his mind.

"Right," Harry said. He stood above Tom and looked down into his unseeing eyes. Then, he cast the spell. For some reason, it did not work. Harry tried several more times, but he could not find a way into Tom's mind. "Nothing," Harry said.

"Try it on Hermione," Bellatrix suggested.

"I'm pretty sure I was doing it right," Harry said, glancing at Hermione. He did not want to continue making her the guinea pig.

"It's all right," Hermione said. "Just do it quick. There's nothing you haven't already really seen."

Harry performed the the spell on Hermione successfully, but only stayed in her mind for a few seconds. "See? I can do it on her, but not on Tom," Harry said.

"Okay," Bellatrix said. She drew her wand and performed the Legilimency spell on Tom as well. "All right," she conceded, "I do not think we will have to take steps to completely revive him—unless we cannot get into his mind using our experiment. From her robes, she pulled out a satchel, enlarged it, and set it down. Hermione removed the diadem and locket horcruxes from within, and Bellatrix transfigured the satchel into a table onto which Hermione placed the horcruxes.

"I decided that it would not be profitable to attempt to reduce this to a single spell word," Bellatrix said, withdrawing a piece of parchment from her robes and showing it to Harry. "Although you will not be able to cast this quickly, you will be able to cast it correctly very easily. There are practically no wand movements."

Harry took the parchment into his hands. "So, I'm assuming this helps get me past any Occlumency shields. But explain precisely what it is doing."

"You touch your wand to a horcrux," Hermione explained, "and then perform the spell."

"Yes," Bellatrix said, "and you will gain complete control of the horcrux as if you were the horcrux. Then, you do the same spell on the other horcrux, and it is as if you are two horcruxes combined. Then, when you try the Legilimency on Tom, you will find that you are easily able bypass any shields he has. In fact, you may be able to get in and our without him noticing your presence in his mind at all."

"Brilliant, Bella!" Harry said. "You've outdone yourself."

"Let us wait and see whether it actually works before passing around the accolades," Bellatrix said.

"Shall I do it now, then?" Harry said.

"Yes," Bellatrix said, gesturing to the table.

Harry set the parchment down on the table, held out his wand to the diadem, and began uttering the long incantation that Bellatrix had written. As the last word left his lips, an ethereal mist puffed out the end of his wand and sunk into the metal of the diadem. Suddenly, Harry felt different. It was as if his head was being shared by two separate entities, even if one did not seem active. Harry decided to move onto the next diadem. Now familiar with the words of the spell, he went through it quickly. The ethereal mist was absorbed into the locket and the second awareness in Harry head grew larger and more powerful.

Having this new awareness in his head was strange enough, but as the effects of the spell on the second horcrux settled, Harry became aware of a buzzing or resonance on his head. His scar. It was beginning to tingle painfully. Blankly, Harry stood trying to assess what was happening. In the distance, Harry thought he heard Hermione commenting about his eyes and his scar.

In a further abstract distance, Harry thought he could hear another person's thoughts. Curious, he allowed his mind to wander that way, but after a moment stopped, realizing that it was the real Voldemort. Pulling away from those thoughts and being careful not to go in that direction, Harry turned his focus to Tom. Woodenly, Harry walked across the room, attempting to ignore his now throbbing scar.

Resisting the urge to support himself against one of the walls, Harry looked down into Tom's eyes and cast the Legilimency spell. Instantly, Harry was inside Tom's head and cruising through all of his memories, many of which were disgusting. Realizing that this was his chance to get to know Voldemort's mind before invading Voldemort's mind, Harry held on and tried to thoroughly examine Tom's mind despite the throbbing in his scar, which was quickly becoming unbearable.

Eventually, Harry could stand no more. He cancelled the mind-reading spell and then cast the strongest "Finite incantatem !" he had ever cast in his life. The throbbing and strange feelings ceased, but Harry still felt horrible.

Harry looked over at Bellatrix and Hermione, who wore expressions of deep concern on their faces.

"Did it work?" Hermione asked.

"Perfectly," Harry said thickly. "I need to rest." Intending to walk out of the cell and apparate home, Harry started walking, but suddenly, he was looking at the floor and hearing an exclamation of shock from Hermione or perhaps Bellatrix as blackness overcame him.

~!~!~!~!~!~!

Harry awoke in his own bed feeling much better. That was encouraging, but the small collection of potion flasks next on his bedside table signified that he had not recovered on his own. Harry climbed out of bed. Glancing at one of the clocks in the room, he concluded that he had been unconscious only for about five hours. He wandered upstairs and found Bellatrix and Hermione in their respective armchairs discussing something about the Dark Arts.

Hermione noticed him first. "You've recovered!"

"Yep," Harry said, leaning against one of the tables. "So, when are we going to actually try that on the Dark Lord?"

"I do not know if it is a good idea anymore," Bellatrix hedged, eyeing Harry carefully, though her concern was not readily apparent.

"Why not?" Harry pushed back. "Everything went great. I recovered soon enough. No permanent harm done."

"I really am not sure," Bellatrix said. "I think it could have gone better."

"We're sure that you were able to get into Tom's mind just fine," Hermione said. "But, when you were casting those spells, your eyes turned red, and it looked like that scar on your forehead was on fire."

Bellatrix sighed. "The effect on your eyes was not totally unexpected, but the scar concerns me. I was not expecting that sort of physical reaction."

Harry shrugged as his mind raced to find an explanation. "I don't think we can avoid problems with the scar," he told Bellatrix and Hermione. "It's a part of how I can sense the Dark Lord's presence."

"Is it—" Bellatrix said, but then glanced at Hermione, remembering that they had not fully briefed Hermione on Harry's past. "I mean, did you experience the effects before we met . . . back at Gringotts?"

"Yes," Harry said simply, feeling guilty for the curiosity and suspicion that was now blooming on Hermione's face.

Bellatrix sat silently as she pondered this information. "It could be a resonance of some sort. Like repelling like."

"Sounds about right to me," Harry said. "There's no reason to hold back."

"Well, if you are completely sure," Bellatrix said.

"Yes," said Harry. "I am sure. Arrange it with the Order."

"They might not be willing," Bellatrix said. "But, I could bring Minister Prewitt in on it if necessary."

"I think the Order will be willing to help," Harry said. He looked at Hermione. "I will expect you to confirm to Dumbledore that we will be able to invade the Dark Lord's mind."

"I'll do my part," Hermione agreed.

~!~!~!~!~!~!

"Why not?" Leo demanded. "I've been taking dueling lessons from Bellatrix for several weeks. I could hold my own. I'm not afraid of any Death Eater."

Sirius gritted his teeth as he pulled on his Auror-grade dueling gauntlets. "You will stay home and safe because I told you to."

"You're letting Mom go," Leo retorted. "I bet I'm better at dueling than she is."

"I'm not the boss of your mother," Sirius bit back. "Look Leo, you're young and inexperienced. Besides, Bellatrix was never a battle-level duelist. Her training is traditional for one-on-one competitions."

"Are you questioning my dueling abilities?" came Bellatrix's voice.

"No, not really," Sirius said, startled to find that Bellatrix had arrived at his house via Floo. "I'm just trying to explain to my son, here, that just because he's taken a few lessons from you doesn't make him qualified to go into a situation that could turn into a full-fledged battle.

"Just my teaching abilities, then," Bellatrix said.

"Sure," Sirius said. "Now, why are you here?"

"I'm the one telling you where everyone is supposed to meet," Bellatrix said. "I presume Dumbledore has assigned you to relay the message onto a number of people."

"Oh, yes," Sirius said. "Where are we gathering to wait for word of where we'll be attacking?"

"Ravenbourgh."

"Oh, please," said Sirius. "What's wrong with your flat?"

"Too small, and I do not want a whole lot of strangers traipsing around it. Besides, that is where Ms. Granger will be working the magical process to help me divine the location of what we are after."

"And, your flat isn't pretentious enough."

"Quite."

"Well, thank you for bringing me the information. I will promptly relay it and probably see you at Ravenbourgh." Sirius said.

"Just one last thing," Bellatrix said.

"What?"

"Seeing as your dear Leo is not likely to be allowed near Ravenbourgh, I thought he might like the opportunity to sit in my flat with Hermione and supervise, as it were, the whole operation. It will help him feel like he was involved," Bellatrix said.

Sirius grinned. "Well, Leo how about it? Cousin Bella has been smashing enough to offer to let you feel like you were involved tonight."

"I will gladly go to Cousin Bella's flat," Leo said, grinning at Sirius.

Sirius looked at Leo suspiciously, and then to Bellatrix. "What's so special about your flat?"

"I have a lot of firewhiskey," Bellatrix said.

Sirius frowned. "I remember you always drinking wine, though."

"It is the only way I can lure handsome young men to my flat," Bellatrix said, completely deadpan.

"Having an incestuous relationship with my son would not be appropriate," Sirius said, also completely deadpan.

"There is a widely recognized exception for purebloods," Bellatrix said, winking at Leo.

"Will you sick people stop that!" Cassie Black, Sirius's wife, called from another room. "Take the boy and be gone."

Bellatrix shook her head. "I have other stops to make. Leo, just apparate there. Your arrival will be expected."

"Awesome!" Leo said.

~!~!~!~!~!~!

"I don't like meeting in the open like this," growled Moody to Dumbledore as they stood on a raised platform that had been erected on the grass between the Black's ancestral cemetery and the ruins of the Black's once impressive manor. "Nor do I fancy dividing us into three strike teams, only one of which will have anybody who knows anything about these horcruxes."

"Actually," Dumbledore said as his twinkling eyes surveyed the lay of the land and the few Order members that had gathered, "we have at least two if Madam Black and I go in separate teams. We could have three, if we can convince Madam Black to revise her plan to allow Miss Granger to go with a team."

"If you're confident that Black and Granger know enough," Moody said.

"Yes, I am," Dumbledore said. "I am thinking that I will lead a team. You, I think, will lead the team that goes with Bellatrix. And, I think James and Sirius could lead a team with Miss Granger. If she cannot come, then, I suppose we will put James and Sirius in your place with Bellatrix, and send you with Lily on the third team. She's clever enough to pick up on this horcrux magic quick enough, and you have more than enough experience fighting Dark magic in general."

The two friends sat quietly as they watched the most dedicated and talented members of the Order trickle in and break into small groups to talk with their friends. Moody and Dumbledore could also see in their memories many of the Order members who had fallen or merely gotten too old to be involved.

"To think," Moody said quietly, "that Ashworth knew all along. If only he could have passed the information along before being killed."

"I think we all underestimated Harry Ashworth," Dumbledore said quietly. "But now, we are left to wonder why his widow did not see fit to pass that information sooner. Why is she only now prosecuting her husband's crusade against our enemy?"

"No use in wondering why at this stage," Moody said gruffly.

"You are correct," Dumbledore said, "but I think we should prod more at a later time, if only to ascertain for ourselves that Madam Black will not use her newfound political influence irresponsibly."

The Potter, Weasley, and Black families came up to where Dumbledore and Moody were standing. Dumbledore noted the presence of Sidra, Rose, and Ron, but not Leo or Ginny. Seeing that Dumbledore had noted their composition, Lily defended herself.

"Rose has used her Seer abilities to assure us that no harm will come to her if she accompanies us," Lily said.

"And, she has assured us that she very likely will play a role that could mean the difference between victory and total disaster," James said drily.

"But she saw that Leo would come to harm? Is that it?" Moody inquired, wondering why the Potters would risk Rose while the Blacks held Leo back.

Sirius rolled his eyes. "We do not consult Rose before making parental decisions."

"Bellatrix offered to let him come to her flat where the first stage of the plan will be carried out," Cassie clarified. "He'll be safe there, but still involved in what is happening.

Lily looked at Rose. "Leo isn't going, dear. Wouldn't you rather be with him and safe in Bellatrix's flat?"

"I would rather see the battle," Rose said. "I stand by my forecast that no harm will come to me."

"Ron?" Mr. Weasley asked. "How about staying with Leo in Bellatrix's flat?"

"Hermione will be there," Sirius said, offering Ron an enticement.

"I'll ask Bellatrix what she thinks," Ron said, a calculating look in his eyes.

Dumbledore was still looking at Rose, intrigued by her recent glimpse of the future. "Tell me, Miss Potter, did you merely see that you would not be harmed, or did you see that there would be a battle from which you would emerge unscathed?"

Rose looked into Dumbledore's eyes. "There most assuredly will be a battle, Headmaster."

"How many battles?" Moody demanded. "Did you see who will be involved? There is going to be three separate strike teams, you know."

Rose looked around at everybody who was gathering as if seeing them for the first time. "I saw only one team and one battle," she declared.

"And who will win?" Dumbledore asked.

"Logically, if I emerge unscathed, we will have won, won't we?" Rose replied.

"Yes, but at what cost?" Moody wondered.

~!~!~!~!~!~!

Harry sat on his bed and watched as Hermione fidgeted with the small table on which she had set up the horcruxes. "Nothing bad is likely to happen here in my flat," Harry said reassuringly.

"You're probably going to be in a lot of pain and might lose consciousness if you have to spend as much time in You-Know-Who's mind as you spent in Tom's mind," Hermione said.

"I am no stranger to pain," Harry said encouragingly. "This will be the first time I've had the luxury of passing out in my own, comfortable bed. Really, I'm ahead of the game, you know."

Leo entered the room. "Will this do?" he asked Hermione, proffering a small table.

"Yes, thank you," Hermione said, taking the table and setting up directly next to Harry's bed. "I'm going to go get some extra potions that we can dose you with in case something out of the ordinary happens or we need more than expected."

"All right," Harry said, even though he had no reason to believe the potions would be needed. If it made Hermione more comfortable, he was all for it.

Hermione left the room, and Leo grinned at Harry. "So, you really can get in You-Know-Who's mind, then?"

"Yes," said Harry, also smiling. In his own future, Voldemort had invaded his mind many times. Now, it felt like he was going to be repaying the favor. The return favor was overdue.

Harry and Leo heard the flat's front door open and close, signifying that Bellatrix had returned and that they were probably ready begin. In few short seconds, Bellatrix had arrived in the bedroom with Ron Weasley in tow. "Ron is going to be on hand if you or Hermione need anything," Bellatrix announced.

Harry smiled at Ron. "Glad to see you, mate."

"Yeah," Ron said vaguely. "Where's Hermione?"

"Right here," Hermione said, returning from Bellatrix's lab with a tray of potion flasks.

Bellatrix stared at Hermione's preparations. "You do realize, of course, that we will be sending casualties to St. Mungo's?"

"It never hurts to be prepared," Hermione declared piously.

"Whatever," Bellatrix said to Hermione. She then turned her attention to everybody in the room. "At this moment, Professor Dumbledore is splitting the fighters into three teams. I am about to leave to join them. When I do leave, wait about ten minutes. Then, Harry should do the deed. Hermione, I want you to monitor Harry closely. Leo and Ron, you will be the ones to write down what Harry says about the location of the things we are looking for. I want you to both write and then compare notes. Then, I want one of you to apparate to Ravenbourgh and deliver the most accurate copy to me. Do not try to alter or make sense of what Harry says. Leave the interpreting to me if there happens to be an ambiguity that Harry cannot correct. Are we clear?"

"Yes," Hermione said.

"Good," Bellatrix said. "It might interest you to know that Rose Potter has predicted that we will be the winners."

"If there can be winners in a war," Harry said sadly, memories of his own future coming unbidden to his mind. Even if he had miraculously defeated Voldemort the next day instead of traveling to the past, he doubted that he would feel like he had won any war.

"Do not be so shortsighted, Harry," said Bellatrix before she left

"Be safe," Harry said as she walked out the door.

As soon as the door to the flat shut behind her, Hermione scurried to fetch notepads for Ron and Leo. The two young wizards accepted the notepads and self-inking quills, and Hermione spent the next ten minutes wringing her hands. Finally, she informed Harry that it was time for him to begin.

Harry picked up his wand, reached out to the table Hermione had set up, and began the incantation.

~!~!~!~!~!~!

Bellatrix stood on the platform with Dumbledore, Moody, James, Sirius, and Lily. Feeling slightly sulky, she wondered why it was that Dumbledore had insisted that James and Sirius would be the leaders of her team. She was the one who had engineered this entire plan. She was the one who would be telling them what would be necessary as they attempted to capture and destroy the horcrux their team went after. On the other hand, she did admit that she was not so experienced in battle situations as were Sirius and James, who were Aurors.

She scanned the crowd. It looked like they had about ten people for each team. The members of each team stood together on the side of the platform closest to where their leaders were standing. They were now silent, standing with wands drawn, waiting for word to come from Bellatrix's flat. Bellatrix did not know any of them well enough to predict how they were feeling, but she thought she detected both nervousness at the risks involved and excitement for opportunity they might have to deal Voldemort a major blow. That was how Dumbledore had described it to them. Capture the magical object and we will have dealt the Dark Lord a major blow.

An apparition pop sounded in the graveyard. Those gathered could only see that it was a witch, but Bellatrix knew it was Hermione. The young witch ran quickly up toward the platform. Bellatrix frowned as she watched Hermione run. She was not carrying a piece of parchment. Was something wrong?

"Well?" Bellatrix asked after hopping off the platform and running about ten yards to meet Hermione. "Tell me it worked."

"There's only one you can attack," Hermione panted.

"One?" Bellatrix demanded, feeling furious that her efforts had not netted all three.

"Maybe two," Hermione said. "One is hidden in the statue display thing in the Ministry of Magic atrium.

"The other?" Bellatrix demanded.

"His familiar—a snake," Hermione replied, still out of breath. "Maybe if he comes to fight, he'll bring the snake."

"What about a third. Is there a third?"

Hermione was about to answer, but she paused as Dumbledore and Moody trotted up.

"Well?" Moody demanded.

"There's a horcrux concealed in the statue in the atrium of the Ministry of Magic," Bellatrix snapped. "Combine the teams. The Dark Lord's snake is also a horcrux, but that's not something that our teams can target."

"What about the third?" Moody demanded.

"No third to go after tonight," Bellatrix said shortly.

"Does the Dark Lord know we're after the atrium horcrux tonight?" Moody demanded.

"Absolutely," Hermione breathed. "You've got to hurry as fast as you can."

Moody spun and ran back to the platform, already shouting orders. Dumbledore remained with Bellatrix. "So," he mused aloud," one team and one battle."

Bellatrix wished that Dumbledore would leave so that she could speak to Hermione in private, but there was not enough time. "Is there a third?" Bellatrix demanded of Hermione.

"Yes," Hermione said, now having caught her breath. She looked at Dumbledore and tried to find a way to explain without violating the oaths she had taken about keeping Harry secret. "The horcrux was seen, but apparently it has been transformed since it was originally made. There was a lot of confusion. Maybe later, some sense can be made out of what was seen. But for now, all you've really got is the atrium."

"Can't you tell me what was said?" Bellatrix asked looking over her shoulder to see that she had only seconds before the strike team departed.

Hermione squirmed as she looked between Bellatrix and Dumbledore, who was making no secret of nosing into the conversation. "I'm sorry, but we were left the most explicit impression that you should be told to seek out only the atrium horcrux and nothing more tonight."

"Dumbledore!" Moody yelled, "thirty seconds."

Finally, Dumbledore left Bellatrix and Hermione alone.

"Is Harry all right?" Bellatrix said quietly.

"It was a lot shorter, but perhaps more painful," Hermione whispered. "He didn't lose consciousness, but I sedated him anyway because it was clear he was pretty miserable. I promise, he said explicitly to go after only the atrium horcrux."

"Okay," Bellatrix said, "go back and keep an eye on him."

"I will," Hermione said.

Bellatrix turned and ran quickly back to the platform, arriving just as the first batch of Order members apparated to the Ministry.

"You can come with, Madam Black," Dumbledore called, offering his arm for Bellatrix to side-along apparate with him.

With a pop, they appeared in the Ministry's atrium. Already, Moody had sent various Order members running to secure all possible entrances to the atrium, though there was only so much that strategy could do. Hundreds of office windows overlooked the atrium. Theoretically, one could apparate into any of those offices and cause mayhem from up there. Perhaps if they could involve the Aurors, they would have more wands to stand guard. But, by the time they could rouse the Aurors and explain what was going on, it would be too late. Maybe some of the Aurors on duty would be able to help.

Dumbledore led Bellatrix up to the fountain. Moody and several other Order members had already sloshed through the fountain and were casting diagnostic charms on the stone, attempting to ascertain if the horcrux within was protected by any special spells. Feeling rather useless and out of place, Bellatrix stood on the edge of the fountain with Dumbledore, watching as the Order members worked.

"There doesn't appear to be any curses or shields that we can see," one of the Order members called to Moody.

"Blast away then," Moody said after looking to Dumbledore and getting a nod.

"Reducto!" shouted a group of Order members simultaneously.

The large monument exploded, and then, it exploded again, but extremely violently. A large chunk of marble caught Bellatrix in the chest and carried her halfway across the atrium. The pain was so deep and startling that Bellatrix hardly even felt the smaller shrapnel-like pieces whiz toward her face and cut it in several places. Before she could even tighten her grip on her wand, Bellatrix smashed into the floor and was consumed by blackness as pain exploded in her head.

~!~!~!~!~!~!

"Get somebody up to the Auror desk!" James shouted. "If those morons haven't noticed us yet, tell them we need to make sure we keep intruders out of here while we work!"

"I'll go," Sirius volunteered. "They'll at least recognize me."

"Great," James said, just as an explosion ripped through the center of the atrium. He spun around and watched with horror as Bellatrix and Dumbledore were thrown across the atrium and pounded into the floor. Many of the Order members who had been working on the statue were dead, with the noticeable exception of Moody, who had been spared by a combination of luck and really good reflexes.

"Bloody hell!" James cursed, running toward Dumbledore. He saw Moody looking like he might go that way, but he shook his head and gestured. "I got them!" James shouted. "You work on the statute."

"Get over here!" Moody yelled to some other Order members. "We need to sort through this rubble. Use shield charms while you work! Try not to touch anything with your hands!"

James reached Dumbledore, who was bleeding badly. The aged wizard was unconscious, pale, and breathing shallowly. Reflexively, James grabbed a medical portkey from a pocket, shoved it into one of Dumbledore's hands, and triggered it. Instantly, Dumbledore disappeared.

"Was it bad?" Frank Longbottom yelled, coming up to James.

"He'll be fine," James declared, already moving toward Bellatrix's prone form.

"The Ministry personnel on duty are helping us," Frank said, following James. "I saw you send Sirius up to the Auror floor."

"Good," James said as they reached Bellatrix. He looked down at her. "Seems in slightly worse condition." He knelt down and put a portkey in her hand and activated it, but nothing happened.

"Not good," Frank observed.

"Moody! We've got company on the way!" James shouted loudly.

Instantly, Moody began barking orders to the Order members who had been assigned to guard the various entrances. Moody's orders were followed, and in the moments that followed, silence fell on the atrium with the exception of the Order members working through the rubble of the atrium statue.

"I've found something!" yelled one of them. "A golden cup."

"Give it to me," Moody yelled, reaching his hand out to catch it.

"No, do not give it to him," echoed Lord Voldemort's angry whisper throughout the atrium as several explosions marked the arrival of dozens of Death Eaters who began streaming through the entrance fireplaces.

The Order members did not need any signal to start fighting. They got off the first volley of spells and several Death Eaters fell. But then, the Death Eaters started fighting back. Among the Death Eaters and Order members fighting, Voldemort appeared and began striding toward Moody. Despite the chaos, both Order members and Death Eaters managed to stay out of Voldemort's way.

"Give it to me!" Moody yelled at the Order member who had found the cup. The Order member complied and tossed the cup to Moody, who promptly shot several spells at Voldemort as he turned and began dodging in between the combatants.

James, meanwhile, was fortunate enough to not be particularly close to where the Death Eaters were pouring in through the fireplaces, but he was still taking the opportunity to shoot stunners toward the black robed fighters.

Suddenly, Rose ran up to him. "Dad! Can't we leave? Is everything blocked?"

"Yes," James said as he shot a succession of several spells, hitting a couple of Death Eaters, but mostly making others dodge. "We're trapped for now, unless we can scare Voldemort into retreating."

"You've got to send a patronus message to Leo!" Rose exclaimed. "Tell him we're in trouble."

"There's nothing he can do," James told Rose, mostly focused on the fighting. "Nobody goes in, nobody goes out. Not even worth the bother of alerting Aurors outside the Ministry."

"Just do it!" Rose demanded. "Do it now!"

~!~!~!~!~!~!

An ethereal stag burst into the living room of Harry and Bellatrix's flat, where Ron, Hermione, and Leo were sitting and wondering how the horcrux recovery effort was going. Leo leapt to his feet as the stag approached him and emitted James Potter's voice. "Order trapped in Ministry in battle with Voldemort. Dumbledore and Bellatrix neutralized. Not looking good for us."

"Merlin!" Ron exclaimed, looking at Hermione who looked deathly pale at hearing the bad news.

Leo was already thinking. "Harry is only unconscious because you gave him a potion, right?" he demanded.

"Yes," Hermione admitted.

"You've got to revive him, now!" Leo practically shouted. "He'll know what to do."

Hermione got to her feet and rushed down the hall to the bedroom with Leo and Ron hot on her tail. Upon arriving in the room, she began looking through the potion bottles she had brought down from Bellatrix's lab. She held two of the flasks up. "I think these two will neutralize the potion that is keeping him asleep."

"Force it down his throat," Ron advised, getting into the spirit of the situation.

"He could be in a lot of pain when he wakes up, though," Hermione said.

"Believe me, he'd rather be in pain than wake up and find his wife and tons of others dead without him having the opportunity to do something," Leo said, grabbing one of the potion bottles and moving toward the bed.

In short order, the potions were down Harry's throat, and he was sputtering and choking. Eventually his eyes opened and the young wizards and witch hastily explained the situation.

"All right, I understand," Harry said, jumping out of bed and grabbing onto one of Hermione's tables to support himself. He took several deep breaths and then used his wand to summon his dueling attire.

"What are you going to do?" Leo demanded as they watched Harry get properly dressed.

"You might be able to scare away You-Know-Who with the Ghost of Ashworth," Ron advised.

"I doubt it," Harry said. "He felt me assault his mind and thus knows that I am alive. That means that the Ghost of Ashworth has outlived its usefulness. Follow me."

Ron, Leo, and Hermione followed Harry across the hall to an empty bedroom cluttered with random supplies. "I'm looking for a box with a bunch of cheap wands and maybe a shopping bag with several bags of Peruvian instant darkness powder."

"Here's the powder," Ron said, bending down and pulling the bags from under a bunch of empty shopping bags.

"Here's a box of wands," Leo said as Ron handed the darkness powder to Harry. Harry glanced at the box of wands. "Those are trick wands," he said.

"Oh," Leo said, going to put them back.

"Actually, hand me a few trick wands," Harry said.

Leo handed a handful of the trick wands to Harry, who promptly placed them in his robes. "There's the real wands," Harry said pointing to another box. "Hand me a lot of those."

Soon, Harry was all stocked up. "All right," he said, holding out his phoenix feather wand.

"Can't we come with you?" Leo asked.

Harry got a faraway look in his eyes. "Umm . . . okay, but just one of you. That's all I will need."

"Me," said Ron. "I won't get in trouble with my parents."

"So?" Leo demanded.

"Ron it is," Harry said hastily, handing the bags of Peruvian darkness powder to Ron. "You've probably seen this stuff in action before. What's going to happen is that we're going to go into the battle. I'll drop you off in a Ministry office overlooking the atrium. Then, I'll go down and pick a fight with the Dark Lord. When I explode a bunch of the windows in the atrium, I want you to use this stuff to make the atrium pitch black. And then, in the blackness, see if you can find a way to make a some noise without drawing attention to yourself. Got it?"

"Yep," Ron said.

Harry grabbed Ron, and in an explosion of fire, the two disappeared from the flat.

~!~!~!~!~!~!

Lily gritted her teeth as she shot off a volley of stunners toward random black-robed shapes with her left arm. A Death Eater curse had caught her and broke her wand arm. Now, she was trying to keep fighting vigorously without aggravating the injury too much.

The battle was going poorly for the Order. The Death Eaters outnumbered them, and they had not been able to get reinforcements in to help. Apparently, Voldemort had found a way to prevent people from apparating or using a portkey to get in. Normally, Lily knew that Voldemort would have retreated by now. He had incapacitated or killed several Order members, but he was also losing his own people, too. It was harder to replace Death Eaters. But, apparently the horcrux they were after was what kept Voldemort on the field.

Moody had it. He had been unable to leave the Ministry with it, but so far, he had dodged Voldemort and kept it out of the Dark Lord's hands. That was what was keeping many of the Order members alive so far. Voldemort was so focused on Moody that he was unable to personally fight the Order. Lily found it ironic that the horcrux would be what kept the battle going, yet protected the Order members.

A shockwave suddenly rippled through the atrium's floor, and Lily was knocked over as was everybody in the atrium. In a matter of seconds, the battle had practically ended. The shockwave stopped, and Voldemort's voice echoed through the room. "The first non-Death Eater to move will be killed on the spot."

Unmoving, the Order members watched as the Death Eaters regrouped on one side of the Ministry. "All of you throw your wands over there," Voldemort demanded, gesturing with his wand. "If you cooperate, I will probably let you live."

Some of the Order members threw their wands, other did not. Voldemort smiled at them. "It does not matter if you still have your wand. If any of you so much as twitch, you will be killed on the spot." He backed toward his Death Eaters and cast an amplification spell with his wand. "Alastor Moody, you have five minutes to produce my golden cup. If you fail to do so, I will kill half the prisoners now alive."

Lily wanted to cry, but not for herself. Within view, both her daughters sat frozen on the floor. They would be dead before they had even truly reached adulthood, having never known a world that was free of Voldemort.

Another voice echoed through the atrium and interrupted Lily's thoughts.

"Do you really think that Moody is going to respond to that sort of threat?" came Harry Ashworth's voice.

Everybody in the room except Voldemort stared toward where the voice had come with shock. Having been in a similar situation before, Lily had not been quite so shocked at hearing Harry's voice, but she was surprised to see that he seemed to be physically present.

Slowly, Voldemort turned around, smiling almost gleefully. "Professor Ashworth," he said, "how kind of you to drop in." With lightning speed, he shot a stunner at Harry, who merely sidestepped it. "Your reflexive movement indicates that you might be physically here. That's rather out of character for you, isn't it?"

"Well, I did tip my hand when I raided your mind this evening, didn't I?" Harry said, casually gripping his wand and slowly stepping to the side a bit and watching Voldemort carefully.

"That you did," Voldemort agreed. "But, tell me, Ashworth, or is it Black, now? Why all this bother of a charade? Why pretend to be dead?"

"It was convenient," Harry confessed. "The injuries you inflicted on me in our last meeting were quite grievous. I've only recently recovered enough from them that I feel comfortable letting you know that I am alive."

"You don't do things halfway, do you?" Voldemort said. "You've fallen into the snake pit. I do not think you will get out alive. It would have been better for you to hide and wait for the battle to end and for me to depart."

"Perhaps so," Harry said, moving yet again and watching as Voldemort also moved to remain opposite Harry.

"I know so," Voldemort said, suddenly bringing his wand up and rapidly shooting several curses at Harry.

Harry disappeared in a blink of an eye, and suddenly a shockwave curse burst toward Voldemort from the other side of the fountain. The pure energy picked up some of the stones and slung them toward Voldemort, who pushed them aside with a mere flick of his wand.

"So," Voldemort said as he cast a shield charm on himself, "you fancy yourself a master of illusion. Do you think I am so inexperienced that I will shoot curses at you every single time your illusion appears? Or that I will randomly shoot spells in hopes of hitting you? Two can play your stalking game."

~!~!~!~!~!~!

Ron sat on the floor behind the desk of a rather grungy office. Harry had advised him to shield himself from the impending window explosion. That meant that he did not get to watch what was happening in the atrium below. It was quite disappointing for Ron, but on the other hand, he had only heard the occasional thud or explosion since Harry's duel with Voldemort had begun. It did not sound like there was much to see, anyway.

From below, Ron could hear a long exchange suddenly taking place. Explosion followed explosion rapidly. Finally, a shockwave explosion came up toward the windows in the atrium and struck hard, causing glass to explode everywhere.

Once he was sure he was not about to get cut by a flying shard, Ron jumped up with the bags of Peruvian instant darkness powder and started launching them. With satisfaction, he watched as darkness descended on the atrium below.

~!~!~!~!~!~!

With the darkness came a thick silence. Lily's heart pounded as she wondered who had caused the darkness and what would happen in it. She did not have to wait long—explosions started sounding from above. Were Harry and Voldemort fighting? Or was it something else? The explosions sounded much higher than ground level.

The explosions ceased after a few minutes, and the oppressive silence returned. Unexpectedly, a whirlwind ripped through the atrium, and instantly, the darkness was gone, revealing Harry and Voldemort standing near the center of the atrium not overly far away from each other.

Harry swished his wand and cancelled the wind spell, smiling as he let his wand arm drop into a non-threatening position.

"You gave up your advantage a little too easily," Voldemort commented, looking a tad surprised.

"It outlived its usefulness," Harry admitted. "Now, why don't you do us all a favor and get out of here?"

"The duel isn't over, Ashworth," Voldemort said. "Since you can't leave, you must either fight or be killed."

"I'm done fighting for today," Harry said. "Go ahead and kill me."

Voldemort raised his wand and shouted the killing curse. Rather than emitting the sickening green light of the killing curse, however, the wand emitted an impressive fountain of pink sparks. Voldemort stared at his wand in horror. "What have you done to my wand?" he yelled at Harry while his slit-like nostrils flared.

"Your wand is safe and in excellent condition," Harry said, holding it up in his left hand. "But, it is now mine." With a smug cheeky grin, he tucked Voldemort's wand into his right sleeve holster. sleeve holster.

The expression on Voldemort's face was one of pure hatred, and his glowing, red eyes only made it more intimidating. "I'll see to it that your death is long and painful, Professor," Voldemort snarled before activating a portkey and disappearing. The Death Eaters took this as a signal and also activated their emergency portkeys, causing the Order members still conscious to let out a collective sigh of relief as all but the dead or unconscious Death Eaters disappeared.

Lily looked at her former professor with increased respect and admiration. He had forced Voldemort to retreat with seemingly little effort. Suddenly, Lily realized that he had walked over and was speaking to her.

"Lily, does Moody actually have the horcrux?" Harry asked, looking at her with his piercing green eyes.

"Yes, M-moody has it," Lily stuttered, still trying to get her head wrapped around the situation.

"Good," Harry said. "Tell him to take it to Hogwarts. I will send my house elf to him with a vial of basilisk venom. That should help destroy it."

"Okay," Lily said, trying to think of something else to say, but it was too late because Harry had walked away.

Lily watched as Harry found Bellatrix unconscious on the floor. He sighed as he knelt next to her, and suddenly, Harry looked exhausted and frail. Slowly and gingerly, he lifted Bellatrix up and wrapped one of his arms around her before disappearing in an explosion of flame.