A/N: As always, many thanks for your reviews and support. For those of you who like to predict twists and turns in plots, here is a chance to prove yourself brilliantly insightful. This chapter's title is more applicable than you might otherwise believe after skimming the chapter. ;) (But, don't try to draw any parallels to Star Wars. If you do, you are on the wrong track.)
Also, I've been asked to give a shout out for Darkscribes dot org. It has been reincarnated.
Episode 40: The Phantom Horcrux
Severus Snape maintained a mask of cool indifference as Voldemort waved his arm and wandlessly banished a table across the room. The assortment of wands that had been on the table clattered as they fell to the floor near three Death Eaters that were kneeling in front of the Dark Lord. "Unacceptable!" Voldemort hissed.
"There are precious few wands available, especially on such short notice," one of the Death Eaters said, in effect pleading for her life from beneath the hood that covered her face.
"Stop robbing secondhand shops!" Voldemort barked as he paced back and forth in front of the kneeling Death Eaters. "Wands found in secondhand shops are categorically unacceptable! Because Ollivander and every other wandmaker is too well protected, you must seek heirloom wands. Old, valuable wands kept by the pureblood families. Wands buried with their master or mistress."
"You told us to limit our raids," one of the other Death Eaters mumbled. "Which of your orders are we supposed to follow?"
"Both!" Voldemort said, nearly on the verge of shrieking. "You must be sneaky. You must display finesse! And whatever you do, do not get captured by Lord Black!"
"It shall be—"
"Leave." Voldemort said coldly.
The three Death Eaters scrambled to their feet and exited the room through the metal door that had been magicked into the wall of an underground cavern.
Snape had the great pleasure of remaining alone in the room with Voldemort. Eventually, Voldemort saw fit to resume the conversation that the three Death Eaters had interrupted. "What of the basilisk's corpse, Severus?"
"Destroyed," Snape said, "by fire. Dumbledore thinks it was done by Ashworth."
"His name is Lord Black," Voldemort hissed.
"Forgive me Great Lord," Severus said. "I did not think you would want me to . . . embellish your enemy's status any more than necessary."
"Lord Black dueled with me and took my wand, Severus. He is the head of an ancient and noble house. Though he is a blood traitor worthy of death, he stands at my level."
Snape bowed his head deeper. "It shall be as you say."
"As it should," Voldemort said. "What of the basilisk's venom? Was it harvested?"
"Very likely so," Snape admitted. "Had it merely burned with the corpse, it would have left signs of corrosion on the floor of the Chamber."
Voldemort's nostrils flared as he internalized his anger and displeasure. He stewed this way for several minutes before a knock at the door signaled the entrance of one of the Death Eater guards. "My lord, you have another visitor."
"Leave me, Severus," Voldemort said immediately.
Severus was surprised by this turn of events. "But, my lord, I have my weekly report on the Order."
"I have matters more urgent than the Order's activities with which to concern myself," Voldemort said, gesturing for Snape to leave.
Feeling both slighted and relieved, Snape left the room as another hooded Death Eater sauntered into the Voldemort's sanctuary.
On the morning of Cassie Black's funeral, an owl from the Ministry found Harry and Bellatrix eating breakfast together in their flat. When Harry opened the envelope, a gold badge fell out from among the folded stack of parchment sheets.
"You made head boy!" Bellatrix exclaimed.
"You're so funny," Harry said sarcastically. "I can't even stop laughing." Ignoring the gold badge, he unfolded the parchment sheets and examined them.
"What do they say?" Bellatrix inquired.
After skimming the first sheet, Harry flicked it toward Bellatrix. "That's Minister Prewitt making nice to me." He examined the second sheet. "As Special Deputy to Davian Prewitt, Minister of Magic, I am entitled to the services of an Auror captain and a squadron of Aurors. By default, Amelia Bones will be that captain. The number of Aurors in the squadron may not exceed ten. Should Captain Bones be unavailable, I am entitled to assistance from a captain of equal or lesser value . . ."
"Blah, blah, blah," Bellatrix said as she used a knife to cut her sausage. "What about the rest?"
Harry shrugged and shuffled through the rest of the materials Minister Prewitt had sent him. "Looks like he has a list of Wizengamot members he thinks are Death Eaters but who he would rather not see go to Azkaban."
"Give me that," Bellatrix said, reaching across the table and grabbing the papers away from Harry. She examined them rapidly, having abandoned the remains of her breakfast. "He's one step ahead of me," she mused.
Harry rolled his eyes and speared an extra sausage link with his fork. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Worry not," Bellatrix grumbled. "There are many ways to milk a hippogriff."
Harry choked on his sausage. "I didn't know you could milk a hippogriff."
"Try not to be so literal," Bellatrix advised Harry. She looked at his clothes appraisingly. "You need to go refresh your wardrobe this morning. You have nothing decent to wear to work, and you are going to need to look your best at the funeral."
"Right," Harry agreed, already having suffered through a wardrobe inventory prior to meeting with Minister Prewitt. "I was going to stop by Ollivander's shop this morning, too."
"Excellent," Bellatrix said as she continued to eye the papers Prewitt had sent Harry.
Harry's stop at Madam Malkin's proved to be profitable for Harry and the seamstress. He walked out of the store with a set of robes suitable for both work and the funeral, a promise that a few more robes would be mailed to him by the next morning, and the assurance that he could order more robes via owl without having to be measured again.
The wand shop turned out to be more complicated, for not only had the war caused Ollivander and the Ministry to take safety precautions, but the events of recent days had prompted the Ministry to heighten security further. Harry's new gold badge got him past the security relatively quickly, and he was soon speaking to Ollivander.
"Mr. Black," Ollivander said by way of greeting, his eyes gleaming strangely. "I assume you wish for me to examine your recent acquisition."
"Yes," Harry said, drawing the holly wand and handing it to the aged wandmaker. "Can you tell me whether I will be able to use it safely?"
Ollivander examined the wand for several long minutes. "It is in good condition," he declared. "After all, it has seen regular exercise."
"Quite," Harry said feeling reminded of speech Ollivander had given in the alternate future about great and terrible things.
Ollivander continued to study it and eventually frowned. "Stealing the wand from the Dark Lord's hand has not properly won you the wand's allegiance, Mr. Black. However, it would seem that you are . . . potent enough to command its full cooperation."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Harry wondered. "Should I ever use it?"
Ollivander nodded. "You can use it safely, but it still recognizes the Dark Lord as its proper owner. You'll have to defeat him legitimately before you can ever rest assured that the wand is yours and yours alone." He handed the wand to Harry. "Perhaps you would be so kind as to test my words. I have never seen a wand owned by two people."
Harry shrugged and cast a bluebell flame charm on the counter. After a few seconds, he cancelled it out.
"It works," Ollivander said. "Perhaps it is because the phoenix feather in your own wand comes from the same phoenix that made this wand."
It occurred to Harry that he was supposed to act impressed or surprised at hearing this news, but he did not feel up to it. "That could be a good explanation," Harry said before saying farewell and departing.
At the Ministry, Harry was once again compelled to have his default wand weighed, but the guard was able to take Harry's badge and magically connect his wand to it. So long as Harry did not lose his wand in a duel or interfere with the identification charm, he would be able to flash his badge and bypass security whenever he visited the Ministry.
Past the guard desk, Harry found a lift and made his way to the floor that housed the Magical Law Enforcement offices. The staff members in the DMLE lobby recognized Harry immediately. His gold badge added to their surprise at his visit, but upon his request, they showed him to Amelia Bones's office.
"Mr. . . . Black," Amelia said by way of greeting, scrambling to pull out one the spare chairs for Harry.
"Captain Bones," Harry said, accepting the proffered chair and watching as Amelia straightened up the papers that were littered across the top of her desk. "You could just call me Harry."
"Harry, then," Amelia said. "Call me Amelia."
Harry nodded, signaling that he would do so.
"So," Amelia said, "I guess you're now my superior officer."
Harry shrugged. "Let's just be partners."
"That's awfully generous," Amelia said neutrally, only letting a small display of her appreciation past a blasé mask of collegiality. "I mean, I don't think your wife would so easily surrender an advantage like that."
"Yeah, well, Bellatrix is Bellatrix and not me," Harry said. "Her political machinations are her own. If I were you, I wouldn't get involved. If you're concerned about moving up the ladder in the Ministry, I think that will happen naturally. If all goes well, the two of us are about to be instrumental in ending this war."
"Let's do it then," Amelia said briskly, leaning forward and resting her arms on the desk. "But before we get started, could you tell me how you did all that Ghost of Ashworth stuff?"
"Just a simple illusion spell and some stealth," Harry explained. He reached into his robes and withdrew a sheet of parchment. "I've made a copy of the map you came up with." He handed it to her. "I got a couple of Death Eaters to allow me to use them to add more Death Eaters to the map. I made some promises—protection, leniency, etc."
Amelia studied her copy of the map. "So, we're going to start going after Death Eaters."
"Yes, I think that would be our next step," Harry said. "I think by night."
"It would be easier to strike by night, though I could imagine the occasional exception," Amelia mused. "The only problem I see is that Death Eaters are generally spread out in ones and twos. Once they realize we're coming for them, they're likely to become more difficult to deal with."
Harry leaned back in his chair. "I'll let you think about that. I'm going to be spending plenty of my time thinking about two magical objects the Dark Lord has. We'll need to go after those, eventually. I know what one is, but I need to think about the other and figure out where that is."
"All right," Amelia said. "When were you thinking of going out on our first raid?"
"A few nights from now," Harry said. "We probably shouldn't make too much of a pattern out of it, so consider that when scheduling. Do you have a squadron already set up?"
Amelia shook her head. "We're a little bit informal on squadron organization. I'll have to organize one and get approval for it to be essentially permanent and subject to our erratic schedule. It won't be difficult, though. Once word spreads the information that you are involved, I think plenty of Aurors will jump aboard. I do wish we were staring up sooner than a couple of days, though. I could have something thrown together by tonight."
"No," Harry said, shaking his head. "I have some things that I need to do. Coming back from the dead is a little bit complicated."
"I see," Amelia said.
"But," Harry said, not wanting to disappoint, "I think we could make one arrest immediately."
"What do you mean?"
"I have reliable information that Barty Crouch, Jr. is a Death Eater. If he's here at work, let's arrest him, right now," Harry said.
"Do you have proof?" Amelia said, clearly shocked at the accusation. "I mean, it does make sense to a certain extent, but we would be moving against Director Crouch's son. If you were wrong, we would be in a lot of trouble, even if you are a Special Deputy."
Harry smiled and stood up. "I am extremely confident. Let us go pay him a visit. Where might we find him?"
Amelia led the way down a maze of halls until they found another office door that was propped open. She pointed silently. Harry nodded and drew his wand. Amelia followed suit. They approached the office, and Harry used his foot to nudge the door open. Inside, Barty sat at a barren desk, staring calmly at his two visitors, hardly fazed by them pointing wands at him.
"Captain Bones, and Mr. Black, is it? What brings you here?" Barty inquired.
"Captain Bones is going to arrest you on suspicion of you being a Death Eater," Harry said, feeling a little bit smug.
Crouch's eyes narrowed. "That's a bold accusation. My father will not tolerate this."
Harry found it ironic that Crouch was hiding behind the father he despised. He was tempted to hone in on that and tease Barty a bit, but he just wanted to get it over with. "Do you deny the accusation?" Harry asked.
"Of course I do," Barty said, smiling as he pulled back both his sleeves. "As you can see, I do not bear the Dark Mark.
Amelia let out a depressed sigh. "Look, Barty, this was just a midun—"
"No, it is not a misunderstanding," Harry said. He stepped forward and reached out to grab Barty's arm.
With lightning speed, Barty drew his wand and coiled as if preparing to leap across the top of his desk, but Harry had been expecting it and Amelia herself had good reflexes. Two stunners hit him, one after the other, and Barty was unconscious in his chair. Harry holstered his primary wand and drew the holly wand. With it, he prodded Barty's arm, hissing various phrases and spells in Parseltongue. Eventually, a revealing spell caused the Dark Mark to appear on Barty's arm.
"There we are," Harry said.
Amelia stared at it. "How did you know?"
"I just did," Harry said, not wishing to explain his knowledge from the alternate future or that he had seen confirmation in Voldemort's mind during the horcrux search.
"That doesn't fly," Amelia said doubtfully.
"What does it matter how I knew?" Harry asked. "He's a Ministry employee, subject to us checking for the Dark Mark."
Amelia sighed. "Well, now we have to deal with his father. Any ideas for that?"
Harry pulled out his watch and glanced at it. "I suggest that you ensure that there are as many witnesses as possible. We don't want Crouch sweeping this under the carpet. I'm afraid that I am due at a funeral. But, if you go out and yell down the hall that you've arrested Barty for being a Death Eater, I'm sure you'll have plenty of support."
"You speak more truly than you know," Amelia said before Harry made his farewells and took off down the hall.
Although overcast, the weather was accommodating enough to allow Cassie Black's funeral services to be held in the graveyard next to Ravenbourgh. Not wanting to join their parents and Rose on the front row with Sirius and Leo, Sidra and John Potter found seats for themselves near the back. They sat there alone until Harry and Bellatrix joined them.
"Greetings, Potter munchkins," Bellatrix said as she and Harry sat down.
Sidra glowered at Bellatrix. "You're hilarious."
"I know," Bellatrix said, peering around and noting that several empty rows separated them from the rest of the guests that had arrived. "You do know how to pick seats."
Sidra sighed. "You are perfectly free to move up. In fact, I encourage it. Though, I suppose Harry can stay, if he wants."
"Thank you," Harry said, smiling at Sidra and winking at John.
"But I specifically sat here so that I could speak with you," Bellatrix said to Sidra.
Bellatrix's smile seemed somewhat foreboding. "I would like to offer you a job as my secretary."
"Your secretary?" Sidra spluttered. "What makes you think I'm looking for a job? And, for your information, old lady, the term is executive assistant, not secretary."
There was a glint in Bellatrix's violet eyes, but her tone of voice remained the same. "You just completed your seventh year at Hogwarts. Why would you not be looking for a job? Surely, you do not want to embarrass your relatives by remaining home and setting up shop as sulky smart aleck. I am giving you the opportunity to be a productive, respected member of society. As personal secretary to a powerful member of the Wizengamot, you would learn much, gain respect from others, and have access to many opportunities."
"Really? You, a powerful member of the Wizengamot? You haven't even shown your face at a Wizengamot meeting let alone cast a vote," Sidra retorted.
"I am rich. Therefore, I am powerful," Bellatrix said simply.
Harry cleared his throat. "Really, Sidra, this is a good opportunity. Bella would pay you a salary equivalent to that of somebody who has five years of seniority at the Ministry. You could afford a flat for yourself, and many of your meals would be covered by an expense account."
Bellatrix arched an eyebrow at Harry, but focused back on Sidra. "If you are going to have expense account meals, you will have to be on call nearly every hour of every day."
Sidra, while often disagreeable, did have the ability to recognize something good when she saw it. "Well, I suppose I could consider it. When would I start?"
Bellatrix looked toward Cassie's coffin. "How long is the funeral likely to last?"
Harry coughed and shot Bellatrix a stern glance before looking at Sidra. "I think tomorrow morning will be soon enough."
"Fine. Tomorrow morning," Bellatrix acquiesced. "You will go to the Ministry and inquire at the front desk. By that time, I will have acquired the use of one of the vacant Wizengamot office suites. As a further display of my generosity, I shall allow you to choose your job title. You have a choice between personal secretary and personal peon."
"I haven't accepted just yet," Sidra said, thoroughly outraged over the job title situation.
"Accepted what?" came Lily's voice.
Unfortunately for Sidra, this was when her younger brother decided to chime in. "Madam Black has just offered to let Sidra work as her personal peon!"
"She said personal secretary, you dolt!" Sidra barked.
"That's wonderful!" Lily exclaimed as Bellatrix smiled.
Sidra sighed, not sure where to feel cheated or blessed.
Not noticing her daughter's distress, Lily focused on Harry and Bellatrix and changed the subject. "I was hoping to invite you two over to a dinner later this evening, but somebody else has insisted on hosting the funeral meal. Is there any chance that you could come to dinner in a day or two?"
"Actually," Harry said, "we ourselves were planning to invite you and a select few to dinner in a day or two. I think it is time that Bella and I offered some explanations about what has been happening."
"That would be good as well," Lily said. "Who were you thinking of inviting?"
"Professor Dumbledore, of course," Harry said, "and a few others. Much of the information we will discuss is confidential information, so I am afraid the guest list will be somewhat restrictive."
"We'll look forward to that invitation," Lily said. "But I must insist that you two come for dinner another time."
"Of course," Bellatrix assented.
Lily nodded, seemingly pleased. "The service is about to start. Hopefully, I'll be seeing you soon." With that, she returned to the front to sit by James, who was sitting next to Sirius.
"We set the custodial staff to cleaning as soon as you submitted your request, Madam," one of the administrative clerks of the Wizengamot said, informing Bellatrix of the status of her office suite as she and Bellatrix made their way down one of the halls on the same floor as the Ministry courtrooms. "Unfortunately, it still is not ready."
"I hope you can have it completely ready by tomorrow," Bellatrix said, frowning slightly as she eyed the hallway. The light from the courtroom and clerks' office hallway spilled into the corridor down which Bellatrix and the nameless clerk were walking. The corridor's own lighting was quite dim. "I think it would also be appropriate if you were to have this hall cleaned and lighted better. Décor probably is not in the budget, but you should have what furnishings there are repaired."
"If you think it is necessary, Madam," the clerk said hesitantly, continuing to lead Bellatrix down the hall.
"Why would it not be necessary?" Bellatrix asked. "These hallways house the offices of sitting Wizengamot members. Presumably the Wizengamot still functions."
The clerk stopped in front of a pair of elegant doors as tall as the ceiling. "Most of the active members of the Wizengamot hold Ministry positions," she said. "Thus, they have offices on the upper levels."
"And the inactive ones?"
The clerk sighed. "With You-Know-Who on the loose, many do not want to risk doing business or being seen in public—especially not in a place that could be a target. And then, there are the Wizengamot members of questionable status . . . you know, potential Death Eaters. Nobody wants to see them appear at Wizengamot proceedings, and they fear that if they come, they will be arrested or questioned. In the end, it's usually just Minister Prewitt's administration that conducts the Wizengamot's business."
"Fascinating," Bellatrix said, somehow squeezing her opinion of the situation into one sarcastic word. She looked at the elegant doors. "I presume that these mark the entrance to my offices."
"I realize it isn't as close to the courtrooms and meeting rooms as others," the clerk said, "but it is bigger and nicer than many of the rest."
"It will do," Bellatrix said. "If I need help, I will come and find you."
"Um, okay," the clerk said, nodding deferentially and taking her leave as quickly as possible.
Wondering how long Minister Prewitt had been profiting from the Wizengamot's apparent willingness to let him do as he pleased, Bellatrix pushed open the doors to her new office and strode in. She found herself in a musty anteroom that featured a couple of faded armchairs and a coffee table. In one corner sat a desk set for a receptionist or secretary. Beyond the secretary desk, another pair of double doors marked the entrance to Bellatrix's office proper.
Bellatrix entered and found an overly ornate desk, which featured a straight-backed chair not unlike the sort in the Grimmauld Place dining room. Bellatrix walked around the desk, pulled out the chair, and sat down in it, wincing at the poor condition of the cushioning, but silently expressing gratitude that it at least had arms.
After several minutes of acclimatizing to and examining her new domain, Bellatrix removed a satchel from her robes, enlarged it, and began unloading the contents into her desk. Following that, she retrieved a sheet of parchment and a quill from desk and began making a list of renovations she would be making to the office at her own expense.
Bellatrix had completed the renovation list and was well into an extremely long to-do list for Sidra when a chime echoed through her office. Frowning, Bellatrix drew her wand and stood to investigate. She proceeded to the anteroom and into the hall, but found nobody. Deciding to inquire at the clerks' office, Bellatrix strode down the dim hallway, into the main corridor, and into the clerks' office. The clerks on duty looked up at their new visitor.
"I just heard a chime. What was it?" Bellatrix asked.
"It means a proceeding in which Wizengamot members may participate is being convened," said one of the clerks who apparently had been appointed to deal with Bellatrix while the others returned to their tasks.
"There are no scheduled Wizengamot meetings," Bellatrix countered.
"Must be last-minute," the clerk said.
"Well, where is it?" Bellatrix demanded. "Take me there."
"Yes, Madam," the clerk said, abandoning her desk and preparing to lead Bellatrix.
"You need robes," called another clerk.
"I hope you have some spares," Bellatrix said.
Relatively quickly, the clerks had provided Bellatrix with a set of black robes and a black hat, and one of them was showing Bellatrix toward the Wizengamot entrance for courtroom in which the proceeding was being held.
"It's just through there," the clerk said.
"Thank you," Bellatrix said, restraining her irritation at lack of notice of the meeting and unfamiliar costume she was now wearing. The clerk left, and Bellatrix entered the door, walked up a set of stairs, and entered the courtroom through an open archway.
Slightly more than a dozen Wizengamot and Ministry bureaucrats were mingling among the Wizengamot seats. Bellatrix's arrival caused a little bit of a stir. Ultimately, it was Amelia Bones who emerged from the crowd to greet Bellatrix.
"I'm surprised you're here," Amelia said.
"I happened to be in the Ministry," Bellatrix said. "Is it customary to hold these impromptu sessions?"
"Actually, yes," Amelia admitted. "They used to schedule big meetings and send out urgent notice for these smaller, unscheduled meetings, but very few who were not already at the Ministry for work ever came."
"I see," Bellatrix said as she watched several more Wizengamot members stream into the courtroom. "What is this meeting for?"
"It's the trial of Barty Crouch, Jr.," Amelia answered.
Bellatrix was about to reply, but a silence had fallen over the room. Looking around, Bellatrix was able to discern the reason for the silence. Director Crouch had arrived. Apparently, he was to preside at his son's trial.
"You haven't formally been sworn in," Amelia whispered to Bellatrix, "but I think I can take care of that before the trial begins."
"Isn't Minister Prewitt going to come?" Bellatrix asked, also whispering, although the volume of the crowd had returned to its normal level.
"He doesn't come to these unpublicized trials," Amelia said. "I don't think Director Crouch would prefer it today anyway."
The sound of Director Crouch banging his gavel served as the signal for the Wizengamot members to take their seats.
"Sit with me," Amelia invited Bellatrix.
Bellatrix followed Amelia and sat next to her on one of the benches that overlooked the lower part of the courtroom from the side. Turning her head, Bellatrix surveyed the turnout. While the Wizengamot members were not completely sparse, Bellatrix did notice a large number of empty seats.
"This meeting of the Wizengamot is called to order," Director Crouch said loudly. "We will hear—"
"Point of order!" Amelia called out.
"Yes, Captain Bones?" Crouch asked, looking quite irritated.
"My esteemed colleague, Madam Black, has only recently received her appointment to the Wizengamot. I move that the oath of office be administered to her immediately so that she may cast votes and participate in all further Wizengamot proceedings.
"Your motion is acknowledged," Crouch said. "Is there anybody to second it?"
There was an awkward silence.
"It's customary to arrange this beforehand," Amelia whispered apologetically to Bellatrix. "They're not being rude, they just assume someone else is supposed to do it."
"I second the motion," called a voice from the other side of the courtroom.
Crouch nodded to the wizard who had seconded the motion. "Director Foxe, perhaps you would be so kind to administer the oath."
"Very well," said Andrew Foxe. He looked across the courtroom at Bellatrix. "Madam Black, please draw your wand and repeat after me."
Bellatrix then uttered the magically binding oath. Without further ado, she sat back down and the meeting progressed.
"Interesting ally you have there," Amelia said, eyeing Andrew Foxe, who had focused his attention on Director Crouch.
Yes, quite," Bellatrix said, also looking across the courtroom. "Who is that man sitting next to him? The one still staring at me."
"That would be Edward Foxe," Amelia whispered. "He's the chief Unspeakable. Now that Andrew has returned and can actively exercise his Wizengamot privileges, I would not be surprised if they begin mounting a power grab. From the look of things, this war will be over soon, and there will be plenty of vacuums to fill."
"Quite," Bellatrix said quietly as Director Crouch finished whatever he was saying and directed that the actual trial begin.
A frost that materialized near the center of the floor signaled that the Dementors, and presumably, their prisoner had arrived in the holding cell beneath the courtroom. The main doors of the courtroom then opened to admit a number of Aurors that would stand guard around the perimeter of the room.
"They don't actually let the Dementors in the courtroom," Amelia said to Bellatrix.
"Thank Merlin for small favors," Bellatrix muttered back to Amelia as the floor opened and Barty, strapped to the witness chair, rose through the floor.
Without any apparent feeling, Director Crouch read the indictment that accused his son of being a Death Eater, resisting arrest, and a slew of associated crimes. He then inquired how Barty, Jr., wanted to plead.
Barty grinned crookedly. "I plead guilty, father."
"You're no son of mine," Crouch said without emotion.
"That's always been the case, hasn't it?" Barty snarled.
Crouch ignored the comment. "Since you have seen fit to plead guilty, the Wizengamot's judgment regarding your guilt is unnecessary. The statutory punishment for your crimes is—"
"Excuse me," Bellatrix called out.
Director Crouch glared at Bellatrix. "Yes, Madam Black?"
"The hastiness of this proceeding concerns me," Bellatrix said. "Wasn't he arrested only this morning? And now, we're already sentencing him and presumably sending him to Azkaban tonight?"
"He admitted his guilt!" Director Crouch retorted. "What else is there to do?"
"I think there should be a more extensive investigation, more interrogation, and a more detailed indictment," Bellatrix said, scrambling to find reasons for why the trial should not be over so quickly.
"Do you doubt his guilt?" Crouch demanded.
"Well . . . ," Bellatrix said, at a loss for words.
Barty leered up at Bellatrix. "It was your husband who personally gave the order for me to be arrested. Perhaps one day, he will realize how serious a mistake it was."
"Madam Black," Director Crouch said, sounding like he was addressing a small child, "quite simply, the prisoner has been indicted for a number of crimes to which he confessed after being arrested. It is entirely possible that he is guilty of other crimes. But, that does not matter. What he has pleaded guilty to qualifies him for a life sentence in Azkaban. The other things he might have done are now moot. If you wish, you can move to have these crimes investigated and prosecuted at another date. But for now, I suggest that you let us proceed."
Seeing no other alternative, Bellatrix sat back and watched as Director Crouch declared that the statutory penalty Barty faced was life in Azkaban. The Director then called for a confirmation vote on the sentence from the Wizengamot.
"Seems pointless," Bellatrix grumbled to Amelia.
"This is where the Wizengamot can argue for a more lenient or severe sentence," Amelia whispered as the vote got underway. "Because Barty did not confess to any specific murder, the Kiss is not the automatic statutory penalty, but it is technically still possible."
"Oh, great," Bellatrix said, almost forgetting to keep her voice low. "Apparently you can be arrested at breakfast and get Kissed before dinner."
"Ideally, only if you're guilty," Amelia defended. "As it is, I think your objection may have spared Barty from the Kiss. You forced Crouch to declare that if further punishment is warranted, we can always launch an investigation and prosecution later."
"This must be the most awful debut a Wizengamot member has made in decades," Bellatrix sighed.
"It's not bad," Amelia said. "You merely insisted on a more organized approach to Death Eater prosecutions."
"It's about to get worse," Bellatrix said.
"How?" Amelia whispered, but it was too late for Bellatrix to answer.
The Wizengamot official responsible for counting the vote had reached Bellatrix. "Madam Black, do you vote for or against sentencing Barty Crouch, Jr., to a life imprisonment in Azkaban?"
"I decline to cast a vote in this matter," Bellatrix said.
"Wow," Harry said, "you made the front page after only an afternoon, evening, and half the night on the job." He looked up from the Daily Prophet and grinned at Bellatrix.
Bellatrix scowled at Harry as she refilled her glass of orange juice. The exhausted look in her eyes intensified the scowl. Harry had been asleep by the time she had come home from the office. "Are you sure he was a Death Eater, that this wasn't some elaborate scam by Director Crouch?"
"In my future, he was one of the Dark Lord's most devoted followers," Harry said.
"Apparently I was, too," Bellatrix said.
"Yes, but I didn't see you in the Dark Lord's mind while I was horcrux hunting," Harry replied. "Fear not; Crouch deserves life in Azkaban. I do wonder what the point of you not voting at all was, though."
Bellatrix sipped her orange juice and watched sullenly as Harry flipped through the newspaper pages and settled on the comics. "It was politically expedient. Something did not smell right yesterday. Obviously, I could not vote against punishing him, but neither could I vote in favor if I want to draw attention to any irregularities at a later time."
"You're gambling on finding irregularities," Harry said.
"Well, you are the one with the figurative crystal ball," Bellatrix retorted. "Tell me, is it possible that Barty Crouch is doing something improper?"
"I think it is highly likely," Harry said.
"I don't know," Harry sighed, abandoning the newspaper in favor of his own glass of orange juice. "In many ways, he is more concerned about power and prestige than winning the war, I should think. But please, don't try to oust him unless you have a better candidate in mind."
"I am not out to oust anybody," Bellatrix said. "I merely was displeased with what happened yesterday. Something seemed wrong about it."
Harry shrugged. "Well, it wasn't wrongful conviction."
"Whatever," Bellatrix said. "What time are we meeting the Order?"
"Seven," Harry said. "I rented out a room in a Scottish pub. I'm sure Moody will be able to take care of the security wards. I'll apparate back here and pick you up."
"Very good," Bellatrix said, pushing back her chair and standing. "Don't forget your interview with Witch Weekly."
Harry let out a very put-upon sigh. "Is it really necessary?"
"You need good press," Bellatrix called as she strode down the hallway. "Please be absolutely sure to emphasize that you are not a bastard—at least not the bastard of anybody to whom I am closely related."
The Witch Weekly interview proved to be relatively painless, but as Harry departed the magazine's offices, he was still blinking rapidly as his eyes recovered from their exposure to excessive camera flashes. Despite the distance between Witch Weekly and his next destination, the Weasleys' joke shop, Harry opted to walk.
Ignoring the passers-by, who occasionally slowed their own pace to stare at the wizard who had humiliated Lord Voldemort, Harry lost himself in his thoughts. The snake horcrux was both simple and difficult. As he understood the nature of horcruxes from Bellatrix, all he had to do was get in the same room as the snake and unleash some fiendfyre. Unfortunately, Harry was not sure he would be able to get close to the snake—at least, not now that Voldemort knew that Harry knew about horcruxes and the snake being one.
Harry's thoughts then turned to the other horcrux. It had been stored in the basement of Grimmauld Place. The Death Eaters had removed it the same night that they had kidnapped Molly and Lily. Voldemort had merely wished to move it to a new location, but after seeing the Ghost of Ashworth, Voldemort had taken additional steps. He had transformed the essence of the horcrux into a new container—a painful process for a number of victims, and even Voldemort himself.
While probing Voldemort's thoughts, Harry had reflexively flinched at the pain and horror of the process. Unfortunately, Voldemort had expelled Harry from his mind before Harry had the chance to return to that memory and see the new horcrux. Harry felt like he was still missing something. I saw enough, he fumed. I should be able to work it out!
There was only one Weasley twin standing at the sales desk when Harry stepped in and walked straight to the part of the store where the twins kept the instant darkness powder. Grabbing several bags, Harry returned to the front of the store to find both twins standing at the desk.
"You're the bloke who bought the trick wands and Peruvian instant darkness powder and was carrying two Firebolts," one of them said accusingly to Harry.
"Yes," Harry admitted. "I did say it would be a smashing party, didn't I?"
The twins grinned. One of them spoke. "It was brilliant, mate. We've sold out of trick wands."
"I've still got plenty, fortunately," Harry said as he dug out some money.
"Were you thinking of that exact use when you bought the stuff?"
"No," Harry said. "I'm not that good of a prankster. When the opportunity came, I was desperate and was lucky enough to have it all work out."
"Extensive pre-planning is key," one of the twins observed. "But, still, we think you have the makings of an excellent prankster."
"I think you're right," Harry said with a wan smile. After saying farewell, he departed the shop. Outside on the street, he summoned Kreacher, who appeared promptly at his side. "Kreacher," Harry said, "go to Leo and ask him if he and Rose would like to meet me at the Leaky Cauldron for lunch."
Without saying anything, Kreacher disappeared, and Harry began his walk down toward the Leaky Cauldron. Before he got there, Kreacher returned and reported that Leo and Rose would meet Harry at the Leaky Cauldron as soon as they could. And they did, for Harry found them waiting when he arrived.
"How are you, Leo?" Harry asked, trying to show sympathy, but not wishing to cause embarrassment.
"Good enough," Leo said.
"His father is taking it the hardest," Rose said, moving toward the dining area of the Leaky Cauldron and helping herself to a seat.
Harry and Leo followed her, and the group was soon ordering from the familiar menu that just about every witch and wizard in Britain had committed to memory.
As soon as the server had moved away, Rose jumped into the formalities of things. "What is it you wanted to discuss, Harry?"
"Quite forward, aren't you?" Harry asked, drawing his wand and casting some subtle privacy charms around their table. The only way anybody would be able to hear them was if they came and stood right next to the table.
"You invited us here," Rose parried.
Harry nodded as he glanced around the inside of the pub. "I'm in the market for another one of those magical objects. I was hoping you might be able to give me some special insight on the matter."
"What makes you think I would have special insight?" Rose asked innocently as Leo looked on uncomfortably.
"I've been around long enough to know that you claim to have seer abilities," Harry replied, frowning at Rose. "Now cut the nonsense and tell me if you're willing to help."
"What do you know about this magical object?" Rose inquired.
Harry explained everything he had seen in Voldemort's mind—where it had originally been stored and that Voldemort had recently been it. "Is that enough for you?"
"I suppose," Rose said dubiously.
"You've gone on much less in the past," Leo said.
"Yes," Rose admitted, sounding a little bit too serious. "I will attempt to see what it is you seek."
"You have my gratitude," Harry said as the server arrived with their orders.
They ate in silence for a moment before Leo found another topic of conversation. "So, tonight is that big meeting where our parents and Professor Dumbledore get to formally meet the mysterious Harry Black," Leo said. "What are you planning to say?"
Harry grinned. "What should I say, do you think?"
"You will want to establish that you are firmly on our side," Rose said solemnly. "There has been a lot of speculation about your motives, especially considering your wife's naked political ambition and your unexplained absence over the past couple of decades."
"And of course, there is you being Lord Black," Leo said. "I don't know if my father believes it, but some think that there must have been something suspicious going on for you to be able to take control of the House of Black from my grandfather, completely bypassing my father."
Harry stirred his food around on his plate and then smiled at the two teens. "So, I've just got to convince everybody that my motives are pure and that I legitimately came by the Lord Black title?"
"That's putting it a little too simply," Rose said. "If you stick to those two things, you will be able to dodge explaining where you were. Some of the Order feels almost like you abandoned them, especially my mum. Even if you were injured, surely you could have sent word."
"And told us how to end this war," Leo said quietly. "Before so many people died. I'm not blaming you; I'm just saying what some say."
Feeling the weight of the situation, Harry let out a sigh and dropped his fork.
"It's not that bad," Leo rushed to assure him.
"They have to support you," Rose said. "They know that because of a prophecy."
This piqued Harry's interest. "A prophecy? Do you know what it says?"
"I promised not to disclose it," Rose said. "But I will say that because of it, the Order does not have a whole lot of choice about believing in you as the person who could defeat You-Know-Who."
"Does it involve someone being marked equal of the Dark Lord and neither being able to die except at the other's hands?" Harry asked, pressing on.
Rose looked shocked, but she said nothing.
"I see that I am correct," Harry said, feeling a little bit smug at having surprised the young clairvoyant.
"How could you possibly even have a clue about what the prophecy said?" Rose demanded. "You were gone when the prophecy was given."
Harry smiled and waved at the bar, signaling that he was ready for the check. "I have been fighting this war for a very long time, Rose. There are things I know that not even Dumbledore could guess at."
"It seems odd to say that you've been fighting this war for so long," Leo said, looking around to make sure the server wasn't already on the way with the check. "You seem so young, and Bellatrix, too. Our parents always comment that Bellatrix looks like she's still seventeen years old."
Harry smiled as the server approached and laid the check on the table before retreating to the bar. "Bellatrix is, in fact, still seventeen years old."
"What!" Rose exclaimed.
"Wicked!" Leo exclaimed as Harry examined the check and deposited a couple of galleons on the table. "You must be time travelers. How old are you?"
"I've lost track," Harry said as he stood up and drew his wand and prepared to apparate. "Like I said, it's been a very long and stressful war for me. Please hold off on telling anybody about the time travel. You can always brag later that you knew first."
Sidra watched as the decorators placed her new desk to its rightful place in the reception area of Bellatrix's Wizengamot office suite. Upon arriving for work at eight in the morning, Sidra had discovered that Bellatrix already had a long list of tasks for her to accomplish. Bellatrix had also hired decorators for a rush job, and Sidra had been tolerating their presence all day as they transformed the office suite into an elegant, yet utterly daunting space.
The last decorator departed after informing Sidra that the bill for services rendered was forthcoming. Sidra made a notation of that and then sat down in her desk, luxuriating in the new chair that came as part of the renovation.
One of the doors to Bellatrix's office opened, and Bellatrix came into the reception area to examine the decorators' handiwork. "Very nice," she commented, eyeing Sidra after surveying the room.
"The bill is on its way," Sidra informed her boss.
"I am quite sure it is," Bellatrix said drily.
"Have any of those people responded to the invitations?" Bellatrix asked, referring to the long list of invitations she had directed Sidra to write and owl first thing. It seemed that Bellatrix wanted to sit down and visit with each member of the Wizengamot—active on the body or not, suspected Death Eater or not.
"Pius Thicknesse responded and will be here before the end of business hours," Sidra said, checking the note she had made.
"Thicknesse? Today?" Bellatrix asked, sounding skeptical. "He is being oddly cooperative."
"I suppose so," Sidra said, unsure as to what made him overly cooperative.
"Very well, send up to Captain Bones in Magical Law Enforcement for a copy of their file on Thicknesse. If she resists, tell her she can send it down now, or she can wait for Harry to come in and instruct her to send it down."
"What if they ask what you want with it?" Sidra said.
Bellatrix rolled her eyes. "Then tell Bones it is none of her bloody business. Send off the note and then come into my office. I need you to run some errands."
Writing the memo took only a couple of minutes. When it was on its way, Sidra stepped into Bellatrix's office and found the other witch hunched over some papers on the desk. "What do you need?" Sidra asked.
Bellatrix looked up and eyed Sidra's clothes. "You will have to stop somewhere and put on some Muggle business clothes." She then gestured to a pair of manila folders. "Then, you will take the top folder to the Muggle government's land registry office and register these deeds. From there, in the second folder, you will find a list of property management firms and notes about what I am willing to pay for their services. If you find a firm that will agree to my price, have them mail me a contract to sign. Hopefully, by now, you have figured out what address should be used when mailing letters to the Ministry via Muggle post."
"Of course," Sidra said stiffly.
"Once you have done all that," Bellatrix said, "you can head over to #2 Privet Drive in Surrey and look in on my nephew. I have a Muggle car there." Bellatrix produced a set of car keys and handed them to Sidra. "Seeing as the little wanker has been off using the car for his entrepreneurial ventures, I want you to take it away from him and drive it up to where the Weasley's live. Arthur Weasley has agreed to do some work on it."
"I don't know how to drive a Muggle car!" Sidra protested.
"You had better learn, then," Bellatrix said.
"And I don't have enough time to drive the car up to where the Weasleys live tonight," Sidra pointed out.
"Then take it to a car park for the night and finish the job on the weekend," Bellatrix suggested. She produced her purse from a desk drawer and withdrew a plastic charge card. "You can use this to pay Muggles for anything you need while doing work for me. Incidentally, Draco probably does need a vehicle for his little business. Take him to a vehicle dealer, purchase an economical vehicle that he can use for his business, and tell him it is a birthday gift for all of his birthdays that I missed . . . and the next one, too."
"I am paying you handsomely," Bellatrix reminded her. "Also, you can buy meals as needed with the charge card. Just keep in mind, if I detect any irregularities in your expenses, I will scalp you."
"Whatever," Sidra grumbled, grabbing the folders and departing Bellatrix's office.
Although Harry sat at the head of the table, Professor Dumbledore called the meeting to order after those present had finished eating their meals. "It appears that we are prepared to move toward the main purpose of this gathering," the headmaster observed after clearing his throat. Ignoring the dirty look Bellatrix was giving him from her place to the left of Harry, Dumbledore continued. "The Blacks have promised us a full explanation, but condition it on none of you revealing what they share tonight."
"I think we should commit to keeping their secrets only after we know what they are," Mrs. Weasley interjected.
"Anything we share is shared as a courtesy and as a gesture of good will," Bellatrix said firmly, leaning forward and staring down the table at Mrs. Weasley. "Harry and I are fully capable of concluding this conflict against the Dark Lord without giving you any explanation whatsoever."
"You need the help the Order," Mrs. Weasley retorted. "You cannot expect us to follow you blindly."
Bellatrix rolled her eyes. "In case you haven't been paying attention, Minister Prewitt is cooperating with Harry. We command the Aurors. We can win this war without you. And we will."
"You command an Auror squad only," James Potter interjected.
Bellatrix seemed ready with a comeback to that, but Harry cleared his throat a little more loudly than necessary and interrupted the flow of conversation. "Bella and I want to be friends with all of you that are here," he said, glancing at those gathered around the table. The Potters and Blacks were all present, with the exception of the youngest Potter child. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley sat with the twins, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny. Professor Dumbledore, Alastor Moody and Remus Lupin were also spread in among the crowd. "There are even some not here with us tonight whom I would like to call friends," Harry continued. "But, I think it would be best to wait a little while to tell them everything."
"We are not entirely sure what you are trying to say," Professor Dumbledore said, looking toward Harry with twinkling blue eyes.
Harry sighed. "Tonight, we want to come clean about certain facts. We hope to convince you that you can trust us. We want to work with you. What Bella said about us being able to win this war without the Order is true, I think, but I would rather do it with you your cooperation. So, I'm going to tell you some stuff, but we need you to take oaths to keep it secret."
"And why does it have to be secret?" Sirius inquired, sounding quite skeptical.
Harry had possessed the foresight to consider this question before the meeting. "To be perfectly honest," Harry said, glancing around at the members of the Order, "some of the information I will share tonight will detract from my public image and even Bella's public image. The Death Eaters and much of the public view me as a very imposing sort of wizard. If they learn the truth, I will become a lot less scary and a somewhat less effective participant in this fight. The same goes for Bellatrix."
"Strategic necessity, then," Moody muttered. Harry could not tell from the former Auror's tone of voice whether he approved of Harry's first reason.
"Basically, yes," Harry said, ready to push on. "The second main reason is that part of this explanation includes information that must not reach the Dark Lord. If he were to find out and use it to his advantage, it would be disastrous."
"I think Mr. Black's reasons are sound," Dumbledore said, taking control of the discussion and quashing the debate before it could begin. "Let us make our magical oaths and hear what it is that the Blacks are going to share with us."
It was not as simple as that, but eventually, everybody had made magical oaths to Harry, vowing that they would not reveal anything they learned from Harry or Bellatrix that night. Silence enveloped the room as Harry stood and began pacing at the head of the table. "I think the easiest way into this would be for me to explain where we were for twenty odd years."
"It is as good a place as any to start," Dumbledore encouraged, his attention riveted to Harry.
"Quite, simply," Harry said, "Bellatrix and I were nowhere—we didn't exist. You see, Bellatrix happens to own a special heirloom that occasionally causes people to time travel. On the night we confronted the Dark Lord at Riddle Manor, the heirloom was accidentally activated. We arrived shortly before Sirius's mother offed herself. So, for us, it has been less than a year since I taught Potions at Hogwarts, less than a year since Bellatrix was a student at Hogwarts, and so forth."
Everybody but Rose and Leo were stunned. Harry could see that those two were enjoying the looks on everyone's face almost as much as he would have liked to enjoy them himself if he weren't so nervous about not offending those present but not telling more than he felt obligated to share.
"Wait, so you're younger than me!" Sidra exclaimed, glaring toward Bellatrix.
Bellatrix smiled triumphantly at eldest Potter child.
"That explains a great many mysteries," Dumbledore said slowly. "Your apparent youthfulness and your disappearing without a trace. But it also raises another question."
"That wasn't the first time you time traveled, was it?" Moody asked gruffly, jumping in.
Harry smiled at Moody. "It was Bellatrix's first time, but my second. My first time travel was also an accident—I think. At least it was unintentional on my part. So, before any of you accuse me of irresponsibly meddling with the timeline, just let me say that I have never willfully traveled through time. I have only ever tried to make the best out of whatever situation fate handed me."
"So, did you come from the past or the future, originally?" Lily asked, sounding very intrigued.
"The future," Harry replied.
"So you knew about Voldemort," Dumbledore said slowly.
"Yes," Harry admitted. "And, please believe me when I say that I attempted to sabotage his rise to power, but it was too late. The ball was already rolling by the time I had arrived. Bella and I had just commenced with our theory about how to bring him down when we were catapulted to the future. I was planning to tell you everything, Albus, and you, Moody, as soon as Bella and I confirmed the existence of what we were looking for on that night we disappeared."
"Wouldn't you say it was kind of arrogant of you to take the battle against You-Know-Who into your own hands without consulting anybody?" Sirius asked, not sounding terribly impressed with Harry.
"I don't think so," Harry said slowly. He was not used to Sirius being critical of him, so Sirius's comment and demeanor had shaken him somewhat. Fortunately, he had taken the time to think everything through, and he was able to press on after pausing only briefly. "Firstly, I took steps to relay information about You-Know-Who to people in power, even if I did not explain fully how I had come across the information. Secondly, dealing with the Dark Lord has always been my business and responsibility. You see, in my version of the future, there was a prophecy foretelling my birth and the hazards that I would present to the Dark Lord."
"Extraordinary," Dumbledore said. "Now, I think we could all debate about how well you handled the situation based on how we would have done in your shoes, but perhaps you could provide us with some objective measures."
"Objective measures?" Harry said quizzically.
"How long did it take to defeat Voldemort in your future?" Dumbledore asked.
"We lost," Harry said. "Everybody in this room was dead or as good as dead when I departed my version of the future."
"So you knew us in your future, didn't you?" Lily jumped in.
Harry cringed. This was not going to be simple. He was not yet prepared to admit that he was a Potter. "I knew some of you," Harry admitted. "But some of you were already dead by the time I was old enough to remember anything. And, some of you did not even exist. Honestly, I think I can say that we are better off now than we were at this same time in my future."
"Did you know me?" Lily asked.
"Not really, no," Harry said, doing his best not to fidget as he told a half-truth. "I never really had a conversation with you until I taught you in Potions."
"This sounds plausible," Moody said suspiciously, "but there is one thing that concerns me."
"What is that?" Harry said, extremely grateful that somebody had interrupted Lily.
Moody sat back in his chair and smiled. "If you came from the future, why is there not another one of you wandering around now?"
Harry shrugged. "As far as I can tell, I never existed in this version of the future. Apparently, I changed the timeline enough to prevent myself from being born."
"That is not a sign that his story is bogus," Dumbledore said. "The universe does not appreciate having duplicate people running about. That is why time turners are so severely limited. In fact, if Harry was claiming that his double was in this future or would soon be born, I would doubt his story."
James and Sirius leered at Dumbledore suspiciously. James spoke for the two of them. "That is some strange logic, Professor. At least so far as you claiming that what Harry is not doing is in fact proving the truth of what he is saying."
"Well said, sir," Fred (or George) Weasley declared.
"We can resolve this quite simply," Dumbledore declared. He looked at Harry. "Would you be willing to show us some snippets of the future in a Pensieve? I would of course allow you to be selective."
Harry glanced at Bellatrix. Seeing no objection in her countenance, he nodded to Dumbledore. "I don't see a problem with that."
Dumbledore stood. "I could bring my Pensieve here, but I wonder if anybody would mind adjourning this meeting and gathering again in my office as soon as possible."
Bellatrix did not look thrilled at this prospect, but Harry could see no problem or inconvenience in gathering at Hogwarts. "Let's do it," Harry said, already trying to think of the various memories he could show.