She watched him stand on the veranda, looking out to sea. Shaking her head, Lily knew she should have foreseen this situation. With a heavy sigh, the pregnant witch waddled out to stand next to the Prince of Wales.
"Evening, Lily," he murmured.
"Billy," she replied. All of them, William included, knew that if they addressed him as 'Billy' they were invoking the familiarity of friendship and love with him. "Must be a bit lonely for you, now."
He shrugged without looking at her. "Even with my brother, I was always a bit lonely growing up. Harry," he broke off, looking at her for the first time, "my brother, Harry, well he was a bit of a wanker."
The small smile on William's face faded. "But I still miss him." Shaking off the grief, he returned from his parenthesis, "Your Harry, Neville, Susan and Hermione were the first kids my own age that I never wondered about.'
The auburn haired witch nodded, knowingly. It was the same for Harry. He'd confided in her that he'd always wondered how many of his peers wanted to be his friend because he was The Boy-Who-Lived. For the longest time, he wondered if Ron Weasley had only been his friend to soak up fame by association.
"It's not so much that I miss being around people my own age, but being around my true friends," William breathed.
The door opened behind them. The deep clearing of a throat as footsteps walked across the stone floor announced his identity louder than words. When James hands' rested on her shoulders, he greeted them, "Evening all. How was your day?"
His kiss on her neck was fleeting and brief. A sigil of his love.
"We were just talking about friends," William evaded.
James had been best friends with Sirius Black and Remus Lupin for far too long to be put off by vague words. They were all silent as the sun sank closer to the horizon. "Missing the kids, then?"
"Um-hmm," the Prince replied, staring out to sea, again.
They were all quiet. Lily watched a luxury sailboat shift tacks as it clawed out to sea. The horizon burst into a glory of red, orange and yellow with a base of black. The sun kissed the horizon, hesitating for a moment before surrendering to the inevitable. There was more to it than William missing the other teens. His reticence was so unusual and there was an aroma of strong emotion that hung in the air.
As the sun was bisected by the curvature of the earth, James squeezed her about the waist before reminding William, "My parents were killed when I was seventeen. My cousins had been targeted and killed when I was very young, no older than seven or eight. After I buried my parents, my only surviving relative was Sirius."
"Lucky you," Lily jibed. By the tensing of William's shoulders, it seemed that James had struck pay dirt with his essay.
All grinned for a moment before James continued, "All I had in my life were Sirius, Remus and Peter."
Lily supressed the hiss that tried to slip out of her clenched teeth. During their Hogwarts years, Peter had been true, but that didn't lessen the hatred that burned in her heart for the Rat.
James ignored the tensing in her shoulders as he continued, "They were my family."
The silence grew and swelled about them. Lily instantly grasped his point, hoping that Billy would take it in the spirit offered. Watching the young man, she could see the emotions as they swelled and ebbed through his heart. Anger, sadness, grief, frustration and finally understanding. All this wrapped up in a tender expression that seemed to be one of gratitude.
"You are part of us, now. You're family, Billy."
Everyone had left the young man alone regarding the wholesale slaughter of his family. While almost all the residents of the La Retirada could empathize with his plight, all also realized that he needed to grieve his own way. Should he want to discuss it, they'd be there but he needed to make the first move.
The young man's head drooped. It was evident that he was overcome by emotion. Moved, Lily gently untangled herself from her husband's embrace to wrap her arms about the young man, pulling him to her.
He didn't cry, but William did meld himself to Lily. His mother was dead. His father was dead. Brother, aunts, uncles and grandfather, all dead.
"It's Ok, Billy. It's Ok," she murmured. It wasn't Ok and wouldn't be so for many more months, but she was trying to convey that the young man was loved and appreciated. He was wanted and a part of this greater Marauder family. What made it more special was that membership of this family wasn't an accident of birth, but rather a conscious choice. James was the Father, Lily the Mother. Sirius and Remus were the Uncles while Alex and Hestia the Aunts. Bill and Bobbie had taken up the role of 'Old People' (so Sirius said) and helped round out the family for the youngest generation. Harry, Hermione, Neville, Susan and William would be fast friends until the end of days. In fact, Harry and Hermione's eldest daughter would one day succeed her Godmother, 'Auntie Kate,' as the Queen of Great Britain.
But that was many years from now, after many trials and travails.
Lily felt William relax before he gave her a squeeze, "Thanks."
She bussed his cheek. "Of course. Come on in, Rauri has a feast for us."
William's stomach grumbled causing Lily and James to laugh while the teen blushed.
"Good timing, too," James chuckled. Throwing his arm over the young man's shoulders, he steered the group inside. "Hestia's waiting inside for us. I'm starved."
Remus chuckled. Harry was usually very stoic when bored or in pain. However, the painstaking survey of their assigned areas was inspiring much grumbling from The Boy-Who-Lived.
Through his mirror, he heard Hermione chastise her fiancé, "Harry…"
"Sorry, love," he muttered. The expression in Remus' communication mirror showed anything but repentance.
"I gather you've not found anything?" he asked. Remus had been quartering his assigned search areas with no success. Hermione and Susan had constructed a mounting board which held the magic detecting crystals. Fixing them on the handles of the motorbikes had allowed each of the searchers to work their way through their zones far more quickly than they'd have accomplished on foot.
"Nothing," Hermione replied, her frustration as evident as her betrothed's vexation.
"Nor me," Harry added.
Glancing first at his new watch before looking at the sky, he offered, "Let's wrap it up for today. Meet at the rendezvous spot before we head back?"
"Ten minutes," Harry quipped.
"See you then," Hermione concurred.
Shrugging, Remus pocketed his mirror. He tried not to be discouraged. It was only the first day of searching. They'd started their search directly to the south of the hidden grounds of Rowan Hill. The portrait of Grandfather Cadfael hadn't known where – exactly – the homestead of the original Dormred Ap Morag had been. The only thing he'd regrettably been able to tell them was that it was within a day's ride to the south.
So they searched.
This far into Snowdonia Park they all agreed that independent searching was an acceptable risk. When they reached the more populated areas, pairs or even the three of them would be required. They were in the United Kingdom ruled by Lord Voldemort. That could never be forgotten. At the same time, the Dark Lord wasn't omniscient. Finding a balance in their paranoia was difficult.
Pulling over to the side of the road, he let the engine idle as he stopped next to Hermione.
"Red light," he muttered.
"Blue light," she grunted in reply. They had prearranged passcodes to confirm their identity.
"How did it work?" Remus asked, nodding to the rack on the handlebars with the crystals embedded therein.
Shrugging she replied, "I don't really know. Nothing happened, but at least it didn't fall off."
Harry roared by, waving his arm as he shouted, "Come on."
Without waiting, Hermione gunned her motorbike, spinning gravel as she departed.
He couldn't blame them. Despite the logical reassurances that they ought not to have any luck the first day out it was still discouraging that they'd come up empty.
Heading after the teens, Remus returned to the campsite. Switching off, he left the keys in the ignition as he put the kickstand down. Slouching to the infirmary tent, he admitted that he needed a hug from Alex.
"How'd it go at the Terfels' farm?"
Neville looked up from his journal. He was documenting everything he could about his efforts to restore the home farms. His reading and studies had obliquely discussed the type of effort that he was attempting, but there was nothing concrete in the literature. Maybe, just maybe, if Britain was freed then he'd actually publish an article about the topic.
Leaning back, he stretched his back. "It went well," he told Harry. His dark haired friend plopped into a chair, rubbing his face in his hands. With sympathy, he guessed, "Not so good for you guys?"
Hermione came in the tent. Sliding into Harry's lap, she wrapped her arms about his neck as she replied, "Nothing today. We knew that this was the more mind numbing part of the effort."
"Arse numbing, more like," Harry murmured.
Neville chuckled as Hermione clucked her tongue in disapproval. Susan emerged from the toilet, greeting the others. She slid into the seat next to Neville and once more, he marvelled at his good fortune. Susan was not an expert at herbology, far from it. However, she'd been invaluable in his efforts.
"Distract us, Neville," Hermione groaned as she leaned into Harry. "Tell us about it."
Leaning back in his chair, he began, "Well, Sirius drove the four of us out to the farm." Shaking his head, he scowled, "They torched the house as well as the fields. Sirius thinks the house is a total loss. The place stunk of dark magic. Luckily, the field only had an accelerant like petrol used to get things going. The fire was completely non-magical."
"That's good," Harry observed. He was leaning back on the chair, his feet on a footstool. Hermione looked to be nearly asleep, but Neville knew better.
"Neville and Alex hurried back here to get the Trailer," Susan continued the tale.
The Trailer was a triumph of runes and spell work. Neville and Sirius had been working on it for weeks. They'd purchased huge slabs of slate that they'd fixed in an elongated 'V' shape, fashioning a gate on the bottom. Since they knew that Voldemort's government would be looking for unusual magical activity, runes and precast spells were relied upon heavily in the construction of the Trailer. In the end, they'd fashioned a Disillusioned, self-levitating magical dump truck. Filling it with the purchased dragon and manitcore dung, Lily had sent it on via portkey just this morning.
"It took about six hours to get the dung spread over the ruined fields, but once that was done; the plough tilled everything under in a trice."
Neville smiled and nodded his head appreciatively. Sirius was earning his keep on this mission. Not only had he created the wards and their dump truck, but he'd charmed a plough to be self-propelled. "Come spring, everything should be right as rain."
Hermione's eyes cracked open, "If everyone can come home, that is."
Neville sobered. Yes, they'd taken a big step in restoring the farms to a workable state. The plan had been successfully tested and everything worked fine. However, Dormred ap Morag was still there and the omnipresent threat of Lord Voldemort cast a pall of pessimism over all their efforts.
Sighing, Amelia stood. She'd been distracting herself all day, avoiding the problem. Going to extraordinary lengths, she'd even generated a 'surprise inspection' of the facility. Spending over an hour in the basements looking for security leaks hadn't made the problem go away.
Shoving a bottle of firewhiskey in her pocket, Amelia sighed again. The scowl that had been coming and going all day returned. What she needed to do was near the top of tasks that she privately called 'Repulsive'. Dealing with murderers, wizards fully immersed in the dark arts and traitors. All made her skin crawl. All made her feel slightly nauseous.
In retrospect, it was obvious that they had someone who was passing information to Voldemort and his forces. They'd lost Team Five, the compromising of Harry's excursion to rescue Hermione's parents, the spate of captures at ports…all of them had been held in strictest confidence. Then again, by definition a traitor was trusted, else they wouldn't be useful to the other side.
Absently, she locked her door with three separate locking charms. Enough whinging, woman. Get on with it.
With a new resolve and her familiar upright posture, the petite redhead strode down the hall. Turning into his office, she was brought up sort. Sitting at his desk, Arthur Weasley was weeping.
He didn't notice her and she couldn't move. Sat behind his desk, he was holding a picture in his hands, staring at it as tears tracked down his face. The raw emotion leaked out of his face, his soundless sobs and even his posture. Arthur was in agony.
All the righteous indignation that she'd stoked and fed since yesterday afternoon drained out of her without a fuss. What she'd wilfully supressed was that not only was Arthur probably the traitor, he was also her friend. She didn't have many friends, but the redheaded father of seven was one of them. Damn.
Her hand on her wand, Amelia slowly moved through the room to stand behind the distraught man. He didn't move or acknowledge that he knew she was present. His entire focus was in front of him.
In his hands he held a picture of a redheaded young man. He was dressed in Hogwarts robes, a smug smile on his face, horned rim glasses and a Head Boy badge. Percy Weasley. The young man who'd been missing since the fall of Britain. The leverage that Voldemort had over Arthur. The only reason that Arthur would ever…
With a gentleness she never thought she could muster, Amelia laid her hand on Arthur's shoulder. She had to know. "Is this why?"
He didn't even attempt to dissemble or hide. "Yes."
She sat, the feeling in her belly one of pain for a friend instead of the expected sharp stab of betrayal in her heart. "Tell me."
He gave a deep sigh, sitting back in his chair, but his eyes remained riveted on the picture of his son in his hand. Releasing it, he balanced it on the desk as he wiped his face. Like a lifeline for his sanity, Arthur stared at the picture.
In a low tone, he began his story,"A few days after we arrived in Switzerland, Molly received an owl. In the letter, the writer told us that they had Percy. If we contacted anyone – you in especial – he'd die. They had ways of knowing these things, the letter claimed."
Clearing his throat, he reached out with his left hand, caressing the picture. "A week later, I was directed to send the details of all the Auror operations in Britain to a 'Joseph Quisling'."
Amelia's eyes widened, the anger swift and intense. "Of course I didn't," Arthur replied. "I did send a letter that was very close to the truth, though. Apparently, it was too close."
In early July, Auror Team Five had been decimated during a raid on a Death Eater Supply Depot. One young witch had survived of a twelve person team.
Amelia closed her hand on her wand, struggling to maintain control of herself. For all they'd fought and struggled, Arthur had thrown it all away for one person? The sympathy she'd felt for her friend dissipated like smoke in the breeze. In its place, a burning anger formed.
Silently, the balding father reached out for the picture. "Molly doesn't know anything," he told his Minister. "After the first letter, I cast a Memory Charm on her so she didn't remember what happened."
"Umbridge?" she asked. He only nodded his responsibility in the odious woman's murder.
He sighed, dropping his face into his hands. His weeping became louder. Muffled, but still clear, he said, "I told them about Harry, Hermione and Sirius' trip to get her parents out."
Amelia's mouth tightened. She wanted to rant and rave. She wanted to lash out at the man. At first, she'd felt pity for the man. They claimed to have his son. What would she have done had they captured Susan?
Her lip curled when Amelia concluded that she'd have told of her compromise and worked with everyone else to get her niece out of where she was being held. That's what she'd have done. The whiplash of emotions was confusing Amelia. Trying to get her centre, the petite redheaded witch closed her eyes as she breathed deeply though her nose. After a minute, during which his sobbing quieted, she finally calmed.
Glaring at Arthur Weasley, she snarled, "You are about to make an Unbreakable Vow with me. You will Vow never to inform Lord Voldemort or his forces of any truth without my express, written consent. You will vow to never speak to anyone of your treachery," he winced at the word, but at this point, Amelia didn't give a good goddam about the man's finer feelings. "You will never communicate anything that could compromise the efforts to regain control of Britain by its rightful government."
Another tear dripped down his nose. This drop, she was sure, was for himself and not for his son.
Slowly, he reached into his robes, withdrawing his wand. He hesitated for a moment when the tip of his wand was pointed at his face. Amelia lunged forward, ripping the stick from his grasp.
"You'll not take the easy way out, my friend," she growled. "You're going to work for me. You'll feed them so much bullshit that they won't know which way is up."
Unable to restrain herself any longer, her hand whipped out, slapping the man across the face. The sharp crack echoed in the empty room. Arthur's head jerked to the side, but he remained silent. "You will Vow to work to the best of your ability to reclaim our country."
Amelia stood, leaning over the thoroughly cowed traitor. "If you don't, I'll let James Potter know about your shenanigans. Worse, I may tell Lily. You explain to them why you sold their son to Voldemort."
All the pity she'd mustered for the man vanished as she stormed out the door to find a bonder for their Vows.
Harry was bored out of his mind. Steering his motorbike across an empty field as he continued his search, he glanced at the board that was mounted across his handlebars. In a vain hope that they were missing detections, Hermione charmed the magic sensing crystals to emit a screech whenever a specific threshold of magic detection was met. It was equivalent to detecting a ward within three miles.
Scowling, he glared at the Not Glowing crystals. They were most definitely Not Glowing.
They'd been doing this for three bloody weeks. The only thing they'd found had been a remnant of the Rowan Hill Unicorn herd. Two mares, a stallion and two foals had been grazing in a hidden valley. Hermione had quietly called the other over the radios. For thirty minutes, the family had gathered, watching the wondrous beings of Light as they grazed. Being in their presence had lifted everyone's spirits, reassuring them that, in the end, Good would triumph over Evil. As it always had done and always would do.
Right now, though, it sure didn't feel that way.
The little idea that had been buzzing about in the back of Harry's mind began to take shape. Hermione wouldn't like it, but she'd do it.
"Harry, this is Neville, over."
Letting the engine idle, Harry grabbed the small radio from his pocket as his motorbike rolled to a stop.
"Hey mate, could you swing by the camp, pick up the box your mum sent the other day and bring it out to us? They did a number at this place."
Harry frowned. Neville, Susan and Sirius had been making excellent progress on their conservatory efforts. They'd fully rehabilitated three farms, and were nearly finished at Twin Oaks Farm on the outskirts of the park. Or so he thought.
"Sure thing, I'll be there in…" he glanced at his watch, did some quick math before finishing, "Thirty minutes."
"Hermione, this is Harry. Did you copy the last?" he asked as he throttled the engine.
"Copy all. A few minor hits here, but nothing serious. Remus?" she asked.
"Nothing here. I copy your errand Harry. Maybe tomorrow we move further west into the mountains. Not much down here on the plains."
Snorting, Harry muttered, "No shit." Keying the radio, he shouted over the noise of the wind, "Concur. I'll let you know when I get to Twin Oaks."
Pulling into the campsite, Harry automatically gathered up the crate, fixed it to the back of the motorbike and headed out. The entire time, the thoughts that'd been nagging at him began to gain shape. Amorphous at first, they now began to gain clarity and depth.
Gunning the engine, he headed out to Twin Oaks Farm.
Hermione scowled as she jolted over another rabbit hole. She was heading up into the foothills of the Cambrian Mountains, the easternmost quadrant of her assigned search sector.
Intellectually, she knew that their search would be tedious and long. There would be a stretch of frustratingly fruitless effort until they (hopefully) made contact with Dormred and his supporters. Knowing what she did about the abilities of Harry, Remus, herself and even Neville and Susan; there wouldn't be much in the way of opposition by Dormred.
They just had to find the slippery son of a bitch first.
Just as she decided to swing around west to meet the others at Twin Oaks Farm, the ward detection crystals screeched.
Stunned, Hermione clamped down on the brakes, skidding to a stop. Staring at the board, she saw the crystals for Anti-Apparition ward detection and Anti-Portkey. Both crystals were glowing dully. In the gathering gloom of dusk, her face was illuminated by the soft green and yellow of the crystals.
There'd been a few erroneous detections before, but in both cases, the crystals had intermittently pulsed. This was a steady detection. Struggling to keep her composure, Hermione tugged the radio from inside her windcheater. "Remus, this is Hermione; Jackpot."
The long stretch of silence was pregnant with excitement for the witch. After a moment, Remus' calm voice replied, "This is Remus; understood. Say your location."
The map already spread over her gas tank, Hermione jabbed her finger at the closest location she could figure. Reading off the latitude and longitude, she waited. After a moment, Remus replied, "It's too late to pursue the lead. Mark your location and return to base."
"Negative," she countered her long supressed irritation and exasperation boiling over. "There's plenty of time left to begin to quarter the area. I can localise the detection before sundown."
"No, Hermione," Remus countered with less patience than before. "You know our rules. No one works alone once we've made a possible contact. Return to base."
Huffing, she acknowledged unwanted, but common sense command. Hermione dropped her kickstand before rummaging through a saddlebag. A can of bright orange spray paint in her hand she began to make a series of marks on the ground just to the side of her motorbike. She tried to make them appear to be utility worker marks should anyone else see them and wonder.
Her scowl deepening, Hermione gunned the engine of the bike, heading back to the camp.
Ten minutes later, she parked the bike next to the tent she and Harry shared with Neville and Susan. Unfortunately, Harry hadn't returned from Twin Oaks yet. She really needed to vent her frustration. After all the fruitless searching, they finally found something yet she was unable to prosecute the target due to the bloody sunset.
Fuming, she stomped into their bedroom. After flinging her windcheater on to the chair in the corner, she flopped on to the bed. Lying on her back, she stared at the ceiling.
"I'm overreacting," she announced to the empty tent.
"Why?" she mused. She tilted her head this way, than that way. Thinking it through she came up with a series of reasons, all of which were plausible. In the end, though, it was simple. "We're not getting anywhere and haven't since we left Britain."
It was incredibly frustrating. They'd taken more than a few beatings from Voldemort and his forces since the night of the Third task. Everywhere the forces of Light turned, they were punched on the nose. The Auror Teams in Britain had made a bit of headway, but it was primarily harassment operations that didn't make any headway in the true mission: Wrest Control of Britain from the Usurper. In an undertone, she repeated herself, "We're not getting anywhere."
"No, we aren't," Harry agreed from the doorway.
Without looking up, she smiled. From his tone, she could tell that Harry had a Plan.
"You're going on a date."
Harry smiled brightly at Alex. The others hadn't returned yet, so he and Hermione were putting his plan into action before the others returned to stop them. By the deadpan delivery of the blonde healer, she didn't believe the cover story one bit.
Fidgeting with her hair, Hermione added, "Yes, we're going to go shopping and have dinner."
Alex merely cocked an eyebrow before turning to the infirmary. "I'll be here when you get back in case you need to be treated."
Harry had to supress a smile. It seemed that not only did Alex see through their transparent lie, but was tacitly endorsing what she thought they were doing. Given the intelligence of the witch, Harry assumed that her deduction was probably very close to the truth.
Glancing at his watchless wrist, Harry commented, "We should be back in a few hours.' Cocking an eyebrow at Alex, he nodded, "Don't wait up."
All pretences fell away as Alex placed her hands on his shoulders, "Be careful."
"We will," Hermione replied as she tugged her beau out of the tent.
Twenty minutes later, they pulled into an alleyway in Gwynedd. Glancing around, Harry drew his wand. "Ready?" he asked.
Hermione reached under his arm to touch the handlebar. "Go."
In a swift motion, he cast the spell,"Portus." The handlebars of the motorbike glowed blue for a moment. Before the glow faded, he tapped the chrome again, "Activate."
Harry swallowed hard as the magical vortex whipped them away. Still astride the Yamaha, they arrived at their destination, Castledown House outside Dublin. His idea was to quickly evacuate the UK to try to evade detection by the Voldemort controlled Ministry. A subsequent portkey from Ireland wouldn't be detected by the Ministry detectors as it wouldn't be activated within the country.
After a steadying breath, he asked Hermione, "You sure?"
"Yes," she whispered into his ear. "We need to do this. We've waited too long and too many people have died."
Nodding his agreement, he repeated the spell, "Portus." Again, he tapped the handlebars, "Activate."
"Hello, Albus," James greeted in an undertone.
The old wizard nodded amiably. "How are you this evening, James?"
Gesturing at the seat opposite his desk, Prongs replied, "Well enough. Bit of paperwork to wade through before I get out of here." The implication was obvious. Hurry up and get to the point.
Again, Dumbledore nodded, "I wanted to talk to you about…," he trailed off, considering his words before saying, "many things. Mainly, I wanted to tell you that I am very impressed with you."
Taken aback, James stared. To say that he and Albus had been at odds since he and Lily had returned to the time stream was an understatement. For a while, James had hated Dumbledore.
Many people bandy the word 'hate' about without true consideration. Dislike is common. Resentment abounds in the human heart. Hatred, though, that is rare. Hatred is a powerful force in the same manner that love set sail a thousand ships. Lily had pulled James back from the precipice shortly after their meeting with Dumbledore high in the Italian Alps.
"James, I'm concerned," she'd told him.
Frowning, he'd looked up from the book in his lap. Motioning to her, she slid into his lap as he set The Bourne Supremacy on to the side table. When she settled, he asked, "About?"
Taken aback, he automatically asked, "Why?"
She sat in silence for a moment before telling him, "This thing with Dumbledore. I can never excuse what he did to Harry, Sirius and even Remus. But it's starting to change you, love. It's like a fire that's burning you up from the inside and…" she looked away before saying, "you're changing and not in a good way."
Frowning, he stared at her.
She stared back, the familiar green eyes narrowing.
James had the grace to know when he was beaten. The frown melted. Sighing, he let his head fall forward on to her chest. "I…" he trailed off, unsure of what to say.
"You want to hate him but at the same time you know that it's like acid on your soul."
Contemplating her words for a moment, he nodded at the truth.
Soft hand framed his face. "My love, my dearest love," she whispered. A bit of James' heart broke to hear the pain in her voice. "For Harry and for me, you have to let it go."
Confused, he waited for her to elaborate.
"What do you think this hatred of Albus will do to you? What kind of person nurtures and feeds hatred?"
A chill settled about his heart. "Voldemort," he whispered in reply.
She nodded. "For us, we need James Potter, not a shell of a man who looks like my husband and Harry's father. A dark wizard who would feed on hatred and lash out at all around him."
Those words had jolted him. He hated dark wizards with a passion since his teens. Dark wizards had killed his parents, his cousins almost all whom he'd called family. He'd never really considered why a wizard went dark, though. Surely some were just plain evil. Voldemort and Grindlewald were of that ilk. Others were insane and in their insanity sank further into depravity, driving their souls further from the reaches of redemption and soundness. The last were those who'd been hurt so deeply that in their grief and rage turned to the dark arts to find vengeance and solace.
The appalling revelation that he was at the beginning of the road that spiralled down into the irresistible vortex of the dark arts revolted and terrified him. At this time, forgiveness of Dumbledore was impossible for James, but he stopped actively hating the man. Every time 'The Jury' convened in his head, James did his best to let go of the need to convict the Headmaster of all his crimes real and imagined. Prongs hadn't even realised how often he went through that event until he tried to stop.
In the end, it allowed him to face the old man with more equanimity than he'd been able to muster in previous meetings. The words, "I am very impressed with you," reverberated in his ears for a long moment until he nodded his graciously, not knowing how else to respond.
"You have taken up the gauntlet and done well. Most wouldn't have come close to your level of success. You've not only prevented the Ministry in Exile from being marginalized and even eradicated, you've championed our cause so that the bulk of the world's governments acknowledge us as the true government of Britain."
Frowning again, James wondered where this bit of puffery was leading. Glancing at the clock on the fireplace mantle, he saw that it was 17:40. Albus wasn't swinging by this late to have a bit of a chat.
There are times when emotion is beyond words. It is a state of being that can only be lived. His entire body radiated an concentration of emotion – an overflow of feeling – that was so intense that it was nearly paralyzing.
Staring at the old man as he was overcome by this state of being, James whispered, "You know, I hated you with a righteous burning passion." He stared at Albus, his hazel eyes boring deeply into the old man's psyche. "But it was destroying me. Acid corrupts the vessel that it rests in. Hatred was turning my soul to a seat of depravity and debasement of all that I held dear. I told myself that it was your fault. You were the one who'd hurt my son so deeply. It took the woman I love more than my own life to remind me that it's my own decision to hate.
"I'll never condone what you did, but I am trying to forgive you - even if it's for my own sake."
The old warrior across the desk regarded the time displaced man for a long moment before nodding sagaciously. There was no reply. Once again, the feelings were beyond words. James knew that Albus was fully aware that he'd been convicted by his own actions. It was to the old man's credit that he seemed to be taking responsibility for his behaviour, not trying to shirk his culpability on to events or others. When James was his most idealistic, he hoped that Albus was at heart a good man who'd made many horrible decisions. Other times, he had a very different opinion.
There was another long silence before James demonstrated his attempts to move on with his life. "Thank you for your kind words, Albus. Is there something I can help you with before I head out for the day?"
"No," Dumbledore replied with gravity. "I believe that we've accomplished all that can be done this day."
The Yamaha cum portkey took the teens to a deserted alley next to the Leaky Cauldron. Decisions had been made. The plan was in place. Discussion was over. Hermione hopped off the back of the bike allowing Harry to dismount. Strapping the helmets to the bike, he quickly shrunk the bike after enchanting it one more time as a portkey. Tugging their dragonhide jackets about them, Harry and Hermione headed to Charing Cross road.
His face set, Harry pushed the door of the pub open. Without pausing, he made his way through to the entrance of the alley. On his heels, Hermione kept her head high. Drawing her wand, she tapped the wall in the appropriate sequence while Harry watched the crowd.
Every eye was on them. Every person recognized them. As he wanted them to do.
The glare on Harry's face froze the dozen patrons of the pub. The coldness that he felt deep inside was making its way to the fore. The restrained violence that was caged deep within him was threatening to slip the leash and all knew it. Immobile in evident fear and intimidation, the patrons quailed or fumed as their disposition lent. As the bricks shifted from a wall to the gateway of the magical shopping centre of Britain, Harry glanced one more time around the pub. On the far side of the room, he saw a large sign with large block letters at the top.
With a grin, he flicked his wand. The parchment ripped off the wall, folding in flight before automatically tucking into his pocket. After one last glance, he followed Hermione into the Alley.
It was quiet; most of the shops were empty. Harry pulled even to Hermione, her black dragon hide coat glinting in the torchlight. Over her shoulder, he saw an old man stocking shelves in the apothecary shop.
"Two minutes," she prompted.
Harry nodded. Timing was a large part of their plan. Breaking into a loping run, he led the way to the intersection of Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley.
Hermione jabbed her wand left, then right. Under her breath she incanted words that Harry couldn't hear. Not bothering to watch her, he kneeled down, inscribing runes in the cobblestones. A quick underpowered Cutting curse allowed him to drip his blood into the cuts. Muttering charging spells, he moved to the next quadrant.
Carving, blooding and powering the rune cluster went quickly. Harry completed his tasks long before Hermione finished casting her spells. He watched up and down the Alleys, looking for the first arrivals to their party. Hermione finished her long incantation with a loud cry as she jabbed her wand heavenward.
"Ready?" he asked as he dug into his jacket.
"Yes," she replied while catching her breath. Together they moved to the corner of the intersection. Harry draped his invisibility cloak over them just as he heard a distant voice call out, "They went down there!"
Five robed and masked Death Eaters led the way down the Alley in front of a small mob of looky-loos. Harry held his breath as he waited. Just a bit farther you bastards. Five feet.
"Where are they?" the big Death Eater in front asked to no one in particular.
"Down 'at-a-way," called an obviously highly educated man.
Two of the five were in the snare.
"Alecto, call for Bellatrix. She'll know."
Damn. Harry squeezed Hermione's arm. He knew she was about to spring the trap, but if they had the chance to catch out Bellatrix Lestrange, they had to be patient.
The crowd began to swell as the five masked Death Eaters milled about in the middle of the intersection. Tension began to grow in Harry's breast. There had to be forty people milling about in the intersection and another fifteen up and down the alley. Lights were lit above shops. The shopkeepers that lived above their premises were now leaning out the windows to see what the to-do was.
Doing his best to stay in control of his mounting fear, Harry began to breath slowly and deliberately through his nose. Unconsciously, his arms snaked about Hermione's waist, pulling her close.
Hermione's hands found his. They trembled in her anticipation and fear.
Silently, they scooted back so that they were wedged between a large display of boots and a bench. Harry's gut clenched when a Death Eater grabbed a woman by the hair, dragging her to the bench.
Rage boiled in his veins as he watched him throw the woman against the seat. There was a snarl as the man rucked up his robes.
He's going to rape her right here.
Completely stunned, Harry froze for a long second. Hermione's whisper, "I'm going to trigger in five…," broke his disbelief.
Leaning forward, he murmured, "You shield, I've got this prick."
He felt her nod just as she whispered, "Three…"
The shattering crash flattened all those standing in the Alley. It was a multi-phase charm and rune construct that Hermione and Sirius had worked on for weeks. First, it acted as a omnidirectional Reductor curse. A Reductor curse cast by Hermione that was. Then, there was an Over Pressurization spell that caused a shockwave of air to expand at a rate that was eerily reminiscent of the old Atomic bomb videos. Lastly, there was a high powered Sun Light spell to blind anyone left conscious. Everyone inside the fifty square feet of the intersection was immolated.
Harry's Piercing charm seemed superfluous, but he wanted to be sure. The half inch hole that was drilled in the would-be rapist's head ended his career rather abruptly. The fact that his body was shredded by the flying debris was just an added bonus.
Diagon Alley was a mess. The storefronts were hanging in tatters, doors were askew or blown off entirely. There wasn't a single pane of glass remaining in the window or doors. It was eerily quiet. After Harry blinked twice, a groan sounded as a beacon to the living. The tinkle of glass shards falling gave the destruction more poignancy and longevity. It seemed that the destruction of Diagon Alley was on going and tortuously long.
Standing, Harry heard the would be rapist's victim moan amongst the other sounds of pain. If she's hurt, she's alive. It was ironic; the man's body shielded her from the worst of the trap's blast. The monster enabled her survival.
Hermione sagged against him. "You alright?" he murmured.
"In a minute. That shield took a lot out of me."
Moving her to the remains of the bench, Harry raised his wand as he looked about. Small fires here and there burned merrily. No one moved. Even now, the groans were swelling to become painful cries. We need to get out of here.
Just as Harry turned to help his intended from her bench, a loud crack sounded further up the alley.
Continuing about, Harry turned to see Bellatrix Lestrange watching him dispassionately as if he were an interesting bug of some kind.
"The Boy-Who-Lived," she stated. The words acknowledging his presence.
"Mrs Lestrange," Harry returned the greeting with more than a bit of sarcasm. "How are you this evening?"
Her eyes flared with mad amusement. After moving to her left, in what Harry was sure was a prelude to a maniacal diatribe, she froze. Grey eyes narrowing in fury, she hissed, "You."
Completely taken aback, Harry raised his wand. Before he could, Hermione spoke. "Good even, cousin."
"You…the mudblood pretender to the Lordship of the Ancient and Noble House of Black. Defiler, shame and animal!"
"Well, I see we can't play nice tonight," Harry muttered under his breath. Over his shoulder, he asked, "Ready?"
"Go," Hermione replied.
Without waiting, Harry cast a string of Bone Breaking curses. Going for speed over power, he managed six in three seconds.
It happened so fast, Harry wasn't' sure, but he thought that Bellatrix smiled before Apparating away with a soft pop.
Diving to his left, rolling over twice, Harry heard Hermione do the same just as Bellatrix screamed, "Crucio!"
The sickly twisting spell lanced over Hermione's head as she rolled behind a pile of debris. Harry popped to his knees while casting his favourite spell chain. Bone Breaking. Demolition. Piercing. Blinding. Binding.
The spells ripped from his wand at the dark haired witch. In the corner of his vision, he saw Hermione casting a spell, but focused on his opponent. Both his Dad and Remus had labelled Bellatrix as 'nearly as dangerous as Voldemort'.
Once again, Bellatrix Apparated away from Harry's onslaught.
From behind him, he heard her growl, "I am fear. I am the queen of a blood-soaked planet and an architect of genocide. A half-blood mongrel like you can never defeat me."
Without bothering to reply, he rolled again, cracking his jaw on a piece of rubble in doing so. Ignoring the pain and rush of blood, he kept moving. This time, the Blood Boiling Curse missed him by a wide margin. Taking that as an encouraging sign, Harry cast a wide area Sleeping charm followed by a spread of Bone Breaking Curses.
Bellatrix's outraged scream signalled his success.
Blinking to clear the dust from his eyes, he wondered to himself, Hermione, love, where the hell are you?
His question was answered when Bellatrix's cursing body suddenly fell to the cobbles like a puppet with her strings cut.
On his guard, Harry tried hard to find the source of his opponents incapacitation. Noticing that his eyes were sliding over a spot directly to the left of where the mad witch had fallen, he stared. Concentrating, he began to see the outline of his intended. Recognizing what she'd done, Harry threw back his head to laugh. "A Notice-Me-Not? Really?"
Her wand waving over her head, Hermione quirked a sardonic eyebrow, "Worked, didn't it?"
Rolling to a sitting position, he groaned, "That it did."
Hobbling over to him, she held out her hand while grimacing, "Sorry it took me so long. If I moved too fast, she would've seen right through the charm. That, and this ankle slowed me down. I only had the one chance."
Muttering, he shook his head, "No worries." Curling his lip, he spat a wad of blood from his mouth as he watched Hermione freeze her broken ankle. Frowning with distaste, he scooped up the twisting black wand at his feet before transfiguring the paralyzed Lady of House Lestrange into a small rubber ball. Bouncing it off the cobble, he caught it thoughtfully before pocketing it alongside the wand. "Let's go."
Three seconds later, they'd remounted the resized Yamaha and portkeyed to the outskirts of Dublin.
Remus was angry. Given his lycanthropy, he tried to regulate his emotional state. Those sufferers, who failed to do so, inevitably became feral and had to be put down. Therefore, he practiced yoga, Christian meditation, Buddhist meditation and anything that helped him to keep his composure. Inevitably, he'd shift from one method to the next when it became stale for him. He needed to have his emotional stability and security as his life and sanity depended on it.
After James and Lily were time displaced and he'd run from Alex, Remus nearly lost all grips on his humanity. Anger, grief, sadness and pain dominated him and enslaved him giving the wolf a toehold into his mind outside the phases of the moon. In terror, he'd run to the nearest monastery (it turned out to be Franciscan) where he begged for shelter and help.
Right now, his anger was cycling up and down. Not nearly as angry as he'd been fourteen years before, but closer than he'd ever dared allow him to become in quite a long time.
It was one thirty in the morning. Harry and Hermione had yet to return.
Alex had muttered something nonsensical about the couple being on a date. Not quailing at his disbelieving stare, she shrugged before turning away. Apparently, she didn't believe the tissue thin lie any more than he did. Sirius had nodded before retreating to his room. The complete silence indicated that Padfoot had erected Privacy wards of some kind. Knowing his old friend, Sirius was probably conjuring and smashing various and sundry breakable objects to distract him from the wait.
Neville and Susan had retired hours before.
So Remus sat in his chair; fuming. Oh, it was entirely possible that Harry and Hermione were in the back of some cinema shagging like rabbits, but more than likely they were pursuing the ward detection on their own. Or worse, they were doing something else about which he had no idea.
The flap of the tent was pulled back, causing Remus to tense. The wards hadn't flared so it had to be the missing teens. No one else had the ability to find this location, much less penetrate the ward schema that Sirius and Susan had built. Nonetheless, it paid dividends to be vigilant.
Hermione entered the tent, favouring her left leg followed by Harry whose face was heavily bruised. Both paused when the saw Remus in the chair instead of Alex. Hermione nodded tiredly before moving to the exam table. Harry gave her a boost up as Alex hustled out of the room she shared with Remus.
Silently, Remus watched his lover fully repair Hermione's broken ankle before resetting two of Harry's teeth and mending his broken jaw.
While Harry rubbed his now healed jaw, Alex bustled about the infirmary. Hermione looked to Remus and in a low tone told him, "Get Neville. Susan and Sirius too, but especially Neville."
Taken aback by her attitude, Remus stared for a second before rising from his seat. She was completely ignoring his obvious upset and their part in in it. Scowling, he hustled to the teens tent, he knocked on Neville and Susan's door, "Hey you two. You're needed in the infirmary."
Hearing to not-so-sleepy replies, Remus moved to grab Sirius. After a quick knock followed by a shouted, "What?" from within, he entered Padfoot's doghouse.
As usual, the room was a complete mess. Only when cohabitating with Hestia did Sirius even approach order in his personal slovenliness. Ignoring the untidiness, he told his old friend, "The kids are back."
Surprising Remus, Sirius nodded complacently, "Got it. Let's see what's going on."
Frowning, Moony asked, "Aren't you mad?"
Padfoot shrugged, "Not really. I wish they'd told us where they were going first, but if they couldn't get out of whatever happened then there isn't much that we could do to help them. They're more than capable."
Grumbling, Remus had to accept the truth of the statement. It also blew away much of the fog of his anger exposing that which lay beneath. Fear. He'd been afraid for the wellbeing of the two whom he'd come to love as his own. He didn't know if he and Alex would be able to have children, but he hoped they'd be like Harry and Hermione. The idea that they could be hurt in a ditch somewhere sent frissons of terror down Remus' spine.
They met Susan and Neville heading to the infirmary. The nights were downright cold as Autumn moved to Winter. The foursome scurried across the frozen grass to the tent. Harry was sitting next to Hermione, handing her a mug of piping hot tea. Noticing the others, he nodded to the corner. "Pot's on."
Susan poured for everyone else and by the time Remus brought the steaming brew to his lips his anger had abated to curiosity. Harry began the explanation with a shocker. Slowly standing, he moved to Neville. Reaching into his pocked, Harry withdrew a wand. Sinking to one knee, he held it out to his friend.
"House Potter offers to House Longbottom the wand of Bellatrix Lestrange to do as they wish."
Susan's gasp of surprise was the only sound in the tent. With widening eyes, Neville slowly reached for the dark wand with his right hand. There was no tremble as he replied, "House Longbottom expresses its gratitude to House Potter, acknowledging its debt to House Potter."
In an undertone, Harry rebuked his friend, "There is no debt. What was done was done in the name of honour, justice and friendship."
Neville nodded solemnly as he took the wand. Glaring at it for a long moment, he shoved it into his pocket without a backward glance. "How?"
Creakily resuming his feet, Harry moved back to Hermione's side where he began the story. At the end, all were silent. Harry had dug out the rubber ball/dark witch from his pocket at the end of the story, placing it on the table. All stared at it as if it were disease carrying vermin. Many would argue that it was, but that wasn't the point.
Remus looked at Sirius who was staring at the young man. Looking over to him, Remus saw that the usually docile and calm Longbottom Lord had his lips curled over his teeth in a silent snarl as Susan held his arm to prevent him from destroying the transfigured witch.
Understanding Sirius' intent, Remus moved forward. Interposing himself between the wizard and the object of his long suffering pain, he looked the sandy haired man in the eyes. "Neville, we may need her. She must be deep in Voldemort's councils and will know much that we can exploit. When we're done, you can kill her, but not before then." When Neville didn't budge, Remus barked, "Do you understand?"
He flinched, but nodded before hurrying from the tent, Susan on his heels.
"Sirius put that somewhere where only you can get to it."
Without speaking, the grave Lord of House Black scooped up his wayward cousin, stuffing it into his pocket.
There was silence as the five regarded each other for a long moment. Finally, Sirius said, "Hermione…I understand that you two wanted to do something. You two have been in the stands for the bulk of this Quidditch match." The stone faced teens nodded.
"But, please tell us where you're really going." When Harry's brow furrowed, Remus felt a surge of his old anger once again.
"I was terrified," Moony nearly shouted at the teens. When both looked to him with wide eyes. "Imagine that Sirius, your Dad and I disappeared into Britain with no word of where we were going, when we'd be back or what we were doing. Would you two be a bit on edge?"
Harry deflated as Hermione's shoulders slumped. "Yeah. I'd be pretty worried," the witch admitted. She traded a look with her intended, who nodded. "We'll not do it again." Narrowing her eyes, "But none of you are going to stop us without a valid reason to not go."
Remus took a deep breath to bark back when Alex responded, "That's fair." She glared at Remus, causing him to subside. "But none of this sneaking off."
"Fair enough." The teens slumped onto each other, exhausted.
"You two go get some sleep," Alex chivvied as she helped them to their feet. Nearly shoving them out of the tent, she reminded them, "We need to localize that detection tomorrow."
Remus blinked. He'd forgotten all about the possible lead on Dormred Ap Morag's location. "Humping hippogriffs…" Sirius sighed.
Remembering from their third year Care of Magical Creatures class, Remus smiled as he countered, "Arsehole ashwinders."
Sirius barked a laugh. "Buggering bugbears."
"Corn holing cockatrices."
"That's enough, children," Alex drawled from the doorway. "Remus?" she beckoned as she headed into their bedroom.
"Wa-kissh…" Sirius whispered delightedly as he made a snapping motion with his hand when Remus dutifully followed his mate to their bed.
Over his shoulder, Remus grinned, "Whipped and proud of it, Padfoot."
"I can't see my bloody feet, but they sure hurt like hell," Lily grumbled to herself.
Flopping into her chair in front of her dressing table, Lily groaned. The last month of her pregnancy was becoming unremitting hell. She couldn't breathe. She couldn't walk. She couldn't stop peeing. There were various unmentionable things that were driving her up the wall. Overall, she just wanted this baby out of her.
"If your Grace would move to the bed, Winky can help."
Cracking open an eye, she saw her new elf standing a few feet off, her ladies maid outfit cleaned and starched to perfection. The little bun of tightly wrapped green hair seemed a humorous counterpoint to the entire affair. Shifting her now considerable bulk out of the chair was difficult, but Lily managed to move to the bed in a somewhat timely fashion.
Laying back on the bed, Lily groaned in relief. Her back also hurt like hell. This baby has to weigh a stone at least. No. Two stone.
Winky snapped her thin fingers causing waves of relief to wash across her sore ankles and feet. "Oooooohhhhh," Lily groaned. "Winky, that feels incredibly good."
"Looks like the house elf is making time with my best girl," James' voice jibed from the doorway of their room.
Turning her head while smiling, she saw her husband leaning on the door jamb. "She's brilliant." Lily didn't notice the pleased blush that stole over the house elf's features. "You never rub my feet anymore."
"I do too!" he protested. "I rubbed your feet…," he paused while trying to remember the last time. When he struggled to remember, Lily snorted. "Well, I know that I do."
He sank on to the bed next to her, so she reached out to caress his face. In a deadpan tone, she drawled, "Yes, love. You're a fantastic husband who could never be replaced." Glancing at his hand, she prompted, "What's in the bag?"
In a mock huff, he mumbled, "I don't know, now. You've been mean to me."
She rolled her eyes as she laughed. "I'm sorry. I'm completely devoted to you and love you with every fibre of my soul. Now, what's in the bag?"
His eyes brightening, he jammed his hand into the plain brown paper bag before withdrawing, "This!"
Used to his silliness, Lily expected a deluxe rubber chicken or the like. She was unprepared for the chocolate; the glorious, sinfully good, Belgian chocolate. "James…this is so sweet. Thank you."
He smiled, "Well, you were mumbling about wanting some good chocolates, so…"
Pulling him down, she gave him a lingering kiss. "Sorry, but that's all you get for a while."
"It made you happy. I was successful."
Scooting up on the bed, Lily mused on how lucky she was. Glancing at the mirror on the dressing table, she thought of that which she needed to make this scene complete. Harry.
Trying to avoid morbid reflection, she used her nails to open the cellophane wrapper over the
Sinking her teeth into the first bon bon, she heard, "Lily Potter," in Harry's voice.
Before she could even grab her wand to summon the mirror, Winky was at her side with the mirror held in her outstretched hands. "Thank you, Winky," Lily muttered as she took the communication mirror.
Orienting the glass, she saw Harry's face. "Harry! How are you sweetie?"
"A bit tired, if truth be told, Mum." His eyes darted to James' face on her right. "Good, both of you are there. We have a bit of surprise."
Frowning, Lily asked, "Are you hurt? Hermione?"
Shaking his head, he told her, "No, we're all fine. We've captured Bellatrix Lestrange, though."
She could hear James' eyebrows shooting to his forehead while her own eyes narrowed. "Why do you have Bellatrix Lestrange?" she asked in a quiet controlled voice. There was no good reason why he should encounter that insane bitch, much less be capturing her. Lily was doing all she could to keep from shouting at her son.
Harry could tell. Gulping, he replied, "Well, it's a bit of a long story."
"Why don't you begin at the beginning, then?"
"That was fun."
Hermione grimaced sympathetically to Harry as he lay down the communication mirror. Remus had told him, "If you want to act like an adult and go hunting for Death Eaters, you get to tell your mother that you did it."
"She didn't yell," Harry murmured. "Much."
No commentary was needed, so Hermione hooked her arm about his shoulders. After a long moment, he sighed. "Well, let's get on this ward detection, shall we?"
Amelia's mood could only be described as savage. Still irate over Arthur's betrayal, she was cross and abrupt to everyone. Hestia had merely raised an eyebrow before leaving her supervisor to her own devices.
After casting a Memory Charm on the binder for the eldest Weasley's Unbreakable Vow, she'd ordered him to write a detailed report outlining all the particulars of his compromise. But, who would she tell? Should she tell anyone?
James? James would then kill Arthur. The Duke was smart enough to deduct – in an instant – that the redheaded father of seven was the leak that compromised his son's covert insertion that nearly resulted in Harry's death. The same was true for Lily. Unless the situation went completely pear shaped, Amelia doubted she'd be telling the Potters any time soon.
Hestia? If she told her Deputy Undersecretary, she would be placing her in an awkward position within her family. Amelia would be asking her to keep secrets from her Fiancé (Sirius Black) about information that directly affected him. Not a fair situation by any evaluation.
Albus? She pondered the old man. He was a firm believer in second chances, but to what end would she be working to should she disclose Arthur's treason? Would Albus be her failsafe should something disastrous happen to her? If that were the case, then she should tell Hestia. For all intents and purposes, the blonde witch was the heir apparent to the Ministership as things stood.
But, that got back to the original quandary.
The door to her office was pushed open as James Potter slouched into the room. Sliding into the chair across from her, he grinned that devilish grin of his. She couldn't help but feel her mood lift a bit. "What?"
"Harry and Hermione captured Bellatrix Lestrange last night."
Amelia burst into laughter. It was the only thing she could do.
1. I own nothing. Thanks to all who reviewed the first twenty-two chapters of Last Casualties. Story status, as always, can be found on my Author's page on . I update the status on Mondays. Most of the time.
2. I spaced the recommendation last chapter, so you get two for this one. Number one (drum roll please) is Wand and Shield by Morta's Priest. An excellent HP and Avengers crossover, it's worth the read. Number two (another drum roll please) is A Marauder's Plan by CatsAreCool. Both are excellent stories that you should make the time to read.
Chapter complete 11/21/12