"Billy, you will stay next to Harry the entire time."
"I know, Hermione."
'And at the first sign of any trouble, he'll Apparate you back here. You'll need to hold on to him tightly."
"I know, Hermione."
"But if there're Anti-Apparition wards, he'll use a portkey."
"I know, Hermione."
"And if there're anti-Portkey wards, you'll have to run for it. But stay with Harry."
"I know, Hermione."
"If you have to run for it, only use your pistol if you must."
"I know, Hermione."
Harry smothered a smile with his hand. Today, the group was to make contact with the first werewolf pack. Located in the Cotswolds, the combination of exported Ministry data and Remus' personal knowledge pegged the group between five and twelve. The Ministry didn't record spouses or children, and Remus' memory was a bit spotty regarding the families of those infected with Lycanthropy, so they weren't really clear on the numbers they should expect to encounter .
Hermione wanted the entire group to go, but both William and Remus objected strongly.
"Hermione, we want to be non-threatening and helpful, not an intimidating force that makes them bend to our will," William had protested.
"Then I'm going as well," she announced.
Remus pulled a face, "Probably not a good idea." He gestured to Alex, "She's a healer and will check over everyone as a sign of goodwill." Pointing to Harry, he added, "He's the rock star for name recognition and I'm the token werewolf to prove that we're not a bunch of wankers."
Her eyes narrowed, "And William is the government representative to back up the promises."
Not wanting any part of the discussion, Harry backed up a few paces so as to stay out of the potential line of fire. With obvious sympathy, he watched Remus fidget. Even fully committed to marrying Hermione and spending the rest of his life with her, Harry was still wary of courting her temper.
Deciding to take one for his Uncle Moony, he wrapped his arms about Hermione's waist from behind. Leaning forward, he breathed deeply of her scent before whispering to her, "It'll be fine, love. We'll all be fine."
He couldn't see her, but from her stiffening and silence, Harry knew that his betrothed was taking a calming breath. When she relaxed into his embrace and placed her hand on his which were linked about her beltline, he knew she'd be fine. "I don't like it," she murmured, "but I suppose that it'll all work out."
"I'll be fine, Hermione," Billy said lightly as he grinned.
She playfully scowled, "You better be, little brother."
Billy blinked in surprise before beaming. He gave her a nod before addressing himself to the pile of his 'argument'.
She patted Harry's hands as she broke away. He smiled when she announced, "I'm famished. Whose turn is it to cook tonight?"
"Dawlish, you worthless sack of shit, what the hell do you think you were doing?" the incensed Alastor Moody barked at his Squad Leader.
"Well," the weak chinned man replied with hesitation, "I thought it might be a good idea…." What Dawlish thought might be a good idea, the world would never know.
"You thought?" Moody sneered. Changing his inflection, Moody reiterated, "You thought." Shaking his head, the Auror Commander waved his hand in dismissal, "Consider yourself relieved as Squad Leader. It's blind fucking luck that you and your entire squad are still alive. Get out."
As the door clicked shut behind the chastened Auror, Moody reached for his flask. "Saints preserve me from fools," he toasted before swallowing the mouthful of Glenfidditch single malt whisky.
Sighing, he rubbed his good eye before bellowing, "VANCE! GET IN HERE!"
Grunting, he picked up the unending pile of forms before grousing, "Bloody rebellion that we're fighting and I'm still stuck with bloody paperwork."
The regal and beautiful Emmeline Vance stood into the doorway. In her late sixties, she was as alluring, sexy and desirable as she'd been as a Hogwarts graduate. Her husband had been an artist working mostly with stone and bronze who had some success as his genius was still developing when they met. Their love affair had been torrid and storied. Their subsequent marriage hadn't borne fruit through children, but their love had inspired him to even greater artistic heights. Until Voldemort had killed him, that is. The simple fact that his mother had been a muggle condemned him to death by the Dark Lord's hand. No man since had touched her heart. Now, her hatred of Voldemort and his followers rivalled her love for her husband in intensity and immediacy.
"What Alastor?" she asked in a bored voice. "I'm tired and hungry; can't this wait?"
"Get in here and close the door."
Rolling her eyes, she sat in the proffered chair as Alastor raised a privacy ward. "I just fired that nutless wonder, Dawlish. Who do you recommend as a replacement?"
Alastor watched the witch with real respect. He didn't respect many of his fellow fighters, much less like any of them. Emmeline Vance had both his respect and esteem. It was the only reason he was asking for her opinion. She saw things that he often didn't see.
"Well, if the Weasley brothers were still here, I'd recommend Bill. Or maybe the French girl."
Moody scowled. "But Amelia bleedin' stole them from us."
Emmeline tapped her perfectly manicured nails on the arm of the chair as she contemplated. "What about young Diggory?"
Moody leaned back in his chair. "He did survive the tournament. His work as part of Team Four has been exemplary."
"And he listens. Doesn't think that he has all the answers," Emmeline mused. Her eyes twinkling, she asked, "Do you think he can handle the older ones on the team?"
Moody scowled. Team Two was a mix of youngsters sprinkled with a few grizzled veterans. Proudfoot was a good sort who'd take Diggory under his wing. Dawlish would be a mewling prick, but not too much of a distraction. Youngsters were everywhere in his command. Sheehan to the south was no better. "Goddam children…," he muttered.
"Voldemort has killed the rest," Emmeline observed icily.
"That he has." Remembering, Alastor got a lopsided smile. "A few weeks back, the lads went to a muggle pub to blow off steam. I followed under an invisibility cloak."
Emmeline snorted and smiled, her amusement at his behaviour evident. For the life of him, Moody would never understand how these people got past age eight without proper operational security. Shaking off the mental digression, he continued, "A few of the lads were cutting up rough. One was flirting with a lass a bit too aggressively for our lad Diggory. When he tried to distract him, the boy told Diggory where to go and took a swing at him."
Cackling, Alastor finished, "Diggory laid him out flat with one punch. Dragging his teammate out by his collar, he apologized to the publican for the mess and to the lady for disturbing her evening."
Emmeline grinned, "Looks like we've a new team leader."
Grunting, Moody gestured to the door, "Get the whelp in here."
Harry was to Apparate to Remus' location in the Cotswolds. It was an Apparition technique that was very esoteric, but extremely useful. If one was very familiar with another magical person and the witch or wizard was very powerful, the Apparition technique would take them in the near vicinity of their target.
"Near vicinity?" Harry snarked. Pointing at his uncle, Harry scolded, "Do not stand in a group of trees or I'll be very displeased."
Moony had smiled wolfishly before Apparating away with a crack.
Alex rolled her eyes before she too Apparated.
Billy nervously sidled up to his friend. The plan was to wait a full minute before Harry and Billy Apparated to join Remus and Alex
"Where are we going again?" Billy asked to pass the time.
"Between Gloucester and Cirencester in Gloucestershire," Harry replied absently as he watched his pocketwatch. After a long moment, he looked to Hermione across the room as he murmured, "Love you."
Grabbing Billy, he Apparated to Remus' side.
The sun was westering behind the hills off to the left, but Harry clearly saw Remus and Alex standing together. In a stand of trees. Harry narrowed his eyes, "Not funny."
"I thought it was," Remus chided.
Rolling his eyes, Harry let Moony lighten the mood. William was very tense as this was their first attempt to reach out to the werewolf community in Britain and was his first real effort as the Heir to the Throne. Chucking his friend on the shoulder, Harry encouraged him, "C'mon, mate. Let's go."
Remus and Alex were heading down the hill to a hollow where the shadows were long. It was where Remus had arranged to meet the pack alpha. Even though it was a small pack of only five lycanthropes, they still had a leader – an alpha.
Hopping over a low stone wall, Harry and Billy followed the older couple. Out of the corner of his mouth, Harry murmured, "You'll do great, mate."
Billy took a steadying breath as he nodded acknowledgement of Harry's encouragement. Passing under the trees, Harry blinked as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. After a long moment, he saw the others and froze. Arrayed in a semicircle about them were seven figures – four men and three women.
There was a gasp from one of the men as the woman next to him murmured, "It's Prince William!"
"And Harry Potter!" one of the men exclaimed.
Restraining the urge to roll his eyes, Harry considered these people's plight. Hounded from civilised society, they were branded, abused, degraded and rejected in every way possible. Legally discriminated against in the Wizarding world and cast adrift in the mundane world that didn't understand their curse, werewolves were the British version of the Untouchables. The bottom of the underclass of society. For a Prince and The Boy-Who-Lived to enter into their circle was a miracle of sorts.
Nodding to the assembled, Harry backed William's play. Let their miracle happen today, then. Deliberately stepping into the centre of the semicircle, Harry kept his hands open and loose at his sides as a subtle demonstration of his goodwill.
At Harry's side, Billy's voice greeted confidently, "Good afternoon, I am William, Prince of Wales. I'm here to learn about you and your plight so that I may help you through whatever means are available to me today and in the future."
Harry watched the lycanthropes as they focused on the young prince. A strapping young man with close cropped blonde hair wore a considering expression, while a beautiful brunette woman at his side wore a half smile.
The man spoke, "I am James and I speak for our family here."
Without hesitation, William strode forward, his hand extended as he said, "I'm pleased to meet you."
Watching the reactions of the lycanthropes in the circle, Harry realised that William had already won. He'd already won here in the Cotswolds, at least.
"Ambassador Li Peng, how are you?" James asked.
"I am well, Ambassador Potter. How are you and your wife?" the tiny Chinese woman replied with a friendly half bow.
"She and the baby are well," he replied with an easy smile. James waved her into the siting area of his office while Agatha placed a fresh pot of tea on the serving set alongside a small tea. "Tea?" James asked.
Nodding, Li Peng sat gracefully. Shortly, James handed her a cup of Oolong tea, black.
Amused, Li Peng smiled. "You have been informed."
James smiled while giving a nonchalant half shrug. "Your husband is well?"
Her smile fell, but she nodded at James' evident concern. "The Healers are hopeful for a full recovery."
"Excellent," James breathed. "Lily and I were concerned when we heard of his malady. I'm glad that he's on the mend."
James sipped at his tea as he allowed for a polite pause before shifting gears in the topic from personal matters to matters of state. After the decent interval passed, the British Ambassador to the International Confederation of Wizards began, "My government was very pleased at the news from the German Ambassador." Placing his tea on the low table, he added, "We are heartened and encouraged at the support of the Magical Chinese Empire."
Li Peng nodded graciously at James' words before she replied, "Our governments have a long history that the Empress felt She needed to preserve." A sip precluded a pause before she added, "I am confident that our assistance will help turn the tide in your struggle against the usurper Dark Lord."
"I have no doubts," James murmured.
"I am curious, though," Li Peng wistfully said as she placed her teacup on the table. "How are you dealing with the Russians?"
Nodding, James had expected this. It was a fine line that he needed to walk. "Sergei and the Russian government in general have been fairly hostile in their belligerent statements. However, they've not made any overt moves of support for Lord Voldemort's regime."
"Do you have indications that they will make any overt moves of support of your Dark Lord?"
"At this time, no," James replied succinctly. He wasn't lying, per se.
Her dark eyes regarded him steadily. Prongs returned her stare without blinking; his neutral expression giving away nothing. Finally, she nodded her acquiescence.
"Should the Russians resort to active measures, China will have to reconsider our position," the Chinese Ambassador remarked offhandedly.
James smothered a frown. Both magical and mundane China and Russia had been in a state of undeclared war for over six centuries – since the general dissolution of the Golden Horde. Border raids, 'unintentional' releases of magical creatures into the opposing country, incursions by special operations units as well as one time, a full armoured division of the Red Army spent over a month 'lost' in western China. Once they'd expended all their ordnance and were running low on petrol, they suddenly found the way home.
If Russia intervened – officially or not – James had originally thought that the Chinese would be more than willing to become involved. It was an opportunity to bloody the nose of the Russian Bear without official reprisal. The idea that the Chinese would withdraw all aid was an potential bitter pill.
Then he realized what had just been said. The Chinese ambassador didn't say that they'd have to rethink their position in the negative sense; pulling out of Britain. She may very well have meant that they had to rethink their position in the sense of committing more troops.
"Do you think it likely that our Russian friends would directly support the Dark Lord?" James asked.
The Asian woman's eyes narrowed and darkened as she considered the question. Finally, she replied, "I believe they will."
Lily was reading through old treaties that were on file with the ICW. Turning the page of the treaty between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and the Magical Republic of France signed in 1799, she sighed and rubbed her eyes. She was looking for an article of a treaty that they could use to advantage in their struggle. As she slowly reintegrated to her role as James' Chief of Staff, she spent a day or so at the Hall of Nations in Geneva, and the rest of her time at home with Robbie. She smiled to herself, It seems that neither he or I am ready to be parted to easily.
Glancing into the corner of the room, she saw Winky rocking his swing by hand as she whispered a song to the baby. Her words were too quiet to hear, but the expression of utter devotion and love on her face made the words moot. Lily had been mulling over the timing for her idea for a few weeks, but decided that now was the as good a time as any to act on it.
"Winky? Could you come here, please?"
The patter of tiny elfin feet brought a smile to Lily's face as her Ladies Maid curtseyed deeply, "How can Winky serve, your Grace?"
Lily couldn't help the expression of tenderness that crept over her face. Reaching out with her left hand to grasp Winky's little right hand, the witch began, "I cannot begin to tell you how helpful, useful and wonderful you've been since joining our family."
Winky beamed even as she blushed a bright crimson. The little elf nodded her head in acknowledgement, too overcome by emotion to speak. Shuffling her feet, Winky watched the tops of her patent leather shoes.
"But even more than how well you've performed," Lily reached out with her right hand to gently tilt the elf's face up to her own, "We have all come to love you and value you for yourself."
Now big tears leaked out of Winky's green eyes as the shock and joy comingled in her expression.
"Thank you for coming to us, Winky. Thank you for being part of our family."
Winky pulled her right hand back cover her mouth as she began to sob. Lily reached out, embracing the young elf. From what Hermione had told her, Lily was sure that Winky lived in fear of dismissal and disgrace after the blow up with that awful Barty Crouch. Reaching into her desk drawer with her free hand, she withdrew the package she'd commissioned a while ago.
Sliding in front of the calming elf, Lily looked her in the eye, "We will always love and value you and you will always have a place here." Winky smiled wetly, but her eyes immediately narrowed as Lily held up the small box. Opening it, she watched Winky's expression cycle from wonder to confusion to fear and back to wonder.
"This is not clothes, Winky." Reaching into the box, she grasped the small gold shield by its chain. Holding it up, she showed it to the elf. "This is the coat of arms of the house of Potter. Only those of the family can wear or display it. " Extending the jewel encrusted pendant to the elf, Lily said, "I'd like you to wear this."
Lily was glad to see that Winky was beyond words. Gently, she undid the clasp before wrapping the chain about her littlest family member's neck. As she did up the clasp again, Lily kissed Winky's brow.
Astounded was a word that came close to conveying the evident emotions of the young elf. Lily sat back on her chair, giving Winky a little smile.
Fingering the pendant, Winky's mouth worked a few times before she whispered, "Thank you."
Her smile broadening, Lily replied, "No, Winky. Thank you."
James Middleton nodded to the Prince, "And I am pleased to meet you, your Highness." There was an ingrained part of him that wanted to believe what the Prince said – he was the Queen's grandson after all. But at the same time, James Middleton was a werewolf and even though he'd been a muggle when he and his sister were bitten that fateful night, he'd still felt the lash of his disease. The lash that was applied with vigour from a society that feared and hated those of his kind. As such, he was always cynical about those who claimed to want to help them. At the same time, this was the Queen's grandson.
Gesturing to his left, he introduced, "My sister, PIppa." Continuing about the hollow, he introduced the rest of the werewolves in their little pack. "…and this is Francis," he indicated to the eldest of their member. "He's the founder of our little retreat here."
William moved to shake Francis' hand while an expression of bemused amusement stole over his clean shaven face. A blonde woman approached him, introducing herself, "Hello, my name is Alex Price and I'm a healer. If you'd like, I'll perform a quick medical examination for you and yours."
James sighed in relief. "Joseph is hurt," he indicated to the man leaning on the oak across the way. "He injured his leg the other day and it still pains him."
The blonde healer nodded as she moved off to help Joseph. A moment later, Alex conjured a privacy screen as she got to work.
Looking about, James saw that the group had devolved to a more social interaction. The man who came with the Prince and The Boy-Who-Lived was obviously a lycanthrope and was currently chatting with Francis. They seemed to be two of a kind.
The silver haired, bespectacled Francis looked as if he would be more comfortable in a shop or as a clerk somewhere than in founding a werewolf pack. James knew that Francis was a kind soul, a man who wanted peace and quiet – to love his wife and children rather than to try to fight to the top of the heap.
The question in front of James was whether or not he should he trust these people. While not growing up magical and therefore exposed to the prejudices and hostility the Wizarding world had toward those infected with lycanthropy, he was part of that world now. His family's inherited wealth helped them live a comfortable lifestyle, but they were ignored – shunned even - and unable to find work as a group or individuals. The Prince and this Boy-Who-Lived could be trying to help or could be trying to exploit them in their struggle with the Dark Lord.
"Thoughts?" he asked as he half turned to his sister.
The young woman hummed under her breath. "I'm of two minds. Harry Potter is always been advertised as a good guy. There were those rumours a few years back that he was dark, though."
James snorted to himself, "Because he can talk to snakes. Mustn't perpetuate the problem, little sister." He found it ironic that a lycanthrope was considering labelling a parselmouth dark because of his ability.
He watched her roll her eyes as she agreed, "True. The Prince is a cutie," James frowned, "But he's too young for me." Punching him in the shoulder, Pippa asked, "What do you think?"
Pursing his lips, he slowly replied, "I believe that I trust them to do right by us."
"Well, then," she drawled as she moved off to get in line by Alex, "There's your answer."
The Prince returned nodding to Pippa as he passed her, "So, you seem to have a, well, wonderful little…pack here." James smiled as the young man stumbled a bit in his evident nervousness.
"Yes. We call ourselves a family, though," James replied ignoring the young Prince's stumbling in his diplomatic efforts. "It's one of the reasons we've banded together. We accept that we're all infected, but want to remain civilised." Gesturing with his chin, James added, "It all stems from Francis."
James looked on the older man with fondness. "Francis was a family friend long before I was born. It was truly fortuitous that he was the first person to call on us the day after the attack." He paused, remembering that day. "I don't remember much. That first day was like having a bad fever. Kate had been asleep in her loft bed so it seems that the…attackers didn't notice her, but Pippa and I were infected. Mum and dad didn't survive the visit from the three werewolves that evening." He sighed. "At first I wanted to hate him. His kind was what had taken our parents and afflicted Pippa and me. But I knew Francis. He was the kindest, most gentle man I've ever known. He'd never hurt a fly. Finally, I came to see the difference between those who embrace and encourage the Wolf and those like Francis who try to live in peaceful coexistence with our disease.
"He took us into his home and together, we formed the nascent wolf pack here in the Cotswolds. The other four members of our extended family are wizards and witches – bringing with them the wonder that was the Wolfsbane Potion.
"Our parents were very wealthy. As such, between our funds and Michael's ability," he nodded to the man who was now being examined by Alex, "we're able to live peaceably without being a threat to our neighbours or family."
"Why isn't Francis the Alpha, then?" Prince William asked.
His sincere curiosity dampened any insult James may have felt. "Because Francis is an example, the ideal that we all try to live. He's not a leader. He'll tell you that himself." The young werewolf laughed in a self-deprecating manner, "The rest thought that I should do this because I argue the most amongst us. They reckon that I would be able to tell others 'no' the easiest."
William chuckled alongside James, so the young man decided to be frank. "If I may be so bold, your Highness, why are you here?"
"So there's these three sites that we can choose from," Sirius murmured as he looked at the map.
"Oui," Fleur agreed at his side. Tapping a perfect nail on the site outside Leeds, she reiterated her earlier point, "It is rumoured that the Lestrange brothers work out of this facility."
Without looking at her, Sirius murmured, "The Lestrange family seat is just outside York."
Glancing over the map to his adopted daughter, Sirius asked, "Thoughts?"
Hermione immediately replied, "I agree with Fleur. Even if the Lestrange's aren't present, the Leeds facility is a viable target for us. Not too big, but big enough for Voldemort to notice."
"We need to capture some," Susan observed.
Sighing, Sirius nodded his agreement. Capture meant interrogation. Interrogation meant truth serums and if things went badly, it meant torture. Sirius was not looking forward to that possibility.
At the same time, Auror Command Intelligence had run out of leads for them to pursue regarding the possible locations of Voldemort's top lieutenants. The needed to start rolling up these scumbags.
"There's a problem with Leeds," Charlie mildly observed.
Given the speaker, Sirius covered his face as he asked, "Is it a dragon?"
Charlie chuckled, "No, we could only be so lucky. There's supposed to be a Manticore prowling the grounds there."
Fleur summed up the general feeling of all present when she spat, "Baise."
"Hey handsome, looking for a good time?"
Marcus Flint was a moron. He wasn't a moron in the sense of: 'he's really fucking stupid'. No, Marcus Flint was a moron in the sense that his Intelligence Quotient was an even 56. Mentally, Marcus was about eight years old, but then again, many eight year olds were far smarter than Marcus.
The nine year 'graduate' of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (many thought he'd done it in eight, but it was really nine) did have two things in his favour, though. He was physically strong and had no compunction hurting people. These things only really helped him in his service to the Dark Lord. With the rest of society, it would result in an extended stay in Her Majesty's prison systems.
That being said, Marcus was far more interested the pretty blonde thing in a skirt that could easily be called a belt right in front of him than on his mental prowess. "Hey," he grunted with a leering smile.
Now it was time to turn on the charm. He knew that he'd a reputation as a lady's man back at school.
Leaning on the wall next to the girl, he eyed her up and down. Winking at her, Marcus announced, "I have a massive dick."
She tittered, "Really?"
He didn't notice the fleeting expression of disgust on the blonde's face, he was far too focused on the size of his genitalia. Of note, one man's 'massive' is another woman's 'tiny'. Eventually, he noticed that she was starting to walk away. With his eyes focused on her swinging hips, he called, "Oi! Where're you goin'?"
She looked over her shoulder with a smile. Winking she beckoned to him, "C'mon, stud. Let's have some fun."
His chortling sounded vaguely troll-ish, but her hurried after her when she turned into an alley.
Right into the trap.
There were four of them in a line. He thought he recognized the man –Gryffindor? - but he was half in the shadows. The last thing he heard was a woman incanting, "Stupefy."
Lily smiled as she lifted her face from the pile of forms in front of her. James was leaning on the doorframe of her office wearing that 'come shag me' expression that drove her wild.
"Hey," she replied sitting back in her chair. As the previously unnoticed stiffness in her neck and back uncoiled, she groaned in discomfort. If there's anything that's the anti-aphrodisiac, it's back pain. But that leads to…
The strong fingers began kneading her shoulders and neck causing her to groan again, this time in relief. "You're hired. Find my husband to get your pay cheque."
His masculine chuckle warmed her. Leaning into him, she asked, "How was your day?"
Opening her eyes, she twisted her neck so as to see him. "And?"
James bent over, kissing the top of her head. "They seem to be eager to get on the pitch. It seems that they believe that our mutual friends the Russians are going to enter the fray on the Dark Lord's side."
Nodding her head, Lily mentally agreed. She and Her Majesty had discussed the very thing. "Will they escalate should the Russians provide direct support to Voldemort?" She hoped she knew the answer, but there had been so many reversals of late, she didn't dare assume.
"Li Peng implied that China would escalate, but was very far from explicit." James clarified with a hesitant tone.
Wrinkling her nose as she looked down, Lily muttered, "I hate politics."
She felt him nuzzle the top of her head, "Enough work. How's our littlest man?"
Lily smiled again. "Lord Robert is well, your Grace." James grinned as he shook his head. They often played this little game, but only in private. Leaning back into him again, she commented, "Winky loved the pendant."
"Good," James replied. His father had done much the same for Rauri. James had been a precocious eight year old when Rauri had been presented his uniform bearing the Potter family crest on his breast pocket. It was the uniform that the elf still wore to this day. He'd told her that he'd not understood why his father had taken a house elf into the family until ten years later. After his parents died, James saw first-hand how devoted Rauri was to him. The devotion was far beyond that inspired by the house elf/master bond. Rauri truly loved James, and James, in his turn, loved Rauri.
Underneath all James' silliness as a younger man and his seriousness now, there beat the heart of gold that she fell in love with as a sixth year student. Harry was just the same.
The thought of her firstborn was like cold water on her face. As had happened so often of late, her emotions whipsawed back and forth. She watched James' reaction to her own falling spirits as if it was a melting icicle in the warmth of spring. "What?" he softly asked.
James concerned expression became a frown.
"He ought to be here with us," Lily whispered. Standing, she moved without thought to the nursery, James following. Leaning over Robbie's cot, she stroked the baby's wispy dark hair. "Just like Harry's."
Long stifled fear flowed through Lily, electrifying her nerves and senses. Despite Harry's age and experience, a deep part of the auburn haired witch considered him to be her little 'baby-bear' that she nursed and cuddled over many nights. Due to the time displacement, Lily hadn't the opportunity to let her son grow up to be the confident and capable young man that he was this day. She knew that she wasn't alone in her struggle to let Harry be the man he was as he strove to defeat his destined nemesis.
Lily was terrified that she'd never see her eldest son again. Voldemort, his minions or even a goddam lorry could kill him before she saw him again. She'd not had enough time with her boy. Not nearly enough time and she was unwilling to let him go gentle into that good night.
As her husband's hand slowly clasped her shoulder, Lily let go the shuddering breath that she'd been holding. Closing her eyes, she shoved the fear to the side, ignoring it and balling it into a dark corner of her mind where it wouldn't trouble her.
"Alright?" he asked quietly.
Gulping a deep lungful of air, Lily nodded her lie.
"You keep having these…attacks. Like panic attacks…," James began before he was cut off by Lily. She didn't want to talk about this. Not now or ever for she was afraid that to name the demon was to call it.
'I'm fine, James. Leave it alone."
He was silent so she dared not look. Anger, resentment or disgust with her behaviour she could deal with from James. Disappointment and hurt, though, should James feel that…that might break her resolve. Break the dam that she'd built inside her heart. Lily had enough problems but to add hurting her husband to the pile just might be too much.
"War is hell," James murmured. Sighing in relief, she took his words for their meaning. He understood and wouldn't pry. Once again, she leaned back into his embrace. He was her best friend, her lover, the father of her children and her life mate.
"I love you James. Thank you."
Amelia was in a pickle.
Arthur Weasley was a self-admitted traitor to the Crown.
At the same time, he was hard working, industrious and – if you overlook his 'indiscretion' - an incredibly dedicated Briton. He was the first person in the office every day and the last person out. His recommendations had saved over forty lives and repurposed nearly a million galleons from inefficient programs to direct support of forces in the field. Even Mad-Eye had sent a personal message to Amelia expressing his thanks for Arthur's efforts.
Leaning back in her chair, she stared at the ceiling, How am I supposed to execute this man?
When all was said and done, he'd provided aid to the enemy.
Yet he was seemingly redeeming himself through his tireless efforts.
"Goddammit," she whispered.
"Talking to yourself again, Amelia?"
Rolling her eyes, Amelia beckoned to Hestia who was walking in the room. "Close the door," she instructed while opening the bottom draw of her desk. Placing the bottle of whisky on the blotter, she opened the bottle as Hestia conjured two tumblers.
Pouring a few fingers worth in each glass, she toasted her Deputy, "Cheers," before taking a long draught.
"Ah, that's good," Amelia murmured as her eyes closed in stress and tiredness..
The click of Hestia's glass on the desktop caused the Minister to squint across at the blonde.
"Arthur?" Hestia asked. Amelia's only reply was to nod. Hestia was no dolt. She saw the same thing that Amelia did regarding the man. They sat in tense silence for a long moment before Hestia counselled, "We don't have to do anything tonight. His oaths insure he can never…," the young Countess trailed off as her face fell, the emotion clear. "Fall," Hestia finished. "He can't fall again."
Looking into the glass, Amelia observed, "He wouldn't anyway. Not now."
Hestia shrugged as if to say 'Who knows?' Considering her Deputy through the glass as Amelia took another sip, the Minister assumed that Hestia wasn't too predisposed to think very highly of the man. Her husband and family of choice were behind enemy lines. Anyone or anything that threatened them would face a fight from the blonde politico.
"I've always thought of Arthur as a good man. A touch daft with his obsession for Muggles, but a good man." Ignoring Hestia's barely polite scowl, "Yet a few months back I wanted to draw and quarter him." Shaking her head, Amelia agreed with Hestia, "You're right. No need to decide tonight." Snorting in dark humour, she finished, "I'll just let Her Majesty figure it out."
Hestia laughed as they jokingly clinked glasses together before downing the last of the single malt.
Kate had been told by her brother to wait back in their makeshift village. He didn't know if it'd be safe or not, but erring on the side of caution, he wanted his youngest sister out of harm's way. The problem was that Kate Middleton was an extremely inquisitive young woman.
A few days back, a man arrived to speak with Francis and her brother. James hadn't said, but the stranger seemed to be a lycanthrope of the same kind as her family. He appeared to be a kind man who wanted to be human while living in as much peace and harmony with his curse as could be mustered. That in and of itself intrigued her. The fact that no one would talk about what the man wanted drove her to distraction.
Therefore, when her brother and sister left alongside Francis and the other lycanthropes for their super-secret clandestine meeting, Kate had donned her black zip hoodie and followed them at a discreet distance. Once they all settled into the hollow, she slipped under a deadfall where she could see and hear while being mostly hidden.
The Prince of Wales¸she muttered to herself. They'd all heard how most of the Royal Family had been killed by the Dark Lord's forces, so she knew that William was now the heir apparent. He seemed to be a decent sort, shaking hands with everyone despite knowing of their infection. Then again, his Mum did the same thing in the AIDS wards.
The young man's broad, unaffected smile twinkled as he greeted the others, but she decided to reserve judgement until talking with James and Pippa. They'd all learned the hard way about trusting people before coming to know them better.
As the group devolved into a series of simultaneous discussions, Kate watched the blonde woman set up an interview station of a sort before inviting Joseph to join her. The man limped behind the screen as Kate watched the others. Nothing seemed amiss, but then again, it'd seemed fine when the 'envoy' from the Yorkshire pack had visited.
Shaking off the bad memory, the brunette teen watched.
She could tell that the Prince had expected to be challenged by the werewolves. So, when James questioned him, the young Prince wasn't too upset or put out. Smiling gently, he reiterated his earlier statement, "I'm here to help."
Her brother frowned, "But you can't do anything. The Dark Lord rules all now."
Nodding, William admitted, "That's true." A bit of steel straightened his back and firmness shown through in his tone. It was something that Kate had seen James do many times and it was one of the things she admired about her brother. The Prince leaned toward her brother, his eyes glittering, "But in the end, Good always triumphs over evil."
With a dramatic sweeping gesture of his arm, the young blond man explained, "Look at the history of the world. Every so often, Evil triumphs. Adolf Hitler ruled Germany for twelve years. The legacy of Lenin and Stalin tortured Russia for over half a century. Ceausescu has done horrid things in Romania and they're just now beginning to recover from his reign of terror. Go back through time and spread across the globe and you'll see that wherever and whenever Evil triumphs, it's only for a time before Good overcomes."
The conviction of his cause swirled through William. "Always, Good wins out over Evil. Always." Leaning back onto a tree, he seemed to wait for James to digest his words. Kate didn't need any time. Standing, she strode into the clearing, surprising most there.
She wasn't angry with the Prince. What he said made sense and resonated with her as truth. At the same time, she was more than a bit cynical, given the systematic and brutal oppression her family had suffered.
"What you say is all well and good," she challenged the young man. "But Good always has to fight back. Who's going to do that? Who's going to do away with the Dark Lord? Who's going to do away with the oppression against my family?"
Turning, she looked to the voice to see a young man with messy dark hair and glasses. He wasn't much older than she, but his expression and manner gave truth to the sincerity of his assertion.
Beyond the young man with the messy hair was the older werewolf who'd come with them. His face stolid and serious, she couldn't help but believe him.
The blonde healer joined the other werewolf as her eyes bored into Kate's.
Turning back, she saw the Prince with a similar expression. Until now, he'd seemed to be a fairly handsome young man who was famous for his parentage. At this moment, she saw him as the heir to the Royal House of Windsor-Mountbatten, Crown Prince of the Realm. Like a mantle, he put in his authority and there was no doubting him.
Kate found herself nodding in acceptance before she'd thought the matter through. These two young men were going to deliver them, that much was evident. Looking from The Boy-Who-Lived to the Prince, she saw that they would be the salvation of the United Kingdom, or die in the effort.
"How'd it go?" Hermione asked as she cuddled up next to Harry. It was late, as they'd all expected, when Harry and the others returned. Without comment, Harry had come into their room before flopping face first on the bed.
"Fine," his muffled voice filtered through the bedclothes.
Amused, Hermione prodded her intended in the side. When Harry yelped, and sat up to escape her questing fingers, she asked, "If it's not too much to ask, could you elaborate?" Wiggling her fingers in a threatening manner, she added, "Or do I need to coerce you?"
Harry chuckled. Sitting up, he tossed his spectacles on the night table as he yawned. "It really did go well. We chatted with them, Alex looked over the entire group – did you know that there's nearly fifty of them if you count the families? William seemed to make a connection with their leader. They even invited us to dinner."
"What was your impression?" Hermione asked as she cuddled back into Harry's side.
Wrapping his arm about her shoulders, he replied, "Overall, they're a decent sort. Made it much easier to reach out to them. By the end of the evening, they agreed to remain neutral. The non-magical lycans and their families were very interested in Billy's idea about generating a non-magical social services program for them.
"In the end," Harry sighed, "They're decent people who want to live in peace." He kissed the crown of her head as he settled.
"I doubt the Yorkshire pack will be as easy," Hermione muttered.
"No," Harry replied. "They won't. James - the Alpha in the Cotswolds - told us that they'd received an 'envoy' from the north a few weeks before. He was some massive man who fully embraced the wolf. Nearly feral, James said the man was. This bugger tried to intimidate James and the others into submitting to leadership from Yorkshire."
Harry chuckled, "The Cotswolds Pack is very cultured and refined; focused on peace. Don't confuse that with being pushovers. Apparently, this envoy challenged James and ended up leaving the Cotswolds heavily bandaged and licking his wounds."
Hermione's brain jumped to a conclusion that was alarming, "If some of the less feral and more peace-minded werewolves in Yorkshire want to leave, will this James accept them into their pack and won't the Yorkshire pack return with more force?"
Nodding absently, The Boy-Who-Lived replied, "We asked that. The group didn't seem too inclined to expand their group much by taking in newcomers. They call it a family. In the end, James and an elder named Francis agreed to think about it and discuss it among themselves. William and I are going to return in two weeks' time."
Sighing, he murmured, "No one is sure of the Yorkshire pack's intentions. Apparently, James and Joseph, who's the pack potion master, have some plans in case that happens. They declined to elaborate," he finished, his words laced with meaning.
After a moment of quiet, Harry laughed. Mock whispering, he told his love, "I think Billy's got a crush on James' youngest sister. He was quite keen on her."
Hermione giggled as they settled into each other. "Leave him alone, Harry."
Grumbling, Harry groused, "I can't even tease the guy?"
Her hand crept down his chest to his belt. Darting underneath, she gave him a caress, "Can't you think of something better to do with your time?"
He didn't reply. Well, he didn't reply with words. Harry decided to act on this newfound course of action. They finally fell asleep a few hours later.
Lily sat next to James in the Grand Assembly Hall of the International Confederation of Wizards. On James' other side sat Hestia. Together, the threesome were listening to a critical speech from Sergei Ivanov – a man that Hestia was coming to loathe. The three of them had met with Amelia the day before where the acting Minister expressed her concerns.
"The Russians have been quiet for far too long. Hestia believes they're manoeuvring in the shadows…setting up a big play."
Hestia watched Lily nodding along with her husband. James replied, "I agree. Speaking with Li Peng, she has inside sources that indicate that the Russians are putting the thumbscrews to Rumania, Greece, Hungary and Bulgaria; an Eastern European Block of interests against the evil west."
As it was her former area of expertise when posted in the Foreign Office, Hestia Black, the Countess of Blackmoor and Deputy Minister of the Ministry for Magic in Exile was right miffed. She knew Athos Lampros well. On more than one occasion she'd dined with the large jovial Greek and his wife, Adrienne. They were lovely people whom she knew and respected. The Greek government, while in a transition period, was historically stable. The Rumanians were emerging from the fog of Ceausescu.
Hungary, she'd no idea why they were lining up behind the Russian bear and her ignorance infuriated Hestia. There was no logical reason for the Hungarians to support the Magical Empire of All the Russias. Hungary was a traditionally progresssive magical state. The Hungarians had been at the forefront of the Equality for the Races effort over the past century. In Hungary, Goblin, Veela, Witch and Wizard were equal in spirit and law. Why was Hungary allying themselves with a hard core conservative country like Russia who was espousing blood purity as a national way of life? For the life of her, Hestia couldn't foment a rational reason.
Maintaining her perfectly neutral expression, Hestia traded a glance with James. He too was noncommittal in his expression, which told the blonde witch that he was just as annoyed by the speech as she was. For the past twenty minutes, the Russian Ambassador had been piling invective upon asininities upon polemic to the point where very few in the Hall were able to follow the thread of the speech beyond the overarching theme that "The British Ministry in Exile is Evil."
Hestia had been expecting this, and if she were honest, so too was everyone else in attendance. The problem was that the tension in the hall was building even as Ivanov ploughed the same old ground. There was a movement afoot and she was awaiting the other shoe to drop.
Greece wasn't answering the Floo.
Hungary was dissimulating when asked the most basic of questions.
Bulgaria was a confused country; shifting government priorities and a teetering economy left the country with an inconstant rudder.
Rumania was openly hostile in public and private.
Russia was leading the pack of a near quarantine against that Voldemort opposition government.
Independently, none of these states were a threat to the Ministry in Exile. However, their cooperation was a threat to unseating Voldemort from his ill-gotten gains. Should more countries join….
"…and this is why Russia gladly joins hands with our traditional allies: Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania and Greece along with Poland and Czechoslovakia as we stand firm against aggression against the rightful government of the United Kingdom. We shall be the Iron Fist of Freedom against those who would supress and oppress those weaker than themselves."
Hestia couldn't help it. Her eyes flared with surprise with the addition of the Poles and Czechs. She'd counted on them staying out of the froth that Ivanov was whipping, but apparently they were players now. The obvious occurred to her.
"The Germans and French are going to go crazy," she heard Lily whisper to James. Hestia's heart constricted. There was no way that the Germans or French would allow this power bloc to go unchecked. With the sabre rattling by Russia against Britain – and therefore the west – France and Germany would find a way to overcome their differences so that they would form a defensive alliance. The pieces were moving on the board, seemingly of their own will and it caused her to wonder about who was pulling the strings on this marionette. If anyone.
Hestia's slight nod was all she gave away. Tuning out Ivanov, for she'd heard all the man had to say, the Countess of Blackmoor contemplated the ramifications of this 'Iron Fist' that the Russians were touting. The totality of the Russian alliance formation was unknown but the implications were disturbing. Europe was quickly teetering on the brink of a multinational conflict not seen since the 1940s. With the Chinese champing at the bit to become involved, Hestia was afraid she was seeing the opening acts of a World at War.
War in Britain.
War in the central plains of Germany and Poland.
War in the Far East.
Fires burning across the world. The United States would become involved. The Korean Peninsula could explode again pulling the Japanese into the conflict. Who knew whether India and Pakistan would be able to quiver their weapons. The mundane governments would be unable to stand aside. Nuclear weapons? She shuddered at the thought. The thought that Africa and South America would probably remain neutral wasn't a comforting thought. The fires of war would be all-consuming.
The terrifying thing was that she'd no idea how to stop the flames from igniting.
Fleur nodded to Harry. She'd been researching the Death Eater stronghold outside the northern industrial and commercial city. She'd been the one to convince Sirius of the viability of the target, as well as, the importance of this facility in the apparent overall plan of Voldemort. It was her responsibility to brief Harry on the target.
There were a series of facilities that acted as barracks, 'entertainment houses', and headquarters. Most were based on the county, but in the larger counties – like Yorkshire – there were multiple facilities to maintain the Death Eater stranglehold on Britain. The web of facilities was centred upon a central headquarters. The central headquarters for Yorkshire was just outside Leeds.
It was believed that the Yorkshire werewolf pack received support and direction from the Leeds facility. To further William's goal of removing the werewolf shaft from Voldemort's quiver, Leeds would have to be neutralized.
In addition, the Leeds headquarters was a conduit from England into the greater Scotland facilities; north eastward into the plains and north westward up into the Highlands and beyond. Despite the easy transport of witches and wizards via Floo, Apparition and Portkey the bulk transport of supplies hadn't been solved by the Voldemort regime. It'd taken the Ministry in Exile the concerted effort of over a dozen spellcrafters to design a Portkey-like transportation device that would move bulk freight. The inherent problem was that a crate of gloves (for example) had no magical core that the portkey would use to power the transportation. Necessity had been the mother of invention for the Ministry in Exile had no other means to move supplies in bulk to their covert troops.
Hence, the importance of the Leeds Death Eater Headquarters. It controlled the 'pacification' of the greater Yorkshire region. It was the conduit of material supplies to Scotland from England. It was where Rudolphus and Rabastan Lestrange could be found. It was an extremely attractive target.
"Tell me about this manitcore?" Harry commanded. He'd the decency to soften the command by phrasing it as a question.
Gesturing with her wand, Fleur summoned the smaller scale map that included the Death Eater stronghold. "The facility is here," she cast a spell that placed a bright red dot on the map surrounded by a rough pentagonal shape. "The wards are such with the ward stones at each corner of the wards. William and I can have the wards down in approximately twenty minutes."
Harry's eyebrows rose. "That quickly?"
She nodded. "It is a poor construct. He and I will be unable to continue for a short period – about ten minutes – but after a potion or two will be available for support." Pausing while Harry digested the information while examining the map, she watched him. His slim face was set as he concentrated on the briefing paper in his hand. Occasionally, his eyes flicked to the map only to return to the data in his hand.
Tapping the rail centre just south of the target, he asked, "Our insertion point?"
"Oui," she nodded in agreement. "It will be crowded with the automated mundane rail transport so that we ought to be lost in the confusion. It's only two kilometres through forest to the target."
"A mile and a quarter," Harry muttered. "That's a long way on foot." He hmm'd to himself as he tapped the map. "Where's this bloody manitcore?"
She gave a Gallic shrug along with a half-smile that Harry returned. "Inside the wards?" Charlie had been unable to provide a better answer. At Harry's side, Hermione snorted in sarcastic amusement. Fleur repeated her shrug for her friend.
Things were quiet for a long moment before Harry looked her in the eye. She returned his gaze without flinching. It felt as if he were staring deep in to her soul. She'd been a qualified Occlumens for over a year, so she knew he wasn't using Legilimency on her. No, what Harry was doing was far more intrusive and important. He was judging her. After another long moment, he gave her a slight nod of acknowledgment before asking, "What's the plan?"
She exhaled. He had judged her and she'd not been found wanting. Now it was time for brass tacks.
Albus watched his old teacher stiffen slightly before turning about. "I hope that you are well?" he asked.
The surly man nodded shortly before saying, "The Dark Lord is feeling confident in his rule. He now looks outward for the Potters. He wants to destroy them before any threat to his rule can organize. He is fixated on destroying not only the brat but the brat's sire."
Ignoring the diatribe of the former Professor of Potions, Dumbledore reached up to play with his close cropped beard. It was still surprising to find only a short beard. Focusing in the content of the message, he hmm'd to himself. "And how does he propose to do this? I believe that James' is only seen in Zurich at the Confederation. Harry hasn't been seen in public since the Fourth Task."
There was a moment of silence where Albus could tell that Severus was fuming over the casual use of the male Potter names. He knew that Severus had harboured a romantic attachment for Lily Potter, but since her return, Lily's rather frank rejection of Severus seemed to have put paid to any lingering attachment. Albus had always thought that Severus' affections were misguided and a phantasm, but left it alone. A man's feelings were his own, not to be dissected by others for triumph or tragedy.
"The Dark Lord has inside information that the brat is in the country. He feels that due to the prophecy, he must deal with the brat personally. Pettigrew has been dispatched to deal with his former friend."
That information caused Albus to pause. Shoving aside his surprise, he nodded sagely as if the information was already known. "I see." Strolling about the clearing where they met, Albus asked, "How is the Dark Lord coordinating with the Russians? He must be doing so. The Russians seem to anticipate his every move and step in a complementary fashion."
"I have no knowledge of the international affairs. Jugson handles those issues."
"And Tom continues to move house most every day?"
The silent nod from the sallow man was answer enough. Albus' nod in reply ended the conversation. "Two weeks?"
"Two weeks," Snape replied moments before Apparating away.
The old wizard watched the spot where his one-time friend had stood. Trust was tenuous these days and his trust in Severus was not what it once was. In years past, he trusted the dark man because he knew that Severus was motivated by the death of his lost love. Well, seeming death, that is. Now, with Lily's definitive rejection still ringing in Severus' ears, Albus could no longer trust that motivation. Severus was far too bitter and petty a man to hope that he was firmly entrenched in the side of the light. Why then would he continue to assist Albus? Friendship? Unlikely, but possible. It was very likely that Albus was the only person on the planet that was willing to name Severus 'friend.'
Pursing his lips, Albus considered whether this was sufficient reason to trust the intelligence provided by Severus Snape.
Shaking off his morbid considerations, Albus Apparated back to the room he rented at the muggle Inn. He'd a letter to write to James and Amelia.
"We need more people, don't we?"
Remus nodded silently as he looked over the map and information sheets that Fleur had compiled. The target was viable. The attack profile was sound. There just weren't enough people in the Lion's Pride to take down the Leeds facility.
Harry sat back in his chair, tiredly scrubbing his hair. The werewolf watched his nephew in all but blood carefully. Since returning to Britain with their special action group, Remus had carefully watched Harry. Part of his attention was due to Prongs' request that Moony watch over the young man. His inherent affection for Harry filled the rest of his attention.
On the other side of the table, Fleur nodded despondently. "Oui. At least ten more."
Remus was proud to see Harry look up sharply at Fleur's tone. His expression friendly, he chastised her, "None of that. This is an excellent plan."
Absently rubbing her scarred cheek, Fleur nodded absently. An idea occurred to Remus. "I'll try to get in touch with Alastor. Amelia gave me the proper codes and a communication slate. Give me a moment."
Heading over to his tent that he shared with Alex and Sirius, Remus dug through the cheap dresser in their room. At the bottom of the draw, he pulled out the slate and a small pad of codes. Smirking to himself, he wondered what Alastor would say had he known that Remus kept Top Secret communication data in an old draw of an equally old dresser.
Hurrying back to their planning tent, he thumbed through the pad. Finding the right date, he carefully wrote, "T3L to K3A, authenticate 05U."
There was a long wait, so that Remus was afraid that no one was monitoring the other slate. Finally, a flowing script replied, "K3A, authenticate Y6N."
Having anticipated the authentication, he looked to Harry, "It's them. Should we propose a meeting or do it over the slate?" Harry's cocked eyebrow prompted Remus to say, "I recommend a meeting. It's far easier to resolve ambiguities when discussing in person."
Harry nodded in agreement. As Remus began to write, The Boy-Who-Lived turned to Fleur, "Get ready to brief Mad-Eye. You know how he is and what he wants to hear. Be ready."
The slate had scribed a reply to the request to meet. Reading aloud, he told the assembled group, "We'll meet tomorrow at 1400. Location five." Thumbing through the book, he found the answer. "The safe house in Lincolnshire outside Sutton Bridge."
1. I own nothing. Thanks to all who reviewed the first twenty seven 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. The recommendation for this chapter is Epiphanies by S.M. wane. Excellent beginning to his story.
3. In real life, the Duchess of Cambridge (Catherine nee Middleton) is the oldest sibling, being one year older than Phillippa (Pippa) and five years older than her brother James. I reversed the order of the children's births to suit the needs of my story.
Chapter complete 12/29/13