Autumnal Commemoration, Part I
When Ginny finished her daily run with Hermione the next day and entered the kitchen to have her breakfast, she found Harry already in there with an older goblin who's back was turned, but the latter looked at her when she closed the kitchen door. He had thinning gray hair and wore bifocals. He wasn't as old as Dr. Grobschmied, but he still looked to be older than most of the other Entente goblins, and he dressed richly, wearing a black frock coat with gold buttons, and he had a signet ring on his right middle finger. Ginny had never seen him in person before, but she instantly recognized him from The Daily Prophet.
"Ah," Cerdik Gadlak said, as he stood up to greet Ginny. "You must be the newest Partisan. I've heard much about you."
Ginny nodded, and shook the hand he offered her.
"Mr. Gadlak, this is Ginny Weasley," Harry told the goblin. "Ginny, Cerdik Gadlak."
"Pleased to meet you," Ginny greeted, hoping she sounded less nervous than she felt about meeting Europe's wealthiest and perhaps most formidable goblin.
Gadlak nodded, and then beckoned at the door. "Well, now that you're here, shall we take this meeting elsewhere?"
Ginny frowned. "You were waiting for me?"
"Of course," Gadlak said, bowing his head curtly. "I believe situating your brothers as contacts in Germany was your idea."
"My office, then?" Harry offered. "I've already taken a couple of breakfast trays down there."
Without another word, Gadlak set off toward the door, and Harry glanced at Ginny for a moment, before he nodded and beckoned for her to go on. She did so, with Harry just behind her, and a minute later, the three of them stepped into Harry's study.
Harry immediately set off toward his desk, where he had set down two trays earlier. He removed the lids of the dishes, and the smell of eggs and sausages filled the study. Harry took up an empty plate from one of the trays, and piled some food on it, which he offered to Ginny, and he did the same to Gadlak, who politely declined, saying he'd already eaten. Harry then served himself, and waved his wand at a couple of armchairs from one of the corners of his study, which then floated to the desk. Harry then drew up his chair from behind the desk, and they all took their seats.
Nobody said anything for a moment, but after a moment, Gadlak finally spoke up. "So, Mr. Potter, you tell me that, according to your source, the Death Eaters expect to receive a sum of half a million Galleons by the end of the year, and that someone from Germany is involved, correct?"
"Hmm." Gadlak's brow furrowed, and he tapped the arm of his chair thoughtfully. "And you only have one name. We have three months to halt the Death Eaters' funding, which is difficult at best, giving us three weeks at most to locate this Müller. Difficult at best." He looked at Ginny. "You say that you have two brothers who could be of assistance?"
Ginny nodded. "My brothers Fred and George."
Gadlak looked dubious. "Forgive me, but I need a reason to believe I can rely on two school mischief makers who used to run a joke shop in Diagon Alley."
"They are also members of the Order of the Phoenix," Ginny told him, feeling indignant, "which is already well established in Germany. The twins are not completely averse to back-alley dealings when it comes to the resistance. Fred and George were given the task to locate Rufus Scrimgeour a few months ago, and they succeeded within a couple of weeks because they often hear things the rest of us don't."
The goblin entrepreneur's expression didn't change.
"Mr. Gadlak," Harry stepped in, "I know Fred and George Weasley, and I believe that they are equal to the task."
Gadlak raised an eyebrow, and he and Harry stared at each other for several long minutes, before he sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Very well," he relented. "I shall maintain contact with them, should they agree to this. You say that they are capable of this, but once we begin, I shall be the judge of that."
Ginny exhaled, and the corners of Harry's mouth twitched.
"Now that that's settled," he said, "that leaves getting Fred and George back to Germany, but I'm sure that Rok or Cecilia could make a couple of one-time Portrings to get them to the continent."
"And when you find Müller and the source of the money?" asked Ginny. "How will you stop it?"
Gadlak removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. "Financial matters are precarious," he said, "and you don't rid an organization of a source of money by such means as assassination or theft. If we were to kill whoever's sending the Death Eaters money, then the Death Eaters will do everything in their power to ensure that the money still finds its way into their hands. It's the money itself, or its owner's hold on it, we have to attack."
Harry and Ginny looked at each other for a moment, before the former asked, "And how do we do that?"
"That depends on who is sending money, and under what circumstances," Gadlak replied, shrugging. "Ideally, we could uncover a reason for their local government or the I.C.W. to freeze their assets, and then expose them publicly. If that fails, then it would boil down to threats, bribery, or blackmail. The difficulty won't simply be in finding the source, but also in learning enough about that source to uncover a weakness."
"You sound like you've got experience in this kind of dealing," Ginny commented drily. Gadlak merely raised his eyebrows at her, his expression neutral, but Harry coughed.
Gadlak then looked at him. "You leave this to me and my contacts. We'll get to the bottom of this."
Harry nodded. "I'll try to contact Fred and George tonight," he told the goblin. "I already know where to look for them."
Gadlak grunted. "Very well. If you find them tonight, make certain that they return to Germany within three days. They are to meet me at the top of the Berliner Dom at midnight on Saturday. I'll be incognito. They are not to know who they are meeting."
"I'll inform you immediately if I don't find them," Harry promised. "Keep me informed of your progress."
Gadlak got to his feet. "I'll take my leave then. Berliner Dom balcony, midnight on Saturday."
With that, he left the study. Harry and Ginny both stared after him, and then, as soon as they heard the lift start to ascend, the former sighed and leaned back in his chair.
"No wonder the Ministry was scared of him," Ginny muttered. Four years ago, she would have been extremely uncomfortable involving herself in the underhanded dealings Gadlak implied would be part of the solution, and even now, after all those years, she wasn't sure she liked it. But it was apparent that she wouldn't be directly involved, and that was of some relief to her.
"Cerdik Gadlak is a force to be reckoned with," Harry replied quietly. "I'll give you that."
"How far is he willing to go?"
Harry shrugged. "I don't know everything about his dealings. Frankly, I'm not sure I want to know. But the way he talks, and the way Grobschmied and Grimrook talk about him, I would say even Fred and George would hesitate to participate in some of those dealings. I wouldn't call him dirty, just… amoral. Machiavellian. But at least he keeps to his word, which he doesn't often give."
"I suppose in all crises," Ginny thought out loud, "we have to work with people we'd rather not."
"He's all right when he's not talking business." Harry finished his eggs and put his dirty plate on his desk. "I'm just glad he's on our side."
"We owe him a debt, though," Ginny said after a moment. "He's the main reason the Order has any money at all. Dunno how we would have managed otherwise. But what I'd like to know is how someone as prominent as Cerdik Gadlak simply disappears from all scrutiny, but still somehow finances all this and also attacks what few assets the Death Eaters have left without detection."
Harry shrugged. "All I know is that he's got a Swiss bank account, influence in the Germanic and Mediterranean goblin tribes and nations, dozens of useful assets and contacts who do a lot of the job for him, and one in the CIA."
Ginny said nothing. She had been curious about the famous goblin entrepreneur ever since she first joined the Entente, but she hoped that the Partisans truly had a good reason to trust him. She'd heard a lot about him from Bill and Aberforth, and knew that Gadlak had controlled British wizarding economy before the Death Eater coup; the source of his assets had always remained a mystery, and his ownership of Gringotts and control over the economy enabled him to easily hide or protect his assets from the Ministry. Though he was sometimes a thorn in their side, they could do little to obstacle him. Even the closure of Gringotts apparently hadn't hindered him in the slightest. He also had military power, because of the loyalty of the Entente goblins directed to Gadlak personally, and his ability to arm them and hire people to train them.
Harry was right to be glad that he was on the Entente's side, however, because one thing was clear to Ginny: Cerdik Gadlak was possibly the most dangerous goblin in the Entente.
A shriek broke the silence, and George Weasley sat bolt upright and drew his wand, his heart pounding as he looked frantically into the darkness. In the bed beside him, Fred groaned and turned over.
"Go check the baby," he muttered sleepily.
George lowered his wand and scowled in annoyance as he understood: Mundungus, of course. The charm probably had worn off, and perhaps the git had woken up and flown into one of his panics. With a grunt, George clambered out of bed and illuminated his wand, ambling out of their room and down the stairs, making his way toward the ground floor. As he went, he did not hear Dung scream again, and George hoped that he had calmed down on his own. Still, it was best to check.
Usually kept in Mrs. Black's old lounge under a Cheering Charm, Mundungus still showed no sign of recovery from the influence from the stolen locket Ginny had confiscated, even though he hadn't touched it for weeks. George and Fred had no idea what to do with him, except to attempt to get Dung back to the Order. But they didn't know how they were to get him all the way to Germany while he was in this condition, especially since most of the journey would be over Death Eater territory. Angelina was trying to help them come up with a solution, but in the meantime, the twins kept him as calm and sedate as possible. George just hoped that they could be rid of him soon. He was a liability, both to the mission concerning the Entente, and to the twins' own attempts to locate their missing sister.
When he reached the lounge, all was quiet, so George cautiously opened the door. He expected to find Dung unconscious, asleep, or perhaps squeezed in a corner to whimper, none of which were an uncommon occurrence. What he expected, however, was not what he found.
The first thing George saw was Dung, lying bound and gagged on the floor by the fireplace, but his eyes were wide with panic, and he squirmed wildly. George stared at the madman for a moment, wondering how Dung had ended up tied up like this, because he certainly wasn't in that state when the twins had given him food earlier that evening. Then George caught sight of the man on the moth-eaten sofa, who held a wand in one hand, and was watching him intently. George instinctively raised his own wand.
The intruder didn't react at all. Wearing a black mask under a black fedora, he reclined on the sofa, as though he were a guest, and glanced behind George.
"I anticipate two minutes before your brother joins us," he said calmly, but in a low voice, barely audible. He beckoned at the armchair beside him. "Have a seat."
Finding his tongue again, George demanded, "Who the hell are you? And how did you get in here?"
"That should be obvious," the masked man replied. "On both counts."
George did not reply, but he raised his wand higher.
"Attempt to jinx me and you might not find out why I have come here tonight," the man told him coolly. "I assure you that what I have to say will interest you, but first you must lower that wand."
"What?" hissed George. "So that you can take a free shot at me?"
The man blinked. "Now why would I do that?"
George scowled at him, but made no reply, not willing to let the intruder bait him.
"You don't trust me," the man continued. "That's good. It shows that you're cautious, and therefore exactly the type we need."
George stared at him, unsure of what to say to this, but before he could think of a reply, he heard someone step up behind him, and ask, "What's going on?"
But as he walked in, Fred caught sight of the man, and quickly drew his wand too. "Who are you?" he demanded. "What are you doing here?"
The man didn't answer immediately. Fred and George watched with growing surprise as he tossed his wand on the floor, and reaching into a pocket of his black coat, he pulled out a handheld Muggle gun, which he too placed on the floor. Then he straightened and looked at the twins unconcernedly.
"I think you already know who I represent and suspect how I got past the Fidelius Charm," he said quietly. "You also have an incentive to listen to me, so I suggest that you do. Now have a seat."
The twins remained standing, but both of them looked from the man to the gun on the floor. Then George narrowed his eyes as he suddenly realized who this man was. He lowered his wand. "You're from the Entente, aren't you?" he asked. "You look like one of their lot."
The man nodded. "I am Virescent. We met briefly in Regent's Park, but even if we hadn't, I'm sure that by now, you would have heard of me. I understand that you came to Britain to speak to me. I thought it appropriate to grant you that audience."
George exhaled, but Fred instantly began, "How did you know…?"
Virescent cut across him. "I already know why you came to Britain, but I must tell you now that the Entente is not ready to arrange any sort of coalition with the Order of the Phoenix. That may change in future, but it must be on my terms, not on yours."
"Please, just hear us out," George insisted.
"Our minds are made up," Virescent told them firmly. "Nothing you say at the present moment will change that. I'm here to tell you and the Order to shift your focus. There will be no coalition at present, but both organizations share the goal of eradicating the Death Eater movement. However, Aberforth Dumbledore is wasting his resources and money on the politics of the I.C.W., on getting allies in foreign ministries, and you two are wasting energy by trying to contact the Entente. You are going about this the wrong way entirely."
"Then what do you suggest?" Fred's voice had taken on a defensive tone, but it was what Virescent had been waiting for.
"Go back to Germany," he told the twins. "Your purpose for coming to Britain is done. You have made contact with the Entente. It was a foolhardy mission, but it is done and it has turned out for the better."
"What, so the Order can just continue to hide and hope for the best while the Entente handles everything?" Fred said angrily. "Fat chance, mate!"
Virescent glared at him. "I'm telling you to go back to Germany because at the moment the Order would be more useful exactly where it is," he told them quietly. "We have recently discovered that the Death Eaters soon will receive funding from outside of Britain. We anticipate that they will have a sum of at least half a million before the year is out, and that they certainly will have enough to begin infiltrating Western Europe and perhaps the I.C.W. by next spring. The end of the year is your deadline. The Order has three months to find the source of that money and put a stop to it."
"How long has this been going on?" asked Fred, now sounding consternated. "And how did you know that the Order's now established in Germany?"
"We know," Virescent replied simply. "Since the Order is already well situated in Germany, and some of their membership, yourself included, have experience in this kind of thing, they could turn their focus to this problem. An Entente agent will meet with you after you go back."
George glanced at Fred, who also seemed to mulling over this. If the Entente spokesman could be trusted, then it certainly was vital that the Death Eaters' new asset be sabotaged or attacked in some way before they gained enough to move past the British Isles. But there was one problem in George's eyes, and that was Ginny.
George still felt a stab of fear every time he thought of his sister vanishing into thin air, without warning, right in front of him. The last time he and Fred had heard from her, Ginny had sent them her horse Patronus, about twenty-four hours after her disappearance, but all she'd had to say was that she was safe and that they were not to look for her; she would contact them again if she needed to. But this had done nothing to reassure George or Fred, and they had refused to leave Grimmauld Place until they had some idea of where she was. On top of all other concerns George had, imagining her being held captive by the Death Eaters, who had forced her to send that Patronus, among other equally terrifying scenarios, he didn't think he could go back to Germany and face his mother with the news that he had no idea where Ginny or who she was with.
So he and Fred made this much clear to Virescent, who seemed to consider this for a moment, before he asked slowly, "Have you heard nothing from your sister?"
"A Patronus," Fred said quietly, "telling us that she's safe, but that doesn't necessarily mean that she is. We can't just leave her alone in a country completely under Death Eater control."
"Go back to Germany," Virescent repeated, "and leave your sister to us. It is vital that you inform Aberforth Dumbledore about the finances, and act accordingly. The Entente can hold the fort here in Britain and help you escape."
"You'll look for Ginny?" Fred asked, surprised.
"We have the means to communicate outside of Death Eater scrutiny, and to transport ourselves across the British Isles at leisure, without detection," Virescent told him. He then stood up abruptly, and then stooped down to retrieve his wand and his gun. He returned the nonmagical weapon into his pocket, and when he withdrew his hand, he showed them two rings.
"These rings will take you to the Ardennes forest in Belgium," he told them, leaving the rings on the sofa. "They can only be used once, then the magic wears off. Your first task is to inform Aberforth Dumbledore of all of this, but no one else until you have further instructions. You then are to rendezvous with an Entente agent on the balcony of the Berlin Cathedral at midnight on Saturday. Only you two are to meet him, so don't be tempted to bring anyone else with you."
And with that, in a whirl of dust stirred up from the floor, and with a rushing sound, Virescent vanished into thin air, in exactly the same way Ginny had.
The Operation Enigma room was always warm, but Harry felt cold inside as he glanced up at Dumbledore's empty portrait. He'd only been in here once since Snape's interrogation, to examine the memories of that interview, and to inform the portrait of Snape's loyalties. Dumbledore hadn't been surprised by this, but the discussion hadn't lasted long. Harry found himself unable to face the portrait, not after what he'd seen after he used Legilimency on Snape to view Dumbledore's last moments.
But today, he found himself seated by the pedestal with the Pensieve, not looking at anything, but just contemplating that particular memory. The fact that he himself had put Dumbledore in that state made him feel nauseous, and though he reminded himself that Dumbledore had ordered him to do it, this did little to relieve him. It made him feel more sordid than ever.
"So, back again, Harry?" the portrait suddenly said cheerfully, and Harry couldn't help but smile as he remembered Dumbledore asking those exact words when Harry had faced the Mirror of Erised. That seemed like a whole lifetime ago.
"Of course," Harry replied, "but not to dwell on dreams. Not exactly, anyway."
After a moment in silence, Harry then hesitantly asked, "Albus, in Legilimency, is it possible to impose something in someone's mind?"
Dumbledore frowned at him. "You know it is. A skilled Legilimens can force his own memories into another person, or even false ones. You have experienced this yourself."
Harry winced as he remembered the false vision that Voldemort had put into his head in his fifth year, that lured him into the Department of Mysteries and ultimately led to Sirius's death.
"That's not what I meant," he said quickly. "How do I explain this? Like a… a pathogen, I guess, or a virus. Like a computer virus, one that could distort or change things in the victim's mind on the subconscious level. Theoretically, could a wizard plant such a virus into another person's conscious or unconscious mind?"
The portrait stared. "Why do you ask this?"
Harry hesitated. He hadn't wanted to describe what Snape had seen in Dumbledore's mind before he killed him, but suddenly he found himself describing exactly what Snape had showed him. Dumbledore's face remained impassive throughout, but Harry thought the portrait took on an older, more exhausted look.
"I'm sorry, Albus," he finished quietly.
"Voldemort would be even more ecstatic that I died in such a way," Dumbledore said quietly. "Begging for death, because of the disaster that could have come if I remained alive."
"So I'm right," Harry whispered. "That is what I saw. A sort of psychological virus."
"Of sorts," Dumbledore told him. "This virus, as you call it… from what you describe, it sounds as though, like a Dementor, it forces the victim to see his worst fears and his worst memories, playing on his deepest insecurities. But it also manipulates."
"It's clear to me that while you were drinking that potion, you couldn't use Occlumency to block it out," Harry muttered. "It was inhibiting your ability to do so."
"But even after I stopped drinking it," Dumbledore continued thoughtfully, "from what you've seen, the virus remained. To stop it from torturing me…"
"… you shoved it into your subconscious," Harry said bitterly.
"And on the subconscious level, it may have been able to change my inner nature, undoubtedly for the worse," Dumbledore sighed. "At best, I would have gone insane. At worst…"
But he didn't give voice to that terrifying thought, and Harry was glad of it. It would have been far more disastrous to the Order and any other forms of resistance than Dumbledore's death.
"I don't know if you could use Legilimency to create such a virus," the portrait continued, "but the fact that Voldemort managed to create one, whether through a potion or through actual Legilimency, is incredibly alarming. If he perfected it, he could destroy a victim's personality, their sense of self, and transform them into easy slaves to his cause. However, the magic and intellectual sophistication required to actually wreck a person's sense of individuality would be phenomenal, even for Voldemort."
Harry frowned. "You're saying that Voldemort's not capable of it?"
The portrait shook its head. "I wish I could give you such assurances. But the years with Grindelwald taught me never to declare something impossible. And that makes Voldemort more dangerous than ever."
As it got colder at Goblynsrefuge, and the leaves began to fall, preparations for the anticipated Autumnal Commemoration began. One day fliers appeared all over Goblynsrefuge to announce that at five o' clock on the 31st of October, Reverend Hughes and Captain Grimrook would conduct a memorial ceremony in the church on the west side of the island. It seemed that most of the Entente Guard, save those on patrol duty, were expected to attend, as were most of the Partisans.
As part of the commemoration, only those essential duties, such as patrol duty and continuous watch, would be performed. The entire Entente had the day off from training, but they were expected to observe the commemoration in respect and dignity, under the close eye of the officers of the Guard. The ceremony itself would comprise of a couple of speeches, one delivered by the reverend, and the other possibly by Captain Grimrook or Dr. Grobschmied, but aside from that, it was to be a solemn, silent occasion.
The newest addition to the Partisans learned most of this during a spell practice with her brother a few days before the event. Like all of the Partisans, Ron had acted noticeably more solemn as the day approached, but Ginny wasn't certain whether it was because of the new situation with Snape and the Death Eaters' new windfall, or if it was the commemoration. For her, it was both.
"You know, I'm amazed that the Order or the Ministry of Magic never did something like this every October 31st," Ginny commented, as Ron flipped through Hermione's notebook in search of a new spell to practice.
"Well, wizards across Britain used to celebrate it as Voldemort's first fall, you remember," Ron responded quietly. "They stopped after his return, though."
"That doesn't seem very appropriate, though," Ginny replied sullenly. "It's also the anniversary of the Potters' deaths. It's not exactly a good note to celebrate on."
Ron sighed, but made no reply, instead turning back to the notebook. Harry and Hermione were both unavailable to supervise Ginny's training, so Ron had substituted. A moment later, he passed Ginny the notebook and pointed at one entry. "Have you ever tried this one?" he asked.
"Ossification hex," Ginny read out loud. "Type: offensive. Inventor unknown. Probability of death: one to ten percent. A spell designed to transfigure tendons and ligaments to bone. The caster focuses on certain areas of the body to ossify, but casting difficulty varies on the size and depth of the focus. Done properly, this spell can paralyze certain parts of the body, but a full body ossification is extremely difficult to do. Rarely fatal, unless the connective tissues in the heart, lungs, or diaphragm are ossified."
Ron grimaced. "Nasty, although this spell is generally more painful than fatal, but it is handy at times. I've seen it used to paralyze an opponent's wand arm, for instance." With that, he pointed his wand at the dummy and hissed, "Ossificario!"
They heard an acidic hissing sound, but Ginny didn't see any real effect on the dummy, until Ron stepped forward and bent the dummy's left wrist, and though he bent it at a normal angle, Ginny heard something snap.
"I'll have to get Reverend Hughes or Cecilia to transfigure it back," Ron muttered. "I'm no good at healing spells, and Reparo doesn't work in this case. Neither does Finite Incantatum." He stepped back. "Now you try it. Try focusing on the right arm. Imagine you can see its tendons and ligaments, and then cast the spell."
Ginny leveled her wand at the mannequin. "Ossificario!"
Her wand emitted the same hissing sound, but suddenly a splintering pain shot through her arm, and Ginny dropped her wand, gasping in surprise. Ron winced and stepped forward, gently lifting her arm to examine it. Ginny winced as the pain doubled; it felt as though she had fractured her bones, but she couldn't see any breaks. Then when she tried to flex her fingers, she realized that she couldn't move her hand or wrist at all.
"Damn!" Ron hissed. "I should have warned you. If you're insufficiently focused, the spell can backfire into your wand arm. Come on. Infirmary."
He stooped down and picked Ginny's wand up, which she took with her uninjured arm, and then he led her out of the facility, heading for the tower gate.
"How far is it to the infirmary?" Ginny asked through gritted teeth.
"It's just outside the Tower grounds," Ron told her.
He led her past the gate and a few meters down the path, and then turned down an adjacent path Ginny hadn't noticed before, which led into a cluster of trees, too thick to see through, but a moment later they entered a clearing, almost as large as the one which housed the Tower, which contained the most unique building she had ever seen. Five enormous elm trees had been guided to grow into arches and had grafted themselves into five other trees which had grown straighter, serving as a skeleton in which the branches had been pleached to form lattice walls, forming an almost hemispherical structure about three stories high. The Goblynsrefuge Infirmary almost was grown, not built.
Ginny wasn't really in any state to admire the building, though; Ron quickly led her through the double doors built into the lattice, and she found herself in a hexagonal room similar to the front room in the Tower, which was filled with benches and chairs. The wooden interior walls, unlike the exterior, were built rather than grown, so that from the inside, the Infirmary didn't look that different from a conventionally-build building. They then climbed a staircase to Ginny's left.
The room above was an octagonal room lined with beds, all of which were empty. Ron beckoned for her to sit in a chair beside one of the beds, and then he called out, "Anyone here?"
There was no reply at first. Then a door to their right opened, and Reverend Hughes stepped into the room and caught sight of the two siblings. Seeing Ginny supporting her arm, he stepped forward without a word and drew his wand, which he ran over Ginny's wand, muttering an inaudible incantation. After a moment, he stepped back.
"Ossification backlash?" he asked Ron, who nodded. Hughes cast a numbing spell on Ginny's arm, and then told her, "It's confined to your metacarpal joints and wrist, thankfully. I'll be in the back preparing the antidote. It's a simple potion. In the meantime, keep your arm as still as possible."
Ginny nodded, sighing in relief as the pain ebbed from her wrist.
"Well, could have been worse," Ron said with a grin. "And Hughes will be pleased that this isn't that difficult to heal. He's been really busy lately, because of the preparations of the commemoration on top of his usual medical duties and his ecclesiastical duties at the refugee village. Hermione's told me on more than one occasion that she wishes I had his patience."
Ginny laughed, understanding the feeling herself. Then, after a moment, she realized something. "That's the first time I've seen Reverend Hughes use magic," she told Ron.
Ron nodded. "Strange bloke. I don't know his background, except that he's a Muggle-born from Godric's Hollow, but he swore off magic for the most part years ago, except for healing and charity. He's got nothing against magic in of itself, but against human nature. He says that power corrupts, and that wizards are too enamored of magic and the power it gives us."
Ginny considered this for a moment, and then she remembered the bothersome conversation she'd had with Hermione about the immorality of memory modification and the subsequent anger it caused among the Entente's Muggle allies.
"Given what people like the Death Eaters and the Triskelen, the Sha'etemmins, and even the Ministry of Magic have done in the past century alone," she said thoughtfully, "I can see his point." Seeing her brother staring at her, she frowned. "What?"
"You're more accepting of these ideas than most witches or wizards would be," Ron remarked. "I was really conservative about these things initially. It wasn't until the fall of the Ministry that I first began to understand people like the vicar and Thompson."
Ginny nodded quietly, because that was her experience initially as well, except her own cynicism had set in sooner than that. The increasing depravity of the Death Eaters and the corruption in Umbridge's administration had seen to that.
After a moment, Ginny replied quietly, "Almost everything I was taught to believe in has been corrupted or destroyed, or else has turned out to be a lie. The Partisans were the first to really shake me out of wizardry's stupor and show me what the Wizarding World has become, but I think that deep down, I've known it for years. There's very little left for me to believe in anymore."
They fell into silence, but not for long; a moment later Rev. Hughes entered the room again, holding a phial which contained a thin, dark-brown potion. He handed it to Ginny, and instructed her to drink it slowly. "And keep casting that numbing spell on her arm," he added to Ron. "It's almost as long a process and as painful as Skele-Gro."
Mercifully, unlike Skele-Gro, the potion itself didn't taste like anything, but there was no immediate effect.
"How long does it take to go into effect?" Ginny asked once she drained the phial and handed it back to Hughes.
"After it gets into your blood stream," he replied, "so I estimate that you'll start to feel it in fifteen minutes or so. It probably will take the rest of the day to completely heal your hand, so in the meantime, I'd refrain from any physical or magical activity until tomorrow morning at least."
"I'll tell Finch to cancel her shooting practice, then," Ron offered. "And is there anything else?"
"Occlumency with Darakdjian tonight," Ginny replied. "But I'll let him know."
Hughes nodded. "How are the Occlumency lessons coming along, anyway?"
Ginny winced. "I think I'm starting to get the hang of it," she replied. "I've been able to keep him out of my head at least half the time now. I feel like I got trampled by the entire Hogwarts centaur herd after every lesson, though."
"I'm afraid you'll have to get used to that," Hughes told her apologetically. "A direct assault on the mind is hard on even the most talented Occlumens."
"How are the preparations for the thirty-first coming along?" Ron asked Hughes.
"Tiring," Hughes replied simply, "but worth the effort. I felt honored when Grobschmied asked me to conduct the ceremony."
"Didn't you tell me that you knew the Potters?" asked Ginny.
Hughes nodded stoically, but he said nothing more. After he placed Ginny's injured arm in a sling, he then retreated back into his study, and Ron decided that they had better return to the Tower so Ginny could rearrange her schedule for the day.
On their way back, they had to pause as a troop of guards marched by. Ginny wasn't sure how many soldiers actually were in the elite Entente Forest Guard, but each time she saw them, she saw a variety of humans, elves or goblins, all reflecting the Entente's own organization. After they had passed, Ginny and Ron stepped back onto the main cobblestone path, and continued back toward the Tower. As they went, Ginny felt a dull burning sensation begin in her fingers and wrist, and she had a nasty feeling that the sensation would intensify in the next few hours.
As they turned a corner, something smashed into Ginny so hard that she fell backwards, and though she managed to land on her left arm, she gasped in pain as her right elbow too struck the ground.
"Watch where you're going, human!" a harsh voice snapped, and Ginny looked up in time to see a stocky goblin of medium height straighten up, giving her a look of utmost disdain as he did. Ron immediately pulled Ginny back to her feet, and looked at her arm with worry. "Are you all right?"
"No damage than there already is, I think," Ginny muttered, examining her hand and wrist, before she shot the goblin a dirty look. He, meanwhile, had continued his way at a sprint, pushing past some startled elfish and goblin onlookers.
"Hey there!" Ron barked furiously. "You're running at breakneck speed just outside the island hospital! Mind what you're doing!"
The goblin paused, but his expression didn't change as he looked at Ron. "Aye, aye, sir," he said sarcastically, before he turned to continue at an exaggerated slow walk, his contempt for Ron now manifesting itself in a mocking expression.
Ron's eyes flashed. "Stay where you are, Kadnok!"
The offender stopped again, and turned to Ron with a raised eyebrow, looking completely impassive. Ginny saw Ron's ears turn red, never a good sign.
"Mr. Kadnok," Ron hissed, "your carelessness nearly caused further injury to one of the hospital's patients, who is also one of the Entente's senior officers! Not to mention it could have been someone with a more serious injury! Don't use that tone of voice when replying to an order!"
Kadnok looked at Ginny for a moment with an unrepentant expression, but he then bowed to Ron in compliance. "My apologies, sir. It won't happen again."
As Kadnok turned again, Ginny heard him mutter something in Gobbledegook in the same contemptuous tone of voice he'd used when he ran into her, but not understanding the goblin language, she wasn't sure how to react, or even if she should. But the onlookers gasped and Ron's face then turned maroon, and before anyone could react, he seized the goblin by the collar and shoved him against one of tree trunks.
"Now you listen, you filthy little bastard," Ron snarled. "I can't stop you from bad-mouthing any of us in private, but if you step out of line like that again, I'll snap you back so hard you'll wish you're back in Death Eater Britain again. This is your last warning."
With that, he released Kadnok. The goblin looked thoroughly unperturbed, and his vicious expression didn't change, but he shot Ginny another disgusted look and then continued on his way.
"Really, Ron," Ginny said quietly, "I don't think that was warranted. He could have harmed me further, yes, but he didn't, and he apologized, albeit sourly."
"You didn't hear what he called you," Ron snapped. "If you had, you wouldn't be so forgiving."
"Who said anything about being forgiving?" Ginny replied with a smirk. "If my wand hand wasn't paralyzed, I probably would have hexed him for his attitude."
"And we would have had to stop you," Harry's voice said from behind them. Ginny started, but it wasn't Harry's sudden appearance that surprised her so much as the seriousness in his voice. "Had you hexed him, he undoubtedly would feel further reason to harm you." Seeing Ginny's surprised expression, Harry added, "Kadnok is the goblin who threatened you last week, and he has just done so again."
"I didn't hear him say anything threatening." Ginny turned around to stare after the offending goblin.
"He used the word 'yrngracht' when speaking of you," Ron snarled.
"Dr. Grobschmied says that literally it means 'round-ear,'" Harry explained gravely. "It's a really, really derogatory Gobbledegook word for humans, just about the strongest, foulest thing one could say about you."
"In calling you that, he made it clear that he believes that you are not worth the dirt on the sole of his shoe," Ron added unhappily.
"But it's worse than that," Harry continued, "because 'yrngracht' can have a threatening connotation as well. When a goblin calls a human that, it isn't just a display of contempt."
Ron looked at Harry, his expression suddenly one of concern. "Has he done anything since last week?"
Harry shook his head, and beckoned toward the Tower, meaning that they should get out of hearing range of any guards or soldiers. As soon as they were a distance past the gates, he told Ron, "Not that we've heard. We've got Ajagara, a crow, and a magpie keeping an eye on him, and they've reported nothing to give us any alarm yet."
Ginny heard this with surprise. "Some of the goblin Partisans can speak Kraai?"
"Cecilia and Dr. Grobschmied," Harry said with a shrug. "The Corvidic language is much more common among goblins than Parseltongue is among humans. It certainly has its uses, especially when it comes to communication. Anyway, what happened to your arm?"
Ginny raised her hand from the sling to show him. Harry bent down and gently took her hand in his, examining the injury. He traced his thumb down the curled, paralyzed fingers, and though Ginny couldn't move her hand, his touch almost soothed the burning sensation in her hand.
Then, to her regret, he let go of her hand, wincing as he straightened. "Damn, that must have hurt," he said sympathetically. "Happened to me the first time I tried that spell."
Ron snorted. "It happened to all of us the first time we tried it, except Hermione."
"Of course," Ginny laughed.
"And speaking of whom," Harry added, turning around in time to see Hermione sprinting toward them.
"I've been looking all over for you three," Hermione panted, her face pink, but she looked excited. "Harry, I think we've finally found a safe way to destroy the Horcruxes!"
This is actually only the first part of this chapter, but I decided to leave it there and get this bit up. I'm sorry about gap between this and my last chapter. I've started school again, and between that and writer's block I feel like I can never get a single free moment.
This and the second half of this chapter will make up the last chapter in Part II. We're coming upon Part III, which is called "The Tetrarchy."
Also, a more detailed, in-depth version of this story is starting to appear on Mugglenet's fanfiction page, in case you're interested. This version is going to be a seven-part series called "The Broken Column," and the first story is called "Book One: The Rubicon." At the moment, it's not that different from the first few chapters of this version, but it will expound more on the fall of the Ministry, and also on the backgrounds of the goblins. In this version, all chapters that show the Order and the D.A. after Harry leaves the Burrow will be from Ginny's perspective.
I won't be abandoning this story, though, so keep reading!