Chapter Twenty: Auld Reeky

One might assume that, as quite possibly the wealthiest man in magical Britain, Lucius Malfoy would have a very large vault of gold, silver, and possibly even jewels at Gringotts. The goblin bank was the safest place in the world, bar none, to keep items of value, such as gold, silver, and possibly even jewels. After all, many of the wealthiest families possessed (or in many cases, used to possess) such hoards.

Lucius Malfoy had many dealings with the goblins of Gringotts, and in fact, he did retain a very large vault in their establishment. They provided many useful services for a nominal fee, such as handling the tricky business of converting wizarding gold into Muggle fiat currencies and transferring money safely and conveniently between different accounts.

Lucius had been told that the Malfoy vault was cavernous, that it boasted the greatest protections, both magical and mundane, that the world had ever seen. That any would-be burglar would find themselves in a state of nature with a delightfully Hobbesian flavour. All of that might even be true, though Lucius couldn't care less. He'd not once visited the Malfoy vault, and had no intention of wasting precious time doing so. None of it mattered, as the goblins' promised security was an illusion. Not that they lied—goblins never lie—but rather they were truthfully and earnestly answering the wrong questions. Lucius had no doubt that any erstwhile thieves of his vault would be burned by dragon fire, poisoned by deadly darts, drowned in acid, or befall some similar nasty, brutish and short existence. That much was true. Nevertheless, only a fool would keep any amount of gold, silver, and especially jewels there. Before doubting, first consider the example of Lily and James Potter.

The Potters, as Lucius understood, had one such vault, replete with requisite gold, silver, and, yes, jewels. They had hidden away their vast fortunes in the goblin bank to provide for their son in case of the worst. This, simply put, was idiocy. When William the Conqueror sailed to England, did King Harold lock up all of his swords and spears to keep them safe from the Normans? When the Luftwaffe poured fire and ruin on London, did Churchill squirrel away his Muggle flying machines for a rainy day?

The Potters viewed Gringotts as a parking garage; Malfoy as a superhighway. If it held so much as a single stationary galleon, it was because the rail carts, piled high with goblin gold, had dropped a coin or two as they zoomed straight through the cavernous, empty Malfoy vault and straight into the vaults of his backers, cronies, and investments.

The sort of idiot who thought that wars were fought by dangerous wizards and legendary wands probably thought themselves clever for thinking that every part of Quidditch was a distraction, save for the seekers and the Golden Snitch. In truth, Quidditch had very little to do with Quaffles, the Snitch, or even with the players themselves. Quidditch, like wars, was fought with money. The best managers and owners were those that bought the best broomsticks and the best players. They paid for these advantages by pressuring taxpayers to build bigger Quidditch arenas by which to further squeeze hapless fans of both teams. Whether the game was won or lost, tickets were bought.

Prior to the Wizarding War, Lucius had bought the land in Diagon Alley upon which Ollivanders' wand shop was built. The previous owner was a delightful old Squib who owed Amycus Carrow a king's ransom in gambling debts. Amycus had complained to Lucius over drinks one day about his difficulty in getting the money out of this destitute old man, so Lucius, ever the hero, swooped in to save the day. He bought the land for a thousand galleons, thus allowing the Squib to pay Amyucus and further cementing his loyalty to the Malfoys. More importantly, Lucius now had de facto control over the greatest wandmaker in magical Britain.

When people started disappearing in the night and the Dark Mark appeared over their houses, the wizards and witches of Britain got nervous. And, as is only natural, nervous people tend to arm themselves. The Ministry, under Lucius's urging, recommended in the name of public safety that all adults purchase two or three extra wands and keep them around their house in case of attack. Wand sales skyrocketed, so Lucius simply raised Ollivanders' rent accordingly. The eccentric wandmaker worked three hours for every one he had before the war, but it was Lucius who reaped the rewards. Lucius made some seven thousand galleons from this investment over the course of the war, with which he bought a pair of Italian leather loafers and a controlling interest in each of Wizarding Weekly, the Diagon Times, and the Owl News. Lucius shuttered all three the next morning, leaving the Daily Prophet as the only major newspaper left in the country, which he also controlled. With a monopoly on all sources of information, he hiked subscription fees while also doing everything he could to use the outlet to spread fear and confusion (which incidentally sold very well).

The good people of magical Britain—each one now sufficiently armed to fight all the hordes of Genghis Khan—were too scared to leave their homes, giving Lucius' masked colleagues free run of the streets. If it weren't for the Dark Lord's surprise disappearance after the Potters' deaths, victory would have been assured. As it stood, Lucius Malfoy came out of the war as one of the most powerful men in the world. The part of the world that mattered, at least. With this one project, a small example of Lucius's overall contributions to the war, he'd used his money to buy loyalty from the Carrows, spread fear and misinformation, and profit from his enemies' attempts to protect themselves.

All of this to say, Lucius was very, very angry as he signed the money order to divert funds from essential graft and bribery to instead convert to Muggle pounds with which to pay the leeches at the Revenue. Such was the force of his anger that the tip of his quill nearly penetrated the thin parchment as he dotted the 'i' in his signature. Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he folded the envelope and tied it to the waiting owl.

Someone would pay for this, and it wouldn't be in pounds or galleons.

Lucius glanced at the ticking grandfather clock and cursed under his breath. He was late for another ridiculous, late-night woodland meeting. He took one more breath, mentally said goodbye to such civilized conveniences as indoor heating and insulation, then Disapparated.

o-o-o-o-o

Their table was next to an enormous floor-to-ceiling window underlooking the imposing hill upon which Castle Edinburgh sat. It was far and away the best table in the house, and Fiona had to give an elderly couple a Look to prevent them from stealing it while she put in their order. Cops, on the whole, were quite well-suited to giving such Looks.

The children, Milo and Hannah, sat facing the window, their feet barely touching the ground. Fiona placed a steel card with the number '8' on the table and sat across from them.

When Fiona was even younger than they were now, her dad used to sit her right where Milo now sat after school while he worked on his book. She would read over his shoulder and complain that if she were in his story she'd do things very differently from his heroine, who seemed not to have read the parts where the villain told his minions his evil plot.

Fiona realized she'd never seen the castle from this angle outside of winter; her dad, she suspected, came here on chilly days to save on heating.

Fiona's smile faded.

"Lucius Malfoy tried to kill me last night," she said bluntly. "And he's been gunning for my co-workers." It felt wrong talking about such a serious subject with children, but Fiona was at her wit's end. It was Milo who had sent her chasing Lucius Malfoy in the first place—in fact, it was Milo who had clued her into the magical world at all for that matter.

To her surprise, rather than reacting with fear, Milo's face broke into a broad grin.

"First thing that happened when I came here is that Lucius tried to kill me," he said. "I think we have a lot in common."

Fiona frowned. "Came here? From where?"

Hannah interjected. "As a half-blood, I think I can explain this one best. I've got one foot in each world, so to speak."

"Fair point," Milo nodded, gesturing for her to continue.

"You're a Muggle," Hannah said bluntly.

Fiona nodded. "So I've come to understand," she said.

"I'm a wizard," Hannah said. "It seems to me that you know about the secret wizarding world, which people like me, but also people like Lucius Malfoy, are part of. Milo here… he's different. He's as different from me as you are."

Fiona narrowed her eyes. "Different how?"

"He's from another world," Hannah said. "But not another planet, as far as we can tell. More like… another universe. More Narnia than Star Trek, if that makes sense. Lucius Malfoy brought him here, but we think it was by mistake. We aren't sure why or how he did it."

Milo coughed. "Actually, I have some theories on that," he said. "I can share them with you later."

Fiona frowned. "So… Milo's not a wizard, then? I distinctly remember—okay, well, technically, my memory was erased, but I read a report of him doing magic at me. Which I wrote."

"Wellllllll," Hannah said. "That's where it gets… complicated. He actually is a wizard, but of a different kind. In much the same way that he's a human, but of a different kind. For example: I would be willing to bet that you could pull out a gun and shoot him in the chest and he'd barely even notice the first two or three bullets—but he's nevertheless physically incapable of swinging a punch more than once every six seconds. You should see him try to swat a mosquito; it's embarrassing. He just… stands there as it flutters about him shouting 'attack of opportunity!' whenever it tries to get away. Anyway, the details of how any why he's different aren't especially important; what matters is that ever since he got here, he's been fighting to take people like Lucius Malfoy down for good."

"But he's a child," Fiona protested, her mind still reeling from the discovery that there were different kinds of wizards, as if she wasn't already struggling to keep up. "As are you. How did you get caught up in this mess? Why aren't there adults to take on this responsibility?"

"This is war," Hannah said coolly. "We don't have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines just because we're underage. You-Know-Who—well, I'm assuming you know who—was brought down by a two-year-old. When we're talking about magic, there's more important things than age. There's still a lot we don't know about how Milo works, and Lucius knows even less. Our chief advantage is surprise."

Fiona nodded. "That at least I can understand," she said. "The three of us—Muggle, wizard, and… different wizard—have very little idea about each other's' capabilities. So this Malfoy guy," Fiona said slowly, "why don't the wizard police just bring him in?"

"He's rich and powerful," Hannah said bluntly. "Things aren't so different in the Muggle world."

Milo nodded. "But he's taking a backseat now," he said. "The new BBEG is Tom Riddle. He's a clone or something of the spirit of You-Know-Who who was kept in a book, possessed me for most of last year, and eventually killed me with my own wand, which I mostly just kept around for show. Keeping a powerful weapon that everyone but you can use is kind of a liability, it turns out. Now he's on the loose, killing people left-and-right, and bossing around his old gang. He only looks a few years older than me," he added helpfully, "but in book years, he's fifty or sixty years older."

Fiona spent awhile trying to process everything that Milo had just told him, and eventually capitulated. "Is this kind of thing normal for you?" she asked Hannah.

"No," she said. "Strange things, even by wizard standards, tend to happen when Milo is involved."

Fiona nodded. Eventually killed me with my own wand… what a world she'd dived head-first into.

Someone placed two hot chocolates, an espresso, and a handful of pastries on the table. Milo's hand immediately shot for the almond croissant, and Fiona couldn't help but smile. Most of the time the strange boy more closely reminded her of a child soldier than anything else, but every now and again his age showed.

"Oh!" Milo said suddenly. "Before I forget." He slipped a brown paper package across the table. "This is for you."

Fiona reached for the package dubiously and pulled at the twine holding it together. Inside was a monogrammed napkin ('HW,' presumably stolen from Hogwarts) wrapped around something small and hard—a necklace, as it turned out, with a tiny silver shield dangling on it.

"What's this?" she asked. "It looks expensive."

"Amulet of Protection," Milo said. "Best not ask what exactly it protects against; I couldn't be picky with alignments."

"…Alignments?" Fiona asked, eyeing the thing a little cautiously.

"It protects against all mental-based magical attacks," he said. "Also, it provides minor defensive benefits against, er, angels."

"Angels?" Fiona choked. Hannah showed no reaction to Milo's casual confirmation of the existence of angels; whether this was because such knowledge was common among wizards or she was simply inured to Milo's strangeness was unclear.

"Anyone Good, really. The important thing is the mental attacks. That means charms, enchantments, memory-affecting stuff, mind-control, you name it. Total immunity against all that trash. This particular one is guaranteed backdoor-free, accept no substitutes. Especially from the Ministry, because of, uh, reasons best not elaborated but that are definitely not my fault."

Fiona felt her eyes widen. "Immunity against memory charms?" she asked.

Milo nodded.

"What about past attacks?"

"Depends," Milo said. "I'm not sure if wizarding memory charms are 'instantaneous' or 'permanent' duration—if they even have a duration."

Fiona had the thing around her neck before Milo had finished his sentence.

She sighed. "Nothing," she said. "It didn't come back."

Milo shrugged. "Still, it'll help for next time."

"So…" Fiona said, fiddling with the silver shield. She didn't want to let on how disappointed she was. For a moment, just a moment, she thought she'd get her memories back. As impossible as it was, it seemed like with those memories, she might be able to return to her old life. "What do we do about it?" She felt decidedly uncomfortable deferring to someone less than half her age, but if she were brutally honest, she'd been in this alone for far too long. She needed someone to share as much of this burden with as she could.

"Do about what?" Milo asked.

"Malfoy. You-Know-Who."

Milo shrugged. "Fight our way up his ranks one-by-one, defeating ever more powerful cronies and henchmen as we ourselves increase in capabilities until we bring down the Big Bad Evil Guy himself in a climactic showdown? Preferably in a volcano caldera or a collapsing tower. Or a big underwater crystal dome thingy, that's a classic."

Fiona blinked. Once you scratched the surface, that wasn't too different from common police tactics. Well, if what scratched said surface was Narsil. "Start at the street level and work our way up," she mused. "Get them to flip in exchange for a sweetheart deal."

"I was envisioning searching their pockets for clues after the fact," Milo said in-between bites of croissant. "But I'm willing to compromise on the sequence of events."

Fiona shook her head. "But we don't have any leverage," she said. "We don't have the jurisdiction to make an arrest, much less a plea bargain."

Milo snapped his fingers, and a small flame appeared in the air just above his thumb. It didn't have any visible wick or fuel. "Where we're going, we don't need jurisdiction," he said darkly. The fire vanished as quickly as it'd appeared.

Fiona shook her head. "We play by the rules or I do this alone."

Milo scoffed. "The wizarding government's in the palm of Riddle's hands. I should know, I put them there. And your Muggle government is, frankly, way out of its depth."

Hannah coughed politely, having apparently been content to be silent to this point. "Milo, of all people, you should know that every rule provides an opportunity. Miss Smythe, we might not have the Muggle government behind us, but the bad guys don't know that. They know even less about how your rules work than I do, and I'm thirteen."

Fiona nodded. "I can work with this."

"Where do we start?" Hannah asked. "You said from the bottom. Who's the bottom? Draco?"

"Not with the kind of screen time he's gotten," Milo said. "I'd bet gold to copper that Draco's going down second-to-last. Probably after getting a never-explained eyepatch in a timeskip, and some black leather. Gotta have black leather."

"Alecto," Fiona said. It was almost a growl. "She stunned my cat. We take her first."

"Sounds good," Milo said. "I can find her with magic, but I'm already running a little light on spells. Maybe tomorrow?"

"We, uh, have a History of Magic quiz tomorrow," Hannah said.

"Right, school. Saturday, then?"

"She could be anywhere," Fiona objected. "I can't just magic my way to London or Hogwarts or wherever at the drop of a hat."

"Hrm. Neither can we," Milo said. "And I doubt we can fit all three of us on Hannah's broomstick."

"I have an idea," Hannah said slowly. "But I'm not sure you'll like it…"

o-o-o-o-o

There were eleven of them in all, standing in a frosty copse. Dark creepers and branches concealed them from the wider world and moonlit shadows of bare branches reached over them like skeletal branches. Puffs of breath escaped the narrow slits of their masks from beneath fur-lined hoods.

Lucius was certain that they were a menacing sight, though he was uncertain who, exactly, they were intending to menace given the secretive nature of their meeting. They'd been standing in the cold autumn night for nearly fifteen minutes, feet and fingers slowly going numb, when the final members of their group arrived, making a total of thirteen.

"Gentlemen," the all-too-familiar voice said.

Tom Riddle, barely a teenager, wore only a light school uniform despite the cold. Others were rubbing their hands together or holding their arms close to their body for warmth, but Riddle had his hood thrown back and his hands bare like it was a breezy spring morning. The weather didn't seem to touch him at all.

Behind him, Bellatrix Lestrange leaned against a tree twirling her wand between her fingers. She wore a heavy leather satchel at her side, a new affectation.

Lucius hated theatrics, but he gave credit where it was due: Riddle knew how to make an entrance. Whatever charm or potion he used to keep warm highlighted the difference between them, as mere mortals, and him, who had one foot in the door of immortality. Bellatrix's little wand trick was an unsubtle reminder that she had quite possibly the fastest wand hand in the modern world, and given that she was firmly on his side, they'd best not try anything.

Lestrange, returned from her imprisonment and later banishment, was a problem once thought solved. She represented something that was anathema to Lucius: true, selfless devotion. She had no levers, no weaknesses, no secrets and no higher ambitions beyond serving her master. In short, she, unlike the rest of the bunch, could never be bought. She was priceless to Riddle; worthless to Lucius.

"You don't have to all look so dour," Riddle smiled. "You should be joyous; we are on the eve of our final victory. The long war is nearing an end." It might have been a trick of the light, such as it was, or of Lucius' imagination, but Riddle's eyes seemed to flash red. "All I need now is the boy."

"The boy, Harry Potter?" suggested Amycus Carrow.

"No, you fool! The boy, Milo!"

"He'll be hiding in Hogwarts, my Lord," Bellatrix said. "Give me five expendable Death Eaters and I'll burn the place to cinders."

"And what of the professors?" Riddle asked. Lucius couldn't believe he was even entertaining such an absurd suggestion.

"That's why I need five Death Eaters," Bellatrix said, sounding slightly exasperated. "With sufficient expendable distraction, I can kill them all, one-by-one. None will survive to protect the boy."

"My lord," Lucius said as politely as he could, "Severus Snape is Headmaster."

Bellatrix rolled her eyes. "Fine, fine; I'll kill the rest and leave Severus. You're such a killjoy, Lucius."

"I mean, perhaps a subtler touch will suffice," Lucius said. "Through Snape, we have significant leverage over the school. Perhaps we can arrange for the children to be left vulnerable." Lucius gave Amycus a gentle kick, his movements obscured by the darkness and his robes.

"Hogsmeade," Amycus said on cue. "The kids go on field trips to the village. We can lie in wait, then boom. Grab them. No Hogwarts, no professors; there will be nothing to stop us."

"Hold up," objected Crabbe senior. "I had to sign a, what's it called, content form for my son to go."

"Yeah," said Goyle senior. "A contempt form."

"And that freak's got no parents," said Crabbe.

"Yeah," said Goyle. "He's got no mum or dad."

"That is a problem," Lucius mused.

"Snape!" said Alecto. "As Headmaster, he can make such concerns go away."

"What a great idea, Alecto," Lucius said. "What say you, my lord?"

"Do it," Riddle said.

"Consider it done, my lord," Lucius bowed. When he looked up, Riddle was gone.

"You've all lost your edge," Bellatrix snarled. "Except you, Lucius. You never had one to begin with." With a flash, she too, left, followed by other Death Eaters, one by one.

In the end, all who were left were Lucius, Crabbe, Goyle, and the Carrows.

"Excellently done, all of you," Lucius said.

"Boss…" Goyle said slowly. "You know, the other day, my basement pipe burst and flooded the house. I wouldn't bother you with it, but the missus says the carpets were ruined—you know, the nice Persian ones you got me? And the missus loves her Persian carpets…"

Alecto coughed. "And I've been going through wands at an alarming rate, and they don't come cheap, you know…"

"…and Junior wants a new broomstick," added Crabbe.

"Consider it taken care of," Lucius said. "All of you. Await instructions for the Hogsmeade raid. Your money is coming."

Without waiting for a reply, Lucius Apparated back to his manor. Confidence. That's what mattered. Nobody needed to know how thin he was stretched. Confidence.