Disclaimer: Were the Death Eaters, the Defense Association, and the Order of the Phoenix able to have a running battle throughout the Department of Mysteries without anyone being the wiser? If so, I don't own the Harry Potter franchise; it belongs to J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Press, Warner Bros., and whoever else she sold the rights to.
Raid on the Ministry
As the trio of thieves admired their newest target, a crisp female voice intoned, "Welcome to the Ministry of Magic."
"All right, girls, remember the plan," the masked man reminded his lovers. "We aren't the Foxes tonight. Get in, get out, no one ever knows we were here."
Hermione, her illusion masking her as the most pompous of the Weasley clan, nodded. "Try to maintain mirror silence, but if we do need to get in touch with each other, code names are the order of our birth dates. Unless the timeline is more different than we think it is, there shouldn't be anyone here except whoever the Order sent to guard the Department of Mysteries, but there's no reason not to take precautions. You're taking care of that, Two?"
"I am," came Harry's voice from somewhere ahead of her. She huffed to herself; she often attempted to figure out exactly when he left her side on missions like this, but not once had she succeeded in that self-imposed challenge. Between his experience at sneaking around, a silencing charm on his feet, and Death's own Cloak of Invisibility, he was nearly impossible to track when he did not want to be found.
"And I'm hitting Umbridge's and the Minister's offices," Luna added, her pet snorkack's natural Notice-Me-Not field wavering slightly as she drew attention to herself. "No telling what kind of dirt the Toad is hiding. I'll look through the Department for the Control of Magical Creatures, too, if I have spare time. Since MacNair's been dead for almost a month, I doubt they'll have kept any of his personal effects, but you never know. Maybe there will be something linking him to Death Eaters we don't know about."
"Understood." She, on the other hand, would be looking through the law enforcement floor of the Ministry; it housed both the Improper Use of Magic Office, the bane of all Muggleborns, as well as the Administrative Registration Office, more commonly known as the Hall of Records and the place that would hold addresses for the rest of the Death Eaters. Not to mention, she was curious what the DMLE knew about their other heists, and the Auror and Law Enforcement Patrol would be the best places to find that out.
The first expected hurdle, the empty security desk, proved to be nothing. The trio had multiple plans for any warning charms on the golden gates nearby for unregistered wands or someone passing through them or something, but to their surprise, there was nothing. "One, Three, explain something to me, if you could. Why do they have a security desk at all if people can just walk right in, fully armed and undetected, whenever the hell they want?" Harry grumbled.
"Because they just want to put up a display of safety and competency?" Luna offered. "If they harass enough people who just want to get on with their day, they can convince themselves that they're prepared even though they have nothing to actually stop someone who plans to do some harm? Or maybe it's just an illusion of safety for the average wizard, I don't know."
"Considering we're the ones benefiting from it this time, I'd suggest we don't argue against good fortune at the moment," she cut in. "Everyone grab a lift. The faster we get to our targets, the faster we can get out of here."
The end of the hallway contained at least twenty golden grilles, so they had no trouble finding one for each of them. Hermione waited rather impatiently for the lift to arrive at her destination; with the Atrium being located on the eighth floor from the surface, rising all the way to the second where the DMLE was situated took a while, especially when the lift opened its doors automatically at each new floor. Finally, however, the chains clattered as the grille slid open for the last time, and the same feminine voice she heard when they arrived told her, "Level two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, including the Improper Use of Magic Office, Auror Headquarters, and Wizengamot Administration Services."
Finally. She strode confidently into the corridor, brown-turned-blue eyes flicking over the wooden doors set into the walls. I wonder what… Ah, these must be the Wizengamot members' offices, she decided as she read the brass nameplates, each one denoting a different family. Makes sense, I suppose. Lazy Pureblood bigots are too good to walk any farther than they absolutely have to. Too bad we're here for information; I'd love to strip these rooms bare. Maybe another time.
Walking past the various offices with their tempting mysteries, she slipped into the cubicle-filled Auror Headquarters. Along the back wall was her target, a pair of doors labeled Head Auror and Head of Department. She entered the former of the offices and pulled a blank mask similar to Harry and Luna's out of her robe's pocket. The mask, spelled with magesight, revealed only an anti-summoning charm on his file cabinet that was easily broken before she stuffed it back into its hiding spot. Not enchanted. That works out for us, actually; without any other evidence that someone was here, Scrimgeour will be left to assume that the spell failed on its own. "Accio records of thefts in the past year."
The drawers of the cabinet shot open, and no less than a dozen bundles of parchment flew out and landed on the desk in front of her. "That's… more than I expected, honestly." With the thicknesses that some of those files were, she was sure that their exploits would have been grouped together. It wasn't like they had made it difficult for the DMLE to realize it was the same perpetrators, after all.
Murder-robbery, but no one I've ever heard of. Thefts of witches' familiars in Cambridge. Serial… knicker snatcher? She blinked in surprise. "I don't even want to know." The rest of the cases were in the same vein, which both disturbed and irritated her. Our heists were artfully done, unmistakeable, and resulted in the death of two prominent Purebloods. There's no way the Head Auror shouldn't have been notified, especially if his files are this minor.
Unless… She exited the room and looked at the next office. Unless we've made ourselves so large a threat that we're now the problem of Amelia Bones herself. The mask came back out, and she slowly pushed the door open.
This was more of what she was expecting. Everything, even the picture frames on the desk, was covered with ocean-blue magic. Was it for detection and recognition? A paralyzing spell to keep her there until Madam Bones walked in? Something else entirely? Without any hints or enough time to work out its purpose from its arithmantic formula, she was loathe to put it to the test.
Thankfully, I don't have to. She pulled five palm-sized clay tablets from another pocket, each marked with runes for canceling magic on objects, and arranged them in a square around the new filing cabinet before setting the last one on top. Carefully tapping the tablets with her wand, she watched the cuneiform pressed into them flare with white light. The disposable secondary foci crumbled, and so did the spells on the cabinet.
"Merlin, I love runes." Repeating her previous summoning spell, she watched only two files come to her. One of them caught her attention immediately, not only because of how thick it was, but also for the wax seal in the middle of the large envelope that proudly displayed the DMLE scales and motto under a messily-written label of 'Mr. Fox'. This had to be theirs. A spell stretched out from the impression and wrapped around the bundle, and no matter how Hermione pried on the seemingly loose edge, she could not open it to read the files inside.
How interesting. A sealed file, presumably only able to be opened by Bones herself. She's taking us seriously. Despite the increased risk the personal attention of the head of the DMLE presented, she could not help but smile. It was always nice to have one's work appreciated.
She magicked the files back into their drawer. Unless she broke the seal, she doubted a duplication charm would let her read the files, and she could not recast the spell since she had no idea what it was. As Harry had reminded them, they had to cover their tracks tonight.
I doubt he'd mind us having a bit of fun, though, she thought with a mischievous grin. Her next stop was the Improper Use of Magic Office to foul up the Trace just a little bit, and then it would be time to flip through musty old parchment to find the coordinates for their remaining targets.
"Level one, Minister of Magic and Support Staff, including the Office of the Minister of Magic, Office of the Advisor to the Minister, and Office of the Senior Undersecretary."
Humming a soft tune to herself, Luna left the lift, her boots clacking loudly against the polished marble floor in the surrounding silence. She bounced the periwinkle-blue, legless, rabbit-like creature in her arms and cooed, "It's terrible that we can't let anyone know we were here, isn't it, Clyde? This place really needs redecoration. Some carpets, a new paint job, maybe a few fruit trees…"
The snorkack, too timid to give his opinion on the subject, simply squirmed deeper into her embrace.
"Well, we don't have to time to sit down and plan out any changes, nor can we leave them suggestions. Too bad. So, should we go through Fudge's, Umbridge's, or Chief Warlock Callahan's things first?" Clyde turned his horned head to sneeze cutely in the direction of the Minister's office. "Yes, you're absolutely right. We'll start at the top of the pecking order and work our way down."
To her utter lack of surprise, the Minister's office was still filled with Cornelius Fudge's belongings. After all, the next Minister, whoever the Wizengamot eventually chose, might have the same tastes as his predecessor, and it would be a waste of galleons to replace the gilded sofa with its leopard-print cushions or the elaborate crystal-and-silver sculpture of enthusiastically bathing nymphs that was already available. Fudge would normally be able to take his furnishings with him, but the Wizengamot had dismissed him via vote of no confidence, so that fringe benefit of being the Minister was no longer available to him.
It was so sad, it almost made her want to cry. Almost.
I mean, when else are we going to have the opportunity to take these with us?, she mentally grumbled. Sure, they were tacky, overbearing, and – in the case of the statue – obscene and not even in the good way, but they would fetch a good price when sold to the right people. Mundungus Fletcher was the type of individual she wouldn't exactly mind Harry Legilimensing for his underground contacts and memory charming when they were done.
Oh, well. No use crying over spilled potion. A wave of her wand had the desk's drawers shooting open, and she laid Clyde onto the desktop before clipping a non-enchanted collar and lead around his neck. She could not keep track of him and go through Fudge's parchment at the same time, and she really did not want to worry about looking for her pet when she was done. At least this way she could simply follow the leash hooked to her belt to locate him again.
Several minutes passed with her simply scanning the documents, but to her frustration, the former Minister had been brighter than they had given him credit for. All his records seemed perfectly above-board; not a single mention of 'mysterious' donations, financial incentives, or outright bribes anywhere!
All right, Luna. If you were a crooked politician who had incriminating documents about the money you received from Malfoy and his ilk, where you hide them? She frowned for a moment before shaking her head; somehow, she doubted Fudge had a trained man-eating kangaroo whose pouch she could use as a safe. Perhaps she should ask Hermione? The brunette was much better at inside-the-box thinking than she was.
Then again… Luna drew her wand and held it flat in her palm. This certainly could not hurt. "Point Me Minister's hidden safe." The ebony focus slowly spun in a circle once, twice, before coming to a halt with its tip aimed at the wall behind the desk and just slightly to her left.
I did not expect that to work. The Four-Point Spell was a handy charm, but its usefulness in finding things rather than due north was diminished by the fact that even a basic paling would disrupt it. For Fudge not to use any kind of protection for his safe… Either her increased estimation of his intelligence was premature or he was far more confident than he had any right to be. Not that it really matters, she decided. Either way, his secrets are ours now. "Accio Minister's hidden safe."
A loud crunch preceded a bronze box ripping itself out of the wall and flying over her suddenly ducked head to crash into the nymph statue, shattering it into thousands of pieces.
"…Right, the ritual made the summoning charm one of those spells I need to be more careful with." She looked at the destruction her momentary inattention had caused and winced. "Thank Merlin for Reparo."
Unlike Hermione or Luna, Harry took a lift moving downwards. After a few seconds, the same voice used throughout the Ministry building informed him that he had arrived. "Level nine, Department of Mysteries."
"Thank you very much," he whispered in a flash of whimsy. The doors rattling open let him out of the small container, but it also alerted the guard from the Order that someone was there who was not supposed to be.
A cloak rustled, and the off-white blur his mask's magesight showed him slid to the floor to reveal a balding, redheaded man. "Who's there?" Arthur Weasley challenged, wand raised to point to Harry's left and slightly above the level of his shoulder.
Decisions, decisions. On the one hand, he could simply slip past the older man; with the Cloak hiding him from Arthur's eyes and the silencing charm doing the same for his ears, Harry had little to fear from the man's watchfulness. On the other, he no longer had a connection to Voldemort's mind, so if the Dark Lord decided to send Nagini earlier than he had in the previous timeline, the time-traveler would be in no position to save the Order member. The safest thing to do in that case was to disable the Weasley patriarch and hide him somewhere, but Harry tried to avoid memory charming people he liked.
We still have time, he told himself as he calmly walked by the man, unseen and unheard. Hour, ninety minutes tops to go through the Department of Mysteries; I doubt that's long enough for him to fall back to sleep, especially after this little scare. He'll be able to spot a giant snake coming at him and at the very least make enough of a racket for me to hear.
His conscience soothed for now, he made his way down the hallway, the golden runes twisting on the ceiling doing little to alleviate the darkness of the corridor. He approached the solid black door, and just before he was close enough to touch it, it swung open on its own.
Instincts born from years fighting against wizards and Muggles both made him leap to one side. It was a good thing, too; a jet of scarlet shot like an arrow through the space his body had occupied a moment before. Damn it all!, he cursed as he drew his pale wand and aimed it at Arthur. "Confundus." The man lowered his own wand, a puzzled expression making its way over his face, which allowed Harry to approach safely. "Stupefy. Finite. Obliviate."
He looked down at the unconscious man. He hated memory charming people he liked, true, but that did not mean he could not or would not do it when need be. Well, I only stole away a minute of his memory, he reassured himself. Not long at all, and nothing important. Still, it did not wash away the guilty feeling he had as he walked down the hallway again and through the open door.
Facing him now was the same ring of doors that had confounded him and his friends back in the previous timeline. Rather than close the entrance to this strange room, which he knew would set them to whirling wildly to disorient him, he simply chose a black door at random and pushed against it. It swung open without resistance, allowing him inside.
Ah, fantastic. The Aquavarius maggot–brain-things. Lovely. The door snapped shut behind him, leaving him alone in this hall of horror. The lanterns dangling from the long chains attached to the ceiling left plenty of dark space for his imagination to torment him with, but he forced himself to take a deep breath and move deeper into the room. Unfortunately, that took him closer to the glass tank in the middle, inside of which drifted pale white lumps of flesh, black tentacles floating behind them like mockeries of jellyfish. Because the research performed in this Department was so cloaked in secrecy, he had never been able to learn exactly what the Unspeakables actually did with these things, but that had not stopped them from making appearances in his nightmares.
It was not long after Ron betrayed him and the new Order by selling his soul to Voldemort that Harry had started to wonder if it was their misadventure here that set his former friend down the path of Darkness. 'Perhaps it wasn't entirely his fault', he had thought in his sleepless nights, 'perhaps the brains implanted memories or behaviors into his head that changed him into the enemy he's become.' Coming back in time had nullified that possible argument, however; Harry could even now see the seeds of the jealousy, entitlement, and ultimately betrayal that led Ron to become a Death Eater in the old timeline, which meant there was little blame he could rest on the brains' metaphorical shoulders.
Not to mention, discovering that at least some of the brains had come from people caught in Rookwood's wards ruled out the idea that they were all necessarily from evil people.
Still, that did not mean Harry wanted to reach in and pet the things. Sidling by the tank, he went to the back of the hall, where two more matte black doors could be found. All of the rooms in this department were connected to each other not just by the Spinning Room, but also by these doors so one could travel directly to the neighboring offices.
Not that I know where I'm going, he reminded himself. The three of them had done their best to plot out where the different rooms in the department were from their memories of the battle that took place here, but when comparing their maps, they had all been very different. Hermione had blamed the skewed results on the Ministry being Unplottable; Harry and Luna had simply shrugged and reminded her that cartography was not one of their collective talents. So, his task was ultimately going to be no less of a random search than the girls' were.
Choosing the door on the right side of the room, he pushed it open and found himself in a short hallway, another door situated across from him and a third on his right. Curious despite himself, he laid his hand firmly on that portal and pushed against it, but not even the full weight of his body could force it open. This must be that Locked Room we couldn't open, the one that melted Sirius's knife. Dumbledore had told him later that the Unspeakables studied love in that room, but he had reasons for doubting that that was the truth.
Not the least of which was that he wasn't sure the manipulative headmaster would know true love if it came up and bit him on his wrinkled old arse.
Thankfully, the last of the three doors led to a familiar locale. He smiled as his eyes found the sparkling bell jar centered on the back wall of the new room, a hummingbird inside floating to the floor on air currents that also turned the bird into an egg that would then rise to the top and hatch in an unending cycle. The tick-tick-tick of the thousands of clocks framed on the walls filled the empty room with a constant background melody. His larceny-sharpened gaze drifted of its own accord to a glass-fronted cabinet inside of which hung numerous hourglasses. Time-Turners, all available for the taking.
We've been doing this too much. He clenched his fists, the fingernails of his left hand digging into his palm. I'm starting to wonder if we'll be able to give up the thieving lifestyle once the Death Eaters have fallen. The rush of breaking down a manor's defenses, of slinking through the halls, of taking everything that isn't nailed down and even a few things that are… Will we be able to just hang up our masks and say, 'Okay, that's done with, and good riddance'? I don't know.
Reminding himself sternly that not ten minutes ago he had told his lovers not to take anything that would be immediately missed, he forced himself away from the gleaming gold prizes and through the next door. The ceiling of this room was too high to be distinguished, giving it a hushed, reverent feel. As far as the eye could see were towering bookcases, small, dusty, glass orbs lined up in neat rows on each shelf. Prophecies, millions of them, starting from Merlin-knew-when and stretching to the present day. How many Seers had their words recorded here? How many dire threats were predicted years, decades, or centuries before they would come to pass?
How many children's lives had been ruined just as his had been by the foretelling of people they had never met and possibly would never meet?
It's rather hard to sympathize with Cassandra when you're on this side of the table. Shaking away his idle thoughts, Harry kept an eye on the rows as he walked, more precisely on the numbers nailed onto the sides. He arrived at row ninety-seven and turned down the small space it made with row ninety-six, his focus sharp as he examined the yellowing labels sitting beneath each orb before he moved onto the next. Finally, he found it, the purpose of his search.
S.P.T. to A.P.W.B.D.
and ? (Harry Potter)
"Trelawney's first recorded prophecy," he murmured, lifting the glass ball off the shelf. "The mutterings of an old drunk who said the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. The same mutterings that killed my parents, stuck Neville's parents in St. Mungo's, and crippled the Order while Dumbledore waited for me to accomplish my destiny.
"Well, bugger that. Evanesco." At his sharp tone and with a flick of his wand, the blasted prophecy vanished, reduced to nothingness. A twirl created a replica, the smooth surface indistinguishable from all the others around him. He smiled then; it may not have the charms that kept those not named inside from removing it from its shelf, but also unlike the original, it contained no portents of the future. It was nothing more than a lookalike, a diversion to keep the Unspeakables from discovering too soon that someone had snuck in and stolen their property.
With the state of the security in this building, there was no reason why Voldemort could not waltz in here and listen to the Prophecy himself. No matter if it was spending his time with Purebloods or tearing apart his soul that had rotted his common sense, Harry was thankful; with that intact and added to his power, his cruelty, and the tactical ability that had led to him seizing control of the Ministry twice and almost doing so on his first attempt, the entire magical world probably would have fallen under the bootheels of an immortal wizard-king in short order.
He didn't, though, and that's all that really matters. His mission accomplished, he continued to the middle of the room and swung to his right, moving to the door he was sure was at the end leading back to the Spinning Room. Several minutes passed as he walked the near-hundred rows to the exit, and he stepped through and shut it firmly behind him.
He immediately realized his mistake.
The walls began to grind as they moved, the black doors and black walls merging together until all he could see was blue streaks from the tapers bracketed above his head. He blinked the blurs from his eyes and glared at the many doors, now hopelessly lost. Shrugging, he opened the one right behind him and glanced inside.
Before him was a conical room, the sloped walls leading to a raised platform in the center while stone benches ran all around the room like an amphitheater. Upon that dais was a stone arch floating in midair without any walls supporting it, a ragged curtain hanging down to brush the floor. He sighed; he had been hoping to avoid the Death Chamber on this trip to the Ministry. Merlin knew his last one had not ended well.
At that moment, the Veil shivered and shook, as if a wind was blowing from the other side. A frown appeared as he remembered the truth. This ancient device was not, contrary to what the Unspeakables presumed, Death's; it was instead of faery make, one of two linked gates leading to the Faery Queen's wooded realm. The question, then, was why did it look like someone was trying to get out?
Squaring his shoulders, he crept down the slanted floor to the Veil. He had nothing to fear; the Queen had done much to make the task she gave them easier, and of the few fae they had met – Lilith herself, obviously, but also Santa Claus and Peeves – none had been truly malicious. That did not change the fact that shivers were racing down his spine and his hair was standing on end as cold fear swept over him.
Wait a minute. He looked at the dais, surprised that ice was literally forming on the surface. Scratch that; it's just normal cold. The Veil was not immune to the freezing winds emanating from the dimensional rift, for it grew stiff and still, billowing out to make a passage from this world to the darkness beyond. A tinkling giggle broke the silence, and a swift patter of footsteps heralded the approach of this monstrous power. Harry tightened the grip on his wand, panicking as he realized that perhaps he should have been more cautious.
Rookwood's notes had warned them of this. The wide-ranging cold could only be from one being: the Winter Lady. Not only was she one of the two Princesses of the Seasons and one of Lilith's advisors, she also had another role, a far more dangerous one. The Winter Lady was the Queen's chief enforcer, a cold-blooded assassin who eliminated threats to the fae races with extreme prejudice. The Death Eater's research included photos of the Unspeakable who had been researching faeries before she came and murdered him; the man's remains had been scattered across three different rooms of the Department.
Another terrifying giggle reached his ears, and a small head of white hair poked out from behind the Veil. The entity looked up at him with large, dark eyes despite the protection of the Cloak and happily chirped, "Hi."
Apparently reassured by his greeting, the Winter Lady stepped out fully. He quirked an eyebrow; however he had pictured her, this was certainly not it. The faery looked to be no more than ten, her skin the blue of a frozen corpse and her modesty preserved by ice crystals scattered densely over her torso to look like a sparkly one-piece bathing suit. "You expected me to be older," she said, not an accusation or a question but a simple statement of fact. At his hesitant nod, she smiled. "It's okay. Everybody does."
"I'm sorry about that?" The invisibility of the Cloak pointless, he pulled the hood down. It did not improve her ability to see him, but considering the magical muscle she was said to have, there was no reason to be rude and every reason not to be, though he was starting to doubt the validity of Rookwood's notes. The more he looked at her, the more he wondered if she could even hurt a fly. "I mean no offense, my Lady—"
"Maeve," she interrupted with a delicate little frown. "'My Lady' is so grown-up and boring. All my friends call me Maeve."
"…Okay, Maeve then." The childlike fae beamed at him. "You're… not what I expected."
Her outburst of laughter was not expected, either. After a moment, she calmed herself down, though a bright smile was still on her face. "I know. You humans always think my sister's the nice one and I'm all mean and stuff. You forget that Summer's sun burns and dries out everything while winter is the time for snowball fights and hot cocoa around the fireplace and Christmas presents."
"I… yeah." This conversation reminded him forcefully of some of the discussions he had had with Luna when they first started dating; he had never been able to come up with a good response to her points then, either. "So, Maeve, why exactly are you here?"
"I wanted to meet you, silly!" she shot back, scampering over and grabbing hold of his hand. "Mummy's been telling me all about her new champion, and I wanted to see what you're like for myself."
He sighed good-naturedly. Better get used to it, Harry. You know your and Luna's kids are going to act exactly like this. Crouching down to put himself at her level and pushing his mask to the top of his head, he asked in mock seriousness, "And what does the Lady think now that she's seen me?"
Maeve tapped her chin as she looked him up and down, stared at him with one eye with her tongue sticking cutely to the opposite side, and pinched the lobe of his left ear. "You need to eat more raspberries," she answered with a definite nod, "and maybe play with some dolphins, but otherwise I think Mummy made a good choice." Another frown appeared, and she cocked her head. "Do you have a girlfriend?"
…Please, please tell me the Winter Lady doesn't have a puppy-love crush on me like Gabrielle does. He cleared his throat nervously. "Yes, two of them, in fact. They're both really smart, and one loves her books and putting everything in its place while the other one is always up to doing something silly and funny."
She clapped her hands joyfully. "That's good. You need them." Her eyebrows shot up as if she had just remembered something, and she leaned in close to whisper, "Just remember, they love you. If they say they don't, it's a lie."
"What do you mean?" he demanded.
"You'll understand," was all she said in reply. "When the time's right, you'll understand."
"I… Okay. I'll remember that." He shook his head in the hopes of clearing his confusion, though it worked no better than it did around Luna. "Hey, Maeve? Is it okay if I ask you something?"
She nodded cheerfully.
"Did you come here about forty years ago?" At her confused pout, he added, "There was a man in an office, wearing grey robes and a hood. He had drawings of other faeries around him…" She shook her head, and he sighed. In light of what he had just learned, he did not expect this cute little girl to be the one who had literally ripped apart the Unspeakable who tried to steal fae power in the 50s, but it never hurt to check. That did bring up the question of who the Queen's assassin really was, though. "Don't worry about it. It was just something I read—"
"Was his name Clarence?"
His mouth moved silently for a moment as he processed the sudden question. "I think so."
"Clarence! Yes, I remember him now. Mummy said he wanted to know more about us and that I could play with him." Maeve's face fell. "He wasn't a good playmate, though. We were having a tickle war while playing hide-and-seek at first, but then he started using green magic that hurt, and then I got mad, and then he cried, and then he broke, and then Mummy made me take a bath because I was filthy." She looked up at him, her big black eyes glimmering creepily. "Do you want to play with me, Harry?"
His gulp sounded loud to his ears. "Not today, I don't think, Maeve. It sounds like I need to get my girlfriends' permission before I'm allowed to play with you, and I don't think they'll let me do that any time soon."
"Rats." The tiny fae scuffed a foot against the stone floor before sighing and suddenly wrapping him in a childish hug. "Well, if they do, let me know. I always like having new people to play with." She ran back for the Arch, her bare feet slapping against the floor, and vanished behind the curtain. As if her departure had been a signal, the ice formed around the room abruptly melted, allowing the Veil to fall and cut off the route to the Faery Queen's island.
Harry looked down at the Cloak, noting the water created when the frost from the Winter Lady's embrace thawed. "And I thought I was getting used to the fae, too."
Her powerful coils slid easily through the shining metal bars and across cold stone… The walls and ceiling glowed with vibrant colors, and she glided down the dark hallway. The hallway was not empty, though… There was a man there… The man was sitting on the floor against the wall, shimmering color draped over his legs and his head resting on his chest… She wanted to bite the man, but she had important work to do, work involving the door at the other end of the room… Master said so… but she was so hungry… and he tasted so good…
Yes… Master would not mind if she ate…
A sound… She raised her head, searching for the source… There was nothing…
Pain in the middle of her coils… She could not feel the tail half of her body… Scintillating color against the other wall, a mask appearing… One of Master's pets! She could taste him now… She pushed her body forwards… Maybe she could reach him before his wand moved again… Too slow… A word, a wave… Pain…
"NAGINI!" Voldemort bellowed as he threw himself out of his throne. He had been half-dozing, letting his mind drift along with his familiar's as she made her way through the Ministry and planning gleefully at the lax security in the building, when the snake's unknown assailant cursed her. The pain she felt, the pain still echoing around his waist, and the second strike, combined with the violent way his connection was broken, could mean only one thing.
His familiar, his Horcrux, had been destroyed.
How? How could anyone know that he would send Nagini to the Department of Mysteries? No one knew…
He froze. No, his Inner Circle knew; he had informed them the other day that he would soon send Nagini to the Ministry to get a glimpse of the security. They were the only ones. That fact and the mask, too similar already to a Death Eater's, could mean only one thing.
He had been betrayed.
Severus's death made so much more sense now. Someone, someone within his own organization, had realized that the Potion Master only claimed to be on Dumbledore's side and had decided to dispose of the spy. At the time, he thought it the work of a student, but if it was the work of an adult…
There were too many coincidences. The raids against his followers' estates, the destruction of the Daily Prophet with his mark floating above the ruins, tonight. It all made sense. Someone had decided to depose him, to take up his rightful place as the Lord of the Dark and the future emperor of the Wizarding World. Someone who wanted to see him, Lord Voldemort, trampled to the ground.
Well, he would not let that happen. He would find this traitor, and he would make that coward pay. Now that he had narrowed it down to his Inner Circle, the search would be simple.
No, it wouldn't! What if Severus was the traitor? His death might have been a hoax – even he would admit that the idea that any of his servants could sneak through the front doors of Hogwarts was simply ludicrous – and he had been in the Inner Circle, so he could still respond to the signals coming from the Dark Mark. All the Death Eaters wore their hoods and masks while before him, a sign that his cause was more important than any of them individually, so all the man would have to do was eliminate another of the Inner Circle members and take the vacant place. No one would ever be the wiser, for all one could do was count the masks.
He would have to unmask the Inner Circle to find where Severus was. But wait! What if Severus was indeed dead? One of his servants would have to be the guilty party, so if he could not find a dead man walking among them, he would use Legilimency on them to find the guilty party. But what if one of them was memory charmed before entering his presence and then had his memories restored when he returned home? He would need to observe his servants at home, see which of them secretly despised their places by his side.
What if the traitor was in league with the thief robbing his servants' homes? Would it be one who had yet to have his belongings placed in peril? Or was it one who had already been 'robbed'? Or were the thefts a total coincidence?
So many possibilities. Too many possibilities. He would need to be careful, very, very careful. Still, the traitor had only attacked Nagini because he knew she was a familiar, not because she was a Horcrux. His other soul anchors should be safe, yes? He had never told anyone about them. Yes, his ties to this world were surely still in their places, for who could get past the traps he himself had erected?
It was one thing to counter plans he had spoken of publicly and robbing the houses of his loyal followers; it was quite another to divine truths he kept safely to himself. The coward was clueless about the mechanism of his immortality, and he intended to keep it that way. Perhaps he would move them to another location once he had established his rule of Britain.
But first, he had a traitor to catch.
Has anyone else noticed that the Department of Mysteries is said to be almost entirely independent of Ministerial oversight, yet Dumbledore tells Harry exactly what the Unspeakables research inside as if he had been there himself? I suppose being Chief Warlock could mean that he is one of the few non-employees to be kept in the loop, but the idea that he can then turn around and tell anyone he wants the highly confidential information he knows without consequence just seems… strange.
Red Phoenix Dragon: Molly won't brew her potions at Grimmauld Place now for the same reason she didn't beforehand; she very much does not want anyone to realize what she's doing. If she starts brewing love potions around three Aurors, she almost assuredly will be found out, and once they find out who the targets are, they'd arrest her then and there (assuming an angry Padfoot didn't outright maul her).
Joe Lawyer: Yes, I did "pull my punches" with Hagrid a little, but he's harder to hit than Dumbledore or Snape or McGonagall. It's one thing to intentionally harm someone or even to ignore harm already done out of wounded pride; it's quite another not to anticipate that his actions would harm anyone else out of sheer ignorance. Hagrid always struck me as being, to be perfectly blunt, of somewhat below-average intelligence, so the idea that he just never understood that the students don't have his resilience isn't as far-fetched as it would be otherwise.
DylanL: This story will be over by the end of June, 1996 (well, mostly…). Once the trio have their OWLs, they are no longer obligated to attend Hogwarts, so they will make better uses of their time than sitting through lessons they've already taken.
Silently Watches out.