Harriet smiled as she turned around; her little Sal's giggling fading in the background as he ran off to another one of his adventures. She took off the scarf around her neck as she went inside the manor, feeling the warming spells washing over her.
Two aurors were guarding the entrance, fresh young recruits she'd personally selected to watch over her son. She'd tutored them during their training, and knew them to be trust-worthy. A rare thing to be these days, she thought.
"Felix, I'll need you to watch over Sal," she said, speaking to the dark-haired man on her right. The fresh-faced auror nodded with a small smirk. "Try not to be caught this time. I know how maddening it is for him to feel like we're not giving him his space."
Felix gave her a sheepish smile. "Yes, General," he said with a nod. "Although in my defense I'll say I was hung over that time."
Harriet raised an eyebrow at that. "People prefer incompetency over irresponsibility, Felix. Now go. Nagini is around the border, she'll appear if she sees anything suspicious."
The auror nodded and Apparated. Harriet sighed. "I should not watch over my home like it was an outpost."
The remaining auror gave her an understanding look. "Better to be safe than sorry, General," she said in a small, timid voice. Harriet nodded, her hands coming to rest to her exposed neck. A thin red scar ran from her collarbone to the side of her jaw, reminding her of how close she'd come to lose everything. "Indeed, Sonya."
Fifteen years had changed Harriet in the most unexpected of ways. She'd been seventeen when her husband and she had decided to reach a compromise, forming an alliance that had completely restructured the Wizarding World. She'd naïvely thought that the war would end as soon as they erased Dumbledore from the picture, but while that had gained them power over the Ministry, the battle had been far from over. Old allies and enemies had come together, some disillusioned with his change of heart, others disillusioned with hers. She'd never expected to see the day a Weasley fought alongside a Parkinson, but it'd seemed that their lust for the old structure was stronger than family feuds. In order to keep up with the emerging threat, she'd taken control of the Ministry's armed forces, endorsed by her husband and his closest allies. Her main motivation was to fight the People's Restoration Forces, one of the many rebel alliances that had been formed after the takeover.
Five years, Luna Lovegood's voice would say in a sing-song voice when asked about the downfall of the biggest resistance move. It took an entire rethinking of the way they conceived war and five years to win. Many losses, many heart-aches; far too many for her liking. Harriet was there to see the gothic-styled PRF letters turn into ashes when they finally managed to find and obliterate the last rebel camp in the country.
"Ashes to ashes…" said her right-hand woman in a sing-song voice. Harriet turned to look at Luna Lovegood, who in spite of all the bloodshed and filth they'd seen over the years had never lost her dreamy-eyed look.
"You think there are many more out there?" the young General asked, tucking an errant black lock behind her ear. "Dissidents, I mean. Militants, those I can account for."
"Most likely, but they'll always be there. And it's healthy, in a way. There's always a need for someone to say no."
Harriet smiled; she gazed at the smoking remains of what had once been a forest base. Leaves and vegetation had been once its cover and protection, but after she spread her Fiendyfire there was little that could be protected from the ever-searching fiery creatures. The hissing of the burning foundations, like the wail of an angry snake, still echoed in her ears. "This time our 'no' was louder, I guess. This is it for the PRR. "
"But not for the rebellion."
Harriet had never underestimated Luna's ability to predict the unpredictable. And just like the woman had foreseen, the rebellion came back in the form of the Wardbreakers – the informal name for the BLF, Britain's Liberation Front. Harriet had to acknowledge that they'd taken them completely by surprise with their change of tactics – while the PRR relied mostly on guerrilla warfare and terrorist bombings, the BLF were sneakier and more selective in their targets.
From the intelligence they'd gathered, the group's main weapon was their advanced knowledge of ward breaking. Thus the tongue-in-cheek nickname, which had spread like wild fire after a particularly chatty secretary had talked too much about work at a bar.
Bill Weasley. The name was hot on the tip of her tongue when the matter of BLF's authorities came to the table and everybody knew of her suspicions that one of the remaining Weasleys was behind its founding. Strange how the tides have turned, had said Hermione sadly when she'd walked into her office while she was studying Bill's file. Harriet purposely did not comment on that.
But what she did comment on was on the attack on her life, the one that had left her with yet another cursed scar. It'd been one thing that they'd tried to kill the commander of the armed forces, which was entirely understandable under the circumstances. But they'd done it so while she was pregnant with her son, and that was something that she'd never forgive. The attack did not only send her husband into a rage the likes of which she'd never seen before, but it also sparked a great public outcry. And she'd responded to it – with the bloodiest raids Britain saw since the fall of the old Ministry. Still, she was very much aware that the little cockroaches were lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike back, and that's why since Sal's birth she'd increased the security around her own home.
I will give you the country you deserve, Sal, she thought, still tracing the pattern of her scar with her fingers as she walked to her husband's private office.
Her husband. Such a familiar thought nowadays, yet the concept of marriage and stability would've seemed foreign to her seventeen years ago. Strange how the tides have turned, Hermione's voice said in her mind. What had once been family had turned into enemies and what had once been enemies turned into family – strange indeed. At fifteen she'd thought she'd die before her twenties, her life and her world consumed by the power lust of some scaly maniac bent on chaos and destruction. At sixteen she'd learnt to love and she'd taught to love as well; even then, surrounded by the unreality of time travel and second chances, she'd considered happiness and stability impossible. She felt so detached from that little girl, shaped by tragedies and bloodlust and her own broken innocence.
She would not mourn any of it – it was senseless to do so. Many had screamed at her "what would your parents think?!" the moment she'd chosen to stand beside her greatest enemy. She'd never felt a parent's love, but she guessed that a real loving parent would understand and forgive, and most of all, feel pride the moment their child took a stand for what they believed in. And so she'd never once looked back at her parents' ghosts, because she'd learnt in her journey to adulthood that her lips should utter her decisions, not theirs. With it came happiness and sadness, weakness and strength. But she firmly believed, every time she looked at her husband's warm stare and her child's happy face that she'd made all the right choices.
And with a bit of wicked amusement she thought that not even Dumbledore could've foreseen this.
"You're pensive these days," her husband laid a hand on her shoulder, and Harriet covered it with her own. She squeezed it lightly and rose to meet him.
"Intel has been giving me some very disquieting reports about the rebels. I think they're planning something big, but we don't know the date, the place, the size of it."
Lord Voldemort gave a slight nod as he pulled the sleeves of his dark grey shirt up. "I've heard some reports from my own informants regarding that. They're being very secretive about it."
"You seem awfully unconcerned about it, though."
He looked down, and when met her stare again he had a feral smile on his face. Harriet felt his magic hum, preparing itself for a fight. "I have my own designs on the matter," he said in a slow voice, and if she hadn't been his wife she might've felt fear at his expression. But she knew that his hatred and hers came from the same place – and so she shared his excitement at the idea of annihilating those who'd tried to harm their child.
"Which is why I wanted to speak to you," he continued. "You'll drop that mission. Get everyone involved reassigned," he fixed her a serious look. "Including yourself."
Harriet scowled. "What are you playing at, Voldemort? You know we've been preparing for months for this op, and now you want us to back off?"
"Yes and yes to the last two questions, although I would question the use of plural pronouns in that sentence."
"You're taking this as personally as I am. I see no difference."
Voldemort smirked. "And that is why I must take this from your hands. I am much better at leading ops when my emotions are involved than you are."
Harriet's emerald eyes were scorching in her displeasure. The Dark Lord gave a small node in her direction, aware of her upcoming retort. "Surrey. Godric's Hollow. Lancaster. King's Crossing. Lake Ness. Small battles, I will grant you that, but they were lost because of your clouded judgment."
He approached her, taking her smaller hands in his. "You promised me that you would show me my lapses in judgment before I made mistakes, and I am obliged to do the same. I am not seeking to disrespect you – merely I'm doing what I consider is best."
Harriet kissed his hands, and stood on her toes to whisper in his ear, "we will talk about this later."
"You think this is a political move?" asked Hermione as she carried the tray with tea and biscuits into the homey living room. Harriet absent-mindedly stroked Sal's curly dark hair as he slept, curled in the couch with his head on her mother's lap.
"Partly. It's true that his agents have a… wider range of operation," she said with distaste, "but their numbers are minimal against ours. We should be sharing information, not working with two different organizations that practically do the same thing."
"Not the same thing. You do it legally," Hermione pointed out with a raised eyebrow. It was no secret that the secret corps working for Voldemort indulged in more questionable practices than their auror counterparts.
The black-haired woman sighed. "Still, we can't afford this lack of cooperation. And he's aware of that."
Hermione stared into her teacup with a serious expression. "I have heard of certain rumors," she said, blowing softly on the steam rising from her cup. "Some think that you're looking to get a bigger say on his decisions."
"Like a coup?" Harriet said with a bewildered look. "Please! He's my husband! That's ridiculous."
"I know, Harry," her friend said with a soft smile. She knew that even if the war and her position had turned her into a colder woman, she was still the kindest and most loyal person Hermione knew. After all, that alone had been the reason she'd followed her so many years ago – because she believed that Harriet's heart would always choose the right path. And although it'd been a difficult one, she didn't feel any remorse at her choice. "I know that it's not in you to try and play the games that people like Malfoy play. But everyone's aware that part of our Lord's power comes from your military victories – he may be the most powerful wizard alive, but you have numbers, and you know how to handle them. You're Britain's strength."
Harriet looked at her son's sleeping face. "I'm aware of the standing that our army has in our society, and in the world. Which is why I hinted that this was also a political move – I didn't know of the rumors, but I guess it makes sense. He's doing this to show the public that he's still head honcho."
Hermione laughed at her expression. "Head honcho! I might start calling him that in my head. What are you planning to do?"
"I'll not interfere," Harriet answered, "I know how delicate these things are and although my darling husband might be more prone to showing off his status and power, I'll not play the same game. This isn't about my sensibilities. There're innocents involved and I won't have them harmed because of some petty power dispute. "
"But you'll keep an ear open."
"An ear, an eye, a nose, a hand… He'll know that if he fucks up we'll have a very serious talk."
"So… who is it?" came Ron's curious voice. Harriet hadn't been looking forward to this – she didn't know what she would tell them. How she would tell them. In any case, it would be painful – for them, for her. She had to expect rejection. She had to expect scorn. But she reminded herself that it had been her own decision to do this, and as her friends they'd have to accept it. She simply hoped they could understand.
"Before I tell you, I want you to know that I'm aware you'll not like this. I know you'll think I'm under some sort of spell or potion or whatever… but I'm not. Please, trust me on this. I've thought about it time and time again and I just can't see myself doing anything other than this."
"Blimey, mate," the red-head exclaimed. "Don't tell me you're dating Malfoy!"
A groan could be heard from Sirius. "Oh please not that pompous git!"
Harriet stared at them with a small smile, "no, although now that you mention it I went on a date with grandpa Malfoy while I was in the past and it was the most hilarious thing ever."
"Tell me please you didn't kiss him."
"He wouldn't have had children if I had," she sobered up suddenly. "And this is where I tell you the real story behind the trip."
"What do you mean, Harriet? What happened?" asked Hermione with concern.
"I didn't get back on my own, like I told you. At first I mostly kept to myself, at Hogwarts. People didn't really notice me, and I enjoyed that. But then I made the mistake of catching Tom Riddle's attention."
"Tom Riddle?" Remus interrupted her. "As in…?"
"Yes," said Harriet gravely. "He heard me speak to a snake. He thought at first I was part of his family, but then somehow he guessed I was from the future. And he became intent on making me spill what I knew about our time. He began sending some of his lackeys to date me, because he had this stupid idea that if I fell in love with one of them I'd end up confessing everything or something."
Hermione snorted. "What would that monster know about love?"
"Well to be fair it's no secret that ladies scream their secrets if you touch them in all the right ways," commented Sirius, which earned him a smack from his best friend.
"The same could be said about a man," Harriet said with a scowl. Sirius raised an eyebrow at that and she blushed, suddenly aware that she'd given away too much information. "We'll g-get to that," she stuttered. "O-kay. So, that didn't work."
"Of course it wouldn't!" interjected Hermione.
"And so he courted me himself."
It seemed like the temperature in the room had dropped below zero in an instant. Harriet feared what she might find in her friends' faces, but she looked nonetheless. And what she saw scared her more than any Dark Lord could ever scare her.
Silence, in all of their mouths. Even Ron, who was usually the slowest one, had come to the same shocking realization. The red head looked slightly green. Hermione looked like she was looking for the right thing to say. Sirius looked a bit betrayed. Remus… Remus was looking at her as he might look at the moon, scared that she'd crush his will and turn him into nothing but an animal. She was aware of their distress, and how it reflected on her own expression.
"When I came back, he sent Bellatrix to call off the attack in the Ministry before taking me to his father's manor so we could talk. I realized that the ritual we'd used to send me back had protected the timeline by blocking everyone's memories – which is why he couldn't remember our encounter in 1948 up until I'd experienced it myself. Same with Dumbledore. It's as if it hadn't happened – until I had memory of it. And then… we talked about the war, about what we were going to do. I… I know I can't just go on like nothing happened, but I can't just throw away everything he's done to me and to the wizarding world. So we agreed to reach a compromise."
"W-what?" uttered Sirius in a hoarse voice, as if the news had made him forget how to speak. "Wait a minute, Harriet... y-you…"
"I fell in love. He… he got as close as someone like him can be."
"Harry, but he's monster! Think about what he's done! He can't understand what love really is!"
"Hermione, I'm not claiming he feels love in the same way you and I do. Both whatever his feelings are… they are enough to change him. It sounds really stupid, I know, but I've seen it. He's sane. He's whole. I'm sure you know about this…" Harriet looked hopefully at her godfathers. "Snape must've told you."
"Well, it's true that he's been laying low and that there's been reports of his… disposing of his most insane followers," Remus said slowly. "But that could mean anything. Maybe he's just using that to trick you. He's a consummate liar, Harry. Don't forget that."
"I know… but I can see through that," she tapped at her forehead. "Maybe not always, but I'd know it if he didn't really mean it. At some point his feelings would've betrayed him."
"You mean like… oh god, you've been seeing him this whole summer."
"Yes," she told her horrified godfather, and was suddenly aware of the hickey on her neck and the direction of their thoughts. "Look, we've been talking. About what we can do. It's not that I'll just run into my parents' murderer's arms. I'm aware of who he is. But for some reason, he feels like home, and he makes me happy. Sounds crazy, and maybe I am, but I've decided that this is my way. He'll not stop in his search for power – so instead of fighting him I'll help him get it. And I'll be his conscience. I'll stop him before he goes back to the murdering monster he was before."
What her words might have fallen short of expressing was instead shown in her stare. Bright green emeralds shining with conviction and hope – and they knew, all of them knew that nothing they could say would sway her. That maybe there was more to her words than her misconceptions, than their misconceptions.
"I… I need to think about this," said Sirius, sitting down. Slumped shoulders and heavy stare made him look ten years older, and Harriet hated to be the one causing her godfather so much distress. But it had to be done.
"Yes. Please, think about what I've said. I'm not asking you to do anything – just to believe in me. I'll be here when you want to talk about this again. I'm just asking you to please not repeat a word of this to anyone."
"Scorpius!" shouted Sal's squeaky voice as he tried to catch up to his friend, who was running ahead of him with a golden snitch in his hand.
"Salazar!" the blond boy shouted back, giggling as he teased the smaller boy.
Above them, from the balcony outside of Lord Voldemort's office, Lucius Malfoy shared a drink with his master. "It always amazes me how they never seem to run out of energy."
"Quite an enviable trait for someone of your position, I assume," Voldemort said with a smirk. "The years have been good to you, Lucius, but it is obvious that time has run its course."
"Are you so anxious to be rid of me, my Lord?"
"And lose all the entertainment that your little games provide? No, no… That boy of yours is useful in all the ways that matter, but he has not inherited your skill in politics. Too brash, too spoiled. "
Malfoy inclined his head. Had it come from anyone else, he'd have hexed the man on the spot – it was a grave insult to his family, and more importantly, to his pride, to speak about his son's flaws. But coming from his Lord, and in this setting, it was more of a stated fact than a verbal strike. He was simply making a point – and Lucius understood.
"And he's closer to your wife than he is to you," he said, knowing what his Lord was getting at. It'd been a long time since the day that he'd swore his allegiance out of fear rather than respect – but his Lord had come a long way since then. Lucius was proud to say that if there was anything resembling a friend in his Lord's life, it was probably him. And he didn't just say it because of the power and status that came with said title – after his Lord had been rid of his madness, he'd truly shown why he was called the greatest dark lord in centuries. Lucius felt respect and admiration for the man beside him – and in spite of an initial reluctance on his part, he also felt thankful to Harriet Potter, who had given them back the man that was to lead them to greatness.
Voldemort regarded him with a small smile, onyx eyes penetrating in their stare. "Yes. Which is why I'll have to ask you to remain where you are for now."
"Are the rumors true then?"
"Partially," the Dark Lord said, levitating his glass back to the coffee table inside with wandless magic. "Whoever started them is obviously not very knowledgeable of my wife's character. Harriet is loyal to the point of stupidity. But she's not entirely conscious of her station, which makes her very susceptible to the influence of those she considers closest to her."
Lucius nodded, suddenly understanding the gravity of the situation. "That's why you're trying to limit her influence."
"The years have made her vicious, yet strangely enough she's always retained a certain naivety – I am simply protecting her from herself."
Harriet hid under the hem of her hat as the midsummer sun attacked them relentlessly. Her clear blue dress billowed in the wind, making her appear younger than she was. At her side, an equally young-looking Draco Malfoy looked around the pristine-looking garden, trying to spot the little devils hiding from them.
"It's a shame Astoria couldn't come. I wanted to meet little Eris."
"It's this damn summer flu – Astoria doesn't want to take the risk. We have a history of falling prey to illnesses."
"Ah, yes. I was sorry to hear your grandfather died. You and Lucius are a lot like him."
They both sat under a gazebo, enjoying the slight fragrances from the garden enveloping them. "You never told me much about him, from your trip." He said, suddenly looking at her with naked interest in his gaze.
"He made me realize that your sneer is a genetic trait," Harriet said with a smile. "He was just as uptight as a Malfoy can be, just as handsome, just as arrogant. He despised me at first, until I kicked his ass in a duel. That earned me his respect."
"Well, that seems to be the way you relate to us Malfoys – we hate your guts until you prove yourself," Draco smirked.
"I never really proved myself to you – you just became friendly to me because Scorpius needed a playmate and Salazar was the only on within his age group. And he's also your Lord's son."
Harriet laughed. "It's true though. And it pains your father – he'd prefer you become chummy with my husband rather than me."
"You're certainly the lesser evil in this case."
"Are you a coward, Malfoy? And to think you wanted to join the Aurors."
"My talents are better used elsewhere."
At this, the blond man became serious. "Your political ingenuity, Harriet… in this, you are truly a damsel in distress."
The dark-haired woman huffed. "You underestimate me. I don't need your protection."
"And I'm not offering it. But I can lend you my knowledge, should you choose to use it."
Harriet stared at the man for a moment. She was aware she had little skill as a politician, but so far she'd thought she'd done as decently as one would expect from her position.
"Papa!" a little blond ball shot out of the bushes in front of them, throwing himself at his father. Harriet saw the grimace of the man at the hug – and the dirt in his offspring's clothes, which were in turn dirtying his own. She couldn't help but giggle. Trust Draco Malfoy to be so uptight about his clothes.
"Mum, where is father?"
She smiled at her son and looked to the balcony of his office, where she could spot two blotches of hair, one raven-black and the other white-blond. "Off in his study, plotting world domination with Scorpius' grandpa."
"What is world do-mi-na-shon?" repeated Scorpius at his father's side.
"It's what father does! He makes people do stuff."
"All around the world," said Harriet, giggling. "And he's also very grumpy because of it."
"But mum also likes world domination!" exclaimed Salazar loudly, as if to show he was really proud of understanding the concept.
"Yes," interjected Draco, "but she sucks at it."
"Nuh-uh she doesn't," Salazar glowered at the man, to which Scorpius countered "yeah she does, dad said it!"
"Want to bet how many times they're going to go back and forth with this until we reach the manor?" said Harriet in a hushed whisper while their kids screamed at each other. Draco laughed and began walking back to the building.
"Have your spies told you about this?" the incensed voice of Harriet Potter-Gaunt echoed in the chamber as she stormed into her husband's office one Saturday night. The pristine white of the stone under her feet seemed to scream as the grime and blood from the battlefield left a muddy trace over it. She'd come with her unit into the Ministry as soon as the raid was over – it was a first for her, who was aware of her reputation and just how the sight of her bloodied visage could affect it. People would be even more scared of her, but she had more pressing matters to attend. And so she'd sent the rest of her unit to give the reports she'd felt were necessary while she checked in with her husband.
Voldemort looked up to find his wife with a dirty, torn piece of clothing in her hand – a Belgian battle uniform. She found more questions than answers when he snatched it from her, his onyx eyes turning red in an instant.
"No," he hissed, venomously. "You may've caught me a little spy."
"There were at least three Belgian units with them, waiting for us. It was a fucking ambush. Captain Bones had sent just one unit for scouting – they were massacred. We had to go in – two of them managed to get away. We kept another two for questioning."
"This is unacceptable," Voldemort's rage was palpable. Harriet understood why. They'd signed a treaty with most European countries after their takeover, to ensure that they wouldn't try anything too bold. But unlike the British, who'd grown used to Voldemort's reign during the decade and half he'd been in power, many European countries were extremely wary of him. And for good reason. Harriet was sure that as soon as he got the rebellion thing finally under control he'd try to build an empire.
"When you're finished with the prisoners, send them to me," he hissed, and Harriet nodded. Some part of her still rebelled against the common interrogation methods used by her units, which had been specifically outlined by Voldemort… but then she remembered the faces of the young squad who'd been ambushed and figured that this was the price the soldiers paid for their choices.
"I will," she turned to leave, but a hand on her wand hand stopped her. She turned around as he pulled her to him. He didn't seem to mind her grime staining his clothes, or his hands, or his face, because soon he was kissing her fiercely. Tongue and teeth, cool breath and hunger on one side and sweat and exhaustion on the other. She thought about stopping for a moment, but her body was still running high on adrenaline and she felt like she could use one last battle for the day.
She gripped onto his clothes, maiming and tearing and staining and wanting oh-so-badly to taste his flesh. She'd been healed by her Healers but now she needed this one last cure – and so methodically, so passionately it was delivered step by step by the dark wizard.
"You look like a war goddess," he murmured into her flesh, and she threw him to the ground, climbing on top of him. It was as if time had not passed and she was sixteen and curious and hungry for the knowledge of the unknown – and he was young and careless all over again, taking what he'd never thought he'd take before. Mouth on mouth, breaths mingling and the smell of death hanging around them.
Voldemort's bright scarlet eyes were open and staring, drinking hungrily her lean, athletic form as she stripped for him. "I am your knight in shining armor," she said with a smirk, "and I come here to bring you the heads of your enemies, my king."
"Yesss…" he hissed, arching into her. He ached to be inside her, to taste and consume his Death Incarnate. And so he climbed up her form, small aching butterfly kisses savagely transforming into teeth and blood as he rediscovered a path he knew all too well. Her hands were bruising under his grip, but he hurt and she let herself be hurt in their painful ecstasy.
She was writhing under him when he entered her – so wantonly, so submissive, so rare to see when her eyes were filled by her pureness and his madness and her face was still stained with the blood of her enemies. She was nothing under him and he was nothing above her – just the God of Death and the Goddess of War and their communion which brought chaos and greatness into the world.
As they lay panting on the ground, limbs intertwined and complementary eyes gazing at each other, she heard him say, "Prepare for a little trip. We're going to Belgium tomorrow."
Harriet felt a light tug on her ponytail, and blearily looked up from her very comfortable position on her desk to look at the intruder. Sirius Black stood in front of her, eyes sparkling mischievously. His long hair was tied back, Harriet noted, which meant that he'd been working late at the Intel office. He'd refused to cut his hair after Remus' death, and after seven years it'd grown from his trademark shoulder-length raven curls to a wild silver-stained mane that reached to his waist. She knew he preferred it untied, but at work it was simply a nuisance.
"Oh, I didn't think you'd get it so quickly," she said, straightening her back and rubbing the sleep off her eyes.
"Four manors around the country, including a castle, and you're sleeping on your desk? Tsk, tsk, General Potter, you're just making yourself age faster," the man said with a cheeky smile. Harriet felt one creeping to her face, infected by her godfather's happy-go-lucky attitude.
"I was resting my eyes!" she huffed. "But anyway now that you mention it, I should really go home. I was expecting a letter, but that can wait until the morning. Now, as for Sal… "
"Yes, I'll watch over him. Don't worry about it," Sirius said, dismissing the matter with a wave of his hand. "I'll eat all the food your elves can prepare, though."
"Well you're not thirty anymore, Sirius, and you've got your ladies to please…"
"Are you calling me a fat old man?"
"Not yet. But maybe in a week I will."
"Cheeky brat," he laughed. Harriet stood up, ordering the papers she'd left scattered on her desk. She felt Sirius' brief hesitation before he spoke up again, "before you go, I should probably tell you about some disturbing reports I got this morning."
Harriet frowned and stopped her movements. "Go on."
"Fourteen men were found missing in their cells in Azkaban yesterday. Most of them petty thieves, rats, average criminal scum. Dementors like to gather a few in groups to torment them from time to time, so the warden thought that was the case and didn't report it. But they weren't in their cells this morning and that raised a few alarms. The warden tried to report it, but he was told to hush it up and give them a fake burial, under the pretense that it'd cost too many resources to try to investigate what happened."
Harriet sat on her desk, a small hand absent-mindedly untangling the knots in her hair. "All of this is off the record, right? Should I ask the warden myself…?"
"He'll tell you they died after a hunger strike or something similar," his grey eyes closed for a moment as he massaged his temple. "I'm not surprised that they'd try to cover up an inmate's death, after all I've seen it happen myself. But the order came usually from the warden after a guard got a bit too spell-happy with an inmate or two. That fourteen men would disappear like that, so suddenly and without the warden knowing about it..."
Harriet nodded. "Yes, suspicious to say the least. I'll leave someone to look into it."
Sirius laid a hand on her arm. "Make sure it's someone very trustworthy. I have a bad feeling about this, considering today's ambush… He shouldn't make you go with him. It's not the time to leave the country without its leaders."
The woman sighed. "I know. But if we let this pass, we'll have not only the rebels and the Belgians to worry about, but also Spain, France, Germany… You know how uneasy they are about us. They'll take any excuse to erase us from the map."
"Yeah…" the word was left hanging in the air, as if the older man was debating whether to keep going or to keep quiet. Harriet stared at him inquisitively. "It's just that… isn't it a bit convenient? For Belgium to take sides in foreign matters as the rebellion dwindles."
"Well, maybe it's because they see our opposition vanish that they finally want to lend a hand to them – maybe stir up some trouble. I don't know."
"Be careful with that, Harriet. Considering who your husband is, it's probably best if you do know."
Harriet woke up at dawn to an empty bed. It took her a moment to fully register the events of the previous day, and when she did she let out a tired sigh. This war will never end, she thought sullenly before jumping out of bed. A few charms and a trip to the bathroom later, she hurried to the kitchen to grab a quick breakfast before kissing her son goodbye and catching up with Voldemort at the ministry.
She was in for a surprise when she found him sitting on the table, waving his fingers as he levitated small pieces of fruits for Salazar, who was giggling delightedly. Harriet smiled softly at them, basking in the warmth of the homely scene.
"I thought you'd already left," she said, sitting on Voldemort's left and in front of Sal, who was trying to catch the fruit with his hands. "He'll not let you get them unless you use your magic, darling."
"Why?" the boy pouted.
"It's important that you develop control over your magic at an early age, Salazar. It'll make it easier for you to learn spells later on," Voldemort instructed.
"He also wants you to be an overbearing over-achiever like him," Harriet said, taking a small bite from the sandwich one of her elves had just brought her. That earned a confused look from her son and an annoyed one from her husband. "What? It's true. Look, sweetheart, all you have to do is to focus on what you want."
"Mmh," the young boy nodded, and looked from his mother to the floating fruit. He extended one hand, the small chubby fingers closing and opening as if he was trying to reach for it. A moment passed before one of the berries in front of him started to slowly move, and Salazar cried in delight. And with his cry came a small explosion of fruit, as the pieces in front of him were sent flying in all directions.
Harriet laughed, using her wand to wash the remnants of food on her son's face and hair. "Next time we'll have to try with something that doesn't stain."
"You should go change your clothes," said Voldemort as his son pouted. "Black will be here soon."
"Cursing us to hell and back for making him wake up so early," muttered Harriet as she watched Salazar run back to his room. "This was a nice surprise. I'd expected you to be fretting over last minute details before our trip."
"That, I did last night," he told her as he motioned for the elves to clean the mess Sal had made.
"Oh, this was pure sentimentality on your part," the black-haired woman smiled amusedly. "That alone is enough to make my week."
Ron Weasley was not having a good week. It had not been a week since the doping scandal of the Appleby Arrows, which had put his office in the eye of the storm. The pressure of the World Cup must be Cracking! Weasley, the read head muttered under his breath, repeating a common headline in the sports section of all the newspapers of Britain in the last days. He'd requested a revision of the anti-doping spells to St. Mungo's three months before, and the damn case had seen it fit to explode before their work was finished. And so the journalists were having a field day writing puns with drug names for their articles.
Now, his secretary was missing.
Sometimes he wondered how Harriet did it – being in command of an army wasn't an easy feat, and he was sure it was a paperwork nightmare. He routinely lost track of the pending work, the meetings, the comings and goings and whos and whats, and that's why he relied so much on George. The student was a bit slow at times, but he was organized and that was exactly what Ron needed.
"Damn it, Freybird, where is George?!" he shouted as he stormed back into his office. He checked the small agenda George kept with his appointments and reminders, skimming over the man's neat handwriting as he searched his appointments for the day.
"Huh? That's weird…" he muttered. A lean man in his thirties entered into the office then, carrying a small letter. "I haven't seen him since yesterday, but he left this for you. You think he quit?"
"No," Ron murmured pensively as he stared at the light blue letter, his memory suddenly recalling something… "Freybird, deal with the press for today. Tell Mag to send next year's budget to the Reserves office. I'm not seeing anyone."
Roger Freybird noticed but didn't comment on his boss' change of demeanor. He nodded, and after leaving the envelope on Ron's desk he left.
Behind closed doors, Ron conjured a Patronus. "Hermione," he whispered to the silvery Jack Russell Terrier, "George went ahead with it. Sirius has already told Harriet, she'll leave one of her own to chase that trail. Be careful, they might be already onto us."
Harriet would've liked to know what the plan was, but she had some experience with the last-minute tactics that Voldemort would pull at times. And so she knew that it was completely futile of her to try and get information out of him – if the fact that only the two of them were sneaking into Belgium incognito was any indication, she guessed that he was going to do some theatrics. Which meant that she needed to stay on her toes the whole time.
It was a risky move, and she wasn't entirely sure what he was trying to achieve by showing up in front of the Belgian minister instead of asking for an audience. Or better yet, sending them the heads of those two soldiers. After a decade and a half of marriage, she frequently wondered about the inner workings of his mind, but so far she hadn't managed to find an answer that would explain why such a crazy man was so brilliant.
"Can you even tell me where we'll make our big entrance?" she hissed as they made their way through the crowd. Muggle Brussels was loud and imposing; with people coming and going in a rush that Harriet had come to associate only with the Muggle world. They ducked into an alleyway between two antique buildings, and Harriet took a moment to check for any wizards who might've noticed their arrival.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but there's a worrying lack of security around this place. Even if that was an untraceable portkey, I'd have expected them to have some record of our arrival," she said as she approached Voldemort, who was tapping the wall in front of him with his wand.
"It speaks well of our country that you'd assume so," he murmured, before pressing a finger into a brick. Harriet noted that it looked particularly worn and scratched in comparison to its neighbors. Easy to find, if you know what you're looking for, she thought.
"Nonetheless, not all countries are as concerned with security as they should be," Voldemort took a step back and waited until the entrance had materialized in front of them before going in. Harriet became aware of just how little of the world she'd seen when she stepped into the atrium of the Belgian Ministry of Magic, which looked more like a giant greenhouse than the imposing, sharp lobby that she was used to. It was markedly different from home, and she idly wondered if all ministries had their own special touch in décor.
"Can we get an atrium like this?" she asked, falling into step with Voldemort.
"Why content ourselves with a replica when we can acquire the real thing?"
Harriet shot him a worried look, but kept silent. They were spared not a single glance as they navigated through the pathways that led to the elevators – they'd used small glamour charms to alter their appearance enough not to be recognizable. A confident stroll was taken as a sign of routine – they acted like they walked the same way every day, and everybody else assumed that was the case.
"This is too easy… they didn't even ask for our ids!" Harriet murmured once they were alone in one of the elevators, rising up to the twenty-eight floor.
"Tell me Harriet, if one of your agents told you that the two most important figures in the enemy government were going to simply walk up to the Ministry and knock on your door, would you believe it?"
"Probably not… if sober, that is," she murmured, fiddling with her wand. "Your ideas are so good. It creeps me out sometimes."
She got a very condescending pat on the head in return, which in turn earned the Dark Lord to her side an angry look. "Ready yourself, darling," he said, dropping their glamour charms as the elevator came to a stop. "We have a message to deliver."
The sight of pristine white doors and a blond woman in the desk to the side left a very strange taste in Harriet's mouth. This was unlike she'd ever done before – she'd fought in the battlefield, she'd organized her troops, she'd taught and learnt, she'd killed and been injured… but it was a strange, harmonic dance in which her enemies and her both knew of the danger they cloaked themselves in. It eased her mind that there was a strange justice to it all – survival relied on luck and skill; and everyone was ready to accept the consequences of their failures.
But this, what they were going to do… she was no fool. And although she'd had no other option but to accept the all-consuming nature of Voldemort's bloodlust and greed, she still felt uneasy when he saw him raise his wand to kill. That had been the reason she'd maneuvered herself into his army in the first place; to protect him from the temptations of the battlefield. It was a terrible place where terrible people lived; where the limitless of one's actions was justified and where psychopaths found the power they relished. It was easy to soak oneself with the rush, in the air crackling with magic and screaming, and it was even easier to lose oneself in it. And because she saw it as a curse rather than a blessing, she chose to take Voldemort's place.
But now it wasn't King and his General, it was Death and War they were playing. I'm still the same man that killed your family, he'd told her once. And she'd kept that close to her heart, because even in spite of her leaving so many things behind for their happiness, she would not leave the past behind.
"Je suis désolé, monsieur, mais le ministre est au milieu d'une réunion en ce moment,"* Harriet heard the blonde woman say.
"Ne vous inquiétez pas, le ministre a été d'attendre nous," Voldemort replied with a smile, before freezing the girl in her place with a nonverbal Impedimenta. With a careless wave of his yew wand the doors that led to the Minister's office were thrown open, immediately startling the people inside. Harriet recognized some of their faces from diplomatic meetings she'd had to endure in her time, and was curious to notice that the Belgian minister had been talking with the German and Russian ambassadors, as well as some officers from the European Wizarding World Union.
"Good morning gentlemen." A soft baritone coated in nothing but pleasantness contrasting against the sharp, loud entrance. There was a smirk on Voldemort's face keeping company to the wicked gleam in his eyes, and had he not been already a man with a reputation, his expression alone would've made the dignitaries uneasy.
"Lord Voldemort!" cried the Belgian Minister in surprise, rising from his chair. Harriet noticed he'd left his wand forgotten on the desk, and felt her eyebrows rise. These… politicians thought they could get away with murdering our own?
"And General Potter," came the accented voice of the German ambassador. She nodded in his direction, but otherwise made no move to take the stage. This was Voldemort's show. "May I ask what pleasantries bring you here today?"
"Oh, pleasantries indeed Herr Wernicke," answered the dark wizard. "I assume it's already reached the morning papers."
"What are you talking about?" asked one of the EWWU diplomats.
"We're talking about this," Harriet said, tossing a ragged Belgian combat robe on the desk with a wave of her wand. "Twenty of my men were massacred by your troops," she spat, anger rising to the surface. "On British soil, no less. And without provocation."
"And you know what we call that, Minister?" Said Voldemort softly, "A declaration of war."
The man in question paled, his thick-rimmed glasses enlarging his already bulging eyes. "I'm sure there's been a mistake, I-I'm not aware of any troop movement in the last week in or out of the country."
"Do not presume to use your incompetence to excuse the massacring of twenty of my subjects," the Dark Lord said venomously. "Belgium has violated the No Wolf treaty, and as of this moment I, Lord Voldemort, King and Ruler of the United Kingdom declare that a state of war exists between the government of Belgium and the government that I represent."
The EWWU diplomats rose from their chairs, their faces indignant. "This is unthinkable! There're no records of military action brought against your country, sir," said one. "The protocol dictates that you submit a forced military action investigation request first!"
"I don't believe there's anything to investigate, sir," Harriet said. "The evidence and verdict are right on that table."
"With all due respect, my lady," the youngest of the EWWU representatives began saying, "there's a reason-"
"I'm not your lady," the black-haired woman interrupted him scathingly, "and you'll refer to me by rank and name."
"General Potter," Wernicke said, standing up to put a hand on the young representative's shoulder, "I believe that what Mr. García Allende wanted to say was that there is a need to ascertain whether the troop that attacked your men really was of Belgian origin, and if it wasn't, to find the true culprit behind this."
"While that is reasonable, I believe I have a more efficient way to ascertain the origin of the attack," said Voldemort in a soft voice. All the heads in the room snapped in his direction, his statement cutting like a knife through the tension in the air. He produced a small pouch from his pocket, and held it at arm's length in front of him. "Call your generals, Minister. They'll have to answer for you."
The Belgian stood frozen in place, and it wasn't until Wernicke gave him a soft nudge that he seemed to return to his senses. He took one of the small marble lion figurines on his desk and tapped it on the head with his wand. "J'ai besoin de la présence de monsieur Van Noppen et le monsieur Bouhouche". As soon as he finished, the figurine came to life and dashed through the door.
Before Harriet could wonder if they were going to take long to arrive, two men entered the room, looking visibly worried. As soon as their eyes landed on Voldemort they raised their wands, a sharp movement carried out in a way that Harriet found entirely too familiar.
"Lower your wands, gentlemen, we are having a civilized discussion," Voldemort chided them as if they were children, not even bothering to raise his own wand. Harriet was aware of the veiled insult in his actions, and was not surprised to see the generals tense.
"They are here now, Lord Voldemort; show them what you meant to show," Wernicke's grandfatherly manner reminded Harriet of her old Headmaster. She wondered if Voldemort saw the similarities as well, and if it irked him as much as it irked her.
"Very well," he said, not missing a beat. He held the pouch upside down, tossing down the contents to the floor. Dark little balls of hair fell from the little bag, engorging and twisting as they neared the floor, gaining back their natural size.
"Oh Merlin's beard!" someone screamed, and Harriet heard a "thump" as one of the EWWU representatives fell to the floor unconscious. She spared a blank look at her husband, who was greedily drinking in the horrified expressions of the politicians in the room. Their eyes briefly crossed when he noticed her staring at him, and she felt a small flare of pain in her scar.
"Dios m-mío," murmured García Allende to her right as he stared at the decapitated heads of what she presumed were four of the Belgian wizards that had ambushed her men. Presume being the key word here, Harriet thought. I ordered them to incinerate the bodies right after we secured the perimeter. Those heads should be ashes right now.
"Do you recognize your men, generals?" asked Voldemort as the men in front of him stared at the unseeing whites of the heads on the floor.
"You will pay for this, monster," said the tallest general in a thick accent, and moved his wand in a swish that Harriet recognized all too well. Fuerit Dissolutum she imagined him chanting in his mind… but before he could even call forth his magic, he fell to the floor. Face contorted in agony and limbs twitching with the spams generated by the Cruciatus curse, blood began to flow out of his mouth as he bit his tongue to contain his screams.
His partner's agony prompted a response from the second general, and this time it was Harriet's turn to cut him short – a quick and precise crushing hex to the man's wrists left him kneeling on the floor, unable to use his wand. She'd been too focused on him to notice Voldemort's favorite spell being cast – and she couldn't help but startle at the green light that enveloped the room.
"Now that we have a satisfactory answer to our inquiry," the dark wizard said with a chuckle that made everyone's blood turn cold, "we shall proceed with our first hostile action."
Harriet looked at the cowering men, and then at the father of her child. With a quick wave of her wand, she stunned them one by one, until the only conscious people in the room were Voldemort and her. The man turned to her, anger clear in his shining scarlet eyes.
"This is senseless slaughter," she said, unwavering stare meeting his with all the force of her stubbornness. "We'll take the minister as a political prisoner. The rest have nothing to do with this."
Voldemort closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. He approached his wife until they were not a breath away from each other. Harriet tensed, not sure what she should expect. He laid a hand on the crook of her neck, covering her scar. She stayed still, her only sight being the robes covering his chest. She then felt the tender brush of his lips on her forehead.
And then Harriet's world went black.
She awoke with a gasp, opening her eyes wide and reaching to the sky – where she hoped to find Voldemort. But she was alone, on a strange bed in a strange room, bathing in the moonlight. She took her head in her hands – what had happened? And felt her memories rushing back in.
I'm still the same man that killed your parents.
She bit her lip. I am aware of that, she replied to the man's voice in her head. But he was so much more. And she wanted him to realize how constricting his lust for power really was. How blinded he became by the games and the pushing and pulling, his beautiful complex mind degenerating into a one-direction track. She'd tried to keep him away from battle, and he'd relished in her choice because he knew it kept her away from what had been constricting her. A sense of duty, instilled by people who wanted her to be useful before anything else.
He's going back at it, she thought, and I'll follow him. What else is there for me to do?
A noise in the back of the room startled her. She chided herself for her absent-mindedness – it could've cost her life. But she recognized the presence, and soon her eyes could make the silhouette of her husband's form. Clothed in black, dark curls falling on his unnaturally young face (she noted with some surprise that they both actually looked the same age now), onyx eyes so piercing and sinister in the darkness.
"It's like we could play the old medieval story – you are Death and I'm the maiden."
Voldermort smiled, slowly approaching the bed. "Gib deine Hand, du schön und zart Gebild," he said softly. "Sollst sanft in meinen Armen schlafen."**
"Come, savage man of bone," Harriet said as he extended her hand. "Wasn't that what she said?"
"I believe she was rejecting him," the wizard said as he took the offered hand and climbed into the bed, letting himself be pulled into her arms. "Why would she welcome death?"
"Maybe it was already part of her. Maybe she wanted to go back home," she felt hands on her arms, a grip tight enough to bruise, and hot breath on her nose.
"You will not welcome death," Voldemort said with a certain desperate edge in his voice she'd only heard him use when she'd been left with the scar in her neck. "Not now, or ever."
Harriet chuckled, resting her hands on his shoulders. "I will die someday. It's part of life. I'll see Sal become a grown man; I'll meet my grandchildren, maybe my great-grandchildren as well… I'll kill your enemies until I'm no good to fight, and then I'll die."
The older man shifted his body so he'd be holding her. She rested her head on his chest, and counted the beats of his heart. "I am over eighty years old, but my appearance is that of a man barely past his thirties. Have you ever wondered if this lack of physical decay may actually be an indication of something else?"
"More times than I can count. And every single time I've come to the same answer."
"You've obviously achieved some sort of physical immortality. How you went about it, I don't know nor care. I am happy with the knowledge that you achieved something you wanted. You'll live on well after the time I'm gone, hopefully not creating chaos and disaster wherever you go."
She heard him sigh. "I will overdose with your sentimentality long before I can even try to cause a riot or two," at this Harriet giggled. "You promised me to be by my side, Harriet," he said softly, "but sometimes I wonder if you really knew what you were agreeing to."
Harriet sat up abruptly. "Or maybe it's the other way around. I can hardly see how that might mean I should bend to your whims," her emerald eyes were bright with the errant rays they caught from the moonlight. "You also promised to be by my side. You will not take the decision away from me – I'll follow you into eternity if I choose to do so."
She put a finger to his lips, cutting off his next words. "What you did today was unacceptable. I'll not be taken for a fool, Voldemort. I am your general and your wife, as much as you're my King and husband. You will listen to my words regardless of whether I agree with you or not."
Voldemort's dark eyes flashed as he viciously bit her finger. She gasped, and tried to take away her hand before his arm shot up, grabbing her wrist in a tight grip. "A beautiful sentiment, wife of mine," he said, mouth close to her ear. "Impractical and stupid, but nonetheless beautiful. You are aware of the risk we were in – I could not afford any openings."
"You are very much aware that if there was any logic to what you wanted to do, you could've just told me right then and I'd have understood," her voice was smothered by his clothes, but that didn't make it lose its strength. "Sometimes you forget I'm not eighteen anymore. I'm not your daughter – so don't patronize me."
He laughed – a hoarse, pitiful little sound that made it appear bitterer than it really was. "Very well, I may have overreacted. My impatience to get my work done might have driven me to stun you so you wouldn't interfere. However I have my plans regarding this war, and I'm very keen to see them through."
Harriet pursued her lips, but didn't comment on his half-hearted apology. She moved away from him, sitting where she could see his eyes. "Okay, tell me your plans."
He smirked. "Impressive interrogation tactics, General Potter."
She laughed; it was a light and airy sound that contrasted sharply with the room, with the company, with the echoes of his previous laughter. He found the contrast delicious, balanced in its own right. "Very well," he said then "I was hoping to make an impression. You will not be able to see it from here, but I left the bodies exposed in front of the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula."
"Again with the ego thing?"
"It's more than that," he whispered. "Harriet, are you aware of the prestige you've earned for your leadership and tactical skills? Are you aware of the strangeness of our positions? I play the role of King, but you're not Queen. "
"Yes. What does that-?"
He sighed, "Think. I am a Dark Lord, but I haven't seen battle since you took the army for yourself. Even if my fame precedes me, nowadays I am but a mere politician in their eyes. And today," he said with a small smile, "today you saw how easy it is to take a country out of a politician's hands."
Harriet felt her heart sink. "So, you're telling me that I'm…"
"Oh, no," he smirked, "Harriet I wouldn't be able to pluck you from the field even if that was my desire. And I need my General to do this."
Voldemort took Harriet's face in his hands, aware of her questioning stare. "You and I alone will conquer this country. Can you do this for me, Knight? Can you give me this pitiful little land?"
Harriet was not entirely convinced of the sanity of her husband, but she had no other choice but to comply this time. England had officially declared war, which had been something that many European nations had been expecting for years, and now they had to present themselves as a strong foe before the enemy came knocking on their doors, under the pretense of being a "liberation force" of some sort.
She was aware that the world had been waiting for a polite excuse to burn them to the ground, after Voldemort and she had joined forces. The Chosen One and the Darkest Wizard in Centuries? Unthinkable! And dangerous. It really surprises me that they have kept the peace for so long, she thought to herself as she looked at the parchment in her hand.
And the tactic had some merit. It was crazy and bold, but provided that they managed to pull it off, it'd give them a great advantage over any aspiring invader. After all, who wanted to face a nation whose leaders could invade a country just by themselves? Give it to him to think of the ultimate defense as a consequence of the ultimate offense.
"Population, three thousand five hundred and thirty three," she read, "aurors in active service, one hundred and twenty two. Woah, with the population growth declining like this, this'll become a wasteland."
"It is not such an impossible matter, then?" Voldemort said with derision. Harriet felt like being childish and stuck her tongue at him. He ignored her and pointed at the map they'd laid in front of them. "They're scattered around the country".
"Biggest concentration is here, of course…" she said pensively as she read the numbers. "We have to expect at least thirty, at worst fifty to appear right away. What about the ones in the country?"
"They'll be taken care of. Your focus shall be on the city. Be quick and discreet, our goal is to dispose of them as fast as possible."
"I am just a diversion, then. What about you?"
The man smirked. "I'll be at the funeral of the late minister, of course."
"Are you absolutely sure these aren't forged?" Ron asked, staring incredulously at the crumpled papers in his hands. Hermione frowned as she read from above his shoulder, wand fidgeting between her fingers. "You know how anxious they are to get a quick galleon nowadays."
"I know, boss," George said. "I asked my girlfriend to test it… you know she's in forensics and all that biz. Turns out it's a real copy of the memo."
"If we could get a trace of the money transfer…" Hermione bit her lip. "I know it's impossible, given that they had enough sense to do it through the goblins, but don't they use human notaries for that?"
"They used to. Malfoy passed new regulations last year," Ron answered. "The git obviously wanted to cover all the shady business he does."
"The King and him," Hermione corrected her husband. "So basically we have an order here from top office, requesting that…" she took the parchment from the redhead's hands, "three thousand galleons be transferred to Aldrich Blythe, supposedly for his 'services to the crown', whatever that means."
"But this Blythe bloke doesn't exist," Ron nodded, "and we have records showing that Audrey Mayflower took the money."
"Isn't she one of the big names of the BLF?" asked George before realization dawned on him. "Oh. So they're actively funding them. Gosh, that's…"
"Completely within Voldemort's character. Ron, do you think Harriet's aware of any of this?"
The man in question snorted. "Like hell she is. He took her off the case; maybe she was getting a bit too close to the truth…"
"Or maybe the BLF was outliving their usefulness," Hermione ran a hand through her hair, like she always did when she found the answer to a particularly difficult problem. "These documents are dated six months ago, and George's source said they were the most recent ones. There was also a marked lack of activity within that period. But if they were out of government money, and with very little numbers… why did they launch these big name attacks this week?"
"Desperation?" George said as he shrugged. "Or maybe they got rash after striking a deal with the Belgians."
"Maybe. It smells bad though," Ron shook his head. Hermione rested a hand on his shoulder. She was worried not only about the whole thing, but also about Harriet. She obviously doesn't know a thing. And now he got her to go to the continent with him. What are you playing at, Voldemort?
She heard the sound of fireworks above her head, but her eyes couldn't catch more than a few sparks shining bright against the evening sky as she tried to find her next target. Her nose was burning with the acrid smell of burning flesh, the unrelenting smoke swirling and twisting around her as she made her way through the abandoned muggle factory. Got four already, and out of pure luck, she thought. Three had fallen prey to the decaying structure of the building they'd been meeting in when she started her attack. Their two companions had managed to evade the hubris, and began engaging her in a fierce battle.
Although they were skilled, she immediately noted they were inexperienced. They moved with grace and agility, but they made rushed choices – soon she was able to gain the upper hand. With a cry of Bombarda! she set ablaze the small space left among the crumbling structure of the factory. A thump and pained screams alerted her that she'd hit more than dried leaves and dead vegetation. She sighed, taking great care in not faltering in her step. She couldn't afford any weakness while there was still one auror at large.
The wind caressed her face as she stepped outside. A plethora of whispers could be heard coming from somewhere in the alleys surrounding the old factory, but they stopped abruptly before she could pinpoint their origin.
Fuck, she thought, as she belatedly realized that the missing auror had managed to get away to warn his partners. I can take two or three, but if more come…
She bit her lip, but as soon as the thought formed in her head, she felt rather than saw the sudden apparition of three wizards around her. Before they could surround her, she set up a shield and cloaked herself behind a smokescreen. She counted the cracks in the air as she moved through the alleyways, a plan already forming in her head.
There's at least twelve here – thirteen if I include the guy that escaped before. It's tough, but if I can get them to follow me to the outskirts of the city…
She took great care of taking turns in apparating and running, in the standard retreating technique taught at most auror schools – she now knew she was dealing with old recruits that had seen little action outside of small civil skirmishes. By using textbook techniques, she hoped she could trick them into thinking textbook strategies – which were easy to deflect. As the buildings gave way to the suburbs, she apparated longer distances. Soon she was able to spot the Sonian Forest, and prepared herself for the ambush that was to come at the border.
"Next time, darling," she shouted as she stunned the auror that had apparated right in front of her. There were only a few blocks separating her from the embrace of the trees, and she crossed them in record time – only to stop at the sight of eight wizards clad in purple robes, pointing their wands at her.
She took a moment to look at their faces – just like she'd taught to her aurors; armies in the Wizarding World were so small that one could easily memorize their enemies' names, strength and weaknesses. She had a small pool of opponents to choose from, and so she'd made an educated guess on who'd be assigned patrol and who would be at the funeral. She relied on Voldemort's incomplete intelligence on the matter, and it'd seemed to pay off – she could recognize five of the wizards present by face and name, and one by face. That meant that the two that she couldn't identify were supposed to be further into the countryside. Strange, but not completely unexpected, she thought as she smiled at them.
"General Potter-Gaunt of the United Kingdom," the wizard in the middle, and who appeared to be of higher rank, spoke. "You are wanted for the slaying of-"
"Yes, Captain Ruysbroeck" Harriet interrupted him, "I am aware of my bad reputation. I appreciate the politeness of this intro, but I'll have to choose to resist this arrest," she raised her wand, and without giving them time to prepare themselves, she blasted the concrete under their feet to pieces.
She knew that the wardbreaker of the unit would protect them with shields – a late night conversation with an auror she'd managed to capture before Voldemort and her launched the attack had revealed that they used the standard units. They'd have a wardbreaker, two archers, four fighters and a scouter. Ruysbroeck and the blond country guy lack the standard protective runes for close-range fighting on their robes, so they're my archers, she thought as she dodged two spells. The wardbreaker must be Vanhengel, he's too old for one-to-one combat, and the rest are fighters.
She transfigured two trees into stags, figuring they'd help her win some time while she took down the wardbreaker. They were always the first option when facing an entire unit, because their loss meant that the rest of the team would have to worry about their own shields, thus hindering the attack. The archers were already in position, attacking her relentlessly with long-rage spells. I have two minutes to get Vanhengel out of the picture before this battle is lost.
Acting quickly meant being precise and austere – she used small cutting hexes to create a very difficult ground for a coordinated team. Fallen trees and branches would make it difficult for the archers to aim, and it'd put enough barriers between the fighters and her. It also helped to isolate Vanhengel from the rest of the group.
Just as she casted a freezing charm in the man's direction, she felt something hit her hip and then – pain, piercing pain. They may as well have shot a scalding arrow in her direction; the feeling of burning and tearing was exactly the same. She had to bite her lip until she drew blood before she cried out. Her enemies should never hear or see her distress – it would only make their attack fiercer.
She casted a small stasis charm on her wound, to stop the bleeding and whatever magic may keep the wound from healing. It didn't help with the pain, but she'd have to endure it. She willed her eyes not to tear up as she expressed her frustration and pain through her spell work – soon a series of explosions could be heard coming from inside the quiet, dark forest.
"Motherfucker," she spat, finally catching Vanhengel on his own. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the Captain rise from the floor to stop her from killing his teammate. Robes half singed, angry expression contorting his aged face, single cut oozing blood on his cheek – and that was all she saw as she turned around, before a green light shot out of her wand.
She didn't – couldn't – register the dry thump of the body as it fell to the floor. Before her was her target, and she didn't think twice as she disarmed and rendered him unconscious with a stunning spell. A cry ran through the forest, disquieting in its intensity. Through the scorched maze of leaves and trees she saw three men holding back one of their own. The scouter, she realized; the youngest one in the bunch. I just killed this man's father.
Harriet felt torn. She knew the consequences of the game they played – she knew that the people she killed in the line of duty were fathers, mothers, sons, daughters… She knew that the moment they raised their wand against her they were accepting of the price they could pay for their actions. It still didn't make it any easier. To her, every kill felt like the first one.
Her hand tightened its hold on her wand. The only difference between then and now, she told herself, is that it's easier to pretend that this is okay.
She resumed her attack. The men scattered, adopting what she assumed was a hexagram formation, intended to close on her. It was difficult to get out of it if done right, and she had the feeling that they were as motivated as a soldier could get. And my hip is hurting badly. At this rate, and without backup, I'll not make it.
A strong buzz was the only warning she got before the six remaining men emerged from the sea of trees. She could try and get out of the formation by apparating, but it was a tricky matter in a place like a forest, surrounded by so many trees. In the heat of the battle, she could easily kill herself by apparating right in the same place as a tree… unless I go higher.
She won time by shielding herself. The only weak point to her foes' strategy was their overconfidence in their numbers – six to one was a pretty bad equation, anyone would say, but they were favoring small, powerful light spells without taking into account her reputation. She'd always been good at defensive magic; time and experience had only refined her skills.
She looked up and tried to calculate how high she'd have to be when she apparated – too high and she wouldn't be able to stop the fall, too low and she could splinch. She bit her lip and dropped her shields, before making her move. Four screams were heard, and she had a very confusing moment in which her ears adjusted to the change of location – she was hearing the men from above now.
As soon as her body was in the air, gravity began to pull her back. She pointed her wand at the trees, willing them to cushion her fall. The branches reached out for her, animated by her magic, and in the same movement reached down to her attackers. She jumped onto the trunk of a fallen tree, and began to press on the aurors – the trees and her spells forced them into the defensive. Without a wardbreaker they were very vulnerable, and Harriet took advantage of that.
An enraged cry fell from one of the fighters' mouth. Her eyes caught a blur of movement before another cry was heard – she smelled blood before she saw the red splash, and understood that the man had tried what she'd been careful not to do. "Poor man," she murmured, "he splinched."
The men's forces were wearing down; taking advantage of the fighter's splinching, and the momentary distraction it caused, she took down another fighter with a cutting hex. Four were still up and fighting, an archer among those. The movement of the trees and her own barrage of spells had left the scouter at the limit; even in spite of his anger and grief, he'd fall prey to his injuries not before long.
"Then it's three against one," she muttered, and grit her teeth as a stray spell breached the runic wards on her robes. The runes would absorb most of the negative effects of the spell, but the physical pain that came with the discharge of energy was felt, and strongly.
A wave of her wand shook the earth under the aurors' feet. As she'd predicted, the scouter fell and didn't get up. As soon as he was accounted for, the animated trees that had been attacking him returned to their previous stillness. The only sign that anything had happened at all were their damaged branches and the leaves pooling over the roots.
Another quake brought forth dark, dusty spikes rising upwards and menacingly into the sky. The remaining aurors jumped away before they could become prey to the mangled earth, but Harriet noticed that one of the fighters' robes had been shredded beyond repair. That meant that his protective runes would not protect him from basic spells – like a simple Levilicorpus, that would raise his body high in the air…
She was hit in the chest by a spell and her hold on the man was released – she'd initially intended to buy herself some time bargaining with the man's life. But she fell backwards and he fell down, down to the spikes she'd conjured – a brutal death she was glad not to witness. They sacrificed him, she belatedly thought as she tried to regain her breath. She tried to get up, but found herself immobilized. Panic surged inside her, adrenaline pumping through her veins as her ears caught the sound of approaching footsteps.
"Fuck," she bit out. She found she could barely move her forearm and hands. With her limited movements she managed to hide her wand so her captors would think it'd been lost in the fight.
"Well, it seems like we got ourselves a little Queen," the eldest of the two said, as they came closer to her body. He had a sneer on his bloodied face. She felt some satisfaction with herself when she noticed that his left arm was hanging useless to his side. "You are far from home, your majesty."
"Just kill the fucking bitch already," said his companion as he eyed the fallen woman with distaste. "Better to be safe than sorry. The slut's master must've taught her a trick or two."
"Who would've thought," Harriet said slowly, "that the Belgians liked to use recycled trash for their Auror corps. No wonder I could take so many on my own."
She braced herself for the kick that was sure to come. Instead, she felt hands on her hair yanking her head up, her stare meeting the eldest auror's eyes as he knelt beside her. "Don't get cocky on us, woman. We'll have enough time, you and I, for you to learn what kind of trash we Belgian aurors really are."
Harriet spat at him. The enraged man moved away from her, rising up to land a swift kick to her stomach. She bit her lips, opening old wounds, as the pain from the kick ignited the pain in her hips. She realized her movements had become less restricted, which meant that whatever spell they'd hit her with was losing its effect. With a hand under her, she reached for her wand, biding her time.
"Now, what should we do with her grace?" the auror looked at his companion, a burly man with a thick beard and an amount of scars on his face that she'd only seen in Alastor Moody's own visage.
"Well, we are in no hurry," he said, "perhaps we could make her pay for each of our comrade's lives?"
"Oh, dear children, please don't hold back on your creativity for me," she interrupted them with a raised eyebrow. "After all, we did get pretty creative with your friends up there in the isles."
"Friends?" the silver-haired man that had kicked her asked. "What are you talking about?"
Harriet looked from one man to the other, a serious frown on her face. "The aurors that were sent to my country to aid the rebels."
Both men looked at each other for a moment. "I think this bitch is lying," said the burly one. "She's just spouting bullshit to gain time."
That caught Harriet's attention. They don't know about the massacre? She fumbled with her wand, careful not to let the other two notice. I think it's time to stop stalling.
With a quick movement of her wand she'd broken what was left of the immobilization spell. She rolled over to the side, dodging two twin rays that had been meant for her. She disarmed both men as she rose, feeling grime and leaves cascade around her. "Now, gentlemen," she said, "I'd appreciate some answers here."
"Fuck off," the burly man said. "You'll have to kill us first."
She nodded her head at him. "All in due time -" her open mouth was softly closed as she heard a strange rumbling sound in the distance. The two men in front of her looked around as well, confused as she was by the strange intensity of the noise.
She kept her wand trained on them as she stole a glance behind her – one glimpse of movement, one strange groan, and the next thing she knew-
"What the fuck?" Her confused words were lost in the screaming that followed. The moment she'd turned to look back at her prisoners, she'd been met with nothing but empty space. Two bodies lay mauled on the floor – strange claw marks disfiguring their faces and torso. The coppery smell of blood was mixed with the greasy stink of human fat made her insides quiver with disgust. Before she could dwell any further on the carcasses that'd so suddenly and unexpectedly replaced the live prisoners, a movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention.
Dead sunken eyes, waxy green skin; muscles, tendons and fat melting into bone. Each movement brought along with it a spasm, their twitchy limbs alive with an energy that their faces lacked. Harriet had never seen an inferius in the flesh, and she had been quite content with that. Even if one was to ignore the fact that a human body was used for its construction, they were reputed to be fast, ruthless creatures. Under a powerful wizard they could become the perfect army – they had no other thought in their heads than their master's orders.
The toothless mouth of the one before her stretched with difficulty into a smile and she had to suppress a shudder. She could hear the groans and the shifting limbs of the creatures that passed them by – these inferi had been moving to the city, and had found them in their path. Understandably, they'd killed those they'd been instructed to kill. By now Harriet was sure that these were under Voldemort's control. He was probably the only wizard alive capable of wielding such magic. It'd also explain why he seemed so relaxed with the idea of going in by ourselves. He knew he had backup, she thought.
"C-co-me t-too the ce-le-b-bra-tions, Haa-rriet," the inferius spoke, voice grating on her ears like nails on a chalkboard. It was a raspy, ugly sound that made her skin crawl. "O-our ho-hosts a-are w-waiting."
Harriet bit her lip, and watched as the animated corpse joined its brothers in their exodus to the city. She could only hope they wouldn't harm the muggles in their way. "I have to hurry," she said to herself, conjuring a cloak to hide her injuries. "Maybe I can talk some sense into him before it turns ugly."
He waited until the boring eulogies from the late minister's friends had started to make his presence known. For some reason he'd never fully understood, the Belgians had assumed that Harriet and he had fled the country after the massacre. Their level of incompetence certainly made things easier for him, and although it was welcome, it also made the whole operation a bit boring. He'd been looking forward to a bit of the old hide-and-seek game that had been so prominent in his early days, but this was a country that had never produced a single Dark Lord in its whole history. He was their first, and it was clear that they didn't know just how to handle the situation. Nevertheless, he'd planned to make a special effort to impress them.
His gait was light and confident as he crossed the Waranderpark. With his dark robes billowing around him as he glided through its carefully-kept pathways, he looked like a vision of death. And true to his image, he let his tall form obscure from sight the trailing bodies floating behind him. Like a child, he needed proof of his conquests and so he brought every single auror he'd found on his way – mangled beyond recognition. He imagined that his wife would only kill those she'd deemed necessary to do so, and thus he was there to compensate.
He arrived at the scene where the funeral was taking place. A dais had been raised above the fountain, its muddy waters stocked with colorful fishes and exotic water flowers. Not too far away he could see the entrance to the Palais Royal. A search for grandiloquence in life behind me, a search for grandiloquence in death in front of me. Poor little things, he thought. What is their power worth when they will succumb to the greatest power of them all?
He detachedly heard small gasps as people began to notice his march towards the dais. Soon the gasps were turning into horrified screams as his trail of bodies came into view. He noted with certain disappointment that the aurors that had concentrated around the casket were unable to move, shocked by the sight of the remains of their comrades.
"I certainly hope I am not intruding," Voldemort said, enjoying the sight of the masses of people parting to let him through. "I simply wanted to offer my condolences to the late Minister."
"You monster!" a woman cried near him. The man that had been taking the stage until then broke in a fit of tears, and two of his companions carried him away. Voldemort watched with mild amusement as a short bald man took the stage in his place, and he belatedly recognized him as the head of the finances department. "We are mourning, sir. We would appreciate to be left alone on this day."
The Dark Lord chuckled, and climbed into the platform. He kept his stare fixed on the short man as he released his hold on the bodies. "I am mourning for my lost subjects as well, little man," he said. "It occurs to me that perhaps our ways of mourning are completely different."
His words seemed to take the aurors out from their stupor. He could see, out of the corners of his eyes, that the rest of the aurors that had been patrolling in the park had arrived. Their purple-clad forms gave a stark contrast against the black robes that most of the wizards present had chosen to don. Moving targets, he thought as his face contorted in a sneer. The aurors closest to him started the attack.
Voldemort thought with some amusement that even if the spells managed to reach their target, they would be nothing more than colorful sparks dying on the protections he'd long ago casted on his body. Belgian aurors seemed to favor the lighter side of magic; that, coupled with their unorganized attack, made for a very weak offensive. He began to switch from a defensive stance to a more aggressive one. Pained screams pierced the sky as he gave his foes a taste of the dark arts.
"This is pathetic," he hissed as the sixth auror succumbed to the Killing Curse. "You presume to defeat me using sticks and stones?" An enraged auror slashed his wand towards him, but before the spell's incantation was complete, he was struck with a blood boiling curse. Voldemort turned on his heel to take out the aurors on his back, his movements becoming more fluid and graceful as the enemies piled up. He would admit that it was partly thanks to Harriet that he'd become such a great dueler – up until he'd seen her fight in their youth, he'd never considered the advantages of physical fitness in a duel.
He felt something at the back of his mind, and realized that the inferi he'd left in the Sonian Forest had begun to answer to his earlier call. He intended to make his last move with the creatures present. Hopefully Harriet would be done with her share of aurors by then, but he had no – oh. Interesting, he thought with some pleasure as the creatures' feeble minds brought him images of her wife's battle. Come to the celebrations, Harriet. Our hosts are waiting.
"These are your guardians," he said to the civilians as he killed the last auror on the dais. There was more to his presence there than senseless slaughter, and for that reason he'd erected several wards to prevent the attendees from leaving in panic. "This was the government that swore to protect you," he motioned towards the casket. "Weak-minded fools making a half-hearted effort to protect and serve you."
He felt, rather than saw, the ire in the surviving aurors. He noted with some amusement that in spite of their righteous anger, they would not raise a single complaint. He smirked, daring them to say what was on their minds. "Now," he continued, "I stand before you in the name of the people under my rule who have been wronged by these incompetent fools. Make no mistake; we feel no ill will against you as a nation. Your leader's faults should not reflect on you."
In the distance, he saw a figured cloaked in emerald green frantically make its way to the dais. An itch in the back of his mind told him that the inferi had arrived as well. He positioned them at the edge of the wards he'd erected – just so the civilians would understand the subtle threat. It wasn't long until some muffled screams could be heard, as the people closest to them began to take notice of their presence.
"This is madness," a feminine voice whispered next to him. He nodded, refusing to meet the displeasure in Harriet's eyes. "We shall talk about the relationship between ethics and effectiveness in military strategies later," he answered her, not taking his eyes from the crowd. They were getting restless.
"Because of this," he continued his previous speech, "I will offer you a choice. You can honor your late minister's legacy by antagonizing us, or you can surrender peacefully and end this conflict as swiftly as it began."
The crowd fell silent. "Raise your wands now and we will retaliate," Voldemort said, raising his eyes to meet the dark figures of his inferi at the edge of the wards. "Or stay silent, and live to build a stronger country."
"Mommy!" came Sal's delighted cry as he ran to his mother's waiting arms. Harriet embraced him, burying her nose in his mop of dark curls. With her little baby in her arms she felt as if the bloodshed she'd just come home from had never happened – she was with her son now, and nothing else mattered beyond his excited little voice.
"Hello, little lion," she said, picking up the four-year-old despite his protests. "Did you give Sirius any trouble?"
"No," he said, looking sideways to his uncle, who was smiling cheekily at the both of them. "I had dessert every day."
"Aw, pity," she said. "Uncle Sirius needs some trouble from time to time to stay in shape," Sirius stuck his tongue out at her as she laughed. She looked back into Sal's dark emerald eyes, "Go to your room, I brought you presents."
The little boy squeaked in excitement and jumped from her arms, swiftly disappearing from sight. Harriet sighed as she looked into her godfather's knowing eyes, knowing that she wouldn't be able to take the day off as she would've liked. "Let's go to my office, we'll talk there," she said to him.
She wasn't surprised when she caught sight of Ginny Weasley languidly resting on one of her armchairs. She closed the door behind them without saying anything to her, knowing that the three of them were in for a long talk. As soon as she was settled behind her desk she found herself with the fiery redhead's gaze on her.
"Are you going to ask me if I want to hear the good news first?" Harriet asked her, getting some firewhiskey from her drawers. She poured one for Sirius, another for her. Ginny never liked drinking at work, which wasn't surprising considering its nature.
"No good news this time," the younger woman replied. She walked to stand in front of Harriet, and laid four photographs in front of her. "There's more, but I picked the clearer ones to show you."
Harriet took a folder out of one of the drawers in her desk and opened it. Inside, the faces of each of the Azkaban prisoners declared missing stared back at her. She held one of the pictures next to the first portrait. The man went from sporting a dark scowl in his mugshot to a vacant, glazed gaze in the photo Ginny had brought her. "Kidnapped and imperio'd, then. What for?"
At this, the redhead gave her a rueful smile and pushed a black folder into Harriet's hands. Sirius managed to get a glimpse of purple from the photos before he looked up to find his goddaughter's rapidly paling face. "Motherfucker," he said.
"I-I suspected this…" Harriet said wearily, massaging her temples. "He took two heads with him the day we declared the war. I found this particularly strange, because I'd ordered all the corpses burnt to ashes right after the attack was finished. As for the prisoners we took, I overlooked their cremation. There were no Belgian bodies for him to decapitate."
"Those were two random aurors then?" Sirius asked. Harriet nodded, "a few days later, during my fight with the auror unit, I found out that they had no knowledge of any team being sent here. He must've captured those aurors after we arrived."
"He staged the attack to invade Belgium," Ginny stated slowly. "Do you know what this means?"
"He has the continent by their balls," Sirius realized. "Belgium is a fiscal paradise. All the big names in Europe have their money there – and the banks are all owned by the government. Low taxes, big money… I hate to say this but that was an intelligent move."
"He massacred my people to get it," spoke Harriet in a low voice. She looked up to meet Ginny's stare. "Tell Hermione I'll be drafting a new piece of legislation that I need to see passed by the end of the week. It'll not change things too much, but I need to move slowly enough so he'll not notice."
Ginny nodded. "You got it, boss."
Harriet could only faintly hear him as he entered the room. She'd been lost in her own thoughts, eyes scanning the grounds lazily from her vantage point in the balcony outside her bedroom. She felt him approach, and she tensed. He pretended not to notice. He encircled her black-clad form with his arms, resting his chin on the top of her head.
"What are you playing at, Voldemort?" she said evenly.
"You spoke with Sirius, I presume?"
"I spoke with a lot of people," she said, and felt him sigh. "This whole stupid charade was because of a false flag – this whole rebellion shit has been a false flag. You've left Bill Weasley's brains looking like Swiss cheese."
"I confess I was curious what it would look like after five years of Imperio".
Harriet tried to turn back so she could properly express her anger and frustration, but her husband's arms would not let her. "Fuck you! You've sent your subjects to their death simply to amuse yourself? No, wait, or it was because you needed to uh," she mimicked his voice as she recited from memory one of the lines she'd read in the memos Hermione had shown her. "Prepare the foundations of a British empire."
"Do I really have to go over all my motivations for doing such?"
She snorted. "Be a good husband and indulge me, please."
"I needed a common enemy to turn this country into a military state," Harriet tensed, and sensing this Voldemort stroked the side of her hip to calm her. "I wanted people to think they should rely on their army. That is why I captured Bill Weasley. That's why I funded them. I also required that my army matured before launching into bigger things."
Harriet felt him smirk when he kissed her hair. "You'll recall how easy it was for you to beat that mess they called auror corps, how flawed their formations were. You've exceeded my expectations as a fighter, as a leader."
"That is why I think the time is ripe now for us to expand towards the continent."
Harriet choked back a sad laugh. "Oh yes, and here I was wondering when you'd start talking about your plans for world domination," she moved away from him, walking back into their bedroom. "I'm tired of playing nice, darling. You should know by now that I will not abide by your sending people to their death because of your need to amuse yourself."
Voldemort smirked. "I would not have it any other way."
Harriet nodded and sat on the bed. "Well, we'll see about that."
Notes: yes, it's back! To be honest my muse awoke while I was re-reading the first two chapters, and I had the urge to write some kind of a sequel to show what had happened after their takeover.
*Didn't know whether to use French or Dutch as the secretary's language, but the Wikipedia article said that up until the 20th century the Belgians authorities mostly used French, so I went with it. I figured wizards would be massive slowpokes and wouldn't change that custom.
** Der tod und das madchen, by Schubert. The translation is Give me your hand, your fair and tender form, you shall sleep gently in my arms.