A/N: There is good news and bad news.
Good News #1: One of you reviewed and said that chapters need to be longer. Instead of insulting me and being all emo about it, this reviewer actually presented some persuasive arguments. So, beginning with this chapter, my minimum chapter length is now 12,000 words. That is a 50% increase from the old minimum.
Bad News #1: Longer chapters take more time to write . . . so, sorry about that.
Good News #2: In less than two weeks I graduate for the last time! Never again will school prevent me from writing.
Bad News #2: There's this thing called a bar exam . . . I've been hearing rumors that it is supposed to be pretty tough and that studying for it can be time consuming. It will be almost like I'm still in school. . .
Chapter 6: Four Triplets
In the Para Bellum dimension . . .
Professor Dumbledore was enjoying breakfast in the Great Hall when he felt one of his magical rings vibrate. It was a signal to him that a person or persons had breached the privacy of his office. Fear that Umbridge and the Ministry had moved against him lanced through Dumbledore's heart.
The fear lasted for only a millisecond before another thought occurred to him. His blue eyes twinkling, Dumbledore finished his breakfast and quickly made his way to his office as the students that had already finished breakfast meandered toward their classes. When Dumbledore opened the door to his office, he found what he had expected: three raven-haired witches toying with his possessions.
"Good morning, ladies," Dumbledore said cheerfully as he made his way toward his desk and sat down behind it, attempting to establish some measure of authority and stability in the face of chaos.
The Black triplets ceased from tinkering with Dumbledore's magical instruments and helped themselves to some of Dumbledore's chairs. Before sitting down, they set the chairs so close to the desk that when they did sit down, their knees were literally rubbing up against the desk. Dumbledore looked at them askance.
"We hear that you want to have a chat with us," one of the triplets said by way of greeting as all three of them placed their elbows on the desk and rested their chins in their hands.
"Yes," Dumbledore said, resisting the urge to push back his chair to increase the distance between his face and their faces. He gestured to the bowl of lemon drops on his desk. "Would you like some lemon drops?"
"Yes, thank you," another one of the triplets said as she took a handful of lemon drops from the bowl and put the entire handful into her mouth.
The other two sisters showed slightly more restraint, each taking a lemon drop to suck on and a small handful for their pockets.
"You're welcome," Dumbledore said slowly, staring at his almost-empty lemon drop bowl. "I take it you three are lemon drop fans."
"Mhmm," noised the first triplet, unable to speak, and now looking like a chipmunk.
"Your lemon drops are pretty good," one of the triplets, whose mouth was not full, observed.
The other without a full mouth nodded in agreement. "Pretty good, but we've had better."
Dumbledore was offended. "These lemon drops come from the finest supplier."
"Well, that's the problem," one of the triplets said. "Those types of suppliers always use organic garbage and avoid Muggle chemicals."
"The Muggle chemicals are what gives lemon drops just the right zing," the other triplet without a full mouth declared.
"Mhmm," agreed the one with the full mouth.
"I see," Dumbledore said, beginning to wonder if it was time to find a new candy to impress people. "So, tell me about yourselves. Could you tell me your names?"
"Don't bother trying to tell us apart. But for your information, our mother named us Gemma, Mira, and Lyra," one of the triplets said. "Our father named us Violet, Ivy, and Holly. We use the former names in the magical world, the latter in the Muggle world, and the latter in conjunction with the pseudonym 'White' when we are up to no good."
"Hence the bogus wanted posters," Dumbledore said.
"Yes!" one of the triplets said.
"Exactly!" another said.
"The White name is clever," Dumbledore said, his blue eyes twinkling.
The triplets all shrugged. "That's something our mother started. She occasionally goes by the name Trixie White."
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. "That is good to know. Now, it seems to me that you are young enough to be Hogwarts students. Am I right?"
"Sixth year," one of the triplets announced.
"Mhmm," agreed the one who still had a mouthful of lemon drops.
"Isn't the Hogwarts term in your own dimension currently ongoing?" Dumbledore asked.
"Yes, but we got suspended at the Sorting Feast."
"What did you do?" Dumbledore asked, privately admitting to himself that not even the Weasley twins were that dastardly.
"We replaced the Sorting Hat with a fake Sorting Hat," one of the triplets confessed.
Dumbledore's eyebrows rose so high that they nearly got lost in his hairline. "I would not think that easily achievable."
"We wouldn't know," one of the triplets said airily. "We didn't actually steal the Sorting Hat. We just convinced it to pretend that it was a fake Sorting Hat."
"How did you convince it to do that?" Dumbledore inquired, doing his best not to crack a smile as he reveled at their genius.
The triplets did not say anything, but all of them gave the lemon drop bowl a significant look.
Dumbledore glared upwards at the local dimension's Sorting Hat, which was resting on a shelf. "So you're the one that steals my lemon drops!"
"The bird force feeds me!" the Sorting Hat protested.
Fawkes, who had been quietly minding his own business, squawked angrily before disappearing with a burst of flame.
"Unbelievable," Dumbledore said, shaking his head. He was quickly able to find the humor in the situation, though. Smiling broadly, he looked at the Sorting Hat. "Perhaps you can tell me which lemon drops are better—mine or the Muggle garbage."
"How should I know?" the Sorting Hat asked grumpily. "I don't actually taste them."
Dumbledore shook his head, looking confused. "I don't understand."
"That's all right," one of the triplets said sympathetically. "You don't have to understand."
The triplet who had eaten the entire mouthful of lemon drops had finally crunched down and swallowed all of them. She cleared her throat. "I think it's time to get to real reason you called this meeting, Headmaster. Incidentally, I am Violet—or Gemma. You can pick me out easily because my eyes are green."
"Thank you, Violet," Dumbledore said, feeling faintly relieved at being able to attach a name to one of the faces before him. "Yes, let us discuss what I had in mind. You see, I have a problem, and I was hoping you could help me solve it."
"Tell us the problem and we'll start evaluating the fees involved," either Ivy or Holly said.
Dumbledore sincerely hoped they were joking about the fees. "The thing is, the Ministry has placed a witch named Dolores Umbridge here in the castle. Ostensibly, she is here to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, but she is actually here to spy on me. I don't suppose you know who this person is from your own dimension . . ."
The triplets each shook their heads negatively in perfect synchronization.
"So, the political implications are one thing. I trust that the arrangement we have proposed to your mother will solve that before Umbridge causes serious problems that way. But in the meantime, I have strong evidence that Madame Umbridge is using illegal magical objects on some of our more unruly students," Dumbledore said.
"Illegal in what way?" one of the triplets asked.
"Dark objects, perhaps," Dumbledore speculated. "Certainly objects that I would not approve of, regardless."
The triplets all shared glances. Violet offered the joint reply. "Well, we would offer to arrest her using our fake Auror credentials, but there is the issue of actually convicting her because the Ministry will know we're fakes."
"That wouldn't work anyway," Dumbledore said. "Madame Umbridge enjoys free reign under Minister Fudge's regime. If I push the issue through the usual channels, these magical objects could be legalized. And then where would we be?"
"Oh," said Ivy and Holly together.
Dumbledore gave the triplets a hopeful glance. "So, can you help me? Plausible deniability would be nice."
Violet pulled out a notebook from one of her pockets. "We can pencil it in, I suppose. Our priority is to return to our dimension and report on your proposal to our mother." She produced a small pencil and scrawled in the notebook before putting it back in her pocket.
"As for the fee," Ivy interjected.
Violet cleared her throat. "If either our mother or our father approves the idea, it will be gratis. Otherwise, it will cost you. A lot. We will return from our dimension as soon as practically possible and get on it. Now if you will excuse us . . ."
The triplets stood up.
Dumbledore also stood up, acquiescing to the end of the interview, though he would have rather the triplets stayed so he could ask them more questions. But, he realized that pushing too hard might scare them away, so he opted to play by their rules. "Thank you. I will look forward to your return. I hope that we can get to know each other a little better. I do have some more questions that I'm hoping you will answer sometime."
"We are always happy to give answers," Holly said.
"Sometimes they're the true answers," Ivy added.
The triplets let themselves out, and Dumbledore sat back down. As soon as he heard that the triplets pass the gargoyle guarding his office, Dumbledore drew his wand and began systematically casting detection charms on every possession he owned, wondering how many traps the triplets had left.
In the Delenda Est dimension . . .
"How long before you can get these null fields placed over the entire country?" Bellatrix asked as she and Hermione walked through the main development laboratory of the Department of Mysteries, deep in the bowels of the Ministry of Magic.
Unspeakables stood at tall laboratory tables, etching runes into large slabs of rock with delicate instruments specifically designed for the task. Bellatrix's presence had not fazed them because she had formerly been the Chief Unspeakable, but Bellatrix noted that the Unspeakables were studiously pretending not to pay attention to the conversation between her and the current Chief Unspeakable.
Hermione seemed oblivious to the attention. Rather, she had shoved her hands deep into the pockets of her Muggle sweater and seemed deep in thought. Eventually, she responded to Bellatrix's inquiry. "At most, a few days. We need to manufacture a lot of these ward stones. I would like to outsource their manufacture. I need to free up the Unspeakables for research and development of other things."
"Can the null fields be bypassed if somebody is familiar with the rune scheme?" Bellatrix asked as she and Hermione exited the laboratory.
"No," Hermione said as she and Bellatrix walked to Hermione's office. "The ward stones are incredibly strong. The only way to bypass the null field is to destroy the ward stones on this side of the dimension barrier."
"If that is the case and based on what you have already told me, I think it would be okay to outsource manufacture," Bellatrix said as they entered Hermione's office. "But, find a way to ensure the placement of the stones is secret."
"Of course," Hermione said as they sat down. "Now, why don't you tell me your main purpose in visiting me?"
"A little bit of a forewarning," Bellatrix said quietly. "It is looking like a number of Ministry personnel will need to enter the other dimension and oversee the war from there, even if we can get full cooperation from the residents of that dimension."
"And of course, I am a prime candidate," Hermione finished, sounding resigned.
Hermione was silent for several moments as she turned the idea over in her head. "Well, I did take this job for the express purpose of fighting the war. I should probably be somewhere near the battlefield. Your request is not entirely unexpected, to be honest."
Bellatrix nodded, allowing Hermione to talk herself into it.
"It won't be a terrible burden," Hermione admitted. "I've no children to leave behind. Ron will be unhappy, but I suspect he could be appeased if he is allowed to come along. I think he has always regretted that he did not get to play a bigger role in the last war."
"If you can drag him away from Quidditch, you can have him," Bellatrix said drily.
Hermione laughed. "I think I can convince him that the current Cannon players are not worthy or some such. My only question is as to who is going to oversee things in this dimension while I am gone. My ability to supervise would be extremely tenuous. I am afraid that I cannot really recommend any of the current Unspeakables. You probably know that better than me, though."
"I was hoping Lily Potter might be convinced to get involved," Bellatrix said. "I will talk to her."
"She would be good," Hermione admitted.
Bellatrix stood. "I know this is abrupt, but I have other appointments."
"Of course," Hermione said, also standing.
Bellatrix said farewell and used Hermione's fireplace to return to her own office, located on one of the upper floors of the Ministry. She took a seat behind her desk and wandlessly cast a charm that signaled to Sidra that she was ready for her next appointment.
Within seconds, the door to the office opened to admit Frank Longbottom. As was usual for Frank, when in the presence of Bellatrix, his demeanor was chilly. "Minister," he said, taking a seat in one of the chairs in front of Bellatrix's desk.
"Director," Bellatrix replied.
They stared at each other.
"It was you who summoned me here," Frank said.
"It was you who made it clear you would wreak political havoc if we did not meet," Bellatrix retorted.
Frank did not see fit to respond.
"Basically, the situation we now face is that the Dark Lord from another dimension may be preparing to invade our dimension and take over," Bellatrix said icily. "As far as my intelligence tells me, said Dark Lord is not in a position to invade immediately."
"I guess those hell hounds did not count as an invasion," Frank said sarcastically.
"They were not exactly attempting to take over the Ministry or the country, were they?" Bellatrix retorted. "Your role will be to prepare to repel an invasion. The Chief Unspeakable assures me that the entire country will be covered in wards that will prevent people from other dimensions crossing into our dimension on our soil. But that will not stop them from entering our dimension elsewhere and moving into this country. I suggest you develop procedures to rigidly control and monitor who is entering the country."
"Pray tell, are you planning to increase my budget allocation?" Frank asked.
"Of course," Bellatrix said, annoyed that he would even have to ask. Historians of the past war had repeatedly credited Cygnus Black's timely budget allocations to the DMLE as being what allowed his successor, Minister Prewitt, to establish and maintain his footing against Voldemort throughout the war.
"And how do you intend to address the root of the problem?"
"That falls under the purview of the Department of Mysteries," Bellatrix said.
Frank rolled his eyes. "So, you're putting a bunch of academics on the front line?"
Bellatrix resisted the urge to hex him. "The Unspeakables will be assisted by a small number of Aurors and other personnel recruited for the job. Speaking of which, I have taken the liberty to make a couple of Auror promotions."
Frank growled wordlessly.
Bellatrix opened a desk drawer, withdrew two pieces of parchment, and handed them to Frank. "You will see that I have reactivated Sirius Black as an Auror and assigned him the rank of Auror Captain. I have also signed an order promoting Nymphadora Tonks to the rank of Auror Captain. They will operate with the Unspeakables on the front lines. They will also recruit a dozen or so current Aurors to go with them at the appropriate time."
"This is outright nepotism," Frank said angrily.
They are not taking slots that other candidates might have earned," Bellatrix said coolly. "You can still promote your favorites. In fact, you may have to. I anticipate that you will have to increase the size of the Auror Corps. Moreover, you should count yourself lucky that I am able to use my family connections to draft talent."
"You are so corrupt that you lack the ability to comprehend it," Frank declared self-righteously. "I do not understand how somebody like Lord Black could stand being acquainted with you, let alone married to you. If he was still Minister . . ."
Bellatrix had wandlessly summoned her bodyguards. Two Aurors burst into the room with their wands drawn, cutting off Frank's tirade. When the Aurors saw that Bellatrix was in no danger they stopped, obviously confused.
"Please remove your boss from my office," Bellatrix said coldly.
In the Para Bellum dimension . . .
At approximately two in the morning, Fawkes the Phoenix woke Ambassador Sirius up with his melodious phoenix song to deliver a note from Professor Dumbledore. Sirius had been asleep for only two hours in one of the unfurnished offices of the Tower of London, the massive commercial suite the triplets were working to transform into an embassy. "Ugh," Sirius grunted as he accepted the note. "Thanks lots."
The phoenix perched on one of the bedposts.
"Waiting for an answer, eh?" Sirius said, producing his wand and casting a Lumos spell so that he could see the writing.
Ambassador Black—mysterious creatures attacked the Ministry of Magic an hour ago. I would like to meet as soon as possible. Is the so-called Tower of London an acceptable meeting place? Albus.
"Sure," Sirius said to Fawkes. "Tell the old man to drop by anytime. I'll make sure he can follow the same route we took to get in the first time he visited the place."
The bird disappeared in a small explosion of flame. Groaning, Sirius pulled himself out of bed, found yesterday's robes, and got dressed. From there he left the office/bedroom and found a staircase that connected to the floor serviced by the Muggle elevator. Sirius went down the stairs and found the ward control panel. Although he was unsure whether the triplets had finished installing all of the wards, he adjusted the controls to allow non-credentialed visitors. Approximately five minutes later, the elevator dinged, announcing Dumbledore's arrival.
Sirius greeted Dumbledore and proceeded to conjure some chairs to sit in. "So, what happened? Was it one of the Dark Lords?"
"Probably one of them," Dumbledore said. "The attackers were in the form of hounds. It sounds like they may have been Darker than one might expect. They made it past the guards, killing some, and into the Hall of Prophecies, where they took the prophecy that addresses Harry Potter and the Dark Lord."
Sirius frowned. "How many of them were there?"
"Three or four. The guards were confused an incoherent, from what I understand," Dumbledore said. "I'm still waiting for Nymphadora and Kingsley to get me a more complete report."
"I'm surprised that the guards weren't able to repel the attack," Sirius said. "I mean . . . an attack on the Ministry itself. And, only three or four attackers, too."
"Exactly," Dumbledore said. "This does not bode well. If Voldemort moves against the Ministry, it will fall."
Sirius shrugged. "I don't know. It was a surprise attack. Hopefully, your Ministry will be better prepared should it happen again. And, attacking is one thing. Holding the ground you've won is quite another."
"True," Dumbledore said.
"So," Sirius said slowly. "Why tell this all to me?"
"I was hoping the triplets had not departed for your home dimension, yet," Dumbledore admitted. "This would be important news to pass along. There is also the matter of the prophecy. It strongly suggests that Harry Potter will be the Dark Lord's downfall."
Sirius nodded. "I daresay Bellatrix already knows what the prophecy says. And if she doesn't, she seems to be behaving in such a way as to suggest she has similar thoughts, anyway. I am afraid I cannot help you. As far as I know, the triplets have left. The car is gone, anyway. I was hoping they would leave it behind for me . . ."
"Did they tell you how long it would be before they returned?" Dumbledore asked intently.
"No," Sirius said, shaking his head. "As far as I can tell, it is Bellatrix who decides when they travel. If she wants them to wait for something, they will have to wait. She faces the same problem we face—once they're gone, she does not know when they will return."
"Will you inform me the instant they return?" Dumbledore asked.
"Of course," Sirius said, "unless of course, they tell me not to."
"At the very least, inform them of what has happened," Dumbledore said, standing up. "I will send you regular updates as I learn more."
"You do that," Sirius said.
"Is it safe for me to Apparate away from here?" Dumbledore asked.
"Yes," Sirius said, "I took down the wards for your visit, but they'll be going up once you're gone."
"That is good to know," Dumbledore said before disappearing with a faint popping noise.
As soon as Dumbledore was gone, Sirius went back to the control panel and switched everything back on. "I sure hope the wards are going up," he muttered.
In the Delenda Est dimension . . .
Several days had passed since Rose and Leo had given Harry and Ginny their first lessons in Occlumency and dueling. Since then, Harry and Ginny had been spending most of each day practicing the skills covered in the first lessons. Although Leo and Rose had been around Ravenbourgh, they had never surfaced for long enough to sit down and teach another lesson.
This had proved very aggravating to Harry, but Ginny had been the one to discern that second lessons were not likely to follow until they had mastered the exercises from the first. It had not taken her long to convince Harry that this was the case. Unfortunately, he wanted to practice dueling more than pretending to be a pumpkin. Ginny was willing to duel with Harry, encourage him, and give suggestions, but a nagging feeling inside told her that the Occlumency was more important.
When Ginny woke up feeling too ill to leave bed, she had the perfect excuse to insist on the Occlumency practice.
"You can do that," Harry said in response to Ginny's announcement that she would spend the day in bed pretending to be a pumpkin. "I can do some more dueling practice in the ballroom."
Ginny sighed. "Harry," she said in a barely audible voice, "if you don't learn Occlumency, Bellatrix will never talk to you about anything that is important."
Harry gritted his teeth stubbornly.
"You were unhappy when she wouldn't talk to you," Ginny said. "Now you've been given the steps that could open the door to her. Take advantage of it. Besides, Leo seems to think that Occlumency is important for you regardless of what Bellatrix thinks. You will never be a great wizard if you do not learn Occlumency. Our world needs you to be a great wizard. If it turns out that Bellatrix and the other Harry are not on our side, who can possibly stand up to them?"
"I don't know that I actually need to talk to Bellatrix," Harry hedged. "And I think my alternate self will take care of things. And Leo, too. I think we can trust them. They're good people."
Ginny stared at Harry, her large, brown eyes looking like they were about to spontaneously combust. Eventually, she found words. "Grow up, Harry."
Bellatrix knocked on the door and then entered Rose Potter Black's private study, which was located on one of the upper floors of Ravenbourgh in a rounded turret. Heavy, velvet curtains covered the windows. A round table and two chairs sat in the center of the room. On the table rested a stand that normally held a crystal ball.
"I do not understand how it is that you can find so much knowledge in such darkness," Bellatrix said to Rose Potter Black, who was sitting in one of the chairs next to the table and peering into the crystal ball, which she held in one of her hands.
Rose continued to stare into the crystal ball. Eventually, she responded. "The inner eye does not work well when other things distract it."
Bellatrix was clever enough to sense the double meaning. "Perhaps the inner eye should help you plan for visits."
"If only," Rose sighed, giving up on what she was doing and returning the crystal ball to its stand on the table.
"What have you seen?" Bellatrix asked.
"Very little," Rose said.
"Has the Dark Lord entered this dimension since your original vision?" Bellatrix asked.
"I have not detected his presence since," Rose said. "Though, there are, I think, spies."
"Who indeed," Rose said speculatively. "The more appropriate question might be what. As far as I can discern, any incursion into this dimension is minimal. The Dark Lord's spies, if there are any, are able to learn little and communicate less. The demon hounds were an exception."
"What about the future?" Bellatrix asked.
"Events that will occur in the other dimension are not open to my view," Rose said. "I see very little happening in this dimension. So, I think the outcome of this conflict will occur in the other dimension."
"What about our guests from that dimension? Have you seen anything about them in the future?" Bellatrix inquired.
Rose smiled. "Their future is not in our dimension."
"You seem to think they have only one future between them," Bellatrix said.
Rose shrugged. "We'll see about that, I guess."
Young Harry spent much the rest the day staying away from Ginny's room. Once he was able to come to terms with the fact that Occlumency was important, he was still angry about having the responsibility to be a great wizard thrust upon him. After silently raging over this, he exhausted himself and dedicated the rest of the day toward imagining himself to be a pumpkin. It was very hard at first, but after he had achieved mental pumpkin status and maintained it for an hour, he realized that it was relaxing.
Harry broke off the practice when he realized it was time for dinner. A quick visit to Ginny's room revealed that she was asleep. Not wanting to wake her, Harry retreated and started for the dining room. Upon arriving there, he found that Tonks had dropped in and was chatting with Leo and Rose as they helped themselves to the food.
"I bet Longbottom went through the roof," Leo was chortling.
Tonks was beaming. "Oh, yes. Fortunately, he did not make a public spectacle. I think he was mollified because he can still promote his own people to captain slots that would normally open with the next round of promotions. I also have friends who don't begrudge me the promotion."
"Are you a captain, now?" Harry asked as he picked up a plate and filled it from the buffet on the sideboard.
"Yep," Tonks said, still grinning at Harry as he sat down at the table. "Aunt Bella signed a promotion order."
"She must have plans for you," Leo said.
"Yes, that's what I assumed," Tonks said as she pushed some of her food around with her fork.
Rose set down her glass after taking a sip of water. "Has Bellatrix talked to you, yet?"
"No," Tonks said.
"I'm sure you'll get called in soon," Leo said.
"Hopefully not too soon," Tonks said. "Longbottom isn't assigning me a command. Until Aunt Bella gives me orders, I am essentially on paid vacation."
"You could come pull pranks with us," chimed a familiar voice.
Everybody looked up as the infamous Black triplets entered the room and sat down at the table.
"Or maybe I could follow you around and arrest you the moment you do something illegal," Tonks said ominously.
Leo smiled benignly at the triplets. "Back from the other dimension, I see."
"Yes," Violet replied to Leo as Ivy and Holly directed threatening stares toward Tonks. With a fancy flourish, Violet produced two folded pieces of parchment and handed them to Harry. "Inter-dimensional mail for you and your lady friend."
Harry accepted the two pieces of parchment. The sheets of parchment were folded in half, but when Harry looked more closely, he could see that somebody had originally folded them into thirds. "You read my mail," he said, giving the triplets an accusing glance.
"At least we didn't confiscate it," Holly defended.
"But still," Harry grumbled as he stuff the letters into his own pocket.
"We were just trying to protect you," Ivy said, a faint smirk showing in her eyes.
"From a camouflaged howler?" Harry retorted.
"No," Violet said, "from any accidental stupidity that might result from the unwise words of certain adults who might not entirely understand the situation."
"In the future, I'll judge for myself what would be stupid," Harry said, trying to sound firm.
"Don't be a dimwit, Harry," the triplets said in chorus.
Leo burst out laughing.
"What?" Harry demanded.
"Nothing," Rose said as Leo continued to laugh. She looked at the triplets. "I assume you already found yourselves some food."
"We stopped at a nice little restaurant in Italy," Violet admitted.
"Italy?" Leo said. "What were you doing there?"
"Stopping at a nice little restaurant, of course," Ivy said.
"Somebody erected wards to prevent entry into this dimension on English soil," Holly said.
"So, we found ourselves in France," Ivy said. "And we were hungry."
"And then I said that if we were going to eat in France, we may as well eat in Italy," Violet finished.
Leo shook his head in wonderment.
Rose was curious, though. "How was it you were able to hop across so many international boundaries so quickly?"
"Diplomatic immunity," Ivy declared. "We're members of Ambassador Black's staff. Happily, the customs people did not read the immunity documents close enough to see that Ambassador Black is the ambassador to an alternate dimension."
"Otherwise, they might have thought the document were bogus," Holly added.
"Something tells me the documents were bogus," Rose said resignedly.
The triplets did not respond. Instead, they sat silently and directed creepy smiles toward those who were trying to eat in peace. Leo and Rose were unfazed. On the other hand, Tonks was glaring back at them between bites, and Harry was self-consciously attempting to ignore them.
Harry escaped from the dining room and retreated to the familiar ballroom where he began to go through the drills Leo had taught him. He had been at it for about twenty minutes before he realized that somebody was watching him from the shadows. He stopped mid-drill and stared. It was the other Harry.
"You're well on your way to being a good duelist," Harry Black said encouragingly as he stepped out of the shadows.
"I like dueling a lot," Harry Potter said, relaxing his dueling stance and letting his wand arm drop. "Maybe we could do a practice duel sometime."
Harry Black stared at him blankly, saying nothing. Confused, Harry Potter stared back, wondering if he had offended his alternate self. After a long moment, Harry Black smiled suddenly and held up a wand. "You lose."
"What?" Harry Potter said, looking down at his wand just in time to see it transform into a fairy wand of feathers and glitters. He stared at his own wand, which was now in Harry Black's fingers. "How did you do that?"
Harry Black returned the wand to Harry Potter and took back the trick wand. "Trade secret. If I had time, I would teach you. But, I don't."
Harry Potter was disappointed, but Harry Black pushed past it: "Leo will take care of most your teaching, but I thought that for this one evening, we might learn something together."
"To fly," Harry Black said with a grin.
"I already know how to fly," Harry Potter said slowly.
"Without a broom?" Harry Black asked.
Harry Black continued. "I was reviewing the Pensieve memories of my daughters and noticed that the second Voldemort in your dimension was flying without a broom. I don't think it's appropriate that he be better at flying than either of us."
"I guess that's one reason to learn," Harry Potter said dubiously as he imagined flying without a broom.
"There's also another good reason to learn," Harry Black said. "From what I understand of travel between the dimensions, people need to have some sort of flying device as they move through the emptiness between dimension boundaries. That's good enough when you're casually travelling. It seems risky if you travel and somebody is chasing you or something else happens to complicate the voyage."
"Okay," Harry Potter said, beginning to see Harry Black's logic and already rationalizing that he would still be able to fly on broomsticks even if he sometimes flew without one. "So, how do we do it?"
Harry Black grinned. "You cast a levitation charm on yourself."
"If it were that easy, I think people would be doing it a lot more often," Harry Potter said.
"Yes, there are some difficulties," Harry Black admitted. "Casting that sort of charm on yourself is quite difficult. I have already been experimenting."
"Have you had any success?" Harry Potter asked.
"A little bit," Harry Black said modestly. "Let's go find a place to practice."
"Isn't here good enough?" Harry Potter asked, gesturing toward the ballroom.
Harry Black shook his head. "I'm afraid the ceiling would get in the way." He held out his arm. "Let's go."
Harry Potter took his counterpart's arm and the two Harrys disappeared with a subtle pop. They reappeared in a grassy field, and Harry Potter watched as the other Harry began casting stealth wards around a large portion of the field. He then cast cushioning charms all over the field. Finally, he used blue flames to mark the perimeter of the field.
"It's as simple as a Wingardium Leviosa, except cast on yourself," Harry Black announced.
"Why don't you try first?" Harry Potter suggested, still unsure of precisely this was going to work. There was also the fact that he felt incredibly inadequate in the presence of Harry Black, a wizard whom Harry Potter was beginning to suspect possessed more power than Albus Dumbledore.
"Oh, all right," Harry Black said. He held out his wand and closed his eyes. After a moment he was floating about two meters above the ground. He opened his eyes and gave Harry Potter a boyish grin. "It's fun. The only thing is, it's kind of hard to move once you are up in the air." He moved his wand back and forth, trying to control the levitation spell, but nothing happened.
"We're going to have to find a way to move around, or else it serves little purpose," Harry Potter said.
"Oh, I've found a way to move," Harry Black admitted. Still clutching the initial wand, he produced a second wand. He pointed it to the ground and explosive bang sounded, reverberating off the stealth wards. In the space of a microsecond, Harry Black was gone as the spell he had cast propelled him upward at rocket speed.
Harry Potter gasped as he watched his counterpart zoom so far upwards that he disappeared into the darkening sky. About a minute later, Harry Black came in sight, this time zooming downward. He crashed into the ground with a thump, avoiding injury because of the special cushioning charms he had cast on the field.
Harry Black laughed from his place on the ground. "I daresay that's faster than your Firebolt. Unfortunately, anytime I cast that explosion spell, I lose my concentration on the levitation charm."
"Okay, I'll try just the levitation," Harry Potter said, not anxious to test the effectiveness of Harry Black's cushioning charms. There was also the small matter of him only possessing one wand.
"Wait a second," Harry Black said. "I probably should explain a few things, first."
Harry Black began explaining to Harry Potter the reason why it was nearly impossible for a wizard to cast a levitation charm on himself. Most of the technical details went right over Harry Potter's head, but Harry Black summed up the important points. "Basically, my young learner, you must find a way to direct your own magic in at yourself and you must be able to focus a very large amount of magic on yourself to overcome the inefficiency barrier. I think you are powerful enough to get at least half a meter off the ground. As your practice more, you'll find yourself increasing your magical capacity."
"What about directing the magic at myself? How do I do that?" Harry Potter asked, realizing, as he looked back, that the other Harry had not exactly pointed his wand at himself.
Harry Black's lips curved into an amused smile. "I'm afraid you're not going to like this."
Harry Black was clearly resisting an urge to snicker. "You're going to have to pretend that you're a pumpkin."
Harry Potter gritted his teeth as he realized that this was a ploy to get him to learn his Occlumency. "You conniving bastards."
Harry Black shrugged. "I was already trying to learn how to fly when I heard that you were not being cooperative in the Occlumency department. I thought I'd give you another reason to focus your time more wisely."
"For your information," Harry Potter declared, "I made some good progress today."
"I know," Harry Black said. "After all, when the student is ready, the master appears. Now, pretend to be the pumpkin. Then, hold out your wand and imagine casting a levitating charm on the pumpkin. If you do not get it right, just keep trying. While you do that, I will be trying to develop my ability to focus even when moving at high speeds. Or, perhaps, I'll try to regain my focus while in mid-air."
Harry Potter closed his eyes and tried to pretend to be a pumpkin. It was going well until he heard an extremely loud explosion announcing that Harry Black had just launched himself into the stratosphere. With a sigh, he clenched his eyes shut and achieved pumpkin status in about a minute. He then held out his wand and promptly lost the pumpkin status. Growling, he kept his wand arm extended as he focused on being a pumpkin again.
After about half an hour and a dozen Harry Black rocket launches, Harry Potter succeeded in casting the levitation charm on himself. Excitedly, he felt himself lift nearly half a meter off the ground. Unfortunately, the excitement broke Harry's concentration, and he plopped to the ground just as Harry Black crash-landed onto one of the rows of blue flame he had cast.
Harry Potter gasped as the blue flames consumed Harry Black. He rushed over to put the fire out, but the flames had already disappeared by the time he got that far. Harry Black looked pleased with himself. "I managed to move around a bit up there. Lucky I put those flames there, or I would not have known where to land."
"The flames . . ." Harry Potter said.
"I'm surprised you don't recognize them," Harry Black said. "Hermione used that type of fire in your first year at Hogwarts."
"Oh, right," Harry Potter said. "I got half a meter off the ground just now."
"Good!" Harry Black said cheerfully. "It's probably time to get you back to Ravenbourgh."
"When can we do this again?" Harry Potter asked.
"Not very soon," Harry Black admitted as he began removing the stealth wards, cushioning charms, and flames. "I am not going to be available to you for a while. But, I expect you to practice on your own. When we next meet we can compare results and see if there's anything we can teach each other."
"Am I supposed to learn how to launch myself?" Harry Potter asked. "I have only one wand."
"Yes, I know that," Harry Black said. "I will leave word with Leo and Rose to take you wand shopping if they see that you are practicing everything you're supposed to practice. You will also find dual wands useful in the dueling arena. So, that's some extra motivation for you."
"I'll practice hard," Harry Potter said feeling inspired not only by the incentives presented by Harry Black, but also by getting a glimpse through Harry Black of what he was capable of becoming.
"Good," Harry Black said.
Ginny woke up and glanced at the bedside clock. She groaned when she realized she had wasted the entire day sleeping. Blinking her eyes rapidly, she tried to come to grips with lying down for a short nap in the morning and waking up at least fifteen hours later. Her primary solace was that she now felt a lot better than she had felt before going to sleep.
On her nightstand, she found a letter from her parents—already opened. Harry had scrawled an apologetic note on the outside. "Sorry, the triplets took it upon themselves to read your mail. Harry. P.S. I didn't read it."
Frowning, Ginny began reading the letter. Predictably, Ginny's parents were concerned for her welfare. Mrs. Weasley spent several paragraphs cautioning her daughter about Bellatrix and the things a dark-inclined pureblood was capable of doing. Ginny was not sure how to respond to her mother's aspersions. On one hand, Bellatrix was nothing like what her mother described. On the other hand, Bellatrix was infinitely scarier.
The Weasleys asked Ginny to write back and assure them that everything was okay. Reading between the lines, Ginny even detected a request for subtle hints about what Bellatrix was planning. Unsure how to respond beyond sharing information the triplets had no doubt already shared with her family, Ginny set the letter aside and made a mental note to come back to it later.
Ginny's stomach was growling. Confident that she could make it to the kitchen and back if she took it easy, Ginny hopped out of bed and began the long trek through the halls of Ravenbourgh. When Ginny reached the bottom of the staircase in the entrance hall, exhaustion compelled her to sit down. As Ginny was catching her breath in the dark, another person descended the staircase and stopped next to her. It was Bellatrix.
"You could have summoned a house elf if you were hungry," Bellatrix said.
"Oh," Ginny said, blushing as she realized for the first time since arriving at Ravenbourgh that there must be house elves maintaining the manor. Adding to the embarrassment, Ginny realized that if she had come from a true pureblood background, she would have instinctively looked to a house elf to satisfy her needs. That Ginny had not automatically looked for house elves was a sign that she came from a patently poor family.
Bellatrix seemed to be able to decipher the thoughts and feelings behind Ginny's blush. Surprisingly, she tried to make Ginny feel better. "Of course, if you knew what I know about the local house elves, you would not trust any food they had touched. We do not allow our house elves to cook."
Bellatrix offered Ginny her hand. Ginny accepted it, and Bellatrix pulled her up. "Come to the kitchen with me."
It was slow going, but Ginny was able to make it through the remaining hallways and rooms and into a chair in the kitchen by leaning on Bellatrix. Ginny was once again catching her breath as she watched Bellatrix open the freezer and search through it for suitable frozen meals.
"Salisbury steak?" Bellatrix offered.
"That sounds good," Ginny said, not actually caring what she ate at this point.
"Full-sized or diet-sized?"
"Full-sized," Ginny responded, feeling her ears heat up.
Bellatrix withdrew one of each from the freezer and tossed both in the microwave to heat up at the same time. While they cooked, Bellatrix busied herself searching for a suitable beverage. After several minutes of searching for butterbeer or something a little stronger, Bellatrix grudgingly produced two empty glasses and a pitcher filled with water.
Ginny felt exhausted, but she forced herself to interact with Bellatrix. "I've been encouraging Harry to practice is Occlumency more," she said.
"Good," Bellatrix said as she poured herself a glass of water and set the pitcher down near Ginny. "When you are feeling better, I just might teach you Legilimency. That way, you can help Harry practice repelling those who would attempt to see into his mind."
"And of course, I would see into his mind during all of this," Ginny said.
"Yes," Bellatrix said.
"I don't think Harry would like that very much," Ginny observed.
"No, he would not," Bellatrix agreed. "But he would dislike having the Dark Lord able to access his mind at will even less, I think."
"Right," Ginny said, suddenly beginning to understand why the Blacks had been pushing Harry to learn the art of Occlumency. Until Harry learned, anything in his mind might be vulnerable to attack from Lord Voldemort. This new epiphany also motivated Ginny to learn her Occlumency. She had experienced the horrors of having somebody in her mind through the Chamber of Secrets incident. If Occlumency could prevent something like that, Ginny was all for it.
The microwave dinged. Bellatrix left the table and returned a moment later with her midnight snack and Ginny's dinner. After only a few short minutes, Bellatrix had finished her portion. She returned to sipping water, while Ginny self-consciously worked on eating her own meal.
"Of course, performing Legilimency on Harry is a good opportunity for you," Bellatrix said casually.
"What?" Ginny asked, confused, temporarily forgetting about her meal.
"If you handle it maturely, you will automatically become Harry's closest confidante and be well onto your way of having a good relationship," Bellatrix continued. "You are probably a little too young to begin earnestly pursuing alliances like this, but the circumstances and the young man justify it. Your Harry is destined for greatness. You should move to make yourself indispensable to him, now. Make yourself useful and be that person with whom he can share his fears and pains. Then of course, you should open yourself up to him, too. Your own study of Occlumency will probably call for Harry to practice Legilimency on you."
Ginny was shocked. "I may as well just tell him that I want to crawl into bed with him!" she exclaimed, stabbing a piece of the meat.
Bellatrix shook her head vehemently. "Do not crawl into bed with him. You are too young. And in any case, you should not go that far until you are confident that he is absolutely committed to your relationship. Helping Harry is not purely a gift from you to him; it is an investment. You want an alliance. Do not get romantically involved like that until you have a solid relationship where you are both investing and are both getting fulfillment."
"I wasn't going to jump in bed," Ginny said, blushing as she reached for some water.
Bellatrix did not seem to hear Ginny. "With Harry and I, I pursued a partnership. I could see that he was on his way to great places. So, I started contributing my efforts to his causes. At the beginning, his causes were my causes, but when they diverged, we still helped each other. I helped him get into a place where he could defeat the Dark Lord. In the years since, he has helped me get into a place where I could become Minister."
"Right," Ginny said, having finished the entire frozen meal and sitting back in her chair.
"I am just trying to tell you that you need to start thinking about these things," Bellatrix said. "Right now, Harry needs someone to help him through the unpleasant experience of learning Occlumency. If and when tragedy strikes, he will need somebody to lean on. If you're always there for him, the chances are that he will always be there for you."
"I'll keep that in mind," Ginny said.
"It is time for you to return to bed, I think," Bellatrix said. "If you are awake when I leave for the Ministry tomorrow, you can come with me. In between your rest breaks and my appointments, I will attempt to teach you Legilimency."
In the Para Bellum dimension . . .
On their way back to the castle after an Order meeting held in the Shrieking Shack, Hermione, Ron, and the Weasley twins complained to each other as they trudged through the secret tunnel connected to the Whomping Willow on the Hogwarts grounds.
"Hang Umbridge, I say," Ron said darkly.
"I doubt Snape was going to say anything exciting," Fred said, patting Ron's shoulder.
"Dumbledore seemed to think he was going to have some important news tonight," Ron protested. "If it weren't for Umbridge looking for signs that Dumbledore is attempting to preach the return of You-Know-Who, we could still be waiting for Snape to arrive, too."
"I hope Snape hasn't run into trouble," Hermione said as they group emerged from the Whomping Willow's trunk and began to cross the school grounds to the main entrance of the castle.
"That would be one casualty I wouldn't mind," Ron said.
Hermione swatted him.
Ron was about to argue the point with Hermione when a very loud ribbit broke the silence.
"What was that?" Hermione said, freezing and looking around.
"It's a frog . . ." George said slowly.
"Obviously," Ron said.
"No, it's too loud for a normal frog," Hermione said, sounding very nervous.
"That is kind of loud," George agreed.
"I think there's two of them," Ron said.
"I think he's right," Fred said.
The next ribbit was followed by a gigantic thud on the ground.
"Oh Merlin, it's a giant frog!" Ron screamed.
"Two giant frogs!" Fred said as another thump sounded.
"Run!" George commanded.
The four students began running across the Hogwarts grounds toward the sanctuary of the castle, yelling loudly. The gigantic frogs hopped after them. The chase was short. One of the frogs hopped far enough to get in front of them, and the group was forced to come to a halt.
"It's just us," came a vaguely familiar voice.
"We probably won't hurt you," echoed an identical voice from the other direction.
"The triplets?" Ron asked.
"Just two of us, actually," answered the voice.
Hermione used her wand to light up the area. The light revealed the two triplets sitting on frogs that had been magically enlarged to the size of dragons. They were grinning broadly as they stared at the twins, Ron, and Hermione with their ruby-colored eyes.
"What are you doing?" Hermione demanded, staring at the frogs and trying to think a rational reason for transfiguring frogs and riding them around Hogwarts.
"We're in the market to cause some trouble and thought you might want to join in," one of the two triplets said.
"We're in!" Fred and George declared simultaneously.
"Good, good," the other triplet said, dismounting from her frog. She gestured to Fred and George. "Hop on."
The other triplet dismounted from her own frog and gestured that Ron and Hermione should get on. While Fred and George scrambled to push and pull each other onto the frog saddle the triplets had apparently improvised, Hermione bit her lip and stared at the triplet who was trying to get her to mount the frog. "I would like to know what we are supposed to be doing before I get on that thing."
"You're going to ride a giant frog!" Fred yelled excitedly. "What else matters?" He spurred the frog on, and it jumped high in the air.
Hermione winced as she watched the twins cling desperately to the saddle and get jarred hard when the frog landed about two hundred feet away.
"Be gentle!" one of the triplets barked to the twins.
"Sorry," George yelled.
The triplet whose frog Ron and Hermione were supposed to ride provided the explanation. "You're going to lead a frog invasion of Hogwarts. Bust down the front doors, jump around the entrance hall, cast random spells, and create chaos."
"And what will you be doing?" Hermione inquired.
"We'll conjure up some smaller frogs to add to the chaos, but mostly, we'll just watch from the shadows."
"Sounds like you have all the fun, and we get all the trouble," Hermione said.
Ron nodded in agreement, though he was also enviously watching his two brothers hop around on their frog.
"Your Headmaster indicated to us that your dear Professor Umbridge has been causing some trouble around the castle. He said that he would not be sorry if something happened to rid everybody of her. With her gone, Dumbledore can preach the gospel of fighting the Dark Lord. You go in there, create a heap of trouble, and when she tries to inappropriately punish you, we'll burst in and . . . uh . . ."
"Inappropriately punish her!" the other triplet cut in excitedly.
"Sounds dirty," Ron said.
The two triplets stared at him. "Get your mind out of the gutter . . ."
"What if she doesn't inappropriately punish us? In fact, why if she isn't the professor that responds to the situation?" Hermione said.
"We already tipped her off that somebody was planning a major prank in the Great Hall. But if someone else busts you or she doesn't inappropriately punish you, we'll burst in and memory charm them and anybody else who can get you into trouble. No skin off your back," one of the two triplets said.
"And, you should consider this your civic duty," the other triplet said. "Somebody has to do it."
"Come on, Hermione," Ron pleaded, alternating his gaze between Hermione and the twins, who were hopping their frog rapidly along the border of the Forbidden Forest. "It sounds like a good plan to me."
Hermione was still frowning, though it looked as if she was about to give in. "It seems to me that other methods would work adequately. Maybe we should come up with a different plan."
"It can't be that bad," one of the triplets said. "Our old man approved the plan personally."
"Come on," Ron said.
"Fine," Hermione said, watching as the two triplets helped Ron up onto the horse and explained to him how to use guide the frog's movements. Soon, Hermione found herself being pushed onto the frog, behind Ron. She blushed as the one of the triplets indicated that she needed to scoot up closer to Ron, wrap her arms around his middle, and hold tight.
Ron wasted no time, and soon, he and Hermione were hopping their frog alongside Fred and George.
"This is fun!" George yelled to Ron and Hermione.
"Yeah!" Ron agreed.
Hermione held her mouth shut and hoped that her dinner would not reappear anytime soon.
After the twins, Ron, and Hermione had familiarized themselves with the frogs, they paused long enough for the triplets to give them instructions. Soon, they were on their way to cause chaos. The twins led out. As the frogs hopped to the main entrance, one of the twins cast a charm at the doors, causing them to burst open with an explosion. As the giant frogs cross the threshold of the castle with their riders, a wave of smaller frogs appeared, seemingly from nowhere.
"For the glory of dungbombers everywhere!" Fred shouted, using a charm to make his voice boom through the castle.
Some of the students that had been sitting in the main entrance hall or passing through began laughing hysterically and cheering as they watched the spectacle. Others melted away from the scene of the crime, and others ran.
The twins began throwing dungbombs as they attempted to convince their frog to hop up one of the staircases. Ron, not so confident in his frog abilities and sensing Hermione's fear, contented himself with hopping the frog around in circles as Hermione cast various noisemaking spells. Her charms were clever, but the effect was ruined by her cringing each time she cast a spell.
The spectacle was soon over. Umbridge appeared, created a bigger scene, and hauled the four students to her office, scolding them all the way. In the confusion, the giant frogs mysteriously disappeared.
"Your behavior is outrageous and unacceptable," Umbridge said to them, leaving them standing in front of her desk as she sat down in a disgustingly pink chair. "Would you care to explain why you thought this would be amusing?"
Fred parroted the triplets' suggested speech. "We felt that it was our duty to expose to the world how vulnerable Hogwarts is to attack. If four students and two frogs can breach the Hogwarts defenses, You-Know-Who could seize control of the castle with fewer than ten Death Eaters."
"There is no Dark Lord," Umbridge said, her tone sweet, but her meaning brittle. "If you have heard the Headmaster claim any such thing, you should ignore him. He's an elderly and confused wizard.
"There is a Dark Lord," Fred insisted.
"And he's planning to overthrow the Ministry," Hermione added, even though she knew no such thing for sure.
"Your actions could lead to mass hysteria," Umbridge said. "I will not allow you to spread these lies to the general population. If I hear you spreading these vile rumors, there will be consequences. As it is, there will be a month of weekly detentions and a significant loss of house points."
"We're going to tell everybody," Hermione said bravely. "We believe Dumbledore. We're going to help him."
"Your detentions are doubled!" Umbridge exclaimed, beginning to lose her composure.
"When do our detentions start?" Fred asked cheekily, leaning over and getting into Umbridge's face.
"This instant," Umbridge said, opening the drawer to her desk and reaching in.
The door burst open to admit two infamous Black triplets. "Busted," they both yelled, waving their wands and bogus Auror badges around.
Hermione sighed and gave the two triplets an exasperated glance. "She didn't do anything illegal, yet."
"Whoops, we'll go back into the hall," said the one triplet as the other swiftly moved to Umbridge's desk and looked into the drawer.
"Jackpot!" the triplet who was looking into the drawer said, looking up from the drawer to grin maliciously at Umbridge.
"Who are you?" Umbridge asked, staring at the triplets with obvious confusion.
"Aurors, obviously," the triplet farthest from the desk said.
"I have seen neither of you around the Ministry," Umbridge said.
"Allow me to introduce ourselves," the triplet who had peered into the drawer said. "My name is Auror Admiral Ivy White, and I am part of a secret fleet of specially trained Aurors who have been commissioned by Minister Fudge's ultra-secret central committee tasked with the investigation of criminal stupidity. My associate over there is Auror Admiral Holly Whyte, spelled with an h and a y. But, do not let the spelling fool you. We are, in fact, sisters."
Umbridge stared with consternation at the two triplets as the Weasleys and Hermione attempted to stifle their laughter. "There is no such rank as Auror Admiral," Umbridge said at last, implicitly accepting that there might be a secret central committee.
"Apparently you're out of touch," Ivy said, shrugging as she pulled the drawer all the way out of the desk and set it on the top. "We're concerned that some of these magical objects might be tools of criminal stupidity."
Ivy took a quill out of the drawer. "Blood quill . . . nice."
Holly glared at Umbridge.
Ivy sorted through some of the objects, alternatively looking confused and intrigued. Finally, she pronounced judgment. "You're going to have to come with us, Madam. We have a special location where we will test the effects of these magical objects on you."
Umbridge protested, but Holly produced a pair of magical handcuffs and forced Umbridge's wrists into them. Soon, the twins, the two triplets, and Hermione were marching Umbridge through the halls of Hogwarts, waving to a small, but substantial, number of cheering students who had gathered to hear about the prank and find out the fate of the perpetrators. Hermione thought she saw at least one professor cheering, too.
When they reached the main doors, where the two triplets intended to exit the castle, Fred tapped Holly on the shoulder.
Holly turned to look at Fred. "Yes?"
"What happened to the giant frogs?" Fred asked.
Holly winked, but did not answer.
"I have been able to discover very little," Snape said, delivering a spy report to the Order. "However, it is my impression that our dimension's Dark Lord harbor's a certain amount of fear of this other Dark Lord," Snape informed the gathered members of the Order. "Whoever he is, he is likely more dangerous than the Dark Lord we have known."
"Merlin's beard," Moody muttered to himself while other members of the Order murmured among themselves worriedly.
"What are we going to do now?" Mr. Weasley asked as he looked toward Dumbledore, who appeared more resigned than surprised about the news.
"It's very difficult to say at this point," Dumbledore said slowly as he looked around at the Order members sitting with him in the Shrieking Shack. "We don't really know anything about this alternate Voldemort other than that he is probably more powerful than our own Voldemort."
"No word from Minister Black?" Lupin asked, glancing toward Ambassador Sirius.
Ambassador Sirius shrugged. "I would have said something by now. After all, we have been sitting here for four hours waiting from Snape to arrive and deliver his report."
"We shouldn't be relying on Minister Black," Moody said intensely. "We need an independent plan that doesn't leave us beholden to her or under her influence."
"What else can we do?" Exonerated Sirius shot back. "How has anyone's attempt to spread the word about the situation to their acquaintances gone? Fudge has managed to get nearly everybody to stick their head in the sand. They are not going to believe that there is trouble until the bodies start piling up."
Dumbledore sighed. "We are already recruiting for the Order and organizing it as best we can. Beyond that, waiting for further developments seems the only option, but it also feels like a terrible option."
Moody attempted to say something, but when he opened his mouth, a burst of purple flame erupted from it. Surprised, he clamped one of his hands over his mouth and drew his wand with the other hand.
"What in Merlin's name . . ." Bill Weasley said, staring at Moody.
Angrily, Moody removed his hand from over his mouth tried to say something again, but purple flames once again shot out of his mouth.
"I think it would be reasonable to assume that the triplets have returned," Ambassador Sirius said, examining his fingernails with a studied casualness.
"Please show yourselves," Dumbledore called out, his blue eyes twinkling as he surveyed the room and tried to guess at where the mischievous visitors were hiding.
A cloud of thick darkness enveloped the room. When the darkness faded, the Order members discovered that two of the infamous Black triplets had joined the meeting.
"Where is your other sister?" Dumbledore asked, looking at the two triplets intently, hoping that one of them was Violet. Dumbledore had concluded that Violet was the leader of the triplets and was most likely to engage in constructive interactions. Conversely, Ivy and Holly seemed to enjoy producing colloquy to amuse or frustrate their audience. Dumbledore had attempted to distinguish those two. The best theory he had was that Ivy was malicious where Holly was whimsical.
Unfortunately, Dumbledore was unable to decipher which of the two triplets present was Violet, for both the triplets that had just arrived had green eyes.
"We decided to split up tonight," one of the triplets said, grinning at everybody.
Purple flames erupted from Moody's mouth as he gestured angrily.
"No, she's not waiting outside the door to ambush you all," the other triplet said, cheerfully responding to Moody. "And I'm not taking that spell off you until we leave."
"Did you deliver our letters to Harry and Ginny?" Mrs. Weasley demanded.
"Yes," nodded one of the triplets.
"Was there a response?" Mrs. Weasley asked, her the pitch in her voice rising.
"Were we supposed to wait for one?" the triplet asked.
Fortunately, for the two triplets, Mr. Weasley was able to prevent his wife from committing murder.
Normally, Dumbledore would have been severely annoyed at the triplets, but in this case, he was relieved that the triplets had not delayed their return. "I am confident that when there is a response from Harry and Ginny, it will be delivered," Dumbledore said reassuringly to Mrs. Weasley.
"That's right," both triplets nodded solemnly.
"Now, can you tell us what your mother had to say about our proposal regarding management of this war and the Ministry?" Dumbledore pressed on.
The two triplets grinned. One of them spoke. "We delivered your proposal to our mother. By the time we left our dimension, she had prepared no response."
Flames erupted from Moody's mouth, and they continued to erupt for several minutes while the two triplets looked on dispassionately.
Dumbledore took a deep, calming breath. "Why is there no response?"
"She's been so busy that she likely did not even have time to sit down and think about it," explained one of the triplets.
"So, your mother is still considering the offer. She isn't deliberately ignoring us?" Dumbledore asked.
"If that makes you feel good, you can believe it," the triplet responded.
Moody erupted again.
"When are you going to next visit your home dimension?" Dumbledore asked. "We have important news that we want to pass on."
Both triplets shrugged. One answered. "We have not completely decided about that yet," she said, giving the other triplet a sidelong glance. "Don't worry, we won't leave without giving you a final chance to send messages."
"Perhaps the Ambassador can help us understand precisely what sort of signal Minister Black is sending by not responding immediately," Lupin asked, looking at Ambassador Sirius.
"He's not an ambassador anymore," the triplet who was doing all the speaking declared.
"What?" Ambassador Sirius said, his mouth hanging open.
The triplet produced a roll of parchment from her sleeve and handed it to Ambassador Sirius. "You have been relieved of duty, effective immediately."
"What kind of severance package am I getting?" Ambassador Sirius asked shrewdly, accepting the parchment and reading it over. "And who is replacing me?"
"Your severance package includes a new job," said the triplet that had largely remained silent since arriving. "As for your replacement, pick the ugliest witch on your staff."
Ex-Ambassador Sirius froze and stared intently at the triplet that had just spoken. "Ugliest witch on my staff?"
"I'm only repeating what my mother said," the triplet said, staring back at Ex-Ambassador Sirius blandly.
"Right . . . ," Ex-Ambassador Sirius said, still giving the triplet an odd look. "What was my new job again?"
The talkative triplet produced yet another roll of parchment. "You've been re-commissioned as an Auror and assigned the rank of Captain."
Captain Sirius grinned and accepted the parchment as Exonerated Sirius looked on enviously. "I can't say that I'm overly enthusiastic about getting dragged back into the Auror Corps again, but I always did want my own squadron."
"Congratulations on your new job, Captain Black," Dumbledore said. He turned to the talkative triplet, whom he had concluded was Violet Black. "Please explain to me, though, why your mother has fired her ambassador."
"It was all part of a plan to make Director Longbottom angry," Violet admitted. "Well, that and the fact that she needs to start bulking up the Auror Corps for when we start taking serious action against the Dark Lords in this dimension." She glanced at Sirius. "Feel free to start handing out battlefield commissions in this dimension. Mother will back you up if you recruit any Aurors for your squadron."
"Director Longbottom?" Lupin asked.
"Yeah, Frank is the Director of Magical Law Enforcement in our dimension," Captain Sirius said. "He's a relic from the days when Harry was Minister. Despite the fact that Frank and Bellatrix hate each other, he's managed to cling to his job."
"They hate each other?" Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling. "I find that very interesting, considering certain events that occurred in this dimension."
"Yeah, he's convinced that Bellatrix is evil and keeps having her investigated for corruption. It makes her angry, probably because she does engage in questionable transactions and does not appreciate having to cover her tracks so thoroughly," Captain Sirius explained.
Exonerated Sirius coughed and looked at Captain Sirius expectantly. "I do believe I heard that you have the power to recruit Aurors and make battlefield commissions."
"And?" Captain Sirius said, looking back at his younger double.
"Well, I might consider accepting a co-captaincy," Exonerated Sirius said.
Captain Sirius chortled. "You'd be lucky if I made you a corporal."
"Corporal! I'm your own flesh and blood. Seriously!" Exonerated Sirius retorted as several members of the Order moaned at the pun.
"Have you even been an Auror before?" Captain Sirius shot back, looking at Exonerated Sirius suspiciously.
"No, but you know I have enough experience fighting Dark wizards and pulling off pranks of epic proportions," Exonerated Sirius pleaded.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "It would be highly advantageous if you had someone like our Sirius helping you recruit people from our dimension when open hostilities break out, Captain Black. Just think, you could be in two places at the same time."
Captain Sirius grumbled to himself for a minute before caving in. "Oh, fine. I hereby commission you as an Auror Lieutenant, but only because we have no uniforms around here, and that's the lowest rank that doesn't always have to wear a uniform."
"Lieutenant?" Lieutenant Sirius protested. "Surely you can do better than that."
"I strongly suspect that is the highest rank he can give out," Dumbledore said reassuringly.
The two triplets nodded, confirming Dumbledore's suspicions. Violet produced Auror badges from her pockets and tossed them to Captain Sirius and Lieutenant Sirius.
"Fine," Lieutenant Sirius said as he caught his badge. He was acting disappointed, but everybody could see from the way he held the Auror badge that he was actually hiding a certain amount of glee.
"Now tell me," Dumbledore said, focusing his attention on Violet. "Does your mother intend to send a new ambassador to replace Sirius?"
It was the other triplet who answered that question. "She intends to appoint Leo Black to be the new ambassador."
Captain Sirius rolled his eyes.
"Who is Leo Black?" Lupin asked.
"That would be my son," Captain Sirius admitted.
"What?" Lieutenant Sirius demanded. "You never told me we had a son."
"He's my son, not yours," Captain Sirius said. "Nice enough chap. He's always so sincere and reasonable, though. Nothing like a proper Marauder. His wife ruined him if you ask me. And now that I look back at it, she started in on him at a very early age. I should have been there for him . . ."
"It sounds like he would be a better ambassador than you," Mrs. Weasley observed.
"Probably," Captain Sirius admitted. "But in all seriousness, you should probably take this as a good sign. If Bella is sending Mr. Sincere to hold your hands, she must really want to cooperate with you."
Some flames belched out of Moody's mouth. Apparently, he was of the opinion that Leo Black was going to pull the wool over their eyes while Bellatrix robbed the Order blind. The two triplets looked at Moody as he continued to belch fire. After a moment, they both stood up.
"We hate to leave," the quiet one said, "but there are things that need doing. You may as well continue treating Captain Black as the ambassador until Leo arrives. And, we will of course continue to relay messages whenever we travel back and forth."
"Thank you," Dumbledore said.
Violet smirked at Moody. "Haven't you ever heard of finite incantatem?"
A flash of light and intense heat blinded the occupants of the room, and when it faded, the two triplets were gone.
Moody, for the first time since the two triplets' arrival, had his say. "I'm going to strangle those wretches!"
"I would advise you not to do that," Lieutenant Sirius said, smirking. "You see, I happen to be an Auror employed by their dimension's Ministry, and I would be compelled to take steps to protect them."
"Bloody traitor," Moody grumbled.
Dumbledore chuckled darkly as he rode the staircase up to his office. Upon arriving at the castle after the end of the Order meeting, he had found Professor McGonagall waiting to tell him the news of Umbridge being escorted away by the Black triplets. Making a mental note to send the triplets a large bag of lemon drops, Dumbledore crossed the floor of his office toward the concealed door that led to his bedroom.
He froze and drew his wand when he realized that the door was already cracked open. "Who is in there?" he demanded, holding his wand out.