A/N: I passed the bar. Yay. Now I need something else that I am supposed to be doing so that I can slack off from it and write fan fiction instead. ;)
Chapter 8: A Change of Management
In the Delenda Est dimension . . .
Knocking softly on the door and stepping into the darkened bedroom, Auror Katie Bell woke Captain Tonks up at two o'clock in the morning.
"What is it?" Tonks asked breathlessly, reaching for her wand as she jumped out of bed and put all of her senses on high alert. Since becoming the de facto captain of the Minister of Magic's security detail, she had felt both the great honor and intense pressure that came with the position.
"No attackers or anything like that," Katie said, her voice sounding distant in the dark bedroom. "But, Minister Black wants to see you immediately."
Tonks let out a sigh of relief and took a moment to cast some spells to smooth the wrinkles out of the clothes in which she had been sleeping. "Do you have any idea what she wants?" Tonks asked as she led Katie out of the bedroom and toward Bellatrix's bedroom suite, only a couple of doors down from where Tonks had set up her sleeping quarters.
"One of her daughters has returned from the other dimension," Katie said quietly as they approached the bedroom suite in which Harry and Bellatrix resided when at Ravenbourgh. "She must have brought important news because the Minister has also summoned the Chief Unspeakable."
"Bloody brilliant," Tonks grumbled, nodding to Katie as she entered Bellatrix's suite, leaving Katie standing guard with another Auror.
The only light in the room came from a candle, which was resting on the nightstand next to Harry and Bellatrix's bed. Once Tonks's eyes adjusted to the dim lighting in the room, she was able to see that Bellatrix was sitting in a chair next to the bedroom window. Standing next to the chair was one of the triplets. After making a mental note to have the Aurors who maintained Ravenbourgh's wards add extra wards to Bellatrix's window, Tonks made her way over to Bellatrix's chair.
"What is it?" Tonks asked.
"I am not entirely sure," Bellatrix said quietly, her face hidden in the shadows. The only thing Tonks could see was the dark cloth of Bellatrix's silk bathrobe.
"I told you everything I know," the triplet said defensively, her green eyes flashing in the darkness and revealing to Tonks that the triplet was Violet—or, as Bellatrix called her, Gemma.
"I know," Bellatrix said. "I am not criticizing you."
There was a moment of silence where nobody spoke.
"Uh, so what is going on, then?" Tonks finally asked.
"Let us wait for Hermione so that I do not have to repeat myself," Bellatrix said.
"Okay," Tonks said.
"You can help yourself a chair," Violet said, gesturing to a chair on the other side of the room.
"I prefer to stand," Tonks said, "but I will bring it over for Hermione."
By the time Hermione arrived via the Floo, Tonks had moved the chair closer to Bellatrix's chair and taken up a position where she could look out the window and keep an eye on both the fireplace and entrance to the room.
Hermione sank into the chair. "What is it, now?" she asked, sounding exhausted.
"Harry has sent word to me that we need to immediately seize control of the other dimension's Azkaban and prepare to hold it against an attack," Bellatrix said. "He did not say why or explain his reasons. By his timeline, we have less than twenty-four hours."
"Twenty-three, now, I think," Violet said.
Hermione let out an exhausted sigh. "How is this supposed to fit with our strategy?"
"It does not fit and was unanticipated," Bellatrix responded. "We will have to modify our plans later to include this new development. All I know is that if Harry goes to the trouble of saying that he thinks something is important, we need to act on it."
Hermione was already nodding. "I know. Believe me when I say that I appreciate it when Harry speaks up and gives clear instructions. I was just trying to understand whether this was supposed to fit into the overall strategy we planned."
"How do I fit into this?" Tonks asked. By now, her eyes had adjusted to the darkness enough for her to detect Bellatrix's violet eyes glowing in the dark.
"You, Nymphadora, are going to muster a battalion of Aurors, neutralize the Azkaban defenses, and seize control of the prison," Bellatrix announced. "You may also be responsible for defending the prison during an attack. If I were you, in addition to planning how to accomplish this feat, I would be imagining ways in which you could convince the guards already there to fight for our side."
Normally, Tonks would have reacted negatively to the use of her given name. But this time, she was too busy feeling insanely overwhelmed by the new task before her. "I'll see what I can do," Tonks said faintly. "Who is going to be responsible for guarding you while I am gone?"
"I am sure Auror Bell, the other Aurors, and I can handle whoever comes my way," Bellatrix said. "But, I will welcome your return as soon as you are able to transfer command of the Auror battalion and the Azkaban guard garrison to Sirius. Now, Hermione . . ."
"Wards for Azkaban, I know," Hermione said, sounding resigned.
"Quite," Bellatrix said. "I am not willing for our Auror Corps to suffer casualties guarding a piece of rock full of the other dimension's Dark Lord's minions. So, I want wards strong enough to repel nearly any attack. I am not exactly worried about the . . . costs."
"Are you suggesting . . . ?"
"Yes," Bellatrix said emphatically.
"Minister Bones and the Wizengamot outlawed that system," Hermione cautioned.
Bellatrix seemed very annoyed at this comment. "Amelia Bones is no longer Minister of Magic, and before long, Arthur Weasley will have persuaded the Wizengamot to give me a license to do whatever I deem necessary to protect the lives of our dimension's people during the course of the war."
I'll need authorization to draw on the Ministry's treasury," Hermione said faintly.
"You have it," Bellatrix said.
Hermione looked at Tonks. "It will take at least two hours for the Unspeakables and I to install the ward system once we have Azkaban under our control. I think we should try to plan for the wards to be complete before Harry's deadline is up."
"I will let you know when we're ready to leave," Tonks said.
"Excellent," Hermione said. "If you need any assistance with your strategy, feel free to go to my house and wake up Ron."
Tonks nodded. "I appreciate that."
"Draco could also help you, Nymphadora," Bellatrix added. "He was consulted extensively when our Ministry renovated Azkaban several years ago. Remember, the Azkaban you are attacking is not quite like the Azkaban we have now."
"Merlin, Hermione!" Fred Weasley yawned. "Most people are trying to go to bed at this hour."
"Actually, I was under the impression that most people have been asleep for several hours at this hour," Hermione said as she led Fred and George through the abandoned halls of the Department of Mysteries. "Regardless, I appreciate your willingness to come so quickly."
"We appreciate your willingness to give us a Ministry contract worth mountains of gold," George Weasley said excitedly.
"Most of your mountain of gold will go to costs, not profits," Hermione snapped back.
"Still, there is the notoriety of bragging about receiving a multi-million galleon Ministry contract," George said.
Hermione rolled her eyes, stopped in the hallway, and opened a door that Fred and George had not realized was there. She gestured for them to enter. They did so, with Hermione following and shutting the door behind them.
"What is this place?" Fred asked, sounding awed as he stared around them. They appeared to be in gigantic storage room. Thousands and thousands of shelves stacked with boxes of all types and sizes stretched through the room for as far as the eye could see. When Fred and George turned around, they could see no sign of the wall or doorway through which they had just passed. They saw only more shelves stacked with boxes.
"This is the Department of Mysteries Archives," Hermione said. "Do not touch any of the boxes or shelves. They all have strong protective charms and curses on them. If you were to be struck by one of them, I do not know if I could save you."
"Are they deadly, then?" George asked.
"Yes," Hermione replied. "Every once in a long while, we find a would-be thief in here. None of them I have ever heard of were alive when found."
"Do you know what is in all these boxes?" Fred asked.
"Some of them," Hermione responded as she led them up and down aisles and through the shelves, seemingly at random.
"What about the others? Haven't you ever wanted to open them up and find out?" Fred asked.
Hermione smiled forlornly. "I have wanted to do just that. The problem is, you cannot find a box or even open it unless you already know it exists."
"But there are boxes right here," Fred said, gesturing to the shelves they were walking past.
"It doesn't work that way," Hermione said mysteriously.
"Ridiculous," George muttered as they came to a stop in front of one of the shelves.
Hermione pointed to the shelf. On it, among other things, rested three shiny, black boxes. Each box bore an emerald and silver symbol that incorporated a raven on a field of stars. "Boxes that look like that and bear that symbol always contain the Ministry's deepest and darkest secrets from the time period when Bellatrix was the Chief Unspeakable," Hermione explained.
Carefully, she took the boxes off the shelf and stacked them on the floor next to her and the twins. She then reached her hand into the empty air and opened a door that had been invisible. "If you would be so kind as to carry these boxes into my office . . ."
Fred and George obliged, quite obviously wondering why it had been necessary for them to walk around the archives for several minutes when the door to Hermione's office was right next to where the shelf containing the boxes was.
Soon, the three of them were sitting around Hermione's desk as she sorted through the documents that had been stored in the boxes. "Back when the Ministry renovated Azkaban, Bellatrix was Chief Unspeakable," Hermione explained to the twins. "She designed a ward system capable of keeping just about anybody out."
"No ward system is that good," Fred said.
"Obviously, just about any ward can be broken under the right circumstances. Bellatrix's system is very strong, though," Hermione lectured. "She also designed the wards to account for the possibility that they might be broken by outside attackers. If the system is broken, it automatically kills the prisoners that the attackers are likely attempting to set free from Azkaban."
George whistled. "That is pretty extreme."
"Dark Magic," Fred said quietly.
"Yes," Hermione admitted, "there is a little bit of the Dark Arts involved in the wards." She removed a large file folder from one of the boxes and quickly shuffled through its contents. "These are the plans for the ward system's physical components. I need them manufactured and ready to be transported to the other dimension by this coming afternoon. I'm willing to assist you in any way you need, but if you do not need me, I am going to sleep."
Fred took the plans from Hermione and began glancing through them. "Are we going to need to be casting Dark Magic?"
"No, that comes with installation," Hermione said. "I will handle the Dark magic. That is why I am going to go back to bed unless you require my assistance."
"We'll let you know," George said as he and Fred stood up and prepared to leave.
With great deliberation, Alastor Moody paced up and down the length of the Ravenbourgh kitchen. "We've got to think about how we approach the island and how we disable the wards. We've got to figure out what we want done with the Dementors. Then of course, there are the Aurors and guards that will be there defending the prison."
Captain Tonks sat at the kitchen table, writing down everything Moody was saying. After leaving Bellatrix, Tonks had immediately contacted Moody, who upon hearing of the situation had volunteered to participate before Tonks could ask him to participate. She had also contacted Ron Weasley, who had agreed to help once he had been awake enough to understand what was going on.
"The Dementors are easy," Violet Black called out as she and Ron Weasley ransacked the fridge. "Do you want them still guarding the prison after it is under our control? Do you want them confined? Do you want them expelled from the premises? I can do any of that for you."
Moody looked suspicious. "Exactly how are you going to do any of that?"
Violet shrugged. "I'm sorry, but the answer to that question involves classified information."
Moody grumbled something unintelligible and then turned his attention to Tonks. "What we do with the Dementors depends on the strategy you want to pursue."
"It would be nice if we could take over the prison before the local Aurors figure out what is happening," Tonks said. "Violet? Is my alternate self also an Auror in that dimension?"
"Yes," Violet said as she and Ron brought several random food items to the table and sat down.
"Then I could use my Auror credentials to walk in there and deactivate a lot of the wards before they know what is happening," Tonks observed.
"That sounds viable to me," Ron declared. "A full-scale, blunt-force attack would take too long, give them too much time to get reinforcements, and result in too many casualties."
Violet opened a container full of leftovers from dinner and made herself up a plate. "But a full-scale, blunt-force attack could still work. If we just showed up, kicked out the Dementors, and took the prison by force while the Aurors are still surprised, wouldn't we be able to avoid casualties and have control before reinforcements arrive?"
Tonks shook her head. "Even if we can take out the Dementors nearly instantaneously, that leaves a lot of fighting to do. Things can go wrong. If possible, I would prefer to have Azkaban under my control before the defenders even realize what is happening."
"All right, let's focus on Tonks's preferred strategy," Moody said. "But, we should have a backup plan for the possibility that we cannot infiltrate and deactivate the wards from within."
"Is Draco on the way here?" Tonks asked. "He should have Azkaban schematics to which we can refer."
"I sent a message to his wife. He should show up, eventually," Violet replied.
"Okay," Tonks said. "Let's talk about our timeline, first. How soon can we commence the attack and how long will it take to get to a point where Hermione can start putting up the wards? Violet? I assume you are going to be in charge of transporting us to the other dimension. What are the options?"
"Well," Violet replied, "it depends on whether you want their Ministry to be forewarned by a massive explosion of arcane magic on British soil."
Harry Potter woke up when he felt somebody tap his shoulder. When he opened his eyes, he found himself staring up into Ginny Weasley's warm, brown eyes. "Uh, hello there," Harry said, feeling uncomfortable. "What time is it?"
"Early," Ginny said. "I've had my dose of potion. I am already feeling much better. We can work on our occlumency today."
"Ugh," Harry said, reaching up to rub his eyes. "Okay. Can we get breakfast, first?"
"Of course," Ginny said.
Soon, Harry and Ginny were walking in the Ravenbourgh dining room. There, they found Leo Black eating his breakfast.
"Good morning," Leo said cheerfully.
"Morning," Harry and Ginny both said as they helped themselves to a generous portions of eggs, bacon, and potatoes.
"I will be travelling to your dimension within the hour," Leo announced, smiling at Harry and Ginny. He gestured to a small stack of parchment resting next to an ink bottle and some quills. "I think it would help me if you two were to write letters to your friends and family. I understand the triplets nearly got murdered when they went back to your dimension without letters from you last time."
"Oh, right," Harry said, alternating his gaze between his breakfast plate and the pile of parchment. He was not sure what he was supposed to write beyond saying that he was mostly fine.
"Who is in charge of looking after us, now?" Ginny asked in between bites.
"Bellatrix, for now," Leo said. "With a few exceptions, she should be here at Ravenbourgh for the next little while. If she leaves, she will make other arrangements for you. My wife normally would help out, but she has decided to accompany me to your dimension. She will stay there until Christmas—unless, of course, the war ends before that."
Leo eventually finished eating and began staring at Harry and Ginny expectantly, his lips curved in a friendly, expectant smile. Feeling the pressure to do what Leo wanted, Harry paused his eating long enough to write a short letter.
Dear Ron, Hermione, Sirius, and everybody,
Everything here is fine. They are taking care of me and Ginny. Leo Black has been teaching me how to duel. His wife, who is kind of my pseudo-sister in this dimension, has been trying to teach me occlumency. Ginny says that Minister Black won't talk to me until I learn it. I met the other me, who lives in this dimension. He says I should learn occlumency. He took me out to a field and we tried to learn how to fly without a broom, but it was really hard. Even for him. He is a really powerful wizard and duelist, apparently. I have been asking when they are going to send me back home, but they don't seem to know.
Harry finished writing and resumed eating. Ginny, who had been eating ravenously, looked over to see what he had written. After scanning Harry's letter, she rolled her eyes and stopped eating long enough to commence writing her own letter.
Dear Mum, Dad, Bill, Charlie, Percy, Fred, George, Ron, Hermione,
I've missed you all so much. I have been really ill and am still recovering. Some days are better than others. Leo Black has been very nice to me, and even Bellatrix Black has been a little friendly. (She took me to the Ministry and let me sit in her office all day, though I spent most of the time sleeping.) Right now, we are living at a manor called Ravenbourgh. The defenses around Ravenbourgh are nearly as strong as those around Hogwarts, and there are a lot of Aurors. The people in this dimension are very serious about preparing for a war in our dimension. The Arthur Weasley of this dimension is about to be officially named Vice Minister of Magic because, I think, Bellatrix is planning to go to our dimension and she hates Director Longbottom, who would otherwise be Acting Minister of Magic in her absence. Captain Tonks and Lieutenant Moody are also probably going to come to our dimension. I think they are planning to keep Harry and I here even after Bellatrix and others go to our dimension. It might not be a bad thing. Harry and I are learning a lot of things. There's no need to worry about us. We're safe.
All my love,
As soon as Ginny finished writing her letter, Leo took both her letter and Harry's letter, folded them, and sealed them shut before pocketing them. "Thank you. That should help smooth over any rough patches I may encounter while trying to hold a civil conversations with your loved ones."
"Aren't you going to read them to make sure we didn't reveal critical information?" Ginny asked as she turned her attention back to breakfast.
"You didn't know critical information when you wrote those letters," Leo said cheerfully. "Now, if I had told you why I am soon going to your dimension before you wrote those letters, I might have had to examine them and censor them accordingly."
Harry's mouth dropped open. "Why are you going to our dimension?"
"It will be my job to distract your friends and allies while Captain Tonks and a battalion of Aurors seize control of your Azkaban," Leo said cheerfully.
"What?" Harry exclaimed loudly, his face flushing red with outrage.
"I don't know why that bothers you," Leo said. "Who would you rather have in charge of Azkaban while there are two Dark Lords running wild? Minister Fudge or Minister Black?"
"Minister Black," Ginny said resignedly as Harry worked his mouth silently.
"Well, there you go. You need not worry that we are doing bad things in your dimension," Leo said, standing up and giving them one last cheerful smile before leaving the room.
Harry and Ginny had some trouble finding a good room to practice occlumency. They discovered house elves in the Ravenbourgh kitchen cleaning up a large mess. A foray into a comfortable sitting room revealed Captain Tonks, Ron Weasley, Draco Malfoy, Lieutenant Moody, and Violet Black having an extremely private meeting. And, most of the rooms around the perimeter of the ground floor had Aurors stationed near the windows. In the end, they settled in the manor's library on a couch.
"Okay," Ginny said as she drew her wand, "imagine that you're a pumpkin."
Harry sighed, but closed his eyes and seemingly obliged.
"I need you to keep your eyes open," Ginny said softly as she mentally reviewed the steps to perform legilimency.
Harry opened his eyes.
"Now look into my eyes," Ginny instructed.
Being cooperative, Harry looked into Ginny's eyes.
"Okay," Ginny said quietly as she tried to focus and prepare to cast the mind-reading spell. "I think it would help if we were closer." She scooted closer to Harry, reached out, took his shoulder, and drew him closer so that they were nearly rubbing noses.
Ignoring the faint blush she felt creeping onto her cheeks and the tinge of red on Harry's cheeks, Ginny cast the spell while maintaining eye contact with Harry. Immediately, she found her mind zooming through Harry's mind. Memories of events she remembered from Hogwarts, but seen through Harry's point-of-view, suddenly occupied her mind. Realizing that Harry's occlumency attempt had completely failed, Ginny cancelled the mind-reading spell.
"I didn't sense any shield whatsoever," Ginny said to Harry, her face still close to Harry.
Harry's blush deepened. "Sorry, I was distracted."
"It's all right," Ginny said, now blushing fully. "Let's try again."
"Right," Harry said.
"Okay, I'm casting it," Ginny said right before she cast the mind-reading spell again.
This time, Ginny felt herself have to push past a wall, albeit a very weak one. She pulled out of his mind. "So, not bad," Ginny said. "Let's try again. Perhaps you can try to focus on me specifically. Try to recognize my attempt to get in your mind and focus on defending against it."
"Okay," Harry said, resignedly as Ginny prepared to cast yet another in a long series of legilimency spells.
In the Para Bellum dimension . . .
Dumbledore felt his blood pressure increase slightly at the sight of Ivy and Holly Black strutting into the Great Hall at Hogwarts shortly after the usual assortment of owls had delivered the afternoon mail to the students eating their lunches.
"Greetings, Earthlings!" the two triplets called loudly as they proceeded from the main doors toward the staff table. One triplet held a number of parchment envelopes and stopped to distribute one each to Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and the Weasley twins, who accepted them with looks of excitement and suspicion. The two triplets then approached Dumbledore and dropped a large pile of the envelopes onto the table in front of him.
"These are for you and anybody else you deem worthy to receive them," one of the triplets declared.
"Thank you," Dumbledore said, his blue eyes twinkling as he forced himself to put on his best demeanor in the face of the hellions that were the Black triplets. "Now tell me . . . did you not promise that there would be no disturbances at Hogwarts if I helped with the wards?"
Both triplets nodded.
"Then what happened with Draco Malfoy last night?" Dumbledore hissed.
The triplets shrugged. "You tell us."
"That was you. It happened while you were gone," Dumbledore accused.
"Prove it," Ivy Black said.
"You watch your step," Dumbledore said to the two triplets.
"Okay!" they said in unison before disappearing with twin popping noises.
"I thought people couldn't apparate in Hogwarts," a junior staff member commented from his place down the table.
They can't, Dumbledore thought to himself silently, unwilling to reveal to the triplets, who might still be present, that he was smart enough to realize that they were just imitating apparition. Or at least, he hoped it was an imitation.
Dumbledore turned his attention to the pile of parchment envelopes. Seeing that none of them were addressed to himself or anybody else, he selected one at random, tested it for prank charms, and then opened it. Inside the envelope, he found a fancy invitation card.
His Excellency Leo Black, Inter-Dimensional Ambassador-at-Large, hereby respectfully requests the honor of your presence at a reception held in his honor tonight at his Ministry's embassy. Gifts (bribes) are always appreciated, but are not strictly necessary. The embassy staff will provide a large, gut-splitting dinner for all attendees and enough butterbeer to drown a school of fish. If you desire stronger beverages, feel free to bring your own. Please R.S.V.P. if you are allergic to cyanide, goat blood, dandruff, or glue fumes. Please notify the embassy staff if you suffer from pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis Please bring five galleons if you feel there is a possibility you might puke your guts out. Please bring an additional fifteen galleons if you anticipate passing out and sleeping on the embassy's floor after the reception.
"Where are we going to find forty galleons on such short notice?" one of the Weasley twins wailed from the Gryffindor table where the twins, Ron, and Hermione were reading their own invitations.
Dumbledore was shaking his head and re-reading the invitation when Mad-Eye Moody walked into the Great Hall and approached Dumbledore at the staff table.
"Albus, some strange wizard just walked into Gringotts, opened an account, and deposited a billion galleons," Moody growled. "Literally."
"Did he bear a passing resemblance to Captain Black?" Dumbledore asked.
"Yes," Moody said.
"Let's go track him down," Dumbledore said, handing the invitation to Moody and gathering up the other unopened invitations while Moody read Dumbledore's already-opened invitation.
In short order, Dumbledore and Moody were on their way to London. When they reached Gringotts, the strange wizard had already completed his business and departed. But, after bribing a goblin and employing a bit of logic, they were able to catch up with the billion-galleon wizard at a Muggle bank not far from the Leaky Cauldron.
"Ambassador Leo Black, I presume," Dumbledore said as he approached and tapped the apparently wealthy wizard on the shoulder.
The wizard turned around and smiled cordially at Dumbledore and Moody. "I am he," Leo admitted. He gestured to some chairs in the bank lobby. "Why don't we go sit over there while I fill out these account forms?"
"This is quite the invitation I received from you today," Dumbledore said, smiling benignly as he handed Leo a copy of the invitation he had received.
While they walked to the chairs, Leo quickly read the invitation and handed it back to Dumbledore. "The triplets do know how to make a man look bonkers, don't they? Unfortunately, my wife and I were forced to agree that it would be better if she handled the caterers and the triplets handled the invitations instead of the other way around."
"Wise move," Moody agreed, seemingly already warming up to Leo, who was now scribbling answers to the questions on the bank papers.
"So, are you planning on coming to our little dinner party?" Leo asked, still seemingly focused on the forms he was filling out.
"If you can offer us assurances of protection from the triplets," Dumbledore responded, his blue eyes twinkling.
Leo shrugged and smiled as he finished the paperwork. "All I can promise is that they won't kill you." He stood and reached into one of his pockets, withdrawing two folded sheets of parchment. "I've brought you letters from your Harry and Ginny. I hope you find the contents of the letters reassuring."
Moody grabbed the letters from Leo and began sniffing at them suspiciously.
Leo smiled at Moody's behavior and looked at Dumbledore. "Under normal circumstances, I would love to sit and chat with you two for a while longer, but I am afraid that I have a lot to do before the close of business, today. I will see you later at dinner, though."
"Of course," Dumbledore said graciously, though he was slightly annoyed that Leo did not seem completely interested in talking to him and Moody.
Leo nodded farewell to Dumbledore and Moody and walked to the bank counter.
In the Delenda Est dimension . . .
"What does she want from us?" Ron asked as he checked his watch again. "If we're going to follow the plan to capture Azkaban, we need to start moving to the other dimension within the hour."
Ron and Hermione were alone in Bellatrix's office. Hermione was sitting on one of the chairs, reviewing dozens of sheets of parchment, which contained notes on the wards she would be installing at the other dimension's Azkaban. Ron was standing next to the windows that overlooked the Ministry Atrium, below.
"She didn't say," Hermione said, "but I suspect it has something to do with Arthur Weasley managing to get the Wizengamot to vote in favor of the articles of war today instead of tomorrow, as originally scheduled."
"Yeah," Ron said as he gazed down on the Atrium where Bellatrix was holding a press conference to explain her strategy and introduce Arthur Weasley as Vice Minister of Magic, responsible for acting in her stead at the Ministry while she focused on the war.
After about ten minutes, Ron spied Bellatrix leaving the Ministry Atrium after yielding the press conference podium to newly appointed Vice Minister Arthur Weasley. "I think she's on her way up here."
Ron was proven correct when Bellatrix entered the office, shutting the door behind her and taking a seat in the slightly ostentatious chair behind her desk.
"How soon will you be leaving?" Bellatrix asked Ron and Hermione.
"Almost as soon as this meeting is over," Ron said.
"And has Nymphadora come up with a suitable plan to seize control of Azkaban?" Bellatrix inquired.
Ron nodded. "Yes, and I'm about ninety-nine percent confident that it will work, especially with the anti-Dementor resources your daughter has been able to provide from the Department of Mysteries."
"And the wards?" Bellatrix asked, looking toward Hermione.
"Weasley Corp has come through. The physical components are being packaged as we speak," Hermione said. "We'll be picking them up on the way out of this dimension. I anticipate little trouble with activating the wards."
"So, is that all you wanted to know?" Ron asked.
"No," Bellatrix said.
"Then are we here?" Ron demanded.
Hermione shot him an exasperated look even though Bellatrix seemed oblivious to and unoffended by Ron's abruptness.
"I have been thinking about the last war, the roles we played then, and the roles we are all going to need to play in this new war," Bellatrix said. "And, I have concluded that Harry and I can be the most effective if we are doing what we did best in the last war."
"You want to hide and then work to undermine the Dark Lords from the shadows," Ron said flatly.
Bellatrix nodded. "It is quite hard to work from the shadows when you are having to make public appearances. There is too much opportunity for the enemy to track your location."
Ron nodded. "True."
"The way I see it," Bellatrix explained, "is that you, Ronald, are good at overall strategy. You, Hermione, are good at the details. I want you two to take the lead of the day-to-day business of the war in the other dimension. Harry and I will be working behind the scenes to get to the root of the problem and find a way to bring the Dark Lord's down as quickly as possible. We will try to stay in contact with you, but you may have to make some major decisions alone. Fortunately, you will have the help of everybody who was at the meeting last night."
Hermione fidgeted in her chair. "I already have a lot to do."
"Then put it on Ron and just make sure he does not do anything incredibly dimwitted," Bellatrix said. "Also remember that you are free to delegate tasks to others."
"The problem with putting it on Ron is that Ron is not really a Ministry employee," Hermione argued. "With you being who knows where at all times, I will be the ranking Ministry employee in that dimension and expected to give my input or approval on everything."
"That problem is easily solved," Bellatrix said, reaching into a desk drawer, pulling out a large envelope, and tossing it to Ron. "Congratulations Mr. Weasley, you are now a Special Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic."
"Just what I've always wanted," Ron said suspiciously, as he eyed the envelope.
Bellatrix ignored him. "Between Ron being an undersecretary and Hermione being the Acting Minister of Magic in the other dimension, I think that you two will have no trouble asserting leadership over Ministry employees and other volunteers. Also, I will see to it that you have the services and cooperation of my daughters."
"And of course, I'm sure Ron's father will be incredibly helpful when we phone home for help," Hermione said.
Bellatrix nodded sagely. "I would imagine so. Now, unless you two have any questions, you should feel free to be on your way. At some point very soon, I will travel to the other dimension. Once I am settled in, I will make contact with you."
Still feeling a little bit shell shocked, Ron and Hermione stood and made to leave Bellatrix's office.
"Oh, sorry, please wait," Bellatrix said as she stood up from her chair, "I have one last thing for you." She picked up a box, which had been sitting on the floor next to her desk, and walked it over to where Ron and Hermione stood. "Here are a couple of dozen doses of Polyjuice Potion and enough of my hair to flavor several hundred more doses of Polyjuice Potion. It might prove useful for those times when you want to heap blame on me for some sort of action."
"Fantastic," Ron said sarcastically, accepting the box. "This makes it all worth it."
Bellatrix smiled crookedly at Ron. "Keep it secret. Keep it safe."
"You're hilarious," Hermione said drily.
"Is this the Knight Bus?" Ron asked incredulously. "How are we supposed to fit a hundred Aurors, a dozen Unspeakables, and the luggage in it?"
"It's a surplus bus an enterprising Auror Sergeant bought from the bus company," Captain Tonks responded as she checked her watch and looked around the grassy meadow in which the bus had been parked. "And, for your information, at the last second we decided to send the Unspeakables and their luggage on a different transport—a lorry of some sort—that will depart from the Weasley Corp manufacturing plant."
"Oh, goody," Ron muttered as he looked at his watch to check whether they were on schedule.
Tonks checked a clipboard she was holding, looked into the bus, and then looked back at the clipboard before doing a double take. "Who told you that you could drive the bus?" Tonks demanded, walking away from Ron and toward the door of the bus.
Violet Black, who was sitting in the driver's seat, looked at Tonks calmly and responded. "I did. Seeing as I'm going to be the only one on the bus who knows how to work the inter-dimensional travel, I think I am best suited to drive."
"Fine," Tonks grumbled, "but stay away from the driver seat until everybody is on. I will never get the Aurors on the bus if they think you're going to be doing the driving.
Violet let out a loud sigh, but obliged Tonks and emerged from the bus to stand by Tonks and Ron just as the first group of Aurors came to check in with Tonks and board the bus. The stream of Aurors arriving gradually increased, and it looked like the preparations to travel to the other dimension were going to go smoothly until Alastor Moody showed up with about twenty decrepit-looking wizards and witches in aged Auror uniforms, none of whose names were on Tonks's list.
"What is going on?" Tonks exclaimed, her gaze alternating between Moody and the extra Aurors.
Moody either did not hear or chose to ignore Tonks, got on the bus, and started repeatedly yelling "Constant Vigilance" at the top of his lungs while walking up and down the main aisle. After a couple of minutes, he came back out of the bus.
"I said, 'What is going on?'" Tonks repeated.
Moody finally heard her. "These Aurors have graciously offered to come out of retirement and join in the latest war," Moody said, gesturing vaguely toward the group of stale Aurors. He withdrew a sheet of parchment from his robes. "I also promised combat pay from the Ministry." He handed the parchment to Tonks.
"Minister Black hasn't signed this order," Tonks said as she examined it.
Moody pointed to Ron. "I asked the Minister, but she said that Mr. Weasley had just been recently appointed chief monkey in charge of signing papers on her behalf."
"That . . . witch," Ron said resignedly, accepting the sheet of parchment from Moody and walking away to find a flat space on which he could write and use the special stamp that had been included with the packet Bellatrix had given him that afternoon. By the time he was finished, the last Auror had boarded the bus and Violet Black was taking her place behind the steering wheel as the passengers looked at each other apprehensively.
Ron climbed on the bus and found an empty seat near the front just as Moody got on the loudspeaker and began yelling about constant vigilance, yet again. As Violet guided the bus across the meadow and into the air, Tonks wrestled the microphone away from Moody and began outlining the finer details of the plan to capture Azkaban.
"What about Harry and Ginny? And what is Captain Tonks supposed to do when she returns to this dimension?" Auror Katie Bell demanded as she followed Bellatrix through the halls of Ravenbourgh and down to the garage that contained Bellatrix's extensive collection of BMW sedans.
"I have arranged for Lily and James Potter to come and supervise Mr. Potter and Miss Weasley," Bellatrix said, glancing back to ensure that her large assortment of luggage containers were still levitating behind her and Auror Bell. "Captain Tonks is to keep tabs on Mr. Potter until I or Hermione send word that he can return to his home dimension. And even then, I want her making it her business to keep Mr. Potter safe."
"I bet the Potters were surprised," Auror Bell commented.
"Lily was simply fascinated," Bellatrix said. "Her husband was a little bit of a stick in the mud about the whole thing, though."
They entered the garage and walked over to Bellatrix's newest BMW, where Bellatrix began loading her luggage into the boot.
"What about Miss Weasley?" Auror Bell asked.
"Her safety is a lower priority than Mr. Potter's safety," Bellatrix said matter-of-factly. "In fact, as far as I am concerned, she can be sent back to her own dimension as soon as she prefers."
"Why don't we go ask her if she wants to go with you?" Auror Bell suggested.
Bellatrix slammed the boot shut. "I want as few people as possible to know that I have entered that dimension," Bellatrix said. "In fact, I am going to go ahead and order you to not tell anybody except maybe Captain Tonks where I have gone."
"Yes, ma'am," Katie Bell said as she watched Bellatrix get into the car, start the motor, and speed out of the garage.
In the Para Bellum dimension . . .
Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger stood with each other in a skyscraper ballroom located in the commercial suite that Captain Sirius and the Black triplets had taken over for use of their Ministry's headquarters and dubbed the Tower of London. Based on the number of people present, it seemed that Dumbledore had distributed the unaddressed invitations given him to nearly every single member of the Order of the Phoenix.
Most of the Order members were chatting with each other. But, Professor Dumbledore, Lieutenant Sirius, Ron's parents, and the higher ranking members of the Order were clustered around Leo Black and his wife, who, if not basking in the attention given them, were being very gracious hosts.
"It was nice of the triplets to specifically give us invitations," Hermione said quietly as she eyed the various members of the Order and wondered whether she should make more of an effort to mingle. "I do not know if Dumbledore would have seen to it that we were invited otherwise."
"But do the triplets really do nice things for the sake of being nice?" Ron questioned suspiciously as he also surveyed the people present in the room. "Or do they have ulterior motives?" With a slightly apprehensive expression his face, Ron watched as one of the triplets approached him and Hermione.
"Would you like some hors d'oeuvres, sir?" Holly Black asked Ron as she proffered a silver tray filled with what appeared to be human noses, ears, and fingers.
"Umm, no," Ron said, looking with revulsion at the human body parts the Black triplet, dressed as an old-fashioned waitress, was offering him.
"I'll take some," Fred Weasley said, shouldering Ron aside and helping himself to an assorted handful of the so-called hors d'oeuvres.
"That's disgusting!" Hermione exclaimed.
"They've just charmed normal food to look like human body parts," George Weasley told Ron and Hermione as Fred popped a nose into his mouth and began chewing.
Holly smiled blandly as Fred chewed.
"Am I right?" George asked, a sliver of doubt manifesting itself in his voice.
Holly's smile broadened as George paled slightly.
Still chewing, Fred spoke. "Don't worry. You are correct. They taste like cheese. Here, have a finger."
Holly winked at the Weasley twins. "I would avoid Ivy's beverage tray if I were you, though." She turned and walked away, prepared to make offerings to other guests as Fred and George chased after her and tried to get her to reveal what Ivy was serving.
"I wonder if they have any hors d'oeuvres the Black triplets haven't touched," Ron said forlornly.
"If Leo Black eats it, it is probably safe," Hermione said shrewdly as she glanced over to where Leo and his wife were conversing with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley as Professor Dumbledore looked on, simultaneously listening to the conversation and watching the Order members interact with each other.
"He isn't eating anything," Ron grumbled as he turned his attention from Leo and started monitoring Holly and Ivy as they continued to serve appetizers. "Where is the third triplet, anyway?"
"Preparing some other prank, I suppose," Hermione surmised.
Ron and Hermione's joint loneliness was relieved when Tonks, one of the younger members of the Order of the Phoenix entered the room. Seeing Ron and Hermione, she strolled over.
"Wotcher," Tonks said. "Has anything exciting happened yet?"
"No," Ron said, still searching for uncontaminated food. "It's just stuffy grownups talking about the war and making nice to each other."
"Leo Black did bring news that Harry and Ginny are fine," Hermione said. "But if he has shared any news about what his Ministry is going to do about the You-Know-Who situation, nobody has told us."
"Yeah, I feel low on the totem pole, too, sometimes," Tonks admitted. "Not today, though. I got invited to this reception twice. Once by the triplets and once by Dumbledore. It's lucky I was not supposed to be on duty tonight."
"The triplets must like you if they specifically invited you to come," Hermione said. "Ron and I were just talking about how they invited us even though Dumbledore might not have."
"I still think they had ulterior motives," Ron said as hunger-inspired grouchiness began to set in.
Because of her unique ability to transform her appearance at will, Captain Tonks was able to make herself appear as if she was her younger self—punk hairstyle and all—before boarding one of the boats that carried visitors to Azkaban to the island. She had arrived at Azkaban's harbor and was walking to the entrance before she encountered Azkaban's guards.
"Halt! Who goes there?" one of the guards at the main entrance yelled.
"Auror Tonks, acting on special assignment from the Minister of Magic's office," Captain Tonks yelled back.
"You may approach," the guard yelled back.
Stifling a sigh of relief and doing her level best to squelch any emotion that might be detected by the many devices used by the Azkaban guards, Tonks approached the main doors and waited to be allowed into the prison. As soon as the guards had examined her Auror badge, Tonks was shown through the doors and was greeted by one of the guard Aurors. "You will need to check in with Warden Cratcher before going about your business," the Auror said.
"Ever since those three mysterious Unspeakables walked off with Bellatrix Lestrange, the warden has been extra cautious," the Auror explained apologetically. "All visitors must be screened by him personally before going about their business—even the rubbish collector."
"I understand," Tonks said, inwardly smirking as she followed the Auror to Warden Cratcher's office and imagined how the Black triplets had apparently removed a prisoner from Azkaban so easily. She just hoped that the triplets had not made it impossible for her and her battalion to seize Azkaban.
When Tonks and her escort arrived at the hallway outside Warden Cratcher's office, the warden's assistant emerged from his open office that sat next to the warden's office and greeted them.
"I'm sorry, but you will have to wait," the assistant explained to Tonks. "The warden is in a meeting."
"I was hoping that I would be able to be in and out more quickly," Tonks said, trying push the issue without seeming too aggressive or suspicious. "The witches and wizards the Minister has appointed to investigate Bellatrix Lestrange's escape asked me to confirm the configuration on some of the permanent wards. It would only take me a few minutes to take a peek and be on my way."
"If they had sent word ahead that you were coming, that might be different," the assistant said firmly. "And, if it were not after normal Ministry hours, we might have been able to confirm your instructions with the Minister's office and possibly work around the warden's policy. As it is, you will just have to wait for Warden Cratcher."
Tonks sighed and took a seat on one of the benches outside the warden's office. "It's not my fault they decided I had to come now," she said, deliberately making her voice sound gloomy.
"I know. Some of those people that run the Ministry truly can be annoying," the assistant sympathized. He stepped back into his office.
The Auror that had escorted Tonks to the warden's office shrugged at Tonks before departing to return to the main entrance.
Tonks sat quietly for about ten minutes before attempting to engage the warden's assistant in conversation. "So, how long is this meeting the warden is in going to last, do you think?"
"I don't know," the assistant replied distractedly. "Director Bones arrived for a surprise inspection about an hour ago. She has been in there with the warden ever since. She's still pretty furious about the Lestrange escape and has not gotten the answers for which she has been looking."
"Oh," said Tonks, her mind suddenly racing.
There was silence for about another minute.
"Um, is there a toilet I could use?" Tonks inquired.
"I was hoping for some action by now," Undersecretary Ronald Weasley complained. He, Lieutenant Moody, and Violet Black were standing near the edge of the cliff next to the ocean that separated Azkaban from the mainland. The Aurors of Captain Tonks's battalion were in the bus, parked a ways off and camouflaged.
"These operations never go as smoothly as expected," Lieutenant Moody said sagely as he and Ron peered through omninoculars across the water at Azkaban. "Honestly, we'll be lucky if we get to use either of the plans we made up."
"Considering how much embarrassment the guards suffered after my mother's counterpart disappeared, they are likely being more careful," Violet Black said.
They continued watching the prison from afar until Captain Tonks's Patronus suddenly crossed the water between them and Azkaban and approached them. The Patronus hovered near them as Tonks's voice spoke eerily. "Director Bones is here on surprise inspection. I doubt I can get to ward controls on schedule. Commence some sort of attack. I will try to neutralize Bones and her escort, if any, once the fighting starts."
Moody, Ron, and Violet stared at the Patronus until it faded away.
"Merlin!" Violet exclaimed. "If we capture the Amelia Bones of this dimension and put her under our control, my mother will be ecstatic! Think of the rewards! Think of the presents at all the Christmases in the future!"
"It would be better for us to focus on doing what Harry instructed—seize control of the prison and prepare for some sort of an attack," Moody said.
"Right," Ron agreed, already mentally assessing the options. "As we discussed earlier this morning, we don't want to be killing any of the guards. The problem is, we are going to have to get past wards, and taking down the wards is going to trigger all sorts of alarms."
"You're going to erect anti-apparition and anti-communication wards, right?" Violet said.
"Yeah," Ron said. "We'll do that first. Then we bust the wards. Then we storm the prison . . . strategically."
"How do we take out the wards?" Moody asked.
Ron sighed. "We kind of speculated that Hermione and the Unspeakables could help with that in the event we had to do this the hard way. Where are they?"
"The ward hardware they are bringing can't travel as fast as we can," Moody said. "So, we're going to have to abandon that plan. But, it seems to me that we have an honorary Unspeakable with us, already." He gave Violet a significant glance.
Violet grimaced. "Taking down those wards will take a lot of raw power—especially if we're on a tight schedule. I would need help."
"What about your sisters? Where are they?" Ron asked.
"I can fetch them," Violet said. "The three of us could probably do it, but don't count on us being able to do anything else to help you for a day or two. Or a week. Or two."
"All right, as soon as we get the gist of the storm-the-fortress plan worked out, track down your sisters and get them here as soon as possible," Ron said.
"What are you thinking for storm-the-fortress?" Moody asked Ron.
"They're going to expect the attack to come from windows or the main entrance. I think it would be good to enter through the roof and move through the cell block with the most Dementors and then on down to the main level. We can even push the Dementors ahead of us to distract or incapacitate the Auror guards." Ron said.
"Those guards are going to be skilled at casting the Patronus spell," Moody cautioned.
Ron looked at Violet. "Does your Dementor-control method allow for the possibility of pushing the Dementors toward a Patronus?"
"Absolutely," Violet said. "You can even prevent them from actually harming the Aurors. I do not know if the Dementors will have the same effect on people if there is a Patronus present, but they'll at least be physically present and causing trouble."
"And can you make it so that one of us can control the Dementors instead of you? Obviously, you're going to be breaking the wards and then being too exhausted to do much," Ron said.
Violet nodded again. "Let me fetch it for you." She retreated toward where she had parked the bus of Aurors and returned with a guitar case. "As you can see," she declared, "it is going to be as simple as strumming a guitar."
Ron and Moody sighed.
"I'm just kidding," Violet said. She opened the guitar case and upended it. A large and ugly sword fell out and onto the ground, making an audible thud. "Whoever holdest this sword shalt hath the power to commandest the Dementors."
Moody stared at the sword. "That's a piece of rubbish if I ever saw one."
"It was a prototype for the current method our Ministry uses to control Dementors," Violet defended. "It worked just fine, but the Unspeakables decided that it would be better to somehow split the same power between multiple magical objects so that it wasn't just on one person at a time."
"Of course," Moody said, nodding knowingly, "I've seen the daggers the Azkaban guards in our dimension now have."
"Exactly," Violet said. "So once that decision was made, there was no good reason to bother polishing, sharpening, or otherwise decorating this sword."
Ron bent over and picked it up by its simple handle. "Bloody hell, it's heavy!"
"Sorry," Violet said, not really sounding that sorry.
"Does this sword have a name?" Ron asked.
"Um . . . how about Blade of the Dead Dementor?" Violet responded.
"That's a stupid name," Ron scoffed.
Moody was eyeing the sword speculatively. "Would I be correct in guessing that Dementors were harmed and possibly even killed in the making of this sword?"
"I would imagine so," Violet said. "Now, shall I go fetch my sisters?"
"Yes," Ron said, still holding the sword and staring at it.
Tonks sat in the hall outside the warden's office, doing her best to look casual, but impatient. The warden was still in a closed meeting with Director Bones, and Tonks was beginning to wonder if there was not some romantic tryst going on behind the door to the warden's office. The arrival of one of the Auror guards broke the monotony.
"Is the warden available?" the guard asked.
"No, why?" the warden's assistant responded.
"The Dementors are acting real strange," the Auror guard said. "It's almost like they can sense something that we cannot. Some of us think they may be scared of something or anticipating that something is about to happen."
"What do the lookouts at the gates or above the harbor have to say?" the assistant asked.
"They don't see anything," the Auror guard said.
"That's odd. Maybe the Dementors are planning an uprising or a strike," the assistant said. "Let's watch out for that possibility. Notify me or the warden if the situation escalates."
The Auror guard saluted. "Will do."
"A toast to Leo Black, for he's a jolly good fellow!" the Weasley twins said loudly and in unison, holding up imaginary goblets.
"Thank you," Leo Black said, smiling graciously as his father, Captain Sirius, winked at the twins.
"The first course hasn't even been served!" Mrs. Weasley said, reprimanding her prankster sons as she and Arthur sat down at the long dinner table that had appeared in the skyscraper ballroom
Young Hermione smiled and whispered to Ron. "They're trying too hard. I think they like the Black triplets and are trying to impress them."
"The triplets are lookers," Ron confessed, "even if they scare me."
Hermione glared at him and suddenly seemed as if she would be uninterested in anything Ron had to say for the next little while.
As soon as everyone was seated at the dinner table, Leo used his fork to tap on one of the glasses in front of him. "Thank you for coming, tonight. Before the evening is over, we will have some serious business to discuss. Until then, let us enjoy a meal together."
"Hear, hear!" Fred and George called out.
Leo smiled and looked at his plate expectantly. Nothing happened. After a couple of minutes had passed, he finally stood up. "Um, sorry. Let me check the kitchen to see what the holdup is."
"It's those bloody triplets. What did he expect?" Mad-Eye Moody said loudly as Leo left the room.
Leo returned a minute later. "It appears that the Black triplets have left the building and will not be serving for us. Can anybody help me serve?"
"Are you sure you three know what you're doing?" Ron said as he watched the Black triplets climb into a wooden rowboat that rested on the sand near the edge of the water.
"Of course we're sure," Violet said as she and her sisters sat down in the boat.
"Whether we actually know what we're doing is a different matter," Ivy said.
"Once we get out to the far side of the prison, we'll begin our assault on the wards," Holly told Ron. "It should take several minutes."
"Now," Violet said, looking at Ron expectantly, "would you mind helping us shove off?"
"Gladly," Ron said, drawing his wand and banishing the boat with a repelling charm. He snickered as the boat flew through the air and landed in the water with a splash that soaked the triplets and left them squealing loudly. "The anti-apparition and anti-communication wards should be up within ten minutes!" he yelled to the triplets.
Their coordinated response was non-verbal and extremely impolite.
Captain Tonks was twiddling her thumbs when a deafening boom echoed through the walls of Azkaban. In less than a second, the Azkaban alarms were wailing. Repressing the urge to grin gleefully, Tonks stood, drew her wand, and did her best to look confused and fearful.
Warden Cratcher emerged from his office with Director Bones and her detachment of bodyguards at about the same time a witch came running toward the office from down the hall. "What's happening?" the warden yelled as his assistant joined the throng in the hallway.
"Somebody just hit the main wards with a massive burst of arcane magic!" the witch explained urgently.
"That should be impossible!" Warden Cratcher's assistant snapped. "The wards are specifically designed to not only repel arcane magic, but channel it back onto the caster."
A second boom echoed through Azkaban's walls as the alarms continued to wail. Another witch stuck her head through the doorway of an office near the warden's office. "Communications and apparition are cut off," she yelled. "We'll keep trying to transmit a distress signal to the Ministry!" She disappeared back into the office.
The witch who had come down the hall to notify Warden Cratcher of the attack looked around fearfully as if she expected Death Eaters to explode through the walls at any instant. She soon gathered her wits to respond to the warden's assistant. "I realize the wards are designed to repel arcane magic, but whoever is casting the arcane magic has found a way isolate it from the caster and then hurl it at targets. The wards are not able to channel it back."
Warden Cratcher was shaking his head disbelievingly. "That sort of mastery over arcane magic is supposed to be impossible."
"The Department of Mysteries has been experimenting with arcane magic," Director Bones said, a small amount of shock manifesting itself in her voice, "but it was my impression that any practical application was years in the future."
The third boom sounded as another burst of arcane magic hit the wards.
A wizard came running from the same place from which the witch had come. "The wards are going to fail!" he yelled. "The wards are pushing back on the arcane magic and bracing themselves on the ward stones. The problem is that— "
He was interrupted by a fourth boom, but continued on immediately after, "The problem is that the wards are not getting rid of the arcane magic. Each burst of arcane magic forces more arcane magic toward the wards, causing the wards to push back on even more arcane magic than before, causing the wards to brace themselves even harder on the ward stones. At some point, the ward stones are going to shatter!"
His statement ended with the fifth boom.
"Let's get to the main area of the prison," Director Bones suggested. "Something is going to be coming through those wards, and we need to be ready. Auror Tonks? You're not assigned to Azkaban. What are you doing here?'
"The Minister's office sent me to confirm that certain wards were installed according to protocol," Captain Tonks said, comfortable in the fact that she could say anything because Director Bones would not be able to check up on it before her battalion had stormed the prison. "You know, they're investigating Bellatrix's escape."
"Right," Director Bones said, "you're with me, now."
"Yes, ma'am," Captain Tonks said as she fell into line with the group.
Feeling woozy, Holly Black did her best to stand up and maintain her balance in the boat. Violet and Ivy were hanging over opposite sides of the boat and vomiting while trying to use their hands to hold back their hair from their faces.
Having been the first to start vomiting after having cast the fourth burst of arcane magic, Violet was the first to recover enough to lay down in the bottom of the boat while Ivy continued to hang over the side and retch. "Holly, you're going to have to make this next one count," she moaned. "I don't think Ivy or I are up to another round."
"Right," Holly said weakly as she squinted toward Azkaban. Fortunately, it and the wards presented a big enough target that she would not have to worry too much about aiming. "Tell me when you're ready."
"I got you," Violet said, fumbling a bit before pointing her wand upward toward the sky and casting a spell.
Holly raised her arm and pointed it toward where Violet had cast her spell. Holly closed her eyes and began quietly uttering the words that would summon the arcane magic. Despite her eyes being closed, she could feel the arcane magic as it channeled through her, into her wand, and up into the sky. Mentally, she could picture an orb resembling white lightning growing in the air controlled by Violet's magic.
Holly continued uttering the incantation over and over as the magical strength drained out of her. Finally, when she began to feel as if she might pass out, she opened her eyes, broke the connection between her and the orb of arcane magic, and at Violet's signal, cast the spell that would propel the orb of arcane magic toward the Azkaban wards.
The orb flew toward Azkaban and, with an audible boom, crashed into the invisible wards surrounding the prison. Realizing that she was likely about to begin vomiting, Holly moved as if to kneel down in the boat, but blacked out before she could even bend either of her knees.
The sixth boom, louder than the preceding five, sounded throughout the prison. This time, however, it was followed by a number of smaller booms and popping noises from within the prison.
"We have total ward failure!" echoed the magically amplified voice of an Auror throughout the entire prison. "All guards take defensive stances."
"Bugger," Warden Cratcher muttered as he and Director Bones paced back and forth near the main entrance of the prison while Aurors cast spells to reinforce the protections on the doorway. The warden glanced at Director Bones. "You don't think this is You-Know-Who, do you?"
"There is a very strong chance that it is," Director Bones replied distractedly as she surveyed everybody and everything in the room. "I don't know who else would want to break prisoners out."
Tonks was also scanning her surroundings, wondering whether Ron and Moody would try some clever way to come through an entrance or window or whether they would take another avenue. Her thoughts were interrupted by an Auror yelling.
"The Dementors are storming the lower floors!" an Auror stationed near one of the staircases yelled toward the warden and Director Bones. "They're headed down here!"
"Everybody who knows how to cast a Patronus, do it now!" Director Bones yelled, not bothering to give the warden the courtesy of commanding his own people.
"We didn't think about this very well," Undersecretary Ron mused as he and Lieutenant Moody stood on the roof of Azkaban while dozens of Aurors were systematically landing on the roof, removing concealment charms from themselves, and dismounting from their brooms. "Where do we blow the hole? If we make a hole in the wrong place, it might screw up Hermione's wards."
"Do it on an edge—over here," Moody said, leading Ron toward a corner of the roof.
Ron followed, dragging the burdensome Blade of the Dead Dementor behind him. "Okay." He gestured to the Aurors that he had previously assigned to make the hole.
They made short work of Azkaban's roof, and soon Ron, Moody, and the big, ugly sword were following the first squad of Aurors down into the top-floor cellblock of Azkaban. As the top cellblock that held the highest security prisoners, there should have been as many as half of the Dementors of Azkaban present, but the cellblock was devoid of Dementors.
"I think the sword is working," Ron mused as the prisoners stared at the invasion force with shock.
"You're not the Dark Lord," one of the prisoners wailed.
"No, we're here to make your life worse, you scumbag!" Moody yelled. He jerked his head toward a couple of the other Auror Lieutenants. "You! Make sure the roof remains secured and that things are moving smoothly. One of you see to it that the prisoners in this cellblock remain secured.
"Also, I want a squad to go down and prevent anybody from leaving by the main entrance of the prison," Ron commanded.
Ron, Moody, and the rest of the Aurors proceeded down to the next floors and through the respective cellblocks. Each floor and cellblock proved to be devoid of Dementors. As they moved down through the prison toward the main level, Moody ordered various teams of Aurors to secure and guard the prisoners on each floor.
When they attempted to move down into the cellblock located just one floor above the main level of the prison, they found all of the prison's Dementors huddled in the hallways. Some of the prisoners in the cells on the floor were screaming, but most of them had passed out from being exposed to so many Dementors at the same time.
Ron shoved aside the guilt he was feeling for what the low-security prisoners, who were no doubt serving short prison sentences, were suffering and focused on what needed to happen next. "The guards and all them must be down on the main floor using Patronus charms to keep the Dementors at bay," Ron said to Moody.
"I'd say you're right," Moody replied. He turned to the Aurors that were with them and barked an order. "Cast Patronus charms!"
Ron and Moody watched as each Auror's Patronus charged down into the cellblock and pushed the Dementors back enough to allow a small number of people to squeeze down into the cellblock passageway.
"I'd say, we're going to have to get creative with that big sword," Moody mused.
Trying to avoid the appearance that she was eavesdropping, Captain Tonks kept close to Warden Cratcher and Director Bones as they paced about and considered their options.
"The Dementors are starting to push back on our Patronus charms," an Auror informed Director Bones. "Something must be forcing them down toward us."
"How are the attackers doing that?" the warden demanded. "I would not think that You-Know-Who's followers could cast the Patronus charm."
"I don't know," Director Bones said. "We may have to abandon the prison if we want to live."
"And let all of the prisoners escape?" the warden asked incredulously.
Director Bones threw up her hands. "If we all die fighting the people attacking the prison, the attackers will still have the prisoners and the Ministry will be out a couple of dozen Aurors."
"Clearly, they are afraid of that sword," Moody commented.
"Violet said that I could actually control the Dementors," Ron said. "Not just make them afraid."
"I suspect it is as simple as asking them to do what you want," Moody said.
Ron shrugged and then used nearly all the strength in his arms to hold the Blade of the Dead Dementor upright. "Bring me the Dementor who is in charge!" he yelled as he tried to maintain his balance.
The mass of black-robed creatures rippled as the Dementors shuffled and moved to let one of the other Dementors through. Apparently, this was the senior Dementor.
Brandishing the sword as best he could, Ron made his demands. "I want all you to charge down to the main floor. You can stay as far back from the Patronuses as you want, but I expect you to make chaos and give us a chance to get in there and stun the guards. As soon as they're all down, you can go hide on one of the upper floors. Got it?"
The Dementor did not speak, nor did it move.
"Well, that's what I expect," Ron said. "If that is not what happens, there will be consequences. Keep in mind that the quicker we are able to get down there and subdue the defenders, the quicker this will be over for you." He then held the sword out in front of him and began walking.
"Come on!" Moody roared to the Aurors behind him and Ron.
"They're coming!" one of the Aurors screamed.
"Impossible," the warden cried as he turned toward the main entrance.
"Evacuate!" Director Bones shouted as several dozen Dementors began sweeping down the stairs and into the main level of the prison, somehow overcoming or ignoring the power of the Patronuses.
Several Aurors began attempting to open the main entrance to the prison, but it was stuck shut.
Captain Tonks saw her chance in the chaos and took it. After glancing over her shoulder to confirm that nobody was watching her, she used her wand to shoot a stunner at Director Bones's back. As Amelia Bones slumped to the floor, Tonks hit the warden with a stunner and then proceeded to move around the room. By this time, all the Dementors of Azkaban were running around the main floor frantically. Over the noise, Tonks could hear Lieutenant Moody shouting commands. Grinning, Tonks made her way toward his voice, stopping to stun any of the other dimension's Aurors she saw on the way.
After about five minutes, the Dementors suddenly charged for the stairs disappeared up into one of the upper floors, leaving many of the Aurors from Captain Tonks's battalion standing with her, Ron, and Moody.
"That wasn't so bad," Ron commented.
"It isn't over yet," Moody said darkly. "We were told to prepare for the prison to be attacked, weren't we?"
"Yes," Captain Tonks sighed. "But, that is not my responsibility. I am supposed to return to our dimension as soon as possible. Ron, you need to get word to Sirius telling him that he needs to take over for me."
"Okay," Ron said as he looked around at the unconscious Azkaban guards. "Let's figure out what to do with them. I'll send somebody to fetch Captain Black. Somebody should also try to contact my wife and see where she is, now that things are cleared up enough for her to start erecting her wards."
"Officially, they got married pretty quickly after Hogwarts," Captain Sirius said to the members of the Order who were lingering over the remains of dinner and waiting for desert to be served. "But unofficially, I think Rose sealed the deal when they were about five-years-old."
Many of the Order members laughed politely, though some of them put their hearts into it.
Leo Black blushed, picked up his goblet, and took a long sip.
"I was at least seven," Rose said calmly as she glanced around unapologetically.
Lieutenant Sirius was grinning, Mrs. Weasley was looking at Rose speculatively, and Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling merrily, but none of them had a chance to make a comment before a door to the room burst open to admit an unfamiliar, uniformed Auror carrying a piece of parchment.
"Message for you, sir," the Auror said brusquely as he strode across the room and handed Leo the sheet of parchment.
All the members of the Order were staring at the strange Auror with confused faces, but Dumbledore and Mad-Eye Moody looked particularly concerned. They were halfway out of their chairs and staring at Leo as he read the message.
Leo took a moment to read the message written on the parchment as the strange Auror hovered near him. He looked up at his dinner guests and grinned apologetically. "It appears that the more difficult part of this meeting has arrived. You are not going to like what I have to say, but please keep in mind that now is not the time to have a discussion about whether I am a nefarious villain of some sort. What is happening now is not what Minister Black hoped or planned for at all. This is in fact a real emergency, and any assistance you can render tonight will be greatly appreciated."
"What's going on?" Mad-Eye Moody demanded. "And how is it that there are Aurors from your dimension in our dimension?"
"This is a communiqué from Special Undersecretary Ronald Weasley informing me that Aurors from my dimension under the command of Captain Tonks have seized control of your Azkaban," Leo announced.
The Order members began reacting loudly. Some were outraged that Minister Black would send Aurors to seize control of their Ministry's assets. Others were a bit surprised that anybody named Ron Weasley could be an undersecretary to the Minister of Magic. Tonks was having mixed feelings.
"Silence!" Dumbledore yelled. The room quieted down and he looked at Leo, his blue eyes blazing.
"Eh, thank you," Leo said, cringing at the intense look in Dumbledore's eyes. "Our Ministry has intelligence that strongly suggests that one or more Dark Lords will be leading an attack against Azkaban within the next few hours. The battalion of Aurors that took Azkaban of course stands ready to defend, and our Department of Mysteries is erecting wards as quickly as possible."
Leo paused and looked around, seemingly surprised that everybody was still quietly listening to him.
Leo gestured to Captain Sirius. "My father, Captain Black, has been ordered to relieve Captain Tonks of command of the battalion and prepare for the attack. Our Ministry would be grateful for any support that the Order of the Phoenix will be willing to render. Any questions?"
"Yes!" Lieutenant Sirius yelled, raising his hand. "If my counterpart is in command of the defense force, wouldn't I, his specially appointed lieutenant, be second-in-command?"
Leo shrugged as he drew his wand. "I have no clue. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm on my way to Azkaban to see what there is I can help out with. I hope you all will follow soon." He disappeared with a faint popping noise.
"I guess I had better get moving, seeing as I'm supposed to be in charge," Captain Sirius said, standing up, and drawing his wand.
"Allow me to side-apparate with you, Captain," Dumbledore said also standing up and moving swiftly for someone his age.
"Be my guest," Captain Sirius said, holding out his arm out for Dumbledore as other Order members scrambled to draw their wands and find transportation to Azkaban.
"Don't you even think about it!" Mrs. Weasley screamed at Ron and Hermione, who were already linking arms with the Weasley twins.
Ron, Hermione, and the twins disappeared, followed shortly by Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and everybody else that had been present at the dinner. In less than thirty seconds, the room was empty.
From underneath Professor Dumbledore's chair, a delay-timer whoopee cushion sounded a glorious battle cry.