The One He Feared
Chapter Four: Weddings and Funerals
The squeal of burning tyres was all the warning the Muggles had. The Jaguar rocketed out of the car park with a throaty roar, emerging from the underground ramp and turning onto the busy street without slowing. One side of the car lifted precariously as it cut its way through the breaking traffic, before it slammed back to the ground and sped onto a roundabout.
"Watch out!" shouted Harry, gripping the edges of his leather seat as they passed within an inch of another car.
Ron laughed and accelerated, turning around to grin at the three witches in the back seat. "You all right?"
"Again!" called Gabrielle, bouncing happily between her older cousins, a pair of pretty witches around Harry's age. They were sitting rather rigidly in their seats, their previously-perfect hair blowing in the wind coming in through the windows.
The back-end of a lorry loomed large in the windscreen. "Brake!" Harry shouted, raising his wand, but Ron swerved before he could cast, sweeping into the next lane and pointing his own wand out the window.
White light flashed and a moment later the lorry was gone, dwindling rapidly in the mirror as it slowed to a crawl. "Ha!" Ron shouted. "Dunno what Hermione was talking about-driving's easy!"
"If I survive this, I'm going to kill Fleur," one of the cousins said in French, eyeing Ron like he was one of Hagrid's pets. Harry snorted and turned to Gabrielle, who was acting as their official interpreter.
"Gabby, please tell Camille that she is completely safe," he said, taking care to speak slowly and clearly. Gabrielle translated; Camille just looked at Harry incredulously as Ron started fiddling with the radio, not even glancing at the road.
A red light approached. Harry cleared his throat.
"What?" said Ron, looking up in annoyance. Harry just pointed at the cross traffic getting closer by the second.
Ron's eyes widened. "Shit!" He jabbed his wand, flipping the light green, and they sailed through the crossroads amid the sound of cars screeching to a halt.
"What is 'shit'?" asked Gabrielle, cocking her head curiously.
Harry coughed significantly, but for once Ron was keeping his eyes on the road. "It's something you say when something bad happens," Ron explained, hiding his smile from Gabrielle, "kinda like 'oh dear'."
"Shit," Gabby practiced, saying the word forcefully, "is that right, Ron? Shit, shit, shit!"
Ron snorted. "That's perfect, Gabby," he said, a laugh in his voice, "hey, there's another word you should know that's similar, it goes fu-"
A flick of Harry's wand silenced him. "That's quite enough, I think," said Harry mildly, before turning to Gabrielle, "best not to use that word around your parents, my dear."
Ron sent Harry an evil look and pointed violently at his mouth. Harry frowned in mock confusion. "Ever so sorry," he said, and he cupped his ear as if Ron was a long distance away. "You're going to have to speak up, mate."
The rest of their journey was significantly less eventful. Ron gave up trying to unsilence himself after a few minutes, resigning himself to glaring at the road, his lips moving in what could only be muttered curses. Harry chatted intermittently with Camille and Emilie, pointing out landmarks while Gabrielle translated. He could have spoken in French, of course, but it was good for young Gabby to practice her English.
After they left London they zoomed down the motorway before exiting onto winding country lanes. It wasn't until they passed Bristol that Harry took pity on Ron, removing the silencing charm with a wave of his hand. After a few minutes of sulking he was chatting cheerfully again, ignoring one near-collision after the next as he turned around to talk with the attractive foreigners.
They arrived at the Burrow at two o'clock.
"Here we are, ladies!" said Ron as they crept up the drive. A large, white pavilion was sitting in the field next to the house and the yard contained a small fleet of parked cars, most of them looking like they'd driven straight out of the forties.
As soon as the car stopped, the girls rushed out to greet family members with multiple kisses to each cheek, all the time chattering excitedly in rapid French. The guests were mingling politely, formally dressed and clutching flutes of champagne, slowly drifting over to the pavilion to find their seats.
Molly Weasley came hurrying over, already in her dress robes. "Quickly now, boys!" she said, herding them towards the house. "I've left your robes in your room. The wedding starts in twenty minutes, so chop chop!"
The house was filled with chaotic energy as everyone tried to get ready. The caterers were shouting in the kitchen; Mr Weasley was struggling with his bow tie, trying to use a large spoon as a mirror; and the bridesmaids were running around screaming, each one of them apparently suffering not from the Cruciatus curse but rather a "complete disaster" with their hair, make-up, or dress.
Harry and Ron made their way through it all rather stealthily, not wishing to get drawn into some new responsibility.
Ron closed the door of his bedroom with a sigh of relief. "You'd think it'd be more organised, what with all the time they spent planning the damn thing." He took a moment to lean against the door and relax.
Harry stretched his arms above his head and swung from side to side, cracking his back. "The chaos is part of the fun, I think. A wedding wouldn't be a wedding without it."
"Well, better them than us," Ron replied, before moving over to the bed to look at the dress robes laid out. They were uncomplicated affairs, much like the simple robes which Harry had worn to the Yule Ball. "At least I have proper robes this time."
Harry cocked his head curiously. "Whatever did happen do your old robes?" He grinned. "They were rather dashing, weren't they? I don't think Padma will ever forget seeing you come down the stairs."
"Prick," Ron laughed, chucking a used sock at Harry, who let it land on his head. "And I gave them to Dobby, actually. The little fellow almost cried in happiness."
"I can imagine," said Harry, well-used to Dobby's tendency to gush, "but now there's a thought," he added, "I wonder if we should bring him with us, when we do leave Hogwarts…"
"Are you mad?" said Ron incredulously, "Hermione would kill us!"
And as if summoned, Hermione suddenly came through the door. Her hair was already sorted, pulled up into a complex bun, but she was still carrying a pair of high heels, and her red dress was hanging open at the back. "Harry, will you do me up?" she began, then paused when she saw them lounging around. "Why aren't you dressed yet? Come on, the ceremony is about to start!"
"In a moment," said Harry, moving over to his best friend. "Turn around." She spun obediently and he zipped up her dress, pretending not to notice the black lace of her bra. Ron looked rather put out, but Harry understood: a girl couldn't just ask her crush to do up her dress. It was far too forward.
"How do I look?" said Hermione, turning back around, "is my hair still okay?"
"You look great," said Harry, not needing to lie. She looked, Harry realised, like an adult witch. Her dress was a snug fit, albeit conservative in cut, and she was wearing more make-up than usual.
"FIVE MINUTES!" Mrs Weasley shouted, her voice carrying clearly up the stairs.
"Quick, hurry," urged Hermione, passing Harry his shirt, "your hair's a mess, but no time to do anything with it now."
"Um, Hermione?" said Ron, holding his own shirt, "are you planning on staying?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Honestly, it's not like you're getting naked," she said, but she turned to go anyway, her cheeks pink.
"Hang on," said Harry, taking off his t-shirt, "don't go yet, I've got something to give you. Just turn around."
She did so, bending down to put on her heels, and the boys changed in record time, not even using the full five minutes.
"Okay, let's go," said Ron, opening the door. The house was much quieter-they were likely the last ones out.
"You said you had something to give us?" said Hermione as they walked down the stairs, moving slowly as she was wearing heels.
"That's right," said Harry, pulling a pair of rings out of the air. They were simple silver bands, unadorned with any pattern or jewels. "This one's for you," he said, passing Hermione the smaller ring, then he gave Ron the other.
"Er, thanks?" said Ron, looking at the ring, scepticism in his voice. "But why…?"
"They'll allow you to apparate," said Harry.
"Nice," Ron replied, immediately putting it onto a finger.
Hermione frowned, but slid the ring on anyway. "I thought the Sound stopped apparition completely," she said. A week had passed since its activation and the Sound was still up, the almost inaudible hum quickly becoming a part of daily life.
"It does, generally," said Harry as they left the house, joining the stragglers making their way to the pavilion. "But there are exceptions, for obvious reasons. After all, we can't have the Minister himself inconvenienced, can we?" He paused. "Fortunately, I happen to know one of the exceptions."
"Oh?" asked Hermione, her voice soft, and slightly dangerous. It was how she sounded every time Harry revealed knowledge that he couldn't possibly know, testing the limits of her trust. "And why can't Voldemort do the same? And for that matter, why can't you just make one of these for the whole Order?"
"Because the Ministry loves its little secrets," said Harry, smiling. "The hole in the Sound is one of their most closely guarded… not even Aurors get one of these rings, though I've seen Kingsley wearing one."
Hermione nodded. "So if the whole Order started jumping through the hole…?"
"They would almost certainly get caught," completed Harry, "an apparition here and there is expected, but not that kind of traffic. And as soon the Improper Use of Magic Office got hold of it, Voldemort would know."
The low murmur of hushed conversation met them in the pavilion, which was of course larger on the inside. There was grass underfoot and at the end of the aisle was an archway of ivy, under which Bill was awaiting his bride. His ponytail rather clashed with his smart robes, but he managed to pull it off through sheer power of cool, chatting casually with Charlie.
Harry, Ron and Hermione had reserved seating at the front, so they hurried forward rather conspicuously, the photographer's flash going mad the moment he saw Harry. Harry tried to ignore it and smile. It wouldn't do to be scowling on all the wedding photos.
It was a beautiful ceremony. Fleur looked like a goddess when she entered to the sound of violins, her distant descent from Helen of Troy never more obvious. Her dress was equally stunning, white and silver, with a short train carried by Gabrielle.
The ceremony was also mercifully short, no doubt thanks to the Weasleys' influence. There were no songs, and only a very brief speech on the virtues of marriage. Fleur had barely walked down the aisle before they were already saying their vows, and then it was done with a kiss and a cheer, and everyone was standing up, moving to congratulate the happy couple.
Lunch came next, the seven course French menu devised by Apolline, though personally Harry preferred Mrs Weasley's home cooking. He kept that opinion private, joining the rest of his table in praising everything from the scallops to the cheese, making sure to sip sparingly at his wine. Moody had given everyone a lecture on drunkenness and constant vigilance the day before, though it sounded like Dedalus Diggle had not been paying attention.
Finally, after a few speeches, the music began and everyone relaxed. Bow ties were undone and people began to mill between tables, waiting for the dancing to start. Ginny wandered off to find Bill and the twins managed to persuade Camille and Emilie to "come and see the garden".
"I'll get us some drinks, shall I?" said Hermione, watching the grinning twins leave, the bottle of wine on their table now empty.
"I'll come with," said Ron, standing up eagerly, offering his arm to Hermione. She smiled and took it, leaving Harry alone at their table.
He wasn't alone for long.
"Harry Potter," said a familiar accented voice, and Viktor Krum sat down opposite him, another man with him. "It has been a long time, no?"
"Indeed," said Harry, offering his hand, before looking to Viktor's friend. "I don't believe we've met," he said, shaking the man's hand. He was a good twenty years older than Viktor, but they shared a similar surly look, with hair cropped short and stiff backs.
"Cezar Rackow," the man replied, "a pleasure to meet you, Mr Potter."
"Master Rackow teaches at Durmstrang," supplied Viktor, "he is here to meet with Auror Moody."
"Ah, I see," Harry said, recalling the Order meeting the day before. "Moody mentioned that you would be coming. The Dark Arts master, aren't you?"
Though it was said casually, the subtext was clear: he was not trusted. But the Order needed allies, and Rackow could be very useful.
Rackow smiled, baring his teeth. "Does that disturb you, Mr Potter?"
"Certainly," said Harry, his tone deceptively light, "but you are far from the first Dark wizard I've worked with, nor, I suspect, will you be the last."
Rackow's smile grew further. "I think we will have many interesting conversations, no?"
Harry stood up. "I look forward to them," he said, "but if you'll excuse me, I believe I just spotted a friend across the room." He nodded to Viktor and walked away, allowing himself to relax, seeking out more pleasant company.
"Luna!" he said, taking the girl's arm in hand as he reached her. She was wearing a pretty, if somewhat bizarre, yellow dress. "Shall we dance?"
"Oh, hello Harry," Luna said, her voice as dreamy as ever. If she was surprised by his sudden appearance, she covered it masterfully, allowing herself to be steered away from the dessert table and towards the dance floor, "I do love to dance," she said with a smile, "but I don't think I know this one."
"Never fear," said Harry as they stepped into the circle of dancers, all of them stamping and clapping and twirling in unison, "we'll make it up as we go along."
And so they did, trying to copy the other dancers and failing miserably, laughing as they spun each other around faster than was sensible, switching partners and switching back again as the music got faster and faster, before suddenly stopping to great applause.
"Mind if I cut in?" said Ginny, stepping onto the dance floor. She was wearing a strapless grey dress with a sash just beneath the bodice, the high waist creating a long, flowing skirt.
"Not at all," said Luna, giving Harry a quick hug. "I like your dress, Ginny. It makes your breasts look quite large."
Harry coughed in surprise, and Ginny laughed.
"Thanks, Luna," she said with a broad grin, "I like your dress too. It suits you."
"Do you think so?" said Luna, giving it a bit of a twirl, "I made it myself, you know."
The music started once more, a drum beat calling people back to dance. Harry held out his hand to Ginny. "I should warn you," he said, "I have no idea what I'm doing."
Ginny looked up at him with mischievous eyes. "That sounds awfully familiar…. if it's anything like last time, you'll learn fast."
And then they were off, carried away by the music, Harry following Ginny's lead, his eyes lingering often on the sun-kissed skin of her exposed shoulders.
"Luna was right, you know," said Harry as they came together.
They linked arms and began to spin around. "About what?"
"That is a good dress."
Ginny laughed. "Why Harry, are you-"
She was interrupted by a flash of light. The music stopped abruptly, the musicians all staring at the centre of the dance floor, where a ball of silver-white light floated.
The room was absolutely still.
"The Ministry is under attack," said a deep voice. It was Kingsley. More sounds came: a shouted incantation, a resounding clang, and a brief scream of pain. "All wands needed. Come now."
And with that, the light disappeared.
For a moment, no-one spoke.
"Moody, Remus, you're with me," said Harry firmly, stepping forward and drawing his wand. He didn't need to shout, so quiet was the room, and Ginny jumped at the sound of his voice. "We'll apparate into the atrium. Ron, Hermione, where are you?"
"Here!" said Hermione, pushing past an elderly couple, Ron just behind her. Everyone was just watching, waiting, though Moody and Remus had come forward.
"You've got a way in?" said Moody, and Harry nodded.
That was all Moody needed to know.
"Tonks, Arthur, with Hermione," Moody continued, picking up where Harry left off. "Ron, you'll take Charlie."
"On three," said Harry, grabbing Moody and Remus by their shoulders. "One, two…"
"Harry!" cried Bill, pushing himself onto the dance floor. "I can help!"
Harry smiled wryly. "Not tonight," he said, then nodded to Ron and Hermione. "Three!"
They apparated into smoke and spell-fire, the atrium filled with the sounds of shouted incantations and the clang of spells hitting shields. Chaos ruled, with impromptu duels forming and breaking then forming again, no one quite sure who the enemy was, everyone shooting spells at whomever happened to cross their path.
It wasn't a battle, it was a riot. Not a natural one either: some Dark magic was driving the panic, suppressing reason and lowering inhibition. Harry could almost taste the metallic tang of the insidious magic, could already feel it attempting to creep into his mind.
He batted a wayward spell into the floor without thinking, his gaze running over the fighting as the others apparated in behind him. Through the madness he saw order: an organised group held the golden gates, blocking access to the elevators, easily repelling anyone who was foolish enough to come to close. Another group was guarding the Floo, forcing the panicking masses back into the melee whenever they approached.
"My god," said Hermione, her eyes wide as she took it all in. "What do we do?"
A man was charging towards them, wand raised and gathering red light, apparently intending to take them all at once. But even as Moody raised his wand, a spell rocketed across from the other side of the room and slammed into the man's side, knocking him to the ground with a scream.
"This is just a distraction," said Harry, before pointing to the group at the gates, "the real battle is below. We'll need to get to the lifts."
Moody grunted assent. "Spread out and head for the gates," he said, "and keep an eye out behind, too."
Tight anticipation coiled in Harry's stomach, a thrill running down his spine. Despite his formidable mental defences, no one was completely immune to the power of the Berserker Curse. "Follow my lead!" he called, and with a purposeful stride he entered the fray.
The crowd broke before him, no more than children to his powers.
A fraction of a second, a twitch of his wand, and three men were flying into the air, reeled backwards by invisible hooks, ropes forming around them. Another sweep of his arm and a blue-white spell smashed a witch's shield like glass. She crumpled to the floor, stunned.
He kept moving forward, heading for the smouldering ruins of the Fountain of Magical Brethren. People were beginning to notice him now, abandoning their duels as they felt the strength of his spells. Legilimens, Harry thought, and he cast his mind out, brushing all those around him. Another banishing charm, another wizard launched through the air. They turned their wands on him and he felt the spells forming, the first syllable of their incantations percolating in their subconscious minds.
He clicked his fingers. A half dozen spells collapsed before they were even half-formed, the lights around their wands fizzling out with a splutter. Expelliarmus. Cries of surprise rang out as their wands yanked out of their hands.
The Order was left trailing behind him.
Tonks was guarding their rear, her dress split up to the hip to allow greater maneuverability. "Keep going!" she shouted, casting defensive spells frantically. The group of wizards guarding the Floo had apparently noticed them and were taking potshots from across the hall. Ron followed closer behind, trying to keep pace with Harry's rapid progress, but moving far more cautiously.
Feeling a spell bounce off his shield, Harry turned. A wizard was standing before him, wand raised, apparently regretting his decision.
The man's eyes widened. "Harry Potter!"
"Good evening," said Harry pleasantly, and with a pop the man turned into a frog.
A voice rang out in pain: "Harry!"
It was Hermione. Harry spun around to see her fall to the floor, somehow separated from the others, a wizard advancing upon her as she scrambled for her wand. Harry ran towards her, seeing Moody doing the same from the corner of his eye.
They weren't going to make it. The wizard raised his wand with lethal intent, Hermione cringed back, and Harry felt white hot Berserker fury.
His spell rent the air, a shockwave shooting forwards at incredible speed, the force of its casting making the ground itself vibrate. The wizard never even knew he was under attack. One moment he was there, wand raised, and a moment later he was blasted into ashes.
The fighting around them stopped almost at once, the sheer power of Harry's spell having momentarily shocked the crowd out of the enchantment. Pockets of whispers broke out as Ministry workers looked around to find themselves surrounded by their colleagues.
"The hell's going on?"
Harry reached Hermione just as she picked up her wand. "You alright?" he asked, his voice sounding loud in the sudden quiet. Snapped out of their madness, unable to flee yet unwilling to fight, it seemed that none of the crowd knew what to do next.
Harry held out his hand and Hermione took it, coming to her feet with a wobble. "It's these stupid shoes!" she said, kicking them off, "I think I've twisted my ankle."
Harry blinked. He'd almost entirely forgotten: they'd been at a wedding not ten minutes ago. "Intorqueo," he said, pointing his wand at her feet. The muscles rippled beneath her skin."Better?"
She wiggled her ankle. "Much."
"Then let's go."
He started towards the gates, a path clearing ahead of him as everyone edged away. The rest of the Order fell in behind him.
The wizards guarding the gates were lined up in two rows, almost thirty wizards in total, all of them wearing the black and gold robes of Ministry security. Though their wands were pointing directly at Harry, he could see doubt on their faces as he came closer, and here and there they began to glance at each other. These wizards were no Death Eaters. They had to be wondering what was happening below.
Behind them stood a familiar figure: tall and muscular, Harry would never forget the feeling of Macnair's strong hands around his neck, strangling him in the Department of Mysteries. Harry despaired at the sight of him. Was the Ministry really so far gone as to have a Death Eater as its head of security?
"Macnair," Harry called out when he was close enough, as if he had happened upon the man while walking a dog, "out of Azkaban, I see."
Macnair laughed deeply, before raising a small handheld drum. He began beating it with his other hand, and Harry felt the magic of the Berserker Curse returning. "You're a fool, Potter," he said, "coming here was a mistake. Kill him!"
And suddenly Harry was on the defensive, his silver shield ringing like a gong again and again as spells rained down upon it, too many spells to undo at once. The Order was backing up behind shields of their own, but Harry was drawing most of their fire, and Hermione was too close. He extended his shield to cover her, its colour lightening.
"KILL HIM, KILL HIM!" Macnair was shouting, beating the drum harder and harder. Harry could hear the chaos erupting behind him, the Ministry wizards once more turning on each other. "KILL POTTER!"
Meanwhile the Order was being pushed back. Not even Harry could overcome thirty well-trained security wizards at once.
"Get ready to shield me," he said to Hermione, undoing five spells as another six smashed into his shield, "I'm about to do something extraordinarily stupid."
Hermione nodded and he prepared his spell, but something interrupted him.
"Atrium," said a monotone female voice, and the elevator doors opened.
Kingsley Shacklebolt stepped out, and with him came four more Aurors, their robes torn from the battle below.
"To Potter!" Kingsley shouted, and Macnair spun around, just in time for a spell to tear off half his face. The security wizards turned towards the new threat, making the mistake of presenting their backs to the Order.
"Confringo!" Moody cried, blasting three security wizards at once, and more curses from the Aurors followed in response, their spells joining the Order's renewed attack. Pinned and pincered, the security wizards had no chance. Seeing their comrades being cut down around them, they threw their wands, and then their bodies, to the floor.
The atrium was theirs.
Harry thrust his wand to the air, seeking to cement his leadership. "Huzzah!" he cried, and the atrium replied, raising their voices in victory.
"Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!"
Harry felt his lip curl at their naivety-the fight had only just begun. As the crowd cheered and clapped, Harry made his way to Kingsley, noticing a gash on his forehead.
"Your timing is impeccable," he said, nodding to the Aurors. "What's the situation below?"
Kingsley grimaced. "Not good." He ran his wand over his wound, sealing it up. "We've got fights for control in almost every department."
Moody joined them. "Law Enforcement?"
"Worst of all," said Kingsley, "we barely managed to get out."
"But the Minister," Harry said, glancing upwards for the first time. The Minister's offices looked down upon them from high above, a series of huge, arched windows set into the stone. The lights were still on. "Is he alive?"
Kingsley glanced to one of his Aurors, a scarred witch covered in piercings and tattoos.
"As far as we know," she said, "last I heard, Thicknesse had him locked up in his office behind a gold plate door and three Aurors."
Thicknesse was proving to be a devious man. "So Scrimgeour's alive, but unable to escape," said Harry, "he'll be the target, but how…? Do we have confirmed Death Eaters?"
Kingsley shook his head. "Looks like they're keeping this at arm's length."
"For now," Harry said, thinking. The Minister was nominally protected, but trapped. Someone was coming for him, Harry was certain. It was simply a question of how best to head them off.
Tonks walked over, having finished binding their prisoners. "Shack," she said, embracing him, "you're a sight for sore eyes. The hell's up with the defences?"
The defences. It all fell into place.
"They're intact," replied Kingsley, "but for some reason they haven't been activated."
"That's where they are," Harry said quickly, suddenly feeling the pressure of time. Were they already too late? "The Death Eaters. They're taking down the defences."
Tonks' eyes widened. "Is that even possible?"
"From the inside, with privileged access? It's almost easy." Harry looked around, taking in the Order and the excited crowd still lingering behind the gates. This would require special skills, and not necessarily duelling ability. "Hermione, Remus, we'll head for the defences. Moody, Kingsley, you need to secure the Minister and retake Law Enforcement."
"Oh, is that all?" said the tattooed Auror, "should be a breeze." She looked to Kingsley. "We're taking orders from the kid now?"
But Harry was already walking towards the elevators, gesturing for Hermione and Remus to follow. "Handle it!" he called, and the elevator doors shut, cutting off the noise of the atrium.
Gentle music was still playing in the lift.
Remus sighed. "Harry, I hope you know what you're doing."
"As do I," Harry said. "I admit, I'm rather counting on this still working." He forestalled Hermione's question by placing the tip of his wand against the control panel. "Bumblebee," he said, giving the password. There was a loud clunk and the elevator lurched.
Suddenly they were moving downwards at great speed, the buttons on the panel lighting up as they passed each floor in turn. In moments they reached the bottom floor, but they kept going, accelerating even more, the carriage rattling now as it hurtled deep underground.
Hermione and Remus shared an unreadable look.
"Be ready," Harry said, preparing to cast a shield. "We don't know who's waiting for us."
The doors opened. They led into a small, square room of granite with a single wooden door, in front of which was the slumped body of a wizard in a pool of blood. The blood was still steaming in the cold air.
"Oh god," said Hermione, going pale, and Harry's heart sank.
"They're already here," he whispered, and he stepped forward cautiously, his wand probing in front of him. He wouldn't put it past them to lay traps.
"They must have been in a hurry," Harry said, finding nothing. He swept the body aside with his wand, then spelled the door open.
The room beyond was much larger, dominated by a huge stone stab in the shape of Britain, mountains and rivers and cities carved into the surface. Tiny dots of light were flickering on and off all over the map. Hanging on the wall next to it was a blackboard, upon which were the smudged remains of a mass of words recently rubbed off. A single word had been written in their place:
Hermione was looking at the map in fascination. "Is that the Trace?"
"Among other things," Harry replied. He jerked his head at the blackboard. "It's tied to the Taboo too. Looks like Voldemort's planning to Taboo his own name."
Even as Harry said the name, a dot of red light flickered in central London.
"Let's not loiter," Remus said, nodding to the next door.
The next room was equally large but full of plinths, an artefact sitting on each one. It was almost like an art gallery. The largest plinth, in the centre of the room, held a sturdy oak wand upon a purple cushion. Another body lay beneath it.
"Killing Curse," said Remus, bending over the body to investigate.
Hermione had moved over to one of the plinths. It held a clay pot, within which a green fire burned. "Is this…?"
"The Floo source?" said Harry, "yes."
"My god," said Remus, catching sight of a copper sculpture of two clasped hands. "I thought it was a myth."
Despite himself, Harry had to smile.
"What is it?" asked Hermione, but Remus just looked dazed.
"An ancient artifact which anchors the power to make and break magical contracts," Harry replied, enjoying Hermione's look of surprise. "But come on, we need to move."
They approached the next door carefully, aware that a Death Eater could very well wait beyond. But when they flung the door open, an empty room met them once more. It was considerably smaller than the artefact room, and only contained three ornate sarcophagi.
Harry held his finger to his lips. "Last room," he whispered, and they all raised their wands.
They were a moment too late. The door opened just as the Death Eater was slashing his wand downwards, blasting a wooden throne-the room's only contents-to splinters.
A blue-white flash sent the Death Eater into the wall, knocking him out.
"Damn!" said Harry, striding into the room and taking in the damage.
Remus rolled the Death Eater over with his foot. "Rookwood," he said, conjuring chains around the man.
Harry nodded distractedly and picked up a splinter, examining it closely. Relief flooded through him. "We're in luck," he said, feeling the pulse of magic within, "it's not beyond repair."
"But what is it?" asked Hermione, casting a few spells herself, analysing the wood. Her eyebrows rose at the results.
"Arthur's throne," said Harry, joining two splinters together with a spell, "it's the symbol of authority which forms the basis for many centuries of Ministry enchantments."
"And we can't defend the Ministry without it," concluded Remus, joining Harry in the repair. His splinters stuck together, wiggled, then fell apart again. He frowned. "This might take a while."
An image flashed in Harry's mind of Ron, no doubt fighting for his life above them. "That's time we don't have," he muttered, joining more splinters to his growing plank of wood.
"Show me the spell?" said Hermione, watching Harry work, but even as he beckoned her over they were interrupted by the sudden, enormously loud blare of a klaxon.
All three of them jumped at the alarm, which continued to repeat over and over. Harry knew what it was immediately. He closed his eyes, for a moment feeling a terrible weight settle across his shoulders.
"What now?" said Hermione, throwing her hands up in frustration.
Harry opened his eyes and took a deep breath. He was ready.
"It's Voldemort. He's entered the Ministry."
Hermione gasped, but Harry was already moving, sprinting back to the elevator.
"Harry, no!" shouted Hermione, but there was no time to talk it through. Voldemort would be heading straight for the Minister's suite. Harry had to get there first.
The elevator doors shut behind him and the gentle music returned. Harry pressed the button for the floor above the atrium and the lift shot upwards, speeding him towards Voldemort. He began to pace. It felt painfully slow to Harry: he was almost vibrating with nervous energy, anticipation pumping through him.
That wouldn't do. He forced himself to stop moving, took another breath and focused his mind on planning for the fight ahead. The minister's suite was a series of rooms in a line, each one looking down on the Atrium through a huge wall of glass. There would be very little cover: first came a ballroom, then a gallery and an office, before finally the Minister's office itself.
The doors opened to a deathly silence.
Bodies were strewn across the marble ballroom, blood seeping into the polished white floor. The glass wall was to Harry's right, through which he could clearly see flashes of green as Ministry workers finally used the Floo to flee.
Opposite Harry, on the far side of the room, stood a pair of grand panelled doors. Layered with silencing spells, Harry could hear nothing of what lay beyond. There was nothing for it: he strode forward in a straight line, stepping over the bodies and raising his wand.
The doors slammed open with a resounding crash, and with them came the sounds of battle. Lord Voldemort was sweeping through the long gallery beyond, cutting through the defenders with predatory grace, his every spell sending a wizard screaming through the air. Undersecretaries and guards, junior ministers and administrators, all of them fell to Voldemort's wand.
The Dark Lord laughed through it all, a god in his rightful place among mortals. His teeth were still bared in primal glee when he spun to face Harry, simultaneously sidestepping a curse and blasting a witch into a giant portrait of the Hogwarts house mascots.
Everyone, including Voldemort, froze.
"Good evening, Tom," said Harry, strolling into the room. His face was calm and his voice steady, though he felt his every muscle quivering to fight. "I believe it's time that I dealt with you once and for all."
The defenders backed up, edging towards the next pair of doors. Voldemort let them go-he never had been able to pass up a chance to kill Harry. His eyes locked to Harry's and legilimency flowed through Harry's mind, unable to latch onto anything of substance.
"Harry Potter," Voldemort said, almost in wonder. He was using a different wand, Harry noticed, though no doubt his yew wand was within reach. "You challenge me of your own volition? How… admirable."
Harry's smile was tight and humourless. "You know, I could say that this will give me no pleasure," he said, coming now to place Voldemort between himself and the glass wall, identical to the one in the ballroom. "But I'm afraid that would be a lie."
Voldemort's smile returned. "You never learn, do you Harry?" he said, his use of Harry's name strangely familiar. "Once again, you present yourself to me in the Ministry of Magic. I had thought to kill the Minister tonight… yet here is a prize far greater."
Harry tensed. This was it. He could feel Voldemort's spell building.
Green light flashed, but Harry was already spinning away, brandishing his wand. Ice coalesced in the air, forming a series of spears, and they shot towards Voldemort at speed, only to explode into steam as Voldemort conjured up a shimmering wall of heat. The steam billowed outwards, scalding those still dragging their injured friends to the doors.
They cried out in pain and the doors swung open. "Fall back, everyone fall back!" someone shouted, and the defenders hurried to leave.
Voldemort stepped over a body, ignoring the retreat, his scarlet eyes narrowing at Harry. "So you've learnt some tricks," he hissed, "but now… let me show you power!"
A torrent of white-blue dragon fire lanced towards Harry, who was forced to apparate back to the ballroom doors with a twirl, the fiery blast searing the air he had just vacated. It slammed into the wall, melting a large section of stone into red-hot lava.
Seeing an opportunity, Harry ripped the lava from the wall with a swing of his wand and launched it back towards Voldemort. It formed into a giant grasping hand, glowing with heat, and moved to close around him, but Voldemort vanished and reappeared in the centre of the gallery, sending another jet of green light at Harry.
Harry was already moving, his mind always thinking two steps ahead, always ready to manoeuvre. He apparated behind Voldemort, who spun to face him just as Harry cast his next spell. Silver light flashed, the window rattling from the strength of the casting, and Voldemort barely had time to conjure a shield. The spell hit it with a ringing, metallic clang.
"I believe you were saying something about power?" Harry said, his wand still raised in guard, trying to sense Voldemort's next move.
Voldemort just snarled in response. Lightning arced towards Harry with a deafening clap, forking and crackling in the air, but at the same moment Harry whipped his wand like a lasso above his head, drawing the lightning towards it, forming it into a ring around him. The gathered power mutated into a buzzing swarm of angry white lights, which darted straight for Voldemort, coming at him from all directions.
The lights were intercepted by the bodies of the dead, their mangled and disfigured corpses leaping off the floor to protect Voldemort. The spell tore into them in a spray of blood and flesh, and Voldemort laughed as yet more corpses rose, surrounding Harry, their ruined limbs reaching for him.
Harry backed up and stepped right into the path of an inferius, his heart missing a beat as its arm swung to tear at his throat. His wand flashed and gouts of blistering fire blossomed around him with a roar, the flame swirling and encircling his body, lashing out to strike down any inferius which came too close.
But Voldemort had not been idle, and a killing curse broke through the wall of fire even as another corpse was burnt to cinders. With no time to defend, Harry had to apparate once more, retreating back into the ballroom.
Spells immediately rained down upon him, rocketing through the doorway. They drilled into his hasty shield one after another and Harry stepped back, tugging his wand as he did so, slamming the ballroom doors closed.
He only had a second, but a second was enough.
Mortus Patronum! Harry thought, and the blood of the fallen lifted into the air, shimmering and swirling as it began to glow a brilliant white, before forming into a wolf, bear, and lion.
Voldemort crashed through the doors in a wave of force and flying splinters, green light gathering around his wand.
The guardians bounded forward and Voldemort's eyes widened. A killing curse flew, passing right through the bear. A blast of dark power followed, crossing the room like a jet of sooty smoke, and it smashed the wolf into tiny motes of light.
But then they were upon him and Voldemort was forced to shield, using the almost-solid barrier to push the guardians back as Harry launched his next attack. Once more his wand whipped through the air; once more a firestorm exploded into being, great rivers of flame expanding to fill the ballroom.
The end in sight, Harry thrust his wand towards Voldemort with grim determination, the intent to kill filling him. The wall of fire rushed forward with his will, shaking the entire room, and Voldemort disappeared behind a roiling curtain of flame.
A scream of rage echoed above the fire and Voldemort stepped out of the blaze, not flesh and blood but transformed into living silver, his suffocating presence blanketing the hall.
Harry's shield was only half-formed when Voldemort's spell smashed through it. He was thrown backwards into the air and crashed straight through the glass of the window, the force of it knocking the wind out of him, and then he was falling, the floor of the atrium coming closer and closer, screams rising around him.
Arresto momentum! Harry thought, and he came to a halt next to the fountain, just before his skull would have dashed against the stone. He scrambled to stand, pain flaring in his ribs where he had struck the window. The remaining crowd gaped at him and the smashed window high above. The orange-red glow of fire was clearly visible.
Harry felt numb. He had been so close, only for it all to slip away. The fight wasn't over, but he had suffered an injury. Even now he could feel the pain breaking his focus.
Voldemort appeared on the ledge, transformed into flesh once more, then stepped out into the air and descended into the atrium amid panicked screams, his black robes billowing around him.
He alighted twenty feet from Harry and looked around. "This feels familiar," he said, his red eyes falling upon the ruined statues within the fountain. "Only this time, there's no Dumbledore to save you, is there?"
Harry tried to smile, ignoring the way his ribs protested at his every movement. "Dumbledore will never be gone," he said, suddenly back in the Chamber of Secrets, "not while those loyal to him remain."
Voldemort gave a mocking laugh. "Sentiment," he spat, "ever is it the comfort of the weak. But it matters not… we duel on skill alone. And I admit, Harry, you have made a worthy opponent. But now, I'm afraid, it is time for you to die."
Harry took a deep breath, his resolve strengthening. He had to win, no matter the cost. "You haven't seen anything yet."
Voldemort raised an eyebrow and spread his arms wide, as if in invitation. "Then show me."
Harry raised his wand. "TERROR TERRANUS!"
The entire atrium rocked with the power of the spell, even Harry stumbling as the floor shifted. The cavernous walls began to rumble and fresh screams went up. It seemed as if the ceiling itself would come down upon them, burying them all miles beneath the surface.
Voldemort was floating up into the air with shock on his face, putting distance between himself and the ground. He knew what was coming.
All around the atrium patches of the floor exploded upwards in showers of rock and dirt, great beasts of grey stone emerging from beneath. Harry could feel the malicious will of the spell immediately - it struggled desperately to break free of his control, wanting nothing more than to turn back upon its caster.
Harry didn't let it. He clamped down with his own iron will, the same will that had overcome Voldemort's Imperius at the age of fourteen, and twirled his wand to bind the spirits of the spell.
A centaur sprang up before Harry and cantered around him, ready to intercept spells. A bellowing rhinoceros lurched out of the rock next to the gates and stood guardian over those gathered there. And, high above them, a flight of eagles dived out of the rafters, swooping straight for Voldemort.
Voldemort laughed, the high sound piercing, and conjured fiendfyre. The cursed fire exploded out of him in an expanding sphere, so hot that Harry could feel it against his face. It forced Harry's eagles away, then broke apart into streams, the shapes of beasts forming out of the furnace.
The two forces met in a ring around Harry, conducted by their masters. The stone centaur swung a broadsword, beheading a flaming griffin in a shower of sparks. A giant flaming basilisk smashed the centaur in turn with a swipe of its tail. The snake advanced on Harry, but with a stab of his wand the floor snapped up in the shape of a giant maw and swallowed the snake whole.
And then, to Harry's great shock, he was forced to conjure a shield, splitting his attention as Voldemort launched spells at him from above. He felt the beginnings of fear, struggling to maintain his control over the fiend and shield from Voldemort's hammer-like blows.
Suddenly Harry felt the spell slip and a stone acromantula threw itself at him, breaking free of his will. He blasted it, but the distraction was enough to lose control. The rhinoceros roared with freedom and charged towards him, the ground shaking from its weight.
Harry had to end the spell, and quickly, before it grew completely beyond his control. A tug of his wand and one final push of will and his beasts collapsed into rubble around him, leaving him defenceless against Voldemort's fiendfyre. A hippogriff charged and Harry's shield failed.
Voldemort's spell caught him in the shoulder and sent him flying. He landed with a crack, his arm breaking beneath him, and his wand rolled away.
He had lost.
Voldemort laughed and landed before Harry, his fiendfyre banished.
"That's it," he said, and green light gathered.
He had lost.
The Ministry's defences activated with a high-pitched whine.
Voldemort looked up sharply. "No!" he cried, and Harry took the chance to roll away, dodging the badly aimed Killing Curse.
"Yes!" said Harry, hope filling him once more, and Voldemort spun on the spot, trying to disapparate. Nothing happened.
"AN INVADER," came a deep, rumbling voice.
Voldemort backed away, turning cautiously, trying to locate his new opponent. "Show yourself!" he called, his wand raised, ready to fight.
Three translucent figures wearing crowns appeared around Voldemort, more substantial than any ghost. They were tall, armoured, and had scabbards at their waists.
A Killing Curse flew and hit one in the chest plate. It had no effect. "What are you?" Voldemort said.
The crowd craned their necks to see, their curiosity overcoming their fear.
One of the ghostly figures stepped forward. His hair was red and there was a cross upon his armour. Slowly but surely, he advanced towards Voldemort.
Spells spiralled out of Voldemort's wand, enough to tear a street apart, but they all impacted harmlessly on the man, who was coming closer and closer. Voldemort began to back away, still casting spells, his eyes going wide.
It was over in a flash. The man drew his sword and surged forward, thrusting the blade through Voldemort's heart.
Voldemort screamed in rage and fear, his face twisted in pain, and then his body exploded in a mass of dark power, a shadow fleeing up towards the ceiling.
The figure turned to the silent crowd and raised his sword. His expression was grim, his bearing regal.
"SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS."