It is not my fault this chapter is late! It's taken me this long to make FFN accept the update, so any and all complaints should be directed to the admins.

"Voldemort wouldn't care if handguns were illegal": The comment about gun laws was referring to availability, not legality. During the gun buyback program the U.K. ran from July 1997 to February 1998, the government collected 162,000 handguns according to one of the sources I consulted, as well as 700 tons of ammunition. That's… not insubstantial.

This is the final chapter of Black Princess Ascendant. The third and penultimate book in the series, Coronation of the Black Queen, will be up in three weeks, and for those of you who don't have me on their Author Alerts (shame on you!), I'll add a temporary note at the end of this story as a reminder when it's posted.

Disclaimer: When Harry and co., the Death Eaters, and the Order broke into the Ministry, was it Fudge and other administrators who were first on the scene to investigate rather than the DMLE? If so, I don't own the Harry Potter franchise; it belongs to J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Press, Warner Bros., and whomever else she sold the rights to.


Chapter 43

Victorious Defeat

"This is a terrible plan."

Cedric rolled his eyes. "You're just saying that because it's not your plan."

"No, I'm saying that because it's objectively a terrible plan."

The Head Boy sighed in mild exasperation, and Jen grit her teeth and turned away. She had tried to tell them that this would not work, but did they listen to her? Granger's 'bright idea' had been to try to blind the Death Eaters in a cloud of smoke, and though it was eventually decided that a wall of sand and grit would be more effective on that front, the other five had ignored her warning of what the Death Eaters would likely do when confronted with such a situation. They believed their enemies would hold back from doing anything for fear of hitting their allies, and if it were Danny and his friends having their sight taken away, she supposed that plan might work. But the Death Eaters?

She figured they would just fire Killing Curses indiscriminately and slaughter anything that got in the way. It was what she would do in their position.

Then again, that shouldn't be too much a surprise, she silently groused. After all, Potter thought I was just going to stun the Death Eaters. Why won't these fools realize that while Voldemort is by far the most dangerous enemy, it's his army that elevates him from terrifying wizard to potential conquerer? Just kill them all, and no one will be able to restart the war once he's dead.

Shaking her head, Jen peered around the corner of the building at her nine targets. Voldemort and the Death Eaters were just outside of town, past the security offered by the buildings; instead they were just standing out in the open, their only protection that strange ring of silver fire. None of the Death Eaters were moving much, their attention on the Muggles they were controlling, but Voldemort himself prowled the inside of the circle. He must be the final defense, which made sense when she thought about it. Besides a familiar, which in this case was dead at her hands, who would a black wizard entrust his safety to? No one.

"What are you waiting for? Let's get this over with," Weasley grumbled.

"Patience is a virtue you Gryffindors lack," she snapped back. "It's one of the many, many reasons the rest of us look down on you as reckless morons. I, however, am taking the time to make sure this actually works. Unless you'd like to do this in my place?"

Weasley sneered and turned away rather than continue the argument. And rightly so; she was the only one who could produce the miniature sandstorm, and that meant conforming to her timetable.

But if I'm the only one who can do this… A faint smirk came to her lips as she considered what that meant, and she looked over the path with different eyes. She was going to start the spell here, and it would change there, and as long as it crossed the intervening distance, that could work just fine. "I'm going to cast this spell twice," she warned her temporary allies, "so don't charge out as soon as the first one appears. It won't end well. Wait five or ten seconds after the second one hits before you do something stupid."

"Do you ever get tired of insulting other people's intelligence?" Longbottom asked in a forcibly light tone of voice.

She cocked her head and legitimately thought that question over for a few seconds. "Not when it's deserved, no. And rushing the lynchpin of this 'plan'? Pretty bloody stupid. Ready?"

Just behind her and doing an excellent job of ignoring his friends' scowls of frustration, Potter nodded. "Let's do it."

Jen slapped her hand onto the earth and let her power flow. A visible ripple shot out from her palm and toward the Death Eaters, and five feet into its course it started ripping the ground apart and tossing the debris into the air. The spell swelled as it ate up the space between her and her foes, the storm of dirt reaching for the sun. Ten feet tall, fifteen, twenty, and growing wider at the same rate. When the wave was nearly upon the Death Eaters, their voices proof that they were not as out of it as they might have first appeared, it changed. The dust grew darker, then it clumped together, and what fell upon them was a wall of knives.

Their screams of shock and pain were like music to her ears.

"What the hell was that?!"

Her allies' surprise, however, not so much. Ignoring Granger's screech, she grunted, "Number two." Sprinting around the back of the building, she ran into the open space on the other side from where she had launched her attack and jumped. An outstretched arm called up her gravity well, and as she flew forward and only the slightest bit higher, the ground churned beneath her and spiraled up to meet her feet like a gigantic worm. That second storm followed while she took a circling course around her enemies, the cloud growing the more earth she pulled up with her, and on that path she had a chance to examine just how much damage her previous attack had wrought. Her knives lay on the ground, the vast majority making a ring around the group but still a substantial number having fallen among the terrorists. With only a split second of warning, Voldemort had been unable to deflect the entire attack, and four of the eight Death Eaters were on the ground. Two of them, their robes torn by the falling blades and one with his left arm dangling uselessly at his side, slowly stood while she watched; unfortunate, but that was still two dead.

She and Potter would need to work together to fight Voldemort, as galling a prospect as that was, and originally that meant Cedric and Potter's friends would have been at a four-to-eight disadvantage. She doubted they could each handle two Death Eaters, but now it was only six enemies, five if she considered that the two injured would be unable to fight at their full capabilities. The Lions had better thank her for her forethought when this was all over.

A jerk of her arm steered her and the cloud right at the Death Eaters, and she could not help the cackle that burst from her chest. A barrage of pale green curses were flung at her, forcing her to swerve out of the way before the Killing Curses could touch her. She soared skywards, the sandstorm rearing up below her. With a twitch of her left hand, she cast a brace of spells on the cloud, and then she vanished. A faint crack heralded her reappearance above the fray; she hung there just long enough to see the cyclone of dust crash down upon them and flow into a dome that would blot out the light before she teleported again.

The air here was thinner, and she was thankful her gravity well could hold her up without constant direction as she gasped desperately for oxygen. A few seconds passed before she forced herself to calm down and keep taking deep breaths in hopes that her body would adjust. The index finger of her left hand hastily sketched out a mannuz rune into the empty sky; binding her flight spell to the rune, she just let herself drift weightlessly for a second before moving on to the next part of her plan. Hopefully it would work better against Voldemort than it had against Flitwick.

Her magic sprayed out from her fingers and wove itself into a net, the fibers catching on the currents of power present even over a kilometer above the surface of the earth, and the fabric stretched out wider and wider. She had – Say 1,500 meters up, initial velocity is 0, acceleration rounds to 10, rearrange the equation for t, so… – maybe seventeen or eighteen seconds before she hit the ground once she started falling? Not enough time for the fabric of her spell concentration to reach its full size, and hastening this would see it fail.

She let her net billow out as she shook her head. They would just have to survive long enough without her until she was ready. Hopefully Cedric could manage that.


The sinister cackle made Danny wince as he watched Black dodge Killing Curses and plow a huge conjured sandstorm into the Death Eaters' position. Even knowing the truth, he could see why people would believe that she was Lestrange's daughter. Neville gritting his teeth beside him was proof that he was not the only one who could see that.

But he had to admit that watching his sister ride a tornado into battle was still just plain awesome.

"Come on, Jen, get out of there," Cedric muttered.

Danny looked around the dome of dust; sure enough, he could not see hide nor hair of her. "She's probably just on the other side where we can't see her," he said, pointedly ignoring the other – and, if he were going to be honest, more likely – possibility that she was stuck in there with nine hardened killers. "But we've waited long enough. Let's go!"

He, his friends, and Cedric charged out from behind the building, and they immediately started spreading out, especially once a few random bolts of green flashed out in the direction of where Black had last been seen. You better be safe, he thought at her, because Mum and Dad would be devastated if you got yourself killed.

Without warning, the cloud of dirt crashed to the ground, and in the middle of the ring of Death Eaters and black knives stood Voldemort, his wand pointed at the sky and his blood-red gaze sliding over the ground that was once more visible. Black was nowhere to be found, but when the Dark Lord's eyes landed on Danny, he knew that she had probably gotten the better end of the deal.

"Stick to the plan!" he shouted, and scarlet Stunning Spells flashed out of their wands at the Death Eaters. He purposefully kept his eyes averted from the two Death Eaters laying motionless on the ground, daggers stabbed into their bodies as though they were pincushions; after Voldemort revealed himself at Diagon Alley, his father had taken him aside to tell him a few hard truths about war, and one of those was that seeing someone dead was very different from seeing them asleep or unconscious. There was just something inherently wrong about a corpse, and now was not the time to chance freezing up like his dad said he had done the first time he saw someone killed in battle.

The Death Eaters did not fall to the onslaught of hexes, but having to raise shields to protect them did tie up their wands, so at least he and his friends did not have to worry about the evil wizards trying to kill them just yet. Voldemort, on the other hand, seemingly slapped the spells that Danny sent at him out of the air with an almost negligent air, and then he returned fire.

Danny dropped to the ground when the golden comet flew through the air, and then he barely had time to roll to the side before the next one hit the ground where he lay. Pink, then blue, then a near-invisible lavender, but never the pale green Moody had shown them in his demonstrations of the Unforgivables. Was Voldemort seriously not trying to kill him?

"Forget about the Muggles," the bald wizard barked. Another flick of his wand, and a deep purple curse cut through the air and slammed into Diggory's side. The older boy screamed and fell to the ground as a chunk of his body as big as Danny's head suddenly just disappeared. "Just kill the brats."

The Death Eaters dropped their shields and shifted to the sides to evade the Stunners coming after them, and then they attacked. Danny's heart was in his throat as he watched Hermione just barely get out of the way of a violently blue crescent of flame only to run right into the dark red of a Cruciatus, and a jet of flat grey slammed into Neville's left leg, sending him to the ground as that leg bent the wrong way in the middle of his thigh. Turning his head back to Voldemort, he tried and failed to swallow when he saw the totally unamused expression on the Dark wizard's face and that pale wand pointing at his chest.

A flapping sound from up above, growing steadily louder, distracted him from the inevitable death staring him in the face. He was not the only one, for Voldemort flicked his eyes skyward for just a second. Then his head whipped back to stare at the clouds.

Danny chanced a longer look up as well, and immediately he saw what was so interesting. Black was falling directly on top of them, arms and legs splayed out; as they watched in that brief moment, a bolt of lightning arced from one hand to another. Then the spell that sight had cast on them was broken. She shoved her hands at the ground, a beam of bright white light streaked downwards, Voldemort twirled on his heel and vanished, and Danny spun around and took one, two panicking steps away.

Behind him, everything blew up.

A giant's hand smashed into his back, the blow tossing him into the air like so much dandelion fluff. The wind whipped past him silently, the only noise in his ears a flat whine, and the ground rose up to slam into him. He bounced off the hard-packed earth and hit the ground again before he rolled over and over and over again. Finally coming to a stop, he lay on the ground for just a moment, taking stock of his body and making sure nothing was broken, before he unsteadily climbed to his feet.

Looking around, he saw that they were alone. Voldemort and the Death Eaters were nowhere to be found, the ring of unnatural fire having guttered out with their disappearance; Ron and Hermione were rising from the ground just like he had after that explosion; Neville was laying still, though the rise and fall of his chest proved that he was still alive; and Black was crouched over Diggory, his robes ripped open and her hands planted firmly on his chest. He staggered drunkenly over to her, and though he could not hear what incantation she was using over the ringing that filled his ears, he could see the results as he got closer. Something inside the Head Boy's body shifted in the darkness, causing the steady stream of blood pouring out through the hole in his side to slow to a trickle. White bone grew out of the shattered ends of his ribs to meet in the middle, and then red strands of muscle wrapped themselves around the new bone. Skin stretched over the exposed flesh to complete the healing. Diggory might be unconscious and far too pale, but he was alive.

Black climbed to her feet and turned around to glare at him, her purple eyes hard as glass. Her mouth stretched and twisted as she snarled something totally inaudible. For a moment, he seriously considered saying nothing in response – not having to listen to her was an unforeseen benefit to being deaf, after all – but finally he shook his head and pointed to his ears with one hand. "I can't hear you!" he shouted, though he did not hear his own words, either.

His sister stared flatly at him for a second before beckoning him closer with two fingers. Cautiously he approached, and she snagged his hand with her own. A pop echoed in both his ears, followed by all the sounds around them, and she jerked her hand back as though he was something filthy she could not bare to touch for longer than necessary.

Still, she had just healed him. "Thanks." A short nod in response, and he asked, "Is Diggory…?"

"He'll be fine so long as we can get him somewhere safe. I patched up the hole, but it will be better for his marrow if it replenishes the missing blood on its own." Black scowled at something over his left shoulder. "No thanks to you."

"What did I do?!" Hermione protested, grabbing his shoulder to take some of the weight off her shaking legs.

"Nothing, and that's the problem!" Black's voice dropped to a growl. "You had one job: deal with the Death Eaters. And you couldn't even do that!"

Oh boy, this wasn't good. His best girl friend puffed up and snapped back, "We did what we could! Maybe if you had followed the plan instead of running off, it would have worked!"

"Yes, I 'ran off'," Black repeated with a sneer. "After I killed two of them on my own and handed you two more on a silver bloody platter! And unlike you, I was at least doing something productive with that time. Do you think a spell that can kill a Dark Lord in one hit is easy? I needed to set it up, and like a fool I was counting on you to at least keep them occupied so he couldn't dodge it."

"So the plan didn't work out quite like we wanted it to," Ron said, stepping in between the two witches before the hexes started flying. "It doesn't really matter. We still ran them off."

Hermione grimaced at that, and the reason why was explained when Black laughed mockingly. "You think things are that simple, that Evil will take one look at a proud stand by Good and flee to safety with its tail between its legs? They're still here. I just don't know exactly where."

With a gasp, Hermione grip tightened. "They left us here so they can head for Hogwarts."

"Pakèt moun sou idyo Limyè," Black muttered, earning her a strange look from Hermione. Maybe she was speaking French? "Pa menm ka goumen dwat. Then what are standing around here for?" She waved one hand, sunlight glinting off the silvery bracers she had placed around her forearms before they left the house they had taken refuge in, and the iron knives laying on the ground flew into the air and reshaped themselves into a statue of an enormous black panther. Another wave had it shaking itself like a cat waking up from a nap and moving to stand over Diggory.

"What about Neville?" Ron demanded as Black started jogging back toward Hogsmeade.

"He's close enough that it should defend him from anyone trying to attack. Now come on!"

Danny shared an agonized look with his friends. They shouldn't leave Neville behind – it felt wrong to even consider that – but he didn't know what his god-brother had been hit with besides the curse that broke his leg. Even if that were all, his sister was petty enough that she would probably refuse to heal him after the way he called her out on her attitude. After a moment, Ron stepped back and drew his wand. "I'll Mobilicorpus him over to where Diggory is, then catch up. You two chase after her before she gets too far ahead."

"You sure?" At Ron's nod, Danny and Hermione staggered after their fickle ally. After thirty paces, he ground his teeth and shouted, "Black, wait up!"

The dark-haired girl skidded to a stop between two houses at his call, shocking the Gryffindors and allowing them to catch up in the process. That really worked? Black took a couple of steps back, and then what caused her to stop became obvious. The row of buildings directly in front of her broke apart and rose into the air, walls and roofs shifting around as the houses connected to one another. The tube lifted one end of its length into the air, and that end split open to reveal shards of glass and wood sticking out like swords. With a hiss that made the ground beneath them shudder, the house-snake turned its eyes, formed from hearths and still glowing with embers, upon them and reared back to attack.

"Well," Black muttered, "that's new. Potter!"


"Keep it busy for a tic!"

"How am I supposed to do that?!"

She ignored him and fell to one knee, her fingers clawing at the shallow layer of dirt, and with a groan he emulated Hermione and pulled out his wand. "Incendio Orbis!" they yelled together, globs of red-orange fire hurtling up at the construct's gaping maw. The fireballs his father had taught them to cast just that term exploded upon contact with the reconfigured carpentry, and the gargantuan serpent reared back as several more pelted it before it returned its angry gaze to them, the buildings that made up its hide burning but the fact not even inconveniencing it.

Thankfully, that was enough time for Black to finish whatever it was she was doing. She jerked her shoulders back, her hands now buried up to the wrist in mud, and the ground in front of them cracked and ripped. Chunks of rock shot skyward, which then shattered as thick brown sludge poured forth in columns. The pillars of mud writhed and rippled like tentacles to wrap around the snake. While it struggled, rips appeared in the tentacles' surface; some opened up to reveal hideous eyes, glowing green like phosphorus and bearing not one but two slit-like pupils, but others bristled with rows and rows of needle-sharp teeth that bit into the snake's wooden scales. The mouths not occupied with holding the snake screamed their battle cry, the ululating sound burning in Danny's bones and paralyzingly his heart as he envisioned being eaten, being crushed, being ripped into by talons and gored by horns and melted by bubbling spit.

And through it all, Black laughed. "Appreciate the irony, Tommy boy?!" she screamed to the empty air, her voice filled with rage and exaltation and terrifying insanity.

At her taunt, the snake collapsed, and she ripped her hands out of the ground. The eldritch horror fell back to earth and melted, simple mud once more. "That got his attention, at least," she told them in a nonchalant tone, slapping her hands together to knock off the mud clinging to them as if unleashing this kind of horrid evil was all in a day's work for her. "Now comes the tricky part."

"Tricky?" Hermione echoed tiredly. Either casting their spells or weathering that unnatural shriek had taken more out of her than he expected if she was acting like this, and he chanced a look back. Her face was drawn, she was resting even more of her weight on him than before, and every few seconds her eyes lost focus for an instant before returning to the world around her. Ignoring his worried examination, she continued, "What are you talking about?"

"There are two ways I can see this playing out," came Black's slow answer. "One, he keeps his mind on the objective. He continues advancing toward Hogwarts, leaving a couple of Death Eaters behind to delay or, preferably, eliminate us. Two, he takes me trumping his construct as a blow to his ego. The Death Eaters are the ones who move onward, and it's him we'll find waiting for us. Alternatively, he decides we are a threat he has to deal with personally, which leads to the same end result."

"Option three," Ron added, coming out from behind a building where he had presumably taken shelter behind during the clash of those titanic summonings – and if that were the case, Danny couldn't find it in himself to criticize – "we find You-Know-Who and the Death Eaters waiting for us."

"Then we're all going to die," she replied in a much-too-chipper voice. "Seriously. Killing You-Know-Who by myself is going to be hard enough as it is. Fighting six Death Eaters, too? Not going to happen." She stopped and tilted her head for a moment. "Well, not unless I burn the whole damn town down, too. That might not be a bad idea, actually."

"Except you're not going to be alone. We agreed to fight alongside you, and we're not going to back down just because things have gotten harder," Danny reminded her.

"Ha!" Black belted out mockingly. "After your little demonstration earlier, you'll have to forgive me if I don't think much of your idea of 'help'."

A scowl grew on his face; so much for her earlier realization that she couldn't do this alone. Unfortunately, he couldn't bring himself to abandon her to her death like this, nor could he bear the thought of telling his parents that she was dead, intolerable though she might be even at the best of times. Instead, he cajoled, "But a little help is better than none, isn't it?"

Incredibly, she seemed to consider his words. "Fair enough," she finally answered. He sighed and grinned at her admission, only for her to follow it up with, "Weasley, take Granger somewhere else."

"I'm part of this, too!" his bookworm friend retorted.

"Your hands are trembling," his sister pointed out. "You look like you're about to pass out any second now. You can't even stand on your own two feet." At that, Hermione tried to support herself, and though it was a valiant effort, she immediately collapsed back onto Danny's back. "The Cruciatus doesn't just wear off in a few minutes. Face it, Granger; you are a liability."

"Hermione," he said when she opened her mouth to argue, "if it was me or Ron in your shoes, you'd have said the same thing. In a nicer way, sure, but you wouldn't let us keep going."

"But…" She trailed off, and after a long moment she nodded miserably. "Stay safe," she said, then she leaned in and added, "You can't trust her any more than You-Know-Who. Watch your back around her." He gave her a solemn nod and helped her shift her weight onto Ron.

Watching the two staggering off, he sighed and turned back to his sister. "Looks like it's just you and me again, just like that Halloween. Except this time, we can fight back."

"Hmm." She turned her back on him. "Let's hope it ends better than it did last time, then."

"We don't have to worry about our grandfather dying, I guess," he joked morbidly.

"I was actually talking about the part where you survived." And with that incredibly disturbing comment, she started walking deeper into town.


Despite walking through several rows of houses, the smile on Jen's face still had yet to fade. Part of it was that her bout of gallows humor still amused her, but that Potter had yet to realize she was joking just made it funnier.

Her feet came to a stop in the middle of the road, and her eyes focused on the spacious courtyard hidden behind the building ahead. Whether it be subconscious tactical thinking or bearing a similar mindset to her quarry or just being a perfect arena, she knew that Voldemort was waiting for them there. She lifted her hand in a silent call for Potter to stop, and then she turned around to face him, smile gone as she grew deadly serious. "I have a question for you, and I need a straight answer." His eyes roved over her face before he gave her a nod. "If you were in a position where you had a perfect shot at him – he couldn't dodge, couldn't block, didn't even know you were there – could you kill him?"

"Well… I mean, if I had a clear shot at him like that, obviously I could hit him—"

"That's not what I was asking, and you know it," she said, her sharp whisper cutting him off. "A child could hit him. I'm asking, if you had the chance, would you use a lethal curse?"

"I know he needs to be stopped, and you said he'd only stop once he's dead…"

She took in the uncertainty painted all over his face and scoffed. This really should not be a hard decision; if he had asked that question to her, her answer would have been 'In a heartbeat', but Potter? It was shocking that he could claim to be related to her when he couldn't even do something as simple as end a threat to his very existence.

Killing was easy. She knew that from plentiful personal experience. The only hard part in this situation was getting into position to do so.

"You couldn't, could you? You can't even bring yourself to talk about it."

"It's not that simple!" he hissed, his eyes burning in frustration. "Killing someone, even someone like Voldemort… That isn't something any decent person should do. You especially shouldn't be so… so cavalier about it!"

She sneered at him and turned away. And the Light wondered why they had spent a decade losing the last war? It was a good thing she was around to clean up this mess; if it were up to Potter, he'd have to rely on his wand inexplicably acting of its own accord and killing Voldemort for him or something. What kind of rational person would ever say that it was immoral to execute a megalomaniacal psychopath actively trying to take over the world and commit genocide? "I suppose that makes it easier to decide who gets what role in this, at least," she finally said in a forced, bright tone.

"What are you talking about?"

"You get to be the bait."


Jen rolled her eyes and jerked her thumb at the courtyard. "Keep him busy – better than you did last time, preferably – until I get a shot. Oh, and if you didn't notice it, he has excellent aim; last year, every curse he threw went exactly where he wanted it." She gave him a cheery smile. "Try not to die. That'll just make my job harder than it already is."

Ignoring his spluttered protests, she jogged down the road. Between one step and the next, her feet were silenced, and with the step after that, she faded out of sight. Her sight was gone, but her much-reduced sonar still let her run down the road to the last building before she would have passed the end of the courtyard. Her arm flew up, her gravity well appeared, and she fell upward to land on the roof. Only once she was sure she would be hidden from the courtyard did she let her invisibility fall away.

A quick look over the peaked roof proved what she had known in her gut: Voldemort was waiting for them, standing in the middle of the courtyard and tapping the tip of his wand in his left palm impatiently. Several seconds passed before Potter finally crept into view, and when he spotted the boy, the Dark Lord actually smiled. "Ah, and the hero of the story shows his face. I was beginning to worry that you wouldn't come."

"So now you want to talk," Potter bit out. It was not the best taunt he could come up with, but Jen narrowed her eyes as the words filtered through her mind. Why was Voldemort talking? In the graveyard, it had made sense; he was trying to convert her, a total unknown, to his point of view. But here, with someone he knew to be an enemy? What was he doing?

Shaking her head, she tossed that question away. The reason for Voldemort's complacency was secondary to the complacency itself. Unfortunately, he was facing the wrong direction for her to hit him unseen at this angle. Either she needed to move, or…

She nibbled her lip for a second before making the decision. Flitwick knew about it, even knew it was dark magic, but Potter wouldn't recognize it. It was one of the few spells in her arsenal she could control to the extent she would need for this to work and the only one of those that was destructive enough to end Voldemort here and now. Forming two balls of cursed fire, she tossed them behind her and slowly guided them into position. This far away from her, her personalized variant of Fiendfyre still ate away at the grass around them in order to fuel themselves, but with the black wizard as occupied as he was with Potter – he was currently taunting the boy about how he should have chosen the winning side back when he was eleven, which if it were true was a rather interesting titbit – he did not notice the blue and white flames stalking him.

One fireball got into position directly behind him, and she sprung her trap. The cursed fire spiraled outwards like a spear and roared its fury. Faster than she had ever seen him move before, Voldemort whirled around and cast a spell at the flames. With him distracted, she directed the second gout to erupt as well, this time spreading out in random lines that suddenly surged with flame. The walls of fire stretched as high as they could go and then fell on top of him.

The instant before they hit, she felt her spell suddenly get yanked out of her control. The flames bent oddly at a single point, and then the dark fire dwindled enough for her to see what was happening. Her jaw dropped.

"I wondered when you would join us," Voldemort crowed while his wand siphoned up her cursed fire. "Toying with Fiendfyre at such a young age? Tsk tsk." He shoved his wand forward and bent at his waist; the cutting charm Potter had finally worked up the nerve to cast sailed harmlessly over him, and then he straightened up and sucked the last of her spell into his wand. "Clearly you need to learn what happens to children who use magics they… aren't… ready for!"

With his last words, he swung his wand through the air, and the cursed fire poured out again in a long stream. He whipped it through the air, nearly hitting Potter and forcing the Lion to dive to the ground, and with each swing the flaming whip rose higher and higher. It ripped through the house she was standing atop, along with all the rest on the street, and Jen felt it the instant the house decided it could stand no longer. A third ball of flame flew from her palm to strike the whip, returning control of it to her, and she was a bare breath from sending it back at his wand when the crack of teleportation sounded behind her.

She ripped through space and threw herself headlong into the hole, reappearing on the ground, but before she could turn her eyes to where Voldemort stood that vile sound came from her left. Again she teleported away, and again he was immediately alongside her. The ruins of the houses. The corner of the courtyard farthest from where she had watched him. The air three hundred meters above the square. No matter where she went, he was there an instant later. Jen appeared next to Potter and grabbed the shoulder of his robe, and then she was away again, this time to the middle of the courtyard. No sooner had their feet hit the ground than she flung her hand over her head and snapped her fingers.

A wave of white light erupted from her, forming a dome that flashed away in all directions. It had taken no little begging on her part to convince Flitwick to demonstrate the Dragon's Roar Hex so she could duplicate it, and he had done so only after she gave him her word that she would not use it during their duels. It was not, he said, a fair tactic for the purposes of her instruction.

She would have to tell him about this, then, assuming she survived the fight.

The dome petered out once it grew too large for her to sustain, and the shattered debris scattered about them, once homes and shops but now just so much rubble, were proof of her spell's raw power. Unfortunately, it had failed in its goal. Two red triangles, one of their edges joined to make a wedge and ripples dancing over their surfaces, were planted proudly in the ground where Potter had stood just before, and holes ate through them to reveal Voldemort still on his feet and looking sadistically pleased. "You've learned a few new tricks since the last time we met."

Jen bared her teeth at him as her own words came back to haunt her. Even with Death's backing offsetting the support Voldemort received from Nyarlathotep, he still had five decades of experience more than she did, and in that time had learned far more magic than she knew. If she honestly thought killing him was supposed to be simple, then clearly she was just as crazy as Potter.

She needed to end this now, before he inevitably hit her with something that would end her on the spot.

With that thought in mind, she spun around and teleported once again, this time reappearing behind one of the piles of rubble she had created, and her body collapsed to a tiny point. Her little mouse paws scratched desperately as they sought purchase on the large chunks of wood and plaster and stone there were all that was left of the houses, and not a second after she transformed an ear-splitting crack sounded from above her and a thick boot slammed into the ground right next to her head. She hurried out from under Voldemort as fast as she could, scurrying behind him; she needed to change back before he thought to look for her in some other form. His voice boomed in her ears as he said something indistinguishable, but when a curse did not immediately strike her dead, she had to presume that Potter was actually doing his job of distracting him. Now where she wanted to be, she wheeled around, transformed once again, and lunged from her crouch at his legs, pale green light making a halo around both her hands.

Voldemort leapt forward before her own Killing Curses could touch him, and he pointed his wand at the spot where her momentum would quickly take her. She arched her back, bringing her head out of the line of fire, and so she had the perfect opportunity to feel a jet of magic slice through the air and hit the rubble strewn over the ground.

Whereupon it immediately exploded.

The shockwave smashed into her, and she was thrown away from her enemy. Her entire head was ringing like a gong, her sight and hearing and sonar were fractured, and then she fell from her flying arc. Her back slammed into the hard ground, flipping her over so she could hit the earth again with her chest this time. She tumbled over and over before finally coming to a stop, laying on her back and staring up at the cloudless sky.

She painfully pulled her head up to find her field of vision filled with green.

Rolling to the side, she barely managed to evade the Killing Curse coming after her, and she scrambled on her hands and knees behind a low garden wall. Power flooded her body, straightening her nose with a sickening crunch, joining the multiple fragments of her jawbone and regrowing her missing teeth, stabilizing her broken ribs so her left lung could reinflate. "Okay, bad idea," she told herself, her voice raspy over the words until her healing magic un-mangled her throat. The ringing noise and swimming vision stopped once the spell reached her brain, healing the concussion Voldemort had given her.

Jen shook her head; this fight was not going how she hoped it would. How many plans have we tried already? Six, seven? How the hell am I supposed to kill him when we can't even lay a finger on him?!

She did not have much time to think on that before an awful sound reached her. Like molten metal being dripped into her ears, the discordant screech set her nerves on edge and made her want to retch. Two seconds of that horrid noise broke through her self-control and bent her over, leaving her unable to stop the vomit that sprayed out her mouth. Her hands shook, her nerves burned, her magic bucked and twisted, but finally she flicked her fingers and encased her ears in blissful silence.

And yet, thanks to the scar on her wrist digging deeper into her arm, she could tell that still the phoenix song went on.

Slowly, she picked herself up from the ground and turned around to see what had caused this. Back in the courtyard stood Voldemort and Potter, their wands pointed at each other, but rather than slinging spells at each other, they were apparently staring in shock at the thick golden string connecting the tips, a liquid like slag splattering on the ground midway between them. From that point, beams of light arched out and over, forming what was essentially a gigantic birdcage keeping them inside. As she watched, Jen could not help but feel her respect for Voldemort rise; he was a black wizard, in service to the Darkness of the world just as she was, and yet he remained unyielding in the face of a phoenix's cry? That kind of resilience was amazing, enviable, and absolutely terrifying.

Staggering closer to the dueling males, she raised her hand and flicked her fingers at him. Yellow light of her own streaked towards a hole in the cage from whence she could see Voldemort's back, but her blasting curse impossibly bent toward one of the wires and bounced off, flying away uncontrollably to carve a massive divot in the ground. Okay, so that's right out, she decided, flipping desperately through plan after plan. Whatever this was, it was likely the only chance they had to deal with Voldemort, but nothing she could think of would work! He was just too skilled and, more irritating, too mobile; if she wanted to hit him with something, she would need to pin him down somehow, but the only times she could think of when she could have predicted where he would be were…

…were when he had teleported right next to her.

She licked her lips. That… complicated matters. Pinning him down elsewhere and hitting him with everything she had was one thing; using herself as bait and therefore being in the danger zone was entirely different. I can't kill him if I do things that way, but it's the best – the only – chance I have of landing a solid blow on him. Anything I do to him, I'm going to be in the blast radius for, too; that narrows down my options considerably. Add into that my own pitiful magical resistance, and finding a spell that would hurt him without doing even worse damage to me is a challenge. I need something, anything; something that will cripple him but leave me able to finish him off. Something that strikes at a weakness he has that I lack

Her studies bubbled up in her mind, and a plan, utterly incredulous though it was, fell into place. Would that even work? And could she afford to let the opportunity pass her by?

"Potter!" she yelled, her gut clenching as she mentally prepared herself for this absolute folly. Please, Baron, let this work. "Keep him busy for a few more seconds!"

His response, if there was any, could not make it through her silencing charm. Jen knelt on the ground and held her hands out as if in supplication, once again letting her magic pour out as strings that she hastily weaved together. The plan probably did not need this much magic, but excess was better than deficiency, especially when failure meant death. Ten seconds passed, her heart beating faster than she could ever remember it doing before, and then she pulled the net inward and folded it up into a dense ball of energy in her right hand so she could cast it without it trying to channel ever more power through her body like it had done when she dueled Flitwick all those months ago. With her left hand, she reached above her head and traced what was to her perspective a downward-facing arrow into the air, an inverted tiwaz rune. She had never used this character in her runic castings, had never had a reason to, and though now was really not a good time for experimentation, it was not as though she had any other choice. Taking a deep breath and shrugging off her silencing charm despite the phoenix song, she shouted, "Okay, get out of there!"

The cage faded away, and Voldemort vanished.

Her right hand flew up toward the rune hanging in the air.

A crack sounded a mere foot to her right.

Her magic touched the rune.


The rune exploded.

Jen screamed as the force of the blast slammed down on her like a boulder, and again when sledgehammers slammed into both her knees. She flopped onto the ground and did not even try to hold in the tears that streamed out of her eyes as she felt that sharp ache just get worse and found both her lower legs pointed in the wrong directions. A loud yell dragged her attention from her own agony, and even through the pain she found a smile growing on her face, the smile of a viper that had just injected a lethal dose of venom into the eagle pecking it to death.

"Black!" Voldemort screamed, his long fingers digging at his sternum as a string of cracking noises like popcorn came from him. More accurately, they were digging at the chains of crimson magic ripping themselves out of his chest from that point and cascading down his torso and along his arms. They wrapped tightly around him, the links on the ends zipping back and forth over his hands before hooking onto a point farther up the length; more chains sprang up from those that had slid down his chest and linked the first chains together as well. A third wave crested over his serpentine face, digging into his flesh as they latched onto his nasal slits and his earlobes and the skin of his bald head, and with no little fear in his voice he demanded, "What have you done to me?!"

"Wouldn't you like to know!" she shouted back in pure defiance, a mocking laugh ripping itself from her. Those chains were slithering over her as well, silently rather than so noisily, but she did not care. The tiwaz rune was all about magical and metaphysical bindings, breaking them or forming them, and that was all she really needed. Voldemort was a soul mage; he gained the blessings of his patron Power by snipping off portions of his soul and offering them up in exchange for power. This rune she had used with the sole intent of binding his soul, crippling him in the worst way she could imagine. The Baron wanted her soul intact, so having it bound together was of no import to her, but Voldemort?

Unless he managed to undo the cruel magic she had just wrought, he could not seek aid from Nyarlathotep. No soul jars to replace the ones she had destroyed. No raising zombies by mimicking Death's magics. No stolen Unseelie boons. He might still have his own magic, he might have his knowledge, but now he was just a regular wizard.

The chains around them puffed into vapor and sank into their skin, and Voldemort's hateful gaze sharpened. He raised his wand, the incantation for what she was sure was yet another Killing Curse already on his lips. She, on the other hand, could only bare her teeth. Her arms twitched at her call, and her magic burned in her skin. After overloading the rune, she was not surprised that she needed a minute to recover before she could repair her legs and rejoin the battle. Voldemort just wasn't going to give her that time.

Green death streaked toward her, and another crack sounded, this time louder than before. In fact, it sounded almost like…

A chunk of marble sprung into existence between her and the curse only to vanish as soon as the spell smashed into it, and a red cloak whipped into her view. Jen raised her head and looked at her savior in surprise. The dark curls cascading down the witch's back threw her for a moment, but otherwise?

Voldemort sneered at the new arrival, but then he had to hop to the side to evade what looked like an iron railway spike surrounded by a colorless haze. The spell instead hit a pile of rubble behind where he had stood, and Jen stared in astonishment as the patch of space around the nail imploded, sucking up the debris into a black hole that vanished as quickly as it had appeared. "I thought Aurors were supposed to capture dark wizards, not try to kill them," he mocked.

"Then maybe you shouldn't have fucked with a Black."

And with the speed of lightning, Dora snapped her wand like a whip. The earth in front of her ripped itself up in a perfect copy of what Jen herself had done not fifteen minutes previously, but her cousin did not wait to see what that would accomplish. No, she jabbed her wand ahead, spraying out a long metal cable festooned with rectangular blades, and then she waved her focus in a circle above her head. A black cloud formed from nothing, thunder rumbling ominously; no sooner had Voldemort dispelled the wave of dirt than he had to throw up another of those triangular shield to deflect the thick and sharp icicles that fell from the sky like malicious hailstones. The strand of razor wire slithered on the ground like a snake, and Jen's eyes widened as she felt the fingers of Dora's left hand twitching as though playing an instrument. Flitwick had told her the previous year that minor feats of wandless magic were necessary to qualify for Auror training, but this showed a much greater degree of control than that statement had implied.

The last few icicles were still falling when Dora hurled another of those spikes, and then she pointed her wand at the ground. The magic that shot out this time was hot enough to make Jen flinch back as much as she could, and when the bolt of light magic hit the dirt, it spread out to cover the courtyard in an invisible smooth surface like an icy lake or a sheet of glass. The instant she estimated that it slid beneath Voldemort, he stumbled, his boots giving him no purchase on the suddenly frictionless earth, and that was when the wire struck. It wrapped around his ankle, biting deeply into his flesh, and using that point as a fulcrum it lashed up and over, winding about the Dark Lord in a parody of how the binding had tightened around him.

This is the same woman I bested in a pillow fight this summer?, Jen asked herself in amazement. Dora had always come across to her as, well, a bit of a clown, really; ever ready with a joke, concerned more with keeping the family happy than contributing anything Jen had considered of value. Now, though, with teeth bared in righteous fury and eyes hard as steel, striking blow after blow onto a black wizard she herself had only been able to injure with an almost suicidal ploy? Jen felt a frisson of fear slid down her spine. If this was the caliber of the people she would face should her own crimes and powers ever be revealed, then she had greatly – laughably – overestimated her abilities.

Infinite reserves and wandless casting meant little if her opponents splattered her against a wall before she could make use of those advantages.

With a roar of rage, the razor wire was blown away as a puff of smoke, and the ground around Voldemort screeched and crackled, the magicked earth thrusting out shards of stone to give him better footing. The wizard's robe was ripped into shreds, and a cut on his brow had poured blood over the entire left side of his face, giving his snarl a feral cast. Twice he slashed his wand from shoulder to hip, and though Dora flung up a shield that shimmered like diamond to block what could only be the Sectumsempra curse Snape had developed in his youth, that was just a distraction. Black and orange flame poured from his wand, growing and growing, and a snake composed entirely of fire struck out.

Come on, come on. Move! Jen's arms rose at her silent shout, and her nerves were good enough to accomplish this much, at least. A spiral of cursed fire shot out from her palms, and her dark fire clashed against the very curse she had derived it from. Without a proto-sentience to fight for control, she wielded her spell like a sword, parrying the igneous serpent whenever it coiled to try another angle. Twice, thrice she blocked it, and then Dora wheeled her wand arm above and over her shoulder, lobbing a glob of what looked like pink soap suds onto the snake. That innocuous-looking lump of foam ate through the Fiendfyre like acid, snuffing out the flames and flowing down the spell toward Voldemort's wand.

The Dark Lord snarled and vanished. Jen expected him to show up again close by, but instead Dora fell to the ground screaming. Arctic magic, nothing like the metamorph's own, filled the woman's skull and started slipping down her spine. That bastard was trying to possess her! Jen grabbed Dora's chin, turning the witch's face toward her, and seeing dark blue eyes beginning to fill with bloody red, she jabbed her mental probes into her cousin's mind.

She had experience with mind-reading; it was a skill she had practiced for years, and she had become used to the strange, abstract plane she found herself in. Battling someone else for control over a third person's mind? That was a new one. Thankfully she had entered Dora's mind a few times before, so with that previous knowledge it was easy to find the alien consciousness coating Dora's natural mental barriers and trying to seep inside like malevolent ooze. Her will caught hold of the 'center' of Voldemort's mental mass, and with a scream like an ancient valkyrie she forged her rage into a keen edge. Over and over she slammed that conceptual blade into Voldemort; he lashed out at her, his probes scouring like sand and burning like fire, but her barrier was fortified by the magic constantly filtering through her body. Her defenses withstood his distracted blows while each strike she delivered against him drew psychic blood.

Tentacles of hate wrapped around her mind, and with a great wrench he ripped them both out of Dora's head. Voldemort reappeared where he had been; Dora's arms flailed as she tried to regain her mental equilibrium. Her own body had recovered from the stresses her magic put on it while her mind was otherwise occupied, and barely had she imagined it before she screamed in pain while her legs flopped through the air and the fragments of her knees reorganized themselves. Not perfect, not what she could do with some peace and quiet, but it was serviceable enough for this. She staggered to her feet, and while Dora caught hold of her hands, it was not to drag her to safety as she first thought. The Auror instead climbed up her arm until she, too was standing upright.

Voldemort watched the two Blacks before flicking his eyes upward and to the side. Broom-riders were approaching, wearing not the Aurors' red cloaks but instead the black of the Hit Wizards. It was obvious the instant the Dark Lord decided to cut his losses, and though Jen expected him to say something, perhaps offer some threat about how she would rue the day she took up arms against him, he was silent. Instead, he merely gave them both a glare that in its wordless simplicity promised a horrible, agonizing death.

And then he was gone.


Dora clung tightly to Jen as the girl related the events of the battle with Voldemort to Rufus Scrimgeour, the conjured blanket bunching up beneath her embrace. Jen had protested wearing the thing, saying that she was not cold nor was she in shock, but thankfully she had relented with relatively little argument. Perhaps Jen realized that she really just wanted the girl to wear it for her own sake; Apparating in to find her fifteen-year-old cousin laying battered and broken on the ground yet still defiantly staring down a Dark Lord was something straight out of a nightmare. It had certainly scared her out of her mind.

Though listening to Jen's story, if even half of it was true, she might not have had reason to worry quite so much.

"…I figured he'd appear right next to me like he had all the other times, so I told Potter to stop whatever that was and set off a Concussion Hex right above me. I, er, didn't totally account for how much that was going to affect me," Jen added in an embarrassed aside, "but it blew Voldemort across the courtyard. That's when Dora showed up, and you know the rest."

"I see," Scrimgeour said, flicking a suspicious glance at her before returning his attention to Jen. She let out a silent sigh that he wasn't calling her out on anything; she hadn't lied, exactly, but she figured Jen wouldn't mind her leaving out any reference to the incredibly creepy Legilimency battle the two had waged inside her skull, nor details about those weird blue and white flames. What that spell actually was she hadn't a clue, but there weren't exactly a whole lot of things that could block Fiendfyre. Knowing Jen's penchant for reading from the family library and just what kinds of books could be found there, however, she very much doubted it was something her baby cousin wanted paraded around in front of the head of the DMLE. "Even with what you've told me, the fact that you could stand up to Voldemort in a running battle for even a couple of minutes is astonishing. I cannot think of any fifth-year student anywhere who could claim to be able to do so, and honestly, I would be loath to try it myself now."

"When you don't have a lot of options, you just do what you have to do," Jen replied demurely.

"The only thing I can potentially see becoming an issue is your repeated and blatant use of Apparation," he continued. Jen's shoulders stiffened under her arm, and she shot her best attempt at a quelling look at her boss's boss, which the man either did not see or ignored. Being made director of the entire department hadn't turned him petty, had it? Thankfully, for her continued career if nothing else, he looked to the side as if searching for an eavesdropper before sending Jen a conspiratorial glance. "That said, when you're fighting someone like that, nearly everything can be excused or overlooked. I'll keep that part of your tale out of the official records for your own safety, but I don't want to hear about you Apparating except in an emergency for another year. There's a reason we insist on everyone who wants to Apparate getting a license, you know."

"I understand. Thank you," Jen whispered, looking down at the ground in apparent chastisement.

Scrimgeour nodded and stood. "Auror Tonks, I expect I can leave her in your care for now?"

"You'd be hard-pressed to take her away from me after all this, sir."

"Very well. I expect to see you back at the office tomorrow, then." With that, he turned and strode away, presumably to get an update from the staff who had come along.

Once he was out of earshot, Jen cocked her head and looked at Dora from the corner of her eye. "He isn't much of a people-person, is he?"

"Not really," she admitted. "He's good at what he does, though, was probably one of the best Aurors in recent memory, and he hates the Death Eaters with a passion. And, as you saw, he understands that the rules are more flexible at some times than others. If it were Robards interviewing you, Sirius still would've had to pay the fines for your Apparating."

Jen snorted and let Dora pull her up to their feet, though the girl still wobbled a bit on her first few steps. Scrimgeour had insisted one of the DMLE Mediwizards take a look at her while Dora was giving her own debrief, so Jen's knees were good as new, but the wizard had said that she would be a little unsteady on them for the next couple of hours. "You think your new headmistress will give you grief for coming home a few days early?"

The shaky laugh Jen gave at that was proof of just how long a day the girl had had, and Dora shook her head as she guided her cousin toward the Three Broomsticks. The old pub had been commandeered by St. Mungo's as a triage center, and it was also where most of the interviews were being done; Jen and Danny Potter, having been in the thick of the fighting and the two who had actually faced Voldemort, were the only ones to warrant telling their stories to Scrimgeour personally.

Unfortunately, that short journey took them past several demolished buildings and long rows of bodies under white sheets, and Dora pulled Jen closer. She had been the one to receive Dumbledore's Patronus message about the Muggle stadium being attacked, but the Order's warning about the attack on Hogwarts had instead been intercepted by a different member of the DMLE, who had only listened as far as the mention of werewolves attacking during a new moon before blowing it off as a prank and taking his sweet time telling his supervisor about it. The senior wizard, thankfully, had been far more sensible in his response. Robards had grumbled about it while a dozen Aurors, nearly half their entire membership, assembled with the Hit Wizards, so she knew that idiot was facing an investigation into his actions and almost certainly would be looking for a new job sooner rather than later. Seeing the aftermath of the attack, not to mention fighting in it, left her with little sympathy for the Patrolman's plight.

Several of the older students were still milling about outside the Three Broomsticks, the young men and women who had held the pub against first the Imperiused Muggles and werewolves and then from the true Death Eaters, and when they got closer Jen pulled herself out from the half-hug and called out to them. One group broke off from the rest of the crowd and hurried over, the seven teens led by a short blonde who threw her arms around Jen's neck and—

Huh, Dora thought to herself as she eyed the girl who seemed determined to devour Jen's entire head mouth-first, that's a surprise. I could have sworn her type was big, burly guys like Krum. How long has this been going on?

"Auror Tonks!"

She shot Jen another look before reluctantly walking away; she should be safe surrounded by her friends, and it was not as if Dora could ignore the head of their government summoning her. It also didn't mean she had to like it. "Yes, Minister?" she asked once she was close enough, though she kept her eye on Jen after sparing the older woman and the wizard behind her a momentary glance.

Madam Bones did not seem to mind the inattention, for the older woman just huffed in mild amusement. "Quite a few stories going around. I believe one of them is that your cousin and Danny Potter fought off Voldemort by themselves?"

"That one's true," she admitted with a nod. "Scared the life right out of me."

"I can imagine." She barely managed not to turn a glare on Dumbledore; finding out that the old man, someone she had for the longest time looked up to, was trying to take Jen away from them had soured her opinion of him, and reading about the numerous crimes he had committed against the students under his care – her and Jen being two of them – had been the final nail in his coffin as far as she was concerned. She really was not even sure why he was here, to be honest. It wasn't as if he had any role in defending Hogsmeade; he and some members of the Order had Apparated to the town only after the DMLE had already sent the Death Eaters running. "If you will excuse me for a mom—"

"Go near her, and I don't care if Madam Bones, Scrimgeour, Robards, and the entire Wizengamot are watching," she snarled. "I will rip out your entrails and hang you with them."

Dumbledore looked askance at her, as if he could not believe anyone not wearing the Dark Mark on her arm would ever say something like that, and Madam Bones covered her mouth with her hand but not quite fast enough for her to miss the smile on the older witch's mouth. After a moment, Madam Bones pulled her hand away to reveal the same solemn expression she had worn a few seconds before. "I do not believe you needed to be that graphic, Auror."

"My apologies, Minister. My emotions ran away with me." Not that it kept Dora from noticing that the monocle-wearing witch had said nothing about the actual threat. Presumably, finding out that Dumbledore might have been Memory Charming or feeding potions to her niece gave anyone making moves against the old goat a large amount of leeway in her eyes. "However, I stand by what I said. She has had a stressful enough day without being accosted by someone with a known history of using magic on teenagers' minds."

The leader of the Order huffed but, apparently seeing that both of them had already made up their minds on that score, said nothing in his defense. "I merely wished to hear how she and Danny were able to fight Voldemort on such even ground. That information might be crucial to our fight against him."

"Once Rufus and I have had a chance to go over the findings of this investigation, I'm sure he'll eventually give Shacklebolt the relevant portions of the interviews for him to take back to you."

"As someone whose own brother was in the Order and who fought alongside us in the last war, I would think you would be more open to collaboration than this," Dumbledore said quietly.

The Minister stared at him with a baleful eye. "And if were just the Order, I wouldn't have an issue bringing them in the loop on the sly. The problem here is you."

"I have—"

"Violated every bit of trust I could possibly extend you. You should be glad I'm not telling Auror Tonks to arrest you right where you stand. I get the feeling she'd enjoy it." Dumbledore clacked his jaw shut, and Madam Bones continued, "What exactly did you think would happen here, Dumbledore? Did you think you could show up with a new tale of fighting Death Eaters and I'd fall over myself putting you back in all your previous positions of authority? You. Are. A. Criminal. That you're working against Voldemort is the only reason I'm giving you any slack whatsoever."

Dumbledore sighed and spoke in a regretful voice, though Dora was not so charitable to believe that any of it was honest. "I made mistakes during my tenure as Headmaster, I admit that. None of them, however, are as great as you believe, and all of them I made with the best interests of the students and our country in mind. All I want, all I have ever wanted, is for Magical Britain to be as safe, as prosperous, and as just to all its inhabitants as it can possibly be. Surely you cannot fault me for working towards that goal."

"If the perfect world is built upon the blood and bodies of the innocent, can it really be called perfect?" Madam Bones shot back. Dumbledore's left eye twitched, but before he could say anything, she continued, "I might – might – have been willing to consider that Umbridge's claims were exaggerated somewhat, that maybe some of the evidence she collected had been skewed by her own bias, but in my experience, anyone who runs when confronted by the law is guilty of something. You ran."

"Honest Ministers is something we have had a definite dearth of over the last few decades."

The Minister's face grew stony at that. "I'll try not to be too offended by that kind of remark. Regardless of your excuses, the fact remains that your crimes have been documented, and you passed up your chance to explain your actions." Turning away from him, she looked out over the ruins of Hogsmeade. "Because you're taking steps against the Death Eaters, I have suspended the warrant for your arrest for now. When the war is over, assuming you don't give me cause to regret that decision, I won't press those charges."

"Thank you, Ame—"

"But!" she interrupted. "This is the only chance I'm giving you, and only because of what you can bring to the table. Step over the line at any time, doing anything even the merest bit questionable, and you'll find yourself the most hunted man in Britain, regardless of what Voldemort is doing. Do you understand?"

He gave her an unimpressed look. "If you wish this partnership to work, you would be better served not to bring threats to the negotiating table."

"I'm an Auror. We don't negotiate with criminals. Be glad I'm making an exception."

The man moved to continue the argument, but by this point Dora had already grown tired of his refusal to acknowledge his culpability. Her fingers rolled her wand around and around, and shooting her a dismissive expression, he stalked off in the direction of Danny and James Potter, the elder wobbling on what looked like a hastily transfigured peg leg. "And to think I used to respect that man."

"I think everyone did," Madam Bones sighed, relaxing now that he was gone. "And even those of us who knew he wasn't as good as he pretended to be never realized just what he was capable of. Unfortunately, this is the exact situation I hate most of all: where the only way to get rid of a greater evil is to turn a blind eye to the lesser."

Dora grimaced, glad now more than ever that she was just an investigator. All she had to do was dig for clues and bring the bad guys in. "What do you think will happen now?"

"As far as today goes?" Madam Bones shrugged. "Marchbanks said she'll have a memorial service in the next day or two for the students and residents of Hogsmeade who were killed. People will discuss rebuilding Hogsmeade, but with so much of the population in the ground, I don't know whether it will actually happen. Everyone will move on, sooner or later.

"If you're talking about the war as a whole?" When Dora nodded, the older witch pointed out to the group of kids clustered around Jen. And speaking of father-figures in the Order, Sirius had finally tracked Jen down and was currently hanging onto her as though she would vanish if he dared let go. Jen could do nothing more than flail around comically, and the other students were bracing themselves on each other to keep from falling down in their laughter. "My niece nearly lost one of her closest friends because that monster had us running in circles, and it was only because a teenage girl has a serious talent for fighting and a teenage boy has an unnatural degree of luck that he was pinned down long enough for us to get our act together. We can't – I won't – let that happen again."

"So what's the plan, boss?"

"After this disaster, I think even the most pacifistic Houses will be willing to allow you greater authority against the Death Eaters, and the Death Eaters in the chamber won't want to speak against it for fear of bringing even more suspicion upon themselves." Minister Bones smiled, the expression full of leashed fury. "The plan, Auror Tonks? Soon enough, we're going to be taking the fight to them. We were too soft on them last time, let them get away with too much, and look at what we got in return.

"We aren't going to make that mistake again."


Creole Corner: Bunch of Light idiots. Can't even fight right.

For the first time in this entire series, Jen is fighting in her actual weight class. Things are just going to get more intense from here. So she got to be a badass, Voldemort was a badass, Dora was a badass (something I hope no one expected!), and Danny… well, he survived. That isn't even meant as bashing, either; every time Harry went up against Voldemort, he was saved by some external factor. His mother's protection in book 1, Fawkes in book 2 (though at least he gets credit for the basilisk kill), his wand in book 4, Dumbledore in book 5, and something in book 7 both times they fought. In a head-to-head fight with just the two of them, Harry would lose every time because even if he has the strength to rival Voldemort, he lacks the skill and the aggression to use it effectively. Harry would have been slaughtered by my Voldemort, therefore Danny would have died as well if Voldemort weren't preoccupied dealing with Jen and Dora.

Anyway, the protection issue is why I included the quick rant about the ending of book 7 you saw. The real answer for that little bit of weirdness was probably that Rowling couldn't figure out any other way to end Voldie without Harry getting his hands dirty (because apparently killing under any circumstance is wrong, but torturing someone for spitting on another person is perfectly acceptable), and while it is never explained in-story how that happened, even to the point where Garrick "Official Wandlore Expositor" Ollivander is stumped, I sometimes like to think that Harry's own magic just got tired of all his dilly-dallying and figured someone needed to take out the trash.

Silently Watches out.