Once again, I'd like to thank everyone for reading and especially those who have taken the time to offer their critiques. Every review means a lot to me, and I will try to continue to respond to each and every one.
Extra-special thanks to my amazing beta reader, sophie_hatter. If you haven't read her story Evolution (M), I highly recommend it!
As always, the characters herein belong to JK Rowling.
Harry spent the rest of the day studiously avoiding his family. As he expected, Ron showed up at work later in the afternoon. He claimed to have taken a power nap, but Harry didn’t buy it. Exhaustion and worry were etched deep in the lines of Ron’s face. Harry was barely able to make eye contract with him, knowing that things were going to get much worse before they got better. He set Ron about rearranging the duty roster to improve the coverage on their various assignments while freeing up more bodies to complete the inspection of Azkaban. Susan had already assured him that this was a mathematical impossibility, but Ron was too tired to notice. Harry surreptitiously contacted Hugo to make sure that he took his father home when visiting hours ended. He hoped that he wouldn’t have to take the next step of involving Molly.
By the time Harry crawled into bed, all traces of his good mood were gone. He slowly replayed the day’s events in his head. Eleven hardened criminals are back on the street, we have no idea who staged an attack three floors away from our office in broad daylight and my best friend is probably going to be a paraplegic. Brilliant.
Harry spent a long night tossing and turning as his mind grappled with the various problems facing him. He finally fell asleep some time after midnight, only to wake up in a cold sweat at three o’clock in the morning after watching masked Death Eaters murder a wheelchair-bound Hermione in his dreams. At five o’clock, he finally gave up and rolled out of bed.
Harry had just finished his breakfast when an owl arrived from the Burrow with his assignments for the day. No proper Weasley family dinner could occur without the requisite preparations. Harry’s first job was to see to it that Teddy, James, Al and Lily all arrived at the Burrow at the proper time. To Molly, this meant that she should have plenty of time to fawn over her grandchildren and great-grandchildren before they sat down for dinner. Anyone who was not present by three in the afternoon was usually deemed to be late.
His second task was contacting Neville and making sure that the children at Hogwarts would be able to floo to the Burrow. Ordinarily, Hogwarts required the permission of a parent or guardian for any child to leave the school grounds. For the Weasley clan, that meant twelve separate sets of parents had to contact the school. After the second family dinner under his tenure, Neville had conceded that it was easier for one family member to provide him with a combined list.
Harry sat down in the drawing room, grabbed a roll of parchment, and started scribbling notes. He wrote friendly reminders for his children and godson, indicating when they needed to arrive at the Burrow and pointing out that punctuality was non-negotiable unless they wanted to hear about it from their grandmother. Next he started composing his letter to Neville. He chewed on the end of the quill and thought hard, trying to remember which of his grand-nieces and nephews were currently attending Hogwarts and which had graduated or were not old enough to start. Finally, he gave up and walked to the enchanted tapestry in the hallway that showed his ever-growing family tree. Ginny had always been good about remembering names and birth dates. He was awful at it.
When he completed the letter to Neville, he bundled up all the messages and threw on his cloak. His family had accumulated a small army of owls over the years, and he finally set up an owlery in the barn. He distributed the messages and sent the owls on their way.
At seven o’clock, an owl arrived with the latest update from Azkaban. Two more guards and a kitchen worker had been taken into custody due to unexplained absences and additions to their bank vaults that they could not explain. It appeared that a sizable black market had been operating beneath the warden’s nose. Still, there was nothing to suggest a conspiracy large enough to allow nine prisoners to walk out the gate unnoticed. The three missing guards were still at large, and they were working several promising leads to track them down.
Harry scribbled out his acknowledgment, along with instructions to circulate wanted posters for the missing guards. He sent the owl on its way and sat down to reread Richards’s report. Things were not looking good for the warden. By Monday, Harry felt sure that the Minister would be past requesting his resignation. If the Minister was feeling generous, the warden be quietly fired and sent on his way. If not, he would be publicly pilloried. Political damage control always began with assigning blame.
He grabbed another piece of parchment and began to compose a carefully worded message. He had agreed to keep the Minister informed on their progress, but he didn’t want the warden fired just yet. As soon as the axe fell, it would send a chill through the prison. The guards and kitchen workers were certain to be less forthcoming when it became clear that the Minister’s outrage could cost them their jobs. There was also the matter of what else the warden might know, although Harry suspected it wasn’t much. The Aurors needed a little more time to gather information before the heads started to roll.
Harry had just completed the pleasantries and was weighing which details to include when Terry Boot’s silvery hedgehog patronus bounded into the room. “Harry,” it said in Terry’s voice, “we have a tip on one of the guards. Setting up anti-apparition jinxes on Church Lane in Little Driffield.”
Harry was grateful for a reason to put off writing the Minister. He set the note aside and headed for the door, grabbing his traveling cloak and stepping into his boots. “Hermys, I’m going to Little Driffield to help apprehend a fugitive,” he shouted towards the kitchen as he walked out the door. “I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
Hermione lay in bed, listening to her husband and son argue.
“Dad, you were supposed to get some rest last night. I’m here and mum is fine. Why don’t you go home and sleep?”
“I did get some sleep last night. I feel fine,” Ron shot back. “Have you been talking to Harry?” he added suspiciously.
“You did not!” Hugo replied incredulously while side-stepping the question about his uncle. “You kept me up until midnight talking about the bloody Cannons and their roster problems and when I finally went to bed, you played chess against yourself until three in the morning. Fiona was not happy about finding you on the sofa in your underpants this morning, you know?”
Hermione would have found them both very amusing, but she was too absorbed in her own situation. She had no recollection of what it was like to be petrified, but that was the only other thing that had kept her off of her feet for this long. The healers kept telling her that she was progressing well, but she didn’t feel like she was making progress. It hurt to move and she couldn’t manage more than a whisper without her voice turning into a garbled, gurgly mess. Even breathing was uncomfortable. She still couldn’t stand to open her eyes more than a sliver and short conversations left her exhausted.
“Your injuries are very extensive and you’re going to have to be patient,” Healer Gelbard had told her. It was an easy thing for him to say. He didn’t have a husband coming apart at the seams or a best friend who needed help finding a trio of killers. She sighed to herself. This was not the best time to be taking on other people’s problems. Where Ron and Harry were concerned, however, it was a hard habit to break.
She thought back to her conversation with Astoria. There was no way to know whether the visit from Draco’s “old friend” was related to the attack on the Ministry, but it seemed like an awfully large coincidence. So it appeared that somebody was trying to recruit former Death Eaters and locate some of the Dark Lord’s personal effects. It wasn’t the first time, but it hadn't happened in well over twenty years. She struggled to remember which of Draco’s school friends were not dead or in prison. There was Zabini, but he was supposed to be somewhere in the South Pacific, sipping wine, seducing women and spending the gold his mother had accumulated from her collection of dead husbands.
After a few moments lost in thought, she noticed an awkward silence in the room. “Mum, don’t you think?” Hugo asked.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, “what was the question?”
“See, you’re wearing her out,” Ron said defensively.
“Mum,” Hugo continued, undaunted, “I was asking whether you agree that dad should get some potions from a healer to help him sleep. You probably can’t see, but he looks like hell.”
“Hugo, watch your language,” she admonished, although she was sure that Ron did actually look like hell based on their earlier conversation. “Ronald, he has a point. It’s very sweet of you to take care of me and I love you for it, but you need more rest. Otherwise, you’re going to wind up in the bed next to me.”
“Brilliant!” Ron exclaimed. She felt him kiss her on the forehead. “You’re a genius. If we scoot your bed over a couple feet, we could fit a cot right over here. There’d still be room for the chairs and the healers could get around...”
Harry slumped through his front door later that morning, tired, dirty and frustrated. The guard they had cornered in Little Driffield had led them on quite a chase, ducking through alleyways, scrambling over walls and crawling through hedges and gardens. Harry had to admire the man’s stamina and elusiveness, if not his intellect. He almost made it outside the anti-apparition jinxes when Terry shouted, “look out for the blibbering humdinger!” It had given the guard just enough pause for one of the Aurors to stun him. Harry and Terry both agreed that the older they became, the more uses they found for Luna’s peculiar beliefs.
The interrogation of the guard had not been especially enlightening, however. The man was frightened out of his wits and not at all reluctant to answer their questions. His payments and instructions had come from one of the two guards still at large, the apparent ringleader of the group. His role in the escape had been relatively minor, leaving a door to a storage room unlocked and volunteering to trade shifts with another guard who had been scheduled to walk the cell blocks. He did give the Aurors enough information to pin down the date of Flint’s escape. He had been on the street for only six days.
Hermys appeared with Harry’s lunch just as he sat down to finish his update to the Minister. He decided to emphasize the arrests they had made and gloss over the appearance of a broader conspiracy. If he could keep the warden employed for another seventy-two hours, his team could complete their interviews and not have to deal with employees that were maneuvering to keep their jobs.
Harry sent an owl off to the Minister and settled gingerly into his favorite chair in the drawing room. His body was not happy about the morning’s activities, especially the part where he tried to hurdle a fence and landed unceremoniously on his backside. Maybe he really was getting too old for his job. He thought about Neville’s offer of a teaching position at Hogwarts. As appealing as it sounded to his old bones, something didn’t feel quite right about it.
He picked up the Daily Prophet and perused the coverage of the attack on the Ministry. There was plenty of speculation and innuendo since nobody outside of the Minister’s office was officially commenting. “Anonymous sources” within the Ministry were saying that the attack was being blamed on a fringe group demanding lower taxes and less Ministry spending. Harry was pleased to see that the false rumors he had seeded were taking hold. The last thing they needed was the press speculating about a rekindled Death Eater movement.
Harry set the paper aside when another owl appeared in the window. He winced in pain as he leaned over the table and decided to open the window with his wand rather than struggling to his feet. He summoned a treat for the owl and unrolled the message it dropped in his lap. This one contained the spell breakers’ report from Malfoy Manor.
He furrowed his brow as he scanned the report and realized that they had found almost nothing. There were a few transfigured items, but none that suggested any connection to Voldemort. He smirked at the mention of certain leather garments and equestrian gear found in a charmed cubby in the master bedroom. He tried to imagine Narcissa and old Lucius all dolled up and... no, on second thought, he didn’t want to imagine that at all.
The last two items located by the spell breakers immediately snapped Harry out of his mental mockery of Lucius and Narcissa.
Two wands found in the back of a drawer in the basement. One fourteen inches, willow, unicorn hair core. One ten and three quarters inches, vine wood, dragon heartstring core.
They had found Ron and Hermione’s wands. The ones confiscated by the Snatchers when they were captured and taken to Malfoy Manor. Harry reread the descriptions twice more before he could believe it. Narcissa had made her peace with Hermione after Aiden was born, and Harry felt fairly sure that she would have given the wands back if she’d known about them. One of the Death Eaters must have tucked them away and forgotten about them. Now they were sitting in an evidence bin in the Auror office. What a wonderful “get well” present they would make.
He added the report to the growing stack on the coffee table. Ron and Hermione’s wands aside, Malfoy Manor was looking more and more like a dead end. Where was Flint getting his information? Or was the whole thing a ruse to gauge Malfoy’s sympathy to the pure blood cause? There were too many possibilities and not enough facts to narrow them down.
Harry groaned under his breath as he shifted uncomfortably. He needed to do something to take his mind off of his aching muscles. As much as he wanted to visit Hermione in the hospital, his conversation with Healer Gelbard still haunted him. How on earth was he going to break the news to Ron and Hermione? In his mind, he kept remembering her as a schoolgirl, running down the hill to Hagrid’s hut or scurrying off to class. The memories were fresh and the details sharp in spite of the years. How would Hermione, who was so full of life and energy, deal with being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life? How would Ron, who was notoriously bad at handling change, manage?
He felt himself starting to spiral into a morass of anxiety and doubt. He slowly, painfully stood up and shook his head. He couldn’t allow himself to give in to dread. His friends needed him, whether or not they knew it. A good first step would be to force his discomfort to the back of his mind and visit them in the hospital. He had barely gotten to talk to Hermione the day before. Hopefully she was feeling better.
First, he decided to pick up a few things for her. St Mungo’s could be an exceedingly drab, boring place. Perhaps he could improve her mood a bit. He performed a quick scourgify on his clothes, grabbed his cloak and headed for the door.
“Hermys,” he shouted down the hall, “I’m off to see Hermione at St. Mungo’s. I probably won’t be home until dinner.”
“Please let Mistress know that Hermys is very worried for her,” the elf chirped, popping into existence between Harry and the door. “If she needs anything, she can call on Hermys any time. With Master’s permission, of course.”
“Hermys,” Harry replied, kneeling so he could speak to him at eye level, “if Hermione or Ron ever need anything, you always have my permission to help.”
The elf smiled and disappeared with a soft pop. Harry walked outside and enjoyed the afternoon sun for a moment. He made a quick mental list of things he would bring for Hermione, then turned and disappeared.
Hermione struggled to keep her mind busy while Hugo continued to badger his father.
“Dad, what is the big deal? Just go home and get a few hours of sleep. Mum’s fine here. Rosie is coming to visit later.”
“I’m not tired,” Ron insisted. “If I’m going to be awake anyway, I might as well be here with your mother.”
Why did her husband have to be so difficult? She could hear the fatigue in his voice and in her mind’s eye she could see the exhaustion in his eyes. She found that she had gotten quite good at visualizing people’s expressions when they spoke. It helped her to feel more connected.
“Hello, uncle Harry,” Hugo interrupted her silent contemplation. She remembered Harry coming to visit her the day before, though it seemed very hazy due to the pain potions. Maybe he could send Ron home to bed and solve at least one of her problems.
“Hello, Hugo, Ron,” she heard Harry say, imagining the smile on his face. “Ron, you look like death,” he added bluntly. “Have you slept at all?”
Ron answered “yes” and Hugo “no” at the same instant.
“Look, mate,” Harry said. “I’m not going to tell you what to do, but in thirty hours or so you’re gonna have to face your mum. If you still look like this, she’ll go mental on you. She’ll lock you in your old room in the attic.”
“He’s right, dad,” Hugo added as Ron started to protest. “I’m not gonna lie to Nanna. Not for you or anybody else. I like living too much.”
In her mind, she visualized her husband giving them both his best pout, followed by a look of resignation. She felt his weight on the edge of her bed.
“Hi, love,” he said softly. “The bloody family inquisition has decided that I have to go sleep. I’ll be back in a few hours, OK?”
“Ronald,” she replied in a whisper, “they’re right. You need rest. It sounds like I’m going to have plenty of company. If I don’t, I’ll just relax. Go home and sleep. I promise I won’t go anywhere.”
She let a small smile cross her lips and felt him kiss her cheek softly. “I love you.”
“I love you, too. Now go.”
She listened to Ron say his goodbyes and make his way out of the room. She heard a soft sigh of relief from her son and a chuckle from Harry.
“Is he in the lift yet,” Harry asked in a low voice?
“He’s passing the nurse’s station... he’s pressing the button... he’s aboard!” Hugo replied happily.
“You look a little peaked, yourself. I was planning to stay for a while. Do you want to go home and catch a nap?”
“Thanks, uncle Harry,” she heard her son yawn, “That sounds great.”
“Bye, mum,” she felt Hugo lean over and kiss her on the cheek. “We’ll try to stop by tomorrow before dinner.”
Her son’s footsteps disappeared from the room. She heard a chair slide up beside her bed. “You look a little better today.”
“I wish I felt better,” she whispered.
“Still feeling groggy?” he asked.
She nodded slightly and felt pinpricks of pain in her neck. “Everything still hurts,” she whispered.
“I brought you some things,” he said over a rustling of bags and parcels.
“First, the fun stuff. Here’s a big box of your favorite sweets from George’s shop in the alley. You probably don’t feel up to it yet, but the sweets from the commissary here are bloody awful. Next, we have toothpaste, a toothbrush and some deodorant. You still buy that brand that you used in the tent, right? Anyway, the last time I was in here, it was the little things that made me feel human again.”
She was touched by the thoughtfulness. There was no need to mention that she had stolen that deodorant from her mother’s medicine cabinet after shipping her parents off to Australia and it gave her a rash.
“What’s so funny?” he asked. She realized that she must be smiling.
“Just appreciating the thought,” she whispered. “It was sweet of you to...”
Hermione tried to stifle the cough, but her throat was too dry. Waves of agony shot through her chest as she weakly tried to turn her head to the side. She felt Harry’s arm slip beneath her shoulders and a straw pressed against her lips. She gratefully took a small sip of water before another cough could set in.
“Are you OK?” Harry asked, smoothing her hair. “Do you need more to drink?”
“No, thanks.” Her voice sounded even raspier than before. “The healers don't want me to drink too much. It dilutes the potions.”
She felt Harry staring at her for a long moment before he eased her back down onto the bed. “George asked me to bring this to you. It’s the latest muggle digital wireless, fitted with magical shielding. Before I left, he tuned it to that station out of London that you like, the one that plays symphony music all day. Here, I’ll set it on the table.”
“That was nice of him. Please tell him thanks for me, Harry. Now tell me more about the case,” she asked. “Did you find anything in magical records?”
Harry took a deep breath and dove into the details. She could hear his voice relaxing as he talked. Something about explaining the gritty details of the case to her was therapeutic to him. She found that she was feeling a little better, as well. Her mind had new problems to digest and new pieces to try to fit into the puzzle. She stopped him with an occasional question, but mostly she just listened, soaking up the information.
“So that’s where we are,” he concluded. “Plenty of questions but not a lot of answers. I just hope that bloke from Azkaban can tell us where his orders were coming from when we catch him.”
Hermione lay quietly for a moment, absorbing all that he had told her. As much as she wanted to help, there was another topic pushing its way to the forefront of her mind. It made her feel a little selfish, considering all the problems Harry was dealing with, but she had to ask. “Did you find out anything else about this blood curse?”
“I’m sorry,” he answered, “not yet. Susan and I have been poring over dark magic spell books, but we haven’t learned anything else about it.” She could hear the guilt and remorse in his voice. It was so like Harry. No matter the problems he was dealing with, he could always stop to feel badly about not doing more for her.
She felt him move to the edge of the bed. “Hermione, we will figure this out. Susan, Ernie and I, we’re not going to stop digging until we get some answers.”
“I know you will, Harry,” she whispered. “And I appreciate it. I just feel so terrible. Ron’s a mess and I can’t help you at all. Everything hurts and I’m stuck here and I don’t think I’m getting any better.”
She felt fresh pain in her chest as small sobs escaped her dry lips. Harry’s arm was back around her in an instant and she felt the warmth of his cheek against her forehead.
“Shhhh,” he soothed, holding her close. “it’s OK. Ron and I can take care of ourselves. Just get better. That’s all you have to do for us.”
Her tears abated, but she couldn’t shake the feelings of dread. “Harry, I’m scared. What if I don't get better? What if I have to spend the rest of my life like this?”
It was almost imperceptible. She felt his arms stiffen for a fraction of a second. If she didn’t know him so well, she never would have noticed. “Hermione, you’re going to get better,” he was saying, “it just takes time. You have to believe me, you’re going to be alright.” But her mind was already racing. He knew something. Something he could not or did not want to tell her. What could be so bad that he couldn’t talk to her about it?
“Harry,” she said, “what’s wrong? Tell me, please.”
“Oh, that,” he mumbled. “It’s just this case. It’s really starting to worry me. So many similarities to Tom Riddle and his Death Eaters. People getting hurt and all. I don’t want to go through that again.”
She wished that should could see his eyes, because she felt fairly sure that he wasn’t telling the truth. This was nothing like the war. She was about to press the issue when an excited squeal broke the moment. “Grandma! Uncle Harry!”
She felt Harry slide off of the bed and heard a shuffling of bodies and a bout of giggles before Rose’s voice called out from the doorway. “Octavia Astoria Malfoy, what did I tell you about jumping into bed with grandma?” Hermione realized that Harry must have caught the little girl just before something truly unfortunate happened.
“I’m sorry, mum,” Octavia replied, not especially sincerely. Hard to tell whether she got the cheekiness from her mother or father. “Grandma, how are you feeling?”
“A little better, now that you’re here,” Hermione answered softly. “Can I have a very gentle kiss?”
She felt Harry lower Octavia over her and received a very soft kiss on her cheek.
“Thanks for playing keeper, Uncle Harry,” Rose said. Opening her eyes just a fraction, she saw Harry passing Octavia to her mother.
“Not a problem,” Harry replied. “Listen, I need to run a few errands before Molly’s dinner tomorrow. You two are coming, right?”
“Yes,” cried Octavia happily. “I get to see Nanna and Papa Arthur and Lillian and Billy and Jean and Calliope and...”
The credits continued to roll as she felt Harry lean close to her. “I’ll stop by again soon, OK?”
“Thanks for coming, Harry. Thanks for the radio and the sweets. Tell Ernie and Susan that I appreciate everything.”
“Don’t mention it,” Harry replied giving her hand a warm squeeze. “You’d do the same for us.”
She felt him kiss her forehead and longed for him to stay. Whatever he was keeping from her, it had to be bad. She heard Octavia plant a loud kiss on his face and he said his goodbye to Rose and he was gone.
Twice on his way to the lifts, Harry almost turned around and went back to her room. The anguish of not being able to share with her was killing him. She deserved to know, but she just wasn’t well enough. He remembered the agony on her face when she was crying. As much as it hurt him to keep the secret from her, he couldn’t risk what it might do to her. Hermione was strong, but now was not the time to test that strength.
She definitely knew that something wasn’t right. He was sure of that much, and the realization was like a knife in his gut. There was no way she had believed his excuse about Riddle and the Death Eaters. Not even Octavia would have bought that rubbish. He imagined himself lying in the hospital while his best friends traded whispers and stares about his condition. The sense of betrayal was overwhelming.
As he stepped out of the lift, he stopped for a third time, took a deep breath, and started to turn around.
“Hi, Harry.” The voice startled him and he turned to find Dennis Northway looking at him oddly. “Are you OK?”
“Hi, Dennis. I’m fine. I was just visiting a friend. What brings you here?”
“My uncle Leland was working in Magical Records when it was attacked,” Dennis replied uneasily. “We came to see him.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Harry said. “I hope he’s going to be OK.” It occurred to Harry that he hadn’t checked on any of the other victims. He had been too wrapped up in Hermione’s condition.
“The healers say he’ll get better,” Dennis responded, staring at his feet as he stubbed his toes against the marble floor. Harry knew the body language all too well.
“Dennis, is anything else wrong?” he asked. “I have a few minutes if you’d like to talk.”
Dennis met Harry’s gaze, looking anxious and uncertain. “Harry, is this what it was like when Voldemort tried to take over?”
Harry forced a smile that he hoped was believable. “This isn’t nearly as bad as things were back then. I think it’s just an isolated incident.” The guilt gnawed at his insides as he recalled the lie he had told Hermione moments earlier.
“Yeah, but is this how it started? Before people started dying all over the place, it must have started with one attack. One death.”
Harry looked into Dennis’s eyes and he could see the fear and realization. There was no point in trying to deny it.
“Yes, Dennis. I’m sure it started that way. But I’ll tell you what’s different this time. There are people who know what to look for. People who won’t ignore the truth and who will speak out if bad things start to happen. People like me. And, I hope, people like you. No matter who’s behind this, it won’t be like it was with Voldemort.”
Dennis nodded his head slowly as the fear faded from his face. “Harry, I want to help. I want to do my part to stop anyone else from getting hurt. I don’t want more people to end up like Uncle Leland. What can I do?”
Harry put his hand on Dennis’s shoulder. “You’ve already taken the most important step. Your eyes are open. You’re asking the right questions.”
“Isn’t there more? I asked Arthur what you taught in your lessons. There’s a lot of stuff we’ve never learned in school. If a dark wizard attacks me, I want to be able to fight back.”
“Then how about this?” Harry replied. “Talk to your Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Tell him that you want to learn more. Find out what he can teach you. If you reach the limits of what you can learn from him, and if you’re willing to put in the work to catch up, I’m sure I can find a spot for you in my advanced lesson.”
“I’ll do that, Harry,” Dennis answered. Just then his father rounded the corner and saw the two of them talking.
“Dennis, what’s going on,” the man asked, eyeing Harry’s Auror robes nervously. “My son isn’t making trouble, is he?”
“No, not at all,” Harry replied. “In fact, I’d say he’s doing rather well. I’ll see you around, Dennis.”
Harry left Dennis to explain to his confused father and headed out of the hospital. He would let Hermione continue to heal, but he resolved to tell her as soon as she was well enough.
In groups of two and three, the ragtag band of men apparated into the center of the abandoned warehouse. By this point, Flint had determined that the anti-apparition jinxes allowed a gap roughly ten paces wide. He beamed at Gamp and Goyle when they appeared. She had been as good as her word, liberating his former Slytherin housemates and five of their familiars from Azkaban before the Aurors had put the place under lockdown. Together with himself and Nott, he reckoned that they would have no problems disposing of their shrewish benefactor when the time came.
“Gentlemen,” her voice boomed around the warehouse. Several of the men drew their wands as they searched frantically for the source of her voice.
“Put your wands away, my friends,” Flint directed. “Lady Tenebra is here to explain our objective for tomorrow night.”
“You din’t say nothin’ about workin’ for no woman,” the wizard with the knife muttered under his breath.
“If my gender troubles you, Mr. Pelfry, you are free to crawl back into the comfort of your gutter,” she retorted, appearing just outside of the apparition boundary. She was once again dressed in her black hooded cloak, with only her lips and chin visible beneath its dark cowl.
“How do ya know my name?” Pelfry snarled. His arm hovered halfway between stowing his wand in his pocket and aiming it at her.
“If you’re going to join the New Blood Order, it is my business to know,” she replied icily. “I suggest you heed Mr. Flint’s advice and stow that wand before there are any misunderstandings.”
Pelfry stared at her for a long moment before sliding his wand into his pocket. A number of the other wizards followed suit.
“Our objective for tomorrow night is to retrieve a book from Malfoy Manor. This book contains the Dark Lord’s secret designs for eliminating the muggle-born scum and blood traitors from our midst and restoring the rightful order of things. Once we have the Dark Lord’s journal, the Ministry will be powerless to stop us.”
There was a general murmur of agreement among the men, with the newly liberated convicts lending the strongest support.
“Goyle and Gamp will lead a team of ten men to attack the Aurors protecting the Manor and keep them from interfering,” said Flint, trying to take over. “Nott will be in charge of securing the inside of the house.”
Flint nodded subtly at the wizard with the eye patch. He would assign the three of them to accompany Nott.
“Mr. Flint,” she continued as though he had not spoken, “is tasked with retrieving the Dark Lord’s journal. He, alone, will be provided with the spells necessary to locate the book and remove the enchantments that secure it.”
“We’ll all meet up in Knockturn Alley and apparate to the Manor,” Flint interjected, trying to appear equal to her. “The rest of you will be assigned to your tasks then.”
“What about the Aurors?” asked the one-eyed wizard. “They aren’ jus gonna sit there. They’ll be callin’ for backup, fightin’ back.”
“Aurors do not concern me, Mr. Burloch,” she replied.
“Naturally. With all due respect,” he filled the word with mocking deference, “it’s not you that’ll have to fight ‘em.”
“Any man who cowers before the Aurors and their half-blood leader has no place in our future,” she retorted. “He didn’t seem so powerful when we killed his blood traitor wife.”
The men stared at her in varying degrees of shock. Flint found his voice first. “There’s nothing to fear. Gamp and Goyle’s team will keep the Aurors occupied and we’ll be in and out with the journal before they have time to call for help. Any questions?”
“You imperiused the muggle who killed Potter’s wife? Seriously?” Nott couldn’t help himself. She offered a slight nod from beneath her hood.
From her concealed vantage point in the rafters, Tenabra watched the men disappear in the same small groups. In her mind, she replayed the conversation and weighed the information she had divulged to them. An important die had been cast. Now she would see where it landed. After the last man left, she climbed through the hidden opening onto the roof. The moonlight reflected off of the old sheet metal, momentarily illuminating her slender face and pale, blond hair. Then she turned and disappeared.
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