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Harry Potter and the Conspiracy of Blood by CambAngst
Chapter 26 : Acts of Faith
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 22

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As always, the characters, places and things you recognize belong to the inimitable JK Rowling.

“You just wait until your father gets home, young lady!” Rose yelled as she hustled her daughter into their London flat. “He is not going to be amused one bit!”

“Daddy thinks everything I do is funny,” Octavia retorted, rolling her eyes for effect.

Rose clinched her fists and slowly counted to five. At some level, Octavia had a point. Her idiotic husband did tend to laugh at nearly everything their daughter did, no matter how inappropriate. But that was completely beside the point.

On the second day at her new muggle primary school, Octavia had been sent to the head teacher’s office. A muggle boy in her class had apparently made fun of her during history lessons for not knowing who Guy Fawkes was. During break, the same boy suffered a nasty fall when the seat of his swing suddenly came unfastened from its chains. Naturally, the teacher couldn’t blame Octavia for the mishap, but she did take exception to the way Octavia celebrated while the boy cried and picked grass out of his teeth. There was no mystery from Rose’s point of view.

Octavia’s behavior seemed to be spiraling out of control and Rose was at a loss for what to do about it. She tried to imagine what her own mother would have done in her place, but she came up empty. Rose had been a very well-behaved child... at least until she met Scorpius. Hugo’s rebellious phase didn’t really begin until after he started at Hogwarts, and Professor McGonagall had snapped him out of it faster than you could say bowtruckle’s thumb knuckle. Rose was pretty sure that the stern Scottish headmistress’s methods wouldn’t work for her. She possessed neither a withering stare nor a room full of ancient trophies that needed to be polished.

“Octavia, sweetheart, come here,” Rose sighed, sinking into the armchair closest to the fireplace. Her daughter gave her a rebellious glare, but then mirrored her sigh and squeezed into the chair next to her. “Your father and I have been over and over this with you. It’s very important to us that you can fit into both the muggle world and the magical world. So you need to go to muggle primary school like your brother did. Your grandmother, your uncle and I... even your Great Uncle Harry went to muggle school.”

“But muggle school is stupid! I’ll never need any of the things we learn in muggle school when I can do magic.”

“Octavia, that’s just not true. You’re going to need to know how to read and write and add and subtract, and they don’t teach any of that at Hogwarts. You’re supposed to learn it before you start.”

Octavia plainly wasn’t giving up without a fight. “But Calliope and Billy and Ellie don’t have to go to muggle school!”

Rose stifled a groan. They had been over this point again and again. She ran through the explanation once more, trying to speak calmly. “Sweetheart, Calliope’s mum and Billy’s mum stay home to teach them and Ellie’s mum and dad hired a tutor for her. Your father and I both work and we really can’t afford to hire a full-time tutor.”

“Granddaddy Malfoy would pay for it,” Octavia replied dismissively.

“Octavia, money isn’t the only reason we want you to go to muggle school. You have to learn to function around all kinds of people. Not every person you’ll ever have to deal with is a witch or a wizard. Learning to control your magic is good practice for when you’re a grownup and you’re expected to obey the Statute of Secrecy.” The explanation was basically true, and it avoided a touchy subject for Rose. She would go to work as a test subject for her Uncle George’s gag gifts before she’d stoop to asking her father-in-law for money. She did feel a little guilty that perhaps her Weasley pride was hurting Octavia, but not enough to let Draco Malfoy pay for a tutor for her daughter.

“Mum, I can control my magic.”

She fixed her daughter with a disbelieving look. “Oh, so you’re telling me that you deliberately tried to hurt that muggle boy and then laughed and danced about it?”

“I didn’t want to hurt him,” Octavia pouted, “but he made fun of me!”

“Witches and wizards make fun of each other, too, Octavia. That won’t change just because you leave muggle school and go to Hogwarts. But that’s not a reason to use magic to hurt other people. Do you know how upset your Grandmother would be if she found out what you did? How disappointed your Great Uncle Harry would be?”

Rose’s lecture was interrupted by a glowing, silver ball that streaked through the window and morphed into a fox as it landed on the floor in front of her. “Rosie, you’re in terrible danger. Take Octavia and hide,” it said in Hugo’s voice, then faded away.

They stared at the spot where the fox had stood for a long moment. It wasn’t like Hugo to send a patronus. He could barely perform the spell to begin with, and their parents had always told them that it should only be used in emergencies.

“Mum,” Octavia said, breaking the silence, “has Uncle Hugo been drinking?”

“No, darling,” Rose responded. “Your uncle can barely tie his shoes when he drinks, let alone cast a corporeal patronus.” She checked the clock. It was twenty minutes ‘til eight. Scorpius wasn’t due back from the States for another two days. She thought about calling on Dom or Lily, but she wasn’t sure that they’d have any more of an idea what was going on than she did. One place stuck out in her mind, a place where she had always felt safe no matter the circumstances.

“Grab your coat and your overnight bag. Let’s go visit Nana Molly and Grandpa Arthur.”

“Yay!” Octavia shrieked, bounding towards her bedroom. Rose never had to ask twice about visiting the Burrow. She felt a bit guilty, like she was rewarding Octavia after her earlier behavior, but she needed to know what was wrong and she felt certain that her grandparents would know. And there might also be some leftovers from dinner.

Rose went to the bedroom she shared with her husband and threw a pair of pyjamas and a change of clothes into one of Scorpius’s gym bags. Then she swept the contents of her vanity into the bag, catching her toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss and birth control potion. The four things that always kept me in mum’s good graces, she chuckled to herself. Until she had forgotten to take the birth control potion that one time, but she could hardly blame the potion for that.

Octavia was already bouncing up and down in the sitting room by the time Rose emerged with her traveling cloak. “Do you have everything, sweetheart?”

Octavia nodded enthusiastically. Suddenly, there was a loud knock at the door. Rose instantly felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck. They weren’t expecting company. Octavia had picked up on her tension and stood motionless by her side, looking frightened. Rose tip-toed across the floor and looked out through the peephole in the door. Two wizards stood in the hallway, dressed in the blue robes of Ministerial Security. She took a step back from the door and wordlessly cast a trio of powerful locking charms on it. You didn’t date a guy that most of your male relatives detested without getting good at locking doors.

She grabbed Octavia’s hand and hurried towards her bedroom. She looked out the window that led to the fire escape, but there were two more security officers lurking at the bottom of the metal stairs. She noted with satisfaction that the wards were still up because they didn’t seem to be able to see the window. How long that would last was a question she didn’t care to know the answer to.

“We have to find another way out,” she whispered. More loud knocks echoed through the flat, followed by the sharp crack of a curse rebounding off of her locking charms.

Octavia chewed on her lip nervously for a moment, then mumbled, “I know a way out, Mum. But you’re going to be mad.”

Rose stared at her daughter in disbelief. She was seven. Another curse slammed into the door, and it sounded much more powerful than the one before. The door wasn’t going to stand up to that kind of abuse for very long. “We’ll discuss it later. How do we get out?”

Octavia led her mother into her bedroom, then pushed the window open. She deftly pulled herself through the window frame and swung her feet downward, then almost disappeared. Rose gasped and lurched towards the window, her mind filled with the image of Octavia tumbling to the pavement four stories below. Instead, she found the little girl standing on a narrow ledge below her window, clinging to a lip in the stonework on the side of the building. “This way, mum,” she whispered, and started to slide sideways.

Rose took a deep breath and started to slide her feet through the open window. For all the time she had spent soaring through the air on a broom, and all of the times she had plummeted to earth after being knocked off, she found that she couldn’t look down for fear of fainting. Everything about their escape route, from the thin ledge beneath her toes to the indentation that her white-knuckled fingers clung to, was much better suited to a person Octavia’s size. Overhead, she heard a loud bang followed by the crash of splintering wood as her locking charms finally gave way. Mustering all of her courage and concentration, she pried one hand loose and used her wand to close the window.

Up ahead, Octavia had made her way to a spot just above the balcony belonging to the corner flat on the floor below theirs. As casually as if gravity didn’t exist, she slid her feet off of the ledge and hung by her fingers for a moment before dropping onto the balcony. Rose slid sideways as fast as her frayed nerves and tense, aching muscles would permit, then allowed herself to drop onto the balcony where her daughter was waiting.

“It’s empty,” Octavia explained, gesturing towards the flat on the other side of the glass slider. “The muggles who moved out left some cool stuff behind. You wanna see?” She looked hopeful, as though the small treasures she’d discovered might distract her mother from the combination of anger, terror, relief and annoyance that Rose was feeling.

Rose dropped to one knee and pulled her daughter into a tight embrace. When she finally let go, she held Octavia at arm’s length. “Octavia Astoria, you and I have a lot to discuss. But first, let’s get out of here before they figure out what happened to us.”

Rose stood up and gestured with her wand. “Expecto Patronum.” The silvery serpent took shape in the air in front of her. “Mum, wizards from the Ministry tried to arrest Octavia and I. We’re going to the Burrow.” She waved her wand and the ethereal creature shot off into the air. Rose took Octavia’s hand and turned tentatively. She was pleased to find that the anti-apparition jinxes that protected their flat didn’t extend to the floor below, and an instant later the two of them appeared on the side of the lane that ran past the front yard of her grandparents’ home.

It was immediately apparent that something was different. The uneven, old structure appeared blurry and distant and the warm light that usually emanated from the ground floor windows seemed dull and subdued. “Nana and Grandpa must have set up more wards,” she mumbled.

She was about to wonder why when several loud pops sounded around them. Faster than she could draw her wand, they were surrounded by two witches and a wizard wearing the silver badges of the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol, all leveling their wands at her chest. “Mrs. Malfoy, you’re under arrest for suspicion of aiding known fugitives,” the wizard stated matter-of-factly. “Please come with us.”

“But, we’re just here to see my grandparents,” Rose blurted. “I haven’t done anything wrong! I don’t even know where my parents are!”

“Mrs. Malfoy, please calm down,” one of the witches replied slowly, tilting her wand to a more neutral position. Rose was certain that she knew the woman from somewhere. She had long, dark hair that feathered outwards on either side of her face and brown, almond-shaped eyes. As Rose stared at her, it suddenly clicked.

“You’re Jade Corner. You were in my brother’s year, in Ravenclaw.”

“That’s right,” the witch replied, smiling in spite of the tense situation they found themselves in. “Hugo and I used to have History of Magic together.”

“Jade, can you tell me what’s going on?” Rose asked, nervously eying the two wands still trained on her.

Corner looked sympathetic and somewhat embarrassed. “The warrant is for aiding your parents. If you really don’t know where they are, I’m sure everything will be fine. Just come with us and we’ll get it all sorted out.”

Rose stared back at them. The edge of the wards protecting the Burrow was so close. In all likelihood, the officers wouldn’t be able to follow her through them. But even if she made it past them without being stunned, she’d be asking her grandparents to harbor a fugitive. She couldn’t bring herself to put them through that, because she knew that her grandmother would never give her up without a fight. She looked at Jade gravely. “There are a lot of scary things going on right now. Do I have your word that we’ll be safe?”

“Of course,” Jade replied, giving her a reassuring look. “We are the law. You have my word.”

“Is she in trouble, too?” Rose asked, nodding towards Octavia. “Can she run on to my grandparents’ house?”

“She needs to come with us for right now, but as soon as we’ve cataloged everything you’re both carrying, your grandparents are free to come pick her up,” the male officer replied.

“I don’t wanna go, mum! I’m scared,” Octavia wailed. She dropped her travel bag and clung to Rose’s waist.

“Sweetheart, it’s alright,” Rose said soothingly, smoothing her daughter’s hair. “We just have to go with the officers for now, but Nana and Grandpa will come and get you as soon as they can.”

Octavia looked very unhappy, but she nodded bravely in response. Rose handed her wand to the male officer and reached down to scoop up her daughter’s travel bag. “Alright, let’s get this over with.”

Jade and the other witch pocketed their wands while the wizard kept his trained on Rose. The witch Rose didn’t know took her by the arm while Jade knelt down in front of Octavia. “If you come with me, we have pumpkin juice in the cooler at the station!” Octavia continued to cling to Rose, avoiding eye contact. “I’ll tell you some funny stories about your uncle,” Jade persisted. “He once took polyjuice potion to change into your mum’s cousin Molly and danced on a desk while Professor Binns was lecturing to the blackboard about some goblin rebellion or other.”

In spite of herself, Octavia broke into a smile. “Really?”

“Well, his cousin Louis did pay him ten sickles to do it. And his cousin Roxie brewed the potion. But he certainly did the dancing.” Octavia let go of her mother’s waist and took hold of the arm that Jade offered to her. All five of them disappeared with a crack.

Moments later, the front door of the Burrow opened, spilling light into the front yard. Arthur and Molly Weasley slowly walked down the path leading to the front gate, with Molly’s hand resting on her husband’s arm. “Arthur, are you certain? I mean, with your hearing, it could have been anything.”

“There was some sort of commotion out here,” Arthur replied. “I’m sure of it.”

When they reached the edge of the wards, Arthur lit his wand and stepped gingerly past the boundaries. He looked carefully from side to side, scanning the area for anything unusual. The lane was deserted in both directions, and the only sound they could hear was the River Otter burbling in the distance. Suddenly, Molly gasped and made her way to a spot several feet away.

“What is it, love?” Arthur asked, following her.

Molly picked something up from the ground and turned to him with a look of horror in her eyes. In her hand, Octavia’s stuffed unicorn whinnied and snorted with displeasure.

“Oh, no,” he mumbled softly. Then they both turned and hurried back up the path as fast as their old legs could carry them.

Strafford Rowle pushed his shoulders up from the floor on arms crippled from writhing in agony. His face was screwed into a mask of unimaginable pain and anguish. Blood ran from the corners of his mouth and his empty eyes were no longer able to see the end as it approached. Standing over him, Jeremy Gamp trained his wand on the pitiful shell of a human being one final time. “Avada Kedavra!” Rowle’s suffering ended as his lifeless body collapsed with a dull thud.

Lady Tenaba stepped slowly past Gamp and stared at Rowle’s corpse for a moment. “Apology accepted, Mr. Rowle.” *

Standing in a loose semicircle in the center of the warehouse, even the most jaded and fanatical foot soldiers of the New Blood Order were on edge. Nott seemed to be having trouble breathing and Goyle looked as though he was about to vomit. While neither of them had been fond of Rowle, there was nothing to celebrate in his horrible death. Every time Gamp’s maniacal stare passed over them, they flinched involuntarily. Goyle recalled Draco Malfoy’s stories about his Aunt Bellatrix. Lady Tenabra might not have the raw magical power, but her ability to create monsters seemed to rival even that of Lord Voldemort.

“Do I have any volunteers to replace Mr. Rowle as head of Ministerial Security?” she asked rhetorically. Nobody in their right mind was going to step forward after watching Rowle die. She slowly turned, regarding each man in turn from beneath the dark cowl of her black hood. “Pathetic. Did your fathers and grandfathers cower in fear when the Dark Lord summoned them to his side? Is there a man among you who has the courage to face Potter and his family of mudbloods and blood traitors?”

She waited another long moment. For once, even Burloch didn’t have a snide comment to offer. “Mr. Rosier, you were Rowle’s second in command, were you not?”

“Y-yes, my lady,” Rosier mumbled. His hands were shaking as he struggled to meet her stare.

“The job is yours, until you die or I find somebody better. Your first and only priority is to locate Potter, the Weasleys and their families and bring them to me. Is that clear?”

“Yes. Very clear, my lady,” Rosier replied, forcing himself to stand straighter. “We’ll have them before the sun sets tomorrow.”

“See that you do.”

She turned and slowly walked the perimeter created by her followers, as if daring one of them to strike her down. “Many of you are doubtless questioning the brutality of my methods. I can’t say that I blame you. There was a time in my life when I would have done the same. But that was before I realized the urgency of our cause. Before I realized what was truly at stake.”

Tenabra paused in front of Clinton McNair. “We are fighting for the very survival of our world. If we fail, the blood traitors and muggle lovers will settle for nothing less than the complete annihilation of life as we know it. The prejudice faced by respectable pure blood families after the last war will seem like a polite round of applause compared to what awaits. Your children,” she gestured at the center of McNair’s chest with a single, slender finger, “will be taken from your homes and brainwashed to hate their own kind.” she took another step and gestured toward the wizard next to him. “What will you do when your son brings a muggle girl home for dinner? When your daughter gives birth to a filthy half-blood?” In spite of their fear, the men shared a general nod of consensus.

“I want each of you to know that I do not make exceptions. I hold myself to no less of a standard than what I demand from each of you.” She completed her walk around the circle and returned to her position next to Gamp. “Since we began our work, I have evaluated each of you based on one, simple criteria: results. Allow me to present the results of my efforts. Minister, will you join us?”

A lone figure stepped out from the shadowy corner of the warehouse and came to a stop behind Tenabra. Surprised whispers arose from the men when they realized that the Minister of Magic himself stood before them. The Minister’s face was expressionless, but his eyes were clear and focused. If he were not standing next to the shadowy head of a terrorist organization, he could have been posing for a photograph.

“How do you feel about muggle-born rights, Minister?” she asked with obvious distaste.

“Criminals who steal magic from others and dilute our noble bloodlines have no rights in our world,” the Minister replied. His words sounded earnest, if somewhat mechanical. “If they want rights, let them give up magic and go back to their own kind.”

“Minister, stand on one foot,” Tenabra ordered, and the Minister raised his left foot uneasily into the air and wobbled precariously on his right.

“Stun that man,” she continued, gesturing towards the wizard standing to McNair’s right. Before the man could even protest, the Minister drew his wand and knocked the hapless wizard off of his feet. McNair somehow forced himself not to look, but all of the color drained from his face.

This is what results look like, gentlemen. This is the kind of victory that marks the difference between success and failure for a cause as ambitious as ours.” She began to pace again, raising both her volume and tempo. “Who among you is proud to be a wizard?” she asked. The men looked confused. A couple of hands rose tentatively and a few ayes were heard around the circle. “You,” she demanded, pausing in front of Goyle. “Are you proud to be a wizard?”

“Yes, my lady,” he replied, mostly succeeding in keeping the panic out of his voice.

“Then act like it. Stop thinking small.” Tenabra resumed her pacing. “Oh, no, my house!” she cried mockingly, setting her sights on McNair. Still reeling from the assault on the man standing next to him, he simply averted his eyes towards the floor. She moved along to Pelfry. “My gold!” she taunted. “My freedom!” she directed the last insult towards Nott. “These are not the concerns of wizards who are prepared to change the world.”

She rounded the circle and turned towards Gamp. “Do you know why the Dark Lord failed, Mr. Gamp?” Gamp stared back at her dumbly. She paused for two beats, then continued. “The most powerful dark wizard in history, having already defeated Albus Dumbledore, leading an army of devout followers, was defeated by a mere boy. A boy whose magical ability was only slightly above average, and whose army consisted of blood traitors and children.” She came to a stop in front of Burloch. “Why?”

Burloch flinched involuntarily under the weight of her stare, but said nothing. “Because that boy pursued his cause as though he had nothing to lose,” she continued. “Harry Potter didn’t care about riches or power. He watched his friends die, he allowed Hogwarts to be reduced to rubble, and in the end he was even willing to sacrifice his own life. Because that’s what it took to succeed.”

“The Dark Lord,” she continued, making her way back around the circle, “was defeated because he was obsessed with his own mortality. Intent on living forever and gripped by a paralyzing fear of death.” She came to a stop next to Gamp. “He had something that he was not willing to lose. And in the end, in spite of all his power, it cost him everything.”

“So I ask each of you, what do you have that you are not willing to lose? What sacrifices are you not willing to make for our cause to prevail? Think about it carefully, because those things will be our undoing.” She allowed the silence to hang in the air for a long moment. “You know what needs to be done. Everyone who opposes us is now an enemy of the state,” she declared, gesturing towards the Minister. “Root them out. Capture them. And bring them to me.” She walked to the Minister’s side, laid her hand on his arm and they both disappeared with a crack.

Silence filled the warehouse for a long moment as the Blood Order members stared at one another, shell-shocked. Eventually, Burloch and his men disapparated away. Gamp announced to nobody in particular that he was going to get drunk and disappeared with a crack. Goyle, Nott and Rosier all made their excuses and departed. Soon, only McNair remained, standing quietly off to the side. After the last of his comrades disapparated, he took a careful look around and drew his wand.

Clinton McNair appeared on the metal roof of the New Blood Order’s warehouse with a pop and immediately disillusioned himself. By sheer trial and error, he had managed to find a corner that was not protected by anti-apparition jinxes. It struck him as odd, considering the powerful wards and spells that protected the rest of the building. Aside from this small patch of sheet metal, the only other unprotected area was the square space in the middle of the warehouse floor where Lady Tenabra’s minions arrived and departed.

McNair looked around carefully, studying the expanse in front of him. Three paces away, he could make out a thin sliver of light emanating from a gap in the metal roofing. As he allowed his eyes to adjust to the darkness, he realized that the gap appeared to be part of a hatch of some sort. He slowly lowered himself into a sitting position and waited to see whether anyone would emerge. Reaching into his cloak, he pulled out a small flask. His face screwed up in anticipation before it even touched his lips. The polyjuice potion inside was foul, tasting of black tar and worms.

The hatch in front of him suddenly opened. He could just make out the shape of Lady Tenabra’s black, hooded cloak rising through the opening. Her grace and agility stood in stark contrast to the brutal methods she used to run the New Blood Order. She took a careful look around the rooftop before she climbed the rest of the way up. He wasn’t especially concerned about her seeing through his disillusionment charm in the hazy moonlight, but there was a possibility that she might accidentally step on him in the small gap in the anti-apparition jinxes. He carefully slid his wand out of his pocket.

It dawned on him that he could stun her with almost no risk of missing. It seemed so simple and so appealing. He could end the entire ordeal with a single flick of his wand. But doubts also filled his mind. What if Tenabra was only a figurehead? What if the real power behind the Blood Order lurked elsewhere in the shadows? What if the corruption of the Ministry extended even deeper than they realized? He held his wand tensely in in front of his chest and waited. This mission was going to be the death of him, he was sure of it.

For the past two weeks, Terry Boot had been living on the inside. It began hours before Harry and Ron had been driven into hiding. When the Aurors trapped Clinton McNair in his home, he had put up a fierce fight. McNair wound up severely injured and was taken immediately to St. Mungo’s where he slipped into a coma. It was a situation that many would have seen as yet another frustrating setback. Ron saw it as an opportunity. Taking everything that they were able to learn from McNair’s personal effects, Terry had assumed his identity and managed to infiltrate the New Blood Order. He knew from day one that he was on his own. Ron made it clear that until he was ready to break cover, nobody else was to know about his mission. And then Ron was gone, and he had nobody.

Tenabra stepped onto the roof and waited impatiently for the Minister to join her. Terry noted that his movements appeared mechanical as he climbed through the hatch, as though he wasn’t completely in command of his own limbs. It made some sense if she was using the Imperius Curse to control him. Some of the other details just didn’t fit, however, such as his wobbly attempt to stand on one foot. People placed under the Imperius Curse were capable of super-human feats of strength and agility. He also lacked the telltale blank facial expression and his speech was much too fluid. Even Susan, who was a master at using the forbidden curse as part of the Auror training program, couldn’t control her subjects to that extent.

As he watched the Minister struggle, Terry thought back to his early morning encounter with Susan and smiled. He had come to relish his infrequent contact with his fellow Aurors. Since going undercover, Terry had lost seven pounds and he found that he couldn’t rest without sleeping potions. Continuous use of polyjuice potion left him nauseous most of the time, and he could only tolerate bland foods without feeling sick. Every encounter with McNair’s fellow Blood Order members was quite literally a life-and-death struggle to remain in character. The stress of living among the violent pure blood fanatics threatened to drive him mad.

Tenabra closed the hatch and walked towards him, stopping mere inches from where he sat. Looking up, he could see into her nostrils, but her eyes remained maddeningly concealed. She started to turn. The hem of her cloak fluttered directly past his fingers. His wand was already drawn. All he would need to do was take hold and then stun her the instant they arrived. He made a snap decision. A fraction of a second later, Tenabra and the Minister were gone.

Terry sighed and rose to his feet. He might never know whether he had chosen correctly, but no matter what, he was going to make the most of it. He swept the cover of the hatch with revealing spells and was surprised to find that it was unprotected. Tenabra was either overconfident or she felt there was nothing of value in the warehouse. He carefully raised the hatch and lowered himself inside.

Lighting his wand, he found himself standing in a small room hidden in the rafters. It was sparsely furnished and mostly empty. An armchair sat next to a small end table on one side. Across the room was a squat, wooden cabinet. A pot-bellied iron stove sat along a third wall. The last embers of a fire were dying on the inside and a polished metal tea kettle sat on top.

Terry made another sweep of the room for booby traps and alarm spells, but it revealed nothing. Her self-confidence was impressive if not very practical. He turned his attention first to the cabinet. On the inside, he found a stack of old manilla file folders bulging with documents. He opened the first and realized that it was the case file on the murder of Edwin Stoops. The next folder contained police reports on the murder of Ginny Potter. Terry stopped reading and carefully placed the folders back into a stack. He realized that he was going to have to make a very big decision. Even though he hadn’t figured out who Tenabra was or how she was controlling the Minister, it might be worth risking his cover just to get these documents into Ron and Harry’s hands.

He turned and surveyed the rest of the room. Sitting on the table next to the chair was an old, leather-bound book. He recognized it immediately. Tenabra carried it with her whenever she preached the Dark Lord’s message to the men. He walked over and studied it in his wandlight. The ancient runes on the cover were instantly recognizable from the enchanted list that Hermione had figured out in Harry’s study. Journey into the Depths of a Dark and Angry Soul. He reached out and picked up the blackened leather tome.

The instant his fingers touched the cover, he knew that it was no ordinary spell book. It hummed with dark energy. Just holding it in his hands made him feel tense and unsettled. His difficult decision suddenly became a lot easier. He carried the book across the room to the cabinet and shrank the pile of files. He carefully wrapped them in his handkerchief and slipped them into the pocket of his cloak. As he made his way back to the roof, he took one last look around the room, but there was nothing else of interest.

Terry softly closed the hatch and arose to his full height in the pale moonlight. The weight of the world felt as though it was lifting from his shoulders. He raised his wand skyward and cast his silver lynx patronus. “Ron, you’re going to want to see what I’ve found. Meet me upstairs at the Three Broomsticks as soon as you can.” He watched the glowing cat disappear into the night sky and then he turned and disapparated with a pop.

Harry and Ron breathed a combined sigh of relief as their purloined ambulance pulled onto the dead end street in Little Hangleton where the Gaunt Shack was hidden. Ron killed the lights and rolled to a stop in front of the overgrown path that led to the crumbling house. Harry immediately jumped out and began casting protective spells around the vehicle. Within moments, it had disappeared from view. Powerful muggle-repelling charms made the spot it occupied appear to be undergoing street repair.

Ron opened the back doors and they levitated Susan’s trolley out of the vehicle and up the path to the old shack. “Is the portal safe for her to use?” Ron asked.

“Dunno,” Harry replied honestly. “Wait here. I’ll run up and widen one of the windows. We can bring her in that way.”

Harry stepped into the enchanted spot, reflecting on how the day had ended much better than they had any right to expect. The pleasant illusion was torn away the instant he appeared inside the attic.

“Harry, thank Merlin you’re back,” Hermione cried frantically, rolling towards him. “Where’s Ron?” Esme shot him a tense look, one that made it clear that something very bad had happened in his absence.

“He’s outside with Susan,” Harry replied. “What’s wrong?”

“I think Rosie’s in trouble,” Hermione fretted, wringing her hands together. “First I got a patronus from Hugo, saying that he was in France and Rosie was in danger. Then I got one from Rosie, saying that the Ministry had tried to arrest her and she was going to the Burrow.”

Harry felt a cold lump forming in the pit of his stomach as he hurried across the room to open the window. “Let’s get Susan inside,” he said, “then we’ll figure out what to do.” Something had obviously gone wrong with their plan. Harry remembered the overwhelmed look in his nephew’s eyes on the shores of the lake and silently cursed himself for placing such a heavy responsibility on Hugo’s shoulders.

Hermione gasped when she saw Susan float through the magically enlarged window wrapped in white linens and lying on a trolley. “Is she alright?”

“Never better,” Susan whispered weakly. “It’s like a day at the spa. The pain potions aren’t bad, either.” She coughed softly and her face suddenly screwed up with discomfort. “Um, Harry, about those potions...”

“Right, right,” Harry answered, running his hand through his unkempt hair. His to-do list was getting rather long. He pulled the elf healer’s potion list from inside his cloak. “Hermione, can you take a look through this and figure out what we need?”

Hermione seized the list and began to scan through it. “Harry, there are a lot of potions on here,” she sighed. “She’s probably due for several of them already. Didn’t the healer give you anything before you left St. Mungo’s?”

“Err, no,” Harry replied. “We weren’t really in the main part of the hospital. Ministerial Security was guarding all of the entrances, so I had Hermys take us to the elf ward in the attic.”

For a long moment, Hermione seemed to be trying to decide what to say. Harry watched her face, assuming that disapproval, gratitude to the elves and perhaps even grudging respect for his ingenuity were all competing to be the reaction that came out on top. She finally settled on, “Oh. Well in that case, we’re going to need to visit an apothecary right away.”

“We have to get rid of the muggle ambulance we ‘borrowed’, so we’ll do that while we’re out,” Harry added, bracing himself for a stronger reaction.

“You what?” Hermione asked incredulously. “No, wait, I really don’t care to know.”

Harry turned to Esme as Hermione began to scribble notes next to the elf healer’s instructions. “I’m sorry this has turned into such a colossal mess,” he said quietly. “You have your orders from Dauzat and we’re not really doing much to help you investigate what’s going on inside the Ministry.”

“‘arry,” she replied, holding up her palm with a sympathetic smile, “you must take care of your family first. We will get to your Ministry as soon as you are able. I was planning to go out tonight to look for Katerina. ‘ermione and I ‘ave been studying the charm on Elena’s locket, and I believe that I can use the connection between the lockets to find ‘er.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “You still think that you’re going to find her alive?”

Esme shrugged her shoulders. “I ‘ope so. We shall see.”

At that moment, Ron appeared in the corner of the room. “Harry,” he said urgently, “I just got a message from Terry. He’s broken cover. Said that he’s found something important. He wants to meet upstairs at the Three Broomsticks right away.”

Harry mentally added one more thing to his checklist. Before he could even respond, another silvery orb passed through the roof of the shack and morphed into a weasel in front of them. “Ron, we think something’s happened to Rose and Octavia,” it said in Arthur’s voice. “We found Artemis on the ground outside the wards.”

As the patronus faded away, Hermione let out an anguished cry. Ron stumbled to his knees next to her chair, pulling her towards him. Her face was twisted into a mask of impotent despair.

“We’ll find them,” Ron whispered urgently. “It’s going to be alright.”

NOTHING IS ALRIGHT!” Hermione shrieked, pushing him away. “Our daughter is missing and we’re stuck in this god-damned attic and the whole world has gone to hell!” The rage in her eyes shocked everyone into silence. Ron looked as though he’d been struck on the head.

“Now you listen to me, both of you,” she shouted, fixing Ron and Harry with a look. “We’ve tried this your way, sneaking around like common criminals. Enough is enough.” A tense silence filled the room. It was broken a moment later by soft clapping. Susan had managed to free her arms from the safety straps on the trolley and she slowly and gently applauded Hermione’s outburst.

Harry struggled to remain calm, although he had a hard time deciding whether the anger rising in his chest was directed at Hermione or at himself. “It’s not that simple, Hermione. If we go tearing out of here half-cocked, with no idea who the real enemy is or how to stop them then people are going to get killed.”

“People are dying already, Harry!” Hermione shot back, her voice dripping with bitter irony. “And my granddaughter is not going to be one of them. If you don’t have the...” the next word caught in her throat, but she forced herself to spit it out, “the courage to face up to what’s happening, then I’m going to roll right out of here and get her back, myself.”

Harry felt stunned, like somebody had slapped him. Her stinging words had knocked the anger right out of him. For that one agonizing moment she had allowed her disappointment to show, and he found that it hurt worse than any curse he’d ever been hit with. His mind was suddenly overcome by the memory of Ginny confronting him a week or so after the end of the war. He had been wallowing in grief and remorse, walling himself off from everyone. In a fit of anger, she had slapped him several times before storming off. Aside from rattling his teeth, it had finally snapped him out of his self-pity and made him realize how much he was hurting the people around him. It was the moment that his healing from the war had begun in earnest.

“Alright,” he said quietly, staring out the window. “What do we do first?”

“You,” Hermione began, staring at her husband, “go to the Burrow. I don’t care who’s watching. Deal with them. Find out what happened to my babies!” Ron nodded gravely.

“You,” Hermione turned to Harry. “Get rid of that bloody ambulance, and then go find out what Terry’s has to say. And while you’re out,” she handed him the elf healer’s list with her own notes written beneath it, “pick up everything on this list.”

“Hermione, there aren’t any apothecaries open at this hour,” Harry replied. A small part of him felt pleased to be able to point out the minor flaw in her plan, but he was mostly apprehensive about sparking another outburst.

“Break a window and leave a stack of galleons on the counter,” Hermione countered without skipping a beat. “Do I have to think of everything?”

Finally, she turned to Esme. “I can’t tell you what to do, but if it’s not too much trouble, could you accompany Harry and make sure that he isn’t overcome by any crippling bouts of nobility?”

Esme couldn’t hide the smirk that spread across her lips. “It would be my pleasure to keep the noble ‘arry away from the straight and narrow path.”

“Then it’s settled,” Hermione said with finality.

Ron placed a timid kiss on his wife’s cheek before exiting the attic while Harry waited for Esme to gather her traveling cloak. Harry watched him go, then walked over to where Hermione was checking the dressings on Susan’s wounded side. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I feel like I’ve let you down.”

She surprised him with a sad and apologetic look. “Harry, you haven’t let anybody down. I know you’re trying to do what you think is best. And I’m sorry, too. I push you too hard sometimes. It’s just that you... well, since we were eleven years old, I’ve always believed that there was nothing that you couldn’t do as long as Ron and I were there to help you. To be honest, it scares me to think that there’s anything so terrible that you can’t make it right.”

Harry wasn’t quite sure how to react, so he dropped to one knee and pulled her into a warm hug. “We’ll find them, Hermione. I promise,” he whispered into her bushy hair.

“I know you will, Harry,” she replied.

He rose to his feet and found Esme politely waiting for him near the portal. “We’ll be back as soon as we can,” he said. Nodding towards Susan, he added, “Don’t let this one go anywhere. She’s nothing but trouble.”

He missed the rude gesture Susan leveled at him as he and Esme disappeared in a puff of smoke.

* Paraphrasing Darth Vader’s epic line from the Empire Strikes Back.

Another chapter down. As always, huge credit goes to my amazing beta reader, sophie_hatter. This chapter marks a number of milestones for Conspiracy of Blood. The story now weighs in at over 150,000 words, and has racked up over 9,000 chapter-reads. But to me, the most meaningful one of all is that readers have taken the time to leave over 300 reviews. I really appreciate all of the thoughts, reactions and opinions. If you haven't reviewed, please consider taking a moment to leave some feedback below. And thanks for reading!

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