Chapter 28 : Embracing the Darkness
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“Expluso!” The tea kettle exploded with the force of a grenade, knocking the old iron stove ajar and sending fragments of shredded metal flying around the room. Lady Tenabra struggled to control her anger before any more of her meager furnishings suffered a similar fate. Forcing herself to take slow, deep breaths, she dropped into her tattered leather chair to brood.
She cursed herself for being so careless. Since none of her followers knew about the small room concealed in the rafters and nobody aside from her followers knew the location of the warehouse, she hadn’t bothered with any strong magical protections. Now her secret files and more importantly Herodonthus’s book were gone. Even though she couldn’t be sure, it seemed prudent to assume that they were in the hands of her enemies.
The files were less of a concern to her. Potter and his friends could paper the walls of the Wizengamot chamber with them for all that she cared. It no longer mattered if they knew the truth about the murder of Potter’s wife and the death of her killer. She now controlled the Minister and the Ministry, and her long term plans for solidifying that control were progressing nicely. The book was a much bigger concern. The dark magic that she used to control the Minister and his key subordinates was explained within its pages. Even though it had taken her years to understand Herodonthus’s cryptic writing and she was still unraveling many of his secrets, a witch as clever as Hermione Weasley might be able to discover a means of reversing the spells in considerably less time. It was a chance that she was not willing to take. Recovering the book was a top priority.
She slipped a Ministry badge from the pocket of her cloak and tapped it three times with her wand. A protean charm bound it to the badge of the Head of Ministerial Security. It was how she summoned Rosier when she needed to speak with him, and at the moment the two of them had a great deal to discuss. She pictured the man sweating and squirming as he prostrated himself in front of her and a thin smile crossed her lips for the first time since she discovered that her book had been taken. Rosier was a pathetic little worm of a man, clinging to his last name and the blood running through his veins as though they somehow made up for the fact that he led a life devoid of meaning or distinction. When she finally eliminated him, the world would be better place for his death.
Death was another consideration that made it imperative for her to recover the book. While she was unwilling to allow the pursuit of immortality to become the fatal obsession it had been for the Dark Lord, she was in no rush to die. Fortunately, Herodonthus provided tantalizing clues as to how death could be avoided entirely. In several places, the old sorcerer’s book referred to a technique for transferring one’s mind into the body of another. The text implied that he had done so on more than one occasion, increasing his power and knowledge of the dark arts over a span of centuries. She was still in the process of combing through the book, searching for hints as to how he performed such a feat. Even if the spells took her years to master, she was in no hurry. Once she ruled the wizarding world, there would be ample time to pursue her studies of arcane dark magic.
The lamp on the wall flared up twice, indicating that Rosier had arrived in the warehouse below. She stood and pulled her hood over her head. After applying all of her concealing spells, she apparated to a dark corner of the warehouse floor and slowly walked towards the center. Ordinarily, she would have disillusioned herself and toyed with him, but more pressing matters required her attention. She also didn’t need to try especially hard to intimidate Rosier. He looked as though he might wet himself at the mere sight of her.
“How may I be of service, my lady?” Rosier asked in a shaky voice. His hands were clasped behind his back, where he seemed to be wringing them together.
“We have a problem, Mr. Rosier.”
She watched as Rosier began to twitch involuntarily. He opened and closed his mouth several times, looking like a trout held out of water. Finally, he managed to squeak out a “Yes, my lady?”
Counting slowly to five, she tormented him with her silence. Just before she thought that he might faint, she spoke again. “There is a traitor in our midst. The Dark Lord's journal was taken after we departed the warehouse last night.”
Lady Tenabra allowed the statement to hang in the air, watching his reaction carefully. It seemed highly unlikely that Rosier could find the courage to betray the Blood Order, but there was no harm in checking. Closing her eyes, she used the magic she had learned from Herodonthus’s book to invade his thoughts. As she expected, his mind was churning with confusion and terror, but there was no hint of subterfuge or guilt. She released her mental hold on him and waited for him to find his voice.
Rosier shook his head slightly and tried to hold his chin higher. “W-we will find the traitor and deal with them, my lady. I swear it.”
“Do not deal with them until you have recovered the Dark Lord’s journal. Is that clear?”
“Yes, very clear,” Rosier replied.
“That will be all.” Lady Tenabra turned and began to walk back towards the darkened corner of the warehouse. She was surprised to hear Rosier clear his throat softly and she came to a stop several paces away. “You have something more to say?”
“Yes, my lady. We have captured the Weasleys’ daughter and granddaughter. They’re being held in the cellar of Rowle’s mansion in Kent.”
She stiffened and slowly turned to face him. Perhaps her fortunes were turning already. For the first time since the botched attempt to kill Harry Potter, Rosier appeared to be almost pleased with himself. She quickly put him back onto his heels. “My orders were to bring them to me.”
“Yes, my lady,” Rosier fumbled. “It’s just that Goyle... you see, Goyle was somewhat aggressive with his use of stunning spells. I thought it best to allow some time for the daughter to recover so that you wouldn’t need to be bothered with her care.”
“I did not ask you to think, Mr. Rosier,” she spat. “Your orders were to deliver the families of Harry Potter and the Weasleys to me. If you can’t follow orders, I will find someone who can.”
Satisfied that Rosier was once again trembling in terror, she stepped closer to him. “Is there anybody outside of the Blood Order who is aware that we’re holding Rose Malfoy and her daughter?”
“No, my lady,” Rosier stammered. “The patrol officers who were guarding her in the Exeter field office were eliminated.”
Tenabra nodded slowly. “Hold out your arm.”
“My lady?” Rosier asked softly.
“Your arm, Mr. Rosier,” she snapped, drawing her wand.
Rosier slowly extended his arm. His hand was trembling violently and he couldn’t bring himself to look at her. With one swift motion, she laid her hand on his arm and turned, apparating both of them to the deserted street outside of the warehouse. She released his arm and began to wave her wand, whispering to herself. A few moments later, the buildings on either side of the warehouse seemed to draw together and it disappeared from view.
She turned back to him and pointed her wand towards him, making him flinch involuntarily. Even in the morning sun, her features remained hidden beneath her hood. “Mr. Rosier, you are now the Secret Keeper for the headquarters of the New Blood Order.” The warehouse reappeared as suddenly as it had vanished.
“Share the secret with the others, and bring Rose Malfoy and her daughter here,” Tenabra ordered. “Secure them in separate areas of the warehouse. I will return to deal with them soon.”
Rosier could barely conceal his relief as he turned and disapparated.
Lady Tenabra took a moment to stare at the neglected, old building. It had served her well, but its usefulness was clearly coming to an end. Like the New Blood Order itself, it had been compromised. Using Rosier as the Secret Keeper would make it easy to dispose of the entire messy affair when the time was right. She would throw the entire band of pathetic, delusional sycophants to the dogs, letting them take the fall for her crimes.
She turned her thoughts back to the matter at hand. Rose Malfoy probably had no idea where Potter and the Weasleys were hiding, but she needed to be sure. She would summon Gamp to expedite the process. A wry smile crossed her lips as she pondered what to do with Malfoy’s daughter. She recalled the laughing, high-spirited toddler who had taken Ginny Potter’s wand from her handbag, sealing her fate. If the little girl still had that sort of spark, she might prove useful. Taking one last satisfied look around, Tenabra turned and disapparated with a crack.
Harry slowly paced the length of a store room in a nondescript building near the Port of London, waiting for Bill and Justin to arrive. George had used it to hide Lily and her family from Ministerial Security and Harry strongly suspected that was the only noble purpose the room had recently served. He studied a stack of boxes that lined the wall on either side of the entrance. Based on the Cyrillic writing stenciled onto their sides, they appeared to have come from somewhere in Eastern Europe, possibly Bulgaria. They were dirty, dented and moldy-looking, suggesting that their journey to the shores of Britain had been eventful to say the least.
“George, do I even want to know what’s in these boxes?” Harry sighed.
“Er, yeah, about that,” George replied with a nervous grin, running his fingers through his thinning hair. “I was hoping that perhaps when things return to normal, you might be willing to, you know, forget about this particular storage facility. The employees and shareholders of Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes -- and may I remind you that you are a very sizable shareholder -- would be most grateful.”
Harry shook his head, failing to suppress a rueful smile. “Just promise me that it’s nothing lethal, right?”
George nodded briskly and set about taking a tally of the boxes. His work was interrupted when the heavy steel door slid open and Terry entered the room with Bill and Justin in tow. Harry nodded to them and walked across the room to where Ron and Esme were kipping on a pair of cots near the far wall. He gently shook Esme’s shoulders until her eyes opened blearily. It turned out that Ron wasn’t actually asleep, merely staring so intently at the wall that he hadn’t noticed the new arrivals.
After taking a moment to sort himself out, Ron repeated his description of the Exeter field office. “The place was blown all to hell. Doors blasted off their hinges, furniture smashed to bits, curse burns all over the place... It looked nearly as bad as Malfoy Manor after the attack. At first I thought everyone inside was dead, but then I found a patrol officer on the floor of the interrogation room who was still alive, just barely.” Ron looked away for a moment, collecting himself. His voice was much quieter when he continued. “It was Jade Corner, Michael and Cho’s daughter. There was nothing I could do by the time I found her. She was able to tell me that the office was attacked by masked wizards in black hooded robes. They stunned Rose and took her with them. She told me that she hoped Rose and Octavia were alright, and then she died.”
There was a long silence. Harry felt guilty that his first thoughts were of Lily and her family. Several hours before, George had bribed a customs witch to look the other way while they slipped out of the country with a shipment of magical shielding bound for the United States. Jade had been in the same year with Lily and Hugo. Harry’s heart ached for Cho, even if he did still think that her husband was an arrogant tosser.
“The plan is simple,” Harry said quietly, breaking the silence. “Terry has given us the location of the warehouse where the Blood Order meets.” He waved his wand at the wall, conjuring a crude map of the Blood Order’s warehouse and the surrounding neighborhood. “We’ll apparate to this street corner,” he said, jabbing at the location with the tip of his wand. “Then Ron, Justin, Terry and I apparate inside and take down anyone we find. We recover Rose and Octavia and get the hell out before they know what’s hit them. You three secure the perimeter of the warehouse. Bill, you have the southeast corner, George, you have the northwest, Esme, you apparate to this corner of the roof and guard the secret entrance to the rafters. Make sure that nobody gets in or out without us knowing about it. We’ll blast a hole through the roof or something as soon as we have them. Any questions?”
“So if somebody tries to sneak out, we do what? Stun them?” George asked.
Ron nodded sullenly. “With extreme prejudice.” **
Everyone nodded and started to head towards the entrance. Harry felt Esme grab his elbow and hold him back. “I should be part of the team going into the warehouse,” she said with more than a hint of indignation. “If you find many opponents inside, you will need more wands.”
Harry smiled at her. “I appreciate the offer, but we promised Dauzat that you’d stay out of the fighting, remember?”
“‘arry, don’t be foolish,” she argued, her voice starting to rise. “If Dauzat had seen the memory of your Minister being marched about like a marionette, he would be volunteering for this raid, himself.”
“But he hasn’t seen that yet,” Harry replied firmly. She started to object again, but he placed his finger against her lips and she fell uncharacteristically silent. “We don’t know how long it’s going to take to defeat the Blood Order. We can’t risk falling out of his good graces this early in the fight.” Harry lowered his voice so that only Esme could hear. “And I don’t want you to get hurt. Please, don’t argue with me about this.” He expected her to get angry and yell at him or possibly even try to hex him, but for some reason that Harry couldn’t quite understand, she simply nodded in response.
Moments later, they stepped outside and joined the others, blinking in the late afternoon sun. “Here we go,” Justin said gamely, holding out his hand.
“For Rose and Octavia,” Ron added, giving a meaningful look to the others as he set his hand on top of Justin’s.
Everyone added their hand to the pile until Terry finally laid his on top and they all disappeared with a crack.
“So, to summarize, I believe that the inescapable conclusion must be that the Ministry’s current policies are not sustainable. We cannot chart a course to the future by reinstating the failed ideas of the past. The time for new leadership has arrived. And I would be honored if you would support me in my bid to become the next Minister of Magic.”
Percy eased back slightly in his chair and studied the looks on the faces of the seven Wizengamot members seated around the table. Unfortunately, most of their eyes looked a bit glassy and one elderly wizard appeared to have dozed off. Percy let out a soft sigh under his breath. The speech had sounded so much more uplifting when he delivered it to his bathroom mirror that morning. The logic was, after all, inescapable. The Ministry’s current policies would obviously lead to economic ruin for British wizarding society. Marginalizing well over eighty percent of the population from positions of influence and opportunity would cause a recession if not an outright depression. Anyone who was familiar with the figures had to realize it.
An older witch with dark hair and a weathered face stroked her chin as she stared at him. She was a longtime friend and confidant of Percy’s father and she had seemed eager to talk when he approached her the day before. Now she appeared puzzled. “So you actually believe that there’s going to be a vote of some sort?”
“Well, that is how the Minister of Magic is customarily selected,” Percy replied, trying not to sound discouraged.
A stoutly built old wizard with wispy, white hair and a dark brown complexion was more blunt in his assessment. “Mr. Weasley, our world is teetering on the brink of civil war and you’re campaigning? No offense, but I think that bird left the owlery a long time ago.”
Percy’s mind raced as he tried to stammer out a response. His lips moved, but the only sound that came out were soft clucking noises.
“What I think Percy is trying to say,” Arabela interjected from the seat to Percy’s left, “is that under ideal circumstances, an orderly transition of power is always preferable. He understands the hardships that an abrupt change in leadership will create for the magical people of Britain. But above all else, Percy is a realist. And the reality of our situation is that things must change, and quickly. The Minister’s policies are causing chaos and destroying lives. We cannot permit this to continue.”
“Erm, that’s correct,” Percy replied, trying to grasp the lifeline that Arabela had thrown to him. He took a steadying breath and set his jaw in a determined look. “All of you are aware of what my family sacrificed to win the war against Voldemort. The price was high, but we paid it gladly because we didn’t want our children growing up in a world dominated by prejudice and fear. Now we’re in danger of sliding right back into the abyss.” Percy was pleased to note that the slumbering old wizard had opened his eyes just a bit and seemed to be listening. He fixed the man with a stare. “I can’t allow that to happen. My brother Fred didn’t die for nothing.”
Nobody said anything for a long moment. Finally, the elderly witch broke the silence. “Percy, your father and I have known each other for a long time, and I’ve been proud to call him a friend. Your family’s service to our world is beyond question, and if any of us disagreed with your sentiment, we wouldn’t be taking the risk of sitting here. What we need to convince ourselves of is that you are the right wizard to lead us. It’s a big job.”
“I understand your concerns,” Percy replied evenly. “In fact, I share many of them myself. I don’t come from money or privilege. My own brothers would probably cringe at the notion of me serving as Minister. But the fact remains that our government needs to be fixed. I offer myself because I have the experience and the determination to get the job done. And I’m not afraid to stand up to the pure bloods and tell them that we will not be pushed around. If there’s somebody out there who’s better suited and willing to serve, I’ll be the first to stand up and support them.”
The Wizengamot members all stared at Percy. Everyone seemed to be lost in his or her own thoughts. The tension was palpable as the Wizengamot members pondered a decision that would affect the future of the entire magical world. Just as the dark-skinned wizard was about to speak, several loud knocks rang through the room.
The elderly witch rose from her seat and stormed towards the door. “The nerve!” she huffed. “I have this room reserved until four.”
She opened the door to find Feates Rosier standing outside, flanked by two officers from Ministerial Security. “Please step aside,” he said brusquely, elbowing his way past her and entering the room. “Deputy Minister Weasley, Ms. Dynt, we’re here to take you into custody. Please surrender your wands and come with us.”
“On what charge?” Percy demanded, rising to his feet. Arabela stood nervously beside him.
“Subversion of the Ministry of Magic,” Rosier replied haughtily.
“What?” Percy stammered. “I’ve never heard of that law.”
“You should keep up,” Rosier replied smugly. “The Minister signed the decree yesterday.”
“This is outrageous!” the elderly, dark-skinned wizard shouted. “You are interrupting a private consultation of the Wizengamot with these ridiculous accusations.”
“If the Wizengamot is consulting with known criminals, perhaps we need to investigate that matter more closely,” Rosier shot back, glaring around the room. “Now, Mr. Weasley and Ms. Dynt, hand over your wands.”
Percy reached into his inner pocket and began to draw his wand. Suddenly he felt Arabela’s hand slip beneath his arm.
“Stupefy.” Rosier’s body crashed into the security officer standing behind him, sending them both to the floor. “Everte Statum.” The other security officer was knocked head-over-heels into the door frame. Percy turned around in shock to find Arabela holding her wand at the ready. “I like to go to the dueling range at night,” she explained breathlessly. “Helps to relieve the stress. Incarcerous.” She conjured thin ropes that surrounded and immobilized Rosier and his subordinates.
Percy swallowed hard and turned to face the shocked Wizengamot members. He supposed that if he was going to succeed in unseating the Minister, he would have to make the most of whatever opportunities presented themselves. “I believe, gentlemen and madam, that the time for action has arrived. I need to know that I can count on your support.”
Nervous nods came from all around the table. Even the slumbering wizard was wide-eyed and fidgeting. “We will speak to the other members who are known to be opposed to the Minister’s reforms,” the elderly witch replied. “I believe that this brazen assault on the sanctity of our private deliberations will go a long way towards helping to make our case.”
“Excellent,” Percy said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Ms. Dynt and I have other appointments to keep.”
Percy offered his arm to Arabela and the two of them hurried toward the lifts. “Percy,” the elderly witch called out to him. He stopped and turned to face her. “Do be careful. It would be a shame if you got yourself killed just when your political career was about to take off.”
Percy smiled and nodded towards her, then resumed his rapid pace towards the lifts.
“How long do you think it will be before Rosier and his mates get loose?” Percy asked nervously.
“It should be long enough to make it out of the Ministry,” Arabela replied, stealing a cautious look around as they waited for the lift to arrive.
Percy still felt worried. “Won’t Ministerial Security be waiting for us at the exits?”
“I doubt it. The Minister was taking a big chance, invading the Wizengamot offices and trying to take a deputy minister into custody. I doubt that many people aside from Rosier knew what was going on. That way, the Minister can quietly back down if the Wizengamot takes exception.”
“So you think he’s testing them?” Percy asked, fascinated by the political intrigue.
“Always,” Arabela replied, stepping into the empty lift that opened in front of them. “He’s been subtly chipping away at their power ever since his big press conference. If the Wizengamot doesn’t act soon, they’ll become totally irrelevant. I think your father’s friend realizes that.”
The rode the lift in silence until it arrived at the Ministry Atrium. As Arabela had predicted, the security officers guarding the interest barely paid them any mind. “Thank you for all of your help, Arabela,” Percy said earnestly as they made their way quickly down Whitehall. “I don’t know where I would be without you. I get so flustered whenever I try to speak to people like that. I wish I had your composure.”
Arabela stopped and lowered her voice. “There’s a technique I use to calm my mind when I know I’m going to be facing a tense situation. I can show you how to do it, if you like.”
“Really?” Percy replied, a huge grin spreading across his face. “That sounds fantastic.”
“I know a muggle teahouse not too far from here,” she said, looking over Percy’s shoulder to make sure that nobody was following them. “It’s rarely crowded at this time of the day and the booths are very private. I’ll teach you my calming technique and we can discuss what to do next.”
Percy nodded enthusiastically and she took his arm and began to lead the way.
Susan screwed up her face in disgust at the vial of sludgy, brownish liquid hovering in front of her face. “And you’re sure it says that I have to take this now?”
“Yes, Susan,” Hermione replied in mock exasperation. “You have to take your potions if you want to feel better. You sound like my dau-” The word started to come out before Hermione realized what she was saying, and it stuck in her throat. Tears welled up in her brown eyes and she turned away from Susan and swiped the sleeve of her jumper across her face.
“They’re going to be alright, Hermione,” Susan said softly. “Harry and Ron will find them and get them to safety.”
“It’s just hard,” Hermione sighed, trying not to break down. “I don’t know whether they’re scared or they’re hungry or one of them needs a healer.” Her voice fell to a whisper. “I don’t even know whether they’re still alive.”
“Hey,” Susan gently admonished, “you can’t think like that.”
“How can I not think like that? They’re my flesh and blood and I’m not doing a bloody thing to help them! I feel like I’ve left them to rot.”
Susan shook her head as vigorously as her injuries would allow. “You know that’s not true. You’re doing everything you possibly can.”
Hermione’s voice fell to a whisper again. “But what if it’s not enough?”
“Hermione, Rose is smart and she’s tough. She’s gonna do what it takes to survive and take care of Octavia.”
Hermione snorted mirthlessly. “Rosie and her cousins don’t know what ‘tough’ means,” she replied, dabbing at her eyes. “To them, ‘tough’ was sitting their N.E.W.T.s or getting hexed by some Slytherin kid on the way to Potions. They never had to survive in a world run by Death Eaters or duel with Bellatrix Lestrange. They’re not ready for this. And here I am trapped in this attic... in this chair. I should be out there looking for them.”
“You have to put your trust in Ron and Harry,” Susan insisted. “They’re not going to rest until they find them.”
As much as Hermione wanted to believe that Susan was right, the reassurances made her feel even more helpless. She sighed and forced her mind back to the issue at hand. “You still need to take your potion.”
“Oh. You haven’t forgotten about that, then,” Susan replied with a dejected smile. She downed the foul-smelling, brown liquid and shook involuntarily. “That... is so... nasty,” she sputtered, trying desperately not to cough.
“Here, one more. This one will help you rest.” Hermione flicked her wand and a flask of cloudy, blue potion floated in front of Susan’s face. She drank it down greedily.
“This one almost got rid of the taste of the first one,” she said approvingly.
Hermione smiled sadly. “I appreciate all of the encouragement. I should be the one comforting you and here I am crying on your shoulder.”
“Don’t mention it,” Susan replied. Her voice softened and her eyes closed. “Anything I can do to help.”
“You’ve already done more than we can ever...” But Susan had already drifted back to sleep.
Hermione tucked the linens in around Susan and then rolled her chair back to the desk. She pulled Journey into the Depths of a Dark and Angry Soul back onto her lap and found the spot where she had left off. In less than twenty-four hours, she had made her way through slightly more than half of the ancient text. It had not turned out to be at all what she expected. Herodonthus was a complex individual. In his writing, Hermione found the deluded rantings of a monster tempered by the soul of a poet. He was capable of invoking breathtaking beauty and spine-chilling horror, all in the same stanza. His treatises on performing dark magic flowed seamlessly into meditations on philosophy, morality and the role of wizards in human history. Hermione couldn’t help but think that the man would have been fascinating to converse with, assuming that he was disarmed and surrounded by strong protective wards.
She had already found several mentions of the Exussanguis curse, including one that related to Herodonthus’s battle against Benford and the other wizard champions. It appeared to be his favorite method of inflicting an agonizing death on his enemies, since it was not instant and painless like the killing curse. Hermione screwed up her face in disgust as the book explained in horrific detail how he had used the curse to execute the elders of a small wizarding village that had opposed his armies, levitating them above the common one by one and letting their screams terrorize the other villagers.
“Just tell me how to fix this, you sick bastard,” she mumbled to herself in frustration. She was growing tired of his long-winded, wandering rationalizations of the atrocities that he committed. If she didn’t find some hint of how to reverse her paralysis soon, Hermione decided that she was going to set the book aside and turn back to the Auror case files Terry had discovered in Lady Tenabra’s lair.
She turned the page and started to translate the runes and suddenly sat bolt upright in her chair. Beginning on the fourth line of the page, a passage jumped out at her:
The restoration of injuries earned
Is but a matter of what one is willing to sacrifice
For bargains paid in blood and innocence
All things are attainable
The arbitrary boundaries of nature be damned
There exists not a treasure twixt heaven and hell
That cannot be had for the pittance of a tarnished soul
Hermione shuddered. The passage was at once intriguing and foreboding. She paused to consider what she would be willing to sacrifice to make her body whole again. What price would she pay? Was she being foolish and selfish to even look for salvation in the writings of a monster? No, she quickly dismissed the notion that she was somehow thinking only of herself. Her family needed her. Her friends needed her. If there was any possibility that she could allow herself to help them, she had no choice but to explore it.
She continued to read, wading through line after line of Herodonthus’s opaque, metaphorical writing. On the next page, she came to a passage that once again brought her to a halt.
When the small voice that cries out in warning
Has been silenced by the weight of needful things
Raise aloft the sacrifice of the chosen
And cleave the air, first to the tail of the little bear
Then towards the snout of the dragon
And lastly to the point of the archer’s bow
And the incantation of the spell shall be Cùmhnantaich Deamhain
Hermione lowered the book to her lap and closed her eyes, parsing the statement in her mind. The incantation sounded like Old Gaelic. She had heard Professor Binns use the language on occasion when lecturing on the magic used by the Pictish High Priests during the ancient wars against the giants. The references to the little bear, the dragon and the archer were clearly directions based on Astronomy. She tried to remember the huge star chart on the ceiling of Professor Sinistra’s classroom. Laying her wand across the palm of her hand, she cast the Four Points spell and determined the location of the North Star. From there, she could rough out the positions of the other constellations.
That left only one mystery to solve. She racked her brain for what the old sorcerer might have meant by “sacrifice of the chosen.” Clearly, it had something to do with her wand, since she was meant to wave it about as she cast the spell. Was the spell going to destroy her wand somehow? It seemed highly unlikely. A wand was only a tool for focusing the magical abilities of the user. If the spell was unusually powerful, perhaps it would cause the wand to flex and vibrate, but she had never heard of a spell destroying a wand. She supposed that it wasn’t a huge risk to take, since she had her old wand to fall back on...
And everything suddenly clicked in Hermione’s brain. The line from the poem about Benforth. Sacrifice of that which chose him. Old Olivander’s words. The wand chooses the wizard. That much has always been clear to those of us who have studied wandlore. *** Her old wand. The one that had chosen her in Olivander’s shop when she was eleven years old. That was the sacrifice. But how?
She stopped herself for a moment and took a deep breath, trying to still her racing thoughts. In her mind, she was already waltzing across the room when she hadn’t even figured out how to perform the spell. Beyond that complication, part of her remained highly suspicious of any ideas gleaned from the ghastly book. There was no way that she could be sure of the consequences of using any of his spells. Why would a man who carved a trail of unspeakable horrors across Britain want to help the victims of his favorite dark curse? Did he experience some sort of epiphany as he scrawled out his thoughts during his long imprisonment?
Hermione sighed as she tried to organize her competing urges. Rose and Octavia were still missing and there was nothing she could do about it as long as she was confined to a wheelchair. Susan had nearly gotten killed helping Al and Hugo to escape and Ron and Harry were risking their lives to get Rose and Octavia back. She felt selfish and cowardly sitting in the safety of a protected hideaway while so many were paying such a high price to fight back against the Blood Order. She still carried many scars from the war, but she grudgingly admitted to herself that as long as her children were in danger, her place was on the front lines.
Accio. Her old wand flew across the room into her outstretched hand. She carefully tucked her new wand into her jumper in case she needed it. Orienting her chair towards the north, she began to sweep her wand through the prescribed motions while crisply enunciating the spell. “Cùmhnantaich Deamhain”. Her wand began to glow, a fiery, orange hue that made the surrounding air hum with energy. And then... nothing. She waited for the spell to shoot from the tip of her wand or radiate outward, but her wand just continued to pulse in her hand. She stared at it, unsure what to do next. Hesitantly, she lowered her arm and gently poked her right leg with the tip of her wand. Still nothing. Gradually, the glow subsided.
“What did I do wrong?” she mumbled softly, staring at her lap. There had to be something about the spell that she was missing, some vital step that she had neglected to perform. She carefully read through the description in the book again, but she found that she hadn’t missed anything. Sacrifice of the chosen... She slid Herodonthus’s book off of her lap and raised her wand over her head, beginning the spell again. It was a hunch, and there was only one chance to get it right, but it was the only alternative that made sense.
Once again her wand glowed with the bright orange light. She lowered her wand and gripped it with both hands, inches above her unfeeling legs. “I hope I’m right.” She held her breath and snapped the wand in two.
Pain. An unimaginable, white hot agony filled her legs. She was vaguely aware of the floor rushing towards her as her body convulsed, but there was nothing she could do to protect the bridge of her nose from the impact. The pain in her face was almost a pleasant diversion from the excruciating pain that radiated upwards from her lower body. She heard a scream pierce the silence of the Gaunt Shack and it took her a moment to realize that it was her own voice. Her fists pounded the rough-hewn floorboards involuntarily as she struggled against the agony that threatened to consume her.
After what felt like hours of writhing in pain, she mustered the will power to drag her convulsing body towards the leather satchel that Harry and Esme had brought back from the apothecary. Every small movement sent new waves of agony shooting through her body. Slowly, inch by inch, the leather bag drew closer until it was within her reach. She flailed her arms at it, unable to direct her spasming muscles to perform the fine movements necessary to open the bag without spilling its contents.
With an angry tinkle of glass, half a dozen potion vials fell onto the floor and began to roll in random directions. Through swollen eyes, she spotted the one she needed, a milky, white potion that swirled and churned as the vial that contained it spun away from her. She brought her arm thumping down on top of the vial and laboriously pulled it into the crook of her elbow. Her hands were still clenched into useless balls, so she managed to trap the vial between her forearms and hauled her trembling shoulders up above her elbows.
Hermione attempted to lower her mouth gently over the vial, but almost cracked her teeth when a sudden spasm in her shoulders brought her face crashing down onto it. She could taste the blood from her broken nose running into her mouth. Summoning all of her determination and fighting back the pain, she seized the cork between her teeth and popped it free before spitting it across the floor in a fine spray of blood. Next she almost drove the top of the vial down her throat trying to get her lips sealed around it. With a supreme effort, she threw her upper body sideways, letting the potion drain into her throat. The empty vial fell to the floor and she lay still, moaning in pain and exhausted.
A few more moments dragged by and the potion began to dull the scorching sensation in her legs. Hermione found the wherewithal to unclench her fingers and reach into her jumper to retrieve her new, unbroken wand. She applied the best healing spell to her face that she was capable of performing in her weakened state. Turning to her legs, she unbuttoned her trousers and slowly, painfully pushed them towards her knees. The skin of her thighs was bright red and hot to the touch. She pointed her wand and cast a cooling charm, but it only succeeded in temporarily chilling the surface of her skin. The terrible burning came from deep inside her veins, and she could already feel it starting to fight the pain potion for control of her nervous system.
Herodonthus’s book lay open on the floor next to her overturned wheelchair. She summoned it to herself and flipped back to the page where she had found the spell. “Come on, you son of a bitch,” she mumbled to herself. “At least tell me how to ease the pain.”
A passage on the next page caught her attention.
Rage is a fire, hungry and difficult to subjugate
But fury focused with desire and purpose is a crucible
Forge the implements of your own elevation
Cast your designs in the furnace of your vengeful heart
Let your anger make you powerful
Not even your own flesh may then defy you
The words played in Hermione’s thoughts, speaking to her in a way that made her very uncomfortable. Anger was a dangerous and negative emotion and the consequences of giving in to it could be dire. They took your daughter and your granddaughter, you have every right to be angry. Good people didn’t allow their rage to control them. They destroyed your life’s work and made you an outcast. Only dark, evil people like Voldemort were motivated by hate. They think they’re better than you, you filthy mudblood. Why then did it feel so right to be angry? They took your life away and put you in this chair. And you have to make them pay!
A feral-sounding growl escaped Hermione’s lips as the combination of pain and anger overwhelmed her composure. God-damned right I’m angry. The rage continued to build inside of her. She could feel her hands shaking with fury, and a small part of her felt terrified. Who was this person inhabiting her body? What happened to Hermione Weasley? Without thinking about it, she whipped her wand towards her legs. The spell that shot forth was unlike any she had ever seen, a blazing, orange jet of light that seemed to illuminate her body from the inside. She could feel the burning pain being surrounded by a sheath of pure, tempered anger and then compressed tighter and tighter until it resided in the marrow of her bones like a caged dragon. It felt horrifying and magnificent all at once.
As quickly as it began, the spell subsided, and she found herself panting on the floor with her trousers around her knees. She could still feel the simmering rage in her chest, and the weight of it suppressed her pain in a manner that was undeniable. Hermione took a deep breath and concentrated as hard as she could. She couldn’t suppress the yelp of joy when her right foot moved just a bit. But no sooner had the smile crept across her lips than she felt the dragon stir against its bonds. Reluctantly, she bit her lip and focused on the black hatred that she suddenly felt towards the Blood Order, smothering the dragon once again. It it hadn’t been for the way that her toes were wiggling, she would have cried.
Ron, Harry and the rest of the team appeared around the corner from the New Blood Order’s warehouse with a crack. They circled up and Harry conjured the map again on the pavement. “Step around the corner, get a visual confirmation of where you’re going and disapparate. Ron, Justin and I will side-along with Terry. Understood?” Everyone nodded. “Let’s go.”
Ron was the first around the corner and he stopped so suddenly that Terry ran into his back, causing a chain reaction that left George on the pavement and Esme sandwiched between Harry and Bill. “Terry,” Ron said in a dangerously low voice, “where’s the sodding warehouse?”
Harry stepped out from behind the pileup and immediately realized what Ron was talking about. The warehouse was missing. Two industrial buildings that had once stood on either side of it now abutted one another. There was no sign that it had ever existed.
“No, no, no,” Terry yelped, sounding distraught. “It was right here!”
“She knew we were coming,” Ron said to nobody in particular. “She knew we were coming and she put a bloody Fidelius Charm on it.” He turned around to face the rest of the group, looking ashen.
“So there’s nothing that we can do, no?” Esme asked blithely, smoothing the front of her robes. “What a waste of time.” She responded to the frustrated glares directed at her by George and Harry with a confused shrug.
Ron stepped away from the group and mumbled, “Excuse me.” Then he turned and disapparated.
Esme still seemed to be oblivious. “What is eating ‘im?”
“Hermione,” replied Harry quietly. “He’s gone to tell her the bad news. They’ll need a bit of time.”
“It’s all my fault,” Terry blurted. “If I hadn’t broke cover, she never would have known that we were onto her. I’m sorry, Harry.”
“You made the right decision,” Harry replied, putting his hand on Terry’s shoulder. “And beating yourself up won’t help anybody. Let’s concentrate on what we do next. Any idea who Tenabra would have used as a Secret Keeper? She doesn’t seem like the type who would trust somebody else to cast the spell.”
Terry scratched his head. “Unless there’s another person in this conspiracy that we don’t know about, she probably used one of her Blood Order flunkies. I’d say Gamp except for the fact that he’s completely off his trolley. Nott and Goyle have been with her as long as Gamp, but she never trusts them with anything important. Maybe Rosier? She did put him in charge of Ministerial Security and he’s usually the one who lets the others know when she calls a meeting.”
Harry nodded thoughtfully. “Let’s cover all the goalposts. Rosier shouldn’t be too hard to find but we’ll have to hunt down Nott and Goyle.”
“And then what?” Justin asked, looking puzzled. “They’re not likely to just volunteer the information.”
Harry smiled grimly, realizing that Justin had missed out on Hermione’s earlier sermon and Ron’s reaction. “I’d say we’re beyond the point of asking for volunteers. If they don't want to help us, we’ll let Ron have a word with them.”
George and Bill shared a dark laugh with Harry. In all honesty, there was nothing funny about the way Ron could be when he was angry or upset.
“If worse comes to worst,” Terry offered, “we just wait for her to call another meeting. I’ll go back undercover and find out the secret.”
“No, too dangerous,” Harry declared. “If she knows that there’s a traitor in the group, she’ll probably be waiting at the door with a jug of polyjuice antidote. Besides, I’d rather not wait.”
Just as Harry finished speaking, a glowing, silvery ball shot out of the sky and landed on the pavement in front of them. It coalesced into the form of a stallion and spoke in Al’s voice. “Dad, Hugo, Scorp and I are at Malfoy Manor. Scorp’s dad thinks he knows how to find Rose.”
As the patronus dissolved, Harry sighed and ran his hand over his face, pushing his glasses up and rubbing his eyes. “What the bloody hell are they doing back in Britain?”
“Same thing we’re doing,” George observed with a touch of cheek, “although it appears that they’re making more progress.”
“I guess they are at that,” Harry mumbled. “Alright, here’s the plan. Justin, Terry, you two work on finding Goyle and Nott. Bill, George, let the rest of the family know what’s going on. And tell Neville, as well. Esme, you’re with me.”
After the others disapparated, Harry held out his arm to Esme. “Let’s go pay the Malfoys a visit.”
** Borrowed from Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, Apocalypse Now.
*** Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter Twenty-Four.
So what did you think? This is probably the darkest chapter of the story so far. I'm really interested to know what people make of it.
As always, huge thanks to my beta reader, sophie_hatter. And congratulations to Remus on her engagement!
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