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Harry Potter and the Conspiracy of Blood by CambAngst
Chapter 29 : The Distant Sound of Thunder
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 16

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As always, anything that you recognize from the books belongs to JK Rowling.

Focusing all of her anger and frustration, Hermione reached up to the top of the pair of crutches that she had conjured and pulled herself out of her chair. Her upper body had gotten quite muscular from propelling the wheelchair around, and lifting her body up was not a problem. Balance, on the other hand, still did not come easily. She cursed softly under her breath as she swayed dangerously back and forth. Even though her legs were unable to bear her weight, she had managed to regain some control of her muscles in the short time since Herodonthus’s spells had reversed her paralysis.

Her weight shifted dangerously backward and she cursed out loud. In that moment, her anger flared and in her mind she grasped it like a tangible thing. You’re having to learn to walk all over again like a baby because of what they did to you. You have to make them suffer. Her right leg responded begrudgingly to the force of her will, clomping backwards and catching her body in a sort of tripod. She screwed up her face in concentration and pushed forward while lifting herself up with her shoulders. Her left leg swung forward and with a supreme effort, she caught just enough of her weight on it to keep from falling. She paused, breathing heavily from the exertion. She had just taken her first step. A smile involuntarily crossed her face.

The dragon seized on her brief moment of joy, seeing an opportunity to make a bid for its freedom. It had become the embodiment in her mind of the pain in her legs that she was only able to suppress by focusing her anger. Hermione gritted her teeth and concentrated hard, trying to force it back. The magic she had learned from Herodonthus’s book had almost become a natural act of self-preservation and she no longer needed her wand to perform it. The dragon thrashed and roared, probing for any sort of weakness. The burning sensation crept outward, threatening to overwhelm her control. She squeezed her eyes closed and hated the Blood Order with all of her might. Her concentration was so intense that she didn’t realize she had lost her balance until it was almost too late. She caught herself an instant before her face crashed into the floor.

Hermione pulled herself onto her knees. Her breath was coming in short, raspy bursts. The dragon was contained, but for how long she couldn’t be sure. Tears welled in her eyes and she slouched to one side. The thought of spending the rest of her life trapped between agonizing pain and boiling rage was almost too much to bear. It was no way to live. She felt the dragon slither and coil, studying her, sizing her up and biding its time. An angry growl escaped her lips as she drove it deeper into its prison, but she felt like it was all for naught. She couldn’t live without love and happiness for very long, while the dragon had all the time in the world.

A soft pop from the corner of the room announced the return of one of her fellow fugitives. Before she could even turn her head, she heard Ron call her name in a panicked yelp. He was kneeling by her side within seconds.

“Are you hurt? Did you have a fall? Why are you crying?” He pulled her to his chest and she relished the feel of his arms around her and even the smell of his unlaundered shirt. He lifted her up and started to carry her back to the chair.

“Wait,” she said. She could feel the dragon stir menacingly, but she couldn’t keep this from him. Not something this important. She needed him to know that there was one, small thing that was better in the world. “Ease my legs down, slowly.”

He looked at her in confusion, but did as she asked. The look on his face changed to disbelief as she managed to support a fraction of her weight while holding onto him for support.

“You did it,” he whispered, pulling her tighter into his embrace. “I knew you could do it. You are the most amazing woman in the whole world.”

His words made her fragile heart ache. The dragon was licking its lips, coiling and preparing to strike. Why it hadn’t already exploded forth and crippled her, she could only guess, but she knew it was at most a matter of seconds. She hated herself with every fiber of her being as she took a deep breath and did the only thing she could think of. The only way that she could preserve herself and have a chance of saving her daughter and granddaughter. She hoped that someday, he would understand.

“Why did you come back here, Ronald?” she asked coldly, forcing a separation between them. “Why are you here when our daughter is still out there somewhere, missing?”

Ron’s face immediately changed from love and admiration to hurt and confusion. He stared into her eyes, and she could feel her heart breaking. She wanted to throw herself at his feet and beg him to forgive her. On cue, the dragon reared up, straining against its bonds and bathing her veins in a warning glow of heat and discomfort. She bit back tears and forced herself to remain stern and angry.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Go find them. I have to focus on getting better.”

He knew her too well. The sadness in his eyes changed almost instantly into concern. “Love, what’s wrong? This isn’t like you. Has something happened?”

Again, she wanted nothing more than to bury herself in his arms and tell him everything. To beg for his help and his understanding. But the dragon nipped at the edges of her control, insistent, feeding on her fear and doubt. Her eyes flashed angrily and she clung to the last defense she had left. “I’ll tell you what’s happened. One of us has decided that she’s going to do whatever it takes to save our children. One of us isn’t willing to be a victim any more. And if you were half the father that you should be, I wouldn’t have to do this by myself!”

Anger flashed in Ron’s blue eyes, and part of her relished it. This was what she needed from him. His outrage and resentment would help to fuel her anger. It would help to keep the dragon at bay. But as quickly as it appeared, it was gone, replaced once again by the hurt and confusion that tore her heart into pieces. She wanted to turn away, but for some reason she couldn’t.

“Hermone, I...” he began, but she cut him off abruptly.

“Just go, Ronald. Go!” she shouted. With a flick of her wand, her crutches rose from the floor and lodged themselves underneath her arms. Ron gave her one last look, almost pleading. “Find my babies, and then we’ll talk.” Without another word, he turned and walked back to the corner.

“I love you,” he said quietly, before disappearing in a puff of smoke.

Hermione began to stalk around the attic, taking short, clumsy steps on her crutches. She had to stay angry, otherwise she felt certain that she would die. She simply wasn’t strong enough to fight the dragon again, not yet. Her anger fueled her determination, which in turn seemed to refine her control over her atrophied muscles. The fact that she was angry at herself for being so weak didn’t seem to matter. The dragon apparently did not discriminate.

She nearly lost her concentration and fell when a soft voice startled her. “Do you want to talk about it?” Susan asked quietly.

“What is there to talk about?” Hermione snapped, struggling to regain the slow, awkward rhythm of her steps. “They all think I’m some sort of pathetic cripple who needs to be coddled and cared for. So I set him straight.”

“Hermione, how long have we known each other?”

“What the bloody hell does that have to do with anything?” She knew Susan well enough to have a good idea where the questions were leading. She would try to get beneath Hermione’s anger and help her to open up, because that’s what friends did. The dragon snarled, willing her to push Susan away and stay angry.

But Susan continued to speak, ignoring Hermione’s outburst. “It’s been long enough that I know when something’s not right with you. I can’t tell you how happy I am that you’ve found a way to walk again, but something is obviously very wrong. Does it have anything to do with that book?”

Hermione froze, unable to respond. It hadn’t taken Susan any time to uncover the truth, and at the moment the truth frightened her more than anything in the world. The truth was that she was sliding further and further into the darkness. The truth was that she was poisoning her own soul to keep the dragon from consuming her. The conversation had to end. She began to stalk towards the leather satchel with its half-spilled supply of potions. “You need to rest. Let me get you some more sleeping draught.”

“Hermione, please, listen to me,” Susan insisted, turning her upper body just enough to be able to make eye contact. “Or listen to yourself. This isn’t you. The Hermione I know doesn’t act like this. That book has done something to you.”

Hermione couldn’t listen any longer. There was nothing she could say in response because Susan was absolutely correct. She wasn’t herself, and admitting it would make the dragon even more dangerous. Hermione could feel her hands shaking. The dragon could sense her weakness, her indecision. It was preparing to strike. She summoned a vial of sleeping draught and turned back towards Susan. “I’m fine. You’re clearly delusional from the pain. You need to take this so you can get better.”

“I don’t want to sleep,” Susan replied. “Please, Hermione, let me help you.”

“I don’t need your help,” Hermione hissed. “Why does everyone think I need help? I’m fine. Just take the bloody potion and sleep.” The dragon was ready to pounce, merciless and hungry. Deal with her, Hermione, or be destroyed.

“No. I won’t take it. You’re going to listen to me, even if I have to lay here in pain.”

Imperio.” Hermione seized control of Susan’s mind. She had never used an unforgivable curse before, and she had no idea how it rolled so easily off of her tongue. The sensation was unlike anything she had ever known, more intimate than a kiss and more brutal than a kick in the stomach. She could feel Susan fighting back against the curse, using all of her training to try to resist. It only fueled her annoyance. The dragon fed the darkness in her mind, allowing her to easily overwhelm Susan’s resistance. Susan’s eyes glassed over and she downed the potion with a single gulp. Her mind ceased its struggle and Hermione released her, sinking slowly to the floor.

She sat next to the trolley for a long time, gripping her knees to her chest and rocking back and forth. Susan was right. She had no idea who this person was that had just cursed one of her best friends, but it wasn’t Hermione Weasley. She wasn’t even sure when she began to cry, but she soon realized that her face and neck were soaked with tears. She felt miserable and weak, completely undeserving of love or sympathy. Deep in her bones, the dragon dozed contentedly, sated for the moment.

Scorpius paced restlessly around his old bedroom. It brought back a wealth of memories. Some of them were happy, like his life before Hogwarts. Back then, his mother and father and his grandparents were his whole world. Everything made sense to him and he never felt confused or conflicted about his his place in life. Others were less pleasant. He remembered lying in his bed, watching the painted quidditch players zoom around the ceiling as he tried to reconcile things he had believed all his life with the lessons he had learned from the scrawny, dark-haired boy who seemed to have been sorted into Slytherin by mistake. Several years later, he remembered angrily stuffing his clothes into a rucksack and storming out of the house, unable to stomach any more of his family’s pure blood idealist bigotry. None of those memories compared to the dread and anxiety he was feeling as he tried to decide where to begin the search for his wife and daughter.

His mother sat on the edge of his bed, swabbing dittany on Al’s splinched foot. “There you are, my dear. Is that better?” she asked gently as she stoppered the bottle and set it on the nightstand.

“Much, thank you,” Al replied, wiggling his toes appreciatively.

“Will all of you be joining us for dinner again tonight?” Astoria asked.

“Yes, mother. Thank you,” Scorpius replied while Al and Hugo nodded.

She drifted out of the room and Scorpius waited until her footsteps disappeared down the hallway. They had been back in Britain for the better part of a day and yet they hadn’t made any progress. He felt as though there were a thousand things he needed to be doing, but he had no idea where to start. He only knew that he needed to begin soon, before the sickening worry in his gut overwhelmed him. “How soon before you’ll be able to walk?” he asked, looking at Al and Hugo gravely.

“I can walk now, just very slowly,” Al answered, grimacing as he tried to flex his ankle. “I’d be a liability to you. If you two want to go looking tonight, I’ll stay here and make up some story to keep your mother in the dark.”

Kriffin suddenly appeared with a pop and bowed deeply. “Begging Master Scorpius’s pardon, but Master’s father wishes to see him in the study right away.”

“Merlin’s bloody beard, it’s one flight of stairs!” Scorpius shouted out the door. “Give the poor elf a break.”

He noticed the horrified look on Kriffin’s face and felt slightly embarrassed. “Sorry. I’ll be down to talk to him in just a minute.” The elf bowed again and disappeared with a pop.

“Let me see what he wants,” Scorpius muttered, stalking out the door. He walked down the sweeping, marble staircase and across the great room to his father’s study. “A little exercise wouldn’t kill you, you know?” he declared as he walked through the door.

If Draco had heard one word that he said, his expression didn’t betray it. He flicked his wand absentmindedly and the door closed behind Scorpius. “You and I are going out tonight.”

Scorpius bit the inside of his cheek, suppressing his irritation. He was still kicking himself for giving in so easily to the old man’s questioning. What he wanted most was to be able to search for Rose and Octavia on his own. Albus would at least be good company and he supposed that he could tolerate his brother-in-law as long as Hugo didn’t talk too much. But his father seemed likely to turn the process into a genuine ordeal. “Does this have something to do with this friend you were telling me about?” Scorpius asked, trying not to sound frustrated.

“Yes,” Draco replied. He fixed Scorpius with a piercing gaze. “What have you told your companions?”

“Only that you think you might have a way of finding out where Rose and Octavia have been taken,” Scorpius replied defensively. “I didn’t mention any friends.”

“And your mother?”

“The topic hasn’t come up. I’m surprised she hasn’t asked why we’re here.”

“Your mother is a very clever woman,” Draco replied pensively. “She has a talent for working things out based on the tiniest slivers of information.” He sat up straight and fixed Scorpius with a fearsome look. “You are not to tell her anything about Rose and Octavia. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”

Scorpius couldn’t hide his annoyance. “You’re being foolish. Grandfather still has friends among the old, pure blood families. He might be able to get some information from them if mother asks him.”

Draco shook his head emphatically. “Never. My granddaughter is already in mortal danger. I will not risk my wife as well. You know how she would react if she found out. Put yourself in my position.”

Scorpius nodded slowly. He could only imagine the lengths his mother would go to and the risks she would be willing to take in order to make sure that Octavia was safe. If he found himself facing the same choice as his father, he knew that he would have to think long and hard before letting Rose get involved. And she would hate him for it, of that much he was certain.

“She’s going to kill you when she finds out. You know that, right?”

“Your mother will understand, eventually,” Draco replied. “For now, I simply can’t have anyone else to worry about.” Scorpius could easily imagine Harry sharing the same sentiment with Rose’s parents before they decided to ship Al, Hugo and Rose off to France. It irritated him to no end. Why was their generation so obsessed with shielding his from every hint of danger in life?

Their discussion was interrupted by a loud knock at the front door and Scorpius felt his whole body tense up. Al and Hugo were wanted and his own legal status was questionable, to say the least. They needed to find out who was at the door and be prepared to leave in a hurry if necessary. He heard Kriffin apparate to the entryway, followed by the soft creaking of the heavy, wooden doors.

“Where are they?” He recognized the voice immediately. It was Al’s father, and he didn’t sound at all pleased. Their situation had just become even more complicated. He turned back towards his father, but Draco was already on his feet and rounding the desk towards the door. He fell into step as they exited the study.

In the Great Room, Kriffin was trying as politely as he could to keep Harry and a short, blond witch that Scorpius didn’t recognize from storming into the house. Harry locked eyes with his father and looked even more annoyed. “Where are they, Malfoy?”

His father ignored the question and turned toward the stairs. “Astoria, darling,” he called out, “have we forgotten to take down the sign from the gate that says ‘Fugitives Welcome’?”

Harry rolled his eyes and fixed Scorpius with a glare. As frustrated as Scorpius felt with the way that Harry and his father were behaving, his response to Harry’s reproachful look had become far too ingrained over the years. “They’re upstairs,” he responded glumly. As if on cue, Hugo and Al appeared at the top of the staircase.

“Are you three completely mental?” Harry was almost yelling. “Do you know how big of a risk you’re taking by coming back to Britain? How much more difficult you’re making it to find...”

Draco suddenly rapped his walking stick on the floor and shouted, “Potter, that’s enough!” He ignored Harry’s murderous stare and looked up the steps toward Al and Hugo. “All of you, in my study. Now.”

The seconds ticked by as Hugo helped Al make his way down the steps and Scorpius watched his father and Harry exchange glares until he wanted to hex them both. Rose and Octavia were missing and presumed captured and it seemed as though they couldn’t stop hating one another for long enough to do anything about it. Draco took his seat behind the desk and stared out the window until Scorpius finally closed the door. “This had better be good, Malfoy,” Harry snapped. “We’re wasting time.”

“I’m wasting time?” Draco shot back. “I’m not the one that took a break to go courting.”

“Pig!” the petite, blond witch yelled. Harry caught her arm just in time to keep her from hurling a hex at Draco.

SHUT THE HELL UP, ALL OF YOU!” Scorpius shouted from the back of the room. The others turned to stare at him with various degrees of shock on their faces. He looked back and forth between his father and Harry. “Will you two please stop acting like a couple of cocky little first-years having a wand-measuring contest? We all know why we’re here. Do either of you have any ideas that are actually worth pursuing.”

Harry and Draco both looked mildly embarrassed. Scorpius couldn’t remember a time in his life when he felt like the biggest adult in a room with either one of them, let alone both. Finally, Harry broke the silence. “We know where the Blood Order’s headquarters is located, but it’s been put under a Fidelius Charm. We have a few possibilities in mind for who might be the Secret Keeper. If anyone here,” he glanced in Draco’s direction, “knows where to find Theodore Nott or Gregory Goyle, they’re on the shortlist.”

Draco sat stone-faced in his chair, but Scorpius thought that he could see the slightest flicker of interest in his father’s grey eyes. “I will make some inquiries,” he responded flatly, “but my sources are few and far between these days.”

The blond witch accompanying Harry spoke. “We ‘ave yet to follow up on Elena Porcher’s locket. Per’aps it could lead us back to the mysterious Lady Tenabra.”

Scorpius couldn’t help himself. “And you might be?”

Harry suddenly appeared to remember his manners. “I’m sorry. Scorpius Malfoy, Esme Osinalde. Esme is an old friend and a member of the French Aurors. Esme, Scorpius is Rose’s husband. And this is my son, Albus, my nephew, Hugo Weasley, and this is my, erm, old schoolmate, Draco Malfoy.”

Al and Hugo nodded politely, but Draco never took his eyes off of Harry. “So what of this locket, Potter?”

Harry glared at Draco before explaining. “It’s magically bound to a sister locket that was owned by a witch who appears to have done some freelance work for Tenabra. She disappeared around the same time that Tenabra first turned up. We think there might be a connection.”

Scorpius had a feeling that there was more to the story than Harry was letting on, because the connection sounded tenuous at best. His father had apparently reached the same conclusion, since he chose not to belittle Harry over the strained explanation. “Very well, then. Go on about your business and I will do what I can to find Nott and Goyle.”

Harry nodded and turned back to Al, Hugo and Scorpius. He took a closer look at the bright, red scar running across the top of Al’s foot. “What happened?”

“Splinched myself,” Al replied, not quite meeting his father’s gaze.

It took Harry a moment to make the connection. “You didn’t...”

“We did,” Hugo replied sheepishly. Scorpius thought that he could see a certain amount of grudging respect mixed with the alarm in Harry’s face.

“Well, at least you were able to put yourself back together,” Harry conceded. He swept the three of them with an authoritative look. “You three stay put. Nobody will think to look for you here.”

Al stared directly into his father’s eyes and spoke quietly but firmly. “No, Dad. We came back to find Rosie and Octavia. We’re not going to hide here while they’re in danger.”

Father and son sized each other up for a long moment. Even Draco couldn’t completely hide his interest in the outcome of their disagreement. Harry finally shook his head. “If you’re not going to be reasonable about this then at least wait until your foot heals, alright? And don’t forget who you’re dealing with. These people are killers.”

“We remember,” Hugo replied. He suddenly looked upset. “Uncle Harry, is Susan... you know...”

“Yes, Hugo, she’s out of danger and recovering,” Harry answered. Hugo sighed in relief.

“At the risk of sounding rude,” Draco interjected, “I don’t fancy having the Ministry find half of the most wanted criminals in Britain in my home. If there’s nothing else to be decided, let’s get on with it.”

Scorpius watched as Harry and his friend said their goodbyes and even allowed Harry to pull him into a brief hug, although the way that his father glared at them made him feel almost treasonous. After they departed, Hugo helped Al limp back up the stairs to Scorpius’s bedroom. His father stared purposefully at him from the doorway to the study, and Scorpius followed him back into the small room.

Draco sat down and motioned for Scorpius to come closer. “The ‘friend’ that I received an owl from last week was Goyle,” he whispered. “He wanted to talk to me. See whether I was willing to reconsider my refusal to join the New Blood Order. He told me where he could be found when he’s not working.”

Scorpius felt his frustration rising. This was exactly the type of situation where the animosity that Harry and his father shared could prove costly. “Why didn’t you mention this to Harry?”

Draco sat back and gave him an exasperated look. “Have I taught you nothing, Scorpius? You don’t share information like this outside of the family.”

“Rose and Octavia are Harry’s family, too,” Scorpius replied defiantly. He met his father’s glare with an equally withering look. “And so am I.”

His father looked away, as though he were chewing something bitter. “There’s more to it that that, son.” Scorpius waited patiently for a moment. When his father turned back to face him, he found the look on the old man’s face impossible to read. “Do you believe that I will do whatever it takes to find my granddaughter?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“Then you must realize that there are certain things which the great, noble Harry Potter cannot do, but nevertheless they may need to be done.” Draco’s eyes hardened. “Octavia means everything to me, and I will not have my hands tied by that man’s conscience.”

Scorpius nodded slowly. He remembered a time when he was a young boy of maybe four or five. He was by himself in a park near London, playing with an enchanted ball that his grandmother had given to him while his grandfather spoke in hushed tones with a wizard he’d never seen before. Several larger boys approached him and eventually they took the ball from him. He ran crying to his grandfather, who gave him a disgusted look, seemingly unconcerned about the fact that the larger boys outnumbered him three-to-one. “You’re a Malfoy,” his grandfather told him. “And we do whatever we must to prevail.” Young Scorpius had dutifully marched back over to the older boys and demanded the return of his ball. When they refused, he threw sand in the eyes of the largest boy and wound up biting one of the others. He had never forgotten the approving nod he received from his grandfather when he came back bloody and bruised, but holding the enchanted ball. That was the day that he learned what it meant to be a Malfoy.

“We leave after dinner,” his father said, interrupting his reverie. “Only the two of us.”

Scorpius followed his father out of the study and headed up the stairs to inform Al and Hugo. Neither man noticed the slight shimmer in the air as a disillusioned figure slipped away from its hiding place next to the door after they left.

A low fire knocked the chill from the air in the sitting room of Muriel’s old house in Honiton as the surviving members of the Order of the Phoenix settled into their seats. Molly and Arthur shared the couch with Fleur while Bill sat on the arm next to his wife. George and Angelina sat in matching armchairs by the fireplace. Hestia Jones took a spot on the ottoman next to the coffee table while Dedalus Diggle continued to pace. “Charlie wasn’t able to get back into the country,” Bill explained quietly. “Ministerial Security insisted on holding up the paperwork for his portkey. And nobody’s spoken to Percy in several days. I’m told that the situation inside the Ministry is deteriorating rapidly.”

Arthur nodded in agreement. “My old friends tell me the same. The Wizengamot is rebelling against the Minister’s latest decrees. Senior officials are beginning to choose sides. We’re on the brink of a crisis. But I assume that’s not why you two called us here?”

Bill and George looked at each other apprehensively. The conversation was not going to be enjoyable, but it had to happen, and soon. George took a deep breath and waded in. “Ron and Harry sent a message to Bill and I yesterday evening. We all gathered at the warehouse where I hid Lily and her family until I could get them out of the country. One of the Aurors who remained loyal to them was able to infiltrate the Blood Order. He found out the location of their headquarters and we were preparing to stage a raid, to find Rosie and Octavia.” George surveyed the nervous looks he was getting from around the room and sighed, lowering his gaze to the floor. “By the time we got there, it was too late. The building had been placed under a Fidelius Charm.

He waited for the gasps and groans to pass. “We have some ideas as to who the Secret Keeper might be, and Terry Boot and Justin Finch-Fletchley are following up on those. Ron is... well, I don’t know what Ron’s on about. He was a mess the last time we saw him.” George paused again. Now the conversation was about to get really tense. “Harry and his Auror friend from France were going to Malfoy Manor. It appears that Al, Hugo and Scorpius found a way to get back from France and they’re holed up there.”

Molly veritably exploded out of her seat. “What? Have they taken leave of their senses? How did they get back here?”

“They apparated,” Fleur replied calmly. The attention of the entire room fell on her. “I showed them ‘ow.”

The color was rising so rapidly in Molly’s neck that George thought the whites of her eyes might turn orange. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out right away. Arthur laid his hand against the small of her back and simply asked, “Are you sure that was wise?”

“They are adults, Arthur. We ‘ave no right to tell them what to do. Besides, the look on Scorpius’s face made it clear that ‘e was going to return to Britain one way or another. I simply gave them a less dangerous option.”

Molly finally found her voice, but she still couldn’t manage a civil volume. “Less dangerous? You showed them how to apparate across the English Channel to where they’re wanted by the bloody Ministry and that was less dangerous? What else did you have in mind? Shooting them out of a cannon?”

“She has a point, mum,” George interjected. “The Ministry is guarding all of the normal ways in and out of the country. They would have been picked up for sure if they’d tried to take a portkey or use muggle transportation.”

“So they should have stayed in France!”

“This is Scorpius’s wife and daughter we’re talking about,” Angelina countered, flicking her long, thin braids over her shoulder. “If we were talking about Freddy or Roxie, I pity anyone who would try to keep me from getting to them.” George nodded appreciatively, glad to have the support.

“This whole thing is coming to a head,” Dedalus declared, coming to a stop near the middle of the room, “and there’s no all-powerful, dark wizard pulling the strings this time. These Blood Order prats are just garden variety pure blood supremacists, and fools, besides. If the Wizengamot is turning on the Minister, it’s time to stand up and support them. Strike while the iron is hot!”

“None of which requires our children to put themselves at risk!” Molly replied. She was still mad, but George could see her beginning to wear down.

“Molly, this world we’re fighting for is more theirs now than ours,” Hestia said softly. “Part of the problem with your grandchildren’s generation is that they’ve never had to fight for anything. They were handed a life of peace and prosperity with barely a clue of the price that was paid to make it possible. They’re the ones who are going to inherit this world when we’re gone and they need to help bear the cost of making it safe again. It’s time for them to have some skin in the game.”

“I prefer not to have my grandchildren gamble with their skin,” Molly sighed. Her anger was clearly spent.

“Nobody wants that, Mum, but Dedalus and Hestia are right,” Bill said gently. “It’s time to act. And anyone who wants to fight should be allowed to fight.”

“Agreed.” Neville Longbottom strode into the room with Luna Scamander close behind. They were followed by Seamus and Lavender Finnegan. Ernie MacMillan came next with his arm around Cho Chang, who wore a grim look of determination in spite her red, swollen eyes. Dean Thomas brought up the rear. “No more plotting in the shadows and pretending that things are fine in the light of day. The Blood Order and their cronies in the Ministry have to be stopped, now, before the damage gets any worse.”

Arthur regarded them thoughtfully “You’re all well aware of the havoc that a war could wreak on our families and our world. You’re certain that you want to fight?”

“They killed her,” Cho suddenly blurted out, leaning heavily on Ernie for support. “She was just doing her job and they killed my daughter. They slaughtered her and everybody else in the field office and I don’t even know why.” Cho took a deep breath and gave Arthur a fierce look. “You’re damn right I want to fight. I’m going to make sure they pay for what they did to my baby!”

George suddenly made the connection and he found that he couldn’t look away from his shoes. He knew that he probably should have said something but he couldn’t find the words.

“So it’s agreed?” Bill asked quietly. Looking around the room, he saw no dissent, not even from his mother. “Then we fight. We’ll find Ron and Harry and let them know.”

“Somebody will need to replace the Minister,” Arthur said, thinking out loud.

“What about Harry?” Dean asked. “People will follow him and his qualifications are beyond question.”

George snorted. “Good luck convincing him of that.”

“Does anyone have a better idea?” Dean replied.

“Actually, we have a suggestion,” came a female voice from the front of the house. Everyone turned and a low murmur filled the room as Percy walked in with Arabela Dynt holding onto the crook of his elbow.

“About an hour ago, a slim majority of the Wizengamot voted to ask for the Minister’s resignation,” Percy explained. George thought that his older brother looked as though he couldn’t decide whether to celebrate or throw up. “We haven’t been able to take a formal poll, but I believe that I’ve secured enough votes to succeed him, at least on an interim basis.”

His announcement was met by stunned silence. George could barely believe what he was hearing.

Bill looked from Percy back to Arabela. “No offense,” he asked, “but aren’t you the Minister’s personal secretary? What are you doing trying to get him kicked out of office?”

“And why Percy?” George blurted out, unable to stop himself.

“Seriously,” Seamus muttered under his breath. “He was bad enough as a bloody Prefect.”

“Percy is the best man for the job,” Arabela replied confidently. She lowered her voice and looked directly into Bill’s eyes. “My parents... my real parents... were killed by Death Eaters during the last war. They left me with friends and went into hiding to protect me, and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the sacrifices they made so that I would be safe. The Minister has sold us out to the pure bloods and their allies in the New Blood Order. We need a Minister who’ll restore the integrity of the Ministry of Magic and undo all of these disastrous ‘reforms’. I believe in Percy.”

“So after the vote of no confidence, I assume that the Ministry is divided even more deeply?” Arthur asked.

“We’re one curse away from open conflict,” Percy confirmed. “Everybody is choosing a side and nobody even goes to the loo by themselves if they can help it. You can cut the tension with a knife.”

George recalled his parting conversation with Harry and made to change the subject. “Perce, do you know where we might find Feates Rosier?”

Percy exchanged an uncomfortable look with Arabela. “We’ve been rather avoiding him since he tried to take us into custody yesterday on some trumped-up charge of trying to destabilize the government. Why do you ask?”

George and Bill exchanged a look. They had only a fraction of a second to decide, but in the end they both seemed to arrive at the conclusion that blood was thicker than water. “Rose and Octavia are missing,” Bill replied gravely. “We think that they’ve been captured by the Blood Order. Harry and Ron know where their headquarters is located, but it’s been placed under a Fidelius Charm. We have reason to believe that Rosier might be the Secret Keeper.”

The color drained from Percy’s face and Molly pulled a tissue from her pocket and began to dab the corners of her eyes. “Missing?” Percy stammered. “Since when?”

George’s gaze once again fell to his feet. “They were taken from the Exeter field office of the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol two nights ago.” He looked up and and found Cho staring at him, looking as though she’d been stabbed in the chest. “I’m so sorry, Cho.” Ernie tightened his grip on Cho’s shoulders and George felt Angelina’s arm slip around his back.

“Do you know how to get to him?” Bill persisted. “It seems that he doesn’t leave the Ministry very often any more.”

Percy looked at Arabela and she gave his arm an encouraging squeeze. “Yeah, I know how to find him. If I show my face inside the Ministry for more than a few minutes, he’s pretty much guaranteed to show up.”

Bill nodded. “I’ve heard that some of the senior Aurors are defecting away from the Minister’s side. With Ron and Harry’s help, I’m sure we could convince them to help you apprehend him.”

Apprehend? Bill, you’re talking about kidnapping the Head of Ministerial Security,” Neville replied incredulously.

“You were the one who wanted to fight,” Bill answered with a sardonic grin. Then his expression turned serious. “Look, if he’s the Secret Keeper for the Blood Order then he’s involved with a criminal organization. That much will be true no matter who’s serving as Minister. Percy, if you want help planning the operation, George and I can work with you.”

“No, I can handle this,” Percy said with an air of finality. He apparently noticed the surprised looks directed at him from around the room and straightened his shoulders. “If I’m going to be the Minister, I suppose I’d better start acting like it. Can one of you get me the names of these Aurors who’ve switched sides?”

“We’ll see to it,” George replied.

For the first time since their arrival, Molly thought of something that seemed to lift her mood. “As long as we’re moving into the open, I suppose the Burrow is as good a place as any to use as our headquarters.”

“Agreed,” Bill nodded. He looked at his father and said, “As soon as we leave here, let’s go set up some more wards. I’ve got some powerful new stuff I learned in the Middle East that will keep out anyone we don’t care to deal with.”

There seemed to be nothing more to say. Everyone rose to their feet and prepared to leave.

“Good luck to us all,” Arthur announced.

“No,” Seamus replied, causing people to stop and stare. “Good luck to the other side. They’re bloody well gonna need it.”

I'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who has read this far. Conspiracy of Blood is a labor of love, and I'm glad that so many of you have decided to make the journey with me. Special thanks, as always, to my amazing beta reader, sophie_hatter. Without her constant advice and support, the story wouldn't be nearly as good. If you can spare a moment to share your thoughts and reactions, please leave a review in the box below.

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