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Chapter 14 : Victory At Any Price
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“What do you want, Mother.” Draco didn’t bother to look up from his desk as Narcissa Malfoy walked hurriedly through the front flap of his tent.
Taking off her gloves, she looked at the monster she’d created. Monster, yes. But he’s alive. And powerful. “Corpses. Fresh ones. Begin sending all the fallen to England; both ours and theirs.”
Draco tossed his quill aside in frustration and looked up at her, darkly. “The Inferi already outnumber us 300 to 1. We don’t have enough wizards to control the ones in the field now.”
“That’s why the Dark Lord needs more,” she replied evenly, ignoring his tone. “Our progress here in France has stalled. It’s not gone unnoticed.”
Draco grabbed the edge of his desk. “That’s not my fault. Dorninger refuses to commit more of his men to the fight.”
Draco rose from his chair, the pent up frustration showing in his face; but his voice was almost apologetic. “Not openly.”
Narcissa tried to contain her concern. Since that night in the Forbidden Forest when she had realized her families’ survival lay in complete subservience to the Dark Lord she had stopped at nothing to please Voldemort and advance the Malfoy cause. What followed had been a string of murders, conspiracies, vile court politics and double-dealing. Not even the Dark Lord knew the depths to which she had sunk to ensure that her family endured. Lucius’ rise back to prominence had been her doing, as had her son’s shedding of his last scrap of humanity. Neither truly appreciated how much their fortunes depended on her actions in the weeks after the Battle of Hogwarts.
She steadied herself, locking her ice blue eyes on her son, her demon. “Convince him.”
Draco’s exasperation boiled over. “Mother, why must you always do this?” He brushed past her, but halted at the tent flap, staring out into the night. “At every turn, I get no peace from you. Not even a country away!”
She advanced on him and roughly grabbed his shoulders as she spun him to face her. “This has nothing to do with that Greengrass girl!” Her voice was as cold as her eyes.
“Did I say it did?” Draco’s voice rose an octave.
“Your eyes betray you, Draco.” She grabbed his chin, harshly. Then, slowly, her grip turned more gentle. “She was weak. And so are you, if you continue to pine over what can never be.” Then her grip became firm again, almost painful. “Strength, Draco! Strength. Never forget what it is that has made us who we are. Never!” She released him as he jerked backward.
Narcissa straightened the folds of her creaseless black robes. “Now. Summon Dorninger. I’d have a word with him.”
With a barely contained scowl, Draco called to his servant through the tent flap. “Bring me Dorninger!”
Draco walked briskly back to his desk and threw himself into his chair. Narcissa followed slowly, standing behind him, off to his right, gloves in hand.
There was an uncomfortable silence that continued to build between them until the stout German walked through the flap.
“Frau Malfoy! An unexpected pleasure.” Dorninger’s smile never reached his eyes; it was clear his emotions did not match his words.
“Frederich, a joy to see you again.” Narcissa approached him, kissing him on both cheeks, her voice thick and syrupy. “I bring greetings from the Imperium.”
“Excellent. Please return the sentiment on behalf of the Chancellery. And how is Lucius?”
“He does well. But, given some recent diplomatic developments, I’m afraid we’ve run into some difficulties.”
“Of course the Chancellery always stands ready to aid its British friends.”
“How fortuitous you should offer.” Narcissa’s tone was soft and dangerous. “Your son, Werner, is among your staff?”
Dorninger’s hesitation was barely perceptible. “Yes. And he’s proven to be indispensable in our joint campaign.”
“So I’ve heard. His reputation for efficiency and tact has preceded him.” In fact, she thought Werner Dorninger was even more of a fool than his father. But the truth rarely aided Narcissa’s ends. “You must be exceptionally proud?”
Dorninger sensed a trap. “Yes. Well. He’s actually just about to return to Berlin on some urgent business.”
“Oh, I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” Narcissa said dismissively. “The Dark Lord requires his presence in London.”
“Yes. Certain of Werner’s former classmates at Durmstrang have proven to be…shall we say difficult? His presence at the Imperium would be exceptionally helpful at the moment.”
“Frau Malfoy, I’m afraid he simply cannot be spared at present.” Dorninger began to sweat. He knew what this was about. Voldemort wanted a hostage to insure his continued obedience.
“He’s going to Berlin as a courier?”
Dorninger’s hesitation was all the confirmation she needed.
She moved in for the kill. “Surely the work here in France takes priority. If you can spare him for that, you can spare him for this,” she clucked. “The Dark Lord was insistent. Werner shall return with me by Portkey within the hour.”
“Be sure he’s ready.” Then she turned to Draco. “My good boy. I’ll give your love to your father.” Kissing him she whispered in his ear, “Strength.” Then she breezed out of the tent. “Auf Wiedersehen, Frederich.”
“Meine Dame,” Dorninger answered with a bow.
Draco fixed the Chancellor with his coldest stare. “Now. Three more cohorts of your men will be arriving by week’s end?”
Dorninger conceded defeat. “Of course.”
Zacharias Smith walked at a measured gait, his eyes down, through Diagon Alley. All the while, he could feel his Enchanted Galleon burning a hole in his pocket. Never should’ve kept it! He trudged on, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible.
The shell-shocked remains of Britain’s Wizarding community lived a life of abject paranoia. Everyone was a potential informer. Everyone lived in fear of the dreaded late night knock on the door that heralded the arrest of a loved one by the Imperium’s Security forces. Those who were taken were rarely, if ever, seen again.
In the first few months following the Disaster at Hogwarts, most of those taken were distantly associated with the Order or Dumbledore’s Army. Those more closely aligned had long since been murdered or forced into hiding. But, now, the arrests in the dead of night were done purely for some form of gain. Most often, it was just an excuse for a Death Eater to confiscate property from someone who was not lucky enough to be one of the select few. Or it was done to avenge a slight. Occasionally, it was done simply out of cruelty.
Smith continued down the street, not looking up, although he pulled the collar of his tattered travelling cloak up around his neck to shut out the almost ever-present chill. The few people he passed were doing the same as he was, keeping their heads down and trying to get on with their business without drawing any attention to themselves.
But, now and then, a passerby would break the mold of the downtrodden lemmings that filled the streets of Wizarding Britain. Ramrod straight, eyes lifted haughtily, they would have that cocky, self-assured air, a sneering smile, new clothes, and bags bursting with items newly purchased from the few stores still doing business. They stood out. They were unmistakable. They were the Death Eaters, the Slytherin purebloods, the few who had the Dark Lord’s favor.
Smith couldn’t help but smirk in disgust at the thought. Everyone’s a Slytherin now or will be in another two generations.
Within weeks after the Dark Lord seized power he had loosed the mindless bureaucracy of the former-Ministry on a new task: re-writing the History of Magic. Edicts had flown out of the Imperium as fast as the owls could carry them. Within weeks, to even mention the name Gryffindor was made a crime punishable by death. It didn’t take long before the name Huffelpuff joined Gryffindor as another casualty in the Imperium’s new war on words. Helga had joined Godric on history’s ash heap primarily due to her stance on Mudbloods and Muggles. There was even talk of putting a jinx on the names. Mention of Ravenclaw wasn’t outlawed, yet. But it was frowned upon in “polite” circles.
At the start of term at Hogwarts, instead of the usual sorting ceremony, Headmaster Carrow had given the “honor” of letting the new Head Boy and Girl, both purebloods, cast the Incendio curse at the pile of banned books that were heaped on the spot where Dumbledore’s tomb used to stand.
And even this despicable act had its casualties. Three days before the start of term, Irma Pince had gotten word of what was being planned. She’d barricaded herself in the library to keep the books from being destroyed. When the Death Eaters came for her, she had fought valiantly. It was hours before they finally rooted her out. When they had finally forced their way in, they purposely stunned her, rather than kill her, on the Dark Lord’s orders. She was the first to be made an example of in public on the gallows that had been erected in front of Gringotts. Smith shuddered as he recalled how long it took before they finally executed the poor woman. And even that had its consequences. It was Pince’s niece Audrey, under the Imperius Curse, who had dealt the deathblow.*
I won’t go out like that, Smith thought. And not like Potter, either. Despite the Imperium’s best efforts to slander Harry as a coward, word spread that he had faced the Dark Lord as a willing sacrifice. Noble git. If I go, I’m going like Weasley. Take as many of the bastards with me as I can. That tale too, had spread like wildfire. The ambush at Dover was nearly as much a legend among the resistance as Harry’s tragic end, thanks to Hermione’s efforts. But it’s always better to be a live jackal than a dead lion…
He forced these thoughts from his mind as he tried to focus on his surroundings. Keep your head, Smith. This isn’t the time to reflect on life since the Disaster at Hogwarts. Too dangerous to be woolgathering here.
He thought it was pure insanity to meet in Diagon Alley. But the message he’d received by Patronus was adamant that they didn’t have time to find a safe place to talk in a Muggle neighborhood. Fools. Our entire resistance cell in the only wizarding neighborhood in London. He tried not to shake his head at the thought or do anything else that might draw attention to himself.
Smith did appreciate the one saving grace of walking with his eyes on the pavement; it prevented him from having to see the rotting corpses hanging from the Gringotts’ Gallows, which were directly ahead of him. Around the necks of the condemned hung signs displaying their crimes to the cowering public. These days, “Mudblood” had been replaced with “Bloodtraitor” as the most common capital offense. If any Mudbloods were left alive in Britain, they were in hiding.
Turning, he saw his destination: Flourish and Blotts. Not the worst location, but hardly the best. The proprietors allowed them to use their basement when need required. But it had been years since a meeting had been called anywhere near Diagon Alley.
As he opened the door, it was obvious that the shopkeeper was just as displeased at the meeting place as he was. Jude Carstairs barely suppressed his grimace as he lifted the swinging door in the counter to allow Smith access to the hidden passage to the basement. All the while, Carstairs looked nervously around the empty shop and out through the front windows.
Could he be more obvious? Smith thought.
“The others are already here. Make it fast,” the shopkeeper muttered.
Smith grunted a reply as he passed him and climbed down the hidden staircase.
Two forms were huddled in opposite corners of the basement, purposely staying out of the dim candlelight, looking anxiously at the form descending the stairs. Smith could tell their wands were out.
He froze to keep from getting hexed. “It’s me. And, Edgecombe, I know you have a butterfly tattoo on your left hip, so don’t bother asking for proof. Put your damn wands down.”
“You’re late,” Dennis Creevey said.
“Like running down Diagon Alley wouldn’t raise any suspicion? We shouldn’t have met here,” Smith spat.
Marietta Edgecombe sighed. “We don’t have time for this.”
Slowly, the other two surviving members of Dumbledore’s Army moved into the light. Their clothing was threadbare and worn. The circles under Marietta’s eyes were larger than Smith remembered. Creevey was going grey very, very young.
Guess I don’t look much better, Smith thought. Life on the run tends to do that to you.
The past four years had been nothing but hiding and sleeping in alleys and doorways and then, the occasional mission. Assassinations. Retributions. Dumbledore’s Army? We’re becoming more and more like the Death Eaters everyday. He didn’t know what was worse; being stupid enough to have joined the DA in the first place, which now marked him for life, or being coward enough to have run out before the fighting started at the Disaster at Hogwarts. Six of one…
Creevey had his brother to avenge; Marietta, her honor to restore, but what did Smith have to fight for? My life…
“Let’s get this over with.” Smith heaved himself onto a stool.
Marietta suppressed the urge to comment and began the meeting; with the murder of Susan Bones several months earlier, she had taken control of their cell. They had yet to find a new fourth member. “Did your Galleons change?”
“But how?” Smith asked. “We have no idea who the message is from.”
Creevey said, “Only Potter’s coin can change the others. It has to be…”
He wasn’t allowed to finish as Smith cut across him. “He’s dead. And so are we if we go to Dover.” He was adamant.
Creevey insisted, “We don’t know that for sure. All we’ve heard is what the Imperium tells us. Even if the Dark Lord did kill him that night, like Potterwatch said, the prophecy…”
“Save the ‘Chosen One’ bullshit, Creevey. I’m too tired.” Smith cut across him again.
Part-time lover or not, Edgecombe finally lost her patience with Smith’s attitude. “Dammit, Zack! Granger made the Galleons. She’s supposed to be in France. If anyone could change the coins to make them show a meeting place as well as a time and date to meet…” Marietta fixed him with a stern look. “I think it’s her.”
“If it is, what in Merlin’s name would she wanna come back to this place for?” Smith asked.
“We’ll have to go to Dover to find out.” Marietta was firm.
Creevey nodded his assent.
Smith shook his head in disgusted disbelief. “Gods, you two have a death wish. This isn’t how it’s done. You know that. We get word from the French when someone’s coming across the Channel and they’ve never used the coins. For all we know, this is an ambush set by the damned Death Eaters.”
“No, dammit! The site of Weasley’s Last Stand sounds to me like the perfect place for a Death Eater assault! How many more of us have to be killed or worse, before you start thinking? For Merlin’s sake, Susan was in effing pieces when we found her! And the bastards purposely left her alive. So we could see…” He hung his head. Even Smith was having difficulty recalling that horrid memory.
Edgecombe’s response was glacial. “And we took retribution.”
Creevey couldn’t meet either of their eyes after that comment; Marietta regretted it as soon as she said it. Dennis had drawn the short straw. He had been the one to ensure that an eye for an eye was taken for Susan.
Smith just shook his head. “This is another godsdamned suicide mission. Just an excuse for another pointless death.”
Marietta seethed. “Pointless?! How can you even..?”
“That’s right. Pointless. Can you tell me why verifying that the Dark Lord’s effing snake was in the Department of Mysteries was worth Susan’s life?!”
She fixed Smith with an icy stare. “It mattered, Zack…Never think it didn’t.”
“Have you even cleared this with the higher-ups? Or are they still alive?”
That caught her off balance. Marietta frowned. “I told them.”
“And?” Creevey asked.
“They gave us the go-ahead. They want us to meet whoever activated the coins.”
“Great.” Smith shook his head.
Dennis ignored him. “We should go separately. Meet up there an hour before. That’ll be safer.”
“Agreed.” Marietta looked pointedly at Smith.
Zack looked at the two of them, exasperated. He realized he was not going to win this debate. He hung his head as he let the word slip between his gritted teeth. “Fine.”
“This can’t be right, Lucius!” Voldemort was seething.
A very nervous Lucius Malfoy did not meet his master’s eyes; he remained on both his knees. “The informant believes it. The Unspeakables were able to verify the magic.”
Voldemort rose from his throne, resting a hand on its arm. “You’ve spoken to the traitor? Personally?”
“He believes it’s a message from....” Lucius dared not mention the name, “him.”
Voldemort collapsed back into his throne, as Lucius tried to brace himself for the Cruciatus curse that he was so sure would fall. When it didn’t, he chanced a look up.
Voldemort hissed, “What has he been promised in return for his cooperation?”
“A meeting with his dead brother.”
Voldemort contemplated that. “Bring him in.”
Malfoy rose and moved hurriedly to the door. With a wave of his hand, two Death Eaters brought a manacled young man in and thrust him onto his knees, the chains clanking on the hard stone floor. The prisoner was shaking and bore the telltale signs of rough treatment.
“A mighty veteran of Dumbledore’s Army? There aren’t supposed to be any of you left,” the Dark Lord spat.
Dennis Creevey shook with shame, pain and loathing. But he couldn’t bring himself to speak; he just nodded.
“Let me see this enchanted coin of his.” Voldemort gestured to Malfoy, who immediately handed the Galleon to his master. “So the Mudblood made these when she was still at Hogwarts?”
Creevey nodded, his eyes never leaving the floor. “H-her fifth year.”
Voldemort spun the Galleon between his fingers; his face betrayed none of the surprise he was feeling that a witch so young could have created something like this. He felt some satisfaction when it occurred to him that she had probably gotten the idea for the coins from his own creation: the Dark Mark. Riddle turned his deathly gaze on Creevey. “When did you receive this message?”
Dennis contained his fear. “Yesterday.”
“And you’re to meet at Dover in two days?”
Dennis had one final battle with his conflicted emotions. Four years of fighting this hopeless cause had gotten him nothing. In that time he had wanted only one thing: to atone for letting Collin die alone at the Disaster at Hogwarts. But the long years on the run, with no hope of victory had never truly cured his grief and guilt. The horrible things he’d done in that time had condemned him. He knew it. There would be no meeting his brother in the afterlife. Even if Potter was coming with redemption, there’d be none for Dennis Creevey. The only chance of meeting with his brother again depended on the rumors about the Resurrection Stone being true; this would be his only chance. The tears leaked from his eyes as he nodded.
“You think this is a message from your ‘Chosen One?’ From beyond the grave?” Voldemort cackled.
Dennis stammered, “H-he’s the only one who could make the coins change; his Galleon controls all the others.”
Voldemort took in the words and nodded. “Very well.”
“And, my brother? I was promised you’d let me see him.” Dennis’ voice was thick.
“Ah, yes. And so you shall.” The killing curse leapt from Voldemort’s wand before Dennis could move. He fell dead with a thud.
With a quick gesture, Lucius motioned to the guards to take the body to the Inferi room. Then he turned to his master. “Your orders, my Lord?”
“Send a company of our men to Dover. It’s not Potter,” he spat. “It’s an imposter. Potter’s body was disturbed not two weeks ago. It’s likely the master-coin was taken then. Nonetheless, we may be able to round up several of the resistance in the process.”
“Yes, Lord.” Lucius turned to go.
“Wait.” The Dark Lord made a hasty decision. The last time he had done so, four years earlier in the Forbidden Forest when he cast Legillimens instead of a killing curse, it had proven beneficial. The same could be true now, even though the risk involved was significant. “Send to the Carrows at Hogwarts and tell them to bring it. Immediately…And recall your son from France with a company of our best men. It might be wise to have a contingent of Death Eaters here. France can do without him for awhile.”
Malfoy bowed and exited the Chamber.
It wasn’t long before Alecto and Amycus Carrow entered. Amycus bore something wrapped in a black velvet cloth. The siblings dropped to their knees in front of the throne. “Lord.” They chorused.
Amycus lifted the cloth-draped gift toward Voldemort, always keeping his eyes on the floor at his master’s feet. “As you ordered.”
Voldemort snatched it briskly from him and turned, walking back to his throne, “Leave me. But stay in the Imperium. I don’t want either of you leaving for Hogwarts until you hear from me. Have the doors sealed.”
They bowed and exited, the doors clanking shut behind them.
Placing the bundle on his throne, he drew the Elder Wand. Taking a breath, he thrust it into the air:
“ANIMA SCINDUS!!! NECARE ACCOMPLI!!!”
“ANIMA SCINDUS!!! NECARE ACCOMPLI!!!”
“ANIMA SCINDUS!!! NECARE ACCOMPLI!!!”
For hours, the Dark Lord screamed the incantation to the fires of Hell. For hours, the black fog that leapt from his wand swirled around him. Tremors shook the Imperium.
Muggles and wizards alike, crouching in their homes, could feel the darkness, the evil that was seeping in through their windows and doors. They couldn’t describe it. They tried to ignore it. But it was there, in the back of everyone’s mind. A subtle dread. A hint of uneasiness.
Only Lucius, huddled in his darkened apartments at the Imperium, in front of the fire, a tumbler of Firewhiskey nearly forgotten in his hand, had the slightest idea what was happening. He hoped the vile magics being loosed didn’t wake his wife and son, but cared less as to whether it disturbed Werner Dorninger’s slumber. The son of the German Chancellor was quartered down the hall. As another temblor shook the building, Lucius was filled with dark thoughts and darker fears.
Nearly at the end of his strength, the thing that once was human, that once was Tom Riddle, collapsed to his knees. With a violent scream he knew he had at last succeeded.
With a shaking hand, he reached up and withdrew the Sword of Gryffindor from the black velvet cloth on his throne.
Not the blade, he thought, infused with basilisk venom. The ruby on the hilt! That will suffice!
As he drew out a fragment of his mangled soul, Voldemort felt the satisfaction of the ultimate revenge on Slytherin’s old nemesis. The Dark Lord had at last turned the only remaining Sacred Object of the Founder’s into a Horcrux.
*AN: Again, I cannot take credit for this brilliant, albeit dark, flourish. LilyGreenEyes, a tremendous author, first wrote the idea of having Imperiused friends hurt each other, courtesy of the Death Eaters, in her amazing story “Within The Heart of the Battle.” You can find it in my favorites. It details the war fought at Hogwarts, while the trio was out hunting Horcruxes. It’s the untold story we all so desperately would like to read. So, go read it!
I don't own Harry Potter. The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.
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