Also available as: Epub
To Fight the Coming Darkness
Not My Best Birthday Ever
To Fight the Coming Darkness
Disclaimer - I don't own the Harry Potter Universe. JKR does.
Acknowledgements - IP82, Nukular Winter, ChuckDaTruck, Sirius009, FairyQilan and Kokopelli all deserve thanks for their contributions to this story.
Chapter 17 — Not My Best Birthday Ever
"How long have you known?" Arthur Weasley’s voice broke the silence as he looked back and forth between Harry, his oldest son, and the ghost of his third son. He was bent over helping his startled wife to her feet.
"Percy managed to find me this morning." Bill said. "I went to Dumbledore and Dumbledore contacted Dobby. Dobby told Harry. Bill nullified her Portkey while he was hugging her."
Harry avoided Susan’s withering glare. She was angry that she hadn’t been told. Here was this bitch trying to kidnap her Harry. Susan hadn’t even noticed that her wand had made its way into her hand.
"Why, Penny?" Molly Weasley’s weak sounding voice was heard.
Percy’s translucent expression hardened. "Because, in reality she is Antonin Dolohov’s daughter, and Voldemort’s goddaughter." There were shouts and cries throughout the room. Penny could only glare back at him. Though she was not struggling in Bill’s grasp. "Oh please Penelope, death glares only work against the living you stupid slut."
If the room wasn’t already in turmoil from everything that had just happened, Percy’s announcement perfected the turmoil. The few in the room that knew him well enough knew that it was completely out of character for him, but then again being dead can alter your outlook on things.
Dumbledore spoke up. "I believe the task facing us is to determine Penny’s fate and to understand the depth of her deception."
"If it wasn’t for the unborn child, I’d just as soon kill her." Harry said shocking the already stunned room.
"Harry!" Several people cried out.
"What? I’m assuming that there was nothing good waiting for me on the other end of that Portkey. Were any of you just almost kidnapped? You’re all pretty quick to forget that he cost me my godfather. If he is actually fond of this worthless piece of shit, I send her back to him one piece at a time." There was no denying the venom in Harry’s voice. "I assume, because her condition we can’t give her the truth potion. So, Headmaster do you want to mind fuck her or should I? I can use the practice. How about we ask our dear old Professor Snape, how in the fuck Tom fucking Riddle’s fucking goddaughter has been in my fucking house for the last week and he hasn’t felt the need to mention it?" Harry’s wand swung directly across the path to Professor Snape.
"I was never made aware of her involvement, Potter. Cease you idiotic accusations." Snape said with calm voice.
"Keep your hands where I can see them. If you make one move towards your wand, it won’t be a tickling charm or a stunner I use. Why are you here anyway? I don’t recall inviting you? Given our strained relationship right now, I don’t think the headmaster is in the business of having you around for the sake of irritating me. What brings you to my humble abode today?"
"I have Order business to discuss with the Headmaster. It is none of your concern."
"That’s a good story. Do you want to here my story? It goes like this. You came here to see the look of terror on my face as I disappear into whatever trap your master had waiting for me."
"More of your incoherent babblings. You delude yourself as to your own importance."
"Both the headmaster and I know exactly how important I am. You know what’s odd Snivellus? He’s here in the room right now and he hasn’t told us to quit our petty bickering yet. Maybe he is curious as well? How about it sir?"
"Severus, I am indeed curious about your presence here today myself. Please do us all a favor and relinquish your wand. Nymphadora, if you would?"
Reluctantly, Snape surrendered his wand. Tonks looked at him smugly. "Very well, if you must know I heard a rumor that there was a plot to harm Potter. I intended to make certain that my debt to his family was repaid in full."
"I haven’t smelled a load of shit that bad in a long time." Tonks said maliciously.
"Think what you will, Bellatrix, I mean Tonks. My mistake, the resemblance is remarkable. It appears to be affecting your behavior as well." The crack of her hand across his face failed to remove his sneer.
"Tonks! Severus! Enough!" Dumbledore’s voice radiated power. "Why did you not bring this to my attention, beforehand?"
"I only learned of it this morning and you were nowhere to be found."
"It is true. I have been with William and Percival all morning. Return his wand to him. Severus, please return to the castle. I will be along after we question Penelope." Tonks looked at him and dropped his wand on the floor in front of Snape. He picked it up and headed for the door.
"I don’t like it." Harry said as soon as the door closed.
"I am not pleased with the situation as well, Harry. He is my concern and I shall deal with him in private. For now we must turn our attention to the person who has made her allegiance crystal clear." Dumbledore answered turning his gaze upon Penny.
"I won’t tell you a damn thing you relic." Penny looked at him only for a second before breaking eye contact.
"A comprehensive Legilimency probe will take some time, but it is perhaps the only avenue open to us."
Hermione spoke up, "She’s been spending a lot of time with Ginny. Maybe we should get her."
Harry thought for a minute. "There may be another avenue open to us. Keep her here. I’ll be right back." He looked at Arthur as he started up the stairs. "Mr. Weasley, I’ll send Ginny down on my way up."
He knocked Ginny’s bedroom door and opened it. Ginny looked up from the book she was reading.
"Hello, Harry. Come to kick a girl while she’s down?" She said in a voice laced with sarcasm.
"No. Get your ass downstairs, now! Clearwater is a traitor. We’ve got her, but aren’t sure how much damage has been done. Didn’t you hear the shouting?" He didn’t even care to see the shocked expression on her face.
"Mum put a silencing charm on the room." She answered looking around worriedly and moved quickly out the door.
If Harry had been thinking or even really cared about Ginny’s emotional state, he probably could have warned her that her brother’s ghost was waiting for her in the kitchen with everyone else. Ginny screamed when she saw him. Molly grabbed her daughter.
"What’s happened Mum?"
Molly looked into her daughter’s eyes and gestured to Penny. "This creature was responsible for your brother’s death."
Ginny looked at Penny trying to wrap her mind around what she just heard. Penny sneered back at her. "What’s a matter little Ginny? Starting to think about all those things you were telling me this week. All those little secrets and observations you were sharing with me. You little cow. No, that’s not right she’s the cow. You’re just her little childish calf. So sad that the gullible little girl that no one wants to talk to right now knew all kinds of things."
"Ginny, what have you been telling her?"
"We were talking. I told her about all the things that happened at school. I thought she was our friend!"
"George, you went with her to the apartment. Did she send any owls or Floo call anyone?" Arthur asked.
"Uh, I think she sent an owl. I wasn’t really watching her." George said.
"What did you send?"
"Like I would really tell you, you hag." Penny spit back at Molly.
"Actually, you will." Harry’s voice came from the steps. He then retrieved one of the artifacts on the shelf from the Sanctuary room. He saw the look of recognition on Susan’s face.
"Harry what’s that?" Bill asked. Trust a curse breaker to spot a dark artifact across a crowded room.
"This is a Black family artifact. Apparently, sometimes the arranged marriages didn’t go so well. Sometimes they needed a little something to keep the bride in line. This is a necklace of ensnarement. From what the portraits have told me, it works a bit like the Imperius curse. Whoever bleeds on the necklace will dominate the will of the one wearing it. She’ll talk."
"You wouldn’t dare use that on me!" Penny screamed. She was terrified.
"Oh, I won’t be using this on you. If you were bound to my will, you’d slit your throat or go stand out in the street and get hit by a lorry or something. No doubt about it, I want you dead right now. No, we need someone with a strong will, someone who isn’t afraid to tell people what they should be doing and someone that is concerned with the welfare of the child inside of you. Mrs. Weasley, I could use your help with this."
Penny paled at the idea of being subservient to Molly Weasley. The thought of that putrid hag controlling her free will made bile rise up in her throat.
"Harry, that’s a dark artifact. Maybe, we shouldn’t use it?" Molly said.
"I would also like us to take a moment to consider the path ahead of us. The object you possess offers a difficult choice." Dumbledore said slowly. The room was quiet for a minute.
Susan broke the silence. She had seen her fiancÃ© use unforgivable curses. Here he was with a necklace that was basically an unforgivable curse in solid form. "No, he’s right. Mrs. Weasley do you really want to hurt Penny or her child?"
"Do you want to know how much information she managed to leak to her allies?"
"Would you let her hurt herself, the baby or anyone else in this room?"
"No, of course not!"
"Then you are the perfect person." It was a cool use of logic.
Harry returned to the exchange. "Mrs. Weasley, our two options are to use this necklace or use Legilimency to rip the information from her mind. That’s not exactly considered â€˜friendly light’ magic either. Even then she could fight, us on it, especially if she has training and it will take time, even for Dumbledore."
Dumbledore nodded sadly. "I still would like you to reconsider this course of action, Harry."
"All due respect sir, but you’ve had to make the difficult choice or two in my lifetime. I’ll bear the responsibility for this one."
Molly Weasley thought it over. She looked at her husband and the ghost of her dead son. "Percy, what do you think?"
"I know you will do what is in my child’s best interest." He answered.
"I’ll do it Harry. Show me what to do."
They used a knife to draw blood from her hand and dripped the blood over the necklace. Penny started struggling desperately with Bill and now Ron holding her. She started screaming vulgarities at everyone as Molly picked up the necklace and headed towards her daughter in law with a determined look on her face.
"No! Keep that away from me you bitch! Don’t you put that on me! They’ll make you suffer. You’ll all die for this! No! No! No!" Penny screamed as the necklace clasp was fastened. Her eyes darted around wildly and seemed to glaze over as she met Molly’s gaze. Her screams dropped to a whimper and faded completely.
"You’ll never control me." Penny said glaring at Molly.
"Sit down Penny." The shocked expression on Penny’s face as she immediately sat down on the floor was priceless.
"You bitch! You’ll pay for this. I’ll make sure of it."
"You are no longer allowed to say foul language Penny. It will not be tolerated. When you speak it will be as a proper lady or not at all."
"You b-b-b-b-b! I urgh!" Penny tried to articulate, but could not pronounce the words.
"You will not be allowed to leave this house with out my express permission. You are not allowed to Apparate, Portkey or use the Floo for travel or messaging, whatsoever. You will not physically or magically harm anyone in this household. Do you understand me?"
"Yes." Penny’s shallow reply sounded defeated.
"Yes, what?" Molly demanded.
"Yes, Mrs. Weasley."
Molly sat there for an instant. Her lips pursed in both thought and anger. The most unnerving thing happened next, Molly Weasley smiled. It was not the usual warm motherly smile everyone was used to seeing. It was cold and calculating. "No, Mrs. Weasley is far too formal and I think we know how you truly feel about all of us. So please Penny, call me Mum."
Penny looked like she had been physically slapped. "I will not address you in that manner!"
"Yes you will. Say my name."
"You’re a loathsome sack of Mum! You’re Mummy Weasley! You’re Mrs. Mum! Molly Mum! No!" Penny screamed sobbing into her hands.
"Hermione, be a dear and get some paper. We’re going to find out everything she told them and whatever else she might know."
Severus Snape was a man who was used to getting his way. Even this careful line he had always walked was still done on his terms. His steps carried him in circles around his passageway outside the headmaster’s office. His life was lived on his terms and though circumstances often limited his choices, it was still his choice to make. He should not have gone to see the looks on Potter’s fans after the girl sprang her trap. His lord had asked that he observe and report. They had even created a contingency plan to lure Dumbledore into a trap with false information. No one had anticipated the arrival of her dead husband’s ghost. Snape complimented himself on smoothly handing over his spare wand. How stupid are these people? It would have been so easy to kill the smug looking Bellatrix wannabe and use her body to shield himself. No wonder she is a miserable failure as an Auror!
It was a testament to his quick thinking that he was able to come up with a convincing excuse on the spot. He wasn’t certain if it was from so much practice, or their stupidity. He chided himself yet again when it came to his mental blind spot — Potter. Something about the boy outraged him on a basic level. It was no longer about the ghost of his dead arrogant father. It was no longer about the attractive Mudblood who wrapped everyone around her finger. He wouldn’t have minded a go at Lily Evans, but he wasn’t a simpering, leering, obsessing creature like Pettigrew. No, this was about Potter and his posturing and bravado. That he is the one who possess the power. His recent successes and engagement to that feeble witch had the boy strutting around the Mongrel’s manor house with a pompousness that would make Draco Malfoy proud.
He hated all the little maggots that crawled the hallways, even the little Slytherins. Each class became progressively worse. His method for recommending his prefects — visualizing each student and deciding which one he least wanted to flay alive. Still the maggots had their uses. Most above fourth year he could tolerate in a conversation for short periods of time. In some ways being head of Slytherin house was worse than the others. Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and the Huffletwits were infested with Muggleborn, who were relishing in the â€˜newness’ of being magical. His students almost without fault were from pureblooded households. The gross corruption in society had a trickle down effect, where some of the pampered princes and princesses came to a school and were surprised that a house elf did not deliver their breakfast on a sterling silver platter to their dorm rooms. He never took off points, but Filch always helped him break the first years of their little notions. A few parents would protest their heir or heiress reports of horrible unwarranted detentions scrubbing things by hand or cleaning urinals, but more found it refreshing to see someone willing to discipline their child.
Every year he would gather the entire house the night after the sorting in an empty classroom and duel the both seventh year prefects individually in front of all of them. After dispatching the two of them, he would take on all four fifth and sixth year prefects at the same time. They were usually cowed by whatever he had just done to the two seventh years to be very effective. It was simple and brutal way of showing the house who was on top and it tended to make the younger years think twice before approaching him with such a trivial problem.
So, it was he paced before the gargoyle waiting for the headmaster to return where he would receive a mild tongue lashing followed by several repetitions of â€˜I’m very disappointed in your conduct.’ Whereupon, Severus would promise yet again to curb his anger toward whatever was up the old relic’s anal cavity this time. Having weathered the torture curse delivered by the Dark Lord anything the headmaster could offer was paltry at best.
His master would be angered by Clearwater’s failure. It would be interesting to see how much the Dark Lord cared for Dolohov’s illegitimate spawn. If indeed the Dark Lord actually cared for the girl, Severus would be curious to see his reaction. Dolohov will demand immediate action. Realistically, Severus did not like his chances attempting a solo rescue from that place.
Ten more minutes of waiting and the gargoyle moved aside, signifying that the headmaster had returned to his office. As he started up the stairs, the mark in his arm burned. It informed him that the Dark Lord also desires a moment of his time. It was convenient, as he had already planned to leave Dumbledore with this excuse whether it occurred or not.
"Interesting party you have here, Harry. Dark artifacts, traitorous spies, and delicious cake — we can’t forget the cake." Remus said walking up beside Harry. Harry had moved into the parlor for the moment not wishing to here Penelope’s droning voice anymore, knowing that every person in this house had now become a higher priority on Riddle’s â€˜to do’ list. He saw Neville’s face twist in anger when Penny suggested how easy it would be to capture the Lovegoods in Sweden. Dumbledore had left after that, to speak with Snape and see if warning could be sent to the Lovegoods.
"Definitely not my best birthday ever." Harry answered wryly.
"Here this is for you." Remus handed him a very old book. The faded title was â€˜The Ultimate Art — Conjuration’. "Now that you are almost done with Apparation, young hit wizard, I think it is time to put that raw potential inside you to the test. I’m not in Dumbledore or Minerva’s league, but I’m no slouch. I can get you started. Would you like to try something now?"
"Sure let’s go to the library." Harry said wanting to get away from the crowd surrounding Penny at the kitchen table. They were currently trying with mixed results to describe each room in Riddle’s headquarters. Hermione, Lisa and Terry Boot were attempting to draw a rough map of the place. Harry was shocked to learn that Pettigrew had created a map table similar to the Marauder’s Map. Remus responded that the rat had been rather gifted at charms and runes. He had not been tops in the class, but Peter had been a contributing member to the pranks. Primarily, James and Sirius would dream up the pranks and James, Peter and Remus would try and turn it into reality.
"So what exactly did Padfoot bring to the equation?" Harry asked.
"He was pretty much in charge of implementation. Once we managed to design the potion or whatever, Sirius would plan when, where and how. He and James also brought the galleons." Remus replied opening the library door.
"So what would you like to me to try first?" Harry said looking at the book in his hands.
"Well open it to the page two hundred and ten. Hagrid was telling me that he lost his axe in France. I think Hagrid will appreciate it even more if it is from you. The shape is a fairly basic, wood for the handle and silver for the blade."
"The werewolves are getting restless and a full moon is coming." Remus said shrugging.
For the next two hours, Harry worked under Remus’ watchful eye crafting the handle and blade. The temporary axes were done in steel to allow Remus to test the balance â€˜feel’ of the weapon. Harry wondered where Remus had previously wielded an axe. It was probably better not to ask. Remus taught him the how to push past what was called the crossover point. In arithmetical terms it is the point where the wizard or witch manages to push enough power into the conjuration to make it permanent. Remus demonstrated by having Harry conjure flatware first temporary and finally permanent. Harry was tired when he finished the piece. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was balanced and it looked dangerous.
Harry knew he was still pushing too much power into his conjurations. The true art is to use enough power to make it real. Conjuration was known to be one of the more wasteful branches of magic, which is why extremely capable conjurers were the ones with an intrinsic grasp of their own magic and limits. They talked while they worked, Remus asked for the specific wording of the prophecy. After Harry played a quick game of twenty questions to ensure that Moony was exactly who he said he was, they spoke for a few moments about possible interpretations. Harry even told Remus about him joking with Dumbledore that by arranging the ambush, it may have been possible for someone to kill Riddle. Mooney acknowledged the possibility, but was a bit skeptical.
"Any more interesting items in your magic room?" Remus asked while Harry was taking a breather after finishing Hagrid’s gift.
"Yes." He said simply.
"Care to elaborate?"
"Not really. If Hagrid is going to come across werewolves, I do have a knife that drips silver like a poison if a sickle is placed in the handle. Do you think he would like it?"
"Yes. I do believe he would. I recall Sirius mentioned that his family had such a dagger at one point." Moony answered shivering at the idea.
"I’ll get it before we head back. Anything else you want to talk about?"
"How are you and Susan getting along?"
"All in all, I think we are doing pretty well. I think I am getting the better end of the deal, but she seems to think otherwise. How about you and Tonks?"
Remus groaned. "She’s been making excuses to avoid me. Her loss of her ability is really starting to get to her."
"Too bad we can’t give her a kick in the arse. Wait one damn minute! Maybe we can. I bet Ginny still has some left over Polyjuice. I think her parents confiscated it. What if she drinks it and changes? Maybe that could kick start her abilities again."
Remus looked as if someone had just pointed out that the sun rises in the east. "Merlin! Such and obvious answer, I can’t believe no one has ever thought of it. It’s worth a try. Go ahead and get that knife. I’ll go talk to Arthur. Remus practically ran out of the room like a kid heading for the dessert bar at a buffet.
Not ten minutes later, Tonks was standing in the room library wonder what was going on. Remus and Arthur had returned with the contraband and they caught Mandy Brockelhurst on her way up to use the loo and persuaded her to donate a strand of hair to the cause. When Harry and Remus explained their idea, Tonks looked skeptical. It was if she was refusing to allow herself any hope. Finally, Remus convinced her to take the Polyjuice. They watched her switch from the version of Bellatrix into Mandy. Tonks stood for a minute admiring a different face in the mirror, almost relishing it.
Remus spoke, "Okay now take it slow, and change your hair color." Tonks closed her eyes and the straight brown hair normally belonging to Mandy changed to blonde. Delighted, she immediately did her best Hannah then Chelsea Abbott impersonations.
"What happens when the potion runs its course? Do you think I’ll still be able to do it?" Tonks sounded a bit hysterical.
"What spell did he cast at you?" Arthur asked.
"Dunno. He hissed at me."
"So he might have said the spell in Parseltongue."
"Wait let me grab Susan’s Pensieve." Harry went into the sanctuary. He paused for a moment at the bowl as he removed the memories and put them back into his head. He got to relive all his terrifying moments from his adventures. It was not exactly how he wanted to spend the rest of his birthday with those memories fresh in his head. Unfortunately, Pensieves can hold memories from only one individual at a time and Tonks needed it right now. The also had none of the special vials used to preserve memories available. They were on the shopping list for the next time someone ventured into Diagon Alley.
He returned to find everyone waiting expectantly. "Sorry, I had to remove the memories that were in the bowl already. Tonks, could you show me the whole battle against him. I want to see how Moody and Kingsley tried to fight him?"
"Okay, Harry." Tonks answered in a quiet voice. She concentrated for a solid minute and then withdrew the memory. Remus offered to accompany Harry into the memory. Tonks wanted nothing to do with it. She actually looked a bit uncomfortable with Remus going along into her memory, but said nothing.
Seconds later Harry and Remus stood in the middle of the central chamber. They watched Riddle send his two death eaters away and challenge the four of them. The both moved over to stand next to Riddle and listen to the spells he was casting. Remus interjected on several describing the details of the spell. On a few, Remus was clearly stumped, such as one of the near fatal curses Kingsley barely withstood. Harry looked at the meager wounds suffered by Riddle and the type of armor he was using.
"Maybe Hagrid can identify it?" Harry shouted over the din of the melee. Harry ducked reflexively as several of Moody’s curses passed through him. Alastor Moody’s death was sad in a pathetic sort of way after Kingsley’s shockingly violent death. They followed Riddle up the steps and listen to him torment Tonks. Finally, when he hissed at her Harry only heard him say the following in Parseltongue.
"Stupid, ignorant bitch!"
The memory ended and they removed their heads. "What was the spell?" Tonks demanded almost frantically.
"There was no spell beyond his imperious curse. He just insulted you in Parseltongue."
"He cast a spell!"
"No, he didn’t!"
"He had to have cast a spell. Tell me what it was!" There was a slightly crazed look in Chelsea Abbott’s eyes as Tonks continued impersonating her. It was slightly disconcerting. She was moving slightly aggressively towards Harry.
"I think I understand." Remus said causing everyone to stop and look at him. "He used the oldest trick in the book, the power of suggestion. He told you he was going to do it. You believed that he could do it and you haven’t allowed yourself to do it ever since, because of your fear of him. How ironic, such a powerful man using a simple Muggle trick like that."
"No! He cast a spell on me! I know he did. I know it!" Tonks sank to the ground sobbing. Remus picked her tiny frame up and held her while she cried against him. Harry waved his wand and put the Pensieve back in his sanctuary. He then looked at Arthur Weasley, who had gathered the axe and knife and then both left the library leaving the werewolf to help his Metamorphmagus through the mental scars left from the battle.
Lord Voldemort sat in his chair at the twelve o’clock position on the circular table. He stroked his pet Nagini as he waited for some news. He was ill suited to waiting. If the plan worked, it would be a major coup. Severus would be and they would bait the trap for Dumbledore. There were only a few of his death eaters present in the room. Antonin’s report of his daughter’s progress was encouraging. Peter had already been dispatched to Sweden to speak of his encounter with something called a crumple horned Snorkack. Potter was shaping up to be a worthy adversary. It would be interesting to see if he would cave and tell him the prophecy, or sacrifice a friend.
The meeting with the Werewolves had gone well. The downtrodden dark creatures were at their breaking point and even Scrimgeour’s ascension could not stop that piece from being fitted into his puzzle. Lord Voldemort’s political allies and minions were doing their best to stymie the new government, but the new Minister was riding a crest of public opinion, or desperation. Potter’s backing had driven off the paralyzing dissension that had plagued the Wizengamot. His rival’s dalliance with the Goblins was an intriguing move. It could reap massive dividends or it could explode in his face. Dumbledore clearly had nothing to do with it. It was far too reckless of a stratagem for the â€˜leader of the light’. Scrimgeour’s first act was to form a volunteer defense force offering surprisingly good pay to mediocre Wizards and Witches to be a defense auxiliary to the Aurors. He had detailed Malfoy and Faircloth to monitor and impede this recruiting. Faircloth even went so far as to suggest that Scrimgeour might want the volunteer force to fail, to justify outright conscription. Eliminating Potter now would virtually topple Scrimgeour’s administration.
Unfortunately for every two steps forward, karma forced him backward. The meeting with the Vampires was a complete unmitigated disaster. He had Antonin dispatch one of the death eaters under him to the Vampires clan in Italy, to demand restitution and made sure that the messages to the other three clans included the duplicity. The Vampires in France were a given. Some were already trying to make inroads to the Veela communities there. It was possible, but doubtful that either the Italian or Czech clans would join now. The Czech emissary was a favored one of the leader of that clan. The fourth was leaning his way. Parkinson’s capture was not important, but Nott’s death was a bit more damaging. He had been a competent fighter and while not nearly as rich as the Malfoys had been before the bitch’s defection, the Nott family did help line his coffers with galleons.
Periodically, he glanced down at the map table at the apparition point and wondered if today the Universe would bend to his will or rise to thwart him again. He had already summoned Snape once. Perhaps a seconds summoning with a taste of pain through the Dark Mark would remind Severus that Lord Voldemort does not like to be kept waiting.
"You! Come here!" He barked at a woman standing at one of the tables in the corner working on large rolls of parchment. She was perhaps in her late forties, one of the Azkaban inductees. She hurried over to him kneeling before him and kissed the hem of his robe. Nagini lowered her face down to see the woman, making the already frightened woman shake even more violently.
"Yes Master." Her trembling voice asked.
"What is your name?"
"Helen Edgecombe, milord."
"Ah yes. You are working on ways to subvert the Floo system for use. How is the work progressing?"
"Tracking will be relatively easy to accomplish. Once we acquire a copy of the Ministry’s magical signature database and an up to date copy of the Floo grid it can be operational within two months. The second phase is more likely twelve to fourteen months away. It will involve Floo redirection, whether it is something trivial like directing emergency calls to our fireplaces, so that they are never answered to outright kidnapping a person during Floo travel. I have participated in several research groups where the theory was hypothesized. There is a pair of Americans who may be of use to us. I have asked Lucius for permission to contact them. Their voluntary participation could shave as many as four months off the second phase."
"I will speak with Lucius on this matter. The idea of controlling a critical piece of the infrastructure appeals to me. Are you at a critical moment to interrupt your work?"
Voldemort mentally chuckled knowing that it was doubtful that even if she had been about to discover the secrets of the universe, that she would say so. She radiated fear as he recalled that she was one of Fudge’s more capable supporters.
"Your arm, please my dear. I must contact one of my wayward devotees and remind him that my patience has its limits. This will hurt quite a good deal, as you will be the conduit that carries my subtle reminder to him. If I had it to do all over again, I would have tried to work some of those flaws out, but it is still one of my most complex and successful ventures into blood magic."
Helen Edgecombe offered her arm to her Dark Master again regretting the choices in her life that had delivered her to this point. The searing pain coursed through her body seconds later caused her to convulse in agony. It didn’t approach the torture curse, but the pain was not easily ignored.
The few others in the room attempted to act like nothing was amiss, most likely while giving thanks to whatever powers they prayed to that it was not them.
He looked down on the quivering mass of flesh on the floor before him knowing that only about one quarter of the actual pain was sent on to Severus. It was terribly inefficient. To cause him substantial pain would have required the use of the torture curse. He was willing to wait until Severus was here in person to use that particular punishment. He watched the woman crawl away from him and struggle to stand. Regaining some composure, she tried to walk as gracefully as possible back to her rolls of parchment and diagrams of the Floo system.
Lord Voldemort was forced to wait two more minutes before the dot on the map with the label â€˜Severus Snape’ attached to it appeared at the apparition point and started towards the main chamber. While he waited he lazily summoned two rats from the cage in the storeroom. The lower animals chattered in horror as Nagini snatched them out of the air one after the other.
"Go and digest your meal in the warm sunlight, my most loyal companion." He hissed watching the reptilian monster slither away from him. If he timed his command correctly, Severus should be opening the door right about now. The Dark Lord smiled in amusement as Snape opened the door to a face full of giant snake with two large lumps in its body. Nagini gave a warning hiss to the man as she passed by him.
"Come in and report, Severus. I do not like to be kept waiting."
"My apologies, Master, I was detained by the old fool. Your goddaughter has failed."
"She was undone by the ghost of her dead husband."
"And why did you not know of this beforehand?" Voldemort allowed his face to show a momentary display of surprise.
"The ghost appeared only this morning and you will recall that I was here this morning assisting you with planning the trap that was planned for Dumbledore upon the completion of her task."
Voldemort looked back at his servant, "Is it my imagination or is Dumbledore beginning to isolate you from the details of his operation. Penny’s letter contained much information that would have been normally accessible by you. There are two possibilities. Either you are deliberately withholding information from me or you’re the old fool no longer trusts you. I believe you too smart for the former, so let us assume the latter."
"Milord I am loathe to admit it, but I must agree with your assessment. I am uncertain of how much longer my position among them will last. The only thing positive out of this is that I will most likely never have to teach a whimpering eleven year old how to make a boil clearing potion ever again."
"Still your original mission…"
"Yes, Master. I will make every effort to retrieve the full prophecy. Dumbledore has already released the known portion to the rest of his Order. Potter knows. I am certain his bitch knows as well. I hope to be able to use one to get it from the other."
"It is a serviceable plan. Kidnapping one will do as well. I’d rather you get Potter, but his woman will do in a pinch."
"What do they intend to do with Penny?"
"I am not certain. Dumbledore sent me back to the school to wait for him."
"Find out. I will need you to work with Antonin to formulate options for her retrieval."
"Yes, Milord." Severus said realizing that his master did indeed wish to see his goddaughter rescued. Unfortunately, the charm protecting the house would not allow him to knowingly breach it. They had tried several elaborate plans with Snape stunning several death eaters and trying to make a Portkey there or activate a pre-made key with the intent of waking them up as soon as the arrived, but the magic of the charm refused to allow him to make the Portkey to the hidden headquarters. Several of his inner circle was attempting to provide a way for the Dark Lord to break the Fidelius charm on the oppositions headquarters.
"I wonder how much the ghost learned while he was here? You will need to find that out as well. I suspect dear Albus will be calling a meeting of his little club to discuss Penelope. Learn what you can by any means you deem necessary."
Severus rose, knowing that he had been dismissed. He yearned for a world free of Dumbledores, Potters and Dark Lords. Unfortunately, the simple reality was his side was chosen a long time ago when he took the mark on his arm.
"It’s a thing of beauty. You do great work, nice smooth lines and well balanced to boot." Hagrid said hefting the axe. The half-giant thumped Harry on the back hard enough to rattle Harry’s spinal column. "I’ll make sure to put it to good use."
"I was hoping to get some tips on shooting a crossbow from you."
Hagrid let a rather uncharacteristically dark expression across his face. "Don’t really know when I’ll be free, but any spare time I have is yours Harry. I’ll send word through Remus if I am going to be around. The knife is a fine piece of work, but something about this axe really gets me right here."
The two men exchanged smiles before Harry was enveloped into yet another powerful embrace.
"Well I best be off. Remus and I have some things to be talking about. Keep showing them who is boss and that Harry Potter isn’t someone to be messed with."
Harry watched Hagrid and Remus leave. Remus reminded him to rest up for more apparition and conjuration tomorrow. He gathered that Hagrid would be on a dangerous mission soon from the way he was acting. Harry was tempted to pressure him for the details, but a look back to the kitchen table for the beginning of the fourth hour of Penelope Clearwater-Weasley’s interrogation dissuaded him from badgering his friend about it.
Ron came over after Remus and Hagrid had left. "Wicked looking axe you gave Hagrid. Was it another of the Black family items?"
"No. I made it with Remus’ help. He’s starting to show me conjuration. It’s pretty tiring, but amazing at the same time!"
"You’ll have to show me how to do it. I’ve always wanted to make a sword. Right now I could think of a pretty good use for it." Ron said looking at his traitorous sister-in law.
"I suppose normally this is the part where one of us reminds the other that we’re not supposed to sink to their level, but for the life of me I want that bitch dead." Harry replied.
Another voice joined there conversation, the ethereal voice of a dead man, "I am somewhat torn. I wish for my son to grow up with a mother, but I’d rather it not be her. Harry, it is late in coming, but I wish to apologize for my actions while I was among the living. I was too proud to admit that I was wrong and too stupid to come back to the family and admit my mistakes. I let her talk me out of trying to reconcile a dozen times in the past month."
"I don’t know if it means anything, Percy, but I don’t hold any kind of grudge against you. Perhaps, I can put you into contact with Minister Scrimgeour. He may be able to use you even in your present state."
"Provided my child is in safe hands, I don’t see why not. My knowledge of how the government works and how it doesn’t work could be useful to Mr. Scrimgeour."
Harry, Ron and Percy continued to chat. Harry even brought up some of the stories Charlie Weasley had told him on the night Percy was murdered. A couple of them Ron had never heard. It was both humorous and awkward at the same time. Harry had never known someone who had been living and was now a ghost. Percy was equally surprised that Charlie had been commandeered by Narcissa Black as both a bodyguard and apparently boy toy.
Susan came over to join the group. She came up and hugged Harry. Susan’s hugs were normally soft and gentle things. This one had a great deal of tension and power behind it.
"How bad is it?" Harry asked.
"Pretty bad. She got off two letters. The first one named names. The second one was full of interesting observations like Hannah and Chelsea’s talents among other things."
"It’s okay. We’ll get by."
"It is not okay. I almost lost you!" She hissed squeezing tighter.
"Easy there tigress; you’re not getting rid of me that easily." He said running his hand along her braid. She enjoyed having her hair played with. Ron and Percy drifted away from the two of them — in Percy’s case the drifting was literal.
"Not exactly a happy birthday. Was it?"
Harry thought back on a day that had started out with so much promise. Only to have it end in treachery, lies and deceit. Not to mention having to put all his â€˜adventures’ back into his head from the Pensieve.
"No I don’t suppose it was. But the good news is, I’m still here, I’ve got you and with a little luck something that slimy bitch tells us will allow us to strike back at him." Harry said finishing with a kiss.
Author’s notes — Well here’s another installment. Why are most 6th year AU stories fixiated on making Harry's birthday 'his best birthday ever'? As always, full discussion and fun on Darklordpotter(dot)net. -- Jim