Coastal gale force winds, watch out for falling termites
Apologies for the delay in getting this chapter out. I moved to the other side of the world with two daughters under three, found a place to live and got a new job. So things have been a little
more intensive than usual.
Thanks again go to my beta Dave and the chaps and chapettes at the Place-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named.
The sudden scrape of wooden hoops along dowel (accompanied by the sudden burst of morning light through what had up until then been the curtain-covered bedroom window) pulled me unexpectedly from my slumber. With a loud groan, I covered my eyes with my forearm and rolled away from the unholy light. “Piss off!” I wheezed at the universe.
“Oh no, I’ve been tidying up your mess all bloody night. You don’t get to sleep while I’m up.”
Through sleep-encrusted eyes I stared blearily at my girlfriend. The golden light from the window gave her sleep-blurred form a messianic look. “What time is it?” I asked in a hoarse voice.
Though I couldn’t make it out, her voice told me that Blaise had an evil smirk. “Just after eight.”
Her answer made me groan once more. “Three and a bit hours sleep does not a happy Harry make,” I grumbled, grabbing a pillow and covering my face with it.
“Oh stop complaining you big baby. We had close to a hundred panicking people arrive after midnight, all sure that the end was nigh. Then, we had all their relatives arrive, and all of them were panicking and screaming about how the light graze on their precious little bubby’s cheek was a life-threatening injury. We had reporters, politicians, Aurors and the occasional sick person all milling about screaming for six hours. I’ve been working my arse off all night.”
“So have I,” I pointed out, my voice muffled by the thick, fluffy pillow.
She snorted and pulled the pillow away from my face. “You blew stuff up and stole people’s property. You don’t get paid to do it; therefore it does not count as work. Now spill!”
I ground the heels of my hands into my eyes, rubbing the sleep away. “Spill what?”
She gave a growl of annoyance herself. “How did last night go, idiot? From the rumours flying around St. Mungo’s, you’d have thought that war had broken out.”
I took a deep breath. “LXM’s factory is probably still burning. I got jumped by twenty-four Aurors, but I left twenty-three of them under a Notice-Me-Not charm, buck naked and tied up in a conga line.” I pointed towards a bag I’d left on the floor of my bedroom. “Their uniforms, wands, and some hair samples are all in there.”
Blaise gasped, and looked for a moment seemingly incapable of speaking. “Y-you took on twenty-four Aurors? And won?!”
I coughed a couple of times, shifting a night’s worth of ash, dust and phlegm. “Not exactly. I was under my cloak when they arrived. I took a few of them down before they saw me, and lured the rest away from the building. Once they were clear enough, I blew it up. I was ready for the shock wave, they weren’t. The blast knocked them down, and I took the opportunity to stun them. Afterwards, I just couldn’t resist humiliating two-dozen Ministry employees.”
Blaise seemed a bit relieved at my answer, but was sharp enough to spot the discrepancy. “Did you miss one?”
I nodded, lying back and covering my eyes. “Tonks. I apparated with her to the road to Hogsmeade, woke her up, and gave her an offer to join me.”
Blaise blinked. “I know you wanted to bring others on board, but an Auror? Are you insane?”
I shook my head. “Nope. I want her to go back to the Ministry and to Dumbledore, and tell them that I was recruiting her. At least one of them will probably encourage her to do so undercover, and I can start passing misinformation back to the old man and the Ministry.”
Blaise plopped down on the bed next to me. “Your plan isn’t really so complicated that you need to start playing with double-agents. Is such a risk really necessary?”
I shrugged. “For my final gambit, it would make it easier if a trusted source of information sent them in the wrong direction.”
She frowned at me. “How do you intend to make sure that she’s a trusted source? If you pass misinformation through her back to the Order and Ministry, they’ll soon know not to trust the information she gives them.”
I blinked my eyes, getting them as focused as possible without my glasses. “Not if they don’t think it’s misinformation.”
Blaise plonked herself down on the bed next to me gracelessly. “Fair enough. So, what’s next on the agenda?”
I coughed again. “Three things. Third, Croaker’s head.”
She looked at me carefully. “You really want to kill him?”
I nodded slowly. “I know I shouldn’t. I’ve been trying to put what he did out of my mind, to see if looking back on it dispassionately changes things. But it doesn’t. I want to kill him. I want to hurt him. I want him to pay for what he did.”
Blaise just looked at me silently. Eventually, she said, “I won’t help you do this. I can’t. And I will do what I can to talk you out of it.”
I nodded. “I know. I need you to do that; to tell me when I’m doing the right thing for the wrong reason, or the wrong thing for the right reason. Besides, Hermione has more right than I to veto this.”
“Granger won’t let you kill him.”
I grinned. Even through my fatigue, the smile came easily. “Oh, I know. But I doubt she’d mind if he managed to kill himself. I just need to work out what sort of trap to set.” I grinned wryly, less painfully now that I was becoming accustomed to the brightness of the room. “I already have the bait.”
Blaise pursed her lips. “And second?”
“My wand,” I said shortly. “I want it back, and I’ll take Malfoy Manor apart stone by stone to get it.”
She nodded. “I understand. But are you sure Draco has taken your wand to Malfoy Manor? He’s trying to let the world believe that he’s dead; living in his ancestral home doesn’t exactly strike me as being the most cunning plan.”
I shrugged. “Maybe. But my guess is that I’ll find him going through others. He was always chummy with Parkinson at school; maybe I should visit her parents and have a rummage around.”
“Around their house? They won’t have left anything on display that would point to him.”
I shook my head. “No! Around their minds.”
Blaise made a face. “Ugh. I always get nauseous whenever I try Legilimency. Great-grandfather always said that I had no real talent for it.”
“You should use the Imperius your subject first. That makes it much easier.”
“Huh, I suppose it would at that. So, what’s first on the agenda?” she asked, quite calm at my casual suggestion to use an Unforgivable.
“What it always has been,” I said dramatically. I struck a pose, pointing my index finger towards the ceiling. “To take over the world!”
She hit me with a pillow. “Prat. Ron’s downstairs, if you want to go and say hello.”
I frowned, both because she called him by his first name and because he was actually in the house. “What’s he doing here?”
She snorted. “Trying to empty the larder, I think. Here,” she said, slapping a newspaper on my chest. “Go and see your friend while I wash up.” She rolled off the bed and stood straight, lifting her robes over her head. I lay back to enjoy the sight.
Hey, you’ve got to take advantage of life’s simple pleasures.
The morning papers had little detail about my efforts last night, but I suppose that was to be expected, given how late it had been when I forcibly spread LXMs inventory around the English countryside. The Bobbins trouble was not even mentioned, and Matthias had simply managed to place a late ad, offering employment to any brewer who had certain qualifications, no questions asked.
The LXM factory bombing was front page news. There was bugger all in the way of facts; the story was basically a great number of quotes from the poor victims on site. An unnamed spokeswizard for LXM condemned the attack, lamenting that there were now hundreds of people out of work, and that St. Mungo’s and other medical institutions would now not have a guaranteed supply of medical potions and salves.
“Fun night?” a familiar voiced asked with a hard edge as I wandered into the kitchen, head deep in the paper.
I looked over the top of the Prophet at Ron, who’d asked the question around a large mouthful of muesli. “Some of it, yeah,” I replied.
“How come you didn’t give me an invitation to come along?” he asked, spraying tiny particles of breakfast cereal.
I raised an eyebrow. “Because I need all of you to have rock-solid alibis should this whole plan go pear-shaped,” I said firmly. “You know that. I’m sorry if you think I’m stealing all your fun, but this is something that I can get away with because I’m dead. Besides, you’re not angry, you’re waiting for me to tell you what happened.”
He nodded encouragingly. “Well, go on then. Tell me what happened!” He shoved another heaped spoonful of grains into his mouth.
I waited until he had chewed the mouthful a few times before picking just the right time to answer. “I gave an Auror an offer to join us.”
Ron’s eyes and cheeks bulged, and he gave the kitchen table a sort of pebble-dash finish. I had to hold the paper up to avoid getting hit with a fine spray of milky mist. “Are you crazy?” he demanded.
I shook my head. “Oh, mate, look what you’ve done,” I said despairingly. “I honestly didn’t think people actually did spit-takes in real life.”
He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “You did that on purpose!”
I shrugged, not bothering to deny it. He wouldn’t believe me, and in any event, it was true. “There’s a smoking field where Target One used to be, a Fidelius up around Target Two, and Target Three is on board.”
Ron rolled his eyes, and loaded another ladleful. “Getting details out of you is like a bloody potions lesson, you know?” he said sourly, before chomping down on the new mouthful.
Again I waited for a few chews. “I also left three squads of Aurors butt naked and tied up to each other in a compromising position.”
Heh. This time he got bits of the table he missed the first time.
“That’s it,” Ron spat, again wiping his mouth with his sleeve. “You need someone to come along with you. Not to help you, but to keep you from doing something stupid.”
I could hardly keep a chuckle from bubbling up through my throat. “By ‘stupid’, I assume you mean, ‘so much fun I’m not missing the next time’?”
Ron sent a rude gesture towards me. “I’m flying with you next time. I don’t care about alibis, plausible deniability, or giving statements to the Prophet after the fact. I’m going next time.”
I nodded. “All right. What I have in mind could use some backup. Finish your breakfast, and meet me in the library.”
The next few days turned out to be rather busy. For my friends at least.
The Ministry announced my state funeral. In a delightful act of civil disobedience, Hermione and Blaise waited until the event had been formally scheduled before announcing a private event for precisely the same date and time. In the true tradition of bastardry, they then invited just about everyone I’d ever spoken to in the Wizarding World to that wake, noting on the invitation that if the ‘official’ funeral changed time, so would theirs’.
I couldn’t wait to see what the Ministry would do when not a single one of my friends turned up to their PR event. No friends, classmates, hell, not even my teachers would be there. I wonder who they’d get to speak.
The fact that two dozen Aurors were overcome at the LXM potion factory was leaked, which appeared to send a wave of panic through at least one specific subsection of the population – those who had enough time on their hands to send letters to the editor of the Prophet. Calls for old Scrim to resign were loud but ignored. A blanket ban on Aurors talking to the media was enacted, which presumably meant that the Prophet was still free to make up whatever quotes they liked, claiming they were from an anonymous source.
Two days after my night of larceny and arson, there was a riot in Diagon Alley. I had nothing to do with it. Well, directly, at any rate. Apparently some Muggle-born wizard was attacked by a pure-blood, or the pure-blood was attacked by the Muggle-born. Either way, when the Aurors showed up, they immediately placed the Muggle-born wizard under arrest, but not the pure-blood. The crowd that had gathered numbered quite a few with less than pure heritage, and things got ugly pretty quickly.
The result was fifteen arrests, twelve hospitalisations, and a lot of suddenly nervous Aurors. The idea that a large, armed, sub-section of the population would suddenly fight back against injustice seemed to rattle them. I suppose investigating the minor disagreements between wizards in a public place had been up til now relatively safe for them. They were having enough trouble with the thought that there was a single wizard out there who could take down three squads. The idea that the wizarding population at large wasn’t going to accept any bullying was quite alien.
Supposedly, recruitment was down and resignations were up, despite an increase in funding and a decrease in educational requirements. For some reason, people started thinking that being an Auror was dangerous…
The next day saw an attempt at rushing hastily-penned new laws through the Wizengamot. The standout contender for the ‘Law Which Would Never Be Enacted More Than Once’ stated, essentially, that anyone who so much stood in an Auror’s path could be charged with impeding him in his duty. Given the mood on the street after recent events, it would be a brave (i.e., Gryffindor) or stupid (i.e., Slytherin or (admittedly) Gryffindor) Auror who tried arresting someone over that one.
An honourable mention went to the law proposed by one Wizengamot member, who was obviously not living on the same planet as the rest of us. He submitted a draft bill that would make it illegal for a non-pure-blood witch or wizard to carry a wand in public.
I grinned tightly as I read the rest of the paper. It didn’t take any divination skill whatsoever to know that this wasn’t going to turn out well.
Just occasionally, I’d like to be able to plan to bring around the end of the Wizarding World without getting interrupted every five minutes. But interruptions were a big part of life, or at least a big part of my life. Given how things turned out the last time I’d received an unexpected communication from my account manager, it was with some trepidation that I flooed to Gringotts and made my way to Rilifa’s office.
“Mr. Potter, welcome, welcome. It’s nice to see you again. Please, sit down.”
I blinked at the completely unexpected courtesy from the ancient goblin. “Thanks,” I replied cautiously. “I got your owl.”
Rilifa nodded. “Yes, thank you for coming so quickly. Tea?”
I glanced around the room carefully. There didn’t seem to be anyone else here. “Are you performing for anyone in particular?”
She sighed, setting the teapot down and assuming her usual gruff demeanour. “No. I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
I narrowed my eyes at the cunning goblin. “You know of something that affects me, and you’re worried about my reaction.”
She held my gaze for a handful of seconds before nodding. “Yes. The Ministry is beginning to express quite an interest in the contents of your vaults.”
I raised an eyebrow. “From a taxation perspective? Or from a let’s-confiscate-everything-Harry-has perspective?”
Rilifa snarled, though it appeared to be at the Ministry, rather than me. “I wouldn’t presume to divine their motives. Periodically, we get requests for information on vault contents. For taxation purposes mostly, as you so succinctly guessed. In those cases, legally, we are required to give any information requested to both the Ministry and the owner of the vault.”
I grimaced. “But, because this is me, it’s different.”
She nodded. “Quite. The documents I provided for you to retain control of your financial affairs during your period of... official death... prevent the Ministry from obtaining information for estate tax until your will is probated. That is causing some consternation amongst the more goblin-like of the humans who work there, who are rather put out that they are not going to get a portion of your estate some months yet. That, however, is something they can do nothing about. No, we are coming under a rather undue amount of pressure for access to your personal vaults. Ostensibly to make sure no dark artefacts are being stored within, but such a request is unusual enough that it bears being noted.”
I thought for a second. “Pressure? From anyone in particular?”
Rilifa’s expression turned into what I could only describe as a ‘cat-butt’ look. “This request is anonymous, but insistent, which tends to mean it comes from the Unspeakables.”
Croaker? “All of my vaults? Or just one vault in particular?”
Rilifa paused. “The request is for access to your personal vaults.” She shuffled some papers on her desk. “Hmm, yes, the request is for access to a vault specified by number and all other personal vaults belonging to you.”
I tapped my chin. “Just my personal vaults? Not the Potter and Black family vaults?”
Rilifa shook her head. “Of course not. The Ministry would never create a precedent by accessing an Ancient House’s vaults. It would be political suicide for anyone to even attempt it. Requesting access to personal vaults however, is considerably less politically damaging.”
I tried to fight a grin from appearing. “How... fortuitous.”
That seemed to surprise her. “Fortuitous? Mr. Potter, I’m not sure you understand what I’m telling you.”
“That Christophe Croaker of the Department of Mysteries is trying to gain access to the vault that was originally opened by Regulus Black to confiscate the jewellery box that was stolen recently.”
Rilifa looked shocked. “I, er, yes.”
I rubbed my chin, thinking hard. “Has the door to that vault been repaired since the... theft?”
“I don’t see any reason Mr. Croaker shouldn’t have access to that particular vault. Just let me nip back home for a couple of things to put in there for him to find. Stonewall him as long as you usually do to avoid suspicion, and then allow him access, provided he agrees not to remove anything from the vault.”
Rilifa frowned. “He will not abide by that restriction. He will certainly take whatever he desires, by claiming it under the Department of Mysteries purview.”
I grinned at her evilly, so much so that she actually leaned back in her chair, looking apprehensive. “I know.”
I rose to my feet. “Move everything from each of my personal vaults into the Black family vaults. I suppose we’ll have to leave the three coins in Sirius’ old vault. I want them all empty before I get back.”
Rilifa’s eyes narrowed, not caring for my tone or my orders. “Am I going to regret whatever your plans are for Mr. Croaker?”
I shrugged. “Not unless he is a particularly profitable customer.”
That got a small smile out of her.
“On the plus side,” I continued, “it may even stop the Ministry from attempting to gain access to your other customers’ vaults.”
That seemed to mollify her rather more than I had expected. She suddenly looked rather keen. Her smile gave even my vengeance-filled heart pause. “Well then, what are you waiting for?”
I flooed back home, suddenly rather eager to get away from the goblin. Hermione had been reluctant to talk about my plans for Croaker; had been reluctant to even discuss the man. For good reason, I suppose, my ideas always involved a great deal of pain and suffering. Dismembered body parts featured heavily also.
But she and Blaise were right that acting on those ideas was far different from simply fantasising about them. But as I told Blaise, Hermione would shed no tears if Croaker just happened to remove himself through self-chlorination of the gene-pool.
It took me two trips home and the rest of the afternoon, but I’d set up a wonderful welcome for our dear Mr. Croaker.
I checked my watch, and then went home one final time. I needed to get to bed early.
Ron and I had a big day coming up.
The crisp sea air blustered against my face, stinging my eyes with salt. The English Channel is the busiest shipping lane in the world, and from my vantage point, it showed.
Dozens of vessels, from tiny one-man yachts to gigantic tankers dotted the waterway beneath me. Hovering on my Firebolt, I almost got the feeling that the broom was offended by my decision to remain in place. It was built to go fast after all.
For about the twentieth time, I cast a detection charm, wondering when the blasted ship would come into range.
Carlton Benson, the inventory manager at the Parti Alley warehouse (of whom I had taken some liberal advantages recently), had been a little upset that Matthias had politely refused his offer to buy back the homeless stock at a discount. He got even more upset when my new partner refused to sell it back at the same price as he’d been charged. And I’d only seen Snape go that colour when Matthias even refused to sell back at increasingly healthy profits.
This of course meant that suddenly, the brand new warehouse Benson had rented was burning money, and he didn’t have a thing to fill it up with.
I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the sudden gap in the market, though my timing was better. Dozens of businesses, who up til now had been producing maybe ten cauldrons worth of potions a month, suddenly tripled their output, consuming their stores of ingredients in days. Hell, even people who’d only bought potions retail were suddenly buying cauldrons and ladles, presumably in order to brew what they couldn’t buy.
Bobbins were well placed to provide locally harvested ingredients to sate the sudden spike in demand, but had no way to produce potions on the same level they could before. While they weren’t really up to speed on Muggle business tactics, I didn’t think it would be long before they were sub-contracting their labour to several one-wizard shops. The Fidelius around their factory was holding up well. Over the first few days, it had been amusing to sit on the lawn at the edge of the Fidelius and watch surveyors, lawyers, businessmen, and labourers shout, point, and berate each other, especially when the building they were looking for was only spitting distance from where they were standing.
I prised my cold-stiffened hands from the Firebolt’s handle, and flexed my fingers. It wouldn’t do to miscast a spell due to stiff digits. I reapplied a warming charm, and resumed my vigil.
Benson had been, er, encouraged to splurge, and ordered a gigantic shipment of potion ingredients from his suppliers on the Continent. Usual means of magical travel tended to be bad for ingredients that had a low tolerance for sudden acceleration, flame or impact. This meant that there was quite a flourishing sea trade between the magical communities in different countries. The extra shipment Benson ordered was due to hit the wizarding enclave at the London docks in an hour, but it was nowhere in sight. Given how fast a container ship travels, it should have drifted beneath me hours ago.
I considered Blaise’s suggestion that the dock’s arrival and departure records could have been forged, in an effort to throw off the very scheme I had in mind, as I idly watched the largest oil and gas tanker I’d seen so far do some relatively intricate manoeuvres for such a behemoth. It wasn’t really critical if I missed the ship, or if it arrived early or late, or even if the cargo had been split over a number of boats. Ron would be hovering a few hundred metres above the docks soon, watching to see if and when the ship arrived. If Plan A failed, he’d enact Plan B. I grinned at the thought of all the ships near the docks having to get out of the way of Ron’s surprise. They’d almost have to do a naval dance to let all the ships and boats to safety.
Suddenly, I frowned, my thoughts on ships moving out of the way of other ships making a connection with what I was watching. Such a large ship in a waterway the size of the Channel shouldn’t have to move so. My heart leapt, and I once more cast a detection charm.
Still nothing. But I wasn’t convinced.
I flew straight down, halving my altitude in ten seconds. Closer to the water, I could make out the turbulence on the surface of the water originating from the supertanker. The sudden change of course had added an unexpected deviation in the chaotic stream. There was some other turbulence on the Channel’s surface that looked out of place, given that there was no ship visible for it to have originated from.
Damn, they’d hidden the ship and were using wards to keep the Muggle vessels from getting near it. And judging from the ‘tracks’ it was leaving, the ship was travelling at extraordinary speeds.
Sometimes, magic makes things bloody hard.
Again, my charm found nothing. Security had been upgraded.
Heh, who’d have thought that pure-bloods could learn.
Bloody inconvenient timing though.
I swooped down, trusting that my disillusionment charm was enough to prevent any Muggles on the nearby tanker seeing me. My original plan had been to conduct my affairs from above the ship, out of range of any defences. Without being able to see my target, I needed to actually land on the deck. A hassle, but not an entirely unforseen one.
I could easily make out the wash behind the invisible ship, I could see the unblemished sea in front of it, but I couldn’t make out exactly where the turbulence was generated. My eyes just slid over the area without registering what was actually there. I nodded in appreciation. It was a damned fine warding schema. Attaching such magic to a moving vessel was impressive work.
I gripped the Firebolt’s handle, and locked my eyes straight down. Positioning myself around five metres over the turbulence, I flew forward. The closer I got to the ship, the more I had to concentrate to keep my broom on course. Occluding my mind helped.
Under the mental strain, I almost missed the slight pressure change as I limped over the outer ward boundary. Wards that I had presumed to be passive turned offensive in an instant. For what seemed like a full minute, but was probably closer to seven or eight seconds, my senses were besieged with deafening chaotic shrieks, strobing lights and the stench of rotting flesh. If I hadn’t been Occluding like mad, the shock would have overwhelmed me. As it was, I couldn’t stop myself losing control of my broom.
My first glimpse of the ship was made as I descended increasingly rapidly towards the water. With the Firebolt in one hand, I managed to direct my descent enough that I landed on the deck, and slow it enough that I wasn’t killed on impact. Gasping hard, the wards finally expired, leaving me in the relatively dark, quiet and scentless midday ocean sun. The ship was hardly more than a large fishing trawler. Despite living in the Magical World for nearly half my life, I was still essentially a Muggle-born. Things that wouldn’t faze Ron still made me stop and think.
The little ship was bounding along, almost leaping from the top of one wave to the next. With each impact of hull on wave, an enormous geyser of seawater mist filled the air behind, making my eyes sting and water. If not for the impervious magic on my glasses, I’d have been blinded with salt water. The mixture of cold air and freezing water reminded me uncomfortably of my escape from Azkaban.
Through it all, I pushed myself up, standing gracelessly on the stern deck. I fell forward onto my knees with a thump as the desk surged, angling back in a most disconcerting manner. The pitching and heaving turned out to be a boon, as three spells from unseen assailants shot past me, well wide or high. My heart jumped with the excitement of battle.
Well, it looks like precision spells are out for this fight. Fortunately, I had a method of attack that required not so much an attack vector as a compass heading.
But I’d get to that later. Trading spells with an unknown number of partially visible opponents was idiotically suicidal, even Gryffindor-ish. I had no intention of inelegantly smashing my way through the ship’s defenses.
I aimed my wand off the starboard bow and summoned as much seawater as I could. A veritable tsunami washed over the railing and drenched the ship’s deck. I cancelled the magic before I was hit, just ending up with freezing legs as the icy Channel water pooled briefly around my shins, before sloshing off the deck and back into the sea. Curses shouted in Latin turned to swearing in French as the outline of several bodies became obvious among the deluge.
Inelegantly swamping the ship’s defenses was far more to my liking.
Attempting to apparate on a wildly pitching vessel sounded like a case study for Splinching Yourself 101, which left moving around under my own power. I took the time to shrink and pocket my Firebolt before setting up my shields. I estimated that I had around half a minute before they were brought down.
The mercenaries on board obviously thought that I was trying to hijack the ship. They positioned themselves in defensive formations around the cabin structure that housed the bridge. It would be highly unlikely that I would be able to enter without significant effort on my part, and casualties on theirs.
I grinned to myself. Talk about ‘assumption’ being the mother of all fuck ups. I had no intention of taking control of the vessel.
I used a sticking charm to fasten my feet to the deck, before tapping it with my wand, transfiguring the metal in the ship’s hull into weird, random shapes.
Instantly, the ship heaved and flexed as the bulkheads failed. What had been a smooth, hydrodynamic hull was now something that resembled a child’s clay sculpture.
I was thrown forward as the ship’s momentum was severely arrested. My ankles screamed in protest, since my feet were still stuck down to the deck. Despite the pain, I left the sticking charm in place. I had three very pointed object lessons in view about the results of not being tethered down when a ship loses structural integrity. It looked painful, though I’m sure that with medical attention, the three sailors would walk again.
A loud, low groan spread through the ship, and the sound of tearing steel filled the air, making my teeth ache. Rivets popped and shattered. In one giant heave, the entire vessel shuddered and turned to the starboard.
The sudden change of direction forced me to roll to my left. The further strain on my ankles sent a pulse of pain through my brain, helping to clear it of any lingering disorientation. Through the heaving chaos around me, I saw two of the wizards go overboard. A flash of light signalled the failing of the mobile wards. The ship was now visible to all.
I could hardly believe just how much damage to the ship my transfigurations had caused. I extracted my broom and cancelled the shrinking charm. I dispelled the sticking charm on my boots and leapt into the air, abandoning the trawler to the dubious mercy of the ocean and Muggle physics.
Like an explosion in slow motion, the expanding charms on the internals of the ship failed one by one, causing the whole vessel to simply disintegrate on the open water. Around twenty people were forcibly ejected from the ship as it fell apart. Most of them wore robes, which I imagine would be rather difficult to swim in.
A spell shot up at me, clipping my shield. At least one wizard below had kept his wits enough to fight back.
No matter. Not even a wizard as skilled as Dumbledore could hit me on my Firebolt if I didn’t want them to. I began swooping down, firing off stunners and levitation charms, pinning those I’d forcibly sent into unconsciousness to the sky. Twice, one particular wizard got too close to comfort, almost knocking me from my broom with a spell, then by using the very jinx that Quirrell used in my first year.
Fortunately, that particular jinx rather requires the caster to maintain eye contact, while holding still. Bobbing around in the English Channel was not particularly conducive to either condition.
It took three sweeps to get him. He’d attack, then take a breath and dive under the surface of the water as I passed over. Clever, but once his pool of allies grew thin, it was simple enough to hover nearby until he ran out of breath. I took him out, but not before I recognised something familiar about his casting style.
Once I was finished, I spent a couple of minutes shattering any floating crates that were still in one piece before taking the time to pull the twenty-two passengers to safety. I shrank and collected each in turn before heading for home, leaving a rapidly spreading pile of flotsam and jetsam. Eventually, it would sink or be washed ashore. Either way, the cargo of potion ingredients would be ruined and wouldn’t reach the docks.
After a two hour flight inland, I arrived back at Grimmauld Place cold and wet, but triumphant. As expected Ron was there to greet me. What was unexpected was his expression.
I rolled my eyes at him. “You dropped them, didn’t you?”
He spread his arms. “Not deliberately!”
“What happened?” I asked evenly.
He looked sheepish. “One of the termites got out and started eating my broom. I had to knock it off, but I sort of dropped the rest of the bag.”
I shut my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose. I’d seen Dumbledore do that very action, often after I’d explained why I’d done something particularly... heroic. I was beginning to develop a sense of empathy for the man. “Ron, you were supposed to— you know what? Never mind,” I finished. “I’m going to have a hot shower.”
“You’re not, ah, not mad?”
I shrugged, dropping the bag containing the stunned and shrunken sailors and mercenaries. “I’m too buggered to be mad. Besides, we can take advantage of it.”
He frowned. “Can we? How?”
I smiled. “Well, for starters, we can invest in the new docks they’re going to have to build.”
Deep in the basement of Grimmauld Place, I trickled a few drops from a vial into my prized prisoner’s mouth.
“Good morning, Master,” I said as the antidote flushed the sleeping potion from Zab’s system.
Zab’s robes were still damp from their forced dunking in the English Channel, but hung from his lanky frame. The Polyjuice potion had worn off hours ago, and the person he had been impersonating was of a much larger build. His usually neat hair was clumped with salt. He blinked a couple of times, showing a remarkable ability to shake off his tupor, and focused on me quickly. “So, if it wasn’t you in St. Mungo’s,” he mused after a moment’s consideration. “I presume that means that you were being held in Azkaban?”
I shook my head, both in answer to his question and marvelling at his mental clarity. He went from unconscious to an impressive leap of deduction in only a few seconds. “No, it wasn’t.”
His gaze flickered over me and around the basement, searching for clues. “I presume that means that you have The Prison in your possession?”
I couldn’t help a small smile from appearing on my face. “Well done,” I said, genuinely impressed at his deductive skill. I wondered who noticed the painting missing. I wasn’t about to ask, however. Either he’d tell me of his own accord, or I’d have to figure it out myself. Instead, I decided to change the direction of the conversation. “How long have you known it was me?” I asked.
His eyes went flat. “I didn’t answer your questions when you were my apprentice, and I certainly won’t while I’m a prisoner.”
I nodded amicably, having expected his answer. “Yeah, I sort of figured that. I am under no such constraint, however, so if you’ve got any for me, ask away.”
While that surprised him, he was still cautious. He knew that I’d be able to infer quite a lot about what he knew simply by examining the questions he asked.
That, of course, meant that he would probably ask innocuous questions instead. Thinking like a Slytherin was interesting, but tended to a little too convoluted for my Gryffindor-ish side.
“Where are my men?” he asked.
Hmm, concern for his minions. Interesting. “I took twenty-one people from the water, not including you.” I pointed to a pile of innocuous bricks. “They have been given the Draught of the Living Death, and have been transfigured into bricks. Eighteen of them had identical portkeys. I presume they are your men, and the other three were operating the ship.”
He followed my finger, sizing up the mound. “There are twenty-three bricks in that pile,” he said, not answering me. I didn’t expect anything different, though a certain relaxation in the set of his shoulders seemed to indicate that I hadn’t left any of his team behind.
I grinned. “I can’t get anything past you, can I? There are two agents of the Mugwump Kellermann at the bottom.”
Zab looked directly into my eyes. I carefully engaged my mental shields. “They encountered you in the course of their mission?”
I nodded. “They were looking for Kellermann’s nephew.”
Zab nodded. “The failure of his men to report in at their assigned time has him on edge.” The unasked question hung in the air like a chord from harp strings.
I decided to answer it anyway. “He’s dead.”
“At your hands?”
Zab sighed. “You have made a very powerful enemy.”
I shrugged. “Yeah well, I’ve had them before.”
“I’ve warned you before about being blasé”
“Yes, yes you have,” I agreed. “But I wasn’t dead then.”
Zab shook his head in disgust. “What exactly are you trying to achieve? “
I raised an eyebrow. “Haven’t you been listening to the news? I literally shouted out what I intended to achieve.”
“I taught you two years ago that a man’s stated objectives can bear no resemblance to his true goals,” Zab said pointedly.
I grinned at him. “You thought that the new Dark Lord was building a powerbase,” I said, with humour in my voice. “You discounted what I said, and assumed I was in it for the power.”
“Aren’t you?” Zab retorted sourly.
I rocked back slowly, thinking deeply. “Besides my friends, you know me better than nearly anyone else in the world. I don’t think you did know it was me until now.”
Zab didn’t say anything.
I continued. “No, you thought that whoever the Dark Lord was, he was after power and money. I took my invisibility cloak back from that bigot Anastasia Royston, but I also took some other things, an act that was designed to make people think I needed funding. I ‘stole’ the Bobbins’ potions factory rather than blow it up, so you thought I was going to steal the potion supplies coming into the country. That’s why you had such a large force guarding it. You didn’t even consider that all I intended to do was sink it.”
Zab glowered at me, and I silently rejoiced at the truth of my deductions. “Do you have any idea how much that cargo was worth?”
I nodded soberly. “Two million, one hundred and twelve thousand, eight hundred and fourteen galleons and change.”
There was the blank look he had whenever I surprised him. He wasn’t expecting that.
I filled the silence that had filled the room. “Don’t look so shocked. Charlton Benson has been my unwitting pawn ever since the day I blew up his warehouse in Parti Alley.” Zab appeared unconvinced. “Alright, consider this; his first order of potion ingredients was a quarter of the final size. I convinced him,” I said, waggling my fingers in front of Zab’s eyes, “to buy more reagents, stretching his already sizable overdraft with the goblins to the very limit. I was there watching him as he signed the order, so I know exactly how much it cost him. He and by extension LXM, since Benson is their main financial controller, are now sufficiently in the red that they are vulnerable to all sorts of things. Buyouts, hostile takeovers, forced bankruptcy proceedings, the works.”
“Have you any idea what sort of impact this is going to have on the economy of our world?” Zab demanded.
I shrugged. “One of the things you taught me was that in general, people who live comfortably can only be roused by that which takes their comfort away. Look at what happened at Hogwarts in my fifth year: mail was intercepted, pets were slaughtered, people were slandered. But so long as Mr. and Mrs. Wizarding Public could watch Quidditch, eat three square meals a day and complain about how things were so much better in their day, no one cared.” I held up a hand and clenched it into a fist. “But now, suddenly, things are different. Businesses failing, jobs lost, medical supplies supposedly gone. Their comfortable lives are threatened, and all of a sudden,” I spread both arms. “BOOM! The Ministry can’t seem to do a thing. People are dead, Aurors are found tied up naked. And when the Ministry’s Finest try to impose a bit of unjust order, the public turn on them.”
“It won’t last,” Zab whispered.
I nodded. “I don’t need the public sentiment to last long, just to burn brightly. You know that riot that happened the other day? Nothing to do with me. But those laws the Wizengamot debated and passed the next day; they couldn’t have done more for my cause even if I’d dictated them myself. It’s fantastic. Once these people’s comfort is threatened, I hardly have to lift a finger. The armies of paranoia will do my work for me.”
Between clenched teeth, Zab hissed, “So you intend to simply destroy the world to save it?”
I lost my smile. “I was kidnapped and held by dementors for three months simply because Fudge was desperate for a way back into power. He saw nothing wrong with that. Fudge, a former Minister of Magic, a man once charged with upholding the laws of the land,” I said evenly, glaring at my former Master. “Sorry, Master,” I continued sarcastically, “Despite what you personally think, the world is already broken; it’s just stumbling along, held up by inertia, bigotry and distrust, until the inevitable crash.”
“And so you’ve just decided to hasten the process,” Zab snarled.
I shook my head. “No. I’m positioning myself to shape the direction the world heads in after the crash.”
“By targeting civilian vessels carrying much needed cargo?”
Wow, the tone in his voice suggested that he was taking my successful campaign against his ship personally. “For what it’s worth, I won’t need to do that again.”
“You’re damned right you won’t,” he spat. “LXM is up against the wall. Their contract with St. Mungo’s has all sorts of liquidated damages for non-compliance. They’re having to sell entire businesses for a pittance just to pay the fines. Not that it matters. They can’t afford to import any more. In any event, I doubt any shipping firm would be willing to export goods to the British Isles for the foreseeable future. Congratulations, you’ve condemned hundreds of people to painful months once our potion supplies run thin.”
I chuckled, earning a glare that would have made Snape green. No point in telling him that I’d guaranteed the country’s potion needs for the next few months. “Actually, I was referring to the fact that the dockyards on the Thames have been destroyed, but I concede the point.”
I shrugged. “It was plan B. If I failed to scuttle your ship, the docks themselves were to be destroyed as it made berth. You took so long to arrive that my agent decided to drop his bag of male Brazilian Irontooth Termites.” Zab paled. “While all the Muggle structures in the area are made of brickwork and stone, the magical docks are simply charmed wood. Built and partially owned by LXM, oddly enough. The termites will gorge themselves stupid, eating hundreds of times their own weight in charmed timber, before falling catatonic from being unable to find a mate. The docks will be too damaged to use, and hopefully too damaged to repair. They’re need tearing down and rebuilding. Unfortunately, funding is a little difficult to come by at present.”
“You’re killing us,” Zab whispered.
“No, I’m just introducing the concept of ‘risk management’ to the wizarding world. Take a look at the place. There’s one bank. One Ministry building. One school. One all-wizard settlement. One dockyards. LXM has… excuse me, had one potions factory. If something happens to any them, there is no backup. After a few well placed strikes, it is now starting to dawn on the public that maybe, just maybe, the pure-bloods in charge aren’t actually doing such a sterling job of leading the country after all.”