Gathering storms, with a handful of deaths
Sorry, but this chapter accidentally got deleted while the server was moved. Here it is again.
It was after sunset by the time Blaise returned home from work. She appeared through the fire looking exhausted. She looked around the room at the banners and congratulatory cards and decided with a bemused little shake of her head that the mental effort required to comprehend the twins’ handiwork could be delegated to a later time. She threw her bag onto the floor and sank into her favourite armchair.
I wordlessly rose from the desk and poured her a glass of wine. She took if from me and drank deeply.
"Ugh. I needed that."
Her eyes focused on me intently for a few moments, before she broke into a tired smile. "You could say that. Apparently, there was another attack by this new, unnamed Dark Wizard. With all the press around, fourteen healers, including five of the hospital Directors, were present to treat two cases of mild concussion and temporary deafness. And one of the Directors was the Financial Controller, who doesn’t actually have a medical background. You couldn’t even move in the ward for all the egos."
I gave a throaty chuckle. "Never before have so many done so little to heal so few."
Blaise smiled, and drained the rest of her glass. I refilled it quickly.
She gave out a relaxing groan and tilted her head from side to side, letting the vertebrae creak. "Oh, it’s good to be home."
I sat down in the chair next to her. "Any other news?"
She scratched her neck absently as she kicked her shoes off and put her feet up on my knees. "Hm, not really. Nothing special, anyway. The media all got the same story — two prominent society members were admitted to St. Mungo’s with injuries sustained in a terrorist attack by a new Dark Lord." With a tight grin, she continued. "Oh, the howler he placed on one of the women worked wonders. It went off while just about every damned senior healer in the hospital was in the room."
I raised an eyebrow, though a grin was threatening to escape me. "Really? Fancy that," I murmured and I began rubbing the balls of her feet.
Blaise snorted at my words, but then purred with pleasure. "There were more injuries from the stampede for the door after that than there were from the attack itself. I had to treat four of those injuries myself." She grimaced. "Healers are truly the worst patients."
That surprised me. "The howler caused a stampede?"
"Of course, what did you expect? Most of the healers in the hospital are pure-blooded, or at least from families that are wealthy enough that the odd marriage outside of the norm is overlooked. They all thought that you were going to appear on the spot and blast them to Atlantis."
"Atlantis is on the bottom of the ocean."
"As if that would bother them. Look, it couldn’t have been better timed if you wanted. Don’t worry about it."
I paused. "I’m not really. I am worried about you."
She grimaced. "I know. I knew your plans for Fudge before we went there, but…"
"Seeing it happen was different."
"Yeah," she nodded. "He was a direct threat to you, and I wanted to make sure you were safe. I knew he had to die, but watching it happen, knowing that I was in part responsible for it, well, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it."
I stopped rubbing her feet, reached over and took her hand. "You know what I have planned from now. Do you still want to be involved?"
"I am involved, no matter what I want. But yes, I’m still behind you. All the way."
I smiled at her, and leaned back in my chair. "What do you think of the decorations?" I asked, gesturing around the room.
She eyed the gaudy banners carefully. "Congratulations on your death?" she quoted.
I nodded, waving my wand and floating the paper over to her. "I’m dead."
She frowned at me, but took the paper and read it briefly. A ghost of a smile flickered over her face. "Oh, I see. I wasn’t sure letting the Weasley twins in on our little conspiracy was a good idea, but they’ve really got their own style."
"Oh, yes," I said, gesturing towards the damaged plaster. "Ron didn’t quite get the joke until it was spelled out for him, and did a bit of damage to the wall with the twins."
She frowned. "Do you mean, â€˜and’ the twins or â€˜with’ the twins?"
I shook my head. "â€˜With’. He picked Tweedledum up by his collar, and slammed Tweedledee against the wall. I was waiting until you got home before I repaired the dent."
Blaise smirked, and leaned her head back against the upholstery. "Oh, that would have been lovely to see."
I chuckled. "It was indeed. But don’t worry about retaliation. It’s going to be safer around here, at least for a few days."
"Mmm hmm," I murmured. "Fred is taking a well deserved break."
She stared straight into my eyes. "A break? At your direction?"
I nodded with a smile. "I’ll tell you why later. Oh, by the way, I found something useful on my next target in Fudge’s papers."
That intrigued her. "Really?"
I nodded, summoning the pages. "Check this out. The Notts own a lot of the shops and buildings in Parti Alley, right?"
Blaise took the proffered pages. "Yes, but that’s common knowledge."
"Yeah, well, did you ever wonder why they always seemed to have an inordinate level of political clout, even though they weren’t the richest family around?"
"The Notts aren’t poor, Harry. Ted’s school stuff was always of the highest quality. Why wouldn’t they have the ear of the Ministry?"
"No, they’re not poor," I agreed, "but they’re not exactly rich either. And I don’t mean just having the ear of the Ministry. I’m talking about getting legal action against them quashed."
She raised her eyebrows. "I’m listening."
"Look here," I said, pointing to one of the pages. "A few years ago, when Fudge first got into office, some Muggle-born tenants brought legal action against the Notts, claiming discrimination. It was refiled several times. Fudge had it thrown out of court three times on technicalities, got the paperwork misfiled twice and stacked the panel when the verdict was actually decided."
Blaise leafed through the pages. "Okay, I believe you. So what? He was corrupt. We knew that."
I grinned, and shook my head. "The financial statements tabled during the legal action are over there on the desk. They show that the rent the Notts charge those of proper breeding wouldn’t be enough to cover the maintenance costs on the buildings. But they charge exorbitant rents to those with tainted blood."
Blaise frowned. "Unfair, yes, but I wouldn’t expect anything different from Teddy’s family."
I chuckled. "Teddy?"
A faint smile flickered over her lips. "That name always annoyed him."
"Heh, I could imagine. But look, some Nott in the past obviously had the bright idea to fleece as much money as possible from all those infernal Mudbloods cluttering up the place. And displaying the exceptional idiocy I’ve come to expect from that particular segment of the population, not one of them have challenged the basic premise. There aren’t enough purebloods with businesses out there to fill their properties, and the prospective Muggle-born tenants can find cheaper rents elsewhere."
I grabbed the Prophet again. "Look in the classifieds. Just today there has to be nearly a fifty-percent vacancy rate in Nott-owned properties. They get no income while a property is empty, and those that are filled with â€˜desirable’ tenants cost them money."
Blaise’s eyes lit up with realisation. "So they’re hardly making a profit? Even with over a hundred properties?"
"Exactly!" I snapped my fingers. "The Notts are cheating themselves out of a fortune by proudly sticking it to the Mudbloods. Doing what they think is a public service. What they’re not doing is making the obvious connection between their piss-poor profit margins and their fucked up business strategy."
Blaise again looked down at the pages we rescued from Fudge’s safe. "So where did Fudge fit in?"
"It wasn’t exactly spelled out, but I think he decided that he could get some political mileage out of the situation. He stepped in and stopped the legal challenge, and then asked the Notts for campaign contributions."
She frowned. "Really? I would have thought it was the other way around."
I shrugged. "Usually, I suppose that’s how it would work. Maybe that’s how Fudge operated towards the end of his time. But at the start, he actively greased the wheels, and then stuck out his palm. Rather than wait to be approached, he actively went looking for situations he could turn into future support. Arrogant, but it was certainly effective. He managed to stay in power longer than you would have expected. Even at the end, he still had a lot of support."
Blaise nodded in appreciation, and handed back the pages. "Anything else in there?"
I shrugged. "I haven’t gone through the rest yet, but there are a lot of pages charmed to not be readable by anyone else."
She rose to her feet and stretched. "So, what are your plans for the Notts?"
I grinned at her. "Oh, I was thinking about picking out a few of their buildings and trashing them in broad daylight. How does a little bit of wanton arson appeal to you?"
Without speaking, she simply started undressing.
Damn, sometimes it’s good to be me.
Two days full of furiously impotent denunciations and scathing letters to various editors passed quickly.
The descriptions of the Roystons’ harrowing tale of survival at the hands of a psychopathic monster were terrifying, though oddly devoid of some relevant specifics. A few people found it curious that the length of time during which the Royston pair were apparently tortured and abused was rather inexact. Initially, the papers gleefully reported that they were tormented for hours.
When pressed on the seeming discrepancy between the time they were last seen by the butler and the explosion less than half an hour later, the duration was conveniently not mentioned again.
When some people pointed out that the two women were admitted to St. Mungo’s and then promptly discharged within the hour, descriptions of the torture to which the pair were subjected suddenly disappeared from future publications.
However, the fact that the attack occurred at an event with high-profile society members, when coupled with how Fudge met his end, meant that the inbred wankers were suddenly terrified to the point of collapse. Many wrote letters to various politicians and newspapers, threatening to remove their children from Hogwarts, stating a preference to send them to Beauxbatons or Durmstrang. If even half the authors followed through with their threats, Slytherin in particular would be decimated. Less than half their number at the beginning of the year would still attend.
And all that just two days after I got my cloak back.
Of course, not all the viewpoints were negative. Indeed, to begin with, it was nice to see how well my predictions worked out. Though in the minority, there were voices that spotted the differences between how the bigots were acting now to how they acted back then. There was a short wave of sympathy for my cause. I was initially rather pleased with how much noise was being generated, but as more days passed, I started to become alarmed. By the end of the week, the panic was spreading through all parts of wizarding society, not just my target segment. A propaganda campaign funded by my very targets began to make people think that everyone was in danger, with the Prophet taking the lead. Despite Ron (and to a lesser extent, the twins) doing what he could to keep the focus on the real targets, his voice was drowned out in the sea of fear.
These people had just got out from under the thumb of a cowardly thug and his goons; I suppose it wasn’t really surprising that their fear would be so ingrained. My next target would need careful selection and planning, both to keep the fear contained in the correct population segment, and to get my message into the hearts and minds of the general population.
I needed to create and manipulate a situation where certain people were in danger, but others weren’t. My plans for the Notts evolved. Symbolically, I decided to execute them after the reading of my will.
I looked at my three different views of the auditorium. Owing to the fact that there had been three Muggles invited to my will’s reading, Hermione had hired a room in an expensive London hotel. Set up for business presentations and the like, the room was well-appointed and spacious, with everything from a projector and remote controlled lights to refreshments covered with plastic wrap at the back of the room, something that was sure to baffle at least some of the invitees. The temporary stage had been set up and furnished with a single chair, a table and a lectern. There were almost a hundred seats for the audience, and despite there only being thirty or so official invitations, nearly all of them were full. The one non-magical person in the room was my cousin, and he was fidgeting wildly sitting in the far corner, trying to keep as far away from the freaks as possible. The scene was made even more amusing by the fact that the pure-blooded bigots who decided to show were trying to do the same thing.
Personally, I was in one of the hotel’s guest rooms, watching three television screens. The hotel had quite happily set up a trio of cameras to video the actual will reading. That is, they were quite happy to accept a large payment to set up the cameras. Given who was on the invitation list, I sure as hell wasn’t going to be in the room, even disguised, disillusioned, under my invisibility cloak and whistling nonchalantly.
The centre camera had been set up with sound as well, so I could hear what was going on. The drone of conversation coming through the speakers was occasionally interrupted by a loud squawking. It took me a second or two to find the source of said animal noise, and when I did, I burst into laughter. At the stroke of eleven o’clock, a sudden wave of silence flooded over the room, immediately cutting off all sound, conversation and otherwise. A few people looked put out at that, but nearly everyone else took it as a sign that things were about to begin. Blaise stepped up onto the temporary stage with my pensieve in hand and a folio under her arm.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming here today. My name is Blaise Zabini and I am the executor of the last will and testament of Harry James Potter. This reading has been brought forward in defiance of Harry’s wishes," she said with a steely glint in her eye. "He specifically requested that his will not be executed until a year and a day after his death. However, because he was the Head of two houses, and some people want a chance to scavenge his estate, it has been brought forward.
"Now, there is one thing that needs to be said first. Those of you without invitations are welcome to stay. However, by remaining you are agreeing to abide by the terms stated in the will in their entirety. Any person who does not wish to accept the will as written must leave now." With that, she paused, waiting for anyone to take her up on the offer. No one did, though a couple of people did appear tempted.
"Also, no monetary disbursements will occur until the specified time. Harry has specified a couple of non-monetary bequests, which I will distribute today. No doubt you have many questions, but I’m afraid they must wait until after the will has been read. The auditorium is spelled with silence for a reason. Harry has left a written will which will be made public, but he wanted to give you his instructions in person." She gently placed my pensieve on the table. "If everyone is ready, we shall begin."
Blaise tapped the rim of the pensieve with her wand. My silvery image slowly rose from the bowl. My three different vantage points were covering the audience mostly, so I couldn’t make out any details, but that didn’t really matter. Blaise, Hermione and I had done a half dozen or so â€˜drafts’ of my memory before we got it right. I knew it off my heart.
"Greetings and salutations to all my friends, and a sincere â€˜sod off you bastards’ to all the politicians and hate-mongers who turned up today.
"Apparently, I’m dead, and I’ve been dead for a year. I can’t say I wasn’t expecting it, but I had hoped to put it off a little longer. My life has generally been a disastrous series of crazy adventures, beginning before I was born, with that bloody prophecy. Recently, I had thought things were quietening down, but I suppose I should have known better. I’ve left a piece of paper in legalese with all my wishes, but I wanted to give some of you a personal message. A message from beyond the grave, so to speak.
"Well, enough of the maudlin talk, let’s begin, shall we. As people say, â€˜where there’s a will, there’s many a pissed off relative’. Well, I know a lot of you are going to go home very pissed off indeed. Now, some of you are here at my invitation. Some of you are here no doubt because you believe it would do your public image some good. I personally don’t care. A few of you are here because you intend to scavenge as much of my estate and family wealth as possible. To you I say, HA! You’ve wasted your time. I have made arrangements and have named my successor following all legal and traditional guidelines. You’ll find out who the current Head of Houses Potter and Black are soon enough. He has a year and a day from my death to come forward before anyone else gets a shot at the cake. Essentially, anyone that is here only to try and snatch a bit of the Potter and Black legacies, too bad. And I seriously doubt you’ll like the wizard I’ve chosen to succeed me."
That caused quite a bit of shuffling amongst the better dressed portion of the assembly. Under the spell of silence, they couldn’t make a sound, but it was easy to spot the large number of annoyed wizards.
"Right, on to the specifics. My personal assets, with some exceptions, are to be converted to hard currency, and divided into thirty-two equal shares. Now, starting with my Muggle relatives. To Vernon and Petunia Dursley, who may or may not have decided to show their faces here today, I cannot leave anything, since I have no Muggle assets. I have taken steps however, to ensure that you shall be looked after for the rest of your lives. The hospitality you showed me during my childhood will be repaid tenfold over the coming decades. Words cannot describe how much I appreciate your actions, but I know that you are both fully aware of how I feel. Please, sit back, relax and enjoy what is coming to you for the rest of your lives. Dudley, we’ll get to you in a minute."
It was a pity my Aunt and Uncle declined my invitation; it would have been most amusing to see their expressions. Dudley’s face was almost worth it though. The blood drained vividly from his face listening to my recording. I wonder if he was beginning to harbour some regrets. Of course, I hadn’t actually spent any money on getting my revenge on them. No, after today, any bad luck that happened to befall my â€˜beloved’ family will most certainly be blamed on my legacy to them. That would be my revenge, and the best thing is that I didn’t even have to raise a finger. Mind you, if I ever did see the Dursleys again, I would raise a finger at them.
"Cornelius Fudge, if you could stand? Thank you. I leave to you the sum of thirty sickles and my everlasting contempt. Given how you betrayed the wizarding public with your petulant denial of Voldemort’s return, I figured that amount was appropriate. Sit down you pathetic excuse of a wizard."
My vitriol at a dead man caused a bit of a stir in the crowd, but many of them nodded their heads at my words. We figured it was important to put Fudge in their somewhere, if only to give the impression that the recording of the will was older than it actually was.
"Dolores Umbitch, sorry, Umbridge. No, don’t stand up; I wouldn’t want to inflict eyestrain on anyone I actually like, which is something the fashion disasters you customarily wear would no doubt cause. For your illegal torture, slander, incompetence and bigotry, I leave you the sum of ten million galleons from the Black Family Trust. This amount is to be paid in ten equal, annual instalments, but only beginning after ten years of marriage to my cousin Dudley. You will either live with the knowledge that your bigotry prevented you from being insanely wealthy, or you’ll live with a Muggle for the rest of your life. I honestly don’t know which would hurt you more."
The expression on dear Dolores’ face was a study of contrasts. Initially, surprise, delight and greed battled for supremacy. A second later, horror, disgust and loathing successfully mounted a combined offensive, before falling to bickering among themselves. Several of her ex-students had rather inappropriate expressions of satisfaction themselves at her reaction.
I didn’t bother adding that I had already paid for a full, magical investigation into the events of Dudley’s death, should he pass untimely. Any poisons, toxins, spellwork or nefarious means would be found. That sort of thing should only be sprung on the unsuspecting after the fact. At any rate, I felt comfortable offering her the choice. Even besides the fact that I was still alive and my will was not yet valid, I hardly thought she would jump at the opportunity. Mind you, if Dudley thought that marrying a toad would get him closer to a seven figure inheritance, then he’s likely to be stalking â€˜Bitch for a while.
"Right, idiotic politicians and Muggle relatives dealt with. Now, onto my Black relatives. Narcissa Malfoy, or Black, or whatever you are calling yourself these days. I leave to you these items." My ghostly image gestured behind, to where Blaise had positioned herself. She obligingly withdrew a tightly corked bottle and a thick sheaf of documents from her folio. With a deft flick, she floated the pile of parchment towards Draco’s mother.
"The documents are copies of the negotiations around the contract for your marriage to Lucius. I’d like you to know exactly what you were worth to the Black family. You may find it interesting to know that your father was aware of the fact that Lucius’ mother was actually adopted by her family. Apparently, her birth parents were impoverished Muggles, who were happy to give up their daughter so that she would both learn of magic and live in luxury. Yes, believe it or not, your posturing pervert of a husband was a Mudblood, and your family were more than happy for you to be sullied by such a disgusting creature in return for a fifteen-thousand galleon payment. You are nothing but a moderately priced whore. Rather amusing, no? Rita, if you’re here, I’ve sent you a copy too. Be a dear and make sure the details are disseminated as widely as possible. You owe it to your readers."
Narcissa had gone white, though her cheeks were tinged red with rage. She snatched the pages from the air and began leafing through them furiously. Despite the fact that they were as genuine as a brass galleon, I really hoped that she would try and confirm their authenticity. During his brief holiday in France, Fred had visited a few relevant places where the odd official record or two was kept. On his return, he reported that some anonymous, untraceable, yet roguishly handsome red-head had torn out the page of the ledger that corresponded to Lucius’ mother’s date of birth, and a few other similar pointed acts of vandalism. Anyone trying to confirm her â€˜Muggle’ status would be confounded by a rather detailed and specific trail of destruction.
Hermione had said something about absence of evidence not being evidence of absence, or something, but the sheeple who read the Prophet wouldn’t care.
Blaise followed the documents with the bottle filled with a silvery memory. It hovered in front of the Malfoy widow for a few seconds before it too was snatched from the air.
"Inside the bottle is a memory. Do enjoy it."
I’m not sure what effect watching Lucius’ face smash on cobblestones will have on her, but then again, I didn’t really care. How she would react to the memory of the old Malfoy house-elf giggling insanely over the recording of Lucius’ death, however, I did care to find out. Oh to be a beetle animagus.
"To Andromeda Tonks, my apologies for your treatment at the hands of your family. As I never reached the age that enabled me to reverse a decision by a former family patriarch, I could not rescind your expulsion. I do however offer you the right to call yourself a Black, if you wish to do so. I couldn’t blame you if you chose not to have anything to do with such a bunch of bigots. I have encouraged my successor to accept you back into the family, but it will be his decision. In any event, you will get one share of my personal assets."
A woman who could only be Narcissa’s sister gave a sort of half-smile and wiped her eyes with a dainty lace handkerchief. She had the same Black figure and sculpted cheekbones of her sisters, but her features bore no sign of the familial sneer. Her countenance betrayed no hint of the bigotry or hatred that filled those of Narcissa and Bellatrix. I couldn’t help but think that Ted Tonks must be a remarkable man. Not to mention lucky.
"To Nym-, er, to Andromeda Tonks’ daughter, I leave one share of my personal assets. Thanks for livening up that dreary summer."
Tonks clutched her mother’s hand and wept softly. She was in a rather inconspicuous form. Perhaps the solemnity of the occasion got to her? Her hair was a sort of mousy brown, which stood out more to those of us who knew her.
"To Fred and George, my thanks for believing in me when nearly everyone else didn’t. I leave each of you half of my share of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. You guys had the vision, drive, intelligence, ambition and determination to make the business a success. I simply gave you the capital. The business belongs to you guys, it always did. Each of you will also get one share of my personal assets."
I shook my head at the pair. To their mother’s obvious mortification, they’d turned up to the reading in pirate outfits, complete with brightly plumaged parrots on their shoulders, eye-patches and cutlasses. I suspect that I’ll never get tired of their antics.
"To Luna Lovegood, I leave my sincere thanks and two shares of my personal assets. I hope you use it to finally track down a Crumpled-Horned Snorkack."
Luna looked as odd as usual, though she spent a great deal of time looking around the room, rather than paying attention to my image. Ginny, who was sitting next to her, prodded her to focus her attention on the pensieve.
"To Arthur and Molly Weasley, who treated me as one of their very own, despite the way I treated you, I leave each a share of my personal assets, and my deepest respect. Anyone who managed to raise Fred and George deserve it."
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley looked pretty much as I expected. Molly in a state of hysterical tears and Arthur stoically supporting her.
"To Percy Weasley, I leave some advice. GET OUT NOW! Merlin’s balls man, the Ministry is draining you of your very life! Look at a picture of yourself after leaving Hogwarts, then look in the mirror! You’ve aged twenty years in the past five! I leave one share of my personal assets in a trust fund to pay for your enrolment in a good law school. Become a respected solicitor. Or at least a solicitor, if the respected bit is too hard."
Percy blinked in surprise at his unexpected fortune. Up until now he had been glaring intently at my image with the expression of someone trying to remember something important. I wonder what would happen if he managed to break my memory charm. I suspect nothing good for his worship of the Ministry.
"To Ginny Weasley, I leave two shares of my personal assets. Thank you for being with me when I needed it most."
Oddly, Ginny wasn’t crying. She looked sad, and had glistening eyes, but there were no falling tears.
"To Neville Longbottom, my thanks and utmost respect for putting down the rabid dog of the Black family. You were a good friend, and you are a good man. You will also receive two shares of my personal assets."
Neville sat next to his Grandmother, and nodded towards my pensieve.
"To Remus Lupin, I leave condolences that you are the last Marauder. I’d like you to take two shares of my personal assets, and to work with Fred and George. Enjoy your life as much as you can, Moony."
I wasn’t surprised the Moony couldn’t make it, given that it was the full moon tonight. Still, it would have been nice to see him again.
"To Alastor Moody, I simply say, Constant Vigilance. I owe you a great debt for setting me upon the path that has enabled me to succeed so well. A share of my personal assets to you too."
At my words, the grizzled old Auror perked up, and his blue eye began spinning wildly. Fortunately for me, I was in a very different part of the building. Of course, I’m not entirely sure what he’d do if he did see me.
"To Rubeus Hagrid, my first friend of the wizarding world, I leave two shares of my personal assets, and my hope that you finally get the respect you deserve."
Taking up three seats, my old friend blubbered silently into a hanky nearly half the size of a bedsheet.
"To Ron Weasley, my best friend, I leave five shares of my personal assets and my Firebolt. We’ve got into a lot of trouble over the years, haven’t we? I’ve been told that a parent is someone you call to bail you out of prison, while a true friend is someone who is sitting next to you in the cell, saying, â€˜That was a blast, eh?’ Thanks for being that friend."
Ron, who had decided that he couldn’t fake tears, had taken a potion to mimic the effect. The rivers running down his cheeks looked out of place, given that he was grinning like an idiot. I sighed softly. He’d never change. And that was oddly comforting. Susan was sitting next to him, and was crying almost as much as he was.
"To Hermione Granger, a woman I’ve loved, I leave five shares of my personal assets and the entire library at Grimmauld Place. I owe a debt to the troll whose actions brought us together. Thank you for sharing my life."
Hermione had taken a different route than Ron, and was daubing her eyes with a dainty square of material that had been rubbed with cut chillis. Her tears looked very authentic indeed.
"To Blaise Zabini, the woman to whom I proposed, I’m sorry I didn’t manage to meet your demands. I leave to you the remaining five shares of my personal assets, and number 12 Grimmauld Place. Please take care of Hedwig for me. I love you dearly, and I wish we could have spent the rest of my life together."
Blaise smiled sadly at my image, blinking rapidly. The revelation that I had asked her to marry me sent a shockwave through the assembly. It certainly wasn’t what they were expecting.
"And finally, to Albus Dumbledore. I’ve been told that in death there should be forgiveness." My silvery image smiled evilly at him. "Shall we see?"
From my perspective, I could see the old man pale quickly at my image’s words. He obviously remembered the last time I said them to him. My image slowly sank into the pensieve, still smiling. As soon as I’d disappeared the enchantment of silence broke, and people started yelling objections. Blaise smirked at the commotion, easily showing how much contempt she had for their behaviour. A handful of voices managed to drown out the rest, before one eventually managed to take control.
"This is intolerable!" screamed one fellow with three chins and a belt that looked like an equator around his waist.
"What is intolerable?" Blaise enquired.
"This farce!" the scarlet-faced man bellowed. "I did not come here today to be insulted by some snot-nosed child who obviously didn’t appreciate the honour bestowed upon him."
Blaise let a slow, predatory smile grace her lips. "You came here on your own accord. I don’t believe you were given an invitation."
"That is beside the point! The Wizengamot will hear of this!" A chorus of indignant agreement followed.
Ron stood up quickly, and bellowed back. "Oh yeah? What will you tell them?"
That stumped the fat chap momentarily, as having someone a head taller suddenly yelling back tends to. "Iâ€” I won’t have an Ancient and Noble house be corrupted by filth!" he retorted, his tone indicated he was a little less sure of himself than he had been a moment ago.
Ron frowned at him. "What could that bunch of cowards possibly do about it?" he challenged.
Blaise cleared her throat and held up a hand. Even Ron, who had gone a Vernon-esque purple and looked about to leap over and strangle the speaker, turned to face her. "More to the point, why is it any of your business, Mr. Yaxley?" she asked.
Seeing someone he could intimidate more easily, he turned to face my petite girlfriend. "I will make it my business, Miss Zabini! I will challenge this will and the delay!"
Blaise smirked back at him. "On whose behalf?" she asked lightly, with no sign of the hook behind the worm.
He frowned. "Why, my own, of course!" he spluttered, before deciding that he needed to add a less selfish amendment. "And that of the Wizengamot, too!"
Blaise, Ron and Hermione winced. "Oh, ouch. You’re not going to have many friends after today, are you?" Blaise snickered as she made a note on a legal pad she extracted from her folio.
"What are you babbling on about, Zabini?" The Yaxley patriarch demanded.
Ron gave Blaise some puppy-dog eyes. "Can I? Huh? Can I? Pleasepleaseplease?"
Blaise rolled her eyes theatrically and gestured her assent. Ron spun back to the obese man. "Clause number, er…" he started before looking to Blaise for help.
"Thirteen," she said pointedly.
"Thirteen, right! Clause thirteen of the will Harry left for the Potter and Black families," he said with finality, before sitting down with a nod and a self-satisfied smirk.
There was an embarrassing silence for a few confused moments. Ron had clearly managed to lose track of his thoughts (since they weren’t about food or Quidditch), believing that just giving the clause number would inspire denunciations. It wasn’t the first time that Ron had lost the plot recently, and I was beginning to worry about him. Hermione sighed and rose to her feet.
"What Ron meant to say was that Clause thirteen is a poison pill. Any person or body who challenges the will cannot receive a thing." To Yaxley’s dawning horror, she continued with a smirk. "Basically, your outburst just ensured that you are under no circumstances eligible to receive a single knut from Harry’s estates."
Blaise withdrew another sheet from her folio as Ron gave an embarrassed "Oops". A few faces I recognised from my trial were nodding with a hefty degree of self-satisfaction.
"As a matter of fact," she said, reading down the page, "If you want to be technically correct, I believe that Mr. Yaxley’s outburst means that no one on the Wizengamot is eligible. Harry’s will states… let’s see… here we are. Blah blah blah, any person or body who challenges, or has a challenge issued on their behalf by another person or body, shall be ineligible…"
The eruption of noise drowned out the rest of Blaise’s answer. More than one person seemed rather annoyed at Blaise (and I suppose by extension, me), but the vast majority seemed to strenuously object to Yaxley’s outburst costing them their opportunity. Blaise raised her hands and called for quiet. Eventually, she was given it.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, please, let us be civilised about this. I know several of you are upset, but this is not the forum to assuage your disappointment. Now, are there any questions regarding the will itself?"
A rather vocal minority in the audience seemed to want to continue to air their complaints, but Blaise simply ignored them. Eventually, someone else managed to gain attention. "Why did Harry think he’d been dead for a year?"
Blaise cleared her throat. "As mentioned, Harry’s actual written will is not to be executed until either his body is laid to rest, or a year and a day has passed. Harry was very specific in that. I believe he suspected that any disappearance on his part would be taken advantage of. I can see that his vision was remarkable," she said, staring at a fidgeting Yaxley.
"Is that legal?" a voice shouted.
Blaise nodded. "According to all legal advice I have received, yes it is."
"But that was his personal will. What of the Potter and Black families?"
Blaise sighed. "As he said, he has chosen a successor already." Her face hardened slightly. "I do not know who he chose. It could be one of you here today, it may not be. I honestly have no idea. The goblins have confirmed that since Harry’s death, a wizard has accessed both the Potter and Black family vaults, so the wizard in question is fully aware of his status. As such, the Potter and Black family assets have already been claimed."
More cries of foul play. I chuckled at the antics of those whose hopes had been dashed. Many were shouting their intention to get legal advice of their own. To my surprise, Dumbledore rose to his feet.
"While I am not a member of the legal fraternity, I believe I can answer some of your concerns. Despite long-standing tradition, it is not a requirement that a newly-anointed family head publicly present himself."
There was a chorus of phrases like, "Here now!" and "Now see here!" Dumbledore held up a hand.
"I am quite aware of the extenuating circumstances. However, Mr. Potter’s body has not been recovered. Despite the wishes of many of you here today, there is little that can be done in this case. Both I and my legal advisors have reviewed his wills, both personal and familial, and he has been most diligent in expressing his wishes." Dumbledore paused, before looking at Hermione and Ron. "In fact, given that his body was not recovered, it is entirely possible, though astronomically unlikely, that it is Mr. Potter himself who has accessed the vaults. He may well be alive."
I smothered the sudden cold sensation in my gut, before shaking it off. He was a crafty bugger; he knew I wasn’t dead from the fact that he couldn’t contact me on his little necromantic rock. Dumbledore had been watching my friends as he made that last announcement, so he was looking to gauge their reactions.
Reading Ron would be difficult; his expression of surprise could simply be explained away by the fact that he had finally noticed all the food at the back of the hall.
Trying to read Blaise was an exercise in futility. She had inherited the Zabini poker face.
Hermione on the other hand, was honest to a fault. Her hoarse, "What?!" squeaked out, but the tears on her cheeks pretty much made her grief look real. She covered for her outburst with a relatively authentic sounding, "You think so? Really? You haven’t found him with that stone? Harry could be alive?"
Blaise, who had been dispassionately been watching the proceedings, jumped in too. "What stone?" she demanded. "Harry’s alive?"
Ron, of course, frowned and said, "Huh?" His mother, however, screeched like a banshee and started babbling like an Italian mother whose baby had just been randomly picked up on the street and blessed by the Pope. In an instant, nearly everyone in the room was entertaining the idea that I might be alive.
Dumbledore’s expression grew alarmed as his ad-lib sociological experiment ran out of control. Quite a few people were speculating wildly. Many were loudly expressing their disbelief. A few were pestering Dumbledore about this â€˜stone’ of his that could find someone who is dead. Holding up his hands, the old man pleaded with the audience. "Please, I do not mean to say that Harry is alive, I was merely remarking on the, admittedly, faint possibility. His presence at St. Mungo’s is incontrovertible, up until the explosion. He was in no way responsive during his time there, though that does not discount the possibility that he did wake up on the day of his attack. If he managed to escape the assassination attempt, then he may well be the mysterious wizard who has accessed the Potter and Black family vaults."
"Then why hasn’t he contacted us?" Molly blubbered.
"Molly, please," Dumbledore begged. "I did not meanâ€”"
"What did you mean then?" Ginny demanded, rising to her feet. It would have been more impressive if the diminutive witch had been more than five feet tall.
A sudden prickling on the back of my neck was the only warning I got before the few wards I placed in the room fell. I was out of my chair in a defensive crouch with my yew wand in hand just before a disillusioned wizard popped into existence inside the hotel room. I only noticed his all but silent arrival by the slight distortion around the edges of his body.
We immediately began exchanging spells. I evaded a hex that would have burst my eardrums, and deflected the follow-up curse that would have frozen the blood in my veins. My bone-shattering curse and firewhip were sidestepped and extinguished respectively.
The new arrival didn’t waste time hiding behind shields. He simply apparated across the room and launched another volley of curses and hexes.
Hmm, where had I seen that tactic before?
I banished the mattress on the massive bed at my visitor, and transfigured a couple of lamps into dogs. Bowled over by canines and aerial furniture, the wizard tried banishing spells himself.
Another soft detonation signalled the arrival of another person in the room. I apparated myself, rather than spend time trying to figure out the location of the undoubtedly disillusioned arrival, but instead of jumping around the room, I went up, appearing in the room on the floor above. I spent a few seconds formulating a plan. With two on one, I couldn’t waste spellwork dispelling their disillusionment; I needed to attack them from the outset. I needed something that would reveal them, but not take the half second to cast that a normal spell did. To that end, I conjured a fragile glass globe and filled it with powdered graphite. The silvery dust should coat everything, including any nearby hostiles. I mentally rehearsed my next spells before disillusioning myself and apparating back down.
I thought I would have about two seconds before my presence was detected. My pursuers were craftier than I expected. The instant I arrived, my disillusionment was stripped away. My only consolation was that the ward they had erected to perform that feat also stripped them of their near-invisibility. I was already halfway through the first spells of my plan - I conjured a pair of whirlwinds. Due to my haste and the confines of the room, the swirling eddies couldn’t gather enough momentum to buffet anything larger than a serviette, but they were enough for my purposes. My assailants reacted to my presence as I expected; each hurling two or three curses in rapid succession. I didn’t have time to respond with magic, so I simply threw the graphite-filled globe at the spells and apparated again, this time down to the room below.
There were positives and negatives to my choice to vary my destination. On the bad side, I appeared a metre in front of a woman wearing nothing but a towel. She screamed at my sudden appearance. The fact that she was wearing the towel around her head was a definite plus. Fortunately, her charms did not distract me enough that I missed the appearance of one of my attackers, who’d obviously followed the noise. The soft pop of his arrival indicated that he was behind me.
I snapped off an obliviation charm at the naked Muggle, before diving to the side, avoiding a curse from one of my rather determined groupies. The woman’s eyes went blank as she collapsed to the floor in a rather compromising position.
I rolled onto my back and grunted with effort as I pushed out hard and broadly, shoving every item of furniture in the room away. The disillusioned wizard didn’t stick around to be blown backwards; he apparated away.
I couldn’t keep the excited grin of anticipation off my face as I cast a bubblehead charm and followed suit, apparating back up into my room, aiming for a corner. Instantly, I regretted my decision to just cover my mouth and nose. Graphite dust filled my eyes, blinding me in less than a second.
My only consolation was that muffled swearing in the room indicated that my friends were suffering the same ailment. One snapped off a hex at me, while I simply pushed.
Unable to see, a blob of goo slammed into my right arm and pinned me to the wall behind with a wet squelch. My magic had a similar effect, bodily picking my attackers up and shoving him into the wall.
I blinked my eyes clear. Pressed against the wall on the far side of the room were my anonymous attackers, along with all the airborne graphite dust. Every dark speck coated the wallpaper like a smoggy piece of art.
The tableau was held for a few seconds before something else caught my attention. Apparently, the graphite had been a bad idea. It was a bad thing to have around Muggle electronics, if the sparks and smoke were any indication. Each television was sizzling and emitting smoke. Just to make my day worse, the sprinklers in the room set off.
I remained dry, since I was continually pushing. The water drops arced down towards the floor before suddenly changing direction and following my magic. This meant that the men I was pinning to the wall were getting a very cold shower.
I couldn’t hear them over the noise of the sprinklers, as one of them spluttered and wheezed something to the other.
"Bugger that," I whispered shortly. I changed my tactic, and instead of pushing a broad area, I focused on just pushing hard against their chests and abdomens. Immediately, the pair had trouble breathing. After thirty seconds, their panicked gasps began subsiding. Another ten seconds later, and one fainted. Ten seconds after that, so did his partner.
With a sigh, I stopped pushing. With my arm pinned against the wall by the translucent goo, I couldn’t use my wand. I pulled instead.
Slowly, the goo thinned as the spell lost strength. Bit by bit, I was converting the stuff to a living warmth that flowed up my arm. In moments, I’d absorbed enough of the magic of the spell to pull my arm away. Once free, I stunned both men before looking around the ruined room.
The bed was broken and overturned. The other furniture would only have a future as kindling. Muddy graphite covered the walls in damp streaks, and was soaking rapidly into the carpet. The electronic equipment the hotel set up for my surveillance could only be described as scrap.
I shook my head as I quickly packed up and salvaged what gear I could. This hotel stay was going to be rather more expensive than I had initially anticipated.
"Wake up, Sunshine."
My prisoner startled awake, desperately looking around to get his bearings. The dark room gave no indication whatsoever as to his location. I simply sat back on my haunches and observed his actions.
His eyes darted around for a few seconds, during which time his breath came in panicked gasps. Almost like flicking a switch, he calmed and measured his breathing. He turned his gaze to me and stared for a moment.
"You’d better let me go, if you know what’s good for you," he snarled.
I just blinked lazily, not reacting to his taunt.
He started breathing more heavily. "I mean it; you don’t know who you’re dealing with!"
"I will," I said softly.
He sneered at me. "I’ll tell you nothing!"
I shrugged and rose to my feet, standing tall over him. I drew my wand and took aim. "Let’s see, shall we?"
He braced himself.
His will was strong. He fought back valiantly, but he was already off balance from expecting a painful curse rather than one that made him feel blissfully good. I ordered him to lower his mental defenses, and dove straight into his mind.
A minute later I withdrew my consciousness and cancelled both spells. He slumped down, mentally exhausted from fighting my cerebral invasion. I didn’t bother taunting him with the knowledge I’d just taken from his mind, I simply stunned him and left him alone.
Blaise was waiting for me at the top of the stairs. I closed the door to the cellar and sealed it with the Blood Magic of the Black Family. "What did you learn?" she asked.
"Not much from the first. A bit from the second. Neither of them are agents of your Great-grandfather, but they have received some combat training from someone who may well be. Zab keeps his informants and agents in cells, with no interaction between them. He gives orders by owl, and they send information back to him when an owl appears. These guys downstairs got their orders in person."
Blaise made a face. "Huh. I guess I was wrong."
I pursed my lips and shook my head. "Of course, that’s not to say that Zab isn’t behind the scenes, directing the traffic. I wouldn’t put it past him to have some level of influence with these guys’ boss."
"Do you know who that boss is?"
I winced, but nodded slowly. "Fellow called Kellermann."
Her eyes bulged. "Isn’t he dead?"
"Unless he could survive a basilisk’s gaze and an extended stay in its digestion tract, yes. But it wasn’t that Kellermann who those two buggers report to." I paused, thinking deeply.
Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "Am I going to have to torture you to get the whole story?"
I gave a short, sad snort. "No, I’m just wondering how many enemies I’ve made, simply by defending myself. I saw the Kellermann they report to in his memories. I’ve met him before, in the Vatican. He was with Dumbledore, and was introduced as being a mugwump of the ICW."
Blaise calmed down. "Are they related?"
"Yeah," I confirmed. "Uncle and nephew. Said uncle is looking for said nephew. He must have managed to find some of the wizards who decided to bugger off from Albania between rounds one and two of the Potter/Malfoy rematch."
She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. With a heavy sigh, she said, "Damn it Potter, can’t you be like normal people and make mortal enemies who don’t have obscene levels of magical or political power?"
"What can I say? It’s a gift."
She snorted at my quip. "Seriously Harry, you don’t want to fuck with the mugwumps. On the vanishingly remote chance you manage to survive the next fifty years, with your level of power, you’d probably be considered for membership." She sighed. "Oh well, at least you aren’t pissing Great-grandfather off by kidnapping his people.
"Yeah, well, I’m sure Zab is trying to find out who this new Dark Wizard is. Just as I’m sure that he will figure it out first. But as long as he doesn’t, I doubt anyone else will either."
Blaise shook her head. "He’d be a better ally than just a yardstick for how well you are hiding your identity."
"Maybe," I conceded. "But I’d prefer to wait until after a few more targets have been visited. I’d rather he have a good idea of my goals before approaching him."
I could tell she wasn’t convinced, but was willing to defer to my judgement. "What about those two?"
I smiled. "How long would it take you to brew a couple of doses of the Draught of Living Death?"
"An hour and fifty minutes. Are you sure you want to dose them both?"
I nodded. "It will keep them from trying to escape. Once they are dosed, I’ll transfigure them into bricks or something, to keep them from being found accidentally by Hermione or the twins. How long can someone survive under that potion?"
"Three or four days, usually. It depends on how hydrated they are. Transfiguring them would extend that by weeks though. You’d have to reverse the transfiguration every so often to give them water and nourishment; say, once a month. So long as they aren’t injured, they should survive indefinâ€”"
There was a crash from upstairs. "Harry?" screeched Hermione.
I closed my eyes and apparated to the reception room, finding Ron and Hermione waiting there. "Hi guys, are you alright?" I asked.
Hermione flew into me and wrapped her arms around my neck in a manner very reminiscent of old times. Ron probably would have followed suit, but he was holding two full platters of sandwiches. His expression however quickly turned from anxiety to one of amusement.
"Oh thank God you’re okay. What happened?" the human limpet demanded.
I carefully disentangled myself. "Some government types went up to the room, broke the wards I set up and charged in. I fought and managed to incapacitate them. The room was trashed though."
She pulled back and began running her hands over my face, chest and arms. "You really are all right," she said before looking back into my eyes.
"I really am," I replied. "You should see the other guys." Ron snorted, but otherwise stayed silent.
She took a deep breath and sighed. "They aren’t dead, are they?" Her eyes widened suddenly. "Oh, Harry! I didn’t mean it like that! I just meantâ€”"
I covered her mouth with my fingers. "Shh. I know what you meant. And no, they aren’t dead, though they probably wish they were. How were the hotel people? How big was the fuss they made?"
Oddly, Ron answered for her. "They actually apologised to us," he said with a chuckle.
"Huh?" I said eloquently. "The room was ruined. Why were they apologetic?"
Hermione pushed my fingers away from her mouth and gave a thin smile. "Look at it from their point of view. A wealthy client books a room and a hall at short notice, paying the full charges without blinking. That is the sort of client you want to keep. Someone uninvited came in and asked questions, finding out about the room we booked, and went up there and started a fight. It is strictly against their policy to direct the public to specific rooms, so the manager who gave them that information has been fired."
I shook my head. "He was confounded. It wasn’t his fault."
She frowned. "How did you know that?"
I grinned at her. "I might have accidentally rifled through their memories."
The frown didn’t waver. "How? No, scratch that. Who were they? No, wait! When? When did you get a chance to do that?
I struggled to keep a smile from my face as her internal checklist of questions jockeyed for the top dais of the podium. "How long do you think the fight lasted?"
Her expression became doubtful. "Iâ€” I don’t know. Two minutes at the most."
I chuckled. "Nope. A bit less than that."
"Did they see you?"
I shook my head. "Yes, but I was wearing my â€˜Manuel’ disguise," I replied, gesturing towards the discarded wig, moustache and infernal choking device, or what she called a bowtie. "Anyway, they are in no state to report what they saw. We’ll be okay."
Her eyes suddenly held a touch of awe. "Harry, just how powerful are you? You’ve escaped from the inescapable prison, broken into Gringotts and the Vatican, stole a Horcrux from a heavily guarded compound, and that’s not even touching on what you did to Riddle. And now you were ambushed by two men, and emerged unscathed after a fight that destroyed the hotel room. Seriously, how much magic do you control?"
I smiled, reaching up and gently grabbing her chin between my thumb and forefinger. "Enough. Not as much as Dumbledore or Riddle, but more than most. But I’d say the reason for my success has more to do with my tactics than magic." I didn’t add I’d decided that I would never be captured again, and that I’d do anything in my power to prevent that from happening again. I was no longer a determined but well-meaning little boy.
Hermione nodded uneasily, but grabbed me in a hug again. I looked over to Ron. "What happened after Ginny stood up? That was when I was interrupted."
He shrugged. "Dumbledore got a bit of a pounding from everyone there."
Hermione interrupted. "A bit?"
Ron grinned at her. "Well, a lot then. Blaise kept asking for quiet but no one was interested. Just about everyone there was shouting at him, demanding to know what was going on. I saw Blaise slip out, so I assume she’s here."
I heard Blaise arrive behind me. "Well spotted, Ronald."
"Here," he said, handing her one of the platters.
"What’s this for?"
He blinked. "Um, you, Harry and Hermione. I thought you’d like to share it."
She graced him with a small smile. "How thoughtful. Thank you. What about that one?" she finished, pointing at the platter he still held.
Ron circled it with and arm and half turned away, obscuring it from view. "What about it?"
The four of us had lunch, and began preparing for our afternoon outing. I donned my Manuel face while the other’s practiced their spellwork. Around four hours after the will reading, Fred and George arrived with great fanfare, eager to set off. I suppose the prospect of blowing up several buildings was enough to get them thoroughly interested.
Leaving the others to finalise their parts, taking potions and whatnot, I apparated to Parti Alley and mentally ran through the plan’s checklist.
While Fred had been in France performing some rather specific, yet useful vandalism, George and I had done a bit of scouting, he in the flesh and I in paper. Of all the Nott-owned buildings in Parti Alley, we’d managed to identify a specific group of four congruent buildings owned by the Notts. They were off towards the far end of the Alley, where there was little random traffic. Blaise and Hermione both had objections to my selected target, for different reasons, but there was one overriding fact that made my choice easy. What the fourth building in the group was used for.
The leftmost building was a retail establishment; it sold and repaired expensive charmed jewellery.
The shop to the right belonged to a wardcrafter, who sold not only services, but wardstone sets and anchor stones.
The next shop was the empty storefront that was going to be used as the reason for our attention.
And finally, the main object of my attention, a large, tall warehouse, filled with the raw materials that supplied a number of other businesses; many of which I had an interest in seeing fail.
The three occupied buildings were rented by friends of the Nott family. Though there were larger groups of Nott-owned buildings throughout the Alley, I picked that group for my attention due to the customer base of the businesses. Also, targeting that group would minimise any damage done to nearby businesses owned or run by those of less-than-pure heritage.
Hermione was actually rather enthused about my plan of attack. She appeared relieved that for this round I was targeting not people, but property.
She had her own reasons for supporting it, mostly revolving around the concept that attacks on people only made those without adequate levels of protection feel unsafe. The rich and powerful would strengthen their wards and hire extra guards to feel secure. Destroying property, on the other hand, was a sure fire way to get a lot of rich people pissing their pants in both fear and anger.
At the heart of this venture, Hermione would ostensibly be looking for a property to open a bookshop, using her upcoming inheritance from me as capital. Fred and George would be the local, familiar faces offering advice. Hermione would be the naÃ¯ve, prospective tenant, while Ron and Blaise would be her polyjuiced Muggle parents. I, of course, would be the mysterious and terrifying dark wizard, a role that was starting to grow on me.
Disguised and under my newly returned cloak, I apparated to Parti Alley and carefully entered the warehouse.
The modestly sized building had been extensively enlarged on the interior. Crates were stacked high all over the building, sometimes from floor to ceiling. A handful of middle-aged wizards were busy lounging around and directing a dozen young men who were actually moving and stacking the stock. I could make out six enormous fireplaces where entire pallets of goods were sent and received through the flames.
It only took me a second or two to identify the management offices, since it was the only part of the building that wasn’t cavernous and filled with stuff in boxes. The offices sat in the corner closest to the front door, and the only real clear path in the whole place was the carpet leading to the door.
On silenced feet, I followed the carpeted path.
Opening the door unnoticed would take some doing. My friends all had their own opinions on how best to get through.
Ron of course, favoured the â€˜blast the bloomin’ thing off its hinges’ approach. If it’s not part of a chess strategy, the man can’t even recognise the word subtle.
Hermione thought that creating a distraction would be best to attract the attention of those inside. She even went so far as to conjure different types of glass to see which made the most distinctive noise when hit with a hammer.
The twins just suggested picking the lock, and gave a great deal of advice on just how to accomplish that.
Blaise had rolled her eyes at the Gryffindors in the room, and just suggested waiting for someone to go in and follow along under my cloak.
I love my friends, but sometimes, the most obvious solution is the best.
I knocked on the door.
A few moments later, the door swung inward and a frowning gentleman of advancing years peered out. "Hello?"
His eyes went blank. Yep, the Imperius is an incredibly useful spell.
Under my direction, the foreman helpfully rounded up all the paperwork, ledgers and correspondence in the office for me. He was even kind enough to remove the warding charms on the massive safe in the back room, though he didn’t have the key. No matter.
I shrunk the safe down and charmed it featherlight. It went into my backpack whole. I’d crack it later at my leisure. I spent the next few minutes splashing some rather flammable liquids around the office. No one was going to notice any missing files from the office after my visit.
I gave my victim some more instructions, and left the warehouse. I paused at the front door, making sure I wasn’t followed. Once on the street, I spent some time setting up the rest of our plan. Using my experience from robbing Gringotts, I had taken three of the Black family’s uglier vases out of storage. The never-ending jug of drinks in Sirius’ vault had been an incredibly well made item, requiring dozens, if not hundreds, of enchantments. Around one in five of those would have been strengthening, stability and permanency charms, designed to make it as indestructible as possible. â€˜As possible’ in that case meaning, â€˜everything up to dragon breath, after which, all bets are off’. Destroying it had released the power of the enchantments in a single destructive instant, something I intended to duplicate.
Of course, I didn’t have a nice, useful pissed off dragon on hand, so instead, I had added as many useless enchantments and charms as I could to the small vases, dangerously overloading the pitiful stability charms already in place. A simple concussion hex would easily break them, and release the magic pent up within.
I carefully stuck the disillusioned vases as high up as I could on the faÃ§ade of the warehouse and two shopfronts. Objective completed, I apparated to the roof of another Nott-owned building on the opposite side of the alley, from where I had a good view of each of the four buildings of interest. It was mid-afternoon, and the crowd was rather thin. More people would be coming out onto the streets to finish their business before heading home for the day.
Hermione and Co. were taking their time. I’d begun to check my watch twice a minute by the time my friends appeared in the street below. Fred and George were playing tour guide to Hermione and her â€˜parents’, much to the irritation of the Nott’s building manager, who was trying to show off the various vacant sites. Ron made a point of examining each of them, eager to play the protective father figure being asked for advice. The rather portly â€˜John Granger’ came off looking like someone who knew nothing about what he was doing, yet didn’t want anyone to know.
The group stopped in front of the vacant shop we had identified. Hermione immediately began gesturing excitedly towards the building. I could faintly make out her words. "This one, this one is perfect!"
The face of the building manager was priceless. He paled at her enthusiasm and immediately began dissuading her. I guess his job would be at risk if the three pure-bloods surrounding the store suddenly had a filthy Mudblood in their midst. Fred and George also looked wary, suggesting that they move on. Figuring that it was pretty much time, I sent a mental command to the poor chap under my command.
Blaise and Ron however both loudly agreed with Hermione’s assessment. Ron shielded his eyes and leaned close to the front window, to get a better view of the interior.
Their actions attracted the attention of a few locals, who watched in bemusement. In stereotypical Muggle clothes, Ron and Blaise stood out quite well. Ignoring the conversation, I focused on the overall flow of events. Soon, the nearby store owners began to take interest. The wardcrafter was the first to notice the Muggles in his midst. He just crossed his arms and began insulting my friends from the safety of the door to his shop. Hermione studiously ignored him, and told her companions to do the same.
The jeweller actually closed the door to his business and joined the first, their unoriginal insults becoming louder. The Imperioed manager in the warehouse followed my final orders, and brought out all the wizards in the warehouse to gape and gawk at the Muggles. All of them soon joined the growing crowd on the street. Once the newcomers appeared and joined the original pair, they began to get cocky. It was rather amusing to see their courage improve as the likelihood of being individually singled out reduced.
Hermione, of course, refused to be intimidated. She shook off warning hands from Fred and George to give the increasingly hostile locals a tongue-lashing. A larger crowd formed, with many there muttering insults themselves. Hermione was obviously recognised; even from my vantage point I could hear the words â€˜Granger’ and â€˜Mudblood’. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that she was identifiable by sight - she was, after all my friend.
A couple of the more belligerent idiots down below had drawn their wands as a threat, so I decided it was time for me to intrude. I pulled off my cloak, stuffed it into the portkey sock and cast a mild concussion hex at the vase attached to the warehouse’s front window. The disillusioned vase, almost thrumming with pent up power, exploded. Since it had been stuck to the outside of the window, the blast blew the shards of glass into the building, away from the crowd below.
At this point, I expected certain things to happen.
I expected the crowd in the street below to panic, during which I would use a Sonorous charm to threaten those who supported Voldemort with destruction. I expected that Hermione would then engage me in a carefully choreographed duel, during which I would claim that I had no intention of hurting her. She would claim that my tactics were not the correct way to change society, to which I would refer her to the verbal abuse she had just endured as evidence for my position. I expected that Fred and George would join in the fight, which I would make it obvious that I was taking care not to hurt them. While I didn’t expect any of the bigots would join in, I was prepared to hurt those who did. Once the expected battle with my allies had concluded, I expected that I would blow up another of the vases, and then start destroying the contents of the warehouse. I expected that Aurors would arrive eventually, at which point I expected that I would blow up the remaining vase and leave during the commotion. Afterwards, Hermione and the twins would be interviewed by the press, where they would make full use of the contrast between now and then, pointing out that I had not attempted to injure anyone not a bigot or pure-blood, that I had just specifically targeted the property of a bunch of supremacists.
Unfortunately, some unexpected things actually happened.
There must have been some â€˜unlisted’ stock in the warehouse; stock that was a little more unstable than the rest of the benign inventory. Whatever it was, it didn’t like being hit with a minor explosion. The resulting fireball was anything but contained, and that created a massive secondary explosion. The collapsing expansion charms probably added to the second fireball.
The shockwave from that set off the other two vases.
Even from my distance and vantage point, I was knocked backwards onto my arse by the sudden rush of superheated air.
I scrabbled quickly to the edge of the building, looking down at the alley with a horrible feeling in my gut.
Fortunately, there didn’t appear to be copious amounts of blood. A few cuts and grazes were definitely on show, but only a few people lying on the street below were conscious enough to be clutching their ears. A quick census indicated that maybe half of the crowd of people were lying completely still, more than enough to make my blood chill.
The only good thing was the fact that each of my friends had been far enough away from the front of the warehouse that they were among the moving.
Without thinking, I apparated down to ground zero and began checking the vital signs of each of the immobile figures. I detected a heartbeat in the first few, and my breathing became less laboured. It was a short lived relief though, as one by terrible one, I found corpses among the living.
As I found a pulse on the last unconscious wizard, I drew a shuddering breath and actually took the time to check my surroundings. A small gaggle of civic minded witches and wizards had joined me in administering first aid to those lying on the street. A much larger number were in a pair of huddles at either end of the Alley, looking down at the carnage with trepidation — ready to bolt if necessary, but not willing to help.
I swallowed past a lump in my throat. I’d killed people in a fight before; repeatedly, in fact. But the dead on the road here had not been attacking me as I forced them onto the next great adventure.
I took a deep breath, and began giving orders to the few who were helping. Initially they were bewildered, trying to do everything at once, but after a few moments, I had them working in a cohesive manner. I began conjuring blankets to wrap around those who looked to be going into shock. Being consumed by guilt would not help here.
Twin cracks indicated the arrival of the Ministry’s finest. The pair of Aurors stood flatfooted for a moment, before demanding that nobody move.
I rolled my eyes. "Go and get medical help, you morons," I snapped at them, more angry with myself than them. One looked to be in his early thirties, while the other I vaguely remembered from my time at Hogwarts. He was in the Gryffindor upper classes when I first started school.
"What happened?" the older one demanded.
I glanced around at the dozens of injured people. Well, I suppose I should own up. "See that bastard there?" I asked, pointing to the wardcrafter as he lay recumbent on the ground.
"He did this?" the younger of the Aurors demanded.
"Idiot," I said not all that quietly. "No, he and his friends were threatening Miss Granger there, simply because she is Muggle born."
"Granger did this?"
"Oh for fuck’s sake," I spat, deciding that subtlety would be of no use in the face of such idiocy. "No. I did this." I said, jabbing my chest with my thumb. "I blew up his shop to teach those pure-blood supremacists a lesson. His stock blew up, and the shock wave set off the stock in the other shops too!"
Both Aurors blinked owlishly at me, completely dumbfounded. It gave me plenty of time to ready my wand for the first spell.
It was a stunner, naturally. I deflected it easily, and decided not to counter with a spell, but with words. "Trainee, right?" I snorted at the one who sent the spell.
That got their hackles up. Both tried drilling me with powerful curses. I caught both spells with the strongest shield I could manage. "Is that it? That’s your best?"
The more seasoned Auror judiciously raised his own shield, while the younger one wound up to deliver the most powerful spell in his arsenal. I gave my wand a casual, theatrical wave in their direction, giving the pair a hard, sharp push.
They did a wonderful impersonation of leaves in a wind. Everyone within earshot was staring intently at me, making me suddenly very glad that I had Muggle disguises on, and not just glamours.
"DID YOU HEAR THAT? PURE-BLOOD BIGOTS WILL PAY! THOSE WHO SUPPORTED VOLDEMORT WILL DIE!" I screamed at the crowd.
Finally, something happened as I planned; the screams and running for cover part of my plan. Amid the chaos, Hermione had managed to get to her feet, with a little help from Fred and George. She blinked at me, looking a little dizzy. I nodded to her, as though in greeting. Hopefully she would take it as the signal to begin.
Keeping to the script, Hermione steadied herself and snapped at the twins to get her â€˜parents’ to safety. As Fred and George grabbed Ron and Blaise, Hermione defiantly tried to stun me. Her underpowered spells splashed impotently on my shield as the four apparated away.
"Stop that, Miss Granger," I said casually.
"No!" She shouted back, a little uncertainly. "This is not the way to change society!" She followed that pronouncement with another curse.
I batted it away casually. "I respectfully disagree. The actions of these pathetic worms show that they refuse to change and mature peacefully. Now stand down, I have no interest in harming you," I responded, sending three spells down at her. The first two batted down her shield, and the third snatched her wand.
One of the other shopkeepers had managed to gather enough courage and wits to draw his wand. With a shout of what he probably hoped was pure defiance, although it warbled rather amusingly, he launched what was obviously the most powerful spell he could.
I rolled my eyes as I casually flicked away the reductor curse. Its power could have been exceeded by any DA member above third year. "Oh please," I sneered, waving my wand at the man with a broad, casual movement. Once more, rather than cast a spell, I pushed at him, knocking him over backwards and pinning him to the ground. He whimpered, begging for his life.
I raised my voice and spoke to the crowd. "YOU ARE WEAK. YOU ARE ALL WEAK. YOU CLING TO THE PITIFUL BELIEF THAT YOUR BLOOD MAKES YOU BETTER. I WILL PROVE YOU WRONG!"
Halfway through my speech, more Aurors arrived. I was taking an awful risk, letting myself become increasingly outnumbered. But the deaths I’d caused today meant that I needed to ensure it was worth it.
The newly arrived squad of four wasted no time in trying to restrain me. In contrast to the tactics of the first Auror pair, one member of the group immediately sent out ropes, another transfigured glass shards into a cage and a third threw up and held a shield that covered the quartet. The last began the process of erecting anti-apparation wards.
I concentrated and disapparated just before the new wards could take effect. I appeared diametrically opposite to where I had been, and tossed a concussion hex into the ground at the rear of the group. Though protected somewhat from the blast by the shield, I augmented the effect with a powerful push. To witnesses, it appeared as though my spell was strong enough to send four fully-grown wizards flying.
"YOUR PATHETIC MAGICS ARE USELESS," I shouted at their backs as they landed in various positions, each looking more uncomfortable than the last. In the stunned silence that followed, I said in a more normal tone of voice, "I shall destroy every last one of Voldemort’s supporters! You have been warned."
With that, I tossed Hermione’s wand back to her and theatrically turned away with billowing robes. Never again will I say that I learned nothing from Snape. Another squad of Aurors appeared just in front of me at the edge of the anti-apparation jinx.
Their momentary disorientation was enough for me to both recognise one of my new assailants and to bring my wand to the ready. The group spread out immediately. "Don’t move," she ordered.
I shrugged and kept walking. Tonks instantly took the offensive with a pair of darkish curses that would have hospitalised me for a week. Nice to know that there were Aurors who were prepared to break out the big spells straight away.
I sidestepped one and batted the other away. She had improved from her performance in the Department of Mysteries. "Ah, Auror Tonks, I presume? You are the metamorph, yes? It is so nice to finally meet you."
She paused, wondering why I wasn’t retaliating. "You know me?"
I held my wand high, then slashed it down, pointing directly at my feet. With all my strength, I gave a powerful, pulsing push against the whole world. The shockwave rippled out in all directions, like a circular earthquake. Everyone within twenty metres was knocked over backwards; those already on their arses were shoved and rolled away. Windows shattered and walls cracked under the assault.
I looked back at Tonks, who had ended up on her backside with a surprised expression on her face. I gave her a slow, lazy smile. This was too good an opportunity to pass. "I know everyone who belongs to one of my adopted families, my dear," I replied slyly as she struggled to rise to her feet.
Her skin went white in a manner that had nothing to do with her abilities. "No," she said, aghast.
"Oh, yes, my dear. Now, if you will excuse me, I have other commitments. Cheerio."
She reacted quickly, snapping up her wand and taking aim at my heart. I waited patiently for her to finish, before giving her a wave.
I simply muttered, "Chamber," and was whisked away by my portkey sock.