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As always, the characters, places and things that you recognize belong to JK Rowling.

Ron felt as though he’d been punched. He sat on the edge of the bed that Harry had transfigured, his wand still pointed at the spot where his brother, his granddaughter and the most evil woman in the world had stood only moments before. In an instant, their hard-won victory had been snatched away. He heard his son mutter an unmentionable four-letter word that seemed to capture the moment succinctly. Scorpius was whispering “shh, shh, shh” into Rose’s hair, but it was unclear which of them he was trying to comfort. Somewhere nearby, Harry held Esme’s unmoving body in his arms. His shoulders were gently shaking and his face was buried in her hair. The silence was too much for Ron. He had to fill it, and he turned the full force of his frustration on the easiest target available.

“What the bloody hell was that, Malfoy?” he demanded, propelling himself off of the bed.

“Leverage,” Draco replied tersely. Astoria’s hand rested on his arm, and he was obviously struggling to maintain his composure. He reminded Ron of a caged animal. The fury in his eyes told the true story of his emotions and if Ron had stopped to think about it, he might have realized how similar their states of mind were in that moment. But such an analysis was well beyond his present mental state.

“Bollocks!” Ron shot back, gesturing threateningly with his wand. “That spell was dark magic.”

“Very good, Weasley,” Draco sneered, raising his palms in mock surrender. “You have me there. Small wonder the Aurors snapped you up right out of school. I suppose your next brilliant deduction will be that I used to be a Death Eater?”

“Shut it, you slimy git! How did you-”

“The curse is called the Viper’s Kiss,” Draco snapped, waving his hand dismissively. “My dear aunt taught it to me, if you must know. And if you want to throw me into Azkaban for it, I suggest you wait until you’re no longer wanted for murder.”

“That’s not the point!” Ron shot back.

“The point,” Draco countered, managing to keep his voice just below a shout, “is that she’ll be dead within forty-eight hours unless I give her the counter-curse.” He took a moment to let his words sink in, glaring at Ron the entire time. “The curse spreads slowly, poisoning the flesh as it travels. She has no choice but to return Octavia to us if she wants to go on living. As I said before, leverage.”

Even though Malfoy’s explanation sounded rather promising, Ron still found him infuriating. He desperately wanted to hex the haughty, self-important look right off of Draco’s pale face. As it turned out, Hermione took care of that, but not in any way that made him feel better. She started with a simple, “Oh, no.”

“What?” Scorpius asked, staring at his mother-in-law over Rose’s head. Ron turned toward his wife, waiting for her explanation.

“The book,” she began, looking thoughtful and horrified. “In the book, Herodonthus spends a lot of time rambling about a method of transferring your mind into the body of another person. The magic involved sounded very complex, and I barely had time to scratch the surface. But she’s had the book for months. Years, possibly. I’m worried that she’ll decide to use Octavia as more than just a hostage.”

“Why Octavia?” George asked. “If she’s set Percy up to be Minister, why not take over his body?”

Hermione looked pained. “There’s no need,” she finally answered. “She already controls him.”

“... and she’d have to be married to Audrey...” George added under his breath, earning him a glare from Molly.

“It makes more sense for her to try to transfer herself into Octavia,” Hermione concluded. “Why would you choose to take over a seventy-year-old body when you can start all over at seven? She could live for well over a hundred years.”

Molly gasped softly, but Draco merely stared back at her and shook his head. “This lot has finally driven you completely around the bend, haven’t they, Granger? Two years I spent listening to my mad aunt rant and rave and I thought I’d heard it all. But this? Tell me, how on earth do you come up with this stuff?”

“Shut up, Malfoy!” Ron yelled, unable to stomach another word.

“Try to make me!” Draco snarled.

“What if she’s right?” Astoria said softly, sliding her hand over her husband’s before he could reach for his wand. He gave her an incredulous look, but she completely ignored him. “If she performed this... transfer, what would happen to Octavia?”

“I don’t know,” Hermione replied unsteadily, shaking her head. “Maybe her mind would still be inside somewhere or maybe we would lose her entirely. I wasn’t able to understand the book well enough to be sure.”

Draco stared at his wife in disbelief. “You’re actually taking this claptrap seriously?”

“I don’t care whether it’s true or not!” Astoria snapped. “If somebody is going to point a wand at my granddaughter and try to do something to her mind, you’re damned right I’m taking it seriously!” The snark disappeared from her husband’s face. She looked at Harry, still huddled on the floor with Esme, and her angry frown softened. Turning to Ron, she said, “It would appear that you’re in charge here. How do we find them?”

Ron stared back at Astoria blankly. He honestly hadn’t thought much past hexing her husband, which now seemed to be out of the question. After thinking on it for a few moments, he turned to Terry and Justin. “Terry, I want everyone out of here in ten minutes. Take Eileen, Hestia, Neville and Bill and search this place as best you can. Justin, find her wand. I want to know everything we can learn from it. George, Dad, Seamus, you three cover the gap in the anti-apparition jinxes. If anyone shows up that you don’t recognize, stun them first and ask questions later.”

Ron’s voice softened as he proceeded to the less enviable tasks. “Mum, take Al, Hugo and Scorpius and get Rose, ‘Mione and Dedalus back to the Burrow. Lorcan and his wife should be there soon. Pick four people to take the first shift patrolling the perimeter and make sure that everyone else gets some sleep.” He gave Hermione a weary look and shook his head. “This isn’t over yet.”

“What about...” Molly’s voice trailed off as they both looked at Harry, still sitting on the floor, holding Esme.

“We’ll have him back as soon as he’s ready,” Ron replied softly, giving his mother’s shoulder a quick squeeze.

“What can we do?” Astoria asked, pulling Draco forward by his hand.

“If you like, you can help with the search,” Ron replied. Astoria nodded and started to pull Draco towards Terry. Ron swallowed hard, forcing down decades of animosity and mistrust. “Malfoy, would you mind helping Justin with the wand?” Draco paused, eyeing Ron suspiciously. “I just thought that you might be able to help if he turns up some spells that we don’t recognize.” Draco nodded slowly, then gave his wife a kiss on the cheek and turned to where Justin was carefully retrieving the ornate spruce wand from beneath the corner of a stack of pallets.

Ron watched as Scorpius gently carried Rose to the center of the warehouse, looking shaky on his feet. He took one last look around with a tragic glimmer of hope in his eyes, as though Octavia might suddenly pop out from behind a crate, laughing gleefully. Then he pulled Rose close to him and turned, disappearing with a pop. Hermione gave Ron a kiss on the lips and then left with Al and Hugo supporting her on either side. Lastly Molly disapparated with Dedalus, smiling tolerantly at the grumpy little wizard as he complained loudly that he was fit to travel on his own.

Ron knelt beside Harry and placed a hand on his shoulder. “I hate to rush you, mate, but the rest of the Blood Order could come back any minute and we’re not ready for a fight that size.”

Harry sighed heavily. “This is the first time I’ve ever tried to grieve properly over somebody I’ve lost,” he said quietly, without looking up. “Sirius fell into the Veil and he was gone. There was already a crowd gathered around Dumbledore by the time I got back from trying to kill Snape. We never found Hedwig or Mad-Eye. I couldn’t stop to mourn for Fred or Tonks or Remus. I never would have made it to the forest.”

Harry paused for a moment. His voice was barely a whisper. “And Ginny... They arrested us before I got a chance to even see her. By the time the trial was over, there was nothing left but the funeral.” He looked away, towards one of the impenetrably dark corners of the warehouse. “If I’d been able to see her one last time; to hold her and tell her how sorry I was... I always thought it might have made a difference.”

Ron stared towards the same dark corner as Harry, not wanting to see the hurt in his best mate’s eyes. “And?”

“It doesn’t change a damn thing.”

The silence shared between them was disrupted by the loud pop of apparition. “Friend! Friend!” shouted a familiar voice.

Harry and Ron turned to find Angelina standing in the center of the warehouse. Arthur and Seamus were still pointing their wands at her, but George rushed to pull her into a tight embrace. She planted a kiss on his lips, then pushed him slightly away.

“Everybody listen up!” The warehouse grew silent as all eyes turned to her. “They just announced over the wireless that the Wizengamot voted to remove the Minister from office. Then the Minister declared martial law. Fighting has broken out inside the Ministry. Everyone is choosing a side.”

Arthur whistled softly as the message sank in. Ron looked at Harry, who seemed to be trying to gather what strength he had left. Even as his friend drew deep breaths, Ron could see his hands trembling. He made a snap decision that he hoped Harry wouldn’t contest. “Terry, get over here. It’s time to issue a Code Black.”

Justin looked up from Arabela’s wand with a grave expression. Even Harry managed to look Ron in the face, concern evident in his sad, weary eyes. “This is exactly the type of situation that Kingsley had in mind,” Ron said bluntly.

“And what precisely does that mean?” Draco asked.

“It’s a coded message to all the Aurors,” Justin replied quietly. “Simply put, it means that the Minister of Magic has been compromised and his orders can’t be trusted. Minister Shacklebolt instituted it after the war.”

“Kingsley realized that nobody was untouchable, not even him,” Ron added somberly.

“You realize that if we do this, there’s no turning back?” Harry asked. “The Aurors are committing to a side.”

“We have to protect the Wizengamot, Harry,” Ron replied. “Otherwise, we’re left with a bloody dictatorship.”

Harry sighed heavily and reached into his robes. He pulled out the Head Auror’s badge that he had been carrying with him ever since they fled his home in Devon. Tapping it three times with his wand, he said, “Code Black. The Minister of Magic has been compromised.” The badge began to glow with a silvery light. He carefully added, “Protect the Wizengamot at all costs.”

Ron reached into his pocket and pulled out his own badge, which was had already begun to pulse with the same silvery glow. He tapped it three times with his wand and recited, “Code Black. The Minister of Magic has been compromised.” The pulsing glow became continuous. He turned to Justin and said, “We need one other senior Auror to complete the charm. Will you do the honors?”

Justin pulled his cloak aside, revealing his Auror badge. He tapped it three times and repeated the same words used by Harry and Ron. When he was done, Ron looked at the badge Terry held in his hand and gave a satisfied nod when it began to glow. Terry tapped it with his wand and they heard Harry’s message delivered.

“We’ll finish up here,” Ron said to Terry. “Take Eileen and get back to London. Gather the remaining Aurors and set up security for the Wizengamot. Confine them all to Level Ten if that makes it easier.”

Terry nodded and walked to the center of the warehouse floor. “Good luck, guys,” he said, offering them a small salute.

“Good luck to you, too,” Ron replied, returning the gesture. “And be careful!”

Eileen Elgin joined Terry a moment later and they both disapparated with a crack.

“Five minutes left,” Ron shouted, hearing his words echo back to him inside the cavernous building. “Then I want everyone in the middle and we apparate back home.”

He turned to Harry, who was still cradling Esme’s lifeless body in his arms. “Take her back to the Burrow, mate. Say your goodbyes in peace. We’ll be along shortly.”

Ron was certain that he’d never seen Harry look so old as his best mate struggled to his feet. He stumbled blindly towards the middle of the warehouse, ignoring the concerned glances that fell upon him from every direction. Then he pulled the French Auror’s pallid face close to his cheek, turned, and disappeared.

Rory Tennant slipped quietly into a deserted corridor and melted the wax seal away from a roll of parchment that had been delivered to him by a tawny owl only moments earlier. Delivered wasn’t really a strong enough word. The owl had sought him out in the second floor corridor late at night, screeching loudly to draw his attention. As he read the contents of the message, his eyes seemed to light up. He quickly incinerated the parchment with his wand and his feet nearly danced a jig, so great was his apparent joy.

From his vantage point behind a suit of armor, Dennis Northway felt certain that the contents of the message didn’t bode well for the rapidly deteriorating situation inside of Hogwarts Castle. Well, he felt that the situation was deteriorating, anyway. Oliver and Artie Potter kept trying to tell him that he was going mad, but Dennis was convinced that recent events pointed in a very bad direction.

It began on the day that he saw Tennant casting strange spells in the corridors. A day or two later, the school nurse had appeared in the doorway during Transfiguration lessons. She had spoken to the teacher in hushed tones and then pulled Denzil Rowle out of the classroom. Rowle never returned. Although the students were given no official explanation, word quickly spread that Rowle’s father had been killed by Harry Potter and Ron Weasley while trying to apprehend them. The Ministry was already spreading so many lies that it was easy to disregard the whole thing, but to Dennis it marked a turning point where life in the Slytherin common room went from being unpleasant to completely unbearable.

The latest hint of trouble had come earlier in the day when Professor Longbottom had abruptly left the school, whispering instructions to Professor Astor as he hurried toward the front gates. The students who witnessed his departure said that he disapparated the instant he stepped past the boundaries, making a loud crack that clearly indicated he was in a hurry. Professor Astor looked worried as she made her way back inside, and announced that all students were to return to their common rooms immediately after dinner until further notice.

This left Dennis in a difficult position. He had no desire to return to the Slytherin common room and suffer the scorn of Rowle’s cronies. It also seemed unfair to impose on Artie and his cousins and risk getting them into trouble. So in the end, he decided to sneak around the castle using the secret passages and spy on Professor Tennant. Truthfully, he hadn’t expected to see anything. Tennant mostly kept to himself and rarely spoke outside of his classroom. It just felt good to be doing something. He knew that he would eventually need to get some sleep, and he reasoned that he’d figure that out when the time came. But after watching Tennant’s gleeful reaction to the message he had received, sleep was the furthest thing from Dennis’s mind.

He quietly slipped out of his hiding place. Somebody else needed to know what he had seen. Perhaps he could sweet-talk the Fat Lady into letting him into the Gryffindor common room, or at least passing a note to Artie or Celeste somehow. Preoccupied with the logistics of delivering his message, he failed to notice the hem of his school robes snagging in the gap between the armor’s backplate and faulds. As he took a step away from Tennant, the suit of armor clattered to the floor, its indignant protests adding to the cacophony.

“Who goes there?” shouted Tennant, lighting his wand. Their eyes met for one terrifying instant before Dennis tore his robes free and bolted around the corner. He had barely made the turn when a distinctly unfriendly-sounding spell caromed off of the edge of the wall, showering his back with broken fragments of stone. He realized that he was probably closer to being right about Tennant than he’d previously thought. And in much more danger.

“Git back ‘ere at once, Northway!” Tennant roared, but Dennis was already halfway down the corridor. He skidded around the next corner just as another blast of red light struck the flagstones at his feet. Ahead, he saw the statue of Felicitus the Forthright which he knew concealed a secret passage that contained a ladder leading up to the third floor. He dove behind the statue and pushed his way into the narrow space, cursing himself for having grown so much over the past year. He heard Tennant huffing and cursing loudly in the corridor. There were very few places where he might have taken refuge, so he knew that it wouldn’t take the professor very long to search them all.

Dennis thrust his wand into the open space above his head and lit it as much as he dared. He saw that three rungs of the old ladder were broken, leaving a gap too large for him to traverse. It appeared that the middle rung could be repaired, but speaking the incantation would give him away. In the corridor outside, he could hear Tennant methodically making his way towards the statue. He knew that he was going to have to make a go of it, repairing the rung and then scrambling up the ladder as fast as he could. Under the best of circumstances, Tennant would probably be able to fire off a curse or two before he reached the top.

Just then, he heard a loud cackle coming from the corridor, followed by Tennant shouting angrily. The cackles drew nearer and Dennis recognized the shrill voice of Peeves, who had begun to serenade the enraged professor with his own especially bawdy version of Angus and the Kilt. Dennis grinned wickedly as he whispered the spells to repair the ladder rungs. Beneath Peeves singing and Tennant bellowing, he could almost make out other small voices. In spite of the danger, his curiosity got the better of him and he wedged himself back through the passage to peer around the statue.

In the corridor, Peeves was pelting Tennant with ripe figs while a group of kitchen elves angrily scurried around his feet. Some of them were trying to keep the projectiles from being smashed into the floor while others attempted to seize the rest of the fruit from the poltergeist’s hands with magic. Dennis had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing out loud. He was so amused that he forgot the cardinal rule of dealing with the meddlesome spirit. As the Bloody Baron eloquently put it, the fact that Peeves torments your enemy does not make him your friend.

“Student in the passageway!” Peeves cackled, abandoning Professor Tennant and the elves and zooming in Dennis’s direction. “Student in the passageway, in behind the statue, climbing to the third floor, thumbs his nose right at you!

Dennis forced his way through the narrow gap in the wall for a third time and threw himself at the hastily repaired ladder. He scrambled up, expecting to hear Tennant yelling and firing spells at any moment. Instead, the only sound he heard was Peeves, who had passed through the wall into the passageway and was now singing loudly into his ears.

“Dammit, Peeves, shove off!” Dennis yelled, pulling himself up the final rung and into the crawlspace that led to the third floor corridor. He crawled out into the hallway on his stomach, dragging himself underneath the heavy tapestry that covered the entrance. On his left, a set of stairs led back down to the second floor and on his right they led up to the rest of the castle. He could no longer hear Tennant shouting over the poltergeist’s taunts, and he momentarily wondered whether the professor had given up. A slight shimmer in the stairwell on his left caught his eye and he jerked to his right just in time to avoid a jet of red light that burned a hole through the side of his school robes. Dennis launched himself into the stairwell leading to the upper floors and began to climb. Even though he was breathing hard, he reckoned that he had to be in better shape than the middle-aged teacher. Peeves was relentless in his pursuit, however, calling out the floor numbers as Dennis passed each of them.

“Seventh floor! Cauldrons, crystal balls, salamander toes and witches’ intimates!” Peeves cackled madly, spinning in the air and launching his remaining figs at Dennis’s head as he reached the top floor, gasping for air. Dennis pelted them away and managed to get his bearings. Farther down the corridor, he could see the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy hanging on the wall, and he realized that he was near the room that the Ravenclaws had found for their dueling practices. He turned and sprinted towards it. He could no longer hear Tennant’s voice coming up the stairs, but he didn’t put it past the professor to have found another way to pursue him.

Dennis skidded to a stop and stood facing the wall across from the tapestry. “Let me in,” he hissed. Nothing happened. Struggling to slow his breathing, he closed his eyes and imagined having a good place to hide for the night. According to the Ravenclaws, the secret room responded to the needs of the person trying to get in. Opening his eyes slightly, he could see the outlines of a doorway begin to appear in the smooth stone wall, then abruptly fade away. He closed his eyes again and tried harder. This time, he could almost feel the wall changing without opening his eyes. It felt sluggish, somehow. Reluctant.

Down the corridor, he could hear rapid footsteps approaching. He knew that he didn’t have much time. Squeezing his eyes tightly shut, he imagined a safe, cozy room with all of his might. When he opened his eyes, the doorway had appeared in front of him. Without a moment’s hesitation, he tore the door open and rushed inside, pulling it closed behind him.

What he found inside was nothing like what he had imagined. The room was large and airy. Picture windows appeared to open outward on the far wall, overlooking the twinkling lights of a muggle city on a warm summer night. In the distance, he could see the towering structure that adorned the muggle postcard his aunt had sent to his mother from Paris. The room was empty except for a large, four-poster bed sitting in the middle of the bare floor, facing toward the windows. Dennis walked quietly into the room, slowly circling the bed. Movement caught his eye, and he realized that something was squirming underneath the plush, white duvet covering the bed. “Umm, hello?” Dennis ventured, holding his wand in front of him.

The movement under the duvet abruptly stopped, followed by tense whispers. A moment later, Artie Potter’s head poked out from under it. He looked shocked at first, but his eyes quickly hardened.

“Dennis, if you fancy living, get out now.”

“I can’t,” Dennis answered miserably. “Bloody Tennant is out in the corridor. Wanker chased me all over the castle. He’s trying to kill me.”

“You think everybody is trying to kill you, Dennis,” Artie replied angrily. “Now get out of here. Can’t you see I’m, um, trying to sleep?”

“But he really is this time!” Dennis insisted. He turned to the side so that Artie could see his back. “Look at what he did to my robes.”

“Wait a minute,” Artie replied, looking at Dennis more closely, “you’re telling me that Tennant fired a curse at you that burned a hole in your robes?”

Dennis nodded gravely. The duvet rippled again and suddenly Portia Scamander’s head popped up near Artie’s. “Hi, Dennis,” she said cheerfully, seemingly oblivious to the alarmed look on her boyfriend’s face. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“Hi, Portia,” Dennis replied, struggling to keep his eyes locked on her face instead of her bare shoulders. “I was, uh, just looking for a place to hide.”

“I see. You were running from Professor Tennant?”

“Well, yes,” Dennis said, trying to act nonchalant as the duvet slid a bit lower, revealing her upper arms. He forced himself to look at her bright, blue eyes. “You see, he received an owl while he was patrolling the corridors.” he mumbled nervously. “Rather suspicious, I thought. And then he caught me spying on him and, you know, started firing curses at me.”

“Do you know what the message said?” Artie asked, propping himself up on his elbows.

“No idea,” Dennis answered. “But the owl that delivered it was making a huge racket to get his attention and he looked overjoyed when he read it.”

Artie nodded slowly. “We need to think of a way to get you back to the Gryffindor common room so you can let the others know. Are you sure that he’s out in the corridor?”

“I’m not sure, but I don’t want to take a chance,” Dennis replied. “I just barely made it in here in time.”

Portia looked at Artie. “We’d better wait until morning, when there are more people awake and moving about the castle. He can give us detention, but he can’t curse us in front of witnesses. Dennis, you’ll have to stay with us tonight.”

Artie looked more than a little bit crestfallen. “Conjure a cot or something, Dennis. There’s plenty of room back behind the bed.”

Dennis shuffled his feet slightly. “I, um, don’t know how. Transfiguration isn’t my best subject, really.”

“It’s alright, Dennis,” Portia chirped. “This bed is huge. There’s plenty of room. Move over, love.” She wriggled under the duvet, moving towards the far side of the bed. Artie muttered under his breath and rolled toward her, leaving the side nearest to Dennis unoccupied. Dennis took a step toward the bed and started to sit down.

“Dennis,” Artie spoke through his fingers, causing Dennis to freeze in mid-air with his bottom hovering over the mattress. “Trousers.”

“Oh,” Dennis replied, standing back up. He pulled his school robes to the sides and began to unbuckle his belt. “Won’t the room just change the sheets? Or maybe the elves or something?” he asked. “I’m fine sleeping on top of-”

“Stop!” Artie snapped, shooting Dennis an angry frown. He nodded his head toward the foot of the bed. “My trousers, you bloody idiot!”

Dennis looked in the direction Artie was nodding and saw a pair of black trousers hanging haphazardly off of the edge of the bed. “Oh, right,” he said, moving to retrieve them. He grasped them by the leg and tossed them towards Artie’s outstretched hand. A pair of silk boxer shorts slipped out of them and came to rest on top of the duvet.

“Um, those look nice,” Dennis mumbled, unsure of what else to say. “My mum always buys me the cotton ones-”

“Dennis!” Artie cut him off. “One more word about my boxers and I’m going to get Tennant myself.”

“Right,” Dennis replied awkwardly. He sat on the edge of the bed with his back to Artie and Portia, listening to the sound of Artie pulling his trousers back on underneath the duvet.

“What do you think he’s up to, Dennis?” Portia asked.

“I don’t know,” Dennis answered honestly. “But ever since I saw him casting those spells in the corridor near his classroom, it seems like he’s been acting, well, stranger than usual. And then Professor Longbottom tears out of here in a lather and suddenly Tennant’s getting owls in the middle of the night and firing curses at students... Something is wrong.”

“You can turn around, Dennis,” Artie said, sounding more calm. Dennis swung his feet up onto the bed and saw that Artie was sitting against the headboard and Portia had located her top and put it back on. “For what it’s worth, I think you’re onto something. But she’s right, we need to wait until morning. Then we can find Professor Astor or one of the other teachers and tell them what you saw. Maybe Professor Longbottom will even be back by then.”

Dennis sighed heavily. “Yeah, I guess there’s no other way around it.” He paused and looked at them both. “Thank you for letting me stay. I know I ruined your romantic evening and I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright, Dennis,” Portia replied, sounding slightly dreamy. “Three times in one evening is quite enough, anyway.”

Dennis’s mouth fell open and Artie’s breath caught in his throat, making him cough violently. Portia looked back at them with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. “I’m joking, Dennis. Close your mouth and go to sleep.” Then she rolled onto her side and laid down, leaving the two boys dumbstruck.

Octavia shivered slightly and pulled her jacket more tightly around her. She moved closer to her Great Uncle Percy and pulled the sides of his cloak around herself. He had barely said two words since the three of them had disapparated away from the terrible place where she had seen her mother and grandmother injured and in pain. She looked up at him and saw the empty expression on his face. He reminded Octavia of one of her dolls.

The mean lady who killed Uncle Harry’s friend had left them alone in the small stone alcove after casting spells over the entrance. Octavia was curious, but she knew better than to try to touch the invisible barrier in front of her. Her cousin Billy had told her all about the protective wards that her Great Uncle Bill learned in Egypt. They would burn your fingers off if you touched them.

“Uncle Percy, everything is going to be alright, isn’t it?” she asked tentatively.

He didn’t answer immediately. It reminded Octavia of the way that her Mum and Dad sometimes didn’t answer her right away if they were talking to one another or to somebody else, which was strange because there was nobody else for Uncle Percy to talk to. Finally, he said, “Yes, Octavia, everything is going to be alright.”

Octavia wrinkled her nose. His voice didn’t sound right. He sounded like one of her muggle dolls, the ones that always repeated the same few words over and over, no matter what she said to them.

“Uncle Percy, are you alright?”

Again, there was a pause. “Of course I’m alright, Octavia.”

Octavia took no comfort from her great uncle’s response. Instinctively, she placed her hand inside his. At first, he did not react. Then she felt his hand twitch sharply. She almost pulled her hand away, thinking maybe it was too cold for him. But she suddenly felt Percy’s hand close reassuringly around hers. When he spoke, his voice was only a whisper and he sounded like he was straining very hard, but he didn’t sound like a doll any more. “I’ll take care of you, sweetheart. Somehow.” Then his hand went slack again, and she instantly missed the firmness of his grip.

She heard voices entering the dark space beyond the alcove. Lights began to dance around in the darkness, and suddenly torches were lit. After her eyes adjusted, Octavia realized that they were in a cave. Lots of strangers in dark-colored cloaks came into the room. One of them seemed to be walking directly towards her, and Octavia pressed herself tightly against her great uncle’s legs. But the man stopped a few feet away and started to talk to another man as though she wasn’t even there. This happened twice more and it dawned on her that the strangers in the cave couldn’t see her or Uncle Percy. The spell that the mean lady used to trap them in the alcove also made them invisible.

A hush fell over the men and Octavia saw a woman in a dark, hooded robe come into the room. All of the strange men hurried to get out of her way as she walked toward the front. Without being able to see her face, Octavia was certain that it was the mean lady. The blond hair that spilled from the front of her hood was the same. When she spoke, Octavia recognized the voice.

“Gentlemen, the conflict that we have sought to bring about has begun! Even as we speak, witches and wizards loyal to our great cause are fighting against the blood traitors and muggle lovers inside the walls of the Ministry of Magic. All of our enemies have been forced to reveal themselves, and soon they will be uprooted like weeds. Their deaths will make way for a new world where the natural order of things is respected and wizards, not muggles, decide our future!”

A roar of approval went up among the men in the room. Under the mean lady’s arm, Octavia could make out the book that Uncle Percy had taken from Uncle Harry before she killed his friend. Octavia felt really bad for her great uncle. He seemed to really like his new friend, and now she was gone.

“But,” the mean lady continued after the cheers died down, “I do not wish to see magical blood spilled unnecessarily. There are good, honest magical folk who will fight to preserve the old order simply because they have placed their faith in the witches and wizards who created that order. They are misguided. Led astray by the blood traitors and muggle lovers who have falsely portrayed themselves as the saviors of our world. We must show them the error in their ways, and that demonstration begins with eliminating the liars and charlatans who preach the virtues of muggle culture and thumb their noses at the values of blood purity and magical superiority.”

Octavia tried to follow what the mean lady was saying. She used a lot of big words, but it seemed like she really didn’t like muggles. That was fine as far as Octavia was concerned. She didn’t like the muggle children at her school, either. There were certainly a few funny hexes that she wanted to use on them. It would teach them a lesson.

“Harry Potter and his family have been able to elude us so far, but that is about to change. There is one place where his family cannot hide. It also happens to be the breeding ground for the muggle propaganda that poisons our children’s minds. At first light, we will travel to Hogwarts. There, we will capture the grandchildren of Harry Potter and the Weasleys. Once we have their precious, little mud-bloods, we will force them to surrender themselves and deal with them once and for all. Never again will they spread their poisonous lies among our people. Wizarding society will be led by wizarding values, forever!”

Another roar went up among the men in the room. Octavia was now far less enthusiastic about the mean lady’s plan. It sounded like she was planning to go to Hogwarts and capture her brother and most of her cousins. She wondered whether they would be put in a cold, damp cave as well? Maybe they would be hurt the way that her Mum and Grandma had been. Octavia decided that she really didn’t like the mean lady at all.

“And as long as we are there, we will rid the school of the muggle-born thieves who have stolen our magic before their cancer can root itself deeper into our world.”

Octavia frowned as the strange men cheered loudly again. They were trying awfully hard to impress the mean lady, but she didn’t think it would work. There was something about the mean lady that made Octavia think that she wasn’t really impressed by anyone.

“Tomorrow, my friends, we tear out the heart of the beast. Tomorrow, we take back our world. And by the time the sun sets again, I vow to each of you that the blood traitors and muggle lovers will be destroyed!”

Octavia watched with interest as the last cheers died away and some of the strange wizards began to step forward and organize the others into groups. The cave gradually emptied as the various groups made their way out. Soon, only the mean lady remained. She set the book down on a stone table at the front of the room and walked over to the alcove, then she waved a wand in front of it. Octavia suddenly noticed a slight breeze on her face and that the air smelled a little like the beach. Uncle Percy stepped out of the alcove, nudging her forward.

“Hello, Octavia,” the mean lady said. “My name is Lady Tenabra.”

“Uncle Percy called you Arabela,” Octavia replied. She thought it was strange that the mean lady would have more than one name.

“You may call me that, if you like,” the mean lady replied, turning back to the book on the stone table. For the first time, Octavia noticed her right hand in the torchlight. Her skin had turned a sickly, green hue, like boiled cabbage, and the fingers were gnarled like tree roots. It looked ghastly.

“Did Granddaddy Malfoy hurt your hand?”

“I’m afraid he did. It’s a rather nasty curse that he used. Did you know that your grandfather used dark magic?”

“Granddaddy wouldn’t do that,” Octavia pronounced confidently. “Grandma Astoria cured him of that wickedness.”

The mean lady held her injured hand up, studying the decaying flesh and swollen, blackened veins. “It would appear that she was not entirely successful.” She turned back to the book and flipped it open to a page that she had previously marked. “It doesn’t matter, however. You can help me get better.”

There was something about her tone that Octavia didn’t like. It reminded her of the voice that her Mum and Dad used when they tried to convince her that doing her chores was somehow good for her.

“What if I don’t want to help? Isn’t there somebody else who can help you?”

“Now, now, Octavia. What would your Great Uncle Harry say if he knew that you were refusing to help somebody who needed it?” The mean lady was carefully reading something in her book as she spoke.

“You killed Uncle Harry’s friend. Why?”

The mean lady didn’t look up. “His friend meant to do me harm. She was angry at me for something she believed that I had done. If I hadn’t acted, she would have killed me.”

Octavia considered her answer for a moment. “I don’t think that Uncle Harry would want me to help you. He told me that killing people is wrong, no matter what they’ve done.”

“Harry Potter is naive about many things, Octavia,” the mean lady replied, turning to face her. “Human beings have been killing one another since before there were words to describe the act. It is the oldest means we have to resolve conflicts, and still the most reliable. There are those who say that the Dark Lord’s inability to feel love was his undoing, the reason that your great uncle was able to beat him. But that is simply a fantasy, Octavia. Voldemort fell because he feared his own death. And Harry Potter will fall because he fears the deaths of those he loves. You’re too young to appreciate the irony in that, but trust me, it’s exquisite.”

The mean lady took a step toward her and Octavia tried to back away, but she felt Uncle Percy’s hands on her shoulders. The mean lady pointed a wand toward Octavia’s head and began to speak softly. She waved the wand to and fro, executing a series of crisp maneuvers. Octavia couldn’t understand the words she was saying, but they sounded scary and dangerous. She began to squirm, trying to free herself from her great uncle’s grasp. “Hold still, Octavia,” Uncle Percy said in the emotionless doll voice that she had started to hate. “This won’t hurt at all.”

Octavia could feel a pressure on the side of her head, like something from outside was trying to get in. She instinctively put her fingers on the spot, but she couldn’t feel anything and the pressure continued to grow. Strange, whispering voices reached her mind, even though the room was silent aside from the mean lady. Then she felt a small pain inside her head. She looked at the mean lady and her face also looked like something was hurting her. Suddenly the pain flared and the pressure on her head was gone. Octavia cried out, while the mean lady recoiled, screaming in pain and falling into the stone table.

Octavia felt Uncle Percy’s grip on her shoulders disappear, and she turned to see him collapse to the floor. She dropped her her knees and put her hand on his cheek. “Uncle Percy, are you alright?”

He looked up at her and the empty expression was gone, replaced with worry and the appearance that he was struggling against something that she couldn’t see. “Octavia, run!” he whispered. It was not the doll voice she heard, but his own. “Get out of here! Go!”

She stared wide-eyed at him for a moment and then spun around and bolted toward the entrance to the cave room. Somewhere in the distance, she could hear the sounds of waves crashing on a beach. Just as she was about to cross into the passageway that led out, she felt herself collide with an invisible barrier. It crackled with unseen energy, throwing her back onto the rocky floor of the cave. Octavia felt sore and sleepy. She wasn’t sure how long she laid there before the mean lady leaned down to check her pulse with a finger against her neck. Opening her eyes just a sliver, she saw Uncle Percy standing over the mean lady’s shoulder, his expression once again empty.

“The spells are very complicated. I clearly need to spend more time studying them,” the mean lady said to Uncle Percy, although he didn’t seem to be listening. “Place her back in the alcove. We will try again later. Right now, we have an appointment to keep at the Ministry.”

Octavia felt herself being lifted off of the floor and she could smell Uncle Percy’s cologne as he carried her across the room. He sat her down with her back against a cold stone wall and the sea breeze once again stopped touching her skin. As the sounds of their footsteps receded into the passageway, Octavia realized that several drops of something wet were winding their way down her cheek. She touched the spot with her finger and brought it to her lips, where she found the salty taste of a tear. It struck her as odd, because she hadn’t been crying.

So I hope that you all enjoyed the slower pace of this chapter after the insanity of Chapter 33. Huge thanks, as always, to my amazing beta reader, sophie_hatter. And apologies to CloakAuror9 for the ruined couple of days.

If you like the story, please take a few minutes to share your thoughts, observations and reactions with me in the box below.

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