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Stories begun in 2006 (post-HBP)

Author Notes:

This is the final, edited, complete version of Harry Potter and the Last Horcrux.   Chapters 1 through 14 were completely written prior to publication of Deathly Hallows in 2008; chapters 15 through 19 and the alternate ending were in draft or outline form by that time.  


Into the Breach
July 29, 1998     Hogwarts Castle, Perth & Kinross, Scotland


A red beam lanced from Ollivander's elder wand, which bucked in Harry's hand. It left a scar on the large stone he was using for practise, but it was much smaller than the one left by his own combination of holly and phoenix.

Hermione's hand came to rest on his shoulder. “It's still uncomfortable?” she asked.

“Ollivander did say that elder wood and a phoenix feather were meant to fly apart.  This wand feels like it's at war with itself,” Harry returned.

Hermione looked thoughtful at that, and said, “I wonder... what spells have you tried?”

“Everything that came to mind: Reducto, Percussio, Everbero...” Harry said.

“Curses or hexes, all of them,” said Hermione; “What about charms, or transfigurations? Conjurations, perhaps? You might want to summon something to block a curse, after all, or penetrate magical darkness, or -”

“Right, I get it – try something more on the light side,” Harry cut her off. He brandished the elder wand and casually incanted, “Lumos.”

“Cancel it! Cancel it!” Hermione shouted.

It took him two tries to stop the charm. In its aftermath, his stone target was bleached completely white. His vision was peppered by yellow spots, and from her swaying Harry figured that Hermione had experienced the same.

“Did you expect that? I didn't expect that,” Harry said sheepishly.

Hermione blinked back tears from the blinding light. “Try something else... something less intense?” she encouraged him.

He didn't consciously think on it – the charm just fell from his mouth: “Expecto patronum.”

A stag erupted from the elder wand, but it was larger than he recalled. It grew brighter and brighter, and then the halo of light burned away. What remained was a true brown-coloured stag, accurate in every way to the downy hairs on its antlers and the cool dampness of its nose. It walked majestically to Hermione and nuzzled her cheek.

“Is this possible?” Hermione said in astonishment.

On an impulse, Harry flicked his wand and said, “Orchideous.” He gathered up the spray of flowers that sprung forth and handed them to Hermione. “It isn't just the wand, you know? You did this, too – you're my happy thought,” he said with a grin.

Her eyes went impossibly wide and she enveloped him in the firmest, warmest hug he could imagine. She whispered into his ear that she loved him and promised him a lifetime supply of happy thoughts, and his hold on her became as tight as her hold on him.

Abruptly, she let him go and sprang back; “Harry, you conjured those flowers,” she said.

“Erm... that's right... they're for you...” he said uncertainly.

“No, you're missing it: you conjured those flowers,” she repeated.

“I know that, they're... steady on – the stag's still here!” he said.

“You can hold off a Dementor and keep casting!” she said excitedly.

“That's bloody brilliant!” he said, and broke into a full-on smile. She resumed her hug and then began to kiss him soundly, which was also bloody brilliant as far as he was concerned.

    

July 30, 1998     Hogwarts Castle, Perth & Kinross, Scotland

Amos Diggory announced, “We're down to the last group.”

“Be sure that you stay with the plan, Amos,” Shacklebolt said as the two men shook hands.

Diggory turned to Harry; “Harry, I... did we ever thank you properly? You brought Ced back to us, and... did we thank you for it?”

“I wish I could have saved him,” Harry said.

Diggory clapped him on the shoulder, and said, “We all wish things had turned out differently.  Just do your best to survive this, would you?”

“We're going to win,” Harry said firmly; “We're going to win, and that's the important thing.”

“Let's be off, Amos,” Mr. Macmillan said. “We'll follow the plan, Minister: we'll watch and wait, and we'll make for the Faeroes if you aren't in contact within forty-eight hours. We may not like it, but we'll do it.”

“Good man,” said Shacklebolt.

Moments later, the last portkey left Hogwarts for the Shetland Islands. Only those who were fighting to the end, the castle ghosts, and a handful of house elves remained – excepting Hermione, Ron and Gudrun.  Harry hoped Gudrun would be his ally in keeping Hermione and Ron as far from London as possible.  Mr. Weasley hadn't been helpful in that, and all of the Weasley children had reached an age where their mother's loud demands drew grins rather than obedience.  Ginny had steadfastly refused to stand down.  She and a dozen other members of the English resistance would march with the Danish irregulars, now confirmed to be en-route to London, as they created distractions across the city before joining the battle at the Ministry.

Dobby hesitantly tugged at one leg of Harry's trousers. “We is here to help, Harry Potter,” he said.

“You were supposed to follow the portkeys,” Harry said. “You can't stay here after tomorrow. If we don't do our job, Hogwarts won't be safe –”

“We knows this. House-elves hear even when wizards think that they do not,” Dobby returned; “These elves defends their home, and so they helps Harry Potter's friends before they helps the Headmistress and her wards keep the Muggles at bay.”

“They don't have to do this.  What are you going to do, Dobby?” Harry asked.

“Dobby helps the great wizard Harry Potter, of course,” the house-elf said proudly.

Harry thought for a moment, and then said, “I have a special task for you, Dobby. It's very important.”

Dobby could barely contain himself. “Dobby is listening – Dobby awaits his orders, Harry Potter, sir!” he said.

“I need you to keep Hermione away from London,” Harry said. “I don't care what you have to do – you need to keep her away from there, as far as you can.”

Dobby's face fell and he began to tug on his ears. “Dobby would like to be helping Harry Potter...” he mumbled.

“I need you to do this, Dobby,” Harry said firmly.

“Harry Potter's Miss Granger knows Harry Potter very well,” Dobby said nervously. “Miss Granger already asks Dobby to swear that Dobby helps her to help Harry Potter, no matter what Harry Potter says.”

Harry closed his eyes and rubbed at his forehead. “I suppose you agreed to this?” he confirmed.

“Dobby – wants to helps Harry Potter – and – and – Harry Potter's Miss Granger wants to helps Harry Potter – so Dobby promises to helps Miss Granger –” the house elf stammered, even as he collected a stray chunk of masonry and began to wave it toward his own forehead.

Harry said quickly, “Stop! You meant well and that's what matters, isn't it? Look... when the fighting starts, could you and your friends take our wounded to safety?”

Dobby clapped his hands excitedly and said, “Oh! Dobby and the other house-elves can be doing that! The old families – the ones pure of blood – they are never setting wards to stop the come and go of the house-elves. We are beneath their thinking. The Ministry wards are not blocking us.”

“Brilliant – we'll be counting on you,” Harry said.

Dobby puffed out his chest and assured him, “Dobby will not fail.”

Shacklebolt gave Harry's shoulder a squeeze from behind, and then he lowered himself into a squat. “You and your counterparts may save many lives tomorrow. I'll thank you in advance for it,” he said to Dobby.

“M-M-Minister... the... Minister... h-he looks Dobby in the eyes and... he gives thanks to house-elves... Dobby is beside hisself, although Dobby cannot be beside hisself, not without there being two Dobbys...” the flummoxed house-elf managed to say.

Shacklebolt laughed softly before he said, “I need you to serve as the central point of contact with the other elves. You will lead them in their duties. Can you do this?”

Dobby bore himself up and said, “Dobby will speak for the others.  Dobby is honoured.”

“Harry, we need to be off,” Shacklebolt said; “I want to reach our destination before night falls.”

“If I call for you, will you be able to find me?” Harry asked Dobby.

“Dobby will always be finding Harry Potter,” the house-elf assured him.

Harry turned to Shacklebolt and began, “I'm almost ready... just wanted to check with Professor McGonagall before we – good lord, Professor, could you make some noise or something?”  McGonagall let forth with uncharacteristic and unrestrained laughter.  Shacklebolt gave a toothy grin.

“I would offer an apology, Harry, but as I believe honesty to be the best policy... well, I shall only say that I am at your service,” the spectral Headmistress said at last.

“I just wanted to be sure that you were ready to lock down the wards,” Harry said tersely.

McGonagall's expression soured instantly.  “All of the preparations were completed several hours ago.  The rune clusters do seem to respond to my commands, but I remain concerned that once locked, the wards may remain permanently in that state,” she said.

“That won't happen,” Harry said without a flicker of doubt.

Shacklebolt cut in, “Malachi York and his son both shared the same concern, Harry, and they're the most accomplished ward masters I know.”

Harry sighed, “They spent an hour trying to prove that Rowena Ravenclaw was wrong about the wards that she designed.  Brilliant blokes, I'm sure, but still...”

“In fairness to Malachi, he was suggesting that the wards have changed over the centuries.  They're twice as old as any other warding scheme in Britain, you know?” Shacklebolt countered.

“It isn't that he can't explain why the wards respond to Professor McGonagall, it's that there isn't an explanation he's willing to accept.  Ward damage is an excuse, and nothing more,” Harry said.

Shacklebolt sighed and squeezed Harry's shoulder in parental fashion.  “It does my heart good to see you stretching, and I mean that - you're more than just a dab hand with a wand, and don't forget that.  So, please understand that I'm not trying to patronise you, but these may be the most complex wards in the world and right now they indicate that the Headmistress is alive.  Goodness knows I wish that were true –”

“That's just it, Kingsley: they're not really that complex.  I mean, the Yorks acted like they thought the wards were intelligent or something.  It's just layers of intention.  Ravenclaw laid it out clearly enough for a simple bloke like me, so they've no reason to be confused about it.  I think maybe they know too much; they're getting in their own way.  The wards aren't broken – we know the active defences are working.  That means there's a reason why the Professor meets their test.  We just have to trust the lock-down, and that's all there is to it,” Harry insisted.

“This is not a small error, Harry, and Mr. York is correct to take it as a sign of additional errors,” McGonagall said archly.

“Are the Heads bound to Hogwarts?” Harry asked her.

“By blood oath, of course,” she answered.

“Was there something more than that?  You're still here, Professor – you had unfinished business, right?  When you were... um, struck down...?  You were trying to evacuate the castle.  You sacrificed yourself, didn't you?  Where were you when it happened?  Were you near the rune seals at the entrance?  Did you make an extra oath?” he pressed.

McGonagall's eyes lost their silvery lustre.  She said, “I was at the keystone... Pomona needed more time to trap the dungeons, and if we were going to die, then we were bloody well going to take as many of them with us as we could.  Filius attempted to raise the interior wards.  It hadn't been done in five hundred years and we didn't have Madam Ravenclaw's notes... but I doubt it would have mattered.  The power requirements were far greater than either of us would have guessed.  I made the blood sacrifice instead of Filius... I had hoped it would protect him, but of course it did not.  The wards... they drained him, it was horrifying...”

“So you made a second blood oath to Hogwarts, directly on the keystone?” Shacklebolt confirmed.

McGonagall said, “Not in so many words, but Harry did point out the importance of intention.”

“What happened next?” Harry asked.

She explained, “From there, I made my way to the entry.  Hagrid was leading the last students through the Forbidden Forest and it was my hope to give them at least a half-hour free of pursuit.  Pomona and I fought a group of Death Eaters to a standstill.  The house-elves could not inflict direct harm, but they could and did make it very difficult for their opponents.  It was about then when we realised that Filius had been partly successful.  The courtyard was completely sealed from the rest of the castle.  Anyone could enter, but no one could leave without being obliterated.  Pomona and I decided to confine as many Death Eaters as possible.  Unfortunately, I lost my footing in an exchange and was caught in my own trap, alone in the courtyard with a hundred Death Eaters.  Though I am loathe to admit it, transfiguration can only get you so far.  After a few minutes, I was downed and bleeding.”

“So why didn't you drop the wards and take a runner?” Harry asked.

“I had no intention of yielding one hundred or more fighters back to Voldemort.  Once I knew that survival was no longer an option, my choices were rather stark.  You have heard of Fiendfyre, of course?” she said.

“Oh, Minerva, you didn't...” Shacklebolt murmured.

“However well versed in the spell those Death Eaters may have been, none of them considered the consequences of incapacitating the caster whilst the Fiendfyre was still loosed.  No one left that courtyard alive.  A few minutes after that, I found myself in the entry once again and the wards and defences remained at my command,” she finished.

Harry said, “So why are you surprised?  First you took a blood oath to serve Hogwarts, then you offered a blood sacrifice to raise more wards, and then you sacrificed your life to protect the place.  We know that can raise some awfully powerful magic that's hard to explain – like what my mum did, right?  You are the wards' intentions, Professor!  The wards may not be intelligent or aware or what-have-you, but the layers of intention Ravenclaw mentioned are a lot like the Sorting Hat.  I can't imagine they've been able to trust anyone this much since the Founders were here.  Lock the place down.  I trust you to open it up again.”

McGonagall looked into his eyes for far longer than was comfortable.  At last, she said, “Then it is only fair that I trust in you, Mr. Potter.  Go.  End this.  We will be waiting.”

    

July 30, 1998     near Heathrow, Surrey, England

“Merlin's balls...” Harry muttered.

“Hard to wrap one's head around,” said Fred from one side of him.

“We've been here a half dozen times, and it doesn't get any easier,” George chimed in from the other side.

“Let's not tarry,” Shacklebolt said. The four had apparated into a row of warehouses used for air freight. It was a mile to the designated Heathrow apparation point, which in turn was a short walk from the airport's railway station.

The signs of magical warfare were all around. Harry could see evidence that the cargo terminal had been attacked by giants. There were few commercial aircraft in evidence; military planes and armed soldiers were everywhere, it seemed.

“Make certain your identification badges are clearly displayed,” Shacklebolt told Harry; “Expect that everyone will be acting in a panic.”

Harry checked for the three badges attached to his military-issue jacket. As they came around a large warehouse, he saw a burned-out British Airways jet in several pieces strewn across an adjacent road. There were huge guns stationed atop several buildings in the area, and...

“Are those missiles?” he blurted out.

Fred inclined his head toward the remains of the plane. “There were dragons,” he said.

“All the Muggles see are flames and explosions,” Shacklebolt explained. “They figure that other Muggles are firing weapons from what they call 'stealth' aircraft. I actually considered fully revealing ourselves to their military. If we'd had enough wizards on our side, we could have stationed them to watch for dragons and giants and the like.”

The station itself was a virtual armed camp. At least half of those awaiting the train were soldiers. No one could get on or off a train without a thorough screening and proper identification. Even the badges Shacklebolt had obtained from the PM's office drew close scrutiny.

The intelligence officer attached to the station was summoned. He looked Harry, Fred and George up and down, and said to Shacklebolt, “They seem a bit young for this sort of thing. What's your business in London, exactly?”

“Official Secrets Act – it's need-to-know, sir,” Shacklebolt said.

“I'm sorry, sir... but with things as they are, I do indeed need to know,” the officer countered.

Shacklebolt let out a long-suffering sigh and flipped over his badge. “Call this number,” he said; “It's a secure communications line at Ten Downing. Ask for Pamela Barnes at Tango Two-Eight-Zed.”

The officer hesitated for a moment. “I do recognise the number, Mr. Shackleton,” he said, and proceeded to call it on a mobile phone. “Pamela Barnes at Tango Two-Eight-Zed, please... this is Lt. Robert Troxel calling from Heathrow Station, authorisation Five-Three-Bravo-Four-Two-Alpha. I have a Mr. Shackleton and three associates; they're displaying Delta Six identification... yes, I'll hold... thank you... Yes, sir, this is – ”

The lieutenant's eyebrows climbed nearly to his hairline. “Sir! I... yes, sir, that's a fair description... I... I don't mean to be forward, sir, but I'll have to ask you for the proper authorisation... yes... thank you, sir, I'm simply trying to... thank you, sir, I... yes, sir, I... I'm not certain that's possible, given... no, of course we wish to... yes, sir, I understand... we'll do our level best to meet that, sir!”

Shacklebolt crooked an eyebrow and asked, “Well...?”

“My apologies, Mr. Shackleton,” the lieutenant said; “I didn't intend to hinder you -”

Shacklebolt waved him off. “Better safe than sorry, Lieutenant,” he said.

The lieutenant rapidly dialled a number on his mobile, and barked, “This is Troxel. I'm declaring a Red Twenty-two, repeat, a Red Twenty-Two. No, this isn't a sodding drill. Red Twenty-two, immediately!”

Moments later, the speakers throughout the station crackled, and a voice announced, “Attention, ladies and gentlemen – attention, please. Train number 238, arriving in two minutes, has been declared an express. Repeating, train number 238, arriving in two minutes, has been declared an express. There will be no stops between this station and King's Cross. Train number 248, arriving in twelve minutes, will follow the normal timetable. Our apologies for any inconvenience.”

The lieutenant waved over an enlisted man, and ordered, “Take these men to the first car when 238 arrives, and then ride with the engineer to King's Cross. No other passengers are to be allowed on that car. You will ensure that they are allowed off the train before the rest of the passengers, and that they pass efficiently through security. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Godspeed, Mr. Shackleton... gentlemen,” the lieutenant said.

“What the bloody hell was that?” Fred muttered as they made their way down the platform.

“Perks of the office,” Shacklebolt returned; “Thank the stars Scrimgeour put me with the PM last year. I didn't intend to be this conspicuous, though. Stay sharp, boys.”

Even the interior of the car was vastly changed from what Harry recalled. Seats had been removed at each end, to be replaced by small cabins made of clear plastic; he could only assume that they were stations for armed guards. The normal jumble of station guides and placards were replaced by signs such as “MIND YOUR BELONGINGS” and “REPORT ANY SUSPICIOUS ITEMS” and “ALL CONVERSATIONS ARE BEING MONITORED FOR YOUR PROTECTION”.

The enlisted man left them with a daily tabloid whose banner headline read: “BRITAIN SOLDIERS ON”. It was filled with reports of explosions and disappearances and failing power grids and mandatory evacuations and the ongoing efforts to contain the 'foreign terrorists' who were laying siege to the heart of England.

George shook his head sadly and said, “They've no idea - no idea at all, the poor blighters.” For his part, Fred seized the paper from Harry and promptly turned to the third page.

The train raced toward London much faster than Harry recalled from his few experiences. Not once were they routed to a siding nor did they ever slow until reaching King's Cross. Within five minutes of arriving at the station, they were at the pavement. The enlisted man tried to arrange a troop transport for them, but they begged off and made their way as quickly as possible to the nearest close. After three quick and apparently random side-along apparations, Harry found himself in Knightsbridge and within sight of Harrod's, its doors shuttered and windows shattered. From there, the four wizards walked down a littered and vacant side road to Sloane Street and toward their destination, the heavily barricaded Embassy of Denmark.

    

July 30, 1998     Embassy of Denmark, City of London

A half-dozen soldiers stood warily behind concrete barriers and two armoured vehicles were at the ready. The soldiers' weapons were aimed squarely at the wizards from the time they came into view. As they drew within a hundred feet, one of the soldiers barked out in accented English, “Who are you? What are you doing in this place?”

Shacklebolt raised his hands and returned, “My name is Kingsley Shackleton. My associates and I have an appointment with your Political Section.”

“The Political Section? Is this some sort of joke? Look around you!” the soldier snapped.

“That doesn't change the facts, sir. We're here to meet with Mr. Twing,” said Shacklebolt.

A second soldier said, “Approach slowly. Please keep your hands visible. If you... make any unexpected movements, we will fire. Do you understand this?”

“Raise your hands, gentlemen,” Shacklebolt said to Harry and the twins.

As they reached the barrier, a soldier emerged from the front door accompanied by a young man – perhaps the twins' age at most – dressed in a polo shirt and casual trousers. The young man's voice was strong and his accented English hinted at both Nordic heritage and an upper-crust education. “Kingsley, old boy – splendid to see you once again,” he said to Shacklebolt.

Shacklebolt said, “Gentlemen, this is Anders Twing, Deputy to the Ministry of the State of Denmark. His office handles special affairs not covered under the other Danish ministries –”

Twing cut him off, “I deal with Faeroe Islands issues, contacts with the mass media, that sort of thing. Let's move inside for further introductions; I'm told the looters rarely come out in the daytime, but we've no reason to test it.”

They were met shortly after entering the Embassy by an older man in a crisply tailored suit. Twing introduced him, “This is Mikael Jacobson, the Danish ambassador to the United Kingdom.”

Mr. Jacobson chuckled and said, “Technically, I am the charges d'affaires ad interim for the Kingdom of Denmark's diplomatic mission to the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs recalled much of our delegation to Copenhagen when hostilities broke out. I drew the short straw, as one might say.”

Shacklebolt returned, “My name is Kingsley Shackleton. I'm attached to the Office of the Prime Minister. These are my associates, Mr. Evans, Mr. Prewett and Mr. Prewett.”

“And you represent one of the special affairs under Anders' portfolio?” Mr. Jacobson asked.

“It would seem so, Mr. Jacobson,” said Shacklebolt.

Mr. Jacobson said, “Very good. My wife's parents are... associated with your community. I do not know the precise nature of your mission, nor do I need to know. At the direction of the Prime Minister of Denmark and at the request of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, this delegation and all of its resources are at your disposal.” With that, he shook hands with each of them and headed to a bank of lifts.

Twing led them down a corridor to a spartan conference room where nine wizards and seven witches awaited. “We lost two of our company in Scotland. These Death Eaters are, ehh, bad business,” he said.

Shacklebolt looked around the room slowly and then said, “My name is Kingsley Shacklebolt and I am the Minister for Magic-in-exile of England and Scotland. My associates are Fred and George Weasley, and Harry Potter.”

At mention of Harry's name, everyone stood and began applauding. Harry said uncomfortably, “Please... please... Kingsley's the hero in the room. He and... and Remus Lupin and many others... they've saved thousands of lives...”

One of the witches, who was somewhere around Shacklebolt's age, shook her head and said, “Mr. Potter, you are the hope of the Nordic countries against, ehh... konge i endeligt. The world forgets what he and his did to our brothers and sisters, but our memories are long. You saved all of us the last time. This time the English joined him or were exiled. You remained. If we can aid you in defeating him a second time, then this is what we do.”

Twing said to his Danish comrades, “Mr. Shacklebolt is the Minister-in-exile because his predecessor was a traitor. This is why few details will be shared until the time comes. Others will be arriving over the next several hours, some here and some at other locations. Mr. Jacobson's staff has assured me that this evening's meal will be one to remember. Rest while you can. The next twenty-four hours will be the most difficult of our lives, but know this: our English brothers and sisters will be free before tomorrow's sunset! Dismissed.” Each of the Danes moved to shake hands with all four Englishmen before departing the room.

Shacklebolt sat down slowly, almost painfully; Harry could see the months of fatigue on his face. He had stopped shaving his head, which left him with closely cropped and heavily receding steel-grey hair. “What happened – were you ambushed?” he asked Twing.

“I believe that your man Dawlish must have communicated our plans,” Twing said.

Shacklebolt returned, “Dawlish was already dead when we decided that this was a go. That means we've another mole somewhere.”

Without a conscious thought, Harry blurted out, “It's Blake.” Shacklebolt's mouth dropped open and first Fred then George let their faces fall into their hands.

Twing asked, “Is that the fellow from Ministry intelligence? What did you call it... ehh... Mysteries?”

Shacklebolt didn't answer him; instead he asked Harry, “How do you know it's Blake?”

Harry tried to explain, “I don't know for certain... I just know. Something's not right about him. He's a good Occlumens – I suppose all of the Unspeakables have to be – but he's still giving off something. I just didn't put it together until now.”

Shacklebolt didn't bother to bring up that Harry had no business using Legilimancy without legal authority. “Could he be under the Imperius curse?” he wondered aloud.

Harry said, “No. The Imperius has a certain... feel about it inside a person's mind.”

“He could be under coercion, Kingsley. Perhaps they have his family...?” Twing offered.

“He could also be a bloodsucking arse-faced traitor,” Fred pointed out.

Shacklebolt asked “Harry... how certain are you? Decisions have to be made, and right quick ones at that.”

Harry mulled it over for a moment before he said, “It's eighty percent that he's on the wrong side.”

“So what can be done about this?  Your traitor, where is he?” Twing asked.

Shacklebolt pulled out a worn leather book and consulted the pages before he said, “He should be at Iceland's embassy by now.  I wanted the Guardians to watch him.  It wasn't that I thought he was a traitor... figured him for deadweight in a fight, honestly.”

Harry grumbled, “Before we do anything else, we're going to sit here and have a nice chat without any food or drink for the next sixty minutes.  We've gotten careless, all of us.”

“Fair enough – it's for the best to know that we're in fact ourselves,” Shacklebolt agreed.

Fred and George said in unison, “Exploding Snap, anyone?”

    

July 31, 1998     Embassy of Iceland, City of London

“Sorry for the unexpectedness of it, but it's for the best this way,” Shacklebolt said.

“B-but to go in the middle of the night? Surely you realise the state of things? It's dangerous enough that you've divided the few people we have into groups and spread them all over who-knows-where.  I don't know why you put Calloway and myself with these... these barbarians.  Beyond all of that, we've the Muggles to fear as much as the Dark Lord's men, as these people tell it,” Bertram Blake protested.

Harry explained, “We need to safeguard the contents of the Department of Mysteries without blowing up half of London. When do you think that will be easier – when the Ministry is full of people, or when the Ministry is nearly empty?”

Blake snapped, “That's not the point, boy! When the Ministry is nearly empty, it's riddled with alarm wards. There's a good chance that I'll set something off the moment that I leave the lift.”

“Then we'll just have to go with Plan C,” Harry said with a shrug.

Blake's eyebrows rose. “Plan C...? There is more than one plan?” he asked.

“Blake, there are plans within plans this time. We operated with a single plan before and Dawlish betrayed us. We can't have that happen again,” said Shacklebolt.

Magnus, who had arrived along with the other Icelanders an hour earlier, said, “Very well. We have divided into three groups as planned. We will leave at 2:00 AM. Blake, you will come with us. We will arrive five minutes ahead of the second group in order to secure the area. Mr. Potter's group will come next, followed by Mr. Shacklebolt's group. By your leave, I will go and see to my men.”

“Carry on, Magnus,” Shacklebolt said.

Blake said, “Two in the morning... I should try and rest a little, I suppose. Where might I...?”

Magnus said over his shoulder, “The chaplain's office is available.”

“Get some rest, Blake,” Shacklebolt said.

As soon as the Unspeakable was out of earshot, Harry asked, “How long should we wait?”

Shacklebolt said, “He'll crack inside of two minutes.”

“Ten galleons on that?” Harry asked.

Shacklebolt let out a low rumbling laugh and said, “Ten galleons, on two minutes or less.”

“Are you certain about the wards?” Harry asked him.

“Magnus swears that he won't be able to get any sort of message outside without permission,” Shacklebolt returned.

“Well... he's been in there for thirty seconds... fancy a look?” Harry said with a smirk.

The window set into the door of the chaplain's office had been spelled opaque. Harry dropped an Extendable Ear into the space beneath the door, and a moment later they could hear Blake's voice: “Plans have changed, the first group leaves at 2:00 AM and I'll be with them. Potter will arrive five minutes after we do.  I will come down first and signal all clear.”

“Shite,” Harry grumbled.

“I'm sure you're good for the galleons,” Shacklebolt said; “You open the door, and I'll take him.”

When the door opened, Blake was staring in confusion at his patronus, a small bird of some sort. It bumped against the outer window, circled the room, then bumped against the window again and continued the cycle.

“Drop your wand NOW,” Shacklebolt boomed.

Harry looked at the frustrated silvery bird and said, “Shouldn't it be a rat, Blake?”

“Th-they've got my wife and granddaughter,” Blake moaned.

Shacklebolt said in a flat voice, “They sealed my wife in our own home and burned her to death. It was because I wouldn't join Voldemort's Auror Corps. They were five minutes ahead of me, and so she died. If I had it to do over again, I would still tell them no.” Harry hadn't known that Shacklebolt had a wife. The man was so even-tempered that Harry would never have guessed he'd suffered such a horrible loss.

Blake started, “But they promised –”

Shacklebolt said, “They lied, Blake; it's what they do. Your family is either dead, or soon will be once you turn us over.”

“What am I supposed to do...?” Blake asked plaintively.

Harry felt the same something coming from Blake. He quickly raised his wand and barked, “Legilimens!

Blake tried to avert his eyes but wasn't fast enough. Harry wasn't a particularly capable Legilimancer, but Hermione had helped him to master a brute-force technique that was effective in a pinch. Because the Unspeakable was unprepared, Harry was able to gain the toehold that he needed. He probed hard enough to make the man's nose bleed.

“Back off, Harry! We still need him!” Shacklebolt snapped. Harry released the man from the spell and promptly punched him as hard as he could manage. Blake buckled and fell to the floor.

Harry planted his foot on Blake's chest and demanded, “Where's your mark?  If I have to look for it, you're not going to like it very much!” Blake glanced toward his left foot. Harry slipped off the man's boot and found the small death's-head tattoo near his ankle.

“I've changed my mind. We don't need you at all,” Shacklebolt growled.

“How long have you been spying?” Harry asked.

“You – can't – possibly – win – ” Blake ground out.

“Veritaserum resistance, a long tenure in the Department of Mysteries... do you go all the way back to Rookwood?” Shacklebolt demanded.

Blake spat blood and managed to say, “Go – to – hell –”

Harry asked Shacklebolt, “Who are you right now, Kingsley? Are you an Auror and Minister, or are you a fighter? I need to know.”

Shacklebolt put on an alarming smile, enough to make Blake squirm on the floor. “He's earned whatever you're planning,” Shacklebolt said.

Harry pointed his wand at Blake once again, and incanted, “Imperio.” Blake struggled and writhed for nearly a minute before his body went slack.

“Get up,” Harry said, and Blake clambered to his feet.

“Tell me how you were going to signal all clear,” Harry asked.

“I was to cast my patronus as a message,” Blake said absently.

Harry asked, “What was supposed to happen after that?”

Blake said, “Your group would come down one person at a time. They would cast the Imperius curse on each of you in turn and have you cast your own patronus as the all-clear signal.”

“How large a group are they expecting?” Harry asked him.

“Between six and twelve,” said Blake.

Harry asked, “When are we expected?”

Blake said, “Any time between six in the evening today and six in the evening tomorrow.”

“They'll guard the lift that whole time?” asked Harry.

“Yes,” Blake said. Shacklebolt cursed under his breath at that.

Harry asked Shacklebolt, “What do I do with him now? Can I make him sleep or something?”

“Yes, tell him to sleep until you come to wake him up,” Shacklebolt said.

After Blake was soundly asleep, Harry asked, “How much trouble will I be in for this?”

“If Magnus is right and this place was concealed from all of the Ministry's detectors, then even before the ware there wouldn't have been a record of the spell.  Even if he's wrong, the truth is that we'll have to deactivate whatever is left of the detection grid and start over again after the Ministry's re-taken,” said Shacklebolt with a sly grin.

“That's a relief,” Harry admitted.

Shacklebolt told him seriously, “Harry, there will be a blanket pardon for anything our people have to do to finish this.  It's rather obvious that wasn't the first time you've cast Imperio on someone. This isn't about a few Aurors trying to prevent a crime. We're at war, and if we don't end it in the next 24 hours then it could engulf the entire world. Just promise me that you'll try to do the right thing for the right reasons.”

    

July 31, 1998     Holborn, City of London

Harry sat between the Icelandic Guardians Magnus and Einar inside the Danes' armoured vehicle. The driver had been chatty as they prepared to get under way, so Harry knew that he was riding in a 'Saracen' that the embassy had procured from British army surplus when the situation in London started to go pear-shaped. It was a tight fit, made tighter by the protective vest that the soldiers guarding the Danish embassy insisted he wear. The Weasley twins and another Icelander sat across from him; the twins were wearing black ski masks that brought to mind bank robbers. Shacklebolt sat up front beside the driver. The imperiused Bertram Blake was at the back, sitting next to George with his hands and feet bound together as a precaution. A second Danish soldier was also at the back, manning a gun turret through a roof hatch.

Harry's vest was well pocketed, and he felt across the front of it to check the ease of opening the various zippers and Velcro closures. He was well stocked courtesy of the twins: Peruvian instant darkness powder, Gibbering Gobstones, Silly Smokescreens, Belch Bombs, and some silver spheres about which he only knew that 'it's best that you don't know – just throw them as far as you can and then duck'. The Danish soldiers had gifted him with four devices that they called 'flash-bangs'; the instructions weren't all that different than those provided by the twins. He only hoped that he wouldn't be weighed down by the vest and unable to manage in a magical fight.

The Danish driver had skirted around a half-dozen improvised barriers in a drive of less than two miles. They had been fired upon several times by roaming people with guns. Looters and gangs ruled the London nights now that most people had fled the centre city. They passed untouched through a Death Eater checkpoint on High Holborn, just after Harry spotted a giant smashing holes in the street-front of the Holborn Bars with its bare hands.

Shacklebolt glanced out through a shielded side window. “I don't like how open this is going to be, not at all,” he said; “Are you certain he's still under the Imperius?”

Harry thought for a moment and then said, “Mr. Blake, hold your arms out in front of you, please.” After more than a minute, his arms were still in place without so much as a quiver.

“Good enough,” said Shacklebolt.

“Mr. Blake, put your arms down, please. Where is the Department of Mysteries' private lift located?”

Blake said, “At the base of Prince Albert's statue in the centre of Holborn Circus,” which was exactly the same thing he'd said more than an hour prior.

Shacklebolt once again took out the detailed map of the lift landing and the entry to the Department of Mysteries that the imperiused Blake had been made to draw. “Are you certain you want to do it this way, Magnus?” he confirmed for the fourth time.

“I threw off the curse that controls the mind in three seconds, four seconds faster than did Mr. Potter. If the þræll do not act as we expect, then I will kill them,” Magnus said as though it would be nothing.

A hail of bullets rained against the side of the Saracen, and everyone – even Magnus and the imperiused Blake – instinctively ducked. The Danish driver let forth a string of agitated words that Harry didn't need to understand in order to get the point. For his part, the Danish gunner let forth a barrage so intense that it looked like a stream of liquid fire slicing through the darkness; the heat from the gun quickly soaked into the Saracen's cabin.

Blake asked with a tremor in his voice, “Are those muskets?”

“These are the new and improved muskets, Blake – welcome to the 20th century,” Shacklebolt said.

“It is intense tonight,” the driver called back to them; “The Swedes are coming in two APCs and the Norwegians are also on their way. We should be able to give a few minutes of cover, but there are no guarantees.”

“I'll settle for your best efforts,” said Shacklebolt.

Just then, the driver slammed onto the brake pedal as hard as he could manage. He let loose with another incoherent burst of Danish, broken at last by a bit of English: “What the hell is that? Shoot it! Shoot it!

A troll swung its club into the front of the Saracen with all its might. The Danish gunner seemed paralysed, until Harry struck his leg and shouted, “Shoot it, for God's sake!” Startled back into his senses by the gunfire, the driver backed up several feet and then ran square into the badly wounded troll.

Shacklebolt snapped, “Damn it, there are more of them!” He turned to the driver and went on, “Listen, you're going to see things you've never imagined before. Have you ever heard the term 'black ops'? Good.  This is as black as an operation can be.  You'll be treated as if you've gone mad if you ever breathe a word of it. As soon as you reach the statue, park and we'll get out.  We'll be using the vehicle as cover for a few minutes.  When reinforcements arrive, you will leave here and return to the Danish Embassy.  Do you understand?”

Both the driver and the gunner managed to press on, although the driver nearly clipped the statue of Prince Albert as he slid sideways to a stop. Somehow both Magnus and Einar were out before Harry could even get up from his seat. George took Blake by the arm and hauled him out. The three Icelanders immediately began to take on the trolls, along with Fred.

Harry ordered Blake, “Bring up the lift, please.”

“I will need my wand,” Blake said.

Harry held out the Unspeakable's wand and said, “You can only use it to bring up the lift, and nothing else.”

Blake said, “I understand,” and he proceeded to tap the base of the statue in a complex pattern. A small rune stone emerged, which he charged via a quickly muttered spell. A section of the concrete pad that surrounded the statue's base opened, and a lift rose into view. It looked to be made of steel plating. The door opened in the same fashion as a Muggle lift. Harry peered into the cabin, which was perhaps large enough for two persons. The walls were mirrored and there was a hatch in the ceiling.

“Did someone nick this from a Muggle building?” Harry asked Blake.

“The cabin was once part of a Muggle lift. It was put into service here twenty-one years ago. That is all I know of it,” said Blake.

Harry ducked to avoid some stray spellfire, and then stayed down as gunfire pinged off the far side of the parked Saracen. Blake flattened himself against the concrete and remained there.

Magnus worked his way back to the relative safety of Harry's side of the armoured vehicle. “I do not like trolls,” he said matter-of-factly; “Are you ready to send him down?”

Harry said, “Mr. Blake, get into the lift and go down into the Department of Mysteries. Follow the Death Eater plan just like you told us it's supposed to happen. You can use your wand to protect yourself from the Death Eaters, but you can't use it against any of us.”

Blake stood up, straightened his robes and stepped into the lift. “I will follow the plan. Wait for my signal,” he said. The concrete closed up behind the lowering lift, and there was nothing left but to wait and to keep from being shot.

    

Augustus Rookwood held his wand at the ready. The private lift to the Department of Mysteries was on its way down, just as his protege Blake had planned. Rookwood wished he had more experienced fighters just for an extra edge of protection if things went pear-shaped, but the five Ministry regulars were all he was allotted. His Master, Bellatrix Lestrange and others awaited deeper in the Department's labyrinth of rooms. Either Rookwood would make good on his pledge to bring them Potter and his minions, or they would deal with Potter themselves. However, this was an engagement Rookwood intended to win.

Blake had been Rookwood's sleeper agent in the Department for nearly two decades. He was entrenched so deeply that he had been able to penetrate the resistance's deepest secrets for months. Dawlish was an easy sacrifice in the service of keeping his true agent in place. Now, Rookwood would return to his rightful place in the Master's closest circle. He planned to share a small part of the Dark Lord's favour with Blake – enough to keep the younger man's appetite whetted, but not so much that he might become a threat. A clunking sound echoed through the entry, and the metal doors of the narrow lift slid open.

Bertram Blake emerged, smiling. “Greetings, Augustus,” he said.

“Are we ready?” Rookwood asked him.

Blake's smile did not diminish as he said, “Everything is according to plan.”

Rookwood eyed him askance. “You're pale, Blake. Are you certain nothing's the matter?”

Blake said evenly, “I'm fine, just a bit shaken. Have you been out there? It's madness!”

“It's a glorious madness, though. Soon we'll be ready to begin subjugating the Muggles – bending them to our will once and for all. It will be our Lord's greatest triumph,” Rookwood declared.

“If it's all the same, we should proceed,” Blake said.

“Yes, yes, we wouldn't want them to begin wondering, would we? Carry on, then,” said Rookwood.

Blake cast his bird Patronus skyward and it disappeared through the high ceiling. “And now we wait,” he said tonelessly.

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