Regulus and his cohort of inner circle Death Eaters were led back up onto the grounds just as the worst of the rain subsided. Smoking craters and dead Aurors decorated the grassy hills and stone outcroppings. Or more accurately bits and pieces of Aurors decorated them.
"Awwww. The fighting is over?" Bella whined.
"Fear not." Came a familiar, sultry voice. "There is much more fighting to come, and your safety took priority over your enjoyment."
"Severus?" Regulus asked before he even saw the man.
At the sight of his open arms Regulus embraced his friend in the most gratifying hold he'd had in over a decade.
"It is so good to see you again, Reggie." Severus said.
Soon enough mutual pats on the back told them both that the hug had lasted long enough and they separated. Severus, holding Regulus by the shoulders looked him up and down and seemed displeased with his condition. Regulus couldn't blame him, he wasn't particularly pleased with his condition either.
Regulus returned the look, similarly displeased with the state Severus was in. Regulus had been in prison, Severus had not. And yet the unwashedness, exhaustion, and absolute despondency seeping out of every pour on his friend's body was absolute and soul-crushing. Before he could comment on it Severus broke the silence.
"Where is your brother?" Severus asked.
"He is standing before me!" Regulus exclaimed without hesitation, motioning to Severus.
Severus smiled and the obvious exhaustion and despair emanating from his body died down slightly.
"It means more than you could imagine to hear you say that, my friend." Severus said. "And if I were in a more humorous mood I would surely say you're delusional from your time around dementors, but for now I'll take the moment for what it was... But seriously, where is Sirius Black?"
"Gone." Barty said. "Escaped before we arrived. We know not how."
"Hmmm." Severus said thoughtfully, unhanding Regulus and stepping to the side in thought. "It seems too great of a coincidence that he would escape today of all days. I would suspect Albus, but I don't think it likely. He never knew of Sirius' innocence. Did anybody see his escape?"
Before Regulus and the other prisoners could say no, another voice, gruff and growling and inhuman, broke through the darkness.
"I did." Came the growl.
They all turned to the voice and, even knowing he was in full control, they all backed away from the fully-transformed Fenrir Greyback. He slinked towards them on all fours, teeth permanently bared by the unfortunate tautness of his transformed face. When he reached Severus he stood on his hind legs.
"In the cafeteria." Fenrir explained. "He was unarmed and I thought I had him, but he is an animagi."
Regulus barely managed to keep a calm face at the revelation. Damnit Siri! Did you really have to give away your biggest advantage to the enemy?
"The form of a large, black dog. Yes, I know." Said Severus. "One large enough to handle a werewolf, one-on-one."
They all looked at Severus with surprise at the revelation. He chuckled at their questioning looks.
"I had a close encounter with Lupin on a full moon back in my fifth year at Hogwarts. Potter saved me." He explained. "In his animagi form, that of a stag. In the two years after that I kept very close attention on the Marauders and learned that all but Remus were animagi. And I learned their forms."
Oh right. That's what Sirius and his crew called themselves back in school. Really dumb name, but wow. Scary of you Severus. Bit obsessed with them, don't you think?
"Speaking of Pettigrew, he has returned from the dead." Severus went on. "Well... I forced him out of hiding. In fact, I forced a lot of people to come out of hiding. That's what made all of this possible."
He motioned to indicate the carnage around them and Regulus believed him.
"Pettigrew is alive?" Regulus whispered to himself.
"Indeed." Said Severus. "And his cooperation is contingent on your brother not remaining so. Knowing your animosity, I would ask you to help hunt him down, but you are in no shape to do so at the moment."
Regulus smiled in mock thankfulness and bowed his head in honest tiredness. The him from before Azkaban would have been overjoyed to be handed a wand and the mission to hunt his brother down and kill him. Now? After over a decade learning to love the man again and sharing such an important mission? No. He needed to make sure the hunting party in question had a false lead.
"As such, Fenrir, you and your pack are to hunt him down. Tonight." Severus commanded before reaching into his robes to pull out a sack. "Here are more of my specially made truffles for you, you will need them to stay in control."
Oh! So that's how he'd slipped them wolfsbane potions.
"Your care packages have been a life saver." Regulus told him.
Severus nodded dispassionately before turning back on Fenrir.
"Do you have any leads on which direction he escaped the island?" Severus asked.
"Indeed. I witness him paddling southward towards England." Fenrir said. "I could not follow him hoping to swim and catch up, but if you can get us to the mainland, my pack and I can pick up his trail."
South? That didn't add up. The plan was for him to go north to Godricks Hollow for one of his and James' emergency caches of food and supplies from before Voldemort's fall. Why would he be going south? Unless he had swum south to give a false lead to anybody watching and was planning to steer back northward? Very dangerous thing to attempt in such choppy weather.
"Then it shall be so." Severus said, motioning for the three men some distance behind him to come forth.
They did as he wanted, and as they approached Regulus recognized them. Barely.
"Lucius?" Regulus asked tiredly
"Karakaroff!" Rookwood snarled, enraged at the sight of the stool pigeon.
"Rosier?!" Antonin and Bella asked at the same time.
"Yet another person back from the dead." Severus said with a knowing smile. "And another forced back into the fold. But I ask you to find it in your hearts to forgive our friend Igor. After all, he has prepared for you all a nice, warm castle to recover in over the summer."
He motioned for them to follow, and they did, walking the entire length of the island and eventually into a crowd of other prisoners. Just... all of them. Organized on either side by sex as people unknown to them took stock of their identities and offered them a place in the Dark Lord's forces... or so Regulus presumed. He had still seen no sign of the Dark Lord, and for this kind of thing he would normally take care of things in a more hands-on style.
"Make way!" Lucius hollered. "Heroes, coming through!"
Regulus smirked at Malfoy's antics, noticing they were completely unnecessary as everyone backed away at the sight of the werewolves flanking them. They passed through the crowd and came upon a wooden ship that seemed almost ethereal. The gangway was already lowered and being dragged on board by other servants of Voldemort was, of all people, Caltrod.
The goblin was bound and gagged and held not a single bruise, cut or scrape. Had he really not fought back at all? And where was his cudgel?
"I'm sure you are also all eager to exact some retribution on the good warden." Severus said. "But that will have to wait. We have a long voyage ahead of us and you all have a long recovery ahead of that. For those easily seasick I will personally provide draught of living death."
And that would be yet a greater distance for Regulus to escape. This situation just kept getting worse.
Tom watched from the head table as the red-robed Aurors ran around the castle like chickens with their heads chopped off. The other teachers were also all in the process of herding many sleepy and pajama-clad students down to the entrance hall and great hall.
The moment the wards finished forming Dumbledore had come down to reopen a section of them for the literal army of Aurors that just arrived. Then he had to key them into the floo so they could leave and come back with parents, and thus similarly sleep and pajama-clad adults started swarming in through the staff fireplaces. This included all fourteen teacher fireplaces, Dumbledore's office, Pomfrey's Hospital wing and, most surprisingly, Filch's office and the library, or more specifically Manam Pince's little office to the side of the library. Neither Tom nor Harry had ever known Hogwarts had so many floo connections, but today at least the eighteen it did have was barely sufficient.
The entire Weasley family was already at Hogwarts for their daughter's ceremony and had been put up in the visitor suite, so they had gathered up their brood and left before the first set of parents even arrived. Tom didn't have the chance to say goodbye to them. He felt that was probably for the best.
The Muggleborn students, or those who notably did not have floo addresses listed on their student files, had all been brought down to the great hall, but not before they had overheard what the Aurors were telling parents and parents their children.
"They seem quite sure it's Voldemort who did it." Hermione said from where she popped a squat beside him at the head table in her pink-heart studded pajamas.
There were no faculty around, they were busy manning the fireplaces, so it was just Lord of the Flies and a few overtaxed Aurors who were not trained for childcare.
"Attacking Azkaban out of the blue?" A nearby Auror clarified. "Doesn't sound like him. Last time he was more subtle, disappearing people and chipping away at society. Big attacks like this only came near the end of his reign."
Tom was so surprised to have missed the older man's presence that he felt his usual flash of anger cross his face, anger at himself for missing a potential threat... somehow Harry's memories and feelings didn't contradict Tom's instincts towards law enforcement. Should file that away for later psychological analysis.
"I mean, do we have any firsthand witnesses of the event?" Tom asked.
"Of course. They're still probably being debriefed and or attended to medically." The Auror said. "All we know is what we've been told. That Azkaban was attacked and emptied."
Hmmm. Tom wasn't exactly knowledgeable on Voldemort's tactics during his first rise, either from Tom Riddle's or Harry Potter's memories, so he'd have to take the Auror's word for it. Still, this left the Muggleborns hanging out to dry. How were they planning to get them all home? They couldn't take the Hogwarts express; it would make too juicy of a target for a large-scale attack. A train full of nothing but Muggleborns? Yeah, not a good thing to tempt Voldemort with.
"Are you planning to individually apparate each Muggleborn to their own doorstep?" Tom asked.
"We are indeed." said the Auror. "As soon as we've alerted all of the parents to what's going on and scheduled for their return home."
Mystery solved. And once that was done the Aurors and Ministry could absolve themselves of responsibility for the children and focus their efforts on war.
"Ooooh!" Hermione cooed. "I've never apparated before."
"Well, it's not the best experience." Tom warned. "So don't get too excited."
"Sure thing, Dudley." Hermione said before yawning and curling up in McGonigal's chair.
Tom let the jab go, marveling in appreciation at the comfortable padding charms affixed to Dumbledore's throne. They sure were making the most of this crisis. He wondered for a moment which house won the house cup, and wondered further if any student at all cared.
It was then that Dumbledore himself, shaken and tired, entered the great hall and the loud chatter of sleep-excited students died down at the site of him. He looked dispassionately to the head table and at Tom, motioning for him to come.
"Well. This might be goodbye for now Hermione." Tom said.
"Happy to be hospitalized with you again sometime." She said.
"And I look forward to more grand adventures in deep dark dungeons with you and your friends." Tom said honestly, before climbing down from the head table and following Dumbledore out.
"I have been robbed." Dumbledore told him. "My wand has been stolen."
Tom blinked at the ancient man.
"Why would anybody want to steal your wand?" He asked. "Surely Ollivander can provide you a worthy replacement, and you'll be just as dangerous."
Albus analyzed him, as if trying to determine if he knew more, and for once Tom didn't.
"It is a long story, and one I don't think you're ready for. It is not actually my original wand; I still have the same wand Garrick's father matched me with as a boy. But I fear Severus is behind the attack on Azkaban." He said. "As he would be able to answer that question. I have similarly bad news. Harry's cloak has also been stolen."
Whoa. Snape? Stealing from Dumbledore and attacking Azkaban? That seemed out of character even for his smarmy ass... Then again, as Tom scoured through Harry's memories of the guy, he himself, the half of him that was Riddle, couldn't quite get a read on him. His hatred for Harry seemed half-hearted at best and seemed more like a... spying type of situation. Which now that he knew he was a Death Eater made sense. He was keeping an eye on the enemy for when Voldemort returned, and he hid behind an antagonistic role for it.
Then the second half of what Dumbledore said struck him and he felt a rage not his own boil in his stomach.
"That greasy bat stole my fa..." He stopped himself, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Stole Harry's cloak? The only thing left of his father."
Dumbledore looked at him with concern after the slip up there. In all reality Tom knew he should have been more concerned by it too, but he was actively trying not to most days.
"Indeed. I now fear your other half is of less concern than him." Dumbledore warned. "As I am certain he wishes you dead personally. And myself as well."
"I'm sorry sir, I'm really not following here. If he was a Death Eater, shouldn't he be seeking me out to restore my mind?" Tom asked in genuine confusion.
"And I'm sorry, but even with his recent betrayal of both Voldemort and myself, I cannot in good conscience share his personal demons with you." Dumbledore said. "But suffice to say he has not served Voldemort since before Harry Potter's birth. And now I failed him in all I owed him, he has left me. I betrayed him enough already; I won't do so any further."
Wow. Really showing that much loyalty to a man who robbed you and started a war? Dumbledore would never make sense to him.
"So, what? Where am I supposed to go for the summer if Snape is after me and has Azkaban's prison population?" Tom asked. "I mean, I can't just go back to Privet Drive and I'm sure Wool's Orphanage isn't around anymore."
The return of the normally present twinkle to Dumbledore's eyed brought with it ill tidings, and Tom knew he wouldn't like the answer.
"I have decided that for your protection, you ought to be placed in the last place anybody, even Severus, would think to look for you." Dumbledore told him
Tom looked across the table at the familiar, batty woman. There was no way, no earthly possibility that Arabella Figg was a witch, and yet he had just come out of her fireplace by floo from Dumbledore's office and she seemed nonplussed by the magic. She did, however, seem very uncomfortable by his awkward presence and shameless staring. Even as Tibbles and Snowball happily used his legs and feet as face scratchers, he continued to stare.
"So..." She asked, at as clear of a loss as he was. "Would you like a beer?"
"YES!" Tom said in a broken voice, a little too loudly. "Yes I would!"
The sun was only now rising over the Austrian mountainscape. It was a slow sunrise made slower by the even higher mountains above the castle that kept the sunlight at bay, only illuminating distant peaks and keeping the pits and valleys shrouded in darkness.
This suited Peter Pettigrew fine. Even as a rat he felt exposed and vulnerable scurrying between the lifeless rocks and numerous patrols around the castle prison. But scurry he did, and he arrived at the castle gates unharmed and undetected, like any rat.
'For the greater good' read the inscription in the stone archway above the gate.
Peter could have laughed at the lie of a mantra. One that evil men had told themselves to justify the evil in their hearts. Peter would know. He had done such evils with such motivations and was doing so now as well.
Protective wards against rats were standard for most places, save those so thick with layers upon layers of wards that it might conflict with more important protections. So, most wizards relied on good, old-fashioned mouse traps. Naturally, this gave Wormtail free reign to enter and explore even the most well-protected places in the world.
Even places Nurmengard.
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