[A/N: To all my fans, I apologize for taking so long to post. I suffer from depression and I have to say that it was a bad time for me. I had lost all inclination to do pretty much anything. I was fortunate to have the support of my family and friends. So if you have depression or know someone who does, get help before it takes you away from whom and what you love.]
[A/N2: I had been stressing out as how to write the final battle scene. With the help of a friend, I decided not to try and write a pivotal action scene if I was too worried about screwing it up. Instead, well… I hope you like it.]
[A/N3: As I write this, I realized that I'm running out of ideas as to what should come next. To that end, I think this will be Book 2's epilogue chapter. There will be a two year time jump at the end to move things along.]
1 September 1988: The perimeter ward line to Peverell Castle
It was approaching midnight when six stealthy hunters moved into position outside the perimeter of an ancient castle, each aware of what was at stake. If an outsider were to see said hunters, they'd be confused as to why a panther, cheetah, lion, a large snake and an owl were seemingly taking orders from a wolf. What they wouldn't know was that those hunters were actually Animagi witches and wizards.
It was a clear night; the moon was full and cast a pale, bright light for the hunters to follow as they made their way across the rolling landscape. A slight breeze carried the scent of pine trees and the water from the nearby lake. They paused every so often to make sure they weren't spotted and to deal with the threat if it was detected. The wolf motioned with its nose and front paws the direction each of the others were to take and what their immediate objective was. The owl was to take to the sky to monitor the situation and to cry out if there were any hostiles nearby that could blow the operation. The others were to either incapacitate the guards or, if necessary, eliminate them. As for Pettigrew, the plan was to capture him alive for later interrogation. The plan for Dumbledore…well, he needed to be taken out of the equation as soon as possible. A live capture was not in his future…
The animal pack began to creep along the hillsides as they slowly and carefully approached the ancient castle and its outlier buildings. Everything was quiet, even the surrounding natural landscape. Just then, they could hear the low sounds of a couple of humans speaking to each other. Judging by the occasional bits of laughter, it would seem that the guards were taking it easy. After all, who would be out this late at night? The children were asleep, Pettigrew was in his office probably sleeping and who knew what the Master was up to.
The cheetah animagus was approaching his target point when the owl sounded off an alarm that there was a patrol approaching from the southwest. The animagus crouched low in the darkness and waited for the all clear signal. The guards themselves heard the owl but thought nothing of it. Owls were a common enough sight that most magicals never thought much of them outside of their usual duties as mail carriers. Soon enough, the patrol passed the cheetah and it resumed its mission.
At the prearranged signal, the hunters attacked the assembled guards and decimated them. They were expendable and there wasn't anyone available to watch over them while the team moved on. The ground was soaked in the first bloodshed for the coming battle. The snake slithered closer to the building and listened for any other sounds coming from inside. It rose up on its tail and peered into the window before retreating and shaking its head that the room within was empty. Nodding in acceptance, the wolf motioned for the others to proceed further into the compound.
Early the next morning, Unspeakable Briefing Room…
Unspeakable Section Leader Croaker glanced up from the After Action report given to him by the team lead of the strike team that assaulted Peverell Castle. The person in question stared back unresponsively, a sort of deadened look that spoke of untold horrors that had been seen and hard to shake afterwards.
Croaker nodded to himself, 'He's going to need to see a mind healer after this.'
"So walk me through it again, Talon. Skip to the part after the outer guards had been neutralized, though."
The quiet Unspeakable in front of him shuddered out of his introspection and took a deep breath, "We breached the side servant's door just as we had planned. Everything seemed to be going smoothly. Two more guards were dispatched cleanly and quietly as they were coming out of the kitchen and the room was secured. There were a couple of patrols that were dealt with."
Croaker made note of that on the report in front of him then motioned for him to continue.
"We found Pettigrew's office and captured him without a fight. Well, I say it wasn't a fight; he did struggle a bit after we blew his door open. I think it was more from surprise than actual resistance. Once he realized who we were and I guess figured out why we were there, he stopped struggling and pointed out where critical information was stored."
"Surprising but it does fall in line with what we'd been told. Go on."
The man nodded and drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair, "We performed a brief interrogation of Pettigrew on the spot to determine if there had been any changes to the castle layout and the last known complement of guards, the kids and where Dumbledore was. He was very forthcoming about it all yet was adamant that we promise that once everything was secure, he be given one last request."
Croaker must have looked surprised because the team lead chuckled, "Yeah. That was our reaction too."
"What did he want?"
The man grunted, "A trip through the Veil. Said he didn't want to spend the rest of his life in Azkaban and that after all he'd witnessed and been forced to participate in, he said he'd earned the trip."
Croaker grunted, "Not up to us but go on."
"Yes, sir. As I reported there, we found the children. What was left of them… It, it was horrible. There were only two children, a boy and a girl, left alive and I think that was because they were in an isolation box as a punishment for some infraction. The rest… Merlin, it still gets to me." He trailed off into silence once more. "There were three children in these liquid filled tanks and had all these tubes and wires attached to their heads. As near as we could figure, Dumbledore was experimenting with how to extract the magical essence out of a person. The children, only one was still breathing; it resembled a Dementor's Kiss."
Croaker gave him a few more seconds, made a call to have the mind healer on the ready then prodded him into telling him what happened with Dumbledore.
"We breached the door to his inner study. That's where Pettigrew said he would be and where he performed his more gruesome experiments. It was like a torture chamber rather than your classic 'study.' The room was silent as a tomb. We found evidence of the remainder of the children that had been selected for study. There were a couple of nearly complete bodies and a couple of body parts. None of the children were alive, thankfully. Unspeakable Slither scouted around and discovered the old man's bedroom where he was abed, snoring away. We set up the ritual circle and dropped the charged block of amber onto his chest. He woke up, either from our quiet chanting or from the sensation of the amber falling on his chest but before he could make a sound; he was sucked up into the amber. We secured the block in a strongbox and secured the room."
Croaker nodded thoughtfully and thanked the man for his report and efforts then directed him to see the department's resident mind healer immediately. Once the team leader had left, Croaker slumped back into his chair and closed his eyes.
The next day…
James and Lily Potter along with Sirius, Remus and Severus were sitting around in a nondescript office wondering what the heck was going on. The summons to make haste to this location within the Ministry had come as a bit of a shock and a lot of confusion. There was a gentle knock on the door so Lily got up to answer it, and found Petunia looking down at a scrap of paper.
"Petunia?" Petunia's head snapped up and her face scrunched up in confusion.
"Lily? What are you doing here? I was here at the urgent request of one of the Unspeakables."
Lily backed up and gestured for her sister to enter, "Same here, apparently. Come on in and make yourself comfortable. I have no idea how much longer we have to wait."
The door opened again rather swiftly and an Unspeakable entered, "That would be now, Mrs. Potter."
The Unspeakable sat down in one of the chairs facing the others and began without preamble, "I am here to inform you that the operation to apprehend Peter Pettigrew and Albus Dumbledore has been a complete success. Both were captured and the only losses were on their side."
James leant forward, "There was no one from your side that was lost?"
The Unspeakable shook their head, "The team sent in made a surgical strike; a small group of Unspeakables that were able to slip in unnoticed. The other side however took heavy losses; the guards surrounding the compound were incapacitated and either killed outright if they fought back or merely stunned if caught unawares. Mr. Pettigrew, surprisingly, was aware of our infiltration and yet made no effort to defend himself. He's been most cooperative in deciphering the organization of Dumbledore's grand plans and whatnot."
Both Lily and Petunia were pale as the Unspeakable began rattling off the details of the battle. Lily cleared her throat and asked about the children that were there. The Unspeakable paused and took a deep breath.
"There's no easy way to say this but all but two were killed. It was rather gruesome and I'd rather not say anything more about those details. It's not easy to hear and frankly, even I'm put off about it."
"So what happened with Dumbledore," Remus asked to dispel the heavy silence.
"He was captured and encased in enchanted amber. He will be put under heavy guard and dealt with once all the rest of the data has been collected."
Severus looked pensive then raised his hand briefly, "Just what was Dumbledore's grand plan?"
The Unspeakable gave him a long look before glancing at the others and sighed, "He had these grand dreams of ruling over the wizarding world as well as the muggle. If you ever paid attention in History class, you might remember that Gellert Grindelwald had a similar dream. Whereas Grindelwald tried to accomplish said dream through war and death; Albus went the other route through subtle manipulation of the minds of the populace and its children. As an educator who had the children of the nation separated from their parents for nearly nine months of the year; he could slowly and subtly influence their way of thinking, no one would ever try to say anything bad against him. Then on the political side, he could influence their parents and guardians much in the same way. A suggestion here, an introduction there and before anyone would be aware of it and could no longer do anything to prevent it, Albus would be the most powerful person in our world."
James shook his head at the whole thing and about Peter as well, "I'm not surprised that you were able to get information out of Peter. He always was the weak link in our group before he drifted away. Didn't Dumbledore demand a fealty oath or something to protect his secrets?"
The Unspeakable chuckled for a moment, "Yes, he did though Mr. Pettigrew was rather cunning about how to get around it. He told us that he swore on his magic that he would protect Albus' secrets. We thought we were at an impasse for a moment before Mr. Pettigrew then let a small smirk grow on his face. He said it again slowly and it was only then that we caught on. As of right now, Mr. Pettigrew is no more magical than a Squib. He asked that for his penance after he gave up all the information and memories, he wished to be sent through the Veil of Death. He didn't want to linger through a lengthy stay in Azkaban."
James sniffed sadly at the loss of his one-time childhood friend's magic, "So what happens now?"
The Unspeakable leaned back in his seat, "Now, you go home and raise your family. It's over."
Back at Potter Manor…
Nothing more was said by the adults as they flooed home to Potter Manor. Petunia took the day off and went home to be with her family. Lily went in search of Harry and found him and his friends doing who-knew-what in the greenhouse. She didn't try to interfere but just sat on a stool and watched as he interacted and played with Neville, Hermione and Susan.
"Harry? Where's Luna?"
The kids each made a slight grimace before Harry replied, "She, uh, went to go visit some sort of creature she swore was living within the banana tree."
Lily shook her head and sighed. 'Someone needs to get that girl into counseling.' "Luna? Luna! Come back to the main group, please."
There was a rustling of leaves and a dirty blonde haired waif of a girl stepped out with a creature of some sort perched on her shoulder.
Lily tilted her head in bemusement, "What do you have there, dear?"
Luna tilted her head dreamily, "It's a Bananawama and his name is Tony."
Harry and the others just groaned.
"Tony? Bananawama?" Lily repeated bemusedly, "Honey, that's a squirrel."
Luna turned her head to peer at the small bushy-tailed creature and pursed her lips, "Huh, I guess that's possible too." She shrugged and skipped over to the door and let the squirrel scamper off her shoulder and out to the backyard.
Later as the Potters were eating their dinner, Harry finally asked his parents what had them down in the dumps.
Setting her utensils down, Lily looked at her son, "You remember what Dean went through before he found his way to us?" Harry nodded hesitantly. "Well, some special people went back to try and rescue his friends. There's no really easy way to say this but most of the kids were killed as those special people fought the other adults that were holding the children captive."
Harry looked sad at that, "What about those bad people? Were they killed too?"
"Some were," James replied, "Some were captured so they could explain themselves and what their leader was trying to accomplish. The reason we're so quiet is that one of the bad people was a friend of ours from when we were in school before he fell to the dark side. We're mourning the memory of what he used to be like."
Two years later…
After a lengthy investigation into the inner workings of Albus Dumbledore and his plans for world domination, the results weren't pretty. The magical and physical experiments performed on the children smacked of some of the gruesome tests last seen by the evil and deranged Nazi, Josef Mengele during the Second World War. It was stunning to think that the mental image Dumbledore had portrayed of an elder statesman and sort of benevolent grandfather before the end of the First Blood War was nothing more than a veneer. The monster beneath was nightmare inducing…
The two surviving children from the castle were found to be catatonic and placed within the long-term care ward in Saint Mungo's. From the reports of the Healers, their prospects weren't looking too good.
Peter Pettigrew had gotten his wish and was sent through the Veil of Death once every scrap of information and knowledge was handed over to the research and forensics teams. His execution was observed by the Marauder adults as well as a couple of Unspeakables and the Minister. His final words before passing through were, "I'm sorry."
Harry was once again in the spotlight. Granted it was a non-public sort of spotlight but for all intents and purposes, there were an awful lot of people who were keen on watching his every move. He'd been told that there had been a prophecy made about him and his parents and that his job would be to send the block of amber containing the body and soul of Albus Dumbledore, the man who had caused so much pain and anguish to so many, through the Veil of Death and therefore be the one responsible for ending the prophecy.
He examined the block of amber and could just make out the angry and frozen image of an old and scarred man in one of the facets of the amber. He shook his head that someone who was so revered could fall so hard. He shook his head to clear his morbid thoughts and with an underhanded windup, pitched the block through the archway.
It did not appear on the other side.
Saturday 20 July 1991 Potter Manor
It was the summer before Harry's approaching first year at Hogwarts and all were practically vibrating with anticipation. The kids were looking forward to seeing the castle and getting to learn at the venerable school while the adults were looking forward to a manor without the kids constantly underfoot.
As part of a brainstorm on how to keep everyone occupied, Severus had suggested a sort of competition to test the kids' knowledge of the various subjects that they'd encounter at Hogwarts. All the subjects were going to be tested; from Astronomy to Zoology.
Harry stood at the ready in his Uncle Severus' laboratory and waited for his final instructions. Today's challenge would be in Potions of course and this time he wanted to be able to beat Hermione from her top spot. The girl had amazed everyone that she came into contact with in her ability to absorb information like a sponge then to turn around and use it creatively and in ways that astounded belief. Neville too, was a right genius when it came to the plants used in their potions. It was no surprise that he would do just as well at the brewing though he did have a bit of nervous habit of freezing up if he made a mistake. Dudley was busy studying his notes he'd made in his journal. Dean sat at his spot, nervously picking at the corner of his thumbnail. Despite the time he'd spent getting used to his new family and the freedoms he'd gained after his escape, there were still moments where his old insecurities would rise up.
At the sound of a throat being cleared, Harry was pulled from his introspection and focused himself back to the task at hand. Before him was a recipe for a rather complicated brew. In it he knew, were several mistakes or omissions. He was tasked to correct the mistakes then brew the proper recipe. Points were given on creative solutions yet were taken away if anything dangerous happened or if he failed to find all the problems. He sighed internally and wished that he could've prepared a little more beforehand but according to Uncle Severus, he might not always be in a safe and secure laboratory where he could take his time to figure out the problem. He might become a Casualty Healer at Saint Mungo's and need to be able to think on his feet at a split second.
One hour later and the challenge was called 'completed' by Severus. He collected the paperwork from all the children and directed them to their brewing stations to begin the next phase. Harry scrambled to get to the ingredients cabinet before Hermione despite Severus' admonishment to not run in the room.
As the children were brewing, Severus began marking their test papers. He grimaced at the chicken scratch that would ever be known as Harry's 'writing.' No matter how many times he was given instruction into the proper usage of a quill, the boy just could not or would not follow them.
'I'm wondering if maybe I could convince Minerva to allow the students to write with pens instead of quills. It's been proven that even Harry can write legibly when given a pen. I'll have to remember to bring it up at the next family meeting.'
At the end of their session, Harry sat back and watched with quiet amusement as Hermione performed her usual post-test routine of apprehensively fretting about her performance despite knowing full well that she did her best. He glanced over at Neville and Dudley who were also watching their best female friend flutter around the room muttering to herself. Dean had left a moment earlier to use the bathroom.
"Never fails, does it Nev?"
"Nope. Hilarious to watch though."
"Think she'll ever grow out of it?"
"Nope." All three boys said simultaneously and chuckled.
Hermione paused long enough to glare at the two boys before huffing and turning back to her notes again.
Severus appeared in the doorway and congratulated all present for their excellent work and results from their recent test.
"If I were to grade this; Harry, Dudley? You both would've gotten an Exceeds Expectation. Neville, Dean, an Outstanding. Hermione? You would've gotten an Acceptable…"
The silence was deafening. All present were stunned that Hermione did so poorly before Harry took a closer look at his uncle's face and noticed the twitching in the corner of his mouth. He nudged Neville and Dean who caught on and worked hard to suppress a snort of laughter; Dudley a moment later.
Finally she got the joke and groaned which caused the others to let loose with their barely suppressed laughter.
"Uncle Severus! That was mean. What did I really get?" Hermione huffed at the man.
Severus grinned, "You got an Outstanding like usual, Hermione."
She crossed her arms across her chest and grumbled under her breath about people with poor tastes in humor.
All in all, the five kids did really well in their magical education competition. Remus handled their History section, Lily handled Charms. Sirius covered DADA while James took Transfiguration; the rest of the subjects were a group effort. The winner that year was a surprise; it was Neville who managed to squeak by with a single point higher than even Hermione who was the usual winner. As a reward for winning, the victor got to choose the summer destination for vacation.
"Let me guess," Harry mused, "We're going to the Royal Conservatory again." Neville shook his head and smirked.
"We're going to a museum?" Again with the head shake.
"We're going to a monster car rally?" Dudley pleaded; he'd gotten interested in that when they were on their trip across America.
Neville scrunched his face up in derision, "No, Dudley."
Hermione threw up her hands in defeat, "Then where are we going?"
Neville beamed, "Alton Towers! There's a new roller coaster I've seen advertised.
Their trip to Alton Towers was a lot of fun. They did get to go on the new roller coaster, The Thunder Looper, multiple times. Each time it was with a different arrangement of kids. At first it was Neville, Harry and Dudley then it was Dudley, Dean and Harry. The kids managed to convince their fathers to go on the ride, Vernon only taking one trip before declaring himself done and went to go find a nice, stable, nonmoving bench. Hermione decided at the last minute that she changed her mind about going on the coaster and held back. Harry wanted to tease her about it but held off after seeing the look of terror on her face.
Wrapping his arms around her shoulders, he pulled her into a comforting hug.
"Don't worry, Hermione. If you don't want to go on the coaster, you don't have to. Would you rather try something else?" He felt her bushy hair rustle against his face as she nodded.
"I want to go miniature golfing," she replied. Vernon was agreeable to that; his face still tinged a bit green.
Three days before Harry's eleventh birthday, he received his Letter of Acceptance to Hogwarts. The Potters and the Marauders along with the Longbottoms, Dursleys, Thomas' and Grangers arrived at the Leaky Cauldron in a tsunami of chattering children and grumbling adults. Those who needed to exchange currencies stopped off at Gringott's while the rest began spreading out through the various stores and alleys to purchase the needed supplies. Severus made it his personal mission to assemble the best potions kit for Harry and his friends stating that the new Potions Master at Hogwarts would most likely be demanding and exacting. It would not do to be found wanting.
"A new Potions Master?" Harry asked his uncle, "I thought it was Slughorn?"
Lily shook her head, "He's retiring so you get someone fresh to work with." She said that with a twinkle in her eye that Dudley caught.
"What do you know, Aunt Lily?"
Lily smirked and dismissively waved her hand, "I know a lot of things. Some of which I won't tell you." Dudley scrunched his nose in mock disappointment.
Sunday 1 September 1991 King's Cross Station
King's Cross Station was always busy, day and night. That wasn't anything unusual. What did make it unusual at least to the station employees was the arrival of strangely dressed people every start of September. Children wearing robes and pushing trolleys loaded with their trunks and the occasional animal in a cage; they'd all arrive at the boundary between platforms nine and ten then suddenly vanish from sight. The old-timer employees would just shake their heads at the unexplainable events and chuckle at the looks on the younger and newer station attendants' faces.
As was usual for Harry, he shot out of the Floo with all the grace of a anvil falling from the back of a truck. He bounced back up to his feet with nary a complaint though it was to the bemusement and chuckling of his friends and anyone else who observed this travesty of magical transportation.
"I just don't get it, Harry. You're incredibly talented on a broom but everything else hates you," muttered Hermione after she daintily stepped out of the floo and dusted herself off.
Harry just shrugged his shoulders and readjusted his trunk on the trolley.
"Harry?" he turned to his father's call, "did you remember to send Hedwig on ahead this morning?" James was referring to Harry's new snowy white post owl.
"Yup, first thing this morning after breakfast. She should be arriving soon." James nodded his understanding.
"Okay kids! Time to get your stuff loaded on board."
As they were loaded on board, Lily fussed over Harry, embarrassing him a bit.
"Mu-um!" he complained as he pushed her hand off of his head where she was trying in vain to smooth down his hair, "You're embarrassing me!"
"But this is the last chance I'll get for nearly three months to do so! My baby is going off to Hogwarts!" she said that last part as a mock wail. Harry groaned and rolled his eyes while Neville laughed his head off.
Dudley stood next to his parents and sniffed quietly, "I want to go with them, Mum. I want to go to Hogwarts too."
Petunia put her arm around her son's shoulders, "I know, Dudley. But you also know the rules. But listen, you'll get to follow in a similar path that I took. You can learn all of the same magic at home just like I did and with all the modern conveniences that Harry and the others won't be able to have. Just because you live and study at home doesn't make you any less of a wizard than them."
With that realization, Dudley slowly nodded and smiled happily as he waved to his cousin as the train blew its whistle and slowly chuffed its way out of the station.
End Book 2.