The Enemies Among Us
Only one more chapter and then the epilogue remaining now.
It has been an odd few weeks for me. Those on the discord already know, but I turned down quite a lucrative publishing contract for my original works. Long story short, the publishers all but demanded I no longer publish fanfiction, and delete all of the stories I have published on here and other platforms.
There were other facets involved in my decision, but ultimately, I was unhappy with some of the stipulations that were insisted upon.
Anyway, it is you guys here that have supported me over the years throughout my journey into writing, and as I explained to those on the discord server, I felt as though I would be betraying you and myself if I accepted.
It's all of the fans that I have accumulated here that have gotten me to where I am today, and I refuse to simply walk away from you all. So it looks as though you are stuck with me.
Enjoy as always, and follow, favourite, and review.
It was late in the evening that Marcus Avery found himself in his study. With Thomas gone and his wife having passed years prior due to Dragonpox, the house was empty. His life was empty.
Thomas had been a bright boy, quiet for the most part, but Marcus appreciated that about his son. He was observant and had grown to be a credit to the name he carried.
When word of the Dark Lord and his cause had reached them, Thomas had been amongst the first to offer his support, a proud moment for the Avery patriarch who had raised his son with traditional pureblood values, but the pride had been short-lived.
In a matter of months, Thomas had been killed.
"Peverell," Marcus slurred, draining his glass of rum.
The Avery's were an old family, one of the oldest, and yet, none on the Wizengamot had cared that its heir had been murdered by an upstart Lord of an extinct family.
What the hell had the Peverells done for any of them?
Nothing. Not in almost a thousand years had a single one of them presided over a meeting of the Wizengamot, had made any contribution to Wizarding Britain, and now, they all fell to their knees before the man.
Not Marcus. He would never lower himself to such a level to any, let alone the man responsible for the end of his line.
He snorted derisively as he noticed his bottle was empty and threw it into the fire, sending shards of glass all over the carpet in front of the hearth.
"Bastard," he grunted.
He wanted Peverell dead, wanted him to pay for what he had done to Thomas, but there was none willing to help him.
Abraxus had ignored his letters, as had all the other lords he had reached out to for assistance at the time he needed it most.
Silence. None had even deigned him with a response other than Selwyn who had his own axe to grind with his foe.
Marcus shook his head.
Selwyn was a fool, and in truth, Marcus had found what Peverell had done to his nephew rather amusing. The idiot had overstepped in a public place and had been found lacking when confronted about his unseemly behaviour.
"Selwyn the ass," he chuckled before frowning and shaking his head.
No. He would find no amount of joy in anything Peverell had done. The man needed to die for what he had done, but how?
He eyed the missive that sat atop his desk he had received from Selwyn that offered the man's support in dealing with the matter.
Could the two of them concoct something to be rid of him?
Marcus had his doubts.
Selwyn barely knew one end of his wand from the other, but beggars could not be choosers.
He couldn't believe he was doing it, but in his desperation, he began scratching a reply to what appeared to be his only ally.
Marcus had considered following in Thomas's footsteps and throwing his lot in with the Dark Lord, but he refused to serve the man who had shown no care for the death of his son.
As such, he had not answered the call of the man for months after he had been refused the help he sought.
The Lord Avery would serve none, would not fall to his knees before any; not the Dark Lord any longer and certainly not Peverell.
He paused his writing as a strong wind blew through the room, sending the pieces of parchment that were on the desk strewn across the floor.
His eyes widened as several ravens emerged from the fireplace and coalesced into a familiar figure, the white eyes he'd heard of unmistakable.
Marcus Avery froze, his state of disbelief palpable as Lord Peverell glared at him.
"H-how did you get in here?" he demanded.
"It seems that your wards are not up to scratch, Avery," Peverell replied.
Marcus shook his head.
He was protected by some the best wards known to man, but Peverell was more than a simple man. Everyone said so.
"W-well what d-do you want?"
"I was under the impression it was you that wanted something from me. Have you not been seeking assistance in, what was it again? Ah, that's it. I believe your words were 'making me pay for my transgressions against you'."
Avery's nostrils flared.
"YOU KILLED MY SON!" he roared as he stood, his arms trembling as he pressed his palms into the top of his desk.
"I did," Peverell acknowledged, "but if you remember correctly, he tried to kill me first. You saw the memory for yourself."
Avery growled, his anger getting the better for him as his finger twitched, itching to reach for his wand.
This did not go unnoticed by the younger lord who nodded encouragingly.
"Do it," he urged. "Grab your wand and take your revenge."
This was a trick, it had to be. No one was foolish enough to make such an offer.
"This is the only chance you will get, Avery, so take it."
Marcus didn't need telling twice. His tormentor stood before him, his arms folded and waiting expectantly for him to act.
As quickly as he could in his drunken state, the Avery lord drew his wand, levelling it at Peverell who still did not move.
Before he had even began uttering the first syllable of the second half of the incantation, Peverell vanished in a flurry of beating wings, the room filling with ravens as Marcus's spell passed through the empty space he'd occupied.
"COWARD!" Marcus shouted.
One by one, the birds vanished, only for a presence to be felt behind the Avery lord.
As he turned, a vicelike grip seized him by the throat and he once again found himself staring into the eyes of Peverell, a coldness seeping into his very being.
"You threatened me," the strange lord said simply. "I do not take kindly to threats."
Marcus could only choke out a protest at the treatment he was receiving, growing ever colder the longer Peverell held onto him.
He was going to die.
He felt the life leaving him, and though he was terrified, it was an oddly peaceful sensation. When his vision began to fade to black, the mark on his arm he had been gifted by the Dark Lord burned, but he had no energy to fight or even scream, only to succumb to the hold Peverell had over him.
Harry released the slumped form of Thomas Avery, giving the man a look of disgust as he thudded to the floor before turning his attention to the letter he had been writing.
It turned out the Lestrange had been right. Marcus had indeed been planning something, and according to his handwriting, he was looking to do so with Commodus Selwyn's help.
Striking pre-emptively had been the right decision. Who knows what the two of them would have attempted?
Harry cared not. Marcus Avery would not be doing so now. With the man dead, he ensured no trace of himself had been left behind and approached the window, his form shifting to that of a single raven before taking flight.
Marcus Avery would not be coming for him, and before the night was out, neither would Commodus Selwyn.
Breakfast was not the same in the Potter household without Sirius present. Instead of the laughter-filled occasion, it had become a rather subdued affair, the antics and quips of the young Black missed by all, but none more so than James.
He understood that his friend felt the need to move on, to find his independence in life. That didn't mean he had to like it. Since starting Hogwarts, they had been inseparable, the friendship they shared coming easy to them both.
Very few wanted anything to do with Sirius, the reputation of the family that sired him never having been a positive one. Even though he had been sorted into Gryffindor, he was looked upon the same way as the others, and it seemed that no one would take a chance and approach the boy who was in a state of shock and looked out of place after his sorting.
Not James. The Potter heir had been different, had approached Sirius and introduced himself, offering his hand as he did so.
It was a surprised Sirius that accepted the gesture, and James had not looked back since. From that day, they had been best friends, brothers in all but blood.
His father's voice pulled him from his thoughts, garnering James's attention.
"What is it?" his mother asked.
Charlus shook his head and slid the morning edition of The Daily Prophet towards her.
Dorea read the headline before offering James a look of sympathy.
"What's happened?" the younger Potter asked, the expression of sorrow adorning his mother's features unsettling him. "Is it Lily?"
Dorea shook her head and handed him the paper.
Double Death as Violence Continues
By Leighton Abbott
Scenes of violence have sadly become prevalent over the past year or so in Wizarding Britain. It began in Hogsmeade but has now spread to the rest of our streets and to our youth.
Late on Thursday evening, two young men met their end at the hands of one another.
Augustus Rookwood (17) and Peter Pettigrew (17) only graduated from Hogwarts less than a week ago, but were both found dead in Knockturn Alley after what the aurors have deemed 'a short but violent altercation'.
The report explains that Mr Pettigrew was struck down by the killing curse of Mr Rookwood, who retaliated to a fatal cutting curse at the hands of the former.
It is not clear what caused the incident, but I can reveal that Mr Rookwood was found to be marked by the Dark Lord.
More will follow when details emerge.
James swallowed deeply, wiping the tears from his eyes as he stood and left the room, not hearing the voice of his mother calling him back.
"Leave him be," Charlus urged. "I'll go and fetch Sirius. The two of them will be better off together."
James was grateful for the man's intervention, but he did not know what good it would do to have Sirius with him. Even that wouldn't lighten his mood in the face of what had happened to the small boy both had spent the past years protecting.
Closing his bedroom door behind him once he'd entered, he was at a loss as to what to do. He didn't even know why he had left the kitchen. He just knew he needed to be alone for a while.
Taking a seat at his desk, he gathered some parchment, some ink, and wrote two letters.
Lily wouldn't likely be receiving The Prophet at home, and he knew for certain the Lupins didn't either. They had cancelled their subscription years ago due to the negative stance on werewolves the media took.
Remus would be devastated.
He was the closest to Peter out of the three of them, the two of them often studying together.
With his missives sent with the family owl, James found himself at a loss once more, though it subsided when his bedroom door was all but thrown open and he was faced with a teary-eyed Sirius.
"Rookwood!" he seethed.
James should have known that anger would be the first emotion his friend experienced. For all his bluster that he was unlike the other members of his family, he was more the typical Black than most of them.
"He's dead, Padfoot," James croaked.
The reminder did little to placate him, his jaw remained clenched as he deflated and took a seat on the edge of the bed.
"What the hell was he doing there?"
James frowned at the pertinent question.
Just what was Peter thinking? He knew never to venture into Knockturn Alley. He knew what the place was like, that it wasn't safe, especially at night-time.
"Maybe Rookwood chased him," Sirius offered with a shrug.
James shook his head.
"No, the apothecary that he used is on the opposite side of Diagon Alley. We both know he couldn't outrun anyone as far as Knockturn."
Sirius frowned and nodded his agreement.
"He always apparated as close as he could to the apothecary too," he mused aloud. "That was only what? Two shops away?"
"Next to Quality Quidditch Supplies."
"It doesn't make sense," Sirius huffed. "What was he doing in Knockturn Alley?"
James offered his friend a sad smile.
"Does it really matter, Padfoot? Wormy is gone."
"I know," Sirius comforted. "The question is, what are we going to do about it?"
James shrugged before pausing, a conversation he'd overheard between his parents coming to the forefront of his mind.
"Dumbledore," he murmured.
"He has a secret group that is fighting against them," James whispered. "We could join them."
Sirius pondered the notion for a moment before nodding.
"We could, but how?"
"We ask," James replied.
Sirius did not appear to be convinced by the simplicity, but he would not argue the point with his friend. James usually had the best ideas between them, so why wouldn't he be right about this.
Besides, what was the worst that could happen? It's not like their former headmaster could assign them a month's worth of detention.
Who knows, the man may be grateful for the extra assistance.
For all the resources he had gathered when it came to pureblood wizarding families, there was next to nothing with regards to the Peverells. They were an anomaly, little more than a blip of prominence some thousand or so years ago before they faded into obscurity.
What the Dark Lord did have was a collection of tales, folklore and local legends of when one carrying the damned name had emerged and achieved some rather fanciful feats.
There was nothing else to be gleaned of them other than rumours of them possessing something called the Deathly Hallows.
He shook his head at the thought.
Mentions of the hallows were less elusive than the Peverells but only amounted to whispered rumours. None had ever been found. Men had wasted their lives in pursuit of the objects, the stories of them amounting to those found in children's tales.
Interestingly, Lord Voldemort had discovered that the Potter family rose to prominence through a marriage with the Peverells, but his efforts into his own relation to Harry Peverell yielded nothing.
It was as though the man appeared from nowhere, as if by magic.
The Dark Lord frowned at musing.
He had begun to wonder if this Peverell was who he claimed to be, but magic was not fooled by pretenders. No, he was who he claimed to be, but Lord Voldemort was no closer to the answers he sought.
His desire to know just where Peverell emerged from would have to remain just that. All that mattered was that the man had proven himself an enemy, one that Voldemort was eager to see the end of.
Already he had proven he was a nuisance at best and, if the rumours of what those that carried the name were capable of held truth, a threat to his plans.
Not to the Dark Lord of course. None could hope to be that.
He took comfort from the weight of the locket that adorned his neck, his hand wrapping around it assuredly.
Even considering Peverell's unexpected ability with parseltongue, Lord Voldemort's legacy was all but secured. His work could not be undone so easily, he had made sure of that.
Still, the man's appearance was unsettling to say the least, the tales of 'Mastering Death' or being 'Death's Champion' unsettling.
The Dark Lord was the true Master of Death. It was he that had gone beyond what any other before him had dared. It was Lord Voldemort that would not suffer such a trivial thing as his life being ended.
No, Peverell may have bought into the legend that surrounded his name, but it was the Dark Lord that had achieved the feats of which they spoke.
He chuckled darkly to himself, clearing his desk of the reams of parchment and books he had been poring over for the past several days.
Who was this Peverell?
It mattered not.
He would meet the very same end that any other would that dared oppose the Dark Lord, the same demise that many had already.
With his desk cleared and his mind uncluttered, he stood, stretching out the kinks and knots that had accumulated as he'd slouched over the words of those long passed.
It felt good to unburden himself, though he had a feeling it would be short-lived as the door to the library was unceremoniously shoved open and an irate Bellatrix stalked into the room.
She knew not to disturb him and certainly not to burst in unannounced or without leave to do so.
"You forget yourself, Bella," he commented.
She flinched at the casual yet dangerous tone with which he spoke and fell to her knees compliantly.
"I apologise, my lord, but this is important."
Voldemort's jaw clenched in irritation, but he nodded and gestured for her to stand.
"And what is so important that I am to be intruded upon?" he asked.
"This," Bellatrix said simply as she placed a piece of parchment on the desk.
The Dark Lord frowned as he retrieved it and read the missive that had irked her so.
Your presence to attend a meeting between myself and your grandfather, Lord Arcturus Black, is requested at 20:00, a week from this coming Thursday, where your future will be discussed and decided upon.
As a daughter of my house, you are required to present yourself at the above time or a decision regarding your arrangements will be made without you.
Lord Corvus Lestrange
Head of the Lestrange Family
"Interesting," the Dark Lord mused aloud.
"I will not allow them to dictate my life!" Bellatrix snapped. "They wish to have me remarried."
"That is likely," Voldemort agreed. "You are a young woman from a prominent family, and without child. There are still those that would see you as a worthy match."
"I will not do it!" Bellatrix replied petulantly, looking to him with pleading eyes to fix this problem.
He released a deep sigh.
"My dear Bella, I would not see you mistreated," he assured her, "nor would I expect you to accept the will of either Corvus or your grandfather. However, you need to look beyond your anger and see the opportunity for your own ambitions to come to fruition."
"My ambition?" Bellatrix asked confusedly.
"Have you not been plotting to depose your grandfather? Does the opportunity not present itself with this?" the Dark Lord asked, holding the piece of parchment aloft.
Bellatrix's eyes widened as she nodded.
"It does," she whispered. "He will be away from the Black wards."
"But within the Lestrange's," Voldemort pointed out.
Bellatrix worried her lip at the thought.
The Lestrange wards, while not as dangerous as those of the Blacks were still formidable.
"Worry not, Bella," Voldemort soothed. "With an undertaking such as this, I would not suggest you do it alone. I will be on hand to assist you, as will my followers. With Arcturus Black out of the picture, the family resources will be ripe for the taking."
Bella's eyes were wide with admiration, her belief that he was doing this only for her a naïve one.
The Dark Lord's desire to obtain the magical knowledge the Blacks possessed was one he had been harbouring since before he had made the acquaintance of the vivacious woman stood before him.
Despite her best efforts, Bellatrix had been unable to share it with him, the oaths she had been required to give when she had begun training in the family magic preventing her from doing so.
That would no longer matter when the current Lord Black was dead. Without a strong leader, the Dark Lord would seize control through Regulus, who was proving to be quite the ardent supporter according to Bellatrix.
Yes, the boy would be installed as the head of the family, the rest being eliminated if necessary.
"We have time, Bella," Voldemort reminded her. "We must plan."
"My grandfather is an old man. He is no threat away from his wards."
The Dark Lord shook his head.
"Old he may be, but his mind is sound. He has not retained his position as long as he has by being foolish. No, we must prepare accordingly. Arcturus Black is as cunning as they come. He may not be expecting a coup, but he will have measures in place. We must be ready for any and all eventualities."
Perhaps he was being cautious, but the reputation of the Black lord was not one that should be ignored, though Voldemort could not foresee any problems arising.
Arcturus Black was under the impression he would be attending a meeting with his granddaughter and whom he believed to be an ally.
There was no plausible way he would be expecting what was coming.
The thought brought a smirk to the Dark Lord's lips.
It was the perfect opportunity with little risk.
Bella was right. Arcturus Black was an old man, far past his prime and the power he held only in name.
What could possibly go wrong?
It was a solemn Albus Dumbledore that looked on as the members of the Order of the Phoenix entered the backroom of the Hog's Head and took their seats. Much had happened over the previous days, some good and some bad.
The Death of his former students had hit Albus hard. Peter Pettigrew had been a quiet boy, below average in his academic performance if truth be told, and certainly not one to find himself in such a position as he had the night he died.
To the headmaster, his presence there would remain a mystery, the cause of the altercation between the two boys who, as far as he knew, had never interacted, baffling.
Where Peter had been ungifted, Augustus Rookwood was the opposite. He had been an exceedingly talented wizard with an exceptionally keen mind. Often, Horace and Minerva would speak of their bewilderment of the knowledge the boy possessed. He was an excellent wizard in every way and had the potential to achieve many great things.
Alas, it was not meant to be. He had involved himself with Tom, something that proved to be to Augustus' detriment.
To Albus, it was a shame that such a promising young man had been lured in by the Dark Lord.
"As always, thank you for joining me," he began with a bow towards those within the room. "Is there anything to report?"
"They continue to flee from us, Albus," Benjy responded irritably. "Since Peverell here killed the Lestranges, they don't stick around. In and out, just as it was before."
Dumbledore acknowledged the point with a nod.
It was frustrating and Albus suspected that they once more did so under Tom's orders. Losing such prominent followers was not something he could afford. He would sooner have the Death Eaters adopt their more effective tactics of striking hard and fast, and fleeing when any threat arrived to intervene.
"Mundungus? Have you heard anything of the incident between Pettigrew and Rookwood?" he asked.
Fletcher shook his head.
"No one saw or 'eard a fing," he replied. "Whatever 'appened musta bin quiet. No shouting or nuffin'."
Dumbledore hummed thoughtfully.
It was odd that a confrontation would be conducted in such a way. Were either to have raised their voices in Knockturn Alley, someone would have heard it. There was always someone unsavoury lurking, hoping to eavesdrop on private conversations.
Unless Augustus or Pettigrew knew this and chose the spot they were found to avoid it.
Albus shook his head.
Dwelling on speculation would achieve nothing. Both were dead, and with no witnesses, the truth behind the incident would never be discovered.
With a sigh, he gestured for any other order member with information to speak. When none did, he took the opportunity to address them.
"Today, I had a visit from Minister Bagnold. She is concerned that the Dark Lord has spies within the Ministry attempting to undermine the work being put in and passing on vital information."
"Well, what can be done about that?" Dorcas Meadowes questioned.
"That was indeed the very inquiry I made," Dumbledore answered. "Over the past few weeks, Barty has been interviewing his aurors, checking them for the Dark Mark, and questioning them under Veritaserum. Nine were found to be marked with another six supporting the pureblood movement. They have been removed from duty and are being held in Azkaban until a trial can be arranged."
"Bloody hell," Gideon exclaimed.
Dumbledore nodded grimly.
"Tomorrow at ten am, the Ministry of Magic will be placed under lockdown whilst the entire staff is vetted. This is an enormous operation that is being carried out by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement under the leadership of Barty, Minister Bagnold, and Alastor Moody. We have been asked to assist with this."
"How are they going to manage that?" Fabian asked curiously.
"It has already begun," Dumbledore informed them sombrely. "Today, the Department of Magical Transportation was vetted. A further three people were discovered to be carrying the mark and the floo network out of the Ministry has been blocked. None will be able to leave once they enter in the morning."
"What about Portkeys?" Benji interjected.
"The wards will void them upon entry. This has been tested diligently."
"So, there is no escape?"
Dumbledore shook his head.
"No, none will leave without the permission of the Minister, and not until they have been checked."
"It's about time," Harry mumbled. "What about Crouch's son?"
Dumbledore deflated at the question.
"He too is in Azkaban awaiting trial. Barty did not take his involvement with the pureblood movement well and has disowned him. Much was revealed during Barty Jr's questioning."
Harry nodded satisfactorily.
He had of course met the man whilst he was posing as Mad-Eye. He was a fanatic, and even Azkaban was too good for him.
"I would suggest that we arrive to the Ministry early to avoid suspicion. I will do so at eight am and urge you to do the same. If there is nothing else?"
The members of the Order appeared to be shocked by the rather unexpected development and had nothing to add.
"Then that is all for this evening. I would recommend resting, tomorrow will be an exceedingly busy day. Lord Peverell? Might I have a word?"
The rest of the Order filed out of the room leaving Albus alone with Harry.
"I had a rather surprising visit today from two of my now former students."
Harry sighed irritably.
"Would they happen to have the names Black and Potter?"
"They would," Albus confirmed. "They all but demanded that I allow them to join the Order. I don't suppose that what we do is much of a secret anymore, but I found their reasoning to be of concern. They are angry about what happened to their friend."
"I will have a word with them," Harry promised.
Dumbledore offered him a grateful smile.
"I would appreciate it if you would. Perhaps you can make them see sense where I failed."
"Or I'll have to bang their bloody heads together," Harry muttered. "Leave it with me, Dumbledore."
The headmaster offered him a bow.
"I do not doubt their ability to be an asset to us, and though they have graduated, they're still only boys. I do not wish to see more of those that roamed these halls buried before their time."
Harry nodded his understanding.
"I will speak with them. I don't see any need to inform the lords of their houses just yet, but I will if it becomes necessary."
"An admirable approach, and one I believe to be correct. I shall leave it in your capable hands."
With himself unburdened of that predicament, Albus took leave from the pub with the intention of following his own advice.
Tomorrow would indeed be a trying day, and to tackle it, he would need to be well-rested.
Who knew what surprises would emerge come the morning?
Andromeda and her mother had taken up the habit of visiting more often. Narcissa did not mind their presence, was grateful for it in truth, but it was the constant looks of concern that began to grate on her nerves.
She understood that both were worried for her, that they were struggling to come to terms with her death and return from the other side; Narcissa was too, but she would not let what happened rule her life. She had chosen to conquer it, to wear it like armour when it mattered most.
What had happened had come to pass and she did not wish to wallow in it. What Bellatrix done had hurt, that she would not deny, but it was not the betrayal that cut so deep so much as her being dragged away from the happiness she had found with her daughter and husband.
Bellatrix had made her choices, something that Narcissa now accepted. Though she had not agreed with her chosen path, there was nothing the younger sibling could have done to deter the older, she was much too headstrong and stubborn for that.
Still, Narcissa never suspected that Bella would do what she had, nor that she would be inclined to follow suit, yet here she was, spending each and every waking moment envisioning killing her own sister.
When she was not thinking about it, she dreamed of it. She would not rest until Bellatrix was gone and no longer a threat to herself, Harry, or their daughter.
"Oh, who's a clever girl," Druella exclaimed. "Look, she turned over all by herself."
Narcissa smiled at the expression of surprise Helena wore, her feat an unexpected one.
"It's all trouble from here," Andromeda chuckled. "Soon, she'll be crawling, and then walking not long after. This is where the fun begins."
Narcissa narrowed her eyes at her sister.
"You're enjoying this."
Andromeda nodded unashamedly.
"I've been where you are. You'd just better hope little Helena here does not have the same penchant for mischief as Dora does."
"If she's anything like her father, she will be worse," Druella commented.
"Then it is a good job she has a very watchful and doting aunt and grandmother to keep an eye on her," Narcissa replied, picking Helena up and placing the girl on her hip.
"And what are you lot plotting?" Harry asked as he entered the room, relieving his wife of their daughter after placing a kiss on her cheek.
"No plotting, Lord Peverell," Andromeda answered sweetly, "just celebrating Helena's next step towards making your life difficult."
"More difficult than she already makes it? Impossible," Harry denied, nuzzling the girl who giggled.
"Oh, Harry," she cooed, "you are so naïve to the whims of children. What you've had to deal with so far is only the beginning. The sweet little child you hold in your arms will cause you more problems than you ever thought possible."
The Peverell lord frowned, his gaze shifting to his daughter who was resting her head on his shoulder, looking up at him with innocent eyes.
"Mother," Narcissa chided, "you're frightening him."
Druella smirked victoriously.
"I was just letting him know what he was in for," the woman defended.
"Thanks for that," Harry said dryly. "I look forward to the next few years of stress."
Druella's smirk widened.
"The fun doesn't really begin until they become teenagers, Harry. The mood swings, the sneaking around, the boyfriends they think you don't know about. That's when the fun really begins."
"Secret boyfriends?" Harry asked, his eyes shifting to his wife.
"No, not Cissy," Druella sighed, "she was too busy with her head in books and lurking in the dungeons for that kind of excitement, isn't that right, Andromeda?"
"Mother," the older daughter groaned. "I was in fourth year."
"And was caught in a broom cupboard with a boy. You're lucky it was I that received the letter and not your father."
Andromeda mumbled incoherently under her breath, as she attempted to hide her blush.
"You seem almost disappointed that Narcissa was rather dull as a teenager," Druella continued, addressing Harry once more. "Do you have any interesting tales from when you were a teen?"
"Mother," Narcissa warned.
"I'm only teasing," Druella placated. "I just thought that Harry would have had a girlfriend, or at least a kiss. You did," she accused when something indiscernible flashed across his features. "Do tell."
Andromeda too was taken aback and appeared eager to learn.
"There's nothing to tell," Harry replied with a shrug. "It was just a kiss."
"Mother!" Narcissa hissed.
"No," Harry answered.
"And what happened to the lucky girl? Cissy hasn't got to worry about a first love coming back to haunt her?"
Harry shook his head.
"She died," he answered simply, leaving the room with Helena still in his arms.
Narcissa shot her mother a look of disapproval.
"I-I didn't know," Druella gasped, dumbfounded by the revelation.
"Well, I did," Narcissa sighed. "Harry told me about her before the contract between us was a thing."
Druella looked guilty.
"I'll go an apologise," she decided.
"No," Narcissa denied, "I'll go and speak to him."
She found Harry stood on the balcony of their bedroom holding Helena in one hand and a photo in the other. He didn't even seem to hear her enter, his eyes fixed on the picture of a younger him, a redhead, and a bushy-haired girl to his left.
"She didn't mean anything by it," Narcissa said.
"I know. It just reminds me of the things I left behind. I don't regret it," he assured her, "but there are things I'll always miss."
"Is that her, Cho?" Narcissa asked, pointing to the girl in the photo.
Harry snorted and shook his head.
"No, that is Hermione. She was one of my best friends."
"And the boy?"
"He was my first friend, Ron. He jumped in front of a killing curse for her."
"Oh," Narcissa murmured. "He must have been some loyal friend."
"He was," Harry agreed, "he was always there when it mattered."
Narcissa offered him a sad smile.
"What happened to Hermione?"
"I saw her when I went back to get you," he explained. "If she listened, she will be in Bulgaria now preparing to marry the man she loves."
"Do you think she is?"
"I do," Harry replied, a smile tugging at his lips. "She had it worse than most of us. Her parents were killed, Ron was killed, and I vanished. She deserves whatever happiness she gets."
"As do you," Narcissa added, wrapping an arm around his waist. "I can't bring them back, Harry, but I will always do what I can to make you happy."
"You already do," he sighed. "I have everything I need right here. Besides, if things turn out as I hope, I may even see them again, just not in the same way."
"You'll be old enough to be their father," Narcissa giggled.
"Or their professor," Harry pointed out. "I can't imagine I'll still be playing Quidditch in my mid-thirties."
"Is that what you want?"
"To go back to teaching? Yes," Harry answered honestly. "When I'm done with Quidditch, I'll go back. I quite enjoyed it."
"Then there is something else for you to look forward to when this is all over."
"Something that will happen sooner rather than later."
"What do you mean?" Narcissa asked with a frown.
"Bagnold is doing a sweep of the Ministry tomorrow, and the meeting between your grandfather and Bellatrix is next week. She won't miss the opportunity to attempt to kill him, and Tom will not risk her doing it alone."
"He will be there?" Narcissa asked worriedly.
"He will," Harry said confidently. "It will all be over, one way or the other, it will come to an end."
"I'll be there too," she said determinedly.
She ignored the grimace of her husband, much of her own understanding stemming from her need to personally see an end to Bellatrix. It had to be her. She would be wholly unsatisfied if she was not the one to put Bellatrix down the way her sister had done to her.
"I know," Harry said grimly.
He did not argue with her. Harry knew that she would accept none from him.
Narcissa's grip tightened around her husband, the urge to plead with him not to confront the man almost overwhelming, but she would not put him in such a position. Everything Harry had done in his life had led to killing the man that had taken his parents from him, had taken others he cared for and made his existence a misery.
More than that, she believed in Harry, knew that he would emerge victorious for her and for Helena.
Still, that didn't mean she would not worry. That's exactly what people did for the ones they loved, was it not?
He watched as the Ministry workers milled around the atrium, some going about their business whilst others stopped for a leisurely chat with colleagues from other departments. If any were aware of what was to come, they didn't show it, though Harry could feel the mounting tension.
He glanced towards the clock from beneath his cloak before continuing his vigil, looking for any sign that the Minister's plan had been compromised. He hoped beyond hope that she had chosen her confidants well or her efforts would be for nought.
In a world where one could not be certain who was trustworthy and who would kill you the first opportunity they got, this was important. To destabilise Tom and his regime, failure here was not an option.
The Dark Lord knew too much, knew where and when to strike when the aurors would be less prepared to respond to the attacks, had knowledge that even the most senior Ministry personnel were not always privy too.
For all the damage and toxicity bred from Tom's movement, the Ministry was seemingly equally corrupt with those within harbouring ambitions beyond serving Wizarding Britain in their capacity.
How deep the corruption ran remained to be seen, but as the clock reached ten am, Harry suspected it would be much worse than even he could have guessed.
"All Ministry Personnel are to return to their departments and await further instruction," the voice of the Minister announced.
There was confusion at first, but most complied, bidding farewell to their companions and some turning on the spot to head in the direction they had come from.
Some, however, sensed that something was afoot and rushed towards the fireplaces to take their leave of the Ministry.
They were met by a significant auror force, and though some attempted to break through, they were quickly subdued.
"What is the meaning of this?" a man with thinning blonde hair demanded from where he had been tied up on the floor.
"You heard the Minister," a German voice replied. "You were supposed to return to your department."
"This is madness!" the restrained man declared.
"If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear," Harry shrugged as he approached, unable to ignore the widening eyes of the man.
"P-Peverell?" he questioned.
Harry nodded as he drew his wand and removed the left sleeve of the would-be escapist.
"Oh dear," he sighed. "It does seem you have something to fear, after all."
Sat prominently on the left forearm was the Dark Mark.
The man sneered at him.
"The Dark Lord will kill you, Peverell!"
"Well, he isn't here now, is he?" Harry returned. "If you are so sure that he will kill me, then why does he run? Why is he hiding from me? Why do all of you flee from me?"
The man narrowed his eyes but said nothing.
"Because you are cowards," Harry chuckled. "You attack those that cannot defend themselves and run from those that can. I'll tell you what, let us make a deal. I will untie you, I will return your wand, and we will fight. If you win, I'll let you walk away from here."
The man frowned and shook his head.
"You'll kill me."
"I will," Harry agreed, "but aren't those the games you like to play? Attacking people you know you can bully and push around?"
"That is different," the man protested. "What we do has a purpose, it is to ensure that the mudbloods and filth do not take over."
"So, you believe yourself superior?"
The man nodded emphatically.
"Well, I'm a half-blood. Do you think yourself my better?"
A shake of the head was the response he received.
"And you don't see the stupidity in your own views," Harry sighed. "Maybe a stint in Azkaban will do you some good, though I doubt it."
The man paled at the realisation he faced prison, but Harry was distracted by a commanding voice of an auror from across the atrium.
Evidently, another was not cooperating nor paying attention to where he was going.
With a flick of Harry's wand, a section of the floor in front of the fleeing man was lifted. The man, looking over his shoulder at the pursuing auror did not notice, and ran headlong into it, finding himself sprawled on the ground and bound in ropes before he realised what had happened.
"Thanks, Peverell," the auror called, hauling the man to his feet and leading him away.
That was what he was here for.
He had been asked by Bagnold to ensure no one escaped via the atrium. It was unlikely, but the woman was taking no chances.
"How's it going?" Edgar asked having approached from the security desk he had been manning.
"As expected," Harry snorted.
"Do you think it's as bad as the Minister thinks?"
"Worse," Harry predicted. "She's expecting a few in each department. There will be more."
"Bloody hell," Edgar muttered. "That bad?"
"He has a lot of supporters," Harry pointed out. "He'll want as many as he can here. Any inside information he can get will be useful. Without it, he is just as blind as we are to what they're planning until it's too late."
Edgar nodded thoughtfully.
"That would be useful."
"Invaluable," Harry corrected. "I didn't expect this though. Bagnold and Crouch aren't holding back."
Edgar chuckled as he shook his head.
"You've given them the kick up the arse to do it. As far as the public is concerned, no one has done more than you to put an end to this. The Ministry can't be seen to be slacking."
"I suppose there's some truth in that," Harry conceded. "So long as it pisses him off, I'm all for it."
"Yeah, but we don't want it to backfire," Edgar said ruefully. "This could just make him more desperate and increase the attacks."
"No," Harry disagreed. "He will wait until he has all the information he thinks he needs before continuing. It will be too late by then. It will all be over by the time he has figured it out."
"You seem pretty sure of that?"
"I am. A week on Thursday," Harry murmured.
Edgar appeared to be a mixture of nervousness and relief.
"Good," he replied, "just in time for the little one to not be born into this shit."
"How is Ellie?" Harry asked.
Edgar shook his head.
"At the moment, not the sweet and odd woman I married. Why didn't you tell me pregnant women were so temperamental? I thought you were my friend."
Harry laughed heartily and slapped the redhead on the back.
"Just wait until she is actually giving birth. You're in for a real treat, Ed," he said gleefully as he walked away to check on the other aurors stationed at the far side of the atrium.
"What does that even mean?" Edgar called.
"How many so far, Barty?" Millicent asked.
The man released a deep breath. It was not often the man was moved in such a way, but this operation had brought home the reality of just how many supporters of the Dark Lord were amongst them daily.
"We are still waiting for the final count from the Department of Magical Games and Sports, and your own staff, Minister," Crouch answered. "It is not looking good."
Millicent nodded her understanding.
She had expected to discover a dozen or so witches and wizards marked, but she had seen many more than what she estimated being led away by the aurors. It was sobering to say the least.
She had spent the last three hours milling around each department, offering her assistance where needed, but mostly to absorb the magnitude of the problem Britain faced, the problem she faced.
She was their leader after all, and the countries problems were hers.
"Alastor," she addressed the veteran auror fondly, "Please tell me you have good news."
"Well, the good news is that the scum will be out of here by the end of the day," the man growled amusedly, finding himself in his element. "The bad news is that you will be short-staffed in what is looking to be all the departments."
"That is what I'm afraid of," Millicent sighed. "Any unwelcome surprises?"
Moody nodded grimly, gesturing for her to follow. When the man came to a stop, it was before a cluster of witches and wizards that were familiar to the Minister.
The group was comprised of her own staff.
"Corbin!" Millicent exclaimed.
The man was her personal assistant, privy to all manner of sensitive information.
"Aye," Moody grumbled darkly, "all of them are marked and passing on information. I suppose you should be grateful you shared this with no one," he added, gesturing around them.
Millicent nodded, feeling saddened by the revelation one of her most trusted had been proven a follower of the Dark Lord.
She would not have believed it if she wasn't seeing the mark for herself.
Corbin had been with her long before being Minister was a reality for her. Millicent had been a supervisor in the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes when he had been assigned to her.
Over the past decade, the man had been there to lighten her load, had seemingly been loyal to her and the Ministry.
Evidently, his loyalty could either be bought or did not run as deep as she believed.
Around Corbin and bound in ropes was her Undersecretary, two other assistants that filed her paperwork, and even the caretaker that cleaned her office.
Merlin only knew what he had seen, heard, and passed on in his capacity.
Millicent could only shake her head.
She had trusted the wrong people or had been too lax to see what was right in front of her, and she could not help but feel responsible for what may have happened because of her own negligence.
"Don't be hard on yourself, lass," Moody broke into her thoughts. "How were we to know we were surrounded by the scum. If it wasn't for you, we still wouldn't know any better."
The man's words brought little comfort, but Millicent was relieved that she had decided upon pursuing this undertaking. It would be quite the blow to the Dark Lord.
"The final figures are in," Crouch informed her and Moody as he reached them.
"How bad is it, Barty?" Millicent asked.
"Including from my department and Magical Transportation, one hundred and thirty-four."
Millicent released a deep breath.
It was much more than she would have believed.
"Can we house that many?"
"The German Minister has agreed to take some for us, and we are waiting for word from the French. We will manage," he assured her.
"Then I guess there is nothing left to do other than break the news to the media," the Minister sighed. "How did Peverell fare in all this."
"None got through him," Moody replied, a grin tugging at his lips. "A few tried, but they didn't get very far."
"Good," Millicent declared. "I would like you and him by my side when we let in the reporters. There will be some unhappy with what has happened."
"I'll inform him now," Moody announced, taking his leave to find the man.
"You did the right thing," Crouch assured her.
"Will it not make things worse?"
The man shook his head, his moustache twitching irritably.
"What choice did we have? It was clear that vital information was being passed on. Ever since McKinnon visited and raised his concerns about the activities taking place near his home. Look what happened there, he was dead less than a day later."
"I never would have believed so many were among us, Barty."
"I was fooled more than any," Crouch grumbled. "My own son and I had no idea."
Millicent offered him a look of sympathy.
Finding out his heir was involved with the Dark Lord had hit the man hard. He would never admit it, but the dark circles around his eyes spoke of his unrest.
"We can only hope this brings us one step closer to putting this to an end," Millicent offered. "Before it tears any other family apart."
"Hope right now, is foolish," Barty returned severely. "The Dark Lord must be stopped. That is the only way this ends."
"And we both know who will do that."
"Would you be content with Peverell receiving all the credit?"
"I will be content when the fighting stops, Barty. I will walk out of that office with our country being at peace. Let the people have their hero for what it's worth. I just want it to be done with, no matter what that takes."
"He will do just that," Barty warned. "Whatever it takes to get to him, Peverell will do it. Should we prepare for the fallout?"
"What good will that do us? I was at odds with him when he was a nobody and he emerged on the other side unscathed, and the better for it. No Barty, Peverell will be all but untouchable if he wins."
"And what if he doesn't?" Crouch pressed.
Millicent did not want to even consider that possibility.
"Then the days ahead will only be darker."
Harry had never enjoyed being the centre of attention, but he found himself being just that as a swathe of journalists and members of the public entered the atrium of the Ministry where a stage and podium had been hastily erected for the Minister to host a press conference.
They eyed him from afar, many in awe and some warily as he stood shoulder to shoulder with Alastor Moody.
"Do you have plans of being the Minister one day, Peverell?" the man asked.
Harry shook his head vigorously.
"No chance," he muttered, eliciting a bout of laughter from the auror.
"There will be a lot of disappointed people," Moody snorted. "Me included, unless you join us aurors."
"I've got quidditch," Harry reminded him.
"Aye," Moody agreed, "and damned good at it you are too. Still, we could always use someone like you."
"I don't think being an auror is for me. It was a dream of mine once, but then I met a man who was missing half his nose, an eye, and had a wooden leg who had been one. I don't fancy that."
"Sounds like a dedicated man."
"He was," Harry agreed. "Completely insane, but an auror through and through."
Before any further conversation could take place between the two, the Minister stepped onto the stage and Harry turned his attention back to the crowd.
He didn't know how he had been roped into guard duty, but Moody had not taken no for an answer. Even now, his respect for the man shone through, so much so that Harry was willing to do him a favour if asked.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for joining me on such short notice," Bagnold spoke, addressing those in attendance. "This morning, under the supervision of myself, Barty Crouch, and Senior Auror Alastor Moody, we conducted an operation to identify those within the Ministry that are loyal to the Dark Lord."
Whispers broke out amongst the crowd and the sound of scratching quills could be heard as the journalists took note.
"I am pleased to announce that the operation was a resounding success," the Minister continued. "Overall, one-hundred and thirty-four people were discovered to be working with the Dark Lord and have been arrested."
"On what grounds?" an irritated voice demanded to know.
"On the grounds that they have been involved with the attacks on muggles and against our own," Bagnold responded. "Charges will be filed, and trials held in due course."
"Do you have proof of their involvement, Minister?" another asked.
"The fact that they carry the Dark Mark magically imbued into the skin of their left arm is all the proof I need for arrests to be made."
"So, it is illegal to be marked now?" the same man asked.
"No, but it is grounds to be brought in for questioning under Veritaserum, and held until a trial can be arranged," the Minister explained. "We have been working diligently to ascertain the meaning of the mark and we have gathered enough evidence to allow this course of action. As the Minister, it is my prerogative to keep the people of wizarding Britain safe, and I, along with experts I have consulted with, feel that those carrying the mark of the Dark Lord have sufficiently proven that they are a threat to our collective safety. I thank you for the questions. It gave me the opportunity to explain that any found to be marked will also be subject to arrest and questioning."
"You can't just administer Veritaserum to whomever you wish," another angry voice called. "There are regulations to follow."
"And they shall be followed to the letter," Bagnold returned firmly, "you can be assured of that. However, with all that has happened throughout recent months, it is time for us to truly take a stand against the Dark Lord and his ilk. They have continuously attacked the vulnerable, attacked our very own, and it must be stopped. If these drastic measures are what is necessary, then we will follow through with them until they no longer pose a threat."
A resounding cheer sounded as Millicent Bagnold finished speaking, some faith in the Ministry having been restored by what she had done and promised them.
For months, a dark cloud had hung over magical Britain, and in one fell swoop, the Minister had given them hope.
They may still fear to even whisper the Dark Lord's name, but the people no longer felt alone. Those charged with protecting them were stepping up and taking the fight to the threat against them.
"I want him gone, Peverell," Bagnold said as she stepped away from the podium. "Whatever help you need, you will have it. Whatever you must do, see it is done. So long as he is dealt with, that is all that matters."
Harry was taken aback by the candid words of the Minister, all other interactions with the woman and even Fudge having been a vocal chess match.
It was rather refreshing, though he did not know how good her word would be were she to discover what he had done to both Avery and Selwyn.
Not that it mattered.
Harry had no regrets and never would when it came to the Dark Lord and his followers.
"Then I believe a conversation between us could prove to be beneficial," he replied. "Regardless of what happens, I will get him, Minister, you can rest assured of that."