Not mine, JKRs - and Kinsfire's.
Over four weeks, this time, but I think I'm over a major hurdle. I'm going to modify my ambitions though, scaling back to planning on once every two weeks, rather than every week for posting. Also, this chapter is somewhat shorter than the previous ones - again, something I hope to fix, unless I get overwhelming urging in reviews for shorter chapters.
Lord Voldemort was not pleased. For 3 weeks, he'd been carrying out random raids across the length and breadth of Great Britain, striking terror in the souls of the Wizarding community. And for 3 weeks, he'd been sharing the front page of the Daily Prophet with some upstart group.
Worse yet, these attacks seemed almost coordinated with his. He'd tried everything to figure out what was going on. He'd tried a round of invading his Death Eaters' minds, followed by some judicious torture on the ones who felt a bit wavering, and still had found nothing. Studying the records of his previous downfalls had suggested that one young brat named Harry Potter had been instrumental in it. He really didn't know what to make of that, because he couldn't quite figure out why he had attacked the child.
The reports were informative, but not complete. Most critically for his purposes was mention of a bond, based in a curse scar on the forehead of the Potter child, that sometimes leaked information. But Voldemort couldn't figure out why the current Minister of Magic would possibly be leading a group pretending to be Death Eaters!
There was another missing piece of the puzzle. Why hadn't the Ministry admitted that it was really him behind the attacks? Well, there would be no denying it this day! His attack on Diagon Alley would ensure that!
A combination of factors had changed the defensive status of Diagon Alley over the two years since Voldemort had been defeated. One of those factors was remarks Harry had made, somewhat intemperately, about a bunch of fully-educated wizards who couldn't handle Death Eaters they outnumbered 10 to 1. To their shame, the DA's aid in defending Hogwarts reinforced this point. Gringotts had also raised insurance rates on all business owners who didn't show yearly proficiency in basic cursing. The testing wasn't anything like what an Auror was expected to be held to. It was more a matter of having to hide behind a small barrier and cast a few basic curses at a silhouette on the wall. Hitting the silhouette less than 50 percent of the time was considered failing, and the Goblins weren't afraid to make comments in the hearing of other shopkeepers about their inability to use their wand.
Though there had been grumbling about it starting up earlier in the summer, the strikes by what appeared to be Death Eaters had shut that up, and wards and shields had been strengthened all along the Alley. Wizards could be seen after hours practicing against targets in their back rooms, and a friendly dueling tournament had even been set up. And that's where the first strike against Diagon Alley ran into trouble.
Lord Voldemort and the two dozen Death Eaters he'd gathered over the past weeks all apparated into Diagon Alley about a half-hour before sun-down. His orders were simple. Torture, kill, and destroy! Those orders were simple enough that if Crabbe and Goyle had been in his team, even they could follow those orders.
In accordance with those orders, as soon as the Death Eaters hit the ground, crimson beams of Reductor Curses, bile red beams of Cruciatus Curses, and the unique verdant glow of the Killing Curse flew in a shower of energies. However, the cracks of mass apparition had caused the shopkeepers to look out their windows, and as soon as they saw the characteristic robes and masks of Death Eaters, they immediately fell to the ground, behind their counters. This meant that only a couple of customers walking between shops fell, nobody certain if they were dead or just knocked out.
The customers in the shops that had not been knocked back by explosions from Reductor Curses all started crawling into back rooms, where they hoped to find a floo or a back door they could escape through. The shopkeepers however, immediately responded with a storm of curses of all different types. The return barrage of spells was far more colorful than the initial one.
One lucky shopkeeper's slicing curse managed to find a Death Eater's throat. Another curse blew a leg off of one of the minions. Several more were simply stunned for a moment, or knocked down, and took a couple of moments to recover.
Meanwhile, a couple of the families trapped in the shops had found no way out, either floo or back door, and elected to use their emergency portkeys. The criticality of the location, as well as the magical energy monitors showing a flare of spell use in Diagon Alley, resulted in the immediate dispatch of a dozen Aurors. As they apparated in, they were just in time to duck the second barrage of spells from the Death Eaters. Their response, much better than that of the shopkeepers as a result of more training, resulted in a half-dozen more Death Eaters down.
As Lord Voldemort watched his forces evaporate, he cast his sigil into the air, and yelled for his men to grab one of their casualties and portkey away. Spells from the Aurors kept a couple of the downed attackers from being recovered. Very quickly, there was no more enemies present.
The Aurors called for help, to take the prisoners to the medical ward in the Ministry holding cells. Other healers from St. Mungos apparated in to treat those hurt by curses, or by falling debris. Very soon, shopkeepers were uttering spells to repair the damage done by the various spells.
Repairs were practically complete. The sun had gone down a hour previously, and there were just a few Aurors left in Diagon Alley taking the last couple of witness statements. Everything was nearly back to normal.
Said normality was to be broken, though. Cracks of apparition resounded down the walls of the storefronts. The reaction to this attack was distinctly different from the first attack. Auror's heads whipped around to the source of the sounds. Wands whipped up instantly.
As messages of black cloaks and white masks sped down optic nerves, messages of wand flicks and incantations were dispatched to the appropriate places in Auror bodies. The Death Eaters initial flurry of spells was met with a flurry in return, the storekeepers only instants behind the Aurors. This time, a half-dozen Death Eaters were downed in the very first instants.
Lord Voldemort's voice rang out "We've been betrayed! Retreat!"
The second wave attack on Diagon Alley did very little damage, and almost no casualties. The prisoners were quickly rounded up and taken in for questioning. The only thing of note to come from the interviews is that none of the Death Eaters in the first wave knew anything about the Death Eaters in the second wave, and vice-versa. The Aurors doing the questioning admired the operation security this exhibited.
Harry floo'd into his office the next morning. One look at his calendar brought a bit of fear to his heart. At 14:25, he had a meeting with the Cross-Species Liaison Alliance, and something about that name made him worry a bit. Sure enough, Auror Shacklebolt was right outside the door, waiting to report.
Harry looked at him. "I knew I would be seeing you as soon as I saw the appointment for the Cross-Species Liaison Alliance on my schedule. What happened?"
"Attack on Diagon Alley last night. Two, in fact. Interrogation of the prisoners, though, shows that neither group knew of the other. The Aurors who conducted the interviews think this shows extraordinary discipline in keeping the two groups separate, and something we've unraveled about the wand signatures suggests that's true, but then there's the reports that when Lord Voldemort saw the Aurors in the second attack, he cried out that they had been betrayed. I don't quite know what to make of this."
Harry looked over at him. "What did you find out about those mystery wand signatures? Perhaps that will shed some light on things."
"One of the forensic wand specialists remembered something from the files. Apparently, there was a case about 150 years ago of a Wizard possessing another Wizard, and forcing him to go on a rampage. At the time, the study of wand signatures were much less advanced, so they pulled the records. Looking them over, they saw many of the same anomalies that we've been seeing in the spells cast by Lord Voldemort.
"Taking this clue, they looked at the mystery traces more carefully, and discovered that in the case of possession, there are three signatures mixed together: that of the wand, the wizard holding it, and the wizard possessing the other wizard. Doing that with the current batch, we've sorted out two different wands, two possessed wizards... And Lord Voldemort possessing both. Needless to say, we're in no hurry to announce this to the public. Can you imagine the panic the idea that Voldemort could possess two different people at once could cause?
"We actually think he's switching between them, using one to control one group of Death Eaters, and the other to control the second set of them."
Harry sat thinking for a moment. "That certainly seems like a good possibility. I'm not sure how he would be keeping control of the bodies while he wasn't possessing them. I'll have someone look into that. What were the summary results of the two clashes?"
"Well, the shopkeepers performed very well in the first wave of attacks. One death from the Killing Curse, a half-dozen injured by other curses, a half-dozen injured from falling pieces of the buildings. Four Death Eaters captured and taken into custody, one Death Eater killed by a knife banished into his heart. In the second wave, nobody killed, one shopkeeper hurt by debris. Six Death Eaters captured, none killed as far as we can tell. We hurt them last night; not as much as we'd liked to have, but we did hurt them. Oh, one other good points. Neither attack managed to get the time to launch the Dark Mark."
"Good. That's what I'll go with in my press conference this afternoon. I'm going to keep quiet about the possession thing. That is very worrisome, and I want to think about it some more. Anything else?"
"One last thing. For now, we're behind on the implementation of your idea of providing Aurors with pre-made portkeys to the holding cells, St. Mungos, and a safe hold. The Department of Magical Transportation is still busy, though not nearly as flooded as they were, with the family escape portkeys. I've thought about having my Aurors making them, but the risk of a bad apple sabotaging them, as well as the fact that Magical Transportation has the charmed equipment to make them in mass, makes me not really wanting to do that. I think we're doing OK as we are, so I want to wait a bit more in implementing that idea. It's a great one, but not one we can do safely just yet."
"Agreed. Let's hold off on that one until things settle a bit. Very well. Now I have to get back to my regular stuff, at least until that very weird appointment this afternoon."
"Better you than me, Sir. I am broad-minded enough to handle mixed-species couples, but ... I'm in no hurry to hunt them up and make friends, either!"
"Why was I afraid that was what they were all about? Oh, well, I'm sure I'll survive this meeting, just like I've survived all the rest so far!"
Lord Voldemort sat on his throne, considering the events of the previous night. He'd lost four of his men, and he really didn't have them to spare. Of more concern, though, was the fact that the shopkeepers had not fled in terror. Instead, if he was honest to himself, they had reacted quite well, probably better than his Death Eaters.
This was actually of the greatest concern to him. If people didn't fear him, his fight would be much, much harder. He was going to have to ratchet up the pressure. A smile crossed his face as he came up with a good target. And while he prepared the plans for his next strike, he had a couple of rituals scheduled to help boost his power some more.
Lord Voldemort considered the possibilities. Last night, they'd apparated into Diagon Alley, just as planned, and there seemed to be Aurors almost waiting for them. However, as he'd told no one of his plans, there couldn't have actually been an ambush. His first reaction, that they had been betrayed, was wrong. However, he would find one of his more useless Death Eaters to punish. He couldn't kill the poor sod; losing six of his men to the Aurors had hurt a lot. And it wasn't just the Aurors. The shopkeepers had attacked as well.
It struck him that perhaps he'd simply been unlucky. There'd been those other attacks, timed almost perfectly to match his, strikes very near where he'd struck. Perhaps he'd simply been unlucky, and the gang of upstarts had struck Diagon Alley just before he had. It didn't matter. He was going to have to be far more ruthless and terrifying.
The perfect opportunity came to mind. The Summer Solstice was normally a happy time. He would turn it into a night of terror.
Over the years, a gap had grown between the pureblood and mixedblood factions. The most obvious sign of this had become the seasonal celebrations: the Summer Solstice, the Autumnal Equinox, the Winter Solstice, and the Vernal Equinox. These were much less important holidays, magically, but still quite important culturally. The two celebrations had split off as families that became less strict in their pureblood views had started being left off of the invitation list for the original celebration. Families like the Weasleys were just considered too common to attend.
Those who had enjoyed the party started arranging their own, being much more open to who could attend. As a result, it was generally a much larger, much friendlier event, where much of the maneuvering for political power that went on in the original party was left behind. This year, plans had even been made for some of the other magical races to attend, as something of ambassadors for their races. However, no real trouble was expected, so there were only a half-dozen Aurors patrolling the perimeter, despite the expected presence of the Minister of Magic.
Harry and Hermione had spent several hours getting ready for the party with great care. Well, actually, Harry had spent the usual male span of about an hour, Hermione had spent the usual female span of about 5 1/2 hours. The normal male costume for these events was formal dress robes that would not look that out of place in a muggle event of similar nature. Black and white, their purpose was to highlight the display that the female put on.
Meanwhile, Hermione was taking great care to build up that display. She knew that while the man's purpose was to highlight the woman's beauty, the woman's beauty was meant to establish how valuable a prize the man had captured, thereby emphasizing how strong and powerful he was. And as Harry was HER man, besides being amazingly strong and powerful, she was intent on showing the rest of the Wizarding World just how wonderful he really was.
Her dress was of extremely simple lines. Close examination would reveal that it had no seams, that it was one pure piece of fabric, almost as though it had been created with pure magic, as it had been. And it would take a certain amount of magic to get her into it. In addition, still more magic would be required to make sure she did not pop out of it, nor did she show off anything to anyone she didn't want to.
The most amazing thing about the dress was its color, or actually, its colors. Simply to look at it, it seemed to be silver. But as soon as she moved, it would show flashes of sharp, pure color shimmering over her body, like rainbows caressing her. Two slits rising high up the sides would occasionally expose the side of her thighs, though a small charm ensured that only Harry would ever be able to find out that this one piece of fabric was the sum total of what she was wearing. Similarly, light sticking charms held the bodice of the robe in place, so that the fabric could drape down her ribs, and ride very low across her back. It was because of the way the back draped that she could not wear knickers with this dress, no matter how brief they were, but it was because she could not wear knickers or bra with it that she selected it in the first place.
Hermione had noticed that Harry seemed to like longer hair (at least, on the head, anyway), so she had allowed hers to grow out some, until it came down midway between her shoulder blades. She'd found that the weight of it pulled much of the bushiness out of it, but it was the feel of Harry running his fingers through it, and hearing his purrs of contentment as he brushed it out for her that ensured she kept it. She didn't realize it, but it had come to shine a deep bronze color, that made it look as though she had molten bronze flowing from her scalp, making a waterfall down her back.
Her ablutions done, she slightly enlarged the dress with a small engorgement charm, sliding it onto her body, then a quick cancellation of the spell left her encased in it perfectly. With a little help, it could be removed easily, but since she had wanted to surprise Harry with it, she'd had to take this route to donning it. Then came the makeup. She'd spent hours with Ginny and Lavender discussing just exactly what shades to do, and how to best apply them, and she was not about to accept anything less than perfect, removing sections and redoing them a half-dozen times until it all came together into a perfectly invisible but massive enhancement to her appearance.
She knew she was going to hit Harry hard, but she was completely unable to truly see how wonderful a job she'd done. So, when she stepped into the living room, ready to apparate to the receiving area for the party, she heard Harry take a breath, and she waited. And she waited. And she looked at him, worried since he hadn't said anything, nor had she heard him breath out.
This movement was just enough to break the spell, at least break it enough that he could find something to say. "My Love, I do not believe I would survive, should you become any more beautiful. You are simply incredible, and I am honored to be your companion tonight."
"Thank you, My Love. Shall we go?"
"Certainly, My Love." Harry took her arm, and with a minor twitch of power, impossible to tell from which of them it was drawn, he apparated them to the reception hall.
If it had been the more formal affair occurring at one of the pureblood families' mansion, he would have been expected to wait a few moments while he was announced, an announcement that would have take more than five full minutes, with all of his titles and awards that had to be recited. As it was, he and Hermione simply pushed open the doors and walked into the ballroom, filled with a delightful rush of noise composed of quiet conversation, and music drifting over from an area designated for dancing.
Harry led Hermione gently over to the bar, where they picked up small glasses of champagne to sip while they circulated, doing a slow survey of the room to find out who all had finally showed up. Along the way, they came across Remus and Tonks, dancing together, Tonks' hair matching the pink of her dress perfectly, to the point where you could not tell where the hair falling down her back overlapped the back of her dress. Ron was there, accompanied by Luna it seemed, but as the night progressed, they would see Ron dancing as much with the Patil twins, with no sign of jealousy from Luna - which was only to be expected, since nobody but Ron, Padma, and Parvati had ever managed to learn to read Luna. Nobody was certain just what was going on there, but all could tell something was. Nobody was taking bets, though, with Luna involved, on just what that something was.
Soon they came across the Headmaster and Professor McGonagall (though they kept insisting that the young couple call them Albus and Minerva) dancing together. They passed a few words, then continued on, giggling to themselves discussing whether there was anything going on between the couple, and whether they really wanted to know if there was. Eventually, they made their circuit of the ballroom, and Harry invited Hermione out onto the dance floor.
They'd had time for two dances, and were into the third song, when the sounds of explosions overrode the sound of the orchestra. Harry ran to a window, to find two glowing Dark Marks in view. A second later, a popping sound beside him had him turning, his wand out and ready, to find an Auror beside him.
"Minister! Just a couple of minutes ago, two groups of Death Eaters appeared on the lawn, about fifty feet apart. Each launched an initial round of spells at the building, but then noticed the other group, and turned on them. Each groups appears to have a Lord Voldemort leading them!"
"Has the on-duty strike team been called in yet?" Harry asked.
"Yes, Sir, however, they apparated in out of sight, and the leader suggested that they hold off while the two groups attack each other, and then take out the weakened winner."
"Good plan. I'm going to go out and see this, though I will stay back. My wife would kill me if I let my 'saving people thing' get the best of me when this is what you lot get paid for."
"Thank you, Sir. I was not looking forward to having to try to stun you."
As Harry and Hermione watched from a safe distance, the battle raged, with Dark Arts curses flying in a show of epic proportions. Very soon, the battle quieted down, though, except for a small knot in the middle where the two men who looked so much like Lord Voldemort faced each other down. There, the spellwork flying back and forth had grown much brighter, as curse after curse flew back and forth.
Soon, there was a flare of light, and one of the Lord Voldemorts fell. From the fallen one's body, a pulsing, sickly green orb arose, trailing a golden orb of shining light. These two globes quickly were absorbed into the body of the Lord Voldemort still standing.
"Retreat, my Death Eaters! I will call you when I am ready, and you WILL come! Something wonderful has happened tonight, something that will guarantee our victory!" With that, Lord Voldemort flashed away. The rest of the Death Eaters did so as well, leaving a dozen bodies, either wounded or dead, behind.
Harry stood looking over the scene. "Somehow, that doesn't strike me as a good thing."
Hermione stood beside him. "No, I didn't like the looks of that either. I need to do some research, but I think we could be in trouble."
Lord Voldemort, now the only Lord Voldemort, sat considering what he had learned. He had thought the other Lord Voldemort was an impostor, a traitor trying to use his reputation to build a new following. Instead, he had discovered that just as he had arisen from a horcrux, so to had the other. And when he'd destroyed the other's body, it had drawn the soul-piece to himself, and he suspected the other body's magical core as well. He'd have to do some testing, but if he could reabsorb other soul-pieces, and their magical cores as well, then if he could re-create himself into horcruxes, he would have a route to unimaginable power - power enough to go beyond immortality, to true Godhood!
Now, he needed to find the rest of his horcruxes, and perhaps re-embody them. He could use a couple of his Death Eaters as test subjects. He himself had come from the cups of Helga Hufflepuff, and the other had arisen from the Gaunt Ring, a reminder of a family he had turned his back on, and destroyed, leaving himself the sole Heir of Salazar Slytherin. Now, he needed to find his diary, that locket that had once belonged to Slytherin, Greatest of the Hogwarts Four, the Sword of Gryffindor, and Rowena Ravenclaw's wand. Four missing pieces, and then he would start his reign of terror all over, at a whole new level!
The problem for him at this point was simple. He had left the diary with Lucius Malfoy, and he had not left the Cups. However, when he'd explored Malfoy Mansion, he hadn't found the diary. Investigation would be needed to find out what happened to it. Ravenclaw's wand was at the Ministry, well protected, and he really didn't want them to start exploring why he was interested in recovering it, so he'd save that piece for last.
He'd never managed to locate the Sword of Gryffindor before, so investigation was needed there, too. However, he knew exactly where Slytherin's locket was, and therefore, that was the piece he would go after next.