Disclaimer: All characters, locations and situations existing within the universe of Harry Potter, not existing in the real world, are the properties of their respective copyright holders. I am just borrowing them from time to time and carefully leaving the keys in the basket by the door and the petrol tank topped off.

Author's Note: I wasn't pleased with this chapter as it seemed too short to me and ended at an odd point.

Chapter 6

Office of the Director, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Ministry of Magic, London, England; 5:09 am UTC July 20,2000

DMLE Director Michael Talbert was troubled.

A strike team of six aurors had apparated to just outside the wards of Malfoy manor when the alarm went out indicating the wards on Malfoy Manor fell. In less than a second, all of the strike team members' emergency portkeys activated, depositing them in St Mungo's and causing a near panic as well as an automatic deployment of two backup teams to the site. All six members of the first strike team had arrived badly burned over the entire front of their bodies, as if they had been held in a fire pit facedown for several minutes. If they were still alive when they arrived at St Mungo's, none of them lasted long enough for a healer to get to them. Two minutes later, the second and third strike teams' emergency portkeys deposited them into St Mungo's in the same condition.

Senior Auror William "Bill" Jameson and Unspeakable David Martins had then formed a twelve-person team and apparated to four different locations, the closest of which was two miles from the manor; the farthest four miles from the manor. Each of the four teams was comprised of one Unspeakable and two Aurors. Jameson and Martins were in two different groups. All four groups followed their assigned instructions and reconnoitered the area as they short-distance apparated closer to where the wards had been. As each of the teams got within a quarter mile of the still-molten circle, it was clear what had caused the injuries to the previous eighteen aurors.

When Jacobsen came into view of the circle, he sent up three bright blue balls into the air, calling the other three teams to his location.

-oOoOo-

Talbert was at St Mungo's feeling helpless but wanting to demonstrate his support for his Auror corp. He stood at the end of a hall with two of his advisors. "What would Amelia have done in this situation? What would Mad-Eye have done in this situation?" the Director thought and then answered his own question, "They would have done exactly what we have done; send in multiple teams of more senior staff at a greater distance to better assess the situation." He nodded to himself then focused on the healer walking towards him.

"Healer Billings, what news of my Aurors?" Talbert asked. Talbert could tell by Billings' demeanor it was not good news.

"Director, I wish I had good news. I'm afraid I have no idea what killed them. All of the Aurors from the first team died before we could even treat them. Of the second and third groups, two of them survived for a few moments, but they never had a chance," the healer said. "Based on what we saw, whatever these Aurors faced which caused this damage to them was beyond their bodies' and magics' ability to cope with the damage they were taking. It almost appears as if someone was casting Incendio at them at wand-touching range. I don't know what spell was used to do this damage, but if we find out, you will see me petitioning the Wizengamot to have it classed as an Unforgivable," Billings completed.

"Eighteen dead. For Godric's sake, is the war starting up again?" Talbert thought.

"Thank you, George. Do what you can. Let me know if there's anything you need which would help you identify the cause of their deaths," Talbert said.

Billings simply nodded then turned around and walked back to the ward where the charred bodies of eighteen Aurors lay.

-oOoOo-

The four groups of Aurors and Unspeakables had gathered on the hill to the East overlooking the hellish circle where Malfoy Manor had once stood.

"Alright, now that we're all here, does anyone have any idea what could have caused this?" Jameson asked.

"I have not seen, heard nor read about anything that could cause this kind of damage without causing significant damage to the outlying area. The only thing I am aware of which could cause this would have stripped the surrounding area for miles and that would have been a muggle device," Martins explained.

"Do you think Malfoy managed to annoy the muggles enough to do this?" Jameson asked, looking back and forth, surveying the site.

"No. For two reasons: First, the muggles don't have anything which would cause such a specific amount of thermal damage and second, if the muggle government were attacking Malfoy Manor, one of my people would have known about it," Martins explained. He thought for a moment while also looking around to determine if there were any tell-tale signs of possible causes before continuing, "This is most likely of magical origin. What caused it, we may never know. Perhaps it was some sort of suicide device Malfoy had set up," he paused as all of the men with him looked at him as if he were crazy. "Consider Lucius Malfoy is a known death eater who, in the final battle with Voldemort, changed sides, killing not only fourteen of the core death eaters, but also killing Voldemort's familiar. There are certainly enough death eaters and their supporters out there who would wish him harm. What level of spell power would it require to take down Goblin-cast wards around the primary residence of the head of a Noble Family?"he asked, looking around at the men who each gave various non-verbal indications they had no idea. "Then consider all of the charred bodies down there," Martins continued, pointing towards the area surrounding the molten pool, "and finally consider the manor house itself was in the middle of that. It makes me wonder how many wizards and witches were firing spells at the wards," he said.

"I would estimate dozens if not hundreds," Jameson commented.

"I would agree towards the higher end; probably hundreds considering I am counting twenty-three bodies down there; people we'll never be able to identify other than as magic user one through magic user twenty-three," Martins responded.

One of the Unspeakables whose primary responsibility was to maintain an up-to-date understanding of muggle technologies spoke up, breaking the group out of its silent thoughtfulness. "Gentlemen, we have a bigger problem. Consider there are no wards around this area now. Even ten times the amount of people as the twelve of us combined aren't powerful enough to raise the wards required to hide this destruction and the muggles will see it shortly if they don't already know about it," he said, somewhat panicked.

Martins was about to ask how the muggles would know about the issue when a loud, unnatural thrumming sound approached from the Southeastern sky. The group of twelve looked up to watch the large object approach in the sky. It was easily more than five times the size of a horse-drawn carriage and had an intensely bright light coming from it which seemed to cut through the haze.

"Well clearly the muggles already know about it!" Jameson shouted over the noise.

Suddenly the bright light passed over them on the ground and continued on for a moment before rapidly returning and focusing on the group of men.

"I would say that would be our cue to get out of here! No one is going to be happy about this!" Martins yelled over the approaching muggle flying device.

With that, all twelve men activated their portkeys, sending them back to the Ministry.

-oOoOo-

25 miles East of Llanon, United Kingdom, 24 miles South Southwest of Newtown, United Kingdom, in the air in the vicinity of a large, glowing hole in the ground; 5:13 am UTC July 20, 2000

"Sir! I swear to God they were standing right fucking there!" the corporal swore as the group of people standing on the ground had just disappeared.

"I saw them as well, Corporal. Mark it on your chart for the boots. We've got them on tape so the surgeons won't say any of us are crazy," the Flight Lieutenant replied back. "Let's keep our cool and watch out for anything else. The ride may get a bit rough due to the thermals."

"Rescue Seven to Rescue Eight, we are moving from Alpha-One to Bravo-One, over," the Pilot Officer said to the Pilot Officer of the second helicopter searching the area.

"Roger, Rescue Seven. We're moving from Alpha-Four to Bravo-Four. No survivors in sight. You're sure your spotters are sober, Rescue Seven? Disappearing people on the ground? Next thing you know we're going to see alien spacecraft, Rescue Eight, over," was the response.

"Well at least alien spacecraft would give a plausible explanation for that Hell Hole down there, and I am bloody well certain my spotters aren't drunk or hung over because they know I'd toss them out the door over the Channel if they were, Rescue Seven, over."

"Roger that, Rescue Seven. Rescue Eight is continuing on search pattern, over."

The two helicopters continued their grid search, but found no explanation for the destruction below before returning to base. The data they had collected resulted in more questions than answers.

-oOoOo-

"Director Talbert, until this current muggle presence disappears, sir, we will be unable to determine what happened," Jameson explained after giving his report to the Director.

"Thank you for your report, Auror," Talbert responded.

"Sir, if its all the same to you, Ferguson and Smythe were friends of mine. I would like the responsibility of notifying their families," Jameson said.

"I am sure their families would appreciate that, Bill. Please express to their families that their loss is felt by us all. On your way out, would you send Marge in, please?" Talbert asked.

"Yes sir. And thank you, sir," Jameson said and left. A few moments later Talbert's administrative assistant entered the office.

"Marge, could you please ask through the Auror corp for friends of our fallen to volunteer to make the family notifications, please?" Talbert asked her.

"I've already taken care of that sir and have the list of the men and women who will be making the notifications. I have also alerted the Goblins to prepare for ceremonies of succession and let St Mungo's know to allow the Goblin representatives to verify the deaths," Marge said, placing a piece of parchment on the desk in front of the Director.

He took a moment to look over the list. "Marge, you've taken care of me again," he said.

"Sir, the Minister is on her way over," she said.

"Thank you, Marge."

His assistant left the office. He then looked at the other two men still in the room.

"David, Algernon, how big of an issue is this going to be for the muggle government?" Talbert asked the two Unspeakables.

"Michael, we're going to have to talk to our counterparts over there," Algernon Croaker explained, "if they were able to respond with flying vehicles that quickly, the area will be saturated with them after dawn. We don't dare send anyone in there without an appropriately crafted, deep cover story. There will be no mass obliviation option available to us either because we don't even know who all has seen the site," he finished.

There was a knocking at the door as Marge let the Minister into the office as the three men stood.

"Minister Marchbanks...," Talbert began but was cut off.

"Dispense with the pleasantries, Michael. We've lost too many good men and women today and I would like to know what is going on," the Minister stated as she sat. The men sat down as well.

"Well, Griselda, it would appear we have a destroyed mansion, a molten pool of glowing rock where it stood, eighteen dead Aurors, twenty-three dead unknowns we're aware of, muggles crawling all over the grounds and absolutely no idea what caused it," the Director answered, knowing there was no point in keeping anything from this Minister.

"Eighteen dead? Their families?" she asked

"All taken care of, including the Goblins being notified," the Director responded.

"Any news of the Malfoys?" she asked.

"None, whatsoever," he responded.

"Did you check with the Goblins? I would think their wards failing would have them running around like mad," she said.

"We have not yet. We wanted to gather as much information as we could prior to invoking any of those parts of the Treaty," Talbert said.

"Michael, Algernon, you have the full authority of the Wizengamot to do whatever you need to in order to find out what happened and who is responsible. Someone has not only attacked the manor of a Lord of the Wizengamot, but said manor is destroyed and said Lord and his family are missing." She turned to the two Unspeakables. "Gentlemen, I want full cooperation between the Unspeakables and the Auror corp. I want to make myself clearly understood. There will be no mincing of words. There will be no understood misunderstandings. Your two organizations will work together as a team to get both the Wizengamot and myself answers. Is that understood?" the Minister asked, the look on her face and the wand at her side gave the men the feeling she wasn't looking for any dissension.

"Griselda, Algernon, David and I were, are and will continue to openly share information. Every man and woman in the Auror corp has been told they are to cooperate fully with the Unspeakables to get to the bottom of this matter. In fact, Senior Auror Jameson and Unspeakable Martins here," he said, indicating the younger man, "worked together tonight to gather the information we have already," he said.

"That warms my heart, Michael. I will get out of your way and keep the politics away from you," she said, getting up. The three men stood.

"Griselda, we are considering working with our counterparts in the muggle government..." Talbert began, only to be cut off.

"If there is a way to do that without alerting them to our world, I would prefer that. We would need to put it in front of the Wizengamot Committee on Secrecy if we need to openly approach the muggles, and at the sounds of it, we'd need to do it at my level. See what you can do before we have to go that route," Griselda said. The three men nodded. The Minister then turned and left the office.

Once the door closed, Croaker spoke. "Well, that went much better than I expected

-oOoOo-

25 miles East of Llanon, United Kingdom, 24 miles South Southwest of Newtown, United Kingdom, in the vicinity of a large, glowing hole in the ground; 9:13 am UTC July 20, 2000

"Sir, we've found an anomaly," Sergeant Stanton said to Major Benton, overseeing the reconnaissance operation.

"You mean other than the great glowing hole over there, Sergeant?" Lieutenant Scobbel asked sarcastically.

Stanton looked at Scobbel as if he was something to be scraped off his boot. "Yes sir! Any fool can see the glowing hole, Sir. This may be far more important," the sergeant continued, returning his attention to the major. "Sir, my men were performing rec ops in grid twelve, section Charlie-Two," he pointed to the hill to the East overlooking the site, "and discovered what, at first appearances was a crudely assembled tent. Upon closer examination sir, it appears the tent is larger on the inside than it is on the outside. We've also discovered, and marked for forensics evaluation, two oddly dressed bodies. Both appear to be male," the sergeant finished.

Scobbel appeared to be on the verge of voicing a harsh retort when the major cut him off with a look.

"Sergeant. That hill is now off-limits to all personnel except authorized forensic teams. Notify the forensics team for that grid block of both the tent and the bodies. Make sure they understand this is a Level Four situation. All data they collect is to go through either myself or Lieutenant Colonel Salmon and no one else. Do you understand, Sergeant."

"Sir! Yes Sir! Level Four. I will notify the lead of the forensics team myself, Sir!" The sergeant said then saluted.

Both Benton and Scobbel returned the salute and the sergeant left to carry out his orders.

The major waited until Stanton was out of sight and looked to insure no one else was within hearing distance and spoke to the Lieutenant in a low voice. "Barry, I don't know the details of your issues with Sergeant Stanton, but if you ever want to make Captain, you will set them aside today and never bring it up again. I was on Mount Harriet and witnessed the deeds of the man you hold in such contempt. I see in you a good leader, Barry, but this attitude towards Sergeant Stanton and any other contemptuous attitudes you may have for the enlisted ends today. If Lieutenant Colonel Salmon heard your remark today, you'd be packing a duffel right now," Major Benton said, looking hard into Scobbel's eyes.

Scobbel paled and nodded. "My apologies, Major Benton. It shall be as you order," he said and swallowed.

"Barry, while you're at it, check on the status of the buffaloes. We're going to need a hell of a lot of water to cool this down before it spreads further." Benton said then turned back to his grid map by way of dismissal.

Scobbel left, with two goals in mind.

-oOoOo-

At Gringotts, it was organized chaos, or business as usual, depending upon your perspective. Upon Lucius' arrival, the family had been led to a private office. Pansy and Tracy were looking after the feeding needs of the children. Pansy had silent tears on her face as she looked down at the little boy nursing from her breast. Tracy seemed focused on her task of nursing the twins. Narcissa was insuring the two women had the illusion of privacy. Draco was pacing. Lucius was sitting, his eyes closed, his face schooled into a countenance of collected calm. Within his mind, however, was a maelstrom of thoughts and plans, most of which were no more use to him at the moment than the pool of liquid rock his manor had become.

"Do be still, Draco. Your troll-like lumbering back and forth will be of no use to the situation. Sit down and calmly work your way through your thoughts the way your father does," Narcissa chided her son.

Draco stopped pacing and looked at his mother, his anger and frustration clearly readable on his face. He took a deep breath, nodded at his mother, closed his eyes and schooled his face to a mask of calm. "My apologies, Mother. You are, of course, correct," he said then moved to sit quietly on one of the couches.

As he sat, a goblin knocked and strode into the room and gave a small bow before Lucius. "I am Slipshank, and am the manager of ward setting and curse breaking for the London branch of Gringotts. It is with regret and apologies that I come before you after the felling of the wards we placed around your manor. Gringotts is willing to compensate you for your losses, Lord Malfoy," he said.

Lucius stood and returned the short bow, shocking everyone else in the room including Slipshank. "Manager Slipshank, you honor House Malfoy by coming in person," Lucius said in a calm voice.

"Lord Malfoy, it is my responsibility to investigate in the unlikely event our wards should fail. Do you know in what manner the wards came to fall?" Slipshank asked

"I do, indeed, know what caused them to fall. Before I tell you, House Malfoy will request some accommodations from the Goblin Nation in return for the information. This information was, after all, acquired at a considerable cost," Lucius explained.

"In addition to monetary compensation for the loss of your home," Slipshank looked over at the three women, "any emotional suffering, and the costs associated with replacing any artifacts lost, the Goblin Nation would be pleased to provide you with any reasonable accommodation necessary to provide us with such valuable information," he finished, his teeth showing widely.

Lucius was well aware this facial expression on a goblin was not a display of happiness or pleasure. The goblins were never happy when they owed a wizard something.

"First and foremost, we will need appropriate quarters for a week," he began, "we will need to make a trip to our vaults to deposit the chests we brought with us, which will allow you to obtain a list of what was lost when your wards fell. We will need messenger services to allow us to discretely communicate with certain people. We will also need to prevent our enemies from knowing our whereabouts. We may have other short-term needs which will need to be accommodated," Lucius finished.

Slipshank was waiting for the other shoe to drop. "Quarters are being prepared as we speak, Lord Malfoy, and should be ready for your inspection by the time we have returned from your vaults. Gringotts can provide extremely discrete messenger services. If you have missives you need to send immediately," he paused looking at Lucius, who shook his head,"otherwise we can have something for you in the morning. With regard to your last point, while I am certain the list of your known enemies is finite, it may be too long to reasonably enumerate. Is there anyone outside of this group or the Goblin Nation you wish notified of your location?" Slipshank asked.

"Only two people," Lucius answered, "Lord Neville Longbottom and Lord Harry Potter-Black."

-oOoOo-

4 miles Southwest of Alston, United Kingdom, 13 miles East of Hesket, United Kingdom; Coltor Castle, Rose Greenhouse Number Three; 8:51 am UTC July 20, 2000

"My Lord, I hate to disturb you when you're working but..." the boy said but trailed off as he watched the man hold his hand up for silence and then continued to carefully prune a particularly aggressive rosebush. The rosebush slowly reached out a branch covered in what appeared to be silver thorns.

"Now now. If you want your breakfast, you'd best pull that back," Neville said in his most authoritative voice. The boy couldn't believe his eyes. The branch actually stopped moving forward and retreated to its former spot. "There now, all trim and proper. Time for your breakfast," Neville said again, his voice taking on a more jovial timbre. He picked up a bucket from the floor and poured half of the red fluid onto the roots of the rosebush. Neville then picket up his tool satchel and the bucket and backed away from the row of rosebushes. Once he was past a yellow line on the ground, he turned around and looked at the boy. "Now, Henry, what can I do for you?" Neville asked

"Sir...that is, My Lord, there is a messenger waiting at the main gate. He says he can speak to no one but the Lord of the House," the boy replied, "and the Chamberlain sent me to fetch you sir, seeing as I am a fast runner."

Neville smiled at the boy's antics. He gestured for the boy to leave the greenhouse ahead of him then walked out himself. He closed the inner door and brought the containment wards back up. He then closed the outer door and brought the second set of wards back up. As the two walked back to the manor, Henry asked many questions about what he had seen in the greenhouse.

"The rosebush stopped when you told it to. How did you train it to do that?" the boy asked excitedly, never having seen a plant try to attack someone, much less the attack being stopped by mere words.

"Henry, magic is all about intent. What I mean to say is that since the plant is of a magical nature, I could sense its somewhat basic intent to consume me. It's the only real reason the plant would attack me in the first place. Now when I spoke to it, it could sense my intent was to feed it willingly as well as my intent that should it attack me, it would be utterly destroyed. Since it's instinctual intent is to continue on to make more rosebushes, it opted for the easy meal. Does that make sense to you?"

"Yes Sir, er, My Lord. What was it you fed it?" Henry asked, somewhat in awe that the Lord would have the patience to talk to a boy.

"Sheep's blood. Specifically the blood from the sheep slaughtered this morning, so it would still be warm and somewhat fresh. The roses don't do as well on stale blood," Neville explained.

"B...b...b...but, My Lord, isn't that dark magic? Feeding blood to a plant?" Henry asked, a hint of fear in his voice.

Neville stopped and looked at the boy kindly. "No, Henry. That is merely an old tale. The roses grow best with fresh blood every ten days and the sheep's blood would have been added to the hounds' food if not given to the plants, and it is only half a bucket of blood. I think the hounds won't miss it that much," Neville explained. "Remember what I said about intent, Henry. Dark magic and dark rites are driven entirely on the intent of the caster to do evil. Sometimes the evil intent is for undeserved gain, sometimes it is to control people, sometimes it is to cause unnecessary pain, and, at its worst, it is to destroy a person's soul," Neville said, looking far away. After a moment he blinked his eyes. "Well, we should be getting back to the gatehouse or we'll both miss lunch. Hold on and I will have us there in a snap," Neville said, reaching his hand out to the boy.

Henry took hold of Neville's hand.

"Now, Henry, think about the entrance to the manor house as if you were standing at the bottom of the steps. Close your eyes. Think about where you're standing, what the paint looks like, how the air smells of peach cobbler. Do you have that in your head?" Neville asked.

Henry nodded.

"Good. Now, push your magic into that picture. Do it slowly. Do it gently," Neville said and could feel Henry's tiny little stream of magic.

Neville then framed the same place in his mind and, taking a trick from Harry, slowly pushed his magic into the picture in his mind and took a step.

"Open your eyes, Henry," Neville said, a smile on his face.

Henry opened his eyes and saw the manor house right in front of him, just as he had pictured it, right down to the mouth-watering aroma of fresh baked pies. "How...?" Henry asked, now even more astonished at his Lord's abilities.

Neville laughed. "Magic, Henry. One day, you, too, will be able to use your magic the way I use mine. Listen well to your mother, your father and the other folks here. If you listen and learn, your first year at Hogwarts will be easy," Neville said, clapping the boy on the shoulder. "Run along now and get cleaned up for lunch. I understand the house elves are serving cobbler for dessert!"

Henry ran off towards the vassal housing leaving Neville shaking his head in amusement. He then took his wand and silently cast. He was immediately clean and his clothing were those of a Lord and not those of a gardener. He then apparated to the front gate.

Simon was there along with the gatesmen. A man was standing at the gate in a non-descript set of forest green robes. Upon hearing Neville arrive, the gatemen came to attention and Simon turned to greet Neville.

"My Lord, our guest wishes to speak with you but will not say upon what matter he wishes to speak. He insists he discuss his message with you and you alone," Simon said, clearly not happy with these conditions.

Neville looked the man over carefully and then turned to Simon. "He has no ill intent," Neville said, then seemed lost in thought for a moment. "We'll be in Greenhouse 8, Simon. Should I be gone for more than half an hour, you know what to do."

"Yes, My Lord. No stone will be left touching another," Simon said grimly.

Neville nodded at him then turned his attention to the unknown man. "Come. Let us see what business you have with House Longbottom."

The man nodded and followed behind Neville as he led the man to what, under normal conditions, would have been considered a greenhouse. This greenhouse looked somewhat different on the outside, as most greenhouses don't have five separate layers of glass spelled to be unbreakable, nor do normal greenhouses have seven complete sets of ward stones.

Neville pulled his wand and opened the first three sets of wards. "We will both enter through the doors in succession. Touch nothing," Neville said to his guest. The two men walked through the first door and closed it behind themselves. They did this again with the second door and then the third door. Neville then closed the three sets of wards and cast a locking spell on the door and privacy spells on the door, walls, ceiling and floor.

"Now, what business do you have with House Longbottom that requires such secrecy?" Neville asked.

"House Malfoy sends greetings and has requested a meeting to discuss the possibility of calling in their debt from House Longbottom," the man said.

-oOoOo-