43: Probabilistic Modelling in Semi-Deterministic Space
Beta note:Mea culpa. Somehow, in between all the issues we’ve had with the server company, etc., these two chapters somehow didn’t really post properly. I’m making sure they do this time!!
P(A|B) = P(A ∩ B)/P(B)
Harry felt like he could sleep for a century. The spell had drained the piece of Riddle’s soul out of him and taken all his energy with it. He couldn’t rest, though. They had to cover their tracks and then leave, and quickly. The Death Eater they’d disabled wouldn’t go unmissed forever.
“Just go around the edges, a Severing Charm should do it,” Hermione was saying to Ron and Ginny.
The three of them were cutting the carpet with the intent of pulling it up so it could be destroyed, along with the settee. Harry was a bit disappointed that Aunt Petunia wouldn’t come back to find magic runes burnt into her immaculate flooring. Not that she would appreciate the loss of her carpet entirely, either.
He bent down and pocketed the Scottie dog. He must have tapped into his childhood attachment, because he felt like the game piece didn’t deserve to be left behind after all the help it had been.
It looked like the others had the carpet well in hand, so he went into the kitchen to check with Scott. The Kharadjai was peering into the back garden, silhouetted against the faint light from the window.
“Still all right?” Harry said.
“Yeah,” Scott said shortly. His tension was palpable.
“What is it?”
Scott was slow to answer. “…I don’t know.”
Harry looked into the back garden and saw nothing but snow and the shed. Still, Scott was making him uneasy. “We’re almost done.”
“Good.” Scott’s finger tapped idly against the trigger guard of his M4.
“Is it the shape?” Harry guessed.
Scott tilted his head back in forth in a silent ‘so-so’. “Partially. But why… would they have one guy? After the Hollow, after the bank. After we were already here. It’s sloppy. It’s too easy.”
“They’ve always been sloppy,” Harry pointed out.
“Then why haven’t they learned anything?”
Harry looked out the window again, but there was still nothing. “You think we’ve made a mistake?”
“We didn’t have a choice. We had to get this done, and this was our best option.”
“They’ve just about finished, but I can tell them we’ve got to hurry.”
Scott wasn’t listening. “But if they know we’re here, why haven’t they jumped us?” he muttered. “Where are they? Unless…” He went utterly still.
Harry shifted nervously, bringing his wand up. “Scott?”
Scott’s head snapped around. “Portkey, now—”
There was the sound of a tremendous shattering. Harry felt something sharp cut a hot line across the back of his neck, and then he felt nothing at all.
Scott came to on the kitchen floor. Something shifted beneath the palms of his hands when he moved, the clinking sound distinctive.
Broken glass, he thought sluggishly. From what? Where was he? Why couldn’t he fuckingthink?
Feeling came back to his limbs in a sudden rush, along with clarity. He was on the floor of the wrecked kitchen of the Dursleys. He must have been hit by something.
A Stunner. It had to be. From the looks of it, an incredible barrage of them, enough to rip through the windows and shatter half the house. The cabinets up on the wall were gone, scattered somewhere towards the hall. Not just Stunners, then. Blasting Curses, probably, to create more avenues of fire. Most of the back wall was gone. From his position on the floor, Scott could see down the hallway to the front door, which had been torn off its hinges.
An ambush. Well planned, well executed. And patient; they had waited to get into position, taken their time. Scott didn’t know at what point they had become aware of the intrusion, but it didn’t matter.
He had seconds to respond. He had to get the Primes out. The Portkeys were the only chance to salvage things. The OpFor were arrayed in a pincer formation — they’d hit the front and back simultaneously. They had to be careful advancing, or they’d cross their own lines of fire. So that bought a few seconds more.
He rolled over until he was against the cupboards below the sink. His hands dove into his duffel bag and grasped the right cylinders — he knew them by touch alone. The first was a flashbang, which he lobbed up and over the sink, out into the snowy night. The resulting explosion lit the house and yard brilliantly for a fraction of a second, the deafening crack echoing off neighbouring houses. Next went two smoke grenades, one to the left and the other to the right. They began to hiss, thick grey smoke billowing out until the kitchen was quickly suffused with it.
He heard coughing outside. Crawling along the debris-strewn linoleum, he tossed another flashbang in the general direction of the noise. He couldn’t risk throwing a frag, not until he knew where his Primes were.
The coughing stopped after the detonation of the flashbang. He heard shouts from the backyard and the distinctive sound of a shattering window from what he thought was upstairs. Spells began to cut through the smoke, most of them giving off the glaring red of Stunners. They popped shallow craters into the walls like the impact of fists; drywall showered onto Scott.
Harry was only an arm’s length from Scott, face and hands painted bright through the smoke as Scott scanned the room in infrared. Scott quickly crawled towards him and shoved Harry’s hand into the pocket with the Hungarian Horntail Portkey. Harry instantly disappeared, and Scott breathed slightly easier. His Priority One was safe, and the enemy hadn’t thought of Portkeys. Not yet, anyway.
Rising to his knees, Scott peered over the top of the kitchen sink. There were at least seven Death Eaters cautiously approaching the house through the backyard; Scott spotted three more on the ground, victims of the flashbangs. One of them was pointing his wand towards the kitchen. With his head raised, Scott could feel a strong breeze on his face, and realised the Death Eater was casting something to blow the smoke out of the house.
He set his M4 on the edge of the countertop and began to fire, beginning with the casting enemy. Two shots caught the Death Eater in the chest and they collapsed into the snow. Scott traversed left, placing his shots carefully as the approaching force scattered in alarm. He got off six more shots before a Blasting Curse ripped into the cabinets to his right and destroyed half his cover, fragments of woods bouncing off the ceiling and at least two embedding themselves in Scott’s right arm.
Ignoring the sting, he stood and sprinted around through the dining room, avoiding the narrow hall to the front door, which was a death trap, and intending to come up behind anyone moving through the living room towards the kitchen. He ducked low as he came around the doorway, weapon ready. He nearly ran straight into a Death Eater who was trying to flank Scott’s last position in the kitchen. The man had his hands out, blindly groping through the smoke for the edge of the door.
Scott stepped around him. Releasing his M4 and drawing one of his pistols, he whipped the pistol handle against the back of the man’s head with a painful crack. Before the Death Eater could go limp to the floor, Scott put one arm around his neck and held him as a human shield, using his shoulder to support his firing arm. There were three other Death Eaters in the room, wands held out as they made their way uncertainly through the smoke and darkness (Scott assumed the wands were lit). Two Stunners hit the man Scott was holding as he opened fire, quickly clearing the room. He shoved his human shield forward and put the last round in the magazine through the back of the man’s head.
He didn’t take the time to reload — he could hear movement in the kitchen as the Death Eaters in the backyard closed the gap. Scott cut through the foyer, hurling a third flashbang down the hallway to explode in the kitchen. He reached down to grab another out of his duffel bag, only to realise that at some point a glancing hit from a Severing Charm had neatly snipped the strap of the bag and left Scott with a shallow gash across his ribs and no additional ammunition.
He dove into the living room as another fusillade of spells, this time from the front yard, tore into the house. Between the light show and the smoke, the Dursley residence looked like it was in the midst of some demented, deadly game of laser tag.
The living room was demolished. Anything that wasn’t solidly constructed had been shattered, save for a clock on the mantle which had somehow escaped destruction. Ron was unconscious near the fireplace, Ginny only a few feet away. Scott moved as fast as he could across the floor and quickly sent them on their way as more spells flew over his head, crashing into the far wall and collapsing most of it. At this rate the house would be reduced to its bare studs.
He couldn’t find Hermione.
She should have been in the living room. The carpet and the couch were gone, so it seemed that she had finished with the evidence. Either that, or both had been obliterated by the assault. Where the fuck was she? He blinked, switching back to the visual spectrum, wondering if she were covered in something that made her hard to see in infrared. But between the smoke, the multi-coloured glare of spells shooting overhead and the dark of night, he couldn’t make anything out.
Maybe she was in the hall. Maybe she had been going to check on him and Harry. Scott spun around on his knees and started to scrabble back towards the front door when a Stunner struck him in the chest. His vision greyed and his limbs gave out; he fell back to the bare floor. It took him a couple seconds to shake it off. They were seconds he didn’t have.
Death Eaters came through the ragged remnants of the front door. Scott held his ground, taking a knee and firing. The first one tumbled into the stairs and didn’t rise. The second fell back outside, hot blood burning brightly against the doorpost.
Scott’s counterfire had pinpointed his location, and spells converged on his position. He blocked another Stunner and ducked as a Killing Curse flared over his head. But he was taking hits: two Severing Charms slashed open his left knee and shoulder. He staggered sideways, trying to get away from the larger holes in the wall when a Blasting Curse caught him right in the torso.
The detonation smashed him violently into the corner of the wall as his harness shredded and heat scorched over his chest and stomach. He felt a warm trickle soaking down his pantleg as he struggled to breathe; either he was bleeding heavily or the compression of the shockwave travelling through his body had caused his bladder to release.
He didn’t see Hermione in the hallway, but at this point that didn’t mean much. Using his right hand and feet, he awkwardly propelled himself up the stairs.
He stumbled onto the second storey landing and straight into another Death Eater. Scott shoved the barrel of his M4 into the man’s stomach and was pulling the trigger when his gun suddenly Transfigured into a bouquet of flowers. He immediately dropped them and hit the Death Eater in the throat hard enough to knock the man to the floor. He slammed the heel of his boot into the man’s temple until the skull caved in.
“AVADA KEDAVRA!” someone shouted at the bottom of the stairs.
Scott didn’t so much dodge as just fall to the floor, but it worked. As their casualties mounted, the Death Eaters were trying progressively less to take Scott alive. He pulled his second pistol and shot the first masked face he saw coming up the stairs square in the forehead.
“Edgar! Fuck, he’s dead!”
“Someone kill this bastard!”
Scott had just finished reloading his first pistol as he pushed himself along floor towards Dudley’s room when one of his own flashbangs landed beside him.
He immediately covered his eyes, but the blast still numbed him from head to toe. He felt himself falling back against the carpet, all sense of balance disrupted as his inner ear shorted out. Vaguely aware that his right hand was aligned with the stairwell, he fired blindly, still trying to reach the cover of Dudley’s room. His gun was suddenly jerked from his hand.
A huge fist closed on Scott’ collar and pulled him to his feet. He blinked and came face to face with the biggest Death Eater he’d ever seen. Scott didn’t often find himself looking up at people.
“Thorfinn’s got him!” someone yelled from the top of the stairs. “We’ve got him!”
The big blond Death Eater’s hands tightened on Scott’s throat. “Not so tough without your Muggle wands, are you?” he rumbled.
Scott replied by gripping Thorfinn’s left hand and rotating it a full 360 degrees.
Thorfinn staggered away, face chalk white with agony. The moment he was released, Scott reached for his second handgun, but an entire volley of Stunners from the Death Eaters now gathered at the top of the stairs made the world go black.
Drowsily, he felt himself be lifted up. His head lolled onto his chest as he was dragged towards the stairs. Someone tugged his pistol from his shoulder holster.
“Let me have him,” a Death Eater was pleading, voice rough and filled with rage. “Come on. No one needs to know.”
“You know who wants him! Your vengeance isn’t worth my life. You don’t like it, take it up with the Dark Lord.”
Scott groggily supposed he hadn’t done much to endear himself to the people who were now his captors. The Death Eater who had taken Scott’s pistol was standing next to him, holding it in a limp, inexpert grip. Scott slipped his hand around the other man’s and managed to get his finger through the trigger guard. He put a round through the man’s shoe, blowing off two of his toes, and as the Death Eater screamed and fell to the floor the others began to pummel Scott until he at last lost consciousness.
Harry felt as if he were going to be sick. He wasn’t sure why, but his head was pounding and his neck throbbed and his hand hurt.
He sat up and looked down at his left hand. It was clenched tight. He opened it slowly, grimacing at the sharp pain. Blood began to run down his wrist. His fingers unfurled, he found himself staring at his old model of the Hungarian Horntail. It was splashed with red, its spines having perforated his palm.
His Portkey. The ambush!
He didn’t remember using the Portkey. The last thing he could recall was talking to Scott in the kitchen, followed by the world upending. He pushed himself to his feet, head swimming. He was in the drawing room at Grimmauld Place. Relief flooded him when he saw Ginny’s familiar hair, the rest of her out of sight around the edge of the sofa. Turning, he spotted Ron also on the floor, near the doorway.
Harry knew no one had Enervated him, so he didn’t know how much time had passed. He reached for his wand, only to find it missing. For a second he thought he might have left it at the Dursleys’, but then he spotted part of it sticking out from underneath the sofa. Grabbing it, he staggered over to where Ginny lay and cast the Reviving Spell. She must have taken at least a partial hit from more than one Stunner, because he had to cast it twice and it still didn’t work very well.
She groaned, hands pushing feebly against the carpet. Harry bent down to pick her up and in the process became aware that he was still far too weak to try, so instead he put an arm around her shoulders and used his weight to pull her upwards.
She steadied herself on the sofa arm. “Harry?” she mumbled, blinking blearily.
“I’m here,” he said, stumbling towards Ron. He felt like his feet and head had been replaced with sandbags.
Ron came awake with much greater alacrity. “Are we dead?” he said the second his eyes opened. He relaxed when he sat up and saw the room. “Shit, that was close.”
Ginny kept rubbing at her eyes, like if she did it enough she’d wake up for real.
Harry went to go look behind the sofa for Hermione when he heard Ginny gasp behind him. He looked back at her. “What?”
Her eyes were wide. “Harry, you’re bleeding,” she said, struggling to her feet.
“You’ve got a cut across the back your neck,” Ginny told him. Her cool fingers gingerly touched the sides of his neck. She cast a few spells and Harry could feel the skin on his neck tightening. “It’s stopped. Just try not to look too far down,” she said.
Ron must not have taken many hits, as he appeared more alert than either Harry or Ginny. “Where’s Hermione?” he said, going to look behind the settee.
The longer Harry stood, the more the fog in his head was dissipating. “Scott’s not here, either,” he realised. The first tinges of panic began to gnaw at him. “Split up, let’s check the house. Maybe they ended up in a different room.”
Ron was the first out the door, his footsteps frantic. Harry went downstairs, but the house was still and dark. He lit every room — he even dispelled Hermione’s Imperturbable to check in his and Ron’s old room — and finally ended up in the kitchen, having found nothing. He didn’t know if Ginny and Ron had found anything elsewhere, but he had the horrible, sinking feeling that they hadn’t.
Hermione and Scott weren’t there.
He trudged back upstairs with the thought that they might have arrived there in the interim, but any hope he held was fading fast. He met Ginny just outside the door to the drawing room.
“No one?” she said, though the look in her eyes made it clear she wasn’t expecting a comforting answer.
Harry shook his head mutely.
Inside the drawing room, Ron was standing near the window with his head in his hands. He was so tense he was trembling. “What do we do?” he said. “Harry, tell me what to do.”
Harry’s mouth worked silently as he looked at the couch, the floor, the old mission board, anywhere but Ron. It was Harry’s fault. It was his sickness they’d gone to cure, gone and put themselves in harm’s way. All for him. The truth of it settled in his chest like a concrete block and he couldn’t speak around it.
“We just need a plan,” Ginny said, looking desperately between the two of them. “Come on, think! What about the car, can we Disapparate back to that? If we can find out where they’re going—”
Something big and black suddenly appeared in mid-air and crashed into the short table with a bang that sent Harry’s hands scrabbling for his wand. Ginny fell back into one of the chairs and Ron whirled away from the window with his wand at the ready.
It was a Death Eater. His black robes were tangled and his mask was askew. He was reaching out as if he were blind, one hand slapping against the table. Something fell out of his other hand and lay on the floor near Harry’s feet. It was a misshapen, lumpy handknitted hat, sized for a house-elf.
It was Hermione’s Portkey.
“EXPELLIARMUS!” Harry bellowed, pouring all his rage and shock and fear into the spell.
The Death Eater flew backwards and smashed into the Gringotts mission board, sending papers and photographs all over. He hit the wall hard and slumped in the wreckage of the board. He was still moving, though only feebly.
He didn’t have any time to recover; Ron grabbed him by the front of his robes and pinned him violently to the wall. “Where is she?” Ron snarled right into the Death Eater’s face.
The Death Eater made some choking noises that might have been an attempt at an answer.
Harry was content to watch Ron strangle the interloper half to death, but fortunately Ginny was still using her brain. She jumped forward and tugged at Ron’s wrists. “If you kill him we won’t learn anything!” she said.
Ron released the man and turned away, hands fisted at his sides. He took two steps, turned back, kicked the Death Eater in the stomach, and then walked away again.
“Ron! He has to be able to speak!”
The Death Eater did a great deal of coughing, and then wheezed, “Thank you…”
Ginny’s wand was instantly pointed into one of the eyeholes in his mask. “I am not your friend,” she hissed. “Where’s Hermione?”
The Death Eater extended one trembling hand, waving it back in forth as if he were in total darkness. “W-who are you? Where am I?”
Harry roughly grabbed the Death Eater’s arm, pulling back his robes. There was no Dark Mark. Whoever the man was, he wasn’t a member of the inner circle.
“Get off me!” the Death Eater demanded, trying to pull away.
Harry planted a foot firmly on the man’s chest to stop his squirming and ripped the white mask off his head. The face beneath was unfamiliar, a man with thinning red hair and a wispy goatee. His eyes were wide with fear, darting all around, looking at nothing. They were unfocussed.
“You must have really knocked him a good one,” Ginny said quietly to Harry as they looked down at the Death Eater.
“No, I’ve seen that before,” Ron said, coming back to stand next to them. He glared at the Death Eater. “When Lila came by. She couldn’t look at me right.”
The Fidelius was still working its magic, then, even though the Death Eater had bypassed the perimeter. He couldn’t see where he was, or see any of them. He was hopelessly confused, utterly helpless.
“Incarcerous!” Harry bound the Death Eater and then Stunned him.
Ginny looked surprised, but stepped back. Ron, however, scowled at Harry. “He’s got to tell us where they took Hermione!” he said furiously.
“We can’t just thrash him—” Harry started to explain.
“I bloody well can!”
“No, because as soon as he susses out who we are and what’s going on, he’s not going to want to talk!” Harry told Ron, remembering the Death Eater at the petrol station. “Maybe he’ll tell us if you keep hitting him, but it’ll take too long.”
Ron was breathing hard, face twisted with emotion. “Well, what about…”
Ron shot him a sideways glance, eyes bright and furious. “You know what.”
Harry did, then. “No, you have to… You have to want it. I’ve tried before. You have to want to hurt them just to do it.” Harry watched Ron’s jaw flex and knew what his friend was thinking. “Being angry won’t work. I tried, mate.”
“On who?” Ginny asked quietly.
“Bellatrix. Right after Sirius died.”
Ron very nearly lunged at him. “She’s not dead!”
The sudden sound of footsteps on the stairs made them all whirl around to face the door. Harry’s mouth went dry. Was he wrong about the Death Eater? Had the Fidelius somehow been broken? He was just preparing himself to Disapparate when Lila strode into the drawing room, Neville and Luna close behind her.
Lila halted when she saw the Death Eater. “What happened?” she said, studying their faces.
Harry lowered his wand, trying to breathe again. For a second he’d been certain that Voldemort was storming over the threshold.
“We got attacked. We woke up here, we don’t know what happened,” Ginny told her, and gestured at the Death Eater. “He came in with Hermione’s Portkey.”
Lila’s eyes flickered over the still Death Eater. “My brother?” she finally said.
The short silence that ensued was heavy and awkward and probably delivered the news as well as any words, but it seemed awful to just not answer. The problem was that none of them wanted to be the one to tell Lila what had happened. Harry certainly didn’t. Lila tended to be intimidating even in the most relaxed of moments, and this was anything but.
Ginny’s gaze darted to Harry for a split second, perhaps searching for support. “He hasn’t come back,” she said, bravely meeting Lila’s eyes.
Lila pulled her mobile out of her pocket and checked it. Her expression didn’t change and she put it back away, which told Harry everything he needed to know.
“They’ve got Hermione?” Neville said, horrified.
Harry had been so caught up in Lila’s arrival and breaking the news about Scott to her that he’d almost forgotten Neville and Luna had come in, too. “I’m glad you two are safe, anyway,” he said, raising one hand in solemn greeting.
Neville nodded, saying, “I wish we’d come sooner.”
“It wouldn’t have mattered this time. They ambushed us.” Harry’s Portkey sat discarded and bloody near the settee. “I reckon Scott shook off the Stunners and sent us back.”
“Tell me exactly what you remember,” Lila said.
Harry started to relate the events of the night thus far, but Ron erupted before he could.
“We don’t have time for this!” Ron pointed his wand at the Death Eater. “He knows where Hermione’s gone!”
“They don’t have a reason to kill her. Not when they don’t have Harry,” Lila said bluntly.
She was probably right, but Harry was thinking about the situation and the more he turned it over in his mind, the tighter the restrictions on their time seemed to be. He was struggling, fighting through his rage, his despair, his fear; fighting to think, to be rational, to be logical. This was the moment all those lessons, all those little examples scattered across the last year and a half, had been making Harry ready for. He had to think.So he thought, and the conclusion he reached struck him as funny, in a way, as it was what his heart preferred.
“This is our only chance,” he realised.
He hadn’t intended to speak aloud, and only recognised that he had when he saw everyone turning to look at him.
He braced himself. “This is our only chance,” he said again. “Right now. We can’t wait.”
“Why?” Lila prompted.
“I don’t think they’ll get anything out of Scott. I mean… we all know him. But Hermione doesn’t know Occlumency. All Riddle has to do is have a go at her mind.” Harry’s resolve hardened with every word. “I know if we rush in there and Riddle gets me, it’ll have all been for nothing. But if he finds out we’ve been at his Horcruxes, it’ll all be for nothing anyway. It’s got to be now.”
Harry looked at the faces of his friends, hoping they would be with him and at the same time hoping someone would tell him he was mad. Ginny’s eyes were locked to his, hard and blazing, and Harry knew she would go, whatever came next. Ron’s face was a conflicting mess, sick with worry and flushed with rage. He’d assault Azkaban if that was where Hermione was. Neville clearly had no idea what was happening, but didn’t look any less ready for that. Lila’s features were an icy mask of competence, which made Harry feel calmer, more prepared, just like Scott’s similar presence always had. And Luna, who couldn’t have understood what was happening any more than Neville, was serene. It was as if she had always known this moment would come, exactly as it had.
“He has to talk, first.” Lila gazed down, expressionless, at the Death Eater.
Harry had an idea about that. “I’m going to try something.” He pointed his wand at the Death Eater. “Here goes nothing…”
He was stopped when Neville suddenly spoke. “Harry! No, you… you shouldn’t. You shouldn’t ever…”
Harry caught on when he saw how pale Neville was. “I know, Nev, I’m not using that.”
Some of the tension went out of Neville’s stance. “Oh. R-right, yeah, I’ll just…” He ducked his head, embarrassed, and Luna leaned against his side.
Harry turned back to the Death Eater and found Ginny in his way. “Are you sure you want to do this?” she said. She looked at him with eyes that were supportive, but concerned.
Harry was momentarily confused before he realised she thought he intended to torture the Death Eater through other means. “No, the Imperius. I’m going to try the Imperius, he’ll have to take us then.”
Her eyes widened, and then narrowed with grim determination. “Well, I guess they’re all legal, now,” she said, stepping away.
“Do it,” Ron bit out.
Harry heard a sharp click from behind and knew without looking that Lila had just cocked something or the other, no doubt ready to fire should anything go wrong.
Harry didn’t know if the Death Eater had to be conscious or not, but he reckoned he’d give it a go as things were, first. It was, he thought with a pang, the sort of thing Hermione would probably know. “Imperio!”
The Death Eater twitched slightly.
“Wake up,” Harry said experimentally. When that garnered no response, he cast the Reviving Spell.
The Death Eater inhaled sharply, coming to. He tried to sit up but couldn’t, struggling against the ropes. “What—”
The most curious sensation overtook Harry; it was as if an invisible thread tied him to the Death Eater through his wand, like the man was a marionette on a string. He felt like he could direct the Death Eater without saying anything at all, could impose his will with a flick of his wand or even just a thought. It was an intoxicating feeling.
The Death Eater stilled, his face becoming relaxed.
Despite the sense of control, Harry still wasn’t certain he’d done it right. “Er… Tell me your name,” he said.
“Yorick Holland,” the Death Eater said easily.
So far, so good. “You and the others captured two of my friends. Where have they been taken?”
“I don’t know for certain, but they were most likely taken to Malfoy Manor to be kept with the other special prisoners,” Holland said calmly.
Harry didn’t know if he should feel relieved. Malfoy Manor was a less daunting target than Azkaban, but still nothing close to easy. “Do you know how to get there?”
Lila pulled a notepad out from somewhere in her coat and tossed it down in front of Holland, along with a pencil. “I want a map of the Manor and the grounds, and a list of everyone inside,” she demanded.
“Do what she says,” Harry added.
“I can’t, my hands are tied,” Holland said, still placid.
Once freed, Holland began to sketch. Harry kept his wand ready, wary that the man was faking it, or might begin to fight. He remembered his own brief experience with the Imperius and didn’t trust the spell. After all, he had only the word of a mad Death Eater that the ability resist was so rare.
“I’ve never been inside the Manor,” Holland told them as he drew. “We aren’t usually allowed. Most prisoners are taken to the Ministry for processing, and I’ve only been to the Malfoy place twice.”
“Is it your headquarters?” Lila asked.
“Not mine. I look for Mudbloods in Diagon Alley.”
“Don’t say that word,” Harry ordered sharply.
“I look for Muggle-borns,” Holland corrected. “There really aren’t any left there. Word has it my group is to be reassigned.”
Lila studied him intently. “What were you doing in Surrey?”
“One of the traps had been sprung, is what I was told. It all happened very fast. We had a Floo call from the Manor and then were taken by Portkey to the neighbourhood.”
“Where was Riddle during all this?”
“Your Dark Lord.”
“I’ve heard he’s been mostly at the Manor, though I can’t say for sure. His closest Death Eaters, those who are marked, are usually the only ones who go inside. Like I said, I’ve never been.”
“Then who oversaw the ambush?”
“It was Rahvalod’s idea.”
Lila crossed her arms. “Tell me about him.”
“I don’t know much,” Holland admitted. “I do know that the Dark Lord only recently came back to England; he’d been to the Continent, especially in the East. Rahvalod came from there, along with some others. I hadn’t crossed paths with him before today. Everything else I know is just rumour.”
“I want to hear it.”
“Rahvalod has a lot of odd ideas. He used to fight Muggles, or fight as a Muggle, something like that. But there’s been some problems with Muggles, or at least one in particular, and that’s why Rahvalod wasn’t shut out for talking about Muggles like he does.”
“Talking about them like what?”
“I don’t know. But I’ve heard most of the original Death Eaters more or less hate him.”
The longer Holland talked, the more frustrated Harry was getting with just how little the man knew about the organisation he was in. Why couldn’t they have ended with someone more informed as their captive? This sod was a bit farther up the chain than a Snatcher, but nowhere near Voldemort’s side. Whatever was going on with the Death Eaters whom Harry was familiar with remained aggravatingly unknown.
“Are you a pure-blood?” Harry angrily interjected.
Lila gave Harry a dubious glance. “Is this important right now?”
“Hold on. I want to know,” Harry said roughly. “You’re a half-blood. So am I. What are you doing, running around in an effing mask, pretending you’re so pure? Why do you believe in this shite?”
“I don’t, particularly,” Holland said. “But some of my mates joined up, and I can see which way the wind is blowing. All this blood nonsense won’t matter forever. It’s more important that we make a stronger wizarding world. After all, if the Dark Lord could take over so easily then it wasn’t much of a system, was it? He’s uniting us.”
“Yeah? And what about all the Muggle-borns? What about all the people getting killed, what about my mum and dad? They just don’t matter?” Harry coldly replied.
Holland opened his mouth to answer, but Lila interrupted. “It’s a stock argument for fascist ultranationalism,” she said tersely. “Don’t engage with the mindset.”
Harry supposed he was arguing with a man whose mind he was controlling, which seemed like a waste of time. “Shut up, Holland.” The man’s mouth immediately closed. “No, wait — tell us about Malfoy Manor.”
“It’s a large place, and it might be even larger on the inside. There’s an iron gate out front which leads to a path with a hedge on both sides. The gardens are very extensive, I’m sure I’ve only seen a fraction of them.”
Harry grabbed the map Holland had drawn. It was just a crude line drawing representing the entry to the Manor and portions of the gardens, but it was a lot more than they’d known a minute ago. There was a concise list of names, about half of which Harry already knew. He handed it to Lila.
She glanced at it, mouth thinning. “I want you to know that this is a very bad way to start an operation,” she said.
“What choice do we have?” Harry said, genuinely wanting to know. He’d take an alternative.
Harry would have preferred to have been wrong. He Stunned Holland and then turned to his friends. “Gather everything up. Anything we might need, and… those packs Scott had us put together. I don’t know when we’re coming back.”
Or ‘if’, which remained unsaid. The packs in question were Muggle backpacks stuffed with food, water and other accoutrements of survival. They were intended to be used in the event Grimmauld Place had to be abandoned, but Harry reckoned they could serve another use. There hadn’t yet been a mission designed to be long-term enough to require bringing them; the failure state for most of their excursions had been immediate capture or death if they couldn’t return to Grimmauld, and most of the time they couldn’t carry much with them that wasn’t in Hermione’s handbag.
Harry froze in place, the most horrid realisation coming over him. The Horcrux was still in Hermione’s handbag.
No one else seemed to have remembered that, yet. Within a few seconds the room had vacated as everyone went to prepare. After a moment of frenzied thought, Harry decided there wasn’t any point in bringing it up. There was nothing that could be done about it, not until they found Hermione. He just had to hope that she still had it, or, if the handbag was found by the enemy, that Scott’s strongbox was enough of a barrier to delay discovery of the Horcrux.
Of course, it wouldn’t matter if Riddle forced his way into Hermione’s memories.
Harry checked an inner pocket of his coat and found his Invisibility Cloak still stuffed into it. What else? The sword? He hated to risk it falling into enemy hands, but they would probably need it. That was still downstairs.
He ran out of the drawing room towards the stairs, stopped, and doubled back. He ducked into his room and grabbed the backpack off the floor near the dressing table — Ginny was rummaging through her things, tossing winter clothes onto the bed along with her backpack. Harry took the stairs down two at a time and arrived in the kitchen just as Luna and Neville were settling around the table as Lila dug through the cupboards.
“I know it’s hard, but you need to eat now,” Lila was saying. “Ravioli isn’t bad cold.”
Harry made a beeline for the wall behind the table where Scott’s bags were. The sword was in its scabbard, resting in the corner. One of the bags was gone, but the map bag and two others remained. Harry opened the nearest one and began to dig through it. It was full of pouches, ammunition magazines and tins, cleaning supplies, a couple first aid kits and an assortment of grenades. Harry hesitated, one hand in the side pouch where some of the grenades were stored. He knew he wasn’t supposed to be mucking about with this sort of stuff. Scott hadn’t trained him to use explosives. But it was an emergency.
He glanced over his shoulder to make sure Lila was still preoccupied with food, and then quickly stuffed two of every kind of grenade into his backpack. He also took a few boxes of 12 gauge shells and the 9mm handgun Scott had shown him how to use, along with several loaded magazines for it. He knew he’d do better with his wand, but it was good to have options.
“Harry, you need to eat something,” Lila said.
“I’m fine,” he mumbled, beginning to dig through the second bag.
“No, you need to eat. Do it now, before we go.”
“I’m not hungry.”
A loud thunk from the table made him look up. Lila had banged an open tin of chili with a spoon in it down in front of him, and was fixing him with the exact same stare he had once received over his first slice of birthday cake. “Eat.”
Harry decided it would be smarter to acquiesce than argue (especially as he wasn’t sure she wouldn’t just force feed it to him). He wolfed down the tepid contents of the tin, barely tasting anything.
He continued to sort through Scott’s remaining arsenal as Lila foisted food onto Ron and Ginny. There was a lot of equipment and weaponry that Harry didn’t think he could use well enough to bother hauling. Better to leave the rest to Lila. He left the duffel bags, grabbed the sword and then just stood there for a moment, trying to work out how he was going to take it with him. It needed a strap or something. Why hadn’t they thought of this sooner? He supposed that out of their usual group, only Scott could use a sword with any skill, and he had plenty of blades already (and he had told Harry that it would be much, much easier to learn to effectively use a firearm than a sword, to the point that there simply wasn’t enough time to teach Harry to wield it).
He settled for stuffing the sword back into the drawstring bag it had come in. He found that he could carry it with the backpack by sliding the sword through a couple of the straps so that the hilt caught. It seemed to stay well enough, though time would tell.
When he finished, everyone was ready; or at least as ready as they were going to be in so short a span. Harry led them all back upstairs to where the Death Eater was still slumped on the floor. Harry woke the man and placed the Imperius on him once more.
“We’ll have to take a couple trips back and forth,” Harry said. “I’ll have him take me, first, and Lila can follow with her… however she does it. All right?” He turned to Holland. “Take me to Malfoy Manor.”
Holland reached out to grip Harry’s hand, and then the two of them turned and Disapparated into the unknown.
With a pop, Remus appeared outside the worn brick warehouse in Exeter. He was breathing unevenly, one hand pressed tight against his side. He staggered over to the entrance and then stood beneath the dim yellow light set over the door, waiting.
It was another moment before more sounds signalled the arrival of the others. Tonks Apparated in first, closely followed by Bill, who was supporting another wounded person.
“Everyone else made it back to headquarters,” Tonks said as she approached Remus. “Are you still bleeding?”
“Not much. It’s shallow, I’ll be all right,” he replied, feeling the wetness beneath his palm. “How is he?”
He was referring to the boy leaning heavily against Bill, one of his legs twisted and swollen. “We need to see to him,” Bill said.
“It’s not that bad,” Dean panted, trying to put on a brave face. He wasn’t entirely successful, given how much pain was in his eyes.
Tonks was casting spells on Remus’s side, trying to get the bleeding to stop entirely. “Damn! Come on, get in, get in. I can’t see what I’m doing out here.”
Remus limped up the stairs as Tonks helped Bill move Dean. He pushed through the heavy metal door and held it open as Dean was carried over to the nearby sofa.
Remus sank wearily into a chair as Tonks and Bill did their best to see to Dean. The commotion was attracting the attention of the safehouse residents: sheets hanging over doorways rustled as curious faces poked out into the corridor.
“Sophie? Sophie, someone’s hurt!” a woman called out.
Sophie came rushing down the hall, hurrying past Remus and brushing Tonks and Bill out of the way with impatient little flutters of her hands. “Excuse me, excuse me… You’ll be okay,” she said after inspecting Dean for a moment. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Dean Thomas,” Dean told her, face slicked with sweat as he tried to breathe evenly.
“I’m Sophie, nice to meet you,” Sophie said as she dug through a pack at her waist and then plunged a needle into the top of Dean’s thigh.
Dean went limp with relief. “More of that, please,” he mumbled, sinking into the cushions.
“I think that’s enough for now,” Sophie said. “I’ll hold his leg, we need to take him to the back.”
Tonks and Bill carried Dean down the hall towards the unfinished end of the offices. Remus waited a moment, then braced himself and got back on his feet to follow.
The encounter outside Sheffield had gone better than they’d had any right to expect. The Snatchers had arrived outside the town expecting to corner their regrouping targets and instead were blindsided by the sudden ambush. The ensuing fight had been short and brutal, and the Snatchers had fled, leaving the Order with a wounded Dean Thomas and a relieved Ted Tonks. Nymphadora’s reunion with her father had been unfortunately brief; Dean had been taken to the Exeter safehouse for treatment and Ted had gone with Moody to answer whatever questions he could.
Remus didn’t know why Harry had sent Sophie to Exeter, if that was what happened. The woman might have been acting of her own volition, but it seemed more likely that Harry was doing what he could for the Order. Remus still wasn’t certain if Lila and Sophie answered to Harry. Surely they must, or else they wouldn’t have been entrusted with Dumbledore’s secret mission. Remus remained disappointed and, if he were honest with himself, a bit jealous that he hadn’t been similarly trusted. He did his best not to indulge in the feeling.
Whatever the case, Sophie had been a godsend for the refugees, using an odd but highly effective combination of magic and Muggle medicine. Remus was familiar enough with the Muggle sphere that Sophie’s techniques didn’t strike him as peculiar like they did for most of the other Order members. He could see the value in the approach.
He sat patiently in the chair whilst Sophie saw to Dean, eyes closed as he flirted with sleep. He was just tired enough that it was hard to keep focussed, but not so tired he could fall asleep in such an uncomfortable chair. Deciding he was pointlessly denying himself, he switched to the settee. His lacerated side ached, reminding him of how close he’d come to serious injury. The Order had been successful so far with hit and run tactics, but only in the sense they’d managed to avoid getting killed. The safehouses kept getting fuller and the Order kept running itself ragged and the Death Eaters still seemed as numerous and powerful as ever. At this rate, everyone who an enemy of the state would be trapped behind a Fidelius until there was no one left to bring them food.
The fact was that they were left counting on a miracle. And if Harry couldn’t deliver it…
Remus was rescued from his ever-darkening ruminations when Tonks came down the hall. “He’s good, he’s fine,” she said before Remus could ask. “A few more potions and he should sleep it off. That Sophie’s good in a pinch, yeah? I asked her where Lila was, but she said she doesn’t know.”
That struck Remus as unlikely, and judging from Tonks’ sceptical expression she felt the same. “She did say she was busy,” he said, recalling Lila’s parting words.
“Harry and his bloody secrets,” Tonks groused. “Anyway, off with your top, luv, let’s have a look at you.”
Remus didn’t miss the curious eyes still looking at him from doorways. “Ah… In the back, perhaps,” he said, standing.
“Ooo, just for me, eh?” Tonks said with a wicked little grin. “All right, somewhere more cosy, then.”
She was irrepressible, his Nymphadora, and he loved that about her. “I’ll try to stop bleeding long enough to entertain,” he said wryly.
In the back room, Tonks quickly checked over Remus’ injury and declared him fit enough to snog, which she proceeded to do. Sophie walked in and interrupted them, blushing slightly but still determined to do what she apparently saw as her job. Remus’ side was soon scabbed over and pink. It was a great relief that it didn’t hurt much, though it quickly started to itch. He refrained from scratching, well aware from his monthly changes what that would accomplish.
He and Tonks went back down the hall to regroup with Bill when Moody suddenly came stumping through the doorway to the offices.
Remus paused to greet him. “Any news?” he asked.
“Some good, some bad,” Moody replied.
“Yeah, same as always,” Tonks sighed. “All right, what’s the bad?”
Moody glanced at some of the poorly hidden people listening in, several of the door sheets fluttering as his fearsome visage made them retreat. “Not here.”
They convened in the back with Bill. “The kid’s asleep, and it looks like he’ll be fine,” Bill told Moody. “What’s the word?”
“We were right — most of the missing persons are in Azkaban. Your dad nearly ended up there himself a time or two,” Moody told Tonks. His expression darkened. “We haven’t got much chance of breaking in. Especially since the Dementors are playing nice with You-Know-Who.”
“Then what’s the good news?” Tonks said hopefully.
“We finally know where they’ve got their headquarters,” Moody said. “Malfoy Manor. Anyone who isn’t in Azkaban or dead has got to be there.”
“Do we know where it is?”
Remus knew the locations of most strongholds still belonging to the old guard of the pure-bloods were jealously kept secrets. The pure-blood elite had little trust for each other and even less for the rest of society. Knowing that Malfoy Manor was the enemy’s centre was only the first step.
“No. But if we can find it, and do it before they know we’re on to them…” There was a glint in Moody’s normal eye that made Remus think that the moniker ‘Mad-Eye’ might well predate his magical eyeball.
The possibilities were tantalizing, to be sure. Striking the enemy at the source, if successful, would be by far the most daring and effective the Order had been so far. Remus wasn’t blind to the many ways it could go horribly wrong, as well. They remained badly outnumbered. The Order had been slowly expanding thanks to the constant trickle of newcomers to the safehouses, but everyone had to be properly vetted. The Order had to know who could be trusted.
“Alastor… The sheer number of Snatchers we’ve encountered, even the Death Eaters alone—” he began.
“I know,” Moody interrupted. “We can’t get into a stand-up fight, we don’t have the staying power.”
“So it’s a sneak attack, then,” Tonks said, narrowing her eyes dramatically.
“It’s not anything until we know where it is,” Moody grunted.
“Dad’s been there, I’m almost positive,” Bill recalled.
Moody nodded. “Arthur’s been, but he used the Floo. He knows the house, which’ll be dead useful, but we’ll never get right inside. We need to find someone who knows the area.”
“There’s aren’t many of us who might have ever knocked on the Malfoy’s door,” Remus murmured, thinking it over.
“I have,” someone said.
Moody’s electric blue eye rolled up into his head to look straight out the back of his skull. One of the sheets that served as doors was pulled partially to the side behind him, a small, pale hand holding them open.
Moody turned around. “You have, have you?” he said with a surprising lack of bite. Remus understood his manner when the sheet was fully pulled to the side and revealed the slight form of Kylie.
Kylie nodded. She was staring at a point on the floor somewhere between all of them, and shaking slightly. “Yes.”
“Don’t suppose you’ve got an Apparition license, luv?” Tonks said, her expression indicating she already knew the answer.
Kylie shook her head, still looking at the floor. “No. I’m sorry.”
Bill sighed. “It’s not your fault. You’re too young for Apparition, of course.”
“Have you been outside? Know any towns nearby, any landmarks?” Moody questioned.
“Okay, what is going on…?” Sophie came bustling out of one of the rooms and positioned herself behind Kylie, placing her hands protectively on the girl’s shoulders.
“We found out where the Death Eaters have their headquarters, and she’s been there,” Moody said bluntly. “If we’re going to find it anytime soon, we need her help.”
Sophie’s eyes widened. “At…” she pulled a Muggle mobile out of one pocket and glanced at it. “…Malfoy Manor? Did I say that right?”
“How do you know that?” Moody said suspiciously.
“Because Lila told me. And you shouldn’t go there, because… you shouldn’t.” Sophie nodded sharply, as if that had been appropriately final.
Remus could put the rest together himself. “Is Harry going there? Is he there now?”
Sophie did not look pleased by the question. “Well…”
“Listen, Miss,” Moody growled. “I don’t know what you’re about, but I’m sure you know what we’re about. Don’t try to shut us out.”
“It’s not me,” Sophie retorted. “If you go running off all crazy you’re just going to mess up Harry’s mission!”
Remus could see her point, especially as the Order had no idea what Harry was even up to. Still, given the danger involved in penetrating the enemy stronghold, surely he could use some assistance. “But what if he needs our help?” Remus pressed. “Even if we can’t join him, we should be nearby if we are needed. If he’s caught, if he’s even just seen, he’ll be in terrible danger.”
“Well, terrible danger is kind of for everybody, all the time…” Sophie said, whatever humour she was aiming for undercut by the worried twisting of her hands.
No doubt sensing weakness, Moody said, “We don’t need to be told what he’s up to. All we need is to be there if things go pear-shaped. If Potter dies, so does this whole bloody effort. I don’t have to know what he’s been doing to know that.”
Sophie fidgeted with her mobile again. Remus couldn’t tell if she was learning anything new or just stalling. “I see your point,” she said after a moment. “But I want a promise that we’re just a reserve force. We can’t blot on their mission, okay? I’m not going to help you if you won’t agree to that.”
Remus frowned. “Help us how?”
“Kylie and I can get you there,” Sophie said confidently, “if you promise to stay in reserve.”
“I don’t know if we could get past the wards quietly, anyway. Though apparently Potter can,” Moody observed shrewdly.
“You let me worry about that,” Sophie said firmly. “You promise not to run in and do anything dumb?”
Remus, Tonks, Bill and Moody all looked at each other, coming to a silent agreement. This was their first chance to directly assist Harry with whatever task Dumbledore had left to him, and they weren’t going to let it pass by.
“I’d say Harry’s got it hard enough without us mucking it up for him,” Tonks said.
“Fine. But if there’s as many of them there as I think there are, we can’t hold back,” Moody said. “If we get to strike a blow, then let’s make it a damn good one.”
“I’ll get everyone who can hold a wand,” Bill said, striding for the exit.
Sophie steered Kylie back into the girl’s room. “We should practice before we go, just a couple times, okay?”
“Okay,” Kylie said.
Remus looked over at Tonks when she took his hand. “Maybe you should sit this one out,” she said, concerned.
He felt the ache in his side and the heavy dragging of fatigue, but he could ignore both. What was happening was too important for him to be absent. “I’ll be all right. I’ll rest until it’s time to go.”
She went with him to the only remaining empty room and they settled in on the narrow bed. Remus took great comfort in her presence, but between the throbbing in his side and the threat of possibilities to come, sleep seemed out of reach.
He stared at the ceiling and wondered what Harry was doing somewhere out there, in the dark.
I apologize for how late this chapter was in coming. I’m still working on the next chapter and have been struggling with some serious writer’s block. The words just don’t seem to come and then when I force them out, they aren’t good enough. I’ve been making some progress lately by basically just ignoring how bad everything I’m writing is. It’s false progress because I’ll have to rewrite it, but I guess it’s better than nothing at all.
I’m even struggling to think of anything to say about this chapter, which is ridiculous because it’s a momentous one. The exact workings of the Imperius are somewhat mysterious, so I know I invented at least one of the details. I also spent more time than I’m willing to admit debating whether it was possible to rotate someone’s hand that far without ripping it off. I decided it was at least faintly plausible, though I left it intentionally vague as to whether the hand is still attached to Thorfinn’s body.
Oh, now I remembered the thing I wanted to address. Some people were confused last chapter by the ritual, since it didn’t make a lot of sense that such a thing was possible and Dumbledore didn’t know about it. I don’t think Dumbledore knew everything, but it isn’t likely that something like that would have escaped his notice, given the research he put in. I referenced it in a line or two but must not have made it clear: Dumbledore didn’t know about that ritual because it didn’t exist. It’s a hybrid spell designed by Hermione, combining elements of Riddle’s graveyard resurrection with the spells used to create phylacteries. Hermione was only able to create the ritual with Sophie’s help, implying such a thing might not have been possible without a Kharadjai (and specifically, a LSM specialist) to bend the magic appropriately.
I don’t know when the next chapter will be finished. There’s a huge number of things happening all in the same short space of time, involving essentially every single character in the story. But I’m working on it.