Morning Has Broken
Author's Note: Okay, we're still focusing on folks other than Harry here, because face it, a toddler's life isn't all that interesting. However, the repercussions of Chapter Three will start multiplying from here on out as people's lives change from canon.
Warning: There is an off-screen rape and some mildly bad language in this chapter.
Morning Has Broken
Sunday, November 1, Before Dawn - Hogwarts, Headmaster's Office
Albus Dumbledore tumbled out of bed as the alarm on his Floo started shrieking that there was someone on the way. Fortunately, at his advanced age, he did not sleep very long or very deeply, several short naps during the day being sufficient to make up for the lack of sleep at night. He reached for his glasses on the night table, and they obligingly jumped into his fingers.
By the time his unexpected visitor tumbled through the fireplace into his office, Dumbledore was already standing at the top of the balcony that connected his living quarters to the office space, looking for all the world as though he had planned all along for Severus Snape to visit at four in the morning. "Severus, my dear boy, what brings you here at this time of night?"
The young Potions Master looked rather the worse for wear. He was wearing a plain black robe, not his usual fashionably tailored (though equally black) professional robes, or a night robe, as might be expected at this hour. His complexion, normally sallow, was downright greyish, and he clutched at the back of a nearby chair for support while the Headmaster descended the stairs with all the dignity that could be expected of a man wearing a fuschia bathrobe and night cap over a lime-green nightshirt and yellow bunny slippers.
"Albus, something's happened. I'm not at all sure what. But … something." His voice, normally smooth, was rough, as if he were suffering from a sore throat.
"Sit down before you fall down, Severus," said Dumbledore. "You look like you need something to restore your nerves. Brandy? Tea? Lemon drop? How did your meeting go?" The young Potions Master had been "called" earlier that evening to attend a meeting of the Death Eaters; while the Dark Lord thought that Snape was spying on Dumbledore for him, actually he was spying on Voldemort for Dumbledore, and had been for almost two years now. The young man was playing a very deep, and very dangerous, game.
"I'll take the lemon drop," said the Potions Master wearily, and Dumbledore's shaggy eyebrows rose in surprise. The standoffish young man had never taken one before; he must be in truly dreadful shape. The chair that he had been holding the back of turned around so he could sit in it properly, and then turned back so he was facing the Headmaster at his desk. Ordinarily Snape didn't particularly care for Dumbledore's moving furniture, but this night he was fatigued enough to be grateful for it. The dish containing the lemon drops rose up from the desk on three little feet, and skittered across to the edge nearest Snape, tilting itself to make it easier for him to retrieve the sweet. When Snape took three lemon drops instead of one, it did a little dance of delight and ran back to Dumbledore, who was seriously concerned now.
The young man popped all three of the lemon drops in his mouth and sucked on them for a short time in silence as he put his thoughts in order. After a few moments he was able to speak with something resembling his normal voice. "The message I received tonight was not through my regular contact, but it was definitely from the Dark Lord. He called me to meet with him, at the usual place, at midnight tonight. Er, that's midnight just past," he said, looking at the clock as if he wasn't quite sure what time it was. Given the number of hands on Dumbledore's clock, it was entirely possible that he still didn't know what time it was after consulting it. "The message said he would have an important announcement, but there was no clue what that announcement would be. I left the school at eleven o'clock, after getting my Slytherins settled for the night. Headmaster," he said, pinching the bridge of his nose, "while the celebration of All Hallows with a feast is a time honoured tradition, may I ask if it was really necessary to introduce the American custom of providing large amounts of sweets to the students? All that sugar had them bouncing off the walls of the dungeon, and I had to give Calming Potions to some of the younger ones."
"A little indulgence once a year doesn't do them any harm," said the Headmaster mildly. "I'm thinking of introducing a masquerade next year."
"Please don't," begged Snape. "Even the thought of five hundred children in disguise running amok through the school is enough to give me a migraine." He resolved to let the other Heads of House know about this insane idea of the Headmaster's so they could head him off. He always listened to McGonagall.
"The Americans seem to handle it well enough. Ah well, perhaps I should give the idea further consideration before I act on it. You were saying?"
"I changed into the appropriate garb, went to the usual Apparation point, and Apparated to the Dark Lord's Stronghold. Here I discovered that I was not the only one summoned; in fact, a great many people had been called."
"It's hard to tell, since he makes us all wear these ridiculous robes and masks at all times except private meetings. I'd have to say there were sixty to seventy people there, easily. Maybe more. Judging from the way people were gathering, I'd say he's got at least six independently operating groups, each under a member of his Inner Circle. There's one political group, two information groups, and three attack groups — which is one more than I'd thought," he said grimly. "I am my own group, of course, since I don't have anyone under me and answer only to Him. He may have other independent agents like myself, I don't know. And I suspect that a number of low level minions were not called."
Snape paused to crunch the remains of the lemon drops between his teeth. "I've been thinking it's a very good idea that you did not inform the Order that I was working for you, Albus," he said slowly. "Someone in one of the information groups let slip that he thinks the Dark Lord has an agent in place inside the Order. If that person knew about me, I don't doubt I'd have quietly vanished one night and you would be looking for a new Potions Instructor."
"That's a Curse you already dodged once," agreed Dumbledore. "I'd rather not try to have to do it again. We don't have another Prophecy to buy your life with."
"In any event, most of us had arrived early, since it is never wise to be late when reporting to the Dark Lord. It was perhaps fifteen minutes before midnight when it happened." The normally saturnine young man paused, looking down at his hands, which were clenched together so tightly the knuckles were white.
"When what happened?" Dumbledore nudged gently.
"Suddenly, without warning, I was struck with pain burning through my Dark Mark. It was similar to what I experienced when I was given the Mark in the first place. It wasn't as bad as the Cruciatus, but bad enough. Everyone else was struck with the same pain at the same time."
"So your throat…?"
"Screaming. That's one thing you learn in the Court of the Dark Lord, not to feel ashamed of screaming. It only gets worse if you don't. I think he likes it." Snape tried, and failed, to hold back a shudder. "Your lemon drops will serve to soothe it until I can take a potion for it." The candy dish gave a hopeful little hop and dashed over to offer Snape another lemon drop, which he took.
"Most, if not all, of us went down under the pain. I know I passed out, for several hours, I think. I believe I was one of the first to recover, and at that time it looked like everyone, or almost everyone, who had been there was still there, in varying degrees of unconsciousness. When I sat up, I was surprised when my mask fell off."
"Why was this surprising?"
"The Sticking Charm on those masks was cast by the Dark Lord himself; it's part of a little ceremony he likes to do when you're robed and masked the first time. After that, of course, the wearer can remove it and put it back on again pretty much at will, but it's still his original Charm. If the mask fell off, something had to have happened to break the Charm. Everyone else was surprised, too. Some people didn't seem to care, or to realize what had happened. Some people started grabbing their masks and sticking them back on themselves before anyone saw them."
"What did you do?"
"I tried to memorize as many faces as I could. Some were already known to me, of course, but there were many that confirmed my suspicions, and some were surprises to me. Some I don't know, and I will have to record them in my Pensieve for you so we can try to find out who they are. But the most shocking thing we discovered was when some us pushed up our robe sleeves. There was still some discomfort coming from the Dark Marks at that point, so it was natural to check. And we found …"
Snape rose reluctantly from his chair and came around the end of Dumbledore's desk, pushing up his sleeve as he did so. There was a pale grey smudge on his arm where before there had been a crisp black Mark. "The Mark hasn't gone away completely, not on any of us. But it's faded, and I can already tell that some of the compulsions laid on me when I took the Mark have begun to weaken in strength. I believe, for example, that now I may be able to say His name."
"Give it a try," said Dumbledore, encouragingly.
"V … Vol … Voldemort," Snape said after several false starts.
"Very good!" Dumbledore seemed unreasonably cheered by this development. "What else have you observed?"
"The Anti-Apparation wards at the Dark Lord's Stronghold, wherever it is, have fallen. Several people attempted to Apparate out, and were at least partially successful. Since three individuals were Splinched, however, one very badly, and I was somewhat disoriented myself, I deemed it wiser to go to the Floo Chamber and get home that way. I believe I was just ahead of the crowd. I Flooed to my private home, in case someone was paying attention to where I was going, and then immediately here."
"Do you believe you are well enough to place your memories in a Pensieve? That should be done sooner, rather than later. You may borrow mine, if you wish. It's empty at the moment." He rose and crossed to a cabinet, removing a carved stone bowl from it and placing it on the desk before Snape.
"Thank you. I'd rather not take the trip down to my quarters and back at this point. Could I also bother you for a Pepper-Up Potion and a restorative? I find myself rather in need of something at this point if we are going to stay up the rest of the night trying to analyse these events."
"Of course, of course," said Dumbledore, "I'll be right back with them. Do you want me to awaken Poppy so she can see to you?"
"Thank you, but I don't believe that will be necessary." Snape busied himself removing the memories and placing them in Dumbledore's Pensieve while the Headmaster himself bustled into his private still room to retrieve the necessary potions. While there, he also donned a spare robe that he kept there in case some of the potions ingredients got ugly. As a practicing alchemist of many years' standing, he knew that when potions ingredients got ugly, it was usually hard on the wardrobe. Clothed properly in a turquoise day robe with silver shooting stars on it, but still wearing the bunny slippers and his night cap, he returned to his office to find that Snape had finished placing memories in the Penseive. He passed the potions to the younger man, who took them promptly, and looked much better once the smoke had ceased pouring from his ears.
"Now then, let's get to work. I believe our first task should be to go through the memories you have placed in the Penseive, and we shall see who we recognize. I may be able to recognize old students from Hogwarts before you came here, and some of those privately tutored or who attended another school, since my social network is larger than yours. It may take several passes to find everyone we can. Then we must discuss the greater ramifications of tonight's events."
"But we shouldn't spend too long doing it," interjected the Potions Master. "I feel that something vital has happened, and if we don't take advantage of it soon, we will lose that opportunity completely."
"Do you believe the Dark Lord to be dead?" asked Dumbledore.
"No. But I believe that whatever he had planned to announce tonight has gone very far wrong, and his power has been broken, perhaps temporarily, perhaps permanently. In any event, there will be those among his followers scrambling for advantage, perhaps trying to take his place, and others who may disappear if we give them the chance."
"Very well. We shall review your memories, and then I shall call a meeting of the Order of the Phoenix. I believe it is time to break your cover."
Sunday, November 1, Mid Morning - Hogwarts, Snape's Quarters
Severus Snape had retreated from the brightness of Dumbledore's office to the comfortable gloom of his own chambers. Despite the potions he had taken, by the end of their session the bright morning sun, shining through the diamond-paned leaded windows and sparkling off the myriad silver and crystal devices with which the old wizard covered all available surfaces, had brought back his headache in spades. He stripped off the hated Death Eater robes, donned a plain black wrap around house robe, and was debating whether to take a nap to ease the weariness or a bath to remove the stink of pain and fear, or both to try to drown himself quietly, when his Floo roared to life. The head of Lucius Malfoy floated in the flames.
"Severus, are you there? I need to … ah, there you are. Just getting up?"
"What do you want, Lucius?" Snape growled irritably.
"I need to talk to you, immediately if not sooner. I believe it will be in both of our best interests."
"Very well," Snape sighed. "Just this once, mind you."
Malfoy withdrew his head from the flames and spun out onto the hearth a moment later. Unlike Snape, he had obviously had the luxury of time to bathe, dress properly, and possibly even get some sleep. He looked obscenely fresh and well-groomed, Snape thought. "I really do appreciate this," Malfoy said. "It's obvious now that you're only just getting in, after all."
"There were things I needed to do. If you'll pardon me a moment, I need to make some coffee if you expect me to be anything resembling coherent." Snape padded barefoot into his quarters' tiny kitchen and set a pot up to percolate, loading the little drip basket with strong, freshly ground Arabian coffee. He liked it strong enough that it counted as a potion.
Malfoy leaned casually against the doorway watching Snape; the kitchen wasn't large enough for both of them to stand comfortably in it. "A large number of individuals seemed to feel the same way. I caught Bellatrix in Our Lord's chambers, going through his papers."
"Was she? You'd think she would have already done so, as familiar with him and his rooms as she claims to be. Do you believe she really is …?"
"His lover? I doubt it. I think he enjoyed watching her games and implications, but he knew better than to sleep with anyone crazier than he was."
"Was? You think he's dead?"
Malfoy touched his left forearm gently, almost as if seeking for some kind of signal from it, before answering. "No. I don't think he's dead. I think he made a very large mistake, and something blew up in his face. I think he may recover eventually, although it may not be for some time. The question is, what can we turn to our own advantage in the meantime?"
It was the same question Snape had asked Dumbledore earlier, and he knew that someone who asked that question already had some ideas as to what to do. "You don't want to wait for his return like a loyal little follower?"
Malfoy snorted inelegantly. "Hardly. I'm his fourth 'political officer', as he terms it, this year. They have short life expectancy, but you can't exactly turn down the 'honour' when he gives it to you. I have a wife and a child that I'd like to go home to at the end of the day, and ambitions that don't involve being a madman's lap dog."
"Why did you join him, then?" asked Snape, knowing the answer already.
"Why did any of us? He offered me something I couldn't get — a dream to follow and a chance to make my mark on the Wizarding World now — without having to wait a hundred years or so for my father and grandfather to shuffle off the mortal coil so I could inherit. And once it was too late, and I was in too far to pull out, I discovered what he really wanted. Power and immortality for himself, and a gang of boot licking sycophants to tell him how great he is. Both of my immediate forebears are now dead — my father was barely seventy, Severus, that's hardly past middle age! There was no reason for him to die! — and he expects me to hand him the Ministry on a platter, as if it's blood alone and not the connections my grandfather had that gave our family its influence there." He cocked his head inquiringly. "You?"
"Much the same. He offered me something I wanted, then twisted it until I was just a weapon he could turn to his own purposes." Bitterness, and hatred, and the desire for revenge — and all that turned against the wrong people, away from the ones who deserved it, Snape thought.
"But you found a way out."
"A way out? Hardly that. I was there the same as everyone else last night, wasn't I?"
"But you weren't there to do his bidding, were you? You were there for another reason. You've got an in with the Powers That Be, and you're working for them — presumably with promise of a pardon when all this is done. So is it Dumbledore or the Ministry?"
"Dumbledore," Snape sighed. "I don't have a promise of a pardon, just that he'll put in a good word for me, but that's good enough for me at this point. I have a job and I have his protection, and for that I've been putting my life on the line for almost two years. Well, that and the knowledge that I'm doing The Right Thing."
"Is that enough for you?"
"It has to be." The coffee had percolated to the desired degree by now, and Snape carefully moved it off the fire, pouring himself a cup to let it cool. He offered a cup to Malfoy, but the aristocratic blond shuddered and waved it away.
"I assume you're looking for a 'way out' yourself?"
"Absolutely. I have information, and I'm willing to provide it to interested parties, in exchange for certain guarantees. I think you have connections with those parties."
"There are no guarantees," said Snape as he took his coffee out into the sitting room. "But with Dumbledore backing you, and your own Ministry connections — don't downplay those, Lucius, you've probably inherited more good will than you know — you'll more than likely walk away from this. But you must be honest — Dumbledore will see right through you if you're not."
"I'll be honest. I'm playing for more lives than my own," the blond assured him seriously. "And while the threat of prosecution by the Ministry concerns me, it concerns me less than the threat from another quarter. The Dark Lord? He may or may not come back any time soon. Bellatrix is another matter. She's active now, she's insane, she has people who will do what she tells them to do, and she has a list with my name on it. I'm afraid of what she's planning to do."
Snape took a sip of his coffee. He had a feeling he was going to need more of it before this day was over. "Tell me everything."
Sunday, November 1, Late Afternoon — Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix
At about four in the afternoon, a group of strangely dressed people began arriving at a small shepherd's croft on a heath far from any town. From the outside, it looked as if it had been long abandoned; its chimney had fallen and taken some of the roof with it, moss grew on its rough grey stones, and the wind whistled through windows that lacked glass. No road ran nearby, and no path led up to its door.
The first to arrive was a huge man who popped into existence near the front door. His hair and beard were black and bushy, and he carried a pink umbrella. He tapped a sequence of stones on the wall next to the doorway, then pushed open the door and went in, stooping to pass under the lintel. Shortly after he entered, the smoke from a fire started rising from the broken chimney.
As if that was a signal, men and women began appearing out of thin air in ones and twos, some of them in wizarding robes and some of them in some approximation of Muggle clothing. A few flew in on broomsticks, which they left parked next to the door in a neat row. Each of them tapped the stones in a personalized sequence before going in. Soon far more people had gone in than could have possibly fit comfortably in the tiny hut.
Sirius Black Apparated in and tapped his identification code on the bricks; only then would the door open for him. A roar of noise, the sound of too many people talking too loudly in too small a space, rushed out to meet him, and for one moment he considered turning away and going somewhere else, anywhere else. He didn't think he could cope with this. Not now, not today. But of course he did go in. Otherwise, he would be alone, and he didn't think he could cope with that either.
The inside of the hut was much different from the outside. For one thing, it was much larger. A fireplace large enough for six men to stand upright in it at once took up one wall, and the giant of a man who had first arrived had lit a fire and was now heating cauldrons of water for tea. Another wall was covered with maps of all sorts, dominated by a huge Muggle map of England with pins of various colours stuck in it. An oaken table ran the length of the room, with chairs for twenty people around it, and more chairs were set against the walls. Even so, all of the people who had arrived fit comfortably inside, with room for more. Members of the crowd had gathered in small groups and tried to talk loudly enough to be heard over the group next to them.
Sirius made his way through the crowd to where Rubeus Hagrid, the Hogwarts Groundskeeper, was making up the tea, and gratefully accepted a cup, sinking into a chair with a sigh.
"Long day, eh?" said the jovial giant, noticing Sirius's rumpled Auror tunic and trousers.
"One of the worst and one of the longest, Hagrid," said Sirius. "If you see Remus or Peter come in, wave them over here, will you? I've got bad news."
Hagrid frowned. Many people underestimated him because of his size and speech, but he was far from a stupid man. If Sirius was asking for Remus and Peter, but not James and Lily, who could also be expected at a meeting like this, then Sirius had a reason for it. The young Auror looked exhausted, and his eyes were red rimmed. Hagrid kept people from bothering the young man until he finally saw Remus, wearing Muggle clothes, slip in through the door, and signalled for him to come over. Remus looked tired, too, but at least it was ordinary tiredness and not the exhaustion that overtook him on the days following the full moon.
"Hey, Sirius, sorry I'm so late. Had to find someone to take my shift. Is Peter here yet?"
"I sent him a Patronus. I think so did Dumbledore. Haven't seen him yet, though." Sirius' voice was rough.
"James and Lily, then?" asked Remus.
Sirius couldn't say anything in reply. He just stared up at Remus, shaking his head.
"Something happened?" whispered Remus, his heart suddenly filled with terror. "Were they attacked? What happened?"
"They're … They're gone. I don't know how."
"I don't know."
Remus did not so much sit as fall down into the chair next to Sirius. "How could anything happen? That was the whole reason you did the Fidelius!"
"No … not me. Not me. I wish it had been me!"
Sirius nodded. "We wound up agreeing with you after all. I'd have been too obvious. So he did it, and he said he was going into hiding in the Muggle world. We've been corresponding by owl through a drop box … but there was no hint, none, that anything was wrong!"
"How did you find out then?"
"They just … just … somebody delivered their bodies to the Gates of Avalon."
"That's the chapel they used when James's father died?"
"That's it. The manager said he stepped out for lunch and when he came back, they were just … there. In the chapel. They were wearing their formal robes — the ones they wore for their wedding, you remember? - and all wrapped up in white shrouds. There were flowers and herbs wrapped up with them. There was … there was also a single finger bundled up in a linen napkin, also with flowers. The manager called the Aurors, of course, and he told them who James was, and one of the investigating team called me to identify them … then after I did, they sent me off shift. But it was a good thing I got there when I did, because that poncy idiot Lockhart was about to arrest the chapel manager for murdering them."
"Was there any sign of Harry?"
"No, thank God. I don't think I'd have been able to stand it if there was."
"And … a finger? Do you think it was Peter's?"
"Maybe. I only got a glimpse. The forensics people may be able to tell, but that's not my department. I'll have to see if I can get a copy of their report."
"If James and Lily are … and Peter too, maybe … who's taking care of Harry?" asked Remus.
"I don't know, I tell you! I don't know."
"Maybe Dumbledore knows how to break the Fidelius. Maybe Peter will come, and he'll have Harry, and explain everything."
"Maybe," replied Sirius, "but I don't hold out much hope for any of those things." They sat in silence after that, each lost in his own gloomy thoughts.
The door to the hut opened again, and the various conversations died down as Dumbledore strode through, with two men following close behind him.
"Who's that, then?" Sirius muttered to himself as he tried to get a good look through the crowd, then rocketed to his feet. "What the fuck?! What are you doing here, Snivellus?"
"Charming as always, aren't you, Black?" Snape drawled. "As it happens, I was invited."
The room erupted into chaos as various members of the Order objected loudly to the presence of Snape, Malfoy, or both, and it took Dumbledore some time to restore order. At length, however, he got everyone calmed down and they all took places around the table or on the chairs along the walls. Snape and Malfoy sat to the right and left of Dumbledore's seat at the head of the table, causing some disturbance as they replaced Alastor Moody and Minerva McGonagall, who usually occupied those places. There were several chairs left over, which caused the elderly wizard no little concern.
"I have an announcement to make," said Dumbledore, standing so everyone could see him clearly. "Lord Voldemort is gone, his power broken."
"You mean he's dead?!"
The babble of voices burst out again and Dumbledore once more had to take the time to get everyone to shut up. Sirius and Remus didn't waste time asking questions, but glanced at each other. They knew there was a connection between James and Lily's deaths and whatever it was that had happened to He Who Must Not Be Named.
Dumbledore finally had everyone's attention again. "I would like to request that people not break into questions every time I make a statement, or we shall all be here until Merlin wakes!" he said a little sharply. "Last night, shortly before midnight, something — we don't know what exactly — befell Lord Voldemort, and also temporarily felled most of his Death Eaters. We know this because I had an agent inside Voldemort's organization."
"Snivellus," said Sirius derisively. It wasn't a question.
"Sirius, I know there is a long history of enmity between you and Severus Snape, but I beg you to put it aside. There is much to be done. Severus was initiated into the Order of the Phoenix by me personally and has been the Order's agent within the ranks of the Death Eaters for well over a year and a half, reporting only to me. I trust him and the information he has provided implicitly, and indeed, he has indirectly saved the lives of several persons here. In addition, he has identified many of the Death Eaters and done much to work out their hierarchy. He came to me in the small hours of the night to tell me that Lord Voldemort had fallen and his organization has been cast into disarray."
"My other guest, Lucius Malfoy, has come to me just today. He —"
"You're not going to tell us he's an Order member?" asked Arthur Weasley in disbelief. The enmity between the impoverished Weasley clan and the aristocratic Malfoys went back several generations, and was, if anything, more intense than the rivalry between Black and Snape. Arthur could not imagine them being on the same side of any conflict.
"No," replied Dumbledore. "Mr. Malfoy is not a member of the Order, nor is he likely to be. He has, however, brought information which he is willing to put at our disposal, and has offered to work alongside us to disrupt the Death Eaters even more while we have the opportunity. As proof of his bona fides, he has offered information crucial to several of our members, and I, for one, am satisfied as to its veracity. So, as our first order of business, are James and Lily Potter and Frank and Alice Longbottom here today?"
Sirius found himself on his feet without consciously willing himself to stand. "James and Lily are … dead."
Shock and consternation drew comments and sobs from the crowd; the Potters had been popular, even with the older set.
"When?" Dumbledore snapped.
"At a guess … the middle of the night last night. When they were found at the Gates of Avalon chapel earlier this afternoon, their bodies were dressed for burial, but rigor mortis had already set in, and there was post mortem lividity present. They were wrapped in linen shrouds, with flowers and herbs wrapped with them. Neither of them had their wands, and James was not wearing his family signet ring, although he was wearing his glasses. Additionally, the severed finger of some other individual was found, wrapped in a linen napkin along with flowers and herbs in the same manner as the bodies." Sirius was able to get through his brief description of the discovery of the bodies and the finger by retreating into his professional persona, reporting as an Auror on the deaths of two people he did not know.
Dumbledore looked down at Lucius, who shook his head. "Midnight last night - that's too early. In the middle of the night, we were all unconscious for a few hours, and then we took another hour or so to recover. I know for a fact Bellatrix was still at the Stronghold at three, because that's when I found her rifling through the Dark Lord's papers."
"Disappointed she got there first?" asked Weasley scornfully.
"Of course. Knowledge is power, after all," Malfoy replied smoothly. "The timing of their deaths is suspicious, though. Perhaps they had something to do with the Dark Lord's fall."
"Perhaps indirectly," said Dumbledore. "There is the Prophecy to consider. The Longbottoms then?"
"If she was able to assemble a combat team quickly … yes. Her husband and brother in law would follow her lead, and there are others as well. It may already be too late."
"My renegade cousin may be going after Frank and Alice?" asked Sirius, for confirmation.
"Yes, I'm afraid so. That is the first bit of information Mr. Malfoy brought us. Bellatrix Lestrange has a list of names which she found among Voldemort's papers early this morning. The names Potter and Longbottom were on it, and Mr. Malfoy believes, with good reason, that she may be intending to kill everyone whose names are on that list, in the belief that her Lord would have wished her to do so."
"Frank and Alice aren't here," observed Sirius. "They may already be under attack. With your permission, Albus, I'd like to assemble a combat team to go to Frank and Alice's place and get them quickly. They have their Floo security locked, but I can use the Auror overrides to get into it."
"Permission granted," said Dumbledore. "Choose whatever fighters you want, my boy." He looked down to where Lucius sat. "Mr. Malfoy, if you would be so good as to provide the rest of the list to the group here, perhaps while we are gone you may identify more of the people on it."
"I'll do that," he said, relieved that he wouldn't be asked to go into the fight with the combat team. He was good in a fight, one on one where he could cheat, but a firefight between Death Eaters, Aurors and Order members was an entirely different matter.
"Thank you, sir." Sirius was now in full Auror mode, all business. Grief for Lily and James, worry for Peter and Harry, and personal concern for Frank and Alice were put aside. He had a job to do. "Although Auror Commander Moody ranks me. He should be in charge."
"This is an Order matter first, and Albus put you in charge. I'll follow your lead and back you with the Ministry," said the grizzled veteran.
"Thank you, Sir," said Sirius. "In that case, I'll select one team and go ahead. You call Auror Command and call backup, and follow with your own team."
Snape was startled by the change in his old adversary, and even more startled when he started selecting his team.
"Remus, you're with me," said Sirius. "Albus, Aberforth … Snape."
"You want me to be on your team?" Snape asked in surprise.
"We have our differences, but I know from experience that you're one of the best duellists out there," said Sirius, thinking grimly of the many illicit skirmishes the Marauders had had with the Slytherin during their school years. Even with the advantage of numbers, the Marauders had not always come off the winners. "And I'd rather have you where I can see you," he finished, growling.
"Will we be enough?" asked Remus, heading off what looked to be a distracting argument.
"We're five of the best. Moody will bring another five, and we'll have a squad of Aurors coming in for backup. We'll be enough. We have to be."
Albus and Aberforth Dumbledore both stood and Transfigured their robes into close fitting tunics and trousers like Sirius's, which were more effective for fighting. Aberforth's were a plain, dark purple, while Albus's retained the turquoise and shooting star pattern and clashed badly with his bright yellow boots. Their long beards and hair braided themselves so as to cause less distraction in combat. Snape simply stripped his outer robe off, revealing that he was wearing a Muggle style black knit turtleneck and black trousers underneath it. The group formed up near the fireplace, where Hagrid hurriedly scooped his tea-making equipment out of the way. There was a small jar of Floo powder on the mantel, and Sirius scooped out a generous amount. "Longbottom Manor, Auror Override Black Dragon!" The flames roared up and turned green, and the rescue team drew their wands and leaped through.
Sunday, November 1 — Longbottom Manor
Auror Overrides of the Floo system were not often done, because, in an effort to route the Aurors by the most direct route to their destination, the network had a tendency to spit people out at random fireplaces, and the people then had a tendency to complain, unreasonably assuming that their trip to get to Aunt Matilda's birthday party was more important than the Aurors' need to catch escaping felons. Thankfully, there were few Floo intersections and fewer travelers between Order Headquarters and Longbottom Manor. Instead of spinning individually through the network, the five members of the team shot forward as a group, skidding out onto the main Floo hearth of the Longbottoms' home after a nerve wracking trip.
The Death Eaters had left one member on guard in the front hall, where the Floo exited. He was alerted by the roar of the green flame that someone was coming through, but was not prepared for the speed with which the fireplace spit them out. Sirius was in the lead, and he already had his wand out and the first syllable of the Stunning Spell on his lips before he came to a halt. The Death Eater never had a chance.
The team members paused just a moment to get their bearings. Sounds of revelry and destruction of personal property came from one of the drawing rooms that opened onto the hall, and screams of pain and anguish came from upstairs. Sirius hated to split up his team, but he hated to leave functional enemies at his back even more. "Dumbledores," he said, pointing at the drawing room, "you deal with the riff raff. Remus, Snape, with me!" He cast a quick silencing spell on the stairs and charged up the stairs without making any noise to alert their prey — not that anything could have been heard over the eerie, almost inhuman sounds of agony. The other two men followed close behind him.
It only took a moment to identify the room from which the screams were coming: a large sitting room which appeared to be part of the master suite. Sirius gestured at the sides of the closed door, and Remus took a position to one side of it. Snape, taking his cue from Lupin, took the other side. "Reducto!" cried Sirius, and the door obligingly blew inwards, the solid panel splitting right down the middle. Remus leaped through and to the side again so as not to block the door. Snape followed, although not with the inhuman grace or speed of the werewolf, and Sirius was right behind him.
In the center of the room, a slim blonde woman writhed on the floor. She was naked, beaten, bruised and bloody, and her throat was emitting the screeches of agony they heard. Another woman wearing a Death Eater's robe stood over her; one hand held a wand directing a reddish glow as it danced over the naked woman's body, tormenting the various nerve centers, and the other hand clumsily clutched a squirming baby, whose cries were adding to the cacophony in the room. Two dark-haired men, obviously related, lounged in comfortable chairs, their robes open in the front, clearly displaying that they had recently been "enjoying" their victim's body. The last person in the room was a stocky man, Petrified and propped up against the wall where he could not help but see what was being done to the woman, wanting to help her, being completely unable to, and knowing what torment waited for him.
Remus, in the lead, swarmed over the first of the dark men, taking the combat to him physically, which seemed to catch the wizard totally by surprise. Snape and Sirius both tried to get a clear shot at the woman, while trying not to hit the baby.
Bellatrix Lestrange snapped her wand's tip away from her victim as she looked up at the three men interrupting her fun. The family resemblance between her and Sirius was unmistakable, both of them possessing the black hair, grey eyes and aristocratic features that were the mark of the Blacks. "Sirius! I really can't say it's a pleasure to see you again," she snapped. "Drop your wand or the baby dies!" Hostage taking was a fine old tradition, and Aurors usually backed down when faced with it.
Sirius, however, was having none of it. "Accio baby!" he responded. The child flew out of Bellatrix's grasp and Sirius caught him as neatly as he had caught the Quaffle on the Quidditch field at Hogwarts, but it meant his wand was out of position to respond to his cousin's Slashing Curse. Snape darted forward and knocked him out of the way, both of them and the baby going down in a tangle of limbs while the purple beam of the spell shot over them with an evil buzz, impacting on the wall behind them.
Snape rolled free, barely in time to put a Shielding Charm up as Bellatrix, enraged, struck again and again with the Slashing Curse. She soon realized that she wasn't going to get through his shield with normal spells, and screeched out, "Crucio!" Snape went down screaming as the Unforgivable curse penetrated his shield.
Sirius, however, had left the shrieking child on the floor, was just behind Snape, and now had a clear shot and his own wand ready to deal with his murderous cousin. "Expelliarmus! Stupefy! Incarcerous!" he rattled off in rapid order, and in mere moments, Bellatrix was unconscious and bound on the floor next to her former victim. Sirius then turned to where Remus was dealing with both Rodolphus and Rabastan Lestrange, his werewolf's strength and agility enabling him to fight both opponents at once, but unable to attain a decisive enough advantage over either of them to take them out of the fight. A well placed "Stupefy!" from Sirius took one of the Lestranges out of the fight, and a blow to the jaw downed the other. Remus stood panting and rubbing his knuckles, with the Lestranges at his feet.
"See to Frank and Alice!" said Sirius, and he turned his own attention to Snape, who was somewhat the worse for wear, although the spell had ceased when Bellatrix had lost her wand.
"You had to … wait … until after she threw the crucio, didn't you?" gasped the spy.
"You were doing fine up until then, and I couldn't cast through your shield" said Sirius. "Besides, you knocked me arse over teakettle first!"
Snape just gestured mutely at the wall, where the Slashing Curse had cut through the wall entirely and spewed chunks of plaster out into the hall.
"Well, there is that," Sirius murmured. "If you'd care to call a truce, I think I have a potion that will help with the crucio aftereffects here," he said, fumbling at the belt of his uniform tunic for one of the tiny bottles he kept in pouches there. It was probably as close as he could come to thanking his erstwhile enemy.
"Mine's better than that Ministry swill," said Snape, reaching for the flap of a small pouch attached to his own belt. "Here. I'll take yours. You give that to her, she needs it more." They exchanged potions vials, and Sirius helped Remus get the potion down the female victim's throat. It was a difficult task, since she was still spasming in the aftermath of prolonged exposure to the Cruciatus Curse. Finally, though, they got it into her with minimal spillage. By that time, Snape had released her husband from his Petrification, and he was able to help with her, although not without taking the time to kick Rabastan Lestrange, who was beginning to stir, soundly in the head and knock him out again.
The sounds of mayhem were still coming from from the floor below, but they continued only a little bit longer, rising in a crescendo and then ceasing suddenly.
"Sounds like Albus and Aberforth have everything under control down there," Remus commented dryly.
Albus and Aberforth Dumbledore had been fighting, alone and as a team, for a combined total of over two hundred fifty years. The eight Death Eaters who had been drinking the contents of the Longbottoms' liquor cabinet and looting the family silver didn't come anywhere close to that; most of them were still in their twenties. Back to back, the Dumbledores spun as a unit with a nimbleness that belied their years, their robes blending into a confusing mixture of dark purple and turquoise with silver shooting stars. Some of the stars proceeded to shoot off Albus's robe entirely, distracting and blinding his opponents, which was the entire reason he wore such ornaments in the first place. It looked almost like some strange dance the two elderly men did, their braided beards and hair flying and spells shooting out madly as they spun. It didn't matter that one was the man who had destroyed Grindelwald and the other raised goats and brewed butterbeer for a living, together they were untouchable, as the Death Eaters found out to their cost.
By the time Moody's squad charged out of the Floo, only one Death Eater remained, and he ran almost directly into Moody's chest as he fled in panic from the aged dervishes. Moody stunned him neatly. "You two done striking terror in the hearts of younger men everywhere?" Moody asked the brothers.
Albus responded with a happy grin and a twinkle of his eyes. "Indeed. I had forgotten how invigorating a good skirmish can be. I don't know when I have been this entertained." He was barely breathing hard.
"The boys are upstairs?"
"I believe so, yes."
"Albus!" A shout rang from upstairs.
The three older men and the rest of the Order squad looked up, to see Sirius leaning over the bannister so he could see down the stairwell.
"You'd better get a trauma team over here from the Ministry, or better yet, St. Mungo's. Alice is going to need it," he said grimly.
"Is Frank all right?" Moody called up.
"They didn't touch him. But they made him watch, and that may have been worse. I think Bellatrix even did something to the baby, I'm not sure. Just get the Healers here, will you?"
Soon the Manor was swarming with Aurors and Healers. The latter insisted on treating Snape and Remus for their combat related injuries, despite both men's insistence that it was completely unnecessary.
Each victim was taken into a separate room upstairs to be treated. Sirius looked in on the team dealing with Frank, who had now begun to shake in the onset of a breakdown and was in desperate need of a Calming Potion, and glanced into an adjoining room where a young Auror, not even a Healer trainee, was supposedly keeping an eye on young Neville until a qualified pediatric Healer could be brought in to see to him. The baby was sitting in the middle of the bed, and Lockhart had his wand raised in mid-spell.
"Expelliarmus!" Sirius snapped, knocking Auror First Class Gilderoy Lockhart, he of the tailored uniform and the perfect arrest record, away from Neville and sending his wand flying. "What in Merlin's name do you think you're doing, raising your wand to a baby?"
"I, I was just going to protect the young man by removing the memories of his pain. He doesn't need to remember what he's seen here today."
"He's fifteen months old! He isn't going to remember anyway! Do you have any idea what can happen if you Obliviate a baby?!"
"Er … no."
"THEN WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU DOING IT FOR?!" roared Sirius. Lockhart cringed away from him. "That's twice today you've screwed up an investigation, Lockhart! I'm putting you on report, and as soon as we get back to the Ministry, I'm requesting an investigation into your 'perfect arrest record', Auror!" He scooped up Lockhart's wand with one hand and the baby with the other. With the disgraced Auror preceding him, he left the room in search of someone qualified to look after young Neville. He delivered the child into the hands of a startled Healer, marched Lockhart down the stairs, and explained to the other Auror's squad leader exactly what he had seen. He left Lockhart receiving the dressing-down of a lifetime from his Commander.
Sunday, November 1, Evening — Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix
After making preliminary reports to the on-duty Aurors who were nominally in charge at Longbottom Manor, since both Sirius and Moody had been off duty at the time of the rescue, and promising to make much more in depth statements later, the various members of the rescue teams returned to the shepherd's croft. Here there was much more telling and retelling of the evening's events. Eventually the group that had remained at the croft got around to telling the rescue team what they had found.
"This is the list of names that Bellatrix Lestrange found at the Stronghold," Minerva said, pointing to a list posted up on the map board. "We placed Mr. Malfoy under a Memory Enhancement charm briefly so that he could remember it clearly, despite the fact that he'd only had a fast look at it when it was in her hand." The list showed a series of surnames: POTTER, LONGBOTTOM, PATIL, PATIL, GOODENOUGH, ENTWHISTLE, MALFOY.
"Bellatrix Lestrange told Mr. Malfoy that this list was a list of people You Know Who wanted killed, and that she was going to work her way down it. She apparently did not know that Malfoy saw his own name on the list and was thereby warned. He recognized the Potter and Longbottom names as being of interest to us, and therefore brought the information to Severus in order to prove his bona fides — and not incidentally, to get us to catch Bellatrix and remove the threat to him before she got very far down the list."
"Where did the list come from?" Sturgis Podmore asked. "Some of those names I know, but … two Patils? Entwhistle?"
"There is only one place this list could have come from," said McGonnagal. "It's a source I know well." She waved her wand in a complicated pattern, and a translucent image, of a large book, appeared on the table before her. She flicked her wand and the book opened, its pages turning. "This is an image of the book in which the names of prospective students are written down automatically when they are born. I consult it every year when I send out the Hogwarts school letters, and sometimes I like to look ahead to see who will be attending in the future." She projected an enlarged view of a page of the book so that all could see it. "This is a list of children born the summer before last, from July 31 and listed in reverse order through June. Harry Potter was born on July 31, Neville Longbottom a day earlier on July 30. Twin girls were born to the Patil family on July 14. Gary Goodenough was born on June 29 — he probably won't come to Hogwarts although he's qualified, as his family has educated its children at Durmstrang since the family name was originally spelled 'Godunov'. Kevin Entwhistle is a Muggleborn, born on June 9, and Draco Malfoy was born on June 5. This is a list, not of adults, but of children. We have to assume He Who Must Not Be Named intended to kill them all, to be sure he got every one born even passably close to 'as the seventh month dies'. And we likewise have to assume that someone inside Hogwarts provided him with these names. Even the Ministry doesn't have access to this particular list."
"So, we have an agent in the school to worry about. James and Lily are dead, probably killed by Voldemort last night," said Dumbledore with a heavy sigh. "Frank and Alice Longbottom are in St. Mungo's, where they will be undergoing treatment for some time. And Harry Potter and Peter Pettigrew are both missing."
"Peter was the Secret Keeper for James and Lily," said Remus. "Is it possible that he took Harry somewhere to keep him safe?"
"It's possible. It's also possible that he betrayed the secret, since I can think of no other way Voldemort could have found the Potters. Possibly he was tortured into it. That would account for the severed finger Sirius reported. If so, and if he was freed after Voldemort fell, he might have taken Harry with him wherever he went, or if his betrayal was true, he might simply have abandoned Harry wherever the battle took place."
Sirius choked out a sob at the thought of Harry, lost and alone in an unknown place. He would be hungry and thirsty by now, calling for his parents, who would never come.
Remus spoke thoughtfully. "I think not, Headmaster. I believe Harry is being well cared for, and not by Peter."
"Would you care to explain your reasoning?" asked the aged Headmaster, smiling because he was well familiar with the younger wizard's deductive processes. It was really too bad that the young man was prohibited by his condition from joining the Aurors. He would have made a fine investigator.
"It's because of the bodies of James and Lily. They were prepared for burial with great care, but not by Wizard, or by Muggles. I doubt they were wearing their formal robes when they were killed, so they were laid out and dressed afterward. The shrouding is different from the way we prepare our dead, and Muggles would have delivered the bodies to the Muggle police for investigation. Someone obviously cared deeply for James and Lily, and I can't believe that anyone that took that care for their bodies would leave their living son in distress. The finger was treated with the same care as the bodies. If it is Peter's finger, which should be determined by the Aurors in a day or two, it's doubtful he would have prepared it like the bodies and sent it along to the Aurors to use as evidence. So whoever prepared the bodies came along after Peter had left the scene, and his finger, behind. It's possible Peter took Harry away from the scene, but then wouldn't the Fidelius have collapsed? I think that he left Harry there, possibly even being unaware Harry was still alive, and fled, for whatever reason. And that whoever took care of the bodies is also taking care of Harry. And since they're still under the Fidelius —"
"We're not going to be finding them unless they want to be found," finished Sirius, reassured by Remus's logic. "All of which begs the question, who's taking care of Harry?"
"I think the answer to that will be apparent when the investigators finish looking at the burial shrouds and the herbs. Find out whose customs those match, and you'll know something about who did the preparation. For that we'll have to wait until either you or Moody can get the report from the Investigative Division."
"Which might take forever, knowing those morons."
"Very well," said Dumbledore. "It is clear that we must dedicate our efforts now to several efforts — on the one hand, we must make every effort to capture as many of the Death Eaters as we can, using Mr. Malfoy's information, before they can escape to the Continent or beyond, or worse, regroup to form a renewed threat under someone else's leadership. Severus, you will have to work with the Aurors and take them to the Stronghold to see if there is any information that can be gained there. Mr. Malfoy will provide whatever information he has, as well. Our alliance with him is dependent on his cooperation."
Snape and Malfoy both nodded in acknowledgement.
"On the other hand, we need to spread the correct version of what happened before the Ministry can claim credit for it and disseminate incorrect information. The Aurors and Healers who were at the Longbottom house tonight will start spreading the rumours, I'm sure, but we'll want appropriate 'leaks' to our contacts at the Prophet, the Quibbler, and the WWN as soon as possible. This is one instance where we want gossip, so tell the correct version to all your friends and neighbors as soon as may be. No details, mind you, and pretend you heard it from someone else, but spread it."
Everyone seemed happy with this; it was a simple enough task, and one they could fulfil with a certain amount of relish.
"On the third hand, we must also search diligently for Harry Potter, who, it appears, has fulfilled the Prophecy that was spoken before he was born. 'The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord' has done so, providentially many years before it was looked for. Somehow, an infant boy has struck a blow to protect us all. Now it is up to us to find him and keep him safe."
But as the days and then the weeks went by, all of the Order's and the Aurors' attempts to find Peter Pettigrew and Harry Potter were fruitless. Since no one could remember where James and Lily had lived, it was evident that the Fidelius was still in effect, and therefore Harry still lived there. But that was all they knew. Rewards were posted for information leading to the location of Peter and Harry. The Wizards of Britain looked eagerly for the child reported to have been the Dark Lord's downfall, but no trace was found, and the papers started to refer to the Boy Who Lived, as they had dubbed him in the euphoric first days of November, as the Boy Who Vanished.
Harry Potter eventually stopped crying for his mother, and seemed to adapt well enough to his new life, laughing and giggling and playing with the younger house elves. If he occasionally woke from a nightmare of green lights and screaming, Nanny was there to comfort him. Gradually the nightmares became less frequent. With loving care and with the resilience of the very young, Harry was healing.
Peter Pettigrew didn't stay in New York long, nor did he contact the Wizarding community there. Driven by guilt and remorse and haunted by dreams in which he fled from the vengeful ghosts of his dead friends, he kept moving. He wasn't sure what he would do when his money and traveller's cheques ran out, but he was resourceful. He'd think of something.
To the Wizarding community at large, the long night of Voldemort's reign was replaced by a bright new morning of peace and hope.
And the Fidelius held.