For as long as Hermione could remember, she was 'different' from all the other children in her neighborhood. Well, let's face it, as far as most of the adults in her community were concerned, she was an 'odd duck' - honestly, what 'normal' kid was reading and writing at the age of two! On the other hand, Hermione's parents were thrilled that their only child was a budding genius (they had her tested!) and did everything to encourage her ceaseless thirst for knowledge - trips to the library were a weekly necessity (sometimes twice a week when Hermione snuck in a couple more hours of reading after her parents finally nodded off to sleep).
But, being the ever practical parents, Drs. Jeanne and David Granger realized that Hermione would never be content being relegated to the local creche while they both were at work at their growing dental practice. So, they began the arduous task of interviewing a seemingly endless stream of applicants for Hermione's live-in tutor/caregiver.
Fortunately, the very last respondent from the au pair agency was absolutely perfect. Maybe a bit too perfect in hindsight, but after two weeks of dealing with complete dunderheads, the Grangers were getting downright tetchy.
Dorothea Figg (or 'Dot' as she insisted on being called) was a short (5' 2"), athletic, 20-year-old university student with waist-length, sandy-blonde hair tied back with a black ribbon into a low ponytail. Her sapphire blue eyes sparkled when she first caught sight of the bushy-haired little girl shyly hiding behind Jeanne. Hermione quickly overcame her bashfulness when she spotted the variety of textbooks peaking out from the large, grey canvas backpack hanging over Dot's left shoulder.
"Do you like to read, too?" Dot asked Hermione. Jeanne and David chuckled at their daughter's beaming smile. "I think you just make a friend for life," laughed Jeanne. After reading Dot's introduction letter from the agency,and asking numerous questions regarding her education and child-care training, David said "based on your credentials and the references you've given, I believe you are exactly the person we've been looking to hire. Can you move-in this weekend and start work on Monday?
"Of course," replied Dot. "I travel light, so most of my things only take up two large boxes. I can be here at noon on Saturday or sooner if you require."
"Noon on Saturday's perfect," said Jeanne. "We'll finish readying the guest room and see you then."
After a quick chat with Hermione to assure her that she was coming back in two days time, Dot shook the Granger's hands in thanks, re-shouldered her backpack, and headed out the front door.
Dot then quickly walked a block down the street, stepped into a dark alley behind the local pub, looked about to make sure no one was around and disapparated with a soft 'POP'.
"So," said a heavily accented voice when Dot appeared in the warmly lit sitting room. "Is she the one we've been looking for?"
Dropping her book-laden pack onto the ground, Dot frowned and huffed at the dark-haired man standing at the other side of the room in front of the slate-grey stone fireplace. "I'm good at my job, Mr. DeVilla, but even I can't conduct the 'Prosapia' test without the completed potion. However, I will have plenty of time on Monday to get the last ingredient from the girl once the parents leave for work."
The tall, elegantly dressed gentleman strolled across the sitting room towards a small oak side-table that had a crystal container of Ogdens Finest Firewhiskey and a couple of glass tumblers sitting on the top. Pouring a large measure into one of the glasses, the dour-faced man knocked back the contents in one quick gulp. "Fine, " he finally grumbled. "Send me a message through the usual secured channels as soon as you have the results."
"For what it's worth, sir" said Dot. "I think this child could be your missing grand-niece."
"I'm not paying you for your opinions," he snarled. Quickly downing a second full glass of firewhiskey, the sullen client gently straightened his shoulders and slowly turned to face the young woman. "I apologize," he said. "It's been a stressful day and you didn't deserve to be barked at for doing your job."
"I understand," murmured Dot. "I'll send word to you as soon as I can on Monday." Leaving the brooding man to his thoughts, Dot picked up her canvas bag and hurriedly walked to her temporary room in the east wing of her boss' equally somber mansion to pack for the next phase of her assignment.
Once Dot had left the chambers, Aiden DeVilla walked over to the massive bookshelf that took up the entire back wall of the sitting room and pulled down a large, leather-bound tome. His long, pale fingers turned to the last page and he lovingly touched the last few entries of his family tree. Under his niece's name, Lyonella DeVilla (b. 1948 - d. 1979), was an unfinished notation that simply said "baby girl" - born 19 September 1979. The fact that the father's name was listed as "unknown" had been a source of concern, too. He had met his niece's fiancé and knew his name to be Malthes Delvar DiMoro. But, as to why neither DiMoro's nor the child's name appeared in the family records was a puzzle that Aiden had been unable to resolve. A search through Ministry records had only added to the mystery and Aiden's frustration. He knew that even if Malthes should turn out to not be the girl's biological parent, he had claimed her as his own and that information should have materialized within the family registry and ministry documents the moment the child was born. Yet, there was nothing...not even a partial mention of either of them in the official files...it was as if they didn't exist.
Closing his eyes, Aiden's thoughts drifted back to that dreadful September night two years ago. His older brother, Leith, had sent him a frantic message by Patronus that urged him to apparate to St. Mungo's immediately - his daughter had gone into labor and something had gone horribly wrong during the delivery.
By the time Aiden arrived at the hospital five minutes later, it seemed as if all Hades had broken loose.
roughly translated Latin : Prosapia - ancestry, parentage; a family bloodline
The scene in front of St. Mungo's was like something out of a Muggle disaster movie. Several windows of the main lobby had been shattered out and one wall had a large hole blasted through it. Teams of mediwitches, mediwizards and apprentice-healers were scrambling about checking scores of people who had been injured by flying glass and debris and marking them with various colored runes before they were sent inside for further treatment. The Floo network had been locked down, anti-apparation wards were in place, and Aurors were at every entrance restricting access into or out of the building. And, absolutely no one was permitted inside or allowed to leave unless they passed through the two main doors that had been heavily modified to detect the presence of Polyjuice, glamours or other forms of deception. From where he was standing, Aiden could see other teams of aurors going from room-to-room on the first floor searching for something or someone.
Aiden's guts twisted into knots at what he was seeing because he knew it would likely be another hour before he could get near the main entranceway - if he was permitted inside at all since he wasn't injured. He quickly summoned his Patronus and sent a message to his brother to tell him that he was downstairs, but would be delayed in his arrival to the delivery ward. He didn't send any details about the events going on outside - he didn't want to add to his brother's stress if he could help it. But, it was his own anxiety that was ramped skyward when his Patronus returned moments later with the message undelivered.
By the time Aiden cleared the security checkpoint forty-five minutes later, he was a nervous wreck. He had sent a second Patronus as soon as he got into the lobby, but, like the first, it had returned with its message not received. He took the marbled staircase two and three steps at a time to get to the third floor where his family was supposed to be waiting - he wasn't about to chance getting stuck in those rickety, ancient-looking lifts.
What he saw when he got to the third floor landing made his heart clench in his chest. Through the partially destroyed doorway, Aiden could see the unmoving bodies of about a dozen staff members and visitors that were laying sprawled across the ground between the information desk and waiting room, but what made things infinitely worse was that there was absolutely no sound - it was as if a massive Silencio had been cast upon the entire ward. Ignoring his rising panic as best he could, Aiden fired a rapid set of spells into the area checking for anything from poisonous vapors to dark curses that would account for the unnerving scene. There was nothing. Whatever had happened was not showing up through the limited diagnostic spells he knew.
As he was about to move further into the ward to start his search for his family, a strong hand suddenly grabbed his right shoulder from behind and roughly spun him around. "And where do you think your going?" demanded a gruff-looking auror as he pointed his wand at DeVilla's chest. Aiden's heart thumped like a triphammer against his ribcage. He was so focused on his spellcasting, he never heard the wizard's footsteps coming up the stairs. "Well, are you going to answer me or are you going to stand there gawping like a landed fish?"
Taking a calming breath, Aiden finally answered the glaring man. "I'm trying to locate my family," he said. "My brother sent me an urgent message to meet him here at St. Mungos. I only just got to this floor a few minutes ago."
"Alastor Moody!" snapped another wizard who seemingly appeared out of nowhere a few feet behind the auror. "Leave that poor man alone. I personally checked him through downstairs."
The scowling auror reluctantly backed away a couple of steps from Aiden, but hadn't lowered his wand or taken his eyes off DeVilla's face. "Unspeakable Morgan," said Moody, casting a quick side-glance at his colleague. "You can't be too careful after everything that's happened here."
"True," said Morgan. "But, as you can see, this person bears my security mark." Pointing with his own wand, the slightly calmer wizard directed their gazes to the lightly pulsing blue rune that appeared on the back of Aiden's left hand. DeVilla's stared owl-eyed at the mesmerizing spot of color. He didn't remember that being put on his body at the checkpoint, but he was rather distracted at the time. Finally, the constant stresses of the last hour caught up to Aiden and he sagged against the undamaged part of the doorframe behind him.
"Don't just stand there Alastor. Help me get this fellow out of the stairwell and into the safe room before he completely collapses."
By the time Aiden regained some of his composure, Morgan and Alastor had him settled onto a plush leather sofa in the large office at the end of the hall on St. Mungo's third floor - the DMLE's and the DoM's temporary base of operations for their investigations. As he cradled his head in his hands and took a few calming breaths, Aiden almost missed the flurried entrance of an extremely agitated witch (which was probably for the best because the woman looked ready to spit nails at anyone who looked directly at her).
"Bloody hell, I need a firewhiskey!" she said to no one in particular. "I swear to all the gods if I have to deal with any more incompetent ministry officials tonight, I will hex their sorry arses into next week." I don't care how much extra paperwork that would involve." Stopping in the middle of the room, she spun on her heel and glowered over at the stranger on the couch. "Agent Morgan!" she bellowed. "Why is there a civilian in my office?"
Manfred Morgan cautiously approached his exasperated boss, Amelia Bones, with a large tumbler full of her preferred drink. After she had taken a huge gulp of the amber liquid, Morgan leaned in close and whispered so that only she could hear. "He's related to some of the victims in the next room and he's yet to be informed of their conditions. He's agreed to provide a pensive memory of a message he received around the time the incident started. Hopefully, it will contain a clue as to what happened here."
Somewhat placated with this information, Amelia sighed and took a seat on one of the large wingback chairs that faced the stone fireplace near the far end of the room. "I want you to handle everything, Agent Morgan. Auror Moody's not exactly the most tactful being when it comes to dealing with people." Morgan pressed his lips together to stifle a snort. "Collect the memory first and bring it to me so I can began the reviewing process." She glanced over at the wizard on the couch with a pained expression on her face. "Make sure you give him a strong calming draught before you take him next door to his family."
With a slight nod in agreement, Agent Morgan turned and slowly walked over to Aiden. Pausing for a moment, he pulled three crystal phials from a hidden pocket in his black waistcoat - one for collecting Aiden's Patronus memory, the second containing the calming draught, and the last carrying a headache potion for himself. He was going to need it after he shattered Aiden's hopes.
After DeVilla had begun to exhibit the tranquilizing effects of the potion, Agent Morgan escorted him out of the DMLE office and over to the large delivery room next door. As they walked through the entrance, they could see dozens of single beds set up within the space and pale green privacy curtains pulled about each one in order to conceal their occupants' identities and injuries. Aiden could feel the pulsing tingle of magic across his skin from the numerous silencing wards set up throughout the room.
To their right, Morgan and Aiden noticed a short, heavyset auror with long, grey hair slowly moving towards the first of the beds. He paused briefly and scratched some quick notes into a large red journal that floated along in front of him. As the dour-faced wizard drew the drapery back, Aiden saw that the person laying upon the small bed was completely wrapped up in a dark blue shroud. The auror abruptly glanced up, suddenly aware of his unexpected audience of two. Frowning at Morgan and Aiden, the wizard quickly stepped closer to the bed and pulled the curtain closed behind himself with an brusque snap in order to discourage any further unwanted observations.
"This way," said Morgan drawing Aiden's attention to the far left side of the room. He drew in a sharp gasp of air as he saw that his somber escort was leading him towards a much larger set of privacy curtains. Despite the calming draught, Aiden's heart felt like it dropped to his toes. He began muttering a prayer to all the gods that his growing sense of dread was wrong. But, one look at Morgan's forlorn expression told Aiden that those fervent pleas were a waste of his breath.
As he pulled back the large green drape, Morgan stepped aside to let Aiden move closer to the three beds previously hidden from their line of sight. DeVilla's mouth suddenly went dry and all color drained from his face. All three people laying upon the beds in front of him were covered by dark blue shrouds. Putting a warm hand onto Aiden's shoulder, Morgan whispered "I'm so sorry. I will need you to view the bodies to confirm their identities."
Inside Aiden's head he was screaming. 'No, no, no. This can't be happening. It can't be real. I'm having a nightmare and it will all disappear if I just wake up!'
Moving to the first bed, Morgan looked back over his shoulder and silently asked DeVilla for his consent to remove the shroud. With a brief nod of assent from the now visibly trembling man, Morgan drew the blue sheet down until just the face was fully exposed. "That's my sister-n-law," he said with a strangled gasp. "Marisol Delacour-DeVilla. She turned fifty-six only last week." Morgan quietly moved to the next bed and Aiden's knees nearly buckled when the next body revealed was that of his older brother, Leith. As Morgan unveiled the third person, Aiden finally collapsed to the ground in a heap when he saw the pale face of his niece, Lyonella.
As he numbly stared at the lifeless bodies of his family, several urgent thoughts finally broke through Aiden's potion-addled brain. "Wait! What happened to the baby? Did she deliver it? Was it a boy or girl? Where's Lyonella's fiancé? His name's Malthes….Malthes Delvar DiMoro. Is he alive?"
Morgan quickly helped Aiden up from the cold marble floor and lead him back into the office where Amelia was busy staring into a pensive at one of memories collected that evening. "Sit on the sofa and don't touch anything," instructed Morgan. Aiden did as he was told as he was too drained from all the nonstop stress to argue. As he slumped onto the soft leather cushions, Aiden's jumbled thoughts grabbed onto the slim hope that not all was lost, that maybe some of his family had survived this night.
Seeing that Aiden was complying with his instructions, Morgan then quietly strode over to his boss and gently tapped her on the shoulder. He disliked interrupting Amelia while she was so focused on her task as her temper was already on a short fuse after running interference with the Ministry, but this new information couldn't wait. Amelia lifted her face out of swirling memory and glared at Morgan. "This had better be important, Agent Morgan," she snarled, "or I will have you busted down to cleaning up after that small herd of thestrals that we rescued during that raid in wizarding London."
Morgan winced slightly, but calmly replied,"Mr. DeVilla just mentioned that his niece was here giving birth and that was the reason for his brother's urgent communique. Because of the timing, I believe that the infant girl that was reported by one of our witnesses as being forcibly taken by Healer Greenstone could be Mr. DeVilla's grand-niece. It's a flimsy presumption, I know, but it's too much of a coincidence to ignore."
Amelia briefly considered this tidbit of news then called for Auror Moody to assist her and Agent Morgan. "I'll perform the familial blood tracking spell using Mr.DeVilla as our lineage key," she said. As her two associates watched, Amelia reached into her shirt pocket and pulled out a blank piece of parchment. After lightly tapping it with her wand, the paper enlarged into a huge detailed map of the British Isles, then, taking her empty firewhiskey tumbler, Amelia seamlessly transfigured it into a small goblin-silver knife. "If this spell works properly, she said, "a golden marker should instantly appear on this chart giving you a starting point for your search. That is, if the child hasn't been taken to the continent or elsewhere by now."
Turning on her heel, Amelia quickly walked across the room to the sofa and then calmly sat next to Aiden. Gently taking one of his hands in hers, she quietly explained their plans to find the missing child and his particular role in the ritual. The color blanched from Aiden's face at the thought of a ceremonial blade cutting the palm of his hand, but he knew that this was the best and fastest way to locate the infant - an innocent who was most likely his newest family member. Looking at the anxious man and sensing his unease, Amelia softly added, "This won't take long and will only require a minimal amount of your blood. Please, step over to the center of the room and I'll begin the spell."
Amelia placed the map on the floor in the center of the office and had Morgan stand on the South cardinal point and Alastor on the West. She took up the position on the East and had Aiden on the North end with his slightly trembling left hand outstretched over the chart, palm facing upwards. Taking a slow, cleansing breath and closing her eyes, Amelia began chanting in a voice too low for the others to understand the words she spoke. Within seconds, four shimmering orbs appeared and began to swirl about Aiden's body - each one a kaleidoscope of yellow, red, blue, and green. Once the glimmering spheres merged to completely envelope him, two small blood-red cords branched out from his chest - one to encircle the silver blade that Amelia held in her right hand, the other wrapped around Aiden's left wrist. As she continued to chant, Amelia opened her eyes and extended her right arm and the knife towards DeVilla, drawing the sharp edge across his open palm in one swift movement. Aiden did as he was earlier instructed and slowly turned his palm down allowing the small pool of blood that had formed in the cup of his hand to drip onto the map below.
While the blood soaked into the chart, Amelia quickly healed the cut on Aiden's hand and vanished the blade as Morgan and Alastor watched for the golden marker to appear. They didn't have to wait long. "Bollocks!" hissed Alastor. "They're at Kings Cross Station and it looks like they've boarded a train that's already left the platform." As the four of them anxiously watched, the small glowing dot began to slowly move along the map heading towards Leeds.
"Grab Unspeakable Barnaby and Auror Jones and have them apparate to the jump point at Peterborough," ordered Amelia. "With any luck, we can catch Greenstone with the child there." Turning to Aiden she briefly explained, "They're half-blood, but were Muggle-raised so they know how to draw the least amount of attention to themselves and they know the area better than anyone else. Looking back to her associates, she instructed, "Morgan, you partner with Barnaby and Alastor, you're with Jones....well, don't just stand there," Amelia barked, "get your arses moving!" Morgan and Alastor both fled from the room like they were being chased by Fiendfyre.
As soon as Morgan and Alastor had left the room, Amelia called for a house elf and ordered up some tea. She looked at Aiden with a tired smile. "All we can do now is wait. In the meantime, I've sent for the lists of the injured and deceased that we have gathered so far and, hopefully, we will be able to locate your niece's fiancé from those."
Aiden looked at Amelia for a moment and he struggled to choke back a sob. The calming draught had completely worn off by this point and he was beginning to get overwhelmed again by all that had happened. Amelia quickly responded to Aiden's distress by pulling a phial of the calming potion from her shirt pocket and had him take half a dosage. As the draught began to work, Aiden returned to the sofa and took up his previous seat on the soft cushions. He stared up at the plain white ceiling tiles a moment, then turned his sorrowful gaze back to Amelia.
In a voice that was barely a whisper he asked, "What in the name of all that's holy happened here tonight and why would a newborn be at the center of it?"
Calming draughts should have lasted longer, I know, but there is good cause why the effects burn through sooner with this character.
Amelia fixed herself a cup of tea and sat down next to the grief-stricken wizard on the dark green leather sofa. She offered Aiden a cup, but he declined it with a feeble wave of his hand. After considering her options, she looked at Aiden and said, "Before I discuss what happened here at St. Mungo's, I need to ask you about something unusual that happened during the tracking ritual." Aiden mentally dreaded where this conversation appeared to be headed and he attempted to redirect the conversation. "I've never taken part in that type of blood ritual. Wasn't that how it was supposed to work?"
Amelia gave Aiden a knowing smirk. "Over the years, I have learned to sense when people are withholding information - like you currently are Mr. DeVilla. Now, care to tell me why those multicolored orbs surrounded you during a relatively simple familial tracing spell?"
Aiden was tempted to just cast an Immobulus on Amelia and leave, but he had enough sense to realize that the powerful witch seated near him would just block his spell without breaking a sweat and counter with a full-body-bind or worse. He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to ward off the headache that was threatening to take root behind his left eye. "Could I trouble you for something stronger than tea to drink?"
"Sorry," said Amelia. "But, alcohol doesn't react well with the potion you've just taken." Looking at the dispirited wizard, she softened her demeanor. She knew Aiden was almost ready to confess his secret, but was struggling to risk that last step. Taking a chance, she placed a hand on his shoulder in a comforting gesture and whispered,"I understand if you are reluctant to disclose any lusus naturae." Aiden's downcast eyes suddenly snapped up to meet Amelia's, now glowing, amber irises. "Trust me," she continued, "as an Unspeakable, I have encountered all sorts of magical beings and heritage magics. And, I promise to take an Oath to not reveal anything that you choose to tell me about your bloodline's traits."
With that promise in mind, Amelia stood and withdrew her wand from its customized arm holster. She looked down at Aiden, who nodded his understanding, then proceeded to stride about the room casting security wards so that no one could disrupt their conversation. Aiden then levered himself off the sofa, wand in hand, and walked over to face Amelia - still a bit apprehensive about revealing his secrets to this woman. Seeing him beginning to second-guess his decision, Amelia firmly grasped one of Aiden's forearms with hers and proceeded to undertake a Vow of secrecy.
With that final assurance, Amelia saw Aiden's shoulders slump with relief just as his coffee-colored eyes shifted to an intense ruby red.
Lusus Naturae - anomaly, variation
"Well," mock-teased Amelia. "It's a pleasure to finally see a part of the real you, Mr. DeVilla." Aiden let out an irritable huff at her and quickly shifted his red irises back to their previous shade of brown. He was uncomfortable as it was revealing his natural guise, he didn't need to tolerate this stranger's perceived taunt.
Quickly assessing the emotions on Aiden's face, Amelia continued, "I'm afraid you misunderstood me, Mr. DeVilla. No one's here to judge your heritage or physical attributes, especially me." As she spoke, she slowly dropped her extensive glamours to show Aiden that he wasn't the only one who needed to camouflage their magical legacy from the general wizarding public.
Aiden's eyes widened comically as Amelia's true self was revealed. In place of the petite, sun-kissed, raven-haired witch stood a tall, ivory-skinned, platinum-blonde keshalyi with large, butterfly wings that were a glittery silver-blue. The only thing that remained the same were her amber-colored eyes - eyes that were now twinkling at Aiden's gob-smacked expression. "Now that you've seen the real me, it's your turn to come out of hiding."
After regaining his composure, Aiden slowly began to strip away his fabricated image and display his original identity. "My, my, my" exclaimed Amelia. "You really are full of surprises, aren't you, Mr. DeVilla?
Aiden looked over at Amelia with a hint of humor in his ruby-red eyes and gave her a subtle wink. Gone was the pale, somber, chestnut-haired wizard. What Amelia saw now was a magical being she had only read about in an ancient text called "Mythical Entities of the Wizarding World" by Pandora Mythos - an elemental mage. From what she could remember in her readings, these individuals were born with an affinity to one of the four powers of nature (air, fire, water or earth) and when they reached their magical majority, they would undergo metamorphosis to complete the bond to their specific elemental force. In Aiden's case, he was a fire mage as revealed by the ruby-red eyes, obsidian hair and smoke-like robes.
Amelia's brain was swirling with hundreds of questions for Aiden, but before she could ask the first one a badger Patronus bounded into the room.
Auror Moody's message growled out of the misty silver shape, "Healer Greenstone and the child never arrived at Peterborough."
Keshalyi - earth bound fae from the Transylvanian area of Romania
Amelia was fuming from the moment Alastor's Patronus message was finished. As her fury grew, Amelia's twitching wings began flinging about jolts of cobalt light and the pungent smell of ozone. Words then started spilling from her mouth so fast that Aiden couldn't keep up with the stream of expletives - many in languages that he didn't recognize. He had heard of people cursing a blue streak before, but had never witnessed someone literally doing so - it would have been amusing if not for the seriousness of the situation.
As much as Aiden wanted to say something to pacify the agitated witch, he felt it prudent to just let her temper settle on its own and kept refreshing his Protego to maximum strength to ward off any stray bolts. He didn't have too long to wait. Amelia's colorful tirade fizzled after five minutes of non-repetitive swearing and she sheepishly apologized to Aiden for her momentary lack of self-control.
After her regaining her composure, Amelia switched back to her mundane human guise and strode over to the conjured blood magic chart. "We need to recheck the map and see if we still have a lock on Greenstone and the baby" said Amelia. Cautiously, Aiden lowered his protective wards and walked to the middle of the room to gaze at the chart. "Wonderful!" exclaimed Amelia. "They're still in range on the grid." Calling up her lively caracal Patronus, she sent the current location of their fugitive along with further instructions to the chase teams. "Hurry up you lot, Greenstone and the child are now at the Grantham Rail Station. It's possible he's using Portkeys to try and avoid capture, so send an extra patrol out to the next station down the line to Newark North Gate."
Looking over at Aiden, she could see his distressed expression even through his more intense fire mage features. Sensing her scrutiny, he turned away from her soulful amber eyes and shifted forms - attempting to hide his face within a curtain of his more human chestnut-colored locks.
Seeing Aiden's attempt to distance himself, Amelia changed tactics."While we wait, let's see if we can find your niece's missing fiancé."
While Amelia handed a journal containing descriptions of the unidentified persons from the hospital to Aiden, an unimposing wizard hid in the shadows near the gathering crowd of Muggles on the rail platform at Grantham station. To anyone who bothered to look, he was a short, husky-built man wearing faded black trousers and a worn blue button-down shirt that barely covered his middle-age paunch. In reality, the 'paunch' was a disguised sleeping infant swaddled in a soft cloth sling. Looking down at the small paper-clip in his right hand, the wizard smirked as it glowed a faint blue and he and the child quietly popped out of sight.
As soon as the fugitive wizard landed from the latest Portkey, he dropped his glamours and began looking about the Secret Kept house that was going to be his sanctuary until his contact arrived. Unfortunately, a sudden mewling sound from the child in his care brought his wanderings to an abrupt end. After seeing to the tiny infant's needs, he settled down on an intricately carved oak rocking chair that was facing the dark stone fireplace in the sitting room of their temporary refuge. With the child gently cradled in his arms, he laid his head back against the leather padded cresting rail of the chair and began to slowly rock the infant to sleep. It wasn't long before he, too, was drifting off for a much needed catnap. It had been a rather busy day for the unusual pair.
That morning had started off as usual for the wizard. A large cup of Darjeeling, one sugar, and a slice of toast with honey before beginning his rounds on the third floor labor and delivery ward. All routine and rather boring - at least until the DeVilla's arrived. Healer Greenstone was almost delirious with excitement. This was going to be the day that he fulfilled his Master's dreams by bringing him the child of his enemy. The scheme was supposed to be fairly straightforward. Deliver the infant, slip a mild sleeping draught into the mother's pain potion, Stupify anyone that got in his way and leave the city using a carefully prepared route - but nothing went to according to plan. In his haste to secure the newborn, he accidently overdosed the new mom and the grandmother had recognized the symptoms (how was he to know that she had at one time been a mediwitch). With the older woman bringing about unwanted attention to the situation and threatening to report his incompetence, he had to improvise - and it quickly became messy. No one was shown mercy if they dared to block his path.
It would all be worth it though - at least that's what Greenstone kept telling himself as he started to doze with the little girl in his arms.
While his newborn niece was being carefully tended to by her abductor, Aiden was pacing about the office in St. Mungos. After he had made a thorough search of all the injured and deceased records, followed by a physical check of all the victims in the attack, Aiden was beyond frustrated. Malthes was simply nowhere within the building. Which led to a couple of unsettling thoughts - what if he was a willing accomplice to all this carnage or was he merely tracking the person who killed his family and stolen his daughter without someone to back him up? Either way, Malthes was now considered a person that needed to be approached with extreme caution if found.
Slowly, Aiden's memories faded away and his mind refocused on the present situation. Two years later and no one had a clue as to what had happened to Malthes DiMoro. Every credible lead and rumored sighting was chased down by the wizarding authorities, but nothing had panned out. DiMoro had just vanished without a trace. The same couldn't be said for Healer Greenstone. Only two weeks after the DMLE's most wanted man had disappeared with the newborn, an anonymous tip had led the Aurors to search an abandoned home on the outskirts of Ipswich. The once beautiful stone cottage had a partially collapsed roof and was vacant except for what was left of the mediwizard. There were the obvious signs of a ferocious struggle in the sitting room where the body was found - chunks of stone from the fireplace scattered across the floor and dark scorch marks on walls where spells had missed their mark, deep gashes from a vicious slicing hex that left the wizard's robes and skin in shreds and a large pool of dried blood with dragonhide boot prints trailing out of it. Not that anyone would ever mourn the loss of the reviled healer. In the aftermath of his desparate escape from St. Mungos, Greenstone had left a gruesome trail of destruction in his wake with twenty people dead, fifteen survivors critically injured and severe structural damage to the main lobby. The Wizengamat had confiscated everything he owned from his Gringotts vaults to the stately home in wizarding London to pay for the repairs to St. Mungos and in reparations to those he had harmed. His own family, however distantly related, had done everything to disassociate themselves from his tainted legacy by packing up their few remaining belongings and leaving for the ancestral home in Stonehaven, Scotland. No, the detestable Greenstone would not be missed by anyone in wizarding Britain. But, with unlamented mediwizard's death and no other clues at the cottage, the chances of finding the stolen child became next to impossible.
As he looked at the dying embers in the sitting room fireplace, Aiden let out a tired sigh. He needed to concentrate on his current task of trying to find his abducted blood relative and not rehash these past scenes of horror or his continued failure to locate the illusive fiancé of his late niece. The extraordinary child that Dot had recently discovered was the latest in their exhaustive search for his missing grand-niece, but he couldn't chance getting his hopes up - not yet. There had been too many before that held the strong promise of being her, but the Prosapia test had proven otherwise. This exploratory step, tracking and evaluating magical children in the Muggle world, was a risky venture, but it was all he had left to try. His extensive personal research throughout the magical populations of Britain had come up empty for the little girl. 'Little,' scowled Aiden to himself. 'She's a toddler now.'
While he was musing over what to do until Dot could perform the test on Monday, Aiden was startled out of his reverie by the urgent tapping of a Ministry owl on his window. It was not just an ordinary ministry post-owl, either. It was Amelia Bones' personal messenger, a dusky Ural owl named Athena. Nervous butterflies took flight in Aiden's stomach.
This was either the long awaited breakthrough in the mystery of the 'lost' official birth records and how his family's genealogy archives were altered or another postponed dinner date. Sheepishly, he was hoping for the former.
Aiden tried to reread the message from Amelia for the third (or was it fourth?) time that night. Thinking was a bit of a challenge as he had an equal number of tumblers full of Ogden's as he attempted to come to grips with the contents of the letter. Sanguis Obculto and Divorto. Those words leapt out from the page in his hand and sent a cold shiver down his spine. The rest of the sentences on the parchment were a pale blur. Whoever had tampered with the Ministry's records and his family's archives had used an obscure blood magic curse and a twisted variation of a Look-Not charm in their attempts to erase DiMoro and his daughter from all forms of documentation and impede any timely investigations into their whereabouts.
Fortunately, the wizard or witch who had cast these spells wasn't aware of his family's elemental heritage. With the child's connection (albeit an incomplete one) to the force of nature fated to shape her mage form, this faint link had left Aiden with the only fragment of evidence that his niece had even given birth but, that was all he had - an echo of magic that left the child's gender and date of delivery in the ancestral registry. He didn't even know what she looked like for Merlin's sake. Would she take more after her mother's appearance with Lyonella's curly brunette hair and eyes that were the color of their elemental magic or would she look like her father with raven hair and hazel eyes? While he kept family photos with the ancient tome and had given copies to Amelia for the DMLE case file, what he didn't have was a picture of Malthes. With the missing wizard's records obliterated, Aiden had given the Aurors and Unspeakables duplicates of the few pensive memories that he had of meeting DiMoro so they would at least have an accurate description of the man and proof that he existed.
What bothered Aiden more was the fact that he and the DMLE couldn't find anyone with the last name of DiMoro anywhere in the whole of Wizarding Britain nor could they track down anyone who could claim to be acquainted with Malthes. Amelia's contacts within the magical communities on the continent and the States had come up empty, as well. She had even reached out to the wizarding authorities in Africa and Asia on the off chance that someone could find documents about DiMoro or his family, but with the same results - zip, zilch, zero.
As much as he dreaded it, Aiden had to finally concede that Amelia's early theory about the illusive man were probably correct. Malthes (or whatever his real name was) had worked with Healer Greenstone to abduct the child, but for what purpose she hadn't a clue - there had been no ransom demands. If there had been, Aiden would have readily agreed to pay it. It was no secret that his family was wealthy - the ancestral home in France alone contained more than a few valuable artifacts that he would gladly sell to buy back the child's safe return.
Downing another tumblerful of Ogden's (was that his fourth or fifth?), Aiden slowly stumbled across his sitting room and sat down heavily on the wingback chair by the fireplace. The stresses of the day, and the numerous glasses of firewhiskey, finally caught up to him. Leaning his head back against the fire warmed leather headrest, he slowly closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Latin: sanguis - blood
obculto - conceal, hide, cover up
divorto - turn, go different ways
elemental mage eye colors: Air - silver or gold
Fire - red or orange
Water - blue or black
Earth - green or brown
Morning arrived too soon for Aiden and with it came the wicked hangover from his previous night's overindulgence of firewhiskey. 'Bloody hell!' he muttered to himself. 'I'm never drinking that much, again'. Everything seemed to hurt, even his hair, and his tongue felt like it was coated in kneazle fur. As Aiden finally pried his heavy eyelids open, he instantly regretted it and quickly clamped them shut. The diffused sunlight streaming through sitting room's east-facing window had felt like jagged pieces of glass piercing his eyes. He desperately wanted to move to the windowless comfort of his bedroom, but Aiden didn't trust his wobbly legs to carry him that far. After gently cradling his head in his hands to steady himself, and to keep the room from spinning, Aiden softly called out for his house-elf, Ruby.
A small grey elf wearing a deep crimson pinafore dress quickly appeared by his side with an almost silent 'pop'. Whispering softly so as not to add to her master's self-induced misery, she asked, "How can Ruby be of service to you, Master Aiden?"
Not daring to reopen his eyes, he slowly turned his head towards the general direction of the elf's voice and croaked out his stilted instructions. "Hangover Cure....water...Nutrition potion....plain toast." The little house-elf quietly disappeared from the sitting room and returned moments later with the requested items on an elegant silver tray. Aiden felt the soft touch of Ruby's hand on his arm that signaled she had returned and cautiously lifted his head and held out his hand for the first potion. Ruby gently placed the phial into his open palm and immediately handed her master the glass of water to help cleanse the unpleasant taste of the mixture from his parched mouth. "Thank you, Ruby," he whispered. "What would I ever do without you."
The young elf rolled her eyes before huffing at her master "You would probably starve to death, sir." Aiden mock glared at Ruby. She was right, though. He could only manage to make beans on toast or scrambled eggs without setting something on fire. He groaned at the mere thought of food until the hangover potion finally kicked in to settle his throbbing head and upset stomach. Thank Merlin for whoever created that miraculous concoction, even if it did taste like dirty socks and fermented thestral dung.
Sighing his relief, Aiden quickly downed the nutrition potion and began to nibble at a piece of toast. "Is there anything else Ruby can get for you, sir?" asked the hopeful elf. She was happy that her master was feeling better, but was still concerned that he relied too much on supplemental elixirs rather than real food. "Just the morning paper and some tea, please," he replied.
Just as Ruby popped away, a large brown post-owl arrived and began impatiently tapping on the sitting room window. Gingerly making his way across the room on slightly less shaky legs, Aiden hastily opened the casement to allow the annoyingly persistent bird inside to deliver its message. Taking the wax-sealed envelope from the feathered nuisance, he gave it an owl treat for its trouble and tried to send it on its way, but the stubborn creature refused to leave and remained firmly attached to its improvised perch on the back of Aiden's wingback chair.
Frowning, Aiden began to open the missive. Whoever had sent it was expecting a return reply.
Aiden looked down at the letter in his hands and growled to himself, 'Why does that loathsome woman want to meet with me now?' Just two weeks prior, he had the displeasure of running into the pink nightmare known as Dolores Umbridge at a Ministry fundraiser. She had recently been promoted to the office for The Control and Regulation of Magical Creatures and was shamelessly using the event to try and gain support for her proposal to restrict lycanthropes from access to basic medical care. And, now, this harpy actually commanded a private meeting with him to further discuss his stance on the upcoming vote for her offensive bill - as if he hadn't already made it painfully clear to her that night just what he thought of her vile project.
"Ruby!" he bellowed. The little house-elf popped into view. "Yes, Master Aiden, how can Ruby help?"
"Bring some ink, parchment and a quill from my study, please." Ruby politely nodded and quickly fetched the called for items. "Is there anything else that you need, Master?"
"Yes. I suddenly find that I have an appetite. Please bring a fresh pot of tea and a full English breakfast." Ruby was elated. Her master had that tell-tale gleam in his eyes that meant mischief was about to happen, usually, at the expense of some deserving twit who tried to push him into doing something he found particularly distasteful. With a loud pop, she quickly returned to the kitchen and set about preparing Aiden's meal. Things were about to get interesting for her master's target.
By the time the little elf returned with breakfast, Aiden had finished writing his regretful declination to Madam Umbridge's suspicious invitation. A satisfied smirk formed at the corner of his mouth and an entirely too-pleased-with-himself glimmer sparked in his eyes. 'She won't know what hit her.'
After securing the missive with a crimson ribbon, Aiden placed a protective charm over the parchment so that no one but Umbridge could open the thing, and more importantly, only she would experience the full effect of the spell embedded in the ink. Plus, once the message was read and the veiled enchantment took hold, the parchment would disintegrate leaving nothing to trace.
"Well," said Dot as she walked into the sitting room. "It seems someone is feeling much better this morning."
A mischievous grin broke across Aiden's face. "Okay," she said. "I know I will probably regret asking this but, what did you do?" Not that Dot was complaining. Anything that could make her boss this happy this early in the day couldn't be all that bad. At least, she hoped it wasn't.
After giving Dot a feigned look of annoyance, Aiden decided it was only fair that she was in on his schemes for Madam Umbridge, after all, she had witnessed the heated exchange between himself and that odious witch the night of the Ministry gala.
"I have something special planned for a particularly unpleasant pink shrew. Have you every heard of the Detego Verus Voluntas charm?" he asked. Both of Dot's eyebrows suddenly shot up towards her hairline at his question. She knew it was a little used grey magic enchantment as the spell would alter the subject's outward appearance to reflect their inner nature - sometimes permanently if these qualities were exceptionally malicious.
Getting over her initial surprise, Dot began to chuckle. "What form do you think Madam Umbridge will take?" she asked.
"My guess is that she'll be something suitably disgusting. Perhaps, a hag fish or a toad?" Aiden suggested, his eyes glittering wickedly.
"Whatever she becomes," said Dot, "I hope the effects stay in place long enough for her to learn whatever lesson you intend to teach her."
"Knowing that vicious harridan, it probably won't make any difference, but, in the meantime, it'll still be rather entertaining for the rest of us" he smirked.
As he watched the brown post-owl take flight with it's special delivery, Aiden couldn't help but laugh to himself.
O, yes, this was going to a rather pleasant day, after all.
detego - uncover, reveal, unmask
verus - true, actual, real
voltuntas - inclination, desposition
About an hour later, Aiden received an amusing letter from Amelia regaling him with the woeful tale of the odious Madam Umbridge. 'Can you believe that someone was finally brazen enough to hex that pink harpy? Not that we here at the DoM and DMLE don't applaud their creativity, but it makes looking directly at her rather difficult without wanting to laugh in her face. You would have thought that she'd have taken extra precautions with her correspondence given the amount of hate mail she's received over her latest proposal on werewolf restrictions. Pity that. In the meantime, the healers at St.Mungo's have recommended that she take a leave of absence until their curse breakers can find a way to reverse or, at least, lessen some of her more pronounced metamorphosis. Aurors Shacklebolt and Moody haven't been able to trace the source of the spell, but they were instructed by the Minister himself to do everything possible to track down the person or persons behind her pink toadiness and bring them to justice for assaulting a ministry official. (Yeah, good luck with that I say.) Oh, to have been a fly on the wall to see this hex unfold. It was simple, yet elegant. But, I don't think Dolores would appreciate my take on the matter. I'll meet you after work for drinks at the Three Broomsticks. Until then, enjoy the pensive memory I sent with this letter to peruse at your leisure.
Dot was startled a few moments later when she heard an unfamiliar noise coming from her boss's sitting room. As she hurried toward the commotion with her wand drawn, she stopped short at the sight of Mr. DeVilla leaning against a wall for support and doubled over. At first, she thought he was in pain but, it soon became clear that he was laughing almost to the point of losing his breath. Aiden looked up as Dot entered the room and gestured with a wave of his hand to the nearby pensive without saying anything, not that he could have managed a single word at this point. Moments later, Dot was joining her boss in a fit of laughter. Neither could speak for a good ten minutes.
"Merlin!" declared Dot when they finally regained their composure. "I never knew you to be such an imp, boss" she said with a playful glint in her eyes.
With a particularly wicked grin, Aiden replied "My dear, you have no idea."
The rest of the week was fairly peaceful. No surprises, no annoying invitations, just perfectly calm and utterly boring. It was a pleasant change to Aiden, but tedious for Dot. Fortunately, the weekend finally arrived and she soon found herself settling into her new room at the Grangers. Hermione was thrilled to have another bookworm like her in the house, not that her parents weren't both avid readers, too, but Dot was on a whole other level of academic interests. She planned to have activities each day for the little girl centered around a specific genre and today's was fantasy.
Along with reading 'The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe', Dot and Hermione created costumes from a box of old clothes and scrap cloth and dressed up as their favorite characters from the book. Oddly enough, Hermione chose to be the White Witch while Dot was Aslan. When she asked Hermione about this, Hermione shyly grinned and said "I want to pretend to do magic." Dot had to choke back a snort at her answer but, covered it with another question. "What would you do if you really had magic?" Hermione's eyes lit up and she replied without hesitation, "I would make it snow during summer so people wouldn't be so grumpy from the heat." Dot smiled and continued, "Some people like the summer because they love to go swimming, what if they didn't like it if you made it snow?" Hermione frowned for a moment, she hadn't thought about that.
Dot could almost see the gears turning as Hermione bit her bottom lip and mulled over the problem. It was like the proverbial light bulb going off as Hermione looked up at Dot with a beaming smile. "I could make a special park. People could choose their favorite season to happen only there!" she stated.
"That's an interesting idea, Hermione. Very creative," Dot replied. "Perhaps you could draw me a picture of what it would look like?"
The little girl squeaked with delight. Aside from reading, drawing and painting were next on her list of favorite things to do. As she scurried about gathering up paper, pencils and paints, Dot watched her young charge with amusement. Then, she quietly gasped when the child glanced back at her. Hermione's whiskey-amber eyes were glowing like fireflies and her brunette curls were writhing about as if they had a life of their own.
'Well, bugger me' thought Dot. She had seen only one other person's eyes flare-up in such a manner and that was her boss.
It was now Sunday evening and Dot was pacing in her room. She knew she had to wait until the Drs. Granger left for work on Monday in order to safely conduct the Prosapia test without the risk of being discovered, but time was passing too slowly for her and it left her feeling antsy. If only she had one of those Time-Turners that the DoM had perfected over the summer, but those were kept under strict lock-and-key. The only reason Dot even knew about them was through her boss and his growing friendship with Amelia Bones. She had been with them that day in the lower levels of the Ministry when an overly excited researcher from the Time Room had come running out into the hallway with the small hour-glass shaped device in his hands and babbling that "it works...it's perfect...we could change everything". Amelia had to modify everyone's memories over the incident to keep that bit of information and the gadget's existence a secret, but the Obliviate hadn't worked, at least, not on her. Dot still remembered everything (well, mostly everything), in particular, how Mr. DeVilla's eyes had shifted from a warm brown to a glowing amber. Just like Hermione's had done earlier that day when she was happily describing her imaginary park. 'They have to be related,' she thought, but she wouldn't voice this theory to DeVilla. She didn't want to give him false hope in case there was another cause for Hermione's changing eye color.
Sighing to herself, Dot finally gave up stalking about the small room and tried to settle her mind with a bit of 'light' reading. It wasn't long before the dry-as-dust formulas of her university chemistry texts had her sliding down into the soft comforts of her bed and drifting off to sleep.
Dot was just getting to the good part of a rather erotic dream when her fantasy lover was chased away by the obnoxious clanging of her Muggle alarm clock. Scowling at the interruption, she smacked the offending device to shut it off and scrubbed a hand over her face. After stretching out the kinks in her limbs, Dot began getting ready for the day. Hopefully, she thought, this would be the last time she had to administer this potion.
After a brisk shower, Dot dressed in some comfortable leggings and a soft, long-sleeved t-shirt and quietly headed downstairs to the kitchen for a light breakfast. She was warmly greeted by Jeanne, David and Hermione as they puttered about the place getting in a quick read of the morning papers over a plate of scrambled eggs and toast. After engaging in a bit of small talk over some local news, they gave Dot some last minute instructions for the day. No sugary treats for Hermione, at which the little girl mock-pouted, and a reminder that a plumber was expected in to replace the kitchen disposal around ten that morning. Glancing at the clock on the wall, the Grangers said their goodbyes to Hermione and Dot, quickly finished their cups of tea and scrambled out the door.
Once her parents were out of sight, Dot turned to her eager young charge and asked "What should we do to entertain ourselves until Mr. Davis arrives, hnm?"
Hermione rolled her eyes at the young woman. "Why, read of course." she stated.
Dot chuckled as she turned and discretely pulled a shrunken copy of 'The Princess Bride' from a hidden pocket and enlarged it. "As you wish."
Dot had never wanted to hex a Muggle so much until she met the Granger's handyman, Mr. Davis. How could anyone believe that suggesting that she could benefit from a 'good cleaning of her pipes' was being charming? Just, no. Merlin, she'd need a bottle of firewhiskey or maybe some bleach to scrub that lewd proposition from her brain. Worse still, the crass git had said this in front of Hermione. Of course, the little girl didn't understand the man's brazen intentions, she merely thought he was just being nice to her fellow bookworm. 'Deep breaths,' Dot told herself. 'Only a few more minutes and he'll be gone.' But, it was becoming increasingly more difficult for her to not curse the pervy bastard with something permanent like a glow-in-the-dark tattoo across his forehead that said 'arsehole'. Thankfully, the obnoxious twit was saved from Dot's growing ire by an urgent call out to another client. "Duty calls," Mr. Davis said suggestively as he stepped closer to Dot and stared down at her chest. Licking his lips he added "Maybe, we could meet up later for drinks and get.....better acquainted?".
Dot glared at the clueless dunderhead as she shoved him out of the house. With a vicious grin she hissed, "Please save your breath. You'll probably need it to blow up your next date." Before the gobsmacked man could respond, she slammed the door in his face nearly hitting his nose in the process. Taking a few steadying breaths to calm herself, Dot then scrambled about securing the place with wandless privacy wards on top of the Muggle locks. That idiot had wasted too much of her precious time already and she needed to ensure that she wasn't disturbed for the next hour while she readied the Prosapia potion for Hermione.
What she failed to notice as she moved from room to room was that Mr. Davis had not left the Granger's property. As soon as Dot had shut the front door on him, he had stalked over to the small side garden between the house and detached garage and Disallusioned himself. Oh, yes, he knew that Dot was a witch the moment he had stepped foot into the kitchen. Her magic had felt like a warm caress against his polyjuiced skin. Now, he just had to make sure she wasn't a threat to the child that he had been tasked to guard these past two years. And, if she wasn't....well, he definitely wanted to get to know this feisty woman better.
After a light lunch, Dot settled Hermione down for her afternoon nap. Once she knew the little girl was sound asleep, Dot tip-toed over to Hermione's bed and gently plucked out a few curly strands of the child's hair, careful to get a few with the follicle still attached. Now all Dot had to do was add these to the potion she had brewed last night in her room and place a drop of the completed mixture onto a piece of parchment. Saying a silent prayer, Dot got to work.
Dot glared down at the paper in her hands. Something was seriously wrong. She had never seen the Prosapia potion fail to register the results of a person's lineage until just moments ago. Dot had even rebrewed the mixture in case she had accidently contaminated the first batch. She had also tried a different paper stock in case the original parchment had been tainted with stray materials while stored in her backpack. But, the outcome had been the same. Nothing, well almost nothing, had shown up as the potion was droppered onto the pages. Looking down at the two pieces of parchment she reread the identical slim details.....'Baby Girl - born 19 September 1979.....Mother (unknown), Father (unknown).
How was she going to explain this to her boss?
After pacing about the Granger's home for what seemed like an hour, Dot finally stopped in her tracks and let out a heavy sigh. 'No sense putting this off any longer' Dot whispered to herself as she pulled out her mobile and sent a brief message to Mr. DeVilla's secured line. 'It's done. There's a problem. We need to meet now!' She knew it was somewhat cryptic, but it couldn't be helped. He needed to see the puzzling results for himself and sooner rather than later.
Aiden wasted no time disallusioning himself and apparating to the pub alley near the Granger's home after he received Dot's message. Pulling his mobile from his shirt pocket, he sent a brief memo to let her know that he had arrived and would be at there within minutes.
Dot opened the front door and stepped outside pretending to collect the mail from the drop box leaving the way clear for DeVilla to slip into the house. As soon as she felt her magically concealed boss breeze past, she hurried back inside and secured the door. Aiden quickly dropped his spell and shimmered into view. 'Well," he said, somewhat irritated. "What's the issue and why couldn't it wait until our scheduled meeting this evening?"
When she handed the results to Mr. DeVilla, he just stared down at the parchment his face suddenly devoid of emotion. Dot thought it was merely the quiet before the storm, but she couldn't have anticipated what happened next. When his eyes finally lifted from the paper, she saw that they were glistening with unshed tears. He then let out a sudden whoop of excitement and pulled Dot into a bone crushing hug, saying 'thank you' over and over again. For the life of her, she couldn't see how these few words would be cause for celebration.
Looking at the confused expression on Dot's face, Aiden laughed. "I'm sorry," he chuckled. "You had no way of knowing just how remarkable these precious words are to me." She arched a questioning eyebrow at him. "My family's genealogcical records and the Ministry's files have almost identical jargon with regards to my grand-niece!" he explained. "Now, where is she?"
"She's napping right now, sir, unless your outburst woke her up," Dot huffed. Gently placing a hand on his arm, she continued. "I know you're convinced that this is the child you've been searching for all this time, but we need to make absolutely sure before we turn her world upside down."
Scrubbing a hand over his face, Aiden's demeanor rapidly shifted from hopeful to guarded."You're right, of course" he conceded. "I can't claim this girl as family without proof."
"How do you plan to do that without a definitive lineage test?" asked Dot.
"With another Prosapia test, of course" Aiden replied. "Only, this time I will add some of my magic directly into the mix. It's the only way to ensure a familial magic connection since the usual bloodline matching methods were deliberately blocked in order to conceal her identity."
Biting back her question of why someone would want to do such a thing, Dot set to work brewing the last of her ingredients into a fresh potion. Once completed, Aided stepped up next to the small pewter cauldron, dipped his left index finger into the lightly bubbling fluid and began muttering a spell under his breath. Dot's eyes widened at this as the hot liquid should have instantly blistered the man's skin, but it hadn't seemed to phase him in the slightest. 'The incantation he's using probably contains an Impervious, at least, I would hope so.' she thought with an involuntary shudder.
As she watched, the potion began to take on a silver-blue hue before it settled back into it's usual crimson appearance. "Give it another five minutes to make sure my magic is fully infused with the potion before putting it onto the parchment" instructed Aiden. Looking over at Dot, he could see that she was focused on the unburned state of his finger. "Cooling charm with a light protection spell" he lied as he flexed his unblemished digit. He had kept his family heritage from her all this time, no sense in revealing it now.
The five minutes passed in silence as neither Aiden nor Dot wanted to engage in small talk. Both were too nervous contemplating what would happen once this last analysis was done. As Dot's Tempus alert chimed, it startled them out of their reverie and they turned their attentions back to the task at hand. With slightly trembling hands, Dot took the pipette from the makeshift work station and dipped it into the now cooled mixture. Aiden handed her a new sheet of parchment and she whispered a 'fingers crossed' before she droppered the potion onto the page.
As the crimson fluid left the end of the pipette, the small teardrop seemed to hover in mid-air for ages before it finally made contact with the waiting parchment with a soft splat.
Dot and Aiden watched the familiar lines of information begin to bloom across the page,then, before their anxious gazes, a pale violet shimmer of magic flared across the meager details before sinking down into the paper.
Everything quickly went pear-shaped after that. During the seconds that Aiden's thoughts were preoccupied with the newly emerging words on the page, Dot's attentions were drawn away by the unexpected appearance of a small figure entering the room. Hermione had woken from her nap just minutes before and set out to find her new friend. She quietly wandered downstairs to the kitchen and stopped dead in her tracks as she spotted Dot with a strangely dressed man staring intently at something on the dining table. Hermione's sudden gasp startled Aiden from his concentration, but when he realized just who had made the sound, his look of concern gave way to a warm smile.
Moments later, an explosion rocked the Granger's home shattering several windows and splintering the front door. Hermione shrieked in distress and attached herself to Dot's left leg. The protective wards that Dot had previously set were forcefully brought down, snapping like overly wound elastic bands. Before the shields failed, Aiden snatched the parchment off the table and crumpled it into an inner pocket of his waistcoat then turned with his wand drawn to face whoever threatened the safety of everyone in the room. Dot instinctively grabbed Aiden with one arm and pulled Hermione tighter to her side with the other and attempted to side-along the three of them to an emergency safe house, but nothing happened. Whoever was behind this intrusion had set up anti-apparition wards. Aiden chanced a quick side-glance at Dot and she gave a slight nod in return. While he hurriedly replaced the defensive barriers, Dot vanished the remains of the Prosapia mixture and lab equipment from the kitchen. No sense in letting anyone discover the real purpose of their visit.
With Hermione now gathered into her arms, Dot hurriedly made a beeline towards the stairs with Aiden casting additional layers of protective spells behind them in an attempt to hold back their still unseen attacker. Just as Dot moved onto the bottom step, a bright flair of magic struck the new shields. The force of impact was strong enough to knock them to their knees, but the wards held for the moment. Aiden snapped out a Patronus charm and sent an urgent summons to Amelia for help while mentally kicking himself for not remembering before now to do so.
As the trio continued to climb the staircase, they felt a powerful wave of malicious magic descend over the house. Looking back, they saw a tall figure partially shrouded in a black mist step through the broken front doorway and glare up at them with piercing blue eyes. In a voice as cold as the grave he demanded "Give the child to me willingly and I promise to make your deaths swift and painless."
Without taking his eyes off the glowering wizard in the front doorway, Aiden whispered so only Dot could hear, "Take Hermione and get her out one of the upstairs windows and find Amelia. She will take you to a secured location and protect the both of you."
"What about you sir?" Dot quietly replied.
"I'll keep this bastard preoccupied for as long as I can. Don't wait for me. Just go," he said. With a murmured "Good luck", Dot turned and hurried up the last few steps with Hermione tightly gripped in her arms, all the while praying to any gods listening that the hostile wizard downstairs didn't have reinforcements waiting outside.
Aiden took a steading breath before growling through clenched teeth at the older wizard who threatened them, "That child's my family and You. Can't. Have her!"
Cold blue eyes stared back at Aiden. He wasn't used to anyone defying him. His ultimatums and menacing appearance usually had people falling at his feet pleading for mercy, but, not these people. It was a complication he hadn't foreseen and it irritated him. A low hiss escaped his throat as he glared at the obstinate man on the stairs. "Have it your way," he snarled as he cast a vicious Slicing hex at Aiden.
Fortunately, his protective wards held giving Aiden time to reach the top landing. Looking about quickly to make sure Dot and Hermione were no longer in sight, he let his glamours fall. Grinning wickedly, Aiden turned the full force of his fire mage energy onto the unsuspecting wizard. Time to give this jumped up pipsqueak a rude awakening.
Dot moved swiftly through Hermione's bedroom over to the far corner and carefully peered out the bay window. She let out a deep sigh. There was no one waiting for them in the small garden behind the Granger home. Looking down at the little girl, she said, "We're going to play a new game today." Hermione's looked up at Dot with questioning eyes, but didn't utter a sound. "We're going to pretend to be light as feathers and glide to the ground, okay?" Hermione just nodded. She'd do anything that her friend asked if it meant escaping from the angry man with blue eyes.
"Ready, Hermione?" After another silent nod from the girl trembling in her arms, Dot opened the casement and muttered Aresto Momentum under her breath and stepped out into thin air. True to her word, the two slowly drifted towards the garden as gently as dandelion fluff floating on a summer breeze. It would have been fun if it wasn't for the crazy man in the house.
Hermione opened her mouth as if to ask a question, but instead stifled a scream when another stranger popped up out of nowhere in front of them. Dot startled at the person's appearance, but quickly relaxed and lowered her wand. "Morgan! You git!" she exclaimed. "I could have hexed you into next week for scaring me like that!
"Well, hello to you, too," smirked the unrepentant agent. He quickly added, "Amelia and a handful of aurors are handling things inside while I get you two out of here during the confusion." Holding out his arm, his laughing eyes suddenly shifted to a look of quiet urgency. "Hang on tight, we don't have much time."
Dot started to grasp his wrist when another loud explosion shook the ground and air around them. Looking back she saw a small mushroom cloud of black smoke and orange flames rise through the newly formed breach in the roof. "Take my hand!" Morgan commanded. "We have to leave, now!"
Without another thought, Dot placed her shaking hand into his outstretched palm. As his calloused fingers closed around hers, the twisting sensation of Apparition whisked the trio away from the carnage and the only home Hermione had ever known.
Aiden lay on the small cot within the Ministry holding cell staring at the ceiling. His wand arm still wrapped in healing bandages and his face devoid of the emotions churning in his gut. Two days ago his world had completely changed and not all for the better. His battle with the maniacal wizard at the Granger residence had turned in his favor, much to the surprise of the irate blue-eyed man. But, in mere moments, everything had gone horribly wrong.
The Drs. Granger had been contacted by neighbors and told that there had been a gas explosion in their home and that emergency crews were called. They cancelled their appointments for the afternoon and had left in a blind panic, unable to reach Dot on her mobile to find out if she and Hermione were okay. When they arrived, they quickly looked around for their missing child and au pair. Not seeing them among the gathered onlookers or with the waiting ambulance team, they slipped past the fire brigade in the confusion and rushed through the broken wreckage of the front door. It was the last thing they would ever do on this side of the veil as the second explosion ripped through the house.
Amelia was wrapping up some dreaded paperwork for the Minister's departmental meeting scheduled for the next morning when Aiden's frantic patronus found her. Rushing out her office door, she found Agent Morgan in the planning room with Unspeakable Barnaby and Aurors Moody and Jones going over details of the planned raid on a warehouse where Dark artifacts were being smuggled into Wizarding Britain. "Drop everything and come with me!" she ordered. "I just received a distress call from DeVilla. He's just located his missing niece and is under attack by an unknown person or persons trying to kidnap her." Without hesitation, they Disapparated as a group and Disallusioned themselves as soon as they arrived at the Muggle address Aiden sent. There were too many people rushing about at the front of the residence to completely avoid being bumped into, so Amelia had them split into teams to enter through the blasted out windows on either side of the home. She and Barnaby would take the East, Moody and Jones the West, while Morgan would position himself in the back garden in case anyone tried to leave from the windows at the rear of the house. They were all on high alert and on edge. Over the past two years, they had all become well acquainted with the prickly Mr. DeVilla and ever since that horrific day at St. Mungo's, they all had volunteered some of their free time following up on any leads trying to help him find the kidnapped child. On a prearranged signal, the group cautiously moved into the home.
Two large, gruff-looking Aurors approached the holding cell containing the silently brooding Aiden. "Stand up and hold your hands out through the bars," growled one of the wizards. Aiden let out a deep sigh. Finally, he would get his chance to tell the Ministry officials his side of the story. Gingerly, he got to his feet and slowly stumble walked over to the guards. As soon as he presented his hands through the bars, the one Auror placed magic-dampening cuffs onto his wrists while the other kept his wand pointed at their haggard-looking prisoner. "Is this really necessary?" Aiden asked as he looked at the offending restraints. "It's not like I have the energy to escape, you know." The second guard snarled at DeVilla, "Shut up, you bastard! If it was up to us, you wouldn't be leaving this place after what you did to Moody and Jones."
Aiden knew better than to respond. He couldn't afford to be delayed for any impromptu 'questioning' by these two oafs. He had to remain patient and make it to the open court before the Wizengamot. The testimony he had to give would be a shock to the assembly, but he didn't care. They had to know the truth about the threat that the Wizarding World was facing and he was going to give it to them whether they liked it or not.
When Morgan and his two side-along passengers arrived in the sitting room of the DoM safe house, Hermione let out a loud squawk of surprise and then promptly vomited all over Dot's shoes and the hardwood floor. She felt loads better, but was upset that she had just ruined her friend's new trainers. Seeing the distress on Hermione's face, Dot assured the little girl that everything was okay and quickly vanished the mess with a swift flick of her wand. Hermoine gasped at the sight and stared at Dot with owlishly wide eyes before wrapping her arms around her friend's neck in a tight hug.
"What's that for?," Dot whispered as she pulled out of the little girl's grasp and looked down at Hermione's face. What she saw caused Dot's breath to catch in her throat. In the semi-darkness of the sitting room, Hermione's eyes had been glowing like two small fireflies. She had seen this once before, but now, the little girl's irises were swirling about like a Muggle kaleidoscope. The gleaming amber gave way to vibrant blues, greens, reds, and silver but, in less than a heartbeat, they settled into an extraordinary shade of violet with flecks of gold and emerald green. Well, that was....unexpected.
Unaware that she was the cause of Dot's confusion, Hermione simply beamed at her friend. "I just knew you were special like me. He's, too," Hermione said, pointing over at Morgan.
"Yes, we are," smirked Morgan - as if it were an everyday occurrence for a child's eyes to morph in such a manner. "Sorry, we didn't have time for proper introductions earlier." Taking the little girl's right hand in his, he bowed politely and said "Unspeakable Manfred Morgan at your service young lady and what might your name be, hrmm?"
Hermione giggled and awkwardly bowed back, "My name's Hermione Granger."
"Well, it's a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance, Miss Granger," Morgan replied. "Now, let's get you both settled in here before I report back to the Boss."
The tour of the secret-kept cottage didn't take long. It was a simple one-story affair with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small sitting room, a kitchenette and dining area. The pantry and cooling cabinet were well stocked with canned and fresh foods and there was a small, tree-lined garden at the back of the house that could be accessed through the French doors off the sitting room. It was a quiet, calming place in the middle of nowhere, although, where exactly this bit of nowhere was located was only known to a handful of people in the DoM.
As Morgan turned to take his leave, Dot grabbed his arm. "I need to ask you a huge favor," Dot whispered so that only he could hear. Nervously looking down at the little girl still in her arms, she continued, "Please don't mention anything about Hermione's….unique changes to anyone until I've had a chance to discuss things with her uncle."
Morgan frowned but, after seeing the desperation in Dot's eyes, he relented. "I will try to bring Mr. DeVilla to you straight away and attempt to delay turning over my incident report for Amelia. At most, this will give you an hour to speak with him. It's the best I can do."
"Thank you," said Dot. "You won't regret it."
Morgan rolled his eyes at the witch. He was already regretting it. There was a slim chance Amelia wouldn't hex him into next week, but he wouldn't take bets on it. With a slight bow to the grateful witch, Morgan twisted on his heel and Disapparated.
By the time Morgan apparated back to the Granger home, the bloody skirmish was over, but the chaos that followed was only just getting started. To describe it as a total disaster would be putting it mildly. For the moment, all Morgan could do was take in the smoking ruins of the Granger's house and shake his head in disbelief. 'What in Merlin's name could have caused this kind of damage in such a short amount of time?' Morgan thought.
As he pulled himself out of his reverie, Morgan spotted Auror Morse, the ranking DMLE Agent on scene. Walking over to the Agent, Morgan carefully removed his DoM credentials from a hidden pocket in his waistcoat and identified himself to the disheveled looking wizard. After a few brief introductions, Morgan gave the agent-in-charge and the investigative squad a carefully edited account of his teams' actions prior to his taking Dot and Hermione into protective custody. In turn, Morse brought Morgan up to speed on what had happened after his departure. With each fact presented, the color in Morgan's face drained a bit more until he was as pale as milk.
Hermione's parents and Auror Jones had been killed instantly, three Muggle firefighters were in critical condition from blast trauma, Unspeakables Bones and Barnaby and Auror Moody had survived but were currently at St. Mungo's being treated for multiple injuries - Bones and Barnaby for burns and concussions while Moody was in a magically induced coma as his healers attempted to save his left eye and leg. To add to the confusion, some of the Granger's neighbors were convinced that the destruction was caused by a mail bomb, having remembered seeing a 'dodgy looking package' sitting near the front door shortly before the first explosion, and they had been talking to the gathered press about their suspicions. That is, until the Ministry Oblivate teams arrived and modified their memories giving them all the impression that it was simply a gas leak that had gotten out of hand and led to these tragic events.
Adding insult to injury, the DMLE had taken Aiden DeVilla into custody and charged him with a variety of crimes, including, one count of murder for the death of Auror Jones. Aiden had only made things more complicated when he refused to give a statement until he had a hearing before a fully convened Wizengamot.
'What are you playing at, Aiden?', grumbled Morgen to himself. 'What could possibly be worth the risk of The Dementor's Kiss?'
It had taken over an hour to get the fire and the onlookers under control but, in all that time, none of the Muggle neighbors mentioned to the local authorities that the Grangers had a little girl and that she was missing and that was even before their memories had been altered by the Obliviators. Morgan had thought it slightly odd at the time, but put it down to the near mass hysteria triggered by the bombing rumors. Despite this reasoning, Morgan couldn't shake the niggling feeling in the back of his mind that something or someone else was behind this anomaly.
Morgan let out a frustrated sigh. It had been two whole days since the explosions and fire and things were looking progressively worse for Aiden DeVilla. Unspeakables Amelia Bones and John Barnaby had no recollection of what happened after they entered the Granger home and Auror Alastor Moody couldn't remember anything from the past week. And, although Dot willingly left the DoM safe house to give evidence about the man who attacked her, DeVilla and Hermione, she hadn't witnessed who caused the second devastating blast inside the house.
With the disappearance of the mystery wizard, and the Wizarding public demanding that the Ministry take action, the whole matter was going to fall squarely onto DeVilla's shoulders.
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(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lord Lucius Malfoy, preening peacock extraordinaire, looked down at the urgent missive he had received from the Minister of Magic the day before and scowled. A mandatory meeting of the Wizengamot, indeed, he scoffed. Of course, he had heard the rumors from his contacts within the Ministry, but he hadn't given it much thought. Why should he care if some Muggles had gotten themselves killed in a magic-related incident? It's not as if he could do anything about it. Besides, he had much more important things to do than to listen to the insipid pleadings of the wizard that was being charged with the crime. But, Lucius was also a practical man. He would use this event to his advantage to mingle with a select few of his fellow attendees before the proceedings and, perhaps, secure a number of lucrative contracts for Malfoy Industries research division. Yes, it would be the perfect way to endure this tedious dog-and-pony show.
He couldn't have been more pleased to have his presumptions proved wrong.
Aiden struggled to keep his balance as the two burly Aurors half-dragged him towards the imposing black marble chair in the center of the cathedral-ceilinged room. It looked as cold as he felt in that moment. Odd, that, considering his mage form. Huffing out a sigh, he chanced a look up at the sea of crimson-robed members of the Wizangamot seated about the space on raised benches. From his perspective, he could see that most of them were watching with a fierce satisfaction as he was roughly pushed onto the uncomfortable seat and quickly shackled into place. He couldn't see a single empathetic face amongst the crowd staring back at him. Not that he had expected as much. He was, after all, already guilty in their eyes.
Darker errant thoughts began to flit through Aiden's mind as he fought to maintain his self-control but, as he felt the heavier suppression cuffs and chains start to shut down his connection to his magical core the worst of his fears pushed to the surface. Would his glamours hold long enough for him to get through this day or would his secret be unveiled for all of the world to see and judge?. 'Just don't panic and you'll be fine', Aiden told himself. 'Yeah, right. Like that's ever worked before'.
While he bowed his head and attempted to refocus himself before the Minister's opening pronouncements, Aiden didn't see the small contingent of people settling into the seats reserved for family and friends of the accused. He would have lost his composure if he had.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Supreme Mugwump of the ICW and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot looked down from his throne-like chair at the disheveled wizard who was at the center of the latest deadly interaction between the magical and Muggle worlds with a self-satisfied smirk. Firmly gripping the thick evidence file in his left hand, he was confident that by the end of today this one persistent thorn in his side would finally be removed - permanantly.
Fortunately for Aiden, Magic was about to throw a well placed spanner into Dumbledore's schemes.
Amelia, Morgan, Dot, and a prudently glamoured Hermione moved quietly past the ornate double-doors leading into the Wizangamot chambers and sat down in the reserved section next to the other members of the DMLE and DoM. Barnaby greeted them with a tight smile and whispered that Alastor would be joining them shortly, that is, if he could get the 'sodding mediwitches to leave him be' long enough for him to sneak out of the Spell-Damage ward at St. Mungo's.
Dot's heart warmed at the sight of so many people openly showing support for her boss. If only he would look up. He needed to know that not everyone believed him to be a murderer.
Hermione was looking about the large room taking in the bizarrely dressed people. "They are witches and wizards, too, like me and Morgan," explained Dot when she noticed her charge's curious expressions. Dot had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing when Hermione looked back at her with a skeptically raised eyebrow. "They really are like us," Dot insisted with a smile. Hermione shook her head and continued her people-watching, but her wandering gaze abruptly stopped as she spotted the same man that she had seen talking in her home with her friend. What was his name? Oh, yes. Aiden. Watching him more closely, Hermione could see the tension in his shoulders and the ragged state of his clothes. What had happened to this brave person who had saved her and Dot from that crazy, blue-eyed wizard? Just then, Hermione noticed the restraints confining Aiden to the marble chair. She frowned. This wasn't right. Don't these people know he had protected her without a second thought? She turned her eyes towards the crimson-robed people and saw them looking at Aiden like he was something unpleasant stuck to the bottoms of their shoes. Were they going to punish him for helping her and Dot? The longer she mulled things over, the angrier she got.
And, the angrier she got, the more wild her hair became until it seemed nigh sentient. She wasn't aware of it, but Dot, Morgan, and Amelia definitely noticed as blue light sparked through her curls like bolts of lightning. "Please, little one" soothed Dot. "You need to calm down." Her head snapped up to face Dot and her next words stuck in her throat. The glamour around Hermione's eyes had broken and Dot could see that the girl's irises were again swirling about like a crazed Muggle kaleidoscope. Only now, there were intermittent flashes of light shooting through the pupils in time with the jolts in her hair. 'Bloody hell! What do I do now?' thought Dot.
The Minister of Magic, Mallicent Bagnold*, cast a Sonorous and brought the Wizengamot to order. After reading her preliminary announcement to the full contingent and citing the extensive list of charges being brought against Aiden DeVilla, she turned to the prisoner and asked, "How do you plead?"
"Before we go any further, Madam Minister," said Aiden. "I wish to give my statement under Veritaserum at this time and have access to the Wizangamot's Acroterium pensieve."
"For the record, we need to enter your plea, Mr. DeVilla, before you give any evidence in your defense," interrupted Dumbledore.
"Under normal circumstances, I would agree with you, Albus" stated Bagnold. "But, Mr. DeVilla was assured, through legal counsel, that he could present his formal statement prior to submitting his plea." Turning back to Aiden, she continued, "As according to Wizarding law, three drops of Veritaserum will be administered by a licensed healer or potions master. Do you consent, Mr. DeVilla?"
"Yes," said Aiden.
Motioning with her wand, Bagnold sent a summons for the licensed mediwitch from St. Mungo's to enter the chambers.
After administering the required drops, the healer asked a few baseline questions and checked Aiden's vitals before signaling to the Minister that the serum had taken affect.
"Mr. Aiden DeVilla, do you wish to give a formal account of the events that took place two nights ago at the London residence of the Muggles Jeanne and David Granger?
"Yes, Madam Minister."
"And you do this of your own free will under Veritaserum?"
Lucius stifled a yawn and settled into his seat. This was pointless and a complete waste of a perfectly beautiful day. He could be at home spending quality time with his young son, Draco, or better yet, in bed with his insatiable wife, Narcissa. But, before his mind could blissfully drift off into that lovely image, a flash of blue light caught his eye from the far side of the room. He scowled. Most likely, a photographer with a reporter from The Daily Prophet that snuck in to get a jump on the story. But, as he tried to revisit his rudely interrupted daydream, an even brighter bolt crackled from the reserved section of the visitor's gallery. Hmmmmmm. Clearly, not a photographer. Casting a silent Protego (better safe than sorry), Lucius sat back and focused his attentions towards the area of disturbance. Definitely, not bored now. If only he had a bowl of popped corn to enjoy, too.
*Name of the Minister of Magic for 1980-1990 according to Pottermore website.
Acroterium - projection
"Hermione, please," begged Dot. "We need you to settle down, little one."
"No! They're hurting him! They have to let him go!" As Hermione cried out in frustration, a flash of blue light escaped from her curls catching the notice of several people sitting near her.
"Hermione, look at me," murmured Amelia. "These people are only talking right now. You're friend's perfectly fine."
"But, he's not fine," insisted Hermione. "Can't you see his light's going out?" Stamping her foot in annoyance at the chowderheaded adults around her, an even stronger bolt flared from her fingertips. Unfortunately, that drew the attention of some of the Wizagamot members across the room - including the Minister's and Dumbledore's.
"Shite! We need to get her out of here, now!" hissed Amelia. "Hurry, Morgan, use your emergency portkey."
But, it was too late. Dumbledore had cast a strong ward about the chambers putting the room into lockdown. No one could enter or leave without his permission.
Taking Hermione's hand in his, Morgan quickly reset her glamours and gently pulled her into his chest, hiding her within his large midnight blue cloak. At her surprised squawk, he whispered, "Hush, my little firefly. I will protect you, but you need to remain still and not make a sound."
Dumbledore quickly rose from his chair and secured the Wizangamot chamber with an elaborate flourish from his wand, startling the majority of his colleagues in the process. He then swirled about and glared at the people sitting in the visitor's gallery trying to determine who had caused the disruption to DeVilla's criminal hearing. Albus grimaced when he realized that the Head of the DoM and DMLE was in the middle of the area of disturbance along with two others from her department that he recognized. He wouldn't be surprised if they all three had something to do with the unusual bursts of magic. Not that it really mattered. That troublesome group wouldn't be leaving the courtroom anytime soon. Not until he had them all questioned, preferably under Veritaserum. Or Legilimacy. He didn't particularly care which as long as he got answers.
Aiden felt the surge of magic coming from somewhere behind him. The familiar power of an elemental awakening called to him in a way that was both comforting and frightening at the same time. Turning his head as far as the chains would allow, he caught a glimpse of a child sitting between Amelia and Dot. Aiden saw the shimmers of the glamour and knew it could only be his niece. In a panic, he began to struggle against the heavy restraints. 'No!' he thought. 'Why did they have to bring Hermoine here? It's too soon for her, it's not safe.'
Looking up, he made eye contact with Minister Bagnold. He had only attempted a mental connection one other time with a person who wasn't family and it had left him with a blinding headache, but he was desperate. As gently as he could, Aiden pushed his thoughts towards the Minister. 'Please, for the safety of everyone here, you have to let me out of this chair. I promise not to try and escape, but right now, we don't have much time!" Just as his words reached the Minister's mind, the earth beneath the courtroom began to quake. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Mallicent's attentions were drawn away from the prisoner in the front of her by the intense bursts of magic emanating from the far side of the courtroom. With her concentration trained elsewhere, the Minister was unaware of Dumbledore's actions until she felt his powerful wards slam down around the chambers. As she started to turn about to lecture the brash wizard for his overzealous security measures, her focus was abruptly brought back to the man now struggling on the interrogation seat. As her eyes took in his distraught countenance, she felt his pleading words touch her mind. But, before she could open her mouth to respond, the floor beneath their feet began to pitch about like a wild horse trying to throw its unwanted rider.
A desperate spoken request reached Mallicent's ears this time. "Please Minister!" begged Aiden. "I can stop this, but I have to be freed from these restraints."
With the constantly shifting floor throwing her off balance, the Minister had to grab onto the back of the marble seat to steady herself before she could safely cast Relashio to free Aiden from his binds.
"Go!" she ordered. "Fix this...whatever this is, quickly!"
As soon as the chains released him, Aiden dashed across the undulating floor as fast as he could manage towards Dot and Amelia praying to Merlin and all the gods he could think of that he could reach his niece in time.
Lucius had sat bolt upright in his seat when Dumbledore put the chambers into lockdown. That was....unexpected. But, it was nothing compared to the disconcerting earthquake that erupted moments later. Ordinarily, he would be looking for a place of safety like so many of his colleagues, but something made him stop dead in his tracks. Over the panicked voices of those around him, Lucius heard DeVilla's anguished cry "I can stop this", the Minister's unflinching response to let the man go, and Dumbledore's snarled obscenities aimed at the running wizard before raising his wand to cast at a spell at the unarmed man's back.
To say that Dumbledore was fit to be tied would be putting it mildly. How dare that blasted woman free this wizard when he was so close to ridding himself of the meddlesome pest! Swearing aloud, he moved his hand to launch an Incarcerous at the fleeing prisoner but was stopped by a wand digging into to the back of his neck. "I wouldn't do that if I were you," hissed the voice near his ear. Casting a malevolent sideways glance at the person who deigned to interrupt him, Dumbledore was shocked to see the face of Lucius Malfoy sneering back.
"Since you haven't bothered to notice," continued the irritated blonde, "that man isn't trying to escape. In fact, he's running towards the source of danger. Being a Gryffindor, I would have thought you'd appreciate that type of reckless behavior. Now, tell me, Albus. What is it about this particular wizard that has your knickers in a twist?"
Morgan watched as Aiden staggered his way towards Amelia and Dot as soon as the Minister freed him from his restraints. Turning about so that he was partially facing the other wizard, he slowly drew back just one side of his cloak so that Aiden could see that Hermione was with him instead of the two witches. Aiden changed directions and hurriedly moved past the anxious group of his DMLE supporters to reach the man hiding his niece.
As Aiden knelt down so that he was closer to Hermione's level, Morgan, Amelia, Dot and Barnaby closed ranks about the pair to shield them from prying eyes. Amelia wasn't sure what Aiden was planning on doing to calm Hermione's wild magic outbursts, but she hoped it worked soon as there were now pieces of the ceiling and walls starting to crumble down about them.
Taking a slow calming breath to steady his nerves, Aiden looked down at his niece and gently smiled at her. Carefully, holding both of her hands in his, he whispered, "This is really important, Hermione. I need you to do as I say without asking questions." Seeing the concern on her face, he quickly added, "I promise it's nothing unpleasant and your friends here will be with you the whole time." Looking up at Dot and the others, Hermione saw them nodding their assurances. Turning to Aiden, she beamed. "Okay, I'm ready."
Aiden gazed down at Hermione, cancelled her glamours and promptly bit his tongue to stop his surprised gasp. Sweet Circe, Nimue and Hecate! When he first sensed his niece's magic reaching out to him, and after the floor began to wildly pitch, he was certain that she was destined to become an Earth mage just like her mother. But, instead of the expected green irises, it was a pair of piercing violet eyes staring innocently back at him. Fire and Water. But, there were also flecks of gold and green. Air and Earth. It was an extremely rare occurrence, but it was not unheard of for Elemental Mages to develop a connection with two forces of nature. Hermione, however, was something.....profoundly different. A magical child that shared an affinity to all the aspects of the natural world.
A cold shiver raced down Aiden's spine as a gut-wrenching thought occurred to him. Had the people who kidnapped her as an infant known what she was or what she would become?
Aiden took a second deep breath to refocus his energies and cleared these worrisome thoughts from his mind. He had more pressing concerns to deal with at the moment. Gazing up at the four adults encircling him and Hermione, Aiden sighed heavily, "Before anything else happens, I need all of you to know that I appreciate everything you've done for me. Not just for the past few days, but over the last two years." Swallowing down the knot in his throat, he continued, "that being said, I need to ask all of you to take a wizards oath that you won't reveal to anyone what you're about to experience." To his great relief, Amelia, Morgan, Dot and Barnaby made their vows on their life and magic without hesitation. Once the golden ribbons of their sacred pact appeared around their wand arms and settled beneath their skin, Aiden turned to Amelia and Barnaby. "You two need to maintain the strongest protection and privacy shields you can muster. I must perform a special ritual with Hermione and I can't have the whole Wizangamot witnessing it or trying to interfere." Giving him a quick nod, they immediately set about casting a Protego Maximus and an Obtego Summus over the small group.
As the protective wards fell into place, Aiden turned his attentions back to his niece. Gently squeezing her hands, he whispered,"Now, Hermione. I have a surprise for you and I need you to remain calm." As an afterthought, Aiden looked to Morgan, Dot, and Barnaby and added, "That goes doubly for you lot." The three adults raised their eyebrows at that, but Amelia just smirked and gave him a knowing wink.
Huffing out a shaky breath, Aiden dropped his glamours.
Mallicent had seen Lucius point his wand at Dumbledore and was now carefully making her way across the quaking floor to them. When she finally reached the pair, she heard the barely controlled anger in Malfoy's voice as he spoke to the older wizard. What in Merlin's name had brought this on? True, she had often wanted to hex Dumbledore into next week when he was being a condescending arse, but being a pompous git who believed that only wizards should hold high-security positions in the Ministry wasn't a crime - infuriating, but not illegal. Try as she might, she had never found any grounds to have him legally removed from his elected post as Chief Mugwump. And, although he had overstepped his authority when placing the chambers into lockdown, it wasn't exactly a fireable offense if it was an emergency....unless, it was proved that he intended to cause someone harm. Had Lucius caught Dumbledore in such an act?
Pinching the bridge of her nose to stave off the impending headache, Mallicent groaned. Knowing these two headstrong wizards, it was going to be a nightmare to sort out exactly what happened between them. After throwing a strong Protego over the three of them, Mallicent pointed her wand at the two agitated wizards and cast Expelliarmus. Once both of their captured wands were safely tucked into her robes, Mallicent turned her fiery gaze onto the shocked men and let loose her frustrations.
"What the bloody hell are you two imbeciles doing! We're in the middle of a disaster...walls crumbling down about our ears and you two are having a pissing contest! Now, sit down and shut up and, hopefully, we will all survive this mess."
Amelia had to suppress the urge to laugh at the differences in everyone's reactions to Aiden's true form. Her colleagues were frozen in place as if they had all been hit with a mass Immobulus. Dot was the first to recover and smacked Aiden's arm with her fist. "Oi! How could you keep this secret from me all this time?" she pouted. Her snit lasted all of a minute before she added, "Although, this would explain why you rarely keep the fireplaces lit at your manor." Morgan and Barnaby both remained quiet, neither sure what to ask first. Hermione, however, was overjoyed and reached up to touch his face. "I like you better like this," she beamed. Well...that went better than he expected.
Gently tapping Aiden on the shoulder to get his attention, Amelia smirked,"As amusing as it to finally see Morgan and Barnaby rendered speechless, there's still the pressing matter of setting the room to rights."
"Of course," Aiden replied.
Reaching down to cup Hermione's smiling face with his hands, he whispered,"Now comes the really fun part, Hermione. But, just do as I say. No questions."
"Alright," Hermione nodded.
After placing his left hand over Hermione's heart, Aiden took hers and laid it over the center of his chest. Then he placed their right hands to each others foreheads. "I need you to repeat everything I sing, but remain perfectly still, Hermione." Speaking louder for the others to hear, "from here on out, no one must move or talk....if I lose my concentration, things could get....unpleasant."
Looking into Hermione's eyes, Aiden began to chant**and she sang in response. The sounds meant nothing to the four adults standing watch over the two, but Hermione understood everything.
I am born of the Elements
Earth my Body, Water my Blood, Air my Breath, and Fire my Spirit
As these words were spoken, shimmering orbs of green, blue, gold and red wound their way along Aiden and Hermione's left arms and settled just above their hearts. Hermione's body shivered slightly from the prickling sensations, but she didn't cry out or move as they continued the incantation....
Earth my Body, Soil and Sand, Make me Strong, Heart and Hand
The green orbs hovering at Hermione's chest twitched slightly before breaking into two smaller balls of light...one remained over her chest and the second moved down her arm to perch on her right hand....this caused both Aiden and Hermione to gasp suddenly as the magic levels increased, but neither broke physical contact...eventually, both green orbs settled into her skin.....
Water my Blood, Flowing Strong, Lead me with your Healing Song
When this phrase was done, the blue orb sank down and entered Hermione's heart before it began coursing through her blood stream...the paths it took visible to everyone watching....Hermione was noticeably shaking now, but Aiden pushed on....
Air my Breath, Blowing True, Let my Life, Take Flight in You
The golden orb in front of Hermione shattered into a fine mist and traveled up to her mouth where she inhaled the vapors on her next breath....it was surprisingly pleasant, like sucking in a lungful of fresh air after a summer storm and it helped to ease her tremors, for the moment...
Fire my Spirit, Burning Bright, Lead from Darkness, Into Light
Unlike with the other three, the red orbs over both Aiden and Hermione changed positions...these glided along their arms until they rested upon their foreheads then quickly sank into their skulls...Hermione choked back a sob as this one felt like it was burning into her brain, but the sensation was over as quickly as it had started....
I am born of the Elements
With this final line, Hermione collapsed unconscious into Aiden's arms, but the ritual was done. The forces of nature that had been wildly swirling about in her system were now properly bonded to her magical core and the earthquake she had accidently called forth had stopped.
Looking up at Amelia and the others, Aiden smiled weakly. With the last of his energy, he handed his niece to Morgan. "It's done. Hermione's connected to her elemental powers now, but she's extremely fragile at this stage. She'll need time to recuperate her strength before she can begin her magical training. Please. Keep her safe until I can come back for her." Turning to Amelia with sadness in his eyes, he added, "should this hearing go against me, though...."
Amelia stopped him from saying anything further by touching a finger to his lips. "Hermione and Dot will stay with me or Morgan," said Amelia. "We have residences within the DoM that no one can enter without our permission." With those assurances, Aiden slumped onto the floor and into a deep sleep.
Obtego - Conceal, Protect
Summus - Supreme, Utmost
**excerpt from : Elemental Chant by Spiral Rhythm
Morgan took the sleeping child in his arms and gently tucked her back under his travel cloak being careful to cast a sticking charm so that she would remain in place. Once Hermione was secured, he cast a glamour over the two of them so that no one would notice the sudden 'paunch' he had developed. As he took these added precautions to ensure Hermione's safety, Amelia and Barnaby were busy covering the nearly comatose Aiden with specialized concealing glamours before they removed the group's protective shields. Just as they dropped the wards, they were approached by the Minister herself.
"Where's Mr. DeVilla?" she demanded. "He said he would get this...whatever it was under control, but he also promised he wouldn't attempt to escape."
Stepping aside, Amelia pointed down to the still sleeping form of Aiden. "As you can see, Madam, he's kept his word."
"What happened to him," Mallicent said, watching them with a skeptical eye, "and how can I be sure that's really him and not someone using Polyjuice?"
"Obviously, the easiest solution would be to wait for an hour," smirked Barnaby, "or you could simply just ask him while he's under the effects of Veritaserum. Either way, you will need to postpone things for awhile...at least give him sufficent time to recover. He did just subdue an earthquake, afterall.
"Speaking of which...who or what started that disaster in the first place? asked Mallicent. She had her suspicions it was one or all of the group standing in front of her trying to create a diversion, but for what purpose other than the obvious escape attempt? Sighing, the Minister rubbed her temples to try and ease the headache that had settled in. This certainly wouldn't help her career if she allowed DeVilla to flee under these circumstances. And wouldn't that just make Dumbledore's day.
Stepping from behind Morgan, Dot cleared her throat and tried to look apologetic. "That would be me, Madam Minister. I'm sorry, but when I saw how my friend was being handled, my magic just got away from me."
Mallicent just arched a skeptical eyebrow at her. "Do you honestly expect me to believe that Wild Magic was the cause for this disruption?"
Before Dot could respond, the Minister raised her hand to halt any further excuses that the other witch might hatch on the spur of the moment. "Forget I asked. Now, how long will Mr. Devilla be indisposed? We still need to hear his account of events and view his memories in the Pensieve."
"We honestly don't know, Minister," replied Amelia. "He expended a lot of magic to control the quake and I'm not sure it would be wise to use a Rennervate to awaken him."
Taking a moment to consider her options, Mallicient finally stated,"We will wait the one hour to ensure that this person isn't a Polyjuiced imposter. Once I'm convinced that's the real Mr. DeVilla, you will revive him. Otherwise, I will put the four of you into holding cells until I've decided what charges to bring against you."
Glancing at one another, the four agents silently consented. "That would be acceptable, Minister," agreed Amelia.
Malfoy and Dumbledore watched in silence as the Minister approached the group on the far side of the chambers. It was all they could do as she had put the two into Full-Body-Binds and cast a Silencio over them. It was that or be transfigured into a plushie and be given to her three-year-old nephew for a week. Mallicient had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing when the two readily jumped at the chance to be bound head-to-toe. If she had known such impish threats would work so easily with these two, she would have done it ages ago. Oh, well. You learn something new everyday.
Aiden felt like he did the first time he had become connected with his elemental nature all those years ago. Surrounded by a sentient, glowing sphere of red and orange light, he'd felt euphoric and cherished. He never wanted to leave. But, it wasn't meant to last. While peacefully floating in this dreamscape, Aiden heard a muffled voice say 'Rennervate' and felt a sharp jolt of electricity hit him square in the chest. As he was being abruptly dragged from his cocoon of warmth, he automatically barked his displeasure at whoever intruded on his sanctuary, "Sod off you tossers. Can't you see I'm trying to get my beauty rest?!"
"I'm afraid no amount of sleep could help you with that," chuckled Morgan. That cheeky remark had a hastily conjured pillow flying towards Manfred's face from the grumpy wizard who had yet to open his eyes.
"Wake up, Aiden," said another voice. It was soothingly familiar, but he couldn't immediately place it in his groggy state. "It's time to tell your story to the Wizangamot and, hopefully, return home afterwards." That got his attention! Prying his eyes open with a little difficulty, he found himself gazing into the warm, amber eyes of Amelia. "Welcome back, love," she whispered so that only he could hear.
Memories started flooding back into his sleep-fogged brain and he attempted to stand up, but a strong hand on his shoulder held him in place. "Take it slowly, Aiden. You don't want to embarrass yourself by falling arse-over-tea cup in front of the Minister now do you?" said Barnaby with a poorly hidden smile in his voice.
Looking around at the group, Aiden began to panic slightly when he didn't see Hermione amongst them. He opened his mouth to ask where she was, then quickly shut it again when he realized just how close the Minister was standing to him. Seeing his concern, Morgan got his attention and carefully opened one side of his travel cloak. The gestured wasn't lost on Aiden and he subtly nodded his understanding. His niece was safe and that's all that mattered for the moment.
During the hour that Aiden was unconscious, the members of the Wizangamot had been busy restoring the chambers to its pre-earthquake state. While the repairs were being completed, Mallicent arranged for tea and sandwiches to be brought in by a couple of the Ministry house-elves, albeit begrudgingly permitted, by a now released Dumbledore who insisted that his additional security wards remain in place until after DeVilla's hearing was concluded.
The Minister also managed to get the Acroterium Pensieve readied and it was now sitting on an imposing black marble pillar in the center of courtroom waiting for Aiden to provide his memories for the Wizangamot's review. He was also given a second dosage of Veritaserum before he was allowed to proceed with his testimony - a precaution that Amelia had contended was necessary to ensure an uncontestable statement from the wizard.
Looking up at the assembly of witches and wizards, Aiden squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and began his story.
There was nothing but stunned silence through out the chambers as the Pensieve finished it's playback. Suddenly, the Minister's voice broke the quiet, "That's not possible!" she proclaimed while trying to control the slight tremor in her hands. "That wizard's in Nurmengard."
"I think it prudent to make discrete inquiries to ensure that's still the case, Madam Minister" said Amelia. Although her voice sounded calm, she felt anything but the sort as her heart felt like it was trying to break through her ribcage.
"Nonsense," scoffed Dumbledore. "This is obviously a false memory Mr. DeVilla created just to throw suspicions off himself."
"Mr. DeVilla, did you fake this evidence?" asked the Minister.
"No, Madam" said Aiden. "I did not. The person you saw from my memory was the one who I fought that day at the Granger residence. He's the one who murdered Auror Jones and caused the explosion that killed the two Muggles."
Dumbledore sneered but, before he could make another comment, Lucius Malfoy spoke up. "Aside from the fact that Mr. DeVilla's under Veritaserum, there's another way to prove that this memory's true." Pausing a moment to make sure everyone was paying attention, Lucius continued. "Bring in a skilled Legilimens to verify that this wasn't a fabrication."
"There's no need to bring in someone else to these sealed chambers," stated Dumbledore smugly. "I'm a registered Legilimens and can authenticate or disprove this evidence."
"Be that as it may, Albus" smirked Lucius. "You are also part of the team that's trying to convict this man. I think it advisable to bring in someone who doesn't have a vested interest in the outcome of this hearing. Don't you agree, Minister?"
"Agreed," said Mallicent. "Is there anyone you have in mind for this task, Mr. Malfoy?"
"There are a few, Minister" said Lucius. "But, I recommend Potions Master, Severus Snape. He's been certified by the DMLE and has consulted on several difficult cases, two that I have been privy to witness" Not being able to resist a chance to further ruffle Dumbledore's feathers, he added. "While Master Snape is considerably younger than our esteemed colleague, he has proven his Legilimacy skills to be more than acceptable."
"Very well. If there are no objections from anyone?" Mallicent asked, glancing pointedly at the Chief Mugwump. "No? Good. Then we will take a brief recess while Master Snape is contacted and brought to these chambers."
Severus was in the middle of grading the latest essays from his third years potions classes when his fireplace flared to life. "Severus, I need you to come through to the Headmaster's office straight away" said Professor McGonagall. Stretching out the kinks in his back, Snape sighed. If he was being honest with himself, he welcomed this unexpected break from the pile of abysmal writings as he was sorely tempted to just set fire to the whole lot.
As he stepped through the Floo, McGonagall handed him the sealed message from the Minister of Magic. Tearing it open and reading it, Snape frowned. "What does it say, Severus?"
"There's a full Wizangamot hearing going on and they require my services to interpret some key evidence" he said. "They need me there immediately."
"In that case, I'll open the connection so you can use the Floo here to travel directly to the Ministry atrium."
Dumbledore was slowly pacing the floor of the courtroom. How could things have gone so wrong so quickly. It was to have been simple with his extensive file of evidence gathered from the scene, albeit some was altered to suit his purposes. But, now. Now, the Wizangamot was bringing in another Legilimens to review the Pensieve memory, even though, it was one of his professors. Perhaps...yes, he could still influence the outcome of Snape's review with a few well placed words. But, he would have to be extra cautious. Malfoy was scrutinizing his actions even more closely after preventing him from hexing the prisoner during the man's futile escape attempt.
Snape arrived promptly at the Wizangamot's outer doors and was thoroughly scanned by waiting Aurors. Once they were satisfied that he was, indeed, who he appeared to be he was allowed inside. If they were already this paranoid about security, who or what was waiting for him in chambers?
As soon as he stepped through the checkpoint, Severus was approached by Headmaster Dumbledore. 'Curious...if Albus was present why did they require his Legilimacy expertise?' Snape's internal question was soon answered when Dumbledore started talking about the case and he felt the tell-tale sensations of his mind being probed. Slamming his Occlumency shields down as quickly as possible, the potions master glared at the headmaster and quirked an eyebrow at his attempted intrusion. 'Did he really think it would be that easy to infiltrate his thoughts? More importantly, why had he made the effort? What was it about this case that he would risk being caught doing something so unethical?' Snape didn't have too much time to mull this over as the Minister called his attentions back to the task at hand.
If Snape was startled by the images being presented to him through the Pensieve or from the wizard at the center of the courtroom, no one could tell by looking at him. But, even though his face was a cool mask of indifference, inside Severus was a bundle of nerves. He had read old newspaper accounts and studied about the wizard he had seen in the memories in his History of Magic class at Hogwarts when he was a student. It didn't seem possible, but the images from the prisoner were clear and, definitely, not false. This was...disturbing to say the least.
Turning to the anxiously awaiting members of the Wizangamot, Severus cleared his throat to speak. "I am afraid to inform all of you present, that none of these memories have been tampered with in any way. Everything that this man has presented to you is the truth." As the murmurs from the assembly began to grow in volume, Snape interrupted. "With that being said, it does not prove that the person Mr. DeVilla saw or fought with was the actual dark wizard currently supposed to be incarcerated at Nurmengard…it could very well have been someone using Polyjuice or some other form of elaborate disguise...to what purpose is unknown, but that is for you to discern."
Merlin! Severus hoped it was just that simple. A case of some easily recognizable person with a need to hide their real identity with another countenance. But, why that particular one? Why would anyone in their right mind choose to look like the notorious Gellert Grindelwald?
Dumbledore was thoroughly fit to be tied. Not only had the Wizengamot acquitted Aiden DeVilla on all counts, Mallicent Bagnold had made sure the infernally fortunate wizard received monetary compensation for the heavy-handed treatment he had received while in custody. Infuriating, interfering female! With any luck, this would be her only term as Minister. Severus had been an unpleasant surprise, too. He had counted on his abilities to manipulate the younger wizard into claiming DeVilla's memories were fabrications and was unprepared for the strength of Snape's Occlumency shields. When had this nobody become this skilled?
Albus' foul mood was further compounded by the fact that Malfoy was openly gloating at his obvious displeasure with these turn of events. What eluded him was why the platinum-blonde peacock had suddenly taken such an interest in DeVilla's case. As far as he knew, neither wizard had any prior connections with the other. And, while neither particularly cared for the other personally, he and Malfoy were, for the most part, similarly minded when it came to politics and rulings on high-profile cases...or so Albus thought.
If it was anything that Dumbledore disliked more than DeVilla's good luck, it was sudden changes in people that he had come to view as predictable.
Morgan felt the tell-tale signs that Hermione was beginning to wake within the concealing comforts of his cloak and subtly cleared his throat to get Amelia's attention. As she looked back, he silently mouthed 'our little guest is stirring'. With that, Amelia tried to pull Aiden away from the last of his well-wishers in the hopes that they could escape the courtroom before Hermione's presence was discovered. Unfortunately, that was when the little girl let out a wail of distress causing all the remaining adults in the room to tense.
"What was that!" exclaimed the Mallicent. "I would like to hear the answer to that, as well," drawled Lucius.
DeVilla sighed. The only people that were still about were the four that already knew about Hermione and himself, the Minister and Malfoy. Should he reveal the existence of his niece to these two, even though, they had been instrumental in helping him win his freedom or just Obliviate them and make a run for it? Looking at his friends, they all gave him a slight nod indicating it was okay to take the chance. Besides, they could always modify their memories later if things became too awkward.
"Madam Minister, Lord Malfoy, may I present my niece, Hermione." With that, Morgan dropped the glamour, pulled his cloak aside, removed the sticking charm and held the sleep-disheveled child in his arms for everyone to see.
"Oh, my, aren't you the cutest little girl I've ever seen," gushed Mallicent.
"Yes," said Malfoy with a sudden gleam in his silver-grey eyes, "but, I'm curious. Did she have anything to do with that interesting display during the hearing?"
Comprehension suddenly dawned on the Minister. "It was her, wasn't it? Those bouts of 'wild magic' were from her, that's why you were so sure you could get things under control, isn't that right, Mr. DeVilla?"
Aiden just nodded not wanting to give rise to any further suspicions if his voice wavered.
"She's so young, we figured she'd sleep just through everything," explained Dot. "But, she woke up and saw her uncle chained to that chair and, well, you know the rest."
"Hmmmm, perhaps," smirked Lucius. "Although, I have a feeling that there's more to you than meets the eye, isn't there, Hermione?"
Not batting an eye, she looked straight at the blonde wizard and smiled. "I like you, you're special, too. Aren't you?"
Lucius chuckled. "Precocious and observant, too, it seems. I think my wife and son would absolutely love to meet you. With your permission, of course, Mr. DeVilla."
"Please, call me Aiden. And, yes, it would do Hermione good to be around another child her age."
Casting a quick Tempus, Lucius looked at the group and said, "It's nearly tea time, why don't you join my family and I for some well-deserved refreshments in my home." With a wink, he added, "And, for all the adults, we have something stronger than tea, if you wish."
"As much as I would like that, Lucius, I'm afraid I have other pressing appointments for the rest of the afternoon," said Mallicent. "Please, excuse me. I have to dash if I'm to meet the Ambassador from the French Ministry in time." With that, she turned on her heel and hurried out of the courtroom.
"Always busy, that one," stated Malfoy. "Anyway, where were we. Oh, yes. Tea and refreshments. Are the rest of you free to join me and my family or do you have prior engagements?"
Amelia sighed, "I'm afraid Morgan, Barnaby, Dot, and I have to get back to the office. There's still the matter of contacting Nurmengard and going back through our evidence to see if we can get some new leads on this mystery wizard. But, Aiden, you and Hermione should go. You both need a change of scenery after today." Turning to her associates, she said, "Well, come on you lot. Get a wiggle on."
"Looks like it's just the two of us, then, Mr. Malfoy. Although, I think this will be better for Hermione after all the excitement from today."
"Please, Aiden, call me Lucius. And, I concur. It's probably best for Hermione and Draco to meet with fewer people around. Fewer distractions, as it were. Plus, we can discuss more freely about certain 'talents' that you and your niece seem to possess."
"Perhaps. But, only if you consent to share why Hermione believes you to be 'special', too."
Lucius paused a moment to consider before clasping Aiden's hand and shaking it, "I agree."
Aiden was absolutely gobsmacked when they arrived at Malfoy Manor. The enormity of the place put his stately home to shame, not just in the mere size of the building but, the richness of the décor and the surrounding gardens. And, that library! Mother of Merlin, he was seriously jealous of the rare tomes that this man and his ancestors had collected. Hermione, however, was in seventh heaven at the sight of all those books. Of course, she politely asked if she could pick one out to read later. This in of itself surprised Malfoy but, the specific volume she chose really raised his eyebrows. "Most Potente Potions? Are you sure you want this particular book, Hermione? Wouldn't you like something else, perhaps, an illustrated work on dragons or unicorns? Those are some of Draco's favorites."
"I'm sure," Hermione said with a grin as she skimmed through a few pages. "It's a bit like chemistry, isn't it?
Now, it was Lucius' turn to look stunned.
Aiden laughed at the expression on his host's face. "I assure you, Lucius, that's not going to be the only time that Hermione surprises you this evening."
At that moment, a small house-elf dressed in a silver pillowcase with the Malfoy crest on the shoulder popped in to announce that the tea was ready to be served on the veranda then, just as quickly, disappeared. Hermione's eyes went wide and she turned to look at Lucius for an explanation. Trying to hold back his amusement at his young guest's reaction, he said, "That, Hermione, was a magical being called a house-elf. They serve wizarding families in a variety of ways like making tea and gardening." She just blinked not saying a word.
When Hermione finally found her voice again, she looked at Lucius with a puzzled expression, "You don't make your own tea?"
"On occasion, I do but, the house-elves tend to get a bit upset if you do their job for them. Now, please follow me to the veranda. Narcissa and Draco can't wait to meet you."
Hermione just stood there, a worried look suddenly clouding her features. Concerned, Aiden knelt down in front of his niece. "What's wrong, little one?"
"What if they don't like me?" she whispered so that only Aiden could hear.
Taking her hand in his and giving it a gentle reassuring squeeze, he said, "Don't worry, Hermione. I'm sure that they will adore you but, if not, then that's their loss." Sighing heavily, Hermione nodded. She really wanted these new people to like her, especially, the little boy. Hermione didn't have any friends her own age and she was hoping that would change with Draco. "Okay, I'm ready."
By the time they reached the veranda, a sudden storm had rolled up and everything had to be moved indoors to the morning room. As things were swiftly rearranged by two house-elves, Aiden began to wonder if this shift in climate had anything to do with Hermione's current mood but, for now, he would just observe his niece for signs of distress and other seemingly linked weather changes.
Lucius, unaware of Aiden's concerns, set about introducing him and Hermione to Narcissa and Draco. At first, the two children just peered shyly at one another from behind an adult's legs, neither quite sure what to make of the other. The small blonde boy shared a similar problem with Hermione in that he had little contact other children his own age, too. Finally, Draco took the first step and approached the tiny, bushy-haired girl. Both stood quietly and stared at one another, taking in their various differences, starting with their hair and eyes. When they seemed satisfied that they were safe to be around, the two began to loosen up and talk about some of their favorite things. Well, Hermione did most of the talking, Draco mainly nodded or shook his head in response to her questions.
The three adults looked on and chuckled at their one-sided conversation but, were rather pleased that they appeared to be warming up to each other.
Once tea was over and the highlights of the day related to Narcissa, the group adjourned to the ballroom for Lucius' and Aiden's agreed upon disclosure of their 'special traits'. As with Amelia and the others in the courtroom, Aiden asked for and got an oath from Lucius and Narcissa and he, in turn, gave one to them.
Pulling Hermione to his side, Aiden explained what he and Lucius were going to do so that she wouldn't be taken by surprise. Lucius and Narcissa did the same for Draco.
"As you are our guests, we will reveal ourselves first," stated Narcissa. With a nod to Lucius, she removed theirs and Draco's glamours. Hermione beamed at the three. "I knew you were special, just like me" she said looking at the Malfoy patriarch.
"Well," smirked Aiden. "This certainly explains a lot about the Malfoy fortune**."
In place of the platinum-blonde witch and wizards, stood an anthropomorphic golden dragon**, a humanoid white tigress@, and a miniature golden dragon with white wings. And, with a five meter wingspan, it was no wonder that Lucius had chosen the ballroom in which to change forms. Hermione was so delighted to see their true selves, she practically vibrated.
Running up to Lucius, Hermione placed her hands on his scale-covered arms. "You're so warm, sort of like Aiden," she said. "May I touch your face?" Bending down, Lucius lifted the little girl into his arms so she was now eye-level with his draconic muzzle. Gently putting her hand on the side of his nose, Hermione began a rapid string of questions. "Can you breath fire? Do you shed your scales? Can you fly with someone on your back? Do you..."
"Take a breath, Hermione, and give the man a chance to answer," laughed Aiden. Turning to his host, "I apologize, Lucius, she tends to rattle on when she's excited."
"Quite understandable," chuckled Lucius. "But, to answer your questions, little one. Yes I can breath fire, especially, if I've eaten a very spicy curry; Yes, I tend to drop scales once a week and I've never tried to fly with anyone on my back." Looking back at the older wizard with a gleam in his silver-grey eyes, Lucius added,"Now, we've shared our family secrets. It's your turn, Aiden."
**From PathfinderWiki - select traits of a gold dragon
their horde can consist of a variety of items : coins, precious metals, artwork, books and magical items; of special importance are their library and precious metals
Known for their intelligence, decision-making skills
@From ancient-origins.net - White tigers viewed as protectors or defenders; elemental connection with metal
Lucius felt like Christmas had come early. Sweet Circe! He never would have guessed that Aiden DeVilla was an elemental mage and a fire mage, at that. No wonder he had wanted them to take a wizard's oath, not that he could fault the man for wanting to guard his secrets. The Malfoys had their own fair share of those, after all. But, what exactly was his delightful little niece? A magical child with an affinity to the four natural forces, to be sure. Only, how was that even possible? Surely, the energies involved should wreak havoc within a person, especially, someone this young but, for whatever reasons, they seemed to blend seamlessly with her magical core. And, intelligent beyond her years, too. She would definitely be a good influence on Draco. He was already showing an interest in potions and magical creatures but, Hermione would push him to look at other areas of magic just with her own bubbling enthusiasm about the subject.
"Well, now that we've shared our family secrets, shall we adjourn to the sitting room and get more comfortable?" asked Narcissa as she waved her hands and shifted her family back into their human forms. Taking his cue from her, Aiden recast the glamours over himself and Hermione before following his hosts out of the ballroom and down the hall to the parlor. Once inside the room, Narcissa called for their most trusted house-elf, Trinket, and had her take the children to Draco's room to play while the adults settled themselves in for more serious discussions.
"Tell me, Aiden, what are your plans now that you've been exonerated but, more importantly, how do you intend to safeguard Hermione? After all, we still don't know for certain who attacked you at the Granger residence or why. And, there's the not so small issue that Albus Dumbledore seems to have formed a great dislike towards you."
Scrubbing a hand over his face, Aiden sighed, "I'd made arrangements for Hermione's care, in case I was sent to Azkaban, and I intend to stick to those, with a few modifications, of course. I apologize, Lucius, I can't be more specific about them because of other vows that I've made." Lucius gave a nod of his head in understanding and, with a slight wave of his hand, motioned for Aiden to continue. "As to Albus Dumbledore, I never met the man until today, so I don't have any explanation for his animosity. Unless, he simply believed that a guilty person escaped the Dementor's Kiss. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine."
"You're correct," replied Lucius. "Albus really does hate to lose a case but, I can't help wonder if there's more to it than that. After all, he was willing to risk charges for an unauthorized lockdown to keep you from 'escaping' judgment."
"Enough about that old coot, Lucius," grumbled Narcissa. "If he was so concerned about people eluding justice, then he should have done more to catch those awful Marauders when they were in school, especially, after they nearly got Severus killed."
That certainly peaked Aiden's interest. "Who were these Marauders and what did they do to the man who helped save me today?"
"That," sighed Lucius, "is a long story for another time and one that Severus should tell you himself, if he's willing. Now, back to the subject of Hermione."
"Oh, yes, such a delightful little girl," smiled Narcissa. "I hope you know you can turn to us should you require any assistance with Hermione," offered Narcissa with a knowing smile. "As you can imagine, we are well versed with the needs of a child with unusual 'gifts'."
Aiden chuckled, "I'll keep that in mind if she starts having tantrums that create another earthquake....or worse."
Miles away in a decrepit old shack near the village of Hogsmeade, an angry blue-eyed wizard shrouded in black mist was shouting at a disheveled dark-haired man. "You had one job! One! And, you failed miserably! Now, because of you, I've lost an important weapon to our cause!"
"Please, sir, I can help you find her, just give me another chance."
"Perhaps you can still be of some use, Sirius Black, just not in the way you imagined. Obliviate!"
Morgan was in Amelia's sitting room with a full glass of Firewhiskey in his hands. Taking a seat on the dark blue leather settee near the fireplace, he looked to his boss and asked, "Well, what's the game plan now, Amelia? We're no closer to finding any clues about that missing wizard than we were before Aiden's trial."
"At least, we know for certain that Grindelwald's still in Nurmengard and not roaming about Britain creating havoc," said Amelia. "According to the guards, he gets few visitors but, they are sending me a copy of their logbooks for the past five years so we can see if there's anyone in particular who's kept in contact, especially, prior to the attack at the Granger residence."
"On a different matter, does Aiden still plan on staying here with Hermoine, at least, for the foreseeable future?" asked Morgan trying, unsuccessfully, to keep a smug grin off his face.
"You know very well that he is you git," Amelia replied a mock glare.
"Good. It was becoming painful to watch you two dancing about each other as if you were lovestruck Hufflepuffs," chuckled Morgan as he ducked a stinging hex. "What!? Everyone here knows that you spend every free evening you have with him. I don't know why you'd think we wouldn't notice. Aiden's not exactly discreet when he looks at you."
With a rare blush coloring her cheeks, Amelia laughed. "Well, he is a fire mage and they tend to have trouble hiding their fervor when someone earns their affections, at least, that's what he's told me. Not that I'm complaining, of course."
"So, is he planning on making an honest witch out of you anytime soon? I only ask because I have a lot riding on the office betting pool." Morgan yelped when he wasn't able to dodge another of Amelia's hexes.
Back in the sitting room at Malfoy Manor, Narcissa had just persuaded Aiden to accept her invitation to stay for the upcoming weekend with her family. "It will give you the chance to get to know your niece better and, with the wards that we have on the Manor, you can be assured that no one can find either of you here," she said.
Aiden turned to his hosts, his face suddenly taking on a crestfallen appearance. "There's something that I desperately need your help to do." Lucius and Narcissa both looked at him with concern over this abrupt change in his demeanor. "I....," Aiden hesitated. "I haven't gotten up the nerve to tell Hermione about her Mum and Dad, yet. I know this news is going to break her heart and....I'm terrified that she won't want anything to do with me afterwards. She's the only close family I have left. Please, tell me...what do I do?"
Narcissa walked over to Aiden and put a comforting hand on his arm. "You don't have to share all the details but, be as honest with Hermione as you can. Then, be there for her in whatever way she needs...even if it's only a shoulder to cry on. Lucius and I will help you contain any magical outbursts she may have."
Not trusting his voice, Aiden gave them a silent nod of thanks, then, rose from his chair on slightly wobbly legs and followed Narcissa and Lucius out the door to seek out Hermione.
Aiden needn't have worried quite so much. Hermione had responded much in the way that Narcissa had expected and, with the Malfoy's help, had weathered the worst of his niece's reactions. Well...almost...who knew that a dragon-proofed stone wall could actually catch fire like that.
Three weeks later Aiden, Amelia and Hermione stood together with a Ministry officiate in a small garden deep in the Department of Mysteries. As Dot, Barnaby, Alastor and the Malfoys looked on as witnesses, the couple bound themselves together as husband and wife but, more importantly, they became Hermione's official guardians.
Hermione was over the moon about gaining a new Uncle and Aunt, as well as, a number of unofficial family members. In particular, she claimed Draco as her 'little brother'. And, while Hermione still mourned the loss of her Mum and Dad, the sorrow she felt no longer caused her to spiral into rages that threatened to bring down buildings with firestorms....or earthquakes....or any other form of natural disaster that was normally unheard of in Britain.
But, above all else, Hermione finally felt safe.
Two days after Aiden, Hermione and Amelia had become a new family, they received an invitation from the Malfoys to attend a private Samhain celebration. It was to be the first wizarding holiday that Hermione experienced and Aiden wanted her to be fully prepared for the differences between the magical rituals and the Muggle traditions, the first, being the use of traditional robes and not costumes. Amelia suggested that they dress in black robes with accents of bronze on the sleeves.* (Aiden had earned himself a playful smack on the arm followed by a very heated kiss when he whispered to his new bride that he much preferred her without apparel.)
There was only one thing that gave Aiden cause for concern - the Veil between the living and the dead was so thin on that night. Not that he believed any of the spirits about on that evening would truly frighten his niece but, any ancestor could cross over for a short visit - including Hermione's birth mother, Lyonella. With a resigned sigh, Aiden walked into the sitting room to face his most difficult challenge since talking to his niece about the Grangers - explaining to Hermione that she had a different mother.
When they stepped through the Floo that Saturday evening, they were greeted by Lucius, Narcissa and Draco, each of them wearing different colored robes to reflect the season - Lucius' was a deep, grey-green, Narcissa's a rich burgundy and Draco's a dark chocolate brown*. Hermione, far too excited to share her news, ran over to her 'little brother', pulled him into a tight hug and loudly announced, "Uncle Aiden told me I had two Moms!"
"Sorry about that," apologized Aiden. "I thought it prudent to inform Hermione about some of her other family members on the off chance that some might make an appearance tonight."
"There's no need to explain," chuckled Narcissa as she watched her son's futile efforts to escape Hermione's grasp. "We had a similar discussion with Draco in case his grandparents paid a visit."
"Well, on that cheerful note," drawled Lucius with a smile in his voice. "Please follow us to the terrace and we will begin our Samhain feast."
Walking through the heavy oak doors leading to the terrace, Aiden saw that a round, mahogany dining table had been set for the six of them and it was laden with a mouth-watering array of foods from fresh baked rye bread and pumpkin ginger soup to roasted chicken and sticky toffee pudding.* Tearing his eyes away from the sumptuous meal, Aiden saw a matching side table had been set for one - to honor those who had passed beyond the Veil. And, in a candlelit alcove was a black marble wine table decorated with red and orange oak leaves and a cornucopia centerpiece.* 'Perfect,' he thought. 'Just the right touches for Hermione's first wizarding holiday dinner.'
Once they had all eaten their fill, Narcissa stood and asked for the group to follow her out into the gardens - the cool night air drifting over them held the lovely scent of cloves and apples from a small bonfire that Lucius kindled earlier in a circle of grey flagstones. Drawing her wand from her robes, Narcissa cast a strong Lumos and began walking down the long gravel pathway that led towards the Malfoy family crypts. The others trailed close behind carrying white candles lit from the bonfire. Once there, she called for a house-elf to bring several small bowls filled with dried rosemary and, as they each placed these tokens of remembrance in front of the mausoleum, Lucius softly chanted^
Spirits of my fathers and mothers, I call to you.
Your blood runs in my veins,
Your spirit is in my heart,
Your memories are in my soul.
You live on in me
and within those yet to come.
You are gone, but not forgotten,
And tonight, we honor you
Aiden breathed a sigh of relief on the journey back to Manor. The rituals the Malfoy's had chosen to follow on this special night were everything that he had hoped for in Hermione's first Samhain - reverant, full of color, warm fragrances and uneventful. That was, until the group reached the half-way point along the gravel path. Just as Hermione and Draco crossed the midpoint together, they let out a sudden gasp in surprise. Above them, a bright silvery-blue cloud formed, quickly descended and encircled the six celebrants.
Two mournful ghosts stepped out from the mist and stood in front of Aiden. "We were betrayed by a trusted friend," the male spirit said in anguish.
"And our son is still in danger," added the sorrowful female apparition. "Please, we need you to save him before it's too late."
Glancing at his hosts, Aiden asked, "Are these visitors your ancestors?"
"No," replied Narcissa shaking her head. "We don't recognize them."
Lucius calmly walked towards the spirits and asked, "Who are you, friends, and where might we find your child?"
Shimmering tears fell from the woman's face. "We're Lily and James Potter. Our son, Harry, is at our home in Godric's Hollow. Please, you must go now before The Dark One returns."
Before they could ask any more questions, the visions faded away.
*colors, decoration items, foods taken from whisperingworlds.com/Samhain, gaia.com, ravenandcrone.com
^ - segments of an Irish Samhain Blessing - irishcentral.com
Amelia shifted into her DoM boss mode and started assigning tasks to those around her. "Lucius, you and Aiden take the children back to the Manor and keep them safe. Narcissa, you and I and your house-elf, Trinket, will apparate to Godrics Hollow, find this young boy and bring him back here."
Lucius and Aiden, being the wizards that they are, were a bit put out by being relegated to nanny duties while their mates headed out to face an unknown danger. That was, until Amelia added, "I know you two would rather be out there helping to protect an innocent but, given that Aiden was facing murder charges only a month ago and Lucius didn't do himself any favors by going against a prominent member of the Wizangamot, it would be best if neither of you were spotted at a crime scene where others have died. Narcissa and I will take the lead on this occasion, especially, since it might involve a frightened or injured child."
Aiden opened his mouth to protest but, quickly closed it again when he saw Lucius subtly shake his head. "Fine," he huffed. "We'll wait in the sitting room for your return but, send a Patronus should you run into any problems."
The witches agreed and then popped out sight with their wands drawn, ready for anything when they arrived.
It wasn't difficult to find the house when they landed. The roof was partially collapsed and charred, several windows were shattered and there was a small crowd gathering from neighboring homes. While no one was looking in their direction, Narcissa and Amelia Disallusioned themselves and quickly made their way past the splintered front door. Inside, near the foot of the stairs, they found the physical body of the male ghost they had seen that evening. He was laying on his back, his robes torn and heavily scorched from spell fire, black hair in disarray and, from behind a pair of broken glasses, his unseeing eyes stared up at the ceiling. Carefully stepping over the wizard, the two witches made their way upstairs and in the nursery they found a red-haired woman wearing a dark blue nightgown slumped over on the floor - the only mark on her pale body was the curse burn to her chest. Next to her was the untouched white crib containing a softly crying toddler.
"Trinket!" Narcissa called out and the little house-elf appeared immediately by her side.
"Yes, Mistress, how may Trinket serve you?"
"Gather up this child's clothes, and anything else he might need, and take them directly to the nursery at the Manor," ordered the blonde witch.
As the house-elf rushed about the room snapping her fingers and collecting nearly everything in sight for the little boy, Narcissa checked the nearby study for family photos and important documents while Amelia ran some quick diagnostic scans on the child. Aside from his distress, the only obvious injury she found was the lightning-bolt shaped scar on his forehead, no doubt, from an unsuccessful curse.
Within a few minutes, they could hear the arrival of the Aurors that one of the neighbors must have summoned coming through the door downstairs. "It's time to go," whispered Amelia as she picked up the boy and placed him in Narcissa's arms."Take him and leave, I'll stay behind and direct the investigation. As head of the DMLE and DoM, no one will question my presence here."
With a slight nod in agreement to Amelia, Narcissa and the house-elf disapparated with their precious cargo.
Several blocks away a scruffy, rat-faced man was staring down at the bound and Confunded form of his former schoolmate, Sirius Black. Scattered around them in a large blast crater, lay the dead bodies of at least twelve Muggles. "Are you sure this is what you want for him, Sir?" he nervously asked the stern-looking blue-eyed wizard standing next to him.
"Yes," hissed the man. "Now, do as you're told and hold out you're left hand."
Grabbing the smaller wizard by the wrist, he hexed off the pinky finger, letting it drop on the ground between them. Ignoring the pained whimpers of the cowering man as he clutched his bleeding hand, the older wizard impatiently barked out his next orders.
"Go to the safe house I arranged for you. I'll discretely message your next assignment in a week.....Do. Not. Attempt. to contact me or you'll wind up in Azkaban like your friend here."
Without a backwards glance at the two other men, the blue-eyed wizard spun on his heel and disapparated.
Hermione and Draco were understandably curious about the new arrival to Malfoy Manor. Walking over to get a closer look at the dark-haired child, they climbed up on the settee and settled themselves on either side of Narcissa while she comforted the still silently crying toddler. At first, the green-eyed little boy just clung to the blonde witch's chest like an unfledged batling and sniffled, not even aware of his new audience. But, eventually, he raised his head and started quietly taking in his new surroundings.
"Hello, my name's Hermione, what's yours?" quietly asked the little witch.
Harry didn't answer but, he did shyly smile at her before turning his head to look at the little blonde boy on the other side of his comfortable human seat. "My name's Draco," he said. Again, no answer but, another small grin. And, then, a large yawn.
"I'm afraid, Harry is very tired and needs his sleep as you two do. It's well past your bedtime." said Narcissa when she saw two responding yawns.
With two muttered 'yes, ma'ams', she took the three rapidly drooping children through the manor to the nursery to settle them in for the evening. Before she returned to the sitting room, Narcissa called for Trinket to watch over the trio until morning and with orders to fetch her should Harry wake from nightmares.
As soon as Narcissa sat down on the settee, Lucius walked over and handed her a glass of Merlot and sat next to her. Aiden sat across from the pair on a large wingback chair furthest from the large fireplace.
"Well," the anxious wizard asked, "What happened and why did Amelia not return with you?"
"We didn't have a lot of time to explore before a squad of Aurors showed up," answered Narcissa. "That's why Amelia chose to remain behind in her role as head of the DMLE and direct the investigation. I did, however, manage to find some important papers in the late Potter's study." Pulling the documents out from the pocket in her robes from where she hastily tucked them, she unfolded the three set of parchments and placed them on the low table in front of her. They each picked up one and began reading.
"According to their will," said Narcissa, "James and Lily Potter left everything to their sole heir, Harry. Aside from the house at Godrics Hollow, they had three other properties, including, a manor that once belonged to the grandparents.But, until we find out more about what happened tonight, I think it would be safer for Harry to remain here. "
"Agreed," replied Aiden and Lucius.
"Now this document," continued Aiden, "named two godparents as his legal guardians should anything happen to the Potters. A Mr.Remus Lupin and Lord Sirius Black of the Ancient and Noble House of Black." Hearing a low hiss from Lucius, he looked to the other man with a raised questioning eyebrow.
"I remember both of those men from Hogwarts and I'm not certain they would be the ideal choice for caregivers for the boy," said Lucius with a grimace. "I can't say much without Severus Snape's consent but, I can tell you that they would be the last people I would entrust with the well-being of a child."
"It's been years since school, Lucius, it's possible they may have changed their ways." Lucius just rolled his eyes at Narcissa's sentiments. "Although, it would be prudent to have Amelia investigate them before just handing Harry over to either of them," she quickly added.
"These were just a recent financial statement," said Lucius dropping the papers onto the table, "Nothing exciting, however, I can say that Harry has been well provided for and needn't work once he graduates from school, unless he so chooses." Stifling a yawn, Lucius looked over at the mantel clock and seeing the lateness of the hour suggested, "I recommend we turn in for the night and start fresh after breakfast."
Nodding to his hosts, Aiden stood and headed towards his rooms. He tried not to worry about Amelia but, knew that she wouldn't return until she had further answers concerning the Potters and who killed them. Just as he was drifting off to sleep, he wondered 'And, who is this Dark One the spirits mentioned and why didn't they just tell us his name?'
Albus Dumbledore was pacing back and forth in the shadows near 4 Privet Drive. 'What in Merlin's name is keeping Hagrid? He was supposed to have collected the boy and been on his way to the Dursleys by now.' A worrisome thought crossed his mind and sent cold shivers down his back. 'We can't have lost that child with his parents, he's part of the prophecy...he's essential for my plans to work...'
Amelia arrived back at Malfoy Manor just as the others were sitting down to have breakfast. Excusing herself, she headed to the rooms that she and Aiden shared and took a quick, refreshing shower changed into some fresh clothes and returned to the dining room. Once the children had finished eating and were sent off to play in the gardens, with Trinket supervising, the adults gathered in the sitting room to compare notes about what they had uncovered about the Potters.
At hearing the name of one of the designated guardians, Amelia hissed. "That's going to be an issue, I'm afraid. Lord Black was taken into custody and charged with the murders of twelve muggles and the death of a wizard named Peter Pettigrew, although, I don't know how they justified that last one. From the report I saw, the only thing they found of Pettigrew was a severed finger. As far as I'm concerned that man is still alive, until proven otherwise. Unfoftunately, based on Black's confession, Dumbledore feels that Sirius should be held accountable in the deaths of Lily and James Potter, too." But, something about this situation makes the hairs on the back of neck stand on end. Possibly, because there are just too many similarities between his case and yours, Aiden. Massive explosions, multiple deaths, only one witness or, in this instance, one who's been hexed so badly he's lucky he remembers his own name."
Lucius, do you think you we could get your contact, Mr. Snape, to consult on Lord Black's testimony like he did for Aiden and authenticate his statements?" asked Amelia.
"Given their personal history, that may not be possible but, I will certainly ask," said Lucius.
Dumbledore stalked around Hogwarts trying to calm himself down. The Potter child was still missing and his contacts in the DMLE hadn't any clue as to what happened to him. Without this boy, his carefully made plans to ensure that the prophecy his new Divination professor had given him may never come to pass. It was enough to drive a wizard to drink. Fortunately, Albus had one thing to look forward to later that afternoon - the conviction of Sirius Black. With any luck, the dozen or so Wizangamot members hearing this case would see sense and push for the Dementor's Kiss for this wizard. Yes, that would certainly brighten his day.
Snape had just settled in for a pleasant Sunday afternoon full of reading potions journals and research for a new project when he received an urgent Floo call from his friend, Lucius. "Please, step on through to the Manor, Severus, we are in dire need of your assistance." Walking through the green flames and dusting himself off, Snape was greeted by the blonde wizard and directed to go on through to the sitting room. Once there, Amelia and Narcissa filled him in on the previous evenings events, leaving the matter of Sirius Black for last. What they hadn't expected was his reaction to the news of Lily Potter's death.
"You're mistaken, Lily can't be dead!," he gasped as what little color he had drained from his already pale face. Lucius stepped closer to his stunned friend and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Severus, I didn't realize that you still had feelings for this woman after what happened in school. Had I known..." his voice trailed off, not knowing what else to say to console the distraught man.
"What happened to her?" he asked in a voice barely above a whisper.
"We're still investigating," said Amelia, "but, it appears the Potter's Secret Keeper betrayed them to someone we only know as The Dark One. Their home was destroyed by an unknown spell and they were struck by Unforgiveables. The only survivor was their young son, Harry, but even he wasn't left completely unscathed."
Hearing that Lily's child was still alive, Snape's eyes snapped up to look at Amelia. "Where is he now?"
Lucius raised a blonde eyebrow at Severus but kept his thoughts to himself. "He's staying with us for now until we find out more about what happened."
Closing his eyes to steady his nerves, the dark haired wizard quietly hissed, "Where's Black?"
"He's being kept in a Ministry holding cell until his hearing this afternoon," replied Amelia, "If you want to interview him, I will need to escort you."
"Let's go before I change my mind."
Sirius awoke in a dimly lit room with no windows, his head feeling like a rogue bludger had taken up residence. Not knowing where he was or how long he had been unconscious, he made a quick search of the space and his torn clothing and discovered his wand was missing. Sirius scrubbed a slightly trembling hand over his face. Wherever he was, he could feel the strong pulse of the magic dampening wards prickling his skin like a nest of angry bees. Merlin! Could his situation get any worse.
He started when the door suddenly creaked open and the last person he expected to see loomed in the doorway like some dark spectre. "Hello, Mutt. Looks like you've gotten yourself into a right pickle."
"Snivellus! Where am I? What did you do to me?" Sirius demanded as he made his way towards the black-garbed wizard. "I should have known you would be behind whatever this is," he snarled waving a hand about indicating himself and the room.
"Typical," said the dour potions master, "Things go pear-shaped and you instantly presume that I am to blame for your predicament."
Picking a bit of imaginary lint from the sleeve of his robes, Snape continued in a flat tone, "Unfortunately, for you, Black, you are in a Ministry holding cell awaiting a hearing before the Wizengamot on a number of charges, including, murder." Holding up a hand as a sign to Sirius to not interrupt, he continued, "And, you are here because of your own rambling admissions of guilt at the scene of the crime. I, on the other hand, was brought in as a consultant by the head of the DMLE and the DoM, Amelia Bones, to authenticate certain facts on your behalf." Sirius was stunned. Who was killed and why would he confess to such a thing? And, why couldn't he remember any of this? His head was throbbing again, only now, it had an added dash of panic and grief thrown into the mix. His discomfiting thoughts were disrupted when he heard Snape's voice over the sound of blood rushing through his ears.
"If it were left up to me, I would let them sentence you to Azkaban in retribution for your past attempts at killing me while we were at Hogwarts. In particular, when you used Lupin as a living weapon during one of his moon night transformations," Pausing a moment to get his rising temper back under control, Snape added, "Did you even stop to consider what that would have done to your friend knowing that he had been used to harm someone in such a gruesome manner.....even if it was just a greasy git like me?"
That snapped Sirius out of his internal turmoil and he turned on the Slytherin. "It's your own fault for being such a creepy bastard. If you had just kept your over-sized nose out of our business or left Lily alone when you were warned off, none of that would have happened!"
"Trying to justify your loathsome actions by blaming your victim? Pathetic. Or have you completely forgotten the fact that I tried my best to avoid you and your so-called Marauders? No matter how hard I tried, the four of you somehow always managed to find me when I was, conveniently, alone. How did you manage that, by the way? And, for what purpose? Oh, yes, I remember. It was 'just a prank, Headmaster, the sniveling git can't take a joke, sir.' "
Before the two irate wizards could continue their increasingly heated conversation, a brusque female voice interrupted. "Merlin's hairy balls! Keep your voices down you two. Or do you want the Wizengamot to make their decision about your fate without having to consider the actual evidence, Mr. Black?"
'Goddess help me!' thought Amelia. Lucius and Narcissa had mentioned that the two had a rather volatile history at school but, she never would have guessed anything like what she had just overheard. Walking over to Snape, she poked a finger into his chest and asked, "Have you completed the tasks I assigned you? He silently nodded in reply. "Well, don't keep us in suspense, what did you discover?" she snipped.
"What?! You can't be serious!" interrupted Black, "I thought Snape was joking when he said he was working on my case. He can't be trusted. He's nothing but a conniving..." Sirius didn't get to finish that sentence as Amelia strode over to the man and hissed, "You would do well to keep a civil tongue or I will personally remove it." Looking back at Snape and ignoring Black's shock, she commanded, "Your report....now. We don't have time for rehashing your childhood grievances."
"Very well," replied Snape coolly. "The secondary Narratus Incantatio that you had me perform on Black's wand prove that it was not used for the crimes he's been accused of committing. Although, he could have used a second, unregistered wand to carry out these acts, no such item was found at the scene making this an unlikely event. Also, Legilimency confirms that he's been Obliviated and had sophisticated memory charms implanted by an unknown person or persons. It would be inadvisable to try and remove the false memories, at this point, as it could cause further damage to Black's mind."
A cold shiver ran down Sirius' back. This nightmare was real. With a slightly shaky voice, he finally asked, "Who did I confess to killing?"
Snape's jaw tightened and through clenched teeth he murmured, "Twelve muggles.....Peter Pettigrew.....James Potter.....and Lily.
Narratus - record, story, relating
Incantatio - spell, statement
Sirius's legs buckled and he sank to the cold, stone floor in a crumpled heap. Heart wrenching wailing from someone in the room reached his ears. He then realized the anguished sounds were coming from himself. It simply couldn't be true. They couldn't be dead. A sobering thought crawled up from the depths of his overwhelmed mind and he gasped out, "Harry! Is he alright? What happened to James' and Lily's son?"
Looking down at the shaken man at his feet, Snape felt an unusual twinge of emotion towards him. Startled, he realized it was a small amount of empathy and it was all because of Lily. She had been his first, his only, friend before they attended Hogwarts. Then his harsh words, especially, that one horrible slur spoken in a split second of humiliation had driven her out of his life and firmly into the company of the Marauders. Now, she was gone from both their worlds.
Raising his head, Black's eyes briefly connected with Snape's. In that moment, their mutual grief over Lily's death rattled Snape's, ordinarily, stoic demeanor. Clamping down his Occlumency shields to stop their shared loss from overloading his senses, Snape replied with a steady voice, "The boy is safe but, I'm not at liberty to disclose anything more."
Amelia felt sorry for the two wizards. Both mourning in their own way, only, one was also facing the possibility of losing his freedom or his life, depending on how the Wizengamot ruled. Casting a quick Tempus, she said abruptly, "I'm sorry, Mr. Black, but we're running out of time. Please, stand up and compose yourself. I need to prepare you for the hearing."
The handful of Wizengamot members watched as two Aurors escorted the accused murderer, Sirius Black, to the center of the chamber, sat him on the black marble chair and placed the restraints onto his arms and ankles.
Minister Bagnold looked down at the, now cleaned up, wizard and called the room to order. Addressing the prisoner, she stated, "Mr. Black, you have heard the litany of allegations being brought against you. How do you plead?"
Still pale and shaken, Sirius, nevertheless, had a determined look in his eyes. Lifting his chin, he replied in a sure voice, "Not guilty, Madam Minister - on all charges."
"Very well, Mr. Black. Do you have any evidence or witnesses who can support your claims of innocence?"
"I do, Minister....I call to my defense, Madam Amelia Bones and Mr. Severus Snape."
Confused murmurs could be heard thorough out the chambers. Weren't these two meant to prove the man's guilt?
Amongst the few Wizengamot members present, was a particular platinum-blonde wizard who was openly smirking at the outraged face of the Chief Mugwump, Albus Dumbledore.
Dumbledore sat in shock. How could this have happened? The evidence gathered at Godric's Hollow, and the prisoner's confession, had so clearly pointed to one, and only one, culprit - Sirius Black. Only now, Lord Black was walking out of the Ministry a free man, acquitted on all counts, with his titles, properties and Gringotts accounts restored. Things weren't planned to turn out this way. Black was supposed to be in prison for life, his estate seized by the Ministry and Dumbledore appointed as administrator of all the holdings. Harry Potter was meant to be raised by his muggle relatives, isolated from the Wizarding world, destined to become a weapon for the Headmaster to use as he saw fit for the prophecy to be fulfilled.
But, no. That meddlesome woman, Amelia Bones, and his potions master at Hogwarts, Severus Snape, had ruined everything....again!
With these latest setbacks, Albus would have to design new plans but, first, he had to locate the two missing keystones - Harry Potter and Hermoine Granger. They were essential to everything he hoped to change in the Wizarding world, for his ideal of the Greater Good.
When Sirius was finally released by the Wizengamot, his legs nearly buckled in relief. He couldn't believe it. Madam Bones and Snivellus had saved his arse and....oh bollocks! Snape had kept him from going to Azkaban and receiving the Dementor's Kiss and now he owed the greasy git a life debt! He couldn't deny it. His magic recognized the obligation. But, what in Merlin's name would the dungeon bat ask of him? Money? Possibly. The man could certainly do with a new wardrobe. No, whatever the favor, Sirius was certain that it wouldn't involve something so mundane as some galleons withdrawn from his Gringott's vaults.
Walking over to the two people who had just rescued him from a hellish existence, Sirius swallowed his pride with some difficulty, thanked them both for their support and formally acknowledged the life debt he owed them. Amelia smiled and told him that there was no need, she was only doing her job. Severus, on the other hand, had a positively wicked gleam in his eyes. "I will keep that in mind, Black," was all he said in response to Sirius' pledge. Sighing to himself, Sirius knew that he was going to regret the day when this Slytherin came to collect on his promise.
The fireplace at Malfoy manor flared with bright green flames when the Floo activated. Moments later, Amelia stepped through and was immediately grabbed about the waist from behind by a pair of strong arms. Whirling about with her wand drawn, she glared at the culprit, "Merlin! Aiden. I could have hexed you into next year! You know better than to startle me like that!"
Smiling warmly at his wife, Aiden raised both hands in surrender. "Sorry, love. I only meant to welcome you back after, what I know was, a difficult day." Amelia relaxed and re-holstered her wand then stepped back into her husband's embrace. "Thank you," she whispered.
"As you're not cursing up a storm, I presume the hearing went as planned?" he asked.
"Yes. But, it was still difficult. Especially, after Dumbledore testified that he knew Black was the Potter's secret keeper and was the only one who could have broken the Fidelius charm. Mr. Black was devastated. He was expecting the Headmaster's support and to have him publicly turn against him was a sudden punch to the gut. But, that drama is all over with, for now. The Wizengamot acquitted Lord Black and he's free to return home."
"Did you tell him anything about his godson or that he was staying here at the Manor?" asked Aiden.
"No, although he was informed that Harry was safe, he wasn't told details of his whereabouts. Considering we still don't know who killed the Potters, it's better that Mr. Black isn't aware of his location, especially, when you take into account how he was brutally attacked and manipulated - possibly for information on his friend's safe house. If whoever assaulted him before believed that he knew where Harry was being kept, they could try again. And, we simply can't take that risk."
Leaning down to place a kiss on his wife's forehead, Aiden said, "Alright, enough shop talk. Let's get you something to eat. I know you're probably starving as I can hear your stomach growling at me."
With a mischievous gleam in her eyes, she looked up at her husband's face, grabbed his hand and started dragging him towards their suite, "It's not food I want right now," she purred.
"Hrnm. You'll get no argument from me," he smirked.
The richly appointed study looked like a raging erumpet had stormed through the place. Bits of broken glass and tatters of fabric covered the floor, walls and furniture were blackened with spell fire and documents littered the ordinarily tidy desk. The blue-eyed wizard was furious and he desperately wanted to take his frustrations out on someone but, this room had to suffice. Another powerful child had slipped through his grasp, his plans for ruling Wizarding Britain were quickly going up in smoke and he wasn't sure who to blame. Pacing about, he wondered what to do next. Someone had to know where these two kids had gone, they couldn't have just simply vanished without someone being aware of where they had been taken but, where to start his inquiries. Black was not an option. He had pulled every bit of useful information from that lackey's mind before he Obliviated the sodding idiot.
Thinking back to the people he had seen during the trial that afternoon, he smiled. Yes, that woman was the most likely to know something worthwhile. Now, it was just the matter of getting the powerful witch alone long enough to over power her and rifle through her memories. Whether Amelia Bones lived through the process or not didn't matter. He was determined to find the two missing children before another month was gone.
"This is difficult enough as it is, Sniv….er, Snape," grumbled Sirius. "But, Harry is my godson. I'm responsible for him now that James and Lily are gone. You have to take me to him."
"I do not have to do anything of the sort, Black," said Snape with a frown. "Face the facts, someone has it out for you and may try again. This time, you barely escaped being thrown into Azkaban and the receiving the Dementor's Kiss. The next...who knows what they'd do. And, having a vulnerable child in your care would only make things worse...for the both of you. Are you really that selfish that you would put the life of an innocent child at risk? Lily's child?"
"Bastard!" snarled Black, "I would never to do that!" But, inside he knew that Snape was right. Whoever had done this to him could come back and try to finish the job. He would only put Harry in further danger if he officially filed for custody and took the boy home to live with him. With a heavy sigh, he looked at the other wizard. "I just....I need to see him again. You can even modify my memories afterwards to make sure I don't remember where Harry's living."
The other wizard snorted. "You can't afford another Obliviation, Black, your brains have been scrambled enough as it is."
"So, you'll consider it then? Take me to visit Harry, that is?" asked Sirius with a pitiful note to his voice. He wasn't beyond begging at this point. He needed to be sure his godson was being well cared for, where ever he was being kept.
Snape rolled his eyes at Sirius but, he could understand the other man's desire to see Lily's boy. "Fine. I'll see what I can arrange but, I can't make any promises."
Hermione was practically bouncing on her toes with excitement. Her uncle had told her that she would be meeting someone new today, someone special to the little green-eyed boy that had been staying with the Malfoys. "Hermione, you need to calm down little one, "chuckled Amelia, "You don't want to set the curtains on fire...again."
"I'll try to stop, Auntie Amelia," said the overly animated child, her hair still frizzling with magic.
"Come along, little one. It's time for us to meet our guest," said Aiden as he picked Hermione up in his arms and headed to the fireplace to meet their incoming visitor.
As soon as they walked into the sitting room, the hearth flared up in bright green flames and out stepped a tall, dark-haired man dressed in Muggle clothes - dark blue jeans, black leather boots, a dark blue t-shirt and a black leather jacket. "Hello, Madam Bones," he said with a warm smile. "Thank you for agreeing to do this. You don't know how much this means to me."
"We're only to happy to help," she replied, "and, call me, Amelia." Turning to her husband, she said, "Aiden, this is Lord Sirius Black."
Shaking the other man's hand, he said, "Please, just call me Sirius." Looking to the little girl in Aiden's arms, he added, "And who might this charming little beauty be, hrnm?"
"This is my niece, Hermione," replied Aiden, "She has been looking forward to meeting you all morning."
"Well, I better be on my best behavior, then," Black chuckled.
Casting a quick Tempus, Amelia interrupted, "Not to rush things along but, I need to blindfold you and cast a Muffliato over you, Sirius, before we continue to our main destination."
Nodding his head in agreement, Black stepped closer to Amelia and she draped a cool, black silk scarf over his eyes, his smile turning to a thin straight line as nerves began to ramp up his heartbeat."Hang onto my arm and don't let go," she instructed, "It might get a bit rough traveling without two of your senses."
As the buzzing of the spell fell over him, Sirius felt Amelia's other hand settle atop the one he gripped her arm with before the swirling of Floo travel took over.
"Well, that went better than I expected," Sirius said with a weak smile as soon as his stomach settled back into place.
"Here, drink this. It will help," soothed Aiden as he handed Black a cool glass of ginger-water.
Normally, Sirius would have avoided the stuff but, he wasn't about to turn his nose up at something that would help keep his meager breakfast down. It would definitely not make a great first impression for his godson's foster family to witness him sullying their sitting room floor.
He still didn't know anything about who had taken in Harry. Amelia and Snape had both been rather tight-lipped about the matter. It was part of the conditions of this visit. The less he knew, the better - just in case he was attacked, again. That way, he wouldn't be able to compromise his godson's safety. Sirius understood the need for the added precautions but, it still didn't help quell his unease.
"Well, cousin, it's good to see you again."
"Narcissa!? What are you doing here?" exclaimed Sirius. Blinking his eyes, he finally got a good look at his surroundings. It had been years since he had last visited but, he should have recognized the ornate décor of Malfoy Manor as soon as his blindfold had been removed. "Oh, for Merlin's sake! You can't be serious!? Malfoy is my godson's anonymous benefactor!?"
"Why don't you screech that a little louder, Black, I don't think the neighboring town heard you," drawled Lucius as he strolled into the room.
Glaring at Amelia, Sirius snapped, "How could you possibly think that these....these dishonorable, unscrupulous Slytherins were the best choice to help keep Harry safe?"
Aiden growled at Black, "You ungrateful git. If it weren't for these people, Harry would be dead and you would be rotting away in Azkaban! Now, sit down and be quiet or I will forcibly remove you before you've had a chance to see your godson."
Sirius started to object but, a sudden jolt to his wand arm stopped him just as he opened his mouth. Instead of more harsh words, he let out a startled yelp.
"Don't you hurt my Auntie!" cried an indignant little voice as a second electric shock hit his legs. Looking down, he saw Hermione, her hair and fingertips crackling with magic.
"If you value your life, cousin, I wouldn't make Hermione any angrier," stated Narcissa coolly. "The last time she got this upset, she nearly torched the game room."
Sirius didn't quite know how to respond to that bit of information other than to quickly plop down on the nearest sofa and stare at the girl whose hair was still lighting up with sparks.
Seeing as he was no longer threatening her aunt, Hermione walked over to the surprised man and looked him straight in the eye. After studying Sirius a few moments, she patted gently him on the arm and said in a calm voice, as if speaking to a wayward pet, "Behave, puppy."
Once Sirius recovered from Hermione's physical attack, and her slight jab to his ego, he managed to calm himself enough to listen to Narcissa's account of the night that she and Amelia rescued Harry from Godric's Hollow. His chest tightened when she described the ghosts that visited them and their desperate pleas for help.
"Who is this Dark One?" he asked when she finished her story.
"Unfortunately, we still don't know that person's identity," sighed Amelia. "Neither James' nor Lily's spirits provided us with a name or description of the one who betrayed them before they disappeared. And, whoever they are, they used an Old Magic concealment spell to erase their magical signature. What's really disturbing, is that this is not the first crime scene where this particular enchantment was used. The most recent was at the Granger's home. And, if it weren't for Aiden's and Dot's memories, we wouldn't have a description of the man who responsible for their deaths."
"Well, you still don't have an accurate depiction, Amelia," Aiden reminded her. "Morgan said that whoever Dot and I saw must have used Polyjuice or a sophisticated glamour charm because that particular wizard was still imprisoned in Nurmengard."
Sirius's eyes widened at that bit of information. Every adult in Wizarding Britain knew that the only person being kept in that isolated prison was Grindelwald.
"Why?" Sirius scowled. "I understand trying to frame me for James' and Lily's deaths to draw attention away from the real killer but, why the elaborate disguise?"
"Well, that's the million galleon question isn't it," said Amelia.
"Enough of this maudlin discussion, everyone," chided Aiden. "Sirius came here to visit his godson. It's time for them to be reacquainted."
When Sirius caught sight of Harry, he nearly broke down. How could he have forgotten how much this little boy looked liked James, except, for the eyes, of course. Harry had Lily's beautiful emerald-green eyes.
And, as much as he hated to admit it, his cousin, Narcissa, and her husband appeared to be taking extremely good care of his godson. Harry was obviously happy, showing no signs of distress when he interacted with the Malfoys. Perhaps, he was too young to understand that his parents were never coming back and just accepted the blonde purebloods as his new family. He certainly enjoyed playing with Draco and Hermione.
Sirius' attention turned from his godson and focused on the bushy-haired little girl who was, once again, sparking with magic. This child was certainly showing signs of becoming a powerful witch when she grew up. And, fiercely protective of her family - which seemed to include Draco and Harry. A true lioness in the making he thought, well, that was until he saw her learning to play chess with Lucius Malfoy. Okay, maybe she'll be a Ravenclaw, instead.
Aiden and Amelia watched Black's eyes light up when he saw Hermione's hair crackling with blue jolts. "Do you think he suspects anything about the nature of Hermione's magic?" asked Amelia.
"I doubt it but, keep a close watch on him, just in case."
"She didn't," said Snape, a twitch of his lips threatening to break into a full grin.
"Oh, I assure you, she did," smirked Lucius as he regaled Severus with Hermione's initial reactions towards Sirius during his first visit with Harry.
"It makes me wish I had been here...almost...but, there's only so much of Black's company I can tolerate before I want to hex the man," stated Severus. A sudden gleam lit up the potion master's eyes. "You simply must give me a Pensieve memory so I can see the look on the Mutt's face...consider it my Christmas present this year."
Pulling a small vial containing a swirling, silver liquid from his robe pocket, Lucius handed the glass bottle to Severus, "Happy Christmas, my friend."
Peter Pettigrew sat in the run down safe house holding the newly arrived missive from his Master in his trembling hands. "He can't be serious!" he yelled to the dank shadows of the room. Re-reading the message to make sure he hadn't misunderstood the assignment, the rat-like wizard growled in frustration. "I won't do it! It's....it's...." he didn't finish the thought. Sighing, he knew he had no choice in the matter. Either he began this humiliating task tomorrow morning or by the end of the week he would be dead at the hands of the Dark One.
After packing his meager belongings and finishing off the last of the food rations in the cooling cabinet, Pettigrew lay down on the lumpy, threadbare cot and tried to get some sleep. Closing his eyes, he envisioned his Master's latest directive - become a spy while hiding in plain sight. The Dark One's plan was....well, unique. He'd ordered Peter to use his illegal Animagus form to gain access to the Ministry by stowing away in the blood traitor's, Arthur Weasley's, robe pockets. Wherever the red-haired patriarch went during his workday, Peter was to take note of anything of importance, such as, planned raids on Purebloods' homes or businesses. Whatever information Pettigrew managed to gather was then to be passed on to his Master through a specially charmed Post owl - should the bird be intercepted, the message would simply disintegrate in a puff of black smoke.
Once he had proven to the Dark One that he could handle this mission, Peter would be given more important tasks to perform. Pettigrew only hoped that this would be a short-lived assignment.
Hermione, Draco and Harry squealed with delight when Manfred Morgan stepped out of the floo at Malfoy Manor that Saturday evening in November. He had quickly become the trio's favorite sitter, well, second only to the house-elf, Trinket, naturally. But, today, he had promised they were going to have a special adventure. While the Malfoys and DeVillas went out for a, much needed, adults-only night on the town, Manfred told the three that they were going to enjoy a rare treat but, only if Hermione and Draco did not set things on fire as they were prone to do when they got overly excited. Looking up at the man with puppy eyes, the two said they would try - they really were getting better, they insisted.
This caused the amused wizard to loudly chuckle at their fervent claims. He had, after all, been the unexpected receiver of the last time they had gotten up to mischief. His eyebrows were only just now beginning to return to normal after Draco had accidently torched them during a fit of hiccups brought on by chugging too many glasses of Pumpkin juice after Hermione had dared him to eat a raw cayenne pepper. Honestly, he had only stepped away for just five minutes to take an urgent floo call from Amelia. And, he still hadn't figured out where Hermione had gotten her hands on those things.
As soon as the two couples left, Manfred got to work. Taking his three charges out to the stone-paved terrace, Morgan set about casting a few extra wards - just as a precaution, of course. "Now, what shall we do first, hrnm?" he asked the antsy children. "I know. How about we get comfortable." As he said this, Manfred slowly dropped his glamours. Harry was owl-eyed. Draco and Hermione had told him that Morgan looked different but, he didn't believe them, until now. Reaching up a small hand, the green-eyed boy touched the wizard's real face.
"So soft," he said, gently patting Manfred's golden brown muzzle. "What are you?" he asked shyly.
Smiling down at the curious child, Morgan said, "Well, young Master Harry, I am a chimaera. Which means I'm a mix-n-match of several magical beings. As you can see, a lion's head, the body of a goat and the tail of a dragon. Oh, and I breathe fire, too." Seeing that this didn't bother the boy in the least, he continued. "I didn't always look like this but, that's a whole other story. Now, you're probably wondering why I don't look like this everyday?" Harry nodded. "Well, that is because most people are frightened of me when I appear this way. Some would even consider me a monster or a beast. They don't understand that I'm still just Manfred Morgan, wizard extraordinaire."
Harry frowned and hugged Morgan as best he could. "Not a monster. You are my friend."
Manfred looked down at this little boy and sighed to himself, "If only others thought like you do, Harry."
When the Malfoys and the DeVillas arrived back at the Manor late that evening, they saw a sleeping Hermione, Draco and Harry snuggled against the content, rumbling form of Morgan - his eyes closed and his dragon tail gently curled around the three.
Without waking the group, Amelia pulled a compact wizarding camera from her clutch and snapped a quick photo.
Leaning over to whisper in her ear, Lucius chuckled, "Make sure you send us copies."
Magical Hybrid - Chimaeras - description from hp-lexicon.org
Headmaster Dumbledore was barely in control of his anger as he stood in front of the Wizangamot panel that was reviewing the guardianship petition for one Harry James Potter. "That child belongs with his direct relatives, the Dursleys, for his own protection!" he ranted. "Blood wards would then be set on their home as they are the only way to ensure that he will be safe from whoever murdered his parents."
One of the lead council members, a grey-haired wizard named Winthrop Barttleby, slowly rose from his seat and calmly waved a document over to the irate wizard's hands and said, "According to this authenticated copy of the Potters' last will and testament, you will note that it is Lord Sirius Black of the Ancient and Noble House of Black who was named to become the boy's legal custodian in the event of their deaths and not his Muggle relatives."
"That shameful excuse for a wizard was suspected of killing the Potters! He's not fit to become Harry's caretaker," fumed Dumbledore. Where had they gotten a copy of the Potters' will? One of his most reliable contacts in the Ministry had assured him that there was no such document in their archives, the family attorney had no record of the forms ever being filed and no legal paperwork had been recovered from the home in Godric's Hollow. It only stood to reason that the Dursleys, as Harry's remaining next of kin, would be designated as his guardians. He would be cut off from the Wizarding World, their magical traditions and politics, becoming completely reliant on Dumbledore for guidance in such matters when the time came for him to attend Hogwarts.
Interrupting Albus' internal deliberations, Barttleby countered, "As I recall, Lord Black was proven innocent of that crime."
"The fact remains that he was the Potters' Secret Keeper and gave up their location. He's still responsible, in part, for their deaths," argued the Headmaster. It was a weak assertion given that Black had been acquitted but, it appeared to make a couple of the members on the review panel pause and reconsider the petition.
"You will, no doubt, remember that Black was brutally assaulted and his memories invaded by the real killer? He didn't willingly hand over that information," snapped Winthrop. Honestly, Dumbledore was starting to get on his nerves. Why was this man even arguing for that Muggle family to take charge of a magical child? Simply the worst kind of people, too, according to the MLE investigators. 'Freaks and devils' they had called the agents when they turned up on their doorstep to inform Petunia Dursley of her sister's and brother-in-law's deaths. They clearly wanted nothing to do with magic, the wizarding world, or the orphaned child. It made no sense to place the boy in such a hostile environment, blood wards be damned.
"Be that as it may, Sirius Black can not provide the security, nor a stable home life, that this child needs. He's an unmarried wizard, a known philanderer and he's a member of the Black family which makes him predisposed to their trait of insanity. That is not an acceptable environment for an impressionable youngster," snarled Albus.
"The last time I checked, being single and raising a child on one's own was not a crime, Headmaster," hissed Barttleby. "And, just because he is from a certain bloodline does not automatically mean he will become mentally unstable, however, I will concede the issue of Lord Black's hedonistic lifestyle not being the ideal living conditions for this boy." Pulling out a second document, and practically throwing it at the older wizard, he continued, "That is why he has appealed to this court to award custody of Harry Potter to a reputable wizarding family of his choosing."
Dumbledore looked at the paperwork in front of him and practically growled at the names filled in on the forms. Lord Lucius and Lady Narcissa Malfoy.
The Headmaster sat at his desk at Hogwarts, a large tumbler of firewhiskey in his hands. It was his second since returning from the Ministry. Ordinarily, he never touched the stuff but, today was a special circumstance. He had lost his chance to control the upbringing of Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, the Savior of the Prophecy. The review panel had, of course, granted the guardianship of Potter to the Malfoys. Unbeknownst to Albus, it had been a done deal before any of them had set foot into the Wizangamot chambers - Lucius had taken no chances and personally confirmed it with his family attorney before he and Narcissa had left the Manor that morning.
No, Harry would never be brought up in ignorance of magic as Dumbledore had originally planned but, in the lap of luxury, wanting for nothing and fully immersed in the culture of their world. Sighing heavily, Albus leaned back on his chair and closed his eyes. At least, he had an idea of where the boy was going to be living and who with before he attended Hogwarts. And, although Harry would no longer be in complete seclusion, he would still be difficult to reach. The security spells and blood wards surrounding Malfoy Manor were, according to his Ministry contacts, among the very best and that meant Dumbledore had to find another way to influence the boy so the prophecy could be fulfilled.
Tossing back the rest of his drink, the Headmaster returned to the proverbial drawing board and began making adjustments his plans, yet again.
Lucius and Narcissa had left nothing to chance after returning from the Ministry and had performed a formal blood adoption ritual with Harry almost immediately. He was scared, at first, especially, when he saw the ornate silver knife Lucius withdrew from a magically runed, silk-lined oak box. But, with Draco and Narcissa standing next to him, holding his hands and Hermione, Aiden and Amelia standing as witnesses around them in the ancient stone circle in the Manor gardens, it helped to calm his nerves. He barely winced as Lucius made two small cuts, one on Harry's right hand and one on Lucius' left palm. Clasping their blooded hands together, Lucius began chanting the binding words, " Et Sanguis Sanguinem, Ego Dici Tibi, Usque in Saeculum tu es Fili me, Mea et Cor Meum."
As soon as the words were spoken, a soft golden light enveloped Harry and Lucius before it expanded outwards and wrapped around Draco and Narcissa, too. Slowly, the glow faded into their skin leaving behind a small rune above the pulse points on their left wrists that, eventually, disappeared from view.
When the ritual was done, Draco wrapped Harry in a tight hug and giggled, "My little brother!"
Not wanting to be left out, Hermione walked over and joined in the group cuddles and, not so quietly, proclaimed, "You're still my brother, too."
Later that evening, the Malfoys, the DeVillas, Severus Snape, and the extended 'family' members from the DoM and DMLE, celebrated the newest addition to the Malfoy dynasty in the Manor ballroom. Sirius Black had been invited, as well, but, had graciously declined to attend. While he knew it was a necessary move to fully protect his godson, Sirius couldn't bring himself to toast to the occasion with all those other people present, but Snape, in particular. While the two men had managed to become more civil towards one another in recent weeks, Sirius didn't trust himself to be in the same room for such an extended period of time with the dour wizard. He knew he'd probably wind up spoiling the, otherwise cheerful event, by hexing the dour wizard. So, he and Narcissa agreed it would be better for all concerned if he came over the following day for a more private celebration - with just him, Harry, Draco, Lucius and Narcissa.
In a quiet corner of the ballroom, Snape took a sip of champagne and turned to his host, a wicked gleam shining in his dark eyes. "Does Black know the full extent of what this blood adoption means for Harry, Lucius?"
With a equally mischievous grin on his face, the platinum-blonde wizard chuckled, "I sincerely doubt it. But, I'd say, in about two weeks, it will become apparent when my new son's hair changes colors."
"Add that Penseive Memory to my early Christmas gift, if you would be so kind, Lucius."
et sanguis sanguinem - blood to blood
ego dici tibi - I claim you
usque in saeculum tu es fili me - forevermore you are my child
mea et cor meum - my family and my heart
Blood to blood, I claim you, forevermore you are my child, my family and my heart
It was two weeks after Harry's new blonde locks appeared, much to Sirius' horror, that Amelia found herself in the DoM's medical offices. Aiden had threatened to Stupify and drag her down to be seen by Healer Greenbriar if she didn't make an appointment. She sighed at the memory. He was worried that she had contracted the Wizarding flu that was currently making the rounds about the Ministry and wanted to prevent her from infecting Hermione. He had told her what kind of havoc the illness played on his elemental magics in the past but, he was unsure what it would do to Hermione's. So, she relented and, now, here she sat in the chilly, pale green, patient cubicle with her arse hanging out of a medical gown that refused to re-size itself to fit her form.
By the time Healer Greenbriar entered the room, Amelia was in a right foul mood. "Lovely to see you again, Amelia," chirped Esther, completely ignoring the impatient growl from the other witch. "What brings you to my corner of the world, hrnm?"
"My husband thinks I have the Wizarding flu," huffed Amelia, "I believe he's overreacting. I'm just stressed from these cases we've been unable to solve."
"And, knowing you so well, as I do, you've probably been neglecting proper meals and sleep because of it," said Greenbriar, raising an eyebrow at her reluctant patient.
"Fine. Yes. I suppose I have been overdoing things a bit," the younger witch admitted as she crossed her arms in front of her chest. "But, I'm still sure I don't have the flu. I haven't been running a fever or developed any purple spots."
"That doesn't mean you aren't in the early stages of this bug. Now, lay back on the exam table and lets get some diagnostics going," said Esther as she flicked her wand and set about casting a standard series of medical scans. With each item ticked off the list, she just hmmm'd and made a notation on Amelia's medical file. She looked to be rather bored by the whole process, that is, until she came to the last diagnostic. Frowning, she ran the spell a second time - and a third to be absolutely certain. Esther finished notating her findings into the records before she turned to her patient, an impassive look on her face.
"I can safely say you do not have Wizarding flu, Amelia," she began, "But, I did find something rather unusual in your tests. Quite frankly, I'm not sure how this occurred, given your history."
Amelia looked at the older witch with an irritated expression, "Well? Don't keep me in suspense. What is it?"
"You're pregnant. About three weeks," stated Esther.
"That's....that's not...," stuttered Amelia, "I'm not able to have kids, you know that as well as I do."
"I know. That's why I ran the test three times. I can't explain it either," said Esther. "I helped treat your injuries after that potions explosion when you were at Hogwarts and gave you the prognosis. This," she said as she pulled up the last test image," shouldn't be possible but, however it did come about, you, my dear, are going to be a mother."
Amelia quickly sat up on the examination table."Oh, Merlin! How am I going to explain this to Aiden? He'll think I've lost my marbles."
She needn't have worried. Aiden took the news that he was going to become a father surprisingly well....by fainting flat onto his face.
Hermione, of course, was over the moon. She ran down the halls of the DoM residences telling everyone she knew that she was going to be a big sister...or cousin....it was a bit confusing.
Narcissa, Amelia and Dot were hurrying about the shops in Hogsmeade buying the last of their holiday gifts. The air was crisp and slight flurries of snow had begun falling on everything and everyone. And, the scent of roasting chestnuts and mulled cider drifting across the street from Honeydukes was making the three witches' stomachs rumble.
"Let's grab a bag of the chestnuts to tide us over until dinner, then, head over to Gladrags," suggested Dot, "They have a new shipment of scarves and gloves in and I need to replace these ratty old things," she laughed as she held up her hands covered in a threadbare pair of mittens. "A Reparo just won't fix these anymore."
"Sounds like a plan," replied Amelia, "Lead the way."
The trio had barely taken two steps towards the candy shop entrance when all three were hit with Stunners. By the time Dot and Narcissa regained consciousness, a team of Aurors had the entire street on lockdown. The two witches were promptly questioned and sent on their way but, not before they heard the whispers from other witnesses. Their friend had been taken by a blue-eyed wizard who disappeared in a shroud of black mist.
Lucius gazed at the distraught wizard who was currently slumped on the settee in his study at the Manor and he was trying, unsuccessfully, to get him to talk. Aiden just sat there quietly staring out the window, a large tumbler of firewhiskey dangling from his fingers, his third glassful in the past thirty minutes. Malfoy could empathize, if the love of his life had gone missing he would be just as devastated and, with the DMLE officials not having any clue as to where to find her, he'd probably resort to trying to drown out all his dark thoughts, too.
What made matters worse, Aiden had received no ransom demands or contact of any sort from Amelia's abductor. And, when Lucius heard the description of the person who had taken Amelia from Narcissa and Dot, chills went down his spine. He was the same wizard Aiden and Dot had seen that day at the Granger's home before the place had been destroyed and three people killed. Things were looking bleak for Amelia's survival.
"That's not all," whispered Dot, not wanting Aiden to overhear this conversation. "Amelia had been going back over DMLE and DoM records for weeks now trying to see if there was something we missed from the initial investigations into this mystery wizard." Dot paused a moment before continuing, "She discovered that the dampening spell that this person used to hide his magical signature at the Granger's and Potter's residences was present in Sirius Black's case, too." Lucius and Narcissa both took in a small gasp in surprise. They knew from Black's trial that he was meant to be the scapegoat for the Potters deaths and that was why he was left alive but, to learn that his attack and memory alterations directly involved the same blue-eyed wizard meant that there was a slim chance that Amelia might make it through her encounter with the man, too. The only question was, what did he want from her?
Seeing the looks on their faces and the unasked question in their eyes, Dot answered, "I think he's trying to find Hermione."
They each arched a blonde eyebrow at Dot, almost in unison. She would have laughed if the situation wasn't so serious.
"That day at the Granger's, he demanded that Aiden and I give her to him. I hope I'm wrong but, I suspect he knows about her elemental magic," said Dot.
"If that's the case, why did he attack the Potters?" asked Lucius. A thought popped into his head and he added, "Were one or both of them elemental mages, too?"
"No, they weren't," replied a scratchy voice. Aiden had wandered over to refill his empty tumbler when he overheard Malfoy. "I know this for certain because Harry isn't either, otherwise, my magics would have recognized him when Narcissa brought him to the Manor that night. Whatever this bastard wanted from them, it wasn't because of that."
Dot interjected, "I may have an idea why." All eyes turned to the younger witch. "It was part of what Amelia was doing, rechecking the records for missed clues. I was helping pull witness statements, investigator notes, trial transcripts and the like and I accidently added some cold case files from Barnaby's desk.
Again, with the quirked eyebrows, only now, Aiden's was added to the mix. Biting back a snort at their synchronized expression, Dot continued to explain, "Those folders were all from 1979 and they involved Hermione's kidnapping when she was a newborn, the murder of the person who had taken her, Healer Greenstone, and the disappearance of Malthes Delvar DiMoro." Aiden hissed at the memories these events and names evoked. Lucius merely gestured for her to continue. "I was about to remove those documents from the stacks when Amelia stopped me. She had been running that tracing charm of hers, you know, the one that identified that cloaking spell that the mystery wizard used to hide his magical signature? Anyway, all of those records lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree. Every. Last. One."
"So, the blue-eyed man is connected to all these incidents. But, what has that got to do with the Potters? asked Narcissa.
"I was getting to that," said Dot. "Their names came up on the witness lists at St. Mungo's and the death of Healer Greenstone. They were both there that night in the delivery room when Hermione was taken. According to the investigators, Mrs.Potter stated she had suffered a miscarriage and was being kept overnight but, there are no medical records to support this claim or they may have simply been destroyed in the fire. But, their statements show that they had a vague recollection of a black mist being in the corridors outside her room just before the explosions started." Dot shrugged her shoulder. "Perhaps, they witnessed more than that?"
Dot continued on, "Now, the cottage in Ipswich where Greenstone's body was found belonged to Mr. Potter's grandparents. He had been called out to the scene when a records search turned up the previous owner's names. Potter stated that he had forgotten the place existed and hadn't been there in ages but, he did provide the aurors a list of everything that he could remember being on the property. And, one of the team, the late Auror Jones, made a note in the file that he suspected Mr. Potter of being the source of the anonymous tip that lead the aurors to find Greenstone's body but, could never prove it. At least, not enough that Veritaserum could be ordered to use on him.
"I know, I know. It's all speculation at this point but, Amelia felt there were just too many coincidences to ignore."
Aiden listened with interest. He had even stopped drinking, for the moment. Dot was right. There were just too many connections to be overlooked. But, one thing was for certain in his slowly clearing mind, if the worst came to pass and Amelia and the baby didn't survive, there wouldn't be any safe place on the planet for that blue-eyed bastard to hide from Aiden.
Hermione watched the adults in the sitting room as they talked in hushed tones. She couldn't quite make out what they were saying and she was getting frustrated. Her hair was starting to spark and writhe with her magic. Oh, she was aware that something had happened to her Auntie Amelia but, that was all. Sneaking closer to the group unseen, Hermione caught a fragment of conversation that made her blood run cold. She had been kidnapped as a baby and Dot believed the blue-eyed wizard was involved, that he may be trying to find her, again! But, it was the news that this crazy man had taken her Aunt, Merlin knew where, that sent her powers into overdrive.
The adults felt the sudden blast of power and barely had time to throw a Protego Maxima before Hermione's elemental magics descended on the entire room. Fabrics and wood furniture shredded in the force of the tornadic winds, glass and metal ornaments melted from the volcanic level heat, stonework broke and shifted violently with the ensuing earthquake and the monsoon level rains threatened to drown everyone despite the shields.
Aiden countered the raging fire element, with some difficulty, and quickly made his way over to his distraught niece. He knew from the current state of things that she must have overheard some of their discussions and it had caused her emotions and magics to flare out of control. "Little one, please, you must calm yourself," he smoothed as he pulled her into his arms. As much as he was despairing over his missing wife, he needed to settle the young witch before she hurt someone. Lucius was fireproof but, he and the two other witches were vulnerable to the other natural forces.
Hermione looked her Uncle in the eyes and sobbed, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
"I know, little one," he whispered. "Shhhhh, dear. It's okay, we know you didn't mean for this to happen." Rubbing, gentle soothing circles on her back Aiden continued, "Remember your lessons....deep breaths in, then slow breaths out....that's it....keep going, Hermione....inhale, exhale....good." He kept his steady cadence of soothing words and soft caresses going for several moments and with each passing minute the wild magic pulled back, until the danger completely receded.
When the last bit of elemental force had been tamed, Hermione sagged against Aiden's chest, thoroughly worn out from her magical exertions. Narcissa, Lucius and Dot started setting themselves and the room to rights while Aiden carried his exhausted niece over to a repaired settee and sat down with her on his lap, her arms and legs wrapped around his neck and waist, clinging to him like a monkey.
He desperately wanted to tell Hermione that things would be okay, to assure her that her Aunt would return soon, but he didn't want to lie to her. He knew that would only lead to a repeat of what just happened, or worse, should things not go well. All he could say to her, right now, was that they were doing everything they could to bring Amelia safely home.
Albus looked down at the numerous bits of parchment that lay scattered across his desk and scowled. No matter how he tried to tweak his calculations, the results were the same. He would have to wait until Harry Potter and Hermione Granger came to Hogwarts before he could begin to influence them in a manner that best fit his schemes. Pouring himself another firewhiskey, he sat back and carefully Incendio'd the scraps of paper. Can't have that nosy tabby, McGonagall, finding his notes, after all.
On his gilded perch behind the Headmaster, a sullen phoenix warbled a soft, mournful tune and promptly burst into flames.
Startled for just a moment, Dumbledore stared at the pile of ashes at the bottom of Fawkes' cage where the newborn hatchling was struggling to emerge. "You seem to be having more Burning Days here of late, pet. Perhaps, I should have Professor Kettleburn have a look at you to see what's the matter."
Picking up a juicy plum from the bowl on his desk, Albus cut the fruit into smaller pieces before feeding them one at a time to the hungry, demanding chick. "Well, whatever it is, it's definitely not affecting your appetite.
Amelia woke with a pulse-pounding headache in an unfamiliar room. She winced as she tried to sit up and not sick up everywhere, not sure if was from the migraine or morning sickness, probably a bit of both. As she gingerly opened her eyes more to take in the space, she hissed. Her wand was missing and there was someone sitting in a chair near the end of the cot she laying on, someone with glaring blue-eyes shrouded in an inky black mist with a wand pointed at her.
"Welcome back to the land of the living, Amelia Bones...or should I say, Madame DeVilla?" said the wizard with a silky smooth baritone voice. "Whether you remain in this world or pass beyond the veil depends on your answers to my questions."
Narrowing her eyes at the threatening man, Amelia said, "You have me at a disadvantage. You obviously know who I am but, I have no idea who you are, other than your fake appearance."
"Forgive me, where are my manners," the wizard smirked. "Allow me to properly introduce myself, it's not like you'll remember our encounter, that is, if you survive."
With a flourish of his wand, the mist dissipated and the glamoured image of Gellert Grindlewald melted away. In front of Amelia stood a tall, handsome, raven-haired man with hazel eyes that she had only seen a few times before in a Pensieve memory from Aiden.
"Malthes Delvar DiMoro, at your service, ma'am."
Warning! :Brief mention of torture at the end.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Could this really be the elusive DiMoro that had vanished without a trace after the destruction at St. Mungo's two years ago? Or was it simply another elaborate glamour, a further attempt to hide his true identity? That was a favored spell of this person, after all.
Who ever it turned out to be, Amelia had no patience for their threats. "What do you want?" she asked curtly. Whatever his demands, Amelia knew she wasn't going to like it.
"It's quite simple, really," DiMoro smirked, "All I require from you is the current location of my daughter, Hermione. I'll take care of everything else."
"You mean you'll maim or kill anyone who stands in your way. Like my colleagues, Aurors Moody and Jones or Hermione's parents?"
Amelia watched with interest as the man before her paused a moment before answering, a shadow of....was that regret she saw in his eyes?
"The Grangers deaths were....lamentable," he sighed, "They were excellent foster parents for my little girl, patient and kind." His sympathetic tone suddenly changed, shadows fell across his face as his calm expression twisted into one of bitterness. "She was perfectly happy and safe there with them until you and your meddling agents decided to steal her from me! Their deaths are on you, the DoM, the DMLE....and Albus Dumbledore," he snarled, his hazel eyes darkening with his growing anger.
Amelia was taken aback. "What are you on about? You and Healer Greenstone were the kidnappers, not us. And, YOU were the one making threats and destroying lives that day at the Grangers. As for Dumbledore, what has that twinkly-eyed old fart got to do with any of this?"
Malthes looked the captive witch straight in eye. He couldn't believe that she had the gall to claim ignorance of the Headmaster's schemes. "He intended to use her as a weapon against me, as if you didn't know!" Of course, he had similar plans to use Hermione against Dumbledore but, she didn't need to hear that tidbit of information.
Amelia's eyes widened. "I assure you, I had nothing to do with his designs for exploiting Hermione in such a manner. Whether you realize it or not, Dumbledore and I aren't exactly on friendly terms after he tried to convict my, then fiancé, of the murders of Auror Jones and the Grangers. As far as I'm concerned, that old goat can just shove his wand up his arse and spit rainbows."
"Forgive me if I don't accept your word Madame DeVilla. Albus has his acolytes in nearly every Ministry department and, as head of your divisions, I find it difficult to accept that you are not one of his most loyal devotees, especially, after you stole my daughter from me on his direct orders."
"You're off your nut, Malthes. I didn't take Hermione from you. And, I have never taken orders from that arrogant git, Dumbledore," huffed Amelia. "As far as my department's concerned, they are loyal to me and each other, we're a family of sorts. Not one would willingly do that man's bidding.
"Willing or not, knowingly or no, you still made off with my daughter and have kept her from me all these months," DiMoro hissed as he paced about the room. "Now, tell me where she is or things will get rather unpleasant for you."
This was going no where fast. How could this twit possibly think that she and Albus-Bloody-Dumbledore were conspiring together to use Hermione like that?! Amelia had to change tactics, now. Sending up a silent prayer to any deities listening, she looked at Malthes and rattled off a string of questions, hoping to get him to see things in another light.
"Who told you that I was working for the Headmaster? I don't expect you tell me their name, of course but, how did you come by your information? Face-to-face meetings, anonymous owl post, Patronus messenger? And, just how well do you know your source, do you trust them enough to risk Hermione's life on what they've told you?"
Malthes abruptly stopped his pacing, shook his head a few times, muttered something under his breath and swatted the air with his hands as if to knock away an annoying insect.
'What was that about?' thought Amelia. As she watched, DiMoro repeated this odd behavior two more times before he returned to his previous pattern of accusations, threats and demands. "Where is my daughter?!" he snarled, digging his wand into Amelia's ribs.
Deciding to take a chance, Amelia continued to pepper him with questions, "What does your informant get from you in return? Are you paying them galleons for their efforts or will you owe them a favor? Either way, can you be sure they won't sell you out to someone else if the mood strikes them?"
"Enough!" growled DiMoro, his body twitching slightly. "You're just trying to delay the inevitable." Raising his wand to Amelia's right shoulder and pushing the tip into her skin, he murmured, "Where is Hermione being kept, witch?"
Amelia closed her mouth, refusing to speak further. Something was definitely wrong with this wizard. But, whatever it was causing his strange mannerisms, she'd do everything she could to keep him from finding Hermione. Dropping her head and looking at her still flat stomach, she let the tears she'd been holding back spill over her cheeks. 'I'm so sorry, little one.'
"You brought this on yourself," snapped DiMoro as he waved his free hand frantically at the air near his left ear. Slashing his wand down Amelia's right arm, he cast a series of increasingly nasty spells.
manus contundito - crush hand
cubito fracturae - fracture elbow
**Brief mention of trauma at end of chapter**
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Three days later, Aiden received an urgent floo call from Manfred Morgan while he was in the library at the DeVilla manor picking up some books for Hermione. The message had been brief. "Amelia's been found. I'll meet you at St. Mungo's." Aiden's heart clenched in his chest. Morgan's eyes were shuttered, his voice extremely strained, and Aiden knew that meant the, normally, levelheaded wizard was finding it difficult to maintain his self-control and, in turn, his glamoured form. Aiden shivered, dreading to think what this implied about Amelia's well-being. Stepping into the hearth and throwing in a large pinch of floo powder, he called out "St. Mungo's, visitor's lobby" and disappeared in a flash of green flames, the books for his niece laying forgotten on the mantlepiece.
Morgan was pacing in the family room outside of the spell-damage ward waiting for the others to arrive. He had been one of the team that had found their boss in that desolate farmhouse near Chipingham and he was still in a bit of shock. Morgan knew it was a miracle that they had even discovered Amelia still alive but, he was beginning to wonder if that was a blessing or not after listening to the Mediwitch's report on her injuries and prognosis. One thing he knew for sure, it was going to take everything he had to keep Aiden from having a Hermione-like meltdown when he learned of what happened to his wife. But, if Morgan was being honest, he was already beginning to plot their revenge against Amelia's abductor.
This so-called Dark One's days were numbered and they were going to end in the worst ways imaginable, the blue-eyed wizard just didn't know it yet.
Dot had just arrived at Malfoy Manor with Hermione so that the little girl could spend the day with Narcissa, Draco and Harry, Lucius having left five minutes earlier to join Morgan and Aiden at St. Mungo's. "Have you found out anything more?" she asked after the house-elf, Trinket, had taken the little girl and her younger brothers to the game room, getting them out-of-ear shot.
"No," replied Narcissa. "Manfred wouldn't say much other than to confirm that Amelia was alive. But, the expression on his face said that things aren't looking good for her."
Dot let out a low hiss. "I'd better get over there quick, then. Morgan's going to need all the help he can get to keep Aiden from wrecking the place."
"That's why Lucius left as soon as we got word," sighed Narcissa. "Aiden's elemental magic may not be as strong as Hermione's but, should he lose control.....well, it would certainly complicate matters. And, the last thing our little tempest needs is to lose her Uncle to Azkaban for endangering others."
"Agreed, said Dot as she headed to the fireplace to floo to St. Mungo's. Turning back to Narcissa before stepping into the hearth, she added, "I'll send my Patronus with an update as soon as I can."
Malthes collapsed onto the large sleigh bed in his latest safe house, closed his eyes and smiled. It had taken three days but, Madame DeVilla had finally cracked. He finally knew where his daughter was being kept and it wouldn't be long before she was back with him. For now, he needed a few days to recover his strength and magic and to plan the best way to rescue Hermione. With a bit of luck, he would be celebrating Christmas morning with his little girl at his side.
It was too bad that DeVilla fought him so hard. She would have made a powerful ally in his fight to reshape Wizarding Britain into a more modern society. And, more importantly, overthrow Dumbledore and his corrupt traditionalist network at the Ministry.
He fell asleep dreaming of Hermione at his side helping him to govern his improved version of Wizarding Britain, his New Order.
Dot, Manfred and Lucius collapsed onto the ground, bruised, scorched and completely exhausted. It had taken all three of them to subdue Aiden. Well, Manfred and Lucius had held the raging wizard in place with a combination of spells and physical force while Dot had injected the man with Pulchra Durmiens*, a new draught that Snape had created for just such an emergency after witnessing one of Hermione's elemental outbursts. It made Ketamine* look tame, like sucking on a sherbet lemon.
It may have been a bit drastic but, it was the only thing they could do, short of overdosing him on Calming Draughts or Condunding the man, to keep Aiden pacified enough so that he wouldn't set the entire hospital on fire. Not that anyone could blame him. The love of his life would never be the same.
"Twenty broken bones, several torn ligaments, extensive burns over 75% of her body including her face, multiple lacerations, severe blood loss...", the mediwitch's description of Amelia's injuries seemed to go on forever.
"But, she's been stabilized".
"While the team could heal most of the critical trauma, they weren't able to save her wand arm, she will have to relearn how to do everything with her left hand."
"However, we can fit her with a prosthetic and teach her how to adjust to the new magics involved."
Dot looked at the floor, not wanting the others to see the tears that threatened to fall. Lucius and Morgan had become paler than normal. Aiden was just numb.
It didn't seem possible but, the healer's account just got worse. Amelia had been subjected to a prolonged form of Obliviate...her memories of the last two years of her life were permanently gone. When Amelia was to be awakened from her magically induced coma in a months time, Aiden and Hermione would be complete strangers to her.
The mediwitch had no 'good news' following that revelation.
The final healer came out of Amelia's room with a blank expression on her face. Amelia had developed some internal bleeding in her lower abdomen and this update was the one that Dot was dreading the most for her already traumatized friend. Looking over at Lucius and Morgan, they nodded to one another, they had their wands ready in case Dot needed to tranquilize Aiden a second time.
The gobsmacked wizard sat on the waiting room chair, visibly trembling and with tears silently flowing down his cheeks.
Aiden hadn't heard much the mediwitch said past "The twins are doing just fine."
pulchra durmiens - sleeping beauty
Ketamine -tranquilizer, anesthesia, pain relief medication - medicalnewstoday.com
Aiden sat on the small squishy chair next to Amelia's bed. The healers had just left after running their latest scans, spelling potions and foods directly into her stomach and changing her salve coated dressings. It had been a week since she had been brought in and she looked markedly better, the burns almost fully healed. The only areas that would remain scarred was across her lower back and the right side of her neck, just below her jaw, down to her shoulder where the damage had been the deepest. But, that didn't matter to Aiden. His wife was alive.
And, their children continued to thrive, a boy and a girl. He still couldn't believe they had all survived, that he was still a husband and father-to-be. That thought startled him out of musings. 'Oh, Merlin! I'm going to be a dad! There's so much we need to get ready, what do I need to do first? The nursery? Clothes? Upgrading the wards?' Aiden had nearly worked himself into a panic worrying about everything when Narcissa walked into the room and saw the frantic look on the man's face.
"Aiden, what wrong? Is Amelia alright?" she asked.
"What? Oh, yes. She and the babies are doing better than expected. It's just....I'm going to be a father...There's so much to get done, I don't know where to start? I....," his eyes were starting to widen and his breathing was becoming slightly irregular. Narcissa reached over and gently placed a hand on his arm to distract him from his rambling.
"Aiden, you have plenty of time to get things done," she soothed. "Lucius, the house-elves and I will make sure you have everything you need. So, just take a deep breath and relax, everything will be fine."
Giving her a wan smile and a murmured 'Thanks', he turned back to his sleeping wife. "I hope you're right, Narcissa."
DiMoro met with Pettigrew for an update on the Ministry in a particularly seedy tavern off Knockturn Ally where no one would look at them twice. After listening to the list of new legislation being considered by the Wizengamot, the blue-eyed wizard turned to his little spy, "I need you for a special task, Peter, and it must be done by the end of the week. And, keep this on you at all times" he said as he handed Pettigrew a silver necklace with a shrunken book attached. "It contains spells that will mask your magical signature, so you don't trip any security devices, and you can contact me through it by writing a note on the front page."
'Oh, thank Merlin!' thought Pettigrew. Doing surveillance through Arthur Weasley's robe pocket had become rather tedious and this new assignment was a welcome change of scenery. Although, the first bit would be somewhat tricky - sneaking into Lucius Malfoy's robes at the next Wizangamot hearing the following day and not getting caught in the process. The second part would be easy enough, at least, he thought so. How hard could it be to find and follow a two-year-old girl?
For the next two days, Pettigrew hadn't anything to report to the Dark One due to the absence of the little witch at Malfoy Manor but, today was different. Miss Granger had taken an active interest in the methods of warding. Blood wards, in particular, and Lucius and Narcissa were to show her the basics later that day. Using the special journal that his master had given him, Peter sent word that the child he was looking for was scheduled to arrive at ten that morning but, he had no clue how the blue-eyed wizard expected to sneak into the place. During the night, Peter had scurried about, dodging those damn albino peacocks and family owls, trying to find weakness in the perimeter defenses and had found none. His master simply told him to make sure he stayed in physical contact with the girl at all times, that he would take care of the rest. So, Pettigrew did as he was instructed and waited for his chance to get in close to Hermione.
His opportunity arose at precisely noon when the Malfoys and the little witch broke from their lesson to take a break for lunch. Scurrying about in the shadows, under furniture he slowly made his way across the sitting room to the settee where Hermione was seated and scrambled into the jacket she had draped across the arm of the couch. Peter thought he was caught at one point when Lucius paused and looked about the room, staring in his direction. But, the magics placed on the shrunken book were working, Lucius never spotted the little Animagus.
Thirty minutes later, the group headed out to the gardens so that Narcissa could show Hermione the outer wards near the family crypt. Hermione pulled on the jacket to keep warm,as the weather had turned chilly after the rainstorm the previous afternoon, and followed the Malfoys outside. As they made their way along the path they had taken on Halloween night, Hermione let out a shriek of surprise when she reached into her pocket and found something furry and alive moving about inside.
Before she could pull the stowaway out to show him to Lucius, Hermione started to glow with an eerie blue light as the journal-port key Pettigrew had about his neck activated, transporting them away before the Malfoy's horrified gazes.
Just as Hermione and Pettigrew landed in the safe house where Malthes was waiting, he cast a Somnus* spell on the pair. Slipping the silver chain off the unconscious rat, the blue-eyed wizard forced the Animagus back into his human form. After placing a note and another port-key into the younger man's ragged coat pocket, Malthes activated it, sending his spy back to his previous hovel of a safe house to await further orders.
Looking down at his sleeping daughter, Malthes smiled. It was two days until Christmas and he had his precious child back.
somnus - sleep, slumbers, drowsiness
Lucius and Narcissa were frantic. Hermione had been taken right out from under their noses and they had no clue where to begin their search for the missing child, their scans of the path where she disappeared revealed nothing except theirs and Hermione's presence.
"It was obviously an illegal portkey, Lucius, but how did it get through the new wards?" asked Narcissa as they hurried to return to the Manor and floo call Morgan, Dot and Barnaby.
"I have no idea, Cissa," replied Lucius, "but, there's question who has her now...that blue-eyed bastard that attacked you and Dot and nearly killed Amelia.
Hermione slowly opened her eyes then sat up with a start. This was NOT the Manor gardens and Uncle Lucius and Aunt Narcissa were not here with her, wherever here was. Blinking her eyes and shaking her head to clear away the last bits of sleepiness, Hermione saw that she was in a strange bedroom done up in pale shades of pink, lilac and cream. The painted white oak sleigh bed she was laying on was child-sized, covered in white Egyptian cotton sheets and a handmade pinwheels patterned quilt done in the same colors as the rest of the room. A large stuffed toy dragon sat on a white cedar rocking chair in one corner of the room, a large dark grey steamer trunk filled with games and more stuffed toys was at the foot of the bed and a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf with wizarding and muggle books took up the wall opposite the bed. In other circumstances, Hermione would have liked the room but, this was not a normal situation. She had been ripped away from her family...and, she was pissed off more than she was scared.
Her hair had just started to crackle with her magic when she was startled by the door opening, a stranger wrapped in black mist stepped into the room a few paces and stopped. They both stared at each other a few seconds before the blue-eyed man opened his mouth to speak, his voice choked with emotion.
"Welcome home, my child," he murmured.
Morgan, Dot and Barnaby were stunned, frozen in place as if they had spotted a basilisk in a mirror.
"I don't understand." said Morgan as he recovered his voice. "How could a stranger get past the Manor defenses, much less, bring in a portkey? The alarms should have gone up immediately and trapped the person on the spot."
"What if it wasn't a outsider?" asked Barnaby. "What if it was someone trusted by the family and brought in as a visitor?
"Unlikely," said Narcissa, "No one we know would willingly do something like this and even if they were coerced in some manner, like an Imperius, the portkey still should have triggered an alert."
"True," frowned Morgan. "But, what if the key was transfigured?"
"Even if it was altered in form, the basic portkey magic would still be present," said Lucius as he paced about the sitting room.
"Not necessarily," said Dot, all eyes in the room turning towards her. "Think about it. We know that the blue-eyed bastard is behind this, right?" Everyone nodded in response. "And, we also know he has this ability to mask his magical signature at crime scenes," seeing the impatient questions in their eyes, she quickly added, "Well, how hard would it be for him to simply apply that spell to a portkey? It would certainly explain why your scans turned up nothing and the wards weren't tripped."
"Even if that's how he pulled it off, none of that helps us to find Hermione. How are we supposed to locate her if we can't trace their magical signatures?" asked Barnaby, frustration making his voice a touch clipped.
"I might have an idea or two about that," replied Dot, "but, I'll need some help creating the spells to carry it off."
"Well, don't keep us in suspense, Dot, what's your plan?" asked Morgan, he had given up keeping his glamours in place so a very agitated chimera was now staring at the witch.
"You remember that Amelia created a special revealing charm to sort case files to see if that blue-eyed bugger was involved?" she asked, not waiting for a response, "What if we modified a tracing spell to look for that particular bit of magic? I mean, if we can't find his or Hermione's magical signature because he's masked them, why not hone in on that specialized concealment enchantment, instead? And, even if he's in a place that's Unplottable or under Fidelius, it should at least put us in close range."
For a few seconds, it was silent, no one seemed to breath. "Bloody Hell, Dot!" exclaimed Morgan, as he wrapped his, now human again, arms around the surprised witch. "That might just work, show me what you've got figured out so far."
Recovering quickly from the impromptu hug, Dot pulled out several bits of parchment from her robe pocket, walked over to the low table and spread the pages out so everyone could see her preliminary work to alter the tracking charm.
As the others were busy helping with the spell work, Lucius stepped over to the hearth and placed a floo call to Severus Snape. If the charm worked and they located Hermione, Malfoy knew they would need all the help they could get to take down the elusive wizard and protect her in the process. And, if her elemental magics were triggered, they would be in need of a new batch of Severus' tranquilizing potion, the previous supplies having been used up on Aiden when Amelia was brought to St. Mungo's.
A mischievous grin bloomed across Lucius' face as he threw the powder into the flames. 'Would it be considered in poor taste for me to wish that our little tempest loses her temper and flattens the bastard?'
As Snape left his private quarters that night with the newest batch of Pulchra Durmiens in his pockets, along with a supply of burn salve and healing potions, and made his way towards the Great Hall, he was stopped by McGonagall as she was making patrol rounds.
"Where are you off to in such a rush, Severus? Finally get the courage to ask that new apothecary clerk at Slugg and Jiggers out for drinks?" she teased.
"Not that it's any of your business but, no," he growled at her as he tried to continue on his way towards the apparition point outside the main gate.
Flicking a wordless Incarcerous over the retreating wizard, McGonagall hissed, "Severus Snape! You are not leaving here until you've explained yourself."
"It is my night off and I don't have to answer to you, Minerva. I'm not some errant schoolboy, you're not my Head of House and you're most certainly not my mother!" he snarled. "Now, release these bindings."
"Not until you've answered some of my questions," she replied. "You've been skipping meals in the Great Hall, wandering aimlessly about the grounds at all hours of the night, you even missed the last Quidditch match between Slytherin and Gryffindor, sending Vector to attend in your place as Head of House. I'm merely concerned Severus. You've not been the same since learning of the Potter's deaths and I'm worried that you'll crack at this rate."
Seeing the look of genuine concern in McGonagall's eyes, he sighed. "Fine. I'll answer a couple of questions but, I must leave soon. I have a private client who is in need of a delicate brew that has to be delivered in person." It wasn't exactly a lie, Lucius Malfoy was a client of his and the tranquilizing potion for Hermione Granger was needed immediately, not that Minerva needed to know that.
"Well, that answered where you going in such a hurry this evening. Now, have you been to see Poppy or anyone at St. Mungo's for grief counseling?" Seeing the man bristling at her inquiry, Minerva hurried on, "I know, I know. You're a private man and don't like to speak of such emotional matters, however, you obviously are not coping well and it's starting to affect your work and health. If you don't wish to speak to Pomfrey or other healers elsewhere, I'm willing to be a sympathetic ear. I understand what personal loss can put you through. Will you let me help you? I'll even take an Oath to keep your secrets."
Severus hadn't expected that, at all, and it showed in normally stoic face.
He hadn't said anything but, Minerva could see that he was considering her offer. Removing the binding spell from the man, she said, "You don't have to decide tonight. Let me know first thing tomorrow at breakfast in the Great Hall."
Snape nodded and spun on his heel, rapidly making his way down the gravel path towards the front gates.
For once, he was somewhat relieved with Dumbledore's meddling actions. If the twinkly-eyed git hadn't closed the main floo network, restricting the Professor's hearths to Hogwarts the previous day, he wouldn't have encountered McGonagall this evening and received her proposal for assistance.
Hermione was glaring at the stranger near the door of the room. This wasn't her home and she certainly wasn't 'his child'! Her parents had died because of this person. And, she was fairly sure that he was the one who hurt her Auntie Amelia, even though, Uncle Aiden hadn't said as much. Well, he was about to get the shock of his life. He had picked on the wrong witch's family and Hermione was going to make sure he felt sorry for it. Very sorry, indeed.
Lucius greeted Severus as he walked into the sitting room at the Manor. "Care for a firewhiskey while we wait?" he asked.
"Wait for what, Lucius? Where's Hermione? You said you urgently needed this for her, yet, I see no evidence of her elemental magics causing havoc," said Snape.
"She was taken from the Manor by that feeble excuse for a wizard that maimed Amelia," Lucius said bluntly, his silver-grey eyes flashing with anger and a promise of vengeance, "And they," pointing to the animated group at the low table, "are attempting to find her before it's too late."
Severus felt like all the air in his lungs had suddenly been squeezed from his body and he fought to keep his balance as a wave of nausea and dread threatened to overwhelm him. He had seen first hand the damage done to Madame Bones when St. Mungo's contracted him to help brew the extensive list of potions that the injured witch required. And, the thought that something similar was now happening to this little girl brought back a rush of unwanted memories of his own abusive childhood at the hands of his sorry excuse of a father.
Seeing the wild-eyed look on his friend's paling face as he began to sway on his feet, Lucius hurriedly Accio'd a chair and had Severus take a seat before he collapsed. Malfoy had been present when Snape had his first anxiety attack years ago and was well acquainted with the symptoms. Wrapped up in his own worry for Hermione, Lucius had forgotten how this news might affect Severus and he was now mentally kicking himself for not forewarning the younger man. "Steady there, Severus," he soothed as he took one of Snape's hands into his own and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Take a deep breath. Hold it. That's it. Now, slowly breath out. Good. And, again."
Lucius calmly kept repeating the well-practiced instructions until Severus had sufficiently recuperated, his milk-white skin returning to its usual alabaster paleness and his dark eyes refocusing.
"I apologize, old friend, I should have told you..." Snape held up a hand to stop Malfoy from continuing his sentiments.
"You know as well as I do, that my attacks can occur whether precautions are taken or not. There's no need for your regrets," said Severus, "Now, kindly tell me how it's possible for that person to have gotten into the Manor and taken Hermione. Were your wards disabled?" He knew it was unlikely but, it was the only way that made sense to him.
"He used a portkey but, as to how he got it past the alarms...." Lucius shrugged his shoulders. "Dot has a theory that he used a specialized concealment charm to hide the device, and himself, in order to fool the security systems. It's the only explanation that seems to fit as neither I nor Narcissa saw anyone near Hermione before she disappeared in front of us."
"Has Aiden been informed?" asked Severus, not envying the person that had that task.
"Not yet," replied Lucius, "He's got enough to worry about, at the moment."
Malthes watched in awe as his tiny daughter's magic sparked from her fingertips and through her nigh-sentient hair. 'She's going to be quite the handful when she's older' he mused. 'Perfect. Dumbledore won't know what hit him.'
As her power continued to increase, DiMoro realized he needed to distract her before things got out of hand. His wards were strong but, he wasn't sure if they could withstand a major burst of Wild Magic. "Hermione, my dear, where are my manners," he began, "It's past lunchtime and I'm sure you must be starving by now. What would you like to eat, little one? Do you like pizza or, perhaps, fish and chips? Or, maybe, we could skip the meal this once and go straight for dessert? Tell me, child, what do you wish?"
As if to answer for her, Hermione's stomach growled rather loudly in protest for being neglected. Blushing at the rude noises her body was making, she blurted out, "Pizza!" in an effort to drown out the embarrassing sounds. She was still angry at this person but, Hermione knew that she would need food to keep up her strength and magic. If she was to successfully escape from where ever he was keeping her, she couldn't afford to pass out from hunger. Hermione stifled a shudder. She knew that she would have to play along with this hateful wizard to get him to let down his guard and it nearly made her lose her appetite.
Huffing out a sigh, she said, "I'm sorry. That was rude." Looking up at the imposing man with puppy eyes, she sweetly asked, "May I please have pizza for lunch?"
Malthes wasn't stupid. He had seen the subtle change of expressions on her face and knew that she was up to something. 'Clever girl. Trying to take advantage of my emotions. Too bad, I'm much better at this game,' he smirked to himself.
"Of course, dear girl," he answered. "Oh, before I forget. I have a gift for you." Reaching into a pocket, Malthes pulled out a small, dark green, leather box and handed it to Hermione. "It belonged to your mother....your birth mother, that is....Lyonella."
Hermione cautiously opened the box, inside was a beautiful goblin-silver locket with an unfamiliar family crest on the face of the piece. Opening the trinket, she was surprised to see two Muggle photos of a man and woman.
Looking at his daughter with a pained look in his eyes, he sighed, "You look so much like her, you know....the same wild, curly brown hair and pale skin...the same fiery temper, too, I'll wager."
Hermione stared at the unfamiliar faces and frowned, "If these are my birth parents, then who are you?"
With a wave of his hand, Malthes dropped his glamours. In place of the cold, blue-eyed visage of Grindlewald now stood a tall, raven-haired wizard with warm hazel eyes, the very image of the man in photo.
Hermione was not impressed. Crossing her arms over chest, she huffed, "You could have just opened the locket and copied this man's face."
"No, my dear. Only Lyonella and a direct blood descendant can open that memento," stated Malthes, "Close it again and I will show you."
Although skeptical, Hermione still refastened the necklace and handed it back to the stranger. But, not only did the locket remain closed to Malthes, it unleashed a number of nasty hexes against him. By the time he dropped the trinket back into her hands, Hermione almost felt sorry for him. Almost. He had kidnapped her, after all.
"Now do you believe me, little one?" Malthes asked as he applied healing spells to the myriad burns, cuts and bruises that covered his hands, arms and face.
Hermione didn't say anything, at first. She reopened the locket, looked at the photos, then stared at the wizard, considering what to do next. Several minutes later, Hermione began rattling off questions, "If you're my father....why didn't you raise me?...Where have you been?....Why do you use glamours to hide your real face?....Why did you hurt my Auntie Amelia?...Why kidnap me from my friends?...Where..."
Malthes interrupted her by placing a long, pale finger to her lips. "Slow down, my child," he said, "I will answer all your questions in good time, Hermione. But, first, you must have something to eat before your stomach growls any louder."
The little witch sighed and nodded in agreement.
'Finally, a step in the right direction,' he thought, pleased that things were going, relatively, to plan.
'Lunch, first. Questions after....then I'll hurt him,' Hermione decided.
"Sit down, Lucius, before you wear a hole in the rug," demanded Narcissa. She understood his nervous pacing but, quite frankly, it was making her dizzy and ticked up her own levels of anxiety.
Sighing, Malfoy walked over to the closest wingback chair and slumped down onto the seat, his right foot still in motion, tapping out its own form of distress code.
Pouring out half a glass of firewhiskey into a lead crystal tumbler, Severus stalked over to the twitchy blonde wizard and shoved the drink into his hand. "I know it's a bit early to indulge but, if you don't stop fluttering about I'm going to put you in a Full-Body-Bind," he snarled.
"Malfoys don't flutter," huffed Lucius before he downed a generous mouthful of the amber liquid.
"Please," smirked the potions master, "I've seen butterflies hopped up on Moondew flower nectar that flittered about less."
Lucius growled but, there was no anger behind it. He knew his friend was merely trying to distract his overactive imagination from the ever-worsening scenarios that kept popping up in his head.
"I just feel so helpless waiting about doing nothing," he quietly admitted as he took another sip of his drink.
Placing a calming hand onto his arm, Narcissa leaned over and softly kissed his temple. She said nothing, her simple touches were all he needed to help ease the building tension in his shoulders.
Seconds later, Dot, Barnaby and Morgan rushed into the sitting room grinning like loons. "We cracked it!" she declared to the startled wizards and witch, "Well, don't just sit there! Grab whatever and whoever you need and lets go get our girl back!"
"Trinket!" called out Narcissa.
"Yes, Mistress Cissa, how cans Trinket serve you?" asked the little house-elf.
"I need you and Morgan to stay with Draco and Harry," commanded Narcissa. Before the spluttering wizard in question could protest, she added, "I need someone I trust with 'extra' abilities to keep them safe and that's the two of you."
Grabbing the reluctant bodyguard by the hand, the bemused house-elf apparated him to the play room where the two boys were busy chasing a toy snitch that she had set to fly a half-meter off the ground.
Turning to the rest of the gathered witches and wizards in the Manor sitting room, Narcissa pulled out her wand and quickly transfigured their robes and shoes into more appropriate boots, shirts and trousers for their rescue mission, all in varying shades of grey and black.
Severus smirked at the groups new attire which now looked more like his own everyday wardrobe, sans the frockcoat, of course. Lucius picked up on his friend's smugness while glaring down at his drab new garb and hissed, "Not a word about this to anyone outside this room or I will hex you."
Snape had often argued with Malfoy about the practical nature of his clothes, especially, when Lucius tried to coax him into trying new colors. And, Narcissa's design choice left no doubts that she agreed with the potions master, at least, in this instance.
"Behave, you two," she said, trying to bite back the tense quiver in her voice, "or I will have you stay here guarding the house or helping Morgan with the boys."
Both wizards had the good sense not to argue with the woman of the Manor, particularly, when she was in full 'tiger-mom' protective mode. She may look like a high-society witch most of the time but, the two of them knew she could easily best most of the people currently in the room in a fight, with the exception of themselves, of course.
"Okay," said Dot after loudly clearing her throat, drawing attention back to the her and the newly crafted tracing map in her hands, "We've got the search grid narrowed down to a one kilometer patch of land outside of Barbon in Cumbria."
"Now, I've made copies of the map so we can split up and cover more ground. Narcissa and I will approach from the North, Barnaby from the West, Lucius from the East and Severus from the South. With luck, we'll meet up in the middle at the same time and catch this bastard before he can do another runner. And, please, stay on your toes and keep your detections charms going at regular intervals to avoid any nasty deterrents."
Barnaby raised an eyebrow at Dot, "And just who made you boss of this operation?"
With a feral grin, she turned on the man and purred, "Why, you did, my dear sir, when you proclaimed this morning that you'd love to have me take you in hand and lead you about by the...."
"Would you look at the time!" interrupted Barnaby, desperately trying not to blush, "We really need to get moving if we're to reach this place while it's still daylight."
Malfoy leaned in and whispered something to the flustered agent, causing the younger wizard to flush a bright red and excuse himself for a few moments.
"Lucius! What did you do to the poor man?" hissed Narcissa, "We don't have time for delays."
"Nothing, my love," said Lucius, feigning innocence and failing, "I was merely being a good host and offered him and Dot the use of one of our soundproofed rooms when we returned."
Moody walked into the private room and saw DeVilla sitting on a plush chair next to his boss, reading to her from the latest edition of The Daily Prophet and making rude comments on the some of the rubbish that passed for news.
"Don't reach that trash to the woman," he chuckled, "You know she prefers Muggle detective novels over that tripe."
Putting the paper down, Aiden stood and greeted the other man with a brief one-armed hug, "Alastor! How are you doing my friend?"
"Can't complain, well, not much anyway," Moody replied,"I just came in for an adjustment on my new prosthetic and wanted to check in on the boss. How's she doing?"
DeVilla stretched and stifled a yawn with the back of his hand, "She'll be in the induced coma for a least two more weeks but, she and the twins are healthy."
Looking down at Alastor's magically enhanced artificial limb, Aiden asked, "When she's brought out, would you agree to be here with us? It's going to be enough of a shock not knowing who I am but, if a familiar face with a similar injury were about to answer questions, it may help."
"Wild hippogriffs couldn't keep me away," stated Moody, "Just name the day and time and I'll be here with bells on."
"Thank you," sighed DeVilla in relief.
"Think nothing of it," said Alastor, "Oh, before I forget, here." And, he handed Aiden a large brown, leather-bound photo album. "I thought you could fill this up with pictures of you, Amelia and Hermione. I know it won't bring back her memories but, it should help to reacquaint yourselves with her."
"That's...an excellent idea, Alastor, I don't know why I didn't think of it before," said DeVilla as he stared down at the blank pages of the book in his hands.
"You've had your hands full with other matters," murmured the older wizard, "So, don't be so down on yourself."
"Now, I best be off before these old potions-pushers swoop down on me and try to take my temperature or some other such nonsense," Alastor mock-grumbled as he limped over to the door, "But, I'll be back tomorrow with some decent reading material....and, if I catch you with that trashy newspaper in your hands, I will set it and you on fire," he warned, a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
The resulting peals of laughter could be heard throughout the ward, a welcome change from the usual stony silence.
The small rescue party apparated to a open field just north of their target zone in Barbon, casting Notice-Me-Not and Muggle-Repelling charms as soon as they landed to prevent any magical and Muggle hikers accidently wandering into their midst. "Okay, this is as close as we dare get without being in the warded 'hot zone'," said Dot. "Now, on this first pass around the perimeter, reconnaissance only for traps and any weak spots. If you discover anything, mark it on your maps. Meet back here in thirty minutes and we'll decide the best point of entry from what we've found. Any questions? No? Good. Off you go, then."
"Bossy witch," muttered Barnaby to himself just before he apparated to his starting point.
Unfortunately, he wasn't as quiet as he thought and Dot began some plotting.
"Lucius," Dot purred, "Is that offer for a soundproofed room still open?
"Of course, my dear," smirked Malfoy, "Just call for Trinket when you get back to the Manor and ask for the Blue room to be prepared. She'll make sure things are set to your specific tastes."
"Perfect. Thank you, sir," beamed Dot.
"She's going to break that poor man," chuckled Severus.
"Probably, but what a way to go," cackled Lucius.
After the wizards had popped away on their assignments leaving Dot and Narcissa alone, the older witch rounded on the other. "After we get Hermione back, you and I need to have a long chat," said Narcissa with a look of mock-hurt on her face. "How could you not tell me about you and Barnaby? I want details, young lady."
"Fine! I'll fill you in on all the best bits, later." smirked Dot, "For now, you head left and I'll go to the right. See you in half an hour and....please be careful. I don't want to have to rescue you, too."
"As if that would ever happen." said Narcissa as her glamours gave way allowing the humanoid-tiger to easily blend into the tall grass and low shrubs.
"Bugger! I forgot that she could do that," chuckled Dot to herself, "That settles it. I've seriously got to talk to Morgan about Animagus training when we return to the Manor."
Malthes was smiling at Hermione's attempts to make him relax his guard around her. He was no fool. In the few brief moments that her magic crackled from her hair and fingertips, he knew she was something more than just a powerful little witch...he just wasn't sure what that was, yet. DiMoro was contemplating the best, and safest, way to trick her into revealing more of her underlying magics when an elf popped in to the small dining room with their meal of pizza and fizzy drinks.
The little girl's face lit up with the arrival of food and she happily thanked the little house-elf, startling the little being with the unexpected gratitude. Her Master never bothered with such niceties towards any of the elves, so the simple gesture immediately endeared the child to her. "Is there anything else Missy Hermione needs from Pippin?"
"That will be all for now, Pippin, you're dismissed," admonished Malthes with a stern glare.
After the house-elf bowed and disappeared, Hermione turned on DiMoro, "That was rude!" she huffed, her arms crossed tightly over her chest. "Pippin was just being polite. You didn't have to be so mean to her."
Malthes frowned at his daughter, 'What have those people been teaching her?' "House-elves are merely lesser beings born to serve their wizarding superiors," he replied abruptly. "And, she broke the protocols. She's never to speak to us unless asked a question or directed to talk," he snarled, his hazel eyes turning hard and cold.
"That's not true! And...that's...that's...a really stupid rule!," Hermione shouted, not believing what he'd told her. While she knew that the house-elves at Malfoy Manor worked as domestics, they were, in no way, 'lesser beings'. Some were extremely clever and magically strong. Certainly, far better than some wizards she'd met. And a few, like Trinket, were even considered part of the family.
Trying to control her temper like her uncle taught her, Hermione unfolded her arms and took a deep breath, her hands now in her lap beneath the table to hide the small blue sparks of magic popping around her fingertips. But, she couldn't keep the steadily growing elements within her quiet for long. The little witch suddenly jumped up from her seat and headed towards the door leading to the hall. "I want to go home!" she cried, no longer caring to get answers from this man who claimed to be her father.
Before she could take more than a couple of steps, Malthes had moved to block her path. "You are home, Hermione," he snapped, his patience beginning to wear thin. "Now, return to your seat and eat your lunch," he ordered, pointing to the chair she had just left. "Or do you need a proper lesson in table etiquette and wizarding culture? Yes....I think that is called for since your uncle has obviously failed in this area of your education."
With a quick wave of his hand, Hermione was lifted off her feet, placed back onto her dining chair and strapped to it with soft cords around her legs and waist, her arms left untied and her hands placed flat on the table on either side of her plate with a light sticking charm.
"There, now, lets start with the basics, shall we?" DiMoro said rather smugly, completely missing the swirling array of colors in Hermione's eyes.
At the appointed time, the five members of the rescue party met back at their agreed rendezvous site to compare notes and plan. Barnaby, Lucius and Severus had no luck with their scans, every ward along their sections of the perimeter was locked down tight with multiple layers of some truly nasty curses. Dot had found one possible route but, the degraded spells would still take far too long to dismantle. But, Narcissa had struck gold, quite literally. She'd found a sturdy tunnel dug by a family of nifflers that ran deeper than the protective shields. After transfiguring herself into a snow-white ermine, she followed the full length of the underground passage to a large chamber filled with all manner of shiny baubles and coins.
"It appears to be an old storage room, obviously, forgotten about based on the presence of the nifflers and their treasure trove," said Narcissa, pointing to the rough sketch she'd made on her map. "There's only one door and it leads out to a low-ceiling hallway and preliminary scans didn't reveal any longstanding monitoring spells or traps. Unfortunately, there are anti-apparation wards in place."
"Okay, now comes the really tricky bit," said Dot, "Narcissa and Severus, you two will take point and locate and extract Hermione. Lucius and Barnaby safeguard the storeroom and that side of the tunnel and provide backup to Narcissa and Severus should they need it. I'll stay here to make certain the passageway stays open on this end and ready portkeys for everyone. I don't fancy trying to side-along apparate if anyone is injured. If you run into any trouble, send a Patronus."
After sending up a silent plea to any and all deities that would listen, Dot ushered the others into the tunnel after transfiguring them into a nest of garden snakes. "Don't you hiss at me, Narcissa! It's the one human-to-animal transformation that I know well, besides, it's appropriate don'tcha think seeing as most of you are Slytherins." All Dot received in response from Narcissa was another agitated hiss and a flick of forked-tongue before the snake glided out of the passageway.
It wasn't until they slithered carefully past the third open doorway that Severus and Narcissa finally found Hermione in the, now, thoroughly scorched dining room. Shifting into human form, they took a better look at the scene of destruction before them. It was as if a massive explosion had ripped through the place, paint bubbled on the far wall, furniture was splintered and charred black, broken bits of plates and glassware were scattered and melted over the still smoking wood floor. And, at the center off all this devastation sprawled an unconscious Hermione with remnants of magic sparking through her hair...DiMoro was no where to be seen.
Not leaving anything to chance, Narcissa and Severus both ran a battery of detection spells over the entire room to ensure that there were no traps nor a Disallusioned wizard laying in wait to throw curses at them. Once satisfied that the little girl wasn't a glamoured or Polyjuiced Malthes or an illusion, Snape scooped Hermione up in his arms and dashed back to the storeroom where Lucius cast his own diagnostic scans over the trio.
"Is she alright?" asked Barnaby anxiously as he closed and warded the door of the storage room behind them.
"Her magical core is severely depleted and she has a jagged scar across her right shoulder," snarled Lucius. Turning to Narcissa and Severus he asked, "Where's that bastard, DiMoro?"
"There was no sign of him. Barnaby and I will go back and do a thorough search but, right now, you and Narcissa need to get Hermione out of here," said Snape waving the blonde witch and wizard towards the tunnel.
"If the two of you aren't back at the Manor thirty minutes, we will be back," promised Narcissa, "And Merlin help DiMoro if he's done anything to either of you."
"Trinket!" yelled Lucius as soon as he and Narcissa portkeyed into the sitting room at the Manor.
A soft 'pop' later and the little house-elf appeared next to Malfoy. As soon as she saw the comatose little witch, she cried out, "Oh, my poor Missy Hermione! Give hers to me, Master Lucius, we knows what to do."
Without another word, Trinket took Hermione into her arms and apparated away.
Morgan arrived with Draco and Harry in tow shortly after the pair had gone. "What happened?" he asked, "Is Hermione okay? Did you catch DiMoro? Where are the others?"
"Slow down and take a breath, Morgan. We can't afford to have you passing out on us right now," said Narcissa. "As to your questions...we obviously found the house where DiMoro had taken Hermione and brought her back. That....person..was no where in sight but, Dot, Barnaby and Severus are still looking for him as we speak. If they don't return in another fifteen minutes, Lucius and I will go back. As for Hermione....she was injured but, we don't know if it was from an explosive outburst of her fire elemental or if DiMoro did something to her, as well. Trinket is tending to her now and will update us on her condition soon. If we have to, Lucius will contact Healer Soulstone at St. Mungo's to consult."
"Merlin! exclaimed Morgan, "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"We will require some of your 'special talents' once we find that pathetic excuse of a wizard, " growled Lucius, his silver-grey eyes shining with rage.
"Of course, Lucius, whatever you need," replied Morgan.
Pettigrew had been puttering about the safehouse preparing for his meager afternoon tea when a loud crack of apparition split the air and an even louder howl of pain followed. The horrific sound making the hairs on Peter's neck stand on end.
In front of him on the tattered rug lay a smoldering wreck of a man in shredded robes, covered in burns and splinched along the outer side of his left arm from shoulder to wrist. When Peter looked closer he was shocked to see that it was his Master, the Dark One. 'Who or what could have done this to such a powerful wizard?' Another scream of pain left the man's lips, causing Pettigrew to flinch and step back. 'Merlin! What do I do? I'm absolute rubbish with healing spells.'
As he looked at the vulnerable man writhing on the floor, a few more devious thoughts crossed his mind, 'Do I try and save him? If I managed that, he would owe me a major life debt. I could ask for almost anything in return.....But, I could just as easily free myself from his service with a quick Avada to the chest. Honestly, it would be a mercy killing at this point, I think.....What to do, what to do?'
A near animalistic growl startled Peter from his inner musings. "Don't just stand there, you sniveling rat! Fetch Healer Welby from St. Mungo's. Tell her to bring ten of everything....healing potions, burn paste, dittany, pain potions."
"Oh, and Peter," gasped the blue-eyed wizard through clenched teeth, "I heard every word you were thinking...if you so much as twitch wrong in my presence, it will be the last thing you ever do."
"Now, take this and go! The return activation code is 'Portus - Safehouse One'," he said as he weakly pushed a silver portkey towards Peter, "You'll find Welby in the Spell-Damage ward."
Grabbing the gleaming key off the floor and pocketing it, Pettigrew let out a string of expletives under his breath as he apparated away to St. Mungo's. One more mission for his Master. 'Maybe he'll just die before we return.' He could only hope.