On Archive of Our Own
On Twisting the Hellmouth
Please note - I am raising the recommended reading age for this story on sites that use such ratings, due to disturbing content in this and later chapters.
XI: Part of the Plan
Diana winced, ducked under Ron's wild swing, grabbed his wrist in an iron-hard grip, and took the sword from his hand. "Okay, let's just agree on something here. I won't try to teach any of you swordplay, and you won't try to teach me magic. We'll concentrate on our own strengths, that way we'll all probably still have both eyes when we go back to Britain."
"Are we really that bad?" asked Harry. "I did kill a basilisk..."
"Yes, and you were bitten and nearly died. All three of you are reasonably agile, but we've got just over a week, it simply isn't enough time. I could teach you a little, probably just enough to mess up your fighting reflexes completely. You'd be trying to cast spells with your swords, or parry with your wands."
"What about you?" asked Hermione. "You'll be fighting wizards and a demon with nothing but a sword and shield."
"I'm a lot tougher and faster than I look, and my weapons and armour were crafted by Hephestus. I think I have a reasonably good chance. Do you want to test me?"
"With stunners, maybe?"
"They don't affect me much, but I'll know if you hit me. All right, all three of you against me. Let me go back a few meters, that way you won't be hitting each other if you miss me." She backed away to the far side of the gym. "On the count of three... one... two... three!"
All three of them began to cast, and dodged hastily as Diana parried the red rays with her sword, shield, and wrist bracers, sending them back the way they'd come. After the first few she began to advance toward them. Ron went down to one of Harry's spells, reflected from her shield, Hermione circled around, trying to get behind her and get a spell through her guard, while Harry kept up steady rapid fire and dodged with reflexes honed by years of Quidditch, casting "Rennervate" to revive Ron as soon as Diana looked toward Hermione. Eventually Hermione succeeded, and a spell hit Diana's shoulder. It seemed to fizzle out without effect. She raised a hand to signal the end of the fight. "Good. You work well together, all three of you, you'll be much more effective that way than with swords."
"You're right," said Ron, wiping sweat from his forehead. "It felt like I knew what I was doing then, apart from underestimating how well you can aim the spells you deflect, I just don't feel that way with the sword."
"It's a pity that none of you are beaters, that would give you more of the reflexes and muscles you need for more physical forms of combat, but we have to work with what we've got, which means wands for you three."
"Now, have you finished putting together your shopping list?"
Hermione produced several sheets of paper. "This sheet is potions and ingredients, this one is for a joke shop if you can find one, and this is the expensive one - brooms."
"It's rather a lot. How much can you hide in your bag?"
"Quite a bit, but the maximum length is about three feet, we couldn't get brooms in there. We'll need another way to hide them."
"No we don't," said Harry. "The tent has furniture bigger than that and collapses to fit in your bag, if we get some brooms we can store them in there."
"Oh... sorry Diana, I should have thought of that."
"Out of interest, how much could you pack in there?"
"I've never really tested it. I've seen wizarding tents with big armchairs and stoves, so probably quite a lot, ours is a bit basic though. Some of the boards and things are longer than a broom so that ought to be safe enough. Anything much bigger and heavier and I think there might be problems."
Diana studied the list. "Four brooms. You've given me a lot of choices here, is any particular model your favourite?"
"Nimbus sell throughout Europe," said Harry. "All of us have used them, so they're probably best if you don't mind the cost. You can probably get a Nimbus 1700 or 2000 fairly easily but the 2000 is still pretty expensive. The 2001 I used to have would definitely be a special order, I really wouldn't bother looking for one."
"Any other makes I should consider?"
"Cleansweep 7 or maybe the 11. The 11 is probably a good one for you and Hermione, it's reasonably fast and a lot more stable than the 7."
"Stable is good," said Hermione. "And preferably something with good cushioning charms. I don't think Nimbus had women riders in mind, so definitely a Cleansweep for me."
Diana noted her preference. "That's enough to give me a starting point, if all else fails I'll go with the seller's recommendation for a teenage Quidditch player, that should be reasonably suitable for your needs. What else do we need?"
"The potions and ingredients are all pretty standard stuff, you shouldn't need to order anything specially... well, maybe the boomslang skin, but I've got some left so at a pinch we could manage without for a while."
Harry shrugged. "Well, if you can find a joke shop they ought to sell stuff we could use as distractions in a fight. Dung bombs, magical fireworks, that sort of thing. Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder if they have it. I've listed everything I can think of."
"That all looks reasonably straightforward. Anything else? Ron?"
"You'll think it's stupid..."
"Possibly, but don't let that stop you."
"Some Quidditch balls. Several sets if we can get them into the bag."
"You were right," said Harry. "It does seem stupid."
"Let a few bludgers loose when people aren't expecting them, set to stay near ground level, and you've got instant chaos."
"That's brilliant, except they'd go after everyone, not just our enemies."
"Hermione can fix that."
"What? No I can't."
"Bet you five galleons you can," said Harry. "If a house-elf can do it, the smartest witch in Hogwarts should have no problems."
"Smooth," said Hermione, "and very flattering, but I can't make any promises."
Diana added them to the list. "Anything else?"
"Omnioculars, maybe? Harry got us some for the Quidditch World Cup but none of us thought of packing them, they'd be really useful for watching from a distance."
"Would ordinary binoculars do? I have a couple of good pairs, and a camera with a long telephoto lens."
"Omnioculars really are better," said Harry. "You can record images and zoom in, slow things down or speed them up."
"And they don't need batteries or film," added Hermione.
"Okay. Anything else?"
"Food. Self-heating meals, instant snack boxes, that sort of thing. Or the muggle equivalents, I suppose."
"I'll get both."
"I can't think of anything else," said Harry, "which probably means there's something vital we've forgotten."
"Books and maps, of course!" said Hermione. "We've got most of what we need, but a good gazetteer for wizarding sites in Britain would be useful. Maps too. We still don't know what they're doing with Muggle-borns; they're probably shipping them to Azkaban, but with the number of people affected there might be camps elsewhere. We need information to find them."
"I'll see what I can find," said Diana, "but Diagon Alley is probably a better bet once we're back in Britain. At the moment nobody's looking for me, I should be able to visit Flourish and Blotts easily enough. That should work for other things, though I'd prefer to buy in Paris where possible, it should make it a little harder to trace anything back to me. Now then... what about weapons and armour?"
"You just proved that we're rubbish with weapons," said Harry, "I really can't see much point loading ourselves down with things we can't use. Maybe knives, they're always handy for other things, but anything else is just going to be weight we have to lug around."
"What about guns?"
"No way," said Harry. "They were tried a few times in the first war, Riddle has some sort of protective spell."
"It's one of the first examples in the year 3 Arithmancy text book," said Hermione, "a ward that reverses the vector of projectiles. It's pretty much automatic once you activate it. Bullets just head back the way they came. Newton invented it, Grindlewald perfected it. It's even more effective than jinxing guns, and Chinese wizards figured that one out a thousand years ago."
Harry shrugged. "Dragon-hide coats would be good, they block most magic, but you're talking seriously expensive and hard to find, and a bit conspicuous. And I'd imagine they're sod-all use against demons."
"They're over-rated anyway," said Ron. "They're good if someone casts a spell directly at your body and it isn't too powerful, but they wouldn't protect you from something like the bite of snakes created by Serpensortia or a spell that threw a ton of rocks at you, or fire or explosions caused by magic. You'd cook if someone hit you with Fiendfyre. The killing curse goes straight through them, and they don't help if a spell's aimed at your head or legs."
"Fiendfyre?" asked Hermione. "I've heard of it, but I thought nobody knew the spell any more."
"V... Riddle did, so some of his Death Eaters probably do too. It's the sort of thing they'd love."
"What is it?" asked Harry.
"Sort of a conjured fire monster, a bit like the old idea of a fire elemental. They can burn anything, and it's almost impossible to put them out."
"Okay, let's steer clear of that."
"I'll check if the coats are available anyway," said Diana. "Even if they aren't very effective, they might be better than nothing. All right, this will probably take a few hours. When were you planning to contact Severus?"
"This evening about ten," said Harry.
"I should be back well before that. When you set the tent up again put it in the workshop area if you can, I think that there's room and we won't have to move it if we use the gym again."
Dolores Umbridge walked through Diagon Alley, escorted by two minions, with Travers at her side. As they passed Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes she pointed out the U-No-Poo advertisement in their window.
"..Hem.. It's disgraceful that those Weasley hooligans should be allowed to sell their filthy products, let alone advertise them with a poster making veiled scatological references to the Dark Lord. Something must be done."
"What did you have in mind?"
"The premises must be thoroughly inspected and all products tested for safety. It would be terrible if there was an ..ahem.. accident with all those fireworks and potions. Most ..hem.. regrettable."
"What sort of tests did you envisage?"
"Oh... let's see, are their products safe if they're dropped, smashed, or set on fire, or all of them at the same time? What happens if they're mixed together? That sort of thing. I'm sure that we have some suitably ..hem! enthusiastic inspection staff. Some Snatchers, perhaps? It might be a nice change of pace for them. Get them to test everything in the shop, we really must be seen to be thorough and enforce safety standards. Oh, and check that there is nobody of ..hem! dubious ancestry working or hidden there, they seem just the sort to consort with that sort of scum."
"I know just the men for the job. Would tomorrow afternoon suit you?"
"Whenever is convenient. But the sooner the better, I think."
"Of course. Leave it with me."
"Thank you. Now, I really must get back to the Ministry, so many things to do."
Travers walked on toward Gringrotts, Umbridge went into the Magical Menagerie to order some cat food then back toward the Leaky Cauldron. At roof level a raven watched and listened. After they separated it took off, circled over them, then flew towards the Ministry. Behind it Travers angrily cleaned bird droppings from his hat.
Diana got back at five, and unloaded a car full of shopping which they lugged down to the basement. "Better not put any of it inside the tent," said Hermione, "Phineas Nigelus might notice if he saw we had a load of equipment."
"Okay," said Harry. "Mind if we unpack out here?"
"Go ahead," said Diana. "No dragonhide coats available, I'm afraid, but I think I got nearly everything else. The brooms are in the big brown paper parcel; when it gets dark it might be a good idea to test them."
Harry ripped into the paper eagerly. "Three Firebolt 2000s and one Cleansweep 11? Um... which one is for you?"
"I'll take a 2000," said Diana. "They seemed to handle well enough when I tried one, though I agree with Hermione about the cushioning charms. Fortunately I'm a little more robust than mortals, it doesn't bother me."
"How about the balls?"
Diana raised an eyebrow. "Not a problem for me, Ron, but I'm sure you'll tell me if either of you experience any discomfort."
Ron and Harry turned bright red.
"Let us not go there," said Hermione, trying to keep a straight face, "it is a silly place."
"And easily damaged, I believe."
"Moving on," Harry said hastily, "I think Ron was actually asking about the Quidditch balls. Were you able to get any?"
"Two complete sets, and one I got cheaply that's missing the snitch. That gives you six bludgers."
"Excellent. We've been working on some ideas... well, mostly Hermione's working on it, but Ron and I made a few suggestions... with a bit of luck we'll have something to test in the next day or two."
"One thought," said Diana. "The wizards you'll be fighting presumably know about Quidditch. What's to stop them conjuring up bats and fending off the bludgers?"
"Nothing, really, but while they're doing that they won't be able to do much else. It ought to be a good distraction."
"Let's get the rest unpacked, and you can show me how to use the omnioculars and the other equipment."
The first thing Dolores Umbridge noticed when she entered her office was a stranger, a blond man in muggle clothes; slacks, a white T-shirt, and a leather jacket. He wore dark glasses and was sitting in her chair with his feet on her desk, throwing darts at one of the cat pictures on the wall.
"Ah, Senior Undersecretary Umbridge. Or may I call you Dolores? Delighted to meet you." He rose to his feet, and the door slammed shut behind her. "We have much talk about." Despite herself, she felt attracted to his perfect physique.
"Who are you, and what are you doing in my office?"
He smiled, showing perfect teeth. "A mere servant of my Lord. He felt that we should be better acquainted. He particularly admires your innovative approach to corporal punishment." He held out his hand.
Umbridge blushed, tucked her wand into her belt, and reached out to shake his hand. He smiled again, took it, and bent to kiss it. Suddenly she felt searing pain, and looked down to see that two of her fingers were gone, their stubs bleeding profusely. She gasped, went for her wand, and realised that it was in his other hand. He raised it to his mouth and bit off the end. "Mmm, dragon heartstring, very chewy. What a shame you never learned wandless magic, this would be much more fun if you could put up a fight."
She tied to pull free, but he held her effortlessly as he ate the rest of her wand, crunching the wood and appearing to relish it. "Now then... what lovely eyes you have..." He took off his glasses, revealing empty eye sockets lined with teeth. "I think they'll suit me very nicely." He reached for her right eye, his fingernails long and sharp, and she started to scream.
Outside the tent Ron's spells were creating a reasonable facsimile of the noise of a stream, while he and Diana listened via extendable ears. Inside it, Harry and Hermione stared at the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black.
"What is it now?"
"Is Professor Snape there?" asked Hermione. "We need to check a couple of things."
"He is here, but Professor Carrow is in the office, talking to the Headmaster. I don't think it would be a good idea to interrupt."
"Any idea how long he's likely to be?"
"No, but Professor Carrow has been complaining for nearly twenty minutes, I suspect that the Headmaster will lose patience with him soon."
"What's he complaining about?"
"I'm sorry, portraits in the headmaster's office aren't allowed to discuss anything that happens there."
"Wait a minute," said Harry. "First, you've told us what was said there in the past. And second, I'm not asking a portrait in the Head's office, I'm asking this painting, which is my property as far as I know. Aren't you supposed to advise the Black heir?"
The portrait looked angry, then seemed to consider it. "That remains to be seen, I think, but you are certainly a possible heir. You really should have been sorted into Slytherin. Very well, Professor Carrow appears to have issues with some of the students."
"Miss Lovegood appears to be the current target of his ire."
"Luna?" said Harry. "Why on earth...?"
"She persistently calls him Professor Sparrow, talks incessantly about non-existent animals, and is generally disrespectful."
"Has he crucioed her?"
"Yes, of course. It's now the mandated punishment for any breach of discipline."
"And you're okay with that?"
The portrait shrugged. "It lacks flexibility, I suppose, but I'd imagine it's effective."
"And you're okay with it?"
"What exactly would you propose I do about it? I'm a portrait... one moment... Ah, the Headmaster has told Professor Carrow to put his concerns into writing, and Carrow is leaving. I don't think either is happy."
"When Professor Snape is on his own please tell him we're here. And Dumbledore's portrait too."
"I've told the Headmaster. He is ready for you."
"Okay... please ask him if there's anything he can do to stop Carrow hurting the students."
There was a long pause, then the portrait said "The Headmaster can't stop them completely, the Dark Lord ordered them to use Crucio to maintain order. He is, however, doing his best to make it difficult for the Carrows to use more physically harmful punishments. Requests must be submitted in writing and in triplicate, and the Headmaster has already rejected an application twice on the grounds that the writing was illegible. He is prepared to take more active steps if necessary."
"Can't he... oh, I don't know, do something to make them think that they're using Crucio, but stop it from actually happening?"
"If it were only the Carrows that might be possible, but all of the prefects serve the Dark Lord, and have permission to use the spell. It would be impossible to stop all of them without word getting to the Dark Lord."
"That isn't good. Please ask him to try to find a better solution."
"Is that all?"
"No. Ask him if Riddle is preparing for a ceremony later this month."
Again there was the exasperating delay. "He has been warned to expect to be summoned around the middle of the month. He asks if you know why?"
"We're pretty sure he plans to raise a demon."
"Hmm... the Headmaster is swearing. Dumbledore says that even Riddle isn't that insane."
"Hermione, your turn."
Hermione leaned over the portrait. "Tell them both I've read Die Waldnymphe und der Verfluchte Zauberstab, The Wood-nymph and the Cursed Wand, and that we know the true history of the Elder Wand, what it really does to its users, not the rubbish Beedle printed. And ask them when Riddle robbed Dumbledore's grave?"
There was another long pause. Then the portrait said "It was never there to be stolen. Dumbledore was carrying a lesser wand when he died, transfigured to look like the Elder Wand, the Headmaster gave the real wand to Riddle a few hours after his death."
"They wanted Riddle to get the wand? They wanted him insane?"
"Dumbledore informs me that it's all part of the plan."
Notes: If guns worked against powerful wizards someone would have presumably shot Grindlewald and/or Voldemort. The anti-gun spell mentioned is not canon (sorry...), it's just a hand-wave to explain why they're not used.
Although it's often mentioned in fanfic, in canon Harry apparently hadn't heard of Fiendfyre before he encountered it in the Room of Requirement during the Battle of Hogwarts. For story purposes Ron and Hermione are better informed.
Added The Corinthian, AKA "the eye guy", from Sandman, described by its creator as "Not the most social of nightmares."
I've been asked to clarify the timeline a little, since a lot has happened in relatively few days:
The Antikythera Mechanism is found on Wednesday 3rd September 1997, and the trio arrive in Paris and meet Diana on Thursday morning. Slytherin's amulet is destroyed in the afternoon, and Harry meets Death just after midnight.
On Friday they discuss the Elder Wand and Diana flies to London for Princess Diana's funeral. Diana also visits Diagon Alley and sends a message to Severus Snape for Harry.
On Saturday Diana attends the funeral, meets John Constantine, visits Snape, and scouts out Malfoy Manor. In the evening, after a run-in with various Chinese wizards, Harry contacts Snape via portrait, and explains the flaws in Dumbledore's plan.
On Sunday Diana returns and they meet a gangster and arrange to get forged passports.
On Monday morning the Goblins complete their initial check of Gringrotts' vaults and let Diana know that a Horcrux was probably removed, and John Constantine contacts Diana to let her know what he's learned.
Everything in this chapter occurs on the afternoon and evening of Monday 8th September 1997. The full moon, demon summoning, and possible apocalypse are scheduled for Tuesday 16th...
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