On Archive of Our Own
On Twisting the Hellmouth
XXII: Precious Little Time
"Why are you here, Snape?" snapped Bellatrix.
Snape's ghost ignored her and bowed to Voldemort. "You summoned me, my Lord, the Dark Mark called me here, and with Malfoy Manor destroyed there was nothing to tether me there."
"Destroyed?" asked Voldemort.
"While we were fighting the demons, Potter and the mudblood sneaked in and rescued our prisoners. Unfortunately they seem to have destroyed the Manor on the way out, there's nothing there now but burning rubble and the outbuildings. I'd imagine the wards will collapse with nobody living there."
Bellatrix seemed to be about to rant, but Voldemort got in first. "Be silent, Bellatrix. We'll be moving into Hogwarts, we don't need the manor any more. Go on, Severus."
"I await your orders, my Lord."
"You betrayed us, you cut off Scabior's arm, why should we trust you?"
"Actually I rather think it was Crabbe the elder I hit," said Snape, "if I'm not mistaken, Scabior was killed by one of the demons. Whoever it was I hit, my arm was jogged as I was casting, being hit by a bludger really does nothing for one's aim. I'd apologise, but I think it's a little late for that."
Voldemort stared into Snape's eyes. "Legilimens"
"I really doubt that will work, my Lord," Snape said calmly. "I've never sensed anything from a ghost, and there are rather a lot at Hogwarts."
"Hmm... I felt a slight tingle, I think. Maybe you could try exorcism? But might I suggest delaying it until we've dealt with our present difficulties?"
"What difficulties?" asked Voldemort.
"We all want Potter dead, and I'd imagine that I can still help with that as your agent, the wards of Hogwarts shouldn't keep me out at all. But McGonagall will have known the moment I died, and I'd imagine that she's already raising the castle's defences. The longer you wait, the stronger they will be, so I would urge the utmost speed."
"You make a good point. Very well, the wolves should be able to transform by eight-thirty or so, even if they aren't at full strength. We'll aim to reach the castle by nine."
"Then I would suggest that I go there now and make contact with your supporters in Slytherin, and see what we can do to sabotage the defences."
"Hmm... very well, Severus. And do not fail me or delay my victory; eventually I will control every resource of magic in Britain, and devote them to making life intolerable for those who betray me. If that involves finding a way to punish a ghost, you may be sure that I will do so."
"My Lord..." Snape bowed and walked out through one of the walls of the tent.
"My lord..." Bellatrix said urgently, "We..."
"A moment." Voldemort paused, making an intricate wand movement and whispering a few words of parseltongue. "Yes, of course we cannot trust him blindly. But if he plans to betray us, he will do our cause less harm in Hogwarts than spying on our preparations here. He has left the camp already, and is well on his way to the school. I think it's the first time that a Death Eater has become a ghost. Although he is dead I can still sense his Mark... dimly, but there is a rough sensation of distance and direction."
"Of course, my Lord, I should have realised. If he could feel your summons, the mark must still be active."
"Exactly. It does suggest some amusing possibilities; for example, it might be possible to use it to torture the dead."
"What a shame that my dear cousins never returned as ghosts. If we could have tattooed Sirius before he died..."
"Indeed. Now then, call in the Carrows, we have much to do."
In the power station's former staff canteen, Albert Jugson chewed thoughtfully on a strip of dried pumpkin, scratched his ear, then said "Raise you five sickles" and dropped the coins into the pot.
"Bollocks," said Silvanus Kirke. "Fold."
Terrence Horne discarded his cards. "Fold. I've had better hands playing exploding snap."
Walton Hodge scowled, folded, and got up. "Anyone want tea?"
"While you're up," said Jugson, "go check the mudbloods."
"What's the point? They're dementor fodder. Anyway, it isn't my turn."
"We need the dementors, so we need to make sure we have plenty of mudbloods to feed them, unless you're volunteering to be their next meal. If we don't feed them they'll bugger off like the others. Clear enough for you? And it is your bloody turn, you missed last time because you were in the loo."
"Mordred's arse! All right, but someone else can make the bloody tea."
The others turned back to their cards. "Right..." Jugson took another quick look at his hand, and tried to fake a slightly worried expression. "...Who's left?"
"Raise you ten sickles," said Hamish Belby.
"Call!" said Jugson, and tossed more coins into the pot.
Belby slapped his hand down on the table. "Four of a kind, hippogriffs!"
Hodge put on his mask - cloth, not silver like the nobs got to wear - and took an SuperLumos™ lantern from a hook by the door into the corridor that led to the holding area. "Right, if I'm not back in five minutes check that I'm okay, not being kissed or something."
"Fuck off and check them then, you lazy git," said Jugson. Turning back to the game he said "Good hand," then as Belby reached for the pot he added "but not good enough. Straight flush, unicorns, nine high."
"Like hell," said Belby, "I've got the seven of unicorns!"
"You're forgetting, we're playing Merlins wild. And oh look, I've got the nine, eight, six and five of unicorns, and sodding Merlin."
"Merlin's jock-strap! You jammy bugger. Any firewhisky left?"
"Better not have any more," said Jugson. "We're on call here, and we're bloody short-handed. Stick to butterbeer or pumpkin juice, or make the bloody tea. You don't want to be pissed if we're summoned by the Dark Lord or something."
Outside Hodge opened the door to the old generator hall where the prisoners were penned, looking around in case any of the remaining dementors strayed too close or a prisoner got loose, and shivered as he felt the cold of the dementor aura. The place was packed; the surviving mudbloods from the other prison camps were here now. "We should have finished the buggers off, not brought them here," he muttered.
As he strolled along the aisles between the pens he could hear some of the prisoners sobbing and shrieking, others stared at him with dull apathy. A few still had hatred in their eyes; they'd be the ones to watch out for, the ones that might make trouble. A girl spat at him, and he grinned. "Crucio!" While she was writhing on the floor he thought about raping her, nobody who mattered would care, but he didn't want to be caught with his robes open and his pants down if the dementors took an interest. At the moment they were still high up, circling over the mudbloods and keeping them too weak to be a real threat.
There was a sudden shrill noise, like chalk scraping on a blackboard, unbearably loud, the glass of the SuperLumos™ lantern shattered, and its flame went out, plunging the hall into near-total darkness. Hodge cowered back as he felt the chill of a dementor, realising too late that he was dangerously close to the prisoners. A hand reached out and grabbed his hair, pulling him back against the bars hard enough to daze him. Before he could recover his wand was gone, and a sharpened spoon severed his carotid artery.
"Where in Merlin's name are we, Fred?"
"Looks like the sixth year greenhouse," said George, carefully avoiding some of the more lethal plants as they picked their way to the door.
They turned back to the green plant elemental, which was slowly sinking back into the swamp that had formerly been the Venomous Tentacula bed, carrying two large Tentaculas in its arms. They bowed in unison and said "Thanks!"
It said "YOU'RE... WELCOME..." as its head sank into the mud, the last word bubbling as its mouth went under water. A moment later it was gone, and the soil seemed to solidify again.
"Let's get out of here!"
They dodged more tendrils, thorns, stingers and spikes, jumped over the branches of Professor Sprout's prized bonsai Whomping Willow, and eventually got outside without much blood loss. A few minutes later they were skirting the Forbidden Forest as they made their way to the castle entrance.
"Did you hear something?" asked Fred.
Up ahead they heard clinking and rattling, and several voices speaking a language they didn't recognize. Both of them drew their wands and moved forward as silently as they could. In the dim partial moonlight they saw four dwarves wearing dragon-hide armour pulling a heavily laden cart across rough ground toward the forest. Behind them there was a dark shape on the water of the Great Lake, a large boat of some sort. Hobbling ahead of the cart was a bearded man, carrying some heavy-looking tools on one shoulder despite the fact that he was using a crutch to walk, also wearing dragon-hide armour. And ahead of him were four heavily-armed centaurs, who seemed to be looking out for attackers. Unusually they bore swords and long spears as well as their slung bows.
"Hello?" said George, "Do you need a hand?"
The bearded man turned, showing a heavily scarred and slightly irregular face. "I can cope, but my assistants would probably appreciate your help. There's a lot to do and precious little time." His voice had a foreign accent, which Fred thought he recognized as Greek.
"Is there anything there that would be damaged by a feather-light charm?"
Fred cast the charm, and the wagon moved a little more easily, but its wheels still sank deep into the ground. "Lot of weight there," said George, casting it again, then both of them cast together before it was moving easily. The dwarves picked up speed, so did their leader and the centaurs, until Fred and George were trotting to keep up.
"Forgot to ask," said Fred. "Why are you here?"
"Because if it's to harm anyone in the castle we'll have to stop you," said George.
"That might be interesting," said the stranger, grinning and showing crooked teeth, "but my business is with the centaurs in the forest, not with the castle. There's a battle coming and our services are needed."
"You're warriors? Combat mages?"
"Weapon-smiths. We're here to sell our wares, I think that the centaurs will find our terms very reasonable. Have a good evening, gentlemen, and try to stay alive." He started to hobble even faster, with the dwarves easily keeping up behind him, leaving the Weasleys behind. As they turned back to the path George noticed that the boat was gone.
"That was weird, Fred."
"And the big green bloke wasn't?"
"Point. Okay, let's get into the bloody castle."
"Is it just me," asked Desire of the Endless, "or does this evening seem to be passing unreasonably slowly? The eclipse isn't even over yet." The androgynous figure yawned ostentatiously, shifting from male to female and back again, clothes and features morphing subtly into forms sure to inspire lust. All of it was completely wasted on the only onlooker. They were alone on the Astronomy tower, and no mortal would have seen or heard them if anyone else had been there.
Dream shrugged. "What did you expect? The Olympians are taking an interest, do you think they'd want their villains and champions arriving too early or too late? Not to mention that this world is bound by the rules of story and by magic... the whole 'Boy who Lived' thing is a monomyth, a hero's journey, and this is where it ends, one way or another."
"Don't worry, things will get lively soon. And once they've settled their little war, it'll be time for you to intervene. I hope you're ready."
"Don't worry," said Desire. "I was born ready. Well, not exactly born, of course. And even if I wasn't ready, Aphrodite is probably hiding around here somewhere, she's not exactly subtle but she can probably pull this one off."
"She'll probably concentrate on the demigoddess. There are other factors to consider."
"Relax, I'm on it." An orchestra only they could hear began to play. "Love is in the air everywhere I look around... Love is in the air every sight and every sound..."
"Save it for the mortals."
Dream shrugged again. He had a feeling it was still going to be a long evening.
Pius Thicknesse stunned the last of his so-called bodyguards, snapped the man's wand and tucked it into his pocket, then used his own wand to create a portkey to the official portkey arrival point in Calais and sent the man there. If the French were on their toes they'd search him, notice the Dark Mark, and arrest him; more importantly, the portkey would be tracked by the Ministry's monitors, and with any luck they'd think Thicknesse had used it to escape. He took a moment to transfigure his clothes into muggle-style jeans and an anorak then apparated to a safe arrival point between some bushes in St. James Park, a hundred yards from the Ministry, protected from observation by muggle-repelling charms. Once he was sure he wasn't splinched he put on a pair of dark sunglasses, as a disguise and protection against the crudest forms of legilimency, and set off for the Ministry on foot. There were still plenty of people on the street, muggle office-workers, shoppers, and tourists, and he was pleased that nobody seemed to pay him any attention. It was a few years since he'd been undercover as an auror, but still remembered some of the tricks. Overhead the moon was half red, and he remembered that there was an eclipe.
Officially all entrances to the Ministry were closed apart from the public lavatories in Whitehall, but realistically there was no way everything the Ministry needed could be delivered that way. Every day it got through vast quantities of parchment and ink, food and drink for the staff canteens, soap and toilet paper, and everything else needed by a bureaucracy with hundreds of employees. Much of it necessarily came from muggle sources, the dirty truth the purebloods tried to ignore; there simply weren't enough wizards to produce their own food, let alone run paper mills and office furniture factories. Most of the bulkier items came in to a loading bay behind shops on the next street from the public entrances, where a system of freight lifts and service tunnels took it down to the Ministry complex.
Deliveries arrived throughout the day and early evening, so the entrance was usually open, though guarded. Subtle spells deterred unwanted visitors, only authorized personnel and drivers carefully charmed to be incurious about their customer would ever notice it. Thicknesse walked past the bay, pretending to pay no attention, ducked into a doorway, disillusioned himself, then slowly made his way back to the entrance, past the guards, and into the bay, moving slowly and only when nobody was looking his way, as a large truck arrived and began to unload. Soon he was sharing one of the freight lifts with a drum of cooking oil, crates of fruit and sacks of potatoes, and a polythene-wrapped filing cabinet; after fifteen minutes or so a bored squib took it down to the executive canteen on the first level, fortuitously near the Minister's office, and began to unload the food. Thicknesse waited until he was out of sight, then headed for his office.
In Hogwarts the last students were rounded up and in their houses, or so Minerva hoped, and the staff were seeing to the castle's defences. Minerva was in her new office tending to the wards when she felt a sudden chill, and looked up to see Severus Snape.
"Come back to haunt me, Severus?"
"I've come to see the Dark Lord killed. Once that's done I'm out of here, there'll be nothing to keep me."
"He's coming here? Tonight?"
"There was a fight at Malfoy Manor, he lost a lot of his top men and ran. Right now they're camped at the other side of the forest, but they're getting ready to attack the castle. I think he's angry enough that he'll attack without waiting for all his forces. They'll be attacking across the forest, I'm hoping that none of them really know just how dangerous that can be."
"Any sign of Harry Potter? Was he at the Manor?"
Snape smiled unpleasantly. "Despite Albus bloody Dumbledore we've taught the boy well, and he has some competent help. Potter, Granger and their friends went on their way rejoicing, and I'd imagine that they'll turn up here before long. Hopefully before we're surrounded, anyway."
"You're the Headmistress, not me. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to make sure that the Dark Lord's supporters among the students are neutralised. It would be annoying if they tried to let him in."
"Can you do that?"
He smiled again. "Count on it."
Notes: The Harry Potter wiki description of the Ministry of Magic omits some essential infrastructure; the only catering mentioned is a small food cart in the atrium that seems inadequate for a bureacracy the size of the Ministry, and hundreds of employees going out to eat would be a huge security risk, especially after Voldemort's takeover when everyone is funnelled through a single public convenience. It's more likely that there are staff and executive canteens, and arrangements for the supply of food and other essentials.
Comments please before I post to archives. Apologies for the long hiatus.
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