SIYE Time:7:51 on 24th May 2019

The Seventh Horcrux
By melindaleo

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Category: Post-HBP, Buried Gems
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Fluff
Warnings: Death, Violence
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 860
Summary: The hunt for the Horcruxes begins. Harry has to decide who to trust as he moves closer to fulfilling his destiny. Will he be able to find and destroy all the Horcruxes? And at what price? Will he be able to find the strength within himself "the Power the Dark Lord Knows Not" in order to succeed in vanquishing Voldemort? And, can he do it and still get the girl? Join Harry and his faithful friends on their quest to finally defeat a Dark Lord.
Hitcount: Story Total: 209680; Chapter Total: 7251
Awards: View Trophy Room


Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I’m just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.

Chapter Twenty-Two


Dear Hermione,

I really don’t know what to say. I hope you and Ron both came through everything okay. I wish I could be there with you. The two of you meant more to me than you’ll ever know, could ever understand, really. I probably should have told you that, but I could never seem to find the right words.

I’m leaving you the Marauder’s Map. I’m certain that brilliant mind of yours will come up with some fantastic uses for it, if only to catch out-of-bounds students once you’re a Transfiguration professor. Do me a favor and go easy on them, okay? Remember, we were those out-of-bounds students once upon a time.

If you don’t use it as a teacher, at least give it to one of your and Ron’s kids to carry on our legacy.

Take care of Ginny for me, Hermione. She’ll need you

Harry put the letter aside, sighing. He was still having such difficulty writing them. Did he really sound like such an idiot when he spoke? Maybe it was because he just couldn’t bear to say goodbye…

Running a hand through his mussed-up hair, he pushed the letters aside and let his head fall on the table. He’d been in the library all evening researching Rowena Ravenclaw but felt no closer to a revelation than he had when he’d started. Ron and Ginny had already retired, but Hermione was still somewhere in the library. Harry wasn’t certain what she was researching. She loved having run of the whole place and tended to spread out her work on multiple tables, flitting from spot to spot as inspiration struck.

"Hermione," he called, packing up his parchment and quills and tossing them in his bag.

"Over here, Harry," she replied from somewhere in a darkened corner. He thought her voice sounded rather panicked, and he could hear parchment rustling. He knew it meant that tonight’s research involved the damn bit of Voldemort’s soul that was stuck inside him. Whatever she was doing, she obviously wasn’t ready to share it, and Harry was feeling too discouraged to ask.

"It’s late. I’m going to stop by the Owlery to see Hedwig before going to bed. Are you almost done here?" he asked.

"Yes, I’ll be there shortly. Say hello to Hedwig for me," Hermione said, her voice noticeably relaxing.

"All right. Goodnight, Hermione," he called, leaving the library and winding his way toward the Owlery.

The castle was eerily quiet. Even though the corridors were normally empty at this late hour, something still felt different. The walls seemed to radiate a hollow loneliness as Harry’s footsteps echoed on the cold stone stairs. Things had been tense amongst everyone since the revelation that Umbridge had released Wormtail and arranged a truce with Voldemort. The members of the Order knew her treaty was doomed from the start and were working on ways to covertly attend her press conference that was scheduled for the following evening.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione were all planning on attending, as well, but Mrs. Weasley was adamant that Ginny stay safely behind. Percy’s death had unhinged Mrs. Weasley completely, and she’d resumed her efforts to try and shield all of them from any further violence. Although she wasn’t happy about it, Ginny didn’t have the heart to push her mother right now and had agreed to remain at Hogwarts.

Harry didn’t know what concessions Umbridge had agreed to, but he knew she had to be stopped. He’d barely clamped down on the fury he felt over Wormtail’s release after everything they’d gone through to capture him. Ron had nearly died! Wormtail’s manipulations had landed Sirius in prison for twelve years. Harry’s own parents had lost their lives because of the little rat’s cowardice – and Umbridge had just let him walk away.

Harry slammed his fist into the wall just thinking about it, causing a nearby portrait of a lady in Renaissance finery to shriek in alarm. He surveyed the corridor quickly, ready to sprint if he saw signs of Filch approaching. He’d seen the old caretaker skulking around on several occasions. Harry had no idea if, since he technically wasn’t a student, Filch still had any authority over him, but he didn’t want to find out.

As Harry climbed the final stairs into the Owlery, he caught a flash of blue out of the corner of his eye. Drawing his wand, he inched inside the door.

"Who’s there?" he called. "Show yourself."

Hedwig hooted from her perch and swooped down to land on his shoulder, nipping his ear affectionately. He could see Pig up in the rafters with several of the school owls, and Errol lay unconscious near the window. Errol always passed out after a journey.

"It’s just me, Potter," Pansy said, emerging from behind a column near the window. She held her dark blue robes gathered in her hands so as not to let them drag in the owl droppings on the floor.

"What are you doing up here so late, Pansy?" Harry asked, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.

"That’s my business," Pansy snapped, raising her nose.

"It’s my business if you’re sending an owl to someone," Harry said, grabbing her by the arm.

She jerked her arm free, her face darkening into a scowl. "Sorry we all can’t have things as easy as you," she said scathingly. "You and the Weaselette only have one mother to dodge when you need to find a place to snog, Draco and I have both of ours, and they can be like bloodhounds if they think we’re up to something."

"Yeah, we’re so lucky," Harry said dryly.

Pansy’s face pinkened slightly, but her scowl never dipped. "It’s all yours, Potter. It’s too dirty in here for my tastes anyway," she said before striding imperiously from the room.

Harry shook his head as he peeked behind the column where Pansy had been hiding. There was nothing there. He gently picked Errol up off the open window and moved him to a perch. The old owl’s eyes opened blearily, and he hooted his thanks. He took a sip of water before falling back on his side.

"What was she doing here, girl?" Harry asked Hedwig absently. "I don’t see any new owls that might have brought her a letter, and all the school owls have been instructed not to leave the grounds."

Hedwig hooted and nipped Harry’s ear again. He stroked her feathers as he pulled some owl treats from his pocket. "Sorry they’re mushy. They’ve been in my pocket for awhile," Harry said, shrugging.

Hedwig reproachfully eyed the mashed treats.

"Hey! They’ll still taste the same," Harry said, finding it ridiculous that he felt chastised by an owl.

Hedwig scooped the treats in her beak and flew up to her perch without a sound.

"Be that way, then," Harry said, chuckling.

He began his descent from the Owlery, peering out at the brightly lit sky. It was a full moon, and Harry’s heart clenched with worry for Remus. He supposed that was the real reason he couldn’t sleep. He wondered where his friend was, and how he was coping with the full moon.

He hoped that Remus would be able to live with whatever it was he had to do to make the other werewolves accept him. Harry’s hatred for Umbridge was renewed over the way she’d forced Remus to live. The press conference couldn’t come soon enough.

He pushed open the door to his dormitory and was nearly pushed back from the loud snoring roaring within. Harry had always known Ron snored loudly, but adding the combined volume of Fred, George and Charlie, and Harry was ready to move to his own room simply to catch some decent sleep.

He undressed and lay down, trying to block the sound by putting a pillow over his head. After several long and fruitless minutes, he finally gave up and cast a Silencing Charm around his bed. He didn’t like to do that because he worried what would happen if there was a problem, and he couldn’t hear it. He really wanted to sleep tonight, however. He’d been sleeping poorly since they’d arrived.

Smiling into his pillow, he remembered the scene two nights ago when the girls had told them about Umbridge. The other Weasley brothers had joined them all in the room shortly afterwards, and they were all fairly put out when they learned Ron and Harry had been drinking and didn’t invite anyone else.

Ron had called Hermione a mood-killer, infuriating his girlfriend. Before stomping out of the room with Ginny in tow, Hermione had removed the Sobering Charms she’d placed on Ron and Harry. The twins had somehow produced more Firewhisky, and all the Weasley brothers had stayed up quite late into the night. Harry knew he’d passed out at some point, and he felt his body still hadn’t quite recovered.

Pulling the covers up and finally beginning to drift off in the newfound silence, Harry’s dreams about Snitches, freckles, and Firewhisky were plagued with the image of a rat stealing in and out of the shadows.


Th e press conference at the Ministry drew a large segment of the Wizarding community. Witches and wizards had traveled across Britain to attend, some even bringing their families in the hopes of hearing encouraging news. The Atrium had been expanded to accommodate the crowd, and the podium had been charmed to amplify voices throughout the building.

Aurors and Hit Wizards were assigned along the perimeter of the Atrium to maintain order. In fact, there were so many law enforcement officials in attendance, Harry wondered if there was anyone left actually guarding the rest of the Wizarding world.

The Aurors clutched their wands tightly, their faces pale and strained. They, at least, appeared to understand the gravity of the situation. That was more than could be said for the remainder of the crowd. The populace at large was in a jubilant mood, barely containing their glee. Harry suspected they were bursting to celebrate and only waiting for a nod of approval from the Ministry. Harry shook his head in disgust. He knew the war was taking a toll on everyone, but they were acting like fools – all of them.

After the last full moon, word had quickly spread about the destruction of a Muggle village near the border of Wales. A pack of werewolves had attacked a local gathering, killing and maiming a huge section of the townspeople. Many young villagers had been bitten and carried off by the pack. Cries had spread that all werewolves needed to be put down, and those victims that had survived the massacre had suddenly found themselves among the accused.

Harry’s anxiety for Remus was palpable, and he hoped to get a chance to speak with Tonks tonight to ask if she’d had any word. None of the Weasleys or Professor McGonagall had had any contact with him, and Harry’s concern had only grown.

He’d left an annoyed Ginny behind with her parents and Hagrid. Mrs. Weasley didn’t feel up to a Ministry function, and Hagrid was simply too big to hide. Harry suspected that Mrs. Weasley merely wanted to keep an eye on Ginny, anyway. Professor Slughorn had supplied the Order with what little Polyjuice potion he had in stock – which wasn’t much. Those that already had arrest warrants out in their name used the potion to disguise themselves while the others just tried to dress inconspicuously and blend in with the crowd.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione had all removed the crest from their Hogwarts robes and kept their hats pulled low over their heads. They stuck to the back of the room and away from the Aurors. The lobby was so full that blending into the crowd wasn’t difficult. Harry almost hoped Umbridge would try and make a move to arrest him at the event. Just let her try and get away with it quietly. He wasn’t about to allow that to happen.

"Harry, isn’t that Tonks over there by the door?" Hermione asked, rousing Harry from his dark thoughts. Hermione knew Harry wanted to speak with Tonks, and it was obvious that she, too, was worried about Remus. He was thankful that she’d been paying attention.

"Where?" Ron asked. "I don’t see her."

"Her hair isn’t pink," Hermione said, beginning to elbow her way through the crowd. "She doesn’t look very good."

Harry glanced over at Tonks and realized Hermione was right. Her hair was a mousy brown color, and her shoulders drooped so heavily that she looked shorter than she was. She appeared listless and drawn, causing Harry’s anxiety to increase.

"Blimey, she looks ruddy awful," Ron stated unnecessarily.

"Shh, Ron. She’ll hear you," Hermione hissed, throwing a glare over her shoulder.

"So what if she hears me? She has to know," Ron replied, shrugging.

Harry elbowed him in the ribs, unwilling to deal with yet another Ron and Hermione row at the moment.

"Tonks," he said when they’d reached her.

She didn’t look at him, and her face gave nothing away, but she spoke softly from the side of her mouth. "Pretend you’re speaking with each other. I’m being watched."

The trio huddled in a circle, appearing to chat amongst themselves but standing close enough to the young Auror to hear her.

"Watched by whom?" Hermione asked, her eyes shifting nervously.

"By Umbridge’s people. She’s waiting for me to make a mistake, but so far she hasn’t got anything. There are plenty in the Division who aren’t as loyal to her as she thinks they are, and that number is growing daily. They think she did Kingsley wrong, and they know this whole treaty is a big mistake," Tonks said quietly, never looking in their direction.

"Then why is it happening?" Harry demanded, his voice rising.

"Shh," Hermione hissed, stomping on his foot. "Keep your voice down, Harry."

"Ow," Harry said, chagrined. "That hurt." Hermione was wearing pointy-heeled shoes.

"There’s nothing they can do about it. If they even speak out of line, they’ll be accused of treason and be in the same predicament as Kingsley. They’re just waiting to see how it all plays out," Tonks said, appearing to shrink before their eyes.

"Are you all right, Tonks?" Hermione asked gently.

Tonks shook her head, tears filling her eyes before she could blink them all away. "No. I had a brief letter from Remus last night."

"You did?" Harry asked eagerly. "How is he? What did he say?"

"He didn’t say much at all, that’s the problem. He claimed that he didn’t have much time, but something in the tone of the letter seemed very formal and distant. He said he was doing what was expected of him," Tonks said, sniffling.

Hermione wordlessly conjured a handkerchief and slipped it to the other woman.

"What does that mean?" Ron asked.

"I don’t know, but I don’t like the sound of it," Tonks said.

"D’you think it has anything to do with the attack the other night in Lyneham?" Harry asked quietly.

Tonks nodded tearfully. "I’m afraid it does. There’s no way he could have stopped it alone, but if he was forced to take part…"

"The guilt will kill him," Harry said, his face impassive. Inside, his gut was wrenching, knowing how he would feel if faced with a similar situation.

Tonks sniffed again while Hermione leaned into Ron’s shoulder.

"He also gave me a message for you, Harry, but I don’t understand it," Tonks said.

"What is it?" Harry asked stonily.

"Only that ‘creation hinges on the intensity of the hatred. The act does the splitting.’ Does that mean anything to you?" Tonks asked, her eyes narrowed suspiciously.

Harry nodded slowly. "Yeah, it does. Thanks." He saw Hermione’s eyes widen, and he could almost see the wheels turning in her head. Hatred fueled the creation of a Horcrux, much like happiness fueled the creation of a Patronus. Why was that not surprising?

"I don’t suppose you want to share?" she asked, her inquisitiveness finally breaking through her apathy.

Harry shrugged. "Sorry, Tonks. Know that it helps, though, all right?"

"Can’t blame a girl for trying," she said, a flicker of her former exuberance shining through.

The lights in the lobby flickered on and off several times before the podium at the front began to fill with various Ministry officials. A young, fussily-dressed wizard took the podium, casting a Sonorus Charm.

Harry moved forward, but Hermione again gripped his arm. "First listen to what he has to say," she hissed.

"Wizards, witches and representatives of the press," they young wizard said stiffly, his voice cracking. Harry was suddenly jolted by his resemblance to Percy and assumed this was who had taken Percy’s place. "I welcome you to this historic occasion. Our Interim Minister has some exciting news that we’ve all longed to hear."

He paused for a moment as cheers and whistles filled the Atrium; the volume was so loud that Harry was certain the roof shook. "She has great plans to lead us from the darkness that has filled our lives for so long into a new, shining era of cooperation, where our bloodlines can flourish and prosper, bringing new opportunities to us all. Without further ado, I give you our Interim Minister – Dolores Umbridge."

Once again, the room erupted into thunderous applause. A group of rowdy wizards by the front desk, who had obviously been celebrating long before the introductions, began a string of catcalls and inappropriate innuendo and had to be silenced by some nearby Aurors.

Umbridge took the podium with a sweep of her new, frilly robes. The gray had been charmed from her hair, and she wore it pulled back with a pink bow. The mere sight of it made Harry want to rip it from her head. She wore that same, smug, toad-like expression she’d always used after being named High Inquisitor at Hogwarts.

"Hem, hem," she said, coughing her familiar, annoying little cough.

"Bloody hell," Ron mumbled under his breath, and Hermione appeared too stunned even to reprimand him.

"Welcome, one and all. I’d like to thank you for taking the time to attend our little announcement," she said, simpering. "The Ministry of Magic has always sought to ensure the growth and advantageous prosperity of the Wizarding community. In the past few years, some of our very best tried and true traditions have given way to modernization, and the slow, steady trickle of influence from the Muggle world. As Minister, I intend to see to it that the heritage and gifts our ancestors passed down to us are reborn, and once again become the centerpiece of Wizarding society."

Harry rolled his eyes. She was treating this as if it were her acceptance speech – without benefit of being appointed. Her breathy voice was like nails on a chalkboard, and he found his attention beginning to drift. The sharp stabs of dislike he always felt while Umbridge was speaking were pounding into his brain, and a nervous, restless energy had overtaken him.

"She’s softening the crowd to accept restrictions on Muggleborns," Hermione whispered, her face horrorstruck.

"What?" Ron hissed, taken aback. "She hasn’t said a word about Muggleborns, just lots of rubbish."

Hermione shook her head. "Listen, Ron."

"We need to prune out certain practices that have become commonplace, while reestablishing others that have fallen by the wayside," she said, the little-girl quality in her voice suddenly disappearing as it took on a hard, no-nonsense edge. "As you are all aware, the Dark Lord has been inflicting terror upon our community for quite some time.

"Despite that, I’ve managed to open a line of communication and taken steps to build a bridge of trust between two opposing factions. I’ve managed to do this through the help of one boy."

The room stilled at this statement, and Harry felt the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. He peered curiously at the podium, wondering where this was going.

"There have been rumors for years that a ‘Chosen One’ is the person destined to lead us from the Darkness. Many of you have surmised that this ‘Chosen One’ is in fact the ‘Boy Who Lived.’ Recently, however, other knowledge has come to my attention. Facts that I’m going to share with you that indicate it might not be Harry Potter himself who can lead us from this Darkness, but instead, something in his blood."

Murmurs and questions broke out across the floor. Harry, Ron and Hermione all stared at one another, perplexed. Harry could see various other Order members casting glances his way.

"I’ve discovered the existence of an ancient prophecy," Umbridge continued, causing chills to run down Harry’s spine.

How could she find the prophecy? The original had been destroyed years ago, and he was now in possession of Dumbledore’s copy. Unless…Snape!

"This prophecy refers to a certain bloodline having the power to lead us from the darkness," Umbridge said, smiling sweetly and obviously enjoying the rapt attention.

Harry shook his head. What is she on about? The prophecy didn’t say anything about his bloodline.

"Since the Potter line is extinct except for young Harry, and his mother was a Muggleborn, it appeared obvious that Harry Potter was the boy in question. I’ve since discovered an alternative possibility."

Slithering waves of dread coiled themselves around Harry’s insides. Oh, no. She can’t be serious.

"There is another member of Harry Potter’s family who also has magical abilities. This person has been hidden from the Ministry for years now – and I find the circumstances of that omission highly suspect. I fear those who held the responsibility of protecting young Mr. Potter may have had their own goals – and not the best interests of Wizarding society – at heart," Umbridge said, licking her lips.

She was blaming this on Dumbledore, once again casting suspicion his way without coming right out and saying his name. Anger burned in Harry’s chest.

"I’ve since been in contact with Mr. Potter’s only cousin – a boy who’s been denied the benefits of our teaching and instruction about his extraordinary gifts for his entire life. Yet, unlike Mr. Potter, he has willingly and enthusiastically agreed to help us. Witches and Wizards, allow me to introduce to you the new hope to bring light from these dark times, Mr. Dudley Dursley."

Dudley – massive, round Dudley – walked onto the podium with a rolling gait, his great girth covered in expensive, finely made green robes. He waved at the cheering crowd, his expression smug, as if they all had come to pay him homage. Harry’s chin dropped when he noticed Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia standing to the side, beaming and applauding their son. Uncle Vernon kept glancing warily at the various wizards around him, but his pride for Dudley clearly showed.

Harry felt as if his entire world had tilted sideways, and he was struggling to stay upright. This was not what he’d expected. His aunt and uncle had always doted on Dudley – to the point of being absurd – but to see such a turnabout on anything related to magic was more than he could grasp. Perhaps their acquaintances in the Muggle world had finally grown tired of Dudley’s bullying ways, and the Dursleys were finding it harder and harder to find anyone they could still impress. Maybe they simply enjoyed the lavish attention he was certain Umbridge had showered on Dudley. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had always been overly impressed by their average son.

Umbridge nodded at Dudley, covertly pushing a small piece of paper toward him. Reading had never been one of Dudley’s favorite pastimes, and his long pauses and struggle with words was painfully apparent.

"Greetings fellow w-w- wizards," Dudley, said, his voice wavering. "I was raised with one of you – but I was taught to fear you." Dudley paused, most likely because he was stuck on a word, but he appeared to enjoy the reaction and stretched the moment out longer. "I was told that you were all abnormal – freaks – and made to believe that everything magical was meant to harm me. I was wrong. My family was misled."

Dudley’s frustration with the parchment and what was written finally overcame him, and he crumpled it. Dolores’s face registered alarm when Dudley tossed it to the ground.

Harry shook his head, clearly seeing why Dolores would have gone after Dudley once she realized the magical register had been obscured. Her reasons for using him were twofold. First, she could strip Harry’s strong public appeal by supplying a new "hero," and this time, she’d found one she could control. Manipulating Harry’s blood connection to Dudley was a win-win for her.

"Look. I’m magic just like you. From what she tells me," Dudley said, jerking his thumb in Umbridge’s direction, "I’ve got a lot of power. My folks were afraid of magic until they realized how special it made me. We’ve been threatened so many times, we thought-"

"Yes, and we all owe you an apology for that, Mr. Dursley," Umbridge said, swiftly moving Dudley behind her. "Your family never should have been made to fear your gift."

Harry could see Aunt Petunia dab her eyes, staring adoringly at her little popkin, who took up half the stage with his wide girth. Even Uncle Vernon had managed to maintain a stiff upper lip around all the magical folk. He proudly stuck his chest out and clapped Dudley on the back.

Harry carefully schooled his features, unwilling to allow any of his feelings to show. He knew Ron and Hermione had both seen something in his eyes, and he refused to look directly at them lest they see it again. He’d spent his entire life being made to feel abnormal for what he was. The Dursleys had always hated magic and anything to do with it. Now that it was their precious Dudley being lauded for that same abnormality, suddenly it was a gift.

Harry wished he could say it didn’t matter, that it didn’t sting, but he knew Ron and Hermione had seen otherwise. He found it ironic that he was the one now being blamed for the Dursleys mistrust of magic. Could this night get any weirder?

Umbridge had once again taken over the podium. "When I discovered the wrongs done to this young wizard and his family and realized the misconceptions we’ve all accepted as true for many years, I began to wonder what other fallacies might be blindly accepted as fact. Perhaps, there was something You-Know-Who was trying to accomplish that had been misunderstood."

Rumblings of disquiet began to fill the room. Accepting Dudley as a possible savior was one thing, but being wrong about someone who’d been murdering for years was something else. Too many remembered the terror of the last war to accept Voldemort’s cooperation this time. Harry was suddenly struck with the memory of Trelawney’s second prediction.

The Dark Lord will rise again with his servant’s aid, greater and more terrible than ever he was.

Voldemort had risen again, and if he’d finally managed to get a hold in the Ministry, his power certainly would be greater than it had been before…

Dolores ignored the whispering and ploughed forward, trying to keep her momentum moving. "It was through the enlightenment I received after speaking to Dudley that gave me the strength and courage to propose a truce. Perhaps, the sole role of this so-called ‘Chosen One’ was to bridge the gap, and not actually physically do anything to stop the violence. Perhaps, through our superior intellect and abilities, we could find a way to reunite the core foundation of the Wizarding world and once again live in harmony."

Murmurs and voices filled the hall again, louder and more hopeful this time. Apparently, the Wizarding world was desperate enough to accept just about anything to stop the mayhem.

"Through the Ministry’s extensive covert operations, I managed to make contact with a delegate from You-Know-Who’s inner circle. We discussed the Dark Lord’s plans for the Wizarding community and discovered that there were many areas where his goals and the goals of the Ministry overlapped. With concessions on both sides, I believe I’ve arranged a compromise that will satisfy us all."

Voices continued to murmur, spreading both hope and mistrust across the room. Half of them appeared willing to begin a celebration, whilst the other half was wary and seemed ready to bolt through the doors.

"What kind of compromises?" a brave young witch asked, shrinking as all eyes turned her way.

"I’m glad you asked," Umbridge said, although the expression on her face indicated she wasn’t pleased at all.

"Most of the stipulations we discussed were in regard to Muggleborns. The idea that they need a more formal introduction to our customs was brought up, and we thought it would be better if they were taught separately, outside of Hogwarts."

Hermione’s mouth set in a grim line, and she cast an ‘I told you so’ look at Ron.

"We’ve also agreed that it would be best if the role of Minister and various positions on the Wizengamot were held by those longstanding members of the Wizarding community. After all, experience is what makes them understand how our society works," Umbridge said, smiling although her eyes held a hard, glinty edge.

"In that vein of open communication and cooperation between our two groups, I’ve invited several of You-Know-Who’s inner circle to join us here today. Please lower your wands and allow them to enter peacefully," Umbridge said, the simpering tone stealing back into her voice.

The Aurors glanced uneasily back and forth at one another. Some instantly lowered their wands, while others refused to do so, staring at their commanders expectantly. Umbridge must have placed her own people in charge in the Magical Law Enforcement office, for they glared at the troops until their wands were lowered.

Harry watched in mute horror as a half dozen robed Death Eaters entered the premises. They walked toward the podium in a semi-circle, Severus Snape in the center, his black robes billowing behind him. They were about halfway across the room, Umbridge watching them with a very self-satisfied smirk, when suddenly the doors opened again and row after row of additional Death Eaters entered the building, fanning out along the perimeter of the room.

Harry could see the faces of the Aurors growing alarmed as they rapidly became outnumbered. Voldemort had certainly been recruiting. Dolores Umbridge stared at them uncomprehendingly for a moment before alarm spread across her face, rapidly giving way to panic.

"Mr. Snape," she said sweetly, her hand fluttering nervously to brush back her hair. "There are more of you here than I’d expected."

Snape nodded curtly. "You’ll find that the bargain has been slightly altered," he said snidely, his lips curling.

"Altered how?" Umbridge asked, her hand clutching her throat. Those few Ministry officials who’d stood on the stage with her had all taken steps back, their eyes wide and panicked as they scanned the crowd.

Harry noticed that even Dudley had caught on to the fact there was a bigger bully in the playpark. He’d stepped down from the stage and stood with his parents, watching the proceedings warily. Uncle Vernon appeared put-out that Dudley’s moment to shine had been interrupted, but Aunt Petunia seemed to understand the gravity of the situation. He could see the taut veins in her neck straining against her skin as she clutched both Uncle Vernon’s and Dudley’s arms.

Snape’s eyebrows rose as he tilted his head slightly, staring wordlessly at the spluttering Interim Minister.

"A treaty can’t simply be altered after it’s been signed by both parties. That just isn’t how it’s done," Umbridge said as if speaking to a very small child.

"Perhaps you think you’re being treated unfairly?" Snape asked, letting his words hang in the air.

Umbridge’s eyes widened. "No," she said in a breathy voice, taking two steps backward. "Of course not."

"Perhaps," Snape said silkily, "you’d like to speak with the Dark Lord himself?"

The temperature dropped ten degrees as Voldemort swooped into the room, his long robes trailing the ground behind him, giving the impression of a tail. He surveyed the crowd through narrow, snakelike eyes, causing stunned spectators to flinch and pull away, clearing a path for him directly to the podium. Behind him, Harry recognized Fenrir Greyback, his hair as matted as ever, leering at the crowd. A large group of Fenrir’s pack followed them into the room, their clothes dirty and worn and covered in bloodstains. All of them had a deranged, slightly manic look in their eyes.

The entrance of the werewolves caused a stir of unease amongst the crowd, and some of them began to flee. Harry searched for Remus but couldn’t distinguish him in the massive crowd. He noticed Tonks straining to see above the people, as well. She used her Metamorphmagus skills to grow taller, her eyes bright as she scanned the room.

Umbridge’s whimper of fright sounded clearly in the stillness of the hall before a full panic erupted. Witches and wizards began pushing toward the exits, screaming in fright and trampling one another in their haste to escape. The Aurors tried unsuccessfully to calm them and organize their stampede to no avail. They kept casting anxious eyes in the Minister’s direction, waiting for her to give the order allowing them to use their wands – but it never came. Interim Minister Umbridge stood frozen in panic – her brain apparently unwilling to accept this turn of events. Harry suspected a lot of them were tempted to use their wands, anyway, but they understood it was pointless. They’d be struck down before they had a chance to do any good.

The members of the Order of the Phoenix hidden amongst the crowd were the only ones not panicking. They watched the events warily, their bodies coiled and ready to spring into action.

Charlie Weasley positioned himself behind the trio, leaning over to whisper in Harry’s ear. "There are anti-Apparation wards in place except in designated areas at the Ministry. If things erupt into violence and you can’t reach one of those Apparation spots, I’ve got a {ortkey to get you out of here."

Harry began to protest, but was stopped when Charlie tightened his grip on Harry’s arm. "I know you wanted to confront Umbridge, but are you ready to face him today?" he asked.

Harry deflated, knowing it would do no good. He still had one more Horcrux to find, and he knew he wasn’t prepared to face Voldemort yet. He wouldn’t stand a chance. No matter how much he wanted to stay and help the Order fight to save the people here, he knew his best chance of saving them would come another day. The truth of the matter didn’t stop the bitter anger from burning in his belly.

As if sensing Harry’s acknowledgement, Charlie nodded and took a step back.

On the podium, Snape bowed low, his nose nearly touching the ground. "My Lord," he said.

"Rise, Severus. You have done well," Voldemort hissed, still surveying the crowd with his cold, emotionless eyes.

Snape stood, nodding. "Thank you, my Lord."

Voldemort finally turned to fully face Dolores Umbridge, who tried to regain some semblance of control, despite her trembling.

"W-welcome to the Ministry of Magic. As y-you c-can see, there has been a great turnout today of individuals who want to f-find ways of peacefully co-existing," she said in a sickly sweet voice.

"Peace is for the weak at heart," Voldemort said, waving his hand in the air. The doors to the Atrium suddenly sealed, blocking the remainder of the crowd inside. Very few had actually managed to escape.

Harry saw a short, brown-haired witch that he knew to be Mad-Eye Moody under Polyjuice, unsuccessfully attempt to unseal the nearest door.

"No one shall leave the premises until I dismiss them," Voldemort whispered menacingly. "Thank you, Minister, for making this so easy for me by gathering everyone here."

"Ea-easy for you? Wh-whatever do you mean?" Umbridge asked, fanning herself. "We’ve signed a treaty to stop the death and destruction. I returned your servant to you in good faith."

With a casual flick of his wand, Voldemort produced a thick stack of parchment. It ignited in flames before her eyes. "I’ve decided on an alternate plan," he whispered.

"B-but…sir….this is highly irregular. I released your man after the agreement was signed," she whined, apparently in shock. Harry knew she wasn’t stupid, but she seemed fixed on that detail, as if the rest of her mind had simply shut down.

Once again, Voldemort lazily flicked his wand and a thick black box appeared on the podium in front of Umbridge, who started at it blankly. The lid began to shake and slowly rise in the air. Umbridge didn’t move toward it, and the air in the room seemed to still with a pregnant pause.

Harry’s gaze returned to Voldemort, who reminded him of a cat toying with a helpless mouse before devouring it – or a snake playing with a toad. Since Voldemort’s arrival, Harry had been struck by the fact that his scar didn’t hurt – not so much as a flicker of pain. He realized that Tom was still using Occlumency to block him, hoping to shield what he was doing. By doing this, however, it meant that Tom didn’t realize that Harry was already there.

His thoughts were dragged back to the proceedings when a frightened scream filled the air. Hermione grabbed his arm, her nails digging into his skin as Wormtail’s head emerged from the box. Still dripping with fresh blood, it hovered above the box, vacant eyes staring at a speechless Umbridge.

"I’ve decided to return your gift. I have no use for weak fools who allow themselves to be captured by school children," Voldemort said, his snakelike nostrils flaring. "Unfortunately for you, this means that your participation is no longer necessary."

Umbridge turned her wide, panicked eyes toward the Dark Lord, gaping like a fish. Despite his hatred of her and everything she’d done, Harry couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit sorry for her. He could see the Aurors grasping their wands, still seeking orders to surge and attack. Umbridge’s loyal followers – those who were now in charge – suddenly appeared uncertain what to do.

Voldemort’s face twisted into a hideous smile – a smile bereft of joy or happiness. It was a truly frightening sight, causing Harry to shudder.

"Fenrir," Voldemort said, caressing his wand with his fingers. "I believe your kind have some issues with the current Minister. Perhaps you’d like to discuss them with her…directly."

Greyback smiled wolfishly, running his long, yellowed fingernails through his whiskers. "Why, yes…that would be quite…delectable."

Umbridge screeched and backed away as Greyback began stalking her. She held her hands in front of her body as if it would somehow shield her. Greyback’s pack of angry werewolves began to advance, joining Fenrir on the hunt. Umbridge’s panicked face disappeared as she was surrounded by the pack, and Harry saw a smattering of blood hit the wall.

Umbridge’s screams acted as the signal for violence to erupt. Several Ministry officials attempted to stop the werewolves’ attack, but the Death Eaters struck them down without mercy.

Knowing they were now hopelessly outnumbered, the Aurors still attempted to regain control. They fought valiantly, but the delay had cost them dearly. Some of the witches and wizards in attendance joined in the fight, battling Death Eaters to try and clear a pathway to the blocked exits. The Death Eaters were pitiless, and screams of those suffering under the Cruciatus filled the hall, echoing in the large, open space. The green glow of the Killing Curse flew in all directions.

Voldemort took the podium and began speaking to the masses, oblivious to the chaos around him. Every so often, he’d lazily cast a Killing Curse at anyone who came to close, even those merely seeking shelter.

"As of this moment forward, control of the Ministry now rests with me. Vast, glorious changes are about to take place, elevating our status to where it rightfully belongs," he said. "All of you now answer directly to me."

Charlie once again grasped Harry’s arm. "We’ve got to get out of here. The Portkey will only work outside the wards, so we need to find a way through them."

"What about the rest of the Order?" Hermione asked, panicked.

"We’ve all got our orders," Charlie said. "They know what to do."

Harry nodded, feeling helpless. Some people had moved to the sides of the room and sunk to their knees with their hands above their heads, but the majority were running pell-mell, desperately seeking a way out. For the most part, the Death Eaters focused their battle on the Aurors and those firing spells, but still, plenty of innocents had been struck.

Harry, Ron and Hermione moved in the opposite direction, towards the glass door that led to the Apparition Testing Facility, trying to slip by unnoticed. Despite knowing that drawing their wands would attract the attention of the Death Eaters, they eventually began firing curses, trying to help some of the panicked victims.

Harry told several people with small children to seek cover and just stay down until the fighting stopped. Most were stunned when they realized who was speaking to them, anyway.

"Always know whether to fight or flee," Ron panted under his breath, and Harry suspected he was battling the same demons that Harry was. Despite knowing the odds, it was difficult to leave and allow this to happen.

As they reached the doors, Ron tried to pull them open to no avail; they were tightly sealed.

Aiming his wand, Harry muttered, "Alohomora." The doors remained closed.

"You!" a nearby voice shrieked.

Harry’s head shot up, and he stared into his Aunt Petunia’s horrified eyes.

"I might have known you’d be here when all the trouble started," she hissed, shaking visibly. "How are we supposed to get out of here?"

"Hello, Aunt Petunia," Harry said, clenching his teeth.

"Don’t tell me this whole mess has nothing to do with you," Uncle Vernon said, regaining some of his blustering bravado. "From what I’ve heard, this thing seems to follow you, boy. What are you going to do about it?"

"I haven’t got time for this," Harry said, pushing past his uncle. "Voldemort will kill you without a moment’s hesitation once he realizes who you are. If you want to live, follow me."

"I’m a wizard, too, Potter. I can do anything you can," Dudley said, poking Harry in the chest, apparently put-out that his parents were turning to Harry rather than him to get them out of trouble.

"Then go ahead and save yourself, Dudders," Harry said, turning his back.

Something shadowy crossed Aunt Petunia’s face. She grabbed Dudley’s arm and lowered it. "Not now, Popkin. Let’s just get away from here and these people. I won’t have you dying for this; you’re too special."

At that moment, Harry’s scar burst, and he dropped to his knees in pain. White-hot pokers pierced his skull, and he clenched his teeth to keep from screaming, biting his lip in the process. The metallic taste of blood filled his mouth, but the pain was too unbearable even to spit.

"Harry," Hermione yelped, dropping to her knees beside him.

"Hurry," Harry said, groaning. "He knows I’m here."

"What’s all this namby-pamby dramatics about?" Uncle Vernon demanded. "You’re wasting time." The fear and rising panic in his voice became more apparent with every word.

Ron roughly shoved him to the side and helped Harry to his feet. Hermione and Charlie began firing a wide array of spells at the glass, but found it impenetrable. Around the room, no one had had any success in breaking Voldemort’s spell sealing the exits.

"I’m all right," Harry mumbled, clamping his teeth against the pain. He and Ron joined the others, trying to penetrate the glass.

"Potter!" a cold voice hissed behind them.

Harry turned to see Voldemort slithering toward him, a hungry gleam in his slanted eyes. "I’m pleased to see you came to witness my takeover of the Ministry. You should have informed me of your presence; I would have arranged better seating."

He stopped before them, casting his cold, mechanical gaze over them all. The Dursleys pulled back, huddling together in fear, but Ron, Hermione, and Charlie stood defiantly beside Harry.

"Tell me," Voldemort asked, his voice as cold as ice. "Are you enjoying the show?"

"Not particularly, Tom. I never thought anyone who attacked innocents was all that powerful," Harry said indifferently.

Voldemort’s eyes dilated, and his tongue shot out as if testing the air. "Silence! I am the most powerful wizard of all time, and I have single-handedly managed to wrest control of the Ministry from the incompetent fools who were running it. I have eliminated my opposition, and you now find yourself standing alone, young Harry."

"Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard how full of yourself you are before, and I’m still not impressed, Tom," Harry replied.

"You impudent brat!" Voldemort howled in rage. Before Harry could react, Voldemort hit him with the Cruciatus curse. He dropped to the floor, screaming in pain. It felt as if his insides were slowly being ripped out. It seemed to last an eternity before Voldemort finally lifted the curse. Despite his pain, Harry noticed that Voldemort appeared flustered, as if he was struggling to control his anger.

"Harry!" Hermione cried, moving toward him.

"No!" Harry shouted, a rush of adrenaline filling his veins.

Voldemort raised his wand again, and Harry knew he’d take his frustration over being unable to kill Harry out on Hermione.

"Get back," Harry said, casting the strongest shield he could imagine in front of Hermione, Ron and Charlie. The three of them stumbled back as if struck, but in the process, they were pushed out of the way of Voldemort’s Killing Curse.

"This is between you and me," Harry said, breathing heavily, his anger pumping in his veins. "You leave them out of it."

"You’ve grown powerful, Harry, but you’re no match for me," Voldemort said, frowning slightly. "I’m not going to kill you here today, but you are coming with me. Lower your wand, Harry."

"Thanks, but no thanks," Harry said, concentrating on keeping his shield in place. He could see his friends desperately trying to break it so they could reach him, but thus far, they had been unable to do so.

Unfortunately, Harry knew he couldn’t keep the shield in place forever. His muscles were already shaking from the strain. He also needed help bringing down that glass door blocking their escape. Knowing that as soon as he dropped the shield, Voldemort would take out his wrath on his friends, Harry was trapped. He needed a distraction, and he needed it badly.

It came when he was least expecting it from a source he hadn’t even known was there. As had happened in the past, someone who loved Harry always seemed to show up just when he needed help the most.

Remus pushed his way through the still-fighting crowd and stopped in the open space between Harry and Voldemort. Harry was so stunned to see him that he dropped his shield, releasing his friends. Remus was filthy, and he appeared very tired and gray. His robes were tattered and covered with bloodstains, but a fierce determination glowed in his eyes.

"Remus," Tonks said, lunging through the fray. She was panting as if she’d struggled to keep up with him.

Remus winced, and Harry somehow knew that he’d tried to leave her behind. Like Ginny, Tonks had refused Remus’s attempts. Remus and Tonks locked eyes, some sort of private communication passing between them. Tonks nodded heavily, her eyes filling.

Confused, Harry tried to move toward them, wanting to shield them from Voldemort, who was watching the scene with amusement. Ron and Charlie held him back.

"More of your protectors, Harry? And this one had convinced Fenrir he was one of them. Fenrir will be so disappointed," Voldemort said, his eyes briefly roaming to Greyback whose pack was still desecrating Umbridge’s body.

Remus cast a significant, imploring glance towards Ron and Hermione, nodding briefly in Harry’s direction. It was so fleeting, Harry wasn’t even certain it happened until Remus squared his shoulders and began casting a barrage of spells directly at Voldemort.

"What are you doing?" Harry asked, struggling to free himself from the Weasley brothers’ grasp.

"I love you, Harry. I always have," Remus said, ducking and rolling away from one of Voldemort’s Killing Curses. "Stay safe, end this thing, and most of all, be happy."

A wave of panic rose in Harry’s chest. It sounded as if Remus was saying goodbye…

Tonks used a spell Harry had never seen that created a swirling mass of air that knocked him, Ron, Hermione and Charlie to the ground with its hurricane force. Tonks leapt to Remus’s side, placing her wand tip next to his.

Their eyes locked, and they stared at one another for a brief moment that seemed to last an eternity.

Simultaneously, they cast a Bludgeoning Hex at the ceiling above Voldemort’s head. Great chunks of metal dropped into the conjured windstorm, covering the floor and forcing Voldemort to retreat lest the debris hit him. The ceiling continued to erode while Voldemort regained his footing, turned and aimed his wand.

As if in slow motion, Harry watched the sickly green lights – two of them – erupt from Voldemort’s wand. Despite having to shield his eyes against the winds, Harry could clearly see it happen. The first spell hit Remus squarely in the chest, knocking him off his feet. Before his body even hit the ground, the second spell struck Tonks on her shoulder. The two landed side-by-side, unmoving, their hands still clasped together. The howling of the wind stopped instantaneously, releasing Harry with a jolt.

"Nooo," he screamed, scrambling to his feet and fighting against the combined restraint of Ron, Hermione, and Charlie. "Let go of me. Let me go!"

He clawed and scratched at their arms, attempting to force them to release him. He felt out of control, his heart hammering in his chest. He’d completely come undone.

"There’s nothing you can do, Harry," Ron said, shaking his shoulders. "It’s done. Are you going to let his sacrifice be for nothing? Are you going to let his death be worthless?"

The whine of panic and grief ringing in Harry’s ears nearly drowned out Ron’s words. He could see tears streaming down Hermione’s cheeks, but his only thought was to reach Remus. He had to undo this. There had to be a way. It wasn’t meant to happen like this.

"I’m so sorry, Harry," Ron said, sniffling, and it was the crack of grief in Ron’s voice that finally penetrated Harry’s pain.

A great fury – a fury born of grief, despair and injustice – grew in his chest. Unthinkingly, he raised his wand. Using all the pain and rage within his heart, he shouted, "Reducto!"

The glass on the doors barring their escape imploded, shattering and raining shards in every direction. Like a shockwave, all the other exits in the building that had been sealed by Voldemort’s spell were unlocked. The front doors blew open, various passages throughout the Ministry were revealed, and every window in the Atrium shattered.

The previously trapped mob wasted no time escaping, running to the street and trampling some hapless victims in their haste to flee. Unaware of the chaos as well as the various cuts littering his face and forearms, Harry turned to the Dursleys with deadened eyes. "Go, now."

For once, they didn’t need further encouragement, and they scrambled from the room. Harry cast one more glance at Voldemort, whose red eyes blazed with rage watching Harry escape once again. Ron and Hermione each grasped Harry’s arms and pulled him forward, Charlie on their heels.

"Here," Charlie said after they’d run several meters. He removed a Hogwarts quill from his back pocket and held it toward them. "The Portkey should work here. Take hold."

The Dursleys all stared at them blankly as Ron and Hermione each grasped the quill. Hermione gently lifted Harry’s hand and placed a finger on it.

Uncle Vernon’s face – already purple from exertion – darkened further. "What is this magic?" he asked, actually saying the M-word for the first time in Harry’s memory.

"Touch the quill if you want to get out of here alive," Charlie snapped.

"Just do it, Vernon," Aunt Petunia cried, cringing as she placed one bony finger on the quill. Terrified, Vernon and Dudley followed her lead.

"Activius," Charlie hissed, and the Portkey spun them away – back to safety – back to Hogwarts – back with the chilling news.

A/N: Cringe. Okay *holds hands in the air wiggling fingers* Bring It On, lol. I know you’re all probably howling, but I warned you there would be losses on both sides. There has to be – there’s always a price. Besides, when JKR said there would be two additional deaths in the final book that she hadn’t been planning on – my mind automatically went to Remus and Tonks. That’s my guess for canon.

Did you catch the Empire Strikes Back references? Still my all time favorite of the Star Wars movies, so I had to give it a nod.

Don’t go telling me the bit with Dudley will never happen. I do know that, but it works for this story, and I like the angle. So…there you go!

Huge thanks to my delightful beta, Sherry, who actually turned this chapter around in a single day – without holding it hostage despite her love for Remus. She gave me hope that if she didn’t kill me, maybe this will be okay. Yeah, right.
Thanks so very much for the Trinket nominations. They are greatly appreciated.

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