The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
– CHAPTER SIXTEEN –
The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men
A week had passed. There were reported sightings of me, as well as serialised stories by my classmates every day in the Daily Prophet. Tired of its lies, I stopped the subscription two days ago. Hermione had stayed true to her word and visited every day for four days. She had convinced me to divulge the Horcrux information to Terry too, though he was still blissfully unaware of Riddle's influence. Together, we searched for possible objects Voldemort could have used, but to little avail.
The fifth day was September the First. I felt a twinge of longing knowing that I was not going back to Hogwarts. While I did not receive a letter officially expelling me, turning up at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters was the equivalent of handing myself in. So I had spent three lonely days at Privet Drive staring blankly at Hermione's detailed Horcrux notes.
More often than not, I would take out my grandfather's letter and read it through again, trying to work out any of the clues. I thought wistfully about what it would be like to reform the Knights. How the Ministry would pay... Despite Hermione's misgivings, Terry seemed almost as taken by the idea of the Knights as I was. He and I had spent some hours talking about what we would like to change, with Hermione tutting in the background as she tried to find anything she could about properties of Horcruxes.
The supposed voice of Voldemort was highly unpredictable. Invariably, though, it would appear when I was either alone or angry. It would latch on to any stray thought and try to convince me to abandon my Horcrux hunt, instead focussing solely on reforming the Knights. I ignored the voice, I knew now that its interpretation of the Knights' work was wrong.
There was a dull tapping at my window. I looked up in alarm. My jaw almost fell – it was Derwent, Tracey's owl. Far from her usual majesty, her mahogany feathers were ruffled and her large, red eyes even wider than normal. I scrambled to the window and let the poor owl in. He hooted thankfully and stuck his leg out for me. I took what looked like a scrap piece of parchment, before he flew to Hedwig's empty cage.
I hastily unravelled the parchment. There were two words scrawled on them:
The writing was scrawled. She must have been in a hurry – her handwriting was usually a neat script. I read it again. What had happened? How could I find out? I considered sending a letter to Hermione. No, it might be too late by then.
An idea suddenly hit meWho was the one person who Tracey trusted above all others? Who was the one person, above all others, who would tell me the truth? Her mother.
You are running into a trap, you fool.
I didn't care. I had to find out what happened. I had to help her. I hastily tucked the letter into my robes and grabbed my invisibility cloak. Looking around one last time, I Apparated directly into Mrs. Jones' hallway.
As soon as the uncomfortable sensation of Apparition wore away, I flung my invisibility cloak around me. After all, there was no telling who Mrs. Jones had around. Though she was an affable, hospitable woman, she was a staunch ally of Dumbledore's.
"Let me see who that is!" I heard her say from the living room. I tensed. So she had someone around. Should I leave now? No, it might be one of her Muggle friends.
The living room opened to reveal a portly woman with dark, curly hair, though she wasn't wearing her trademark grin. She closed the door behind her and looked around. "Who is it?" she said sharply.
Sure that nobody had followed her out, I let the invisibility cloak slip. Mrs. Jones gasped before looked behind her quickly. She approached me quickly, and led me up the stairs, finger on her lips. Once we were in the safety of her bedroom, I knew from my last visit that it had secrecy charms in-built, she hugged me briefly. Surprised, I stood uncomfortably.
"Harry, I've been so worried," she said, her voice high and rushed.
"You don't believe the Daily Prophet?" I said.
"Of course not," she said briskly. "Harry, you shouldn't be here." Her eyes kept flicking towards the door nervously.
"I know, I should've knocked, but this is important."
"This really isn't the time..."
"I got a message from Tracey just now."
Her eyes flicked towards the door once more. "Go on, then, but make it quick."
A little taken aback by her brusque tone, I said, "look at this." I showed her the parchment, expecting shock.
I was not disappointed; Mrs. Jones looked flabbergasted. It was only then that I realised how red and watery her eyes was, as if she had been crying. "Are you alright, Mrs. Jones?"
"Harry, haven't you read today's Daily Prophet?" I shook my head slowly, trying to work out what was wrong. "Oh, my poor boy, you wouldn't have heard..."
My eyes flicked towards the door. Stood in the doorway was Albus Dumbledore, no more than a step behind him Severus Snape. Instinctively, I drew my wand. There was no Disapparating from this room, that much I knew.
"Headmaster," spat Snape, never taking his eyes off me, "here is some luck at last."
"Don't even think about hurting him," said Mrs. Jones venomously. "I won't have more of my loved ones harmed by your hand." It was as if she had dealt me a deadly blow, or turned my blood cold.
"What happened to Tracey?" I said, my voice shaking with trepidation.
"We must talk in a less heated atmosphere," said Dumbledore calmly.
"I must take this opportunity if you will not, Dumbledore," said Snape, drawing his wand. "She is my student, after all."
"One spell and I'll kill you, you snake!" shrieked Mrs. Jones.
I could feel my anger rising.
Keep calm. Remind Severus Snape of his murder of the Jones family.
I breathed deeply. I had to keep a clear mind. Anger wouldn't help the situation. "Do I have to remind you that you're not welcome here, Snape?" I said, before I could stop myself.
"Even when guilty of murder, you see fit to emanate arrogance in your every movement. Finally, the law must step in."
I stepped towards Snape, my eyes trained on him. "You should know about murder, Severus, was it not you who destroyed Mrs. Jones' family?"
My words were met with silence. Snape's beetle-black eyes widened and, for the first time, I saw fear in them. He took a step backwards. "It cannot be..."
"Severus," said Dumbledore firmly, "I think it would be best if you returned to Hogwarts. Your role here, I believe, has been fulfilled."
Here is a man who deserves death. You can grant him this.
"Dumbledore, this is not Potter!" said Snape in terror.
"Leave my home, Snape," said Mrs. Jones shakily.
"Dumbledore, please listen, this is not Potter!"
See how he demeans you. It is only two words, Harry, and you know them well.
"You are, I am afraid, quite mistaken," said Dumbledore quietly.
"It is the Dark Lord!" cried Snape. "I tell you, Headmaster, I know Potter, and this is not he!"
This is the last of my Death Eaters. Finish the job you have started.
"Leave now, Severus," I said quietly, my wand trained on the Potions Master.
Snape's eyes flicked from Dumbledore to me incredulously. His lips thinned dangerously before he swept down the stairs, his greasy hair the last of him to disappear from sight.
"Tell me what happened to Tracey," I demanded.
"You must calm down, Harry, he feeds on your anger." My mouth suddenly felt dry. How did he know? Did Hermione tell him? Did he rape her mind?
"How long have you been using Legilimency on your students, Dumbledore?" I yelled.
"I am unsure as to what you mean. Hestia, my dear, would you be so kind as to give Harry and I some privacy? There are some pressing and private matters that we must discuss."
"You will not give him up?" said Mrs. Jones tearfully.
"I will do all I can within my power to stop it from happening. I will be with you shortly to discuss how we can help Miss. Davis."
"Thank you, Professor." She looked at me sadly. "Please don't go after her, Harry. I beg of you. She didn't know what she was doing when she wrote that. We'll work out another way..." Her eyes were brimming with tears. She touched my shoulder then walked quickly from the room, her shoulders shaking.
"Snape was here," I said quietly. "Mrs. Jones has been crying. You want to help Tracey. Why don't you tell me what everyone else seems to know?"
Dumbledore sighed, and I thought he looked older than ever. "The Ministry has seen fit to take Miss Davis into custody on falsified charges of Dark Art use. It is my belief that they are holding her hostage in the hope that you will give up your own freedom in return for hers."
My heart sunk. I couldn't believe it. Those dirty rats. As if they hadn't done enough. I closed my eyes and could feel the blood pounding in my head. I wanted to rip them apart. I wanted to run into the Ministry and kill every last person there, starting with Fudge. My whole body was trembling. They had taken Tracey. They had actually taken her.
Now is the time for you to show that Harry Potter is not a man to be taken lightly.
"Relax your body, Harry," said Dumbledore , "clear your mind. Let your Occlumency take effect. Look at me. You must understand that the situation will be rectified without your involvement."
"They've taken her," I said distantly.
"Yes, but I will use my position to overrule the Minister's decision, Harry. There are ancient laws preventing the Ministry from arresting the underage without concrete evidence. Miss. Davis will be released within the week, I promise you." I had never heard such urgency in Dumbledore's voice.
How has he not cleared your name? He has had a week for that...
I couldn't trust Dumbledore. I had to get Tracey myself. "They say I killed a member of the Wizengamot. You can't convince them to support me now."
What if I turned up and they locked us both up, as I know they would? I had to come up with something. I had to prepare an escape plan. I had to take down the Ministry, starting with the Minister himself.
"You have a more pressing problem, if such a thing could exist. You must stop searching for Horcruxes."
I turned towards Dumbledore so quickly, my neck cricked. Ignoring the pain, I stared at the old Headmaster. "Why? This is what it's all about, isn't it? Killing Voldemort..."
"You must stop searching for the Horcruxes for your own sake. You see, Harry, I have made a discovery concerning the Horcruxes. Your scar is no normal curse scar; it is a link to Voldemort and, by association, his Horcruxes. When I destroyed the Horcrux, you felt intense pain did you not?" I nodded slowly. "With each Horcrux destruction, you are being infused with memories and knowledge that are not your own. The power in these objects is being transferred to you. This, inadvertently, occurred in the Chamber of Secrets with the diary. It is my belief that you have been troubled by dreams concerning Tom's childhood for some time. However, these dreams intensified just before the start of term, did they not?"
There was no curiosity in Dumbledore's gaze, only certain knowledge. He knew the truth. "Yes," I said reluctantly, "they started happening in the daytime."
"It is as I feared. You see, Harry, inspired by some knowledge I had acquired, I found and destroyed another of Voldemort's Horcruxes, Slytherin's locket. This is why you were able to overcome Theodore Davis with such ease. It instilled you with the knowledge and power of Riddle during his early adulthood. Blissfully unaware of these events, I searched for the ring, as you did. I had some inkling of its location, but to no degree of certainty.
"However, when it came to my attention that you had arrived at Little Hangleton, I knew it was there. I also knew that, while your talent was substantial, it was not enough to discover the Horcruxes without help. At this point, I did not understand where this help came from. Following the attack in Little Hangleton, I realised the truth.
"Voldemort, Harry, is not to be underestimated. He does not trust. He was alerted of your presence near his precious Horcrux and sent his strongest, most loyal Death Eaters to apprehend you. However, even these accomplished witches and wizards could not match the raw power you wielded in the wake of another injection of power.
"It is of the utmost importance that you cease to search for the Horcruxes. The Ministry have inadvisably incited your anger and Voldemort's power is taking hold of you. I fear, Harry, that one more Horcrux will be enough for Riddle to take you over entirely."
I licked my dry lips. "If that's what it takes to get rid of him, then so be it. I won't stop looking for the Horcruxes."
Dumbledore gripped my shoulder, causing me to recoil. "You must stop looking for them. Voldemort is now weak and without his Death Eaters. He is not a threat. However, in control of an exceptionally powerful wizard, he can cause damage equivalent to his first rising. You must stop looking for Horcruxes."
"I can't," I said quietly, "I just can't."
"You are no longer searching for them in an attempt to complete the Prophecy. There is in you a natural, deep-seated lust for power, power the Horcruxes fulfil. I am being quite direct with you in an attempt to make you understand. One more Horcrux, and there will be no more Harry Potter, only Tom Riddle."
"What's the point?" I said quietly. "I can't live like this anymore. I have to get rid of Riddle altogether, and if that means I'll have to endure more of his influence before that, then so be it."
"Fate has gifted us with time, Harry, let us use it. I have not and will not condemn you for your actions of the past, as others have, for I know they were committed by Tom Riddle, not Harry Potter. Unfortunately, there is no route back into Hogwarts at the current time. I offer you the role of apprentice to me, Harry, and together we will find a solution to your problem that does not further exacerbate it. I will conceal you from the Ministry in a way that does not result in your solitary confinement at Privet Drive."
And what then of your plans to destroy the Ministry?
I looked up at him quickly. So he did know. So the wards did work. I considered his offer. Part of me was tempted to take him up on it. I could learn magic I had never dreamt of from him and, once I got rid of Riddle, I would just quit the apprenticeship.
Would Maximus have allowed this bumbling old man to, essentially, control him?
Realistically, I could not accept. I hated to admit it, but Voldemort was right. Firstly, I did not trust him to release Tracey. The Wizengamot was surely staunchly against me and all I stood for. Furthermore, I was resolved in following in the footsteps of my grandfather, footsteps Dumbledore would disapprove of. No, I had to leave now. Dumbledore had confirmed my suspicions about the Horcruxes, but also inadvertently gave me an idea of where the next one was: Azkaban.
And what better starting point from which to renew the Cause?
It made sense. The urgency and vehement warnings against rescuing Tracey were because he knew that I would find one of Voldemort's Horcruxes there. The fact that Voldemort had managed to place a piece of his soul in one of the most secure places in Britain meant that he had some sort of contact at the place. If he had a contact there, it meant I had a chance of rescuing Tracey, grabbing the Horcrux and escaping.
"Your offer is very tempting, sir," I lied, "but I'm not sure at the moment. I...I need some time to think about it."
Dumbledore's eyes narrowed very slightly and he eyed me intently. I kept my mind blank and my expression neutral. Seemingly satisfied, he nodded. "I would hasten to advise you to remain at Privet Drive while you consider, for the sake of security. When you have arrived, I hope, at the right decision, I would be grateful if you Apparated here to inform Hestia. Owls coming into Hogwarts are being watched."
I nodded and left the room before Dumbledore changed his mind. I considered comforting Mrs. Jones. No, I had to leave now.
Barely wincing at the previously uncomfortable sensation of rapid Apparition, I began pacing up and down the newly materialised second bedroom of Number Four Privet Drive. I had to do something. They'd taken her. She was in Azkaban. There were fucking Dementors crawling all over her.
Now is not the time for panic...
"Shut up," I hissed. I could Apparate into the Ministry and let them take me. Once in Azkaban, I could somehow find a way out, taking Tracey and the Horcrux with me.
Such foolishness...such childish ignorance.
"I said shut up!"
I did not care that I was screaming at my own subconscious. All that mattered was that Tracey was rotting away in a cell. My head began pounding, the hub of the pain undoubtedly my scar. I clutched it, my eyes closed. A face kept flickering in and out of view. Riddle?
"You really think we can take Azkaban?" I opened my eyes. Riddle was sitting on a bed very similar to mine, looking utterly comfortable and confident. Max was pacing up and down in front of him.
"They say Azkaban is impenetrable; this is not true."
"Seriously...Azkaban? Nobody's ever infiltrated it..."
There was a flash of anger in Tom's eyes. "Then we shall be the first. We have no other choice."
Max ran a hand through his hair anxiously. "I'm sure I can rally some support to do this politically..."
"Do you not care for your own comrade?"
"Of course I do," said Max, agitated, "but Azkaban? We're only two men, barely out of school."
"Do not undermine our achievements," said Tom coolly. "Cygnus is an important component to our cause. His incarceration in Azkaban holds no benefit."
Max stared at Tom curiously. Suddenly, his eyebrows rose so high, they were almost lost in his messy black fringe. "You're going to hide one there, aren't you?"
Tom stared at Max coldly, though I could almost feel his anger. "Have I not assured you time and time again that I have not made any more Horcruxes? Why do you no longer trust me?"
Max bit his lip then sighed. "Fine. Sorry. But I still don't get how..."
"Do you know the salary of an Azkaban worker, Maximus?"
"A measly one thousand Galleons a year. It is a Ministry failing, one we can capitalise on."
Max, catching on, broke into a wide, cruel grin. "Are you saying-"
"How would this very same Azkaban worker, who works in the most depressing slum of the wizarding world, react to ten thousand Galleons and a chance to exact revenge against his employers?"
"Tom Riddle," said Max quietly, "you are a genius."
Tom smiled, but the smile never reached his eyes.
Max and Tom faded away, and instead my old bed lay at my feet, empty as the moment I left it.
You see, Potter, imbeciles who wear their hearts on their sleeves...they achieve nothing.
I sat on my bed. The voice...Voldemort...whatever it was...was right. I couldn't possibly make a plan in a rage. It would be counterproductive. The idea of bursting into Azkaban seemed absurd now. They would surely place me in one of the high security cells. But why was Voldemort helping me?
You are so very much like your grandfather, Harry Potter.
I am destroying your Horcruxes.
They have failed me. They did not provide me with a body, as I had initially calculated. You are doing me a service, Harry, by destroying them. I will find another way...
Where are the rest of your Horcruxes, then?
I...do not remember.
Brave like your parents. Horcruxes are living parts of me; I cannot actively seek them out with their destruction in mind. It would be no different than turning your wand on yourself and uttering the Killing Curse. It cannot be done. I made a mistake by so hastily creating them. Yes, Harry, Lord Voldemort was mistaken. It was your grandfather's wisdom that I should have followed, but instead I now exist as mere spirit, trapped in your mind.
Did you succeed?
Getting your ally out of Azkaban. Did you succeed?
Come now, Potter, you answer this.
Who did you use?
Let me tell you a story. Very many years ago, a man named Darius MacDonald worked as a cleaner in Azkaban. He was subjected to similar torture to the prisoners, but he was supporting a family of five children. Maximus approached this man and offered him the chance to enact his fantasies of earning enough to make ends meet and deal a deadly blow to his employers that he despised more than anything in the world.
Your family is undoubtedly financially secure, Harry. Maximus offered this man double his salary to kill the Head Guard, and allow me into Azkaban. The plan succeeded. Our comrade was freed. Maximus used his political influence to promote MacDonald. He is, at this current time, the Head Guard of Azkaban after years of...diligent service.
I blinked and let the story sink in. The plan was so simple, so effective. Suddenly, I remembered one of the dreams of Riddle. He was talking to an old Woman. There was a shiny, golden goblet...or was it a cup? It had the Hufflepuff insignia etched into it. Surely this must be the one. It coincided with Riddle's visit to Azkaban.
How do I contact this man?
You cannot rely on this man alone, Harry. You have much to learn.
But you said...
The Ministry of Magic would not explicitly trust one man with their fortress. Even they are not this imprudent.
But you and Max...
I used my so-called Death Eaters to create a distraction. The mass break-out earlier this year was possible since the Ministry were working on the post-tournament costs of the Tri-Wizard with a very un-co-operative Durmstrang.
So I need to cause a distraction. I thought quickly. What would be a big enough distraction? A sighting of me, maybe. But would that be all?
No. You are not yet strong enough to overcome the Ministry's full strength in battle. You must use leverage and carefully plan your escape. Come now, Harry, think.
So I need something that makes me a big target, but untouchable. A dark thought entered my mind. But it was too vicious, too risky.
Do not discard it so hastily.
What if I took somebody important hostage?
Someone who couldn't fight back...someone who I could get to quite easily. Someone who would mean the Minister of Magic himself would come out to me.
Nearly there, Harry.
My heart was beating far quicker than usual. No, surely not. He doesn't...he doesn't have a son, does he?
Very good, Potter. Tullius Fudge, eleven years old, is the son of the Minister. Ravenclaw, if his family is anything to go by. He is not protected in anyway more than any other student. You see, Potter, Fudge has been a firm supporter of Hogwarts for many years. As such, he is required to enrol his son into the school. Not doing so would undermine his own policies, and administering extra protection for the boy would imply that the school does not provide enough defence for its students. You see how Fudge has spun himself into your hands?
The boy's innocent, though, I don't want to hurt him. It's his father who should be punished. I restrained some of the bubbling hatred I had towards the Minister.
The fate of the boy lies in your hands.
I stood up and began pacing once more. So, I'm going to talk to this Head of Azkaban. Tell him that I'm the grandson of Maximus Potter and that I want Tracey freed and the Hufflepuff Cup delivered to Number Four, Privet Drive. Meanwhile, I'll get someone at Hogwarts, probably Terry, to take Fudge's son into Hogsmeade. I'll have to deliver my Invisibility Cloak. Where could I keep the boy?
The Shrieking Shack. You must be ready with a Portkey.
I shuffled over to the foot of my bed and opened my trunk. There was an emergency Portkey somewhere in there... I emptied the trunk roughly and, after a few seconds of searching, found one of Uncle Vernon's old socks. I checked for the small 'P' and found it at the base of the sock.
A chilling thought entered my mind. How do I know they won't kill me on sight?
Spells travel at a certain speed. Since the space between you and the boy will be smaller than you and the nearest Hit Wizard, they will not harm you. When you receive the message from MacDonald, you release the boy and almost instantaneously take the Portkey.
I thought on the plan. It seemed brilliant, almost too good to be true.
Almost trembling with excitement, I grabbed a spare piece of parchment and wrote:
I need you to do something really, really important. They took Tracey to Azkaban. I'm going to get her out. I want you to get Tullius Fudge to follow you to that secret tunnel into Honydukes. Stun him if you have to. Get under the Invisibility Cloak and meet me outside the Shrieking Shack with him at 11pm tonight. Don't tell anyone.
I'm relying on you, mate.
P.S. Invisibility Cloak's attached.
I tapped the piece of parchment and the words rearranged themselves into an inane message from Terry's mother. I thought of Terry's magical signature and applied the rune of recognition. On top of that, I applied the rune of deception. It wasn't infallible, but it should dodge Ministry detection.
With a flick of my wand, a sheet of wrapping paper was conjured, blue with gold stars. With another, my beloved invisibility cloak rose and was covered with a cocoon of wrapping paper. I rolled the message up and tied it, and the package, up to his leg with a piece of string that had been lying around. I looked around. I'd have to use Derwent, though he gave me a look that clearly told me he was unimpressed.
"Sorry, boy," I said and tapped his head with my wand. Like I had poured a bucket of paint on his head, his mahogany feathers were slowly swallowed up by a dirty hazel colour. He hooted indignantly. "It's only temporary. I need you to get this to Terry, but not at the Great Hall. Remember the library? Yeah, that's where he should be. Go as quickly as you can. Thanks."
Derwent blinked once in understand before taking off, still oddly majestic despite his unflattering new coat.
I watched Derwent become a speck against the midday sun. Yes, the Minister would pay.