What Lies Beneath

The Point of No Return

– CHAPTER SEVENTEEN –

The Point of No Return

It was ten o'clock. The sun had finally relented to the comforting blanket of night. I was walking down the South Bank, London, just as I had been instructed. My pace was not too quick, or too slow. I weaved in and out of gaping tourists, photographing themselves on the romantic backdrop of Big Ben, which itself was illuminated by golden lights at its base. Contacting MacDonald was difficult enough, but he had insisted on a face-to-face meeting. I cursed him for choosing such a conspicuous location.

"Uh, excuse me," said a Japanese man. He was smiling widely and pointing from his camera to his short, slim girlfriend, also smiling. I checked my watch quickly then relented.

"Thank you, thank you," he stuttered, bowing low.

I positioned the camera so that he and his girlfriend were in the centre, silhouetted against the Houses of Parliament. Around them, the River Thames glistened blue, gold, green, white and all the other colours offered by the lights from the buildings on the north bank. They would treasure this picture, I was sure. I was even surer that they would not be smiling if they knew their camera was in the hands of a wanted man.

Pathetic Muggles...

I handed them back their camera and returned their smile fleetingly. The man thanked me again and I was on my way before I was asked by another couple. I looked to my right. A squat, elongated building was marked 'London Aquarium'. On a bench beside the green, MacDonald had said. Riverside.

I increased my pace a little. I had to be at the Shrieking Shack no later than 10:59. That would be when Dumbledore will realise two of his students had left.

Finally, a small park appeared on my right. It seemed out of place amongst the attractions of the South Bank. Under the cover of darkness, it seemed almost eerie. I scanned the area. There were two clowns performing in an open space by the park. They had drawn in a small, mismatched crowd of couples and skaters.

There were two benches, each facing the river. One was empty, the other occupied only by an old woman. As I drew closer, I noticed that she wore a flowery shawl around her tightly curled grey hair and appeared rather short and portly – her feet did not reach the ground. I sat on the opposite end of the bench. That was what we had agreed on. He would be an old woman; I would be a twenty-something.

"Harry Potter," he said, his voice feeble and croaky, "it is a pleasure."

"Likewise. I hear that my grandfather did you a great favour many years ago."

"I will not deny that he turned my life around, and all it cost was the life of another. Fancy that."

I tensed. Was that flippant, or was there bitterness there? "I represent two parties who you owe goodwill. Goodwill that you can repay in one go."

"Two parties?"

"Yes, two parties; Tom Riddle and Maximus Potter."

"Both are dead, and I'm not liable to repay the dead."

I tore my gaze from the sparkling water and stared at MacDonald. Despite Polyjuicing himself into an old woman, his jaw was set and there was a glint of danger in his eyes. "Where would you be without my family?" I held his gaze, refusing to break eye contact. "I'll tell you; you'd be in Azkaban for not being able to pay your debts. Your wife would have left you; your children would have hated you. You were heading into disaster when my grandfather saved you."

"He benefitted too," replied MacDonald, though he was picking at his old, gnarled nails uncomfortably.

"I'm not here to mess around," I said coldly. "Either you're the man who can help me or not. Because if not, I'll leave now and see if I can turn a cleaner's life around. I'm sure they'd be far more co-operative."

I sent him a withering look before getting up. He paled as the implications of my words sunk in. "Wait!"

I turned around, eyebrow raised. "Yes?"

He smoothed his ridiculous pink, frilly dress awkwardly. "Fine, I'll do it. I-I owe you that much." I snorted – more like he was scared for his life.

"Right, later on tonight, the Minister will pay you a visit. He will instruct you to release Tracey Davis."

"Preposterous..." muttered MacDonald. "Impossible, even."

"Perhaps now, but in a few hours it will make perfect sense. He will order you to release Tracey and you will comply. However, this is not the only thing you will do."

MacDonald blanched and looked faint. "You want another prisoner freed? There's no way I could possibly...not with the Minister right there..."

"It's not a prisoner I want." MacDonald visibly relaxed, but his old eyes narrowed suspiciously. "There is an important artefact hidden somewhere in the prison – you have probably come across it. It bears the badge of Hufflepuff house."

"The Hufflepuff Cup?" whispered MacDonald faintly.

"Yes, I want it to be sent with Tracey, transfigured, naturally."

"An object of such magical-"

"Cut the shit," I snapped. "We both know that it becomes a normal drinking cup when threatened. Send it along with Tracey."

"I don't believe this..."

"You don't need to, just do as I say."

"And I'll be paid?"

I turned my head slightly to one side, bemused. "MacDonald," I said quietly, "isn't your life payment enough?"

I smiled again and walked away, knowing he would comply.

10:50. Shrieking Shack.

I had never been one to fall prey of bedtime stories made to cause fear, mainly because I had never been told a bedtime story. I had listened to Terry regale tales of gore about the Shrieking Shack. The ghosts, he said, were the most violent known to man and caused havoc, killing all those who stepped in the abandoned house.

Why, if ghosts are to be feared, is Hogwarts full of them? Why are they never heard on Hogwarts weekends when students get as close as they dared? Why has the Ministry not banished the ghosts if they present a threat to the local villagers? Terry failed to answer even one of those questions, and now I knew why. There were no ghosts.

The Shack was a wreck – that I could not deny. It was as if an angry Hippogriff had been let loose. There was broken furniture, blood across the floor, torn curtains, smashed windows. It was perfect. The natural, deep-seated fear of the place will subdue the Aurors.

I looked at my watch. Five more minutes now. I was relying on so many things and it discomfited me. I was relying on either Terry and the boy being seen at some point or Dumbledore following procedure and alerting the Ministry. Surely, since the Fudge boy was involved, failure to drop the Ministry a line would result in his sacking? All in all, I wanted Fudge here. How he would pay for what he had done to me. He will lose everything tonight; I will make sure of that.

I glanced at my watch. Three minutes. If Dumbledore pursued Terry himself, I could only hope he didn't intercept Terry and the boy. There's no way an invisibility cloak would fool him. As long as I had the boy at wandpoint, I could convince the Headmaster to alert the Ministry. It was a shame that I would be irrevocably losing Dumbledore's support, but I knew it would inevitably occur when I destroyed the Hufflepuff Cup.

Two minutes.

Finally, I would show the wizarding world that I wouldn't lie down in Privet Drive for the rest of my life. I will make sure that the Ministry fell, starting with its bumbling head of state.

I glanced around the Shack once more, stroking the sock in my pocket as I did so. The Aurors would come in the front entrance and surround me, making sure all the exits were covered. They would apply anti-Apparition wards and anti-Portkey wards. Unfortunately for them, I would not be making a Portkey. Their wards would only cover recently created Portkeys – the one in my pocket was one of the first I had experimented on two years ago. I smiled. It was almost too good a plan.

One minute.

Sixty seconds. That was all I had to wait. What if my suspicions were wrong and Dumbledore didn't know where his students were at all times? What if Terry did a perfect job? I had covered all possible mistakes, but not the possibility of things going too well. I could parade the boy down the Alley, but that might get me too far away from the Shrieking Shack. It was of the utmost importance for me to be surrounded in the uninviting surroundings of the Shack.

I glanced at my watch and perked up. Eleven o'clock had come and gone.

Where was Terry?

I glanced out of what would have been the window of the living room. There was no sign of any other living soul.

Two minutes had passed.

Had he been apprehended? He would have been smart enough to put the Invisibility Cloak over he and the boy out sight of any portraits – we had figured out they were Dumbledore's messengers long ago. Perhaps he had run into Dumbledore? The old Professor would have seen my plan like writing on a page.

Three minutes had passed.

One of the floorboards creaked. I jumped and drew my wand. Was it Terry? Was it Dumbledore?

It had come from the doorway.

"I want to go back to Honeydukes!"

"Accio Cloak!"

A silvery stream of cloth came towards me and I caught it deftly. Two boys appeared from underneath – one was a very annoyed Terry Boot. The other was a short, plump boy with mousy hair and watery grey eyes. He carried with him a fistful of Honeyduke sweets.

"I told you we're going to scare someone," muttered Terry indignantly.

I shot Terry a bemused look. Tullius Fudge looked up at me, his expression adopting little more than horror. The sweets fell out of his loose grip.

"You're...you're H-Him!"

His trembling hands moved towards his pockets. I could feel my eyes narrow. Taking no chances, I stunned him.

"Thanks," said Terry. "I've been wanting to do that – he's an arrogant, spoilt, greedy little bugger, that one."

"Like father like son," I muttered. "Were you seen?"

"No. I promised him a way into Honeydukes in the common room and we put the cloak on then. He almost gave us away to Mrs. Norris and threatened to call the Aurors unless I let him steal some sweets. The shop was closed, you see, but it wasn't locked from the inside. What are you planning to do with him?"

"Use him as leverage," I said quietly, peering out the window.

"You think the Minister's going to fall for it?"

"I'm certain. Listen, you need to leave now, but I've got to use the Imperius Curse on you."

"Why?"

"Do you want a place in Azkaban as well?"

Terry shot me a puzzled look. "What does it matter? Isn't this what the Knights is all about? I'm all for quitting Hogwarts and doing this with you, mate."

"No, I need you at Hogwarts. There's no point in showing our hand this early. Plus, if they think I could use an Unforgivable on a friend, they'd think I'm madder than they already do. They're going to think I put you under the Imperius and told you to kidnap the kid. If worse comes to worse, the curse is in my wand's history and they'd find my magical residue on you. Even better, you'd be the victim."

"I suppose that makes sense..."

"It does. I'm just going to tell you to put on the Invisibility Cloak and go back the way you came; don't try and fight it, alright?" Terry was wringing his hands – a sure sign that he wasn't comfortable. "Here it comes, brace yourself. Imperio!"

The curse came surprisingly easily, almost as easy as casting a Levitation Charm, a fact that almost made me lose concentration. Put on the Invisibility Cloak. Terry walked forward unhesitantly and donned my beloved Cloak. As he disappeared, I gave him the second instruction: go back to Hogwarts as you normally would if you were escaping detection.

I waited for his dull footsteps to fade away before turning to the unconscious form of Tullius Fudge. What if Fudge forced me to kill the boy? I pushed the thought from my mind – I would deal with it when the time came.

You must create more fear and attract more attention.

Createmore fear? I was a supposed murderer holding the Minister's son hostage in the Shrieking Shack. If that didn't scare that bumbling fool witless, I didn't know what would.

The Ministry has not yet arrived. The boy's disappearance has gone unnoticed. It was folly not to plan for this.

What are you suggesting I do?

Follow my instructions. Step outside.

I glanced at the boy once more. What if the Aurors were waiting for me to go outside so they could grab the boy?

They are not so subtle. I have helped you this far, Harry, why now do you question me?

Because you're the fucking Dark Lord? Because you killed my parents? I felt a wave of panic run through me. What was I doing? I had just kidnapped an innocent boy! What was I doing?

You must keep calm in these late stages. Do not let your heart overcome your mind – that is man's greatest weakness.

I had just kidnapped the Minister's son. A few months ago I was one of the top students in my year and now I was expelled from Hogwarts, on the run from the law and now on the verge of the point of no return. Why hadn't I taken Dumbledore's offer? But it's not too late. I could still say yes.

Stay calm!

I yelped as a searing pain, like fire, bubbled from my scar until it encompassed my entire head. The far wall of the living room was blurred and began to shudder like an earthquake. I screamed as the pain intensified. I could no longer see. There were twinkling lights, like stars, across my mind's eye. Finally, when I thought I was dying, the downpour became a drizzle and I could see again.

I was surprised to find myself on my hands and knees. I was wheezing as if I had run a marathon. I glanced to my left. Tullius still lay there, frozen and glassy-eyed. There was no way back now. The only way was forward. There would be no second chances for Harry Potter.

And Tracey. Trapped, helpless Tracey. They had taken her. They had set her up. This was for her. They had forced my hand.

Go outside and send a signal worthy of fear and respect.

I forced myself to my feet. He was right. They had to know I was here. My vision was still blurred, but I managed to make my way out into the crisp September night.

Hogsmeade seemed dead. The air was still and silent. The stars clustered in groups – perhaps they were an audience, waiting for me to show the wizarding world what I was made of. Well, they won't be disappointed. But what signal should I send?

Your grandfather solved that problem. Point your wand in the air with purpose. When the purpose is there, the signal will follow. The incantation is Victum Nex.

I aimed my wand at the moon. "Victum Nex!"

A white mist poured out of my wand like smoke made liquid, coiling its way up towards the moon. I watched its progress, fascinated. Slowly, it began to form a shape. It was a skull. Its mouth opened and two pearly weapons I recognized as spears emerged, their tips a darker shade. The heads of the weapons positioned themselves so that they peeked out of the two dark eye sockets. The entire construction, the Mark of the Knights, glowed its eerie light like a celestial object, more superior than the moon.

Now they will know.

Reluctantly, I turned my back on the Mark. It was imperative for the Aurors to find me in the living room, where they believed there was no exit. They would be here soon.

I was careful to weave between the broken bits of furniture on my way back to the living room. I stopped dead in my tracks as I reached the doorway; I was not alone.

Dean Thomas, sweating profusely, was muttering incantations over Tullius Fudge, apparently trying to lift my Stunning Charm to little avail. No sooner had I caught sight of him did he stare at me, teeth gritted, resolve painted across his features.

He sent a stunner at me which I flicked away lazily. Did he actually think that would do me any harm at all? "Dean Thomas," I said quietly, "you weren't invited."

"I'm invited when you get your Death Eater mates to take first years.Reducto!"

I side-stepped the curse, and smiled. Did he actually think he stood a chance?

"The real question is whether you came because some first year you don't care about was taken, or you realised that what I said in Diagon Alley made perfect sense." Dean hesitated for a moment, a moment I took to disarm him.

"How do you explain this, then?" spat Dean. I didn't have to use Legilimency to know he was looking for a way to distract me while he got the boy out.

"The Minister took something of mine, and I want it back. This is merely an exchange."

His grandfather was a Knight of Walpurgis. He is a Half-blood, not a Mudblood.

"Do you recognise that symbol out there?" I said, pointing out of the window. Dean shook his head slowly. "Come now, Dean, there's no need to lie, is there? Where do you recognise it from?" I took a step towards my former classmate.

Do not harm him; he may yet be useful ally. Recruit him.

"A ring," muttered Dean, eyes narrowed, "a ring that belong to-"

"-your grandfather."

"H-How do you know?" He was eyeing me as a hare does a hawk.

"My grandfather knew your grandfather." Dean opened his mouth but no words followed. "You're not a Mudb-" I frowned. "You're not a Muggle-born. Your father was a wizard, just like his father before him."

"That's not true," whispered Dean.

"Your mother tried to protect you," I said. The information was diffusing into my mind, and I didn't know where from. "Your father was murdered by Death Eaters."

"She wouldn't lie..."

"She had to lie. She didn't want you to know. She knew that one day you would go looking for revenge and she'd lose you too. Don't you see? But she has nothing to worry about anymore – there aren't any more Death Eaters left."

"Mad...you're mad..."

"Mad? Yes, I was mad. That's why I killed them. You see, Dean Thomas, Iam a murderer. I won't deny it. But I killed the wizard who killed your father."

"You killed...?"

"Yes, his name was Rabastan Lestrange. He had broken out of Azkaban earlier this year. You think I'm the enemy? The real enemy is the Ministry. They couldn't even keep the man who left you fatherless in prison."

I could almost feel the mesh of emotions fighting their way in him. Shock. Disbelief. Anger. I moved towards the window and conjured a chintz armchair to appear beside a table that had been toppled over. It looked out of place, like a dandelion in a field of poppies. I took a seat and leaned back, never looking away from Dean.

"This same Ministry sent an innocent girl to prison just because she dated a schoolboy who they have now turned against. What was that school boy's crime? Ridding the world of Death Eaters. The very same Death Eaters who killed your father, Longbottom's parents, Weasley's Uncles, my parents and so many others. If it's a crime to give out the punishment the Ministry are too weak to give, then I'm guilty. Ask yourself this: would Hermione Granger befriend a Dark wizard?"

"No, I suppose not..."

Why weren't the Aurors here yet?

"Join me, Dean." Dean looked up, but now looked interested. "Renew the friendship that once existed between our ancestors. Be who you were born to be. Don't hide under a rock for the rest of your life – do something worthwhile. Join me, and they will respect you... Commander Thomas...Minister Thomas...Headmaster Thomas."

Dean glanced at Tullis Fudge. "He won't be harmed?"

"We're not Death Eaters, Dean."

Dean's expression hardened as he shuffled towards me. I extended a hand towards him, not moving from my seat. He bowed and took it, his warm hand firm and clammy.

"I don't want to be lied to anymore," he murmured.

"Then you've made the right choice. Roll up your sleeve."

Dean blanched. "Why?"

"Just do as I say. Don't you trust me?" Dean but his lip but rolled the sleeves of his Hogwarts robes up so that his thin bicep was showing. I moved my wand so that the tip was touching his brown skin. "This won't hurt. Victum Nex!"

The grey skull of the Knights etched itself into his skin. He winced, but otherwise remained stoic until the Mark had fully formed. It seemed to darken immediately.

"It's a transportation device," I said finally, giving Dean his wand back. "If I activate it, it will act like a Portkey, transporting you to wherever I am if I need your help. I doubt that day will ever come. Imperio!"

My curse, catching Dean unawares, was met with no resistance. Firstly, pull down your sleeves. Dean did so, hiding the Mark. Now go into the corner and play dead. When you are questioned, you will say you followed Terry Boot and were overpowered by me.

"THIS IS THE MINISTRY OF MAGIC. WE HAVE THIS HOUSE SURROUNDED!"

I smiled. So it begins. I rose from my chair and dragged Tullius Fudge to his feet.

"COME OUT OF THE HOUSE WITH YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR HEAD!"

"Ennervate."

Tullius Fudge stood stock still for a second. His eyes moved from Dean, who was lying on the floor, to me, holding him by the scruff of the neck, wand digging into the boy's temple with a look far beyond fear and horror.

"YOU HAVE FIVE SECONDS TO COME OUT OF THE HOUSE!"

"Stasis." Before the boy could even begin to struggle, his body, neck down, froze in place.

"FIVE!"

"Merlin...Merlin...Mummy...M-Mummy..."

"FOUR!"

I stood completely still, ignoring the boy's gasping breaths. I wished they would hurry up.

"THREE!"

The time has come for Harry Potter to show his worth.

"TWO!"

"D-Daddy..."

"ONE!"

I turned slightly to face the doorway.

"TIME'S UP, POTTER."

There was a rumble of footsteps. It felt like ten Aurors at least. A Hit Squad, as MacDonald had predicted. They burst into the room without breaking formation and formed a circle around Tullius and I. Credit where it was due; they did not give away their obvious fear and surprise – every wand was resolutely positioned at me.

"Welcome," I said, "but I don't value lateness."

"You are under arrest by the Ministry for Magic for two counts of murder and the assault on Law Enforcement officers," barked the tall, broad-chested Auror I recognised from the Department of Mysteries.

"Help me! Please help me!"

"As you can see," I said quietly, "you're in no position to be making demands. I would not like to be the Captain whose decisions cost the life of an innocent child, especially if that child happened to be the Minister's own son."

The Auror clenched his teeth as he glanced around the room, obviously looking for traps. "I never thought the son of James Potter would turn out to be a child-killer," he hissed.

"It came as a shock to me, too," I replied. "Now, obviously I want something, else I wouldn't be here talking to a man resorting to childish tactics. You will send one of your Aurors back to the Ministry. That Auror will bring back with him Cornelius Fudge."

"Please help me, Mr. Robards!"

"Will you help him?" I asked. "Now, the Minister alone will return here. Not even the Auror fetching him may step into the Shack. By all means gather the entire Auror department outside the Shack, Lord knows they need something to do, but only the Minister may step into the building itself. I will know if there are any concealed unwelcome visitors. Failure to comply with my demands will result in unwanted death. All it will take is two words."

Robards glanced at the boy, whose fear seemed beyond words now.

"Tonks, go get the Minister!" barked Robards. A pretty, young witch with bubble-gum pink hair nodded and disappeared on the spot, clearly activating a Portkey.

"I don't want bloodshed," I said. "I'm a peaceful man, and blood is a big expense."

The Auror's eyes flashed murderously, but he was otherwise silent. I could hear faint pops. It seemed like reinforcements had been sent for. Robards glanced out of the window. Breathing through is nose like a bull, he cast the Sonorous Charm on himself and said, "THIS IS CAPTAIN ROBARDS. DO NOT COME INTO THE SHACK IF YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR BADGE."

I stood silently, now spinning my wand around fingers. It emitted small silver and green sparks as it span. Finally, I could hear someone's footsteps next door. So Fudge hadn't broken any of my rules...yet.

As he stepped into the living room, I noticed he was missing his lime green bowler hat. He seemed older than he did in the Daily Prophet and his grey hair was tussled.

"F-Father!"

"Hello, Minister," I said, cutting through Tullius Fudge's sobs.

Fudge stared at his son, ashen-faced. "Don't worry, Tully, Daddy'll get you out. I promise."

"I'm glad you could make it," I said.

"I'm here, Potter!" he cried. "Now let my son go, he's innocent!"

"Yes, as innocent as Tracey."

The Minister stared at me with trepidation. "Just let him go. Please let him go!"

"There is something you have taken from me, Minister, and I want it back."

"Anything...anything...just don't harm him!"

"You brought this upon yourself, Minister. When did you begin to conspire against me?"

"I did no such thing...leave my son out of this argument...please!"

"I didn't kill Theodore Davis or Zacharias Noble, you know this!"

"Be reasonable, Potter!" gasped the Minister.

"Oh, I am being reasonable. Very reasonable. You felt your position as Minister weakened and used me as a scapegoat for your own failures. Tell me, Minister, how do ten Death Eaters escape high-security cells in Azkaban?"

The Minister face was like sour milk. "You are behind it! You should know!"

"Come now, Minister, I was in Hogwarts, wasn't I? How could I have helped?"

"Release my son and I'll...you'll receive a fair trial!"

I laughed at his foolishness. "We're beyond the courts now," I said quietly. "You want to help your son? I'll tell you how."

"Anything...anything..."

"Send a message to Azkaban. You will give the order to release Tracey Davis, who you've imprisoned wrongly. The Head Guard will transport her to a safe destination of her choice. I will know if it has been done."

"Impossible!" gasped Fudge. "Ask anything else! I can't...not Azkaban..."

"You will do what I say or face the consequences," I said quietly.

"You wouldn't dare...not to a child..."

I raised an eyebrow. He didn't think I'd go through with it? I flicked my wand at Tullius and said, "Crucio!"

Tullius' screams pierced the still air. There was shrieking in the Shack once more. The Minister had his eyes tightly shut and his fist in his mouth. His forehead was glistening with beads of sweat. Tullius continued to scream.

"ALRIGHT!" yelled Fudge. "Please! Stop it!"

"So you'll do as I say?"

"Yes!"

"You'll go to Azkaban?"

"Yes! Lift the curse!"

I raised a hand and the screaming stopped. The Minister took an involuntary step towards his son.

"Minister..."

Fudge sighed and seemed to deflate. He shot Roabrds a look, who nodded – they probably had some sort of prearranged agreement for hostage situations. The Minister began rifling through his pockets and disappeared just as the other Auror had.

It took the Minister ten minutes to return. When he did, he looked even more haggled than when he had left. We both knew he wouldn't be Minister for Magic for much longer.

"I've done what you asked! Now release him!"

I took a step towards him, dragging the boy with me, never taking my eye off the Minister. Legilimens. Fudge's pupils seemed to widen until the Shack was obscured and all I could see was two men in an office, Fudge standing, MacDonald sitting.

"Potter is demanding for the release of the Davis girl. Take her to a destination of her choice."

"What-"

"Just do it now!"

"Yes, Minister."

I broke concentration and smiled. So he had done as I asked. "A better Minister would have avoided this situation," I said, loud enough for the other Aurors to hear. "A better man would have avoided it."

"Release him!"

I began circling the Minister, wand still trained on the boy, and could feel the Aurors tense. "You, Fudge, are a disgrace to the wizarding world. Once, the Ministry was an esteemed and revered institution. Once, it was a great honour to be accepted as a Ministry witch or wizard. But no longer. Just like the Warlocke's Council before it, it is falling into disrepute. There will be a new society of peace; ability-based, not hereditary. Soon...very soon."

"Mad," whispered Robards from behind me, "absolutely mad."

"My son! Please release him!"

"You have committed a crime, Fudge, and for that you must be punished."

"Please...not my son...not my son..."

Fudge sunk to his knees, openly sobbing now.

A Killing Curse shot at me from my right, but I saw it coming. I dived to the right and watched it hit the far wall harmlessly.

"Crucio!"

"Didn't I tell you to hold your fire!" roared Robards over the faint, raspy cries of Tullius Fudge.

"I beg of you..." Fudge had his hands clasped as if in prayer. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. He was utterly broken. I released the boy of the curse.

"Father..." wheezed Tullius, who seemed now beyond tears.

"Not my son...not my Tully...have mercy..."

You know what you must do.

"You know you deserve this, Minister."

"Please...have mercy..."

Do it now.

"Father..."

I lowered my wand so that the tip was touching his forehead.

Fudge did not look up at me. His eyes were fixed on his son.

"Minister, I must stop this!" cried Robards.

Fudge, not averting his gaze, said, "No...he must be protected at all costs...hold your fire!"

Do it.

"Father...I love you..."

My left hand went to my pocket and clasped the sock.

"I love you too, son."

"Avada Kedavra!"

The last I saw of the Shrieking Shack, as I felt the familiar tug at my navel, was Cornelius Fudge's lifeless body, motionless and broken, and the look of shock on his son's face, illuminated by a volley of lethal green curses heading in my direction.


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