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Price of Peace 4 - Uncovering the Truth

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Jen took the book from Addie and opened it to the next chapter. “Well, that’s strange.”

“What is?” James asked.

“Well, it seems to have switched perspectives, but …” Jen frowned. “I can’t work out whose point of view this is.”

Chapter Three

The Riddle House

“Riddle?” David repeated sharply. “As in Tom Riddle? Voldemort?”

“Must be.” Jen looked at Harry and Hermione, but they looked just as confused. “No idea?”

Harry shook his head. “No. Not that I can think of right now anyway.”

“Alright.” Jen cleared her throat and started reading.

The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it ‘the Riddle House’, even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there. It stood on a hill overlooking the village, some of its windows boarded, tiles missing from its roof, and ivy spreading unchecked over its face. Once a fine looking manor, and easily the largest and grandest building for miles around, the Riddle House was now damp, derelict and unoccupied.

During the description, Harry’s face had paled. That was the same manor house he had seen above the graveyard.

“Harry?” Lily called softly. “Are you alright?”

Harry nodded jerkily. “I’m fine, Mum. I think that might be where Voldemort’s father grew up.”

Everyone from the past exchanged a glance. How did Harry know that from a description? No one asked, though – they knew they wouldn’t get an answer.

The Little Hangletons all agreed that the old house was ‘creepy’.

“Much more succinct description.” Sirius joked.

Half a century ago, something strange and horrible had happened there, something that the older inhabitants of the village still liked to discuss when topics for gossip were scarce.

Lily snorted. She had no patience for gossip, unlike her sister.

The story had been picked over so many times, and had been embroidered in so many places, that nobody was quite sure what the truth was any more.

“And that’s why rumours should never be believed.” David said calmly.

Every version of the tale, however, started in the same place: fifty years before …

Lily frowned. “So that would be … the 1940s?”

“Around then.” Hermione confirmed.

… at daybreak on a fine summer’s morning, when the Riddle House had still been well kept and impressive, and a maid had entered the drawing room to find all three Riddles dead.

“All three?” Remus repeated.

“Well …” Mandy said slowly. “Either Riddle’s father married and had a child or he still lived with his parents.”

The maid had run screaming down the hill into the village, and roused as many people as she could.

“Lying there with their eyes wide open! Cold as ice!

“Killing Curse?” James asked his father.

David nodded grimly. “Sounds like it.”

Still in their dinner things!”

“Who wears their dinner things when it’s just family?” Ginny rolled her eyes.

“We have to.” Draco answered gloomily.

The police were summoned, and the whole of Little Hangleton had seethed with shocked curiosity and ill-disguised excitement.

Lily scowled, muttering about horrible neighbours under her breath.

Nobody wasted their breath pretending to feel very sad about the Riddles, for they had been most unpopular.

“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel sad when someone murders them!” Arabella protested.

Elderly Mr and Mrs Riddle had been rich, snobbish and rude, and their grown-up son, Tom, had been even more so.

“So Voldemort’s father and grandparents are dead.” Sirius concluded. “Who’d do that though? It can’t be a coincidence who they’re related to.”

“You don’t think Voldemort did that, do you?” Lily asked sceptically. “He’d still have been in Hogwarts.”

“Remember what Hermione said in the second book?” Addie asked darkly. “Riddle killed at sixteen.”

“I looked him up.” Hermione explained, at Harry’s questioning look. “Over the summer before third year.”

“How do you know it was Voldemort though?” Lily pointed out.

Hermione didn’t answer and Jen kept reading.

All the villagers cared about was the identity of their murderer – plainly, three apparently healthy people did not all drop dead of natural causes on the same night.

The Hanged Man, the village pub, did a roaring trade that night; the whole village had turned out to discuss the murders. They were rewarded for leaving their firesides when the Riddles’ cook arrived dramatically in their midst, and announced to the suddenly silent pub that a man called Frank Bryce had just been arrested.

Harry closed his eyes. He had never quite remembered the name of the Muggle in his dream afterwards, but now he heard the name again it was suddenly as clear as day in his mind.

“Frank!” cried several people. “Never!”

Frank Bryce was the Riddles’ gardener. He lived alone in a run-down cottage in the Riddle House grounds. Frank had come back from the war with a very stiff leg and a great dislike of crowds and loud noises, and had been working for the Riddles ever since.

There was a rush to buy the cook drinks, and hear more details.

“Always thought he was odd,” she told the eagerly listening villagers, after her fourth sherry. “Unfriendly, like. I’m sure if I’ve offered him a cuppa once, I’ve offered it a hundred times. Never wanted to mix, he didn’t.”

“That’s not uncommon!” Hermione protested. “If he was in the war, he probably had PTSD! Loads of servicemen were a little antisocial afterwards!”

“Ah, now,” said a woman at the bar, “he had a hard war, Frank, he likes a quiet life. That’s no reason to …”

“Who else had a key to the back door, then?” barked the cook. “There’s been a spare key hanging in the gardener’s cottage far back as I can remember! Nobody forced the door last night! No broken windows! All Frank had to do was creep up to the big house while we was all sleeping …”

“And managed to overpower three people without making a sound?” James finished, rolling his eyes. “The Riddles were all awake when they were killed or they wouldn’t have been wearing their dinner things still.”

The villagers exchanged dark looks.

“I always thought he had a nasty look about him, right enough,” grunted a man at the bar.

“War turned him funny, if you ask me,” said the landlord.

“Told you I wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of Frank, didn’t I, Dot?” said an excited woman in the corner.

“Horrible temper,” said Dot, nodding fervently, “I remember when he was a kid …”

“What happened to “never”?” Sirius asked bitingly. He felt a certain camaraderie with this Muggle, since both of them had been accused of a crime they didn’t commit.

By the following morning, hardly anyone in Little Hangleton doubted that Frank Bryce had killed the Riddles.

But over in the neighbouring town of Great Hangleton, in the dark and dingy police station, Frank was stubbornly repeating, again and again, that he was innocent, and that the only person he had seen near the house on the day of the Riddles’ deaths had been a teenage boy, a stranger, dark-haired and pale.

“Voldemort.” Mandy whispered. “That’s how you knew?”

Hermione nodded. “Frank’s statement was in an old newspaper.”

“You really do your research, don’t you?” Draco commented.

Nobody else in the village had seen any such boy, and the police were quite sure that Frank had invented him.

Then, just when things were looking very serious for Frank, the report on the Riddles’ bodies came back and changed everything.

“Right, there’d be no Muggle explanation for their death.” Lily realised.

“They could have been poisoned.” James suggested.

“Well, yes, but …” Lily frowned. “Well, there are ways of finding those things out now. I don’t know if there were back then.”

“They didn’t have the same blood tests.” Hermione said. “But they had various tests for common poisons, as well as being able to check for needle marks, rashes or ulcers in the mouth.”

The police had never read an odder report. A team of doctors had examined the bodies, and had concluded that none of the Riddles had been poisoned, stabbed, shot, strangled, suffocated or (as far as they could tell) harmed at all. In fact, the report continued, in a tone of unmistakeable bewilderment, the Riddles all appeared to be in perfect health – apart from the fact that they were all dead. The doctors did now (as though determined to find something wrong with the bodies) …

James and Sirius couldn’t help sniggering.

… that each of the Riddles had a look of terror upon his or her face – but as the frustrated police said, whoever heard of three people being frightened to death?

“Anyone who’s had the Killing Curse thrown at them.” Addie answered with a shudder.

As there was no proof that the Riddles had been murdered at all, the police were forced to let Frank go. The Riddles were buried in the Little Hangleton churchyard, and their graves remained objects of curiosity for a while. To everyone’s surprise, and amidst a cloud of suspicion, Frank Bryce returned to his cottage in the grounds of the Riddle House.

“Where else would he go?” Lily asked sadly. “It’s likely he hasn’t got any family.”

“’S’far as I’m concerned, he killed them, and I don’t care what the police say,” said Dot in the Hanged Man. “And if he had any decency, he’d leave here, knowing as how we knows he did it.”

“Cow.” Lily muttered, folding her arms.

But Frank did not leave. He stayed to tend the garden for the next family who lived in the Riddle House, and then the next – for neither family stayed long. Perhaps it was partly because of Frank that each new owner said that there was a nasty feeling about the place …

“Probably a curse or a jinx of some sort.” James frowned.

… which, in the absence of inhabitants, started to fall into disrepair.

The wealthy man who owned the Riddle House these days neither lived there nor put it to any use; they said in the village that he kept it for ‘tax reasons’, though nobody was very clear what these might be.

“Voldemort, do you think?” Addie asked.

The wealthy owner continued to pay Frank to do the gardening, however.

“No, probably not.” She decided. “I can’t see Voldemort paying a Muggle to do anything.”

Frank was nearing his seventy-seventh birthday now, very deaf, his bad leg stiffer than ever, but could be seen pottering around the flowerbeds in fine weather, even though the weeds were starting to creep up on him.

“Oh, he really shouldn’t still be working at that age.” Lily fussed.

He’s not anymore. Harry grabbed Hermione’s hand.

Weeds were not the only things Frank had to contend with, either. Boys from the village made a habit of throwing stones through the windows of the Riddle House. They rode their bicycles over the lawns Frank worked so hard to keep smooth. Once or twice, they broke into the old house for a dare. They knew that old Frank was devoted to the house and grounds, and it amused them to see him limping across the garden, brandishing his stick and yelling croakily at them.

The girls bristled almost as one, furious at their behaviour.

Frank, on his part, believed the boys tormented him because they, like their parents and grandparents, thought him a murderer.

“Or they’re disrespectful sods.” Mandy muttered.

So when Frank awoke one night in August and saw something very odd up at the old house, he merely assumed that the boys had gone one step further in their attempts to punish him.

“Oh, I’ve got a bad feeling.” Arabella murmured. “They wouldn’t mention it otherwise.”

It was Frank’s bad leg that woke him; it was paining him worse than ever in his old age. He got up and limped downstairs into the kitchen, with the idea of re-filling his hot water bottle to ease the stiffness in his knee. Standing at the sink, filling up the kettle, he looked up at the Riddle House and saw lights glimmering in its upper windows.

The room was quiet, everyone waiting on tenterhooks to find out what was about to happen.

Frank knew at once what was going on. The boys had broken into the house again, and judging by the flickering quality of the light, they had started a fire.

“That’s not good.” James murmured. “Could be squatters – but who breaks into a house like that to squat?”

Frank had no telephone, and in any case, he had deeply mistrusted the police ever since they had taken him in for questioning about the Riddles’ deaths. He put down the kettle at once, hurried back upstairs as fast as his bad leg would allow, and was soon back in his kitchen, fully dressed and removing a rusty old key from its hook by the door. He picked up his walking stick, which was propped against the wall, and set off into the night.

“Why do I get the feeling he just signed his death warrant?” Regulus commented dryly.

No one answered.

The front door of the Riddle House bore no sign of being forced, and nor did any of the windows.

“Wizards.” Alice whispered, clutching Neville’s hand.

Frank limped around to the back of the house until he reached a door almost completely hidden by ivy, took out the old key, put it into the lock and opened the door noiselessly.

He let himself into the cavernous kitchen. Frank had not entered it for many years; nevertheless, although it was very dark, he remembered where the door into the hall was, and he groped his way towards it, his nostrils full of the small of decay, ears pricked for any sound of footsteps or voices from overhead. He reached the hall, which was a little lighter owing to the large mullioned windows either side of the front door, and started to climb the stairs, blessing the dust which lay thick on stone, because it muffled the sound of his feet and stick.

Harry couldn’t help shivering as the memory of the dream became more vivid.

On the landing, Frank turned right, and saw at once where the intruders were: at the very end of the passage a door stood ajar, and a flickering light shone through the gap, casting a long sliver of gold across the black floor. Frank edged closer and closer, grasping his walking stick firmly. Several feet from the entrance, he was able to see a narrow slice of the room beyond.

The atmosphere changed slightly from rapt attention to apprehension.

The fire, he now saw, had been lit in the grate. This surprised him. He stopped moving and listened intently, for a man’s voice spoke within the room; it sounded timid and fearful.

The three Marauders narrowed their eyes, but didn’t say anything.

“There is a little more in the bottle, my Lord, if you are still hungry.”

“Voldemort’s there.” Alice whispered.

“This won’t end well.” Lily predicted. “I wonder what he’s drinking.”

“Somehow I doubt it’s firewhiskey.” James frowned.

“Later,” said a second voice. This, too, belonged to a man – but it was strangely high-pitched, and cold as a sudden blast of icy wind. Something about that voice made the sparse hairs on the back of Frank’s neck stand up.

Jen’s eyes darkened. “You’re not going to like this.”

“Move me closer to the fire, Wormtail.”

To everyone’s surprise, there was no outburst of anger.

The three Marauders had already guessed who Voldemort’s companion was, so it wasn’t a shock to them. The only indication that Wormtail was anything more than just another name was the tightening of three jaws.

Mandy closed her eyes. She and Peter had been nothing more than friends, but they talked a lot more than the others, when the other three Marauders were with their girlfriends – or harassing Addie, in Sirius’s case – and she had thought that she knew him. To find that he had betrayed them all like that hurt now, let alone after a relationship that had apparently caused her to fall in love with him.

Frank turned his right ear towards the door, the better to hear. There came the chink of a bottle being put down upon a hard surface, and then the dull scraping noise of a heavy chair being dragged across the floor. Frank caught a glimpse of a small man, his back to the door, pushing the chair into place. He was wearing a long, black cloak, and there was a bald patch at the back of his head.

“Is there a cure for baldness?” Harry asked suddenly. He was met by several incredulous looks.

“Really, mate?” Fred snickered.

Harry blushed, but protested, “The wizarding world can mend broken bones in a second – I just find it weird that we still suffer from hair-loss.”

Sirius was openly grinning at his godson, who was doing a good impersonation of a tomato. “There is a potion regime you can go on, but it’s quite expensive.”

Harry nodded understandingly.

Then he disappeared from sight again.

“Where is Nagini?” said the cold voice.

“Who’s Nagini?” Sirius asked.

“Not who, what.” Regulus corrected with a slight shiver. “She’s the Dark Lord’s familiar. Three guesses as to what animal – and the first two don’t count.”

“How did you know that?” David asked suspiciously.

Regulus’s left arm twitched, but few people noticed. “My cousin’s betrothed to one of the Dark Lord’s most faithful followers, Potter. Do I really need to answer?” He knew they knew he became a Death Eater in the future, but as far as he was aware, the auror had no idea he already had the Mark. He wasn’t about to advertise it.

“I – I don’t know, my Lord,” said the first voice nervously. “She set out to explore the house, I think …”

“I hope Frank watches himself.” Lily murmured. “With a giant snake on the loose.”

“Yeah, the snake’s what he wants to watch out for.” Sirius snorted. “Never mind the two murderers on the other side of the door.”
“You will milk her before we retire, Wormtail,” said the second voice. “I will need feeding in the night.

“How do you milk a snake?” James frowned.

“It means to extract the venom.” Lily explained. “Though why he’s drinking snake venom …”
Regulus looked pensive. “Well …” he said slowly, “there is a ritual that would allow the Dark Lord to regain a body … and I’m fairly sure the preparation includes snake venom.”

The journey has tired me greatly.”

“Journey from where?” Mandy asked curiously. “Where did he go?”

Hermione and Harry exchanged a glance and waited for a letter to tell them they couldn’t. When none appeared, Hermione answered, “Albania.”

“That’s where I was when James and Lily were attacked.” Mandy stated.

Sirius nodded. “We believed that was where Voldemort’s HQ was. Never thought it might in the middle of the ocean,” he added slightly bitterly, glancing at Addie.

“It’s not.” Addie disagreed. “It’s very sparse for a Headquarters. There’s a huge tower out there, but I’ve never seen anyone go in or out. And there were never that many Death Eaters there at once. Besides I don’t think they’d have taken us there, in case we escaped and could lead people back. Though whether we could …”

“Wasn’t it dangerous sending Mandy on her own to Albania if you thought that was where HQ was?” Arabella asked with a frown.

“We weren’t sending an assassin.” Sirius smirked weakly. “Just a scout. Besides, she wasn’t alone – Hestia Jones was with her.”

“Hestia?” Lily repeated. “I know that name.”

“Ravenclaw a year above us.” Sirius supplied. “Dark hair.”

Sirius nodded. “That’s her. We worked together as aurors.”

Brow furrowed, Frank inclined his good ear still closer to the door, listening very hard. There was a pause, and then the man called Wormtail spoke again.

“My Lord, may I ask how long we are going to stay here?”

“He’s got guts.” Sirius commented idly. “Most Death Eaters don’t dare ask a question.”

“Most Death Eaters aren’t relied upon for his continued existence.” Harry pointed out.

“A week,” said the cold voice. “Perhaps longer. The place is moderately comfortable, and the plan cannot proceed yet. It would be foolish to act before the Quidditch World Cup is over.”

Frank inserted a gnarled finger into his ear and rotated it. Owing, no doubt, to a build-up of earwax, he had heard the word ‘Quidditch’, which was not a word at all.

James gasped and Lily hit him on the arm. “He’s a Muggle, James. He won’t have heard of Quidditch.”

“The – the Quidditch World Cup, my Lord?” said Wormtail. (Frank dug his finger still more vigorously into his ear.) “Forgive me, but – I do not understand – why should we wait until the World Cup is over?”

Remus groaned. “Was he always this much of an idiot or has he gotten worse?”

Sirius gave a tight smile. “We were always pretty easy on him.”

“Because, fool, at this very moment wizards are pouring into the country from all over the world, and every meddler from the Ministry of Magic will be on duty, on the watch for signs of unusual activity, checking and double-checking identities. They will be obsessed with security, lest the Muggles notice anything. So we wait.”

Frank stopped trying to clear his ear out. He had distinctly heard the words ‘Ministry of Magic’, ‘wizards’ and ‘Muggles’. Plainly, each of these expressions meant something secret, and Frank could think of only two sorts of people who would speak in code – spies and criminals.

“Smart man.” David commented.

Frank tightened his hold on his walking stick once more, and listened more closely still.

“Your Lordship is still determined, then?” Wormtail said quietly.

“Certainly I am determined, Wormtail.” There was a note of menace in the cold voice now.

“Uh oh.” James murmured, not sure whether to smirk or not.

A slight pause followed – and then Wormtail spoke, the words tumbling from him in a rush, as though he was forcing himself to say this before he lost his nerve.

“It could be done without Harry Potter, my Lord.”

“I’m sorry.” Lily said in a deceptively calm voice. “Did he just say Harry Potter?”

“Er, yes?” Harry answered carefully.

Lily melted into James’s arms. “Not again.” She whispered. “Not again.”

Another pause, more protracted, and then –

“Without Harry Potter?” breathed the second voice softly. “I see …”

“My Lord, I do not say this out of concern for the boy!” said Wormtail, his voice rising squeakily. “The boy is nothing to me, nothing at all!

“Thanks Peter.” James said softly. “Good to know how much we mean to you.”

It is merely that if we were to use another witch or wizard – any wizard – the thing could be done so much more quickly! If you allowed me to leave you for a short while – you know that I can disguise myself most effectively – I could be back here in as little as two days with a suitable person –”

“Unbelievable.” Mandy muttered, looking disgusted.

“I could use another wizard,” said the first voice softly, “that is true …”

“And what, exactly, does he want to use you for?” Lily asked shakily.

“Out of interest,” Regulus said, “do you really want to know, or am I going to get yelled at if I tell you and give you a heart attack?”

Lily glared at him. “Why does he want my son?!” She hissed.

“The ritual I mentioned earlier,” Regulus answered quickly – even he was slightly intimidated, “requires blood of the enemy. Of course, there’s a chance I’m completely off the mark.”

“My Lord, it makes sense,” said Wormtail, sounding thoroughly relieved now, “laying hands on Harry Potter would be so difficult, he is so well protected –”

“And so you volunteer to go and fetch me a substitute? I wonder … perhaps the task of nursing me has become wearisome for you, Wormtail?

“Wouldn’t it anyone?” James asked.

“Out of interest,” Hermione commented, turning to Harry, “is it weird that we refer to Peter as his Marauder name? We don’t do it with Remus and Sirius – and I don’t do it with James. And yet Peter’s the one who betrayed them.”

Harry shrugged. “Wormtail’s the rat. Peter’s the man.”

Hermione nodded thoughtfully.

Could this suggestion of abandoning the plan be nothing more than an attempt to desert me?”

“My Lord! I – I have no wish to leave you, none at all –”

“Do not lie to me!” hissed the second voice. “I can always tell, Wormtail! You are regretting that you ever returned to me. I revolt you.

“Oh, you revolt everyone.” Ginny said, rolling her eyes.

I see you flinch when you look at me, feel you shudder when you touch me …”

“Well, he’s not a complete idiot.” Fred stated.

“No! My devotion to your Lordship …”

“Your devotion is nothing more than cowardice.

“True.” Harry muttered.

You would not be here if you had anywhere else to go. How am I to survive without you, when I need feeding every few hours? Who is to milk Nagini?”

“But you seem to much stronger, my Lord –”

“Liar,” breathed the second voice. “I am no more stronger, and a few days alone would be enough to rob me of the little health I have regained under your clumsy care. Silence!

Wormtail, who had been spluttering incoherently, fell silent for once. For a few seconds, Frank could here nothing but the fire crackling. Then the second man spoke once more, in a whisper that was almost a hiss.

“I have my reasons for using the boy, as I have already explained to you, and I will use no other.

“Why Harry though?” Sirius frowned. “If Reg is right, surely any enemy would do. And as much as I hate to admit it, Wormtail’s got a point.”

“It could have something to do with Lily’s protection.” David answered slowly. “If Harry’s blood runs in Voldemort’s veins, the protection would no longer work, because Harry’s blood, of course, is Lily’s blood.”

“So if this works, Voldemort would have the same protection Harry does?” Lily asked quietly. She shuddered at the thought of Voldemort taking something as pure as her love for her son and desecrating it like that.

“Well …” David thought for a second. “It’s difficult to say, Lily. Blood magic is incredibly difficult to predict, which is one of the reasons the Ministry considers it dark. Of course this was unintentional,” he added hastily. “But it’s really only sanctioned to be used as wards and even then you need permission. It could give Voldemort protection or, on the flip-side, it could actually weaken him.”

I have waited thirteen years. A few more months will make no difference. As for the protection surrounding the boy, I believe my plan will be effective. All that is needed is a little courage from you, Wormtail …

“Hasn’t exactly got any of that lying around, has he?” Addie asked scathingly.

…courage you will find, unless you wish to feel the fill extent of Lord Voldemort’s wrath –”

“My Lord, I must speak!” said Wormtail, panic in his voice now. “All through my journey I have gone over the plan in my head – my Lord, Bertha Jorkin’s disappearance …

“Bertha Jorkins?” Addie repeated. “Not that nosy little cow in Hufflepuff two years below us?”

“That’s the one.” Sirius sighed.

“How she got to be a Hufflepuff when she’s got no loyalty whatsoever …” Addie muttered.

“Now, Addie, don’t speak ill of the dead.” Hermione murmured.

Addie looked stunned. “She’s … really?”

“Really.” Sirius confirmed in an undertone.

… will not go unnoticed for long, and if we proceed, if I curse –”

“If?” whispered the first voice. “If? If you follow the plan, Wormtail, the Ministry need never know that anyone else has disappeared.

“That doesn’t sound good.” David frowned. “How is someone going to disappear without anyone noticing?”

“Polyjuice.” Regulus answered softly. “If someone were to impersonate that person, then no one, theoretically, would realise.”

You will do it quietly, and without fuss; I only wish that I could do it myself, but in my present condition … come, Wormtail, one more obstacle removed and our path to Harry Potter is clear. I am not asking you to do it alone. By that time, my faithful servant will have rejoined us –”

“I wonder who that is then.” Sirius commented.

“I can think of a few names.” James scowled.

“No, Sirius is right.” Jen gazed at the book. “Voldemort wouldn’t consider those who bought their way out of Azkaban faithful. Unless someone else is planning on breaking out of Azkaban …”

“Honey?” Remus prompted when she lapsed into thought. “You’re the one reading.”

I am a faithful servant,” said Wormtail, the merest trace of sullenness in his voice.

“Wormtail, I need somebody with brains, somebody whose loyalty has never wavered, and you, unfortunately, fulfil neither requirement.”

Despite the person speaking and who they were speaking to, no one could help sniggering at that.

“I found you,” said Wormtail, and there was definitely a sulky edge to his voice now. “I was the one who found you. I brought you Bertha Jorkins.”

“I can’t believe he’s sulking because he’s not getting praise for leading an innocent woman to her death.” Harry growled. He’d forgotten about the mention of Bertha Jorkins and was mad that he hadn’t been able to tell anyone earlier.

“That is true,” said the second man, sounding amused. “A stroke of brilliance I would not have thought possible from you, Wormtail – though, if truth be told, you were not aware how useful she would be when you caught her, were you?”

“I – I thought she might be useful, my Lord –”

“Liar,” said the first voice again, the cruel amusement even more pronounced than ever. “However, I do not deny that her information was invaluable. Without it, I could never have formed our plan, and for that, you will have your reward, Wormtail. I will allow you to perform an essential task for me, one that many of my followers would give their right hands to perform …”

“Oh, that’s not good.” Regulus murmured.

“What do you mean?” Lily asked hastily.

“The ritual I mentioned earlier …” Regulus began.

Jen cut him off with a gasp, although still avoided actually looking at him. “Oh, I know the one you mean now!” She caught sight of Sirius’s expression. “Oh, come on, Padfoot, I know you were there for this.”
Sirius rolled his eyes. “I try to block out as much as possible of what I learned at that house. I’ll never understand why you don’t do the same.”

“In case of situations like this.” Jen answered coolly. “You can’t fight the Dark Arts if you don’t know about them.”

“Well said.” David agreed quietly. “That’s the downfall of many an auror – even Alastor Moody, as good as he is, has that one flaw, a flaw I fully admit to as well, mind you.”

“She’s right.” Sirius added. “That’s what made Jen such a good auror.”

“Go on then.” Sirius prompted. “What this got to do with Voldemort just said?”

“The ritual involved bone of the father, blood of the enemy and flesh of the servant.” Jen answered. “There’s a chance that Peter will literally have to give his right hand.”

“R-really, my Lord? What –?” Wormtail sounded terrified again.

“Ah, Wormtail, you don’t want me to spoil the surprise? Your part will come at the very end … but I promise you, you will have the honour of being just as useful as Bertha Jorkins.”

“You … you …” Wormtail’s voice sounded suddenly hoarse, as though his mouth had gone very dry. “You … are going … to kill me, too?”

There was a hushed silence as it was confirmed by a second source that this poor woman was dead.

“Wormtail, Wormtail,” said the cold voice silkily, “why would I kill you? I killed Bertha because I had to. She was fit for nothing after my questioning, quite useless.

“Torture, do you think?” James asked in a hushed voice.

“Possibly.” Alice answered shakily, clutching Neville closer to her.

In any case, awkward questions would have been asked if she had gone back to the Ministry with the news that she had met you on her holidays. Wizards who are supposed to be dead would do well not to run into Ministry of Magic witches at wayside inns …”

Wormtail muttered something so quietly that Frank could not hear it, that Frank could not hear it, but it made the second man laugh – an entirely mirthless laugh, cold as his speech.

We could have modified her memory?

Though no one said it, several people were quite relieved that Peter had suggested that, since it gave a glimpse of the boy they knew, trying to spare a life, rather than a murderer intent on taking one.

But Memory Charms can be broken by a powerful wizard, as I proved when I questioned her.

“Now that’s interesting.” David commented. “I wonder why her memory had been modified.”

“She must have found something out that no one wanted found out.” Regulus agreed.

“Well, that doesn’t surprise me.” Addie admitted. “The girl was a terrible gossip.” She and Sirius exchanged a wry smile, remembering the same Hufflepuff catching them behind the greenhouses and spreading it around the school. Out of principle more than anything, they’d both hexed her, although only Sirius’s had taken hold.

It would be an insult to her memory not to use the information I extracted from her, Wormtail.”

Out in the corridor, Frank suddenly became aware that the hand gripping his walking stick was slippery with sweat. The man with the cold voice had killed a woman. He was talking about it without any kind of remorse – with amusement. He was dangerous – a madman. And he was planning more murders – this boy, Harry Potter, whoever he was – was in danger –

Frank knew what he must do. Now, if ever, was the time to go to the police.

“That’s not a good idea.” Narcissa whispered.

“Why not?” James retorted. “He needs to get help!”

“And what help will Muggles be to take out a wizard?!” Narcissa demanded. “He’d kill all of them!”

“Probably not all of them.” Hermione said thoughtfully. “I don’t know how effective a shield charm would be against a bullet.” Seeing the looks of confusion, she elaborated, “A bullet is used in a Muggle weapon called a gun, which is a metal, L-shaped object. It uses force and something called gun-powder to fire a bullet – a small metal projectile – out of the cylinder at great speed. It’s highly dangerous and can cause grievous bodily injury and, in some cases, death.”

The purebloods stared at her in amazement.

“Is that what Vernon had in the first book?” Alice asked.

Hermione thought back. “He had a rifle, which is a type of gun, yes. They come in various sizes and shapes and the bullets vary from very small to very large. The speed they fire at differs as well – some can only fire one before needing to ‘reload’ and others – machine guns – can fire many bullets very quickly.”

He would creep out of the house and head straight for the telephone box in the village … but the cold voice was speaking again, and Frank remained where he was, frozen to the spot, listening with all his might.

“One more curse … my faithful servant at Hogwarts … Harry Potter is as good as mine, Wormtail. It is decided. There will be no more argument. But quiet … I think I hear Nagini …”

And the second man’s voice changed. He started making noises such as Frank had never heard before; he was hissing and spitting without drawing breath.

“Parseltongue.” Hermione concluded.

“Is that really what it sounds like?” James asked.

“Here.” Hermione raised her wand and pointed it at an empty patch of carpet. “Sperpensortia.

A green garden snake appeared and Harry knelt down before it. He opened his mouth, but instead of English, a strange hissing noise escaped it.

“Harry, I love you,” Lily told him, “but that’s really creepy.”

“I know.” Harry grinned. “Now how do we get rid of it?”

Hermione blushed. “I don’t know.”

Sirius chuckled and waved his wand, causing the snake to vanish. “Never cast a spell you don’t know how to reverse, Hermione.”

Frank thought he must be having some sort of fit or seizure.

And then Frank heard movement behind him in the dark passageway. He turned to look behind him, and found himself paralysed with fright.

Something was slithering towards him along the dark corridor, and as it drew nearer to the sliver of firelight, he realised with a thrill of terror that it was a gigantic snake, at least twelve feet long.

“Merlin …” Lily whispered.

Horrified, transfixed, Frank stared at it as its undulating body cut a wide curving track through the thick dust on the floor, coming closer and closer – what was he to do? The only means of escape was into the room where two men sat plotting murder, yet if he stayed where he was the snake would surely kill him …

“It won’t.” Harry disagreed. “Voldemort’s calling her in; she won’t stop for food.”

But before he had made his decision, the snake was level with him, and then, miraculously, it was passing; it was following the spitting, hissing noises made by the cold voice beyond the door, and in seconds, the tip of its diamond-patterned tail had vanished through the gap.

“I wonder what kind of snake it is.” Arabella murmured.

Mandy gave her an incredulous look. “Why does that matter?”

There was sweat on Frank’s forehead now, and the hand on the walking stick was trembling. Inside the room, the cold voice was continuing to hiss, and Frank was visited by a strange idea, an impossible idea … This man could talk to snakes.

“On the ball, this one.” Remus commented.

“I wonder if he already saw magic and was obliviated.” Lily mused. “The Muggle Second World War and the war with Grindelwald did cross paths quite a few times. And it would explain why he’s so open-minded,”

Frank didn’t understand what was going on. He wanted more than anything to be back in his bed with his hot-water bottle. The problem was that his legs didn’t seem to want to move.

“No, move.” James whispered.

As he stood there shaking, and trying to master himself, the cold voice switched abruptly to English again.

“Nagini has interesting news, Wormtail,” it said.

“He’s dead.” Addie sighed.

“In-indeed, my Lord?” said Wormtail.

“Indeed, yes,” said the voice. “According to Nagini, there is an old Muggle standing right outside this room, listening to every word we say.”

Frank didn’t have a chance to hide himself. There were footsteps, and then the door of the room was flung wide open.

A short, balding man with greying hair, a pointed nose and small, watery eyes stood before Frank, a mixture of fear and alarm on his face.

“I don’t know why he’s looking scared.” Mandy scowled. “He’s not the one who’s about to get murdered!”

“Invite him inside, Wormtail. Where are your manners?”

“Yes, we must show manners before we commit murder, mustn’t we?” Lily asked sarcastically.

Harry shivered. Bow to death, Harry.

The cold voice was coming from the ancient armchair before the fire, but Frank couldn’t see the speaker. The snake, on the other hand, was curled up on the rotting hearth-rug, like some horrible travesty of a pet dog.

Wormtail beckoned Frank into the room. Though still deeply shaken, Frank took a firmer grip upon his walking stick, and limped over the threshold.

“What do you think?” James asked. “Honorary Gryffindor?”

Sirius and Remus nodded in agreement.

The fire was the only source of light in the room; it was casting long, spidery shadows upon the walls. Frank stared at the back of the armchair; the man inside it seemed to be even smaller than his servant, for Frank couldn’t even see the back of his head.

“Or he’s not a man.” Harry said in a low voice.

“You heard everything, Muggle?” said the cold voice.

“What’s that you’re calling me?” said Frank defiantly, for now that he was inside the room, now that the time had come for some sort of action, he felt braver; it had always been so in the war.

“Definitely a Gryffindor.” Sirius agreed. “Sounds like James and I before raids.”

David chuckled. “You mean waiting for the go-ahead practically crapping yourself and then suddenly sinking into a headspace?”

Sirius nodded. “Yeah, that about sums it up. Once you add the ‘oh shit’ moment afterwards.”

“What’s that?” Lily asked.

“It’s the moment after a raid when you suddenly realise how many times you nearly died and your legs give out and you think ‘oh shit …’” Sirius answered. “Isn’t always immediate either. I remember once we got through a whole debriefing and were in the middle of Diagon Alley when James suddenly fell sideways. Took me, Moony and Jen to hold him up. Lily would have helped, but she wasn’t much better.”

“I thought you said I wasn’t an auror and why were we both so shaken?” Lily asked quickly.

“It was an Order mission and there’s not many people who can have Voldemort appear in front of them and walk away unscathed.” Sirius answered calmly. “James and Lily – and Alice and Frank now that I think about it – did it three times.”

James, Lily and Alice gaped at him. “Three times?” James repeated quietly.

Sirius nodded, before gesturing hurriedly for Jen to start reading again.

“I am calling you a Muggle,” said the voice coolly. “It means that you are not a wizard.”

“I don’t know what you mean by wizard,” said Frank, his voice growing steadier. “All I know is I’ve heard enough to interest the police tonight, I have. You’ve done murder and you’re planning more! And I’ll tell you this, too,” he added, on a sudden inspiration, “my wife knows I’m up here, and if I don’t come back –”

“No good.” Regulus sighed. “The Dark Lord is a Legilimens – he’ll know.”

“You have no wife,” said the cold voice, very quietly. “Nobody knows you are here. You told nobody that you were coming. Do not lie to Lord Voldemort, Muggle, for he knows … he always knows …”

“Is that right?” said Frank roughly. “Lord, is it? Well, I don’t think much of your manners, my Lord. Turn around and face me like a man, why don’t you?”

“But I am not a man, Muggle,” said the cold voice, barely audible now over the crackling flames. I am much, much more than a man.

“No, you are much, much less.” Addie hissed, nestling into Sirius’s side. Memories of Regulus’s last hours and his final request swam through her mind, but she couldn’t bring herself to utter the words. If she did that, she would have to elaborate and she wasn’t ready to do that.

However … why not? I will face … Wormtail, come turn my chair around.”

The servant gave a whimper.

“You heard me, Wormtail.”

Slowly, with his face screwed up, as though he would rather have done anything than approach his master and the hearth-rug where the snake lay, the small man walked forwards and began to turn the chair. The snake lifted its ugly triangular head and hissed slightly as the legs of the chair snagged on its rug.

And then the chair was facing Frank, and he saw what was sitting in it. His walking stick fell to the floor with a clatter. He opened his mouth and let out a scream. He was screaming so loudly that he never heard the words the thing in the chair spoke, as it raised a wand. There was a flash of green light, a rushing sound, and Frank Bryce crumpled. He was dead before he hit the floor.

Silence fell for a few minutes, as they paid their respects to the brave man.

Two hundred miles away, the boy called Harry Potter woke with a start.

“Harry?” Lily questioned sharply. “Did you dream that?”

“Not the beginning bit.” Harry sighed. “But the last bit, yes.”

“How?” David asked.

Harry shrugged. “I don’t know. No one seems to be able to answer that question.”