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Price of Peace 4 - Uncovering the Truth

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“Here.” Narcissa took the book hastily and turned to the next chapter.

Chapter Twelve

The Dark Mark

No one spoke, sitting on the edge of their seats.

The wood around them erupted with screams, while Ron – who clearly knew that the sign was bad, if not how bad – and Hermione pulled Harry back from the tree.

“Ron knew it was Voldemort’s sign.” Hermione said softly. “But that was all. I’d read about it in The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts, but it seemed to feel worse to me.”

“You were with Lily on August 1st.” Sirius told her softly, glancing at Jen.

Jen swallowed. “What happened? The full version this time please.”

“You went to visit Lily and Harry.” Sirius began heavily. “And told Remus that if Mad-Eye needed you, that’s where you were. The Dark Mark was in sight of the house when it went up. When Mad-Eye called you in, Remus flooed Lily to tell her, but she told him that you weren’t there…”

“Why didn’t I just floo to them?” Jen asked softly.

“Because you couldn’t.” Sirius answered. “They had communication network and an outward connection, but no one could floo in. You would’ve had to apparate to the apparition point, which was, I think, about an hour away, and walk.”

“Wouldn’t I have been there though?” Harry asked. “Why didn’t I know?”

“Two reasons.” Hermione answered. “First of all, my memory was more subconscious and it was triggered by learning about it, whereas you don’t pick up a book unless I make you. Second of all, I was nearly two and you were just past one.”

“Barely.” Jen sighed, noting the date.

“Who’s there?” Harry called again.

“Harry, get out of there!” Lily groaned. “Please!”

“Harry, come on; move!” Hermione hissed.

“Listen to her.” James murmured, hugging Lily with one arm and clutching Harry’s shoulder with the other hand.

“What’s the matter?” Harry asked, having caught sight of her face.

“It’s the Dark Mark, Harry!” Hermione explained, her voice wavering. “You-Know-Who’s sign …”

“Still not saying it?” Jen asked, her voice deceptively light.

Hermione shrugged. “Give it time.”

“Voldemort’s?” Harry gasped.

“Harry, come on!” Hermione repeated, with a slight groan, her head pounding with the terror around them.

Hermione grimaced. “It was awful.”

The three of them hurried across the clearing, but after two steps, a series of cracking noises announced the arrival of about twenty wizards, all of whom had their wands pointed directly at them.

“Hey!” Lily protested. “They didn’t do it!”

“DUCK!” Harry yelled, seizing their hands and forcing them to the ground.

Stupefy!” Twenty voices shouted …

“Merlin, that many stunners …” David trailed off, seeing his son’s white face and Lily’s expression.

… Hermione hit the ground heavily as a series of jets of red light skimmed the tops of their head, causing their hair to ripple.

“Good instincts, Harry.” Sirius commented. “That was close.”

Sirius was muttering something under his breath about Ministry officials who fired first and asked questions later. Catching his words, Addie squeezed his hand. “You’d do the same thing,” she whispered, “and you know it.”

“STOP!” Arthur’s voice shouted. “STOP! THAT’S MY SON!”

“Thank Merlin Arthur’s there.” Narcissa sighed.

Hermione’s hair stilled. She lifted her head warily, Ron and Harry doing the same, to see that the wizards had lowered their wands. She rolled over, coughing slightly, as Arthur strode towards them, looking terrified.

“Ron … Harry … Hermione … Are you alright?”

Before they could respond, there was a double scream from the back of the group of wizards.

“What now?” Lily asked in a high voice.

Narcissa smiled, glancing at the next line. “It’s fine.”

They parted quickly and Mandy and Arabella ran through the gap.

Lily breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”

“Of course we’d be there.” Arabella told her, her face white. “You don’t have to thank us.”

“Harry!” Arabella cried, pulling him into a hug. “Sweet Merlin, are you alright?”

Mandy began checking him over. “What happened? Are you hurt?”

“He was fine.” Hermione assured them quickly.

“Out of the way, ladies; Arthur.” A curt voice commanded.

Lily’s mouth dropped open. “They can’t honestly think they had anything to do with it, can they?”

“I’m sure they don’t.” David assured her. “But they are the only three there, which makes them witnesses. The sooner they can get their statement, the better.”

Mr. Crouch and the other Ministry wizards were closing in on them.

“Which one of you did it?” Crouch snapped …

“Alright, maybe they do think that.” David frowned. “What happened to the Ministry?”

“Fudge took over.” Sirius answered flatly. “I firmly believe that was when common sense started disappearing.”

“Can’t have been.” Hermione disagreed. “That was after they arrested you.”

“Point taken.” Sirius nodded.

… his eyes darting between them. “Which one of you conjured the Dark Mark?”

“Honestly.” Regulus rolled his eyes. “Three fourteen-year-olds, two of whom are Muggle-raised, would not know how to conjure the Dark Mark.”

“We didn’t do that!” Harry protested, gesturing to the skull.

“We didn’t do anything!” Ron added, rubbing his elbow. “What did you want to attack us for?”

“Do not lie, sir!” Crouch roared, his wand pointed at Ron.

“Oi!” Fred protested.

“You have been discovered at the scene of the crime!”

“What the hell’s wrong with him?” Alice asked with a frown. “That doesn’t sound like the guy Barty describes. He says his dad’s always calm and in control.”

“He hates the Dark Arts.” Sirius said calmly. “Could get quite … over-excited.”

“Barty!” Mandy gasped, pulling Harry to her protectively. “They’re kids! They wouldn’t know …”

“Where did the Mark come from, you three?” Arthur asked quickly.

“Good – at least some people are on the ball.” Jen muttered.

“Over there.” Hermione answered shakily, pointing in the direction the voice had been. “There was someone behind the trees … they shouted words … an incantation …” She trailed off, her head still burning.

Sirius looked concerned and she smiled slightly.

She took a deep breath and the emotions around her dimmed; the pain followed swiftly.

“That made everything easier to deal with.” Hermione murmured.

“Oh, stood over there, did they?” Crouch repeated disbelievingly. “Said an incantation, did they? You seem very well informed about how the Dark Mark is summoned, missy.”

“Yeah, because no other spells need an incantation.” James said, sarcasm lacing his tone.

Arabella rolled her eyes. “Yes, it does indeed take a genius to work out that a spell needs an incantation.

Everyone chuckled.

Surely it proves that Hermione, a fourteen-year-old witch, is well-versed on the Death Eater way of life. Too bad they wouldn’t welcome her with open arms!”

“Careful.” David warned, his lips twitching. “I don’t think they’re in the mood for sarcasm right now.”

“Arabella!” Mandy hissed.

But the other wizards clearly agreed with her, because they lifted their wands and were peering through the trees.

“It’ll be too late by now.” James sighed. “Won’t it?”

“Well, the stunners did go right through the trees.” David said thoughtfully. “The book didn’t mention a crack, so no one disapparated. Could well have been hit.”

“Of course, the screams could have masked the sound of apparition.” Regulus pointed out.

“We’re too late.” Mandy sighed, going back to checking Harry for any injuries. “They’ll have disapparated.”

“I don’t think so.” Amos Diggory disagreed.

“Him again.” Sirius murmured.

Addie smiled slightly and squeezed his arm. “I never felt this way about him.” She whispered, causing him to smile.

“Is this where he makes a complete prat of himself?” Arabella asked, remembering Hermione’s words earlier.

Hermione smirked slightly. “Just a bit, yeah.”

“Our stunners went right through those trees … there’s a good chance we got them …”

“Amos, be careful.” A few of the wizards warned, as he squared his shoulders and strode of into the darkness.

Hermione watched him disappear, shaking. Arabella put a comforting arm around her shoulders.

“Thanks.” Hermione muttered. “I hadn’t even realised I was shaking.”

“Yes!” They heard Diggory shout after a few seconds.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

“We’ve got them! There’s someone here! Unconscious! It’s … but … blimey!”

“Someone unexpected?” James guessed.

“Must be.” Jen frowned.

“You got someone?” Crouch asked, sounding highly disbelieving. “Who? Who is it?”

With a lot of snapping twigs and rustling leaves, Diggory emerged back into the clearing with a tiny figure in his arms.

Narcissa raised an eyebrow at the next words.

It was Winky.

“That’s not possible.” Regulus said immediately. “An elf wouldn’t be able to cast that spell, unless she was ordered to. But no Death Eater would order an elf to do that – it’s considered an honour.”

David gave him a searching look, but didn’t say anything.

Hermione frowned. That was impossible. That voice … it was human … not an elf’s voice.

“That too.” Addie frowned. “He doesn’t seriously think the elf did it, does he?” She pointed at Sirius. “Don’t do it.”

Diggory deposited the tiny elf on the floor in front of Crouch, who stared at her in shock, while the other wizards watched him closely.

“No …” Crouch murmured. “This … cannot … be.” He moved around Diggory and strode into the trees himself.

“Now that’s an odd reaction.” David frowned. “The house-elf getting caught by a stunner means nothing – she was hiding.”

“No point, Mr. Crouch!” Diggory called. “There’s no one there!” He turned back to the other wizards, as Crouch continued to search. “Bit embarrassing. Barty Crouch’s house-elf …

“That makes more sense.” David nodded.

“So Winky is Crouch’s house-elf?” Addie scowled. “Figures.”

… I mean to say …”

“Come of it, Amos!” Arabella interrupted.

“Thank Merlin you’re there.” Lily said seriously. “I think you might be the only people with any sense.”

Mandy smiled at her. “Arthur Weasley’s there.”

“Aside from him.” Lily conceded.

“You don’t seriously think it was the elf? The Dark Mark is a wizard’s sign!”

Mandy nodded in agreement, apparently satisfied with Harry’s well-being. “It requires a wand for one thing.”

“Another good point.” David agreed.

Hermione couldn’t help but feel that the two women didn’t like Amos Diggory very much …

Arabella snorted. “That’s an understatement.”

… she extended her empathy just slightly.

Hermione blushed slightly. “I was curious.”

“It’s fine.” Mandy told her with a smile.

No, they definitely didn’t like him, but it was for personal reasons. What had he done?

Addie leaned over Sirius to whisper in her ear. “We dated in fourth year and he cheated on me.”
Hermione’s eyes widened. “That’ll do it.”

“And she had a wand.”

“What?” David frowned.

“I can’t see Winky using a wand.” Jen commented. “Not given how she acted in the Top Box.”

Diggory said quietly, breaking into Hermione’s thoughts.

“What?” Arabella asked sharply.

Diggory held it up. “Had it in her hand. No non-human creature is permitted to carry or use a wand.

“That’s ridiculous.” Remus frowned. “Technically, werewolves and Veela are classed as ‘non-human’ by the Ministry.”

“But it doesn’t apply to them anymore.” Sirius said. “It hasn’t for years.”

“That law is seriously out-dated.” Mandy muttered, but was drowned out by Ludo Bagman apparating with a crack.

“Probably for the best.” Mandy admitted with a sheepish smile.

“The Dark Mark!” He gasped.

“Really on top of things.” Lily rolled her eyes, loosening her grip on Harry a little now she knew he’d be alright.

“Who did it? Did you get them? Barty? What’s going on?”

Crouch had re-emerged from the woods, empty-handed.

“Where have you been, Barty?” Bagman pressed. “Why weren’t you at the match? Your elf was saving you a seat – Gulping Gargoyles!” He appeared to have just noticed Winky. “What happened to her?”

Sirius shook his head. “Keep up, Bagman.”

“I have been busy, Ludo.” Crouch answered jerkily. “And my elf has been stunned.”

“Stunned?” Bagman repeated. “By you lot, you mean? But why …?” He gaped at them. “No! Winky? Conjure the Dark Mark? She’d need a wand for a start!”

“Oh, so he’s not a complete idiot.” Jen said lightly.

“I don’t think he believes it.” Mandy murmured from behind Hermione.

“I don’t think I believe it.” Arabella retorted, just as quietly.

There were a few sniggers and Mandy and Arabella smirked at one another.

“And she had one.” Diggory repeated impatiently. “I found her holding one, Ludo. If it’s alright with you, Mr. Crouch, I think we should hear what she’s got to say for herself.” When Crouch stayed silent, he pointed his own wand at Winky. “Enervate!

Feebly stirring, Winky opened her eyes and blinked bewilderedly. She pulled herself up into a sitting position, looked slowly up at Mr. Diggory, up at the Dark Mark, around at the watching wizards, and then burst into noisy sobs.

“Oh the poor thing.” Lily cooed. “She must be terrified!”

Hermione moved instinctively to comfort her, but Arabella tightened her hold and shook her head warningly.

“Good move.” David said. “You don’t want to get involved.”

“Elf!” said Mr Diggory sternly. “Do you know who I am? I’m a member of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures!”

Winky began to rock backwards and forwards on the ground, her breath coming in sharp bursts. Hermione was reminded of Harry’s stories of Dobby in his moments of terrified disobedience.

“Could she be disobeying?” Lily asked curiously.

“It might be like Harry said earlier – that she didn’t ask permission to hide.” James answered. “But that still wouldn’t keep her from running properly, like they said earlier. Something’s going on.”

“As you see, elf, the Dark Mark was conjured here a short while ago,” said Mr Diggory. “And you were discovered moments later, right beneath it! An explanation, if you please!”

Addie scowled, muttering something under her breath that only Sirius heard, but he just smirked.

“Power trip.” Hermione heard Arabella mutter behind her …

Addie scowled. “She’s right. Bastard.”

“Now, Ads, you know you can’t kill him.” Sirius said calmly, lightly tugging a strand of hair playfully.

Addie pouted slightly. “Can you do it for me then?”

Sirius chuckled. “No, Ads, I can’t.”

“You once said you’d do anything for me.” Addie reminded him in a sing-song voice, only half-joking. “Or does that not stretch that far?”

“It does.” Sirius told her calmly. “But that favour’s been called in. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

Harry looked utterly confused, so Hermione swiftly explained about Dolohov. His gaze hardened. “I’ll help.”

“Harry!” Hermione protested in a whisper.

“That’s one of my godmothers we’re talking about.” Harry hissed back. “Whether Mum and Dad made it official or not.”

Unbeknown to the two, Sirius and Addie had overheard their hushed conversation and he conjured a tissue quickly so she could wipe her eyes.

“I’ll talk to him later.” She murmured.

Narcissa caught their eye and kept reading.

… and couldn’t help agreeing.

“I – I – I is not doing it, sir!” Winky gasped. “I is not knowing how, sir!”

“You were found with a wand in your hand!” Diggory brandished it.

Harry gasped. “Hey – that’s mine!”

“What?!” Several people asked.

“But you didn’t go into that part of the woods.” Lily whispered, clinging to Harry again.

“Someone must have picked it up and used it to conjure the Dark Mark.” Sirius said with a frown. “Smart really.”

“How is that smart?” James demanded.

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Because, Prongs, the aurors check people’s wands for the last spells they do – using their own wand would give them away.”

James turned a bit red. “Right, of course.”

Everyone looked at him.

“Excuse me?” Diggory sounded incredulous.

“That’s my wand!” Harry said. “I dropped it.”

“You dropped it?” Diggory repeated. “Is this a confession? You threw it aside after you conjured the Dark Mark?!”

Addie rolled her eyes. “Has he always been this much of an idiot?”
“Yes.” Sirius answered immediately. “He has.”

“Amos, think who you’re talking to!” Mandy cried.

“Thank Merlin you’re there.” Lily murmured yet again.

“Is Harry Potter really likely to conjure the Dark Mark?!”

“Of course.” Draco answered flatly. “Haven’t they realised it’s all a ruse to lull them into a false sense of security?”

Harry stared at him for a second, before grinning. “Apparently not. But I congratulate you on being the first to figure out my rather ingenious master plan. Care to be my left-hand when I push for world domination?”

Draco smirked. “Why not? But isn’t it usually right-hand?”

“Usually.” Harry conceded. “But I’m right-handed and Hermione might kill me if I don’t save that hand for her.”
“Damn right I would.” Hermione agreed.

“Er … of course not.” Diggory mumbled. “Sorry … got carried away.”

“Just a bit.” Addie muttered.

“I didn’t drop it there anyway.” Harry added, slightly coolly. “I missed it right after we got into the woods.”

At this, Diggory brightened slightly and turned back to Winky, who was still crying. “So! You found this wand, eh, elf? And you picked it up and thought you’d have some fun with it, did you?”

“No elf as neurotic as she was in the Top Box would do something like that.” James disagreed. “And she wouldn’t even know how to conjure the Dark Mark.”

Hermione couldn’t help it; she had to say something. “It wasn’t her!”

“Brave girl.” David murmured, as Sirius gave her a proud smile.

Her voice still shook slightly, but she felt a lot calmer. “Winky’s got a squeaky little voice and the voice we heard was much deeper!” She looked at Harry and Ron. “It didn’t sound like Winky, did it?”

Harry shook his head. “No, it didn’t sound like a house-elf at all.”

“Yeah, it was definitely a human voice.” Ron agreed. “A man.”

“Well, we’ll soon see.” Diggory didn’t sound convinced.

“You’ve got three reliable witnesses.” David protested. “That should tell you Winky didn’t do it.”

“Sounds like someone wants a scapegoat.” Regulus drawled.

“There’s a simple way of discovering the last spell a wand performed, elf, did you know that?” Winky shook her head frantically, as Mr. Diggory lifted Harry’s wand and placed it tip-to-tip with his own. “Prior Incantato!

Hermione gasped, horrified, as a thick grey ghost of the Dark Mark floated out the point where the two wands met.

“You know, I’m surprised someone was able to do that.” Addie commented. “The wand chooses the wizard – you shouldn’t get as good results with someone else’s.”

“But the Dark Mark isn’t difficult to conjure if you know how.” Sirius told her. “It can’t be – people like Crabbe and Goyle have to produce it.”

Deletrius.” The echo vanished and Diggory looked down at Winky again, with a type of savage triumph.

“That doesn’t prove she did it!” Fred shouted.

“I is not doing it!” Winky squealed in terror. “I is not, I is not, I is not knowing how! I is a good elf, I is not using wands, I isn’t knowing how!”

“Oh the poor thing.” Lily whispered again.

“You’ve been caught red-handed, elf!” Diggory roared. “Caught with the guilty wand in your hand!”

“Amos!” Arthur cut in, exchanging a disgusted look with Mandy and Arabella. “Think about it! Precious few wizards know how to do that spell … where would she have learnt it?”

“Exactly!”  James agreed.

“Perhaps Amos is suggesting,” Crouch said icily, “that I routinely teach my servants to conjure the Dark Mark?”

Alice smirked. “This should be fun.”

Diggory looked horrified. “Oh, no, Mr. Crouch! Of course not …!”

“Well, you kind of were.” Draco said innocently.

“You have now come very close to accusing the two people in this clearing who are least likely to conjure the Dark Mark!” Crouch barked. “Harry Potter and myself! I trust you are familiar with the boy’s story?”

“Of course …” Diggory muttered. “Everyone knows …”

“And don’t I know it.” Harry muttered.

“And I trust you remember the many proofs I have given, over a long career, that I despise and detest the Dark Arts and those who practice them?” Crouch continued.

Sirius snorted. “Yeah, we know. He always hated Jen.”

“I don’t practice the Dark Arts.” Jen said in a low voice. “I know them – unfortunately – but I’d never use them.”

Sirius sighed. “No, but there’s magic that you and I know of that makes what the Ministry considers dark look like fairy magic. Some of the spells you used in fights with Death Eaters definitely toed the Ministry line, which is why Voldemort considered you such a threat.”

“And Crouch hated her for that?” Harry asked sounding confused. “Surely it doesn’t matter as long as the magic wasn’t illegal, right?”

“You’d think, wouldn’t you?” Sirius agreed. “That was definitely the line we all took. Most of us thought Crouch was being a bit hypocritical – he was alright with aurors killing Death Eaters and using the Killing Curse to do it, but Jen using a grey spell that captured them but left them alive was out of order.”

“That doesn’t sound very grey.” Lily commented.

Sirius gave a vicious smirk. “I didn’t say they were unharmed. Just that they were alive.”

Mr. Diggory was turning red behind his beard. “Mr. Crouch, I … I never suggested you had anything to do with it.”

“But you did.” Draco smirked. “She wouldn’t have picked it up anywhere else.”

“If you accuse my elf, you accuse me, Diggory!” Crouch shouted. “Where else would she have learnt to conjure it?!”

“She … She might have picked it up anywhere!” Diggory protested weakly.

“Exactly.” Mandy spoke up. “She might have picked it up anywhere. Winky?” She asked kindly, but the elf flinched as though she were being shouted at.

“Poor thing.” Lily repeated. “She must be really abused at home.”

“Where exactly did you find Harry’s wand?”

Winky twisted the hem of her pillowcase. “I … I is finding it … finding it there, miss … there in those trees, miss …”

“You see?” Mandy asked, looking up. “Whoever conjured the Dark Mark could have disapparated right after they’d done it, leaving Harry’s wand behind. A clever thing to do, not to use their own wand, which could have betrayed them.”

Mandy raised an eyebrow. “That didn’t even cross my mind until Sirius mentioned it.”

“Well, future-you did work in the Order.” Sirius pointed out. “You had a bit more experience by then.”

“But then she’d have been feet from the real culprit!” Diggory pointed out. “Elf? Did you see anyone?”

“Honestly, she’s not a suspect anymore!” Lily protested. “She’s got a name!”

“Must you keep addressing her like that?” Arabella asked. “It’s rather off-putting.”

Arabella nodded in agreement with herself.

Diggory glared at her, as Winky twisted her pillowcase even more violently, so it frayed under her fingers. Trembling, she looked from Diggory to Bagman to Crouch. “I … I is seeing no one, sir … no one …”

David frowned slightly. “That sounds like she’s trying to hint at something.”

James looked thoughtful. “Well … she didn’t say she didn’t know who did it. Just that she didn’t see anyone. Maybe there was someone invisible.”

“But then why would she lie about that?” Lily asked.

“Amos.” Crouch said curtly. “I understand that, under normal circumstances, you would wish to take Winky into your department for questioning. I ask, however, that you allow me to deal with her.

“Now that is unusual.” David said. “Barty usually sticks to the rules rigidly. It’s strange for him to ask for special treatment.”

 You can rest assured that she will be punished.”

“She hasn’t done anything!” Lily protested.

“Master …” Winky whimpered. “Master … please …”

“Winky has behaved tonight in a manner I would not have believed possible.” Crouch continued, ignoring her. “I told her to remain in the tent. I told her to stay there while I went out to sort out the trouble. And I find that she has disobeyed me. This means clothes.”

“No!” Winky threw herself at Crouch’s feet. “No, master! Not clothes, not clothes!”

“He’s firing her.” Harry whispered in Hermione’s ear.

“But she was frightened!” Hermione burst out.

“That’s why you’re a Gryffindor.” Draco commented.

It wasn’t until Crouch looked up at her that she realised she’d said it aloud, but she pressed on. “Your elf’s scared of heights and those wizards in the masks were levitating people! You can’t blame her for wanting to get out of the way!”

“I have no use for a disobedient house-elf.” Crouch said coldly, moving away from Winky as though she was something contagious.

Lily was almost in tears and James tried to comfort her, looking angry himself.

“I have no use for a servant who forgets what is due to her master, and to her master’s reputation.”

“Oh of course!” Jen rolled her eyes. “Merlin forbid your precious reputation gets tarnished.”

Arthur cleared his throat. “Well, I think I’ll take my lot back to the tent if nobody’s got any objections.”

“We’ll go with you.” Mandy agreed, motioning to Arabella. “Amos, that wand’s told us all it can. If Harry could have it back?”

Diggory handed the wand to Harry, who pocketed it.

“Good.” Remus said. “At least you’ve got a wand now.”

“Come on, you three.” Arthur said.

Hermione didn’t move for a second; she was staring horror-struck at Winky.

“There’s nothing you can do.” Arabella whispered. “Just get out of there.”

Arabella put a hand on her elbow and guided her out through the woods. Reluctantly tearing her eyes away from the house-elf, Hermione met Harry’s gaze and knew that he was as disturbed and worried as she was.

“I was.” Harry whispered.

“That’s the end of the chapter.” Narcissa said softly.