Disclaimer: Standard stuff (I don't own anything, I won't be making profit, any resemblance to previously published content is purely coincidental, JK Rowling is the coolest, etc.). If I make any legal errors regarding copyrighted material, inform me and I will correct them immediately.
Important Information: This story is canon-compliant up to—but not including—the infamously-disappointing epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Harry Potter and the Labyrinth
19:56 (GMT), June 21, 1997
Die Festung, Wildspitze Peak, Austria
Just as the sun disappeared beneath the horizon, an unfortunate muggle mountaineer died, finally succumbing to the effects of blood loss from slashes in his wrists. Thirteen voices chanting in Latin swelled in a crescendo, before cutting off entirely, just as the light left the muggle's eyes.
The corpse was suspended above a massive white marble slab, which was laid out on the ground in front of the entrance to a dark cave. His blood had collected in the grooves that had been precisely etched with simple hand tools, and which formed a circle inscribed within a bisected triangle.
Thirteen cloaked and hooded figures strode into the entrance to the cave, which was cut far too cleanly to have occurred naturally. The last figure to walk through the opening made a trademark swish-flick motion with his wand, and the stone slab rose from the ground and blocked the entrance to the cave. The ritual, powered by thirteen of Grindelwald's strongest, most devoted followers and sealed by the sacrifice of a human life, had turned the stone slab into a nigh-impenetrable door. Only an equivalent sacrifice would open it. Thus protected, the thirteen members of die letzte Hoffnung got to work.
08:01 (Local), October 26, 2004
Entrance Hall, Austrian Ministry of Magic, Vienna, Austria
"You are late, Tactical Field Commander Potter."
"Good fucking morning to you too, Fritz," Harry shot back, barely suppressing a grin. Knowing that it would irritate Franz Huber, he had purposefully arrived exactly one minute late. Calling him Fritz was just kind of funny; when one is leading a suicide mission into the unknown, one takes laughs whenever possible.
"I have told you several times now, TFC Potter, that mein given name is Franz," the Austrian bureaucrat responded stonily. "You are ze last to arrive; at least your countrymen managed to make it here on time."
"Thanks for the sit-rep, Staff Commander Huber," Harry barked, in obvious parody. Somewhere, Sirius is laughing. "Hut-hut-hut, all soldiers accounted for, sir!"
Franz frowned, someone coughed nervously, and several of the assembled witches and wizards exchanged significant looks. Harry knew what they were thinking: if this was how their supposed leadership worked together, that didn't bode well for their chances at making it through this assignment.
"Vell, I suppose zat now zat ve are all here, I shall proceed to ze briefing," Franz announced in his trademark monotone. "As you are all avare, there has been—"
"Fritz, shut up," Harry interrupted loudly. Another round of significant glances was exchanged between the assembled Aurors; Dawlish and Williamson simply rolled their eyes. "Allow me to save us all a shitload of time. Did anyone not read through their assignment folder?"
Harry held up the bland manilla folder that Percy and Franz had given him, which held the details of his assignment. Only silence answered his question.
"Good, I'll take that as a no, then," he said, nodding. "There you go, Fritz, everyone is already briefed. Go liaise with someone, command some staff, wank off to some paperwork, or do whatever the fuck it is you do when you aren't roping decent Aurors into shit assignments."
Franz scowled, but Harry narrowed his eyes; after a brief but intense staring contest, Franz realized that Harry wasn't joking, spun on his heel, and marched off to his office. Bastard is probably going to go fire-call Percy to complain about me.
Harry looked at the group of Aurors that had been assigned to IMTF 42. His briefing packet had included brief dossiers for each Auror, but there was only so much about a person that could really be learned from ink and parchment. Reading between the lines, he had initially been given the impression that he had been stuck with a bunch of wash-outs and has-beens. However, looking at the group in person, it occurred to Harry that it was much more likely that they were simply victims of the internal politics of their respective ministries. They were probably quite capable at the job, just not all the other bullshit that went along with it. Just like me. After all, if they truly were incompetent or weak, they would not have survived long enough as Aurors to piss someone off enough to earn a suicide detail.
"I am Harry Potter, Head Auror of the British Ministry of Magic," Harry announced. "As our friend Herr Huber said, I am also the Tactical Field Commander of International Magical Task Force 42. Call me sir, boss, or Harry; I don't really care either way. My job is to try to get as many of you home as I can, and your job is make my job as easy as possible. Go around and introduce yourselves...you start."
Harry pointed to a tall and balding man, whose bearing was strikingly reminiscent of Arthur Weasley, though his bifocals reminded Harry of the man depicted on the American $100 bill.
"I am Richard Bonhomme," he said with a moderate French accent. "From ze Ministère de la Magie."
"Astrid Roux," the next Auror in line, a fairly butch-looking Frenchwoman, called out. True to her name, she had red hair, though it was cropped close.
Dawlish and Williamson went next, and the rest of the Aurors quickly introduced themselves as well. Dieter Fleischer turned out to be a humorless-looking, stone-faced German with the last two fingers missing from his left hand; his fellow German, Ava Falk, was a young, buxom, blond-haired, blue-eyed goddess of a woman from Bavaria who would not have looked out of place in an Oktoberfest dirndl with a foamy mug of beer in each hand. Mario Orsini was a short, stocky, shockingly hairy Italian with intelligent brown eyes. Dominique "Dom" Van der Beek was an attractive Belgian woman with long brunette hair tied back into a braid. There were also four Austrians (apparently, it had been decided that since they were the "home team," they should contribute the most warm bodies); Ernst and Edwin Riese were tall, muscular, heavily-bearded "mountain man" twins, Gertrude Schlusser was a petite, athletic woman whose looks were marred somewhat by a thick, ropy scar running from her left cheek down to her throat, and Klaus "The Fox" Voss was a pale, slender man with clever, sparkling blue eyes.
Including Harry, that made thirteen Aurors—three Brits, two Frogs, one Italian, one Belgian, two Germans, and four Austrians. Goddammit, the stupid, superstitious idiots! In typical wizarding fashion, the undoubtedly-pureblooded bureaucrats who had cooked up IMTF 42 (namely, Franz Huber, Percy Weasley, and whatever other idiots the other ministries had contributed) had decided to go with a "powerful magical number" of Aurors. Of course, with an odd number—and a prime number, at that—it would be impossible to break the unit into equal-sized squads.
Worse, in Harry's opinion, was the fact that "they" hadn't been able to convince the Americans to join in on the mission. True to their reputation, American Aurors (or "Special Agents," in American parlance) were not shy about using firearms, or even calling in literal heavy artillery, to get the job done. As in the UN and NATO, the ICW's military forces had been lead by the Americans for the last several decades, mostly due to their willingness (often even eagerness) to use their nonmagical forces and weapons to augment their magical capabilities. Their magical law enforcement officers were organized within the FBI's Magical Investigation Bureau division (or MIB—the release of the science-fiction movie Men In Black had been a masterstroke, as now nobody would believe anyone who came forward about government agents making people forget things with sticks that flashed with light). The MIB agents were notorious for being perfectly happy to blast away at the bad guys with every weapon that the modern non-magical world had to offer (as well as spells that would get them thrown in prison in other countries), often choosing to kill with guns rather than capture with wands. Apparently, in America, the paperwork was easier that way.
Conversely, most European ministries—caught up in the romance of being Magical with a Capital M—failed to realize that non-magical methods were often the right tools for the job; thus, very few European ministries permitted their Aurors to carry firearms. Unfortunately, the MIB wanted nothing to do with this mission. As far as they were concerned, it was a problem that the European ministries had created for themselves by "forgetting" about the territory in question, and they could damn well solve it themselves; the Americans were too busy with more pressing issues, like countering their many enemies swarming out of the Middle East. So I've got a bunch of expendable political black sheep, and no bloody guns to back us up. Brilliant.
"Brilliant," Harry said laconically, flipping open his folder and picking out the most important maps. "Well, I'm sure we're all volunteers for this mission, so everyone already knows what the details are, but now that Fritz is gone, we might as well go over all the information we have anyway. Pick a seat and settle in, because we're going to do this right—if we're lucky, that might mean we all come back in one piece."
Several of the Aurors nodded appreciatively, and a few others breathed sighs of relief—Harry's previous flippant attitude had not inspired much confidence, but knowing that they were going to have a thorough, serious briefing to plan out the mission went a long way toward reassuring them of Harry's competence.
"Okay, let's start from the beginning. The area of operations is located..."
07:13 (GMT), January 19, 1998
Die Festung, Wildspitze Peak, Austria
"It is nearly complete," the elderly, bespectacled man said, standing up straight and adjusting his white lab coat. He looked like a typical kindly old family physician, and in fact he had used that occupation as a cover for the last several decades after fleeing his infamous castle in Europe in the wake of his master's apparent fall. "Now, all there is to do is wait."
"Good work, Wolfric," Hans Faust, who had been first among Grindelwald's lieutenants, commended the other aging wizard. "Our master will be greatly pleased with your efforts."
Wolfric Nickolaus Stein—more commonly known as "Wolfenstein"—had spent the last several decades hiding in South America like the rest of the group, and was perhaps the most vital member of die letzte Hoffnung. Each of Grindelwald's greatest lieutenants had been powerful and knowledgeable, but Stein—with the help of an insane muggle named Mengele—had delved more deeply into necromancy than any wizard alive, save perhaps Grindelwald himself. Without Stein, it would have taken the other twelve mages years to do what he had accomplished in only a few months.
"Danke, Herr Faust," Stein replied gratefully, gazing proudly around the laboratory filled with bubbling potions, assorted ingredients, and body parts. One corner of the room was taken up by a huge blood iron cauldron, in which an incandescently-glowing potion simmered, throwing off glittering sparks at seemingly random intervals. It would stay that way for some time. "It is good to be doing my true work once more."
09:21 (Local), October 27, 2004
Wildspitze Peak, Austria
Harry began snapping commands in a harsh whisper the instant the portkey deposited IMTF 42 onto solid ground.
"Disillusionment charms, now! Alfa, form up on me. Bravo, left flank at twenty meters; Charlie, right flank at twenty meters; Delta, rear guard at thirty meters. All teams maintain at least ten meter spacing at all times. Go!"
Harry slipped on the ancient Cloak of Invisibility while the other members of IMTF 42 disillusioned themselves—it was a standard procedure for after a portkey drop. Unfortunately, the portkeys caused interference with disillusionment charms; otherwise, they would have all applied the charms beforehand.
His other commands were obeyed immediately, as well. Despite the group's initial uncertainty regarding their field commander (given his youth and his fairly unprofessional disagreement with the staff commander), Harry had conducted an extremely thorough briefing, and his combat reputation was already well-known in certain circles. Alfa team (Bonhomme, Schlusser, and Falk) lined up behind Harry. Bravo (Dawlish, Orsini, and Van der Beek) hustled off to the left, while Charlie (Williamson, Voss, and Roux) moved to the right and Delta (Fliescher and the Riese twins) slunk back to guard the rear.
While the rest of IMTF 42 got into position, Harry took a few seconds to examine his surroundings—aerial photos were great, but they couldn't compare to having boots on the ground. They were on the rocky south summit of Wildspitze Peak, which was a dual-summit mountain (also including a slightly-lower fern-covered north summit). There was almost no tree cover on the south approach, but there were numerous boulders and rocky outcroppings up ahead, making the location almost perfect for an ambush. If there was any resistance, IMTF 42 would literally be caught out in the open and fighting an uphill battle against an enemy with the high ground...all in all, not the ideal situation for a lightly-armed investigative force.
The intelligence reports suggested that their target location was at the top of the south summit, approximately 3,770 meters above sea level. The portkeys had landed IMTF 42 on the approach to the south summit, with roughly a kilometer of hiking between them and the objective. Huber had originally planned to have the portkeys deposit IMTF 42 directly at the objective, but Harry had flatly refused, calling it "insanity at best" to portkey directly into a target location with unknown dangers; plus, the previous teams had all done just that, and had all failed to return. When the rest of IMTF 42 agreed vocally, Huber had "generously deferred to TFC Potter's preference, even though it may lead him to be an overcautious—." Harry's baleful gaze and already-drawn wand had stopped Huber short of calling Harry a coward, and Huber had beat yet another hasty retreat, effectively giving Harry free reign over the mission.
With Alfa team at his back, Harry slowly and silently stalked forward, casting detection charms on every rock, twig, nook, and cranny. He quietly swore as his very first spell detected anti-apparation and anti-portkey wards—IMTF 42 had been able to portkey in, but the only way out would be to hike out of the warded area; based on the strength of the wards at this spot, he estimated that they would extend roughly another kilometer down-slope. There would be no quick escape from this mission. The rest of the teams were doing the same, with the leader casting charms and the others watching out for incoming spellfire. The Aurors were taking so much caution that it took nearly an hour to cover the first hundred meters. Harry invoked a significant amount of willpower to keep impatience from overwhelming his hard-learned wariness, and he dismissed a few requests from his Aurors to reduce their caution level and "get a move on."
After another twenty meters, though, Harry's obsessive Moody-style vigilance was vindicated. Only Harry's slew of detection charms gave Harry an indication of the threat ahead, and he reflexively threw up the most powerful shield he could cast.
"SHIELDS!" Harry bellowed. "HIT THE DECK! INCOMING!"
Harry's warning came not a moment too soon. Apparently, the string of boulders ahead had been enchanted into what essentially amounted to massive magical proximity mines. Harry's "overcautious" use of detection charms had given him a precious extra few seconds of warning, but thankfully, it was enough. Each Auror dropped to the ground, and shields flashed into place only moments before a wave of dark purple flames—not Fiendfyre (as Fiendfyre was notoriously finicky as a defensive ward), but the next closest thing—washed over their position. Without Harry's warning, it was likely that IMTF 42 would have perished en masse; as it was, however, each Auror was capable of producing a strong enough shield to resist the attack. This pleasantly surprised Harry, as he was fairly certain that only about half of the British Auror Office would have been capable of shielding against that blast of cursed flame.
The inferno lasted for several seconds before dissipating into a noxious purple mist as the defenses ran out of energy. Each Auror immediately cast a Bubble-Head Charm, assuming that the fumes were toxic, while Harry and Bonhomme cleared the mist away with conjured gusts of wind. Harry carefully re-checked the boulders, ensuring that the enchantments that had powered the purple flames had exhausted themselves, before signaling the rest of IMTF 42 to move forward.
00:56 (GMT), March 15, 1998
Tower 11, Cell 38, Nurmengard Prison, Zugspitze Peak, Germany
"Kill me, then!" the prisoner demanded, projecting an air of desperate defiance to hide his excitement. All those years of waiting, finally, finally finally! This pretender will strike me down and the plan will finally move to the next stage! It will work, it must work! "You will not win, you cannot win! That wand will never, ever be yours—"
Voldemort took no notice of the fact that the expression on the corpse's face was not one of fear or horror...but then again, Voldemort wouldn't recognize what hope looked like, anyway.
13:59 (Local), October 27, 2004
Wildspitze Peak, Austria
IMTF 42 passed through two additional layers of nearly-fatal defenses before finally reaching the summit. An hour after the magical mines, the Aurors were confronted by a line of banshees chained to the ground and apparently compelled to scream at intruders. Once again, Harry's paranoia justified itself by providing enough warning that the Aurors were able to cast silencing spells. Once the threat of the banshees' wail had been defeated, it was only a matter of striking down each relatively defenseless banshee before moving on. Like the wave of cursed flame, the line of banshees was powerful enough to kill large numbers of enemies all at once (especially if they were surprised), but relatively straightforward to counter for a small, skilled strike force.
The other layer of defenses, however, was both powerful and flexible—three packs of hellhounds (not just mutated or transfigured dogs or wolves, but actual hellhounds!) swarmed the Aurors just before they reached the summit. Much more intelligent than wolves, the hellhounds were able to recognize that Alfa team was the greatest threat, and instead began by attacking the other three teams. Though not truly invisible, the hellhounds were naturally disillusioned, making their movements extremely difficult to track; nearly as bad, their fur was razor-sharp and as hard as steel, causing significant wounds just by crashing into their prey while simultaneously providing wide-range resistance to most incoming magic.
Mario Orsini went down in the first pass, screaming in pain—he had managed to protect his throat, but at the cost of shoving his left forearm into the attacking hellhound's mouth. The beast still tackled him, roasting the flesh of his arm with its flaming breath even as its powerful jaws crushed the bones to powder. Van der Beek blasted the beast off of her teammate, only to have most of the skin on her right leg torn off by a near miss from another hellhound.
"Expecto patronum!" Harry cried out. He didn't know much about hellhounds (other than the fact that they were rare and deadly), but he figured a patronus might be able to do something to help; many of the rules that applied to other spells did not seem to affect patroni, so he was hopeful that the positive energy would be able to bypass the spell resistance of the hellhounds. It turned out that he was right, as the blazing argent stag slammed antlers-first into a hellhound, leaving massive punctures in the beast's flank and making it flicker into full visibility. Dark, steaming, lava-like blood oozed from the wounds of the suddenly-visible hellhound, and it managed to stagger a few steps before collapsing.
Harry's patronus wheeled around and began to attack the other hellhounds, which were suddenly afraid of the blazing stag. The rest of the Aurors immediately followed Harry's example (Ava Falk's blazing falcon was particularly impressive, striking with nearly the strength and speed of Harry's stag), and within moments the attack had been broken, and the hellhounds were on the retreat. Not content to allow any of the hyper-dangerous beasts to remain alive on the mountain, Harry and the Aurors commanded their patroni to chase the retreating hellhounds, and then paused to tend to their wounded as the pained howls and yelps faded into the distance.
It turned out that only Alfa had escaped injury. Dieter Fleischer in Delta had received moderate burns on his neck and face (reminding Harry of Cedric Diggory after the first task of the Triwizard Tournament), and Williamson in Charlie had taken a bite to his left thigh. Bravo was hit the hardest; Dom had burns and severe cuts on her leg, and Orsini was barely conscious. Harry was no healer, but it was obvious even to him that Orsini was going to lose his left arm from the elbow down. What flesh remained was blackened and flaking off, and the bones were shattered so badly that it would be impossible to vanish and regrow all of the fragments. Worse, his hand was so mangled from being ripped from the hellhound's maw that it was almost unrecognizable as a human hand—the palm was torn to shreds and only one finger remained, and even that was crushed, cooked, and bent.
"Dom, Mario." Harry said, breaking the silence. Time to be a leader. "You two are hurt badly, but it's possible that with an hour or so, we can fix you up enough to continue. Or, you can get back to the egress point and use your emergency portkeys—that's about three hours of hiking, through unsecured territory, to get past the wards. We all know that one or two wounded men going down this mountain won't survive ten minutes, and I can't spare anyone to escort you. That said, I won't stop you. Your choice."
"I'll stay, boss," Van der Beek said. She agreed with Harry's assessment—they didn't know for certain that all of the hellhounds had been hunted down, and there could very well be other hazards that they simply had bypassed on their way up. Going back alone or even with a partner would be suicide.
Harry nodded, as the Belgian woman began healing her injuries with the help of two other Aurors. "Good. Mario?"
The Italian—who had slugged down a pain potion as soon as the fighting had ended—gazed up at Harry. His expression was difficult to read, between the pain potion's numbness and the wound's pain, but it was clear that Orsini was barely holding it together. "I don't see how this can be fixed out here, sir," he said mournfully. As far as he was concerned, this injury had killed his career and permanently changed his life, even if he somehow survived this mission. "We all know that I'm losing this arm."
"That's true," Harry said gently. "But I've learned a few things over the years. Williamson, use a blade, not magic—it will make the repair easier."
Williamson handed Orsini a conjured leather strap to bite down on, and then drew the large Bowie knife that he habitually wore on his hip. Orsini laid his left arm out onto the wooden block that Van der Beek had quietly conjured for this purpose, looked away, and bit down hard on the leather strap. Thankfully, the pain potion numbed his healthy flesh as well as the wound, and Orsini only grunted, more from distress than discomfort, when the heavy blade slammed into the wooden block. Williamson had made his cut just below the elbow, and the severed, mutilated limb hit the ground with splash of blood and a muffled thud.
Harry holstered his holly wand and drew the wand that Tom Riddle had received from Ollivander. He had seen Riddle perform this spell for Wormtail, and he figured it might be easier to use the same wand.
"Partum argenti manu," Harry intoned, swishing Riddle's wand in a vague outline of a hand. As he finished the spell, a shapeless blob of what appeared to be molten silver streaked down onto Orsini's bleeding stump, cauterizing the wound and forming itself into a forearm and hand. The Italian Auror's eyes widened in surprise as the pain disappeared and he suddenly had a hand again. Orsini smiled as he wiggled his fingers. The rest of IMTF 42 exchanged looks, clearly impressed by Harry's skill—he wasn't about to ruin it by telling them that he had learned this particular spell from Voldemort, or that he could make the hand choke Orsini to death if he so chose.
"Thank you, sir," Mario said, grinning widely. "I'm in."
The teams re-formed, buoyed by Orsini's successful recovery and the fact that they had had enough time to heal (or at least stabilize) the other wounds. Though the international team members barely knew each other, they already felt a certain kinship as Aurors, and now that everyone was back in fighting shape, they were ready to move on with the mission.
That sentiment was dulled somewhat only a few minutes later, though, when they reached the summit and came upon a cave, with the entrance blocked by a huge white door made of marble. There was a dark, ominous feeling in the air, and the mark of the Deathly Hallows engraved into the stone door sent shivers down Harry's spine. The rest of the Aurors—hailing from continental nations—knew it as Grindelwald's mark, and blanched at the sight of the door; as terrible as Voldemort had been in Britain, Grindelwald had arguably been worse on the continent, and even six decades later his mark had a way of chilling continental wizards and witches to the bone.
Harry continued his practice of casting detection spells, this time directed at the stone door, while the rest of IMTF 42 took up positions to catch anything that came out of the cave in a cross-fire. Harry immediately noted and discounted a fairly strong compulsion charm woven into the door's protections—for a wizard who could throw off Voldemort's Imperius Curse, that compulsion was little more than an itch—and suddenly felt something very familiar about the protections spelled into the door...the seaside cave!
In a flash, Harry recalled the night that he and Albus Dumbledore had gone to the dark, inferi-filled seaside cave, hoping to find one of Voldemort's horcruxes. Dumbledore had had to slice open his hand and smear his blood on the stone door in order to open it—a slight sacrifice, but one that would appease Voldemort's massive ego. But this spell seems much, much stronger...
Then, Harry snapped out of his reminiscence as another tidbit of information clicked in his head.
The compulsion charm.
It was like a siren's call, and the door's blood ward was the rocky shore.
True to his reputation, John Dawlish—though a veteran of both of Voldemort's wars—was ensnared by the compulsion charm laced into the stone door. Harry spun around just in time to scream "No, Dawlish!" before the older mad pressed his right hand against the cold surface of the stone door.
"John, get back!" Harry cried out, to no avail, and he didn't dare use any active magic to pull Dawlish away. The rest of the Aurors, suddenly realizing that Dawlish had fallen victim to the compulsion charm, began shouting as well...until their shouts turned to screams.
A few seconds after touching the door, Dawlish began to convulse violently. His eyes rolled back in his head, and his mouth opened in a silent scream—once again, Harry was reminded of his school days; this time, he remembered when Katie Bell had nearly been killed by Draco Malfoy's cursed necklace in his botched attempt to assassinate Dumbledore. Unlike Katie, though, Dawlish grew steadily paler and began to shrivel up, as though the blood was being sucked from his body...which it was.
As Dawlish stood there, rooted in place by the power of the compulsion that he could not overcome, the deep grooves in the surface of the stone door began to fill with crimson fluid. After nearly two agonizing minutes, Dawlish's blood filled up the entire symbol, and Dawlish's body fell to the ground—he had died of blood loss about a minute before, but the door did not stop until his body was drained entirely.
As Dawlish fell, the blood-filled triangle and circle burned black, and then the line which bisected them both blazed scarlet and extended up and down to the full height of the door, cutting it neatly in half. With a low, grinding rumble, the two halves of the door slid open, revealing a tunnel utterly devoid of light—even the sun's rays seemed to stop at the threshold.
The twelve remaining Aurors stood silently before the body of their fallen comrade, and a fell wind howled out from within the dark cave, as though the mountain itself was crowing in savage triumph at Dawlish's horrible death. Harry stared into the cave, and steadily, deliberately drew the Elder Wand.
00:56 (GMT), March 15, 1998
Die Festung, Wildspitze Peak, Austria
Steam billowed out of the blood iron cauldron, and thirteen voices sang out as one in a language that had gone unspoken since the war-wizards of Alexander the Great shattered the Etemenanki, the stronghold of Marduk (a true Dark Lord who had ruled ancient Babylon in the guise of an immortal god). The fall of the Etemenanki had inspired the biblical tale of the Tower of Babel, and a great spell powered by Marduk's true and final death at Alexander's own hand had scoured this dire speech from the minds and tongues of mankind...except a young acolyte named Herpo (later known as "Herpo the Foul," for this very reason) had preserved the entirety of his knowledge of the language in a pensieve and retrieved it after Alexander's spell had run its course.
Suddenly, the chanting stopped, overtaken by a thunderous silence. The steam ceased its hissing, and the cauldron rang out like a bell tolling a death knell before it shattered outwards.
A gasp of breath echoed flatly in the darkness. Thirteen elderly mages fell to their knees as a low chuckle bloomed into wild, youthful laughter.
So you may have noticed that this chapter is about three weeks later than anticipated. That is because my computer shit the bed, and I lost this chapter and the next one. The loss of over 10K words was a devastating blow to my morale, so I took a brief hiatus from this story and whipped up my first one-shot, Harry Potter and the Unforgivable Tournament. I think it turned out fairly well; you should read it, review it, and tell me how awesome it is. Anyway, now I'm back to working on this story, so hopefully I'll be able to update with some reasonable facsimile of regularity.
Ben Franklin was a notorious ladies-man while stationed in France as an ambassador, and his Poor Richard's Almanac was published in France under the name Les Maximes du Bonhomme Richard. It just might be that the Frenchman here is a descendant. Or maybe it's a coincidence. Who knows.
Wolfric Nickolaus Stein (Wolfenstein) is reprising his role from Harry Potter and the Lightning Scar. In HPatLS, Wormtail had to hunt down and murder Stein (off-screen) to steal the blood iron cauldron to resurrect Voldemort; however, this story is canon-compliant, which means Wormtail used a stone cauldron. Thus, in this universe, Stein is still alive.
I'm using the NATO phonetic alphabet for the Auror-speak/jargon. That's why it's spelled "Alfa," rather than "Alpha." Die Festung = "The Fortress."