AN: Two nights of no sleep and wrestling with this story has produced this! Hopefully it reaches you in time for Christmas, but if not, well... happy new year? It should only take another two chapters or so to finish this, and then I can put it down for a few years while I focus on other fics and ideas that I have going through my head. It's taken me a long time, but for now, Fate's Gamble is winding down. Thank you to everyone who has stuck with me this far. I know it's been far from the best story ever, there's plot holes galore, and I have made numerous mistakes, but this is the first story I've ever written, and it has laid the ground work for future works of mine, and while it has frustrated me a lot, it's also something that I've taken a small bit of pride in, that I was able to ramble on long enough to tell something of a story.
Beta'd by: The trolling SnarkLord
Chapter 23 – On The Moon
Lucius Malfoy carefully picked his way through the large room his lord had recently claimed for a purpose beyond Lucius' own understanding. He pulled his robes close against his body, carefully avoiding some sort of thick fleshy tendril that stretched across the floor, making a mental note to spell his shoes clean as soon as he left this rather repulsive chamber.
It wasn't difficult to find the Dark Lord. The man was stood in the one open space in the room, hovering over a stone table he'd conjured into place upon which lay what remained of an inferius. Two long cuts had been made along the spine, which had then been rolled up to reveal the dead thing's spine. Another series of incisions had been made along all four of the beast's limbs, revealing partially rotted muscle and tendons.
That didn't even take into account what else was in the room around the two of them. That fleshy tendril he had stepped over? It wasn't the only one. They criss-crossed the room like some sort of badly woven basket, connecting large sacks of pulsating flesh, each of which had one sphincter that could be seen and little else. Just why they were pulsing like they were breathing, Lucius didn't know, as he was fairly sure that they were as alive as the cadaver his lord had cut up on the stone slab.
"You have something to tell me, Lucius?" Voldemort asked, not even looking up from what he was doing. A tome of runes was open beside him as he traced his wand down the exposed bones, etching elegant markings into the animated corpse. "Speak already, or are you here to waste my time?" He snapped after several moments of silence.
"My Lord, I bring news from Hogwarts." Lucius bowed his head, averting his eyes from the stomach churning sight before him. "I have been informed that Dumbledore's hold over the boy-who-lived is slipping even further than was previously believed."
"I already knew that the old fool has no control over the replacement, that was proven at Hogsmeade." Voldemort snarled quietly. "I fail to see how Dumbledore could possibly have even less influence over him now."
"The replacement Potter comes and goes as he pleases, travelling around the country it would appear." Lucius hurried to continue. "However, he makes no secret of where it is he is going, and as he seems to be entertaining the females whose company he keeps, it should prove relatively simple to arrange an ambush for him, or even a strike directly against him if that is unfeasible."
Voldemort's hands paused their movement, and the dark lord actually snorted at that. "Lucius, are you suggesting that we directly attack the boy who was responsible for killing more than three dozen of my death eaters at Hogsmeade? If you can uncover more about his power and just what his limits are, then by all means, I will give you command of a strike team to use." Lucius refrained from flinching under Voldemort's cold, red glare. "Until, and unless, that happens, I will be adding to our disposable assets, and you should focus on our political campaign. Rookwood is heading our intelligence gathering operations, take anything you find to him from now on."
The dismissal was clear, especially as the dark lord spared him no further attention and turned back to cutting up the inferius again. It burned to be so casually brushed off and chided like a small child, but Lucius was not so stupid as to voice his complaints aloud. The dark lord was powerful and skilled in his own right, to say nothing of the extensive rituals he was purported to have undergone.
Power like that wasn't something that was easily defied, and Lucius was self-aware enough to know he was no match for such a man, not even with several dozen skilled wands at his back, at least not unless each of them were a match for Dumbledore in his prime. If that was the case, he might find the courage to speak up, from behind the able casters at least.
He retreated from the room, stumbling over a ropey tendril of flesh that he could have sworn hadn't been there before. He closed the doors as quickly as he could behind him without slamming them and immediately drew his wand. The viscous fluid that had gotten onto his clothes resisted cleaning, but a few overpowered cleaning and grooming spells had Lucius looking as immaculate as he usually did.
Taking one final moment to check himself over and manually straighten his clothes out, Lucius headed away from the room his lord currently occupied with hasty steps. He'd take the words spoken to him to heart, he would forward all future relevant information from his son to Rookwood and stick to doing what he did best, manipulate the Wizengamot (read: bribe) to pass the laws he wished to be passed, and block those he didn't want to be made so.
V/V settled back against Harry with a smile on her face. It had been more than a month since he had first taken her to see the Ents of Middle Earth and he'd taken her out twice more since then. Each time was an unforgettable experience, showcasing some of the more exotic plants that the multiverse had to offer. The Gravemind was fascinating in its own right, and it had such a rich history too, though she did find it a little on the arrogant side. The foolish thing thought to corrupt and control her, to which she proved just what the difference in power between it and an Aristotle was.
She was not to be underestimated despite her favoured form.
Thankfully, the other place he took her didn't have such active plant life. It was interesting in its own way though, and while even she found the name of the place unpronounceable, the plants fascinated her immensely. They refracted petals of light through numerous physical dimensions, giving them a quality that simply couldn't be appreciated by those with more limited senses.
She found moments like this comfortable too though. Just her leaning against Harry, his arms either side of her as he held a book in his hand he was reading from. She didn't know what the book was about, but then she didn't care either. They had different interests after all, she preferred her plants and he loved technology and advanced magical applications.
A green tentacle grown from the grass outside poked through the window, a cup of tea, one of hot chocolate, and a selection of biscuits on a tray, carried by its surprisingly articulate appendage. It set the tray down gently before retreating, V/V carefully pulling back from it, allowing it to revert back to what it had been before she'd exerted her influence over it.
This was something she'd only recently figured out how to do. Usually, when she converted plant life it was permanent and far more active, blurring the line between flora and fauna. Now though, she had a good idea of how much a plant could take before the changes became irreversible.
She had an easier time of this than Harry did of reinforcing things with his curses. Then again, her powers were oriented around creation, not destruction, so that may have contributed to the ease with which she could manipulate living things, specifically plants as she was reluctant to test out whether her power of plants could extend to animals as well.
"Comfortable there, you two?" Altrouge asked, stepping through the doorway.
""Yes"" She and Harry answered in stereo.
All three of them shared a small laugh at that. The vampire then decided that Harry looked comfortable enough for herself and joined V/V in laying against him, claiming one of his arms. Harry gave a mildly amused look as he was forced to catch the book he was reading with telekinesis instead of his hand, but Alt simply gave him an impish grin in return.
With a slight huff, Harry relaxed against the wall behind himself, a few cushioning charms making it more comfortable. He then projected a movie onto the opposite wall, which attracted the attention of both females, and settled back to once again enjoy his book.
Dumbledore listened to Alastor's report with worry. Voldemort had been remarkably quiet recently, and while others were cautiously optimistic, he was anything but. He clearly recalled what Tom Riddle had been like in school, and if this silence from him remained much longer, then the eventual result of it would be all the worse. Tom only ever went quiet when he was planning something big.
It wasn't difficult to figure out what had caused him to take a step back, the absolute slaughter of half of his so called inner circle wasn't something he could easily recover from. While he could undoubtedly find a number of fairly competent minions at short notice, the death eaters themselves were not so easily replaced.
Dumbledore worried greatly. These deaths wouldn't stop Tom for long, and when he did make his next move, he would escalate things beyond what they were before. If he was reading Harry right too, then he would also escalate in retaliation, leading to an endless, vicious circle of more suffering and disaster.
He had no wish for Hogwarts to become some sort of charnel house.
"I need to speak to him." Dumbledore murmured to himself, twisting his wand in his grip. He turned his attention to the wards before pausing. Of course, the tracking wards that the marauders had so ingeniously tied to their map slid right off Harry and his companions.
Still, there were other methods of finding someone. A quick question to the portraits in his office had them scattering all over the castle to find the boy's last known location, and it wasn't long after that he was striding through the corridors of his castle.
Just why Harry was in one of the abandoned classrooms, Dumbledore didn't know, as there were no particularly close paintings to it. However, a more distant portrait had seen him go in there along with his winged companion, and joined later by the dead apostle ancestor.
He soon arrived though, and was that… music he could hear? Hesitating for but a single moment, and after silencing the hinges, the headmaster nudged the door open to discover what was inside. Initially, he didn't see any of the supposed occupants of the room, but he did see what looked like a Disney movie projected on a wall.
Such a wonderful selection of films that Dumbledore had actually gone to see at the cinemas himself several times. They always had a message to teach children, and he so wished that the happy endings they all had were a reflection of what real life was like. Alas, sometimes the happy ending simply isn't possible, but life is like that sometimes.
Pushing the opening a little wider, Dumbledore could now see the three individuals he had expected. The two females were quite absorbed in the children's movie, but Harry had a book he was focused on, or at least that's what he had thought. The conjured chair, and the slight nod towards it, indicated he was at least aware of Albus' entrance.
Keeping quiet, though judging by how much attention Altrouge Brunestud and V/V paid him that was rather unnecessary, Albus took the offered seat. He'd come here to discuss the war with Riddle, but interrupting them now would be rather rude, and it wasn't like he couldn't speak up after it was finished.
Three and a half movies later, Dumbledore was getting the impression that he might have let time slip by a little. At some point during the movie marathon several bowls of snacks had appeared from seemingly nowhere, and also lacking that small popping noise that house elves made if you listened carefully…
He really should have said something by now, but… well, watching Altrouge Brunestud, the infamous Eclipse Princess of Black Blood singing along with Aladdin, The Jungle Book, and Bambi was something he found a little difficult to comprehend, much less interrupt.
It didn't mesh well with what he knew of them, the dead apostle ancestors. They were portrayed as the monsters little children feared, only real. They were the terrors that stalked the world, doing as they pleased because there were so few capable of even matching them, much less defeating one of them. They were hundreds, even thousands of years old, and they'd lived that long because they were too powerful to contend with, too crafty and sly to face without running afoul of a dozen plots and plans.
What he was seeing here was something that almost looked human. A girl, or perhaps a woman old enough to know when to embrace her inner child, that was taking joy and simple pleasure in something made by humans, made by muggles at that. A number of witches and wizards would be contemptuous of them simply for that reason, but this vampire was smiling and laughing freely.
It felt strange, yet shouldn't he take joy in this? He was renowned for preaching his philosophy of second chances, that even the most detestable of people could redeem themselves if they were just given a chance. Should he not feel validated? Here was someone the entire world regarded as a true monster, one that should really be slaughtering them wholesale simply for being in proximity to her, yet she had not attacked a single person to his knowledge since she'd arrived in this world.
She still drank blood, he'd seen her do so, but everything she'd consumed had been poured out of a bottle that looked like it should hold wine. It gave it a sort of detachment that made it easy to forget that she was drinking the life fluid of a human being, that such a substance sustained her existence.
He knew that muggles had blood transfusions and such, he wasn't that out of touch with the other side of the world, so it wasn't too much of a stretch to believe that the blood she drank had been acquired legally and without unneeded suffering and death. In the muggle world, blood was simply a purchasable product like butterbeer was.
Still, he needed to say somethi-
Just as he was about to speak up, he felt a tap on his shoulder. Looking to his other side he saw Harry, but the boy was still there, between the blonde and raven haired girls. He spent several moments with his head swivelling between the two, certain that somehow his eyes were playing tricks on him.
A blink and they were somewhere else, just Dumbledore and one of the Harrys. The land around them was a drab grey-brown colour, and when he looked up… Dumbledore's breath caught in his throat as he saw the Earth above the horizon.
A closer look at the immediate area allowed Dumbledore to notice the air bubble the two of them were encased in, and now he was looking for it he could feel the warming charm keeping them from freezing to death. But, to apparate to the moon, that was unbelievable!
"You wanted to talk, didn't you?" Harry questioned him, his voice holding none of the teasing levity he'd spoken with any time before that Dumbledore had heard. There was still a slight sibilant quality to it, an undertone of hissing that not even Tom Riddle's voice held as naturally as Harry's did. It was also as soothing, as musical, as it had been every time he'd heard it. What was different was the serious and direct way he was now speaking.
"I- I did." He collected himself. "Tom has been quiet, far too quiet lately. I know him well though, and this is not good, as he will attack somewhere sooner or later, and given how you humiliated him, killing all of his men… he will be out in force."
"I know." Harry replied.
"You know?" Dumbledore repeated.
"I know." Harry stated once again. "If he wants to regain his momentum after that failure of an assault, he needs something big, something flashy, to say that he will always win, that he will always come out on top." Harry smirked slightly. "You fighting him to a draw repeatedly in the last war did more damage to his plans than any of the vigilante fighters that fought off or even killed his minions."
"Politics, alive even on the battlefield." Dumbledore sighed.
Harry was silent, not replying to that statement.
"Why are you not fighting?" Dumbledore asked him. "You apparated the two of us to the moon, and you don't look the slightest bit winded, that's hundreds of thousands of miles! That kind of power… I daren't even think what you are truly capable of, and yet you seem content to ignore this travesty."
"The interesting thing about the multiverse is that somewhere, no matter how outlandish it might be, everything has happened." Harry said after a few moments of silence. "While not truly infinite, a single multiverse is so vast that for anything that doesn't live at least as long as a single universe it might as well be."
Harry raised a hand, above which appeared a small ball. The ball split into two, each of them now a slightly different shade of colour different to each other. These two balls then split again, and again, more and more rapidly until their number was beyond counting. They were now every colour of the visible light spectrum, and still splitting.
"Once you acknowledge that, you must also realise that a mortal can never truly eradicate evil, and by the time an immortal had managed it then a new dictator will have appeared somewhere else, a sick child that has never done anyone wrong has died, a woman is raped, and so much more, innumerable times over." He sighed. "If you want to avoid going insane, you need to draw a line… and this is where most of the more heroically inclined fall."
"They take on too much, and either die or are broken." Dumbledore murmured, easily seeing the thread of this narrative.
Harry nodded his head. "Even the most unbending of wills can break given enough time and pressure. Gods are not exempt from this, and only something totally detached from reality could go on doing this for eternity, and by that point, if they are that detached from things..."
"What reason do they have to continue?" Dumbledore finished the rhetorical question. "It is emotions that drive us, passion that fuels us… sorrow that breaks us, and love makes us whole once more."
"Poetic, but… rather true all the same." Harry agreed. "I care, and I do so deeply, but I don't care for many. I know that, eventually, most of my current companions will be lost beyond my ability to retrieve them. A human can last an average of five centuries before their experiences wear them down, other races can last longer than that, but only a handful can remain sane after countless aeons. V/V, as an aristotle, should be able to last, depending on how human she's become. The others though… eventually I'll have to say a final goodbye."
"Will you not eventually be worn down?" Dumbledore asked him.
"No, I won't." Harry stated with full confidence. "I am not human, not at all. My very existence is so far removed from humanity that I might as well be some form of eldritch god from a Lovecraft story, and I'm not exactly being metaphorical when I say that."
For a single moment that stretched for eternity, Albus Dumbledore was allowed to glimpse past the mask of relative normality that Harry wore to the infinite void that he was. There was no tentacles like a bad hentai would have, no multitudes of eyes staring back at him, just an infinite void that was constantly being filled, yet never got any fuller.
Harry snapped back into place, and Albus almost forgot that unusual experience, but the sheer surreality of it made it stick in his mind. That had been the single most terrifying thing he'd ever experienced, and it wasn't like the… being even held any malice towards him, it was indifferent. It was there, not because Dumbledore summoned it, but because it chose to be, and now it was getting bored, its attention wandering away from this world and its issues.
Harry sighed. "Voldemort will die, do not doubt that, but don't expect me to care about it overmuch." He shrugged. "If I'd been here for a few years, then I might have made some connections, and I will keep that in mind in the future, that I need to establish some form of reason, a drive to keep myself focused, on track, not simply waiting for the inevitable like I am here."
"You knew about the summoning before it was performed… before Harry even died, didn't you?" Dumbledore asked.
"Fate is not quite that rigid." Harry breathed. "It was possible for him to live, but a lot would have had to have been done to make it happen. Fate is a guideline, and it can be defied if one tries hard enough, but without knowing what is supposed to happen, and without actually actively fighting it… it doesn't happen often. The ones who manage it are often known as the greatest heroes to have ever lived, the ones with the sheer will to spit in a reaper's eyes and fight to the absolute bitter end."
He paused for a moment. "But yes, I was aware of this world before I came here, or at least it was highly likely that I would end up here. Just how this world differed from my own, where it was in this multiverse, or literally anything else wasn't something I knew. Before coming here, this world was as significant to me as a random statistic."
"And it still is." Dumbledore bit out, before wincing at the tone of his own voice.
"Essentially, yes." Harry confirmed. "I can't force myself to care, as much as I may or may not wish to. Connections take time to form, and there's a part of me that knows that these people won't be around in a few centuries, and even then I won't likely have any contact with them once I leave this world. A few short months, even just a year, isn't really enough for me to develop much of a relationship with someone."
"You appear to have connected with the twins quickly enough." Dumbledore pointed out.
Harry shook his head. "No, I have simply spent more time with them than I have others, taught them, listened to them. I do care for them marginally more than I do pretty much everyone else here, but that fledgeling bond is tenuous and easily broken."
Both of them remained silent, staring out over the horizon. Dumbledore's gaze was focused on Earth, the planet seeming so small from where he was standing, like he could reach up and snatch it out of the sky. Harry's gaze was focused into the depths of space, his eyes twitching ever so slightly as he focused his attention on things happening light years away from where he stood.
"Voldemort will… he will die?" Dumbledore eventually asked.
"Two more months from now, the… ripples from my arrival in this world will have settled enough that I can kill Riddle without repercussions." Harry replied. "Once I can do so, I will slaughter my way through all those that stand between me and him, then leave. You will probably never hear of me again after that."
"And before then?" Dumbledore pushed. "What if Tom decides to strike before then? What if, by some strange happenchance, he decides to reveal magic to muggles, and does so by openly attacking somewhere like central London? The casualties if he does would be astronomical, and we both know that, despite what most muggleborns believe, the muggle world simply can't handle magic."
Harry silently nodded his agreement with that last point. Muggleborns seemed to believe that guns, bombs, tanks, and all of the other military weapons that had been developed meant that wizards would be slaughtered wholesale in open war. In truth, bullets would be useless against a simple deflection ward, and there were numerous ways to magically shield a location against discovery and attack. Muggles also had little to no defence against some of the more subtle uses of magic, like the Imperius curse for example.
Eventually, Harry decided to comfort Dumbledore. "That hypothetical situation isn't going to happen. Riddle is currently focused on a project of his designed to counter what he knows of my abilities, or at least what he believes I may be capable of doing."
"You know where he is and what he's doing." Dumbledore closed his eyes and sighed in frustration. "I feel about as useful as a chocolate fireguard, to borrow an oft used comparison. You've known everything since the moment you arrived in this world, and all you've been doing is whiling away the time."
"Yes." Harry affirmed.
Dumbledore took one last look at the Earth, a glance the other way, and then asked Harry to return them to Hogwarts. He would say he had much to think, but in truth he just didn't want to think about anything at all right now. No plots or plans, no worries or concerns, just an almost pleasant form of ennui in the end.
Between one blink and the next they were back in the room they'd left. Dumbledore was just quick enough to see the Harry he'd been conversing with disappear into a brief wisp of black-grey smoke before vanishing. The other Harry that had stayed with Altrouge Brunestud and V/V tilted his head minutely in his direction, gave a slight acknowledging nod, and then returned to what he was doing.
Dumbledore settled down once more to continue watching Disney movies with them, right then he had nothing else to do, and he did like Disney after all.
Voldemort raised his head from the inferius he was experimenting on as he heard something off to the side. Seeing one of the elephants' wombs that he'd paid a pretty sickle for, and animated himself, convulse before spitting out its contents onto the floor made him smile.
The ugly little thing, all rough edges and mottled green/brown flesh whined pitifully. It looked upon Voldemort as he approached it, sensing his approach, though the sickly yellow light emanating from his wand tip promised nothing good for the newly birthed undead creature.
Feeling a little melodramatic, Voldemort indulged himself in high pitched and slightly unhinged laugher.