During the course of Black Princess Ascendant, I made all of you a promise. I'm sorry, but I'm going to break that promise during this book. The only reason I'm doing so is because, well… if I can do it right, it's going to be just that awesome.
Anyway, onto the story.
Disclaimer: Did it take Voldemort a full year to question Ollivander about what happened between his and Harry's wand, even though he could have Obliviated the wand-maker if he didn't want that 'conversation' to reveal his return, or even just disguised himself as someone else and come up with a lie to conceal the real reason for his interest? If so, I don't own the Harry Potter franchise; it belongs to J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Press, Warner Bros., and whomever else she sold the rights to.
Rearranging the Board
A fire burned high from the center of the white marble cube, and the wizard knelt before the icon, his colorless robe pooling as it met the stone floor. "Your follower comes at Your call, Your Holiness."
Footsteps sounded from behind the cube. The wizard glanced up just long enough to see a golden man step into view, a long leather skirt the only clothing the figure possessed, before retuning his eyes to the flame. The figure strode next to him and turned to regard the fire, as well. "Our servant," the golden man finally said, "Our ever-faithful warrior-priest. We have a task for you."
"You need only tell this one what You desire, and it shall be done."
"It is not a pleasant task, but it is one that needs doing." At those words, the wizard took a breath and squeezed his eyes closed. He knew what his master wished of him now. He would have to harden his heart yet again. "Go to the island kingdom sitting in the Western Sea, the throne of a crumbled empire. There you will find a black witch, a child still growing into her full evil. Her god has grand plans for her, plans that We will not allow to continue to fruition."
"Do You wish this one to pull her from the path she walks?" he asked weakly, hoping against hope that his master would choose to show mercy on him and not force him to kill yet again.
"No. Find her and visit upon her Our power and Our wrath. The Darkness shall not be permitted to gain a stronger foothold in the West. This girl is in a position to restore the forgotten practices, and if she succeeds the Darkness would fall upon the ignorant men and raise from them an army. That must not happen."
The fire flickered and swelled, for just an instant showing an image formed from flame and ember. Not enough for him to be able to pick the black witch out of a crowd, but just enough that if he got close, he should be able to recognize her. And if he were that close, there would be nothing she could do to stop him.
Closing his brown eyes, the wizard shoved his regret aside; when they opened again, they were hard and cold. "This one is Your rod and Your sword. If you desire the witch to die, die she will."
The emerald flames of the Floo spewed from the fireplace as Luna walked out. Turning her head this way and that, she looked over the elaborate family tree that covered three of the four walls of the Black family's drawing room. She had not had a chance to examine the entire thing when she was here the previous summer, and then things had gotten so busy that she was unable to arrange another trip. Jen probably wouldn't mind too much if she wandered around for a bit, would she?
The lone door in the room creaked open, and a youthful wizard with black hair and wearing rich robes stepped inside. "Miss Lovegood," he said, grey eyes focused on her as though trying to peer through her for a moment before his expression softened. "Good afternoon. I didn't realize Jen had invited you over today."
"And a good afternoon to you, too, Lord Black," she replied with a bright smile and a tiny curtsey, which he accepted with a weak smile. The man looked wearier and more worn out than he had when she first met him at Ottery St. Catchpole's wassailing the previous Christmas Eve, but that was only to be expected, she supposed. Finding out that his heiress had gone toe-to-toe with You-Know-Who in single combat, even if that revelation had taken place eight days earlier, was sure to leave him with sleepless nights. "She actually didn't, but she didn't reply to the letter I sent her a few days ago, either. I just wanted to see how she was doing."
"Well, I don't know why she wouldn't," Lord Black said after a moment of thought. "She's upstairs. I'll let her know you're here—"
"No need for that, Sirius. I'm down already."
He turned his head and backed out of the door to allow Jen to step through into the room. Or stagger, rather; the black-haired girl looked more than a little unsteady on her feet, and once she was close enough to set her book on the end table to one side of the sofa, she let herself fall onto the cushions. "Jen, what happened to you?" Luna demanded, rushing forward and joining the older girl on the couch. She had never seen her girlfriend look this drained before; it was almost as if she were trying to recover from a long illness, but there was no way she could be the case. She had been just fine a week ago.
Neither girl noticed the wizard quietly closing the door with a warm grin.
Jen smiled, the skin around her purple eyes crinkling as she reached up to tangle one hand in Luna's blonde hair. "It's nothing. I spent the last couple of days with some old friends I know in the Muggle world, and things got a little out of hand, that's all. Nothing to worry your pretty little head over."
An amused roll of her eyes told Jen exactly what she thought about that. The heiress tended to be condescending like this either when she legitimately did not think much of the person she was talking to or when she was just teasing, and it had taken Luna a while over the first year of their friendship to learn which was which. She also could not help her blush as Jen tugged her hand until she lay across the older girl's lap looking up at her. Luna knew she was not the most attractive girl in the world, or even in their year at Hogwarts; her hair was straight and lifeless, her eyes were too big for her face, and even if she were a physical beauty, mentioning the strange creatures she had seen all her life was sure to run people off. Still, for some reason it was she whom Jen fancied.
She also made a mental note to avoid any Muggle's invitation to a summer solstice party. She knew exactly how much stamina Jen had – a blush lit up her cheeks as her brain helpfully fed her relevant memories of an entirely different kind of stamina – and anything that could wear down the black-haired girl like this would probably kill her.
"As for your letter…" Jen frowned and shook her head. "I don't think I ever got it, but Sirius did tighten down the wards a couple of days ago. That might have thrown the owl off. Why? What did it say?"
Luna shrugged. "I just wanted to hear if you were all right after everything that happened. When you left Tracey and me on the roof, we thought you were going to find the second-years and lead them back to the castle, not go charging against You-Know-Who alongside Potter. Tracey was pretty upset at you for that one when we heard what had happened, by the way." Her frustration leaking out, she huffed. "If your half-brother got to bring his friends along, there was no reason you shouldn't have let us come, too."
"Other than the fact that two of his friends were injured in that fight and one of them had to be carted off to St. Mungo's?" the darker witch asked in a dry voice. "Besides, I didn't care if they were collateral damage. You and Tracey are far more valuable.
"But I'm not the one I'm worried about." Jen's voice softened as the hand running through Luna's hair slowed. "Since Sirius brought me home when he left rather than let me stick around Hogwarts for the last few days of term, I never heard what's happening with Padma. All I know is that she's out of the country; I trained Loki not to leave Britain on a mail run unless I specifically tell him to do so, and he came back with the letter I tried to send her."
"She wasn't doing so good on the Express. Not a surprise, really; she's concerned about her sister."
Jen nodded in understanding. During the same attack on Hogsmeade when she had fought You-Know-Who, the Death Eaters had struck first with a wave of who later were revealed to be Imperiused Muggles and then a second wave of werewolves. Though that Saturday was a new moon, they had drunk a concoction the Daily Prophet had taken to calling Wolfsboon Potion that somehow let them transform despite it not being otherwise possible. No one had any idea what that meant for all the people who had been bitten by the changed werewolves, unfortunately; were those people now werewolves themselves, or was the artificial transformation too little to effectively Turn people? "I guess the Patils didn't want to risk giving the Ministry Parvati's name in case she was infected?"
"Pretty much. Padma told us they'd be staying in India for the summer, and if the worst happened, Parvati would stay there. Less restrictive rules due to international law or something. She didn't go into too much detail, and none of us wanted to push on it."
"India's a member of the Asian Conglomerate," Jen explained, "and they give greater rights to non-human beings than countries in the ICW do. Unlike in Europe, there are enough non-humans in Asia that if they banded together, they would easily outnumber witches and wizards, so the different governments have good reason not to be too harsh with them."
Luna had not known about that – her father's expeditions had all stayed within Europe – and she pondered the ramifications while Jen resumed playing with her hair and opened the book back up. "What's it about?" she eventually asked, flicking her eyes at the tome when the heiress looked at her curiously.
"Supposedly, it's a translation of a journal written by a knight sworn in service to Morgan le Fay." With a shrug, Jen added, "Well, technically he swore his allegiance to her husband, King Urience, but since she ruled in his stead after Urience died of a 'mysterious illness', he was her knight, and I think he carried a bit of a torch for her. I'm not sure how much of this is true, but even as a work of fiction, it definitely makes some interesting claims. Shines a bit of a different light on her."
Humming lightly, the blonde rubbed her head against Jen's belly in a silent request for more information. Morgan le Fay was not a popular figure, mostly because she was known primarily for positioning herself against Merlin, whom magical Britain revered, but now Luna found herself curious.
"Well, for one it claims that Morgan wasn't actually Arthur's half-sister. She was Gorlois's niece that he took in when her parents died, and if she and Igraine weren't related, then neither were she and Arthur. Of course, that might just be a lie meant to sanitize her bearing Mordred," Jen added with a shrug. "I'm not really sure on that. It isn't like she's made out to be a misunderstood witch doing the best she could under trying circumstances or something. The author acknowledges that she was the greatest and most fearsome Dark Lady of her day. What she did to poor Sir Percival…"
"I don't think I'd enjoy this book, then. It's hard to sympathize with someone who's unrepentantly evil like that," Luna said with a shudder.
Jen grunted noncommittally. "Different times, I guess. Arthur and Merlin weren't so great, either, if we're being totally honest. This isn't the first place I've read where, upon hearing that a child born in May would be his downfall, Arthur gave a royal command that all noble children born that month were to be loaded onto a ship and set out to sea with the explicit intent of them all dying of dehydration and exposure. When the ship crashed into some rocks and sank, luck was the only reason Mordred survived, and in his shoes I'd be hard-pressed not to hate the man, too."
She had nothing to say in response to that, instead letting her eyes drift closed while Jen continued her petting. Several minutes passed before she asked the question that had plagued her since the battle at Hogsmeade. "Jen? Could you teach us how to fight like you do?"
The hand running gently through her hair stilled. "Why would you ask something like that? You aren't planning on doing something foolish, are you?" Jen asked in strangled voice.
Eyes opening again, Luna looked up at her girlfriend. "Do you have any idea how terrifying it was to hear that you fought You-Know-Who alone, without any of us there to help you? I can't contribute anything like that now, but if I could in the future, if I could back you up? Because I know you're not going to let this go. You may not go out looking for him, but if you ever see him again, you won't let him walk away. You're just not that sort of person."
Jen sighed, sticking a bookmark between the pages, and Luna felt her body become weightless before it drifted up so she was sitting in Jen's lap. The older witch wrapped her arms around the blonde's waist and nuzzled into her neck. "Don't take this the wrong way, Luna," Jen mumbled, "but fighting at that level requires a certain amount of raw power. I have it. Dora has it. If Flitwick doesn't, he's extremely close and could probably make up the difference with skill and experience."
"But I don't?" she guessed, her voice distant. It was hard, sometimes, to be reminded of all the different hurdles that threatened to separate her from the girl she loved. Their social strata, their political views, and now even their magic? Some days she wondered if it would be easier on both of them for them to end their relationship, and those days were when she clung tightest to the other witch.
"Few do," Jen hedged. "Even though our family includes Dora and me, we're the only ones who can fight at that level. Sirius is closest, but not close enough to make a difference. I also have a talent for combat; both of my parents are known for their skills with a wand, though obviously my mother is far, far better at it, and thankfully it was her I inherited the majority of my own talent from."
Luna rolled her eyes. For all that she was the forbidden love-child of James Potter and Bellatrix Lestrange, Jen rarely said anything truly negative about her mother. Condemning the woman's crimes, yes; acknowledging her insanity, absolutely; but actually denouncing her as a person? No. But, the blonde supposed, it was hard to fault someone for loving her mother, even if Jen was extremely vocal about her distaste for the father with whom she had clashed so often.
"And even if you did have the strength and the talent, you don't have the temperament. Dora and I weren't trying to capture You-Know-Who, nor was he flinging prank spells at us in return. You can't get into a fight with a Dark Lord and hesitate out of fear of hurting someone. Every strike needs to be meant to kill." The arms around her tightened. "You don't have a ruthless bone in your body. That rather than the power gap is actually the real reason I don't want you anywhere near my next fight with him."
"But there has to be something I can do, even if I'm not fighting myself." Luna thought furiously for a few seconds. "What about… What if I sent out other things to fight for me? Proxies, like you and Tracey are always talking about?"
Jen chuckled. "In this context, I think you mean minions. Unless you plan on using mind magics on someone to make them fight in your stead?" The blonde hastily shook her head. "It could work; I use conjuration a lot in my practice duels with Flitwick to distract him while I'm getting in a better position to attack."
"Yes, that's perfect. What about the free transfigurations you do? The one where you don't need a specific spell?"
A suspicious expression grew on Jen's face, and the girl looked at her curiously. "What are you planning?"
"I'm not planning anything." No, not planning, not while she still did not know how to cast that spell. Until she did, she was just imagining swarms of Nargles buzzing around and warding off the Death Eaters, none of them willing to risk the anger of the gigantic wasps.
"Right." Eyeing her for another moment, Jen finally said, "I don't know if I can teach you how I cast that spell. I've never done it with a wand. You'd be better off asking McGonagall for help. She's the one with the Mastery in Transfiguration, after all."
"It can't be that different, though, can it? It's still magic, after all," she whined. Much like Babbling, McGonagall refused to teach students spells beyond their level. It was a warning she had given the assembled Ravenclaws and Slytherins in their first lesson with her, as they were the students most likely to push the envelope.
"Maybe." Luna opened her mouth to argue, but Jen lifted a finger in a bid for silence. "That's all I'm going to say on this subject right now. I need to think about how I could possibly translate what I do into something a wand could replicate. Give me till we go back to Hogwarts, and I should have a more definite answer."
"Fine." She settled back down, her cheek braced against Jen's shoulder, and closed her eyes again. It might not be learning new and exciting magic, but just spending time cuddled up with her girlfriend was a pretty nice second place.
"But Master, I don't understand. Why are You leaving us?"
The slits that made up Voldemort's nose flared as he took a calming breath. There were many benefits to having one's right hand be obsessively devoted the way Bellatrix was: perfect obedience, a refusal to surrender no matter the circumstances, the initiative to create and execute tactics in an attempt to please him. Unfortunately, at times the downsides made him doubt the wisdom of relying so much on the insane witch. "The actions of your spawn have made me curious about something. I do not have the time to waste if I want to get to the bottom of this mystery, and that requires going to the Continent."
"She is no child of mine!" Bellatrix protested. "Not one of my blood would ever turn their wand against You!"
He rolled his eyes at the familiar rejection. Bellatrix and Rodolphus could deny that she had ever been pregnant all they wanted, for his own experience with the Blacks' scion proved that House's claim to be true. It would be just like Bellatrix to hide her pregnancy so she might surprise him, and the girl's appearance, her cruelty, her power; those were all Bellatrix's. It was like seeing the dark witch in her prime once again. And yet the differences were even more worrying: Bellatrix had never shown a bent for necromancy or Legilimency, and the strange spell Black had cast upon him—
As if summoned by his thoughts, lines of red-hot pain ripped through his body with all the fury of the Cruciatus, and the fingers that rested against the wall of his quarters clenched as they tried to dig into the wood. He had no idea what the girl had done to him, but ever since the solstice, when he had fallen victim to the strange sickness that plagued him on that same day every year starting the summer before his seventh year at Hogwarts, it seemed intent on driving him mad from pain. Part of him hoped that Black was afflicted just as terribly as he was, but the rest of his mind was certain that the backlash had spared her the worst effects of the spell.
His deplorable state had something to do with his recurrent illness. He was sure of it!
The pain slipped away as quickly as it had come, following the same tracks as the ethereal chains Black had wrapped around him, and he forced his taut muscles to relax. If there were any Death Eaters to whom he could reveal his weakness, his right and left hands were assuredly the safest. And yet, he knew he would never do so. 'Safest' was by no means the same as 'safe', and while Bellatrix would never try to take advantage of his condition, the other wizard in the room with them was a different story entirely.
"If you are intent on traveling, my lord, then we will endeavor to please you with our successes upon your return," Lucius said in a silky voice. Listening to his apparent obsequiousness, Voldemort could almost forget that the Malfoy patriarch had thrown away one of his Horcruxes in a fruitless attempt to satisfy a personal grudge against the Weasley family. "Are there any objectives in particular you wish us to accomplish during your absence?"
A flick of Voldemort's wand had a number of robes fly into a trunk, which shut itself and shrank as soon as it was full. "Keep up the strikes on the Muggle world," he eventually ordered. "That will keep the Obliviators busy and the Ministry too preoccupied hiding our existence from the Muggle cattle to chase after you. Make sure you are not so arrogant as to start any protracted engagements with the DMLE. Any battle they win will bolster their spirits, and that will encourage them to act more aggressively. I want their morale to be sapped, the public to lose confidence in them."
"But… My lord…" He turned to face Lucius, who frowned as though determining the best way to voice his objection. "You have previously said that you do not care if the common masses regard you with reverence or fear. If you wish us to attract the public to our cause, we will have a long way to go to compensate for your attack on Diagon Alley last Christmas, and then Bellatrix's a couple of weeks ago."
"We don't need support from some worthless peasants!" Bellatrix screeched. Multicolored sparks spurted from the wand she had stuck in her messy tresses as the focus reacted to her rage, and she likely would have whipped it out to curse her brother-in-law if the Dark Lord had not grabbed her wrist.
"Stand down, both of you," he ordered, fixing the two bickering adults with a ruby glare. Lucius nodded, no expression at all on his face, and Bellatrix muttered something incomprehensible under her breath before letting her arms hang loose at her sides. "If the two of you cannot keep yourselves under control here in my presence, perhaps I should find someone else to serve as my lieutenants." Before either of them could protest that declaration, he sliced the air with his hand, stilling their voices as effectively as a Silencing Charm. "I care not for excuses. Should I return and find that our cause has fallen apart because you squabbled like children, I will be most wroth and will make you aware of my displeasure in full. Do you understand?"
"Of course, my lord."
"Good." He turned away and shook his head in irritation. Had he known that managing the various personalities he had chosen to serve as his army against the Ministry of Magic would be this difficult, he would have found some other cause to champion rather than throwing his lot in with the blood purists. Sadly, those same bigots were the ones who possessed the gold and the connections he needed, and it was much too late now to assemble another group of servants with which to take over the country. "I should be gone no longer than eighteen months, less depending on how easily I find the information I will be searching for. Do try not to ruin everything in the meantime."
Lucius cleared his throat. "My lord, what about the Dementors? Will you take them with you or leave them here? I ask only because many of the men are… uncomfortable around them, and as you are the only one they seem to understand, should they run amok, there is little we can do to prevent them from killing off a large portion of our forces."
Crossing his arms, Voldemort paused in his preparations to think over that question. His primary goal at the moment was to discover just what it was the Black girl had done to him; the last time he had been struck by an unknown curse, he had ignored it and subsequently spent the next thirteen years as a near-impotent wraith. Not an experience he was eager to repeat. If he wished to track down the contacts he had made in the Continent and in Asia back when he spent a decade wandering the world as Tom Riddle, he would need to move quickly, and bringing a few dozen Dementors along with him was not conducive to speed.
On the other hand, leaving the Dementors behind did pose a problem. He was not sure how long the demons would obey the orders he gave them, so if they grew bored before he returned, they could all too easily turn on his Death Eaters. Placing the Crown of Demens, the artefact he had stolen from the warden of Azkaban in order to communicate with them, in the hands of one of his followers would prevent that from becoming an issue, but then he would be giving someone he did not completely trust an all but unstoppable force and hoping that that person would not decide to depose him. The leaders of his army were Slytherins, and having been one himself he knew without a shadow of a doubt that they would turn on him the instant they sensed weakness.
He strode across the room to a cabinet warded to prevent anyone but him from accessing it, and opening the door, he pulled out out a large crown forged from some dark grey metal and set it upon his bald head. Closing his eyes, he let his mind rise until it made contact with a vast entity, the singular consciousness that drove all seventy-nine Dementors. It was a trick he had discovered while experimenting with the Crown, and it certainly made giving them orders easier than having to track down one of the spirits. Can you hear me?, he thought at the disembodied intellect.
"We hear the Crowned," answered an eerie voice in his head, screeching and warbling in such a way that it was obvious it was nothing that had ever come from a human throat.
Voldemort nodded, not surprised by the short response. The Dementors were terrifying monsters and extremely effective killers, but they made pathetic conversationalists. If I give you an order, how long will you follow it until you decide to do something else?
"The Crowned commands. We obey."
Obviously, but for how long?
Shaking his head, he realized he was not going to get anything more out of them. It looked like he was just going to have to take the risk. All of you are to patrol the locations where you are currently stationed. Administer the Kiss to any intruders, but do not harm my followers. Do you understand?
"Guard. Consume unfamiliar. Ignore familiar."
He pulled the heavy Crown off his brow and tossed it with the rest of the shrunken luggage that waited for him to pack up. "The Dementors will not leave their posts, so do not expect them to accompany you in battle, but tell the men that they need not fear being Kissed."
"I will forward that news," agreed Lucius. He waited only for a wave of Voldemort's hand before he sketched the Dark Lord a short bow and departed.
"Master, surely You are not planning to leave on Your own?" Bellatrix pleaded, creeping up and twitching her fingers as though fighting the impulse to grab hold of his robes. "Please allow some of us to accompany You. Me and Rabastan and Barty, at the very least."
"No, Bellatrix. I will move more swiftly alone. You are to stay here and lead our forces in my absence." The crazy witch did not look particularly enthused about that, and after a moment of thought, he added in a quieter voice, "I do not know how much I can trust Lucius, but he is far too valuable simply to eliminate. I need you to keep an eye on him while I'm gone. Do not do anything to him, but keep records of everything he does. If indeed he is untrustworthy, I wish to deal out his punishment myself."
Bellatrix's eyes shined, and he could practically see her unstable mind begin to conjure up all sorts of paranoid conspiracies regarding the Head of House Malfoy. It was probably not fair to cast Lucius as a traitor, especially since Voldemort was sure that the blond was no less untrustworthy than any other sane Death Eater, but this fake mission should keep Bellatrix from causing too much trouble while he was not there to temper her excesses, not to mention it would prevent her from deciding to follow him and thereby go on a murder spree throughout Europe. Subtle she was not.
Should he warn Lucius of just what he had done? He considered but quickly rejected that concern. As his left hand, Lucius should be good enough to deal with Bellatrix in a frenzy, or at least enough to get away from her more or less intact.
"Remember, don't kill him," he reminded the woman when he saw that she was edging from simply crazed to outright blood-thirsty. "If you do, I will punish you twice as much as I would have him."
"You have nothing to worry about. I will keep an eye on the traitor. He won't make a single move against You while I'm here." The witch shot him a feral smile before turning away to stalk her newest prey.
Finally alone again, Voldemort rubbed his fingertips against his temples. This search really could not have come at a more opportune time. After dealing with insane soldiers, uncivilized trolls, whiny werewolves, and incompetent recruits for the last year, he really needed a vacation.
bissek was the one who came up with the name Wolfsboon Potion for the potion Voldemort gave his wolves; I was calling it Moondrop Potion in my head, but this name is funnier, so I… kinda stole it.
As you might be able to tell, I've been rereading Le Morte d'Arthur, albeit slowly. It's a big book, and Malory's writing style, or at least what's in my translation, is bad enough that it makes My Immortal look decent. It also reminded me that Mordred was the son of Morgause, not Morgan, but I have plans for that, so that conflation is going to stick around. Sadly enough, I didn't make up the tale about Arthur going all Herod on a bunch of kids; that's an actual segment from the legend, and it among other scenes makes it clear that neither Arthur nor Merlin were actually good people.
Silently Watches out.