Voldemort stumbled forward, whirling in time to see the cursed House Elf vanishing behind him, to be replaced by a cylinder of silvery metal.
He took a prudent step back; he'd been exposed to the Blitz during his childhood, proof that muggles should not be allowed to rule the world. Their wars killed Wizards almost as often as they killed each other, and Wizards didn't have the unending numbers that muggles had.
Where was he?
Hogwarts was gone, replaced by a vast desert of endless sand. The air was hot enough that it blistered his skin, and the heat made the air in his lungs burn. It was like being inside an oven.
The sun was so bright that he had to squint. The only sound was that of the wind. The sky was obscured by the sand, enough that it should have blackened the sky, but it was still brighter than he'd ever seen.
A simple spell allowed him to breathe freely, and a flame freezing spell brought the temperature down to a comfortable level.
Transfiguring sand into tinted goggles was child's play. After a moment's thought, he applied them to his face with a sticking charm.
Now that he could see without squinting, he could see that nothing but blasted desert was around him. It looked like the sand had turned to glass in places.
He turned his attention to the silvery cylinder.
Had the Hebert girl somehow used a portkey to send him somewhere else, and then sent a bomb after him?
It sounded exactly like something she would try. She had an obsession with using dirty muggle methods, likely due her... inadequacies as a Witch.
Others would think her amazingly skilled for her age, comparing her favorably to himself at the same age. Those people would be dead the moment he discovered their opinion.
Clearly she was a reincarnate.
It wasn't something that had occurred to him until he'd worn the diadem, but it was clear to him now. She was an adult pretending to be a child, which had caused him to underestimate her until it was too late.
She'd destroyed his power base, and it was going to take him years to rebuild.
He layered every spell he could imagine to protect himself, and then he used magic to levitate the cylinder.
A brunette woman's face appeared above the cylinder. She looked familiar, almost as though she was an older member of the Hebert family.
There was a hardness in her face, in her expression, a cold pragmatism that he had seen in some of his Death Eaters. She seemed more like Snape than like Bellatrix, more cold than passionate.
"Hello, Tom," the woman said.
"It's Voldemort," he snarled. He'd put enough effort into making that a name to be feared that she should know better. Or perhaps she was afraid to use his name for fear that he'd be able to track her down.
She wasn't looking at him, instead staring off into the distance.
Was this some sort of recording?
"We had to send an object of equivalent weight to Winky in order to get her back," she said. "Time travel's got all sorts of weird rules like that."
This woman was Hebert! Maybe instead of being a reincarnate she had simply used some other ruse to pretend to be a child. Or was something else wrong... something much much worse?
"I'd like to thank you for helping me save the world," she said. "I'd have never done it without your Machine."
She'd stolen his machine?
He felt a sense of outrage.
It hadn't been his project; it had been the Unspeakables. He'd simply taken advantage of what was there. It had been created by purebloods for purebloods.
"But I never understood why you were never able to use it to crush me like a bug. Did you fail to ask the right questions? It's answers are quite specific."
The truth was that he'd never entirely trusted the thing. It had four brains in it from people he'd killed himself, and he'd always suspected that they would try to undermine him, even when the Unspeakables swore that none of them were still conscious.
"Maybe it was the cooldown period," she said. "I had twenty years to use mine, after all, so it was a little more useful. Thank you for the lair by the way."
Was this Hebert then, and not a relative?
If that was true, then he'd been out of commission for twenty years. He'd have lost a great deal of political power in that last battle anyway, and a generation would have gone without fearing him.
He'd teach them differently.
"I'm Taylor, by the way," she said. "And as you are probably beginning to suspect, you've been gone longer than it likely seems to you."
"You haven't moved," the woman continued. "You served as an object lesson to generations of Hogwarts students. Generations of small children gaping at the terrified man wearing the pretty crown, running from a house elf."
He gritted his teeth. It was impossible; Hogwarts had lasted for a thousand years. A mere twenty would not have made a whit of difference.
She smiled, and it wasn't a pleasant smile.
"There was some turmoil after you were gone," she said. "The Durmstrang Wars, followed by the larger Inter-European wars and then a global war. I managed to unify the Wizarding world, and we came out in the open to our non-magical brethren. The world united to fight Scion."
Who was Scion?
"The world was going to end in twenty years," she said. "An alien creatures from the stars had landed on a different Earth, and he'd given powers to muggles there."
His diadem hummed, and the idea came to him.
Was she one of those muggles?
He'd been defeated not by a muggleborn, but by a muggle?
"Life got better after that," she said. "Hermione ended up being Empress for a couple of hundred years, before she got tired of it."
A couple of hundred years?
"Oh, and the muggles solved aging," she said. "Within your lifetime, too. We had to go public fifteen years after the last time I saw you, and there were almost wars over that. Draco Malfoy was the ambassador from Wizardkind to the muggles, and he did a brilliant job."
Muggles... solving aging?
He felt stunned.
He'd considered making a philosopher's stone, but it hadn't been a complete enough version to satisfy him. Nicholas Flemel was an ethereal wisp of a man, so ancient that he was barely able to move.
He'd wanted to retain his youth and vitality.
"Oh, and those Horcruxes you made, nasty things. We got rid of all of them within five years, except the ones that you've got on you right now."
He caressed the book in his shirt and the diadem on his head. Were these really his last links to the world?
"The horcrux in Harry's head killed him in the end, despite everything that magical and muggle science could do. He was barely six hundred."
Still, that meant that his enemy was dead. He'd find a way to go back in time and start again.
"So I want you to know that no prophecy is going to save you," she said. "You might ask why I'm bothering with this at all... you haven't been an issue for a very long time for me."
"The thing is, the problem with giving immortality to everyone is that there's only so much on a planet, even with magic before it all gets used up."
The camera zoomed back, and Voldemort saw that the woman was standing in some sort of a room. One entire wall of the room was covered in a glass wall, and outside there were only stars.
He blinked as he saw what looked like a dragonfly pass by the window.
Then he saw the moon.
The dragonfly had to be at least a hundred miles long, and as the view in the window changed, he saw that there was at least a thousand of them.
"We're leaving the planet," she said. "And this will be our last chance to retrieve Winky. She's become something of a legend among her kind, you see, and they didn't want me to leave her behind."
She was on a... space ship?
He was at least familiar with the term; the muggles liked to perpetrate the fraud that they'd been to the moon.
"The field of magical genetic engineering has come a long way,'" she continued."And you can actually make insects able to thrive in space. Make them big enough, and you can ride inside them."
"We're ready to take on the Entities," she said. "And this time we'll kill them. As for why I sent you this message... well, we had to send something of equivalent weight to counterbalance Winky."
Were they up in the sky right now?
"I'm speaking to you from the past, of course," she said. "The world didn't last a thousand years once the population explosions started. You've been there... longer."
She pulled out her wand, and a moment later there was an explosion of light.
"Give the signal that it's time to leave," the woman said.
The unicorn patronus that stood in front of her was so beautiful as to be almost blinding.
It passed through the window and danced in space, growing before it exploded into a firework the size of the moon.
He hadn't thought that she'd been able to cast one. He'd had some suspicions about how she'd murdered the Umbridge woman.
Maybe it had taken her a thousand years to find happiness.
Was she already gone?
"You are now the proud owner of an entire world," Hebert said. "The absolute and uncontested ruler. You won't get to enjoy it long, I don't think."
Voldemort took several cautious steps back, layering on more and more defensive spells.
"I chose to pull Winky out at the last possible minute. The problem is that there was a margin of error of a few minutes, and I had to err on the side of safety."
The sun had been growing dimmer for the last several minutes; Voldemort hadn't noticed because he'd been engrossed in what the woman was saying.
"I was a villain once," she woman was saying, "and the important part is to avoid monologue until your plan is already done. I couldn't take the risk that you might figure out a way back in the time you had."
The sun was getting really dim.
"Maybe you had a time turner on you," she said. "And you would use it over and over again until you found something more permanent. Maybe you would find what remains of the Veil and would find some way to get it to work. I couldn't take that chance."
Was he right in the first place, and the cylinder was an explosive?
"It's been five billion years," Hebert said. "And eight minutes ago the sun turned red. That's how long it takes light to reach the earth. As bright as the sun might have seemed to you, it was a lot brighter an hour before I had you awakened."
Why would the sun turning red be of any concern to him?
"When the sun turns red, it will grow in size," Hebert continued, "So large that the Earth will be inside of it."
The wind was picking up now, and Voldemort was struggling to hear what she said.
"So if I were you I'd run," she said. "Apparate to the horizon and keep apparating. If you are lucky you might reach the dark side. Most likely it won't make a difference. The atmosphere will catch fire, but maybe you'll catch a break."
She grinned, and the expression on her face wasn't very nice.
"Run like your life depends on it, because it does."
She was speaking into the empty air, because Voldemort had already apparated to the horizon.
"This is Taylor Hebert," she said. "Signing out."
A moment later all that existed was the sound of the wind.
Soon, there wasn't even that.