Apologies for the delay in posting. Tomorrow is my birthday, and I have been inundated with visitors.
Anyway, enjoy this chapter.
Next week the Epilogue will be posted, and you will begin to receive weekly updates of When the Roses Bloom Again.
Silence. Without his eyes and ears within the Ministry, the Dark Lord was blind and deaf to the goings on there. As such, he was reluctant to allow the attacks to continue, was hesitant to send out what remained of his Death Eaters to the mercy of the aurors, Dumbledore's irksome group, and Peverell.
Already, he had lost many and he could ill afford to lose more.
The Minister's sweep had been an unexpected development, no whisper from any indicating it would happen. Bagnold had proven her shrewdness and struck quite the blow to the Dark Lord.
Without his people on the inside, he knew not where the aurors would be patrolling, where would be best for his followers to strike, but most of all, what plans were being put into motion to combat him.
In only a matter of hours, his most valuable tool had been snatched away.
"How shall we proceed, my lord?" Amycus questioned. "Should we not plan an assault on Azkaban?"
Voldemort had considered it but ultimately decided there was more to lose than to gain from that venture.
The Ministry would expect him to do that, to retrieve the followers lost to him.
Pursuing that would likely lead to more losses on his part and were he to fail to liberate the imprisoned followers, he would be much worse off than he was now.
No, it was not the right time for such a course of action. There were too many variables to consider, the biggest being the undoubtable presence of Peverell were the Dark Lord to stage a breakout.
If Peverell was not a factor, perhaps it would be a fruitful endeavour. Voldemort would have been able to focus his efforts on helping the captives escape, but it would be him that had to keep the ominous lord busy.
Maybe Bellatrix could lead the charge to set the prisoners free but there were others to contend with. Dumbledore would be there as would Alastor Moody, two people who could subdue the woman.
The Dark Lord shook his head, his mind firmly made up.
"When the time is right," he answered the young Carrow. "We must be patient, prove that it does not matter what they do, that we will succeed despite their best efforts to quell us."
"How will we do that, my lord?" the man questioned.
"Soon," Bellatrix cut in irritably. "You will all know when you need to. It is not your place to question our lord on what plans he has."
"Thank you, Bella," Voldemort interjected. "You will all know soon enough what our next move will be. I can assure you, it will begin undoing the damage done by the Ministry. Whilst they are distracted, we will strike when they least expect it, and our brothers and sisters will be released from their shackles. You have my word."
The assembled Death Eaters did not appear to be convinced, but they did not voice their doubts either.
To do so would serve them no purpose.
The Dark Lord had not lied to them, noir was he trying to mislead them.
He did have a plan, and should it go off without a hitch, it would present other opportunities, or at the very least, eliminate any foolish notion any had that they were safe from him and his followers.
If even the Lord Black wasn't safe, how could anyone else be?
Harry had never been abroad before. When he had been a child, he had been left with Mrs Figg when the Dursleys had taken any holiday. They had despised him in England, being in a warmer climate would not change that.
As he had gotten older, he had considered visiting other countries when he left Hogwarts, but that had not come to pass. Even on the run in his worst moments, he had been tempted to flee, but to do so had not sat right with him. Perhaps he did have a saving people thing Hermione liked to point out from time to time.
No, the opportunity to take leave of England had simply never come. He didn't know what measures Voldemort had put in place to prevent such nor who would be watching muggle airports or docks. Harry had considered apparating across the English Channel but couldn't be certain what security the French had to protect their borders.
It had been too risky then, but now he found himself only a few miles from Sofia where he and the rest of the Falcons would soon be facing the Montrose Magpies.
"Alright, I don't want to pile the pressure on you," Titus announced as he paced before them, "but we need a 220-point difference to win the league. I can't even believe I'm saying that," he chuckled. "We were expected to finish in the middle of the table before the season started, but you, all of you, have made me damned proud. You've put the work in, you've trained harder than I have seen, and here we are. Whatever the outcome today, I will be just as proud of you as I am now."
The man was smiling, a rare novelty indeed.
For the most part, he was rather grim before a match. A frown would crease his brow and his hands would be shoved deeply into his pockets as his jaw worked tirelessly on a piece of gum.
Being the manager of such a high-level club was a stressful job, and Harry did not envy Titus Jones, the endless meetings with sponsors he was expected to attend nor the pressure on his shoulders to ensure the players performed.
"We won't let you down," Christian Bole assured the man. "We'll do our job and Peverell will be ready to get the Snitch. Their seeker doesn't stand a chance against him."
Jones nodded as he turned his attention to Harry.
"Do you see any problems dealing with Clayton?"
Harry shook his head.
Clayton was an excellent seeker, was England's first choice for a reason, but he was clinical and predictable.
He just did the basics better than most.
"No, I will keep him away as long as necessary. Just give me the nod, and I'll go for the Snitch."
"This is why I like you, Peverell. You make it seem so easy."
"He is still undefeated," Aldon Ogden pointed out. "Just wait until the market is open. Everyone will want him."
"We will worry about that when we need to," Jones sighed. "Today, we have a monumental task ahead of us. Win or lose, make sure we give it everything we've got."
With his rousing speech given, Titus left to take his seat amongst the rest of the Falcon's staff.
"You heard him," Albert Collins grunted as he stood from the bench. "Let's get this done."
The pre-game nerves were something Harry had dealt with on many occasions now. From his very first match as a first year for Gryffindor to the most important game he was about to play, they were always there until he was playing. Up in the air, they vanished.
There was no time to be nervous with bludgers flying around and a snitch to be sought.
The crowd roared as the two teams flew onto the pitch.
Many had made the journey from England to Bulgaria, but the majority of those within the stadium were locals being treated to some of the best Quidditch available to spectate.
"Welcome ladies and gentlemen to what may be the deciding game of the season. Expect excitement, fireworks, and some heated exchanges. With the title of league champions up for grabs, passion and tempers will be running high. Now for the introduction of the teams."
Apparently, the usual commentator had also travelled to Bulgaria to carry out his duties.
"Representing the Montrose Magpies; protecting the posts is Keeper Aiden Quinn."
A round of applause sounded for the man who waved to the gathered crowd.
"Your beaters for the Magpies are Castor Gladwell and Rory Cornford."
Another smattering of applause was heard after the announcement of the two men.
"Next up are the chasers; Amanda Sibley, Coral Tindle, and Dennis Landry. Finally, the seeker for the Magpies is Percival Clayton."
The seeker for the Magpies received the loudest cheer of the lot, his popularity rocketed by his representation of England over the past few years.
He positively beamed at the reception, his smug grinning turning towards Harry before the commentator spoke again.
"And now for the Falmouth Falcons," the announcer continued. "Keeper Albert Collins, Beaters Steve Jones and Craig Thorpe, Chasers Aldon Ogden, Paul Cresswell, and Christian Bode."
The Falcon's supporters had evidently come to Bulgaria in force, the cheering for each player called much more enthusiastic than for the Magpies.
"Finally, their Seeker, Harry Peverell!"
The stadium rumbled under the applause, the cheering deafening. Clayton's smug grin fell, a scowl replacing it as he flew higher and waited for the game to get underway.
Harry acknowledged the crowd's approval with a wave before following suit, ignoring the running commentary from the announcer as he turned his attention to the task at hand, the game below having begun.
He had grown used to being closely marked by the opposing seeker, but Clayton had no interest in doing so. He was well aware that a quick catch of the snitch would put an end to any ambition the Falcon's had of winning the cup.
Instead of marking, Clayton kept his distance, though he kept an eye on Harry's movements.
Harry's game was a complicated one this time around. There would be no record for the fastest catch.
No, this would be a contest of attrition until the moment arrived that he could strike. There would be no catching the snitch to save face.
He would need to rely on the rest of the team to do their jobs and build a sufficient lead.
Edgar did not clap with the others as they applauded Harry for blocking Clayton from his pursuit of the snitch. His hand was firmly on his wand, his eyes scanning the crowd around them.
Although Harry had secured a box for them, Edgar was taking no chances, not with his goddaughter amongst them.
Joining him was Cygnus, Arcturus, Sirius, and Orion Black, the Prewett twins, Ted Tonks, Charlus and James Potter, Amelia, and even Alastor Moody. The final member of their group was Dumbledore who was stood shoulder to shoulder, his own vigilance matching Edgar's and Moody's.
"Do you think there is a chance he would try?" Lord Bones asked.
"Tom has always been unpredictable, but no, I do not think so," Dumbledore answered.
"Because Harry is here," the headmaster answered simply.
There was no bigger deterrent than the little girl's father.
Still, Edgar would not shirk his responsibility. Little Helena may have been left under the care of them all whilst she watched her first quidditch match, but it would be him who would ensure her safety.
He would not let Harry down again.
"We're 190 points ahead, Harry," Collins called as Harry passed him.
Only thirty more to go and he could make his own grab for the snitch, something that Clayton was aware of too.
His own search had become frantic, his flying more erratic than it had been as the Falcon's closed the required distance.
All Harry could do was continue with his efforts to prevent his foe from ending the game. If the game proceeded as it had so far, the wait would be a short one.
"And the Magpies have pulled another ten points back. This could prove to be a long day for Peverell indeed," the commentator announced.
Harry released a sigh of frustration as he once again put himself between Clayton and the snitch, much to the man's chagrin.
"Just let me have it!" he growled.
Harry merely smirked at him.
Clayton was under no impression that he would quit, but he had grown even more frustrated than Harry with his failure to capture the snitch and all but end the dream of the Falcons.
"No chance," Harry murmured, huffing as Collins gave him yet another shake of his head. "Come on!" he encouraged.
None of the team would have heard his words, but it made him feel slightly better that he had done something other than block the opposing seeker.
"And the Falcons have extended their lead by seventy points. If Peverell can catch the snitch, the league trophy is theirs."
The announcement came quite suddenly around twenty minutes later, and Harry immediately adjusted his flying style.
With the roles reversed, Clayton was no longer flying at a distance, but was shoulder to shoulder with Harry as he took his turn to look for the elusive golden ball.
"Give it up, Peverell. I've been doing this since before you caught your first."
"Then you're old and slow," Harry responded. "Let's see if you can keep up, shall we?"
He took a sudden dive and Clayton followed, undeterred by the dangerous aerial acrobats of the younger seeker.
The Magpies player was not as nimble on his broom, but he was a veteran of the sport and used his experience to keep up with Harry.
This was what Harry played Quidditch for; the one-on-one duels with another seeker as they did all they could to be first to capture the snitch. This was where the adrenaline and exhilaration reached their peak.
This is what made him fall in love with the sport, and if he were honest with himself, he had never met any that did this as well as him. Viktor Krum perhaps, and for a brief second, his eyes scanned the crowd hoping to catch a glimpse of his fellow Triwizard competitor before shaking his head.
Even now, Viktor would not be born, not for another year or so at least.
"Peverell takes another dive followed closely by Clayton. Has he spotted the snitch? You can never be certain with Peverell…Oh, that must have hurt, but Clayton is back to his feet and on his broom immediately. He'll have to be careful not to get caught in traps like that."
Although his opponent was back on his broom quickly, he was more cautious and unwilling to stick so closely to Harry.
It gave him space to breathe whilst he searched for the snitch, something he continued to do when given another nod by Collins, confirming they were still ahead by enough points to clinch the cup.
His search, however, was in vain for some time. The snitch was nowhere to be seen and Harry was relegated to circling the pitch, disrupting the play from the opposing chasers when the opportunity arose but still scanning the stadium as he did so.
It was a glint of gold in his periphery that finally spurred him into action, his heart racing as he spun his broom towards the now fleeing snitch.
Clayton followed, his own scramble becoming desperate when he realised that Harry was not attempting to trick him this time, though with the head start, it would be difficult to even catch up to the younger seeker.
The reprieve came as Harry was forced to slow his broom as a bludger was sent in his path, allowing Clayton to draw level with him.
With the two of them once more on even footing, the duel proceeded in earnest, neither taking their eye off the snitch but not losing track of their opponent.
This was seeking at its finest.
The crowd too were fixated on the competition between the two men, the crafty veteran and the young prospect vying for supremacy on the pitch.
"You just don't know when to quit, do you?" Clayton growled.
"I never have," Harry replied, driving the man away from him with his shoulder.
The gesture was returned, neither shying away from the physicality of the chase, the two exchanging blows from well over one hundred feet in the air.
"Peverell and Clayton are holding nothing back as they close the distance, the snitch almost within reach. I am on the edge of my seat! How they stay composed in such a dangerous position I will never know!"
It was Clayton that made his move first, his arm outstretched as he reached for the snitch, something that proved to be a mistake.
Before he could close his hand around it, the little ball took a sudden dive, and the few seconds it took for him to readjust his position was his undoing.
He found himself a foot behind Harry as he plunged, and for what it was worth, it may as well have been a mile.
Clayton could only look on as Harry caught the snitch, his own amateur mistake of swooping prematurely backfiring.
Truthfully, he had panicked and only had himself to blame. He had been hasty with his approach, had snatched too soon and his opponent had seized the advantage and won the game along with league for his team.
As Harry landed, he was swarmed by the rest of the Falcons who tackled him to the ground.
"We bloody did it!" Bode exclaimed.
It took a few minutes, but he eventually managed extract himself from the pile of bodies, a grin plastered across his face with the crowd cheering his name.
"You deserve it," a voice said from next to him. "You know, I thought I still had it in me to beat you. I was hoping I would get one more World Cup before I had to retire."
"The World Cup is only next year," Harry reminded Clayton.
"You will be picked over me, and rightly so," the older seeker snorted. "Like I said, you deserve it, Peverell."
Harry shook his head.
"You don't know that will happen."
"Well, Campbell didn't come here to just watch me," Clayton pointed out, nodding to a man standing on the side lines watching the exchange between the pair. "He's been watching you since the Harpies match and made no secret that if you continued to impress, you'd be in with a chance. You proved yourself today."
Clayton offered a respectful hand, the smile he wore a little forced.
"You don't have to pretend to be happy about it," Harry chuckled as he accepted the gesture.
"Oh, I'm pissed off," Clayton replied, "but I would sooner see England win something than let my pride get in the way of that. The mark of a good player is knowing when to bow out to a better one. Never forget that Peverell, and you'll be remembered as one of the best one day."
With his parting words given, the opposing seeker gave a wave to the crowd who cheered for him still and Harry mounted his broom once more and headed towards the box he had arranged for those who had accompanied him to watch the game from.
Without Narcissa being here, there was only one other person that would be getting this snitch. It would be the first for Helena, and if Harry had his way, certainly not the last.
"That was amazing," Sirius declared. "Did you see how Peverell caught the snitch. I thought Clayton would give him a better match than that."
"Clayton hasn't been challenged in the league for years," Cygnus interjected. "The World Cup is entirely different. He doesn't do well with pressure. That's why England hasn't won anything. You saw that today. He didn't know what to do with Harry."
Charlus nodded his agreement.
"It was alright, I suppose," James offered with a shrug.
"Are you still sulking because Harry told you off?" Charlus asked, a grin tugging at his lips.
He had not been best pleased when he heard of James's letter to Dumbledore to join his 'Order of the Phoenix'. Not only had Harry given him and Sirius a severe talking to, he and Arcturus had too.
Needless to say, the two teens were not happy with what was said.
"I'm not sulking," James huffed. "We are both adults and should be able to do what we want."
Charlus's nostrils flared irritably.
James had always been stubborn, a trait he admittedly had inherited from both his parents, but it seemed that he had not listened to a single thing said to him regarding the matter.
"If that is what you believe, then you have not understood what has been said to you," the older Potter sighed. "We will discuss it when we are home."
"What's left to discuss?" James snapped.
Charlus narrowed his eyes at his son and James fell silent knowing he was already pushing his father too far.
"Many things, James. There are many things we need to talk about."
The Potter heir scowled but nodded his understanding.
"Did you send off your applications?" Arcturus asked.
"We did," Sirius confirmed. "We should receive a reply in the next couple of weeks. They're still fast-tracking people in."
"They will for a while yet. Even when the war is over and the foreigners go home, they'll want to keep the numbers up to deter any other would-be Dark Lord from surfacing."
"That won't be for a while yet though," Sirius replied. "The war could last for years."
"It could," Arcturus acknowledged but commented no further as they left the stadium. "Come on, the portkeys are this way," he added, his hand discreetly wrapped around his wand that was concealed up his sleeve.
They made their way through the crowd that remained behind to mill around or those hoping to catch a glimpse of the players as they left the stadium to the where the international portkeys were being collected.
"Potter," Charlus announced as he reached the Ministry worker in charge of dispensing them.
"Ah," he we are," he declared having checked his paperwork. "Party of six?"
"That's us," Charlus answered, gesturing to himself, James, and the four Blacks they had travelled with.
"Okay, take hold when you're ready," the Ministry worker instructed, holding out a length of rope. "When you arrive, you will be directed to an auror where you will be subject to a search. Three, two, one…"
The uncomfortable feeling of being hooked through the navel was felt before the disorientating spinning, but it was over quickly, and the group found themselves in the arrival room at the Ministry only a moment later.
"You never get used to that," Charlus grumbled, steadying himself.
"Potter?" a man with a roll of parchment asked.
"Over to the left. Auror Robards is waiting for you."
They made their way to the indicated man who greeted Charlus with a smile.
"Lord Potter," he said, bowing respectfully.
"How's it going Gawain? How's the wife and the little one?" Charlus enquired.
"A handful," Robards huffed good-naturedly, "and that's just the wife."
"Sorry, Lord Potter, I have to…"
Charlus waved the man off.
"It's your job, Gawain."
Robards nodded before setting to work, running a secrecy sensor over each member of the party, pausing and becoming nervous as he reached Arcturus.
"Lord Black," he greeted the older man nervously.
Arcturus stared at the man speculatively for a moment before nodding.
"You're still here then?" he asked.
Robards nodded enthusiastically.
"Good," Arcturus praised. "We need more aurors like you. Maybe you can teach these clowns something if they're accepted," he added, jerking a thumb towards James and Sirius."
"Well, I will be in charge of the next influx of recruits."
Arcturus laughed heartily.
"Then they will be in good hands."
Robards offered James and Sirius a grin before waving the group through.
"How do you know him?" James questioned.
"Gawain? Well, we did a little training with the aurors ourselves some years ago. He was a recruit back then," Charlus explained.
"You joined the aurors?" James asked in disbelief.
"No," Charlus corrected, "we trained some of the aurors."
"You never mentioned that!"
"It never came up. We only did it for a few years before you were born. It was a favour for an old friend."
James shook his head, dumbfounded by the revelation before looking at an equally taken aback Sirius.
"Did you know this?"
The Black heir shook his head also, having been none the wise to that knowledge.
"I remember that," Orion broke in. "You would always come home complaining about how arrogant but poor they were."
"Gawain and Moody were about the only exceptions," Arcturus sighed. "He'll be Head Auror before he retires."
"Not Head of Department?" Cygnus questioned.
"I'd like to meet the person that would keep Gawain Robards behind a desk," Charlus snorted. "No, when he's a little older and wants to slow down, he'll accept the promotion. Anyway, we should be heading home. Are you coming, Sirius?"
"I am. I want to hear more about you training aurors."
"Alright, I'll take these two with me. I'll make sure he gets home safely," he assured Orion and Arcturus.
"On that damned bike, I doubt it," Arcturus grumbled as he walked away with his sons in tow.
"Come on then, I'm sure your mother will have dinner waiting for us," Charlus predicted.
He was right, after they had exited the Ministry and arrived at Potter Manner, it was to the sight of Dorea laying the table with an irritable Maisy looking on.
The elf had never grown used to the Lady Potter insisting on cooking for the family at least a few times a week, but she no longer protested.
"What's wrong with you?" Dorea asked as she took a seat, noticing the sour look James wore. "You're not still sulking, are you?"
"I'm not sulking!" James sighed.
"Then what is the problem?"
"You both expect me to just accept what happened to Peter. I can't do that."
"That is not what was discussed, James," Charlus bit back. "You attempted to join a bloody vigilante group."
"That are fighting against him!"
The two Potter males glared at one another before Charlus leaned back in his chair.
"What would happen if you were to be killed?" he asked.
James frowned at the question.
"I'd be dead."
"What would happen to the family?" Charlus pressed.
A look of realisation dawned as James pondered the follow up.
"I didn't really think of that," he muttered.
"Of course, you didn't," Charlus sighed. "You're seventeen, you don't think of things like that."
"So, I just have to sit back and do nothing?"
"That's exactly what you will do," Charlus confirmed. "You might not like it, James, but you have to think beyond your own selfish wishes. I am allowing you to join the aurors only because I think you'll be damned good at it. There's a big difference between that and throwing yourself into a war."
"I'll still be at risk," James pointed out.
"But not the same risk as being on a battlefield!" Charlus snapped. "I don't know what the hell is running through your mind when you think of fighting this Dark Lord and his followers, but I can promise you that it will be nothing like you think. There is no glory, there are no winners."
"What do you know about it?" James fired back. "It's not as though you're fighting!"
The table fell silent, and James knew he'd overstepped with his comment when his father offered no retort.
"My priority is ensuring the safety and continuation of our family," Charlus spoke after a moment, his voice dangerously low. "My priority is yours. I am trying to stop you from making the same mistake I did when I was your age."
"Charlus," Dorea warned.
"No, he should hear it," the Potter patriarch returned. "I fought my war, James. Back when Grindelwald was murdering his way across Europe, I was there. I didn't have my father to stop me because he died fighting the bastard."
"I didn't know that," James replied.
"For three years I lived on a battlefield, the smell of blood and shit filling my nose, the screams of dying men haunting my dreams for years after. You lost a friend, I understand that, but all that is waiting for you out there is more loss, more pain and more suffering. I would not see you put through that."
James nodded his understanding.
"I'm sorry, I didn't think."
"You didn't," Charlus agreed, "but you need to do much more of it. Everything you do now will be scrutinised by those out there, every action and every decision must be considered carefully. This is not your fight, James, just as much as it isn't mine. Younger men than me and older ones than you will do the fighting. Let it be. Don't let thoughts of vengeance take you as they did me. I want you to be a better man than I am."
Releasing a deep breath, Charlus stood and gave his son's shoulder a reassuring squeeze before exiting through the back door to get some air.
"Why didn't father ever mention the war?" James asked.
Dorea gave him a sad smile as she shook her head.
"Your father does not speak about it," she sighed. "His time overseas was not a pleasant one. He was a very different man when the fighting was over. For a long time, I didn't think he would be himself, but he got through it. It was hard for him, James. He just does not want you to have to experience anything that he did."
"That makes sense," Sirius pointed out. "But what about the whole continuation of the family thing. I've never heard Charlus say that. My grandfather? Yes, but not Charlus."
"I suppose that he never wanted James to feel that pressure until he was older, but this is still a prominent and old family. Those thoughts will always be at the forefront of a Lord's mind."
"So, what things do I have to start thinking about?"
"Well, you should learn more of the family history and attending Wizengamot meetings," Dorea suggested, "and I know it may seem hasty, but marriage."
"Marriage?" James asked, a frown marring his features.
"Already the proposals have been coming in," she sighed. "Your father has agreed to nothing," she assured James, "but it is something you will need to consider soon. For you, marriage and heirs will be important. You are our only son."
"Bloody hell," James grumbled. "Who's been sending in proposals?" he asked, ignoring the laughing Sirius.
"Your father has received them from the Abbott Family, the Jones', and the Ogdens."
"I don't even know any of them," James protested.
"And it is not something you need concern yourself with for the time being, James," Dorea comforted. "Your father is well aware of your relationship with Miss Evans and is willing to give you time to explore that. I think she made quite the impression on him."
"She does that," Sirius muttered.
"Mum, I can't just ask her to marry me. She's a muggleborn, she's not used to that kind of thing. Besides, would father really agree to it? When was the last time a Potter didn't marry a pureblood?"
"I don't know," Dorea replied, "maybe you will be the first."
"And that doesn't bother you?" James asked sceptically.
Dorea eyed her son critically, pondering her words before answering.
"I cannot pretend that I wouldn't prefer for you to marry a pureblood, James, but I would rather you were happy, the same way your father and I are. We wouldn't force you to marry someone you disapproved of, and you have been interested in Miss Evans since your first year of Hogwarts. Besides, she impressed your father, and it will ultimately be him that gives his approval, but if she is as he has described her, I'm sure we will get along."
"She is brilliant, mum," he said sincerely.
"Then conversations will have to be had in the future. For now, enjoy what you have, and forget any stupid notion you had of joining this war. Make no mistake, James, I would not put it past your father to lock you in the basement if necessary."
James nodded as he stood and kissed his mother on the cheek.
"I won't do anything stupid," he promised. "I'll do and find dad and tell him the same."
Dorea smiled approvingly and ruffled his already messy hair.
"I am proud of you, James. For all the stress you have given me over the years, I am proud of the man you are becoming."
"I've been lucky enough to learn from the best," James replied as he headed towards the door his father had left through, "and I had a mother that tolerated a lot of crap," he added with a grin.
"Are you sure about this, Harry?" Dumbledore questioned.
"Where Tom is concerned, you can never be sure of anything," Harry replied, "but I do not think he would let this opportunity pass by, and he will want to be as sure as possible of his success. He needs it now more than ever."
"I can find no fault in your logic," he said, offering a bow. "The Order will be there to assist you, as will I, but how can you be certain he will not flee? Forgive me, but with us both there, he will be reluctant to fight."
"I will give him no choice in the matter," Harry answered cryptically. "Let me worry about the Dark Lord, Headmaster. He has fled from Death too many times now, but not anymore. Death will always have their due."
"Then I wish you all the best," Dumbledore returned after musing over Harry's words for a moment.
Giving the old man a nod, Harry took his leave from the headmaster's office and the school soon after before apparating home.
With the meeting between Lestrange, Arcturus, and Bellatrix bearing down on them, Narcissa had been pensive, her mind occupied with the impending confrontation with her sister.
Harry had considered trying to talk her out of it, to allow him to deal with Bellatrix, but he knew his words would fall on deaf ears. His wife was determined to see this through, to be the one to return the favour of what her sibling had done to her.
Perhaps she saw it as poetic justice or simply that the thought of not being Bellatrix's downfall something that would haunt her.
Regardless, there would be no changing her mind and it was a difficult thing for Harry to accept but accept it he did.
Narcissa had proven herself capable, had paid rapt attention to the lessons he bestowed upon her, and seemed to be quietly confident.
He knew not what her plan was, but when he had asked, she had offered only a short and succinct answer.
"I know my sister, Harry, better than anyone else."
The words offered little comfort, though her gaze remained firm and unwavering as she spoke.
It instilled a sense of belief within him.
Who was he to doubt his wife when she was so certain?
"How is Helena?" he asked, wrapping his arms around her.
"Sleeping," Narcissa answered with a grin. "All of the rolling around she's doing has worn her out."
It had become the little one's new favourite pastime. She would roll over onto her belly and would wait for Narcissa to roll her back so she could do it again. She had become rather proficient with the manoeuvre.
"And what about you?" he probed.
"Well," Narcissa began, turning to face him, "with how busy you have been with the media and everything else, I have been missing my husband."
Harry offered her an apologetic smile.
"I'm sorry," he said, placing a kiss on her brow. "It won't be like this forever."
"You don't have to be sorry for your success," Narcissa chided. "I'm proud of you, for everything. The work you put in to Quidditch is giving us a very comfortable life. Do you even know how much gold has gone into our vault this past year?"
Harry frowned as he shook his head and Narcissa snorted.
"With your last win, you could retire today, and you would never have to work again, neither would Helena nor her children."
"That much?" Harry asked incredulously.
"You really are a silly man in many ways," she teased. "Have you not even looked at the statements Gringotts send?"
"No," Harry answered honestly. "I don't play for the gold."
"I know," Narcissa replied.
"I don't suppose there's any need for me to play anymore, not if I don't need to," he mused aloud.
"There you go again, being a silly man," Narcissa sighed.
"What?" Harry asked dumbly.
"Are you bored of Quidditch? Do you not want to play anymore?"
"Of course, I do, I just thought…"
"Then you thought wrong," Narcissa cut him off. "I want you to play as long as you want to play. You love what you do Harry and I want you to get everything you want out of it. As you said, it won't be forever. Quidditch careers are short, and even when you're done playing for the Falcons, if you're not ready to walk away from it, you find another way to be involved."
Harry could only smile at the impassioned scolding he had received.
"I want you to be happy, Harry," Narcissa said sincerely. "Quidditch makes you happy, and I will be very upset with you if you throw it away because I have to miss you sometimes."
"You've made your point," Harry laughed.
"Good," Narcissa returned evenly. "Now, since I do have you here and our daughter is sleeping peacefully, I would like to be selfish and have some time with my husband, if you have no objections?"
"None that I can think of," Harry answered.
"Then just be my Harry for a while, none of this scary Lord Peverell or Harry Peverell; Quidditch superstar. Be the man I married, and I will be content with missing you sometimes."
"I can do that," Harry promised, "but first, have we got any treacle tart?"
Playing Quidditch meant Harry had to watch what he ate. It was not often he was allowed to indulge in his favourite treat, but with the season finally over, he could enjoy his time off.
"I already got you some," she tutted, laughing at how his eyes lit up before he all but sprinted towards the cupboard the same way a child would.
She had not been here since the passing of her husband, the Lestrange home having never been more than a place to rest her head from time to time before she had become her master's most trusted.
Now, she had been given rooms next to his own within the manor he resided in. Even before Rudolphus had been killed, she had refused to stay here any longer.
Her marriage had brought her no happiness, not the way serving the Dark Lord did.
In the beginning, she had been fond of the Lestrange heir. In his own way, he had been charming and handsome, if a little dim at times, but Bellatrix had envisioned a future where they could have been content at least.
A foolish notion.
She would never have been content with such a mundane life where she would birth the heir of another family and spend her days gossiping with other ladies.
That was not who she was.
She felt nothing as she passed through the halls of the house, no stirring of pleasant memories and no sense of sentimentality.
She was here for one reason only, and when her task was done, she would have no need to return. If Corvus were to try to exert his will on her, he would die as well.
"Come in," the man instructed as she knocked on the door to his study.
She entered to find Lord Lestrange poring over a pile of parchment, seeing to his duties as the Head of his family.
"Ah, Bellatrix," he greeted her. "Please, take a seat and place your wand on the desk."
"My wand?" Bellatrix questioned.
"This is to be a peaceful meeting. Your grandfather knows that he is expected to do the same."
Bellatrix frowned and placed her spare on the desk in front of the man. He was a fool if he believed she would give up her means of defending herself.
"Thank you," he said, offering her a grateful a nod.
Something did not feel right. There was something rather foreboding about being in this room that she hadn't felt before, but she did not have time to ponder it as the fire burst into life only a moment later and the Lord Black stepped into the room, his visage as grim as ever.
"Thank you for coming, Lord Black," Corvus welcomed the man. "Please, as discussed, surrender your wand and take a seat."
"This better be bloody important, Lestrange," Arcturus grumbled as he complied with the man's wishes.
Her grandfather was acting as he always did, his expression giving nothing away, though he did not deign her with a look. To him, Bellatrix had brought shame upon the Blacks.
"I can assure it is," Corvus sighed. "I understand there is enmity between yourselves, but the future of my family is at stake. I'm sure you understand."
Arcturus grunted and Bellatrix leaned back in her chair, her curiosity piqued as to why they had been assembled.
"So?" Arcturus prompted.
Corvus released a deep breath.
"With Rudolphus and Rabastan dead, and Bellatrix not having produced an heir during their marriage, I find myself without one. I was hoping that an accord would be reached where Bellatrix will keep my family name and remarry, per your approval of course, Lord Black."
Bellatrix felt her temper begin to flare but waited for her grandfather to speak.
"I do not see how this is my concern," he answered.
"It is in the contract, Lord Black," Corvus pointed. "In the event of the death without heir to my son, the Lord of each house will have equal say as to the status of Bellatrix."
"Ah, but you forget, Corvus, Bellatrix has been expelled from my family for murdering one of our own. As far as I'm concerned, do as you please with her."
"She was a traitor!" Bellatrix seethed, "and so are you," she added as she drew her wand and levelled it at her grandfather. "You should have joined the Dark Lord when you had the chance."
Arcturus was unmoved by the threat, his gaze burning into her.
"Bellatrix!" Corvus snapped.
"It's quite alright, Corvus," Arcturus placated. "Bella here believes that she can kill me. Did you not think your plot with Walburga had not been discovered? Do you think me such a fool to submit myself to you without taking precautions?"
Bellatrix leered at her grandfather.
"Did you not think that I would have taken equal precautions?"
She cackled as the door opened and the Dark Lord entered, his crimson eyes burning as he took in the appearance of the Lord Black.
"You are more foolish than I was led to believe," Voldemort declared almost disappointedly as he too levelled his wand at the Black patriarch, stiffening as a coldness descended upon the room and whispers began to fill it.
"Peverell," he muttered as a single raven appeared on the fireplace, his attention turning to the door as a pained scream was heard from the other side.
"You cannot flee, Tom… Death demands your soul…"
His attention was pulled away from the sounds of fighting that had ensued within the manor by a shriek from Bellatrix, only to come face to face with the white eyes of his foe who had seemingly appeared nowhere.
"Hello, Tom," Peverell whispered, seizing the Dark Lord by the front of his robes, the two of them vanishing in a plume of icy smoke before Voldemort could respond.
"MY LORD!" Bellatrix called desperately. "YOU!"
Arcturus merely smirked at the accusive tone of his granddaughter as she turned towards him.
His wand was still a foot or so away and Bellatrix grinned triumphantly when she took note of it.
"Goodbye, grandfather. Avada Kedavra!"
The light of the spell illuminated the room, but it never reached the old man. The desk of Corvus Lestrange seemingly sprung to life and intercepted it of its own accord with the Lord of the manor holding his hands up to protest his innocence as Bellatrix turned her glare towards him.
She was cut off as something impacted with her side, and she was sent crashing into the wall. With the wind knocked out of her she searched for the source of the intrusion, her eyes widening in disbelief as she spotted a very familiar figure with their wand trained on her.
No, it wasn't possible. Her sister was dead.
Bellatrix shook her head, certain she hadn't knocked it, yet, the image of Narcissa remained in front of her.
"I killed you," Bellatrix whispered. "YOU'RE ALREADY DEAD!"
Narcissa's eyes narrowed, her jaw clenched.
"You did a very poor job of it, Bella."
Bellatrix scrambled desperately to avoid the onslaught of spells sent her way, the wall behind her being reduced to rubble by the efforts of her sister. She managed to offer a hurried rebuttal as she pushed herself to her feet, only to see her efforts batted aside as though they were but an inconvenience.
Bellatrix followed up with another flurry of spells, resulting in her only becoming frustrated as Narcissa avoided them with ease. With a growl, her assault continued until she was breathing heavily from the exertion.
"HOW?" she shrieked as Narcissa emerged unscathed.
"Because I know you better than anyone," her sister answered. "Who was it that would be in the basement when father was teaching you? Who would you ask to practice with when I got my wand, and we were home for the summer? Me," Narcissa answered her own questions. "You may have trained with the Dark Lord, but you are still the same Bella I grew up with."
She said nothing else as she returned fire and Bellatrix found herself on the defensive.
This wasn't the same quiet, sweet sister she had grown with. This was the very same Narcissa that had tried to kill her when they were teenagers when Bellatrix had taken the stupid trinket aunt Cassie had left her.
She ducked as a searing curse was sent away, the smell of singed hair filling her nose.
This was indeed not her caring and calm sister. Her stare was feral, her wand work impeccable, and the spells used leaving no doubt to her intentions.
Narcissa wanted to kill Bellatrix, and as the latter realised this, the question of how her sister had survived the killing curse was far from her mind.
Bellatrix was too busy trying to preserve her own.
The fighting with the Death Eaters had happened suddenly, an overzealous auror beginning the battle as soon as he caught sight of one of the Dark Lord's followers passing through one of the halls of the Lestrange manor.
It was a point of irritation for the headmaster who hoped that such a confrontation would not be necessary. If Harry was able to defeat Tom, he believed the rest would lay down their wands.
That option had all but evaporated now.
Though it was odd to be in such a situation that the Death Eaters did not have the numbers in their favour, it was a welcome change, and the anti-apparation wards the aurors had erected ensured that none would escape justice.
When the night came to an end, the Wizengamot would be busy holding trials for those captured. If, of course, Harry was to emerge victorious.
It was difficult to doubt the man with all that Albus had witnessed him do, but it was equally difficult to forget the resourcefulness and cunning of Tom.
It was anyone's guess as to who would emerge from that duel.
"Albus, they're running," Benjy broke into his thoughts.
"They will not get far," Dumbledore assured him, the wards will not allow them to escape.
"Who arranged for all this?"
"I believe that would be a team effort on the part of Barty and Millicent having been informed of what would happen here this evening by our very own Lord Peverell."
"Crafty bastard," Benjy snorted.
"I do not believe he wished to take any chances with this. He has grown tired of war."
"Haven't we all," Benjy murmured. "Let's just hope he is as good as we have convinced ourselves."
"He is better, Benjy," Dumbledore replied remembering that the man had just the tools required to win. "Much better."
The Dark Lord was deposited onto a cold, stone floor, struggling to breathe. It was not until he realised that it was his own locket that was trying to strangle him that he fought to remove it from his neck and gasped as it clattered to the ground.
He watched fearfully as it twitched before the spells he had sealed it with came undone and a bloodcurdling shriek rent the air.
He followed the path of the released soul shard, little more than a dark cloud as it ascended and vanished amongst many others just like it, floating above him.
"They are the souls of the damned," the voice of Peverell pulled him from his observations. "The prison of those that once tried to flee Death as you do now. I would see you join them."
The Dark Lord laughed as he stood.
"None of those tread the path that I have. I am untouchable to even Death."
The tone was mocking, and Harry snorted.
"The locket, the Gaunt Family ring, and the lost diadem of Ravenclaw. Each soul piece that was within them is up there now."
The Dark Lord narrowed his eyes.
"If you believe that they were my only…"
"Hufflepuff's cup," Peverell interrupted. "It remains your only anchor to the world we came from and is the only reason you yet live here."
"Then your plan has failed," Voldemort replied.
Peverell shook his head and grinned, his eyes flashing from his natural emerald to white.
"No. After all you have done, I would not grant you such an easy death," he denied. "My plan worked just as intended. We are here where you can no longer run from me."
Lord Voldemort growled before attempting to apparate away, to no avail.
"The only way you will leave here is if you kill me," Peverell explained as he drew his wand. "Death will have their due, Tom. The only thing that remains is to see who Fate favours."
The man was an oddity indeed, his allusions to Fate and Death as though they were true beings baffling.
The Dark Lord's nostrils flared as he stood and drew his own wand, a sense of nervousness settling in.
This was not a setting of his own device, the coldness here as damning as it was foreboding, but with a final look towards the array of souls swimming above, he nodded.
Even if he were to lose, the cup could bring him back and that was safely with the one person he had entrusted with his deepest secret.
"So be it," he replied, unleashing a flurry of curses towards the younger man.
Peverell vanished before they reached him, a large flock of ravens filling the air as his spells passed through where he had stood.
"COWARD!" Voldemort shouted.
"DEATH!" the ravens shrieked in unison before they fell upon him, pecking and clawing at his flesh.
With a guttural roar, the Dark Lord immolated most with a burst of fire, though many remained and took to the sky once more.
"Coward?" a voice whispered from all around him. "This coming from the man who attacks in the night, tries to kill a helpless infant. A coward is what you are, Riddle."
"And yet you hide behind your parlour tricks!" Voldemort muttered, his eyes not leaving the birds.
The Dark Lord turned towards the voice, only for his head to snap backwards as a fist was ploughed into his nose, sending him sprawling.
He hastily pushed himself to his feet, his wand a blur as he delved into the more obscure spells he had added to his arsenal over the years; a curse that would rip the brain out through the nose, a hex that would fill the veins with water, and even a darker one that would ignite the heart within the chest cavity.
All missed, though he had little time to feel the mounting frustration as a rebuttal was sent his way and Lord Voldemort erected a hasty shield, the spells ricocheting off sending him backwards a few feet.
"I don't offer you tricks," Peverell denied as he reappeared, "only death."
"DEATH!" a familiar, white-eyed raven shrieked from where it was perched on his shoulder before it took flight.
"I DO NOT FEAR DEATH!" Voldemort roared. "I have conquered it!"
Peverell tilted his head, almost as though he was amused by the declaration.
"You cannot conquer death," he murmured, sending forth another series of spells that forced the Dar Lord to duck, the fiery scythe passing by him too close for comfort.
Voldemort knew that he could not remain on the defensive, not against a foe as dangerous as Peverell.
Seeing the man preparing another assault, he fired his own attack, taking no small amount of glee from seeing his opponent flinch as a cutting curse whizzed by his ear.
With neither willing to give ground or settle for defending themselves, they began trading spells in earnest, some being swept aside, others shielded when necessary, and the rest colliding in mid-air resulting in showers of colourful sparks, yet none could gain any advantage.
As much as he despised admitting it, Peverell was his equal and the Dark Lord found it a shame that they had become at odds with one another. Were they to co-exist, none could hope to stand against them.
Alas, it was not meant to be. Too much water had passed beneath that bridge.
"You're waning, Peverell," Voldemort said disapprovingly during a lull in the fighting. "You are excellent, but you are not me. I have gone beyond what any other has dared before me, I have toiled for decades perfecting the use of magic, understanding what it is and how it works."
"You have," he acknowledged, "but you fail to realise there is magic that you cannot hope to understand, there are things that you will never know. Your downfall is not that you overestimate yourself, but you underestimate others. You believe yourself superior when you are not. We are not so different in many ways but worlds apart in others!"
The use of parseltongue angered the Dark Lord, the luminous green spell sent his way rebuffed with a hiss of his own.
"How?" he demanded. "How is it you possess the gift of my ancestors?"
Peverell smirked triumphantly.
"It's like I said, we are so alike in many ways, Tom," he answered cryptically, his eyes flashing white once more, "but so different in others."
The cuts and minor injuries Peverell had sustained during the drawn-out fight healed before the Dark Lord's eyes, though his own remained.
He truly had no advantage here.
"Death favours me, Tom, and it seems that fate does also. You stand before me bleeding, bruised and tired and I am only just beginning."
"WHAT ARE YOU?" Voldemort shouted, his anger surfacing once more as he cast with all the speed he could muster, using everything he had to put an end to the damned Peverell.
When the smoke and spells cleared, the man remained standing, his white eyes fixed upon him and the raven that had plagued the Dark Lord for the past year perched on his shoulder once more.
"I am your downfall, Tom," Peverell muttered, "I am what you have spent your life fleeing from, the very thing you believed your horcruxes would protect you from."
Voldemort could only stare questioningly as the raven flew into Peverell's chest and a dark cloak formed around the man, obscuring his features.
"I am Death's chosen."
The whisper reverberated around the walls and in the blink of an eye the figure was standing before him, and the Dark Lord felt an icy chill fill his veins.
"Goodbye, Tom," Peverell whispered.
Lord Voldemort felt the grip around his wand loosen, and the sound of it bouncing off the stone below as he grew colder, any resistance he had futile.
He and Peverell may have been equals when it came to a fight, but the man need not be better than him in that regard when he wielded magic that even the Dark Lord could not comprehend.
This was not like anything he had ever encountered, and even as he gripped the wrist of the hand that was plunged into his chest, he knew that it would be for nought and the only hope he had of escaping this place rested with Bellatrix whom he had gifted his cup to.
Were she to fail, he would roam here with the other souls that seemed only to draw nearer as he looked up at them once more.
"Death…Death…Death," the ravens whispered.
And Death had indeed claimed him.
The study of Corvus Lestrange no longer existed. The walls had been destroyed, as had his desk and any other personal belongings he had kept within the room.
Now, it resembled nothing but a gaping hole in the side of the house where the two sisters had been fighting, the destruction spilling throughout the manor as each attempted to end the life of the other.
Narcissa winced as she avoided a Gouging Curse courtesy of Bella, her arm twinging from where it had undoubtedly been broken during the course of the duel.
Her left leg was also giving her problems where a deep gash bled freely, though Bellatrix was not faring any better. Her right leg was twisted morbidly, and she now resorted to hobbling, her ability to dodge more inhibited than Narcissa's.
She too had been cut, her right eye having been damaged beyond repair and her shoulder torn open by Narcissa's efforts.
Neither had been able to follow up with anything lethal however, both taking to defending themselves ably when needed.
"Traitorous bitch!" Bellatrix seethed as she sent a curse towards Narcissa that would snap the fingers of her wand hand backwards.
The younger sister returned it and Bellatrix was forced to duck, screaming in agony as she put too much weight on her damaged leg.
Acting instinctively, Narcissa collapsed on top of the woman, her hands closing around her throat, and she squeezed tightly.
Bellatrix's eye bulged in its socket as she tried to fend off the unexpected attack, her wand having fallen from her grip rendering her all but defenceless.
"My Lord," she choked, reaching desperately over her sister's shoulder.
Narcissa's heart sunk as she turned her head and saw the figure of the Dark Lord stood before her, his pale skin and crimson eyes illuminated by the moonlight pouring in through a nearby window.
"My Lord," Bellatrix tried again, the whites of her remaining eye filling with blood. "No!"
The body of Lord Voldemort thudded to the ground, unmoving.
Seeing her master dead, Bellatrix all but gave up struggling, a tear breaking free as she stared at the lifeless form of the Dark Lord.
Narcissa redoubled her efforts to throttle the life out of her sister, her own tears breaking free as she unburdened herself of all the pain, the hurt, and anger that had accumulated over the past weeks.
This woman had once been her sister, but Bellatrix had lost herself, given everything she had to a man who could not do the same. A part of her wished she could turn back time, show the young girl she had once known what was to come, but when she considered it, she knew that Bella would not listen.
She would once more become enamoured with the Dark Lord that promised the world and delivered nothing.
"She's gone, Cissy," the voice of Harry pulled her from her despair.
Bellatrix was dead, having received nothing less than she had deserved for what she and her master had tried to do, and though Narcissa felt justified for what she had done, she did not feel better.
She felt numb as she allowed Harry to pull her to her feet but comfortable as he wrapped her arms around her.
"Is it over?" she whispered.
She felt him nod before he placed a kiss on her head.
"It is," he replied as he picked her up and carried her from the room.
"Good," Narcissa murmured tiredly, her body aching from her various wounds and the toll the emotional distress had taken on her.
That was the voice of Corvus Lestrange.
"It was there, just as you thought it would be."
"Thank you, Lestrange," Harry returned. "I will make sure your home is returned to its former glory, as promised. I look forward to negotiating that with Bagnold."
"Myself and my wife?" Lestrange pressed.
"Will be safe," Harry assured him, "for now, I need to get my own to a healer."
"I will not even ask how that is possible," Corvus sighed.
Harry paused in his steps before addressing the man a final time.
"Because Death is only the beginning for a Peverell, Lord Lestrange. You and the rest of the wizarding Britain would do well to remember that," Harry urged, pocketing the cup that had fallen from within Bellatrix's robes.
"I do not see how they will forget," was the final words Narcissa heard from the man before she and Harry left Lestrange Manor behind them, along with the remnants of the war.