"Do not fret on my account, Nymphadora. There are greater players at work here."
Dumbledore gave a reassuring smile and patted the young Auror on the head even as he listened to Fudge and Scrimgeour commanding the Order to disband the threatening treason charges should they be caught engaging in future vigilante activities. His anger towards Harry was boiling even more than it had been upon the boy's expulsion. He still loved Harry with all his heart, but he now discovered the resolve to deal with him as needed. The young wizard surely did not intend to remain loyal to the Ministry. He was no doubt already plotting to break Fudge and seize true political power now that he had effectively crippled Albus. The Headmaster believed that Harry was a better alternative to Voldemort, and even believed in the egalitarian society that his ideals would bring about. But still, change could not be forced. Harry was young and ambitious, and did not consider the pain and upheaval that would result upon tearing down ancient prejudices by simple decree. Changing the wizarding world was not nearly so easy, and yet more violence would surely come about once Harry realized this and lost his patience. Albus could not allow the people to suffer so.
But Dumbledore could do little against Harry at that exact moment, what with the prophecy still protecting the boy and the Order now disbanded. He had little recourse other than to wait patiently and observe events as they developed. He would survive this trifling inconvenience and sooner or later Harry and Tom would have their final showdown and one would emerge the victor. After that the prophecy would be voided and matters could be dealt with as needed. He could only pray that he would never have to raise his wand against Harry. Doing so would shatter the already cracked and bruised pieces that comprised his heart. Should that come to pass, Albus prayed that the battle would claim his own existence as well. He too deserved to die, as his unsteady hands were those that had molded Harry into the creature that he had become. Perhaps he could at least become the grandfather and mentor to Mister Potter in the next world that he had so miserably failed to be in this one.
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Two Funerals and a Battlefield – Solidifying Alliances
Disclaimer: If you've seen it before, it belongs to J.K. Rowling. Otherwise, it's mine. Naturally, I'm making no money off this.
"And now we consecrate this spot, where Remus Jay Lupin begins the eternal journey."
Harry had never thought that he would attend a werewolf funeral ceremony. Yet there he stood, face expressionless in his black mourning robes. There had to be nearly a hundred lycanthropes in attendance, golden eyes burning with resentment like so many shining topazes. He was the only actual wizard at this ritual, invited especially by Fenrir Greyback due to his close relationship with the deceased. Cho and others had wanted to come as well, but Greyback was a new ally and somewhat hostile to humans in general and so bringing others along who weren't invited would not have been a smart move. Harry was normally not one to deny his beloved consort anything, but this was as much business as it was mourning, and had to be handled as such. He didn't even know where he was, only that the area was desolate and in the countryside somewhere. Greyback was serving as master of ceremonies, giving the proper farewell to his greatest rival for control over his people according to the werewolf culture that he personally created. The dakaathi hybrid had to admit that seeing the hulking brute dressed in worn red shaman's robes and wildly waving a blazing torch about as he gave the rites was a somewhat surreal experience.
"We light this pyre, and send our brother on his path with pride and our regard."
Greyback then turned to the spot where Lupin lay atop a funeral pyre and lit the wood. Whatever it had been doused with was highly combustible, as the whole stack was immediately engulfed in an inferno and Moony's body began to slowly disintegrate into ash. Every werewolf present let out a long and melancholic howl in unison, the last and loudest to do so being the alpha male. The mourners then began to disperse, some unabashedly casting glares at the only human present. Harry had a short silver sword girded underneath his robes just in case, but thankfully didn't need to withdraw it. Eventually only Harry and Greyback remained. The young warlord was determined not to waver until nothing remained but ashes. He owed that much to the man who had run to his death due to the winged demon's arrogance. He kept his stare fixed on Lupin's burning body, only hearing the other walking over to his position.
"He was a good man. I'll never forget the sacrifice he made that Halloween night."
"He died like a true warrior. We never agreed on much, but I respect him now."
Harry sent Greyback a sidelong glance, never really moving his eyes.
"I too would hope that wizards and werewolves can one day live in harmony."
Greyback gave a rather nasty snort.
"Never gonna happen. Wizards are too damned ignorant and scared. There ain't no peace. We've been oppressed too long and now it's time to get ours back. I thought maybe Voldemort was gonna give us our chance, but then his lapdog turned around and killed my own blood cub. Goes to show we can't really rely on anybody."
"And yet you came to me as a willing ally in battle."
The savage alpha's reply was growled out in vicious anger. Harry tensed his claw arm nervously. Fenrir Greyback was not one to be messed with lightly, even though the young warrior could best him in combat with relative ease. Brute strength mattered little against the ruinous powers Harry had at his disposal.
"You're not some regular human. You don't smell like one, and I'd bet Lupin knew it too. But now you're working with the Ministry, and I ain't throwing my cubs out to die bailing out people who treat us like rabid animals. I helped you then, but that's all. You're at this ceremony tonight as my guest, but once you leave you're no longer welcome in our circles. Come back again and I'll turn you into dinner, Golden Boy."
Harry closed his eyes as Lupin's body disintegrated at last, wishing the old lycanthrope a happier existence in the next world than he had in this one. He should have expected that Greyback wouldn't take well to his new alliances, but he didn't want to alienate him entirely. Deep down Harry understood that the alpha was smarter and more complex than his savage disposition let on and that he truly wanted to strive towards his pack's betterment. On that account they could reach a working accord.
"My loyalties are not with this corrupt government. I will set Fudge aside soon and take over and create a new world, but Dumbledore severed our ties and I needed to go somewhere. Minister Fudge is a stupid little gnome and his days are numbered."
Greyback reached into his robes and pulled out a dirty brown bottle. Harry wrinkled his nose in distaste at the Muggle corn liquor. He really wasn't a drinker at all, but his tastes were more centered towards sweet wines on the rare occasions that he did imbibe. At least the older man didn't pressure him to have any. He downed the bottle with one long chug and tossed it into the still roaring pyre with a choking belch.
"Yeah, I read the Prophet article. Nasty little vermin, Muggles are."
Harry shrugged. Vernon and Petunia were indeed scum, but not worth talking about. He hadn't even needed to pleasure the young reporter to get the spin he wanted on the article. The girl was extremely dedicated to her work, and hadn't even thought about sex once she had gotten into taking down her notes. He hadn't been all that hugely interested in exploring her body anyway and had been a bit pleased that he hadn't needed to take her between the sheets to get his business accomplished that day. He had sown his oats awhile during previous months but was now interested in larger and broader pursuits than adding more notches onto his sexual belt.
"The point is that I can help your people, and that I want to, but I also need your help."
"So this is some serious shite. Fine, tell me what you've got in mind."
Harry steepled his hands and cracked his knuckles loudly.
"That depends on what you want. I can promise to see all the Ministry's legislation against your people repealed, and then we can work something out. We can try to assimilate your people into magical society, or I can cede your pack a large land area to live upon and govern yourselves. An independent lycanthrope state, in other words."
Greyback almost looked human at that moment as he considered the matter. Harry had been a bit worried that the rangy lycanthrope would see the proposal as tossing his people onto some reservation so that humans wouldn't have to be around them and be angered, even though that wasn't his intent at all. But that didn't seem to be the case now.
"…A land to call our own. It's more than I ever imagined."
Harry smirked victoriously. It was so good to have the resources needed to make contracts in his grasp. This deal was much sweeter than anything Voldemort would have ever given Greyback and would thus keep him and his underlings happy and loyal to the young warlord's cause and designs. Riddle would have allowed them to sate their vengeance on human wizards during the war, but once it was over they would have still been his servants and in no better position relative to what they had in the old order.
"Voldemort would never have given you such a thing, that's a certainty. As it happens, I have a large plot that should be more than suitable. There's an enchanted wood out behind Gringotts. My ancestor charmed the place and bound it in neverending darkness. It's large enough to support well over a thousand people at its maximum development and there are some structures there now in the central area."
"I want to take a look at this place, and then we'll talk about alliances."
That was easy enough thanks to Harry's handy Portkey necklace. He decided that he really ought to learn to Apparate at some point. He knew that Greyback was going to accept his proposal. Having the werewolves move into the old shinobi village and the surrounding woods would more or less keep them contained with the goblins as a guard. Harry didn't entirely trust Fenrir Greyback not to renege on a potential deal at some point should it suit him and so it would be rather convenient to have his men penned in to an extent. After all, the alpha had originally jumped ship against Riddle on a mere whim, while Remus had still been alive and battling. He didn't at all intend to persecute or even control the werewolves, but it was always better to take precautions against treachery.
"We can do that, but I have a certain loose end that needs tying up as well..."
The young warlord reached into his robes and withdrew a parchment that had arrived earlier the previous evening, tossing it to Greyback with a careless sidearm motion. He had received several such messages in the past, but this one no doubt had malicious intent.
"Watercress Alley…not my usual stomping grounds, I must say."
"…I have a standing liaison that needs to be terminated. Bring your appetite and some trusted hands along. I need Narcissa Malfoy done away with. She knows several things about me that I can't risk her going to Voldemort with. I killed her son a week or so back and I daresay she's intending to make a try at vengeance during this arranged tryst. I don't think she'll be willing to admit our little relationship and risk death by either the Dark Lord or her husband, but it would still be wise to prepare against an ambush."
Harry was almost offended that Narcissa thought him so stupid as to walk unawares into such an obvious trap, though he couldn't say he was surprised. Mrs. Malfoy had always been exceedingly arrogant, somehow managing to keep that smug superiority even when begging him to supply her needy body. It was only natural that she would assume that a sixteen year old Gryffindor would never be able to see through her ridiculous plan. There could be no chance that her intentions were anything less that murderous. She had loved her useless spawn despite Draco's rampant idiocy. Harry had been growing increasingly disgusted with plowing that vinegary bitch all the time anyway, especially given that her gathered intelligence was mostly useless drivel.
"Consider it done, boss. I've always wanted to take a nice big bite outta Lucius's little peach anyway."
Greyback licked at his mangy chops in anticipation as he spoke. Harry secretly thought that the alpha's noxious breath would asphyxiate Narcissa long before the bloodthirsty lycanthrope's yellowed canines even made contact. He could hardly imagine a worse way to die. The young warrior clapped his hands in approval.
"Excellent, then let's go have that look at your pack's new home."
And with that the oddest pair wizarding Britain ever did see Portkeyed away to London and another group was added to the grand army. With the werewolves on board and their alpha male as a loyal supporter, Harry's overall goal seemed a little bit closer and it was only too bad that Remus wasn't around to join alongside his brethren. Harry took one last look at the smoldering pyre as the outdoor scene exited his sight.
Early December saw Harry attending yet another funeral, this one to honor Arthur Weasley. The deceased was the only person he had really known at Lupin's ritual cremation but that wasn't the case at all here. Over a hundred mourners were congregated despite an escalating snowstorm at the Ottery St. Catchpole cemetery to attend Arthur's eulogy and burial and most were at least acquaintances. Wizarding tradition stipulated a month's mourning prior to the ceremony, though exceptions could be made on occasion. Magical bodies took much longer to decompose than those without, as the magical energy contained within the soul acted almost as a natural preservative. How long a body could remain intact due to magic depended on the wizard's strength. Somebody like Dumbledore could take close to a century to begin decomposing.
The gathering almost seemed to be segregated into groups. Harry was standing up near the casket right among the surviving Weasleys. Cho was on his right arm, both wearing expressionless looks. She hadn't ever known Ron's dad but was still present to be at Harry's side. A scowling Ron was on Harry's other, with Hermione on his. Molly Weasley was taking point and was tearing up right at the casket. Even Percy was making an honest attempt at consoling the woman, now recovered from the severe beating that Harry had put on him at the Ministry a month prior. Those among the winged warrior's vassals who were close with Ron or the other student Weasleys in some manner were also in attendance. These made up the main mourning party in the center. To one side were Dumbledore and his group, representing the now disbanded Order of the Phoenix. McGonagall and Hagrid were present from Hogwarts. One the other was Cornelius Fudge and the Ministry party, several Aurors and Mr. Weasley's coworkers.
Harry's bold plan had succeeded, at least to an acceptable degree. The Wizengamot had at last voted ten days prior to grant Minister Fudge emergency despotic powers, but as expected the measure had been greeted with more than a little skepticism and protest on the streets. Now the people needed to see that this streamlined government could be more effective against Voldemort than the previous cumbersome democracy had been. Luckily things had already hit rock bottom on Halloween night and there was nowhere to go but up. The Dark Lord had been relatively quiet during the past month as he recuperated, allowing the Ministry to shore things up all over the country. Rufus Scrimgeour was proving to be much more proactive atop the D.M.L.E. than the late Amelia Bones had been and had commanded the Aurors and Hit Wizards to undertake extra training with spells to combat vampires and the living dead, as well as having the wards augmented as needed at various important locations. Dark Mark checks and Veritaserum questionings were now routine procedure within the Ministry's combat corps and at least three Death Eater spies had been rooted out and speedily executed on treason charges during November. The disaster that was 31 October 1996 would not be repeated.
Dumbledore, on the other hand…that had been an adventure. Harry had never really expected Fudge and his cronies to succeed in hauling the almighty Headmaster into the Ministry as a captive. Albus had so easily thwarted them during the Marietta Edgecombe situation the previous year, and he had some competent backup in a couple choice Order members. The Minister was truly an imbecile. Fracturing the bird club would have been more than enough, but the corrupt politico couldn't resist trying to take it all. Placing Dumbledore in prison would have made Hogwarts into a sitting duck. Only the ordained Headmaster could control the school's wards and he needed to be in the castle or on the grounds to allow them to work properly. Harry had been in his large bedroom enjoying some quality time with Cho and Su when an urgent call came into his personal hearth. Word about Albus's arrest had quickly made it back to the school and had spread like the proverbial wildfire. Hermione had wasted no time in making sure that Harry knew via the fireplace in Gryffindor Tower. The demon hybrid strung together some impressive expletives and rushed to dress and go to the Ministry during the night. Some quick words with the Minister had convinced the man that keeping Dumbledore in custody wasn't necessary, and that exposing and conquering the Order was the important political victory.
Back in the present, Harry tried to listen as Arthur's old assistant and sole employee in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office, an old wizard named Pickins or something, took his turn at speaking during the eulogy. He thought it sad that the ancient ghoul had outlived his much younger boss. There seemed to be an unnatural chill in the air, and one not associated with the raging blizzard taking place at the moment. Harry's initial thoughts hovered around Dementors, but this wasn't quite the same experience. He couldn't validate it, but it was almost as though Death had its body hand grasping his heart. The icy sensation plunged clear into his soul. A warm hand grasped his and brought him back into reality.
"Harry…something isn't right here."
"There's something wicked in the air here. Keep your wits about you."
Harry then became quite acutely aware that they were in a cemetery. He didn't like to think that anything would happen here, that not even Voldemort would stoop to attack a man's burial ceremony. That small hope was in vain however, as a telltale green light struck the droning Perkins where he stood and killed him on the spot. Pandemonium ensued as the gathered attempted to ascertain what exactly had happened in the near blinding snowstorm, and some panicked and ran about screaming. Three Aurors in Fudge's escort hurled curses back at the area where the Killing Curse had originated. An inhuman groan indicated that at least one had connected. Harry heard something like the earth being ripped open close to his position. The demon hybrid whirled on the spot. There was a large hole in the snow at a grave marker and slowly lumbering towards his position was a partially decomposed witch's corpse, animated and brandishing a rotting wand. He didn't wait to see whether or not the creature could use it.
Harry's own Unforgivable struck the undead in the chest. The reanimated witch collapsed on the spot, which the winged champion thought to be rather odd. The phenomenon almost made it seem as though these veritable zombies still had living souls. The Killing Curse should have been useless against somebody who was already dead. Harry had cast it instinctually and had expected to have to try something else the very moment it had come out. There was no time to think about the strange happening though, as he could see several blurred silhouettes stumbling towards his position in the distance as two more reanimated wizards tossed spells in his direction. One was streaking right at him and easily dodged but the other was misaimed and headed at Cho.
"Watch out. Stay behind me and counterattack."
Harry stood his ground and blocked the incoming spell with his claw arm. Cho did as instructed and sent back a nasty Blasting Curse that destroyed the hapless creature's head. Decaying skin and brain matter sprayed everywhere along with splintered cranial pieces. A Bone Breaking Curse snapped the other's spine, though Harry didn't know who had sent it due to the poor visibility. At that point spells were being exchanged on all sides. These undead wizards were still able to use their magic and strategize in battle. They certainly weren't mere mindless Inferi. Voldemort had learned to tap into his new powers and this was the combat test. Still, these enemies didn't seem as strong or skilled as living magic users. Death did take its toll.
Might as well stick with what works, Harry mused. He had come to like the euphoric sensation that came with using the most Unforgivable Curse there was. No wonder Voldemort was so predisposed to using it as well. He recalled that he had once sneered at the Dark Lord's general monotony in spell selection, but other dark curses didn't compare. The young warlord could vary his arsenal quite well as needed, and he would have to now. His Killing Curse struck the incoming skeletal undead but did nothing. This one had no wand and only lunged at Harry with outstretched hands. He sidestepped and pierced through its midsection with his blood ruby claw arm, heaving the corpse over his shoulder and tossing it several yards away. Spells came soaring at him in two directions. They all missed, but the implication was quite clear.
"Shite…we need to move, Cho. We'll get blasted by our own people otherwise."
"This is like some bad horror novel. Incendio."
"I've never read one, so I wouldn't know…Osum Crema."
The two betrothed took their shots while moving towards the other living combatants. Harry's curse did much more damage, melting his target into nothingness, but Cho's did respectable damage as well to another. The pair quickly escaped no man's land and closed ranks with the other wizards and witches. Some were already wounded. Ginny was on the ground clutching at severely broken leg. Some St. Mungo's healers were among the mourning party and were tending to the casualties as well as they could.
"I can't see a thing, mate. This is bloody ridiculous."
Harry shielded against an incoming hex and sprayed boiling oil in its general originating point and then regarded Ron. The youngest male Weasley was brandishing his silver mace and had an almost insane glint in his blue eyes as he brought it down on an approaching undead's arm. The rotten appendage sizzled as the sacred metal made contact and then separated, spilling down onto the snowy ground with an unceremonious tumble. He decided that he didn't even want to know what had possessed Ron to bring a weapon along to his sire's burial. The redhead delivered two more blows to the reanimated wizard's head and chest, sending it down to the ground in convulsions until it stopped moving.
"Though I agree completely, it's too bad I don't know how to control the weather."
"Agreed. Stand clear and I will dispel this blizzard."
That was Dumbledore, who snapped out a spell that sent a pure golden light at a ponderously advancing enemy group that scattered them and then pointed his wand into the air. An enormous sunlight-colored pillar streaked upward into the sky and exploded outward. The storm clouds in the sky dissipated and the snow ceased coming down, and the sun shined down upon the Ottery St. Catchpole graveyard. The restored visibility allowed all present to see the situation, and it wasn't anything good. Arthur's plot was most inconveniently located near the cemetery's center, leaving the mourners surrounded on all sides by the still rising undead. On one side the Aurors ringed a complete circle around Fudge. The Minister was ranting and raving like a lunatic about how everybody needed to protect him.
"That is what you have allied with, Harry. Take a good look."
Harry chuckled at Dumbledore's angry tone as he picked up a nearby skeleton by the throat with his clawed appendage and hurled it into two advancing undead. He then blasted all three with his trademark shockwave spell. Even now the old coot would presume to lecture him.
"For the moment, at least. I'll use him until he can be used no longer and then we'll see."
The Headmaster sighed and shook his wizened head as he waved his wand and enclosed several walking corpses in a fiery ring. They wouldn't be going anywhere else. Cho had turned back to assist in treating the wounded, knowing that her spell contribution was almost nothing with both Harry and Dumbledore in that area. The Weasleys were all battling in a tight cluster close to the young warrior's location as well, the injured Ginny excluded. The demon hybrid only barely dodged a swiping blow near his blind side. Upon turning he realized that the assailant was the same witch he had put down earlier with the Killing Curse. He grunted with annoyance upon realizing that Voldemort's undead minions seemed almost impossible to put down.
The hapless creature was blasted well across the graveyard and collided with a large memorial. Harry absentmindedly noticed that the zombie whose head Cho had blown asunder earlier was also up again and wandering about aimlessly. More corpses continued to emerge and animate even while the existing ones stood up time and again no matter how much damage was done to them. This impromptu battle had been perilous to begin with and now it was threatening to become a slaughter. The undead that Dumbledore had trapped walked right through his flaming barrier, continuing their single minded advance even as their rotten tissue burned away and their bones baked to a bleached white. Even the normally unshakeable Albus seemed a bit rattled.
"So this is the Lich's power…it is even worse than I had dreaded."
Harry had to agree, his usual enmity towards the old man cast aside by their mutual desperation. They would have to cooperate in order to overcome this situation. At least he wasn't being rescued like some helpless child as he had been at Hogsmeade.
"This battle is endless. These things won't stay down at all."
"Do not abandon your control. Perhaps we must destroy their bodies entirely rather than simply knocking them down. Deletrius."
Albus's spell collided with an incoming skeleton. The monster wavered transparent a moment and then swirled and phased into nothingness. It worked, but individual targeting would only get them overwhelmed. Dumbledore's heat hadn't been intense enough, but perhaps Harry's version would do the trick.
"That was good, but entirely too slow. I can do better. Novus Incendio."
Dumbledore had banished one skeleton and the younger wizard's enormous fireball then went streaking into the remainder and reduced them to ashes. Their side was starting to make a noticeable dent in Voldemort's undead ranks but the others weren't doing nearly as well. The Weasleys were having the toughest time, being right in the center and standing against the largest enemy concentration. Molly and her children were stemming the tide and nothing more. Fudge's seasoned Auror guards had also discovered the winning strategy and were slowly thinning the undead ranks on their side. The sheer numbers still threatened to overwhelm the Ministry wands, however. Harry wondered why the Ministry hadn't sent some shock troops to relieve this assault. Surely word had managed to reach their headquarters that Minister Fudge was under direct attack.
"Oh Merlin…not this…Tom, this time you have gone truly beyond the pale…"
"I'd say he crossed over that line decades ago, old man. But this is intolerable…"
"…Dad…no…don't do this…wake up…"
"This is terrible, Harry. Please, you've got to stop this madness somehow."
Albus and Harry voiced their thoughts, joined by the wounded Ginny and a somewhat emotional Cho. Voldemort's damnable necromancy had at last touched the deceased Arthur Weasley. The middle-aged redhead stood upright inside his casket with his wand drawn. His eyes were rolled back into his skull and a black expression was on his visage. All the Weasleys were understandably distraught at this development. This grievous insult would cost Riddle and his servants in blood. The demon hybrid would see to that. Harry knew that this wasn't his battle, though. Neither was the always kind-hearted Headmaster advancing to intervene. Bill strode up to meet Arthur, taking it to be his responsibility as the new Weasley patriarch to battle against his corrupted sire. Charlie and in a slight surprise Percy both moved to stand beside him, wands at the ready.
Harry absently crushed a couple undead into jelly with a high-powered bludgeoning spells and watched the battle. He expected the three Weasley sons to stop the dead man within minutes. Arthur had never been a strong duelist and his two eldest sons easily surpassed him in both power and in technique, while Percy wasn't a complete slouch either. Bill in particular was on a much higher level than his dad. However, Arthur came out attacking on a level that even Harry would be pressed to match. His magical energy was entire leagues higher than it had ever been while the man was alive and he was using extreme level Dark Arts against his sons. Arthur seemed to be radiating a sickening aura that the winged warrior recognized as something he'd experienced in the past. He turned to the old man in order to seek his opinion.
"Dumbledore…this sensation…it's exactly like…"
Albus gave a curt nod, his blazing electric eyes narrowed in anger and concentration.
"Indeed, Harry…that aura belongs to Lord Voldemort. There can be no mistake."
"Then we shouldn't be standing here. Those three have no chance against him."
As though accentuating the point, Voldemort lazily banished Charlie into a headstone. The dragon handler's spine connected at breakneck speed with the grave marker's edge and snapped with a sickening squelch. He was not ever likely to walk again. Fleur immediately rushed over to his side and began doing emergency healing spells. Harry doubted that it would amount to anything. Molly let out a strangled cry and rushed into the duel upon seeing her second son go down. Fred and George came in behind her, both twins wearing identical murderous expressions. Ron screamed in rage and charged in brandishing his mace. Albus drew his wand and summoned Fawkes to his side as he started towards the inevitable slaughter, speaking to Harry in a neutral tone, almost as though regarding him as an equal rather than a child or a subordinate.
"I do not sense Tom's body here. Something must be channeling his magic. Search it out and destroy it. I shall handle Voldemort."
Harry bristled and made to argue at once, not at all liking to be given instructions and especially not wanting to be somewhere else while Ron and the others got maimed. But on a moment's thought he had to admit that the old man was making sense. Even should they attack him two on one, the battle wouldn't end so long as Riddle's necromantic magic was in the air and reviving the body. Tom was likely too smart and skilled to get caught by something that would compromise his vessel, and could easily choose another should Arthur's corpse somehow be decimated. Merlin knew there was a large enough selection pool. He wanted the Weasleys to live, and he had to acknowledge that Albus was better equipped to stall the Dark Lord than he was at the moment.
His task given, Harry concentrated his eyes to view the magic in the air. Hitomi's tracking classes back during the school term would actually amount to some good. She'd no doubt be delighted to hear the whole story later. Arthur's body bore an opaque black aura identical to Riddle's. An identical large tendril streaked away onto a hilltop in the near horizon, at which sat a glowing crystalline orb on a pedestal that was almost alive with dark magic and radiating it like signal waves. Voldemort's essence originated at the orb and connected via the tendril beam to Arthur's possessed corpse. This crystal sphere could only be the conduit through which Riddle was manipulating the battle. The diabolic instrument was surrounded on all sides by six Death Eater guards. He watched as Dumbledore entered the battle and blasted Voldemort in the blindside with Banishing Spell and then started towards the orb. And a moment later, time stopped moving.
Obsidian eyes widened in horror as the spell impacted her body with a sickening squelching sound, blasting out the skin on her entire right side. Blood sprayed out like a crimson geyser and she swooned on the spot. As soon as Harry had cast his head in the orb's direction, the displaced Riddle had taken the initiative to stop him, conjuring several large serpents to distract Dumbledore and his other adversaries while sending a high-powered Reductor Curse in the warmonger's general direction. But rather than directing it at Harry who could easily evade, he had sent it straight at his beloved. The girl's back had been turned as she mended Katie Bell's thigh, which had taken a rather nasty cut at some point during the magical melee, and had managed to whirl about right in time to see her executioner. There hadn't been time to summon anything to block the spell's path. Harry could only concentrate his magic and attempt to divert the curse in that method. He managed to alter its trajectory enough to prevent her entire body being blown to kingdom come but it still hadn't been enough.
"Oh my God…"
All thoughts about battle cast aside, Harry rushed over to his dying consort's side. He didn't even see the inhuman sneer that crossed the corrupted Arthur Weasley's visage. Nor did he hear Hermione's scream or her and several others coming over as well. Her little hand was clammy and her breathing shallow, but he would not let this happen.
The emergency healing spell, the only one that he knew, stemmed the coursing blood's tide an imperceptible amount, but it wasn't enough. Harry choked out a curse at his ineptitude and tried again, this time throwing everything he had behind the spell.
The bleeding stopped at last, but still too late. Cho's body had gone into shock due to the blood loss. She would no doubt die unless she received medical attention at once. The problem was that she likely couldn't be moved either. Harry didn't understand all the medical technicalities, but common sense dictated that it would unwise to Portkey with somebody in critical condition. But even so, she would surely perish here.
"I'm taking her to St. Mungo's. She isn't going to survive like this."
The demon hybrid's voice was hollow, but inside he was bursting with rage. He couldn't even strike at the perpetrator, seeing as Voldemort's actual skeletal body was Merlin knows where. He would crush that bony mongrel into white powder the next time they met. The humiliation at Hogsmeade was one thing, but this was too much to bear.
"You will do no such thing, Potter. You are still needed here."
Harry glared up at the speaker, forest green eyes brimming with hate.
"I'm not going to sit idly by here and watch my fiancée die in the cold, Minerva."
His one-time Head of House didn't give an inch at his harsh tone, however.
"These people will die without you. You are so quick to criticize Albus, but you are proving to be worse than him. Making these tough decisions is what being a leader is all about. Miss Chang is more than likely going to die, Harry. There is nothing you can do to change that now. Think about all those who can still be saved here and are depending on you to do it."
Still Harry remained obstinate and unwilling to abandon Cho, almost clinging to some ridiculous hope that his mere presence would help her through the shock and save her. Somewhere in his mind he knew that these sentimental attitudes were indeed what he had sneered at Dumbledore so many times in the past over. Still, he couldn't get over having again lost somebody dear to him. Remus was bad enough, but this was so much worse. He opened his mouth to roar back his response to McGonagall when a red blur appeared next to him.
Dumbledore's phoenix ignored Harry, haughtily shaking his head and bending down over Cho's gaping wound. Despite all the indignities that the young warlord had heaped upon his master, the great bird was still willing to help him here. He was almost touched by the gesture. Fawkes shed several tears over the gash. The wound steamed and hissed as it healed over, leaving a noticeable scar along her side where the repairing skin joined. Slowly her breathing stabilized, but she remained unconscious. He tried to stroke Fawkes in gratitude, but the bird avoided his touch as though he were diseased. Harry understood the meaning. He had descended too deep into the darkness to be allowed to touch a light creature like the phoenix. He didn't really care. As long as the people he cared about were alive and well, he had no regrets about the path he'd chosen.
"She 'as lost too much blood, but she will survive. Phoenix Tears are most magnifique."
Harry hadn't even noticed Fleur coming over. She was much more knowledgeable about healing and medicine than he was, so he trusted her opinion. He considered asking her about Charlie's condition, but there was no time. He had squandered too much obsessing over Cho. He shed his black mourning robes, and wrapped the unconscious girl in them to prevent any complications due to the cold, leaving him dressed only in his trousers. His exposed wings drew some reactions among those who were unaware that he wasn't entirely human, but he had no reason to be concerned with that. His lip curled as he turned back to McGonagall.
"Since I'm going up the hill, you're going to protect Cho while I'm gone."
"Rest assured, I will not allow her to come to any harm."
"See that she doesn't. Otherwise, you won't be the only one to pay the consequences."
Harry turned to depart, nearly whipping a wing in the Transfiguration Master's eyes. He'd let her wonder about what his threat meant. The sheer raw magic in the air around the hill would block his Portkey, meaning that he'd have to make his approach the traditional way. His last action prior to leaving was summoning his two tiger guardians and ordering them to stand vigil around Cho. He didn't believe that the perennial Gryffindor that was Minerva McGonagall would let anything happen to her, but a little extra security couldn't hurt.
"Please be cautious, 'Arry. Do not get 'urt."
Fleur leaned over and gently pecked him on the mouth. The young wizard only sent her an odd look in response and went on his way. Her mouth tasted like pure vanilla. He charged at his utmost speed up the hillside, summoning the Demarr Devil Blade as he moved, outstretching his arm and holding the cursed brand perpendicular to his shirtless body. He could see the Death Eaters moving to intercept his assault. Futile…there were but six, and all save one were grunts. The commander was an Inner Circle member, one more to dispatch. He noticed that the leader had been scribbling on a parchment moments prior, having dropped it only to react to his position being assailed. The commander opened up with an Imperius Curse. Harry did nothing to react save allowing the spell to collide with his weapon. The blade absorbed the magic as he closed in, and the Inner Circle member was too stumped by the inconceivable phenomenon to react. Harry reached his position and pulled his blade back, and then swung and cleaved the man in twain at the waist. Pathetic, he hadn't even needed to cast a single spell. The grunts looked at one another and retreated in disorder upon seeing their leader slain in mere seconds. Looking at the dead man's head, Harry recognized him as the man who had told Voldemort how to get at the Prophecy during his previous year: Augustus Rookwood, the one-time Unspeakable. A mere researcher, hardly a worthy opponent.
Harry took a moment to admire his handiwork as he picked up Rookwood's parchment, blood and organs spilling out through both halves. He purposely stepped on the disgraced Unspeakable's colon as he passed over the destroyed body, wrinkling his nose with a sneer as the not yet excreted shite squeezed out all over the snow. And then, the orb. It would be elementary to destroy the magical object with the devil blade, but Harry wanted to do it by his own hand. He grasped at the Dark Lord's conduit with his claw arm. The magic hummed and attempted to resist. That couldn't be allowed. This was about pride and dominance. Harry needed to prove that his magic was greater than Voldemort's. He concentrated his chaotic magic into the claw and squeezed. The orb cracked and hostile magic leaked out. Pain coursed through Harry as the evil energy surged into his body, but he wouldn't give in. He sent all the energy he could muster into the claw and clamped down with all his might.
"I won't be beaten this time. I'm greater than you, Tom, and I'm going to prove it."
At last the orb gave in, splintering and dissipating in a sheer magical explosion that sent Harry soaring back through the air down the hill. He collided with a thud against a large memorial, crushing his wings against his back and bruising them and also knocking his cranium hard. He might well have a concussion due to the impact. He glared up at the audacious monument and scowled at what he saw: a replica Triwizard Cup. He had collided with Cedric Diggory's grave. He looked down and saw a partially exposed corpse, its head and torso above the snow. Familiar stormy grey eyes stared out aimlessly. Cedric's body was being animated right as Harry stopped the necromancy. The winged demon used the replica trophy as a brace and scrambled upright.
"Enjoy the view down there, Ceddy. I'm about to go cuddle with your beloved. Assuming she's awake, that is."
He walked a distance chuckling mirthlessly. He hadn't gone much distance when he sensed Dumbledore walking up beside him. He really didn't want to chat with the old coot right now. He wanted to get Cho home and dose her up with blood restoratives and then go to sleep. He was still a bit woozy due to crashing into that troll Diggory's memorial.
"You did well, Harry. I would not have been able to endure Voldemort much longer."
"That's bollocks. He was in Mr. Weasley's body. Surely his strength was compromised."
Albus let out a sigh and stroked his beard thoughtfully.
"To a degree, yes, but his stamina and physical mobility were also increased."
Harry surveyed the now motionless corpses when a thought came to his mind.
"You know, it's a bit strange. We two were both here, as was the Minister and several other important people in our society. Voldemort only attacked us with his necromancy. Had I been in his position, I would have ordered every available wand in my army here to wipe us out. It's appears as though he was only trying to stall us while his real target was elsewhere, exactly like on Halloween with Hogsmeade and Azkaban."
The old man turned ashen in an instant, arriving at the same conclusion as Harry.
"Hogwarts. He is attacking the castle in my absence."
And that was the secondary reason why Harry had gotten the Order disbanded. Any time Dumbledore was not at Hogwarts was a time where both the school and the students inside were open to attack. Naturally, the main reason was that he simply didn't want them getting in his way later on.
"Better get back to your school while you still can, Dumbledore."
"Indeed I must. Please relay the unpleasant news to the others, Harry."
Dumbledore called Fawkes and disappeared in an instant. Let the old man handle it. Actually having the school under attack would teach him a good lesson, and it was his responsibility anyway. Maybe now he'd spend more time warding and overseeing the place and less time meddling in issues outside. Harry wasn't at all worried that the castle would be taken. Voldemort would have to lead that attack personally to achieve any success, and he obviously wasn't seeing as he had been occupied with channeling magic into the cemetery. His Death Eaters were much too incompetent to even manage to breach the gates. Albus would rout them upon his return, and Harry had other business here to attend to. These corpses would have to be cremated lest Riddle employ them in his vile plots again. The young warlord sneered as he glimpsed Fudge barking out orders and strutting about like the man in charge now that the danger had passed. That idiot was going to have to be put aside and quick. Cornelius Fudge was not a wartime leader, and nothing would ever get done properly as long as he was steering the ship. He sighed and ran an exasperated hand through his hair as the man came waddling in his direction, yelling about something or another. He really needed to take a nap.
(End Chapter Twenty-Eight)
Author's Note: Another two months…gone. Seriously, I have been hard pressed to dredge up and enthusiasm to write this story lately, and I'm not at all pleased with this update. I know there's some more stuff I should have covered at the end, such as the overall aftermath of the battle, but I'll let you all stew over that until the next chapter. I'm such a nice guy, huh? It will hopefully come sooner than the last, but I'm not setting a timeframe (it seems to be almost a jinx, I set a few days for the last and it took over two months). I've just been busy and devoted in large to my Naruto story, and I now haven't even updated THAT in a month. Anyway, probably not my best battle scene, but there's only so much I can do with a horde of zombies. Next chapter will cover the fallout from this day's events as well as perhaps a counterattack (Harry's got to take the offensive at some point). Chapter after will likely be his wedding ceremony and the political maneuvering therein. That's about it…read and review as always, please. Much appreciated.
Now, in a slight edit, I think I should explain why the resurrected dead were able to use magic to an extent. When a wizard dies, some of his or her soul remains in their body, in essence part of their magical core. That is, unless they were killed in such a way that destroys the soul entirely (read: Avada Kedavra or the Dementor's Kiss). Therefore, once raised via true necromancy (not the Inferi way, which consumes that soul in exchange for the one-time raising), they can still do their magic to a degree unless that soul part is destroyed, like when Harry used the AK on that one witch, she had no magic and attacked with her hands the second time up. So, had Cedric come up to battle, he would not have had his magic, since he was slain via the Killing Curse back during the Third Task and his soul was destroyed.