Disclaimer – You've been doing this for quite some time now – reminding everyone that you don't own Harry Potter and that someone with the initials JKR does. Well all good things must come to the end … in this case it happens to be the story. You're not sure when her ownership of you lapses. Maybe, you can buy yourself back then?
Acknowledgements – Where would this story be without the inputs of my helpers at Alpha Fight Club? Their contributions made the story much better than I alone was capable of. How about FairyQilan's beta work? Without them, this story would have still been written, but it would be far less enjoyable. Also, I would like to thank all of you readers for taking the time to follow along. Hopefully, you will find that this story stands the test of being read over and over again.
Chapter 23 – The Rivers are Full of Crocodile Nasties
September 15th, 1996
"So, the lost scion of the Potter line returns from another harrowing shopping trip to the Colastos estate. Congratulations on staying alive for another week. It must be a slow one if no one's trying to kill you. How's Kwan? Did the Healers have any good news this time?"
You roll forward and pull yourself off the ground and look for Bill. You really hate Portkey travel. Maybe it's the cat in you, but you rarely land on your feet and it's a tad annoying. Trying to look on the bright side, landing flat on the ground makes you a low profile target for any curses aimed at you.
Paranoia is a lovely thing isn't it, as you take one step closer to becoming another Moody…. You chide yourself for your poor taste in jokes, given Kwan's condition.
"The week isn't over yet and that's soon-to-be Journeyman Curse Breaker Potter to you, my fellow grave robber. Kwan's angry as ever. It might have something to do with that creepy German woman Nikolai employs. She seems to be attracted to Asian men. He's recovering, but they had to take the leg. Colastos' medical team is fitting him for the best prosthetic leg money can buy. Obviously, money isn't an issue. He's still going to have a learning curve to teach himself how to walk again – wonder how Barty pulled it off so easily, maybe there's something more to Polyjuice than most people think?"
You pause taking the backpack full of shrunken supplies off and mutter, "I still wish that silver limb spell didn't come with such a nasty surprise. Wonder if Tom ever plans on telling Peter or if he's just going to let the rat drop dead one day?"
Bill nods in agreement, "Yeah, it's a shame. You were getting close to making a functioning limb. Still kind of weird to go up and see all those Inferi wandering around on silver blobs of metal for legs."
The biggest prize other than the Daemon's carcass had been an ornate black metal box, long since deprived of any magic by its proximity to the Daemon. Inside the box was Veras Chilotha's personal grimoire of extremely useful spells and other assorted nastiness. You had hoped to give the Korean a magical replacement for his ruined limb and had even taken to practicing on the Inferi, until you spotted his notes in the margin.
With De Soto's help translating, it soon became apparent why Riddle didn't go into the magical limb replacement business. The metal poisoning will kill the recipient within five years, less if he doesn't use a bezoar on a weekly basis. Somewhere, you hope Sirius is laughing his arse off about this one. Of course, Voldemort might never have gotten around to the notes in the margin part.
You still want to perfect the spell, but Bloodfire and some of the other more potent spells in the collection are much more inviting.
With Kwan's injuries beyond the meager healing skills of those present, you brought him to Nikolai Colastos for some expert care. It was nice to see the outside world, even if it meant that you were now 'Fidelius errand boy' running back and forth. It was also nice to have your wounds tended to by a professional, even if the mediwizard had to reopen them to fix you, but there's a better chance the scars will fade. You could tell the gruff looking man really wanted to ask what caused such vile wounds – especially when it took three times longer than normal to fix your teeth, but money is a wonderful thing. The right amount can loosen a tongue or it can buy silence with no questions asked, just another lesson Hogwarts could never teach you.
You've been careful to not abuse your debt to the well placed wizard - merely asking him to arrange for the specialists and the secrecy, while you provided the money out of the salvaged chests. Only Nikolai and the Frau have any knowledge of what actually happened in this city.
"How much did Nikolai's silence cost us?"
"I agreed to give him two liters of blood for his experimentation. I know; stop looking at me like that – 'Daemon blood does not grow on bloody trees', but it'll grease the wheels nicely with his brother-in-law, the Minister. Will you quit pouting? We still have eighteen more liters! Do I have to remind you, who killed the damn thing?"
Rubbing the discolored scars on your left arm you continue, "Anyway, I saw Karina. Apparently, she's already 'off the market'. Her role in the family is being engaged to one of Nikolai's nephews. Supposedly, the guy's a decent enough bloke. I didn't get to meet him and quite honestly, it would have been weird. Anyway, she is up and around now. Hell with these contaminated wounds; she's probably in better shape than I am. Chico's the same and was happy enough to see me. They think we ran into some Dark Wizards, which I guess, in a way, we did."
"Well Harry, between the expensive healers and bathing yourself in your Patronus all the time, your wounds look a helluva lot better than they did a few days ago. I still think that you should author a research paper on 'The Healing Powers of the Patronus when Dealing with Cursed Wounds'. Swallowing fresh Daemon blood probably isn't a good thing and it's not exactly like you can go see a mediwitch or wizard and ask them if there are going to be any nasty surprises. It's not exactly something healers are trained for in school."
Nodding with Bill's assessment and imagining the look on Hermione's face if you ever published your findings, you look over at Hack. He's in a worse predicament. Daemon blood sprayed all over his open wounds. They still reopen for no apparent reason and it's been almost a week since the battle. De Soto keeps a close eye on him and makes liberal use of your stock of healing draughts. They have mixed results on Trolls. You 'bathe' him in your Patronus mist at least three times a day.
You're still a bit angry at the Healer's indignant response at your request that he treat a wounded troll. You decide to change the subject, "How are salvage operations going?"
"Slow. It'll go better now that you're back, move rubble gather money and jewels and look at all the fancy, useless, and broken artifacts that have been drained of all their magic. At least our alabaster friend over there had his little stash and he's giving us that Pensieve and a few of the other useful devices. Of course there's that on the desk." Bill points to the blood stained crystal ball on Chilotha's makeshift throne – Ravenclaw's scrying glass and also Riddle's Horcrux.
Using Hack's knife as a cleaver, the two of you had carved it out of the creature's gut the day after the battle and carefully removed it without touching the cursed object. As a rule, other people's Horcruxes much like other people's wives are strictly hands off. You'd make an exception for Narcissa Malfoy, but only if her husband and son were forced to watch.
Fishing around in the satchel of potions you pull out the healing draughts from Nikolai's infirmary and gesture to De Soto, still marveling at how life-like he looks as the statue moves across the room.
"Thank you, Harry. Good you brought the skeletal regrowth serums. Hack's internal damage still does not register on your diagnostic spells, but we all know it is there. Perhaps, they will help. I admire your devotion to a team member. Most humans would consider a troll a waste of valuable potions."
"He's as much a member of this team as you are. The latest Golden Rule is never give up on a team member as long as they're breathing. Speaking of which, don't you want to come back to civilization with us?"
"My place is here. As soon as you or Bill provides me with a Dragonbone rod with the Reparo charm carved into it, I will begin my long task of mending my city. When we destroy the Fidelius anchor and the Minister brings his people back to my city, I at least wish to have a Ministry building there for him to return to."
"I'm just hoping I can convince them to wait at least a year to destroy the anchor. I don't need Riddle to know that one of his Horcruxes is gone."
The statue rubs its stone beard, probably a habit the real conquistador had. "If memory serves me correctly, it is just under two years until the next election. For maximum impact, he will want to reveal the city a few months from the election. The euphoria of having their capital rediscovered will easily brush off any competition. More importantly, he will not have to explain any detailed plans for reconstruction and the expenses involved until after the election. I recommend mentioning that to him. It should make things much easier."
It's easy to see why the statue of Hernando De Soto was a counselor of South American Politicians for centuries. You still wish you could convince him to come back with you. He's rather good at Potions and much less Snape-like. You have to remind yourself that, according to good old Dumbledore, Snape is supposedly teaching, and you use that term loosely, DADA this year and the Slughorn fellow is now teaching Potions. Yet another good reason to avoid Hogwarts like the plague for as long as you can get away with it.
"Hey Bill, how much longer do you think we can keep Dumbledore waiting."
Bill shakes his head, "He's getting rather insistent that you return to England. So far, letting him know that you're the only one who can go and procure supplies has shut him up. I've told him that salvage operations will be wrapped up in another week. It's really going to take four days. He also doesn't know that Kwan's injured. I sort of omitted that from my report on us beating the Daemon. In fact, my whole report on that fight seems to be a bit lacking. He thinks the sapper explosion wounded the thing enough for us to kill it."
"Naturally, he wants to know where I am getting my supplies too, doesn't he."
"Right in one, Harry. I'm sure he's got Moody and probably a few others watching the marketplaces in Brasilia, Sao Paulo, and Rio with orders to bring you in. He wants you bad."
"It's not happening on his terms. My guess is that I'd wake up Obliviated and wondering where my summer went to." You cringe at the thought.
"I've already told him that we're going to require an Unbreakable Vow that he won't do that to you. If he tries to have anyone else do it, you're too strong for it to stick. I know Moody well enough to say that he wouldn't do it without wanting to know every reason why, but part of me wants to see him try to take you on. I'd sell tickets to that matchup and I bet old Mad Eye would be in for the shock of his life. My money would be on you. He'd underestimate you and you'd overpower him."
You blush a little at his praise, as he pauses before continuing, "That reminds me. Next time that you go back to your friend's compound, I want you to get them to owl a message to Moody from me. If he doesn't already know the reasons why we brought you to Brazil, then he needs to get it from me. If nothing else, it's bound to make more trouble for Dumbledore."
Even the statue, who has never met Albus Dumbledore chuckles at this as you and Bill climb onto the flying carpet and head out for another day of moving rocks and recovering money.
Two days later, you're sitting in the office of the Brazilian Minister of Magic, Juan Dimperio with Nikolai Colastos is seated next to you. Serena Dimperio, Nikolai's sister and the head of the Policia de Magia idly regards you as an object of curiosity. You've spent a good deal of time in this office with the Dimperios over the last week and have acquired a healthy dislike for paperwork and meetings. Staring at you with eyes promising pain and death is a group of very irate Goblins.
"Your expedition has a signed agreement with our clans. We demand full access to the site!" The lead Goblin says. He was introduced as Zar. You're not sure if it is a name or a title. Fourfangs seems to be deferring to him, so he must be one of the most powerful Goblins in this hemisphere.
You had been warned to let the Minister and Nikolai carry the conversations, but that just pressed your last button. "Wait a second! You demand! You demand! You were going to betray us."
Zar answers baring his fangs, "You have no proof, human. We on the other hand have a signed agreement."
Exasperated, you look over at the Minister and his wife. "Put them under Veritaserum."
"It doesn't work on Goblins." Serena replies.
"What about Legilimency?"
The Goblin leader snarls in defiance, "The streets will run red with blood before I allow a human into my mind. Is that what you want Minister? Are you prepared for a war?"
The Minister spreads his hands in a conciliatory fashion, "No, of course not honorable Zar. We have coexisted for quite some time without incident. Surely, we can come to a compromise. Perhaps equal sharing of the gold with the Ministry and the expedition?"
Zar hisses back, "Eighty-two percent! It is what was agreed on! Not a knut less or there will be bloodshed!" It's almost like the Goblins are dead set on creating an incident – like they want a war. Why would he want that? It reminds you of Fudge, desperate to deny something – so desperate that, he would do anything… That's it!
Your eyes narrow. "My guess is you have your own troubles Zar. Having a spot of ghost trouble, are you? Looking for a distraction for your people?"
Everyone in the room looks at you. Zar's eyes widened in surprise; it was his only visible reaction, but it's enough.
"What are you speaking of Mr. Potter?" The Minister asks.
You cross your arms and stare down Zar. "We helped Fourfangs there eliminate a female goblin outlaw and her clan. Unfortunately, she became a ghost. She's a bit of a political rebel and wants the Goblins to quit the human world. I bet she's found a lot of ears now that you can't get rid of her. Bet you wished you left her alone in that valley now!"
"I don't know what you are talking about." Denial – and everyone thinks it's just a river in Egypt. No matter how many times you here that, it's still funny.
"Don't you see? There are problems down in the Warrens! The clans are restless, aren't they? A few weeks from now, you might be negotiating with a different leader. Zar needs a rebellion to stay in power. Don't deny it. You can't get rid of that many enemies without one. At least you've got plenty of Worg, now don't you? Silly me, I'm sure all of it recovered in the valley was destroyed. Of course you wouldn't be stockpiling it?"
There, you said it – the dreaded 'W' word. De Soto said you should only use it if all else fails. You're not really sure if things were that bad, but it should move things along.
"The boy's lying!" Why does everyone always insist that you're a liar? Petunia started that rumor years ago. Rita, Snape, and a host of others didn't help matters. The sad part is that you're not a very good liar.
"Is he Zar? What evidence do you have to support these serious allegations, Mr. Potter?"
"I can provide Pensieve memories, testify to seeing it under Veritaserum, and of course hand you the doses that were provided to the eight Goblins that accompanied us on the expedition. I just happen to have them here with me." You set the bag on the table. They were going to betray you. You can play that game too! It's sad to think that, a short time ago; you felt a kinship with Goblins in general!
Checkmate. Even from his distant and hidden cave, Hernando De Soto works a bit of a political miracle and get's the expedition out of hot water. The Brazilian Ministry wouldn't back you over a pile of money. They've got plenty. In fact, there's so much money, that it might be dangerous to introduce into the South American economy at one time. You don't pretend to understand economics, but it made enough sense to you. On the other hand, they would back you over the possibility of war with the Goblins and proof that they are stockpiling Worg. Lucius must live for battles fought like this. Considering Dobby kicked the crap out of him, you're guessing he's more suited for these types of situations.
It gives the Minister the out he's been looking for. The funny part is everyone knows they have Worg, but politics is a strange thing. You understand it even less than economics. Ward crafting is much easier. Killing is much more straightforward. "I would be careful, honorable Zar. If you seek a rebellion, you might end up with a war."
The accusations fly back and forth between the human and Goblin leadership. You're quickly reduced to the level of spectator waiting to see the outcome. Fourfangs is not participating. He merely stares at you with an unmasked sneer of hatred. You see his hands clench and wonder if they'll drift down under the table to the weapons he carries. Go ahead and try it. You'd kill him without a second thought right now.
When you return to the Bank in the hidden city, Bill isn't there. He's out working salvage. Hack's awake and De Soto is there. The statue looks at you and tilts its head, "You look perplexed, Harry. How did the meeting at the Ministry go?"
"I don't think I'll ever really understand politics. One minute the Minister and the Goblins are talking full blown war and by the end of the meeting they've got an agreement hammered out."
"I had thought violence would be unavoidable. I am surprised there will be no bloodshed."
"Oh, there's going to be an uprising, just not a war. When the Ministry attacks, they're going to hit Zar's enemies, discover a large quantity of Worg, and Zar's political enemies will pay the price. Apparently, it's the price in blood to be paid for maintaining the status quo. It makes me bloody sick!" You feel so dirty wondering how many humans and Goblins will die for this staged little war.
The statue huffs, "For some, politics is a necessary evil – a means to an end. For others, it is an addiction. Compare it to your chosen profession of Cursebreaking. At least you Breakers wait for a person to be buried before trying to rob their vaults. Politicians do it while they're still alive."
It takes a minute to digest what he is saying, but it makes sense and momentarily lightens your mood. You turn to the Troll, "How are you doing buddy?"
"Bumps on back turn into tiny wings. Skin around the wounds all funny. Funny lumps on my arms. See?"
Hack turns on his chair and you can see a tiny set of bat wings on his back. He can even make them flap awkwardly. Sure enough the skin on his stomach seems to be healing more like leathery scales and the bumps on the wrist are noticeable if you know where to look for them. You're worried for him. Bill's worried for him. He seems to be taking on some Daemonic traits. This naturally has you worried about yourself, but all your wounds seem to be under control, but you've taken to checking your body for any strange lumps.
You try to be reassuring, as you pick up the rod you are finishing for De Soto. When it is done, the rod will allow the statue to repair things by touching the rod to a broken item and touching the rune scheme on the handle. No wonder Bill's father was always fascinated by Muggle tools, when one enchanted object can do the same thing.
"Don't worry, buddy. I think the girls will dig the tiny wings. You could get all the girl trolls now. It's not too late; you don't have to come with us?"
"Hack go with Harry." It's more a statement, as opposed to a question.
"I don't think so." You say sadly.
"No, Hack go with Harry." The Troll repeats. "Puny Harry needs Hack. Hack certain of it."
It's not like Hogwart's hasn't had Trolls in it before, so why not? After all, you filled out at least five forms to make it happen. This time, if there's a troll in the dungeons, it'll be your troll! Before you answer, Bill returns. You quickly recount the latest details and he agrees that Harry Potter – Friend of the Goblins just isn't going to happen in this lifetime.
"I've rigged a time delay to bypass the Fidelius anchor at the Ministry building. It's some nifty work, if I do say so myself. The timer counts down and the bypass cuts off the power to the Fidelius runes. The nice part is they feed back into the skyline display. I've also shown De Soto how to manually activate it. I knew that they needed a reservoir of power to keep that monster powered. They linked it to that one. I also found the remains of the Master Necro Ward in the Temple ruins. Someone's going to have the awful job of going around the city and dispelling the runes. Glad it won't be us!"
"Good, because I think we need to get out of South America. My guess is Fourfangs has already let it slip that I'm in South America. Bounty hunters and Death Eaters will be on their way, if they aren't here already."
"Well that's bound to happen if you screw over the Goblins. They don't take that sitting down. We'll leave the rest of the salvage to the Ministry when they take over the city. I'm ready to get out of here and see the sunshine again. Did the Minister agree to our terms?"
You nod, "Yes. The city stays hidden for one more year. They get half the gold and whatever else is here and provide us safe escort out of the country. They've already got Collins and Thundercloud's bodies on their way back to their families. Dimperio is going to a portion of the Ministries share to the Goblins after their little fake rebellion is over, so that piece of shit Zar can stay in power. The upside of all this is that Minister Dimperio said he will personally keep Dumbledore out of our hair."
"Not too bad. We get out of here with half the booty and most of the magical artifacts. We can be packed in out of here in a few hours. We'll head north to give the families of the fallen their cut and pay our respects to our comrades. You want to try destroying the Horcrux now?" Pointing his wand at his area, he mumbles a packing spell. You do the same and watch as all the objects begin to sort themselves out and fill the open trunks.
"Sure, your Killing Curse or mine?" How the folks in England would be shocked at hearing how casually their savior bantered about the use of Dark Magic?
"Well, it's a crystal ball. How about we take it up on the carpet to the ceiling and give it a little push and let gravity do the work for us. The object still has power, but I think any protections placed on it have probably been drained by the Daemon. If that doesn't work, we'll do it your way."
You're always up for some time in the air and a few short minutes later, you and Bill are standing on the old carpet near at the top of the cave. The scrying glass is on the other end of the carpet like a dangerous creature no one wants to touch.
Bill shrugs, "Is this one of those occasions where we should say something or should we just toss the bloody thing off the carpet?"
"I vote toss. Shit! Look! It's glowing."
"Wands out you reckon?" You freeze in your tracks when Bill says that and a huge lump appears from nowhere in your throat.
Less than a meter away from you the crystal glows and you see the old and wrinkled face of a crone. Her once long flowing black hair had faded to gray and penetrating hazel eyes look upwards and meet with yours. Ravenclaw sure let herself go compared to the pictures in the books. Professor Flitwick even brought the dormant painting of her that hangs in the Ravenclaw common room for a lecture on charms associated with magical paintings once. That picture had made you think of an older Millicent Bulstrode. Sorry Mille, a thousand years ago, you might have been a fetching bride …
"I have but a moment to give my message to ye, Chosen One. Look into the glass and see the final three items ye must destroy. Two ye have already touched with thine own hands. Look now and behold the objects ye seek."
The visage of the old woman morphs into first a magnificent chalice and next into an intricate locket with an ornate 'S' embossed on it. You've seen it before, but where? The final item appears and both you and Bill look at each other in amazement. Only someone as arrogant as Riddle would do that! The crone's sad face reappears in the crystal ball.
"Think and ye will remember the locations of two. Helga's goblet will be the surest test of ye skills. It will be found …"
The image changes, it's an all too familiar image with glowing red eyes. "No! I control this object. I will not let you tell them. I tell the future, boy, and I say you will fail! You will die! You will suffer! You have no hope."
"Tough talk from such a fragile little glass ball, Riddle. Let me show you my penalty kick!" Taking a mighty step, you put foot to crystal and send if off the side. It falls the nearly two hundred meters into courtyard exploding into hundreds of pieces in a powerful flare of magic.
Doing your best rabid football fan imitation, you throw your arms up in the air and scream like the announcers on the telly, "Gooooooooal! Another piece of Tom Riddle is destroyed. Goooooooal!"
Just to be sure the two of you fly down and check anyway.
"Hello Moody. Thanks for meeting with us." Bill says over the din of the busy International Portkey terminal. Twenty days into the month of September and you're still nowhere near a school in Scotland. Not that you're complaining.
"Bill, Potter. Nice Troll you got there. My eyes can see through the glamours. All your disguises should hold up to most scrutiny. Nice charms work. You know the old man's going to throw a fit, when you don't show up at the Brazilian Ministry for your reunion."
You chuckle and shake your head at your former professor, "I have a letter for you to give him along with the pieces of Ravenclaw's Scrying glass."
The former Auror takes the parchment. You see him mouth the words as he reads it to himself
I suppose you are disappointed in me. I'm afraid I've let you down again. You'll have to forgive the impulsiveness of youth. Sadly, I find that I cannot in good conscience accompany you to England at this moment. As a show of good faith, I will let you know that I will return to England. Though I don't particularly like it, I realize that we still need to work together.
Make no attempt to follow us and I'll return in the first week of October. I want some time to myself and a chance to mourn my fallen friends. Make an attempt and I make no promises about what I will do, but I can promise you I won't go quietly. And as a last warning: if you're still considering obliviation, I know what the final 3 Horcruxes are and I've got a good idea where 2 of them are right now. For the 'lesser good' of my own personal safety, I won't be divulging this information until I receive your Unbreakable Vow.
Moody grimaces, "I approve of yanking Dumbledore's chain. You even managed to get his condescending style, nicely done. He needs to be taken down a notch every once in a while, but you're playing a game with everyone's lives boy."
"No that's the Old Man's act. I'm just trying to live my life. Here's the box with the remains of Ravenclaw's crystal ball. We should go soon; being seen with you won't help our disguises."
"Giving marching orders now are you? Awful cocky, Potter, but I'd be too if that's really Kwan Chang-Ho behind that column with his wand trained on me." You see a modicum of respect in the Auror's one good eye.
"I also have six Brazilian Aurors watching our conversation. They're our escort out of the country. They chased all the bounty hunters out of here a few hours ago."
"Nice preparations there Potter. Shows you're learning. You'll need to keep your wits about you, if you're going to stay one step ahead of everyone who's after you. I've got an old classmate in the Magical Creatures Department. I'll get your Troll registered before you arrive. Less fuss that way. You might want to consider coming back to England the Muggle way. The magical ways all seem to have people watching these days. Here's my daughter's telephone number at Scotland Yard. Ring her and she'll get in contact with me. If need be, I can have a group of Order members meet you or head out and be a distraction while you sneak in. I'll tell them it's Dumbledore's orders."
Everyone gets a good laugh before Bill brings the conversation back to a more serious note. "Thanks. We might not need it, but it doesn't hurt to have a backup plan. Who is behind the Bounty Hunters?"
"Octavius Nott is the one calling the shots. He's got nearly as much money as Malfoy and hasn't got that whole 'wanted criminal' thing hanging over him. Officially, there's no reason. He wants you delivered to him for your safety is all he's saying. Unofficially, you'd be in enemy hands as fast as he could Portkey you out of there. Step carefully from here on Potter – you too, Weasley. Everyone knows you're traveling together now. I'd watch out for them and your mother if she ever catches up with you. Congratulations on your engagement, to that little Delacour girl. Just remember that they might try and use her against you."
Bill smiles, "Thanks for the warnings. Fleur knows the score. She can take care of herself. Mum needs to worry more about what I have to say to her when I catch up to her. Everyone else, we'll take them as they come. They might be in for a shock."
Moody looks only mildly convinced and that's only because Kwan's with you. "Well then, I'll be off. No need for any wands. Stay safe, laddies."
You watch him clank off carrying the remnants of the Horcrux. The Aurors stationed around the lobby escorting you visibly relax probably a bit scared of taking on a legendary fighter like Moody. Fortunately, even legendary fighters know when the odds are stacked against them. It's the difference between legendary and dying in a blaze of glory and probably how Moody got to be this old.
Beneath the poster of Tone Loc promoting the new and improved 'Funky Cold Medina' – now attracting twenty percent more 'honeys', you wait for the Portkey to take you from Las Vegas to the Sioux reservation. It's a time for you to reflect on the past eight days. September will be gone in a day or two and October is coming. Your life always gets a bit sticky in that month. It's your least favorite month of the year for so many reasons, it isn't worth going into.
The ceremony for Maria Sanchez was an elaborate affair. She may have been a foul mouthed, ugly and surly woman, but she was well known and in her own way loved. Most of her family was only given vague details. Her husband and two children were allowed to watch the Pensieve memory of her death. You didn't want to see it again, but you did it anyway.
Hell, you were shocked she had a husband.
Privately, Bill returned Maria's personal affects and her share of the treasure including the 'fair compensation' for copying her ward schemes.
It made you see her in a different light listening to people say kind words about her. In the end, much like Sirius, you wished you could have known her better.
In stark contrast, Jake Collins' funeral was only attended by his two sisters and the four of you. During the quiet service, you began to wonder what your funeral would be like. Would it be a massive event like Maria's or just a handful of people standing around a patch of dirt and not wanting to be the first to leave? A man in his early forties, like Jake, should have had more people in his life. Hell, even his sisters didn't seem that upset!
Kwan signals that he has the Portkey and the three of you move to join him. It's still surprising that Hack is with you, but he refused to return to work for 'tiny goblins who betray friends' and the market for unemployed Trolls in South America is not very good, though with a small Goblin rebellion set to start, things would pick up quickly. It's funny though, Hack just assumes he is coming along and no one has contradicted him since you tried. Tucked in amongst your various papers provided by Minister Dimperio is a permit to employ and transport a magical creature across International borders. You had to declare him in Honduras and here in Vegas.
"Anything to declare?"
"Uh yes, he's a Jungle Troll under employ as a bodyguard. Here are his papers." It seems rather ridiculous, but then again your life has never been normal has it?
"Remove the glamours. Are his shots up to date?" More paperwork changes hands as the processing wizard looks Hack over like a livestock inspector. Never once does he speak directly to Hack only to you.
"Fee for transporting a Class Two creature into the jurisdiction of the American Wizarding Congress?" Five galleons counted out and you get a receipt to add to Hack's paperwork. The ironic part is no one bothers to mention the shrunken chest filled with Daemon hide, blood, and bones, nor all the gold and other objects being transported. Then again, with the credentials you are currently traveling under, you could have a shrunken Inferi horde with you and they'd still have to let you in, though you'd have to pay for them just the same. Maybe, you'll do that next time.
A pull at the navel later and you are at the Lakota Reservation Portkey Area and Cultural Heritage Museum. This funeral will be different. You feel you owe Thundercloud.
The Museum has a nice rustic look to it with displays of artifacts, magical paintings of ceremonies and complete with comfortable chairs and a small concession area.
The area is deserted, but two bored Caucasian men catch your eye. One looks familiar, though your best look at them was through a bathroom stall in Las Vegas weeks ago. Kwan's spotted them too. One of them taps something on his belt and five more people Apparate in. Everyone's wands are out. Hack moves slightly ahead of you on your left. You know what he's going to do, if necessary. The Sioux Bill was speaking with merely steps backwards and disappears into a back room. You hope it's to summon help, but the others seem to be in no hurry, so you doubt it.
For a moment no one speaks. One of the two bounty hunters you recognize starts. "We're only here for the boy. No one else has to get hurt."
Kwan replies, "Boy is with me. Leave."
The stocky black haired wizard you remember being named Sean continues, "We've got the numbers. No need for it to get messy. Just hand over the Potter boy and all of us walk away nice and friendly like." To the others he says, "Keep an eye out for Collins. He might be moving around disillusioned."
One of the unknown hunters answers with an Eastern European accent. "No, I would sense his presence. Three are Wizards. That one is a Troll, but its aura is different from any Troll I've ever seen." He's gaze fixes on you. He does a confused double take and you see him visibly gulp and take a slight step back. You know something, it's about damn time someone took a look at you and got a little frightened. Vernon used to listen to that one American comedian. You're the Rodney Dangerfield of the Magical World. 'You don't get no respect!' The pair on the right is standing too close together. A fire whip, fast enough and big enough, could get both of them. You wouldn't happen to know someone powerful enough to do that, would you? Wait for it.
An attractive black witch, who is about to be the recipient of your spell, seemingly ignores the tension in the room. Tapping her wand on other palm, she laughs in a melodic voice, "I just can't believe one of Ivan's crazy hunches finally paid off. Everybody else is Apparating like crazy to Brazil and, hot damn, we get the big payday! I was getting tired of memory charming my landlord!"
Ivan hisses and cuts her off, "Not now Kendra."
Sean looks worried at the one called Ivan. "Talk to me. What do you see?"
Kwan answers for him with a wide grin. "He's an aura reader! A very rare talent – go ahead tell them what you see."
"The Korean is more powerful than any one of us, but Sean's right. We have the numbers to take him. Something is wrong with one of his legs. The other one is not of any real consequence either. Potter is dangerous. If we do this, we need to take the boy down first."
This draws an indignant snort from Bill. Of course, you've seen your favorite Weasley by miles wind up the big green blast of death, so go ahead and overlook him. Bill might have a few surprises in store for them.
"Banged up might reduce the bounty." The other one you recognized from Vegas cautions.
"Charlie, shut up! Ivan, are you serious?"
"Most powerful aura I've ever been this close to. Fight will be messy. I don't like our chances."
Kwan laughs, "They'll have to try and stun you. The Bounty is for you alive. You don't have to play nice. If stupid Bounty Hunters want to play, kill them quickly like you did Collins and those Brazilian Aurors."
Technically, that's a lie on Kwan's part. Kwan finished his ex-partner off, but they don't need to know that. Now the leader looks as worried as the aura reader. The others are looking around nervously wondering what they've gotten into. Kwan making light about you killing his partner and an unspecified number of Aurors certainly adds a level of confusion to things.
"Sean, c'mon he's just a kid. Don't listen to all that crazy aura shit! I got a score to settle with Kwan personally." You remember something about Kwan putting Charlie in the hospital at some point.
Amid the voices fighting for attention, you hear Kwan promise, "Then, I make sure you die this time."
One of the others chimes in, "I say we go for it. I was there when Ivan did his little trance thing. He said we'd hit the big time if we were here, right here and now!"
"Not helping Carson! You sure you're not seeing trick light tricks or glamours?"
The European shakes his head and the standoff continues. Ivan and Sean have their wands on you. Most everyone else is aiming for Kwan. Bill must be slightly perturbed. Then again, you've seen him wind up a Killing Curse so these greedy bastards might be overextended. Wait a minute. Greedy bastards! They are a bunch of greedy bastards, looking for big money!
There's a logical solution to this. You ask, "How much to hire the lot of you?"
Several voices respond, "What?"
"You heard me. You're looking for the 'big time' right. Well I've got plenty of money and a burning need to harm a man named Octavius Nott. How much to see his mansion burnt to the ground and his head on a pike outside it? For his own safety of course…" Okay, you're a bit bloodthirsty, but the man has bounty hunters all over the world looking for you.
"Harry, what are you doing?"
"Riddle's got his Death Eaters. Dumbledore has his little group. The Ministry has their Aurors. I'm behind on people and I've got the coin to spend. Are you all any good?"
"We found you."
"Okay, so Ivan there is good and you at least listen to him. Hell, he was right a month or so ago when he said I was on the Reservations."
"How did you know that?"
"I was in the loo there in Vegas, when you and Charlie there were moaning about not finding me."
"English word for bathroom, Dave. Not important. Bounty for you is ten thousand galleons."
"Kwan, you want to handle the negotiations? This is more your thing." You lower your wand slightly, enough to be noticed, but your reflexes are faster than they could imagine.
The Korean nods. "Three up front, binding magical papers, and the rest when the target is destroyed." Nice euphemism for killing a man…
"Half up front. No papers. Fifteen for the whole job, pissing on Death Eaters adds to the risk." Negotiations at wandpoint, every teenager gets to do this, right?
"Half up front with papers. Twelve is generous enough."
"Fine twelve. Half up front, papers, and an extra point five to rent a Breaking crew."
Bill chimes in. "I can get you the ward schemes for Nott's mansion. I know the crew that did it. One of them owes me. If he doesn't want to honor it, I know where he keeps his records. Either way, it won't be a problem."
Sean nods his head, "Fine, if the schemes aren't exact, one point five penalty."
"They will be." Bill has a certainty in his voice that leaves little room for doubt.
"Deal. Option for follow-on work?"
"Deal. If we're satisfied, there will be more work, but add a two year 'No Turncoat' clause." It was a good idea having Kwan do this. You have no idea what the hell they are saying.
"Fine, no working for the other side. Standard retainer fees apply after the job. Ivan and Thomas, stay with me. The rest of you fall back to our recovery zone. I'll summon you when we are ready to sign the papers. One of you goes with as a token of good faith."
"I'm staying, Sean."
"The fuck you are Charlie! You're looking for a fight. I'm looking out for the crew's best interests. When you're running the Op, you can call the shots. Until then, go - now!"
Realizing they won't take a Troll, Bill volunteers to be your side's gesture of good faith. The remaining people in the lobby lower their wands as Kwan and Sean draw up the papers.
Twenty minutes later, you've just hired seven bounty hunters to kill a man you've never met and anyone else at his house that draws a wand. Then they'll burn his mansion to the ground. You've just bought a man's death, just to send a message to Riddle's followers. The human in you misses your innocence. It was worth far more than the six thousand galleons you just paid them. The problem with 'necessary evils' is that on some level, they're still evil.
In the end, predators should be left alone and not provoked. Goodbye Octavius Nott – rest in peace.
Things change. You either keep up or fall behind. The next few days pass in a blur. Things stand out in your mind, the massive bonfire they cremated Thundercloud on, the outpouring of grief from friends and family of the old Sioux Animagus, and the looks of shock on the face of Thundercloud's daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters coming out of the Pensieve after witnessing the fight against Chilotha and the Daemon.
You thought about what to say to them. "When you speak of him, tell them that the Great Eagle helped destroy a Daemon and save thousands of lives. Maybe, this was the legend about the Eagle and the Jaguar? I know it is virtually meaningless, but on behalf of the Minister and citizens of Brazil, I present the Medallion of Tiradentes – the highest honor in their land and the mark of a true hero. It will be a year before our exploits become known, but the people of Brazil and beyond will know that he was a hero."
Lone Thundercloud's daughter Wind, with tears streaming down her face, accepts the beautifully crafted amulet. Yours is somewhere buried in your trunk. The gesture must mean something to her because she pulls you into a hug and sobs freely into you until her husband pries her off of you.
Lauren corners you moments later. "So, James Black doesn't exist and you're really Harry Potter."
"I'm afraid so. Sorry to disappoint you."
"Not disappointed, just surprised. We'll talk later. First, you have to tell me more about my Grandfather. You probably know more about him than I ever did. He was always distant about his past. It's horrible that he's gone, but what is even worse is that there is so much about him I never knew."
You return to the celebration of a long life, which ultimately was not long enough. For a brief time there is no Voldemort. There are no Horcruxes with Daemonic guardians. There is no prophecy for you to fulfill. There is only the company of people united in remembering their loss. Hours later, you find Lauren Starless Sky and the two of you talk late into the night. Laughter and tears are mixed together equally. Eventually, she leads you to her room.
You're still a bit leery about all of this. "I promised I would return and I have. If you really want to do this, convince me."
"I want to believe in destiny. You were destined to meet my Grandfather and come here. You became a mythical Animagus and fulfilled a legend. If destiny, myth, and legend all exist, then there is a higher meaning to life. I want that meaning in my life. I know this is the right thing."
That's good enough for you. Just one last thing, you take both of her delicate hands and look into her eyes. "Lauren, I have enemies. If they find out, they will come for you and your family. I won't refuse you, but you have to know the danger. Just today, seven bounty hunters found us. We made them a counter offer and no one died, at least not yet."
"I will tell only my parents. I am returning to my job in two days. I will tell my friends in New Salem that the father is here on the reservation. My parents will tell those in tribe that the father is back in New Salem."
You taste a hint of her tears on her lips. Hands wander on their own accord. Breathing becomes strained and she releases you. The short yet buxom witch motions for you to make yourself comfortable and you watch for the next twenty minutes as she brews a potion. When completed, she pours it to a goblet and brings it to her mouth. Fighting what must be an awful taste, she drinks it in a series of gulps.
"When the danger is over, I'd still like to be a part the child's life." It's nice to hear you being so optimistic. It sounds better than, 'If I somehow manage to live through this…' You doubt Lauren's child would ever grow up under the conditions you did, but it's not a chance you'd care to take.
She smiles at you and removes her dress, "It's not normally done, but I'd like that. Are we talking or stalling? You've heard the saying, 'Never get in the way of a determined witch.' This will go much easier with you cooperation. You would like to cooperate wouldn't you?"
Cooperation is a good thing. Most of the time, you're a loner, but even you can see the benefits of being a team player. Watching her bra float to the ground like a feather, you can really appreciate the benefits…
You've been awake for about thirty minutes. Lauren isn't and you are trying not to move too much. It might have felt like the right thing to her, but in the light of the morning, it still feels like a bit of a mistake. Young and innocent were once words that meant something to you. You've certainly become jaded, haven't you? You like Lauren, but liking her, impregnating her and leaving is another story altogether. Still, of all the people who have been trying to get a 'piece of you', Lauren's probably the one you respect the most. Eager for a distraction, you use your Breaker specs and examine the runic charms stitched into Lauren's bra. It's impressive work – no doubt professional quality. What the heck? You already have a stash of nail polish; you might as well learn how to sew.
You bat it into the air like a partially inflated balloon and let it drift back down before swatting it again. This continues for a bit before a voice interrupts you.
"I can tell you where to get your own if you like? They're a bit on the pricey side, but worth every galleon." Lauren chuckles. Her eyes are full of mirth.
"Just testing the charm work," you say. She reaches over and knocks it back up into the air and the two of you play a game with it.
"It's Victoria's Actual Secret. It lifts, firms, supports, changes color, and is practically weightless – 'Racy Lacy Number Seven.' It's the most heavily enchanted piece of lingerie on the market. The stitching is pure Veela hair."
"You forgot to mention the subtle 'Notice Me' charm I spotted there."
"Good eyes. Well, what else should I call my attention to? That I'm short? Guys are always staring down at the twins. I might as well make certain that the show is worth it." She snatches it out of the air and gestures to the center of each cup. "Since you're so interested, did you see this scheme?"
"The interest is purely academic. Some kind of voice activated scheme. What does it do?"
"Put your finger right there. The current activation phrase is 'a blizzard in Florida.' Wait for it. Do you feel it?"
"The fabric turns cool. What does, oh! I get it!" Understanding dawns on you. Magic is an incredible thing.
"My little black dress, trusty Racy Lacy Number Seven, and a snowstorm in the sunshine state can get me into every night club with free drinks from Boston to New York City."
"You're a naughty little Astronomy teacher aren't you?"
She pinches you on the rump and laughs, "Oh, you have no idea! Now, I'm going to go get cleaned up. In about ten minutes, I'll be in the shower in the bathroom down the hall. I might be lonely in there. You could come join me, if you'd like?"
The young woman climbs out of bed and slowly moves across the room allowing you to enjoy the show. Who knew putting on a bathrobe could be so erotic? She'd definitely get by without the 'Notice Me' charm. When the obvious distraction has left the room, you notice is that your trunk never made it to your designated room. It somehow made its way up here.
You open the trunk and start rooting around for a fresh set of clothes. Tomorrow, much of Lauren's family will be escorting her back to New Salem in a show of family support. A fresh set of glamours on the group and Phoenix Expeditions will blend in nicely. You'll catch a flight out of Logan International back to England a day later.
You move a pair of pants looking for a nicer set of trousers. A faint light catches your eyes and you look for the source. It's your journal. A pang of anger rises in your chest and you almost bury it, but just as you said to Luna – your curiosity wins out. You wrote only a single message after the battle with the Daemon.
We won. We're banged up, but nobody died.
On the opposite page is her long awaited reply.
You really know how to stick it to a girl, don't you? I've been a wreck for the past three days after reading all this and trying to work up the courage to respond. I had to fake an illness just to be left alone wallowing in my misery. I couldn't even keep up 'Looney'.
I'll start by offering you an apology. I'd like to do it again, in person. I've been positively awful to you and you were brutally honest, in a clumsy trip over yourself constantly manner, but you were right. I needed to see the things you were writing. I wasn't ready then, but it's not easy to look in the mirror and realize that I am being a complete idiot.
Next, I'll thank you. I took your advice and mentioned Daddy's problems with the Ministry within ear shot of the Weasley twins and a few days later, the pressure on the paper and my life in general eased up. They've increased Daddy's dosage on his potions, but he's getting better.
I suppose I should answer the questions of 'why now' and 'when did you grow up'? It begins with a visitor to the school three days ago. Having successfully purged you from my life, I was enjoying my existence annoying my classmates and living in blissful ignorance. I believe you are well acquainted with a certain Fleur Delacour.
She was rather displeased with me. It neared the point of physical violence. After listening to her reasons, I was also displeased with my actions. In her own special way, Fleur encouraged me to extract my head from my anal regions and stop being such a little bint. I won't go into specific details, but suffice to say I felt as low as a flobberworm when she was done with me.
The one passage that warrants repeating is her telling me, "If you persist in being such an imbecile, I will marry Bill and take Harry for a lover until my sister is old enough for him and I will be the happiest witch in all of Europe!"
I believe she got a bit carried away with herself, but it had an impact on me. I don't know if I ever 'had you' to 'lose you', but that's what it feels like – like I made one of the worst choices in my life and voila, Luna gets a lesson in what it's like to grow up.
I ran back to my room and dug out the journal buried in my trunk. You're out there fighting to save yourself and the world and I can't even see past my wounded pride to spare you a kind word. I'm whining about my little adolescent feelings of betrayal and you're in life or death situations. Your letters were so raw and honest. If you were aiming for horrible all-consuming guilt and tears soaking everything in sight, you succeeded with full marks.
Okay, I'll stop being such a drama queen. Of course, I'd like to know more about your adventures, but I'll wait until I can ask you in person. You are returning to Hogwarts at some point?
PS - After fretting for a time over all the things I wrote above, I remembered a promise to keep you up to date on the happenings here in England. If you want detailed gossip, let me know, but here's the quick summary.
There's trouble in Ron and Hermione land. They were sort of together at the beginning of the year, but it didn't last at all. I was expecting a big fight, but it didn't happen – or at least, I never heard about it. Ron resigned as a Prefect and was replaced by Dean Thomas.
Hermione's fared worse. She's lost a good deal of weight and looks a frightful mess. It's one of those cases of 'be careful what you wish for'. The first sixth year to be named Head Girl really didn't go over that well with the seventh years. Most make a point of ignoring her, though some go out of their way to give her problems. Some have taken to calling her "Percy Weasley, Junior".
Cho was one of the ringleaders, making our Head Girl's life miserable along with the Sneak, but lately you're confusing the hell out of Miss Chang. I heard her crying in frustration in the common room while I was in my own funk. You've had two Ravenclaws completely flustered lately.
That's right I said you. There are at least two people playing you, probably using Polyjuice and that hair you left behind. One of them, my guess is Charlie Weasley, seems to have a thing for Cho. The other one(s) don't and it's rather hilarious to watch. Cho's never been the most emotionally stable girl, and currently, Harry Potter is sending her off the deep end with his mixed messages.
You've been laying low this year. Your Quidditch ban was lifted, but you're not sure if you want to play. You still hang out with Ron most of the time. It's weird looking over at you and knowing that it isn't really you. Malfoy must know something. He doesn't go out of his way to provoke you. There isn't a DA this year, which is kind of sad. If you are coming back, maybe the real Harry Potter will reconsider this.
Ginny, well she seems to have moved on and is dating Dean Thomas. They seem like a happy couple. Hope you're not jealous? No ugly monster rearing in your chest or anything? I didn't think so.
Well, that's all I have for now. If there is any specific bit of gossip you've been wondering about, just ask and I'll tell you if I know or make up a clever story if I don't. I don't even know if you even care about these things anymore. In private, I'll be Luna, a very shy girl. Looney can still come out and play in public, but I'll take that first step. Problem is - I don't know how to be Luna in public.
Thank you for reading this. I'm not sure if I deserve another chance to be your friend, but if you're in a generous mood, I'll take what I can get and be grateful.
You grab something to write with off Lauren's nightstand and quickly scribble in the journal.
I'll be back soon, though I have a few surprises in store for everyone. Sorry no free previews, but I'm living my life on my terms now. It was good to hear from you, though I almost didn't open it when I saw it glowing. I'm glad I did.
You don't have to ask for a chance to start fresh. I think I already asked for that several letters ago. Hopefully, we'll be better in person.
I won't lie and say that it didn't hurt, when you weren't writing back. It still does, but being friends means ignoring bruised feelings and remembering what made us friends in the first place. You went with me to the Department of Mysteries. Deeds count more than words. I've spent enough time around politicians lately to realize that it's what we do that's important and not what we say or write.
Thanks for all the news from school. I'll have some more questions for you later. It'll be a week or so before I actually show up and it would help to know more about the situation that I'm walking into.
I'll have to ask Fleur about her comments. I don't know if I can be her 'other man', when I'm Bill's best man.
Lauren's alarm rings and immediately switches over to one of the local rock stations. You hear the last few lines of Tull's 'Bungle in the Jungle'. It's always been one of your favorites and it was a bit of a theme for the summer. Perhaps, the next song will be a clue to what's coming next in your life? Then again, England is just a different kind of jungle.
The disc jockey's voice picks up at the end of the song, "Oh that get's the blood pumping. This next one goes out to all the people feeling a bit oppressed. Feeling kept down by the man? Well here's Loverboy's 'Turn Me Loose'. Crank up the bass on this one!"
You hum the chorus as you head down the hall. There's a witch waiting to have her back washed – among other things. Maybe it's fate sending you a sign, but like the song says – you've got to do it your way, or no way at all. It's time to turn you loose …
Author's Notes – To be concluded in Turn Me Loose: A Harry Potter Adventure. I've really enjoyed writing this. Thank you for reading. I will probably start work on the sequel after I complete my other story. As always, discussion on Darklordpotter and the Fanfictionauthors forms.