Chapter 20 Meetings:
A/N: There's no good reason this chapter took a year. Thanks as always to everyone who has taken the time to read and review this story.
Lucius causally sipped a thumb's length of three hundred year old wizard scotch, savoring the bite which came from being aged in the belly of Chinese Fireball as he contemplated his next move. There was no official word on the battle he had left behind in the Prophet of course and all that his few remaining informants in the Ministry could tell him was that Amelia was fuming over the loss of yet more of her aurors.
Still, as much as Amelia's discomfort amused him, the silence surrounding Potter and Black was more troubling than he we would have liked to admit. In hindsight his plan to dispose of the two may have been a little rash by his usual standards, but Bella's presence in has manor had been quite frankly driving him mad. Malfoys did not cower. The image of his line, not to mention his own dignity had to be preserved.
Even if the two mad dimensional travelers had somehow survived each other precautions were in place. Half a dozen house elves imperoed preform suicide attacks on unauthorized guests with canisters of exploding potions combined with the formidably wards of the Manor itself to dispose of anyone arriving with hostile intent.
Still, he worried it wouldn't stop them. If they could survive each other he was beginning to despair that there was any power on earth that could stand up to the insane pair. The ease with which Bella bested him had been disturbing. The massacre the pair had effected upon the isle of Azkaban had been nothing short of terrifying. If she and the supposed Potter brat had come through this latest ambush he would have to seriously contemplate a permanent retirement to somewhere warmer and under the protection of at least three Fidelous charms. Even a Malfoy knew when the circumstances called for an expeditious retreat.
Lucius was broken from his contemplations as he felt the wards pulse briefly, indicating that two people had crossed the boundary without the defenses feeling the need to exercise lethal force. Probably that idiot son of mine and his wife back from their holiday in France. It truly is a pity that the wards are based on the family tapestry and not the actual blood of those seeking entrance. Merlin knows I never actually allowed that crooked-nosed bitch to add the Malfoy blood to her veins.
He shifted slightly uncomfortably at the sacrilege he had committed against his ancestors by sabotaging the ritual. Still, they would understand. He had guaranteed the continuance of the line with a few strategically placed bastard children from minor pureblood families and Sapiens Malfoy would prefer the slight dishonor of illegitimacy to that loathsome couple taking up the banner of his name.
Just as he was about to rise from his chair to greet the unfortunate product of his line Lucius was stilled by a second pulse of the wards. Impossible. The bastards aren't on the tapestry and there is not another being in this world who should have been able to get past those wards. Lucius thought with growing unease as he swiftly disillusioned himself and slipped from the study through a secret passage behind the fireplace.
Stalking the halls with silent grace aided by both long practice and charmed boots Lucius slowly made his way towards the third floor where the wards indicated this strange intruder had come to rest. Stopping outside the door to the lessor family sitting room, which currently housed the intruder, Lucius paused to cast a quick sobering charm before evaluating his options.
There were three unknowns in his house. Two of them had arrived together. By the grace of Merlin he hoped the pair had been his son and Pansy and not Potter and Black. Assuming for a moment that it was his son and the brat's wife who caused the first disturbance that meant one of the deadly pair probably awaited him beyond the door.
Briefly he considered simply fleeing before discarding the notion. He had adequate means of escape if it was one of the pair who overmatched him. If it wasn't one them, well he wasn't about to abandon his ancestral manner without a fight.
Gathering himself for a long moment Lucius expelled a deep breath before settling back into his favored dueling stance and launching a chain blasting curse at the door to the sitting room. Timed to allow just enough lag between the first and second activations for the debris of the door get out of the way a huge the curse rocked through the door and tore into the room with a massive blast even as he charged forward in its wake.
Within the dust of the shattered chamber he found himself face to face with a wand he thought he would never see again pointed straight between his eyes. Connected to the wand was the long, elegant arm of his very dusty, very annoyed wife.
"Hello Lucius, its nice to see you too." Narcissia growled as the dust from his violent entrance continued to rain down on the two of them unnoticed.
Harry stirred slowly, wondering which one of the Weasly twins he would have to Curcio for feeding him enough fire whiskey to cause his current headache. Crucio, shit. Harry thought with a resigned sigh as the torture curse linked his mind back to the events of the last few hours.
Opening his eyes against his better judgement Harry found exactly what he had desperately hoped was the product of some hallucination curse. Though he doubted that even Hermione, his Hermione, knew of one vile enough to create the impression of shagging the brains out of your worst enemy in the house of an alternative version of your best friend.
Mad violet eyes looked straight back at him. Those eyes which had haunted his dreams for the whole of his adult life now gazed down at him, while the body they were attached to cuddled, cuddled, with his naked form.
"Feeling frisky already Potter?" Bella shot back with a far too satisfied purr in her voice.
"Aren't we the kinky one?" He shot back, wiggling his eyebrows even as he absently began to charge a wandless Crucio. Just in case. Though which case he wasn't entirely sure.
"You've been romping with mudbloods far too long if you think that is kinky Potter. Bring me the blood of four newborn muggle children and I'll show you what a pureblood can do." Bella drawled even as she also began to charge her wandless magic. An Agno spell, just in case he felt up for round two.
"Bella, I think someone needs to have a long talk with you about appropriate after-sex conversations. Or perhaps just about conversations in general."
"Aww, is ickle Harry scared by the big, bad, witch? You damned Griffs never do have the stomach for anything interesting" Bella simpered
"Crucio!" Harry screamed as he unleashed the unforgivable, reveling in the cackling play of dark magic as it poured through his entire body.
Bella was thrown from her perch atop him by the sheer force of the spell. She twisted through the air, screaming in delicious agony that reignited the bloodlust lurking within his Black blood. It called him one more to battle, purring promises of pain and death in his ear as he advanced on the writhing dark witch.
Some small part of him cried out against the tide, trying to pull the golden boy back one final time into the light. He crushed it. His choice was made. Truly it had been long before, but he had not the sense to realize it. Rest now my Hermione, I am the flame. He thought somewhere against the maelstrom. A single island of calm amidst the madness that engulfed him.
Bella struck back somehow from the midst of her agony, once more hurling her wandless Agno curse at him, shattering the concentration required to maintain the unforgivable. He rolled with the curse, allowing the pain to feed into the mad frenzy which consumed his mind. Visions of their earlier tryst swam through his mind. He wanted it again. More and forever.
He raised his hand, wandlessly yanking both dagger and wand back into his grasp. Bella did the same, her bloodstained face bared in a rictus of insanity. They circled each other, two predators who instinctively knew the others every move. The air crackled between them, charging with the raw sadomantic energies which bled from their auras.
A moment before they burst into fresh combat, the room was shattered by a pair of echoing pops as two robed figures apparrated in through the now-destroyed wards.
There was a moment of stunned silence as the two pairs regarded each other in uncomprehending shock. Finally Bella broke the silence, her amused cackling cutting through the room, "Polyjuice and shagging a mudblood eh? That hooker's hazard pay must be outrageous Granger."
Lord Voldemort, or Harry as he was now apparently known, looked on the scene before him with no small amount of confusion. The state of undress of Bella and what looked like his new body's twin would make him think he had caught the two Inflagre delicto, but the bared weapons, numerous bloodstains and total destruction of the surrounding area did make him wonder. Still, with Bella his first guess was probably right.
Looking over to his erstwhile resurrector , and trying desperately to squash the strange fuzzy feeling that always seemed to accompany such a glance he noted her reaction was anything but one of curiosity. She seethed with rage, shaking with the strength of her fury.
Clearly this one had a less than pleasant history with his queen of pain. Bella always did bring out the worst in people. Still, given that she had turned traitor there was no harm in mirroring his companions reactions for now. Besides, he had all these lovely new spells swimming around his head that just begged to be unleashed upon an opportune traitor.
Twirling the wand he had stolen from one of the less exploded unspeakables, he readied one that he had already acquired a particular fondness for: the spleen crusher. Not at all practical, but the memories he had of the bile spray it produced made him willing to give it a try. Beside, he had bested Bella before: he was Lord Voldemort, he had returned from beyond the grave itself, how much of a problem could fighting these two really be?
Harry watched Hermione quiver with rage at Bella's remark and with a small sigh calmed the Black blood lust to a level that would allow him to do more in a fight than try to channel as much dark magic into the enemy as possible. Hermione, even this one, was far too smart of an opponent for that to be a viable strategy.
He felt a moment's pang as he slowly turned his wand away from Bella and towards Hermione and the strange copy of him that had appeared along with her. He doubted Bella's assessment of the situation: this Hermione was so damned reclusive he seriously doubted she would go in for a polyjuiced whore. Besides, unless she had taken far greater offense at his protection of her from the last battle than he imagined there was no reason for her to believe that she could not have the real thing. No, something was badly wrong here.
Any further thoughts he might have had on the matter were interrupted as Hermione screamed "Shut up you pureblood bitch!" finally having settled her rage enough to form words. "I have breeched the veil itself! I have conquered death! You can keep that wretched imposter, I have the real Harry now!"
Bella merely cackled harder in response, twirling her wand in time to the mad laughter as she regarded Hermione with twisted amusement. "Aww listen to that Potter, the mudblood brought me a present! I've always wanted to kill you!"
"I'm shocked Bella, you hid it so well." Harry drawled back as he cautiously shifted his wand between the three other occupants of the room: He wouldn't put it past Bella to 'forget' which Harry she was supposed to be fighting.
For better or worse the insane witch seemed to recall the side she was one, and lashed out with a lightning quick Curcio against the second Harry. The imposter, clone or whatever else might have been conceived in Hermione's mind, dodged the attack with a fluid grace that while impressive, lagged pathetically behind that of the true Harry. Still, his lack of agility probably saved his life as Bella's next spell, an Egyptian Acid hex, flew wide as she overestimated the imposters skill, aiming where her Harry would have ended up after the first attack.
"I think you must have damaged his brain with the resurrection Granger, that was pathetic even for a Potter." Bella taunted as she unleashed a new firestorm of sadomancy at the imposter.
Hermione purpled with rage at the comment and answered back with her own spells, sending pulsing bolts of crimson and yellow fire hurtling towards Bella. The fusillade hammered the already damaged walls as Bella spun easily out of the way, sending ominous 'creaks' through the house.
Harry watched the two witches fight with detached interest. The outcome of course was a foregone conclusion: Hermione, even his Hermione, was no match for Bella in a magical brawl. If this had been his old world he would have already joined the fray, desperate to keep his best friend from falling before the witch who had already devastated both of their lives.
But this was not his world. Dark magic pumped in his veins in time to the exchange, Black magic calling to Black blood. He had been a fool to think it could have been otherwise. He let it wash over him, let his mind become lost in the surging tide of corrupted magic. He wanted to dance on the grave of the world, wanted to romp with Bella across the fabric of this sad reality until it rang with a thousand, thousand screams.
Some small part of him knew it should not be like this. He should be fighting the dark witch, defending Hermione, defending the innocent. It wondered, he wondered, how things had come to this; hours before he was still a creature of the light, tainted yes but still fighting for what was right.
Then you learned. Then you realized. There is no right. It is all madness, all death. Revel in it, revel in what you are. Hermione's ghostly voice mingled with his own as it spoke the words of damnation once more.
Without right, without purpose there was nothing to hold him back, nothing to stop him from taking anything and everything he desired from this world. Had Bella known it all along? Was she the first to truth or the first to madness? Was there a difference?
I wish Hermione was here, she would know. Harry thought absently, chuckling somewhere in the depths of his mind at the irony of the statement. Hermione was here, Hermione as she was before. Oh for certain she was angry, bitter and hurt: but her soul was still there, she still believed in a world with right, with good.
Sleeping with Bella had stripped him of any last delusions that he was capable of such a thing. There was no love there, only power and obsession. Neither of them knew meaning anymore so they grabbed onto the first other thing which kept them from the madness of an empty world, the sucking abyss of despair and death which consumed those who lacked the spark of purpose.
He knew that they had not found a new purpose, a new meaning or a new right. No, they had simply discovered the fiery warmth of black magic to draw about them, a cloak of pretense. Dance the dance of the damned because if you stop you'll realize there is nothing beneath you; you will stare down into the depths and know you are lost.
Spells seemed to pour forth from his wand of its own accord as he turned from his musings to fight the strange clone that bore his visage if not, he was sure, his mad lot in life. The double fought back against the deluge with a style far different from any he expected a copy of himself to employ.
The archmage grip was the same, although the double had substituted a Nebecanezzar shift in place of the pure, Flamel doctrine. The two grips were nearly identical, but the slight rightward tilt of the Nebecanezzar allowed quicker access to soul and blood magics at the expense of their elemental counterparts.
While the grips were similar enough for him to write it off as a minor variance of no consequence, the stance left him no such option. While he normally employed a slight variant on the classic Malfoy stance, the double was using a style he had only ever seen employed by the dark lord himself.
It was a deep variant on the Le Fay configuration, which was designed to attack multiple enemies at once, sacrificing a narrow profile for sheer destructive power. It was a long range stance and nearly suicidal to employ against a skilled duelist.
The variant by contrast was a two-part stance. It kept the wide open Le Fay configuration, but narrowed the feet and shifted the balance to increase mobility. Because of the increased maneuverability, the stance could 'close,' narrowing its profile to nearly that of a standard dueling stance while still maintaining easy access to the more open and more destructive starting form.
I wonder if this Harry was secretly a death eater. Harry thought as he continued to study the stance amidst the chaos of the battle. Poor Hermione, she's going to be in for yet another rude shock.
Lord Voldemort fought for his life. His opponent, the dark archmage Rudolphus had warned him about no doubt, was far beyond any he had ever fought. The stranger combined speed nearly equal to that of Bella with raw power that at least matched his own. More than that however his opponent's skills had clearly been honed to a razor edge: every spell motion was perfect, no magical power was wasted or lost as the man seemed to dance through the battle.
Chancing a quick gaze over at his companion he realized no help was coming from that quarter. The slight, brunette witch, my beloved Hermione his mind supplied, was barely staying one step ahead of a painful death at Bella's hands. Cascades of sadomagic sprang from his queen of pain, sending Hermione ever backwards as she struggled to shield each new assault.
Battling down the instincts which demanded he spring to her aid Lord Voldemort refocused his attention on the fight before him, hurling a quick trio of soul flaying curses followed by one of the ingenious lung-vanisher hexes which had been stuffed in his mind during the resurrection. The combination bought him a half second at most, as the dark archmage skillfully raised a silver shield to ward off all four curses before counterattacking savagely with a quick spread of anti-dragon piercing curses.
He was forced to abandon his stance as the first one shattered his shield into glittering pieces. Rolling under the next two he tried to find an opening, but his opponent had not let up in the slightest, showcasing near impossible magical stamina as he continued his assualt, hurling globes of black-magic fire.
This is impossible! I cannot be defeated! I am Lord Voldemort! Who is this petty boy to think that he can challenge my power? I must still be feeling the effects of the resurrection. Yes. That's it: I'll regroup and return when my powers have swelled to their appropriate majesty.
Decided, he spun away from the last black fire orb and prepared to apparateaway. His plan was thwarted by a horrendous tugging from his mind, I can't leave beloved Hermione! It screamed at him, nearly costing him his head from the momentary distraction.
He hadn't want to believe it before, but this gave him no choice: the slight witch had clearly meddled in his mind! He would have to find a way to remove it. No one shackled Lord Voldemort!
Still, for now, if he wanted to escape long enough to regain his full strength he was going to need to get her out of here with him. Searching deep through his spells, both new and old he at last arrived at a desperate plan.
Throwing up a dark aegis shield he took the momentary cover it provided him and drew deep on his magic reserves, hurling them outward in a blast of raw energy. In the confined space of the house the results were chaos, as all four combatants were hurled away from the detonation.
Hermione landed with a wet thud against the far wall, sliding bonelessly down it unconcious while Bella and the dark archmage faired far better, banishing themselves against the blast in midair and landing gently ten meters from their prior position.
It was far from an ideal result, but the spell had bought him enough space to gracefully withdraw with beloved Hermione. Bitting down the annoyance with the witch for tampering with his mind Voldemort hurled a summoning spell at her prone form and apparated away the moment she made contact.
He would let Bella and her pet arch mage have this moment. Let them think they had won, but he was the flight from death: there was no way they could stand against him once he regained his full powers.