Chapter 8: A Rising Madness
By the time the Musketeers let Harry return indoors, he felt as if he were ready to crawl out of his skin. Or as if he were being pushed out of it. His body felt like a live wire, buzzing with electricity, with invisible, white-hot energy looking for a conduit to release it into. The magic was not his, or rather, it was his, but it didn't feel as if it belonged to him. He had been magically exhausted yesterday and for more than a week before then, but now he had more magic than he knew what to do with.
It was probably for the best that the Musketeers had confiscated his wand, as well as Amsel's and her cronies', as the temptation to use it would surely have resulted in any number of accidents. Nevertheless, the surrender of his most prized possession did not sit well with him. Nothing sat well with him at the moment.
Not even Fleur, silent and unobtrusive as she followed half a step behind him through the palace corridors, was welcome at the moment. She had been beside him the moment the Musketeers had made their appearance, had acted as translator during the initial interrogation, and was now taking responsibility for escorting him back to his rooms. In the back of his mind, he knew he should be grateful to her. He could have been detained somewhere considerably less pleasant if she had not been there, but at the moment, the cruelty and senselessness of what had happened to Vicki translated to the cruelty and senselessness of the world in general and all who inhabited it.
That applied to himself as much as anyone.
Of all the arrogant, reckless things to do! To turn his back on Amsel! It was unforgivably stupid. He deserved to have been eviscerated out there in the woods, his blood and his magic returning to the Earth until She found someone more worthy to inherit it.
Not the endless parade of people who had bled and suffered for his mistakes.
And now he was making still more mistakes. To challenge Amsel, in front of so many witnesses, was succumbing to her obvious manipulations. She had wanted things to end this way, for one reason or another, and he accommodated her like an obedient little stooge.
Trying to imagine how else it could have gone, should have gone, left him somehow feeling even more disgusted with himself. His original dismissal of her had, logically, been the correct response and no one would have argued it. Amsel was already a doomed woman, disgraced and destined for either imprisonment or death, and him being the one to kill her in the duel would be a kinder and more honorable end that she didn't deserve.
But even after his original dismissal, he had known they would fight to the death. Perhaps not there or even during the proposed duel, but one way or another he was destined to kill her. Torn between disgust at his actions and simultaneously resigned to them, he felt his magic twisting and churning inside of him, pulsing like a heart pounding too hard and too fast.
What was wrong with him?
Was this him at all? Or some other influence, some god or malevolent spirit creeping into him?
He stopped abruptly. Fleur practically ran into him.
"'Arry? What is it?"
"Greyback," he muttered, the revelation leaving him feeling suddenly lightheaded. It was Greyback who had driven him out of doors and into the woods. Greyback who had pushed him to accept Amsel's challenge against all logic. Greyback who would not consider it justice unless a werewolf, even if just an honorary werewolf, were to kill Amsel. But what blame could he truly give to Greyback? How much of what had happened was in his power? To play with Harry's emotions, that was easy enough, perhaps even to guide him towards the seclusion of the woods where the confrontation could take place. But what of Amsel? How could he have influenced her enough to find him there? To manipulate her into challenging Harry in the first place and then continuing to provoke him until he accepted? Amsel wouldn't be susceptible to the influence of either Greyback or Rhiannon that same way Harry was, so was that even possible? Then again, she might have come up with this plot on her own, and Greyback had merely taken advantage of the opportunity it presented.
There were too many factors to consider and not enough information. Perhaps he would never know. Or perhaps he would only find out once he faced Amsel again.
"What is Greyback?" Fleur asked after a long moment of stilled silence.
He let out an angry, frustrated sigh.
"The name of the devil on my shoulder."
Fleur gave him a confused look but didn't question him further until they had reached his private quarters. Once inside, she checked every room of the suite before closing and locking the doors behind her. Harry busied himself throwing off his outdoor wear onto the bed and pacing his confines restlessly.
"You shouldn't 'ave challenged 'er 'Arry," Fleur said at last, her voice soft but tense. "She is a very dangerous woman."
"Believe it or not, I completely agree. It was stupid."
Clearly, Fleur had been expecting an argument, for she stood there blinking at him for a long moment as she struggled to find something else to say.
"Your little devil?"
"Nothing little about him. Goddess, why now? Why did it all have to go wrong now? If that woman doesn't kill me, Voldemort will. And Vicki… she didn't… this had nothing to do with her."
He ran his hands through his hair in frustration. A landscape painting on the wall suddenly melted out of its frame into a puddle on the floor. Fleur stared at it for a moment, and then at Harry.
"You're leaking magic."
"At the moment, I've got plenty to spare," he replied bitterly. A coldly practical thought crossed his mind, and he went to his trunk to rummage out his keystone. He had been much too weak to dare sleeping with it lately, and there was barely any of his magic left in it. It made sense to recharge it while he still could. Who knew how long this unnatural abundance of magic would last?
His hand riffled through the various artifacts of his life until they brushed against something hard, smooth, and cooler to the touch than everything else. Immediately, he felt his magic begin to flow slowly and easily into the stone and sighed in relief. There was still far too much pressure under his skin, but it was easing slightly.
"You were nearly sick due to lack of magic the day before. What changed? Did you… take a potion?" she asked cautiously. He could appreciate her hesitation. The only sort of potions that were known to restore one's magic so quickly were not only very dark but, without exception, illegal.
"No, nothing so simple," he said and then explained precisely who and what Greyback was, and his possible influence over what had happened. This too was likely a stupid and reckless thing to tell her. She was his friend, but she was also a Musketeer, and she would report what she had learned to her superiors. If her superiors lacked either an open mind or discretion, he could be painted a madman to the entirety of the French court.
He didn't care. He wasn't sure now if he had ever cared.
It had seemed more convenient to play along as Voldemort's soft-hearted protégé than the frustrating troublemaker he knew himself to be, but there wasn't much sense in keeping up the pretense any longer. Tonight or the next night, he would fight Amsel to the death and there would be no hiding what he was capable of. Let them know him. Let them fear him. Let them approach him with a full understanding of the danger they courted.
To Fleur's credit she didn't look surprised. Uncertain maybe, perhaps even a little impressed, but not surprised. Perhaps she had known at least some of it. Not about Greyback but about Harry's vulnerability to possession and the complicated practices of a student of the Old Magics. Certainly the French must have spies in the English court just as the English court had spies in the French one.
"We might not 'ave enough to arrest Amsel," she said after Harry finished. "'Er excuse of self-defense is feeble, but you already admitted you 'adn't seen what 'appened and she is still a foreign diplomat. Still, you aren't obligated to follow through. You're technically a minor, and you don't 'ave full control over your faculties. You could still just back out of it."
Harry felt a surge of indignant anger at the suggestion, but he bit down on his first initial reaction to snap at her. It wasn't his anger. Probably wasn't his anger. If it weren't for Vicki, he would know for sure. How much of what happened to her was his own fault and how much Greyback's?
"I don't know if I can, actually," he said. "My magic… this much of it. It isn't natural. It's not sustainable. It's… I think… I think it is Greyback's blessing or gift or… I don't know, but if he's able to do this, grant this, that means he has a lot of influence over me and my magic. He's not going to let go until I do what he wants, and I don't know what he'll do if I refuse."
"You think 'e will 'urt you?"
"I think he'll try to possess me. A complete possession. I don't know if he could, but I honestly don't want to find out."
There was a silence that followed and a swell of magic, ominous and oppressive, and Harry closed his eyes and grit his teeth against the sensation. When he opened them he found Fleur staring at him with a sort of sad resignation. He envied her for it. He wished he could resign himself to this, but the cold comfort of forced acceptance was denied him. All he could feel was the pounding of his own magic, someone else's hatred beating beneath his skin, and his frustrated self-disgust. In this state, he could do nothing for himself or anyone else.
He could not grieve Vicki as she deserved, or even worry whether she lived or not. He could not fear the Dark Lord's inevitable wrath for the scandal he would cause. He could not think of the gods or the goddesses he had claimed as his own that might protect him from Greyback's unsolicited trespass. He could not strategize for the coming duel or theorize Amsel's reason for instigating it.
A silk flower bouquet decorating his windowsill suddenly burst its vase and climbed the surrounding wall and windows with thorny vines and ravenous roots. Harry pressed his keystone to his forehead and closed his eyes, quietly praying for thoughts that were his and his alone.
When Voldemort received the news, he had been in a strategy meeting with his advisors in preparation for the ceremonial treaty signing and the likely backlash they would receive afterwards. While he hadn't been anticipating Queen Ophelia's public support, no one was quite prepared for her public dissent. The matter of WYRA and MCSA programs would have to be delayed, temporarily, until they could figure out a way to keep the muggleborns in Germany and out of France. It was an irritating, but minor matter in the face of such an overwhelming victory.
He had been feeling downright smug about his success until a sharp knock on the conference room door interrupted the meeting, and Lestrange marched in with a furious expression on her face. He knew before she even said a word that Harry, by magical misadventure or moon-maddened malfeasance, had gotten himself into trouble. This was confirmed a moment later, when she whispered into his ear, "Potter's challenged Amsel to a duel." His first unconsidered thought was that he had never had the opportunity to see Harry actually kill anyone, and he was rather keen on the idea. His second thought was this going to be a terrible distraction from the treaty signing and even worse press for Harry.
He sent Lestrange away with the curt order to keep Harry secured in his quarters until he came to see him and to be prepared for a full report when he was done. The meeting continued on for another two hours, and he forced himself to focus on the matter before him. But beneath his cool exterior, the fires of his anger were being steadily stoked into a burning rage. Rage at his security for giving Harry so much leeway, at Ophelia's security for letting Amsel get so close to Harry, at Victoria for her incompetence, and at himself for not having the boy cloistered safely in his room until his wards had been repaired. Most of his rage, however, was reserved for Harry himself. How could the boy be so stupid? Had he learned nothing? Harry had quoted the dangers at him just the night before, so why discard his concerns in favor of meaningless wandering? Now on the very cusp of absolute victory he had to turn a historical event into a circus performance.
Voldemort appeared shortly before noon. Predictably, his mood was terrible and understandably so. Yet if Harry's inability to focus had any benefit, it was that he couldn't concentrate on anything long enough to worry about it. If he had, he wouldn't have had the nerve to strip naked and take a bath.
Later, he would credit the bath for sparing him the Dark Lord's cruciatus.
He heard the man before he saw him, a dull echoing warble penetrating the watery cocoon he had submerged himself in. He opened his eyes to the dancing image of the bathroom chandelier above him, staring at it uncomprehending as if he had just woken from sleep. Perhaps he had. He felt strangely peaceful. Voldemort's muffled shouts grew louder around him, and then there was a distinct bang as the bathroom door was flung open. Harry sensed the influx of foreign magic, but like everything else, it came in distorted and indistinct.
Nevertheless, he knew he needed to get up. Leisurely, he straightened his legs, pushing at the wall of the tub so that his head and shoulders slid up the sloped back. A fragile film of ice shattered and gave way as he broke the surface. He took a deep breath, and as he exhaled it fogged thickly in the air. He placed his hands upon the rim of the tub as he pulled himself upright and found the porcelain had frosted. As he stood himself up and got a better look at the room, he could see almost everything else had frosted as well.
Voldemort was standing in the doorway, hesitating to enter. Whatever he had expected to find, it clearly wasn't this. Harry stood in the knee deep water and looked at him, unconscientious of his nudity, and radiating power. They stared at each other for a long moment. Finally, Voldemort seemed to remember he was angry, and his eyes narrowed.
"What are you doing?" he demanded.
"Thinking," Harry said. Speaking seemed to break the spell of calm detachment. He blinked several times as if just waking, and then suddenly started to shiver. The shiver turned to trembling, and he scurried out of the bathtub to retrieve a towel to wrap himself in. "S-sorry. I could-couldn't th-think clearly. The-the wa-water s-seemed to help."
He rubbed himself with the towel fiercely, trying to dry and warm himself at the same time. Beneath his feet the tiles felt like ice, and unfortunately in some places it was ice where water had dripped to the floor. Harry couldn't remember when the room had started to get cold. He hadn't even noticed it was cold until now. For that matter, how long had he been in the tub? How long under the water? Was this the result of wild magic? Too much magic and no way to channel it properly with his wand?
Voldemort seemed to be wondering the same thing. He was circling the room, running his fingers over the snowflake patterns of ice covering the bathroom mirrors. Harry, suddenly desperate to get warm, left him in favor of his bedroom. He donned the warmest set of clothes he could find, including his gloves. Yet no sooner than he started to feel warmth returning to his limbs did he begin to feel unsettled again. Irritated, he entered the bathroom.
Voldemort was sitting on the rim of the tub, one of his sleeves rolled up, and Harry's keystone resting in his palm. The stone, smooth and almost perfectly round, gleamed almost jewel-like in his hand. The way the Dark Lord regarded it, it might as well have been. It was saturated with magic. Harry couldn't ever recall a time when he had so much stored up inside of it.
"So it's broken down completely," Voldemort said without looking away from the keystone. "Your ward."
"I suppose so."
"That was faster than I expected. Is that why your behavior was so unforgivably stupid this morning?"
Better not to voice his own uncertainty there. He was relatively certain he could have overridden Greyback's influence, at least for a while, but if he could side step the Dark Lord's ire he would do so.
"You've made a right mess of things. You do realize that, don't you?"
"Do you care?" Voldemort asked.
"No," Harry said without thought.
He dodged the curse hurled at him, leaping back through the door and into the bedroom. He ran into the room, leaping over furniture effortlessly before ducking down behind an armoire. Voldemort came in a moment later, his wand in one hand and Harry's keystone in the other. His crimson eyes flickered about the room, but did not settle on him. When the Dark Lord moved to search the other side of the room for him, Harry seized a vase from nearby table and hurled it at the back of his head. The vase shattered in midair, caught by the spell intended for Harry as he spun around. Springing into the opening the ruse had provided, Harry seized a nearby chair and hit him with it.
The chair broke.
The Dark Lord stumbled.
Harry snarled and leapt atop him, knocking them both to the floor. They wrestled on the ground for several minutes, knocking into furniture, clawing and biting at each other like animals, twisting in and out of each other's hold. Voldemort had lost his wand after the first initial attack, and it had rolled away under the bed. On any other day, the Dark Lord would have had size, weight, and his preternatural strength in his favor, but on this day Harry was his equal. Smaller he might have been, but also more flexible and slippery as an eel. There was a strength in him too similar to Voldemort's own to be anything close to natural.
He attempted to wrap his hands around Harry's neck only to receive a kick to the groin and a headbutt to the face for his trouble. Harry tried to dislocate his opponent's shoulder only to be smashed into a mirror, shards of glass raining down on them and slicing the back of his neck and ears. The fighting was savage and bestial, bloody and loud. It went on and on, neither submitting, destroying everything in their path except the one they needed to defeat.
Voldemort grew tired first. Harry seemed to have an endless well of strength to him and could have fought him forever, but when the worst of the Dark Lord's bloodlust had been satiated he started to fight with his head rather than his anger. Harry made a go for his opponent's eyes, and Voldemort kicked him savagely in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him and throwing him backwards. The Dark Lord made for the bed, throwing himself half under it and searching blindly with one hand for his wand. His hand curled around something hard just as someone else's hand curled around his ankle and pulled him away.
It wasn't his wand.
Harry was on him the moment he pulled him clear of the bed, leaping atop his chest and raising his fist. Voldemort struck him in the side of the head, the keystone hitting his skull with an ominous crack. The boy collapsed to the side. Stunned?
The Dark Lord lay there for a moment, stunned himself. What had just happened? After a long moment catching his breath, he cautiously crawled back under the bed to retrieve his wand. It was there, closer than the stone had been but further to his left. Once he had retrieved it, he checked on Harry.
He was conscious.
Despite how angry he was at the moment, he felt vaguely relieved by this.
His protégé laid awkwardly, one arm twisted over his chest, a leg bent underneath him, and gasping like a fish out of water. He was looking at Voldemort with one eye glowing with the tell-tale light of moon madness, while the other eye was shut tight against the blood leaking into it from the cut on his head. Had that been what this was all about? Moon madness? Harry had never attacked him while under the influence of the moon, but then Voldemort had never provoked him during those times either. And how could it be moon madness when the sun had not set nor the moon risen yet?
Cautiously, he moved closer. Harry followed him with his eye but didn't, or possibly couldn't, move. When Voldemort finally kneeled beside him, his protégé spoke of his own accord.
"He won't let me care."
The Dark Lord titled his head curiously.
"Oh, well that does explain quite a bit doesn't it?" he said with deceptive calm. Harry flinched when Voldemort took his face in one of his hands and glared down at him.
"If you can hear me, Greyback, listen very carefully. I am called Godeater by your people for a reason, as you well know, so don't push me. I will make you regret it." He leaned forward and whispered something in Harry's ear, not English or parseltongue, but some unrecognizable language that sounded like rolling stones and distant thunder.
Harry felt a surge of aggression and bared his teeth, preparing to bite him in the face. As quickly as the anger rose it faded again, leaving Harry suddenly dizzy. He took a long and shaky breath.
"I think he's …dormant."
"For now," Voldemort said and carefully rearranged his protégé's limbs before pulling him up to his feet. Harry's legs were rubbery beneath him, and it was only the Dark Lord's hold that kept him upright as he was guided to a chair. Once seated, he gagged and struggled to keep himself from vomiting all over himself. He knew he had a concussion, a severe one at that.
"I'll have a medi-wizard bring you some potions," Voldemort said, finding a chair still intact and moving it to sit across from him. "So it's Greyback who's sunk his teeth into you first. Not the strongest god, but perhaps the most motivated."
"I tried to hold him back," Harry said softly. "The water seemed to help. I was washing off Vicki's blood, and I noticed I felt… what I was supposed to have felt."
"Hence the bath. That makes sense. Even gods have their limitations, their weaknesses. Greyback's natural element is earth. Yours is water, the colder the better it would seem. Calling upon your own element helped to weaken his hold over you for a while and strengthen your magical defenses."
Harry closed his eyes, wanting to sleep but afraid that was the concussion's doing.
"I don't understand. All this extra magic is coming from him, how could it be used against him?"
"Greyback isn't so powerful a god that he can create magic of his own. In truth, only Gaea can do such a thing, but even a minor god can nurture magic. Think of it as a fire. The smallest flame can be stoked into a raging inferno if properly tended. And he's certainly stoked you."
Harry had the decency to look guilty as he glanced around the room, which was now a terrible wreck. Voldemort felt strangely soothed by it. He was still angry, but less at Harry and more at everything else. He should have had Harry watched more closely and kept secured in his rooms until a solution to his damaged wards could be found. Likewise, Amsel should never have been able to get him alone, and the fact that she had spoke not only of flaws in security but of serious planning on her part. He suspected a conspiracy, if it were a conspiracy, it was unlikely that it was simply a matter of a duel.
Assassinating Harry, while not exactly simple, could have been achieved through less obvious means than a duel. That was assuming they believed they could kill Harry in a duel to begin with. Young as he might be, Harry had a reputation as a powerful fighter and talented wizard earned by bloodying his hands on the Germans themselves. Supposing they could kill Harry, there was little to accomplish from it except antagonizing their new overlord. So perhaps killing his protégé wasn't the goal at all. Perhaps the fight itself was meant to somehow embarrass or discredit Harry, particularly in the eyes of the French who held the boy on something of a pedestal. That was decidedly possible, but hardly seemed worth the effort or the sacrifice. Or there may be some grander scheme in all of this he couldn't even begin to guess at.
Morgan already had a number of theories he refused to share until he had more information, and Lestrange was working more overtly to uncover the truth.
"He wants me to kill her," Harry said. "Greyback, I mean. She's probably tortured and killed dozens, perhaps even hundreds of werewolves."
"So he wants a representative of the werewolves to kill her," Voldemort acknowledged.
"He won't let me go until I do."
"I will destroy him if I must. Even gods are not invulnerable."
Despite his obvious agony, Harry opened his eyes to regard him with blatant admiration and horror. The Dark Lord basked in it for a moment. He knew he was a terribly proud and arrogant person, but he did deserve most of it. Too soon, Harry schooled his features again into one of neutrality.
"Are you going to let me kill her?"
"'Let you kill her'? Are you telling me you want to go through with this duel? It's a trap. Surely, you realize this."
"I know, but it's one Greyback has laid. I don't think Amsel has a clue what she provoked. And I want her dead. It's more than just about the werewolves she killed, although that's part of it, or even about Vicki. It's… I just can't stand the idea of her living her life. She's a terrible person. She does terrible things. She will keep doing those terrible things until someone stops her."
"I hope you appreciate the irony of what you just said," Voldemort said sardonically. "And of course, you have no way of being certain that those are really your feelings at all."
Harry remained silent. He couldn't argue that.
Voldemort considered him for a long moment.
"You know, I've always wanted to see you kill someone."
Harry frowned, not sure how he should take that. He couldn't say he was the least bit surprised, but it wasn't really a flattering thing to say.
"Is that your blessing?"
"In a matter of speaking. If you are going to do this, it will be under my terms. I will not allow this duel to distract from the treaty. It will be a private duel, no press, and limited spectators. It will be done tonight. It's the full moon and with both Greyback's and Rhiannon's support you'll be near invincible. I don't want to give either the Germans or the press the time to create any hype over it. No doubt some of the major papers are already aware of the challenge, but since it will be concluded before tomorrow's edition, it will warrant little more than an interesting side note on the third page. Additionally, my security will be in control of setting up the dueling stage and enforcing the rules of the match."
"The Germans won't like that."
"The Germans can go fuck themselves. If they refuse, the duel is off. If Greyback wants to throw another tantrum, I'm more than ready for a second round."
Harry glowered at him. It was his mind, body, and soul that was at risk if Greyback 'threw another tantrum,' not the Dark Lord's. Still, he wouldn't argue with him. He was, in his way, being exceptionally generous, if not selfless. And really, at this point he had no choice but to trust him. They both knew Harry could not assume that his thoughts and feelings were entirely his own, and they would have to rely on the Dark Lord to be the voice of reason.
A terrifying thought.
Amelon hadn't slept in two days and was exhausted but in a very satisfying way. His evening at Snape cottage had turned out to be far more rewarding than he had originally anticipated, even if it had not led him in the direction he had anticipated. Horace McGunny was a mystery, and while he might not be the same mystery he was currently assigned to solve, the timing and location of his appearance was enough to make a tenuous if unclear connection. More and more, he was beginning to suspect conspiracy in the deaths of Malfoy and Crouch. That Stratus was somehow involved was a given, but whether as ringleader or grunt he wasn't sure. That Harry Potter was involved was obvious as well, but even here he couldn't be sure if it was as target or conspirator. What, precisely, had McGunny been sent to do at Snape Cottage? Surely if Stratus were involved, it would be known that Potter was out of the country? For that matter, McGonagall had said McGunny had been missing for a couple of years now, so where had he been and what had he been doing? And why come out of hiding now?
He was on his way back home from London after a night spent hunting down the files on McGunny. McGunny had disappeared before the Italians had laid siege to the city, so the Sentinel records were still archived in their main office. However, finding the necessary files had turned into something of a nightmare, as boxes upon boxes of files were still in the process of being reorganized after being moved from smaller stations destroyed during the siege. The archives were dark, stuffy, and claustrophobic, so that once he had finally found the necessary file he had decided he would take it home with him and look through it after a well-deserved nap. There was no immediate hurry.
Ira Snape was looking after McGunny, which would have worried Amelon if her rather savage little guard dog, Ronald Weasley, hadn't insisted on staying to watch after them both. He had sent some men to watch the cottage, but he wasn't overly concerned.
The walk from the precinct to the floo station was only three blocks, but the commute was complicated by the damage left by the siege. The debris had all been cleared away, but early morning was overcast and dim and there were monstrous potholes pitting the walkways where benches, trees, and statues had once stood. Amelon's attention was divided between the newest development in his case and not breaking his leg.
If it had not been for the panicked flight of a pigeon from behind him he would have been killed for sure. Instinctively, he had thrown up a shield charm. He felt the curse strike it, felt some of it slip through, dispersed but still painful as it struck him in the gut. Letting out a pained grunt, he collapsed and curled on the ground. The shield had not been right for that particular curse, but it had been enough to save his life and deflect the worst of the damage. He was grateful it had not been the Killing Curse.
He struggled to find his attackers from his prone position on the ground, and discovered there was not one attacker but three. Amelon felt a small shock run through him as he caught sight of them.
They were unmistakable in their black robes and their signature skull masks. Amelon had never seen a Death Eater in full regalia, although every man, woman, and child in Britain knew what they looked like. The Death Eaters had been disbanded once Voldemort had come to power, but their masks and the legends of their cruel deeds now hung in museums, making all the visitors shiver to look upon them.
Amelon felt that shiver of dread now.
The three Death Eaters approached soundlessly, their wands drawn. They circled him and as they drew near, he realized they were ensconced in a silencing spell. One of the Death Eaters knelt down beside him and reached for him. He flinched away, but the other two leveled their wands at him in a clear threat. He stilled, and the kneeling Death Eater pulled open his cloak and began searching his pockets.
Amelon wasn't immediately certain what they were looking for, but at such close proximity, he gathered some details about them. The two standing over him were definitely men, but the one searching him was a woman, and judging by her smooth hands and manicured nails, a young woman. Her perfume was cheap, but tasteful, and her shoes were meant for an office, not stalking detectives in the back streets of London. Eventually, she found his notepad and pulled it out.
He was immediately reminded of Stratus that morning, his shrewd eyes seemingly transfixed by it. Stratus must have sent them, but why? What was so important about his notes? His question was answered a moment later, when the woman pulled out several scraps of paper from her robe. She skimmed through his notebook, not bothering to read it, but finding the last pages with writing on them. She slipped her pieces of paper inside the notebook. The paper, which had already been roughly the same size and consistency to begin with, suddenly transfigured to match his notebook exactly.
Oh, he thought, that's really quite clever.
They were going to kill him and leave his notebook as a red herring for the next investigator to follow.
Or rather, they would try.
As the woman kneeled back down to place his notebook back in his pocket, he seized her by the arm and pulled her over and on top of him. The two standing Death Eaters jumped back and pointed their wands, but their compatriot was now a living shield atop him. They hesitated.
"Avada kedavra!" he snarled, pointing the woman's wand at the man. The curse erupted from the wand, reluctant and confused, but still deadly. The first Death Eater dropped. The second overcame his reluctance and fired off a Cutting Curse. The woman screamed in agony, and Amelon felt himself immediately soaked in her blood. Struggling with his own fatigue and pain, he kicked the woman off him and at the remaining attacker, pulling her wand from her hand as she went. She flopped off him awkwardly, not even close to the other Death Eater, but the man jumped back and by the time it took him to re-aim, Amelon fired off a second Killing Curse.
Amelon scrambled to regain his feet and move to the meager cover provided by a stack of crates piled beside a boarded up building. He hunched there for a moment, struggling to catch his breath and assess his injuries. He was in pain, a deep clenching ache in his stomach and ribs as if he had been kicked there repeatedly, but it was nothing that seemed immediately life threatening. After his initial adrenaline fuelled panic had subsided, he became aware of the Death Eater still lying in the middle of the street. She was struggling to breathe. Her gasping sounded wet and forced.
He didn't move for a moment. Should he try to help her? He wanted to question her, but what if there was another Death Eater out there waiting for a clear shot? He would have to risk it. He had a job to do. He pointed his wand in the air, and a brilliant bolt of golden light burst into the air and zipped away in the direction of the Sentinel precinct. Once there it would give out his name and his location, and any sentinel who saw it would come running, and hopefully that meant any other would-be assassins would be sent running. He scanned the alley. Everyone was where he had left them, and after a quick glance around he found his own wand in a gutter where it had rolled away. As he pocketed it, he worried it would no longer acknowledge him as its rightful owner, but knew now was not the time to fret about such things. He kept the Death Eater's wand in his hand, just in case, and went to check on its owner.
He leaned over the woman now writhing weakly on the ground. She was choking beneath her mask, and he carefully removed it. Wide, hazel eyes stared up at him in confusion and fear. She was even younger than he suspected, not yet thirty and somewhere between pretty and plain. He didn't recognize her. She didn't seem to recognize him either.
"Try to stay calm," he said. "Help is coming."
She started to sob, making herself choke even more.
"Sssshhh… don't fret and don't try to talk. Just nod or shake your head. You'll be alright. Do you know where you are?" he asked in a soothing voice.
She shook her head.
"Do you know who I am?"
She shook her head again.
"Do you know who sent you?"
She hesitated here, but then shook her head. Was that because she didn't understand what he meant by the question or was she trying to protect her leader, he wondered. Watching her reaction very closely, he asked her, "Do you know Captain Reginald Stratus?"
The girl looked confused again, but then nodded hesitantly. After that she squeezed her eyes shut and struggled to breathe as she continued to drown in her own blood. He lifted her into a partially reclined position, although she wailed in agony when he moved her. There was no more opportunity for questions. Voices and the sound of running feet drew his attention just in time for a handful of Sentinels to appear at either end of the street. When they spotted him, they aimed their wands and he had to call out quickly.
"I'm Inquisitor Amelon! I need immediate medical assistance for myself and this woman!"
They didn't put up their wands, but they didn't order him to show them his hands either. One of the Sentinels apparated away to get a medi-wizard, while the rest quickly crowded around him to secure the scene. Two others worked to stabilize the woman, while the remainder went to investigate the bodies of the dead Death Eaters. The senior sentinel, a dark skinned man with fierce, intelligent eyes, pulled him aside.
"I'm Sentinel Jarmin. What happened here?"
Amelon gave him a rundown of the events as they transpired, but none of his suspicions and nothing about his notebook or his case. He wasn't obligated to and Jarmin knew it. Amelon outranked him, and since the attack currently pointed towards self-defense the Sentinel didn't have the authority to interrogate him.
"Do you recognize her?" Jarmin asked, pointing to the woman.
"Never seen her in my life."
"And the other two?"
Amelon wandered over to the first body, now unmasked. He froze.
"Yes," he said. "This one is Ezariah Masterson."
He checked the second body.
"Lawrence Greenwood. They're both Culties stationed in Bristol. They were reported AWOL this morning."
"You were investigating their disappearance?" Jarmin asked skeptically.
"No. I was investigating something else. Their disappearances were possibly related."
"Very related if this is any indication. Who would want to silence you, Inquisitor Amelon?"
"I have my suspicions," he replied sardonically. "If it's not too much trouble, would it be possible to borrow some of your men? Perhaps three to help me arrest a suspect?"
"I'll come with. How quickly do you need them?"
More Sentinels appeared along with a couple of medi-wizards. The wounded suspect was carted off under guard, and Amelon took the opportunity to have himself looked over for injuries. It was no worse than he suspected, and the healing potion he was given was generic. The medi-witch had said he had been very lucky, but they always said that sort of thing. As soon as the scene had been secured and Jarmin had rounded up some men, they set off for Bristol.
Back on the street, the anthifold detached itself from the brick wall high above the scene and slid away with no one the wiser. Its cloth-like body floated over the walls and rooftops of London soundlessly and almost invisible. After several blocks, it came to rest in an empty shop near Diagon Alley, slipping in through the cracked window. Inside, Tom waited patiently, the picture of domestic contentment; an open book on his lap, a tumbler of whiskey in his right hand, and a cheerful fire burning in the grate. The anthifold draped itself over the back of his chair, and as Tom tilted his head slightly in acknowledgement, it began to whisper the night's events into his ear.
When it was done, Tom smiled broadly and indulged in a long pull from his glass.
After all, he had earned it.
Natalie returned to Malfoy Manor early that morning in a poor mood. She had not slept well after her run-in with Pansy and Millicent, and her continued aggravation with them had left her aggravated with herself. Why had she let what they said bother her? They had been snide and cruel plenty of times before, but she had brushed them off easily enough. What was different about this time? They had gotten too close to the truth, she decided, found a vulnerability she had not realized she had.
A vulnerability she could not afford to have.
Walking into the manor, a house elf immediately appeared to take her cloak.
"Bring me coffee," she ordered. "Strong coffee. Black."
She hated black coffee, but it was a form self-flagellation she felt she deserved and subtle enough to be overlooked. Her torments were private affairs. She stalked into the study, half-expecting to find Draco already drunk and leaning over some paperwork. Draco was leaning over some paperwork, but he was thankfully sober. He had forgone his father's liquor cabinet in favor of his mother's tea service and was nursing the fine white porcelain with thoughtful delicacy.
She knew immediately that something had happened.
She hated him a little for it. While she felt harried and out of sorts, Draco seemed to have made a full recovery overnight. His eyes were bright when he looked up at her, and his smile held none of the half-hidden sneer that had defined his face since his father's death. He was bathed, shaved, and properly groomed for once, and his clothing was pressed and spotless. He was still a touch too thin, but judging by the empty plate left on a side table, that would soon be remedied.
"Well, aren't you looking grand this morning!" she greeted.
If he noticed any of her bitterness, he didn't acknowledge it.
"I'm feeling a lot better. That sleep you recommended worked wonders," he said. He tilted his head to look at her curiously. "You, on the other hand, look like you could use some of your own advice. You look exhausted."
"Why thank you."
"You know what I mean. Robert isn't due to come in until noon, and I'm afraid there isn't much to do until he arrives. You're welcome to one of my beds if you want."
To her horror, Natalie felt herself blush. It was a perfectly innocent offer, with none of his usual playful flirting, but somehow it left her feeling embarrassed and flustered. Merlin, what was wrong with her? Was she really still so prickly after Pansy's ridiculous taunts?
"I'm fine. I'm sure there are plenty of things that need to be done around the manor that haven't even occurred to you," she said dismissively, making a show of running her finger along the bookcase to check for dusk. Her finger came off clean. The house elves, finally allowed to clean the room, had done so with a vengeance.
"You're probably right," he agreed congenially and rose from his chair. "Why don't we have a look around then? I'm heartily sick of this room for the time being."
She gave him a cool look.
"I can do it by myself."
He paused partway across the room. His smile stiffened then slipped away the longer he stared at her.
"What is it? What happened?" he asked.
She glowered at him defensively, crossing her arms.
"Nothing happened. I just want some time alone for once. Is that too much ask?"
"You're acting weird," he said. He started moving forward, cautiously, as if she were a wild animal he was afraid of spooking. She took a step back.
"Shut up, Draco."
"Better, but a little late on the delivery. Now tell me what's wrong."
"God, Draco! Get a clue. I don't want to talk about it, and you can't make me. So just leave off."
He regarded her thoughtfully, and she knew she was in trouble. A thoughtful Draco was a manipulative Draco, and he had a talent for the manipulative. He didn't bother usually, not with her in any event, but she had tipped her hand and now he was entirely too curious. She wasn't going to have any of it. She shouldn't have even come in the first place, except it had seemed so important this morning that she go. Prove something to herself. Well, she proved something alright. She'd proved she wasn't ready to see him, and until she was she shouldn't come back.
Clearly Draco didn't need her as much as he had seemed to the night before. He had gotten a handle on himself with a good night's sleep, and she probably just needed the same.
"I'm going," she said, turning to leave.
His hand grabbed hers and she spun around, jerking away from him as if he had burned her. He looked startled, hurt. He was probably faking it. Manipulative bastard.
She turned to go again and felt him move to follow her, when a house elf suddenly appeared in the office with a panicked scream of 'Master!' It brought the both of them up short.
"What is it, Joju? I've warned you all not to come in here without knocking!" he snapped.
The house elf was already too frantic for his master's rebuke to upset him any further, and he puttered and stammered and circled about in such a ridiculous manner that neither of them could make any sense out of him. At last, already impatient and aggravated, Natalie came up to him and slapped him. The house elf yelped and blinked at her with wide eyes, but at least he had calmed somewhat. Now he merely quivered in place pathetically and stared up at them with wide, watery eyes.
"M-master! It-it's t-terrible! T-terrible!"
"Joju, what happened? What is terrible?" Draco demanded with cautious concern. The house elves had a tendency to be overly dramatic. The manor and the Malfoys were their whole world, and even minor inconveniences or changes could send them into fits of hysterics. Joju's reaction, however, was even more extreme than usual.
"It-it's L-lady Mal-"
Draco didn't wait for him to finish. He was already running out the door and for the stairs. Natalie followed a moment later, remaining just long enough to shake a sure location out of the terrified elf before racing after him. She needn't have bothered. She had lost sight of Draco quickly, but had only to follow the wailing of the house elves to know where to go.
Narcissa's bedroom door was wide open. In the hallway, some twenty or so elves were scattered about, sobbing into their hands. Natalie hesitated, for once reluctant to just kick them out of the way, and picked her way carefully around them until she reached the door. Draco was there, standing stock still in the middle of the room. Slowly, Natalie came to stand beside him.
Draco's mother lay in her bed, dressed beautifully in green and black satin, her hair braided into an elaborate crown of gold hair. Her makeup was perfectly applied, but it was no death mask. It did nothing to hide the unnatural paleness or the faint bluish tint to her lips. If nothing else, her half-lidded eyes staring up cloudy and sightless at the ceiling would have revealed the truth.
Draco was an orphan now.
She felt suddenly sick. It wasn't fair. It was completely and utterly unfair to the point of cruelty. He had endured enough, too much already. This couldn't happen, not now. Draco couldn't… Draco couldn't….
She turned to look at him, afraid of what she would see. He looked shocked, disbelieving, and she couldn't blame him. She could barely believe it herself. What had happened? That Narcissa had killed herself was obvious. A vial of poison next to the wineglass on the bedside table explained the how, but why? Why had she done this to herself? How could she have done this to Draco?
Suddenly, he was moving towards the bed, and she feared for a moment he would start shaking Narcissa, attempting wake that which wasn't asleep. What could she do if he did that? What if he went mad, here and now? How could he not go mad?
But he didn't touch his mother. Instead, he took the two envelopes she had clasped over her chest like funeral lilies.
The top one was addressed to Draco.
The Bibliotheque Mazarine reminded Hermione of the Hogwarts Library. It was the first thing she had thought when she entered it several weeks before, and she thought it again now. It was a place of straight lines, musty books, and academic nostalgia. The warm familiarity made her feel safe and relaxed, even if the librarians eyed her unwelcomingly. They might think she was a vagrant with her oversized coat and boots and unkempt appearance. Thank goodness for Viktor's coat, or they might have called the police on her for indecency or possible mental instability. Embarrassed, she found herself a place to hide in an alcove away from their prying eyes. The books she found there were all muggle written and in French, but entrancing in their own way. She picked out one at random from the shelf and settled herself into an armchair to wait. Flipping through the pages, she admired the tiny uniform text and woodprint illustrations made somehow all the more poignant for their complete stillness. She admired the books aesthetically, but her mind was too preoccupied to appreciate their scholastic value. Viktor and his gallant rescue, the woman he had called Tonks and her unknown intentions, her godfather somewhere in the city looking for her, and the life she had made at the Hotel Raoulin that was now ended.
She had more time than she wanted to ponder the current situation she found herself in and the events that may have led up to it. She was quite thoroughly sick of thinking about it after the first two hours, but it refused to let her go. Speculation and suspicion filled her mind. Was this all a trap? Had Viktor set her up to come running to him for help? It seemed entirely too elaborate for someone as straightforward as Viktor, but then he had been a participant in the vastly over-complicated and convoluted plot at the Triwizard Tournament. Who was she to say he was incapable of it?
Ignoring him now would be impossible. If he hadn't lied, that meant he intended to reunite her with Uncle Severus. If this was a trap, she needed to know who and what she was facing. What she would do in either event, she mentally obsessed over and only half believed her own answers. In a moment of frustration, displeased with all her ideas, she fell back to the tried and true thought of 'What would Harry do?' and had a series of rather bizarre fantasies of becoming the British Ambassador for vampires and leading them into guerrilla warfare against the Vatican. It wasn't in any way realistic or helpful, but it did make her giggle for several minutes.
"What's so funny?"
She half jumped out of her chair in fright, scrambling to keep hold of the book that had been in her lap. Spinning around, she found Enid standing in the entryway. The girl was looking at her with wide eyes, as if she were a potentially dangerous and unpredictable magical creature she had never seen before. Hermione's breath caught in her chest, and she felt a swell of love and gratitude towards her. She had come. After all that had happened, the lies and the danger, Enid had done as she had asked her to in those few seconds they had shared before they had split up back at the Hotel Raoul.
"Are you alright?" Hermione asked, climbing to her feet and looking her over carefully. She did not appear to be hurt, but she was very pale and wearing a large coat Hermione didn't recognize. When she stepped forward, Enid flinched back. Hermione hesitated. Enid looked down, embarrassed.
"I'm okay, just… confused. I'm really, really confused."
"I'll explain it, if you want," Hermione offered, half hoping she wouldn't.
"I think I need you to," Enid said.
So Hermione did. For privacy, they moved to the basement level of the library where the old periodicals were archived and few ventured to. Enid handed over a set of clothes she had secreted away beneath her oversized coat and a brush from her hand bag, and while Hermione made herself more presentable, she told her the truth.
"So you really are Hermione Granger? I wondered, but… it just seemed too fantastical. Nothing that exciting ever happens to me," Enid said. As Hermione had spoken, she seemed to relax more and more, as if realizing this stranger wasn't so very different from the person she had been living with for so long.
"I'm sorry I had to lie to you."
"That's okay. I get why you did. It's not like you can just tell people this sort of thing."
"I did intend to tell you, it's just… Things seemed so much simpler when I was just Heloise. I liked being Heloise."
Enid smiled at her sadly.
"I liked you being Heloise too."
The atmosphere in the basement archive suddenly became too heavy to stand, and Hermione quickly changed the subject.
"When did you start to suspect I wasn't who I said?"
Enid gave her an impish smile.
"What? No you didn't."
"Right away. Your clothes were too nice, and you didn't use your name as if it were natural to you. You were obviously a runaway. Madame Prewitt knew too, of course. That's why she had you room with me instead of Lorelai. She didn't want her scaring you off with her nosiness."
Hermione felt herself blushing. All this time she had thought she was being so clever and so careful, and it turned out she had been completely transparent! She felt like such an idiot. If her employer and roommate hadn't been so sympathetic, she probably would have been found out months ago.
"And when did you suspect me of being… well… me?"
"On the fourth day, I mean, the fourth night. You talk in your sleep."
"What? No!" Surely someone would have mentioned something like that to her before now!
"It's pretty funny actually," she said, her impish smiling growing even wider.
"What did I say?"
Enid's amusement suddenly turned to embarrassment, and now she was blushing almost as brightly as the friend she had been teasing. She was now looking rather interestedly at the tiled pattern on the floor.
"Uh… nothing. Well, nothing bad. Nothing too bad, anyway."
"Oh Merlin, what did I say?"
"Well… That night… mostly nonsense."
"Mostly nonsense and…?"
"You might have mentioned a name a couple of times."
At this point, they were both wishing they could disappear into the floor, but like a witness to a horrendous accident, Hermione couldn't stop herself from looking.
Hermione buried her face in her hands. Of all the things she didn't want anyone to know, it was her crush on her best friend. It had been speculated upon since they had met that they were somehow an item. At the age of ten and both of them unusually practical for their ages, neither of them had entertained the idea of a romantic relationship. She could be honest when she said for the first couple of years, the idea of being boyfriend and girlfriend was entirely absurd to her. Both of them had wasted more time than they cared for convincing others that their relationship was entirely platonic. If she had felt a little jealous of Harry's attention towards Natalie and Luna, well, it wasn't unusual for best friends to feel neglected with the introduction of a 'significant other', now was it?
It had been considerably harder to ignore her feelings towards him after he had been kidnapped during the Triwizard Tournament. Between Viktor and Harry, she could say honestly that she had missed Harry the most. And it had only gotten worse when he had returned home. She had wanted so badly to confess to him, to try for something more, but he had still been recovering from his ordeal and she hadn't wanted to burden him then. Then one complication after another had come up, and it had never been a good time after that.
But she talked in her sleep… who else knew that?
The girls in the Hogwarts dormitory? Draco? God, Harry himself?
It was too humiliating to think about.
"I'm going to throw myself off a bridge now."
"It's not that bad," Enid tried to placate. "It's not like I'm going to tell anyone. I didn't even tell the Aurors when they came."
Hermione grimaced at the thought of the Aurors. She had known they would come. After the ruckus of last night, there was no way they wouldn't have, but there was no telling how seriously they would take the matter. If she was very, very lucky they wouldn't identify her as Hermione Granger, and she would just become a missing persons case, easily ignored with no family to push the matter. If she was unlucky, they already knew it was her and were issuing a nation-wide manhunt right this minute. Another reason to hope Viktor hadn't betrayed her. He was likely the only person she knew capable of getting her out of France safely.
"Do you think they suspect?"
"I don't know. I don't think they did when I talked to them. They took your trunk to look for evidence, but I managed to get your little box and didn't see anything else that would have given you away."
That wasn't honestly very comforting to Hermione. There were many things in her trunk other than her emergency kit that could have easily identified her, but she had cautiously hidden them in a secret compartment. An experienced inspector would know how to find such things, even if it might take a while to get into them. It was too much to hope that this case had been assigned to a rookie.
"You're certain no one followed you?"
"I don't think they suspected you of doing anything wrong, so I told them I was going to go look for you. That wouldn't be suspicious, right? One friend looking for another? Even Madam Prewitt didn't think that was strange and just told me to back before sundown. One of the Aurors gave me a card and told me to contact them if I had any luck."
Hermione let out a relieved sigh and complimented her on her quick thinking. They talked a little longer about what had happened and what Hermione intended to do now. She was honest as she could be without compromising both of their safety. If or rather when the truth came out, Enid would be interrogated more thoroughly. France wasn't Britain, however, and she wasn't so much worried about Enid being harmed during questioning as she was about her being tricked into giving something away. Ideally, she would have liked to have taken Enid with her, but she couldn't justify turning her into a fugitive and exposing her to more danger than she already had. She had already been too selfish by half.
Finally it was time to split up. Hermione was now more comfortably and less conspicuously dressed, armed with her wand, and the box of money and fake IDs Ron had given her 'just in case.' She regretted the loss of her trunk, filled with supplies and mementos from a previous life, but she could survive it, especially if she was going to reunite with Uncle Severus that night.
"When this is all over," Hermione said just before they parted, "and if I get to return home, I want you to come to England. I want you to meet my brother and Harry, and see my house. I'll be your sponsor and get you a real wand. You're too clever not to have one of-"
Enid's arms were suddenly wrapped around her, crushing despite her diminutive size. Hermione smiled and hugged her back, somewhat more gently. It was all probably wishful thinking on both their parts, but it was a dream they could both share even after they had parted.
And part they did. Enid left first, and Hermione waited for half an hour longer before leaving as well. Outside, the day was cold but sunny, and the streets were bustling with the people and vehicles that characterized a muggle metropolitan city. She walked into the crowd of pedestrian commuters and felt safely anonymous and strangely hopeful. She would miss her life at the Hotel Raoulin, and Enid in particular, but it was never meant to be permanent. Now that it was over she felt herself returning to her real life and the lives of all the people she loved. Somewhere out there her godfather was waiting for her, Harry and Draco were waiting to hear from her godfather, and their friends were waiting to hear from Harry and Draco.
Waiting on a street corner for a traffic light to change, Hermoine allowed herself to smile softly to herself. There was no choice but to move forward from here.
A hand closed around hers gently, startling her from her thoughts. She turned to her right and found an old man standing beside her. At first, she thought he had grabbed her by mistake, that he had confused her for someone else, but when he turned his twinkling blue eyes to hers she felt herself recoiling in fear.
"I see there is no need to introduce myself," Dumbledore said congenially. "Would you mind terribly if I took a moment of your time?"
The Treaty of Bourges was signed just before sunset. The light that poured in through the windows was golden and fiery, but ominous in its foretelling of the coming night. Voldemort loomed over the table as each German representative approached and signed their name, formally yielding to his supremacy over them once and for all. He didn't dare smile, not with the press hovering at the back of the room with their cameras and their hawkish stares, but there was a gleam in his eye that revealed the pleasure he was taking in the moment. Most of the Germans didn't dare look him in the eye, but those few that did revealed a depth of hatred that made him feel positively giddy.
When the signing was finally done, he made the requisite speech about reconciliation and peace that only fools and the truly desperate believed and received the requisite applause in return. Pictures were taken to mark the event. The treaty was taken away to be preserved and duplicated by his Court calligraphers. Someone in the corner was bent over and weeping into their hands.
Voldemort left the assembly room to the music of trumpets and drums.
He returned immediately to his rooms to prepare for the rest of the evening. As the door fell shut behind him, he couldn't hold back anymore and threw his head back to laugh. Lestrange and Morgan waited patiently for him to finish in the parlor. They knew better than to attempt to ruin his mood. His laughter faded, but not his jubilation. It was a good day, despite all that went wrong earlier. It was still a fantastically good day.
"Pour me a drink, Bella," he said, his command softened by the use of her given name. She did as she was told, solemn but obedient, selecting his favorite brandy without asking. Once the drink was placed in his hand, he seated himself and gestured for either of them to speak. Bella spoke first.
"I have finished making the preparations. There is a pavilion on the southern end of the grounds, enclosed on the sides but with an open ceiling. It was ideal for privacy and defensibility, but there was no way to set up a platform inside on such short notice."
"A platform isn't important unless there is a large audience," Voldemort said dismissively. He had no intention of having more than a dozen witnesses, himself among them. Seeing the fight from ground level might make it that much more exciting. Lestrange nodded.
"It's easier to prevent sabotage as well. I've set up the necessary protective wards and set my men to guard the platform. So far, I haven't detected any attempts by the Germans to monitor or breech our security."
Here she hesitated.
"The Queen went to see him."
That gave him pause, and he took a drink from his glass to buy him some time to ponder it.
"What did they say?"
"They didn't say anything. They just… they just looked at each other. And then the Queen left."
He would have to ask Harry about it later. He suspected Ophelia had gone to tell Harry something, perhaps to warn him, and then realized the futility of it when she had seen him in person. Harry would not be, could not be, dissuaded from this duel. Or perhaps she had wanted to know why he was going through with the duel in the first place. Perhaps she suspected Voldemort of forcing Harry into it somehow. Not an unreasonable suspicion since he had the power to call the duel off at any time.
"Has his wand been returned yet?"
His one concern was that the French would attempt to interfere with the duel by refusing to return either combatant's wand. The wands were considered evidence of a possible crime after all, and they were in their right to keep them until their investigation was over.
"The Musketeers have agreed to give back the wands just before the duel, but will confiscate them again once the duel is over. I don't like it. They could be sabotaged for all we know. There is no telling who might be a German sympathizer."
He didn't like it either. He wondered briefly if the whole point of Amsel's farce was to get ahold of Harry's wand. What would be the point of sabotaging it though? Had they merely wanted to study it, perhaps? Did they know it was the brother wand to Voldemort's? He wondered, idly, if Harry would be able to use his wand instead. They were so much a part of the other now. They had shared magic and blood and even their souls. Would their wands acknowledge their bond?
An experiment for another day.
"Harry's magus hypersentia should be able to detect if the wand has been tampered with. Anything else? Have the press been snooping around yet?"
"A few. Mostly it seemed to be about the attack this morning. None of them seem to be aware of the duel yet."
That was highly doubtful. It might be that they didn't want him to know that they knew, however. They would likely try to surprise him at the press conference he had scheduled in half an hour or even attempt to spy on the event. He was prepared for that eventuality even if it did irk him.
"We'll see. Anything else?"
Lestrange made a dismissive shrug.
"Everything is going according to schedule."
He turned to Morgan, who was already nursing his own drink. He did so for form's sake only. He wouldn't drink during a job, but it would give him something to look at while he was thinking.
"Anything turn up on Amsel?"
"Yes. Someone came forward."
"A good Samaritan?" he asked skeptically.
"Perhaps. He seemed convincing enough."
"And 'he' is?"
"Diethelm Kruger, the patriarch of the Hamburg Krugers."
Voldemort recalled the name and the distant kinship he held with Harry. He had made overtures towards his protégé earlier, but nothing too forceful. This latest involvement in Harry's affairs was an obvious attempt to get in his Court's good graces, but whether it was for self-promotion or espionage was anyone's guess at this point.
"And what did he say?"
"He suggested that Amsel is using the duel as a cover for an attempt to cast Dark Magic on Harry."
"That's true of all duels."
"He said he believes it is something more insidious. He suspects Amsel intends to use her own blood, perhaps even her own death, to cast a curse."
"And what made him draw this conclusion?"
"It seems something that her family is known for."
That drew the Dark Lord's attention. A precedent?
"The Amsels are renowned for their dark wizardry, more specifically they are renowned for sacrificing themselves as a last resort using dark wizardry. There are several examples; Amsels who turned themselves into mindless beasts or blew themselves up to take out an enemy that has cornered them. Her own father apparently turned himself into a werewolf intentionally after Grindelwald's defeat and then surrendered himself to aurors the night of the full moon."
"Merlin," Lestrange muttered with reluctant admiration.
What a curious family, Voldemort thought to himself. He wondered if there were any other surviving kin out there. He thought he might like to meet one.
"Did he have any theories about what sort of curse she might use?"
Morgan shook his head.
"He couldn't be that specific, but I have my own theories."
Voldemort gestured for him to continue.
"If it was a simple matter of killing Potter, she had the opportunity this morning. She is a smart and ambitious woman; a simple murder would not suit her. She will try to cause as much damage as she can to justify her sacrifice. There are two likely sorts of curses she could use; a magically created disease she will intend to make him the carrier of or some sort of curse that induces insanity, possibly violence. If it is the disease, she will be targeting the werewolves Harry visits so regularly. If it's violent insanity… for someone of Potter's strength and skill, anyone and everyone would be fair game."
If this were truly Amsel's goal, then he had to applaud her for her ingenuity. It was devious and cruel. It was quite brilliant.
It would fail.
"I suspect she is planning something elaborate requiring the conditions a formal duel provides. An enclosed space, so close combat. She'll need contact of some sort to cast the curse."
"A cursed object?" Lestrange asked skeptically. A cursed object would be too easy to find. Even the most cleverly disguised objects could be identified by a properly trained cursebreaker or Sentinel.
Voldemort shook his head. He could see where Morgan's thoughts were taking him.
"Something more subtle. Remember, she won't want anyone to realize anything is wrong at first. Additionally, if it's a disease, the most obvious carrier for such a thing is Amsel herself."
Lestrange nodded in understanding.
Blood. Blood was a powerful conduit for magic. It could carry curses and magical diseases equally well. There were airborne disease of course, but if Amsel had access to such a thing she would not have had to fight Harry to infect him. She could have simply sneezed on him, or if she was being spiteful, spat on him. Still, it was risky.
"She can't guarantee success. How likely is it that Harry will draw blood during his attacks? Or that he will get close enough to get in contact with it? It's not like he has an obvious preference."
Voldemort's expression darkened.
"Far too likely in his present state. He'll tear her throat out with his bare teeth if the urge hits him."
Which would be an incredible sight.
"So we call it off," Morgan said.
Voldemort shook his head. It wasn't as simple as that. Greyback was an angry god in need of appeasement. If it weren't Amsel's blood it could very easily be Harry's. Greyback could be defeated, but that required supplies and privacy he didn't have here. It was best to satisfy him for now and retaliate later.
"I am afraid that isn't an option. We're just going to have to get creative."
Bristol Headquarters was quiet when Amelon arrived with Jarmin and three of his people in tow. The front gates were closed and locked, which was unusual that time of day. Normally, there was a steady stream of people going in and out of the building until the ten o'clock curfew. There were guards at the front gate, which was to be expected, but they were not the usual bored grunts milling about with sign-in sheets. They were alert and grim, and one of them was a sergeant, too high ranked for such a menial task. He half expected the soldiers to attempt to deny them access, perhaps even attempt to take them into custody. If Stratus knew they were coming, there was no telling what he might have told his soldiers to do in his desperation.
But no one tried to bar them from the offices. Rather, they were escorted quickly inside to Commander Sorenson, the Cultie currently in charge with both the Dark Lord and Lestrange in France. He was an older man, a career soldier, with pure white hair and a stony face on which was chiseled a perpetual grimace of discontent.
"You're fast," Sorenson said sourly, glaring at them from the other side of his desk. "I always suspected your people had an informant in here, but now it's confirmed."
Amelon gave him a curious look, but didn't speak.
"What-" Jarmin began, but Amelon held up his hand for silence. It was too soon to reveal their own ignorance at the current situation.
"Don't take it personally. It's just the way things are done," Amelon bluffed.
Sorensen snorted but didn't contradict him.
"Let's not drag out the inevitable," the inquisitor prompted. "I'd like to see for myself."
"As you like. It isn't pretty."
Jarmin gave him a questioning look which Amelon ignored in favor of watching the commander lead them out of his office and down the hall. It struck the inquisitor almost immediately that the corridor was almost completely deserted.
"Where is everyone?" he asked, taking a risk.
"On lockdown. I'm not taking any chances until everyone is accounted for."
"Is anyone missing so far? Except for Masterson and Greenwood, of course."
Sorenson glared at him. Or perhaps that was just what his face always looked like. It was hard to tell.
"One of the secretaries didn't report for her shift this morning. Aside from Masterson and Greenwood, everyone appears to be here. Half of personnel is in France, so everyone is pulling overtime. Good luck narrowing down the suspects."
Amelon didn't risk saying anything else and Jarmin finally seemed to catch on as well. They followed the commander out of the main building and to the barracks in back, a series of long rectangular buildings in two rows of four. A light drizzle had begun to fall, and he wondered if it was going to rain in London. He hoped not. There was no way the Sentinels had finished processing the crime scene.
There were voices coming from the barracks, raised voices and muffled arguments. Culties hovered at the windows to stare out at them resentfully. Amelon stared back at them with mild curiosity, but could glean no clues from their expressions. His party kept moving until they reached the farthest set of barracks and turned to the one on their right. This building was quiet and dark, and there were sentries standing guard outside of it. They saluted the commander and stepped aside to let them in, looking relieved to see them.
The curtains had all been pulled, so the room was dark. Lanterns in the barrack started to glow as they entered and slowly grew brighter to illuminate the rest of the room. One of Jarmin's men gave a sharp hiss. Amelon didn't blame him.
There was a body lying in the middle of the room sans a head. The head, it seemed, had been liquefied by some sort of spell and was currently splattered across the back wall. It isn't pretty, Sorenson had said. King of the understatement. He gestured for everyone else to stay back and drew closer to the remains. The head was destroyed, but the rest of the body seemed perversely untouched. The uniform was perfectly pressed and tidy but for a few specks of blood. The shoes were tied, the wand still in its holster, and the insignia gleaming brightly. Amelon stared long and hard at the name tag.
Amelon let out a long sigh. Things certainly had gotten interesting quickly, hadn't they?
Bobby came to see Harry just as he finished his second bath for the day. There was a tap tap on his bedroom window as he'd strapped on the wrist holster for his wand, and when he drew back the curtains he found the raven glaring at him from the other side of the glass. He grinned at Bobby and let him inside. As he did so he caught a glimpse of the moon, fat and yellow, just starting to rise above the palace. He felt a shiver run through him, magic swelling up like an incoming tide. He breathed in the cold night air and felt a blind, sensual sort of happiness.
"You stupid little bastard…" Bobby hissed from his perch on the bedpost.
Harry felt the soft, cruel words wash over him, making his skin breakout in goosebumps in a way the cold night didn't.
"Don't be angry, brother," he said calmly. "There's nothing to worry about."
Rather than being soothed, the raven's feathers suddenly bristled angrily.
"Who's worried? Does it look like I'm worried? I'm pissed as hell."
Slowly, reluctantly, he turned away from the view of the moon to look at him. In the mirror across from them he could see his eyes had developed an eerie, luminous glow. He pulled off his glasses and set them on the nightstand.
"Do you blame me for this? It's not my fault. Not really."
"It doesn't matter if it's your fault or not! You could have stopped it! You could still stop it!"
Harry continued to dress, slowly, carefully.
"I don't want to."
"I know you don't want to; that's why I'm so angry."
He turned towards the raven and reached out a hand for him, beckoning him close, but his brother recoiled from him, flying across the room to perch on a chair instead. Harry let his hand fall.
"Is it wrong that I don't want to? Is it wrong to hate her? Why are you being so cruel?" Harry asked softly. Bobby's bristling feathers suddenly exploded in a flurry of swirling blackness, expanding to the size of a giant before retracting again into the size and shape of a man. Bobby stood before him, the third time he had ever seen him in human form, and never when they were fighting. With his human face, Harry could see so much more clearly how upset his brother truly was.
"Because you are being so selfish!" Bobby snarled at him.
Harry moved forward, slowly. He wanted to touch him, touch his face, so strange and familiar. It had been his face once upon a time, when he was still Seamus Carrigan. Harry's skin was tingling, and he wanted to touch things, the more magical the better. With Her power running through him, he thought he could map every bone and sinew, every blood vessel and strand of hair, every cell and synapse by touch alone so that Bobby would be imprinted into the core of himself, never to be forgotten as he had forgotten himself, no matter how many times he died and was reborn. Perhaps if he did, he would understand his brother's feelings. Perhaps he could convey his own.
But Bobby retreated from his touch a second time, his long legs gliding away from him, placing the bed between them. Harry was left with words alone to understand, and he hated that. He was terrible with words. He didn't trust them.
"Why do you say I am selfish? Do you think I don't love you?"
His brother looked like he wanted to kill him.
"What is your love worth? What do you do for those you love, brother? You made a promise to your godfathers that you wouldn't die for them, for the werewolves, and already you're taking stupid risks. Even though you know it will kill them if something were to happen to you!"
Harry could feel the words, sharp and stabbing, biting into his skin. But no, that wasn't words, it was just his own nails tearing through his shirt and into the skin beneath. That wasn't fair. That wasn't true. He didn't mean for any of this to happen. Why was everyone always blaming him for the way things turned out?
"Who are you to call me selfish?" Harry said, his voice rising with anger. "I would die for you. I would die for Sirius and Remus. For Hermione and Draco and Natalie. For Voldemort too, even though you may hate that. What would you do for the ones you love, O' Wanderer, Pilgrim of Raecellos? Follow me around and hurl your judgments at me? What is that worth to anyone?"
He couldn't trust words. Not even his words. These weren't his words. This wasn't his voice. These weren't his feelings. Why was he saying these things?
Bobby's eyes were wide with shock, but beneath them still lay the anger. The judgment.
"Stop looking at me like at that!" he snarled, snatching up a book from bed and hurling it at him with all his strength. The book missed its target by inches, smashing into the mirror behind him. The book and the mirror both shattered, sending down a rain of glass and paper. Bobby's glamour broke with a terrified caw, and the raven clambered clumsily into the air and out the window. In a matter of moments he disappeared into the darkness and not even Harry's preternatural eyesight could not find him.
His anger left with the raven, and Harry stared blankly at the open window for a long time, as stunned by what he had done as Bobby must have been. Then he caught sight of the moon once again and felt himself relax. It didn't matter. Bobby would forgive him, eventually. His brother served a god himself, surely he understood their lives were not wholly their own. The argument was pointless. His promises were pointless. Love mattered. It was one of the few things even the gods acknowledged.
He continued where he had left off dressing, humming to himself now, some old muggle song his mother had adored.
All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need
And truly, in this moment, he loved Rhiannon as he had never loved anyone.
"I see you've broken something else since I left," Voldemort said, noting idly the broken mirror and the scattered remnants of a book. Harry was perched in the windowsill, oblivious to the chill and basking in the moonlight as if it held the warmth of the sun. Harry turned to him, eyes wide and glowing with a divine madness. The Dark Lord was careful to keep his wand visible in his hand. He didn't want a repeat of earlier that morning.
"I thought the room could use a little more symmetry," Harry quipped unapologetically, grinning at him wickedly. "Is it time?"
"Almost. Come here a moment."
Harry climbed from his perch at the window and approached him, soundless and graceful, like a ghost. Voldemort remembered the strength in those deceptively thin limbs from this morning and wondered how much more powerful they were now under the full influence of both Greyback and Rhiannon. Had Amsel ever really stood a chance?
"I wanted to warn you beforehand. That woman is diseased, so don't bite her."
Harry gave him a perplexed look.
"Why would I bite her?"
"It never occurred to you to bite her?"
"I would never give her that sort of blessing."
Voldemort felt a gentle elation, the same feeling he got whenever he found himself privileged to some rare form of knowledge. Rhiannon considered a werewolf's bite a form of blessing, where others only saw a curse. It made sense, but the significance wasn't entirely clear. Did that mean that infection was not entirely happenstance? Most didn't survive a werewolf attack, but even among those that did not all survived the initial transformation. Could there be design to it?
He could ask. He could ask Harry in that moment, and he would be given an answer. As his protégé was now, he would be speaking with one as close to the source as any mortal could hope to get. Tempting. Very tempting. But this question would inevitably lead to more questions, and they had somewhere they needed to be. There would be other full moons, other opportunities, to give the time and ritual such a divine communion deserved.
"Just something to remember. We suspect it's infectious to werewolves, so take precautions. Try not to get too close to her."
They didn't know this for sure, but it was the warning Harry was most likely to heed.
Harry just grinned and shrugged. Voldemort stared at him for a long moment, wondering how much of the boy there was left still aware in there. Then he turned and led him out of his rooms. There were sentries in the hallway, British Culties and French Musketeers both, standing in rigid attention. Harry wondered if any of them had heard him screaming at Bobby, but decided they probably hadn't or they would have entered at the first sign of an intruder. It didn't matter anyway. None of them mattered.
Outside, Harry paused and closed his eyes, reveling in the sensation of the night air washing over him. The air was alive with magic, and he could feel it in his lungs whenever he breathed deep and taste it on his tongue when he let it out again through his mouth. As if sensing his appreciation, the wind picked up, ruffling through his hair and cutting through his clothes in a caressing sensation. He laughed. It almost tickled.
The Dark Lord watched him with an amused curiosity as he led him across the palace grounds and into a grove of trees. The grove was a bare, domesticated thing, but still thick enough to obscure the pavilion that lay beyond. It was a neoclassical style building, ornate columns and a clay tile roof. There was a small group of people loitering inside it. Culties greeted him inside with a pat down and a search of all his pockets for unauthorized items, but their search was tentative and nervous. They seemed nervous to touch him at all. The only unusual thing they seemed to find was his watch. Voldemort gave it a curious look and then turned that curiosity to Harry, who just smiled mysteriously and offered no explanations. There was a single Musketeer among them who handed him his wand.
He gave it a few experimental flicks, refamiliarizing it with his magic. He ignored how everyone else flinched with each careless swish. It felt comfortable in his hand, but strangely fragile.
Inside the pavilion, Harry found it was not a solid building, but rather a rectangle built around a large open space that must have held a potted garden or some sort of performance area, but was now nothing more than a smooth stone floor open to the night sky. Amsel was there already, pacing inside the courtyard like a caged tiger. Harry felt some of his mirth die at the sight of her. His mind began to sharpen, fixating on her, taking in every detail of her, the weaknesses and the dangers. She was agitated, but not from fear. He could see she was as eager for this fight as he was. He found himself laughing, giddy with the feeling of magic and uncomplicated hatred.
He moved forward to enter the arena, but a hand suddenly gripped his shoulder, holding him back.
"Do you remember the rules?" Voldemort asked.
"Must we?" Harry sighed.
"The line between a duel and a homicide is a thin one at best, so yes, you must follow the rules. They are British rules, so unspelled blades are permissible. You'll want to be light on your feet, so your knife will be more practical than a sword. The Killing Curse is forbidden. The first to make three successful strikes or to incapacitate their opponent wins."
"Incapacitate? Is that English for 'kill' now?"
"It is up for interpretation," the Dark Lord said with a touch of morbid humor to match Harry's own. "You will not strike until the referee gives the signal for the match to start. You must stop when he commands it as well… so I encourage you not to play with her too much."
His protégé acknowledged him with a tilt of his head and shrugged his hand off his shoulder. He strode away into the courtyard. The magic here was different, strangely sterile, like one might find in a hospital or a laboratory. He sniffed the air experimentally and turned a questioning look to the Dark Lord. Voldemort gave him his own mysterious smile, no doubt paying him back for his smugness about his previously missing watch.
It wasn't important, Harry decided.
The courtyard was illuminated by burning sconces lining the inner columns, but the space was nearly the size of a medium sized ballroom and their light was weak. There wasn't much need for more as there was nothing for either of them to see except for each other, nothing to trip over or to hide in the shadows of. The moon wasn't visible, but Harry could still feel Her presence in the cold, pale light gleaming off the roof tiles. Outside of the courtyard, Harry realized there were more people there than he had originally thought. Along with the Dark Lord himself, there was also Morgan and Lestrange standing on opposite sides, an officious-looking witch who must have been the referee, two Musketeers, and the Queen.
Harry's gaze lingered on the Queen for a moment. She was cloaked in purple velvet, a regal color for a regal woman. She was as unreadable as she had been when she had visited him this afternoon, but he felt pleased that she was here. He wanted her to be a part of this moment.
Then he turned his attention back to Amsel and let the rest of the world fall away. She was a menacing, haughty creature in robes as black as his own. She was not so much beautiful as interesting to look at, with her long, thin nose and her cutting cheekbones. Her eyes glittered in the weak light of the courtyard. She looked hungry and a little bit mad, and he thought he could have loved her under different circumstances. In the cool, sterile air of the courtyard he could feel her magic radiating in the air, growing thicker the longer they held each other's gaze. It felt like death against his skin. The violent kind, as hot and sticky as blood and prickly as thorns.
She drew her wand and took up the standard dueling stance. Harry mirrored her. The courtyard, already quiet, grew again more still. The protective wards drew up around them, sliding in between the inner columns and locking them and their magic inside. Immediately, he could feel Amsel's magic condense in the confined space, thickening the atmosphere with her malevolence. He felt his breathing quicken, his palm sweating around his wand.
A noise reverberated to his left, but he couldn't make it out over the roar of his own breathing in his ears. Amsel's wand flew up, hurling her first spell towards him. He didn't recognize the words, but he was already throwing out his own spell before she finished.
His curse crushed her orange-tinted spell and kept hurling towards her in a glimmer of pale lavender. She jumped and rolled out of its way, and the spell struck the wards behind her. The entire barrier shuddered violently with the colors of their attacks, bouncing back and forth like ripples on a pond. Harry laughed in delight, mesmerized by the beauty of it.
In the periphery of his vision, he could see his opponent jumping to her feet. He let her. He didn't want this to end too soon. She cast another curse, aiming for his unprotected side, but he danced out of its path and swept towards her in a wandering arc. Two more curses flew at him, and he dodged them both. They were so very slow, but they made such pretty colors when they hit the barriers. He was almost on top of her when she finally threw up a shield charm. He struck it with palm of his free hand, felt the scars on his hands flare with power. The shield shuddered, but finally repelled him, tossing him back a few feet. He fell back another couple of steps, throwing up a shield of his own as she tossed out another curse into the space she had bought herself.
She ran along the edge of the barrier in an attempt to gain some distance again. He let her.
She stopped and turned, and gave him a perplexed look when she saw he hadn't moved. Her expression hardened.
"You really are a fucking monster," she spat in German.
"'Monster' is just a term for those humans fear. Do you fear me?" he mocked.
"I despise you," she hissed.
He laughed, startling her. Then he stopped, all amusement slipping from his face.
"The feeling is mutual. Volomilleacus*."
They both attempted to dodge, but neither quite succeeded. Amsel stumbled as the curse caught her in her left leg, shredding her trousers and the skin beneath it. Harry snarled angrily as a gash appeared on his right arm. Off to the side, the referee shouted something meaningless to both of them. Blood welled up in their wounds.
And then slowly disintegrated into thin air.
The both of them stared transfixed as the wounds remained, but the blood itself disappeared almost as soon as it touched the air. Harry glanced at Voldemort, confirming that it was in fact the Dark Lord's doing.
That woman is diseased, his mentor had said. It seemed he hadn't left anything to chance. That sterile scent made sense now. It was a disinfecting spell. He turned to Amsel to see her reaching the same conclusion. She looked devastated.
"What's the matter?" he asked. "Something not going to plan?"
She looked up at him. Her confusion slowly melted away as she remembered how much she wanted him dead.
"I wasn't going to use this," she said coldly. "I honestly didn't think you deserved to see it, but now… I just want to wipe that smug look off your face. Globulus enfuego multificado!"
Harry snarled and threw up a shield. Her spell, a ball of fire the size of quaffle, broke apart into snitch-size pieces that beat against the barrier, which in turn buzzed around him, trying to find any weakness in the barrier. There was none and the fireballs gradually burned out around him. He kept his wand up and ready, prepared for a second attack, but Amsel wasn't pointing her wand at him any longer. She was pointing it at the sky.
An instinctual dread came over him, and the incantation for the Cutting Curse, the first truly lethal spell he would summon, touched his lips. Harry felt himself struck violently before he could even utter a sound and fell to the floor, stunned.
Cold, cold, cold.
His entire body felt as if it had been emptied and then refilled with ice water. The shock of it was so painful he couldn't breathe or move. Then the feeling melted away, leaving him boneless and gasping on the ground.
He was suddenly and completely aware that he was absolutely alone inside of himself.
Greyback was gone.
Rhiannon was gone.
The magic they had so generously 'stoked' was now smothered, almost gone completely.
What had she done?
Above him the sky was now black and the sight of it sickened him. His magus hypersentia was numbed, but he could still sense the smothering weight of Amsel's spell. The woman herself staggered then righted herself. He watched motionlessly from the ground as she turned her attention back towards him. Somewhere outside the courtyard the referee made another call.
"Did you hear that, Potter?" she asked, exhaustion touching her voice. "He said that strike was in my favor. That means I have only one hit left to make before the match ends. I should make it count, shouldn't I?"
She started towards him, and he made a choked sound and tried to get up. He flopped backwards limply, one arm laid trapped beneath him and the other losing its grip on his wand. His wand rolled out of his hand, and Amsel detoured slightly in order to pick it up again. She retrieved it and carefully put it back in his hand, kneeling over him. She smiled down at him coldly.
"Ah-ah, you have to still be holding it when I cast my last spell or the match is forfeit. And I really want to be known as the woman who defeated the Great Harry Potter," she sneered. "Although, I don't know that you live up to all the hype. I mean really, without the full moon? Look at you. You're pathe-"
He pulled his hand from beneath his back and stabbed her in eye.
She screamed in surprise and pain and threw herself away from him. He tried to keep hold of the knife, but it slipped from his grip. He rolled over and tried to crawl after her. His magic was almost completely gone, what little he had had before his possession nearly snuffed out by the violent exorcism of Rhiannon and Greyback. The knife was his only chance for survival.
The referee made another call.
Two for Amsel, two for me, Harry calculated.
The last one was for keeps.
He struggled after her, his limbs feeling numb and heavy. He tucked his wand back up his sleeve. It was useless to him now. Screaming in pain, Amsel clambered back, kicking at him blindly. He grunted when the strikes hit, but kept going until he was on top of her, reaching for the knife. She screamed again and pointed her wand at him.
He rolled off her before she could curse him and circled around on all fours before she could get a good shot. She heard him moving and pointed her wand again, and he rolled a second time to avoid her curse.
Staying upright was difficult. He was starting to regain feeling, but he was exhausted and dizzy. Amsel continued to flail and curse on the ground, blinded but still dangerous. Very quietly and very carefully he crawled away from her, even as she crawled away from him. They retreated to different corners of the courtyard.
Harry watched Amsel's blurry form cautiously. He had left his glasses in his room, and without divine interference he was almost as blind as she was. Almost, but not quite. He couldn't help but flinch as she struggled to pull out his knife with one hand while still holding up her wand in the other, not so much from the indistinct sight as but from the uncomfortable squishing sounds she was making. Right now, she couldn't or wouldn't open her remaining eye, but once the knife was out she might be able to force herself to. He, on the other hand, had absolutely no weapon and barely enough strength to stand. He wasn't quite sure which of them was in the worse position, although he certainly didn't envy her.
He looked around, but outside of the courtyard the world was all darkness and shadowy silhouettes. No help from that corner. He would have to find a way out of this situation himself.
Slowly and as quickly as possible, he removed his shoes and outer shirt.
He had no time to be embarrassed or to second guess himself. This was a matter of life and death. He needed to get close to her while she was still relatively helpless, and to do that he had to be absolutely and totally quiet. Sirius and Remus and the other hunters of the Goddess Colony had shown him how. Once he was down to just his pants and undershirt, he got down on all fours to keep his body a smaller target and slowly crept forward.
The floor was cold and hard on his knees and hands, but it was his breathing that he had the most difficulty with. His heart was pounding and he wanted to be gasping for every breath, but he didn't dare for fear she would hear him.
"Crucio!" she screamed suddenly. Harry tensed to dodge, but she was pointed the wrong way. The spell hit a wall and sent the room rippling with light. He froze, not daring to breathe. "Crucio!" she tried again casting even further off course.
She was panicking.
Slowly, Harry continued to stalk closer. All he needed to do was get close enough to jam the knife deeper into her skull with his hand. It would kill her instantly. He felt sick as he imagined it, her brains squirting out the ravaged socket as she convulsed around the knife like a landed fish.
He didn't let himself stop.
"Dammit, where are you, you little monster!" she shouted in frustration and pain.
You'll know in just a moment.
When he was within a meter of her, he stood up very carefully. He took one small step forward. The sudden flare of her nostrils was the only warning he had before her wand was pointed straight at him. He dropped back down to the ground and rolled away, barely missing her third pain curse. He scurried back on all fours as quickly as he could before jumping to his feet to retreat still further and faster. His entire body shook violently, part cold and part adrenaline.
"Nice try," she crowed. She was grinning, but she sounded strained. Being stabbed in the face would probably do that. "But I can smell your monster stink from halfway across the room."
He blinked. Could she really?
He took an experimental sniff and grimaced. Yes, she probably could. Stress and exertion were making him sweat profusely.
He would have to resort to a speed attack. Would she fall for him throwing one of his boots as a distraction? He never got to find out. Amsel had given up on the knife and was now climbing to her feet. She finally seemed to have regained some control over herself. Harry conversely felt himself losing his nerve.
"This is so stupid," she said. "But I congratulate you. You were a lot more challenging than I thought you would be even without the full moon."
She lifted her wand to the sky a second time. Harry bolted forward. If this spell was the same as the other, it would kill him for sure. At the sound of his approach, she paused just long enough to throw up a shield around herself. He stopped himself just short of smashing into it. He quickly withdrew again before she could get off another curse at him.
Above him, a fog was beginning to form, obscuring the liquid blackness. The more Amsel incanted the thicker it became until it was a rolling mass of storm clouds, cackling and rumbling with thunder. Harry was reminded of the storm during the final battle of Hogwarts. Did she mean to make a reenactment? Lightening burst out from the cloud, striking the ground between them and branching out to climb the surrounding wards. Harry was blinded by the light, first in front of him and then all around him as the wards burned and danced with absorbed magic.
And then it started to rain.
A freezing downpour that left them both immediately soaked to the bone. Harry practically screamed. It hurt. The cold was bad enough, but the rain itself was saturated with Amsel's magic, sending his magus hypersentia into overload. His feet splashed loudly in the puddles pooling on the floor. Amsel swung her wand towards the sound. She didn't say a word, but lightening followed her point and crashed down beside him. It missed him, only just, and knocked him off his feet. He landed heavily, face first into ground. He laid there stunned for moment, wondering if he was dead.
But no, he was in too much pain to have died. His body was wracked by cold, and his skin felt as if it were on fire. Silently, he thanked the gods he was still alive. If Amsel had summoned true lightening and not just her magical version of it, she would have killed him. Of course, if she would have used true lightening, she would have killed them both.
The torches had all gone out from the rain, smothered as much by magic as wetness, but there was not a complete darkness. The wards were glowing and rippling with light constantly now, a dancing kaleidoscope that ebbed and flowed, making shadows out of nothing. Even in his pain, Harry couldn't help but notice how breathtakingly beautiful it was.
He touched his face instinctively, expecting to see blood. But the sterilization charm was still in place and there was no blood. But something else caught him by surprise. It was the sight of the scars on his hand glowing beneath the blood. The more he stared at it, the more he became aware that out of his entire body, only his hands still seemed to feel anything close to warm.
"Are you still alive, little monster?" Amsel taunted from the other side of the room. Despite her arrogance, her voice was shaking too. She as wet and cold as he was, and now just as magically depleted after using a second spell of such incredible power. The shield charm broke, and she didn't have the strength to put it back up. This last spell would be enough, however, as she could use the lightening repeatedly without casting the spell again. If it killed her in the end… she hadn't expected to leave there alive to begin with. "I think you must be. They haven't called the match yet."
Harry wasn't listening to her. He was staring at his palms.
The Sword of Gryffindor, forever in his hands.
Through the mind-numbing cold and pain, an idea formed.
Slowly, clumsily, he got back to his feet. He took two deep breaths. He ran straight for her. The water had already risen to his ankles and splashed noisily around him, so he didn't bother keeping silent and screamed a battle cry as he hurled himself towards her. He could just barely make her out through the curtain of rain, but he knew when she had turned her wand on him.
He threw up his hands to meet the lightening. It hit him full on this time, searing through him. It gripped him like a living thing, shaking him and lifting him off the ground and finally slamming him into wards. There was deafening boom and the sound of cracking glass, but the barrier held. Barely. The lightening retreated and Harry slid to the floor.
He did not move.
Outside the barrier, the referee called the match.
Amsel let out a choked laugh. Victory now hers, she risked the momentary weakness in order to seize the knife and finally pull it free from her socket. It scraped away bone as it went and poured blood, and she released a cry of pure agony as she let the blade fall to the floor. But the pain receded into numbness and the blood disintegrated.
Gasping for breath, she staggered towards her fallen query. She had to see him. She had to know for sure that he was dead. It hadn't been her ultimate goal, but she would have to settle for it. Carefully, she opened her remaining eye. Her vision was still blurry and rain didn't help, but she could see Potter. He lay lifeless, partially submerged by the water. On the other side of the ward, staring down at the boy knelt the Dark Lord. He wasn't crying or wailing, but the mere act of kneeling made her think he was experiencing something as close to grief as a monster like him was capable of.
It made her smile to see it.
She continued to stumble forward. Now she wanted to see the look in the Dark Lord's eyes as much as she wanted to see Potter's corpse. Stupid boy. If he hadn't been so arrogant he might truly have won. She had fought any number of werewolves and lycanthrosis carriers, human and wolf form, but she hadn't been prepared for his incredible speed and power. It had been her experience that neither lycanthropy nor lycanthrosis increased magical ability, and he had been so very, very powerful. Up until the point that she had taken the moon from him. Whatever he had been, she was glad she had ended him. As much as she would have liked her true plan to have been carried out, she was at least comforted to know that whatever strange new lycanthropic mutation he possessed would not be passed on. She did not think any of her successors would have the strength or the nerve to face a monster of his caliber.
She reached them and stared down at the top of the Dark Lord's head and the almost peaceful expression of Potter's pale face. Would it be unsporting to smash his face in with her boot heel, she wondered, or just thorough? If she was going to do it, she should do it now she decided. Her feet were starting to go numb. She lifted her foot and only then noticed that sheen of ice had started to form around Potter's body.
The Dark Lord suddenly looked up at her with his crimson eyes and a smile only the devil could hope to rival. Below him, Potter opened his eyes. She didn't even have time to blink when she felt a sharp pain in her chest. She jerked in surprise and tried to step back, but her feet were now frozen to the floor. Lifting her free hand to her chest, she felt something sharp and cold. She looked down. A sword was now protruding from her chest. It was a beautiful weapon, clear as glass along the blade and encrusted with diamond-like crystals near the hilt. It was so cold to the touch it couldn't have been anything other than ice. Following the blade down, she could see Potter's right hand clutched tight around the hilt, nearly blue from cold.
Goddamn. She had fallen for the same trick twice.
She tried to speak, but when she did the pain came with complete breathlessness. He had punctured her lung. She made one last desperate attempt with her wand, attempting to cast an unspoken spell, but Potter heaved himself up and drove the blade further until it burst through her back. The pain was too incredible to think, let alone cast.
Her legs gave out under her and she collapsed to her knees.
Blood was filling her lungs and rising up her gullet, but as soon as it passed her lips it disappeared. She had only moments left. She could do nothing more than stare at Potter, her murderer, and he in turn stared back, such unnaturally green and yet perfectly human eyes. She had expected him to look triumphant, but he merely looked pained and tired and perhaps a little bit relieved. He looked so ordinary.
Such a clever little monster, hiding in that human skin.
But she was a clever monster too.
With the last of her strength, she hurled herself down further onto the blade and sank her teeth into the exposed flesh of his shoulder.
Voldemort jerked when he saw Amsel throw herself forward. He didn't realize what she was doing until Harry let out a choked scream. He hissed angrily and turned to the referee.
"The match is over, take down the ward."
The referee was staring in shock, much like everyone else, at the two.
"I- I can't."
Voldemort gave her a look that conveyed how very dangerous her position had suddenly become.
"I can't! The wards won't deactivate until the spells are! It's a safety measure even I can't bypass!" she cried in fright.
He hissed at her in parseltongue and drew his wand. The two Musketeers that were guarding the Queen quickly pulled their own wands in case of violence. But Voldemort didn't point his wand at the Queen or the referee. With a snarled cursed he annihilated the closest of the inner columns. It dissolved into dust, and without its physical support the wards attached to it withered, breaching the protective barrier. Icy water poured from the courtyard and into the pavilion. The Musketeers quickly pulled the Queen from the building despite her indignant protests, and the referee fled. Morgan and Lestrange were running from the other side of the pavilion to meet him, but he didn't wait for them.
Not daring to curse Amsel while she was still attached to Harry, he seized her by her hair and tore her free. His protégé cried out in pain and when he looked he could see she had torn a piece out of him. She was still alive, barely, after he had thrown her. The sword went with her and without Harry holding it and feeding it magic, the ice sword shattered.
He thought to kill her there, taking her head with a flick of his wand, but he knew he would want to question her later. Instead, he turned his attention to Harry. He had to undo or at the very least weaken whatever Amsel had done to him. The boy didn't resist as the Dark Lord pulled him up. He had neither the strength nor the will left, but just in case he found either the Dark Lord cast a muscle relaxing spell. The already limp Harry was now completely boneless in his arms.
He placed his mouth over the open wound in his neck and bit down.
Harry screamed again.
Around them the water was starting to turn to ice as the magic Harry had stolen from Amsel's lightening leaked back out through the scars in his palm. His attack had been a brilliant plan only the mad could have thought of, and only Harry could have pulled off. But the water had already dropped too low for the ice to be used as a weapon against himself, and even if it hadn't, Voldemort wasn't concerned about it. His only concern was removing whatever it was Amsel had tried to infect Harry with, even if he had to hurt his protégé to do it.
He bit wider and deeper than Amsel. His mouth filled with the taste of blood. He spat it out quickly and then bit again to take another mouthful. Harry continued to scream in his arms. There was nothing to be done about it. It had to be agony. He wasn't a vampire. His teeth, while slightly pointed at the canines, were not designed to draw blood easily, and his saliva was a venom not an anesthetic. But the venom was something Harry could and had survived. If it killed Amsel's affliction, so much the better.
Morgan was suddenly kneeling across from him. He didn't speak or question, merely waited for instruction.
Voldemort spat out another mouthful of blood and paused only long enough to ask.
"Where is the medi-wizard?"
"The referee was the medi-wizard. Lestrange is chasing her down."
Voldemort merely grunted, already preoccupied with sucking at the wound. Harry gasped, but this time kept himself from screaming. He was starting to go into shock.
"I assume you want Amsel alive?" Morgan asked, giving the writhing creature a skeptical look. Voldemort lifted his head and spat out the last mouthful. He gave the gaping wound an assessing glare. It was a ragged and his venom had started to turn the surrounding flesh black.
He turned his crimson gaze to Amsel. She stared back, her eyes wide and filled with a hysterical sort of pleasure and terror.
"Alive-ish. I don't expect miracles. Keep the body in our custody if all else fails," Voldemort ordered quietly. Whether she lived or not, he would have his answers from her.
But for now, his protégé was a more immediate concern.
In his arms, Harry's limp body suddenly started to convulse.
Ductimio is a spell that removes water from the body. Depending on how powerfully it is cast, it can cause anything from mild dehydration to complete desiccation resulting in death.
Volomilleacus pretty much comes out to mean 'a thousand flying needles'. You can probably figure out what it does just from the translation.
Flagellicitio is a flogging spell. At this point in the fight, Amsel and Harry aren't actually trying to kill each other yet, but trying to make the other bleed.
The disinfecting spell that Voldemort used on the arena is one of many spells commonly used in wizarding hospitals. It's designed to banish bodily fluids once they've left the body, with the exception of tears. No blood, no diseases or blood-born curses.