Natural Order

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Summary: If you've got a chance to do it over again, why putz around? You know the game, you know the players, and you know the goal. It's time for Double Jeopardy, where the scores can really change.

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The 'top predator' has no natural predators in the food chain as an adult, and it is the apex of hunting prowess. In the natural order of things, lions are top predators while snakes are not.

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Chapter 1: Hello Again

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"Oh, hell no, bitch!" Harry barely noticed the words he shouted as he silently Summoned Voldemort's smouldering carcass back to his feet. The enfeebled once near-immortal form had been trying to limp away from the scene of his defeat. "You're not getting away like that, Tommy boy."

It was with pleasure that he channelled extra power into a Cutting Charm that was aimed at the broken figure's knees, neatly amputating both legs. With a quick flick, the wounds were sealed, just like the missing wand arm on his foe.

"We're going to play a game, Tommy," Harry said with glee, "and you're going to just love it. I know I will." Harry gauged the distance carefully and then really pumped his magical strength into a Banishing Charm, sending the crumpled body into a tree on the edge of the Forbidden Forest. "Ooh, too bad, I didn't make the goal." At the least, Voldemort would not be escaping any time soon, his body now far too broken for even accidental magic to move it anywhere about England now.

Harry whistled and absently strolled over to the shattered body. "Did that hurt, Tommy?" There was only a glazed look in the red slits that passed as eyes. "Awww, that's no fun. Enervate!" When the form on the ground let out a high-pitched cry, Harry giggled. "Welcome back, Tommy. Feeling better?"

Blood trickled out of Voldemort's mouth, but Harry really would have been hard pressed to care at all. "You know, Hermione truly was a brilliant witch." Harry carefully moved his wand in the pattern she had taught him, silently willing the magic to do what he wanted. He was richly rewarded when Voldemort's ears lit up with the blue flames that Hermione had once been so good with. It took a different variant to make something living burn like that, but she had been the smartest witch in the school. "It's a shame you had her killed like that. It means I have to make sure you suffer more than she did."

Harry did his best to ignore the pitiful mewling coming from the once proud Dark Lord. "Really, try to be an adult about it. You're crying like a firstie caught by Filch the caretaker."

Voldemort had no idea just how lucky he was that Ginny had died painlessly, otherwise Harry would have spent years finding new ways to torture a human body. Her death would still be paid for in blood, but it required nothing beyond what Harry felt compelled to do for Hermione. The brutal savagery imparted upon his virtual sister had been beyond even what animals might do to each other. How much more so was it when a human, graced with the power of introspection, did such to any other living thing, let alone a sentient one?

When Riddle's ears were fully melted and charred away, with the flames working their way around his head, Harry extinguished them. "There, that wasn't so bad, now was it?" It mattered not at all that the figure would never hear any sounds again. Between the blisters and the mass of distorted flesh where there once were ears, it was nearly certain that no intelligible hearing was possible by the broken body before him.

The next bit of transfiguration required a fair level of precision and control, so Harry paused to take a deep breath. He moved his wand through the proper arcs and conjured a large tub around Voldemort's body. Slowly filling it with water, he was content when there were a good two inches in the bottom. It was tricky, but he successfully created a small magical pump that caused the tub to act as an inverted fountain, sucking water from the bottom and pouring it in a uniform ring from the top edge back inside the tub. The running waterfall would prevent anything from escaping. The water was shallow so that the Petrification spell would not drown his now-paltry foe. After all, he would be deprived of the show should the broken body flail about.

"Before we move on to the next little bit, Tommy, I need to make sure this works. I hope it's as good for you as it was for dear, departed Bella." Harry cast the first SuperSensory Charm. "That's ten." Then he did it again, careful to layer it on top of the first one. "That's one hundred." Four more times, and Harry smiled. "There we are, one million times amplification of your senses. Let's just test that, right?" Harry lazily flicked out the Tickling Jinx and watched as Voldemort's eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets.

Lifting the curse, Harry gave him a smile that he was sure Umbridge would have envied. "Just one more check, there, Tommy, before we move on." Harry Transfigured a bit of twig on the ground into a fat, ripe Habenero pepper. Gently picking it up, he jammed it forcefully into Voldemort's mouth, taking great care to tear it open on the teeth. This time, one of Voldemort's eyes actually did bulge out of its socket briefly before they both closed in unconsciousness.

After a fast Scouring Charm into the mouth and an Enervate, Voldemort's eyes were open, and Harry was surprised that there were actuallytears coming out. Who would ever have guessed that Voldemortcould cry, and, moreover, that if he did so it would not be in blood?

He knew Tom was unable to hear him giggling, but that was all right. This was about vengeance, not about gloating final speeches and lessons on how master plans needed no explanation. The final stage was ready. It was with almost casual ease that he enacted the NEWT-level bit of Transfiguration, and Tom Riddle's clothes became, ounce for ounce, a horde of fire ants. His body was the only island of safety from the water, and the ants would not be amused by the continuous disturbance of the fountain.

Harry ignored the wildly spinning eyes and the swarming mass of ants floating up and latching on to their victim. The pallid skin was turning an angry, bright red as the naked form was covered in acidic bites. Harry remembered reading about the invasive pests and how they were slowly taking over parts of the world that were non-native habitats, destroying local ecological balances. Only cold weather stopped them, so should any few escape his water barrier here in what was once merry olde England, they would not last out the winter. That was assuming that what was left of cratered England would have cared in the first place.

Ron had looked as red as his hair when the goblins' protections around the Horcrux in the Lestrange vault had finally killed him. It was a terrible way to go, burned to death while buried alive by Galleons. It was ironic, in some bizarre and horrid way, that Ron, confused but loyal in the end, had died in a pile of what he had complained so bitterly about never having.

Voldemort's eyes were no longer thrashing about. Indeed, they were not even visible under the swarming mass of ants. As far as Harry could tell, his foe was no longer breathing. The shifting and bulging mass of ants was far from finished, however, and that was just fine in Harry's opinion. It was somewhat depressing, though, to realise that Voldemort had been allergic to the bite of the fire ant – a pity that his death had come far too soon.

Harry settled himself down by the tub, content to wait for the ants to devour the remnants of the worst Dark Lord in history. He was unwilling to risk anything remaining behind that some misguided follower might try to revive or use as an emblem of power. Resigned to a long wait, he Summoned the book he had found on temporal theory and went back to his reading. He really wished Hermione had survived, since she was always the smartest person around, and this book held the key for the crazy idea that had been hounding his brain for years now. Well, usually she was the smartest witch ever, and he could easily forgive her occasionally hormone-induced slips. He had, after all, been the victim of his own hormones a time or two.

oOo oOo oOo

It was dark, stuffy, and smelt of horrid things when he opened his eyes. Sitting up, he slammed his head sharply into the ceiling, and he paused to wonder at the situation. Reaching out, he realised that he had found himself stuck within his cupboard once again. The utter darkness made it impossible to see, but the long-since memorised contours of sheet rock, nails, and storage bins made it absolutely certain that he was back. His final act of killing himself had done the trick, and now he was here. Or there. Whatever, he was back, and back in a way that would cause the world to change forever.

When Hermione had died, so had most of the great Horcrux Hunt. It had taken a few more years, years in which he buried himself in the few books that had survived the fall of Hogwarts. Britain was a smoking ruin, and Voldemort had been working on replicating the effect on the continent. Harry had been on the run ever since the fiasco that led to the fall of Hogwarts, carrying the diadem and doing his best to learn more magic as fast as possible. Harry knew he had no chance in a flat-out duel. What he needed was an ambuscade. An ambush with impeccable bait. Which was him. Or, rather, a Polyjuiced and Imperiused Snatcher that looked like him, right down to the faded and worn pants.

Getting up, Harry flicked out his hand, smashing apart the cupboard door that kept him locked up. Oh, how he loved wandless magic. Snape had shown him the secret, reluctantly, as Harry scoured the dying man's mind with a forced Legilimency rapport. No matter how, Snape had shown him in those memories of his mother that it was, after all, possible to control magic without a wand. Harry had spent those years on the run learning more than just wanded magic, and this knowledge was going to pay off – pay off in ways that went beyond what anyone expected or understood. And it was all starting right now.

If he had done the calculations correctly, and Dumbledore's portrait made it clear that he had, he was back on 22nd July, just over a week before his birthday, and two days before his first letter was due from Hogwarts. One minute after midnight, on 22nd July, that was. The day he was leaving the Dursleys forever.

The rapid thumping and stomping of his uncle storming down the stairs was amusing in a way that Harry had never felt before. Here was the man who had so terrified him, who had starved him, who had heaped abuse on him in emotional, verbal, and sometimes physical ways. It was odd to find himself in his younger body, looking up at the towering and very wide bulk of an obese xenophobe with anger-management issues. The man was an utter moron, and Harry decided that the actions should fit the body.

Before his uncle could roar at him, Harry levelled a wandless and silentObliviate! at the rotund man. Vernon should now be at the mental equivalent of third form, with everything since that moment lost to a slate wiped clean. Not that Harry thought there had been much there to begin with, all told.

"Who're you?" Vernon looked around wildly at the sound, at the house, and then at his own body. "What the bloody hell? Mum! Muuuuummmmyyy!" Vernon took off running up the stairs, stumbling every few steps, and Harry laughed as he walked out the front door, charming it shut with a Permanent Sticking Charm. He knew the world was his oyster, but the reality was that he had no desire to have it. He wanted his friends, he wanted his life, and he wanted his girlfriend. The rest of the world could bugger off and leave him alone – well, once he finished his job, at any rate. If his Aunt Petunia requested help, Harry knew she would have to admit why he might have had such a nasty outburst of 'accidental magic' directed at his uncle, and he was sure that McGonagall and Dumbledore would love to hear that explanation.

With a sharp twist, Harry disappeared from the front garden of Number Four, Privet Drive, only to reappear outside the Leaky Cauldron. Focusing his wandless magic, Harry Glamoured himself into the shape of an adult, looking much like a cross between a twenty-year-old Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, before he walked in. The place was quiet, two lone patrons at dark tables in different corners, with a low fire burning merrily in the central hearth. A person Harry had never seen before was behind the bar, reading a heavily dog-eared copy of theProphet. The man looked up at him curiously.

"I need a room for a month," Harry said, knowing the glamour would mask his voice as well as his body. "Sorry for the hour. I've got to run down to Gringotts to get the money for it, so how much do I need?"

The man shook his head with open puzzlement. "Gringotts doesn't open 'til eight, lad. G'on up to room, err," he paused to pull out a key, "room seven, and you can settle up with Tom in the morning, eh?"

Harry had forgotten how open and friendly the wizarding world had been before the apocalypse. No matter. It worked in his favour now, at any rate. A quick pop to Gringotts, a bit of blood, a fifty Galleon fee, and he would have all new locks on his vault and a handy new key. He just needed to be sure he was in Muggle London by about nine in the morning two days hence so that his letter from Hogwarts would not be addressed to someplace magical. With a very hearty "Can you have me woken at half-past seven? Thanks," Harry happily trundled off to bed. It was a relief to be whole, away from the Dursleys for all time, and ready to crack this oyster open like a rotten egg.

oOo oOo oOo

The thumping on his door roused him abruptly from his dreamless sleep. Another advantage to being on the run for years and studying magic was that he had found ways to do the same thing most potions did but without the potion – and that meant without the nasty side-effects. The Dreamless Sleep Charm, as he had dubbed it, was a blessing to know. The tormented dreams, shattered fragments of memories mixed with his mind's own vitriolic substances, made sleep a hell on earth. Or at least, they used to, before the routine casting of the Charm gave him sound sleep again.

Harry had just over one month before the school year began, and he knew he needed it. His body was weak, his diet had been terrible, and he absolutely had to find out where people lived in this day and age, before everything became a blasted, rubble-filled pit of death. The forthcoming month-and-change would get plenty of healthy meals into him, would let him begin to recover some of his physical conditioning, and would give him time to stealthily locate the people he needed to. At the same time, as his health and strength improved, so would his ability to finesse his magic again – once he had a wand, at any rate.

As soon as he obtained his new Gringotts access, he had things to buy: special toys, books, an official wand, a less-than-official wand, his companion and guardian angel Hedwig, and all of that was not considering the clothes and other basics he needed to obtain.

He had a list of requirements to fill, and they all started today, when he would begin reforming magical England into the place it should be – a place where people like the barkeep Tom and his odd-but-sweet friend-to-be Luna could live happily, regardless of their differences from the rest of the world. And it was his job to make it that way, no matter what.

oOo oOo oOo

So far, Harry's plans were playing out. Hogwarts was unaware of his newly forced independence, and the change in Vernon Dursley had, it would seem, gone unnoticed. That was more likely due to the Dursleys' fear of explaining what might have triggered him to run away so suddenly, but the exact reason was uninteresting. Harry further surmised that his immediate reply owl carrying his acceptance of Hogwarts enrolment stemmed any questions that Dumbledore might have directed at Mrs Figg had Harry not responded. He had spent some quality time in Knockturn Alley and now had a second wand that responded almost as well as his phoenix-feather wand. They would both be quite satisfactory before he picked up his third wand.

His trunk was a pleasant three-compartment one, as he had been unwilling to spend outrageous sums of money for a seven-compartment model. Three was more than enough. That translated to one compartment for his public life, one for his private life, and one for his toy collection, most of which also came from Knockturn Alley. That last compartment had taken over a week of enchantments to make it strong enough for him to be comfortable with it, and the few items in there were – as yet – no challenge to the protections.

As he stood in the shadows, he enjoyed watching the passers-by. King's Cross was bustling with human activity and life, something he was still readjusting to in some ways. His covert trip to Hogwarts, on the other hand, had been surreal in ways he was unprepared to fully contemplate. The castle had not been a crater with no stone bigger than a fingernail left behind. The town beside it had been flourishing, not covered in dried blood and dismembered human remains. It had been worth the risk of discovery, however, to see it with his own eyes and to adjust to the old reality, his new reality, that the school and the village were still there. Of course, filching his father's Cloak from the office of the Headmaster had been the real point, but he was happy that the tears he had battled upon seeing his old home were over and done with. It would be too hard to explain later in the day if he was overcome with emotion at his supposed first arrival at the best school for magical learning in the United Kingdom and possibly all of Europe.

He caught a flicker of red out of the corner of his eye, and there she was. Ginny was walking beside Molly. They were talking quietly, but Harry could tell what it was all about already. Ginny wanted to go, her mother was telling her no, and Ginny felt that she was being left behind for eternity. No matter. Harry planned to change all of that in short order. Hedwig hooted softly, and he would almost swear his owl was glaring at him for his blatant interest in the youngest Weasley.

Ignoring the odd look from his owl, he waited until all of the Weasleys had departed through the barrier and then gave them another five minutes by his watch. That was more than enough time for the boys to get on the train to escape their mum, leaving only Ginny and Molly on the platform. Harry had almost four full minutes before the train would leave, so he rushed through the platform barrier, wheels spinning in his head.

Molly Weasley was standing by the windows of one carriage, shouting at her boys to release some creature that was fighting to get out through the windows. Ron was nowhere to be seen, but Ginny was standing forlornly by the cart Harry knew the family had been using. With a careful air of confusion, he deliberately tripped and fell down next to her.

"Oh! Are you all right?" Her voice was high and a tad squeaky, but that was fine by Harry. He was just happy to hear it again.

"Yeah," he said, slowly getting to his feet. "Sorry 'bout that. I'm Harry." He stuck his hand out, but Ginny had gone terribly pale.

Her eyes were glued to his forehead, and he would have sworn he heard an "Eeep!". With an exaggerated wink, Harry decided to force the issue. "You are?"

Ginny seemed to get herself under control, blushed furiously, and slowly took his hand. "Ginny. Ginny Weasley."

Harry gave her hand a squeeze and let go, eyeing the clock on the platform telling him that he had two minutes to get on the train. With his trunk under a Featherweight Charm, he would have no problems, but he wanted to get something fixed now, rather than letting it go. "It's nice to meet you, Ginny. Will we get to meet again soon? Or just at the end of the year?"

The whistle of the train was loud and shrill, and Harry hefted his trunk. "Yes!" Ginny was practically jumping on her toes at the idea he had blatantly put in front of her. "We can meet here when you come back at Christmas!"

Harry winked again, noting the flush that brought out, and said, "I'll be looking forward to it. Bye, Ginny!" He hopped on the train as Molly stalked back to her daughter, clutching some flailing, furry creature with about seventeen legs too many. Ginny paid her no mind, however, as it was obvious to Harry that she was chasing after the train and waving to him. Harry stuck his head out of the small stairwell on the carriage and waved back. "See you at Christmas! Bye!"

Harry strolled down the last carriage, knowing where he would find Ron. This time, however, Ron was by himself, since Harry had not been there, waiting to be discovered. With a smile on his face, Harry pushed his way into the compartment and waved to the redhead. "Wow," he said, "with hair like that, you must be a Weasley. Right?"

Ron looked completely perplexed for a moment before he nodded slowly.

"I met Ginny Weasley right before I got on the train. She's nice, but we didn't have time to talk. I'm Harry, Harry Potter." Harry stuck his hand out again.

The Weasleys, Harry decided, were rather similar in their reactions to some events. The eyes glued to his forehead again left him somewhat annoyed. "Yeah, yeah, it's a scar, right, and you're a Weasley. But which Weasley?"

Ron flushed brightly before he looked down. It took a moment, but he finally looked back up and then shook Harry's hand quickly. "I'm Ron."

"Well, Ron," he said brightly, "it's nice to meet you. D'you mind if I join you? Everywhere else is full."

Ron mutely shook his head and then darted his eyes to the floor.

"Don't worry about it, Ron." Ron looked up, but Harry could tell he was still embarrassed. "I'd no idea, see, that I was known at all. I lived with these really nasty Muggles after my parents were killed," Harry started as the train moved out of London. He was going to set Ron straight on all the avenues of jealousy, as soon as possible.

oOo oOo oOo

Malfoy's visit, if possible, had been even more annoying than it was the first time Harry suffered through the arrogant wanker's arrival. It was right after Malfoy left the compartment that Harry motioned Ron to be quiet and stuck his head into the corridor. He had a perfect shot at the blond idiot, and he made sure his arm was completely hidden from Ron's view before he extracted his unregistered wand. One silent and time-delayed Bladder Busting Hex later, Harry sat back down with a glance at his watch.

"What was that for?" Ron asked, obviously puzzled at the behaviour.

"Just making sure he was leaving. I though we might try to lock the door if he was coming back, yeah?"

Ron shrugged dismissively and went back to explaining Quidditch rules to him. Harry enjoyed sitting with his friend, and he spent quite a bit of time making the appropriate responses and asking the right questions. In reality, however, he wondered how he could reset Ron's behaviour and get his future best friend to see how good his life was, despite any issues of older brothers, money, or fame. It was a way to pass the time, at any rate.

Thirteen minutes after Malfoy had left their compartment, Harry stood and stretched theatrically. "Wizard's Chess sounds brilliant, Ron, really. I've got to find the loo, though, so I'll be back in a bit. If you can set up the board, I'll give it a go when I get back, right?"

Ron nodded enthusiastically and waved Harry out the door. "Sure, Harry. You'll see how wicked it is!"

Harry chuckled as he left the compartment and started walking up the carriage. As he reached the door to the next carriage, he looked around quickly – no one was there to see him. With one swift motion, he covered himself with his Invisibility Cloak, and then he hurried to the very first carriage. There were a couple of students he had to dodge around as they moved about the corridors, but Harry knew Malfoy liked to claim the car closest to the front. Once the meetings were over, none of the prefects or Head Students wanted to be near that car, except perhaps Percy, as it reminded them of their duty when they would rather be sitting with their friends.

Harry arrived, slightly out of breath, just in time to see Malfoy rush into the corridor and jump into the loo that Harry was standing by. Harry waited patiently, listening for the sound of water in the sink, whereupon he gave the ferret a slow ten-count before slamming open the door. A fast Petrificus Totalus left Malfoy stiff as a board, leaning against one wall, while Harry closed the door behind him and locked it.

"Hello, Malfoy. Fancy meeting you here." Harry grinned at him in a positively evil way. "We're going to play a little party game. It's called Twenty Memories. I'm going to look in your mind, little ferret, and if you're innocent, you're free to go – with a Memory Charm, of course. Otherwise, well, I'm afraid you're in for a really bad day, kid."

Harry had never mastered Legilimency, but he had no need to. He knew enough ways to get around someone's ability to concentrate on mental shields that it would be trivial to get into the young Malfoy's mind. Almost immediately, he began searching for memories of learning the Dark Arts.

To his surprise, Malfoy had not been taught any Dark magic at this point. Harry had long suspected it, but it was not there at all. Malfoy's father had been teaching him the glory of using Dark magic, from what Harry could tell, and the man positively expounded on the bravery and cunning of the Malfoy family to embrace what others naively feared. The pureblood supremacy dogma was already firmly entrenched, even though the younger Malfoy had not actually used Dark magic directly. That left Harry more comfortable about looking deeper into Malfoy's memory.

He found memories of exploring the hidden room of Dark artefacts under the study floor, and he watched as Lucius tried to teach his son how to be a proper pureblood. But it all came to a stop when he found enough to make him nearly retch. Lucius had supervised teaching Draco how to torture animals. Burns, cuts, dismemberment - the young Malfoy had participated and found it . . . exciting, almost arousing. The deliberate cruelty to Dobby, the elf who died to save Harry's life, left him shaking in rage. Draco's obvious enjoyment made Harry feel sick in so many ways that he wanted to hurl whatever bile was in his stomach all over the floor.

In the future, he knew, Malfoy was a coward and a fool, trapped in a reality which was far from what he wanted it to be. But he was also too weak to fight, to escape, or to even try to do the right thing. He bumbled from one cruelty to another, killing hundreds along the way. Death Eaters brought into Hogwarts, raids on houses of rebels, sessions of Muggle killing . . . all without a hint of courage or rational thought.

The tiny room and the palpable fear radiating from the ferret were too much to deal with, so Harry absently Vanished the frosted glass window with a touch of wandless magic to let fresh air in. It might help him think of a solution to the problem.

Beyond his incompetence and the wake of death and near-death that followed Malfoy's movements, there was a further, over-arching issue that was fighting inside Harry. Malfoy had, in the end, been the one who killed Ginny. Ginny, at Harry's plea, had stayed to watch over the Room of Requirement while he and Hermione tried to find the diadem. Ginny had still been devastated over the loss of Ron, but she had known that the game was for keeps. Apparently, so had Voldemort's younger followers. Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle had killed her just so they could chase after Hermione and Harry.

Now, it was obvious that the pattern was already set. How many more might suffer if the boy lived? How many lives might be damaged? Even if the father were removed as a source of influence, the indoctrination to bribery, supremacy, and sadism would pass on from this child. Harry looked out the window, studying the terrain the train was soon to cover, as he tried to determine a course of action. It took a lot out of Harry to make his decision, but at the last, the decision was made.

"Evidence,Malfoy, is something you really don't want left behind." Harry used his unregistered wand to silently mummify Malfoy in his own robes, taking extreme care that no space was uncovered, not even the toes. With that done, Harry then Transfigured all of Malfoy's clothing into solid lead. The floor creaked dangerously, protesting against the massive weight resting on so small a footprint. After one permanent Disillusionment Charm and one temporary Engorgement Charm to widen the window, Harry levitated the entombed Malfoy heir out the window and scanned the ground ahead. As they came to a bridge over a broad river, Harry dropped the Levitation Charm and watched Malfoy disappear into the murky waters. Two flicks later, the tiny frosted window was restored, the only evidence of Malfoy's whereabouts stored in his unregistered wand.

It was without a spring in his step that Harry went back to play Ron's favourite game. Harry knew that in some games, it was impossible to win, even if you paid any price. Playing chess against Ron was just one of them.

oOo oOo oOo

A/N:

The mechanism of how Harry got back was liberated from Viridian's story, NoFP. Credit to him for the mechanics, though I've no idea who was the first to come up with the do-it-over idea in HP-fanfic. I also took the liberty of using his notion of an apocalyptic world before Harry came back – it's the only way that it would make sense, really.

This will be a very short fic – just five chapters, and each chapter fairly short.

Thanks, as always, to the betas. Chreechree, cwarbeck, Reg, Lathac, Sherylyn, and Sovran all lent their usual thoughts and commentary, warranted or otherwise.