In a tropical garden, a soft 'pop' was heard.
Lord Voldemort, who was once named Tom Riddle, leaned back in his throne in his audience chamber and brooded.
He brooded over the failure of recent plans to conquer the world, his inability to destroy that annoying Harry Potter, and the sneaking fear that his arse looked fat in his robe.
Right on cue, a minion groveled his way through the entrance and across the chamber floor, remaining on his stomach through it all.
Voldemort looked on with extreme disfavor at his visitor. While nobody certainly ever skipped with joyous glee into his presence, it was easy enough to distinguish between those who came with good news and those who had the misfortune to inform the Dark Lord there had been an almighty cock-up somewhere.
From the way the minion's chin was making a groove in the floor, this seemed to be the latter. Voldemort's red eyes narrowed, as he wondered if this was another repetition of the thrown-out newspaper incident. The last time he missed his daily Sudoku, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had feasted on the bones of the unfortunate underling who had disposed of the paper without saving his master's favorite puzzle game.
The minion came to a halt at the edge of the stone platform holding the throne and just trembled for a while.
Finally, Voldemort realized his subordinate wasn't going to speak without some prodding. Rolling his eyes, the Dark Lord hissed, "Yesssssss?"
Prudently waiting until the last of the saliva had fallen, the minion lifted his head to fearfully stare at his master, mumbling, "You wished to know of our prisoner, oh most glorious and impressive --"
"Ah. What of her?" Voldemort asked. Abruptly linking his minion's behavior to his statement, the Dark Lord suddenly glared, demanding, "She hasn't escaped?"
"Oh, no, your marvelousness."
Voldemort tilted his hairless head, his ugly face twisted in a scowl and continued, "She hasn't seduced one of the guards, caused him to experience sensual pleasures known only to a lucky few, making him her total slave and ready to obey her slightest wish?"
There was a pause, as the minion's expression changed into a glazed look and a question escaped from his mouth, "She could have done that?"
"I take it she didn't," dryly said Voldemort, observing how the face of his follower fell, and continued in an increasing tone of voice that ended up as a roar, "WHAT ABOUT HER!?"
"Er. As per your orders, we captured one Dawn Summers, the new professor of Muggle Studies, just before she went through Platform Eight and Three-Quarters to take the Hogwarts Express to the place that failed to acknowledge your greatness, your majesty--"
"GET ON WITH IT!"
"Yes, yes, mighty one -- it was a bit odd, though. She didn't seem bothered by it at all, being surrounded by Death Eaters threatening to bring utmost pain to her unless she obeyed our orders. In fact, just before we all apparated away, she said something under her breath."
The last few threads of Voldemort's patience frayed, as his minion hesitated. In a blur, the Dark Lord's wand appeared in his hand, steadily pointed at the middle of the forehead of the paling man lying before the most evil wizard in the world. In a calm voice that was a lot scarier than any thrown tantrum, Lord Voldemort spoke, "I'm not in the mood for any more guessing games. What did she say?"
"Sir, she said, 'You guys are in such deep shit.' I DIDN'T SAY IT, SHE DID! NOT ME, HER! PLEASE DON'T CRUCIO ME!"
Lord Voldemort ignored the cowardly begging at the top of his minion's lungs and leaned back in his throne to contemplate this. Hardly believing his luck, the minion began to inch back and froze as his master's red-eyed gaze fell onto the man trying to escape.
"Did anything unusual occur as you confined the prisoner, this --, this Dawn?" A warm tingle went through the Dark Lord's body as the eyes of his minion went wide.
"Truly you are the supreme Dark Lord of Dark Lords, magnificence. Something strange did happen. Right after we put her in the darkest, most foul cell, in the heaviest chains we could find, while uttering the vilest threats we could imagine, she just looked at us all, and well, her mouth opened and she--"
Voldemort's face showed a rare expression of sheer astonishment at the minion got to his feet -- without express permission!-- squared his shoulders and hummed for a few moments. Looking straight his master in the eye, the minion started to sing in a rather pleasant baritone.
"Ninety-nine times Dawn's been kidnapped
You take one down and pass it around
Ninety-nine cells Dawn's been in
From one of those rooms I'll be rescued
There'll be ninety-nine cells I've been in
Ninety-eight times Dawn's been--"
The huge fireball flashed from the tip of Voldemort's wand to directly strike the minion. In an eye-blink, there was a pyramidal heap of ash in the middle of the audience chamber as the man was terminally punished by a furious Dark Lord.
Barely satisfied by his display of anger, Lord Voldemort abruptly rose from his throne in awful majesty.
There was a short pause.
Crouching back down in sheepish majesty, the Dark Lord sent his left hand behind himself to tug out that portion of his robe that had painfully wedged itself in the crack of his arse.
Straightening up again, Voldemort gathered to himself his tattered dignity, and strode off the platform on his way to the dungeons to discuss how exactly his prisoners should comport themselves. For these unfortunates, there should be despair, misery and hopelessness. Not singing parodies of "Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall!"
Dwelling on this, the Dark Lord paused as he passed the ash heap that had once been a person and made an abrupt detour, to spend an pleasurable minute hopping up and down on the heap and enjoying the crunching sounds as charred bone and other remains were crushed under his feet.
He shouldn't have delayed, not that it really would have mattered.
Over the next few minutes, Voldemort desperately fought for his life and he was only able to remember clearly a few events that took place over that time:
-- A red-haired woman in her mid-twenties floating down through the suddenly-missing ceiling of his lair, her eyes pure green as she casually tore through his strongest protective mystical shields.
-- Two other women, about the same age as the first one, but with blonde and brunette hair, bursting through the entrance door just after cut-off screams that had ended with meaty thunks, and carrying bloody swords in both hands, both looking fierce and ready for further mayhem.
-- A side door exploded in splinters, as Nagini smashed through it. Any sudden hope his enormous serpent was coming to his aid disappeared as the snake desperately slithered across the chamber floor, pursued by a one-eyed man waving a huge battle-axe and shouting at the top of his lungs, "HERE, SNAKEY, SNAKEY, DADDY NEEDS A NEW PAIR OF BOOTS AND YOU'RE GONNA PROVIDE THEM!" The snake got through another door on the opposite side of the chamber, with the man right on her tail. A few seconds later, the sound of a reptile's head being chopped off was heard, along with a man's yell of triumph.
-- With a wave of the redhead's hand, Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore and the entire Order of the Phoenix appeared out of thin air, all of these wizards and witches pointing their wands at Voldemort and hitting him with numerous curses, hexes, and spells that finally broke through his ultimate protections.
There was a short pause as a defeated Lord Voldemort stood in the middle of his enemies. Finally, the shortest woman there, the one with blonde hair, stepped forward to give the dark wizard the most evil look he'd ever received, and opened her mouth.
"Listen, Moldyparts, this is what happened. All your Death Munchers are gone -- and I mean as gone to the grave, not gone bye-bye but we'll be back -- because when you put the dark tattoo on them, you put your non-humanness on all of them, which means we could Slay (Voldemort actually heard the capital letter) every one of them. We also got all your horfluxes thingies--"
"Horcruxes, Miss Summers," said Dumbledore, his aged face looking very amused, but still pointing his wand steadily at his enemy.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," the woman named by the headmaster of Hogwarts casually waved her sword, sending drops of blood flying as she acknowledged the correction. "I see Xander finished the job, and not before time."
The man walking through the side door and carrying the decapitated head of Nagini in one hand while resting the shaft of his battle-axe on his shoulder just smirked at the woman glowering at him. "Hey, I'm still two for two, Buffy, 'cause I had to do all the work, both here and when I set up all the explosives for the Mayor in his big-ass snake form -- oops. Sorry, Faith."
"No biggie," shrugged the brunette woman standing at the side of the Summers woman. "He was just nice to me 'cause I was there. If I'd never met him in Sunnydale, he woulda been willin' to kill me, along with the whole world, when he changed. Alla that's in my past, anyways. Right now, I got my wizard studmuffin, and after this, we're gonna see how hard his wand can get."
At this last, the dark-haired woman slinked over to a very red-faced Harry Potter. As soon as she reached the young wizard, Faith caressed the back of his head, smoothing down his unruly hair, and continued her caress down the back of his neck, his entire back and finally down to a certain part of the teenager's anatomy referred to in polite company as his right gluteus maximus. The instant her hand came to a rest, Faith leaned towards Harry to stick her tongue in his ear, and gently squeezed, once.
The whole Boy-Who-Lived thing, nearly a decade of knowing he would have to fight an evil wizard to the death, dealing at the same time with numerous crises at Hogwarts, magical attacks outside his school, and growing up in the eye of the public allowed the hope of the wizarding world to maintain control. Barely. His wand quivered only the slightest as a smile spread over Harry's face, as he continued pointing his weapon at a thunderstruck Lord Voldemort.
"Didn't have any clue, Tom? That's because we finally figured out a way to block the link you and I share through my scar, feeding only what we wanted you to know. And what Faith and I have isn't something I want you to know." When Harry said the last sentence, he reached out with his free arm to embrace Faith, still keeping his eyes on his enemy, as the son of Lily and James Potter coldly watched the person who murdered his parents. "Willow, will you do it?"
"Alright, Harry." The serious-faced woman with the red hair closed her eyes for a second, and then she brought up her right hand to snap her fingers once.
Both Voldemort and Harry staggered at the same instant, shuddering at the sudden explosion of pain in their heads, which was concentrated for Harry on his forehead where his lightning-bolt shaped scar had been for nearly the whole of his life. As he recovered, Harry Potter wonderingly took his left arm away from Faith, who had helped steady him, and touched his forehead. Under his fingertips, he felt only smooth skin, and a soft remark from Faith only confirmed it.
"You don't have that scar any more, Harry."
Harry put his left arm around Faith again and allowed a wide smile on his face for a moment, before sobering again. He looked over his wand at Vold--. No. Tom Riddle, who was only that now, a man who had gained power and thought because of that, he could do whatever he wanted, no matter how much other people were hurt. Now, it was time for just punishment to be carried out.
Taking a deep breath, Harry pointed his wand at the defeated man and opened his mouth --
A loud cheer resounded behind everyone in the audience chamber. Most people had been in this business long enough not to be distracted, still keeping an eye on the villain standing before them, though Buffy Summers let out a shuddering breath of relief, as Willow Rosenberg said softly, "I told you Dawn was okay, Buffy."
Buffy let a quick smile appear on her face. "I know, Willow, and I totally trust you to know. But I have to know for sure, you know?"
There was quiet in the chamber room, as people tried to work this out in their minds into something more comprehensible. Faith was the first to speak, drawling, "Hey, California girls. Ya know?"
There was a sudden rush of a crowd of a dozen teenage girls through the entrance of the chamber room, all of them shrieking with glee, waving swords, knives, axes and various other hand weapons, with two of the girls bearing on their shoulders a smiling young woman just a few years older than her rescuers.
This crowd moved towards Buffy and Willow, both of these women having looks of amused exasperation on their faces, as they waited until the pair carrying the older woman reached their leaders and gently lifted their burden from their shoulders to the floor.
As this woman stood there, catching her balance, an astonished look abruptly appeared on her face and she jumped a foot straight up in the air while whooping in shock, "YEEOOW!" Once she hit the ground, this woman whirled around and yelled, "Kennedy, I know that was you who goosed me!"
The left-hand bearer who had been carrying the groped woman looked totally innocent, until a stern "BAD Slayer! Bad! Bad!" came from Willow, sending the culprit into a fit of giggles, that ended in a choked, "Oh, yes, I need to be punished for that by Willow the Wicked Witch! Most firmly!"
Buffy Summers looked around at the startled and shocked faces around her and shrugged, "Me, I just ignore what comes from their bedroom. Dawn, get over here!"
Glowering at Kennedy, Dawn turned to walk over to Buffy and be gathered up in a firm hug by the shorter woman. In the embrace, Dawn bent down to kiss Buffy on her forehead, and murmured, "I'm sorry about this, Buffy."
"Not your fault, Dawn. We'll be dealing with jerkface here soon. But first -- what's the score?"
Still hugging Buffy, Dawn looked thoughtful as all of the Slayers and every one of the Scoobies gave the woman their undivided attention, leaving a very confused Order of the Phoenix to guard their prisoner while listening.
"Let's see -- I was in chains…."
"Yeah!" whooped Faith, thrusting her fist in the air.
"The cell was all yucky, with mold, damp and spiderwebs…"
"Gimme some!" came from somewhere in the back of the crowd of Slayers, accompanied with the smack of palm against palm.
"No skeletons?" anxiously asked Xander.
"Sorry, Xan-man, not a single one."
"Damn!" The man still holding the severed head of a snake dropped it to kick it across the audience chamber all the way to splat against the far wall. Xander glowered at the befuddled wizard about to face summary justice and snarled at him, "Don't you got no respect for tradition?"
"Never mind that," interrupted Buffy. "Any screams, moans, whimpers, pleading?"
"Afraid not. It was a quiet as a crypt -- well, a crypt not having Spike watching Passions."
"Eeeeeee!" groaned Buffy, giving a frustrated yank on a strand of her bleached hair. "Okay, I'm already out twenty bucks…..so, what's the total?"
Dawn looked up, running calculations in her head, and then brought her head down to open her mouth, pausing to let the tension rise, before finally saying, "I'd give it, all in all…..seventy-two points."
The crowd exploded in celebration and despondency, as pockets and wallets were reached into and serious money was redistributed.
Faith was licking her thumb and using it to count her wad of cash as she felt someone's attention on her. She looked up to see Harry staring at her in disbelief. He blurted out, "You bet on the kidnapped's accommodations??"
"Hey, after the dozenth time, it made sense. You want in?"
Harry opened his mouth to yell at his lover, thought about what she looked like without her clothes, and instead asked, "Do you take wizarding currency?"
This was not to be borne.
He was Voldemort, the most dangerous wizard of this age, a true Dark Lord.
He was not to be mocked. He was not to be ignored. He was not to have his captive quarters denigrated.
Deep inside the mind of Tom Riddle, a truly dangerous spell arose, to be cast only in the most desperate moment.
With a faint 'pop', the body of their prisoner vanished into thin air before the shocked eyes of the entire crowd of wizards, witches, Slayers, the Key, and an ex-carpenter.
"WILLOW!" roared Buffy, spinning to stare at the witch, who had her eyes closed tight and her right hand up at shoulder height, palm out at the Slayer, in an abrupt gesture for patience. A fuming Buffy turned to stare at the empty space where Voldemort had existed until a few seconds ago, pointing a quivering forefinger at this while growling, "I'm not in the mood for any sequels!"
A raspy chuckle came from behind her, making Buffy whirl around to eye Willow, who had opened her own eyes to look where the Dark Lord had been. Buffy took an actual step back at the pitiless expression on the witch's face. Glancing at Buffy, Willow quietly spoke to the entire room, "You don't need to worry about him anymore. Harry, that goes especially for you. One consequence of the spell Riddle just cast was that it broke the prophecy that linked the two of you. Whatever he intended, you personally do not need to kill him any more."
Harry looked open-mouthed at Willow until he was suddenly crushed in a fierce embrace. As his ribs creaked, he gasped, "Faith, uh, what….?"
The grip she had on him eased to less than lung-puncturing, but she still held him tightly, her face pressing against his chest, refusing to look up, as she whispered, "I been through it, H. Even though you had the authority to do it, bein' an executioner 'stead of a killer or murderer, and….I woulda stayed with you…..I'm so glad ya didn't haveta."
Harry Potter stood there and put his arms around Faith Lehane, and they rocked together, uncaring of all the eyes on them.
Buffy Summers smiled, and brushed away the tears at the corners of her eyes, and bent over to whisper into the ear of Willow Rosenberg who was being hugged simultaneously by Xander and Kennedy, "Wils, what exactly happened to Moldyface?"
In a tropical garden, a soft 'pop' was heard.
Decades ago, back when he was still sensible about things like this, Tom Riddle had learned an extremely rare spell, one that had never been used for centuries. If he ever needed to escape totally from a life-threatening (or even life-ending) experience, he could cast the spell and be removed from his current reality to….elsewhere.
Or more precisely, anywhere.
The spell would take him to any place and any time in the entire Multiverse, into the maximum potentiality of every possible dimension or level of existence. While there was no possible way for any of his foes to track him down (it would have been far easier to find a single electron in the whole universe), there was also no way for Lord Voldemort to ever return to his past life. His battle against the wizarding world of Britain was forever over.
A more important reason to avoid using the spell was that the caster had no power over where or when he would go. The only thing that would be unaffected would be the innate personality of the person who did the spell, which would appear at the end of his journey inside the body of a being that perfectly fitted the spirit of the wizard.
The adult king cobra lifted up the front third of its ten-foot long body, flaring its hood as it examined its new body.
Quite adequate. For now.
Scanning the lush surroundings around himself, the venomous snake flicked out his forked tongue, using both his material and mystical senses to examine his location.
India. No magic users nearby. Just three mudbloods, man/woman/child.
The snake's eyes glowed red. At this moment, Lord Voldemort was more than willing to take out his frustrations on somebody. His poison glands were full and eager to be used.
The deadly snake arrogantly slithered through the plant life of the garden towards his victims, quite sure that he was the most dangerous thing in this place.
The wizard learned just how wrong he was the instant the small animal landed on his head, smashing his reptile body to the ground.
In the last seconds of his life, just before razor-sharp teeth crushed his skull, Tom Riddle, who had been Lord Voldemort, heard the war-cry of a furious mongoose: "Rikk-tikk-tikki-tikki-tchk!"