The Potter Brand

Chapter 7

"Showdown"

Harry hung for a moment in the skies above Hogwarts, unsure what to do next. Kenneth Connell had just vanished, having removed every other living thing from Earth except Harry, Lord Voldemort and his closest friends and teachers: Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Flitwick, Sprout — even Snape! What Connell was trying to accomplish with this, Harry had no clue, but he was now left to fend for himself against the Dark Lord, who at this moment was still in Washington, D.C. after a confrontation with Harry and Connell and who, still in possession of a Star Brand of his own, was now immortal and virtually unstoppable.

The Star Brand, an enigmatic artifact of immense power, had been brought to Earth several months ago by the equally enigmatic Kenneth Connell, a man seemingly from another universe entirely — one where no witches or wizards existed on his home planet, which he called Earth as well. He had given the Star Brand to Harry, who promptly used it to kill Voldemort, though he regretted being seduced by the power afterwards. In recognition of his humility, Connell granted him half of the nearly limitless power of the Star Brand, splitting it between them, before departing into space.

Unfortunately, though Voldemort's head had been cleaved from his body with the Sword of Gryffindor, he survived and found a way to trick Harry into giving him the Star Brand. He then killed Harry and disappeared for a time, resurfacing as Senator Thomas Riddle, from the United States, who planned to take over the United States and use its military to control the world, rounding up and enslaving most of the world's Wizarding population in the process.

For some time now the Brand had been split between Voldemort and Connell; it was now in Harry's possession, making him Voldemort's equal in power once again. But there was no way to get Connell's half of the Brand away from the Dark Lord unless he willingly transferred it from himself to some other person, and given Voldemort's desire for power and eternal life, the chances of that happening was almost nil!

"Potter," he heard Voldemort's voice in his head. The dark wizard was mentally contacting him with an enhanced form of Leglimency. "Wherever you are, I know you can hear me. Return to me now — we have much to discuss."

Harry shook his head disbelievingly. What could he and Voldemort possibly have to discuss with one another? On the other hand, he realized, Voldemort had not started destroying Washington, D.C., as Harry might have expected after Connell's last attack on him. He dithered only a moment, wanting to see his friends down in the castle before going to Voldemort, but dared not tempt him to anger by keeping the Dark Lord waiting. Harry disappeared in a flash of white light.

A moment later he reappeared over the White House, sensing the Dark Lord waiting for him inside. He floated down, landing on the front steps of the White House. "I'm here," he thought in reply. "What do we do now?"

"Come inside," was Voldemort's mental reply. "I await you in the 'Oval Office.' There are some things we should discuss, now that Connell has gone."

Harry, walking into the building, extended his senses across the planet, searching for Kenneth Connell, the man who had given him the Star Brand in the first place, several months ago. When he'd first gotten the Star Brand, its effect had been exhilarating, even intoxicating, to him — he had been angry at being ignored for a month after coming home from Hogwarts, after the return of Voldemort and the death of Cedric Diggory, and afterwards, when he realized how simple it would be to solve the problem of Voldemort, he'd simply gone and done it — he'd killed the Dark Lord. Problem, he thought, solved!

But Harry didn't know about Voldemort's Horcruxes — Dumbledore only told him of their existence after he'd decapitated the Dark Lord and delivered his head to Professor Dumbledore. What was worse, the head retained part of Voldemort's soul, and it was able to manipulate people around it to do its bidding, until a possessed Ginny Weasley tricked an Amortentia-besotted Harry into placing the Star Brand on Voldemort's severed head, believing he was about to intimately touch Ginny. Voldemort then incapacitated Harry and burned him nearly to ashes with Fiendfyre, killing him (and incidentally destroying the fragment of Voldemort's soul that had lodged in his scar during the Dark Lord's first attack, when Harry was only one year old, Harry later learned).

Because of changes to his body due to the power of the Star Brand, Harry, though buried for months, slowly revived within in his grave, returning fully to life a day ago, on Christmas, as Hermione and Professor Dumbledore visited his and his parents' graves. Connell had reappeared as well, with a plan to defeat the Dark Lord, but it had failed and he had disappeared, taking everyone on Earth with him, excepting Voldemort, a few of his friends and teachers at Hogwarts, and Harry himself. And now Voldemort wanted a face-to-face meeting with him, for what purpose Harry could scarcely imagine.

"Yes, Potter, just keep walking this way, you are not far from the Oval Office," Voldemort's voice guided Harry through the corridors toward his location. He'd been sent along various hallways, down to a lower level, and through a storage area that led to a tunnel he was now following as the Dark Lord urged him along. Finally coming to a door, he opened it and passed through, finding himself beside another door leading to where he sensed Voldemort waited for him. Harry opened the door and walked inside.

It really was an oval office, Harry saw, shaped just as the name implied. A set of couches and chairs were in front of him, just left of the room's center. On the opposite side was another door leading outside, with windows on either side. On the walls were several pictures, though the people in them weren't moving; they must be normal portraits, Harry decided.

On his right was a large, wooden desk, sitting in front of three large, curtained windows. Behind the desk, giving him a condescending little smile, was Lord Voldemort — Tom Marvolo Riddle, Harry reminded himself, though the man no longer resembled the pale figure who had appeared from the cauldron in the cemetery in Little Hangleton. He was once again a handsome, vibrant man, fairly bursting with charisma and confidence. Immediately Harry was on guard. He could never forget that Riddle had murdered his parents, and would have murdered him as well, had it not been for his mother's sacrifice — her murder by Voldemort's hand, and the ancient magic that death had invoked which rebounded his Killing Curse back during their first encounter, breaking the Dark Lord's body and destroying his parents' house, from which he was rescued (he was told) by Hagrid. Now they faced each other once again, this time in the office of (until recently) most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States.

"Welcome, Harry," Riddle said, gesturing to a spot in front of his desk; a chair slid across the floor, stopping in front of the desk. "Please have a seat."

"What do you want?" Harry asked, not moving.

"What I want," Riddle replied, still gesturing toward the chair, "is for us to come to an understanding with one another, now that the outsider is gone."

"You mean Connell," Harry said.

"Yes," Riddle nodded. "I presume he left you one of these as well?" he opened the hand he was holding forward, palm outward, and Harry saw the Star Brand symbol there. Slowly, he raised his own hand, showing Riddle the Star Brand there.

"I thought so," Riddle said, smiling and lowering his hand. "There was nothing else for him to do, really, unless he planned to take your place, and Earth is much too provincial for his tastes, I expect."

"I think he expects me to protect this planet," Harry said, flatly. "That's why he left me his half of the Star Brand."

"And that's exactly what I wish to discuss with you, Harry," Riddle said. "Now, will you sit down and talk to me? Please?"

It was a word Harry had never expected to hear from Riddle's lips, except in a mocking or sarcastic tone. That, more than anything else about the situation, made him move forward and seat himself in the chair proffered by Riddle.

Turning to face him directly, Riddle said, "I have been considering the current situation, given that you and I are now equals in terms of power, and that Connell has left the area, seemingly. I feel there is no longer a need for us to quarrel over a situation that neither of us will be able to gain an advantage over, and will in fact very likely instead incur catastrophic damage and devastation to the world, were we to do so."

Harry nodded slowly, deciding to go along for now. "I see your point. I caused a lot of damage just getting here from a few miles away, and I was trying to do as little damage as possible. When Connell attacked you, he cause more damage in just a few seconds than I did in the previous 30 minutes."

"Exactly!" Riddle agreed emphatically. "You and I are more alike than either of us suspected, Harry! We think along similar lines."

Not hardly, Harry thought to himself.

"We don't see the point of useless bloodshed, or needless waste," Riddle went on. Unless it serves your twisted purpose, Harry thought.

"I know we both want a peaceful solution to our differences," Riddle concluded, smiling at Harry. "And so do all the people on the planet."

"Er — yeah, I'd agree with that," Harry said at last, after a moment's confusion. Did Riddle not realize that there were only a handful of people now left on the planet?

"I'm glad you do." Riddle stood, turning to look out one of the windows behind him. "I think we will be able to work out a very efficient system for governing the Muggles and Mudbloods of Earth, guided by the pure-bloods and half-bloods of the various nations. With myself — and you, of course — in charge, this world will become quite a comfortable place for us."

"By 'us,' do you mean you and me?" Harry asked, keeping his emotions tightly in check. The "new" Riddle was as hopelessly prejudiced and set on conquest as the old Voldemort had been — the only thing that had changed was the packaging, and the power behind it.

"Of course," Riddle said, casually. "Although everyone will benefit, to some degree, from the order we will bring to the world, using our Star Brands. You have the power, Harry Potter — and I know from direct experience that you are not afraid to use it. You and I both have taken each other's measure, and we have both felt the Star Brand's power, both inside us and used against us. Now, we can both use the power together, to cooperate with each other in making this world our own."

It was too much. Harry had already erected a barrier around Hogwarts, one that would keep Riddle from detecting the people still there. "No, I can't," he said, and Riddle frowned at not getting the cooperation and acquiescence he expected. "For one thing, you're so damned self-absorbed and arrogant that you haven't even realized, the world you want to rule is now devoid of life, except for us!"

"What?" Riddle looked around, seeming to mentally search for his most trusted followers. "Lucius? Bellatrix? Rosier?" He rounded on Harry. "What have you done with them, Potter?!"

"Connell took them," Harry replied with a feral grin, savoring the consternation in Riddle's voice. One could hardly be a Dark Lord if there was no one to lord it over. "He took everyone — the entire world is empty except for us!"

Riddle glared at him, then stood motionless for several seconds, scanning the planet for any signs of life. Harry held his breath for a moment, hoping his shields around Hogwarts would keep Riddle from detecting anyone there. It seemed to work, for Riddle's handsome face twisted in fury. "CONNELL!!" he screamed, the volume of his voice shattering the windows of the Oval Office. Harry felt it drive into his head as well, though it was only a momentary pressure as the power of the Star Brand protected him from harm.

Riddle's next action was far less subtle, as he lashed out against Harry with a blast of energy that vaporized most of the White House and surrounding grounds, and flung Harry several blocks to the northeast. Harry felt himself slam through several buildings, gouging out great, gaping holes in them, though with the Star Brand's power he felt almost no impact at all. Only the sustained pressure of Riddle's blast kept him traveling outward, until he stopped, nearly a mile away.

He'd barely had a moment's reprieve, however, when Riddle reappeared in a flash of light, floating above him, and hit him with another blast, this time driving him downward into solid earth, ripping a deep hole into the crust. Riddle was not stopping, either — he appeared to be pushing Harry toward the center of the planet, perhaps in an attempt to imprison him there. But that couldn't happen as long as they both possessed the power of the Star Brand, with its access to infinite energy. Still, Harry had been driven nearly a mile underground before he took the offensive. He disappeared from the path of Riddle's beam, reappearing beside him, and directed a powerful blast of his own against Riddle, driving him into the air. He followed, and within milliseconds both of them had cleared the atmosphere.

Now several thousand miles above the Earth, Harry saw the Moon, shining with an odd, reddish hue a few degrees from his zenith. Changing the beam he was projecting at Riddle to grab hold of him, Harry began spinning, subjecting Riddle to hundred's of g's of centripetal force, until he was traveling at perhaps a tenth of the speed of light, maybe 20,000 miles per second. He released the beam at just the right moment, and Riddle was flung at one-tenth the speed of light into the Moon, with a violent explosion of lunar dust and rock thrown up from the force of the impact. He was driven several miles below the surface by the force of the impact.

However, the same power that kept Harry safe also protected Riddle, who appeared in a flash of light, a mile away from Harry. "Reconsider my offer, Harry," his voice flooded Harry's brain once again. "Even if we're alone on this world, we can fill it once again with people, just as Connell did on the world he created. Yes," he went on, as Harry gasped involuntarily at that reference. "I read your thoughts, remember, and know what you know about Kenneth Connell. I can do so again any time I want to, to find out what he did with everyone on Earth."

Not likely, Harry knew, since he hadn't had the Star Brand when Riddle did that, earlier. Now Harry should be able to keep him out of his head—not that he knew what Connell had done with everyone on Earth, only that they were gone — with a few exceptions, who were now at Hogwarts. To Riddle he thought, "I don't know what Connell did with everyone, but I wouldn't tell you if I did!"

"Such bravado," Riddle sneered. "But what chance would you have against a master Leglimens such as I, backed with the power of the Star Brand? Our power being otherwise equal, Potter, you would lose to my superior mental capabilities. But let that be your decision, for now. Later, when you long for companionship other than myself, you will tell me what I need to know."

Jolted by this, Harry did the only thing he could think of — he ran, instinctively, to the only other place on Earth he could think of: number four, Privet Drive, the Dursleys' house.

No one would be here, he knew, as he appeared in the smallest bedroom, his own room away from Hogwarts for the past four years, since the first letter came from there, addressed to him in "The Cupboard under the Stairs," frightening his aunt and uncle into letting him have the room that had until then been reserved for Dudley's toys. It had made Dudley quite furious, and he'd bawled fake tears at his parents, trying to get it back, but to no avail. Harry had the room, but not that first letter, nor any of the hundred of subsequent letters delivered by as many owls, until finally on his eleventh birthday his letter from Hogwarts had been delivered personally by Rubeus Hagrid, the Keeper of the Keys and Grounds at the school.

Now he had been at the school for four years, and had been through a number of interesting and unusual events during that time, including meeting his best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, his first day there; becoming a member of the House of Gryffindor and the Seeker on the Gryffindor Quidditch team; he'd also met Professor Dumbledore, a very great wizard, as well as the teacher he hated most, Professor Snape, the school's Potions Master, and having his first (but really, second) encounter with Voldemort at the end of that first year. In the following years he'd also met his godfather, Sirius Black, who had been imprisoned in Azkaban prison for thirteen years, for a crime he didn't commit but escaped in order to do so; the man Black planned to kill, Peter Pettigrew, who'd spent all the time Sirius had been in prison in the form of fat rat owned first by Percy Weasley, one of Ron's older brothers, then Ron himself. He'd also met some interesting teachers, from his personal favorite, Remus Lupin, his third-year Defense Against the Dark Arts professor to Gilderoy Lockhart, also a DADA professor but emphatically not one of his favorites; Professor Minerva McGonagall, his stern but fair Transfigurations teacher and the Head of Gryffindor House; Professor Flitwick, the diminutive Charms teacher, and Professor Sprout, who taught Herbology.

It was strange, Harry reflected, looking around his room, that this place, where he'd never felt loved or included as part of a family, should be where he ran to so he could feel protected and safe. In reality, with his Star Brand there was no way he could ever be killed or even harmed; even without the Star Brand, if he were killed (which had happened, back in August, when he'd been tricked by Arthur, Molly and Ginny Weasley, who were all being controlled by Lucius Malfoy, using the Imperius Curse), the Star Brand's energies, infused into his body, would bring him back to life eventually. And the only way he could get rid of the Star Brand was to will it to move to some other person, or object, though only a living, sentient being could control its incalculable energies — placing it onto an inanimate object would cause to explode, vaporizing all matter within fifty miles of that object, including the being formerly wielding it. Eventually, however, the person would reform, and the Star Brand would reappear on them.

Harry wandered through the upstairs rooms: through Dudley's bedroom, with its television set and video game, the Smeltings hat and cane he always brought home during the holidays and strutted about with at home, because it made Vernon beam with pride at "his little man." He stood in the doorway of his aunt and uncle's room, careful even now not to enter; old habits died hard, as both Vernon and Petunia became very cross if they even suspected he'd been in their room (which Dudley always delighted in, by threatening to break something in there and blame it on him).

Walking down to the ground floor, he stood in the hallway, looking into the living room, back toward the kitchen and, under the staircase itself, the infamous cupboard he'd spent the first decade of his life in, as far back as he could remember. He thought of all the spiders and other insects he'd brushed out of his hair and off his face, and heaved a long, slow sigh.

"Harry." He whipped around, toward the living room, to find Riddle standing there regarding him with a look of almost-sympathy on his handsome face. "Why are you torturing yourself with these memories? These Muggles, your aunt, uncle and cousin, probably don't even care right now whether you're alive or dead."

Which was very probably true, Harry knew, but there was no reason to let Riddle know that. "That's better than wanting me dead, like you do," he retorted.

"I don't want you dead, Harry," Riddle shook his head. He looked saddened by Harry's hostility. It took all of Harry's will to remember that Riddle — Voldemort — was very capable at bending people to his will and manipulating their emotions. As he had already learned, his mind could be deceived no matter how much power his body possessed.

"No," Harry sneered. "I'm sure Lord Voldemort only wants what's best for everyone on Earth!"

The Dark Lord raised a finger in warning. "Haven't you learned to respect my name yet, Harry? Do not speak it again! I tell you that for the last time — use it again at your peril."

"Bullshit," Harry said, and Riddle's face hardened. White light burst from his body, and number four Privet Drive, and all the other houses on Privet Drive, and several blocks surrounding them, shattered into thousands of pieces, flying out and away from them, until they were surrounded by nothing but a few scraps of wood and masonry. Not a house was left standing for hundreds of yards in all directions. Harry looke around him, aghast at the destruction that had taken place in only a few seconds.

"WHY?" he screamed at Riddle. "WHY DID YOU DO THAT?!"

"What does it matter to you?" Riddle asked, indifferently. "No one was hurt, were they? Everyone is safe, somewhere. Not that we know or care where that is…"

"Damn you!" Harry shouted, hands instinctively balling into fists. "You don't need to destroy it all! It was my aunt and uncle's home!"

"And you hated them," Riddle said, with a dreadful laugh. "How many times have you wished them dead? How many times have you wanted to hurt them yourself, for all the times they neglected you, laughed at you, made you do their dirty work? And for what — a miserable bit of space beneath the stairs? No one would blame you for wanting them dead, Harry…"

"Stop it! STOP IT!!" Harry covered his ears, but Riddle's voice kept coming, directly into his mind.

"They're only Muggles, Harry — not a person of power, like you, not even a wizard. You have to stop thinking in terms of the people who have the least use for you —"

Harry disappeared again. This time, he went as far as he could imagine going in one jump — to the far side of the moon. He appeared in darkness, his hands still covering his ears, even in the moon's vacuum. Riddle's voice had disappeared. For the moment, at least, he was alone again. Harry sat down, on the much-colder-than-ice-cold-rock, drawing his knees up and resting his head upon them. He literally did not know what to do next.

How was he going to defeat Riddle — Voldemort, he reminded himself again. Was such a thing even possible any more, now that they were both had the Star Brand? Connell had left him in a hell of a mess, and with his closest friends still at Hogwarts, Harry could not simply leave Earth — at least, not without taking them with him.

That was an idea, he realized. Presumably, Connell had put every living thing on Earth somewhere — the trick would be to find out where they were and get himself and the six people still at Hogwarts there as well, without letting Voldemort know where they'd gone. But that was just problem delayed, not problem solved — Voldemort had all the time in the world to find them; no matter where they went, he would eventually catch up to them. No, running wasn't the solution.

Neither was fighting, Harry knew. It was already obvious that neither of them could harm the other, not with their Star Brands to protect them. But no one else still on Earth had that same protection! Connell had been right, Harry now saw, in removing all life from harm's way. The only thing Harry couldn't figure out now was, why leave his friends and teachers at Hogwarts? Was it Connell's way of forcing him to stay here, to come up with some way to beat Voldemort? If so, it wasn't working, Harry thought, bitterly. He still had no idea how to defeat the Dark Lord.

The only solution he could see was to get Voldemort to willingly give up the Star Brand, somehow. And if not to him, then to one of the six others Connell had left on Earth with him. But that was ridiculous — Voldemort would no more willingly give up the infinite power of the Star Brand than he would his own life — the Brand fulfilled both his dreams of immortality and absolute power. Though, Harry recalled once again, even without the Brand Voldemort was now effectively immortal, just as Harry discovered he was when he woke up in his coffin in Godric's Hollow, on Christmas.

He would have to talk this over with Hermione. And Ron as well, he decided; Ron might see a solution to this problem that he and Hermione could miss. Concentrating for a moment, he created an area of Earthlike temperature and pressure around himself, about the size of a classroom at Hogwarts, filled it with Earth-normal atmosphere, then summoned his two best friends from Hogwarts Castle to him.

Whatever they had been doing, they were evidently together, and busy discussing something when they appeared. Both stopped suddenly, looking around in the sudden darkness (Harry had not thought to create any light sources within the environment — he hadn't needed any). "What the —" Ron blurted, looking around in surprise, as Hermione squinted, trying to get her eyes to adjust more quickly to the darkness. "Where'd the lights go?" Ron asked.

Harry, standing close to both of them, said softly, "It's me," and both Ron and Hermione jerked in surprise. "Bloody hell, Harry!" Ron exclaimed, as Harry caused a soft white glow from above to illuminate the three of them. None of their surroundings were yet visible in the dim light.

"Harry!" Hermione said, sounding vastly relieved to see him, whatever the circumstances, "I was beginning to wonder what had happened to you!" She looked around. "Where are we?"

"Somewhere out of the way," Harry said, being vague. "I needed to talk to both of you."

"You're not going to believe what happened at the school!" Ron blurted, then blinked when both Harry and Hermione gave him sardonic looks. "Uh, unless you already know, that is."

"I know," Harry said, and filled them in on what had been happening between him, Voldemort and Connell over the past half-day, as well as the problem he was having trying to figure out what to do next. Ron looked flabbergasted by the idea that he was one of the last seven wizards left on Earth, but Hermione appeared intrigued by the implications.

"Connell must have planned something involving us, Harry," she said, adamantly. "Why else would he have left us so unprotected?"

"I don't know," Harry replied, just as insistently. "Whatever his plan was, it didn't work, and he suddenly just skulkered off, like some tosser."

"There must be a reason for it," Hermione repeated.

"You keep saying that," Ron pointed out. "But what difference does it make, if we can't see it? Speaking of that," he added, looking around into the darkness surrounding them, "Harry, where are we? I can't see a bloody thing around me!"

"Language," Hermione said, automatically, then looked around as well, finally noticing the ground, faintly illuminated by the diffuse lighting Harry was creating above them. "Interesting," she said absently, kneeling down to touch the ground. "This is unusual-looking ground below us. I don't recognize it."

"You probably wouldn't," Harry smiled thinly. "We're on the moon."

"You're joking!" Ron exclaimed.

"Really?" Hermione said, standing again. "Give us some more light, will you, Harry — I want to look at something."

"Wait a minute," Harry said, annoyed by her distraction. "We're not here to talk about moon rocks, Hermione! I'm trying to figure out what to do here, and I need your help!"

"But something isn't right!" she insisted. "This ground doesn't look like the lunar surface."

"Oh, rubbish," Ron said, dismissively. "How would you even know what the moon looks like, up close? Did you fly up here one afternoon while we were all off having a kip or something?"

"Don't be silly, Ronald," she retorted archly. "For your information, I've studied the moon quite extensively. Did you know that normal humans visited the moon before any of us were even born?"

"That'd be pretty barmy of them," Ron sniffed. "What'd they do once they got here — collect rocks?"

"Exactly!" Hermione said, triumphantly. "And they did a lot of experiments and exploring, so I know a lot about the moon — and this doesn't look right," she said, pointing to the ground below them.

"Fine," Harry said, now thoroughly irritated by the non sequitur conversation. "You want me to prove this is the moon? Here you go!" They disappeared in three flashes of light, appearing a moment later on the opposite side of the moon, still with the protective shell of pressurized atmosphere around them.

Harry looked around the sky for a moment, then pointed toward the partially-lighted blue sphere hanging above them. "Look — see? There's there Earth. Now do you believe we're on the moon?"
But Hermione was still looking around as if unconvinced. "Something's still not right, Harry. This is not how the lunar surface should appear. It's too dark."

"I don't know what you mean," Harry said, perplexed and confused by the continuing distraction. "I think it's pretty damned bright out here, if you ask me!" They were all standing in direct sunlight; only Harry's rigid control of the temperature and atmosphere around them was keeping Ron and Hermione alive.

Ron, who'd been looking around while waiting for Harry and Hermione to resolve their quarrel, suddenly pointed toward something on the horizon, coming toward them. "What's that?"

Both Harry and Hermione looked. "That's strange," Hermione mused, after a moment. "It looks like a dust storm. But how could there be a dust storm on an airless world?"

Harry, who had no idea, either, suddenly remembered. "Oh yeah — when Voldemort and I were fighting, I threw him into the moon really hard, and it kicked up a huge explosion. I suppose that's the dust, spreading out from the spot where he hit."

"Whatever it is," Ron remarked, watching its approach, "it's coming at us awfully fa—" and indeed, his last word was drowned out as the wall of onrushing dust slammed into their environmental bubble, making it ring like a bell. Everything outside was obscured by the howling, drumming wind.

"Listen!" Hermione shouted. "Hear that? It's the wind. The wind!"

"So what?" Ron, covering his ears against the sound, shouted back.

"So there no air on the moon, silly!" she shouted back. "Therefore we can't be on the moon!"

"But if there was an explosion, like Harry said," Ron argued, "there wouldn't need to be air! The dust would be moving by itself!" Harry nodded; he had to admit that Ron had a point there.

"Besides," he said loudly, pointing upwards, "we saw the Earth in the sky above us!" The storm had nearly died away. "And you know what they say: Seeing is believing."

"Indeed they do say that," someone else spoke, in a high, clear voice. "And I see that you're a liar, Harry Potter."

Harry's blood froze. Voldemort — here! He whirled at lightning speed to touch both of his friends and teleport away, but a field of force had formed around each of them, keeping them separate. Voldemort stood a dozen feet away, just outside Harry's environmental bubble, smiling triumphantly.

"I warned you about saying my name again, didn't I?" he chided Harry, wagging a finger at him and clucking disapprovingly. "I've made it Taboo—no one will be able to say it without letting me know exactly where they are.

"And I see we are not alone," he continued, passing through the wall of atmosphere, moving closer to the trio. "In spite of what you said, earlier, Harry — tsk, tsk! Such a little liar you are! What should your punishment for lying be, I wonder?"

Voldemort stared at Harry's two best friend silently for several moments, letting Harry imagine what terrible tortures he might put them through. Suddenly, he raised his hands, and two beams of white-hot energy shot from them, striking Hermione and Ron. In twin blasts of light, they both vanished without a trace.

"NOOOOOO!!" Harry screamed, beating his arms against the wall of force holding him prisoner, until it suddenly collapsed, and he along with it, falling to the ground. He lay there, curled into a ball, not wanting to move or think, for how long he did not know, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, though hot tears of despair and grief leaked through them. He had pulled Hermione and Ron out of the safety of Hogwarts! It was his fault they were dead.

"Come now, Potter," he heard Voldemort say, as from a great distance, though he knew the Dark Lord was mere feet from him. "You're only making this more difficult on yourself, with your continued interest in lower life forms. You are a god. Free your mind from the weakness of your emotional attachments — you will never realize your potential if you continue to associate with such filth."

Harry's anger was rising at Voldemort's words, but the grief was still overwhelming. "I'm — not like you," he finally whispered. "I'm not some monster who's ripped his soul into tatters trying to live forever."

Voldemort chuckled, but there was a dangerous edge to his voice as he said, "So you know about my other Horcruxes, then?"

"I know you created as many as six," Harry said, finally looking up at the Dark Lord, loathing in his green eyes. "You hinted at it yourself, in the graveyard in Little Hangleton— 'I, who have gone further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality,' you said."

"You remember that, do you?" Voldemort sneered. He laughed, a sound that filled Harry with inexplicable dread. "Well, it is no matter now — they are no longer needed, now that I have this." He held his hand out, palm forward, showing Harry the Star Brand. "But you will never know what my trophies are — I have them too well protected."

Harry laughed, in spite of the grief gripping him. "I've already destroyed one! Your diary! Lucius Malfoy used it to get the Chamber of Secrets opened again, but I destroyed it, with a broken fang of the Basilisk, which I killed with the Sword of Gryffindor!"

Voldemort's handsome face twisted again in anger, but he merely shrugged. "I can create a thousand Basilisks now, if I desire — your victory was a hollow one, Potter." He grinned suddenly, savagely baring his white, perfect teeth in an ugly rictus. "And that reminds me — while you were lying there feeling sorry for yourself," he went on, mockingly. "I discovered a few more things from your thoughts.

"Besides your two friends, there are several other people still at Hogwarts. Oh, there's no use lying —" He waved off Harry's violent headshake "— I know they are there, Potter! I am looking forward to seeing my old friend, Albus Dumbledore again. I think I will see how long he can withstand the Cruciatus Curse until he goes mad, before I kill him."

Harry leapt at him, but a barrier of force appeared around him, imprisoning him again. He willed it to be gone, but Voldemort's power matched his — they were stalemated. "You can't touch me, Harry, any more than I can harm you," the Dark Lord pointed out, as Harry ground his teeth in frustration. "But I can bring harm — much harm — to your friends, unless you agree to stand with me, and help me return our kind to the Earth."

"Never," Harry gritted, knowing he was doomed. "I will never help you."

Voldemort smiled cruelly. "You will have no choice, Harry Potter. You have already shown you are too weak to do otherwise."

"My friends —" Harry began, fiercely, but his words died in his throat at Voldemort's barking laugh.

"Your friends? Those pathetic weaklings are nothing compared to me, boy!" Voldemort roared. "A bumbling, inept old fool and his witless followers. Even Snape — who was my primary operative inside Hogwarts, by the way — is no longer any use to me, now that I have the Star Brand in my possession! Now, Potter, you'd better consider coming around to my way of thinking, and quickly, too — before all of the people left on this world end up like your first two friends — dead. "

"The rumors of our death were exaggerated," a new voice said, and both Harry and Voldemort looked around quickly. Hermione and Ron were both standing several feet away — alive!

"What is this?" Voldemort snarled, looking back at Harry. "What trickery are you up to —?" But Harry only shook his head, a grin of pure joy spreading across his face. His friends were alive!

What's more, they were not gasping for breath, even though there was no Earthlike-environment surrounding them. "How did you…" Harry began, looking at them, and Hermione held up her hand, showing him her palm.

She had the Star Brand.

Ron raised his hand a moment later; he, too, had a Star Brand.

Jolted, Harry asked, "How?"

"I don't know," Hermione shook her head, as she and Ron moved, to set up a triangle of them and Harry, with Voldemort in the center. The Dark Lord appeared as stunned as Harry did; he watched silently as Hermione continued. "When What's-His-Name here hit us with those blasts of energy, we were both knocked thousands of miles away, into space.

"When I finally realized I wasn't dying from the cold or airlessness, I began thinking about why, and when I looked at my palm I found the Star Brand there. I don't remember it being there before. Anyway, I imagined myself back at Hogwarts, and there I was.

"Then," she continued, "I Summoned Ron, who was still out in space, trying to figure out why he wasn't dead."

"I would have worked it out, eventually," Ron muttered, sounding a bit put out with her telling of the event.

"I'm sure you would have, Ronald," Hermione replied, in a clearly skeptical tone. "Anyway, once we discovered Ron had the Star Brand as well, we decided to find you and help you, Harry."

Voldemort, standing in the middle of the trio, snorted derision, but Harry could see doubt on his handsome face. The only thing Voldemort respected was power, Harry now understood, and because it was unclear how his two friends had acquired their Star Brands, it was possible the balance of power had tipped their way. "Help Potter? Don't be ridiculous, girl! You do not face some unsure schoolboy, but the Dark Lord himself! Even the three of you will prove to be no match for me!"

"What about the rest of us?" Hermione asked, plaintively. There were more flashes of light around them, and the four teachers from Hogwarts appeared, completing the circle about Voldemort: Dumbledore, McGonagall, Flitwick and Snape now faced him as well. Each one held up their right hand, showing the Dark Lord the Star Brand symbol etched into their palms.

"Greetings, Tom," Dumbledore said pleasantly. "I hope you don't mind us joining you."

"Not that it would matter if he did, Albus," McGonagall added tartly, giving Riddle a very stern look; something Harry imagined she had wanted to do for a very long time. "He has quite a lot to answer for."

"Indeed, Minerva!" Flitwick agreed, in his squeaky voice. "Indeed he does!"

Voldemort was giving each new arrival a moment of attention, staring at each of them in turn, as if taking their measure. Harry thought he might be estimating his odds of winning in a confrontation with everyone there. If there was going to be a fight, Harry decided, this would be the best place for it — hundreds of thousands of miles from Earth. He had no idea how much damage eight people with Star Brand could wreak, much less two, but Connell had thought that the three of them (him, Harry and Voldemort) had enough firepower to destroy the Earth!

"Et tu, Severus?" Voldemort's eyes had finally fallen on Snape. "Are even you going to turn against me, now that I am outnumbered?"

"I have not been with you for a long time, now," Snape said, coldly. "Not since —" he suddenly cut himself off, and Voldemort smiled.

"Not since I killed Lily Potter, is that what you were going to say, Severus?" Voldemort sneered. He glanced at Harry. "Did the boy know you loved his mother, even though she was a Mudblood?"

"Don't call her that!" Harry said angrily.

"It's true enough!" Voldemort snapped in reply. "Even so, I would have spared her life had she stepped aside and let me deal with you in my own way, Potter! It is your fault that she's dead!"

"That's a crock of shit!" Harry blazed. "You're the one who killed her, you bastard!" Without thinking, his hand shot out and a wall of force surrounded Voldemort, trapping him.

"Everybody hold him like I'm doing!" Harry shouted, and six more walls of energy wrapped themselves around the Dark Lord, even as Harry willed the spherical volume of space within a hundred miles of them to be incapable of teleporting through. If they couldn't destroy Voldemort now, perhaps the seven of them could find a way to trap him.

"Fools!" Voldemort shouted, attempting to penetrate the walls of force with blasts of energy — but the shields seemed to be capable of handling the energy blasting against them. "You dare attack the Dark Lord?! You will all suffer endless torment for this!"

"You're wrong, Tom," Dumbledore said calmly, over Voldemort's rants. "As you can see, our power exceeds yours — you cannot best us."

"I will keep fighting until I do!" Voldemort swore. "That is the difference between myself and a weak fool like you, Dumbledore! I will keep on fighting until I win!"

"So will I!" shouted Harry.

"And I! And I!" chorused Ron and Hermione.

"As will all of us," Dumbledore added. "Moreover, Tom, you are not impervious to threats yourself, Tom. If you continue to fight us, we will destroy your one remaining Horcrux."

Voldemort looked shocked, but for only a moment; then he was once again his arrogant self. "You are lying, old man — you do not even know where they are!"

"Ah, but we do, Tom," Dumbledore averred. "In fact, we have collected them all — they are even now on display in the Entrance Hall, back at Hogwarts. They are all destroyed, save one."

Harry blinked in surprise. How had Dumbledore managed that, he wondered. The last he remembered, the headmaster was not even sure of how many Horcruxes there were! The Dark Lord was equally surprised, for he had stopped trying to break free of the walls of force surrounding him.

"I — demand — that you show them to me," Voldemort said. "To prove what you've said is true!"

"Will you stop fighting us?" McGonagall asked.

"I will not resist," Voldemort said, not quite answering her question, "once you prove to me you have my trophies."

"Very well," Dumbledore said, and turned to Harry. "Will you allow us to teleport to Earth, Harry?"

Harry considered their options. He didn't feel very good about this — bringing Voldemort back to Earth was a risky proposition — and he didn't trust the Dark Lord's word at all. But while he was within the force walls he seemed to be contained. He finally nodded slowly, and the eight of them disappeared in a single flash of light.

A moment later they appeared in the Entrance Hall at the school. A plinth had been set up in the center of the room. On top of the plinth Harry could see several objects — at least one he recognized, the ruined diary of T. M. Riddle that had become Lord Voldemort's first Horcrux, and was the first one destroyed, a little over three years ago, at the end of Harry's second year.

Around the base of the plinth was wrapped a large, green snake, its head removed and lying beside the body in a puddle of slimy-looking blood. That must be Voldemort's snake, Nagini, Harry realized. On the plinth itself, around the ruined diary were several objects; they, too, had suffered damage, Harry could see. There was a double-handled golden cup, a hole driven through it; next to that, a gold ring set with a single, black stone, that was cracked down the middle; beside that, a tarnished tiara that had been cut into several pieces. The final object, a heavy gold locket, was the only item that appeared intact.

Voldemort's reaction upon seeing these objects was startling. His eyes appeared ready to burst from their sockets, his teeth set on edge, and he was breathing heavily. "Sacrilege," he whispered raggedly.

"As you can see," Dumbledore said, in a mild tone that seemed completely oblivious to Voldemort's reaction, "the only Horcrux left is the locket, which we could not open and which the Sword of Gryffindor could not penetrate."

"Why have you done this thing?" Voldemort whispered tightly, staring at the ruined trophies that had held bits of his soul, that he had worked so hard to collect, those many years ago. "While I possess the Star Brand, destroying these objects was pointless, useless…"

"That should be obvious, Tom," Dumbledore replied. "We wanted to force your cooperation."

"You expect me to cooperate now, after — after this?" Voldemort hissed, sweeping a hand toward the plinth. "I cannot even be sure they were mine — you may have created duplicates, somehow, and are attempting to deceive me!"

"They are real, I assure you," Dumbledore stated, with conviction.

"Prove it," Voldemort demanded. "Let me touch them. Then I will know."

"Very well," Dumbledore said. "Approach the plinth."

Voldemort walked toward the plinth, and the wall of force expanded to encircle it so that Voldemort could approach. He stopped for a moment in front of the snake, looking at it, then turned his attention to the items in front of him.

Reaching out, he passed his left hand slowly over each of the objects in turn: the diary, the cup, the ring and the tiara. Finally, his hand moved over the heavy gold locket, and Voldemort smiled. The locket leapt up, into his grasp, and Voldemort turned to Dumbledore, saying, "You fool!"

Harry groan inwardly. Too late, he'd realized their mistake — while Voldemort had been isolate inside the force walls, he'd been unable to play his final trump card — of transferring the Star Brand to an inanimate object and initiating a sphere of annihilation that could vaporize them all! None of them would die, but Voldemort would escape!

Dumbledore had evidently realized his blunder as well; he was trying to convince Voldemort not to go through with it. "Tom, you will gain nothing by vaporizing us all — there are no life forms left on Earth to mutate, and none of us will die."

"Perhaps not," Voldemort shrugged, his right hand, with the Star Brand in the palm, about to clutch the locket dangling from his left hand. "But perhaps the explosion will encompass much more than a fifty-mile radius — perhaps I will pour enough energy into this locket, that still contains my soul — I can sense its presence! — to destroy Earth itself. Then where will we all end up?"

"Even you would not do that horrific a thing, Tom," Dumbledore stated. "Earth is your home as well, along with your human brethren."

"Bah," Voldemort snorted. "I call no place home. I call no man brother. You should know these things, Dumbledore — didn't you make a 'special study' of me, back in my Hogwarts days?"

"I had hoped you did not really believe such things, Tom," Dumbledore said, looking sad. "I hoped it was simply a remnant of your upbringing in that orphanage, that the fellowship of Hogwarts would change your mind."

Voldemort grinned. "Your hope was in vain, old man." He grasped the locket in his right hand, and light flashed fiercely between his clenched fingers. Harry winced, wondering if he would feel the white-hot flash that would vaporize them, and how much of the Earth would disappear along with them.

Nothing happened.

After several moments, Voldemort opened his hand, looking at the locket in his palm, then held it up so that it dangled in the air above his palm, which was now devoid of any symbol. On the back of the locket, Harry could see the Star Brand emblazoned there as it slowly swiveled round and around.

"Where — where's the kaboom?" Voldemort said, confused. "There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering kaboom." Suddenly the locket, and the other Horcruxes as well, disappeared in six flashes of light. Then Hermione, Ron and the teachers disappeared as well. A moment later there was another flash of light, and from it appeared — Kenneth Connell.

"Hoist by your own petard," he said smugly, to Voldemort. Turning to Harry, he said sotto voce, "I've always wanted to say that to someone!" He raised his right hand, showing both of them the star-shaped symbol that was now there. "The Star Brand can never be taken — only given. And you have given it back to me, Tom Riddle. Thank you!"

Voldemort growled deep in his throat, but before he could do anything else Connell wrapped him in a wall of force, turned to Harry and said, "Be back in a moment," and the two men disappeared, leaving Harry alone.

But before Harry could so much as wonder where they had gone, Connell had returned. "And that is that," he said, rubbing his hands together briskly. "Harry, you did quite well by yourself against Voldemort, I must say."

"What did you do with him?" Harry asked curiously. "And how did you keep that locket from exploding and taking us all with it? I thought we were all going to be vaporized when he grabbed it."

"Oh, it was simple enough," Connell said, walking toward the doors leading to the Great Hall. Before he reached them, they opened of their own accord, and Harry and Ken strode into the Hall and over to the end of the Gryffindor Table, where they both sat down facing one another. A large golden plate appeared in front of Connell, filled with a sizzling beefsteak, a steaming baked potato, filled with butter and sour cream, and a mound of green beans and two thick slices of Texas toast. A frosty mug of beer appeared next to the plate, along with a steak knife, fork and cloth napkin. Ken picked up the napkin, unfolding it, and placed it in his lap.

"I hope you don't mind if I have something to eat while we talk, Harry," he said, cutting into the steak and taking a bite. "I feel like rewarding myself after all that. Maybe you should have something as well?"

"Maybe in a bit," Harry said, impatient to hear what Connell had done. "So what's the story?"

"Oh, it was simple," Connell said again, nibbling on a piece of toast. "I was the locket."

"What?" Harry said, surprised, then realized what he meant. "Oh, I get it — you were Transfigured to look like that locket!"

"Pretty much," Connell agreed, "though it's a bit more complicated than that." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the gold locket, dropping it onto the table between them.

Harry looked at it, then back at Connell. "But what if he'd picked up one of the other objects?"

"I was actually all of them, and the snake as well," Connell made surprising reply. "But only the locket is still a Horcrux. I thought it would be possible for Voldemort to sense his soul within it, so I kept the real locket hidden within me as I duplicated its appearance. Voldemort didn't really believe he had a soul for a long time, but he could detect a bit of himself in his Horcruxes, and I expect he decided that, if he was going to vaporize himself and all of you with him, he might has well do it with the one Horcrux he had left, if they were all going to be destroyed anyway."

"How did you find all of his Horcruxes?" Harry wanted to know. "Professor Dumbledore has been trying to figure out how many he made, but you had all of them! And where did Hermione and the others go? And why did you put them in such danger?!" He was suddenly angry at Connell again.

"They were never here, Harry," Connell said. "My apologies, once again, for letting you believe they were, but I wanted Voldemort to accept your memories as real, and I know you have difficulty with your Occlumency."

Harry nodded grudging agreement. "So what were they?" he asked.

"They were all manifestations of my thoughts," Ken said. "Shells of living tissue activated and controlled by my mind. I believe I did a convincing job of acting like them — you seem to have been convinced they were real, weren't you?"

"I was," Harry said. "So much so that I was devastated when Hermione and Ron were 'killed' by Voldemort."

"Again, my apologies, Harry," Ken said, sincerely. "I needed to convince Voldemort that I had tried to trick him, had failed, then left Earth with everyone except your closest friends and most respected teachers to help you defeat him. To do that, I needed you to really believe that was what was going on. In reality, Hermione and Ron, and everyone else is safe and sound, back on Earth."

"What?" Harry asked, not sure he'd heard correctly. "Did you say 'back on Earth?'"

"Yes," Connell nodded, taking a long drink of beer. He set it down again and said, "We are not on Earth right now."

Harry was shaking his head, confused. "But I saw it from the moon! How could we not be on Earth right now?"

"I didn't want to put your world in such danger, exposing it to a full-scale battle of Star Brands. I was not exaggerating, earlier — it would be easy to destroy entire cities, entire continents, in seconds with the power of the Brand.

"I knew I could never lure Voldemort away from Earth; he would never willingly give up the leverage inherent in the hostages he could take and hold over you, once he realized that your Star Brands were evenly matched. So I took steps to create a duplicate Earth-Moon system, on the opposite side of the sun, and brought the two of you here while you were engaged in battle at the White House."

"I remember!" Harry said. "It went from sunset to morning — Voldemort thought you'd moved us in time, but it had been in space!"

"Correct," Connell smiled.

"But — how?" Harry wondered. "How could you have created this world so quickly, from nothing?" Is the Star Brand that powerful?

"It's as powerful as you can imagine it to be," Connell said, but in fact I cheated a bit. There were two perfectly good planets already orbiting the sun; I just took advantage of them. This is actually the planet Venus — for the moon I used Mercury."

"Whoa," Harry gasped. "It looked exactly like Earth from the moon — I mean, from Mercury — er, or whatever," he finished, still awed by the power it must have taken. "Everything seems exactly the same."

"It is," Connell said. "I picked up some things from all of those magic books I've been reading, Harry — some changes to the Geminio spell, and applying some principles used by the Polyjuice Potion — and of course, adapting for the scale — I was able to create an exact duplicate of the Earth on the surface of Venus, down to every geographical feature and every building.

"I did the same to Mercury for the lunar surface, but I left one subtle clue for you — the atmosphere of Mercury, which is very tenuous, and the composition of its crust, which differentiates it from the lunar surface."

"Is that what Hermione was trying to tell me?" Harry asked, then realized, "— er, I mean, what you were trying to tell me, I guess?"

"Yes, I was trying to be subtle," Connell chuckled. "I guess I should have been a bit more obvious, eh?"

"I was pretty distracted," Harry said, plaintively. "So what did you do with Voldemort?"

"I sent him away," Connell said, then cut off a large piece of steak and spent the next several moments chewing it, driving Harry to distraction while he waited for the man to continue. "Far, far away," Connell finished, finally, swallowing the meat.

"Yes, but how?" Harry wanted to know. "Did you use the Star Brand power on him — well, obviously, you did!"

"I did, but indirectly," Connell explained. "I found that the aliens who came to Earth in my universe also came here (or rather, there) in this one. However, here they were a bit more subtle; the probe they used to scan Earth was in at the L5 point in Earth's orbit, rather than orbiting Earth itself, as it was in mine."

"Okay, I don't know about that 'L5' stuff," Harry said, shaking his head. "What does that mean in English?"

It means that the probe was further from Earth, so the effect of its exotic radiation on Earth's flora and fauna was diminished to a large extent." Connell was giving Harry a strange look. "However, it has been observing and irradiating your world for the past several thousand years; I believe that the radiation was the cause of magical ability in Earth humans here."

Harry sat still for several moments, letting that percolate down into his brain. "Are you saying that some people here can do magic because that alien probe has been watching us for a long time?"

"Yes, that's what I'm saying," Connell agreed.

After several seconds of thought, Harry finally shrugged. "If you say so," he said. "Anyway, what does this probe have to do with Voldemort?"

"Well, the aliens who came to my Earth used the teleportation drive of their ship to transport me to the Andromeda Galaxy, several million light-years away," Connell went on. "I took Voldemort up to the probe at Earth's L5 point, supercharged it with energy from the Star Brand, and used it to teleport him even further. How far he went, even I don't know, nor in what direction he was sent, so there's no way for him to find his way back here."

Harry thought for a moment. "That seems more like problem delayed than problem solved," he observed. "After all, you made you way back, eventually — why wouldn't he?"

"Because I also cast an Obliviate spell on him," Connell replied. "Backed by all the power of the Star Brand, and then implanted the thought that he was a wanderer looking for interesting things and events. I scanned his mind after I wiped it clean, and he had no memory of his life as Tom Riddle or the evil that he wrought as Lord Voldemort."

Harry sighed in relief, but there was a part of him that paradoxically felt concern for the former Dark Lord. "That seems for the best, I suppose, but I wonder if there'd been a way we could have allowed him to stay — here, on this world, perhaps."

"I considered that as well," Connell replied quietly, looking directly into Harry's eyes. "But while he was anywhere near Earth, even almost 190 million miles from it, on the opposite side of the sun, he posed a threat to everyone there. The Obliviate spell is powerful, but it only suppresses the memories, it does not remove them. It is possible Riddle will someday remember his former life as Voldemort. I would prefer he was on the opposite side of the Virgo supercluster when he does!"

Harry nodded in agreement, smiling, but quickly turned serious when a thought occurred to him. "Wait a mo' — I just realized — if we've been here, on the opposite side of the sun, what's been going on back on the real Earth? The last thing Voldemort did before you brought him here was to reveal the existence of the Wizarding World to the normal humans!"

"I haven't forgotten that, Harry," Connell told him. The big man laid a hand gently on Harry's shoulder. "I'm glad you haven't, either." He smiled. "I'm glad to see that was not mistaken in giving you the Star Brand."

"Even if I did mess things up by letting Voldemort get a hold of it as well?" Harry asked, wryly.

"Not your fault," Connell shook his head. "I should have given you more training — after all, I've had it for thousands of years, the things I do come as second nature to me. I shouldn't have expected you to just understand what it was all about without some help."

"Speaking of help, we ought to do something about all the wizards on Earth who will now have to go completely underground to avoid persecution or exploitation by Muggles," Harry said anxiously, thinking about Hermione, Ron and his other friends, who would now have to spend the rest of their lives hiding, instead of being free to walk about in the world…

…In the world…

Harry grabbed Connell's arm, excited by the thought he'd just had. "Listen! What if we brought them all here?"

Connell looked at him a moment, then smiled broadly. "That's a very clever solution, Harry!" His smiled faded a bit, however, and he continued, "but do you think it wise to separate humanity into Muggles and Wizard-kind? That might drive an even deeper wedge between them, provoking even more hostility when they eventually meet again at some point in the future."

Harry thought furiously for what seemed like a long time. "I can't see any other way," he finally admitted. "Wizards have kept their existence secret from humans for several hundred years now — we were widely regarded as being make-believe, and most magical creatures were considered mythical or legendary. Now, that our existence has been revealed again, I don't know how we could undo that, except by casting an Obliviate spell on every Muggle on Earth."

"I would resist that idea," Connell said. "It would be possible, of course, with the power of the Star Brand, but it would be better if we could simply inform them that all Wizards had been rounded up and taken into custody by the various Earth governments."

Harry gave him a skeptical look. "I don't know if that's problem solved, either," he said. "People would still know that wizards existed."

"Yes," agreed Connell. "But they won't be able to find any — they will all be on this world, remember? Eventually they will be thought of as an extinct offshoot of Homo sapiens — which can only work in your favor, since people tend to feel guilty when mankind has caused damage to the natural order."

"But," Harry objected. "You told me wizards aren't part of the natural order; they were created by the radiation from the alien probe, thousands of years ago!"

"Nobody knows that but me and you, Harry," Connell reminded him. "Besides, I can stop the probe from scanning Earth, so its radiation will no longer cause the mutation that gives rise to wizards among humankind."

"So when can we move everyone here?" Harry asked.

"The sooner the better," Connell said. "Why don't we get started right now?" Harry nodded, and the two of them disappeared in twin flashes of light.

***

They accomplished it all within a week, moving the entire magical population of Earth across the solar system to the new Earth-like planet on the opposite side of the sun. In all, Harry estimated there were nearly three million people now on Terra, as their new home had been christened by Connell, to distinguish it from the original planet Earth.

The transportation of over three million wizards and their families was actually the easiest part of the operation — the hard part came afterwards, when it was time to explain to everyone what had happened. For it seemed to all the witches and wizards, who had found themselves suddenly hunted and hounded by a society that never noticed them before, that almost everyone on the planet had disappeared. The roving crowds of angry citizens, the ridiculous "wizard-buster" Divine Response Squad, who supposedly fought wizards with holy symbols and blessed water, as if they were movie vampires, were all gone.

Not all wizards, it turned out, wanted to leave Earth; some, especially some pure-bloods whose businesses involved interaction with (and in some cases the exploitation of) Muggles, were loathe to leave, even though their lives and jobs were now in a state of extreme flux due to Voldemort's revelation to the Muggle world of wizard-kind's existence. Harry and Ken had unilaterally decided that all wizards should be sent to Terra, if only to protect them from their own short-sightedness, and from unsympathetic Muggles, who would turn them over to their governments if they were discovered.

Most witches and wizards, however, were delighted at the idea of living completely separate from Muggles, with whom they had little in common anyway. Muggle-borns, Harry found, were the most diverse in terms of opinion — they were happy at the idea of no longer feeling like they were strangers among their own kind, part of a world that did not understand or want them; but also sad to leave the non-magical behind: the many conveniences of modern living that they took for granted would no longer be as readily available on Terra, unless they took steps to provide for themselves. Television, motion pictures, modern railways, automobiles, and even many common appliances such as refrigerators and stoves, cassette and CD players, would not be present there, at least initially.

All magical beings and other fantastic beings had been brought to Terra as well: Dragons, hippogriffs, kelpies, kneazles, leprechauns, as well as the centaurs and merpeople living near Hogwarts and elsewhere, had been placed in the same location on Terra they'd been found on Earth. In most cases they had no idea a change had even taken place. The centaurs were a notable exception to this: they had discerned the changes in the celestial spheres almost immediately.

Harry and Connell appeared to the various magical governments across Europe and Asia, informing them of what had taken place and giving them the opportunity to present the news to their constituency. Many of the governments were grateful for the deliverance from the unruly mobs of Muggles, as well as the few wizards who had collaborated with Voldemort against their kind; those wizards, needless to say, had quickly disavowed any alliance to Voldemort once they learned he was no longer in charge and was now gone without a trace.

Only a few Wizarding governments were not satisfied with the new arrangements — the Ministry of Magic being one of them. Having met with the other governments, and addressed or responded to their concerns, Harry and Connell met with the Wizengamot on New Year's Day, 1996, at the Ministry's headquarters in a curiously empty London.

Once again in Courtroom Ten, the fifty or so members of the Wizengamot now faced both Harry and Connell, who sat casually in the large iron-bound chair in the center of the courtroom, while Harry, who felt much less nervous now than he had the first time here, waited quietly in an overstuffed chair he'd created while the members of the Wizengamot slowly filled the chamber. Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge once again took the center seat, flanked by Dolores Umbridge and Malfada Hopkirk, who Harry recognized as the witch from the Improper Use of Magic Office who had sent him the owl posts about his use of the Patronus Charm, when he'd saved Dudley and himself from dementors.

Fudge, glowering unpleasantly at Harry and Connell as they sat watching the Wizengamot preparing to argue with them for having saved all of their lives, was beginning to remind Harry more and more of his Uncle Vernon, though the portly little gray-haired man hardly resembled his large, beefy uncle at all.

"Shall we get started?" Fudge finally said impatiently, looking around at the other members of the Wizengamot, who were talking quietly amongst themselves. The murmuring died down, and he cleared his throat importantly, glancing toward the end of the row, where Harry saw a nervous Percy Weasley, quill in hand, ready to record the proceedings.

"This hearing of the Wizengamot shall come to order," Fudge said, as Percy began writing furiously. "To consider whether Harry James Potter, of number four, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey, acted improperly and without permission in forcibly removing all members of the Wizengamot from their lawful residences, to similar locations on a planet it is claimed is in orbit about the sun opposite the Earth."

A crooked smile began to spread across Harry's face. Put that way, he realized, it was hard to believe — until you looked at the constellations at night and realized they were out of position by 180 degrees. "Are they really serious about this?" Connell asked Harry, in a bored tone.

"Silence, Mr. —" Fudge glared at Connell, then rummaged momentarily through his papers. "— Mr. Connell, you have not been asked yet to speak on the defendant's behalf."

"Please excuse my impropriety, Minister Fudge," Connell said blandly, and Fudge harrumphed pompously, then turned back to Harry.

"What do you have to say about this, Mr. Potter?" Fudge demanded. "Why was the Wizengamot not consulted about this action? And why have you been in contact with the various Wizarding governments of Europe, Asia and Africa before coming to us? By what right did you take this unlawful and preemptive action, rather than make petition to the Ministry for permission to remove all of our citizenry from Earth and put them — here?"

"First of all," Harry pointed out. "None of you would even know you weren't on Earth if the centaurs hadn't told you."

"You're out of order!" Fudge snarled. "The Ministry was well aware of the move — we merely consulted with the centaurs to confirm our hypothesis!" Harry smirked at this obvious lie. "Do you deny breaking Wizarding law and protocol by bringing us here?"
"I doubt anyone would think it against the law to save the lives of all the wizards on Earth, including those in the Ministry," Harry retorted, and Dolores Umbridge leaned forward, her round eyes glaring malevolently at Harry.

Fudge saw her lean forward and said, "The Chair recognizes Dolores Jane Umbridge, Head Auror!"

"Thank you, Minister," Umbridge tittered in her little-girl voice. "So, Mr. Potter," she said, her tone dripping sweetness and venom, "it is your contention that your actions were done to save our lives?"

"Yes," Harry said shortly. He did not like this woman, in a way that had nothing to do with her toadish looks or her high-pitched, little-girly voice. She was, he felt, simply evil.

"What about the roughly three hundred and fifty citizens of Wizarding Great Britain who were killed during the riots that broke out after the American Senator, Thomas Riddle, announced the existence of the Wizarding world to the United Nations?" Umbridge asked, pointedly. "What about their lives?"

"Nothing could be done about them," Harry said heavily. "I was unaware of those deaths, or the deaths of Wizarding folks in Paris, Lisbon, Bonn, Johannesburg, or Bejing."

"If you couldn't protect them then," Umbridge asked, her eyes gleaming with malice, "why should we believe you can protect us now? Why should we believe you even want to?"

"You can believe that," Harry said, his voice tight with anger, "because we brought you here, instead of leaving you on Earth for the authorities to pick up and turn over to the government. You would not have survived a week there."

"And I suppose you would have," Fudge smirked, "without these so-called Star Brand powers you say you possess."

"Moreover," Umbridge went on, as if Fudge hadn't spoken, "it seems as if you have kidnapped us from our rightful place. Earth is our home, not this — this — alien world…"

"If it's really just a matter of being allowed to go back to Earth," Connell spoke up. "I don't think Harry or I would have an objection to that."

"You wouldn't? Really?" Umbridge smiled. "I don't know if we can believe this, however, since you forced everyone to come here, whether they wanted to or not! I must say, this is rather disingenuous of you, Mr. Connell."

"Would you like to return to Earth, Madam Auror?" Connell asked her. "It would be simple to arrange. Your magical powers, however, will remain here."

"…What did you say?" Umbridge looked at him, completely nonplussed.

"I can send you back to Earth," Connell repeated for her. "But your magical powers will remain here."

"Preposterous!" Umbridge sputtered. "Nothing can remove a wizard's natural ability except for the rare evolutionary throwback that produces a Squib!"

"Would you care to test that hypothesis?" Connell asked. "Surely you cannot be so dim as to believe that I can move every wizard on Earth almost 200 million miles across space, but am incapable of removing your magical powers."

"Our powers are intrinsic," Umbridge insisted, her high voice becoming quite grating. "You have no power to remove them!"

Connell shrugged. "Take out your wand and hex me, then."

Umbridge stood. "Very well! You've asked for this." She aimed her stubby wand at Connell and said, in a high-pitched squeak, "Stupefy!"

Nothing happened.

Frowning slightly, Umbridge straightened up, pointed her wand again, and repeated the spell, with the same results. "Sparcio!" she shouted, trying the Shocking Charm. Still there was no result. The other members of the Wizengamot were beginning to mutter behind her. "Shut up! Shut UP!" she screamed back at them. "I can't concentrate!"

"No," Connell said, standing up. "Your magic powers are completely gone, Madam Auror. You're not even a Squib — you have no more magical ability than the average human. Now sit down."

"What about my —"

"I said sit down," Connell said, forcefully, and Umbridge immediately complied, looking cowed. "Now, members of the august Wizengamot, I hope you will agree that our actions were undertaken with the best of intentions towards all witches and wizards, both in Britain and abroad. There are several million of you here on Terra, along with perhaps a million more non-magical people related to Muggle-borns, and their families. If anyone wishes to return to Earth, they will be allowed to leave, but if they have magical ability it will be forfeit, so that the governments of Earth have no reason to hold anyone for medical or any other type of research, nor any physical evidence that wizards actually existed.

"We have relocated all of your magical locations and buildings, such as the Hogwarts school, to Terra, and removed all enchantments from all objects left on Earth. Those of you who might wish to return would find no evidence of real magic there, nor would you be able to produce magic yourself. It is up to you whether you return, but you will live the rest of your lives there like the rest of the population — as normal humans."

Fudge looked to be in a state of shock. Amelia Bones leaned forward and said, in her booming voice, "I'm sure everyone here appreciates your and Harry's efforts, Mr. Connell. Perhaps it was just the abruptness with which they happened that appeared arbitrary to some members of the Wizengamot. I'm sure that the Minister understands your position now." She glanced over at Fudge, who stared back at her helplessly, still not knowing what to say.

"I understand," Connell nodded. "I'm glad we have come to an agreement." He glanced at Fudge. "Do you agree, Minister?"

Fudge looked completely defeated. "Er — well, er — yes — yes, I suppose so," he finally said, mumbling so softly that some of the Wizengamot in the back benches were craning their necks to hear him. "It's not as if any of us really wanted to go back to Earth, really..."

"Very good," Connell said, smiling and turning to Harry. "Shall we go, then, Harry?" Harry nodded and stood as well.

They were about to disappear when Umbridge suddenly screeched, "Wait! What about my magic?!"

Connell looked up at her, and appeared about to say something when Harry spoke over him. "Why don't we put it to a vote?"

Umbridge blanched. "A vote?!" she said loudly, outrage in her voice.

"Yeah," Harry said, looking at the other members. "Everyone in favor of Dolores Jane Umbridge having her magical powers returned to her, raise your hands."

No one in the room moved. Harry looked around; he could see shock and surprise on almost every face, though a few, like Madam Bones, he thought, also had a quirk on their lips, as if they were smirking. "Well?" he said, gesturing as if he was about to raise his own hand. "Anyone?"

When it became obvious he was serious, Umbridge's hand immediately shot into the air, and she looked around the room wildly, trying to urge others to vote as well. "Well?!" she screeched, "get your hands up! Cornelius, please! You too!" She angrily nudged the smaller Malfada Hopkirk sitting next to her, who dutifully (though slowly) raised her hand. A few other hands in the room began to go up, but as their owners saw what little support Umbridge had, they quickly lowered them.

"Let's see, now," Harry said, looking at the group with one finger raised, as if starting to count many hands, but then said, "one…two…three. Three it is, then. Those against?"

Roughly half the members in the room raised their hands immediately. Harry looked as if he was counting, but there was no need. He smiled.

"Looks like the nays have it," he said to Umbridge, with mock sympathy. "Sorry."

"But — but you can't do this to me!" Umbridge protested, her eyes practically bugging out of her face. "I — I can't be a Muggle! I can't!" But the rest of the Wizengamot, Fudge included, had stood and were exiting the courtroom, leaving her alone.

Connell looked at Harry "Don't you think we should restore her powers?" he asked, using enhanced Leglimency so she couldn't hear them.

"Maybe," Harry replied, with a mental shrug. "We can let her have a taste of being a normal human for a while, and see if it helps her understanding about them." They both disappeared.

A moment later twin flashes of light appeared in Professor Dumbledore's office, and he looked up from a book he was reading to see Harry and Connell standing before him. "Hello! How did the meeting with the Wizengamot go?" the headmaster politely inquired.

"Good," Harry said. "They came round to our point of view pretty quickly, sir."

"I am glad to hear it," Dumbledore said, standing and walking to a window looking out over the countryside west of Hogwarts Castle. "It is quite amazing, if one really thinks about it — an entire world of our own, one where magic need not be practiced in secret, but can be professed openly and for the benefit of all. I think that quite outweighs the risk of future shock Earth and Terra may undergo when we encounter each other once again, someday."

"I hope so, Professor," Connell said. "You all have quite a lot of hard work ahead of you, to make this world your own."

"Yes," Dumbledore smiled. "It's exciting, isn't it, Harry?"

Harry nodded, but said, "I've had quite of bit of excitement already, these past few months." Both Connell and Dumbledore chuckled at this.

"But you did quite well, Harry," Connell said, placing a hand on his shoulder, like a big brother. "Again, I'm glad that my initial impression of you made me give you the Star Brand, and proud of how you've handled yourself with it."

"Thanks," Harry said, and the three of them looked out over the Englishe countryside for some time. Finally, Harry turned to Connell and said, "So, now what?"

Connell grinned down at him. "You first. Will you go back to school when it starts again?"

Harry glanced at Professor Dumbledore, who was giving him a look of curious interest. "I don't think so," he said, shaking his head. "I can probably be more helpful in other ways here on Terra, with my abilities, than spending the next three years taking classes to learn what I already know now."

"Very good, Harry," Dumbledore said, quietly, laying a hand on his shoulder. Harry turned to him. "I'm glad to see you understand when you no longer need the reassurance of familiarity and routine. I'm sure many new and exciting experiences are awaiting you, out there."

"Thank you, sir," Harry said, feeling a surge of real affection for his headmaster; though he'd felt less than friendly toward him in the past, Harry realized that Dumbledore had never tried to make his life more difficult — sometimes it had just turned out that way. "I may still come back and see you every so often, sir, to see how things are going."

"I would enjoy that very much, Harry," Dumbledore said, smiling.

Harry turned back to Connell. "Okay, now what about you — are you staying with us?"

Connell looked thoughtful for a moment, but shook his head, just as Harry had moments earlier. "No, I had something else in mind," he said.

"What's that?" Harry wanted to know. "Are you going to try and find your way home?"

"I thought about that," Connell said. "And about seeing if I could find out what happened to Maddy, but it's been so long since I've seen either her or my own Earth that it no longer seems that important to me.

"One thing I can have now," he continued, "is a world much like the one I left — your former world. I'm thinking, Harry, I can go and help the people there, protect them against natural disasters and the like — all behind the scenes, of course, so they won't be too suspicious. And I can be your eyes and ears on that world, keeping a lookout for any witches or wizards that may be born there, perhaps preparing them and their families to come live here on Terra, once it's time for them to go to a wizarding school."

"That makes sense," Harry said. "I suppose witches and wizards can still be born on Earth even if the alien probe is no longer scanning it."

"Right," Connell said. He stuck out his hand, and he and Harry shook hands goodbye. "Keep in touch, Harry. Remember, I'm only a moment away, if you need me." Nodding to Dumbledore, Connell vanished in a flash of white light.

Harry nodded to Dumbledore as well, then turned to go, but the headmaster stopped him with a look. "Harry, what do you intend to do now, with your powers?" he asked, his eyes looking into Harry's searchingly.

"Really? Actually, I don't know," Harry said candidly. "I thought about making this place a paradise, the perfect place to live, and avoid the mistakes Ken made when he created his world. But…"

Harry shook his head, then looked up into Dumbledore's eyes again. "But I dunno…it — it seems all I'd be doing is fulfilling some kind of personal fantasy. I — I might create paradise for myself, but I don't know about anyone else…"

It was the greatest fear Harry had about the Star Brand power — what if he began to abuse it again, the way he had when he'd first gotten it? It had been all too easy to justify, in his own mind, the brutality he subjected Lucius Malfoy to, and Voldemort's murder, as reasonable as they had seemed at the time. He looked away from the professor, embarrassed, and the old wizard put a hand on Harry's shoulder.

"As long as you can ask yourself that question, Harry, I believe you will answer it correctly," Dumbledore told him. "Now, speaking of 'anyone else,' have you talked to either Ron Weasley or Miss Granger lately?"

"Uh —" Harry glanced away, not wanting to admit he'd sort of been avoiding both of them. He'd been very grateful to Hermione for thinking so affectionately of him in the graveyard in Godric's Hollow; he'd felt her compassion, her deep friendship for him, and it had helped him focus his thoughts back into the real world. She had brought him back from wherever he'd gone. It would seem cruel now for him to tell her that he was not really ready for a commitment with her — with anyone, for that matter — beyond being friends.

But whether through Leglimency or simply a lifetime of human experience, Dumbledore must've discerned his emotions and said, gently, "It's alright, Harry — go and talk to them. Be their friend. I think, in the end, that is what they really need from you."

Harry nodded, murmuring, "Thank you," and turned to leave, but hesitated a moment, then turned back to the headmaster.

"Sir," he said, "I wonder if you would do something for me?"

"Of course, dear boy," Dumbledore said, "If I am able — though I daresay you are far more capable than I am some things now."

"Well, that's just it," Harry said, holding out his right palm, so that the symbol there was visible to both of them. "Will you tell the Wizengamot that Ken Connell took back the Star Brand when he left, making me normal again?"

"You wish me to lie to the Wizengamot?" Dumbledore asked. Harry nodded. "I do not necessarily have a problem with that, Harry," the headmaster went on, "but I wonder what it is you wish to accomplish with this lie?"

"I suppose," Harry said, staring at the Brand, "I want things to be normal again — at least, as normal as they can be, now that all of the Wizarding world has relocated to another planet and everything has changed from the way it used to be, including Voldemort no longer being around.

"If I still have the Star Brand, every wizarding government on Terra will soon be asking me to do something or other them — the Wizengamot had an agenda to set itself up as the primary government on Terra — and I don't want to do things just for one government or another. I want to do things that will help everyone on Terra, not just a select group."

"That is indeed a wise course of action," Dumbledore agreed. "I believe I can accept that, Harry." He chuckled. "I will discuss it in our next, and perhaps final, meeting of the Order of the Phoenix; it can be arranged for that news to get back to the Ministry, and I will not have to tell the Wizengamot a direct falsehood. It will be our little secret from now on." The old wizard pointed to the Star Brand on Harry's palm. "Do you think you can contrive to hide or disguise that symbol, so no one will see it by accident?"

"I think so," Harry said, smiling, and slid his hand into the seat of his pants, where he transferred the Brand to his right buttock. "I don't think anyone's likely to see it there."

"I expect not," Dumbledore agreed. "Just don't be too cheeky about it."

Harry stared at the headmaster for a minute, then laughed and left his office, walking along corridors and staircases until he reached the Gryffindor common room, where he knew Ron and Hermione were at the moment. When he realized he did not know the current password, Harry "cheated" and made a mental suggestion to one of the first years in the common room with them, to come out into the hallway for a moment. Once there, the first year "forgot" what he'd come out for, shrugged, and gave the password to go back into the common room, just as Harry walked up to the portrait.

"Hold that door," Harry called, as the first year climbed through the hole. He stepped through, after the first year, and saw Ron and Hermione sitting together at one of the tables, Harry walked over to join them. Hermione was reading a book and sipping on a cup of tea; Ron had set up a game of wizard's chess and was studying potential moves. They looked up at his approach and both smiled nervously.

"All right there?" Ron asked, as he sat down next to him, lightly punching Harry's arm.

"No problem," Harry said, looking at both of them. Hermione had an expression on her face that would have been unreadable to Harry before he possessed the Star Brand; now, however, he knew she was wondering what he was thinking about the two of them. "How are you two doing?" he asked, knowing everything that had gone on between them during his months in the ground, when he'd read Hermione's thoughts shortly after waking up.

"Uh —" they both looked at each other, then back at Harry. "Fine," Ron said. "Everything's fine."

"Yes," Hermione agreed immediately. "Fine. Really, we're fine."

Harry nodded. He could have delved into their minds and found out the truth with the power of the Star Brand, but his friends deserved to have their secrets, just as he had his. "That's cool," he said. "I'm glad things are good."

"How did the hearing at the Ministry go?" Hermione asked. "That was scheduled for today, wasn't it?"

"Yeah," Harry nodded. "They eventually saw things Connell's and my way."

"Brilliant!" Ron cheered. "So now, you and he are going to run the planet, right?"

"Er —" Harry feigned hesitation. "Well, not exactly. I had Connell take back the Star Brand." He held up his right hand, showing them his bare palm. "I'm back to the way I was before I met him — well, minus the bit of Voldemort's soul that was stuck in here." He pointed to his lightning scar.

"Oh my goodness, Harry!" Hermione exclaimed. "You gave it up? You really gave up the Star Brand?"

"Merlin's pants, Harry!" Ron said disbelievingly. "How could you just give back something like that?!"

"I just realized," Harry said slowly, looking back and forth between them, "that I couldn't handle being that powerful, if that meant losing your friendships."

Hermione smiled, and Ron clapped Harry on the back. "Not bloody likely, mate," Ron told him firmly. "Not after everything we've been through together!"

Harry managed a small smile. "So — it's okay with you if I'm just plain Harry Potter again?"

"Hell yeah," Ron said, giving Harry a look suggesting such a question need not even be asked.

"Of course it is!" Hermione said, echoing Ron's sentiments. "Are you coming back to Hogwarts? Of course you are! It'll be wonderful having you back again!"

"I'll say!" Ron agreed. "Just think," he grinned, "now you can sit with Hermione in the stands and cheer me on at Quidditch!"

Harry laughed and looked at Hermione, who was smiling bemusedly at him. "I think I'll like that," he beamed, knowing what he meant was unclear.

Perhaps it would be better in the long run, Harry hoped, if no one on Terra knew he still had the Star Brand except for Professor Dumbledore. If there was anything this planet needed, he could provide it, but he would not do so as Harry Potter; things like that could be handled in secret, just as Kenneth Connell would be doing back on Earth. For now, he would be just another wizard in this brave new world they had been given. Together, with his friends and the rest of the (now, truly) Wizarding World, they would make this the best of all possible places to live.

Author's End Notes: I left the storyline open in case I decide to revisit Harry Potter and the Star Brand at some point in the future. It's also possible that planet Terra could be an interesting environment, since the magicals are four times as numerous as the non-magicals. I suppose I wonder if normal people on a world like this would try to get their kids married to a witch or wizard, so that their descendants would tend to be magicals.