All the Kings of Hell
"Dear god woman, do you know who that is?" Harry really hoped that the person who'd suggested he speak with the Durmstrang headmaster wasn't also a complete idiot, as well as being dead.
As Apolline let her face fall into her hands with a resigned sound, her companions turned to where the somewhat high-strung man Harry had been told was named Igor Karkaroff was pointing.
It wasn't a large meeting, being a yearly event mainly between Beauxbatons and Durmstrang to discuss attendance, voice woes about budgets, gloat about their students, and essentially gossip like the coworkers they tried to be. That in mind, Harry didn't worry on it much considering one woman was Fleur's headmistress, whom she regarded highly, and the other a man the spirit he'd spoken to insisted could help him. Beside them, their attendants stood or sat, taking notes when needed or fetching things, and then of course there was the Delacour host staff. It was cozy, but not crowded.
Harry's eyes lighted on the Durmstrang headmaster, and he wondered at the spirit's assurances. How that man could assist him he had little idea, but the dead have little else to do but spy on and harass the living, and recent conversations revolving around Dumbledore and his odd motivations had been noted.
The dead man, a former worker in the Delacour vineyards where Yulia played while he plotted, spoke of meetings where Apolline and sometimes Jean-Claude would sit and talk with other teachers. Headmasters, of other schools. A meeting where Dumbledore was never present. It had potential, Harry admitted, and so now he had a favor to do. Hopefully, it wouldn't be something too irritating.
Harry sketched a slight bow, taking Elena's hand and pulling her forward with him. "Good afternoon."
"You're Harry Potter," the sharp-faced man accused, his eyes blinking rapidly, as if to clear something that would distort his sight.
At Harry's side, Elena's hand tightened in his own, "Oh... this should prove interesting..."
Over the short time Elena had been free, the two of them had shared quite a lot, and one thing Harry had proven adept at was this. All the information Elena drew from Karkaroff, she then fed him. Such an act left her unable to do much, stationary and focused, but Harry suffered little. He wondered if perhaps the events in Obninsk had opened up the channel of his mind, allowing for such things to be less traumatic, but in truth he couldn't say for sure. There certainly were no books about those that spoke with the dead as he did, or explained Elena's unique talents. Taking what she offered, Harry grinned slightly at Karkaroff's observation. "I am. Who may you be?"
That stilted introduction lead to a conversation that even Apolline had to raise a brow at, once some polite chatter and discussion of schools had passed. She did not miss Elena's presence, and wondered precisely what kind of monster she'd let loose against her colleagues.
"We are at least, tidy monsters," the girl pointed out to her, to which the Delacour matriarch answered with a mental swat of a hand and sigh.
"You shamelessly abuse this, you know," Apolline thought in that odd way she knew that Elena would pick up on, pointing her attention and focusing slightly. It made one forget sometimes that not everyone could answer in such a way, being around the child so often.
More than once, she found herself in an odd silent group conversation over breakfast, as Elena simply pooled everyone's threads of thought together. It was certainly a unique experience. Elena's only reply was a quiet, "It is who and what I am." Apolline knew better than to question that.
"I take it you'll be attending Hogwarts, Mr. Potter?" Olympe Maxine queried during a break in the two headmaster's conversation regarding their yearly budgets. It was a common topic of irritation, and any distraction was welcome. Studying the young boy before her for a moment, Maxine wondered how it came to be that Harry Potter ended up in not only France, but the home of some of her closest acquaintances as well. That thought in mind, she followed her previous question quickly with another, "Though I do wonder how it is you know my associate Madame Delacour and her charges."
He didn't have to fake the smile that preceded his reply, "To your last question, Madame Delacour helped me when I needed it, and only asked I spend some time with her daughters in repayment. I trust her, and besides that, we get along well with her, Gabrielle, and Fleur." There was no need to mention Yulia to these people, so he didn't. Luckily, no one had asked much of Elena he couldn't deflect, as the slight girl pretended to doze on the couch nearby. Apolline straitened slightly at his words, a smile gracing her lips. He meant all that he said about her, so didn't mind being flattering. After all, she had been terribly helpful, for no more reason than she felt it was the right thing to do
"As for attending Hogwarts... frankly? I'd rather not." Apolline's smile tightened, and she shot Harry a warning look, as if to ask if he had planned this little interruption. Not wanting to show his hand yet, he only smiled slightly more.
"Really?" Igor asked, looking interested again in their conversation as opposed to his wine. "Why is that?"
"He is the most likely to be sympathetic to you, of the two," Elena sent the young wizard, affirming his own suspicions. Perhaps he would do a second favor for that spirit if things played out well enough.
Harry regarded the man levelly, before answering, "He's paying way too much attention to me. Too much for my tastes, considering he was the one who separated me from my heritage by placing me with hateful muggles, rather than a wizarding family after my parent's death."
Maxine leaned forward, including herself in their conversation again, "But you are le Survivant. You are a fixture in British wizarding homes. You think that does not deserve some attention?"
"Why now, then?" Harry asked. This was a question he truly did want answered, but didn't think these people could. Regardless, it suited him well enough to prove he had questions. "Why only look for me when I'm not where he put me, and leave me alone for so long? Why keep magic and all my heritage from me?" Standing, Harry cursed and paced for a moment, after moving Elena's 'sleeping' form to rest against the couch's wide back. "Do you know I thought my parents died in a car crash? Drunks? I knew nothing!"
Shock played over the faces of the headmasters, while Apolline nodded nearby. Cunning boy... if she didn't back him up here, the two headmasters would wonder what it was she was hiding, after Harry threw the word trust about so easily. Still, it was nicely played, and she had no reason not to do her part. "It is true. When I met him earlier in this year, he had no idea he was a wizard, even. That there were schools, or his own history. Can you imagine? What was Dumbledore thinking?"
"Boy, you mean to say that you've never been approached by solicitors for your family?"
"Would they approach muggles?" Harry questioned, getting a negative in reply. "That'd be why, I imagine."
Karkaroff leaned back, taking a long draw from his wine glass, humming thoughtfully. "If you are registered as I expect with the Hogwarts Ledger, then as an orphan of a known family with no named magical guardians, Dumbledore would be responsible for your magical welfare." Sitting down his glass perhaps a bit too roughly, the man grunted. "That means informing you of your rights, easing you into wizarding society, and acting as go-between for such things, or assigning someone to do so." Shaking his head, the stern looking man considered his wine thoughtfully. "Outrageous. Keeping such things from a young boy."
"Perhaps he has his reasons," Maxine made to interrupt, but Igor barked a derisive laugh.
"Reasons? Of course he does. That old goat always has an agenda. He is an agenda, as much as he seems to have given over to his political endeavors." Expression sour, Karkaroff shook his head. "Even you, Maxine, have to admit this smells of plot."
Sighing, the large woman nodded. "Yes. Something isn't right. I would never do something like that to one of my students, much less place them purposefully with a family that hates magic, as Mr. Potter describes. For a muggleborn, it isn't such an issue – no history to impart – but to one with an established family? To willfully deny him his history is unthinkable."
"It's amazing how much work you save yourself, letting them convince themselves, isn't it, Harry?"
The Boy-Who-Lived regarded his 'sleeping' companion with a slight smile. "You are far too good at this," he sent the pale girl.
He could feel the contentment at his complement rolling off Elena, before she replied, "It is what I can do to help. I am happy to."
To the room at large, Harry was not nearly as amused, or seemingly pleased, "So, you think you know why Dumbledore would be sticking his nose into things, so long after the war? Perhaps he simply wants me to attend Hogwarts very badly, so he limited me...?"
Karkaroff went very quiet for a moment, before shaking his head. "No. The old idealist, unless he's gone senile, has an agenda. He always has an agenda," the headmaster pointed out again with some rancor. "I used to be like him, till I got the unique opportunity to see the error in my ways, and how they endangered my rather fond hobby of breathing."
Harry tilted his head, confused, until by Elena's silent prompting he understood. "Ah, I see."
Then, much to Apolline's horror, conversation turned decidedly sour, for polite company.
"You are a former Death Eater?"
Everything went very quiet then, as Igor stared daggers at the small boy, and his knowing smile. "Yes. What of it?"
"Was that what endangered your hobby?"
The corner of Igor's mouth quirked slightly, before the man boomed out a laugh. "More than you know, boy. More than you know. Now, I'm no fool – what brings you to interrupt a meeting I'm sure Madame Delacour has warned you off barging into. No more games, or prying. We speak clearly."
Nodding, Harry did just that. "Dumbledore has me on his records, as you've said, I can only assume. That means I'm slated to attend Hogwarts. I don't want to. I don't trust him."
"Dear boy, why not?" Harry looked to the impressively large woman, not in girth but just overall, who sat beside Apolline across from the hatchet-faced visage of Karkaroff. "He is a legend, a hero. Why would you distrust such a man? I understand your worries, but this is Albus Dumbledore."
"You were right," he offered Elena silently, who mimicked waking with a catlike stretch and yawn. "She wouldn't have been a good choice." Leaning back, Harry peaked his fingers, as Elena's hand strayed to his shoulder, a comforting coolness. Thinking honestly about Dumbledore, on a personal level he could care less about the man, other than for one shining, damning memory. It was that man that set him aside, on a doorstep in the cold of late fall, trusting in people he'd never met or known to care for him. For that one act and all that resulted from it, he would never forgive the man named Dumbledore. He was lilkrThose thoughts well in mind, Harry replied to Maxine's question, "Yet despite that, he is the one who is directly responsible for me being ignorant, abused, and lost to my own world."
The two headmasters shared a look, while Apolline's gaze was intense. "Harry," the woman prompted, "I hope you know what you're doing."
Shrugging, the young wizard had to agree. "Me too. After all, I'm trying to talk someone who worked for the madman who killed my parents into letting me attend his school."
After that statement, the only remaining arguments revolved around why he'd choose Durmstrang over Beauxbatons. "As much as I like being around Fleur," Harry noted, shooting Apolline an apologetic glance, "I get the feeling, Madame Maxine that Paris may be too accessible to Dumbledore. He'd find a way to bring me back," it was only a half truth, but it would do. Elena warned him off Beauxbatons primarily because he would be too close to the Delacours and the large woman's loyalties seemed to point Dumbledore's way more than was comfortable. Not that he had a problem with Apolline's family, but if they were going to draw lines in the sand, best to do so away from home ground, which all three children had began thinking the Delacour residence as.
Nodding and making a considering sound, Maxine frowned. "Perhaps. And we are closer to the southern coast, in truth, but that means little." Indicating her peer, she continued, "Igor, however, keeps his school bound in oaths and ice. If you attend Durmstrang, you will be well hidden, if that is your wish."
Nodding distractedly, Harry agreed. In truth, he was almost as worried about what Elena was telling him about Igor as he was of what Dumbledore's actions – or in his case, inaction – had indicated. Igor was a shrewd man, she assured him, and this opportunity to bring Durmstrang up from the ashes of ignominy after the stigma of being Grindelwald's previous school piqued his interest greatly. He would have to be very careful of the man's plots.
What surprised him, however, was the lack of any desire for retribution from Karkaroff, something Elena had immediately probed for after finding in his mind that he was a Death Eater and what it meant. That had cemented his decision, though he would enjoy schooling with Fleur. She was a good friend, once he got to know her, and the fact he and his didn't care about her heritage went a long way toward cementing them in her life.
Back to Karkaroff, Igor had decided some time before the fall of Voldemort to turn his back on that man and his ways. Shadows of the agenda the former Dark Lord pressed still lingered in Karkaroff's mind – Durmstrang didn't offer schooling to muggleborns – but that was his prerogative and a minor issue, really. It wasn't the man's beliefs that horrified Karkaroff however, so much as his methods. Igor was no killer of innocents, and the slaying of children was an abhorrent idea. It explained, as Elena told him, why he turned traitor against those he did.
Harry absorbed it all, as he looked over the room from peaked fingers. Durmstrang was far from perfect, and neither was Beauxbatons, but something in him reached north... Pushing his thoughts on Karkaroff's views to the back of his mind, Harry made his decision. Who was he, to call another on their beliefs?
He'd helped kill an entire research facility full of people, after all. More than anyone else in the room perhaps, Harry understood beliefs, and where they would take someone.
It had not been a good two years, Dumbledore noted with some resignation. A very significant portion of his ill mood was due to a trio of letters, one in a surprisingly neat hand, the other in sharp, terse, mocking tones he'd just as soon relegate to his fireplace. They of course only paraphrased what could be said to be a terrible chain of circumstances, beginning with his own bad judgment in late '81. The last letter he eyed with something akin to frank hate, knowing what it would contain if he were honest with himself.
Picking up the first again, he reread it, hoping that perhaps there was something he missed, but knowing it to be otherwise.
"To whom it may concern,
"It pleases me that my previously unknown status as wizard had not escaped your notice, yet due to current circumstances which I find more accommodating, I must refuse your offer for enrollment. To preempt your argument, no, I do not wish to discuss, or alter my situation. You may direct all further inquiries in this vein to my current headmaster and magical guardian – who has proven more than capable.
"Good day, Harry James Potter."
Sighing over the letter again, Dumbledore had to admit, this was nowhere in his potential plans, and frankly, it worried him greatly. The young wizards penmanship was neat and precise, not at all what he'd come to expect with the few samples Arabella Figg had provided with the odd procured piece of schoolwork.
Such things told him that the mind behind those words was sharp, and not unaware. Yet, it was obviously Harry's – the hand wasn't too far from previous examples. It was the biting tone that made him wince, and the implication that his own duplicity in things had been seen through, to a degree.
Wearily, Albus took up the second letter, lips drawing into a fine white line.
"No doubt you've received my young charge's letter by now. Rest assured, he is in good hands. In fact, you could say he has the support of not just myself and Durmstrang, but France as well if he desired. You may take that however you like.
"On a less pleasant note, keep your ink-stained hands and ICW seal away from the boy, if you value what esteem your peers hold for you. The legality of his attendance, guardianship, and amazingly enough, properly appointed family are ironclad. You dropped the ball, old friend, and this one may prove rather volatile. Would you believe the boy approached me? Irony truly is the spice of life. Enough of this, however.
"To business, then. Durmstrang is opening its doors to the continent more freely, thanks to some much-needed improvements. I dare-say you may be feeling some more growing room of your own, this and upcoming years. The halls have never been more hallowed, I feel.
"I also feel it has been too long since we've had a proper tournament, between our esteemed schools. It's been almost two-hundred years since the Triwizard has fallen out of favor. Perhaps it is time we reinstate such a noble enterprise? I have spoken with Maxine, and she is eager to see the flowers of her own labor shine. Perhaps in a few years, we can all judge the fruits of our labors.
"I'm sure you can read between the lines, old friend.
"Your colleague, K."
With a roar, Dumbledore spun and swept his hand out, a wave of magical force ripping the air around him into fierce eddies. Books, now-useless instruments, parchment and portraits alike suffered his wrath, after reading his so-called peer's letter. "Pretentious, sanctimonious, amateurish upstart!"
His outburst cooling his wayward temper, Dumbledore stared down at the letter on his desk in open contempt. "Not satisfied with the Boy-Who-Lived, eh Death Eater? Had to bring up that," cursing, the old man sat back down in his chair with a muttered growl.
James Potter's cloak had been one of a few heirlooms that he'd been ordered to relinquish last year, after an inquiry lead to the Potter will being opened and executed. Up till now, he'd been able to delay such an event, claiming his right as Potter's magical guardian.
Now, however, that last feeble handhold on the Hallow was lost. And Igor knew it, and knew it well by all accounts of his letter. "Damn that soulless..."
Snarling out invectives, Dumbledore threw the letter aside. Worse, it seemed that his poor judgments had been aired, in a preemptive defense of Mr. Potter. Never mind that now his withholding of an heirloom would be made public record, and his reasons, but with this final straw of Potter attending Durmstrang of all places, he had to admit, there was nothing left to grasp. Even Salem would have been preferable.
All his troubles could be traced back to the Dursleys, as ironic as it seemed.
Harry had left, and not been reported missing by his muggle relatives. Though he could hide much, Albus was unable by the Ministry and the Statutes, not to mention his own position in the ICW to blatantly change muggle records to mask such blatant negligence. The same blood relatives he'd relied on to protect the boy had barely tolerated his existence, and that horrid environment had been exposed as a massive travesty against the spirit of the Boy-Who-Lived, when news of his status as missing was leaked. Or, more likely, subtly declared.
Shortly after that situation came to light, an order to open the Potter will was issued, and with all his arguments for the Dursleys neatly negated, Dumbledore could do nothing but allow it. His own seal on the will was again damning, after the previous muggle issue so recently uncovered. That seal only existed to prevent the Ministry from interfering, possibly causing the boy's death if things had gone badly and his presence absent to safeguard him. What would have become of Harry if Malfoy had been able to execute the document, with his particular brand of doctoring? Now, that safeguard was little more than another nail in an already heavy coffin.
Guardianship of the boy had been a touchy issue. Luckily no one had inquired too deeply into Black, which Dumbledore had done, fearing such an event after the will was opened. To his shame, the man hadn't received a trial, and for all his impassioned speeches on true justice and forgiveness, that single oversight weighed on him. He could do nothing, however, without looking as if he were still scrambling for some handhold on the Boy-Who-Lived. Justice for Black would have to wait.
The will itself was a known issue, and one he hoped to avoid. Due to its requested opening by a foreign Ministry, he'd managed to name himself representative of Britain's own to attend. Perhaps, in hindsight, that was a mistake. True, he'd also hoped the Dursleys to be better than animals to the child, but this... provisions for Sirius had been made, but stricken due to his status and history. No other listed families were acceptable for various reasons, and the final clause had been put into effect.
Dumbledore could still feel the creeping chill that the pale girl, Harry's muggle companion, had caused in him. Something about that child had not been right, and though he was tempted, Albus knew better than to wantonly use his Legillimency in such a situation. More mistakes he could not afford, and frankly, he feared some madness in the child. Seeing such a mind would only cause his own to suffer needlessly. Still, the girl's presence was a shadow compared to Harry's own calculating gaze. Something in the headmaster screamed that he knew what was going on, on a deeper level than the superficial. Beyond that, the surprise upset of the final clause had been quite the coup.
The clause called for the Ministry in which the will had been read – clever Lily, damn her eyes – to appoint a solicitor, to evaluate Harry's own choice for guardianship. Obviously some thought had been put into this, as such a family was ready and waiting to be assessed, with such a sparkling history that one could have expected saints.
It brought to mind many questions and thanks to his own limitations as a British Ministry official, and technically counter to the will's execution thanks to his own seal, he could not question such an arrangement. How did Harry come to know the Delacroix family? A cadet branch of the Delacours, the implication from Karkaroff's letter was clear. Harry had made allies in not only Karkaroff, but with Madame Maxine and the Delacours, apparently. Dumbledore could not even call to fault the somewhat-scandal of Jean-Claude Delacour taking a part-Veela for his wife, as the Delacroix branch had no such stigma. Not that he would personally consider it such, but angles must be considered, in politics.
Due to his orphan status, Dumbledore had held one final ace, which now was lost to him. As the appointed headmaster for the boy's future school, it was his responsibility to see to his magical education and adjustment to their world. More wizarding children than Potter had been given to muggle families, in the stretch of history, so it was an established precedent. Now, sadly, that last hold proved empty.
What tore at Dumbledore more than anything however, wasn't that his assurances were stripped away, so much that the boy had no trust in him. What had he done, to turn Potter so fully from him? There was no maliciousness to Dumbledore's work, he only meant to protect the child from those that would harm him, truly. That the boy was also heir to one of the Hallows was interesting – he had never lost his love of story and myth – but not critical.
Oh, he had his fears that Voldemort would return... it was why he had secured certain favors from a previous friend and coworker in the realm of Alchemy. What would come of that now, without the assurance of Harry Potter there, the one stated in prophecy to counter Voldemort? Could another be the lynchpin in his trap? It was a disturbing thing to think that his plot could turn on him as easily as his good intentions had.
He had lost Harry Potter. Perhaps it would be best to focus on his position as headmaster, rather than his plans for a time. Sighing, Dumbledore sat aside the bauble he'd been toying with on his desk. It was the now-useless ward monitor for Privet Drive. Of course, with Harry abandoning the Dursleys the thing had failed, so now it was little better than a strange glass bulb with a silent silver mechanism inside. He knew better than to look at the location detector, as well. That had failed when the will was opened.
He couldn't just... let go, however. He knew Voldemort was still a threat, and as the only witness to the full prophecy, it fell to him to prepare the boy for when the Dark Lord returned, as he feared.
The bulb fell and shattered on the stone floor of the headmaster's office. What would a Harry Potter, taught in a place like Durmstrang, do to the wizarding world once he found an enemy? There had been enough war, in the last century. Wizarding kind could hardly spare the blood to be spilled for another.
Knowing his mood could hardly get worse, Dumbledore picked up the last letter, bearing the official seal of his own position within the ICW.
"From the Most August and High Seat, Supreme Mugwump of The International Confederation of Wizards, to one Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.
"There are few words that can explain the displeasure and dishonor it requires for the Confederation to meet, for such a task as has been set before me. As the new acting and henceforth, Supreme Mugwump, I am sorrowfully appointed to inform you of the decision to strip from you said title, for infractions and behavior unbecoming the office.
"It does grant me some happiness to inform you that the Confederation sees in you too much potential to set by the wayside, however. Though we cannot in good faith allow you to hold the High Seat, we would be honored if you would consider taking a place alongside the Peers, as representative for Britain succeeding Tiberius Ogden.
"We expect a reply within the month, on whether you wish to honor the Confederation with your presence.
"The High Seat, Alexi Nathan Koenig."
Dumbledore never realized precisely how gratifying it was to burn official stationary, till that afternoon.
By the Black Lake on the grounds of Hogwarts, something not quite a ghost, and not quite alive writhed in indecision, churning the thoughts of a hapless man it rode like a storm frothed the sea.
Life or vengeance? Decisions that needed more than a moment's thought... for now, it would seek the easiest goal.
He longed to spill Potter's blood with his own two hands, not those he currently wore like ill-fitting gloves. One more year would mean little, if by its end, he could be whole and rid of this pale charade. He had already spent a year watching and waiting, after converting the weak-minded fool he now possessed to his cause, but now... now he needed to directly take a hand. No longer would he direct from afar, not with the Stone so close.
"We remain at Hogwarts, servant," the cold, thin voice commanded. "My grace allows Potter some few days to enjoy what remains of his life."
Quirrell shuddered, nodding in acquiescence.
As always, dead eyes watched. For they had no other way to pass the time, than to spy upon and harass the living...
AN: And now we return to the fun stuff. Well, next chapter, anyway. For Quirrell timeline, google "Melissa Erin Friedline"