There had been a house there, once. A very large house.
Sitting on quite a few acres of property, the house had been the picture of opulence. Proof of that excess lay scattered across several of those acres, with the furthest evidence being a golden faucet nozzle embedded in a tree half a mile away from the house.
The cracked and scorched marble archway showed a glimpse of the home's former elegance, as did the shimmering ivory sink that lay in several pieces across the small pile of plaster, gold and mirrored glass that had once been the master bathroom. Even the remains of the grand house would likely be worth a great deal more than many of the fully intact houses in the neighboring province.
A high-pitched whistling sound echoed off of the few walls that remained standing and was carried away by the wind. The sound of rapid pops invaded the air, burying the whistle beneath the loud sound of multiple apparations.
Lucius Malfoy's eyes scanned what had once been his home. Bodies lay strewn haphazardly, covered in burning silk sheets, splintered yew cabinets and shattered stained glass. Blood had covered the cream-colored walls of his study, stained pages of books that were decades older than Lucius himself, and beaded off of the torn leather chair that had sat in Lucius' grandfather's study for many a year.
A stabbing pain lanced through Lucius' chest that caused his body to shake. It had been just over a year since his son's death, a bit under a year since his wife's mental collapse, and he found himself staring at the remains of his childhood home. The sickness rose as he observed the bodies that covered the bed that he had once shared with his wife. Antonin Dolohov was little more than burnt flesh all over the satiny white sheets. He seemed to be missing at least one limb, and his skin was so burned that it cracked and bled.
Every so often, Fenrir Greyback would twitch as the silver spike that impaled him continued to burn him alive. It had once been a beautiful whitewood headboard, once that Lucius remembered Narcissa fawning over for weeks. Pain pierced his chest with increasing frequency as Lucius continue to look around, seeing several more bodies that he recognized strewn across the grounds. McNair crushed under the chandelier in the entryway. Avery's head at an unnatural angle at the bottom of the stairs. Bellatrix dead in the bathroom, her eyes unblinking and alight with the insanity she was famous for.
And in what remained of the kitchen, levitating the brushed nickel teapot off of the fire, sat Albus Dumbledore.
Lucius' eyes darted to the much taller man who stood beside him, unsure of what to do. The man ignored Lucius' imploring, confused gaze, and kept his eyes on the wizened old man sitting at a table in what could only be called a debris-covered warzone. "Hello Tom. Tea?"
Narrowing his red eyes, the man once known as Tom Riddle scanned everything in his line of sight for a long moment before speaking. "What are you doing, Albus?"
Dumbledore was, in a word, a wreck. A long cut bisected his left eyebrow and the skin beneath his eye. Blood seeped down his face and into his beard, coloring half of the mass of his white hair a deep red. His blood dripped onto the table, as his beard was clipped about chest-level in a diagonal slice, which coincided with a long red line visible across the man's deep blue robes. The left lens was missing from his glasses, and the empty section of the frame sat bent and crooked on the older man's clearly broken nose. Voldemort watched the man through narrowed eyes. Something wasn't sitting right. Even as he sat there, coughing blood into a handkerchief between sips of tea, Albus Dumbledore had a bemused smirk on his face.
"What am I doing? Well, my boy, I am simply having a nice cup of tea. Would you care to join me?"
Voldemort regarded the man who was once his Transfiguration professor with wary eyes for a beat, before he straightened his back and stalking forward toward the man. With his long stride, he covered the distance between them in just a few paces, his grip on his wand tightening with each step. When he was just a few feet away from the wounded man, he raised his wand and slashed downward.
A high-backed black and silver chair that could only realistically be referred to as a throne appeared and rocked once before settling across the table from Dumbledore. Voldemort moved to the side and took a seat, slapping his wand down onto the scorched table. A black porcelain cup and saucer rattled onto the table from seemingly nowhere, and stopped its erratic dance in front of the pale, bald man. "I believe that I shall, Albus. One sugar. Please."
Silence reigned as the two men tended to their tea, preparing it slowly, their hands never straying more than a short distance from their wands. Voldemort looked down into his cup, as the water began to swirl with deep grey, whirlpooling at the center to eat away at the small square cube of sugar that sat at the precise center of the cup. A rattling sound drew his attention, and he looked up to see Dumbledore's hand spasming as the man attempting to lift his cup from the saucer, the liquid spilling down the sides and onto the destroyed table.
Voldemort looked at the man before him. The man who had taught him decades before. The man who had opposed him years later. The man who had seemed to be larger than life, even larger than magic itself, once upon a time. Reduced to magically levitating his cup of tea to be able to drink it.
Despite his broken down appearance, Voldemort made no foolish assumptions that he was staring at a pitiful creature. He was aware of that the moment he had apparated in. The smell of burnt flesh still hung in the air, just beneath the scent of the tea and the metallic taste of blood.
"You're dying, Albus."
"That I am, Tom."
The silence returned as the two men continued to sip from their cups. In the silence that resulted, Voldemort found himself musing that the last time he had had a cup of tea had been on his final day of Hogwarts, while sitting across from the very man in front of him. He had been invited to have a cup of tea with his professor, and discuss his plans for after Hogwarts. Several decades and a new body later, there they sat again, a table between them and the same lemon-tinged tea in each of their cups.
The silence continued for some time, until it was interrupted by Dumbledore levitating his cup up and into the cracked and tilted brass sink that was collapsing into the marble countertop that had once cradled it. Realizing that the time for tea had ended, Voldemort banished his empty cup with an offhanded motion and looked to the man sitting in front of him expectantly.
"So, you wished for me to take you out of your misery? I am honored, Albus, and I would be more than happy to end your life."
Dumbledore stood shakily and used the table to assist him in standing up straight. "That has always been one of the biggest differences between the two of us, Tom. While you fear death, I welcome it." Dumbledore looked down at the man who was once his student, and smiled weakly.
The waning sunlight glanced off of metal, and Voldemort dove to the side as the transfigured table they had been sitting at slammed into the crumbling wall behind him. Barbed spikes tore out chunks from the wall as the heavy table pulled itself free under its own weight.
Blasting the chair he had been sitting in as the armrests attempted to ensnare him, Voldemort fired a wide arrow of sickly grey light toward Dumbledore. It got within three feet before it was transfigured into a flock of birds that flew harmlessly passed the older man. Launching a barrage of magic toward the old man, Voldemort yanked his wand down and collapsed a small overhang of ceiling down.
Strafing to the side, Dumbledore's right knee gave out during one of his steps. Coughing and spraying the floor with blood, he raised his wand and waved it above his head, just in time to shield from a hail of small steel blades raining diagonally at him. The blades imbedded into the silver shield, before melting into the mass of metal that flowed down to block the next group of spells. With a twist of his wand, Dumbledore sent the malleable metal whipping around him in a maelstrom of glinting silver.
Voldemort fired several spheres of light green magic toward the twisting shield, just to watch them be deflected off into the distance, creating craters in the grounds and decimating several trees behind the property. Shifting his focus, Voldemort took to forming several pieces of rubble into shields and muttering fortification chants on them. He finished not a moment too soon, as the metal shield surrounding Dumbledore suddenly fired toward him. The red-eyed man called one of his barricades to protect him, the wave of molten metal slamming into it. The fortified countertop held for but a moment before the liquefied silvery steel swept around it on all sides and moved in to attack.
Swinging his wand wildly, Voldemort's barricade followed his hand movement, folding backwards on itself to roll with the impact. Silver spikes shot around the countertop and imbedded themselves in the walls, creating a sharp cage around the man. Turning to the side and severing many of the spikes on the side, Voldemort had to slash his wand suddenly to sever the silver spikes that had blasted through the barricade. He was able to deflect most of the attack, but was unable to avoid one spike in particular that imbedded itself into his offhand.
Banishing the severed silver spikes toward his opponent, he narrowed his eyes at the spike that protruded through his hand, raising his wand to banish it from his hand. Before he could so much as begin, the bloodstained spike flattened into a silver coating over his hand, and twisted.
Seething, Voldemort launched a score of grey, blunt-nosed lances of magic toward Dumbledore. As the magic crackled and gave off the smell of burning ozone, a morbid shock filled the Dark Lord as he regarded his pale hand lying on the cracked floor. Surrounded by a pool of deep, nearly black blood intermingling with shimmering silver, the most glaring visual was the clear appearance of the tile through the large hole in the middle of the palm.
Rage shook the man as he pressed toward Dumbledore, firing spiraling purple and brown bolts of magic that made the walls explode as they were deflected away. Fire leapt across the walls from a redirected stark white spell, the flames crawling across the crumbling wall toward Dumbledore as if alive, leaving a scorched path in its wake. As Dumbledore magically blasting the section of the wall into the distance, Voldemort launched several black spears of magic before slicing downward with his wand, sending a fissure through the expensive, blood-stained tile that covered the floor. The sound of cracking ceramic was buried under the roar of the earth rushing up toward Dumbledore.
Diving to the side, Dumbledore barely got a weak magical shield up in time to block the piercing black blasts of magic that were corkscrewing toward his downed body. Several of the lances slammed into one point on the shield and seemed to pry it open like thin black hands, providing an opening for a spiraling grey and orange corkscrew of a spell to shoot through. A piercing pain shot through Dumbledore's already bloody chest and out from his back, denting the wall behind him. Blood poured from Albus' mouth as he swung his wand in a wide arc in front of him, drawing the very earth from beneath the house up into a towering wall of earth, tile, clay and cement.
Voldemort's spells impacted the wall of earth until chunks of ground and chipped ceramic came hurtling through it toward Albus. With a wave of his wand, the earth and tile were transfigured into small strips and blocks of metal, which were fired back at the wall and magically adhered there. Dumbledore continued attempting to reinforce his barricade until it was almost entirely made of metal.
Dumbledore stood shakily and began to magically turn the patchwork metal wall into a dome around him, pulling material from all over the kitchen, transfiguring it in mid-flight and sealing it to the growing barrier. Suddenly, the temperature around him dropped sharply and the metal of his barricade turned a faint light blue color from frost. The temperature immediately spiked in the other direction, heat rushing over Albus as a web of huge, gaping cracks shot out across his large metallic fortification.
Immediately slashing his wand downward and creating a steel shield that folded out in front of him like an opening fan, Dumbledore dropped down to hide behind it just in time for the behemoth of metal that he had been constructing to explode with the dull thump of a powerful burst of magic slamming into the cracked shield and utterly obliterating it.
Shrapnel whizzed by the shield that Dumbledore had creating, but from behind it he waved his wand in an intricate pattern. Lead pipes leapt through the decimated floor and liquidly become twisting grey snakes that strike at Voldemort. As he slashed and struck with his wand, battling the strikes of the lead serpents, Dumbledore's wand continued to weave as he yanked the brass sink from the marble incasing and summoned it with all the strength he could. Voldemort wasn't aware of the heavy structure until just before it slammed into him. He was able to avoid the crushing impact that would have likely destroyed his spine if it didn't cut him completely in half, but he felt a crushing pain in the side of his body as the impact slammed into his side.
From behind the shield, Albus Dumbledore's body was racked by hard, deep coughs that painted the inside of the shield in front of him with blood. Making a lazy motion with his wand, he magically ordered the lead snakes to attack the downed man, before he fell to his knees and continued to cough harshly.
Voldemort battled the lead snakes off of him and destroyed them with a burst of orange energy from his wand. The tall, thin man known as the Dark Lord dragged himself to a standing position. Cuts and scrapes littering his arms and face, the largest being one that ran across his pale forehead and was dripping blood into his right eye.
Staggering to his feet, Dumbledore dispelled his fan shield and looked to Voldemort, who was glaring back at the older man. The red-eyed man fired a spell that reduced the brass sink into a puddle of reddish metal that seeped into one of the huge holes in the ground before he wiped at his face, smearing the blood across one side of it and clearing his eye from the constant drip. Narrowing his eyes at Albus, he all but growled out, "I will kill you, Albus."
Reaching down and collecting his deep blue, star-studded wizard's hat which had tumbled from his head in his fall, Dumbledore dusted it off and replaced it on his head. Adjusting the cracked glasses that sat atop his broken nose, Dumbledore met Voldemort's angry gaze defiantly. "You may try, Tom."
Harry stared at the small man across the room. Filius stood on one of the classroom desks at the front of the room, a wicked smile on his face. "Professor-"
"…Filius," the smaller man nodded in recognition, "I don't understand what I'm supposed to be learning here." Harry brushed his shirt off and spared a momentary glance to his wand. "You're not telling me anything, just having me attack you."
"Harry, what do teaching and instructing correlate to, respectively?" Filius asked.
Harry answered from habit, "When you are taught, you learn. When you are instructed, you memorize."
Filius nodded. "And in cases of battle magic, would you rather memorize, or learn?"
Harry sighed and brushed his hair out of his face, wiping at the sweat on his forehead as he did so. "I understand that. But I don't feel much like I'm learning right now, sir. I feel like I'm throwing the magic I know at you just to watch you shield it and continue to smile at me."
"Failure is one of the best teachers available, Harry." Filius lifted his wand and pointed it before him like he was brandishing a sword, and he smiled widely at the boy across the room from him. "Now, begin again. One more round, and then we will have something to eat while we discuss more Conjuration Theory." The small man laughed to himself as Harry groaned.
As he took to shielding Harry's spells, Filius smiled to himself. He was truly enjoying himself, and as much as he knew that Harry hated the idea of theoretical discussions, the boy was actually quite good at it. At least, good at what passed for Theory with Filius.
Shielding one of Harry's stunners, Filius' eyebrows raised as he had to hop from one side of the desk to the other as he watched his shield be burst through by a small, grayish-white spell that took him a moment to recognize. Slashing his wand to send Harry's next spell off into the distance, Filius held up his offhand, palm-forward, as a sign to Harry to stop casting. Hopping down from the desk, he weaved his wand as he walked away from Harry, hearing the boy trot forward to fall in stride.
With a shake of his wand, every bit of furniture in the Defense Classroom hopped up a few inches off of the ground as one. And when the sound of heavy wood hitting the stone floor sounded, the desks and chairs were gone, replaced with a pair of comfortable couches facing each other, a small coffee table between them.
Taking a seat on one side, Filius looked at his student and smiled. "That was an interesting choice of spell, Harry."
The boy blushed and looked away. "Sorry, sir."
"Oh, don't be sorry. You have nothing to apologize for. Nothing at all." Filius nodded in thanks as a house elf popped in and placed a tray of sandwiches and a pair of goblets filled with pumpkin juice on the table before popping out. "I would like to know your reasoning, however."
Harry leaned forward and took a sandwich from the pile and began to eat it. He was ravenous after the hours he spent in the exercise Filius had tasked him with for the day, and it showed as he devoured the sandwich with haste. "It's just that…" he trailed off and looked down for a moment, before sighing. "Household repair charms aren't blocked by shields."
A huge smile spread across Filius' face as he looked at his student. "Indeed they aren't." They sat in comfortable silence for a while as Filius considered what Harry had come up with. Filius hadn't ever even considered the possibility of using household charms to bypass a shield and knock an opponent off-balance. He knew that he had made the right decision when he began to teach Harry.
It had been the perfect opportunity for them both. Filius was riding the high of the first week of his new position, and the control over what he taught that it afforded him, which Harry seemed to be slipping further and further away from everyone else in his year. He had problems with his friend, Hermione Granger, and the girl had made it very clear that she was far from happy with him. Filius had had to bear witness to one of their fights, and had ended up taking quite a few points from Gryffindor afterwards.
He had also given Hermione Granger her first detention since her first year at the school.
"Question if I may, Harry?" The boy in question looked up to his teacher and nodded quickly in acknowledgement. "How did you come to this realization."
Harry smiled wickedly at the question. "Dobby," he replied enigmatically, and returned to eating. Filius laughed goodheartedly at Harry's silence. After Harry finished his sandwich, he straightened up and spoke again. "He's been helping me practice with my casting and my aim. Recently, I've been working on shielding as well, so he'll cast small little spells at me and I'll shield them. He can't do much, but he's the best practice I can get lately. At one point, I ended up knocking over my lunch goblet. Dobby magically repaired it, right through the shield I had set up to defend against him."
"From there, it was just trying to find a use for the information. You standing up on the desks was the best time I could think of, because your footing wasn't as stable as it would be if you were standing on the ground." Harry said, gaining confidence in his explanation. "If you had been standing on the ground, you could have just stepped to the side. But if I could push you off balance, even if just for a moment, then I could hopefully follow up."
Filius smiled brightly at his student. Wiping off his mouth, the small man banished the empty plate of sandwiches and goblets before addressing his student. "Harry," Flitwick smiled brightly as he looked to the boy, "I think you may be my favorite student."
There is a certain kind of presence to magic when there is enough of it in one place at one time. Most witches and wizards never quite become aware of that fact after their first week in Hogwarts, as the school is such a crushing example of high levels of ambient magic, that they become desensitized to the feel of large amounts of it at a young age.
Albus Dumbledore felt his blood beading down his forehead as he poured more and more magic into the huge shield that loomed in front of him, protected him from the overbearing onslaught of Voldemort's magical attacks. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end and his vision in his one remaining functional eye was fading, but he kept his wand pointed firmly at the shield and kept forcing incantationless magical energy into it. The spells were fast and heavy, slamming into the metallic shield with an impact so thunderous that the ground beneath Albus' feet shook.
There was a heavy "boom" sound from the other side of the shield, and Albus' arms buckled and he fell back as a heavy, intense impact slammed into his shield and began to bore through it. Jabbing his wand toward his shield, Albus' eyes grew heavier and heavier as his body continued to weaken and give out. He was continuing to live off of sheer willpower and stubbornness, and as time passed and his parries and blocks grew more sluggish and more easily bypassed, he was growing more and more aware of that. With a swipe of his wand, Albus Dumbledore folded the top half of the huge shield he had erected back on itself, the metal flowing like shifting sand, and the shield collapsed backwards. It settled over him, more of a sideways tunnel than a dome. Albus panted as his shielding ran with heavy thumps in a sound similar to a huge bell being slammed. His ears rang, but he hadn't the energy to spare to attempt to dampen the sound, or even raise his hands to his head to block out the sound.
A heavy cough racked his body once more, and flecks of blood painted his hand. Albus winced and wiped his hand off on his robe, and let out a ragged sigh.
The man had lived for over a century. He had seen many things that brought him pain, and many things that could still bring a smile to his face, even decades removed from the memory itself. Though he had never had a true family of his own, he had always, at least in some way, seen the children who entered and exited the doors of Hogwarts as his own. His to nurture, to teach, to guide and lead out into the world.
As Albus Dumbledore drew his magic to him, the low hum filling his ears so intense that he had to clench his jaw so his teeth didn't rattle, he set aside some of his waning energy to adopt something as close to a smile as his battered face could manage. Stepping out of the tunnel he hid behind and preparing to unleash the last spell he would ever cast, Albus had no regrets.
The faucet nozzle on the tree half a mile away was scorched a bitter black by the rush of heat just moments before the tree and all of its neighbors were reduced to kindling as the ensuing burst of magic washed out like a wave.
The world was bittersweet, Harry mused.
He couldn't exactly fault his peers as they celebrated the apparent destruction of the self-styled Dark Lord at the hands of Albus Dumbledore, but at the same time, he couldn't join them. The supposed victory tasted sour, and the blaring music and the drinks that flowed seemed out of place.
When he had stood and walked out of the party being held at The Burrow, he was acutely aware that no one had noticed him leaving. He walked out to the edges of the wards and disapparated, spinning back around to find himself standing to the side of a small couch. Across the room Filius Flitwick sat in the company of a dim lamp, a cup of tea held in one hand, and his wand in the other. The small man inclined his head just slightly to his student, and offered him a place to sit. Harry settled down on the couch, and enjoyed the relative silence of the man's home.
The silence stretched for a few minutes before Filius set down his cup and looked at the boy across from him. Harry hadn't slept much since the news went public, Filius could see that in the bags under the boy's eyes. But he could also see the rigid resolution behind those same eyes. Clearing his throat, Filius spoke. "Not in much of a partying mood I see, Harry."
Harry shook his head in answer. "Doesn't seem right."
Filius nodded in response, understanding fully. He had seen a similar reaction from Minerva after the celebration of the end of the First War. "All wars are pyrrhic in victory. The only ones that aren't, are the ones that are never fought, Harry," Filius imparted. "And trust me," the man chuckled, "I know all about winning, and then questioning if it was worth it afterwards." Something about the casual mention of The Circuit stirred something in Harry. It drove home just how bad things were, that Filius was willing to make a joke at the expensive of what was generally considered to be the darkest time in his life.
"That's the thing, sir," Harry said, rubbing at the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, the beginnings of a headache started to form. "In all true wars, someone has to fight. And… and I think I've had enough of being the one on the sidelines who has to attempt to mourn those who are lost. It seems far too…" Harry trailed off, searching for the right word.
"Helpless?" Filius offered.
Harry nodded, "Yes, I suppose. I'd rather fight and risk losing than wait for someone else to win or lose on my behalf."
Filius sat forward in his chair and was silent until Harry met his eyes. "He wasn't fighting on your behalf, Harry. That war was not yours to have to fight." The small man attempted to reassure his obviously distressed and distraught student. It didn't work.
"That war was everyone's." Harry was silent for a moment, looking down at the worn carpet. When he looked up at Filius again, the man was taken aback by the intensity in the boy's eyes. "And it isn't over." Something in Harry's voice made Filius sure that Harry believed that, whether it was true or not.
Nodding to himself, Filius hopped down from his comfortable chair and turned away from Harry. "Then I suppose we had better make sure that you're ready to fight for the next one, shouldn't we?" And with those words, Filius began to walk toward the back of the house, out onto the grounds. Harry lifted himself from the couch and clutched his wand with a hard grip.
He nodded to his teacher's back and began to follow. "Yes, we should."