The next few years were years of massive expansion for the empire as they started cleaning house, so to speak. Muggle civilisation suffered a sharp decline with the loss of their primary resource. They struggled to survive without many of the amenities they had slowly become accustomed to and dependent on in the past few decades. Diseases that were once considered minor inconveniences were now potentially life threatening due to the unavailability of proper medical care and attention. Mortality rates rose with people dying at much younger ages.
It made them easy prey.
Thanks to the communications breakdown, the news of magic's existence and the new order did not spread so quickly. It gave the empire added anonymity and allowed them a greater freedom of movement.
They started off with Avalon, as Britain was now known as. Like Fiendfyre, they swept across the length and breadth of the isles, dealing with all Muggle presence quickly and brutally.
A small taskforce would first Apparate into a Muggle city or village and announce the state of things via the Sonorous charm. Muggles would then be given an ultimatum: surrender or die.
Over the next twenty four hours, the wizards would wait at the designated point for the arrival of compliant Muggles. Those that came were immediately shipped off to a facility where they would then be magically bound to serve the Empire.
The rest perished where they remained.
Various methods were used to destroy entire cities. Some metropolises were burned to the ground in the same way Madrid was dealt with. Druids would then come in and start healing the land of dark magic, inducing the growth of plant life and turning what was once a black scar on the ground into a place where Mother Nature could flourish.
These places were then either left to grow wild, or would have fauna (both magical and non-magical) introduced into it. Certain areas even had centaurs setting up dwellings.
Of course, Fiendfyre wasn't the only method employed. At times, depending on the circumstances, dragons or giants would be employed to flatten towns and villages, egged on and supervised by wizards. These areas did not require druidic intervention, and so were left behind for later. Muggle repelling wards were used to ensure that any survivors did not escape the area, making it easier for the wizards to root them out later on. That is if those Muggles managed to survive without any food and water till then.
Other cities experienced the cry of more than a hundred adult mandrakes with Sonorous charms placed on them, while still others had fast acting poisons released into the water. Nundu breath was also released once they managed to shorten its lifespan to within a few hours while increasing the potency.
It took them the better part of a year to fully finish with Avalon.
Once the Emperor was satisfied with the state of affairs there, he focused his attention to the rest of the world.
They started off with Europe and headed east.
Europe took a relatively shorter time as the viceroys of the various viceroyalties (as the former ministries were now called) had already started work, destroying all forms of Muggle governance and razing the capital cities to the ground.
Daphne's suggestion in keeping the Muggle slaves content had paid off massive dividends. Not only were they content to do the work set for them, they had easily accepted the state of things. Of course, part of this could have been due to the potions they had been feeding them, although, it was largely attributed to the fact that the Muggles living under wizard rule were actually better off than before. Their wizarding masters had made sure to keep them clean, well fed, and disease free. They might not be living in the lap of luxury in their nearly Spartan quarters, but at least they weren't cold and hungry, as was the state they were in before the wizards came.
Another positive effect of this was that word had gone out to the other free Muggles. While most did not believe it, there were still others who did. The end result was plain for anyone to see. There were more converts as they moved from city to city.
Of course, at the same time, the resistance they met with did increase in some areas. But it wasn't something a well organised military couldn't handle.
The only time wizards were came under direct fire of the Muggles was when the envoys Apparated into the city. After losing a few good people to unexpected attacks from snipers (mainly a few military personnel that had managed to take up residence at the time) it was decided that they would use the Patronus charm. Muggles couldn't shoot dead an ethereal animal, after all.
By the time the Imperial Military had reached Constantinople, after having swept through Europe, the empire had a large force of enslaved Muggles tasked with building new cities and towns over the remnants of the old Muggle settlements. Those not involved in civil works were used as caregivers for the next generation of magical people that were soon going to be born. Of course, they were all kept on a tight leash by their supervising magical masters to ensure nothing went awry. Strict instructions were given to the supervisors not to trust the Muggles under them despite the spells placed.
Not that Edmund and James could say much about how it felt. Still in school, the two of them were far removed from all the action going on so far away.
While their father spent the last two years abroad commanding his forces, and their mother had gone to assist him, the Emperor and Empress always made it a point to be at home during the summer holidays to spend time with their sons and family. They would also be at home when the school closed for the winter. While most of the winter holidays were spent in the myriad of parties and being busy, the Imperial Couple would make it a point to spend Yule with the family only.
Regardless, both Edmund and James felt a little left out. While it was true that at school they, like the rest of their classmates, barely, if ever, saw their parents, it felt different knowing that both their parents were out there in some far-off land vanquishing Muggles.
This absence was felt even more as unlike their schoolmates, both princes were either required to attend one function or the other as Imperial Princes of the Empire, or travel home for the weekend to watch over their six year old half-brother Richard (Gabrielle's son) and their five year old half-sister Lily (Ginny's daughter) as their mothers did not trust anyone else.
Thankfully, Gabrielle and Ginny had elected to move to the new Imperial Palace. The Potter ancestral manor had become the Emperor's personal retreat and would always be open for him whenever he returned for the holidays. This ensured that the two brothers did not have to come into a house bereft of their parents.
At the same time, both Edmund and James recognised the importance of their parents being abroad to ensure that the Empire was stable.
That was why they were looking forward to their upcoming N.E.W.T exam results. As soon as they got their qualifications they would be able to join the Imperial military. After that, they hoped to impress their father enough to take them directly under his command. And after that …
Well, Edmund was eyeing Australia while James was thinking of Asia.
However, they would miss little Richard and Lily. They had grown fond of their little siblings, and the feeling was mutual. Richard had become James' shadow, following the older boy wherever he would go. While James did like the attention, there were times when he really wished the kid would go annoy Edmund instead.
The couple froze in the middle of what they were doing. Sitting stock still, the boy glanced at his girlfriend.
'I don't think he is going to find us here,' she whispered in his ear.
James looked at her disbelievingly. 'We are in my room! Of course, he's going to find us!' he whispered back furiously.
The approaching patter of feet proved his point.
James mentally groaned as she removed her hand. They were just beginning to move their relationship in a new direction too! Why couldn't the twerp have waited for at least a few more minutes? At least until they had finished.
Hurriedly, he started to fix his clothes. He froze again when he heard heavy banging on the door.
'James,' the unmistakable voice of his half-brother sang out. 'I know you're in there!'
'Hide!' he hissed.
Nodding, she got up and silently hurried into the expansive walk-in wardrobe
Buttoning up his trousers, James took one critical look at his appearance and the room. On a split-second decision, he cast localised notice-me-not charms in certain areas. It would prevent the little bugger from noticing anything.
Flicking his wand at the door, he said, 'Come in,' in what he hoped was a normal-sounding voice.
The door opened to show one of the most adorable looking boys to have walked on the earth.
James rolled his mismatched eyes at the angelic smile. Between the straight locks of gleaming blond hair, the perfectly straight nose, the clear green eyes and the big sunny smile that could be used to light a room, his little half-brother was adored by any woman who happened to look at him, while men would soften their gazes, unwilling, yet unable, to resist his charms.
Nobody really knew how much of a troublemaker the kid was.
'James, look what I found!' Richard said as he brought his hands around.
James jerked back at the hissing black adder. Case in point, he thought to himself.
'Where on earth did you get that?' he asked the boy, eyeing the snake.
'I found it in the gardens!' Richard replied brightly. 'You won't believe it, but I can talk to it!'
'Is that so?' James said sceptically.
'Yup,' Looking at the creature, Richard began hissing. 'This is my brother,'
The snake, which was content to gaze at its surroundings, turned its attention to James. It flicked its tongue a few times. 'My lord,' it hissed. 'It is an honour to meet you.'
'Well met, my friend. How did you manage to come here?' James hissed back easily, shocking his younger brother.
'I have been here for a few weeks now,' the snake replied. It looked around once more. 'This place is much better than the last place … many tasty animals.'
James hummed noncommittally. 'Indeed.' He hissed.
'I like him!' Richard piped up in English. 'Can I keep him?' he asked, gazing at James with his signature puppy-dog look.
'No,' James said flatly.
'Pleeeeease?' Richard wheedled in response, adding a pout as he tried to make his eyes larger.
'That expression has never worked on me before,' James said drily. 'And I don't see that changing. "No", means "no". This is not up for negotiation.'
He sighed again. 'And quit looking like a downtrodden puppy. Besides, I am sure the snake would be happy outside. How would you feel if someone took you from your house and put you in a small room?'
'I wouldn't like it,' Richard finally replied in a very small voice, bewildered at his elder brother's suddenly harsh tones.
'The same goes for the snake. Isn't that right?' he asked the adder.
The reptile nodded vigorously. That was enough to convince Richard to return the snake to its natural environment, though the boy looked forlorn at doing so.
James sighed in relief. Richard was far too young to know how to take care of another living thing. The fact that he was holding the reptile tightly was a testament to that fact, if the myriad of animals that had either died or were fortunate enough to escape from the boy's dubious care weren't. It was a good thing that adders weren't naturally aggressive, and that snakes in general were even more docile amongst Parselmouths. Otherwise, he was sure that Richard would have been bitten long ago now.
Picking up the snake, James walked over to the large window in his expansive room. 'I hope you can manage?' he hissed to the snake.
The adder looked at the tree branch. 'It is satisfactory, my lord.'
Grunting at the snake's form of address (it was something all snakes did after he and his brother had done the ritual that allowed them to use Parsel magic) James extended his arm till it was near the branch. The snake swiftly slithered down his arm, bridged the gap and settled on the branch.
'Will I be able to speak to you later?'Richard hissed from behind, looking hopefully at the snake.
The adder gazed at the boy. 'Of course, young one,' it finally said. 'Call for me, and I shall come.'
'I shall instruct the humans to stay away from you. Stay out of their sight.'
'Of course, my lord,' the snake hissed back. 'I have been doing so for quite some time now. He,' it pointed its tail at Richard. 'Found me.'
'Very well then, farewell'
The snake turned around and disappeared swiftly.
'Since when can you speak to snakes?' Richard asked suddenly.
'Since forever,' James replied with a smirk. 'Teddy can do it too. So can dad. The language is called Parseltongue and people who speak it are called Parselmouths.'
'Oh,' Richard pondered it for a moment. 'What about mum?'
'I doubt it,' James replied. 'We are Parselmouths because of dad. We inherited the talent from him. Neither your mum nor mine can do the same thing. Aunt Ginny too cannot speak to snakes.'
'What about Lily?'
'She might be able to do that, yes.' James said after a moment's thought. 'I mean, if you can do it … for a long time there, we thought that the two of you couldn't, but now …'
'What's with the disappointment?' James asked suspiciously.
'Oh nothing,' Richard said, looking innocent.
James slowly pinched his nose. 'You were planning on scaring Lily with the snake, weren't you?'
From the tone itself, James could tell that the real answer was a "yes".
'Fine, whatever,' James replied. 'I don't know why you insist on harassing Lily, especially her friend Susie. I thought you would have learnt your lesson by now, especially after last time when they hid your stuffed tiger.'
'Tommy!' Richard suddenly yelled. 'I forgot Tommy!'
With that he raced out of the room.
James turned to his girlfriend, who had emerged from the wardrobe by then. 'Don't let him hear you say that,' he said in amusement. 'He'll pout and say that he is definitely not cute … which, come to think of it, is pretty cute.'
'Who's Tommy, by the way?'
James chuckled. 'His stuffed tiger,' he rolled his eyes again. 'Little bugger carries it around wherever he goes. I have seen him have actual conversations with the toy. He insists that the tiger is real.'
They were interrupted once again when a House-Elf popped in, making both teens jump.
'Dobby,' James said, quickly recovering. 'What is it?'
'Dobby has been asked to tell young master that master and mistress have arrived.'
'Mum and dad have come home?' A smile broke out on James' face at the news. 'That is much earlier than expected! I shall be right over.'
The elf looked slyly at his girlfriend. 'Should Dobby announce the presence of young master and his … friend?'
'No!' James said quickly. 'No, that is fine, Dobby, she was just leaving.' He turned to her, and mouthed 'Sorry'.
'As young master wishes,' now openly smirking, Dobby disappeared with a pop.
'He is my, uh, personal elf,' James said by way of explanation.
She just smirked. 'We'll call him that.' She quirked an eyebrow, 'And what was that all about? Embarrassed to be seen with me?'
'No, it's not that!' James sputtered. 'I, uh,'
Smirking, she cut him off with a kiss on his lips. 'It's fine,' she said. 'I was about to leave now anyway.'
Adopting a serious expression she looked at him. 'Now that your father is here, I think it is high time you told him as you promised me.'
James swallowed. 'I will … soon.' Seeing her about to open her mouth, he cut in. 'You can be assured of that.'
'Good,' she finally said after looking at him for a long moment. 'I will not stand another day of being your wardrobe girlfriend … even if I get the chance to look through your underwear drawer.' Sidling up to him, she whispered huskily. 'And that also means that we won't ever be able to … finish what we had started when your little brother came in…'
Not giving him a chance to talk, she sidled past him and walked out of his room. A muted whoosh could be heard a few moments later signalling her departure.
Adjusting his clothes and reapplying the charm, James hurried past the palatial hallways of the Imperial Palace, following his girlfriend's footsteps to the fireplace.
Emerging in the reception room of the family home, the seventeen year old made his way towards the ballroom where, judging by the sounds, everyone was.
'Ah, finally, the last of the clan has arrived.' The voice of his father cut through the chatter in the room.
With a beaming smile, Harry made his way towards his son.
Happy to see his father again, James grinned in response.
The two men embraced, heartily thumping each other on the back.
'You have grown,' Harry said teasingly as he regarded his son. 'About bloody time,' he winked. Suddenly he paused, raising an eyebrow as he looked at the boy up and down again.
'Now where is that brother of yours?'
James regarded his father. After so many years of hoping and wishing, he had finally reached his dad's height. Well, he was a few inches short of it, but he had hopes overshooting by next year.
However, he knew he did not come close to the presence his father commanded. He wondered when he would be able to achieve that.
'Edmund, there you are, come over here.'
As his elder son made his way over to him, Harry reflected on the changes his two eldest boys had gone through over the years.
Both of them had grown into strapping young lads. Edmund was an inch taller than he was, standing at a towering six feet four. He had also done away with the wild hair colours (something Harry found that he missed) preferring to stay with the more natural colours like his current choice of blond. However, the boy did like to keep his eyes in unusual colours (he had gone for violet for the day).
James too had grown into a fine lad as well. Just a hair shorter than his father, he always had a mischievous spark in his eye. His thinner face, very much like Harry's was quite different from Edmund's distinctive heart shaped face, but no less attractive. Harry had heard quite a few stories about both of them at school. Stories that he really did not want to think about.
'My fellow wizards and witches,' Harry said once both his sons were standing next to him. 'I thank you for coming today and helping me organise this surprise for both Edmund and James. And it seems to be quite successful, as you all saw from the look on their faces when they stepped into the room, not to mention how underdressed James is.' he smiled at both his sons as the other people in the room chuckled.
'Today is a day of personal significance to me as a father. It is the day that both my sons here have finished Hogwarts and are now ready to step into the world as accomplished wizards.' He raised his glass. 'To Edmund and James!'
Moving to a side room, James quickly changed into more appropriate garb before stepping out into the party. Aside from his mother (who was the first person to greet him after he stepped out) Aunt Astoria and Uncles Draco, Fred, George and Neville, most of the adults were people he had seen in his father's court. In addition to that, there were many of his friends, who had evidently been called beforehand to arrange for this surprise.
He certainly wasn't expecting this, as he hadn't got his exam results yet. It was a point that he had brought up with his father when he found the man in a semi private nook.
'I'm not worried about that,' Harry had replied with an easy smile. 'I am confident that you would have done well.'
'But what if we haven't?'
'I doubt either you or Teddy would have done so abysmally as to have to repeat a year. I know you two well enough, give me some credit.' His father had admonished with a smile.
Taking a sip of his whisky, Harry continued. 'The two of us will be proud of you no matter your results. We have enough faith in our sons that you will have studied hard enough to pass at the least. This faith is bolstered by the fact that you have done quite well in your exams over the years. So even if we do expect high marks, we won't be disappointed in the least as we know that whatever you have scored, you got after putting your soul into it. Of course,' he added with a shrug, 'If you do manage to get Outstanding in all of your subjects, we will be quite thrilled.'
Listening with half an ear to his friends talking, James let his thoughts drift.
Turning around swiftly, James' eyes widened when he saw his girlfriend standing there.
'Sorry, I took so long,' she said apologetically. 'But I was getting ready,' she gave her dress robes a bit of a flourish as she said that.
'That's –' he cleared his throat. 'That's not a problem, you look lovely.'
And she did. He had never felt so speechless at the sight of a pretty girl in years. He thought he had outgrown that failing by the age of fourteen.
'So, when are you going to have that chat with your dad?'
'Who is going to be chatting with whom?'
At the sound of his voice, the teenagers turned to look at Harry.
'Your Imperial Majesty,' murmured James' friends and girlfriend.
Harry spared them a gracious nod and speared his son with a curious look.
'And whom do I have the pleasure of speaking to, young lady?' he asked warmly as he looked at James' girlfriend inquiringly.
'Lady Rosaline Wesley, your majesty,' she said respectfully with a small curtsey.
'Rosaline …' The Emperor trailed off thoughtfully as he examined her, making her feel as if she was being x-rayed. 'Ah, you must be Fred's daughter.' He stated, his eyes lighting up in recognition.
'Indeed, sir,' she replied quickly.
The Emperor hummed. 'Thought I recognised your hair,' turning to James, he opened his mouth to say something.
But before he could say anything, he paused again as he gave his son another once over. This time both his eyebrows crept up to his hairline.
James had not given it much thought the first time around, but now he was beginning to wonder what was wrong with his father.
'Well, I am sure that you young people would want to be far away from us old folk,' Harry said, unknowingly cutting James off before the boy could ask his question. 'The games room is at your disposal.'
'What about the pool area?' James asked.
'I suppose that would be all right,' Harry said slowly.
'No offence, dad, but the games room intimidates everyone. Especially after that huge head you put in there.'
'The – oh you mean the basilisk head.' Harry's said in realisation. 'Well,' he said modestly, 'I wanted it in my study, but it wouldn't fit. Thing is practically ten feet long! The games room was the only place large enough … and your mother vetoed the ballroom.' He sighed. 'Actually all three of them said no.' the surprise in his voice was noticeable to James.
'You were going to put it in the ballroom?' James asked incredulously.
'Yeah,' Harry replied brightly. 'I was thinking of putting it on that far wall over there.' He indicated the area with the hand holding his glass. 'Either there, or right above the fireplace in the dining room, or above the front doors in the entrance hall or opposite to the fireplace in the reception room or alternatively, the pool area. It would have looked good in one of those places. But they unanimously shot down all five suggestions. Unanimously! So it's in the games room.'
'I am going to have to side with mum on this one,' James finally said. 'That thing is scary!'
Harry scoffed, 'Nonsense! You think that is scary? Hah! You should have seen the real bloody thing. It was –'
'– sixty feet long,' James interjected, good-naturedly rolling his eyes. 'A thousand years old, and you killed it at the age of twelve.'
'With only a sword!' Harry added in overly dramatic tones. 'And don't forget the hat.'
'You killed a sixty foot basilisk at the age of twelve with only a sword and a hat, sir?' asked one of James' friends.
'Yes I did,' Harry replied without missing a beat. 'And a bird … mustn't forget the bird. Of course, that was one of many things I did in the school. Ah, I remember my time at Hogwarts,' he said reminiscently. 'Exciting times, you know? Yes, those were exciting times ... never a dull moment.'
'Anyway, I am sure you kids have better things to be doing instead of listening to tales of days gone by,' Harry nodded brusquely at them and swept away.
'Why doesn't your dad just write an autobiography or something?' Rose asked curiously.
James smiled at his girlfriend. 'I asked him that once, you know. Can you believe that he never thought of the idea? He was actually surprised! Then he told me that he was far too busy living his life to write about it. Anyway,' he turned to the group. 'Follow me.'
'Can we go to the games room first?'
James' shoulders slumped at this. 'Does everyone want to go?' he asked with a tinge of hope in his voice. He sighed silently when they all answered with a unanimous "yes".
'I give up,' James finally gasped.
Harry, who was quite a few paces ahead turned back.
'What, so soon? Merlin, the two of you have really sad stamina! I could run faster and longer when I was your age!' He didn't even sound out of breath as he lightly jogged back to his son. 'It's a good thing that you stopped now, actually.' He added, coming to a halt in front of his panting son. 'I was about to turn around and prevent you from killing yourself from a heart attack. At least your brother has the good sense to know when to quit.' Grasping the boy's arm, he pulled him in a walk. 'How many times do I have to tell you to walk it off?'
'So what's her name?' Harry said teasingly after a few moments.
James was fortunate that he was still gasping and flushed. It helped mask the blush and the alarm he felt on hearing the question 'Huh?'
'The girls that have made you and Edmund slack off in exercising during school. I doubt your studies are the reason you haven't run every morning. Thus it must be a girlfriend! Unless, of course, you or your brother prefers boys…'
James blushed. 'No!' he said defensively. 'We've been running every morning religiously. And none of us are gay!' he added stridently.
Harry raised an eyebrow. 'Methinks that the lad doth protest too much.' In a less teasing tone, he continued. 'Then you don't have a girlfriend?'
James looked at his father for a long moment. Then summoning all his courage, he told him everything about Rose.
'I must admit to being surprised.' Harry said slowly after a long silence. He frowned at his son. 'Do you not remember the time you and your brother first met her?'
James nodded. 'Yes,' he had regained his breath during the walk back home. 'Yes I do.' Seeing the inquiring gaze of his father, he continued. 'That doesn't matter to me. My issue is with her parents,' Harry raised an eyebrow at the undercurrents of anger in James' voice. Clearly, the lad had not forgotten. 'Besides, she was quite nice to the two of us. I know that Edmund and I never told you this, but she was sort of a friend of ours when we were captives.'
'I see, and what does your brother think about this?'
'Teddy's cool with it,' James replied with a shrug.
Harry hummed. 'Well, if Teddy is fine with it, and you are fine with it and she clearly is fine with it, then why on earth did it take you so bloody long to tell me and your mother?'
James blinked. 'What?'
Harry raised an eyebrow. 'I know you have been having … relations with the girl since the yule holidays, you silly child. Well, at least someone that you seem serious enough about to physically see during the holidays. If I'm not mistaken, you write letters of undying love otherwise, and judging by the snippets of that one conversation I overheard late one night that you had spent talking to one of your girlfriends with your mirror, those letters are really soppy. And while I'm on that subject, you should consider using silencing charms the next time. Honestly, what do you take me for? Your mother and I have been waiting since forever for you to actually come and tell us about it instead of sneaking around. Do you have any idea how much of convincing and cajoling I had to do to get your mother to refrain from confronting you?'
The Emperor rolled his eyes at his son's gobsmacked expression. 'Kids these days,' he said in a long-suffering voice as he looked heavenwards. 'They think they know everything in the world and are one step ahead of their parents. Well, my dear son, you might think yourself clever and a consummate Slytherin, but you're dealing with experts here. I realise that sounds a bit incongruous, but I have actually noticed the Notice Me Not Charms that you oh so regularly used during the winter holidays.'
'What?' James said with alarm. 'But … How is that even possible?!'
'I can sense the magic of a charm when it is being used on an object or person.' Harry said dismissively. 'But getting back on the topic, I am quite aware of all about those love bites that you have been trying to make sure that neither I nor your mother notice. Oh, and by the way, judging by the location of the charms last night, I sincerely hope you have taken heed of the little talk we had three years back and have made the necessary precautions around her? I know I'm too young to be a grandfather.'
Red faced, James sputtered, wishing he could disappear.
'Then again,' Harry continued blithely, putting an arm around his son, and forcing the lad to match his pace. 'I suppose I shouldn't be worried. If half of the rumours are right, then you should already know of the right precautions.'
'But – I don't –'
'Oh stop it,' Harry admonished, looking at James disapprovingly while cuffing him on the back of his sweaty head for good measure. 'I'm not judging you. I know what goes on in the broom cupboards, the so-called secret passageways and towers at night after curfew. And I was a teenager once too, you know. Since nobody ended up hurt or pregnant I think it is safe enough to gloss over any potentially traumatising conversations. I really do not want to even think about you or your brother shagging someone.' He shuddered for good measure.
'Anyway, it's nice that you have a steady girlfriend. I wish you well and hope that you kids have a nice fruitful relationship. I'm not going to assume that it will lead to marriage any time soon, or at all. You are still young after all. Though I retain the rights to assume that the most the two of you have done and will forever do is hold hands ... even if you end up married and with kids.'
Harry paused for a moment. 'Yeah that's it, I think. Oh, and since I am so generous, I will give you the privilege of telling Fred all on your own! Have fun!'
With a cheerful smile, Harry picked up his pace and headed back to the house in a full sprint.
James stood there for a long moment and then, cursing, made his way to the house in a light trot.
Blazing green eyes looked around at the abandoned camp.
The officer behind the Emperor started. 'Sir, four men have been killed while two have been fatally injured. Lowering his voice he continued in hushed tones 'One has been taken. He has most probably been bitten by now.'
Harry cursed under his breath. 'Werewolves,' he said in disgust.
A few years back, Harry knew that he would have felt quite differently about werewolves. After all, having interacted with Remus Lupin, he was sure that they were all people suffering from an unfortunate, yet manageable disease.
His assumptions couldn't have been farther from the truth.
He had seen the memory recordings made by Healers treating people who were bitten and how they changed.
The most poignant was the account of a two year old little girl.
In the first few weeks after she was bitten, she was still the same girl. Despite being in pain, anyone watching could see that she was a very sweet child, well-mannered and behaved.
All that changed in her first full moon night.
Ever since then, the happy little girl was forever gone. In its place was a beast given human form. It was quite shocking to see her actually snarl at her parents who were quite devastated at the sudden change.
The werewolf (for she no longer could be called a human) was always aggressive. Even when not transformed, she would snarl and snap at any human she could see in her vicinity. Restraints had to be used to ensure that she did not physically attack any who came into her room.
Even so, she was no mindless beast either. The girl was a lot like Fenrir Greyback. Capable of speaking, thinking, and reasoning, yet filled with the insatiable desire for human flesh.
Remus Lupin was actually an exception. Nobody knew for sure why he was the way he was as the man had refused to speak to Mind Healers or researchers about himself.
And that was before he had dropped off the face of the earth.
Seeing for himself the true nature of werewolves had left Harry conflicted. While he understood that werewolves could never be considered human nor live in human society, his memories of Remus made him conflicted. For all his faults, Remus was never like a regular werewolf. Edmund had inherited his biological father's soft-spoken and studious nature with none of the crippling insecurity that ran rampant in his forebear. In another lifetime, Harry was certain that Edmund would have made a great teacher. One look at how he interacted with his younger siblings could tell anyone that boy was a natural at imparting knowledge. James certainly did owe a few of his N.E.W.T.s to Edmund's instruction.
Harry forced his mind to the situation at hand as he looked at the commanding officer of the outpost.
'Am I to understand that you all Apparated out immediately?' he asked the man.
'Yes sir. We were overrun! They had us outnumbered and had caught us by surprise. Retreating was the only option'
'Fair enough,' Harry pinned the man with his eyes.
'However, I would like to know some details. For example, do you know if they were acting independently or were they working for someone?'
'I … have no clue sire,' the man said shamefacedly.
Harry was quiet for a moment.
'Get a team together,' he informed his guards. 'The trail is still fresh. We can follow it on brooms.'
'Your imperial majesty,' one of the more cautious guards said as his colleague crisply saluted and raced off. 'Is it wise for you to be going after a pack of werewolves? Perhaps it would be best for the men to handle it.'
Harry nodded. 'Your concern is noted, John. However, do not worry about me.' He smiled dryly. 'I have killed a nundu singlehandedly, after all. Werewolves won't have a chance.'
Minutes later, Harry, his guards and a team of soldiers were preparing to fly out over the forest canopy on brooms.
While Harry would have usually flown on his own, his personal flight speed did not even come close to matching his trusty Firebolt, which he was holding in his hand.
'A Firebolt, sir?' one of the soldiers, a much younger man, said with raised eyebrows as he looked at the vintage broom.
Harry held up a hand to forestall the clearly incensed sergeant from yelling at the young fellow. 'Yes,' he said with a challenging look in his eye, 'A Firebolt.' He sized up the broom in the soldier's hand. 'I see that you are holding the newest racing broom in the market, the Nimbus Speed Force. A good broom … and I can understand why the military has elected to buy it. Its top speed of two hundred and sixty miles an hour is much faster than the two hundred even the Firebolt can manage. Also, Nimbus has incorporated quite a few new nifty charms in the Speed Force; an anti-slip charm, an anti-crash charm and a Supersensory charm along with the standard enchantments seen in racing brooms.'
Harry took a deep breath. 'Having said all that, I bet you wouldn't be able to outfly me on that contraption of yours.'
By then, the soldier had clammed up, realising who he was talking to.
'Come on, soldier!' Harry challenged. 'Are you afraid of a little broom race? Tell you what; I'll make it worth your while. Fifty galleons if you outfly me. And, you don't have to pay anything if you lose.'
The younger man was silent for a long moment. 'Very well, sir,' he finally said.
'Good,' Harry said with a challenging grin. 'I expect nothing but the best from you, soldier. You will be giving it your all. That is an order. Am I clear?' he barked.
'Sir, yes sir!' the soldier replied loudly.
'Good,' He turned to the wizard who was assigned to track the werewolves.
'Do you have a lock on?'
'Yes sir,' the man replied eagerly. 'Our man has made finding him easy! Had he not purposefully left a trail, I have no doubts we would be still searching!'
'That is fortunate, indeed.' Harry replied. 'Well, what are you waiting for? Cast the spell!'
A white light shot off from the wizard's wand, leaving a faint trail in its wake as it sought out its quarry.
Harry swiftly got onto his broom and took off, closely followed by the rest.
Rocketing over the Belgian forest, Harry smirked to himself. The Speed Force did have a superior top speed, but the Firebolt had a better pickup, capable of reaching one hundred and fifty in ten seconds, two whole seconds faster than the newer broom.
His competitor flattened himself against his broom, squeezing out every last ounce of speed the broom could produce.
Slowly, inch, by inch, he started gaining. However, the Emperor somehow managed to put up a real good fight. The older man was using his experience to maximise his speed.
Harry smiled. His Supersensory Charm told him that the younger man was slowly gaining. Amateur he scoffed. Had he stayed right behind, he wouldn't have Harry's slipstream slowing him down. But the younger man was learning quickly. He seemed to have some experience.
Slowly but surely, the Speed Force's superior top speed overcame the disadvantages of its owner's relative inexperience. Soon, the two men were neck and neck.
That was when the trail they were following suddenly dropped down into the forest below them.
Anticipating this moment, Harry effortlessly slipped into a steep dive, not even needing to slow down as he did so.
The soldier blinked for a moment before following, cursing as he did so. He had lost some speed. He executed a loop to give himself a boost, a technique he had learnt from his days as a Chaser.
The trees in the wood were widely spaced, making it easy to fly through on broom. At least that was at sane speeds. He looked on in wonder as the Emperor weaved through the forest with breakneck swiftness.
Unwilling to give up, he followed through, using the broom's inbuilt Supersensory charm to navigate.
However, the Emperor was able to execute some impossibly tight turns, somehow, not braking much at all.
Harry grinned as he effortlessly wove through the trees. Never had he felt as alive as he did now. Careful maintenance of the broom made sure that the Firebolt still responded the same way as it had done when he had first ridden it. He had a feeling that his young competitor was just now realising that the Speed Force was not as good as the Firebolt in turning. Those inbuilt charms, while good, did slow down the broom when cornering.
Though, he was putting in a good effort. Harry's Supersensory charm trained to detect the soldier told him that the young man was valiantly trying to keep up.
He burst out into a small clearing with a brook babbling away in the middle. That was where the trail ended, the ball pulsing mutely, not giving off more light than it was supposed to.
Skidding to a halt, Harry quickly dismounted his broom and waved his hand at the pulsing light, extinguishing it while still keeping the trail visible to his men.
He used his powers to make sure that he could not be detected by smell or sound.
Panting, his challenger was the first to erupt from the trees.
'Looks like those new charms make it hard to execute tight turns,' Harry murmured lightly.
'They seem to do so, sir,' the man replied grudgingly in the same volume.
They stood in silence for a few moments.
'So I didn't catch your name, soldier.'
'Kevin Peterson, sir.'
'Are you from Australia?' Harry ventured.
Further conversation was halted when the rest of the soldiers came in.
The thirteen men all touched down silently.
'Gentlemen,' Harry said solemnly. 'Glad you could join us.' he nodded in front of him. 'There is a clearing with a cave a few yards ahead. That's where they are hiding out. I count at least fifteen excluding their captive.'
Kevin looked at the Emperor, 'How did you figure that out, sir?'
Harry smirked. 'Magic, Kevin, magic.'
As one, the fifteen started heading towards the target.
Reaching the copse of trees, they silently stalked forwards until they saw the clearing ahead.
True to Harry's description, a cave dominated the clearing where the werewolves in human form were lazing in the afternoon sun around an unlit campfire. Had he not known of their true nature, Harry would have sworn that he had stumbled upon a large camping party. At a signal, three men on either side peeled off to surround their quarry.
Suddenly one of the werewolves snapped her head up, sniffing the air.
'What is it?' one of her companions asked.
'I'm not sure,' the woman growled, her voice guttural.
'Ready now,' Harry's soft voice whispered into his team's ears through the enchanted communicators. 'In three … two … one … Attack!'
Cracks resonated throughout the wilderness as wizards in camouflaged fatigues Apparated right in the middle of the camp and started firing curses at the werewolves.
They weren't firing stunners or binding charms either. The first werewolf caught a cutting charm right in the face, leaving only his lower jaw attached to the rest of his body while his companion suffered a piercing hex right in her forehead.
The rest of the werewolves were quick to recover. Soon enough, both parties were embroiled in battle. Their quick reflexes made the lycanthropes hard to hit, even when there were two wizards flinging spells at one werewolf. It was all the wizards could do to ensure that they weren't taken out, despite having the numerical advantage.
That's when Harry stepped in. Unsheathing his sword, he calmly strode forward.
'It's him!' said a particularly large hairy Lycanthrope.
Immediately, the three werewolves who were watching the battle stalked forward, teeth bared as they approached the lone figure of the Emperor.
Harry did not even flinch as the one in the centre started sprinting towards him, brandishing his long yellow claws.
Snarling, the wolf leapt into the air, hands extended.
A pair of huge spikes shot up from the ground and impaled the man midair from the sides, keeping his would be attacker there.
Not even looking at the twitching corpse, Harry sidestepped the second werewolf that was coming in to his left, swinging his sword low as he did so.
The woman fell howling, unable to stay standing on one leg.
A banishing charm caught the final of Harry's attackers, flinging him into the nearest tree, destroying it. The remains of the tree became spikes that buried themselves into and through the werewolf.
Capitalising on the distraction caused by their emperor's easy disposal of three werewolves, the soldiers handily finished off their own combatants.
Straightening, Harry casually walked up to the last surviving member of the small pack, brandishing his sword as he did so.
'You think this little scratch is going to kill me, human?' the werewolf snarled, clutching at her leg that ended at the knee.
'Of course not,' Harry said with a little laugh. 'That's the job of the basilisk venom impregnated into the blade.'
He smiled darkly at the woman's gobsmacked look. 'But I don't want you dead … yet.'
The woman screamed as fire erupted, cutting off the remaining leg from the hip and cauterising the wound.
'Now, I want to know the identity of your leader and their agenda. And since you lot seem to recognise me, I want to know what they seek from me.'
She bared her teeth. 'Why should I tell you, human,' spitting at his feet, she suddenly lunged at him.
Harry didn't even flinch. A burst of lightning sprang from his fingers and hit the werewolf, hurtling her screaming form back a few feet.
Thick chains appeared out of nowhere and bound the werewolf to the ground as Harry approached her twitching smoking body.
'You will tell me because otherwise, I will make your life a living hell before I make you tell me.' Harry said calmly.
'No answer? Very well,' he turned to his men. 'Gents, this fine lady here has just offered her services and body in our efforts to find a cure for the dreaded disease of lycanthropy. Secure her.'
Harry had the satisfaction of seeing the dawning horror on her face before the werewolf succumbed to the myriad of stunning spells shot into her body.
Kevin, who was now at the cave called out. 'Sir, we found Michael.'
He and another soldier shortly came to the rest of the party, half carrying and half dragging an injured form between them.
The man was not in good shape. Wearing only his trousers, he was clutching his side. Through the crude bandage, everyone could make out the bite mark. As one, they all stepped back. The man was infected.
'My liege,' the man rasped. Kneeling, he bowed till his head was touching the ground. Straightening, but still on his knees, he looked at Harry. 'I am afraid that I must ask to be discharged from duty, sir. I am no longer fit.' Swallowing, he squared his shoulders and looked at Harry in the eye. 'I initially wanted to ask to be killed as it is better to suffer an honourable death as a human than live forever as a beast.'
'You have changed your mind then?' Harry asked with a raised eyebrow.
'Yes,' the man replied. 'I wish to live, because I can be of use.' He took a deep breath and continued. 'Once I am … no longer human … use me. Use me to help develop a cure.' The man's eyes rolled up and he slumped sideways in a dead faint.
The gathering was stunned into silence for a long time. 'He is a brave man.' One of the soldiers finally muttered in a respectful silence.
Harry hummed in agreement, stunned by the dedication shown to him. 'Let's get our soldier home.' He finally said. 'I want him to be comfortable for the next month. Let him enjoy his last few weeks of his life as a wizard. He deserves that much at least.'
As one the soldiers all nodded, stepping forward to set up a litter to move their fallen comrade.
'And get that filth to the Department of Mysteries.' Harry fairly snarled as he looked at the stunned werewolf with disgust. 'Use whatever means to transport her, as long as she is alive. Tell them that I want answers from her as well by whatever means.'
Turning on his heel, Harry silently Disapparated, followed shortly by his guards.
Harry sat back with Daphne and watched the newest batch of graduates finish their demonstration.
Done with their training, these young men and women had assembled by their instructors in front of their emperor to show him their skills and prove their readiness to be soldiers in the military.
Harry was particularly interested in this batch as amongst the many young men and women were his own two sons.
Unlike Daphne, he was not too surprised when his sons had expressed an interest in joining the military as soon as their N.E.W.T. results came in (the thought of their results still filled him with pride). However, he had thought, or perhaps hoped, that one of them at least had tamer aspirations, like research, or politics. Daphne certainly had hoped for that. He would know; while she might not tell them outright about it, conceding that it was their decision to make in the end, she had no qualms telling him in the privacy of their bedroom.
Regardless, both parents had respected their sons' decision. However, Harry had made it clear that he would not be using his influence to speed things up or make their time easier. If they wanted to join, they would do it as James and Edmund Potter-Black, not as Imperial Princes. To that effect, he had made it clear that the boys would not be treated any differently. He had also made them wear bracelets that cause people to not make the connexion between them and the Emperor.
It was standard procedure that he expected the nobles in his court to follow should their children join in the army. There would be no favours done based on rank or name. He wanted talent in his army. Not names.
Thus, when Harry saw the names of both his sons in the list of people that had received a special commendation, he was proud to know that both James and Edmund had earned it through their talents.
'Your sons have done quite impressively.' A voice whispered in his ear from behind.
Harry only nodded. 'Is there something I can do for you, Saul?'
The Emperor felt more than saw Professor Saul Croaker's head shake. 'Just come to give an update, sir. The latest subjects have shown promising results towards the cure.'
Harry turned around. 'That is good news,' he said approvingly.
Saul Croaker was initially associated with the section of the Department of Mysteries that dealt with the subject of Time. However, ever since Instant Gratification, he had moved onto another field. The reason he gave, as he cheerfully destroyed his notes (in the interest of national security) was that there was nothing further that could be done in that division. He had reached the pinnacle in what was possible with Time.
Having trained his replacement, he had then shifted his focus and talents elsewhere.
This now lead him to his new project; finding a cure for lycanthropy.
So far, the only thing that came close to managing the magical malady was the Wolfsbane Potion. Its inventor, Damocles Belby had since started devoting his time into improving the potion and possibly finding a cure.
The one problem with this was the lack of subjects.
Aside from their one volunteer (who did not remember anything of his previous life after his first transformation – a new discovery) and their captive, there wasn't anyone else. It was devilishly hard to capture a werewolf as they were not only quite resilient, but knew how to hide from wizards. Those that were confronted by wizards tended to fight to the death, which, most of the time, lead to the wizards in question being infected, turned (if they were stupid enough to go out werewolf hunting on a full moon night) maimed, or killed (Saul shuddered at the thought of being beaten to death by bare hands).
It was Saul Croaker who had come up with an ingenious solution to the shortage problem.
The Department of Mysteries had managed two werewolves that they had then kept under observation. The problem was that with such a limited number of test subjects, scientists had to be careful not to get the werewolves killed, even if they had come close to the one-legged werewolf in their quest to extract information from her. Saul's solution was to have the captive werewolves create new werewolves who could then be used as new test subjects.
Of course, to make a werewolf, one needed a human…
Saul and his department never let in on the fact that they used captured Muggles in their tests. While they were sure of the Emperor's disdain for Muggles (there was never any doubt about that) they did not feel that their research would be condoned by the monarch should he come to know of their … methods.
And so, the empire and its emperor were quite unaware of the source of their subjects, being under the impression that the department was adept in catching wild werewolves. Nobody thought to ask about the research process, so nobody spoke about it. Besides, wild werewolves weren't in short supply either. They were having a few problems with werewolf attacks in Europe and Asia. The breakdown in Muggle civilisation had made them quite bold. The cure was an alternative to fully exterminating the werewolf population. It might help boost the wizarding population. And cured Muggle werewolves would be easier to dispatch.
Some might consider such methods inhumane, but Saul's boss had selected his people carefully. They were all pragmatists. Science and the betterment of the Empire came first and foremost to them.
'I look forward to seeing the cure in action,' Harry said easily, never taking his eyes off the cadets.
As Croaker moved on, Harry reflected that if it weren't for the oaths that bound them, Croaker and his ilk would have long been in Azkaban or a mental ward by now. He did not know what they did with those werewolves, and frankly, he did not want to.
With the vampires now willing to curb their bloodlust and become civilised beings, the hags, and dementors under control, the giants too few to even consider warfare, and the goblins fully subdued (his men had cut their teeth doing battle with the nasty buggers in the Americas and Asia) the werewolves were the last of the major dark creatures posing a problem.
As Harry had suspected, the werewolf pack had a leader. A Dark Wizard who had decided to use the recent upheaval to his advantage to become powerful. He had hopes of challenging Harry and taking the empire for himself.
There were some rumours that the wizard himself was a werewolf, even though nobody questioned so far had seen him change. Harry had to admit, that would be quite a novelty if it was true.
This Dark Wizard fancied himself equal to Voldemort, something Harry found endlessly amusing. He had even, like old Voldemort, styled himself the Belgian equivalent of "He Who Shall Not Be Named". Having barely any human followers, the twit had allied himself with werewolves promising them free reign should he get to sit on the throne. He was known to the werewolves as the "Wolf King".
In the unbiased opinion of the Magical Secret Service, the military wing of the Department of Mysteries, this man was nothing close to Voldemort in terms of power or cunning. Once they knew what they were looking for, it had been ridiculously easy for them to detect and shut down any and all terrorist cells. That was something that the government had a tough time doing with Voldemort's Death Eaters.
Agents were confident that they would be able to find this man within the year and exterminate him.
Then it was off to China.
Harry still felt a silly grin forming on his face as he thought about how those Muggles had decided to spend their time. For some reason, the idiots were spending their time and energy in trying to annex their immediate neighbours, namely India and Pakistan while consolidating their hold on Tibet. He didn't know the specifics, but it was something about the previous relationships the countries had with each other.
The actual invasion wasn't a good thing. It presented a risk of the Chinese Muggles finding out about the growing wizarding presence. However, the benefits outweighed the possible problem.
For one, Harry found himself nearly singing praises of the bright spark that had thought up the ingenious plan of using solid rocket propellant to fuel the Chinese war machine.
From what his scientists had told him, the Muggle process used to make the propellants was not possible for them currently, what with the loss of oil and electricity.
This meant that they could only use what they had and no more.
And what they had was in their long range missiles; mainly, their nuclear missiles.
China was effectively disarming itself.
Recognising the opportunity given to him, Harry had started to use this development to his advantage.
Some of his lieutenants had been sent to India and Pakistan to help the situation there. Posing as Muggles, the wizards and witches had quietly replaced the top brass and started coordinating the defence. The Muggles found that the low-tech measures of communication they were forced to use were doing almost magically well, never knowing that actual magic was facilitating it.
The situation there was quite interesting really. China was attacking India, with Pakistan in their sights, Pakistan was interested in annexing Kashmir with the aim of getting as much land from India as possible (even going so far as to hope for the whole of India) while defending themselves against the Chinese. And India was happily fighting back, somehow, magically, holding its own against both fronts.
And while every Muggle in India and Pakistan had their eye on the borders … wizards were quietly doing their job behind the scenes.
Ceylon and the southern half of India had fallen under wizard rule without any of the Muggles suspecting a thing. Similarly, the western part of Pakistan had also been taken over by wizards.
It was decided that they would allow the Muggles to fight each other out. After all, the Muggles were quite enthusiastic about it and it was helping the Empire's goals.
All they had to do was ensure that neither Muggle army got enough of an upper hand, A delicate situation to say the least.
Harry was confident that his men there would be able to take care of things. Naturally, he would be checking up on them.
Meanwhile, there was this werewolf problem that he had to take care of.
The Magical Secret Service may be confident that this man was no threat, but Harry wouldn't believe that until the Wolf King was confirmed dead. Till then, they had to take that man seriously. Something he was going to ensure happened.
Magdalena bared her teeth at the human in front of her.
'So you are the only one who has managed to survive the purge, I take it?' the female werewolf growled.
'Yes,' Thaddeus, the rotund middle-aged wizard said with an air of insolence and arrogance so strong that Magdalena's hands itched to disembowel him.
'Careful how you speak, human,' the werewolf growled. 'Otherwise you might end up dead … or worse.'
Thaddeus only sneered. 'I doubt your leader would want that,' he replied without an iota of his original arrogance reduced. 'After all, my fellows and I are the only contacts he has to the Wizarding Empire.'
Snarling, she barked out, 'Well, report worm!'
He smiled nastily. 'I don't think so.' Pausing, he observed her shocked face for a moment. 'Considering that I am the only human contact you have, I definitely know that I am far too important to your leader to talk to his … subordinates. We, that is, my associates and I, will answer to The Wolf King only. Your days as our handler are over.'
'I ought to rip your innards out with my bare hands!' the werewolf howled in enraged response.
The man was unfazed. 'Yet you will not. Because my death would mean that your leader will have to start from the beginning … and it will be even harder because their Emperor is now aware of his existence. After all, it has been nearly a year, and neither I nor my colleagues have seen one sign of new recruits. The Wizard Emperor has already managed to eradicate all the cells. Well, except for this one, but that is because I was smart. Your leader will not be happy to know that his cause has been set back because you couldn't keep your temper in check.'
Wizard and werewolf stared at each other for a long moment. 'You have changed,' the werewolf finally said. 'Not the snivelling little coward that I recruited anymore, are you? You've become a big man,' she finished in mocking tones.
Leaping up from her chair she pounced on the table and thrust her face very close to the wizard. The man, not expecting this, toppled back out of his chair with a thud to lie sprawled on the floor.
'I will tell Him about your … message,' the wolf said with a malevolent leer. 'You'd better pray that he listens to you and likes what he hears. If not … well, I will derive great pleasure sucking the marrow out of your bones!'
Threat delivered, the wolf leapt from the table and out of the side window of the first floor room.
Catching his breath, Thaddeus rushed to the window to see her silently steal away into the night.
Walking back on shaky legs, he sat down at the table of the cheap room he had rented for the night and pulled out a hipflask. Taking a few fortifying gulps, he pulled out his mirror.
'Well?' said the figure at the other end
'It worked. I'm in.' He said shortly to the face looking at him expectantly. Exhaling, he continued, letting some excitement seep into his voice. 'I did just as you told me to. She was right pissed off, but in the end she relented.'
'It did? I mean, good job.'
The wizard smiled at his companion. 'That is a surprising amount of disbelief coming from a person who thought of this strategy.'
'Details, details,' the man said airily. 'Now get your carcass home. We have some serious work to do! After all, it isn't every day you know a person who is about to meet a serious Dark Lord/Werewolf.'
Thaddeus groaned. 'Yeah, I know,' he grumbled. Putting his mirror back in his pocket, he took one last swig and got to his feet.
He hoped that the impending meeting with the Wolf King went well, and he didn't stuff it up. His future and the future of his colleagues depended upon it.
As he got ready to Disapparate home, he ruminated that he should start brewing a calming potion now. As it is, the adrenaline rush from this meeting had nearly done him in. He would have to be calm if he wanted to get out of the next meeting alive.
To all the Hindus out there, a happy diwali and new year!